New food and cook book club; The Barlow in Sebastopol; Ramekins classes; Martini Madness; Rain dances, please! Big and many thanks

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill has the inside scoop on food and wine.

Kathleen Hill


The Last Wednesday Food Group will hold its first meeting on Jan. 29, the last Wednesday of this new month at Readers’ Books. As the group’s leader, I named it that with Andy Weinberger and Jude Sales of Readers’ so that people can remember when it is, with so many meetings on other nights.

The whole idea is to read and discuss books about food, regional food cultures, and historic and current cookbooks. On Jan. 29, those who come will decide which books we want to pursue. I will offer some of my ideas, and please bring your ideas as well.

I will pair the selected book with one of the food books in my collection of several hundred, and perhaps a group member will bring a tasty to share from that month’s book.

Readers’ Books will give a 15 percent discount if you buy the month’s book from them, which I would personally prefer you do just to help a local business that employs local residents, helping our local economy.

To sign up for the first get-together of The Last Wednesday Food Group, just call Readers’ at 939-1779 or email jude@readersbooks.com. Or just show up. See you there. 7 to 8:30, 130 E. Napa St., Sonoma.


Rain Dances, please!

The last time we resorted to rain dances it worked. In fact, that was the last time it really rained. The drought is now an emergency.

I have done everything else I could: lost an umbrella and washed my car. Please do your version of a rain dance, in unison.


Gayle and Tom Jenkins of Sonoma’s Best continue to offer traditional southern New Year’s Hoppin’ John now through Sunday, Jan. 5.  According to them, Hoppin’ John ingredients include “black-eyed peas that expand when cooked, suggesting prosperity in the New Year; pork since pigs move in a forward direction when foraging, suggesting progress; and cornbread, golden in color, suggesting fortune. And it was not uncommon to place a shiny coin in the bowl of Hoppin’ John, thus ensuring the recipient even greater fortune in the New Year.” 1190 E. Napa St., Sonoma. 996-7667. sonomas-best.com.


Sonoma Valley Visitors Bureau’s Olive Season’s “Martini Madness” will be Friday, Jan. 10, and you should try to get tickets as soon as possible if you want to go. It always sells out. Remember, olives are Sonoma’s second biggest agricultural crop, after grapes.


Martini Madness and its co-chairs, Gary Saperstein and Bill Blum, return this year to its birthplace, MacArthur Place’s “barn.” The sponsoring vodka will be extremely local: Fred and Amy Groth’s Prohibition Spirits and Solano Vodka.

The event features a martini-making contest in which there must be an olive featured in some form, not always recognizable. Competing for best martini this year will be bartenders from MacArthur Place’s Saddles, the girl & the fig, Murphy’s Irish Pub, EDK, Carneros Bistro, Steiner’s, Fairmont Sonoma Mission Inn, Sonoma MeritâgeBurgers & Vine, and Hopmonk Tavern. Saddles restaurant serves substantial nibbles to keep guests’ systems functioning somewhat soberly, with dinner available afterward. $40, $85 with three-course dinner at Saddles. 29 E. MacArthur, Sonoma. Call 938-2929 for tickets.


Sondra Bernstein’s first Vintner’s Supper at Suite D will feature guest winemaker Brian Maloney of Jean-Charles Boisset’s wineries on Thursday, Jan. 16. JCB, Buena Vista and DeLoach wines will be served.


The evening starts with a reception and tour of Buena Vista’s champagne cellars on Old Winery Road where you get to taste JCB No.21 paired with elegant hors d’oeuvres, followed by dinner at Suite D on Schellville Road off Eighth Street East. Dinner begins with roasted winter squash and beet salad, mâche and Cypress Grove Midnight Moon cheese.

Next you will enjoy girl & the fig executive chef John Toulze’s charcuterie: house-cured pork loin, spiced duck liver mousse and red currant mostarda, followed by braised beef cheeks, roasted root vegetables and peppercress. For dessert try a selection of miniature sweets such as ricotta cheese cake, panna cotta, sour cherry compote, chocolate budino, pine nut biscotti and chocolate figs. $70, wines included. 5:30 to 9:30 p.m. 21800 Schellville Rd., Sonoma. Reserve at figsuited.com and click on events.


Rob Larman will prepare a perfect winter cioppino dinner at Windee Smith’s Valley Wine Shack on Friday, Jan. 17, starting with a Dino kale salad with roasted beets, citrus and goat cheese; fish and shellfish cioppino with polenta; and a dessert of Hooker House Bourbon and sundried cherry bread pudding with bourbon crème anglaise. Bargain at $40. 5:30 p.m. 535 W. Napa St., Sonoma. Reserve at 938-7218.


Ramekins Culinary School presents John Ash, Sonoma County’s legendary and highly respected chef on Friday, Jan. 10, for a demonstration of selecting culinary birds and making Korean chicken wings, chicken and shrimp meatball soup, turkey breast piccata, frisee salad with fried eggs and maple roasted bacon, and tea-smoked game hens. Ash’s new book is actually called “Culinary Birds: The Ultimate Poultry Cookbook.” $100, or $130 with book. 6:30 to 9:30 p.m. 420 W. Spain St., Sonoma. 933-0450. ramekins.com


Two other January Ramekins classes have space available: Chef Viola Buitoni’s Winter Lasagne class on Friday, Jan. 17, where learners will make three types of lasagna, including chestnut lasagna with porcini and matsutake mushrooms, classic Bolognese lasagna with spinach, and individual lasagna with fish and saffron. Buitoni is of the famous Italian pasta company family, that sold the business in 1985. It is now owned by Nestlé. 6:30 p.m. $80.


