|Inspired by red gooseberries|
One of my friends had her 85th birthday recently, and I decided to make a special birthday dinner for the two of us. We enjoy meals on my front porch together, often remembering when there were four of us, not just two. (We share a lot of memories.) So why not an extra-special evening? And there were those gooseberries, after all, calling for something out of the ordinary.
So I put together a dinner plan starting with dessert, the most ambitious item on my menu: gooseberry tart. Gooseberries have to be “topped and tailed” (stem and blossom ends removed), which is time-consuming but also a basically meditative task perfect for a summer afternoon. Instead of adding sugar to the berries, I mixed in about a third of a little jar of plum jam.
For the shell, I looked at half a dozen recipes and cobbled mine together from bits and pieces of all of them. I didn’t have almonds to grind for the pastry (that would be nice another time) but did have powdered sugar. And we might as well say here that this pastry is known as pâte sucrée. Chunks of butter worked with fingers into flour, sugar, and a pinch of salt, and I added a whole egg (though some people use only the yolk or no egg at all). While the sweet dough rested in the refrigerator, I worked outside in the yard for an hour, planting what will be a lovely daylily border, I’m sure, when the plants fill in.
Later, while prebaking the tart shell I cooked a batch of rigatoni, and you could call what I made with it mac ‘n’ cheese, I suppose, at least a variation thereon: basic bechamel sauce but made with cream rather than milk and fresh nutmeg grated in; then, for the cheese, raclette. We are very fortunate to have fine raclette made right here on the peninsula at Leelanau Cheese, and I’d bought that at the farmers market on Friday, too. My cheesy pasta I baked in cute little ramekins, with extra raclette on top, but the cuteness was nothing compared to the taste. I warned my friend, “One bite, and you’ll feel a need to go to confession!” She laughed but agreed after she tasted.
We had the salad I invented a couple weeks ago and love for its cool, freshing summer tastes and textures: tomato (this one an heirloom variety from the farmers market), cucumber, blueberries, and pinenuts, with balsamic vinaigrette. We had poached (steamed, really) salmon and green beans with curried mayonnaise, with the rigatoni-raclette on the side. And for dessert we had gooseberry tart generously heaped with freshly whipped real cream.
|(Cold, the next day)|
Another friend told me the other day that someone had asked her, after her husband died, if she was fixing regular meals for herself or “eating crackers over the sink.” I certainly don’t fix meals like this when I’m alone (or even for company more than once a year, if that!), but once in a blue moon, for an old friend, it felt like the right time to pull out all the stops -- which meant I also did better than crackers over the sink the following day, when my next evening's dinner recapitulated everything but the whipped cream and so, finally, I got a few half-decent photos to illustrate this post. Because while I often photograph while I'm in the process of cooking and baking, I also often forget to photograph the finished dishes in all their glory. "Did you take a picture of that?" the Artist used to ask me. But now no one asks.