Saturday, July 4

July is relaxed, summer entertaining...

July is relaxed,
summer entertaining...
I just returned from a trip to San Diego, California and the lasting impressions still linger of a city that has the luxury of living year round with that casual summer expression stamped in its makeup. California is a lovely state, with varied topography and climates, but the San Diego area is particularly beautiful because of its authentic casual vibe. Each little town along the Pacific Coast Highway leading north out of San Diego is more unique than the next. I am pleased to bring back some of the California cool to my summer entertaining in my home in Eastern Long Island. When I got married on the island of Martha’s Vineyard in 1992, like most brides I was focused on all the aesthetics leading up to my big day. We held our reception at a naturally beautiful, but austere space, the East Chop Beach Club, that overlooked Vineyard Sound. I had a great caterer on the island named Betsy Schiller, and she suggested using a collage of white milk pitchers as vases to hold bouquets of only white flowers throughout the reception. This looked especially beautiful set against the backdrop of the beach club’s salt-washed gray and stone interior, with the sparkling blue ocean outside. The simplicity of the flowers in these vessels showcased the beauty of the environment, and had I used intricate and tall floral arrangements, it would have looked inappropriate. What I take from this experience is that summer entertaining is best served simply, in a way in which the beauty of the surroundings can shine.
I dedicate July’s blog to my friend Jennifer White because she is an amazing cook and a tremendously creative person, and because we share the love of the Vineyard as a common bond. Please check out her delicious fish chowder recipe and photographs. Jennifer is a published author, and she has just finished writing another book, DEAD ASLEEP, which is a story set on the Vineyard - congratulations Jennifer! In an effort to combine my recent trip to the wonderful state of California, my love for Martha’s Vineyard and my deep roots in Eastern Long Island, I plan to blend these three distinctly different places as inspiration, encouraging us to cook and entertain this summer in a unique and casual manner.
As I prepared my table for this Fourth of July barbecue, I reflected upon how much I enjoy bringing friends and family into my home in the summer months. Summer parties should be stress-free, emphasizing the fresh produce in season as a highlight to the menu and using the simple beauties of nature as decoration. The Fourth of July has specific memories for me, as it does for many of us, and it does not matter what corner of this country you come from, we all seem to celebrate this weekend with gusto. The fireworks, barbecues and beach parties all reflect the optimism that we Americans embrace. I remember being young, running barefoot at the beach with my siblings and cousins, shaking our sparklers, eating watermelon and chasing each other through the lifeguard stands. It is ironic that life does not really change that much with each generation, because now my children run on the beach shaking sparklers. Many of us still relish in the simple pleasures of spending time with our loved ones, and when possible, we do this in our home. Entertaining has become big business in recent years, with many chefs taking superstar status. Entire careers have been launched on helping us “break bread” in a delicious and stylish manner. One of my family’s favorite channels on television is the Food Network, and I look forward to watching the Barefoot Contessa (Ina Garten), Giata De Laurentiis, Mario Batali and others. The common thread that weaves through many of their summer recipes is that simple is often better. It is not necessary to be a chef to throw a great summer party, but one must pay attention to the details. For my Fourth of July party, I added a few twists and took ideas from California, Martha's Vineyard and East Hampton. Check out the creative use of a surfboard as a cocktail bar. Also, see how inexpensive dime store finds such as blue plastic beach pails, seashell and raffia napkin holders, large anchor motif beach balls, plastic lobsters and oriental paper lanterns can be used as festive and attractive decoration.
father and son relaxing;
bruschetta and mozzerella; shrimp kabobs off the grill; greek salad

