While I generally like to keep the writing I do on my blog and the writing I do elsewhere separate, I have been wanting to feature more travel-related food writing on A Sweet Spoonful so I’m carrying this one over. I wrote this piece for Bay Area Bites this week. If you live in the Bay Area or ever plan to visit, Boonville is still a bit off-the-beaten track and absolutely worth checking out.
I’d driven through Boonville with my Dad and my sisters once, all too briefly en route to Mendocino. We stopped at the Boonville General Store for a sandwich and sat outside admiring the coolness of the little stretch of road and the delightfully slow pace of life. All along Hwy 128 there were orchards, farm stands, hidden hiking trails, and–of course–vineyards. I vowed to come back and do some exploring.
It did take me a good three years, but I returned last Friday for a one-day getaway with a dear friend, good wine, and great food. I’d actually wanted to make a weekend of it, stay at the Boonville Hotel and wile away a few days–but reality precludes such leisure at the moment, so we set out early and packed in as much as we could. A two hour (ish) drive, a stop at Flying Goat Coffee in Santa Rosa for a little extra fuel, and we found ourselves in Anderson Valley (115 miles N of San Francisco on Hwy 128) right around lunchtime on a quiet, sunny fall day. Not only were we delighted by what we found, we both vowed to come back soon–and to stay just a bit longer.
The Boonville General Store
Lunch at the Boonville General Store
Right across from the Boonville Hotel sits this friendly, bustling café. Don’t let the name fool you. While they do have great provisions for picnics or treats to take home, it’s more a spot for creative, organic meals than it is a place to pick up a gallon of milk. They have cheeses, olives, amazing baked goods, jams, and pestos to grab-and-go for the road. But the idea is to take some time and eat there, either at one of the rustic indoor tables or on the breezy outdoor patio. For lunch, we shared one of the house pizzas and a sandwich of the day.
The pizza had a super thin-crust (automatic ten points in my book) and was made with goat cheese, caramelized onions, local pears, bacon, and sage. The slightly sweet crisp of pear balanced with the earthy goat cheese and salty bacon made for a perfect bite. The sandwich was equally good: an organic turkey melt with Swiss cheese, lettuce, tomato, and pesto on housemade honey wheat bread. We grabbed a few pieces of homemade candy corn for the road (would love to track down their recipe for these) and lingered a bit on the patio mapping out our next move. I hear on weekends the place is a mob scene with cyclists and bikers, so if you’re looking for peace and quiet, Sunday may not be your day.
After lunch, we wandered down the road to the Farmhouse Mercantile, a local shop that stocks everything from unique kitchen tools, to vintage papers, paintings, tablecloths and local preserves. The owners are the folks behind Philo’s Apple Farm, and they certainly have a brilliant eye for unique home and garden goods. They’ve hand-selected products you don’t see in your everyday chain stores. From tiny whisks to mini Lodge cast-iron pans sized perfectly to fry a single egg (sheer brilliance), they’ve got it all. A sweet spot for gifts or to treat yourself to a post-lunch treat–precisely what I did with a new, shiny corkscrew. There’s an adjoining café so while you’re browsing, you hear the pleasant din of dishes clanking–fitting indeed.
Before continuing on down the road, we backtracked a few blocks, turned down Highway 253, and quickly discovered the Anderson Valley Brewing Company. Now you can get their bottled beers in select grocery stores, but I was eager to see where they’re made and try some of the seasonal brews. If you’re into factory tours (we’re not), they offer them daily at 11:30 am and 3:00 pm. If you like disc golf (we don’t), there’s that, too. And if you enjoy sampling numerous beers out of small glasses (we do), then you’re in for a treat. They offer a few different samplers, ranging from 5 glasses to 12 glasses. After a pretty lengthy discussion and unsolicited input from our fellow bar-mates, we decided on the 6 glass sampler with the Hop Ottin’ IPA, Boont Amber Ale, Winter Solstice, Deep Enders Dark Porter, Oatmeal Stout, and Brother David’s Triple Triple Ale. Let’s get the negatives out of the way first: Brother David’s is, in my humble opinion, some pretty raunchy beer. When I asked the gal at the bar what the story was, she didn’t have much to offer. She said it was a strong ale in the typical Belgium tradition. Hmm, I appreciate a Belgium beer just like the next girl, but this was different. It was incredibly strong, cloyingly sweet, and tasted much more like sherry than like beer.
