Picture this: a clarion afternoon where the sun glimmers through the leaves of green, summer trees and a warm breeze whispers through the grass like a secret. There’s hardly a care and friends are supping during a picnic lunch, which wanes to a sleepy lull of harmless gossip.
Although this description may be too idealistic for a humdrum summer day, I feel it fitting for a dish such as Ina Garten’s idyllic Guacamole Salad. Below is the recipe…
1 pint of grape tomatoes, halved 1 yellow bell pepper, seeded and ½ inch diced 1 (15 oz) can of black beans, rinsed and drained ½ cup small-diced red onion 2 Tbs. minced jalapeño peppers, seeded (2 peppers)* ½ tsp. lime zest ¼ cup lime juice ¼ cup good olive oil 1 tsp. salt ½ tsp. pepper ½ tsp. minced garlic ¼ tsp. ground cayenne pepper* 2 ripe avocados, seeded, peeled, and ½ inch diced* 1-2 cups fresh or frozen corn (optional)
*This recipe can easily be altered to your individual tastes and preferences. When I made this salad for the Lise Davidsen/Jonas Kaufmann Walküre concert, it was to be served to ladies of elegant deportment, and so, I significantly cut down on the spicy ingredients. Depending on availability, substitutions can be made with the bell peppers (any color will do) as well as the avocados. Ina Garten is an advocate for Hass avocados, but the large, green Florida ones work just as well in this recipe. I also like to add corn kernels to this salad for yet another dimension in texture, color, and flavor. Use what you like and can readily find in your area.
Place the tomatoes, yellow pepper, black beans, red onion, jalapeño peppers, (corn, if you are using), and lime zest in a large bowl. Whisk together the lime juice, olive oil, salt, pepper, garlic, and cayenne pepper and pour over the vegetables and beans. Toss well.
Just before you’re ready to serve the salad, fold the avocados into the salad. Check the seasoning and serve at room temperature.
Whether for a quiet lunch or a fiery fiesta, this salad is a hit ! It can be doubled and served to a crowd (the original recipe indicates that it serves 6) and can also be made ahead of time.
Perhaps even more classic than chocolate chip, oatmeal raisin cookies have long been a staple in my life and are my dad’s undisputed favorite cookie. However, when I was no longer able to indulge in one of my favorite treats, innovation occurred, and a new mode of baking emerged.
1½ cups pecans 2 sticks (½ lb.) softened butter 1 cup coconut sugar 1 cup maple syrup 2 eggs 2 tsp. vanilla 2 cups whole wheat flour (I used Einkorn whole wheat) 1 tsp. baking powder 1 tsp. cinnamon 1 tsp. salt 3 cups rolled oats 1½ cups raisins
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
Chop pecans very coarsely and spread evenly on a sheet pan to bake for 5-10 minutes, until fragrant and lightly brown. Set aside to cool.
Cream the butter, coconut sugar, and maple syrup together on medium-high speed until light and fluffy. Don’t worry if it doesn’t go into solution ! If your maple syrup is cold, it will solidify the butter somewhat. Here’s what my batter looked like after mixing:
Add the eggs and the vanilla and mix.
Combine the dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, cinnamon, and salt) and add to the bowl. Then add the oats, raisins, and pecans and mix until combined.
Using a small ice-cream scoop or a tablespoon, drop 2-inch mounds of dough onto sheet pans lined with parchment paper. Flatten slightly with a damp hand. Bake for 22 to 25 minutes, until lightly browned. Transfer the cookies to a baking rack and cool completely.
That’s it ! These cookies come out with a crisp outer edge and a softer inside. They will soften even more if left out overnight. Although devoid of the usual cane sugar and all-purpose flour, these cookies have the taste and texture of the original recipe and would fool even the most persnickety palate.
The singers, who were at the top of their game, gave a performance that was as riveting as it was raw. Never once did I espy a break from character and the visual display of the revved up orchestra was a treat on its own. While each participant was exceptional, the real sparkler was Lise Davidsen. By the end of the final duet, my friends and I erupted into living room applause with an uncontrollable flood of “Brava !” And who said opera was boring ?
