This was honestly one of the best nights I have had in a really long time, and the most perfect example of why pushing yourself past your comfort level can be such a good thing. I was invited to join some other bloggers for an intimate dinner at Joanne Weir‘s (renowned chef and author (this is her EIGHTEENTH cookbook!) and host of two PBS cooking shows) home along with Oxmoor House publishing and Sunset Magazine.
It was an incredibly clever concept, to really delve deeply into the new cookbook we would come to Joanne’s house and each bring a dish from the book. Sounds so fun, right? Well, I imagine for someone who considers themselves a chef or even a “cook” this opportunity would probably seem like that of a lifetime! For someone who had about three dishes down pat, then went vegan and could only make sides, then basically just started cooking this summer it was completely and utterly intimidating. Naturally, I chose the most colorful dish (gotta try to utilize the skills I do have, thank you God for styling!) that also didn’t have to be cooked, enter Citrus Salad with Mint & Red Onions. Even with those considerations it became a little overwhelming, I needed kumquats and despite having not one, but two Berkeley Bowls (for those not local, they have just about every kind of produce from every part of the world you could imagine) near me, I couldn’t find them. Great, now Joanne’s going to think I don’t respect her recipe. Then when I began actually preparing the dish it turns out that my Grandma’s Publisher’s Clearing House (PCH, for die-hards like her) knives haven’t been sharpened in awhile and are going to produce nothing like the pristine circles of citrus that are perfectly and evenly sliced as you see in the cookbook. After turning the kitchen into a citrus bloodbath (sticky, but my heavens did it smell delicious in there!) I attempted to style my jagged slices into something resembling a salad.
When I arrived at Joanne’s house I tried to sort-of sneak my dish into the fridge so I wouldn’t have to see her at the moment she saw what I brought. It was like watching someone you’ve never met open a really personal gift you’ve just given them. I focused instead on the flowers that I was arranging for the evening, something that I felt was ever-so-slightly more in my breadth. Joanne was incredibly complimentary about the flowers and giving me input as to where to put each of the arrangements. (Isn’t Joanne’s plate collection incredible? …and that light!)
Having broken the ice (and admittedly, asking a friend first) I asked Joanne to try the vinaigrette before I drizzled it all over the salad (and, I feared, ruining it if it wasn’t good). I had never made a sweet vinaigrette before so it was hard to judge its flavor. Joanne was so incredibly generous and even called it “delicious!” She was actually completely amused by how nervous all of us were (turns out I wasn’t the only one debating canceling when my dish wasn’t turning out the way I had hoped) about showing her our versions of her treasured recipes!
That’s actually my favorite thing about Kitchen Gypsy, this is a cookbook (obviously) but it’s also a memoir-in food form. She takes memories and attaches them to recipes, which really, I think I (and so many of us) associate certain times and memories with meals.
My honeymoon is punctuated with memories of dutch cookies, the best green beans I’ve ever had in my life, and lamb (sorry, pre-veggie days) in Aruba. I associate childhood memories of times with my beloved Aunt Candy, who has now passed, with her deviled eggs, garlic bread and homemade blue-cheese dressing. Now I can remember this laughter and conversation-filled night with Oaxacan Chocolate Milkshakes (which I have truly not stopped thinking about since), her Mom’s Tomato Sandwiches which ask for homemade bread which I have admittedly not made to go along with- but picked up someone else’s homemade bread and made many times already since this night!
I don’t want to give away too much about the book, but it’s honestly beautiful and filled with exactly what I care about–ephemera, memories, hilarious stories (like finding a fly in a bottle of wine which turned into a life-changing trip to France for the first time) and family traditions.
Thank you so much Joanne for being so welcoming and supportive and for sharing so many wonderful stories and so much delicious food to pair with it! All neurosis aside, my salad ended up looking pretty beautiful despite my knife issues, and most importantly, it was delicious!