Our friend Ret (short for Margaret) invited us and a few other friends over for an afternoon BBQ. I was so happy not to have to cook and to be on the other side of the stove for a change. Don't get me wrong, I LOVE to cook, sometimes I just need a little break. The weather being so unpredictable, our lunch was indoors in the cool air-conditioning.
Ret has a Southern gentility having been born in Charleston, SC - it must be in the family's genes. The gathering started with some Cosmos, the martini glasses were super-sized and I drank mine a little too quickly. The very first thing I noticed on Ret's table were these gorgeous antique plates – each with a different floral and graphic design. She explained that the china has been in the family for quite some time and that they originally belonged to her Aunt Ju Ju. The story goes Aunt Ju Ju was an eclectic woman and actually served Edgar Allen Poe on the very same dishes, fancy that! The patina of the antique silver place settings played against the colorful plates and soft linen tablecloth and napkins.
As we sat around on plush sofas grazing over appetizers, Ret was preparing a gorgeous fillet of salmon that she grilled on cedar planks. The smokiness of the cedar gently infused the salmon. On the side we had a ratatouille-style Charleston Gumbo made with chunky tomatoes, onions, green pepper and bacon (I became privy to the family's secret cooking tip) - once you saute the bacon remove it and then saute your okra to capture that smokey taste. Some nutty wild rice, and a crisp cool salad rounded it all off.
For dessert, a sweet, light Almond Cake that paired beautifully with a deep rich cup of coffee served in delicate china cups. I pictured myself on the veranda of a traditional Charleston home, relaxing after a wonderful summer meal. A languid breeze and the scent of magnolias fills the air. A mint julep in one hand and I'm practically there.