Isn't it amazing how we all seem to gravitate toward water and flames? How we sit and stare at both of
those mesmerizing elements and lose ourselves in them. That sure happened on our last night out at the Bassetti Vineyards where Ellis and Susie Bassetti did what was called "The Maiden Voyage," with their new, hand-built (but not finished yet on exterior) outdoor oven. A labor of love and a long time dream for them and for all their friends.
Ellis (back turned) shifts some of the oakwood to the side and situates the chickens and pumpkin in his new oven. Soon the entire oven will be faced with pieces of sandstone hand "harvested" by Ellis. To the right is our beloved Susie Bassetti, in front of Susie is John Gonyer, to the right of John is me in the blue top, behind me is Bonny Spencer, and to the left of Bonny is Lee Spencer.
We all arrived carrying food and wine, but the Bassettis, who have their own vineyard, olive grove, herb gardens, and fruit trees, were already stocked with food. The Bassetti family has owned this ranchland for over 100 years. Imagine, in California, which is such a movable culture, a family of many generations has owned and worked this land.
Susie and I have taught classes on herbs, crafts, and cooking together. We have a ball doing this and talk constantly about teaching some more classes at their ranch, Green Valley Flower & Herb, and at one of her best friends' (Harriet Scully) home near Cortona in Italy (you've read about Cortona in Frances Mayes' books about Italy, Under the Tuscan Sun. Now we have a new dimension to add to cooking classes, this fabulous outdoor oven, which we'll be learning to use for the next few months BEFORE inviting you to the ranch.
We'll also be teaching a simple cheese-making class and some classes on drying and blending your own herbal concoctions, like herbs de Provence, fines herbs, and more.
We've had weather of 106 degrees here, but finally, the fog began to cool the land, and we watched as a bank rolled from the sea toward Green Valley. Here Susie is trying to get Ellis under control. He is cooking his first meal in the oven and is pretty excited about it. John Gonyer is sampling fresh picked figs drizzled with balsamic vinegar, stuffed with cheese, and tucked into the new oven.
When Jeff shot this photo, we were adding up all the years we've been friends with this group. The total was over 160 years. Amazing. Bonny once worked at Heart's Ease, which is where Lee met her. We ladies all loved Lee and tried to be cupids. I've known John since he was a teenager, and Ellis for the past 30 years. When a group like this gets together, it is like a rich soup that has simmered on a stove for hours with all the ingredients melding and producing a complex and satisfying taste.
Here are the spectacular "Maiden chickens," of which Ellis can be VERY proud.
A big stuffed squash filled with herbs and stuffing. This baked in the oven, too. It was delicious.
John and Jeff don't waste any time lining up for the food.
Bonny and Ellis (our chef) fill their plates with great food.
The table awaits friends and laughter.
And at the end of the meal, we counted our blessings for having such a joyous gathering with great food and well-seasoned and beloved old friends.
The next morning, we began packing for our five week book tour. I know this is an odd selection of things to be taking, but I need to be able to explain birds to children with real things they can touch. The antique egg carton is filled with the eggs of domesticated birds–zebra finches, button quail, turkeys, and ducks– and with a guinea hen feather tucked into the nesting materials. On the table are a turkey flight feather and a turkey tail feather.
Slipped into acetate envelopes are parrot feathers–flight feather, tail feather, contour feather, and down feathers. The big white "egg" is actually a gourd. The old straw hat is one I pictured in my book. It was a perfect home for a thriving wren family.
On our last afternoon at home, a lovely family came to visit and left this wonderful card.
Time flew past and before we knew what had happened, we were at our first stop on the book tour, Family Day at the A.K. Smiley Public Library in Redlands, CA.
We were warmly greeted by Pam Karr, who is the children's librarian at the FABULOUS (you will have to experience this library, it is beyond compare) A.K. Smiley Public Library. Dr. Marjorie Arnett (who is a great cook) made Hester, Christina, Pam, and us a great welcoming dinner. We ate outdoors under an arbor with her two dogs, Ben and Lily, at our feet.
A long line of children waiting to pick up a copy of My First Bird Book and Bird Feeder.
I got a chance to speak with dozens of children who are fascinated with nature and who love reading. This was an amazing crowd of inter-generational families. One family that attended brought FIVE generations!
The afternoon ended with a bang when my friend, writer, and blogger Lydia Plunk, drove fifty miles to greet us. Lydia, thank you. Your smiling face was such a joy to see.
Tonight we are in Boston, and it is gently raining. Tomorrow we will work our way up the coast to Maine and drop in for spot signings at bookstores and toy stores. We will also be looking for more props for a television appearance Tuesday morning on "Good Day Maine," WPFO 23, Portland, Maine.
Please stay in touch and let us know if you'll be visiting with us as we travel.
Sending love across the miles,
A weary traveler,