Wednesday, March 27, 2013

Party On

I’ve learned a lot after years of hosting large family parties.  While I want very exact style elements and perfect details for certain Farm to Table dinners and other events, at some point I realized that I don’t need to be up at the dawn to string lights and hang paper lanterns for my family. Not that I can’t do it myself (though that takes me a while), and not that I don’t want to surprise them with a scene….it’s just that sometimes I think my family enjoys it more when they are a little invested in the process.  And really, it’s just much, much easier for my 6’5” brother in law and my 6’3” brother to hang the lanterns for me…they don’t even need to use a ladder!  My nephew “Little Steven” is now more than 6’ at 13 years old, and so he also helped hang the lights and lanterns.  What used to take me all day can be done in an hour or so when we work together~


Setting the table and placing the chairs is also a wonderful way for me to include all the kids.  I tasked my niece Lauren with styling the napkins.  I gave her a stack of quarter-folded Matteo napkins and the velvet ties with a simple suggestion of using a little greenery in the tie; she had some elaborate folding process that I didn’t completely understand, but this is what she produced… A+ Lauren~


Lauren was my little style assistant for the party…after the napkins, she selected ten of her favorite teacups to set out on the dessert table, then she decided where to place all of the flowers, helped me decorate the cakes, and on her own styled the trio of tea tins that were set out on the dessert table~


And when you delegate, you can’t micromanage.  I was effusive in my enthusiasm and praise for Lauren's & Steven’s work.  As for the menu, I don’t mind a few impromptu additions, but I like to set the basic dishes for our big family meals.  My favorite brother-in-law told my brother that he loves to come for dinner in Laguna because “each time it’s the best food I’ve ever had….since…the last time I was here for dinner.”  We started with homemade fresh pizzas.  Eight smalls, to be exact, with Trader Joe’s pizza dough.  Thin crust, less cheese, more arugula.  Prosciutto and goat cheese and grilled onions in various combinations.  It was all delicious~


I had grilled eggplant to put on the pizza, but we had a few fans out at the dinner table, so I dressed these warm slices with olive oil, fig-balsamic and a dusting of Parmesan cheese right after I took the photo; this was so good~


I had my niece Kailea cooking with me and Lauren was our runner, taking platters out to the dinner table.  Next was a large platter of roasted asparagus and parmesan~


And the Balthazar version of Porc Milanese, topped with a fresh salad and grilled red onions~


And so there I was, in the kitchen as usual, happily cooking and instructing the girls, and chatting with whoever wandered in and out of the kitchen.  My brother and sister from out of town were outside with all the kids having some quality time with our parents, enjoying the pizzas and the Honey Baked ham that Mom had also bought.  It was 4pm and we were waiting on our two other sisters to arrive with their families, and so I decided to take a peek outside, and photograph the dessert table while it was all intact.  Or was it?  Hey wait a minute, someone’s already eaten a third of my white layer cake~


And the lemon torte wasn’t even dressed yet in the lavender whipped cream and berries….though Lauren had decided to put a few dragees on it…but they ate it plain, until I brought out the cream and berries~


Dragees (those little silver baker’s confections) are not sold in California due to their “toxic” content of silver, so they are on my list to buy whenever I’m in New York City.  It’s really too bad, because I think they look great (evidently Lauren does too, because she used up the entire box of them, including on the side of the whipped-cream-white layer cake-with cassis filling that I had topped with flowers from the market and a few orchid blooms from the garden~


Yes, it seems that as soon as the pizzas were gone, someone decided to get into the dessert.  I had purposely not set out the dessert serving utensils yet, but that didn’t stop them from using their hands and a dinner knife to get started on dessert a few hours ahead of schedule.  I guess I can’t blame them, because I put the pudding flutes out to come to room temperature along with the rest of the desserts, and it was so tempting~


Whatever…they were all really happy and partying away.  What’s this all for, anyway?  It’s not about the food and eating “in order,” it’s about facilitating the personal connections, the conversation, and having a good time together.  So I went back to the kitchen and finished off a small leg of lamb and the main plate of the evening, Jonathan Waxman’s roast chicken on a beautiful bed of lemon risotto~


At this point, I was done in the kitchen, and my other sisters had arrived and were busily chatting away.  I made a nice plate for myself and at last the fourteen of us all sat down together.


