On Boards

Ever since the holidays, my life and home have been in a state of positive disruption. I spent Christmas break purging more than half of my closet and decided to start a month-long “minimalist challenge” on January 1st. The goal was to look closely at how much stuff I was living with and rid myself of the non-essentials, parting each day with one more item than the day before. As you can imagine, Marie Kondo’s Tidying Up series came out at exactly the time I needed. For 8 straight episodes, she kept me company as I took a day’s break from my downsizing marathon and prepared to host my traditional Armenian Christmas dinner for my family.

As much as I’m over winter and ready for spring, I do so love those months when the house sparkles.

As much as I’m over winter and ready for spring, I do so love those months when the house sparkles.

I was having a bit of chef’s block when it came to planning this year’s meal, but I had just read a beautiful cookbook cover to cover called On Boards: Simple & Inspiring Recipe Ideas to Share at Every Gathering by Lisa Dawn Bolton. It occurred to me that serving a board covered in good food as my appetizer course was essential minimalism. Fewer dishes with high quality ingredients that can really be enjoyed and appreciated. I’d fallen in love with a particular holiday-inspired board she called “Dreaming of a White Christmas” and decided I might riff on it. I headed to Fairway to let the ingredients talk to me.

I knew going in that I wanted to create two boards to keep the cheeses and charcuterie separate, since Jon is vegetarian. From there, I ended up treating my whole holiday table as an extension of my boards, with long dishes and bowls all throughout, filled with savory accompaniments like crackers, Castelvetrano and spicy mixed olives, and marinated artichokes.

I covered a long slate board with salami, capicola, soppressata, prosciutto-wrapped fresh mozzarella, and a bowl of garlic I roasted whole. Just before my family arrived, I baked brie topped with festive chopped pistachios and pomegranate arils in the beautiful purple handcrafted baker Crystal gave me. When it came out of the oven, I placed it on a wooden square board, nestled by a wedge of sharp Parmesan, slices of Kerrygold cheddar and Granny Smith apples, and bunches of red and white grapes.

Along with the filet mignon and shrimp that became my main course, the smoked salmon at Fairway had also called out to me. It wasn’t bound for a board, but in the same spirit of sticking to simple delicious bites, I mounted it on top of crispy slices of Yukon Gold potato with Greek yogurt and dill. The little green dill fronds were right at home among my not-so-minimalist pine branch extravaganza!

Two months later, I’m here reflecting on this family meal, full from another perfect board. Crystal and I were long overdue for a writing date and our hearts wanted a satisfying market-inspired meal to go with it. So I got up this morning and hit the Forest Hills Greenmarket in the rain. Cold and wet, I denied the angel on my shoulder telling me to eat my vegetables and indulged instead in late winter comforts like good bread and cheese.

Before we got settled on the couch and began writing, to the sound of Jon strumming his setar, we first spent some time catching up over these rustic but abundant boards. We shared a big crusty loaf of She Wolf Bakery sourdough, Ronnybrook Farms horseradish farmer’s cheese, a Consider Bardwell Farm cow’s milk cheese called “Experience” with a Stout-washed rind, East Branch Farms’ radish kimchi, and a bowl of baby arugula I tossed with lemon and olive oil. With it, I laid out some of our staple kalamata olives and baby pickles from Carmel in Forest Hills, plus delicious ginger orange Marcona almonds Crystal found at Fairway (the accidental sponsor of this post?), and her marvelous Citrus and Z’hug Marinated Manchego. Find the recipe on her blog, Cook on Your Nerve.

Jon: “How’s the writing going?”

Victoria: “Good. I’m reading through and cleaning up.”

Crystal: “And I’m cleaning up the cheese.”

As it should be! Have less. Savor more.