By Stephanie Linehan
Early this summer I was out golfing and one of the ladies who was on the Rye Free Reading Room board asked me to host a “Novel Night” fundraiser, which this year was rebranded as Cliffnotes! The theme of the event was inspired by a destination and each host got to pick a location to transport their guests to. I knew immediately that I wanted to host a Moroccan party. My participation in this year’s Cliffnotes! felt much more meaningful and necessary because of the unthinkable devastation that Hurricane Ida brought to the Children’s Room.
Here are a few touches that made this night special.
Weeks before our event, our guests received a hand-delivered invitation that included a small token that was linked to our Moroccan theme — a North African spice called < ras el hanout.> It’s a blend of a dozen premium spices. Not all blends are alike, but this one, which you can find at Whole Foods, includes paprika, turmeric, and rose petals among others. It can be used in a savory dish and rubbed on meat and fish, but one of the ways I love to use it is in a butternut squash soup.
I’m guessing that most of my guests who received the lovely bottle of ras el hanout will probably toss it in the spice draw and forget to use it. But I’m hoping that this recipe inspires all my Cliffnotes! guests to get in the kitchen and try it. I know soup is traditionally a lunch thing, but it can also be a warming snack, a starter for dinner, or even a gorgeous breakfast if you serve with a poached egg.
For the evening, we dressed in our best Moroccan-inspired attire and, of course, the table décor had to match. I was certain that the table-scape would have to include lots of gold. I incorporated brass candle sticks that I bought on Etsy and requested that they were different heights. Traditional candle arrangements are symmetrical, but this unbalanced arrangement created a fanciful touch. I used four tapers per table, but my rule with candles is that you can’t have too many.
When picking a color scheme for my table-scape, I had to pick a vibrant color which was in line with the theme, and purple spoke to me. These days there seems to be an endless palette of colors for candles. I ordered purple taper candles from Creative Candles that added a nice pop to the table. They are a small investment, but they make a big impact when you approach the table to be seated.
<<Spiced Butternut Squash Soup>>
3 T. coconut oil
2 lbs. butternut squash, peeled and diced
2 carrots, peeled and diced
1 large onion, finely chopped
4 garlic cloves, chopped
6 cups chicken stock
1.5 T. finely grated ginger
1.5 T. ras el hanout
1 T. ground cumin
6 saffron threads
1 cup coconut cream, plus extra to serve
1 tablespoon kosher salt
Freshly ground pepper, to taste
Melt the coconut oil in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add the butternut squash, carrots, onion, and garlic and sauté, stirring occasionally for 10 minutes. Add the broth, ginger, ras el hanout, cumin, and saffron. Reduce heat, cover, and simmer for about 30 minutes. Add the coconut cream and salt and puree the soup using a hand-held blender. Add ground pepper to your liking.
Ladle the soup to the bowls, add a tablespoon of coconut cream, and top with cilantro leaves.