It’s been too long (which in our world is two weeks) since we had a dinner party but tonight we’re back on track.
Just now I made those maple pots de crème from awhile back and didn’t know what to do with the leftover egg whites. Rather than make an egg white omelette (because, really, who wants to eat an egg white omelette?), I whipped up some meringues. It was my first time and I was shocked by how easy the process was. For some reason I thought meringues were fussy, but I’m so glad to know that the next time I have a few extra egg whites, I’ll be rewarded with these perfectly crunchy on the outside, gooey on the inside, light-as-a-feather treats.
All day, especially after my meringues worked out, I’ve been thinking about my dad. He Who Loves Dinner Parties. Who, were he here tonight, would be leaning back in his chair by the time the meringues came around, wine-stained lips puckered, eyes closed, savoring.
Thinking about my dad and looking forward to tonight’s dinner party.
I’ve heard that for some people a self-catered dinner party is a form of self-induced hell, an overwhelming obligation to impress involving planning, multiple steps, presentation, dexterity, creativity and skill while maintaining an air of complete calm. This is what I hear.
For me, a dinner party is a pleasure, from thinking about who to invite, what to make (usually depending on what we feel like eating) and when to make it (so many things are better made a few days ahead which, in turn, makes the actual day of the dinner party fret-free) to cooking (while listening to NPR, naturally) and, of course, eating and drinking.
Tonight, I know none of the people who are coming, a common occurrence when my husband’s constantly bringing home colleagues, visiting scholars, students, and random Italians. And I like that. I like meeting new people and I like cooking for them.
I guess it’s partially luck, but it’s mostly thanks to my dad. My dad, venison stew maker extraordinaire, who wooed my kibbutznik mother with cherries flambée, who instilled in his three children a love for everything from duck confit to half moon cookies, who relishes equally in fried clams and foie gras, Sangiovese and Sam Adams. My dad is the type of person who will make friends with the person next to him in the supermarket checkout line and wind up inviting them over for dinner. He will come home from a long day at work and cook, happily, for a rowdy group of my brother’s friends. It’s his cooking that lures people into the kitchen, but it’s my dad’s friendship that keeps them coming back.
Maybe that’s one explanation for why my dad has had the same best friends for 45 years. They grew up together on the streets and in the pews and quarries of West Roxbury, Massachusetts and have lived together all over the world, reeking havoc wherever they go.
And while I’ve never made friends with the person next to me in the checkout line – yet -, I admire my dad’s openness to new friends and his comittment to old ones. I admire his hospitality, his open door, his bon vivance, and his appetite.
Happy Birthday Dad. I wish I were there to share your Boston Cream Pie. But if I can be even a fraction of how great you are – in the kitchen and out – then that’s more than enough for me.
I made these with cinnamon, but the choice of flavoring – which is totally optional – is up to you. Add lemon zest, tiny chocolate chips or nothing at all and these little buggers will be fantastic.
Makes 25 – 30
5 egg whites, room temperature
1 cup sugar
1/4 tsp cream of tartar
1/4 tsp salt
1 tsp cinnamon (optional)
Preheat the oven to 275°F/140°C. Line two baking sheets with baking paper. If you’re using the cinnamon, toss it with the sugar to distribute evenly.
In a large bowl, beat the egg whites, cream of tartar and salt until soft peaks form (about 5 fill minutes with a hand-held mixer). Continue mixing and add the sugar (or sugar-cinnamon mixture if using cinnamon) one tablespoon at a time until it’s all used up. Keep mixing until the mixture is stiff and glossy.
Pipe or spoon the mixture onto the lined trays. (I used about 1 tablespoon of batter per meringue.) Dust some cinnamon on top if desired.
Bake for 45 minutes, then turn off the oven and leave the door closed, leaving the meringues inside as the oven cools.
Once everything’s cool, store the meringues in an airtight container. Enjoy.