Summer Dinner Diaries; Sadness, Sweat and Excellence; The Docent Death Marches

Dinner Diary                                                                                     August 8, 1987

 

 

Restrained, not restrained, restrained, not restrained.  Maybe I’m bi-polar or manic-depressive?  There’s got to be something to account for the swings.  Swings of what?  Why swings of ‘just right’ or ‘too much’ regarding the number of dishes.   In this case I think that it’s a pretty good menu.  As for those same old boring cheese and crackers; don’t let yourself get into that habit. 

Mark and Kris’s names have appeared in these diaries many times, but I don’t remember who “Julie” is.  Though I have not remembered who she is, she is immortalized in the diary pages. 

Tomato (spelled with an ‘e’?), basil and mozzarella is a classic and I think that the balsamic is a nice touch.  I used to waste a lot of time growing tomatoes and just recently started wasting time doing this again.  It’s a senseless act as living in New Jersey we have daily access to very, very good, nay GREAT, tomatoes in the farm stands.   The ‘salmon steaks in grape leaves’ is interesting, tasty and a good presentation.  Bonnie and I owned a home in Hopewell Township and on the grounds  I had constructed a small arbor and planted a couple of grape plants to use the leaves for cooking and to make jams and jellies from the grapes.  I actually made grape jelly from my grapes – once.  The jelly never set up, but unbeknownst at the time this was the precursor of the career that is to be – Dave’s Sweets and Savories.

 

The Grape Leaf

 

The grape leaves were easily big enough to wrap a salmon steak, one leaf on one side and one on the other side fastened, damn nicely tied, with wet cord.  It does in fact keep the fish moist.  I don’t know that you need the butter; olive oil would work as well.  The dessert parfaits are a classic.  A red, white and blue salute to the season’s bounty.    In the good old summer time.   In the good old summer time.  Dinners on the deck, watching the light slowly fade, sitting back and actually relaxing (except for the cook – I relax after it’s been served), and being spellbound by the firefly fireworks in the darkness.   

Bonnie and I have a wonderful memory of watching a most spectacular firefly performance.  There was a midsummer night when the large field across from our home was made magic by the light of a million, million fireflies.  So many that at times they seemed to form a solid wall of coolly glowing light.   Blinking and blinking and blinking their summer light until our eyes saw the animated constellations of firefly lit earth and the void of the night black sky trade places. 

 

Yes, these are Fireflies mating – I couldn’t resist

 

Sadness, Sweat And Excellence

For better or worse restaurants come and go.  One of our favorites, no longer to be enjoyed, was Cielo’s on the Cape.  This was exactly the type of restaurant that I’d like to own.  The restaurant was located in a portion of a classic, time and weather aged gray, wood shingled home.  This home was on the very edge of a vast bayside marsh.  Wrapped with trees and reflected in the shallows, it looked as if it was the progeny of land and salt marsh.  The view from the dining room looked across an infinite vista of sky, waving grasses, and wind shattered water towards a setting sun.  When the setting sun and the breezes worked in concert the surface of the water became dancing flames.  Cielo’s was not only a restaurant, but also a small art gallery with the various works of the moment scattered about the walls and sitting on pedestals.  I still recall a simple yellow glass bowl that was intricately and beautifully etched that I hesitated too long in deciding whether or not to buy. 

Cielo’s was run by two gentleman that obviously cared very much about doing things right.  Right is not necessarily fussy.  Right is ….. Right (is that a line from some De Nero movie?)  The dining space was small, but the tables were not crowded; maybe there were eight or ten, perfectly set.  The art work was comfortable in the room, not at all obtrusive, but complimenting the space.  The food, both imaginative and classic, always perfectly prepared with the finest ingredients. Bonnie and I always felt special eating here.  There was always a wisp of magic and wonder in the air.  It was in the 1980’s, but when you ate there men wore blue blazers to dinner and women dressed up – not necessarily ties with the blazers and no stockings for the women, but more nicely dressed than you would for many other venues .  Candlelit tables.  No t-shirts.   The best part was that the restaurant served dinner four nights a week with no choice of dishes on the menu.  The menu courses were set for each evening, no substitutions, no choosing from column ‘A’ or column ‘B’.  You’d call ahead to find out the given menu for the given night and if you didn’t like it tough tooties kiddo. 

We had heard that one of the gentlemen had died and when we went up the following season the restaurant had closed.  We felt that we had lost several friends, the gentlemen and the restaurant.  Just last year Bonnie and I walked into a gallery in Provincetown and behind the desk – the remaining gentlemen.  I remembered him after God knows how many years, he certainly didn’t remember us.  I told him how we held wonderful memories of him, his partner and Cielo’s in our hearts, that we were sorry for his loss and thankful that we had had the wonderful luck to experience all that Cielo’s had been.  All of us got a little teary, talked a little about ‘the old days’, we hugged and then moved on.  Always watch for, take pleasure in, remember, and be thankful for, the small wonders that make up so much of life.

