Wednesday, September 14, 2011

A Last Bite of Summer

Dear Boo,

Here's how it went. All of a sudden it was labor day and I had eaten nary a lobster roll nor ripe peach nor heirloom tomato salad, and I was in a panic. So, I sent this email:

dateThu, Sep 1, 2011 at 1:52 PM
subjectholy crap, it's already labor day!

Hi friends!

are you in town this weekend? do you have plans? do you feel the way I
do, that summer has gone by entirely too quickly and we must cram in
every second with fun and seasonal experiences? Well, great!

We're thinking of doing a potluck picnic (or just potluck, if our
apartment is easier) to declare our need to hang on to summer, and
take a break from godforsaken wedding planning to see our wonderful
friends. Here's what I'm thinking: bring anything (a dish, an item, a
beverage) that embodies the essence of summer for you. Something that
when you take a bite or a sip, places you smack in the middle of a
warm summer afternoon, feeling lazy and relaxed, and altogether happy.
It can be a raw tomato, or a whole clambake--your choice. if there's a
story that goes along with it, even better.

Are you in?

xoxo The Mouse*

And because my friends are awesome and funny, I got emails back saying they were (mostly) all in, and making snarky comments about gazpacho and fantasy football drafts.

Then, they came. Bearing the loveliest, most abundant armfuls of summer tastes of all shapes and sizes. And I thought, WHY DON'T WE DO THIS ALL THE TIME? Potlucks get a bad rap in our apartment, with thoughts of casserole pans accidentally smashed on a subway platform, six potato-based dishes, and 12 items that need heating up all at different temperatures, all in our tiny oven. But this was heaven. I couldn't have planned the menu better myself--there was plenty of food, enough for everyone to take leftovers home, plenty of variety, and fewer dishes for us to clean. People even had the good manners to come color-coordinated!

This was not planned. And makes me look like I belong to some kind cult (see: baby doll in picture)

Jeff came early, bearing our wedding gift, my newest babe, A VITAMIX! For those of you who don't know what this is, I have two words for you: Two. Horsepower. Jeff set to work making frozen margaritas to greet our guests. Summer in a plastic cup, I tell you.

David brought creamy, unctuous, zingy gazpacho, which we gobbled up as our appetizer. He took some heat for omitting the avocado garnish, but there was an elaborate story about getting locked inside his apartment and having to call a locksmith who, with a captive audience (forgive the pun), charged him an arm and a leg to let him out of his apartment so that he could buy groceries for the gazpacho oh and CONTINUE TO LIVE HIS LIFE AS A FREE MAN for lord's sake, so we all forgave him. Also it was yummy.

Emily brought delicious corn salsa and tortilla chips which was a relief, as I had sent her an urgent ESP message that we had neglected to buy more than one bag.

I used email instead of ESP to communicate to Abby and Jeremy that we needed some ice cream to go with the cobbler I made, and they brought that, along with a decadent heirloom tomato caprese salad (thank the lord I could check that off my summer to-eat list), beer (for what is a summer afternoon gathering without it), and watermelon.

Abby told us about how her mom always used to buy a whole watermelon, made a horizontal cut along the top to remove the lid, and then carved that lid into a tail which came spouting out of the center of the melon, with an etched grinning face and eyes to complete the watermelon whale. How terrifyingly adorable is that? Then there were stories about other abominations done to watermelons in the name of college summer drunkenness and the finer points of melon carving were discussed.
There was a summer squash salad from Kerri and Matt who did us the honor of re-creating the recipe off our blog! It was very thrilling, and very tasty, and turns out to be perfect for potlucks as I inexplicably wrote the recipe to feed about 10. oops.

There it is, on the left. Okay, so we've got some things to work out in the
setting-of-the-potluck-table department. Nobody's perfect. But that salad was.

There was a watermelon salad made by Kate, with mint and feta and a light dressing that made me eat any words I've uttered in the past against fruit in salads. I lied.

There was a sort of Fideua-esque dish that Grill a Chef Josh "threw together" and brought over and which was positively addictive with chicken and sausage and noodles slick with oil and spice.

Josh was exhausted from working five days straight prior to our get-together, but is absolutely incapable of showing up at a dinner without some sort of offering. Also, it turned out, he mis-read my email and thought we didn't have any starch or protein on the menu, when in fact, I had made Red Beans and Rice after having my arm twisted by the Fiance, that despite the fact that it was out of keeping with the theme of the party, we really needed to make something with the andouille sausage brought to us by Chef Josh and Kate direct from New Orleans which has been languishing in our freezer for oh--I don't even want to say how long.

