Keeping it real, mom style

So after my mom, my most dedicated (only?) reader, saw my post about hostess envy, about wanting to be able to throw parties that feature large quantities of black truffles and meats mail ordered from D’Artagnan, she sent me the following email.

Read your last blog this morning, and I, also, am having a dinner party.

Menu: Boiled shrimp, boiled new red potatoes, boiled sausage, and boiled corn on the cob–all in one large pot with the same water and crab boil. Cook and drain.

To serve: Cover table with butcher paper.

Dump all food onto the table.

Eat everything with hands, no need for fancy plates or silverware.

Have plenty of Cheatah Mojitas,or beer before, during, and afterwards.

Dessert: San Antonio River Mud [which, if I recall correctly, is some goopy, chocolately graham cracker pie]

She sent the following pictures, before …

And after …

The thing is, I would have totally loved to have been at this party (I loved  old-fashioned shrimp boils when I was growing up  on the Gulf Coast). A good thing to remember when I’m knocking myself out making layer cake or lamenting my lack of black truffles.

Speaking of which, a recap on my dinner party coming up soon …


Hostess Envy

Last night I read an article published in the New York Times in 2000 by William Grimes called “Dinner for 7: What Could Be Easier,” describing an elaborate dinner party he hosted that year. I recognized my own process several times in the article, like when Grimes is “float[ing] in a dreamlike state” contemplating dishes like Thomas Keller’s foie gras au torchon before settling on something (a little) less elaborate. I always have this impulse before I throw a party, and in fact I call it the “Thomas Keller moment,” when I’m planning to make his confit of pork belly before I tally up the amount of time it would take to make it … the four other courses I’m planning.

The following especially struck a chord with my mood at the moment:

The dinner-party instinct is irrational. More often than not, entertaining involves blood, sweat and tears. It can be a one-way ticket to recrimination and regret. For the guests, of course, it’s a sweet deal. They bring a bottle wine or a bouquet and, presto!, they’re inside the velvet rope, ready for a stress-free evening of food and wine. For the hosts, the point can seem more obscure, especially an hour before the guests arrive, and more especially an hour after they leave

But still the urge strikes, again and again.

Can you tell I’m struggling with the menu and planning for a dinner I’m having in two days? I primarily blame the weather. After a blissfully cool summer the temperature jumped up to 101 degrees today, and I’m finding it dreadfully hard to motivate to run around from store to store or stand over the stove making stock. Right now I’m waiting for sunset–or at least until it drops below 90 degrees–before I head to the kitchen to make the pastry cream that’s going into dessert.

Honestly, I’m looking forward to the party–or at least I will be when the heat wave breaks tomorrow and I shake myself out of this heat-induced lethargy–but I must confess to a serious case of hostess envy after reading this article. In addition to dedicating what seems like days shopping and prepping, Grimes buys the following:

  • Rabbit from D’Artagnan
  • Venison, black truffles, and mushrooms from Urbani
  • A selection of fine Alsatian wines
  • Additional wine glasses and a pizza stone
  • Flowers for two different arrangements

This is, of course, in addition to various meat from the butcher and vegetables and other ingredients from an expensive grocer on Manhattan’s Upper East Side.

Perhaps if I entertained less often, I could afford to bust out with the truffles new stemware for a party, but as it is, I have to consider every expense. But rest assured, when I win the lottery, I’m putting in a huge order with Tsar Nicoulai Caviar and chilling an ocean of Veuve Clicquot La Grande Dame.

On my mom and cocktail snobbery

I often describe myself as a cocktail geek, but I try not to be a terrible cocktail snob. It’s one thing to enjoy geeking out about agricole rums and homemade brandied cherries (as I love to do), but it’s another to disdain a drink just because it doesn’t contain seven different artisanal ingredients available at Cask.

But perhaps I need to work on my snobbery co-efficient because I got this funny email from my mom this morning:

Have enjoyed reading your blog and sent it along to a couple of friends.  I thought about sending this idea through the blog, but then remembered that you might be the one choosing my nursing home, so decided not to embarrass you.  However, my friends have decided that I have invented a wonderful drink, which they have named “Wilma’s Cheetah Mojita.”


