Thursday, September 18, 2008

Food.....remember food?

Originally this blog was about food. Well, food and all that it implies.....

September is the month for weddings....and for Stanford's Sophomore College. I serve breakfast and dinner every day for three a carport in New Monterey, in a campsite at Big Creek at Big Creek, at The Store, up on the mountain at John Kinder's....all over the place.

Breakfast and dinner is a killer. Up at five....done and rolling by ten. Back in Cachagua around eleven, then rolling again by three. Email? No time. Phone messages? No time. Prep, ordering and organizing is all on the fly. Our farmer's drop stuff off, and it is just go-go-go for three weeks.

Plus, I am responsible for a third of the curriculum. Places, people, speakers, sources......

Oh.....and weddings, dinner parties, Monday Nights.......

September is a killer.

But, September burns in a pure flame that toasts off a lot of the bullshit. Everything boils down to first principles: ingredients, ideas, skill, audience.

On the wall of the Kitchen we have a Leonard Bernstein quote:

"To achieve great things, two things are necessary: a plan; and not quite enough time."

In the middle of all this......The Store and Jensen Camp sold.

Thank you, Jesus.

Actually.....Jesus had a hand in it. Our new landlord is an evangelical Christian minister.

Before all non-Christians in the audience go: "Oh, fuck! No!" turns out there is a smattering of actual, non-hypocritical Christians out there. They are as rare as real Republicans.....but they exist.

His first act as landlord was to sign up all the residents.....and The Store....with a free Alhambra mineral water account, until he gets the new well with good water on-line. His property manager called and asked me what I thought my rent should be.....

And, our new landlord has a posse of other nice, kind, thoughtful Christians in his camp. One of my favorite couples, Christian or not, came in for brunch on Sunday and asked some pointed questions.

"If you had $25,000 to spend on The Store, what would you use it for?"

"What is your favorite thing to cook? What is your favorite meal to cook?"

That one was easy.

Two days before I had dragged the Stanford kids up The Mountain to John Kinder's James Creek Farm.

John's last name is not normally pronounced like the adjective "kind".......but I may change that. Last year we had a contest for "Nicest Man in the World". Rich Tenguay from Heller and John were the two finalists. I think Rich won.....but he will be hard pressed in this year's contest.

John has been battling brain cancer for the last year.....bigtime operations, secondary infections, round after round of chemo. His farm is gorgeous, but it is at the very end of Laurel Springs Road.....a solid thirty minute drive up a 4wd road above The Store. His main customer is Tassajara....and we weasel in for the leftovers.

Then came The Fire. Tassajara was closed. We became his only customer.....and we are peanuts.

Then came The Sheriff....who closed the road and put everyone in Cachagua south of Cachagua Road on a mandatory evacuation order or a lock-out. Including John and Rogelio. The boys were able to get through the silly roadblock with a medical pass.....but their routine support team was not. Rogelio had luckily just got his driver's license.....since now he had to drive for everything.

In my effort to give my Stanford students a couple of actual life-lessons, and exposure to actual food....I had the chrome-plated balls to call up John and Rogelio and ask if all 18 of us could come up for lunch.

"Sure, problem. I will be on Day Four of my chemo, so I will have to take a nap....but we would be honored to have them."

Honored? No, John....we are honored to be able to come.

So.....morning of the day, I cooked breakfast in town and raced back to prep the lunch. The kids arrived at 11am, and we loaded up and headed up the hill.

I had only been to the farm once....during a mercy mission during the I was a little vague on directions. At one point, after making a decision about which road to take at the top of the mountain, we wound up at a place full of angry dogs, some sketchy mobile homes, and a guy with a rifle in silhouette. I made the kids back up to the intersection......22 year old city girls driving giant 2wd Suburbans full of rich liability issues there.

I called John. "Oh, no. You are on the right track. That is just Kevin. You know Kevin. He won't shoot, and the dogs don't bite if you don't get out of the car. Just drive past."

We stopped at John's west-side cabin for the kids to see the devastation of the burned area......the cabin looks out towards Uncle Sam Mountain, Elephant Mountain, and the Ventana Double Cone in the distance. Uncle Sam looks vegetation. A lot of the fire zone does have trees that look like they made it......but look out, steelhead. If we get a bad winter, you are fucked. Already the Carmel River looks like skim milk, and it hasn't even rained yet.

Upon arrival at the main farm, both John and Rogelio greeted us. Four or five of the kids are miserable, morose, self-absorbed fuckheads who should have been drowned at birth by their Salvadorean nannies....but the good kids make up for it.

The kids spread out. John, despite being on Day Four of the chemo....gave a tour. Rogelio hovered in the background like the guardian angel that he is.

After checking out the crops, we decided on a menu....and Rogelio showed the kids where and what to pick.

John has built a gorgeous outdoor kitchen my friend Keith from Sonoma would actually probably kill for.....sinks, counters, commercial spray arms......gas fired grill.....more counters and more sinks. They have all the plates, napkins, bowls, platters, utensils, cooking gear, etc to accomodate a party of fifty.

The kids picked squashes, tomatoes, cucumbers, onions, eggplants, garlic, baby lettuce, chard and kale......

I brought some basil from Tom and Laurie Coke, some tarragon from Joe Kovacs and some arborio rice. I got the kids washing, cutting and chopping while I started the risotto and fired up the grill.

We sliced up the onions, cukes and tomatoes for a tomato salad. The lettuces were so delicate that we had to treat them like baby birds......The squashes and eggplant we sliced, hosed down with olive oil, tossed with tarragon and garlic and laid out on the grill.

The menu:

James Creek Farm heirloom tomato salad with spring onions, garlic, basils and lemons.

James Creek Farm baby lettuce with lemon, garlic and olive oil

Risotto with chopped kale and rainbow chard

Grilled James Creek Farm summer squashes, eggplants and heirloom tomatoes.

Rogelio provided beautiful napkins, plates, flatware and cups. We drank spring water brought up by the solar pumps from the creek.

We sat by the pool.

My favorite meal to cook.

Any questions?

Oh, and when I snuck out early to start cooking dinner......John got up from his nap to thank me for coming.....

I hope those damn kids cleaned up.......otherwise we have to put Rogelio in the running in a three way race next year......

Oh....and after lunch, the kids got to go down to Heller for a complete vineyard, winery and garden tour with Rich at Heller.

Tough race this year........


Blogger roddy said...

see? see what this guy does for you? To the good kids: I hope you took in as much as you could, these memories will be good companions in times of stress and academic torpor.

To the four or five brats and Organization Kids: grow up. be free thinkers. to whom much is given, much is expected.

12:25 AM  
Blogger kathy said...

With all the Christians available one would think one could run into a good one more often, wouldn't one? I've met maybe four. It sure would be nice to add a couple more!

8:58 AM  
Blogger fyregypsy said...

I met John when I was on the Basin Fire. Very polite and friendly considering all he is going thru and the fact that I was just one of the many firefighters passing thru his property. I am impressed with Johns perservance in growing such a beautiful garden while going thru chemo. His whole property - house, garden pool is very beautiful.
I had extreme garden envy. I am a farmer/firefighter in my heart. They just don't go well together since I am gone a lot. My garden and small orchard are on timers and drippers. The birds and other animals get most of it. But I did get lots of blueberries and heirloom tomatoes. Which were delish.
Thanks to people like John you can still get real food and there are people like Mike that believe in serving real food. One of these days I will have to make it to The Store to try some of the delicious meals I keep reading about.

3:58 PM  

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