The Year of the Bayleaf (and Other Modern Myths)

God is in the details.
God is in the details.

I feel it’s not fair to criticize something without offering a solution, so in case the whole pineapples and fists full of daisies didn’t satisfy you as an alternative to Edible Arrangements, I have more ideas. Last month, I helped to plan an underwriting dinner for the Art.Food.Hope dinners that Alice Waters gave in Washington, DC. One of the many friends whose time and talent I roped in to help me put on what I have no problem telling you was a perfect party (I also know when I give a not perfect party, no matter how many people call and tell me it was great or that nobody noticed things that kept me up that night), was my dear friend Andre. I’ve known Andre for nearly 20 years. He was going to do the flowers for my wedding until I discovered that while I was having a blast planning the wedding, the marriage wasn’t seeming like such a good idea after all, so I canceled, started dating the caterer, and kept Andre as a friend. But I digress….

For this party, I told Andre, “Keep it natural.” Whatever you do, make it look like the things grew from the table or fell from the sky.” (Nice line, isn’t it? I’d have to agree, but I have also to admit that it’s one I stole from Nancy Silverton, which is how she describes how food should look on the plate.) The table was one simple, beautiful, long, long, (long) tableau that included Romanesco cauliflower with narcissus bulbs nestled among them and little bouquets of something like red kale. It was like a miniature winter woods, but the real winners were these: the place cards that Andre made by painstakingly tucking fresh Chino Ranch bay leaves into pieces of hand-made paper. Alice was thrilled. At her dinner toast, she acknowledged Andre and the gorgeous cards, and told us how auspicious it all was—that the florist had surprised her with these beauties, and used bay leaves, of all things. “Since it’s the year of the bay leaf!” she said, like she’d seen God.

We looked around at each other… Who knew? The bay leaf has its own year!

“Did Andre know that?” Nancy whispered across the table. Raising her eyes in an expression that said: “Impressive!”

I shook my head. “I think he got lucky!”

We all did.

Fresh bay leaves are so good—so exponentially more aromatic and flavorful than their dried counterparts—and the trees grow well here in Southern California, I can’t figure any reason to pull a dry, dull brittle one from the McCormick’s jar. I always have fresh bay leaves around for throwing into soups and braises. I would do something else with them only I don’t know what that would be. (Any ideas?) On second thought, my Sicilian sister-in-law uses bay leaves to separate the individual veal rolls on spiedini (skewers), which she makes ever Christmas. Fresh bay leaves taste so much better than dried, which is why I am going to tell you this little secret: If you freeze your fresh bay leaves, say in a small Ziploc baggie, you will never have to cook with dried ones again. I happen to have a baggie with 30 of them–all plucked from those place cards–in my freezer right now. Let me know if you need one. I’ll send it.

But one last thing. I did some research on the Year of the Bayleaf. While I love the idea, I couldn’t find a shred of information about this. If you do, I’ll send you two. Bay leaves, that is. Peace.

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