Wednesday, July 30, 2014

Notes From The Country - July Days

 The freshness and enthusiasm of June and early July have given over to the lazier, more predictable mid summer rhythm of hotter days, afternoon thunderstorms, and the slow, but steady progress of growing vegetables and fruit.  I was surprised last week when I went to feed the alpacas, and noticed the red Choke Berry tree at the edge of the forest full of deep red fruits. I find it gratifying and downright fun to be out on a hot day picking berries, knowing with a bit of work there will be something sweet to enjoy over the next several months.

 I love the whole hot, summery process of preserving fruit or vegetables, from the harvesting to the washing and preparing, to the cooking of a recipe, while a pot full of canning jars bubbles away waiting to be filled. It's the pioneer in me. I settled on Choke berry syrup instead of jelly, because the yield was much greater, and in this case, the little berries have big pits and making syrup was an easier process. My syrup ended up being more of a cross between syrup and jelly -  but serves it's purpose well enough.

 I was going to premiere my syrup on pancakes but then I discovered these cornmeal brown butter scones. I don't think I can properly describe how delicious these are. There are different styles of scones and if you're into dry, dense scones you probably wouldn't like this recipe. This scone is like the best cornbread, cake and biscuit rolled into one. Flecks of cornmeal dot an incredibly light as air, soft in texture piece of heaven. The cornmeal taste is more of a hint - well maybe a nudge. There are a few secrets to this recipe. For one, the butter is divided with part left as is and part cooked until browned. Both are then placed in the freezer until frozen solid. Then instead of working cold butter into a flour mixture with your fingers, the frozen butters are grated with a box grater directly into the flour mixture and tossed together lightly before adding cold buttermilk and cream. Everything stays colder longer making for a light, buttery end result. This scone with some warm chokecherry syrup on it was a hit. Actually - a home run. 

Speaking of browned butter - I've been trying some different recipes lately. One evening I made this beet ravioli recipe with goat cheese. Pureed beets are incorporated into the pasta dough. These aren't red because I used golden beets. I thought the beet taste would be strong, but it was quite mild. Served with browned butter and mushroom-sage flavored olive oil topped with pine nuts (I tweaked the sauce recipe a bit from the original), it was divine. We enjoyed it on the patio one night with a glass of white wine. That's my definition of a perfect summer evening. 

We have been graced with days in the 70's and a few in the 90's, with afternoon thunderstorms to cool things down for some lovely, enjoyable evenings. The alpacas still get hot during the day and have been loving their pool time. The sunshine, heat, and regular showers have the garden growing nicely. Actually this year, for the first time, we covered up three of our garden beds. I hearkened back to my old days of gardening and had fun with a little square foot gardening in the remaining 10 by 10 bed. It's a relief to concentrate on a smaller area where the weeds are manageable, and in one bed I've got a little of everything -  heirloom tomato plants, zucchini, cucumbers, french fillet beans, bush beans, peas, romaine, butter, and other heirloom lettuces, plus mesclun, spinach, and arugula, three different kinds of carrots and potatoes! I got a very late start planting, so for now it's just been baby lettuces, spinach and arugula, and a zucchini. So much fun! The chickens are benefiting from the daily weeding and are happy with their shaded chicken yard and  summer diet.

Harbingers of fall in the midst of summer. This is the part of summer when I am thoroughly enjoying being outside in the garden and dining alfresco, but I start to dream of those cool autumn days, soups, sweaters, and football!

