Winter Fruits and Fungi

Winter Fruits

In August, it’s nearly impossible to go anywhere in our kitchen without tripping over a flat of heirloom tomatoes, a box of chilies, a bowl of peaches, or a bushel of apples. There is fruit everywhere, and the kitchen doesn’t have to stretch its imagination too far to write a brand new menu every week. Come January, and aside from leafy greens, the garden, once a festival of abundance, slows its production down to a near standstill. It’s this time of year that the kitchen really has to stretch its legs to put some color on your plate.

duck leg and polenta with pomegranate feta salsa

Pomegranates are an incredible dash of color and flavor in these cold months. Some scholars believe that it was the pomegranate, and not the apple, that led to Adam and Eve’s exodus from the garden of Eden, and, if that was the case, we have trouble blaming Eve for tasting a morsel of this delicious fruit. In Greek mythology, Persephone, the daughter of the fertility goddess Demeter, was captured by Hades and taken down to the underworld to be his bride.

While underground, she ate a pomegranate, which meant that she could not ever leave Hades for a sustained period of time. Hades and Demeter struck a bargain in which she would spend half her time with him and half her time with her, and it is for this reason that we have winter, because Demeter is mourning for her far flung daughter half the year. And it is for this reason that we have very little aside from pomegranates to work with all winter. Thanks a lot, Hades!

Persimmons got put into heavy rotation in November and are still running strong. This sturdy, fragrant keeper can last for months on or off the tree. We have several trees dotted around the property, and they were loaded in 2015. Despite rumors of being “woody”, persimmons are easy to handle and render into a delicious tapenade for meats and starches or as an accent to a salad or small plate. Simply dice the persimmon into small 1″ chunks and marinate them in citrus juice for several hours and they soften right up. Incorporate some diced shallot, parsley or mint and you have an eye popping orange and green medley for your platter.

Speaking of citrus, oranges, lemons, limes, kumquats and grapefruit become integral to almost every deep winter dish and salad for providing dynamic color and flavor. Meyer lemon zest in our gremolata, thinly sliced kumquat salsa on prosciutto slices, roasted orange wedges with olives and zanzabar duck, reduced satsuma juice in our vinaigrettes, you are doing yourself a disservice in California if you don’t cook with citrus this time of year.

even our gardener katie's pet monarch broccolina enjoys citrus!

The most eclectic of the fruiting bodies in our kitchen are the saprophytes, more commonly referred to as mushrooms. After each rain, our chefs scourge the hillsides under the cover of manzanita, oak, fir, and huckleberry, hoping to come across precious patches of wild chanterelles, matsutakes, boletes, oysters, and hedgehogs. After several rather dry winters and subsequent sparse harvests, this wet winter has been prolific for fungus out in the forest.

a beautiful white chanterelle

The key to preparing foraged mushrooms is getting them nice and clean. Store them in your fridge dirty, wrapped in paper, as the duff helps to preserve them. When you are ready to cook them, take a small brush and do your best to remove the dirt and debris, knowing that you can’t get it all. Then, cut the mushrooms into roughly 4″x 1″ slices and submerge them in a bowl of water. Remove the mushrooms into another bowl and if necessary submerge them again, wiping away dirt particles with your fingers. Repeat until they are clean. Then, spin them in a salad spinner to dry them out.

Now you are ready to sauté. The following is a great way to prepare chanterelles or boletes, but not matsutakes, which take a great deal more time and heat. For a fantastic treatment on how to prepare matsutakes consult a number of japanese cookbooks, as the japanese are absolutely crazy about matsutakes. For the most part, mushrooms are fairly easy to prepare. Thinly slice garlic, a la goodfellas (so thin they practically dissolve in the oil), and sauté the garlic in olive oil. Once it starts to brown, add the mushrooms. Season with salt and pepper. They will render a great deal of liquid, but don’t worry yourself, as it will reduce down and reincorporate its flavor back into the mushrooms (for extremely delicate, albeit less flavorful, mushrooms, pour off the liquid as it appears). Once they have dried out, throw in a slab of butter and thyme, as well as an additional speckling of seasoning. Cook until they have browned and softened to your liking. You can incorporate the mushrooms into a vast array of dishes, or simply eat them on toast.

Wild mushrooms are exceptional because most of them are incapable of being propagated. There is a very narrow window of time, temperature, humidity and ecosystem in which they can appear. They have such dynamic flavor that comparing them to most store bought “pizza mushrooms” is akin to comparing sushi grade ahi to tuna out of a can. They aren’t even in the same stratosphere. If you are fortunate enough to come across some chanterelles this season, don’t let them go to waste. There is nothing quite like the subtle hint of apricot, the tender, peppery, supple flesh of the chanterelle, be it in hand cut pasta, on a savory tart, or stuffed inside a roti. Fungi may be the most precious winter fruit of them all, so do not despair, though the days are short and the trees are dreary, there are still strange and wonderful fruits to be foraged and forged in the fires of your kitchen.

