A few nights ago, we had our first Skinny Girls & Mayonnaise live event. A happy hour party co-hosted at the children’s clothing store called “Pebbles” owned by our pals, Annie and Vince.
Now, you may reasonably point out that a children’s clothing store is not the most appropriate place for an alcohol-fueled feast. But actually, it fit in quite nicely with our philosophy about food and lifestyle. One of the things I liked best about Ireland was that when you went into a pub, there were often several generations of a family holding court — including the wee ones. We are not so much inoculating our kids in the way of the drink as including them in a lifestyle that celebrates food, wine, friends and family.
Behind the store is a garden area where the kids gobbled porkcorn and filled cups from the lemonade stand before spilling down the hill to the creek where they chased one another and caught frogs. At the nearby restaurant, Inn of the Seventh Ray — a famously romantic favorite of first dates, weddings and Mother’s Day brunches nestled amidst the twinkling light-festooned oak trees — diners were entertained by the roving pack of wild shoeless Topanga children. Perhaps they were also distracted from the poorly conceived offerings on their menu by the scents wafting down from the clothing store on the hill.
Your gracious co-host stood by the grill out on the boulevard, glass of wine in hand, mere steps from the Friday traffic, filling the northern end of town with hardwood smoke and savory scents. Besides it being summer when fewer cars than usual traverse through the canyon, it did seem as if the seductive aromas of grilling salmon, sausages and garlic-crusted pork shoulder brought the pace to a peaceful plod, as onlookers slowed to see what all the activity was. Some of them even stopped, and that was their good fortune — invited in, as they were, for wine and food and congenial company.
The guests welcomed the weekend with a Venetian pinot grigio and red wines from Italy and Spain while dining on whatever I was cooking at the moment. Those who arrived early were treated to Persian flatbreads with braised five-spice short rib, Chinese plum sauce and mozzarella — a cultural mash-up that tasted more integrated than it sounds on paper. Those at the end got grilled bruschetta toasts smeared with cannellini beans and topped with fragrant slices of crispy Spanish-style garlic-pimentón pork shoulder. The hours between saw polenta with sausages and pomodoro, salmon tacos with mango salsa and Asian-style spicy ginger chicken with cilantro-ponzu dressing. Some revelers stayed for the whole time and tried everything.
I was kept company and entertained by kids and pals and loved ones, strangers and new acquaintances. Occasionally a friend, unable to stop, passed by with a honk and a wave. It’s nice to live in a small town — especially one a stone’s throw from a large city where I can source Spanish spices and Mexican chilies and Japanese sauces and farm-grown produce and fine wine and fresh fish and any cuts of meat you can imagine.
In all our Come On, Get Happy! Hour was a great success and perfect summer evening. Some might have perceived the event as a trial run for the Topanga restaurant and roadside wine bar and grill I keep getting prodded to open, and hint that I may one day do. Yes, some might have perceived it that way…
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Grilled salmon tacos with mango salsa
2 lb. salmon fillet
1 tsp. achiote paste (available at Mexican groceries or online, optional)
1/4 cup orange juice
1 large ripe tomato
1 jalapeño, seeded and chopped
1 small onion, chopped
1/4 cup chopped cilantro
1 tsp. salt
8-12 corn tortillas
Make slits lengthwise on the salmon filet, about 1/2 inch deep. Mix together orange juice and achiote paste until smooth. Rub onto salmon, and sprinkle with salt. Let marinate 30 minutes.
Meanwhile, make your salsa. Skin and slice all the flesh from the mango and cut into small cubes. Cut the tomato into small cubes as well. Toss together with the onion, cilantro, jalepeño and salt. Let sit for 30 minutes to combine flavors.
Heat grill to medium high. Cover and cook salmon, skin-side down on a piece of foil, for 10-12 minutes, until cooked but still tender. Remove and set aside.
While grill is still hot, toast tortillas for 15-30 seconds on each side, until warmed and burning on the edges. Remove.
To make tacos, take a few ounces salmon meat per taco. Place in center of tortilla, and spoon a tablespoon of salsa over each. Squeeze a little lime over the top and serve.
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