Thursday, September 25, 2008

The Chef Returns For A Major Encore

While you've probably learned a good deal about who we are together, the Ranger and I, you might not know some things we are NOT, areas where the muddy road forks. Me -- read novels in bed. Ranger -- watch football in bed...and scratch. Me -- chopped nuts on ice cream cone. Ranger -- sprinkles on ice cream cone...make that extra sprinkles. Me -- let sleeping dogs lie. Ranger -- poke sleeping dog with a stick until it plays with you, snaps, or tells you to F*&@k off. So yes, we are different in many ways, but we share a love of all things culinary so of course, his birthday gift to me was a one-of-a-kind dinner dreamed up with our friend, The Chef.

Perhaps, because Sunday Supper has grown into a bit of a local legend (yes, there is clamoring for invites, yet we still like to keep it small), or because we are so particular when shopping the Saturday farmer's market, people often ask, "where did you guys learn how to cook?" The answer: as with any great passion, you pick up tips and tricks along the way, but really the Ranger and I were first sent to the stove by grandparents.

We both came from hard-working middle-class families, so Mom was not at home waiting for us after school with a plate of warm cookies and a glass of milk. While that continues to be an iconic American image, I don't know anybody who actually LIVED that life. Nope. Both parents worked. So it was Grandma waiting at home for the Ranger...and for me, my grandpa. The Ranger's Polish grandma introduced him to cabbage and noodles, pigs in a blanket, pirogis, and potato pancakes.

And my Grandpa Gabriel...well, he was an exceptional cook, particularly over an open fire. Being a sheepherder and all, that's how he'd cooked most of his meals as a young man. But because he didn't speak a lick of English and me -- my Spanish has always been little more than polite inquiry -- we "talked" in the kitchen. Or more accurately, I was his sous chef, in charge of dicing and slicing, even if I could only reach the counter using a step stool. Today, I'm not sure too many grandparents would hand their eight-year-old granddaughter a sharp knife and a pile of vegetables, but remember these were the years when no one locked their doors, kids played in the ditch, and matchbooks were never out of reach. What I remember about that knife...the handle was made of smooth, polished bone and it was razor sharp. If I ever cut myself, I don't remember. I just loved the responsibility of being handed something so dangerous and forbidden, magical and swift. Who needed sword fighting cartoon characters when I had a bone-handled knife. (I think I imagined the bone was a femur from some slain enemy, but really...there's just no telling)

So here I must raise a glass of Spanish Cava to our grandparents who taught us that the love of food starts in your own two hands. And speaking of...from the mitts of Chef Jesse Otero at the Whale Cove Inn came this fabulous, joyful meal, prepared just for us.

Let's start with the view from our table, set with crystal and shining with confetti. Looking out the window, it wasn't at all like the brick wall outside my New York apartment. Or the tangle of electrical wires that dangled behind my Albuquerque bedroom. Don't you love how I doctored the shot of the ocean and gave it a Moody Blue vibe?

First course, a cheddar gougere with goat's milk ricotta, roasted garlic and sage. We thought a gougere might in fact, mean "tiny hat for tiny person" or more erotically, "slight peek of pubic fuzz" but in fact, it is the sweetest little, airy muffin which sadly never made the shot because they were devoured before the fragrant basket hit the table.

Next, The Chef took my favorite mushrooms -- chantrelles and black truffles -- and made soup, sprinkled with local corn. Smelled like forest, tasted like goodness.

Probably my favorite course, because it involved a pig; roasted pork belly with potato stuffing, a garden vegetable croquette, fried quail egg and tomato vinaigrette. Kinda like a breakfast of eggs, bacon and hashbrowns with ketchup but without the gastrointestinal lurching that follows...or the drowsy highway patrolman at the next table.

And then the entree...drum roll, please. In honor of Grandpa Gabriel, the sheepherder, seared Oregon lamb with pistachio pesto, ratatouille and roasted cippolini onions. Mama Ranger took a bite, directed her sharp gaze at the Ranger and said, "This son, this makes up for everything." I think she's referring to his misspent youth, but since juvenile records are sealed, I can't really go into details.

Interesting tidbit learned while devouring the next course -- an Oregonzola and chiogga beet terrine with carmelized onion tart. Don't ask me about "chiogga," I was pretty tipsy from an Eric/Kent Syrah by then (see...that's why the photo is a bit blurry). Anyhoo -- turns out the Ranger was a heartbeat away from being named Cornelius when he was born. That's right, Cornelious. LOL. know...that lactose intolerant natty fellow with leather elbow patches on his tweed jacket and a skinny little gougere on his upper lip. Hugging an overweight cat named Chiogga while yelling at the neighbor lady for letting her forsythia hang over his fence. Almost as scrumptuous...the Ranger's sister is named after the Bionic Woman, a popular TV show at the time. Ooooh, I can't wait till Christmas when I get to sing the show's theme song to her and then duck before she elbows me across the room. See...the family secrets that are spilled over good food and wine.

Finally, finally dessert. Individual lemon souffles that were still warm when they hit the table. So sorry I don't have a picture, but I dropped the camera right then and there...out of sheer ecstasy. I split mine open, drizzled it with creme, blueberries and slivers of jalapeno...and well, that was that.

Thank you Chef, for such a special meal...and thank you Ranger, for making it happen. A happy, happy birthday, indeed.


Anonymous said...

yum. love your food blogs the best.

Lisa The Pretty said...

My mouth is watering right now but I think the tastiest item in the cupboard is a rice cake. I might have to take a cold shower.

Kylita said...

Yum-EEEEEEEEE sounds like a great birthday.
KLH-keep laughin' honey xo

Mich said...

First...I resent that lactose-intolerance is included in the long list of Cornelius' nerdy qualities. Second...good job Mama Ranger eating all that crazy food! Next time you're here you'll have to share the dark secrets of The Ranger's past that the meal is making up for. After all, I gave you one good story, so you owe me one. Third...I'm coming to 2nd Editions's birthday dinner next year!! It'll be the 36th b-day, so it should be a good one.

Winged Librarian said...

I was going to give birthday greetings all around, but I can't seem to quit slobbering. gak. Real, lovely food without a dining companion saying, "I don't wike dat" (I don't cawe).
I find my own personal cooking flying out the window at the mo' for oh, so many reasons, so any excuse to oogle someone else's food porn will be gratefully taken.
What a meal!