The Sun Eats - Kristin Jorgensen


Here comes another delicious winter

My feet were walking on their own across the Plaza today.  I must have been a million miles away, in my own little world, when the sound of soft, rustling leaves lured me ever so gently from my thoughts. Couples lingered in little pockets of late afternoon sunshine, in the grass that was unbelievably – just overnight – littered with golden leaves.  I hadn’t noticed when summer became fall and now fall has almost become winter.

Winter, ready or not. And I think I actually may be ready! I’m excited to hunker down during the long rainy winter days.  I am looking so forward to quiet evenings with red wine and pasta, slowly braised meals and woolen sweaters.

I paused to notice this first winter breeze. To feel, with my eyes closed, how it moved my hair across my face, ever so softly.  There, the first real chill.  I bent over and picked up a leaf that settled by my shoe.  Winter.  No more tourists sprawled in the grass, no more flip-flops, less white wine and no more tomatoes.  I turned to the last few rays of the evening’s sun and murmured a quiet farewell to summer, to autumn.  Hello winter.

I continued on my stroll through the Plaza.  Happily, towards whatever wonders this winter has in store for me.  I will wrap my arms around this new season, hard and tight, and hold onto it too until it’s gone…and while it’s here I hope to:

Eat plenty of spicy food. Taste of the Himalayas, the tiny restaurant in the cobblestoned alley across from Murphy’s Irish Pub, is a favorite local’s spot for not only super attentive service, a cozy atmosphere and fabulous wine bargains, but also for the tongue tingling sensation of Nepalese cuisine.  I don’t think there is a better time to visit this teeny, but charming dining room than during a frigid, rain-soaked Sonoma evening.  Sinking into a corner banquette on one of these nights, with bottles of cold, dry Gewurztraminer and a big group of friends, tucking into platters of the sizzling Tandoor nears perfection.

Nothing is more warming, more blissful when you’re chilled to the bone, than the lush concoction of exotic spice, tomato and cream in — my favorite — the Tikka Masala.  Really cold?  Everything will get your blood pumping a wee bit more when topped with heaping spoonfuls of the secret, house “spicy sauce.”  Served upon request, this sauce is a serious revelation.  It is a vibrant puree that I am still figuring out: a bit of tomato, a lot of ginger and something with a whole lot of kick.  I always use the restaurant’s addictive, buttery Naan bread to scoop up every bit of the sauce left in the bottom of each little copper bowl, leaving me so happily full and utterly toasty.

Glug on the Olio Nuovo. We definitely don’t need a reason to celebrate here in Sonoma.  Everyday is a celebration!  That wine!  That produce!  These restaurants!  Those views! But, right now, late autumn, early winter in Sonoma, there sadly just ain’t much happening.  Sure we’ve got breathtaking winter produce — yes, I think that cabbage can be breathtaking — and we’ve got cozy, rainy nights, perfect to sip on all of our killer Sonoma red wine we’ve been hoarding all summer.  Wintertime in Sonoma is actually our county’s “second harvest.”  The olive harvest is an awesome reason to celebrate. Because, this is time for the fresh, green oil called “olio nuovo.”  Oh boy is that stuff good on, well…on just about everything,

Sonoma, in true Sonoma fashion, knows how to celebrate anything yummy and good: with wine and dinners and parties and classes and food and tastings and really just a whole lot of fun.  Welcome to Sonoma’s Olive Festival sponsored each year by Sonoma Valley Visitor’s Bureau, a whole season of fabulous events at many of Sonoma’s favorite wineries, restaurants and olive producers.  Easily enough deliciousness to keep us busy all winter long.  Find the complete schedule of delicious events at Olivefestival.com.

Drink red wine, hopefully Pinot Noir. When there is a crackling blaze in the fireplace and winter rains begin their constant dribbling down the living room windows, my glass will be filled with red wine.  I completely love so many Sonoma Valley wines, but for me, what I want in my glass is Pinot Noir. Seriously yummy.  I’m not talking about those big, overblown, jammy Pinots.  I am talking about a Pinot that when you take your first sip, the record skips, time sort of stands still.  My tongue immediately softens and begs for more.  I want a Pinot that tastes ancient and rustic, magical and elusive, with scents of rose and earth and attic and dust.  I so badly want that enchanting, entrancing, spellbinding, bewitching, beguiling, fascinating, captivating, alluring, enthralling, dreamy, heavenly, divine, gorgeous sensation of true Pinot Noir.  That is what I will be sipping on these winter nights.

