|NPR's Terry Gross.|
Tell me this woman doesn't need a good meal.
Terry Gross is host of NPR's Fresh Air, and the best interviewer on the planet. Many a day I have listened to her, imagining being on her show. I have gone so far as to rehearse answers to specific questions, questions that would arise as Terry - by this time we're on a first-name basis - uncovered an unsuspected vein of wisdom so deep and so rich, she would have to extend the interview over several programs, and in fact, might have to dedicate the entire show Fresh Air to exploring Man Martin in perpetuity.
The main part of the fantasy, however, deals with the pre-interview. In this part you have to imagine that Ms Gross - at this point we are still very formal - has come to Atlanta to do some background research, and I casually say I am very busy during the day; however, I'd be happy to talk to her over supper - it's crucial to call it supper, not dinner - and why doesn't she come over to our house. To her suggestion that we meet at a restaurant, I would say something to the effect of, "Oh, we don't need to go to all that trouble," and "there's always room at the table for one more," etcetera. I must sound gracious but above all else unpretentious and genuine. Getting the tone exactly right will take a great deal of practice beforehand. On no account may she dine anywhere but our house.
Here's where the Martin Plan rolls into action, and ultimately sets the stage for the series of interviews that will result in turning the entire program of Fresh Air over to the topic of Me.
We will not serve Terry - back to first names again - on the good china nor with crystal and silver. It must seem that while we are happy to have her, we are not even capable of "putting on airs." I might possibly serve her on our "Georgia Plates" special plates commissioned by the Transylvania Club of Sandersville, Georgia commemorating various key moments in Georgia history. There is one plate in particular I have in mind for her, which features a woman holding several British officers captive at rifle point. It's a pretty startling scene to discover under your food, and Terry would never in a million years guess we'd deliberately seen to it she'd gotten that plate on purpose.
As for the meal itself, this is the genius part. It's all very plain cooking, down-home even, but of a transcendent variety. Again, Nancy and I will play it off as if eating this way were the most natural thing in the world.
We will have black-eyed peas, and I know you're thinking, so what, but I have a recipe for black-eyed peas that would make you re-think the whole vegetable. Ditto for our okra and tomatoes - ours is not the least bit slimy, and though expressions such as "explosion of flavor" are trite and hyperbolic, those are exactly what apply. The iffy vegetable is Nancy's creamed corn. There are store-bought varieties which are quite decent, and I have happily eaten them. Nancy's home-made creamed corn, however, is so good, there's something obscene about it. It should almost be served separately like desert, it's not in the least sweet, but it has a rich decadent quality that makes it hard to qualify even as a vegetable. You can't really pass it off as "something we just whipped up." If Terry challenges us on the creamed corn, the jig is up, she'll be on to us. But it's a risk I'll just have to take. For desert, chocolate pie.
The piece de resistance, however, will be the fried chicken. And this is the part I still haven't gotten quite right. Periodically, I experiment with a different recipe, and I'm almost on the point of abandoning the process of brining, because to my taste, it makes the chicken too salty. I think next time I'll soak the chicken overnight in buttermilk only. Also, I'm still perfecting the breading. My friend R Mike Burr - for some reason in this context I feel required to use his first initial - claims his mother makes an otherworldly batter involving a mixture of milk and egg and double dredging. I'm looking into it.
Every other component of the fantasy meal is in place but the chicken. And as soon as I have that ready, I need only await Terry's call.
Hopefully she doesn't read this in the meantime.