Last week I had the pleasure of spending my time in Athens, GA with my dream team (Emily Dorio, Jessie Pickren, Erin Wilson, Jamie Feldmar) creating the recipe photos for Rob Newton's upcoming cookbook, Seeking the South. On the way down, Rob and I stopped for Chinese food outside of Atlanta and he asked me where I liked to hang out in Athens. Anywhere that used to take my fake ID, I said. The last time I visited I was 20 and heartbroken. I remember how dense the humidity seemed, even in January, and the haziness of my drunken stupor as I watched Jeff Tweedy play a set to a room of 100. Or maybe it was the Drive-By Truckers. I rubbed up against a certain someone and he pressed back against me, then I was carried home crying. That's how my time in Athens usually went.
This trip was both humid and hazy, but so, so different. By day, we worked. And worked and worked and worked. Rob fed us his famous fried chicken, curried oxtails, crab salad piled high on top of fried green tomatoes, okra pan-fried with szechuan pepper. We printed out the photos (a whopping 70 by the end of the week!) and hung them on a wall. Emily would point at it and say, marry/fuck/kill- go! And we'd name our new highs and lows. By night, we walked down dirt paths that smelled of gardenias, we swam, we drank wine, we laughed on the porch.
You probably won't be surprised to learn that Athens is more delicious and less tragic when you are old and sane and relatively sober. No tears were shed; no dinners were lost to the sidewalk; no hands drifted to places they don't belong in public. I tore myself away from the giant jacuzzi bathtub on The Hill only twice- once to go to The National, where I inhaled a plate of okra with harissa, lamb, chickpeas, yogurt, almonds and cilantro (yes, all my favorite things) and gushed over how we don't deserve Peter Dale. And another time to go to SeaBear Oyster Bar, followed by the Manhattan Cafe, aka the only place I ever want to drink ginger beer in the future. That's where the haziness came in for this "one drink, one drunk" who had two frozen negronis and a whiskey ginger.
Now I am home and back on my bullshit, as the kids say. Which isn't bullshit so much as it is spending lots of time alone and being hydrated and eating vegetables and going to bed between 9 and 10pm. If last week was defined by Rob's book, this week is defined by my friend Margaret's, who you may know as Maggie Pate, Nade Studio, or my wifey. I have an advanced copy (pre-order here) of The Natural Colors Cookbook and a bunch of things she's dyed- a dress, two shirts, two aprons, some osage dyed fabric, and most recently, fabric dyed with onion skins. To say she fills my life with color and sugar and continually makes me proud to know her...might barely begin to cover my feelings in the wake of seeing her book for the first time.
As usual, though I am at a loss for words, I am not at a loss for food. I also happen to use onion skins regularly to flavor and dye chicken stock and the way it looks agains the onion skin dyed fabric makes me fucking giddy. I keep joking that I am in cookbook shoot recovery this week, meaning no fried chicken, sugar, frozen negronis, third dinners, etc. My meals have been a lot like this one- light and fresh, bright and comforting. If you have homemade chicken stock in your freezer- and you always should- this comes together in no time.
A note on making chicken stock: save the bones and skin anytime you make chicken or eat chicken at a restaurant. Pop them in a bag and store them in the freezer. In a separate bag, save the ends/peels of celery, carrots and onions. Parmesan rinds and kale stems are welcome, too. When you have enough chicken to fill a six quart pot 1/3 of the way up, make stock. Simmer chicken parts with water only for 2 hours (you can do this in the oven at 300 degrees), then add peels/ends, bay leaf, thyme if you've got it, and a pinch of salt. Simmer for at least another hour, or up to three more. Strain and freeze.
Cookbook Shoot Recovery Soup
-serves as many or as few as you'd like
homemade chicken stock
thinly sliced vegetables such as summer squash, green beans, cabbage
sturdy pasta such as fregola
fresh herbs such as basil and mint
shaved Pecorino or Parmesan
It's pretty straightforward, friends: if you have some cooked pasta and blanched veggies on hand like I did, heat up your stock and toss them in at the end. If not, cook it all right in the stock and make sure you drop the veggies in last so they only cook for a minute or two. Serve with whole leaves of fresh basil and mint, shaved cheese, a squeeze of lemon, a sprinkle of black pepper. There's no right or wrong ratio of veggies to pasta or pasta to stock, though I'd say my bowl had a pretty even portion of each.