Yesterday, my tiny town of Decatur, Georgia was flooded with love and admiration. Yes, it was Valentine’s Day, and plenty of people donned red outfits and bought balloons, flowers, and chocolates for their sweethearts. But there was a lit-tle something else brewing in our progressive community that caused many folks to wear blue.
President Barack Obama came to speak about Early Childhood Education in City Schools of Decatur, spotlighting our small, city school system as a model of excellence in high quality preschool programming. Since I used to be a teacher in Decatur, most of the people standing behind the President during his speech were once my colleagues.
(Photo from City Schools of Decatur’s Facebook Page)
When I tell you that the buzz around town was palpable, that is a serious understatement.
My teacher friends clutched their red and blue tickets, smiling with electric pride. Roads were closed. Secret service agents were spotted in line at local coffee shops early in the morning.
Decaturites who were not attending the actual event stood outside with signs, showing their support of the President and/ or various issues of importance.
Even though I wasn’t physically involved in this amazing milestone for our city, I was bursting with excitement all day long. President Barack Obama was literally spitting distance from my home, spending time with young children who reap the daily benefits of hands-on educational experience at an early and critical age. The photos and commentary continue to be plastered all over the web today, and the spirit of awe and elation have permeated our town, showcasing our dedication to embracing the differences of human kind and pushing forward with open minds and an active pursuit of progress.
I met up with three of my girlfriends and former coworkers after the speech was over, and they beamed while sharing the stories of the day. I could almost see the positive energy radiating around them. It thrilled me to hear them recount their play-by-play. One of my friends even got to shake the President’s hand. This is a day that will be imprinted on the hearts and memories of many teachers who work tirelessly to educate children, despite less-than-stellar pay without yearly raises, long hours, and a never-ending list of responsibilities. My hat is off to all of them, and I am thankful that they have been rewarded in this very special way.
Smile glued to my face, I bid farewell to my friends and had to get a move on Valentine’s Day dinner! Lucky for me, the Farm Mobile Truck
just happened to pull up next to the restaurant where my friends and I met.
I hopped on board and grabbed a bag of their mixed baby kale leaves to incorporate into a side dish for dinner.
Now, you know I am a sucker for festivity, and thankfully, Adam plays along with me. I wanted to have a mostly red dinner in honor of Valentine’s Day. We agreed upon Grilled Steaks with a Very Red Kale Salad and Smashed Red Potatoes.
After arranging my pretty flowers
and chuckling at the fact that we kinda bought each other the same card- at least cards with the exact same sentiments-
we fired up the grill and pulled together a quick and delicious dinner.
Steak was an obvious choice for the main protein in the meal. Red meat is generally a must on our V Day menus.
Adam prefers a ribeye, and the New York Strip called out to me. We let them sit out on the counter to take off the chill before cooking.
For the Very Red Kale Salad:
1 bunch any kind of kale you like, large stems removed. Wash and spin it dry and cut the leaves into chunks or ribbons, unless you have little baby leaves like these. We kept ours whole.
3 or 4 radishes, cut into thin half-moons
1 pink lady apple, sliced into matchsticks- squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the cut apples and toss to prevent browning
1/2 Cup or so of pecans, toasted, cooled, and broken into pieces with your hands
3 pieces thick cut bacon
1 t whole grain mustard
2 T champagne vinegar, or whatever kind you like
squeeze of honey- about half a teaspoon or so
Place bacon in a cold pan
and cook it over medium low – medium heat until it is crisp. Remove bacon from the pan and drain it on a paper towel-lined plate. Then, crumble your bacon over the kale.
In the pan over medium heat, stir in your mustard, vinegar, and honey, and add a pinch of salt and fresh cracked black pepper. Stir to combine well. Taste (careful- it will be hot!) and adjust seasoning or sweetness to your liking. It should be salty and tangy and delicious from the bacon grease. Awww yeah! It’s a holiday meal, people. No worrying allowed. At least we created a meal at home with fresh, seasonal, whole, unprocessed ingredients. I was not gonna beat myself up about making some decadent choices!
