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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.

I don't think they carried butter or pepper grinders with them; those additions are mine.

<b>Salt Potatoes</b>

Makes 8 to 10 as an appetizer

<i>2 cups kosher salt or unrefined sea salt

2 pounds very small new potatoes

6 tablespoons butter, preferably local, organic, grass-fed butter

— Black pepper in a mill</i>

Fill a large pot with 2 quarts water, add the salt and stir to dissolve it. Add the potatoes and bring to a boil over high heat. Reduce the heat to medium-low and simmer until the potatoes are very tender when pierced with a bamboo skewer or fork, about 25 minutes or a bit longer, depending on the size of the potatoes.

Drain thoroughly but do not rinse.

Put the potatoes in a serving bowl, add the butter and toss gently until the butter is melted. Season generously with black pepper and serve hot.


This dish is meant to be flexible so that you can capture the harvest of the moment, which is to say don't go hunting for an ingredient that isn't readily available at your local farmers market. You can use small (no larger than 1-inch) golden beets, garlic scapes, all favas or all peas, julienned zucchini or what have you. Just prepare each vegetable to draw out its flavors and accent its texture and you'll have a delicious dish.

<b>Spring Vegetable Ragout with Creamy Polenta</b>

Makes 4 to 6 servings

<i>1 cup coarse polenta

— Kosher salt

4 to 6 small carrots, preferably Rainbow, trimmed and peeled

— Olive oil

6 tablespoons organic butter

8 thick asparagus stalks, trimmed and cut into 1-inch diagonal slices

2 small or 1 medium green garlic or leek, washed thoroughly

3 small or 1 medium-large spring onion, washed thoroughly

3/4 cup shelled English peas

3/4 cup fresh shelled fava beans, blanched and peeled Grated zest of 1 lemon

3/4 cup dry white wine

2 handfuls of fresh pea shoots

3/4 cup grated (3 ounces) Dry Jack cheese

2 tablespoons snipped chives</i>

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.

Put the polenta in a 1 1/2- to 2-quart baking dish, add 2 teaspoons kosher salt and 4 cups of water and set on the middle rack of the oven.

Working quickly, cut the carrots into 3-inch lengths, toss with a little olive oil, set in an oven-proof pan and cook until tender, about 30 minutes or a bit longer if needed.

When the polenta has cooked for 40 minutes, open the oven door and stir 2 tablespoons of the butter, broken into small pieces, into the polenta. Cook for 10 minutes more. At the same time, toss the asparagus with a little olive oil, spread in a single layer in an oven proof pan and bake for 10 to 15 minutes or until tender.

While the polenta, carrots and asparagus cook, prepare the other vegetables. First, trim the green garlic (or leeks) and onions, removing most but not quite all of the green stems; cut the white parts and a couple of inches of green stems into 1-inch lengths and then cut each piece into medium julienne slices.

Melt 2 tablespoons of the remaining butter in a medium saute pan, add the garlic and onions and saute over medium heat until they soften, about 6 or 7 minutes. Set aside.

When the beets are tender, remove from the oven and let rest 5 minutes or so. Use your fingers to peel the beets; cut them into small wedges.

When the asparagus is tender, add it to the saute pan, along with the beets, peas, favas and lemon zest. Season with salt, increase the heat to high, add the wine and cook, tossing gently, until the wine is almost completely evaporated, about 4 minutes. Add the remaining 2 tablespoons of butter and tip and swirl the pan until it is just melted. Add the pea shoots, cover the pan and remove from the heat.

Transfer the polenta from the oven to a work surface and stir in the cheese. Carefully taste and correct for salt.

To serve, spoon polenta into individual soup plates and divide the ragout among the servings. Pour pan juices over each portion, garnish with chives and serve immediately.

<i>Michele Anna Jordan has written 17 books to date, including "Vinaigrettes and Other Dressings." You'll find her blog, "Eat This Now," at pantry.blogs.pressdemocrat.com Email Jordan at michele@ saladdresser.com.</i>

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