I pulled myself up out of bed, hobbled to the kitchen, and hefted a slab of pork shoulder from Creekridge Farms into a roasting pan and slid it into the oven. It had been marinating over night in a wet rub of mustard, brown sugar, Fat Elvis blend by Alchemy Spice Co. (a local company), and Sea Smoke Salt (graciously sent to me by Old Salt Merchants). That salt is unreal, intensely smoky. After placing it in its’ new home in the oven, I promptly went back upstairs & fell into bed. I was supposed to meet Hannah, Rebekka, and Sarah at Crabtree Farms to pick blackberries for supper that night, but due to an inexplicable stomach ache, I curled up and had them go on frolicking without me, trusting their berry picking prowess, and trusting I would feel better as the day wore on.
And by some miracle, I did. By the time everything was said and done, I was surrounded by a group of friends both old and new having what could best be described as an idyllic summer evening in Tennessee. Maybe one of the best I’ve had in years. We talked & cooked together all afternoon while munching on a southern style charcuterie plate of whiskey sausage, Rebekka’s pimento cheese, bread, and spicy deep fried peanuts. My new go to victuals, for sure. By the time we sat down to share the meal we had a beautiful country spread that seemed to come together with no effort at all: slow roasted, smoky pulled pork with a spicy blackberry barbecue sauce (recipe after the jump), buttermilk biscuits with jams & butter, a tomato & purslane salad (recipe after the jump) with local blue cheese from Sequatchie Cove, steamed whole artichokes with lemon butter that Hannah made, pickles, and sweet tea! And all of it followed by sorghum, buttermilk, & grilled peach ice cream sandwiched between cornmeal basil cookies (coming soon!).
Earlier that day, I re-awoke in a tangle around noon, sun streaming in the windows, feeling human again. I tied a scarf around my bedhead in a turban, threw my apron on, and went to setting a simple table; it didn’t need much due to a pretty lace tablecloth scored from a pile of dusty linens at the Nashville flea market and locally grown flowers cut and arranged by Kelly Preslar, who’s just opened up the best little flower business, The Flower Sak.
Table set, Rebekka showed up first bearing homemade pimento cheese, pickled peppers & cukes from her own garden, a loaf of bread, a hunk of St. André, and a proud quart of blackberries. Proud because we wouldn’t have had any if it weren’t for her ninja picking skills as there weren’t many to be found. I like to imagine her elbowing small children out of the way…even though I don’t think there’s a person on the face of the earth more difficult to imagine elbowing small children. Which is precisely why I find it so amusing. She’s both gentle & kind without being a fainting goat or ingratiating in the least. No pretense. Just a real, live, honest-to-god nice person with infectious enthusiasm & crazy talent (of which you can find more on her blog here).
Hannah arrived next, with fat artichokes and her general ability to have me in stitches. Again, no pretense. And in Hannah’s case very little filter. That’s why I love these people. Secure in their insecurities, honestly human, hilarious & kind. They’re the sort of people you let your guard down with after knowing them for all of five minutes. Because they don’t have walls up. The best sorts. The blackberry BBQ sauce was, by the way, Hannah’s idea. She has all the good ideas (many of which she shares on her blog Nothing But Delicious…and that’s exactly what it is).
Sarah followed, who I had the pleasure of meeting that day. She brought tomatoes from her garden still wet with rain and the most prized gift of the day: a kombucha mother! Thank you, Sarah! A mother of six beautiful children, a dancer, and in my estimation a generally wise cookie of the tough variety, I’m so happy to have met her. Also, she had an electronic cigarette she let me chief on. So between that and the kombucha mother, I was instantly sold!
Lastly my friend Joseph arrived, who I invited last minute and thoroughly expected to turn me down. I’m so glad he didn’t! He is (besides being one of my most intelligent friends, favorite people to talk to, and taco accomplice) a talented wood worker. Anyhow, he brought along some cutting boards he was working on, over which all of us womenfolk promptly freaked out. His work is beautiful, and I hope to be able to share it with you all soon.
The fact is my friends have been few and far between over the years. When I was drinking, I possessed a remarkable ability (as most drunks do) to alienate even the most tenacious of friends. The person I am today was hidden beneath thick layers of insanity & what would generally be considered antisocial behavior. Like being out of your ever lovin’ mind drunk at a funeral kind of behavior. Or compulsive lying. Or disappearing for days on end. I think I counted six people who still maybe kind of liked me back then: my mom, my sister-in-law, William (my best friend since junior high), Jason (a dear friend), Joseph (see above), and, of course, Patrick.
Now everything is different. The person those precious six people could see…now everyone can. Now, I’m just me, faults and all to be sure. But I’m not, as I like to say, a real horror show anymore. Just a person in a turban forbidding people to look in a messy fridge. A person bossing people around the kitchen (I can be bossy there). But there I am. To be amongst, to join. To be present. What a neat thing.
I cannot tell you how grateful I am to have met these ladies & have them in my life. Their humor & kindness & honesty are so refreshing. What luck! But then again, I don’t believe in luck. Not at all. There are moments when I feel like I must have everyone hoodwinked, that my friends must be confused. But then I remember that everything is so new. And that I don’t suck to be around anymore. I won’t get ill on your shoes or cry in your lap. I’ll just feed you fluffy biscuits. You’re welcome.
A few things I’ve been up to: a bit back this creative Q&A with Tara Hurst
This column for Food52. All seasonal southern. Every other Monday. Look for some Sweet Corn + Black Pepper ice cream today!
Peach pies featured in the digital publication Home Gourmet Magazine. You can use this code for 2 free months tryhgm2months
And a profile on the back page of this past issue of Spenser Magazine.