I read this article recently about friendship. About showing up for friendship, making time for the people who really actually matter, where the author says:
“Budget enough of yourself to show up when it’s necessary. […] The key to long-lasting friendships, particularly for the introverts who guard their personal time like it’s the Last Twinkie on Earth, is to say no to enough things that don’t matter so that you have the energy and time to say yes to the stuff that does matter. Quality is better than quantity.”
Two things happened when I read those most truthful lines: One, I realized that, metaphorically, I am a total Twinkie Guarder. And two, I immediately thought of Caitlin – the South Carolina girl who befriended nineteen-year-old me just weeks before my life got flipped on its head.
Caitlin is the kind of person who laughs when you, the person who knows more about rocket ships than hair, accidentally dye her hair bright orange instead of soft chestnut brown. She’s the kind of person who will show up at your hotel room the day before your wedding with a pink tissue paper-stuffed box in her arms and a soft smile on her face and say, “No one gave you white lingerie at the bachelorette party and you can’t leave for your honeymoon without white lingerie!”
She’s the kind of person who will put on makeup and heels and push open the door to your college dorm room – the same door that says “Do Not Disturb” in big, bold dry erase letters because life is flipped on its head and the entire world is blue-hued and numb – and she’ll tell you matter-of-factly, “There’s a party. We’re going out.” And when you reply, “I can’t. I already bought a box of Oreos,” she’ll quietly shut the door, kick off her heels, and spread out on the bed next to you with a simple, “Perfect. I love Oreos.”
In other words, she’s the kind of friend who shows up. Who has always been willing to give up the Last Twinkie on Earth. Or, perhaps more appropriately in my case, the Last Oreo.
And so, almost a decade later, when she called and said, “I’m pregnant,” I knew it was one of those opportunities for me to do the same. Thankfully for me, while Caitlin is wonderful at many things, she’s not really into food. So despite the fact that I know about as much about babies as I do rocket ships and hair dying, I felt like I had something I could actually show up with for this big momentous thing happening in her life: Home cooked meals for the deep freezer. Something to (hopefully) ease the fast-approaching transition from non-parenthood to parenthood.
For three days, work, spouses, social media, and everything else vanished into the background while we sat in her South Carolina kitchen listening to TLC with knives and wooden spoons in hand and the softest snow dust falling outside. Doing our best to imagine what it’s going to be like for her to be a mother, knowing neither of us has a damn clue.
There were buttermilk biscuits, the kind that flake apart into layers, and there was Ottolenghi’s magical hummus. There was a fat batch of lentil stew, dozens of breakfast burritos, and a whole pot of savory smoked duck gumbo made with duck that her husband hunted and cleaned for us that morning.
And for the very last dish on the very last day I was there, we browned short ribs in fat until they were golden on the edges. We sautéed onions and carrots and celery and garlic until they were fragrant and soft. We deglazed the pan with a bold Washington-based cabernet sauvignon and savored the hot steam that’s born from the kind of ruby red liquid that pregnant people can’t drink. And we braised those short ribs and the last-of-the-season-chanterelles in the herbaceous wine and stock for hours. Until the alcohol was cooked off and the tender meat was swimming in a rich, brown sauce.
She hugged me before I flew out on Sunday and said, “I really can’t thank you enough.” But I think what she didn’t realize, what I want her to know the most, is that, for better or worse, this weekend was probably more for me than it was for her. Showing up, cooking for people you love. There’s not a box of Oreos in the world that’s better than that.
(And for the record, in case you couldn’t already tell, I really dig Oreos.)
This recipe was created in collaboration with Columbia Winery and Food52. Head over to my post on Food52 for thoughts on choosing the best wine for cooking (and drinking) with this wintery warming dish.
- 2 pounds thick-cut short rib meat, bones removed
- Salt and pepper, to taste
- 4 tablespoons extra virgin olive oil, divided
- 1 tablespoon all-purpose flour
- 4 carrots, roughly chopped
- 3 celery stalks, roughly chopped
- 1 yellow onion, roughly chopped
- 2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
- ¾ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms, roughly chopped
- 1 cup Cabernet Sauvignon
- 1 tablespoon tomato paste
- 2 cups beef stock, plus more as needed
- 1 bay leaf
- 4 fresh thyme sprigs, plus more for garnish
- 1½ cups all-purpose flour
- 1½ teaspoons baking powder
- ½ teaspoon baking soda
- ½ teaspoon cream of tartar
- 1 teaspoon kosher salt
- 6 tablespoons frozen butter
- ¾ cup milk, plus more if necessary
- 3 sprigs fresh thyme leaves, plus more for garnish
- Pat the short ribs dry with a paper towel and season liberally with salt and pepper on all sides. In a 3 to 4 quart dutch oven over medium-high heat, pour 2 tablespoons of olive oil and add the short ribs a few at a time. Brown on all sides, taking care not to overcrowd the meat. If the bottom of the pan looks like it's getting too dry while the short ribs are browning, add more oil, one tablespoon at a time. Transfer the browned short ribs to a plate and sprinkle them with 1 tablespoon of flour. Set aside. Preheat oven to 350 degrees°F. In the same dutch oven over medium-high heat, add the remaining 2 tablespoons of olive oil. Working in batches, cook carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and mushrooms until soft and translucent, and slightly browned. Set aside the cooked vegetables with the short ribs as you work through the batches. Deglaze the pan with Cabernet Sauvignon and cook until reduced by half, about 5 minutes. Stir in tomato paste, beef stock, the bay leaf, and thyme sprigs and return short ribs and vegetables to the pan. Cover and cook in the preheated oven for 2½ hours. Meanwhile, begin work on preparing the topping (recipe below). After 2½ hours, the dutch oven from the oven and set lid aside. If you notice the liquid has mostly evaporated, add more beef stock, about 1 cup, and stir. Form the biscuit dough into balls, about the size of a golf ball, as best you can. The dough will be sticky, so they will likely be more like dollops. Place each ball of dough on top of the short ribs until they are covered. Return the dutch oven to the oven and cook, uncovered, for another 30 to 45 minutes, or until the topping turns golden. Spoon the cobbler into shallow bowls and garnish with fresh thyme.
- Sift the flour, baking powder, baking soda, cream of tartar, and kosher salt into a large mixing bowl. Use a box grater to grate the frozen butter into the flour mixture. Toss gently with your hands, making sure not to over mix the butter into the flour (it should resemble small pebbles or gravel). Add the milk and thyme and mix until a sticky dough forms. Cover bowl and set it in the refrigerator until you are ready to add to the short ribs. Note: The amount of topping needed to cover the braised meat will vary based on the diameter of your dutch oven. If your dutch oven is wider than 8 inches and you want the topping to cover the entire thing, double the topping ingredients above.