I never should underestimate my family’s love of dessert.  My brother said at the end of the evening that this was a wonderful meal….he had pizza and dessert, then some vegetables and more dessert, then pork and Honey Baked ham and then just a little more dessert.  I watched my sister sitting at my left very carefully pick each flower off her slice of cake and lick the cream off the stems.  This makes them so happy~


I didn’t make the spaghetti carbonara, but we did make everything else that had been planned.  And it was all eaten.  For a dinner like this though, I don’t make a full portion of everything for each person; for example I made six pieces of pork Milanese, not 14.  The lamb was a small four pounds, just enough for everyone to have a taste, or for whoever wanted lamb versus pork to have a choice.  We had a little bread; here Louie’s sesame-crusted Semolina as well as a spelt loaf for my sister who is now a gluten-free convert.


Everyone was on track for an early evening since the following morning sis was off to Hawaii and my brother back to Denver.  As the meal continued, I thought about what I hadn’t done, and what I would do for the next dinner in the coming weeks, probably for the launch of Reve…..more light bulbs in the lanterns; I had wanted to lace pink jasmine vines down the center of the long table, but didn’t have time.  A small sprig next to the deep fuchsia anemone was my own little personal reminder for next time~


My favorite part of the meal (and my favorite photo) was when we toasted our parents on their 54th wedding anniversary.  Love to see them happy together; Dad is so much improved health-wise than a year ago, and doing so well~


My sister Jacquie and her husband Mark also celebrated their 18th wedding anniversary the same day~


And we needed one more photo, Jacquie, Mark and their children Steven, Lauren and Michael with their Grandparents~


It was a real party….what my family does best….party eat party eat party eat~


You’ll see this scene again in a few weeks with more lights, with more lanterns, with more more more….


Paris in two days…..look for one more post before we leave Friday~

Sunday, March 24, 2013


Well, Paris in five days, but I’m not focused on that yet.  My sister and brother are in town, and this evening we are having our big family dinner.  When my parents and all five kids get together, I love to have a big meal.  We are also celebrating Easter a week early as I’ll be in Paris.  Mom wants to celebrate Mother’s Day a little early; why not?  Tomorrow is my parents’ 54th wedding anniversary, and my favorite brother-in-law also had a small stroke this week, from which he has made a full recovery.  We certainly have lots to be thankful for, so let’s party!

I loaded up on free flowers from my neighbor Maria at the Saturday market, who also gave me six pints of strawberries.  It was a wonderful way to start the day~


I showed the flowers on my front table in a pair of terra cotta pots I got at Rogers Gardens this week; love these and will use them a lot.  Some of these flowers will go on top of the cake tonight~


There is always a lot of planning that goes into these family events; I’ve learned over the years that I have to be organized to have a successful dinner.  I started a menu a week ago, and after a few edits, decided on mostly Italian food.  We’ll start with a variety of little pizzas, topped with arugula, prosciutto, eggplant, goat cheese, grilled onions and pesto; then move on to lemon risotto, spaghetti carbonara, porc Milanese, a small leg of lamb, two chickens, shaved asparagus salad with parmesan and a green salad.  There will be 14 of us, and so no problem with my family eating through that much food, though there is not a full portion of all of that for everyone; I’ll explain later.  I started shopping on Thursday, with a flat of free range eggs from Eben-Haezer Farms, then did more food shopping on Friday and Saturday.  Three farmers markets and six stores later, I have all that I need. 

Last evening I sent my parents off to dinner with my sister, while I got busy and made all the desserts: white layer cake with whipped cream and cassis filling, lemon torte with lavender cream and fresh berries, strawberry parfaits and my favorite for this meal, Jonathan Waxman’s chocolate budino or pudding.  I added a little orange zest, and piped the pudding into a series of glasses, including six impossibly tall and slender flutes that were a gift from Laura.  Each one is topped with a little cream and raw cacao nibs.  Here they are chilling; I can’t wait to taste this~


Meanwhile, the kitchen got cleaned and all the greens got washed, and set outside the kitchen door in a basket, waiting for the production of the meal today.  I have my niece coming over to help me cook, so today she gets to learn how to make risotto and a few other dishes…

green basket

We will eat outside under the loggia and I had my brother-in-law and the kids help me string up the pastel paper lanterns yesterday.  It’s going to be a grand dinner, and of course I will be taking lots of photos! 

