Our cousin recently had a big birthday. Fifty. Fifty! How can this be? We remember vividly, and so fondly, the themed parties his mother organized when he was a little boy. Now our own children range in age from two to twenty…(eesh!)
Our aunt and uncle had a big suburban backyard. Everyone would gather for those July birthdays: grandparents, godparents, three grown siblings, their children. Our aunt would load the picnic tables with BBQd steaks and platters of boiled corn; our Baba would make cheese-filled phyllo pastries; we kids would clamour for chips and dip and root-beer floats.
But best of all, our aunt would coordinate the decorations, the cake, and the party favours to whatever our cousin loved each summer. Baseball, outer space, a new puppy…the theme would dictate the icing on the cake, literally. Marzipan rockets. Sugar-frosting hockey sticks. And streamers and balloons to match.
It was both homey, and glamorous, all at once.
This was also where we first sampled ice-cream cake. A Baskin Robbins Jamoca Almond Fudge ice-cream cake, to be exact. It set the standard for some time to come.
Below is an ice-cream cake recipe that is equal parts nostalgia (Neapolitan ice cream!) and post-millennial freshness (organic ingredients!). Gather your folks and dig in. Even if it isn’t your birthday.
Neapolitan Ice Cream Cake
Line the bottom of a standard loaf pan with parchment paper.
Mix cookies and butter together in small bowl until moist.
Remove ice cream from freezer and let soften for a few minutes. Scoop ice cream into a mixing bowl and stir until soft.
Spread ice cream in bottom of pan with a spatula. Sprinkle with a third of the wafers. Transfer pan to freezer for 5-10 minutes, until firm.
Repeat steps with vanilla and strawberry. Freeze until firm, approximately 2 hours.
To serve, dip a knife into hot water and loosen edges around pan. Flip onto a serving plate and remove parchment paper. Slice, plate, and top with chocolate sauce.
Makes 8 Serving
It was so hot today in the city that the sidewalks shimmered. And that made us think of Alice in Wonderland. Which brought to mind one of the odd poems in that oddest of books. “Soup of the evening, beautiful soup!” the Mock Turtle croons to Alice,” before they hurry off to the court of the Queen of Hearts.
Beautiful soup make us think of vichyssoise.
A chilled bowl of leek and potato soup. Sumptuous with cold cream. Sprinkled lavishly with chopped parsley and chives.
Something about this just sounds cooling, and elegant.
Elegant as in old-world, formal, hotel elegance. Lavishly wasteful air-conditioning. A proper table set with a thick cloth napkin and precise cutlery. A water goblet clinking with ice cubes. The antithesis of a sticky picnic.
Vichyssoise is French in origin, but is widely credited as the invention of a chef at the Ritz-Carlton hotel in New York City in 1917. Hotels of that era bring to mind “The Great Gatsby,” and that novel’s critical scene, which unfolds in a suite at The Plaza, on the hottest of summer days, over buckets of ice and bottles of whiskey and hurled accusations aplenty.
Gatsby is many things. Including elegant.
Below is a, yes, beautiful soup, cooled with Greek yogurt and made elegant with chives and mint.
Chilled Cucumber Soup Recipe
In a blender or food processor, combine the chopped cucumber with the yoghurt, lemon juice, shallot, garlic, dill, and 1/4 cup olive oil.
Blend until smooth. Season with salt and pepper, cover and refrigerate until cold (4-6 hours). For best flavour, let sit overnight.
Re-season the soup before serving and top with diced cucumber, red onion, tomatoes, chives and mint sprig. Drizzle with hot sauce if desired.
Even better if proceeded by an ice-cold vodka tonic, with extra limes….
Makes 4 bowls or 8 tea cups
We recently merged our two families at the cottage on the Bruce Peninsula, and for a treat, we all went to Sunday lunch at a lodge just up the lake. This resort has been owned by the same family since 1950. There are scattered cabins, shallow waterfronts, a little marina that sells pop and ice cream sandwiches. Inside are pool tables and shuffleboard, shelves of books and stacks of jigsaw puzzles. Everything shows its age, but the worn edges are soft and friendly.
If you want to go back in time, if you want to experience some old-fashioned community in our solitary age of tweets and texts, this does the trick.
Children from different families are running around. Adults are nodding hellos at each other and settling into sofas with the newspaper, or looking at the TV and exchanging a little casual tennis talk. The young servers are preparing the dining room, and just after noon, the big bell is rung for Sunday lunch.
Today it’s a fish fry. You grab an old china plate, and move along the table-lengths set up with the kind of nostalgic food that catapults you and your sister into remembrances of vacations long past. There are plates of pickles, both thick briny dills and bread-and-butters with crimped edges. There are bowls of creamy macaroni salad. There are baskets of hot squishy rolls that the little boys like; one comments with wonder that “the bread tastes of sugar.” It does. Everything does. It is nothing like how we eat now, as a rule.
It is all delicious.
Below is a slightly more modern coleslaw, tart with vinaigrette. Serve with lots of lemonade at a picnic table.
Mix cabbage, carrots and chives in a large bowl and season with salt and pepper.
Blend dressing in a food processor until very smooth.
Combine slaw and a few tablespoons of dressing and toss well. Season with salt, pepper and additional roasted sunflower seeds, if desired. For an extra kick, top with chopped pickled hot peppers.