Ojai, November 24, 2014—HOW — THE SUBJECT has come up before here — how to write here about meals taken in friends' homes? This blog is called Eating Every Day, after all; it was never planned to be simply a collection of restaurant reviews. But our three modes of dining suggest quite different requirements of the descriptive process. Eating at home, while it does involve certain considerations of the sensitivity (and sensibility!) of the woman I usually call Cook, can usually be described quite forthrightly.
Dining in restaurants calls different assumptions into question. A professional, business-oriented context involves standards, let alone conventions, quite different from those Cook and I employ in our occasionally collaborative, usually individual approaches to the stove, cutting-board, and sink.
Then, most vexing of all, there's the question of dining chez amis. We're lucky to count excellent, even professional cooks among our circle of friends; but some of our close friends are far from that; some even are what I would call not terribly good cooks, whether for lack of interest or skill or ability. Yet meals with friends are often, perhaps almost always, among our favorite ones: and the reasons for this, having little to do with cuisine and much to do with personal experience, have no business being investigated on this blog.
Oh well: let's just look at the most recent such experience, investigating it both for itself — a very pleasant culinary experience quite off our routine — and as an example of the blogger's quandary.
We've been in Los Angeles for a few days, dining in first-rate restaurants, and we're now on the road home. We like to break the Healdsburg-Los Angeles trip, in whichever direction, in Ojai, where a couple of friends, let's call them Jim and Lisa, own a citrus-and-avocado grove. They do more than that, of course: they think and read, listen to music and converse, involve themselves admirably in community affairs. They're a generation younger than we are and their roots are in a completely different American culture than are ours. We treasure conversation with them, as it always opens our minds to other validities, shaking our own assumptions and, I might even say, prejudices.
Tonight Lisa served soup. As a sort of experiment this year they planted a number of kinds of squash and pumpkin between rows of trees in their orchard, and she baked one of the results, an unusual "Canada Crookneck" (seen above next to a small pumpkin), then scooped it out and tossed it into the blender along with cooked lentils, an onion or two, and I know not what else, thinning it as necessary with chicken stock.
Now I famously (in my family) do not like winter squash of any kind, including pumpkin. There are exceptions, and they all have to do with techniques that overcome my principal objection: the texture, which combines with the sharp, somehow nasal pungency of the flavor. I don't object to pumpkin pie, where the egg and spices overcome these objections; and I even enjoy pumpkin-filled ravioli, where the problematic ingredient is only one of many.
But pumpkin or winter-squash soup, let alone simple baked squash served as a vegetable, is something I eat with pronounced distaste. I do eat it, if it's served to me, and there are no convenient bones or shells or in extremis cutlery with which to hide the serving. But I do not eat it willingly, or even particularly politely — I'm not good at masking my feelings about things.
Lisa's soup was delicious. The lentils ameliorated the squash texture; and the inspired addition of lots of cumin, and then a dash or two of Everett and Jones's smoky barbecue sauce, improved on the flavor without completely overpowering certain characteristically cucurbitine elements that, in fact, pushed to the wall, I do have to admit have their qualities, if they're not too sweet.
With this soup we had toasted slices of Jack Bezian's Tea Bread, bought at Lisa's request at the Hollywood Farm Market: unbleached wheat and whole wheat flour, barley, salt, cardamon, lemon peel, and tea — the kind of highly flavored sourdough we normally avoid, being flour-yeast-salt purists. Buttered, it too was delicious, and conspired with the soup.
Green salad afterward, from lettuces grown by their friend Mike, also in the orchard soil. Good, Clean, Fair, and Local, and the conversation was splendid. Thanks friends!
Blanc de noir; rosé