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Our Kinfolk dinner. Good Lord, I could write a novel about it. I'm not typically one for sentimentality- I've been called a number of unpleasant terms by really just a slew people after admitting that I didn't cry during The Notebook- but Nashville, you've turned me soft. Soft like Beth's marshmallows. Soft like Dancing Fern cheese. Soft like roasty, toasty grilled bone marrow. All of which was part of our communal feast that night.
I'm convinced my heart has been about two degrees away from melting into puddles on the floor while thinking about the countless people who helped me over the last few weeks, months, even years- about my new and old friends- about this city, which has welcomed me with open arms unlike any other place. Every last person who had a hand in this dinner, from the farmers to the guests, was nothing short of gracious. It's funny to hear myself say that now, because without knowing it, I think graciousness was really the point from the start.
Beth, Rebekka and I set out to throw a dinner party that was as Southern as Southern could be, chalked full of ingredients like sorghum and okra and buttermilk, and furnished with goods from local artisans. But, to use my absolute favorite colloquialism, a cat can have kittens in the oven, but you wouldn't call them biscuits. Which is to say: you can use as many Southern ingredients as you like, but without the element of graciousness, you might as well be feeding people kittens. Just kidding. What I really mean is that it's not so much the the ingredients or the place that matters, but the act of sharing whatever you have- be it food or stories or a big, red-lipsticked smile- with others.
So let me tell you about the menu and the event itself. I'll start with the produce because I'm a real sucker for beginnings. We got tomatoes from Nashville and Chattanooga farmers markets and had I not been tasked with cooking for more than twenty people, I would have stood in Rebekka's dining room and photographed them all day long, just to see how each different hour of light played tricks with the intricacies of their shapes and colors. I was in the kitchen by myself when the time came to play executioner (read: sous chef) and I apologized silently to the tomatoes as I sliced. Beth topped them with salt and herbs, because really, is there a better "side" in the summertime? (Ahem, no.)
We were also blessed with the biggest bunches of turnip greens I've ever seen, heirloom burgundy okra, hand picked corn, herbs fresh from Rebekka's garden and purple muscadines.Bella Nashville (a favorite haunt of Sandor Katz!). And that's how the night started: with pickles, mountains of grilled bread, bone marrow, peaches and figs, plus local honey and regional cheese.
The cheese and bone marrow came from a place very near and dear to my heart: Porter Road Butcher/The Bloomy Rind. I'm pretty much in love with every man who works at PRB, partially because of their beards and extensive knowledge of bacon, but also because they're such gents! On a particularly rainy day a couple of weeks ago, a particularly beard-y butcher came to my car with an umbrella so that I wouldn't get wet walking to the door. And speaking of people who have helped me along the way- Kathleen, the owner and cheese monger at The Bloomy Rind, was the first person to sponsor a giveaway on my blog, back when like, fifteen people per day read it.
Beth made this muscadine sauce for this pulled pork. And a quick aside about the word "muscadine": it's one of these words that sounds just right rolling off of a Southern tongue, reverberating with fluidity and drawl. To my ears, it's sound is only bested by the name of a specific type of muscadine: "scuppernong." Or maybe "rhododendron." Or maybe when my Mom says "Carter's little liver pills," but that's a colloquialism for another post.
Oh, and by the way, we were at Rebekka's house. We're always at Rebekka's house because she is, as my Ema likes to say, the hostess with the mostess. I wish I could scratch-and-sniff a photo so you could get an idea of what her home smelled like- lavender, mint, sage, rosemary...and bourbon punch. Dear Anthropologie, can you please make that candle?
In her yard, our make-shift dining room, the grass was perfectly trimmed, the tables lined up symmetrically in rows and lights hung meticulously. The place settings, sent to us by West Elm, were pristine. For every drop of order present, an equal amount of lawlessness loomed in the nooks and crannies. Venerable trees peeking over the fence. Weeds creeping up it. Centerpieces made of wild flowers and herbs (assembled by Ruthie). With dusk rolling in and a roaring bonfire lit, the effect was bewitching.
And the rest of our guests, oh my goodness. At the risk of sounding like a big ol' can of cheese whiz, shooting out hot air and artificial-ness, I have to tell you in all honesty that our guests were beautiful people in every sense of the word. They came early and helped; they stayed late and told stories around the campfire; they sent us thank you gifts.
Here are a few of them: Maker's Workshop, Sarah Jule, Pennyweight, Blue Bird Vintage, Ruthie Lindsey Design, Abraham and Susan Rowe, Home and Hill Magazine, Sleeveless, Holler Design, Porter Flea.
Sometimes I get a little dramatic. Beth and I dreamed up this salad early on in our menu-making process and I made a lot of time and space for it inside my brain. I almost felt foolish that I hadn't thought to combine these ingredients before now: rubbed turnip greens, grilled corn, roasted okra, cornbread crumbs and buttermilk dressing. When I brought it outside to serve I announced, victoriously, that this was the salad I was destined to make. And with that in mind, I really hope you make it in these last days of summer- while the weather is hot and the okra is in season. I hope you make it with companions as dear as Beth and Rebekka and share it with guests as obliging as ours.here and watch Rebekka's video here and as an added bonus, here is my friend Meghan's write up for Nooga.com.
Turnip Green Salad
1 bunch raw turnip greens
1 ear corn
1 pound okra
1/3 loaf your favorite cornbread
BBQ dry rub
olive oil or grape seed oil
herbed buttermilk dressing
1. Preheat oven to 400. Slice cornbread into small pieces, drizzle with oil and dust with dry rub. Bake until crispy and slightly golden, five to ten minutes.
2. Turn oven up to 425. Cut okra into 1 inch pieces, toss in oil and sprinkle with salt. Bake for ten minutes, toss, then bake for another five. Brush corn with oil and salt. If you have a grill going, throw it on until charred on all sides and cut the kernels off. If not, char the corn in your oven on broil and keep a watchful eye on it.
3. Meanwhile, de-stem and chop turnip greens (don't you throw out those stems- more on that later). Place in a gallon-sized plastic bag with two teaspoons oil and 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt. Press all the air out of the bag and give the greens a good, intimate massage. *This step can be done up to two days in advance.
4. Toss the turnip greens with dressing and top with vegetables and cornbread croutons.