Bottle of Simply Limeade (purchased in any super market, usually in the aisle with the orange juice, not frozen)
Fresh mint leaves
Sparkling mineral water

With a muddler, crush leaves in bottom of glass. Add simply Limeade and rum and ice. Stir in a small amount of sparkling water. Enjoy! This is much easier and faster to prepare for large groups [than a regular mojito, I presume – Ed.] Also, very easy to prepare on long hot camping trips [from which my mother just returned].

Yep, you are welcome to use my idea, as I have not patented it. Would you like me to send along any of my many “bacon-wrapped” appetizers?


Marked Man

Last night I had two of my favorite people, Denise and The Working Cook, over for a casual dinner. Tara made an unusual and delicious salad with mozarella and watermelon, and I made a black bean chili full of fresh summer vegetables.

It also gave me a chance to make one of my new favorite summer cocktails, The Marked Man. I got the recipe from Mr. Manhattan, who got it from the recipe’s inventor, bartender Kevin Diedrich, who’s currently at San Francisco’s neo-speakeasy, the Burritt Room.

Marked Man

2 ounces blueberry-infused Maker’s Mark bourbon (see below)
1/2 ounce Benedictine
1/2 ounce Vya dry vermouth
2 dashes Fees Brothers peach bitters

Combine all the ingredients in a shaker with ice. Stir well to chill. Strain into a cocktail glass.

Blueberry-infused boubon

Combine 2 pints of fresh blueberries with 1 750-ml bottle of Maker’s Mark bourbon in a container with a tight-fitting lid. Now here’s the hard part: let it infuse for two weeks without dipping into it so often to “test” it that it’s all gone before your two weeks are up. Strain before using.

Note: I didn’t have any Vya vermouth on hand, so I used Dolin dry instead. It wasn’t quite right, so on Mr. Manhattan’s recommendation I used Lillet Blanc instead, which is a mite sweeter. And he was right. Perfection!

Kitchen nostalgia

One of the reasons for my blogging silence of late was that I just spent almost two weeks on vacation, staying at my husband’s family house on Keuka Lake in upstate New York.

Steve Hager

The house, which is now owned by my husband’s mother and her siblings, was formerly owned by his grandmother, so David has lots of nostaglic memories of spending his summers there, where he got to swim, sail, and kayak to his heart’s content.

Though I usually enjoy cooking quite a bit during my vacations, I spent very little time in the kitchen this time. In part this is because food at the lake house tends to be very simple: bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwiches accompanied by Bugles are a family tradition for lunch, and just-picked peaches sold at the farmstand across the street were perfect for breakfast. I also got to enjoy a cooking holiday because my in-laws generously stepped up to do most of the food prep.

This suited me just perfectly because, well, I have a confession to make: I’m terrified of cooking in someone else’s kitchen. Sure, I have a few foodie friends, like the Working Cook, who have every tool I could want, and where I’ve cooked enough times to know my way around. Cooking at one of their homes is fine. But at rental houses, or the house of someone who doesn’t cook an awful lot, I’m horrified by the lack of sharpened chef’s knives. I’m frustrated when I can’t find a baking sheet that isn’t thin or too small. And I still have post-traumatic stress from that time I tried to cook blueberry pancakes for my in-laws at a vacation rental last year. The thin, scratched, and terribly warped frying pans in the rental house resulted in sad pancakes thathad a black, burnt circle on each side surrounded by a concentric circle of raw dough.

At any rate, my minimal cooking contributions in the past few weeks didn’t keep me from digging through the kitchen cabinets to see what was there. I found Dave’s grandmother’s recipe box, which had some truly horrific sounding recipes in it. They’re so awful I simply must try some of them, especially since grandma was a home ec teacher and, by all accounts, a pretty good cook. Maybe there’s something to that dish made out of bananas and rice topped with “your favorite cheese.” Maybe.

I also had fun pawing through the spices and condiments that expired in the last millennium. In addition to four jars of baking soda, none of them used in the slightest, I found several different extracts.

Says the bottle of maple extract: “For 1 pint of delicious syrup, Pour 1 cup boiling water over 2 cups sugar, Add 1/2 teaspoon Mapleine, Stir until dissolved.” *Shudder*

Then there were the spices, some of which are older than I am.

In case you can’t see, that’s a bottle of saccharine on the far right. And that yeast? It expired in 1966. I proofed it, mixing with warm water and a bit of sugar, just for jollies. I thought it would make for a good story if it actually bubbled and showed some signs of life. Let’s just say I was perhaps overly optimistic.