My beautiful, wonderful Valerie is coming down from Pennsylvania this weekend, and I couldn’t be happier.
As soon as we figured out when she was coming and which of her children and dogs would be coming, talk turned to the usual important subject: what will we cook? Should she bring her new cookbooks?
Valerie is a phenomenal cook. While Val is a stickler for sticking to recipes, she is one of those cooks who has an instinct for what will work, and is fearless about going with those instincts when no recipe is handy. And she’s Italian. This is a dangerous combination, as anyone who grew up in the Northeast knows. It’s all. About. The. Food.
Valerie’s cooking is so famous within my family that when I make something wonderful I’m often asked, “Is this a Val recipe?” No, damn it! And even worse, when Valerie makes my recipes her own, all credit is transferred to her. How can I not understand that? Good food and Valerie are synonymous, and because I’ve learned most of my kitchen tricks from her I can’t help but laugh.
Some of my favorite memories begin with my days’ plans being tweaked or derailed for new, better plans to have dinner with Valerie, and this is one of the things I’ve missed most since my move to North Carolina nine years ago. A quick visit and tea would lead to a grocery list and rounding up families, and the remainder of the day would turn into a social activity centered around the kitchen. The grocery run, one more cup of tea, kids running in and out and thrilled with the lack of supervision, tea becomes wine, and chopping, marinating, and peeling begins.
Dinner preparation with Valerie takes hooouuurs, and that suits me just fine. Right as our families are about to implode with adrenaline and hunger, everything is put on the table, and it’s always the best thing we’ve ever had. The special seasoning of “late” has a way of working like MSG: it ups the flavors so they’re all a bit more savory, a bit better than you were imagining before your first bite.
The more people we can feed, the better. The more gathered in the kitchen helping, the happier. Monday night we’re rounding up friends and feeding the masses, and I’m already thinking about dessert. Grilled pound cake with fresh sugared peaches and homemade whipped cream?