My friend Tabitha, proprietor of Friend in Cheeses Jam Co., lives on a charming property up in the Santa Cruz mountains, about an hour south of us. Surrounded by redwoods, she lives in a quaint cottage on a one-acre clearing on a winding road in a hollar, filled with grapevines and a decrepit barn dating from 1860. It also has several massive black walnut trees, from which I’ve harvested the nuts in green state to make nocino and pickled walnuts. It’s a charming spot, and begs to be entertained on.
In years past, she’s hosted a big shindig, roasting a whole pig, to share with her fellow cadre of chefs, winemakers, artists and other misfit toys like myself. With the jam business taking over her life, the roast was off for a couple years, but this year she saw her way clear to make it happen. We were honored to attend on a balmy July Sunday, with music blaring, local wine and beer flowing, copious amounts of amazing food, and of course the star himself, the pig.
Yes, friends, it's the triumphant return of the Eastdropper, wherein I will be collecting delicious morsels of overheard conversation about food or in a food setting. I'm just beginning to collect these again, so this installation is a mere amuse-bouche, though it does have the added luster (or is that Sheen?) of a celebrity sighting, er, hearing. Got a tidbit for me? Shoot it over to eatsdropper at seantimberlake dot com. Bon appétit!
Woman 1: "Are you dairy free?"
Woman 2: "I try to avoid it, yeah. It has so much … everything in it."
– Eatsdropped by yours truly at Whole Foods Noe Valley
Diner: "My mom wore a wig her entire life. It was like a beehive. But I always thought she had beautiful hair."
– Eatsdropped by Elan at Contigo
Charlie Sheen: "So we're going to a party and I bring Xanax and vodka cause I know what time it is. … Oh wait. No. Xanax, red wine, and pot."
– Eatsdropped by Anita at Casa Vega
I have a theory about cilantro. Though it is well known that a distaste for the stuff has genetic foundations, I find it's not quite as cut and dried as that. Take dpaul (please! har.). The tiniest corner of a leaf in a huge bowl of pico de gallo will revolt him. Yet, one time we dined at a friend's house, and she served cilantro pesto as a dip for crudite. And he liked it.
So my theory goes: When cilantro is in something, it overpowers the palates of the haters. When cilantro is the thing, it simply stands on its own and paradoxically tastes less overwhelming.
I came to this deep, philosophical conclusion after going to Tequila last year. I was on a media junket to visit the Casa Noble tequila distillery, and once our group all arrived, we were shuttled off to the lovely and modern Guadalajara home of the distiller, Pepe Hermosillo (who later made me eat bugs.) As we settled into the airy patio, enjoying the balmy desert breezes, Pepe's wife Gina laid out some snacks for us while we got acquainted and, inevitably, drank tequila. One of the things was a vivid green mold, which elicited muffled yelps of pleasure as we took our first bites. Fresh, delicate and light, I knew this was something no one could not enjoy.
Later, one of the other journalists was able to extract the recipe from Gina, knowing that we all had to have it. Since then, I've made variations of it, and happily and proudly served it to cilantro lovers and haters alike. All have enjoyed it. You will, too.
The idea of a mousse is almost amusingly old-fashioned, a throwback to continental cuisine and things cased in aspic. Yet this mousse feels fresh and modern. It's great for Cinco de Mayo, of course, but I think really makes a great dish for all manner of summer entertaining. Tequila is optional, but highly recommended.
Adapted from Gina Hermosillo, who herself adapted it from Chef Iñaki of Goiti Restaurante
This recipe is enormously adaptable. Gina uses a combination of sour cream and cream cheese; Chef Iñaki's original recipe called for yogurt and mayonnaise, and no jalapeño. Dave Yan, marketing director for Casa Noble, uses goat cheese, and having tried that I can recommend it as well. Play with it, and find the balance you like.
1 packet unflavored gelatin *
1 cup plain yogurt (Greek yogurt if you like)
1 cup sour cream
1 jalapeño, seeds and veins removed, chopped
1 to 1-1/2 cups cilantro leaves, packed, stems removed **
1-1/2 teaspoons kosher salt
juice of 1/2 lime
Mix the gelatin in 1/4 cup cold water and let stand until it becomes spongy. Add another 1/4 cup warm water to turn it into a liquid.
Meanwhile, combine the yogurt, sour cream, jalapeño, cilantro leaves, lime juice and salt in a blender or food processor. Blend until fully integrated, then drizzle in the gelatin mixture while still blending.
Grease a mini loaf pan lightly with spray oil. Pour the mixture into the pan, cover with cling wrap, and refrigerate overnight.
To unmold the mousse, gently warm the sides of the pan by dipping it into hot water for a few seconds, dry, and invert. Serve with crackers or bread.
* It is theoretically possible to make this vegetarian by using agar, but I have not tested it myself.
** Plucking the leaves from the stems is tedious, but worth the effort, as they can be fibrous and mar the texture of the mousse.
I've lived in California for 24 years this year, and despite no small amount of traveling throughout the state, there remain countless corners and crannies which I have not explored. In fact, despite having driven to and from San Diego dozens of times, there are entire communities which I've seen only through the windshield, having never taken the time to stop and pay a visit.
Ventura was one of those towns, until last week. I'd been tapped by one of the organizers of Craftcation to present*, and it seemed not only like a good opportunity to meet and mingle with crafty types, but to experience a coastal California community that was new to me.
I carpooled down with my friend Susie, also presenting at the conference. Barreling down the 101, we chatted about food (natch), entrepreneurship, life in general. There was nary a quiet moment between us. Still, it's a five-plus hour drive to Ventura, so we stopped off at the Mission San Miguel to stretch our legs, get some fresh air, and partake of picnic goodies we packed. This, my friends, is what happens when two avid food enthusiasts pack a picnic:
To go with our various crackers and chips, we had peanut butter from Peanut Butter & Co., Duchy Originals oatcakes and shortbreads, Cowgirl Creamery Red Hawk, dehydrated persimmons, and a few condiments I had to make on assignment: Mango salsa, corn salsa and guacamole. We were well sated.
Mission San Miguel makes for a pleasantly serene stopoff en route. Basking in the warm sun and gentle breeze, we enjoyed the grounds, particularly noting the way the stucco had been meticulously maintained to a state of half-erosion to give it an authentically rustic feel.