Date: February 8, 2021 | Story: Stephanie Maxwell Newton | Photography: Rett Peek | Styling: Steph Smith |
Food for Thought: With the launch of her cookbook, this Northwest Arkansas blogger continues to inspire togetherness through milestones large and small
For Little Rock native Abby Turner, food is a way of building community. Now a resident of Rogers and marketing professional at Walmart, Abby developed this philosophy as she moved across five cities in four states while establishing her career. “I was living in Birmingham, Alabama, about five or six years ago and was the loneliest I had ever been,” she recalls. “I was having a really hard time finding friends. I was working all the time, and I felt that I needed people and community. My mom threw out there, You need to invite people over, you need to cook! So I did.” Abby made dinner for three guests, squeezing everyone around her two-top table, and soon she found she had a circle of friends. “I made cheese tortellini—and it was terrible,” she laughs, “but they wanted to come back over and do it again.”
The symbol of the table—no matter the size and no matter how many people are gathered around it—is central to Abby’s blog, A Table Top Affair, which she started soon after taking her mother’s advice. “I want to empower people to know that the kitchen doesn’t have to be scary, and recipes don’t have to take all day,” she says. “It’s about inviting people into the everyday moments. I want to provide the kind of inspiration that is really approachable and anyone can do.” This spring, Abby celebrates the release of her cookbook, The Living Table: Recipes and Devotions for Everyday Get-Togethers, which builds on this belief. The recipes inside are meant to mark everyday moments, such as game nights and coffee dates, and make them just as special as holidays, birthdays, and anniversaries. Devotions based on some of her favorite scriptures about “the table” are also included at the beginning of each chapter. “I’ve learned if you put food on the table and invite people over, they’ll be there. It doesn’t have to be a big moment; it can be a random Tuesday night,” she says. “People want connection and they want to be around other people. Food is just that natural conduit.” Here, Abby shares a couple of easy recipes for your next everyday get-together.
One of the tenets of Abby’s recipes is that most, if not all, can be prepared in 30 minutes or less. The Creamy Parmesan Basil Shrimp dish (above) is one such easy-to-replicate meal. The Brie, Pesto, and Pepper Jelly Sandwich (below) is her go-to for unexpected guests. “These are ingredients I always keep in my fridge and pantry for just this reason,” she says. Find recipes for both in The Living Table.
“I feel like Instagram and Pinterest have conditioned us to think we have to start from scratch, and that’s not always the case. I’m not a studied chef, and I’m not an expert—I’m more like a friend sharing her favorite recipes. If I can do it, you can do it.”
“I am a huge fan of taking French food and making it accessible to the everyday table,” Abby says. One such recipe in The Living Table is a croque monsieur casserole, which deconstructs the classic French sandwich in a way that easily feeds a crowd. “This falls under the section of my book called The Table That Serves. There are ideas for newborn meal trains, housewarming goodies, and bridal brunches—all those moments of life that make you ask, How can I help?” The Monte Cristo roll-ups recipe (below), an exclusive for At Home, is another variation on a classic.
Monte Cristo Roll-ups
¼ cup milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
12 slices brioche bread
1 tablespoon butter
½ cup raspberry jam
1 pound of deli ham, sliced thin
12 slices Gruyère cheese
powdered sugar, for garnish
Whisk together egg, milk, and vanilla in a medium bowl and set aside. With a rolling pin, flatten all 12 slices of bread; thickness should resemble that of a tortilla. Spread a thin layer of raspberry jam on one side of the bread, then layer a slice of ham and cheese on top in the center. Roll tightly to create a roll-up. Repeat for all bread slices. Meanwhile, heat a frying pan over medium-high heat and melt butter. Dip each roll-up in egg and milk mixture and move immediately to the heated pan. Fry for 2-3 minutes while turning. Sprinkle with powdered sugar as desired and serve warm.
2 cups fresh blackberries
2 tablespoons lemon juice
½ cup of sugar
2 tablespoons honey
52 ounces lemonade
12 ounces pomegranate juice
ice, for serving
fresh blackberries and pomegranate arils, for garnish
In a saucepan over medium-high heat, combine blackberries, lemon juice, sugar, and honey to create a blackberry syrup. Stir until sugar has dissolved and blackberries are muddled. Strain if desired. Place in fridge to cool. When ready to serve, spoon 2 tablespoons blackberry syrup into glass, fill with ice cubes and lemonade, and top with 1 ounce pomegranate juice. Garnish with fresh blackberries and pomegranate arils.
Pro tip: To simplify this recipe further, Abby suggests substituting canned blackberry jam for homemade syrup. Want to try it as a cocktail? Add 1 ounce of your favorite spirit; Abby recommends bourbon to complement the berries’ tart flavor profile.