Vacation, Summer Salads, and Billy Elliot the Musical at the Ogunquit Playhouse

Billy Elliot at the Ogunquit PlayhouseThe biggest perk of being a teacher, I’ve been told, is summer vacation. But because I’ve always needed to work, this has been a foreign concept for me. For the first time since I was fourteen (that would be 23 years ago), I found myself taking an extended summer vacation in Ogunquit, Maine. Technically, I was forced into a vacation. My daughter auditioned and earned a role as a ballet girl in the very fancy Ogunquit Playhouse’s production of “Billy Elliot the Musical.” Because it was such a great opportunity: a chance to work with current Broadway actors, choreographers, and directors —I couldn’t say no. With forty shows in the month of July (yup, 40), we had no choice but to take a real vacation involving sun, reading novels on sandy beaches, and picnics. This, I realize, is a nice problem to have.

As I embarked upon this crazy thing called vacation, I discovered picnics are an important part of summer. Growing up on the West Side of Manchester, my childhood picnics involved a blanket on the front lawn of our little house. Neighborhood kids descended upon their mothers’ kitchens for anything that travelled: jars of pickles, slices of cellophane wrapped cheese, the butt end of bread, and glass jars of Marshmallow Fluff. We were gross.

My picnicking practices have since evolved.

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Avocado, egg, and lime salad is a recent discovery of mine. It’s a Nicaraguan staple and feels beach-appropriate. Hard boiling the egg is the only heat-required cooking necessary. Lime juice and cilantro make the salad fresh and light, while the egg and avocado balance the salad with a touch of richness.

A Nicaraguan staple

A Nicaraguan staple

My second new beach picnic favorite is a Mediterranean edamame salad. Edamame are fresh soy beans and only recently hit the mainstream food scene. The salad is easy and requires the edamame be blanched for just a minute, so not much on the heat-required cooking side as well.

Mediterranean Edamame Salad

These salads each bring an added beach bonus as they are both great for your skin. Rich in vitamins A, D, and E, packed with antioxidants, and filled with polyunsaturated fatty acids (helps protect skin from sun damage), avocado actually protects your skin from the sun. And the word on the street is that soy isoflavones in edamame help with the skin damage that will inevitably occur from being forced to read a book in the sun. Supposedly, these isoflavones actually help with the appearance of fine lines and wrinkles—whatever, it tastes good.

Bottom line: less cooking, more beaching–that’s my new philosophy.photo(1)We spent the first three weeks of the “Billy Elliot” run in Ogunquit and are now home to our cats and garden. We now commute 90-mintues to the theater daily (except for today–Equity Day Off!!!) and we very much realize how good we had it. But it’s nice to be home. Since our return, my car began making a gut-wrenching noise that feels something like tire/brake issues, we’re sorely broke from having too much vacation joy, and squash bugs are attacking the zucchini. And I realize that the beauty of vacation is the sublime retreat from civilization. Yes, Ogunquit is seriously civilized, but my head was all beach and picnic and novels and gelato (between taxiing Matti to her shows). Like I said, it was a nice problem to have… (and I’ll post about the aforementioned gelato soon).

Avocado, Egg, and Lime Salad 

Ingredients

2-3 avocados, chopped into ¾ inch chunks

4 hard boiled eggs, large chop

½ small red sliced north to south

1 cup tomato chopped or halved sunburst tomatoes

¼ cup cilantro

¼ cup lime juice (more or less to taste)

Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper to taste

To hard boil an egg “properly,” cover the eggs by at least an inch of water. Bring the eggs and the water to a boil at the same time (versus boiling the water then adding the eggs—they’ll explode). Once the water is boiling, remove from the heat and let stand for 20 minutes (time this, seriously). After the 20 minutes is up, rinse the eggs in ice cold water. This will avoid the gray yolk and cook the eggs perfectly every time! Peel the eggs when still warm, but let them cool completely before chopping. Combine all the salad ingredients, squeeze the lime over the top, and taste for salt and pepper. That’s it.

