As if to proclaim me a liar-liar-pants-on-fire, the arbor vine has decided to put on one heck of a show and gift us with a bounty of grapes.
If you’ll recall, just a few weeks ago I bemoaned those dried, crumbly bits of “grape dust” that came off in my hands as the days got longer, hotter and drier and the vines grew increasingly desperate. Quite suddenly after that initial disappointment, tiny grape clusters began popping out everywhere, growing larger and plumper with each passing day.
The jays and others of their ilk have taken notice now. One day last week as I sat beneath the arbor pecking on my laptop, a jay swooped in, landed on a vine, and took a good look around, as if sizing up his future dining prospects. He didn’t eat anything then, but he eyed the grapes with a “What ho?! I’ll be back for you soon, my pretties!” kind of expression. Then he flew away.
With competition like that we may not get enough grapes to do anything other than gratefully munch them straight from the vine, but if you find yourself with a bumper crop, this is a pretty cool way to prepare them for a party. Just be sure your grapes are seedless and that you’ve rinsed and dried them completely so the coating will stick:
Crumble 4 ounces of your favorite bleu cheese into 4 ounces of cream cheese (both at room temperature; regular cream cheese works better than low-fat or whipped) and stir to blend completely (this amount will coat about two dozen grapes, give or take). Add in a bit of cracked black pepper if you like.
Take a generous pinch of the mixture and press it around each grape. This is messy business, so be sure your hands are really clean and then give yourself over to the oodginess (if you loved playing in the mud as a kid you’ll love this too—plus you can lick your fingers!) Put the coated grapes on a sheet pan lined with waxed paper and pop it into the fridge for an hour to let the coating firm up.
While the grapes are chilling, toast a cup of walnuts, pecans or almonds and chop them finely. Then roll the grapes in the chopped nuts (any leftover nuts can go over your ice cream or into your cereal or yogurt). For a really showy presentation, arrange them like a big cluster of grapes on a platter covered with grape leaves.
Prepare to collect all the socks you’ll knock off your guests! This is a great do-ahead, but leave the coated grapes in the fridge and wait until just before serving to roll them in the chopped nuts. This way the nuts won’t get soggy and sad.
Note: Since our grape vines aren’t yet thick enough to provide adequate shade from Mom Nature’s klieg light, we fashioned an adjustable blind, a cotton Indian bedspread in a paisley that goes nicely with our arbor furnishings, to which we clipped curtain rings. We attached a bunch of screw-in hooks to the arbor and slipped the rings onto them. No matter the sun’s position, we can adjust the spread to provide coverage and better take advantage of our outdoor living space. Sweet!