Summer is officially gone and, I am a bit ashamed to admit, I am glad. The things we ate, that we did this summer… I have had enough.
I ate my weight in tomatoes; tomatoes dripping their clear, sweet juices atop grilled bread, crushed tomatoes tossed with pasta, tomatoes in salads, tomato salsas, and pure tomato sliced and eaten with nothing more than a few sprinklings of salt. I went to the market this week and I saw those gorgeous piles of tomatoes and I sighed. Are they here, still?
I am yearning for sweet, hard winter squash, of roasted bits of butternut, loaded with hard, fragrant, winter herbs, and plenty of good olive oil, of buttery parsnips and Brussels sprouts. Goodbye avocado, for now anyway, I am beginning to crave peppery winter salads of escarole, of frisée, and apples, of toasted nuts. Summer, we are so over. I don’t want to sweat through one more picnic of fried chicken and barbecue. I have moved on. I am now cozying up to fall. I want slow. I want to stay in. Me and a Sunday afternoon, misty rain and lingering fog, in my jammies, something bubbling slow and fragrant on the stove. Stews and braises, my favorite duck-filled ragú.
I do love you, summer. and you deserve a thoughtful send off, a heartfelt goodbye, a profound farewell, a salute. You were especially kind to us this year, with those perfect blue sky days, tons of cool mornings, and golden-hot afternoons. Summer, you gave us a startling amount of goodness, spectacular veggies, overgrown gardens, plenty of pool time. It is only right that a party is thrown to say thank you, we can’t wait to see you. Next year. You will be missed, but it is now time to say goodbye.
So, we did what any good foodies would do and threw summer a tomato-themed goodbye party. Six courses of tomatoes. There were tomato hors d’oeuvres to start and little French wineglasses of velvety tomato gazpacho slurped with abandon. We nibbled a crazy-sweet roasted tomato tart layered with caramelized onions and stinky Swiss cheeses, and topped with wrinkled black olives. Dinner was a summer cassoulet of herby white beans and hunks of melting plum tomatoes, and a massive earthenware pot of chicken smothered in a sticky, slow-cooked sauce of exotic-spiced tomatoes. You can’t say a proper goodbye without dessert and that tomato dessert, that evening was extraordinary. Crumbly, rosemary-flecked, sweet-savory, butter-loaded, shortbread cookies — as light as air — and in-between, sandwiched a memorable concoction; a smooth tomato jam, heavy with ginger and other faraway flavors which left me giddy. Goodbye summer, I will miss you, but I have a freezer full of your swoon-worthy tomato jam to keep me company while you’re gone.
What I am drinking now
It might be something about the crunchy rust-colored leaves littering the yard, the nostalgic scent of wood smoke drifting in the crisp autumn air, something about the memories of childhood hay rides and picking apples in my aunt’s North Carolina orchard, but during the first weeks of fall I cannot think of something more scrumptious to sip than a dry, hand-crafted, hard apple cider. There are many local artisans producing stellar versions, similar to the ones France has been making for ages. The best ciders have tiny Champagne-like bubbles, and are not cloyingly sweet, but taste of pure heirloom apples, of honey. Hard cider pairs wonderfully with fall’s favorite nibbles; dry cheeses and deep, toasty nuts. A wise host might even pair cider with an autumn pork roast or a platter of grilled bratwurst.
As I sink my teeth into one of the most heavenly baguettes on the planet, I say a little thank you to the bread gods that we are fortunate enough to have Mike [the bejkr] live and bake and sell his to-die-for breads in our little town. San Francisco could have lured him away or even New York, but oh-thank-you that he has chosen to stay. Oh thank you bread gods that we get to benefit from his insane passion for heirloom wheat, for grains, for yeast. Do you know a film is being made about him? (You can watch the trailer on his website.) Do you know that he has represented the U.S. in world-famous baking competitions in Paris? I mean how very cool is that?! I urge you to check out his website, possibly donate to the fund to send him back to Paris or to get that amazingly cool movie made. Or, in the very least, eat a pretzel at the Friday market or buy some bread. And be grateful. Visit Mike’s website here: thebejkr.com.
I never imagined that two of my favorite things would ever collide, would ever happily mingle in my mouth at the exact same time, but just the other day, coffee and cheese did just that. I was doing my usual, slow, joyful, perusal through Whole Foods, lovingly gawking at the beautiful piles of cheeses, pondering something different, something fall-ish to serve for pre-dinner nibbles that night. I thought something hard, possibly something cheddar-like would be lovely. I am beginning to tire of the soft, buttery cheeses of summer, wanting something aged, a firm, nutty cheese that would be tasty with the perfect little apples from the yard and fresh, roasted walnuts.
I held up a golden hunk of cheese I had never seen before, turning it slowly in my hand, admiring the butter-yellow insides and the dark, espresso-colored rind. I served it that cool, blustery evening with a bottle of crisp, yeasty bubbly and those walnuts, those apples. The whole cheese board was a beautiful autumn still life, but it was the cheese that was truly memorable. “Barely Buzzed” is a small-batch, handmade cheese produced in Utah by the Beehive Cheese Company, using the milk of a small herd of much-adored Jersey cows. It is a bit cheddar-like. The inside is the color of late summer hay and tastes of butterscotch. The outside is rubbed with fine-ground espresso and French lavender. The coffee flavor is surprisingly subtle, seeping into the cheese softly, adding mere hints of toasted nuts, woodsy herbs, and dark caramel. This is the ideal fall cheese. Bring on the happy dance.
Oktoberfest at Carneros Brewing
The just-opened Carneros Brewing Company will host “Octoberfest Bier Garten & Marketplatz” on Sunday afternoon, October 13, noon to 4 p.m., as a fundraiser for Sonoma Valley Teen Services.
The Cejas family brewers will serve Jefe-weizen, red Morena Ale, Cervez Pilsner, Negra IPA and Carneros IPA. Food will be served in the “pop up” outdoor market by vendors include Rocket Catering, Harvey’s Gourmet Donuts, Quarter Acre Farms, and Valley Girls Food Stuff.
The Backtrax Band will provide the live music, and SVTS teens will also perform under the garden pergolas surrounded by hop vines.
The entrance fee is $25 per person, and includes two drink tickets. Contact 939.1452 or Svteens.org. Carneros Brewing Company is located at 22985 Burndale Road, at Fremont/121, in Sonoma.