That beautiful monstrosity in the picture is a slice of lime meringue tart from Mustard’s Grill in Napa Valley, California.
My boyfriend and I stopped into Mustard’s between vineyard tours. It was a warm, sunny California winter day, the kind that makes you wish you rented a convertible instead of the Kia 4-door parked in the front lot. There was a 40-minute wait for lunch, so we leaned back against the wall of the crowded bar and took in the scenery. Plates of gently charred salmon steaks, lamb burgers, pork chops, fettuccine with scallops, and smiles as far as the eye could see. Two seats emptied at the bar and I wasted no time claiming them. A lamb burger for him, the fettuccine for me.
Some of our best meals together have been eaten at the bars of very crowded restaurants, and this lunch may be in my top three of best meals of all time. I hadn’t eaten seafood fra diavolo this good since I was in Italy, about fourteen years prior. And I knew my boyfriend loved the lamb burger—it’s not very difficult to grin with your mouth full.
Later that day, we had dinner further up the road at Bottega, an inviting and capacious Italian restaurant in Yountville, one of the American West’s great capitals of food & wine. I remember sampling a fruity Zinfandel at the bar, and then one of us may have ordered duck or lamb ragu for dinner. I couldn’t tell you exactly because I have no recollection of the meal itself. All I remember is that at some point I looked down at the freshly-cleared table and saw a ring being held in front of me. I nodded, and then nodded some more. A few minutes later there was a bottle of champagne on the table and people we’d never seen before were congratulating us.
It was the very best meal we shared at a table, my pre-husband and I, and I couldn’t tell you what it was.
The next day, we continued to eat and drink our way through Napa, giddily smiling and holding hands, wondering how much free booze we could procure by telling people, “Guess what? We’re getting hitched!”
Turns out, quite a lot. We returned to Mustard’s for dinner and enjoyed a wonderful flight of local wines, followed by a round of champagne. Full of love, bubbles, devil-may-care and la-tee-daa, I signaled our waiter and asked about the tower of fluff I had seen on a passing dessert cart.
“That,” I said. “Whatever that is, I hope you saved a slice for me.”
That was later December of last year. Since then, it’s been a whirlwind of planning, decision-making, working, and run-of-the-mill life stuff. Somewhere in there we bought a house. In New Jersey. We’re an aunt and uncle to twin girls. I bought a big froufy dress, which was a surprise to everyone, including me. I’ve made a few impressive meals and had zero time to write about them.
Well, that’s not entirely true. With the little time I have had, I’ve been reading and researching Consumer Reports, BHG, and Cook’s Illustrated. Exactly one month after we became engaged, pre-husband and I put in an offer on a 1912 Craftsman across the street from a park in Bloomfield, NJ. It’s the kind of house where you could host Christmas dinner for your family, your friends and their kids.
But the house is need of lots of love, a new bathroom, and most importantly a new kitchen. This isn’t me being like one of those people on House Hunters, who walks in to the house and says, “This kitchen has to go. The paint color is just not my style.”
This kitchen is a wreck and needs to be gutted top to bottom. And while a full renovation project may be a little intimidating, this is a challenge I’m embracing. This is my playroom, my laboratory, and the nucleus of the home Pre-husband and I will share. It is the room where I will brew and quietly drink the first cup of coffee every morning, where I will roast my first Thanksgiving turkey and test recipes for the hundreds of cookies I’ll bake & give away every December. It’ll be the place where I’ll make chili and ice cream and birthday cakes and cassoulet and green salads. It will be a space worthy of a spread in This Old House magazine, complete with workhorse appliances, a place for every pot, pan, knife, gadget, cookbook and baking sheet that I have collected over the years.
Now I just have to figure out where all that stuff will go. Now the fun begins.