Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe

It’s always tricky to write about a pal’s book, you don’t want to come off sounding like a fawning friend, frankly.

So, in the case of My Nepenthe by Romney “Nani” Steele, I’m going to let others hand out the praise. Sunset describes Nani’s cookbook-cum-memoir as “a valentine to one of the most beautiful places to eat in the world.” Michael Pollan calls it “a very special book about a very special place.” And epicurious just named it the best American regional cookbook of 2009.

If you know Big Sur, home to the iconic Nepenthe restaurant, the area and the eatery need no introduction. If you’re not familiar with this small, rural California Central Coast enclave perched on a cliff overlooking the Pacific Ocean then you should add it to your list of places to visit before you die. Really.

For 60 years Nepenthe has served comfort food with a view to locals, travelers, and tourists. And so much more: for the artists, nature lovers, spiritual seekers, writers, and wanderers who stop by, this magical spot transcends what comes out of the kitchen.

In My Nepenthe Nani, 44, a writer, chef, and food stylist, reveals the colorful back story to this family restaurant, founded by her grandparents Bill and Lolly Fassett, including the unorthodox life they lived, the eclectic boho community they cultivated, and Nani’s own foray into running Cafe Kevah as a European-style eatery with slow food sensibilities located on the same site as the “House of No Sorrow.”

romney.steele.2If you’re curious to find out more, read my Q&A with the author over at the hyper-local site Berkeleyside.

To win a copy of this visually lush book, filled with 85 restaurant recipes tweaked for the tastes of today’s home cooks, leave a comment about a special place  — and a local eatery that adds to the area’s charm. Submit your entry by 10 p.m. PST on Friday, November 20 and I’ll pick a winner from the suggestions shared below.

Update: Thanks to all who entered — you guys made me hungry for places both near and far. So many great suggestions I couldn’t decide, so I put your names into a pot (my desk is next to my kitchen) and the winner, chosen at random is: Christine, for her suggestion of the worldly Vagabond in San Diego. Congrats. an autographed copy of My Nepenthe is on its way to you. Look for another book giveaway in December.

To whet your appetite, a few recipes from the pages of My Nepenthe follow.

Pappardelle with Chanterelles

Serves 4

½ pound fresh chanterelle mushrooms
1½ tablespoons olive oil
3 tablespoons butter
1 large shallot or small onion, finely chopped
2 cloves garlic, minced
2 sprigs fresh thyme, stemmed
²⁄³ cup vegetable stock or water
Salt and freshly ground black pepper
8 to 12 ounces dried pappardelle pasta or other wide pasta
2 tablespoons chopped fresh parsley
Zest of 1 lemon
¼ cup grated Parmesan cheese, plus more for passing

Considered gold by the culinary world, found chanterelles were a regular part of my grandmother’s Sunday night dinners and were
often featured in the Thanksgiving meal.

Gently clean the mushrooms with a dry brush. Avoid soaking in water. Trim any dry stems. Slice the mushrooms into ½-inch pieces.

Heat the oil and 1 tablespoon of the butter in a large heavy skillet over medium high heat. Add the shallot and cook for 1 minute.

Stir in the mushrooms, garlic, and thyme and sauté until the mushrooms are browned, 3 to 5 minutes.

Ladle in the stock, season with salt and pepper, and simmer for 3 minutes, until the mushrooms are just tender. Remove from the heat.

Meanwhile, cook the pasta in boiling salted water until al dente. Reserve ½ cup of the pasta water and then drain the pasta in a colander.

Add the pasta to the mushrooms in the skillet along with the remaining 2 tablespoons of the butter.

Cook over moderately high heat, tossing the pasta to coat and adding pasta water to moisten if needed, until thoroughly coated.

Stir in the parsley and lemon zest.

Divide the pasta among 4 warm plates and sprinkle with the Parmesan. Pass additional Parmesan separately.

Chopped Salad with Roquefort Dressing

Serves 4 to 6

Roquefort Dressing

2 teaspoons granulated garlic
2 teaspoons dried basil
2 teaspoons dried oregano
2 teaspoons dried mustard
2 teaspoons coarsely ground black pepper
2 teaspoons brown sugar
1 teaspoon salt
5 to 6 ounces Roquefort cheese
2/3 cup red wine vinegar
1/2 cup olive oil
1 cup canola or safflower oil

Chopped Salad

2 heads romaine lettuce
1 head green leaf lettuce
4 to 6 cherry tomatoes
Freshly ground black pepper

For the dressing:

Combine the garlic, basil, oregano, mustard, pepper, sugar, and salt in a clean glass jar.

Crumble the cheese and add to the jar. Add the vinegar and oils.

Cover and shake vigorously until thoroughly combined. Taste and adjust seasonings if needed.

You will have more than enough dressing; refrigerate any extra.

For the salad:

Wash and thoroughly dry the lettuces, trimming the ends and discarding any bruised leaves.

Tear into bite-size pieces and place in individual chilled bowls. Top with the desired amount of dressing, making sure each salad has
plenty of blue cheese chunks. Add the cherry tomatoes and grind black pepper over the tops.


