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Posts Tagged ‘Ocean Grove’

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My life since Thursday has been a blurry flurry of appointments, a steady regimen of eye drops, and cavorting nose-to-screen with my laptop after having corrective eye surgery. There’s a certain degree of weepiness and photo-sensitivity with the territory, like yesterday, when I looked as though I’d just emerged from an E.T./Schindler’s List double-header. And the sharpness of my vision keeps fluctuating while my eyes heal, making it take twice as long to write anything.

But it’s all cool. Spending 20 some-odd years backstage, in darkness or near-darkness, prepped me well to trust my other senses. I made spanakopita and lemon curd pretty much by instinct. And today my vision’s pretty decent. To celebrate, this evening I put on my wide sunglasses (to block the wind and dust) and rode to Ocean Grove for my first cone of the season. I have a system and everything.

  1. I go to Days, a 140-year-old, seafoam-green, outdoor ice-cream-garden, for its utter beauty and peace.
  2. I let myself have as many cones as I like in a summer, *provided* I ride my bike (about 2.5 miles distance).
  3. I go at night; ice cream has always been a post-dinner thing, and judging by how long the line gets every night after 7:30, it’s not just me.
  4. I get a kiddie cone (they call it a ‘short shot’).
  5. I sit on the steps to people-watch and eat.

No one waiting in line for ice cream is ever in a bad mood. The news lately has been appalling. No matter. People of every conceivable age and background are there, they are not thinking about the debacle du jour, and they are happy. In an ice-cream line is a good place to be.

Tonight I read the selections through the big glass window as I always do. It was blurry, but I still made it out, with no glasses or contacts. This is miraculous for a girl who’s been wearing glasses since 1979 and contacts since 1982.

I got a scoop of Key Lime Pie on a sugar cone. And I sat in peace enjoying it, as the old normal cavorted with the new normal.

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Votive during Hurricane Sandy, on the first night with no power.

Contrasts that work together seamlessly—this is one of the love affairs I have with the world.

The darkness makes the light beautiful.

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Incandescent bulbs glow at Days in Ocean Grove, NJ. They have been serving ice cream in a dreamy and romantic setting since 1876.

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Tide pool reflecting sunset, Loch Arbour, NJ.

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Eggs in light and shadow.

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Clipped maple branches in a winter shaft of light. Emily Dickinson would approve.

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Maple leaf and grass, just after sunrise.

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Sourdough toast and melting butter, late afternoon.

It’s when the sun heads to the other side of the globe and darkness takes the wheel—that’s when the light really pops. We don’t get to see this when the summer sun floods our vision. Compare summer’s ubiquitous light to the drama of a late-fall afternoon—thick, gunpowder-grey clouds balancing on the tops of the trees, when POW a slant of sunlight gleams through…I kind of live for that beauty.

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When I was a kid in art class, I loved when the teacher had us draw a picture in crayon, using only the brightest colors, and then paint right on top of it in solid black tempera paint, all the way to the edges of the paper. Once the paint was dry, we were given toothpicks to use to scratch away the paint in any design we liked. And we watched the colors beneath our swirls and scribbles emerge, psychedelic. (It was the ’70s; we had a standard to uphold.)

*

Being backstage during a performance means being in very little light. There’s some ambient light from the stage, but the only steady light is the blue glow from one or two clip lights and from the monitor with a live feed of the conductor (for the actors to watch for tempo). I cast the light from my Mag down at an actor’s shoe as he’s trying to tie it and dash on within two measures, and cast it up again to affix mic tape to the side of another actor’s face, and see the relief on her face when we attach it in time. Backstage is dangerous with moving people and parts, we techs navigating 300-lb. units through narrow spaces and with split-second accuracy, but that little bit of light against all of that darkness and danger is especially beautiful. Strange, right? Or maybe I just love the work.

*

In the house where I grew up there were windows on either side of the balcony. I never paid attention to them until Christmastime. We had small floodlights positioned on the side lawn, focused on the Christmas tree, and some of that chilly yellow-white light was cast sideways through the windows. I remember how otherworldly it looked in the black night, in a snowfall.

*

How many new stories are, and were, told now? How many ideas are brewed, theories proven, recipes tested and tasted, moments of enlightenment reached, during the dark months? Up against firelight, stove light, lamplight, candlelight? I’m thinking quite a few, and I’m thinking it’s because now we have the right stark physical backdrop to throw the ideas up against, and to test their merit. Bright light diffuses the edges of things.┬áIt’s against darkness that we can see dimension and shape.

