Support for Sonoma County producers

Sonoma County food makers need help amid shutdown.|

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.

Miracle Plum

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.

Rancho Gordo

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.

Liza Hinman

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 (

“Everyone needs a sweet treat, and you could bake with it,” she said.

Along the same lines, she always has a jar of the Sonoma County Bee Co.’s raw honey to stir into tea, swirl into yogurt or use for baking.

The restaurant is selling the Spinster Pantry’s House Made Maple and Pecan Granola at its online pantry ( The granola adds an extra crunch to Spinster’s Maple Granola Waffles (see recipe below).

Susan and Jeff Mall

The Healdsburg chocolatiers behind Volo Chocolate have been stocking up on their favorite meats, especially the dried sausage from Journeyman Meats and bacon from Sonoma County Meat Co.

For vegetarians, Susan suggests using the “wine thyme” and “mesquite” flavors of Sporgy Mushroom Jerky in place of bacon when cooking vegan or vegetarian fare. The jerky is available at Shelton’s in Healdsburg (

To keep their immune systems healthy, they have bought Wildbrine sauerkrauts and pickles, available at Costco and other stores.

If you’re trying to stay away from alcohol but want to enjoy the same flavors, Susan suggested Hazel’s Sparkling Vinegar Soda, which is carbonated and sugar free and comes in wine varietal flavors like pinot noir and chardonnay. The Sonoma County product is sold at Oliver’s.

Michael Volpatt

The co-founder of Big Bottom Market gained national fame when the Guerneville cafe’s biscuit mix and honey was named one of “Oprah’s Favorite Things” in 2016.

A few weeks ago, he noticed their new biscuit mix, redesigned to conveniently need only water added, was flying off the shelves.

“We had people coming in and getting provisions,” he said. “You can get it online, at the Big Bottom Outpost on Etsy” (

Although the cafe is now closed, Volpatt is still delivering lunches to the River area, from Fulton to Duncans Mills.

Volpatt said he is stocking up on meat sticks from Zoe’s Meats and Comet Corn Hippie Dust Popcorn (both available at Oliver’s) and Equator Coffee.

“It’s crazy good,” he said. “And my candy addiction has me stocking up on the saltwater taffy from the 5 & 10.”

On his personal Facebook page, Volpatt has started a series of YouTube videos to help home cooks come up with new ideas to spice up their shelter-in-place cooking. One of the first videos explained how to make delicious food from cans of artichokes, tomatoes, white beans and beets, along with various herbs and spices.

Sheana Davis

For her own shelter-in-place comfort, the Sonoma cheesemaker and chef of The Epicurean Connection has been adding lots of local items to her larder.

Davis picked up some Willie Bird Smoked Turkey and Turkey Bacon, both smoked for a long shelf life. The meats are available at the Willie Bird storefront on Highway 12 near Sebastopol and other outlets.

For staples like Clover Butter and Costeaux Breads, she stopped by Broadway Market in Sonoma (see recipe below for Sonoma Macaroni and Cheese). She also picked up some of the Tallgrass Ranch Olive Oil and fresh produce from Kicking Bull Farms, both located south of Sonoma.

Then she got to work making Kale Arugula Pesto, Fig & Olive Tapenade and winter vegetable sautes.

The following two recipes are from “The Rancho Gordo Heirloom Bean Guide” by Steve Sando and Julia Newberry.

If you don’t have cherry tomatoes in stock to roast, you can substitute sun-dried tomatoes.

Flageolet Salad with Lemon, Radishes and Oven-Roasted Tomatoes

Serves 6 to 8

12 ounces cherry tomatoes, halved

5 thyme sprigs, leaves stripped from stems

- Salt and freshly ground black pepper

- Extra-virgin olive oil

6 cups drained, cooked Rancho Gordo Flageolet beans, at room temperature

1 red onion, chopped fine

1 bunch flat-leaf parsley, chopped fine

- Juice of 1 1/2 lemons, plus 1 lemon slice (optional)

1 bunch radishes, cleaned and very thinly sliced using a mandoline or vegetable peeler

To make oven-roasted tomatoes: Heat the oven to 250 degrees. Arrange tomatoes, cut side up, on an ungreased, rimmed baking sheet. Top the tomatoes with thyme leaves and a little salt. Add the thyme stems to the baking sheet, then drizzle a little olive oil over the tomatoes. Cook for about an hour, until tomatoes are slightly shriveled but not dry. Allow to cool; discard thyme sprigs. Roughly chop the tomatoes. Toss beans with roasted tomatoes, onion, most of the parsley and enough olive oil to coat everything. Add the juice of one lemon, and taste - it should be very lemony. Add more lemon juice and adjust seasoning with salt and pepper, as desired.

Just before serving, add radish slices and the remaining parsley. Garnish with a lemon slice, if desired.

This recipe is very flexible so feel free to adjust it based on your tastes and what’s in your kitchen. These beans make an unexpected but welcome addition to an appetizer spread. You can also toss them with sturdy greens for a salad.

