Monday, July 24, 2006

If You Can’t Stand the Heat Wave …

Julie’s 29th (again!) Birthday Party: The Menu

- Anni’s Crostini with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Onions & Fig Jam
- Chocolate & Zucchini’s Zucchini Carpaccio
- Passionate Nonchalance’s Artichoke & Manchego Crostini
- Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook
- Figs Wrapped in Blue Cheese & Turkey Bacon
- My Famous Prosciutto Involtini
- Plum Tart, adapted from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook, and served with Crème Fraiche
- The “Can’t Have a Fay Sisters’ Birthday Without It” Brown Sugar Frosting Spice Cake

Waiting for praise ...


One of those divine days. My new job doesn’t start for another week, the little bit of work I have can be pushed aside until Monday, and for some reason the Third & Fairfax Farmer’s Market isn’t a zoo, even though it’s the middle of July and the height of tourist season. The bins are full: zucchini, plums, figs, and peaches … all to be incorporated into appetizers for my sister’s birthday party tomorrow night. I pick up apricots for myself, to start a batch of liqueur tonight.

I make a trip to Ralph’s for the essential turkey bacon, since my sister does not eat food from piggies, and to Trader Joe’s for blue cheese, crème fraiche, and assorted party essentials. It’s searing hot out, and the house is miserable, but I haven’t had consecutive free days just to plan and prepare for a party in I can’t remember how long, and 95 degree weather isn’t going to get me down. It’s the kind of day that begs for the Amalie soundtrack, a bit of reading on the couch, a nap with the dog.

Then, once it begins to cool down, while Julie is out on a date, since tonight is her actual birthday, I bake the cake. My mother made this cake for us nearly every year of our childhoods. A Betty Crocker Spice Cake, which has been discontinued, so now I have to make it with a yellow cake mix and quatre epices (cloves, nutmeg, ginger, and ground pepper) that we picked up in Paris in the little spice shop next door to our hotel in the St-Germain-des-Pres.

While the cake bakes and cools, I finish The Heart is A Lonely Hunter, one of the most admirable books I have in years, not only because McCullers was 23 when she wrote it, but because it gives dignity to even the least dignified of the characters. Then I watch—confession—The Truth About Cats & Dogs on one of those cheesy cable channels on the 200 level. It’s after 11 when I finally frost the cake with the ultimate sugar rush of brown sugar and butter melted over a double boiler, then combined with powdered sugar and milk. It’s lumpy as all hell, but lumpy frosting has long been “my thing.”

It’s finally cooling down, I’m high from eating the leftover frosting, and so I start The Good Life and read until almost 3 a.m.

Getting started: apricot liqueur


Although I spend the morning working on my novel, I am actually thinking about tonight’s menu, which originated when I decided I wanted to use recipes from some of the blogs I have been enjoying. I had to try Anni’s crostini, because she sent me the fig jam that goes with it, and I really wanted something from Chocolate & Zucchini. I also decided to play roulette, and go with the first appetizer on the first blog listed on Food Porn Watch at the time I was searching. The winner: a crostini from Passionate Nonchalance. Of course I had to include my involtini, which was a hit two weeks before at our big Italian party. And then I decided to round things out with a recipe from one of my cookbooks I have yet to use. Since The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer’s Market Cookbook is arranged by season, it seemed like a perfect choice. Right there in the section for summer months were recipes for Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, a Plum Galette, and figs wrapped in blue cheese and prosciutto, which I modify greatly for my sister.

I prep in the morning: the involtini filling, caramelized onions, artichoke filling, and the tarts. Heat fills every corner of the house, and drapes over me like a second skin. Our friend Andrea arrives and immediately head for my sister’s bed to take a nap in front of the fan. The three of us go for pedis, simply to sit somewhere cool for a bit, then return to finish up the food. My sister’s boyfriend calls to tell her it’s the hottest day on record in L.A. As the afternoon wanes, the sky turns a pearly, apocalyptic color, and more than one person will say—at some point in the night, which is filled with lots of laughter and some dramatic heat lightning—that it feels as if something terrible is going to happen. As if the war in Iraq and the crisis in Lebanon isn’t enough! Julie’s O.C. college friends, Robin & Trae, arrive and are put to work, spreading blue cheese, cutting peaches, and tasting my limoncello.

