Originally I thought I would write a timely piece about tacos to cleverly coincide with National Taco Day, which is October 4. I am a week early, which should give you plenty of time to experiment and try every variation and permutation before the big day actually arrives. It is funny how the calendar keeps playing tricks on me this year. 2020 has been a weird one, to say the least.
Spring was lovely – it didn’t feel like a burden to stay safely at home and watch the daffodils emerge from corners of the garden. The tulips bloomed late and then disappeared in a week. The daffodils hung on for weeks. There were buckets of warm spring rain, which suited the hydrangeas. And the burgeoning mosquitoes. Summer was long and hot. The minute fall arrived (this past Tuesday at 9:30 AM, EDT) it cooled down and I reached for a sweater, which I have since tossed onto the back of a kitchen chair because it has gotten summer-warm again. Just because the calendar says it’s fall doesn’t guarantee that the weather will cooperate.
I used to love running out to the grocery store whenever the whim or the obscure recipes demanded it. Those were the days. Carefree. Mask-free. The wind blowing through my artfully coiffed locks. That was back when I could get haircuts. (I was taller and blonder and thinner in that Katmandu state of mind, too.) Covid-19 has required that we plan ahead, shop less frequently, stay home more, mask up and be mindful of others.
I like to think that I am a frugal New Englander; that I remember to “Use it up, wear it out, made it do, do without.” Somehow I always picture that phrase as coming to me from repeatedly reading Little Women. Surely Beth embroidered it as a lovely cross-stitched sampler that hung over her piano. Or Laura Ingalls Wilder muttered under her breath as she grimly churned butter in a sod-house in Minnesota. But no, it turns out that it was a phrase used in World War II, encouraging us to cheerfully make do with rationing. I guess I need to re-read Little Women.
We have been watching lots of videos, as have you. We fell into Netflix’s Chef’s Table recently. After watching an hour of grim pandemic news it is a relief to see images of people with passions and skills, living happy, pre-pandemic lives, puttering around their well-appointed kitchens making wonderfully bizarre foods. https://philly.eater.com/2019/4/15/18282518/south-philly-barbacoa-cristina-martinez-mexican-restaurant-philadelphia
I used to think narrowly about tacos. I have been amazed to find that tacos are not just browned ground beef, flavored by Old El Paso seasoning mix, served in fried, hard corn tortilla shells, topped with orange cheese. Now I know that tacos will save us during the pandemic, because they make ordinary leftovers exotic. Tacos are magic. I give to you some taco legerdemain:Nights when I have trouble sleeping, instead of worrying about the state of the world, over which I have no control, I try to think about what grooviness I can serve for dinner without going to the grocery store. What is lurking in the fridge or is tucked away in the pantry that can stretch the time until I need to mask up and tear through the grocery store.
Leftovers are our friends, and leftovers as tacos are friends with beer and chips. Tacos are better than casseroles. Consequently I have learned to keep a stash of corn tortillas in the fridge, which are the basis for tacos. (Sometimes I have flour tortillas, too. In a pinch we can make quesadillas, which make an easy, cheesy side dish.)
Most all of the time we have these items, too. Although I have to ask the Family Nose to test the sour cream container for viability:
Meat – leftover roast beef, steak, chicken, salmon, pork, lamb
Refried beans – try to get the vegetarian kind to avoid lard
Rice – we always make too much, so there is always a stash in the freezer
Corn or flour shell tortillas
Shredded lettuce or cabbage
Chopped Vidalia onion, green onion, red onion
Radishes (some may lurk in the way back)
Cilantro (it is amazing how much fresh cilantro will add to a store-bought salsa)
Guacamole (I never have avocados, but you might)
Sour cream (from a couple of weeks ago, usually)
Shredded cheese – we mix mozzarella with cheddar
Jalapeños – we always have a jar of pickled jalapeños, but fresh pack a better kick, and will keep in the fridge for a couple of weeks
Lime juice for a refreshing citrus jolt – bottled will do in a pinch
I used to fry the tortillas to death, thinking that the packaged hard shells we found in the grocery store were authentic. Such foolishness! Now I either lightly fry the shells in a skillet or griddle and warm both sides of each tortilla until they are warm and soft. Or, to keep the stove top from getting splattered, I drape the shells over the wire oven racks in a 350°F oven for about 5-7 minutes. Some recipes say spray with oil, but really, spray? Aren’t we trying to save the planet? I say leave the shells in the oven until you have found the degree of crispiness you enjoy the most. Low cal, and ozone friendly
Good luck with your National Taco Day celebration. You can never rehearse too much, or too often. Just remember to keep some tortillas (and beer) in the fridge, and some extra chips in the pantry. Make yourself happy puttering in the kitchen.
