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
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.