Saturday, June 23, 2007

Hand-me-down crazy

I blame my mother.

"Why?" you ask naively. "What is it you blame your mother for?"

That is, you ask it naively unless you are my friends Brad and Bob, or Jeff, or Tom and Steve...or Jess, who all personally know of what I am about to speak.

My mother has a thing for overdoing things, especially when it comes to food. And it's a gift she managed to give to me.

Okay, so what am I talking about?

Today, we went out to the east end of the island to do some strawberry picking. It's my project, so Jess very generously did the driving and I did the picking. I hadn't picked strawberries in a long time; usually I don't get out on the one or two ideal weekends to pick, and by the time I do get out there, you're forced to settle with what they have already-picked at the stand. And those are expensive. Picked by you, a quart of berries will run about $2.50. Picked by the farm, they could run $5.50 a quart...or more.

At any rate, I like making my own strawberry preserves. So I picked. And picked. And picked. I picked six quarts at the first place we went. The field was large and this was only the second weekend they were open for picking, so the selection was very good. There were still plenty of very large berries on these plants and the berries were nicely sweet. I complimented the owner on the quality and condition of the plants and field, and she remarked that for her, it was the best harvest in memory. The conditions were just perfect this year: lots of fall and spring rain, but not too much, and a mild spring that wasn't too hot, but was warm enough to produce a bumper crop of berries. I was thrilled with my harvest, but for some dumb reason, wasn't satisfied with "just" six quarts.

So we went about three more miles and came across another field, and we stopped. They had a four-quart minimum, and I asked how the berries were. "Well, they are very sweet this year, one of the best years I can remember."

I stooped down to pick and taste one just before I began to pick. They were succulent, juicy, and wonderfully sweet. But they were much smaller than the berries in the other field, and four quarts took almost twice as long to pick as the six quarts I had picked earlier. I left the field exhausted. I had needed a bathroom break before I ever started in that field, and all that bending and squatting hadn't helped!

But I am thinking to myself as we left the field, "what in the hell am I going to do with ten quarts of berries?

I mean, after all, that is 2 1/2 gallons of berries. When combined with 2 1/2 gallons of sugar and a pint of lemon juice, it will make 2 1/2 gallons of jam. What was I thinking?! Ridiculous. Thanks, Mom. You did this to me.

Anyway, after the picking, we went to one of our very favorite Suffolk County restaurants, Modern Snack Bar. It's not really a snack bar at all, but a restaurant. The food is marvelous home-style comfort food. I had an appetizer of crab cakes, and Jess had New England Clam Chowder. My crab cakes were better than his chowder, but the chowder was still very good. For the main meal, I had meat loaf with mashed potatoes and green beans, and all were superb. Jess had a wonderful fried flounder with mashed potatoes and cole slaw. The cole slaw was only so-so. We finished by splitting a very small piece of coconut custard pie, which was good, but a little too small. But for $2,95, you couldn't really complain. If you ever get out to the east end of Long Island, you must not pass Modern Snack Bar up. It's in Aquebogue, right on the main drag, NY 25. If you like turnips (and maybe even if you don't) then order the whipped turnips with your meal, because they are fabulous.

At any rate, I am now sitting in my kitchen wondering how I am going to can all these berries. I have four quarts working already, and I think I am just going to freeze the remaining berries whole and can them later as I am able. It's too much work for one evening!

The weather was perfect for picking today, though; I will say that. A beautiful 72 degrees and no sand fleas, no gnats, nothing! I couldn't have asked for better conditions. I could, however, have asked for better sense.

1:35 a.m. UPDATE: Jess and I have finally finished prepping the remaining berries to freeze and I have finished boiling down the juice for the preserves to something that will be jelly in the morning. We're exhausted. Off to bed!

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

I love the summer

Summer is a wonderful time. Even if it is hot.

I have five tomato plants: One beefsteak, two plum, and two cherry. They are starting to set on tomatoes. In about five weeks, I am hopefully going to be covered in tomatoes. I love tomatoes. I hope there are enough to make some sauce with, 'cause I love sauce. I also just like eating a beefsteak tomato with salt and pepper. Or with some olive oil, balsamic vinegar and fresh basil, with some fresh mozzarella. Or layered on a bacon, lettuce and tomato sandwich.

I have a grapevine. It has about twenty clusters of grapes setting. By the end of July, I should be rolling in grapes. Don't know what I am going to do with them just yet, but I can tell you that there must definitely be some grape jam.

I have a raspberry bush, and in about two weeks, it will bear the first crop of the year...which is going to be bigger than any year prior...and should follow up with a bumper crop of berries for the second. There will be some raspberry jam, no doubt. And this will be the first time that the bush has produced enough berries to really do anything with. Last year, there were about enough good ones to dress two bowls of cereal.

