Tomato, mozzarella ball appetizer

I made this appetizer for a neighbourhood deck party last night. It is simple, but effective.

  • cherry or grape tomatoes
  • marinated mozzarella balls
  • fresh basil
  • lime juice
  • cracked pepper

As usual, I left it to the last minute to make. I should have got my tomatoes from Dan, the tomato man last Tuesday at the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market. But I didn’t. I wasn’t thinking this far ahead last Tuesday. I just bought both the tomatoes and the mozzarella balls from Trader Joe’s half an hour before I needed to leave.

I did however, harvest fresh basil from my friend Carol’s garden. Then, I cut the mozzarella balls in half, added a basil leaf and a grape tomato and skewered them onto a toothpick.

I guess it is something like my tomato, mozzarella ball salad, but this summer, when my nephew Jorden made that salad, he’d added lime juice and cracked pepper. And something that he won’t tell me. But it definitely added a palatable zing.

So, as a finishing touch on these appetizer sticks, I decorated the plate with the extra basil leaves, squirted lime juice over the plate, and cracked some pepper.  Jorden, what did you add that gave the salad that zing???

Easy. Tasty. Fast.

We headed over to the party.

A few years ago, one of our neighbours organized to install a secure mailbox to help address the problem of mail that was getting stolen.  A few of us pitched in for the cost and in return, have a secure mailbox up here on Fitch Mountain.

Having mail that didn’t get stolen has more benefits than you might imagine. One of my favourite benefits is a few times a year, we get together and have a mailbox party. Sometimes, it’s a galloping dinner between neighbours. Sometimes, like last night, it was a simple deck party (and it was a good night for it too!).

Last night was a special night. The original organizer of the secure mailboxes had recently passed away. We honoured him with a plaque which will be installed beside the mailboxes. It says: Dedicated to Mike Barbie. Our neighbourhood advocate.”

Thank you Mike. For making our neighbourhood a safer place.

Spend some time in Dry Creek Valley

A few nights ago, I went out for After Hours at the Ravenous Restaurant here in Healdsburg. That is, I went just to hang out and get a bit of conversation and meet some interesting people before I turned in myself. Ravenous is a local restaurant in an old house on Center Street. The entire backyard is the backyard patio and bar. It’s a pretty cool atmosphere. I like showing up later–you meet more locals (everybody who’s getting off of their shifts from somewhere else).

I ended up talking to two out-of-town gentlemen who’d met one another at law school in London, England. One was living in Hong Kong now, the other–still in London. They were both here on holiday getting a bit of the California sun.

You couldn’t ask for a better outdoor evening than that night. It was warm enough to sit outside in sleeveless tops. (And I know you’re thinking: “Well it is California after all!”), but we often get fog here late at night, and it cools everything off and adds some humidity to the air–so bare arms are often chilly late at night. But, that night was a perfectly warm summer evening.

I said hello to KC Mosso, the bartender, and talked to him about sending me the listings for his events he books over there. And once I’m seated at the bar, I turned around and started talking to these two gentlemen.

They’d made it to Healdsburg after a few days in San Francisco. They were a bit tired, but they did ask where I could recommend they should go visit the next day. I asked KC for a piece of paper and a pen. He handed me an extra menu from behind the bar and took a pen from his pocket. Thanks KC!

They were only planning half a day or so in the area before they headed over to Carneros. I gave them a full day itinerary–just in case. There really is a lot to see here and it’s better to enjoy an entire day than just rush in and out. Anyway, I thought I would write up the route I gave them and post it here. It’s pretty useful information if you don’t really have much time to spend in the area and it’s got a bit of variety.

BREAKFAST and MORNING

Start early. It’s important to have breakfast. There’s a number of places you can have breakfast in town, it all depends on what you’d like to eat. If you’re on a time line, like these guys were, you probably want to grab a breakfast sandwich (or something). I know that the Costeaux Bakery Cafe and the Palette-Art Cafe both offer breakfast sandwiches. You can usually just ask for a recommendation at the counter. The servers really do know best.

Take your breakfast to go and head on up to Lake Sonoma. Lake Sonoma’s about 20 minutes from the town of Healdsburg (at the top end of Dry Creek Road) and you don’t want your breakfast to get cold.

Find the lookout and enjoy your breakfast in the fresh air. Depending on how much time you have, you can hike around up there or just take goofy pictures of you and your friends.

