Luckily I have yet to succumb to the Covid-15, but it hasn’t been easy. Here’s a sampling of the temptations facing my mouth recently.
First, the now famous Tik-Tok quesadilla hack, as demonstrated by Chef Kevin McKinney:
I just ordered seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds – sunflowers! and strawberry plants! It will be nice to have some yellow and red on the table again.
March is the month for our annual seasonal shut-down, during which, in 2020, the entire world shut down. We expect to do some camping, but mostly we’ll just be doing more of the same – staying home and eating. In the past, our work life involved most nights and weekends at whichever Restaurant du jour, so being at home every single solitary night is another new thing we’ve gotten used to this year. And it’s not bad, you know? Amazing that it has just become a fact of life.
It was hard wasn’t it? It was a sad and lonely holiday season this year, for many, and not so joyous for a whole lot more. We tried to adhere to our traditions, and when that proved impossible, we moved on to new ones.
One of the highlights for us was the Boxing Day driveway event we attended at my Brother’s house, where we ate a few oysters, wheeled the new grandbaby around in her Jeep stroller, and enjoyed conversing around two fire pits and tables piled with food. This is definitely a tradition I would like to see continued on December 26th for years to come.
New Year’s Eve was the hardest holiday to “change”. Kevin and I have worked New Year’s Eve for probably 40 of our 65 years. New Year’s Eve in the Restaurant world can be the biggest and hence most profitable night of the year. A whole lot of work to pull off and a whole lot of stress. So, when it’s all over but the pot banging, we are ready to go out and celebrate the end of service and the start of the new year. From the Ironstone in the 80’s and 90’s, we would leave work at midnight or soon thereafter (our customers for the most part were not interested in being in the restaurant at the stroke of 12) and head down High Street to Andy’s. HAP-py New Year we would shout! And we’d stay there until daybreak most years, finally heading home exhausted and happy.
New Year’s Eve at the Kennedyville Inn was just as festive, just as busy and just as stressful. The first year, we left for home a little before midnight, bringing with us a bottle of champagne and some leftovers for snacking. As we drove down our road and passed my mother’s house on the right, we saw that all her lights were on. She was a day-sleeper for many, many years, so at 11:45PM, she was up and wide awake. We made a quick turn into her driveway and for the next 6, 7 years that’s where we spent our after-work New Year’s. At Mom’s house, sometimes with my brother and his wife, then with their kids, then with their kids friends, drinking champagne, eating NYE leftovers, laughing and carrying on. It was the best.
We took some time off in the mid-2000’s, until at Brooks Tavern in 2007 we got right back into the NYE swing, biggest night of the year once again. But then, 2014, Brooks was over and New Year’s suddenly became an open date for us. We could go out ourselves!! Everyone always says that dining out on NYE is for rubes, but we never really agreed with that assessment – our customers were not rubes and Kevin always pulled out all the stops on the 31st of December – so we had no problem with the idea. The question was where? We wanted an event, we wanted dinner and dancing. We’d gone to the Hyatt in Cambridge while we were off and that was the sort of thing we were after – that year they had dancing and dinner and a beautiful venue to spend the weekend. But the following year they changed their program to be “family friendly” and it became more like going to a 5 YO’s birthday party than anything for adults, so that was the end of that.
We looked to Ocean City Maryland, where we found the Princess Royale hotel and its annual New Year’s Eve Gala. We went twice. The first year, we took one look at the buffet – the usual chicken-salmon-overcooked beef buffet – and knew that maybe the kitchen here didn’t quite pull out all the stops, but we’d make the best of it. We were seated at a table with two other couples – whom we did not know – and as the meal service began, Kevin got up to fix us a plate. He came back with a platter of little hors d’oeuvres that he had concocted from what he found available, re-assembled into a very appetizing tableau. The others at the table discreetly peered at our food and I am sure they were wondering “where did he get that food from?”
We kept trying for the “perfect” venue – one year the food was great but the atmosphere was more than dowdy; another year we had hopes for a diverse and lively crowd, only to find ourselves surrounded by the same group of tired old people struggling to enjoy a late night. Finally, 2019, we found our party! Martin’s Crosswinds, over near Greenbelt, featured a huge ballroom converted into the biggest dinner party you’ve ever seen, with several buffets, a great band, dancing, the works. 1000 people! And they made it work, it was quite impressive; the food was great, the crowd was better and we were finally at the New Year’s Eve event we’d been seeking.
