Monthly Archives: October 2012

This town

This little town makes me feel like I’m home. When I was growing up, I always dreamed of going away to college and coming home for the holidays. I know it’s strange, but I wanted desperately to know what it felt like to be apart from my family for months at a time and experience the jovial reunion upon returning. I wanted it just like the movies, with snow, and a warm fireplace to warm my bones by. But this is California, and I’ve always lived in a close proximity to home.

Now every weekend, I get to return home. My job is inconveniently located about 50 miles south of Healdsburg. Amber’s house is conveniently about 25 miles away from work; so I pretty much live with her Monday through Thursday, before heading to the “Burg” on Friday afternoons. That is until this spring, when Amber’s lease is up and we can find a place to call home together.

I return to Healdsburg with not one, but two families waiting for me. My mom and sister are here, and my 2nd family – my roommates and friends are here too. I sometimes feel like there aren’t enough hours in the 2-½ days that I’m home to catch up. Don’t get me wrong, Amber very much fits into my equation of family and home, but this place just does it for me…

There’s just something about this town. The coffee shop in the morning, complete with cute kids crumbling pastries while parents fix their fix, and the regulars read the paper. Everyone has a hello hanging from their lips; they’re just waiting for a welcoming smile from a friendly face.  The tight-knit, homespun community is like few others. Trip Advisor recently rated SC above all other wine regions, and I’d be inclined to believe much of that is because of Healdsburg. It’s quaint and homey in the best way – not too small, or too mom and pop; not commercialized or stuffy; it fits just right.

There’s something about coming home and the pace of life slowing down for a day or two. No rushing to work or traffic jams. There’s something about the stroll-about-town mentality that everyone has. There’s nothing that anyone hasn’t seen before, but they’ll see it time after time because it reminds them that they are home.

This particular time of year, it’s about the warmth of the fall sun on your back and trees ablaze with colors that fall to the ground and kick around in the breeze. It’s about the welcomed change of seasons and the closing of harvest.

Small town life has never been an adjustment; it’s been the norm. Sure, growing up I wished that there was a little something more to do for a kid, and I probably didn’t appreciate is as much as I should have, but I sure do now. But its hard to complain when my friends and mine favorite pastime was riding bikes and playing basketball.

It’s easy to get too comfortable here; that’s why it’s important to get out and explore. I investigate the cultures of other towns and cities, big and small, and because of that, I appreciated Healdsburg all the more when I come back.

Of course, there’s something about the food.  Gastronomy in small places – you can see, smell, and hear everything by standing in one place. Stand in the center of town and spin slowly, doing a full revolution. You see a quaint plaza that boasts tiny bistros, bakeries, and bookstores, coffee shops, cheese shops, and art galleries; where, along the walkways dotted with locals and tourists alike, all looking for a memorable meal, their minds and stomachs buzzing with the endless opportunities, you see the sparkle of this town. Take another spin and breath in. Smells emanate and entice you from all directions; whether they are from the coffeehouse roasting beans, or the kitchens of the numerous restaurants or the spring flowers in bloom. Keep your ears open while you spin, and you can hear the chopping of vegetables, the pounding of meat, the tossing of bread, the pouring of wine, the chatter, the laughter, and eventually the silence.

The most distinctive architecture is the rolling hills of vineyards. But for me, the “picture postcard” of home is Fitch Mountain, looking down on the town from its Northeasterly perch. From its top, you can see it all: the schools, the churches, the snaking river and town square. Since I was a kid, I’ve always associated home with looking up at Fitch, veiled in morning fog and dotted with houses that glow in the night.

My house sits just beneath Fitch Mountain and it is the gathering place for my 2nd family. And for the first time since the end of season two, my 2nd family gathered on a Sunday evening, as we have become accustomed to doing, for family meal and zombies. I made an old-fashioned classic, homemade tomato soup and grilled cheese. The weather that day was far from fallish, with temps in the 80’s; but a friend who just tore apart his summer garden had several pounds of tomatoes that were begging to be made into soup – and well just few days earlier, IT WAS tomato soup weather. Seems like every time I mention something about fall being here, or not being here, they weather changes drastically. Fall or not, it feels good to be home, if only for a few days.

Tomato Soup (Michael Chiarello Recipe)

  • 2 (14-ounce) cans chopped tomatoes – or equivalent fresh tomatoes
  • 3/4 cup extra virgin olive oil
  • Salt and freshly ground black pepper
  • 2 stalks celery, diced
  • 2 small carrot, diced
  • 1 1/2 yellow onion, diced
  • 2 cloves garlic, minced
  • 2 cups chicken broth
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 1/4 cup chopped fresh basil leaves
  • 1 cup heavy cream, optional

Directions

Preheat oven to 450 degrees F.

Strain the chopped tomatoes, reserve tomato juices, and spread onto a baking sheet, season with salt and pepper, and drizzle with 1/4 cup of the olive oil and roast until caramelized, about 15 minutes.

Meanwhile, in a saucepan, heat remaining olive oil over medium-low heat. Add the celery, carrot, onion and garlic; cook until softened, about 10 minutes. Add tomatoes, chicken broth, bay leaf and butter. Simmer until vegetables are very tender, about 15 to 20 minutes. Remove bay leaf and add basil. Puree with a hand held immersion blender until smooth. Or in small batches, puree in blender and return to pot and stir in cream. For best results, serve with a grilled cheese sandwich.

