A Cup of Hot Coffee and Brownie To Go, Please

Standard baking company portland maineSometimes, or once in a Super Moon, when there is much to be done and you need to boost a sluggish afternoon body, there is nothing better than a bite of a warm, homemade brownie and a sip or two of hot coffee to help you get to the finish line of “a day well lived.”

Below please find the recipe for a very delicious, rich chocolate brownie from one of our favorite bakeries, The Standard Baking Co., in Portland, Maine – a “bakery without spin” where “…you won’t find art work on the walls, fancy coffee drinks or deli sandwiches.” Instead, “the bread and pastry sell themselves.”

How? Simply put, “The Standard isn’t a brand, it’s a philosophy,” writes Jane Newkirk in The Standard Baking Co.’s book, Pastries.

If you ever decide to visit the bakery, located on Commercial Street in the Old Port District, make sure to arrive early before all of the hungry passengers from the cruise ships in port do!

And for the great cup of coffee, check out King Bean Coffee Roasters in Charleston, South Carolina – a 2014 Martha Stewart American Made Finalist – or read about some of the great roasting going on in Maine in the following article from the New York Times, “Maine, One Coffee Roaster at a Time” (January 2015).

Brownies (recipe taken from The Standard Baking Company)

easy brownie recipe1 1/2 cups flour
1/3 cup plus 2 tbsp. Dutch-Processed Cocoa powder
3/4 tsp. baking powder
3/4 tsp. salt
2 & 1/2 tsp. instant espresso powder (we used good quality coffee grains)
1 & 1/2 cups (7 ounces) chopped unsweetened chocolate
1/3 cup (1 & 1/2 ounces) chopped bittersweet chocolate
1 & 1/3 cups (2 & 2/3 sticks) unsalted butter,
5 eggs, room temperature
3 cups sugar
2 & 1/2 tsp. vanilla extract

In medium bowl, whisk together the flour, cocoa powder, baking powder salt, and espresso powder.

In a medium saucepan, melt the unsweetened chocolate, bittersweet chocolate, and butter together over low heat.  Set the pan aside to cool slightly.

In a large bowl, whisk the eggs just until smooth, then add the sugar and vanilla and whisk until combined.

Whisk the warm chocolate mixture into the egg mixture. Using a rubber spatula, fold the dry ingredients into the chocolate and egg mixture.

Pour the batter into the lightly greased pan and level with a spatula.

Bake for 30-40 minutes, rotating the pan after 20 minutes. The top will be crisp and a tester inserted in the center will come out with moist crumbs. Remove from oven and let cool before cutting.

See also our post on Kona coffee.

Falling Into the First Day of Autumn

Fall poemsYesterday was the first official day of Autumn, and it just so happened to be a picture perfect day where everything was “just right” – the soft blanket of blue sky, the sunny warm and still air, the full-blossomed, perfectly poised purple petunias. But “just right” never stays long – things change as nature, a “trustworthy guide”*,  shows us season to season as we now watch the coming and going of summer to autumn. The turning of leaves into an exhilarating brilliance ends with a falling into a cooler, darker, and heavier season. The lightness, openness and warmth of summer has departed leaving behind the “meeker” chillier mornings that Emily Dickinson wrote about in her poem about autumn below:

The morns are meeker than they were,
The nuts are getting brown;
The berry’s cheek is plumper,
The rose is out of town.

The maple wears a gayer scarf,
The field a scarlet gown.
Lest I should be old-fashioned,
I’ll put a trinket on. 

The “trinket” that Emily Dickinson refers to at the end of her poem I believe speaks to the melancholy that is on the other side of autumn’s brilliance.  This melancholy is what Parker J. Palmer writes so beautifully about in his piece “Autumn: A Season of Paradox” for OnBeing. He writes:

Autumn is a season of exhilarating beauty. It’s also a season of steady decline and, for some of us, deepening melancholy. The days become shorter and colder, the trees shed their glory, and summer’s abundance starts to decay toward winter’s death.

