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Dog Days

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You learn something new every day. I never knew what dog days of summer meant. I thought it had something to do with dogs. Not astronomy.

We are officially in the dog days, since the Dog Star Sirius has done its annual rising in alignment with the Sun. The ancient Greeks thought that the hottest time of year was caused by the Sun and the brightest star (Sirius) focusing their heat on the Earth.

Well, we are certainly getting our share of hot days. Another warm week ahead. This is the time in summer when I don’t want to cook much. Lots of salads and easy meals.

The tomatoes are starting to ripen, which means I will be heating up the kitchen making sauces and roasting cherry tomatoes to put away for the winter.

I made a trip To Sprouts Market yesterday to pick up simple items to continue this pattern in meal prep. Lots of cheeses, olive mix, some prosciutto and nuts/seeds.

Some of my latest successes.

An updated fennel and orange salad, with the addition of blueberries and almonds, and on a bed of leaf lettuce.

A Greek salad using a massive heirloom pineapple tomato, from my CSA. My large tomatoes are just beginning to ripen.

Tonight though, I put together one of my absolute favorites. Peach, tomato and burrata salad.

Tomatoes and basil from my garden. CSA peaches. Burrata bought at Sprouts. Olive oil from The Breadery in Oella.

This is a restaurant quality salad. At a fraction of the cost. Worth splurging on the burrata.

I also made a simple gazpacho today which is resting in the fridge. It will be dinner tomorrow, with a side dish of prosciutto wrapped cantaloupe. Some crusty bread. A local rosé wine.

I can handle the dog days.

Dad’s Day

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It has been 18 years since I lost my dad. Every Father’s Day for me is hard because he was a very special person. He believed in me and encouraged me.

I was digging through old photographs today while cleaning up my “Peter Rabbit Room”. It’s what a friend calls that spare room full of stuff. I found one of our Alaska pictures. Probably the last time I had my picture taken with my dad, in Ketchikan.

My dad had been to every state but Alaska. It was my parents’ 50th anniversary and my friend and I went with them to help them navigate their first cruise, and a trip to celebrate that milestone.

It was special for me to watch their joy at seeing glaciers and whales.

I was the first grandchild on both sides of my family. I don’t think there was a person who didn’t hold me for pictures. But this one, of my dad with me for my first Easter shows all that happiness.

The first and the last. This was my first Easter in 1953 when I was just over 3 months old.

The Alaska trip pictures were my last ones with my dad, who passed away 2 1/2 years later.

Happy Father’s Day, dad. Miss you.

The Waiting Game

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Well, the garden is planted. Just in time for heat to arrive. Daily watering to get the tomatoes going. Now, we wait for six to eight weeks for the first ripened goodies.

I started seeds at home and they were getting rather leggy while I was waiting for the weather to warm up.

I planted three varieties of heirlooms from Monticello. Red fig, purple calabash, and prudens purple. These were the last seeds from a trip to Charlottesville a few years back. All of them from the descendants of three hundred year old stock.

Last year only the purple calabash survived. Crossing my fingers that these healthy looking plants make it.The purple calabash have won ribbons for me in the county fair.

Every day I go up to the garden, I cross my fingers as these heirlooms are far more fragile than the hybrid tomatoes available to grow.

I do mix in some hybrids, like sungold and celebrity and early girl.

This year my theme is tomato sauce. I planted onions, peppers, basil and tomatoes.

A few squash plants, and a handful of okra. Yes, I really like okra especially when I can oven bake them as “okra fries”.

So easy to make. Crunchy. I use garam masala on mine, and dip in ranch dressing.

In the meantime, while waiting for the main event of the summer harvest, we continue to enjoy the asparagus and rhubarb in many ways. The latest?

Rhubarb crisp. A simple recipe from the web. Served with vanilla ice cream.

And people wonder why I don’t eat out much. I have too much fun creating things here and enjoying leisurely meals with a good bottle of wine. While waiting for those tomatoes to produce.

Springtime.

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Well, the calendar says spring but the weather doesn’t. We hit a low of very close to freezing this weekend. I don’t know whether to do heat or a/c in the house. Maryland is like that. Change in weather every day.

At least, the trees and flowers are busting out.

The crab apples have one of their good years. Sometimes they turn completely white, and some they don’t. This year, they are spectacular.

I love my flowering trees. The dogwoods will bloom next. Not there yet.

But the tulips are also blooming. I planted new varieties last fall.

