I’m writing this with sun streaming through my window, but not an hour ago a torrential downpour was sending rivers of water down the street and battering the new green leaves of the inside-out flower and false Solomon’s seal in the front yard. I’m not complaining; the talk lately in certain circles has been about our unusually dry winter, the early spring heat a month ago, and what that will all mean this summer when water levels really drop and forest fires start waving their rosy fingers towards the sky.
This weekend, though, you wouldn’t know that anyone is concerned about the rain. Storms have moved through two or three times a day, minutes-long bursts of water preceded and followed by blue skies and sunshine. So, like every year, holding a Memorial Day barbecue is a bit of a gamble. But if I do say so myself, A and I are starting to get a bit of a reputation for hosting first-rate barbecues, and we won’t be cowed in the face of a dispiriting weather report.
I stole two things from Lorraine at Sweet Allium this Memorial Day: her coconut lavender tapioca pudding and her recent train of thought about resilient systems. Resilience is defined as the ability of a system to withstand disturbances without losing the fundamental qualities that define that system. Disturbances can be of crisis proportions, like forest fires, or low-grade and cyclical, like the ebb and flow of water over the course of a year, the transition between dry and wet seasons.
I’m still in the early stages of processing this concept, and, perhaps somewhat melodramatically, I’ve been thinking about our Memorial Day barbecue in terms of its resilience. If your friends are anything like mine, barbecues are rather amorphous events; people move in and out as they fit you into their daily schedule, conversations ramble and drift, with concentration falling single-mindedly on the food in spurts and sputters as steaming plates come away from the grill.
Yet through it all, whether eating, drinking, or talking, no matter which individuals are present, there is a cohesive tension holding the circle together. We are a social system, organized around the dynamics of feasting; that is, of coming together for a long, leisurely meal, of sharing the tasks necessary to create that meal, of giving each other wide open spaces of time to talk at greater length and depth than we make room for on a daily basis. We are a resilient system, in which each participant fluidly shifts roles to support the system’s needs; taking turns on the grill, clearing plates, leading the conversation.
I could be self-aggrandizing and say it’s because of the food. But in this case I think the food is the foundation, the environment we are all reacting to, a background against which the natural resilience of the system can be seen. Which is really just a fancy way of saying that my secret to a successful barbecue is having really amazing friends.
For our barbecues I like to make a colorful array of vegetable side dishes, and let our guests bring the meat or main dish they’d like to grill. Next to the heavy meats and smoky grilled vegetables, raw or lightly-cooked salads offer a refreshing break with crisp seasonal flavor. These are two of my favorites, and most of the prep can be done well ahead of time.
If you’re not a fan of radish’s bite, give this salad a try. The lemon juice softens and mellows the spiciness without doing away with the crunch.
Check out Lorraine’s coconut tapioca lavender pudding recipe here.
2 bunches radishes (about 12-15), thinly sliced
3 T olive oil
2 t preserved lemon, minced
2 t capers
juice of 1/2 lemon
Combine all ingredients and mix well. Let marinate at least 1 hour before serving.
Herbed Carrot Salad
Slightly adapted from Flatbreads and Flavors by Jeffrey Alford and Naomi Duguid
2 lbs. carrots, sliced into rounds
1 t cumin seeds
3 T fresh mint
1 T fresh parsley
1/4 t salt
3 T olive oil
2 T red wine vinegar
3 T yogurt
Steam carrots until tender but not mushy, about 5 minutes. Set aside to cool.
Grind cumin seeds and combine in a bowl with salt. Finely chop mint and parsley and mix with the cumin and salt, pressing down with the back of a spoon to lightly crush the herbs. Add the olive oil and vinegar and let marinate at least 1 hour.
Just before serving, whisk yogurt into the dressing, and stir into carrots.