A true Kentucky Mint Julep, from The Bluegrass Tavern in Lexington, KY
In social settings, regardless of what city I’m in, one question comes up repeatedly as soon as I reveal that I hail from the Bluegrass State.
“Do you drink mint juleps?”
It could be the third Thursday in November, and for some reason all anyone wants to talk about from that moment forward is the Kentucky Derby and its ubiquitous cocktail. Inevitably someone in the crowd either makes “the best mint julep” or knows someone else that does. Sidebar conversations tend to break out at that point over whether the julep should be “strong” or “sweet”, whether the mint is incorperated as an essential element or used more as garnish. It’s no wonder there is confusion among outsiders over how to make a proper mint julep. Kentuckians can’t agree on the correct preparation either. Books have been written on the subject. It would not surprise me to discover a thesis at the University of Kentucky has been written on “The Psychological and Social Aspects of the Proper Preparation of the Mint Julep Cocktail”, such is the level of diverse opinion on the subject.
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.
The day started out cold and overcast with a brief mid morning drizzle, which contributed to holding the crowd down to around 20,000 people. But by the lunch break shortly after noon the weather for the 2012 Rolex Kentucky Three Day Event had turned gloriously sunny. There was nearly a 30 degree temperature swing in just a matter of hours, however the crowd gathered around the Head of the Lake fences – where we picnicked – enjoyed the shelter and shade provided by the trees as the competition got back under way. Some of us had been there since early morning and had already covered great distances across the entire swath of the Kentucky Horse Park’s 1200 acres. We were already tired, hungry and ready for a break.
Our tailgating reputation got a little national notice this week in the March issue of Chronicle Connections, from the publisher of The Chronicle of the Horse Magazine. Be sure to check out the magazine and the article by clicking here. And don’t forget about the full coverage of our events on the Tailgating Steeplechase Style tab above. Plans for this years event are well underway. We hope to see you at the Kentucky Horse Park in May for another fantastic race (and no rain this year!)
Few activities are so overtly American during the summertime than the backyard barbecue. Granted, what 90% of Americans are actually doing is more properly called grilling – not barbecue – but whichever activity you enjoy, there’s a pretty good chance you spend a good portion of your summer evenings cooking outdoors.
A recent poll on Epicurious.com asked what famous person or persons – living, dead or fictional – would you invite to your backyard barbecue (click here to see the original article). The poll is similar to one that prompted a summer blog post last year, that one involving who would you invite to your next dinner party (see “Look Who’s Coming to Dinner“). As school starts back and the summer barbecue session winds down, I thought it worthwhile to contemplate who would make the cut on my idea barbecue list. The rules, as I saw them, were that I could invite no one I included on my previous Dinner Party list, which left off some obvious fan favorites like Anthony Bourdain. However, I thought it only fair to spread the culinary love and develop a completely new list of invitees.
Salami, Lemon Stilton, Triple Creme Brie and Smoked Gouda
I’m lucky that my friends enjoy food every bit as much as I do, therefore when a birthday or special occasion comes around there is really little thought as to what we will do to celebrate. That we will eat, drink and be merry is a foregone conclusion. Only the menu, time and place ever have to be decided.
I walked into the kitchen to find Charlotte staring, somewhat apathetically, at a pile of artichokes next to the stove. “That’s a s***load of artichokes.” she sighed, apparently realizing for the first time that – as it was her recipe – she was the one that was going to have to peel them. I remained however happy as a clam, or rather three bags full of clams. Being the last one in the loop on the whole dinner plan had, to my surprise, made for a relatively easy afternoon so far. Taking a break from my bartending duties, I decided to pop down to the stream with Carlie to pick watercress for the salad. It was my most strenuous excercise of the day, at least since I carried in the groceries a couple of hours ago. Since the group of kids tagged along (water + mud = frolicking children every time) I was spared having to actually exert any effort at all, my whole creek side experience being relegated to “Look, there’s some over there!” while gesturing in a vague direction towards a patch of green near where the kiddos were currently splashing. We picked mint too for the braised artichokes (this time I was the one using the royal “we”, in truth “they” picked the mint as well). We trudged back up the hill to the house, our bag of freshly picked watercress and mint from a spring fed stream carried in tiny little hands. The field labor unfastened their boots and washed mud off equally tiny little feet and toes, Charlotte was turning her attention from the now peeled artichokes to the beets, which would have to be roasted. Carlie was setting about work on the two salads: Avocado and Watercress Salad with a Green Apple Vinaigrette, along with a Potato and Fennel Salad. More roasting to be done, I silently mused. I realized that during my outdoor foray away from my bartending post the ice had melted in my glass. Having nothing better to do at the moment, I though to myself Time for a refill. All in all, I was having a hell of a fun time.