While I’m in the process of moving, I’ve asked a few of my friends to play guest blogger. My friend Mollie Palmer moved to Helena around the same time I did. She is Director of Together for Hope Arkansas, a faith-based organization that focuses on youth development and literacy in the Arkansas Delta. She spends her days collaborating with local and outside churches and organizations to reduce rural poverty and inspire hope. I know, I know… It’s been awesome to see how she’s mentored so many kids in the area – many of whom are now adults.
For most of her time in Helena, Mollie has lived at the Beechwood Apartments, Helena’s own “Melrose Place.” The apartments are always full of a rotating group of young professionals, and over the last few years it has developed into its own micro-community. Beechwood has also become the center point for a good chunk of our social events, most of which revolve around eating lots of food and drinking lots of wine/beer. Here’s Mollie’s take on our community and the joy of celebrating the holidays with friends.
I grew up in the suburbs of Little Rock and am a lifelong Arkansan. Until I moved to Helena, most of my friends were from Arkansas, or if they were real outsiders, from Missouri or Tennessee.
But something has happened in this small town on the Mississippi River that has made it home for folks from all over the place. I’ve had friends in Helena from Seattle, Northern California, Minnesota, Utah, Colorado, Connecticut, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina, and Indiana. Most of us are away from our families by at least a couple hours drive, if not a long flight.
We’ve all converged on Helena and are working to see our home be the best version of itself – teaching, mentoring teenagers, sharing the best parts of our community and inviting people from all over to join us. We love Helena. We love its beauty, its history, and its people. We love Helena even when it’s hard. We love the sense of community we’ve found here, the life that we get to share together of working and moving in the same direction.
Our holiday celebrations together are more than just a fun chance to gather. They’re our way of making family happen in our adopted hometown. And the food – oh, the food! Helena has limited restaurant options, so we spend time in our own kitchens, perfecting our favorite dishes. My friends are excellent cooks. Any given night in Helena we may gather over Thai or Indian or homemade pizza, but the food at our Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings is special. We bring our mothers’ and grandmothers’ recipes and traditions to the table to share with our Helena family. Shannon’s family puts homemade noodles in their gravy. Stacy bakes fabulously, which is no surprise given the cupcake wars her family hosted a few years ago. No one can smoke meat of any kind better than Bernie.
For Thanksgiving this year, we had a giant potluck – bigger than last year’s! Roast turkey, pork loin and chutney, homemade bread, homemade mac and cheese, roasted green tomatoes and okra, salads, pie… Bounty. One big table, one big room, full of friends. (One big post-meal belly ache – J)
Since a big group of us all live in the same apartment complex, this year for Christmas we decided to pull together a progressive Christmas party – bacon wrapped dates at Kathleen’s, crostinis with herbed ricotta and fruit at Abby’s, turkey tacos with cranberry salsa that Julia helped me prepare, and chocolate mocha mousse and strawberry shortcakes at Stacy and Laura’s.
We’re not all celebrating for the same reasons. Some of us are celebrating a baby born 2,000 years ago. Others are celebrating a day’s worth of oil, providing light for eight whole days. Some are celebrating the spirit of giving and generosity, joy and hope.
Whatever the reason, our family of friends celebrating together is an irreplaceable part of our season now.
For our Christmas progressive dinner, Julia and I roasted a turkey breast with limes, oranges, garlic, cumin and chili powder, and roasted sweet potatoes with those spices and more! Everyone’s favorite addition to the turkey tacos was this cranberry salsa from www.simplyrecipes.com (I ate this by the spoonful – J). It was a great taco topper, but would be great on its own as well. And it was so easy!
Cranberry Salsa (from Simply Recipes)
1 1/2 cups of fresh or frozen cranberries
1/2 an apple, peeled and cored
Chopped serrano or jalapeno chili to taste (I used two small jalapenos, the seeds of only one)
4 Tbsp sugar
2 Tbsp chopped peeled ginger
2 Tbsp chopped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp of lime or lemon juice
Dash of salt
Put the cranberries, apple, chile, sugar, ginger, cilantro, and lime or lemon juice in a food processor and pulse until coarsely shredded, about 10 short pulses. Let sit 15 minutes for the cranberries to macerate, and you’re done.