By Ann Cipperly
Vibrant red roses are climbing up the side of the front porch with flickering gas lanterns at the home of Leesa and Rich Street. The picturesque landscape extends to the grounds in back of the home overlooking a pond and a trail leading over a steep hill. The Streets’ lovely home will be featured later this year in Southern Lady and Southern Style magazines.
While Leesa has a heart for cooking and hospitality, she also has passions for gardening, decorating and painting. She is a bee keeper, grows herbs and has chickens, providing fresh eggs for making her special Spaghetti alla Carbonara for her grandchildren, who call her Honey. She enjoys sharing her home and meals with family and friends.
“Hospitality is good faith in action,” says Leesa. “I attended seminary for a time, and then felt shaping my children’s hearts to know God was my most important calling, after being a wife. Much of that shaping came around the table. The food I prepare has always been a way I loved and served people.”
The Streets have three children and five grandchildren. Their daughter Jessica Ruth Nicholson lives in Opelika, daughter Gabrielle Alexandra resides in Charlotte, N.C., while son Charles Sterling is in Greenville, S.C.
When Jessica moved to Opelika with her family, other family members followed. When Leesa visited for football games, she had a wonderful time tailgating with family and didn’t want to go home.
Leesa and her husband, Rich, moved to this area in 2011 from Mountain Brook in Birmingham. Rich commutes to Birmingham where he has his own business.
Leesa was born in Auburn while her father was attending pharmacy school at Auburn University. When he graduated three years later, they moved to Montgomery where her father worked at Jackson Hospital.
When her grandfather had a stroke, the family moved to Eutaw for her father to take over his business.
Leesa grew up enjoying wonderful homemade meals prepared by her mother, Joyce Solomon, and grandmothers. Her mother prepared a hearty breakfast and a homemade lunch. They lived two miles from the school, which was convenient for her mother to pick up Leesa and her brother to take them home for lunch.
“I felt like no one had the great food I had everyday,” says Leesa. Her mother made a wonderful dinner every night. My mother can cook like very few people I have ever known. She took classes under Natalie Dupree and classes at the Greenbrier!”
Leesa feels many of her memorable and life-giving moments have been shared at the table. “My husband said early on in our marriage that we would always sit down and eat together as a family. When the children were growing up, I spent many hours in my kitchen everyday.
“The kitchen really is the heart of the home,” she adds. “This philosophy was taught to me by my mother and both my grandmothers. They never ever ate fast food. I grew up eating fresh and home cooked food, and gave the same to my children. While they ate breakfast I did a family devotional.”
To create family time, she was careful to balance the children’s activities in order to be at home each evening for meal time. On Sundays, they would often have 10-20 people over for lunch after church.
“For me food is about celebrating,” adds Leesa. “Food is about connection with people.”
One of her favorite quotes is, “Our theology is best expressed and shown through our hospitality. Showering tangible love on those we know—and on those we don’t—allows people to experience the love of Jesus in ways they don’t see coming.”
Leesa’s suggestions for offering hospitality include making a list a week ahead and grocery shopping a few days ahead. She will have the house ready several days before a party and then do last minute touches the day before. Many of the dishes will be prepared ahead. When guests arrive, she will have music playing and flowers, candles or oil lamps providing a pleasant scent.
Her grandmother never cleaned before the family visited because she didn’t want to be concerned about them making a mess. “I often do the same,” says Leesa. “ I don’t clean the floors, and then I don’t care when people drop food. People are my priority, and if someone breaks something, that thought always pops into my mind. Things are replaceable, not people.”
She keeps food on hand for last minute guests. For a quick snack or appetizer, she serves honeycomb, apples, crackers and Humboldt Fog on a wooden platter with a small bouquet of flowers on the side.
Leesa also keeps a well-stocked pantry, including dried fruit, grains, chicken stock, canned tomatoes, pasta, garlic, olive oil, quinoa and vinegars. Butter and bacon are kept in the freezer. Since she has eggs from the chickens, she is ready to whip up her Spaghetti alla Carbonara for her children and grandchildren either for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
Living in the Opelika-Auburn area has been a joy being near Jessica and her family, her brother Greg Solomon and his wife Anna, as well as making new friends. Leesa feels like she is home where she was born.
“I recently went to New York where I visited seven museums, but I am a small town girl,” Leesa says, “and I like wide open spaces. I like small town life. I feel like I am home.”
