My foodie adventures started over four decades ago in Southern California when my Aunt Sharon moved from her East Coast apartment in Washington, D.C., to sunny Pasadena. For years, my annual visits were centered around enjoying the food of culinary icons like Wolfgang Puck, Alice Waters, Jonathan Waxman, Susan Feniger and Mary Sue Milliken. No trip was complete without a shopping expedition to the Los Angeles farmers market, and I always returned to Maine with a suitcase bulging with exotic and local ingredients.
The 1970s and 1980s were a rule-breaking, creative leap of time in American cooking. The progressive nature of the cuisine, the development of farm-to-table dining and a chef’s no-rules combination of different cooking styles were all part of the culture of the time. Indeed, the work of many of these early folks was what created the public awareness of the importance of regionally grown and sustainable agriculture, and the power of the local food movement.
For a connoisseur and lover of good food, Pasadena was nothing short of foodie heaven.
When my aunt and uncle became homeowners, their yard boasted mature lemon, lime, orange, apricot, and avocado trees. Huge shrubs of rosemary and lavender lined the sidewalks, and fresh herbs grew abundantly. Seduced by the lushness of local ingredients and the luxury of the climate, I returned again and again to cook and create fabulous meals.
Over time, as family and business commitments increased, my Southern California sojourns declined, but my dedication to local and fresh ingredients never wavered.
When I dreamed of endless sunny days with bright blue skies and fragrant citrus blossoms, Aunt Sharon shipped me boxes of lemons, limes and oranges. She followed the latest food trends, clipped recipes, collected cookbooks and read me restaurant reviews.
A recent stay with Aunt Sharon inspired the recipe for California Dreamin’ Orange & Herb Salad. The orange tree in her backyard was burdened with an abundance of fruit and the herbs all needed trimming.
This is a simple and elegant salad, perfect for a causal, summer meal. The sweetness of the oranges is the perfect foil for the saltiness of the olives. Olives not to your liking? Try crumbled, local feta instead. Be adventuresome and vary the subtleties of the seasonings with different flavored vinegars and oils. Taste the dressing before gently tossing the salad, and be sure to use freshly harvested herbs.