Once upon a time I lived in the beautiful state of California.
It was in the 80’s, with no recession, and lots of good living in a wonderful year-round temperate climate (although very smog-filled) with endless, ENDLESS things to do. Although we were living day-to-day financially struggling as a result of the sky-high, off-the-charts cost of real estate with an all-time high 18% interest rate on our home mortgage, I found myself immersed in an up-and-coming culinary mecca. Luckily, my job had a lot of entertaining and dining perks which contributed to my culinary adventure on the west coast. I’ll share a few of those experiences here.
Now when thinking of California, you can’t help but think Wolfgang Puck and Spago. Or Alice Waters and her farm-to-table revolution and Chez Panisse. Don’t forget Mollie Katzen and Moosewood Restaurant. And of course, think wine country and Napa Valley. Think fresh food year round.
Even our beloved South Carolina son and celebrity chef, Tyler Florence, moved to California for a little more of that culinary action.
Hey Mr. Dreamy chef, come back to Carolina!
My son was also born in California, in Fullerton. Located right next to Anaheim, I knew it was bed-time for the kids when I could hear the fireworks of Disneyland every evening at 9:00 PM on the dot! My home wasn’t air-conditioned so the windows were open a lot and I could hear those popping sounds of the fireworks easily. I was even able to see part of the Olympic torch run by just one block . . . that’s right . . . one block from my house! With a toddler in hand and an infant in a stroller, the three of us waved our little American flags for that one moment in time.
My love affair with all things culinary continued from it’s beginnings in St. Louis after college and actually exploded in California. I was even asked by Neiman-Marcus (my former employer) to manage the “Epicure” department in L.A. (I turned it down to stay home, raise my newborn son and toddler daughter, and run an in-home daycare business so I could be with my little ones). I’d stand in line at Williams-Sonoma to acquire the infamous James Beard’s signature on one of his cookbooks that I’d purchased. I’d write to Bon Appetit magazine religiously to hopefully get my hands on the recipes of dishes served to me in California eateries. I’d brave the southern California freeways with my kids in their car seats to take them to visit the famous open-air Grand Central Market in downtown L.A. and the age-old Mexican/Hispanic Olvera Street Market for true-to-the-core made-from-scratch tortillas and Mexican cuisine! I’d gaze at the celebrities in superb restaurants . . . when Fred Astaire walked in while I took my first bite of rack of lamb with mint, I almost choked.
Breakfasting in Laguna Beach, dining in San Francisco, eating in Beverly Hills at my former employer’s home . . . just down the street from O.J. Simpson (then a popular athlete) and the deceased Joan Crawford and Bette Davis. Staying in my boss’s private home next to John Houston’s home in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico where the house staff took us diving for fresh shrimp to indulge in ceviche (and when I passed out and saw death before me, it was at that moment that I realized my deathly allergy to shrimp and all things shellfish). Sadly, I haven’t touched shellfish since.
In San Francisco, I ventured to the famous Fisherman’s Wharf and endulged in authentic S.F. sour dough bread and rich chocolate freshly made from the Italian chocolatier, Ghiradelli’s in Ghiradelli Square.
In California I discovered fresh strawberries the size of my palm, avocados as creamy as butter, fresh chunky guacamole, enormous chimichangas and REAL Mexican food (other than tacos) served in restaurants you’d normally think to avoid from the looks of the buildings’ exterior. At the exclusive “The Cellar” restaurant I discovered forward-thinking and creative ways to enjoy after-dinner coffee filled with unusual liquor combinations that I’d never heard of before (they kindly shared the recipe with me too).
The food just seemed to be incredible everywhere in California!
You get the picture, I’m sure!
Yes, California was fun when it came to the foodie scene and played a big part of my cooking evolution. But that life ended, I moved on to Scottsdale, Arizona and the California food memories are with me to this day.
Among those memories, are the cookbooks that I collected from California, many of them out of print and grabbing very expensive prices among collectors. Take for example, Vincent Price’s “A Treasury of Great Recipes“ (you remember him, don’t ya? All of those cheap Edgar Allen Poe scary midnight movies and from Michael Jackson’s “Thriller”). Yea, believe it or not, he was a highly respected culinary chef extraordinaire! The cookbook cost $75 back in the 80’s . . . who knows what it would go for today if you can get your hands on a copy. Other cookbooks that I cherish today include: “The L.A. Times California Cookbook“, “The San Francisco Chronicle Cookbook“, “California Sizzles“, “Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook“, “Moosewood Cookbook“, and “The California Heritage Cookbook“. And although she’s not from California, it is where I bought and delved into my Julia Child and Company cookbooks to learn more about the art of French cooking techniques and at that time prepared my very first Steak Diane. This recipe was one of the first that I taught my kids and that propelled them into their joyous love of cooking.
From those cookbooks I found inspiration for this incredible grilled chicken recipe.
It’s so easy, it’s stupid.
And it always leaves you happy, happy!
drizzle this sauce on top of the grilled chicken and pass around to your guests
also great for dipping some fresh, thick-cut Italian bread