Fall is a bittersweet season at best, bringing a hint of foreboding as the sunlight wans, the earth tilts away from the sun and the summer bounty begins its long, slow decay back into the earth.
The natural apprehension of the season has deepened after the recent firestorms, which flung smoke, fire and fear throughout Wine Country while leaving its residents — many without a place to call home — with a fierce craving for comfort.
In the fire’s wake, the weather has shifted slightly, with cool, autumn evenings luring us back to the kitchen and the soothing aroma of warm soups and cozy casseroles, braised meats and simmered sauces steaming the windows and insulating us from the losses we feel all around us.
To ease the community’s grief and sadness, we reached out to local chefs, cooks and foodies and asked them what foods provide solace, consolation and an inviting bridge over troubled waters. Here are their responses, along with a few of their recipes to cook upfor your family and friends this fall and winter, when the table can provide refuge and peace from the firestorm of ‘17.
“Buttermilk pancakes, bacon, fried potatoes and maple syrup. Pancakes were one of the first things I learned to cook.” — John Estes, chef/owner of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol.
“My first thought was a big bowl of buttery grits with a good grind of cracked pepper. This has to be one of the quintessential comfort foods of my childhood. While my mother didn’t serve grits this way, I’d like some freshly grated Parmesan cheese on top too. Filling, cozy, simple and soothing. Of course, some smoky bacon and scrambled eggs on the side would be comforting too.” — Cindy Daniel, co-owner of Healdsburg Shed
“Spinach Dip with tortilla chips. My gramma and mom made it for me when I was growing up. I lived on it in college when I had burners set up in my dorm and no oven. All it takes is a stove and a pot. Our fridge always has back-up spinach and sour cream. The sherry, nutmeg and Parm are the secret ingredients.” — Duskie Estes, chef/owner of Zazu Kitchen + Farm in Sebastopol
“Cornbread, along with boiled peanuts, immediately bring to mind my childhood in Charlotte, North Carolina. My father was born in nearby Rock Hill, South Carolina, and my mother’s family was from Northern Virginia/southern Maryland — different parts of the South with different traditions, but cornbread seemed to be common on family trips, whether to South Carolina or the Chesapeake Bay area of Maryland.” — Jim Cason, SRJC Culinary Arts Program Coordinator and chef/instructor
“With all that we’ve been facing lately, I’m going to go with soup, in part because it brings me back to childhood and the notion of being warm and safe. Velvet Cauliflower Soup ... is a very simple yet complex dish. The soup is smooth and heavy ... but the “trail mix” on top is all about surprising textures that are sweet, crunchy and fatty. Good fat is important. It feeds the brain and satisfies ... not just hunger.” — Ryan Fancher, executive chef of Barndiva in Healdsburg,