Friday, August 23, 2013

Two summer dinners

On Wednesday of this week we hosted one of my long time clients, Julia Forte of 800Notes along with her young family, and made a summer dinner that included two standards for our household (gazpacho and baked salmon with cilantro sauce), as well as a baked peach dish that I have been wanting to try.

I pulled together a cold soup the night before.  Gazpacho is a standard around our house as soon as summer begins.  For each batch, I add to a food processor maybe two or three cups of coarsely chopped tomatoes, a handful of chopped cucumber, a handful of chopped red bell pepper, and a handful of fruit — whatever is inexpensive at the markets that week—as well as a dollop each of olive oil and basalmic vinegar.  Early in the summer, it tends to be grapes, but peaches, mangoes, pineapple also do well.  In full summer, when gazpacho is planned, I can buy “seconds” peaches at the Dupont Circle farmers market, where the prices are high because the shoppers are largely upper middle class urban folk, but even the slightest bruise on a peach puts it in the seconds bin for $1.49 or even $.99 per pound.  That is what I had bought this past Sunday; but the cucumbers I had bought the previous week got used for one thing or another.  So, all the into the food processor, all with the skins still on (although I do generally peel and indeed de-seed the cucumbers, removing parts that would otherwise tend to make the soup bitter); then each containerful is blended to a puree.  Ready to serve, although on hot summer evenings it is better if it can spend at least a few hours in the refrigerator first.

I also made dessert the night before.  I had gone a bit crazy buying seconds peaches on Sunday, and because they were bruised they needed to be used quickly.  I halved the peaches and cut off the places where the bruises had started to morph into bad spots, pulled out the pits, and stuffed the cavities with chopped candied ginger.  I put the peaches in a large baking dish and poured in a bath that was part triple sec and part brandy.  I put this in a 250̊ oven, and left them there for about three hours.  They spent the day in the fridge, but came out as I arrived to make dinner, so they had been sitting out for about 90 minutes by the time we got to dessert time.  I spooned the cooked liquor over the peaches and served with vanilla ice cream on the side.  It was excellent, and the planned-overs were even better the following day after they had been sitting, more thoroughly immersed in the remaining bath, for another day.  I am making the dessert again tonight, in preparation for tomorrow's tailgate before the DC United game.

The main course consisted of corn on the cob and salmon baked with cilantro sauce.  The latter has become another staple in our household.  I begin by making the marinade in a food processor – a bunch of cilantro, maybe a half cup of onion, a few cloves of garlic,  a couple tablespoons each of brown sugar and basalmic vinegar, a quarter cup each of olive oil and lemon juice, and tad of finely minced hot pepper – thankfully by this time of summer the Thai pepper plant on our back porch, although still small, has plenty of prik – and one is certainly enough for this recipe

After the sauce is pureed, I put it on the salmon fillets, ideally for a few hours, but today they only had enough time for me to walk over to the supermarket to get ice cream and corn, then get the rest of dinner ready.  I heated the oven up to 450̊ and, after the table was set and we were ready to sit down for gazpacho, I put the salmon on a baking sheet and into the oven.  After five minutes, I upped the oven temperature to 500̊.  Usually another five minutes are enough, but today’s salmon fillets were especially thick so I gave them another couple of minutes.  The salmon came out just barely cooked enough to flake – perfect.

On Thursday was a summer dinner of a different kind.  Every year for my birthday, we head out to Riva, Maryland to enjoy blue crabs and other seafood at Mike's Crab House, on Riva Road along the South River.  My birthday was last week, but Sam and Nafisa were in Zanzibar then and Joe was in New York; on the actual birthday Nancy and I finally made it to Little Serow (quite a disappointment, but that's another post).

We almost always go out on a weekend, when Mike’s is jammed and it usually takes an hour or two to get a table.  Scheduling considerations this year pushed us to Thursday; because it was mid-August, the traffic out of town was bad but not nearly so bad is it would be other times of the year.  And the extra time in traffic paid off at Mike’s, because we were able to walk right in, and if we hadn’t had too many people for the standard table of eight, we would have been able to sit right at the very edge of the eating deck next to the river.   We will have to think about mid-week visits in future years!

Part of the attraction is the crabs, but the location is also important: the eating deck extends out into the river, with lovely views in all directions. 


As it was, it was just too crowded with nine people, so we sat instead we were seating in the covered-but-open-air part of the deck, with a fine atmosphere and view.

We were exceptionally lucky with the weather – the usual DC afternoon thunderstorms had been predicted, but the sky stayed clear and we were treated to an exceptional sunset, looking west past the Riva Road bridge.  We had a visitor who grew up on the West Coast and had to be educated on the technique of eating blue crabs 

We got two platters of a dozen crabs each for nine people, plus fried calamari, mussels (only because they were out of fried oysters) and shrimp wrapped in bacon (the consensus was that I make them better – here they were in a sweet sauce, while I generally grill them with a bit of cheese as well as home-made old bay seasoning). 

