The Bees’ Knees are based in Campbell, CA, a suburb of San Jose. They all like to cook and garden, and they enjoy taking on food projects—everything from chicken-raising to mushroom hunting, brewing, cheesemaking, and especially beekeeping (hence their name).
I have to admit to a certain fondness for Team Bees’ Knees members Tina and Thomas Keller. They have helped us out of innumerable jams with our hives, saved Nugget (aka Whattheheck!? That’s a rooster!), and have taken us along on mushroom forays. When Margo True, Editor of our One-Block Diet blog, offered to let me go to this team’s harvest dinner, I knew I’d be in for a good time, if not a feast. I was not wrong. With delicious food like green bean pâté, fresh salmon, and the ecstatically delicious candy cap mushroom ice cream, I left this party stuffed, and just a little tipsy from two kinds of limoncello and some really good beer.
We only had about 2 weeks after learning of the One-Block Party contest back in March to put the team together and present our entry, so we were not as organized as I had hoped. We didn’t have enough time to properly plan the gardens and determine growing times for the vegetables so that we could plan our menus. Also, with all the late rain we had in the Bay Area, our planting got off to a slow start.
Lizanne and Fred Oliver, and Katie and David Arken have been across-the-street neighbors for years, sharing the enjoyment of vegetable gardening. Every year, late in March, they plan their crops and layout, the Arkens amend the soil in their raised planter boxes, and the Olivers purchase the bedding plants. Katie Arken usually finds some interesting tomato varieties at a master gardener sale to try. As soon as the soil is warm, the couples spend an afternoon together planting.
Given that the two neighbors share so much already, we had the creative idea to plan a “progressive” feast, starting with drinks and appetizers on the Olivers’ deck, and then moving across the street to the Arkens’ deck and garden for the main courses and dessert. That way we could enjoy being in two areas and spread out the fun!
Katie made the tablecloths from clearance fabric at Ikea. She had seen it at the end of last year and liked that it had plants and butterflies which goes with the gardening theme, but also that it was black and white which would be a nice background to let the colors of the dishes stand out. Katie also has a keen eye for recycled garden art. She picked up our “buffet table” on the street. It had a sign that said “FREE” and Katie snapped it up. The flowers were from the Arkens’ and Oliver’s yards. We used the cute little cream bottles from Straus Creamery for our vases on the tables. We also had homemade beeswax candles, both tapers and owl candles from our own beeswax which we melted in the solar melter.
The catch of the day
Thomas had been planning on going halibut fishing for months and months in the San Francisco Bay, but the timing just wasn’t working. Finally his friend David Jackovich from our mushroom club said they would go out for salmon. They went out of the Berkeley Marina on Joey’s super-fast sport fishing boat, The New Easy Rider. It was the first time Thomas had ever gone salmon fishing; he must have had beginner’s luck because he brought home a salmon. A pretty pricey salmon considering the cost of the fishing trip, but it was fresh!
Tomato with mozzarella and basil vinaigrette
Early on in the contest, we remembered that bee guild member Mark Jensen had a cow, and thought maybe we could get some milk from him. I called back in May or June to inquire about the milk and told them that we were in a contest with Sunset and I needed some milk early September. Well, come to find out that THEY were on a competing team, Dances With Legumes! They were very gracious and said we could get some milk if there was any, but turns out they thought their cow was pregnant and so didn’t have any milk yet, so I ended up using milk from Straus Family Creamery and Organic Pastures.
The buffet table
Dinner was filling. Some of the other things on the menu, besides the salmon and tomato with mozzarella and basil vinaigrette, were:
- smoked trout souffle
- roasted beet salad
- wild mushroom and potato tart
- spaghetti squash with pepper cream sauce
- zuchinni frittata
- braised fennel
- whole wheat short bread
- whole wheat bread
- honey comb
- bread-and-butter pickles
- green bean pâté
- kim chee
- butter with fennel fronds
- raw ‘Jewel’ radishes
- raw carrots
We had 2 kinds of limoncello to try. One from Nate and one that I made. They were both made from Everclear, and both were delicious. Nate’s was less sweet than mine was.
Nate also brewed dunkelweizen beer. It lost its foamy head in the transportation, but it was still wonderful. Thomas and I contributed mead that we made a few years earlier, only to find out it hadn’t aged as well as we had hoped. We also had pressed apple juice and hard apple cider that we made the previous fall. The fresh juice had been in the freezer and it was still really tasty.
For dessert, Katie made a fig tart from her backyard figs with dough I made from the One-Block Feast book using locally grown Sonora Flour and my homemade goat cheese, for which I used Ricki Carroll’s cheese making kit, which I bought at at Fermentation Solutions.
Our corn growing was ripening well before our feast, so we thought we would try something different: sweet corn ice cream. Also, being the mushroom fanatics that we are, we made candy cap mushroom ice cream. I never made anything with candy cap mushrooms, so this was an experiment. (Editor’s note: This experiment was wildly successful. The candy cap ice cream was so good we all had seconds, thirds, and then fourths, until we had eaten all the ice cream. We even licked the container!)
It was pretty stressful getting ready for the dinner—cooking, roasting, baking—but it all turned into relaxing fun once the party began. We found out at 3 p.m. the day of our party that one of our team members could not make it. We had to do without edible flowers, fig ice cream, fresh herbs, and marinara sauce. We had to go with the flow and change our menu at the last minute, but it turned out nicely and we all had a great time. In fact, we promised each other we’d do it again.
By Tina Keller