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Great Food, Good Friends, and Tracy Chapman’s Fast Car

Last Friday I had the most amazing dinner with friends that absolutely needed to be written about. It’s easy to forget the truly fantastic time that can be had with the right group of people, good food, and of course, plenty of cocktails.

My friend John had been telling me about his great finds at the Hayground School Farmer’s Market in Bridgehampton every Friday afternoon. Since I am stuck in the city until Friday night, John suggested we have a dinner party at his house, with our lovely friends Vanessa and Connor, and he would be in charge of the menu. I on the other hand would be in charge of the cocktails.

Since Connor and Vee live close to John, I stopped over their house first. Vee took me for a tour of her garden where she chopped a good helping of beautiful Rainbow Swiss Chard to bring over. She had already prepared a salad of greens she had grown (Mesclun, baby arugula, Beet Greens), topped with baby Summer Squash, Zuccini, and Shallots, all from the garden. She also made her own dressing, rich with herbs from her separate herb garden, (lots and lots of fresh tangy dill), and a buttermilk base.

We walked over to John’s one-story ranch house which happens to sit on one of the most fabulous pieces of land on Shelter Island. Right on the water, near the South Ferry, Sag Harbor across the way, and the Historic Garr Estate (used to be) to the right.

The interior of the house had a cool-modern feeling with lots of clean corners, and open space. Lots of windows, and glass doors allowed for light and a cool breeze to be brought inside. Special details like the washed wood-plank walls in the guest room, not to mention the beautiful long counter top in the kitchen, and the recently added bar, made it an absolutely perfect place to make and enjoy dinner on a summer evening.

We sat out on the porch enjoying my carefully thought out cocktail inspired from one I had recently at Death and Company. John is a gin drinker like myself, so I of course decided to do a gin cocktail. View the recipe at the end of post. Believe me, it’s worth trying.

After a cocktail (or two) John began cooking, and selecting wines (For Reds there were Rhone – France– Xavier 2007 Vacqueyras, and a Masion Bovachon 2006 Gigondas, For Whites we had a Warwick 2008 Sauvignon Blanc from South Africa, and Campo Vernino 2007 Vermentino- Maremma Toscana). He had coated fresh tuna from Montauk that he purchased at the farmer’s market with some crushed black pepper, and seared it briefly in olive oil. He also prepared some shiitake and oyster mushrooms, grown in Bridgehampton, also purchased at the market. He simply cooked them in a little butter, and plenty of fresh local garlic. He also sautéed Vee’s Rainbow Chard, and arranged all of this over some Fregola (Sardinian Cous Cous) .

The power of fresh ingredients really is communicated through a meal like this. Nothing but salt, pepper, garlic, herbs, oil, and butter were added. No fancy sauces, no glazes, no expensive gourmet ingredients, just really good, really fresh food. The fresh garlic made such a difference, a good bite would really pop with the intense flavor mixed with a bit of course salt. The Sauvignon Blanc added a wonderful crispness that enhanced the flavors even more. The Tuna was unbelievable, cooked just right, and the mushrooms, THE MUSHROOMS, they were, beyond delicious, beyond perfection. They really reached the threshold of all that food can be, just these light, chewy (but not rubbery) gorgeous fungi that had such intense woody, earthy, flavor, ah! It was just simply AMAZING.

After several glasses of wine between us, and some local berries, our many conversations and discussions switched to song (and some dance). Connor and John broke out there guitars right around the small dinner table, and before jamming a bit, Vee and I requested– what is undoubtably one of the greatest songs of all time–Fast Car by Tracy Chapman. After listening to it once, and singing along to it another time, Connor picked up the tune and we were happy to hear it again. The boys played on their own for quite some time when we realized it was much too early for so much wine to have been drunk and we slowly made the walk home to Vee’s in the dark. Filled with warm summer flavors, and the red wine making its way through our veins, the level of contentedness was unparalleled. Never underestimate the joy one may find in the company of good friends, and good food.

Thanks John, Vanessa, and Connor for the great night! Let’s do it again soon!

for the cocktail:

Makes 8 (you may want to make more)

3 large cucumbers, peeled, and cut to remove seeds
Juice of 2 lemons
4 tsp homemade grenindine (pomegranate Juice, Sugar, simmered on low heat)
Fresh Basil
St. Germaine
Hendrick’s Gin

To prepare base, puree cucumbers in food processor until smooth. Strain through wire strainer, to remove any chunks. Add lemon juice, and Homemade Grenindine. Stir or shake well.

In a rocks glass, muddle a few sprigs of basil. Add Ice. Pour a 2 count (approx 2 oz’s or 1/8 of the glass) with St. Germain. Add a 4 count of Hendrick’s (or until the glass is about half full). Top the rest with the cucumber mixture, and shake. Top with sprig of basil, or lemon wedge for garnish. Should be sweet, slippery, smooth, and refreshing. It should also be very strong.

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