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Lazy Sonoma Saturday

Melanie Wong Jul 28, 2001 11:21 PM

I’m a little embarrassed to admit that I’ve been sleeping in most Saturdays and today was the first time I’ve been to a Saturday morning farmers market all summer. Might as well go to the best one, so I headed to downtown Healdsburg. Nearly all the vendors here grow organically, are from farms right around Healdsburg and several only produce enough to sell at this market to their neighbors.

Taking in the scene with fresh eyes, I marveled at how lucky we are to have such abundance so close to home. Country bouquets of field-grown flowers – intoxicating lilies, antique roses, cosmos and more; a patchwork of green, yellow, purple, pink, orange, red, black, and magenta heritage plums (from the old days when the area was known for plums and not only wine grapes); handmade cheeses from local herds; smoked King salmon caught off Bodega Bay, artisan breads and breakfast pastries; fragrant vine-ripened melons; a riot of sweet and hot peppers native to far away places; dewy fresh squash blossoms; free-form and multi-color heirloom tomatoes; curlicues of Armenian cucumbers woven with other types; green Gravenstein apples and a few early varieties; long-stemmed organic strawberries; a multitude of eggplants in every shade and size, baskets of colorful berries; and so much more to feed the eye.

Boy, it was hard to resist tasting and buying some of everything! But, I’ll only be eating at home for two days, so my purchases were limited to a perfectly ripe Sharlyn melon, white eggplants, the last basket of strawberries, cucumbers, corn, and a plump Brandywine tomato.

Next I walked over to Henry’s Restaurant for what turned out to be a disappointing lunch. The banner outside promoting handmade hamburgers had caught my eye. Questioning the counterman, the right answers came back to me – the meat is ground for them daily by Big John’s (the local meat market) and they form the patties gently and carefully to order. While the meat may be good and their hands gentle, the 1/4# patties are shaped very thin to cover a big 5” diameter bun. Far from medium rare as I had ordered it, this was well-done even though the exterior was barely browned, as you’d expect for a patty of that dimension. The sesame seed bun was nicely grilled and toasty, its soft mushy interior soon disintegrated and the whole thing collapsed before I had eaten a third. Too much shredded lettuce, and there’s no excuse for a pasty tomato this time of year. They need to rethink the architecture here. The thick-cut fries were too greasy but deeply golden and very crunchy, a good showing for those.

Once you hit Sonoma County the radio station to listen to is KJZY, Smooth Jazz, at 93.7FM out of Sebastopol. Classic jazz is featured on Saturday night and Sunday night’s host Jerry Dean always spins something interesting. The other reason to tune in here is for the local traffic report, local business ads, and community bulletin board announcements. Today this clued me into the Piner High cheer leaders fundraiser in Windsor for a hand car wash. Other times you’ll hear about local food and wine events such as street dances, Rotary Club crab feeds, firemen’s barbecues, Gravenstein Festival (August 11 and 12), etc. that you might want to catch that day.

Appropriately scrubbed, I then headed over to a friend’s winery in Russian River Valley for some tasting and to pick up a few bottles. I was surprised to see that they’d leveled a small rise overlooking the vineyard and installed luxurious turf. It should take in time to entertain late summer picnickers. I also got a tip from them on what they feel may well be the new star on the local restaurant scene – Lutecia Restaurant Français (1015 Gravenstein Hwy., Sebastopol, 707.829.7010) – which opened three months ago. My friends thought the food was underpriced for the quality and that they were treated very well by warm and professional servers. An amusée and complimentary glass of Roeder Anderson Valley sparkling wine for each diner was a well-appreciated gesture. They had the Foie gras with aspic and the Coquilles St. Jacques as appetizers and said that the serving size is big enough for two to share; and the Fish of the day - local salmon and the Duck breast with peaches for mains. They complimented the wine service/list and said corkage is $10. The local critic’s review is linked below – I can hardly wait to try it myself!

Next was a swing over to Roseland or what’s now called “Sebastopol Road Business District” in Santa Rosa to gas up. The Beacon station there has the lowest prices for non-Costo pumps. What also draws me to this area is the fleet of taco trucks, a changing array depending on time of day. I stopped by La Texanita (which is painted on the truck although the staff t-shirts say Antojitos La Tejanita) when I spotted the aguas man was on duty. The aguas frescas here are pumped through those aerating fruit juice dispensers to keep them cold, rather than being diluted by ice in the big glass jars. The horchata is made from scratch from rice powder, non-fat milk, cinnamon and sugar. The version here, one of the best around, is not so sweet and has lots of cinnamon. However, these drinks aren’t always available when the truck shows up and I haven’t quite figured out the aguas man’s schedule yet. So far I’ve been able to catch him on Saturday and Sunday between 3pm and 6:30pm, never on a weekday.

