I’ve been thinking a lot about signs of change.
I first pondered it in my simple ceramic coffee mug, my personal signal that the weekend has arrived. Gone is the weekday on-the-go Yeti cup, replaced by something that reminds me it’s finally time to slow down.
I see it in the lone yellow branch outside my office window, leading the autumnal charge for the green leaves surrounding it.
I laugh at it as the church congregation becomes a sea of Broncos jerseys — a sure tell that football season is back on primetime.
I find relief in it as months of accumulated house projects begin to wind down and leave us with the previously long-forgotten nights off.
I marvel in it as my daughter pulls up to stand at every chance she gets, a sure tell that our baby will soon transition into a free-willed toddler. God help us.
The truth is: a lot has changed since we last checked in here.
In the course of a single summer, we purchase our first house in a completely new neighborhood, all while saying farewell to our dear friend Aubrie as she sold her possessions to join the Peace Corps in Namibia, and fighting back the tears as our beloved sister Natalie moved back to Texas for an exciting new job. It was also around this time that Lilia decided to start perfecting her crawling and assisted walking skills.
Ever since, we’ve been living in a self-imposed version of house arrest, overwhelmed by the never-ending house projects that come with home ownership and turning a house into a home. Adjusting to the isolation that comes with moving away from the comfort of your carefully-built community to a completely different part of town. Mourning the loss of women who had become integral to our Denver identity. Constantly chasing an independent, headstrong child who now insists on getting into every.single.thing.
But all of that living under a rock changes now.
It changes with our first dinner party in the new house. It changes with an enthusiastic rally around our annual Harvest Fest gathering this weekend. It changes with a soon-to-be one year old’s birthday party. It changes with the anticipation of our first bout of international travel in over a year.
It changes with this simple promise: to end our yearlong era of inward acclimation and to return our attention outward. To host, to travel, to give, to share, to love.
And it all begins these dolmades, our first dish prepared for our first dinner party guests in our new home. It had been awhile since we both rolled up our sleeves and got our hands dirty with a dish, but grape leaves are best made as a community. Spicing them, rolling them, and enjoying the efforts of your shared work together are half the fun.
To us, they were yet another sign of change: a sign of our return to hosting. A sign that after so much change and so much work, we are truly home.
Dolmades – Stuffed Grape Leaves
This recipe is borrowed from our dear friend, Jamil, who first taught us how to make them in his kitchen. We tried to recreate his family’s perfected dish as best as we could and were incredibly pleased by the results. When asked if we could share it, he responded with: “Please share. There are no family secrets. We all eyeball it.” That’s the beauty of this dish — it requires eyeballing and adjusting with each batch. The key ingredient is FRESH grape leaves if you can find them. Ours were plucked from the grape vines in our friends’ backyard. Jason was so hooked that he planted our own vine in our new backyard so we could have a constantly replenished supply on hand for future dolmades rolling parties.
- 50 grape leaves, blanched or from frozen
- 1 lb. white rice
- 1.5 lb. ground beef
- 2 Tbs. salt
- 2 Tbs. pepper
- 2 Tbs. cinnamon
- 1 tsp. nutmeg
- 1.5 – 2 cups lemon juice
- 4 – 6 chicken thighs
- In a large bowl, mix rice, beef, and spices together.
- Assemble dolmades by placing a small amount meat mixture, in an inch-long tube, on the veined side of the grape leaf. Loosely roll each leaf around the meat mixture like a burrito, with point side last. Set aside with pointed side down to prevent unraveling. Repeat until all are rolled.
- Line the bottom of a large soup pot with chicken thighs to cover the bottom of the pot. Cover thighs with a solid layer of flat [unfilled] leftover grape leaves.
- Arrange stuffed grape leaves on top of covered chicken thighs, placing them facing the same direction in a single layer until there is no more room. Make another layer of stuffed grape leaves at a 90-degree rotation. Keep making layers, rotating them until you’re out of room or stuffed grape leaves.
- Place a plate on top of your layers of grape leaves. The plate should be large enough to cover them yet small enough to fit in the pot. This will prevent them from floating and unraveling during cooking.
- Add lemon juice and enough water to cover the plate with 2 inches of water. Bring to a boil on medium-high, then simmer for 3 hours.
- Remove dolmades for serving and shred chicken to enjoy with another dish.