I’m a professional melancholic, and for years my delight in the autumn color show quickly morphed into sadness as I watched the beauty die. Focused on the browning of summer’s green growth, I allowed the prospect of death to eclipse all that’s life-giving about fall and its sensuous delights.

Palmer goes on to write about the “paradox” of autumn in which there are opposites – “diminishment and beauty, darkness and light, death and life…” He believes that these opposites are “held together in the paradox of the ‘hidden wholeness’”, referencing the following quote by Thomas Merton*: “There is in all visible things….a hidden wholeness.”

Autumn poems

It is in an understanding and acceptance of this paradox as “opposites (that) do not negate each; they cohabit and co-create in mysterious unity at the heart of reality”, that can help to move one beyond the melancholy of autumn to a more honest reality or what Palmer refers to as an “organic reality”  where “autumn reminds me to celebrate the primal power that is forever making all things new in me, in us, and in the natural world.”

And so, as the leaves begin to turn, may we celebrate the glory of Autumn in all of its paradoxes. In fact, in the spirit of rebirth and renewal that is inherent in this brilliant and exhilarating season, I think I will put a trinket* on…

Emily Dickinson poems

*The phrase “trustworthy guide” was taken from Parker J. Palmer’s piece.

*Trinket – a small inexpensive ornament. A bauble, trifle, knickknack, bead, charm, bagatelle, bibelot, token, memento, souvenir, keepsake.

*Thomas Merton (1915-1968) was a writer and Trappist Monk at a monastery in Kentucky.

All Things Constitutional

Charles Murray By The People ReviewIn celebration of Constitution Day, ATG highlights the book By the People: Rebuilding Liberty Without Permission by Charles Murray, an American libertarian political scientist and author who first became well known for his book, Losing Ground: American Social Policy 1950-1980.

In Chapter One, “A Broken Constitution”, Murray argues that “the Constitution that once sustained limited government is broken, and cannot be fixed by a Madisonian* majority on the Supreme Court.”  He explains how our “legal system is increasingly lawless” and that the “legislative process has become systemically corrupt no matter which party is in control.”

Murray shows throughout the first part of his book – “Coming to Terms With Where We Stand” – how the American way of life that was once built on individual liberty and limited government is being “gutted.”  From trying to run a business to following our religious beliefs to raising our families, the government – with “laws that are so complex they are indistinguishable from lawlessness”, regulations that strangulate, and an incomprehensible tax system that is “4 million words long” – is dictating more and more how we should live our lives and threatening us if we don’t passively and willingly comply.

“As Tocqueville predicted, we have experienced not tyranny but a state that ‘compresses, enervates, extinguishes, and stupefies a people,’” Murray writes. However, he also offers a hopeful message that “we the people”, with a combination of technology which has empowered the individual and a “systematic civil disobedience” can begin to push back on the growing power of government  to restore our traditional freedom and rebuild American liberty.

As Murray writes in his conclusion: “The disappearance of the authentic America would be an immeasurable loss…[i]f America becomes like the advanced social democracies of Europe as it threatens to do it would mean the loss of a unique way of life grounded in individual freedom.”

He continues: “No other country throughout the history of the world began its existence with a charter focused on limiting the power of government and maximizing the freedom of its individual citizens.”

It has been written that “Ronald Reagan understood, perhaps, more than any other modern President, how important the U.S. Constitution is to a free and civil society.” With this in mind and in light of the Republican Presidential debate held at the Ronald Reagan Library yesterday evening, we share quotes from Ronald Reagan’s famous speech, “A Time for Choosing”, that he delivered on October 27, 1964 in Los Angeles in support of Barry Goldwater for President. It was this speech that led Ronald Reagan to be known henceforth as “The Great Communicator”:

“The Founding Fathers knew a government can’t control the economy without controlling people. And they knew when a government sets out to do that, it must use force and coercion to achieve its purpose. So we have come to a time for choosing.” 

“You and I are told we must choose between a left or right, but I suggest there is no such thing as a left or right. There is only an up or down. Up to man’s age-old dream – the maximum of individual freedom consistent with order – or down to the ant heap of totalitarianism.”

