Thursday, April 22, 2010

Spring in My Step

What a glorious month! The wildflowers are exploding all over Texas; and in New Jersey, where we just spent a long weekend, the tulips and daffodils had poked their heads up along all the city sidewalks, and redbud trees blazed everywhere. And while I haven’t exactly been hibernating, our big screened porch has me yearning to invite friends for dinner. Which may be why I volunteered our house for the neighborhood spring get-together.

Usually, this is the sort of madness I set myself up for and then, as what my husband describes as the “cumulative reality” of the event approaches, I spend a great deal of time muttering to myself, “I don’t know why I do these things. What was I thinking?” Ok, yes, I do know. I love entertaining. Bringing friends together for good food and lively conversation is part of it, but mostly I love the planning. Putting together a menu is my favorite activity, but then there’s the centerpiece and the napkins and the silver and the china or maybe stainless and pottery, or maybe even a mix and match. You have to have sort of a “What the heck” attitude, but if the colors work or there’s a nice mix of textures, ...well, what the heck. I particularly like mixing my own silver with my mother’s and my grandmother’s. I don’t have a full service of either, but my mother apparently never used her cream soup spoons, so I have lots of those, and my grandmother had a complete set of sherbet spoons – they have a small notch, presumably for digging into the icy dessert – and I can use their dinner forks if I alternate them with each place setting. Can you tell I really get into this?

In fact, I enjoy the planning so much that the dinner party itself is almost anticlimactic. And sometimes – just occasionally, mind you – I’m exhausted. But it’s a fun exhaustion, and I won’t give it up.

So the last dinner party I gave was a couple of weeks ago, when spring had finally arrived in Austin and my friend Anne was here for a visit. Anne and I have collaborated on many a dinner party, so even though she was the guest of honor, she dug in like a trouper. Strawberries are in season here, so we had big platters of them for dessert, along with some really yummy and light cookies from a Daniel Boulud recipe I found. Shelling the pistachios is the most tedious part, unless you can find them shelled in the grocery store, which I cannot. But other than that, these little sweets take almost no time.

Sacristan Cookies by Daniel Boulud

¼ c pistachios
2 Tbl sugar
1 sheet puff pastry, frozen
1 egg yolk
1 Tbl milk

Preheat the oven to 350°. Lay out the sheet of puff pastry, and GENTLY roll out the creases from being in its box. Whip together the yolk, milk, and ½ Tbl of sugar, and with a pastry brush, brush the mixture onto both sides of the sheet. Cut the pastry sheet in half, and cut each half into strips about ¾-inch wide. (Each pastry sheet is about a 9-inch square, so you should end up with two dozen strips that are 4½ inches by ¾-inch.) Pick up each strip by holding both ends and carefully twist it two or three times (making sure the pastry is thawed just enough to be malleable). Place the twists about 1½ inches apart on a baking sheet lined with parchment. Bake 10-15 mins or until golden. (DB says about 10 mins, but mine are never done in less than about 14 mins.)

While the pastry strips are baking, grind together the pistachios and the remaining 1 ½ Tbl of the sugar in a food processor until the mixture resembles finely ground bread crumbs. Pour it into a large shallow bowl or plate. When the strips are done and still warm, carefully roll them in the pistachio-sugar mix to coat. Set aside until ready to serve.