Ah, it’s a nostalgic day. Yesterday was Labor Day, still summer, Jones Beach: sand castles and hot sun and big waves; one last ice cream in the car on the ride back in to the city. Tomorrow is the first first day of school for the first baby: still my baby but not really a baby anymore. I’m aware that life is, and will be, and always has been a series of these moments, and I usually try not to get weepy, but rather just recognize, appreciate, and make something good to eat in celebration. Honestly, without the transitions, would everything else in life be as sweet? I’m certain August tomatoes would not taste as good if i could get them in February. I’ve never wanted to live anywhere that didn’t have 4 distinct seasons, at least not for any real length of time. I’m acutely aware that all the little details of life feel more lovely when they come and go. So our summer in Maine came to an end a little over a week ago. It was hard to leave, but now that we’re back at home in New York I am looking forward to every new thing coming our way with the kind of excitement and anticipation that can only exist in September. This is maybe a holdover from those long gone back-to-school days when I was a kid, and also precisely why it has always been my favorite month. So many good things to come.
But before I get too far ahead, there’s some unfinished business from the summer:
1. Those blackberries & blueberries.
The blackberries kept coming at the edge of my mom’s yard right up until our last week there. I spent so many cool Maine mornings after breakfast shredding my arms and legs picking them while my younger son crawled around in the grass (yet another change: he started walking only days before we left). Before the wild blueberries disappeared from the markets I made one more lazy man’s dessert (which again passed for breakfast with a hot cup of coffee one day, and got my berry-phobic 4-year-old to eat large amounts of the stuff, with minimal sugar added).
Black & Blue Turnovers
Defrost 1 package frozen store bought pastry dough according to package directions. Mix rinsed & drained blackberries & wild blueberries (about one pint wild blueberries to 2.5 cups blackberries) in a mixing bowl. Add the zest of one lemon, and sugar to taste. On a well-floured surface, roll out each sheet of pastry dough to roughly standard cookie sheet proportions. Cut into equal quarters. Place roughly 2.5 Tbsp of the berry mixture into the center of each dough square, folding the dough over and matching the edges around the filling. Press edges closed with a fork. Brush the top of each turnover with a beaten egg, and dust with turbinado sugar. Slice 2 small ventilation holes in the top of the turnover. Bake in a 375 degree oven for roughly 20 minutes, or until tops have browned, pastry has puffed, and fruit filling is bubbling.
2. Summer Birthdays
Both my mother and husband celebrated milestone birthdays this summer, and I spent some time at the stove for both of them. Keeping in the Maine theme (and still using up those berries) I made this Blueberry Hill Cake for my mother’s birthday in August. I split the batter among two layer cake pans for the cake and just doubled the frosting.
For her birthday dinner I made this Marcella Hazan Pork in Milk recipe I first saw on my friend Jenny’s amazing blog, Dinner: A Love Story. (I should take the opportunity to mention that it was Jenny who first inspired me to start this blog, incomplete and disorganized as it is in comparison). I served it with a Simple Corn Tomato Basil salad and roast fingerling potatoes with fresh rosemary, roasted garlic, and lots of olive oil, salt and pepper.
For K’s birthday I broke my cardinal rule of always baking for family from scratch on their birthdays (the return-to-Brooklyn week chaos got the best of me), and went to Baked in Red Hook for some Sweet & Salty cupcakes. Skipping the baking allowed me to focus on the main course, though, so I locked the kids in their room for a few minutes, humanely dispatched a few lobsters on my kitchen table, and put together Barefoot Contessa’s Lobster Corn Chowder. It took most of the day, but with a simple heirloom tomato salad, some homemade garlic bread and an Ommegang Hennepin, it was a solid birthday feast. He almost didn’t notice the bakery box.
There’s more to life than blueberries, lobster & tomatoes, just not much more to my life sometimes. Every year since I can remember we’ve gone (at least for the day, and when I was a child sometimes as long as a week) to Cape Porpoise, Maine, and our favorite Goose Rocks Beach. After a day on the beach we always have dinner at Nunan’s Lobster Hut, and I don’t think there could possibly exist a purer setting in which to eat Maine lobster (except maybe on the beach, but unless you’re up for digging a pit and hauling seaweed, this is about as good as it gets). The place looks impossibly tiny from the front, with stacks of traps behind the parking lot (I found out after graduation that one of the Nunan boys went to Syracuse with me…which is probably good because I may have tried to marry him and then never met K), but the building stretches straight back into the marsh on stilts. The tables have raised edges and there are sinks with rolls of paper towels in the dining area: the only sort of ambiance a serious shellfish eater needs. Always, always a giant plate of steamers to start. Always the double lobster dinner (with drawn butter, a little bag of Lay’s potato chips, some dill pickle chips, and a roll with butter). Always a local beer (Geary’s, Allagash White), always wild blueberry pie for dessert (although this year we tried the cobbler, which was pretty great, too). Always the best meal of the year. And just that much sweeter because it only comes once.