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Gravensteins and Gravitrons

Harvest is upon us, and as the cherry tomatoes come cascading off the vines, the peppers start to blush red, and the apples start to shake loose from their limbs, we scurry from orchard to garden to kitchen to put it all on the table. Green zebra tomato panzanella, sautéed padrone peppers, gravenstein apple crisps, purple tomatillo mignonette, wild blackberry galettes, fresh roasted eggplant baba ghanoush, sweet buttery bicolored corn, summer squash gratin, and all that is summer and autumn in the Anderson Valley comes spilling out over the sides.

The county fair is this week, and everyone is dusting off their cowboy boots for the rodeo and hoedown on Saturday night. If you’re around, don’t miss the sheep dog trials on Sunday, nor the parade. It’s always worth checking out the livestock and agriculture displays, the giant pumpkins and prize milking goats, the boysenberry pies and varietal apple competitions. Not to mention the carnival, if you have a hankering to spin around at colossal speeds in metal boxes or throw darts at balloons and win tasteful posters from fast talking fair folk. Add to that the hypnotists, Uncle Sam look alikes, late night revellers, starry-eyed sugar-comatosed fairtime frenzied children, art, beer, wine, corn dogs, cotton candy, football games, and eccentrics flooding in from the hills and you have one heck of a weekend on your hands.

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The Green Mojo Revolution

If you haven’t heard about Cycked, it’s about time you have. Cycked is a group of enthusiastic visionaries looking for ways to make an off-highway bike path from Boonville to Mendocino happen.

Yes- a safe, beautiful bike path from one end of the valley to the other and beyond. We’re beside ourselves with excitement thinking of the possibilities, and thinking of creative ways to make it happen.

For our part here at the Boonville Hotel, we’ll be hosting a fundraising lunch for Cycked this upcoming Saturday, the 15th of October. From 12:30 to 3:00 we’ll be serving up pizza from the wood fired oven in the courtyard & slow roasted pork sandwiches.  (Okay, so maybe we just wanted a good excuse to fire up that oven before it gets too cold. But you’ll have to admit, as excuses go, this is a darned good one.) All proceeds go to Cycked.

hope to see you here/the boonville hotel
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Road House : The Sun Room

comfortable chairs by the entrance

A few photos of the Sun Room, part two in the Road House Trilogy.

come in

open the shower onto the deck

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The Roadhouse

The satisfaction in seeing a project well under way is immense. As with other efforts of creation, the gestation of this one has seemed at times interminable. At first, it was just an abstraction, a pleasant idea. To which seeing the changes before our eyes and attending to the practical tasks of making the project manifest have lent a concreteness at last.

To what do I refer? Well, we have two more rooms to offer – and a third on the way – for a total of 15 by the end of September.

These pictures of the Road House’s Back Room can hardly do it justice, since they were taken with my limited point ‘n’ click equipment and skill.  You’ll have to come in and see them for yourself.

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Signs of the Season

Nothing is happier than a hammock, doing it's job well.

This summer has been a mild one, comparatively. A few scorchers, but for the most part these days seem to demand an unhurried enjoyment from us. Of course, we’re happy to oblige. There are moments when, between maintaining the day-to-day and keeping pace with the momentum of our new projects and endeavors, we feel a little frenetic. And then we need to remember the mantra, “Walk, don’t run.” Better yet, stroll. Be leisurely even. It’s an insult to the beauty of these days to hurry through them.

Blackberries ripening.

See, if you rush you might miss things like the green to red to black spectrum of wild summer fruits. Blackberries are practically synonymous with August. The little jewel berries ripening sweet and tart last only  a short time, but they’re so abundant. There is nothing like picking one off the vine, all sun-warm and juicy and putting it right into your mouth. Unless its having a few over our shortcake with warm cream sauce.

A treasure hunt for the first ripe tomatoes begins at the head of this trail.

This morning , Cyle brought in summer squash and cucumbers from the garden. This could mean ratatouille and gazpacho coming up in the next few days. The basil is distractingly fragrant. The bees must find it so, as well. As for myself, one moment I’m looking up at the sunflower and cardoon flowers and the way the colors of their flowers change against the sky in relation to the position of the sun. The next, I’m sprawled on the path looking at the basil flowering or at the stripes on the zinnia petals. These distractions are welcome. What we have to do will wait. 

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Just a few photographs by Marcus.

Thank you Marcus, for taking these pictures, which I pillaged today from your computer.

Dear old Gus. He's condescended to keep our company for over a decade now.

A view from behind the bar. Nice job with the fancy light effects, Marcus.

A beacon in the night for the road weary.