“The most remarkable thing about my mother is that for thirty years she served the family nothing but leftovers. The original meal has never been found.”
Salt Fat Acid Heat guru Samin Nosrat’s brilliant take: https://www.theguardian.com/lifeandstyle/2016/dec/29/slow-roasted-pork-taco-recipe-salted-caramel-cookies-samin-nosrat
Here is a vegetarian take on tacos, too: https://shaneandsimple.com/crunchy-baked-taco-shells/
Adkins Arboretum has received funding from the Gray Charitable Trust to create a virtual “Birds, Bees, and Dandelion Seeds” field trip program. Nearly 1,000 second-graders in Queen Anne’s and Caroline County Public Schools will participate in the week-long program to learn about plants, pollinators, seed dispersal and Maryland bees.
As part of the virtual field trip, public school teachers will receive five days of interactive lesson plans to use online with their students. The lesson plans will include games, songs, experiments, suggestions for outdoor activities and daily video clips featuring the Arboretum’s native meadow, wetland, stream and forest habitats. Lessons are aligned with Next Generation Science Standards.
In 2019, the Gray Charitable Trust provided funding for bus transportation so that all second-graders in Caroline County Public Schools could participate in the “Birds, Bees, and Dandelion Seeds” field trip at the Arboretum. Positive feedback from students, parents and teachers prompted Arboretum educators to create a virtual version of the program for use while in-person field trips are on hold.
The “Birds, Bees, and Dandelion Seeds” lesson plans and video clips are available on the Arboretum website for use by homeschool families, private schools and the general public. The Arboretum hopes to resume in-person field trips in the fall of 2021.
Adkins Arboretum is a nonprofit organization located in scenic Caroline County on Maryland’s Eastern Shore. Although the Visitor’s Center is currently closed, the Arboretum’s 400 acres and five miles of paths are open daily from dawn to dusk. To learn more or to access the virtual field trip and other education resources, visit adkinsarboretum.org.
Adkins Arboretum is a 400-acre native garden and preserve at the headwaters of the Tuckahoe Creek in Caroline County. For more information, visit adkinsarboretum.org or call 410-634-2847, ext. 0.
I love the simplicity of summer cooking, mostly because my summertime philosophy is to send as much of the cooking outside to Mr. Friday and his grill as I possibly can, without seeming churlish. Or manipulative. Or lazy. He is better suited to repel the advances of mosquitos, and Luke the wonder dog lives in hope of a game of The B Word. I am naturally inclined to stay in the kitchen, monitoring the wine levels, while washing berries or whipping cream. Or checking Instagram.
The end of September is that odd time of the year when some mornings it is cool enough for a light jacket, which we will regret wearing along about eleven, when the temperature rises. The angle of light is changing, the sun is going down earlier, a handful of leaves is falling, and we are about ready for a change. Summer is a grand season, but I am looking forward to sweater weather.
And while we wait for the weather to catch up with the calendar, let’s move out to the back porch for a glass of wine. It’s almost dinnertime. There are more cardinals squawking in the hedge. I can hear geese some afternoons, and I watch the squirrels’ hunting parties rustling around while they are checking on this year’s pecan harvest. Luke is grateful for the extra distractions.
