“My dowry has just increased exponentially,” Kate announced, smirking audibly into the receiver. “I made cream puffs!”

I could hear Kate’s sister Margot and their mother Linda in the background, shrieking with glee. “Mom says to tell you that we’re saving the potatoes for you to do, since you’re German.”

“Polish,” I corrected.

“Yeah, yeah,” Kate laughed, “Too bad we don’t have any Polish sausages. But hurry up! We’ll see you at three.”

Another Knight family event was in the offing, and the occasion was even more momentous than last summer’s lamb roast, which is saying a lot: this time we were celebrating five years of Linda’s being cancer-free. I’d been commissioned to help with the food, and I happily accepted.

I arrived in mid-afternoon to find the house awash in pink, the official color of breast cancer awareness. There were pink balloons in the foyer and vases full of pink tulips on every available surface, and pink crêpe paper was spun from the beams and light fixtures. They’d thought of everything, even making a centerpiece for the dining room table out of a bowl filled with shapely plaster breasts, leftover props from one of Margot‘s photo shoots. Now this would be a party.

After a brief tour of the family collection of chef’s toques,

Kate set to work on another batch of choux, while I whipped up a triple recipe of my trademark vinaigrette to coat the mixed baby greens in Linda’s enormous, drum-like wooden bowl. We diced avocados, squeezed limes, and cubed mangoes for salsa, while Margot—recovering from shoulder surgery and out of commission, cooking-wise—did her part to help by eating every mango scrap we left behind, sucking on the wide, flat seeds so as not to lose a shred of the musky flesh. I parboiled new potatoes and tossed them with apple cider vinegar, olive oil, sea salt, and rosemary from the garden, and then we piled them into a wide cazuela and slid them into the oven to finish. And Margot’s boyfriend Todd, showing his impressive cycling form, whipped the cream—tinted pink, of course—while riding with Lance and the U.S. Postal Service team.

Linda disappeared into the back of the house and reemerged resplendent in a fuzzy pink sweater, black flood pants, and pink pantyhose. Kate, seeing that my outfit lacked the evening’s theme color (my dusty-purplish Peter Pan boots barely missed the mark), offered a hot-pink flower hair-clip which, she told me, had been purchased at a shop for strippers in San Francisco. Though infinitely more modest than the dining room centerpiece, the girly flower clip seemed to beg for platinum ringlets and a naughty hula get-up. I tried to do it justice.

And then, before we knew it, the guests were arriving. Kate played bartender while we fielded the onslaught of flowers for Linda, among them a bouquet of baby roses tightly gathered and strategically colored to resemble a breast. The guests orbited the kitchen table and its generous spread: baked brie with honey, pecans, and sliced Granny Smith apples; plain brie with water crackers; and Linda’s delicious (but unphotogenic) bagnette with grilled bread. The undisputed hit of the evening, it was a complex and piquant mixture of diced sautéed mushrooms, parsley, tomato, red wine vinegar, olive oil, and loads of garlic.

While the guests sipped wine and talked, Todd and Kate’s father Jo monitored the salmon on the grill, and Kate quickly stir-fried snow peas with olive oil, garlic, and slivers of fresh ginger. Then we gently coaxed the guests away from the hors d’oeuvres and through the buffet line on Jo’s handmade wooden countertop and, plates in hand, dispersed ourselves throughout the house to eat.

And then, of course, there were the cream puffs. Dear reader,
I’ve told you before that, among the Knights, everything is an excuse to eat whipped cream, but I don’t think I fully understood the depths of their dairy mania until last night. I was minding my own business, wearing that misleadingly dainty flower and scooping spoonfuls of soft pink cream into Kate’s airy, eggy-smelling puffs, when I quite nearly came to blows with Jo. Apparently, I was being too sparing with the cream, despite the fact that my finished puffs were overflowing—nay, exploding—with the stuff. I let him have his way and console himself with the whipped cream siphon and a tray of puffs, but we all knew better: mine were prettier. And anyway, with the first bite, they easily passed the ooze test. I ate three, just to make sure.

Congratulations, Linda.
I can think of no better cause for celebration*—or for eating loads of whipped cream.

*Update: Linda tells me that over the course of the evening, she collected nearly $2,000(!) in donations for the University of Washington Foundation’s Breast Cancer Fund. More whipped cream, anyone?

From Linda Knight

This recipe, given to Linda by a friend, appears to be a variation on Italy’s bagnetto verde, which generally features garlic, parsley, and anchovies. It is wonderful as an hors d’oeuvre, spooned onto thin slices of grilled baguette, but it would also be a good accompaniment to lamb or roasted chicken.

1 bunches fresh parsley, finely chopped, plus more if needed
12-14 cloves garlic, minced
2 cans sliced mushrooms, drained (or equivalent amount of chopped, sautéed mushrooms)
½ cup olive oil
½ cup red wine vinegar
1 15-oz can tomato sauce (not tomato paste)

Mix all ingredients together in a large bowl, and taste for seasoning. If the garlic is especially strong, add more chopped parsley. Serve at room temperature.

Red Wine-Mustard Vinaigrette
Adapted from Michael Roberts’s Parisian Home Cooking

This very simple dressing is my standard for all sorts of salads, from simple greens to shaved fennel, arugula, and Niçoise olives.

1 Tbs Dijon mustard, preferably Grey Poupon
3 Tbs good-quality red wine vinegar
½ tsp fine sea salt
5 Tbs good-quality olive oil

Combine mustard, vinegar, and salt in a small bowl, and whisk to combine. Add the oil one or two tablespoons at a time, whisking continuously to emulsify. Taste to correct vinegar-oil balance, if necessary, and toss with your favorite salad ingredients. The dressing will keep for up to two weeks in an airtight container in the refrigerator.