I’ve been absent. Remiss in my blogging. I missed you. I really did. I jumped full-steam ahead into the familial vortex that is Southern California. Jeff’s family is one of those families that just wraps itself around you with laughter and love, but its rather hard to come up for air. Indeed, why would you when the company is so good? The first time I ever saw my husband’s family together I was so awe-inspired that I then knew: I wanted to be part of this family. The actual occasion for our gathering was Jeff’s sister, Diane’s wedding. The wedding was the celebration, but the occasion was having all 28 of us together, no one was missing; you can imagine, that’s unusual. So you can see why my journey to Southern California doesn’t encompass 10 or 12 restaurant reviews and experiences, we simply didn’t have time -though we DID hit the Farmer’s Market in Long Beach, more on that later – nor did we have the desire, really.
We stayed with Jeff’s brother, Brian, and his family during our time in Southern California, as did Jeff’s other sister, Lori and her husband, Jim. We never left the house for dinner except for the rehearsal dinner and wedding itself; every other night was filled with seemingly endless bottles of wine and great food made from the heart. Drinking at home is so liberating. Without the drive home looming over our heads we imbibed with abandon. Glass after glass lead to fits of giggles. Incidentally, I left my diet at home, by the way, as I was determined to enjoy myself, and according to the scale, I did just that.
Each day followed a pattern and by late afternoon there is was an open bottle of wine (or two) and cheese, fruit and meats. Salty nutty Manchengo with sweet, plump grapes, aged Wisconsin sharp cheddar with bitingly fresh apples, salty, fatty salami and fresh California strawberries from the Farmer’s Market. I could eat like that all night and be happy. But alas, we also ate dinner. When we ate, we did one of my favorite things: we ate late. There is such luxury in late night dinners. The prep for dinner ambles along, there isn’t any kitchen chaos. Eating late means you aren’t worried about an early morning and the meal is destined to be well prepared and more importantly, leisurely enjoyed. Each evening had a slow, natural pace to it. We moved in and out of the kitchen, we nibbled throughout the evening as the kids were getting ready for bed, then with glass in hand, we kissed each of them good night and then turned our attentions to the meal at hand. By this time it was usually past 9PM, but no one was complaining, a meaty zin or pinot will curb any hunger pains.
I often say that food is about love. The the careful preparation of food, the mysterious behind the scenes acts that happen just for flavor or texture benefit. The gentle selection of what the menu consists of reflects our love of the audience. And certainly, the mysterious combination, evolution of the actual food is all about love, especially when the lucky beneficiaries are family. My foodie brother-in-law, Jim, shopped for the best food, prepped it with precision, and cooked his heart out this weekend and we ate with glee. I think that somewhere in our full bellies, we were warmed with love too. The irony is that while the lucky diner makes his way through a plate of love and feels the hearth of a homemade meal, ultimately, don’t all cooks take to the knife with the yearning to be appreciated? Don’t all cooks wish to be applauded, for the simple things they do to make a meal special and worthy. The grateful eyes of any cook who has been acknowledged says it all. My brother-in-law embodied the willing home chef this weekend, unselfishly and with joy. Lucky me to get to eat the food prepared by someone else who loves the process of both cooking and eating. Oh, how it opens the doors to so much conversation and gracious affection.
Perhaps I felt the leisurely pace all the more because I wasn’t cooking. Cooking is a joy of mine, but I’ll admit that I started cooking not because I wanted to cook so badly, but because I wanted to eat so well. Since beginning to cook, I’ve fallen in love with the intimacy of the process, but I am not such a control freak that I can’t appreciate it when someone else cooks. In fact, I rather like having someone else cook for me, especially when that someone else is passionate about cooking. Jim’s specialty is grilling and for anyone who turns their nose up at grilling, get over yourself. Grilling is a completely underrated culinary technique. Jim is practically a Bobby Flay hailing from Chicago: marinated flank stake, salmon, baby asparagus and tapas all perfected over an open flame. But the grill isn’t his only domain, home made croutons, marinades and dressings. Tomato salsas with the perfect ZING of fresh cilantro. Everything was made at home – except the wine. Did I mention we had some wine?
Eat. Drink. Laugh. Eat some more. Rinse. Repeat.
The graciousness of someone else’s lovingly prepared home cooked meal was all I could ask for this weekend, mixed in with the cozy knowledge that it would even further enhance the family experience. As far as I am concerned, it was the perfect foodie family weekend.
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