“No government ever voluntarily reduces itself in size. So, government’s programs, once launched, never disappear. Actually, a government bureau is the nearest thing to eternal life we’ll ever see on this earth.” “If government planning and welfare had the answer, shouldn’t we expect government to read the score to us once in a while?” Reagan asked, “Shouldn’t they be telling us about the decline each year in the number of people needing help? But the reverse is true. Each year, the need grows great, the program grows greater.”

“This is the issue of this election: Whether we believe in our capacity for self-government, or whether we abandon the American Revolution and confess that a little intellectual elite in a far-distant capitol can plan our lives for us better than we can plan them ourselves.”

Other notable Reagan quotes:

“The most terrifying words in the English language are, I’m from the government and I’m here to help.”

“I hope we have once again reminded people that man is not free unless government is limited. There’s a clear cause and effect here that is as neat and predictable as a law of physics: as government expands liberty contracts.”

Read also the Heritage Foundation’s Lecture: “A Constitutional President: Ronald Regan and the Founding.”

*Murray defines “Madisonian” as, “people who are devoted to limited government…classical liberals, libertarians and many conservatives.” He wrote that Madison “more than any other individual, midwifed the Constitution and the Bill of Rights. It was his Constitution that preserved limited government for the first century and a half of America’s existence.”

Shining A Hopeful Light on Usher Syndrome

Usher syndrome symptomsWhen I think of Emma, my 1-year-old niece and goddaughter, I think of her big, bright blue, angelic eyes. They are staring up at me, at seven months old, trusting, innocent eyes that eventually succumb to the spellbinding power of sleep in the arms of someone she had not yet come to know.

I remember thinking how miraculous it was that, at such a young age, babies could not only convey a feeling, thought or emotion with one simple look, but could gaze so deeply, so intently, as if, for a moment, they were imparting years of life wisdom that we typically only acquire with age.

It was her eyes in this moment that flashed through my mind as I learned three months later that her hearing loss would not be the only challenge that she would come to face. That what had once seemed like an unlikely possibility had revealed itself as a new reality when the test results diagnosed her with Usher Syndrome – the most common cause of combined deafness and blindness that affects about four babies in every 100,000 births. An inherited disease, it is thought to be responsible for about three to six percent of all childhood deafness and about 50 percent of deaf-blindness in adults.

Emma’s hearing will stay the same – moderate to moderately severe loss – but her vision will progressively worsen, a result of retinitis pigmentosa that causes night-blindness and a loss of peripheral vision through degeneration of the retina, beginning in adolescence or adulthood and leaving her legally blind by the time she is in her 20s.

Sitting on the phone with my brother, his silence spoke loudly enough for me to know that fear was the predominant emotion governing his reaction. Fear for Emma’s wellbeing, fear for her happiness and fear for her future in the face of a syndrome that brings with it an unknown set of challenges, in addition to the inevitable tribulations each of us face along life’s journey.

Indeed, as adults, the life experiences we have acquired, coupled with a finer understanding of the workings of the world, makes it nearly impossible to receive such news without an overwhelming sense of fear. We know the beauty and joy that life can bring, and the goodness that exists, but we also know the ugliness – the parts filled with hatred and loneliness, judgment and unkindness.

Usher syndrome children

It wasn’t until later, however, when I began to think that, in circumstances such as these, it might do us well to have the eyes of a child, to view the world as fearlessly, innocently and joyfully as children often do – as Emma does now, and will in the coming years. To daringly dream and boldly believe, to trust unyieldingly and have faith and hope in the endless possibilities that we so freely envision when we are young. To know and see nothing but the good. To believe in magic. To not fear.

For, while our instinctual reaction is to fear, Emma fears not. She smiles her heartwarming, beautiful, divine smile. She waves in utter exultation at strangers. She coos and squeals with merriment as she tries to keep up with her equally fearless, vociferous older sister. She is entertained with a laugh. A hug. A kiss.