Cornmeal Brown Butter Scones 
(Adapted from the recipe on this wonderful blog)
prep time: 30 minutes
cook time: 20 minutes
total time: 50 minutes
yield: 8 scones
  • 190 grams (1.5 cups) all purpose flour, extra for dusting
  • 60 grams (1/2 cup) cornmeal, extra for dusting
  • 96 grams (1/2 cup) sugar
  • 2 teaspoon baking powder
  • 1/4 teaspoon baking soda
  • 1/2 teaspoon sea salt
  • finely grated zest of one lemon
  • 8 tablespoons butter (1 stick), divided
  • 60 grams (1/4 cup) heavy cream
  • 170 grams (scant 3/4 cup) buttermilk
  1. divide butter into 5 tablespoons and 3 tablespoons. place the 3 tablespoons in the freezer while you brown the rest over medium heat, swirling occasionally until golden and smells nutty. immediately pour into a heatproof container that will be easy to pry it out of, like a small tea cup or bowl. let cool slightly and then place in the freezer until frozen solid.
  2. heat oven to 450°f.
  3. line a baking sheet with parchment and sprinkle liberally with cornmeal.
  4. when butters are frozen, place a mixing bowl on a digital scale. weigh flour, cornmeal, and sugar into bowl, and then add baking powder, soda, salt, and lemon zest. stir to combine.
  5. grate the butters on a box grater and then toss into the flour to combine & coat.
  6. place a small bowl on the scale, measure the cream & buttermilk into it.
  7. pour them into the flour butter mixture and stir to combine.
  8. turn dough out onto a well floured work surface (all purpose flour).
  9. sprinkle the top with flour and using lightly floured hands pat the dough into a nice ball.
  10. place ball on prepared baking sheet and press into a circle about 1-1.5" thick.
  11. using a well floured knife or bench scraper cut into 8 wedges and sprinkle with raw sugar
  12. bake for 18-23 minutes, until golden brown.
  13. cool slightly on sheet and then transfer to a rack to cool completely.

Friday, July 18, 2014

The Colors of South Beach, Miami

We just returned from one of our favorite, relaxing and restorative places. What I noted on this annual trip were colors. South Beach bursts with color, sometimes vivid and bold, other times soft hued and complimentary. Whether it was the brightest of blue skies on a brilliant day, or the steely grey skies of a storm tossed afternoon, the delicate pastel highlights of myriad art deco buildings, or the hot colors that make Ocean Drive shine at night, I was acutely aware of color this time.
Mornings on Miami beach are generally soft and muted. A contrast to the bright, colorful heat of a scorching day. I have come to believe a walk along the beach is a beautiful way to start any day.

This year we were back at hotel living. While I missed the lived in feel of a condo, the privacy, and a full kitchen to cook in, I luxuriated in being taken care of. Coming back to a cleanly made up room and bathroom, full concierge breakfasts and light dinners available daily, and the nicest and most attentive people greeting you when you return and opening doors for you? Well, sometimes that beats grocery shopping and cooking and cleaning. It was downright decadent. And to be able to do this in the newly renovated Marriott Stanton South Beach, with it's new sleek, cool, soft toned rooms was a bonus.

This was our bathroom when we moved to our suite for the last two days. I lingered as I got ready here.

We arrived late in the evening our first night, and what awaited us was a large cheese and fruit platter, a lovely bottle of wine, and a small chocolate lava cake  in celebration of my daughter's graduation.  Our daughters had their own room this time (double decadence!) and they were greeted with a cookie and candy platter and soft drinks (because of the under 21 year old). So, the next day I took a moment to sit in bed, have a glass of wine and look out at the view. I have come to love white duvets. Cool, crisp, inviting, a perfect compliment to any colored room. 

Our balcony provided the perfect birds eye view

of the beautiful changing colors of the ocean, walking paths, and colorful umbrellas that dot the beach on one side

and the multicolored view of part of South Beach towards downtown Miami in the distance. On bright, sunshine filled days the view is so vibrant and clear

Our morning walks along the beach and South Point provide some of my favorite views and some of the prettiest condos. A combination of beach, ocean, grassy park areas, and marina, this area just sparkles.

The marina side is always picturesque, not just filled with multicolored docked boats and yachts from all over the country, but with bold, yet sea worn colored container ships, flashy cruise ships coming and going and the more durable hues of a working port.

One of subtly colored resident marina birds looking for fish to devour

Here's a bit of color that caught my attention - and proof that mermaids exist!

Pre-storm cloudy skies and the Coast Guard coming back into port. Busy as bees the Coast Guard is down there.

and exclusive Fisher Island across the way

Bits of container color across the way at the working port where there is always activity

Our beach days were always spectacular, and with the array of towels, bathing suits and umbrellas, a spectrum of color. Not to mention the ever changing blue-greens of the ocean. (And the occasional shock of red on skin from tourists who overindulged in the sun)

The view from the Marriott's Deco Blue Restaurant and pool area where Miami Beach looks downright tropical.

