In my pretend life, the one where I write for a living, plan dinner parties with hand-written menus and cloth napkins, eat peaches by the bushel and have never heard of the common core standards, I found myself in Tuscany this past weekend. While suspended in real life in my new striped hammock, I spent hours imagining myself in a terraced farmhouse with white-washed walls and windows wide open to the wasps, butterflies and wafts of lemon trees. I was so moved by the descriptions of the long lunches followed by siestas, that I declared to Dan that next summer will be a summer of Tuscany (which Dan quickly deemed ‘Under the Madi-sun’) as I reclined awkwardly in my hammock trying to eat/drink my inspired lunch: hunk of blue cheese, end of bread, garden tomato drizzled with olive oil and poor-woman’s sangria (red wine, flat Pelligrino, squeeze of lemon, ice).
It may not be Tuscany, but I did get to go with my family to our cottage in Iowa in late August. And while it wasn’t perfect- there was my mom’s cracked wrist and the loud air conditioner on the ugly house next door where there used to be wild flowers (picked for bouquets placed in tin can vases)- it was just quite. There is simply something about the corner of Iowa where we spent our summers growing up. The air is softer and the light glows more golden than anywhere else I’ve been before dusk. A light gust will make you hold your breath and remember an evening squeezed between your grandparents on a bench swing at a nearby county park.
Nostalgia surrounds you.
The wooden roller coaster, the nutty bar stand, crickets, the sheep. An empty lot where the Fun House used to be. A stone bench that bakes all day in the sun. The roll-up cupboard hiding the green glass jar used for Country Time lemonade.
We cooked in the yellow kitchen, a meal my mom remembered from The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac. It’s the perfect meal for a late summer harvest. I’m almost sure they would serve it in Tuscany, but I bet it tastes even better in Iowa.
Casserole of Summer Squash
From The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac
About 2 lbs. of summer squash, washed and cut into cubes or small slices
1 white onion, peeled and chopped
3 large (or 5 or 6 medium) tomatoes, quartered
2 tsp. fresh-ground pepper
1 Tbs. salt
2 Tbs. sugar
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 Tbs. dried oregano*
1 cup breadcrumbs or cracker crumbs
1 cup grated Vermont cheese
4 Tbs. butter
Preheat over to 350 degrees. Parboil squash for 5 minutes, then drain. Put olive oil in 3-quart baking dish or casserole. Put in squash, onions and tomatoes. Mix together the salt, pepper, sugar, mustard, herbs, breadcrumbs, and one-half the grated cheese. Spread mixture over top of the vegetables. Dot with the butter. Cover the casserole and bake for 50 minutes. Remove cover, scatter the other half of the grated cheese over the top, and return uncovered to the oven until cheese is melted and browned. Serves 12.
*At this point I should tell you that we revised the recipe- we added cubed eggplant and used an old baguette for the bread (ripped into bite-sized pieces). We used fresh herbs and a variety of cheeses, none of them from Vermont. It was delicious.
Two nights ago my mom gave me an extra copy of The New England Butt’ry Shelf Almanac. When she opened it she found a poem copied by my grandma on the inside cover with the note, “I love this poem!”
Portrait by a Neighbor by Edna St Vincent Millay
Before she has her floor swept, or her dishes done,
Any day you’ll find her
A sunning in the sun!
It’s long after midnight
Her keys in the lock
And you never see her chimney smoke till past 10 o’clock
She digs in her garden
with a shovel and a spoon.
She weeds her lazy lettuce
By the light of the moon
She walks up the walk like a woman in a dream,
She forgets she borrowed butter and pays you back in cream!
Her lawn looks like a meadow and if she mows the place
She leaves the clover standing and the Queen Annes lace!
It’s no wonder I daydream of words all day.