Saturday night we had the great fortune to be part of an incredible event. It was an exciting, elegant, sophisticated, yet down-to-earth, welcoming, bring-your-own-everything, leave-no-trace affair. Diner en Blanc Twin Cities 2013.
Diner en Blanc (Dinner in White), basically a flash mob dinner party, originated in Paris 25 years ago, when a group of people decided to meet up for a picnic and the leader of the group suggested they dress in all white so they would be able to find each other easily. A mystery couple coordinated the Twin Cities’ first Diner en Blanc in 2011, with the secret location only announced an hour prior, and each year it has grown in size, with an estimated 365 white clad revelers in attendance this year. In addition to wearing white, table linens and accessories are generally white too, including candelabras and flowers, if you so choose. You bring everything—food & beverage, tables, chairs, table accessories, and when you leave, you haul it all with you, including garbage, hence the leave-no-trace description.
My brother and sister-in-law have attended the last two years and seeing their beautiful photos made me want to be a part of this unique celebration. Originally scheduled in June, it was postponed due to weather and my excitement only escalated during the last month. Pete was a little reluctant about the wearing white thing, but was totally on board otherwise. One benefit of the rescheduled date was time to invite more people—this is definitely a the-more-the-merrier type of gathering.
Our group of 10 assembled at my brother’s centrally located house to await the location announcement by the mystery hosts via Facebook. Promptly at 6:30, it was posted: The Sculpture Garden at the Walker Art Center, right by the famous Spoonbridge and Cherry. I’ve lived in Minnesota for 17 years and in the Twin Cities for 5, but have never been there. I’ve come close though—each time I’ve run the Twin Cities Marathon the course goes by the sculpture garden, but either it’s not visible or I was just too focused on the race to notice.
Attendees descended upon the sculpture garden en masse, arranging their elegant dining sets in a seemingly endless row, and eventually, more rows. There was much mingling and checking out others’ creativity that ranged from basic white table linens to small and large candelabras, gorgeous white flower arrangements, white-bowed chair covers, and one group even had a tall canopy frame above their table with huge Japanese lanterns; white, of course! It was fun seeing such elegance.
And the food! Everyone had beautiful food! From simple to super fancy multi-course gourmet, it was a feast for the eyes! My brother, the coffee connoisseur, even had a cool hand-held pump thing that magically turned a thermos of hot water into little cups of robust espresso.
The weather couldn’t have been more perfect and as dusk fell, we were treated to an almost full moon that made a stunning backdrop for sparklers, which are a tradition at Diner en Blanc. There is something absolutely magical about the sight of hundreds of people in white waving sparklers in the twilight amid the boisterous sounds of a giant outdoor party! We can’t wait to do it again next year!
Our menu fell in the middle in terms of elaborateness. Along with Prosecco and Rosé of Côtes du Rhône, we had an appetizer of the Vegetable Pot Stickers I blogged about a while back, and a simple salad of cucumber chunks tossed with a little rice vinegar, mirin, fresh dill and salt & pepper.
Dessert was the Three Berry Buttermilk Bundt Cake I posted last week and it truly was the best cake I’ve had in years! Our entreé was a spicy cold soba noodle dish filled with fresh vegetables, marinated, baked tofu, and crunchy cashews dressed with a zesty tahini sauce. If you don’t want to take the time to marinate and bake the tofu, buy already baked tofu with Asian seasoning and that will work just fine. Feel free to vary the vegetables to your liking and to what you have on hand. Also if you can’t find soba (buckwheat) noodles, whole wheat spaghetti or linguine makes a great substitute. Enjoy!
Spicy Cold Sesame Soba Noodle Bowl
12 oz. soba noodles or whole wheat spaghetti or linguine
2 tablespoons sesame oil
¾ cup tamari or soy sauce
3-4 tablespoons tahini (sesame paste)
2 tablespoons sesame oil
1 ½ tablespoon rice or white wine vinegar
3 teaspoons minced ginger root
3 cloves garlic, minced
2 teaspoons sweetener (honey, maple syrup, agave, sucanat, organic sugar—your preference)
1-2 teaspoons of Asian chili paste (depending on your preferred spice level)
1 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
1 bunch green onions, sliced
A big handful of snow pea pods, sliced
2 carrots, shredded or diced
½ red bell pepper, thinly sliced
1 cup thinly sliced green cabbage
4 red radishes, diced
½ – ¾ lbs. baked tofu (recipe follows)
½ cup chopped, roasted cashews
1 tablespoon black sesame seeds
Cook noodles al dente according to package directions. Drain and rinse with cold water. Toss with 2 tablespoons sesame oil. Chill several hours or up to a day.
Just before serving, whisk together sauce ingredients (you can make this ahead and refrigerate, but bring to room temperature and whisk it again before using). Stir green onions, snow peas, carrots, bell pepper, cabbage, radishes, tofu, cashews and sesame seeds into noodles, reserving a little bit of each. Pour sauce over noodles and toss really well. Sprinkle reserved ingredients on top. Makes 6 servings.
Asian Baked Tofu
Adapted from PBS
16 oz. extra firm tofu
2 tablespoons sesame oil
2 tablespoons tamari or soy sauce
1 tablespoon rice vinegar
1 tablespoon maple syrup
1 teaspoon sriracha hot chili sauce
pinch of garlic powder
pinch of onion powder
pinch of sea salt
To remove moisture from the tofu, line a plate with a couple layers of paper towel and place tofu block on top. Lay a couple more layers of paper towel on top of tofu and place another plate over it. Weigh it down with a heavy can or cast iron pan and let sit for 20-30 minutes.
Preheat oven to 400 degrees and spray a baking sheet with nonstick cooking spray or line with parchment. Cut tofu into 1” slabs.
In bowl, whisk together marinade ingredients.
Place tofu slabs in a ziplock bag or a large shallow dish. Pour marinade ingredients over tofu and let sit for 20-30 minutes. Remove tofu from marinade (reserve marinade) and lay flat on the baking sheet. Bake for 30 minutes, flipping each piece of tofu midway through and brush with reserved marinade. Cool tofu on wire rack. Once cool, slice tofu into bit sized pieces.