I anticipate the delights of the upcoming change of season, but I am also kvetching about the things I didn’t accomplish this summer: books I didn’t read, the croquet we never played, the back porch we didn’t paint, the European trip that was cancelled because of COVID, the domestic travel we couldn’t manage because of COVID; just lots of time at home, frozen in anxiety-ridden pandemic angst. Something has got to give!
Cooler weather means I will return to the kitchen and will rummage about for the big stew pots, the loaf pans, the Crock Pot and the recipes that will stick-to-our-ribs and our COVID bellies. Stews, chilies, spaghetti sauces, meatloaves, lasagnes, breads, brownies and pot pies. Spices swirling in the air. Baking. Planning Thanksgiving. I’m dreaming of a change from this stinking hot long, long summer. And then there are sugar plums that arrive in December! And having to figure out what to do for the Christmas card this year!
We do not ease our way back inside from the summer spent cooking outside on the grill. It is an abrupt change. Labor Day has come and gone, slamming the screen door behind it. I hear there might be some football. And while we wait for a vaccine I might as well get back into the kitchen – the summer holiday is over.
It’s going to rain this weekend with remnants of Hurricane Sally tooling around out there and if you can’t get outside to the grill – never fear. This is a good transitional side dish: oven roasted broccolini with lemons and Parmesan. Mr. Friday has been experimenting with broccolini on the grill this summer, and now it is coming inside. https://heronearth.com/roasted-broccolini-and-lemon-with-crispy-parmesan
If you don’t mind shopping for slivered almonds, you can try this version: https://daniliciousdishes.com/roasted-broccolini-w-garlic-parmesan-and-charred-lemon/
I’m going to ask Mr. Friday to help me with the cast iron skillet prep for hamburgers. There is one more week of September left, and I plan on relishing one last burger.
“Do you remember the 21st night of September?
Love was changing the minds of pretenders
While chasing the clouds away
Our hearts were ringing
In the key that our souls were singing
As we danced in the night
Remember how the stars stole the night away…”
-Earth, Wind & Fire
When it comes to places that serve to connect people to each other and to their community very few places do it as well as community farmers’ markets and independent restaurants. At a farmers’ market shoppers connect their purchases to the people that produced them while restaurants serve as gathering places to break bread, to celebrate special occasions or simply to relax and catch up with friends and family. Both serve to anchor communities and create a sense of place.
This year restaurants and farmers’ markets shared another important thing in common – they’ve worked through sweeping and often dramatic operational changes due to the pandemic.
Both these special institutions will join forces on Lawyers Row in downtown Centreville on Sunday, September 27th, from noon to 3 p.m. to present the Centreville Farmers’ Market & Sunday Brunch.
This market day will be presented as an in-person market, the first one this season for the Centreville Farmers’ Market, who has been operating as an online market for pickup or delivery on Wednesdays. The online market will continue through September 30th.
“Coincidentally this special market day and brunch will take place on the final day of the inaugural statewide restaurant week. Since this may be the only live market day, we do this year we wanted it to be a special one,” says Carol D’Agostino, Centreville Main Street Manager and liaison to the market.
Shoppers will have a chance to shop socially distanced market stands and also enjoy brunch from Centreville restaurants. Farmers/producers and shoppers 5-years-old and above are required to where facemasks at all times except when seated to drink or eat.
A selection of food will be available at onsite food trucks operated by Centreville brick and mortar restaurants. Other brunch entrees will be available for online ordering by September 18th through a new website on the same platform that currently handles the market’s online market orders. Current market customers can use their same login.
Shoppers will select and prepay for an entrée, and then choose whether they want to pick up their meal at the market to take home or reserve seating in the socially distanced dining area on Lawyers Row. The dining area will also include open tables where market goers can enjoy any food or beverages they purchased at the market. An onsite volunteer will sanitize tables and chairs as they turn over.