And hopefully we will go again…
So this past New Year’s we went camping! No dancing, no party hats, no buffet. Instead, we had a splendid progressive dinner, eating outside under the canopy, drinking Cava and eventually showing 2020 the door.
The fourth Thursday in November is the date of my favorite holiday. It’s all about the things I love most – conversation, food and wine. It’s not about shopping, it’s not about religion, it’s not about patriotism. It’s about family and friends. I know there is some controversy, isn’t there controversy about everything nowadays?, but in my life ThanksGiving is pretty simply about eating at the table with a mixed bag of family and friends, many of whom have been gathering at that table together year after year, since the last century.
I hate to give it up.
That’s why, this year, I am not celebrating ThanksGiving. As far as I am concerned, there will be no ThanksGiving Day in 2020. What’s the point of “ThanksGiving” dinner when it’s just you and your favorite dining partner, again. Like that’s special. Uh, no? So, make no mistake, there is no pretending that this ThanksGiving is going to be ThanksGiving. I am giving it a pass and changing the format for the Fourth Thursday of November this year.
Thursday November 26 2020 is going to be “Grateful Day” in our household. And Grateful Day is all about being so grateful about so much, even as there is a lot to be worried about. For instance, I will start off by being grateful that no one in my circle of family and friends has become seriously ill with the Covid. I am exceedingly grateful to live in a community where people take public health emergencies seriously. I am grateful to live in Kent County, on Maryland’s spectacular Eastern Shore, where I can seek out the Tundra Swan this time of year, or walk through winter fields to a spot on the Bay that seems to be all my own.
I am grateful for our customers, who have pivoted right along with us in our new business mode, all of them protecting us as we protect them from Covid, yet still managing to laugh and chat and share in our challenges.
I am grateful to be able to shelter at home with a Chef!
I am grateful to have a little dog for the laughs she brings and to a cat for the purring he provides. I am grateful to have a brother as a neighbor and friend. I am grateful to be healthy and relatively sane and with a roof over my head and food in my pantry. I am grateful for all of this and much, much more.
So, what’s on the menu for Grateful Day? Well, we are of course going to be camping up in the wilds of Cecil County, with a menu that will be somewhat appropriate to the memories of celebrations past: turkey thighs, because we don’t like white meat anyway, oysters because that’s what you do, and cherry hand pies because they are already made. We’ll drink some wine and have a fire and think about how lucky we are.
And then we will be grateful next year when we can go back to the bounty of what ThanksGiving is all about. I look forward to that.
Camping is all the rage right now. Used to be, we’d be sitting at our site, watching everyone leave the campground on Sunday morning and have the whole place basically to ourselves. Now, it may semi-empty out on Sunday morning, but by Sunday afternoon most of the sites are back to being occupied, and weekday camping seems as busy as weekend. Even in October. Which mean lots of campfires and grills going, lots of burgers and bacon going.
Kevin has always been a “live fire” kind of outdoor cook. He uses hard wood charcoal on the BGE, (here’s his favorite brand, conveniently available at JBK…) and hardwood in the Fire Pit. We purchase a couple of cords of wood each year, basically to support his fire habit. (I should say “our” fire habit, since I am the happy beneficiary of his proclivities.) So campsite cooking is not that much different from backyard cooking, as far as he is concerned.
The difference mostly lies in the prep. Space is limited. Sinks are small. Weather can be influential. One popular solution is meals in foil packets, which can be prepped at home and then cooked on the fire or grill when needed. Cast iron is vital. As are tongs, gloves and the ability to adjust to your surroundings. We try to do some prepping in advance, but generally Kevin will be out at the picnic table, chopping garlic, dry-brining chicken, peeling potatoes, browning short ribs. And surely everyone is wondering what do I contribute? Well, I open the wine. And I do the dishes of course!
