In 2010, after nearly 25 years as the residents of 20 Lily St., my parents decided to rent their house on Nantucket. It seemed like a perfect way to launch a new business. So far, this plan has gone over like gangbusters, and I’m sure it’s partly due to the fact that my family, and in particular my mother, has been operating as an amateur chef, concierge, and all-around entertainer for years. My parents were professional vacation planners without even knowing it. Our house has been the backdrop behind a countless number of festive and memorable candle-lit dinner parties—even my wedding was held there. Wine has flowed like water inside this unassuming home, and I haven’t encountered a visitor yet who turned down an invitation to participate. For most people, summer means long, lazy days spent at the beach. For us, summer has always revolved around the preparation of meals created with local, fresh, and fabulous ingredients. We are people who can barely get through breakfast without discussing what we’re going to be having for dinner. I am not kidding when I say that each year on December 26, we start to ponder the possibilities for next year’s Christmas Eve menu. In terms of preparing the house for the onslaught of renters, though, mom says she’s doing what she has always done for house guests—but now she’s getting paid for it.
One downside to this situation is that the fridge needs to be completely emptied before the renters arrive. This means the disposal of items that usually sit on the shelves all season, including peanut butter, ketchup, mustard, bottled waters, coffee beans, juices, etc. It’s a bit of a waste, especially since some groups come for only a week before my parents return to the house. The last time I participated in cleaning out the Sub Z, I was struck by the number of unidentified little crumpled “foil packs” that were taking up valuable shelf space that could have been used for something really critical, like chilling wine.
I opened one of them and revealed a boiled beet. Don’t throw that away, by any means, I thought. Another mystery package contained a head of garlic roasted with olive oil. Both yummy items, for sure, but would it have been a crime to send these culinary delights to a “clear kitchen garbage bag” grave? Doing the dishes and cleaning up the messy kitchen after an evening of cooking, cocktails, and wine is always a bummer of a task, but still. Perhaps we could become a bit more discerning in terms of selecting items to wrap up and ones that won’t be missed if they end up in the trash.
We chuckled over the random bundles of food that always seem to be lurking in our fridge. Leftovers, I suppose, is another word for these treasures. Whether it be three tablespoons of beurre blanc in a juice glass or a half a cup of lime juice—all are remnants of a magnificent dinner. Obviously too delicious to be thrown away. Maybe we had grilled swordfish and margaritas. Maybe Stan Getz—music that seems designed to accompany the sound of ice clinking in a condensation-covered glass—oozed from the iPod. When the perch doors are flung open to let the sound of music and laughter reverberate throughout the house, the scene is set for another round of lucky guests to gather on the teak furniture for a sunset they won’t soon forget.
Every time I serve this, people ask me for the recipe. In fact, so many people have asked me for this recipe that I should consider carrying it around in my pocket on printed cards. I always serve this over grilled fish—swordfish, halibut, red snapper, flounder. I truly believe it would even be delicious spooned over an old shoe.
1 cup dry white wine, like chardonnay
1 shallot, minced
¼ cup freshly squeezed lemon juice (be sure to remove all the pits)
1 ½ sticks of unsalted butter, chopped into about 12 pieces
Salt and pepper to taste
Over medium-high heat, put the wine, shallot, and lemon juice in a saucepan and stir until liquid is boiled down to two tablespoons. Lower heat and start adding the butter, one piece at a time, continually whisking. As each piece melts, add the next until all the butter has been added. Quickly toss in some salt and pepper and keep covered until the fish is ready. This sauce will separate if it isn’t used shortly after it is done, so try to coordinate grilling the fish while you’re making it. Serve within 10-20 minutes. This is a crowd pleaser, for sure.