Marinated Royal Corona Beans

Serves 4 to 6 as appetizer

1/2 cup extra-virgin olive oil

1/4 cup freshly squeezed lemon juice

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1 tablespoon grainy mustard

1 shallot, minced

1 garlic clove, minced

1 tablespoon minced preserved lemon peel or the zest of 1 lemon

- Handful of chopped, flat-leaf parsley Red chile flakes (optional)

- Salt and freshly ground pepper

3-4 cups cooked Rancho Gordo Royal Corona beans, drained

3 small rosemary sprigs

In a medium bowl, whisk together olive oil, lemon juice, vinegar, mustard, shallot, garlic, lemon peel or zest, parsley and chile flakes, if using. Taste and season with salt and pepper, as desired. The marinade should be very flavorful.

Place beans and rosemary sprigs in a wide, shallow container with a lid or quart-size glass jar. Add the marinade; the beans should be totally covered. If they aren’t, add more olive oil and lemon juice in equal amounts. Cover tightly; shake gently to distribute ingredients evenly. Let sit for at least 1 hour and up to 1 day.

Arrange on a platter with your favorite small bites.

The following two recipes are from Sheana Davis of The Epicurean Connection in Sonoma.

Kale Arugula Pesto

Makes 2 cups

1 cup fresh arugula, stems removed

1 cup fresh kale, stems removed

4 cloves fresh garlic, chopped

3/4 cup to 1 cup Sonoma County olive oil

1/4 cup white balsamic vinegar

1/2 teaspoon sea salt

1/2 teaspoon fresh ground black pepper

Place garlic in a food processor and puree. Add arugula, kale and olive oil into the food processor and blend until finely chopped. Add in balsamic vinegar, salt and pepper. Blend until smooth. Taste and adjust seasoning. Store for up to 2 weeks in refrigerator or freeze to use later.

Sonoma Macaroni & Cheese

Serves 8

4 tablespoons sweet butter

4 tablespoons all-purpose flour

1 cup whole milk

1 cup whipping cream

2 cups grated Cheddar

2 teaspoons fresh garlic, chopped

1/2 cup fresh basil

1/2 teaspoon kosher salt, to taste

1/2 teaspoon ground black pepper, to taste

1 pound dried pasta of choice, cooked al dente and according to directions

For buttered bread crumbs:

1/2 cup sweet butter

1 cup fresh bread crumbs

1/4 teaspoon each sea salt, fresh ground black pepper and chili flakes

Place butter in a large heavy-bottom saucepan over medium heat and melt. Sprinkle in flour and gently whisk for 2 minutes or until light, golden and fluffy.

Whisk in milk and cream and gently stir for 3 minutes or until milk begins to simmer. Reduce flame to low and while continuously stirring, allowing milk to thicken.

Whisk in cheese, fresh basil, sea salt and pepper. Taste and adjust seasoning. Remove from heat and let rest while preparing the pasta.

Gently fold cheese sauce with noodles, pour into an 8-cup baking pan and sprinkle with buttered bread crumbs.

For buttered bread crumbs: Toast or bake 4 slices of bread until golden. Allow to cool and place in food processor to crumble. Place butter in a large, heavy-bottomed saucepan over medium heat and melt.

Sprinkle in crumbs, sea salt, chili flakes and saute until golden and crispy, about 5 minutes. Sprinkle over macaroni and cheese. Bake at 350 degrees for 20 minutes or until golden and bubbly on top.

Optional add-ins: 1 cup cooked ground beef, 1 cup sliced and cooked sausage, 1 cup chopped and cooked bacon, 1 cup chopped and cooked red peppers.

The following recipe is from Liza Hinman of The Spinster Sisters in Santa Rosa.

“This recipe is leavened with yeast in addition to baking powder,” she said.

“It is based on an original Marion Cunningham recipe from ‘The Joy of Cooking.’ We add a sprinkle of our granola as it goes on the iron, which gives it more sweetness and a little crunch.”

Spinster’s Maple Granola Waffle

Makes about 20 waffles

1 (1/4-ounce) package active dry yeast

2 cups milk

1/2 cup unsalted butter, melted, plus more for serving

1 teaspoon kosher salt

1 teaspoon sugar

2 cups flour

2 eggs

1/2 teaspoon baking soda

- Maple syrup, for serving

Dissolve yeast in 1/2 cup warm water; set aside until foamy, 8 to 10 minutes.

Add milk, butter, salt, sugar, flour and eggs; whisk until combined. Cover with plastic wrap; leave on the counter overnight (or in the fridge, then return to room temperature in the morning.).

Heat a nonstick waffle iron, preferably a traditional iron, not a Belgian iron. Whisk baking soda into batter. Pour 1/4 cup batter onto iron; sprinkle a layer of Spinster Pantry granola and let set for 30 seconds. Lower lid; cook until golden and crisp, 4 to 5 minutes. Repeat with remaining batter. Serve with butter and maple syrup.

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