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Here we are in the dog days of summer.  Luckily I escaped the sweltering city just in the nick of time—right before the most recent heat wave, I was off to Maine for a week with my Dad.  It had been in the works for a while and we couldn’t have been happier that the trip coincided with such disgusting weather in the Northeast.  Instead of the stifling subway and oven-hot asphalt, I got to enjoy this:

I couldn’t fill my lungs with enough sea breeze.  From our sailboat, from the shore, from the dock, I repeatedly breathed deeply and mindfully, longing to save the clean, cool air for when I would need it most, perhaps while waiting underground  for a train during my morning commute where the air is stagnant and thick.  My Dad and I relaxed on the deck situated right over the water and enjoyed simple home cooked meals—penne with summer squash and tomatoes, veggie burgers with caramelized onions and peppers, western omelettes with fresh fruit, and fluffy pancakes (my Dad’s specialty).

Now before I boast too much about the pleasures of a coastal Maine summer vacation, I ought to let you in on the pains of moving that I’ve recently gone through–during July 4th weekend, my roommate and our families spent humid, sweaty days packing and unpacking an enormous moving truck and lugging things up and down stairs.  Preceding that whole experience, she and I had spent some stressful evenings apartment hunting after work, agonizing over all the variables involved–rent, commute, size, broker’s fee, closet space, etc.  I truly needed my vacation as well as a vacation from writing my posts here.  I needed not only to relax my body but also to relax my mind, to allow it to rest from it’s constant planning and plotting and problem-solving.  I needed to pour out my brain and unclench my mind—I’d been so tightly wound the past few months, it felt so incredibly lovely to let everything go.

So Danielle and I said goodbye to Rochambeau Ave, where we had lived and laughed and grown during the past three years, and said hello to Myrtle Ave and a whole new borough.  Brooklyn.  It’s quite strange to say that I live in Brooklyn after living for so long in a borough that raises eyebrows and many believe to be the ugly stepchild of New York.  But it is done and we are happy and have no regrets.  And of course a new apartment means a new kitchen.  Danielle and I were both concerned about finding a nice kitchen in our new place.  Something with counter and cabinet space—both are a rare commodity in apartments on the cheaper end of the spectrum in this city.  But we managed to do it and are both enjoying cooking there.
So far, I’ve made quite a few recipes.  Of course my favorite whole grain pancakes (this time I had beautifully fresh raspberries to use)

and veggie stuffed summer squash

and arugula pesto with penne.

The arugula pesto is quite delicious and is the second pesto I’ve made this summer that is not a pesto in which basil plays the starring role.  Isn’t it interesting when we Americans hear the word pesto, we automatically think of basil?  But it comes the Italian word for to crush, to pound, so essentially pesto is more about the technique to make it and less about the ingredients.  I made pea pesto about a month ago—it was for the last community dinner we hosted at Rochambeau—and it was just gorgeous.

So now the arugula pesto.  It would really be lovely if you used some straight from your garden, but, finding myself without one this summer, I’ve had to settle with some from the farmers market or the store in a pinch.  Really now all it takes is a few simple ingredients—and isn’t that what you want on a day when your walk from the subway to your apartment leaves you a dripping mess?!  Ok, can you remember this—arugula, olive oil, chopped garlic, toasted nuts (pine nuts or walnuts or almonds or experiment more), parmesan cheese, salt, pepper, basil, oregano.  Essentially, you put the arugula and a bit of the olive oil in a food processor or blender, process until it starts to get chopped up, add the garlic, blend some more, add the nuts a bit at a time as you are blending (make sure they are already toasted!), add the rest of the oil, add some of the cheese, be sure to scrape down the sides of the processor or blender with a rubber spatula as you go to keep it all combined, then you want to add some salt and pepper and the spices to taste and the rest of the cheese.

For people who need exact measurements, here you go:

  • 2 cups of packed arugula leaves, stems removed
  • 1/2 cup of shelled walnuts
  • 1/2 cup fresh Parmesan cheese
  • 1/2 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • 6 garlic cloves, unpeeled
  • 1/2 garlic clove peeled and minced
  • 1/2 teaspoon salt

If you are going to be adding this to pasta, prepare the pasta but make sure to reserve at least 2 cups of pasta water before you drain the pasta.  When you add the pesto it will be thick and difficult to combine completely with the pasta so add a little of the reserved water as you go and heat the pasta over low.  Stir it on up and it all should combine.  Top with some extra toasted nuts, cheese, spices, and fresh tomatoes or other vegetables.

Now this doesn’t have to just go with penne or another kind of pasta.  Serve it with crusty bread and cheese, or instead of sauce on a pizza, or just eat it fresh out of the bowl, I won’t tell anyone (I do it myself when no one is looking)–after all it isn’t summer without pesto!


