Monday, April 9, 2012

Buona Pasqua!

Easter Sunday started off on a beautiful note with a full bright moon hanging in the sky illuminating the landscape at midnight after a long hard slog of a Saturday night dinner service at the restaurant, a slog that left me both sore and exhausted and sadly unable to sleep. Ma que bella luna!

What precious little sleep I got came well after midnight and was disrupted way too soon at 6am by a lot of racket from out back of the house. Despite 35-degree temperatures and frost on the grass, there was some kind of caterwauling happening out back, not unlike what I imagine a cat sounds like while being strangled.

Tossing and turning and fighting to go back to sleep, it dawned (pun intended) on me that it was Easter morning and the noise was an outside Easter sunrise service at one of the two churches in our little community. Both are within 400 yards of the back of our house.

I'm sure the choir sounded good up close, but it sounded anything but decent coming over the big field behind the house, especially to my sleep-deprived mind. But in the spirit of neighborliness, I was trying to forgive and forget when the preacher kicked in over the PA system, which got both dogs riled and barking.

And so I threw in the metaphorical towel and rather grumpily set about my day, taking the dogs outside at just about the time that the Baptist preacher from the closer of the two churches pushed his "big pitch"—as my former neighbor and Lutheran minister friend used to call his most important sermon of the year—as he pushed his big pitch to a nasally Southern Baptist crescendo.

Their business complete, the dogs and I headed back inside, they to eat breakfast like it was their last meal ever and I to start prepping for Easter dinner and wishing for some strozzapreti to cook and take next door as a neighborly gesture. You might have to be Italian to get that joke.

Easter is a time for flowers, no doubt. Our daffodils have been done for weeks, but here are some beautiful specimens that I brought to Ann from the farmers market and the phenomenal clematis we have growing out front. My aunt Susan also brought us a bunch of double daffodils and yellow tulips from her garden. How come everyone has daffodils but us?

At 7am, after getting the animals settled down, Ann was still asleep when I started prepping my part of the menu that Ann had worried over for weeks: grilled butterflied leg of lamb, grilled roulade of shiitake-stuffed pork tenderloin, roasted asparagus, and a green salad with tomato vinaigrette.

Ann's part was a shiitake and fingerling potato tart that she learned from Jen and a gorgeous layer cake, more about which later. And naturally Ann took care of the table, which was beautiful with its crown of hyacinths. It was a good division of labor, even if I drove her nuts not being able to nail down exactly what vegetables we were serving weeks in advance! She's a planner, Ann is, and it is taking some getting used to that I am a wing-it kind of cook. How do I know weeks in advance if we are going have asparagus for Easter? She's thinking, "How can he not know?"

Ann is crazy for cocktail napkins!

Our guests were Ann's parents Bob and Mary, my uncle and aunt Marshall and Susan, their daughter and my youngest first cousin Melissa, and our good friends Jen and Dewi. Isn't this the greatest photo of lovebirds Bob and Mary? And again you see them at the table with my uncle Marshall.

Here are Dewi, Marshall, and Susan and then my cousin Melissa.

Jen, Ann, and a shot of the two of us—I never realized how tiny Ann is beside me. I have no recollection of who shot this picture. Too much wine?

After everyone arrived, we poured around a couple bottles of our house sparkling wine, Bailly-Lapierre Crémant de Bourgogne, and then we attacked the hors d'oeuvres, a tray of things we had rustled from the fridge and a shiitake and fingerling potato tart that Ann made. Yes, there is always cheese and salame in our fridge, and yes, we did rip off this tart: it is the very same one that Jen has made for us a couple of times; thanks to her for the recipe! [That dough is crazy sticky!] Everyone wanted to know what was up with the artichoke hearts. Really, I found some leftover canned chokes in the fridge and just poured some olive oil and balsamic vinegar on them, with a sprinkle of salt, peppers, and dried herbs.

For the main course of our Easter dinner, we had long planned to have local lamb. I had a nice saddle that I was going to bone out and stuff when we had four guests. Then I switched to a leg at six guests. And a ten, I said the heck with it and stuffed a couple of pork tenderloins. The leg I butterflied and rubbed with a mint-rosemary pesto made from our garden. The pork tenders I butterflied and stuffed with a shiitake mushroom duxelles flavored with balsamic vinegar, then rolled and tied into a roulade. Both grilled at medium heat outside. The lamb, especially the charred pesto, was really good; the pork tenderloins fell apart (at the restaurant I would have wrapped them in caul fat to hold them together). Good, but unsightly and bad form for a professional chef.

To go with the meats, Ann made a delicious orzo salad and I scored some outstanding baby greens at the market.

And score! First asparagus of the year, roasted with olive oil, salt, and pepper!

With dinner, we had a lot of wine. Ann requested Syrah with the lamb, so we opened a Castello di Poppiano Syrah di Toscana. And I like Petit Verdot with lamb, so we opened some 2006 Linden PV. Ann also cracked one of her beloved Barrel 27 Right Hand Man Syrahs from Paso Robles, but I never saw or tasted it! And Dewi brought a Chinon, a 2009 Clos de la Niverdière, which has a bit of a barnyardy but otherwise typical Cab Franc nose and is especially pleasant for having seen no oak. I really love wines from Chinon and from just across the river in Bourgeuil.

We ended our delicious feast with one of the very best cakes that I have ever eaten. Ann baked a phenomenal lemon layer cake with lemon buttercream frosting! She keeps saying that she doesn't know how to bake, but I think she is sandbagging us! She presented the cake with a rousing chorus of Happy Birthday for Melissa's birthday coming up early next week. Dewi and I rousted a 1989 Château Lafaurie-Peyraguey Sauternes out of the cellar to go with the cake. It has a slightly oxidized nose with hints of cream sherry and toasted hazelnuts, and a pure lemony crème brûlée flavor with waves of acid and candied papaya. Delicious, but not as delicious as that cake! Ann, as I told you earlier, I have never had a professionally made cake as good as yours! Amazing, just amazing!

I cannot imagine a better Easter celebration with friends and family, memorable not only for the company, but for starting off with a full moon and noisy neighbors, and punctuated by fierce winds that ripped the siding off the south side of the house—a day we will never forget!

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