When I was putting together my September editorial calendar in July, I was picturing my tomato harvest ripening in the warm days that late summer and fall usually bring to my cool coastal town. Growing tomatoes here is an act of faith. You put them in the ground in May or June and they get tall and put out flowers, and maybe in July when you are reading on everybody else's blog about their plentiful and delicious harvest you might start seeing some hard green fruits forming. Maybe the cherry tomato plants will start ripening around then. If you put them in a warm enough spot. And then finally, finally, around the time that everyone else is sick of tomatoes and their vines are starting to die back and get pulled down and the beds put away for the winter, right about then will I get my first ripe tomato. And then it is a mad whirl of eating and freezing and roasting and canning because the span of warm days is brief and always over too soon and the first cold storm always catches not-yet-ripe fruit still on the vine.
At least that's what usually happens. This year the fog was even cooler and more persistent than normal and the warm days were very few and very far between. My cherry tomatoes, even though planted very late, were looking pretty good and covered with baby fruit. And then a gopher came through and lopped the vines all off right at the soil surface. So I turned my hopes to the 4 plants safely planted in the raised beds lined with gopher wire. That were strangely without fruit even in early August. But I am a patient woman. Then one evening I saw my next-door neighbor post on Facebook that she had just lost her garden to early blight thanks to our cool cool summer. Oh no! The next morning I went out and checked my plants and sure enough, two of them were blighted. One was looking pretty good with reasonable fruit set and encouragingly pink fruit and the forth appeared healthy enough but had hardly any fruit. And when I checked again this morning the other two plants are now showing signs of blight, too. So out they will come and my total tomato harvest for the year was a handful of sungolds and two San Marzanos. Two. And I was so looking forward to canning some sauce this fall.
So I'm sorry, but I have no new tomato recipes for you. But I do have 10 here that I recommend because I've been making them for years.
1. Amsterdam tomato soup, so named because I made up this recipe based on a soup I ate in Amsterdam on a cold fall day several years ago. Warmed with cumin and paprika, this is a good soup on a cold day or any day you have a cold.
7. Sausage and Kale. Funny, I still make this dish, but it has continued to evolve and doesn't look much like this any more. It would be more accurate to call it "sausage and peppers" now because I don't always include the kale any more. And Justin moved to Philadelphia and we have a new charcuterie in town.
I recently read about some restaurants in New York City who were discouraging kids from their dining rooms and was intrigued by the conversation that ensued in the comments on the article. Some commenters were supportive of the decision and some outraged. Some people talked about other places they had run into child-unfriendliness, and others talked about their own irritation with other people's rowdy children and their desire to sometimes be in a child-free environment.
I can see both sides. On one side, a business owner certainly has the right to target their desired market narrowly, and make decisions that might seem exclusionary to those outside of the target. The result might be limited hours or difficult access to some, or it might be specifically discouraging people outside of the target - in this case the families with small kids. On the other hand, it seems short-sighted to alienate people who are actually a temporary market. People who have small kids will only have small kids for a while, and sometimes they spend their money when their kids are not with them. They might choose to avoid a kid-free restaurant and also tell their friends about their decisions.
Mostly I was bugged by the fact that when some are excluded, there is a natural tendency to value the included group as "better" than the excluded one. And that whole to-have-children-or-not discussion is so snarly and barbed in our culture already. And for other things I have chosen to do in my life, I have felt excluded and devalued. And it doesn't feel good. But because my community is pretty kid-friendly, and my child is well-behaved and I am contentious about how her presence impacts others and will take her outside if I need to, I thought it didn't really apply to me.
Then I ran into a kid-free business in my own town and my empathy for the business owners grew a little thinner and my feeling of being bugged got bigger. When I called a favorite local restaurant to make a reservation for a birthday dinner, they told me flat out that they don't have high-chairs. Now to be fair, they didn't say I couldn't eat there with a child. And I had taken the baby there before without a reservation and without asking for a high chair. But they weren't making it easy for me, and I sensed from the woman's voice that I would not be made particularly welcome. And that was without even knowing how old my child was or witnessing her being disruptive or messy. At first I just said fine, she could sit on my lap. This was a business where I had spent a lot of time (and money) before I had a baby and I had some loyalty. But in the end I decided I wasn't going to be comfortable in a situation where I felt unwelcome.
Instead I chose an equally high-end restaurant on the other side of town who not only offered me a high chair without me having to ask but set up our table with a nice big square of butcher paper on the floor and then cooed over the baby all through the meal. So where am I more likely to go back and spend my money again? The second place. And before you say that some restaurants just don't have high chairs because they are small, the second place is smaller and far more cramped. But they made room for us and made us feel welcome.
That experience was at the beginning of August, and I have been coming back to the issue in my mind, turning it around, still chewing it. There was something else bothering me and I couldn't put my finger on it.
Finally I think I have it.
