Sometimes it's a good idea to talk less and cook more. I find this is particularly true when I'm feeling overwhelmed, burdened, stressed or sad. I just want the world to melt away for a time and leave me in my well-loved little kitchen, surrounded by ingredients that, as I touch them one by one, conjure images of the farmers, ranchers and dairy men and women — and, of course, the winemakers — who tended them.
It's like being surrounded by friends but without the obligation of conversation.
This is one of myriad reasons I feel so very lucky to live in Sonoma County. It is possible and even easy to fill your refrigerator and pantry with foods that tell you a specific story about your neighbors and friends.
When I cook, say, lamb, I think of Rex and Kerry Williams. If duck is on the menu, Lesley and Jocelyn Brabyn's sweet faces come into focus. There are three generations of Benedettis smiling as I put a dollop of Clover Stornetta butter into my blackened omelette pan, and as I make a salad of pert Little Gem lettuces, there's Renee Kiff of Ridgeview Farm, nodding approvingly. Olive oil? Hi there, Ridgely Evers and Colleen McGlynn.
I could go on, but you get the idea. There's a special connection to the land here, needing only your attention. If you live in Sonoma County not by accident of birth but because you love this place, with its huge bowl of sky overhead and its tiny farms and big ranches and wild sea coast and rolling vineyards, you should be making the most of it.
The easiest way to do this is to stop relying on supermarkets for most of your food. All it requires is a simple switch. Shop at farm stands and farmers markets, perhaps join a farm CSA and a meat CSA, plant a little garden and visit a locally-owned supermarket now and then to fill in what you can't get closer to the source.
Use the smallest potatoes you can find for this appetizer; I've been enjoying those sold by Cliff Silva of Ma and Pa's Garden, at the Santa Rosa Original Certified Farmers Market on Saturday and at the Sebastopol Farmers Market on Sunday. Silva has potatoes about the size of marbles, which are perfect, though any potato is delicious if cooked long enough in the brine.
You can file this recipe under "Ultimate Comfort Foods," as that's exactly what it is. There's something about it that eclipses one's emotions, even sadness, for the moment or two it takes to nibble a succulent morsel, butter dripping down your fingers. And it is almost impossible to resist taking a second and then a third.
The recipe comes from a museum in Onandaga County, New York, and with it a story of old-fashioned teenage rebellion. There were once factories in the region that produced salt by an old technique called the "grainer method," which involves boiling huge cauldrons of saturated brine over fire until the salt begins to precipitate out of solution.
Apparently, young hoodlums of the day committed their vandalism by climbing the factory fences, tossing potatoes into the cauldrons and than hanging out until the potatoes were fully cooked.