The new year has begun, but the deadlines continue apace. A good thing, of course, as I need to save the cheddar for my farming tuition, but it also means new postings and happy baking stories might be a little thin on the ground in the next few days. But of course, no deadline is so pressing that gingerbread can't happen, especially the super-easy Silver Palate version, which made me feel loved just by the smell in the kitchen. It's also lucky that you can't make hoppin' john for one, since I've been living on bowls of the reheated leftovers since Monday.
Elsewhere in the news, it was sad, so sad, to get the news that Manka's Inverness Lodge, a quirky, wonderful restaurant and the rustic inn of my secret heart, was destroyed by fire right after Christmas. Not the whole place, but its heart and hearth, the nearly century-old Arts and Crafts main lodge, kitchen, and restaurant, along with four guest rooms. Luckily, no one was hurt, and owner Margaret Grade and her partner Daniel DeLong still have the annex and some surrounding buildings. They're having a dinner/wake on Friday; call them at 415-669-1034 if you want more info. The whole of Pt. Reyes and West Marin is intensely romantic, in a misty, coastal California way, and Manka's occupied a rather large place in the longings of my dreamlife north of the Golden Gate Bridge. I had hoped to take K. there for a night when we were on our whirlwind tour of SF last January, but finances (and that fact that the restaurant would have been closed then) prevailed; now, of course, the wisdom of living in the moment has proved itself yet again. I hope they can recoup, and rebuild. It won't be the same, but the spirit should prevail.
I realize this might sound a wee bit precious, to write an elegy for such a place. But Manka's was a unique expression of a particular outlook on life. Grade's dedication to local foods--long before "locavore" became a buzzword--has helped to preserve the agriculture of West Marin. The livelihoods of dozens of local farmers, fisherman, beekeepers, oystermen, poultry and dairy ranchers, and foragers were in part supported by the kitchen of Manka's, helping to preserve the agricultural heritage of West Marin. Their names went on the whimsical menus; I still have one, from the last meal I ate there in August of 2002, just before I left San Francisco on a path that would turn out to be much more heart-wrenching than I could have expected.
The menu for that meal, written like free verse,
A soup of Bolinas beets
Crowned with a cloud of sour cream
Laced with wild Inverness mint
Jim's duck seared over almond wood
Nested in fronds of local frisee
warmed with Bolinas torpedoes
Tenderloin of Bill's pork
grilled in the fireplace
propped atop lodge mashed potatoes
encircled with a natural jus
laced with just picked and sundried French plums
Local artisan cheeses
with suntoasted almonds and Rosa's moscato grapes
both from the vine
some nearly sun dried
A tart of farmers' market First Lady nectarines
and local dairy whipped dream
heightened with west Marin honey
I remember, at another, on the eve of Christmas eve, the dessert came crowned with "an ice of local dairy cream"-- a phrase that E. and I loved and used for years. For a long time, I had one of their Lenten menus up on my wall, featuring "another sole saved from the surrounding seas." The price of the meal was listed as "for your penance." Another Christmas Eve menu offered reindeer carpaccio, served on a "rooftop" of celery root and fennel.
In the dining room, loose nests of bare branches hung from the ceiling in lieu of flower arrangements, and quotes from favorite writers were stenciled on the walls. A lazy dog sprawled across the entrance as we drank our tea in front of the fireplace . Outside, in the misty winter night, a regiment of fir trees stood at attention all around the redwood-shingled building.
So, a toast and a pan of gingerbread to all the staff of Manka's, and a wish for their swift rebuilding.
Gingerbread to Warm Your Heart
Preheat oven to 350 F. Grease and flour a square 8 x 8 pan.
Sift: 1 1/2 cups flour
2 tsp powdered ginger
1/2 tsp cinnamon
1/4 tsp ground cloves (or allspice or nutmeg, if you prefer)
1 1/4 tsp baking soda
1/2 tsp salt
In a separate bowl, beat:
1/2 cup molasses
1/2 cup sugar
Boil: 1/2 cup water
Measure out: 1/2 cup melted butter or vegetable oil, or a combo of the two
Grate: an inch or so of fresh ginger, or dice up some candied or preserved ginger
Stir egg mixture into flour. Pour boiling water over batter, add butter or oil and candied ginger and stir until smooth. Pour into pan and bake until springy (cake tester should come out clean), 35-40 minutes. Serve warm with vanilla iced dream.