A summer concert called for summer fare and I knew of the perfect dish: Ina Garten’s Guacamole Salad ! Years ago, my mother would make this recipe and add corn kernels to increase the color, texture, and flavor. The salad’s fresh ingredients are the key: avocadoes, bell peppers, grape tomatoes, red onion, and black beans all tossed in a zingy lime marinade. “How bad can that be ?“
Chris added to the table a plate of select cheeses and fruit and we all dove in with chips and crackers to our summer repast.
Of course, we couldn’t do without our sip of champagne…
Thinking of a classical music concert brought to mind the solid black attire worn by the orchestra. It’s traditional and very sophisticated. As it so happened, I knew just what I would wear and didn’t have to go any farther than my mother’s closet.
While the dress is beautiful and classy on its own, there’s a greater story behind its black crepe and cutout detail. In 1986, my mother wore this same dress to a Christmas party at a Country Club and for as long as I can remember the photo from the occasion has graced our walls.
It’s clear that my mother’s Christmas dress from the 80’s has stood the test of time. So has Wagnerian opera… and Jonas Kaufmann ! And if the performance at the Bayerische Staatsoper was any indication of future success, Lise Davidsen should be joining the ranks, after a storied career, as one of the great Wagnerians in history.
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Die Walküre (Act I) concert production Richard Wagner Bayerische Staatsoper Munich, Germany Live broadcast date: May 13, 2021 (Date seen: June 14, 2021)
Asher Fisch ─ Conductor
Lise Davidsen ─ Sieglinde Jonas Kaufmann ─ Siegmund Georg Zeppenfeld ─ Hunding
The recipe that played a starring role in the Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna concert from Èze, France is listed here. This salad is packed full of summer flavors ! With its inherent freshness and chic, Mediterranean appeal, it’s no wonder that the recipe was featured on the cover of The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook in 1999.
(Adaptions and notes made from Ina Garten’s original Provençal Potato Salad recipe are marked by asterisks* and italics)
1 pound small white boiling potatoes 1 pound small red boiling potatoes (or any combination of small red, white, or yellow potatoes) 2 tablespoons good dry white wine 2 tablespoons chicken stock 3 tablespoons Champagne vinegar (white wine vinegar works fine) 1/2 teaspoon Dijon mustard 2 teaspoons kosher salt 3/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper 10 tablespoons good olive oil 1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts) 2 tablespoons minced fresh dill (or more) 2 tablespoons minced flat-leaf parsley (or more) 2 tablespoons julienned fresh basil leaves 1/2 pound haricots verts, stems removed (or green beans) 1 6-ounce can Italian tuna, drained and flaked (two cans of a good, chunky American tuna will work just aswell) 1/2 cup capers, drained 1 cup halved cherry tomatoes 1/2 cup small-diced red onion 1/2 cup black olives, pitted 6 hard-cooked eggs, peeled and quartered, optional 6 anchovy fillets, optional*
*I chop 2-4 anchovy fillets for the vinaigrette and do not add additional fillets for garnish.
Drop the white and red potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until they are just cooked through. (I steam my potatoes in a large pot for the same amount of time) Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in 1/2 (quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 teaspoon salt, and 1/4 teaspoon pepper (and chopped anchovies) and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, basil, 1 1/2 teaspoons salt, and 1/2 teaspoon pepper and toss.
In a pot of boiling salted water, blanch the haricots verts for 3 to 5 minutes, until barely tender. Drain and immerse into ice water for 5 minutes. Drain again.*
*I steam the green beans at the same time as I’m steaming the eggs, removing the greens beans after the specified time while continuing to steam the eggs.
In a large bowl, combine the haricot verts with potato salad, tuna, capers, tomatoes, onions, olives, eggs, and anchovy fillets.* Serve warm or at room temperature.
*Be careful when tossing the quartered eggs with the rest of the ingredients ─ I found that the yolks separated all too easily when combining the mixture. Another option would be to arrange the eggs on top in a serving bowl.
“The dynamic husband-and-wife duo of tenor Roberto Alagna and soprano Aleksandra Kurzak give a concert of arias and duets, accompanied by string quintet, from an outdoor terrace in Èze, France, with a spectacular view of the Mediterranean.”
