A Summer Festivus?

Sun, sun, sun... here it comes. 

Why wait for a holiday when you can declare one?   It’s been a helluva hot summer, a stormy summer, and rockin'-and-a-hard-place and rollercoaster-ride of a summer, but it’s summer nonetheless.  Time to kick back. Time to play like we're kids (again). Time to count our days in the sun. 

Days in the sun are so few and far between here in Michigan, I might kvetch and whine with the best of 'em.  But to share my actual state of mind in a blog?  Never! (Okay, not much). Okay, maybe sometimes.   But not today. 

Today I’m getting ready for a gathering of family and friends.  A gathering I've carefully planned and orchestrated out of love for each and every guest on the list.     Like Clarissa Dalloway, as I dimly recall from college reading (Virginia Woolf)  -- or Meryl Streep in The Hours. I’m planning a party.  

Sprucing up the garden, planting new cone flowers, a perennial favorite.  

For no reason in particular - other than a cluster of wedding anniversaries in the family-- I’ve declared August 20th a personal holiday.  Sixty days past the summer solstice (give or take) ... call it a Summer FestivUS.

Peppers growing in pots, soon to be in salads.

  Just for the heck of it, just for the fun of it, just to see my two sons, their wives, and a grand new baby all at the same table, at the same time, I’ve planned the  weekend-- and invited nephews, cousins, aunts, uncles- our extension of family and friends, with nearly thirty coming!  From Seattle, Dallas, Chicago, Cleveland. . . and next door, they're joining us to play for the weekend. A three-day party it will be, right in our own backyard.

Out watering  petunias every evening, 
with mosquito bites to prove it. 

Getting our family to spend a weekend in Detroit takes something of a seduction.  And so I persisted all summer. I even sent written invitations -- originating as e-vites.   Did you know there’s a site called pingg (not to be confused with golf) where you can design, create, email was well as snailmail beautiful invitations -- all at a click of a mouse.  

Here’s what the invitation looks like: online it clicks to its own webpage.

A Summer "FestivUs."  Think of it as a homecoming, a thanksgiving of sorts ... without the turkey.

Like a  last-of-summer-hurrah before Labor Day and back-to-school

 ... with welcome gift bags  (like a wedding) for out-of-town guests on the  list!

Bags of all kinds, packed with goodies from Zingerman's, the Ann Arbor Art Fair and The Italian Dish

This Summer FestivUs has been my excuse (who needs an excuse?) to plant flowers all summer,  to bake cookies and pastries every weekend, to stock the refrigerator and cupboards,  to dress-up beds in the guest rooms, to replenish bath towels, to dream up menus, to call a caterer . . . 

Gerbera daisies, back in bloom, just in time. 
With summer in full bloom, the garden sets the table.  Come cloudy days or blazing sun, we'll have a good time.   With no tradition to follow or expectations to meet, all we need, all we ask is the pleasure of one another's company.   And for me, a family gathering is all about the food.  Cooking with abandon. Cooking with love.  Serving meals in style.  From brunch to dinnertime,  and all noshes in between.  With a full house all weekend.  I'm in heaven.    

Yes, there will be homemade challah on Friday night.  Image source: smittenkitchen.com

There will be peach cherry pie and lavender panna cotta
and chocolate babka for Sunday brunch

Just for kicks (and the kids) I'll post the menu each day-- 
next to my "Endless Biscotti Jar." 

And the biscotti?  For those who can't eat wheat:  
I've made a Gluten-Free Chocolate Mocha variety.  
Here's my recipe. 


1 cup rice flour
1 cup almond flour 
¼ cup coconut (or chestnut) flour (optional) 
¼ cup unsweetened chocolate powder
2 eggs
½ cup sugar
1 teaspoon baking powder 
1 tablespoon instant coffee or decaf coffee beans, espresso grind
¼ teaspoon sea salt 
½ cup
 dark chocolate, ground or chocolate chips 
½ cup toasted walnuts, chopped
¼ pear juice or apricot nectar (optional)   

  1. In a food processor, combine flour, chocolate powder, ground coffee, salt and baking powder.  Pulse until ingredients are well combined
  2. Using an electric mixer, beat eggs until light in color, (about two minutes).  Add sugar in slow stream and mix another 2 minutes until well blended. 
  3. Add dry ingredients to egg mixture. Using the dough hook, mix to form a sticky dough.  Add dark chocolate and walnuts. Remove dough from mixer and form into two logs
  4. Optional: coat logs with eggwash
  5. Bake at 350° for 15 minutes, then rotate pan in oven and back for 10 minutes. 
  6. Remove from oven and cool
  7. Cut the logs into ½ inch slices on the diagonal with a very sharp knife
  8. Spread slices out on a baking sheet and bake at 300° for 12-15 minutes
  9. Remove from oven and allow to cool, set, and become crispy
  10. Enjoy

Just how long can we keep that daisy-fresh face?
All in vain.  This is what petunias in profusion looked like on July 4th.  
Pity, they've grown a little scraggly now. 

Past the window, open to the warm night air, as I sit before the glow of the computer, the frogs are singing in the garden.  A rapsody, a lullaby,  a love song.  Listening in the stillness . . . my train of thought broken, derailed from the mundane details of my party, I  imagine I hear the babbling of a baby,  the bark of a dog, the sounds of young voices,  -- the return of family. . . coming home. . .our summer FestivUs. 

Will let you know how it goes.  

Photos V.Henoch

Thanks for stopping by. 


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