And she looks at you lovingly with those precious, warm eyes – eyes that will see mountains and streams, forests and fields, oceans and lakes. Eyes that will see sunrises and sunsets, rainbows and stars, lightning and fireflies. Eyes that will see city lights from a plane and the depths of the earth from the sea floor. Eyes that will see the world because we will show it to her.

Together we will show her, just as together we will walk, this Saturday, September 19, in honor of the first global Usher Syndrome Awareness Day, a day uniting all affected families that precedes the autumnal equinox, which marks the start of days containing more darkness than light.

Information about Usher SyndromeAs we walk with Emma – and in spirit with Galen, Xanthe, Hunter, Lizzy and all other Usher children across the globe – let us not become blinded by that darkness, by that fear. Instead, let us walk with the eyes of a child – of these children – who sees beauty, magic and hope in the most unexpected places. Who wishes upon a star so fervently that even we believe we can fly.

To be a child, writes the English poet Francis Thompson, is “to have a spirit yet streaming from the waters of baptism; it is to believe in love, to believe in loveliness, to believe in belief; it is to be so little that the elves can reach to whisper in your ear; it is to turn pumpkins into coaches, and mice into horses, lowness into loftiness and nothing into everything.”

It is, essentially, to turn darkness into light, fear into hope.

On Saturday, the Usher Syndrome community will do just that, walking together in hope – because we do have much to hope for. Hope in the Usher Syndrome Coalition’s movement for increased awareness and commitment to building a network of support. Hope in the dedicated team of Usher Syndrome researchers throughout the world – from Sweden to Iowa – who are collaborating tirelessly to find answers. Hope in all of the remarkable stories of success and accomplishment achieved by those with Usher Syndrome – such as 36-year-old Rebecca Alexander who just this past summer climbed Mount Kilimanjaro.

And hope that, in an era of unprecedented, rapid technological and medical advancements, a cure for Usher Syndrome will be found.

Here is to that hope. Here is to owning the equinox.

Please consider supporting the Usher Syndrome community and helping us spread awareness by visiting this link.

This piece was also published on The Huffington Post.

Make Bourbon Great Again!

One can never quite know exactly what it is that resurrects something from the past, but bourbon – the famed American whiskey – has risen from the ashes and been “made great again.”

Surely the popular TV series Mad Men has contributed to its resurgence – the “Mad Men Effect” – where men were men who drank manly drinks called the “Old-Fashioned”, but whatever the reasons involved, the rise of the “golden age of bourbon” is an undeniable reality.

Bourbon drinks

The New York Times writes and quotes drinks author Robert Hess: “Like an artifact from a lost, great civilization…‘[t]he old-fashioned has been a touchstone of the cocktail movement [for] the last 10 years.’”

Fortune Magazine reports that, in 2000, there were just 24 bourbon craft distilleries across America; today there are more than 430. “This is probably the best time to be in bourbon since Prohibition”, says Tim DeLong; and Eric Gregory: “Bourbon is not just a drink anymore but a part of [a] culture.”

And The Associated Press writes: “This is a renaissance we haven’t seen in generations, and possibly in the entire history of our signature spirit.”

Perhaps Donald Trump – whose slogan rings “Make America Great Again!” – should travel to Louisville, the heart of Kentucky’s bourbon county, to adopt this most authentic American drink with a rich American history as the official drink of his campaign.

Indeed, as Fortune writes, “people are flocking to Kentucky to experience bourbon in its native habitat,” where it has emerged as a “global force” and become one of the “state’s most prized economic engines.”

It is with this in mind that we share below a recipe for bourbon slush, a recipe with a bourbon-vinaigrette dressing, some interesting bourbon facts and even a bourbon drinking song.

Here’s to making bourbon great again!

Bourbon Slush

Note: We have adapted the below recipe from the recipes from Garden & Gun and Smitten Kitchen.

