I don’t claim to be an expert on hosting, or laying a table, or homemaking in general. But as with any art, a delicate eye and a willingness to practice until your hands and soul are raw yields improvement. So I started small with supper audienced by merely my mom and myself, as good a company as I need.
Home is the fluffy blanket amongst words. It will console you if the rest of your universe flashes into violent firecrackers or numbs you into a soul-paralysis of sorts. The word is not chained to one cell, and its meanings vary as people do. Home is what you pack at the top of your suitcase and pull out when the turbulence rocks your aircraft a little too violently. Home is a thought which lifts you off your hands and knees. Home is where, when, how. Whatever it is, happiness and pleasure and friendly memory accompany. Glorious home.
Home is where I laid a whimsical table with strange plates and bowls after scrolling through my phone trying to learn proper silverware etiquette. My last Saturday evening before the cars were packed turned into a fancy soiree of sorts. Fancy by the effort poured into the various bowls but not by attire. I wore pajamas as I punched baguette dough and whisked cheddar into a simmering pot of soup. I laid my napkin across a lap clothed with smiley face trousers. Funnily enough, the shirt warming my back commemorates my participation in the Turkey Trot last year on Thanksgiving. A food-themed shirt for a food-themed evening. How deliciously appropriate. The laziness, too.
For me, food is one of the essential grains stirred into a formula for home. As I’ve explored baking and cooking more, I’ve learned that the culinary movement is more than taste and texture and all of the technicalities that come with formulating a superior dish. It’s an infusion of time and love sprinkled with sugar. It’s memory, of Christmases or birthdays or quirky family reunions. It’s future, the anticipation of hearty laughter blowing the smoke from a tray of candles through an open window. It’s docile drunkenness and thoughts misplaced in a fit of giggles curling like smoke out of the air vents and infecting the neighborhood when the soft sounds evolve into a stampede of guffaws. I loved every bit of the gathering’s process. The planning earlier in the week, the execution the day of. The drop of stray spinach stalks on the tiles, the storms waylaying palm fronds outside, the industrial scent of a preheating oven, the exhales of a bubbling tea kettle. Wrestling with a sleepy printer to coax last-minute menus out of its jaws. Sitting down and drenching our spoons in a savory swirl of soup. Watching mom’s slice of baguette return repeatedly into the oil. I consider double dipping a compliment.
Regardless of which state or country or segment of Middle Earth life pulls me to, I carry home as a concept. I can always create home, out of wood and marble or sticks and stray rocks. This gathering for two was a meal for the books. I hope one day I’ll be assigned to a kitchen with the task of creating a warm environment for many, complete with far too many nerd references and off-key singing seasoning the meals at hand. I am becoming a proprietor of slow living. Reeling in life’s simple moments and pressing them between the pages of a proverbial journal, preserving them evermore.
Despite my crooked cutting job on the menu and bizarrely-patterned dinnerware, the essence behind slow living was instilled in each course. Maybe one day I’ll set vintage napkins and carefully-matched plates on a wood table strewn with floral arrangements, but for now I sufficed with the frazzled remains of my kitchen cabinets. We probably bought those bits from Walmart back in the day. The napkins – er, towels – were scrounged from the haphazard wicker basket beneath the kitchen sink. The cream cloth is not big enough for the table and has stains all over it. The food dazzled, though, and the conversation gleamed. You could say that even though the tea was the only alcoholic accompaniment, the entire meal was spiked with something a little stronger.
My approach to this meal was merely to make sure everything tasted good. Nothing is particularly extravagant, and each ingredient down to the seasonings are easily found at a brick-and-mortar market – though I would absolutely adore buying local. When organizing a gathering, you can be as frugal or as flashy as you wish. I chose a middle ground. Below are the recipes for all three courses: a starter, Infused Olive Oil with Mint, Feta & Basil; a boozy Bourbon Blueberry Iced Sweet Tea; and the head honcho, a savory 2-Cheese Portabella & Spinach Soup. Any baguette will do, and be sure to use it as a soup vessel as well as for the oil blend. I hope the formulas inspire you in your own gatherings, numbering two or twenty.
Infused Olive Oil with Mint, Feta & Basil
1 cup good-quality olive oil
1/4 cup chopped fresh mint leaves
1/3 cup chopped fresh basil
1/4 tsp kosher salt
1/3 cup feta cheese, crumbled
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Extra salt & pepper to taste
ASSEMBLY: Chop basil and mint leaves on cutting board. Pour oil into a bowl & add mint, basil, salt, feta, and lemon; stir to combine. Taste and add more salt & pepper as desired. Cover and leave in the refrigerator until dinner time. Just before serving, heat in the microwave for 15-20 seconds.
Bourbon Blueberry Iced Sweet Tea
The tea is lightly sweet, so if you desire more sugar, add it!
1 quart boiled water
4 black tea bags
Juice of 1/2 lemon
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1 cup fresh blueberry juice
4 shots bourbon
Lemon wedges for garnish
ASSEMBLY: Boil water in a tea kettle. Pour water into a heat-proof pitcher and steep bags for about 10 minutes; afterwards, remove bags and allow tea to cool slightly for about 15 minutes. Add blueberry and lemon juices and sugar, stirring until sugar is dissolved. Add bourbon one shot at a time.
Cover & refrigerate at least four hours – six is preferable, and you could even do overnight if you’d like. When time to serve, pour into mason jars over ice; garnish with a lemon wedge.
2-Cheese Portabella & Spinach Soup
3 garlic cloves, chopped
1/2 yellow onion, chopped
1/3 cup flour
2 T butter
2.5 cups vegetable broth
2.5 cups milk
2 cups mozzarella cheese, shredded
2 cups cheddar cheese, shredded
1 cup baby bella mushrooms, sliced
2-3 cups spinach leaves
1 tsp dried oregano
1/2 heaping tsp kosher salt
Juice of 1/2 lemon
Pepper to taste
Paprika to taste
1 scallion, finely chopped
ASSEMBLY: Melt butter in a large soup pot over medium heat. Add onions & garlic, stirring frequently until garlic is browned and onions are somewhat clear, about 5-7 minutes. Add flour and stir constantly for one minute. Carefully pour broth and milk and bring to a rolling boil; immediately reduce heat to low & simmer for 10 minutes.
Add cheeses to simmering broth and stir until melted – this should be relatively quick since the soup will be very hot. Add oregano, salt, lemon juice, pepper and paprika; stir to incorporate. Add spinach and mushrooms and cook through, about 5 minutes. Turn heat very low, cover with lid & keep warm while you prepare your table, starter & drink. Ladle into bowls, top with chopped scallions, and serve.