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Wrapping Up Summer 2010

Although it is 90 degrees at 7:15pm, September is upon us.  I’ve had a wonderful summer, you won’t find any complaints here–ok maybe I’ll complain that it was really too hot and that I didn’t get enough beach days, but other than that it was spectacular.  From short trips to Maine and Connecticut, to camping by the beach on Long Island, to spending time in my garden and my kitchen, it sure will be difficult to transition from Summer to Fall.

It’s not only the seasons that are transitioning, I’m personally at a transition point, with Heather my very dear friend leaving our apartment to move back to San Fransisco and then on to the Peace Corps, Danielle and I are welcoming a new roommate and saying goodbye to another that we’ve felt grateful to build a home with.  Needless to say, I’ve felt particularly nostalgic and mushy lately.  At times like these, it’s so nice to look back with gratitude and love for what you have in your life.

I’m certainly grateful for these lovely ladies, this picture comes from a benefit for POTS the organization Heather worked at for many years.

On that note, I’d like to do a quick round up of some things I’ve made and done this summer, things I’m so grateful to be able to do and experience.  There’s no time for full recipes as I’m under the gun to get packing for a trip I’m taking (more on that later) so I’ll just share some photos with you:

About a month ago, we hosted community dinner in our apartment and it was hot hot hot!  It was too hot to turn on the oven, so I made a lovely icebox cake–so easy and so delicious!!

For another community dinner, I made a yummy cake with molasses and blueberries!  So good if you love molasses and since it requires frozen blueberries, you can use any that you picked during the summer and froze for later, you’ll love this–I might post the recipe later because it is just so good.

Also!  Book club turned one!!  That was back in June and we had a celebratory feast and a cake with all the fabulous ladies present.  Danielle and I hosted it here at our apartment and everyone had a great time.

Heather and I explored the entrances to old Native American caves in Inwood Hill Park on one of my vacation days from work, it was so fun!  There are still wild places on the island of Manhattan.

My garden is…..well it’s still growing!!  I wish I could get over there more often, but it doesn’t seem to mind too much.  Cucumbers are dead and gone but my tomatoes are finally starting to come in and our basil is still bushy!

Last night, neighbors hosted a birthday party for Ena, the woman who runs our community garden.  She turned 80, but you could have fooled me!  She doesn’t look a day over 65 and I think it’s all that time she spends busy in her garden.  I made chocolate zucchini cake!  It was yummy and moist, wouldn’t even know that a vegetable was in it unless you made the cake yourself–a whole 3 cups of shredded zucchini….I wonder if it cancels out the eggs and sugar in there??

Well that’s a pretty good recap of summer activities!  I’m on to my next adventure so I won’t be writing again until the end of the month.  I’ll be heading to Romania for about 10 days with Heather to revisit some places we volunteered during our time at Fordham.  After that we’ll be meeting up with my friend Donna in Amsterdam.  Donna lives in Germany so she’ll spend time with us in Amsterdam and then the 3 of us will travel together to spend a little time in Augsburg where she lives. 

Have a wonderful September and ease on into the transition to Fall.  The good news is that with any luck, we’ll have an equally lovely summer season next year.

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All at once August is upon us and I for one think it came sneakily.  Though this summer has been filled with long, hot, humid days, it still has passed away so quickly.  This morning I was feeling a little bit melancholy, maybe because the summer is starting to slip through my fingers, so I decided to cook myself out of the funk I was in.  August means zucchini season is here and although I didn’t plant any in my garden, with our latest CSA delivery a few of the beautiful fruits have found their way into my fridge and I’m excited for more to pour in.  When I was small, I didn’t eat many vegetables but I remember very vividly my mother’s zucchini bread.  I think because it was so delicious I didn’t mind it being flecked with green bits of the vegetable.  Now, I love zucchini!  I love it sauteed, baked, or steamed….it’s so versatile and so delicious!

So this morning I started thinking about making zucchini pancakes–I had seen some recipes in my cookbooks and they’ve been in the back of my head, begging to be made.  I obliged and was not disappointed.  In fact, I’m eating them right now and they are so delicious!  The recipe is fairly simple but yields a beautiful, crispy, flavorful treat!  You can serve them as a main dish or side dish.  The recipe is an adapted version from Mollie Katzen’s Moosewood Cookbook.

  • 2 medium sized zucchini (or summer squash could work too), shredded
  • 3 eggs, whites and yolks separated
  • 3 shallots chopped (or you could use green onions)
  • 1/2 cup feta cheese
  • pinch of fresh mint 
  • pinch of nutmeg
  • salt and pepper
  • 3 tbsp flour
  • olive oil for frying 

First grate the zucchini, put a few paper towels or cheese cloth in a strainer to get rid of some of the liquid. 