*

There might be a point to the turn of the year beyond the science of the seasons; it might be the universe giving us the opportunity to see things with a new perspective, and gain a new understanding of them. Maybe this time is not about darkness and cold and loss. Maybe it’s a shot at a different brand of wisdom.

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I just discovered that the edges of a crab apple leaf are the exact same red as the fruit they’ll produce in the fall. Isn’t that the coolest? Foreshadowing!

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You all know I can’t get enough of the outdoors. This time of year there are so many new things to see, and many of them tiny things, so you kinda have to look.

If you do, and if you live in an area that doesn’t over-manicure open spaces (as I do, sing hosanna), you might find one or more of the little wildflowers that once carpeted all of the outdoors in May. They’re called spring ephemerals, and in the very small town where I grew up, they mainly grow on the quietest, shadiest street along the lake. Most of the trees there are original and thus are enormous, but enormous. That spot feels like a forest to which people happened to add some houses. Little woodland flowers pop up on roadsides, near the mossy banks, and right on people’s lawns. They don’t know that the town was settled almost a hundred years ago. I find this incredibly comforting, especially as time goes by. It’s something we can count on, something silent and resilient and beautiful that never fails.*

I’m having very little success finding out the names of most of the flowers there. Can anyone help me out?

These first I know: white violets. (Sometime I’m going to find seeds for the variety that has a sweet scent. My girl Laura Ingalls Wilder, who grew up in the western part of the U.S., talks so fondly of them in her books.)

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The below ephemerals are edged in palest purple, with white on the inside.

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These have the form and color of a grape hyacinth, with blossoms shaped like lilies-of-the-valley.

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These are pure white and grow in clumps. I had to sneak onto the Schwartz family’s lawn to take this shot. Shhh now.

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Another clump of the above was growing a little farther down the street, and I pulled over to shoot them as well. When I did, an elderly gentleman with a big smile walked over and asked what I was doing. Of course I was terribly taken aback at his question, as most normal people routinely 1) both see and 2) stop the car to crouch in the dirt so they can shoot seven white flowers growing on the side of the road. He shook my hand with his big hand and said his name was Fred. He asked the name of the flowers, and all I could say was they’re ephemerals. But along with living in a not-overly-manicured area, I also love having conversations with neighbors in the middle of the street about wildflowers, the neighbor’s precious patch of lilies-of-the-valley, and the dangers of overgrown ivy.

Heading inside. I’m getting hungry, for a change.

I bought the below this morning from a farmer who lives about five miles away. Weathered face, weathered hands, big crinkly grin. The asparagus posed for the picture just before going onto the cookie sheet and into the oven at 350 for half an hour. Just took them out, and the house smells all green.

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The below was a surprising triumph (except for the crust. You can see it’s way, way too heavy.). The topping came out exactly right even though I totally winged the amount of sugar I added to the rhubarb. Underneath was my vanilla custard. Good breakfast choice.

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Hello, whoops, back outside again. Six hungry little girls watching the crowds at the car show today in Ocean Grove. I love that they’re sitting shoulder to shoulder, like sisters, and I love that they all have on new flip flops. All different colors, no less—left to right, they’re purple, blue, yellow, orange, pink, and green.

Hoping your May is as colorful, as close, and as sweet as theirs.

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*You know the song Edelweiss, featured in The Sound of Music? Edelweiss were not just flowers to Captain von Trapp; they were a brave and constant symbol of everything he loved about his home. They were his home. The spring ephemerals are my edelweiss.

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As the days begin to lengthen, the cold begins to strengthen. Right now it’s 12 degrees F at the New Jersey Shore, and everyone on Facebook is comparing our temperature to that of Anchorage, AK (32F) and Davis Station, Antarctica (31F). It’s totally whack.

I’ve been staying warm working backstage which, with the stage lights lending their colorful gusto, is about 85 degrees. Outside, the ice has been a femme-fatale combo platter of treacherous and strikingly beautiful. Most people don’t stoop to take pictures of the snowflakes trapped in the ice at the bottom of their driveways.

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But I’m not most people.

And a recent fire destroyed some of the stores and homes in Ocean Grove. I did my laundry in the laundromat a few doors down. It was intact, but smelled strongly of smoke. People did what they did when 9/11 struck and when Hurricane Sandy struck: wandered a little, stunned; collected provisions for those who has lost their own; and cleaned up. Water from the fire hoses froze in the trees in the foreground—an eerily beautiful counterpoint to the burned debris behind them.

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And I’ve been in the kitchen, for a change. I love Valentine’s Day, and filled orders for European-style chocolate truffles (55% semisweet Ghirardelli chocolate, cream, and sweet butter rolled in cocoa powder or topped with fleur de sel). I am told hearts were warmed, which makes me happy.

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And I made marzipan. The candy hearts were sold at The Flaky Tart in the Atlantic Highlands, NJ.

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The Japanese maple branches and dragonflies (detail below) were pitches for Confections of a Rock$tar in Asbury Park…

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…along with a little (2″) dinosaur egg. This little guy warms my heart, as he did for the shop proprietor. Hey, it’s almost hatching season.

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Finley imagining the possibilities.

I know, the most famous great equalizers are death and taxes, but let’s not be gruesome. It’s still summer, after all. No, I’m talking ice cream.

Ice cream may be the one thing everyone can agree on. Amazing, really, how all demographics love it—babies, old-timers, thirty-somethings. Even those with strict dietary restrictions still eat it, whether they really ought to or not. One 4th of July I witnessed a group of heart transplant patients downing bowls of the highest-fat, homemade stuff, their mates watching, lips pursed, tut-tutting at them. But the spouses didn’t stop them. Maybe it was because they understood that, like it or not, ice cream is something everyone actually needs once in a while. Let’s face it—no eats ice cream because they’re hungry.

So why do we eat it? Why do we crave it, body and soul? I think a combination of factors are in play: it’s cooling (lovely in the summertime); it’s sweet (a rare find in nature); it’s full of fat (again, rare in nature) which makes it feel luxurious and indulgent (and who doesn’t like to feel special?).

Also—and maybe most importantly—since we’ve all eaten it for as long as we can remember, it evokes childhood memories. And they’re usually happy ones. My own include trips to Carvel with my family after dinner most summer nights. To this day, I think of ice cream as a nighttime thing.*

When I was a kid, I went through ice-cream phases in which I got the same thing every time for weeks on end. First it was brown bonnet cones, soft vanilla ice cream quickly enshrouded in chocolate goo, which solidified to a candy shell on contact. Then it was soft vanilla in a cup topped with Bing cherries. During my overweight/painfully self-conscious teen years, it was Carvel’s Thinny-Thin. As unsatisfying as it sounds, but better than nothing. At the Beach Plum, where they made their ice cream on site, I got Straw Cheese (strawberry cheesecake) or blueberry, which had fresh blueberries mixed with vanilla ice cream. Incredible.

Last week my friend Lauren and the cuties above and below joined me for ice cream at Days in Ocean Grove. For years now this has been my favorite place to get ice cream, for the yummy stuff itself and for the entire experience.

Shane and Finley, with post-ice cream happy faces and sticky hands.

Days is also the town favorite, especially after evening shows at the Great Auditorium just across the lawn. The ice cream is high in fat, which you know as well as I do translates to big flavor and wonderful mouth feel. The patrons know it too, as evidenced by the long line of people you see below waiting to get in.**

The atmosphere at Days is calming, nostalgic and cozy, much like the whole town, which feels as though Rodgers and Hammerstein were on the original planning board. Days was established in the late 1800s. It features bentwood chairs and gleaming dark wood tables. The seating area is outdoors, roofed in most areas, and its tall windows are always open to allow the ocean breezes as well as the ice cream to cool you. A antique fountain bubbles in the middle, among the plants. Forgoing harsh neon lights and signs, to this day, Days is happily, entirely illuminated by light bulbs. At night it glows like a giant birthday cake and smells as sweet.

Once the sun goes down, locals and vacationers begin to amble over to stand in line—sun soaked, clad in loose faded t shirts, bikini tops, flip flops, hair freshly rinsed of salt water and slicked down, laughing, and very, very relaxed. Neighbors share adventures of the day with neighbors; newcomers chat with returning patrons about whose kids are starting kindergarten and about the virtues of Coppertone Babies lotion.

Parents of the tiniest children hold them up to the glass counter to see the choices. Teenagers love chocolate chip mint cones and sundaes with piles of whipped cream. Older folks get dishes of their favorites from childhood. The proprietor tells me that on nights of the immensely popular Doo-Wop shows, whose audiences are Baby Boomers, he always puts out classics like rum raisin and pistachio and butter pecan.

If all of this sounds like a page out of 1926, or out of Grimms’ Fairy Tales, it’s not. We’re all lucky that it’s not. And even better: we know we’re lucky.

A vintage sign and scoop.

I shot the below scene last Saturday night at around 10:30. Click on it to enlarge and see how many ages are represented.

