Dinner on the Deck

by Maryjane Mojer
Bartlett’s Ocean View Farm

I live smack dab in the center of the island. People talk about increased traffic, crazy drivers, noisy neighbors and the like, but we’ve carved out this sweet little space on a cul de sac just outside of the hustle and bustle. We’re a short walk to bike paths and the shuttle, have really great neighbors and, with lots of hard work and elbow grease (and bouts of poison ivy, because I am exceptionally good at finding it) my yard is pretty spectacular right about now. Though my neighbors houses are really close, when the trees and shrubs leaf out you can’t see them, nor can they see us. There is one second floor apartment behind us that truly overlooks the yard, but a few well-placed over-grown privet are taking care of that pretty quickly.

One section of the yard has gone through several changes over the years. When I first moved in, way back in the 1900s, it was part of the hedgerow but less dense than the rest of the yard. My kids and I turned it into a vegetable garden, then added raised beds. A fence and a beautiful garden gate with an archway was the final touch. After a couple of years, with less time and busier kids I built a patio with a pile of assorted flagstone that I found behind the garage, along with several pieces from a cousin’s outdoor shower path. The edges on both sides became a home for wayward plants (amazing how many I found that had been discarded when emptying my truck at the landfill) who, when nursed back to health became big, beautiful borders. I also perused the local pages on Facebook for anyone who had plants they wanted gone. Have truck, (and shovel) will travel, so dug up day lilies, lily of the valley, a hydrangea or two, a couple of forsythias, Jacob’s ladder, and more.

My most treasured recoveries are some pussy willows that I grew from cuttings, along with three roses from my parent’s house on Fairgrounds Road.

Prior to moving “out of town” to Fairgrounds in 1987, Mom and Dad lived on Pleasant Street, right at the top of New and Warren. This was my neighborhood. We had a big field behind my parent’s house, Joe the Barber across the street, Nana Perry on one side and F.T. Rebimbus Variety store on the other. Safe, busy, filled with kids, houses right next to one another. It may not have been the center of the island, but it was the center of my world. We, all of us who grew up there, still consider ourselves neighbors, even if we live in different states. Neighborhood kids now and always.

Mom and Dad both loved to garden. I believe that, much like our inability to cook for less than twenty, once we dig into the ground it’s no holds barred. Dad always had a vegetable garden. He was also a fisherman and would always take the bluefish remains in early summer, dig a hole, bury the fish, mound up the soil, and plant his corn. No finer fertilizer than a dead fish. Mom preferred the beds at the front of the house and filled them with Hostas and little orange 4 O’Clocks.

A house is a house is a house, and to be honest, it’s just a building. Memories are portable, fortunately, so though I no longer live in my childhood home, I keep the events and times vibrant and real with the bits and pieces that I’ve gathered, garnered, and collected over the years.

That said, I am falling more in love with my house every year. Was a time when I really wanted to sell and go bigger, so I could have more room when my kids plus their kids came home to visit. No need as we seem to fit just fine in whatever blend of grown ups and grands wind up here. And honestly, as I grow a bit older, having just one bathroom to clean is fine with me.

There may come a time when I need to sell or move elsewhere. Who knows. However, as long as I can take a cutting from my forsythia, or the beautiful pink pussy willow, or a slip from the old fashioned pink ramblers that Dad so lovingly dug up and moved to Fairgrounds Road, I will be home.

I have raised people who are hard workers, who have married and love other hard workers, who make an effort every day. When we do all have time to sit for a meal together, and gather at my house, we are surrounded by family history. Photographs and frames taken and made by my uncle, plants grown by my folks, pitchers collected by my mother, paintings and pictures from friends and family, a rack of rolling pins, a disco ball that hangs in my living room. Let me tell you, when the morning sun hits this thing….wow! This is what is important; shared history. Knowing where you come from, celebrating that in whatever way you are able to do so is key. When we do have dinner on the deck, there are certain dishes that always seem to be requested.

All simple and delicious, but most of all, easy to prepare while talking, sharing stories, and being in the moment. The great thing about this meal…oh there are so many great things, but you can easily feed an assortment of diners, from vegetarians to vegans to carnivores with ease. This is the order that I make these dishes in:

1. Orzo Salad
2. Chocolate Fondue
3. Grilled Bread
4. Caprese Salad

FAMILY ORZO SALAD

Instruction on making this yummy pasta salad is more of a formula than a recipe. It can be made early in the day, and can sit at room temp until time to serve. It’s also a great dish to use up leftover grilled vegetables.

One package of Orzo
1 pound of baby spinach
3 cups of grilled vegetables, bite size (Zucchini, onions, summer squash, scallions, tomatoes)
1 cup raw vegetables
I like to use
1/4 cup finely diced red onion 3/4 cup diced red pepper

Feel free to toss in pea pods, peas, green beans, whatever your family loves. Pour the washed, uncooked baby spinach into a large mixing bowl.

In a separate bowl, toss the rest of the vegetables together, and dress.

You can use any dressing you like: ranch, Italian, etc. My favorite dressing is:

1/2 cup EVOO
1/4 cup Balsamic Vinegar
1 tablespoon finely chopped shallot
1 teaspoon dijon mustard
I mix this in a one pint mason jar, and keep it in the fridge. It’s great on everything.

Cook the orzo, drain, toss with a tablespoon of EVOO, and pour immediately (while still hot) over spinach. Spread the orzo out to cover the spinach (don’t mix: cover!), then pour the prepared and dressed vegetables on top. Cover with plastic wrap and set aside.

The heat from the orzo will wilt the spinach, and the juices from the grilled and dressed vegetables will blend together.

