Do-it-yourself North Bay getaway
by Roberto Friedman
The small picturesque town of Healdsburg in the North Bay is in the midst of its inaugural Hands on Healdsburg program, set to run through Feb. 28. It's all about do-it-yourself activities. So Out There and our comely companion Pepi headed up to the charming burg earlier this month to check out some of their "hands on" offerings.
First night in Healdsburg, we helped prepare a winter supper featuring a variety of wild mushrooms with teaching chef Anne Cornell at Relish Culinary Adventures . The cooking school offers forays of mushroom foraging up in the hills and, when you're back in town, the facilities to cook them up good. We enjoyed making tempura maiitake mushrooms with a port wine reduction, wild mushroom and chevre tartlets, petit filet with morel butter, sauteed kale and sunchoke puree. We sampled black trumpets, known in French as "trumpets of death," but only because of their color – they're not to be confused with "death caps." Dessert was zeppole filled with candy caps, a fungus found only in Northern California that has a distinctive maple-syrup taste. We'll say it: we love mushrooms! More info can be found at relishculinary.com.
Next we headed to SHED, a wonderful venue that's a combination grange, gardening and kitchen-supply store, cafe and fermentation bar, for a demonstration about fermented beverages such as housemade kombucha, kefir water, and a delicious blood orange-bay shrub made with sherry vinegar. Fermentation specialist Jennifer Harris had us at kombucha when she presented us with her living, slimy SCOBY (Symbiotic Colony of Bacteria and Yeast), the mother of all k-juice. Future SHED workshops include intensives on knife skills, Japanese rice, and a salt tasting. Info at HealdsburgShed.com.
Dragonfly Floral school offers classes in basic floral design, orchid arrangements, and design with succulents and tillandsia, all set on a rustic six-acre farm that's home to a variety of plants and animals, a picnic area, shop and design school. We enjoyed meeting the squadron of "working ducks" busy ridding slugs from the rose garden by chowing down on them. Dragonfly is a bouquet of riches, and can be found at dragonflyfloral.com.
Our "hands on" experience hadn't run its course, as next we were off to a wine and chocolate pairing at Ferrari-Carano Wine Shop that demonstrated real affinities between good red wine and artisanal chocolates from Scharffen Berger . Who knew that so much vocabulary from wine tasting – nose, bouquet, finish – could be applied to fine chocolate? An epicurean education for OT.
Dinner was at Spooonbar in the h2hotel, one of our favorite restaurants anywhere. Openers included chicken crackling in mole, marinated beets in a garden vichyssoise, and brassicas cooked on the plancha. Mains featured black truffle + escargot-stuffed chicken leg with dandelion greens, and the standout dessert was an almond granita, sesame and whipped honey. All of this washed down by a couple of glasses of Sonoma Coma Pinot Noir, set to the sounds of water cascading down the sculpture of espresso spoons that gives this place its name.
We stayed at the Haydon Street Inn bed & breakfast, a few blocks from the town square in a quiet residential neighborhood. Innkeepers John Harasty and Keren Colsten opened up their home to us, and OT & Pepi found our Turret Room cozy and charming. A wine-and-cheese hour got us mingling with fellow guests of all ages, and breakfasts by Harasty, one-time executive chef at Churchill Downs, home of the Kentucky Derby, were simply exquisite. Booking info is at haydon.com.
For an overview of classes and other offerings in Hands on Healdsburg, go to healdsburg.com/handsonhealdsburg.