The humidity has really settled in. It’s that deceptive sort of weather that makes you don your tennis togs, grab JUST not enough cold water, and head to the courts. After you’ve moved around for about five seconds, you’re SOAKED! It’s a nice temperature if you don’t MOVE.
Last night was one of those iconic Connecticut evenings, heavy with damp, fragrant air, rolling distant thunder and flashes of heat lightning behind Stillmeadow. I dashed across to leave a package that had come UPS for Anne and David, opening our sweet little red gate to run across the dusty road, knock on their door, hear sounds of Katie’s bathtime, look in at the cozy lamplight, feeling at once like a bit of a voyeur and also intensely grateful for our friendly little bend of road.
How I love having Kate turn up to trampoline, her mother to sit down for a quick sandwich — today’s of slices of a rolled-up mozzarella, pancetta and parsley concoction, plus the juiciest of heirloom tomtoes — listening to her dad struggling with the lawnmower across the road. And more heat thunder and lightning, today at lunchtime. They are the best possible neighbors.
Avery’s best friend from babyhood has turned up for her annual visit. Cici came to meet Avery when Avery was three days old and Cici a grownup lady of six months, and they were joined at the hip for nine years, until we moved to London. Their friendship is one that survives from year to year with a mysterious alchemy from little girlhood to the beautiful young women they are now. The two of them haven’t changed one iota.
They’re teenagers, which means they can watch eleventy hundred episodes of “America’s Top Model” in a row, while comparing the relative merits of American and European candy, then sleep for twelve hours. They also don’t mind the heat if they can be on an amusement park ride, so John has taken them off this afternoon to Quassy and after sharing a few rides with them, has left them to spend a hot afternoon filled with roller coasters, The Saturation Station, and fried dough. Last night they ate their weight in spaghetti carbonara, so my conscience is clear. I have fed them real food.
Cici is the last in our series of summer visitors, and a nice crowning touch to a season of celebrations. My mother has come and gone, for her big 75th birthday weekend. What fun we had.
Oh, the food we cooked! We made our way to Jill and Joel’s house for an on-the-day birthday dinner, where my contribution was tri-color slaw, with poppy seeds and an Everything Dressing.
(serves at least eight)
1/2 head red cabbage
1/2 head Savoy cabbage
4 carrots, shredded
Dressing: 1/3 cup each: olive oil (I used the leftovers from a jar of marinated artichokes!), mayonnaise, lemon juice, Thousand Island dressing, plus 1 tbsp Dijon mustard and 1 tbsp poppy seeds
Shred both cabbages and all the carrots, toss with dressing. Serve room temperature or cold.
And my goodness, Joel cooked an incredible dinner. Grilled pork tenderloin and the best risotto.
Fresh Tomato Risotto with Basil
5 cups chicken broth
4 tbsps butter
1/2 chopped onion
1 tbsp vegetable oil
1 1/2 pounds firm ripe tomatoes, peeled, seeded and cut into 1/2 inch pieces
salt and freshly ground pepper
1 1/2 cups carnaroli, arborio or vialone nano rice (about 10 ounces)
1/2 cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
10 basil leaves cut into very thin strips
In a medium saucepan, bring the broth to a boil and keep simmering constantly.
In a large saucepan, combine 2 tbsps of the butter with the onion and the oil. Cook over moderate hear, stirring occasionally, until the onion turns pale gold. Add the tomatoes and a pinch each of salt and pepper and cook, stirring occasionally, for 10 minutes.
Add the rice and stir to thoroughly coat the grains. Add 1/2 cup of the simmering broth to the rice and stir constantly until most of the liquid has been absorbed; adjust the heat to maintain a simmer. Gradually add more broth, 1/2 cup at a time, and cook, stirring the rice constantly to prevent it sticking to the pan at any time. The rice is done when it is firm but tender, without a chalky center.
Add the remaining butter, the cheese and the basil and stir for 1 minute longer. Season with salt and pepper and serve at once.
It was lovely to have all the girls together with their grandmother and John’s mom, sitting in the backyard with the swingset and the chalk games being played on the driveway. And after risotto, there were cupcakes.
Jill and Joel’s kitty Snowball marched back and forth with first a half-dead chipmunk and then a more-than-half-dead bird in his mouth… “The cycle of life,” said Joel. “Finally, another man in the house. That’s my boy.”
And we gave Mom her present — “the most fun I’ve had with my family in a very long time!” John said, describing the evening we put it all together. The 75th birthday Personal Crossword.
How we racked our brains for clues, and answers! Going all the way back to Mom’s childhood, her favorite movies, sports teams, color, flower, television shows, all our names, the neighborhoods she’s lived in… it was SUCH fun. And she enjoyed it.
But the fun didn’t stop there. The next day brought them all to our house for the annual party, decorated carefully with as many yellow balloons as we can fit in the back of the Land Rover.
Even a very cool teenager is happy to get out of bed to tie a few thousand balloons to the fence and the bird feeder!
It is always such fun for me to work in the kitchen as the time for the party approaches, and to watch cars pull up in the driveway, filled by a happy group of so many wonderful people. Of course, it’s a complete accident that some of them come armed with the most delicious food, like Cathy and her strawberry-rhubarb pie, or Olimpia and her famous meatballs! It’s the friendship that matters.
And of course it’s a completely coincidence that Tricia and Rollie come armed with everyone’s favorite baby, Tiny Rollie. Olimpia and Tony may have enjoyed spending time with him, just a little.
There was the table of little girls…
And while I did not get a decent picture of my dear friend Shelley, I did snap Avery with Shelley’s present. There is a lady who understands cats.
There was time to sit for a time to appreciate everyone’s special contributions: the wonderful stories that Cathy tells of her aunt living here in our house, Shelley’s encyclopedic knowledge of the geneology that makes her eighth cousins something-removed from Anne, Joel and Olimpia’s contributions of ideas for eggplant meatballs, the shouts of the little girls (and one big girl, ever-patient) on the trampoline, ringing sweetly in the distance. First Joel supervised and they were crazy.
And then, because they all adore John’s mom who wielded the camera (as we all count on her to do!), they posed for her, each of them beautiful in her own unique way.
My husband’s good humor and endless energy with the girls and the Land Rover, added the spice of Everyone’s Favorite Dad to the mix.
And Anne didn’t save all her baby enthusiasm for her own. She had time for Tiny Rollie, too.
Jill and Avery simply cannot take a bad photograph. The two most beautiful girls at the party, perhaps.
And what part do I play in all this? I am the rope that draws everyone in, the chronicler of our times together, the grateful audience for everyone’s charms. And the producer of grilled scallops wrapped in bacon, it must be said.
Through it all, my mother performed her usual miracle of finding something to talk about with everyone. She had brought the crossword with her to beg for mercy, to ask for help with the last three or four clues (and they weren’t our best effort, I admit). She sat on the shady terrace with Anne’s and Olimpia’s floral tributes all around her, and enjoyed all her favorite foods, which happen –happen!- to be my favorite foods! There were chicken livers sauteed in butter and Madeira, mushrooms stuffed with sausage, pecans baked with spiced butter, heirloom tomato salad with mozzarella, olive oil and lemon juice. I think she was happy.
And for once, Jill, Joel and John’s strictures that “it’s not a party at Red Gate Farm unless everyone’s crying” did not come true. The day ended magically, as all birthdays should, with cake.
Now it is all over for another year. The birthday is over, the last hugs have been exchanged, and my mother and brother have gone home. Thank goodness John’s mom has stayed behind to cheer us up. Although, to tell you the truth… we’re pretty happy these days.Print This Post