Grow Wild According To Thy Nature

 

I went to the woods because I wished to live deliberately, to front only the essential facts of life, and see if I could not learn what it had to teach, and not, when I came to die, discover that I had not lived.  I did not wish to live what was not life, living is so dear; nor did I wish to practise resignation, unless it was quite necessary.  I wanted to live deep and suck out all the marrow of life, to live so sturdily and Spartan-like as to put to rout all that was not life, to cut a broad swath and shave close, to drive life into a corner, and reduce it to its lowest terms… .

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It is a surprising and memorable, as well as valuable experience, to be lost in the woods any time… .  In our most trivial walks, we are constantly, though unconsciously, steering like pilots by certain well-known beacons and headlands, and if we go beyond our usual course we still carry in our minds the bearing of some neighboring cape; and not till we are completely lost, or turned round, – for man needs only to be turned round once with his eyes shut in this world to be lost, – do we appreciate the vastness and strangeness of Nature.  Every man has to learn the points of compass again as often as he awakes, whether from sleep or any abstraction.  Not tell we are lost, in other words, not till we have lost the world, do we begin to find ourselves, and realize where we are and the infinite extent of our relations.

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Summer is already here and I can hardly believe it.  Forever it was winter and miserably wet and cold.  Then, one morning I awoke to a world running amok with green leaves, delicate blossoms, and dusty yellow pollen.  Spring was fashionably late.

The glorious greenery is what I love the most about Virginia in the spring – there are so many shades concentrated into one area and I am always, every year, surprised by how lush and beautiful this wild State can be.  The trees with their forest green leaves begin at the sky and parade down to where the tangled weeds and vines juxtapose dense colors of fern, moss, olive, and hunter.  Other colors pop against this verdant canvas, especially the wildflowers.  Sprays of white, purple, blue, and yellow fill fields with a confetti-like ecstasy.  We’ve been enjoying the show with daily walks, stopping often to watch the bees shake little flowers or pick tiny clovers.

During the rainy days, I have kept in touch with nature with Henry David Thoreau’s Walden.  I loved this book with one exception – the second half.  The first part was filled with inspirational, challenging, and philosophical discourse that I eagerly devoured.  The second half, I am convinced, would be very interesting if I was Charles Darwin or Bear Grylls.   I’m sure I would find a Discovery Channel documentary, or National Geographic article, on how pond-water freezes fascinating (I am a visual person) but Thoreau’s systematic and dry delivery had me going cross-eyed.  The Conclusion and final chapter is beautiful and re-invigorated my numb mind.  If you have not given Walden a try, now you know to enjoy the first half, skim the second unless you are an avid biologist/botanist/naturalist, and go straight to the Conclusion.

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What is absolutely wonderful, from start to finish, are these little Apricot Tartlets.  To me, the apricot is the official herald of spring.  They come a little later in the season, closer to summer, a sure sign that the cold is behind me and the sunshine will only increase with warmth and intensity.  I love to eat these fuzzy little fruits straight; sweet, tart, and always satisfactory.  Yet, I cannot resist baking with them.  They hold up well and do nothing more than improve what I am already making.

The original recipe from Mireille Guiliano is for one large apricot tart – this is easily adaptable to six tartlets if you have the smaller tins.  I love the almond mixture before the addition of fruit; it soaks up the juices and gives great texture between flaky crust and soft baked fruit.  I served mine with a small dollop of honey-sweetened crème fraîche and freshly grated lemon zest.  However, they would be great with vanilla ice cream or whipped cream and a few toasted almonds.  Or, as I can personally attest to, with a bit of yogurt for breakfast, along with a cup of hot, black coffee.

 

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Apricot Tart

Makes 1 (9”) Tart or 6 Tartlets

1 recipe Sweet Pâte Brisée (for 9” tart)

1 cup Slivered Blanched Almonds

¼ cup + 2 teaspoons Sugar

1 ½ – 2 lbs. Fresh Apricots, halved and pitted

2 teaspoons Honey

Preheat the oven to 400°F. On a lightly floured surface roll the dough to an 11” round. Transfer to a 9” tart pan. Prick the dough with a fork, cover, and chill for 10 minutes. Place the tart in the oven and bake for 10 minutes. Remove from the oven and reduce the temperature to 375°F.

In a food processor, combine the blanched almonds and ¼ cup of sugar and pulse just until the almonds are finely ground. Spread the mixture evenly over the bottom of the tart shell. Place the apricot halves, cut side down, on top, slightly overlapping. Drizzle with honey, place the oven, and bake for 40 minutes or until the crust is lightly browned.

Remove from oven and sprinkle over the remaining two teaspoons of sugar. Serve warm or at room temperature with desired accompaniment.

