Thursday, December 18, 2014

A Passage to Mongolia

When I was little kid just beginning to read, I fell in love with an old book of my mother’s, Around the World in 2,000 Pictures (1955 - and it was old when I read it, thank you).  It was loaded with small black and white pictures and simple, brief captions from every country of the world.  I never tired of flipping through it and dreaming of all the places I could go.  When I was older I came across an article or quote someplace that said that reading a book was the cheapest way to travel.  I like that idea…you can see the world without leaving your couch.  Granted, reading about it is very different than experiencing it, but costs a lot less money.  

In recent months I have been reminded of another way to travel the world close to home….eating.  I am becoming a bit of a taqueria addict, while my stepdaughter will always ask for sushi and stepson yearns for pasta.  When we go out to eat, my wife and I simply look for something different.  Lately we have eaten Vietnamese, Italian and Thai.  However, the other night we stepped well out of the normally-available foods and tried a Mongolian restaurant.  We had no idea what to expect.  I had been in a Mongolian BBQ place but knew that wasn’t authentic (I doubt they have shrimp and garlic in Mongolia). Next to a movie theater we were headed to (review to come at Let's Improve Schools Now) we dropped in at Oyunaa's.  Very simple dĂ©cor, soft music that sounded like throat singing and a happy smile greeted us. Only two other tables were seated, so it was a quiet evening. Our server came over to answer any questions and explain that all the food is strictly prepared to order so it might be nice to have a drink and relax.  A glass of wine and a beer from their limited selection and we did just that. It felt like a complete escape – no way was Monterey Bay only a half mile away.  We looked over the short menu and settled on a bowl of kim chee followed by two dumpling entrees – buuz and khushuur.  When we ordered our cheerful server said, “Ok, well she will start roiling the dough for your dumplings now. Your meals will be out in about 25 minutes.” It was so refreshing to know that there was no rush and the food was being prepared just for us. A few minutes later the kim chee arrived.  Cool, but spicy, it was delicious on a cold, rainy evening.  Then the dumplings arrived – they looked beautiful!  The buuz was a steamed ball of meat perfectly wrapped in the thinnest, lightest dough.  Khuushuur was a fried, flat dumpling filled with beef.  Each was delicious! The buuz was light and fell apart in your mouth.  The khuushuur was like a flattened burger, but light and flavorful. The accompanying sides were delicious and the portion sizes were perfect. I think it was all even more delicious knowing that it was all hand-made while we savored the atmosphere and unwound. Our server dropped by a couple times to check on us obviously delighting in our satisfaction. 

Located on the north side of the Seabright neighborhood (one of my favorite neighborhoods) and a couple doors down from The Rio on Soquel, this place should be doing a great business.  I see people in it all the time, but it does appear there is never a wait. If you have the inkling to travel, but lack the funds or time, do yourself a favor and get over to Oyunaa’s for a quick jaunt to Mongolia. 

Saturday, August 16, 2014

Chef - a Delicious Road Trip

2014 has blessed us with three foodie movies to savor.  First up was Tasting Menu, somewhat inspired by the closing of Spain’s El Bulli.  Though released in April, the DVD is out in October, and I will have to review it then.  Next came Jon Favreau’s Chef which I will review here in a moment.  In the last week we were treated to the dessert, The Hundred Foot Journey.  I hope to devour that in the next week, so stay tuned.

Chef… I went to this expecting food to only play a secondary role and ultimately to find it a little unsatisfying but a decent escape.  I was wrong.  Food played a central role, it was loaded with morsels of wisdom and subtle foodie observations and proved to be an entertaining and enjoyable film.   

Favreau plays a LA celebrity chef caught between a rock and a hard place.  His manager/restaurant owner wants him to stick to what he does well, take no risks and simply turn out the same menu night after night, year after year.  But the city’s most influential critic is about to visit and the Chef would like to display his chops.  The manager threatens him with his job.  He gets a lousy review.

In this first third of the film we see that the Chef, Carl, is obsessed and consumed by his work but that he truly loves the creative process of cooking; the restaurant is stifling to him.  However, his obsessiveness seems to have cost him one marriage and regularly drives a wedge between him and his son.  

