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Joni Woolf: Food with friends fills body and soul

Last Sunday my friend Terry Holland invited me to come to the end of an estate sale he was conducting in Macon. He said that I could have all that remained after the sale was complete for Calvary Episcopal Church’s Mustard Seed House — the parish’s outreach ministry. This gift was compliments of the owner, of course, but I knew Terry had engineered it. He has become one of Mustard Seed’s largest donors.
I helped him pick up remnants as he stuffed my car to the gills (now there’s an old-fashioned expression for you) with baskets, silver plate, dishes, pillows, Christmas ornaments, a piano bench, paintings large and small — goods that would take days to sort, label and display, and all with a glad heart. It was a most generous gift, and I was grateful to him and the donor, the homeowner who was downsizing.
Invited to spend the night so that I would not have to drive home in the dark, I followed Terry to his home where his partner Jeff Logan was about to prepare dinner for the three of us and for a former colleague and friend, Maryel Battin, one of the early leaders in Macon’s historic preservation effort. I watched as Jeff ground fresh black pepper into beautiful beef tenderloins — and kept grinding — so finally I asked: “Are we having steak au poivre?” He answered in the affirmative and turned the grinder again. I watched as he continued to prepare the steaks; it looked like relatively simple steps — something I could do. So I asked for the recipe, which he printed and gave me. If you like steak, you will appreciate this method. It was perfectly cooked and we ate every bite.

Steak Au Poivre for Four
4 tenderloin steaks, 4 oz. each
3 tablespoons coarsely ground black pepper, or to taste (he used Kroger Coarse Grind)
2 shallots, peeled
1/2 cup brandy
1 tablespoon Dijon mustard
1/3 cup heavy cream
Salt
Heat oven to 350 degrees F. Coat steaks with pepper on both sides. Heat a cast iron skillet over medium heat until very hot. Sear steaks five minutes on each side, then transfer to oven to finish cooking, about 8 minutes for medium rare. (He used glass oven-proof dish.) Transfer to a plate to rest while you make the sauce.
Mince shallots and cook over low heat in the same skillet where steaks were cooked. Add brandy and cook, stirring constantly, for one minute, or until reduced to one tablespoon. Stir in mustard and cream. Bring to a simmer and season to taste with salt and pepper. Serve sauce alongside the steaks. Enjoy!

Served with tender asparagus spears, sauteed mushrooms, ciabatta bread, and a rich red wine that was the perfect complement to the beef, the meal was satisfying in many ways, not the least of which was spending time with good friends. I went to sleep that night thinking of the work that lay ahead for the volunteers at the Mustard Seed House — sorting, pricing, placing all the great new items in their proper places — and giving thanks for food and for friendships that endure through long passages of time and distance. It was a thoroughly good evening.
Terry and I are heading to North Carolina in a few weeks to visit our friend and my former business partner, Lynn Cass. I’m sure we’ll be stopping all along the way to pick up more items for the Mustard Seed — and perhaps a few for ourselves. It should be an interesting trip. Stay tuned.

Joni Woolf, a writer and editor, now lives in Schley County, having moved from her home in Macon several years ago. Contact her at indigojoni@windstream.net