She warned me in a rather snotty manner that it would cost
more money. I peered at her over the top
of my eyeglasses, dramatically setting aside the Sunday Styles section of the
paper in which I had been so thoroughly absorbed.
“Then it better be a damn fine pie.”
A standing mid-week lunch date provided an excuse to drive
the long route through the Napa Valley, over the hills of Calistoga and into
western Sonoma, eyes peeled for hawks, budding vines, and spring
wildflowers. Seersucker blue skies were striped
with heavy silver clouds, inciting our giddiness at the possibility of rain
falling on drought-plagued soils.
Before stocking up on Sonoma’s bounty (honey from an on-your-honor
farm-stand, a couple quarters of Blue Dream from the happy hippy clinic, and several
bunches of broccoli rabe from nearby fields), we hunkered down for lunch. The modest, glass-enclosed dining room faced
a large open kitchen, which spoke to cooking rather than preening, its shelves
lined with mason jars containing colorful herbs, spices, fermentation projects,
preserves, and various grains. A stout woman with long dark hair rolled out
dough with her thick hands, while two lanky men manned a large stove, practiced
acrobats maneuvering banged-up skillets between all eight burners.
Our heated, ripped-from-the-headlines discussions about the
Middle East, corruption in Congress, and the plight of California immediately
ceased as plates were set before us.
Setting aside both the Week in Review and our wildly differing opinions,
I reached for the bottle of house-made chili oil, infused to the color of our
Fresh spring morels, of which I had requested extra, were foraged
the day prior from the Sierra Nevada Mountains and lovingly transported to this
corner of Sonoma on large rattan baskets.
The mushroom’s combs were chopped and cooked quickly in salted butter
and decent white wine, retaining their toothsome texture and crowning their California
earthiness with a French beret. Wiping
her hands on her apron, the woman spread the fungi across the dough she’d been working,
and then stippled it with pungent green garlic, snow-white ricotta, and
Reggiano grated from a two fists-sized block.
She slid the dough masterfully off the peel onto the floor of the stone
hearth, retrieving it just as the cheese bubbled, and the edges of the crust singed
to divine crunch.