The past two years 4th of July fireworks were enjoyed from the beach standing ankle deep in the warm ocean. We have been to Miami Beach a few times in July and actually I preferred the July weather over June months in the past. Because our girls have always been in school during high season, we have always gone in either June or July, and it is completely bearable. My body likes hot, humid weather though. I can't speak to the moderate weather of winter there, however, I like the less crowded, slower pace of early summer. I don't think I could handle the spring break crowds either.  And I would definitely put off going in August and into hurricane season.

We only had one really stormy afternoon. The sudden sharp crack of thunder completely caught me by surprise in the room. Florida thunderstorms are different from Colorado ones in that once a storm settles in the thunder is more rolling, and it echoes, and on this  particular day both went on well into the evening. Quite impressive. I admired how everything turned into blue-grey shades under those leaden skies

Within minutes of that first crack of thunder, lifeguard whistles were piercing the air, calling everyone in from the water. Luckily I was not out on the beach at this point. What was unusual was the red flags went up on all the lifeguard houses, the ocean rescue truck drove along the beach with loudspeaker on and actually cleared everyone from the beach. Turned out to be a good thing because the storm system above that moved over the beach and ocean looked pretty dangerous and lightening-filled and hung around.

Famous Ocean Drive strip at night is truly colorful. It's fun to people watch and stroll amongst the crowds along the hotel and restaurant side, but walking  across the street on the ocean side affords the view of the deco hotels all aglow

The watery glowing blue of the Park Central

Sometimes I just like walking around the little neighborhoods of South of Fifth. Many little houses and apartments have cozy little courtyards chock full of tropical plants and ferns. They don't have the views of the large condos that dominate the edges, but there is a definite charm to the residences that appeals to me. Not to mention the prime location.

There's always something to see when looking up. You can't go wrong with the classic palm trees against a blue sky.

Or the huge, weepy trees that are so very different from our Colorado Ash trees and Evergreens. Not to mention the vibrant green Cayman parrots squawking and flying about in them.

There's always a museum exhibit or more to visit on Miami Beach. They have a lovely museum called The Bass museum on North Miami Beach, and the smaller Wolfsonian with changing exhibits and cafe within walking distance of us. A good long walk which is fine with me. We do a lot of walking there, and if it gets too hot there is always an air- conditioned shop, iced coffee stop, or gelato shop somewhere along the way. There is also a good local bus system that goes up and down Miami Beach, and for a quarter you can hop on an air conditioned bus and get to where you want to go pretty quickly. We do that quite often as well.

I love being in South Beach for World Cup. Because it is such a multicultural and international infused area, futbol is highly celebrated. There were countless venues to watch all the exciting matches. All decorated with every one's favorite colors - the bright multicolored flags of their nation.

Our favorite place to view a game was at Monty's lining the marina. This became our go to happy hour spot last year which was a 2 minute walk from our condo. Good fresh raw seafood bar and happy hour drinks and locals and a view. I always prefer to search out the local spots when we travel. You can learn so much more about the rhythm of a city or town that way and the locals are interesting and full of information. 

Yes those are life size floating soccer balls in the pool adjacent to the bar.

Monty's official entryway and it's ever present jaunty guard

And, since it's Friday! 

These are drinks and yes, I've had them all. A minty rum Mojito is always delightful, a Pain Remover is more like a Pina Colada with prominant coconut flavor. My recommendation for today's happy hour, since we're into the toasty days of summer, is a Miami Vice - a mix of a Pina Colada and a daiquiri. So delicious!

Or you could go simple. After one soccer game at Deco Blue the bartender gave everyone at the bar shots of a coconut and fruit infused rum served in these!

In a world of color, black and white is always a soothing, go to, works anywhere combination. Lest you were thinking this was a photo from a gallery or a museum, no, in fact, in a few of my favorite restaurants, the bathrooms are liberally dotted with black and white photos. They obviously think a little black and white is a cool respite from the colorful world of South Beach outside. I love this photo above. It's me in my dreams on the beach.

Speaking of color, check out this song. Love these guys. And, I think this is a very lyrically poetic song... Have a great weekend.