End-of-Summer Reveries and Recipes

August 26, 2016

Mullen-It-Over

August rain: the best of summer gone, and the new fall not yet born. The odd uneven time—Sylvia Plath

While the conformities of autumn wait in the wings, the vestiges of summer linger, but not for long. So, we savor those last fresh morsels from gardens and farmers’ markets; have brushes with spiders spinning webby barricades across our screen doors; ignore the stream of pumpkin and apple recipes on Facebook and Pinterest; and pretend that we don’t see the Halloween merchandise swamping store shelves.

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It’s the time of year when worlds collide—it feels like summer, but we can’t ignore fall. While in this evanescent period, we live in a strange duality—leaving our air-conditioned homes to go to football games; preparing BLTs  and sweet corn for dinner while the kids do homework; anticipating the arrival of fall mums while mowing the lawn.

It is at this juncture where we can find a small space of time to celebrate the beautiful meals and memorable moments of the past three months. But we must do it fast while we still have access to excellent produce—tomatoes, basil, sweet corn, peaches, etc.

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And what would be the perfect end to the season? A “Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye!” dinner celebration! (Forgive my wordplay on this old Irish folk song.) Just think back on all the fun, silly, crazy, scary, sad, weird things that happened this past summer. They deserve to be shared with others over a great meal. Since this is an incongruous time of year, I say don’t do the obvious; don’t have your dinner outside. Invite your friends and/or family to sit down to a mouthwatering summer meal inside your house where weather, bugs, and shorter days will not put the kibosh on the merriment.

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Why not have an end-of-summer dinner celebration?

Now, before you have your dinner celebration, would be the perfect time for you to take part in an archaeological quest. Why don’t you go exploring all around the interior of your home to determine if you have a dining room? If you find indications of one, carefully dig down through the piles of papers and debris, and see if you come upon a table and chairs. If you do, fire up the leaf blower and blast away the layers of dust and cobwebs, paper clips, recipe cards, pens, coloring books, etc. (Be very careful of that vase from the Ming Dynasty that you found under the sideboard.) Set the table with some pretty dishes. (Look in your attic for boxes marked, “Great Aunt Rildabelle’s China”.) Serve your precious summer meal (recipes provided below) and toast all of those special memories everyone has shared. Ask them to hold up their glasses and proclaim in unison, “To the Summer of 2016! We Hardly Knew Ye!” This evening of laughs and stories, and maybe a few well-chosen photos, will also become a great memory and perhaps even an annual tradition. (And, if you don’t happen to uncover a dining room in your home, of course the kitchen table is perfect, too.)

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My sister Kris (middle) loved being a Campfire Girl. Her friend Gwen (right) was also in the troop (although she appears not to be as “into it” as Kris). On the left is our cousin Pam, who was a Bluebird (a first-year Campfire Girl).

Speaking of summer memories, here is one of mine from many years ago when I was a Campfire Girl. My sister Kris loved to go to Camp Hantesa, the Campfire Girls camp near Boone, Iowa. She attended a week-long session for several summers when we were in grade school. I went once, against my better judgment, and regretted that decision throughout my incarceration. The ultimate carrot-dangler for campers was the highly sought-after “Hantesa”, an award patch that recognized good behavior and rigid rule-following during the camp stay. It was presented to each good girl at the end of the week to show the folks back home which ones were the upstanding and obeisant campers. I wasn’t a rebellious sort, but the haranguing by some of the counselors to clean my plate at every meal was, for this picky eater, unreasonable. I remember one particularly tense standoff when Miss Muggs insisted that I eat my slice of bread, which had become saturated in the corn juice on my plate. I refused to put that wet sponge in my mouth. After that, I seemed to be closely monitored at mealtimes. I’m sure they were thinking, “What might this finicky fusspot do next? Stuff the Spam casserole into a knothole or wedge a hotdog between the floorboards?” I continued to leave food on my plate. For the rest of the week, I was feeling low but not “Lo”, which is part of the Campfire Girl mantra of “WoHeLo—Work Health Love”. When the week finally ended, and I was back in the safety of my parents’ station wagon heading home, I tearfully confessed that I didn’t receive a Hantesa. Mom and Dad, who never forced Kris and me to eat food we didn’t want, considered this a non-issue.

