When Alice Comes to Dinner…

Consider this a cry for help.

Alice is coming to dinner. What should we serve? No, this isn’t a riddle, or even a hypothetical question. This is a problem. (I mean, if you can call it that.) I’m talking about an evening in the near future where Alice (those of you to whom this desperate cry is directed know who I mean) is expecting to arrive at a certain place at a certain time for a casual, intimate at-home party, where she expects to be served food. And we—that’s Nancy and I (Nancy and me? Oh, copy editor, where art thou?), who came up with this brilliant idea after the fund raising dinner I put together for Alice’s causes in January (“Wouldn’t it be nice if she could just come to my house?” Nancy said. “Without it being some big shin dig?”)— want everything to be perfect. The problem is that we want each last detail from the candlesticks and the dinnerware to the farmer who grew the lettuces and the grain (or grass) ingested by what ever animal we muster up the courage to throw on the fire that night—to be Alice’s version of perfect, which is about as complicated and riddled with pitfalls as pleasing God. So this, friends, is a plea: ANY IDEAS, YOU??


17 thoughts on “When Alice Comes to Dinner…

  1. Can you work backwards? My very favorite dessert in all of Los Angeles is that butterscotch budino. It’s so honest and indulgent. And then when I think of Nancy’s cooking, this is totally bonkers, but what kind of sums it up to me is torn bread crumbs. Ie, everything is organic and unfussy and GOOD. So plates of long-cooked and/or roasted vegetables from Chino Farms (that broccoli was crazy!), and how do you guys do with seafood? I think it would be awesome to showcase southern california food – maybe some Santa Barbara spot prawns in a Cal-Ital situation (I leave this to you ladies).

    I think Alice and I think fussy. I’d serve her the anti-Alice meal with food so good she’ll want to pick it up with her fingers.

    And then of course start with one or two of Nancy’s killer mozzarella/bruschetta apps – maybe using that new mozz you discovered?

    PS – i’m not suggesting you served torn bread crumbs, that was more a metaphor for the style of cooking i’d serve to alice if i was half the cook that you are.

  2. Okay, first off, I would recommend you have some extra (well-trained) hands available to help. Ahem. (CUT TO: picture of me raising hand)

    I think the main thing is to only cook what you find at the farmers market. Let the market inspire you.

    Last night I made a market driven menu for a very special dinner party of food critics:

    –a fennel, wild spinach, oro blanco salad
    –black cod with sauteed oyster mushrooms. Served on a bed of cauliflower puree with cauliflower steaks
    –bittersweet chocolate pot au creme (salted, Nancy style) with a bourbon whipped cream

    It was an elegant, easy meal that wowed even the harshest food critic.

    Based on what I’ve been seeing at the market it’s all about fava beans, sweet carrots, cauliflower (Will be posting an amazing cauliflower two ways recipe that is just mind blowing later today), pea tendrils…

    Good luck with the meal! Seriously, I’ll be there to help if you want/need an extra set of hands!

    1. i’ll find out about those hands!
      can’t wait to see the cauliflower recipes. i love love c’flower and it’s nearing its end. soon, we’ll have nothing but pea tendrils, sugar snaps, and asparagus. live truly is rough.

  3. I’ll throw my hands into the ring, too, Carolynn. Foodwoolf and I cook quite well together. The Bloomsdale spinach and the beets at the market have been phenomenal as well, and should be around a little while longer. I actually made Tanis’s beet, egg and watercress salad a couple of weeks ago and it was exceptional (part of my winter braise post). His book is actually a great inspiration, since the recipes are simple and designed for a larger group. Quail eggs from Lily’s and goat cheese from Healthy Family could also make for nice starting points.

    Bon Chance!

  4. I think you should cook what you call” your personal soul food”. The business of trying to mimic her tastes or styles, or with ingredients only from the farmer’s market, etc. is patronizing. People want to see what makes you happy, what you consider to be the pure focus of comfort, style, and taste in your heart. That is genuine. Go back to your San Diego roots, and the cuisine of your father. I remember when we used to go to TJ when we were little, that’s where your soul lives. Resist the Martha Stewart over the top, my table setting can kick your table settings ass theme. Humble and real that’s the ticket. Good luck!

  5. Food Woolf

    Oh the irony, sweet irony!……………I am a vendor at a farmers market and run a 12 member CSA, in addition to being a chef. The comment was directed to the point of view as this is what she would do for guests at her home. I suggest carolynn should try and break it up and show her something that isin’t from her play book. Think about it

  6. dean—i thought the same thing… if she only knew! that you live on a farm and make your own vinegar and probably have some salami hanging up in a back bedroom somewhere. am considering quesadillas. the little tiny ones on just-made tortillas, filled with squash blossoms and rajas. just like papa used to make! (hahaha!)

  7. I meant no offense to Brooke………..Excellent idea on the blossoms. We grow way too much summer squash just for the flowers, and can never sell, give away, leave 10# sacks of squash in un-locked cars, etc. so it goes to the food bank. Here is a recipe for blossoms that I have had great response from.

    I fill them with queso anejo, epazote, chili de arbol, and egg to bind along with a little flour. Add S & P. And then fry them tempura style and served with your fresh corn tortillas and some Mexican crema, and a spot of salsa cruda would be stellar. The basement is where we hang the meat. It’s a vegan nightmare!

  8. I just found a local farmer that I was unaware of that has a herd of certified organic waygu beef. And the price is soooooo much cheaper than traditional vendors. So hell yah! we are going to do some burgers!

  9. I hardly dare say this in the company of such impressive professional food people, but if you’re looking for a “torn bread” recipe, I’ve got a great savory bread pudding on my blog at http://inerikaskitchen.blogspot.com/2009/01/savory-bread-pudding.html .

    By the way, Carolynn, we have a mutual friend from NY (Anita K.) and I met you once in the kitchen of the Sag Harbor house you and she were renting for the summer – you had just come back from the farmers market with tiny yellow tomatoes.

    Oh, and if amateur (but capable) hands are being raised to help at the dinner, mine are up high.

  10. I’d just keep it simple, and do it right. A perfectly crusty ribeye, pan-roasted baby potatoes, and celery remoulade. Or a buttery roasted chicken, fluffy mashed root veg and some biscuits. Perfection.

  11. Carolynn – Abandon perfection as your goal! Go for warmth, hospitality, kindness. And cook a few dishes you love & know well.I know the fear: I once (fearfully & successfully) cooked for a prominent Toronto chef, but later heard he served his own kids boxed pasta.

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