But moving on, the Winter Solstice Seasonal Ale was absolutely delightful. It literally tastes of winter and afternoons by the fireplace, with a creamy flavor and hints of spice. And if you like IPA’s, theirs is hoppy and citrusy while the Deep Enders Porter is smooth with coffee undertones. We had a great time sampling and rating the beers and chatting with other locals and visitors. Do know that they don’t serve food here. I was envisioning more of a rustic, pub-style atmosphere for some reason, but in reality, it’s quite spare and airy. People brought pooches, families, Frisbees, and even a few picnic blankets. As I’m writing this, I’m reminded of how much I regret not getting a case of the Winter Solstice to take home, and how I need to seek it out here locally. Pronto.
Right up the road about 5 miles (northwest of Boonville on Hwy 128) is a small family farm with a lot of appeal. Upon turning down the little gravel road, you’ll notice the farm stand first. They believe in eating in season and eating as minimally processed food as possible. Their website reads:
“Food preservation is a time honored way of stretching the harvest bounty between seasons. In our not too distant past it was an absolute necessity for our rural population. Many of the techniques and recipes that used to be handed down from mother to daughter are being lost in our fast-paced times. We hope to carry on the tradition.”
The farm stand is their way of carrying on this tradition. They sell a variety of local apples and their own jams, chutneys, syrups, and vinegars. I can’t remember the last time I saw a place where you pay using the honor system. But here, you mark down what you took on a clipboard, drop your money in a slot, and call it a day. Beyond the stand itself, there are beautiful grounds open to the public where you can explore the orchards, hidden little paths, the gardens, and the pigs and roosters. If you’re lucky, the resident dog with two different colored eyes will give you the grand tour.
Besides the farm stand, you can opt to stay at farm in one of their cottages. I haven’t had the pleasure myself, but they look fantastic. Each cottage is unique in design and has its own porch and fireplace. From what I gather, if you’re the type of person who loves good room service and a nightly turndown, this isn’t your place. It’s more independent and private–just as you’d expect after a quaint and secluded visit to the farm.
Before we headed home, I wanted to stop at Toulouse Winery after a few locals suggested that they had some of the best Pinot around. Little did I know, they have way more than that. Vern and Maxine Boltz began the boutique winery post-retirement in a quest to become growers and do something creative with their days. The Boltz’s do all of the winemaking and bottling on site–they even live above the winery.
From the affable winery dog, Tess, to the warm owners who were doling out recipes and advice on the most scenic route home, you can tell they genuinely love what they do and want to share it with their visitors. The thing that often turns me away from wineries and wine tasting is all of the pretension and artifice. It makes me sweat. At Toulouse, I was calm and collected. The tasting room is in a warehouse-type space with barrels set up as causal tables, a concrete floor, and a bunch of dogs roaming around. My kind of place. They give you tasty cheese crackers, are laid back in their presentation of wine education, and there’s’ no pressure or expectation to buy–although we did. In addition to Pinot Noir, the region’s also well known for Gewürztraminer, a slightly sweet white wine. While I generally don’t love sweeter wines, Toulouse’s was subtle and had distinct floral notes that were surprisingly refreshing. Vern mentioned he’d been looking for the perfect breakfast wine for quite some time, and he’d finally nailed it. It was hard to leave Tess, Vern and Maxine behind, but it was growing dark and we had big plans of going the long way home–and returning soon.
Philo Apple Farm
18501 Greenwood Road
Philo, CA 95466
4111 Hwy 128
Boonville, CA, 95415
Hours: Thurs.-Mon. 11am-5pm (closed Tues.-Wed.)
Anderson Valley Brewing Company
17700 Hwy 253
Boonville, CA 95415-0505
Hours: Daily 11am-6pm (with the exception of Fridays, 11am-7pm)
8001 Hwy 128 (P.O. Box 152)
Philo, CA 95466
Hours: Mon.-Sun 11am-5pm
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)