June, July, and August are our "off" months at Martha Stewart Living Television, and I love to entertain on weekends during the summer. I try to use these precious days as catch-up time, inviting family, friends, and colleagues to my homes in Maine or East Hampton, where I can socialize and pursue my beloved outdoor activities: hiking, sailing, kayaking, and horseback riding. Of course, good food is important, but I don't want to spend a great deal of time on my days off preparing complicated dinners or lunches. So menus are pared down, relying on the fresh, the available, the "order ahead," and sometimes even mail order.
Most of the time, everyone arrives on Friday evening in time for a simple feast of something really easy to prepare -- a pasta and salad or a main-course salad and dessert -- nothing too heavy, nothing that will interfere with a good night's sleep before two busy days, which end late on Sunday when everyone heads back to the city.
Getting to East Hampton from New York City is quite simple -- the car can be loaded with a couple of coolers of things difficult to locate "out east," and with a stop at the fish store, local farm stands, or the gourmet markets, the pantry can be stocked for most of the weekend. East Hampton is all about the beach, bicycle riding, and antiquing. It's also about dinner at restaurants in town or at friends' homes, and for the most part it is very casual. My kitchen table seats 14 to 16, but I try to keep big parties to a minimum and prefer delicious breakfast gatherings and lunches.
The journey to Maine, all the way to Mount Desert Island, is a very different thing -- a challenge, actually, because of distance and variable weather patterns. Planning for Maine is a lot more important, too, because of my home's remoteness from stores and my reluctance to drive a half hour or more for a quart of milk or a pound of mussels. And forget finding bottarga on Mount Desert Island!
Email saves a tremendous amount of time. Before we arrive, I can be pretty sure that the table has been set and cookies have been baked by Peggy and Gretchen, the two great young women who help take care of the house.
A very important part of a weekend with guests is developing simple, interesting menus. Once the menus are established, shopping lists can be drawn up, and all ingredients purchased and gathered so nothing will be missing when a dish is assembled. Generally, the simpler the menu, the better. And try to rely on locally attainable foods. It's really what everyone wants to savor when venturing to the beach or coastal Maine: clams, lobster, fresh corn, peekytoe crab, just-gathered mussels, farm-fresh eggs, hand-picked strawberries, sour cherries, etc.
But also be sure to keep some delicious, unusual ingredients on hand for those Friday-night-arrival suppers -- imported tuna packed in oil; dried, pressed roe of mullet or tuna, which can be stored for months in the freezer; a variety of olives; the best canned anchovies -- so that the recipes that follow, which are indeed some of my favorites, can be prepared in a matter of minutes. And keep a file or a notebook full of those recipes that will give your guests that special feeling that, yes, indeed, you took the time out of your busy, busy life to care.