Two for the price of one ? A string quintet ? A château on the French Riviera ? Count me in ! If the description for the third installment of the Met Stars Live in Concert initiative wasn’t appealing already, the set list for Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna’s concert was the icing on the cake. Favorites from Puccini and Verdi seamlessly mixed with adorable folk songs from Mexico and Italy, all richly accompanied by the Vienna Morphing Quintet. Below is an abbreviated video of highlights from the concert:
Aside from being a technical feat, the vistas overlooking the pelagic Mediterranean Sea were arresting. Several times during the concert, I found my eyes floating over the floral garlanded railing to espy sleek motor yachts and nearby barrier islands as Aleksandra and Roberto charmed me with their singing and effortless chemistry. Their intuitive camaraderie led to dynamic and touching duets, which also included an overflowing dose of mirth. In what is rapidly becoming the duo’s calling card, the hilarious “love potion” duet from Donizetti’s L’Elisir d’Amore involved a clever prop and crafty English ad libs ─ I was rollicking with laughter watching the two perform !
There were more serious moments as well with Aleksandra singing Desdemona’s “Ave Maria” followed by a melting rendition of the love duet from Otello, in which the darkening sky serendipitously played a role in one of the final lines. Singing “The Pleiades are low in the heavens”, the pair turned to face the azure sky and motioned to the stars just as they were beginning to illuminate. Chills !!!!
The concert locale, above all else, provided the best (and most straightforward) watch party theme: Rolling on the Riviera. Provence, with its uniqueness of sights and senses was the central inspiration behind our small gathering at Chris’s home. Each of us chipped in to make the get-together unforgettable. Jayne knew of a terrific French sparkling rosé wine while I was elated to try out Ina Garten’s Provençal Potato Salad, which was chocked full of Provençal ingredients: black olives, capers, haricot verts, cherry tomatoes, scallions, red onion, lots of fresh herbs, flaked tuna, hard cooked eggs, and anchovies. The freshness was equivalent to lounging on a sun-soaked beach chair with the sea mist brushing across your face. In the words of Ina Garten, “How bad can that be ?” The salad is so gorgeous that it was featured as the cover image on the original Barefoot Contessa cookbook from 1999.
I highly recommend the wine and the niçoise-inspired potato salad for an instant summer getaway.
Anne sure knows how to arrange a cheese platter ! Roquefort, Boursin, and Brie, oh my ! And of course, my favorite prosciutto…
Even Chris, our gracious hostess, made blackberry sorbet to be accompanied with chocolate covered French cookies. Bon appétit !
Imagine partaking in a leisurely promenade along one of the coastal towns of the Riviera… what would you wear ? For me, the answer was obvious: beach pajamas !
Made popular in the 1930’s, beach pajamas (or pyjamas) were all the rage on the Riviera where the rich and famous would rendezvous. Women would wear flowy fabrics with grace, oftentimes to dressier occasions spanning into the evening hour. Casual and comfortable, while still oh-so chic, I knew I wanted to sew a set of these beloved beach clothes.
Seeking a two piece style, I contemplated designing my own set until I came across a FREE pattern online from Gertie’s Charm Patterns brand. With a complete sew-a-long tutorial on YouTube showing the details of making the pajamas, the pattern was just right for my needs. With this being my very first “Gertie” pattern, I wasn’t sure what to expect, but found that the pattern was accurately sized with differing cup sizes for an even better fit.
Using a soft rayon challis I bought in June from Julie’s Picks swatch club mailer, I paired it with an equally sumptuous berry-colored material from Fabric Mart’s gorgeous selection of rayon/nylon shimmer satins. Softness and style united as one.
I loved wearing my 1930’s beach pajamas to what transpired as a joyous afternoon in Provence. From the cliffs of Èze to the rolling hills of central Florida, the pleasures of the French Riviera were abundant ─ an uplifting concert, delicious food, and lively conversation… what could be finer ?
Toi, Toi, Toi,
Cast and Credits:
Met Stars Live in Concert: Aleksandra Kurzak and Roberto Alagna Château de la Chèvre d’Or Èze, France Live broadcast date: August 16, 2020 (Date seen: August 20, 2020)
Aleksandra Kurzak ─ soprano Roberto Alagna ─ tenor