Last weekend was a Dorista bonanza! Mary Hirsch came to spend the weekend with us. On Friday night, she treated us to dinner at Cafe Nouveau in Ventura. Then we got up early on Saturday Morning, packed sandwiches, and headed for Santa Cruz Island on Island Packers. On the way to the island, we were lucky enough to see a large pod of Common Dolphins running in the surf alongside the boat. Shortly after we arrived at Scorpion Harbor, we sat at a picnic bench where we were almost immediately greeted by an elusive Island Fox. Nearly extinct almost 10 years ago, they are now happily growing in number. As excited as we were to see a single fox, by the end of the day, we’d seen seven of them. One of the things that makes the Island foxes so unique is that they are almost 20% smaller than their mainland cousins. Five of the eight Channel Islands off the coast of Southern California are protected by the National Park Service and the Nature Conservancy. We thoroughly enjoyed our day. It was hot, but perfectly clear and sunny. We hiked the Cavern Point Loop which is almost 2 miles long. Then we had time to relax on the beach before heading back to Ventura.
After we got home, we set about making our special Valentine’s Day dinner with Mary. This week’s French Fridays with Dorie challenge is for Vanilla-Butter Braised Lobster. Yes, that’s right – vanilla and lobster. It is just incredible. Dorie suggests starting with whole live lobsters, but we decided just to use the tails. We steamed them briefly, then submerged them in 2 cups of clarified butter scented with the beans and seeds of two vanilla beans until they were saturated in butter and warmed through. Then poured the butter into dipping dishes to serve on the side. Dorie suggested serving the lobster with spinach, so John made Risotto Milanese which we layered in bowls with spinach and topped with the lobster tails. We served them with with sourdough bread and Chevalier de Bayard Blanc. We toasted our lovely day and celebrated in style!
On Sunday morning, Mary came to the Channel Islands Farmers’ Market and for coffee with my mom and me. When we got home, John was making The Homesick Texan’s Carnitas for a taco lunch with fellow SoCal Doristas, Katie of Prof Who Cooks, and Diane of Cafe Mom Cooks. Of course, all of us chefs gathered around the island in the kitchen while John was finishing up the beans and rice! We sipped on Sangria and munched on chips, Guacamole (Diane made Dorie’s recipe, of course!), and Pico de Gallo. When lunch was ready, we made tacos and headed out to the garden for lunch. The conversation flowed like we were old friends, rather than meeting for the first time. For dessert, we enjoyed fresh strawberries & Diane’s delicious Hazelnut Crescents (yes, we all asked for the recipe!) The time flew by and we hated to hug each other goodbye. But, I’m sure we’ll meet again. In the meantime, be sure to stop by their blogs to see how they enjoyed this week’s recipe from Around My French Table.