Summer Reads

Summer daisy

Just like summer calls for a certain kind of music (for example driving around with the windows rolled down blasting the Allman Brothers is just not done in November or March), it seems to call for a certain kind of book as well. Here are some summer reads I like:

Lolita, by Vladimir Nabokov. Unusual subject matter, sure, but this is also a book about campgrounds, car trips and bathing suits. It has a definite sweaty summer vibe.

Light, by Eva Figes. Set during a single day, Figes does her own kind of painting with delicate depictions of the scenes and lives in the Monet household in Giverny, France.

The "Little House" books by Laura Ingalls Wilder. I think my interest in this charming series and my interest in living history museums are somehow linked. Such simple and open explanations of 19th century Americana, I feel like I could live there myself and make my own cheese and calico dresses.

The "Anne of Green Gables" books by L.M. Montgomery. Another series: I guess I like summer books that can keep going and going. I plowed through these one teenaged August and now always associate August with a tender girlhood I never spent on PEI.

The "Swallows and Amazons" series by Arthur Ransome. This is hardcore summer stuff—a bunch of English kids into sailing, living outside in the Lake District, and keeping away from parents whenever possible. Delicious with lots of British-isms, published in attractive paperbacks by David R. Godine. These books definitely influenced my vacation habits for many years, and led to a fascination with secret codes, including semaphore.

Side note: David R. Godine called me "peaches" once. I was working the counter at a tiny independent bookstore and he came through on a sales call. I can't remember the complete sentence he said to me (could have been "could you hand me that phone book..."), but it ended with "peaches" and I have forever treasured the moment as my amusing brush with a literary light.

Seaside Retreat

Spent part of the weekend where Connecticut and Rhode Island meet the sea. Besides a staggering variety of malls, the Mystic/Stonington/Westerley area offers quite the assortment of cute shops, fancy food stores, and darn good fried things. Time was short, but we managed to hit the silken sands at Watch Hill, RI. I discovered that just wading in the ocean helps transform me into a calm and tranquil being. Amazing! (And the roses scenting the path through the dunes helped, too.)

We shopped at 2 gourmet markets, Mystic Market, which sells things like Stonewall Kitchen jam and prepared chicken & tarragon salads, and also Puritan & Genesta, which has not only a gluten-free section in among all the natural foods, but also sells earth shoes and organic cotton socks.

Plus we could not resist the siren call of Sea Swirl, offering fried whole belly clams and softserv, dished out from one of those retro glass-fronted fry-shacks. It reminded me of Vern's Fish Fry in Bennington (formerly Paul's Fish Fry, I believe) where we used to stop every time we ventured from New York State into New England. Nothing like a big styrofoam container of French fries and seafood on a white hot July day. Yummm!

Next time we're down there I suppose we should try to actually see some of the sights, like Mystic Seaport or the Mystic Aquarium.

The Great Scape

The "scape" is the curling, flowering top of the garlic plant. In New England garlic typically starts to flower in June, and you'll suddenly see scapes for sale everywhere for a couple weeks. The idea is that if you snap/cut off the flowering part of the garlic, the plant will then direct more of its resources to the juicy bulb instead of "wasting" them on a reproductive flower.

So what do you do with scapes? They're kinda like a scallion that's gone mildly garlic. I've used them in the following ways:

Add them to a baked chicken. Stick some under the skin, arrange the chicken on a nest of scapes, put more in the bird's cavity. Scapes can add just a hint o' garlic perfume to the meat--though not strong enough to carry the whole seasoning job on their own. (Suggest using lemon and possibly also marjoram for this.)

Cut them up like a scallion. You can use the whole thing, not just the white or green bits. Add scape flecks to omelettes, meatballs, 3-bean salad, salsa.

Roast them with potatoes. I adapted this from some Martha Stewart grilling recipe. Get about 6 (or more) red potatoes. Wash them and cut them into quarters. Then take 4 feet of tin foil and double it. Pile the potatoes and at least 10 whole scapes on one side of the foil. Fold the foil over and crimp around the edges to seal. Throw on a hot grill for about 20 minutes--10 minutes per side. If you MUST check how they're cooking, just uncrimp a little tiny corner and poke a potato to see if it's soft. Then seal back up so not too much steam escapes. Just before serving, unwrap foil and put potatoes in a bowl with a hunk of butter plus salt and pepper. Dang good!

Next up: garlic harvest. This is supposed to happen when about 2/3 of the plant looks brown and dry. Usually in July or August.

Fruit update

OK, strawberry season is officially over. The last few squishy ones languish in a carton in the fridge and will be gone by Saturday. My newest fruit love: watermelon. Slice it up, cool it off, better than popsicles.

In other news, have you heard of Hypnobirthing? It's a method of natural birthing that claims birth doesn't have to hurt. Whenever I tell an older woman about this she tends to snort in disdain. But what if labor pain is actually a product of brainwashing? I mean, if you think something's going to hurt, then it hurts. If you think it's going to go smoothly, then it's likely to do so. With hypnobirthing, the key is deep relaxation. Almost like meditation--stay in the present moment and tune in to what's happening NOW, and you won't start worrying about what might happen NEXT. This helps break the fear-tension-pain connection. Um, sounds good to me!