Saying 'yes' with gusto, thanks to Julia

I remember only one word Julia Child told me.

We were sitting next to each other at a California restaurant that my friend, Zov, owned. This was in the 1980s and, of course, my broad and woefully in-vogue shoulder pads and Stevie Nicks-style permed hair kept me physically far away from the cookbook queen. But I could still hear her clearly when she inquired why I wasn't slurping up every ounce on the fifth plate of what would be uncountable courses that evening.

I feebly said something about "pacing myself," and she stiffened her 6-foot-2-inch frame, looked me squarely in the eye and, in that distinctive Dan Aykroyd voice, warbled a one-word command for life: gusto.

That changed me. I decided then that I no longer was going to pace myself. I started to say "yes" to flutes of Perrier-Jouët offered at 10 a.m. press conferences, private interviews with then-candidate Bill Clinton and other encounters I will save for my memoirs.

All of this yes-saying eventually brought me to Oregon where I am surrounded by wine producers and food purveyors who seem to work really, really hard to make me like them. And I do. Julia would be happy to know that I am allowing Oregon to spoil me with gusto.

On a recent Friday, I remembered something else someone once told me. An easygoing poet I interviewed years ago stated that he could be happy sitting on a rock and eating with a stick as long as the food was good.

I was reminded of this bohemian bon mot as I was sitting on a rock, listening to rock and eating homemade egg noodles with Italian sausage sprinkled with basil, squash and tomatoes from the personal garden of chef Alyssa Warner of Fresco Mobile Kitchen.

Her cute food truck was parked in front of Del Rio's vineyard-laced hillsides in Gold Hill, and a band was playing with gusto on the lawn behind the tasting room.

If the last item you ate from a food truck was a tepid breakfast burrito, it's time you joined the gourmet-on-the-go movement. The good mobile kitchens — and we are fortunate to have a fleet of them circling the Rogue Valley — use local ingredients to create hot and cold dishes made on the spot without the benefit of mixes and cans or a huge, commercial kitchen.

In addition to supporting local food producers, these versatile chefs help tasting rooms fulfill requirements by Oregon Liquor Control Commission to provide hearty food at special events.

On this night, Warner was working efficiently in her compact space. A large, hungry crowd descended on her at the start of the concert, and when told the wait for a made-to-order meal would be 45 minutes, some people grumbled.

"Hey," Julia might have cheerfully scolded, "this isn't McDonald's. Listen to the music while you wait. Join the barefoot dancers on the grass. A proper 'bon appetit' takes time."

Like other mobile chefs I've seen, Warner was grace under pressure. In a kitchen the size of a pea, with orders on Post-it notes flapping across the stove vent like Tibetan flags, she served up grilled tri-tip sandwiches and blue-cheese salad ($9), pulled-pork barbecue sandwiches ($9) and gluten-free lemon quinoa ($8).

Plates were artistically adorned with a cluster of grapes and a freshly made roll. Desserts were pretty, too. Cherry-almond crunch pie with fresh, vanilla whipped cream and strawberry parfait with vanilla-cream pudding topped with blueberries and whipped cream could have starred in a cookbook photo spread.

I attended the concert with two San Francisco food appreciators, and we ordered everything. As we waited, we sipped the 2010 Viognier ($20) and 2009 Pinot Noir ($28) and rightfully sang along to the Rogue Suspects' Shae Johnson belting out "Chain of Fools."

Later, as newlyweds danced to a seductively slow "At Last," I realized that each bite was a reward for me agreeing to say "yes" so long ago. And in Julia's honor, and for all the accomplished mobile chefs, I vowed then to never eat limp salad in a restaurant or bad chicken in a ballroom again. For them, I will stand up, point to the mouse-colored offender and say "no."

EVENT: Linda Donovan makes wine for clients at her custom-crush facility, Pallet Wine Co. in Medford, and she has sourced locally grown mourvedre, sauvignon blanc, grenache, chardonnay and tempranillo for her eponymous label, L. Donovan Wines. She plans a Saturday, Sept. 1, debut for her 2010 Syrah ($18), sold at Medford Food Co-op or through her no-commitment wine club, Friends of Linda Donovan (FOLD).

TASTED: Schmidt Family Vineyards in Grants Pass and Spanish varietals won big in the 2012 Southern Oregon World of Wine Festival. Cal Schmidt and his family nabbed Best of Show for both white and red categories among 182 contenders. In an ole mood, I tasted his yet-to-be released and priced winners: 2011 Albarino and 2009 Tempranillo.

Reach columnist Janet Eastman at 541-776-4465 or

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