At the Table: The tale of the traveling table

Rose Hollander

There is a wonderful Edward Lear poem, "The Table and the Chair," describing how a table convinces a chair to take a walk about town: “… I’ve as many legs as you, Why can’t we walk on two?”

I came home one evening after a meeting to find my husband Eric entertaining two neighbors. Not an unusual situation. One of the women was our new neighbor to the west. Wine bottles were already open, and I rummaged around for snacks to serve: some pickled ramps, nuts, cheese and crackers. As we shared food and told stories about the neighborhood, I asked our new neighbor, “Did Andrew tell you about the table?” Andrew was the prior owner of her house.

The “table” is a 12-foot-long old farmhouse wooden beauty that lives on the side porch of the new neighbor’s house. It is, in all senses of the word, a communal table. When Andrew purchased the house from our friends, they let Andrew know that the table was not for sale, but that he could keep it if he agreed it could be borrowed by others in the neighborhood. Thankfully, Andrew in turn presented this condition as part of the sale of the house when he decided to move. We were delighted to learn our neighbor agreed, although she did want to know what the parameters of “neighborhood” might be.

The traveling table has been pulled off the porch and into our yards for bridal showers, graduation open houses and sit-in-the-garden dinner parties. It has welcomed foreign visitors with food and conversations well into the night, served as a projection table for backyard film screenings, and sparkled with candles and desserts at a wedding. Its longest journey took it five blocks away, carried by people parade-like through town for an engagement party in a lovely garden. Oh, the stories it could tell! It has been well used and well loved. And as I sat with our new neighbor that night, I felt the table was again in good hands.

This time of year, the mailbox is full of invitations to celebrations: graduation parties, weddings, bridal and baby showers, solstice festivities. So many of these parties are large gatherings, held in backyards or parks. June is a good month for this: there are blossoming trees, warmer weather and early produce hinting of summer. While you may not have a traveling table, you might have something else to share with your neighbor that could be used and appreciated for their event. Of course, celebrations also center around food. Whether you can lend a hand with a special dish or are preparing food for one of your own gatherings, here are some celebration-worthy recipes for you to try.

Ricotta with Lemon and Black Pepper

A friend called and said she had made some ricotta she wanted to share with me. That is a very good friend! Ricotta is traditionally made from whey, the byproduct of making cheese. In America, it is most often made with whey from cow’s milk; in Italy, with sheep or goat milk whey. Its fresh and mild taste make it versatile and a great base for many recipes. I particularly like adding it to a pasta at the last minute to give the dish some body in lieu of cream.

For a simple but elegant presentation, place a cup of ricotta in a bowl. You can beat it for a minute to give it a smoother texture. Grate 2 teaspoons or more lemon zest into the ricotta, add a good amount of fresh ground black pepper, a pinch of salt, and stir this together. Drizzle some olive oil on top and then add more lemon zest for color. Serve with those delicious, salty, long crackers; add lovely rosy radishes on the side and you have a wonderful appetizer.

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For a bit more effort, make your own smoked whitefish paté with ricotta:

Smoked Whitefish Paté

Makes 2 cups

1 cup ricotta cheese

1 cup coarsely flaked smoked whitefish (or smoked trout), picked through carefully to remove bones

2 T. prepared horseradish, well drained

2 T. chopped scallions or chives

1 T. chopped fresh dill

1 T. fresh lemon juice, or more to taste

Salt and pepper to taste

Place ricotta in a food processor and puree until ricotta is smooth or beat by hand with a whisk. Scrape it into a bowl. Fold in the remaining ingredients, taste and add more lemon juice if needed. Chill before serving. Serve with cucumber slices, crackers or baguette slices.

Source: Rose Hollander, adapted from "New Basics Cookbook"

Lemon Almond Poundcake

In my mind, no celebration is complete without cake. My go-to cake recipe is a lemon almond poundcake because it is simple on its own or can be gussied up for a special occasion, a bit like that little black dress. The poured glaze is easy, and the cake holds for days. June is the month for local strawberries, which can be served whole alongside the cake, or pureed into a delicious sauce. Ice cream or whipped cream are also excellent on the side.

1 c. blanched almonds*

1 c. sugar

1 c. (8 oz.) unsalted butter, at room temperature

4 large eggs

1 T. fresh grated lemon zest

1 c. all-purpose flour

1 t. baking powder

¼ t. salt

¼ c. fresh lemon juice, plus 3 T. for the glaze

2 c. powdered sugar (for the glaze)

Preheat oven to 350°. Butter and flour an 8” round springform cake pan.

Place almonds and sugar in a food processor and process until almonds are finely ground.

In a stand mixer or large bowl, beat butter until smooth, then add almond/sugar mixture and beat until light. Add eggs, one at a time, beating well after each addition, then beat in grated lemon rind.

In a separate bowl, sift flour, baking powder and salt together. Add this to the butter mixture in thirds, alternating with the lemon juice. Beat until combined.

Spoon batter into prepared pan. Bake 40-50 minutes, watching cake near the end and if it is getting too dark, cover lightly with foil. Bake until tester comes out clean. Let cake cool completely before glazing.

GLAZE: Mix 2 cups sifted powdered sugar with 3 tablespoons fresh lemon juice; it should be thick but slightly pourable. Spoon/pour over cooled cake, letting it drip over the sides. Play around with this. You can make more glaze for a thicker topping or less for a drizzled look. Strands of lemon zest and whole almonds are pretty on top and lets guests at a buffet table know what’s inside.

*I often use whole almonds with their skin on in this recipe because I like the texture and color. However, some may find them a little bitter. To blanch whole almonds, place almonds in a pot of boiling water for 1 minute, remove from water and cool slightly. The skins can be pushed off with your fingers.

Source: Rose Hollander

Strawberry Puree

One pt. (2 c.) hulled and washed fresh strawberries, or frozen

1 T. lemon juice, (or use Limoncello or Triple Sec if you like)

2-4 T. powdered sugar, to taste.

Mix together in a food processor or blender until the consistency of a thick sauce. Other berries can be used.

Source: Rose Hollander

Lilac Jelly

I think you would agree that this late spring has been spectacular for blooming trees and shrubs. I enjoy finding ways to use flowers and made a lilac jelly. The taste is slightly floral, and it has a sweet pastel color. The jelly is nice on scones or biscuits; a good choice for a bridal or baby shower menu, right?

2 c. lilac flower petals

2 c. water

¼ c. lemon juice

3 ½ c. sugar

3 oz. packet powdered pectin

3 half-pint jars

Place blossoms in a heatproof jar and pour boiling water over top. Cover and let stand at least 2 hours or overnight. When ready to make jelly, strain blossoms and press to get as much of the liquid as possible. In a nonreactive pot, place 2 cups of the flower infused liquid, lemon juice and sugar. Turn heat to high and cook, stirring to dissolve sugar. When sugar is dissolved, whisk in powdered pectin and bring mixture to a full roiling boil. Boil for six minutes, removing any foam that develops on the surface. Test jelly by placing a small amount on a cold plate, wait a moment, then push the jelly with your finger to see if it wrinkles. If not, boil another two minutes and test again. Ladle into clean jars and either refrigerate or follow canning instructions to seal.

Source: Rose Hollander, adapted from "Cooking with Flowers"

Rose Hollander has been a caterer, Idyll Farms chef and cooking instructor who helped initiate the kitchen classroom at the Children’s House. She completed her chef certification at the Ballymaloe Cookery School in Ireland.