I'm an Amanda Hesser fan from way back. I've read The Cook and the Gardener and Cooking for Mr. Latte. I've also read her husband Tad Friend's memoir, Cheerful Money.
So when I received an invitation to a food bloggers' potluck/book party for The Essential New York Times Cookbook,I shoved my other obligations aside to attend. We were asked to make something from the cookbook, or the old version, or the NYT itself. I decided to make Pimento Cheese, thinking that no one else would bring it. Too regional, and not an impressive culinary feat. I was introduced to this Southern dip/sandwich spread in Virginia, and have had a hankering for it ever since. North of the Mason-Dixon line, it seems the stuff is contraband.
The party was held at Audra Wolfe's house in West Philadelphia, where we were welcomed warmly. Audra and her sister write Doris and Jilly Cook. Victory Brewing Company sponsored the event, very nice. We started at the nametag table, where we tagged not only ourselves, but also the dishes we had brought.
I gazed hungrily at the table, where, packed tidily into a souffle dish, there already lay a nice wodge of Pimento Cheese. Derek Lee, of The Best Food Blog Ever, had figured no one else would make it, because it's Southern. We laughed (bitterly?) and someone took our picture. Since several other people had wandered into the party, friendless and alone, nervously clutching their beers, it was easy to bond with them over the food. "What did you bring?" and "Tell me about your blog" are simple, safe conversation starters, and we quickly loosened up. I met Ray and Melissa of Bathtub Brewery, and took home, with their blessing, a bottle of Bee Sting for Mr. Dream Kitchen. Got talking to Christine Burns Rudalevige, a food journalist who can be found here, Sarah of Sarahdares, "Livia" of no counter space, and met, briefly, the beet-carpaccio-wielding Albert Yee of Messy and Picky. I also met the organizer of the Philadelphia food bloggers' potlucks, Marisa McLellan, of Food in Jars, who's publishing a book soon. I'm going to guess it's about canning. Oh, and the excellent Tenaya Darlington of Madame Fromage.
What else was on the table? A cheese ball, cheese straws, mushrooms stuffed with duxelles, a spinach salad with preserved lemon slices, baked sweet potatoes with chipotle cream, and venison stew. And did I mention pimento cheese? Desserts included cranberry-pistachio biscotti, chocolate cupcakes with chocolate ganache frosting, brandied peaches with cream, cranberry upside down cake.
Amanda Hesser was there all the while, padding about in her Converse sneakers and looking rail-thin. Really, how does she do that? She demonstrated making Heavenly Hots, tangy light pancakes made with sour cream and cake flour. It was like eating clouds.
Another pimento cheese appeared on the table and I tried not to look at it.
Book signing time! I bought one, from a nice young man named Matthew, who works for Joseph P. Fox booksellers, my favorite bookshop in the city. Amanda had relocated to the living room sofa, and as I gave her the book to sign, I babbled on about the recipe for Country Captain and how my friend Oonie knew her husband Tad when he was a boy, bla bla bla. She smiled and laughed indulgently. And, in black pen, all lower case, she wrote: "lauren--hope this becomes a beloved kitchen companion--enjoy! all best, amanda hesser"
I suspect that this book party will be covered in the "Culture Diary" she is writing for the Paris Review. Will she mention the Pimento Cheese Glut?
I gathered my things, including the leftover pimento cheese (well--yeah!), Bee Sting, a few business cards, and the huge red beloved kitchen companion, said my goodbyes, and drove back home.
Tonight's dinner: Grilled Pimento Cheese Sandwiches.