The fear of death follows from the fear of life.  A man who lives fully is prepared to die at anytime.
~Mark Twain

Just seems there should be little demand to visit venues in Santa Barbara or even Southern Cal, as a whole, where the in crowds frequent. You know, where people say “like” repetitively and thoughtlessly as if the word is a linguistic filler.

So many glorious campsites with scenery that is flat breathtaking, serenely overlooking the Big Blue where the plethora of marine mammals exist — pastoral stuff. There is a campus of radiantly hued tents, and above that are the parked RV’s usually hooked to electricity inlets/outlets (none of which can be seen from the cloth huts).

Almost each foggy or overcast morning, before she departed to the “glamping” joint across the way, we crawled out of our tent and after morning ablutions, promptly began the fire and heating the tortillas so the meal completo could be packed inside. Donned in aprons (I likely looked absurd) we grilled each tortilla feast on state-provided, round, grated, dug-in, barbeque pits after just barely scrambling the eggs and cooking the meat aside ever so assiduously on a pan. Rosemary sprigs from nearby plants were plucked and dropped into the fire when ready. Then, there were exquisite avocados plucked by friends from close sprawling ranches and, of course, tomatillo sauce, salsa verde, salsa rojo, queso fresco, crema, cilantro, radishes and rekindling the goods...with several cups of joe. Our grub for the day.

The skies cleared, it warmed as the sun shone through in mid-morning just slightly toasting the eucalypti leaves so their scents diffused, then she disappeared for work, and I tried to heal thyself (often by watching dolphins graze).

This post may prove trivial to some, but it was the boon of our existence every morning.

EGGS, BACON & AVOCADO TORTILLAS

3-4 T unsalted butter
3 T cream cheese
6 fresh, local, free range eggs
1 T whipping cream or creme fraiche
1/8 T sea salt
1/4 T freshly ground pepper

Small pinch of cayenne pepper
Small amount of herbes de provence and/or thyme

Melt the butter and cream cheese in a heavy nonstick skillet or a iron cast pan. Combine the eggs, salt, pepper, cayenne pepper, white pepper, herbes de provence and/or thyme and a dollop of cream or creme fraiche in a glass bowl and whisk briskly.

Pour egg mixture into the skillet, with the heat on medium low. With a flat, wooden spatula, gently stir the eggs, lifting it up and over from the bottom as they thicken. Stir away from the sides and bottom of the pan toward the middle. Continue to stir until the desired texture (a mass of soft curds) is achieved. They thicken, dry out and toughen very quickly toward the end, so if you like them soft, fluffy and moist, remove them from the heat a little before they reach the desired texture — the eggs will continue to cook after being removed from the heat.

(As an alternative, try fried eggs covered in the skillet top cooked in a smearing of olive oil with salt and pepper only).

Gently cooked guanciale, pancetta, bacon, serrano or proscuitto

Avocado slices, alluringly fresh

Salsa verde and/or salsa rojo
Queso fresco and/or fine goat cheese
Crema

Radishes, sliced
Cilantro leaves, chopped

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Oath (ōth) n., 1. a solemn usually formal calling upon God or a god to witness to the truth of what one says or to witness that one sincerely intends to do what one says. 2. a solemn attestation of the truth or inviolability of one’s words.

I am slightly breaking my silence about the reckless Republican debt ceiling crusaders performing their Barnum & Bailey act in DC’s big tent recently. Unlike a circus though, it is not really amusing to see a party wantonly intent on bureaucratic paralysis and fiscal carnage for some warped “cause” urged by rogue ideologues.

So, the mantic vows these people offered to different daddies seemed worthy of a look-see.

All members of Congress took a solemn oath to the people of this country:

I do solemnly swear or affirm that I will support and defend the Constitution of the United States against all enemies, foreign and domestic; that I will bear true faith and allegiance to the same; that I take this obligation freely, without any mental reservation or purpose of evasion; and that I will well and faithfully discharge the duties of the office on which I am about to enter. So help me God.

But, many of the very same members of Congress also signed an oath to a select few:

I pledge to the taxpayers of the district or state and to the American people that I will: ONE, oppose any and all efforts to increase the marginal income tax rates for individuals and/or business; and TWO, oppose any reduction or elimination of deductions and credits, unless matched dollar for dollar by further reducing tax rates.

Those members of Congress that inked this other oath pledged that under no circumstance—not war, nor government debt default, nor infrastructure failure nor any national calamity—will they tolerate any increase in government tax revenues. Regardless of what happens, these members swore to resolutely oppose any tax increase, even for the wealthy, and that tax loopholes and business subsidies must remain immutably fixed without a tax rate reduction of similar size.

“So help me God,” huh? Seems more mephistophelean. Almost every House Republican and most Republican Senators made a pledge to another master that actually nullifies part of their oaths of office. Despite their solemn oath to the citizenry, their blind allegiance lies with some private concern most voters did not even realize existed. When these same politicians officially swore to their country to “bear true faith and allegiance” to their country and the Constitution “freely” and “without any mental reservation,” they were prevaricating.

