Normally when I find myself with a head-spinning social calendar, it’s around the holidays. Spring is usually a time for folks to emerge slowly from winter hibernation and gradually shake loose their sense of isolation. Not this year. It seems that now is the time to take advantage of a typically empty schedule and fill it up!
Back in February, Miss Chef had to change the original date on her underground dinner because of Charlotte’s restaurant week. We couldn’t change the date of our Mardi Gras party though, so only a week after she’d stuffed the fridge with leftovers, she was at it again. She cut her culinary teeth in Mobile, Alabama, so she was planning a really authentic Cajun/Creole menu—chicken and andouille gumbo, crawfish étouffé over white fish, shrimp and grits, collard greens. One of the guests just happened to be a pastry chef, and Miss Chef asked her to bring the requisite king cake.
Having just a week to recover from the previous feast, it wasn’t until the morning of the party that we were able to begin pulling it all together. We went to the farmers’ market in search of ingredients…oddly, we couldn’t find any kind of greens at all, but she did nab the last of this gorgeous red snapper, caught off the NC coast. I don’t even like fish, but this was so beautiful and fresh, I just had to document it.
While Miss Chef and a friend worked on the menu, Miss Chef’s brother and I cleaned house and decorated.
Oh, did I not mention that Miss Chef’s brother was here? She asked him to come up for a week and play handyman, to get some nagging projects and repairs done around the house.
She told her friends they’d get to meet her “redneck brother,” though you can see he’s kind of a softy. He had Rosie tooling around in his truck, too. Both of the animals felt a little deprived after he left.
Anyway, back to the party preparations. It had been almost nine years since we’d packed up our Mardi Gras supplies and moved them up here, so I had lots of fun rediscovering all the shiny treats. We must have 15 pounds of beads, for starters.
We also had banners, flags, ribbon, a mask, jewelry, and tons of plastic cups from the parades we attended for five years.
I thought the mailbox looked a little drunk.
Now, let’s talk about that king cake. It’s not really a king cake. The morning of the party, our pastry chef friend texted that she was feeling ill and wouldn’t be able to come. So, remembering an ersatz recipe I’d used for a classroom reward, I picked up some Pillsbury cinnamon roll dough on my supermarket run. The included glaze is separated and dyed the appropriate colors—except that purple proved a little difficult. Well, at least it looked gaudy enough to hold its own on that table!
In spite of the deliciousness of the menu, I have to admit the looks didn’t live up to the taste.
Going clockwise from upper left, that’s gumbo in the crockpot, sautéd brussels sprouts, shrimp and grits with Creole sauce, grilled vegetables, collard greens, crawfish étouffé, rice and a fresh salad. Oh, and a guest in the back being very polite and resisting the urge to dive right in!
For some reason, we didn’t manage to take any other pictures after our guests arrived. It might have something to do with the fact that everyone brought an adult beverage to share, or that we spent a fair amount outside in the dark, gathered around the fire pit. Whatever the reason, we had a refreshingly phone-free evening.
And by the end, even the cat was wearing beads.
And seemed fuzzier than usual…hmmm.
But wait! Don’t go away, because there’s another party! We had a single weekend off, and then we were packing our bags for Myrtle Beach. Miss Chef’s most inspiring mentor moved down there this January to take over and expand the culinary school at Horry GeorgetownTechnical College. The weekend of the 16th, the local chapter of a culinary association was hosting a gala dinner to raise money for the program, and Chef Bonaparte invited Miss Chef and another chef from Charlotte to come down and assist. He just wanted to make sure he had reliable help that could follow his vision, since he was so new to the rest of the faculty.
We arrived a couple days early, and Mrs. Bonaparte showed me around Myrtle Beach while the chefs spent two days prepping. Miss Chef and I had never visited the area, and luckily Saturday was gorgeous, with highs near 70 and lots of sun. We took the dogs down to the beach for a walk in the sea breeze, and I discovered there’s a lot more washed up here than on the shores of Jekyll Island.
This little guy turned out to be dead, but he still looked really cool. Later in the day, we went to the Marsh Walk in Murrell’s Inlet, where I captured some haughty-acting pelicans.
This fellow couldn’t be bothered to wake up.
It took forever to get a shot of this one’s face, as it kept turning its head away whenever we pulled out a camera. But persistence paid off.
We did hit the boardwalk on a rainy, rainy Sunday afternoon, but after a browse through the Gay Dolphin, an historic souvenir store (or as I called them, tchotchke stores) and a quick lunch, we were off running errands for the chefs. Finally we returned home to doll up for the Gala…which I had learned only after our drive down was a black tie event. I had brought pants. Oh well, I wore my damn pants. I’m a chef’s wife, I make my own rules.
Here’s the outside of the menu.
And the menu itself. (Click to embiggen.)
The hors d’oeuvres were carried around on trays by the students while we sipped prosecco and browsed the enormous selection of items on offer for a silent auction. There was a lot of art, some jewelry and accessories, some sports memorabilia and equipment, and a whole lot of gift certificates for local stores and restaurants. No, I didn’t bid on anything.
Since the other chef’s wife started feeling light-headed, we managed to get into the dining room before most of the other guests, and I took the opportunity to grab a few pictures. The theme was obvious, from the menu and centerpieces…
…to the room décor.
Those dark display posters are actually giant recreations of classic rock album covers. I was pleased that we were seated right in front of the one I found most impressive for its faithful recreation of the original.
That’s me on the right—I don’t post photos of myself very often!
During the meal there was another, live, auction, complete with a family of professional auctioneers including two guys with black cowboy hats and ascot-style ties. Along with the food, wine and glittery guests, it was quite an entertaining evening.
In fact, it was so entertaining, I only photographed one dish, the dessert.
As an epilogue, remember that picture of Miss Chef’s brother cutting a hole in the wall under our bar? He was installing this.
We hardly ever use this bar, in spite of having a nice set of director-style chairs with covers custom-made by my mother. We had thought that we’d be entertaining a lot, and our guests would sit themselves at the bar with a glass of wine, but the fact is, most of the time the food is done by the time they arrive, and the bar is usually full of crap, so not very inviting.
So Miss Chef and her brother built this.
The idea is to fill it with a some of Miss Chef’s more impressive looking cookbooks, and some serving dishes and other kitchen stuff that can come out of our crowded cabinets. As you can see, it’s been a haphazard decoration project so far. Maybe if we stop going to parties, we can focus some attention here.
Though, to be honest, the chances are slim. Besides, I have this other project halfway finished outside, and the clock is ticking on this one. I want to get seeds in the dirt this weekend!