2 cups tea
1-2 cups bourbon (depending on how strong you would like it)
1/2 – 1 cup of sugar (we used 1/2 cup, however we would suggest more if you tend to like your drinks on the sweeter side)
1 cup good quality orange juice
1 cup Nantucket Nectar Lemonade (or another good quality lemonade)

Bourbon slush recipe

Bring two cups of water to a boil, add two tea bags and let steep for five minutes. Let tea cool slightly and then in glass bowl combine tea, sugar, bourbon, orange juice and lemonade and stir thoroughly. Cover with plastic wrap and put in freezer. Freeze for 4-5 hours or until it becomes a thick slush. Serve in glass cocktail tumblers with a sprig of fresh mint.

Note: Enjoy your bourbon slush while listening to an old blues song, “One Bourbon, One Scotch, One Beer”, written by Rudy Toombs and recorded by Amos Milburn in 1953; the song was made especially popular by John Lee Hooker in 1966 and George Thorogood in 1977.

Spinach Salad with sliced pecans, lamb bacon, Clemson blue cheese and bourbon vinaigrette (taken from Chef Edward Lee’s cookbook, Smoke & Pickles)

Ingredients for salad:
8 ounces Lamb Bacon, cut into small cubes (note: we used regular bacon)
8 ounces spinach
½ cup pecans
1 green apple, cored and cut into matchsticks
1 breakfast radish, sliced into thin rounds
4 ounces Clemson blue cheese or other mild artisan blue cheese, crumbled

Ingredients for Bourbon Vinaigrette:
¼ cup bourbon
¾ cup olive oil
2 tbsp. apple cider vinegar
1 tbsp. maple syrup
¼ tsp. sea salt
½ tsp. freshly ground black pepper

To make the vinaigrette: start by pouring the bourbon into a small saucepan and bringing it to a boil over medium heat. Be careful, because the alcohol in the bourbon could ignite. If that happens, to tamp out the flame, simply put a tight-fitting lid over the pot – the lack of oxygen will suffocate the flame; remove the lid after a few seconds. Boil to reduce the liquid to about 2 tablespoons. Transfer the bourbon to a ramekin and refrigerate until well chilled.

Combine the olive oil, vinegar, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a small bowl. Whisk in the reduced bourbon. Keep refrigerated; bring to room temperature when ready to use.

To make the salad: put the lamb bacon in a small skillet and cook, stirring, over medium-low heat just until it becomes crispy on the outside, 5 to 6 minutes. Transfer to a paper towel to drain what little fat will render from the bacon.

Combine the remaining salad ingredients in a large bowl and add the lamb bacon. Toss gently with the bourbon vinaigrette and serve immediately.

Do you know the “Six Standard Rules” for a spirit to be considered bourbon? It must be…

  1.  Made in the Unites States
  2.  Aged in charred white oak barrels
  3.  51% corn
  4.  Distilled at less than 160 proof (80% alcohol by volume)
  5.  Put into a barrel at below 125 proof
  6.  No artificial coloring or flavor

Why does Kentucky make good bourbon?  

It has excellent quality limestone-filtered water; the state’s extreme weather patterns is also thought to contribute to prime bourbon-making conditions

Bourbon got its name from…

Two men known as the Tarascon Brothers who arrived in Louisville from Cognac (south of France) and began shipping local whiskey down the Ohio River to New Orleans. In the 19th century, New Orleans entertainment district was “Bourbon Street”, where all of the bars were. People started asking for “that whiskey they sell on Bourbon Street”, which eventually became “that bourbon whiskey.”

(Note: the above facts were taken from Smithsonian article listed below)

For further information on bourbon, check out the below articles:

Discovering Polenta At Chicago’s Spiaggia

“One cannot think well, love well, sleep well, if one has not dined well.” – Virginia Woolf (1882-1941)

spiaggia wine menu“During the last twenty years, Spiaggia [Chicago’s premier Italian restaurant] has wined and dined the famous, the infamous, trendy ‘foodies’, and some of the most discerning palates in the world,” writes Tony Mantuano and Cathy Mantuano in The Spiaggia Cookbook: Eleganza Italiana in Cucina (2004).

