Arriving home from the Ranch is a shock to the system. It might as well be on another planet, the atmosphere is so noticeably different from our daily world. We call the transition from ranch to real world “re-entry”.
For a week, you live in a sage, rosemary and jasmine-scented wonderland where the loudest sound is the crows calling out to each other across the valley. Food magically arrives in front of you; just picked fresh fruit and vegetables from the six-acre organic garden and fish that was swimming in the ocean just a few hours earlier – fully of healthy things and delicious. There’s not a car, television or iPhone in sight. Everyone is snug in their beds by 10 p.m. and up before 7. Days are spent between yoga, meditation and luxurious massages – in a haven where everything that happens is for your personal well-being.
I made the mistake of hosting a rollicking 4th of July party on Sunday, just one day after I arrived home. Although I told everyone to come at 4:00, my first guests arrived at noon. Here, in the real world, no one is concerned for my personal well-being. It was ten hours of sheer pandemonium – with kids playing hide-and-seek between house and yard, stereo and TV blaring and more carne asada than should be legal. I spent the entire day cooking, cleaning dishes, cleaning up after other people…and just generally “fetching things” for my guests. Everyone finally cleared out around 10 pm, leaving me with a sink full of dessert dishes, firework “butts” in the front yard and a house full of dirt, crumbs, spilled drinks and wet towels.
I capitalized on the 4th of July holiday to party-host and try out of few of my potential menu items on my family. My desired outcome was some honest, usable feedback that would guide me towards improving my recipes. My relations are people of opinions – strong opinions. Saturday, I came to understand that they are people of conflicting opinions. Nine conflicting opinions, to be exact.
We began the afternoon with my appetizers of eggplant and lamb meatballs in a garlic-walnut dipping sauce served with a few different flatbreads. My sister, S., thought the meatballs were a bit greasy and she has determined they would be better if baked. My sister-in-law’s brother-in-law (no joke) and my brother decided they needed more binder (egg or breadcrumb). S. said the binder was fine, but the dipping sauce was too garlicky (my brother, B., disagreed). I served three kinds of flatbread. Before the party, I had already settled on the Moroccan “pita-style” flatbread for my menu. Well, S. thought the traditional, cracker-style flatbread was better.
The main dish was Tamarind-glaze baby back ribs. Everyone (surprisingly) liked them and told me not to change a thing. Sister-in-law’s brother-in-law thought they would be undercooked (I baked them at 350 for 90 minutes), but had to take it back as they were perfect. The main course was “opinion intermission”.
I finished the evening with two desserts. The first was a pile of sticky honey-glazed yeast fritters dotted with crystallized ginger and golden raisins. S. didn’t think they sounded good when I described them to her, but changed her mind once she took a bite of their sticky and crunchy goodness, although, she kept trying to convince me to dust them with chopped walnuts. She also thought they needed to be smaller and encouraged more ginger. My brother, B., said they needed more raisins. I also served a tart with sucree crust, fig and sesame layer, topped with an orange-cardamom pastry cream, and finally decorated with Chantilly cream and sesame brittle. My sister is the pastry expert. She thought the crust was undercooked (I would agree) and we both agreed that the pastry cream was too “floury”. She also didn’t like the texture of the sesame brittle. My sister-in-law, T, loved the sesame brittle. My brother’s mother-in-law said “10” on both.