Monthly Archives: July 2015

Fantasy Summer Fête/Salade Niçoise

I’m in the mood for a really great party. Granted, my introvert version of a really great party might not be the same as yours but play along with me here.

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First, let’s set the scene: The party will take place on a grassy knoll under a grove of giant maple trees. Nearby there will be some kind of chateau or large house where the party guests will all be staying. Think English countryside to get yourself into the right frame of mind. There’s a little stream gurgling nearby. Under the maple trees is a massive wooden table that has been there for years. The very rustic table will be set with very non rustic china, a white linens and lots of heirloom roses in low vases. There will be candle lanterns hanging from the trees waiting to be lit. A few blankets and large pillows will be scattered around for lounging but there will also be comfortable chairs and small tables for holding drinks and canapés. The festivities will start at 4:00 pm and go on late into the evening. It will be a pleasant 78 degrees with a light breeze when the party begins, cooling off to 65 when we wrap things up around midnight. No bugs of course, what kind of whack job would let mosquitos into their fantasy party?

There will be ten to twelve party guests (any more than that and my poor little socially challenged brain might short circuit.)  We will dress up, to the point of being just slightly over the top. There will be some seersucker, a pair of suede ankle boots, and possibly a bow tie or two. There will be tea length dresses, drapey necklines and up-dos. A few people will probably wear hats. The colors will be soft and tasteful. Black clothing is moderately acceptable but if you even think about wearing something red, or a bright pattern to this party, I don’t want to be your friend anymore. Our children will be off at their own delightful party hosted by responsible, loving babysitters so our evening can be guilt and worry free; we will see them in the morning.

We will play croquet or go dip our toes in the stream in a very relaxed manner while we sip on some nice yeasty Champagne. For nibbling we will have Délice de Bourgogne, homemade crackers, bowls of cold crunchy cherries, and freshly roasted rosemary cashews. There will also be cucumber limeade to keep everyone hydrated.

As the games are wrapping up and the light changes from afternoon to evening we will start to think about some more substantial food. From out of the nearby house will come platters of Salade Niçoise:

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Unlike the salad in this picture, the Ahi will not be overcooked.

This particular salad was not made in fantasy land, it was made in my kitchen while I tried to visit with an out of town guest and my two overexcited children competed for the ‘Watch me! Watch me! Award.’ Also, you can’t see the greens in this salad. They are there, but buried under the mountain of other goodies.

Anyway, we will eat our perfectly cooked Ahi and salad with soft, tiny rolls that I baked off just before the party started, and home churned cultured butter (the little dishes of butter will have fleur de sel sprinkled on top because that’s how I like it). We will drink Bandol Rosé that has been chilling in a large copper bucket full of ice under one of the maples.

During our meal there will be lots of laughing. One crazy guy will probably speak in a fake accent for most of the meal. Someone else will tell a story about how they once talked themselves out of being arrested while not wearing pants. There will be a wardrobe malfunction involving buttons that keep popping out of their holes.

After the dinner dishes are whisked away we will light the lanterns and move to more comfortable seating. I will bring out a game where people have to answer questions of the personal and/or introspective and/or goof ball nature. There will be more laughing and also some very touching moments where we learn something about someone that we had no idea about.

Dessert and a selection of digestifs will appear. We will be served warm peach dumplings with hard sauce from the Smitten Kitchen Cookbook. I haven’t made these before, but I love this cookbook and these dumplings look amazing. There will also be plates of sea salt caramels and some fantastic dark chocolate. The last of the brandy will be sipped, yawns will be passed from one person to another, and the thought of a cozy bed will cross everyone’s mind. We will walk back to our rented house together feeling the buzz of food and friendship.

So, who’s coming to my party?

 

Here are some guidelines, I definitely won’t call it a recipe, for my version of the salad if you want to make your own party:

Salad Niçoise

Toss mixed greens with a simple lemon, mustard, and olive oil vinaigrette. Arrange the greens on a platter and top with:

Roasted potatoes (I used fingerlings cut into little rounds)

Green beans boiled until tender in salted water, then chilled

Roasted cherry tomatoes (cut them in half, toss with olive oil and salt and roast in a hot oven until they are wrinkly and starting to brown)

Niçoise olives, or kalamatas if you’re in a pinch

Seven minute eggs (Start with cold water to cover the eggs, bring to a boil with a lid on, turn off heat and let the eggs sit in the hot water, covered, for seven minutes. Drain and stop the cooking by covering them with cold water)

Seared Ahi tuna, sliced

Sprinkle some salt on the eggs and drizzle a little more dressing over everything on the platter.

Serve with tarragon mayonnaise. Homemade would be great, but store bought mayo with a little lemon juice and chopped fresh tarragon mixed in is a pretty good substitute.

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Breastfeeding Confession

Whether you are fully supportive of long term breastfeeding, excited about it for newborns only, or not into it at all, get ready because I’m about to offend you.

Lola nursed until she was three and a half and was only persuaded to stop with the promise of a party and some new jewelry. Felix looks as if he’s on track for a similar breastfeeding career. People who’ve seen me with a boob hanging out in public or with a large child sticking a hand down my shirt tend to think I’m of the hippy persuasion despite my mascara and lack of patchouli aroma. For some reason it seems to make people more comfortable about the whole thing if they think you are a yurt dwelling, tofu making, back to the earth type. I happen to not be that type, but people assume. There’s a ton of research out there to support long-term breastfeeding with all its health benefits for both mom and baby, and it’s easy to hide behind that research when someone questions why you’re nursing a person old enough to ride a scooter without help. But that research isn’t really my reason either.

