For Spring, Outdoor Dining, but Also Rain

An outdoor meal for 54 -- yes, 54 -- is threatened by the coming Texas rains. But the show must go on. Starting with strawberry cocktails, here are the dinners 11 full courses, all of native Texan cuisine.

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

"What about rain?" worried Chef Jesse Griffiths, not concerned about the fantastic dinner he was preparing, but fretting about something entirely beyond his control -- rain.

"We've had our rain, Jesse," I countered patiently. "Remember, we are in an official dry spot," I continued cheerfully, as if being in a tiny drought almost every day of every year was a good thing. But that's the spot we're in. We get no rain unless the prognostication for all of Central Texas is a 100% chance.

Not about to take chances, with 54 eager appetites and a sky full of clouds approaching the farm, Chef Jesse erected two long, white tents, extending outward from the farm stand barn. He subscribes, as do we, to the theory that to thwart rain, you create conditions a flood wouldn't threaten. On the other hand, if you secretly want rain, you confidently place the dinner tables in the yard, stretching them to the vegetable field, daring the open sky to punish you with a downpour. Rain is very susceptible to reverse psychology.

He's been through this before: he specializes in outdoor dinners on farms. One evening, we placed the television with its radar display where Jesse could see it as he nervously grilled red snapper fresh from the Gulf Coast.

A front approached from the west. "Look Jesse," I said, pointing to the screen. "The front is breaking in two as it approaches Austin. It will go north and south and we won't get a drop." Well, we did get a tiny sprinkle, but the dinner was a dry success.

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Photo by Carol Ann Sayle

Soon, on this overcast afternoon, the guests arrived and, strawberry cocktails in hand, strolled the farm as the clouds respectfully dispersed. The sun emerged and the guests seated themselves at the long table under the tents. Well, they'd had their look at the farm, and now the focus was the food streaming out...11 courses in all, all of it from Texas. No one mentioned the lack of rain, nor the fact that they were on the farm but not of the farm as they dined. The food was what counted, and it was spectacular. My favorite course was our colorful beets with chunks of Veldhuizen Farm's Bosque blue cheese and roasted Texas pecans.

Several days later, Chef Jesse hosted another dinner at the farm, this time as a photo shoot for "Rachael's Farm to Table Special." The segment will air in a few months on Food Network's "Rachael's Vacation." Rain wasn't even on Jesse's radar. Pleasing Rachael was. And, sitting next to my co-farmer/husband, Larry, she seemed to like the company and the food (except she felt a bit of kind-hearted restraint for the "marinated sliced bison heart with mushrooms and celery" -- she ate the mushrooms and celery.) Larry, on the other hand, didn't seem to remember much about the food. (But he did enjoy the bison heart.)

All in all, we've had the pleasure of many of Jesse's rain-defying dinners at our farm and at other farms. And nary a drop fell at any of them. Maybe these dinners are the cause of our 18-month-long drought?