One of the things I enjoy most with friends is cooking and eating. Recently I indulged in this friend past-time with my good friends the Neely’s. Now, keep in mind that I did none of the cooking and simply brought two bottles of wine – a red and a white, each that came highly recommended from the wine store in Lower Highland called Amendment XXI.
To really get started though, let me introduce you to the Neely’s: Steve Neely is from Scotland (I love the accent) and Becky Neely is from Nashville, TN (another lovely accent). They met in Dominica while Becky was living and working there for the Peace Core and they have traveled the world together in the years since they’ve been married. Steve is the cook of the family and a very fantastic cook at that. Creative and willing to put much more time into preparation than I ever am. I knew this was going to be a fantastic meal that would spoil my taste buds for weeks to come!
When I arrived at their cozy Highland neighborhood home, Steve was just pulling everything out to begin cooking. Becky and I appropriately began to chill the white wine, which we then proceeded to drink even as we were cooking. Here is my disclaimer on the “we” reference in this post…if it’s in reference to cooking, it is referring to Steve Neely, unless you are gracious enough to count some occasional chopping and rinsing which I have to give credit for to Becky. All three of us stood in the lovely kitchen and caught up on our lives. This is one of my favorite parts and almost as good in my mind as actually sitting down to enjoy the meal – conversing and interacting, standing around in the kitchen. It feels so real and I like the casualness of this.
The chicken had been soaked in a brine since the day before to tenderize the meat and prepare it for cooking. Looking at the cookbook that Steve had received as a Christmas gift, I learned that the meal we were having that night was essentially very similar to paella. “Wonderful” I thought, “I love paella!”…I love practically all food! Yet what a special dish this was…it was a wonderful new version, we can call it a remake or better yet a “cover dish”. Like a cover song…get it? From there I could not tell you in what order things were done, except that the end result was the following: a fantastically colorful and most delicious dish of crawfish, shrimp, chicken, sausage, peppers, green beans, mussels, roasted tomatoes, and very likely much more that my memory is not pulling up. That is not all though! All of this was laid out in a bed of savory yellow rice full of spices and cooked to perfection ( rice can still be ruined, believe it or not).
This was one of those nights that encompassed both fantastic food and amazingly wonderful friends. I would say that the company is what certainly makes any occasion and in this case, even the fantastic food did not rank higher than being with my friends.
You see, Becky and Steve have these open hearts that result in an open home. Their conversation is interesting and welcoming, while their minds are engaging and accepting. Perhaps this is embodied in their cooking as well. As much as Becky likes to point out that Steve is the cook, I like to remind her that she is his inspiration and “cohort in crime” when it comes to any masterpiece created in their kitchen and for that matter in their life together. Quite a pair they make and I must say I will always be thanking them for feeding not only my stomach, but also my heart. Thank you both and here’s to many more amazing dinners. May we one day cook and eat together in another country as well!