the cookie project
Sharon Burns loves to bake cookies and she has hundreds of cut-out forms for every kind of design imaginable. She is the mother of five children, an art therapist, a teacher and a newly published author. Her book, entitled TOUGH TOMMY is written for children and explores the subject of grief as the little turtle grapples with losing his parent. Sharon made these beautiful cookies, while teaching my daughter as well. Please see above the link to and the book, TOUGH TOMMY.
Mojitos - my husband made two pitchers ahead of time using fresh mint, limes, lime juice, simple syrup (water and sugar cooked down), good Caribbean rum, club soda and crushed ice
Wolffer Farms Rose wine
homemade lemonade- my son made it the day before - he squeezed two dozen lemons!
grilled cherrystone clams drizzled with olive oil, white wine and garlic
tomato bruschetta and fresh mozzerella- tomatoes from Round Swamp Farm, some yellow, some red mixed with fresh basil, olive oil and balsamic vinegar
hummus and grilled pita bread
beach pails with potato chips 
and onion dip
artisinal cheese puffs - The Artisinal Cheese Restaurant's delicious puffs come frozen and delivered by Fresh Direct
Main Course
shrimp, pineapple and onion kabobs - I marinated the shrimp in fresh herbs, wine, lemon, garlic and onion for a few hours. Served the kabobs with two dips I bought at Round Swamp Farm - red pepper and sour cream, and cilantro lime
hot dogs and hamburgers
corn on the cob
baked beans
greek salad (no lettuce - layers of feta cheese, tomatoes, pitted calamata olives, oregano & red wine vinegar and olive oil)
arugula and shaved parmigiana salad with lemon and olive oil dressing
couscous with grilled vegetables - thank you to my friend Tracey for bringing this along with the arugula salad
carmelized onion tart (thank you to my friend, Martiza for this recipe
20 layer crepe cake -thank you to my friend Mikey because she brought this delicious cake from Lady M Bakery in Manhattan
homemade butter cookies thank you to my friend and children's book author, Sharon Burns who baked these lovely cookies in shapes of lobsters, fish, lighthouses and starfish (with my daughter, Gabby, as her helper)
watermelon slices

This year I invited several couples and their children for a Fourth of July evening barbecue. I was inspired from a recent afternoon in La Jolla where we watched dozens of surfers manuevering on their boards through the waves. So, I cleaned up an old surfboard we had in the basement and used it as a bar to serve our drinks and appetizers. We pulled up stools, and our guests enjoyed grilled cherrystones drizzled with olive oil, white wine and garlic and beach pails of potato chips and onion dip. Earlier in the day, I had stopped by Round Swamp Farm and picked up a pretty collection of yellow and red cherry tomatoes. I made bruschetta with basil and olive oil. I served the bruschetta on toasts with a side of fresh mozzerella from Villa Italiana in East Hampton. My son and daughter blew up several oversized beach balls. We decided to go with a traditional red, white and blue theme. It reminded me of many Fourth of July celebrations my husband and I had shared years ago on Martha's Vineyard.
You can sense when a party is going well because there is plenty of laughter, and the evening flows in a natural manner-eveyone is reluctant to leave. We had a great time, and the only threat was periodic rain showers throughout the day, but luckily, it stayed dry for the evening. Keep reading to see some of my inspirations for the party....
Eastern Long Island celebrates its history, natural grace and beauty
A horse named Oaks eating his dinner at one of the many stables in the area; windmill in 
East Hampton dating back to 1600s
Wainscott farmers' field; sunflowers growing; flag painted on a barn in East Hampton
Local flower; tall privet hedges that are popular in the area; boats moored at Three Mile Harbor in East Hampton; beach sign at Wiborg; hazy afternoon at the beach
To me, East Hampton is one of the most beautiful places in this country, and after hundreds of years of settlement, the farmstands still grace the country roads, the dutch windmills stand tall, the beaches are pristine, and the history is cherished. I love it Out East, and even with the surge of growth over the last generation, it still retains its authentic charm. One of the main features I love about summer in East Hampton is the celebration of the farms and their fresh produce. I have been a fan of many farmer’s markets, and whenever possible I prefer to shop from the local merchants to give them my business. Before putting together a dinner party, I usually wait to determine my menu until after I check out the local offerings. One particular market stands out as my favorite -Round Swamp Farm on Three Mile Harbor Road in East Hampton. This beautiful farmstand (and to call it a farmstand does not do it justice) is family owned and operated. They have a walk-in cooler to display and house fresh produce-it is worth a visit to see this room alone. At Round Swamp, they work tirelessly to provide beautiful, fresh and delicious produce, seafood, meat and homebaked goods. They can their own tomatoes and fruit. Their bread and cakes are incredible, and most of all, they serve it all up with a warm smile. It is a bit pricey, but worth it! 