IMG_2039Miss Muggs mug occasionally popped in and out of my nightmares for a few years. Now, it’s just one of those crazy childhood summer memories. I’d like to think that a picky eater with more moxie than me might have tied Miss Muggs to the totem pole and made her swallow a swollen loaf of corn-juiced bread. Revenge, even in one’s imagination, is sweet!

In fairness to the Campfire Girls organization and Camp Hantesa, I want to be clear that they are a wonderful organization. Camp Hantesa offered (and still does) many opportunities to young girls (girls only, back then) and its staff certainly did run a tight ship. I just happened to be the odd barnacle that roiled the waters.

Foodiva

Even though I have already featured recipes for summer produce in some other posts, I can’t let summer go without including a few more of my favorites! I have a knack (not something to be proud of) of taking fresh, low-calorie, healthful fruits and vegetables and turning them into something naughty. So, let’s lay this out on the table right now. I’m not condoning naughtiness for every meal. But for a special occasion, such as a “Summer, We Hardly Knew Ye” dinner, consider wrapping your lips around these luscious dishes. Then you can go back to your “winter of discontent”.

The appetizer for our special dinner is actually quite healthful. This bruschetta topping is addictively good when homegrown tomatoes are used. It’s not really a recipe but rather a suggestion on how to use the following ingredients and tweak them into a ratio that pleases your taste buds. My friend FullSizeRender(76)and healthful eater Barb Thornton (pictured on the left) has a very similar recipe, except that hers is more specific (and she uses less salt, olive oil, and balsamic than I do). For mine, you will need at least 3 large, peeled, chopped homegrown tomatoes, fresh chopped basil, extra-virgin olive oil, balsamic vinegar, minced garlic, kosher salt, pepper, and crostini. When I’m in a hurry, I substitute Lawry’s garlic salt for the minced garlic and kosher salt. And often, instead of making crostini, I buy it at Whole Foods or Trader Joe’s. I mix all the ingredients together (except for the crostini). Then I taste it (and use my common sense) until it reaches perfection. I place this heady concoction on a platter with the crostini. I hand out appetizer plates and tell everyone to dig in. My work is done, except to eat it. Some of you cooks may think you are being helpful by putting the topping on before it is served. You aren’t. Yes, you want all that good stuff to soak into the crunchy crostini, but doing it too far ahead makes them soggy. A reminder—most people are perfectly capable of spooning the topping onto the crostini all by themselves. You are not their mother. It won’t kill them to lift a spoonful of topping from the bowl all the way over to a crostini. In fact, hopefully they will be thanking you for the workout you’re giving their arms.

You say you would rather have an actual recipe? All right then. Here’s Barb Thornton’s. (It is fantastic, and I don’t know why I just didn’t give it to you in the first place!)

Homegrown Tomato Bruschetta

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Homegrown Tomato Bruschetta

  • Servings: 4 or more
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 1 1/2 pounds homegrown tomatoes (or may use ripe plum tomatoes from store)
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 teaspoon (or more) balsamic vinegar
  • 8 fresh basil leaves, chopped
  • Salt to taste
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • Sliced and toasted baguette (or crostini from Whole Foods, Trader Joe’s, etc.)

Peel tomatoes, cut in quarters. (Barb removes the seeds and juice. I do not.) Then chop into smaller pieces. Add remaining ingredients and stir well. For best flavor, serve at room temperature. (Remember to taste before serving and adjust seasonings if necessary.)

Recipe from messycookblog.com

IMG_2043My dear friend Lynn McCollum grows the most amazing basil plants in her garden every summer. Basil “shrubs” is really more descriptive. I always look forward to receiving basil bouquets from Lynn when her garden starts producing. As she always reminds me, do not put the basil in the refrigerator! The fridge is no friend of this herb. Put it in water and leave it out on the counter. Change the water every day or two, and it will last quite awhile. It looks gorgeous in a vase and fresh basil is right there within your reach! Chicken and Fresh Basil Cream is Lynn’s very decadent entrée that she makes once a summer when her basil is overproducing. Right now at the grocery store you can find little packages of fresh basil from $2.99 to $4.99. Lynn’s recipe calls for 1/2 to 1 cup of chopped fresh basil, so it can be a bit pricey to make this recipe when basil is not available from the garden or a good friend!

