The Sounds Of Summer

10 Jul

With apologies to Simon & Garfunkel, at this time of year, darkness is my old friend.

Bird On A Wire

By the time I’m wrapping up my day at work, the building has shut off the a/c and I’ve been sitting at my desk, sweating from both effort and atmospherics, for on some days, over two hours. Leaving the sweltering confines of my cubicle and stepping out onto the half-lit, hurly-burly of lower Fifth Avenue feels refreshing.

Fly On A Fern

And by the time I step onto the by-comparison-silent sidewalks of Bay Ridge, the sun is nothing more than a spectacular neon bruise over Staten Island, bent into gaudy fractals by the evening’s weather pattern stomping across the harbor.

At The Top of Touch-Me-Not Mountain

The darkness makes it feel cooler, but it’s the sounds of the city settling into stillness that help erase the day’s woes. Let’s be honest, there are no sounds of silence anywhere in New York City. But stillness? Yes, stillness is something we can do. Stillness has a sound; many little noises melting into a gentle swell of quietness. Cats mewling for dinner, dogs yapping at planes, the Yankees game on my neighbor’s radio while she grills steaks for dinner, birds wishing each other good night, an easing of traffic, teenagers strolling hand-in-hand whispering as they head for home.


I’ve grown used to these noises and find them soothing. So it was a shock to arrive at our friends’ house in the Catskills on July 4th to the cacophony of the country; the rustlings and bustlings of animals settling in for the night, the whizzes and whistles of birds catching dinner, the humming and droning of mosquitoes, children giggling and screeching while chasing fireflies, dogs gossiping about the day’s events, thunder echoing off valley walls and finally, just past sundown, fireworks popping and booming in patriotic celebration of the day.

Shadows, Light

And what a revelation the morning was! What lies in a bird’s heart that makes it sing with such gusto and glee first thing in the morning? Is it the joy of seeing another sunrise? Happiness at being surrounded by so much greenery? The self realization that the ability to fly is a rare gift? It’s easy to be annoyed with birds in the summer, especially when one has gone to bed too late, full of the world’s most delicious barbecued pork ribs (seriously, better than any of the one’s I’ve ever managed to get here) and possibly one glass too many of rosé.  But one should never be annoyed with birds.


What was in reality little more than 40 hours in the country felt like days and days by the time Isaac and I packed up and headed out for a hike on our way home. We were relaxed and well fed and ready to face another week of daunting proportions.


We arrived home just as Brooklyn was settling in for the evening. I walked to the back of the apartment, opened the fire escape window and reached out into the stillness to pluck two tomatoes off my plant. They were small, but perfectly ripe. I also pinched-off two wee crowns of basil.

Yay! \'Maters!

And then we stood next to the sink, half a tomato each held in our hands, and ate them with a dusting of sea salt and a few tiny leaves of basil, in silence.

Head below the jump for the recipe for Mint & Arugula Pesto.

I did no actual cooking while in the Catskills, instead playing saucier to my friend’s competent grill mistress. If by chance you find yourself in a supermarket at any time this summer that has a special on beautiful lamb loin chops, buy them, grill them and make mint & arugula pesto to accompany them.

I originally developed this sauce to go with sautéed scallops, but have found that it is so good with, well, just about anything else, that I feel it’s worth bringing to your attention again in this simple variation, which adds arugula for kick.

Mint & Arugula Pesto

prep time: 10 minutes ~ cooking time: none!

  • 3 cloves Garlic, smashed and roughly minced
  • 1/2 Lemon, juiced and zested
  • handful Mint, washed and picked
  • handful of Arugula, washed and picked
  • Salt
  • Extra Virgin Olive Oil

Begin chopping the mint and arugula finely by placing them on a cutting board and working them over with your knife, in a rocking motion, until there are more little pieces than big pieces. At this point add the garlic and a few bits of zest and continue working the mixture until the leaves are mostly uniformly small and the bits of garlic and zest are finely minced.

Move the mixture to a bowl, add a pinch of salt, the lemon juice and a very large healthy glug of very good olive oil. Mix and set aside to macerate. Serve with grilled lamb, grilled radicchio, grilled fish, grilled sausages, grilled squash, grilled leeks, heck, grilled anything! Enjoy!


15 Responses to “The Sounds Of Summer”

  1. Jonathan July 10, 2008 at 8:46 am #

    man i’m relaxed just reading this post and looking at those pictures! sigh.

    no pine nuts in your pesto, huh?

  2. Ann July 10, 2008 at 10:08 am #

    In my old apartment my desk faced a window with a view of the Empire State Building. That view became a huge part of my daily life… the sun turning the building’s eastern plane red-gold in the early morning… the way the top sometimes peeks above a low-lying mist… and the way the entire skyline sometimes just disappears on a rainy day, leaving us in Brooklyn to wonder if Manhattan is still there. And of course, after September 11, seeing it lit after midnight was as reassuring as the night-light in my childhood bedroom. For me, all of the moods of the EMP are like the different types of city noise and silence you describe. I really miss that window and that view. If I crane my neck I can see the EMP from my bed, but it’s not the same. Having to remember to put myself in a position to look means it’s not a naturally occuring part of my life anymore.

