Today’s article is about An Italian Themed Dinner Party in the Mountains of Malibu. Before moving to the article, let me tell you a story. Recently I head down a winding road in Sierra Retreat. There was a calming wooded neighborhood in Malibu between the mountains and the peaceful ocean. The name of the village is inspired by the Franciscan friars’ spiritual retreat. Then I reached Plumcot Farm, which is a seven-acre property comprised of a private residence and an organic certified farm. The owner of the farm, Alison Hersel invited me over for a visit. I had no idea.
The farm gate opened and I went through the fields o olive groves, fruit orchards, medicinal herbs, and remnants of some cacti. There were all kinds of animals like goats, chickens, beehives, etc. At the center of the farm, there was this attractive peaceful-looking home that Alison and her family live in. According to Alison, this place has been shared by three generations up to now. She further said that they have found new ways to honor their differences and incompatibilities while growing as a community. And they were grateful for this particular opportunity.
During my farm tour, Alison told me how the farm life taught them the seasonal rhythm with nature than their life in Los Angeles. Also, she said nothing can be compared to the joy of harvesting crops they saw.
To celebrate the changing seasons Alison hosted an Italian-themed dinner party on the Plumcot farm. Basically to celebrate summer. She also invited a fantastic group of artisans and some friends. So here’s my interview with Alison and her tips and tricks for an Italian-themed dinner party in the mountains of Malibu.
Life at the farm…
Can you please tell me more about Plumcot Farm?
Actually, we bought this property in 2013. Before that, we lived on 6000 square feet in Pacific Palisades. The most interesting thing is my husband or me, doesn’t know anything about farming or gardening. But I had a connection to the land in Serra Retreat. I found this magical land during a visit to the Franciscan Retreat Center after a high school field trip to Malibu. My eyes caught the beauty of this place and the landscape felt like an occult sub-tropical paradise full of freedom and wild nature.
Just after I got my driver’s license, the first thing I did was going for a drive through the village. However, Serra Retreat was not in my mind years later after the marriage. When I was working on a real estate development project, I accidentally asked “What’s going on in Malibu?” from a real estate broker. He replied that there was a great property on the market with a commercial cactus nursery. Thereafter my husband and I decided to have a look at this property. Amazingly we fell in love with the property!
I and my husband were thrilled by the idea of creating a new life for our family away from the disturbing city. And we thought of connecting with the purest healing magic of mother nature and live in harmony with her.
During that time we both were into homeschooling. We realized that this property is the ideal lab and we all can be its students.
Luckily, I got help from the veteran banana farmer and expert in drought-tolerant crop planning, Doug Richardson. Basically about the process of establishing a farm. Even his wife Lisa helped us with the main site plan, the very first plant acquisition, and applying for the CCOF Organic certification. I must mention that they were very generous with their knowledge and resources. Thank you, Doug & Lisa! Sometimes you may know Doug. Now he is known as the “Merzal Man” because he is an expert in growing agaves to make Mezcal.
What are your future plans for the farm?
My main aim is to inspire people to explore where their food comes from and make them aware of the environmental and human consequences of their food choices. Another thing is to encourage people to learn about the artisans and local farmers in their own neighborhoods. Furthermore, I am willing to provide resources and workshops about accessible home growing despite limited time and space.
How does a typical farm day looks like?
Usually, I wake up around 6.00 am. And start my day with a homemade cup of coffee made with Joshua Tree Coffee Co beans. I add some goat milk for my coffee too. As I am not a big fan of breakfast I enjoy two medium-boiled eggs from our farm chickens.
I wear casual attire as I live and work at home. Let me tell you about my favorite clothing shop. It’s Midland in Culver City and my favorites are Ilana Kohn Jumpsuits with Crocs or any rubber slippers. With that, I never forget my Joe Abellera + Tula for Edible Gardens UPF 50+ hand woven palm hat.
When talking about the structure of my work week. It is a loose one around farm work and homeschooling my kids. Fortunately, I have great support for both.
We usually send the Community Supported Agriculture farm boxes on both Wednesdays and Fridays. Furthermore, we host culinary events, nonprofit fundraisers, and educational workshops throughout the year.