BY THIS TIME, IT MIGHT BE 11AM OR SO

On the way back down, you can visit any winery that’s open along the way. Here’s a link to an interactive map. But, there are a few I like to note from my own preference and experiences. My friend Shana Ray, who helped promote the Day-in-the-Life event last month and also contributes articles to this magazine works at Kokomo on Fridays. You could always stop in and say hello to her. If you twitter, let her know you are coming: @ShaRayRay.

One day this winter, I had the fortune to try Papapietro Perry’s 2005 Pinot Noir and it made and impression on me. I don’t know much about wine, but I do know what I like. And I liked their 2005 Pinot enough for me to recommend trying their other tastings.

There are a few other wineries clustered in and about Kokomo and Papapietro Perry: Amphora, Collier Falls, Forth, and Peterson. I’ve never tried any of these wines (but I’m sure I will–eventually). You could always try them and comment below. That would be great.

A bit further south and across the road from this cluster is a vineyard and tasting room called UNTI. They weren’t even on my radar until one day I started talking to Mick Unti himself (at an After Hours at the Ravenous). He was full of opinions about life, the universe, and everything. And it’s just refreshing to meet somebody local who has a few interesting things to say.

Also, I like the back label on the 2006 UNTI rose. It’s not listed on their website, so I guess you can’t get it anymore, but it was a story–about rose. I like stories. I like to connect with people over stories. That’s just the way I am. Actually, I like the rose too. So there. I guess I tried the 2007 though. It’s refreshing on a hot summer afternoon. Mick is going to admonish me for publishing all this, if he ever finds out. But–whatever, what he doesn’t know won’t hurt him. You can just go in and try the wines yourself and see if you like them. That’s the best way.

BY THIS TIME, IT MIGHT BE 1:30 or 2:00PM

You’ll probably be hungry so stop for lunch out at the Dry Creek General Store (at the turn off for Lambert Bridge Road). Since Dry Creek Road and the Skaggs Springs Road are two of the most popular roads in the county for motorcycling, you’ll often see a gaggle of bikers stopped there too. Or–a gaggle of cyclists. And–most probably, a gaggle of other wine tasters. Stop and compare notes. It’s all about you experience. After lunch you can head across Lambert Bridge Road to West Dry Creek.

It’s probably best if you go on up to the north end of the road. You can wind your way back through any of the wineries. Everybody has an experience. Everybody has an opinion. You decide which ones you like.

Although, if you are out in Dry Creek, and it is a Friday afternoon, stop by Michel Schlumberger Winery or or Wilson Winery. They have a series of live music on Fridays. On Sunday afternoons, C. Donatiello Winery has music too. It’s nice just to hang out in the gardens and enjoy the afternoon. (Check the What’s Happening Healdsburg calendar for more details).

When you finally make your way back into Healdsburg and ask a local where they’d recommend you for dinner. AND don’t forget to ask what they like on the menu. There is a reason we live here. And we know what we like. And we’re definitely full of opinions!

Mateo Granados: Fresh, Local, Fabulous

I hear about Mateo Granados from a few people before I actually get to talk to him myself. David and Ondine mention him when they find out I’m looking for interesting perspectives. And I crosscheck the reference with Julie, my winemaker-foodie friend. She nods her head. Yes. Definitely.

And when I’m talking to Evie at the Tierra Vegetables Farm Stand, she says: “Oh. You HAVE to talk to Mateo.” And she calls him right there and leaves a message with my phone number.

Mateo calls me the next day. I’m driving home and don’t really get a chance to explain myself, but we agree to meet the following Wednesday, at 9:00 am at the Palette Art Café.

I arrive early to sort myself out before he arrives. He rushes in a few minutes late, dripping and sheepish. He’s been at his kitchen making tamales since 6:00 am. He wanted to shower and clean up before he met me. We order coffee and sit down to chat.

He’s animated. He’s not only explaining himself with words. He uses his face, his hands. He gestures. He just starts explaining.

“What I’m doing,” he says, “Is reproducing the food I grew up eating—but with the bounty of Sonoma County growers.” He smiles and nods his head, “Modern Yucatan Cuisine.”

He explains a bit about the Nuevo Latino cuisine movement and states: “But we’re taking it further. We’re making it regional: Flavors of the Yucatan—with Sonoma County flair.”

“I grew up in the breadbasket of Mexico. My father was a butcher and my mother—an artist. This is what I know. This is what I love. This”—he motions to the table in front of us as if there were a grandiose spread right there, “This is just what I do.”

