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Kathleen Hill: Food news from during and after the October fires


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We’ll never forget 2017

The October fires have affected us all, whether or not we personally lost our homes. We lost a piece of our hearts and our lives with everyone who did, and we will never forget.

The fires have affected our farms, including losses in our local food and marijuana crops. Oak Hill Farm lost barns and homes and food and flower crops, while Bee-Well Farms, started recently by Melissa and Austin Lely, lost everything. Flatbed Farms lost buildings, as demonstrated by the collapsed tin barn where they held their farmers markets.

Gary and Rebecca Rosenberg lost their Sonoma Lavender Farm, their barn and their home, but they, too, will be back.

Dunbar School lost its school garden, which is being rebuilt by volunteers, while that lovely green fuzz sprouts up on Ramona Nicholson’s hills around Nicholson Ranch where she lost both her and her late father’s homes. It may be my imagination, but I think I see a little green reappearing on some oak trees in some locations.

Bringing up to date the calamity at the former Stornetta Dairy building and homes at Napa Road and 121, passersby now see totally collapsed buildings, not just burned ones.

The fires affected our home gardens as well, and as Lydia Constantini of Sonoma Mission Gardens advised, most of them could be saved by hosing plants and washing vegetables carefully, even with a couple drops of liquid detergent.

Many of us are finding seemingly odd simultaneous blooming, possibly due to temperature and bad air deposits that are bringing us roses, geraniums, camellias, and rhododendrons blooming at once. And even tiny bud-break on our Twin Vines Vineyard merlot vines.

Local produce farms that were not directly affected include Paul’s Produce on Arnold Drive and the Patch on Second Street East, which also grows in Santa Rosa.

Foods during and after the fires

Sonoma Valley’s restaurant community helped save Sonoma, in many ways.

We must realize that with lack of electricity to refrigerate their foods, most restaurants had the choice to either throw away frozen and refrigerated foods, or feed them to people. They chose to do the latter.

First to show up at Sonoma Valley High School, which became an emergency shelter, was Rob Larman who towed his Cochon Volant trailer there and barbecued food for those evacuated from their homes.

Ramekins Culinary School immediately started to feed people who slept on cots in its ballroom. Basque Boulangerie, which former Visitors Bureau director Wendy Peterson called Ground Zero, gave away coffee and pastries to anyone who showed up on that first Monday. On subsequent days the Basque somehow made coffee without electricity and baked free pastries in its wood burning oven, and continued to give it all away.

Andrew Cain, of Santé restaurant, and crew cooked days of food and delivered it to La Luz.

Saul Gropman at Café LaHaye cooked dinner and announced to customers that it was all on him, after which Roger Rhoten at Sebastiani Theatre, whose safe was robbed during the power outage, loaned his generator to Café La Haye so Gropman and crew could continue to feed people.

At Suite D, Sondra Bernstein coordinated more than 50 chefs from near and far who cooked according to her plan to feed firefighters and others, even cutting up the beef that Andrew and Susie Pryfogle cooked out of their Tri Tips Trolley to feed firefighters at the Kenwood Fire Department and at the Glen Ellen fire station. Umbria turned out food for anyone who needed it in the Glen Ellen neighborhood, and that meant lots of people. Aventine and Glen Ellen Inn both had to close temporarily due to refrigeration problems from lack of electricity, some even for smoke damage to open liquor bottles. Many residents around the Valley had to throw away refrigerators and freezers full of food for the same reason.

We must realize that our beautiful vineyards, loaded with moisture themselves, served as firebreaks and saved much of Sonoma Valley.

And then there was Facebook and their caterer, Bon Appétit Management Co., which prepared and sent 5,000 meals a day to sites in Napa and Sonoma. Here they arrived via Traci des Jardins’ trucks at the Springs Community Hall for the No Pay Café organized by Sheana Davis with lots of help from Mara Roche and others. Facebook is still distributing food and volunteers are still dispersing it to Sonoma nonprofits.

We will survive!

Restaurant comings and goings

MacArthur Place: The biggest hospitality news of 2017 was the sale of MacArthur Place, which includes Saddles Steakhouse, by Suzanne Brangham and investors to IMH of Scottsdale, Arizona. After 20 years, Brangham and friends decided it was time. General Manager Bill Blum and Chef Dana Jaffe will happily stay on staff. We have heard raves of Jaffe’s food and service since the sale. At a recent reception to introduce their plans, IMH officials and local architect Michael Ross showed drawings of changes they plan to make including removing and replacing landscaping and building additions while redecorating guest rooms.

Umbria Glen Ellen opened, bringing Giulio Tempesta’s former San Francisco restaurant recipes and customers first to Jack London Saloon and then to the redesigned adjoining dining room, serving mostly pasta and giving a stab at the old Jack London burger. Tempesta cooked for those in need throughout the fire while he had power.

Murphy’s Irish Pub: Sondra Bernstein and John Toulze joined the pub owners Bill Pollock and Bob Smith as managing partners to try to save the place and improve the food, which seemed to mean eliminating some of the Irish favorites such as mushy peas and colcannon. As of this writing, the pub is “in escrow,” according to Smith, but it is still open for business.

Rhône Room opened on Broadway as part of the Fat Pilgrim and Harvest Home complex, where Bernstein also grows her restaurants’ produce at the Fig Farm in the back. The Rhône Room features 90 Rhône-style wines, from both France and California.

Divewalk Café: Divewalk Café, local slightly funky home of huge organic crêpes, bánh mi sandwiches, and pho, closes this weekend in the former Nicholas Turkey Farms building at Railroad and Petaluma Avenue, reportedly squeezed out by an expansion of Sonoma Brewing Company.

Community Cafe, Annex Wine Bar and Sushinoma have all left their 875 W. Napa St. location, and fans and regulars miss them dearly.

Foodie and winophile news of 2017

Paula Wolfert’s new book, actually written by Emily Kaiser Thelin, who initially self-published it with a Kickstarter campaign because several publishers turned it down, is a big national hit and on most major newspapers’ lists of Best Cookbooks of 2017. Available at Readers’ Books.

Morgan Twain-Peterson received the revered, rigorous, and rare Master of Wine designation in London with most of his family present. Helping to celebrate the Vassar graduate’s achievement at the ceremony at London’s venerable Vintner’s Hall were Chris Cottrell, Twain-Peterson’s Bedrock business partner, sister Caitlin Twain of New York, mom Kate Twain of Sonoma, his dad and Ravenswood guru Joel Peterson, step mother Mady Deininger, and Twain-Peterson’s girlfriend, Kayte Nelsen.

Tasting room moratorium? The Sonoma City Council has finally decided to do something about the proliferation of 30 to 35 tasting rooms and wine bars around Sonoma Plaza, replacing what old-timers used to consider useful stores. Now we see an offering of a “grandfathered in” Enkidu tasting room lease just south of the Plaza on Broadway. So do we reduce the number of tasting rooms/wine bars or just increase the price of assuming a lease when one fails or relocates? Reminds us of the price of limited liquor licenses rising and falling (rarely) by availability.

Happy and safe New Year to all of us. And Happy Birthday today to my late mother, Emily McKelligon Thompson.