Graduating Advice & Strawberries in Cointreau

It’s graduation season. Politicians, celebrities and the wisest among us take to podiums and blather on about one thing or another. In most cases, they offer some kind of advice. These important people extol the virtues of goal setting and hard work. They like to use phrases like dream big, dare to fail and never give up. They hope to inspire the next generation to climb mountains, reach for the stars and seek the truth … or some such thing.

My advice is simpler, much simpler. Learn to cook. In an age of fast food and microwave dinners, it’s tempting to give the kitchen a pass. Don’t. Cooking is both creative and calming. As you gain knowledge and confidence, you will delight in combining ingredients in new and different ways. Plus, the rhythmic stirring and chopping will calm you after a busy day. Knowing how to cook will feed your stomach and your soul. (It will also help you save money to pay off those student loans.)

When I look at life and work, cooking stands out for one particular reason. It can bring almost instant gratification. For so much of what we do, progress is not measured in hours but in weeks, months or years. A book can take years to write, rewrite and write again. A teacher will work for months hoping for a breakthrough with reluctant students. Complicated business projects take weeks or months to complete. As for raising kids, tending a garden, building and maintain strong and happy relationships – these are never-ending works in progress.

But cooking – even Thanksgiving, the biggest of all holiday feasts is prepped, cooked and served in a couple of days. With a little planning, a weekend dinner party can be tossed together in an afternoon and an any-day-of-the-week meal is done in an hour. As for the reward – you will taste it immediately. Better yet, you will see it in the smiles and hear it in the animated chatter and laughter around the table. A good meal with people you love will make your heart sing.

Which brings me to my next point – invite friends and family to eat with you. Food is more than sustenance; eating is a communal rite. A meal is meant to be shared. Food tastes better when served with a side of stimulating conversation, harmless banter and silly jokes.

Perhaps a dinner party, even the idea, scares the bejeebers out of you. Don’t let it. In the words of Julia Child, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize,” So what if the soup is a little spicy or the dog steals the turkey? If anyone remembers, it will be another great story to tell and retell. Sure, you’ll look back at some of your mishaps with a grimace but, more important, you’ll also look back with a giggle.

To close, I have two utterly practical suggestions. First, get a big bowl. Only the most timid of cooks can make do with one of those nesting sets of three. You won’t use that giant bowl every day but you’ll be happy to have it. I have a couple, a big one at eight quarts and a really big one at fourteen. Cooking requires a lot of tossing and mixing – give yourself plenty of room to do it with gusto.

Second, start every party with an empty dishwasher. Like it or not, even the loveliest of evenings do come to an end. Eventually, you must clear the table. Cleanup is faster and easier if you can immediately stack all those dishes in the dishwasher. Oh, and yes, I know many first (even second) apartments don’t have dishwashers. This rule also applies to the sink. It should be empty of dirty dishes when your guests arrive.

Have a wonderful life filled with happy friends around table. Bon appétit!

Strawberries in Cointreau
Sometimes the simplest of desserts can be the most delicious – especially when local strawberries are coming into season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

2 pounds strawberries, hulled and quartered or halved, depending on size
About 2 ounces Cointreau
Zest of 1 orange
Brown sugar to taste
Whipped cream or vanilla ice cream (optional)

Place the strawberries in a bowl large enough for tossing. Drizzle with Cointreau, sprinkle with orange zest and gently toss. If necessary, add a little brown sugar and toss again.

Let the strawberries sit for about 10 minutes while you put the dinner dishes in the sink to soak or fill the dishwasher.

