Here are my reflections on the quiet summer of 2020 from a food perspective. This'll be short.
I try to be, and stay, positive. But I was looking back through last year's calendar, as usual trying to find so-and-so and such-and-such's birthdays, and as I scrolled through July, August, and September I saw so many food-related events that I would normally attend or be a part of. It hit me hard how much I missed them. The Greek Orthodox Church in Southampton summer festival, Quail Hill Farm's At the Common Table, Geoffrey Drummond's Food Lab conference at Stony Brook, the Montauk Chamber of Commerce's Fall Festival chowder contest, the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum's chowder contest, the Ladies Village Improvement Society Fair, restaurant reviews! Nary a one this summer. Don't you all miss my occasionally snarky and completely honest reviews? Sorry, am I gasconading too much?
The Greek Orthodox Church's festival has always been one of my favorites, the spanakopita is some of the best I've ever had and this is also where I discovered Greek frappe. Greek frappe is a mixture of instant coffee (Nescafe is traditional; I use Medaglia D'Oro), sugar, and a bit of water shaken for 30 seconds until it's good and foamy. Pour over ice, then add condensed or fresh milk, and enjoy. It's a cold, sweet, bitter jolt. Perfect on a hot afternoon.
I haven't made desserts for At the Common Table for a few years but this remains one of my favorite summer events. It consistently and continuously has the best and most community-conscious chefs in town. The weather almost always cooperates, and seeing Scott Chaskey climb a ladder in the orchard to read one of his poems is a highlight. This event totally reflects Frida Kahlo's expression "dia de los manteles largos" -- "the days of the long tablecloth."
Last year's Food Lab conference was a humdinger with Lidia Bastianich, Adam Gopnik, Sean Barrett, Mike Doall, Will Peckham, Amanda Merrow, Katie Baldwin, Tom Schaudel, and so many more chefs, fishermen, bakers, and journalists. I had the honor of moderating a panel with Claudia Fleming and Susan Spungen, pastry chefs nonpareil.
The annual Montauk Chamber of Commerce Fall Festival chowder contest has always been such great fun. Some of the frequent judges are the chef Paul Roman, Gavin Menu, grande fromage of The Express News Group, Sally Richardson and Andy Harris, Wendy Samuelson, and yours truly. Sally and Andy have a winery in New Zealand called Stonecrop. The wine is delicious and we enjoy a bit of it to cleanse our palates during the grueling tasting process. The highlight for me last year was Mr. Menu gazing down into one of his Styrofoam cups of thick white chowder and muttering "I think we have a chunky situation. . . ." This October would be the 39th annual fall festival.
At the East Hampton Historical Farm Museum chowder contest, I had the honor of judging alongside the chef Max Weintraub and Patti LaCarrubba. The runaway winners were Arthur Wolf of Smokin' Wolf and Terry O'Riordan. The farm grounds and buildings are so beautiful. Perhaps I'll see you all next year.
I pretty much have not dined in a restaurant for about six months. I have gotten the occasional takeout and have eaten outside at Morty's Oyster Stand and the Clam Bar. Let's just say I've saved a lot of money. I've been stacking the Benjies till the rubber band pops!
My community garden plot at Bridge Gardens has been a wonderful outlet as has been distributing farm boxes a few days a week for Blue Hill at Stone Barns. I miss sushi and hanging out with friends. However, my camp at Lazy Point has been the perfect place for social distance entertaining. I invite one couple at a time and we sit on the porch, which is the only place to sit there, anyway.
I am grateful that I can cook, because that has been a welcome (and necessary) pastime. I've had more time to prepare dishes for the freezer, I've had more time to read books. I make a lot of sandwiches, I iron, I weed. I treat my dog as if I were 8 years old and she is my favorite dolly. I drag her everywhere and give her unnecessary and rather alarming haircuts.
No one can know what fall and winter will bring, but I will remain relentlessly optimistic that next spring and summer will bring back festivals and food conferences and benefits for farms and chowder contests and shiny new restaurants to review. A girl can dream, can't she?
Here are some recipes I've been making a lot this summer.
Banh Mi Sandwich
I like a sandwich that is more of a meal, a bit of protein, a lot of vegetables. This is more of a guideline for a banh mi sandwich, based on one from the D'Artagnan website.
Serves two, depending on the size of the hero roll.
1 cup shredded carrots
1/4 cup shredded daikon radish
3 Tbsp. seasoned rice vinegar (if you can't find seasoned, just add 1 tsp. salt and 1 tsp. sugar to regular rice vinegar)
1/2 D'Artagnan smoked duck breast
1/2 cup smooth paté, any kind will do
1/2 cup mayo seasoned with 2 Tbsp. sweet chili sauce and 1 Tbsp. red curry paste
1/2 cup peeled, seeded, and sliced cucumber
1/2 cup chopped cilantro, stems are fine, too
1 jalapeno, seeded and cut into thin rings
1/2 cup sliced scallions
1/4 cup sliced red onion
2 hero rolls, approx. 9 inches long (you can use baguettes but you really want a kind of mushy white bread roll for this sandwich)
Combine carrots and radish with rice vinegar and set aside for 1/2 hour.
Slice smoked duck breast into very thin slices.
Halve the hero rolls and hollow them out a bit to allow for fillings. Toast rolls lightly. Spread the mayo mixture on one side of roll, then paté on other slice. Layer duck breast slices on mayo side, then carrot slaw, then add the rest of the condiments (cucumber, cilantro, jalapeno, red onion, scallions) according to taste. Smash that sandwich down to compress it with the fillings, slice, and serve.
Lemon Cooler Cookies
I made a bunch of cookie platters for At the Common Table in 2015. This recipe is from Firehook Bakery in Alexandria, Va., where I worked about 28 years ago.
1 1/2 sticks butter (3/4 cup) softened
1 cup sugar
1 1/2 Tbsp. lemon zest
1/2 cup finely ground almonds
1 1/2 cups flour
Cream butter with sugar. Add zest, egg, almonds, and beat again. Add flour and mix until blended. Chill dough until fairly firm. At this point you can roll cookie dough into logs for slice-and-bake cookies, then chill completely. Alternatively, you can just scoop each cookie with small scooper or spoon, then flatten before baking.
Heat oven to 350.
Bake cookies for about 10 to 15 minutes or until golden brown around edges. After removing from oven, let cool a few minutes, and then sprinkle tops with confectioner's sugar.
2 tsp. instant coffee
2 tsp. granulated sugar or to taste
2/3 cup cold water
2 Tbsp. milk
Place coffee, sugar, and two tablespoons of cold water in a shaker, jar, blender, or drink mixer. Cover and shake well for 30 seconds.
Put ice in tall glass and slowly pour the foamy coffee mixture into the glass. Fill with more water and add milk if desired. Cream is good, too.