The first time I visited The Albion Schoolhouse, I slept in the principal’s office. No – this is not the beginning of some fetish-y erotica…sorry Tinder stalkers. On the contrary, The Albion Schoolhouse is a 1921 school-turned-vacation-rental recently purchased by two of the coolest women I know. My aunts – Rabbi Sydney Mintz and documentary filmmaker Justine Shapiro – bought the Albion Schoolhouse this summer, and our lives haven’t been the same since.
The Schoolhouse is one of those places where stories are made. Walking through the colossal front doors and into the library/stage room, you’re overcome with the sense that this place is more than plaster and windows and floor – its energy is inviting as you are beckoned in to make your own memories within its walls.
This summer, Sydney and Justine convinced me to play hooky from work and join them for a long weekend in Mendocino, where The Schoolhouse is located. We spent the weekend arranging and re-arranging furniture, attending the Mendo Music Festival, curling up in front of the enormous blazing fire, and speculating on all of the iterations that the space could embody.
Since then, the Principals – Justine and Sydney, have been hard at work getting the place in tip-top shape. From the Wolf range to the roof to the piping and beyond – this house has been keeping my aunts plenty busy. Today, you can book your vacation on VRBO, learn about the house’s history on The Albion Schoolhouse’s website, and stay up to date on the official Facebook page.
As beautiful as the place looks online, the real magic happens when you see it in person. Hence, Justine and Sydney decided to play show and tell and invited their friends and colleagues to join them for a party worthy of The Albion Schoolhouse.
In true wacky ASH form, this was a pajama party. Two hundred of San Francisco’s finest caravanned up the California coast and filed between those giant front doors dressed in flannel, silk, lace and fleece. The night was a memorable one, despite the constant flow of Moscow Mules and local wine. Between the passed hand-dipped corn dogs and the, uh, entertaining(?) talent show, we all piled into the master bedroom-turned-dining hall for a feast like no other.
When they said there would be kale salad the likes of which I’ve never before tasted, I scoffed. Salad is rarely the centerpiece of a dinner party. It’s kind of like the thing before the thing; an inferior prelude before the big shebang arrives. Well, this salad was the big shebang. That’s not to say that the mulligatawny stew that followed wasn’t also a wow dish, but dammit if I’ll ever look at kale the same way again.
The salad was shiny with lemon juice. The kale was macerated just so – not too soggy nor too hearty. The slight kick of fresh garlic and rich Parmesan flavor were subtle, but there. Everyone was shocked; jaws dropped as they fought over the leftovers and licked the serving bowls. This wasn’t just a good salad. This was something that I wanted to eat every single day for the rest of my life.
The Schoolhouse salad stuck with me. That certain je ne sais quoi was seared into my taste buds for good, leaving me jonesing for more. Back in San Francisco, I had no choice but to do everything in my power to replicate it.
What I came up with was pretty darn close. It was a game of improv, in which I did my best to transport myself back to that unforgettable Albion night and channel the balance of flavors in the schoolhouse salad.
The good news is that, as far as salads go, this is as easy as it gets. (That is, aside from buying a Chicken Caesar Salad at Starbucks, which is criminal.) The ingredients are few and it’s a “set it and forget it" dish that you can prepare long before the guests arrive. Plus, it’s a three-in-one. The stems left behind after you strip the kale (which sounds like sneakers on a basketball court) can be sautéed with garlic and butter for a delicious snack. And, the excess green lemon juice/olive oil stuff, left after massaging the kale, makes a great simple dressing for a crunchy romaine salad the next day.
Both salad and kale get a facelift in this recipe. Believe me, you’ll never think of either the same way again. Extra points if you make it while staying at The Albion Schoolhouse!
Ingredients (serves 2-3)
8 cups Lacinato kale
1 large lemon
Olive oil drizzle
1 cup grated Parmesan
1 clove garlic, finely chopped
Rinse and de-stem the kale. Pinch the base of each leaf, and pull the stem through, releasing it from the leafy parts.
Slice kale into small strips.
In a bowl large enough to fit all the kale, combine greens, lemon, and little olive oil. Use your hands to macerate the kale, squeezing it like it’s a stress ball. Do this until it almost looks like mush.
Mix in garlic and Parmesan cheese. Set aside for at least 30 minutes or, at most, one day. Serve at room temperature.