Chicken and Fresh Basil Cream

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Chicken and Fresh Basil Cream

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

I have slightly altered Lynn’s recipe because I like more sauce! Love the sauce!

  • 4 skinless, boneless chicken breasts (Tracy buys about 1 1/2 pounds of chicken breast. She prefers to slice each of them into 3 or 4 strips to make it easier to cook and eat.)
  • Milk
  • Bread crumbs
  • 1/2 cup butter (or a bit more if necessary)
  • 2 teaspoons chicken bouillon (Tracy prefers to use 1 Knorr Chicken-Flavored bouillon cube)
  • 1/2 cup water (Tracy does not use the water.)
  • 1 1/2 to 2 cups heavy cream
  • 1/2 to 1 cup snipped fresh basil
  • 1/3 to 1/2 cup shredded Parmesan
  • Freshly ground black pepper

Dip breasts in milk and bread crumbs. (Tracy says, “We’re talking about chicken breasts here, people!”) Brown in butter in a large skillet until golden. Remove chicken to a warm platter and cover loosely with foil. Crumble bouillon cube into drippings and stir. Add water (if using) and heat to boiling. Add cream, and heat to boiling. Stir 1 or 2 minutes. Turn off heat and add basil, Parmesan and pepper. Stir well until cheese is incorporated. Pour over chicken or put in a sauceboat to pass. (Tracy also occasionally makes angel hair pasta, stirs in some butter and parsley, and then twirls it into several small nests. She places one on each plate beside the chicken and pours a bit of the sauce on it as well.)

Recipe from messycookblog.com

 

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A picture from the 1980s shows how our family-dinner clean-up team functions together. Mom and Kris have their hands in the dishwater while I stand next to them with a glass of wine.

Our mom Leatrice concocted this terrific side dish, Yellow Squash Bake, years ago for her family. I still make it several times each summer. It’s easy and delicious. In fact, I could eat the whole thing myself!  When the family comes together for a meal, which doesn’t happen as frequently as it used to, Mom, Kris and I still “team cook and clean up” together. (It’s been noted more than once that The Messy Cook often seems to disappear when the clean-up time begins.)

Yellow Squash Bake

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Yellow Squash Bake

  • Servings: 4
  • Difficulty: Easy
  • Print

  • 3 small yellow (summer) squash, or approximately 1 pound
  • 1/2 cup chopped green pepper
  • 1 teaspoon Morton’s Nature’s Seasons salt (or to taste)
  • Freshly ground black pepper
  • 3 tablespoons cold butter
  • 6 to 8 ounces shredded Monterey Jack cheese

Spray a 2-quart casserole or a 9×13-inch pan with cooking spray. Cut off ends of squash and slice into pan. Sprinkle green pepper over squash. Sprinkle seasonings over all. Chop butter into small pieces and sprinkle over all. Top with shredded cheese. Bake covered at 350 degrees for 15 minutes. Remove cover and bake another 15 to 20 minutes until cheese starts to brown and bubble.

Recipe from messycookblog.com

The Colorado peaches are here for their annual brief appearance, and it would be a shame not to glorify these beauties in a fabulous dessert. I have made these peach dumplings for many years. The original one calls for a placing a whole peach, minus the pit and skin, in a square of pie dough and then pressed together. I think it’s hard to eat a whole piece of fruit in a crust. So, I chop the peaches into bite-size pieces and then wrap a little pile of them (along with butter, cinnamon and sugar) into pastry “packages”. It makes a great presentation and is much easier to eat. And it is so good!

Mini Peach Dumplings

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Mini Peach Dumplings

  • Servings: 8
  • Difficulty: Medium
  • Print

You can make these a day ahead, if preferred, and cover with foil so the crust won’t harden. Serve them warmed with vanilla Häagen-Dazs ice cream. (You can use apples for this recipe, if peach season is over.)