Pumpkin Spice Cake (Bohemian Wedding Cake)

Makes 1 (9-inch) cake, serving 10 to 12

1 cup whole-wheat flour (not pastry flour)
1 cup unbleached white flour
1½ teaspoons baking soda
1 teaspoon cinnamon
½ teaspoon ground cloves
¼ teaspoon nutmeg
Pinch salt
1 cup vegetable oil
1½ cups brown sugar, firmly packed
2 eggs
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
1 (15-ounce) can pumpkin puree (about 1¾ cups)
¼ cup molasses
¾ cup raisins
½ cup walnuts, coarsely chopped

Sour Cream Frosting:

½ cup (4 ounces) cream cheese, softened
½ cup sour cream
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
About 2 cups confectioners’ sugar

Preheat the oven to 350°F. Lightly butter and flour a 9-inch round cake pan, knocking out any excess flour.

For the cake:

Combine the whole-wheat flour, white flour, baking soda, cinnamon, cloves, nutmeg, and salt in a medium bowl.

In a large bowl: stir together the oil and brown sugar, mixing well. Beat in the eggs, one at a time. Stir in the vanilla. Mix in the pumpkin puree and then the molasses.

Stir in the dry ingredients, mixing until thoroughly incorporated. Stir in the raisins and walnuts.

Pour the batter into the prepared pan. Bake about 1 hour, until a toothpick inserted  in the middle comes out clean. Cool on a rack for 15 minutes, then invert and cool completely.

For the frosting:

Mix the cream cheese, sour cream, and vanilla in a medium bowl until smooth.

Sift in the confectioners’ sugar and mix well. It should be thinner than a typical cream cheese frosting.

Place the cake on a cake plate. Spread a thin layer of frosting on top and all over the side. Freeze any leftover frosting, or reserve for muffins or cupcakes.

— All Recipes From My Nepenthe: Bohemian Tales of Food, Family, and Big Sur by Romney Steele/Andrews McMeel Publishing

Photo of Romney Steele by Doug McKechnie


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30 Responses to “Book Giveaway: My Nepenthe”

  1. Michael Says:


    This sounds great. I am not familiar with California in general but the area you write about sounds lovely.

    A place I find special was in Changwon, South Korea in the fall.

    We took a hike, the trees were golden and orange, and when we returned to the bottom of the mountain there was a small outside restaurant underneath the canopies. It served traditional Korean Squid Pancakes, Ojingeo Buchimgae, with lots of ginseng-infused Soju. It was yummy and so relaxing in the warm breeze. (^-^)

    Check out my food blog and tell me what you think:


  2. Amber G Says:

    Santa Fe has some amazing local eateries – I love Cloud Cliff, a true gem beloved by the locals!

  3. Anna Says:

    The Cowgirl (or was it called the Coyboy) in Santa Fe. They served the best New Mexican cuisine quesadillas! Kind of like a Philly cheese steak, but all wrapped up in authentic homemade tortillas. Outdoor, courtyard seating. It was a local’s hangout, just past the large town square. A fun place with a few memories left behind. I wish I could remember more. This is so long ago, before my Mommy days.

    Now, I’m operating with Momnesia. That’s a topic of an entirely different discussion. A local author in San Francisco wrote a book called “The Female Brain.” Check it out. I’ve got Momnesia and I’ve got it bad!

    OK – curiousity was killing me – google is my friend:

  4. Anna Says:

    Forgot to mention – it seemed that the Cowgirl restaurant used fresh, local ingredients. I asked their staff about it, and the salads were deliciously fresh, an explosion of texture and flavors in everything we enjoyed that day! I can’t believe I remember all this. Must have been 5 years ago since I’ve been there.

  5. Alicia Webster Says:

    My favorite special place is Arcata, California. I love hanging out on the plaza, and browsing in the fabulous boutiques like Plaza design, and Belle Star. When I get hungry, I walk over to the Arcata Co-Op and pick up some marinated tofu sticks and some pesto tortellini, or some fresh grilled vegetables. I live in Virginia now, so I haven’t been back to Arcata for a while, but it is a fabulous place, from the homemade beauty products in Bubbles, to walking for hours in the Arcata Bottoms and communing with the cows.


    Fish in Sausalito, CA supports local and sustainable sources as well as educates their consumers on the issues facing the industry and specific fish we eat.

  7. susan varney Says:

    i love this

  8. Pat Says:

    Thank you for writing about Nepenthe. As a family we visit there often as we live only a few hours away by car. Nepenthe draws the spirit as well as the
    intellect with its compelling views.

    Every time I pass that sculpture on the way to the dining room door I know I’m in for a culinary treat since vegetarians are treated kindly there. After dining the family enjoys browsing the gift shop. There are items from near and afar to tempt the credit card carriers.

    Thanks for the contest.

  9. Lori Says:

    That was a lovely review and I think anyone would forgive you even if you did come off as a fawning friend! The book My Nepenthe is absolutely gorgeous. Romney Steele did a brilliant job of making not only a family history book, but a cookbook and a storybook as well. I love everything about this book, from the stunning photography by Sara Remington to the beautiful paper it’s printed on.

