I had no time for cards or letters over the holidays so here it is, a missive still within the time frame of an annual change of the year letter! First, I want to thank you for following this humble blog in 2016. While my purpose in writing is, to put it most simply, to write, writers write with the hope that on occasion an interested reader will tend to their words. I am so grateful that some readers have chosen to do exactly that! Tend in this direction.
In the past year “Travels with…” brought, among others, a wonderful tour through the Peloponnese (posts forthcoming), and to Rome where I had the honor of a private audience with Pope Francis. It included treks through the world of food, wine, ideas, relationships, all of which played an important role in the essential journey to within.
But, with all said and done, the best news is that as 2016 concluded we were the recipients of torrential rains in Northern California. Looks like the drought is over and for the first time in three years, I have a green yard!
In celebration, earlier this week we harvested an abundant tangerine crop from the tree in our backyard.
Having matured in the silent presence of earth, wind and sun, not to mention the rains that continue to coat California, the fruit was carried into the kitchen where it would undergo major transformation.
For the first time and with the help of my new slow cooker, I made tangerine marmalade.
After poring through several cookbooks from Mark Bittman to an old edition of Joy of Cooking and scouring hints from the internet, I chose the simplest recipe for marmalade I could find. I sliced four to five pounds of tangerines ever so thin, layered them in my new slow cooker, added the juice of one organic Meyer lemon, a small bottle of raw agave, and several cups of water. I turned the cooker on low and let the fruit stew. Six hours later I opened the cooker, drained off some leftover excess liquid (It will make a great syrup for the brioche French toast I plan to make soon). The marmalade was a little too runny for my tastes so I added a dab of pectin. When it set a bit firmer I bottled it and put it in the fridge. The following day my taste test revealed a marmalade sweetened to perfection with a hint of tangy zest from the skins. It coated my mouth with a mousse-like smooth, but thick texture. Fortunately, I had a loaf of Josey Baker’s gluten free seed bread from San Francisco in the pantry. I could not resist scooping up large dollops and generously spreading marmalade across the thick nutty slices.
Observing those beautiful orange balls transform from a raw fruit to a thick, gelatinous, syrupy spread, my first major travel in 2017 was a long distance journey I will not soon forget. And, the upshot is that I will never again stew over what to do with the crops we are getting from our nine fruit trees.
One of the gifts of the past year was the opportunity to experience the food of several Michelin quality chefs. Among my favorites: the cooking of Kevin Meehan at Kali, in LA, Carlos Salgado of Taco Maria, and the family-owned Habuya, an Okinawan treasure in the OC, Matthew Accarrino at SPQR, and Corey Lee of Monsieur Benjamin and three star Michelin Benu in SF, Patrick Mulvaney of Mulvaney’s and Tokiko Sawada’s Binchoyaki Izakaya in Sacramento. Last, but not least, Yakitori Izachaya in my hometown of Davis. There are many others, but the above are the top current go-to’s. Speaking of go-to’s, I also want to mention three coffee houses: Portola at OCMix in Costa Mesa, Temple in Davis and Civil in Highland Park LA. Chances are on any given day I can be found writing in one of the three.
A dinner prepared by Enrique Olvera as guest chef at Taco Maria left lasting impressions. Enrique’s restaurant Pujol in Mexico City is rated twenty-five among the world’s great dining places and now I can fully support that listing.
Enrique and Carlos:
My personal food discovery of the year had to be nagaimo! Check out the blog if you have not had the experience. This year I am forging ahead with shirataki noodles. Expect a blog soon!
Among the wine travels, I so deeply appreciated meeting Hugh Johnson who spoke at UCDavis when he donated his writings to the library at UCDavis known as housing the finest wine library in the world. John Charles Boisset, owner of the Boisset Collection was another great meeting.
A tour through the wineries in the Peloponnese led to discoveries of some old and unusual varietals.
On another note, after Nov. 9, I fell into the deep national depression that spread through some of the populations across the US. Like many others, I had to work it out, decide how to handle it. I am still working with the underlying reasons and causes of what has hit us. What lesson does America need? A dozen political and cultural answers come up , but I feel there is something deeper to be learned. As far as what to do: marches, demonstrations, donations, letters, phone calls, all help, but one response has helped me more than anything else. It’s an ancient Buddhist practice called tonglen. If of interest, check it out.
The coming year promises more travel, more time in the kitchen and more precious time with Mia and Toki my granddaughters.
I look forward to sharing with you and, on the other end, I would enjoy and appreciate the same from all my readers. May 2017 drench you in blessings and the experience of unbounded space!