My sweet friends Kim Severson and Leslie Zweben and I decided to host a dinner to raise money for our church's new building fund. We had been looking to get together for dinner for several weeks and thought instead of going out, let's get in the kitchen and share a meal with our church and foodie friends.
Secretly I was giddy, because for most of my adult life I wanted to serve like the church ladies from my childhood did…the ones who cooked chicken and parsley potato suppers for the congregation from the United Methodist Fellowship Hall kitchen. I admired the way they lovingly prepared meals for the community alongside their lifelong friends and fellow churchgoers. So this dinner was my chance to do just that with people I loved and admired…and give to a church community that has shaped and supported my life for the past 10 years.
You can imagine what it might be like for three passionate, yet very busy, cooks to come together to make a meal for 16. But for Kim, Leslie and I, it just sort of flowed. Kim had her new CookFight book coming out in the fall, so pulling together the menu was fairly easy and fun. We started with grilled skirt steak and Kim's fresh salsa verde and then quickly added scalloped tomatoes, because in summer, tomatoes are just what you do for a sit-down family-style supper. (I later found out the tomaotes were inspired by a day Kim spent in the kitchen with Ina Garten).
In thinking about the intention of the dinner: to create a modern cook's version of a traditional church supper, I couldn't help but channel Sara Foster and the recipes she updated from her Memphis grandmother's collection in Sara Foster's Southern Kitchen. Classic angel biscuits with spicy watercress and tangy chevre came to mind…so did warm platters of field peas spooned with lemony-basil vinaigrette. We certainly needed a sweet to complete the evening and thought we couldn't have a church dinner without a handmade pie. So we chose the fried strawberry pies flavored with South Carolina peach moonshine from Kim's column in Garden & Gun. Personally, I had never fried pies before, so for me, it was both an experiment and a treat.
When the food community heard what we were doing, they quickly banded together to support us. It was wonderful. Will Harris of White Oak Pastures, the most gentlemanly of gentleman farmers, shipped us long, lean strips of his flavorful grass fed beef and a boxful of extra large wings from his organic, free range chickens. Our friend Emily from Royal Rose Produce followed suit, sending the largest heads of frisée and radicchio I had ever seen, grown in the "salad bowl capital of the world" along the central coast of California.
Gina Hopkins and the amazingly talented teams at High Road Craft Ice Cream and Counter Culture Coffee provided the finishing touches for the meal. They sent yummy, peppery Pinot; creamy, locally churned buttermilk ice cream; and robust Fast Forward coffee beans. The generosity of these food friends was humbling and allowed us to craft an exceptional dinner while raising a generous amount of funds for our new church home.
The sold out supper brought together people of all backgrounds and faith. And the night was filled with good, lovingly prepared food and warm, caring fellowship – just like the church dinners from my past. The evening was both satisfying and soulful fur us...in the same way I imagine how the church ladies felt each time they washed their last dish and turned out the fellowship hall light.