This weekend I took trip number 2 to my friend Meredith’s beautiful Rhode Island home along with an eclectic mix of 14 others. The best parties are the ones that bring together random individuals – all with different occupations, backgrounds, ages, and interests – with one common denominator. In this case, that denominator was Mere, and while we were there to celebrate her birthday, the entire weekend felt more like a celebration of living – a celebration of playfulness, good company, beautiful scenery, and delicious food. A celebration of youth, freedom and the positive in the midst of commonly proclaimed quarter-life crises where every day feels like a psychological dilemma.
After my second trip to Mere’s, it’s become clear that food will always be the focus during these weekend escapades. Why not when we’re in the middle of fresh fish purveyors, dozens of farmers’ markets, seafood shacks, and a gorgeous kitchen the size of my New York apartment? And, planning meals is an activity that makes us feel productive post rowdy nights of cocktails, guitar, and fireside storytelling.
On Friday, the group congregated on the ride up to Little Compton at Paragon in Providence – the only place that could immediately seat a table of 15. Mere’s friend Jason warned that there was not one good thing on the menu, but that didn’t stop us from ordering tons of sports bar-style pizzas and salads, all for a total of $25 each. It pays to be out of the city when dining with a group.
The next morning a few of us went on a run (run/walk for me) around the town, and arrived to a kitchen of homemade bread and farm-fresh eggs. Itching to explore the farmer’s market, Aki and I drove a few miles on Main Road to get baskets of bright red strawberries and freshly baked Monkey loaf, a dense buttery and cinnamon-sugary brioche. By the time we returned home, we were too full from eating the bread straight from the bag to really experience it how it should be experienced: toasted with butter, but it was consumed in less than 30 minutes by the rest of the group. Just too good to pass up.
Lunch was sandwiches on the beach from Provendor, a small but well-known sandwich shop in Tiverton – not because we were hungry, but purely because we needed justification to proceed planning dinner. So as soon as we finished off salt and vinegar cape cod chips and curry chicken salad sandwiches, Akhtar, Laurel and I went to Westport’s Lee’s market and the nearby fish shop to get inspiration for Mere’s birthday meal.
I can’t take credit for planning any part of it, but the cooking was one of the most well orchestrated team efforts I’ve ever seen. As soon as we got back to the house with groceries, Mere started on her famous challah bread, Laurel made artichoke dip, Akhtar prepped the fish and the sides, and Jason made a huge blender of stiff mint juleps. As the hours and vino drinking progressed, Jane whipped up a warm red potato salad with sautéed red onion, sliced cornichons, capers, and thyme, and Caitlin, Sarah, and Kilo picked up homemade Grey’s ice cream to serve with the freshly baked Farmer’s Market pie. The table was set with birthday hats and candles. As Jason cooked the asparagus and swordfish and Kiloran dressed the salad, Akhtar served ricotta crostini topped with caramelized-balsamic-marinated grape tomatoes next to the massive cheese plate courtesy of Mere’s workplace. The two platters of crostini were demolished in seconds.
After a sappy toast around the counter, we sat at the table for an awesome meal. The swordfish was perfectly cooked, covered with garlicky scapes (had no idea what these were before this weekend) and pea greens. It was the perfect summer main. We all, of course, left room for the pie and ice cream – one of the best combos of dessert on the planet, especially with a piecrust so flakey.
Our long night of eating was soon followed by a morning of leftover challah toast and a stop at Sea Swirl clam shack on our way back to New York. Fried clams, fried codfish, a lobster roll, and broth clam chowder all helped wash down our headaches resulting from the prior evening’s festivities. The lobster roll was meaty and hardly dressed just like I like it, and the codfish sandwich was hot and served on a soft bun. The fried clams, in my opinion, lacked flavor and were a little too greasy, and the chowder tasted like absolutely nothing – clam broth with a few chunks of potato. The soft serve swirl cone fortunately remedied this right after our meal, and no matter what the quality of food, nothing can replace the summer feeling of a casual New England fish shack on a beautiful day.
A long post for a weekend filled with great meals and company. It’s no coincidence that memorable times are often accompanied by memorable food – that’s just the way life is. Our heart and brain are very well connected to our appetites, whether you want to believe it or not. Til next time…