Let it sit in the strainer while you beat the 3 egg whites in a small bowl until they start to form stiff peaks. 

Once the zucchini is less watery, put in a large bowl with all the other ingredients except the oil and egg whites (also, you don’t necessarily have to use all the egg yolks but I did).  Stir together until mixed and then fold in the egg whites.  (Aren’t these shallots incredibly beautiful?  They are from one of the gardens at the community garden.)

Heat a small layer of oil in a frying pan and add a tablespoon per pancake to the pan.  Let each side get golden brown and a little crisp, about 2-3 minutes on each side.

If you’d like to enjoy it with something on the side (which I really recommend!), I made a little variation on the tzatziki recipe from my last post.  I just stirred chopped cucumbers, dried dill, yogurt and garlic and ate that on the side.  Alternatively, you could serve this with sour cream or plain yogurt.  Mmmm these little beauties took those August blues away.

Hopefully when you kitchen is overflowing with squash of all kinds this summer, you will consider making these lovely pancakes, you won’t be disappointed. 

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It’s been hot in the city lately–I’ve been feeling like it’s gotten too hot, too quickly.  As I write this, my computer is telling me the temperature in the Bronx is 81 degrees (at 10 pm)!!  Luckily, I have a summer escape only a few hours outside the city available to me at any time.  This past Saturday I was glad to take advantage of that luck and spent some time with my family in Connecticut.  It was nice to be away, if only for a little while. 

I’m not sure if you know this, but New Yorkers are kind of weird about Connecticut.  Most of them think that the entire state is composed of something akin to Fairfield County.  Many refer to CT as “the country”, as if it is exists only for weekend getaways for the wealthy people who have “country homes”.  Don’t get me wrong, there are parts of the state that qualify as such for sure, but for being such a small state, Connecticut has a lot of diversity–cities, suburbs, farm-y type towns, old mill towns, pretty forested areas.  All this is to say that I’m lucky to live so close to where I grew up–a nice little suburb of Hartford. 

Although Newington is firmly a suburb, my parents’ gardens and the convenient closeness of the town park had me feeling that I was one of the lucky New Yorkers who do have a vacation home in CT.  I felt that I was hidden away at some sort of countryside retreat.  Here are a few photos of the vegetable garden and the yard (and the dog Hazel)–they don’t really do justice to the beautiful flowers in the other beds, but just so you get the idea:

I ended up heading to Connecticut because my family was celebrating my Grandfather’s birthday and Father’s day.  I spent the day helping get things ready for the party–my role was dessert maker.  I made strawberry shortcakes with fresh Connecticut-grown strawberries.  Mmmmm they were really yummy, but I have to confess……..I used Bisquick to make biscuits hahaha!!  Though I aim to do as much as I can from scratch, I’ve learned that sometimes you have to go ahead and just use the mix.  I did make whipped cream from scratch and used the local strawberries.  Here are some fabulous photos of the strawberries themselves:

I spent a good portion of the afternoon sitting at our picnic table cutting the just-washed berries.  My sister’s new puppy Dublin kept me company and snatched up any fallen fruits:

The berries were fantastic!  My Dad called me on Friday to ask me how many I needed.  He was on his way to a farm near his office.  We settled on 3 quarts, thinking we would have a lot leftover but we used them all!  I don’t have photos of the finished product, but the shortcakes were delicious.  Each berry was a little bite of summer sunshine–how nice to have fresh fruit, it made a world of difference.  Berry season doesn’t last long and I’m grateful I had the chance to eat them at their peak.   Of course the dessert was made sweeter being in the company of my family and the gorgerous gardens.  I love New York, but sometimes you need a summer escape!

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The Bronx is Beautiful

Hello!  After a brief haitus, I’m back with good news.  I got a plot at the local community garden for the summer!  I’ve been busy busy lately on the weekend–first I took a trip to hike Mt. Washington, then I went to Maine for Memorial Day weekend.  But last weekend I spent some quality time in the garden.  I can’t explain what a wonderful oasis Fordham Bedford Lotbusters is.  The garden is about 10 blocks away from my apartment but when I get there I feel miles and miles away from New York.  Here are some pictures from the garden:

I’m sharing the plot with my neighbor Tiffany.  We are both really excited to have our own plot–I haven’t had such a big area to plant in since I was living in Maine almost 3 years ago.  We may have bitten off more than we can chew, but we bought a lot of plants and are deciding what else to put in our plot, here are some photos of the plot–it’s a raised bed:

So far, we have two broccoli plants, four pepper plants, some romaine lettuce, four cucmbers, and four basil.  There is room for some tomatoes and zuccinis and maybe a few other herbs.  It’s very exciting, but I do feel nervous about the cucumbers and broccoli since I’ve never planted those before.  Whatever happens, I think Tiffany and I are both going to learn a lot from the experience–and hopefully enjoy a lot of yummy food from our efforts.

