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.
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:
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:
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.