A Couple From France, More Summer Dinner Diaries and The Cape

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 5, 1999


Bonnie and Sophie worked together.  Sophie and her husband Eric are French, which is to say from France.  Honest to goodness foreigners – there haven’t been too many in my life, though I was once introduced to a person from West Virginia.  They were here so that Eric could finish his education at Princeton.  He was a whiz at nano-physics-astronomy-biology whatever.  Nice people. I actually consumed enough alcohol during the evening so that Eric and I were able to have a conversation about various nano molecular theories – really.  Sophie is flat out, maybe I’ll leave my wife if I didn’t love her so much, gorgeous, brainy and wonderful. 

As Eric and Sophie were not of our culture, I figured I’d whip up a nice American summertime meal.  Give ‘em a little taste of what we’re about.  To give them the full taste we’d have had to travel round the country.  So I figured soft-shells for an appetizer (atop a bed of seaweed salad is nice), ribs, coleslaw and potato salad.  Silver Palette soup to start and, of course, strawberry shortcake for desert ends it (NYT Mag = New York Times Sunday Magazine).  That’s a nice menu.  The ribs – ya gotta remember the dry rub and the wet mop.  Ummmmm.  Let’s take that ride Mon Cherie!

 Reading this diary entry a friend stated that she was unfamiliar with the term, ‘dry rub and wet mop’.  She doesn’t barbecue.  When I barbecue I rub the beef, pork, chicken or what have you with a blend of spice or herbs (depends on how you want it to taste) cook it a good while at low heat with some smoke.  When it’s cooked but not quite finished I’ll put it on the grill and brush barbecue sauce on it.  Cooking it until it’s got a nice little char, not burned, and the meats done.  Hence the dry rub and the wet mop.  That’s my barbecue; God knows there are a lot of other ones out there.  

The Cape, No More Need Be Said 

I have vacationed on the Cape since my parents first took my brothers and me car camping there in the early 1960’s.  In the late 1950’s through the 1960’s my parents didn’t have enough money to take our family vacations in motels (still respectable at that time) or hotels.  Our family, like so many others, packed up the tent and the Coleman stove and plunked ourselves down in campgrounds all over New England.  Dad had won a sales contest and for his prize chose a huge canvas tent.  As with everything that involved his family, he was thrilled to be able to do something for his family, to take us ‘on the road’.  Yet again, the contradictions that were Dad.  As much as he wanted to take us camping, he was nervous about it.  He was always unsure, though he tried to hide this, of his ability to pull it off.  Our family would never have gotten to the Cape in the first place, if one of his business partners wasn’t so familiar with the area and convinced Dad to take us there.  So Dad did take us to the Cape and continued taking us to the Cape and I will always love him for introducing me, and our family, to a very special place.         

When my brothers and I talk about that first trip to the Cape and look at the photos we think 1963 or 1964.  I would have been 13 or 14 years old.  I think back to poor Mom, cooking on a Coleman gas stove for four uncaring, except that there better be food when I’m hungry, males.  Poor Mom.  The camp cooking couldn’t have been the highpoint of her vacation.  Though she came to love more complex cooking at a later time when all of her sons were cooking a lot, I’m guessing that she wasn’t looking forward to even simple cooking when we car camped.  This was no vacation for her.  That hot flame on the gas stove and lightweight aluminum pans – tough to finesse a meal.  There were the car camping 1960’s classic cuisine: canned chili, canned beef stew, bacon and eggs (no fun with the eggs – always scrambled), hamburgers, tuna salad and canned meatballs and spaghetti.  What a trooper ; I don’t remember her complaining – not much anyway.  Every now and then she would suddenly break into tears, but Dad would just attribute those tears to it ‘being her time’.  I was a kid, ‘her time’? What’s this ‘her time’ business?  Come to think of it keeping the tent clean and dry, keeping three sons clean, sleeping on a folding cot because being enclosed in a sleeping bag freaked her out and using the honest to God outhouses that some campgrounds had probably weren’t highpoints in her vacation either. 

