Eastside Road, May 26, 2013—SUCH NICE VISITS with friends yesterday and today, hardly time to write about it. Last night to friends in Dry Creek Valley, who invited us and two other couples (one a mother-daughter couple) to dinner. That's Susan's pantry over there on the left, a small part of it; and all those little jars are filled with spices, most of them spices I've never heard of. And she knows how to use them.
The minute we stepped into the house we were met by a marvelous fragrance from the kitchen, where a tagine was simmering. Lamb, cumin, clove, yes, I could identify a number of the components: but the most important component eluded me. Sumac, Susan said.
I know sumac only as one of the three words in the English language in which an initial su-
is given an sh sound. Oh: and poison sumac, of course, a shrub I've never given much thought to, as it thankfully hasn't moved out here to California yet. (Turns out poison oak is a member of the same genus, Rhus, which comprises scores of plants.)
But culinary sumac, the powdered dried reddish drupes of the plant, was unknown to me until yesterday. I've made, from one of Paula Wolfert's excellent Mediterranean books, a marvelous tagine that required half a dozen different spices, all of which I methodically ground up for the dish, but I'm pretty sure sumac wasn't among them. It adds a pungent, deep, rather earthy, uniquely bodied note to the dish, at least in Susan's kitchen, and spooned out onto a pilaf it made a fabulous meal, with brightly glazed sautéed carrots on the side, and a green salad afterward.
Sauvignon blanc; Zinfandel; Petit Syrah, all Preston of Dry Creek, all 2011, all very delicious and very much my kind of wine. Thanks, Lou!
THEN THIS AFTERNOON, after a pleasant four-miler in the nearby hills in the morning, we gathered at the nearby home of another couple of friends, where a feast of colors and textures was waiting for us — a sandwich kit. I settled, rather conservatively, on a BLT: nice crisp bacon, equally crisp Romaine leaves, and a good, flavorful tomato, with pesto rather than the usual mayonnaise. I should have gone back for more, and I did manage to sample a little of our hostess's pulled pork — nice. But it was too easy simply to sit in the sun on the deck, and converse languidly with bright, interesting people I hadn't met before, and have a glass or two of a delicious Zinfandel made from Dry Creek grapes by one of the guests, who has a few acres of vines…
Thanks, kids, an excellent afternoon under a magnificent live oak, with the muted singing of donkeys from a neighbor's paddock blending with it all…