Bonfires. Grilling out. Friends. Cold beer. Mosquitoes. Late night sunshine. The instant green flourish of birch trees. These are the broader strokes that color an Alaskan summer.
For a little R&R on Saturday, we invited some of our closest friends over to enjoy all of the previously mentioned pleasures (mosquitoes excluded) in our backyard.
The potluck mentality is alive and well in Fairbanks. Any home you visit, you don’t ask, you take food with you and vice versa, guests always bring food with them. It doesn’t matter how little people have to buy or give, there’s always something to share around the community table. I love that people share but I also love the informality of it all. I’m comfortable being informal. I like wearing yoga pants and I cuss like a sailor. I have mismatched dinner plates and bowls, and if you eat at my house, salad forks and soup spoons may very well be what you’re eating your entire meal with because flatware is flatware in my neck of the woods.
The first pages in each of my old cookbooks outline entire courses, reminding yesterday’s housewife which vegetable (in the white sauce du jour) paired best with which meat. There are illustrations showing the homemaker how to set the table, for crying out loud. I’m pretty sure I would have been a miserable hostess if I’d been around 80 years ago.
When we had our friends over on Saturday, we used coolers as our tables and sat in camping chairs around the fire with plates in our laps. See what I’m talking about?! Miserable by Mrs. Ellis’ and Mrs. Kander’s standards!
The food was good anyway. On Saturday’s menu:
- Cheddar, Pickle, and Onion Skewers
- Corn Dip with Green Chilis, Jalapenos, Cheddar, Green Onion, and heaping-TBSP-of-stuff-that’s-not-good-for-you
- Black Rice and Kale Salad with Pomegranate, Bacon, Goat Cheese, and a Hot Bacon-Dijon Dressing (Recipe to be posted soon)
- Onions Stuffed with Italian Sausage
- Grillable Cheese (It tasted kind of like brie)
For dessert, I made a Honey and Cornmeal Cake with Herb and Lemon Custard, inspired by the honey cake recipes in all three of my old cookbooks.
One of my favorite cornbread recipes is from 101 Cookbooks and I was hoping to make a cake with the same effect of creating a custard layer under the top of the batter, but it didn’t work quite as I had planned. The batter was a bit too thick, I think. Instead, the flavored cream settled to the bottom of the pan, so as it cooked, each slice had a thin layer of custard on the bottom. It was delicious as it was, though I’m going to try it again soon and figure out how to make it as I originally envisioned. Maybe next time with lavender.
- 1 cup heavy cream
- 1 small bunch of sage or thyme
- Zest of one lemon
- 2 Tbsp. honey
- 1 cups all purpose flour
- ½ cup whole wheat flour
- ¾ cups fine yellow cornmeal
- 1 tsp. baking powder
- ½ tsp baking soda
- 1 tsp salt
- ¼ tsp. Freshly grated nutmeg (if using pre-ground, you might want to up this amount to ½ tsp)
- ⅛ cup fresh herbs, chopped (I used sage)
- 2 Eggs
- 1 cup honey
- ¾ cup buttermilk (or regular milk and the juice of the lemon you zested earlier)
- ½ cup olive oil
- Preheat oven to 350.
- In a small saucepan, add first four ingredients. Simmer for about 5 minutes, stirring occasionally so the cream does not burn. Turn off heat and let cool until you're ready to use it.
- In a bowl, combine all purpose and wheat flours, cornmeal, baking powder, baking soda, salt, nutmeg, and fresh herbs. Whisk together until well-combined.
- If you don't have buttermilk, measure out ¾ milk and add ¾ Tbsp. of fresh lemon juice. Let sit for a few minutes to curdle.
- In a stand mixer or by hand, beat eggs honey together until a bit of foam forms on top. I did this with my stand mixer on medium-high for about 4 minutes.
- Once mixed, add buttermilk and olive oil.
- Combine dry ingredients with wet ingredients and mix until well combined.
- Pour the batter into a springform pan lined with parchment.
- Now, discard the herb sprig from the cream mixture. Pour the cream along with the zest in the middle of the batter.
- Bake for 35 minutes.
- Once done, let cool before serving. Serve with fresh honey and butter.