After and before our summer dinner party

R* and I had a dinner party for five Sunday night.

I built the menu backwards. CQ wanted me to make the chocolate cake again and I thought it would go well with some home made vanilla ice cream and the cake would be a great way to belatedly celebrate 2's birthday.

With that rich cake at the end of the line where I might have put a peach sorbet or tart, how could I create the rest of the meal to celebrate the peak of the farmer's market growing season? Here's the menu . . . how do you think I did?

Prosciutto and Cantaloupe
Fresh Tomatoes with Ricotta

Cold Borscht with Dill, Cucumbers, and Hard Boiled Eggs

Mustard and Chili Rubbed Rare Roast Beef
Heirloom Tomatoes and Arugula Salad
Boiled Redskin Potatoes
Steamed Yellow Squash

Chocolate Souffle Cake
Philadelphia Style Vanilla Ice Cream

In "Growing Up Gourmet" by Barbara Haber (Best Food Writing 2002), Haber says that food is an "exquisite battleground" because it gave Lillian Hellman and other food lovers "a lot to fight about: what to cook, how to cook it, how to serve it, and with whom to share the meal." While I like this metaphor of a fight (food fight! food fight!), I'm really not much of a fighter. For me, it's a Sudoku puzzle for the plate:

** If I serve the hot potatoes with the cold borscht -- "the best a beet can hope for" -- as Bittman suggests, what will the starch be for the meal?

** The butcher at A&S Pork Store suggests I can substitute London Boil for tenderloin and save some serious money, as long as I slice it "reeeeeeeaaaaaaly thin."

** I ask R*: Should we use the everyday cereal bowls for the soup or coffee cups or do I need to buy something?

** How do you chill ice cream according to the "manufacturer's instructions," as nearly every ice cream recipe preaches, when you bought your ice cream maker last summer at a stoop sale for $5 and never got an instruction booklet?

** What about zinnias for the flowers? I hope no one mistakes them for Gerber daises. Zinnias, fuzzy bug eaten leaves and all, remind me of summers spent in upstate New York with my grandparents and aunt.

While I'll never understand why people deliberately frustrate themsevles with sudoku and word search puzzles, especially on the New York City subway which is possibly the world's most frustrating place even without puzzles, and while I hope I won't be fighting on my death bed as Lillian Hellman was in this excerpt, I love the Mrs. Dalloway-esque internal dialogue required to host a successful dinner party. I can't wait to start planning the next one. And to keep myself from thinking about our Chirstmas party too much, I made a rule a few years back: no planning the Christmas party, no menus, no guest lists, until Halloween.

These are the things I think about, before and after our parties, things to consider while setting the table with my grandmother's Fostoria American dishes and then re-consider like this morning while I was un-loading the dishwasher and putting in a third load of post-party dishes (yes! this dishwasher is fixed!) and picking half-moons of limes and a piece of water-logged ciabatta out of the drain.


Anonymous Mr. S said...

great menu! what makes ice cream "philadelphia style"?

after a trip to russia last fall, my whole concept of borshch has changed from it being a cold, smooth beet soup (the jewish version i grew up with) to a hot beet broth with bits of beet and beef in it, garnished with sour cream. it's thinner, but still very good, and D likes it better because there's meat in it. but now i'm craving the cold version... i love cold soups in the summer, but i'm getting a little bit tired of the cucumber soup i've made 3 or 4 times. it's a good recipe, though, and very simple. all you need are 3-4 cucumbers, peeled, seeded and roughly chopped; about 2 cups plain yogurt (i like Greek style yogurt best, because it's extra tart); a handful of dill, roughly chopped; one clove garlic, minced; and salt and pepper to taste. put it all in the blender and blend until smooth. you may need to add a scant 1/4 cup water in the beginning to get it going. chill and serve, garnished with sour cream and a sprig of dill. if you want to get really fancy, float a bit of salmon caviar (the big orange eggs) on top.

maybe this should have been a post, rather than a comment...

10:03 PM  
Anonymous Mr. S said...

you could use the food processor instead, by the way, if you haven't made up with the blender yet.

10:04 PM  
Blogger Chris said...

Hey, Mr. S, glad you're back.

Philadelphia style means that you didn't make a custard, you just dumped it all right into the ice cream maker. Makes the whole thing much easier.

I made a salad of thin sliced cukes, sour cream and dill earlier in the week. Your soup also sounds great.

No . . . I haven't made up with the blender yet . . . still cleaning little bits of basil sugar slop out of hidden corners of the kitchen.

4:56 PM  
Anonymous Mr. S said...

thanks for the cucumber salad recipe. i tried it earlier this week and it was great.

10:50 AM  

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