Wednesday, November 22, 2006

All Ye, All Ye, In come free . . .MASARAP! KAINA TAYO

Foodblogger Welcome Dinner

I have been remiss of late in posting to this blog. My intention in creating this blog was to post about the banquet of life. I thought I would include well-loved recipes, occasional restaurant reviews, new culinary finds and perhaps even appeal to other foodies and aficionados to participate in my escapades.

As the path of life would have it, there have been several detours that have crossed my way, requiring my undivided attention and focus. No worries. I have much on my plate which I need to organize, prioritize, systemize and finally, arrange my life such that I can continue to taste the passion and inspiration this blog provides through other bloggers and visitors that stop by and comment from time to time. My hope is that this blog will become a comfortable spot for most of you to come back and visit often.

There was a recent entry in Food Blog S’Cool regarding chain emails. There were several comments that triggered my thoughts on the subject. As a rule, I don’t participate in chain letters of any kind. As mentioned by most trusted bloggers, I select “Delete”. However, this doesn’t mean I won’t indulge in “Memes” of interest to me. My inauguration to blogging was through an article in eGullet Society for Culinary Arts and Letters. I was intrigued and was pulled in. I noticed several memes going around and I instantly became envious of those that were “Tagged”. I wanted to be “Tagged” and be part of the fun and amusement. I would eagerly read my favorite blogs and add some wittiness to my comments in hope that I would make an impression. I would yearn to see my name included in a “Tag”. I would check out several food events, take part, share a recipe or two and enjoy the experience of the “round-up”. I was always thrilled when I would receive an email by the host of the event extending a personal invitation for my participation. This made me feel included. I like developing relationships, albeit via cyberspace, and cultivating new ideas in the world of all that is food, beverage, arts and hospitality.

Life is a banquet, my friends. I have revealed a couple of things I had not intended to share, but what the heck…we can talk. Right?

Eons ago, I was tagged by the lovely CookieCrumb to participate in a meme for The Foodblogger’s Welcome Dinner” created by the pleasant Angelika of The Flying Apple.

I am to create a menu that would include ”signature dishes” to serve fellow foodbloggers during the welcome dinner. Having an extensive repertoire, I don’t really claim “signature dishes” as much as “favorite dishes” to prepare for guests. My discipline is French and Mediterranean cuisines. My fancy is whatever new ingredients, herbs and spices I discover. My heritage is Filipino. I grew up with many cuisines on our table. Although my Mom did not grow up knowing how to cook, it was my Father and his extensive world travels that allowed us the grand exposure to global cuisines. So what better way to get to know me than sharing the foods very close and dear to my heart. In honor of my beloved parents, I would present and serve my fellow foodbloggers the foods of their native land, The Republic of Philippines.

"Buffet Table . . ."

Mabuhay Makan Menu

Main Dishes
Pancit Bihon
Pancit Miki
Crisp Lumpia with S/S Sauce
Chicken Relleno
Grilled Tilapia or Milk Fish
Dad’s Popular Pork Ribs
Pork Lechon with Ander’s Secret Sauce

Side Dishes
Baby Lettuce Salad with Calamansi Vinaigrette
Sautéed Greens (Camote, Kang Kong, or Calunai)
Green Papaya Atchara
Potato-Chive Tortilla
Eggplant Relleno
Fresh Sliced Tomatoes
Extra-Large Pot of Steamed Rice

Leche Flan
Coconut Bibinka
Mom’s Famous Carioca
Simple Yellow Cake with Chocolate Frosting
My Little Darlings M&M Ring Cake

Anni’s Swamp Water
Prickly Pear Lemonade
Tropical Iced Tea
Wine from Private Collection

Pancit Bihon . . .Mom makes this for everyone's birthday. Noodles are a symbol for a long life."

"Anni's Swamp Water . . ."

As in our family’s tendency, there is a lot of food. A friend once told me his Italian Grandmother used to always say “If there’s too much food, it’s not enough.”

Life is a banquet, my friends.