Locally grown onions; a little pet-my children love feeding the chickens and bunnies while I shop My favorite summer soup made with ingredients from Round Swamp Farm
bread & tomato soup

This is our family's favorite summer soup, and we usually order it at a local East Hampton restaurant, Cittanuovo. We found this recipe from the website, and they refer to chef Jamie Oliver's recipe.
For a tomato soup to succeed it needs something to ease the palate, because a soup made of tomatoes all on their own would be too acidic to enjoy. Often the solution is to adding milk or cream to mitigate the harshness and soften the tomato flavor. But the thrifty Tuscans had their own solution, which also made use of stale bread: Pappa al Pomodoro. The bread, which is stirred into the soup only toward the end, becomes soft and custardy amid the bright tomatoes and balances the soup. The rest of the flavors are classic Tuscan. Basil? Check. Garlic? Check. serves 4 -Adapted from Ingredients 1 pound cherry tomatoes3 cloves of garlic, peeled and finely sliceda large bunch of fresh basil, leaves picked, stalks finely chopped3 tablespoons olive oil, plus more for drizzlingSea salt and freshly ground black pepper28 ounces canned tomatoes2 large handfuls of stale good-quality bread, torn into chunks Procedure 1. Preheat the oven to 350ºF. Prick the cherry tomatoes and combine them in a mixing bowl with one sliced clove of garlic, a good drizzle of olive oil, and 5 or 5 basil leaves. Spread them on a roasting tray and roast for about 20 minutes, until collapsed and slightly shrunken. 2. In a soup pot, heat the olive oil over medium heat. Add the basil stalks and the remaining garlic, cooking until softened, about 2 minutes. Add the canned tomatoes with their juice, and an additional half can full of water. Use a wooden spoon or kitchen scissors to break up the tomatoes, while bringing to a boil. Simmer for 15 minutes. 3. Add the torn-up bread pieces to the pan, along with the rest of the basil, torn. (Reserve a few basil leaves for garnish). When the roasted tomatoes are done, scrape them into the soup pot with all their juices and stickiness. Stir into the soup and check for consistency: it will be rather thick and porridgy. 4. Divide between bowls and float some additional olive oil on top. 
Top with more basil.
Southern California cool at its best! 
Many of us know about California cuisine, which is known for its simplicity, but also includes lovely blends of Hispanic and Asian inspired cooking, local produce and sometimes healthier versions of what others are eating around the country, all topped with a California cool. The casual lifestyle is reflected in the restaurants, foods and manners in which the locals entertain.

Del Mar Farmer’s Market -get to this market early before planning a party for good pickings of everything from zucchini de flora to blood oranges. Local merchants sell fresh fruit drinks and empanadas, which were still warm when we arrived!

My three favorite areas – La Jolla with its lush, indigenous Torrey pines and beautiful beaches; Ocean Beach -up and coming area-check out the baked goods at the new, Azucar Cuban bakery; Del Mar, quaint town by the sea
Terracotta tile roof; lemon tree; merchant at market; surfboard shop, bakery using edible flowers....all in one town. So much here to inspire healthy, creative eating and entertaining

A family’s tale of this enchanting and eclectic island Jennifer and Dave White, with their boys, Max, Chase and Dakota ("Coty") have a passion for the island of Martha's Vineyard. They enjoy watching sunsets on Menemsha Beach while munching on dinner from The Homeport restaurant. The kids ride The Flying Horses Carousel in Oak Bluffs, the nation's oldest operating carousel.
Jennifer is a published author who uses inspirations from Martha's Vineyard in her writing, cooking and entertaining. She takes her cue for cuisine from restaurants like Jimmy Seas and The Black Dog to prepare seafood chowder with corn bread, steamed or grilled lobster, grilled chicken with saffron rice and fresh spring rolls. Many weekends The White family shops at the Chilmark Farmer’s Market for ideas and ingredients. To view Jennifer's writing, log on to her website at:

