Gatherings: Wood-Fired Pizza on a Mesa Front Porch
Another Special Section of the Independent’s Guide to Entertaining
Written by Wendy Read | Images by Nik Wheeler | Styling by Sally Terrell
April 14, 2022
I have often thought that if you want to get to know someone better, have them cook you a meal. From the food they choose to how they set the table, you will get insight into who they are and where they come from.
You may already know the Seigel-Boettners. Maybe your child was lucky enough to have Lynn as a teacher at Cold Spring or Vieja Valley, or John at Santa Barbara Middle School. Or perhaps you read about them here in the Independent. Lynn was a Local Hero in 2009 for her work on Food Not Lawns, and John was profiled two years ago for starting a local chapter of Cycling Without Age.
However, if you live on the Mesa, I bet you know their house. It is nearly impossible not to notice the purple, turquoise, and yellow home, accented with Dave Shelton’s whimsical ironwork, nestled in among fruit trees and herb gardens. And then, if you look a little closer, you will see the porch, where the brightly mosaicked pizza oven seems to sparkle and beckon even on a foggy day.
John and Lynn have lived here for 24 years. When I visited their home, I was astonished to see how many food-producing trees and plants are growing abundantly on their standard Mesa-sized lot. Lynn told me, “By visiting neighbors’ gardens, we learned what would grow well in our unique Mesa microclimate. We have a few varieties of figs, lemons, oranges, tangerines, apples, bananas, guavas, pears, mulberries, and grapes. We grow avocados, sapote, pomegranates, passion fruits, and persimmons, and lots of herbs, lettuce, tomatoes, cucumbers, beans, and other seasonal vegetables.”
When the wood-fired pizza oven came along 13 years ago, they enlisted their friend, tile artist Tami Macala (allcrackedupmosaics.com), to transform the utilitarian hive into a work of art. John, a Santa Barbara native, loves to cook and has an inquisitive nature, so it wasn’t long before he was making pizza dough and experimenting with toppings. The pizza porch soon became home to what the Seigel-Boettners like to call the Italian Laundromat (a humorous reference to The French Laundry).
John and Lynn are not the only food growers in the neighborhood. “We have always traded fruits and vegetables,” John said. “Then that grew into sharing breads and baked goods. Often when we cross paths on a walk or a bike ride, instead of “How are you?” we ask, “How are your tomatoes?” As one of those neighbors Gregore Morin put it, “Sharing is what gardens and gardeners do.”
On a recent evening at the Seigel-Boettners’, neighbors brought their own homegrown dishes to complement John’s pizzas. Sisters Ellen Stoddard and Andi Varon, as well as Gregore and his wife, Jennifer Rabe-Morin, walked over and were greeted by the rainbow picnic table lit with votives, and a centerpiece of crimson pomegranates and peppers from the garden.
Straw flowers from the farmers’ market were casually tossed in a large, red, enameled mug. Everyone was handed a La Luz Spritz— a tasty aperitif made with Amaro Angeleno (amaro.la/angeleno).
Ellen Stoddard brought a brimming salad bowl that looked like a work of art. It was full of freshly picked vegetables, including a variety of lettuces, lunchbox sweet peppers, Oregon snow peas, Nantes carrots, Aladdin’s Lamp tomatoes, Big Beef tomatoes, Haas avocados, and green onions. She dressed it all with her favorite Il Fustino (ilfustino.com) vinaigrette— blackberry and basil.
When I asked Ellen what she shares with neighbors, she replied, “We share seeds, seedlings, garden produce, food we’ve prepared, garden successes and failures, garden advice (wanted or not), meals, camaraderie, and friendship.”
Jennifer and Gregore are jewelers, and the attention to detail that is required of their profession is clearly evident in the spectacular antipasto platter they brought to share. They make their own goat cheese and made two for the evening: one mixed with wasabi from homegrown horseradishes and wrapped in nasturtium petals, the other rolled in herbs and spices. They cure their own olives, dry their persimmons, make their own salami, and, yes … they even make their own crackers. Seriously! Jennifer said, “We are consistently sharing our surplus and fun culinary explorations.”
After these impressive starters, the pizza oven was ready to go. John began with a farinata, which is basically a large chickpea pancake topped with olive oil and herbs. (The chickpea flour was milled at home, of course.) Then he made four pizzas— marinara, mushroom, sausage, and fig.
I love a good dessert, and this one was not only delicious but was also presented beautifully. John took passion fruit from their yard and made a panna cotta, then used the hollowed-out fruit for serving. As with each preceding course, John paired a wine from a local winery. The last glass of the evening was filled with Limoncello di la Luz, a digestive made from lemons grown— you guessed it— right there in the front yard. It was an idyllic end to an incredible gathering.
John Seigel-Boettner said it best. “With a fire lit, candles on the table, and food in the front yard, it is not hard to get to know our neighbors.” And homemade wood-fired pizza doesn’t hurt.
You may download our Gatherings April recipes below. Catch up on all of our Gatherings entries here.