Typically we eat 2 meals a day: “brunch” which happens in the morning, usually before 10:30 or 11, and which can be anything from grilled focaccia (brought from the K-B Market) with butter and jam, to sliders (also known as ‘brunch burgers’) on the fire with cole slaw from the larder. This morning meal is much more fluid than the evening one; this menu depends on if we want an early fire, what’s going to be had for dinner, and if there is anything in the cooler that *needs* eating.
On this last trip, to Assateague State Park, just south of Ocean City, we needed to plan for seven dinners. We figure on at least 2 meals of leftovers, so that’s 5 separate meals to prepare for, with some flexibility on scheduling, depending on any defrosting that might be going on and perhaps some weather that might need to be worked around. And you can believe that we start talking about this menu planning project several weeks before the trip – it’s part of the fun! What are we going to have??
Night one: shrimp poached in shrimp oil, over butter lettuce that became a bit frozen in the cooler so worked well with the hot shrimp. Messy but a meal worth repeating:
The short ribs of beef – purchased from our reliable online butchers at Porter Road – were early in the week. He made a sort of stew of bell peppers beneath the beef and that became the sauce, which made a perfect compliment to those rich ribs.
He cooked the ribs low and slow during the day, and after they had cooled so we could remove some (a lot) of the fat, we re-heated them on the trailer stove top, with some spinach and corn concoction, brought from work leftovers, on the side.
One of our all time favorite campfire meals, which we have at home quite often and on almost every camping trip? Why, campfire nachos of course!
Hell yeah, that’s what I’m talking about! The imagery would have been better had the sour cream and guacamole not been spread over the chips and beans like that, but it was all about the eating, not the looking. We keep the foil wrapped pie pans in the trailer, ready at a moment’s notice. The Beans, by the way, were originally another meal all unto themselves – black beans from Rancho Gordo, cooked in the fire in the Kevin’s bean pot.
One of our dinners came directly out of the October issue of Bon Appetit: Stovetop Mushroom Lasagna. It was a bit of a project, making skillet lasagna over the fire, but it turned out pretty good, if ugly. We’d tweak a few things before we’d do it again – including soaking the noodles a bit first – but overall this was a camping hit. If you click on the link, you’ll see what inspired us, even though our results were not nearly as Instagramable.
Of course poppers are always a campfire favorite, and we joined the crowd, stuffing our Havasu peppers with cream cheese, some of that spinach and corn mixture, and wrapped it all in bacon before grilling over the coals. We’ve never done poppers ourselves before, so it was a bit of an experiment, but one that was well executed and well received!
Quesadillas are another standard in our house, and cooking those over the fire was a snap. We had the leftover roasted chicken, avocado – we always seem to have avocado – pickled peppers, cilantro and all the rest of the fixings you might want to amp them up to vacation mode:
The first thing I did when we got home was to jump on the scale! No harm done, thank goodness!
Camping with the Chef, you never leave hungry!
This last scene is one of my favorite views on the National Park side, the ever changing marshes, home to ponies and herons. This alone is enough to keep you coming back.
I don’t know why it’s called – or why I call it – pickle relish. Hot Dog relish? Whatever. That delicious green stuff you put on dogs and maybe burgers too. You use it to make tartar sauce and Thousand Island Dressing. Some people put it in deviled eggs – no thank you – or tuna salad. How ever you use it, you probably buy that bright green jar of it and don’t even consider making your own.
But it’s so easy to make!! with minimal sugar and no chemicals. It doesn’t even take that much time. Here’s a picture of the batch I have on the stove right now – I am making a third of the original recipe because I am not going to process it, just put it in the fridge for immediate consumption:
The recipe I use comes from my go-to canning cookbook – “The Complete Guide to Home Preserving” by Ann Seranne. (You can order a “new” copy on Amazon for a mere $851??) Page 206: Hot Dog Relish. I made 1/3 batch.
Take 2 pounds of sweet peppers – you can use bell, Anaheim, poblano (if they are not hot) or a mixture thereof. I used a total of 2 Anaheims and 3 rather hefty bells from Arnold Farm. Grind the peppers with 1 pound of yellow onions in your food grinder. (Maybe you have an attachment, maybe a table side one. Otherwise, chop very fine.)
Now the recipe says to cover the peppers and onions with boiling water and let it sit for 5 minutes, then drain. I decided to skip this step because there was so much juice in the ground up peppers and onions, I hated to lose it. However, I think this part may have been important to the overall texture, particularly the onions, so I would say “do it”.
