18 August, 2008

party, party, party!

Every once in awhile all the stars are in alignment: the right people, the right energy, the right weather, and a couple of unexpected elements, and... you have the best party. It was like that for my mother's birthday party on Saturday.

First we tied dozens of yellow and white balloons to the fence (admittedly still in its lying-doggo state at the driveway end, but still), and can I tell you how beautiful the day was? Bright blue sky, the kind Avery is terribly tired of hearing me talk about, waving trees, a crispy feeling in the air. Then the balloons had been properly arranged, and John's mom and I had done most of the undercheffing for the party foods (scallops and shrimp with red peppers and asparagus! chicken livers wrapped in pancetta to be grilled on rosemary skewers! chicken breasts marinated in soy sauce, sesame oil and lime juice, perfectly grilled by John! tomato, mozzarella and basil salad, devilled eggs, you name it, we ate it, and there is no holiday tradition I love more than cooking with my mother in law). I jumped in the shower and not a moment too soon: up turned the birthday girl in the driveway! Jane was jumping out of her skin with excitement, Joel was prepared with his incomparable artichoke dip to heat up, and then Anne came from across the road wheeling Baby Katie, and then there were Becky's family: with a new PUPPY! Just what the party ordered: an eight-week-old chocolate lab mix called Cocoa.

I'll tell you, if your party needs livening up, try six children between the ages of 3 months and 14 years, a kitten, a puppy, a pregnant lady and a much-too-small grill, and you'll be all set. But between the oven, the toaster oven, the stove and the grill, all the food came out at the same time, and we simply fell upon it. My mother smiled and smiled, and we all ended up hanging out in the new Adirondack chairs under the hydrangea tree, my sister holding Anne's baby in an amazing feat as both accomplished mother of a toddler AND mother to be. My dad and Joel and John and Becky's husband mark toured the property in various groups, visiting the horses in the meadow, looking at the gorgeous sign proclaiming "Red Gate Farm" made by my dad that finally lives proudly on our fence.

The girls slip 'n slided to their hearts content, since Becky graciously adhered to my request and brought their REAL slip 'n slide, so we could eschew the one studded with staples that I had cobbled together to make work during Cici's sleepover. The sun shone, the girls slid (Jane had everyone lined up properly!), they jumped the pony jumps and trampolined and we adults chatted and ate and relaxed. And dessert? Don't get me started, not that I eat any, but I had asked Becky to make her famous chess pie for my mother, and she made not one but two, the second a chocolately version that everyone went nuts for. Recipes desired, let me know and I shall beg Becky for them! And the obligatory birthday cake that was much nicer than obligatory, saying the now-traditional "Happy Birthday, Mona." And then? It began to rain. So we repaired indoors for what turned out to be sort of the perfect amount of time for Jane to nap, for the grownups to huddle in the kitchen and gossip, wash dishes, put the odd and sundry refrigerator item away, for Ashley to try to train Cocoa to use her peeing pad, and... then the sun came back out!

The weather reports had been that Connecticut thing: almost perfectly accurate. We we were able to sit out again then, and I made up a silly trampoline game for ALL the girls involving eggs sizzling in a skillet, joined by bacon, and then suddenly a spatula, and... BOUNCE! Just the sort of game for an adult to invent and then... disappear and let them continue. Finally full-family photographs, and suddenly everyone piled into cars and were gone... sad goodbyes all around. It was hard to think who to feel saddest about saying goodbye to, so I just didn't come to any conclusions. It was so quiet when everyone had gone.

But the next day brought another party, the wedding shower for Farmer Rollie's daughter-in-law-to-be, a lovely girl called Tricia. For this, John and his mom repaired to New York City to see a show of pre-fab houses at MoMA, and gosh was I relieved to miss THAT. So Avery and I concocted our contribution to the shower, a traditional "Eton Mess," put on our best duds and headed off to a great American feminine tradition.

Eton Mess
(serves at least 10)

2 lbs strawberries, hulled and quartered
2 pints heavy whipping cream, whipped with a trace of vanilla and a tbsp sugar
2 cups meringues, crushed up to pebble size

In a large trifle bowl (don't have one? neither did I, so go to KMart and get one with Martha Stewart's blessing and about $6), put in a layer of strawberries. Add a layer of cream, a layer of meringues, and so on until you run out. End with a strawberry on top.


And we had to bum a ride from Anne, who had more than enough on her plate going to a memorial service in town. "Everyone who isn't here," she remarked on letting us off, "will be there." At least I had a moment to speak to Anne's gentle and better-worldly mother, author of two of our family's favorite books, mother of two of our favorite girls... how I wish my summer included a long, leisurely chat with her that would let us flit from topic to topic without regard for a minute schedule involving so many moving parts. Alas, not this summer, I fear. But some summer.

And I must tell how: if you are trying to attract a groundhog, Gary will attest to the time-honored appeal of many, many strawberry tops from Eton Mess! We were seriously popular that afternoon.

More tomorrow about the adventures of John's mom's last couple of magical days with us, but for the moment, can I report in GREAT satisfaction the repair of our fence? I will document this minor miracle on film (or a modern facsimile thereof) tomorrow, but suffice to say, it's lovely, and ALMOST worth the wait. What a summer...

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