The true reason is that I’m lazy. Lazy and unorganized. There are those highly capable moms out there who are always ready with just the right snack that their child loves, the perfect distracting toy, the cozy security object. They make nutritious, kid friendly food or buy it in cute packages and their kids are happy to eat it. I am not like them. When my child is freaking out at the playground, I rarely have a snack that they want to eat. My bag is full to the brim, but not with anything they want to play with (it’s mostly other people’s dirty socks and grocery receipts if I’m being truthful).  As much as I’d like to be organized enough to have a healthy snack and a fun distraction always at the ready, I’m not. Well, actually, I am. Because I have a boob full of milk, yes mam!

That sweet milky milk fixes most ills, heals most pains, and calms most frustrations, at least if you are under three years old. It makes children shut the hell up for a couple of minutes. It’s cozy. It gives me a glimpse of the baby still inside my quickly growing boy. It allows me to sit and rest and have my thoughts to myself for as long as the goodness lasts. It’s a way of relieving my guilt if all my child has eaten that day is scalloped potatoes and part of a cupcake (shhh, don’t tell the parenting police). It’s healthy food and it’s comfort. It stops the whining. It stops the whining. I know I wrote that twice but it’s such a great thing that I had to repeat it.

So, now you know the not so glamorous reasons I’m in no rush to stop lactating. They may not be noble. They may be selfish and offensive. But for this time that my breasts hold such power I’m going to take advantage of it.

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This is the pits, in a good way.

I’ve been hoarding pits in my freezer. Cherry pits, peach pits, apricot pits. Little bags of treasure that look like garbage. A few weeks ago a friend mentioned that she was making noyaux ice cream and I’ve had pits on the brain ever since. Noyaux are the kernels inside the pits of stone fruits. They have an ethereal bitter almond flavor and aroma and, this is so cool, they even look like almonds. They also contain trace amounts of cyanide, so people get nervous about them, but really, who’s going to sit down and eat bowls of noyaux day after day? No one, that’s who. (There are some who believe that the kind of cyanide contained in apricot kernels is actually good for you in many ways. I don’t know enough about it to have an opinion but I’m not afraid of eating them, and definitely not afraid of flavoring something with them and straining them out.) Amaretto is flavored with apricot kernels as is most almond extract. Almond paste and marzipan often contain a small amount of apricot kernels also.

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So, what am I making with my pits you ask? Well, so far, this beautiful stuff:

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I’ve been planning to make vin de pêche for a while now. It sounds so simple, and yet, I admit that it has also sounded to me like a potential disaster and waste of wine. Basically you soak peach leaves in wine with a little sugar and vodka (or some other liquor) and, in theory, end up with a lightly fruity beverage that you serve over ice as an aperitif. When I had the epiphany that I could use noyaux to flavor the vin, I got all inspired to give it a go. A little research led me to this post from David Lebovitz. His recipe is for vin de cerise, cherry leaf wine, and it is luscious stuff.  I fiddled around with the proportions in his recipe a bit until it was to my liking and incorporated the pits I’ve been saving. Then I fiddled some more and came up with both a peach and an apricot version.IMG_0878

Vin de pêche is traditionally  made with red wine, but my version uses white to let the gorgeous pink color (my favorite color!) show.

 

Here are my three recipes for “Vin de Pits” as I’ve lovingly named it (but please don’t actually call it that, it sounds terrible).

Vin de Pêche

1 bottle of inexpensive white wine, nothing too oaky

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 c. vodka

40-50 peach leaves, rinsed and patted dry

10 peach pits, cracked, see note

Skin from 1 ripe peach, for color

Vin de Cerise

1 bottle of inexpensive red wine, something fairly light, like a Pinot Noir

1/2 c. sugar

1/2 c. vodka

50-60 cherry leaves, rinsed and patted dry

A handful of cherry pits, about 40, cracked, see note

Vin de Abricot

1 bottle of inexpensive white wine, nothing too oaky

1/2 c. sugar

3/4 c. brandy

70-80 apricot leaves

15 apricot pits, cracked, see note

For all versions:

Fill a clean 1 quart jar with the leaves, pits and peach skin if using. Pour in the sugar and vodka/brandy and then fill to the top with the wine. Depending on how big your leaves are, you might be left with just enough wine for a little little glass as you clean up the kitchen. Put a lid on the jar and give it a gentle shake to help dissolve the sugar.

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Let the mixture steep for two days. The cherry version seems to be fine at room temperature but I had better results with the peach and apricot versions when I let them age in the refrigerator.

Strain the mixture through cheesecloth and put it into a pretty bottle if you have one. You can also store it in the jar you made it in and then pour it into a pitcher to serve it. This should keep for a good long while if refrigerated, but it’s a summery drink so why not enjoy it over the next couple of months and just make more next year?

Serve in small glasses over ice and pretend you’re in France.

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Note: The easiest way to crack pits is to wrap them in a rag or an old dishtowel and hit them with a hammer. Make sure to do this outside though so you don’t damage you countertops or make a huge mess. Not that I know anything about that.

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