Night Tart, Sweet, and Mellow

comments: 46

Cat, yellow and grayI made a tablecloth the other day, a tester present for my friend's birthday. I'm going to send her four sets (I have eight, total) of these thrifted yellow dishes (below) because I know she'll like them. Bridget, who herself is yellow and gray, took the opportunity to get right up on the table and roll around, so this cloth might be mine. . . . I think it will be fun for my friend and me to have the same table setting for our little dinners even though we live on opposite ends of the country.

She grew up in Sycamore, actuallyMy friend grew up in corn country — DeKalb, Illinois, where they also have magical things like frozen custard stands — and as I was peeling the corn for Ina's Cheddar Corn Chowder (minus the cheddar) I swear I could smell all those incredibly hot summer nights we spent driving back and forth across the state on our ways to and from school in our little vintage dresses, in her mom's old car, smoking Marlboro Lights, feet out windows, listening to the Pixies and Jane's Addiction, trying, always trying to figure things out. I hadn't realized that the smell of those summers was actually corn. It made me miss her terribly. But the soup came out very nice. Of course, I ate it alone, but even that seemed okay, to be alone with that memory and savor it, too.

Soup for oneI have been cooking a lot. A lot. I have really, really changed my attitude toward dinner, just regular at-home dinner, because of Ina Garten and this blog. I know I've written about this many times, but it occurred to me last night, as I was setting the table, that this could be an actual change for me, and not just a fad, or a temporary and capricious interest, as so many of mine are. Maybe I am actually someone who can handle going to the grocery store and making nice dinners and tables regularly, not just when people are coming over, or twice a year, at Thanksgiving and Christmas. I noticed that Ina regularly had one or two friends over for dinner on weeknights, and the table is always beautiful, and everyone is taking joy from the whole experience — the shopping, the cooking, the guys who come and fix up the table (it's always guys who come and fix up the table, have you noticed?) — and I know it's all for TV for them, but it's working for me, too. This summer has felt rather chaotic, in some ways: trouble in the world, trouble in the lives of people that I love, the shaky ballcage of change and transition. And shopping, cooking, and caring about the table a little bit has soothed my nerves, even more than crafting has, somehow. Perhaps because cooking's end result is to make other people feel special and taken care of, at least for dinner. Which feels like so little, in some ways, but also the most one can do sometimes.

He did grill the shrimp, actually Now, Mr. Sexy-Shirt over here certainly looks like he doesn't have a care in the world. But he does, I think, and he might be liking all these dinners a little bit. (Note: yellow dishes, as mentioned above.) Nurses work 12-hour shifts, so it makes eating dinner together a bit challenging, but I'm going to try harder to wait for him, especially now that I have a new shoe that lets me walk around a bit later in the day than before. Last night it was getting late by the time he got home from work for Ina's Grilled Herb Shrimp and Mango Salsa, topped off by a plum tart with real pastry cream (my first ever attempt).

Mini-light chandelier It got dark real quick after that, but it was so nice and cool outside that we threw up some lights and hung out for a while. Though I do miss my Midwestern lightning bugs, I must say I appreciate a mosquito-less night even more, and we were unbothered by beasts of any kind, save for the occasional kitty squabble somewhere beyond the fence. The blue jay babies are all grown up and now there are about twelve, shouting routinely at us from every tall vantage point they can score. Summer is halfway over. Have I done what I wanted to do? Yes and no. That's okay. There's still time, though I'm starting to realize that there is an inevitable tinge of regret that colors every August, somehow, and part of growing up is learning to be okay with that, so I'm trying that feeling — calm acceptance — on, too.

Night casseroleTonight we are going to see Crosby Stills Nash and Young with my mom, who was supposed to go with her friends. But her friends weren't able to make it, so passed on their seventh-row seats to us. Seventh row? I don't think I've ever sat in the seventh row at a show in my life. I think it's even at an outdoor venue. It's my mom's first-ever concert. I've never seen Neil Young before, either. Still rockin' the free world after all these years, not fading away. I feel lucky to get to see it.


7th row to CSNY? You are one lucky girl! My husband, who is a die-hard, obsessed Neil fan, had 3rd row seats, by chance, about 4 years ago and was on clouds for days. That will be one great show! Have a fabulous time!

