Sweet Memories of New England Summers

For my mother, summer could never last long enough. Each summer she made a grim pronouncement that summer was half over once the 4th of July came and went. I argued with her to no avail. She actually experienced dread as the too short summer season in New England moved inevitably forward. She really should have lived in California. Continue reading “Sweet Memories of New England Summers”

Are You City or Country???

city mouse vs country mouseSome things about yourself change during a lifetime , others remain remarkably consistent. But then, some day you are likely to find, as I have,  that what had pleased you so consistently doesn’t bring as much pleasure as it once had.

I knew I was a “bi” before there was a name for it. I fancied myself part city mouse and part country mouse.  Maybe a little more city.  Now that I’m “older,” the life of the country mouse seems more appealing than ever and the city mouse routine is loosing ground.

City Mouse

My original city side liked the glamour, the energy, the cutting edginess of the big city.  I was particularly enamored  by the style, and the diversity of choices.  The city made my mind expand with ideas and experiences that I’d seldom, if ever, find outside the city..

When I was a teenager about to travel into NYC, I would think carefully about to wear.

city slicker

No matter how carefully I chose the outfits, in my own mind, I never made the grade. Now, I feel pretty comfortable in my own skin, and NYC has grown a lot more casual and forgiving.

At last, I don’t much care what other women are wearing, because it’s simply become irrelevant. By the time you’re in your 70’s, you’ve become largely invisible to the world of fashion, and have been for decades. That can make shopping challenging, but it’s also liberating.

Regarding the Big City world of food, I believed religiously that there was no place  better to eat than in NYC.  Now, I continue to enjoy the restaurants here, but detest the noise that literally bounces off the walls and floors.  Tables are too close together in this land of precious real estate.  Conversation can quickly become impossible if there are more than two people sitting next to you.  It’s then a game of endurance and the pleasure is gone.

Once restricted to Jewish environs, bagels are now available  just about everywhere. As youth, coming to NY meant eating a classic corned  beef or pastrami on rye.  Now, attempting that feat is an invitation to indigestion that could last and torture for an entire afternoon.

pastrami

OK, for live theatre, dance, and museums, NYC is unbeatable, but now there’s lots of inspiration online too.

For me, there’s too much ugly concrete. Too many buildings with the name TRUMP on them. Way too much traffic.  Too many luxury apartments towering over the city.  Too many people. Too many close calls.  On a daily basis, I come close to getting run over, be it from a reckless taxi driver turning into the pedestrian crossing or from a hell bent bicyclist riding the wrong way down a one-way street.

Country Mouse

So, I guess it’s no surprise that when we took an overnight trip to the NW Connecticut countryside, it felt like entering paradise. Here, the true charms of early summer easily revealed themselves.

Fields and meadows of waving grasses.  Green and deep woods. Deserted two lane country roads that insistently whisper, follow me.

daisies

By the ponds, marshes and lakes. Admire the wildflowers clamoring for attention during their brief growing season. Vines of wild raspberries and blackberries, clumps of daisies, pale pink clusters of mountain laurel, forests of ferns, all vying with each other for the title of Best in Show.  My country side mouse was grateful for the relief from the turmoil of the city. Deep breath in.

mountain laurel

And last, but not least, there is the quiet. Quiet. Quiet, only interrupted by the gusts of wind in the trees and the birdsong.  Deep breath out.

Green was the silence, wet was the light,
the month of June trembled like a butterfly….
~Pablo Neruda

MEMORIES OF NEW ENGLAND SUMMERS

Certain sounds, scents and tastes will always spell summer to me, returning me to a long ago and seemingly simpler place and time in my life when summers spent in New England seemed to last a lifetime.

In no particular order, here are my triggers.

Bird song filling the early summer mornings coming from the “woods” next door to my house.

Dinners on the screened porch were followed by Dad falling asleep on the wrought iron lounge chair, the inevitable summer thunder-storm and the increasingly shrill calls from my mother signaling my Dad that it was time to come inside.

