Houseguests

Fermented dilly beans, iced tea, and all that remains of 2 full mason jars of cashew-cinnamon granola…

You know what’s great?  Having wonderful houseguests.

You know what stinks?  Having wonderful houseguests leave.

We recently had the pleasure of opening our guest room (read: totally unswanky ½ of a finished attic, in which we plunked two beds) to one of my oldest and dearest friends, Dr. B., and his lovely wife, Dr. K.  (Yes, in fact, they are both doctors.  And yes, they’re kind and attractive and they like to spend their free time traveling to third-world countries to provide no-cost medical care to others.  So in short, you might have the instinct to want to dislike them.  But they’re way too cute and sweet for that.)  Dr. B. and I have been friends for over 18 years.  He was in our wedding.  And sadly, the last time I saw him was at HIS wedding…four years ago.  Not.  Cool.

Dr. B. and Dr. K. just got new jobs and are relocating (sadly, not anywhere near Rhode Island – drat the luck!); during the few weeks of freedom they have in between life phases, they decided to take a road trip.  Dr. K. is a Southerner who has not spent much time in the Northeast – in fact, practically ZERO time in the Northeast – so Dr. B. decided it was high time to bring his bride up the East Coast and show her how we subarctic types live.  We got to have them with us for two sweet and short days before they moved along on their travels.

As is always the case with overnight guests, food was at the top of my list of priorities – after all, as long as the sheets and towels were clean, what could be more important than BREAKFAST?

Luckily, life has been just busy enough recently to force me to evaluate the situation carefully, and I came to an epiphany of sorts (at least, it’s an epiphany for me — the girl who invented ODSKG as a diagnosable syndrome).  I realized that the philosophy of feeding people doesn’t (or shouldn’t) change when the people you feed are not the ones who live under your roof day in and day out.  The basic tenets still apply: Everything should be tasty, nourishing, and not cause you to spend inordinate amounts of time in the kitchen.  The last bit is ESPECIALLY important when you’re entertaining out-of-town guests, because obviously you’d rather be spending time with them than slaving over a fancy four-course dinner.  And yes, there ought to be a little something special about it — but not so special that it’s embarrassing and lavish and you look like a desperate foodie trying to buy your friends with cake.  Not that I, um, know anything about that.

After thoroughly enjoying my sweet, sweet friends for a couple of days, and receiving just enough adorable and thoughtful compliments that I’m a teensy bit red-faced, I’ve boiled down my brand-spanking new philosophy about houseguests into the following tenets:

1. Mix and match and make ahead.  Mornings, ugh.  Who wants to be up and about in the morning worrying about breakfast?  I’m not the sort (surprise, surprise) to necessarily leave my guests fishing around for dry cereal in the pantry, but neither am I functional enough in the early hours to get fancy.  I made whole-wheat blueberry scones ahead of time, along with a batch of cashew-cinnamon granola, and made sure there were yogurt and fruit in the fridge — along with a pot of coffee.   Dr. B. and Dr. K. were delighted with the choices, and I didn’t have to stress.

2. Make it quick and make it custom.  When guests come into town, it’s often the case — or at least, it’s often the case with MY guests — that their arrival hour is not ENTIRELY secure.  When the time of arrival ends with “ish,” I find that there are only two choices for a welcome meal; you can either make something low and slow that can just sit forever waiting to be eaten (pot roast is an EXCELLENT homey arrival meal for guests, in the cold weather), or you need to make something that can be mainly assembled ahead of time and then finished off quickly when your friends are ready to eat.  On the night of the Docs’ arrival, I had rounds of homemade whole-wheat pizza dough ready to go, along with shredded mozzarella, goat cheese, sliced tomatoes, basil, greens, and zucchini.  We were able to toss the pizzas onto the grill, customize them for each person, and have a delicious, simple dinner in just a few minutes’ time.

