Yikes! What happened to summer? Labor Day has come and gone. Except for a stray flip-flop, the beach is empty. Squawking geese fill the sky and the first red leaves are dotting a big maple up by the college. When we were kids, the end of summer meant that it was time to go back to the reality of suburbia and back to school. We traded in long lazy days on the beach, hikes in the woods and fresh air for stuffy classrooms and chalk dust.
When first my sister and then I started kindergarten, an annual ritual began. Mom took us downtown for school clothes and shoes. We would visit Filene’s in search of that perfect first day of school dress. Although more often than not, the first day of school had come and gone by the time we embarked on our back-to-school shopping. It was simple physics, the space–time continuum. We couldn’t be in two places, the beach and suburbia, at the same time.
Anyway, these shopping trips were early lessons in dress for success. What is it about a new outfit? Or an old favorite for that matter? When it fits well and the color is right, it just inspires confidence. Whether we’re striding across the playground or the boardroom, our back’s a little straighter and our step’s a little surer when we know we look good. Don’t be modest, go ahead and admit it. Every closet has its stash of superhero garb. Maybe it’s your lucky jeans or a favorite power suit but once you put them on, you are invincible.
As any baby boomer knows, a Polly Flinder is the perfect dress to start kindergarten or the first grade. These cotton dresses were pure confection with smocking across the front, puffed sleeves, Peter Pan colors and full skirts that swirled when you twirled. At Easter, the dresses came in soft flowery pastels. For back-to-school, they came in darker, fall colors and tartans. Between a few of my own and my sister’s hand-me-downs, I had several. And yes, I looked absolutely adorable.
If we didn’t lollygag or misbehave, Mom took us to Bailey’s for a post-shopping ice cream. Bailey’s was part of a long-standing back-to-school tradition. When my grandmother outfitted Mom for back-to-school, she included both Filene’s and Bailey’s on their itinerary. Bailey’s was always cool on a warm Indian summer afternoon and the hot fudge sauce was thick and devilishly rich. Our little town’s premier ice cream emporium, Bailey’s was reserved for the special-est of occasions. The new school year definitely merited a trip to Bailey’s.
You can imagine my surprise when, bought out or gone bust, all three of these venerable companies from my childhood upped and vanished. Yes, Filene’s, Polly Flinder and Bailey’s are now nothing more than a fond memory and a few lines in Wikipedia. It’s a good thing that after some trial and error, I developed my own decadent chocolate sauce. As for sweet little dresses with smocking and Peter Pan collars, I think I’m more of a jeans and turtleneck kind of girl these days.
Okay, it may have been years since we graduated from anywhere but we can still celebrate September with any and all of our favorite back-to-school traditions. Bon appétit!
All Grown Up Grilled Cheese
Even if it’s been a decade (or more!) since you spent your days in stuffy classrooms, celebrate back-to-school with this grown up version of every kid’s favorite lunch! Enjoy!
8 slices really good artisan bread
Butter, at room temperature
Arugula Pesto (recipe follows)
About 4 ounce fontina cheese, grated or thinly sliced
4-8 thin slices Prosciutto de Parma ham
Pickled Onions*(recipe follows)
Generously butter one side of each bread slice. Smear the other side with a generous dollop of Arugula Pesto and place the bread butter side down in a large skillet(s). Evenly distribute the cheese across the bread. Cook over medium-low heat until the cheese has melted and the bread is nicely browned, about 8 minutes. Remove from the heat.
Top half the bread with prosciutto and sprinkle the other halves with pickled onions.
Carefully flip one half of the sandwich onto the other, let sit for a minute, cut into wedges and serve.
* I always add some onion to my homemade pickles. If you do too, use them in sandwiches, including this one. Otherwise, my Quick Pickled Onions will do the job.
1/4 cup chopped walnuts, toasted
2-3 cloves garlic
1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
Kosher salt and freshly ground pepper to taste
5-6 ounces baby arugula
Extra virgin olive oil
About 1/2 cup (2 ounces) grated Parmigiano-Reggiano cheese
Put the walnuts, garlic and vinegar in a small food processor, season with salt and pepper and pulse until finely chopped. Add the arugula in batches and pulse until finely chopped. With the motor running, slowly add olive oil and process smooth. Add the cheese and pulse to combine.
Cover and refrigerate the leftover pesto. Try it with pasta or spread it on pizza or sandwiches.
Quick Pickled Onions
1/2 Vidalia or red onion, halve the onion length-wise and then cut in thin wedges
1 sprig fresh thyme
1/3 cup water
1/3 cup apple cider vinegar
1 teaspoon sugar
1/2 teaspoon coarse kosher salt
1/4 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
Put the water, vinegar, sugar, salt and pepper in a saucepan. Stirring until the sugar and salt dissolves, bring to boil over medium-high heat. Cover the onions with pickling liquid. Let the onions sit for at least 20 minutes or cover and refrigerate overnight.
Cover and refrigerate the leftover pickled onions. Try them on any and all of your favorite sandwiches.
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One Year Ago – Savory Parmesan Shortbread with Tomato Jam
Two Years Ago – Watermelon-Limeade
Three Years Ago – Curried Green Bean Pickles
Four Years Ago – Grilled Ratatouille Stacks
Five Years Ago – Apple Crisp
Six Years Ago – Ravioli with Sage Pesto
Seven Years Ago – Brie & Sun-dried Tomato Omelet
Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!
What is your favorite back-to-school shopping story? Feel free to share. Let’s start a conversation.
Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2015