This stuffed squash was one of the main dishes. I bought the squash at a farmers' market in San Clemente. The farmer didn't know the name of it, but he said it was a "good baking" one–he was right.
A few years ago my friend Sue Branch mentioned that in all the years she has been writing, she has never had a book party. She wasn't complaining; it was simply a statement of fact. When she said that I decided that when she finished another book we would somehow celebrate it with a wonderful party.
When Sue finished A Fine Romance I talked with Jeff and with our friends Susan and Ellis Bassetti and told them I wanted to throw a party for her. Ellis and Susie quickly seconded the idea and volunteered to hold it at their ranch, which has so much more space than our home. (And who wouldn't want to attend a party in the middle of an olive grove and a vineyard?)
So onward and upward. Plans began to form, close friends were invited, and helpers were enlisted. Let the cooking begin!
Our little kitchen turned into an assembly line for a couple of days as we prepared for the party.
Recipe to follow at end of posting.
Ellis Bassetti mans/chefs the outdoor wood-fired oven he built.
Somehow Ellis knows exactly when his foods are finished to perfection. Practice, I guess. I have a tough enough time trying to get them right when I use an oven.
My granddaughter is wearing an official server's apron, but forgets her chores and loses herself in an adventure with the two pups. Much better than working!
Congratulations Sue dear!!
My pal Matt Spurr helps dish out and serve the cheesy peppers.
Joe Hall (alias "THE DREAMBOAT") surveys the box of oysters he flew in from a favorite fish market, The Net Result, on Martha's Vineyard.
Joe shucked the oysters for all of us newbies.
This is hard work! One slip of the knife and...
My salad was filled with all sorts of goodies from our garden, including pears, apples, and pomegranate arils.
This is a nine pound pork loin seasoned with my homegrown herbs and marinated for two days.
I usually cook these for an hour, but in the hot, hot oven (which immediately sears in the juices) it took very little time and tasted great!
Setting the buffet table.
Ok, so you can't actually see who is who, but some of the guests didn't want their photos taken...I understand that 'cause I never want my photo taken either.
The twenty foot long pine table had a garland of pomegranates, persimmons, and grape vines...
...and an array of beautiful and loyal friends (including Sue's original girlfriends from high school).
Sometimes I'd look around and see maybe a dozen people with their phones out and happily photographing the goings-on.
A Fine Romance book cake by Renee Linn of Linn's Restaurant and Bakery. Renee spent hours working on this piece of art, which tasted as great as it looked. Thank you, Renee, for all your creativity and giving.
Don't drop the cake, Jeff!
Through the herb garden and to the grape arbor dining room.
Sue was surprised and she loved it!
Umm, I like the corners. Lots of frosting please. If I'm going to blow the calories, I might as well go for the good stuff.
Cute boots, Sue.
The adorable Julie Marie (Idyllhours blog) sent two hand felted squirrels to the party. One for Sue and one for me. They are darling. Mine will go up on the animal shelf in my studio. Thank you, Julie Marie, for your thoughtfulness and caring.
I'll wind this posting down with the announcement of the winner of the vintage Anne Morrow Lindbergh book, Gift from the Sea, which I have treasured and read over and over for years.
I just hope that you all get the chance to read this, and that our lucky winner (automatically picked by the random number generator) is number 30, Donna, but I do not have an e-mail address or any information about her. Donna, if you read this, I need your address, etc. It won't be published. If you are a member of The Grimy Hands Girls' Club, you'll receive an extra gift.
Also, I am in a bit of a dilemma here. Our winner of Sue's personally autographed book, A Fine Romance, from my last drawing, was never claimed. Chris Morgan won it, but I can't find Chris and she hasn't written me. I am going to wait for another week and then draw again if I am not contacted by Chris. Does that sound fair?
Baked Stuffed Pumpkin
Here is the recipe for the baked, stuffed pumpkin, which I plan to also do for Thanksgiving.
Pre heat oven to 350 degrees
Large baking pumpkin or squash
Box of cremini mushrooms (they're more flavorful than white buttons)
2 stalks celery
1 sweet yellow onion
2 cups rice (I used Basmati and wild)
1 container organic chicken broth (32 oz)
2 tsp. butter
2 Tbsp. soy sauce
2 Tbsp. brown sugar
2 apples diced
1 cup pecans toasted
Cut the top off your pumpkin and clean out seeds and strings. Save the seeds and toast them (or dry them and replant them); they taste great.
Rub butter on the inside of pumpkin and lid and set aside.
Dice celery and sweet onion, add sliced mushrooms. Drop a tsp. of olive oil and a pat of butter into a skillet and cook the mushrooms, celery, and onion till tender. Sometimes I add a splash of red wine or a good balsamic vinegar and make a reduction sauce from the juices. Gives these a richer taste.
Pour organic broth, two teaspoons of butter, and soy sauce into a heavy-duty lidded pot. Bring to a boil, add rice, turn heat to simmer. It took about 25 minutes for my rice to cook. Lift lid, check that all liquid is absorbed, and fluff rice with a fork. Add mushrooms, celery, and onion. Keep rice uncovered and set aside.
Cook diced apples in a buttered skillet. Stir constantly, add the brown sugar, stir till apples just start to soften. (They'll cook thoroughly in the squash.) Add toasted pecans to the apples, stir to incorporate. This will coat them with a bit of the brown sugar.
Stuff squash/pumpkin all the way to the top. Perch lid on top, and it is safest to bake the squash in some sort of a pan, preferably one attractive enough to sit right on your table.
Here is the tricky part. I baked my squash for a little over two and a half hours. You MUST be able to slip a spoon into the flesh of the squash, which you'll also be eating with the stuffing. Since this is a trial and no error dish, just start it baking early, keep lifting off the lid of the squash and poking at the flesh. When finished baking, set it atop your stove and keep the lid on. I covered mine with aluminum foil and it stayed hot for an hour.
Baked Baby Bell Peppers
Pre heat oven to 350
Selection of baby bell peppers
Mixed herbs (I use oregano, lemon verbena, smoked paprika and something called Perfect Pinch Salad Seasonings.
Cut peppers in half and discard seeds and any pith
Spread peppers onto a baking sheet lined with parchment
Drizzle lightly with olive oil and top with a few twists of salt
Bake till sides just begin to brown. You must bake the shells empty first or the bells won't be cooked enough and will just taste raw.
Mix equal parts goat cheese and fresh Parmesan, drizzle on a bit of olive oil,add some herbs (make sure all herbs are cut into teensy pieces, especially the lemon verbena).
Stuff the cooled baby bells with the mixture. Top with a snowstorm of fresh parmesan, another drizzle of oil, and the Perfect Pinch Salad Seasoning. Toast in oven for about 10 minutes.
These are a huge hit! They've become a family tradition at our house. They take a bit of time, but when we cook for people we love it is fun.
Sending love across the miles,
P.S. Many thanks to the editors of Garden Gate magazine for their glowing review of my recent book, My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder, published by Workman and available through my site and many others. Hurrah! Introduce children (and maybe yourself) to the world of birds right outside your window!
I like how Garden Gate has pre-punched pages that can be easily inserted into a notebook or journal.