Oaths are not subject to venial side deals, and swearing to uphold both covenants is both duplicit and complicit. Pledging away an oath is forked tongue stuff. Almost like taking an oath “to tell the truth, the whole truth and nothing but the truth; so help me God” with a parenthetical ending that whispers “well, just sometimes, when it suits me.”

Meanwhile, on to more eternal, and less childish, thoughts. My youngest is drifting about Santa Barbara this week…lucky soul. Today, he revelled in the awe inspiring marine mammal life in the Channel, replete with big blues, breaching humpbacks, cavorting dolphins and sea lions. Others lurked unseen below the surface, including halibut which reigns with local fishermen. It seemed an apt vicarious pick.

The California halibut is a species native to the Pacific coast, from Washington to the Baja, and is much smaller than its more northern cousin. They have small scales that are embedded in their skin, with both eyes located on one side of the head. They start life with an eye on each side, but very soon the left eye migrates to the right. The darker top side is olive green to dark brown, while the underside is white which is an adaptation to conceal the fish from predators.

Quenelles have become associated more with a shape, not so much an ingredient. These delicate dumplings are formed into ovals similar to eggs with spoons using ice creams, sorbets, rice, potatoes, cheeses, vegetables, poultry, fish and meats.

HALIBUT QUENELLES WITH SAFFRON AND FENNEL BEURRE BLANC

Pâte à choux
1/2 C water
4 T cold unsalted butter, cut into small pieces
Pinch of sea salt
3/4 C all purpose flour
3 large eggs, room temperature

In a medium heavy saucepan, combine the water, butter and salt and heat over medium high heat. Whisk occasionally, then once the mixture boils immediately remove from heat. Add the flour and stir vigorously with a wooden spoon until a smooth dough forms and the mixture comes away from the sides of the saucepan; return to low heat and continue beating until it dries out and pulls away from the pan, about 1-2 minutes.

Scrape the dough into a bowl of a standing electric mixer fitted with a flat paddle. Beat the eggs into the dough, one at a time, beating thoroughly between each one. It is important to make sure that each egg is incorporated into the batter before adding the next. The dough should be well aerated and ultimately have the consistency of very thick mayonnaise. Make sure the pâte à choux is well chilled before you combine with the fish.

Quenelles
1 1/4 lb skinless, boneless halibut filets, cut into 1″ pieces and chilled
3/4-1 C heavy whipping cream
Sea salt and freshly ground pepper
Grating of fresh nutmeg

Put the fish, pâte à choux, salt, pepper, nutmeg and some of the cream into a chilled food processor bowl fitted with a cold steel blade and blend until smooth. Process by pulses, scraping the sides with a spatula. If the mixture seems stiff, add more cream in small doses until the mixture holds it shape well like a mousse. It should be able to shape well in a large spoon.

Bring salted water in a deep heavy skillet to a slow simmer. Never allow the water to move beyond a bare simmer as you cook.

With a large (2 T) wet spoon, dip out a rounded mass of the cold quenelle paste. Smooth the top of the paste with the bowl of an inverted second large wet spoon. Then slip the second spoon under the quenelle to loosen it and drop it into the simmering liquid. Repeat with the rest of the paste. The idea is to shape the mousse into ovoids and gently place in the simmering water. Dip the tablespoons into cold water after shaping each quenelle. Poach them uncovered for 15-20 minutes. When done, they should have almost doubled in size and should be able to roll over easily in the water. Remove with a slotted spoon and drain on towels.

Beurre Blanc
2 C dry white wine
1 C champagne vinegar
Pinch of sea salt
Pinch of freshly ground white pepper
1/2 C fennel bulb, finely minced
Pinch saffron
12 T (1 1/2 sticks) unsalted butter, chilled and cut into pieces

Boil wine, champagne vinegar, salt, pepper, fennel and saffron in small saucepan over medium heat until liquid is reduced to 4 tablespoons, about 15 minutes. Whisk in half the butter, piece by piece, until it forms a creamy paste. Set saucepan over low heat and continue vigorously whisking in a piece of butter at a time just as the previous piece is almost fully incorporated. The sauce should have the consistency of a lighter hollandaise. Remove from heat, season to taste with salt and pepper. Keep warm, so it does not separate.

Spoon a layer of sauce in shallow soup bowls. Arrange a couple of quenelles on top and spoon some more sauce over them. Serve.