Toss again and serve the strawberries with a spoonful of whipped cream or ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Southwest Turkey Burgers
Two Years Ago – Cherry Cobbler
Three Years Ago – Heirloom Tomatoes with Balsamic Reduction
Four Years Ago – Strawberry Shortcakes with Cardamom Cream
Five Years Ago – Strawberries with Yogurt Cream
Six Years Ago – Chocolate-Chocolate Sorbet
Seven Years Ago – Caesar Salad with Parmesan Croutons
Eight Years Ago – The Best Grilled Cheese Sandwich in the History of my Kitchen
Nine Years Ago – Asian Slaw

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What advice would you give to this year’s new graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

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Celebrate Cinco de Mayo & Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème

In case you missed it, a few weeks ago Massachusetts and Maine celebrated Patriots’ Day. The day commemorates the first battles of the Revolutionary War at Lexington and Concord. Those of us who grew up in Massachusetts learned a lot about the State’s early history. We spent most of the fall studying the pilgrims. In the spring, we turned to Mad King George’s tyrannical rule and our forbearers’ heroic quest for freedom.

I share this only to point out that, as far as I know, no one in Mexico celebrated Patriots’ Day. Okay, I’m sure that a few of their athletes came north to run the Boston Marathon. However, I can’t imagine that there were lots of parties with baked beans and brown bread down in Cancun or Puebla.

And yet, in a few short days, we’ll be pulling out all the stops for a fun and festive Cinco de Mayo. Before you go making assumptions, no, Cinco de Mayo doesn’t celebrate Mexican independence. It’s the anniversary of the victorious Battle of Puebla against the French in 1862. Just as the Battles of Lexington and Concord were early victories in the Revolutionary War, the Battle of Puebla was an quick win in the Franco-Mexican War.

So why in the world do we celebrate Cinco de Mayo? First of all, it’s a lot easier for Americans to pronounce than Día de la Independencia – Independence Day. And second, Día de la Independencia is in mid-September. Life is good in September. The weather is fine. The leaves are starting to change to red and gold. We’re busy picking apples and showing off our new pencil boxes. We don’t have time for a Mexican fiesta.

Compare that to early May. It’s mud season. There is no red or gold and very little green. The trees are barely in bud. If it’s not raining, it’s cloudy or it will be soon. Sand is everywhere and I could (almost) kill for a mudroom. We could all use a little celebration right about now. Why not shake off the mud season doldrums with a ginormous Cinco de Mayo potluck. Your friends and neighbors will love you for it.

Don’t’ worry, you don’t need to make a huge fuss. The point is to get everyone together and have some fun. Here are a few pointers –

Start with a little color. Track down that sunshine yellow tablecloth and throw it on the table. Use the bright red napkins and add some candles or tea lights. A bowl of lemons and limes will make a perfect centerpiece.

Skip the hokey sombreros and silly mustaches from the party store but encourage everyone to think spring. It’s probably too cold and muddy for flip-flops but take a few minutes to find that bright pink sweater. It’s in the back of the closet somewhere.

Encourage everyone to bring a favorite Mexican-inspired dish. Hopefully, your foodie friends will go one better and create something deliciously authentic.

Feliz Cinco de Mayo y buen provecho!

Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème
Very creamy chocolate with just a touch of Mexican spice, I can’t think of a better dessert for Cinco de Mayo. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1 1/3 cups half & half
1 1/3 cups heavy cream
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon for to taste chipotle powder
8 ounces dark chocolate, finely chopped
8 ounces milk chocolate, finely chopped
1 teaspoon espresso or coffee powder
8 large egg yolks
1 tablespoon Triple Sec
Garnish: unsweetened whipped cream

Put the half & half and cream in a heavy saucepan, add the cinnamon, chipotle and orange zest. Stirring frequently, heat until steaming. Remove from the heat and let the orange zest and spices steep for about 30 minutes.

Put the chocolate and espresso powder in a large measuring cup or bowl. Set aside.

Reheat the cream to steaming.

Put the egg yolks in a bowl and whisk until smooth. Whisking constantly, slowly add the hot cream to the egg yolks.

Return the egg-cream mixture to the saucepan and set over low heat. Stirring constantly, cook until the custard reaches 170 degrees on a candy thermometer.

Remove from the heat, stir in the Triple Sec and immediately strain the hot custard through a fine mesh sieve into the measuring cup with the chocolate. Let the chocolate sit for a few minutes and then whisk until smooth and completely melted.