Edamame Salad – Serves 8 – 10 as a side, 4 – 6 as a main

Vinaigrette

¼ cup lemon juice

¼ cup vegetable oil

1 teaspoon Kosher salt

1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper

1 teaspoon Dijon mustard

1 teaspoon honey

Salad

16 oz Edamame

8 oz marinated, quartered artichoke

14 oz can black olives, halved

1 cup garbanzo beans (canned are fine — drain them before adding)

1 cup sun dried tomato

¼ cup red onion, diced

½ cup fresh parsley, chopped

Directions: Emulsify the vinaigrette using an immersion blender, blender, or whisking briskly. Add all ingredients together and enjoy cold! Note: a lot of recipes ask for olive oil, but I find unless you have a really nice and thus really expensive extra virgin olive oil, the oil is bitter. Avoid this by using a much more neutral vegetable or canola oil.

 

Classic Iced Tea that’s NOT CLOUDY

Not cloudy iced teaRemember the Lipton’s commercials where “sun steeped” glasses of iced tea glistened among perfectly shaped square cubes of ice? Each summer vacation, my brother and I found all number of messes to assuage our inevitable boredom, which took all of three days. We’d complain, “Mom, we’re bored.” She’d fire back, “Go outside! It’s summer!” So long as we didn’t make a mess or bother her when watching her “stories,” we were left to our own devices. Our day began at 6 A.M. with cereal and television, which gave us inspiration for much of our activities to come, including Lipton’s Iced Tea Day. We poured water from the hose into a big stainless steel pot usually used for spaghetti, dumped in about ten tea bags too many, stirred and stirred with a huge wooden spoon, and waited. Kids are bad at waiting. Naturally, we’d taste test every four minutes and after waiting at least thirty-five minutes, drank the concoction as if it were nectar. It was not nectar. Actually, it was gross. No amount of sugar or lemon could have made that mess palatable. It probably had something to do with constantly needing to man-handle the tea, constantly needing to add just one more thing: a sprig of what might or might not be mint, some Mrs. Butterworth’s maple syrup, and perhaps some milk (We always had milk with hot tea. Cold tea steeping in 80-degree summer heat couldn’t be that much different.). Our tea did not glisten to say the least.

It turns out there is some magic to making iced tea. One would think simply cooling hot tea would do the trick, but this usually results in cloudy tea. The beauty of iced tea is in its clarity, so cloudy tea just doesn’t taste as appealing. Avoid this by not brewing the tea in boiling water. Hot water releases the caffeine, which chemically reacts with other compounds to make the glistening drink cloudy. Doubling the amount of tea per cup of water (to compensate for the later ice) and steeping at room (70 degrees or below) or refrigerator temperature, keeps the tea from clouding up. Not nearly as much caffeine is released, thus the chemical reaction doesn’t have the opportunity to happen. The trick is in the waiting. It needs to steep for 12 – 24 hours. My solution: set up the tea the night before and it will be ready for the next day’s lunch.

As far as sweetening the tea, Mrs. Butterworth’s maple syrup is not a good choice. One could make simple syrup, but that requires dirtying a pan. I like honey: about a teaspoon per cup works for me.

Now go outside and don’t bother your mother while she’s watching her stories!

Classic Iced Tea

10 bags of black tea or 6 tablespoons loose tea

2 quarts of room temperature or refrigerator temperature water

¼ – ½ cup honey depending on your tastes

Simply add tea to water, let steep overnight, and strain the tea bags or the loose tea through a fine sieve. Sweeten after brewing and add ice!

Cheeseburgers for the Soul & Resilience

Cheeseburgers for the Soul and Resilience

Greasy Cheeseburger on a bad day served on nothing other than a Corelle plate..

“Cheeseburgers for the Soul” is not quite as catchy as the chicken noodle soup thing, but in our house, a cheeseburger goes a long way toward spiraling into a fury of tween despair. No, it’s not like when she gets a hang nail, out comes the butter, but when the inevitable happens, when my child is truly heartbroken, feeling like she can’t do anything right and the whole wide world hates her, we do what I’m assuming most therapists frown upon: bad-day food. This is different from comfort food, which sometimes also does the trick, but bad-day food isn’t fussy and can be on the table in 20 minutes. It is not good for you, may or may not be local, and may or may not be organic. Our go-to wallow-in-self-pity-cry-in-your-soup feast involves pan-fried (in butter) cheeseburgers with oven fries (because we’re too downtrodden to go through the fuss of deep-frying) and a pint of Haagen Daaz.

