It’s Memorial Day Weekend! Hurrah! We can all use a three-day weekend to prepare for summer. It’s time to pull out the white shoes, iron linen dresses, paint the Adirondack chairs, get the boat in the water and head to the beach. There is going to be a lot to do! Some of us are even going to entertain. I’ve strung the lights on the back porch, and have already seen some fireflies return the compliment. Summer is almost upon us!
I love ritual celebrations. I love small town parades. Once, back in his misspent youth, Mr. Friday and his chums had a martini stand at the annual Memorial Day Parade. And back in those days, when one could drink with impunity before noon, we sat in lawn chairs with martinis in hand, and cheered as the Scouts, the school marching bands, the firefighters, some vintage cars, town officials and proud veterans paraded past us. And then we went to a Memorial Day cookout in a park, under the trees, on the river. It was a warm and sunny day, as most happy hazy memories tend to be.
There are many ways to have a Memorial Day cookout. You can go fancy, or you can take an effortless route. Guess which I suggest? There is no need to get elaborate, even with freshly ironed linen. Here are some favorite: traditional and manageable cobbler https://www.bonappetit.com/story/cherry-biscuit-cobbler?, hot dogs or sausages and hamburgers are swell American foods and are great for any Memorial Day picnic. I usually whip up a batch of potato salad, but a bag of Utz sour cream and onion potato chips is never out of place! Is it too hot to bake a cobbler? Just bring out some Bergers. You will be a hero. Or slice open a frosty cold watermelon. Put beers and glass bottles of Coke in a bucket of ice, and don’t forget the cheap white wine.
For picnics and cookouts we like made-ahead and cool foods. If you are hosting a gathering, or are asked to bring something to a holiday event, made a nice, simple salad: corn, fruit, potato, Caprese, pesto, green salads are easily prepared ahead of time, and can be a side dish or a main dish if you have pesky pescatarians lurking:
The Kitchn’s Corn Salad – no cooking required!
Bon Appétit’s fruit salad: http://www.bonappetit.com/recipe/fruit-salad-fennel-watercress-smoked-salt
My Popular Potato Salad
This is a recipe that people actually ask for – and not just because they are my in-laws and trying hard to be polite! It that constantly evolves and adapts, and each summer brings a new twist. I don’t always have green onions – Vidalias work just fine. No red potatoes? Go for Russets. A little fresh thyme? Why not? It is dependable, tasty and can be adapted and stretched to feed the masses. Just add more potatoes and more mayonnaise. Particularly fine for large picnic gatherings. It tastes best if it has a little time to sit and mellow, so if you can make it in the morning, it is just right by suppertime.
Many, many servings…
2 pounds little new, red potatoes
1 cup Hellmann’s mayonnaise thinned with milk
1 bunch green onions, chopped
Sea salt and pepper to taste
Boil the potatoes until tender. While warm (but not still steaming hot) slice potatoes and begin to layer them in a large bowl – 1 layer potatoes, then a handful of green onions and salt and pepper. Pour on some of the mayonnaise mixture. Repeat. Gently stir until all the potatoes are coated. You may need to add more mayonnaise mixture when you are ready to serve, as the potatoes absorb the mayo. Put on the table and stand back – the stampede might knock you down!
We are always big fans of Caprese salad – it is so delicious and such an easy supper to whip up when it has been a frantic day in The Spy test kitchens. We tend to have a line up of tomatoes on the kitchen window sill all summer long and with the basil growing like kudzu on the back porch, there is no excuse not to invest in tomato futures. I plan to indulge in a fresh ball of mozzarella every couple of days to help keep our basil plant well-trimmed and feeling useful.
(For which you don’t really need precise measurements.)
Eyeball what you have in the fridge.
1 cup grape tomatoes
1/2 cup small mozzarella balls
3 to 4 fresh basil leaves, roughly chopped
1/4 cup olive oil
1 teaspoon freshly cracked black pepper
1 generous pinch Maldon salt
Arrange the basil, tomatoes, and mozzarella on a plate or in a Tupperware container and drizzle the olive oil dressing over the top. Add salt and pepper as desired. Apply sunscreen and adjust your hat. Instagram. Ah, Tuscany.
We like a nice light pesto sauce for fresh pasta when the temperatures rise. Years ago we stopped adding the pine nuts, and instead make a nice thick paste of basil, olive oil, garlic gloves, salt, pepper and fresh Parmesan cheese, that we swirl around the mini-food processor for a moment or two. If it seems too thick, we thin it with a little pasta water. We gave up the pine nuts because they were hard to find, are chock-full of cholesterol, and are expensive. Some people substitute walnuts, but I don’t like walnuts, so I have opted for simplicity.
2 cups fresh basil leaves (no stems)
2 large cloves garlic
½ cup olive oil
½ cup freshly grated Parmesan cheese
Combine basil leaves, oil and garlic in a food processor and process until very finely minced, and then smooth. Add the cheese and process very briefly, just long enough to combine. Store in refrigerator or freezer, because you will need a container of sunshine in your fridge for a rainy day.
Enjoy your weekend!
“‘Never plan a picnic,’ Father said. ‘Plan a dinner, yes, or a house, or a budget, or an appointment with the dentist, but never, never plan a picnic.’”
― Elizabeth Enright