The irony about Labor Day is that it has come to signify a day of relaxation, fun, stress-free cooking, and wistful end-of-summer feelings. The first Labor Day was celebrated in the US in 1882 by the Central Labor Union of New York after being mandated a national holiday by President Grover Cleveland as a reconciliation with the labor movement. Who knew? While no longer commemorated in the way prescribed in the holiday’s proposal: “A street parade to exhibit to the public the strength and esprit de corps of the trade and labor organizations, to be followed by a festival for the workers and their families,” its meaning, like so many other national holidays, has lost its essence. No matter. Today its symbolism is one of seasonal transition and, for those of you living on Society Hill, it’s no longer fashionable to wear white.
But for the rest of us, living elsewhere, we barbecue, shuck corn, cut up watermelon, and make cold soups. I had one of the best cold soups just last night at the home of Jerry and Beth Adler. Jerry, is a journalist par excellence (Newsweek editor for eons — who recently wrote the definitive article about the molecular gastronomist Myhrvold for Smithsonian magazine — a must-read) and Beth, is a scholarly city planner. They always have great dinner parties and it feels like a party even when it’s just the four of us. Last night’s menu included Jerry’s wonderful, original cucumber soup (recipe below), dry-rubbed ribs, grilled zucchini, summer corn, and glorious heirloom tomatoes, graced with avocado and nuggets of mozzarella. Dessert? Ronnybrook ice cream and a delicious fruit salad that included fresh figs and mango. A crisp white Protocolo from Spain and a flintly Sancerre. Dark and stormies, to begin (Dark rum and ginger beer). Divine.
Divine, too, was another party — this time for 12 — at the home of another special hostess, Saralie Slonsky — considered the doyenne of health-care pr in the country who now teaches a master class at New York University in public relations. Esteemed guests included New York’s food maven Arthur Schwartz, and a young journalist, Max Falkowitz, who writes about spices and ice cream for Serious Eats. Presaging Labor Day by just a few days, the dinner was the stuff the upcoming holiday is made of: superb guacamole, smoked trout mousse in tiny cucumber cups, fresh shrimp rolls (like lobster rolls!), grilled skirt steak with a poblano pesto, more heirloom tomatoes, the best and simplest cooked spinach I’ve ever had, and a new potato-and-fresh herb salad. Dessert included a homemade amaretti torte with summer berries, walnut cookies, and macaroons from Laduree (!) generously bought and brought by Mr. Falkowitz. The meal was catered by Freya Clibansky and her assistant, Chef Annie Wright (daughter of the iconic designer Russell Wright.) Thank you, Saralie! And thank you, Freya and Annie!
This is the food of Labor Day. Enjoy.
Jerry Adler’s Wonderful Cucumber Soup
16 ounces Fage 2% plain Greek yogurt (or other thick yogurt)
2 large cucumbers, peeled, seeded and chopped
1/3 cup packed cup chopped cilantro
1/3 packed cup chopped dill
2 to 3 medium cloves of garlic
1/2 teaspoon cumin seeds, light toasted and ground
1 teaspoon salt
freshly ground black pepper, to taste
additional cilantro for garnishing
freshly made croutons, made from a baguette (sauteed in butter or oil)
Place the first 8 ingredients in a blender or food processor and process until smooth. Chill until very cold. Garnish with additional slivered cilantro and warm croutons. Serves 6