Put your drained, ground vegetables into a saucepot and add 1 and 1/3 cup cider vinegar, 2 Tbl. + 2 tsp. sugar, 1/3 tsp. each of mustard seed, dry mustard and celery seed, plus 2 tsp. kosher or pickling salt. Bring to a boil and simmer for 10 minutes.
This amount yielded about 3 pints of relish, which is plenty for one season at least! I’m not going to process it, just putting it in the fridge and start in on it next week, after the flavors have melded a bit.
Another thing I’ve enjoyed lately is a version of “pickled” shrimp, or a way to poach shrimp that yields a very tasty product. Take your shrimp – in the shell, de-veined – and figure out how much liquid it would take to cover them. (I am using 16/20s.) You can just pour some cold water over them, measure it and then proceed with the method. Let’s say you need 3 cups to cover the amount of shrimp you have. Put a mixture of 2/3rds cider vinegar (2 Cups) and 1/3rd water (1 cup) in a saucepot large enough to hold the shrimp. Add a bay leaf or two, some crushed peppercorns, maybe a few cloves, some mustard seeds, a crushed juniper or allspice berry or two, what ever you have in your pantry that you think would flavor the brine compatibly with the shrimp. Add some celery leaves, or a stalk of fresh parsley. I’ve pulled up a cilantro plant and put that in, roots and all. (but then I’ve got a lot of cilantro..) Add a bit of salt, about 1 teaspoon per cup of liquid. Boil this vinegar mixture for 5 minutes. Take it off the heat and add the shrimp, setting the timer for 60 seconds, and stirring the shrimp around in the hot brine to help them cook evenly. Take one out after a minute, check for doneness and if it’s not quite done, leave in for another 15 to 20 seconds. It doesn’t take long! The first time I did it for two minutes and that was about 45 seconds too long. (Don’t forget they will continue to cook a little, even after you drain them, unless you cover them in some ice to stop the cooking.) Drain the shrimp and eat as hot peel-n-eat style or chill in the fridge for what ever other use you may have in mind.
And don’t forget – ha! – we offer 16/20 IQF Gulf Shrimp conveniently here at the K-B Market!
The above jars of peppers are the results of maybe 30 minutes of work per batch – the two on the left contain jalapeno peppers sourced from our neighbor’s garden. (Which we just pickled this morning, hence the early Christmas coloring – that will fade.) The three on the right are a combination of the havasu peppers and seranos that we grew in our garden and pickled last week. All hot. All good.
Here’s what you do: stem and core (if it’s a thick core) your peppers. Slash them on the sides deeply in several spots. Pack them in a heatproof jar with a smashed clove of garlic and a half dozen or so black pepper corns. Heat about one cup of vinegar with 1/2 teaspoon salt per pint of peppers. When the vinegar is boiling, pour it over the peppers until they are submerged. Once they are cooled you can put them in any jar you like with a non-reactive lid and keep them in the fridge. Let them mellow for a week or so, and then just tuck in whenever the need strikes.
The recipe – from “The Feast of Santa Fe” – says that the peppers will keep indefinitely. Not likely! We have found ourselves adding them to sandwiches, chopped up and added to salads like macaroni or potato, or included in condiments like tartar sauce, or to guacamole or salsa or anything else that needs a quick hot tangy pickle addition to it. And the vinegar – which is basically what the recipe was titled: Chili Vinegar – can be used with tacos, grilled porkchops, chicken salad, Caesar dressing, what ever recipe you have that you want to galvanize with a splash of hot vinegar. A two-fer! And it couldn’t be easier!
We’ve made several batches this summer, so don’t be surprised to see them on our Pantry Menu in the near future.
Meanwhile, Kevin is making the pickled vegetables for his miso-cured salmon this week.
I’m going to start this Post with a bit of a rant against Social Media – why do they make it so hard? Why do they change the rules all the time? New FaceBook is impossible. Instagram says it’s already on my phone, well, where is that? And WordPress just loves their new Editor, so hey, how do you frigging use it, okay? I’m about to give up all together I tell you. Either that or hire a 12 YO to help me.
Enough whining, let’s eat!