The problem with segregating kids out of certain settings is that we will create a world where kids will not learn how to behave in those settings. Is it more annoying to have dinner with a kid at the next table when the parents are engaged and trying to teach the child manners and decorum, or is it more annoying to sit next to a drunk and obnoxious adult, or one who is chatting away on their cell phone at a loud volume? If I cannot teach my child what behavior is acceptable in a range of settings, she will not know how to behave in those settings when she is older. If the only settings she experiences are places where all the kids are running wild, how can I convince her that sometimes she must restrain herself and be quiet and calm? Yes, of course I must teach her these skills before we go to a fancy restaurant, but she must have places where we can practice, and feel the intrinsic reward of having a good experience in such a setting.
Banning kids is not the answer. We need to grow kids who can adapt to various settings and experiences who will grow into adults who will teach their kids to do the same.
I would love to hear what you think on this topic. Would you frequent a restaurant that bans or discourages kids, even if you are dining without them? What do you think about kids being in "grown up" spaces either in general or for special occasions?
Every summer I plant several varieties of basil in my garden. This year I had some Genovese, a sweet basil, several Thai, a couple of lemon, a Holy Basil, and one poor lime basil that didn't make it. I would do well to space them better so I have some basil all the time and not all of them at once, but I don't generally remember to do that. So it is that I get to this part of the summer and I have a lot of basil that needs to be eaten. Now I love pesto, but one can only eat so much of it. So in the interest of variety, I've collected a few other uses for this surprisingly versatile herb. I fear that means that next year I will plant even more basil plants so that I have enough to try all of these!
1. Pesto. Of course. My go-to pesto recipe is the one in the original Moosewood Cookbook that I've had since I was 17 and cooking in my first kitchen. I generally make it in double batches and freeze it, either in ice cube trays that I tip into a bag once frozen or just in a jar. The oil prevents the pesto from freezing really solid, so you can scoop some out and put the rest of the jar back without defrosting it.
By far the best version I've ever made was with 3/4 lemon basil and 1/4 sweet basil. I don't consider the cheese optional.
3. Bruchetta. You can make this really simple, just a Caprese salad conveniently on a little toast, or a more unexpected combination like this roasted red pepper and goat cheese.
4. Basil Gimlet. I've been accused of drinking like an old man. I'm a fan of single malt scotch, vodka tonics, and gimlets. I don't know if making my gimlet out of basil instead of mint would change that reputation, though. Maybe if I used the holy basil? Or chocolate mint?
If you prefer your cocktails a bit more on the fruity end of the spectrum, here are a few options, like strawberry-lemon-basil. Yum!
7. Basil ice pop. Here's a versatile ice pop recipe that I missed in my last round-up. It uses a simple syrup base that you can use to make a ...
6. Basil Cooler. This is just basil-flavored simple syrup mixed with plain bubbly water to make a refreshing non-alcoholic drink. I just made up the name Basil Cooler. I think it needs some work.
You can use the same method of making simple syrup with other garden flavors. Think lemon verbena, thyme, or rose geranium. I have a friend who keeps a batch of lemon simple syrup in her fridge all the time that she makes with Meyer lemon zest.
Basil mayonnaise would be great on a chicken panini, to mix with tuna or potatoes for a salad, or as dip for an artichoke. Of if you could step it up a bit with a Lobster BLT.
8. Ice cream. We have a local ice cream shop that is genius with herb flavors and they have had basil ice cream on heavy rotation this summer. I find it a little bit green for my preference, but I'm curious to try this lemon-basil version. I'm also intrigued with this vegan version with a coconut milk base. Or if you prefer to leave out the creamy base altogether, here is a blueberry basil granita.
10. Frozen basil cubes. This would help solve my winter craving for that fresh basil taste in the middle of winter.
And finally, the salad pictured at the top of this post was served at an Outstanding in the Field dinner I attended in 2008. It had watermelon, prosciutto, toasted pistachios and fresh goat cheese as well as the sprigs of basil. I haven't found a recipe for that particular combination of flavors, but it would be pretty easy to re-create. I wish I remembered more about the dressing!
I just discovered that the term "Popsicle" is a registered trademark - the proper name for the juice treats in my freezer is "ice pop." I also discovered that the first Popsicle was an accident. According to Wikipedia, "The first ice pop was created by accident in 1905 when 11-year-old Frank Epperson left a mixture of powdered soda, water and a stirring stick in a cup on his porch in cold weather." Really. I love me some Wikipedia.
Whatever you call them, I grew up thinking ice pops were a treat of the highest order. Up there with sugar cereal and chewing gum, which is weird, since we weren't allowed to eat sugar cereal or chewing gum, and I think my mom made ice pops on a pretty regular basis. Maybe they felt like such a treat because they were so very good on a really hot day. And those long hot days of summer feel so very long when you are a kid.
