We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Saturday, June 14, 2014

Take Me To The Beach and Provençal Potato Salad

The Memory Keepers by Michelle

"The sea does not reward those who are too anxious, too greedy, or too impatient. To dig for treasures shows not only impatience and greed, but lack of faith. Patience, patience, patience, is what the sea teaches. Patience and faith. One should lie empty, open, choiceless as a beach—waiting for a gift from the sea.”  ~Anne Morrow Lindbergh

This photo is so very 1940s fabulous. Check out our Papa (in the back row) in his sexy Panama 
hat. President Theodore Roosevelt wore one on his visit to the Panama Canal in 1906 and 
made them famous. In the foreground is our great-grandfather Rhea Igo with our great-grandmother, Nanny Igo reclining behind him. My mother's cousin, Susie, is on his lap. 
Nanny Igo's sister, Maybelle, is behind her with her arm on her shoulder. Our mother, Dianne, 
is in the last row on the left, next to her brother Pat. On the other side of Papa is our grandmother's sister, Dodie, and husband, Cecil. Our Nana is sitting on the left in front of Papa in his Panama hat.
   It's that time of year again—the downhill slide into summer. Here in Arizona the thermometer is routinely registering in the triple digits. The barrage of heat will continue to flog we desert dwellers until late October. It seems as if, every year, just in time for Halloween, the heat will break and we finally get the relief we've been dreaming about since June. Once the heat kicks in with the onset of summer I automatically begin jonsing for a beach vacation. By pedigree, and in my heart, I am and will always be a California girl. Gaviota State Park was the closest beach to our house, about a 20 minute drive. As a family, we'd visit the pervasively windswept Surf and Jalama beaches. Once I was sixteen and driving, the state parks I'd visit most were Refugio or El Capitán, where I'd sport a bikini and flirt with surfers. Now, when I'm in the area, I love to walk the stretch of Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara and lunch at the Boathouse, which sits conveniently on the oceanfront.

This photo proves that even a windy, cold day at the beach, it is better than no beach day at all. 
We are at Surf beach in Lompoc, California circa 1968. No swimming is allowed at this 
part of the beach. There is very heavy surf (hence the name) and a very strong rip tide. Linda 
is in the foreground, with our mother Dianne on the left behind her. Michelle is in diapers 
and our grandmother, Nana is in front of the umbrella/wind screen (with her Yorkie named 
Dolly) and appears to have a fashionable 60s turban on her head that is protecting her "do". 
Our great-grandmother, Nanny Bandy is huddled next the her. Our grandfather, 
Papa, is doing something in the background involving a cup, and isn't bundled up like 
the rest of us. Maybe he is having a wee sip of Wild Turkey to try to stay warm.
From left to right: Juliette, Linda, Michelle and Maria
 at Jalama Beach in California; the year is 1969.
Michelle and Juliette at Surf Beach circa 1978.

   For all the years I have lived in Arizona, my husband and I have failed to provide my daughter the seemingly obligatory San Diego summer vacation experience, which includes touring the world famous zoo, watching a Padres game, wandering around Balboa Park and lounging at the beach, perhaps Mission or Coronado. Pretty much everyone I know in Tucson and Phoenix heads to San Diego annually for the requisite beach vacation. San Diegans disparagingly refer to Arizona visitors as "Zonies"—those annoying desert rats that invade San Diego during the summer months, whereby we temporarily inflate the population, clog the highways, send hotel rates soaring, and make it nearly impossible to secure a restaurant reservation in the Gaslamp Quarter.
   I will make note that Arizonan's experience this same migration phenomenon during the winter months when our state is infiltrated by gray-haired retirees, whom we contrarily call snowbirds. These part-time residents flee their homes in cold weather states during the snow-laden months to enjoy the optimal desert weather that we all count on between November and April. When I start adding up the costs of a summer beach vacation in Southern California, my mind wanders over to consider my Nana's mother, a woman that died before I was born. And even though I never met her, I actually think of Maude quite often because of the stories that have been passed on to me about her life.

"Nanny", our great-grandmother, owned a house on California's Balboa Peninsula, a few
steps away from the beach. Our mother clearly bears a strong resemblance to her grandmother.
   Our maternal great-grandmother, after she was widowed, pulled up stakes and moved from her beloved Redlands, where her daughters lived, to the beach. Nanny, as my Mother calls her, purchased a large two-story house on the Bay side of the Balboa Peninsula in Newport Beach, California. My mother fondly recalls that one of the bedrooms in the house was large enough to hold four double beds. Mom spent glorious summers at the beach, and since we all know that girls just want to have fun, she often invited friends to stay with her. The teenagers played at the beach and visited the Fun Zone, a small amusement park at the ferry terminal that featured a merry-go-round, Ferris Wheel, fun shops and eateries. In those days, the drive from Redlands to Balboa took about 90 minutes. About the half way mark, they'd stop for double-decker hamburgers and hand-dipped milkshakes served in frosty metal cups at the famous Bob's Big Boy. Later, our newlywed parents, who were long on love and short on money, spent their honeymoon at Nanny's house.

Linda's twin boys Jordan and Joshua.
Papa, Linda and Nana look forward to the day ahead at the beach at Laguna circa 1985.
Jordan and Joshua at the beach. Photo by Ron Levy.
Our Nana Maxine and Jordan and Joshua at Laguna Beach circa 1981. 
A little girl named Amy decided to hang out with us for the day.
   Every summer I partake in a fantasy that our family held on to the house instead of selling it in the late 1950s. I entertain this daydream because I have a friend whose family kept "Grandma's house"— an enviable getaway destination in the Diamond Point area of North Lake Tahoe. The two story house sits directly across from the lake. The family and visitors enjoy an unencumbered view of the pristine blue water and surrounding pines. If the view wasn't enough, the cherry on top was the very short walk to the private beach area. In the summer we'd enjoy cocktails on the second story wooden balcony and in the winter we'd light a fire in the living room's fireplace and watch through the floor to ceiling windows to see how high the snow pack would rise on the balcony's flat ledge. On the 4th of July we'd put on our bathing suits and splash in the lake's frigid water and at night, we'd sit on the neighborhood's pier, bundled up in long pants and hoodies to watch a patriotic firework display.

Hendry's Beach in Santa Barbara, California in 2009.
Our family spent an afternoon at the beach in contemplation during
the days leading up to Josh's funeral
   Even though San Diego is ridiculously expensive during the month of July, it is the ideal time for our family to visit due to our collective work and school commitments. Unfortunately I have champagne taste on a beer budget, so the thought of staying out in the burbs and commuting to downtown puts a frown on my face. What also made my smile go upside down is that I am 3,000 points shy of a two-night free stay at the posh Manchester Grand Hyatt San Diego. In an effort to glean tips from like-minded California dreamin' vacationers, I hit the message boards to uncover alternate ideas from the coupon clipping set. One of the posters suggested avoiding crowded San Diego all together in favor of vacationing further north, in the Central Coast area of Pismo Beach in San Luis Obispo County, near where I grew up. Also, in the same general area is Morro Bay, which Linda wrote about last year.
   We did that very thing back in 2003, when Linda, Maddie and I stayed in Cayucos, a small little beach town about 30 minutes north of Pismo Beach and 20 minutes south of Cambria—a picture perfect seaside village. Our family friend, Richard lived in an apartment overlooking the ocean, and was situated a couple of blocks from the beach. Like our ancestors, Linda and I bundled ourselves up in hats and sweaters, and fortified ourselves with red wine, while Maddie ran around the beach in a bathing suit building sandcastles with Richard.

Linda and her son, Joshua at Cayucos… the last time they would be together in this life.
Linda dressed up at the beach (left) and what she normally looks like during an outing.
Maddie, Michelle and Linda—from left to right—at Cayucos beach in 2003. Linda thinks
she looks like President Franklin Roosevelt in the top photo (Maddie agrees). Family friend, Richard, plays with Maddie while Michelle and Linda try to sip some wine. It was so windy that sand kept blowing into our glasses. We eventually gave up and went back to Richard's beach apartment 

to eat our picnic.
   One leisurely afternoon, while Maddie napped, we lounged on the couch watching an episode of Ina Garten's The Barefoot Contessa on the Food Network. Linda and I became instantly inspired to make the exact same meal for dinner that night. Off we charged to the market to purchase everything needed to make seared Ahi with Provençal Potato Salad for dinner and Vanilla Armagnac Ice Cream Sandwiches for dessert. Linda and I busied ourselves in the kitchen working seamlessly together like we always do. Dinner was marvelous. We were all satiated and happy until we made the critical error of eating dessert. The ultra rich ice cream along with the cookies sat uncomfortably in our stomachs, defiantly wrestling against the digestion process. As my husband likes to say, "If you want to ruin a good meal, just have dessert." We should have followed his advice, even though we would want to scramble over the table Julia Roberts-style (in the film August: Osage County) when he says it. Every once in awhile you'll hear Linda or me sarcastically ask, "WWJD (what would Jay do)?" and we'll reluctantly choose to pass on dessert. Enough time has passed that Linda and I can now laugh about the horrible indigestion experience. We have never made those ice cream sandwiches again, although Provençal Potato Salad made the grade and is in steady recipe rotation during the summer months.