As 7:30 nears, the table is nearly ready, and I wander around it, pretending to be nonchalant, but I’m not. It has been ages since I have done more than provide one or two appetizers for a party, and I’m feeling quite proud of myself. And so, I fuss around the table as the guests begin to arrive and work on a modest demeanor for the “oohs” and “ahs” to come …


The house is a huge mess. This heat is likely to render us unconscious before noon. But everyone LOVED the food. And this makes me very happy.

Simple plum tart

Recipes & Modifications:

Anni’s Crostini with Gorgonzola, Caramelized Onions & Fig Jam: I made this recipe per her instructions, although I sautéed the onions longer to soften them up a bit.

Chocolate & Zucchini’s Zucchini Carpaccio: I could not find poppy vinegar, so I used a very light tarragon vinegar, which was nice and refreshing.

Passionate Nonchalance’s Artichoke & Manchego Crostini: When I made this, I thought, “This is too simple.” Little did I know, that would be its appeal.

Figs Wrapped in Blue Cheese & Turkey Bacon: Just like it sounds.

My Famous Prosciutto Involtini

Plum Tart, served with Crème Fraiche: I cheated and used a Pillsbury piecrust to make this. I’d give excuses, but I don’t have any. I come from an extended family of superb pie makers, and if I ever learned how to make a crust, my mom and aunts would have stopped making pies for me. Also, I couldn’t get my hands on a vanilla bean, so I used a little pure vanilla extract. And in one of the tarts, I chopped up some mint, which turned out to be delish!

The “Can’t Have a Fay Sisters’ Birthday Without It” Brown Sugar Frosting Spice Cake: If you really want this recipe, email me!

Peach Bruschetta with Blue Cheese, from The San Francisco Ferry Plaza Farmer's Market Cookbook

This is an exceptional summer appetizer. I adapted it with smaller slices of bread, so that I would get more appetizers out of it. The original recipe is as follows:


4 slices country bread
2 peaches
extra-virgin olive oil for brushing
½ pound Point Reyes Blue, gorgonzola, or Blue Castello cheese


1. Preheat the broiler.

2. Arrange the bread sliced on a rimmed baking sheet, slip under the broiler, and toast, turning once, until golden brown on both sides. This should take only a few minutes.

3. While the bread is toasting, halve the peaches lengthwise, pit them, and then peel each half. Cut each half lengthwise into ¼-inch-thick slices, keeping the shape of each intact. (I didn’t peel them, and just sliced them up to fit two per crostini).

4. When the bread is ready, remove from the broiler and brush each slice on both sides with olive oil. Spread one-fourth of the cheese on each slice of warm bread, place a sliced peach half on top, and serve.


anni said...

Wow! Looks like there wasn't much more anyone could ask for at this fabulous banquet.

Happy BELATED Birthday to Julie! A fellow July baby!

So.... what's in the Apricot Liqueur? Did you use fresh or dried? My mother-in-law infused dried "unsulfured" apricots in vodka with a stick of rock candy for about 30 days before bottling and serving. Since my father-in-law passed away, she hasn't done much of her Swedish cooking anymore.

Nice job! Our family has a favorite cake too. We call it the "M&M cake". Need I say more?

Anni :-)

Kim said...

Hi Anni,

The apricot liqueur is made the same was as my strawberry wine ...

A layer of apricots, a layer of sugar, a layer of apricots, a layer of sugar, and so on until you're about an inch from the top of the jar. Then drizzle with a little wine yeast and let the whole thing ferment for 2 months.

This batch will be perfect for September sipping!


ann le said...

i re-created your zucchini dish for a dinner party. it was a hit. thanks for your assistance in my quest for popularity. i wish julie's birthday came around more than once a year.


aria said...

yay! she liked the artichoke and manchego crostini, woooot :) heeeheee, it's so simple and just plain tasty right? your dishes look beautiful, lots of fun!