Olives and The Specter of Experience

As one passes the General Store and heads north along Dry Creek road toward Lake Sonoma grape vines carpet the valley floor and terrace the hills. Our climate which is so synonymous to the Mediterranean allows them to flourish and proliferate there. The richness of the soil, the long summer angles of the sun, the cool breath from passing creeks, these things flavor the grapes and sturdy the vines. Grapes have won the race to dominate the crop market and our shelf space, but the California grape is not alone in these lush oak spotted hills. In the even light of afternoon, the silver bellies of olive leaves flash.
Grapes entered Sonoma County from two points almost simultaneously. Russian settlers came from the coast and Fort Ross to plant grapes in the north, near dry creek. Entering near Petaluma, Spanish emissaries planted vines and olives alongside the white arches of their missions. There are three pillars to cuisine along the Mediterranean coast, grapes, olives and wheat. The Russians, only bordering the Black and Caspian Seas to the south and thus out of the loop, inconsiderately only brought a single pillar to our county. The Spanish were kind enough to bring all three.
Needing even tempered sun, the olive trees thrived along side the vines and spread. Today there are 75 different varieties of olives and oils to be harvested in California, ranging from the heat and dust of central valley to the cool red wooded pockets of the Big Sur coast. The state’s southern slopes and moderate winters provide the olive’s optimal climate. The rich clay soil holds rain near the surface for the tree’s shallow root system.
Today olives coexist quietly in the shadow of grapes along Sonoma’s valleys and while Mediterranean countries like Spain continue to lead the world in production, California olives are gaining traction the world over as a high-end crop used in the kitchen, both in restaurants and at home. In Locals Denier Handal olive oil can be found bottled and resting underneath the densely forested shelves of wine. Here is another layer to the experience of the palate.
The wine we drink and the food we eat, the oil that anoints our bread (Or gluten free substitute) is all building towards another stratum of experience. Perhaps people’s different impressions of wine over the kitchen sink has nothing to do with the changing chemistry of the bottle and more to do with the passing of an experience. The closer these delicacies come to their source the greater the joy in the taste. Wine, oysters, olives, salmon, greens, these wild products are endowed with another level of splendor when enjoyed in the shadow of their genesis. When one finds the specter of memory rising like a tatter of steam from every dish it is time to break free of the home and refresh the senses out in the realms of the things we enjoy.

Oyster Shucking

Tomales Bay resides just South of Sonoma County’s coastal border. There, the summertime crowds line up in undulating throngs along its Eastern bank. They gather in the deep fog that forms between the Petaluma hills and the Point Reyes dairy farms and stay to be blistered in the noon day 90 degree temperatures which spill over the hilly spines of the long Sonoma and Petaluma valleys, drawn by the great heat suck of the Pacific Ocean. There isn’t a winery for miles, so why come? As the tide exits and the heat rises the mud flats loan the air a perfume of wet dog. All along Highway-One, there are flashes of Ferrari red and yellow in the deep blue-green of the twisted cypress trees. Laughter rings across the water, raising Blue Herons. Small barges pull alongside over crowed restaurant patios, driven by men in thick rubber waders, delivering the bay’s treasures in thick rubber buckets, Oysters.

Tomales Bay is the negative space created by the friction of the North American and Pacific tectonic plates rubbing against one another. Over millennia the Pacific plate has pushed farther North into the sea building the great diamond head of Point Reyes. The waters that rushed in to fill the scar of the fault made Tomales bay. In the South, the Petaluma River enters the long narrow bay and dumps its silt, creating vast mud flats. Near the Northern end of Tomales are two small islands, Hog and Duck. Past these, the mud flats deepen and eventually drop off into the cold and notoriously sharky water of Bodega Bay. Just West in the bay is where Sir Francis Drake beached during his trans global voyage.

More locally to the bay, Hog Island is famous for the specific variety of oysters the mudflats grow and for the mythical hog colony which started there after a ship exporting pigs caught fire and crashed, letting its cargo run wild. The parking lots of the town Tomales are as likely to be filled with gun rack toting Fords as they are to host the rearing horses of European made sportscars. But closer inspection of the two-acre Hog Island suggest it couldn’t support a single hog, much less a herd, and the local farmers are all generally friendly to oyster lovers.

Seen from its profile, the oyster looks very comparable to that of a time weathered whale, with its narrow top shell and potbellying bottom shell. The comparison does not stop there. Like a whale, the oyster feeds by drawing water between its lips and filtering out plankton. Its preferred hunting grounds are shallow watered estuaries that stay warm and provide oysters with constantly refreshed water to strip of plankton. Tomales, while small in terms of oyster estuaries, is ideal with its long shallow expanses of bottom. In many places, skinny wooden poles extend from the water like mooring posts forever waiting on a ship to return. The poles stake bag after bag of oysters to the soft bottom and stop them escaping into the wild. On a calm day, it is not uncommon to see small sailing craft moving from South to North with the wind disturbed by waddling brutish little barges charging up and down the estuary, ferrying these bulging mesh bags, recently unstaked, to the waiting maws of nearby diners.

