I completely space out as I drive in from the City. Mill Valley, San Rafael, Novato, all passing in a blur of concrete. I immediately perk up as I exit onto Hwy. 37, I begin to breathe again, the top down, hair furiously whipping my face. I become downright giddy as I round the bend near Ram’s Gate, smiling at the wooly sheep happily munching the soft green grasses on the hills above the raceway. The towering stands of fragrant eucalyptus that have grown over the highway there smell delicious, that California smell.
I breathe a big, deep belly breath here and smile. Mmm, I just love that smell. This is the official beginning of Wine County in my opinion, where I feel like I’ve arrived home. Just as I crest that hill, my first view of the vines, the tangle of wild roses along the road, I finally relax here for the first time since coming thru the craziness of the city traffic. The Sonoma sun still golden, the Carneros winds warm and fierce, my shoulders begin to soften. It is here I breathe, and I think, “Yay, I am home!”
Inevitably, my next thought is, “Oh no. What’s for dinner?”
When driving home from the City in the late afternoon, as I often do, I simply cannot bear to think about braving Sonoma’s downtown traffic or even quickly popping into the market. I cannot bear to think of going even one minute out of my way in lieu of heading straight home. Leave it to Wine Country to provide for the makings of a magnificent meal that can be easily procured without actually having to step foot into a grocery store. One can do goodie gathering in as little as one stop, right along Highway 121.
The Fruit Basket is always my first stop. I like strolling around here, under the wide awnings, probably once a cheery green, now a faded olive. I like looking at all the interesting products and dreaming up dinner from their old, sometimes dusty, wooden shelves. I bet most cars whizzing by this slightly shabby, open-air market have no idea of the wonders inside. A wonderful dinner could simply be gathered here, no additional stops required.
Rustic crates hold towering piles of fruits and veggies of every sort. Three types of sweet potatoes, perfect apples, local asparagus, exotic edible cactus, and the most affordable citrus around just to name a few. Imported gourmet goods, generously stocked, include pastas and fancy Italian sauces, jars of olives, canned fish and beans, and olive oils and vinegars. Wide planked tables hold bags of every type of dried bean imaginable and a wide assortment of colorful dried fruit. Tall cooler cases in back showcase Clover dairy products — get your milk here! — eggs, and a respectable selection of cheeses, local and imported. Six packs of beer and white wine are kept cold and ready to be sipped the minute you arrive home. I always hope to find a surprising bottle while browsing the bountiful section of red wine, and I often do.
There are days when I crave a steak dinner. These days, Highway 121 shopping is ideal. I’ll breeze thru the Fruit Basket for a couple of russet potatoes to be scrubbed, rubbed with olive oil and rolled in coarse salt, and baked until fluffy. A pile of fresh spinach is my ideal when sautéed and folded into a quick Béchamel and baked until bubbling. There is nothing more delicious with a good, rare steak then a big tomato, cut in half, drizzled with olive oil and copious amounts of salt. Simply roast until caramelized and charred around the edges. Yum.
A mile or so up the highway I pull into Angelo’s Deli. I feel confident that the best spots to get a steak always have a cow on the roof, and here it is certainly the case. The accommodating gals will chop of a hunk of NY strip just for you. Just show them how wide using your thumb and pointer finger. I prefer to get a big one to share, maybe even with a few slices left for lunch the next day. The steaks here are perfect, beefy and rich, just what I want in those very rare occasions I actually want to indulge in a steak.
If I haven’t grabbed a bottle of wine from the Fruit Basket, this is Wine Country after all, so there are certainly many choices for finding something special along the way. There are evenings that call for some bubbly…well, every evening should call for bubbly, but some simply scream it. In these instances, I’ll swing into Gloria Ferrer for a bottle of Blanc de Noir. Maybe even a quick tasting. I also love to stop by Cornerstone for a quick Blue Bottle coffee from Park 121 and to pick up a bottle of something red and delicious from Meadowcroft Winery, who’s charming tasting room is always fun to visit.
There are certainly many, many perks to living in Sonoma. We are truly surrounded by deliciousness everywhere you look. From corner gas stations, to winery tasting rooms, and country farm stands, it is always fun to search out local ingredients and interesting products. It is always fun to get your dinner along the highway!
Kristin’s event pick of the week
It is time for the kids to be in charge of the backyard! This Sunday, April 21, from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m. Andrea of Quarter Acre Farm hosts a “Kids Gardening Class.” For children ages 5 to 8 years old, Andrea will demonstrate what veggies are perfect for kids to grow to create a tasty backyard year round! Kids will have the opportunity to make their own newspaper pots and plant seeds to take home. The cost is only $20 per parent/child combo ($5 for each child or parent) and will be held at the Stone House (HWY 12 Properties office) at 147 East Spain Street. Reservations are required as space is very limited. RSVP to quarteracre-kidgarden.brownpapertickets.com or [email protected]
Steakhouse Creamed Spinach
Cook spinach in 2 batches in 1 inch of boiling salted water in an 8-quart pot, stirring constantly, until wilted, 1 to 2 minutes. Drain in a colander and rinse under cold running water until cool. Squeeze small handfuls of spinach to remove as much moisture as possible, then coarsely chop. Heat milk and cream in a small saucepan over moderate heat, stirring, until warm. Meanwhile, cook onion in butter in a 3-quart heavy saucepan over moderately low heat, stirring occasionally, until softened, about 4 minutes. Whisk in flour and cook roux, whisking, 3 minutes. Add warm milk mixture in a fast stream, whisking constantly to prevent lumps, and simmer, whisking, until thickened, 3 to 4 minutes. Stir in nutmeg, spinach, and salt and pepper to taste and cook, stirring, until heated through.
Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond. Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at [email protected]