Now, where were we? It seems it’s been birth month starting with a FABULOUS dinner by Kirk Whiteside in Helena, AR.
Well, actually…I suppose it started 63 years ago with Quindel and Fay. So many people prefer to ignore birthdays but it’s my favorite time of year. You know, if we stop having birthdays…The End!
Interestingly enough this birthday weekend began because a life ended.
Our friend Ryan Anthony no longer celebrates birthdays because of Multiple Myeloma. However, he left a legacy which will help many others continue to see their birthday. Friday evening we saw a screening of Song For Hope, the documentary chronicling his journey. Ryan had a talent like many musicians aspire to. However, he was not a show horse. One would never know he had this incredible gift until his music filled a concert hall, sanctuary or salon. I recall many times when he would slip in the choir loft during the sermon…just flying in from playing to a sold out house somewhere in the world. Then we would get to hear he and Gary Beard play some breathtaking impromptu postlude. I miss their music in my life and I miss Ryan’s gentle spirit. I admit I dreaded seeing the film.
I didn’t want to watch him die.
To the directors credit what the movie portrayed was a story of passion. Ryan was so passionate about his family, his students, his symphony colleagues and his music he was able to celebrate life years beyond what the medical professionals ever expected. As an educator my emotions overflowed when the film followed him from hospital to studio. After hearing his numbers were not improving we saw Ryan and Niki hear he needed another FIVE DAY infusion. We watched him roll his suitcase, music and trumpet into the hospital. We saw the real mental, physical and emotional roller coaster that is chemotherapy. Then when most would’ve gone home to convalesce after five days of a non-stop drip…we watched him roll everything to his car and drive to his studio at SMU. There we watched him teach. We saw joy in his blood shot eyes. We heard encouragement and passion in a voice which had every right to be weak and feeble. We heard him talk to the student about how to give energy to a particular passage of music…how to breathe life into that phrase. Yes, he talked about how to create musical ENERGY…after five days of continuous intravenous chemotherapy. The whole film was an incredible birthday gift from our dear Ryan who can no longer celebrate birthdays.
The weekend continued Saturday morning when we went to the Memphis Symphony rehearsal. The movie Friday night was part of a weekend of events produced by Cancer Blows and the Ryan Anthony Foundation. Some of the most famous trumpet players in the world came to teach master classes on Friday and play with the Memphis Symphony for a Cancer Blows Concert Saturday evening. Our chosen family Robert and Delia gifted us VIP passes to all the events including the Saturday morning rehearsal. When Brandt realized we could attend the rehearsal he said, “you may not want to go but I think I’m go to the rehearsal tomorrow” remembering when he enjoyed going to rehearsals for the New York Phil. I had been planning to go to the rehearsal all along but didn’t think he would want to go.
We took the trolley…something else we haven’t remotely considered since 2020. We were seated in the Parterre of The Cannon Center. We could hear conductor Robert Moody speaking to the orchestra but he was facing away from us. Before they started rehearsing I did hear the words Appian Way. And then came…the downbeat. It was like electroshock therapy. We have been so careful during the pandemic we haven’t been in a theatre or concert hall since 2019. It was indeed Respighi’s Pines of Rome…all four movements. Hearing the opening phrase by the the French Horn section…LIVE…was mind bending. Then the fourth movement calls for six Buccine…an ancient Roman brass instrument. Since there were 12 of the finest trumpet players in the world in town they substituted with ALL of them playing the triumphant finale…from the Parterre. Respighi is reported to have said the finale made him have “an I-don’t-know-what” in the pit of his stomach. He said it was the first time a work he had imagined turned out how he wanted it. I totally understand the “I-don’t-know-what” in the pit of the stomach. It literally took my breath…and this was rehearsal.
Not only had I not been in a concert hall in a while but it had been even longer since I’d been in a rehearsal. The commitment to detail I’ve built my business on began with learning how to create finesse and nuance in a musical phrase. I loved hearing the conductor massage the music and then watch him pull the music out of the entire orchestra. Once again, a birthday gift with deep emotional ties.
