Monday, March 30, 2009
You turn 85 only once
Yesterday, my family threw a big party for my grandmother's 85th birthday. In the spirit of this grand occasion, I abandoned all frugal sensibilities and went hog-wild at several different grocery stores. Shrimp! Smoked salmon! Marcona almonds! Goat cheese! Arugula! Belgian endives! Skinny asparagus! Fresh herbs, all different kinds!
Nana herself would have exercised more restraint. Even as her dementia has worsened, she has never let go of her Depression-era ways -- e.g., reusing paper towels and foil and saving the smallest scraps of food -- which people today are adopting for our current situation. But, oh, as M.F.K. Fisher writes in the section "How to Practice True Economy" in How to Cook a Wolf (1942, financially the toughest year of the war), there are occasions when it's acceptable to "throw discretion into the laundry bag, put candles on the table, and for your own good if not the pleasure of an admiring audience make one or another of the recipes in this chapter," which includes lots of luxuries like butter, booze, and cream. And one such occasion is one's grandmother's 85th birthday.
I brought smoked salmon tea sandwiches, biscotti, cabbage salad, and an improvised shrimp pasta salad, but my favorite contribution was a classy little tapas dish I discovered at Jaleo. I hunted down the recipe and found it on the Food Network site for Rachael Ray's $40 a Day -- I guess from an episode where she visits DC -- but changed the proportions significantly. It tastes of early spring, requires no cooking, and went over smashingly at the party. The birthday girl herself didn't take much notice -- these days, all she wants is dessert. And when you're 85, you can have as much as you want.
Recipe: Endive Boats with Oranges, Almonds, and Goat Cheese
Adapted from Jose Andres via the Food Network.
Makes about 40 tapas. Can be covered in plastic wrap and refrigerated overnight.
1/4 C sherry vinegar (I didn't have any, so I used red wine vinegar -- seems fine)
1/2 C olive oil
1 minced garlic clove
1 T minced shallot
dash of salt
dash of pepper
5 Belgian endives
6 small to medium oranges, peeled and cut into pieces about a half-inch long
1 C almonds, coarsely chopped (I used Marcona to be fancy, but any kind should be fine)
4 oz. goat cheese, crumbled
3 T chives, snipped
dash of salt
To make the dressing, whisk together the first five ingredients. Set aside. Cut the roots off the endives, peel off the leaves and lay them down, concave side up. (Some of the leaves might be too small to work as "boats" -- save these for a salad or some other use.) Fill each endive boat first with the oranges (about 4 or 5 pieces each), then with the almonds (about a teaspoon each), then with a sprinkle of the goat cheese and chives. Strain the dressing, keeping the liquid only (you can keep the solids for some other use -- I added them to the shrimp marinade for my shrimp pasta salad). Drizzle about a half teaspoon of the dressing over each boat.
Addendum: later in the springtime, strawberries would be a delicious substitute for the oranges. Also, feta cheese or even blue cheese would be good, and julienned basil or chopped parsley would work in place of chives.