    I would tell people if you want to do something special for yourself, buy this book.

    Cafe Luna, Summerland, Calif. has the BEST Caprese Salad and cappuccinos in town. It’s lovely when the weather’s nice and you can eat outside on the patio.

    Please don’t include me in the give~a~way since I already own a copy. But thank you for offering!

  10. Sharon A Says:

    Morning Thunder in Chico CA is across the street from Bidwell Park. It is so popular for breakfast that people stand outside for long periods of time just to get in.

  11. Christine Says:

    There is a great little place called Vagabond in my neighborhood of South Park in San Diego, CA. It is self described as a “travel journal put into a restaurant”. They have food and drinks from all over the world and the ambience is unparalleled. My favorite dish: Salmon in Coconut Lemongrass. Such a peaceful, eclectic, and delicious place. Our cute little neighborhood wouldn’t be the same without it.

    I’ve been to Nepenthe – it’s one of the most beautiful places I’ve ever seen!

  12. art and lemons Says:

    I heard about My Nepenthe in a class I recently took. After hearing about the rich artistic legacy at the restaurant and about Romney’s life, I was immediately hooked. Can’t wait to read it!

  13. Aik Says:

    Penang Island is a paradise for food lovers who come from all over Malaysia and even Singapore to sample the island’s unique cuisine, earning Penang the nickname of the food capital of Malaysia. Penang’s cuisine reflects the Chinese, Nyonya, Malay and Indian ethnic mix of Malaysia, but is also strongly influenced by the cuisine of Thailand to the north. It’s especially famous “hawker food”, sold and eaten roadside, strongly features noodles and fresh seafood. Places to savour Penang’s food are Gurney Drive, Pulau Tikus, New Lane, Swatow Lane, Penang Road and Chulia Street.

  14. Jason Says:

    We have a restaurant around here called The Red Fox Tavern. It is off of the beaten path, and not advertised. If you did not know about this place, you would never find it. They focus a lot on local MN flavors. Their Chicken Wild Rice soup is the best around.

  15. Ed Nemmers Says:

    Across from the channel here in town, there is this magnificient Greek restaurant. I could just dine on the cucumber sauce alone while being outside.

  16. Erma Says:

    These look good.

  17. karen Says:

    Rudyard’s pub in the Montrose area of Houston. There’s nothing like it.

  18. Daniel Bates Says:

    There is a little Italian place on our main street that has the best food i have ever had, it’s small so if you want a seat you better go early.

  19. Diane Says:

    My favorite place for a local breakfast is Sweetie Pies in Placerville CA, and for lunch – The Hangtown Grill, also in Placerville (try the veggie burger made from scratch with black beans and lots of secret ingredients).
    I dream of some day dining at Nepenthe, on the patio overlooking the Pacific. In the mean time, I would love to try the recipes from My Nepenthe out on my family and friends!
    Thanks for the contest!

  20. gloria Says:

    A nice place that has a lot of homemade food is called Krysiaks. It’s a Polish place and has homemade sausages, noodles, and many dishes you don’t see anyplace else. It’s in Bay City, MI.

  21. Deci Worland Says:

    We had lunch at Nepenthe last Sunday for my hubby’s birthday. It’s a yearly tradition, as we live on the Central Coast.
    Another great spot is south of Big Sur in Morro Bay, CA. It’s called the Taco Temple. Funky, but great affordable California Fusion.

  22. Pamela Says:

    A old-time/all-time favorite is Neptune’s Net at the county line in Malibu. While it can’t match the breathtaking views of Big Sur, it’s a great casual (understatement..) place to meet friends, share a pound of peel-n-eats and do a little people watching.

  23. Heather C Says:

    We have a great place for Tex-Mex: Amigos Original Tex Mex. Our favorite guy has worked there for almost 20 years!

  24. Chrysa Says:

    Near my sister’s house in Minneapolis is a tiny little Cuban restaurant – Victor’s. They have awesome food and a really cozy atmosphere.

  25. Lily Kwan Says:

    I am a fan of Hash House a Go Go in Las Vegas. They serve massive portions of yummy food. It’s Al Roker’s favorite restaurant in Las Vegas.

  26. Gobble Gobble & Gratitude « Lettuce Eat Kale Says:

    […] This year, thanks to a prolific tree, I’m going to make the Meyer Lemon Tart  from the new My Nepenthe cookbook. (Recipe […]

  27. Anna Says:

    Someone said Meyer Lemon Tart? I’ll have to try that delectable sounding desert. I just so happen to have 2,000 pounds of fresh lemons!

  28. Cara Says:

    Just wondering…who won the book? :~)

    • Sarah Henry Says:

      Hi Cara,

      Thanks for checking in.

      If you scroll to the bottom of my original post you’ll see an update where I explain how Christine from San Diego won a copy of My Nepenthe.

      Stop by again later this month for another food-related book giveaway.

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