Mom and the Brood Camping – circa 1961


I have gone back to the Cape just almost every year since that first trip; I missed two or three years due to school, work and Swintbn.  Bonnie joined me in going to the Cape and she loves it as much as I do.  Actually, I’m thinking that I should tell you that it sucks as a vacation spot just so that you won’t go up there.  Actually, it may suck for you.  Where Bonnie and I go there is nothing except the ocean, the bay and a small width of sand and scrub pine between the two.  And above this the dominating and all encompassing sky and it’s light. 

The light is very special here; in a constant flux of density and color, it is a tangible substance, you taste it, you breathe it.  It is overwhelming and its colors are an infinite spectrum at once foreign and familiar; coloring all objects and the air itself.  You feel it surrounding you with the null weight of a spirit, the full import of the entire universe and every variant between those poles.  It is present in the fog and the mist.  It is present long after the sun sets and long before the sun rises.  It is magic. 

In the town that we stay in there are no boardwalks, no vendors, no chi-chi stores, no malls, and no shopping centers.   Friends with a baby and a very young child came up once to visit us (huge mistake on my part); we told them to bring what they needed – nowhere to shop. They brought nothing, couldn’t believe that there was nowhere to shop and they had to drive an hour and a half, each way, to shop. 

There is one small store in the center of town that’s called, of course, the town store.  You can make a circuit of the interior of the store in about three minutes, if you’re not walking very fast.  It sells the most basic necessities: newspapers, linguiҫa from New Bedford and liquor.  All with few options in regards to brand selection. Let’s go back to the Linguiҫa for a moment.  Ah the linguiҫa…..  A Portuguese pork sausage; nicely seasoned, spicy, but not too hot, good onion, garlic and paprika flavors.  A wonderful paprika red and white fat chunk color.  I have grilled this, used it in omelets, frittatas, a fantastic soup with salt cod, potatoes and tomatoes and puréed it and mixed it with mascarpone for a dip.

The Town Store

Stay in town more than a week in off season and you begin to say, “Good morning: insert first name”, to the folks already inside when you walk in to get a cup of coffee and the local paper in the morning.  When I’m in the town store, I think back to the town store in the town that I grew up in.  We would bicycle (baseball cards held with clothes pins in the spokes) to this store to buy root-beer flavored popsicles for a nickel and bubblegum with the comics inside for another nickel – a sweet deal.

So what do Bonnie and I do up there?  We do ‘stuff’: read tons of books, walk on the beaches, cook scallops with the roe attached, cook lobster, cook steamers, cook striped bass, eat at restaurants that serve everything from fried clams to goat cheese cheesecake with a fig/port sauce (different restaurants, silly), can beach plums and rose hips and look at the water and the sky and the light.  The cottage that we’ve rented for the past seven years or so has no television – we love it.  

Dinner Diary                                                                         July 20, 2002


I still haven’t found a Sangria recipe that I’m satisfied with and if I were you I’d skip the blue cheese wrapped with prusciutto.  It wasn’t bad, it just didn’t sing.  We’ve been there and done that with the grilled curried shrimp and grapes.   

The lamb on the other hand makes a nice little package.  Blanch leeks, cut lengthwise, until they’re just pliable.  Stop them from cooking further in an ice water bath and pat dry.

A word here about water on/in food.  Unless you want to steam food, the food should be dry.  If it’s wet, you’re steaming it.  Why do you think that there are dry aged steaks?  You want the blood off of the steak before it goes in the pan or on the grill, it’s mostly water.  Why do you think that salad dressing won’t cling to the greens unless the green are dry?  If you’re trying to get a nice char on those pan fried scallops you’re never going to do it unless you’ve wrapped them in paper towels and dried them first.  So…. Dry the leeks. 

Now that your leeks are nicely blanched and dried slice some slivers off a garlic clove.  Get some rosemary stalks and abuse them almost any way that you can think of to get them pliable enough to easily wrap around the lamb chop.  Salt and pepper the chops, a little olive oil, wrap the edge of the chops with the garlic, rosemary (or a combo of herbs) and the blanched strip of leek on the outside holding it all together.  Secure it with a wet (so it won’t burn) bamboo skewer (tough, but you’ll get it) and let them sit in the fridge for a few hours to absorb the flavors.  Grill them on each side until they’re done.  Nice presentation, good flavor.  Lamb with a rice mixture on the side, always nice.  And at the end of the meal we pay homage to Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse. 