My mom had a Tupperware mold, made of that oddly translucent and flexible plastic that older Tupperware was made from. It had little "sticks" with a loop for your finger on the end that stuck through a lid that snapped onto the open end of the mold. I don't know how my mom got them closed without spilling the contents everywhere. I remember that the stick was just a little short and you had to be careful not to lose the middle of the pop as it started to melt. I also remember having very sticky fingers often. Mom probably made plain juice pops sometimes, but mostly I remember yogurt pops. The ice crystals form differently in dairy than in juice and I remember peeling apart the flat crystals with my teeth before they melted.
Yes, I was an odd child.
Last Christmas my brother found an ice pop mold on my Amazon wish list that I had honestly totally forgotten putting there. And so there it was under the tree, totally out of season. I would have loved to have ice pops in my freezer the summer before, when I was all queasy and hot all the time, but in December they didn't seem quite like the thing. So the mold sat on the floor in my office for months, still in the box, until I read a blog post early in the summer about "treats" and I flashed on a memory of sitting on the porch steps eating an ice pop, our German shepherd dog Elsa sleeping in the shade at my feet. And then I really wanted an ice pop. So I picked up some peach juice the next time I was at Trader Joe's and filled up those molds. I realize now in retrospect that it was the *juice* that was the treat when I was young, not the fact that it was frozen.
And you know? It doesn't really get so hot here and I don't have a dog to keep me company, but eating that ice pop sitting in the sun on the front step was just as good as I remembered.
Simple juice pops were just about my speed with a newborn in the house, but when I started looking at recipes for yogurt pops I found some really yummy recipes. These blackberry-honey-yogurt pops are next up to try, now that blackberries are in season. There are a couple others in that round up that I'm going to have to come back to, like the sangria pops. There is a whole genre of boozy ice pop recipes should one care to go that route.
Another good seasonal option are the strawberry-basil pops in this Mark Bittman article in the NY Times. He has some interesting savory suggestions, too, though I have to say that the tomato-cucumber pop just sounds too much like frozen gazpacho.
This list of herbed and spiced pops got me thinking about how I could use the herbs in my garden in interesting ways. Like lemonade with lavender. Apple juice and rose geranium. Pineapple juice with basil or thyme. White tea and lemon verbena. Lime and rosemary.
Now all I need is for our Indian summer to arrive and burn off this fog that's been hanging around all week.
This was my book group's book for September. Our meeting is next week, so we haven't discussed it yet. I missed the meeting where it was picked, so I don't know if it was on purpose such a similar story to Sarah's Key, which we read earlier in the summer, but it is a very similar story and told in a very similar format. And also it is very different. I thought the writing was much better in this story, and the historical story and present-time story were woven together much better. Some of the historical story was extremely harrowing, though in a different way than Sarah's Key, but the present-time characters were more tightly tied to the past and were also much more sympathetically drawn. I was disappointed with Sarah's Key, but I thought this was a really good read. I'm looking forward to hearing what my book group thinks about it.
People either love or hate Elizabeth Gilbert. I'm one of the ones who love her. I love her voice, the rhythm of her writing, and the way she weaves in her personal story with history and fact. This is her first book since Eat, Pray, Love, and it is also a memoir. In it, she wrestles with the idea of marriage, once she and her Brazilian love (who had vowed to each other to never marry) are forced to get married in order to stay together. I have extremely mixed feelings about the institution of marriage, both historically and in modern American culture, so I was curious about how she would approach the topic. It turns out to be a fascinating look at western marriage practices over time, both religious and secular. She touches on gender roles, gay marriage, and personal values. My one gripe about the book was that somehow by the end she has made peace with the institution, at least for her relationship, and I don't entirely see the thread of how she got there. But like I said, I like her writing, so I forgave her.
I have literally been reading this book for years. I can't even remember when I started it. Partly that happened because the essays are all previously published from various places, so it is a book that can be picked up and put down between essays without loosing track of a story line. Partly, though, it is because each essay is such a gem that I want to sit with it for a while before starting the next one. And also, I admit, I sometimes lose books in bags or in a pile on the headboard and forget about them for months, or years. I love these essays. They are roughly gathered together around environmental issues, but they range from stories about her daughter's chickens to the impact of climate change on the great rain forests of South America. Sometimes within the same essay. They are thoughtful, well-crafted, full of beautiful language. Read this book. I have two more essays to read and I'm savoring them.
This is, admittedly, not my usual fare. But I have had Ireland on my mind recently and I found it in the used book bin at Bookshop recently. I actually haven't started it yet, but I'm planning to as soon as I read the last two essays in the Barbara Kingsolver book. It is a heft of a book - 800 pages - and covers some 1700 years of Irish history. I did enjoy the book Sarum by the same author when I read it a number of years ago, but I see that the Publishers Weekly review on Amazon pans it, calling it a "lackluster saga" and "a slog." So this one may or may not get finished. It isn't like I have any shortage of other books to read.