Maybe I’m waxing nostalgic because I’ve been reading Emily Nunn’s new novel The Comfort Food Diaries. But when our web editor Oliver Peterson suggested I write about my five most memorable meals of 2017 my mind immediately went to small dinners with friends.
We published my annual “Top 10 Things I Ate This Year” in our last issue of the year, as usual, highlighting mainly chef-prepared restaurant dishes. But most “memorable?” The meals that stay in your heart and mind, yup those are to be had in people’s East End homes—laid back and simple. So, to keep it chill, these “top five” items do not appear in any particular order.
Brunch with Baby Paul. Dear friends of ours dared to move to Maine and then, in May, they had their first baby. When they brought him to stay at their family home in Noyac in October he was a handful. And our own “baby” came down from Montreal with his girlfriend to meet the little guy. We arranged to bring all of the food and drink we planned to consume with “the Pauls” at their beach house. It wasn’t a big deal for me to whip up a few dairy-free meals for six and put them in the car—though it did throw my aversion to Tupperware into sharp relief. But Girlfriend volunteered to do some of the cooking and that sounded relaxed and inviting to me. She cooks mainly authentic Chinese dishes. So I was a little worried about melding flavors with my dishes but it worked out swimmingly. Her cooking is on the hot side, so I just upped the garlic and other “dragons” in my dishes. Her beef dumplings were a particular hit, as was our Sunday brunch—slices of baguette soaked all night in egg and vanilla soy milk, fried in olive oil, topped with maple syrup from my mom’s woods upstate. Plus a fruit salad drizzled with Wölffer Estate Vineyard’s famous ice wine, Diosa Late Harvest. I’m confident that the Pauls will come back for more.
Thanksgiving with Husband. Sorry nice people who invited us to share this holiday with them. We didn’t lie…exactly…we really did have plans to go to our neighbor’s house but, when that fell through, our fallback was to go it alone. I made the whole dealio—turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, potatoes, Brussels sprouts and pumpkin pie, just for us. Husband made the gravy. No time table, no political conversation, no special requests, no regrets. Loads. Of. Leftovers. So, after a nap, I made bread and mayonnaise.
Doing the mashed potato. When the editor of The Silver Palate cookbooks invites you to dinner, you run across Sag Harbor no matter what you weigh. Suzanne Rafer, aided by husband Danny Peary, was the most gracious of hosts and she served the best turkey meatloaf ever. With mashed potatoes. Preceded by a batch of David Tannis’s white bean dip, fragrant with fresh rosemary. No doubt we had a fascinating foodie conversation over dinner—but all I can think about is that meatloaf…and those potatoes.
Playing with food. Bobbie and Eric Cohen also live in Sag Harbor. Bobbie loves to play board games, Eric doesn’t. So, every year, for Bobbie’s birthday, the couple invites people over and Eric plays board games with them without complaint. This involves a lot of finger food. I was delighted to make a meal of many of the classics—potato chips, spinach-artichoke dip, tzatziki, Swiss cheese, crackers, pretzels, fruit salad. And then there was dessert! There were several options, but the mini cream puffs are all I can remember. I was very, very bad because the stuff that we don’t dare stock in our homes on a regular basis is so very salty-fatty good.
Which came first? Husband says I’ve been a little obsessed with recreating a dish from my childhood this year. But he never had a proper serving of the Otto Firemen’s barbeque chicken. With my latest attempt at it he started to warm to the idea.
I knew that the original was marinated in vinegar and herbs. My first attempt was kind of bland. My dad, a former Otto fireman, said that the “secret recipe” was a homemade version of Chiavetta’s Barbeque Marinade. So I ordered Chiavetta’s online. It wasn’t even close to my fondly remembered blend. Then my friend Ian, who used to work at a barbeque place in Albany, said that what I was searching for was Cornell sauce. I tried an online recipe for that—egg, oil, vinegar, dried herbs. It was close!
Even Husband liked it. I liked the flavor, I might even be able to settle for a slightly different version of the dream chicken. But I sat down and tried to remember every detail of the old barbeques in Otto—Mrs. Byrd’s homemade blueberry pie, my mom dropping off a refrigerator-vegetable-drawer full of her potato salad, setting out paper napkins, making hand-lettered posters, the sweaty guys working the racks of chicken—and there I spotted the heretofore secret ingredient—beer! (Not the guys’ sweat.) Whenever a chicken leg flared up, a firemen put it out with a pour from his handy can of beer. When a batch of chicken was done cooking, it was thrown into a garbage bag-lined trash can. So every piece of chicken got a taste of beer. I’m so on this. 2018 is the year of the barbequed chicken!
You may not see Stacy out enjoying our local restaurants’ offerings quite so often in 2018 as she is currently at work on a Hamptons-centric cookbook with co-author Hillary Davis. You can follow Stacy’s informed and opinionated foodie adventures on twitter @hamptonsepicure.