Did I worry I might be poisoning my friends? Was this trepidation met with a dramatic eyeroll by the Fiance? Did we serve it anyway? Was it freaking DELICIOUS? Yes, yes, yes, and yes. The recipe is below, and you should make it just as soon as the weather cools off and all those delicious summer items that you'll find elsewhere in this post are off the farmstand shelves. Really. It's so good. And so easy.

I also made (or, rather, assembled) a corn on the cob bar with fixing including: butter, sour cream, mayonaisse, cayenne, limes, queso fresco, green tabasco sauce, salt and pepper.

I made some face-meltingly hot pickled peppers, which I should probably have made with jalapenos, but instead was seduced by the colorful and shapely medley I found at the market. I also made some pickled onions, which together with your standard toppings, constituted the Hot Dog bar. Dogs off a George Forman Lean, Mean, Grilling Machine is not quite the same as dogs off a charcoal pit, but what can I say. We live in Manhattan.

And there was dessert: this mixed berry cobbler from Bon Appetit, which for me, is summer incarnate, and a surprise addition from Josh D., of a key lime cheesecake. It just so happens that my favorite pie is key lime, the only time I like to eat it is in the summer, and as it turns out, when combined with cheese is even better.

Then there was storytelling, and even a dramatic reading:

Sam shared her summertime food memory which involved a blueberry pie eating contest, vomit, and that moment when you suddenly realize sometimes your parents really DO know best, and that they don't actually make arbitrary rules just to torture you. And then, she told us about the sometimes shorter-lived moment when you suddenly realize your parents might actually be the coolest people ever, which for her came when she realized that while her mom let her pull the guts out of the inside of the pumpkin with her hands, because who can be denied that delicious feeling of being elbow deep in slime and tendons?, her friend's mother made her use a SPOON. For shame.

And then Josh D. congratulated her for bringing things full circle right into fall, and we started talking about what we'd miss about the summer but what we love about fall and then everyone got another plateful and some of us maybe took a nap.

So that's it, I suppose. The last of the summertime hurrahs (and what a hurrah it was). Sure, there'll be corn in abundance for the next few weeks, and it was, after all, in the upper 80s today. But you can already feel the change in the air, the cooler breeze that comes through in the late evening hours, the rain that when it comes, leaves you more chilled than refreshed. So, I didn't eat all the tomatoes I would have liked, and maybe I missed out on the pleasure of a lobster roll and fries on a sunny afternoon with a glass of rose, and maybe my summer saw not one single cherry pass these lips. Next year. In the meantime, I'm looking forward to cozying up on a cloudy fall day with a pot of red beans and rice on the stove. Apple pie ain't so bad either.


The Mouse

*Okay, I didn't sign it that way, as you and our parents are the only people on this planet that actually call me that IN PUBLIC AHEM

(Our BFF) Emeril's Red Beans and Rice

8 servings


1 pound dried red beans, rinsed and sorted over
3 tablespoons bacon grease
1/4 cup chopped tasso, or chopped ham
1 1/2 cups chopped yellow onions
3/4 cup chopped celery
3/4 cup chopped green bell peppers
1/2 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
Pinch cayenne
3 bay leaves
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
2 teaspoons fresh thyme
1/2 pound smoked sausage, split in half lengthwise and cut into 1-inch pieces
1 pound smoked ham hocks
3 tablespoons chopped garlic
10 cups chicken stock, or water--I would use less than this, as it turned out rather soupy.
4 cups cooked white rice
1/4 cup chopped green onions, garnish


Place the beans in a large bowl or pot and cover with water by 2 inches. Let soak for 8 hours or overnight. Drain and set aside. Or, if you're me, and never think to do this ahead of time, quick soak them. Instructions here.

In a large pot, heat the bacon grease over medium-high heat. Add the ham and cook, stirring, for 1 minute. Add the onions, celery and bell peppers to the grease in the pot. Season with the salt, pepper, and cayenne, and cook, stirring, until the vegetables are soft, about 4 minutes. Add the bay leaves, parsley, thyme, sausage, and ham hocks, and cook, stirring, to brown the sausage and ham hocks, about 4 minutes. Add the garlic and cook for 1 minute. Add the beans and stock or water, stir well, and bring to a boil. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer, uncovered, stirring occasionally, until the beans are tender and starting to thicken, about 2 hours.

Using an immersion blender, or by removing about 1/5 of the contents of the pot and blending in a processor, puree some of the beans until desired consistency, which should be thick and creamy, with lots of bean and sausage chunks. Continue to cook until the beans are tender and creamy, 15 to 20 minutes. Remove from the heat and remove the bay leaves.

Serve over rice and garnish with green onions.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

What, no corn salad? For shame......anyway, once a Mouse, always a Mouse.