Friday, March 19, 2010

the party, part two


In the morning, the electricity did not come on.  The snow was still coming down.  At least 30 inches had already fallen.  We began to think of alternate plans for the Sunday night dinner if our power  did not return in time.  We went to the neighbors, who have a generator, to take showers.  We would be open at the restaurant for the evening.    E-mails went out advising the Sunday night guests to stay tuned in case there was a change in the program.  We thought, what a shame if we have to move the venue.  We had made grand schemes for the evening that could not be duplicated anywhere else.

The power came back on that night.  The cleaning and setting up resumed.  On Friday, we moved the long wine tasting tables that Caleb had made from our old garage into the green house to thaw.  We had left them on the terrace to the elements for the winter and they were heavy and saturated with snow and ice.  By Saturday, we were moving the furniture to the perimeter of our main room.  The couch, the chairs, all looked like wallflowers at a Regency dance waiting for their dance cards to be filled.  We brought the tasting tables in, and placed three, stem to stern, down the center of the room.  We hung two chandeliers over the long table.  We brought in extra dining chairs from the barn.  We had two almost-blooming jasmine topiary that we placed on the now-long single table in their wrought iron urns.

We began cooking on Saturday.  Rolling the little meatballs made from local beef, lamb, pork, and venison stuffed with dried black currants and bread crumbs.  These would get cooked in red wine.  Picking and cleaning the escarole for braising with garlic and a little hot pepper.  Cooking the chicken livers and making a smooth, creamy pate with dried apricots.  The farro would get cooked the following morning, made with a battuto of carrots, onion, and leeks so finally chopped they would absorb themselves into the large grain through the conduit of the generous white wine, making a perfect marriage of flavors.  To be topped with crispy pancetta.  The flowers also arrived on Saturday, bunches of snow white tulips, for arranging the next morning.

On Sunday morning we set the table.  The wine glasses sparkled in the gray light.  Mis-matched plates and silver paraded up and down the rough and aged wood of our tasting tables, remnants of that old cedar garage.  With the heat from the woodstove and the cooking in our tiny kitchen, one jasmine began to bloom.
In the afternoon, friends arrived to help set up outside.  We had planned to begin the evening with a bonfire and a hot cocktail.  I had imagined a wild tangle of the branches and wood we had collected placed on stone at the end of the lower garden.  I thought the most help we needed was digging a hole in the snow to get down to that stone.  But Todd, who came to build the bonfire, created a work of art.  A pyre of wood, branches, and the remnants of our neighbor’s Christmas tree stood like an elegant sculpture at the foot of the garden.  Edie, our neighbor, Todd, our old friend Erle, and our new friend Rebecca all tramped paths in the snow with snow shooes.  Edie organized the porch and we created a cozy seating area on the terrace where we planned to serve the hot cocktail.  Erle placed tikki torches to line the path and decorated the bases with winter greens still left over from the holidays.  We put candles in lanterns everywhere, and the white wines out in the snow to chill.

I made the hot cocktail from Randall’s pommeau, or apple brandy.  Lightly heated with lemon and star anise.  Just as everyone started to arrive, we lighted the torches and lantern.  No one wanted to light the bonfire.  It was too beautiful, and we wanted to wait until everyone was there and gathered around as it looked like it might burn very quickly and just go up in smoke.
So on a mid-winter night, on the Full Snow moon, we gathered together and embraced the cold and snow for this is such a large part of the terroir of where we live.  Randall arrived with friends and hosts Meg and Steve, and stopped to marvel at his bottles of Cigare Blanc and Moscato in their bed of snow.  Todd returned with his wife Andrea and did the honors of lighting the fire which made an impressive conflagration.  Everyone had tea-cups full of hot pommeau and stood by the fire or on the terrace.  The conversation buzzed about winegrowing in Vermont.  We were immersed in fire and fermentation.

The original plan had been to have Randall read from his new book by the firelight, but when we got to that time, the fire had burned very quickly and was almost out.  So we adjourned inside the house.  Inside, the fire roared, the candles and chandeliers were lighted.  Coats and boots were ferried downstairs and out of the way.  We poured wine and everyone sat.  The first courses began to circle the table—plates of cured meats, crostini with the chicken liver pate, braised radicchio with toasted pinenuts and raisins, a local aged cow’s milk cheese garnished with fresh thyme from our green house and honey from down the road.  Glasses were raised, and we toasted to our good fortune to spend an evening together at one great table with new and old friends celebrating our guest, his lush and precise wines and his collection of writings.  Here’s to the conviviality, the conversation, and the myriad flavors of the table, and all who gather there--