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Block Party!

July 19, 2007 By:
Ethel Hofman, JE Feature
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Even in summertime, life can become hectic. Parents still work; little children attend day camp. During school days, there's carpools to sports and after-school activities. But a lot of that dries up during the warmer months, when many people are away.

So, consider a neighborhood block party. With a bit of planning, the whole family can bond with friends and neighbors in a relaxed, casual setting. It's an opportunity to socialize without pressure, and be able to say more than just a hello in passing. It also helps children make new acquaintances.

You can start planning for a holiday like Labor Day. Everybody can gather in a backyard, patio or even a street that can be blocked off (first check with the local police department).

Getting everyone together can be as simple as telephone calls to friends and neighbors, flyers on their doors or, on a grander scale, a committee can be appointed to coordinate the event. Here are some guidelines:

For a small block party of six households or so:

· Ask everyone to bring a main course and beverage for their own family, and a side dish and dessert to share.

· Make sure there's a grill on hand for hot dogs and hamburgers, and plenty of garbage bags and recycle bins for clean up.

· If someone plays an instrument, ask them to bring it for entertainment. If the street can be blocked off, kids can bring baseballs, soccer balls and Frisbees.

· At someone's home, organize a clean-up crew to assist the host family.

For a larger group:

· Form a committee; this can be members of several homes. Three or four are all you need. Then decide on a date.

· One person should call the township if you want the street closed off.

· Who should folks call with questions? Decide on a person to handle issues like, "We've forgotten what we should bring" or "Do we need chairs?

· Make a budget. You'll need money for drinks, food and paper goods. Figure out how much each person should pay, but keep it low (it's not a fundraiser).

· One person should be in charge of the menu -- delegating side dishes, buying soft drinks, paper goods, hot dogs, hamburgers. Buy from a discount store.

· Make sure two or three people bring grills and charcoal.

· Elect a few people to bake and/or bring desserts (avoid ice-cream and other especially perishable foods).

· One or two people should be in charge of clean-up.

The recipes can be distributed as needed. No need to save these items for a block party; they're year-round family favorites.

Mild Guacamole

(Pareve)

2 small sweet onions, cut in chunks
2 medium tomatoes, quartered
1/4 cup cilantro leaves
3 large, ripe avocados, peeled and pitted
1 tsp. minced garlic
3 Tbsps. fresh lime juice
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the onions, tomatoes and cilantro in the food processor. Process to chop finely.

In a medium bowl, mash the avocados. Stir in onion mixture.

Add the garlic and lime juice. Mix well. Season with salt and pepper to taste.

If not using immediately, cover tightly with plastic wrap and refrigerate.

Makes about 3 cups.

Speedy Variation: Mash together three large, ripe avocados. Stir in 1 tablespoon lime juice, and about 1/2 cup salsa or enough to make a dipping consistency. Transfer to a serving dish.

Cumin-Scented Lentil Salad

(Pareve)

1 package (16 oz.) lentils, rinsed
1 can (15 oz.) chick peas, drained
1 cup dried currants or dried cranberries
2 green onion, thinly sliced
2 Tbsps. grated lemon rind
3 Tbsps. honey, warmed
1 Tbsp. ground cumin
1/4 cup honey-mustard salad dressing
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

Place the lentils in a pot. Cover with enough water to come about 1-inch above the lentils.

Bring to a boil over high heat. Stir, reduce heat to simmer.

Cook for 20 minutes, or until lentils are tender but not broken down. Drain well. Pour cold water over and drain again.

Place in a large bowl with the currants or cranberries, green onion, lemon rind, honey and cumin to taste. Stir gently to mix.

Add enough honey-mustard salad dressing to moisten. Season to taste with salt and pepper.

Serve at room temperature.

Serves 16.

Pasta Salad Niçoise

(Pareve)

2 ribs celery, thinly sliced
1 package (10 oz.) frozen sugar snap peas, cooked
8 radishes, thinly sliced
1 pint cherry tomatoes, halved from stem end
1 can (15 oz.) small pitted black olives, drained and halved
2 scallions, trimmed and thinly sliced
2 cans (6.5 oz. each) chunk tuna packed in water, drained and flaked
3/4 tsp. minced garlic
11/2 lbs. pasta shells, cooked and drained
1 to 11/2 cups Italian salad dressing
salt and freshly ground pepper to taste

In a large bowl, toss together celery, peas, radishes, tomatoes, olives, scallions, tuna and garlic.

Add the pasta; stir gently.

Pour enough Italian dressing over to just moisten.

Season generously with fresh ground pepper and salt to taste.

Chill before serving.

Serves 16.

Grilled Vegetables

(Pareve)

5 large bell peppers (red, green, yellow or mixed) seeded and cut in 11/2-inch chunks
6 medium zucchini, sliced 1/4-inch thick
12 plum tomatoes, halved from stem end
1/2 cup olive oil
olive-oil cooking spray
lemon-pepper seasoning
powdered garlic

In a large plastic bag, pour the olive oil, 1 tablespoon lemon-pepper seasoning, 11/2 tablespoons powdered garlic and 1 tablespoon paprika.

Shake to mix. Add all vegetables, except the tomatoes. Shake to toss veggies in olive-oil mixture.

Spray the tomatoes with cooking spray. Arrange the vegetables and tomatoes in one layer in a grilling basket (may have to do this in two batches).

Place over hot coals and cook five to 10 minutes, until nicely browned and crisp-tender.

Serves 16.

Nutty Chocolate-Syrup Cake

(Pareve)

1/2 cup pareve margarine, room temperature
1 cup sugar
4 eggs
11/4 cups self-rising flour or 11/4 cups all-purpose flour and 2 teaspoons baking powder
2 cups chocolate-flavored syrup
1 pareve chocolate wafer bar (1.5 oz.), coarsely chopped
3/4 cup salted or unsalted sunflower kernels
confectioners' sugar

Preheat oven to 350.

Spray a 9x13-inch baking pan with nonstick cooking spray.

Cream together the margarine and sugar until pale and well-combined.

Beat in the eggs, one at a time, each with 1 tablespoon flour.

Beat in the chocolate syrup.

Stir in the wafer bar and sunflower kernels. Add the remaining flour. Mix well. Transfer to the prepared baking pan.

Bake for at least 1 hour, or until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Cool.

Sprinkle with confectioners' sugar before slicing into squares.

Serves 24.

No-Bake Trail-Mix Jumbles

(Pareve)

1 stick (4 oz.) pareve margarine
1 cup pareve chocolate chips
1 cup crumbled crackers
11/2 to 2 cups pareve trail mix

Line a baking sheet with wax paper or aluminum foil. Spray with nonstick cooking spray.

In a medium saucepan, melt the margarine over low heat.

Add the chocolate chips. Mix to blend. Remove from heat.

Add the crackers and enough trail mix to make a stiff mixture. Place rounded tablespoonfuls on the prepared baking sheet.

Refrigerate for 1 hour, or until hardened. Place in the freezer for 10 minutes before serving.

Makes 20 to 22 pieces.

Ethel G. Hofman, the author of Mackerel at Midnight, is a past president of the International Association of Culinary Professionals.

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