A Birthday Dinner at the Tree House

We have the best of both worlds up in the Santa Cruz Mountains: Ten minutes from the ocean, yet surrounded by beautiful, stately redwood trees. My cousin Nikita turned 21 on August 11th, so we had a family birthday dinner at my parent’s place; aptly named “The Tree House.” These are some of the highlights.

Ginger Martinis

  • First, make a ginger syrup: Put 1 cup sugar, 3/4 cup water, and 1/2 cup chopped fresh ginger in a pan and bring to a boil. Simmer for about 10 minutes.
  • Strain the mixture, add a little lime (or lemon) juice to taste and then chill.
  • For each drink, use a jigger of gin and the same amount of ginger syrup, and some more lime juice.
  • Shake with ice and pour into glasses. Top off with some ginger beer (or ginger ale).
  • Drop a piece of crystallized ginger into the bottom of each class. Kanpai!

Marinated Shrimp Skewers

olive oil
a few cloves of chopped garlic
a few sprigs of chopped fresh rosemary
a dash or two of Tabasco sauce
a dash or two of Worcestershire sauce
shrimp, peeled and deveined, tails left intact
special equipment: skewers (if using bamboo skewers, soak in water before grilling)

  • Combine all ingredients (except shrimp) in a microwave-safe liquid measuring cup (adjust ingredients depending on amount of shrimp). Microwave until bubbly, about a minute. Assemble shrimp skewers and pour marinade over them. Grill.

Polenta with Gorgonzola & Mascarpone Cheese

  • Prepare the polenta according to package instructions, stirring until it thickens.
  • Meanwhile, in a small bowl, combine equal parts Gorgonzola and Mascarpone cheese. Microwave until they’re soft enough to combine.
  • When polenta has thickened, spoon onto plates and top with a dollop of cheese mixture.

Peach, Fresh Mozzarella & Mint Salad

  • On each serving plate put a few slices of fresh Mozzarella, a few mint leaves, and a few slices of peach.
  • Lightly dress with white balsamic vinegar, olive oil, and a sprinkle of cumin.

Salt, Sand, Sunshine & Cerveza (and Mom’s Cilantro Pesto)

We made it safely back across the Pacific! It’s hard to sum up everything in this jet lagged state, but it was so great to see family, pets, familiar places and faces, and to eat some long-awaited food cravings. Here’s the first of several California-related posts, along with some food updates, since this is a food blog after all.

We met up with a few of our students who were doing a summer homestay program in California. Here they are enjoying the freezing cold water in Santa Cruz.

We spent the afternoon at the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk with them.

And, of course, we rode the Giant Dipper. Here’s me waiting in line for it with Yuko and Naoko. You know you’ve lived in Japan too long when you can’t take a picture without your fingers forming a peace sign!

The culinary possibilities at home are so great that I had to make a (mental) list of the things and/or ingredients I wanted to eat during the month of August. It included things like artichokes, beets, in ‘n out burger, local beer, and Mexican food.

It had been a year since we’d grilled anything, so one of our first meals that we enjoyed was grilled juicy flank steak and poblano peppers wrapped in flour tortillas with Mom’s delicious cilantro pesto (recipe below), grated pepper jack cheese, sour cream, chopped fresh tomatoes, and homemade guacamole. Accompanied with a cold Dos Equis cerveza (beer – apparently I’ve missed using Spanish too), it was a satisfying way to start our month at home.

Another item on the list? Locally grown produce from Santa Cruz county. My mom has been a member of CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) for a long time. Every week she picks up a share of seasonal produce, grown at Mariquita Farms, a small family farm in Watsonville, California. Eat fresh! Eat local! Don’t those peppers look good?

Mom’s Cilantro Pesto

Makes a great condiment for Mexican food!

pumpkin seeds (or pine nuts)
dried jack cheese
olive oil

  • Just combine a few handfuls of cilantro, a clove or two of garlic, a handful of nuts, and some cheese in a food processor. Process until smooth, then start adding the olive oil in a light, steady stream while the processor is still running until it looks right to you. It was delicious in our steak burritos, and we ate the leftovers on chicken.