Pour the chocolate crème into 8 small dessert bowls or glasses. Cool to room temperature, cover and refrigerate for at least 6 hours or overnight.

Serve the pots de crème with unsweetened whipped cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Shrimp with Salsa de Cacahuate y Chile de Arbol
Two Years Ago – Puffy Apple Pancake
Three Years Ago – Tostadas with Avocado Crema & Black Bean Salsa
Four Years Ago – Cheddar-Sage Biscuits
Five Years Ago – Lemon-Lime Squares
Six Years Ago – Tarte à l’Oignon (Onion Tart)
Seven Years Ago – Honeyed Apricots with Creamy Yogurt
Eight Years Ago – Black & White Brownies
Nine Years Ago – Rhubarb Muffins

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How will you celebrate Cinco de Mayo? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2018

Halloween on Pleasant Lake & Apple Oatmeal Cookies

What’s Halloween like in rural New Hampshire? Well except for the coyotes, pretty quiet. Yes, I know. There’s plenty going on up on Main Street. But nothing, zip, nada in my neighborhood. Down by Pleasant Lake, we’re a mix of year-round and summer people. By mid-October, most of the leaves have faded, it’s dark before six and more than half of houses are empty. We are not a hub of Halloween festivities, far from it.

It was summer and the neighborhood very busy when I moved into my house several years ago. Up until the Columbus Day, there was still a fair amount of weekend activity. That’s when the summer people closed up their cottages. About the same time, the snowbirds disappeared. That said, down at my end of the road, there were a few kids. Not many mind you but enough to know they were there. From time to time, I’d see them with their heavy backpacks on their way to or from the bus.

Knowing there were kids in the neighborhood, I dutifully bought a bag of fun-sized Milky Way®. About that name, what’s up with that? No not Milky Way, I get that. The candy bar was named after a milkshake. The milkshake was named after the galaxy. Why? Well, the story starts to get murky so that’s about all I can tell you.

No, the part I don’t get is why the teeny tiniest candy bars are called fun size. Where’s the fun in these one-bite wonders? Moreover, and please correct me if I’m wrong, those fun size bars seem to be shrinking every year. Who are the candy manufacturers trying to kid?

The fun moniker would be more appropriate for one of those supersized bars. I ask you, what’s more fun – a teeny tiny drop of chocolate or a big honkin’ bar? Come to think of it, a more fitting label might be fun-while-it-lasted. Eating one of those giant candies in one sitting is an invitation to a tummy-ache. But hey, you’re only a kid once.

All right, enough digressing, let’s get back to my Halloween preparations. Although I dutifully stocked up on miniature Milky Way® bars, I forgot to stop at the bank. So I went through every pocket and purse for loose change for Unicef. I put on my orange t-shirt, the one with the jack-o-lantern. I tasted a couple of the mini-chocolates. (Only a few, I needed to make sure they were safe for the children.) And I waited. Then, I waited some more. And some more. When it started raining, I figured that was that.

About eight-thirty, maybe nine o’clock, I was ready to turn off the outside lights and change out of my silly t-shirt. That’s when a car drove in the driveway. What’s with that, I thought. The parents on Jackson Road never chauffeured their kids around on Halloween. Rain, sleet or snow, we walked from house to house. However, I didn’t judge. Instead, I picked up my bowls of candy and coins and headed to the door.

Hands in his pockets, a hunched over middle schooler shuffled through the rain. He didn’t shout trick or treat and I was none too sure of his costume. However, I gave him the benefit of the doubt. Perhaps he was going for subtlety – Clark Kent on casual Friday. Beyond the headlights, I could see the driver’s silhouette and maybe another person. On second thought, maybe it was a simple ploy by his nitwit older brothers to collect candy. You know – send in the kid. After helping himself to a handful of fun, the boy shuffled back to the car. He was my first, last and only trick or treater.

Hey, wait a minute. Maybe they were lost or Russian spies trying to figure out this bizarre American custom. I’ll never know. Bon appétit!

