Last evening we were feted with a Nine-Course Tasting Dinner in the Helena, Arkansas home of our sweet friend Kirk Whiteside. We celebrated Labor Day, two September birthdays and our(Tim & Brandt) September 5th wedding anniversary. Yes, seven years ago today we were lovingly and legally wed. While there is a large faction of our country which thinks we don’t deserve that freedom…I openly and freely celebrate it every single day. We also celebrate our three friends, Robert, Delia and Kirk who’ve become much more like family. The pandemic found the five of us in similar situations relating to our quarantine protocols. We called them our Quaranteam…we felt safe around them as we knew they were practicing the same level of protection we were. We’ve had holiday, birthday, anniversary and numerous regular day celebrations as well as loving on each other during the passing of five dear loved ones. Situations and circumstances had not allowed us to gather in Helena which made the evening extra special.
Please note Kirks delicious dinner which was almost upstaged by his Canine Chorus. Upon arrival we immediately saw them waiting excitedly at the front door. Their energy throughout the evening will be a treasured memory.
Bella, Bruno, Missy, Patches and Sky are all loving and adorable and better behaved than many children…well, except when they see a neighbors visiting granddog. We quickly realized Kirk has no need for a security system. Otherwise, they were perfectly loveable hosts. Mary Ann Hargraves, another Helena friend joined us for the evening and told of a recent event when she briefly stepped away from her freshly cooked hamburger to return and find it devoured by an innocent looking pup. Our friend’s Joe and Mary Pryor Sherman often tell of the disappearance of steak and tuna from their kitchen counter. Early in our relationship Brandt and I had a Christmas Party and our “sweet one” Toby helped himself to a plate of Godiva Chocolates before the first guest arrived. But not Kirk’s pack….they were behaved and adorable all evening. Kirk had local Pork Rinds on the coffee table. We devoured them but the pups ignored them…amazing!!!
Dining in the Delta
Upon arrival hosts would typically offer something to drink, a cocktail or a glass of bubbly. Not Kirk. I knew we were in for an Oh My Goodness evening when Kirk and his able assistant Stephanie offered watermelon of popsicle sticks…without explanation…until all had taken a bite…a bit like Haydn’s Surprise Symphony. However, Haydn waited until the second movement whereas Kirk hit us at HELLO!!!
The slice of watermelon was soaked in everything one would put in a margarita…then frozen. Kirk finished this delightfully refreshing starter surprise with lime zest and flaked sea salt. The perfect beginning to an evening on Labor Day weekend.
I know when you see the rest of the meal you’ll think I’m crazy but the second course was my favorite. There was just something about it which felt like home and fine dining at the same time…not to mention it was the perfect combination of savory, sweet and spicy…WITH A CRUNCH…I love texture!!! So many people say “I could never cook for you”. I literally could be happy with chip and dip and a glass of wine.
Note…in the top left corner is a cocktail. Kirk saved the watermelon marinade, added tonic and served it as a cocktail…FABULOUS!!! We’d been there maybe 15 minutes and already had watermelon soaked in margarita and the soaking liquid made into a cocktail. Delta folks entertain like no others!!!
We moved to the living area where Stephanie delivered another round of small white plates. She left and quickly returned with Dressed Eggs…they were too good to be called Deviled…made by Mary Ann accessorized with hors d’oeuvre picks to match Mary Ann’s festive red, white and blue outfit complete with red and white tassel earrings. We found out the earrings were designed for the Arkansas football games but were doing double duty for Labor Day festivities. Yes, the eggs were delicious. Yes, it’s the South and Deviled Eggs are common. Yes, you find them on lots of fine dining menus. No, not everyone has three chicken coups in their backyard complete with a chandelier AND has sweater’s custom knitted for their brood. Yes, like Kirk’s dogs almost upstaging his dinner…Mary Ann’s chicken chronicles were almost as good as her eggs. The way I know the eggs were better than the stories is that my husband ate four. There was one left but knowing what else was to come…Stephanie cut him off at four.
We moved to the dining table for what Kirk called the amuse-bouche. I found it to be more like Chopin’s Minute Waltz…complex but brief and a joy to behold. It was arguably the most composed course of the evening. A culinary work of art truly resembling something one would find in a Michelin starred dining room.
