Recollecting on a Thursday

It's Thursday. Somewhere in Northern Florida, a group of girls is getting together to catch up over wine or cocktails. Maybe someone will host a potluck. I know it, because Thursday is girl's night.

If not this week, then next week. I don't know what I expected when I boarded that plane for Florida. I know I was mentally exhausted, so I doubt I was thinking much of anything. I remember being excited for the months ahead. I also remember being petrified for the months ahead. I wish I could go back in time and tell that girl, Hey, relax. It's all going to be fine. I didn't expect what would happen next -- Kudzu vines that threatened to eat the South, hoards of Spanish moss, that rainy day at St. George when the wind whipped at my ears and I found a fully intact conch shell, my feet covered in wet sand. I didn't expect so many tall trees, or a winter that felt like fall, or a coffee shop that serves up the best chai lattés around. I didn't expect to learn the way to the the local food co-op like the back of my hand, or that I'd come to regard the hard cider sold there as the best cider that has ever crossed my lips. We carved pumpkins for Halloween at Nat and Rory's, and drank Vampire wine and candy corn cocktails. We might've played video games into the wee hours of the morning. If you're desperately searching for the sugar high of your life, those cocktails fit the bill remarkably well. 

And I made a handful of friends worth cherishing. That's the most unexpected part of it. 

I remember the first house party I went to because it was the first weekend I spent in Tallahassee. I drank someone else's Maker's Mark straight up and spent a long time talking about writing and teaching and trying to get everyone's names straight. So this is America, I thought -- stories of husbands hiking in cowboy boots in Greece, a big pot of chili simmering on the stove to which someone had added spaghetti noodles, because that's how they make it in Ohio. A bottle of bourbon with a waxy red top and everyone involved in everyone's business. Accents of all kinds, sweet tea, entire grocery aisles devoted to barbequeu sauce, and gorgeous weather. When you step south of the Mason-Dixon line, prepare yourself for some serious hospitality.

I developed my own routines. I listened to motown and country on the radio. I shopped at Winn-Dixie and Target. I visited the turtles at Lake Ella and checked out all of the farmer's markets. I even invited Kim and Matt over for Canadian Thanksgiving, and I threw together a turkey dinner on the fly complete with homemade refrigerator pickles and local sweet corn. I made Julia Child's turkey and garlic-dill mashed potatoes. There was cranberry sauce and clumpy gravy (not exactly my strong suit), and salad tossed with a homemade balsamic vinaigrette. We ate cheese, baked fruit and homemade, three-ingredient peanut butter cookies for dessert, and saw The Invention of Lying. It was okay, as far as movies go, but made better by the cheap margaritas we drank afterward at Cabos. I will always remember that Thanksgiving -- my first (and only) away from Canada and the first (and only) I've ever cooked.

There was also girl's night. Every Thursday, a group of women would get together for dinner and drinks. I miss those Thursdays, and wish I could start something of that nature in Toronto -- low-key, a cluster of friends sitting around at a bar or at someone's apartment, shooting the breeze and relaxing together (preferably with appropriate libations, naturally.)

That's how I met Leigh. On the first girl's night I attended, Leigh made a pot of her mom's Beer-Cheese Soup and kindly accommodated my dietary restrictions. On one of my last days in Tallahassee, we got together for an amazing lunch and shared this blueberry-ginger cheesecake. I still remember that cheesecake because it must be the best I've ever eaten. And on one occasion in particular -- when a ribfest was being held -- she brought a lemon artichoke pesto that everyone raved about. I couldn't have any, but I bookmarked the recipe for future use. Leigh is a woman of discerning taste, after all.

I finally made the pesto, and I have three words for you: artichoke, artichoke, artichoke! I dare you to say it three times fast. It's the culinary equivalent of Beetlejuice, no? No dead artichokes will rise from the graveyard, fortunately, but there's enough garlic in this recipe to ward off the vampires. It is pretty fantastic. While I find basil pesto fairly versatile, I'll venture to say this one is even more so, at least to my mind. It's great on pasta, of course. It would be fantastic slathered on chicken breasts, or tossed with shrimp. It would be wonderful on toasted bread or with corn chips. It makes a lovely spread on sandwiches or on pizza, and I think it would be delicious mixed with quinoa or roasted broccoli. The recipe doesn't require much tinkering, and freezes well -- the easiest way is to fill ice cube trays and pop the pesto out once it's frozen. I then toss the cubes into a freezer bag, and take out as necessary -- it'll give you a little taste of the unexpected. And better yet: try it with friends, huddled over a coffee table, with a bottle of wine in front of you. Maybe even on a Thursday.

As can be expected, the quality of ingredients will effect the quality of the final product. I'd recommend using your favourite olive oil and real parmesan cheese here. In regards to the artichokes, I used a generic canned variety and washed them well of their brine -- they worked just fine for my purposes. 

Lemon Artichoke Pesto
Adapted from Allrecipes.com

1/4 cup (packed) fresh cilantro, finely chopped
6 garlic cloves, minced
3 tbsp fresh lemon juice
1/2 tsp cayenne pepper
1 cup walnuts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup grapeseed oil (or other vegetable oil)
1/2 cup (or more) good-quality olive oil
8oz artichoke hearts, coarsely chopped
1/2 cup Parmigiano-Reggiano, grated
Salt and black pepper, to taste

Toast the walnuts gently in a dry skillet or in the oven, about five minutes, until fragrant.

In a food processor, combine the first eight ingredients (including the toasted walnuts) and pulse until mixture forms a very thick paste. With the motor running, drizzle in the grapeseed oil, followed by the olive oil, until desired texture forms. If you intend to freeze, you can also do as I did; I used only half of the oil called for and I drizzle in a little more when I go to use the pesto. I also tend to salt liberally in order to preserve the flavour. Refrigerate immediately, or freeze in an ice cube tray for future use.

"I do not wish to treat friendships daintily, but with the roughest courage. When they are real, they are not glass threads or frost-work, but the solidest thing we know." 
- Ralph Waldo Emerson


Leigh said...

Sarah, I love you! This post is especially timely, as I'm missing Tallahassee like hell, even more so that I'll spending my Thursday night with my cat, a bottle of wine, and Cicero. I miss you so very much, and I'm so happy you liked the pesto! (And yes, that blueberry-ginger masterpiece was probably the best cheesecake I've ever had) I couldn't come visit you this summer, but I've still got a hankering for a trip to Toronto...

PS: I've got my own tag! I'm famous!

Joanne said...

This is such a sweet post! My friends and I don't really do girl's night but maybe that's cause my closest friends and i live together...so it's always kind of like girl's night. It was so much fun reading about you and damn does that pesto sound good!

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