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    Hosting a Virtual Dinner Party–Let’s Call It “Quarantaining”

    Hosting a Virtual Dinner Party–Let’s Call It “Quarantaining”

    With the reality of the Corona quarantine settling in, so are we. Not getting together like we normally do, means getting together like we normally don’t: virtually that is. And hey, it’s not all bad. Being in good company is proven to boost your immunity, plus there’s very little washing up afterward and no need for a designated driver. (Still, drink responsibly, as emergency rooms have their hands full at the moment.)

    A printed copy of my Paperless Post emailed invitation to Dinner à la Zoom.
    A printed copy of my Paperless Post emailed invitation to Dinner à la Zoom.

    If ever there were a time to re-acquaint with the comforts and cooking of home, it is now. And if ever there were a time to gather, it is now. We are all in this together, and we need each other.

    We–Chef Stephanie Valentine and I–have spent the last few weeks preparing to promote our new book “California Cooking and Southern Style” on a “spring entertaining” segment scheduled for March 19 on KTLA-TV in Los Angeles, which like everything else, was cancelled. Worse still was missing a get-together with old friends in LA afterward. Booo. But then my clever friend Leslie Klotz suggested we meet up anyway, virtually. We said Yes! In which case we could also include a couple of NYC friends who otherwise wouldn’t have been able to join us, on account of they have not yet learned to apparate. LA people, like, can totally already apparate.

    The plan was for me to send a ZOOM link to all at the appointed hour, they’d all be at table with their dinner, and we’d chat. 

    And since we had already apparated our table, sorta-kinda, for the TV shoot, I thought we might as well share it.

    California Cooking an Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    We created a garden party theme and centerpiece, despite the unusually chilly and rainy weather outside. Sunny Southern California, wtf.

    Honey I am all about high-low decorating, and the same is true for my tables. I wanted a fresh spring garden look without spending a lot, especially now in these uncertain times. So instead of a new tablecloth, I bought a few yards of fabric from a discount fabric store and an inexpensive solid polyester (I know but you barely see it….) underneath. The rest is cute tin picnic plates on china chargers, silver goblets with vintage wine glasses, and grocery store flowers plus a few pretty locally grown ranunculus because that’s what I could get my hands on this week.

    California Cooking an Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    This much simpler-than-it-looks centerpiece resembles a whimsical spring garden. How-to in separate post to come on this blog.

    The pretty foliage I pilfered from everyday houseplants, also from the grocery store. I was the only one in there not buying toilet paper.

    Meanwhile, Chef Stephanie Valentine is working away in the kitchen preparing a no-fuss, quarantine-friendly menu that combines pantry items with a bit of fresh: Chickpea Soup, Roasted Asparagus, and Bruschetta. 

    California Cooking an Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    Chef Stephanie Valentine hard at work in the kitchen at Rancho la Zaca
    California Cooking and Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    Ingredients at the ready for our luscious and savory Chickpea Soup. Recipe in California Cooking and Southern Style, and in a separate post to come on this blog.
    California Cooking and Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    Gaw, I’d forgotten how good this soup was…. Creamy (but no cream) Chickpea Soup with bits of pasta and potato, onion, parmesan, and chickpeas of course, from California Cooking and Southern Style
    Bruschetta - California Cooking and Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    A simple bruschetta is a colorful and tasty accompaniment and a snap to make: Toasted baguette brushed with olive oil and rubbed with a fresh cut garlic clove, topped with chopped cherry tomatoes, olive oil, garlic, and basil. Yum-city.

    Oh, and seriously scrumptious super rich brownies, to which she added an EXTRA CUP OF CHOCOLATE CHIPS and ICING, because, yeah. Chocolate, duh, is like the best thing for whatever ails you. That is well known.

    Seriously scrumptuous super rich dark chocolately Brownies from California Cooking and Southern Style.
    Before baking Stephanie added an extra cup of chocolate chips to these already seriously scrumptious super rich Brownies from California Cooking and Southern Style. Recipe in California Cooking and Southern Style, and in a separate post to come on this blog.

    Brava, Steph!

    My co-author and national treasure Chef Stephanie Valentine created and wrote the recipes in California Cooking and Southern Style
    My co-author and national treasure Chef Stephanie Valentine created and wrote the recipes in California Cooking and Southern Style
    California Cooking and Southern Style at Rancho la Zaca
    Chickpea Soup, Roasted Asparagus, and Bruschetta – the perfect quarantine-friendly menu, combining pantry items with a bit of fresh. These cute tin plates are from Au Bain Marie in Paris.

    As it was getting close to 5 and almost time for our guests “to arrive,” I took my place at the table, put on my lipstick yes ma’am I did, positioned my laptop, and waited for the doorbell to ring. Funnily enough, when people sign in to a Zoom call it actually makes a doorbell sound. Little did they know… or maybe they did… There is also an “enhance appearance” button. LOVE that. I’m looking into putting one in my bathroom mirror and my driver’s license photo.

    California Cooking and Southern Style - Virtually - at Rancho la Zaca
    Hey everybody! Unlike the conversational chaos at some of our dinners at home, video-conference dinners pretty much compel a single conversation and one speaker at a time, which is both challenging (more for some than others, ahem) and gratifying. The format itself compels you to listen, and everyone is heard. 

    We thought it might be interesting to hear from everyone a couple of ways in which their lives have changed, and what if any silver linings they’ve discovered. I know that for me, creating this gathering of friends, and knowing we can do it again, with parents, children, nieces, nephews, sibling, friends, is a huge silver lining for me and for all of us. And it isn’t just an on-the-fly chat, but a real gathering with purpose and connection. This might even herald a welcome shift in our culture, a remembering of what our real priorities are, and putting our technology where our truest and highest intentions are. We will see.

    How you all are gathering and creating closeness and community in this crazy but TEMPORARY reality? I–we–would all love to hear from you. Meanwhile, stay safe and stay well.

    Grace to you, FS

    Order California Cooking and Souther Style here. Order CCSS and The Bee Cottage Story Here. All proceeds to charity.