Monday, September 6, 2010

Sonoma Roaming


Paul and I decided to go for a Labor Day road trip to Sonoma and roam around. We/I hadn't been there in quite a while and don't really know a whole lot about it. Sonoma of course is in one of the major wine producing areas of northern California and it really is pretty country. I was musing on my childhood when California wine wasn't very good (I guess - I wouldn't have known) but yet there was an ad campaign for Napa Sonoma Mendocino, probably selling jug wine. I had no idea where Napasonomamendocino was but it sounded good.

So we headed out on the horrible Hwy 12 and I just had to stop in Fairfield at the Sepay Groves olive oil store so I could pick up some of their organic extra virgin olive oil. If you go in you'll get a real education on olive oil as well as evoo tastes.


The Red Grape Storefront

When we reached the Town Plaza in Sonoma (you can't miss it - really, it's a big old fashioned square with a park in the middle) I called my friend Virginia to ask here where we should eat. She tried to be helpful but didn't quite get us there. So we parked and started walking around the plaza. Paul spotted The Red Grape and I am so glad he did. We ordered their super thin crispy crust 12" pizza. Super thin crust is wonderful if you count carbs (I don't) or calories (I do). We never agree on what kind to get but they prepare a half and half for us. I wanted the prosciutto, goat cheese and arugula white pizza, real foodie/girlie pizza. Paul wanted the manly man The Works red pizza. We were both very happy. Mine was tangy with rich deep flavors and the pepperiness of arugula. His looked good with the mandatory sausage and pepperoni and peppers. My verdict: go forth and enjoy The Red Grape.

Pizza at the Red Grape

After lunch I was a little sleepy and draggy and wanted a good cappuccino. So I started quizzing the locals about where to go. The upshot was I needed to go to Sunflower Caffe and so we did. It's a cute little place on the Plaza with a really nice area out back. I ordered my cappuccino along with instructions on how I like it and crossed my fingers. It was really good; rich espresso with freshly steamed milk. It was so pretty I took a shot of it with my phone. Love the red cup and saucer. There isn't a Peet's in Sonoma so definitely go to Sunflower Caffe. They have good looking sandwiches too.


Sunflower Caffe Cappuccino

We decided to drive around Sonoma; there are lots of wineries of course. Definitely can't swing a dead cat without hitting a winery country. I caught a fun shot of a wine limo driver relaxing while his guests were in the tasting room whooping it up. Notice his bare feet sticking out of the car.


Wine limo guy taking a nap

The moral of the story: by all means go to the Napa Valley. It's wonderful with excellent restaurants and amazing wines. And the scenery.....ahh. But do go to Sonoma, it deserves to be explored. Especially by me.


Airplane junkyard with grapevines

Thursday, September 2, 2010

Green Bean Summers

I'm going to admit to a dirty little secret. I'm not crazy about green beans in general. That's probably because when I was growing up we ate way too many canned green beans (actually I tried to dodge them). I don't really like the taste of most canned veggies but green beans are the worst. Correction, canned beets are the worst.

But now we are in the Golden Age of local fresh fruits and veggies, often grown in our own back yards, and available at the farmers' markets. And that has changed my bad opinion of that noble bean. My favorite green beans are the Italian baccaccia beans. Unlike blue lakes, the pods are flatter and the peas inside bulge outward. Very distinctive, delicious, and available at farmers' markets.

Currently I love to braise my beans in chopped fresh ripe tomatoes, garlic, seasoning and chicken broth. It takes about 20 minutes based on how tender you want them. Just coarsely chop a couple of medium sized tomatoes and throw in a pan over medium heat. Add a couple or so mashed and chopped cloves of garlic, along with some red pepper flakes for a little heat. Take 2 or 3 big handsful of beans, rinse and snap off the twiggy ends and mound them in your pan. Salt and pepper to taste - raw beans taste flat, so don't be coy with the salt. Add reduced sodium chicken broth to about half way up the beans. Cover, reduce heat somewhat and let braise. Check to make sure you don't run out of liquid and burn the batch! Add some fresh basil near the end if desired.

This is really loosey goosey cooking. Try adding sliced mushrooms, crisp bacon or pancetta, or Italian seasoning. How about some white wine or wine vinegar? I don't use oil but you can throw in some delicious olive oil.

Recently I was talking to an acquaintance in line at the supermarket and she told me she adds potatoes to her green beans. I forgot the rest of what she said but I cubed some potatoes and threw them in and they were delicious. They take longer than beans to cook so give them a few minutes head start before adding the beans.

Now, I want to know what delicious ways you cook fresh green beans. Type it in the comment section at the end of this article and not in Facebook; you will have to go to the blog page if you aren't already there. Tell me your bean story. I really want to know.