My Sunday morning was spent reading and relaxing after Saturday night's dinner party. For me, making dinner for friends requires several hours of advance work: recipe research, an inventory of staples, list making, and, if I'm in NYC, some truly contentious shopping and waiting-in-line angst at one of the city's mobbed Trader Joe's. After that, I put in a full day of cooking and Jim did some serious cleaning. What followed on Saturday night was a great time spent eating slow-cooked food, drinking wine and sharing all of this with new friends from NYC. Food and friends. There's magic there.
The food was tasty but not inspiring, which is too bad since there were two restaurateurs and another two serious foodies at the table. Luckily I hadn't really thought this through in advance. Had I, I would have made myself crazed as the day of chopping, browning, stirring, blending and tasting began to reveal the lackluster nature of the dinner I would be serving. Sometimes a little more salt just can't rescue your baby from the doldrums.
The coq au vin would have benefited from a more robust red wine. I found the recipe for the ricotta pie (I had wanted to replicate the ricotta cake from Mike's Bakery, now closed, in Gloucester, but I couldn't find a recipe.) in my old "Joy of Cooking." James Beard gave the recipe to Irma Rombauer, but I am neither of these master chefs. The crust, with its 2 tablespoons of brandy, was chewy not flaky. I blame myself since I don't even eat pie crust and I doubt you can create something as tricky as pie crust without a little enthusiasm. While rolling out the dough, however, I recalled how my friend Linda, another master pie maker, used to produce beautiful pies any time the need arose and with an ease that belied her expertise. She died in childbirth, young and beautiful and suddenly gone. Food, with all its sensual components, has the power to provoke wonderful memories like Linda laughing and talking as she shaped a soft, pliable ball of pie dough and rolled it out in seconds flat.
Among the subsidiary items on my menu was a zesty green goddess dip. I spotted the recipe in last week's NY Times Food section. Happily, the bowl of dip the color of a meadow in springtime lent the whole spread a needed jolt of color and a lively garlicy edge. Outside, it was bitterly cold and windy, with flakes of snow flying about and guests arriving half-frozen at our front door. Vernal green looked awfully good.
In the course of our conversations, I learned a lot about Fela from Ayo, our Nigerian friend whose family knew Fela's family (The musical, now playing at the Eugene O'Neil Theatre, is astonishing. I've seen it twice.), and even more about the art of coffee making from Ayo and Ross, co-owner of the fabulous Chat 'n' Chew in Union Square, and David, who has put his many years of coffee research into satisfying practice.
Sunday morning Jim and I were up by 7. We finished washing the dishes, had toast with real Irish butter left over from dinner, and cups of coffee that, we realized, were not going to be nearly as good as the coffee Ayo and David and Carol were having. Alas.
Dinner parties require a certain post-party period of rest and rumination, which explains this blog post. But rumination is important. That's when we fully appreciate the friends we have, assess the recipes we use, and recall the pleasure we got from our conversations. If you like good conversation, by the way, check out my book review this week. The book is titled "A Good Talk" and you can find my review posted on Amazon and at the Wicked Local newspapers' Web sites. Engrossing conversation is like breast feeding and orgasm, says the book's author Daniel Menaker, in that it produces neurotransmitters that make you feel awfully good.
Bolstered by my intake of calories and my fill of very good talk, I turn again to the ubiquitous to do list and greet Monday morning in good spirits and well fortified. Sometimes it takes a little special effort to feed the spirit, especially in winter.