I didn’t think she’d really make the reservations. In fact, I was pretty certain that even if she did try to pull off a dinner at the famed two-Michelin Star rated Manresa, that they’d certainly be booked and, even more certainly, we’d all wimp out of doing something so outlandish.
But last night, I found myself in one of the finest restaurants in California, in the US.
I had no business dining at Manresa. I’m a single working mom with a mortgage and a house remodel and there is no line item for a big fat dinner that was certain to cost $300. Aftearll, it’s not like it was a special occasion. Except it was.
My buddy Rita had it in her mind to dine with reckless abandon, fill an evening of grown-up talk and beautiful people. She wanted to taste food that inspired her and be surrounded by luxury and opulence — all of this a very far cry from our daily lives feeding our families nightly meals or grabbing a bite at our favorite taqueria. She wanted to taste something more than food. And so we did.
Our five-hour, 15-course meal started and ended with laughter and chatter and thinking ourselves pretty darn smug for being daring enough to be out celebrating just being alive. No birthday or anniversary, no wedding or retirement. This was a special occasion alright: the occasion was nothing. Nothing but a full moon and a beautifully warm night, a dear friend and an extraordinary food journey.
Dinner at Manresa, April 26, 2013
Mini red pepper gelle with a black olive madeline
Strawberry gazpacho with Marcona almond
Micro herbs and chilled crab with peas and foam
Panacotta of yogurt, black olive, grapefruit, candied caper
Razor clams with the most amazing morel mushrooms I have ever eaten
Garden salad with flowers, herbs and spiced dirt
Warm grouper with fresh peas, beans
Black mole with calamari
Modesto olive oil and California butter with four breads
Sweet duck in something I can’t recall
Mandarin goat’s milk ice
River rock lemon sorbet
Coco nib truffle rum balls
Strawberry gelle and chocolate madeline
Chocolate brioche to-go for breakfast
On Christmas Day, one of my dear friends gave his (skinny witch) wife a trip to Disneyland for the first time with their daughter. She cried; heck, I cried. It was strangely romantic and sweet. Immediately we went into planning mode — where to stay, what to do that’s perfect for a 3 1/2 year-old girlie girl, what time of year to go and, like all California mommies do, plan on how to conquer Disneyland without gaining an ounce. As you all know by now, food is my obsession.
Here’s our quick list of food friendly sneaks, snacks and killer meals at Disneyland for those of us who count every bite. Oh, and a hint: for fun, bring a pedometer — we averaged walking about four miles, and about 1800 calories per day.
1. Fresh food carts are your go-to. On Main Street, and in the back of the park near Dumbo, you’ll find a fresh fruit and veggie cart. Kids are so overwhelmed when they first arrive, it’s great to hit-up this cart on Main Street. Get a pineapple spear, some watermelon or fresh mango and sit on the curb to take in your first minutes. Another tip: don’t stock up on the fruits and veggies here. Instead use it as a resting opportunity. See a fresh fruit cart? Grab an apple and rest your legs. It’s a great way to keep on top of low blood sugar too…
2. Bengal Barbecue. Right outside of the Indiana Jones ride is the Bengal Barbecue. They’ve got three or four different types of skewers (chicken, beef, shrimp, veggie). This is an awesome heavier snack/late lunch. Just the protein, low fat and food that is made for being on-the-go or on in line. Pass on the pretzels, chips, etc. and just get the skewer. Save the calories for something more fun.
3. World of Color picnic. You have to think ahead for this one, but you’ll be glad you did. The picnic comes when you reserve seats for World of Color (a really good idea with small kids). Munch on your picnic while overlooking all of California Adventure. There are two great options: the European and the Vegetarian. The meals are smallish, but that’s fine, since there are always opportunities to stop and snack on something fun elsewhere.
4. Sweets are a must. I grew up on Disneyland food, and the Carnation ice cream parlor was one of my favorite memories. But my metabolism is not 10-years-old anymore. I always pass the ice cream carts and head to Toon Town where I go to Clarabelle’s frozen yogurt shop. It’s in the little food court toward the back and it’s worth the trek to the back of the park. 20+ fat grams saved — voila.
5. Breakfast is hard at Disneyland. You might have early entry or have a character breakfast booked. Hear the phrase “Character Breakfast’ and know it’s going to be hard to get a super healthy meal, and even harder to pass up Mickey pancakes. Do ones of these three solid options instead (a) Call Hearthstone restaurant at the Grand Californian and have them pack you a breakfast on the run, or stop in there early for an egg white omelete. (b) Go to LaBrea Bakery at the entrance to the parks. Get a coffee and a yogurt parfait. (c) If you’re going into California Adventure early in the morning, go to Schmoozies, a smoothie bar. They’ve got good selections and it’s a better use of time if you’re racing to get things done before the general public arrives.
