Tuesday, January 07, 2020


We live surrounded by oaks and bombarded by acorns. Oh? You don’t have a metal roof?
Everyone knows that our aboriginal neighbors depended heavily on oaks and acorns: food for themselves, and good hunting the other acorn eaters.
It was a particularly heavy acorn year and sometime in October I was sitting in the sun with Mark Stromberg from Hastings Reserve contemplating acorns.
Mark: “Wouldn’t it be fun to make Christmas cookies out of acorns?!?”  Uh……sure.
Mark was off and running. 
His first task was to figure out which of the nineteen different varieties of oaks produced the best acorns.  It turned out not to be a long search: the big, stately old Valparaiso’s drop far and away the largest acorns.
Next task: How to get the meat out of the shell? The natives ground their acorns into meal with large stones on flat granite.  They just whacked the acorns with a stone ever so.
We didn’t have any of that, so Mark took a look around (they study woodpeckers at Hastings, among other things) and saw an old board on the barn under the big Valpariso that had been fitted for big acorns by the birds.
So…..Mark made a jig.  He measured the circumference of a big pile of acorns, averaged them out and drilled appropriately sized holes in a board.
Next task…..what kind of implement to hit them with? Stones are too inaccurate.  Ball peen hammers slip when they hit.  Hmmm. He remembered an old copper hammer used for knocking off sports car wheel hubs.  Perfect!
So, all the acorns are shelled and lightly crushed.  Next step: soaking in the creek to leach out the tannins.  Dammit, dry fall……no creek.
This one stumped us for a couple of days.  Immersing them in still water is risky because what if we forget to change the water for a day?
Mark called me: “I’ve got it!  Constantly replenishing source of fresh water!  The toilet tanks!”
A true scientist.  The tank water is clean, people.
So…..we leached our acorns for a week or so, dried them in the sun, and then ground them in a grain mill.
There is no gluten in oak meal, so any cookie you come up with will have to be bound with sugar and egg.  Oh, damn!  A very short acorn shortbread.  Apologies to Little Bear.


Fresh local ingredients?  Well, caviar has come a long way.  At the beginning for us it was always Petrossian from Paris.  We were crappy caterers on the rim of the world, struggling to pay the rent, but we had an account with Petrossian, and they remembered us when we called.
Brendan was early on warped by our obsession.  When he was two or three, his mom went to visit in Ohio and left Brendan with Valentine and I for a couple of weeks.  We were dead broke, but we had a party coming up at the Museum of Art at La Mirada.  A bunch of Russian folk singers were touring the US on the Russians’ dime, and were doing a small appearance at La Mirada. 
Who doesn’t love caviar? We had 100 guests, so we ordered a five pound tin each of beluga, ossetra and sevruga.  Plus some salmon eggs, of course.  And a case of eggs.  And lots of good vodka we froze in blocks of ice decorated with nasturtiums.  And bubbly.
The party was fun.  The Russkies sang a short song or two.  Then Miles our folksinging buddy piped up with a tribute Russian folk song of his own.  It was quite the song, and went on and on.  All in Russian.  Good on ya, Miles!
Our barman that day was Slab….Steve Thomas of Jack’s, Bud’s Pub, the Red Lion, etc.  Miles came up to Slab’s bar all chuffed and happy with himself.  “What did you think, Slab?”
Slab: “Was that Russian for InAGoddaDaViva?”
Meanwhile, our afternoon caviar/vodka/champagne party didn’t match up to the Monterey social schedule.  Vodka and fish eggs in daylight?  Nah.  The Russians and the caterers (and Glenn Hammer) did our fair share, but we were left with pretty much six kilos of fine Petrossian caviar, a case of eggs, a lake of frozen vodka, a pile of Gruet and a couple of hundred blini.
And we were broke.
Valentine, Brendan and I repaired to 12 Flight with our stash…..and dined on little else for two weeks. The wild rice blini disappeared quickly, so Brendan was given the job of keeping the toast coming.  Hey! He was two and a half!  And loved toast! Figure it out, boy!
The thirty month old quickly got his toast points down.  Lightly toasted, lightly buttered, quartered at angles, crust trimmed.  A lot of work, and delicious, and disappeared instantly.
The upshot of the two weeks was a weird addition to our philosophy, and especially Brendan’s: there is always caviar….the good toast is what always runs out.
Brendan went on to perfect not just the toast, but the soft scrambled eggs that go along best.
Wild Rice Blini
¼ cup milk         One egg
¼ cup water      2 Tb overcooked wild rice
¼ cup flour        salt and white pepper.
Blend all the ingredients with an immersion blender.  Set aside (overnight is fine, but for at least an hour if possible).  The batter should be thin.
We use an antique cast iron blini pan, but normal households can us a good small Teflon omelette pan. Or pans (you should be able to do two or three at once if you have the pans).
Heat the pan to smoking hot.  Add a tiny drop of grapeseed oil. Add an ounce of batter to the center of the pan and quickly move it in a circle to distribute the batter.  We have a folded towel next to the stove to bang the pan on….when the crepe/blini is cooked and loose, bang it on the towel and flip it.  Finish cooking it for a few seconds, toss it on a warm napkin and repeat.  Make sure the pan reheats enough between blini.
Photo of Juan with cast iron.

