On a magically crisp fall day, I set out with a friend to revisit one of my favorite rides through the mountains of northern Sonoma county.  I knew we would pedal through remnants of the fire, but I was still unprepared when our ride transitioned from the tapestry of vineyards in autumn; to the shy, but striking mountain backroads; to charred forests still carrying the overwhelming scent of campfire.  But like an aging woman, whose weathered and wrinkled skin is useless in hiding the vestige of true beauty, Sonoma’s hills may be scorched and charred but they are beautiful even in their morning attire.  

Gazing across these blackened hills recalls all of their origins—all of the history they have stood to witness—all at once.  While the verdant beauty of these hills suits our play, the scalping of their protective layer of oak and chaparral reveals their soul—old, wise and lasting.

They remember back some 65 to 36 million years, when California was still pulling herself together.  Before, the Farralon Plate fancied an offshore collision with the North American plate, lifting the whole smoldering mass to give rise to their existence.

They remember when white tule elk grazed their slopes and their rivers pulsed with the muscle of gleaming salmon, fighting against their last hour of life to make it back upstream, driven with a blind determination to continue life itself.

They remember the icy, cleansing caress of snowflakes and they remember the heat of many prior fires, ancient and recent.  They remember how their ecosystems evolved to be defined by those fires and looming fire-adapted and fire-dependent redwoods and closed-cone pines grew. Yet again, giving overwhelming evidence to the prescience of life.

They remember the dreams of every man and woman who gazed across their vastness and felt their hope expand. They remember every utterance of the words “possible” and “opportunity” said when observing their gentle grandeur.

They remember the first vines planted by wild adventurers.  They remember bud-breaks, and harvests, hard work, hope and the clinking of glasses.

They remember being hotter than ever this summer, giving rise to too-recent fires.  They remember the animals that ran in fright and whom they are now sheltering in their diminished forests.  They remember the lives and homes lost.  Come spring, statement-making neon green grasses will grow from the carbon-rich soil and tender new trees will burst from the seeds dropped in the fire, but today, on this beautiful fall day, the hills wear black.

They are here to witness the joy in coming together after the fires to give thanks for all the land untouched by flames, now particularly resplendent in its fall attire.  This land is gracious and giving—persimmons, pumpkins, guava and olive harvests.

They remember.  There is a soul to this land.  It is bigger than any of us.  Big enough to make our dreams feel possible, and big enough to take our pains and make us feel whole again.

And there are some of us who will kiss the flanks of these hills with our feet and our tires, regardless of the color of its dress.  We come for the soul.  It’s communion.

The recipes below are a direct result of the land; of coming home with a haul full of fall produce and flowers.  They are a reflection of appreciation for the simple things. 

Roasted Cabbage with Walnut Parmigiano Salsa

The winter months of farm boxes and farmers markts, cholk-full of cabbages and onions may not seem particularly sexy, but there is hidden appeal in the humble cabbage.  Roasted, steamed or turned into a soup, the sweet, earthiness of the cabbage becomes exact what you want on a fall night.  This is perfect with a roasted chicken.  Crank the oven up and put in the cabbage in when the chicken comes out and both will be ready at the same time.

  • 1 head savoy cabbage
  • 4 tablespoons butter, at room temperature
  • 1 tablespoon balsamic vinegar
  • 2 garlic cloves, minced
  • extra-virgin olive oil
  • 2/3 cup walnuts, lightly toasted
  • 2/3 cup dried beadcrumbs
  • 1/2 cup freshly grated Parmigiano Reggiano
  • juice of 1 lemon

Heat the oven to 475F.

Rub the cabbage quarters with the butter and season generous with salt and pepper and arrange on a baking tray.  Roast in the hot oven until browned and crisped, about 10 to 15 minutes.  

While the cabbage is roasting, combine the garlic, and 1/4 cup olive oil in a small bowl.  Add the walnuts, bread crumbs, Parmigiano and lemon juice and season generously with salt and pepper. Mix to form a loose salsa, tasting to see if more brightness (lemon), saltiness (cheese) or toastiness (walnuts) are in order.

Remove the cabbage from the oven and sprinkle with the balsamic vinegar.  Either leave the cabbage quarters intact, or roughly chop them and toss.  Arrange on plates and dress with the walnut salsa and drizzle a tab more balsamic on top.  Serve soon.

Fall Harvest and Chicken Pot Pie with Tarragon

You could call this chicken pot pie a compromise.  While my husband finds the decedent combination of cream sauce and puff pastry to be god's gift to man, I prefer a little more restraint and a lot more veggies.  We're found a middle ground where all parties are more than happy--a handful of roasted fall vegetables get mixed in with the chicken and a classic cream sauce is subsituted with a little more refined Madiera glaze.

  • 1.5 cups butternut squash or pumpkin, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • 2 medium-sized parsnips, cut into 1/2 inch cubes
  • Extra-virgin olive oil
  • 1 garlic clove, peeled and smashed
  • 6 ounces pancetta, cut into small cubes
  • 1 medium onion, chopped
  • 2 stalks celery, roughly chopped
  • 2 large carrots, roughly chopped
  • 8 ounces mushrooms, such as button or cremini, thickly sliced
  • 1 tsp white wine vinegar
  • ¼ cup all-purpose flour
  • 1 teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ teaspoon paprika
  •  Salt and ground black pepper
  • 1 pound boneless chicken thighs, cut into bite-size pieces
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 2 ½ cups rich chicken stock
  • ¼ cup Marsala, Madeira or sherry
  • 1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
  • 1 cup green peas
  • 3 tablespoons roughly chopped tarragon, more for garnish
  • 2 sheets puff pastry
  • 1 egg, beaten with 1 tablespoon water

Heat the oven to 400F.

