1999, San Mateo, California. Three little girls, one a tiny, impish four years old, the others sassy six, play grown-ups with real china and silverware a small dining table while their parents get some peace and quiet in the next room. Our conversation stops for a moment so we can check in, hear what they’re up to. “My Mom makes the best lamb chops,” I hear my own six year old exclaim. “They’re so, they’re so...meaty!” At Brio, the restaurant I co-owned during that time, the chef regularly made her favorite, shrimp with a few shavings of black truffle and a side of wild mushroom risotto. Three years later we were living in Exeter, New Hampshire, where she continued her love of my meaty lamb chops and a habit of calling in sushi orders without asking me first-- at $50 a pop.
On Saturday, May 12, I’ll have been a mother to that young “foodie” for 25 years. Yes, Avalon, the young woman formerly known as Teen Daughter Avalon in this column, will be a quarter of a century old, which means that since I started writing Wine Me, Dine Me 16 years ago, those of you who have been following along have read stories about her since she was 9 years old.
Those 25 years went by far to quickly and they’ve been an absolute joy. Sure, there were those two years Avalon now apologizes for (watch out parents of daughters — around age 15 they become screaming aliens. Well, yours won’t of course!) and they’ve certainly been filled with great food and restaurants, something that may have had just a little bit to do with Avalon becoming a professional cook. I’m not-so-secretly still hoping she’ll pick up music again, but there’s time!
We did plenty of cooking together during her kid years, whipping up not only those lamb chops, simply grilled and served with a rosemary demi-glace, asparagus and mashed potatoes on the side, I made her all the dishes my Mom served when I was growing up. Bolognese sauce with ground beef, onions, peppers and lots of fresh basil, along with a secret tablespoon of sugar and big pots of Irish stew with carrots, potatoes and onions. At Christmas we’d have prime rib and mashed potatoes with green beans starting with piles of shrimp cocktail. Nothing fancy, just comfort food from scratch.
The fancy food came later. Going out to dinner was a big part of her life, too, since her Mom once owned a restaurant and as most of you know, became a restaurant critic. The first restaurant dish she learned to make was eggs benedict with from-scratch Hollandaise. She’d also order takeout eggs benedict from Rogan’s Bake Shop in Exeter, NH back in the day. She picked up ideas from dinners at Arrows in Ogunquit, Maine and still makes the prosciutto-wrapped strawberries they served at a party. Later, she worked in some of the best restaurants on the Seacoast including The Portsmouth Brewery and Cafe Mediterraneo as a server with Ben Hasty at When Pigs Fly and at Moxy with chef Matt Louis, all of which prepared her to work as a line cook in some of the best restaurants in Austin.
La Condesa, Dai Due, King Bee, Gardner, L’Oca D’Oro — all these important Austin restaurants are now on her resume, and all some of the best restaurants in the city. When I go to food festivals in Austin and see many of the chefs at those spots, they always ask how she’s doing and tell me how much they liked working with her.
Now she’s at Kemuri Tatsu-ya in Austin (and recently promoted!) a Japan meets Austin izakaya which this past year was a semifinalist for a James Beard Award, named one of Bon Appetit’s Best New Restaurants in 2017 and is on Food and Wine Magazine’s top ten list this year, too. I not-so-secretly hope she’ll take up her music again but this is great, too, and she can do both!
JimmyChiv and I went to a favorite bar a few years ago and the bartender took my credit card to start a tab, handing it back to me saying, “Are you related to Avalon?” In Austin, Avalon is no longer “Rachel Forrest’s daughter”, now, I’m “Avalon’s Mom.” And that’s the way I like it.
So, Happy 25th Birthday to my wonderful daughter and Happy Mother’s Day to my also wonderful Mom (who gave us both our sense of humor).
Here’s the Bolognese sauce recipe I make thanks to my own Mom, Carol Stinnett. I wing it when I make it so all ingredients measures are approximate. I did substitute the Beyond Meat vegan crumbles for the ground beef last week and it was delicious.
An Irish-woman’s Bolognese sauce
1 lb. ground beef
2 cans (@15 oz) diced tomatoes. I like the San Marzanos
1 can tomato paste
1 large onion, chopped
2 peppers, one green, one red, seeded and chopped
1 carrot, diced
1 cup beef stock
2 cloves garlic, finely chopped
Fresh herbs like basil, thyme, rosemary, oregano and sage, chopped
2 T. sugar
Butter and olive oil for sauteing
Salt and pepper to taste
Splash of red wine (optional)
Heat up a large skillet and add about 3 T. butter and 2 T olive oil. Saute the onions, peppers and garlic until just soft. Move to a large pot.
Saute the ground beef in the skillet and add chopped herbs in any combination you like. Drain the fat and add to the large pot.
Add cans of tomatoes and tomato paste, the beef stock and sugar. Splash in some red wine if desired. Simmer for 2 hours, stirring occasionally and add more stock or wine if it gets too thick, then cook some more.
— Rachel Forrest is a former restaurant owner who lives in Exeter, NH Austin, TX. She can be reached by e-mail at email@example.com