Change bedsheets, wash floors, grocery shop, cook, repeat has been the refrain of my weekends the past two months. If I didn’t know it before, I am convinced of it since moving to Central Pennsylvania in February: we have the best friends and family in the world, who have moved ships and mountains to come see us and our new home. Thanks to them, our lives in this new place have been full from the start. We have relished in unhurried evenings around the dinner table, canoe trips, long hikes, and market days with the people we love so much. Laughter and good conversation make a house feel like home in a way that picture frames and eclectic vases never will, and I am glad to have so much of it splashed up on these walls since moving in.
It was my friend Jayna that taught me about hosting as an adult on the most practical level. Growing up, my parents hosted people for a night or a month at a time, but always made it seem effortless and I never paid attention to how it was done.
My senior year of college, four of us shared an apartment. Alana, Jenny, and I were usually more than happy to eat nachos and refried beans for dinner and to spend the evenings talking for hours on the couch. We never seemed to run out of conversations and questions, and usually stayed up way too late discussing Taylor Swift’s hair or why we measure time in years, depending on the day. Jayna though, is a walking friend and community magnet, and she brought us into the horde of people we probably would have otherwise missed out on.
Because of Jayna, our apartment was full more nights than it was empty. We were always running to the grocery store looking for the cheapest way to feed a crowd: stocking up on cake mixes, frozen pizzas, pasta, and chips. We hosted Sibling Sundays, birthday dinners, Bible Studies, craft nights, movie nights, themed parties for the Superbowl, Cinco de Mayo, Christmas, and Valentine’s Day. We did it all on a college budget with very limited cooking skills. Jayna taught me that to be a good host, you don’t have to be a world class cook or live in the most spacious and stylish apartment (although thanks to Jenny our apartment was very stylish). The art of hosting well is learning to ask good questions, offer what you have, and do it with a gracious heart.
If it was Jayna that taught me about hospitality, it was Andrew who taught me to cook. I walked into my marriage with a set of flowery measuring cups and a vague idea about how to boil water. Andrew comes from a family of talented bakers. He knows how to make the best cookies from scratch, how to puff a soufflé, how to sauté an onion to caramelized perfection. Andrew taught me, over time, how to find joy in the process of taking ingredients and turning them into something else, how to distinguish between flavors and textures, and that homemade is always, always the best route. I’m convinced Andrew views cooking as an act of worship, and as a way of giving thanks to the God who gives us not one flavor or texture, but an abundance of them, who allows us to take part in creation by beating eggs and rolling dough.
Two weeks ago, we had one of our dearest friends Angie visit with her boyfriend Brewer. Angie lived above us in our first Charlottesville apartment and was our first new friend after getting married. She and her boyfriend Brewer have recently sold most of their belongings, moved into their truck, and are traveling across the country for as long as they enjoy it. We decided, after a long day of hiking outside that what our friends needed was a good, high calorie southern meal–homemade fried chicken.
My motives for making this were not entirely pure. Since getting pregnant, I, the pre-pregnancy vegetarian, have had an unquenchable craving for meat. Sausage, chicken, burgers, pork chops: all the foods that once totally repelled me are now causing me to stop and salivate in the grocery store. I dream in hot dogs and chili sauce, and I couldn’t wait to watch our chicken turn golden brown and crispy as it fried.
Fried chicken, I learned, is like a good country song: not too showy, rich and satisfying, best consumed in warm weather with the windows open. It’s a meal that begs to be eaten in company, alongside cheddar and gruyere macaroni and cheese, coleslaw and green beans—foods that comfort the senses and the soul. And, it was far, far better than anything prepackaged or canned.
We marinated the chicken in a buttermilk mixture, and then rolled it in a flour mixture before frying it in canola oil. The result was crispy chicken on the outside, and juicy, moist meat on the inside. For dessert, I used a recipe from my sister Laura, the ultimate gourmet chef (I plan to write a blogpost on her food at some point because her creations are truly amazing): chocolate flourless torte with ganache. Combined with tired legs, lungs full of fresh air, and good conversation, all the ingredients made for a lovely evening.
Recipe for Buttermilk Fried Chicken:
4 bone-in chicken breasts or thighs (you can also use a whole chicken, quartered, but we forgot to defrost ours.)
3 cups buttermilk, homemade or store bought
1 bottle of Canola Oil, for frying
1 1/4 cups flour
1/2 cup cornstarch
1 1/2 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 Tbsp. paprika
Salt and pepper
– Whisk buttermilk and salt together in a large bowl. Add chicken and coat. Cover for at least 2 hours.
– Preheat oven to 300.
– Fill a cast-iron skillet halfway with canola oil. Heat over medium-high heat.
– In a small dish, whisk flower, cornstarch, paprika,pepper, mustard, and salt together. Transfer chicken one at a time and roll in the flour mixture to coat completely. Transfer to baking tray. Coat twice.
– In batches, place the chicken into the oil and cook, for about 12 minutes, turning occasionally. Chicken should be golden and almost cooked through.
– Transfer chicken to wire cooling rack to drain.
– Bake the chicken on a separate baking sheet for about 10 minutes, until no longer pink.
– Serves 4.