Jeff "Saxman" Barnes (note festive HoHoHo tie!), as Il Medico della Peste
Once again, Xmas and Santy Claus made an appearance last December, and true to form, I was among those to celebrate at the festivities at Rancho Winslow. There was some early controversy when presents were opened. Jeffrey Barnes, brilliant sax man master of most musical instruments, had been given a Venetian Carnival mask (pictured), and apparently Santa Clause forgot to include the story behind the mask.
We got it narrowed down to a choice between two, from among the classic Venetian Commedia dell’arte masks. I leaned strongly towards the mask of Il Medico della Peste, the doctor of the Plague. The long nose allowed the doctor to stuff the mask’s proboscis full of dried flowers, spices, herbs, and camphor, so that the herbs would purify the air that had been tainted by the victims of the plague, thereby preventing the doctor from falling ill. The theory of the time was that the plague was caused by vapors and “bad air”, the miasmatic approach. This was pre-germ theory, and nobody knew about the fleas and the rats yet. Ironically, the heavy, ankle length robes work by the doctors were instrumental in keeping the plague-infected fleas from biting the doctors. The other school of thought, Jeff included, decided the mask was of Pantalone de’Bisognosi, also known as Il Magnifico, or Babilonio. Sure, Il Magnifico sounds great, but he is a quite wealthy, elderly merchant who is obsessed with greed. All he cares about is money. The mask did have the hook nose, but lacked the telltale protruding fuzzy eyebrows and the pointed goatee, and Jeff was definitely not wearing the merchant’s classic knee length red socks (pantaloni). I’m sticking with Il Medico, and the other folks are just plain wrong.
The crew was composed of Chris and Diane (The Martha of Manchaca), Grover and Jill, and their pal Jack the Jeweler (who was on his way to the Coast), Joolz, Robert “Empty Leg” Abraham, me, Jeffrey and his better half Gina, Granma Aveline and Granma Nancy, Sarah and The Kevin (and their nervous pup Piper), Havi and her rugrats Vi, Connor and Scarlet, Raheem, Marie, and brother Nabil.
We had quite a lineup of beverages, including Real Ale Hans Pils and Angel’s Envy Bourbon (both highly recommended, by the way),as well as a slew of wines, including Honoro Vera Garnacha 2014 (okay after it gets a breath), Borsao Red Campo de Borja 2014 (my inexpensive go-to red for all occasions), Castillo De Clavijo Rioja Crianza 2010 (nice), Borsao Tres Picos Campo de Borja, 2012 (excellent, and a fave of the group), Ramon Bilbao Rioja Crianza 2012 (another keeper), and a very pleasant Cottesbrook Marlborough Sauvignon Blanc 2014. Havie brought (I think?) a Sledgehammer Cab Sauv 2013 and an Ancient Roots Dark Red 2013, both of which were tasty. Robert, crafty devil that he is, gave gift bottles of Champagne, knowing full well we would hang onto them for New Year’s Eve. There was PLENTY of wine.
For pre-dinner nosh there was a tray of crudité with a couple of delish dips: tzatziki and creamy avocado. Normally I’m repelled by raw green bell peppers, but these were from the garden, and sweet as candy. There was also a fresh fruit platter with ripe strawberries and blackberries, big fat, juicy grapes, and sweet aromatic apple and pineapple. There was also an assortment of cheeses and whole grain crackers. Plenty of noshes for a herd waiting on the big feed bag.
Hangar Steak, Sausage, Chicken
Dr. Pepper BBQ sauce with chipotle and gochujang
This meal was based on tender and smoky barbecue, and featured excellent brisket (actually, hangar steak) and sausage from Chris, and wonderful ribs and chicken from Grover. All, melt-in-your-mouth stuff. I made a very zippy Dr. Pepper barbecue sauce to go with, which featured mora chipotle powder and Korean gochujang fermented chile sauce. Thankfully the heat mellowed out a little before service. Di had a big pot of luscious lima beans, cooked with carrots, celery, onion, garlic, and savory, the wonder herb for beans. She also had roasted a pile of sweet, tender Brussels sprouts glazed with orange balsamic vinegar, and made a batch of crispy cole slaw with a honey-ginger-lime dressing.
Di's Lima beans
Wilted baby greens with garlic
Slaw with mint
I whipped up a pile of barely-wilted baby wonder greens (kale, collards, spinach, and chard) with olive oil, garlic, and a touch of chicken stock. I was forbidden from using bacon, due to some persnickety dietary demands from members of the group (who I could have sworn had no problem sucking down pork ribs with abandon). Havi brought a couple of pans of her famous baked white yams and sweet potatoes in coconut milk, which is always a hit. Granma Nancy oversaw production of her Pink Stuff, the rose-colored marshmallow and fruit concoction that’s a requisite offering every Christmas. I marinated some sweet onion slices to go with the fantastic pickles from Grover and Jill’s butcher shop. And Di had made zucchini bread and whole wheat rolls that just really balanced the meal nicely.
Yams and sweet taters with coconut milk
Marinated sweet onions
Raheem’s mom, Marie, brought some desserts. There were yummy coconut macaroons with a dark chocolate ganache drizzle, along with some tasty pumpkin pies and whipped cream. She made an excellent Portuguese Rice Pudding, and there was another cakelike dessert she made which was covered with chocolate that I have no idea about, since I never tasted it. It looked delectable, I was just too full.
Rice pudding, Pies, and Assorted noshes in background
The mystery cake
I managed to keep up with Robert on the number of plates consumed, everybody loved their gifts, the libations flowed freely, the dogs, horses, and cats all got along just fine, the rain held off and the fire in the patio chiminea didn’t go out, the new dishwasher worked flawlessly, and most importantly, everyone raved, and I do mean raved, about their food. It was a very raveable feast, enjoyed by a tight group of pals. Martha of Manchaca once more proved her superior entertaining skills. We are not worthy.
Mick "Full as a Tick" Vann ©