So here we are, finally, the first long weekend of the Summer season and the beginning of my summer job as head chef/housekeeper at the lake house. You think I'm kidding? All of a sudden all your long lost friends and relatives remember there's a house on a lake, with full maid service, and a great chef. All for free! Just call and make a reservation...everyone is always welcomed...including dogs!
Whilst I love to entertain and have people over, my life now turns upside down and my weekends are my workdays. The towels and bed sheets are the worst part, so this year I put my foot down and regulars get to make their own beds and leave the sheets in the laundry room when they leave. Only first timers and "special" guests get the full treatment. It's called "tough love"!
The bathrooms are stocked with all kinds of goodies, including sun tan lotions and shampoo, but each guest gets ONE beach towel which they must guard with their life. The food is something else. For this it pays to be organized and from years of entertaining at various places I have developed a method that is easy for me. Light breakfasts, light lunches, and great dinners.
We are not big breakfast people. Once in awhile, we will have brunch on Sundays, particularly in Fall and Winter; but when you come to a lake the main idea is to go boating or swimming and who wants to do that on a full stomach?
Breakfasts here consist of fresh fruit, orange juice, (great) coffee and English muffins or toast. Homemade strawberry preserves are a staple of the breakfast table with cereal and granola also on hand. I usually leave a bowl of cut up cantaloupe and blueberries or strawberries in the fridge the night before and when guests wake up they serve themselves. Make a coffee cake in advance, freeze it and enjoy it for breakfast or tea.
Lunch is a make your own sandwich event if we are swimming around the dock, but if we are going on the boat, everyone helps put a picnic together. Have fresh tomatoes, olives, lettuce, bean sprouts, mayo, you get the idea. Make it special by having artisanal breads and interesting cheeses and chutneys. It is sometimes less expensive to roast a chicken or turkey breast, have it for dinner the night before, and slice for leftovers the next day. Better yet, make chicken salad sandwiches.
An antipasto tray of salamis, cheese, olives, and baguette also make a nice alternative for lunch.
Dinner is the highlight of the day and here I usually go all out. Ribs, Shish Kebabs, chops, casseroles, and pies are at the top of the list. I make it easy on myself by grilling the meat, making a casserole and serving fresh vegetables...whatever looks good at the Farmer's Market. For dessert I make crumbles with whatever fruit is in season or serve ice cream with fruit. Other times I cheat and buy a pie at the nearest Fresh Market.
If you have guests arriving Friday don't plan to cook on the grill that night. Instead make something that can be easily warmed up for those who arrive late. My individual Mac And Cheese recipe from Harry's Bar in Venice is an old standby and a favorite of friends and family including little children.
One of the reasons everyone loves to come here is the food so I try not to disappoint by having special things that I can make ahead and freeze. Like I mentioned before, a coffee cake goes a long way and brownies or butterscotch bars can be made ahead and served with ice cream for dessert or wrapped for a picnic. I also prepare either Beer Cheese, Pimento Cheese Spread or a Goat Cheese Log the day before to accompany cocktails. Chorizos that can be thrown on the grill and served with a honey mustard are always on demand!
While menus are simple, try to buy the best ingredients you can find to make the meals special. Don't try to have three complicated menus a day. Keep it simple, make some things ahead like appetizers and desserts and let everyone help you. It's a long summer, and this is just the beginning!