Nancy opens a bottle of Sweet Cheeks Pinot Fusion while Sons of the Pioneers croon “Red River Valley” and Don Edwards warbles about “The Colorado Trail” on the groove shark station Greg put together a scant hour before the festivities began.
My little sister in a fit of home sickness recently bit the bullet and packed her family of three cranky cats, Louis the wonder dog, her adorable husband Orion, and Ava, her cute-as-can be 3 year-old back to Colorado. They’ve been living in self-imposed exile in Oregon where the food is good, but oh the weather is dreary.
Happy to have my cuisine-loving sib back, I decide to throw her a birthday bash, Colorado-style, and invoke every cowboy cliché I can imagine from checkered table cloths and tin plates to corn and steaks on the grill. Now I’ve long crowed about my cowgirl ethos, but here is where I put the pedal to the metal. I put on my cowboy hat and the denim shirt I’ve permanently borrowed from Greg, and get to work.
What I want was a little bit of tradition married with just a hint of spin. So I start with quesadillas, which frankly seem as cowboy to me as tall hats and long horns. I buy good, locally-made flour tortillas and then roast a few Anaheim green chiles on the stove. Once the chiles are peeled, I chop them and sprinkle them onto the tortillas, mixed with Monterey Jack cheese. For a twist, I get city-dwelling boyfriend to grill the quesadillas so they’re smoky, with extra crunch on the outside. We will dip them into (a very non-traditional and somewhat griga-fied) mango salsa and sour cream, a condiment my sister would absolutely bathe in.
Thinking no cowboy cookout would be complete without cornbread, I opt for cornbread fritters for appetizers instead of pairing bread with meat for the main course. Besides, who can resist deep fried bits of honey and cornmeal? I mix these ingredients with buttermilk in a bowl together with gluten-free flour, baking soda, salt, and a bit of left over roasted green chile. Just before the Grosso-Chandler-Moselle-Hart posse arrives, I plop the mixture by the teaspoon into a pool of hot oil simmering in a Le Crueset (the modern equivalent of the cast iron kettle), and then make a chipotle-honey dipping sauce with sour cream, lime, and pureed avocado. The combination of hot crunchy corn with the sweet-spicy sauce is almost pornographic, a XXX cowboy delight!
The sky clears for exactly 25 minutes just as the guest of honor arrives, so I marshal everyone out into the mountain air for appetizers arranged on a checkered table cloth (of course) on my deck. Ava goes uptown, sipping grape soda from a princess cup, while the rest of us drink Coronas laced with lime or the yummy white pinot noir my sister has brought back from Oregon.
Once the rain starts in earnest, though, everyone goes back inside while I put the sear marks on sirloin steaks I’ve marinated in my family’s secret marinade (dear reader: the main ingredient is ketchup. I served the meat rare paired with crunchy iceberg wedge salad sprinkled with bacon and blue cheese and grilled corn on the cob slathered in cilantro butter.
The food and the company is so good, I forget to take pictures.
Last, before Nancy opens her birthday present (Fabio’s Italian Kitchen for my Top Chef-loving and Uber- Fabio Viviani fan sister), Ava and Orion toast marshmallows over the grill for S’mores. My niece, who hasn’t eaten much all evening owing to too much excitement and attention, grins from ear to ear, face smeared with sticky white sugar and chocolate: It’s good to be a cowgirl.