The end of summer is upon us, and after what was such a short summer season here, weather-wise. No, it's not officially the autumnal equinox yet, but Labor Day weekend is over - the symbolic end of summer. The kids have gone back to school, it's no longer appropriate to wear white shoes, and the air has turned crisp.
For the long weekend, pretty much everyone I knew was in Vermont, either for the Green Mountain Stage Race or for a weekend of mountain biking at Kingdom Trails. Todd and I opted to stay home having just been away and spent money on a vacation to Oregon. Our friends, Howie and Elizabeth, also decided to remain in Massachusetts and invited us to their home in Merrimacport for an overnight stay. They just moved there last year to a gorgeous and cozy home right across from the river. I have often joked to them that if they ever need someone to house-sit that I'd love to come do it since it would feel like a vacation. When they invited us to stay over they said we would get the B&B treatment, and they took this very seriously!
We came up Saturday afternoon and started things off by getting drinks and walking over to a dock to chill riverside while the sun was getting ready to set. After that, we were treated to a most amazing dinner of grilled flank steak (? I really don't know my meats) cooked to perfection by Howie; sauteed whole small carrots; grilled asparagus and potatoes; and (drum roll please) a most delectable beet tart that was clearly not something one could just whip together at a moments notice. This was a labor of love. Dinner was followed by truffle, tea, and conversation on the porch.
In the morning we were greeted in the kitchen and offered several different breakfast options. Since I have yogurt and granola pretty much every morning of my life, this was very exciting. I opted for variety with waffles, fruit, omelet and oatmeal. Then, Eugene joined us and we headed out for a guided tour of the area by bike. We did a loop around the lake, then stopped back at the house for lunch. After refueling, we went back out towards Newburyport and made a few stops. One at a gallery where H&E had some of their artwork showing, and one at the gelato shop where I had the most delicious nutella flavored gelato. Have you noticed the eat, ride, eat, ride pattern? I work well on the "treat system" - ride and you will be rewarded with something tasty. We actually scoffed down some of the previous evenings leftovers when we finished!
There are so many things I admire about Elizabeth (no offense to Howie because he's pretty cool in his own right). She has many talents as an artist, she is graceful, she is actively and sincerely supportive of her friends' interests and endeavors, and she has a most calming presence, just to name a few. But, my favorite thing about her is her daily quest for beauty. She does this in regards to the simple and the more grand. It makes every experience with her all the more special. Whether she is choosing a path on which to take our bikes, or putting a bowl of fruit together, she does so with the most aesthetically appealing option in mind. I'm guessing this is what makes her such a good artist. I thoroughly enjoy seeing things through her lens.
Even at our B&B stay, she took time to include little details that added to the whole experience. She put beautiful fresh flowers in our room, picked from her yard (I know my flowers about as well as I know my meats); she put an "M" (for Michele) made from thyme branches on top; and when we left, she assembled a bunch of flowers to take home wrapped in newspaper and a gold tie.
Like I said, it's always a special experience for me when I spend time with Elizabeth, but, unfortunately it does not happen enough. So, now, when alone and looking to make certain choices, I find myself wondering, what would Elizabeth do? Which path would she take? Perhaps this will allow me to incorporate a little more beauty into my life.
Elizabeth's Beet Tart
Crust (makes enough dough for 2 crusts)
2 1/2 cups all purpose flour, plus more for dusting
3 tblspns sugar
2 sticks unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 large egg yolks
1/4 cup ice water
1. In a food processor, mix flour and sugar til just combined. Add butter and process til it resembles course meal, about 10 seconds.
2. Lightly beat eggs yolk and water. With the processor running add yolk mixture in a steady stream until dough holds together. Do not process more than 30 seconds.
3. Turn out dough onto a lightly floured work surface. Divide into two pieces. Put each on a piece of plastic wrap. Flatten and shape into discs. Wrap and put into refrigerator at least one hour or freeze for up to a month.
all purpose flour for dusting
1 1/2 disks of the flour recipe from above
1 1/2 lbs of red and golden beets (without greens)
2 tblspns extra virgin olive oil
1 lb goat cheese, softened to room temperature
4 oz ricotta cheese (scant 1/2 cup)
2 tspns finely chopped fresh thyme, plus about 1 tspn whole leaves
freshly ground pepper
1/2 cup freshly grated fontina cheese
1. Preheat oven to 375. On a lightly floured surface place 1 1/2 disks of the dough next to each other. Roll out to 1/8 inch thick. Press firmly into a 9X13 rimmed baking sheet, leaving a 1 inch over hang on all sides. Press edges of dough under to create a double thickness; press firmly against the pan. Prick dough with a fork. Refridgerate for 30 minutes.
2. Line shell with parchment or foil; fill with pie weights or dried beans. Bake until golden brown, about 30 minutes. Transfer to a wire rack, remove weights and parchment. Let shell cool completely. Leave oven on.
3. Trim all but 1/2 inch of stems from beets and rinse thoroughly. Toss with oil and 1 tspn salt. Transfer to a rimmed baking sheet and cover tight with foil. Roast until beets are tender 45-60 minutes. When cool enough to handle, peel beets with a paring knife and cut into thin rounds.
4. Raise oven temperature to 425. Stir together the goat cheese, ricotta and thyme until well blended. Season with pepper. Spread mixture over tart shell filling all the way to the edges.
5. Arrange beets over cheese mixture, overlapping slices slightly and alternating colors. Lightly season with salt. Sprinkle fontina and thyme leaves over the top. Lightly drizzle with oil and then season with salt and pepper. Bake until golden brown, about 25 minutes. Serve warm.