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Bad stone fruit caution; Cuban sommeliers in Sonoma; French Nest closing; Tips Trolley brunch at Fat Pilgrim

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill

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Late breaking:

Wawona Packing Co., of Cutler, (Tulare County) has “voluntarily recalled” (in consultation with the USDA) tons of yellow and white peaches, yellow and white nectarines, plums and pluots, because listeria monocytogenes have been found in some of the tree fruit, also called stone (not stoned)fruit. According to the company’s website, wawonapacking.com, many of the boxes of fruit were distributed to Costco, Food 4 Less, Ralph’s and Trader Joe’s. You might be able to identify them under the Costco, Sweet2Eat and Trader Joe’s labels. Watch for packing dates of June 1 through July 12, 2014.

Trader Joe’s put out a notice to customers recommending that they not eat the fruit, dispose of it, or return it to Trader Joe’s for a full refund.

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This week, a gaggle of sommeliers from Cuba has been visiting Sonoma courtesy of Californians Building Bridges, a nonprofit organization started by Sarah and Darius Anderson. To a person, the sommeliers seem giddy with excitement, experiencing weather, wines, food and relative luxury they have never seen before.

When I arrived at their welcoming cocktail (wine) party at the General’s Daughter east patio Monday evening, I found Jim Ledwith, Rob Larman and Gene Daly, the latter in one of his quiet Loudmouth handmade striped suits, sitting together at a table and enjoying themselves by puffing on their cigars, with an informal contest going on as to who could preserve the longest ashes.

The wafting cigar smoke instantly reminded me of my grandfather McKelligon in Berkeley, who loved to puff on a good Cuban cigar or a pipe in his chair (throne) in my grandparents’ living room. When I was a little girl, my mother would take me to Drucquer & Sons smoke shop on University Avenue to buy Gramps special cigars, pipes, or tobacco for gifts. Local note: Robert Rex of Deerfield Ranch winery recently owned Drucquer’s for several years. Truthfully, I hung my clothes outside when I got home from the party Monday.

As servers passed Ruffles with thin tender slices of duck, mini quiches and crab salad puffs, I learned lots to share with you. John Story and I asked if there were any women sommeliers in the traveling group, and sure enough, there were two.

Leticia Cabrera Alonso, a dynamic woman and sommelier with black hair, a black outfit and a huge smile, whipped out her small Swiss Army pocket knife, which included a fold-out cigar cutter where ours might have a cork screw. She trimmed everyone’s cigars at the mouth end, and lit them at the other end delicately and with great respect for the tobacco that grows in Cuba, as well as for her guest.

She also told me that all of the women in her Cuban family, grandmother on down, smoke cigars and the men don’t.

The other woman sommelier, sitting alone at a table, so I joined her, was Juana de las Nieves Alvarez Sanchez, who turned out to be “the professor” of them all. When I asked if she had taught all of the visiting sommeliers, she said modestly, “Only 18 of them, but all of them at home in Cuba I teach.”

It turns out that the course a person must pass to become a first level sommelier in Cuba is a year long. Graduates become sommeliers of wine, cigars and spirits. So they are all ambassadors of local and imported products to and from all those countries that will trade with Cuba.

Nieves also teaches at and coordinates the culinary schools in Cuba. When I asked her if she had visited Ramekins Culinary School next door to the General’s Daughter, she had and began to roll her eyes as if to swoon with admiration and envy.

She said, “They have everything they need. They have beautiful stoves and ovens, and refrigerators and freezers, and lights and television. We have so little, but we do very well with what we have.”

That last statement gave me an idea: How about a fundraiser to send funds or good cooking equipment to Cuba to enhance their culinary schools?

If you are interested in learning and exploring in Cuba, you might want to join the all-inclusive six-day, five-night trip Dec. 1 through Dec. 6 to meet the people of Cuba, experience their music and dancing, ride in vintage convertible cruises along the beach, visit artists’ studios, and taste new food, email Californians Building Bridges at info@cabuildingbridges.org or call 866-850-3720.

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Ice Cream Pop Up:

Elizabeth Payne and Brittaney Macfarland will bring their small-batch Milk & Honey Ice Cream to The Epicurean Connection Wednesday, July 30. Assuming guests will get tastes, they will sell pints and floats, in addition to Sheana Davis’ regular menu, and have an ice cream club where you can order pints each month.5 to 7 p.m. 122 W. Napa St., Sonoma. 935-7960.

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Last Wednesday Food Group will meet next Wednesday, July 30, to discuss former Gourmet editor Ruth Reichl’s new novel, “Delicious.” Remember Readers’ Books gives a 15 percent discount on the books we feature. If you feel like preparing something from an old Gourmet, we will all enjoy it. Free. 7 p.m. 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma 939-1779.