After a verbal explosion goes viral Carl loses his job.  Now we know it’s time for the redemption and it will likely involve Carl getting back in touch with both his love of creativity, cooking and his son.  Totally predictable, right?  It is.  But it’s fun.  

Enter a food truck, the support of his ex-wife, Miami and the beautiful simplicity and love of Cubano sandwiches.  Along the way we will get touching conversations, father-son instruction in the value of hard work and love of food, the subtlty of sandwich creation, a road trip and ultimately rekindled romance and food fame with a predictable twist at the end. 

The co-stars really steal the show.  Sofia Vergara plays the ex-wife and her easy smile warms the screen.  Jon Leguizamo’s humor and flair brings lightness to Favreau’s self-absorbed chef, and Bobby Cannavale nails it as a loyal sous chef.  Dustan Hoffman, Oliver Platt, Scarlett Johansson, and Robert Downey, Jr.  have smaller parts played spot on.

This won’t win any awards.  But you will enjoy it.  I highly recommend it…but you need to find a place in town for a good Cubano and make a reservation for 15 minutes after the movie is out…you’re gonna want one! 

Sunday, August 10, 2014

The Humble Scotch Egg

I have a cookbook in my kitchen that often gets a giggle – Traditional British Cooking.  I have been asked if it featured blank pages.  So unfair!  Our stereotypes of culinary greatness and grandeur tend to be French – thanks Escoffier and Julia Child.  Soul nourishing comfort foods?  Italian maybe.  Exotic flavors?  Asian of all kinds.  Filling, rich foods?  German and Eastern European.  But the British Isles get left out unless we are talking beer and spirits.  In retort I bring up pub grub and people just smirk as if that doesn’t count.  But fish and chips, a shepherd’s pie, some bubble and squeak – these may not be the result of some hours’ long processes with reductions and so on, but they are delicious.  Furthermore, we seem to be in an era in America of appreciation for simplicity, minimal ingredients, and fresh, versatile flavors.  So let’s give British food a break – and a try.
In Chicago recently I had the pleasure of eating at Blokes and Birds in Wrigleyville.  I spotted Scotch eggs on the menu – an item I never see without trying.  I am physically incapable of passing them up.  So along with an excellent burger and some fish and chips, we added this traditional portable snack.  And it was delicious.  In fact, before going on, I have to encourage you all to visit Blokes and Birds.  Great food, great location and stellar service.
That said, I got to thinking about the Scotch egg.  It is so simple it is a work of genius.  But why do we reserve these treats to pub visits?  It is simply a hard-boiled egg wrapped in sausage, rolled in bread crumbs and fried.  That would be easy to do at home, right?
And it has a wonderful, if disputed, history.  It could be the creation of an elite grocery store in London, or maybe a natural adaptation of an Indian meatball.  It might even have North African origins.  It is definitely not from Scotland.  But it becomes popular because it is filling and easily portable, delicious hot or cold.  This is a simple snack for the masses.  I had to do this at home!
I did what I often do – glance at a half dozen recipes and then just create my own.  I rarely use recipes – prefer to just create based on what I have seen.  So I hard boiled some eggs – cold from the fridge into rolling, boiling water reduced to a simmer for 12 minutes and then hit with cold water.  This way the yolk is done but golden and creamy, not dry.  After the eggs cooled and I peeled them I made a patty of mild Italian sausage in my hand, placed an egg in the middle and carefully wrapped the patty around the egg.  I thought this might be challenging but it was easy!  Then I rolled the sausage/egg ball in a whisked egg then rolled it around in a bowl of about a cup of flour, cup of bread crumbs and half a cup of panko with some salt and pepper.  I then dropped the balls into about an inch worth of vegetable oil, very hot, in a Dutch oven on the stove.  After a careful turn they fried up to a beautiful golden brown and looked to be restaurant quality.
The kids wandered in and out of the kitchen, knowing what I was making but skeptical – eggs inside sausage – weird!  Once all five balls were done I sliced them in half and put them on the table.  The kids looked a little more curious now.  My stepson took a bite.  “Yum.  Cool!”  My stepdaughter took it apart a bit to accommodate a sore mouth due to some orthodontic work, but responded with a “wow…that’s good.”  Some family dropped by conveniently and they too loved them.  This was sooooo easy!
And there’s even more that can be done.  What if we pickled the eggs in Worcestershire or Jalapeno juice?  What if we used a beer batter?  Or chorizo or a hot Italian sausage?  The possibilities are endless**.  Each family member could develop their own signature egg.  These could even be done with different kind of eggs – mini ones with quail eggs or giant goose eggs.
So give the Brits a break and try these at home.  
**Additional note - Just last night we had dinner at a new Santa Cruz restaurant, Assembly.  As a snack they served Scotch olives!  They were delicious!  Get to Assembly ASAP.  Review to come soon.