Fire On The Water

 

Interestingly, just down the road from Cielo’s was another restaurant that Bonnie and I have visited at least a few times. Our mistake on this one occasion can be blamed on the weather …… oh, and my stubbornness.  We had gone up to the Cape that year in the middle of the summer and while we were there the weather was beautiful but it was hot, hot, hot.  One real scorcher of an evening I talked Bonnie into going out for dinner saying that it was too hot to cook.  She agreed, not readily, saying, “way too hot to cook, way too hot to sit in a restaurant, let’s just get takeout from somewhere, get naked, eat on the secluded deck and see where this all leads.”  I am such a fool sometimes – I insisted on going out.  The restaurant is a good restaurant, good food and, taking advantage of the Wellfleet location, has a great raw bar.  Bonnie and I are crazy for good raw bars, good absolutely fresh shellfish.  Wellfleet Oysters are incredible!  Nice a briny/sweet tastes – the tastes of the ocean, the sea breeze, seagull’s cries – summer.   

You can easily spot Bonnie and me at company picnics and one really great wedding with an awesome raw bar, thank you Matt and Gina.  At these events Bonnie and I are the couple that run to the raw bar, get a plateful of the best that they got, make a pretense of letting others enjoy the table by standing two feet away and finally abandon any pretense at civility and stand at the table eating the delicacies almost to the exclusion of any other food, almost.  Not like those wacky old people with their luggage size purse and stolen wheels of brie from gallery openings – after all we don’t take any home with us.

So on an evening when the temperature was still in the 80’s at 7:30 PM we arrived at the restaurant and were seated.  Despite the fact that this is a good restaurant they surprised us by committing, what we consider, an unpardonable offence.  We ordered a Caesar Salad and then asked our standard Caesar Salad questions: “Is it made with Romaine lettuce, raw eggs, anchovies, Worcestershire Sauce, parmesan cheese croutons and a spritz of lemon juice?”  No?  Then it ain’t Caesar Salad!  The standard answer from the wait staff is that people don’t like raw eggs, don’t like anchovies and don’t like Christmas.  My standard response, “SCREW ‘EM”.  Let them eat another salad and give me the real thing.  So the meal didn’t start on a positive note.  Bonnie’s saying that we can still go home, “we ordered, haven’t eaten anything yet and it’s really hot.”  I’m being a bit bullheaded, out of character I know, and saying that everything’s fine.  OK, maybe there were 2 or 3 beads of sweat on my forehead.  Maybe it was pretty damned warm in this low ceilinged room without air conditioning or a hint of a breeze.  As we sat there my body betrayed me, giving in to the temperature.  Slowly, but with ever increasing speed, an area of sweat, soaking through my shirt, started at – the tops of my shoulders.  Bonnie watched in fascination as these two spots grew and grew, and grew.  Spreading down both arms and down the front and back of my shirt until my entire shirt was soaked in sweat.

Me, “Waiter could you please wrap the food to go, we’ll be leaving now.”

Him, “I s everything alright sir, you seem to be a bit – wet.”

Me, “Oh, yes, everything is just fine!  A little hot, eh?”

Bonnie, saying nothing, only giggling and saying to herself, “Too Hot!  Too Hot!  Told you so, told you so, told you so!”

She can be a beast when she’s right.     

For every thousand restaurants like the national chain restaurant that’s located in your nearest shopping mall, there’s a restaurant like Chester.   Chester was located in Provincetown.  Unfortunately it closed last year and Bonnie and I will have to look very hard to find its equal up in that area of the Cape.  Many good restaurants, few that are as outstanding as Chester.  It was a nicely converted older house on the busy main street.  When you entered the noise of the street vanished and you were in simple but elegant surroundings glowing with a soft filtered light.  Nothing at all flashy, tables not too crowded, a bit hushed.  A beautiful primary color painting of the owner’s dog; a wire haired terrier named Chester on the main wall.  I kept asking to buy it – he kept saying no.  Excellent, imaginative food that was perfectly cooked and served. A bartender that knew how to make my martinis and Bonnie’s Campari with club soda. 

I’m often horrible at remembering specific dishes served during a restaurant meal, but in the case of Chester I do in fact remember – Cheesecake with Poached Figs and Pistachio Pralines.  It is the only recipe that I’ve ever asked the chef for.  Yes, there are others that I should have asked for.  Jay Coburn, the chef, was kind enough to give it to me.  He said, “This recipe is adapted from Claudia Fleming’s ‘Last Course Cookbook’ published a few years ago.  It is, in my opinion, one of the most brilliant cookbooks published in many years.”  High praise and worthy of the dish and Jay’s execution of it.  The cheesecake is made with goat cheese and mascarpone, so it has a nice tang to it rather than being too sweet as many cheesecakes are.  Very nice with a firm/creamy texture (no ricotta here, though ricotta does have its place in the cheese cake pantheon).  The adornment of the poached figs and pralines are the perfect counter to the cake, crunchy, boozy and sweet.