For Tartlets: Only blind bake the pastry shells for about 5 minutes. Bake the tartlets for about 30 minutes.

– The French Women Don’t Get Fat Cookbook by Mireille Guiliano (page 232)

 

Sweet Pâte Brisée

This makes enough for 2 (9”) pie shells; or a top and bottom.

2 ¾ cups Flour

1 ½ teaspoons Salt

1 tablespoon Sugar

18 tablespoons Butter, cold and cut into pieces

7 – 10 tablespoons Ice Water

In a food processor, pulse together the flour, salt, and sugar. Add butter and pulse until coarse crumbs form, about 10 seconds. While pulsing, add ice water in a slow steady stream until a dough forms but is not sticky or wet. (Pulse for no longer than 30 seconds.)

Gently fold and bring together dough on a lightly floured surface. Divide into two portions, shape into disks and wrap in plastic. Refrigerate for at least 1 hour or overnight.

The dough disks can be tightly wrapped in plastic and frozen for up to 1 month. Thaw overnight in the refrigerator.

– Saveur Magazine

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Go fish and hunt far and wide day by day, – farther and wider, – and rest thee by many brooks and hearth-sides without misgiving. Remember thy Creator in the days of thy youth. Rise free from care before dawn, and seek adventures. Let the noon find thee by other lakes, and the night overtake thee ever where at home. There are no larger fields than these, no worthier games than may here by played. Grow wild according to thy nature.

 

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Excerpts from Walden, the better half, by Henry David Thoreau.

 

 

 

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A Summer Reading List

“I cannot remember the books I’ve read any more than the meals I have eaten; even so, they have made me.”

― Ralph Waldo Emerson 

 

 

In case you have failed to notice, I love to read.   Each season brings different fond memories of how I enjoy this pastime. A summer read is energizing, requiring a glass of icy lemonade (with or without the addition of vodka), a comfortable chair on the patio or a hammock in the yard, and if I can manage it, a lovely breeze to break the sweltering humidity. It is likely I will fall asleep in this state of bliss. Then I awake,  replenish my glass, and return to my chair to repeat the process all over again.

My Summer Reading List

Masquerade: The Life and Times of Deborah Sampson, Continental Soldier by Alfred F. Young

The Metamorphosis by Franz Kafka

The Hollow by Agatha Christie

Moby-Dick by Herman Melville (This will be my third attempt.)

I always have a few  “palate refreshers” on hand that usually last me through the year. Short stories or books with little sections are great to pick up in between reads or for a mental break (i.d. Melville). Right now I am enjoying:

What The Dog Saw by Malcom Gladwell

The Innocence and Wisdom of Father Brown by G.K. Chesterton

 

What are you reading this summer?

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An Impromtu Picnic

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There is nothing quite like an impromptu picnic to cure the ennui caused by a long rainy week.  And today, it was a cure that the Little Man and I desperately needed.  I packed away an old alumni blanket, placed our lunch into little containers, and we ventured out to a park in search of a shady tree and a little fresh air.

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I had already planned on making these Chicken & Honey Mustard Pinwheels but the clover field and butterflies in which we enjoyed our lunch was little additional pleasure.  I must confess I am terrible at following directions. (Although, I really shouldn’t say “confess” since I am quite aware and comfortable about this character trait.*)  I forgot to soften the mascarpone cheese and added lemon juice instead of zest to the dressing –  making it more of a spread, less of a drizzle. I do think when it comes to any future wraps I will always use lavash bread. It is fabulously sturdy and chewy, full of flavor, and frankly makes tortillas seem like a ridiculous option for housing sandwiches.

These little pinwheels pack well and are prefect for small hands (and delicate in larger ones).   I packed along some crunchy carrots, a sour-sweet plum, and a few salty chips to complete our al fresco feast.  Little Man tried dirt for dessert.  I don’t recommend it.  I don’t think he would either.

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Chicken & Honey-Mustard Pinwheels

½ cup (4 oz.) Mascarpone Cheese

2 tablespoons Dijon Mustard

2 tablespoons Honey

Lemon Juice (just a quick squeeze)

Salt & Freshly Ground Pepper

1 ½ cups Arugula, slightly torn

2 cups of cooked, shredded Chicken Breast

4 Lavash Breads

Combine the cheese, mustard, honey, and lemon juice with a wooden spoon; season to taste with salt and pepper. Spread the lavash with the honey mustard mixture. Sprinkle over arugula and chicken. Roll up the long side of the lavash and cut into slices.

Serves 4.

– This is a barely adapted version from Feel Good Food by Giada de Laurentiis (pg. 108). You can also view the recipe here.

 

*Essentially, when it comes to cooking, I just go with the flow.  And my instructions will portray this attribute of mine.  If you ever need any clarification, please do not hesitate to ask.

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