Apple Cookies
Loaded with fruit, nuts and oatmeal, if you like you can pretend these cookies are good for you. Enjoy!
Makes about 5 dozen cookies

2 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup instant oatmeal
1 teaspoon kosher salt
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1 teaspoon each ground cinnamon and ginger
1/4 teaspoon each ground nutmeg and allspice
1 1/2 sticks butter, at room temperature
1 cup light brown sugar
2 large eggs
1/4 cup sour cream
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1-2 apples, about 1 cup finely chopped or coarsely grated
1 cup raisins
1 cup chopped walnuts
1 cup chocolate chips

Set 2 racks in the upper and lower thirds of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Line 2 baking sheets with silicon liners or parchment paper.

Put the flour, oatmeal, salt, baking powder and soda and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

In a large bowl, beat the butter and brown sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs, sour cream and vanilla and beat until smooth. Turn the mixer down to low, gradually add the dry ingredients and beat until just combined. Fold in the apple, raisins, nuts and chocolate chips

Drop tablespoons of dough about 3 inches apart (a mini ice-cream scoop works great) onto the prepared baking sheets. If you like, you can flatten the cookies slightly with moistened fingers. Switching racks and turning the pans midway through baking, bake the cookies until they are lightly browned, about 10 minutes. Let the cookies set for a minute and then transfer to a rack to cool.

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One Year Ago – Chipotle Sweet Potato & White Bean Hummus
Two Years Ago – Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Squares
Three Years Ago – Mini Pumpkin Whoopie Pies
Four Years Ago Ago – Pumpkin Spice Cookies
Five Years Ago – Chicken in Every Pot
Six Years Ago – Roasted Carrots & Pearl Onions
Seven Years Ago – Roasted Butternut Squash Risotto
Eight Years Ago – Roasted Brussels Sprouts with Pearl Onions
Nine Years Ago – Mexican Chicken Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

How many trick or treaters will be at your house on Halloween? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Second Half & Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler

It’s the second half of summer. We need to make the most of it. There will be no grousing about the rain or heat or anything else. Until we built the little brown house in the woods, my family always spent August on Cape Cod. From the time they were babies, my parents vacationed on the Cape in August. The tradition continued.

July was a crazy quilt of long weekends on the Cape at one or the other grandparents’ cottage, a day trip to the north shore and summer camp. When all else failed, we spent the afternoon at the town beach. August was a rickety rental a stone’s throw from the ocean.

I don’t know why but I never questioned the August vacation rule. For that matter, I doubt I thought much about it. However, I did find it decidedly strange when some of my friends went off to the beach in July.

My mother was pretty good at declarations. When I told her of friends heading to the Cape or New Hampshire or Maine in July, her reply was something akin to, “some people just don’t know any better.” If you didn’t know her, from that remark, you might think Mom was a snob or at least very opinionated. While Mom loved a good opinion, she was never a snob.

I admit at some point, probably when I was a teenager, I was vaguely uncomfortable with her pronouncement. I think I had just read the Great Gatsby. I hated to think that we were the kind of people who fled the city in August. Was it possible that we were among those careless people with more money than sense?

I needn’t have worried. Our family was neither fabulously wealthy nor remarkably careless. We lived in the suburbs. We didn’t lie around all day in white dresses surrounded by billowing curtains and complain about the heat. We wore shorts and t-shirts. We road bikes, climbed trees and ran through the sprinkler when Mom couldn’t take us to Morses Pond.

Anyway, except for my Great Gatsby moment, once we were ensconced in the little brown house in the woods, the subject was moot. Mom and we kids left the suburbs within minutes of the final school bell in June and returned late in the afternoon of Labor Day. Dad took the 4th of July holiday week off and came up weekends. We still wore shorts and t-shirts. We left our bikes at home but climbed trees and hiked in the hills. We swam, sailed and made a feeble attempt to learn tennis. If it rained, we played Monopoly and did jigsaw puzzles. We didn’t wear white dresses and the little brown house did not have billowing, floor-to-ceiling curtains.

