Imitation and Flattery

Charles Caleb Colton, English writer, cleric and collector (1780-1832) is little known to most people today. But his aphorism - "Imitation is the sincerest (form) of flattery" - is familiar in some form to most everyone.  And, how true it is.  I cannot count how many times have I have been to restaurants or in people's homes where I have had something delectable to eat at the table.  My first reaction is, "I want to make this!"  From my friends, I often extract recipes, but from restaurants I am at a loss.  Countless times I have written to Bon Appétit or Gourmet Magazine and asked for a recipe to no avail.  So I am left to my own devices to figure out just how the chefs have made these dishes,  and I do my best to recreate - ergo imitate - their artistry.  While sometimes I come close, I have - on occasion - succeeded to the point where I am not only happy with the results but feel I have surpassed the fine chef!  (Okay, this is a rare moment...)

Once upon a time, about 20 years ago, I was visiting San Francisco with my then future ex.  We were having a great time - tastings at wineries in Napa, Sonoma and Carneros valleys, museum crawls, visits with family and friends - and we were doing all this on a shoestring.  We saved our money for one fantastic meal out.  We conducted our research using newspaper articles, magazines and guides (pre-Internet, of course) and came down to an Italian restaurant in the Marina district called Pane e Vino, ... Bread and Wine.  We were not disappointed!

And it was truly one of those moments where I had a dish that made my taste buds soar. It was a simple first course called timbale di malanzane e salmone and it was served with a spicy tomato sauce. I obsessed about this dish for years, making any number of versions until I finally came up with one I liked.  The eggplant must be grilled just right, and not cut too thick.  The salmon needed to be lighter - a mousse, perhaps?  And the sauce had to have just the right piquancy to set off the deep, rich flavors of the other ingredients.


Baked Lima Beans with Onions, Tomatoes and Parsley

One of many that I have bookmarked in Falling Cloudberries, this recipe is from the chapter on Greece.  My grandfather liked routine when it came to meals, and if it was Monday then he knew he could look forward to lopia, or lima bean soup in a tomato base.  I haven't eaten lima beans in years and this works as a companion to meat, yet is hearty enough as a vegetarian meal with salad. 

- Doreen


Southwest to Southeast

... That would be Southwest United States to Southeast France.  In this case, New Mexico to Provence, to be exact.  This might sound like an odd combination of places to lump together, as they seem so different at first glance. But, when you look closely, the similarities begin to emerge quickly.  Both New Mexico and Provence are known for their natural beauty, clean air and sense of place.  Each is renowned for its art and architecture and, amazingly enough, they both like to trim their homes with intense and luxurious hues of azure blue.  Life onstage plays a large part for each region, too; the Santa Fe Opera is one of the most incredible aural and visual experiences I have ever had, and in Orange, the Roman Theatre has a series of theatrical and operatic performances in its summer season.  And the cuisine, while night and day in terms of ingredients used, is very local, fresh and exquisite in both places.

Mark and I just spent my 52nd birthday in Santa Fe, New Mexico (thanks for the cake, Doreen!).  There was no trauma about aging - I lost most of my hair eons ago and the reading glasses arrived on my nose at 42, so there is little left to fret as I get older.  My only goal is to enjoy as time marches on!  (Enjoy equals eat, by the way.)  We had many wonderful meals in those five days in Santa Fe, including our breakfasts at the Bed and Breakfast where we stayed, just three blocks west of the Plaza.  One of the most memorable meals was at a restaurant by the name of RistraRistra is the Spanish word for string and is used here in the U.S. Southwest for strings of chiles that are strung up to dry in the desert heat.  We chose the restaurant because of its inviting covered patio, its Southwest name and its elegant ristra logo.  We never looked at a menu; we simply requested a table on the patio and sat ourselves down.  We were handed menus and were surprised and delighted to find that the cuisine was primarily French but with New Mexican flavors – the overall effect (to us) was Provençal.

We both started our meals by toasting with a kir.  I had never before realized that the color was so similar to that of a fine rosé - so much so that the wife of the couple one table over looked and said, "Oh, let's have rosé, too!"  We had considered rosé when we perused the wine list, but then saw kirs listed at the top of the menu among the apéritifs and chose them, fondly recalling our first visit to Paris together.


Birthday Kids

It began with a German magazine.

Or at least that's how I remember how I came to know David and Mark.  What I don't remember is how many years ago this story began - 5? 7? 10 years?  It seems like ages.  One day Nancy called me with an invitation to go with her to dinner at the home of a new acquaintance.  Nancy and David had a business relationship and when David saw a German magazine on her desk, they discovered they had both lived in Germany. 

It was a mild weekday evening, a Thursday sticks in my mind.  David and Mark's home in Maine was a lovely antique Cape Cod nestled on a grassy knoll.  As soon as we walked in, we were intrigued.  Natural light filled the house and wide pine boards varnished with a high gloss ran throughout.  Rooms were each a different color - lilac, persimmon, brick red, sage green; art hung on every wall, objects, furniture, books filled the spaces.  At the far end of the house was the conservatory, with French doors that opened to a walled garden overflowing with perennials.  You could circulate throughout the house and discover something new each time around.  Introductions were made, wine was poured.  While dinner was being prepared, Nanc and I curled up in overstuffed chairs at one end of the kitchen, overlooking the front lawn.  We felt instantly at home.