As of 9/9/20, farmers/producers include: Arlene’s Creations of Greensboro, baked goods & sewn items; Coops & Crops of Kennedyville, eggs, and certified naturally grown vegetables; Lucky Dog Treats of Centreville; Night Kitchen Coffee of Denton, small batch locally roasted coffee and spices; Rhonda’s Beaten Biscuits of Wye Mills, traditional Eastern Shore beaten biscuits; Starr Flower Company, cut flowers, houseplants and herb plants and more; Quarter Acre Farm of Tilghman Island, certified organic vegetables, pico de gallo (special salsa) and guacamole; Where Pigs Fly of Centreville, pasture-raised chicken – whole birds as well as cuts. Participating restaurants include Commerce Street Creamery Cafe Bistro, O’Shucks Irish Pub, Sugar Doodles Sweet Shop and Yo Java Bowl.
Lunch has always been my favorite meal. I look forward to it every day, even when it is just a sandwich and a handful of chips. (I’ll save the apple for a mid-afternoon snack.) I love walking away from the studio, strolling the 25 feet or so into the kitchen, where I generally sit at the counter and eat by myself. (There is nothing that relieves the existential boredom of a morning of solitary cross hatching like a little blue glass bowl of potato chips.) Perched on a stool, I can look out on the neighbors’ comings and goings, read a magazine, drop a bread crust (by accident!) for Luke the wonder dog, and just enjoy a slight change of scene. Life is not very exciting when you have always worked from home, and sometimes all it takes is a ham sandwich on rye, with a generous schmear of spicy brown mustard to get creative enough for the demands the afternoons bring .
This year, the COVID-19 year, there are greater challenges for some that merely changing the view won’t help. The lucky ones, we who can work from home, are now sometimes juggling a couple of children and assorted class curricula on top of our work. There are others who are able to send their masked children off to actual real life school rooms. Will the children eat their lunches in a cafeteria or from social distances at their desks? Maybe there will be picnic tables outside, while the weather is still nice? Will the children bring lunches from home, or eat school-provided meals?
Whether you are sitting at the kitchen table by yourself, or packing a lunch for someone else, you need good ideas every day. Which can be a daunting prospect. Making lunch interesting and healthy is a real concern. Energy! Nutrition! Protein! Variety! And you can’t just slide by using up the hurricane-supply-peanut butter. On Sundays, while you are planning your dinners for the week, you need to plan out lunches, too. Take a page from practically perfect Amanda Hesser from Food52. She packs fabulously original lunches for her children. We could hate her if she wan’t so clever. And her ideas are reasonable. They don’t call for too many obscure and expensive ingredients. With a little practice, we might just be trainable. Because we know there will be dessert.
Get out the tiny little Tupperwear containers, find all the maddeningly elusive lids, and start chopping. Make little Bento boxes of luncheon-y delights for every day. Shake up your routine, and experiment. Swipe on some chutney. Dust a sandwich with a handful of sprouts. Forgo the Pepperidge Farm white bread and try Naan bread. Don’t forget leftovers! Our Tall One made some interesting combinations with leftovers from Thanksgiving, theorizing that everything tastes delicious on a crescent roll, especially when daubed judiciously with cranberry sauce.
I haul this list out this out annually, without shame. Feel free to make your own spreadsheet, so you will never have another moment of hesitation. At least with regard to lunch. The Spy Test Kitchen came up with this flexible list of ingredients for packing school lunches a few years ago. It is just as timely today:
Let’s start with bread:
Whole grain breads
If storing overnight, top bread with lettuce first, then the spreads, to keep sandwich from getting soggy.
Next, the spread:
The main ingredient:
Crumbled hard boiled eggs
The decorative (and tasty) elements:
Sliced red peppers
“ ‘We could take our lunch,’ said Katherine.‘What kind of sandwiches?’ said Mark.
