Monday, July 26, 2010

Skylines and Sweet Corn

Just returned home from a two week trip visiting family around the country.  And what a beautiful country it is, too.  When Greg and I were new to New York, we often commented to one another that this city is like a world unto itself; one gets gobbled up into the energy and vastness of the place, and it's easy to forget that anything exists beyond or outside of it.  Like Wal-Mart, NYC is a one-stop urban shop: anything you want, you can find it here.  (What a horrid analogy, right?)
New York seduced me and I love her still.  But these days, I find myself thinking of greener pastures and mountainous landscapes.  Leaving the city reminds me of the worlds beyond this one and the possibilities on the other side.  For example, have I told you that--much to Greg's chagrin--I want to raise chickens and goats?  I do.  And I don't think it's gonna happen on my fourth-floor fire escape.  Last month we happily renewed our apartment lease for another two years, so for now I will have to content myself with a week every now and then of the nature that abounds elsewhere.
My dad and I took a trip to eastern Washington to visit grandma.  On the way home we took the scenic route through the Chinook Pass, part of Mount Rainier National Park.  Breathtaking.  And completely worth the added 1.5 hours to our driving time.  The road wove around the mountain, an asphalt ribbon amongst spikes of towering evergreens, trickling waterfalls, and coy mountaintops peeking out from behind summer clouds.  Leaving Yakima Valley, the temperature was creeping toward 100 degrees; Chinook Pass--temp of 42 degrees.  A world unto itself.

A few days later it was off to the Midwest and the land of sweet corn.  You know, I lived in Iowa for four years, and not once did I pick my own corn.  Not until last week, anyway.  With three blond boys in tow, we went in search of a corn field.  Once there, we were administered buckets and directions into the first row of corn: yellow corn on the right, white corn on the left.  The boys forayed into the field of stalks, and within minutes the troop had three dozen ears of corn bucketed up and ready to go.  Around us the sun beat down as wispy clouds trailed overhead.  The sky seemingly went on forever, as did the rows of corn.
I know corn gets a bad rap these days because of its central role in processed food from fatty beef to soda pop.  But that's feed corn, not directly consumed by humans.  The corn we picked was sweet corn and, after handing over an entire six bucks ($2 a dozen if you pick it yourself), we promptly headed home and cooked it up for lunch.  Friends, let me tell you, this was the first time ever that I did not dress my corn in butter, salt, and pepper before consuming it.  I ate it plain, right off the cob.  It needed no seasoning--simply delicious straight from the husk.
Back in Brooklyn I am already missing the wide open spaces.  But on the bus ride home from the airport I was reminded of NewYorkers' unexpected sweetness when the man sitting across from us saw our suitcases and dazed faces and launched into an explanation of where we could catch the train and how to find the elevator in the event that our suitcases were too heavy to carry down the stairs.  Here in the city way may not grow sweet corn, but we grow some sweet people, complete with a New York husk of gruff.  It's worth a foray into our fields, though.  I promise.

Saturday, July 3, 2010

Get Your Summer Drink On

Hello, hello.  I'd like to say that the last month has been frenzied and frantic, thus explaining my lack of any new posts in quite some time.  However, just the opposite is true--the last month has been a slow and lazy wind-down to another school year.  Final projects, calculating year-end grades, graduations and their accompanying parties and festivities.  And that's about it.  No good excuse on my end.

The weather is decidedly warmer and summer is upon us.  Just now the whole world seems to be teeming in the park across the street.  Charcoal grill aromas wafting through the air.  Friends help one another parallel park in spots that perhaps are not precisely big enough.  Dill pickle spears strewn across the sidewalk without clear cause--not such a glorious end for them.  And tomorrow the 4th.  Huzzah.

What better time for a refreshing beverage?  None, I assert!  Fortunately, I am here offering up two delicious drink selections.  First, the perfect daytime fizzly: a Campari orange spritzer.  (By the way, now would be a good time to confess that I purchased yet another Barefoot Contessa cookbook, Back to Basics, where I happily stumbled across this drink.)  It's just a little boozier than freshly squeezed lemonade and more refreshing than an evening cocktail.

Take a tall glass, fill it with several ice cubes.  Pour in 1/4 cup Campari (I used Aperol because it was what we had on hand.  Worked great.)  Add 1/2 cup freshly squeezed orange juice (about 1.5 juicing oranges per drink).  Fill the rest of the glass with sparkling or soda water and add an orange slice for garnish if it pleases your fancy.

Second drink: banana milkshake.  If you do not have bitters or juicing oranges on hand, and do not want to go trundling about town to locate them, I suggest this option.  Or, if it is breakfast time, or, if you are not yet of legal drinking age.  These are all good reasons to opt for the banana milkshake.  This is a childhood favorite of mine, one that my mom would whip up when we had accumulated a fair number of almost-gone-bad bananas in the freezer.  And, aside from the general refreshing benefits of any frozen drink, this one provides the added benefit of putting to use the bananas that ripen too quickly in the warm summer weather.  I kid you not that I brought home a green bunch of bananas last Saturday, and by Monday they were still green and had brown banana dots all over indicating their over-ripeness.  Sure enough, peeled one open and it was beyond ripe.  Into the freezer the whole bunch went.

Okay, so for this fruity treat you'll need a blender--hand held or traditional.  Into the blender throw 1 frozen (peeled) banana.  Add at least 1/2 cup milk, more if the milkshake is too thick.  Throw in a bit of vanilla extract, maybe 1/4-1/2 teaspoon.  Blend.  Pour.  Straw.  Enjoy.  For a protein boost, add peanut butter.  (Yum!)  For a sweet tooth, add some chocolate syrup.  All good options.

Stay cool and enjoy the holiday.  Happy independence.