We Had It Coming and Going

California Bay Area Part 1—

With some of Russ’s family clear on the other side of the country, it’s not often that we get to visit. Sure, there’s always the phone and social media, but actually spending time with loved ones is much more special—well, in most cases 😉 We were recently afforded the opportunity to fly to the West Coast and spend some quality time with Russ’s sister Dee, her husband David, step-brother Ken and his wife Kim, and what a treat it was!

Dee and David picked us up at the Oakland airport, a mere 15-minute drive from their charming home on Alameda Island. Knowing we’d probably be a bit exhausted from the cross-country flight, with a stop-over in Phoenix, they graciously offered to cook us dinner. So after cocktail hour with an array of olives, cheese and cracker hors d’oeuvres, they prepared one of our all-time favorites—lamb!

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Bougainvillea surrounded both sides of their front porch.

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A panoramic view of the beach on the bay; you can see San Francisco in the distance to the left of the trees on the right.

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Unfamiliar with this gnarly old tree, there seemed to be a slew of them dotting the island. 

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The three amigos—I mean chefs—Russ, Dee and Dave pose for a pre-dinner photo.

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The lamb steaks get happy with a bit of olive oil and rosemary.

There was a twist however, these were lamb flank steaks, the likes of which we’d never seen, or consumed before. Beautiful lean morsels of meat, lightly seasoned with fresh rosemary that cooked in no time flat. And of course you can’t go to California without eating artichokes! Dave steamed two gorgeous globes with arching, deeply lobed, silvery, glaucous-green leaves, accompanied by a mayo-lemon-caper dipping sauce.

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A work of art, the steamed artichoke in all its glory.

Never ate one? Cook until tender, then pull off outer petals, one at a time. Dip white fleshy end in melted butter or sauce. Next, tightly grip the other end of the petal. Place in mouth, dip side down, and pull through teeth to remove the soft, pulpy, delicious portion of the petal. Discard remaining petal. Voila! (Cooking time depends on how large the artichoke is, the larger it is, the longer it takes to cook.)

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David poses with a colander full of baby eggplant near their side garden.

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Rounding out the feast was a tasty sauté of baby eggplants and red peppers accompanied by a flavored rice dish. Easy, simple, nutritious and delicious—no complaints from the East Coast contingent. Thanks Dee Dee and Dave for a yummy start to our vacation!

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A close up of a lemon tree growing along with a myriad of other veggies in their year-round backyard.

Over a week later, our last meal before we flew back East was also lamb. (Between those two meals we did a LOT of dining out—those blogs to come.) This final dinner was a group effort in tandem with Kim and Ken Cochrane, Russ’s brother and wife who live in San Rafael, Marin County.

It hadn’t been planned in advance because Ken wanted us to go on a shopping trip with him to nearby Costco’s and see what struck our fancy. Costco is my favorite of the big-box stores (recently getting a membership to the new one near my office) because their quality seems to be on a higher level than the unmentionable others.

And what struck our collective fancies? A beautiful leg of lamb of course! We selected a six-pounder and several bottles of wine and then hightailed it out of there to go to Mollie Stone’s for the rest of the purchases. WOW, what a store Mollie’s is—family owned, locally devoted—a true food lover’s experience.

Mollie’s first market was in Redwood City, California, and carried only natural and organic products. Decades later, their roots remain in healthy, natural and specialty foods, and their buyers work closely with local producers around the greater Bay Area showcasing high quality products in every aisle. Worth a trip to one if you ever get the chance…

Almost immediately upon walking in, we noticed a man filling up a jug from a fresh-squeezed orange juice machine, impressive! After weighing the pros and cons of who likes or can eat what, as far as vegetables, our selections narrowed down to gorgeous heirloom tomatoes and fresh basil for a caprese salad, and acorn squash for a roasted side dish I blogged about last January.

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The Cochrane’s didn’t have Sriracha or hot sauce, so we used the next best thing, a sweet chili sauce, which made the roasted squash less spicy—which for some was a better option.

Next dilemma, dessert. Ken ventured over to the bakery section and after contemplating the various dietary restraints, decided perhaps the way to go was fresh berries and some ice cream. So we picked up blueberries, raspberries and blackberries before venturing over to the ice cream aisle. Here the guys zeroed in on Talenti Gelato which is made with fresh milk straight from the farm, fine, pure cane sugar (not high-fructose corn syrup) and the finest ingredients sourced from all around the world. Our picks were the Venetian Vanilla and Black Raspberry Chocolate Chip—OMG, I can only say I hope that brand is available in our area!!

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In prepping the meat the night prior to our dinner, we had the opportunity to use our two new kitchen gadgets purchased earlier in the week from Sur La Table (a fabulous kitchen gadget store) in San Francisco while on a lunch outing to Hog Island Oyster Company. We took the ferry over from Alameda with Dave’s son Nate—and while Dave and Nate stood in line to be seated, an hour and twenty minutes mind you, Russ, Dee and I went shopping.

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Russ, Nate, Dee and Dave on the ferry ride over to San Francisco.

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On the way back from San Fran we passed a pirate ship.

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I’m thinking this new greens stripper is about to become my next best friend.

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This gizmo makes peeling garlic cloves a breeze!

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Caprese salad with heirloom tomatoes, fresh mozzarella, a basil chiffonade, all on a bed of greens from Dee’s garden, heaven!

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Russ spread a mixture of olive oil, dijon mustard, fresh rosemary, balsamic vinaigrette, soy sauce, minced garlic, salt and pepper all over the lamb, which then marinated in the frig overnight.

What’s a party without Dee and Dave? We hadn’t seen them in a few days, so they buzzed over to San Rafael from Alameda—anywhere from a 30- to 75-minute drive depending on Rt. 880 traffic. With wine in hand and the makings for another caprese salad (somehow our signals got crossed) we all set about toasting our last meal together before our departure the following morning.

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Kim was thrilled that there was leftover salad and meat so she could make a lunch for work the next day.

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Russ, Ken and Dave pose before the grilling gets underway.

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The sista-in-laws are true gal-pals.

To sum it up, we had lamb coming and going, and the review for both meals was two thumbs up! Time for the West Coasters to make a trip East…

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