3. Put out the platters.  It’s not always easy to know what your guests will like to eat.  In our case, I was lucky — I’ve known Dr. B. for so long that I could be relatively certain he’d eat what I served, and he assured me that Dr. K. is equally unfussy — but it doesn’t hurt to hedge your bets a little and serve meals in a way that lets everyone make some choices for themselves (without any extra work for you!).  On our second evening together, I made a big whole-wheat pasta salad with chicken and roasted garlic and set it out with a few sides: a platter of roasted peppers and grilled kefaloteri cheese, a bowl of sliced tomato berries with fresh basil and olive oil, and a jar of fermented dilly beans that I happened to have on hand.  None of it took more than a few minutes to put together, but having options made it seem like a much more abundant spread of food than the humble reality.

4. Make it just a little bit special.  This doesn’t have to take a lot of effort.  In my house, I often find that beverages for guests are a challenge, just because we’re mainly water drinkers and don’t keep much else on hand…and I generally forget about that detail until it’s too late.  With the unfathomably hot weather that’s settled over New England lately, though, I was inspired at the last minute to make a big pitcher of herbal iced tea sweetened with local honey to offer the Docs.  It turned out that Dr. K., who’d never heard of using honey in tea before, loved the drink — so I was more than happy to keep making batches and filling up that pitcher throughout our visit.

Regrettably, I didn’t manage to snap pictures of most of our meals; I was too busy enjoying my friends to think of it.  But I sent the Docs off with the recipes for the granola and the scones, so I’ll do the same for you.  The next time you have out-of-town guests coming for breakfast, these two quick and easy items will be the perfect thing to serve, both for your sanity and for their happiness.  Trust me.

Cashew-Cinnamon Granola
This granola recipe is a formula more than anything.  As long as you keep the basic ratios the same, you can vary what you mix into it, change up your spices, and make your own choices about oils and sweeteners.  For me, though, this one is just about perfect.
2 1/2 cups rolled oats
1 1/2 cups roasted, salted cashews
1/3 cup oil or melted butter (a nut oil would be a perfect choice here)
1/3 cup good quality honey
1/3 cup Grade B maple syrup
2 tsp. cinnamon
Pinch salt
1 tsp. vanilla

Preheat oven to 350 degrees.  In a large bowl, stir together the oats and cashews.  In a small saucepan over medium heat, melt the oil, honey, maple syrup, cinnamon, and salt.  Heat until just bubbling.  Remove from the heat and pour over the oats and nuts.  Stir until everything is thoroughly coated, then transfer to a greased baking sheet and spread evenly.  Toast the granola at 350 for 15 minutes, stir, then bake for an additional 10 minutes, until lightly golden.  When you remove the granola from the oven, I recommend giving it one more stir before letting it cool — it will loosen more easily from the pan.

Whole-wheat Blueberry Scones
This is really a recipe I got from a Tyler Florence cookbook, but he makes his with white flour and a sweet lemon glaze.  They’re obviously delicious, but for a simpler, very SLIGHTLY more nutritious breakfast treat, I’ve omitted the glaze altogether and used white whole wheat flour.
For 8 scones:
2 cups white whole wheat flour
1 tablespoon baking powder
1/2 tsp salt
2 tablespoons sugar (plus a little extra for the tops)
5 tablespoons COLD unsalted butter, cut in chunks
1 cup heavy cream
1 cup fresh blueberries

Preheat the oven to 400 degrees. Mix together the flour, baking powder, salt, and sugar. Use 2 forks or a pastry blender to “cut” the butter into the flour mixture until it all looks like coarse crumbs. Make a well in the center and pour in the heavy cream. Fold it all together just until it’s moist. Toss the blueberries in a little bit of flour and then fold them into the batter — try not to smash them too much.
Pat the dough out on a floured surface into a rectangle about 12x3x 1 1/4 inches (I NEVER get the measurements right, so don’t worry if you don’t.) Theoretically from here, following the directions from the original recipe, you cut the rectangle in half, then cut the pieces in half again and get four squares. You would then cut the squares diagonally to make 8 triangles. However, because I never get the measurements right, I don’t end up with squares —  so I just make mine into 8 rectangles and it works out okay! Place the scones on an ungreased cookie sheet, sprinkle each with about a teaspoon of sugar, and bake for 15-20 minutes until golden brown.  I think they’re best served warm, but a turn in the toaster oven will do just fine — no need to serve them piping hot from the oven.

 

 

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