PARTY IN THE USA
(4th of july. number 51.)
We need more parties in the USA.
Could there be block parties of which I don't know?
Maybe they're in neighborhoods where I don't go.
Could there be all these parties down some little lane
With potato chips sitting there and guitar playing?
We need more parties in the USA.
- Jonathan Richman, 'Parties in the USA' from I, Jonathan
I've never been much of an AMERICA #1 kind of guy. When I was 12, I spent much of the summer indoors with the blinds drawn ("to pretend it was cloudy"), watching British comedy television on VHS and sipping lavender earl grey.
I was such an Anglophile that my father pursued opportunities to teach abroad, in London, and took the whole family there when I was 15/16, all primarily so he could give me the great gift of experiencing the land of Robin Hood and King Arthur and Basil Faulty first hand. When 2003 rolled around and "freedom fries" became an actual thing, our family decided to honor the French instead, and began a tradition of eating fondue and things slathered in béarnaise sauce every 4th of July. This continued through college. By the time I was beginning life as a young man in Portland, no longer in the hometown on USA-day, I didn't quite know what to do with myself. One year there was bbq in my back yard, hosted by my terrible Australian roommate, where she got too drunk to tend the grill and I ended up serving stuff up to strangers just to avoid burning the house down. But Carrie Brownstein was there, so that was cool I guess.
The point is, this is not a holiday (or accompanying cuisine) I ever imagined Secret Restaurant Portland taking a stab at. Yet this year, knowing we'd be coming down from the big hoopla of the 50th dinner, having the day off, it being a Friday…all the pieces came together to influence us to do a thing. So, having not gotten to use the concrete slab out behind Sofie's house for the 50th dinner, we decided to host a potluck. SR would make several key 4th of July food items: potato salad, chip dips, hot dog buns, salad with creamy dressing, etc. Guests were encouraged to bring matching high quality/scratch cooking dishes OR crummy grocery store stuff like jello cups and yellow potato salad. Thankfully, nobody really did the latter and everything on offer was delicious. At the same time, everything on offer wasn't particularly precious or fancy (there's a misconception sometimes that cooks from pop up restaurants only eat fancy)– we "keep it real."
There was a potato salad competition, and games of 4-square on the slab. There was an interlude of some Finnish card game, lots of dancing to Jonathan Richman (particularly the above-quoted 'Parties in the U.S.A.'), even a dumb little dog came (try and find him in the photos). We hung out for the whole afternoon, offering lunch and dinner, starting around 1 p.m. and going until sunset. At sunset, we walked over to the Independent Publishing Resource Center, where I have access to the roof, and we watched (with several other bookmakers) the fireworks from all sides, both on the Willamette River and on top of Mount Tabor. Fireworks are still not to my taste and I think of all the years spent cradling sad dogs through the event, but to me this was maybe the most enjoyable they've been.
OUT ON THE TABLE, AT VARIOUS POINTS IN THE DAY
THE POTATO SALADS •••
Potato Salad #1
Our friend Hannah McDevitt, who was SR's cook #3 for a lot of 2011-12, made this, her own take on the delicious japanese potato salad served at Biwa (perfect, entirely SR-recommended restaurant). She pickled the cucumbers herself, used the japanese mayo they sell at Uwajamaya, brought out the acids with rice vinegar...A drizzle of black soy on the end really sent it home.
Potato Salad #2
Delphine Bedient, in the green dress and the shades, used her Nebraska roots to concoct this totally awesome, super American potato salad. Nicely not too heavy on the mayo, with a clean zing to it from the shaved raw red onion.
Potato Salad #3
I made this one, very simply with yukon gold potatoes, chopped parsley (S.G.) and chervil (S.G.) from the garden, and an extremely herby dressing. We'd made some intense herb oil with the vitamix for the 50th, to drizzle on soups- it had 7 or 8 herbs in it. I whipped that into mayonnaise, with lemon juice, some super finely minced parsley and chervil, a little dijon mustard, then white wine vinegar to lift the whole deal.
Results of the competition:
We did blind voting in a jar. The debate was hot, because all three were VERY different and VERY good. I didn't vote. Sofie voted for the Japanese one. At the final tally, the french won by about 15 votes. I was very flattered. I did NOT set out to win my own potato salad competition! And did not reaaally take the prize (a bottle of Commons beer), instead of saving it for later, I popped it open and poured it in everyone's glasses.
BBQ Sauce Spread
Sofie made this awesome bbq sauce from scratch that was so thick we added "spread" to its title.
Caramelized Onion Dip
We caramelized the shit out of a ton of onions, then mixed it with full fat natural Tillamook sour cream, cracked a bunch of black pepper & flaky salt in.
Tim's Cascade Style Sea Salt & Vinegar AND Dill Pickle Potato Chips
A 2-for$5 sale at New Seasons the morning of…I could hardly hold back.
Secret Garden Salad with Artisinal Ranch Dressing
All the best lettuces (S.G.), carrots (S.G.), some black sesame seeds, delicious garlicky croutons. Scratch made buttermilk ranch dressing.
Some Other Person's Garden Salad with vinaigrette
The vinaigrette was good. Did we make it? Did someone bring it? I don't remember.
Fancy Hot Dog Buns
There was some honey in there. Some butter too.
From Old Salt Marketplace, Eidelweiss, and erm, Field Roast. Expertly grilled at the dinner hour by Vern Nelson, who knows his way around a grill more than any of us do.
Grilled Asparagus and Eggplant
Ubiquitous grilled veggies. Marinated deliciously by us.
Pickled Cherry Tabbouleh
Leftover/slightly remixed from the 50th. Tabbouleh does get better with age, to an extent, so it was still great. This batch had more almonds and more feta.
Gnarly bacon wrapped, creamed-cheese stuffed jalepenjo peppers
Brought by Hannah in honor of 1950s/80s style potlucking. Heated up on the grill.
Sofie's mom Mary's famous blueberry cobbler, using her own blueberries. In a Polish baking dish that somehow makes it even more delicious. Seriously, everyone who took a bite was like "holy shit!" and it was gone in 10 minutes flat.
50 Licks Toasted Milk and Vanilla Bean Ice Cream
Our friend Holly works as an ice cream maker at 50 Licks, and hooked us up with boxes of test batches. "That one has slightly less pectin than the finished one," she said. Whateveeeever. They were amazing. Forget Salt & Straw. Go classy.
Leftover raspberry dust and sage dust from the 50th SR
To throw on ice cream or whatever.
Kate & Peter's Garden Fresh Berries
Exquisite berries. Everyone had wicked early raspberries this year, so this was sort of their last gasp.
Expanded on from the 50th SR. More herbs, several bottles of wine later, new fruit, etc.
The Commons Fleur De Blanc
Pumped out of the keg and kept in growlers for the 6 days between events. Still good. Some towards the bottom were a little murky, but still damn fine. Made great shandies.