A HOLIDAY WEEKEND WITH MY SANTA CRUZ CREW
Those of you who have found copies of Eat My Globe languishing on shelves at the back of a charity shop somewhere in Northern England, may well be familiar with the short chapter in the book on a memorable Thanksgiving spent in Santa Cruz.
The invitation to join the celebrations came from one Tana Butler. I did not know her at the time but, put my trust in the travel gods, and lugged my rucksack, Big Red to the coast just in time to see a large turkey being stuffed. My brief stay there turned out to be one of the many highlights from my year on the road and I hope I captured at least some of the warmth and generosity shown to me by the people of that crazy little city in my book.
Three years on, I now count Tana as a dear friend and try to get up to see her and her extended network of friends and family as often as I can. It is becoming more hard with my increasingly busy schedule, however, when Sybil announced that she was going to NYC with her girlfriends for the long Labour Day weekend, it seemed like the perfect opportunity to borrow her beat up old car and point it northwards on the I-5.
It’s a long old drive. Five and a half hours to be precise. So, by the time I pulled into Tana’s driveway, I was both exhausted and ravenous. I should not have worried. I met Tana through Internet food discussion forums (remember those?) and recalled that most of her waking thoughts are about what to eat and what her many farmer friends are growing.
One of the best meals of my first stay with her was a simple meal of roast chicken shared with her, her husband, Bob and their young grandson, Logan. It was memorable for all sorts of reasons, the joy of discovering new friendships being first on the list. This visit we began our weekend of good eating in the same spirit. Tana plucked Padron peppers from her garden and made hamburgers patties using grass fed beef from Morris Ranch. I contributed some chilled sherry, Marcona almonds a few slices of decent Manchego and Bob grilled more vegetables from the garden over chunks of guava wood.
We were joined on this occasion by Cynthia Sandberg, the owner of the legendary Love Apple Farm, suppliers of fruits and vegetables to the gastro destination that is restaurant Manresa. She came bearing gifts, including a bottle of very passable wine, which was soon opened and just as soon disappeared. It was joined by enough other wine to ensure that I fell into a deep sleep the moment my head hit the soft pillows Tana had placed on my bed for the night, the sofa.
We made a late start the next morning. After a good breakfast served to soak up some of the booze from the night before, we headed out for a quick tour of Love Apple Farm’s stunning new location on land, which had once been a vineyard owned by The Smothers Brothers, no less. It is still very much a work in progress, but, although Cynthia was hard at work digging beds for the hundreds of varieties of plants she grows, she was happy to take a break and give us the tour. It is going to be a remarkable space, with cabins for farm apprentices to stay in while they learn the ropes, areas to hold classes and about five times the land of the previous location. I can’t wait to return and see it when it is in full swing.
The tour just left us with time to make a pit stop for some provisions on the way home and then back to Tana’s place to begin cooking once more, this time for a ‘pot luck” supper involving fifteen of her friends and relatives. My role was to prepare the protein for the evening, which came in the form of beef and pork from TLC Ranch (run by Tana’s close friends, Rebecca and Jim) and two glorious ducks from Massa Organics.
It didn’t take much pondering to decide what I should cook. By the time the guests began to arrive, the ducks had been stuffed with apples, garlic, onions and herbs and were sizzling to a golden brown in the oven. The beef had been cubed and was reducing in the fiery sauce of a Malaysian rendang and the pork had been filled with a gremolata of herbs, lemon zest and garlic before being wrapped in foil and slow cooked with apples.
The skin and fat from the pork had not been wasted, of course and, by the time Jim and Rebecca arrived, I was able to feed them pork crackling from one of their very own oinkers. Other guests did not come empty handed. There were gloriously rich and savoury baked beans, salads, green bean casseroles, some stunning truffles from Chef, David Jackman of local restaurant, Chocolate and, of course, plenty and I mean plenty of wine.
After supper, we decamped to the sofa and Tana flipped on a recording of my appearance on “The Best Thing I Ever Ate” It was my food Network debut and to share it with my Santa Cruz crew was a real thrill, even if they did think that the make up person had made me look like I was wearing lavender eye shadow.
On my final day in the city, we made one more visit to a farm. This one was part of UCSC and is particularly close to Tana’s heart. However, it was not so much the farm she wanted me to see as one particular person who had come to study farming techniques there for a few months.
Hari Mohan Pant is one of the more remarkable men I have ever met. Sixty-nine years of age, he is a retired Brigadier from the Indian Army. On leaving military service, Hari returned to his homeland of Bhimtal, in the foothills of the Himalayas to develop a homeopathic medical practice and to teach local people how to farm more effectively. His own studies had brought him to the unlikely setting of the UCSC farm, where he could be found staying in a cabin and living the communal life with other students some forty years his junior.
They may well have had a few years on Hari, but when it came to sheer energy, he had them beaten all hands down. After making us a cup of chai to warm us in the low laying fog, he gave us the grand tour. It was all we could do to keep up with him and his love of the land and the people was tangible. At the end of our time with him, he grabbed a bag from the back seat of our car and insisted on filling it up with fruits and vegetables for us to take home.
That just left time for one more quick meal, at the Bonny Doon Cellar Door Cafe before I had to brave the traffic on my way back to L.A. It was an even longer drive than my outgoing journey as so many people fought their way back to the city. But, it was worth it. Just as it had been worth taking a leap of faith three years ago when Tana sent me an e-mail saying “come and spend Thanksgiving here with us in Santa Cruz”.
And, just as I did three years ago, I left feeling nurtured, nourished and refreshed. God bless my Santa Cruz crew.
P.S - If you are wondering why the pictures look a bit more professional than usual, that's because they are. Tana took them and she knows what she is doing when she points and shoots