I’m hosting a dinner party for some of my favorite people tonight. My cousins! I’m using a rib eye steak with balsamic reduction recipe stolen from my friend, Jillian (www.jillianstravels.wordpress.com). It was amazing when she served it up a few weeks ago, so I can’t wait to try it out on my captive family members. Instead of whipping up a dessert, I went to Gabriel’s Desserts (www.gabrielsdesserts.com/) to grab one of her fresh strawberry cakes. While there, I treated myself to her cookbook, “Cooking in the South with Johnnie Gabriel”. Sitting down with a glass of sweet tea I began reading the forward, written by Paula Deen and it reminded me of this story, and I wanted to share.
A couple of years ago my New Year’s Resolution was to become better in the kitchen. I had been given the tools of cooking by my grandmothers, and a love for good food, but I never actually put them into practice. The excuse I gave was that I lived alone and didn’t have anyone to try the recipes out on, that, and when you’re in your early 20s, you don’t really throw dinner parties. So, New Years Resolution made.
I spent my afternoons watching the Food Network and falling in love with Paula Deen. She is a charming woman, with an infectious laugh, a southern humor and good lookin’ sons. I began writing down recipes, bought her cookbooks, an apron and dove into the dishes. My first attempt was her macaroni and cheese. After that it was stuffed chicken, blueberry dumplings, gorilla bread, coconut cake and sausage balls. Pretty soon my contempt in the kitchen led to content.
Quick story about the coconut cake. While attempting to familiarize myself with the kitchen, I was also learning my way around the grocery store as well. In the recipe for coconut cake, it calls for coconut milk. Where do you get coconut milk from? A coconut, of course. I grabbed 2 coconuts from the store. Brought them home. Looked at them, and stopped. The recipe did NOT come with instructions on how to get the milk OUT of the coconut. After attempts at cracking on the counter and cutting with a knife, I armed myself with a hammer and screw driver (cleaned of course), and went at it. Shirt sleeves rolled up, hair in a ponytail and sweat on my forehead, I succeeded and ended up with the coconut milk. PS – Did you know that you can buy coconut milk in a can? I didn’t, until I explained my success story to my mom and she informed me. I like to think that my coconut was a complete “made from scratch” attempt instead of store bought.
So, my love affair with Paula was intense and intentional. She shared secrets with me and I cooked up wonderful foods in my kitchen. Until we got in a fight. Our fight was over my weight. I had gained 7 pounds in 3 months since trying her recipes! I knew I needed to step away from her cooking, but not with visiting her restaurant first.
My parents and I scheduled a trip to Savannah. We walked the cobblestone streets and drank in its rich history and culture. I caught up with some old college girlfriends and reminisced about my times in that city. Savannah is where many a kiss were exchanged during St. Patrick’s Day, where I spent my 21st birthday, where a first date was had with a Savannah Sand Gnat minor league baseball player, ghost stories were told, and Southern manners still live.
Savannah is also the home of The Lady and Sons. We stood in line for over an hour just to get in for the lunch crowd. We opted for the lunch buffet to eat some of everything that was offered, and stuffed ourselves silly. Connected to the dining room was a small “gift store” off to the side where you can purchase, aprons, books, seasonings and more. Between lunch and dessert, I decided to wander in to the store to do some shopping. While I literally was breathing in the moment, I was interrupted by the sound of someone asking to help me. When I turned around, there he was, Bobby Deen. Paula’s very cute and, at the time, very single son. I could feel my cheeks heating up, and I wished that I had opted for a cuter shirt than the black turtleneck I was wearing. We exchanged stories and I’m pretty sure he was falling under my spell, when we were interrupted by my dad. Being a dad, he grabbed his camera, snapped our love moment, and walked away. Those few moments are still blurry to me, and I’m pretty sure I told him about my weight gain. What girl does that?!
I’ve kept up with some of the recipes, but haven’t fully committed to entire meals made with Paula’s love. Although we’ve lost touch, I am grateful for her patience, her genuine interest in teaching people how to cook, her passion for life and for food, and our shared enjoyment of serving others. I will gladly keep those 7 lbs…