No matter what your political beliefs or affiliations, we are living through a unique moment in our nation’s history and it’s taking a toll on all of us. After turning on the TV last Wednesday afternoon and seeing rioters attacking the Capitol, I lost my sense of invulnerability. I don’t have the words to articulately express my feelings, but I am left under an oppressive cloud, making finding the pleasures in everyday life far more difficult. Although Sunday was a half a week away, I thought about 86ing my plans for the first Congenial Table. By the end of the night Sunday, I was so glad I hadn’t.
Mountain of Love, Mountain of Love or How Two Old People Ended Up Dancing in Their Kitchen on a Sunday Night…
While Mr. Smith is unequivocally the head chef in our home, I am not without my skills. I have decided my goal for 2021 and A Congenial Table is (at least) once a month to come up with the menu, do the shopping and cooking, allowing him a day off.
First, I needed a menu. We both love a good crab cake and I knew they were within my wheelhouse. I Googled ‘What to serve with crab cakes?’, added a salad, a vegetable and crispy potato and had a plan for a delectable meal. I remembered Mr. Smith had a crispy potato recipe he was wanting to try, so I broke my own rule before I even got started. I assigned the potato dish to him.
Saturday morning we set off to the market to do the shopping. We found almost everything on our list and in one case, something that wasn’t on our list. I wasn’t going to serve a dessert, but Mr. Smith spotted a small container of cream puffs in the bakery and somehow they ended up in our cart. In addition to the menu, I had been thinking about my table setting. I have replaced our Christmas table linens with a favorite gray and white tablecloth and wanted all white flowers for the table. The flower selection that morning was very disappointing, and I left empty handed.
After my morning cappuccino on Sunday, I set off to a different market to check their flower supply and grab a couple of things we had forgotten. There I was rewarded with some white hydrangeas.
This striking black ceramic vase was made by my oldest son. I added the hydrangeas and had my centerpiece. Perfect.
I wanted to serve Sunday dinner at 6:00, but somehow the day got away from me. My well laid out agenda was to make the salad dressing, prep the salad and the put the crab cakes together in the afternoon. But we had a late lunch, read instead of prepping dinner and then went for a long walk. Now I was really behind schedule!
Back from our walk, I dove into my dinner prep, annoyed at myself and not in the best of moods. When I finally got to a lull in my prep time, I went to grab a shower. For dinner on New Year’s Day, I had donned an Eileen Fisher black dress and it had made me feel festive. The idea was to do the same. And what did I put on post shower with freshly coiffed hair – my silky, sexy pink and black pajamas! In my defense, they are lovely pajamas and in this case I will refer to them as les pyjamas to make them sound more elegant.
As I was putting the finishing touches on the salad, Mr. Smith popped open a bottle of bubbly. A dry sparkling wine goes well with the sweet crab cakes with its creamy sauce, or you could serve a classic Chablis or fine white burgundy. Sitting down at the table with the snowy bouquet in my son’s vase and candlesticks gifted to me by my mother-in-law, I began to relax. Wynton Marsalis, Standard Time, Vol. 3 was playing. Wynton on the trumpet, his dad Ellis on the piano and the candlelight were working their magic.
For our salad, I chose Pomegranate, Arugula Salad by Tyler Florence at Food Network. I used an arugula mix with some other baby lettuces rather than all arugula. Topped with shaved Parmigiano-Reggiano shavings, toasted walnuts and the red, juicy pomegranate seeds, it was a yummy start to our dinner.
After salad, it was time for the main course.
We have tried many a crab cake recipe, but once we hit on Martha Stewart’s, we’ve never looked further. I cut the recipe in half, making four cakes. We each had one on Sunday and now have two in the freezer for a future dinner. Speaking from experience, they do freeze beautifully. Martha uses a mixture of jumbo lump crab and small size crab. We have sometimes been able to find a can that includes both, but not this time. I just bought a pound of “premium” crab, then broke some of it up a bit and left some larger chunks. While Martha suggests serving with tartar sauce, we prefer remoulade.
We steamed fresh green beans as a side to make ourselves feel better about devouring the rich crab cakes. The elegant cakes were nearly overshadowed by Mr. Smith’s Crispy Roast Potatoes. They were delicious! Fluffy and crispy at the same time. As a side note, we did think they required a little extra roasting time, about 15 minutes longer than the recipe called for.
By the time we finished dinner, I was much more at ease. I spent a few minutes tidying up the kitchen, then it was time to serve the illicit cream puffs. I decided to create a faux croquembouche. As I started artistically forming my creation, Mr. Smith began singing Mountain of Love, or at least the bits and bobs of it that he knew.
Then through the magic of iTunes, Johnny Rivers’s voice filled our apartment, crooning to us in his soulful way. I grabbed Mr. Smith and in the perfect end to our evening, we danced around the kitchen.
Ha! Actually, not the end of the evening. We luckily had bubbly left to complement the cream puffs. So, for a week that started out really sad and scary, I was able to move forward with my dance partner to turn it into a A MOST Congenial Table.
C’est la vie.