The first sweet corn of the season was bought only from local farmers with the mandate to cook and eat asap.  It was an eagerly awaited event in late July.  It was a brief, celebrated season, precious enough to make it a requirement for every dinner served to have corn on the cob from the Underwood Farm. By general agreement, Sugar & Butter corn, was the tastiest of all. It would arrive a few weeks into the season and really kick summer  into high gear.  Stories of acquaintances who could eat a dozen ears of corn at a seating, were told and retold around the dinner table each summer.sweet corn

Impatiens.  One of the few flowers my Mom could grow successfully in our shaded landscape. She made the most of it, adding baskets of them wherever possible and carefully monitoring them to insure  high performance all summer.  Her love of flowers soon became mine.impatience

Ferocious thunderstorms could be so terrifying and intense that I might have to crawl in bed with my parents. This behavior was generally, not encouraged, but sometimes tolerated. The darkness and heaviness before the storms was mixed with anticipation and fear. During one vicious storm, lightening split a giant oak tree in half just a few feet from our house, as sparks flew from the radio before all electricity cut off.

The sounds of the radio, broadcasting Boston Red Sox games.

The bitter cold of the Atlantic Ocean, north of Boston. 

The first smell of salt air as we neared the beach. Lobster dinners at the beach whenever possible, be it in New London, Conn., Cape Cod, Rockport, Mass. or Nantucket.  The pure pleasure of sunny beach days , sand dunes, beach grasses and wild roses mixing it up.  The importance of a good tan.

nantucket
The unforgettable beauty of a sunny summer’s day in Nantucket

The threat of hurricanes at the end of summer that would sometimes cut vacations short.

Pin ball machines, Miniature golf and the Dodge-em.

I always enjoyed our regular outings to Tanglewood, the Music Inn and Jacob’s Pillow (all in the Berkshires.)  I developed my love of jazz at the Music Inn listening to the MJQ, Dakotah Staton, Miles Davis and Brubeck whenever I could get a car for the hour long drive to get there. At Jacob’s Pillow, I got to sample some of the best artists of the era and expand my love and appreciation of dance.  Tanglewood was mostly my Mom’s thing. For me, it meant too many people trying to out-picnic each other.  The music outside the tent seemed secondary to the picnics.  But I went along, because it brought her pleasure.

The Good Humor Truck made a regular appearance at our little beach in Ocean Beach Park, New London, Conn.  A toasted coconut, please.

Most weekends we hosted large family cook-outs on our back porch, fighting mosquitoes. Dad was the self – appointed master griller, always ready with a rare juicy steak, while the women prepared the sweet corn, green salad and a fresh fruit salad.  My job was to set the table.

Black Raspberry and Maple Walnut Ice Cream, were my favorite flavors that were readily available in New England.  To this day, I seek them out when in the Northeast.

maple walnut
Yum. Maple walnut ice cream.
black raspberry ice cream
Double yum, black raspberry ice cream. Curiously, not available in the West.

“If I had to choose one ice cream flavor for the rest of my life, it would be black raspberry. Yes, there’s the color, which is almost obscene in its intensity. But the flavor of black raspberries, when combined with cream, sugar and egg yolks, transforms into something rich and lush, and at the same time floral; for me, it’s a nostalgic flavor, both childlike and sophisticated at the same time.”  Merrill Stubb (cookbook author)

Makes one pint of Black Raspberry Ice Cream

  • 1 1/4cups heavy cream
  • 3/4cup whole milk
  • 1/2cup plus 1 tablespoon sugar
  • Kosher salt
  • 3large egg yolks
  • 1/2teaspoon vanilla extract
  • 2 1/2cups black raspberries
  1. Heat the cream, milk, sugar and a pinch of salt in a heavy pot until it’s just beginning to bubble around the edges (do not let it boil).
  2. In the meantime, whisk together the egg yolks in a heatproof bowl. Temper the yolks by slowly whisking in about a third of the hot cream, and then whisk this mixture back into the pot with the rest of the cream.
  3. Cook the custard over medium-low heat, stirring constantly, until it coats the back of a wooden spoon, about 5 minutes. Make sure not to let it boil. Strain the custard through a fine mesh sieve and stir in the vanilla.
  4. Puree the raspberries in a blender and strain through a sieve to remove the seeds. Stir the puree into the custard, cover and refrigerate until completely chilled, preferably overnight.
  5. Freeze the mixture in an ice cream maker, transfer to a container and put in the freezer to harden completely. Soften for a few minutes at room temperature before serving.