Perhaps the hardest part of parenting is showing restraint when your child hurts. But I firmly believe my child needs to face the world on her own terms, which means I can’t swoop in and reconstruct that world in the ways I want her to experience it. My “constructive feedback” aimed at her, her teachers, her cello instructor, or that dance teacher (the one who made that alfredo brick I wrote about a few months ago) is simply another way to reconstruct, and dare I say “manipulate,” a world I deem appropriate. Don’t get me wrong, I’ve been there, but I recognize such hyper-parenting is at the very least self-indulgent, and at the very worst, bad parenting. To do so only ensures my child’s experience is no longer hers in any authentic way. Better the occasional bad day in the real world, than a bunch of good days in a fake one. Eventually, all this comes to a head. I suppose I’m a neo-old-fashioned, post-millennial, or whatever the trendy term today is for a parent who gives their child a bit of space, let’s them meet the world on the world’s terms, and lets the child negotiate how they want to be in that world.

My daughter is 11 years old. She is smart, kind, ambitious, and has lofty goals. If she ever hopes to achieve those goals, she needs to understand what it means to be treated unfairly, to be humiliated, and to work hard but have that work go unnoticed. Because here’s the thing, sometimes life doesn’t always go your way. Today it’s a silly part in a play, a few kids being stupid, a naughty word scribbled on the bathroom stall, –tomorrow the stakes get even higher. I will not be there to reconstruct the way I’d like her to experience loss, rejection, and all the unadulterated evils of our world. On her own, she will face life’s challenges, hopefully with grace, and persevere. She will be able to do this not because I swooped in and made her world more like the world I want for her, but because I showed a little restraint. I think the ability to do this, to watch your child hurt and “do nothing,” has something to do with trusting the choices you made as a parent having faith in your child. I guess that’s what it comes down to: believing in your kid enough to know that she when she falls, she will pick herself up.

What I do know? If you’re having a bad day, a greasy cheeseburger and fries go a long way toward making a girl feel better. My daughter is a healthy eater and the occasional artery-blocker is worth the momentary butter induced endorphins. Sometimes a small pick-me-up is the best you can do on a bad day.

So a few tricks to pan-fried burgers: do not buy 93% lean ground beef when making burgers, any burger, whether pan-frying or grilling. The fat provides the flavor and renders away to make for juicy, tender burgers. Let the ground beef come closer to room temperature before cooking. This allows the meat to cook more evenly. You’re less likely to end up with well-seared edges but undercooked centers. Cooking time is also reduced. I like a ¼ to 1/3 pound burger, which is about the size of a small Asian woman’s fist. Press it rather thin (if grilling it gets to be thick). SALT the ground beef, gently toss it around, and add a few drops of Worcestershire if you like. Don’t mess around with the meat too much as it will make your burger tough. Make a quick patty and resist the urge to pat it to death. Get your pan hot enough so the burger browns but not so hot a crust forms. On my gas stove, medium/medium high works. Drop a tablespoon of butter into the pan, and it should sizzle right away but not burn. With burgers that are about a half-inch larger in diameter than the size of the bun and about ¾ of an inch thick, four to five minutes each side makes for a medium-temp burger. The surest way to get an accurate meat temp, though, is with a meat thermometer (medium 160 degrees). If you’re feeling really yucky, feel free to fry an egg and top your burger with that too. Why not…

I can’t fix my daughter’s difficult feelings on growing up. To do so is simply not possible, but I’ll always be here with a greasy cheeseburger and some fries to listen.

Pan Fried Burgers – Serves 4

1 – 1¼ pounds 85% ground beef

1 teaspoon kosher salt

Freshly ground black pepper

A little Worcestershire

1 tablespoon butter

Hamburger buns (I use English muffins)

4 eggs (optional)

Remove beef from the refrigerator and let the beef come to near room temperature. Lightly toss the salt, pepper, and Worcestershire with the ground beef. Separate into four patties that are pretty thin. Get your pan to medium high heat first. Once the pan is to temperature, toss in the butter. Sear the burger until it browns on one side, then flip and sear the other. Drop the heat to medium and cook each side 3 – 4 minutes. Top with cheese during your last 2 minutes on the second side. Toast your buns! Feel free to fry a couple eggs to toss onto the burger after removing the patties from the pan to rest.

Oven Fries

2 large Russet potatoes

2 – 3 tablespoons olive oil

Kosher salt and pepper

Wash potatoes thoroughly but no need to peel. Slice the potatoes into 1/3 inch sticks, toss in the oil with salt and pepper. Place on a cookie sheet and bake at 425 for 15 – 20 minutes until golden brown.