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Ramekins classes coming:

Check out Gundlach Bundschu’s winemaker dinner at Ramekins Culinary School on Thursday, July 31, hosted by Katie Bundschu. Guests will enjoy several GunBun wines with grilled summer squash with squash blossom pesto, seared California king salmon with wild blackberries, roasted lamb sirloin with Early Girl tomato jam and faro, and sliced New York strip loin with creamy polenta. $120. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. Reservations at 933-0450 or ramekins.com.

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Lisa Lavagetto, who is a fabulous cooking teacher for adults and kids, will lead a Teen Cooking Camp Aug. 4 through 7 where teens will learn about the savory side of chocolate, a workshop on how to make a family dinner, the basics of baking, how to make candies by hand, and a special “Grilling 101” class. $350. 9 a.m. to 1 p.m. daily. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. Reservations at 933-0450 or ramekins.com.

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And good friend Linda Carucci, former Julia Child culinary director at COPIA, former dean at the California Culinary Academy, and founding dean of the San Francisco branch of The Art Institutes, will give a class on “Savvy Summer Entertaining” on Friday, Aug. 1. Since she was named Cooking Teacher of the Year by the International Association of Culinary Professionals and is the author of “Cooking School Secrets for Real World Cooks,” it is a treat to have Carucci here in Sonoma.

Carucci will give chefs’ tips on what to drink, how to balance a menu and summer entertaining essentials. Students will learn to make watermelon and feta salad, grilled pork chops with fennel and garlic, savory corn pudding, heirloom tomato salad with wild arugula, white Balsamic vinaigrette and crispy lemon crumbs, and blackberry crisp with French vanilla ice cream. And you get to dine on all of these delights. $95. 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. 450 W. Spain St., Sonoma. Reservations at 933-0450 or ramekins.com.

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Twelve lucky friends of Cee Cee Ponicsan were treated to a paella feast for her birthday at Glen Ellen Star recently, just part of her gift from her husband, novelist, artist and screenwriter Darryl Ponicsan.

We started with a choice of green salad or chilled gazpacho, followed by chef Ari Weisswasser’s wood0oven fired veggies. If his cauliflower with tahini, roasted almonds and sumac is on the menu, order it. Even if you don’t like cauliflower. At the same time, we received roasted padron peppers, the combination of which was enough for a meal and simply delicious as they complimented each other.

Our main course was a “traditional paella,” the definition of which varies by each person who makes it. Often it includes whatever seafood is available, especially shellfish, chorizo, chicken, rice and peas and carrots or even cauliflower, with rice as the base and saffron as a key ingredient.

Glen Ellen Star’s arrived in three clay casuelas with lots of rice, chorizo chunks, large prawns, littleneck clams, crispy chicken and whole baby calamari, with plenty of scratchy legs for those who love the tickle as they go down.

All of this was followed by a fresh blueberry cobbler and abundant small containers of housemade ice creams.

Those lucky enough to indulge in this festive meal accompanied by wine, party hats, bubbles and PBR included Kelly and Ed Curry, Marchelle and Curt Carleton, Karen and Rick Moran, Maureen and Adam Cottingham, and Cee Cee’s daughter, Lori with husband, Kevin, and daughter, Rosie McGovern.

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At another end of the rainbow was the paella at Gloria Ferrer’s Catalan Festival last weekend, with attendance apparently dampened by fear of rain, which just meant more good seats and Gloria Ferrer and Spanish wine for those of us who did go.

In contrast to past years when a paella specialist from Oakland and Vineyards Inn made paella or other Spanish dishes, Grapevine Catering made gigantic pans of rice with an occasional taste of fish and one clam on top of the single ice cream scoop of rice each person received per trip to the counter. They also made it with a sort of vermicelli noodle, and I watched them make a special little batch for some vegetarians next to me, who were accommodated with kindness.

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Tips Tri-Tip Trolley and Craig Miller’s Fat Pilgrim on lower Broadway will try something new Sunday, July 27. The Trolley will offer a brunch menu and mimosas, which you can enjoy in the back garden of Fat Pilgrim.

Choose from a tri-tip breakfast burrito, a “Susie Scramble” of eggs and garden vegetables, tri-tip hash with potatoes, sweet onions and peppers, a grilled Monte Cristo sandwich with ham and cheese, a “Bacon Benny” with avocado, soft boiled egg and chipotle sauce, and “Tippy Toast” with cream cheese, raspberry jam and maple syrup. You can also get sides of “Bacon French Press Coffee,” breakfast potatoes, fresh fruit or fruit and granola. Miller reports that their prices usually range from $6 to $13. 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. 20820 Broadway, Sonoma. 721-1287.

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Holly Hopper will close her French Nest on East Napa Street after an “early retirement” sale. Devotees “fear another wine tasting room is coming,” although hopefuls might notice Peter Haywood’s closing of his tasting room in Melissa Detert’s Vine Alley and others on East Napa reporting just not enough traffic, unless you are a “star” of some kind. Meanwhile, Bennett Valley Cellars and Victor Hill wineries are about to open their new tasting rooms on the same block.

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Next week: Learning about artisan beef and Foodie Touts.