From the great chefs of America and Europe such as Alice Waters, Wolfgang Puck and Charlie Trotter* to the likes of Sir Elton John, the late Princess Diana, Sir Mick Jagger, Julia Roberts, Billy Joel, Harrison Ford, Sting, Tom Cruise, President Clinton, Paul Newman, Steven Spielberg, and Sir Paul McCartney, Spiaggia – translated as “beach” in Italian – has certainly satisfied the palate of many a famous people.

As the guest of a native Chicagoan, I had the privilege of dining at Spiaggia – located on the corner of Michigan Avenue and Oak Street, with a view of Oak Street beach on Lake Michigan – over 10 years ago. And as I first learned over 25 years ago after eating at New York City’s famous world-renowned Le Cirque, fine dining is an experience that one always remembers.

Indeed, the experience is similar to encountering a different language and set of established rules you might find while traveling in a foreign country. From the menu offerings, whose words are heavy with accents and symbols, to the sophisticated service and wait staff, who are impeccably dressed and thoroughly informed on all things food, wine and dining, it is a transformative experience – a culinary adventure that stimulates the senses, inspires new ideas, and ultimately enlarges one’s view of the world.

Spiaggia chicago

It was at Spiaggia that I first encountered polenta, prepared as a simple dish of corn, cream and cheese with a dollop of pesto that enhanced its culinary sophistication. I have always remembered how unbelievably delicious it was and, despite numerous attempts, have never been able to achieve the heavenly, creamy taste that Spiaggia perfected so well.

However, The Spiaggia Cookbook, in which the recipe for the polenta and pesto can be found (see below), has aided in my attempts to recreate this elegant comfort dish, which is a perfect and seasonable dish as the September summer days roll into cooler autumn air. Full of beauty, the cookbook is “not just a souvenir of a world-class restaurant, but a resource for those who love the discoveries that are made when adventuring with food and wine.”

Below are some excerpts from the book that are inspiring reminders of how much things have changed in the culinary world and how food truly can transform one’s mind, body and soul:

“Although we have highlighted our memories of living and cooking in Italy throughout this book, it is the philosophy of the meal in Italy that is fundamental to our ongoing vision at Spiaggia. Italians believe that if they give special attention to choosing foods that are fresh, natural, and lovingly prepared, the foods will in turn nurture and replenish both body and soul. While eating is a matter of survival, sharing a meal is a ritual that is essential to our relationships connecting the lives of family and friends. It is a way of celebrating each new day.”

“Grandmothers and chefs didn’t need recipes she said; ‘We cook from the heart.’”

“In the early 1980’s, the increasing popularity for upscale Italian food was considered to be a Yuppie infatuation…at the time most Italian “Ristoranti” were considered French inspired and other Italian restaurants were considered Italian American.  As more and more Americans began traveling to Italy and returning home bringing with them a longing for the food and wine that they had experienced, the time was ripe for a new class of Italian restaurant. Believe it or not, contemporary Italian cuisine was virtually nonexistent in America.”

Spiaggia restaurant

*Charlie Trotter (1959- 2013) was another world-renowned chef who, with his restaurant Trotter (1987-2012) – the “eponymous Chicago restaurant [that] was considered one of the finest in the world” – had a significant “impact on American cuisine and the culinary world at large.” He was named an outstanding chef by James Beard in 1999 and his restaurant was named “best restaurant in the nation” in 2000 by Wine Spectator.  He too believed in the spiritual element of dining, as he once wrote: “All four elements were happening in equal measure – the cuisine, the wine, the service, and the overall ambience. It taught me that dining could happen at a spiritual level.”

Three quotes selected from his beautiful cookbook, Charlie Trotter’s (1994), are inspiring for the life philosophy that he lived by:

“To lose courage is to sin…work, ever more work, con amore, therein lies real happiness.” – Fyodor Dostoyevsky, Russian novelist (1821-1881)

“It’s all about excellence, or at least working towards excellence.  Early on in your approach to cooking – or to running a restaurant – you have to determine whether or not you are willing to commit fully and completely to the idea of the pursuit of excellence.  I have always looked at it this way: if you strive like crazy for perfection – an all-out assault on total perfection – at the very least you will hit a high level of excellence, and then you might be able to sleep at night. Accomplishing something truly significant, excellence has to become a life plan.”