As the sun went down, we took turns strolling out the piers; on the weekends they are full of boats that have arrived to eat at Mikes, but today there were only a few boats.  The view of from the pier back toward Mike’s was nice

but the view toward the fading sunset was the best.

We enjoyed desserts: Joe, Avita and Celia shared the cheesecake, and I tried the nutty buddy, but Sam and Nafisa went with the peanut butter chocolate cake and this old standby on the dessert menu was still the best in my book.

Wednesday, August 14, 2013

A jaunt to Stone Pond via New York

This month we visited  – I want to say, made  a pilgrimage to — the family’s house on Stone Pond, located at the edge of Marlborough, New Hampshire and at the foot of Mount Monadnock.  The trip had several side purposes — to drop off son Joe at his new apartment in Washington Heights, to visit with my father on Long Island, hopefully to persuade him to try one last visit to Stone Pond.  But the chance to spend a few days in New Hampshire was the key part.

We began on Friday morning with a drive with a car full of Joe’s belongings, which we carried up to the fourth floor of his apartment building at the southern end of Washington Heights, where he will be living while he is in graduate school at Hunter.  The neighborhood was full of life; we were glad to see many children at play in the park down the street that separates the neighborhood from the Harlem River. 

Then we drove out to meet my father in his continuous care facility in Port Washington on Long Island.  Considering that we left Washington Heights at about 6 PM at the beginning of a nice summer weekend, I was quite surprised that we encountered so little traffic and were able to make it to Port Washington soon after 7 PM.  I had a hankering for seafood, so the four of us went out to the Jolly Fisherman in downtown Roslyn.   Easily the best dish of everything we ordered was the Pan-Seared Chilean Sea Bass, which was tender and flavorful, although I certainly appreciated the Baby Field Greens, a huge portion that came with candied pecan, dried cranberries and chevre.  My main dish, the swordfish steak with mustard sauce, was flavorful but, I confess, a bit tough.

The following morning, my father gave us the bad news that he had definitely decided not to join us at Stone Pond.  We drove over to IKEA to buy Joe a bed for his new apartment, then brought the boxes to his apartment.  By the time we left Manhattan on our way to Stone Pond, it was late afternoon; we reached Keene, New Hampshire as dusk was gathering, bought some groceries for our stay at the pond, and drove through Marlborough and up to the lake.  It was quite dark when we arrived, and we realized that we had quite forgotten just what we had to do to turn on the water and electricity.  Happily, we had brought a borrowed MiFi device and Joe was able to check his email from the last time he had been up there, and we were able to turn everything on easily.  We had a nice dinner of sauteed salmon and salad; although it was late, Nancy and Joe decided it was time for one of the classic rituals of summer at Stone Pond: they started in to work on a jigsaw puzzle while I checked my email and began work on one of the litigation projects that I had to take along if I was going to have this vacation at all. (I was working on my brief in this union democracy case, doing a libel review of this report, and beginning to work on another  brief that I will be filing tomorrow).

For each of the last several times we had been to Stone Pond — often in conjunction with dropping Joe off at U Conn or Sam off as U Mass before that— our visit had been too short to climb Mount Monadnock, so this part of the Stone Pond ritual was definitely on the mind of each of the three of us.  But the weather forecast called for afternoon thunderstorms, so we decided to put the climb off for the following day, for which the weather forecast promised full sunshine.  Instead, we had a dip in the lake — the water was delicious and not nearly so cold as I had expected

Stone Pond, seen from our small beach on the north side of the lake

then walked past the town beach and around the lake up Kershaw Road to see the newly painted Chapel of St. Francis 

and pose with the lake in the background and the mountain rising above

We on the way back, we looked at a road that must have been there all along we had never noticed before, and walked down the hill to see that, in as newly cleared area, the road was apparent heading back up to intersect Kershaw Road.  The grand stone wall at the entrance to the road

showed us that this must have been the original access to the large red mansion on the other side of the lake from our much more modest cabin.

