Thursday, 3 July
After work on Tuesday I skipped the gym and drove first to Easy Way for some vegetables, then to Joe's for some Monopolowa. I arrived at home around 6. Cameron's truck was in the driveway, but he heard me pull up and came out of the house to let me pull the convertible into the garage. Walking into the house I loved on Doris and Billie, who always enthusiastically greet me at the door, put my Acme bag on the dresser in the guest room and walked back outside to unload the trunk.
I kissed Cameron, who had already started pulling together the things I'd need for cooking dinner and had a cocktail waiting in the freezer for me, and started unloading the trunk.
I mentioned before I left for work that morning that I'd pick up some vegetables. And, when we talked around noon we discussed, as Alex has often said, "having a quiet evening at home." What I didn't know was that Cameron had already been to Easy Way, attempting to save me the trip. So with a surplus of pickling cucumbers, cauliflower and green onions that wouldn't all fit in the crisper drawers, we'd soon get to work scrubbing and slicing cucumbers, red and yellow peppers and onions for refrigerator pickles. I also planned to make pico de gallo with some roma tomatoes originally intended for that purpose, (which were beginning to show signs of becoming overly ripe) and the first half of a bunch of cilantro that I'd purchased for making slaw the next day.
Cameron had spent a good part of the afternoon cutting the huge slab of beef he'd purchased at Costco the day before into nicely sized New York Strips. Discovering that the knives were in dire need of sharpening, he pulled out the Martha Stewart Everyday knife sharpener bought at clearance from K-mart last Christmas and attempted to hone the blade. He must've done an adequate job because he managed to butcher the roast, but he'd left the sharpener on the counter so I could sharpen and/or resharpen all of the knives in the kitchen, another thing I had mentioned wanting to do earlier in the week.
An already thawed a package of vacuum-sealed Oven Crisped Lemon Chicken breasts (Cameron's mother's recipe) were in the fridge for dinner. I had already diced an onion and was cutting up yellow squash when David called to invite us to dinner with he and Summer at his house. Cameron explained that we were in the middle of cooking dinner and invited them to dinner at our house.
When they arrived I had already finished the pico and was measuring vinegar, sugar, mustard seed and celery seed for the pickles. Thankfully, the two of them had pretty much expected us to eat sort of late -- as we often do regardless of whether it's a "school night" or not -- and brought some homemade guacamole and chips. I put a bowl of just finished pico on the table and continued about my pickling business.
Sometime around 8:30 I put the chicken in the oven for its hour at 350° F. Through some miscommunication between Cameron and myself and because David is largely vegetarian with the exception of seafood, I thought that he was bringing some shrimp to grill. But as we visited, I realized that we needed to get something else going for our friends. One of us took David to the freezer where he pulled out two unexpectedly nice chunks of cod, much like the size of a Tuna steak. I was shocked. The cod I usually find at Kroger, for instance, comes in a bag of individually vacuum-sealed emaciated, thin, flat filets in odd-numbers so you can never cook dinner for 4 out of one bag. These looked great.
As the chicken cooked and we started thawing the fish. I broke apart a head of cauliflower and put it in a foil lined pan, drizzled it with olive oil, salt and pepper and covered it. It went into the oven with the chicken. Next was a salad of Romaine, mixed baby greens, cubed yellow and red tomatoes and green onions. David made some dressing that he'd dubbed "Mark's something or other quick this or that." (I'm finishing this post four days after the fact. David, sorry I can't remember the name.) It was comprised of balsamic vinegar, soy sauce, olive oil and a couple other things, I think. Regardless of the ingredient list, it was good.
We finally sat down to dinner sometime between 10:30 and 11. I was happy to receive an IM from David on Friday stating, "btw, we had a blast the other night."
Wednesday, 4 July
We spent a good part of the morning enjoying the mid-week break from work. Knowing that it was just for one day, we didn't spend much time doing the usual housework, yardwork, or otherwork we usually do on days off. Cameron did clean the pool. And I did some tidying up in the house, but for the most part our day was spent preparing for that evening's dinner with our longtime friends and neighbors, Gene and Cindie.
Sometime earlier in the week I received a recipe flash from Epicurious for baby back ribs. Cameron had picked some up for us at Costco and they were in the fridge, waiting for their cleaning, pat dry and dry rub. They would go back in the fridge in their foil covered cocoon for two-and-a-half hours before being allowed to reach room temperature for thirty minutes, then hitting the oven for an hour-and-a-half.
I thinly sliced half-heads of red and green cabbage and coarsely chopped the cilantro left from the day before for the slaw. Olive oil, fresh lime juice, salt and pepper whisked together made up the dressing. A little toss to coat and a Tupperware bowl finished the task and put the slaw in the fridge to chill.
Next: create the barbecue sauce. I carefully prepared small dishes and bowls of all the ingredients: brown sugar, chopped onion, finely chopped fresh ginger, six cloves of chopped garlic (or in my case the equivalent -- 6 teaspoons -- from a jar), apple cider vinegar, olive oil, soy sauce, salt, pepper, cumin, and water. I'd planned to substitute tomato paste, a little more vinegar and water, plus some turbinado sugar for the ketchup, but I was out of tomato paste. In the interest of time, I went to grab some ketchup but was out of that too.
We had accepted Dan and Lori's invitation earlier for a couple hours by their pool. So when Cameron was ready to go to their house I told him to go on over and that I'd meet him there after a visit to the Pig.
At their house, I sat with Lori at a table by the pool while we watched the others swim. I figured I'd have to be back home by 3:00 in order to stay on track with dinner. When I started to leave, Lori topped off my strawberry daiquiri. I couldn't waste it -- I got home around 3:20.
I put away the other things I picked up at the grocery and measured three cups of ketchup for the barbecue sauce. After heating the oil, I added the onions, garlic and ginger. When the mixture became fragrant I knew that this was going to be good. I added the rest of the ingredients and let them simmer, stirring occasionally, for fifteen minutes. When I turned off the heat so it could cool a bit before being blended in batches, I had one last thing to make: the Watermelon Feta Salad. The recipe comes from this month's Everyday Food.
A little after 4, Gene came in the back door with barbecued chicken and barbeque baked beans. Cindie came in a couple of minutes later with cilantro potato salad and cucumbers in sour cream. Finally, in his second trip, Gene brought over some roasted corn-on-the-cob with tarragon and butter.
Discussing our next steps and how long it would be before dinner was ready, I was complaining about the remaining basting brush I have. Gene offered to go back next door for one of his silicone brushes. I've been tempted to buy one but was unsure of how effective it would be.
Cindie tossed oil and lemon juice with the arugula and onions while I tossed the watermelon with crumbled feta. We left the two seperate until dinnertime. Cameron started the grill when he and Gene went outside. Cindie and I grabbed our cocktails and took the ribs outside to grill over indirect heat for 30 to 40 minutes.
The silicone brush kicks it. It's fantastic. Next time I'm at Williams-Sonoma I'll be picking up at least one. Probably two. We brushed the ribs every ten minutes, as instructed.
After a half hour or so, we took the ribs off of the grill and discussed whether to eat outdoors or in the air conditioned dining room. Everything was delicious and the company was perfect. It is so nice to have friends like Gene and Cindie, and having them right next door is a blessing.
It was a nice one-day holiday that was much more satisfying and relaxing than the year we enjoyed the day with patriotically colored cocktails, starting with red (bloody marys in the morning), white (piña coladas by the pool in the afternoon) and blue (blue hawaiians while preparing dinner). We barely made it through dinner. I think we were all in bed by 8 -- no fireworks that year.