Eat tons and tons of crabs. The beginning of Northern California’s Dungeness crab season is easily one of the happiest days of my Sonoma year.  I cannot think of a more cozy evening then covering the dining table in newspaper, popping a bottle of bubbly, melting a stick of butter and digging into a big Dungeness crab.  No side dishes are necessary for the exception of an oversized Castroville artichoke (why not something else to dip in the butter?) simply steamed, and a lemon, preferably Meyer. I always let the charming guys at Sonoma Market’s fish counter choose the perfect crab for me.  Now, where’ my bib?

On the menu

The annual “Blessing of the Olives” returns to Sonoma Mission on Saturday, December 1, beginning at 11 a.m.  This beautiful ceremony is easily one of the most memorable events of the year.  Be sure to arrive early for complimentary refreshments, live music and the opportunity to purchase live olive trees.

Slow Food Sonoma Valley hosts its second annual Holiday Cookie Exchange at the Sonoma Valley Grange at 18627 Sonoma Highway, across from Mary’s Pizza, on Wednesday, December 5, from 6 p.m. to 9 p.m.  Attendees should bring a minimum of three-dozen holiday cookies to exchange with others.  Cookies should be on a platter labeled with your name for easy return or an eco-friendly disposable container.  Then, take home two-dozen cookies of your choice during the evening exchange.  Please place one dozen cookies to donate in a separate container labeled with the type of cookie.  Slow Food will “gift back” one dozen cookies from each person’s bundle to Meals on Wheels and the Brown Baggers to include with their holiday meals.  Non-alcoholic cider and warm hearty soups will be provided.  Bring wine, beer or drinks of your choice to share.  RSVP is not necessary but welcomed, by emailing marqarita@travelingmatters.com or by calling 939.7638.

Chicken Tikka

Recipe inspired by Taste of the Himalayas

Serves 6

  • 3/4 teaspoon cumin seeds, toasted
  • 3/4 teaspoon coriander seeds, toasted
  • 2 cups whole-milk yogurt
  • 4 garlic cloves, chopped
  • 1 1/2 inch piece fresh ginger, peeled and chopped
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil plus additional for greasing pan
  • 2 tablespoons fresh lime juice
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons salt
  • 3/4 teaspoon ground turmeric
  • 1/2 teaspoon garam masala (Indian spice mixture)
  • 1/2 teaspoon black pepper
  • 1/4 teaspoon cayenne
  • 5 pounds skinless boneless chicken breasts, cut into 1 1/2-inch cubes

Accompaniment: steamed Basmati rice and store bought mango chutney

Purée all ingredients except chicken in a blender until spices are well ground.

Put chicken in a large bowl, or divide between 2 large sealable plastic bags, and add yogurt mixture, stirring or turning to coat. Marinate chicken, covered and chilled (turning occasionally if using bags), at least 4 hours. Soak skewers in water 30 minutes. While skewers are soaking, bring chicken to room temperature. Preheat broiler and brush a broiler pan lightly with oil.

Divide chicken among skewers (about 5 cubes per skewer), leaving 1/8-inch space between cubes, and arrange about 5 skewers across pan. Broil chicken about 4 inches from heat, turning over once, until browned in spots and just cooked through, 9 to 12 minutes total. Transfer cooked skewers to a large platter and, if desired, cover loosely with foil to keep warm. Broil remaining chicken in same manner. Remove chicken from skewers and serve warm or at room temperature, accompanied by rice and mango chutney.

Kristin Jorgensen is one of Sonoma’s most passionate, food obsessed residents. In this weekly column, she covers all the delicious happenings, foodie events and restaurants in Sonoma, the rest of Wine Country and beyond.  Email her with comments, questions, or your food related events at foodandwine@sonomasun.com.

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