Wednesday, May 28, 2014

Eating with Class

Published simultaneously at It Takes A Kitchen and Let's Improve Schools Now

I spend most of my time here discussing the intersection of food and family.  But it is my career that has kept me from writing much over this past year and now brings me back.  In fact, I am coming back to write in both blogs, one single entry that bridges each topic – food and education.  Over the last four years I have had the immense pleasure of working with a group of nine high school students as they navigated high school – beginning to end, through AP classes, college apps, prom, spirit contests, assemblies, team building activities, anti-drug lectures, and even learning how to breath to relieve stress.  I firmly believe that a formal education is fundamentally a human endeavor based upon relationships and communication between people.  A deep, meaningful education cannot be replicated online or standardized.  Working with nine teens over four years’ time validates this belief. 

Furthermore, I firmly believe that relationships of all kinds are best formed over food.  Stop and think about it… Have you ever lead a group of community volunteers?  Offer food at meetings and people might show up.  Watch the conversation after church over a donut.  Think about your romantic relationships – I will bet they all included quite a bit of time over meals.  Want to get strangers talking?  Feed them something delicious.  Food brings people together and uncovers layers to relationships that will go unnoticed until sharing food. 

Over the last four years my group of students, my advisory (they call themselves Janda’s Pandas) have met weekly and food was key.  Truth be told, it was almost always junk food, but food nonetheless.  Without food, they were lethargic and bored.  Throw a gummy bear at ‘em, and it was like throwing a match into a box of dynamite.   However, in their junior and senior years we started making waffles in class.  The smell filled the building attracting the appetites of kids from other advisories.  Chocolate chips, whipped cream, and fruit all made great toppings and the leftover chips became quick snacks for them as they wandered by throughout the week.  Eating these waffles almost did as much for team building as the ropes course their sophomore year or the ocean kayaking their junior year. 

However, the culinary coup de grace for this group did not come until the end.  During their senior class trip to Laguna Beach last week we all ate at Mozambique.  Not knowing much about East African cuisine I cannot say much for the authenticity of the experience (they had pasta dishes and burgers?) but the authenticity of the meal was not at all the point.  The point was camaraderie, family.  We laughed about memories, we dreamt about college and we shared our food.  A couple kids shared a gigantic plate of seafood, working up a sweat to finish it all while the rest of us marveled.  They all left in a flash while I collected their desserts only to deliver them at the start of their class kumbaya moment.  Just a couple nights later, back home in San Jose, they all wanted to do it again after their Baccalaureate ceremony so we grabbed dinner in Santana Row.  I am left wondering if they would have liked to go out to eat every week. 
We already know that food quality is a major selling point for colleges today.  Some schools are approaching food differently (The Edible Schoolyard and Appleton, Wisconsin’s Central Alternative Charter High School are great examples) and seeing real behavioral and cognitive results.  But our efforts do not have to be so vast.  Simply sharing a meal with our students can make a difference in their level of commitment and joy in the process. 

