Today is the Feast of the Assumption of the Blessed Virgin Mary, always a special time for our family.
As I’ve written before, since childhood, this was a time when family gathered at the shore, coming in from the city to walk in the water for good health, to worship together and break bread together and catch up on the summer goings on.
This year the cycle was scheduled to repeat itself once again as family and friends gathered from North Jersey and Delware for the shared celebration.
We were all really looking forward to the annual observance which traditionally includes morning Mass, a trekk to the beach to beach and a barbecue in the back yard.
Alas, the stormy weather which imploded on the Jersey Shore yesterday continues. There were a few breaks in the clouds but then, the rain struck again with fury.
The folks are gathering tomorrow instead and with any luck, the barbecue will go on in the backyard a day late. Hopefully, Pete and I will be scooting over to the shore line to scoop up buckets of water that folks can bathe their feet in tomorrow.
Aside from the Assumption, this week marks the tenth anniversary of moving in to the little blue house on the lake and the tenth anniversary of the beginning of the garden. The first seeds were sown a decade ago in honor of the Blessed Virgin. The garden has come into its own and I hope things dry out tomorrow so all of us can enjoy it together.
The front of the house is wrapped like an English cottage garden with lush greenery, punctuated now and then by blooming colors. A concrete St. Francis – with a rabbit nestling at his feet – welcomes visitors in front.
On the side of the house, a clutch of hostas has grown into such a big border that it will have to be divided. Anyone out there looking for hostas? Get in touch. Mine sprang from hostas from the childhood home of a good friend. I inherited them when the house was sold. I’d be happy to see a third generation of Nolan hostas come into bloom.
The shade garden in the back is now fully formed and of course, guarded by another St. Francis and his faithful companions, Mr. Monk and Sharona, two chip monks who often perch on his head.
There’s a big, bright striped market umbrella hovering over the picnic table that puts me in mind of Joseph’s coat of many colors. Hopefully we’ll be chowing down under it as Mary, resplendant in her blue and white robes, looks on in statue form amid the kitchen garden of herbs that surrounds the patio.
The menu will feature barbecue but mindful of the ancient connection to the salty sea this day — pius legend says Mary’s tears as she rose to heaven on this day fell into the sea and that those who walk in the water are guaranteed good health for a year — I’ll be making the wonderful Ligurian fish stew I traditionally serve.
Fish Stew Ala Maria
Ingredients: 3 garlic cloves, one cut in half, two minced; extra virgin olive oil to taste; 2-1/2 pounds of assorted sea food — I use scallops, shrimp, mussels, clams and monk fish filets — washed, patted dry and cut into pieces; sea salt or kosher salt and fresh black pepper to taste; 1 large yellow onion, diced; 1 tablespoon tomato paste; 1 tablespoon apple cider vinegar; 2 tablespoons butter; 6 slices stale Italian bread.
Directions — rub the sides of a large, heavy bottomed pot with the cut in half garlic clove; cover the bottom with olive oil and heat over medium-high heat. lower the heat to medium-low and toss in the salt and pepper. Add the seafood. Cook the seafood, turning it occasionally so it cooks but does not brown. Then, remove it and transfer to a warm plate and cover. Add the onion to the pot and saute. After 1 minute, add the garlic. Dissolve the tomato paste in the vinegar and add to the pot. Keep cooking until the onion is soft.
Add two cups of boiling water and simmer for 30 minutes. Then return the fish to the pot and simmer for 5 minutes. Meanwhile, combine the butter and minced garlic clove in a large skillet and melt over medium heat. Add the bread slices and fry on both sides until brown. Place a slice of bread in the middle of each serving bowl and top with stew. Serve immediately.