Old houses need love. The love of an owner who restores, plants gardens, sits on new porches, and remembers or tries to remember where walls and gates used to be in bygone years. The love of a partner who sees birds and gardens and new views that the family hadn't seen in front of their faces through all the years they'd come. It needs the love of children whose laughter can peel away the years and create a youth in the oldest of hardwood floors, vigor in the frames of doors long ago bent with water and wear. It needs the love of gatherings; parties that bring people together to marvel at it's newel posts, run hands on old door knobs, and stare out across fields at the sturdy old barn.
For my part, I think the Farm house gets as much nourishment from eleven guests and three of its family as we each get from the meal and each other. The light glints a bit more brightly off the blue stone countertops, the floors seem richer and warmer to the touch of children's bare feet.
It's different than the re-connection of a family around the holiday table (and that happened two days later, so you'll get another story soon). It's not a graduation or a retirement or a reunion. It is, simply, a gathering to tell tales and see old friends, the ones you should see more often. The ones who have the ideas you think are good enough that you muse to no one in particular and everyone who can hear "I hope she takes over the world."
Mom had invited a collection of friends and neighbors with the hook of some kitchengeeking. I'm pals with several on the Foosebooks, so they'd seen my posts from afar (and were not happy it was from afar).
So the day before we started chopping, and seasoning, and mixing, and blending. We were up early to have a breakfast around the table that would in a few hours time see many sets of hands reaching for spoons and tongs. We browned and sautéed, braised and sliced until there are piles of food full of love, filled with smiling sweat-equity.
I couldn't help but smile in return when my sous geek (and executive mom) tasted the salsa with Brandywine tomatoes and cilantro and garlic and red onion and salt and a dash of oil and three jalapenos (two seeded) and looked up with a toothy grin declaring "Oooh, that's spicy. I loooove it."
Time is well spent when you cut the tortillas into quarters and fry them yourself so when they're dipped into the guacamole that was simply avocados and cilantro and yellow tomatoes and serrano and lime juice a few minutes before; it makes sense.
Of course, in trying to time the quesadillas so they're hot when everyone is putting their plates together, and with a herd of people arriving all at the same time, and with the pork still not shredded and the corn tortillas for tacos still warming in the oven, the chips are almost gone by the time plating is happening. But that's okay. It just means they were as good as they were supposed to be.
Sun setting, kitchen cooling, kids getting tired. The stray cat that had showed up the night before had a new home and a very happy 6-year-old owner (and a mother who knew there was a potential new barn cat).
The three of us who were staying sat out on a side porch after the crowd had gone and sipped bourbon while the Milky Way blanketed the sky with so many stars it just became bright.
Citrus & Garlic Braised Pork Shoulder
1 5-lb bone in pork shoulder roast
3 Vidalia onions
1 head of garlic
1 cup fresh lime juice
2 cups fresh orange juice
Chicken broth as needed to fill
Salt & Pepper
Salt and pepper the roast and brown it on all sides. Set aside to rest.
Cut the onions into half moons and saute in the same pan you browned the pork. Salt to sweat. Use the liquid to scrape up any bits on the bottom of the pan.
Rough chop and add the garlic and saute until the onions are soft and the garlic is fragrant.
Place the roast back on top of the onions (fat cap down) and pour the juice over it. The liquid should come halfway up the sides of the roast in the pan.
Place in a 300 degree oven and go away for 2 hours.
Remove from the oven, flip the roast so the fat cap is up, and put it back in the oven. Walk away for at least another two hours.
Shred and serve in a shallow bowl or large platter with accumulated juice and onion pulp ladled over the meat.
Warm corn tortillas until soft and keep covered for service.
Serve with sliced radishes, diced red onion, lime wedges, and fresh cilantro.
Ginger, Peach, Tomatillo Salsa
1 pound tomatillos, husked, quartered
1 pound peaches, peeled and rough chopped
2 T minced fresh ginger (I seriously over-gingered last week. It was still tasty)
1 rough chopped Vidalia onion
1-2 t sugar
Salt & Pepper
Cook the tomatillos, peaches, and onion in a sauce pan with 1-2 cups of water (just enough to almost cover the fruit). Bring to a boil and then remove from heat.
Add the ginger and sugar and place in a blender or food processor in batches to blend until smooth.
Let cool and taste. Add salt and pepper (and additional sugar) to taste.
Now it turns out that taking leftover pork, wrapping it in flour tortillas, smothering it with leftover salsa, adding monterrey jack cheese, and putting it in the oven until the pork is warmed through, the sauce is heated, and the cheese is melted is one tasty alternative service method.
Cremini Quesadillas with Brandywine Tomato Salsa
1-2 pound of cremini mushrooms, stems removed, sliced
2-4 T cumin
1-2 t salt
1-2 t pepper
Monterrey Jack Cheese
Saute the mushrooms, cumin, salt, and pepper, adding oil only if needed. There's liquid in those fungus, let it come out, mix with the cumin, and coat the shrooms.
For 8-inch flour tortillas, melt 1 t butter in a skillet, put one tortilla down, placeabout 1/4 cup of mushrooms and 1/8 cup cheese on and top with another tortilla. Flip it once and serve it hot.
1 pound Brandywine tomatoes (NO, you don't HAVE to use Brandywines), peeled, seeded, and diced
3 jalapenos, finely diced, one with seeds remaining
1 red onion, diced
3 T fresh cilantro, chopped
2 T minced fresh garlic
1/2 T olive oil
Salt & Pepper
Keep the dice on the tomato and onion similar.
Put it all in a bowl.
Stir it together.
Let it hang out in the fridge for at least 15 minutes to see if you need to add anything (really, this last step helps a lot).
Esoterica, part deux
This was my favorite combination of the day, mostly because I'd never made it before and it worked just like I thought it would. The quesadillas were earthy with a slight chew and some crispy bits on the edges of the tortillas and the salsa was bright and wet and fresh on top of them.
6 ripe avocados
1 medium tomato (about a cup diced)
1 serrano pepper minced with half seeds removed
2 T fresh chopped cilantro
2-3 T fresh lime juice
Salt & Pepper
Mix and mash it all together.
Make sure you get the lime juice on top of the avocado as soon as it goes in the bowl.
Don't crush all the texture out of it. Chunks are okay. They cling to chips well. You'll like it.
Serranos are safer than jalapeno here because they are a consistent level of heat. Every jalapeno is a different heat, even two from the same plant.
Corn and Black-Eyed Pea Salad
3 cups fresh corn, taken off the cob
1 cup fresh cilantro, chopped and divided
2 cans black-eyed peas
2 T ground cumin
4 T lime juice
Salt & Pepper
Saute the corn until cooked over medium heat. Turn the burner off and stir half the cilantro through the corn. Let cool completely.
Add corn, beans, and the rest of the ingredients to a bowl and stir through.
This is the perfect candidate for 'make the night before' and 'let hang out in the fridge.'