California turns golden (Kyle insists on calling it “brown”) by late spring, but right now, oh things are green around here. Last week we celebrated the equinox, and the official arrival of the spring. That same day – March 20th – would have been my mom’s 63rd birthday. In an unexpected alignment of so many things I love, I was able to celebrate with Dan and Gabe and our families, and with my Aunt Linna and my Uncle Lance. (And also with Gabe’s World-Famous Chimichurri Sauce. More on that in a minute.)
Birthdays were not a big deal with my mom, at least not her own birthdays. She would usually say she didn’t want any presents, she just wanted us to be together – and then she would ask us all to come over and help in her garden for the day. Dinner al fresco seemed like the right sort of celebration – we were all together, and it’s sort of like gardening, in a nothing-to-do-with-it-but-at-least-it’s-outside kind of way.
Out in the garage, we have my mom’s beautiful old farmhouse table. It is too big for our current kitchen, and it can no longer seat the whole gang. But when we carried it out onto the patio, it still made a perfect dinner table. The springtime evening was cool, not fall’s crisp promise but rather a soft chill that whispered through the air as the sun went down.
There was, as there usually is, a lot of laughter. (I asked them all to please stop chewing so I could take a picture, which is why you see them mocking me with their huge grins and exaggerated joyfulness – but we really were having fun.) There was a big salad and cold beer, and there were soft corn tortillas wrapped around shredded chicken with roasted cauliflower and fried sweet onions. On top of this went the true star of the meal: Gabe’s fresh, bright, homemade, almost indecently, incandescently green sauce. Chimichurri is an Argentinean dipping sauce designed to complement grilled meats, and I have to say – Gabe’s version makes a kick-bum drizzle on a taco.
[By the way: Gabe’s version (which he learned to make this past year while working in the kitchen of one of Oregon’s finest dining establishments) can also be diluted into an extraordinary vinaigrette, which we learned by accident but will not forget.]
As we were eating, a goldfinch came and sat in one of the trees at the edge of the yard. It sang down to us for a minute or two as we ate, and the sky was this gorgeous deep blue, and for a moment it seemed like the last few weeks of things – all the choices and chances, all the chaos and changes – lifted up off our shoulders, and we could breathe a little deeper.
And the sauce – the sauce! The sauce was so good on the tacos that we, no joke, completely and totally forgot that we had sweet-cream ice cream and the first spring berries that were meant for dessert. We sat out there until we had to come in, licking sauce off our forks while we talked, listening to the big kids pretend to be housepainters as they chalked up the fence, while the light faded and Alma and Lucas cuddled on laps. It felt like a moment, like a party, like a scene from Sunset magazine.
The only thing missing was Mom. And while she would have skipped the chicken, she would have loved that sauce.
Happy spring everyone. I hope whatever is growing in your life these days, it is bright and full with the promise of the season.
Gabe’s World-Famous Chimichurri Sauce
Since Gabe and Amanda are headed off on a four month trek involving 20-some countries, big backpacks, and a series of youth hostels, I decided I must learn to make the magic sauce myself. Thankfully, Gabe was willing to share his technique. We used fresh oregano from the garden because, you know, why not – but Gabe says dried certainly works as well. Hold out for good fresh springtime parsley though – this one really won’t work otherwise.
Gabe says: this sauce is simple to make but getting the right flavor profile can require some adjustments. The flavor ratios depend on the strength of the ingredients, so if your garlic is old you will need more. Also, the red pepper flakes bloom overnight, so the sauce is signifigantly spicier on the second day. It also turns dark greenish brown after a couple days – for those reasons, I recommend serving it on the day you make it – but, the basic flavor does keep for a week in the fridge, despite the color changing and the heat increasing.
1 large bunch of parsley, stems removed
~ 2 tablespoons oregano (we like fresh, but at the restaurant they used dried)
3 cloves garlic, peeled (plus more to taste)
1 tablespoon red pepper flakes (or to taste)
1 tablespoon salt
1/2 tablespoon cracked black pepper
Apple cider vinegar
Put the parsley, oregano, garlic, pepper flakes, salt and pepper into a blender or food processor. Add 1/3 cup apple cider vinegar and 2/3 cup olive oil, and blend until it is emulsified, relatively uniform in texture, and bright vibrant green. Taste and adjust: Gabe usually adds another 1/2 tablespoon salt, and up to another 1/3 cup olive oil. This week he added another couple cloves of garlic, to suit Uncle Lance. (He also cut down on the red pepper flakes since the kids were trying it too). Gabe says “You should cook it with love, and make it taste the way you want it to taste, or the way you think your eating companions will want it to taste.” In describing what it is ‘supposed’ to taste like, he says: “Awesome. … Also, you should taste parsley and salt first, then the bite of the vinegar, and the heat from the garlic and pepper flakes should finish it. It is this basic combination and sequence that makes it so fantastic on grilled meats.”
Gabe’s quick fixes for adjusting the sauce after you taste it: if you add too much garlic, correct with additional parsley, vinegar and olive oil. If the sauce is too pasty to spoon, add more vinegar and olive oil in an approximate ratio of 1:3. If the sauce is too vinegary, add more parsley and olive oil … etc.