Enjoy your Sunday~

Wednesday, March 20, 2013

So French

I collected frilly cabbages, tender carrots and new potatoes at my various stops over the last weekend, intending to do a big green St. Patrick’s display at the Sunday market.  I bought a few more cabbages (the most exquisite, of course) from Chino Farm Sunday morning, but for some reason I never finished the display. 


The reason, perhaps, is that I spent the entire weekend enamored of a gift my friend Liza presented me at the Corona del Mar market on Saturday.  It’s a framed W Magazine cover, a back-in-the-day edition, when they had the newspaper format… A French poodle named Vladimir with a perfectly starched napkin around his neck, at a bistro table at Benoit’s Paris, depuis 1912, enjoying a plate of boeuf and apparently also a glass of Beaujolais.  The title of the feature is So French….simply framed and definitely now one of my most treasured pieces.  It goes perfectly with my other gilt and black framed French photos and maps from the NYC and Paris fleas~


I have been in a big {French} cooking mode lately, probably because I’ll be in Paris next week, and spring and summer farm to tables are being planned.  We will be staying in a friend’s flat in Paris and not a hotel, so my hope is that we will be eating out some, cooking at home a bit, and well….just enjoying all the food offerings of Paris.  I’ll be visiting my favorite markets, photographing all, and blogging along the way.

In the last week I have been cooking a series of meals from Patricia Wells’ Paris Cookbook as well as a few from Balthazar, one of my most favorite NYC restaurants.  We have had lemon risotto, chicken various ways, porc Milanese and scratch pineapple upside-down cake, all Dad’s favorites.   And the potatoes I love that I call Easter Egg Potatoes, aka Pommes de Chateau, these are fantastic for spring….. peel about two pounds of fingerling or small new potatoes and do not wash them in water~


Melt a few tablespoons of butter in a sauté pan and add the potatoes over medium heat; shake the pan to roll the potatoes every two or three minutes; when the potatoes are browned on all sides, sprinkle them with sea salt and reduce the heat to low; cover and let cook about 15 minutes or until fork tender.


You will be rewarded with tiny potatoes which are crusty on the outside and soft on the inside.  Toss with a little flat leaf parsley at the last minute.


And so Vladimir the poodle sat in my kitchen this weekend, overseeing and hopefully approving~


I attempted a few photos with the cabbages and Vladimir~


For dinner tonight we had what started out as sole munière, and ended up with mushroom slices and asparagus tips and the potatoes….not sure what the name is for this, maybe a bonne femme, but it was delicious~


Thanks to Liza for the inspiration…..Vladimir the poodle will be held in high regard~


This trip to Paris is like visiting an old friend….so many familiar places, so many good memories, though Paris remains dynamic as any major city.  It will be, above all, So French.

Wednesday, March 13, 2013

Jonathan Waxman at Chino Farm

Chino Farm held its signing for Chef Jonathan Waxman’s book Italian, My Way on Sunday.  Hearing the title, I thought of my Southern-born Nana raving about the new “I-talian” food craze and Gallo jug wine in the ‘70’s.  Years later, I went with large groups of friends to the Little Italy “red sauce and meatball joints,” as Jonathan calls them, until a few friends from Rome and Bologna showed me their own family recipes and the pleasure of real food.  But nothing opened my eyes to true Italian food like traveling and eating my way across Italy, where it’s easy to be struck by the simplicity and beauty of the culinary delights on offer~


The event at Chino Farm was originally scheduled for last November, but was rescheduled due to Hurricane Sandy.  If you are a regular at the Stand, you would have seen the book signing notice.  There was no press coverage and no food and drink on offer, and so it was a wonderfully casual event.


