I tip-toe out into the blue-dark. Finally inhaling softer air. Inhaling like plunging into a lake with water the temperature of my own blood, like floating on nothing. Feeling the humidity on my skin.
The water in the air greets me like a dogs tongue.
The sky turns the color of peaches-in-brandy one way. Turns blueberry-pie-filling the other way.
I watch mosquitoes settle on my ankles.
Cicadas scream their dumb yawp in bushes and trees, looking for love but finding mostly tree bark and still-baking streets.
I stare up at my half-weary sky, the sparking stars and winking galaxies hidden behind the mist of relentlessly orange streetlights.
A draw a bottle to my lips: a cider that tastes like hibiscus and figs.
The light from the house is beckoning me to join the table. My friends are pouring wine and talking loudly.
Inhaling the last of Summer like a dream felt on the back of my neck in half-sleep. I turn around. I close the door. Join the party.
Hosting dinner parties is no easy feet. But when I met Polina of Chesnok Blog (who lives 5 minutes away from me) we immediately knew we wanted to host one together.
I can’t tell you why. What sparked this immediate friendship, connection and collaboration?
It seems we were just in the right place at the right time.
A friend of a friend goaded us to meet. So, we did. We grabbed coffee at Pie Chest and in those 45 minutes of chatting got on so well that we immediately decided that we should do a dinner party to see how we vibed in the kitchen.
I guess we’re both into high risk friendship-vibe testing?
I’m laughing at this as I write it. Because good god it all could have gone so wrong.
But I’m thanking my lucky Virginia stars that we’re a natural team! With so much in common it’s sort of weird. But in a good way.
Our second hangout was at a different coffee shop, where we came up with this menu — which we tweaked all the way up to the day of the dinner party.
Including the last minute decision to make hummus. You can never have too much hummus, my friends.
The menu truly feels like it was born out of a collaborative spirit. There were moments I almost felt like we were mind-melding. Same wavelength, if you catch my drift.
For example, I wanted to use my vegan bacon recipe for something. But I couldn’t think of exactly how to incorporate it.
Polina cleverly suggested wrapping it around dates a la Mas Tapas (a superb local Spanish restaurant).
The result was stunningly delicious! It makes a killer appetizer. I got high fives from all of our guests, veg and non-veg alike. I’m glowing just thinking about it!
I highly suggest that you try it out using my coco bacon recipe. Stuff the dates with chèvre. Then wrap the dates in the coconut bacon after you’ve roasted the bacon for 12-15 minutes. Then set all of the dates on a skillet and broil for 2-4 minutes until nice and crispy. Serve hot.
But back to my point: we both have some pretty badass skills. Me with the whole-foods plant-based chef background. And Polina is a pro baker, chef and specialist in Georgian food (check out her blog here).
Our dinner party was bound to crush.
And indeed… it did! With elbow-grease, quick-thinking, kitchen wizardry, porcini-infused vegetable broth, plenty of cider and the enormous hearts of new friends and old (thanks for helping me wrap those dates in coco bacon, you guys!).
Tucking into this food laden table was one of the major highlights of my Summer.
I can’t wait to do it all over again!
A Plant-Based End of Summer Harvest Dinner Party Menu
Coconut Bacon Wrapped Dates stuffed with herbed chèvre and broiled briefly until crispy
Turmeric Hummus with roasted garlic and a sprinkling of buckwheat dukkah* — I used Jamie Oliver’s recipe and added 2 inches grated fresh turmeric root
Chilled Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Corn Soup (recipe below) served with a swirl of porcini infused coconut cream
Heirloom Tomato Salad with parsley, salty goat feta, crispy fried shallots and a preserved lemon tahini dressing
Roasted Summer Eggplant, Squash and Sweet Peppers over Polenta drizzled with fresh garden herb olive oil and loads of buckwheat dukkah*
We sprinkled our hummus and main dish with buckwheat dukkah. I used this simple dukkah recipe with a slightly different method. I set the hazelnuts in one pan, and set the sesame seeds and whole spices + 1/2 cup toasted buckwheat groats on another pan. I toasted everything at 350F for 8-10 minutes on the middle rack, until the nuts & seeds and spices got aromatic and turned golden.
Then I rubbed the skins off of the hazelnuts and added everything to a food processor, blending until semi-coarse. I just wanted the buckwheat and hazelnuts mostly broken down. It only takes about 15-20 pulses.
I love the buckwheat in my version of dukkah. That extra crispy crunch is so wonderful. Plus I love the subtly nutty flavor of toasted buckwheat groats. Adding buckwheat is also a little nod to Polina’s Georgian roots, as buckwheat is a staple crop in Georgia.
I’ve been putting it on everything. But I particularly love it on avocado toast and eggs.
And Finally, This Chilled Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Corn Soup!
This soup is quintessentially Summery. Featuring red peppers broiled until blackening, candy-sweet yellow corn, miso paste, coconut milk, and sautéed onion.
It sounds simple, but the result is stunning. Smokey, creamy and savory-sweet.
And it’s done in about 20 minutes (not including the time it takes to make stock, if you choose to do that).
No doubt, this Chilled Roasted Red Pepper and Summer Corn Soup is at its absolute best when made with a homemade veg broth.
I made a mushroom and corn cob broth with about 8 cups water, the corn cobs left over from stripping my ears for the soup, 1 onion, 1 large leek, 6 garlic cloves, 1 bunch parsley, 1/4 cup fennel, 1/4 cup celery, 1 cup button mushrooms + 1/2 cup dried porcini mushrooms. Then I boiled it, covered, for an hour. Then I strained it. It made more than I needed for the soup, so I stored the extra in jars in the fridge.
If you can’t get porcini mushrooms, just add 1/2 cup of any savory wild mushroom.
Or if you can only do store-bought stock, I strongly suggest splurging on a pinch of truffle salt to sprinkle over top of the soup. Worth it!
I like this soup both warm and chilled, topped with a swirl of coconut cream, smoked paprika and some fresh chive blossoms from my garden (there’s a nasturtium leaf in there, too).
It’s awesome paired with a meaty veggie burger or a vegan grilled cheese! I hope you enjoy it and feel Summer vibes washing over you!
Special thanks to The Farmhouse for allowing us to use their beautiful kitchen space gratis! The Farmhouse is a non-profit co-working space for artists, entrepreneurs and community leaders based out of Charlottesville, VA. They host workshops, community events and are also available for private events.