Among the lovely memories of several visits to Southern California is the annual Sawdust Festival in Laguna Beach.
This is an arty seaside town to begin with, but during that six-week festival they pull out all the stops. Ranging over numerous venues are exhibitions featuring the finest of fine arts and fine crafts.
Then there's something called the Pageant of the Masters, a stage production made up of talented locals portraying various works of art in a number of still-life scenes, accompanied by plenty of sound and light. There's a different theme each year, of course, and tickets to the pageant are extremely hard to come by.
If you're fortunate enough to have relatives in the area, you can hit the July event, then put together a post-festival dinner with a local theme. No worries about the weather, either; one of the many nice things about Southern California is that you can plan a summertime outdoor event a year in advance and be 99.9 percent sure it isn't going to rain or be so hot you can't eat outdoors.
We take our chances here on the Right Coast, but entertaining friends Southern California-style is worth the gamble. For menu planning, you might want to bypass the (popular) Latino influences in that area and turn to Wine Country (Napa/Sonoma) for inspiration. Although that area is about eight hours to the north, the ingredients for your SoCal dinner are readily at hand in Laguna and, thankfully, in Ellicott City as well.
Build your menu for eight around light-ish ingredients, with an eye toward easy. And be sure to incorporate favorite California wines into each course. (We make a few suggestions but basically leave that to you and your local wine purveyor.)
Begin with artichoke bites, and some figs with feta and prosciutto. We like to quaff something bubbly with our appetizers.
For the main course, try grilled salmon with orange-saffron butter, sided by a Mediterranean rice pilaf salad, and an avocado, frisee and radicchio salad with balsamic vinaigrette.
For dessert, we use another ubiquitous summer product and do a make-ahead chocolate-zucchini bread to be served with a favorite gelato.
To quaff: A rose, a sauvignon blanc or a chardonnay.
Feta Stuffed Figs
You can substitute Montrachet (goat) cheese for the feta. We use feta because we have a frequent guest who detests goat cheese. Either way, the sweet figs, the tangy feta, the salty prosciutto, with their varying textures foster a mini-explosion of yumminess in the mouth.
24 large, fresh ripe figs
About 1 1/2 cups crumbled feta cheese
1/3 to 1/2 pound prosciutto (you don't need much)
Fresh fig leaves or leafy green lettuce leaves, garnish
Trim off stem ends of figs. Slit figs lengthwise (but not all the way through). Stuff figs with cheese crumbles. Cut prosciutto pieces in half lengthwise. Wrap a generous piece of prosciutto around each fig. Secure with toothpicks. Arrange fig leaves or leafy green lettuce on a serving platter. Arrange stuffed figs on top. If not serving right away, cover and chill until appetizer time. Makes 24 stuffed figs, for three per person.