I ask him to explain more of his past. How did he come to Sonoma County? Believe it or not, he came to the US as a professional soccer player. It wasn’t long though, before he injured himself too much to continue to play. “My housemate at the time was Michael Bonaccorsi. We would spend all of our time together tasting. Tasting food. Tasting wine. And expressing ourselves. That is how I learned English: talking about food and wine with Michael Bonaccorsi.”

Michael went on to become one of the first twenty master sommeliers in the United States. Mateo went on to work his way up through some of the Bay Area’s top restaurants and is now a pedigree chef. He’s held positions such as Executive Sous Chef at Masa’s in San Francisco and Executive chef at Charlie Palmer’s Dry Creek Kitchen here in Healdsburg.

LOCAL FINE DINING

Now, Mateo’s goal is to start his own fine dining experience. He aims to bring his refined Mayan recipes to the same level as respected French, Italian, and Spanish cuisine.

He started small. In fact, he went back to square one. In 2004 he started selling his handmade tamales in the Farmer’s Markets all over Sonoma County. His philosophy: “Grow local. Know local. Buy local.”

His commitment to his customers is 100% locally grown and produced. He buys his ingredients from over 30 growers in Sonoma County. “If you love what you do, you have to do it right.” He’s a passionate proponent of not only knowing where his food comes from, but knowing the grower and how it was grown. The Local Harvest website defines community supported agriculture as “putting the farmers’ face on food.”

Mateo certainly puts a face on every ingredient he uses. He describes every dish with a list of identities. It wasn’t just queso fresco. It was Bodega Bay Queso Fresco. Black Sheep bacon. Pug’s Leap Goat Cheese. Black Beans from Tierra Vegetables. And so many more. I couldn’t keep track.

“You can’t beat it. The flavors. The smells. The textures. I get vegetables from Tierra—there’s still earth on them. And roots!” He cups his hands as if he’s holding a bulb of garlic or something and brings them towards his face. I can tell he can smell the earth.

The idea of fresh, local produce is to keep it alive until you use it to cook. He tells me: “Enjoy it while you can. Because the fresher it is, the more alive it is on your plate. The more flavor explodes in your mouth.”

Another part of Mateo’s philosophy is: Respect. Respect the land. Respect the food. Respect the growers. Respect the producers. He knows how much energy, time, and labor it takes to grow a tomato, an onion, a carrot, a pig. Because he knows his suppliers, he doesn’t waste. He creates his signature dishes around what’s available in the season and finds a use for everything. Everything. He doesn’t waste anything because he doesn’t want anything to go to waste. He’s very aware of what he’s throwing away.

He tells me all of this and I take notes. Finally, he takes a moment to sip his coffee and looks at me expectantly: “Do you have any questions?”

“Well,” I say thoughtfully, “Is it possible to have an experience?” He looks at me and thinks for a second and says: “Ok. You want an experience? Let’s go to my kitchen.”

FRESH FAST FABULOUS

We drive to the kitchen where he prepares his tamales. As we get out of his car, he points to two big trucks and adds with a grin: “Those. Those are complete mobile kitchens. I am so committed to local ingredients and the idea of fresh. I bring everything to your site and prepare it right there.”

Mateo Granados : Flavors of the Yucatan : Local Food : Healdsburg Magazine

He shows me around the kitchen and introduces me to his workers who are preparing tamales for his Farmer’s Markets. He makes me taste some of his garnishes: olives from Lou Preston, beets and cabbage cured with bay leaves, cinnamon sticks, and cloves.

I realize what he means by keeping the produce alive until it’s on your plate (or in this case—in my mouth). (A few weeks later as I’m writing this article and thinking about his cured beets and cabbage, I’m still salivating from the memory).

“OK,” he pulls a cast iron fry pan from the cupboard, “Let’s make a quesadilla.” He asks his helper to clean some cactus.

“Come over here,” he motions and makes me smell the olive oil. “Can you beat that?” He pours a dollop to the fry pan and turns up the heat. He adds the cactus pads for a few seconds on each side then removes them to a cutting board. Then, he goes into the other room to get out his knives and comes back sharpening one: “To make good food, you have to have good knives.” He’s cheeky.

He slices some onion and crystallizes it in the pan. Then dices the cactus pads, slices a bit of Pug’s Leap Cambremer goat cheese, and layers it all together on a soft tortilla. All of which, he now puts it back in the fry pan, fast. Both sides. Just enough to grill the tortilla and soften the cheese.

