Los Angeles

the last one

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Can someone please explain to me how it is May 16th already?

Tell truth, I’ve had that sentence at the top of this piece I keep meaning to write, with different dates in there. How is it April 3 already? How is it April 18th already? How is it May 1st?

Life with a newborn baby is like looking at a calendar and watching the dates melt off the page. We are so lucky — Desmond is a darling boy, sweet and calm. Honestly, we’ve heard him cry for maybe 30 minutes total since he was born. He sleeps in four-hour stretches now, at 8 weeks, so Danny and I each get up once a night to feed him and hold him. He’s smiling and cooing, talking at us in conversation. Lucy adores him and she wants only more time with him. Feel free to chuck things at me — this is as easy as it gets with a newborn.

But oh, it’s still a weird time warp to have a newborn, especially now that he’s almost two months old. Minutes pass in a hiccup, hours pass holding his ever-increasing gaze then shushing him to sleep. He needs to eat again? During the 3-week and 6-week growth spurt, he needed to eat every hour, on the hour, for three days at a time. I’m not kidding. At least we are doing this together, Danny and I, instead of me at home all day with a newborn while he works in a restaurant for 12 hours a day. This time, the word is calm.

Still, I definitely wouldn’t recommend having a newborn while having a 5-year-old while finishing a cookbook while getting gluten by accident. If I had the choice, I would avoid that.

When things feel a little exhausted and overwhelming, I think of this view we had of the ocean at Malibu in February.

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You see, we were in California in February, driving down that enormous state, eating and visiting with people who make food, meeting so many of you there, and taking in the sunlight. It was an extraordinary trip, a kind of listening tour for our next cookbook, American Classics Reinvented. Danny and I both came home knowing something that had only been inchoate before: we have such west coast sensibilities when it comes to food.

I mean, this giant plate of all kinds of citrus in our friend Emily’s home amazed us with its beauty, but it seemed like home too. Food on the west coast tends toward citrus, toward fresh, toward lots of produce in season. We’re both fan of big flavors and simple preparations. We know the farmers who make our food. Mexican food is comfort food for us both, as is Asian cuisine. Washington  focuses more on seafood and wild mushrooms than Californian does. We have to rely on celery root in February, while the people in Santa Barbara buy strawberries from their farmers. But essentially, we’re one big cuisine on the west coast. There will be a lot of that in our new book.

But the trip to California also showed us that the rest of the country doesn’t necessarily eat this way. It has been a blast to dig into the food of the South, the Midwest, Hawaii, and the Northeast while working on this book. We could probably spend years more working on this book, to be honest.

Still, the first draft is due soon.

So, since we took this trip nearly three months ago (what??!), and I have many more recipes to type up, let me just show you some photos, and point you in the direction of a salad you might want to make this weekend.

SB to LA- big Mexican guy_

If you’re driving through Malibu, on your way to Los Angeles, you can’t miss this guy.

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And when you wake up in downtown LA, in a hotel room high up in the sky, there might be a view like this.

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Seven years ago, I wrote about eating at the Casbah Cafe in the Silverlake neighborhood in Los Angeles. In February, Danny and Lucy were there with me, with our nephew Patrick. And I ate the same sweet corn salad with black, wrinkled olives, fresh tomatoes, and tuna I ate seven years ago. It was still satisfying.

SB to LA- foods from Silverlake cheese store

Afterwards, we walked down the street for treats from the Cheese Store of Silverlake. I have to go, every time we are in LA. This time, we let Lucy choose the cheese: St. Andre from France and Redwood Hill Farm Bucheret. (Kid, you have expensive taste.) There were tiny little yogurts from Switzerland, castlvetrano olives, a package of speck, and some cinnamon sugar marshmallows from Little Flower Candy Company. (Seriously? Ridiculous.)

I love picnics. Especially picnics in places we don’t live.

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We needed treats for our Los Angeles potluck. Thank you to all of the lovely people who came out to Silverlake Park for the gathering, the potluck, the laughter and sweetness. It was so good to meet and talk with you all.