‘Jam,’ said Martha thoughtfully, ‘and peanut-butter-and-banana, and cream-cheese-and-honey, and date-and-nut, and prune-and marshmallow…’”
-Edward Eager, Magic by the Lake
It’s the calendar end-of-the-summer moment even though the temperatures tell us something completely different. It’s almost time to start squirreling away the acorns, can the tomatoes, clean the gutters and haul the boat out for the last time. Then again, you have a three-day weekend, nowhere to go, and a perfectly good back yard that encourages social distancing. It is time for you to have an end-of-summer blowout with the half dozen people in your quarantine pod. Let’s cook all those dishes that we never have got around to this summer and have some great Instagram-envy-inducing moments.
Kabobs. Here are dozens of ideas: https://www.southernliving.com/food/holidays-occasions/easy-grilled-kabobs-recipe
Baby back ribs. Stay home. Stay safe! https://www.epicurious.com/recipes/member/views/the-best-baby-back-ribs-1241297
Lobster. And lobster rolls. Go to the source: https://lobsterfrommaine.com/steaming-lobster/
Grilled Shrimp. Variety is the spice of grilling shrimp: https://www.thespruceeats.com/the-best-grilled-shrimp-recipes-333576
Grilled pizza. We stick to the basics, because we value our finger prints, but you can get very fancy if you wish. https://www.brit.co/grilled-pizza-recipes/
Grilled corn. We usually just wrap the ears of corn in aluminum foil, with a couple of pats of butter and a handful of Maldon salt, but we are set in our ways. Feel free to experiment: https://www.foodandwine.com/recipes/honey-buttered-grilled-corn
Grilled potatoes. Thanks, Martha! https://www.marthastewart.com/355490/grilled-potato-wedges
Grilled asparagus. You can’t go wrong with Alice Waters and garlic: https://www.mountainfeed.com/blogs/learn/homemade-aioli
Pesto. Shame on you. Get cracking: https://www.saltfatacidheat.com/fat/basil-pesto
Be slightly au courant. Watermelon Frosé: https://www.countryliving.com/food-drinks/a32702671/mason-jar-watermelon-frose/
Pina coladas. It’s the last weekend of summer. It’s your last chance: https://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/bas-best-pina-colada
Key Lime Pie. This is the best never-fail Key Lime Pie recipe we have ever found, and yet, we haven’t made one this year. Shocking. Look in the bottled lemon juice section of the grocery store. Buy a graham cracker crust. Make good whipped cream. You will never regret the calories. Trust me: https://keylimejuice.com/nellie-joes-key-lime-pie/
S’mores. Forget the campfire, and do them on the grill: https://www.grubstreet.com/2020/09/adam-platt-on-smores.html?
“Under the summer roses
When the flagrant crimson
Lurks in the dusk
Of the wild red leaves,
Love, with little hands,
Comes and touches you
With a thousand memories,
And asks you
Beautiful, unanswerable questions.”
― Carl Sandburg
Chestertown shops and galleries are looking forward to cooler temperatures and seeing everyone this Friday, September 4, and the kick off for Labor Day Weekend. Most shops will be open until 7 pm in honor of First Friday. In the interest of community health and safety, no complimentary refreshments will be offered. In addition, we ask that you wear masks and practice social distancing while downtown.
Stock up for the weekend at the Farmers’ Market Saturday morning. If you’d rather dine out, “Chestertown al Fresco” continues, Saturday, September 5, under the lights on High Street at the Kitchen at the Imperial. Open from 6 to 10 pm., reservations are strongly encouraged. Casa Carmen will host a street dinner on Cannon Street the following Saturday, September 12.
We welcome you First Friday and every day! Shop local and shop safe.
By the time you read this I should be out of the studio, out of the kitchen, and off-line. Maybe I will even switch my phone to airplane mode so I stop getting pinged by spam and requests for political donations. That is an excellent idea. I will wedge myself into a comfy position on the bank of the river with my book, my watercolors, and look out adoringly at Mr. Friday as he casts away for trout. Though he keeps muttering about “Non-hatch. Non-hatch…” I guess we will be flipping burgers over the campfire tonight and not fish.
