Wednesday, November 12, 2008

A Diamond Birthday

Oh, there has been so much to celebrate in the past few weeks! The beginning of the holiday season (marked in Portland by the onslaught of rain and the Thanksgiving & Christmas issues of my favorite foodie magazines, among other signs), the outcome of the election (I'm still floating in a state of red-white-and-bluephoria), and, this past weekend, my Grandmother's 80th birthday!

My grandmother is an amazing woman.  She is one of the strongest women I know, a breast cancer survivor, with a PhD in her pocket, and countless students inspired by her passion. A teacher, a poet, an entrepreneur, a mom, aunt, grandmother, great-grandmother, with eternally classic style and the best hugs around. The party was really a testament to the amazing community she had a part in creating, with four generations of the clan in attendance (with a gaggle of great-grandkids in tow), artists, musicians, craftspeople and academics of all varieties, and of course, TONS of food.

I flew down to Southern California to join my family in the celebration, which for us means preparing food for 24-hours straight for 80 party guests. No catering here, my friends, and nothing frozen, pre-packaged, micro-waved - though some doubting individuals tried to sneak in some bite-sized frozen shrimp snacks into the mix. Not while I'm on appetizers! I spent the week ahead plotting my attack, looking forward to the never-ending bounty of Southern California produce - strawberries and asparagus in November? I'm still flabbergasted - and crafting a few tasty dishes to feed the army of party-goers.

My older sister was on dessert - and cranked out 8 gorgeous classic Pineapple Upside-Down Cakes, the kind with the maraschino cherries in the center of pineapple rings, and a Four-Layer Carrot Cake with Pine Nuts and Cream Cheese Frosting - SO good, and I'm sure the house still smells like yellow cake (the tasty baked good, not the enriched uranium ore). My dad was manning the grill - enough lamb and chicken kabobs to feed about three times as many people as we were expecting.

The lamb had a red-wine, garlic, and rosemary marinade, and the chicken got a soy, ginger, and garlic treatment. My mom made a HUGE pasta salad - we were all amazing at how much pasta three bags made - and my little sister was the all-around champion of veggie-plates, odd-jobs, and official taster. Aunts and cousins brought cheese plates, crackers, beautiful fruit, famous rice salads, a keg of local brew for the big kids, and a box of "bunny noodles" for the little ones. Some families gather around sports teams, some around religious traditions, but for us, it's all about the food. 

My dishes might not have been the main attraction, but I was pretty pleased with them, and the way they disappeared, I'm guessing a few other people were as well.

First up - Deviled New Potatoes! These little guys started off as 40 small, adorable new potatoes, boiled until just tender, and chilled overnight. The next day, I used a melon baller to hollow out the centers. I reserved the scooped-out potato to add to the filling, which was really delicious. I sautéed three sliced leeks and four big shallots in olive oil, seasoned only with black pepper and kosher salt. After this mix started to brown - and smell amazing - I deglazed with a few tablespoons of good red wine at a time, allowing the liquid to evaporate before adding more, until I'd used about a cup. This mix went into the food processor with capers, basil, fresh meyer lemon juice, the reserved potato centers, and cream cheese. After the mix was thoroughly blended, I packed it into a big ziplock bag and piped the filling into the potato cups, sprinkled with chives, and moved on to the next dish...

Endive Boats with Roasted Garlic, Eggplant, and Orange Bell Pepper Puree. These were so fun to eat - the individual endive leaves were the perfect size for a little scoop of the savory filling. I roasted two whole eggplants, about 8 garlic cloves (peeled, and wrapped in a packet of tin foil with olive oil) and three orange bell peppers at 400 degrees for about 35 minutes. Everything went into the food processor with cumin, more olive oil, capers, lemon juice, and a but of curry powder. Yum!

My last dish was a simple bruschetta, with olive tapenade, tomato, and basil. I made the tapenade using three kinds of olives - kalamata, brined green, and black, a can of each - all pitted. I threw these in the food processor with fresh garlic, anchovies, lemon juice, capers, basil, and a good amount of olive oil. This stuff was strong, in a good way, so I put about a teaspoon on a fresh basil leaf on each toasted baguette slice - topped with a slice of cherry tomato. Classic, simple, and delicious - brought to you by California sunshine. So jealous.

It was a great party - 80th is the Diamond Anniversary. Sorry you didn't get any diamonds, grandma, but I hope you loved the good friends, good beer and wine, and great food as much as I enjoyed helping out. Even now, as I sit looking out at the Portland rain, roasting a pumpkin in the oven, and I can still feel the warmth of the grill and the California fall, hear the babies playing, and see my grandma's smile as she popped the champagne. 

May we all live to be as successful and beautiful. Eat well!


  1. Happy belated b-day to your grandma! She is so young looking! I bet you hope you take after her, huh?

  2. Any way you would share the lamb marinade recipe? We have a freezer full of it and I'm at a loss!

  3. Hi Oakley,

    There's a little something for you on my holiday date bread post. :)

  4. I really love diamons, they drives me crazy crazy, i think if a man came to me with a diamond ring i could give him all my heart, and i decided to read this blog because it seemed very interesting and wonderful.
    related with your sexual life,buy viagra if you want a wonderful experience.