Tuesday, May 22, 2012

You CAN Go Home Again

I should know. I never miss a chance to go back to my home city, the place I couldn't wait to leave, to see people I've missed ever since departing.  This time I came to St. Louis to the home of my almost-sister, Rose. She and I go back so far in food years it isn't even funny. And here we were again,  stirring it up. Only this time it revolved around what we've come to call "The Book."

She actually flew me into town to prepare a meal based exclusively on recipes in The Book: carrot soup, Caesar salad, Cajun meal loaf, green beans and, of course, butter-laden garlic mashed potatoes with sour cream (which should have been in The Book but wasn't) and Ina Garten's sinfully splendid brownies.  The occasion was her turn to host the book club she joined four years ago. They've been going strong -- with the occasional dropout and replacement.  Appropriately called "The Laughing Ladies," we gathered around Rose's eight-seater of a mahogany dining table, amply fortified by red and white wine.

As guests arrived they immediately gravitated toward the kitchen --- as seems to be the case at any get-together.

Sara, whom I hadn't seen in years, promptly assigned herself to adding butter and sour cream to the mashed potatoes as I mash-squish-mash-squished the addition of heavy cream and more butter.

Robin set about mixing the salad and topping it off with freshly grated Parmesan.

Rose assumed her natural role as gracious hostess while I tried not to sweat over the meatloaf as I removed it from the oven and transferred pan juices into the skillet that would soon be filled with the Cajun sauce (we call it gravy in Texas) loaded with the trinity of chopped onions, celery and bell pepper. Garlic is a given.

Soup was actually served in soup bowls, part of a set Rose brought from her visit to the Czech Republic. We decided to dispense with salad bowls and assign lettuce to plate, alongside the meal's main components. Our sole concession to calorie counters, bless their hearts, was an absence of bread.  That was more than compensated for by brownies and French vanilla ice cream. Of course there was fresh fruit -- raspberries, strawberries and grapes -- which I interpreted as being part of the brownie-ice-cream configuration, not an alternative.

Oops. When you're a charter member of the Too Much Is Never Enough Society,  well, too much really is never enough.

Now it should be noted here that this was a celebratory meal. Few of us would recommend so much butter, cream, butter, sour cream, butter, and more butter in one sitting, but there are times when, in preparing a meal from a book, caution gets thumped sideways: a little fruit of the vine and a lot of  fruit of the cow makes for delicious merriment.

It was the kind of evening I enjoy most; friends sitting around talking asking questions, discussing ideas, reminiscing about favorite meals and talking about Molly.  "Wonder what Molly would have to say about (fill in the blank; the options are endless)"; "What did you leave out?" (personal stuff from conversations she never meant to be public and that had nothing to do with cooking together);  and the most frequently asked -- "What was she really like?" (Private, surprisingly shy and very funny even when she wasn't 'on'.

Finally, as the evening wound down conversation inevitably veered toward politics. How could it be a dinner devoted to Molly and not head in that direction, for cryin' out loud. This much I know for sure: she would have loved the idea of some knucklehead arranging to have Rush Limbaugh enshrined in the rotunda of the Missouri state capitol, if for no reason other than the fact that it would have given her ample material for one of her eviscerating columns dedicated the addlepated troll of the airwaves.

From there we zig-zagged to more politics, international travel, fun vacation spots, and finally wound down to who would host the next book club gathering -- a sure sign that the two and -one-half hour meal was coming to a close.

So see, Tom Wolfe, you can go home again.

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