The pepper plants are putting on peppers, and I am hoping that they all survive. I see stuffed peppers in my future.

My peach tree has about twenty peaches on it. I'm looking forward to some peach preserves and maybe a cobbler. Maybe a raspberry-peach cobbler!

The tiger lilies are beginning to bloom, but the large oriental lilies will be blooming in a couple of weeks. I'll post pictures of them, because they are stunning, and the scent is terrific.

Strawberries are in season right now, and I am hoping I can get to the north fork this weekend to pick some. There is nothing like fresh strawberry preserves.

Yep. I love summer.

Sunday, June 17, 2007

Shaved to the cotton

Dodger, our youngest dog, is a beagle-shepherd mix. His coat is the gift of his shepherd parent, and is often an exercise in frustration: more for us than for him, because he sheds like crazy, and pieces of his cottony undercoat seem to eject themselves from his hindquarters like fireworks, especially during the shedding season. But his coat also makes him very hot in the summer.

Two years ago, he had a flea problem - it was his first time ever to have fleas, and it was because we had moved to the new house and the cats in the yard pick up fleas every year, and some of them were winding up on the dogs. Dodger was affected the worst by the fleas, and we wanted to drown them all as we bathed him, so we shaved him first.

What a funny thing that turned out to be.

His undercoat really was like cotton...short, fluffy, soft, and much, much lighter than his regular coat. His regular coat is like a shepherd's - long, somewhat bristly, and multi-colored - and lighter at the base than at the tip.

So we decided that this summer, we would document the shaving for you so that you could enjoy the results, too!

So, here's the "before" shot:

And here's the "after" - note the color change here, and notice that he doesn't have quite the "lion head" that he does when he has full fur:

It doesn't take long before the new coat starts growing in, and he begins getting a black hue over the top of his golden brown coat.

By the way, he doesn't get fleas anymore because after that first shaving, he was put on Advantage flea + tick treatment during the flea season. But he still appreciates a lighter coat in summer. Well, he doesn't appreciate it much as we do it...but he appreciates it later (we hope).

Saturday, June 16, 2007

Eating well is the best revenge

Those who have visited our home know that you definitely do not go away hungry.

This weekend, Jeff is visiting, and we are cooking. And drinking (naturally!). We started off Friday night making a pitcher of Sangria. The best Sangria.

Saturday morning, I made omelettes with braised spinach, leeks, and bacon (turkey bacon), with muenster cheese.

Saturday evening for dinner, we batter-dipped and then deep-fried shrimp, which we had butterflied. They were served with home made cocktail sauce and tartar sauce. I had shelled some green peas, then boiled them with new red bliss potatoes and creamed them with butter, flour, and half-and-half. Corn-on-the-cob rounded out the menu.

We ran out of Sangria just before dinner, so we made another batch. Whomever came up with the idea for Sangria was a genius. It's one of my favorite drinks.

For dessert, I dropped some fresh Long Island strawberries we had purchased earlier in the day into a pie shell and glazed them. We drowned it in freshly whipped cream. It was wonderful.

Today, we'll probably have a broccoli quiche for brunch. And I will have gained another 10 pounds.

I love having company, and I love cooking. Probably a little too much.

Sunday, June 10, 2007

Lotsa stuff goin'

What a weekend. Friday night, we chaperoned at the LIGALY Gay Prom. What a great event. It was a nice way for these kids to feel completely comfortable and really enjoy their prom. I just wish they had chosen a different venue. The Stuart Thomas Manor has some of the poorest quality catered food among caterers I have been to on the Island, and I have been to a lot of them. This was my second visit to the STM and so I was not surprised when the food was served and it was mediocre. Think TV dinner but even lower quality.

Saturday, I awakened relatively early to get some gardening work done. I had purchased about eighteen hostas to plant from a mail order company. I had also purchased three lilies, six dahlias and fifteen gladioli from another company, and both had arrived within a day or each other. They needed to be planted this weekend. So I started working. I managed to get about 15 of them planted (I had to bring in about 100 lbs. of topsoil that I purchased in order to make the soil deep enough in the area to plant. So by the time I mixed the topsoil with some potting soil, worked it in, and planted, it was almost noon.

We had planned to go visit our tailor who was to be in White Plains, and then in the evening see Talkradio, a gritty play about a talk show host who has a meltdown as his show is just about to be syndicated for nationwide air. So we didn't have a lot of time to waste, and because we were concerned about the traffic problem from the Belmont Stakes, we figured we had better leave and return with relative haste. We didn't waste any time. The play was terrific, but the theatre (the Longacre) was horrible. Poor sound and even poorer seats. They were torture devices. I'm not that large and my knees were crushed against the seat in front of me. The sides of the seat were narrow, making it impossible to get comfortable in any position.

