Saturday night we had our first dinner party at the new place. A real dinner party, grown-up style, in our grown-up place. The furniture doesn’t match, our dining room table is a shaky little version surrounded by director’s chairs that our landlords left for us, and there is no light in the main room (the lights of the city are really all we need) – but it’s still a grown-up house, in my opinion. Our kitchen is large and the shelves are stocked with glassware for 10 different kinds of alcohol. The framed vintage Vogue magazine covers from the 40’s that decorate the walls speak “I’m a retro kitchen and I know it... we’re going for irony here, people.” The bamboo floors are new and pristine, and we have a fireplace in a separate room, a room just for sitting and contemplating the view out over the port, the ships coming in and coming out. It’s a grown-up place alright. Even if we don’t feel quite like grownups in it yet.
So we’re having a dinner party. I suppose that’s no surprise. I would have a dinner party even if I somehow ended up in a refrigerator box under I-90. I would be the bum with the best dumpster meals, I swear. And I’d always break out the Dixie cups to share my 40 ouncer of King Cobra. Yes, it’s just my nature. Let the food and spirits flow.
Thankful I had a real fridge and not just a box, I rolled some food ideas around in my head. To accommodate everyone, the meal was to be vegetarian with no fish, so I didn’t have to think too hard to come up with a menu. But I thought hard anyway. I do that. If you come up with one solution easily and quickly - scrap it because creativity comes when you try to think a little bit outside the box (yes, the fridge box). Not that creativity is tough, but it may take a little push to get away from the obvious sometimes.
The first menu I came up with would have taken me two days to make. Knowing I had more than just a meal to accomplish this weekend, I decided to go with simplicity. Multi-day prep? Hmm, maybe not. So I pared down some of the items and came up with a balanced meal that was fresh, colorful, and just a little bit sensuous. Valentine’s Day is coming up, and a girl shouldn’t be oblivious to that, surely.
I’ll make my massaged kale salad (oooooo massage…) and then Heidi’s recipe for tempeh (sweet and salty) with roasted yams, smothered in saged olive oil, coarse sea salt, maple syrup and cayenne (sweet and spicy). Those potatoes were to be my creative and sexy contribution to it all. Yeah baby, sexy. Sweet with a kick. Just like me. Ahem.
I scrubbed those big brown-skinned yams, and chopped them into large chunks. Before the sun went down, I trotted out to the back yard and plucked the largest sage leaves I could find on our poor, winter-weary plant. I minced the sage very fine, and steeped the little bits in a nice jar of golden olive oil. A bit of cayenne, the oil, maple syrup and then the large grains of sea salt dancing and bouncing off the hunks of potato as I sprinkled generously. With oily hands I tossed them on the baking sheet, my fingers remembering how to manipulate each piece. I spread them all out to bake, tipping and scooting them into their own little hot spots. Big trays of big oily pieces. Reminds me of the thousands of croutons that I scooted and prodded on oily sheets this past summer at the restaurant. My fingers remembered just how.
Our friends arrived and we stood laughing and drinking wine in our ironic, grownup kitchen. Our friend and her guest brought us a box of dark chocolate truffles and a bottle of petite syrah. Our first Valentine’s gift. The dinner turned out lovely, laid out on our red tablecloth with large grown-up glasses of red wine. This is what I've always wanted. A table set with candles, four people with red wine, eating food I felt proud to serve, in a home I felt proud to live in. Big spaces, high ceilings and windows as tall as me. Friends and food, people who appreciate you for all your wackiness (I wear black turbans and purple sparkly tracksuit jackets as inspirational cooking attire.) Mark breaks out his doumbek and hands a djembe to our other guest who's purported to have real coordination. The boys drum and later the girls twirl around a little, even if to pose just for the camera.
Before we end the evening, we eat something chocolatey I made for dessert and then open a bottle of cherry wine. Now this is sexy. Valentine's day I've never made a big deal out of - I prefer to show subtle ways of saying I love you all year long. Subtle is sexy. Understatement is sexy too. I believe in sensuousness year round.
We won't be making a big deal out of the 14th this year, but we will open up a bottle of wine and share food that is sweet then sneaks up on you with a little kick. Just like love.
Spicy Maple Yams with Sage
I hesitated to even write a recipe for this one, as you should feel free to toss in more oil, herbs and hot spices than what it calls for - and how big is a 'large' yam anyway? So go on and toss and slather and sprinkle and make it all up sexy-like. Let go. That's sexy too.
3-4 large yams
1/4 tsp Cayenne (more or less to taste)
1/4 cup maple syrup
1/4 cup + olive oil
Big handful of sage, chopped fine
Coarse sea salt
Mince the sage finely and steep in olive oil for 30 minutes. Meanwhile, chop the yams into large chunks and preheat the oven to 450 degrees. Toss yams with olive oil mixture, cayenne and maple syrup. Sprinkle with salt. Spread out on a baking sheet sparsely (if the chunks are too close they will steam more than brown and roast) and roast until a fork piercing shows them soft and the outside golden brown.