The Dinner Party of the Damned
Shame I was at the Dinner Party of the Damned, because it deserved my appreciation...
I keep telling myself I'm going to do posts about books that aren't by Alexis Hall, if just to prove that I do read other authors (I really do! I read 22 books in September and only ONE was by Alexis Hall), but life keeps shoving Alexis Hall blog posts ideas in my face so who am I to say no? His books are my favorites, so let's all just accept that this will keep happening.
In this case, my plans were foiled because figs are ripe.
My parents have beautiful fig trees and they are producing beautiful figs, and I have known for a while that as soon as figs were ripe I was going to invite my sort-of-ex and his girlfriend who, SO CONVENIENTLY, is now his fiancee over for dinner since that's the closest I can get to the Dinner Party of the Damned from How to Belong With A Billionaire.
Because I love this scene so much.
I call it a scene but it's like four chapters... beautiful, funny, and awkward-as-all-hell chapters. I love rereading books, and when I do, I often skip over the bits that make my anxiety all spikey, and you'd think this would be one of those bits however... however... even though it is INSANELY uncomfortable, it is so well done that I have read it again and again and again and again.
But let us talk about the Arden St Ives trilogy more broadly for a moment. It’s obviously too much for one post, so maybe I'll come back and do another post if I can like, I don't know, find a bottle of champagne that tastes like friendship unicorns and virginal pears. (I am paraphrasing a beautiful scene, for which I apologize, but as I definitely cannot afford the fancy champagne they actually drink (I looked into it) I'm allowing myself this bastardization), or caviar and Pot Noodle, or... I don't know... sushi?
The point is this is my first Arden St. Ives post (even though it is from the third book of the trilogy) so I want to tell you about how a while ago I sent a friend a copy of the Arden St Ives trilogy, because who doesn't love getting mail? This friend and I used to work together, and now work in different offices but for the same agency, so we chat using a messaging server at work. And some time after I sent her Arden, she messaged me as follows:
i was up til 3am reading arden
what have you done to me
and WHEN DO WE GET THE NEXT BOOKS IN THE ST IVES UNIVERSE?
love an Ilya book (we just want him to be happy)) and what we love best about the characters and the books. But the thing is, the program we message on logs all our conversations. In this case, a conversation which included me quoting my favorite character* saying, “self-loathing is such a masturbatory vice.”
And the thing is, we work for the federal government. Which means that those words are now part of a U.S. government record.
Whoops? Just kidding, I think it's fabulous. I talk with my friends about books all the time. If anyone ever actually read my message history they'd know far far too much about me.
Speaking of knowing far too much about me... this post is more specifically about the Dinner Party of the Damned. As I have mentioned, to eat this dinner with me I invited a friend who I dated and then stopped dating but stayed friends with and his fiancée, a woman whom I had never met. A woman who had never read this blog, and who had never heard of Arden St. Ives or Alexis Hall. But let me tell you, she was a total champ, took all my personality, this unnecessarily complicated dinner in stride and we had an absolutely lovely evening.
I think. I hope. I did, at least.
That being said... it started out awkward as hell because in addition to not knowing each other, eating a four course meal at home is FUCKING AWKWARD. In all the times I'd read this bit of How to Belong With A Billionaire, I never appreciated just how awkward the meal itself is, not just because it's Arden and Nathaniel and Caspian and not just because the food is so pretentious but just the actual serving and sitting and having courses forces this formality to the evening that makes it almost impossible to feel casual and comfortable.
Luckily the meal called for lots of alcohol, and once we started in on that, things became much more enjoyable.
"I just tend to prefer my drinks pink, sweet, and bristling with unnecessary cocktail umbrellas. Y'know, like me.
Like Arden and Nathanial, we started with cosmos.
I followed this recipe for cosmopolitans by the pitcher. Honestly, while I usually find Ina Garten to be a reliable source for pitcher cocktail recipes, I thought it was a little heavy on the triple sec. I'd probably cut it in half if I did it again (as suggested below), but to be honest, I don't love cosmos? I feel like I should just for the nostalgia because they were one of the first drinks I liked when I was young and dumb, but now I really like cocktails and I think I could list about a thousand I'd make before a cosmo. That said, they are pretty.
- 2 cups (16 ounces) vodka
- 1/2 cup (4 ounces) Triple Sec
- 1 cup (8 ounces) cranberry juice cocktail
- 1/2 cup freshly squeezed lime juice (3 limes)
- Pour the vodka, triple sec, cranberry juice, and lime juice into pitcher.
- Fill a cocktail shaker 1/2 full with ice.
- Pour the cosmopolitan mixture into the cocktail shaker until it’s 3/4 full and shake for 30 seconds. Pour the mixture into the martini glasses and serve immediately.