It wasn’t until fairly recently, like maybe in the last few years that it finally dawned on me as to why the Nyes took their vacation in August. (It was one of those duh rather than ah ha moments.) The Atlantic Ocean was too cold for swimming in July. Or so said, generation after generation of adults. Ocean or lake, salt water or fresh, you name it, kids will swim anytime from Mother’s Day to Columbus Day. Unless there’s an El Niño (or is it La Niña), then they’ll swim on Christmas Day too.

Anyway, it is just about time for my father to greet the second half of summer with a swim in Pleasant Lake. While July is definitely the warmer of the two months, Dad’s now ninety-year-old bones prefer to wait until the lake reaches a more balmy 75 degrees or at least a refreshing 65. Who needs a calendar when you’ve got family traditions?

Wishing you a lovely August and bon appétit!

Blueberry-Ginger Cobbler
Pick-your-own or pick up a couple of quarts at the farm, it’s blueberry season. Enjoy!
Serves 8

Blueberry filling:
6 cups picked over blueberries
3/4 cup brown sugar
3 tablespoons cornstarch
1-inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and minced
Zest and juice of 1 lime
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon salt

Biscuit dough:
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/3 cup finely chopped crystallized ginger
1/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/2 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
3 tablespoons cold butter, cut into small bits
1/2-3/4 cup sour cream

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter a 2-quart baking dish.

Prepare the filling: put the blueberries in a bowl, add the brown sugar, cornstarch, ginger, lime zest, cinnamon and salt and toss to combine. Add the lime juice and toss again. Set aside.

Make the biscuit dough: put the flour, crystallized ginger, brown sugar, baking powder and soda and salt and cinnamon in food processor and pulse to combine. Add the butter and process again until the mixture resembles fine meal. Transfer to a bowl, add the sour cream and stir until the dough comes together.

Assemble the cobbler and bake: transfer the blueberry mixture to the prepared baking dish, drop spoonfuls of biscuit dough onto the fruit and transfer the cobbler to the oven.

Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until the fruit is bubbling and the top is golden. Serve warm with vanilla or ginger ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Filets Mignons with Salsa Verde
Two Years Ago – Corncakes
Three Years Ago – Grilled Corn, Black Bean & Cheese Quesadillas with Fresh Tomato Salsa
Four Years Ago – Summer Salad with Green Beans, Blueberries & Goat Cheese
Five Years Ago – Shrimp Salad Niçoise
Six Years Ago – Insalata Caprese
Seven Years Ago – Mojito Melons
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Antipasto
Nine Years Ago – Nana Nye’s Fish Chowder

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a summer vacation story to tell? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

More Summer Camp & Blueberry Bread Pudding

Last week I wrote a little bit about my first year at Camp Four Winds. A Girl Scout camp, it offered an escape from the hot, stuffy suburbs. Four Winds was basic to say the least, little cabins and tents in the woods, latrines and a big old dining hall. I’m not exactly sure if there were showers. While I sort of remember waiting in line for a shower, it might be my imagination. On the other hand, I have a clear vision of soaping up in the pond on Saturday night. You know the drill, once a week whether you need it or not.

Our days were not packed with fancy lessons or special programs. There was no horseback riding, tennis lessons, golf, dance classes or archery. At some point, we must have made a rope bracelet or gimp lanyard. We went on a hike, maybe two. Although I’d have denied it at the time, the hikes were none too arduous. One was planned as an overnight. We wimped out and returned to our little cabins when it started to rain. However, as luck would have it, the rain stopped in time for s’mores.

Come to think of it, camp was not all that different from what we did at home. We got up, we had breakfast and did chores. Of course, the chores were more onerous than those Mom gave us. My sister and I did not clean latrines back on Jackson Road. However, we did make our beds and could yield a broom. Brenda was the neater of the two. If pushed, I would eventually pick up my half of our room.

At home, we waited impatiently for Mom to do whatever needed doing before taking us to the town beach. At camp, the counselors corralled us down to the waterfront as soon as our beds were made and cabins swept. Starting with swimming lessons, most of the day was spent in and on the pond. Rain or shine, we stayed in the water until our lips were blue and our teeth chattered. Then we rowed boats and paddle canoes.

