2016: It Wasn't All Sadness and Politics
There's been so much talk of 2016 being one of the worst years in memory. I've had my share of heartache but there were many bright spots. I might need to wallow in my misery over the weekend but for now, I want to remember the highlights of an amazing, unusual year. The most amazing thing that happened this year was the New York Times article on our Marcella beans that came out in January. I thought we'd get a nice bump but if I'd thought about it, Marcella Hazan, the New York Times and Rancho Gordo hitting its stride all made for a wild success. It was simple math but we weren't prepared for it. We shipped poorly and then we ran out, not making many new fans. Luckily, this year's crop was better and the operations at Rancho Gordo are working. Marcellas won't last the year but at least now every one who wants to try them can. I think back about being so nervous in asking Marcella's husband Victor if we could call the bean Marcella. He couldn't have been more gracious. We couldn't have been more lucky. This is a very happy story for people who love good food. I loved having my pal Judy Francini here from Tuscany to cook with me in my kitchen. We made pasta e fagioli and it was wonderful but the real revelation was the concept of mild beans with an intense oil sauce. She made hers with garlic, rosemary and chile flakes, sauteed in olive oil and later spooned over white beans. It's become a new favorite. The constantly full hummingbird feeder paid off this spring as this lovely gal decided to make me her landlord. I wish I were clever enough to tell you how much it means to me to have a hummingbird right outside my door. A luncheon at Georgeanne Brennan's place with Kate Hill, visiting from France, ignited my passion for cassoulet. In taking chili con carne seriously, I came to the conclusion that beans in a chili aren't the sin they've been made out to be, while tomatoes are the real culprit. Beans, and the bean broth in particular, enhance a chili, while tomatoes add an unwelcome sweetness and turn the dish from a chili to a stew. My favorite sauce this year was my friend Lupe's tomato groove. I believe this to be her misunderstanding of the traditional Michoacan dish Minquiche, but I'm not sure. The main take away is that tomatoes and cinnamon (canela) cooked in a savory manner, are insanely good. Another night earlier in the year, Georgeanne (Brennan) had me over for bouillabaisse. Yes, you should be jealous. It was "all that" and more. One Saturday morning, out of the blue, I got a call from Diana Kennedy telling me to meet her in Sonoma at Karen Waikiki's El Molino Central. I did and we ate like kings. At one point I was traveling to Mexico 5 and 6 times a year. Sadly, this year I only got to go once, but what a wonderful trip. We traveled throughout my beloved state of Hidalgo. The highlight was going up to the Huasteca region and meeting the potters of Chililico, who make a particular and lovely type of clay, using mostly pre-conquest colors. The women who make these pots are sweet and intense, if that makes sense. We ended the Hidalgo trip with a stay in a converted hacienda. The spa was nice but the pool and free time were my favorite things. And spending leisure time with be BFF, Yunuen from Xoxoc. When I hear people complain about 2016, including me, I must remember that this was the year my youngest son, Nico, discovered gardening. He used my gardens as a playground before he could walk but a kid's life, video games and the rest seemed to interest him more. This year he volunteered at our local community garden and grew his own, all without any of my help. This squash was stuffed with my mother's tomatoes and chorizo from The Fatted Calf. Is there anything better to build confidence than to enjoy and share your own harvest? Later in the summer, quite by chance, I caught this shot. In the fall, Rancho Gordo Press published Kate Hill's Cassoulet: A French Obsession. It's been more popular than I could have ever imagined. It came out right as our record-breaking harvest of cassoulet (Tarbais) beans arrived from the fields. I am a soup fan and discovering that our hominy works fine in a non-Mexican vegetable soup was another light bulb moment. I made pots of soup with different ingredients but the one constant was the hominy. It adds flavor and texture. I'm not giving up pozole any time soon but I love discovering new twists to traditional ingredients. Another favorite dish came about from a suggestion by Kate Hill. She's been a constant in 2016! This was a simple flageolet salad with a lemon vinaigrette. It hits home the need for good, pure ingredients teamed with simplicity. I always get sappy and sentimental this time of year. I hate resolutions but having lots of guests and being a guest are my goals for 2017. I'm fine with working hard but the point of working hard is to look across your table and see "your people". This kind of happiness is magnified by the support of all the Rancho Gordo fans. You make it happen. Thank you for being the best part of my year.