Looking for a spark of inspiration

I’ve been feeling decidedly uninspired in the culinary department for the last few weeks or so. I blame the season. It’s well past the time for wintry fare like beef daube and Brussels sprouts, but the quintessential ingredients of summer—heirloom tomatoes, basil, fresh corn, figs, berries, watermelon, and zucchini blossoms—haven’t quite reached their peak yet. Add in the weird, wet, chilly weather we’ve been having, and I’ve been stymied almost every time we’ve had guests for dinner in the last few weeks. I’ve been falling back on some of my tried-and-true favorites, like grilled achiote-marinated chicken and refried beans. Tasty, but not exactly exciting.

But now the weather is warming up, and I have a goal in my sights: a birthday dinner I’m cooking for two of my dearest friends next week. These two friends (along with Mr. Manhattan) concocted the most outrageously decadent dinner for my birthday last January, so I’d like to come up with a little something special for them. I just took a peek at the menu they printed out for that dinner five month ago, though, and I was immediately intimidated. I realize that having friends that make such fantabulous food is hardly the worst problem in the world to have, but now I’m spinning my wheels about what I could possibly do live up to the same standard. So now I have my work cut out for me coming up with a menu. Or maybe I’ll just go to bed and dream of pork belly and Calabria cocktails …

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