Where the family is concerned, I have learned the hard way not to mess with food traditions. (My father: “What the h--- is THIS?!”) I leave my cheffy ways at home and direct my attention toward the grill, while drinking frozen lime daiquiris.
But some of those ways were unleashed when my partner and I returned to the lake house in August. We were hosting some friends from Washington, all of whom orbit in the restaurant world. One couple came with us, another arrived the next day and a fifth person who doesn’t eat a lot of meat showed up the following day.
There is something about the lake house that makes one ravenous all the time. Perhaps it’s the Appalachian foothills’ pine air, as my grandmother used to say, or the cabin’s lingering scent of must and bacon. Whether we’re on the porch, perched perfectly to afford the best view of the placid inlet and the Tennessee River’s main channel beyond, in the boat or at the dining room picnic table, the main subject of conversation is the next meal.
I started planning for this month’s stay on the last day of my July sojourn. I left a pork shoulder and a jar of my stepmother’s zesty barbecue sauce in the freezer so we could have barbecue on a night before our fifth guest arrived.
I knew of the woeful lack of spices at the lake, so in my carry-on I packed a big bag of barbecue rub and a traveling spice kit that reflects my personal taste for sultry and bold yet versatile flavors: smoked paprika, sweet paprika, adobo seasoning, cardamom, chili powder, coriander, cumin and cayenne, as well as celery seed for coleslaw and bloody marys.
Because I knew my father and stepmother would be dropping in for a day with us (they live in my Alabama home town, 40 miles away), I brought two pounds of Maryland jumbo lump crabmeat to make West Indies Salad, a favorite of my father’s. (More on this salad to come later.)
Also in my bag: a dozen Whitmore Farm eggs and items I didn’t want to pitch: half a loaf of country bread, a wheel of Camembert and a pint of already prepared West Indies Salad.
Incidentally, I checked TSA.org to make sure I could take all those items on a plane, always a good idea. Gel packs are fine as long as they are frozen.
Convenience with touches of refinement was the culinary formula we followed for our long weekend. Upon arrival, a friend and I went on an initial excursion to the Guntersville Foodland with a vague plan. Steaks, baked potatoes and veggie-filled salad for that night to keep things simple. Barbecue the next night, smoked chickens for the third night. Something in the seafood department for the fourth night.