Pour your dressing over the salad and toss to coat the ingredients well. You want it to be able to sit for at least 15 – 20 minutes before serving. A lacinato or dinosaur kale variety will wilt much more readily than a curlier type of kale.
With the salad wilting, we moved onto our red, new potatoes,
which we treated simply- boiling and smashing with garlic, milk, butter, salt and pepper. The keys to making delicious smashed potatoes are easy to follow:
1. Wash potatoes well. (We just used 6 small potatoes so we wouldn’t have a ton of mashed potatoes leftover tempting us to eat them…)
2. Place them in a large pot with cold water. Add a couple serious pinches of salt, and bring the water up to a boil. Allow the potatoes to boil gently until they are easy to pierce with a fork- so easy that they break apart when you twist the fork in the middle.
3. Drain the potatoes and place them back in the hot pot, on the hot burner, with the heat off.
4. Heat a Cup of milk. It doesn’t have to be loaded with fat. You can use skim or 2% or whatever you have on hand.
5. Grab an old-fashioned potato masher, a couple Tablespoons of butter and 1 or 2 cloves of garlic.
6. Place butter in the pot with the potatoes and press your garlic in there too. Add a splash of hot milk and begin to smash away. Add a little milk at a time, along with salt and pepper to taste. Continue smashing and adding milk as needed (don’t add too much milk at once or your potatoes will be loose and sad) until you are happy with the consistency of the potatoes. They should be mostly smooth and creamy.
7. Give the potatoes a taste and adjust seasoning to your liking. Try not to eat them all before dinner.
As far as the steaks are concerned, the goal is to cook them over high heat very quickly. We seasoned the steaks simply with salt and pepper, and grilled them over hot charcoals for less than 5 minutes per side. When each steak reaches 125° according to an internal meat thermometer, it’s ready. Remove the steaks to a plate to rest for about 5 – 7 minutes, allowing the juices to redistribute within the meat and then, serve it up!
Mmmmm! Fear not, I did not eat all of that steak. Not even half, really. But, man! They were a meat-lover’s dream. Juicy, and grilled to perfection. There’s nothing quite like the grill flavor that comes with charcoal. Steak in my mouth makes me happy! Alongside the juiciness, I loved the boldness of the kale salad. The textures were lovely- crisp bacon, apples, radishes, and the kale still had some chew to it. The pecans brought a little rich, buttery element to the dish, and the dressing was tangy from the vinegar and mustard, but balanced by the savory bacon drippings. It was wonderful. The mashed potatoes? Oh, I heart them. They were delectable. The garlic was subtle, so the potato flavor really stood on its own two feet. You know what we found out? It’s not a bad thing at all when a pecan falls into your mashed potatoes. Yum!
So, this Valentine’s Day meal was scrumptious and festive. We got to enjoy the process of preparing it together, slow dancing to Frank Sinatra in our kitchen, rather than standing in line with masses of other Valentines at a crowded restaurant. Don’t get me wrong, we certainly appreciate a great restaurant, but we’ve been burned on Valentine’s Day one too many times- getting skipped over on the waiting list, being disappointed by a well-done steak, or dealing with a server who would much rather be anywhere besides waiting on us. These days, like old-fogies, we prefer to enjoy restaurants on a “regular” day when we can truly experience the intention of the owners and chef without the insanity of holiday hullabaloo. Maybe that feeling also stems from working in restaurants for years and years…In any case, I feel quite lucky that my Valentine’s Day was so full of happiness.
Anyhoo, I am off, my friends. I hope that your Valentine’s Day was as exciting, sweet, romantic, and delicious as mine. And if you didn’t celebrate with a Valentine this year, I hope you spoiled yourself rotten! I am a big fan of that plan too! Here’s to hoping that we all get to have magical, memorable experiences that fill us with boundless amounts of positive energy and that we can share that energy with those around us.
I’m so pleased that I can share my zest for life and food here with you. Many thanks for reading. Let me know how you celebrated your Valentine’s Day! I would love to hear it!
Happy cooking and eating to you,