This was a pretty relaxed meal for meal; one very good friend, one lovely wife and one at home chefy.  I like to think that we sat out on the deck that night and watched the fireflies dance.



Paella on the Cape with Linguiҫa


Well, What Do You Pack For Vacation?

Bonnie packs for our Cape vacations the night before we’re leaving.  I on the other hand, being who I am, start planning and packing weeks before.  Of course she can pack the night before; all that she has to take care of is her stuff.  She doesn’t have to think about the COOKING.  Nor is she concerned about the LIQUOR.  Bonnie says, and rightly so, that all that we need is at the house that we rent or is available for purchase.  Still, that doesn’t deter me in the slightest from stuffing our station wagon to the bursting point.

Bonnie’s not going to cook when she’s up there and even when we’re at home she’s not giving any thought to the KNIVES.  Knowing me as only a brother can, one of my brothers and his wife gifted Bonnie with her very own set of knives for her birthday.  The inspiration for this present probably came from an incident where upon my finding a knife of MINE, that she had used, on the kitchen counter one day I left a note beside it that read, “This is MY knife”.  After we ‘talked’ I never left a note like that again. I have adopted the attitude that if a knife is ruined, we will simply purchase a new knife.  For vacation my knives and sharpening steel go with me.

While on vacation we take joy in the fact that we have the time to sit around and have several cups of coffee while reading newspapers and books.  The morning coffee requires that we bring with us not only whole coffee beans, but the grinder and our coffee maker.  I mean really, I know how this combo works to make a great cup of coffee.  How on earth could I rely on someone else’s coffee maker and, God in heaven they don’t have a bean grinder and I couldn’t possibly pre-grind those beautiful beans!  Early on in our travels to the Cape I suggested that we bring our well water with us.  I was talked out of this.  Several years ago Bonnie sat me down and gently opined that perhaps we could experiment just this once.  We could leave the coffee maker and grinder at home, pre-grind the beans, use the coffee maker that’s in the house and see how this works out.  After some experimentation with the settings on the rental coffee maker it did work out – the resultant coffee was in fact acceptable.   Chalk one up for Bonnie.  Maybe I should listen to her more often – na.

OK, the coffee bean grinder and coffee maker are now left at home, but I’ve got my knives. Not only do I have my knives, I have my lobster pot (a canning kettle that Mom used to preserve tomatoes in), my 14 inch skillet, a 10 inch skillet and a small sauté pan.

The lobster pot is special to me, as it was used by Mom and is probably around 50 years old.  It’s so thin in spots, and almost rusted, that I swear I could put my finger through it, but it still holds together.    It’s thin steel with a blue ‘granite’ finish. I invert the wire mesh canning rack that comes with this and it allows me to steam the lobsters instead of boiling them.  Even a three pound lobster will fit without squishing.  It still has the label on it, shredded but there, ”Federal Cold Pack Canner and Utility Pot, Federal Enameling and Stamping Co., Pittsburgh, PA., U.S.A.”   You’ve seen this pot, you may have one.  Everybody in the 1950’s had one of these – or a whole set of them.  Ah, sweet childhood.

Also packed are my pepper grinder, salts, oils, various spices and herbs – OH, and the canning tongs, canning funnel, scale, pectin, cheese cloth and two dozen eight ounce canning jars for starters.

  Can you imagine the station wagon filling up?

Can you imagine that Bonnie has given up on trying to change this after so many years? 

       I’m still not done.

    Butter, Arborio rice, my olive wood handled cork screw (a gift from Bonnie), two good steaks to interrupt the seafood menu, saffron and a mallet to break shells to make stock.

We bring some changes of clothes, a guitar, our own pillows and lots of books.  There, now the station wagon is stuffed.  Some folks might find the list excessive, but I figure I’m on vacation and ain’t nothing stopping me from the joy of cooking.

The Cape


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