Happy dinner guest.
Basil and tomatoes from the garden, mozzarella and artichokes from the market — a modified margherita pizza
Yesterday was an odd blur of a day; I am trying to get back in the swing of long runs on Saturday mornings. To run this time of year, without having to haul water, you have to be outside laced up between 5-5:30 am. Normally, this isn’t a big deal. However, my early bird nature and my night owl desires collided Friday night. I went out with friends to see a movie and didn’t get to sleep before midnight. Surprisingly, my run still went swimmingly and I pushed myself farther than I thought I could go. The morning flew by with a visit to grandma’s, errands, and the normal laundry/cleaning/trash weekend-chore trifecta. Then, out of no where, I was hit with a debilitating headache behind my right eye; heat, the exercise and not getting enough sleep the day before collided. Defeated, I curled up in bed and two hours of deep sleep later, I emerged with the afternoon gone.
Thus, a quick pizza for Saturday date night. No time for roasting, baking, pouring through my cookbooks for something impressive. Instead, still in a drooly daze, I went to the grocery to get a few things for quick summer pizza. (It was good last night but even better this morning, cold, with Federrer and the French Open keeping me company, it is even better.)
Dessert was Ben & Jerry’s with pinot noir enjoyed on a luxury rooftop patio in central Phoenix. I didn’t know there were pools on the roof of such buildings. And with a full moon, a bright city below and a starry sky above, it was a happily odd night to remember.
Today’s dream is to be studying in Alice Water’s kitchen by day and gardening in her organic fields by night. I’d be begging David Tanis to teach me all he knows and watching the people flow in and out of Chez Panisse in Berkeley. One day. Today, in the heavy heat of Phoenix, I’m thinking of creative menus for the summer that require little energy and much refreshment.
Last night I sat under misters overlooking a lake and watching the sun dip below a tangerine horizon, sipping a cold glass of sauvingon blanc and enjoying a chilled bowl of gaspacho topped with spicy pine nuts. I left the table full but light, feeling like I’d earned another Arizona summer day survivor badge. While last Saturday I spent 8 hours roasting and baking in my tiny kitchen, I’ve decided now to leave the oven off until September. It is time to celebrate summer foods that require little heat but burst with flavors of the season.
I’m thinking summer green salads with almonds, berries and pulled chunks of cold chicken. Bowls of cold cucumber soup topped with generous dollops of yogurt. Cereal with cold fruit in lieu of steamy nutty oatmeal for breakfast. Less bread, more raw fruit and vegetables. Less meat, more dairy. And everything cold.
If I had the chance to bbq, this post would be entirely different. More like, “An ode to my father’s cooking: BBQ chicken, watermelon and a side of chlorine.” We ate most of our summer meals as children on the patio, sitting on towels in wet bathing suits, running away from my mother’s 30-minute warnings as we dove back in immediately afterward. Alas, while the quickest smell of charcoal brings me right back those blissful childhood memories, I’ll have to wait until I have a proper house to plan summer menus around his secret recipes.
Do you have a favorite summer food?
I was in charge of the dinner:
Brie and berries
Slow roasted tomatoes (I didn’t get a roasted photo, but let me say, I’ll be making these again. Simple cooking at its very best!)
Chocolate cake — which didn’t come out of the pan clean, but was rich and delicious. This is a cake that would impress just about any chocolate lover. Matty is sure to enjoy the leftovers today.
Spending a couple hours planning, shopping and preparing a meal is one of my favorite ways to enjoy a Saturday. (Or any day, really.)
He was in charge of the movie.
I’m not cooking lamb and cake for myself, nor buying my own ticket to Terminator. Leaving the theater last night, he said, “Is the movie review going on the blog?”
Well, it is now.
It was everything you’d expect a shoot ’em up movie to be — excessive in every step, with limited narrative and lots of guts and explosions. Christian Bale is considerably hotter as Batman. It was worth going to because it made him happy, and really? What goes better with an elegant meal than blood and boom at the Cine Capri?
I had a few friends over for dinner last night. I planned the meal around what could come out of the garden; it wasn’t entirely local or in season, but I’m doing the best with what I can grow. We had spinach salad with toasted pine nuts, pears, tomatoes and carrots, pasta primavera with artichokes, spinach, basil and tomatoes and strawberries with ice cream for dessert. It was a good meal, with even better company.
The community dinner has taken on a new life this year; in 2007-2008 I hosted meals for anyone and had a wide variety of people come. It was a good learning experience in cooking, hosting, entertaining and being patient. I’d guess I served 500 meals, with great happiness.
This year, I’ve changed the dinner party recipe; instead of inviting the masses and hoping to have enough food, I’m inviting fewer folks and making the meals tailored to those around the table. I’m trying to move my life in this direction — less, but more meaningful. If you’ve come to a community dinner in the past and I haven’t yet reached out yet, I will. If you’ve been to my little home, you know it is always open. You’ll just get a better meal if you show up with an invite (and RSVP.)
I made sourdough from scratch for the first time this weekend, using an Emeril recipe for the starter. My home smelled like a brewery within a couple hours. This yeasty bread sounded, but ended up way to hard. When recipes call for a fancy kitchen mixer with a bread paddle, I make do with that much more kneading. One day, I’ll have a Kitchenaid (and a kitchen large enough) and a baking stone. It wouldn’t be fun if it came out perfect the first time anyway.
What to do with hard bread?
