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Archive for June, 2010

As summer gets underway, I hope to have many adventures to write about here.  Back in the spring, a friend of mine made a plan to take a trip out to the Boston Harbor Islands.  As it happened, our outing coincided with the visit of two more friends and their young daughter, so our exploring party included 4 adults and 1 almost-kindergartener.   I had never been to any of the Harbor Islands before, despite living in the Boston area for 13 years.  Despite the fact that we chose a day that ended up being mostly cloudy and partly rainy, we had a very nice time, and I highly recommend visiting the islands.

We first took the ferry to Georges Island, home of Fort Warren.

Though labeled 1850, the fort was not completed until 1861.  It was used in the Civil War primarily to house prisoners of war.  It was decommissioned in 1947.  You can explore much of the fort and grounds, including the demilunes (cresent shaped outworks), some interior rooms of the pentagonal fort, the gun emplacements, and the powder magazine.

Looks like there were recently many trees and plants growing atop the fort.

Only a few of the windows still have their lovely shutters.

An old fuse box, hanging damaged inside the fort.

Gun emplacements atop Fort Warren

My attempt at a sort of artsy photo.

There were a ton of barn swallows all over Georges.  As we walked the grounds, they swooped around us, and we even saw some nesting inside the fort.  While walking around the fort, I also taught 5 year-old E how to suck the nectar from clover blossoms, which she proceeded to do throughout the day.  🙂  After exploring Fort Warren, it was beginning to rain, so we found a picnic table somewhat sheltered by trees for our picnic lunch.  While we were munching, E declared that she would “have to remember this fun day tomorrow.”  After lunch, E enjoyed climbing one of the trees, and then we did some beach combing, finding shells, seaweed, sea glass, shards of pottery, and a bit of less attractive harbor detritus. It was raining pretty hard at this point, so we got quite wet, but it was just warm enough to keep us from being uncomfortable.

E smelling roses at the edge of the fort's parade grounds. These were the only roses we saw on the island, except some wild beach roses; I wonder when they were planted and by whom.

You can just see the dark feathers of a barn swallow in its nest above some old pipes.

E had fun climbing the tree next to the picnic table where we ate lunch.

We then hopped on the ferry to Spectacle Island.  Brochures and guides to the islands recommend that you only try to visit one or two of the islands in a day.  We actually didn’t have a choice, since the ferries that serve the other islands don’t start running until late June (this weekend, in fact.)  I hope to visit some more Harbor Islands this summer, particularly Little Brewster, which has a lighthouse you can tour.  You can even camp on some of the islands, which would be nifty.

Spectacle Island has kind of an odd and humble history.  It is composed of two drumlins (hills created by glacial activity), once connected by a thin spit of land.  In the 1800’s the island had a horse rendering facility and a factory where grease was extracted from trash.   I guess it was smart to locate such unsavory plants on an island 4 miles out in the harbor, but it must have been extremely smelly for the workers who lived on the island.  Even after those operations shut down the island was used as a dump, and some of the garbage supposedly smoldered and added toxic runoff to Boston Harbor.   Excess dirt from the Big Dig was used to cover the garbage and enlarge the area connecting the two hills.  Plants and paths were added to the newly shaped island, and it opened to the public in 2006, complete with a beach and lovely visitor center.

Mosaic on the wall of the visitor's center, made of sea glass and pottery found on the island

Looking over the harbor at the Boston skyline from the top of Spectacle Island.

We walked/hiked up to the top of the south drumlin, which is one of the highest points in Boston Harbor and affords gorgeous views of Boston, the islands, and out to sea.  Our view was somewhat diminished by the clouds and fog, but it was still a wonderful sight.

D and K reading one of the placards at the top of the hill that identifies the landmarks you can see from that vantage point.

More of the Harbor Islands, as viewed from the top of Spectacle

Along the paths, we saw pretty wildflowers and loads of sumac.  As we headed down the hill, we also saw a bird, probably a plover of some sort, that appeared to be feigning injury to lure us away from its nest.  It would hold out a wing and hop a few feet, waiting for us to follow before moving further ahead.  It led us on this way for maybe 100 feet, before taking flight and heading back to where we presume the nest must have been.  Very cool.   After another hunt for pretty pebbles, shells, and sea glass on the beach (E filled her pockets), we caught the ferry back to Boston.

