Breakfast with the Luthier

My uncle, Ernie, arrived with aunt Deb for an overnight stay. Our beers were hardly poured before he announced his new profession:

“I’m now a luthier!”

The Luthier

The Luthier

For those of you who, like I, had no idea what that means:

A luthier (/ˈluːtiər/ LOO-ti-ər) is someone who builds or repairs string instruments generally consisting of a neck and a sound box. The word “luthier” comes from the French word luth, which means lute.

Once we had that established, he pulled out his mandolin (his particular specialty), the first one he’d made himself, and proceeded to play.

Aunt Deborah (my mother’s sister) and Uncle Ernie (her husband) have a rich and colorful back story. They married in 1967 — the year I was born — when she was 17 and he in his early 20s. They moved to San Francisco and played music. Their band, the Golden Toad, opened sometimes for the Grateful Dead. Ernie claims to have drawn the lightning bolt at the center of the “Steal Your Face” skull logo.

Aunt Deb and Uncle Ern performing at the Cannery, San Francisco, 1968

Aunt Deb and Uncle Ern performing at the Cannery, San Francisco, 1968

They lived in Volkswagen busses and tree houses and on rivers and in forests. For the past 35 or 40 years, they have lived in an eclectic, sprawling house on a river in the mountains behind Mendocino — without electricity. I once ran into the Firesign Theater’s founder, Peter Bergman, there — and got my own personal comedic monologue about how he could no longer use the word “person” because it had the patriarchal word, “son,” embedded within it.

Aunt Deb and Uncle Ern were always all about music. You might show up at their house to find a dozen Algerian musicians seated in a circle on their living room floor, playing traditional music while Aunt Deb bellydanced. In my teens, I recorded a song at their house with former Jimi Hendrix sidekick, Buzzy Linhart, who happened to stop by. So it was no real surprise that after careers as a musician, jeweler, carpenter and voiceover artist, Uncle Ern was now a luthier.

*   *   *

While I was making dinner the evening of his visit, Uncle Ern grabbed his mando, and began to play out on the deck. I watched from the kitchen as he played a traditional Sicilian tune and my aunt, wife, daughters and their friends danced against the setting autumn California sun.

The next morning, we were all feeling reasonably good despite the ambitious quantity of beer and wine consumed the evening before. I rifled about the refrigerator, trying to find inspiration for breakfast. There were some leftover lamb ribs from a Greek dinner a couple nights before, and there were some very large artichokes. Uncle Ern had mentioned corned beef hash the previous afternoon, and I felt a flash of inspiration.


Into the pan, in place of potato, went the artichoke heart; standing in for corned beef, the chopped lamb. And within a short time, we had a sublime Mediterranean hash, evoking perhaps the notes of that Sicilian mandolin melody still echoing through the canyon, to send Aunt Deb and Uncle Ern the Luthier back out onto the road, well fueled for their drive south to Del Mar.


*    *    *

Lamb & artichoke hash with eggs
serves 4

1 large artichoke, trimmed of leaves and choke
8 oz. leftover lamb (or non-leftover lamb, grilled)
1 small onion, slivered
3 tbsp. olive oil
1 tbsp. minced mint
8 farm fresh eggs
2 tbsp. butter
salt & pepper to taste

Trim your large artichoke down to the heart. Chop into fine cubes.

Do the same with your leftover lamb (or cooked lamb, if you’re just preparing it).

Heat the olive oil in a large skillet over medium, and saute the onions until translucent. Turn up the heat to medium high, and add the artichoke and lamb. Cooking, stirring frequently, for 2-3 minutes, until they begin to brown. Turn heat down to medium, add 1/4 cup water and mint, and continue cooking for 6-8 minutes, stirring frequently, until water has cooked away and artichoke pieces are tender. Drizzle in a little more olive oil and remove from heat, seasoning to taste with salt and pepper.

In a large skillet over medium-high heat, melt butter. (If you have a skillet only large enough to accommodate 4 eggs at a time, cook in two batches, with one tbsp. butter each). Crack eggs and fry, about 2 minutes per side, until over medium. Remove from heat.

To plate: place two eggs on a plate, and top with hash.

5 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. apriljulianne
    Oct 07, 2016 @ 13:43:53

    Sweet post Sean. This morning, a musician friend sent me this brief TED talk on how playing music benefits your brain –

    And the next thing I read was your post, so it looks like a whimsical, musical day for me!


  2. Mom
    Oct 07, 2016 @ 16:00:20

    You’re a prince.


  3. Mon Abri Farm
    Oct 07, 2016 @ 17:49:24

    How cool – what interesting relatives you have! I would love to be able to play a guitar or mandolin. Nice job on the hash too! ; )


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