Friday, August 23, 2013


My middle sister got her wish, a teaching position in Saudi Arabia. A coveted job with thousands of applicants but she scored the winning set of qualifications to teach four-year-olds how to play the triangle and do a forward summersault. This gave us the opportunity to call in all our relatives and her friends for an end of summer harvest dinner. Rick, of course, wore the hats of social director and top chef along with outdoor and landscape artistic director.
Until next spring when we hope to really tackle the backyard Rick put together some temporary improvements that spruced up a pretty depressing patio. I had snatched up a metal mesh table with a faded canvas umbrella at a yard sale down the street from our old office for ten bucks. It sometimes pays to live in a college town where students move in and out of cheap apartments on a regular basis selling off furniture too difficult to transport for ridiculously little money. We spray painted the table chartreuse and washed the canvas umbrella for a "Voila" moment.
With the aid of some wooden stacks, a heavy stone and a million miles of extension cords Rick draped string lights over the patio for that European touch. Earlier in the season he planted an herb garden in the sandstone terraces I built between my senior year of high school and my first year of college. At the time I had no idea I was taking on my first architectural project building a grand condo for a cadre of chipmunks. Half of the concrete patio floor had to be removed; it had cracked beyond repair. We covered that part of the patio with some outdoor carpet to try to hide the mud pad we had created once the concrete was gone. Rick edged the carpet with field rocks s to keep the grass out and to keep the edges from blowing up during a good windstorm. The look sounds very Honey Boo-Boo but the result was more bohemian chic
Everyone was to show up around six - six-thirty. We thought we had everything under control the night before. Never count on having everything under control the night before, it's way too cocky and never true. At six that evening I was racing to pick up Emmy from swim practice with a last minute stop at the liquor store for the forgotten bags of ice and I still had to make the watermelon salad and get the corn in the oven. When I got back our gracious guests were asking what they could do to help. I assume they saw the panic in our eyes and the manic behavior of two adults running around bumping into each other like Lucy and Ethel. With their help Rick was finally able to get into the bathroom to shower and I was able to fish the melon baller out of the utensil drawer and start scooping out little balls of watermelon into the carved out hull.
Still the evening turned out to be perfect. Wisconsin never ceases to delight me with an abundance of crystal clear nights hovering just below sweater weather. We had made a fire in our $20 Home Depot fire pit and set out extra pillows around the lawn for people to lounge on. Not exactly the image you'd find an Architectural Digest spread but somewhat appropriate for a DIY blog post.
Here's the menu:
Grilled chicken
Brined overnight in a big covered pot with Prosecco, onions, lemons, lemon rind, and black peppercorns then stored in the refrigerator until just before grilling. Patted dry and put on the grill for 25 minutes

Grilled zucchini
Purchased at the farmer's market. The smaller ones are always the best. Grilled with homemade basil olive oil, salt and pepper before hand and served room temperature

Tri-color sweet corn
Never remove the husks. Placed in the center of oven at 500-550 degrees for 20 minutes. This keeps the moisture and flavor in. Husk and serve immediately with Irish butter and salt to taste

Watermelon salad
I always use the shell as a serving basket. First cut a handle and then zigzag an edge with a long knife to form the rim of the basket. Scoop the melon out with a melon baller into a large dish. Mix with crumbled feta, a third of a Bermuda onion sliced and quartered and ground black pepper from whole peppercorns. You can also add small seasonal berries like blueberries for an added dash of color. Scoop it back into the basket and you're done. If kids are involved it's best to leave a little plain watermelon to the side for those with simpler palettes.

Tomato and cucumber salad
We purchased farm fresh red and yellow cherry tomatoes, cut them in half and mixed them with sliced cucumber. Add a little olive oil, chopped fresh dill, salt and pepper and you're done

Camel cake
Yellow cake from a mix with powder sugar frosting. We're lucky enough to have a niece who loves to bake and has a very creative touch. I have no idea of how she made that camel but it was the perfect topper to my sister's Saudi Arabian going away party.

Gray's root beer
A local brewery selling their family made beers, ales and sodas since 1856. This root beer is the best.

The flowers
We bought several bunches of these beautiful orange blooms on our trip to the farmer's market the day before the party. To keep them fresh Rick cut the ends and stored them in a French flower bucket filled with water. With all the fresh food produce set out in earthenware bowls came a small army of fruit flies. Rick sprayed the flowers with an insecticide to rid the kitchen of the flies. Never, never do this. By morning most of the blooms had shriveled and faded to a dull brown. A lesson learned the hard way. Several hours of prep time lost to finding a florist with the exact same flowers for sale at quadruple the price

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