Archive for February 15th, 2010

Best Valentine’s Day Ever

I realize I may be accused of overstatement, but I believe that yesterday may have been the best Valentine’s Day I ever experienced.

One of our circle of friends who loves to cook as much as Jim does came up with a wonderful plan for a party.   He and his wife invited us and two other couples over for the day with the express intention that the men were going to prepare a sumptuous repast for their wives.   And so it came to pass that eight middle-aged people of the genre you could term “Old Hippies” got together and the plan was carried out to perfection.

Of course, there was a certain amount of discussion between the gentlemen before the event, but most of the planning and menu finalization occurred on the morning of the dinner.   While the guys went off shopping for the remainder of the ingredients needed, the ladies set about amusing themselves.  First we played a spirited game of Scrabble, and then we played a round of Trivial Pursuit.  Our hostess has several different sets of answer cards for this game, including the Baby Boomer’s version and the 80’s version, but we wound up settling on the classic version.   As one of our number said, “I was so out of touch during the 80s, I really don’t know what was going on.   I was busy building a house and having a garden.”

After three of us ganged up on the other one and forced her to win by being extremely selective about the questions we gave her and by focusing our minds and energies on the dice so she would roll the right numbers, we stopped playing the game and just started going through the cards and reading the questions.   Whoever knew the answer would blurt it out, and when there was something we ladies felt completely unqualified to answer we would get the men’s attention and pose the question to them.   There weren’t many trivia questions our group couldn’t come up with an answer for, so it was a real gas.

As soon as the guys arrived back from their shopping expedition they began plying us with wine, and eventually dinner took shape in the kitchen as we of the female persuasion disported ourselves.   The only responsibility we had was to remove the game from the table and open up the leaves, whereupon our hostess brought out her table cloth and napkins, and we distributed them.   The whole rest of the meal was prepared, served, and cleaned up after by our spouses.

And a perfectly wonderful meal it was, indeed.  The menu:

We were tempted and enticed by the view into the kitchen during the preparations:

Just look at that pile of crepes awaiting assembly into the fabulous dessert course.

The boys never got around to putting the delicous appetizer on the menu.  It was wonderful fresh made blini (yes, yes, made with buckwheat flour) with smoked salmon (which our host Dick made) dressed by a small dollop of sour cream and then garnished with fresh dill.

Sorry, I precipitately got the photo before the garnish, and then they all disappeared so quick I never got them with the little touch of green.  These literally melted in our mouths, and were accompanied by a small serving of the most perfect oyster stew I have ever eaten.   It was the classic recipe with the shellfish stewed gently in milk, butter and cream, but the soup was dressed up by the addition of lightly sauted onion and fennel bulbs.   I have to say the fennel added a note to the oyster stew that raised it from the wonderful to the sublime.

But we were not to be let down off that high.  The next course was a pairing of two soups:   Cold Avocado/Cucumber soup and Cold roasted tomato/red bell pepper soup.   This offering was garnished with some the fennel tops, chopped fine.   I honestly do not know if I can communicate how these two soups both stood on their own and made the most paradisiacal pairing of flavors when swirled together.   But just look at how beautiful:

Oh look, in the background you can see one of the blini that was not consumed during the original attack on the appetizers.   Anyway, I can’t emphasize enough how absolutely delicious that soup course was, and so good for us:   all full of anti-oxidants and vegetables as it was.

Now I confess to failing to acquire even a single image of the incredible main course plate.   Replete with the marvelous flavors of roasted vegetables and lime and avocado and cucumber, thoroughly enjoying my delicious Rodney Strong Cabernet, I completely forgot to document the plate that was placed before us for the main course.   There was fresh asparagus, barely steamed to a bright green, served in pristine perfection, accompanied by the Shrimp Newburg and little pasta bow ties tossed with pesto (some of that pesto that Jim and I made last year).   The newburg sauce required quite a bit of advance thought by our host, who produced his own home made fresh lobster butter for the sauce.   It was divine, and the little bit of extra that was dripping off the shrimp made an admirable dressing for the asparagus.

We thought we could not manage to eat any more, or that there was anything that could be more delicious than the previous courses, but the chefs decided on what had to be the perfect ending for the meal:   Crepes with strawberry sauce and whipped cream garnished with kiwi fruit slices.   This was accompanied by the most smooth and excellent warm chocolate, champagne and a modicum of port.    Sound wonderful?

It was.  Absolutely. The. Best. Thing. I. Have. Ever. Had. In. My. Mouth.  How to describe this?  To take a small sip of the beautiful port, then a bite of the strawberry crepes,  let all that flavor run around in your mouth, then take a mouthful of the chocolate . . .  Honestly, there was a lot of food orgasmic moaning going on during the whole dinner but it reached a crescendo during dessert.

After dinner we retired to the living room to sip wine, where we enjoyed watching a DVD put together by one of our number.  It was a retrospective of their youngest daughter’s life, from the second she was born and the midwife cut her umbilical cord (an amazing photograph in its own right), through her childhood and young adulthood, college, and to the present day.   The young lady is engaged, the wedding is in April, and the photographs include shots taken of her with her fiancee during a few trips where the proud papa and mama got to meet him as the young couple was courting.  This was quite an interesting series of photos, since many of the company were actually in some of the history.   And we all know the young lady quite well.   It was a fittingly romantic (and hopeful) end to the day.

As Jim and I were preparing to go home, I acquired this shot of the kitchen, where only the last beverage glasses were still needing attention.

Now, honestly.   Don’t you think it is amazing that a four course gourmet dinner for eight people could be produced and result in a kitchen that tidy and organized at the end of the day?

I do.   We all congratulated each other on a wonderful day and a very felicitous choice of spouses.

This morning we awoke to fresh snow, which has continued to fall desultorily all day and afforded Jim and me the opportunity to complete our Valentine’s Day celebrations in a most satisfactory manner.

I think the lavender embracing the snowflakes is just lovely.   Following that shot is a macro shot of one of the rocks in the Japanese rock garden, also spangled with snow.

Tomorrow Jim heads off to Costa Rica to visit Jay and Jeri, who moved down there last October.   He has one of his rocking chairs all carved and ready for final assembly that will be accompanying him on the trip down there.    So I shall be on my own for the next week.

Ruby will take care of me.

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