There’s something comforting about eating a timeless treat at a venue that’s older than all of us.

For the past few years I’ve been partial to ice cream with a lot of stuff in it. Texture, lumps and bumps. My current favorite, two years running, is the below—peanut butter moose tracks. Peanut butter ice cream with peanut butter ripples and chunks woven throughout, and studded here and there tiny peanut butter cups. In other words, my pipe dream.

A new contender, chocolate midnight cookie, is vying for its place, though. No matter. Choosing a favorite ice cream is one of the happier dilemmas in life, I’d say.

*Which is not to say that if someone offered it to me during the day that I’d fight them off with a stick.

**The line you see in the photo was only half of it, by the way. If you go, go on the early side.

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I have two vices: really good-quality dark chocolate and old books. used book stores, book sales, kneeling on the lawn at a yard sale and looking through cardboard boxes, kicking up the smell of basement and attic.

today was the ocean grove (NJ) ladies’ auxiliary book sale. it’s held every july in front of the century-old great auditorium, under the shade of the equally-old pavilion. books, videos and magazines, 3 for a dollar. smiling snowy-haired ladies in bright polos and white slacks sell pork roll sandwiches, hot dogs and peanut m&ms to bring in a little extra money. other ladies sit at a folding table with a battered cash box and ask if you need a bag.

it takes a whole morning to look through fiction, non-fiction, hobbies and travel. a sub-category of my old-book vice is cookbooks, usually out-of-print ones, so that’s where I head first. I love the old promotional booklets that brer rabbit molasses and all-bran cereal sold to housewives for pennies in the 1940s, with their charming words of advice and homey recipes. a chicken pot pie recipe suggests using an old hen, saying it will have the best flavor. others encourage women who learned to cook at their mother’s knee to take up fannie farmer’s newfangled system of standard measurements. some booklets seem to be easing women into what must have been an uncomfortable practice, asking for 3/4 cup flour here, a butter lump the size of an egg there. we take standard measurements for granted today, but the notion must have been felt blasphemous for our grandmothers and great-grandmothers; from the beginning of time cooking had been accomplished by practice, by eye, by feel, and by intuition.

most of the treasures in my cookbook collection were found at this annual book sale. I’ve learned that one of the best ways to get under the skin of a country is to eat its food, and the cooking of the british isles (adrian bailey, 1969), part of a time-life book series, is a great example. an anglophile, I cheer when bailey defends his nation’s cuisine, insisting that those who dislike it must indulge in authentic regional british home cooking, especially the ritual of tea. scotch woodcock sounded intriguing to me, so recently I made it. toast and lavishly butter a slice of white bread, and on it spread a layer of anchovy paste. top that with very, very gently-cooked scrambled eggs. it was so delicious, so indulgent, that I laughed out loud. everything worked together brilliantly: crisp and soft textures, saltiness, richness.

the organic living book (bernice kohn, 1972), was written during the back-to-earth movement and is a calm, but earnest, read. in it must have been one of the first definitions of what it meant to eat organically, along with pleas for a national recycling program. how to compost, how to bake bread and make yogurt (the latter of which was considered distasteful at the time) from scratch, and how to read food labels are included. sometime I’m going to try kohn’s american indian recipe for tea made by steeping young sassafras roots. maybe this fall.

it was two summers ago that I found a book written by laurie colwin, whom gourmet magazine eulogized so lovingly in an article in the 90s. a novelist and occasional food writer, I had never read any of her work, so I picked up home cooking (1988). I have since gobbled it, over and over, laughing at her chutzpah and salivating at her no-nonsense recipes.

american cooking (dale brown [who is still writing, by the way], 1968), another time-life series book, features the incredible strawberry shortcake recipe made by his grandmother, a farm wife. (see the post ‘shivering with anticip…ation’ for the recipe.) it also illustrates with photography and recipes the wonderful diversity of our culinary heritage, and is eerily accurate in predicting irradiation and genetic engineering. brown’s looking forward to these practices, which he believes promise an exciting future in food. it’s the only content within those pages that makes me cringe.

today I found yet another time-life series book, the cooking of scandinavia (also dale brown, 1968) and the williamsburg cookbook (the colonial williamsburg foundation, 1975). williamsburg has some extraordinary dishes; their game pie has haunted me since I first had it ten years ago. when I leafed through the index and saw it, tears actually came to my eyes. well, it has duck, venison, rabbit and slab bacon cooked in port wine and currant jelly. I couldn’t help it. this fall, definitely.

Strawberry shortcake, an old recipe from a New York State farmer's wife, circa 1930s.

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