The tuna was perfectly seared and floated in a shallow pool of pesto..light like basil oil, rich like pesto but not heavy like pesto can be. The tomatoes were the last of summer’s delicate jewels and the tuna dotted with a silky avocado crema. I didn’t…but I literally stared at it…because I really, really, really wanted to turn it up and shoot it. All the components are in my top five favorite things.
Except for the fact we’d already devoured four courses, this could’ve been considered the first course….a soup course with accompanying toast. The wine of choice was a perfectly chilled sparkling Pinot Noir/Chardonnay blend.
Kirks experience in the theatre came into play when he allowed us a small stage, two lead dancers and two ballerinas so we could create our own culinary version of Don Quixote. Blanco Ajo did a pas de deux with Gazpacho for a delightful romp over our palettes. Of course, there was a contrast in color but more so in texture. They certainly possessed their own flavor profiles, as well. The accompanying toast’s also offered contrast ranging from earthy tang to creamy piquant. It was enjoyable to mix, match and create our own version of the story.
My favorite course of an Italian meal is the Secondi…often seafood. This wasn’t an Italian dinner but again…if not for the five previous courses this would’ve been the Secondi or second course.
Driving down we had discussed the current production playing at Theatre Memphis and the prowess of the two supporting actors. Brandt stated, “in this particular show if you have a good female supporting actress you have a good show.” Well, this crabcake was the female supporting actress taking her star turn. I honestly don’t know how the crab was held together. It was 99.75% crab with a very light crust seared to a golden brown and placed on top of another supporting role of the avocado and mango coleslaw. The portion was more than a tasting portion and still Stephanie could’ve put the plates back in the cabinet as they were all returned spotless.
Kirks career has been in Fine Arts…performing and directing as well as a 34 year stint in education. He stepped into his musical background for this course which was definitely an Intermezzo aka brief interlude or diversion. With great expectation his audience eagerly expected the Grande Aria. Yet, Stephanie enters with yet another small plate with a slice of pizza. The audience fell silent…except for Delia who exclaimed, “how many more courses are there”. That would’ve been my favorite line of the evening except Kirk responded “just one more after this…then dessert”.
When the moon hits your eye like a big pizza pie…that’s AMORE!!!
While Delia and Kirk bantered Robert and I were fully engulfed in the salty, sweet, creamy, unctuousness of this triangle of pizza pie…truly Amore!!! As Kirk took his seat he says, it’s okay to pick it up. With hand and pizza to mouth I looked at Robert holding the same pose and Robert says, “it’s a good thing”. It might have been an interlude but it was complex and performed by an actor who wanted everyone to know they had star qualities!!!
Thankfully we had a bit of pause after the pizza. It seemed the Diva was taking her time before her grand entrance.
As Kirk sat down he apologized as the risotto took longer than expected. The wait was filled with more lively conversation as by now a big Old Vine Red had been poured, the decibel level had increased AND Brandt’s vocabulary regularly included Fuck which most always happens after the second glass of wine…we were two cocktails and a glass of wine in so…!!! The sweet puppy dogs all took their places around the house wondering if we would ever go home so they could go outside to do their evening jobs.
The dinner had nostalgic touches throughout in order to celebrate and honor the hard working laborers which keep our country moving. Thusly, what would any Labor Day be without BBQ. The Pork Tenderloin was tender and succulent finished with the perfect touch of sauce…sweet, spicy, smoky, vinegary BBQ sauce. Ms. Risotto, the Diva herself was in top voice showing off her broad range of sumptuous textures and flavors. The performance was accompanied by a performer which almost did what an accompanist should never do. Like the dogs and the chickens the performance of the Curried Peach almost stole the show…perfectly executed and soooo delicious. All together the trio gave a splendid performance.
You know what they say in showbiz…your audience will always remember the beginning and the end. Well, Kirk killed it with the Watermelon Popsicle and brought the house down with Lemon Icebox and a Mile High Meringue.
Helen and Fay both made great lemon icebox pies. Brandt and I think lovingly of our Mom’s everytime we take a bite. Kirks pie was the perfect rendition of an old stand-by. The pie was accompanied by a mini Chocolate Decadence cupcake to play the role of birthday and anniversary cake. Both the pie and cake were meticulously articulated which brought the evening to a beautiful ending full of nostalgia and love.
The house and ALL those who dwell in it was lovely and a good time was had by ALL!!!