The books were signed in Jonathan’s generous and beautiful script~


…while the shoppers browsed~


and should I mention, the offerings at Chino Farm will inspire you as they do the country’s best chefs…their baby artichokes are as fresh and tender as in Rome~


Or even small onions…all is perfection~


You’ll find varieties at Chino Farm that you’ll see in France and Italy and few places in-between.  This same Radicchio in one of my photos above, Here it is in Rome~

IMG_4469 (1)

One of Jonathan’s signature dishes is his JW Chicken al forno with salsa verde.  I’ll be buying herbs here next weekend for my salsa~


But in the meantime, I decided to try his famous JW Chicken.  I learned something with Jonathan’s instruction on how to butterfly a chicken, and then started two DaLe Ranch birds on the charcoal barbeque.  I finished them in the oven, and served them in a vintage French copper oval on a bed of flowering rosemary from the garden~ 


I cook a whole chicken each Sunday, but WOW, this was the best chicken I think I have ever had….moist and tasty and…indescribable….A Must-Try recipe~


And moving on dessert, I tried Jonathan’s Torta al Limone as that caught my eye. It’s a butter cake, not too sweet, just the way I like it; it makes a nice, slightly crunchy crust.  I love that the ingredients for his recipes are generally limited, and seem to be things I have on hand, or might find in my garden.  And like this cake, I can whip it up last minute if needed.  Here is the cake, topped with the sliced berries I already had sitting in the fridge~


Oh wait, I forgot the topper, Jonathan’s lemon syrup.  Chill it so it’s onctueuse~


Tonight my parents and I ate the whole cake and licked the plate.  I can see this cake in summer with lavender whipped cream, Chino doughnut peaches or French Strawberries.  I hope Jonathan likes the idea of inspiring us to improvise and adapt his recipes….because that’s exactly what he’s done for me…I LOVE this cookbook for its many recipes which can be adapted for what is local and fresh~


I’m a tough sell for cookbooks, but I can’t say enough about this one. The recipes let the goodness of the ingredients shine.  You’ll see many of these recipes in my summer farm to tables and probably at my big family dinner next weekend; this is how I love to cook, and how I love to eat.  I did not address his pasta recipes, which I can’t wait to try and you will also see soon. 

Thank you to Chino Farm for hosting Jonathan….adore this book and Jonathan’s commentary & recipes~

Wednesday, March 6, 2013

Comme Un Dimanche

My Sundays in California follow a regular pattern.  Early in the morning I drop off flowers to a friend, stop by Chino Farm on my way down the hill, then spend the rest of the day styling food, visiting with my favorite farmers & shoppers and discovering the new foods at the Rancho Santa Fe farmers market.  Arriving home around 4pm, my parents are often at the window and the dogs are always sitting on the kitchen steps, watching and waiting for my arrival….and as I unload my trio of baskets full of greens, citrus and other goodies, we begin to debrief on the day. You’d think I had been gone all week, but I love coming home to hear my parents ask how my day was and to hear them say “We missed you so much!”  We have a good four hours to arrange the coming week’s worth of food, cook our usual roast chicken and prepare a salad of Chino greens.  No one rushes through the meal, which always finishes with a special slice of cake from the market or a little dessert I’ve made or bought.

Capturing the essence of a French Sunday is the subject of my latest feature in Romantic Homes Magazine, in the April 2013 issue, which is annually known as the “French Issue.”   I chose the title Comme un Dimanche because it’s a phrase that pops up in French from time to time, perhaps with a description of a recipe or a meal for example….the implication is that this is something special, not something for everyday.  A shopper at the market recently told me that the ritual of the Sunday meal is “almost a religious experience” for the French.  Interesting comment, and yes, I think that’s true. 

You will find this issue on news stands nationwide in the coming weeks~


The Editor had a fun time selecting the photos….I knew she would love my lady in Beaune with her bike~


There are lots of pretty photos of my silver and the strutting rooster at the Parc in Beaune, not to mention my very favorite Saint Honore cakes~


I also included a section on how to prepare a French cheese plate.  Hopefully you will find some interesting tips here~


There are also some tips for hosting your own French-style dinner, and I included a little photo of my big copper daubiere from Guy; this photo was from December’s holiday shoot, and with the big silver ladle is to visually say “the dinner is served.” I will tell you more about this piece of vintage copper later this week.  At the moment, I think it’s the biggest and best piece that I own.


This issue has some beautiful interiors in it, and in the Site Seeing feature you will find two well known bloggers, Vicki Archer of aka French Essence, and Trish from Trouvais, two beautiful sites to visit.

I hope it will inspire Romantic Homes readers (and you!) to enjoy a leisurely Sunday meal with family or friends this spring or summer…slow down, enjoy your meal, go for a stroll, and of course, try to work in a little antique shopping along the way….