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Al Fresco

September 8, 2009
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Kitchen deck dressed up for dinner

Labor Day — It’s the end-of-summer 3-day weekend and the heat spell’s finally broken. During my morning walk I detect the first signs of Fall’s golden light. Seems like the perfect time for finally using the Rancho’s kitchen deck eating area for what it was designed for. Originally the space was just a concrete step that dropped off onto, well, dirt. We decided it would be much better used as nice spot for dining, drinking or reading the newspaper in the open air. This weekend I decided we’d celebrate Labor Day with a light dinner for our friends, Kiran and Sheeba.

The deck is small, made of redwood; the ground-level space behind the deck used for the 3 trash containers that are rolled out to the curb every Thursday. Bamboo has been planted in pots at that end to screen the trash enclosure. For the party and to set the scene, we dressed the space with low, white vinyl sofas (Long Beach flea market, about 5 years ago), an Ikea bathroom mirror used as a table top on a carved plaster fragment (pottery sale), another outdoor vinyl-upholstered bench re-purposed from the base of an old console we use elsewhere, and assorted cushions, pillows (CB2) and suzani’s (thanks, Judy!) in spicy colors. I added a textured rope screen (an antique mall find) to further conceal the trash enclosure and the stage was set. Thinking the menu should be as colorful as the backdrop, I chose a variety of foods with bright, spicy flavors and hues. Appetizer: grape tomatoes and spicy roasted chick peas. Entree: lettuce wraps with chicken, jasmine rice and mango; roasted sweet potatoes and curried yogurt. Dessert: the nectarine, blackberry crostata featured in the previous post.

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Paul, Pucci, Sheeba and Kiran

Kiran, Sheeba, Paul and Pucci enjoyed the appetizers while I prepared the entree inside. I’d been snacking on the various components as I prepared the meal during the afternoon so I was happy to be moving around. Outside, the weather was perfect and there was a slight breeze as Paul and our guests enjoyed a pitcher of iced Italian blood orange soda and mint and chatted. Soon it was time for the main course.

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Photo by Kiran George

The entree was deemed a success! Much laughter was shared as everyone ate, and then it was time for dessert. The nectarine crostata, a proven crowd pleaser, didn’t let me down and I served it with a tart, natural-flavored frozen yogurt. As the evening cooled and it got dark we finished with warm mint tea and a stroll under the lanterns in the big tree in the backyard. I was tired, but satisfied with the evening and couldn’t help but feel that all holidays should be spent this way: with friends under a clear sky, with great food and a slight breeze heralding the coming season.

Think this menu would work for you? Here are the recipes for the appetizer, the lettuce wrap entree, the sweet potato side dish, and the dessert. I hope you have as great a time as we did!

5 Comments leave one →
  1. Sheeba permalink
    September 9, 2009 1:17 am

    I’ve been waiting all day to read your new blog!!
    You truly aim to impress & do so much more…you ought to write more..so much more!!
    Needless to say you are a wonderful cook, an excellent baker!
    In my most humble opinion, anybody can cook but its the truly skilled that can bake….the crust on that tart was simply outstanding, the fruits perfectly juicy.
    The pictures capture the setting of the deck beautifully…colorful,vibrant & comfortable…you are a master decorator…wish I could take a peek into your ever buzzing head 🙂
    We had a delightful evening, thank you for sharing it with us.
    Hope Paul did the dishes ;p

  2. Sheeba permalink
    September 9, 2009 1:19 am

    Thank you for posting the recipes!!

  3. reubix1 permalink*
    September 9, 2009 4:29 am

    Buzzing head, indeed — thanks for the comments, Sheeba!

  4. Elizabeth permalink
    October 5, 2009 9:07 pm

    Wow, gorgeous photos. Reuben, you should totally take a trip to the Bay Area to see some of the houses in the Berkeley Hills (the architecture there is very unique). You would totally be inspired by it.

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