Posts Tagged ‘summer’

a glass half-full

Here’s a story. Yesterday, it was seventy degrees, humid and gray and a little girl named Natalie thought it’d be the perfect time to stir up an inaugural glass of her favorite summer cocktail. It’s called a porch swing, and she drank it on her porch, which does not have a swing but even having a porch is pretty good, and honestly more than a lot of her friends can say. The Pimm’s No. 1 reminded her of that one time she sipped a Pimm’s Cup with orange and cucumber garnishes in a harbor cafe in Cyprus, and the fresh lemonade tasted like a backyard cook-out, and the gin was as nice as ever.

And she was happy.

The end.

Stir up some summer for yourself:

Porch Swing
(Adapted from the Smitten Kitchen, who had it from a Gael Green recipe.)


  • 1 1/2 ounces (or 3 Tbsp, or 4.5 cL, which is the unit our jigger uses) Pimm’s No. 1
  • 1 1/2 ounces gin
  • 3 ounces homemade lemonade (recipe below)… add an extra splash if you’re feeling sassy
  • ice
  • 7-Up
  • several paper-thin cucumber slices, optional


My boyfriend would insist that I start with the admonishment to CHILL YOUR GLASS. A tall, thin Collins glass is recommended, but we don’t have those, and I’ve found the squat little tumbler pictured more than adequate. Even though it makes it look like I’m drinking an entire glass of Scotch.

Measure the Pimm’s, gin, and lemonade into the chilled glass. Add several ice cubes and top with 7-Up. Garnish with a few cucumber moons.

Homemade Lemonade
Juice your lemons into a measuring cup. (I only need one lemon to get the right amount for one drink, but buy a bunch and make a large batch of lemonade; it’ll keep in the fridge and is tasty without the alcohol, too.) Add an equal amount of simple syrup, and twice as much cold water.

EDIT: I bought cucumbers two days later. Here’s how it should look:

swimming with the fishies

It’s hard to believe that exactly six days ago, we were driving up the southern California coast to the Aquarium of the Pacific. It was a cool 60 degrees, and the fog had burned off by noon. (No matter how many times I visit, it always takes a few days to remember that the morning’s low-hanging and glum mass of coastline clouds are as typical morning fare as coffee and do not signal a day of rain — that they will without exception give way to brilliant afternoon sunshine.) When we left the aquarium, we drove back to Laguna for lunch at Wahoo’s, where I had the shrimp burrito (!), wet (!), aka smothered in a green pepper-cilantro sauce. It is knife-and-fork fare, unappealingly named but delicious, and I crave it on a weekly basis.

Then we went to “The King’s Speech,” which you should go see, right now!, because it is spectacular, and then we had dinner at Mastro’s Ocean Club. Ooh, wasn’t that a good day! As for here and now . . . maybe half a foot of snow on the ground blew in last night. I’d rather think about the Pacific fishies.

indian summer

I would like to tell you what I did yesterday: I wore a skirt and T-shirt and floated around in flats drinking cold cider. On Tuesday I rolled the car windows down, threw up the house’s storm panes, and let my hair air dry. And on Monday I bought four pounds of wild caught gulf shrimp and crabs from a fresh-never-frozen seafood truck. It’s in the seventies. It feels like summer.

Don’t look now, but it’s November 11.

Fabian Seafood, this fresh-never-frozen seafood truck is a grand idea. And yes, I’d be pressed to invent a sketchier place to pick up Gulf shrimp than a Dairy Queen parking lot, from the back of a refrigerated truck.

Did you know saying that out loud makes it sound even sketchier than saying it in your head?

But listen! Family owned business, selling seafood direct to the public since 1975. Direct from Galveston, Texas to the Midwest and Plains states, like Iowa of course, but even up to the Dakotas. When they swung through on Monday, they were peddling Gulf shrimp, from medium all the way up to jumbo sized; blue crab meat; and shucked oysters (the one offering we did not purchase, because I am either snobby or uneducated enough to believe the best oysters come from Brittany or P.E.I., and always in its shell). They don’t post delivery schedules, because their deliveries are a function of daily catches and coastal weather systems. (You’ve just got to divine their delivery days.)

A word on Gulf seafood, vis-a-vis the BP oil spill: I believe it’s safe. I’m buying it. (Them. The story that it’s safe, and the shrimp. I am buying both.) I believe the independent labs, FDA, and yes, I believe the integrity of Fabian’s product. I like buying shrimp from a Galveston fishing family, rather than commercial farms in Thailand, and I think you should, too. (And I will let you know if petroleum starts spontaneously gushing from my ears.)

(It won’t.)

So the Fabian folks handed me that wad of crab meat, and shoveled three pounds of medium-sized shrimp, at around $10/pound, into a paper bag. Back at home, I followed the instructions for freezing the two pounds — storing them away for cold January nights, if it ever gets cold that is, when fresh Texas seafood has faded to a golden memory — submerge completely in water and freeze in an air-tight container. I used those outrageously high-tech, pump-out-the-air Glad vacuum bags. Watch out! And with the remaining pound: de-shell, de-vein, rinse clean, pat dry. Then I brought out a recipe from our sips and apps party, a new one for you guys: Citrus-Coriander Shrimp. Whisk together lime juice, orange juice and zest, garlic, mustard, salt, and a whole lotta coriander, and marinate for four hours. Broil in the oven. Skewering to resemble lollipops: optional.

in which i “mea culpa”

Hi there.

