Well, here is is! The very last of the fifty-two weekly dinner parties! Number Fifty-Two! I can hardly believe it’s all over. My incredulousness mixes with a near-equal blend of relief and regret. Ben and I both are certainly relieved that our social patterns can now return to normal, glad that we can now share more ‘regular’ time with our friends (i.e. time not spent in preparation of elaborate meals, with picture snapping at every step along the way), and positively delighted that we can nudge some of our grocery budget towards the eating-out column. But at the very same time, we’re both more than little bit sad that this fun year, this friend-filled and food-filled year is over. While undeniably a bit of an undertaking on both our parts, this year-long project has brought us so much joy, so many incredible evenings with some truly amazing people, and countless wonderful memories. Priceless memories we’d never have made were it not for this blog.
Before I get blogging about this final Scrumptious Company soiree, I need to say a few well-deserved thank you’s. Thank you first to Ben, my incredible husband, who gave not a single sideways glance as I concocted up this crazy scheme; who soaked and scrubbed and rinsed and dried countless dishes, pots and pans; who made an estimated fifty-two last minute trips to the neighborhood grocery store for that one last thing I suddenly needed; who vacuumed, mopped and dusted way more than (I promise) he’ll ever have to do again the rest of his life; and who is just about the most warm, charming and handsome host, that any hostess ever could wish for.
Thank you too, to all our Scrumptious Company guests – my mom and dad, sisters and grandparents, our cousins and aunts and uncles, and our wonderful friends, Chicago friends and out-of-towners, brand new friends and ones way back from childhood. We absolutely loved our special nights with each and every one of you. Thank you all so much for making this such an extraordinary experience! You are always, always welcome at our kitchen table.
And last but not anywhere close to least, thank you to you all, my readers. I can’t even describe how thrilling it is, knowing that all of you are out there, reading my words, scrolling through my pictures, and best of all, trying out my recipes! Each comment, message and email from you has been a precious gift to me. I am so grateful for your support, encouragement and contagious enthusiasm. Without you, this blog truly could never be. You readers are my most special of special ingredients. Were every cook to have such a stockpile of love and support in their cabinets and cupboards, I can only imagine how delicious this world would be. Thank you all, from the pit of my always hungry stomach and the bottom of my ever full heart.
And there’s one last matter I must address before I get started on this 52nd dinner party. Because I know a lot of you are wondering. I would be too, wondering: Is this it? The absolute end? The very last Scrumptious Company post?
And to those wonderings I say, No way! The last of the weekly dinner parties, yes. (Damn straight, yes!) But the end of it all? I’ve loved blogging way too much for that. Loved trying out new, cool recipes, and sharing some of my old favorites. Loved having this virtual foodie connection with all of you. Loved trying my hand at writing again (much less painful that it ever was during school). And really, really, really loved learning about photography. There’s no way I want to stop now! And so now, rather than the multi-course and multi-recipe menus you’ve been getting, you can count on a single recipe a week, maybe two on good weeks. Neat-sounding and delicious-looking foods I find in cookbooks and magazines, favorite recipes of my friends and fellow chefs, new creations I concoct or finally perfect after months or years of tweaking, and some of my all-time favorite treats, chef secrets, and cherished family dishes. That my friends, is what we have in store for 2011. (Happy New Year everybody, by the way!!)
And now, with no further ado, Dinner Party Number Fifty-Two:
The honored guests of this last SC dinner party, and first true SC slumber party, four of my little cousins – Kate, Mary, Ellen & Caroline. After a unusually warm New Year’s Eve afternoon out and about in down-town Chicago (also spent with my Aunt LeAnn, Uncle David and cousin Jack), we took a very crowded cab-ride home (all nine of us, a record for our cabbie) and settled in for a food-filled extravaganza. Eight rounds of top-your-own pizzas. Izzy sodas, root beers and Coca-Colas in glass bottles (extra-sophisticated). And tons of junk food – Puppy Chow (i.e. Muddy Buddies), home-made caramel corn, and a heaping bin of candy (perhaps a bit less sophisticated, as was the prank phone calling we got into later). And then, to ring in the new year, more sugar – gingerbread pancakes, cinnamon ice cream & maple-candied bacon!
The freshly squeezed clementine juice was by far the most healthful thing we consumed all night. It was made even more so by the work-out it took to extract it. The girls formed an assembly line: one slicing the fruit, the next passing the clementine halves through the mechanical juicer, and a third giving the juiced halves one last squeeze for good measure. At the end of the line we had a gorgeous juice, in the most beautiful shade of orange, with lots of tender pulp and amazing flavor, sweeter and smoother than orange juice, and incredibly delicious sipped from Champagne glasses. (It was New Year’s Eve, after all!)
The sweet anchor of this sugary feast was the blueberry-gingerbread pancakes. Incredibly, unbelievably fluffy, with crisp, golden brown tops and bottoms, purple insides chock-full of plump juicy blueberries, warm spices of cinnamon, nutmeg and cloves, and rich molasses flavor from a big scoop of dark brown sugar. I have to confess, what I describe above are not the pancakes I served the girls, but a new recipe I’ve tried out since. The gingerbread pancakes I served for them, I made by following a recipe that had rave reviews and the highest of marks on-line. I thought I was safe, but alas, with too much molasses and not enough sugar, they were just too, as Caroline put it, grown-upy. Even slathered with melting butter and maple syrup and topped with a scoop of ice cream. Too grown-upy even for me. But the gingerbread pancakes I lauded above, the ones made from a completely new recipe, those were none too grown-upy at all. These are as kid-friendly, and adult–friendly too, as pancakes can be.
The crowning glory on top of the towers of pancakes, home-made cinnamon ice cream. Cinnamon ties with coffee as my favorite ice cream flavor. Coffee because it reminds me of my Grandma Schoen, who can always be counted on to have a pint of coffee Haagen Dazs in her freezer. And cinnamon because it reminds me of Bill Knapp's, a now extinct restaurant I loved as a kid. It had the best chocolate cake in the world, but even better, it had homemade cinnamon ice cream. Both of these flavors, combined with closed eyes, are instant tickets back to my childhood. The coffee ice cream I can find during any trip to the grocery store. But cinnamon ice cream, well that is a much rarer treat. When I I crave it, I usually have to make it myself. So thank goodness I’ve got a killer cinnamon ice cream recipe! Seriously, this stuff is sensational – creamy and dense and smooth, with huge cinnamon flavor on top of a perfect level of sweetness. Now that I’ve had a recent taste of it, I’m completely hooked. We’ve made three batches this week!
And finally, because I like to save the very best for the very, very end – maple-candied bacon. Thick, thick slices of smoky, salty bacon, slathered again and again with pure maple syrup as they slowly bake in the oven, becoming crisp and chewy and incredibly sticky, with a golden crust of sugary glaze. Man oh man, bacon itself is amazing, but this, this is a miracle!
Well everyone, I suppose that’s it. The end. But also, just the beginning! I hope you’re as excited as I am about the coming year – all the new treats and snacks and fabulous dishes, the pictures and stories, the sharing of deliciousness! Here’s to a tasty 2011!