Our cabin, looking from the lake side

Our cabin seen from the parking area, lake visible through the trees

That evening, rather than cook again, we drove into town for dinner at Luca’s CafĂ©, situated on the main square in downtown Keene.  My swordfish with asparagus, served as the fish du jour, was much more tender than what I had eaten two nights before in Roslyn

Swordfish at Luca's Cafe

while Joe had the Mediterranean ravioli and Nancy has a nice seafood risotto (I thought that the risotto was fine but remarked to Joe that the risotto he had made for us the week before was better)

Mediterranean Ravioli at Luca's Cafe

I was tempted by dessert, and had the chocolate pyramid, which was filled with hazelnut cream at the top and chocolate  mousse at the bottom

Chocolate Pyramid at Luca's Cafe

The following morning we got a reasonably early start to climb Mount Monadnock, locally advertised as the most climbed mountain in the United States, in that significant numbers have been walking to the top at least since the early 1800's, and the mountain is within easy range or both Boston and New York.  Some sources say that, after Mount Fuji, Monadnock is the most-climbed mountain in the world.  There are perhaps fifteen different trails to the top, and I wanted to try one that we had never done before, but Nancy and Joe both had tradition on their minds so we drove to the golf course at Dublin Pond, then turned up the Old Troy Road to the parking lot for the trailhead for the Dublin Trail, which goes up the north side of the mountain.

The trail begins with an easy traipse through a deciduous forest, crossing small stream beds narrowed into small channels at the path by large, flat rocks so you can just step right over even if water is flowing – and today this was all completely dry.   But then we began to climb as the path turned upward, sometimes just combinations of rocks and dirt and roots,

but sometimes rocks requiring substantial steps.  Some of the rock steps were so long that Nancy needed a pull from above or a push from behind; but my legs were long enough for all of these.  Twenty years before, Joe had done his first climb as a two or three year old, and he had to be encouraged as his energy flagged, pointing out the progress he was making, urging him just to make it to the next blaze for now; he made it all the way to the top on his own but there is a famous family photo showing him sleeping in Nancy’s arms on the way down.  But today it was Joe who was surging ahead on the climb, and his older dad who needed to catch his breath as we gained 1700 feet in elevation in two miles of trail (will I be in good enough shape for Mt. Kilimanjaro next summer?).  I liked having the excuse that I was carrying the pack with most of our lunch and all of our water, until finally I was induced to give it up and that did make my climbing easier.

Then we emerged from the forest into the brushy part of the climb, where most the of trees were evergreens; the views back to the north began to open up

On the walk along the road the day before, we had picked some excellent blackberries, and I was hoping that maybe the wonderful blueberry patches that we have passed on Mondadnock in previous years would be full of fruit, but there were only a few dark berries, and I wasn’t sure how edible they were so I held off.  

Finally, we emerged onto the bush- and tree-free part of the mountain.  We had hiked the mountain enough times not to be fooled by the false summit, but Joe raced especially far ahead as we could see tiny figures moving around at the true summit

Heading to the summit on Mount Monadnock

While down below, we could see Stone Pond (on the left in this photo)

When we arrived at the top, the sky was clear, although there was too much haze on the horizon to see Boston, as we sometimes have been able to do from the summit.

Our family atop Mount Monadnock
Paul and Joe atop Mount Monadnock

And it was quite windy — not so windy as we had been told by the only two hikers who were coming down while we were on the way up, but certainly windy enough that we, like most people although not the fellow just to the right in this photo, had to sit right up against the rocks so that it was not too cold to have our lunch.

The top is so rocky that I always think of the mountain as having always been open at the top, but we as read in the cabin’s standard Monadnock hiking book, we were reminded that it was originally covered by forest at the summit, but burned off, and subsequently lost most of its soil cover.  Not so much, though, that this nice stand of wildflowers could not survive.

A patch of wildflowers near the summit of Mount Monadnock

When we got back to the parking lot in the early afternoon, where we were the only other car when we arrived at about 9 AM, it was so full that we felt we had to hurry off to leave a spot for a car that arrived while we were dawdling near the car.  It was early enough that we were able to go back to the house where we either showered or, in my case, had a nice long swim in the lake.  The we drove into Keene to pick up something to cook for dinner as well as completing the last part of our Stone Pond ritual – a soft-serve and a round of mini-golf at Twinkle Town  in Keene.  After dinner (I made a very slimmed down version of spice-rubbed pork chops with sauteed apples and mustard sauce), we walked down to the town beach; there was barely any ambient light and the view of the night sky was excellent.  After we got back, I got some more work done on my briefs, but as I went to bed a loon was calling out on the lake.  Great music by which to go to sleep.
We woke up Tuesday morning; the lake was as still as glass, except that a loon was out in the middle of the lake, ducking down into the water,  I went for an early morning swim (well, 9 AM)  and we cleaned up the house and headed back to New York.  Barely sixty hours at the place, but oh so relaxing.  It whet my appetite for our next visit.

We had a birthday dinner with my father (89!!), at the Thyme Restaurant in Roslyn, where the price on the prix fixe dinner is so attractive that it is hard to justify having anything else there.  Then dropped Joe off at his apartment in Washington Heights.  It was nearly 11 on a weekday evening, but the street was still brimming with life -- families out on their stoops, children racing up and down the street on tricycles and small bikes. 

Joe will enjoy this new neighborhood.  But we are now truly empty-nesters.