Unlike many regions of the country, Sonoma County is blessed with a plethora of high-quality food producers, from talented cheesemakers and salumi artisans to coffee roasters and sauerkraut fermenters.
As we stock up on pantry staples for our larders, we can support local families during the current shelter in place order by giving our cash to mom-and-pop small businesses struggling to survive the pandemonium of a once-a-century pandemic.
“Now is the time to make your money matter,” said Duskie Estes of Black Pig Meat Co. “We are the luckiest ones because we can actually do this in Sonoma County.”
We asked a few savvy chefs and foodies from around the North Bay, whether shopping online or at their favorite grocery stores, to share what they have tossed into their grocery carts this month, especially products that are local, shelf-stable, healthy or stress-reducing.
Instead of hand-wringing while hand-washing, we can feel, even in a small way, we are making a difference with our dollars.
Gwen Gunheim and Sallie Miller, co-owners of Miracle Plum market in Santa Rosa’s Railroad Square, are big fans of the heirloom beans from Napa-based Rancho Gordo. Their store carries 10 of the 30 varieties of beans sourced from around the world by founder Steve Sando, who works directly with farmers.
“They’re beans that you can’t find other places, unique varietals, and they just taste great,” Gunheim said. “They’re also super fresh as far as dried beans go.”
Although the big, white Royal Corona beans have a rather unfortunate name, that variety is a favorite for Gunheim, who adds kale to make a comforting, warm salad.
The shop also carries the California Wild Rice from Rancho Gordo, along with white and brown rice from longtime California producer Koda Farms Rice.
The women have filled their own fridges with staples like Coastal Hill Farm Eggs and Straus Creamery milk, also available at the store.
“I think having staples in the house is so important to feel a sense of normalcy,” Gunheim said.
The shop is open 10 a.m. to 7 p.m. Tuesday through Saturday and 10 a.m to 4 p.m. Sunday.
For Steve Sando, the only silver lining of the current “shelter in place” reality is that people are now being forced to cook.
“My heart is direct to consumers,” he said. “I really feel most comfortable talking to other home cooks, because that’s what I am.”
Just in time for the bean-curious, Sando has published a new cookbook, “The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Guide” that he co-wrote with Julia Newberry. It comes out on April 6.
The book serves as a field guide to all of his beans, with an explanation and a recipe given for each, even though - it’s no secret - most of his beans are interchangeable.
To go along with the new book, Sando plans to make a “Bean Basic Boot Camp” video, so the beans people are buying right now (his orders have tripled since the start of the pandemic) won’t languish on a shelf.
“I’m hoping people see the diversity in the beans,” he said of the book. “I love stressing that these are indigenous products of the Americas. This is our food, and we should know them as well as different wines and cheeses.”
On his webpage and at his Napa store, Sando sells the Massa brown rice out of Chico, because it is harvested ripe and it tastes better. As a fan of New World food, Sando drives a half hour from his Napa hilltop home to shop at Lola’s Market in Santa Rosa, where he can stock up on various affordable products and produce not usually found outside of Mexico.
“I always get the chicharrones because they last about a week,” he said. “Lola’s has a killer salsa that I had in Michoacan. It’s a chipotle salsa and it’s called the Cosesha P’urhepecha. I bought three bottles today. It’s just so good.”
From Napa, Sando suggests the dried mushrooms and polenta from Connie Green’s Wine Forest Wild Foods, KATZ vinegar and the dried meat from Fatted Calf in the Oxbow.
For online products, his favorite company is Anson Mills, which works with farmers who produce all kinds heirloom grains, from grits to the venerable Carolina Gold Rice.
Hinman, chef/co-owner of The Spinster Sisters, is now cooking meals to go at her South A Street restaurant in Santa Rosa. She suggested indulging your sweet tooth to counteract these bitter times.
She likes to keep some Volo Chocolate on hand, made by Healdsburg chefs Jeff and Susan Mall. It’s available at Oliver’s Markets and Miracle Plum, among other outlets (volochocolate.com).
“Everyone needs a sweet treat, and you could bake with it,” she said.
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