Spaghetti alla Carbonara
Leesa whips this up for her grandchildren, who call her Honey, for breakfast, lunch or dinner.
1 lb. spaghetti, cooked according to pkg. directions
6 oz. cooked bacon or pancetta, chopped
1 cup chopped onion, sautéed
2 large egg yolks, cooked sunny side up
1/3 cup parsley, chopped
1 tsp. freshly ground black pepper
1 cup Parmigiano Reggiano, grated
Butter to taste
Extra-virgin olive oil, if needed
Combine all ingredients and then toss together. Sometimes when I am in a hurry, I just combine pasta, eggs and butter.
Sonny’s and Mamie’s Favorite Grilled Chicken
10 skinned, boned chicken thighs
1/2 tsp. salt
1/3 tsp. pepper
Prepare sauce and remove 1/3 of reduced mixture; set aside. Baste chicken with the remaining 2/3 cup.
Cook chicken about 10 minutes on each side. Remove from grill and pour the remaining sauce over cooked thighs.
2 cups orange juice
3 medium Jalapeño peppers (remove seeds, white membrane and mince)
4 cloves garlic, minced
3 Tbsp. grated orange rind
1 Tbsp. olive oil
3 Tbsp. maple syrup
1 tsp. salt
1/2 tsp. ground ginger
1/2 tsp. pepper
Stir all ingredients together in a medium saucepan; Reduce heat to simmer and cook, stirring often, until reduced in half.
3 Tbsp. flour
1 cup sugar
1 cup milk
1 oz. square bittersweet chocolate
2 Tbsp. butter
1 tsp. vanilla
3 egg yolks
Pinch of salt
3 egg whites
Pinch of cream of tartar
6 Tbsp. sugar
Mix flour and sugar together in a saucepan, and then add milk, stirring constantly. Add some of the warm mixture to whipped egg yolks and then add eggs to mixture in saucepan. Add chocolate squares, stirring until thickened. Add butter, salt and vanilla. Pour into pie crust. Recipe is easy to double for two pies.
To make meringue, whip egg whites until frothy; add a pinch of cream of tartar and then gradually add 6 Tbsp. sugar and beat until stiff.
Spread meringue over pie. Bake at 350 until lightly brown.
2 1/2 cups unbleached all-purpose flour
2 tsp. granulated sugar
1 tsp. salt
1 stick sweet butter, chilled
6 Tbsp. vegetable shortening, chilled
5 to 6 Tbsp. ice water, as needed
Sift flour, sugar and salt into mixing bowl. Add butter and shortening. Working quickly and using your fingertips or a pastry blender, rub or cut fat into dry ingredients until the mixture resembles coarse meal. (Better to pulse in food processor and try not to handle.) If mixing by hand, quickly sprinkle on ice water, 2 to 3 Tbsp. at a time, and mix with tines of a fork.
Place dough onto work surface. Using the heel of your hand, smear dough away from you about 1/4 cup at a time. Scrape it up into a ball and wrap in wax paper. Chill in refrigerator for two hours.
Roll out to 1/4 inch thickness on a floured work surface. Line a 9 inch pie plate with half of the dough. Crimp edges for a single crust pie.
For pre-baking, line the pie plate with foil and fill with beans or rice. Bake at 425 for eight minutes; then remove beans and lining. Prick bottom of dough with a fork and return pie plate to oven for 10 to 13 minutes longer or until crust is golden brown.
Marinated Pork Tenderloin
2 pork tenderloins
1/2 cup peanut oil
1/3 cup soy sauce
1/4 cup red wine vinegar
3 Tbsp. lemon juice
2 Tbsp. Worcestershire Sauce
1 clove garlic, crushed
1 Tbsp. chopped fresh parsley
1 Tbsp. dry mustard
1 1/2 tsp. pepper
Combine marinade ingredients. Place marinade and pork in Ziplock bag. Marinate overnight.
Grill pork about 12 to 14 minutes, turning once, or until desired doneness. Let rest 10 minutes before slicing. Serves 6.