In their final purgatory, the oysters are gracefully shucked and laid out bare to the world over a sandy beach of rock salt. Kept in the ocean until the last possible moment, these oysters are another expression of the deeply historical roots in the area between farmers and a crop.

By Sam Styles

Have You Met Luther?

The Luther Burbank Center for Arts is best known by locals for it’s world class Ruth Finley Person Theatre. Praised for its national and international touring performances ranging from shows such as Tony Bennet, Brain Candy, to the Moscow Ballet. With a range live comedy specials taped by HBO to some of the hottest television hits translated to the stage like Move Live on Tour, its no secret that the performers love her as much as we do! But did you know that the Person Theatre is just one of four on-site theaters? With the East Auditorium, Carson Cabaret, and Left Edge theatre there’s something for everyone. Presenting a wide array of performances, the Center’s three resident theatre companies, North Bay Stage Company, Roustabout Theater, and Left Edge Theatre offer reasonably priced entertainment for children and adults alike.

When you add in the 9,000-square-foot Atrium, three conference rooms, the Fireside room, Pavilion, The Anova Center for Education, Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmer’s Market, and outdoor Sculpture Garden, the LBC is as big a figure in square footage as it is in the community. The Luther Burbank Center is a nonprofit organization owned and operated by the Luther Burbank Memorial Foundation, a established in 1979. With revenue generated from performances, venue rentals, concessions, sponsors, and private contributors, their education programs flourish……..going straight back into the center with an emphasis on education the LBC has thirty six school shows during the day with busses provided for the students, a Music for Schools instrument lending library (for low-income students to participate in bands and orchestras), free events including Fiesta de Independence and pre-show crafts for kids. With almost 5,500 members, donors, volunteers (14.000 hours of donated services, and sponsors who help sustain the center its easy to see and feel the love many have for the center.

 

Written by Rachel Wilcox

Single Restaurant Decision – will it be Thread or Tree??

Written by Barbara Barrielle

There are two distinct restaurants in Healdsburg beginning with the word “Single.” They could not be at farther ends of the spectrum in style and in price.

Singletree Café is a longtime Healdsburg breakfast and lunch destination. Their scrambles and early bird $2.99 breakfast special are legendary among locals. Food is fresh and borders on gourmet for a diner. Go there anytime and you will see someone you know. It is definitely a locals destination with an endless coffee cup and a $5.99 burger special at lunch.

Because of the construction around the impending roundabout at the south entrance to downtown Healdsburg, Singletree has suffered mightily. The parking lot and signage and easily missed because of barricades so, as a local, we beseech you to drop in a tell them we sent you. Here is a recent posting on their facebook page that is both sad and delicious at the same time….crab benedict? We are there!

“To our wonderful customers they are digging up the streets to put the new water and sewer lines in. I know it’s difficult to navigate around us, but please don’t forget about us! This past month business was terrible! We need your help to keep our doors open! We look forward to seeing you. This weekend is Corned beef Hash, Fresh Crabmeat Benedict, our new Cuban Sandwich and our CHILI. Thank you for your support!”

If Singletree is your daily daytime chow hangout, SingleThread is your once-in-a-lifetime, post-bonus, impress-your-friends/date/in-laws celebratory splurge. To walk in the door, prepare to shell out $295 for the only thing they serve, an eleven course menu based on a Japanese approach where ingredients are elevated and presented with care.

SingleThread was two years in the making, with Chef Ryan Kavanaugh and family starting a five acre farm along the Russian River to support the restaurant operation. They now are SingleThread Farm, Restaurant and Inn so that you never have to leave the SingleThread universe when you happen to visit Healdsburg. Locals can’t really afford dinner at $295 before wine, tax and tip so you may not meet many there but walk around the Plaza after and see them at Duke’s having a mixology experience that will set them back $10. That leaves $285 to buy lunch and dinner for the rest of the week at El Farolito, Campofina, Chalkboard’s happy hour or any of the other local favorites…more later on those.