"To start," he said, "halloumi with honey and spiced nuts."
Only Nathaniel could make pieces of cheese look elegant- but they did, artfully balanced against each other, with their almost geometric grill stripes.
There is no real recipe to speak of here. I bought a package of halloumi. I couldn't grill it on my actual grill because I was getting my bricks repointed (which are words with meanings (and expenses) I now know!) and couldn't get to my actual grill, so I used a cast iron grill pan on my stovetop and they came out... fine. I cut the cheese in half and grilled each side, then, sliced them, plated them with store bought spiced nuts and drizzled with honey.
And okay, you could make your own spiced nuts. I'm sure Nathaniel did (or would have, if, you know, he wasn't fictional). I have in the past using this recipe, and they were lovely, but I knew I was going to be making a lot for this dinner so I bought some from Trader Joe's because I was at Trader Joe's a while ago and saw them and thought, oh these are delicious and eventually I'm going to make Nathaniel's ridiculously elaborate dinner and that's an easy shortcut. I also bought a cheap bottle of white wine called Green Fin at the same time because it was the closest I could find to Green Fish and it was appropriately inexpensive. I do love Trader Joe's. Sometime maybe I'll tell you stories from when I used to work there.
Honestly, this is a lovely appetizer and would totally do it again. It's easy and tasty and what else do you need in life? Sure, mine are probably not as artful as Nathaniel's but you know, I'm less of a perfectionist than he is, among our many personality differences.
And then Nathaniel brought out the next course, which was pea soup with harissa.
I wasn't entirely sure what harissa was, but I got the answer a spoonful later: What it was, was hot as fuck. A rich, deep, flavoursome hot, but Jesus Christ on a moose. Thank God for the artful spiral of sour cream or I might have spontaneously combusted. Although if I had, it would probably only have improved Nathaniel's evening.
I didn't have a recipe for this. I looked around and found a lot of split pea soups with harissa but that seemed to wintery for this weather so I made up my own. I added more harissa than I probably would have if not for Arden's description of hot as fuck because honestly, harissa is not all that hot (though I agree it is a rich, deep, and flavorsome hot). And I'm glad I did because I think the results were lovely.
- 1 sweet onion, chopped
- ~ 1 tbs butter (you know I don't measure this kind of thing)
- 10 oz frozen peas, defrosted
- ~ 2 tsp kosher salt (again, like, good healthy scoops, not measured properly)
- heaping 1/2 tsp harissa spice mix (I happened to own this already, if you don't I'm sure you could look up a spice blend recipe)
- 1/4 c harissa (paste? I guess? You know, the stuff in a jar. Again, you can get it at Trader Joe's, or elsewhere)
- 1/4 c creme fraiche (I know it's described as sour cream in the book but I *had* creme fraiche and so I used that instead. Also, it felt more appropriately fancy and I would totally believe that Nathaniel used creme fraiche and Arden assumed it was sour cream.)
- 32 oz chicken stock (or veggie stock if you wanna keep it vegetarian, but I didn't have veggie stock on hand and I had chicken stock so that's what I did)
- Heat butter and sautee onions until translucent
- Add harissa spice
- Add chicken stock
- Increase heat to high and bring to a boil
- Add peas and cook about 5 minutes, until peas are tender
- Turn off heat, add salt, creme fraiche (or sour cream), and harissa (paste)
- Blend it.
- Get rid of the frothy stuff (I just scooped it off with a spoon)
- Put some creme fraiche (or sour cream) in a piping bag and swirl it into the soup. (I tried to pipe swirls of harissa and creme fraiche but it did not float so don't bother. Also cut your piping bag larger than I did (or use a larger tip if you're going to be eco-friendly and use a reusable bag with a tip) for a prettier swirl.)
I'll admit, my expectations for this soup were not super high, but in the end I actually liked it, and I gave some to my friend who doesn't generally like soup at all and she really liked it! So maybe you will too? Let me know, if you try it.
"Ah," I said sagely, "but quis lamb custodiet ipsos lamb custodes."
So Nathaniel's lamb with caramelized figs and pine nuts, in saffron sauce with couscous, arrived to deathly silence. Shame, really, because like everything else he'd made, it was really good- even if each portion came in it's own little bowl so it was all a bit I heard you like crockery, so I put a crockery in your crockery. I never knew what to do with compartmentalized food- did you cross the barricades with it or respect its hauteur? Personally, I preferred stuff that came in a big pot where everyone got to help themselves. Much less complicated.
This one, I'll admit, made me nervous. I don't generally cook lamb. I am fairly certain that prior to this, I have only ever cooked ground lamb which is, you know, basically exactly like cooking ground beef or any other ground meat. So yeah. Scary.