I apologize for neglecting this fantastic forum that allows me to be touched by amazing, wonderful and kind folks that subsist within the Blogosphere. Life happens. Before the end of the year, I hope to complete the list of “memes and tags” I’ve had the privilege of receiving.


Saturday, November 11, 2006

Zeni Ranch Sequel . . . Lady Jane

"Lady Jane and Zip . . ."

We made arrangements with Jane to come back to the ranch to harvest the Italian castagnes during the week.

And so we headed back up the hills of Mendocino, through the grove of majestic redwoods, and over the unpaved dirt road. Once we get onto the dirt road, we time another 25 minutes until we hit the front gates of the Zeni Ranch.

After finishing a half-day of business and errands, we made our way for our trek to spend the rest of the day towards a slice of heaven.

We turned into the yard and parked beside the Grape Arbor, underneath the umbrella of a California Walnut tree. It wasn’t a couple of minutes before I heard Lady Jane’s truck pull up behind us. The door swung open and out flew this white blur. It was Jane’s Fox terrier, Zip. He came over to greet us and to check out what we were pulling out of our truck. We brought Jane and the family a crate full of fresh baked bread from our local corner market. We included some “pre-baked” rolls that she immediately placed in the chest freezer to keep the dressed rabbits company. She exclaimed “ Oh, these will be nice for Thanksgiving.” Her eyes widened when she spotted the bag of sourdough rolls, her “favorite”.

We also shared some of our homemade jam to go with the bread. You guessed it, Fig Confiture. Just before leaving the house, we received a phone call from our bank. It was our favorite bank officer that we’ve known for several years. She was calling to give her personal thanks for the jar of Fig jam we left with her as a token of thanks for always being kind and friendly when we do our banking. She declared that she could not stop eating “toast and jam” that morning and exclaimed “had three pieces of toast!”. I changed my method of preserving this year and have been soliciting opinions from “my super-tasters”. So far, my new method makes for another hit. Didn’t get the opportunity to enter this recipe in the Harvest Fair this year due to my travels, but hope to repeat the method next year for entry in the County Fair. I love collecting the Blue ribbons. The cash award isn’t bad either!

We spent time chatting with Jane on the front porch of the main house. We talked about "Singapore George" and his family. George was responsible for introducing us to this Italian clan. He's a member of the family. During our visit, we learned a little more about Jane. She is the Director of the 4-H Youth Development Program for Mendocino County and teaches children about animal husbandry, gardening, etc. We walked up the hill together and stopped by the apple tree. She collected some of the fallen fruit to give to the pigs over at the barn. I don’t mind the smells of the barn so much. The crisp breeze that carries over from the Pacific Ocean through the trees, over the hills and into the meadow seems to clear the “odoriferous” air that lingers around the barn area. Jane began to tell us this fantastic story of how she and her son began a business in raising pigs. Their business is under the name of “Zeni Swine” and has earned them quite a steady income. Her son’s pigs win prominent recognition and cash prizes at the various livestock shows he enters. In addition, he started selling the “wieners” (baby pigs) for young kids to raise on their own. She gives us little story of how “political” some of these shows can get. She proudly mentions that her son managed to pay the tuition for his first year of college all on his own.

Three Little Pigs . . .

The most amazing thing Jane shared with us is that she is a self-proclaimed AI Expert. (That is, she taught herself, via the Internet, how to Artificially Inseminate sows.) To further my astonishment she described how it’s done with all the technical equipment and essential material (if you know what I mean). She says it’s all clockwork and has a system set in place using a calendar as part of her recordkeeping. Last year, she had two sows ready to birth at the same time. She was up over 48 hours when they delivered within a few hours of each other. Jane stayed with the “piglets” to make sure they were all okay. She had 27 piglets at one time! Fantastic! AND she does it all SOLO!!! She is one of two women in all of the County that does this and she taught the other woman!!! FANTASTIC!!! I observed her facial expressions and could see the passion and joy she has in this endeavor. Not once, did I hear a note of regret, frustration or disappointment in her voice. She is exuberant and vivacious when she shares with us of her experience.

Jane left us to our picking and proceeded to start the feeding of the animals.

