Living life between the barrel staves in Bourbon Country

Dinner at Greenwich Hall

The dining room at Greenwich Hall.

The advantage of having a group of friends who love to cook is that if one isn’t planning a dinner party anytime soon, you can bet another one will. For the past two months I’ve been distracted by my imminent (and now thankfully completed) move back to Lexington from Georgetown. As a result my kitchen has been less than hospitable since shortly after New Year’s. Fortunately, I have friends more than willing to take on the hosting duties. And after all, an occasional change of venue does us all good.

So it was on two separate occasions over the last six weeks that I found myself – not in the increasingly uncozy confines of the Shenandoah Supper Club homebase – but several miles away among the scenic backdrop of northern Fayette County. The house at Greenwich Hall Farm dates back to the 1880’s, and has all the charm one would expect of the small horse farms that still dot the countryside in and around Lexington. Amid the budding trees and brightly blooming flowers of an early spring, touched with the ever shortening shadows of a March sunset, a group of us gathered in the kitchen to welcome in the change of season and shake off the last vestiges of our fortunately mild winter.

Cooking with friends is infinitely more rewarding than cooking alone, and equally more enjoyable than cooking for just your family.  Such was the spirit that first brought us all together from our disparate backgrounds.  Carlie, in addition to being the grand dame of the Greenwich manor these days, is also the resident Aussie among us. A native of Sydney having lived for several years in the Middle East, her menu designs tend to hail from a different hemisphere than mine. She’s also been in Kentucky long enough to have her native accent mix with a downright southern drawl.  Charlotte, the other original culinary co-conspirator in our group, is a Texas native with a penchant for all things Asian and exotic. Her flavors tend to be bold and there’s not much subtle about her either.  She also has a valuable stash of vintage Gourmet magazines that we make good use of whenever possible.  Ellen is the most recent addition to our supper club, and shares Charlotte’s Indian / Asian inclination in the kitchen.  She makes a mean Pad Thai and Chicken Curry, but being from Georgia she has a sore spot if your bring up General Sherman.  I found that out the hard way.

There are always munchies available in the kitchen when you arrive. Come on in, pour yourself a drink and make yourself comfortable on the porch.

My background is more traditionally Southern – a wonderful amalgamation of European and African influences.  I have a love for chile peppers and a strong influence of South America and Caribbean flavors that I’ve nurtured over the years.  Together, the four of us can pretty much conquer the globe culinarily.  None of us claim to cook “authentic” in the strictest sense of the term.  Ingredients from one part of the world don’t always translate into what is available locally (or affordably), but we like to think we show adequate honor and respect to the dishes and ingredients that we prepare.

Our menus still tend to come together like they have since the beginning – someone finds a recipe, or something interesting at the Farmer’s Market, and over the course of several conversations or days it all seems to come together.  We have all been fortunate to travel extensively during our lives, and it has unquestionably shaped our approach to food. We also like to experiment in the kitchen, most frequently on each other, which may cause the occasional misstep at mealtime but usually instead leads to a fabulous experience best shared among friends (see my previous posts Early Spring Dinner: A Day In the Kitchen Part One and Part Two, along with Birthday Tapas and Tartines).  Regrettably, due to my somewhat frenzied and scattered frame of mind due to the aforementioned relocation, I failed to take note of exactly what we were fixing or jot down any recipes.  Fortunately I at least managed to take some pictures, and hopefully in time Carlie will remind me of exactly what was on all of those plates.

One curious aspect of our kitchen collaborations is that, both among those cooking and those joining in the eating, I’m quite often the only guy present. Not that I mind, but if you’re familiar with the kind of trash talk that can take place in a commercial kitchen among the staff, let me just state that it doesn’t hold a candle to what I’ve been forced to endure at the hands of my female friends. Suffice to say I tend to keep my head down and my mind in my mental happy place, all the while reciting to myself “Just keep chopping. Just keep chopping…”.  Author Lee Smith has written:

“The biggest myth about Southern women is that we are frail types–fainting on our sofas…nobody where I grew up every acted like that. We were about as fragile as coal trucks.”

To say I have suffered my fair share of abuse over the last few years would be an understatement.  I am, after all, horribly outnumbered by strong willed Southern women –  all of whom ride horses it seems – no matter whose kitchen we happen to be in on any given night.  This alone would have broken lesser men long ago, and I may yet end up emotionally scarred within a few more years, but it’s a small price to pay in the spirit of good fun, good friends and good food.  In the mind of the occasional errant male who passes through our dinners, I’m the luckiest guy in the world, a fact I would hardly dispute.

So if you find yourself invited to one of our gatherings, a definite possibility if you know any of us even casually, understand you will be in for a wonderful evening, fantastic food and great company.  And if you’re a guy, remember to mind your manners when you’re in the kitchen.  For your own good.

Some of the ladies of our supper club, enjoying a sunset libation on the front porch of Greenwich Hall. From left to right: Charlotte, Lisa (visiting from New York) and Carlie.

Greenwich Hall, in northern Fayette County, KY

A quick visit to the paddock before dinner, to meet some of the other residents of the farm.

While there is always plenty of socializing going on, dinner prep continues in shifts in the kitchen.

Condiments, dips, sauces and the omnipresent hummus are regular features of dinner at Greenwich Hall.

Setting the table has never been part of my skill set, so I usually leave that to the others. Piling food on my plate, however, comes naturally.

The moon, obscured by early spring clouds, rises over the trees.

Postscript: Ellen and Charlotte help me break in the new kitchen. They may be smiling, but what they're really thinking is "Put the dang camera down and get over and help!"

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