One of my favourite TV shows when I am looking for something light, with fantastic scenery, characters who are, by and large, kind to one another and no violence or misogyny is 800 Words, set in rural New Zealand.
In an episode my partner and I watched recently, I thoroughly enjoyed the banter between two characters as they struggled to plan the menu for their first joint dinner party, but when they arrived in the kitchen with their bags of vegetables, fruits and other ingredients for the meal they planned to cook together, I was overcome with tears.
It was too much of a reminder of what we can’t do right now: gather with a group of friends around the table for an evening of food, drinks, music and conversation.
But, as my partner pointed out to me, I can imagine such a party.
Date: Sunday May 17th
Time: 6:30 p.m. for cocktails, with dinner to follow at 7:30 p.m. (Or, really, any date and time you want.)
Where: Your house or, if the weather permits, your backyard
Dress: However you like (because no one will see you except you and your housemates)
Every dinner party worth its name starts with some cocktails. On Sunday, we will be serving rhubarb lemonade for those who want a drink with no booze, and my version of The Pimm’s Cup, which incorporates rhubarb lemonade, for those who want a bit more of a punch to their pre-dinner libation:
For two cocktails, muddle ½ each orange and lime, (chopped, including rind) and 1/3 chopped cucumber in the bottom of a pitcher. Add 6 ounces Pimm’s Cup No. 1, 6 – 8 ounces rhubarb lemonade and 6 – 8 ounces club soda. Mix well.
Pour into two stemmed wine glasses, over ice, including the muddled fruit and cucumber, and garnish with orange and lime slices and a cucumber spear.
As for wine to accompany the meal, you can avoid lineups and crowds at the LCBO by ordering from one of Ontario’s many wineries that now offer delivery to your door.
I am starting my May 24th dinner party with herbed ricotta and grilled local asparagus, which has just started to make an appearance. For two people:
I cup ricotta cheese (which you can buy, but it is really easy to make) mixed with grated zest of 1 lemon, 1 Tbsp. each finely chopped fresh chives, mint and thyme, 2 Tbsp. liquid honey and salt and pepper to taste. Chill, then serve with lightly grilled asparagus (or other fresh local vegetables).
For the main event, I am going to make grilled flattened chicken, coated with a Middle Eastern inspired rub and serve it with grilled mixed vegetables and a green salad. It’s an easy meal to put together, and almost all of the heavy lifting can be done before the guests (if only there were going to be some!) arrive. Quantities here will serve 2, with leftovers.
Butterfly one small (around 3 pounds) chicken (it’s easier than you might think).
Mix together 2 tsp. each cumin and smoked paprika, 1 tsp. ground ginger, ½ tsp. cinnamon, a few threads saffron and salt and pepper. Brush chicken with olive oil, then rub on the mixed spices. Grill until chicken is cooked through but still moist.
Cut up into roughly similar size, 4 potatoes, 3 onions, 2 zucchini, 1 each red, yellow and orange pepper and ½ small butternut squash. Place in a large bowl, along with 6 – 8 whole, peeled buds garlic, 3 stalks fresh rosemary and 4 stalks fresh thyme. Add enough olive oil just to coat the vegetables, mixing in a bit of balsamic vinegar and salt and pepper.
The chicken will take less than 45 minutes to grill on a barbecue, so it and the vegetables can go on at the same time. Grill the chicken directly on the rack and cook the vegetables in a BBQ basket.
While the chicken and vegetables are grilling, toss local mixed greens, sunflower sprouts and pansy petals in a light olive oil and lemon juice dressing.
There may not be a lot of fresh, local produce yet, but there are greens. I planned my imaginary dinner party for Sunday so I can pick up my order of organic vegetables that morning from the virtual farmers’ market in Kingston.
Last but not least, dessert: rhubarb pie with streusel topping.
Mix together 5 cups chopped fresh or frozen rhubarb, 1 cup sugar, 1 tsp. cinnamon, ½ tsp. cloves, ¼ tsp. nutmeg, 2 – 3 pieces candied ginger, finely chopped and 1 Tbsp. finely grated orange peel.
Mound in unbaked pie shell and sprinkle liberally with streusel topping (make a big batch so you can freeze most of it and then just haul it out when you need it).
Bake at 375 degrees for approximately 90 minutes. Cool.
Music and conversation
The right music is important for a gathering such as this. If you don’t have anything in mind, check out your favourite musicians to see who is offering online concerts and consider linking to one of those.
My number one recommendation is Eliza Gilkyson, a singer-songwriter from Texas whose work is musically and lyrically beautiful and also packs a real political punch. She is giving Friday evening themed concerts from her garage, which you can watch live or later: this week’s theme is “Let’s Get Political.”
And then, let the conversations flow – and please, let them be about anything but the pandemic!
Happy first long weekend of the season everyone.