  • Pillsbury refrigerated pie crust (You will use both crusts in the package.) (I don’t like packaged crusts, but they seem to work okay in this recipe and then you might be more inclined to make it!)
  • 1 cup sugar
  • 2 cups water
  • 3 tablespoons butter
  • Pinch of salt
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 2 or 3 juicy peaches
  • 1/4 cup sugar
  • 1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
  • Cold butter (2 or 3 tablespoons)

Take out the pie crusts from the refrigerator 15 minutes or so before using. In a medium saucepan, boil the 1 cup sugar, 2 cups water, 3 tablespoons butter, pinch of salt and 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon for 3 minutes. Reduce to low simmer. Peel the peaches and remove the pits. Cut peaches into small slices (or dice them). Mix together the 1/4 cup of sugar and 1/2 teaspoon of cinnamon. Unroll the the pie crusts and cut them into 4 quarters, for a total of 8. Place about 1/4 cup of peaches (or a bit less) into one of the quarters. Sprinkle with 1/2 teaspoon of the sugar/cinnamon mixture and top with a thin slice of butter. Gently pull the crust up and around the peaches into the shape of a round package and pinch together at the top. Repeat process with remaining quarters. Place the 8 packages, spaced apart in 2 rows, in a buttered 9×13-inch pan. Pour the hot syrup around the dumplings. Bake immediately at 400 degrees for 35 minutes or until crust is nicely browned. (If you decide to make homemade pie dough, make a recipe for 2 crusts, and roll into a rectangle. Cut 8 6-inch squares and fill with a 1/2 cup of peaches, 1 teaspoon of cinnamon-sugar mixture, and slightly larger slice of butter. The rest of the method is the same, except the baking time is 40 to 45 minutes. Obviously, these are larger packages.) Serve warm with some of the baked syrup spooned around the dumpling, and a scoop of good vanilla ice cream.

Recipe from messycookblog.com

When I was in the produce department at the grocery store last week, I came upon a basket of hedge apples, which are a common sight in farm fields this time of year. I was a bit flummoxed by their being placed in the same area as the fresh fruits and vegetables. Although many Midwesterners are familiar with this green softball-sized fruit that resembles a brain, those who do not know about them should be advised that they are not edible. In fact, when I purchased one to photograph for this post, the woman sacking my groceries asked me what they are and how I prepare them! Also known as an Osage orange, this junk fruit is a headache for farmers who must gather and dump them each year because they are not edible and they are a choking hazard for animals. These fruits come from hedge trees planted years ago by homesteaders to help delineate property boundaries and keep cattle from wandering away. The trees (which can be as tall as 60 feet) have thorny branches, which served as a form of  FullSizeRender(77)“barbed-wire” for pioneer farmers back in the day. They used the hedge apples in their homes to help keep spiders away, and some people still do today. Last year, NPR featured a story about hedge apples (December 9, 2015),  explaining that this junk fruit is garnering new respect. Todd Johnson, a chemist from Burlington, Iowa, recalled how his great uncle would cut open hedge apples and rub them on cuts to help them heal, and Johnson also had read that the Osage Indians believed in their medicinal properties. So, he decided to conduct research on the hedge apple. He extracted the seeds and pressed the oil from them. Eventually he developed a cosmetic oil called Pomifera, which has become popular with makeup artists. Johnson pays $180 a ton for hedge apples, and his Pomifera oil sells for $85 per ounce! For the rest of you, however, the important takeaway is—don’t be making or eating any hedge apple pies! These things might make an striking centerpiece, though!

Last Bites

The crickets felt it was their duty to warn everybody that summertime cannot last forever. Even on the most beautiful days in the whole year—the days when summer is changing into autumn—the crickets spread the rumor of sadness and change.—E. B. White, Charlotte’s Web.

There is a melancholy that comes with the end of summer days. Don’t we owe ourselves one last hurrah before the next season ushers in a new round of activities and expectations?

IMG_0410Post script: So many of us lost a beautiful friend this past week. Bev Riess will always hold a special place in our hearts as a loving, gentle soul who touched so many lives. (Her wonderful soup recipe was featured in one of my early posts.) Bev, if there is wine in heaven, pour yourself a glass now, dear friend, because this toast is to you!