Although gardening can be a bit of work, I find it to also be incredibly relaxing and I always feel as though I am in a meditative state while at work there.  Problems and worries melt away and suddenly every part of me–mind and body–is in the moment, not thinking about the past or the future.  I can’t promise the garden will be a spectacular success, but I honestly enjoy the process as much as I enjoy the tangible rewards.  I’ll keep you posted on my efforts as the summer wears on!

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You know those times when you are waiting for something and you have a few minutes to spare?  The other day, I was sitting around waiting for my yoga video to download (yogatoday.com if you are interested–great site!!)  and I was thinking about some wonderful people in my life who also have blog projects going on.  If you have a free moment–maybe you’re waiting for your yoga video, maybe you’re waiting for your tea water to boil, or maybe you really wanna look at some cool blogs, check these ladies out….

First off is Carin’s site, The Scent of Freedom.  This blog used to be a place for recipes and political discussions but it morphed into the chronicle of her new vegetable garden’s progression.  If you like gardening or are interested in the local food movement, this is a great one to check out–she and her soon-to-be hubby Chris are turning 1500 sq. ft. of land into a fantastic oasis of veggies, fruits, and flowers.  Her latest post includes this quote from Lewis Grizzard– “It’s difficult to think anything but pleasant thoughts while eating a homegrown tomato”…..how true!

A fellow book clubber, Kat, who enjoys cooking and eating just as much as I do has a recipe journal called Kat is Cooking.  Her recipes always sound so yummy and creative.  Her latest post is all about homemade potato salad…..not the kind where you use mayo out of jar, the kind of real homemade salad where you make the mayo from scratch!  I’ve never done that before but I’m tempted to try–I remember when Julie Powell describes how difficult she found making mayonnaise in Julie and Julia so I’ll have to see for myself what it’s like.

Lastly, another JVC roommate, Martha, is a very talented knitter and shares her projects at Knitting by Martha.  She is very fast!!  Although I love knitting, I usually take it up in the winter and tend to leave it behind once the sun comes out again so my projects go very slowly.  Her most recent project is a gorgeous afghan.  Now if only I could have the patience to complete such a big undertaking….

If you have some time to spare, take a look at these sites.  I hope you enjoy them as much as I do!!

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I wandered lonely as a cloud

That floats on high o’er vales and hills, 
When all at once I saw a crowd,
A host, of golden daffodils; 
Beside the lake, beneath the trees,

Fluttering and dancing in the breeze. 

Continuous as the stars that shine

And twinkle on the Milky Way,
They stretched in never-ending line
Along the margin of a bay: 
Ten thousand saw I at a glance,

Tossing their heads in sprightly dance. 

The waves beside them danced; but they
Out-did the sparkling waves in glee: 
A poet could not but be gay,
In such a jocund company: 
I gazed — and gazed — but little thought

What wealth the show to me had brought: 

For oft, when on my couch I lie

In vacant or in pensive mood,
They flash upon that inward eye
Which is the bliss of solitude; 
And then my heart with pleasure fills,
And dances with the daffodils.

~William Wordsworth

Lately the weather here in New York has been quite (dare I say) spring-like.  I’ve been soaking up the sun and enjoying the feeling in the air.  I love this change of seasons the Northeast provides.  As soon as I am growing weary of one season, another comes along to rescue my mood and spirit.  Above all, I feel that the change from winter to spring, while painful at times with its fits and starts, is the loveliest transition of all.  It is the one which we desperately want the most (or at least I do!).  The first few hints of spring cause the air to feel lighter, people to seem happier.  Just when I can’t take one more minute of the oppressiveness of New York in winter, nature brings a little relief and I make peace with the city. 
With the change in weather, I’ve had plants on the brain lately.  Springtime flowers have to be some of my favorites–all those colorful bulbs, sometimes poking up through patches of melting snow.   They are small but powerful signs of hope.  The crocus, narcissus, hyacinth, tulip, and of course the daffodil, each remind us to hang in there and hold out for spring.  Today I was heading to the train from work, enjoying the delicious sun on my face, and I passed by a flower shop.  Outside the store, on a small table, was all sorts of spring flowers for sale.  It was a difficult choice–what with the beautifully blooming and highly fragrant narcissus, the pink and yellow tulips ready to pop, and the hyacinths about to burst.  Although I think my very favorite spring flower is the crocus, I settled on the daffodil because the plant looked strong and healthy, and because the splash of yellow will be fantastic on my window sill.
They don’t look like much, but here they are this evening:
Hopefully soon enough they will be bright and beautiful enough to compare to the flowers that inspired Wordsworth!

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