Because I am feeling generous (and grateful) for being out of town and enjoying myself, I will share with you these easiest of dessert ideas. I cannot call it a recipe, because it is time-honored, greatly revered, summertime, PTA, Junior League cookbook, crowd-sharing genius notion of combining ingredients. The only skill you need is for whipping cream, and I trust you can do that without having to look at YouTube videos. (And do not disappoint me by using Cool Whip. It is fake and phony and an anathema.)
Summer Classic: Ice Cream Pie
1. Go to the store and buy a prepared pie shell. Spend $3. It’s worth it. I bought a shortbread pie shell, but you can use a graham cracker pie shell, or a chocolatey Oreo shell. (Shameless shill that I am, I used a Keebler pie shell. If you want to toil earnestly in a hot kitchen, you can grind up gingersnaps and make your own, but I am on vacation, and with all the time I am saving, I will write you a postcard.)
2. Buy half a gallon of ice cream. I opted for Breyer’s strawberry, but I bet a blueberry ice cream, or even French vanilla would be yummy. Here is an edited list of the veritable panoply of Breyer’s ice cream flavors: Cherry Vanilla, Peach, Chocolate Truffle, Heath Bar, Tiramisu, Butter Pecan, Butterscotch Blondie, Coffee, Chocolate, Thin Mint, Samoas, Waffle Cone, Oreo Cookies and Snickers. Those are just the ice creams. There are even more gelatos! Ben and Jerry have a kabillion flavors, too: https://www.benjerry.com/flavors/ice-cream-pints
3. Buy a pint of heavy whipping cream. I always buy the store brand. But you can get fancy and go all organic and buy an over-priced name brand is you wish.
4. Find some deelish seasonal fruit. Mr. Friday’s eyes were bigger than his breakfast stomach, so we had a lot of strawberries and blueberries in the fridge. Sliced peaches would be very pretty. Raspberries or blackberries are always enjoyable. Use your head, and whatever you have on hand or can score at the farmers’ market. Think about what would be easiest to eat while sitting in the dark on the back porch when you are waiting for the Perseid Meteor Showers to explode over your head.
5. Open the pie shell packaging. Open the ice cream container. Let the ice cream soften up a little bit. Be sure to take a couple of test spoonfuls. Use an ice cream scoop to dig the ice cream out of the container, and to plop it into the pie crust shell. After a couple of minutes I schmeared the ice cream nice and flat using an offset icing spatula, which gave me the Food52 vibe of urbane sophistication. I like to look like I know what I am doing, even if it is only me and Luke the wonder dog alone in the kitchen. Pop the ice cream-filled shell back into the freezer while you whip the cream.
6. Slice the strawberries or peaches. I always toss strawberries in a little lemon juice and sugar.
7. Using your sophisticated city slicker offset icing spatula, twirl the freshly whipped cream onto the layer of ice cream. Delicately arrange the fruit on top of the ice cream. Somehow the blueberries that I centered carefully drifted a little to the northwest, after I moved on to the strawberries, but that is a gravitational mystery that will never be solved. Put everything back in the freezer to firm up.
8. Flip your burgers. Or grill the trout. Have some green salad. And then slice up the pie. Sit back. Settle in. Tune out. Cool down. Enjoy.
https://www.gimmesomeoven.com/10-minute-ice-cream-pie/ (They advocate Cool Whip! Heresy!)
Another family fave: https://butteryourbiscuit.com/chocolate-wafer-icebox-cake/ Although ours never look quite so pretty!
“Have you ever spent days and days and days making up flavors of ice cream that no one’s ever eaten before? Like chicken and telephone ice cream? Green mouse ice cream was the worst. I didn’t like that at all.”
― Neil Gaiman