Just before serving, toss it all together…just like one big messy, happy, family! Top with freshly grated parmesan or crumbled feta or goat cheese, or Pecorino Romano. I’ve also tossed in a handful of toasted walnuts or almonds. This a very forgiving, welcoming salad, like family!

CHOCOLATE FONDUE

This is actually a simple ganache recipe. It freezes well, lasts for a couple of weeks in the fridge, and is always a welcome gift.

In a large mixing bowl, pour two 11-oz bags of chocolate chips. I like Ghirardelli Semisweet, but honestly, Nestle’s toll house chips are just fine.

In a sauce pan, bring two cups of heavy cream plus two tablespoons of corn syrup to a boil. Pour over the chocolate chips. Wait about three minutes and whisk. If you have a spare grandchild itching to help, this is the thing for them to do. It’s magic.

CAPRESE-ISH SALAD: SUMMER ON A PLATEDinner on the Deck | Nantucket, MA

Traditionally, large, milky, soft rounds of fresh Buffala Mozzarella are sliced and layered with ripe, luscious tomatoes, drizzled with EVOO and balsamic vinegar, topped with a chiffonade of basil, sprinkled with sea salt and cracked black pepper. Really friendly, always welcome, always familiar, just like your favorite aunt that you only get to see when the weather is warm. Buffala Mozzarella is traditional. It has a higher fat content, is creamy, buttery, decadent, and oh so delightful. I do enjoy it, but must admit that I’ll take a local mozzarella or buratta over an import any day. Knowing who makes and grows your food is such an incredible gift. Not just knowing them by sight, but to be able to say hello, how’s the family, what’s new…we are really so very fortunate here.

Take two or more pints of mixed cherry or grape tomatoes, and cut in half lengthwise. Toss with about two teaspoons of kosher salt, and let sit aside. The salt will draw out the tomatoey juicy goodness.

After about an hour, add 1/4 cup of EVOO, one tablespoon of rice wine vinegar, and about a half cup of finely chopped basil to the tomatoes.

Just before serving, cut and grill some really great bread. Look for it…seek it out, and spread the news when you find one you just love!

Lay the grilled slices out on a platter, and scoop a spoonful of the tomatoes onto each slice. Now..open that sexy, decadent container of buratta, and carefully remove it from the liquid. Holding it in one hand, use your kitchen shears to cut it into bite size, creamy pieces dripping with wholesome goodness spreading and dolloping it all over the tomatoes. Use two…or three…I won’t tell.

Yes, this is like a bruschetta, but so much more.

Once the tomatoes and buratta are in place, drizzle the juices from the tomato bowl all over. (If, and thats a big if, you happen to have any left over, toss it into the left over orzo salad…if there’s any of that left.)

BRICKED CHICKEN

Grilling chicken can be stressful. Overcook it and it’s dry and stringy. Under cook it and it becomes the stuff of family lore. “Remember that dinner at Jj’s house when everyone ended up at the ER?” Not the stuff you want people to remember.

I have three bricks, wrapped in foil, that live on or in my grill.

I am a gas grill girl. Yep…I do love the flavors and aroma or a charcoal grill. But, I love managing my time rather than being managed by the coals.

A note about cleaning your grill; don’t use the wire brush! Those little bristles can come out and cause problems if consumed. Use a stainless scrubber, or put wet paper towels on while it’s still warm. Next morning simply wipe down the grates.

I use a good non-stick spray after I clean my grill. A good grill will have cast iron grates, so treat them like your favorite pan. Don’t use cast iron? Oh, my friend…we need to talk.

Preheat your grill on it’s highest settings, with the wrapped bricks inside.

By now, your tomatoes are done, your orzo salad happily tossed, your chocolate fondue is done, your table is set, you’ve poured a glass of wine and your family, if they’re not there yet, are on the way.

Using your kitchen shears, cut along both sides of the backbone of the chicken, removing it. Set it aside for stock (I toss them in one big ziplock in the freezer. When it’s full, I make stock.) Flatten the chicken, skin side up, onto a sheet pan, turning the legs in, and spreading the breasts a bit. Season it well with whatever makes your family happy. There are so many other wonderful flavors going on in the dishes you’ll be serving that salt and pepper will do just fine. A dry rub is good, but don’t go with a wet marinade. This needs to cook for a while, and will singe and burn on the outside, while staying raw on the inside—not what you’re looking for. Spray your grates, and place your chicken, skin side down on the grill. Close the lid, drop the flame to medium and walk away for ten minutes. Open the grill, don’t flip the chicken, but turn it to create a crosshatch or grill marks. Close the lid, play with the kids, welcome the friends of the kids that you didn’t know were coming… but you actually hoped would.

Ten minutes later, flip the chicken, and place the bricks on top.

Make the rounds and check in with everyone. Check the appetizers (because you know everyone will bring something) and, about fifteen minutes later, do the quarter turn again. Close the lid, and make sure you have your meat thermometer. Really folks. I’m a chef and I use one. You can, too. Insert it into the thigh, away from the bone. Once you’re in the 165 range, take it off the grill, cover with foil, set aside for about ten minutes. It’ll take that long to get the kids away from the bubbles, pull everyone away from the fire pit, or the new baby or friend that lived with you for six summers whom they haven’t seen for a while.

Once everyone is at the table, scooping up the goodness, cut the chicken into pieces, and set it in the middle of the fray.

People always ask what they can bring. Fruit. A fruit salad or platter is perfect. Great as is, just right for dipping into the fondue. Also, a plain, vanilla cookie. Sure, s’more fixings are just fine, too.

Now…deep breath. Look around. Take a moment to just be right where you are. And enjoy!