I walked into the kitchen to find Charlotte staring, somewhat apathetically, at a pile of artichokes next to the stove. “That’s a s***load of artichokes.” she sighed, apparently realizing for the first time that – as it was her recipe – she was the one that was going to have to peel them. I remained however happy as a clam, or rather three bags full of clams. Being the last one in the loop on the whole dinner plan had, to my surprise, made for a relatively easy afternoon so far. Taking a break from my bartending duties, I decided to pop down to the stream with Carlie to pick watercress for the salad. It was my most strenuous excercise of the day, at least since I carried in the groceries a couple of hours ago. Since the group of kids tagged along (water + mud = frolicking children every time) I was spared having to actually exert any effort at all, my whole creek side experience being relegated to “Look, there’s some over there!” while gesturing in a vague direction towards a patch of green near where the kiddos were currently splashing. We picked mint too for the braised artichokes (this time I was the one using the royal “we”, in truth “they” picked the mint as well). We trudged back up the hill to the house, our bag of freshly picked watercress and mint from a spring fed stream carried in tiny little hands. The field labor unfastened their boots and washed mud off equally tiny little feet and toes, Charlotte was turning her attention from the now peeled artichokes to the beets, which would have to be roasted. Carlie was setting about work on the two salads: Avocado and Watercress Salad with a Green Apple Vinaigrette, along with a Potato and Fennel Salad. More roasting to be done, I silently mused. I realized that during my outdoor foray away from my bartending post the ice had melted in my glass. Having nothing better to do at the moment, I though to myself Time for a refill. All in all, I was having a hell of a fun time.
There was nothing overly ambitious about the menu except there was a lot of it. An indefinite number of adults were coming for dinner – always an interesting proposition when you’re trying to figure how much food to prepare. However we knew one thing was for certain and that was no one had ever left one of our dinner parties hungry. Normally I love the research and creative process that goes along with designing a dinner party – the road testing of new recipes, the tinkering with old ones, the cocktails (as I seem to always end up in charge of the drinks). This time Charlotte and Carlie presented the plan to me as a fait accompli, it was done and decided upon before I ever knew we were planning anything. My sole responsibility (aside from the drinks) was to prepare a Mario Batali recipe for clams in habanero chive broth (in fairness Batali uses cockles but try finding those in Lexington in April). They had already taken care of putting together the rest of the menu. To be honest I was a little… hurt isn’t the right word. Disappointed? Maybe. I felt like I missed out on all the fun. The creativity was gone, the excitement that goes along with that “A-ha!” moment when you stumble upon that special something that will make your dinner memorable. My role was sadly reduced for this outing. Had I done something wrong? Did I somehow cause my culinary co-horts to lose faith in my skills in the kitchen? Or had they just been prone to sudden joint outburst of creativity at a time when, coincidently, I wasn’t around? Whatever the reason, it was done. Now all that was left was the work of actually preparation of the food.
I am blessed to have friends that love food and cooking, while at the same time being reasonably tolerant of me.
I have said often on these pages that the best dinners are sometimes those involving the least amount of planning. A few ingredients picked fresh that morning, maybe a quick trip to the butcher, and everything else already present and accounted for in the kitchen or pantry – nothing more is required. Saturday was one such dinner, and I should hasten to point out that I had very little to do with making it happen.