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Oysters and Wine Turn a Simple Dinner into a Party

I knew that having children would change my life, but I didn’t expect it to lay waste to my friendships. Trying to get together with old friends, even those with children around the same age as mine, takes, in the words of one old friend who I ran into on the subway the other morning, “precision planning on par with the military.” When my girls were infants, it was hard to socialize, but being tired, overwhelmed, and befuddled hardly compared to the endless roundelay of soccer practices, dance lessons, and birthday parties that seem to dominate everyone’s schedule these days.

Still, as I discovered on Saturday, it’s possible to turn an ordinary dinner into a quick party, and all it took was a couple of bottles of wine and some oysters. 

Santa Maria was out for the day and evening at a bridal shower, and I was on my own with Nina and Pinta. That morning, I was craving company, and because it’s been some time since I’ve seen my brother and his family, I called him up. Luckily their son didn’t have anything going on that afternoon, and they came over for an early dinner.

I served flounder (basically, this recipe minus the sauce), roasted potatoes (basically this recipe, minus with baking potatoes and no rosemary), and a romaine salad. And, with the flick of my wrist, I turned that simple dinner into a party by adding a first oysters, cheese and crackers, and olives.

The oysters made the meal, and they are an easy and elegant way to elevate any evening with friends or family. Don’t be scared of opening them. They couldn’t be any easier to open if they had a screw top. Here’s how you do it (for an old video of me opening some, click here).

  • Wash the shells carefully, to remove any mud or grit.
  • Make sure the ones you want to eat are tightly closed; any that are open are dead and should be discarded.
  • Put the oyster curved side down on a solid work surface, such as cutting board, and hold it place with a folded dish towel (I skip the towel, because I routinely cook with gloves on to protect my hands from eczema).
  • With the narrow end of the shell facing you, work the tip of the oyster knife into the shell, twisting a bit, until the shell “pops” loose.
  • Slide the knife under the shell and cut the muscle on the top, then run it around and cut the muscle on the bottom, being careful not to spill the liquor out of the shell (that’s one of the best parts).
  • Serve on a bed of ice or a gently folded dish towel, anything to keep the shell level and stable.

We had a couple of simple bottles of wine with the dinner and the oysters: a 2011 Kermit Lynch white, and a 2011 Graffigna Centenario Pinot Grio. The Lynch, which my brother and his wife brought, was soft and easy on the tongue (literally and figuratively) and the Graffigna, which had been sent to me by the company, was crisp and refreshing. They both went down easy, the kids all played together, and I got a chance to catch up with my brother and his wife. The evening was a delight. I'd even say it changed my life—It made me realize that all I really want to do is cook for my friends and family.

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