Saturday evening’s concert was more emotional than words can explain. Given the talent on the stage I could’ve been a bit star struck. However, I’m 63 and have been blessed to see and hear a lot of really talented musicians. I heard Allen Vizzutti when he was 27 at The Midwest Band and Orchestra Clinic in Chicago. I’ve seen Chicago and Canadian Brass several times. This time…this Saturday night in Memphis…there were no stars. These musicians were like minding in the support of Ryan’s vision to end Multiple Myeloma. Don’t get me wrong…they played like SUPERstars but they were all there for a common good. The icing on the birthday cake was that we were able to take a trolley from South Main to the Cannon Center on North Main and hear not one but twelve of the worlds finest trumpet players with The Memphis Symphony.
WHAT??? Right…we were not in New York City, Chicago or Los Angeles. It was just up the street. That was an amazing part of the gift.
Also interesting…I was familiar with every piece on the program. Some were re-imagined…even Bernstein but still I had a point of reference for each piece. Every piece took me on a roller coaster ride of emotions of where I had played it, heard it, seen it, what group(s) I’d heard/seen perform it. Yet again, it all felt brand new. I simply had no idea how my soul had missed live professional performances. It’s truly amazing that Ryan’s passion continues to inspire us.
Brandt and I both woke up Sunday morning with what felt like a hangover. Well, what they say a hangover feels like…LOL!!! Brandt said, “I just feel like I’m in a fog”. We didn’t have time to really think about it or even make “hair of the dog”. We packed up to transition to Edwards Farm for birthday dinner. As we were driving the fog began to clear and I realized the hangover was actually an emotional hangover. All the emotions of Saturday evening were still working their way through our systems. Between the rehearsal and the performance…there was a lot to process. It really was an amazing, multi-faceted birthday gift.
At 2:30 prompt something akin to an Airstream Trailer pulled into the driveway at 230 Edwards Road. A Dodge RAM pulled the trailer driven by Chef David Leathers…Foodsmith Nashville.
I’ve borrowed photos from Foodsmith Instagram. I suppose I was so overwhelmed by the idea of a private chef pulling up in the driveway I didn’t take any photos of the exterior.
This evening came about because Shawn Brevard, another chosen family member and I pooled our resources to bid on an auction item supporting Tupelo’s Link Centre. David was generous enough to donate a Foodsmith dinner to the auction. Truthfully, I made the bid thinking there was no way we would win…but I’m so glad we did. I immediately thought how fun it would be for Chef David to come to the farm and Shawn concurred.
It was a beautiful fall evening for dinner on the farm.
Signature Pimento Cheese on Wine Chips or Phyllo Cup
Jasper Hill Farm Harbison with Meyer Lemon Marmalade
Sweet Grass Thomasville Tomme with Wild Cherry Preserves
Spanish Veigadarte with Refrigerator Pickles
Chef David started dinner by greeting us on the patio with his magical version of Shrimp and Grits
We found our way into the trailer and whatever you envision when you hear the word trailer…this is not that. The atmosphere and aesthetic is meticulously curated for a one-of-a-kind guest experience. The Amuse-bouche had us at HELLO…!!! For my Duke’s aficionados…Chef David says pass your yolks through a ricer and add Duke’s. Truly, the silkiest texture I’ve ever tasted…then there was pork belly and watermelon pickles. As Uncle Bucky would say…”this will make you Yodel!!!”
You know…camping for me is a Holiday Inn. But, if this is camping…call all of us Happy Campers!!!
The third course (if you’re counting) was familiar…similar to Caprese…but only in components. Not even close in flavor profile. The tomatoes were there as was the mozzarella…then it went WAAAAYYYY South. These were heirloom tomatoes and burrata. Then there was whiskey barrell balsamic and brown butter cornbread crumbs. Oh, wait…did I mention the roasted okra? Like I said…similar to Caprese..but true Deep South Dining!
Lord Have Mercy!!!
Next came a dish I had seen on @foodsmithnashville. I was so excited to see it included in our dinner. Inspired by a tamale but again a dimension unlike any other tamale. Yes, texture is something which elevates a dish for me. I know the word is often overused but the texture of the masa was artisanal…a perfect grind to accompany the tender pork, wrapped in a pickled collard leaf and resting in a pool of smoky piquant broth.
