Even though my cookbook collection keeps growing, there are always one or two that I end up actually cooking from all the time. This year, I became instantly obsessed with cooking my way through Bon Appétit: The Food Lover’s Cleanse, thanks to its beautifully seasonal approach to simple home cooking. A friend intro’d me to its author, James Beard-award winning writer Sara Dickerman, so of course I
begged invited her to cook something up for our series. The result is this brunch, hosted at Sara’s beach cabin outside Seattle on Vashon Island, and it’s everything I dream of in a gathering: chic but casual, delicious and unfussy, a true celebration of family and the beauty of nature. Click through the slides for Sara’s effortless approach to entertaining along with her flavor-packed recipes.
*photography by Belathée
Must-have entertaining tool:
In good weather, it’s an outdoor table. There is something so delicious about being able to spill outside from the kitchen. We share a cabin with friends on Vashon Island, near Seattle, and the deck faces west above the Colvos Passage. Afternoons are hot and intensely sunny, so I will often get most of dinner prepped and then get everyone down to the water for a paddle or a freezing cold swim to our raft (bonus points for bringing the beer!). Then, I’ll finish up cooking and we will eat dinner starting at sunset.
The entertaining rule I rarely break:
Are there rules? I may not know many of them. But I never skimp on food: either in quantity or in variety. Since I’m usually serving adults and children, I like to have a variety of options for people along the way to make them feel at home. That might mean nuts, olives, or cheese to nibble on before we sit down, extra veggies with the main course, and almost always bread in case someone is feeling picky about the main course (on Vashon Island, you can get incredible hearth-baked bread from an island baker at the local Thriftway). I tend to serve a modest dessert, but there’s always extra fruit and dark chocolate lurking around in case someone wants a little more sweetness.
The taste I’m always craving:
Fresh fresh fresh! I am always layering fresh green herbs onto my food; it’s such an uncomplicated, healthful way to add flavor to everything: stirring that little bit of tarragon into the asparagus ragout, tossing finely minced parsley, mint and garlic onto vegetables as they come off the grill, or pounding herbs into a pungent salsa verde to top meats and fish.
My signature entertaining dish:
I’m a restless cook and love to mess around with new ideas, so you will rarely get exactly the same thing at my house twice. That said, we are blessed to live in the land of breathtaking salmon, and I do love to pile a mountain of herbs (often fennel, which grows wild around here) on a lovely side of King or Sockeye salmon and grill it on a cedar plank. On the side, I’ll grill whatever vegetables leapt into my basket at the farmers’ market. In spring, that’s likely to be asparagus and spring onions. Later on, you’ll get zucchini, fennel, and peppers on the grill.
During the daytime, I love a waffle. My current recipe is a variation on Marion Cunningham’s storied overnight yeasted waffles. Mine are a little leaner and replace almost all the white flour with buckwheat for a gorgeous taupe-y color and a nutty flavor. The kids can top it with a fruit compote and too much powdered sugar, while those of us who want a little something more savory and wholesome can top it with a vegetable ragout and a poached egg. Either way, the waffle is fantastically crisp and delicious.
Learn how to master Sara’s easy overnight buckwheat waffles with roasted rhubarb compote.
Spring sprung early this year, so Sara gathered armfuls of wild roses, mock orange, and honeysuckle. Along with peonies from the local market, she created lush arrangements for her dinner party.
The perfect dinner party playlist includes:
My husband is the great crafter of playlists in my house, but for dinner music I love a certain kind of airy, bittersweet ambience. You can never go wrong with Brazilians like Caetano Veloso and Gilberto Gil, and I love Linda Perhacs strange and beautiful Parallelograms album. Benjamin Clementine is my latest fixation, he’s a British tenor who sings moody resonant songs that remind me of Nina Simone.
This item is always in my refrigerator:
Eggs; if I’m lucky, eggs from my island friend Heidi’s hens. Even if there is nothing else to serve your friends, you can always make a lovely omelet. (or poach one for the top of a waffle). In the freezer there is some homemade pesto, made with wild-foraged nettles, watercress, or garden basil; so it’s likely to be a really good omelet. And of course, it’s not outdoor living if there isn’t plenty of good light things to drink, like rosé and cava.
My standard hostess outfit:
On the island, I keep things very casual. Sometimes I’ll be barbecuing in my bathing suit and a towel. But when we sit down to eat, I’ll usually throw on something that works with tousled hair and bare feel, like a linen dress. I do love fancy shoes, but somehow I end up kicking them off most evenings. I also love a good apron while I’m still cooking. My daughter and I had a shibori day last year and dyed an old stained apron with the most beautiful indigo pattern.
What scares you most about entertaining?
Because cooking is my daily retreat and comfort, I worry that I will get too caught up with the food and forget to focus on my friends. I end up trying to make food that doesn’t require a lot of last minute manipulation. Much of it I’ll make ahead of time and then I’ll invite a friend or two to spend time with me while I cook the waffles or grill something in the backyard.
Sara and her husband invited Kurt Timmermeister, who writes and makes cheese on the island, to join them for dinner with the kids.
The restaurant meal I’ll never forget:
I’ve eaten well in my lifetime; I am very lucky. One time at Locanda Locatelli, in London, I was served a small bowl of pappardelle with the most intensely smooth, green fava bean sauce. The restaurant is polished to the nines, almost a little too polished. But the dish was so clearly an expression of love from the kitchen; it was such a simple voluptuous celebration of a single ingredient that I was in heaven. Dessert was a bowl of perfect cherries served on a bed of ice. When simplicity is done right there is nothing like it.
Secret to a great dinner party:
I think the real secret to a great dinner party is relaxing and knowing that your friends are glad to be with you. No one is going to be upset if there is a basket of unfolded laundry in the corner or if the kids are making a mess of the living room. If you can relax and enjoy your friends, everyone will have a good time, whether you are eating takeout pizza together or serving a soufflé. As Julia Child said, “No matter what happens in the kitchen, never apologize.”
Current favorite color palette for parties:
Oh, I can’t really keep a proper color scheme – life is always a little unruly, especially at the beach – so I work from a nice neutral base of natural linen and earthy off white ceramics paired with dark wood, and then bring hits of bright color like teal or geranium pink. Often the color comes from vintage 1970s Vera napkins that I purchase from eBay.
Sara’s light and sweet chamomile cava cocktails are the perfect refresher for dinner on the island.
My dream dinner guests:
I’m not sure I’d want everyone at once, since I like smaller gatherings for intimate conversations, but oh, I’d love to spend time with creative rule breakers like Duke Ellington, Eleanor Roosevelt, David Bowie, and the reclusive Italian novelist Elena Ferrante (I’d keep your identity secret Elena, call me!). I suppose if we invited Spanish filmmaker Pedro Almodovar, he could get everyone talking, dancing, and singing torch songs.
Impress your guests with Sara’s savory asparagus and mushroom ragout with poached eggs.
My entertaining style in five words or less:
Spirited, generous, delicious, and a bit chaotic!
*Be sure and check out Sara’s brand new book Dried & True! It’s a fantastic guide to making the most of your dehydrator, with recipes for fantastic flavor powders, sweet and tangy dried fruit and fruit leathers, and savory jerkies.