28 February, 2009

of good neighbors and great dinners

Oh, Saturday was a day. Or rather, Saturday night was a night. There I was, innocently concocting focaccia in my cozy afternoon kitchen, Avery and Emily bickering in their sibling-ish way in the study, when the doorbell rang. It was my friend Charlotte, having sloped over from her house down the road and across the street, bearing a recipe I had asked for and looking for a cup of tea. "Have I interrupted something?" she asked, and I thrust the focaccia recipe in her hand and said, "I'm at 'place in a warm spot covered with a tea towel until it doubles in bulk...'" and after that we sipped tea and chatted and peeked in the oven to see if the dough was doing anything. Then she supervised my additions of olive oil, pesto, cheese. The doorbell rang again.

"Selva!" we said together, greeting my gorgeous next-door neighbor. He inclined his head from his considerable height, joined the tips of his fingers together in barrister-fashion (I'd love to see him in his robes and wig, honestly), and said, "I know, I know, I should have invited you first, and now I've learned my lesson... I have a gorgeous pork roast, marinated in Marsala, in the oven and my dinner guests have cancelled with a sick child. Can you all come to dinner?"

So I finished my focaccia in a rush, had a lovely cocktail with John, left Avery getting dressed, and headed next door with a plate of freshly baked bread and a bowl of:

Roasted Artichoke Dip
(serves lots, maybe 10, as an appetizer with, say, focaccia)

1 cup marinated artichoke hearts, drained well
1/2 cup creme fraiche
1 tbsp tahini
juice 1 lemon
1 clove garlic, roughly chopped
small handful flat parsley leaves
2 tbsps cream
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Put all ingredients in food processor and process until very smooth indeed. This will take longer than you expect: at the end the dip will be a bit airy and truly velvety.


Well, the evening began at 8:30 or so, dinner past 9. The pork was stunning, crackling to end crackling, a gorgeously rich le Puy lentil stew cooked with with red wine, and a horseradish-apple sauce. Then a sort of trifle of apricots simmered in cardamom water, Italian biscuits broken up, and whipped cream. Then the cheese board made the rounds around midnight, and still Avery sat at the table with us: all adults and my child. She was a trooper: graciously trying all the food, making all the right contributions to the conversation, cat-whispering their black kitten toward the end of the evening... next time we'll make sure her bedroom light is left on at the top of the house and she can just creep next door and sit cozily in bed while we adults spin down the hours. A lovely evening; how lucky are we to have these neighbors at doorbell-ringing distance, on any given weekend, to feed us and be fed? This is the neighborhood I always dreamed of having, in New York or in London. I will never take it for granted!

Today, Monday, found me at the Chelsea Saatchi gallery with my excellent culture friend (quite the most talented writer I know, I think) Gigi... but more on that tomorrow. Just for now, think of a neighbor you can invite to dinner. They'll be so glad you did.

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