My Charmed Childhood & Chinese Chicken Salad

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The Sideboard Kitchen, Danville, California

If you read my book, Real Food (Amazon), there are many references to my charmed childhood growing up on a farm in the Willamette Valley, in Oregon, and as with many people, the older I get, the more I appreciate my roots and my life there.

My mother was a complete and total “foodie” twenty years before the term was coined. She was the epitome of fresh, organic and sustainable.  All of our food came from our land.  I had my first Twinkie in fifth grade.

My mother grew up in St. Johns, Newfoundland, Canada (below Iceland).  It’s tundra, so very little grows there.   My father had grown up on a cash crop farm in Illinois, so they were from very different backgrounds and he was 14 years her senior.  They met when he was working with the Strategic Air Command (SAC) for the Department of Defense during the cold war.  This is how my sister and I got our names as we both have the SAC initials.  They were married when she was 23 and he was 37.  They moved to Washington, D.C. where he worked for the Pentagon, and then to Nurnberg, Germany where he worked undercover for the CIA (and where I was a born), then he went to Vietnam, after the war they bought our farm and restored the 100 year old farmhouse where we lived.

They raised  race horses and my father taught history at the local college and coached the high school football and basketball teams.  My mother wore black silk cigarette pants with jeweled velvet slippers and invited the locals over for cocktail hour.   It was not unlike the T.V. show Green Acres.

When she wasn’t socializing with the neighboring farmers, my mother gardened, cooked, canned, baked and made jam.  She had a massive three acre garden full of tomatoes, lettuces, watermelon, strawberries and everything inbetween.  The black angus and lamb that roamed our fields eventually landed in a giant freezer, the size of a coffin, in our kitchen.  My father made wine.  There were orchards of peaches, apples, cherries and pears, and walnut and hazelnut trees, raspberry bushes and a blanket of mint around our pond.  Wisteria and hydrangeas, lilacs and honeysuckle graced the parameters of the historic house we lived in.  Our backyard was so big the grass was cut with a tractor.  White sheets blew in the breeze on the clothes line.  It was all wonderful.

As I watch the food scene evolve it reminds me of skipping through my mother’s garden on the farm and waiting for dinner to be ready.  This usually included a large garden salad dressed with just oil and vinegar, a T-bone steak the size of a dinner plate, and little else.

If you are in the area stop by the Sideboard Kitchen in Danville, owned by a local couple, their food is fresh and organic and very reminiscent of life on the farm.  They will be opening a second location in Lafayette where Squirrels used to be.  If not, here is my favorite recipe for Chinese Chicken Salad by the master, Bobby Flay, of the Food Network.  I substitute half of the romaine for kale and add cilantro like Sideboard, as pictured above.







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