02 August, 2009

Afternoon of the Ark






































Goodness, we've been mad, mad, mad. I find myself staying up later and later at night, feeding my need for quiet time at night after all go to sleep to process all that has happened during the day. John does this in the morning before anyone else wakes up, plowing through his blogs and podcasts, Avery all through the day just retreats to her drawings, stories and trampoline: and when does Rosemary recharge her batteries? You know what makes her Rosemary (among many other qualities)? She gives all day to EVERYONE. I don't know how she does it. She is the person who embodies that bit of advice everyone gives you about happiness: the more you think about other people the happier you are. Rosemary seems to be proof of that.

My point being, we all have had an awful lot to process, in the way you have when you try to crush a lifetime's friendships each summer into six weeks of catchup. Among these was our afternoon with Olimpia and Tony, on the rainiest afternoon of the summer. Seriously! As we always do during rainstorms, John and I both gaze out the various windows of our gradually deteriorating house, saying in a desultory way, "We really should have cleared out the gutters yesterday before it started to rain..." And yet the next sunny day, we're out playing tennis, weeding, cooking for people, going to the dump, and not giving another thought to the gutters until... the next rainy day.

So Friday found us watching the gutters while cooking like mad. We opened up the front and back doors in a desperate attempt to get some sort of cross-breeze of humidity. What a fabulous job the switch of the dining room and entry halls have turned out to be. Plenty of room, room to stretch out and not think about the lateness of the hour, or to feel crowded. You can see what I mean!

Summer Salad of Beets, Potatoes and Eggs
(serves 6)


3 tbsps mayonnaise
6 beets, oven-roasted, peeled
12 small potatoes, steamed in their skins
10 eggs, hard-boiled, peeled
2 heads butter lettuce (in UK called "little gems), leaves separated
large handful flat-leaf parsley, chopped

dressing:
6 tbsps sugar
1/3 cup canola or sunflower oil
2 tbbsps blue/black poppy seeds
2 tbsps Dijon mustard
juice of 1 lemon
plenty of fresh-ground black pepper
1 tsp salt

To assemble the salad, find a large flat platter and spread the mayonnaise across the bottom. This adds a lovely "up from the bottom as well as down from the top" surprise flavor when you spoon up the salad. Now, build six towers of the beets, sliced, and potatoes, sliced. Quarter the hard-boiled eggs and place them gently around the towers, taking care to keep the quarters together as the white and yolks are very pretty kept together. Surround with the butter lettuce leaves and sprinkle with parsley. Just before serving, shake up all dressing ingredients in a tight-covered jar. Drizzle dressing across salad and serve.

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This salad is lovely! Complex, soft, crunchy, with a tangy surprise in the dressing: the poppy seeds are an unusual texture and simply gorgeous with the mustard.

I served this salad with chicken breasts baked in our favorite way:

Lillian Hellman Chicken
(serves 6)


6 chicken breast fillets, well-trimmed

marinade:
1 1/2 cup each mayonnaise, grated pecorino cheese
juice of 1 lemon
zest of 1 lemon
2 tsps Penzeys Fox Point or Sunny Paris Seasoning
plenty of fresh-ground black pepper

3 cups homemade bread crumbs

2 cups arugula/rocket

This is a messy job. Place the marinade ingredients in a shallow bowl, and the breadcrumbs in another. Line a large cookie sheet with foil and smear each chicken breast, on each side, with the marinade, then roll in breadcrumbs. Place in a single layer on the foil-lined tray. Bake at 400F, 200C for 25 minutes. Sliced thickly and serve on the arugula on a lovely platter.

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What a great dish this is: inexpensive, easy, perfect for a buffet of MUCH larger numbers than 6. I have often served this dish to 30+ people to great success: everyone loves it! And the aroma as it bakes? Don't ask: it's just irresistible.

Olimpia and Tony were their usual selves, bringing wine, a superb new pepper mill for me, a gorgeous sequined bag for Avery, flowers for Rosemary, and... THANK YOU OLIMPIA, a huge dish of her famous meatballs and pork ribs in tomato sauce, redolent with basil, superbly garlicky. Why am I so lucky to have friends who, when I invite them for lunch, BRING FOOD? Or should I be frightened, that they're afraid that unless they do, they won't get anything decent to eat? No, it's because they adore feeding people, and they count on my and John's (and my this time, Rosemary's and Avery's) drooling incapacity at seeing their contributions.

We chatted madly around the table, hearing their stories of Italian adventures we should replicate (for our 20th anniversary in December, we hope), Tony's endless unbelievable stories about his life as an arson investigative fireman in the Bronx, Olimpia's Italian relatives meeting her at the Naples train station with so many flowers that Tony thought the train must hold some major Italian celebrity! We ate and ate, basking in the annual friendship tradition. Throughout the afternoon, we gazed out the windows, saying, "I am really glad you're not on the road right now," and at one lull in the storms saw Anne, David and Kate across the road tentatively taking a brief walk up to the little mini-waterfall arising now from their pond, to travel under our road and become our stream and pond...

We closed the afternoon with Avery's now-famous blueberry tart: part cooked berries and part fresh, with a gorgeous shortbread crust. Here it is, but you'll have to visit her blog to get the fabulous details. She has real talent with things sweet (not least of all, her own sweet self). Thank you, Olimpia and Tony, for giving us your afternoon... and those meatballs.

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