Add to all the blooming, the first harvest from the garden. Asparagus.

Making a steak salad with sautéed asparagus for dinner.

We are so glad to see winter disappear. Time to plant, to harvest, to snip flowers. To protect our young trees from the impending cicada-paloosa. We aren’t looking forward to those cicadas.

Here’s to spring in Maryland. The reason we won’t move away.

Eleven

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I am sitting here watching the news and thinking about eleven years ago. And not having to get up to go to work on Monday morning. Ever again.

I retired April 1st 2010. A good way to spend April Fool’s Day. I have never regretted retiring as early as I could. Particularly when years like 2020 come along and recalibrate your plans.

I think retiring in the spring is a smart move. My husband retired in January. Dark. Cold. Stuck indoors most of the time. It is hard to transition when you are limited in things to do.

I found my hobbies and interests kept me busy. My garden. Cooking.

I then discovered the Conservancy and volunteering and the last ten years have been filled with activities that keep me busy even during the pandemic.

Last year I spent every other day for six months in the community gardens, tending my own plot, and helping with the food bank.

We have done more than a ton of food each of the past two years. Many of us who are retired use this outlet as our way to give back, while keeping active.

I also volunteer in many ways to support my husband’s hobby. Amateur radio. I cook for Field Days. For the annual “Fowl Fest”. I hope we get to conduct those activities soon, as we miss our friends and the good times we have when we are together. Like our crazy summer emergency preparedness field days. In the heat. Or rain. Or wind. But still, enjoying our hobbies with our friends.

I miss cooking for the radio guys. They are so appreciative of what we make for them. Yeah, we enjoy our meals here, but I have been cooking dinner every night for almost 400 days now. I really want to have those restaurant nights again, and want to cook for friends and family.

I know. This evening I am reminiscing, and also whining a bit about this lost year. Missing friends. Missing family. Missing my 50th reunion, which I hope will someday take place. Missing the gatherings. The sharing.

We just need to hang on a while longer. Beat this virus. So we can enjoy decades more of retirement.

But one good thing about this forced isolation. My husband got back into cooking. making a number of dinners now. Like the clam and fennel chowder I wrote about. And just simple things like pasta.

Here’s to better days. And meals with friends. And dinners at restaurants. And travel. Yeah, I miss travel. We will get there. Won’t we? I have faith. And I want to get out there.

Springing Forward

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Let it be known, I hate DST. Always have. I call it Daylight Stupid Time.

It is just stupid to mess with the science. Should we replace “High Noon” with “High 1 PM”? The time zones pretty much align with the transit of the sun. Yes, the edges are off a bit. But, equal daylight on either side of noon is what a time zone delivers.

Plus, I hate that complete disruption of sleep that springing forward creates. If our teenagers are already sleep deprived with early school start times, why are we messing with them by making them get up in the middle of the night to go to school?

Thankfully now we are retired. We get up with the sun and ignore alarms.

Next week we pass the equinox, and enter the months of 12+ hours of daylight, whatever the clock says. We enjoyed the great weather this weekend and finally got out to celebrate the slow return to normal after vaccination.

Local, as usual. Our forays into The Common Kitchen Friday. And, Black Ankle Winery Saturday.

We did take out Friday at Anh-mazing Banh Mi.

They have a new Banh Mi. Cajun Seafood.

Banh Mi reminds me of Po’ Boys, but with serious additions. We also got a noodle bowl.

The Common Kitchen has so many options for good food. Our favorites are Namaste Indian and The Koshary, Middle Eastern. Now, we can add Banh Mi to that list.

Then, Saturday we had errands to run up towards Frederick. On the way home we decided, time to eat out for our first time in a year. Enter Black Ankle Winery.

We have been going there since they opened almost 15 years ago. Right now, over 80 tables socially distanced, where you can sit out and enjoy wine, food and sometimes music because Ed and Sarah have one incredible location catering to those of us who appreciate small businesses full of local choices.

We loved the hour spent there having lunch with a very good bottle of Albariño.

Best al fresco dining view in the area.

I am so glad we can get out and support local businesses. Making our way through the transition and springing forward.

Decadent

So OK, it is just Wednesday. No holiday. No significant life event.

But we live a fairly reclusive life, with no restaurant visits, no day trips, no outdoor activities because of the weather. We have been doing a weekly “cooking as a couple” dinner, which was a New Year’s resolution.

