I’m prone to saying that Sonoma County is God’s country. Whatever the season, ’tis gorgeous to behold, surrounded as we are by bucolic hills, whether green, golden or brown, the Pacific ocean in all its glittery, foggy glory, and of course, the never-ending bounty that the land so generously offers us. Recently, I was fortunate enough to experience all of this in one amazing package during a yoga retreat at the Lotus Feed Farm & Retreat.
Jenay in the vegetable garden at Lotus Feed
The Lotus Feed is in the hills up above Occidental and Freestone, just off a road appropriately called Joy Road, for indeed, joy is to be found all around. If you’re a regular reader, you’ll know that I’m often meeting people who have invested their heart, soul, passion, and probably their life savings, into make their dreams come true. Jenay Martin, daughter of the family behind Taylor Maid Farms - of local organic coffee and tea fame – is no exception. She single-handedly (to all intents and purposes) has made her dream of building and running a sustainable retreat center come true over the course of 11 years and this summer was the first year she has hosted residential guests. > Read more
Like its name suggests, Secret Kitchen, is not that easy to find, and definitely off the beaten track in the sense that it’s not in downtown Petaluma. What’s perhaps more surprising for this part of the world, is the ethnic, fresh food being served at this little hole-in-the-wall. From Thai spring rolls to bahn mi sandwiches with slow roasted pork and Korean BBQ pork to curried noodle bowls, this is a great spot for lunch or early dinner.
Founded by owner and executive chef Brenda Anderson, the joint quietly opened in late spring. Its location is ideal if you’re heading to/from the beach, out on a bike ride, or just want a change from the usual routine. If you head west out of Petaluma on Bodega Avenue for about four miles, you’ll soon see a liquor store on the left and a discreet sign pointing you around the back. A telltale sign that something interesting is happening is the packed parking lot, picnic tables and the jaunty lime green and turquoise paintwork which houses a walk-up window.
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There are people who have dreams and then there are people who make their dreams come true and in the process make the world a better place. Sarah and Seth James, the visionary, hard-working husband/wife team behind Open Field Farm in Petaluma, CA, fall into the latter camp. I recently got wind of their new “farm stand” CSA-based farm, which grows up to 50 varietals – from heirloom beans to sweet peas – and boasts a grass-fed herd of Corriente beef cattle, and decided to pay them a visit.
Their 500+ acre farm, set in rolling hills on the site of an old dairy farm, is just a few minutes outside of Petaluma. Turning off Spring Hill Road, an automatic gate swings open to reveal a straight, unpaved, road which takes you directly to the promised land. This is a place where nature is right at home and seems to work in harmony with the farm. On the short drive in I spotted a small red kite soaring through the sky, a huge big hawk taking a brief respite on a fence post before swooping in on his prey, and numerous other busy birds darting about.
With a cloud of dust behind me and the crunching of gravel to announce my arrival, I pulled into the parking lot to be immediately greeted by Rosie, the uber-friendly and very obedient sheep dog. She obligingly sat so I could take her picture before leading me to the pretty barn where I found Sarah, a petite blonde, and two of her young kids, setting up for the members’ Friday pick-up. > Read more
Cortney Burns, co-chef at Bar Tartine in the Mission district, is one of those rare creatures in the kitchen: creative, industrious, leaning on age-old techniques like fermentation, and always managing to remain positive and sunny, no matter how little sleep she’s had. Burns and her co-chef, Nick Balla, are releasing their new cookbook “Bar Tartine: Techniques and Recipes” on November 25, this year.
Cortney recently taught a class at SF Cooking School, giving local home cooks (including moi) an opportunity to prepare and eat recipes from the upcoming book. If you’ve ever dined at Bar Tartine, you’ll know that “layering flavors” as Burns calls it, is quintessential to each of their dishes. Using seasonal produce, snout-to-tail animal products, fermented vegetables, sprouted grains, and a wonderful fusion of Japanese and Eastern European cooking techniques, the result is a complex yet deeply satisfying array of flavors in every bite. > Read more
When I was in my twenties and thirties I dreamed of living in a Grecian olive grove surrounded by goats wearing tinkling melodic bells. The herby-smelling warm air. The rustling of the silvery olive leaves in the breeze. The occasional bleating of goats carrying through the gloaming. It all seduced me, yet somewhere along the way I lost sight of that dream. Today I have olive trees in the back garden and a couple of Labradors. It’s not quite what I had in mind, but it works. But whenever I run into goats, as I recently did at Harley Farms in Pescadero, a little scent of that dream nudges my memory cells.
If you haven’t been to Pescadero, it’s a charming small village, just south of Half Moon Bay off Highway One. It’s just far enough inland that even on the foggiest of days you can find the sun trying to break through and warm things up a bit. There’s a serious coffee shop, the Archangeli family’s general store is known for amazing artichoke bread, preserves and more, wine tasting, and a few other cool spots to browse through antiques, knick-knacks and art. This time though, we drove down the main street and took a right in search of all things goat.
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