Chestnut Burr . . .

I don’t have a very strong back, but considering what I would get in return, I could bend over to pick up these chestnuts anytime. The nuts are protected under a husk that has a burr. It is vital to wear thick gloves when picking chestnuts as those burrs are a pain to deal with. It smarts to get pricked with these suckers. It was so relaxing to do this chore.

Anni's harvest basket . . .

We set back down the hill, stopped by the apple tree for a light snack and met Jane back at the main house. She had just finished cutting back the rose bushes and pruning the Bridal Veil. I admire how she gives us the impression that she is the sole groundskeeper on the property. She invited us to go down to the garden to harvest some veggies for their dinner. Her husband, Raymond, insists that "meat and potatoes" be included in their meal, otherwise "it's just appetizers". I spotted a butcher-wrapped bundle, marked "PORK" with a date, sitting on the tailgate of her truck. She noticed it was still rock hard frozen and I suggested she slack it out (thaw) in a bowl of water. I suspect it's going to be part of a stew. With her bucket under her arm, she continued down the entryway, crossed the road to go down the embankment towards the garden. There below, in a rough and ready basin, lay drip hosed grids of squash, melons, corn, beans, peppers, flowers, herbs, etc.

Jane's Garden

Jane sent us home with a selection of butternut squash, peppers and basil. The squash is going into a curry dish I’ll prepare this weekend using some of the Indian spices I hauled back from my recent trip to Southern California.

Before leaving the Zeni ranch, we peaked our heads into the "famous Zeni Caves" . Story has it, back in the early 1920's, another generation of young Zeni brothers were given the arduous chore of digging a part of the hillside to create a cave, to be used as a natural cooler. One big giant ice chest to store family provisions. At that time, I'm sure the ranch was as rustic as rustic could be. With the cool breeze in the air that day, I estimated the cave was at a steady temperature of at least 40 degrees. Just about the right temperature for refrigeration. Brrrrrrrrr. Anyway, as the story continues, the 3 brothers had gone out hunting for wild boar and bagged a big one. They brought it home, ate it and unfortunately, all 3 brothers died of what was suspected as "trichinosis". It was quite tragic. Sometimes, I can feel the spirits of those boys running around the ranch, being rambunctious and adventurous.

Zeni Cave

It was another fine day. If time and schedules permit, Ander and I plan on another excursion up to the Zeni ranch to celebrate pre-Christmas antics with the family and friends. I think I'll bring Flan. Jane mentioned that was missed at the potluck. Because it's the time of year the "girlie-girls" slow down, I don't get as many eggs as I do during the Spring and Summer. I NEVER have to buy eggs. But an opportunity to see the Zeni family and share good times is always worth making that trip to the corner market to purchase a dozen eggs or so. It's worth it...

On our way home, I received a call from my brother. He and my sister-in-law just came back from a doctor’s appointment. He was calling to announce, quite joyfully, the gender of their expected baby, due in April. With respect to my brother and his lovely wife, I will defer from sharing the gender here, in this forum, until after the baby has arrived. This baby will be my Mother’s 7th grandchild. WHOOOOO-WHEEEEEE!!! Another little darling to fill our lives . . .

Life is a banquet, my friends.

Sunday, November 05, 2006

A day in the life of Italian Castagnes, aka Chestnuts . . .

"Zeni Ranch Chestnut Harvest Festival"

When I get a calendar for the upcoming year, I make a habit of marking all the significant dates of the year. I first highlight the birthdays of family and close friends, holidays to be spent with family, any travel arrangements made in advance, and indubitably, without a doubt, either the last Saturday of the month of October or the first Saturday of the month of November. This is the date for “Chestnut Day”.

Yesterday, Ander and I attended the 25th Annual Chestnut Festival held at the Zeni Ranch. We have known the Zeni family for several years now and have made the trek to the Mendocino hills to join with family and friends in the festive celebration of the seasonal harvest of Italian “Castagnes”.

"Who said money doesn't grow on trees? I beg to differ . . ."

