"It's a cuppa flour, a cuppa sugar, a cuppa fruit cocktail with the juice, mix and bake 'til gold and bubbly*." "Sounds awfully rich." "It is, so I serve it with ice cream to cut the sweetness."
- Steel Magnolias
- Steel Magnolias
*(this recipe does not and would never appear in this blog. fear not. read on.)
I heard someone say recently that Theme Parties are the easiest and best way to go if you are throwing one. I was all set to scoff, lips pursed in a disapproving, "sure, if you like Tupperware" kind of way, when I realized that I've been doing EXACTLY that for the last five years or so on all those Nature Holidays. I'm pretty sure the success of each one is at least partly due to the fact that everything is planned according to the Day/Event itself, or at least the season. And far from making it uptight and weird and restrictive, the Theme sort of sets the party free. People gathered for a common reason immediately have something to talk about, an established connection.
A few weeks ago, on one of those cold & blustery, "Spring, My A***!" days in NYC, when it still seemed like we were stuck in the Longest Winter Ever, I made my way up to Jackson Heights, to meet A-Mac at the the charming top floor apartment that is the home of Coffee Guy/Secret Movie Mogul in Waiting (CGSMMIW) for a special dinner. Recently, an oh-so-NYC revelation took place when I found out that the guy I get my coffee from every morning is a) also in NY theatre, b) good friends with A-Mac!! and c) making this film. (Note from the Mouse: and d) was in a play with the Mouse) AND - the piece de resistance - -he cooks. Like a demon. If a demon were full of indie-art energy, food savvy, and bubbly southern hospitality. The Theme in question was his film, the dinner a part of a series of fundraising efforts to make it happen. Since the film is set in his native Georgia, the menu would be yummy and southern. We were only too glad to be part of this, since it involved supporting the arts AND being fed things.
Theatre folks, I reflected upon entering the apartment, may be really good at dinner parties because we love to set a scene. I knew it was cold and windy outside but as soon as I sat down and was handed a Dark & Stormy ( my fave summer cocktail: lime wedge, dark rum, ginger BEER - never, never ALE), I couldn't shake the feeling that it was August and we were on somebody's porch. A warm yellow glow, either from lamps or anticipation, filled the room. The table had sort of bench seats on either side, like a picnic table, a vibe helped out by the adorable plastic red-and-yellow squeeze bottles filled not with mustard and ketchup, but with BOURBON (brilliant!), to be squirted into your Sweet Tea as you saw fit. Which I did, as soon as my dark & stormy was finished. (Ok, I had them at the same time. Don't judge me.) The Sweet Tea (really sugary iced tea, for our international friends), was poured into tall thin glasses with "Georgia" stenciled on the side. OMG so cute.
But let me not to the marriage of true party elements admit impediments, or something like that (mm, dark&stormy..) There was also food. Serious food.
- Mac n Cheese. But of course. Yes, I will have two helpings.
- Collard greens. Looks like a vegetable, tastes like bacon. Southern genius.
- Fried chicken!!! As in, chicken he fried at home, in his kitchen!! A-Mac & I realized at the same moment that we'd never really had real fried chicken before ("Kentucky Fried Chicken doesn't count, right?" The Texas native across the table's jaw drops in horror.) (Note from the Mouse: What about grandma's fried chicken and corn fritters???)
- Sweet potato pie - Southern genius #2: dessert as side dish. Super sweet, creamy, orange, topped with crunchiness (nuts? I can't remember). The family recipe apparently originally included an extra CUP of sugar. One day, CGMMIW's mom left out the sugar by accident, and that's the version we ate. I and my Yankee tastebuds duly thank her.
- Tomato pie - the STAR of this meal. More on this below.
- Banana Pudding (THIS was dessert):
(I managed to put down my fork at this point and take a picture of something. look, LOOK at the cute tumblers he served them in! Through the glass you can see the layers of banana, crushed graham crackers, whipped cream, what else, I dont know, I'm full. And I hate banana desserts.. but, as he pointed out, this is bananas-IN-dessert, not banana-flavored anything. Big difference.)
There you have it. Evocative set, good lighting, and a great cast (see menu above). This dinner bodes well for the movie. Roll credits:
TOMATO PIE (courtesy of CGMMIW)
preheat oven to 350. filling:4 large tomatoes, or an assortment of roma & grape, sliced fresh basil, chopped, 1/3 cup scallion, chopped. mix with sea salt and a few tablespoons of olive oil. allow to sit in colander over mixing bowl for a few hours so the salt can extract most of the tomato juice. pour mixture into a (homemade!) pie shell. (save the reserved tomato juice 'cause it's goooood.) add some fresh cracked black pepper. topping: 1 cup shredded cheddar, 1 cup shredded mozzarella, 1 cup mayonnaise. combine and spread over top of tomatoes, ensuring that the cheese mixture connects with the outer crust. bake at 350 for thirty minutes, or until top is golden bubbly brown. it goes without saying that this dish is at its most supreme when you can get the freshest, most supple, mind-blowing tomatoes from the farmer's market.
Note from the Boo: I truly hate mayonnaise, but until I read this recipe i had NO idea there was any in the pie. Upon reflection I can totally understand how it might contribute a certain tangy something or other. However, CGMMIW says he has also successfully used sour cream and cream cheese (either, not both)when serving this to Mayo-Phobes.