Not to get all Martha Stewart on you, but may we recommend throwing a summer croquet party while the weather allows?
You're going to have to locate a friend with a croquet set, of course, or shell out for a set of your own, but once that essential element has been taken care of, it's a cinch. Few sports are as elegant and civilized. Few sports--with the exception of darts and maybe horseshoes--are as amenable to boozing it up while you play. Few sports are as wickedly vindictive. And few sports beg for a picnic the way croquet does. Sound like a heap of contradictions? It is. Sound like fun? Gather together the right group of people and it will be.
fig. a: perfect technique (with Pimm's Cup in hand, no less), by Lucas
A few weeks ago now, we teamed up with our friends at Automatic Vaudeville to throw an early afternoon croquet picnic. We added a little spice to the affair by throwing our croquet picnic on la St-Jean and making our official drink the Pimm's Cup (Pimm's No. 1 no longer being available anywhere in Quebec, thanks to our friends at the S.A.Q., we had to smuggle in contraband from Ontario and New York). We toyed with the idea of holding the event somewhere provocative to bump up the spice quotient even more, but ultimately we decided that in the interests of the sport and the picnic we had in mind the genteel confines of Parc Beaubien would do just fine.
Invitations were sent, preparations were made, and when Sunday rolled around we set up shop under the shade of a nice big tree and laid out a classic double diamond on a delightfully hazardous patch of scrubby turf.
Quite a few people turned up all gussied up in their croquet-appropriate attire, and by 12:30 the first of a series of matches that lasted well into the afternoon was underway.
Highlights? There were many, but there's no question that the zinger of the afternoon came from this 8-year-old kid who, mesmerized by "the hardest game [he'd] ever seen," graciously provided us with color commentary for a couple of hours. When one member of our party lost his composure after a particularly horrendous shank that sent him deep into the rough, yelling out an expletive, Junior stepped in and reprimanded him: "That's a bad word. That's the baddest word. Only grandpas and grandmas are allowed to use that word." That put an end to any and all foul-mouthed yobbism in a hurry.
As for the food and drink... We certainly didn't want the picnic to distract from the croquet, so we kept things simple: just some drinks and some sandwiches, and that's all.
The Pimm's Cup is one of the most refreshing drinks we know of. It's perfect for a hot summer day or night and it was perfect with croquet--a lot of the people who turned out hadn't had a Pimm's Cup before that afternoon, but people couldn't get enough of 'em. We brought enough ingredients so that we were able to mix Pimm's Cups for a good-sized crowd all afternoon long and here's how we mixed 'em.
AEB Pimm's Cup
1 part Pimm's No. 1
2 parts sparkling lemonade or ginger ale
1 thin lemon slice
1 thin lime slice
1 thin orange slice
1 strawberry (or raspberry)
1 cucumber spear
Mix the Pimm's and the sparkling lemonade or ginger ale. Add 2-4 ice cubes. Garnish with the lemon, lime, orange, strawberry, and cucumber spear combo. Serve and enjoy. Repeat as needed. Enjoy some more. Play some croquet. Enjoy some more. Make some cat calls from the sidelines. Enjoy some more. Stumble back onto the course and... You get the picture.
fig. b: AEB Cucumber & Watercress Tea Sandwiches ready to be devoured
The sandwiches were inspired by our trip to Vancouver. We came up with the concept a few days before the croquet party, tried it out, and loved the results.
AEB Cucumber & Watercress Tea Sandwiches
2 English (naturally) cucumbers, thinly sliced
1-2 bunches of watercress
2 loaves of quality sandwich bread, thinly sliced, crusts removed
1/2 cup quality mayonnaise
1 tbsp light tamari or light soy sauce
1 tsp sesame oil
1 tsp rice vinegar
1-2 tbsp prepared horseradish (if you use wasabi, you're going to want to use much less)
2 rounded tsp shichimi togarashi*
Mix the mayonnaise, tamari, sesame oil, rice vinegar, horseradish, and shichimi togarashi in a small bowl until well blended. (You can use any brand of shichimi togarashi, but we're particularly fond of the brand you see in back here,
fig. c: Japanese spice blends from Olives & Épices
which has the finest flavor we've ever encountered in a shichimi blend. You can find it at Olives & Épices at Jean-Talon Market.) Spread a thin layer of this spread on one half of the sandwich and add a thin layer of cucumber and a thin layer of watercress. Sandwich the other piece of bread on top and cut your sandwich on the diagonal.
This recipe will make quite a number of sandwiches. Repeat as needed.
Finally: congratulations to Ms. Claudine Hart on her impressive victory.
* Available from any good Asian specialty foods store, especially Japanese ones.