“My kids” are now off to college – from coast to coast and from north to south – they are off to discover independence, test boundaries, live dreams, and seek wild success.  They will do phenomenal things, each in their own way.  But none of them will do it alone.  They will be supported by friends, professors, mentors and new advisors.  Bonds with these new people will be formed, often over food.  I hope they will tell me about it.  I hope when they return we will eat together again.  I miss them already.

Next year I start another four years with a new crop of freshmen.  We will eat together sooner.  We will build our bonds earlier…with waffle batter.  

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Celebrating Valentine's Day - Family Style

Are you feeling bombarded with pink?  It’s that time of year again...  Valentine’s Day.   Restaurants will be booked solid, chocolates will cap every aisle at the grocery store, and those not in a romantic relationship will feel left out.  But it doesn’t have to be this way.  In our family we like to make a big deal of every holiday; we even make them up and Valentine’s Day gets its own spin.  It’s just about love and appreciation – love of family, love of friends and even the dogs.   

We have to make the effort to make it this way.  It’s the lone holiday that commercially doesn’t really revolve around the kids or family. Our first year together we tried to figure out how to make it kid-friendly.  We knew that a new man in the kids’ lives taking their mother out wasn’t really a great start.   We wanted a family meal that included the kids.  It had to be red.  Spaghetti sauce.  Meatballs.  Meatballs in the shape of hearts – all made by the us and the kids.  That was key.  When blending a family and raising kids to enjoy food you must include them in the process no matter how brief the attention span.  This is now the traditional Valentine’s dinner…somewhat-heart-shaped meatballs and spaghetti.  We share a meal, and chat about things we love.  The kids giggle or cringe if we get to gushy and yell, “yuck!” if we kiss, but we all have light-hearted fun and hug and dance around the kitchen.  To get ready for the meal the kids and I now go grocery shopping and we each buy flowers for mom.  This began as a Valentine’s Day thing, but now the kids often ask to buy mom flowers when we go shopping together.  If they grow up wanting to buy their mother or significant other flowers every so often, I figure I’ve done alright.  In fact, if that’s what they like to do, they got the point…Valentine’s Day is about celebrating the love we all have for each other, not just romantic love.

Thursday, February 6, 2014

America's Defining Foods

A few years ago while traveling across Europe with an Italian friend I was told that Americans have no culinary tradition or invention outside of hamburgers and hot dogs.  Immersed in all things Italian and French at that moment, I tended to agree.  I have thought about this often in the years since.  We were wrong.  While many things American have by nature roots on other traditions, there are many foods that are uniquely American.  Thrillist just recently published their list of America's 33 Most Iconic Foods, and it has motivated me to add my two cents.

One thing I enjoy about this list is not just listing the foods but also ideal locations at which to eat them.  As I dove into the list I was looking for the usual suspects – BBQ, wings, burgers, and county fair food like corn dogs and smothered fries.  Instead I found some regional treats I need to add to my collection.  Of course, I also found a list of places I apparently need to eat some old stand-bys and a fair number of foods and places I have already eaten.
Here are some specific responses…
1.       Reindeer meat in Alaska – ok, Americans are not exactly known for consuming a wide range of meats.  We stick to cows, pigs, chickens, turkeys and some fish.  Organ meat and non-traditional animals?   Not so much.  But I love and will search for the odd meat.  Reindeer in Alaska? I’m intrigued.  If you like the occasional odd meat, I recommend Le Fou Frog (  in Kansas City for some French preparations.

2.       Brisket and various forms of BBQ show up on the list a few times and certainly evoke Americana to me.  Risking committing patriotic blasphemy, BBQ has never really done much for me.  But perfectly cooked ribs, burnt ends, or a pulled pork sandwich…ok….delicious.  And my favorite place for ribs is by FAR Oklahoma Joe’s, an amazing place that shares a gas station in Kansas City, Kansas (  It is worth making a special trip to KC. 

