When I picked my husband up at the San Francisco International airport on Sunday, it was with great trepidation that I admitted an infidelity. 'I have something to tell you,' I said, 'I've been cheating on you — with California.' His knowing smile beamed as he adjusted his sunglasses and put down the window of our borrowed Volvo.
I took him straight to the Mission district, to our old favourite, La Taqueria, for the self-proclaimed "best burritos and tacos in the world." Full on beans, grilled steak, perfectly ripe mashed avocados and burning hot salsa, we hopped back in the car to head out to the country for the week. We needed to stock up on some supplies for a reunion supper, so we dropped into a market and loaded up on heirloom tomatoes in red, purple, yellow, green and orange; green and purple basil; cranberry beans, flamingo peppers, fresh baked breads; raspberries and the piece de résistance: peaches from Frog Hollow Farm.
I had come out here at the end of August for Slow Food Nation, a huge event set up in locations throughout San Francisco to celebrate small farms, to encourage cooking with family and friends, to join discussions and lectures on the state of food and farming in America and the world. I had the honour of participating in Alice Water's Green Kitchen at the event. She asked a few chefs and friends to give short demonstrations on simple ideas in the kitchen. You could see how Paul Bertolli slices an onion, Oliver Rowe (from London's Konstam) blanches chard or David Chang makes tofu from soy milk. I made one of my favourite recipes from my time working at Water's Chez Panisse. A peach and raspberry compote that is wonderful served with vanilla ice cream. Developed for the Australian Opera singer Nellie Melba, Peach Melba is the perfect late summer pudding.
At our reunion dinner, Damian shelled the beans for our tomato and bean salad while my brother got the grill ready for a small leg of lamb. Other friends cut the tomatoes up into wedges, picked basil, set the table, and washed lettuces. The lovely Angela Whitney arrived with a warm blackberry crisp made with the last berries of summer. Beautifully bubbly and golden, I ditched my peaches and raspberry dream. Actually it was perfect because they needed the extra day of ripening. Here is the Chez Panisse recipe for Peach Melba, which I made the next day.
5 medium firm ripe peaches
50g/1/4 cup sugar
vanilla ice cream
1 punnet / basket raspberries
2 tablespoons caster sugar
Chill some serving bowls.
Have ready a bowl of ice water. Bring a pot of water to the boil and drop the peaches in for a few moments. Lift them out with a slotted spoon and immerse in the ice water to stop the peaches from cooking. Slip off the skins your fingers or a paring knife and slice the peaches into a bowl. Cover with the sugar and toss. Chill until ready to serve.
Smash the raspberries and sugar together and let sit for half an hour. Strain the puree and discard the seeds. When ready to serve, scoop vanilla ice cream into chilled bowls and drizzle with a little puree. Spoon some sliced peaches and some of the syrupy juices over that and then drizzle a little more raspberry. Sprinkle a few raspberries on top and serve.