Chase at the beach; waiting for the ferry at Woods Hole; sailboat in Vineyard Haven; Jennifer in her garden with her peonies

Jennifer uses white plates from LeRoux at Home in Vineyard Haven to highlight colorful recipies; boys catching crabs in Menemsha; fresh basil from Jennifer's garden

Family daytripping to the island from Boston; waiting for the ferry; Cody admiring his catch in Menemsha

Jenny’s Fish Chowder From the flavors and ingredients on the island, Jennifer uses lots of seafood in her chowder. Every spoonful includes delicious flavoring from the shrimp, clams and fish. Although a creamy flavor, the chowder should not overwhelm, and the simplicity of the fresh ingredients makes this dish delectable! Jenny’s Fish Chowder 1 ½ Cups littleneck and mussels stock 2 lb littlenecks 2 lb mussels 1 lb fresh skinless salmon, cut into 2 inch pieces 1 lb of a mild white fish (cod or haddock), cut into 2 inch pieces 1 lb medium uncooked shrimp, peeled 1 lb sea scallops, cut into quarters 2 medium shallots, finely chopped ½ Cup butter (two sticks of butter) 3 Tbsp olive oil 3 Cups light cream 4 large potatoes, diced into ½ inch cubes 2 tablespoons finely chopped fresh parsley Salt to taste Garnish: paprika In cold water, rinse the littlenecks and clams thoroughly. Make a fresh clam and mussel stock by boiling about 2 to 3 Cups of water. When the water is a rolling boil, toss in the clams and mussels. Once the mollusks have opened and are cooked, take them out immediately—you don’t want them to overcook, they’ll taste rubbery. Reserve the liquid and reduce it to 1 ½ cups; strain and you have your stock. Put the mussels and littlenecks aside. In a pan, add ½ the butter and sauté the shallots until they’re wilted. Add the potatoes and cook until soft. In a large soup pan, add the fish stock, shallots and potatoes, set aside. Taking your pan again, add the rest of the butter, olive oil and sauté the shrimp. Add the salmon, then the scallops and lastly the white fish. Put all the cooked fish into the pot with the clam stock. Add the parsley and cream and simmer approximately 30 minutes, adding more cream if desired. Just before serving, add the precooked littlenecks and mussels. Taste and add desired amount of salt. Serve a generous amount in a mug or bowl; add paprika and a little butter on top as garnish.


Norbridge Antiques said...

Another beautiful blog, Tamara! It fills me with new ideas for table-setting, menus, and entertaining. East Hampton sounds so special. Your blog also brings back memories of vacationing in Martha's Vineyard with my family a few years ago. A Toronto friend was just asking me today when your July blog post was expected. I will let her know. Thank you for the joy your blog gives.

Holly Lane Antiques said...

Love your Blog! We spend part of the year in Southern California and the summer in RI so I was with you all the way. A bit envious of your hydrangea already in bloom - ours are late this year with all the rain.

Tamara Matthews-Stephenson said...

Thanks Holly Lane but I must admit that those Hydrangeas are actually July 2008 because I am also experiencing late blooming flowers due to so much rain - so don't feel badly. best, tamara

Lisa said...

I have to tell you that your July story is really something special.
You have put so much time & effort into it & it shows. Your family's contributions are to be admired also. But you know what really got me...I have one sister who lives in Del Mar & one who lives in La Jolla. We lived out there for 15 years & that is where our children were born. I miss them terribly & I do miss that California sunshine. Thanks for paying such a wonderful tribute to California & also to the place that you & your fine family call home.
Fondly, Lisa

Kelley at My Island Wedding said...

Happy belated 4th to you! I'm in Eastport LI, and hope you enjoyed your holiday as much as I did!

Although I spent mine in VT..., loving your blog!

tamara matthews-stephenson said...

Thanks so much for checking it out....I love Eastport, and Vermont for that matter. tamara