Soup days

I puffed out plumes of hot air into the autumn chill Monday morning as I embarked on my morning commute. THIS is the feeling I’ve been waiting for; the sun is out, but the air is cool and smells of fall.  It’s hard to believe that just a week ago in was 100 degrees.

Last Friday before I departed Petaluma, Amber asked, “Can we have soup next week?” In the pleading sort of way that a child might ask for their favorite meal. “Yes,” I said, “we can have soup next week.” And she beamed brightly.

Throughout the year, I often find myself fretting over whether I got my fill of seasonal produce. In spring, its favas and peas, in summer, its tomatoes and melons and peppers; and now as we creep into fall – yes I dare say it this time, we are transitioning – I look to squash, apples and pears.

With soup on the horizon, I thought I would give Amber a few options to choose from: tomato (as there are still plenty left to use) or butternut squash and apple, since they are coming into season. I told Amber we should find a bunch of recipes and have soup every week. “Or more!” She exclaimed. I don’t know anyone who loves soup as much as Amber. I’m not sure what her fascination is, but I think she would be happy eating soup all the time. Don’t get my wrong, I love a good soup, but I think once a week is enough.

Whenever I’m cooking something seasonal, I get really excited, hoping that it will be just the first of many seasonal offerings that I will get to enjoy. Over the years, butternut squash has become one of my favorite things to cook with. Its sweet and nutty flavor compliments the comfort food I like to cook during the colder months.

Maybe it was the melodic sounds of Bon Iver as I was cooking, but smelling the aromas as I built the layers of soup immediately set the mood. The bacon and mirepoix and bay commingling, wafting up aromas of the holidays, and I’m transported to all the nostalgic autumnal places in my memory. To Mom’s kitchen and to my childhood house front yard where we would take pictures with our prized, home-grown pumpkins. Soup days are here.

Butternut Squash and Apple Soup (adapted from Epicurious)

  • 4 slices bacon, cut crosswise into 1/2-inch pieces
  • 2 celery ribs, chopped
  • 2 carrot, chopped
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 1/4 teaspoon cinnamon
  • 1 bay leaf
  • 2 medium Granny Smith apples, chopped – ¼ apple reserved for garnish
  • 1 1/2 pounds butternut squash, peeled, seeded, and cut into 1/2-inch pieces (3 1/2 to 4 cups)
  • 2 cups chicken stock
  • 2 to 2 1/2 cups water

Cook bacon in a 6-quart heavy pot over medium heat, stirring occasionally, until crisp. Add celery, carrot, onion, and bay leaf in fat in pot over medium-low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened but not browned, 10 to 12 minutes. Add cinnamon and cook, uncovered, stirring, 1 minute.

Add squash and apple, and stir to incorporate. Add stock, 2 cups water, 1-teaspoon salt and 1/2 teaspoon pepper, then simmer, covered, stirring occasionally, until vegetables are very tender, 15 to 20 minutes.

Puree soup in batches in a blender and transfer to cleaned pot and warm over medium low heat, stirring occasionally. Add salt and pepper to taste.

While soup is heating, cut enough of remaining apple into thin matchsticks for garnish.

And then it got hot

And now as I get slightly tipsy off of a couple glasses of rosé, I rant for the sake of blogging. Blogging – I have a kind of love hate relationship with it. I was once morally opposed to the idea; and then I warmed up to it; and then I started doing it, and I loved it; and then I hated it; and then I loved it again; and then I found it a lot of work; and somewhere in-between a period of poverty and now, I’m here, like I said, ranting.

October 2nd will go down in history as the best rosé day of the season. I never thought I’d say that on October 2nd, but had it not turned 100 degrees, this last remaining, straggler bottle of rosé probably would have been forgotten in the bottom of the second case box until spring.

So yeah, remember how last week I mused about the coming of autumn? Well mother nature decided she wasn’t done, and threw us for a loop with three days in the high 90’s and triple digits. The golden sun that I spoke so highly of is now intensely crushing my visions of crisp autumn days.

I drive home passed rolling vineyards that have already started to turn crimson and gold with the season, but are now radiant in the fall (?) heat… That sentence baffles me. I can’t remember the last time it was over 90 degrees in October. Has that happened here, ever? I really need to get my research team on this…

Anyway, as I was passing the pumpkin patch on the corner of Adobe and East Washington, on October 2nd, I imagined digging my hands into the slimy, stringy sludge of a pumpkin, prepping it for carving, and was promptly brought back to reality by the heat of the sun, punishing me through the windshield.

Last week was wishful thinking, really – I mean, it hasn’t REALLY started to feel like fall, other than the changing colors and the cool morning – I still have tomatoes ripening on the vine and zucchini blossoms popping up every other day. I’m sorry I mislead you with my banter about gilded light and leaves and soup. But now I’m kind of thankful for the heat and the ability to drink rosé. And I’m thankful for my job and the opportunities it has already presented me to learn and write. And of course the money and full benefits aint’ so bad either… I’m starting to wonder just how far this business card with my name on it can take me; how many people will accept me as royalty?

But yeah, I guess it’s still sort of summer, and I can eat stuff like this…

and drink stuff like this…

and have a damn fine Tuesday.

VML 2011 Russian River Rosé of Pinot Noir

This tasty bottle will only set you back $20 (unless you’re part of the wine club, which Amber just happens to be). It’s rich and creamy and ripe with flavors of strawberries. There’s not much not to like. A good rosé should be pleasant to drink, and that’s exactly what this is. I recommend drinking it on a hot October 2nd or any other hot day before fall actually arrives.