Wednesday, July 17, 2013

Dinner Under the Pergola

To me, the finest summer meal celebrates our garden, which is just coming into its own right about now.  Since it’s on the small side, I usually need to supplement with the produce of other local growers and producers, so the meal becomes a local foods fête in the best sense of the word. When the weather cooperates, I like to eat under our pergola, which feels like an airy room framed on one side by the garden, and on the other by a row of raspberry bushes, with grape vines, wisteria, and weeping larch entwining overhead. If asked to visualize a happy place, I would put dinner under our pergola at the top of my list.

It’s the height of summer here in Vermont, and we’ve had a string of hot, steamy days. Sunlight still lingers past 9:00, so we hardly notice that the days are getting shorter. Winter seems a long way away. We invite our friends Pete and Maggie and their two teenaged daughters Emma and Sophie over for dinner, all recently back from their sabbatical in Granada
For an aperitif, we serve one of Chris’s favorite hot weather beverages from Marseille—Pastis (one can't go all local all the time). 

He performs his little magic trick 

by pouring water into the glass, 

transforming the amber liquid 

into a milky pale yellow. 

For those of us who aren’t fans of the anise taste of Pastis (or are underage), iced hibiscus tea, wine, and beer are other options. With our drinks, we nibble on fat, green olives and Lazy Lady Farm’s Petite Tomme, whose center oozes out within seconds of cutting into the rind, “like summer fondue,” Isabel aptly remarks.

I love a good hamburger on the grill this time of year, especially when it’s made from all local ingredients: organic beef from Maple Lane Farm, topped with Grafton Village Maple Smoked Cheddar and a thick slice of a Wood’s Farm organic beefsteak tomato, all stacked on a Baba-à-Louis bun. 

A burger doesn’t get any better than this (I prefer my burgers open-faced). It’s the antithesis of the fast food fake-burger our country has exported to the world.

We serve this mother of all burgers with my summer salad staple of more sliced tomatoes showered with basil leaves straight from the garden (it’s been a bumper year so far), 

a drizzle of olive oil, and a sprinkling of coarse salt. 


In addition to this staple, I’ve decided  to try making a new salad, a kale Caesar inspired by one I tasted recently at a restaurant. I was a latecomer to kale, but I’m now a member of its devoted following, not only for its hearty flavor, nutritional value, and versatility, but in solidarity with Vermonter and folk artist Bo Muller-Moore. His “eat more kale” t-shirt slogan was thrust into the center of a legal battle when Chick-fil-A accused him of infringing on its trademarked "eat mor chikin" slogan. The U.S. Patent and Trademark Office has sided with the fast food chain. Please.

For the Caesar salad, I use two kinds of kale that have been happily growing amidst the weeds in my garden (in my book, weeds are a sign of a healthy organic garden)Lacinato kale

and a beautiful purple-ish one that I don’t know the name of. 

I make the salad just like I would make a regular romaine Caesar, with shaved Parmesan, a squeeze of lemon, Olivia’s croutons, and my favorite bottled dressing (someday I’ll try making my own dressing, when I don’t mind dealing with the anchovies). I toss all these ingredients together with wide ribbons of kale (stems removed), and it is outstanding. I think it has henceforth nudged regular Caesar salad out of position in my kitchen.

For dessert, we have homemade lavender ice cream with fresh raspberries, made with lavender from the herb garden 

and Monument Farms Dairy milk and cream. The raspberries are just about at their peak (and by the way, they’re one of the easiest and most rewarding plants to grow, for those of you who are interested in an effortless introduction to gardening).

The ice cream starts to melt in the heat as soon as I scoop it out. 

We all savor it quickly (yes, an oxymoron) before it melts away, not unlike these long, warm summer evenings themselves.

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