At the end of the morning, we were hustled back to our cabins to change into shorts and shirts. Bathing suits were not permitted in the dining hall. The food was unremarkable but kids gathered on the dining hall steps before and after lunch to sing camp songs. I can still sing a couple although I might mess up a verse of two.

After lunch was quiet time. Then and now, it seems rather silly. At seven or eight or however old I was, I was well past needing an afternoon nap. However, we were expected to rest or write letters home to our parents. I guess it was okay to read a book. Mostly, we whispered and giggled.

I’m pretty sure that quiet time was invented to give the counselors a break. How much do you want to bet that they spent the hour smoking cigarettes and writing love letters to their boyfriends? After resting, we were back at the pond. The remainder of the afternoon was filled with more swimming, more blue lips and more chattering teeth followed by rowboats and canoes. If you sense a pattern, you’d be right. It was not for naught. At the end of the two weeks, there was a swim meet. My crawl was hopeless but I came in second with my speedy backstroke.

Thankfully, there were more camp songs before and after dinner because the meal was as unremarkable as breakfast and lunch. At night, there were campfires, s’mores, ghost stories and more giggling. Little girls like to giggle and I was particularly good at it.

Happy summer and bon appétit!

Blueberry Bread Pudding

You can call this Baked Blueberry French Toast and serve it for breakfast. Otherwise, call it delicious and serve it with a scoop of vanilla ice cream for dessert. Enjoy!
Serves 8-12

Butter for the pan
1 day-old* baguette (about 16-ounce), cubed
3 cups fresh blueberries
1 (8-ounce) package cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup brown sugar
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon nutmeg
1/2 cup maple syrup
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
8 whole eggs
3 cups half and half or whole milk
Confectioner’s sugar (optional)

Generously butter a 13- x 9-inch pan. Arrange half of the bread cubes in the pan in a single layer. Sprinkle with half of the blueberries. Top with the remaining bread cubes and blueberries.

Put the cream cheese, sugar and spices in a large bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat until smooth. Add the maple syrup and vanilla and beat until smooth. With the mixer on low, add the eggs, one at time, beating to incorporate. Raise the mixer speed to medium and beat until smooth.

With the mixer on low, slowly add the half and half. Gradually increase the mixer speed and beat until well combined.

Pour the custard pour over the bread and blueberries. Cover and refrigerate for 8 hours or overnight.

Bake, covered, at 350 degrees for 30 minutes. Uncover and continue baking until lightly browned and set, about 30 minutes more.

Let stand for 5-10 minutes, sprinkle with confectioner’s sugar and serve with or without vanilla ice cream.

* It is okay to use a fresh baguette. Just spread the cubes on baking sheet and bake at 300 degrees for 5-10 minutes before prepping the pudding.

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One Year Ago – Crunchy Quinoa Salad
Two Years Ago – Cheesecake Brownies
Three Years Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Tequila-Lime Butter
Four Years Ago – Grilled Swordfish with Olive & Caper Salsa
Five Years Ago – Grilled Red Potatoes with Lemon-Garlic-Herb Oil
Six Years Ago – Tandoori Chicken
Seven Years Ago – Blueberry Muffins
Eight Years Ago – Peanut Butter Brownies

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? How will you celebrate the first days of summer vacation and the longest day? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

Summer Bucket List & Creamy Yogurt Tart with Fresh Strawberries

When we were kids, we started each summer with a bucket list. One year, the raft test was the top goal. Once we’d perfected our strokes, there was the swim to the island. Climbing Kearsarge was on the list most years. After I started running, a run around the lake was de rigueur. On top of whatever athletic endeavors, there were books to read, a first beer to drink and maybe a blueberry pie to bake.