Marcus, our talented shutterbug, and Melinda, the Queen of Sweet Things
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Country Air Conditioning -or- How to Enjoy a Heat Wave

Summer is here. We almost thought it wouldn’t come this year, with rain and cold lasting well into June. But now the hills on the northwestern side of the valley are glowing golden with the warm afternoon wind rippling the grasses. The morning smell of dew evaporating on the dry ground and fallen leaves gives way as the sun rises. Toward the middle of the day everything is hot and still. Those of us with tasks go about them languorously, but often we find that what we thought had to be done can wait while we find the comfort of shade or river.  Evenings are introduced by the choruses of crickets and frogs and then bow out under a velvet black, sparkling curtain.

The hot days are wonderful, not the least for the lesson they bring: surrender to the season.

The days start out cool enough for us to do and move with vigor. As they progress into the heat we slow to a graceful swim through the swelter. We look forward expectantly to the four o’clock wind that comes down through the valley. When the heat begins to give way to the evening we turn on low-humming fans and slide up the windows. By the time we are ready to retire for the night the sheets are chilly against skin that’s been sun-baked all day, and the comforter is abandoned. The sounds of insects chirping and leaves rustling come through the open apertures and affect our dreams. In the morning, to keep some of the night air to ourselves a while longer, we close up the windows and blinds against summer’s generous proximity to the sun.

Today the weather has a more mellow temperament than it did a few days ago. We’re happy for the gentle reprieve.

Thanks, Polly and Rita - you do such wonderful things with these arm fulls of flowers.

The flowers that Polly and Rita brought from the Apple Farm today stand a chance of making it through the week unwilted in their vases. This time of year the variety of color, size and shape in the blossoms and foliage provide endless combinations for their creative combining.

Six helping hands. Take it easy, guys - come in for some lemonade once in a while!

In the garden today we’re lucky to have Tucker, Krissy and Cyle lending a helping hand (well, six helping hands if you do the math, I guess…). Sara has assigned tasks with a view toward expanding the garden from the modest bounty of the last few years to an immodest exuberance. In October, you’ll be able to see for yourself the full flowering of this particular project. And when you come by here you’ll also be tempted to rest a bit in the hammock that’s being slung under a few elms out back. And why not, anyway? I promise, it will still be warm enough by then to justify a bit of lazing in a breeze.

the boonville hotel/table 128 – thank you!
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A well made bed.

A comforter, generously lofty, is covered in crisp, cool cotton. It drapes over the sides of the bed evenly. Its square corners hang neatly at the foot of the bed and there is satisfaction in the way that neat shape is echoed at the head, four times on each smoothly encased pillow.

Is it just me, or is anyone else out there unable to resist laying down on top of a perfectly made bed in the middle of the day?  If there is a little sunshine in the room and you happen to walk by, and, well, ok,  just for a moment…  it is too much to resist. If you happen to have a book handy, you could end up there for a good long time.

A little tug here and a pat there smooths out the wrinkles when you get up, and you can go about the day, knowing that a comfortable bed is waiting.

Depending on which room you have here, your mattress will be either a McRoskey or a Keetsa. The McRoskeys are made by hand in San Francisco and have a devoted following – which is to be expected of a company that has been around for over a century. The Keetsas are from a newer company and are made with eco-friendliness as well as comfort in mind. After polling friends and co-workers, we chose soft but supportive models for the rooms. This decision – with very few exceptions- has resulted in many a well-rested traveler.

The beds are made up with light but warm down comforters and pillows. In many of our rooms we use Coyuchi linens, which we love for their low impact on the environment and their wonderful feel on the skin.

After a day spent in pleasant anticipation of lifting the covers and slipping into the smooth, cool sheets, as you drift into sleep with a smile playing faintly on your lips, your last thought before you begin dreaming might be of an entirely different pleasurable anticipation: “Mmmmmm, coffee in the morning.”

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June, is that you?

It hardly seems possible that it can be here already, but our calendars assure us – this is indeed June. The May milestones have passed; the Beer Festival, the Pinot Festival, Memorial Day weekend -all sorts of folks with their various interests and itineraries have already come through town this year. And this despite days of doggedly wet, gray weather.

One of the best things that happens in May is that the Farmer’s Market resumes. We have for years now been happy to host the market in our little lot on the corner of Lambert Lane and 128. Umbrellas and canvases pop up early on Saturday mornings to shelter tables laden with offerings from the threat of rain. It’s good to see the familiar faces from Petit Teton, Lovin’ Blooms, Floodgate Farm, Yorkville Olive Oil and others, back after a winter spending their Saturday mornings peddling their wares on the front porch of Lauren’s Cafe down the street from us.

Also coming up in June is the Sierra Nevada World Music Festival. The local response tends to one of two: battening down the hatches and emerging from our homes only after the 10,000 reggae fans have let town; or, jumping into the fracas and reveling in the (rare in a small town) opportunity for abandon that the anonymity of a crowd affords.

When the very happy day comes (soon, we hope!) that the sun comes out to play, so will we all. Tomatoes will grow big and juicy, in our own garden as well as in the private and market gardens all round the valley. It’s a little early to be thinking of panzanella, but dreaming about it is something else entirely.

the boonville hotel/table 128 – thank you!
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