Friday May 3, 2013

Bach and barbeque? Sounds a bit incongruous if you ask me. Nonetheless, sometimes the unexpected ends up being exactly what is needed.

My husband is a member of the Blanche Moyse Chorale and their concerts , the culmination of months of hard work, were Friday and Saturday night. They were singing Bach’s B Minor Mass, a beautiful and technically difficult piece to sing, about 2 hours in length. Wanting to share this gorgeous music he invited his aunt and uncle to come from Connecticut to enjoy the concert as well as an overnight visit and dinner.

We were looking very forward to having Unk and Aunt Ellen visit and were delighted to hear that their son, Steve, would also be making the trip. We have visited them all at the Connecticut coast many times, and they have always offered us their hospitality; Aunt Ellen feeding our family delicious meals after a day at the beach while Unk would be taking care to keep us all laughing or Steve manning both the helm of his boat and his grill, it would be nice not only to see them for the first time in months, but also to return the favors.

True to real life, our week had been a hectic one, full of rehearsals, a sick kid, track practice and full work schedules. I was barely thinking 3 hours ahead of time, not at all helpful when planning for guests is needed.

Fortunately, as she so often does, my mom came to the rescue. She helped me focus my thinking on a menu enough so that I was able to come up with a decision. Perhaps it was based on all the outdoor meals we had eaten in Connecticut with these dear people, or maybe it was just because I had a bit of cabin fever, but I somehow settled on getting out the grill and having a simple barbeque ñ hamburgers, hot dogs, chicken and traditional side dishes. Mom ran out and took care of buying the ingredients and it was only then that I began to have second thoughts.

Really? Do you serve burgers and dogs before a concert like this one? It might be a bit different if the concert was being held outdoors and the general feeling of the evening was one of relaxed luxury. Even then, I probably would’ve grilled something a bit fancier, like pork tenderloin and vegetables, not hams and hots with a side of chips. It was too late now, groceries having been purchased and time running out, we were just going to go with it.

To top it off, I had decided that I was going to make Aunt Ellen’s bean salad, something that I hadn’t ever done before. A favorite at her house when we visit ñ 13-year old Marielle would try to eat it for breakfast ñ it seemed easy enough, but still, serving your debut of something to the person who gave you the recipe seems a bit risky. Friday night while Jon was singing his first concert I put the ingredients together. It was easy, ridiculously so, and made me wonder what I had forgotten to do. I packed it into a half-gallon mason jar in the refrigerator and went to bed, still fretting over my menu choices.

Clean-ish house, done-ish laundry, deck furniture at the ready, we welcomed our guests happily. We spent the afternoon chatting and catching up and then Jon had to prepare to leave for the concert. Our daughters and I scurried around, setting out the various menu items as a buffet, then I started the grill, put on the burgers and as I stood outside in the warm sunshine looking over the backyard that had been played in all afternoon and was just beginning to bud and bloom , I realized that yes, indeed, this crazy menu was perfect.

There is nothing like eating outdoors again for the first time after a long winter. And to be eating quintessential American BBQ is the perfect way to celebrate that, regardless of if you will be following it up with a game of Frisbee, a round of croquet or a lovely concert. Dinner was delicious and we all enjoyed this celebration of one another’s company, of spring and of a good hamburger.

And the bean salad was great! So simple to do and an interesting dish full of flavor and fiber, this is the perfect thing to keep a batch of in the refrigerator. Try different beans (I used canned kidney, pinto , chick peas and fresh green beans) and you will get delicious variations.  Of course you can also cook your own beans by soaking one-half cup of each dried variety overnight, then draining and covering with 2 inches of water and simmering for about 40 minutes or until tender. Fresh green and/or yellow beans can be easily steamed.

Aunt Ellen’s Bean Salad

3 cans (1 can each) drained, rinsed beans -kidney, white and pinto

1 box each frozen green and yellow beans, cooked until barely tender

1 green bell pepper, sliced into bite-sized pieces (I used red)

1 red onion, sliced

Two-third cup sugar

Two-third cup water

One-quarter cup canola oil

One-half teaspoon salt

Combine beans, pepper and onion in a large bowl. Melt sugar and salt in oil and water over medium heat then pour over beans. Cover bowl or pack in a jar and let sit in refrigerator at least 24 hours.

Spring has truly sprung and there is reason to celebrate. Bach, barbeque and bean salad ended up being the perfect combination after all!