Indian Springs Resort – Calistoga

By Scott Silva

Many years ago I lived in Calistoga for a short time and I always admired the Indian Springs Resort. It is a historic property and was definitely in need of some TLC. A few years ago the property was renovated and many new accommodations were added along with a restaurant. In January we decided to stay there to celebrate my partner’s birthday. While the property is amazing and luxurious it lacks the pretention found at many of the other high end hotels in the Napa Valley. There is a casual relaxed atmosphere that permeates the property. If we needed something the staff was always available to assist us but otherwise they leave you alone. I love this! I am perfectly happy to open my own doors thank you. For me it was a very relaxing and calming stay. Though the real reason to visit Indian Springs is the pool. I like to think of myself as a connoisseur of hotel pools having stayed at most of the major resorts in the state of Hawaii and many others in the US and Mexico. None can compare to the pool at Indian Springs. It is fed with natural mineral water from the hotel’s own geyser nearby. Periodically you can see the geyser erupt with a tall spout of steaming water just like ‘old faithful’. The main pool is Olympic sized and was kept at a perfect 105 degrees. There is also a smaller adult- only pool that was at 95 degrees. But honestly forget about the adult pool. The main pool is where you want to be. I never thought much of the supposed healing power of mineral pools but I am a true believer now. The water just feels different and is very soothing. The pool is open until midnight and I highly recommend taking a dip under the stars after dinner. It is sublime. There is no alcohol served at the pool (bummer) but honestly I think that would be a distraction from just relaxing and enjoying the wonderful water.

We booked massages and facials in the spa and though expensive, they were some of the best I have ever had. They have many treatments available and you should do at least one. On weekdays you get a day pass to the pool if you book a spa treatment. And yes, it still is all about the pool.

This is not an inexpensive resort, but we were able to take advantage of some great winter rates that were almost half of what you would pay in the summer. We checked into a Palm View room in one of the newer buildings that are spread around the 17-acre property. The room was large and luxurious. It was definitely not a cookie cutter room like you might find at a Ritz Carlton for example. It felt like you were staying at the home of a rich friend. There are bikes spread around the hotel and you can just grab one and explore the property or take a quick ride into downtown Calistoga.

There is a new restaurant ‘Sam’s Club’ on property. No, it is not connected with Wal-Mart. Rather it is named after Sam Brannon, one of the founders of Calistoga. It is an attractive space with a fireplace and nice bar. We didn’t want to leave the property so we went there for dinner and it was delicious with great service. There is no room service.

If you want to relax and be left to yourself to relax with a very upscale yet bohemian vibe and a one-of-a-kind pool this is the place.

Santa Rosa Seafood

 

Whether you are a local or a visitor to the area looking for an awesome source of fresh fish, Santa Rosa Seafood is your spot. This family owned business offers a huge selection of both seafood and shellfish at competitive prices. You can get sushi grade fish, local crab and oysters, and a lot of specialty items when they are in season such as uni and mussels. Be sure to ask for a sample of the smoked salmon…. because once you taste that you’ll definitely want to take some home for later.

The owners recently opened a restaurant right next door serving the same fresh delicacies they sell in their shop. Both the store and the restaurant are open Wednesdays thru Sundays from 10am to 6pm. 707-570-9921

Don’t miss this spot if you are in the area….and it’s worth the drive if not!

The Emerald Cup

Whether or not you partake of California’s “other” crop you may soon find yourself enjoying some of the country’s best marijuana when you visit us here. Plans for all kinds of marijuana tourism are in the works here, but just so you can educate yourselves in advance here are the winners of this past weekend’s Emerald Cup which attracted over 30.000 people to Santa Rosa.

www.emeraldreport.com

Held over two days at the Sonoma County Fairgrounds the event is the largest marijuana competitions. As the legalities fall into place you may soon have the option of being picked up by a limo in Santa Rosa for a tour. Stay tuned.

Hana Japanese Restaurant

I had been hearing about Hana for a long time…. and finally tried it recently. Set in a relatively nondescript shopping center, the decor once inside is welcoming with a large Sake bar area and nicely spaced tables as well as an active sushi bar. There were five of us at dinner and our waitress was warm and knowledgeable suggesting that we go “family style” and try lots of items. While not inexpensive this was definitely the way to go. The two items pictured here were standouts, the Happy Spoon had two different types of salmon roe, an oyster and was bathed in a little crème fraiche. It was a perfect blend of flavors and textures. The chefs mixed sashimi was the best I have had. A generous portion, enough for two, super fresh and absolutely yummy. Seeing several of our chef friends dining here too is always a good sign.

We had one vegetarian along for our dinner and she found plenty of tasty items to try. The cooked creamy salmon hand roll again with a dash of crème fraiche disappeared quickly and more were ordered.

All in all this was truly outstanding Sushi. Don’t miss it if you are in the area…..and even if it means a bit of a drive take the time to seek this restaurant out.
http://www.hanajapanese.com

Sonoma Nesting

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lf you find yourself near Guerneville do not miss visiting the Sonoma Nesting Company. This shop has a beautifully curated collection of Antiques, Reinvented Furniture, Art and other reloved and restored objects.antique_pine_armoire_in_perrywinkle_grey

Owned by two Guerneville locals the shop is one of our favorite spots. There is always something new, and beautiful, to tempt one. In addition to all kinds of eclectic treasures they also specialize in original artisan-painted furniture. Whether elegant, intricate, rustic, or refined – even fun and funky – their painted furniture is among the finest available.

You will always receive a friendly welcome from the owners Dax and Smitty and often from their dog as well. Its worth checking back frequently for new items.

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