Brendan’s scrambled eggs…..

Randy Andy

Prince Andrew is all in the news lately….mostly for being an idiot.
Turns out there is a forty year old local karmic connection with Princey Boy.
Sometime in the late 70’s or early ‘80’s the Jolly Prince descended on the Peninsula for golfing and possibly some shooting.
Steve Dart took him for a round at Cypress Point, and Mr Durney (Bill Durney of Durney Vineyard fame) hosted Princey for a visit to the vineyard in Cachagua and some shooting of feathered or clay creatures.
Mr. Durney fancied himself a sportsman, and had visited the Prince and friends for shooting in Scotland, and was anxious to make a good impression. Got to nail down future visits!
The visit was not without its bumps.  Steve Dart described Andrew as “childlike”.  Or….”fuck simple” as another observed.  The round at Cypress went well until the 18th tee.  A local couple had decided to frolic in the Peninsula sunshine and were having mad monkey sex in a car parked near the tee.  Andrew was fascinated, and it took active measures to move him along.
(Remake of old Bill Clinton joke: Jimmy Carter, Trump and Prince Andrew are on the Titanic.  When it hits the iceberg, Jimmy yells out: "Women and children first!" Trump growls: "Fuck the women and children!" Andrew: "Do we have time?")
The Cypress visit ended badly.  Mr. D was hosting Andy on a guest card he wheedled General Ferguson into giving him.  Mr. D wound up berating the maitre d' and waiter about the poor quality of the lunch. "Not worthy of my club!"  On a guest card.....
The visit to the vineyard was planned out to the detail.  We had to coordinate with his British security and Dignitary Protection Service of the CHP.  Everyone arrived at lunchtime in big Suburbans and a small bus.
Mr. Durney had his charms (I mean, he created a big vineyard in the middle of nowhere long before it was cool), but generosity was not high among them.  We were shocked to hear that he had spent thousands of dollars on a gun dog for the afternoon or season or whatever.  The dog came up from Santa Barbara with her trainer and everyone was all set for a little shooting demo, some RD Bollinger and big tin of Petrossian caviar.
It was a sunny day…..perfect Cachagua spring weather.  We were freaking out about the food and service…..how often does one serve actual royalty? 
My partner Valentine handled all the service. Val was raised in an old money household in Florida, and as our resident Republican golfer, knew all the subtleties of high society service.
As the resident Irish Catholic idiot (who had recently presented Princess Margaret with a live pig upon her visit to The City) I was consigned to the kitchen.
Everything was going great: bubbly guzzled in buckets, the security guys and drivers eating all the caviar, lunch was ready, and it was time for the big demonstration.
Everyone gathered in front of the chapel, by the fountain.  The big house and chapel and pool are up at the top of the vineyard, tucked up against a ravine that cuts down the mountain.
The handler had his dog out and prancing around.  Beautiful dog, of course.  Admired by all, especially Andrew. Mr. D was not a dog guy.
The handler took out his lure, got the pup’s attention, wound up a couple of times, and hurled the lure as far as he could. 
Over the fountain, over the garden shed…..into the ravine.
The pup waited for her command, then took off like a shot.
There was a pause….the lure had gone a long way.
Hmmm. Where did she go?  Nervous looks between Mr. D and the handler.
Finally, we heard some scrabbling, bushes moving….and she re-appeared.
Proudly carrying a funky old Cachagua toilet seat.
I fell on the ground…..literally fell on the ground…..laughing.
No one else laughed.  Embarrassed tut-tutting. Valentine and Mr. D glared at me as I got it together.
“Lunch is served!”
Good dog! 
Cachagua style.