6. Refuel at the hearth in the Grand Californian. We found this haven when the kids were about 2-years-old and we still do it every time we go to Disneyland. Go into the lobby of the Grand, park your stroller or your kids next to the giant hearth and tell the kids it’s quiet time. Order a glass of wine from the lovely lobby bar and ask to see the bar menu.
7. Slow down before going to the fireworks. At some point you’re going to crack and need to have a meal that is not on the side of the curb on Main Street and you’ll crave a napkin on your lap. When you do, the Napa Rose is where you’ll find your healthy peace. This is the best find for grownups at Disneyland, bar none. The menu changes seasonally, the service is rad and they are shockingly tolerant with kidlets considering the high quality environment.
Now all good trips to Disneyland have to come with a splurge. I used my big calorie ticket on the pineapple slushie outside of the Tiki Room, the carnitas burrito at Tortilla Joe’s taqueria in Downtown Disney and on the last day, a piece of fudge on Main Street. It is Disneyland, afterall.Read More
It’s quite possible that I could be disowned for this one, but my grandmother has long passed and I’m just daring enough to give you the best holiday gift I have can offer: my fudge recipe. My only tip: timing is everything Oh, and one more: don’t forget to lick the bowl. Here you go, the one and only non-hand printed version of our family’s favorite:
Garza Girl’s Fudge
4 1/2 cups white sugar
1 can evaporated milk
36 ounces semi-sweet chocolate, chopped rough fine
1/2 # unsalted butter, cut in chunks
10 ounces good quality marshmallows
2 Tablespoons vanilla
2 cups rough chop walnuts
Bring sugar and milk to a soft ball stage (don’t mess with it while it’s working its magic). Remove from heat. Add butter, chocolate and marshmallows and rapidly incorporate fully. Add walnuts and finish with vanilla. Place in baking sheet and cool at room temperature until set (about two hours). Cut fudge into one-inch squares.
I’m a family girl. For all the good and bad of it, that’s who I am in a nutshell. This means that every tradition, every person, every meal prepared has meaning to me. I crave Irish Nachos from Rosie McCann’s pub on May 6 each year to celebrate a romantic meal La Gringa and I had years and years ago. I play Barbara Streisand’s Christmas album all the way through because it reminds me of my parents dancing in the livingroom when I was a child spying on them playing Santa. I make tamales around this time of year too because it reminds me of my cousins and grandmother and her tiny kitchen with the vinyl seats and fake wood. I love tradition, and, until one fated night in Rome ten years ago, I still do.
I was traveling in an Eastern direction around the world in 2010, hitting nearly 30 countries and loving every single minute of my travel. My mom met me in Rome for a magical week in early October. It was set to be the last time I’d see her before Christmas eve. We decided to have Thanksgiving in Rome at a beautiful restaurant on the Vio Veneto called Cafe Veneto, an Argentinian restaurant at the Spanish Steps. The night was something I could never write about, filled with symbolism, music, food and love. It was Thanksgiving. That night, we bought the plate we’d eaten from and brought it home. To this day, I use the plate. That darn plate is one of my greatest family treasures.
I spent that year away from my family for the first time on Thanksgiving. I was 29. That’s a lot of years of Turkey with the same turkeys. Since Thanksgiving in Rome, I’ve let go of my turkey day traditions and opted for a new tradition: No Tradition! Each year, we pick something different to do. Last year it was LegoLand with our dear friends and tacos at the border on Thanksgiving, the year before we joined both of our families together for an eclectic celebration and the year before that we had 50 people to dinner complete with a serious game of flag football. Next year? Who knows! The tradition began in Italy and stays with me today — Thanksgiving is about a feeling, more than a series of rituals. Come over any night, you’ll find chatting, laughing and likely eating from The Plate in our daily thanksgiving.Read More
Roasted Butternut Squash and Red Pepper Soup
1 large butternut squash
3 red bell peppers
1 yellow onion
2 cloves garlic
1/2 c. orange juice
4 cups vegetable or chicken stock
1/2 c. white wine
2 T. olive oil
1/2 c. fresh basil, chopped
salt and pepper to taste
Roasting the squash and red peppers is the key to the entire recipe — the yummy roasting flavor rocks. Cut and salt a whole butternut squash, put skin-up in a shallow baking pan with about an inch of water. Roast in 350 degree oven for about an hour. Slice red peppers lengthwise and roast directly on fire until blackened. Remove red peppers and place in bowl, cover with plastic wrap and let steam for 20-30 minutes. When cool, remove skin and puree peppers in blender with orange juice and its zest.
While squash is cooking, saute onion and garlic in olive oil until translucent. Add white wine and scrape sides of pan. Add red peppers, salt and pepper. When squash is ready, peel squash and puree in blender or Cuisinart. Slowly add stock and pepper/onion mixture. Strain into stockpot. Cook on low heat and season to taste.
Serve and season with chopped fresh basil and lowfat sour cream.Read More