Corn is still a big part of the picture, and watermelon is currently a daily part of the diet, but tomatoes are stealing the show right now, as they often do in August. We were gifted a flat of various heirlooms yesterday, so of course that means BLTs for dinner!
Anyway, it was the best BLT ever – we added avocado which was not necessary, and fontina cheese, which was – with KBM bacon, on Kevin focaccia bread. And plenty of Duke’s!! Sandwiches for Supper!
I’m fairly certain that I have written about elotes, or Mexican street corn, in a previous life, but as our area becomes sweet corn central, it’s not a bad thing to refresh your memory about this superior way to eat corn on (or off) the cob.
Elotes – or its cousin, esquites – is one way to make corn a meal. We first became acquainted with it due to our worship of Pati Jinich, the Queen of the Mexican table. Here is her technique for what she calls “Mexican Crazy Corn”. You can google both styles to find many, many “recipes” for this dish, or you can just gather together the following ingredients and have at it:
Cojita cheese or queso fresco (both readily available at the Hispanic market in Chestertown, or use Parmesan instead)
Cilantro – if you hate it, skip it
Cayenne or chile powder, if you like
What we do is mix the mayo with a little lime juice, enough to thin it out somewhat, and then we add the chopped cilantro and some of the crumbled cheese into that mixture. Some techniques just spread the corn with mayonnaise and then sprinkle on the cheese separately, but we figure, it’s all going to the same place…
So, take your hot corn – grilled, boiled, steamed, whichever works for you – and spread the mayo-lime-cheese mixture on the cob just like you would butter. Serve more crumbled cheese on the side to add as needed. Sprinkle a little hot pepper powder on it and dive in. Be sure to have plenty of napkins for this one! And a spoon to scrape up the tasty bits that fall off the cob!
This is a real muffin recipe, not a cupcake posing as the more healthy muffin in hopes of getting on the breakfast table. This is a bran muffin, and now is the time to make it with some of the local blueberries available to us this time of the summer. I’ve had it in my loose-leaf recipe binder for decades, coming from a woman who worked with us at the Ironstone and later at Brooks as well. One of the main attractions is that you can make the batter, keep it in the fridge and just scoop out what you need the morning you need it. It will last for more than a few days.
(When I thought about posting this, I thought I’d take a picture of the original recipe to share it. But. My phone has died. The Friday before the Fourth of July weekend and I am going to be without it for the weekend at least. Funny how depressing that is, not to have your phone? I mean, how does a person survive a weekend safely isolated at home without their phone?? Well, we’ll find out.)
Lisa’s Bran Muffins
Combine 3 cups of bran flakes, 1 cup of brown sugar and 1 cup of boiling water in a mixing bowl. Combine and let cool before adding the remaining ingredients.
Add to the cooled bran mixture, 2 beaten eggs, 2 cups buttermilk, 1/2 cup vegetable oil, 1 cup dried fruit (if you are planning to use fresh blueberries, eliminate the dried and add the fresh when you are actually baking the muffins).
Mix together in a separate bowl 2.5 teaspoons baking soda, 1/2 teaspoon salt and 2.5 cups all purpose flour. Add to the wet and combine thoroughly.
When ready to bake, add any fresh fruit like the blueberries, if you have chosen that option, set the oven to 425 and bake for 20 minutes or so.
Keep the batter in the refrigerator to use as needed for up to 2 weeks (although it lasts longer it does begin to get a little “tired” if you keep it too long).
This Fourth of July weekend won’t be like any we’ve celebrated in the past. But one thing won’t be any different – it’s going to be hot! And one thing that is a lifesaver over a hot holiday weekend when you can’t go anywhere and don’t even have your phone anymore, is a nice pitcher of rosé sangria in the cooler! I like to take not my favorite or most expensive bottle but one that is more like the “house” rosé, and add to it 1/4 cup raspberry liqueur, 1/4 cup brandy and 1/2 to 1 cup of a juice that you think would go well – I like the Ceres brand selections of berry juice or the passion fruit. Add fruit – raspberries, whole cherries, blueberries all would be good right now – and a few thin slices of fresh orange. Let it all meld together for a few hours in the fridge and when ready, pour a generous glass over ice, making sure to get some of that macerated fruit in there, top with seltzer water and head out to the patio to enjoy. Soon you will be saying, “Pandemic? What pandemic?”