It started as a gathering for family and friends to get together to harvest chestnuts from the 100–year-old trees . The third generation of Zeni’s, brothers John and Raymond, host the event with their families each year. Originally, “by invitation only”, the event has continued to grow through the years and now has “bus load” tours on occasion. There is now a tour of the ranch given by the Zeni brothers during the event. I’m sure it won’t be long before the fourth generation will pick up and take over the tour. This ranch is a superb example of sustainable living. The vineyard is contracted to a major winemaking company. Raymond’s wife, Jane, raises and sells hogs and rabbits for meat as well as homemade soap made with herbs grown on the ranch. Jane’s main garden includes the usually suspects of corn, beans and squash (the three sisters) among other vegetables. Her flower garden is grown up the hill near the barn and chicken coop. She and Ander always share chicken stories with each other. Jane also manages the cash box during the chestnut sales.

The event also includes a MAJOR Potluck. The buffet table is prime real estate when it comes to the myriad of dishes from all cuisines. Guests bring a dish to share with everyone and find a comfortable seat to dine under the grape arbor or somewhere under a chestnut tree. Jane's Rabbit stew always makes an appearance each event. The stew is prepared over a period of two days in the cast iron dutch oven that has been used by the family over 4 generations. I like it over hot, creamy polenta. Pass the zin, please...

"Buffet Line . . ."

"Jane's Rabbit Stew . . ."

"Tamales . . ."

"Veggie Sushi . . ."

"Paella . . ."

During each visit, I always make a pilgrimage to the grafted apple tree that bears up to 5 different apple varieties. The Christmas tree area is full this year. Nice green trees had benefited from the early rains at the beginning of the year. The weekend after Thanksgiving is another full day of guests coming to get their fresh holiday tree. I noticed some trees marked “Reserved” for returning, loyal buyers.

I always look forward to the walk over the hill, through the vineyard, across the meadow to the grove of trees that surround the family cemetery. It is peaceful and serene. There is something about the ranch that gives me an invigorating, revitalizing and refreshing feeling. The scenery is stimulating and enlivens the senses.

"Grape Arbor . . ."

The people we’ve met through the years recognize us as a familiar part of the event. We don’t do anything special to get recognition. We just mingle and share our excitement for the day. We’ve watched the fourth generation of Zeni kids grow up to be young adults that appreciate and value their family. Matriarchs, Shirley Zeni and “the sisters”, Dolly and Inez take their place in the house at the kitchen dining table where they play card games. This year, Aunt Inez, did not attend as she has been recuperating from an illness that struck her and had her in the hospital for several weeks. So it was Aunt Dolly walking alone, holding a makeshift walking stick, that we met on the way up the hill to the family cemetery. She greets us and exclaims how much she “loves the fresh, crisp autumn air that energizes” her whenever she comes to the ranch. It’s great to see the various “animated” characters that come through from year to year. This year, I observed more dogs attended the event. I was impressed by how well the dogs got along with each other. There was mention of one dog that was part Timber wolf. I spotted this beautiful breed just sitting around, “chillin”. Airedale Terriers have a special affect on Ander. He grew up with an Airedale and their sightings always bring back very happy childhood memories.

"Chevalier . . .chillin . . ."

There were still some old friends stopping by to taste some of the Zeni Zinfandel being offered by the family at the roasting area. Raymond mans the roasting pan full of chestnuts to sample and enjoy.

"Chestnuts Roasting . . . "

"Handmade roasting pan . . ."

"Chestnut in the husk . . ."

"Belly up to the bar boys . . ."

"Italian Chestnuts - U-pick,$2.50/Lb. ~ They-Pick,$3.00/Lb."

It was a great day. We stayed well after the sun had set and the majority of guests had departed. We made arrangements to return to the ranch during the week, as we did not get a chance to pick any “castagnes/castañas”. We were too busy catching up with family and friends as well as making new friends that shared in the pleasure of the hospitality of the Zeni Ranch. It’s worth the drive through the majestic Redwoods and anticipating the quest for the tastiest Italian chestnuts ever!

Life is a banquet, my friends.