WELCOME HOME DARLIN’

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

The smell of freshly painted walls and sawdust lingers in the air as I sit in the newly renovated house. For the past few months, I have been living in between two places, my loft in Nashville and my in-laws newly renovated home in North Alabama. The house was Michael’s grandmother, Meme’s, home just one short year ago.

Many moments were spent sitting in the short, beige chair in the den listening to Meme’s laughter. She laughed so hard the entire room had no choice but to be engulfed and embraced by her happiness. There was never a time when I didn’t get lost in her hugs or wasn’t welcomed with a smile that filled her entire face and a greeting that didn’t involve the word darlin’ in it. Everywhere she went seemed to be filled with life. Even as I sit here in this beautifully remodeled den, the echoes of her stories live on in my mind, countless prayers she prayed for the ones she loved, and the moments she spent visiting and giggling with her beloved family.

There is a beautiful foundation in this home. There is groundwork of love that has settled in the floorboards, it echoes in the hall and is audible in the laughter this home will be immersed in for years to come. Life springs from this home, it’s a place of healing, of rest. What a beautiful place for Michael’s parents to start their new season of life. I can see Meme, sitting across the way from me, with that contagious smile saying, “Hey, darlin’.”

Now, as I walk up the stairs from the lower den into the kitchen, I am greeted with a warm smile and a, “Hey, darlin’,” from Michael’s mother. Some things we pass on, whether it be a warm smile that can light up a room, a place to call home or a simple phrase that can make you feel like you’re home even if you are miles away. Welcome home, darlin’.

pimento cheese and thyme gougeres

Recipe: Pimento Cheese & Thyme Gougères

Inspired by Southern Living

Makes 24

Note: This recipe combines ones of my favorite Southern treats and the wonderful, traditional French gougère. This is the kind of food that must be shared with others! It makes for a great hors d’oeuvre, appetizer or a lovely midafternoon snack to be washed down with sweet tea.

The gougère dough can be made 4 hours ahead. Cover and chill until ready to use. Also, you can freeze completely cooked and cooled gougères for up to 1 month. To reheat, place the frozen gougères on a baking sheet, cover loosely with foil and bake at 350 degrees for 10 minutes, until warmed through.

½ cup (1 stick) of unsalted butter, cut into cubes

¾ teaspoon of kosher salt

1 ¼ cups of all-purpose flour

1 (4 ounce) jar of diced pimento, drained

4 eggs

1 ½ cups (6 ounces) of finely shredded sharp cheddar

1 ½ teaspoons of whole grain mustard

½ teaspoon of fresh thyme leaves

½ teaspoon of cracked black pepper

¼ teaspoon of cayenne pepper

1 egg yolk

Preheat oven to 400 degrees

Over medium heat in a medium-sized saucepan, combine butter, salt and 1 cup of water and bring to a boil, stirring constantly for 1 minute. Add flour and beat vigorously with a wooden spoon for another minute until the mixture is smooth and pulls away from the side of the pan, forming a ball.

Reduce the heat to low, stirring constantly for 2 minutes. At this point, the dough will begin to dry out. Remove from heat and let stand 5 minutes.

Meanwhile, finely chop the drained pimentos and drain again on a paper towel.

Add eggs to the slightly cooled dough one at a time, stirring well between each addition. At this point, you will feel as if you completely ruined the dough, but trust me. Just keep stirring. Add pimentos, cheese, mustard, thyme leaves, black pepper and cayenne pepper. Keeping stirring until all of the ingredients are incorporated.

On a baking sheet lined with parchment paper, create 1-inch mounds of dough, 2 inches apart either by piping the dough using a plastic bag or by using a small cookie dough scoop or a tablespoon. Whisk yolk and 1 teaspoon of water together and brush onto gougères.

Bake gougères until puffed and golden, about 20-25 minutes. Allow to cool on the baking sheet for a few minutes. Enjoy!