What’s on your summer bucket list this year? If you don’t have one, well, then it’s time to get one together! Not sure of what to put on it? Well then, may I suggest:

  1. Ride a zip line. You know you want to. Any number of New England ski resorts are adding summer fun to their playlist. A ride down the mountain on a zip line sounds like a great way to spend an afternoon.
  2. Make pickles. I rarely make jams or jellies and I’m not a canner. However, I do like to make refrigerator pickles. They are quick, easy and delicious.
  3. Rent a flashy sports car and drive to the coast for fried clams and beer. One of my longtime traditions is to have fried clams once a year. Summer is by far the best time to indulge. What could be better than a trip to the coast, a walk on the beach and dinner with a view.
  4. Pick some berries. Maybe you’ll spend a morning at the pick-your-own strawberry field, stop by the blueberry farm or visit the raspberry lady. If you’re lucky, you’ll time to pick all three. Be sure to make at least one pie, tart or cobbler this summer.
  5. Take a three-day tech vacation. No computer. No Facebook. No Twitter, Instagram or YouTube. No television. No gadgets. Just you, family and friends face to face real time.
  6. Start a new hobby, try a new craft or learn a new game. At least for three days, you’ll have plenty of time. Take a dance lesson and keep going. Try watercolors or calligraphy. Maybe this is the summer to discover, or re-discover, darts, billiards or mah jongg.
  7. Try paddle boarding. It turns out that kayaks are sooo yesterday. Who knew? Then again, paddle boarding has already been around for a few years. Maybe it too is passé. It’s hard to stay up to date.
  8. Run through the sprinkler and throw water balloons. Even in New England, we have soaring temperatures and plenty of humidity. If you can’t get to the beach, a sprinkler is the next best thing. A water balloon fight with your kids or grandkids is even better.
  9. Invent an exotic cocktail. Think of it as your reward for hiking to the top of whatever mountain or running however many miles every morning.
  10. Watch a movie in the backyard. No, you don’t need a giant television screen. Plug your laptop into a projector and pin a sheet onto the back of the garage. As for titles, think Top Gun, Jaws, Grease or that one with the dancing and Patrick Swayze. Don’t forget the popcorn and maybe one of those exotic cocktails.

Happy summer and bon appétit!

Creamy Yogurt Tart with Fresh Strawberries
A creamy and delicious tart to start the summer. Enjoy!
Serves 8

3 cups plain yogurt
Graham Cracker Crust (recipe follows)
8 ounces cream cheese at room temperature
1/4 – 1/2 cup (to taste) honey
1 tablespoon pure vanilla extract
Grated zest of 1 orange
1/2 teaspoon salt
About 1 quart strawberries, hulled and halved
Brown sugar to taste
1 tablespoon Grand Marnier (optional)

Put the yogurt in a colander or sieve lined with a clean dishtowel or coffee filter and drain for several hours or overnight. You should end up with about 1 1/2 cups of yogurt cheese.

Make the Graham Cracker Crust.

Make the Yogurt-Cream Cheese Filling: Put the cream cheese in a bowl, add the honey, vanilla, orange zest and salt and beat with an electric mixer until well combined. With the mixer on medium-low, add the yogurt a few spoonfuls at a time beat until smooth. Spoon the filling into the graham cracker crust and smooth the top. Cover and refrigerate for 4-6 hours.

Put the strawberries in a bowl and gently toss with brown sugar and Grand Marnier.

To serve: if you like, you can artfully arrange the berries in concentric circles on top of the tart, slice and serve. Alternatively, you can slice the tart and then top each piece with a spoonful of berries.

Graham Cracker Crust
1 1/4 cups graham cracker crumbs
2 tablespoons brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
6 tablespoons butter, melted

Set a rack in the center of the oven. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the graham cracker crumbs, brown sugar, cinnamon and salt in a 9-inch glass pie plate and whisk with a fork to combine. Add the melted butter, mix until well combined and firmly press the crumbs into the pan. Bake the crust at 350 degrees for 7 minutes and cool on a rack.

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One Year Ago – Berry Flag Cake
Two Years Ago – A Hint of Asia Barbecue Chicken or Pork
Three Years Ago – Potato Salad Niçoise
Four Years Ago – Grilled Scallop & Asparagus Salad
Five Years Ago – Watermelon & Feta Salad
Six Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Basil Aioli
Seven Years Ago – Mediterranean Shrimp
Eight Years Ago – Grilled Hoisin Pork

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a summer bucket list? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017

What Now? What Next? & Strawberry Tort

It will be all pomp and circumstance at the local high school on Saturday. Bright-eyed teenagers will collect their sheepskins in front of beaming parents and grandparents. Many will continue their education in the fall; others will head straight to work. There will be plenty of sage words and glib platitudes but here are a few more…

Dreams are like an early morning mist. They float and surround you but there is little to grab and hold. Work is real and makes dreams come true. No one said it would always be easy; make a plan and persevere.

Don’t settle. Life is too short, too tough and too much fun to settle for dull and boring. It is much too short for cruel and meaningless.

Don’t wait for stuff to happen to you. Create your own next best thing. Achieve something; learn a new skill or take an old one to new heights. Perhaps you will write a sonnet, unscramble a piece of jumbled code or build a birdhouse. Go ahead – take a step, then another and make life happen.

Of course, accidents happen and luck can be hit or miss but the future is by far and away a product of the choices you make. Good, bad or indifferent, own your choices and move on to the next.

Don’t just pick your battles; pick the outcome. If you find yourself in the middle of an angry feud, you can choose to fume, forgive or forget. More often than not, being at peace is better than righteous indignation.

Life is better when you are happy. Happiness is not a deep secret or a profound mystery. You can find happiness by smiling more, laughing more and singing more. And don’t forget to dance.

Given a choice between an adventure and the same old-same old, choose adventure. No matter what happens, you will learn a whole lot along the way.

Don’t be an idiot. Open your mind to new people, possibilities and ideas.

Change is constant and all around us. If it wasn’t, you’d still be using a rotary phone. Heck, you’d know what a rotary phone was. Technology, fashion and opportunities change but love for family, for friends and a favorite place is constant. So embrace the latest smart phone but use it to call your grandmother on Sunday morning.

Keep kindness as a core value. Throughout your life, you will experiment and explore. You may investigate different beliefs or try new approaches to life. Through all those changes and evolutions, practice simple acts of kindness to connect to the people around you.

Hug your parents. Hug your grandparents. They won’t be here forever so appreciate them while you can.

Enjoy the ride and bon appétit!

Strawberry Tort
June is the month for graduations, weddings and strawberries. No, this tort can’t replace a five-tier wedding cake but celebrants will welcome it at almost any other festive feast. Enjoy!
Serves 8

1/2 cup butter, plus more for the pan, at room temperature
1 cup all-purpose flour, plus more for the pan
Grated zest of 1 orange
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/4 teaspoon nutmeg
3/4 cup brown sugar
2 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 1 pound strawberries, hulled and cut in half

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Lightly butter and flour a deep dish pie plate.

Put the flour, baking powder and spices in a bowl and whisk to combine.

Put the butter and sugar in a bowl and beat with an electric mixer until light and fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat until well combined.

Add the dry ingredients and beat on low until just combined. Spread the batter into the prepared pan.

Arrange the strawberries cut side down on top of the batter. Bake at 350 degrees for about 45 minutes or until a toothpick inserted in center comes out clean.

Cool for at least 20 minutes, the tort can be served warm or at room temperature. Cut into wedges and serve plain or with a dollop of whipped cream or scoop of ice cream.

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One Year Ago – Grilled Potato Salad
Two Years Ago – Grilled Salmon with Lemon-Herb Quinoa Salad
Three Years Ago – Chocolate-Peanut Butter Tart
Four Years Ago – Salsa Verde
Five Years Ago – Blueberry Crumb Cake
Six Years Ago – Peanut-Sesame Dipping Sauce
SevenYears Ago – Strawberry Gelato
Eight Years Ago – Asparagus Soup

Or Click Here! for a complete list of and links to all the recipes on this blog!

What about you? Do you have a favorite piece of advice for graduates? Feel free to share!

Want more? I’ve got links to lots more to read, see & cook. © Susan W. Nye, 2017