Grilling, broiling, barbecuing – whatever you want to call it – is an art, not just a matter of building a pyre and throwing on a piece of meat as a sacrifice to the gods of the stomach.
~James Beard

One of those Elysian Fields. The Central Coast is an idyllic stretch of California, roughly spanning the area from the Monterey Bay through Santa Barbara. Ruggedly bewitching: with broad shouldered beaches, craggy vistas, serene tangerine-salmon sunsets, lofty valleys, closely cropped chapparal, patterned vineyards, hay-hued hills with solitary oaks, crisply scented eucalyptus belts, fecund avocado groves, herbal aromas, quaint inns and high end resorts. The Central Coast is also home to the heralded Santa Barbara, San Luis Obispo, Santa Ynez Valley, Santa Maria Valley, Paso Robles, and Monterey wine countries.

On this coastal stretch, located in the center of Santa Maria Valley lies the town of Santa Maria, the largest city in Santa Barbara County—80 miles north of Santa Barbara proper and 30 miles south of San Louis Obispo. Not only does Santa Maria rightly boast of its own breed of vaquero barbeque, its wineries produce exquisitely complex pinot noirs. Pinot loves a cool climate, and the conditions in Santa Maria Valley deliver. Constant ocean breezes coupled with an east to west transverse geography that channels the cool air into the valley combine to foster a long growing season for this most delicate and temperamental grape.

Miles, the protagonist from the engaging film Sideways, described pinot as “transcendent,” noting that it is a grape that “needs constant attention…(I)t’s not a survivor like cabernet which can be grown anywhere.” Compared to their northern neighbors in the Russian River, Santa Maria wineries are considered the nouveau riche of pinot noir with a tendency toward to experimentation. At the pour, Santa Maria pinots exalt in lavender, orange peel, sandalwood, wild strawberry, berries, cherry, rhubarb, and anise.

Tri-tip is a roast cut from the bottom of the sirloin primal. There is only one tri-tip per side of beef (a total of two per animal). In this country, tri-tip also answers to “bottom sirloin butt” and “triangle roast”, due to its triangular shape. It is a nicely marbled, tender, and robustly flavored cut which weighs about 1-1/2 to 2-1/2 pounds trimmed and measures around 3″ thick. Look for a tri-tip that still includes the fat on one side which will make it a little heavier than the norm.

The American origin of the tri-tip cut is believed largely happenstance and rooted in Santa Maria. There, as elsewhere, butchers would customarily carve beef loins into sections of preferred top block sirloin and filet, and then set aside the triangular shaped tips for stew cubes or hamburger. Then, sometime in the 1950’s, on a day when there was an overabundance of stew chunks and hamburger (and the triangular cut was about to be trashed) a local meat market manager experimented by placing a seasoned whole piece of the “unwanted” meat on the department’s rotisserie rack. An immediate hit with his guinea pig staff, he undertook a successful marketing campaign with this now cherished cut. The rest is history…well, recent history. A baby boomer dish.

Tri-tip marinades well and can be cooked on a grill, on a rotisserie, or roasted in an oven. Marinades usually contain an acidic ingredient, such as citrus juice, vinegar or wine. The acid breaks down the meat fibers some, but only at the surface.

Marinades are are usually founded upon the sum of: acid + salt + alliums + sugars + chiles + herbs. But, the variations on this basic equation are endless. Below are two marinades that couple well with tri-tip with a single grilling method for both.

GRILLED TRI-TIP

Asian Marinade
1/4 C soy sauce
1/4 C nuoc mam chay pha san
2 T oyster sauce
2 T sesame oil
4 T Chinese black vinegar
2 T peeled and minced ginger
1 T five spice powder
8 fresh plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
1 yellow onion, peeled and minced
Juice of 3 fresh limes
1/2 C chile oil or canola oil
Abundant freshly ground coarse red, white, green and black peppercorns

In a large, heavy duty zip lock bag, combine all ingredients. Seal, squeezing out excess air, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn several times during the marinating process to make sure the meat is well coated. Let stand until it reaches room temperature before grilling.

Chile Marinade
Juice of 2 fresh limes
Juice of 1 fresh orange
3 T ground cumin
3 T ground coriander
2 T dried oregano
2 T chipotle chile powder
1 t ground cayenne pepper
8 fresh, plump garlic cloves, peeled and minced
3 jalapeno chiles, seeded and finely diced
1 small bunch fresh cilantro leaves, chopped
1/4 C red wine vinegar
1/2 C extra virgin olive oil
Sea salt
Freshly ground pepper

In a large, heavy duty zip lock bag, combine all ingredients. Seal, squeezing out excess air, and refrigerate for 24 hours. Turn several times during the marinating process to make sure the meat is well coated. Let stand until it reaches room temperature before grilling.

Grilling
Set your grill up for an indirect cook at medium high heat. Toss in a couple of small chunks of pre soaked smoking wood (red oak is traditional) to the coals or smoker box. Put the roast on away from the heat and close the lid.

Cook the tri-tip for about 10 to 12 minutes per pound, turning every 5 minutes, until the internal temperature reaches near 130 F—the land of medium rare. Because tri-tip is so lean, cooking beyond this point will render it tough.

Let stand for at least 15 minutes before carving, and then savor with a regional pinot noir (preferably one of those Santa Maria lasses).