    Lovely, lovely post on the hard-to-capture subtleties of urban living.

    And nice pesto, too!

  3. Terry B July 10, 2008 at 11:59 am #

    Beautiful, beautiful, beautiful, Ann! I love how you contrasted the noise of the city with that of the country. Stop me if I’ve already told you this one, but once when Marion and I returned from a week of camping on Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, we stopped at a grocery store in our Chicago neighborhood on the way home to pick up a few staples. I sat in the car with our camping stuff while Marion shopped. Horns were honking, sirens wailing, buses rumbling by and, somewhere in the distance, a boombox was blasting. Sitting there, I could just feel myself relaxing. I was home.

  4. Lydia (The Perfect Pantry) July 10, 2008 at 1:10 pm #

    Until I moved from city to country, I never realized that there is noise everywhere. The peeptoads, birds, bees, all make noises that I now find quite comforting. What is different, city to country, is the dark. Here in the country, when it gets dark, it’s not just a dark shade of light. It is black outside at night, and I find that incredibly soothing.

  5. Mary Coleman July 10, 2008 at 6:28 pm #

    Your pictures are lovely as usual.
    That mint and arugula pesto sounds simply divine. I think it would be magnificent with lamb!
    Great post.

  6. Julie July 10, 2008 at 7:26 pm #

    I just spoke with my sister who’s in the Adirondacks right now, although it wasn’t the quiet or lack of quiet that was the big topic, it was the temperature. She regaled me with tales of the 62 degree daytime high and the fact that she sleeps under a blanket every night. Quite a contrast to Baltimore where it’s 77 degrees at 9 pm. Your pictures certainly make the Adirondacks look cool and green and beautiful.

  7. EB July 11, 2008 at 10:42 am #

    What an absolutely beautiful post. As an urbanite myself I completely understand the need to find tranquility and quiet… and to appreciate it fully when found.

  8. Ann July 11, 2008 at 8:26 pm #

    WTF? EMP? And I wasn’t even drinking!

  9. ann July 12, 2008 at 7:59 am #

    Jonathan — Hi! Thanks, it was a very relaxing weekend. I usually use pinenuts in my basil pesto, but in this mint/arugula one, the focus is really on “zippiness” and I think the creaminess of the pinenuts would distract from that. But a few capers slipped in might be nice, and they’re almost the same shape!

    Ann — Hehe, I was going to let EMP slip by… I thought maybe it was your nickname, like, “Oh look! EMP is blue tonight.” LOL. Anyway… I used to have a cubicle on the 11th floor of a building in the 20s that overlooked the ESB. It was the best reward for working late. I would just sit and stare it it all the time. I loved, and simultaneously dreaded, watching it get hit by lightning during thunder storms. I miss that view so much.

    Terry — Thanks! That’s such a great story. I think its the animal “rustlings” that get to me sometimes in the country. It’s like, what are they doing?

    Lydia — Oh I do love “real” darkness. Its something I cherish. Sometimes I miss the stars.

    Mary — It’s so delicious on lamb, but I really think it shines when paired with fish. Its a real keeper.

    Julie — We’re headed to the ‘dacks again in two weeks! Thanks for the weather report ;-) I’m really looking forward to the chilly nights and stars. You should go visit your sister up there, it’s so beautiful!

    EB — Hear! Hear!

  10. Marusya July 12, 2008 at 2:15 pm #

    A lovely posting. I have just come back into the city from five weeks on an island in the Pacific Northwest. The contrast is surreal. I am grateful, yet sorrowful at the loss of the forest and birds and beaches. Your photos took me back…

  11. Rosemary Molloy July 14, 2008 at 8:38 am #

    Enjoyed your sojourn in the woods, but am here mostly to scout out your vegetable recipes. Was a tad disappointed to see the beet one starting with canned beets. It’s so easy to roast fresh and the superior flavor over canned–at the same time, subtle and emphatic–is evident. Thanks, though.

  12. Anne July 14, 2008 at 12:10 pm #

    “the sun is a bruise over Staten Island.” Love that.
    Congrats on eating food out of your garden. So exciting!

  13. ann July 14, 2008 at 3:47 pm #

    Marusya — Welcome back from your trip! It sounds delightful. I’m very happy I can help you hang onto that vacation feeling.

    Rosemary — Thanks so much for stopping by. But, please remember that the recipe you are referring to is probably older than you are and comes from my grandmother’s recipe that was published after the war. I have never deviated from her recipe, nor has my mother. It’s our heritage and we love it. I’m sure you can if you would like, but I’ve lived for more than 30 years on these pickled red beet eggs and love them just as they are.

    If you had looked deeper into my site, you would have found that I am a staunch supporter of roasting one’s own beets and of eating them at every opportunity. There’s multiple recipes across the site for a variety of ways to eat beets. Pasta, soups, salads, main courses, side dishes and yes, pickled.

    Anne — Thanks! I loved that line too, it just came out of nowhere :-)

  14. Christina July 15, 2008 at 8:18 am #

    This looks yummy, and oh, so very, very green. As always, lovely writing and lovely pictures.

  15. Marie July 17, 2008 at 9:12 pm #

    Beautiful writing. Weather patterns stomping their way…? Great.

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