A week ago today, I was sitting in my mother’s dining room at a table set with her antique china and a beautiful centerpiece with hydrangeas and yellow roses. I was surrounded by her ladies, friends of mine from high school that I hadn’t seen in years, and a favorite high school teacher whom I hadn’t spoken with in years. She didn’t even know I was dating anyone, let alone engaged.
My mother had more or less demanded to throw me a wedding shower, and though I railed against the idea for weeks she finally figured out that if she went through Jesse, I couldn’t ultimately say no. So it was that a month ago, Jesse informed me that he’d be taking me to the airport on the morning of the 10th and I was going to have fun, dammit.
And what fun I had!! I arrived in St. Louis after eight hours of travel and was immediately taken to Aya Sofia, a Turkish restaurant just across the street from the iconic Ted Drewes. My mom and I slid into the booth at which my stepdad Mark was waiting. I saw three place settings. We picked up the wine list. And then all of a sudden, a tall body approaches our table and I hear, “Would you mind if I joined you?”
IT WAS MY SISTA-FRIEND RACHEL!!! Completely out of her Minneapolis context!!! Surprising my face off!!!
She had already been in St. Louis for a day, helping my mom and Markdad prepare. Grocery shopping, cast-iron skillet rehabbing, recipe-prepping. She planted it next to my shocked face and we proceeded to order a bottle of Junehog and a plate of sarma, fried feta-stuffed phyllo wraps (left ’em for the gluten-eaters), and hummus with slices of tomato and cucumber. We talked–well, I mostly squeaked, as I was too surprised to form sentences–and drank and ate and then I ordered the most amazing lamb I’ve had in this country. Leg of lamb with a white bean sauce, served in a puddle of rice swimming in lamb juices… I was back in Spain. The flavor was so sweet and full and warm. I literally had a dream about it that night. I shot a crappy picture before digging in, but I sure don’t need it to remember how good that meal was, and how excellent the company. Here it is anyway:
The next day, I awoke to the smells of Rachel’s killer cornbread. I was glad to have brought a dress with some give in the midsection.
I had the day off on Thursday and decided to make the meal that Rachel had designed and prepared with my mom and Markdad last Sunday. I followed the recipes she posted on her most excellent blog with barely any alterations. See Rachel’s site for the recipes and instructions–she gives kitchen directions like nobody can. As for my adaptations:
Quinoa & Black Bean Summer Salad
Market of Choice had poblano peppers (well, I think these are poblanos) but had them erroneously labeled as pasillas (which are technically dried chilaca peppers). So I’m not exactly sure what the hell kind of peppers I used, but they were poblano-esque. And I roasted them too long–they turned out mushy but still delicious.
All-Time Favorite Sour Cream (Gluten Free) Cornbread
My baking powder was old. So I just used more of it. And I didn’t cook bacon in the skillet prior to pouring in the batter, but I did rub about 2 tablespoons of bacon fat all over the pan. What, you don’t keep a jar of rendered bacon fat in your fridge? (You should.)
Chicken is such a versatile animal. I have a favorite shredded chicken recipe, a favorite roasted chicken recipe, a favorite chicken stock recipe. One of these days I’ll tell you about my favorite way to make quick chicken breasts for weeknight suppers. But anyway, I now have a favorite grilled chicken recipe. Markdad grilled these chicken thighs on his big gas grill; Jesse and I fired up our charcoal briquettes on the Weber the other night. Jesse showed me how it’s done:
I cannot say enough about how juicy, chicken-y, and fabulously lime-y these thighs turned out. The combination of olive oil and lime juice is literally genius. The marinade dripped onto the coals and flames jumped up, surrounding each thigh just enough to impart a crispiness and smoky flavor. Thighs are stupid-easy to grill, too, because it’s nearly impossible to overcook them and dry them out. Have you heard Lynn Rosetto Kasper of The Splendid Table wax poetic about the chicken thigh? Get on it.
I served this meal to a chorus of “mmm.” I’ve been eating that unparalleled quinoa salad at work for the last few days and I can’t wait to eat it again tonight. Who comes up with this stuff? Rachel, obviously.