Long, hot summer days are an ideal time to spend at the farm. The corn is high and the soybean fields are dark green and heavy with leaves. A quiet calm hangs heavily in the air around 5 P.M, hushing the crickets and birdsong and faraway buzzing of tractors that hums all day long. The sun starts to sink and every acre is burnished with gold.
I particularly love that hour leading up to dusk. The day is finished and you've filled it with enough activity to make sinking into a chair feel very, very good. There is a dinner to look forward to. Best of all, it's cocktail hour!
We spent most of Labor Day weekend outside. Nothing is urgent, but we do what feels good in the moment. We do these things:
Hang the laundry on the clothesline, so the fabric feels crisp and warm after drying in the summer sun.
Take a wickedly hilly run through back roads, ending up at a little general store 12 miles away where my dad picks us up, exhausted and sweaty and happy, and drives us home.
Feed the pigs. They heave themselves to their feet and amble slowly towards the trough when they see my mom coming towards their pasture.
Watch the US Open matches all together at night after dinner in our big open living room, lying on the couch, feet up, head against my sister's shoulder.
Gather as many cherry tomatoes as I can pick from the garden. The tomato plants are hot in the sun and so heavy with fruit that they've started to bend over and collapse to the soil. I forget a bowl so I use my shirt instead. Improv!
Each night, my parents choose an ever-changing spot on the farm, like the hill overlooking the ponds, the back porch, or the field up by the new barn. Chairs and a bottle of wine are brought out, and they share a little time with no distractions: just conversation.
Keeping this hour sacred -- no phones, no books, just us -- makes me look forward to it even more. Afterwards we come in for dinner. Last weekend we had chilled salmon with tzatziki sauce, my mom's version of chicken cacciatore (with tomatoes, onions, and white wine), and big leafy salads.
The kitchen at home is always overflowing with excellent leftovers; open the fridge and you might find a small slice of chiffon cake layered with whipped cream and peaches, or a bowl of nutty brown rice, or cold vegetable soup. In the freezer? Frozen buttermilk waffles tucked behind oatmeal cookies and some forgotten chocolate biscotti.
On Saturday evening, we all find ourselves in the kitchen just before cocktail hour. My sisters and I have gotten a bottle of Prosecco to make Kir Royales -- it's my parent's 34th wedding anniversary and we're celebrating. I'm making a batch of cheese puffs to have with our drinks. I'm cooking on one side of the island, and my mom is on the other.
She's made 3 loaves of her excellent white sandwich bread earlier and has leftover dough. Instead of making a fourth loaf, she rolls the extra dough out into a thin rectangle. A layer of grated cheese goes on top, then she rolls it up into a long cylinder. She slices it into rounds and places them on their side on a baking sheet. They bake up into pretty spiraled rolls laced with gooey cheese.
This dough can easily go sweet or savory. If you don't want to use cheese, try it with a cinnamon sugar filling or chopped dark chocolate for a dessert roll. Any cheese would work, as would adding some herbs in with the grated cheese.
1 package active dry yeast
2 1/2 cups warm water
1 teaspoon sugar
2 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup honey
3-4 cups all-purpose flour
For the filling: grated cheese, cinnamon sugar, or chopped chocolate, plus enough softened butter to grease the dough
Dissolve the yeast in 1/2 cup of warm water in a small bowl (it should not be lukewarm, not hot! If it is too hot, it will kill the yeast) with the sugar. Let it stand for a few minutes -- the mixture should bubble.
To a large bowl, add the yeast mixture. Add the remaining 2 cups of warm water, the salt, and the honey. Mix well.
Add enough flour to make very soft dough (not dry enough to be kneaded). It will feel very sticky but should come together as a cohesive dough and not be liquidy. The flour amount is very hard to measure -- you need to do this by feel -- so keep adding 1/2 cup at a time until you are at the right consistency. You'll add more of the flour later.
To the dough, add the softened butter a little bit at a time, mixing it in with a wooden spoon or your fingers as you go. It's okay if the butter isn't fully incorporated into the dough.
Now add enough flour to make a dough that you can knead.
Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured surface and knead it for 5 minutes. This feels like a long time! But it's important. Good arm workout, too.
Place the dough into a lightly greased large bowl and cover it lightly with a damp towel or plastic wrap. Let it rise for about an hour. It should double in size.
Deflate the dough gently and turn it out onto a lightly floured surface. Divide the dough into four equal pieces. Stretch and roll each piece into a large rectangle (about 11" x 8"). Spread a very thin layer of softened butter over the dough. Top the dough with whatever filling you want: grated cheese, or cinnamon sugar, or chopped chocolate.
Roll the dough away from you (length-wise) into a tight spiral. Slice the dough into 1 1/2" pieces and place the pieces onto a baking sheet. Cover the rolls loosely with plastic wrap and let them rise for at least 30 minutes.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Once the rolls have risen a second time, bake them for about 20 minutes. They might take longer: Keep an eye on them and remove them when they start to brown and the cheese bubbles.
Remove from the oven and let cool.