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Volume 37 Issue 12, - July 12 - 18, 2007
now in our 37th season

Summer Company

by Maryjane Mojer

Summer can be bit of a double edged sword.  After too many winter days inside, I long for the sun and the warmth.  I look forward to the fast pace and the return of old friends along with the sounds of the Cobbletones and a larger choice of restaurants.  On the other hand, the fast pace can take over and we become so busy that we don’t take or make the time to really enjoy the things we've spent all winter looking forward to. 

Then, just when the summer madness reaches its frenzy, the phone calls start. "We were thinking of coming out for a week in August."  Or: "What are you doing next weekend?  Feel like a visit?"

Through gritted teeth, we respond.  "Sure, yes, we'd LOVE to see you.  Yes, you can bring the dog...oh, dogs...three, eh?  Sure, the neighbor’s kids can come along."  In truth, once they arrive, all of the pieces fall into place and everyone (including you) can have a great time.  It's the getting ready part that can be the most stressful.

I started a bit early this year.  My daughter graduated from NYU in May.  As we prepared for her multiphase homecoming (because it took three trips to bring her belongings home) and the anticipation of summer guests, I realized that my small house was overstuffed with stuff.  This meant her stuff had no where to go and our potential guests had nowhere to sleep.

Phase 1:  If I hadn't used it in over a year, hadn't worn it in months or forgot that I even owned it, off it went.  Do whatever it takes.  Yard sale, Take it or Leave it, or give it away—but get rid of it.

Phase 2:  Beds.  All guests really, truly need, besides an occasional shower (and a water bowl for the dog(s)) is a bed.  We have a loft that had become that place to dump the stuff that we didn't know what to do with.  It now sleeps six.  New sheets, good pillows, a summer weight blanket, clean towels, and a fan.

Phase 3:  Food.  (My favorite part!)  I love to cook and am inherently predisposed to making too much food.  It is, I am convinced, a genetic disorder that I share with cousins and assorted others.  I love to feed people.  When I first bought my own home fifteen years ago, I spent my summers cooking for my guests. ) "No, no, sit, have a cocktail, you're on vacation" was my constant reply when asked if I needed help.  As I spent my nights alone in the kitchen while my guests enjoyed the summer evening I had an epiphany.  Ok, so it was more of a slow, gradual realization brought on by extended moments of misplaced resentment than an epiphany, but eventually it took hold.  I work hard, and I should enjoy both the summer and the company of my guests. These are people that I like. I want them to come to my home and visit. (If you don’t like them, say no as in, “no you may not come down in August with your three dogs and the neighbor’s kids.”  Life and summer are just too short.)

There is, of course, the temptation to show people a good time and make their vacation happen for them by taking care of every detail.  Keep in mind that your guest’s vacation should not mean more work for you.  Having a bed and a home base on Nantucket in the summer is in itself a luxury for guests. The bonus is that you can enjoy their visit as much as they do by planning ahead a bit.

A day or two before the first wave of guests, I do the only major shopping of the visit.  Coffee, half and half, Portuguese bread, sandwich stuff, fruit and veggies, pasta, and wine.  After the initial shopping, I let them fill in the blanks.  I’ve also become quite blatant about it.  “Oh, Susie doesn’t like apple juice?  Not a problem!  Here are directions to the store!”  I show them the lay of the land, where the knives are, how to work the coffee maker, and I leave them to it.

There are two phrases that everyone who entertains houseguests in the summer need to know and use; “clean up” and “get out.”  With any luck, you’ll never have to use them together as a complete sentence.  Think of them as guidelines for a successful visit. 

I work lots and lots of hours in the summer and thoroughly enjoy it.  Coming home to piles of dishes and towels doesn’t make for a lovely, relaxing evening with our guests as I bustle about in my work clothes trying to clean up before dinner.  Making yourself a big breakfast?  Wonderful!  Clean up!  A stack of sandwiches for the beach?  Great!  Clean up!  By all means help yourself and make yourself at home, just clean up! 

Secondly:  Get Out.  Not so much for the end of the trip, though it may come in handy, but as a general rule for the visit.  Get out.  Get out of the house, here is the shuttle schedule, here are bikes, here are my keys, but get out.  The farm truck is on Main Street, the fish markets are easy to find and wine is within biking distance. (Notice a trend? Wine is an essential part of Summer Company. 

The best part is that people love to help.  Really and truly.  They love to shuck corn, make cocktails, and grate cheese.  Who knew?  Now, rather than being sequestered in my kitchen alone, our summer meals with guests are group efforts and are so much more enjoyable.

I gave up on menu planning for Summer Company a few years back.  Now, we lean towards pot luck and have had some of the best meals.  I ask my guests to find anything they’d like to have and bring it home.  I will happily cook it or show them how.  I usually grab the vegetables, my husband finds the best bread, and we all pitch in with the wine.

Sometimes it ends up being heavy appetizers, sometimes three or four courses and a long evening of eating.  Either way it’s a group effort and we all get to be a part of it.

My sister in law, Kim is the best kind of Summer Company.  Not only does she clean up and get out, she’s fun to be with and makes great cocktails that we call Kim-akazes.  She also rearranges my furniture in ways that I never thought of and makes the most amazing beef sticks.  While hers is a secret family recipe, here is one that is pretty darn good.

Beef Sticks

You’ll need five-inch bamboo skewers for this recipe.  They are available at the grocery store.  Before you skewer the beef, soak the skewers in hot water.  I like to soak mine for about a half an hour.  If you don’t soak them, they’ll catch fire when you grill!

2 pounds flank steak, cut into 1/4 inch strips
2 cups soy sauce
1 tablespoons sesame oil
1 tablespoon fish sauce
2 tablespoons lime juice
1 tablespoon rice wine vinegar
1/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 teaspoon crushed red pepper flakes

Combine all of the ingredients in a large, resealable bag. Marinate overnight.  Remove and drain beef.  Throw out marinade.  Skewer the beef onto the bamboo sticks.  Think accordion!  You can cook these on the grill, about 6 minutes per side, or in 400 degree oven for about 8 minutes.  Go a bit longer if you like your beef more well done.  And after dinner, follow your own rules: grab your guests, clean up and get out!

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