Lamb in Saffron Sauce
Also, while I put much less effort into it that I'm guessing Nathaniel would have, I did get some local, pasture-raised lamb, without antibiotics, to make sure it was, if not ethically sourced, at least less unethical than it could have been. I again scoured my cookbooks and the internet for recipes, but most of them wanted me to get rack of lamb and the cost difference between a somewhat ethical rack of lamb and the somewhat ethical boneless leg of lamb that I got was insane, so I went boneless leg because I like my friends and I like my blog but I like neither enough to spend that kind of money on a hunk of meat that I might cook poorly anyway. I have books to buy.
I went with a take on this recipe, because it was what I could find and do that seemed closest to the book description and, as a lamb novice, I did not feel confident in my ability to make this recipe up in any way, shape, or form.
[It would have been nice to have a picture of the finished lamb here, but apparently I didn't take one.]
- A dozen or so figs
- 1/2 c. sugar
- 1/4 tsp kosher salt
- 1 1/2 tbs. unsalted butter
- 1/4 c balsamic vinegar (I specifically used a fig balsamic vinegar)
- Cut figs in half if they're normal-sized, or quarters if they're monsters like mine were
- Mix salt and sugar
- Toss figs in salt/sugar
- Melt butter
- Cook figs in butter until caramelized, about 3-5 minutes
- Add vinegar to deglaze and cook down a little, probably less than a minute
The couscous I did fairly simply, I chose to do Israeli or pearl couscous because I just thought that looked like what I imagined Nathaniel cooking, and a box caught my eye that time I was at Trader Joe's... are you catching the theme here? I went to Trader Joe's and was like... NATHANIEL COOKED THAT and bought all the stuff except the lamb and figs.
I just cooked according to box instructions with some salt, pepper, and a healthy glug of good flavorful olive oil. Once it was done, I added the juice of a lime, a clove of garlic (grated), and a good handful of chopped fresh parsley.
[Picture of couscous with herbs and everything? oh what? I didn't take one of that either? SORRY!]
Toasted pine nuts
Just dry toast in a pan until they're lightly browned and smell nice and nutty.
You may notice, I plated my dinner on, you know, plates. Because while I generally feel like I have way more kitchen stuff than anyone could possibly need, I do not have crockery for my crockery.
At which point, Nathaniel, gliding in from the kitchen, announced, "Ile Flottante with pistachios."
And we had to calm down, sit down, and pretend to give a damn about dessert. I'd seen enough BBC cooking shows to recognize that floating islands demonstrated some hard-core cheffing. But whatever. I smashed those smug meringue bastards with my spoon and drowned them in the creme anglaise.
These also intimidated me because, like Arden, I too have seen enough BBC cooking shows to recognize that floating islands require some hard-core cheffing.
But you know, I managed to bake almost everything in Rosaline Palmer Takes the Cake so I could probably do this? I know I can at least make a decent creme anglaise.
I followed this recipe for floating islands and creme anglaise and... well... to be honest... I hated them. All the magic of meringue seemed to have been lost by the cooking method. The first batch looked so good when I put them in but completely deflated when I put them aside to cool and it was like a sweet and yolk-less version of the weird egg hockey pucks you get on an Egg McMuffin. I tried cooking for less time and it was... better... but honestly... they were weird. Not a fan. 0/10. Will not attempt again. The creme anglaise and pistachios were fine though.
[insert picture of cooking the creme anglaise here, except I can't because I forgot to take one.]
So there it is.
My version of the best worst dinner party ever written.
I hope you enjoyed it! I (mostly) did!
*If your favorite character isn't George then you are wrong and I am sorry for you. George is such a phenomenal character and her relationship with Arden makes me almost unbearably happy. I could talk about it forever and maybe one day I'll treat myself to caviar and find a Pot Noodle and write a whole post about why, but basically George is the main reason why How to Belong With a Billionaire is my favorite installment of Arden's story.
Although, of course, I also love Arden.
Talia Hibbert said that her character Red in Get A Life Chloe Brown is the personification of autumn. I think Arden is like the personification of a rainbow. He's all bright and colorful and makes everyone happy, and you know, comes from the light basically breaking the rain. And, you know, fabulously queer. Anyway, I adore him, and this has nothing to do with How to Belong with a Billionaire except that Ardy is so rainbowtastic, so... check out this cake I made for my friend's kid's birthday party?
All I'm saying is I have high expectations for when I come visit you.ReplyDelete
Obviously you’re getting #eggplantwednesday lasagna and pastry swans, you silly vegetarian youDelete
Gorgeous, fascinating, witty... "I have books to buy." And priorities!ReplyDelete
That soup was magical!ReplyDelete
I’m so glad you liked it 💚Delete