Have you ever seen 1950-1960s cookbooks with the colorful appetizer platters that are so overdone and usually involve deviled eggs? The presentation cracks me up in part because I would imagine the majority of those recipes were the result of incredibly bored housewives enjoying a bit too much of the sauce mid-afternoon. How else could such nonsense be so entertaining?
Without the pearls or the pressed dress and apron (because it was a weekend, not because I’m opposed), I decided to channel my inner 1960s inspiration with BATS — bacon (turkey), avocado and tomato sandwiches. The bread still made these rather difficult to eat, but the Sunday dinner crowd crunched away merrily.
The cupcakes, however, were Goldilocks-right.
I am struggling a bit this week; I think in part it has to do with the severe change in weather. I spend so much of my free time outside — running, swimming, walking, wandering — that when it’s 100+ degrees out, I wilt. The funny thing is, I’ve lived here nearly my entire life. Yet every May, I go through this period of shock that I’m still in Phoenix being burned by my seatbelt and watching my makeup run off my face between home and work. I need a new plan.
Michelle Obama has very quickly become one of my favorite women in the news. I read an article about her the other day; when they say their dinner prayer she asks each person to mention a “rose and a thorn.” You can skip the thorn part, but the rose is mandatory. I can just imagine them sitting around some fancy table talking about their day. She also said she’s very respectful not to text her husband during the workday, but that she expects him for dinner if he is in town. I’d say that’s fair. She’s also fiercely protective of her girls, which I adore.
My friend Eliza and I were talking the other day (perhaps while getting pedicures and reading trashy magazines with critiques of Michelle’s fashion) when I told her how upsetting it is to me to have someone so bright and living in the White House regularly relegated to the “what to wear” column. She’s a Harvard grad, for Pete’s sake — super successful in her own right and yet we seem to speak more about her love for J.Crew than her ability to gracefully manage a Presidential campaign, with two little girls and her own handbag full of ambition no less.
Eliza pointed out that while it is sad she isn’t being interviewed about her views on issues outside of what’s in vogue, it isn’t her duty. And thanks to her stylish ways, there is less space for the Hollywood tartlets who are much less deserving of the press. I can dig that. If talking about the First Lady’s tennis shoes keeps Paris Hilton farther away from my daily headlines, so be it.
I could also write an essay or two about how amazing I think she is for being so accomplished and seemingly taking this huge change in stride with true grace. Rather than throw herself into the middle of the cabinet, she’s instead invited her mother to live with them and made the White House a home. And my God, if you didn’t feel butterflies during their first dance, something is seriously wrong with you. Of course, this is just what I’m getting from the press, but I’d be happy to report back with a first-hand account if ever given such an opportunity. I’m hearing her lovely husband speak next week in Tempe — or “date with Barry!!” as it says in my planner — and so I have a few fashion suggestions for Mama Obama if she gets to come along on desert adventure:
This white dress, with these great ballet flats (as a fellow Amazonian, I can relate) and this amazing bag in red. Oh, the bag. Since the speech will be outside, a hat and pair of killer sunglasses will complete the look. Mrs. Obama, it is so nice to have such a lady in the White House. Thank you!
*If ever given the chance, I’d love to cook for the Obamas. Then again, I love to cook for just about everyone. This week’s gifted meals include green chile veggie enchiladas for a coworker and my version of stuffed peppers. The magazine’s photo is much prettier, but these are yummy: quinoa, green chile and pepper jack cheese stuffed peppers with pintos. Ole!
NPR’s All things Considered has been featuring recipes this week that will feed a family of 4 for $10 or less. Each day’s recipe is created by some famous chef and I’ve been listening with great interest. When I want to make something inexpensive, beans, pasta or grain come to mind. Bread, really, is the easiest and cheapest thing to make to feed the masses. (The wine and fishes tend to be a bit more expensive these days.) I have eaten more bean and rice dishes living in Mexico and Africa than I care to remember. While I like the occasional pasta or potato dish, if I am going to indulge in carbs, bring on the bread.
Last night I made bbq chicken pizza — in part to encourage Matty’s many “birdies” in his golf tournament today — and used the leftover dough to make calzones. Next time, I’ll brush these with egg whites and a dash of garlic salt. Regardless, the whole wheat dough worked well and soon, the pizza performed a disappearing act.
(Nothing says classy entertaining like having guests eating next to your open compost bin. Oy vey. Martha would not be proud.)
I make up songs when I’m in the kitchen, especially when cooking Italian. In my very best soprano, I sent Matt and Eliza running into the garden with my rendition of “When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie, that’s amore…” They may not have liked the tunes, but appropriately, they loved the pizza.
I had a few friends over last night to enjoy the spring garden spoils. The grapefruit margaritas were the biggest hit; I liked the collard green wraps. I stole the idea from a restaurant in Scottsdale and then found this handy website to help with the prep. The wraps are sturdy enough to hold steak, beans, guacamole and other vegetables as they did last night — without the gummy flour tortilla getting in the way.
Or, you could follow as Kent did last night and make it a double-decker, using both for a bit of collard green salad inside your wrapped tortilla. With the myriad of produce on the table, one friend commented — “I’ve never even seen some of these vegetables.” Jicama and chayote were to blame. Most of it ended up in the composter, but of course I loved it. His 4-year-old daughter, on the other hand, loved the Cacahuate Brownies — take your traditional recipe and add a bit of cayenne, cinnamon and spicy peanuts.
New friends, old friends, good food, warm evening weather and a walk through the garden after dessert — it was a lovely evening.