Chef reminded us we’d had four courses and invited us to step outside for a intermezzo. It was almost like dinner and a show. The sun was setting beyond the water tower. The cows were getting settled beneath the bois d’arc tree. The geese were confused flying one direction then the other as the mornings feel like it’s time to fly further South but after noon they are ready to head back North.
And, there we stood…there we all stood in the warm glow of a 2014 La Fortuna Brunello di Montalcino…telling stories, loving each others company and enjoying life to the fullest.
As we returned to the table we were greeted with the fifth course…filet of beef accompanied by roasted mushrooms and potato pureé…he calls it mash but again he has this technique that can only be compared to silk…this was not grandma’s mashed potatoes.
Conversation was fabulous. Food was over the top. The aesthetic was unique like no other dining experience we’ve had. Then, the lights go off…
No words!!! There is no way to describe this. Croissants, local chocolate milk, bourbon, burnt sugar, berries…just use your imagination…look at the photo and multiply times a million. Brandt had asked if he should get a birthday cake and I told him I felt sure Chef had a dessert planned. But again, not just a dessert but a birthday dessert experience. He served the desserts in the dark…mine being the last one with a GOLD candle. It wasn’t 12 master trumpets but it dramatic and incredibly delicious.
But, wait! There’s…
A few weeks ago my cousin Nan said she would like to cook birthday dinner for me. She offered the 25th or 26th. I chose the 26th and was so touched that she would go to the trouble. She asked what I would like for dinner. I had just seen her post about a fish fry she had done. Catfish Dinners were such a part of our childhood I knew it was an imposition but it was the thing which felt like a family birthday…and Oh My Goodness did she deliver!!!
We were greeted by a beautiful table. I know Brandt was thrilled to see a birthday cake as I had not had one…now we could REALLY have a birthday dinner.
We found Cousin Nan and the fabulous Dennis Horn, a long lost Booneville friend on the patio hovering over the bubbling grease. They could’ve easily been Quindel and Fay. She had a plate of “appetizer fries” already on the table. Or course, she did everything just like my Mom, her Aunt Fay. Mom made a plate of fries for snacking before anything else and then another to go with the fish. I’m not sure Nan or Dennis got any fries as Brandt and I devoured the entire plate. At some point Nan came over for a fry…Too Late!!! I haven’t freely eaten French Fries since January 2019 but last night felt like 1979 when Mom had all the family over before I “left home”…not to war but it felt like that. I tried to help her understand I was only going to college but Mother’s know…I never lived in that house again.
Fried catfish, hushpuppies, french fries, coleslaw and a “relish platter” was standard fare at our house. Nan captured it just like it always was. She also threw in a Cornbread Salad just because it seemed like we need something else. She stayed away from the fresh Lemonade and Homemade Ice Cream because she know we would both ugly cry…that would just be going too far. She did say, “everybody help yourself…I hope I’ve got something ya’ll can eat”. That’s what really let me know Mom was there for my birthday.
She also didn’t do a Devil’s Food Cake with Seven Minute Icing as seen at the top of the blog…nor did I wear a red shirt. That too would’ve been way too much. I’ve made or had made “Mom’s birthday cake” three times since 2001 when She left and all three times I was an emotional mess. However, Nan did call our new Tupelo go to for all things cake…Kick Ash and Colorful . I was so full of FRIES, fish and all the trimmings last night I couldn’t fully enjoy the cake. Brandt and I had a piece after lunch today and I tell you it’s SPECTACULAR. This girl, Ashley Irvin
is the real deal. If you want to make someone feel special AND have delicious cake call Ashley.
I would say it’s time for a birthday break. However, tomorrow a Whirlpool five burner, double oven range is being delivered to the loft so I’ll feel like Dad has delivered a birthday gift. Then Thursday Brandt and I fly to Phoenix. I judge marching band in Flagstaff Saturday and then we’ll be at L’Auberge de Sedona next week. It’s the first time we’ve taken a vacation since February 2020…excited and anxious…simultaneously together!!!
It was a splendid birthday weekend full of emotion, love, family and amazing food.
The houses were lovely and a good time was had by all!