During my last week of college, my friend Jenna and I took to leaving campus at midnight and walking around Philadelphia’s Main Line until 5:00 in the morning. The night before graduation, we felt the need to step it up a notch, and decided to drive to New Jersey to find her childhood home (having moved to San Francisco when she was eight, she had nothing more to go on than a neighborhood and an elementary school). We crossed back over the Ben Franklin bridge just as the sun was rising, and made it back to Bryn Mawr at 7:30 AM – 3 hours before my parents were scheduled to arrive for convocation.
I left Philadelphia soon after for a six-month adventure in documentary making in Portland, Maine, and when Jenna graduated two years later, she headed off to Macedonia for a two-year stint in the Peace Corps.
Fast forward five and a half years.
A few months ago, Jenna (now back in Philly) and her boyfriend had us over for dinner. She and Brendan met while they were both living in Macedonia, and spent their time there falling in love and cooking up a storm. So when we headed to their Center City apartment, we knew we were in for something special. They had spent all day in the kitchen, and by the time we arrived, there was homemade mushroom ravioli, fresh baked bread, and hot apple pie, straight from the oven.
Needless to say, the meal was incredible, and when we invited them over for dinner this past weekend, I knew we had some big shoes to fill.
You see, Brent and I don’t actually cook all that often. We throw things together frequently – stir fry and grilled veggies and omelets and impromptu salads abound (not to mention Brent’s frequent mounds of pasta and whole foods bbq chicken pizzas). But actual recipes? We tend not to have time (or make time) for such undertakings.
Not to mention, in the hours before they were set to come over for dinner, I had plans for a 6:30 AM 10-mile run, followed by a marathon day of dissertation boot camp.
So, something fun. Something tasty. And something that wouldn’t take more than an hour to prepare.
After digging through a few cookbooks, searching a few websites, and mentioning the conundrum to a friend, I landed on West African Ground Nut Stew, a vegan veggie-laden concoction that simmers for 45 minutes and then gets infused with half a cup of peanut butter just before it hits the table.
Brent handled the stew and I tackled the table and the salad – sauteed pears with spinach, goat cheese, and pistachios (no recipe there – just one of those thrown-together-hope-it-works concoctions). And then, with fifteen minutes to spare, I realized that we had a bag of multigrain tortillas in the fridge that were slowly losing steam. Instead of waiting another week and throwing them in with the compost, I decided to slice them up, sprinkle them with cinnamon and sugar, and slide them into the oven. Five minutes later, out popped homemade baked tortilla chips!
We rounded out the meal with Brendan’s homemade ciabatta bread, and fresh pineapple with vanilla fudge frozen yogurt for dessert.
Not quite homemade ravioli, but it turned into a night of good food and great company – a welcomed reward after finishing up a draft of chapter three earlier that day!