SB to LA- farmers' market social media

Later, we took Lucy and Patrick to the Los Angeles Farmers’ Market. I remember going here when I was a kid. There was a stall that served enormous slices of hot pizza, the first pizza I ever found I could fold in half before I ate it. Sometimes, my dad took me there after we drove into Los Angeles for auditions. I never forgot the taste of that pizza.

The farmers’ market itself hasn’t changed much. But the world has.

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We didn’t talk about Desmond’s arrival on this site or anywhere public before he was born. We knew in January that his mama wanted us to be his family. The entire trip down California, we talked about our hopes that this dream was actually coming true. (And now he’s upstairs asleep in our room as I type.) But we were also acutely aware of the fact this was our last trip with Lucy as our only child. Our darling girl, the joyful goofball who makes us laugh every day, the girl who sits in her room every night after we close the door reading a dozen books to herself, the child we longed for six years ago, the one who almost didn’t make it through her first week alive. Soon, she would be the oldest of two kids in our home.

In Los Angeles, we loved our girl even more keenly than we had before.

SB to LA- yes

It was, without a doubt, an extraordinary trip, possibly the best one we have ever taken.

And it was the last one we’ll be taking for awhile. Right now, there is a sweet baby boy and his darling sister, asleep upstairs. Tomorrow there will be a ballet recital for Lucy, more time discovering his toes for Desmond, the farmers’ market, recipes to type, and the small joys of daily life at home.

I say yes to them both, the travel and the being home.

Thank you, Los Angeles.

SB to LA- mozza salad_

When we were in Los Angeles, we had the true pleasure of sharing lunch with our good friend, Brooke. This woman is a marvelous being, deeply devoted to service and the discoveries of writing. She’s incredible. She also worked as a server at Pizzeria Mozza for years. So when we mentioned that we wanted to go, she joined us there for lunch. She pulled our server aside, explained about my celiac and the need for Lucy to be gluten-free too. He nodded and assured her they would take care. Oh, they did.

That lunch at Mozza will be in my mind forever. I can still taste the roasted carrots with cumin vinaigrette, the fresh burrata, and the eggplant caponata. The pizzas looked incredible, and Danny and Patrick sure seemed to enjoy them. But I didn’t need them.

Frankly, I couldn’t think of anything better in the world to eat than this chopped salad. It mesmerized me when it arrived in a tower of salami, chickpeas, caponata, radicchio, and provolone. I hovered my fork over it and then dove in. Honestly, I don’t think I looked up until I was done. I didn’t share. The dried oregano in the vinaigrette! As soon as we were home, waiting in those weeks before we left for Arizona, I made that salad several times. It’s just so nourishing.

In fact, as exhausted and happy as I am now, I think I need another one this weekend. You should make one too.

(I could try to rewrite the recipe in my own voice and claim I adapted it. Forget that. The LA Times already wrote it up for you. Thanks, Russ Parsons. Thank you, Nancy Silverton. Thank you, Los Angeles.)

We’d like to send out a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Erewhon Organic for sponsoring this California tour. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to meet you and gather material for our next cookbook. Erewhon Organic makes some of our favorite foods in the world, including their new quinoa-chia cereal and their buckwheat-hemp cereal, which was our favorite breakfast on this tour. They do things right. 

 

California, coming home.

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We came home from California bedraggled and happy. We carried our bags to our car in the rain, somehow strange after 12 days of blue skies and warm air, but also welcome after seeing the effects of the California drought. It has taken us days to unpack and gather memories to us coherently. We’re still lingering in the beauty of this trip.

We came from California with a few mementos. A jar of elderberry jelly, made by our friend Elise last summer, so kindly handed to us after an extraordinary visit with her in Sacramento. A copy of The Harvey House Cookbook: Memories of Dining Along the Santa Fe Railroad, a book we found at the California State Railroad Museum. Danny and I marveled over the recipes for cheese straws, guacamole monterey, albondigas soup, and New England scallop salad, while Lu just wanted to run from the real-life sleeping car to the dining car, over and over. Five bags of Cup4Cup flour mixes — pizza! brownies! pancakes! — given to us by the good folks in Napa, the team who created these flours for gluten-free folks to feel good about their baked goods again. And after a stop at Rancho Gordo to hug our friend Steve Sando, we added banana vinegar, midnight black beans, and dark chocolate tablets to our bags. Only a few days into our trip, our rented minivan was starting to fill.

