I am a sucker for Masterpiece Theater. I don’t consider myself an Anglophile, but when it comes to watching period pieces, pretty much anything from the other side of the pond commands my attention: Emma, North and South, Wives and Daughters. The two mini-series that I watched most recently—Downton Abbey and Upstairs Downstairs—were unique in that they both portrayed the daily lives of households consisting of the elite (“Upstairs”) and their servants (“Downstairs”). Unlike many dramas where only the lives of the aristocrats are explored, these two series dig into servants’ day-to-day dealings with each other and with their superiors. Though the social chasm between the aristocrats and servants appears unbridgeable, we learn that ultimately people are people, and no matter what social strata one comes from, we experience life alike: happiness, pride, melancholy, loss and everything in between.
What does my little advertisement for Masterpiece Theater have to do with cooking and food? A few weeks ago my mom, sister Laurel and I stepped into a role that reminded us of the servants in Upstairs Downstairs and Downton Abbey. My mom volunteered to host a dinner for my cousin and his wife’s church group who were in town for a retreat. Instead of going to a restaurant, they’d pay us and we would cook for them.
Thus commenced a flurry of emails regarding planning a meal for 12 people. We three would help each other cook, but ultimately Laurel was responsible for appetizers, my mom for the entrée and I for dessert. When the big day arrived, my sister and I headed over to my parents’ house to begin cooking (she lives 2 hours away, I live 45 min away). Between skewering chicken pieces, whipping egg whites and choosing the perfect serving pieces, we three were blessed with quality time together while accomplishing a mission. And in our effort to make everything “just so,” we recalled the kitchen staff of Upstairs Downstairs who perfected dishes and table settings for the families that employed them. It was a fun day: we worked hard, laughed hard, ate good food and imagined that for one afternoon we were living in Upstairs Downstairs. All I can hope is that our guests felt like they were at home.
This is the menu we served:
Bruschetta with Fresh Herbs
Moroccan Spiced Yogurt Chicken Kebabs
Grilled Bell Pepper and Vidalia Onions
Spinach Salad with Walnuts, Blue Cheese and Golden Raisins
Homemade Chocolate Souffles
Here are a few photos from our afternoon of working together: