A Weekend of Food, Frost and Forest

Sorry I’ve been out of touch for a few days. Since I appreciate the time people take to leave a comment, I like to respond to them promptly, but we were out of town for the weekend. I mean, 45 minutes away from the nearest town. Marc’s mom got together with a group of ladies who are all attending an essential oils certification training. This weekend was an opportunity for them to focus on studying and supporting each other in their work. When they met last spring, too much time was spent preparing food and they didn’t eat until very late.

Shambala Ranch

Shambhala Ranch House and pond

So…this is where Marc and I come in. We agreed to prepare all the meals of the weekend so they could concentrate on their studies. One of the women in the group owns a 140 acre retreat center (including redwood forest) with a pond, large main house run on solar power, a flock of wild turkeys and several sites sacred to a Pomo tribe that used to live on the land.

Cooking for the group was really hard work and very long days, but everyone was pleased with the meals and definitely didn’t leave hungry. We made Carrot Leek and Thyme Soup with fresh Garlic Bread, Scrambled Eggs with farmers market veggies, Vegetarian Chili with homemade biscuits and Apple Crisp, and Mushroom Tomato Spaghetti with Roasted Cauliflower and Garlic on the side. Marc and I work really well together and are quite organized before during and after cooking, but I swear it was sheer grace that saved a few of the meals over the weekend.

Cooking with unfamiliar equipment is always a challenge, but we were very lucky with the oven and literally got the biscuits and garlic bread out at the exact right moment. A minute later on both occasions, and we would have had burnt disappointing bricks. Instead they were delicious and moist. We also had the exact number of plastic and glass containers we needed to store food in. The final meal of the weekend was a “culinary review” so we didn’t waste any food. What little was left has fueled us so far this week, since we aren’t exactly inspired to cook after all that. We had to work too quickly, otherwise I would have gotten fabulous pictures of the tasty dishes we made.

I had carefully planned out the meals, made separate detailed grocery lists for the farmers market, Trader Joe’s and our fabulous new gourmet market down the road (Oliver’s). Then the day before we left, I made salad dressing, the crisp topping for the apple dessert, the garlic/parmesan/butter mixture for the garlic bread, and measured and sifted the dry team for the biscuits. Before we even got up there, I had spent close to 9 hours preparing.

It was really winter there 45-50 degree days and dipping down to 27 degrees overnight. As the sun got higher in the sky, the hills all around steamed as the frost melted and evaporated. Exquisitely beautiful setting, but I was happy to look out the window and stay indoors with a hot cup of tea.

Morning Frost

Frosty proof of just how cold it can get in sunny California.

The real triumph of the weekend, was a last minute cake we threw together. The owner of the property came in on Saturday night saying that it was one of the women’s birthdays on Sunday and asked if we could do something special. Since we didn’t have much money to work with, I hadn’t brought any extra food to play with. She said she had a box of vanilla cake mix from Trader Joe’s and some extra eggs.

We were happy to make it, but what is a cake without some sweet confection to frost or glaze it? We had no cream cheese, no whipped cream, only 4 extra eggs, 2 extra sticks of butter, and no powdered sugar. Hmmmmmm….We were already in our jammies and in bed (yes it was only 9pm, but we were exhausted) when Marc had a brilliant idea. What if we made lemon curd with the Meyer lemons one of the retreaters had brought from her tree? Yay! Since I had just made the recipe last week, I remembered the proportions and we could double it using literally every last bit of eggs and butter.

So, in our socks and PJs we went back into the kitchen and made a big batch of the creamy, sweet, frosting stand-in. Making the lemon curd, and mixing, baking, and assembling the cake without giving away the secret, or letting the audaciously cunning ants have their way with it, was quite demanding. We persevered though, and the birthday girl was surprised, and thrilled that we made lemon curd (serendipitously, one her favorite foods). The cake and curd were delicious and I was quite pleased that we had pulled it off without advanced notice. If we had had heavy cream, we would have whipped and folded it into the lemon curd for the frosting. We might try that sometime in the future.

Lemon Curd Cake

Marc did his best frosting that sucker, but the lemon curd wasn’t very cooperative. Sure was tasty though!

Another delightful highlight of the weekend was our foray out into the redwood forest. There were literally dozens of varieties of wild mushrooms growing everywhere. It was a refreshing treat to get outside and make new discoveries every few feet. I’ve never seen such an array of different colorful mushrooms. We brought back a few particularly interesting specimens to investigate in a guidebook of fungi. There was one that looked like orange coral, a scary black cloud-looking one (that turned out to be the only variety the book indicated was edible), and my favorite…a huge ruffly cake-plate that Marc is holding here. I didn’t get all their names, but we also saw a few giant puff ball mushrooms that were whole, and one that had burst open. They were so cool and didn’t look like any mushroom I’d ever seen.

Ruffly Mushroom and Puffball

Isn’t the ruffly one in Marc’s hand beautiful? The two on the bottom are the whole and exploded puffballs. The hand in the picture is holding the coral variety and the foreboding, though supposedly edible black one.

Tiny Orange Mushroom

Cute little orange mushroom next to my finger. Fun, huh?

All in all, it was a good learning experience and they raved about the food which is especially great since none of them were vegetarian. They even gave us a Mendocino Food and Wine cookbook that they all lovingly signed, in appreciation.

4 thoughts on “A Weekend of Food, Frost and Forest”

  1. Whoa. Genius 🙂 I’m glad it worked out too. I was going to say you could get away with making a buttercream from sugar syrup but since lemon is one of her favorite flavors, it’s a moot point, ha ha 🙂 Nine hours preparing! That is some commitment. At least you and Marc (sort of) got a little vacation out of it, heh 🙂

  2. Bri, I was wondering if the study group is closed, since I’d like to be a part of it – during the time you and Marc are cooking for them, of course. 😉

    What a beautiful place! Such delicious food!

  3. Manggy – Thanks! I didn’t know you could make buttercream from sugar syrup. I may have to try that. Sometimes I find buttercream to be a little too heavy for me. It was good to get away for a bit.

    Bee – Thanks so much! Please let me know what you think of the apple crisp. It’s fun to play with. I really like the cardamon in it, and I think it would be really tasty with some homemade saffron or cardamon kulfi. Yum!

    Patricia – Awww, you are too kind. We did our best, and I was pretty pleased with how it turned out. Thank you.

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