Garlic-Crusted Roast Rack of Lamb
1 head of garlic, cloves peeled
1/4 cup rosemary leaves
1/4 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 racks of lamb, 2 lb. each (frenched, if desired)
Salt and freshly ground pepper
In a mini food processor, combine garlic, rosemary and olive oil and process until the garlic is finely chopped. Season lamb racks with salt and pepper and rub garlic-rosemary oil all over them. Set the racks fat side up on a large rimmed baking sheet and let stand for 1 hour.
Preheat oven to 450. Roast Iamb in the upper third of the oven for 15 minutes. Turn the racks and roast for 10 minutes longer for medium-rare meat. Transfer racks to a carving board, stand them upright and let rest for 10 minutes.
Carve racks in between the rib bones and transfer to plates.
Muscadine or Scuppernong Hull Pie
A Solomon family original recipe
For making filling, use about 4 – 5 cups of muscadines or scuppernongs. Separate the pulp from the hulls into 2 big pots. The hulls need just enough water to cook on low until tender. The pulp will cook in five minutes. Add a pinch if nutmeg to the pot.
Mix a little cold water with 1 Tbsp. flour and add to thicken hulls. Add sugar to taste. Drain pulp to remove seeds, and then add to the hulls.
Make four crusts or use purchased crusts for top and bottom for two pies. Pre-bake the bottom crusts.
Pour filling into baked crusts; top each pie with another crust. Vent by putting three slits in crust and bake until brown.
1 cup sugar
1/2 cup water
1 stick butter
Generous amount of freshly grated nutmeg
Boil sugar and water until thickened and add butter. Add nutmeg just before serving. Pour little of hot sauce over each slice of pie.
Grilled Corn Cob Bites with Chile and Lime
6 large ears of corn, husks and silks removed
1/2 cup snipped fresh cilantro
1 Tbsp. ground ancho chile pepper
2 tsp. finely shredded lime peel
1/4 to 1/2 tsp. cayenne pepper
1/4 cup butter, melted
2 Tbsp. mayonnaise or salad dressing
2 Tbsp. Mexican crema or sour cream
2 Tbsp. lime juice
Cut each ear of corn into thirds. Place corn pieces in a large pot and cover with water. Let soak for 10 minutes.
In a small bowl stir together cilantro, ancho pepper, lime peel, and cayenne pepper; set aside.
In an extra-large bowl whisk together butter, mayonnaise, crema and lime juice; set aside. Drain corn.
For a charcoal or gas grill, place corn on grill rack directly over medium-high heat. Cover and grill for 15 to 20 minutes until corn is tender, turning every 5 minutes and brushing with butter mixture several times during the last 5 minutes of grilling.
Place grilled corn in the remaining butter mixture in the bowl; toss to coat. Sprinkle cilantro mixture over corn; toss to coat. Season to taste with salt. Makes 6 servings.
Garlicky Asparagus Flatbread
1 lb. loaf frozen pizza dough, thawed
2 Tbsp. butter
2 Tbsp. flour
1 cup milk
1/2 cup finely shredded Parmesan cheese
6 oz. mozzarella cheese, sliced or grated
1-1 1/4 lb. green, white, and/or purple asparagus, trimmed and cut in 3-inch lengths
1 medium yellow squash, sliced
3 Tbsp. olive oil
5 large cloves garlic, thinly sliced
1/4 cup thinly sliced green onions
Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Grease two 15 x 10 x l-inch baking pans; set aside. For flatbreads, cut thawed dough in half. On a lightly floured surface, roll each half to a 15 x 10-inch rectangle. (If dough becomes difficult to roll, let rest for 5 minutes, then resume rolling.)
Press dough into prepared pans, pressing to sides of pans. Prick dough all over with a fork. Bake for 6 to 8 minutes or until very lightly browned.
Meanwhile, for white sauce, in a small saucepan melt butter over medium heat; stir in flour. Cook and stir for 2 minutes. Slowly whisk in milk. Cook and stir until thickened and bubbly. Add Parmesan cheese; cook for 1 minute.
Spread white sauce within 1/2 inch of dough edges. Top with mozzarella. Lightly toss asparagus and squash with 1 Tbsp. of olive oil. Spread asparagus on cheese layer. Bake for 10 minutes, until browned. Cool slightly.
In a small skillet heat remaining 2 Tbsp. oil over medium
heat. Cook sliced garlic in oil, stirring frequently, until tender and beginning to brown. Remove from heat. Spoon garlic and oil evenly on flatbreads.
Sprinkle with green onions. Pass honey.