The islands have a lot of events in the summer and fall, from nature tours and concerts to a hot dog eating contest and a chowder fest, so there should be something to draw just about anyone out into the harbor.  Most of the islands have trails, some have beaches for swimming, and, as I noted above, some have campsites.  It’s definitely worth the trip, and I am glad I finally went.  I owe my friend, A, for being the instigator for this outing.

Incidentally, I definitely need practice working with a blog layout.  I spent way too long formatting and placing the photos in this post, only to discover that the way I was trying to make things look simply didn’t work with the theme I am using and everything looked wonky and was hard to read.  I went back and fixed things, but that means that all the photos are arranged vertically, which seems inefficient and a little boring visually.  Anyone know how enough about WordPress to teach me how I can show photos side by side without the text wrapping?

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Yesterday, my wanderings took me to the local farmer’s market.  Here in New England, the local produce is just getting going, so there wasn’t a lot on display – mostly lettuces and some early strawberries.  There were some lovely radishes that caught my eye, though.  Clearly, my mindset about food has changed over recent years, since I used to dislike radishes.  I don’t think I have eaten them in anything but salad in recent years, and haven’t particularly enjoyed them, but the ones at the market were just so pretty, that I decided to pick them up and see if I would like them.  There were two varieties on display, one that looked like standard radishes, and the ones I chose, which were elongated and ranged from a bright magenta at the tops to white at the root end, and the seller said they are sweeter than most radishes.  Remembering that I had some yukon gold potatoes at home that needed to be used, I thought the radishes, with their crunch and bite, might be a nice complement in a potato salad.  I wanted to add another component to the imagined dish, and decided to pick up one of the small bunches of tender, young arugula from the farmer’s market, too.  The arugula and radishes totaled $3.50.  Sweet.

Here’s how the salad came together and turned out:

First, I chopped the potatoes into bite-sized (or so) pieces.  This was 4 smallish potatoes.  I cooked them in salted, boiling water, until they were tender but not mushy.  Then I let them cool completely, because I didn’t want the arugula to wilt when I assembled the salad.

Here are the arugula and radishes, washed and ready to be chopped.  I sliced the radishes fairly thin.  Sadly, my photo of the sliced radishes didn’t turn out well, but they were just as pretty sliced as they were whole, with subtle starbursts and rings in the white flesh.  A taste test proved that they were definitely a sweeter radish with a very subtle bite and a nice crunch.  The arugula I simply chopped perpendicular to the stems into pieces about a half-inch wide.  Since the arugula was pretty young, it was very tender.

(Sorry for the blurry photo.)  Here you can see all the ingredients, ready to be mixed.  The jar holds the dressing I made.  I had envisioned a yogurt dressing, but discovered that the yogurt in my fridge was… past its prime, so I had to come up with Plan B.  I really wanted something creamy to balance the sharper notes of radish and arugula, but mayo just didn’t seem right for this salad.  Instead I used a little sour cream (probably a little over a tablespoon) and added olive oil, champagne vinegar, a bit of dijon mustard, and salt and pepper.  I opened the spice drawer, and between instinct and smell, decided to throw in some dill and tarragon – I think the tarragon was the key here.  I shook it all up in the jar to emulsify it and tasted it to check the flavor.

Then I tossed everything together in a bowl, and boy did it look pretty, all pale gold, green, and pink.

I think it tastes just as good as it looks, too.  It’s light and springy, but substantial enough to be satisfying.  As you can tell from the photos, the proportions of the ingredients are very different from most potato salads.  That was partly due to the amounts of what I had on hand, but also because I like to work as many veggies into my dishes as I can.  Plus, my vision for this dish was more about the radishes and greens than the potatoes.

I hope to have the salad for lunch tomorrow.  I suspect the arugula may wilt a little from the dressing, but it might be hardy enough to stand up to it.  It should still taste good, regardless, but the recipe will be a real success if it works to make in advance.

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