“Until there is commitment, there is hesitancy, the chance to draw back, always ineffectiveness.  Concerning all acts of initiative (and creation), there is one elementary truth, the ignorance of which kills countless ideas and splendid plans: that the moment one definitely commits oneself, then providence moves too. All sorts of things occur to help one that would never otherwise have occurred. A whole stream of events issues forth from the decision, raising in one’s favor all manner of unforeseen incidents and meetings and material assistance which no man could have dreamed would have come his way.  Whatever you can do or dream you can, begin it.  Boldness has genius, power, and magic in it.  Begin it now!” – Johann Wolfgang von Goethe, German poet (1742-1832)


Polenta Bianca or “white corn polenta” (taken from The Spiaggia Cookbook)

White corn polenta is the lightest and most elegant variety, according to this cookbook recipe.

When you make white corn polenta, the finished texture should be that of runny mashed potatoes or very creamy risotto.  You should be able to pour the polenta, it should actually relax onto the plate and then spread out slightly, but to too far.  If the polenta stands up like whipped cream, you need to add more water or stock to achieve the desired consistency.

2 cups water
Sea Salt
1/2 cup white polenta
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
6 tablespoons heavy cream
3 tablespoons grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese
Freshly ground white pepper

In large saucepan over medium heat, bring the water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and slowly pour in the polenta, stirring constantly to avoid any lumps (Crush any lumps that form by pressing them against the side of the pot with a spoon). Stir vigorously as the polenta thickens. Continue to cook the polenta, stirring often, until it loses its grainy texture and becomes smooth, about 20-30 minutes. Add the butter, cream, and Parmesan and stir until well incorporated.  Season to taste with salt and white pepper. Serve immediately.

creamy polenta recipe

Pesto Alla Genovese – Lingurian Pesto

2 cups loosely packed fresh basil leaves
1 clove garlic, chopped
3 tablespoons pine nuts
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/3 cup grated Romano Cheese
1/3 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or Parmesan cheese
3-4 tablespoons extra-virgin olive oil

In a blender or food processor, combine the basil, garlic, pine nuts, and salt. Process, stopping to scrape down the sides of the jar or bowl as needed, until the basil is finely chopped. Add the cheeses gradually, processing to a coarse paste. Slowly add the olive oil in a fine stream and process until the pesto is smooth and creamy. The pesto can be frozen for up to 1 month.

September: Serving Up The Last Delicious Drop of Sumptuous Summer

September picturesEight days remain. Eight golden days of Summer, until it swiftly departs at sundown on September 23, giving way to a crisp autumn morning on the 24th.

While we may lament the end of August, the month of September is the perfect time for what we Americans refer to as “al fresco” dining, a phrase borrowed from the Italians meaning “in the cool air.” (Interestingly, Italians refer to outdoor dining as “fuori” and “all’aperto,” since “al fresco” is slang for “in prison”).

What better way to celebrate the closing of the summer season then to dine outside in the cool September evening air, seated at an intimate table with pleasant company, surrounded by a picturesque, beautiful view of a distant mountain, still lake or sailboats in the distant ocean horizon, accompanied by fine wine and delicious food.

In fact, James and Kay Salter write about the rich experience an intimate setting can offer with their Sept. 1st entry in their book, Life is Meals: A Food Lover’s Book of Days:

“Small rooms or dwellings discipline the mind, Leonardo da Vinci said, and large ones weaken it. Something similar might be said of dinner tables. The smaller the size, the greater the intimacy; big ones are for castles.”

Al fresco dining ideas

I can’t help but think that Leonardo da Vinci would have been a lover of “al fresco dining” and would have a rather philosophical take on the expanse of the world beyond the small intimate outdoor table.

And so, before turning inside to our dwellings big or small, enjoy one last meal in the open air and breathe in every drop of the last of summer’s fresh invigorating air.

Dining all’aperto