“I love Japanese food,” says Mary Sue Milliken, chef and co-owner of the very un-Japanese Border Grill restaurants. “I’m always looking for great Japanese places and I love all kinds of Japanese food.” Of course, her restaurants are known for their Southerwestern and Latin flavors, and even when Milliken isn’t working, it’s the kind of food she often returns to. Further proof that this is a woman who doesn’t try to escape her workload: Her getaway plans this past weekend included a trip up to the cabin of Traci Des Jardins, Milliken’s competition on the current season of Top Chef Masters. “We love it. It’s so pretty and fantastic up there,” she says of the retreat. For more tales of dining with her TV adversary, check out everything Milliken ate this week in today’s edition of the L.A. Diet.
Wednesday, May 25
For breakfast, I had like ten cherries, a Pink Lady apple, and a handful of walnuts. And tea. I drink an exorbitant amount of Darjeeling tea and it’s a very expensive habit. I like the second flush, muscatel-tasting Darjeeling. I can’t wait to go there.
I like to hydrate with a lot of tea in the morning. I drink the first cup with a touch of milk and then usually have the second or third without. I used to drink two big cappuccinos in the morning but … I don’t know. I still drink coffee; I love a great cappuccino or a great latte. But it’s usually in the afternoon. In the morning, I just want to hydrate.
I tried a restaurant that just opened for lunch in Grand Central Market called Chimu, which is Peruvian. I took a friend over there and we had a meeting. I had this green barley salad and a tiradito with quinoa. I had braised lengua with black lentils, a little pork belly with barley, and a gorgeous ceviche. To drink, it was purple-corn lemonade and passion-fruit juice. Everything was delicious. I was really, really pleased and very happy for them.
I went home and cooked pasta with green garlic, tomatoes, a little grated carrot, and I put some mackerel in there. I also sautéed some rainbow chard from the garden and made a little cherry tomato salad. We have a huge garden, so a lot of my meals are based on trying to consume everything my husband has grown.
For dessert, we had leftover strawberry shortcake from my husband’s birthday. And I had wine. I always have wine to drink for dinner and I don’t remember how much! I usually start with a crispy white when I get home from work and sometimes I even have it on ice, to try to slow my consumption down a bit … and hydrate, you know? Then I usually switch to red with dinner.
Thursday, May 26
I had a tangerine, two apricots, and another handful of walnuts. I was on a very healthy kick last week. And then I skipped lunch — we drove late Thursday up to Shaver Lake in the Sierras for the weekend.
We were visiting my friend, Traci Des Jardins. She brought her son and we spent the weekend together up there. We have been going to Traci’s cabin for years. So we were in the mountains in a cabin and I made some quesadillas and salsa. We also had salami, tea, crackers, and red wine in the cabin that first night.
Friday, May 27
In the morning, I had a yeasted waffle, homemade by my husband. And tea, of course. Lots of tea. Then I had plain yogurt with a rhubarb compote that I’d brought up with me that I’d made from our garden. We make our own yogurt for the restaurant, but not at home.
For lunch, everybody was out working and trying to sweep up pine needles and everything. It was opening-the-cabin weekend and we had to do all the chores, which was fun. So I made a bacon, lettuce, and tomato sandwich and had pomegranate juice with that for my lunch when everybody got back.
For dinner, we had steaks, baked potatoes, and Cesar salads. And more wine of course. Plenty! And then I baked some oatmeal cookies from a recipe I’ve been working on for the restaurant and for Border Grill Stop. I have a chocolate-coconut oatmeal cookie and a regular oatmeal cookie. I’ve been tweaking the recipe here and there and I brought up some dough so I could just slice it and bake it. They were great, everybody loved them, and they were gone in no time. With a few more alterations, they should be ready to go soon.
Saturday, May 28
For breakfast, I had a pancake that Traci made. Just a plain homemade pancake out of my hand. I didn’t even put butter or syrup on it, it just tasted so nice. I also had a tangerine and tea.
And then I went to a local bar by myself and watched a soccer game. So my lunch was two red beers and an order of onion rings with a bunch of rednecks. It was Barcelona versus Manchester United for the European Championship cup. I back Barcelona and they won three to one. It was a fantastic game. Just fantastic. And the onion rings were quite good actually. Thick, giant, and served with a side of ranch.
For dinner, we grilled quail and they were fantastic. We also made a bread salad. We ate quite a bit later than we thought, because we ran out of propane. And it was freezing! We woke up Saturday morning and it was completely white with snow. Everywhere, just covering.
Sunday, May 29
On Sunday, I had a couple of bites of my son’s funnel cake, which he got from a little fair at a community center at Shaver Lake. And tea for breakfast, too. For lunch, I just ate leftover quail.
For dinner, we made a huge spinach salad and duck confit with fava beans and peas, which was really good. We had a bunch of late-season fava beans and peas that Traci had brought from San Francisco that were kind of too starchy to use like fresh peas or fava beans, so we cooked them a really long time with pancetta. We had the confit of duck there from a previous trip. It was good though.
Traci and I cooked everything together. We cook really well together. We just kinda look at everything we have and say, “What about this? What about that?” “Yeah, those peas and fava are too starchy, let’s cook ‘em for longer … ” We have a blast with it.
Monday, May 30
We wanted to avoid the traffic coming home and leave for home early from Shaver, so I’d prepped some leftover steak. And I made a super-spicy celery salad, as we had some celery in the fridge that had to be used up. So I made a Thai salad dressing with a bunch of garlic and super-hot chilies and I tossed it with the celery and a bunch of cilantro and leftover steak. And we basically had this in the car on the way home. It was not really breakfast, but not really lunch. That was my big meal of the day really, along with some pomegranate juice.
Then later that night, we got home. We meet with our neighbors in the back garden every once and a while, and they bring whatever they have in their fridge and we bring whatever is in ours. So we sit up between our two yards and drink wine and chat. So I cleaned out the fridge and basically we had piquillo peppers with anchovies, herring, and a few quesadillas. She made a corn and mango salsa and she brought some shrimp. You know, it was good … I don’t know. I still woke up a little hungry the next day.