GREAT BARRINGTON - Dinner with friends, it's not a new, novel idea -- but a long-standing commitment to have dinner with the same group of friends every Tuesday evening, no matter what life throws at you, is.
But for the eclectic families that make up the "Social Club," quietly meeting at houses across the Great Barrington, Stockbridge and West Stockbridge town boundaries every Tuesday night, it's a sacred commitment that has become a part of life.
"There are no rules. It's like an extended family," says Flavio Lichtenthal, as he pulls a large tray of broiled Indonesian salmon out of the oven in his renovated farmhouse kitchen on a quiet, cold Tuesday in January.
It's 7 p.m. and the candles are lit, the wine bottles sit on the table waiting to be uncorked and families begin pouring into the Great Barrington home where Lichtenthal and Lisa Landry are hosts for the evening. Indonesian-themed foods are on the menu.
"Every week someone picks a theme, sends out an email to the group and we go from there," says Landry, as she gathers coats from the latest arrivals, bearing a toddler and covered dish to share.
The rules are simple: Every Tuesday a different family in the eight families that participate hosts the dinner -- so that one household isn't always hosting the meal -- and everyone is asked to bring what they can, be it a side salad, main dish, a bottle of wine, or sometimes, just themselves.
"We like the sense of community here," says Luke Pryjama, who owns a small farm in Great Barrington with his wife, Alexx.
"At first I asked, ‘We go every week?' " says Alexx. "But it gets to the point that it feels weird if we don't make it every week."
The newlyweds -- who both follow a strict raw diet, and therefore brought a fish coconut ceviche -- are greeted by social club members with warm hellos and the excited, "How was the honeymoon?"
The club, which goes by "Social Club" or "Social Tuesday," depending on the member you ask, began in the fall of 2011, according to Landry, who joined the group with her husband and two sons in the fall of 2012.
"It's very casual," says Landry. She announces its time for the hungry diners milling around the large kitchen chatting, or cozying up near the roaring fire in the converted-barn-turned warm den, to saddle up to the impromptu buffet covered with mismatched dishes of all sizes, creating a warm fog of exotic smells that takes over the space.
There is almost too much food to pile on one of Landry's perfect white porcelain plates, but if you skip over a dish, you're sure to hear, "Make sure you try that one! It's mine. Tell me how it is, I had to Google an Indonesian recipe!"
There is no assigned seating or grand explanation of dishes, instead just a warm seat on a bench at a table with filmmakers from Brooklyn with baby in tow, a cookbook author who, at that moment, is more preoccupied with her daughter trying at least one vegetable dish, and a farmer from Otis discussing where one can purchase Indonesian roots locally.
"It's not like we are all best friends," says Lichtenthal. "We don't really socialize outside of here. We know each other because of the Social Club."
But he explains that's what makes it so easy, so longlasting.
"We're not all constantly catching up. You don't have to do a big catch up on life events because we see each other every week. It's very liberating in a way."
In a blog post on the website for the West Stockbridge cafe, roastery and art gallery No. Six Depot, which Landry and Lichtenthal own and operate, Landry challenges others to be more social in 2014.
She writes: "Over the two years, we've been lucky as a group. Celebrating birthdays and new births, book deals, a wedding, career changes, art openings, and new businesses. ... We've also been challenged ... either way, the group has rallied with support, humor warmth and help. More than a ‘once-a-week potluck,' it's a kind of family."
At the table, iin Purwanti Cox explains how she makes her Chicken Curry (also known as Opor Ayam) -- the only dish made by a true Indonesian, her husband George adds -- as Landry calmly rocks their son Rya on her hip while talking with another guest, giving the new parents a break to enjoy adult conversation and a hot dinner.
"It's so nice to meet people," says iin, who with her husband own Outpost, an independent film-making studio located in West Stockbridge, and are new to the social club.
"Young people don't seem to understand," replies Richard Zukowski, the gentleman from Otis with the long white beard, kind smile and amazing gardens that more than one club member raved about. "You have to get out of your house to meet people."
To which others at the table laughed, shrugged with understanding grins, then continued to fill their bellies with food and laughter.
Broiled ‘Indonesian' Salmon
"Here's the recipe for the salmon dish I prepared that night. There's quite a bit of ingredients, but once you have them in place, it's real easy." -- Flavio Lichtenthal
1 Tbs Fish Sauce
2 Tbs Soy sauce
2 Tbs Honey
1 tsp Tamarind Sauce
1 tsp Chile Paste
1 2 tsp ground Turmeric
1 4 Cup Water
3 Garlic cloves-chopped
1 Tbs chopped Fresh Ginger
1 Tbs Sliced Scallion (white part)
1 4 cup finely chopped Lemongrass (1 Stalk, outer leaves and root end removed- pale green parts only)
2 Lbs center cut Atlantic Salmon
1 Tbs finely sliced Scallion (green part)
1 Tbs finely Chopped Fresh Basil
1 2 Fresh Lime
Put first 11 ingredients in a food processor and pulse until a thick and smooth paste is formed (add a little water if it is too thick). Rub paste thoroughly and evenly all over salmon until fish is well coated.
Put salmon under broiler in an oven -- about 10 inches away from heating element -- for 20 minutes.
Check fish after 8-10 minutes, if crust browning too rapidly, set five inches further away from heating element.
After 20 minutes the crust should be perfectly browned and the inside cooked to medium/medium-rare (130-135 degrees). Cook another 3-5 minutes if a firmer texture is desired.
Place salmon on a serving dish, sprinkle with fresh scallion, basil and the juice of fresh lime and serve.
Javanese Chicken Curry
"In Indonesia, this staple food is usually made for big holidays, (like on Thanksgiving or Christmas here in the States). Since I've lived in the States for awhile, I make it as often as I can." -- iin Purwanti Cox
1 Tbs coriander seeds
10 shallots, peeled and cut into chunks
4 cloves garlic, peeled
1 piece galangal, about 11 2 inches long, peeled and roughly sliced (optional)
1 piece ginger, 2 inches long, peeled and roughly sliced
3 Tbs peanut oil
1 thick stalk of lemon grass, stem end and brittle top cut off
kaffir lime leaves
21 2 to 3 pounds of skin-on chicken legs, thighs or both (if possible, have thighs cut in half and knuckle cut off legs), patted dry. Note: Some can add hard boiled egg or tofu.
2 cups unsweetened coconut milk
3 4 teaspoon salt, more to taste
In a small food processor, whirl coriander seeds until finely ground. Add shallots, garlic, galangal and ginger and process to a smooth paste, adding a tablespoon or so of water if needed. (Ingredients can also be chopped finely, then pounded together in mortar and pestle.)
Heat oil in a large, heavy pot over medium heat. When oil is hot enough to gently sizzle a pinch of paste, add all of the paste and cook, stirring often, until golden, 5 to 7 minutes. Reduce heat as needed to prevent browning.
Using a heavy object like a glass measuring cup, smash lemon grass stalk, crushing lightly just until bendable. Tie in a knot, pulling gently on both ends. Add lime leaves to the pot. Cook one minute more, until it is fragrant.
Scrape paste to one side and add chicken to pot. Raise heat and brown chicken lightly on both sides, about 10 minutes total. Add one cup of coconut milk, 11 4 cups water and salt, stirring well and scraping up browned bits from bottom of pot. Bring to a gentle simmer and cook uncovered 40 to 50 minutes, until chicken is cooked through and sauce is thickened. Do not boil.
Add remaining coconut milk and heat through. Taste for salt. Let cool slightly and serve. For most Indonesian the dish is usually served with rice and fresh hot sauce.