“You may say I’m a dreamer, but I’m not the only one. I hope someday you’ll join us. And the world will live as one.”
― John Lennon.
I missed last year’s Kentucky Derby Party at Treo, but, as I revised the poster for this year’s party, I decided I had to give it a go.
“Bring a Southern dish of your choice… fried chicken, …pecan pie, Anything with bourbon…”
Oh, my! How could I not?
Last year’s party was particularly lively (so I heard), fueled by Kate’s Mint Juleps. I noted that this year’s party times from Cathy (our brilliant Social Committee Chair) was from 2 – 4pm, instead of last year’s 2 – 7pm.
Posters went up and the buzz went out. At the monthly Pot Luck party, plans were cooking. Did Eva have extra hats to be borrowed? Who was cooking with whom? Where to buy collard greens? Where to find ham hocks?
Celeste offered to iron the dress that my sister Cyn had given me. It was perfect for the day, printed with roses, but cotton: even I knew it had to be ironed, but I can count on my thumbs how often I have ironed in the past year. Celeste loves to iron (really??!), and is a pro, so I gratefully accepted her offer.
What could Steve make? I suggested Pecan Pie in a Jar from Trader Joe’s (I didn’t want to miss out on pecan pie!). I even offered to pick it up for him when I went to the store. I had made a quick pie with it at Christmas and found it delicious.
Turns out, TJ’s only carries it in the holidays, although the checkout person said she had one on her shelf at home. So, I found a Bourbon Pecan Pie recipe from the New York Times and sent it to Steve. We’d make it together on the day.
And, what would I make?
I was dreaming of roasted chicken, smokey and spicy with a sweet bourbon glaze. But, when I had a go at it earlier in the week, making a dry rub for the chicken and basting it a few times during the last 15 minutes of roasting, it took the crispiness out of the skin. So, I decided to serve the bourbon glaze as a sauce on the side.
Ah bourbon – so smokey, so fortifying, so engaging – the perfect Southern gentleman. A wonderful addition to any party, to so many recipes.
But, bourbon hasn’t always been my beau. I come from a family of Scotch drinkers, for generations, so I was never introduced to it.(Guess it’s my British heritage and husband). We met through a friend, almost by accident.
A few years ago, I wanted to make egg nog from scratch and chose a recipe from one of my most reliable sources: Alton Brown. A Southern gentleman himself, Alton’s recipe calls for bourbon, instead of the brandy or rum that others might. It was delicious! (And reportedly, any alcohol acts as a preservative and sterilizer of the raw eggs.)
Since then, I’ve had a splash in chili to good effect and used it to fortify my turkey gravy last Thanksgiving. I have even had a cocktail or two with it, although I think of it still primarily as an ingredient.
The day dawned grey in San Diego, rainy in Churchill Downs, making a “sloppy” track for the race.
At 10.30, Steve arrived, wearing his Boston Red Sox t-shirt and carrying a shopping bag of all the ingredients, including a bottle of bourbon. The recipe called for only 2 tablespoons, which was certainly in my bottle of Bullitt.
He said he didn’t drink bourbon, so I bought the bottle from him for future cooking.
We mixed up the eggs and syrup, sugar and butter and vanilla, laid the pastry into the pie dish, poured in the filling, popped it into the preheated oven, and settled in comfy chairs for a neighborly chat.
By 1, it was raining in San Diego, clearing in Kentucky. It didn’t matter to the party goers – we would never step outside on our way to the Community Room.
By 2, neighbors began arriving, decked out in their hats and finery, carrying in dishes to delight.
I brought my Chipotle Chicken with Sweet Bourbon Sauce. Eva brought her collard greens, Kaylan (having grown up in West Virginia) had made grits from her grandmother’s recipe.
Marilyn brought meatloaf sliders topped with bacon. Frank brought fried chicken. Celeste, macaroni salad. Silvia, the black-eyed peas. Cathy and Joanne (ever the effort to keep us healthy) brought salads. Chocolate-dipped strawberries appeared next to Steve’s pecan pie.
And there was Kate, with a smile as innocent as Scarlett O’Hara’s, pouring out mint julep after mint julep, made with her own mint simple syrup and plenty of bourbon.
Tina arrived with a hat she’d decorated for Cathy, and we assembled for photos.
People filled plates, sat at tables arranged around the TV. Always Dreaming was becoming the favorite, despite the sloppy track. Kaylan got a text from her sister (who was at the track) that the rain had stopped. It was now quite steady outside the window in San Diego, but getting quite bright and sunny inside.
More people arrived. Blake introduced himself as a new Treo resident. For some reason, he looked familiar to me but we couldn’t figure out why.
I sat down next to Kate, with a good view of the TV, discovering that Kate loved watching the horses run. She kept pouring and smiling. Celeste said that she was going with Always Dreaming.
All the food was delicious. Plates filled and emptied. Steve told me that he liked my bourbon sauce, especially with Katlan’s grits.
We gathered around the TV as the race began, and for a few minutes something was more important than the food and mint juleps. Celeste was right.
Re-filling our plates and glasses, conviviality bubbled up again and people drifted from one table to another, exchanging places like a Virginia Reel. Over at the bar, Cathy and Blake were speaking German and laughing. Steve tried his pie and liked it. (It was delicious.)
Close to 4, the easy chair in my living room began to beckon, I was ready to take off the high heels. Several of us began packing up and saying “good-bye.” Marilyn gave me the last slider to bring to my husband Mark, and I added a dollop of Katlan’s grits, plus some salad.
I thanked Blake for coming and welcomed him to the building, still perplexed as to why he looked familiar. With glowing, smiling eyes, he said he couldn’t believe I’d forgotten that weekend in Vegas.
As I walked to the door, I saw Steve with a mint julep, heading to the TV for more sports coverage. Always Dreaming may have won the race, but bourbon had won the day.