And your table settings are so lovely, they've totally inspired me to get out of the boring dinner routine lately also and just take a little more time and care. Thanks hon. xo

Frozen custard stand? Oh My! Does Manna also fall from the sky in this wondrous land?

Congratulations on your new shoe! Sometimes even a little improvement can make a big difference in your freedom!

My husband wishes he could be at that Crosby Stills Nash and Young concert! You should see the recent Neil Young movie, called Heart of Gold. It's one of the best concert movies I've ever seen, and it's so poignant when you realize that he had a brain aneurysm and was putting his life into perspective.

The cooking thing....Isn't it amazing how you can go along for years thinking you're THIS kind of person, when actually we humans have all kinds of potential to try new things, change parts of our personalities. Yay Ina :) That's what happens when you put yourself out can affect people. You're affecting us just like Ina is, making our lives a bit more Posie :)

Ahh.. not to antagonize you, but here in the midwest, we are thick in the midst of lightning bugs and the deep, lush smell of corn sex (that is what we call it - the corn is pollinating). Dinners on the patio with the flickering of fireflies, fresh sweet corn, dripping butter down your elbows and fresh tomatoes with basil... We are embracing summer as best we can, despite the miserable heat and thanks to you, Alicia, for reminding me of the small joys of life in the Midwest.

Fabulous picture of Mr. Sexyshirt (hee hee) lighting the lanterns.

- A faithful reader straddling the city and the country in Elgin, IL.

Speaking of Ina Garten, I'm here in the Hamptons visiting my daughter and I had planned to drop by the Barefoot Contessa store, which is nearby. But it closed in 2003! I didn't know that and I'm so disappointed! After your posts on her cookbooks and recipes I bought a cookbook or two myself and thought it would be so much fun to actually visit her "headquarters". Oh well. Being in the Hamptons for a summer visit is still extraordinary - quite different from California!

Chris Howard says: July 28, 2006 at 11:33 AM

I am becoming even more and more convinced that you and I are polar opposites (you are Spring, I am Fall, etc). This post just cements it. I have so totally lost my cooking mojo this summer that my poor hubby has been coming home to meals that consist mainly of chips and salsa and the occaisional sandwich. Also, I always feel a lift in spirits in August because summer is almost over and it's time for autumn's cool breezes.

Variety is the spice of life I guess. Enjoy your concert and I'm glad to hear you have a nice new shoe!

Alicia, you write so beautifully. I always feel lucky to read your posts. You're just so you, in a frank, friendly, Midwestern way that I miss so much living out here on the West coast. You toss off a bit about corn and fireflies, and I would gladly sell my soul for a plane ticket to my parents' house right now.

Can you adopt me?

I love everything about your blog. You're so creative. And I'm thrilled to hear that you're cooking a lot. I think cooking at home is the greatest thing we can do for ourselves and our families. You really begin to understand how the home and the hearth came to represent the very foundation of the family!

By the way, penne with five cheeses ... my favourite!

It takes real talent to write so beautifully about cooking dinner and setting the table. I don't like to cook but reading this makes me want to throw on an apron and whip up something delicious so that my husband and I can sit at a beautifully dressed table and enjoy the food and the company.
To prove the longevity of CSNY my 16 year old son loves them.

I got to see CSNY a few years ago (thanks to a free ticket from Dad), and I have to say that they were great. Neil Young is still rockin'; I hope you have a great time.

It's funny, but even for all this unbearable heat, I'm starting to miss summer. A bit prematurely, sure, but it's going to be over before we know it. I get more wistful about it every year, like I didn't cram in enough fun. You're right, though: there's still time. Must get to cramming!

I so enjoy your lovely pictures. And Ina's Corn Chowder is yuuummmy!! (I've made it WITH the cheddar!) :) She would be so proud of not only the soup but your beautiful table setting.

Well, it's official, I'm in the doghouse. My husband will read your post either because of my strong encouragement - "Come here right now and read this" or by chance. Today he saw your post about regularly making recipes from Ina's wonderful books, which I have and use (gulp) twice a year.

Plus, he's a huge CSN&Y fan, particularly Steven Stills, and is totally jealous about the concert you're lucky enough to attend tonight.

I just hope the fresh tomato sauce and pasta I made today, plus the tickets to Keane at Carnegie Hall will be an acceptable consolation prize - assuming he knows who Keane is, hmmm ....