So after the play, we caught the train home, but a necessity stop by the store before we could go home meant that we didn't make it home until a little after midnight.

Then today, I got into the other boxes of plants to get put into the ground. I had already planned where they were to be put, and since there's limited space in our yard for plants requiring full sun, it was pretty much a given of where they HAD to go. But surprise, surprise, the company had screwed up and sent me a duplicate box of my order (without charging me). So now a dilemma: dispose of the second box (for shame!) or dig an entirely new section of yard to accommodate them? Well, there was a space along the fenceline in the front yard, but it would require digging it up and then tearing out the grass, which was a lot of work I hadn't counted on. I worked on it for hours, but I did get it finished.

But I have to go to bed early tonight, because tommorow, I'm working from 5:30 a.m. - 9:30 p.m. at a golf tournament. Yes, you read that right. I am going to be exhausted.

So what did you do this weekend?

Monday, June 04, 2007

Busy week!

Last week was a whirlwind busy week. We had cousins in from Paris, so I took the week off to be tour guide (they have been to the city several times before, but appreciated a guide). We went to the MoMA, the Met, the Guggenheim, Ralph Lauren in the Vanderbilt Mansion on Madison, and a number of other places. One of my favorites was a place we went for lunch. Angelo's Coal Oven Pizzeria, 117 W. 57th (just east of 5th), is much more than a pizzeria, and the food is always wonderful. The value is excellent for the city, too. If you are planning to visit the city and places like the MoMA, Trump Tower, FAO Schwarz and other places along 5th Ave are on your list, then you're in the area of Angelo's and you should definitely make the stop.

It had been several years since my last visit there, since I don't get to that area of the city often, but the food was as wonderful as I remembered. The cousins had salads, one a Caesar, one a "Mista", both delicious. I had fettucine carbonara, and it was spectacular. I ate every bit of it, and that's not usually me with a pasta dish, since my digestion doesn't handle starch well. But I couldn't resist the deliciousness.

The MoMA has increased its collection since its remodeling, and was a lot of fun. I am always surprised to see some paintings classified as "modern", since they don't always strike me as that. "Christina's World," for instance, didn't strike me as "modern", but it was groundbreaking in its depiction of a handicapped girl. There was a terrific selection of Georges Braque juxtaposed with Pablo Picasso, Kandinsky, Cezanne, and a small but nice group of Pollock works.

The Met's Japanese exhibit, which was our reason for visiting, was closed for the week, but we toured the Asian Wing anyway, and it was very interesting. The Met is always a good bet, and you can't see it all in a day. We also toured the 19th Century Paintings and were enthralled with all the Impressionist works and Rodin sculpture. I have been to this area of the Met at least 6 times, and even though I have seen most of the works in it, I never get bored with it.

Friday was also a busy afternoon, with a meal at 105 Harbor, one of my favorite Island spots. The food is always terrific. They seated us by a window for the terrific view of Cold Spring Harbor, but the afternoon sun was beating in on the north-facing windows, making it unbearably hot. The ceiling fans in that cooled the center of the room were not effective near the windows due to a soffit that blocked the airflow there. So the meal was wonderful, but I couldn't wait to get out of there. Ugh.

Later that night, we served as judges at LIGALY's "Out Idol", where contestant Vicky blew the others away with performances of Jewel's Foolish Game and Donna Summer's Last Dance. She will have the opportunity to perform at Long Island's Pride Parade as well as several LIGALY events. She won $300 and a master class with a local promoter. It has been a fun season for this contest. This is Jess' and my second season to judge this competition, which is in its fifth year.

Saturday was a barbeque at Jess' brother's house upstate, so that was a busy day as well, with a stop back by Deidre and G's beautiful Nyack apartment overlooking the Hudson and the Tappan Zee Bridge. Spectacular.

Sunday, we went for a bike ride at Cedar Creek Park in Wantagh, and it was very enjoyable. We finished our ride just before the rain from the hurricane started. There was a nice breeze the entire ride. But this morning, when I awakened, I was greeted by an unfriendly surprise: apparently I managed to pick up a tick on my clothing while on the ride, and this morning, the tick had crawled up the closet door and was just sitting there in the middle of the door. I freaked out. I was worried about Jess, the dogs, and me...what if there were others? I immediately gave the dogs' Advantage treatment for the month, and began checking myself for ticks. Shiver.

All in all, a nice week, but not nearly long enough.