Today in Sonoma

Fall Heirloom Tomatoes, Mozzarella Fresca, Red Onions, and Cucumbers, with Olive Oil & Basil

Summer’s Treasures, Fall Feasts

Plums, peaches, and nectarines may be gone or nearly so but much of summer’s harvest continues well past the beginning of fall. Some foods that we associate with summer, especially melons, often peak in September and October. And if we don’t have an early winter, if temperatures remain warm and early rains are not too heavy, we will have local berries, sweet peppers, chiles, zucchini, and tomatoes for several more weeks, perhaps even into mid and late November.

A fall tomato is heavy, rich, and sweet, unlike early summer tomatoes, with their brightness and tang. If you typically shop in grocery stores, the difference may not be noticeable but if you garden or get your produce at farm stands and farmers markets, the nuances of taste and texture are dramatic and delicious.

So, what are the best things to be eating, right now?  Tomatoes, tomatoes, tomatoes, along with sweet peppers, all manner of chiles, and watermelon. Indulge before they vanish and preserve what you can to enjoy until the cycle begins all over again. 

There are nearly 10 farmers markets this weekend. Visit the ones closest to you, visit your favorites, and luxuriate in the season’s bounty. For inspiration, click on Cooking and put “Fall” in the search bar. And check back later today for some of my newest fall favorites, including fermented chiles, fermented tomatoes, and the best fall sandwich ever.

A beautiful sunset, framed by nature

Tanya is an amateur photographer with a fabulous eye. I love how she incorporates the branches as a frame for this beautiful sunset. The photograph was taken in Graton on March 15 at about 6:30 p.m.

Umbrella at Rest

Jerry Newman captured this image of an umbrella at rest at about 10:02 a.m. at his condo at the corner of Norlee Ave. and Covert Lane in Sebastopol. (Jerry used a Sony A6000/55-210mm lens. Shot at 1/350 of a second at f3.6.)

Two Rock Rainbow

Kathy Tresch was outside at just the right moment and caught this rainbow arcing over the dairy barn.

Tresch Dairy is home to Olympia’s Valley Estate, a spectacular venue for weddings, the filming of commercials, and other special events.

The spectacular 2000+ acre farm is located on Walker Road in the undulating hills above Two Rock Valley west of Petaluma, a part of Sonoma County that still resembles what Olympia Novella Trench saw when she arrived in the valley with her family in 1905. She was 15 years old. Today, the organic farm is thriving, with a deep commitment to stewardship of this precious land.

Good Morning, Santa Rosa

Molly Leia Stokeld took this photo on the morning of March 1, at about 6:30 a.m. She is standing in her backyard, near Montgomery Village in Santa Rosa. The branches are of her dormant plum tree, not yet awakened to spring.

See more of her work here.

Fresh Dungeness Crab off the boat

The Best Louis Dressing Ever

I have been making this voluptuous dressing since I was 14 or 15. I’ve never encountered a better one or one that, to my palate, even comes close. It is my favorite way to enjoy our local Dungeness crab. The column also has recipes for crab with Meyer lemon vinaigrette and a simple yet delicious crab soup. You’ll find all the recipes here. Later this week, I’ll roll out a feature of all of my favorite ways to enjoy Dungeness crab.

Sebastopol Farmers Market Customer Appreciation Day

The Good Cooks JournalFrom 10 a.m. to 1:30 p.m.–a little earlier and a littler later because this is, after all, Sebastopol–I’ll be serving bowls of delicious creamy polenta with a choice of three toppings, wild mushrooms with cream and fresh chévre, pomegranate-walnut gremolata, and toasted sweet chilies. Want all three? No problem.

I’ll have the Good Cook’s Journal available for sale, too, as the recipe for slow-cooker polenta is in this book.

Join in the fun!

Look Closely

If you look closely at the fence to the right of the round barn, what do you see? Someone has spray painted “Ramones!” Thank you, Gabe! I smile whenever I think about this, though I cringe just a bit, too, to think that this qualifies for vintage. But of course it does.

California Coast Cuisine Comes to West County

Handline is the second Sebastopol restaurant for Lowell Sheldon, who opened Peter Lowell’s in 2007 on the north end of downtown. Handline is on the south end, in the former Foster’s Freeze. Among the new restaurant’s charms is the original soft ice cream machine, at the far end of the little bar. Adjacent to it is the original white neon “cones” sign.

Handline’s executive chef and Sheldon’s partner in the endeavor is Natalie Goble, who has been farming for Peter Lowell’s for a number of years. Both Sheldon and Goble are Sonoma County natives. Sheldon’s father, Steven Sheldon, is an architect based in Sebastopol.

The restaurant has two kitchens, a production kitchen with a wide window, where customers place their orders. A second kitchen, on the street side of the building, is used exclusively for masa, which is integral o the restaurant’s food and philosophy. The corn is organic and grown in California. It goes through a traditional process known as nixtamalizing and is then ground and used to make tortillas. It is also available to the public, as raw masa and as tortillas to take home.

At the restaurant, the tortillas are perfect. For tacos, they are soft and ethereal but strong enough to hold ingredients without falling apart. For tostadas, they have perfect snap and don’t grow soggy. They make delicious chips, too.

The bar at Handline.

The bar at Handline.

The restaurant has an interesting design, with three discrete areas inside and lots of space outside. There is a narrow bar adjacent to the main dining area, perfect for solo diners or visiting with a friend when you don’t want a full sit-down meal. A wider, fully stocked bar, has a few seats. The main dining room is spacious, with tables that are not too close together.

Handline is off to a great start, no doubt influenced by Sheldon’s experience and success at his first restaurant. Goble is an outstanding chef, with a precise and subtle palate and a commitment to ingredients shaped by her experience as a farmer.

Handline is located at 935 Gravenstein Highway South, Sebastopol. It is open daily from 11 a.m. to 3 p.m. and 5 to 10 p.m.

Is This the Best Bacon In World?

Tonight I made Spaghetti Carbonara for dinner, using a bacon I’d purchased a few weeks ago at the St. Helena Farmers Market. When I bought it, the vendor said to cook it in the oven, not on the stove, because sugar in the cure will caramelize too quickly in a frying pan. I decided to follow his instructions although, in my tests, bacon cooked in an oven rarely if ever has the right “snap,” a quality I consider essential (especially for BLTs). But this bacon is pricey and so I wanted to see how his instructions held up.

I cooked it first for ten minutes, drained off most of the fat, and cooked it for another 9 minutes or so, and then set it on a brown page bag to drain. Then I took a bite. And then I went to a brand new place, a special place, a bacon heaven I did not know existed. I was transported and tempted to bow down to this new bacon god I had discovered. The bacon was perfectly crisp but there was something else. It certainly had snap  but there was another dimension. After the snap, there was a secondary release, like a little explosion of a soufflé made of pure bacon.

The Carbonara was delicious, as it always is, but as I enjoyed bite after bite, I found myself wondering why bacon is never offered as a simple entrée. This bacon, from Contimo Provisions of Napa Valley, is, indeed, that good.

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