           It’s in the same league as Maida Heatter’s Lemon Mousse.

Bonnie and I have found Chester’s replacement, but I’m not telling you the name of that restaurant.  It’s tough enough to get reservations as it is.

Chester As It Was

 

Dinner Diary                                                                         June 12, 2004

 

This is a wonderful menu, shared with a wonderful group of people, a good group of friends, on a wonderful evening and those are the reasons that it’s such a shame that the evening took on such a polemic cast.   

Seasonal, good flavors, nice little attractive trick with seasoning the lamb, intermezzo of the melon granite,  good combo of the cannelloni, shallots, red peppers and fennel.  I’ve written of many of these dishes in previous diaries. 

As I’ve written in the diary, ‘politics intrudes’.   The politics of most of my friends are the opposite of mine.  At this particular dinner, for whatever reason, those differences manifest themselves in a loud and long argument.  Too bad, it spoiled dinner.  Bonnie has made me learn to respond with the following phrase, “That’s an interesting point.  Can I get you more coffee?”  I have learned to ignore what I consider the politically irrational thoughts of so many of our friends.  I invited these friends of mine to dinner and it is my duty and privilege to serve them a good meal and to encourage a fun evening.  So now I easily swallow and ignore some things that are said; it’s more important to remember that these folks are indeed my friends.

 

The Docent Death Marches

Elizabeth, our Docent Training Instructor, can’t blame me for coming up with the phrase, The Docent Death Marches.  It’s Jerry who came up with the phrase.  I’m putting both the blame and high praise on him, because the phrase so perfectly describes our ‘instructive-multiple times in a single day-100+ degree temperature-80% humidity-Docent tours’.

I recently completed my Docent training at Grounds For Sculpture.  This is not so much a story about food, though we will get to that, as it is about learning and the serendipity of finding yourself in the midst of a wonderful group of folks who, over time, become friends.  As I am something of a hermit this is an especially important story, life lesson, for me.

For those of you who are unaware of Grounds For Sculpture (GFS) I will tell you that it is thirty-five acres of the most beautiful contemporary sculpture park and awe inspiring  arboretum that I have ever seen in my entire life.  It is located in Hamilton Township, Mercer County, New Jersey.  GFS is an outrageously large dream brought into existence by the vision, determination and abilities of the world famous sculptor Seward Johnson and  I love him for this.

The Docent training equipped us students with the knowledge to lead visitors through GFS: explaining its history, the landscaping, the lives and visions of the sculptors whose works grace the grounds, the specifics of the sculptures themselves and, most importantly, assisting those visitors to discover for themselves what they see and feel about the sculptures before them.  

So back to the Docent classes and my classmates.  I have found it rare that a group of folks, who have never known one another prior to the class, can bond as quickly as our class did.  Our group was small and that may have lent to our quick bonding.  The class was an intense 8 weeks, one day a week class.  Reports and presentations were due, often more than once, at each of our classes.  This is not to say that we didn’t have fun doing this.  During  the time our course was held we suffered all of the trials and tribulations of life: loved ones passing, injuries (Cindy finished most of the class with a broken foot in a cast), surgeries, a daughter getting married (though none of us were invited we’ll overlook that slight), family pets passing (this is the same as family passing), pregnancies, working a full time job and yet squeezing the course in (you go Ximena!), Cassandra (also working full time at GFS) who was learning to take on this position and was proficient enough to take over when need be, Dave Burchell (the Docents’ Docent) for genially imparting his wisdom and most of all to Elizabeth – her first time teaching the course.  The ‘deer in the headlights look’ didn’t last past the middle of the first day.  She did a wonderful job of instilling in us what it meant to be a Docent and I will always love her for that.   I’ll look forward to seeing my new friends again.  What a time it was.

One Of My Favorites: Seward Johnson’s, King Lear

 

THE FOOD!  Our last day of class was one of those rounds of 100+ degree temperatures-multi walks-80% humidity tours.  I’m looking to get T-Shirts made that are printed with the phrase, “Docent Death March – I Survived Docent Training Summer 2010”.  Despite the fact that we all had sunstroke we managed to eat the following:

–          Great Hoagies/Subs/Grinders (I’m from Connecticut, lived in Rhode Island and Philadelphia and still don’t know what to call these things).

–          Beef Empanadas

–          Arros Con Pollo

–          Cold Lemon Chicken

–          Watermelon Salad

–          Skirt Steak Salad with Sweet and Sour Onions

–          Grilled Curried Shrimp and Grapes

–          Taco Chips with Dave’s Salsa

–          Cakes and Cookies Too Numerous To Mention Individually

–          No alcohol!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Piná Coladas!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Long Island Ice Teas!!!!!!!!  No Gin and Tonic!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Martinis!!!!!!!!!!!!!!  No Beer!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!   However, after wondering through the grounds in the heat and humidity drinking a gallon of sweetened ice tea was most welcomed.

Big burp and a turgid afternoon – at least for me.

What a time it was!

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