Remember to play a few patriotic songs, wear a nice red white and blue outfit and have your own parade around the yard, hoisting your glass of sangria and waving a blueberry muffin. Your neighbors will thank you for the entertainment.
As bad as things seem to be these days, when just waking up in the morning can bring a whole new calliope of anger and pain, it’s good to know that the farmers of the Eastern Shore are out there continuing to provide us with fresh fruits and vegetables each summer.
We made a stop at the Redman’s Wagon on Monday, and as luck would have it, not only was our man Bill Kelly manning the stand, but who should also show up but Cathy Redman herself! No hugging was allowed, but it certainly was great to see them both, and to see all the things they had on the Wagon. Cucumbers and strawberries, cabbage and cauliflower, sugar snap peas and English peas. Not to mention plants!
And Godfrey’s in Sudlersville, another respite from reality. Here we get tons of asparagus, blueberries and cherries, corn of course and every manner of vegetable in between. Plus, Godfrey’s has the added bonus of selling their own kettle corn, popped right there in the barn, sometimes right before your eyes. And ice cream! And Lisa’s delectable baked goods, using Godfrey’s produce. It’s impossible to leave empty handed.
And Arnold Farm, with their wagon parked conveniently besides the Tastee Freeze, right now offering spinach and chard, squash and lettuce, plus plants and later on the best heirloom tomatoes you can find. Not to mention corn. And sunflowers. And melons and peppers and beets. All summer long we have access to this bounty of produce, without getting our own fingers dirty.
And these are only a small number of the Produce Production People in this area. Let’s then add to our riches, because we also have the Chestertown Farmer’s Market, currently set up at the East Coast Storage on lower High Street. We have not been good customers at the Market this spring, due to our own business taking up extra time on Saturday mornings, but it is the place to go for every variety of fresh produce you can ever want, with the added bonus of talking to the people who grew it.
Eventually there will be smaller farm stands at the end of farm lanes around the county. Perhaps even more this year than usual, since it seems that a greater number of people are gardening than usual, and when they discover they just cannot eat one more zucchini, maybe they’ll set up shop at the end of their road and sell some to us! One summer we discovered the absolute best sweet corn we’d ever had, at a little stand selling only corn on Still Pond Road. It was a one time deal, but we’ve never forgotten it.
Right now we are in the thick of peas and cherries. We got a big bucket of English peas from Redman, and immediately set ourselves on the porch shelling, as is customary.
They are now all happily ensconced in the freezer. The cherries, sour pie cherries, are from Godfrey’s.
Half are already pitted and half of those are in the process of becoming Sour Cherry Preserves with Cherry Brandy. The recipe comes from one of my favorite cookbooks, “Fancy Pantry” by Helen Witty. This recipe is new to us, and is a three day affair. So far we have cooked the cherries for 20 minutes with a little water, then strained them and added sugar and lemon juice to the liquid left behind. This was boiled for 5 minutes, then added back to the cherries, which will sit out over night. Tomorrow we will cook them again, in the syrup, for 4 minutes, then set aside for another 24 hours, until Friday when we will cook them one more time, for 3 minutes. We are definitely adding the “optional” Kirschwasser just before we process them. I’ll let you know how it turns out, seeing as preserves are not something we make every day.
The rest of the cherries will become jam and cherry hand-pies, a project for Friday as well. Cherry pie must be eaten every summer, and since it would be uncomfortable for Kevin and I to eat a whole cherry pie by ourselves, we are going to make individual hand-pies, which can go into the freezer and baked as needed.
Thinking about sugar corn, prepared as “Elote”, or Mexican Street Corn, with mayonnaise and queso fresco, gets me out of the bed in the morning. Or watermelon, which I eat every single day when it is in season. And of course, everyone’s favorite – real field grown tomatoes, sliced thick between two slices of white bread, tons of mayo and plenty of salt and pepper. Who needs more than that? All this produce, soon at a stand or market near you. Thinking about it makes wearing a mask and refraining from hugs a bit less trying. Life may not be what we’d like it to be right now, but the Farmers will see us through and we will eat like nothing is wrong with the world.