Kathleen Hill: Ugly veggies, Chinese garlic more

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Picazo Kitchen to add hours

Picazo Kitchen & Bar will open for brunch, happy hour and dinner starting Friday, May 31, according to manager Kina Chavez.

Many locals have been asking when the Chavezes and staff are going to open for breakfast and lunch. So they are combining everything and will be open from 8 a.m. to 9 p.m., but Kina and Sal are also considering closing on Mondays once the new schedule gets rolling.

Starting next Friday, Picazo at Maxwell Village Shopping Center will serve brunch from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m., happy hour from 2 to 5 p.m., and dinner from 5 to 9 p.m. 19101 Sonoma Highway, Sonoma. 935-3287.

Schermeister Winery ribbon cutting

After a delay of a year or two, Laura and Robert Schermeister will host a ribbon cutting of their tasting room at Jack London Village in Glen Ellen on Thursday, May 30 at 4 p.m.

The couple are the sole “employees” of their own winery, so visitors get to meet and chat with them. Robert serves as winemaker and leads tastes through his wines. Laura is an artist who designed the cozy refinished redwood tasting room.

All woods are original to the building, and the custom wood built-ins are all crafted by Robert and his father, Tom Schermeister. Lots of local art lines the tasting room walls. As Laura says, “guests can also become acquainted with Eli, the resident wine dog who was adopted from a local rescue. Well behaved dogs on leash are welcome as well.”

Schermeister features varietals such as viognier, rosé, pinot noir and syrah.

Originally the Schermeisters planned to open in July of 2017, but construction delays, subsequent wildfires and the loss of two pets slowed them down. Like many Glen Ellen folks, they have had to struggle though big life changes, but are happily open now with a growing clientele. Join them for the ribbon cutting at 4 p.m. on May 30, or any other time. Regular walk-in tastings and appointments run $25 for a flight of five wines, or $45 for a private tasting. At the ribbon cutting wines will be available for purchase by the glass. 14301 Arnold Drive, Studio 28, Glen Ellen. Otherwise make appointments by calling 934-8953 or online at schermeister.com/visit.

Pipe Organ at Cline

Nancy and Fred Cline have rescued a fabulous old pipe organ and installed it in the Jacuzzi barrel room, making that cavern look even more like a church or at least a chapel.

The Clines invite music lovers and the whole community to attend the grand unveiling of the historic John Bergstrom & Sons pipe organ built in San Francisco in 1897. Everyone is invited to join in on Sunday, June 2 from 2 to 3:30 p.m. for a complimentary wine reception and recital by organist John Karl Hirten, who has a degree in “organ performance” from the Manhattan School of Music and has played with many symphonies.

According to the Clines, the organ was given to the First Congregational Church in Sonoma in 1897 and was played at weddings, births, holidays and funerals for more than 100 years.

When the church was looking for a home for the treasured organ while the building was being renovated, the Clines saved the day by offering the Jacuzzi Family Vineyards Barrel Room for a long-term home for the organ; they had it cleaned and meticulously reassembled. Free. 2 to 3:30 p.m. 24724 Arnold Drive, Sonoma. RSVP to 931-7513 or specialevents@jacuzziwines.com.

French Flea Market this weekend

Once again Sonoma offers the calmer side of the mountain. While BottleRock rocks Napa from one end to the other, Sonoma offers the French Flea Market at Cornerstone, loaded with more import vendors and French-ish food than ever.

You can get French-style baguette sandwiches, salads, chips, Model Bakery croissants and water from Frenchie, French-style grilled sausages and frites from Cochon Volant, and macarons from Marie Macarons at the flea market. May 27 and 28, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. at Cornerstone.

All about Chinese garlic

Like all garlic, Chinese garlic stinks. And, yet, some of us love that garlic smell.

Whenever we drive up or down Highway 101, passing through Gilroy north of Salinas, garlic scent fills the air and starts glandular salivation. Just like onions might warn you your vehicle was approaching Vacaville, as did Hill Brothers Coffee fumes wafting near the western end of the San Francisco Bay Bridge.

As Will Rogers said, Gilroy “is the only town I know where you can marinate a steak by hanging it on the clothesline.”

On Monday the San Francisco Chronicle ran a front page story on how the Trump administration’s tariffs on China are helping California’s garlic growers and industry, mostly quoting representatives of Christopher Ranch in Gilroy. Christopher Ranch is the largest garlic grower and processor in the United States, according to seecalifornia.com/farms

Ken Christopher told the Chronicle that he was “elated” when he heard of the new 25 percent tariff on certain foods from China. He also said there are only three American garlic growers left compared to 12 in the 1990s.

In 1993, Christopher Ranch produced 100 million pounds of garlic a year. Then Chinese garlic flooded the U.S. market, and only recently has Christopher Ranch recovered to that level again. Like many goods from China, garlic arrives in the U.S. at much lower cost than American garlic.

What the Chronicle story didn’t say was that Christopher Ranch became one of the largest importers of Chinese garlic. At first customers couldn’t tell the difference. Then chefs realized the Chinese garlic had a slightly different and less-potent flavor. (When we stopped at the Garlic World store, founded by Don Christopher and Carolyn Tognetti, and asked why some garlic and garlic braids were less expensive than others, sales clerks said it was because the garlic is from China.)

According to the Garlic World website, “50 percent of America’s garlic is now grown in the area around Gilroy and 90 percent of the country’s garlic harvest is processed” in Gilroy. The garlic smell in the air comes from that processing, which includes garlic from China and other countries.

So how does a garlic lover tell the difference? Fresh garlic that is flat on the bottom of the bulb is most likely from China since that country requires that the roots be cut off flat, or smoothly. U.S. garlic usually has some of the root fuzz (brush) still attached when we see it in the grocery store. 4800 Monterey Road, Gilroy. (800) 785-7010.

Beautiful ugly misfit carrots

A few years ago the Sonoma International Film Festival screened a documentary called “Just Eat It” which followed Canadian couple Jen Rustemeyer and Grant Baldwin who go to great lengths, from cleaning out their fridge to dumpster diving, to recover discarded vegetables and fruit.

They were rescuing ugly, misshapen bananas, zucchini, tomatoes, corn and carrots.

Since then I was in France at a weekly visit to a farmers market with chef Charlotte Clement and spotted a weird carrot while she was buying vegetables. I tried to buy it and the grower tried to talk me out of it, all in French. Charlotte and I explained that I loved it. I always buy ugly misfit vegetables. That carrot became a topic of conversation at Chateau Dumas (where I was writer-in-residence and had to attend every dinner,) and acquired the name of “Man Carrot,” until it shriveled with age and died.

North American growers, distributors and consumers throw away about 50 percent of what we grow and produce, just because the produce doesn’t look “normal.” Maybe a banana is crooked or too long; a tomato has a double body, a zucchini twists and turns. What a waste!

Recently I purchased all of the beautiful ugly misfit carrots I could from Paul’s Produce at the Friday morning farmers market near Depot Park, and we praise Paul’s for bringing them to market. I was delighted to rescue those little carrots from potential loneliness.

We should work toward not wasting any food, partly for financial reasons, and partly knowing that with climate change and potential food shortages, we have to live wisely. And try to grow our own while supporting local farmers. Or Google “ugly vegetables” or “imperfect vegetables” and you will find several services that will deliver ugly vegetables and great prices.

They all taste the same.

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