He whisks it out onto a cutting board, quarters the quesadilla and decorates the top with tomatilla salsa and his cured cabbage condiments. He tops it all off with a handful of sliced green onion. All the while, he’s lecturing about not wasting anything in his kitchen.

How can you beat that? 10 minutes or less. Fresh. Fast. Fabulous.

He smiles:“Pair it with a crisp Rose and you have yourself a succulent, fine-dining, regional experience.”

MORE ON MATEO

Mateo Granados Catering Flickr photo stream for this article
MateoGranadosCatering.com
Interested in attending a Missing Link diner?

PS: You can taste more than his tamales at the Healdsburg Farmer’s Markets on Tuesdays and Saturdays. You can also find a Mateo Granados menu at the Santa Rosa Farmer’s Market on Saturdays and in Sebastopol on Sundays.

The virtual healdsburg dating scene

As many of you know, this cartoon connotes EXACTLY what life is like today–virtually, physically. It’s pretty funny. Last week, my cousin NIK got engaged…and I saw her Facebook status update AND I immediately wrote to congratulate her.

Talk about instant gratification. One day, I was talking to a friend about the lack of available, date-able men in Healdsburg. She-along with many other friends have been encouraging me to put my profile online–on one of those dating sites.

GOOD GOD! I may be passionate about the internet, but I’m not about finding passion on it. I not about meeting real people online. My theory about why those dating sites are so successful is that everybody who’s on them has one thing in common–they are all looking to get hooked up. And that’s the basis of their meeting–so their rates are successful.

Plus, apparently–the women can shop. Great business model…let the women shop. HA!

I shouldn’t be so guarded. If you read my blog, you know I’m all about being authentic and real on the internet. AND there are a lot of success stories out there about meeting people online. For example, some guests I last week met on LavaLife. Other friends on Match.com. Anyway. A lot of my friends say get online, figure out what you want, and order them up.

But the whole process is a bit freaky to me. You can’t read their body language. You can’t see what’s in their eyes. You can’t hear their voice inflections. There are so many levels at which humans communicate, the internet is just one. Although, somehow, I personally find it easier to be honest in this medium, I know that there are many others who communicate who they want to believe they are.

Also, I’d be freaked out at finding somebody I may already know out there–and I’d dated him. Good grief. I’d also be rating them on how long have they had their profile up? Like an MLS listing or something.

Who wants that?

Here’s one of my favourite quotes from Lewis Carroll:

Never imagine yourself not to be otherwise than what it would appear to others that what you were or might have been was not otherwise than what you had been or what you would have appeared to be otherwise. – The Duchess in Alice’s Adventures in Wonderland, Chapter IX

And, believe it or not, I can recite the entire poem: Jabberwocky.

Labels and egos

I started to have a conversation yesterday about egos–about labels and egos specifically. But I wasn’t as articulate as I would liked to have been. And I probably should have thought about it before I said it because I think the person I was talking to got a wee bit defensive about his industry (the wine industry) and because his name is on a label.

Today, I guess I just wanted to point out that I am not excluded from my comment on egos (which was something like: there is a lot of ego out there). And, I definitely shouldn’t limit my comment to the wine industry.

I have this website: YukonJen.com. How egotistical is that? (Not to mention another one of projects : HealdsburgMagazine.com…)

IN MY DEFENSE….this website was a gift from a friend who very quickly figured out I was struggling to find a way to express myself.

I am pretty grateful to that friend (Waitman of Waitman.net) because I discovered blogging and expressing myself with words, and pictures, and other media. And just finding my voice and a place where I wouldn’t stutter.

And a few long lost friends have found me through my website (my long-time girlfriend in Yellowknife, Ron Eichler of Vancouver fame). And I have found a few friends through my website (Urban Yukon, I do read your blogs. And they help a whole lot when I am missing the Yukon). I stay in touch with my family in Canada, and other friends from around the world. And when I read my archives, I remember what fun I had writing some of those entries. And I know that it was really worth the time and effort I took to create them.

And I discover new skills, new tools, and new technologies. And I discover how the internet works. And I feel compelled to share that understanding with others (except, unless you are in the internet industry, it’s not as easy as you might think). And, I feel a sense of pride in what I have accomplished.

And I can only guess that my friend in the wine industry probably feels the same way about his wine and his industry.