It’s been a while!

I’m really sorry kiddos! I’ve been busy in the past month plus.

Also, I’m an airhead.

Please don’t leave me?

Immediately after rocking the GREs (kindly see last post), I visited my boyfriend in California.

I was a real brat about leaving. Leaving the incredible food that I’m so (so) spoiled with every time, the wonderful family, the weather. THE WEATHER. Because after California, we went back east to DC.

Do you know how hot August in DC is?

It is in the nineties everyday, at least. It is so hot that government literally leaves town. They just clear out! I am not making this up.

(But I still love you, DC.)

Then we went to New York for a few days. We had tapas, pizza, a surprise party, and — shockingly — a hotel room! This is the first time I’ve stayed in a hotel since starting school there. (I think.) It was great, by which I mean air conditioned. Even though there were traffic police leaving the building when we went in? Awkward.

Then we went back to Iowa City. A rain forest had sprouted in our absence!

I chopped it down. It took AGES! And sorry, I don’t have an after shot, but all that canopy in the upper left — chopped! Pruned! Weeds eliminated. I’m really proud of it.

Then we went to Des Moines for the day. The capitol building is seriously gorgeous. We even got a private tour of the law library and Supreme Court, since there were so few people there. And we’re famous.

Then my mom came to visit. We ate everywhere! (Maybe I’ll share some reviews later on…) THEN we went to Kansas City. AND NOW, Mom has gone back to DC and Billy has too!, for a job interview. HOOOOO BOY.

Now? Here I am, just me and “The Office.” Or “Dancing With The Stars.” Depending on the commercials. Seriously though: did you know Bristol Palin, the Situation, David Hasselhoff, Michael Bolton, AND Florence Henderson are all on this season?

I never watched before.

Now I may.

Just me, television, and Chinese take-out. Don’t mind if I do.


Williamsburg! Not the one with hipsters, but the one with colonialists. Williamsburg, Virginia: I spent the weekend there visiting my childhood best friend, one of those maddeningly clever people who sees nothing unusual about being brilliant AT EVERYTHING. She’s funding her summer stay with paid environmental research, and also taking a linguistics class and poetry workshop. We spent the first afternoon canoeing around a lake filled with floating, crusty pads of algae that look exactly like elephant skin and/or broccoli casserole. It is deeply foul — happily, it’s what she’s finding a fix for, so  I got to play Paddler Two in her science experiment!

The next day, we got on a bigger boat, namely the ferry across the James River. It drops you off near a little town called Surry. I loved the little beach enclaves, the grand manor homes and once-grand ones like the beautifully decrepit, paint-peeling, clapboards-clapping house that follows:

But most of all, we loved the real reason we went there: blueberry picking at College Run Farms (which I do not think is run by William & Mary students, as the name seems to suggest — but perhaps it is, and what an adorable conceit if so). We picked two pints of blueberries, and it was only by exemplary self-restraint that we didn’t go in for another two, because the fields were gigantic, the berries heavy on their brambles and some even bleached white from so much sun.

I suspect that the extreme combination of heat and SUN may have had something to do with our admirably modest yield, too. Did I mention it was 105 degrees? And that there was no shade except, well, if you crouched low to the ground, nearly underneath the bushes? (I should know.) The good news here is that, oh my are blueberries better warm on the branch! They are eons better than what you find in the grocery store. You’ll just have to trust me.

The whole while, I had the sense of deja vu from when I went blueberry picking in Maine a few years ago, and accidentally-on-purpose ended up with fifteen (FIF. TEEN.) pint-containers of blueberries. That is too many blueberries. Too many to eat by the handful, so most met their gooey end in crumbles, cobblers, and crisps (there is a difference among the lot; one day I’ll explain it), MANY experimental muffins (this is the best one), jams, and even salads.

Two pints though? That is manageable. We used up an entire one that very night, with a VERY budget rendition of the Smitten Kitchen’s new peach-blueberry cobbler. It was “budget” because we worked around the cornmeal, brown sugar, AND baking powder requirements. Listen, when you have sunstroke from berry picking and get home at seven o’clock at night and still have to conjure up dinner, just see if you feel like running to the store for the sake of a recipe. I promise you, you will not.

(I won’t judge you for it.) Calls for cornmeal and brown sugar are easily waved away with slightly rounder cupfuls of flour and a squeeze of honey. Now, baking powder . . . well, in retrospect, baking soda is not an exact substitute. We chose to ignore that. We got something a bit more aluminum-y than is strictly desirable. But you wouldn’t know from looking at it.

Next time you find yourself with an extra pint of blueberries, AND baking powder: I unhesitatingly recommend this recipe. Or you could save the berries until the next morning, because our second use will blow your mind. (Hint: not pancakes.) Stay tuned.

terminally uncool but worth it

Let me get this out of the way: I don’t mean to feed the dragon. The Washington Post beat me to this realization two years ago, and I only had my first taste last weekend. I am in fact late to the party. Furthermore, I know cupcakes are over. We have entered the cupcake backlash period. Macaroons are the next big thing, if donuts don’t get there first.

