Peggy and Potatoes
Cool autumn temperatures provide the lead for the preparation of savory comfort food. In particular, one remembers the smell and taste of roasted meats, roasted vegetables, hearty sauces and – oh, yes – baked pastries.
One of my favorite cool-weather meals, offered on numerous occasions by my lifelong mentor, the late Peggy Grayson, consisted of Stuffed Turkey, Parsnips, Brussel Sprouts and Carrots roasted to perfection, along with the most decadent Duck-Fat Roasted Potatoes and Gravy. Not to mention – the Gooseberry Pie with Custard Sauce for dessert.
It brings me great comfort and healing knowing that I was able to be in England and visit Peggy the week prior to the halting of all flights due to the COVID-19 pandemic, and prior to her passing in July at the age of 100 years and eight months.
The first day of my two-day visit, Peggy welcomed me with open arms and a kiss on the cheek. We reminisced about dogs, dog shows, family, mutual friends, travel, food and our many treasured experiences. She asked about my mother, BIG MICHAEL, BARBARA HECKERMAN and others of whom she was fond. Every 30 minutes or so she would remind me that I, at one time, had a thick head of hair.
As we shared our stories, I sat on a chair to her right, holding her hands. “Do you know, it feels so good to be touched,” she said to me at least five times. I never let her hands go.
SISTER STORM, PEGGY’S daughter, reminded PEGGY that the two of us would be going to the frame shop in Cirencester in the afternoon to pick up an autographed photo of the Queen, in celebration of her 100th birthday. This brought a twinkle to Peggy’s tired eyes.
On the second and last day of my quick visit, SISTER STORM and I arrived along with the photo of the Queen. I once again took the seat to her right, while Storm arranged for a handyman to hang the picture.
We picked up where we left off. The back-and-forth chatter involved our many adventures on the road going to and from dog shows, pony shows, club meetings and our mutual love for food. I reminded her that to this day no one could cook a comfort meal as well as she could. I verbally relived the roasted turkey, the veggies, the duck-fat roasted potatoes and the gooseberry pie – along with the time that I was sent to the garden to pick the gooseberries for the pie and returned with a baby hedgehog.
“Remember you have to heat the duck fat until it’s very hot, so when the potatoes are placed in the hot oil, it fries them. And remember to parboil the potatoes, it’s necessary!” PEGGY joyfully shared.
“Yes, I remember!” I replied.
I noticed how dry PEGGY’s arms and hands were and asked SISTER STORM if she could find some lotion. After rummaging through numerous drawers, a tube of body cream was handed over. “Do you mind if I rub some lotion on your skin?” I politely asked PEGGY.
“I would love it!” was her response.
Gently, with love, I worked the lotion up and down her arms and hands as we continued what I already knew would be our last conversation.
Day two ended with us recalling and laughing about our countryside picnic.
We had spent two days planning and shopping for the perfect afternoon in the countryside. We packed meat pies, cheese, fruit, pastries and beverages in a beautiful hamper filled with china, crystal, silver and a blanket. We drove until we found the perfect location – a country field. The wind was obviously blowing in the opposite direction when we selected the site. Once everything was artistically displayed and we each found our place on the plaid blanket … it was idyllic.
That is, until we began to eat, and a foul odor surrounded our peaceful picnic compound. Dead, bloated and releasing very disturbing gas from approximately 50 feet away was a dead cow.
Needless to say, we quickly collected our picnic and ran, chuckling all the way back to the car.
Before I departed, I verbally shared my love with an extended embrace and kiss on the cheek. I did not want to leave. Despite knowing she had lived an incredible long life, I knew as I walked out the door that part of my heart and soul was left behind.
That evening at SISTER STORM’S, and before my early-morning return flight out of London, we ended our brief visit cooking together and sharing a great bottle of wine. Once again connecting through great food, history and love.
I arrived back to Richmond International Airport after going through an extensive COVID-19 screening, filled with emotions surrounding my recent journey and the realities of the COVID-19 pandemic, and how it relates to me personally, as the director of a health center, and the dog-show community.
The past eight months have been like nothing I have or probably will ever experience in my lifetime. One shining light has been a Facebook Group that was created by friend and dog-show judge, VIRGINIA MURRAY – DOG PEOPLE CAN COOK!! This wonderful, 2,200-member public group has been, and continues to be, the best therapy for the purebred-dog community.
Dog folks from all over the world come together and share their culinary creations through photos, stories and recipes. It’s an amazing thing to meet people through cooking and love of food. For example: I feel like STAN KMAN, whom I have never met personally, is a brother from another life. His DOG PEOPLE CAN COOK!! postings provide a deep understanding of his love, appreciation and dedication to food and entertaining.
And the best part – the group is not all about who can out-cook the next. Dog lovers from all levels of culinary expertise contribute and learn. The group has become a culinary class, filled with support, recipes and appreciation. Recently, MICHELLE SAGER’S “Lidia’s Ricotta Meatloaf,” GERARDO REYES’ “Chiles Rellenos,” VIRGINIA MURRAY’S “Halibut with Pineapple Salsa” had me licking the screen of my smart phone.
In a review of my many foodie posts on DOG PEOPLE CAN COOK!!, the most popular one was in celebration of BIG MICHAEL’S 60 birthday (September 26th). “Yesterday we celebrated my husband’s birthday with a river cocktail hour. A small group of guests arrived by boat (5 boats total) for social distancing enjoyment. We provided each guest with their personal (2 boxes each) charcuterie and cocktails. Great fun!”
My favorite DOG PEOPLE CAN COOK!! response was from member STACY THRELFALL: “I’m buying a boat …”
THANK YOU, VIRGINIA MURRAY, for your creative insight and for managing the group to perfection. And, with this cooler weather, if you’re lucky, I will post PEGGY GRAYSON’S DUCK FAT ROASTED POTATO RECIPE, along with photos.