Monday, August 24, 2009

Melons, Green Beans and Purple Basil on the Santa Barbara Coast

As a youth, every summer was dotted with trips to my grandmother's beach house in Santa Barbara. We visited year around (it is California after all) however there was always something special about vacationing there during the warmest months. Though more business woman than cook, I have distinct memories of my grandmother's glazed chicken drummettes, pea salad with onions and mayo, and lots of melon. To this day, not much has changed. Before heading out on Friday, I picked up a beautiful Crenshaw melon from Happy Boy Farms at the Thursday Berkeley Farmer's Market. I wanted to bring something nostalgic and what do you get the woman who has everything? Melon, of course. Had I thought my plan through I'd have remembered my grandmother's aptitude for preparedness, but I guess I forgot that point. After a beautiful 6 hour drive down the coast we pulled up to the house. With melon in hand, I walked straight through the brightly lit foyer and into the kitchen. Unfortunately as I turned the corner I saw not one, but two HUGE melons sitting on the marble counter. SO as you can imagine, just like the old days at grandma's beach house, we had lots of melon.

Where do green beans come in, you ask? The next day my grandmother, Gray and I went to the Downtown Santa Barbara Farmer's Market. This trip again brought up lots of foodie memories for it was my grandmother who took me to my first farmer's market. Being a child who took every experience at face value, I thought farmer's markets only ever happened in Santa Barbara and that sugar snap peas (my favorite farmer's market purchase) could also only be bought there. I remember eating them until my tummy hurt, knowing I could not get them anywhere else.
I truly forgot what a brilliant market it is. Granted, I love my bay area markets but Santa Barbara's is definitely a close second. After the melon mishap I decided to make dinner for my grandmother, her husband, Gray, and my parents, you know, as a thank you gesture. And to show my grandmother what kind of a cook I've become.

The first thing to catch my eye were these gorgeous green beans.

Beautiful, right? I know, I could barely contain myself. I grabbed a bundle of nearby fresh shallots while Gray spotted a bunch of purple basil. Green bean saute? All set! I swear by the end of shopping my grandmother pronounced me "food possessed!" And so what if I am? Home we went to cook up a storm. Next to this amazing dish I served chili and garlic steamed red snapper (recipe from my beautiful Mom, on its way), cumin scented jasmine rice, green salad and an amazing view.

Dinner was simply delicious, made even better by the company. As the evening wined down and the older adults retired I couldn't shake the feeling that tonight had been special. A rare treat to cook for my grandmother in her own kitchen and repay her with the same love and nourishment she has bestowed upon me over the last 30 years. I hope we can do it again soon but if not, this is just another memory locked in the vault under the file "Summers at Grandma's Beach house." Enjoy.

Green Beans with Purple Basil

1 pound green beans, stems trimmed
3-4 tablespoons olive oil
1 bunch fresh shallots with greens attached or 3-4 without, thinly sliced
1/2 cup fresh mint, leaves torn
1/2 cup purple basil, leaves torn
juice of 1/2 a lemon
sea salt
ground pepper

In a large pot, bring two quarts of water to a boil. Add a pinch of salt and drop in the green beans. Cook for about 2 minutes, until they brighten up but are still a bit crunchy. Drain the beans and run under cold water to stop cooking.

In a medium saute pan, heat up the olive oil. Add shallots and salt/pepper and saute until the shallots soften. Turn off the heat and toss in the beans, mint, basil, and lemon and mix thoroughly. Season with salt and pepper to taste. Enjoy!


  1. Great story, recipe, memories and views. Looking forward to the recipe for the red snapper.

  2. This season was my first attempt at growing veggies in my tiny fog-draped Berkeley yard, and to my delight I find myself with an abundance of green beans and basil (the old green variety, but still...). Thanks so much for the recipe! I love your site and your blog and your passion for good food, cooking it, and sharing it. You are an inspiration!

    love, Elizabeth McD.

  3. Let's see....on my shopping list: green beans, purple basil,shallots, mint. Can't wait to try it.

  4. Congrats on your garden Elizabeth! I seem to kill everything I grow. Maybe I'm just meant to cook food rather than grow it :)


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