Prior to writing this article, I was kneading garlic focaccia bread dough, with confidence, for tonight’s family dinner of Italian herb roasted turkey and pepper jack grilled cheese sandwiches.
Suddenly, I realized that my dream of becoming a great home cook and living the American dream I had once envisioned had come true.
I’m passionate about homemaking, gardening, raising chickens, baking and cooking and most of all; I’m passionate about doing all of these things for my family and loved ones. In terms of dollars and cents, they don’t pay me a dime, but in smiles, compliments, and hugs, I’m a billionaire.
This week, my beautiful sister came out to our home for Sunday supper with my two oh-so-yummy little nieces, and her new beau whom we were meeting for the first time, a Brit, from Australia.
Planning the menu with the whirling and swirling thoughts of summertime food and beverage fun is a personal delight where I used to consult my enormous library of cookbooks, and now I can call on my mental repertoire of food favorites.
Some essential marks for me to hit include what’s “on” in my garden, how many eggs I will have for baking and incorporating our farmers market and farmer-neighbors’ treasures of the palate in the mix.
Another couple of things I find crucial for a successful home cooking event (success measured both on happy taste buds as well as happy feelings) are to make and set up as much in advance as possible, and in the summertime, not to heat the house.
Many times, I find dishes like my smoked salmon, dill, and capers deviled egg filling improve with an overnight in the fridge.
And I don’t know about you, but I loathe with all of my might, being invited over for a meal to someone’s home, to have the host or hostess in the kitchen or at the grill the entire time. I’ll go one step further saying that it hurts my feelings, I think it’s rude, and I’ll never want to come back.
It had to be said.
For this mid-July special event for four adults and four children, I quickly dreamed up a cool/hot or chilled/spicy menu beginning with a garden-herbed, lemon-zest, goat-cheese spread and cambozola cheese with crackers.
I knew my four, and six-year-old nieces may or may not chow down on these cheeses, but I also know that my children, their two older cousins, who love these cheeses, might influence their younger cousins into trying something new—sort of like a palate-expanding, peer-pressure deal.
The evening before, I prepared one of our favorite pasta dishes that works beautifully hot or for summer as a kind of pasta salad with the ingredients of:
Al dente penne pasta that was poured into a large stockpot of salted, rapidly boiling water and stirred so as not to stick to the bottom or one another, delicious olive oil.
Then, flaked, wild smoked salmon, capers, tons of basil chiffonade (means stack the clean, dry, basil leaves on top of each other, roll up tight like a cigar and rock your sharp knife across the length of the “tube”).
Add some lemon zest, downy heaps of pecorino cheese, shredded with my micro-plane grater and a wee bit (kiddies remember) of crushed red pepper flakes.
Gently and thoroughly combined, finished with more olive oil, covered and refrigerated overnight and this dish will need a large and lovely serving bowl to impress the eyes as well as the taste buds.
Our main dish for this super special gathering was also an overnight guest.
We seasoned a gorgeous pork shoulder with a dry rub, added our favorite liquids and into our large slow cooker for tomorrow’s sliders of “barbecued” pulled pork with caramelized onions on toasted, homemade sweet potato buns.
I baked in the early cool morning of the Willamette Valley Wine Region in Oregon where I live.
A special addition is a spicy-hot tarragon orange mayonnaise, which I also made the evening before.
American Dream Spicy Tarragon Orange Mayonnaise
1 – Whole room temperature egg
2 – Room temperature egg yolks
1T – Dijon mustard
3T – White wine vinegar
2C – Olive oil
Salt to taste
3T – Chopped tarragon
1tsp – Orange zest
2tsp – Fresh, dried crushed red pepper flakes
2 to 3 shakes (or more to taste) of Tabasco or your favorite hot sauce
In a food processor with metal blade fitting, combine egg, egg yolks, mustard, and vinegar. Blend at high speed for about 30 seconds. With the motor running, add the oil in a slow, steady stream. When mayonnaise thickens, turn off the processor, scrape down the sides, pulse to incorporate these first six ingredients.
Transfer mayonnaise to an airtight container, add the remaining ingredients, whisk with a fork and refrigerate for up to five days.
Dessert was my husband, Bryan’s favorite cookie recipe (featured in the photo at the top of this post). Even though this meant more early morning baking, I knew these handheld treats would be great for us while hiking around the vineyard, swinging on the swing and taking a zippy Kubota mower ride all over these 200 plus acres of heaven.
A fantastic time for all of us, and the sweet and precious tears of parting that were shed by my little nieces, followed by the lovely “Thank You” email from our new friend, Ian, helped prove it.
My cooking, baking, and special event planning now is a dreamy reflection of my daily life living my version of the American dream. It’s a sweet, savory combination of adventures and tastes that I love to practice and to share with you.
I wish you more delicious moments in your big dream life.
Shellie Croft is a wine enologist, writer, photographer, and home chef who spent years working in the Napa wine country before moving to a 200-acre farm in Willamettemate Valley, Oregon. Shellie loves sharing the stories of her life with her husband, two children and the farm lifestyle they have created together living their American Dream.
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