Monday, June 1, 2009

The Great Outdoors

Dear Boo,

It's a well known fact that anything cooked or eaten out of doors tastes better. I'm not sure if it's the fresh air or the warm sun or the subconscious connection to our primitive roots, but whatever it is, it works.
I like to say that our family's two favorite things to talk about are food (what we're eating now and what we plan to eat next), and the quickest or shortest way to get from point A to point B. Both of these conversation points are really at a premium when you're spending any time in the Hamptons. Last weekend, we were lucky enough to get some uninterrupted time with our aunt and uncle and cousins in the relatively unspoiled splendor of East Hampton's back woods. The weather held out, the Mets won (mostly), and HO boy did we eat well.

We were greeted with cheeses, crudites and the all-american onion dip while the game played in the background and we sipped some prosecco. The grill was fired up and we bundled into our sweatshirts (it's always colder in the country, isn't it?), determined to chow down outside. Our cousin had made it clear that being the first bbq of the season, we required hamburgers and hot dogs, and I couldn't agree more. The burgers were juicy and perfect, the hot dogs charred with that satisfying snap, and the only vegetables present were covered in mayonnaise.
For dessert, s'mores on the grill and oh yeah--the aunt had a batch of cookie dough ready to go in the fridge. I stood in the kitchen and professed that I couldn't possibly eat another bite. By the time the warm cookies made it to the livingroom, I had already polished off a half.

We slept well that night. After weeks of running around, I was ready for bed by 10 and slept like a log. When I woke up the house was quiet except for our aunt, padding around in the kitchen, baking--BAKING, I TELL YOU--a black raspberry coffee cake for our breakfast. I should have known then what we were in for. Note from the Boo: It had CHOCOLATE in it, yo.

In an attempt to get food off of our minds for FIVE MINUTES, we piled into the car and headed out to the beach. It was lovely, wasn't it--lying under the blue skies, watching (but going nowhere near) the surf, smelling the salt and noodling our toes around in the hot sand? The beach was mostly empty for probably one of the last days of the impending summer before the masses descend in their marc jacobs sunglasses, malia mills bikinis, packing shrimp salad from the barefoot contessa...

There's something about the beach air that even if you've had eggs and toast and cheese and jam and coffeecake a few short hours before, makes you hungry. We had planned to hold out until dinner but after an hour on the sand our stomachs were grumbling and we just had to stop at the deli where they make the best italian hoagies this side of...wherever italian hoagies were born. We cut them up into little bite sized pieces (since everyone knows that releases the calories into the air) and nibbled out on the deck. Let me say that whoever thought to put artichokes on a roast beef sandwich is a genius and I'd like to shake his hand.
And then it was time to start dinner.
Ribs from Esposito's, perfectly done spice-rubbed chicken, all made by our uncle the Pit Master, salad with vinaigrette, roasted potatoes, and garlic bread. Oh, and one of the best blueberry crisps ever. Don't you agree?
After bagels and lox the next morning ('neath the sun, naturally), the Aunt announced we had to do SOME kind of activity lest we spend the entire weekend lying on the floor, groaning 'pass me just one more of those ribs'. So off we set to take a nature walk on a trail next to the duck pond we used to go to all the time when we were little. It took about fifteen seconds of watching the overfed birds paddle around before conversation turned to duck. As in--"How hard do you think it would be to catch that fat one over there?" and "I bet grilled duck would be good." "Peking duck is still my favorite." "I have this great recipe for duck with port sauce and sour cherries," "How about fried baby duckling? Nice and crispy...." It's an illness, Boo. And we have clearly inherited it.

Home we went to start the pizza process.

I don't want to go into too much detail since I think this deserves it's own entry in the near future, but suffice it to say that our cousin D, an honorary Italian after all the years he's spent living there, initiated a 24 hour process of dough-making and then grilling and topping like you wouldn't believe. Or you would, since you witnessed it.
There was mixing, and resting, and rising, then kneading (it's all in the wrist):
then this, to create air pockets:
Then the window pane test, to make sure the glutens have developed and the dough is elastic enough:
Then the grill was fired up and the tastebuds began to salivate. Unfortunately, we were aiming for 600 degrees but the grill refused to go above about 450. The oven might have been faster, but, as I mentioned, there's just something about cooking and eating outside, that we were willing to wait, wafting the charcoal scent, watching the sun make it's lazy arc, listening to the dog barking and the birds rustling in the trees.

A bowl of addictive corn salad, two focaccias with speck and arugula, 10--count em, TEN-- margherita pizzas with charred crispy crusts and creamy mozzarella, and a fluffy coconut cake later, fat-bellied and well-fed, we reluctantly packed up and headed for the train.

A beautiful weekend of good food, great family, fresh salt air, and precious sun. There really is nothing like it. I always laugh when I see New Yorkers, desperate for a little outdoor space, squeeze into tables under scaffolding, just feet away from idling cars and construction sites, eating their dinners. But you can't blame them for trying. Spring air makes jokes funnier, stories more exciting, your date better looking, and food, well, just BETTER.


The Mouse

Memorial Day Blueberry Crisp
(adapted from Martha Stewart by our gorgeous Aunt)

For the filling:
6 cups (3 pints) blueberries
1/2 cup sugar
1.5 tablespoon cornstarch
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
1/4 teaspoon coarse salt

For the topping:
(This recipe yields 3 cups, enough for 2 crisps. Good to have extra on hand to turn any fruit into a crisp.)
1-1/4 cups flour
6 Tablespoons brown sugar
2 Tablespoons sugar
1/4 teaspoons salt
2/3 cup ground pecans
1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
12 Tablespoons chilled butter


Preheat oven to 375°. Make the filling: Mix blueberries, sugar, cornstarch, lemon juice, and salt in a bowl. Transfer to an 8-inch square baking dish.

Make the topping: Stir together flour, sugars, salt, cinnamon and pecans in a mixing bowl. Cut butter into small pieces and work into flour mixture with fingers, until crumbly.

Sprinkle topping evenly over filling. Bake until bubbling in center and brown on top, about 1 hour. Transfer to a wire rack, and let cool for 30 minutes before serving.

NOTE: If your brown sugar is hard as a rock, don't throw it out! Put in a bowl and lay a damp paper towel over the sugar. Cover the bowl tightly with plastic wrap and leave overnight. It'll soften up perfectly.


Jeremy said...

This post turned me into Homer Simpson. I'm little more than primordial slobbering noises right now. And yes, food cooked outdoors does empirically taste better.

Anonymous said...

Wow...what a beautifully written story about our wonderful weekend....great prose, great photos, and you're so right it was a fabulous weekend. There's nothing better than family mixed together with good food, ocean smells and the sun. It was truly a glorious weekend and I can't wait until we can do it again....let's invite max to come along next time.
Love you both so.....

vicki said...

"Then the window pane test, to make sure the glutens have developed and the dough is elastic enough"....could either one of you sassy ladies get the pizza chef to expound a little on this mysterious step in the process!!

pictures had me drooling onto the computer...not pretty, but hey...

annie said...

anonymous is arnie. okay, i feel bad now. GREAT entry. just printed corn salad recipe. only thing on there i can make.