leave your inhibitions at the door
Nobody on the road,
Nobody on the beach.
I feel it in the air,
The summer’s out of reach.
(“The Boys of Summer,” Don Henley)
best dinner ever
Here it is, Labor Day. For me, the most bittersweet day of the year. As I write this on our front porch a cool breeze lifts my hair—a gentle yet firm reminder that this is it for summer. The kids’ schools start tomorrow, our neighborhood pool closes today, and we’ve enjoyed three months of water sports, golf, outdoor get-togethers, and of course, a lot of eating and drinking. Sitting around a table outdoors in gorgeous weather with people I care about and who make me laugh, eating food we’ve taken the time to carefully prepare while indulging in delicious wine or homemade cocktails, is to me the epitome of the good life. It simply does not get any better than that.
A few weeks ago, we had a group of good friends over for a “Farewell Summer” dinner party. We are fortunate to have friends that all cook really, really well, and each asked, “What should I bring?” I said, “What you’ve been dreaming about making this summer but haven’t had the chance.” I was in a nostalgic frame of mind, and was hoping that however the meal turned out, it would remind us of what we must capture and cherish from yet another summer that was about to slip away into the next season, the cycle of life marching on.
The results were glorious. I have had some great meals this summer in places like San Francisco, Traverse City, and our own Ann Arbor, yet nothing, in my mind, beats the dinner we had that night. It was unquestionably my favorite of the summer of 2013, and I’m sure the company had a lot to do with that.
To launch the evening, we started with Salty Rickshaws. I’m normally a wine drinker, but have been floored by the creativity of cocktails I’ve sampled this summer. Restaurants in Ann Arbor like Vellum, Insalita, Black Pearl, Sava’s, and Mani have developed some incredible concoctions, using things like bullet rye, fresh herbs, and smoked salt. My favorite, however, is the Salty Rickshaw at Pacific Rim by Kana. The drink includes kaffir lime-infused vodka, St. Germain liquor, lemon juice, and simple syrup, finished with a cilantro garnish in a martini glass rimmed with salt and togarashi, a Japanese seasoning made with chilies. Joe at Pacific Rim graciously shared his brilliant recipe, for which I’m forever grateful. I didn’t have time to infuse the vodka myself so I used Hanger One’s kaffir-lime infused vodka, which wasn’t quite as good as the homemade but a suitable substitute. To bring out more fresh Asian flavor, I made a slight change from the Pacific Rim recipe by infusing my homemade simple syrup with some fresh ginger, with excellent results. (The drink was a big hit at the party, inspiring me to make my own kaffir-lime and ginger infused vodka for our next Friday-night-cocktails-at-the-pool get-together. Excellent!)
With the drink came some delicious appetizers, including The Teacher’s garlic crostini with smoked mozzarella and prosciutto, and The FWDAAS’s (Father-With-Daughters-And-A-Shotgun) grilled haloumi cheese on gently grilled watermelon wedges. FWDAAS also made little cucumber cups topped with feta, olives, and tomato, like a handheld Greek salad. All just fantastic.
The wine began to flow, and we were on to the main courses. The Hedonist had to get all fancy on us and prepared seared scallops on pork belly with cilantro juice and pickled mangoes. And we were so glad he did—it was absolutely fantastic. The interplay of the delicate, briny scallop with the salty fattiness of the pork, and the cool, tangy-sweet mangos and slightly acidic sauce … a culinary symphony. (Hedonist’s Note: I’m going to post the recipe to this soon…) Even better yet, The VP made a fantastic shaking beef-style salad, with tasty strips of tender sirloin and a delectable Asian dressing that went perfectly with the scallops. It’s like the two were made for each other and we plated them together. Altogether an extremely memorable plate.
Next up was yet another exceedingly memorable plate, the FWDAAS’s paired with The Architect’s beet and radicchio salad. The tender lamb chops had the most delicious rub, and the salad was the perfect balance of earthy, salty, sweet and bitter. Again, two dishes that seemed absolutely made for each other, and so, so good.
best dinner menu
Those dishes were followed with a tomato gazpacho I made from yellow cherry tomatoes I bought at the Ann Arbor Farmer’s Market that morning, garnished with avocado, cilantro, and tortilla chips. Yellow cherry tomatoes make a lovely gazpacho, as they are slight sweeter and much less acidic than their red cousins. It was a lovely and soothing palate cleanser for our final entrée dish.
And that dish was the shrimp boil, which I prepared as a final salute to warm summer nights. I doused the quickly boiled peel-and-eat shrimp in a butter sauce spiked with lots of garlic and Korean chili paste (sambal olek), garnished with cilantro. Slices of baguette were served for sopping up the addictive sauce. Slightly tipsy at that point, we peeled and devoured this finger-lickin’ dish in the dark outside surrounded by tiki torches, and passed around the container of Wet Ones.
The night was capped with a scrumptious and beautiful inside-out German chocolate cake with a chocolate glaze prepared by one of the Blood Sucking Lawyers, for the other Blood Sucking Lawyer’s birthday. It was the perfect sweet ending to the perfect last dinner party of the summer.
As I finish this blog post on the porch, the sun has come out in full force, reminding us that autumn needs to step back, at least for today. We’ve got one day left to laze around, maybe stop by the pool for a final farewell with friends. One day left of summer. Let’s relish every last, precious moment.
I can see you,
Your brown skin shining in the sun.
You got that hair slicked back,
And those Wayfarers on, baby.
And I can tell you my love for you will still be strong,
After the boys of summer have gone.
Beautiful pictures of food