3.       Hamburgers and hot dogs and the three summer holidays – is there anything more American?  Chili dogs, Chicago dogs (and Hot Doug’s has been on my list for years), red hots – in many forms we have special hot dogs.  The burger seems to have gone through serious expansion phase where we see gigantic burgers with so many toppings nobody’s mouth can take them in.  But my favorite burgers go the other way to minimalism and simplicity.  Booches in Columbia, Missouri ( and Billy Goat Tavern in Chicago make a simple, small burger with basic white buns and white American cheese served on wax paper (  Order two to start and let ‘em melt in your mouth like no other.

4.       We do some wonderful things with seafood in this country including crab cakes, lobster roll, oysters and all sorts of grilled fish.  And my single favorite lobster roll remains Day’s Lobster Pound in South Yarmouth, Maine (  It is simple, not overly seasoned or covered in mayo, served on a grilled flat bottom roll, and it makes me weep for its delicious simplicity.

5.       Okra, chittlins, hominy, greens – soul food could rival burgers and dogs for being quintessentially American.  Some hot sauce and good music and you have pure joy.  The best I have had came from a church fundraiser and was made with lots of love.

6.       Stews and Chowders – we have a knack for making some rich, delicious, chunky soups.  The only one I get too excited about though is a New England clam chowder, preferably my dad’s based on the recipe of the York Harbor Inn in York, Maine (  It can’t be too thick and creamy, must be loaded with clams, and absolutely must not be red or clear.

7.       Pork Loin and pulled pork sandwiches – When I coached track and field in Missouri the State Championship track meet was held at the stadium of Lincoln University, an HBCU, in Jefferson City.  The dads of one of the university’s fraternities set up a trailer a numerous grills outside the stadium entrance.  By 10am each day the front of the stadium filled with the most amazing smoke.  Stop by that trailer and get pulled pork or pork loin slapped on a piece of white bread that serves no purpose but to hold the meat while you quickly eat.  The bread will disintegrate.  You will be happy and messy and smiling. 

8.       Chicken and waffles – like so many regional idiosyncrasies, this one has gone national while LA’s Roscoe’s remains the original and the Mecca (  I haven’t been yet, find the combo exceptionally weird, but look forward to a visit soon

9.       Sandwiches  - Cultures all over the world have sandwiches, but we seem to have them all.  The pastrami at Katz’s in NYC is worth every dime of the small fortune it costs (  A great BLT, my favorite is Betty’s in Santa Cruz, CA, makes me feel like a kid again (  Italian beef combo in Chicago or Philly cheese – makes my mouth water.

10.   Brats – can this really be American?  Sure, Wisconsin seems a great place to grab one, but so does Munich.  Don’t get me wrong, I love ‘em, but the best I have ever had was in the train station in Hanover, Germany

11.   Fried Chicken  and Chicken wings – Certainly American food icons, but I don’t get it.  Too much trouble, too little reward.  Just give me straight blue cheese and anything fried.

12.   Mexican Food – I find it funny that the Thrillist list has at least three clearly Mexican items.  Granted, a burrito in the States is a very different thing.  That said, I have had a serious craving for a good taqueria for months now and in that time have had a dozen tacos in local taquerias, but I remain unsatiated.  Had great tacos…I just want more.  I can’t cure this craving!

13.   Toasted Ravioli – I mentioned these the other day – truly St. Louis’ iconic food and now it is turning up at catered parties and wedding receptions all over the nation.  Americans really are happy to eat anything fried.  Deep fried ravioli…it has grown on me, and I am partial to Rigazzi’s in St. L (
What do you think are America’s most iconic foods and where must we eat them?  What are our equivalents of foie gras, beef wellington and osso buco?  Have tacos and brats been so adopted and adapted that they are now also American foods? 


Monday, February 3, 2014

Superbowl Weekend Eats

I hope you all had a wonderful Superbowl weekend.  I will be posting soon a few thoughts in regards to a variety of foodie articles I have read lately, but quickly wanted to share a couple quick thoughts from my weekend.  First, I had another anatopistic experience.  I went to a wonderful retirement party for one of my wife’s colleagues.  At the buffet was a huge chafing dish of toasted ravioli, the St. Louis icon.  I was amazed.  Furthermore, they tasted pretty good.  They were, however, Californified, served alongside a pesto aioli. 

