Sunday, August 31, 2008

Last of Summer?

Marissa Roth gave a small dinner party last night which started poolside with plump green olives and sliced salami, creamy pastry cheese twists and a very potable chilled Riesling. When called to table we found a huge platter laden with fresh buffalo mozzarella, baby arugula, avocado, capers and a mild vinaigrette. Food maven, LA Times columnist and author Russ Parsons, brought along two varieties of Brandywine heirloom tomatoes grown in his Long Beach garden which Marissa substituted for her tiny heirlooms, and they were plump flavorful and lusciously tasty. After we had laid waste to that she served up wild organic salmon poached in orange juice with fresh dill, steamed french green beans with plenty of parsley, and deliciously crisp pan roasted fingerling potatoes. A French Muscadet and a dry, buttery Carneros Clos Du Val Chardonnay, which Russ also supplied, complemented it all with plenty of sparkling mineral water. If that wasn't enough we went back poolside to taste fresh nectarine gelato. All the ingredients were from her local South Pasadena farmer's market, including the gelato by Carmela Ice Cream who sells online and at the Hollywood and South Pasadena farmer's markets, with the exception of Russ's homegrown tomatoes and the salmon which Marissa caught herself at Bristol farms. It was a superb dinner.

We talked a bit about whether summer was over or not, a bit about food as Russ is a goldmine of information on resources and the way things are in foodland, and we talked about Bakersfield and Fresno and their anomalies. For all that hard work Marissa looked remarkably relaxed and glowed throughout the evening like the bloom on one of the sweet nectarines she garnished the gelato with. Perhaps this cool summer will linger on and I for one won't mind. Next week fall will officially be here for me as I harvest my Bakersfield Chardonnays and start to turn them into wine. I tasted them last week and they were intensely sweet but I bought a refractometer so as to measure the brix before I start getting sharp with the shears.

Saturday, August 2, 2008

Atlantic Balm

The weather here in LA is truly clement. I left for Florida's Atlantic coast two weeks ago to celebrate my father's 80th birthday and feared that when I returned this unusually moderate weather would have disappeared. I realized when I first set foot on the beach there that the two minute walk from my parent's house across A1A made all the difference, even though as usual you could cut the air with a knife. A couple of visits daily shoreside with my excellent youngest brother Matthew, to bathe and take in the sea air, watch the pelicans drop dive for fish and spot dolphins rolling along very close to shore, was something I needed a lot, not least because of his company and it became a daily ritual. Here, in SoCal, I rarely visit the Blue Pacific as it involves decanting myself into a car and making upwards of a 30 minute drive to travel a few miles, if traffic is good, trundling around for another half hour looking for parking, and then fighting the usual dense crowds, before finally bracing myself for the icy Pacific waters. By the time I get home all beneficial effects have usually worn off. There is also the frightening toll taken at the gas pump. It's much more pleasant to have access to a swimming pool and I'm pretty sure this is why they are abundant here. 

Each morning Daytona's brilliant skies were full with scudding clouds, and by early afternoon they were pregnant with rain, bolts of lightning and accompanying thunder. By early evening it it had cleared and one could return to walk at dusk on the rain embossed sand, paddle in the warm gulf stream flotsam and jetsom, and breathe in the thick, moist, clean air (see pic above).

I did most of the cooking whilst there, and for my mother's birthday baked some mostaciolli bolognese style, thick with a mushroom b├ęchamel with added sausage by request of brother Matthew. That day brother David and his wife Theresa had had an enormous rich black chocolate cake made to celebrate both the birthdays complete with elegant piping and congratulatory text. For my father's special event I roasted a large leg of lamb for the family, with anchovy sauce, all brothers and their families in attendance to decimate it very quickly. Profiteroles for dessert - I cheated and bought 36 frozen Belgian cream puffs. I did make the bittersweet chocolate sauce from scratch but confess that I didn't harvest the cacao beans myself.  Another day we shucked the best part of a half  bushel of oysters from Hull's. It was a lovely trip, and while I am always sad to leave my family, for the first time I can honestly say I rather miss Florida.