To be honest I feel like an orchestra conductor! I manage all purchasing of plant material and farm supplies, oversee crop propagation and planting schedules, composting, cover cropping, etc. And my target is zero food waste. So we find a way to sell, use or donate all the fresh products. Our goats and chickens help us with food scraps. I sell something in abundance, to local restaurants or the School Of Lunch meal box program when we have excess. Similarly, I ensure a monthly donation of products to be cooked and distributed to the at-risk home population downtown LA on skid row.
Moreover, I seek help from outside contractors when I need essential skills. These contributors include our beekeeper, Phoebe of The Hive Tribe, Michael from Ventura Brush Goats, and John from the Puroserve. We have a farm but it’s no different from a small zoo. Because we have 3 kids, 4 dogs, 17 chickens, barn owls, birds, bees, rabbits, squirrels, and gophers.
Lastly, I want to say that I enjoy the heartwarming surprises that I see every day on this lovely farm.
An Italian Themed Dinner Party in the Mountains of Malibu – MENU
Start with Wood Fired Pizzas
- Fig and Goat Cheese with Plumcot Farm honey
- Fennel Sweet Italian Sausage from Standing’s Butchery with Fennel Flowers
- Prosciutto and Aragula
Family Style Servings
- Baked Italian Stuffed Pasta Shells (see the recipe below)
- Kale Caesar Salad (see the recipe below)
- Italian Chopped Salad
- Spumoni Ice Cream Cake (see the recipe below)
What is your approach to cooking?
I love to cook and entertain prioritizing the gathering rather than the perfect meal. I use high-quality fresh ingredients grown with love. More importantly, I used self-designed menus with an advanced prep like a baked dish or something stewed in my instant pot.
How did you learn to cook?
All my family members love cooking. My brother is a chef in New York. As my mother grew up in Santa Fe, her cooking style goes with Hatch Green Chilli, New Mexico Red Chilli stews, and pinto beans. My dad is Canadian and he is an expert in making potato sandwiches with the perfect char on the potato. Next, my father-in-law is Iranian and mother in law is Eastern European. Surprisingly all of us use delicious feasts to celebrate everything. We have a very international kitchen by the way. And I love trying new cuisine, especially with homegrown herbs.
is your must have cooking tool?
The Le Creuset dutch ovens are the most essential thing for me. I love the colors! Baking the sourdough bread in my red dutch oven, very relaxing!
What are your favourite cookbooks?
What are the things that is always there in your refrigerator?
- 15 kinds of hot sauce including Tapatio, sriracha and our unique Plumcot Farm carrot habanero hot sauce
- Seasonal fruit preserves like pomelo cardamom marmalade, Blenheim apricot and louquat calamonin jam
- Persian cucumbers
Your favourite weeknight meal to eat at home?
What are the things you add into a table setting when hosting a gathering?
- Atelier Saucier tabletop pieces
- Candles from Le Feu De L’Eau + Edible Gardens LA
- Ceramics from Earth + Element
Tell me about your signature dishes for gatherings?
Most of the time it’s Mediterranean Mezze platters with either chicken kabobs or roasted lamb in the earth ovens. As Mediterranean menus are comprised of both vegetarian and carnivorous plates the side dishes can be filled with farm products like summer eggplant. I use hummus with Kandarian farms garbanzo beans.
What will be the favourite conversation starter to get to know someone?
I usually ask about what books they read or what podcasts they listen to now.
The playlist of the perfect dinner party?
Almost all the time, my daughter creates the playlists. She plays piano but likes drums more. She picks both old and new music from the artists like Fleetwood Mac and the War on Drugs. I think she got such skills from his grandfather who creates stellar playlists.
What about the centerpieces?
I love the wildflower arrangements from the farm including poppies, zinnias, lilies, bougainvillea, Mexican Marigold, chamomile Dahlias, and roses. I don’t forget to add my favorite scent; gardenias.
Do you have any party rules to a stress free party?
Just prepare each and everything in advance and play when the guests arrive. And you can create stations for the guests to move through the space.
Invite some helping hands too!
Who are your dream dinner guests?
Here’s the list, but not all at once obviously.
- Wendell Berry
- Ai Wei Wei
- Julia Child
- Alice Waters
What is a tip for someone who wants to plant an edible garden at home?
Firstly get an idea about the available resources. You can checkout @victorygardenla too. Here are some great books to start with.
Check out these Non-GMO seeds too.
With this I conclude the article on An Italian Themed Dinner Party in the Mountains of Malibu.