Pièce de Résistance
I’ve been going on and on about our weekend, everything was amazing, everything was wondrous, and I meant it — but nothing can compare to Saturday night. The ten of us will not soon forget it. After all, how often does one eat steaming cups of stew seasoned with water from the Long Island Sound or skinny dip in shark-infested waters? But I’m getting ahead of myself. Just before sunset we loaded up the cars and our arms and made our way to Rocky Point Beach (previously seen here and here)…
Last May, as you may remember, I dreamed of making a big pot of cioppino for all my friends on this very beach, inspired by the Italian seaside stew of San Francisco fishermen. But truth be told the task of bringing all the elements together (big pot + plenty of stock + lots of vegetables + pounds of seafood + (illegal) fire + good weather + great people) made my dream seem more like a raisin in the sun.
This is where a man like M. comes in handy. He’s never once balked at my zany ideas:
a birthday party worthy of F. Scott Fitzgerald?
My 29th birthday wish was no exception. On Friday he presented me with a great big stockpot — "To the Countess of Cioppino, the Grand Dame of Gumbo, the Sultana of Stews…" — and he made the rest seem effortless. It helped that we had Meghan, who in addition to being a ridiculously talented baker is the person I’d want with me should I ever be trapped on the side of a mountaintop. She built a grade-A cooking fire on the beach, plenty hot and long-lasting, while M. made the cioppino and the rest of us gathered driftwood, ate cheese, and enjoyed the beauty.
The cobalt water and tangerine sky, the setting sun and the rising harvest moon, the soft breeze and the sound of waves against rocks — it was a magical evening. So magical, in fact, that a handsome fisherman began to look an awful lot like a handsome merman, one whose charms were not lost on the womenfolk….
The cioppino was a crowning achievement, a warming broth of tomatoes, fennel, and seasonings with meaty monkfish, mussels, and chowder clams as big as my hand. The secret ingredient? The original salt: two cups of water straight from the Sound, just as it is traditionally made in San Francisco (or so they tell me).
After we ate, we defied the ominous warnings of the merman who told us his father, a seasoned fisherman, spotted 4-foot sharks in these very waters on this very evening and by no means should anyone set foot in the Sound!, and went for a moonlit skinny dip.
There is simply nothing like a moonlit skinny dip for making a girl feel at peace with the world.
And we ogled the moon and the stars and the clouds. And we ate the Most Perfect S’Mores Ever Invented: marshmallows sandwiched between crisp Tate’s chocolate chip cookies (fresh from the source!). And we drank many, many bottles of local wine….
Inevitably, we got a little silly …
… and I laughed ‘til my stomach hurt (is there a better feeling?). Nights like this are rare indeed, and perhaps now you know what I mean when I say the weekend was “magical.”
To my friends: I’m so grateful to all of you for making my birthday so special. And to those who couldn’t join us — you were very missed! But you shall have another chance, someday: I decree that Saturday, September 25, 2010, is the first in a grand tradition of moonlit bonfires and steaming pots of stew upon picturesque beaches. Coming from the Countess of Cioppino (and her handsome Count), you know that’s a promise that shall be kept.
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