Turning around toward home, the Chowhound-alert peripheral vision caught a handmade sign and arrow on the corner of Sebastopol Road and Hampton Way that said “Grand Opening – Terry’s Southern Style Fish & BBQ”. Naturally, I had to investigate and pulled up to what turned out to be the restaurant attached to the Santa Rosa Golf Center driving range. When I jumped out of the car and didn’t smell anything that hinted of standing in front of a barbecue joint, my thought was that I’d just poke my head in and grab a menu. But when you step inside, the aromas of smoke, spicy sauce and lots of good things hits you. Open since mid-May, they’ve been so busy getting started, there were no take-out menus yet. Instead, the sweet girl said, “please take a seat and try a free sample of a rib.” So I did. Nice crust on the pork rib and enough smoky flavor without being overpowering, but I’d prefer more bite to the texture rather than the softness here. The sauce (she’d brought me mild) was fruity and not sickening sweet. A decent effort that would encourage a return visit. The white board offered peach cobbler or sweet potato pie. When she told me they made their own, I got a slice of the sweet potato ($2.50) to go. When I got home, the pasty color looked underdone but the bottom crust was not soggy and was cooked all the way through. This is a short crust and relatively unsweetened. This sweet potato pie is distinctive in that it’s much less sweet than other versions I’ve had. The crust isn’t cookie sweet and the smooth filling shows the natural sweetness and flavors but isn’t sugary like candy. I’ll have to get back there while peaches are in season.

For the drive home I detoured through Geyserville. The Geyser Smokehouse has posted a liquor license application but no date yet for opening. Further north on the main drag, I was happy to see that the gruff tomato man (big house with wide lawn on left side of the street) is in business for the season, although he was sold out by that time in the late afternoon.

That’s it, my corn’s waiting for me. A typical Saturday in the Garden of Eden.

  1. r
    Ruth Lafler Jul 28, 2001 11:34 PM

    Thanks for the lovely description!

    I think I saw every kind of produce you mentioned tonight at the Berkeley Bowl. While there is nothing like foraging around the country side on a gorgeous day like today, it's nice to know I don't have to do that to get great produce!

    10 Replies
    1. re: Ruth Lafler
      Melanie Wong Jul 28, 2001 11:38 PM

      No foraging around! All the farmers were gathered at the Saturday market in the parking lot across from the Plaza in downtown Healdsburg.

      Link: http://www.metroactive.com/sonoma/din...

      1. re: Melanie Wong
        Rochelle Jul 29, 2001 02:39 PM

        just returned home from a little trip to the marin farmers market as i missed the sf market yesterday. as melanie so aptly described the riot of colors, flavors and variety of produce was overwhelming to the senses and a delight to my soul.

        i, like melanie, returned home with little. i purchased 10 lbs. of pickling cucumbers and some garlic to make dill pickles with. last week i took a trip down to a friends atherton estate and brought home flowering dill and baby horseradish which demands to be used appropriately, so pickling i will do.

        i also treated myself to a varigated chinese bell flower for the empty corner of my garden. it looks perfect out there. all in all a days worth of joy packed into an hour.

        thanks melanie for the great description of your day. i was especially interested to know about the graveys. i make a special journey every year to suppliment the apples from our back yard (yes, here in the city! we also have pears, altho they don't fare as well) and if they are this early i need to get myself up there and start putting up christmas. for i know people who believe without biscotti and applesauce santa hasn't really come.

        1. re: Rochelle
          Caitlin McGrath Jul 29, 2001 09:01 PM

          Rochelle, do you leave the skins on when you make your sauce? If not, you should. My mom and her best friend have been making annual trips to Sebastepol every August for Gravensteins for 25 years or so, and my mom always cans applesauce (when I was young, she did apple butter, bread and butter pickles, and lots of jams and chutneys, too, but that was long ago; now it's just applesauce). Her applesauce is the best I've ever had, hands down. This is not just the mom factor--I've thought long and hard about this [g]. It helps that she uses Gravensteins, the best suace apples there are, of course. She does it very simply, cooking in a minimum of water, with no sweetening, and running through the food mill--that's it. Eventually I realized that one big difference is that she leaves the skins on when she cooks the apples (of course they don't make it through the mill), which captures so much more of that perfume and fruitiness. We still recall the season (more than 10 years ago) when weather conditions had made the Gravensteins' skins redder than usual, and the sauce came out with a pink tinge and a distictly buttery taste. Mmmm...

          1. re: Caitlin McGrath
            Rochelle Jul 29, 2001 11:16 PM


            when i make applesauce i simply peel the apples and put them in a big kettle sans anything else except occassionaly a bit of cinnamon. the apples then cook down on their own, thick and creamy. i have a food mill but try as i might i just don't seem to get good results from it for anything i try it with. i have a sneaking suspicion i'm using too small a disk for my ingredients. i'll have to try a batch this year with skins, i'm sure the pectin and perfume in the skin adds an extra tasty touch.
            maybe i'll run into your mom and her friend up there!