Tonight we cracked open a new cookbook of mine, I Cook in Color. By Asha Gomez.

Clam chowder, made with fennel and leeks.

We are using small, local businesses in our sourcing of ingredients for our cooking. We are supporting the small grocers, liquor stores, farms and a friend who is a wine broker.

We love Italian wines. Todd Ruby Wines is a wine brokerage owned by an amateur radio friend. He brings in awesome wines like this Greco di Tufo. Procured for us by The Wine Bin in Ellicott City. Perfect with the rich clam chowder.

As for the soup ingredients, Some of them came from Boarman’s. Our local grocery store. Littleneck Clams. Clam juice. Canned clams. Leeks. Fennel. Yukon Gold potatoes. Diced pancetta, which was a substitute for the smoked clams in the recipe.

We made our own seafood stock yesterday from leftover lobster claw shells. Used my CSA veggies in the stock.

The finishing touch, flour mixed with half and half, used CSA flour from a mill in Amish country PA.

How did we make it? Chopped leek, fennel and potato. Sautéed in butter. Added three cups of seafood stock. A bottle of clam juice and a can of baby clams. Browned pancetta. A pound of littlenecks.

Finished with a thickener of 1/3 cup of flour and a pint of half and half.

We have enough left for another night’s dinner. We only used half the clams from the bag. They were Chesapeake Bay clams from Virginia, harvested Monday, bought on Tuesday and cooked today.

This expansion of our cooking hobby is what is keeping us sane. While enjoying the fruits of our labor. Wonder what we will tackle on Valentine’s Day?

Dawn

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Of a new year, 2021, which we hope will be far better than last year.

Sunrise in the east, now that we don’t have massive evergreens blocking the view.

We have spent far more time enjoying the peace and quiet out here and doing some new, fun things while staying safe at home.

Like my husband getting into cooking.

He made cioppino using Ina Garten’s recipe from her Cook Like A Pro cookbook.

Including making his own seafood stock.

I was impressed with the flavor but he needs to “up” his food photography skills.

We can’t see the depth of shrimp, scallops, mussels and cod in the bowl. Make no mistake.This was one amazingly satisfying meal. Fun to do while we hang out here at the house.

We decided that once a week we will tackle something new with him cooking.

We will patiently wait for our turn to get vaccinated, so we can get back into a normal life. In the meantime, photography, bird watching, amateur radio and cooking will keep us occupied.

Here’s to a better year, a new dawning.

Christmas Past

Christmas present.

I am feeling a bit nostalgic these days. Missing my parents and in-laws. We always spent Christmas with one or the other.

This is our third year without my mom, who lived the longest and who was the driving force behind the celebration of Christmas. She never tired of the holiday. She always bought presents for us, even when she was slowing down in her late eighties.

I kept some of her decorations when we were clearing out the apartment and deciding what we wanted from her collection of many handmade items.

I make her sugar cookies every year. It isn’t Christmas without her cookies.

Those crispy thin cookies are all I need to resurrect Christmas past in our house.

Today I made a small feast. Mixed grill. Potatoes with peppers and onions. Cheese. Bread, Really lovely old wine. We sat for a long time at the table, reminiscing.

Time to head into the family room to see if the Saints can hang on and win.

Happy holidays to my friends and relatives. Hoping 2021 is far better than these last two years have been.

Gingerbread

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Do you sometimes crave those simple desserts from your childhood? Like real gingerbread. Not the cookies, but the cakey moist flavorful version, made from scratch.

For me, a few minutes spent sifting through my old recipe cards yielded this oldy but goody.

From the McCalls Recipe Box, which was my husband’s. I had the Betty Crocker box. I was cleaning out some stuff in the bookcase back in the bonus room over our garage I was trying to decide whether it was time to let go of the recipe cards. But they were how I learned, and so did my husband, to cook.

I was looking for comfort food, and gingerbread certainly fits the bill. I made a few adjustments. I went a little heavy on the spices. I used Grandma’s molasses, which I believe is dark molasses. I used the last of the self rising flour from one of my curbside pickups, where it was a substitute when flour was scarce. That meant no baking soda. I used a 10 by 15 pan so my gingerbread wasn’t the same height as the recipe showed.

Still, it is a wonderful trip back to the days of homemade goodies baked by my mom.

I really enjoyed doing this. I will have to dig through the cards and find something else to evoke those memories. Baking from scratch. Nothing from a box even comes close.