Wednesday, June 11, 2008

Taking it up a notch

Well now she's done it. That Ami. She took it up a notch.

To what am I refering?

Why, the hosting of our book group. I hosted last month and I gotta say I'm glad that I'm not the person who has to follow Ami (Hi Meagan! Thanks for stepping up to the plate!) Don't get me wrong, the evening at my house was perfectly enjoyable: we talked about The Welsh Girl (which I was happy to read again) and ate a combination of British and German food that actually went together rather well:
Sole with creamy leek sauce, minted pea puree, German potato salad and red cabbage, with white wine and beer to drink.
But we were all crammed around my small dining room table that seats 4 comfortably, 6 in a pinch and was really too cramped for the 8 people in our group...I had a little music playing and had cleaned up the worst of the crap around the house, but that was about it when it came to ambiance.

The exquisite evening at Ami's complemented the book we read: William Trevor's My House in Umbria. Trevor's prose is so subtle and the untrustworthy narrator, Mrs Delahunty, is so complicated that we spent a good deal of time discussing what was real and what was imagined in the story. Trevor's ability to write cringe-worthy scenes while maintaining your sympathy for the main character raises complicated feelings which we discussed while gathered in Ami's backyard, drinking Gin and Tonic's (in honor of the main character) and icy homemade Limoncello and Orangcello from Lea's sister:
The weather was perfect as we gathered around the table--a little breeze to keep the mosquitoes away but still sunny enough for us to imagine ourselves in an exotic locale. And Ami set a beautiful table:
Peonies and party favors! Ami photocopied some of her favorite Trevor short stories for each of us to take home. (photo courtesy of John Baird)

And of course the food didn't disappoint (I'm wracking my brain for a time when a book group meal failed to live up to expectations...). There was chicken diavolo cooked on the grill, a beautiful salad from Marilyn's garden, sauteed vegetables, Italian bread and of course, plenty of good red wine.
Here I am helping myself to some more of that good red wine. (photo courtesy of John Baird)

I made a dessert from a cookbook that I had neglected for very petty reasons: La Tavola Italiana is a perfectly decent book that has suffered the sin of acquaintance. I bought the book shortly after TAing for a man who had to be the worst Shakespeare professor I have ever witnessed. I was put in the awkward position of having to serve as his apologist to kids who were clued in that their $20,000+ tuition should have offered them better than what this guy was presenting. What does this have to do with the cookbook? The professor was friends with the authors of the cookbook and they mention him by name in the introduction to a few of the recipes. Once I read that a recipe came from his kitchen, well, it just turned my stomach. But thankfully after owning this book for at least 10 years, I have (mostly) recovered from my grad school experience and can once again open the book without gnashing my teeth. So I finally made something out of it!
Ricotta cake with sweetened almond ricotta and strawberries.
It was pretty decent. The cake wasn't anything mind blowing; I liked the pine nuts that studded it and it had a pleasant spongy texture. But it was a fine platform for the consumption of sweetened ricotta and strawberries and tasted particularly good with one of John's expertly pulled espressos. The ricotta (whole milk, not skim) had a few tablespoons of amaretto and a few teaspoons of powdered sugar stirred in. I pressed it through a sieve to make sure it was creamy and not lumpy. Simple, but really nice.

The whole evening was leisurely and graceful and none of us was in a rush to get back in our cars and leave such an enchanted place.
Happy women. (photo courtesy of John Baird)
A perfect photo of Marilyn--she is always able to get us to smile! (photo courtesy of John Baird)


Anonymous said...

This little story wants me to start reading books in a group. How lovely.....wish I was there.

Edward Vielmetti said...

we made ricotta today too (from the ny times recipe) - very simple dinner w/fresh peas and pasta. very yum. looks like you all had fun!

Kate said...

Hey Ed--
you know, I made ricotta for the meeting too and then did a side by side tasting with some that I had bought and preferred the bought stuff. Sigh. I had really hoped that my homemade stuff would be up to snuff, but it was on the dry side. Maybe I drained it too long? How did you find yours?