BUT. Let me just tell you. Georgetown Cupcakes — specifically their “Chocolate Squared” cupcake, is:

  • The best cupcake I’ve ever had
  • Better than any New York equivalent
  • You know, probably a “Top Five All-Around Dessert”

Friends, let’s dig a little deeper. Cupcakes attained It status within the last ten years, and in no small part thanks to the iconic Sex and the City scene of Miranda and Carrie wolfing down Magnolia’s and dishing on crushes. It was a New Yorky thing to non-New Yorkers, and that made it cool outside, and it was a West Village thing to New Yorkers, which made it cool inside, too. Then cupcakes got too cool for their own good. One reason: some bakeries got too big for their britches, and decided to expand to Los Angeles or Dubai, and is anyone really surprised that the buttercream’s not as fresh when the owners are also drafting a five year plan for the United Arab Emirates? No. Another reason: it’s cool to hate on the trend for being trendy.

But before cupcakes were the zeitgeist, and being the zeitgeist brought them down, they were perfect. Here’s why: small cakes. I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like cake. But who wants to make or buy an entire cake when it’s just you? Or when half your guests like vanilla, and the other half wants chocolate? (This happens. I took advanced requests before bringing birthday cupcakes to my third grade class. What, this is just me? Moving on.)

Cakes are harder to share with coworkers or classmates. They never cut cleanly, or evenly, and the third or fourth slice always gets messed up because frosting’s collected on the knife blade, so it just drags through the cake and sort of squishes it in a depressing way. There are often leftovers. Cakes just look like a giant mass of calories, staring you down. But dammit all if cakes aren’t just the best tasting thing ever.

This is why cupcakes are great. You don’t have to cut them. They’re easy to share with groups. They’re frankly portable, and who isn’t constantly stricken with the thought, “I’m having a lovely day, but I really wish I had a small, portable cake to nosh on right now”? You can make a batch of six, or forty eight, and why stop there in fact, you can make thousands, as Georgetown Cupcakes does. They come in any flavor cakes do, and are customizable beyond that. They are CUTE and PRETTY.

All that is why we first fell in love with cupcakes. And one more thing. Although some cupcakes are overly sweet, or not perfectly soft around the outside, or topped with air-hardened frosting — the best cupcakes are truly the center piece of a cake, the sweet spot of perfect frosting application and evenly set, crumbly-moist batter. And Georgetown’s chocolate squared cupcake happens to be cut from a outstanding, intensely chocolate cake. Lots of butter, sifted flour, and undertones of coffee that intensify the chocolate. SO MUCH CHOCOLATE, but it feels lighter than air.

And that, in a nutshell, is the giant success of the chocolate squared. I’m going back, and I don’t even care if it’s uncool!

hits and misses in rockwell’s story

The new Norman Rockwell show at the Smithsonian Museum of American Art is, among many things, a delight. But there’s a fallacy at work, too, and no one’s made a peep about it. Least of all the New York Times, which I am currently eying with a distrustful, wary eye and will get to in a moment.

The good? Norman Rockwell was a masterful visual narrator, and the exhibition’s minimalist attitude toward wall text, save for a few inane quotes from Rockwell collectors Steven Spielberg and especially George Lucas (who both have manifested interesting reflections on Rockwell in interviews, which makes the quote selection all the more disappointing), showcases this talent.

First Trip to a Beauty Shop, Top Value trading stamp catalogue, 1972

Rockwell’s ability to “tell entire stories in a single, frozen image,” in Spielberg’s words, is a lost art. It’s an illustrator’s gift, and Rockwell was the best of all illustrators. We still tell stories in pictures, but they unfold in sequences, or come with subtitles (comic books, comic strips, New Yorker covers). For an image, much less a “fine arts” painting, to carry an entire account of an eight year old’s first, monumental visit to Mom’s fancy salon one Saturday afternoon, and her surprised, ebullient delight at this stylish coiffure — well that’s rare.

Happy Birthday Miss Jones, The Saturday Evening Post, 1956

Or there’s this one, which perfectly, effortlessly captures Miss Jones’s proud, fond smile at her pupils. She’s positively beaming at them. They’ve remembered her birthday, carpeting the edge of her desk with apples, flowers, and wrapped gifts, and the pack of them have scrawled “Happy birthday!” across the blackboard — clearly intending to surprise her and now settled into their seats with an innocent air of “What?” while the dropped chalk gives them all away. And since I’ve been on Miss Jones’s end of happy surprise, I’m inclined to think she’s impressed, thinking to herself, Well, look how sweet they are when they try. The painting is simple, but lavishly detailed, and it’s an accomplishment. And many more follow this pattern.

Window Washer, Saturday Evening Post, 1960

But there’s a real problem here, too, and if the museum was admirably hands-off in letting viewers explore the stories for their own sake, without chiming in with biographical irrelevancies, it seriously dropped the ball somewhere else.

Where was said ball dropped? . . .