Come on Over!
I adore London. I love English produce, architecture, history and humor. But I’m also a loyal daughter of America where I grew up and, thankfully, where we return every summer to settle into our Connecticut clapboard house, Red Gate Farm. All winter in London, I look forward to the dizzy whirl of seeing everyone we miss and the food that symbolizes an American summer to me. Steamed Maine lobsters served with aioli, crabcakes with a spicy remoulade, sticky chicken wings with homemade BBQ sauce, burgers made with home-minced chicken breast, or bison from Wisconsin, piled with thick slices of red onion and dripping with pesto and melted blue cheese. I love to bring out the deep fryer and produce succulent calamari, crunchy jumbo shrimp, fresh haddock and homemade chicken fingers. Summer entertaining! It’s what I do.
Nothing spells summer food like slaw. Don’t even think of that gloppy, saturated white cabbage delicatessen nonsense. Get a head of firm red cabbage, a few heads of fennel, a bulb of celery root, a handful of crunchy carrots, and exercise that obsessive-compulsive in you. Make matchsticks of everything, dress it with a lemony, creamy vinaigrette and pop it in the fridge to let the flavors marry. That bowl of slaw will take you from lunch to dinner to lunch, in the sun at the picnic table.
Throw together the ultimate bean salad in no time: black beans, little white beans, chickpeas, all mixed up with diced red pepper, red onion, sugar snap peas. And it isn’t summer without sweet corn! Before you cook all the ears for dinner, though, keep back a couple to cut off, raw, into your bean salad. Dress that colorful salad with garlicky pesto and it will be your best friend, alongside a pile of slow-grilled country-style pork ribs.
And cold soup: there is nothing like it to take the edge off a steamy Connecticut evening. Creamy vichyssoise sprinkled with chives, pureed “pink” gazpacho, tart, chunky tomato soup drizzled with pesto. All these are served from my funky pottery tureen in the shape of a giant head of green cabbage.
Of course I could cook all this food in London, in the middle of winter. But I never would. It’s Connecticut food, home food, summer food.
Every August we welcome everyone we can gather together for my beautiful mother’s birthday party. The guest list is ever-changing: our farmer friends up the country road, the staff at the Land Trust that preserves the acres surrounding our farmhouse, extended family (my husband’s mother, a welter of siblings and nieces), and old friends from all over New York State. I start cooking the day before and everyone in the family has jobs chopping garlic, counting plates and forks, opening up borrowed tables.
Because I am an extreme extrovert living in a family of introverts, it’s paramount to make everything SIMPLE, so as not to scare the horses. There are some rules that cannot be broken for summer entertaining at my house:
- Don’t stress about the weather! Sure, the picnic table and trampoline are fun, but rain just means you bring the party indoors, light a million votive candles and get cozy.
- Don’t cook anything that makes you nervous! For me this is dessert, so when guests inevitably ask, “What can we bring” I chime in with “Something sweet!” Everyone but me wants to bake cupcakes, so bring them on!
- Don’t freak out about decorating! Nobody cares about fancy plates or napkins. Friends will bring flowers. For my mother’s party, I buy 40 yellow balloons (her favorite color), and everyone gets into the act tying them to the white picket fence.
- Invite only people you know are prepared to have FUN! This does not mean you need only extroverts, because every storyteller needs listeners. Encourage the kids to both listen and learn to tell their own stories.
- Plan to grill LOTS of things – skewers of scallops and bacon, marinated vegetables, bratwurst and foil parcels of buttery, paper thin potatoes. Grilling gives the shy husband a job, and any other shy person can sidle over to give him advice.
Now tie on your apron, pour a tall, icy glass of Absolut Citron with lemonade and a Key lime, and let the party begin!
Photo Credit: Avery Curran (food photos)
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