My next post will be Friday, September 9. Thank you for dropping by.—Tracy

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22 thoughts on “End-of-Summer Reveries and Recipes

  1. I can’t wait to make all of those delicious sounding recipes. And I too love the photos. Your stories bring such laughter to my life dear friend. Thanks for sharing recipes and memories!

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  2. I was a Camp Fire girl too. Not saying I was competitive or anything, but my homemade vest weighed about a ton from beads. I think I cut them off and kept them for years. I recall my favorite were the red and blue that had something to do with Country but I must have been a closet Commie as those were few in number. When I became a Webelo leader for Bill, I redeemed myself by taking those poor boys to a school board meeting. By the way, John and I actually went to a balsamic vinegar tasting in Italy where we tasted the richest thickest balsamic vinegar—yum!

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    1. Ha ha!! Your Campfire experience cracked me up!! I’ll bet those boys loved your “meeting” ideas. Yes, in the Modena region? Finest balsamic in the world! I’m so enjoying reading about Scotland!

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  3. Tracy – this is a wonderful set of thoughts and stirring ideas, and we are growing in our regard for your words every day! It was fun to see Kris, Pam and myself in the smiling versions of our much younger selves. I loved Camp Hantesa and remember Wo-He-Lo and the stripe on our pole if the beds were made just right. There were songs galore and I must say, very weird food. I wrote to my Aunt Tut and Uncle Bill about the lunch of meat and bean chili served on top of mashed potatoes. They knew how to stretch a dollar — or was it sheer meanness?? Thanks for this! Keep ’em coming!

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    1. Hi Gwennie!! So great to hear from you! I meant to email you to get official permission to let me use your photo, and I forgot. Since I was writing all of this late into the night last night, I couldn’t ask you then. So I hoped you would be okay with it. It’s such a cute picture of all three of you! I told Kris I loved it so much! That is hilarious about the meat and bean chili on mashed potatoes! Hey, I remember you and Becky talking about Aunt Tut and Uncle Bill! Hi to Becky! My friend Pidge told me she had lunch with Becky awhile back when she was in SC! Thank you for reading my blog, Gwen! 💕

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    1. Hi Linda! So great to hear from you! Thanks for visiting my blog. Those old photos definitely do show how time has marched on. 🤗 I have enjoyed reconnecting with you on Facebook. You and Steve look great!!

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  4. great post Tracy. Can’t wait to have an end of summer celebration. Loved seeing our dear Bev’s picture at the end. Her smile will never fade in our memories.

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    1. Hi Anne! Thanks so much for the nice comment. Also, I just felt that I had to say something about Bev. Glad you thought it was okay that I did that. What a week! I’ll see you soon, friend. 💕💕

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  5. I am cracking up at the memories of Camp Hantesa. Those were the days…I learned to make a bed with hospital corners, set a table properly, and occasionally use good manners while eating. Good life training for being a military wife. And I did quit wearing the headband and bead-encrusted vest when I got in high school. 🙂 Your pictures are wonderful. You set a beautiful table. That recipe for “Chicken and Fresh Basil Cream”- excellent! AND I can verify that you, definitely ARE “The Messy Cook,” and you have Executive Tendencies in the kitchen cleanup hierarchy of command.

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    1. Thanks for the nice comments and for once again responding to my call for pictures I need (always last minute, I know)! 📷 Yes, the Messy Cook does have a few Type A traits that tend to let the hardest work go to the galley slaves!! 😊

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  6. REALLY ENJOYED THE PICTURES OF THE HOT CAMPFIRE GIRLS (ESPECIALLY THE ONE IN THE MIDDLE). I’M SURE SOME OF THEM USED THAT TRAINING AND PUT IT TO GOOD USE. OH YES, SOME OF THAT FOOD LOOKS PRETTY GOOD, TOO. BUT FELL FREE TO SQUASH THE SQUASH! JUAN YFBIL

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  7. Love the picture of you , Chris and your mom! Where does the time go? The basil from Lynn looks wonderful. I might have to grow some next year! If I get enough tomatoes from Mary I am making the Bruschetta. K >

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  8. I enjoy the old photos almost as much as I enjoy your food writings! I’m going to make the yellow squash dish tonight! Thanks.

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