PS Ina's store in East Hampton was fantastic and is sorely missed. Another shop that is similar is called Loaves & Fishes (she features it on her show sometimes), which is off of Route 27 in Wainscot.

Oh this post is lovely in every way! What a beautiful evening. Have an awful lot of fun at the concert!

these 'dinner' posts always inspire me to do something good in the kitchen. i used to be all about the 'atmosphere', but lately I've lost a little of my kitchen mojo...
feeling like hitting the farm stand before dinner for some corn, tho.

and i LOVE that pic of andy hanging the lights. fabulous.

You and your writing- you're both amazing.

Another Alicia

I love that corn chowder recipe also. Hmmm...I think I'll do shrimp this weekend you have inspired me again.

This post is exactly what my soul needed today. thank you darling! i think i am off to the bookstore to buy a new cookbook, the thrift store to buy some dishes, and the grocery store to make a lovely meal for my love.

something about me that i don't think i've mentioned is that i cook dinner every night (except fri or sat when we go out) and we sit down all together as a family and set the table with a tablecloth and cloth napkins *every night*. i'm not the best cook and my kids are not the most open-minded eaters. usually the table settings do not match. i am often exasperated and uninspired in the kitchen and my kids are often bored or tired or just silly at the table, but it's an important family ritual for us. this coming together to be fed - it's an important thing.

enjoy your concert!

The food looks delicious!
I also have been dabbling in cooking this summer and am hoping that it will be a lasting change for me instead of a fad. I would love to be able to put wonderful meals on the table regularly instead of once or twice year.

Alicia - Isn't it funny how the second half of summer can make you get a bit melancholy and nostalic and filled with a bit of anxiety and regret? I get that way every year - thinking about summers gone by and people and things I miss. I don't do this as much during the holidays because they are so busy and build up to big events. But summer doesn't have a big holiday to work up to, it just drifts away into fall. sigh

How funny that we are both going to concerts this weekend filled with nostalgia and closer to the stage than ever before (I got 2nd row seats to Paul Simon. No clue how we scored, but I'm not complaining!) Maybe it's symbolic of coming face-to-face with the bittersweet past and finding a way to accept and celebrate. Or it could just be that we totally lucked out! :) In any case, have fun!

so nice to read about your cooking adventures. i'm very inconsistent - going from a week where I cook from scratch for each dinner, to one where everything is quick and easy. but, I do love to cook when I feel inspired, and true home cooking is a wonderful treat.

and you've reminded me of frozen custard, a treat we were able to get whenever we wanted it when we lived in Colorado. it came in the most amazing flavors - pumpkin, plum, dulce de leche... *drooling*

Girl, you rock. Your plum tart is out of CONTROL!!!!! It looks so perfect! I've also become semi....well, okay, fully obcessed with Ina.

You are so inspiring. I have been feeling totally off cooking recently and having found my self suddenly single again this summer and living alone again, I have got into a very bad pasta and pesto in front of the TV every night habit. Not good. You've really inspired me to get out my cookery books and start cooking myself something special again. Afterall, I've got to keep in practice for cooking for two! Living in London, Ina Garten is totally new to me but I checked out her website, and after all the praise you're giving her I'm going to have to see if I can get hold of her books over here.
Thanks for your beautiful blog and all the inspiration. x

Hi there!Great blog..Glad to know that so many others enjoy yard sailing and thrifting..I read about your accident and your foot!!So happy that you recovered how you did..Two years ago Mothers Day I broke my ankle straight across all 3 bones..i have never had so much pain in all my life!!I have a plate and six screws..In this post you mentioned you got a new shoe that
helps you last through evening longer!?Is that due to the pain..I apologize for going on and on..But I'm curious how long the pain should last..I know your injury was much worse..I still each and every day have excruciating pain by late afternoon!!I get sick of complainng so I try to grin and bear it..GRRRR!Anyways,if you have a chance I'd like to hear your experience with this and treatments for pain..I love your writing and also your great positive attitude..(and oh so talented at that:) ) Thanks and have a great weekend!!

That plum tart looks beautiful!!! What a gorgeous summer treat :)

This was such a wonderful post Alicia. I found myself relating, in some way to everything you touched on. I hope you have a wonderful time at the concert. I would love to see them!

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About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at




Since August of 2011 I've been using a Canon EOS 60D with an EF 18-200mm kit lens and an EF 100mm f/2.8 Macro lens.