Goat Rock Beach in Sonoma County, California. 
   In the last few years, I obtain my beach fix by visiting Linda. She lives close to the world famous Highway 1, and there are a myriad of walking beaches located up and down the coast. I'm happy to sink my toes into the sand, hear the shrill cries of swooping seagulls and watch the white-capped and gray-green waves crash on the shore. Maddie and I usually fly to Linda's a couple of days after school lets out for the summer, but alas it was not to be so for this year.  

   Our sister, Juliette made the trip with me for our "Sistercation" in October of 2012. I love the photos of us cavorting on the beach—just happy to be together. Perhaps if you are raised near the ocean, you always long for the ocean. Juliette was telling me recently that she needs to get herself to the beach. She has plans to visit Puerto Peñasco, also known as Rocky Point, in Sonora, Mexico this summer. It seems that we'll all be headed in different directions this year, but one way or another, we'll all find our way to the sandy shore, with the ocean breeze swirling our hair, and salt water rushing to touch our toes. We'll be grateful for our limited time spent at the beach, even if we cannot be together this year.

If you are among those who are freaked out by feet—don't look!

Provençal Potato Salad

   This delicious potato salad is from Ina Garten who took the publishing world by storm in 1999 with the best selling The Barefoot Contessa Cookbook. I have opened this cookbook so many times, the pretty paper cover featuring this potato salad finally crumbled and had to be thrown away. The devotees of Ina's famous specialty food store located in the Hamptons, begged her to document and share the secrets of her successful dishes. Ina's cookbook, along with a cooking show on The Food Network by the same name, and her accessible entertaining style made her a cooking star. The perky Queen of make-ahead entertaining, Ina has continued to share her cooking and catering wisdom by publishing an additional 8 books, with the latest offering slated for release October 2014. Ina's recipes are an indispensable part of my collection and my cooking is the better for it.
   For the sake of simplicity, you'll be happy to know that this potato salad is a winner when made with just the herbs and scallions. The flavors meld perfectly when served at room temperature. If you have the time and the desire, push the flavor profile to the maximum by adding the Provençal-style ingredients. I have nothing against adding canned albacore as the recipe calls for, but when I can afford it, I splurge on fresh sushi-grade ahi and sear the steaks on the grill to serve alongside the room-temperature salad. For me, the meal is heightened when I pour a glass of chilled dry sauvignon blanc, unoaked chardonnay or a Viognier from Porter Creek Vineyard. I score bonus points from my family and friends when I slice and serve my sister Juliette's Wild Yeast Sourdough Bread freshly warmed from the oven. Bon appétit. Serves 8 to 10.

4 pounds small (and uniformly sized) red or white boiling potatoes
1/4 cup good dry white wine
1/4 cup chicken stock

1/4 cup champagne vinegar
1 tsp Dijon mustard
3/4 tsp kosher salt
1/4 tsp freshly ground black pepper
3/4 cup good olive oil

French Salad:
1/4 cup minced scallions (white and green parts)
2 Tbsps minced fresh dill
2 Tbsps minced flat-leaf parsley
1 Tbsps fresh crumbled thyme
2 Tbsps chiffonade of fresh basil leaves, optional
1-1/2 tsps kosher salt
1/2 tsp freshly ground black pepper

Provençal Add-ins:
1/2 pound haricots verts (thin green beans), stems removed
1 6-ounch can Italian tuna, drained and flaked
1/2 cup capers, drained
1 cup halved cherry tomatoes
1 small red onion, finely diced
1/2 cup good black olives, pitted
6  hard cooked eggs, peeled and quartered
6 anchovy fillets (optional)

1. Scrub the potatoes to remove any excess dirt. Drop the potatoes into a large pot of boiling salted water and cook for 20 to 30 minutes, until the potatoes are just cooked through. Drain in a colander and place a towel over the potatoes to allow them to steam for 10 more minutes. As soon as you can handle them, cut in half (or in quarters if the potatoes are larger) and place in a medium bowl. Toss gently with the white wine and chicken stock. Allow the liquids to soak into the warm potatoes before proceeding.
2. Combine the vinegar, mustard, 1/2 tsp salt and 1/4 tsp pepper and slowly whisk in the olive oil to make an emulsion. Add the vinaigrette to the potatoes. Add the scallions, dill, parsley, thyme and basil, salt and pepper and toss. Serve warm or at room temperature for optimal flavor and texture.

Michelle's refrigerator is jammed packed with good eats.

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