I also made one of my childhood favorites for my Superbowl feast.  My mother called this pizza bread, but it really doesn’t resemble a pizza at all.  We ate it once a year, always on Superbowl Sunday. 
It’s simply bread dough rolled out as flat as you can get it with whatever cold cuts or deli meat you like, some white American cheese (it just melts so perfectly) and some pepper salad.  I use a combination of roasted red bell peppers and mild banana pepper rings.  I then roll it, fold in the end, egg wash it and bake on 350 for about 30 minutes.  You could add whatever meats, cheeses, peppers or giardiniera you like to fit you and your family’s tastes.          

Wednesday, January 29, 2014

Frankly, Mr. Shankly

If you are reading this and have already been to this blog I think it is safe to say that you already believe food is far more than simply sustenance.  You likely see food as a form of art, or a wonderful hobby.  Perhaps food is something that brings you joy.  If you have been one of my readers you know I see food as something that creates community and intimacy.  Undoubtedly you know people for whom food is simply food, not to be imbued with all sorts of social or emotional powers.  Well, be sure to share with them a movie I recently watched.

May I Be Frank is another in a long line of movies that explore our modern, affluent lifestyles and the damage we are doing to ourselves.  May I Be Frank is different in that it looks at how fast a healthy, cleansing diet can affect both our health and our emotional state.  Frank Ferrante is a middle-aged guy with a colorful past of drug use, womanizing and a total lack of self-respect.  He wanders into Cafe Gratitude in Berkeley, California and is confronted with their question of the day.  What do you want more than anything else in your life?  Frank wants to fall in love one more time but knows that’s impossible until he loves himself.  His server is intrigued and together with a couple other employees set out to whip Frank into shape – emotional and physical.  What follows is Frank’s experience with wheatgrass, colonics, and self-affirmations.  Frank is a charming guy, impossible not to like.  He is brutally honest about what he is experiencing even while struggling to be honest with the pain in his life.  However, in just a few weeks he loses weight, cleans up his body and begins to wrestle with his demons.  As I watched I was completely convinced that his new, cleaner diet was the key ingredient leading him to reflect and search for healing. 
This is not an easy film to watch, yet it is completely engaging.  It will force you to think about your own life – nutritionally and emotionally.  But hang on to the end – all the way through the credits – and you will discover such hope.  I loved the intimate feel of the movie.  In a time where documentaries often get such acclaim and even audience, this is one that feels like a film festival.  That small, unknown, intimate film that lacks the star-power or marketing experts to make it the next Bowling for Columbine or An Inconvenient Truth, it is the sort that you will watch, feel good about, and want to share with others. 

Monday, January 27, 2014

Food is our past, present and future

Thank you to my readers who send on more thoughts about food and how it helps us make connections with others.  Here is another piece that was sent my way, apparently from O, the Oprah magazine: 

When I walk
into my kitchen today,
I am not alone.
Whether we know it
or not, none of us is.
We bring fathers
and mothers and kitchen
tables, and every meal
we have ever eaten.
Food is never just food.
It’s also a way of
getting at something else:
who we are, who
we have been, and
who we want to be.
-Molly Wizenberg, from A Homemade Life

Wednesday, January 22, 2014

Happy Birthday Grandma

This blog is an exploration of how we form intimate connections with people through food.  I am amazed and fascinated by the power of a meal to create bonds between strangers, strengthen bonds between family members, and deepen bonds between lovers.  In my life, I am particularly interested in how food and cooking is forming bonds between me and my stepchildren.  But food is such a central part of my family that sometimes cooking functions to provide the unexpected.   