Chef Sara della Monica will share skills of how to produce pastry chef-quality desserts on Sunday, Jan. 19, including basic dough for éclairs, cream puffs, profiteroles and gougères. You will also make custard and fruit curd fillings and a “foolproof chocolate glaze.” After all this, guests will form “a perfect ubiquitous dough for pies and tarts that you will use again and again.”  11 a.m. to 1 p.m.  $75. See above for reservation details.


The new Bay Bread with beer and wine developing at 359 South La Brea Ave. in Los Angeles is actually La Boulange Bakery, which is really Starbucks. Pascal Rigo started La Boulange in 1999 on Pine Street in San Francisco and recently sold it to Starbucks for $100 million, resulting in all the little pink sandwich bags pastries now get packed in at Starbucks.


Last Saturday, I took a friend for her birthday to Sebastopol’s The Barlow, the much publicized and highly touted new food and art complex just east of Sebastopol’s downtown. Honestly, we were surprised that there seemed to be more vacancies than occupancies, and many of the shops listed on their guide card to what developer Barney Aldridge dubs as “Sebastopol’s Artisan Playground” were hard to find.


Aldridge, CEO of Benchmark Lending Group, Inc., started with the metal Barlow Apple Processing building and has added several more farm-ish metal buildings to house what he hopes will be “a community” of food artisans, artists, book stores and more, according to his YouTube video. Previously Aldridge was affiliated with Roggen Financial, Nor-Cal Mortgage and Continental Savings.

Many of the prospective tenants’ spaces either said “coming soon” or “available” in their windows.

We did find Duskie Estes’ and John Stewart’s new Zazu location, where we had a long brunch. I will tell you about that experience next week.


Also at The Barlow:

Taylor Made Farms Organic Coffee has their first coffee bar next door to Zazu, and we found the staff and coffee drinks friendly and delicious (respectively). It’s actually a lovely space with lots of elegant wood. We wish they had opened a café here in Sonoma instead of just a retail tea and coffee store (where the Epicurean Connection is now and Homegrown Bagels started), but the man who served us said they had chosen not to get the appropriate permit here.


Then we investigated Sub Zero Ice Cream & Yogurt where women were working extremely hard, first squirting a liquid from plastic containers into a aluminum bowls, then blowing liquid nitrogen onto the substance to freeze the mixture with toppings to -321 degrees Fahrenheit, and then manipulating the stuff with paddles for several minutes, all to make one scoop of ice cream ($5.50). I discovered that Sub Zero is a burgeoning chain, started in Orem, Utah, by Jerry and Naomi Hancock, after he found himself unemployed.


We found the Tibetan Gallery & Studio to be peaceful and interesting, with a giant work in progress on the wall. Eventually Sebastopol’s popular Village Bakery will open near Sub Zero, right next to a great-but-small sunken lawn with steps serving as benches where adults can lounge and kids can play and let off some steam. Morris & McKinley streets, Sebastopol. thebarlow.net


Schellville Grill update:

The new chef, whom owner/chef Matthew Nagan announced on Facebook, actually has not arrived yet, but Nagan’s sister, Emily, has departed.

Many regulars already miss Emily, who made all of the delectable desserts offered at Schellville Grill and waited tables. Currently she works at Rick Miron’s Riccardo’s in Santa Rosa and could use another job lead if you know of one.

According to Matt, “We just decided to go different directions.”


We have much to be thankful for here in Sonoma Valley. Those who can, give generously to our more than 70 charities and nonprofits, all of which help those with various needs.


Recently Sonoma Raceway’s Speedway Children’s Charities and Bruce Cohn’s concert series passed out generous checks to all sorts of local beneficiaries, even though the amounts appear to be down a bit, as are bids at nonprofit silent and live auction items. At least that is my unscientific personal observation.


Standing in front of his tasting room fireplace, that supported a “Happy Hanukkah” drape and an electric menorah with seven candles lit, Cohn distributed checks totaling $200,000 to Laura Zimmerman of the Sonoma Valley Education Foundation, Billy Bartz for the Redwood Empire Food Bank (to provide 78,000 meals), Fred Fegan of the Field of Dreams to help families with funding that disappeared when Jazz-Plus left town, the Guardsmen, Gary Magnani for American Legion Post 489, Arden Kremer of Valley of the Moon Aquatics for swim lesson scholarships, and Teresa Murphy for the Sonoma Developmental Center.


Speedway Children’s Charities gave to many organizations locally including Boys & Girls Club of Sonoma Valley, FISH, Hanna Boys Center, La Luz, Redwood Empire Food Bank, Sonoma Overnight Support, Sonoma Valley Education Foundation for School Gardens, Kid Scoop, Every 15 Minutes, Mentoring Alliance, Teen Services, WillMar Family Grief & Healing Center and Valley of the Moon Children’s Home Foundation.


Personally, I would like to thank Sonoma Valley Museum of Art for the opportunity to share my “Kitchen Memories” collection, with special thanks to Kate Eilertsen and Margie Maynard, who invited me to do so, and all of the museum’s volunteers. More special thanks to Stanley Abercrombie and Paul Vieyra, Kevin McNeely and Ginny Krieger of Sonoma International Film Festival, Lisa Lavagetto of Ramekins Culinary School, Dana Jaffe of Saddles and Betty Kelly of Wine Country Chocolates, Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze of the girl & the fig, Andrea Koweek of Crisp Bakeshop, and Jacquelyn Buchanan, and Charles and Patricia Willard of Laura Chenel Chevre and Marin French Cheese, all of whom prepared and contributed fabulous food. Michael Muscardini, Barbara Pascoe, Cherie Hughes, and Jean-Charles Boisset and Gina Gallo all donated their wines for special events.


Happy New Year again, be healthy and safe, and start those rain dances.