Road Foodie

Some people drive simply to arrive.

Driving Over Lemons

Posted By on January 1, 2009

An old friend should be shared with old friends.

An old friend should be shared with old friends.

12.31. Scottsdale to L.A.: 423 miles. Two states: Arizona and Home.

The Mojave desert is long, wide, spare—just like I remember it from the first time I drove home to LA from Sedona, the summer after graduating from high school at Verde Valley. It doesn’t change much. But I have.Although I love the drive, I am ready for it to be over now. Listening to William Boyd’s Restless keeps us focussed, and soon enough we are passing the windmills opposite Palm Springs in the Coachella Valley, and pulling into the Cabazon outlets (just for a quick reccy, you know). There are plenty of shoppers. I have received three phone calls from tonight’s host, calling from the Bristol Farms in the valley for clarification of certain items on the shopping list. “They don’t have any coppa, and what is it, anyway?” (Just get some prosciutto.)
Later: “They don’t have dried borlotti beans, what should I get.” (It’s too late to soak and cook, so get some good canned cannelinni beans.)
And again: “Are sixteen quail enough for seven people?” (Yes, and wow, the group is nice and manageable, great.)

Driving past windmills (this was closely followed by driving over lemons).

Driving past windmills (this was closely followed by driving over lemons).

We’re sailing away right on schedule and everyone is starting to get excited about finally getting out of the car: playing with Joey the Golden Retriever (Stella), popping a bottle of Veuve Cliquot (C), and doing some laundry (moi—I know, boring. But these are the grubby realities of life on the road), when we roll to a stop just west of Beaumont. And stay there, stopped, for 45 minutes. A huge truck carrying more lemons than any Greek chef could get through in a year (he’d passed us a few minutes earlier), had overturned. When, eventually and crankily, we get moving again, we must drive over crushed lemons. So terribly sad and wasteful. We see the two drivers sitting, very deflated, on the railing, while emergency vehicle scoop up lemon slush. There’s a twenty-year supply of vitamin C on the roadway (not to mention the ingredients for a million Sidecars).
It’s dark and foggy, so we can’t see the ocean when the I-10 spits us out of the tunnel onto PCH, but we beep at it anyway. Instead of the predicted 3pm, we roll into the ‘bu at 6m. Three thousand two hundred and forty eight miles. Piece of cake.
My great girlfriend Andrea is shucking oysters and has the entire menu well in hand, having prepped the chive sauce and done the mise-en-place for the Batali beans that will serve as a bed for the spineless little quail. I don’t even have to think about how to efficiently open-roast so many quail, because Dutch has the Tuscan grill all oiled up and positioned in front of the roaring fire. All that’s left for me to do is sliver the perfect, jewel-like Ahi and make up some of my much-published but still mysteriously tasty sesame-ginger-honey sauce.This will be drizzled over the tuna when it hits the buffet. I snip a few chives and sip from a Reidel stem. Life is good.
There is a little bit of consternation over the oyster-shucking project, as usual. Andrea is a pro, but there is only one oyster knife and she has other things to do. So C and Carl step in. Both end up wounded, and there is a flurry of Bandaid-finding and employing before we decide to (Eureka!) grill most of the oysters over the fire. Helloooo? They pop open obligingly, and are dunked in mignonette and slurped as fast as they come off the grill. (Don’t tell: I actually prefer the barely firm texture of a grilled oyster, especially these honkin’-big Pacific puppies).
Fire and wine in the 'bu. A fine welcome.

Fire and wine in the 'bu. A fine welcome.

The dinner proceeds at a relaxed pace, my favorite. The quail are smoky and crisp, and at one point the long table is uncharacteristically silent because everyone is studiously engaged in gnawing and sucking at the little legs.

Then, things get noisy. Andrea, who grew up in Vienna, teaches me to waltz the right way—gazing into your partners eyes and smiling idiotically as you dip and twirl to Blue Danube. C teaches Carmela to tango. He’s a pro, and it is her first lesson. Within ten minutes she’s better than I am after five years. (However, I maintain that partners should not try to teach one another anything. My first husband, who played at junior Wimbledon in his callow youth, once yelled at me during a tennis lesson that I had “No Ball Sense!!“) The lovely, Peruvian Carmela is clearly a tango-er manque, and she’s so excited that I’ll bet she keeps it up and gets really good. There are Armagnac and petits fours for dessert, but soon after the ball drops again for Pacific-time midnight (all of us having commented, the first time, on the odd, bulbous red nature of Bill Clinton’s nose), I am danced out, driven out, cooked out, and dined out. In fact, I am in bed.

We have arrived.


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