            1. re: Rochelle
              Caitlin McGrath Jul 30, 2001 01:42 PM

              Rochelle, I think my mom uses a coarser disk for her applesauce, mabe 1/8-inch holes rather than 1/16. Her sauce has good texture, not runny, not lumpy. The sad part is that since I'm on the opposite coast, and those filled mason jars are too heavy to ship, I don't get to enjoy her applesauce!

              I recently picked up a jar of Whle Foods house brand (non-Gravenstein) applesauce, noted its slightly dark color, and then read on the label that they cook it with the skins on. Haven't tried it yet.

              1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                Rochelle Jul 30, 2001 05:21 PM


                when i can i often use 1/2 pint wide mouth jars. always for jams and bread and butter pickles and usually i do some applesauce for those far away. that way they still get a little taste and know they're loved. maybe your mom would do that for you--unless a little bit is more torture than none at all!

                for canned commercial applesauce have you tried sarabeths? i often use a little of it in my apple pies and it's just as yummy as it can be.
                not mom's, but good.

                1. re: Rochelle
                  Caitlin McGrath Jul 30, 2001 07:53 PM

                  Actually, my mom does all her applesauce (and anything else she still gets around to canning) in the half-pint, wide-mouth jars as well. Just found out a college friend's set her wedding date for late October, so if I make it back, maybe I can cart some home...

                  1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                    Melanie Wong Aug 7, 2001 08:26 PM

                    Just back from Oregon...noticed newspaper ads for pick your own Gravenstein apples along Hood River. I wonder where else these wonderful apples are grown?

                    1. re: Melanie Wong
                      Caitlin McGrath Aug 7, 2001 11:35 PM

                      This is hardly authoratative, but I just read Prodigal Summer by Barbara Kingsolver, which takes place in Appalachian farming country around the Tennesse/Kentucky border; one of the characters has apple orchards, and the harvesting of Gravensteins is mentioned. (Kingsolver is originally from the area, and there was plenty of farming detail re crops and trees in the novel, so I give her the benefit of the doubt.)

                      I tried a simple google search, but didn't turn up a ssource with any comprehensive info, but saw references to growers in Washington and an apple farm in Massachussetts (!), plus a Swiss apple spirit made from Gravensteins.

                      1. re: Caitlin McGrath
                        Melanie Wong Aug 8, 2001 09:28 PM

                        Thanks for the info, Caitlin. Maybe you'll turn up some closer to where you live and can let us know how similar/different they are.

    2. c
      Caitlin McGrath Jul 29, 2001 12:30 AM

      Speaking of Sebastopol...since my mom will be away the first half of August, she and her best friend are going on the annual Gravenstein hunt/farm buying/outlet shopping trip in the next few days. The canning of the applesauce (skins on, please), will have to wait until she returns.

      1 Reply
      1. re: Caitlin McGrath
        Melanie Wong Jul 29, 2001 03:27 AM

        This would be a good time. Gravensteins are a little early this year after that hot spell in May. I saw some signs today along Hwy 116 (Gravenstein Hwy) for as low as 30¢ a pound (u-pick) up to $1.00 a pound for organic top grade fruit.

      2. l
        Lise Aug 2, 2001 09:04 PM

        Thanks, Melanie for the great tips in my neck of the woods! This little eating itinerary, plus your info re: Mekong Market a few threads ago, has helped to form my weekend plans. I usually go to the H'burg farmers mkt. Last week I had the most honeyed-tasting nectarines. I'm thinking of getting the squash blossoms and stuffing them with some of the Bodega goat cheese before diiping in a beer batter and frying. I also hear that this Saturday the new chef for the Dry Creek restaurant in the (still) unfinished Healdsburg Hotel will be doing a demo.

        3 Replies
        1. re: Lise
          MarkB Aug 3, 2001 02:05 AM

          Where will the new chef of the Healdsburg Inn be demo-ing? At the Farmer's Market? At the hotel site? I guess I could just sniff around the block on Saturday.

          1. re: MarkB
            Lise Aug 3, 2001 09:05 PM

            I think the flyer said he would be at the Farmer's Market. Where exactly I don't know...but it's not a very large market. If I remember correctly, the flyer also showed Charlie Palmer. I don't know if he will be there as well, though.

            1. re: Lise
              Melanie Wong Aug 7, 2001 08:29 PM

              Thanks for the heads up, Lise. Hope we hear more from you. Your squash blossom idea sounds wonderful. The fritto misto I had last week in Eugene included one battered/fried zucchini blossom. Would have been better with a stuffing as you describe.

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