Today we honor my wife’s grandmother on her 92nd birthday.  She’s lived in the same house in Los Angeles for over 60 years with a small, simple kitchen... a kitchen that is a second home to my wife and her siblings.  My wife and I with her brother visited with Grandma over Thanksgiving.  Of course that’s a holiday loaded with tradition and very specific foods.  However, this past year that was to be turned on its head for me.  The three of us had hoped to cook in her kitchen and share that experience with her.  It is what we created that surprised me.
On the Friday after Thanksgiving we asked her to show me (my wife and her brother have been cooking with her since they were little) how to make tortillas.  I had envisioned a simple snack.  We ended up with a feast filled with family history and tradition.  First she showed us how to make the dough.  Of course the recipe was in her head and intuition seemed to be the most important ingredient.  Once the feel was right we let the dough sit for a bit before we formed it into small balls for rolling out.  From an overstuffed drawer she pulled a rolling pin that most resembled a sawed-off broom handle that had seen a lot of love.  Apparently that rolling pin belonged to her mother!  She proceeded to roll out a perfect circle of flattened dough about eight inches across.  She made it look so easy and chatted through the entire process.  After making a few and throwing them on a griddle she looked at me and said, “your turn.”  I was intimidated…simple as that.  I took that historic rolling pin and started to roll out…a rectangle, then an oval, then a blob. 
I took some advice, tried again and again and kept getting something closer to a football shape than a circle.  My wife and brother-in-law took turns and did better, getting near-circles and then Grandma jumped in again.  And again, perfect circles.  As we each took turns Grandma started giving directions for my wife to make a salsa verde.  Into the blender went herbs (from her garden) and spices, some tomatillos, tomatoes and before you knew it a gorgeous smell overtook the kitchen.  Meanwhile, Grandma got to work on some refried beans, eggs and arroz rojo.  I watched amazed as a feast was brought together in short order with a grace and skill I can only aspire to.  Grandma did this like a woman a third her age.
When we finally sat at the small table a colorful, love-filled Mexican feast welcomed us, all assembled by this vibrant, incredible petite woman.  This was a true Thanksgiving meal linked to our family’s past, present and future.
Happy 92nd Birthday, Grandma.  May we all have many more together.    

Saturday, January 18, 2014

Malibu Perfection

In A Cook’s Tour, Anthony Bourdain writes about searching for the world’s greatest meal.  In the introduction he explains just what he defines as a great meal.  It need not be made of the finest ingredients or by the most elite, prestigious preparations.  It doesn’t need to be the priciest, most elaborate or rare.  It does not need Michelin stars or New York Times reviews.  To Bourdain, the greatest meal is some combination of the food, its preparation, the setting and the company and conversation.

Sometimes an amazing meal can be an unexpected surprise.  Recently my wife and I were driving from LA to Santa Cruz, California.  We had packed a simple picnic to eat along the way… crusty baguette, brie, prosciutto, coppa, salami, arugula, grapes, Pellegrino and some M&Ms.  I was content with swinging into a rest stop or parking lot, but my wife had other ideas.  Just north of Malibu we stopped at a small parking lot and headed down to the beach…way, way down a series of wooden, rickety staircases.  The beach was strewn with huge rock formations and backed by the massive cliffs we had just descended.  There were maybe a dozen people within 5o yards of the foot of the stairs in either direction.  We walked a bit looking for the perfect private spot against the cliffs to eat our picnic lunch.  In the warm Southern California sun we wished we had not worn jeans.  The meats were wonderful, the cheese creamy and the baguette crumbled just right.  Few seagulls noticed, and they left us alone.  We ate in relative silence – an experience we rarely have anymore with kids and dogs keeping us busy.  The sun, the sound of the surf, the melting of thin-cut meats in our mouths, the sweetness of juicy grapes all conspired to create a perfect meal. 
We covered our cooler and bag and headed down the beach for a walk.  The gigantic rock formations had their lower portions covered in mussels, some of them the size of my fist.  Kids ran around in tide pools while college kids snapped pictures on the stairs.  Couples walked hand in hand.  Sandpipers ran in unison back and forth like a crowd of 7 year old boys who have been told not to get wet.  A cormorant sat atop a rock drying off in the sun.  And the M&Ms proved a flawless dessert.  We didn’t need some fancy chocolate lava cake after foie gras and caviar.  Tenderloin and wasabi potatoes?  No need.  We had a perfect meal in a perfect setting with our favorite culinary companion.  

This is what Bourdain was looking for.  This is what we found.