From a private potluck lunch with friends at Contigo in San Francisco, there were dried persimmons and a case of SFQ, our very favorite barbecue sauce in the world. (Michele and Danny made a bet when the Seahawks played the 49ers. Lucky for us, the Seahawks won.) Lucy skipped to the car draped in wildly colored pop beads after playing with Tilden all afternoon. She also clutched the tiny AAA tow truck flashlight Anita had given her earlier. By the end of the evening, there was a small jar of tomato confit, made by our friends Tracy and Kim, who asked us to stay in their new home in San Jose.

The next day in Madera, we had walked through the rows of olive trees with the man who ran the Rosenthal Olive Ranch, then stood in his kitchen, sipping orange-flavored olive oil and white balsamic vinegar. Both bottles made it home safely, thankfully. We ate a salad of endive and romaine, goat cheese, and walnuts this evening with that olive oil and balsamic.

After a stop at the Santa Barbara farmers’ market, Lucy owned a copy of The Royal Treasure Measure (Math Is Fun!), a lovely book that the even lovelier Amanda brought her. We met Amanda and a handful of other people in front of the Harry’s Berries stand, laughing in the Saturday sunlight. Lucy insisted we buy a jar of pickled dilly beans and another of strawberry preserves. She walked back to the car with them all in her hands, set them down on the floor of the car, and put on the Groucho glasses our friend Leela had given her the night before. (This photo of her wearing them might be my favorite one of the hundreds and hundreds left on my phone after driving down California.)

After the potluck we held in Los Angeles, in a park by a playground, I took home a pair of earrings made by a reader, earrings the color of the Pacific Ocean we had swum in the day before. And after the next to last day in California, Lu came home with a pair of Minnie Mouse ears. Danny and I both wore our Mickey Mouse t-shirts on the plane back home.

It was, without a doubt, the best trip we have ever taken together, the three of us.

Of course, there were far more memories than tangible mementos. Those memories — of the good people with whom we shared food, of driving past dusty fields still being planted by farmers, of friends feeding us and taking us in for the night, of Disneyland and Oakland and hotel pools in Los Angeles, of meals with friends in restaurants — will stay with us for a long time.

We’ll be sharing the stories of our time in California with you, here, over the next couple of weeks. There will be recipes too, inspired by our time in San Luis Obisbo and Sacramento and Santa Barbara. There will also be recipes in our next cookbook, which will have a good number of comfort food dishes and another good number of meals inspired by the fresh produce and healthy celebration of California. We will share photos and stories of the places we have gone, which might inspire you to visit them too.

Mostly, though, I’m left with a wave of gratitude for the state that was my childhood home. California, I underestimated you as a kid. I choked through smog and wondered why we lived in a place with skies so perpetually brown. The vapidity of Hollywood and the desperate need to appear beautiful all the time drove me away. (I was a bespectacled bookworm brunette in southern California in the late 1970s and 1980s. I never stood a chance.) But now, as an adult, firmly rooted with Danny and Lu on this island we call home, I fell in love with California in a way I never could as a child. The entire trip, I hummed Joni Mitchell in my mind:

“California I’m coming home
I’m going to see the folks I dig
I’ll even kiss a Sunset pig
California I’m coming home.”

It was a good trip home.

We can’t wait to share it with you here.

 

 

We’d like to send out a huge acknowledgment and thank you to Erewhon Organic for sponsoring this California tour. Without them, we wouldn’t have been able to meet you and gather material for our next cookbook. Erewhon Organic makes some of our favorite foods in the world, including their new quinoa-chia cereal and their buckwheat-hemp cereal, which was our favorite breakfast on this tour. They do things right.