After returning from a week in the hospital with our baby, we sat around in a bit of a stupor for a day or two, holding her close. We watched her giggle and crawl, clapping at everything, her eyes open and her smile wide. She rebounded more quickly than we did.
Seeing her thrive, we revived. The rainclouds lifted. The sun shone through. We moved into the garden and started pulling up weeds, planting beans, laughing at the black dirt on our hands. Summer’s coming.
Time to put chicken on the barbeque. Time for a picnic.
Good friends came to our home on Monday. (Like many of you, we fired up the grill for the first time on the holiday marking the start of the summer season.) It was an impromptu party, planned over Twitter. (new social media, indeed.) Casual and nothing fancy. Just a few of our favorite women, Danny, and Little Bean, out in the backyard. Sitting on a picnic blanket, eating good food.
It doesn’t take much to make us happy now.
Like this beautiful bag of lettuce, which Kim grew in her garden. (Our lettuce seems slow to start. I don’t know if I did it right.)
Kim made Little Bean happy by bringing her this sock monkey-in-a-box. Taken aback by the leaping, at first, Little Bean spent most of the afternoon exploring the edges with her hands.
(We love her intent gaze. And the fact that she can see.)
Danny bought 5 pounds of spareribs from SeaBreeze on Friday, brined them on Saturday, braised them on Sunday, and coated them with barbeque sauce on Monday.
I think they were gone in 10 minutes.
Whitney dressed the salad for us with the jug of fresh ranch dressing I made a few days before. The flavors blended and grew together over that time. We’ve re-discovered the joys of buttermilk ranch dressing around here. Simple. Garlicky. Greens from the garden make it all taste better.
And then we sat in the backyard, under the cherry tree, next to the daisies. We talked about books and children and photography and publishing and neurotic authors and New York and the splendors of summer.
It felt good to put on my skirt again and sit in the grass.
When everyone arrived, we hacked rhubarb stalks from the enormous plants out back. Danny chopped and simmered them with vanilla bean, a pinch of sugar, lemon zest, a bay leaf, and a touch of water. Melting soft, but still with chunks of rhubarb, soft to the touch. From garden to our plates? 1 hour.
Bones littered white plates. Watches off. Feet bare. We lounged at our leisure, lifting our faces to the sun for the first time all year.
Little Bean bent her legs on her papa’s lap, bouncing up and down, wanting to be thrown into the air one more time.
Tea wore her straw hat and sat against the daisies. Just seeing her there made me grin.
As the sun started to shift toward the west, we ate Tea’s almond cookies with raspberry jam. And Viv’s gorgeous flan, spread with Argentinian dulce de leche, topped with the rhubarb compote.
Of course, everything we ate was gluten-free. We didn’t talk about that. It was just good food.
Our guests left for an evening ferry, sighing with relaxed happiness. We all agreed it was the best afternoon we had experienced in a long time.
We really are home from the hospital.
Potato Salad with Morel Mushrooms, Asparagus, and Basil Vinaigrette
I love potato salad. I’ll eat it in the middle of winter, but I never can settle into it during a January meal. Potato salad means picnics on the grass, sun-warmed skin, the smell of chlorine from swimming pools, and long evenings not dark until 9. This season. Right now.
We all have a different platonic ideal for potato salad, I’m sure. Mostly, I’m partial to creamy potato salad with mayonnaise and yellow mustard. Little slivers of celery too. You know, the throwback kind, the salad my mother made in the 70s. That’s still my first definition. Molly has a recipe for potato salad from her father that throws a couple tablespoons of ranch dressing into the mix. We’ve tried it. We approve.
Danny was playing on a variation of a basil vinaigrette he has made for years, since we grabbed several bags of glossy green basil at the farmers’ market the day before. When he tasted it, he danced to the other side of the living room. That means good. He dressed this potato salad dotted with morel mushrooms and just-blanched asparagus with the vinaigrette and I danced too. Our guests each had two helpings.
This one’s worth making, especially if you are planning a picnic on the grass for this weekend.
6 large russet potatoes, peeled quartered and cubed (1 inch)
1 bunch asparagus, 1/4 inch chopped
1/2 pound morel mushrooms (or whatever mushroom is in season)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon unsalted butter
3 Walla Walla sweet onions, sliced (if you don’t have these, then 1 medium white onion)
3 cloves garlic
2 teaspoons fresh thyme, fine chopped
salt and pepper
Boiling the potatoes. Fill a large saucepan with cold water. Add the potatoes and a ton of salt. Turn on the heat. Boil the potatoes until a fork slips into them easily. Take the saucepan off the burner.
Blanching the asparagus. Throw the cut-up asparagus into the boiling-hot water, just after you take it off the burner. Swirl the water around, gently, for a few moments, to give the asparagus a quick blanch. (This gives the asparagus a slightly tender bite for the salad.
Strain the potatoes and asparagus.
Sautéeing the mushrooms. Bring a large sauté pan to heat. Add in the oil and butter. Sauté the mushrooms until they start to soften, and then add the onions and garlic. Cook about 1 minute or until the onions and garlic start to soften. Throw in the thyme and cook until it is fragrant. Add salt and pepper to taste.
Mix the sautéed vegetables with the potatoes and asparagus. Spread them all out on a baking sheet to cool.
When the potato mixture has cooled completely, mix it together with the basil vinaigrette. Serve.
Feeds about 10.
1 cup basil leaves, packed firm
1/4 cup Italian parsley
1 shallot, chopped
1 teaspoon Dijon mustard
1/8 cup red wine vinegar
1/8 cup white wine or champagne vinegar
3/4 cup grapeseed oil (or canola)
salt and pepper to taste
Put all the ingredients in a blender except the oil. Turn on the blender to begin pureeing everything. Drizzle in the oil slowly. Enjoy.