Toss the butternut squash with a swig of olive oil and a heafy pinch of salt.  Roast for 20-25 minutes, until slightly soft, but not mushy.

Meanwhile, heat oil and garlic together in a large saucepan over low heat. When it sizzles, add the pancetta, onions, carrots and celery and cook about 10 minutes, stirring often, until the fat is rendered and bacon is golden brown.

Remove the onion and pancetta mixture from the pot, leaving the residual oil, and add the mushroom and white wine vinegar. Cook, stirring, until mushrooms are browned and slightly softened, about 5 minutes. Remove the mushrooms from the pan and add to the onions.

In a sealable plastic bag, combine flour, thyme, paprika, 2 large pinches salt and 1 large pinch pepper. Add chicken and shake well to coat.

Melt the butter in the same pan the mushrooms were in over medium heat. Add chicken pieces and any flour that remains in the bag. Cook, stirring, until all sides of the chicken pieces are golden and the flour on the bottom of the pan is browned. Pour in the Marsala to glaze and scrap the bottom of the pan. Next add the vinegar stock and the onion-mushroom mixture and stir. Scrape the bottom of pan, and let simmer about 5 minutes, until thickened. Taste for salt, pepper and vinegar and adjust the seasonings. Turn off heat and stir in the peas and tarragon.

Transfer the chicken mixture to a 9"x12" baking dish. Strech the puff pastry with you hands as you would pizza dough and drape the dough over the filling, making a few slits or decorative holes on top. Tuck edges down around filling and brush the crust with the beaten egg. If the dish is piled high with filling, place on a baking sheet to catch any overflow before transferring to oven.

Bake until the crust is browned and filling is bubbling, 20 to 30 minutes.

Let cool slightly, at least 10 minutes, before serving with a big spoon and enjoy.


If you would like to support the rebuilding of the human-side of wine country, consider contributing to the Sonoma County Resliency Fund, or UndocuFund, supporting the many undocumented fire victimes who do not qualify for FEMA aid.


Magic by the Bay


Magic by the Bay

Encounter’s September event was held in the Marin Headlands with a gorgeous table set on a perch overlooking the Golden Gate.  After an exhilarating ride in the Headlands, we enjoyed the best of summer’s harvest prepared over the open flame.  Flavors of duck, cherry and tomato paired with crisp summer wines, the sounds of laughter creating a symphony with the distant fog horn.

As the chef, yes, I hope guests remember the food; but more than that, I hope they remember the ambiance.  The feeling and texture of a moment in time, surrounded by friends—new and old—when maybe, just maybe there was just a little bit of magic.

The evening's menu and select recipes are below the photos!


humdoldt kumamoto oysters with foie gras and jura wine

onions three ways, grilled bread, 'njuda

celery bisque, shrimp, roasted walnut, golden raiser, brown butter

tomato and melon salad, burrata, fresno chili

duck confit, cherry mustarda, kolhrabi slaw

sticky date pudding with hot toffee sauce


tomato and melon salad, burrata, fresno chili

For the tomatoes, I like to find a mix of larger heirloom varieties cut into wedges, along with cherry tomatoes cut in half.  Late summer brings one of the best gifts of the California harvest, dry-farmed tomatos, which have a deep garnet color and amazing flavor concentration.  They are only available for a short period in September so eat them up!

Serves 4

  • 1.5 pounds tomatos
  • 1.5 pounds cantaloupe or other similar melon variety
  • 1/4 cup chopped pepperoncini or other oil-packed pickled peppers
  • 1/4 cup white wine vinegar
  • a handful of torn basil leaves
  • extra virgin olive oil
  • a large ball of burrata

Cut larger tomatoes into wedges and the cherry tomatoes in half and put into a large bowl.  Remove the rind and the seeds from the melon and cut into cresents, adding to the bowl with the tomatoes.  Season generously with salt and pepper and toss gently.  Add the pepperoncini and vinegar and toss again gently.  Taste and adust the salt, pepper, pickled peppers and vinegar to taste, then add the olive oil.

Mix half of the basil into the salad, sprinkling the rest over the top of the salad.  Then pull apart the burrito and distribute over the salad.

sticky date pudding with hot toffee sauce

Not only is this recipe, curdiosy of Tartine All Day, gluten-free, it also beyond delicous.  You will have extra toffee sauce, but then I've never heard someone complain about having homemade toffee leftovers.

When baking, I can't recommend using a scale enough, which removes the need for all the messy measuring cups.

Makes 1 9-inch cake

  • 2 cups dates, pitted and coarsly chopped
  • 2 cups water
  • 1.5 tsp baking soda
  • 3/4 cup (90g) almond flour
  • 1/3 cup plus 1 tbsp (50g) tapioca flour or corn starch
  • 1.5 cups (180g) oat flour
  • 1/2 tsp baking powder
  • 1/2 tsp cinnamon
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 6 tbsp (85g) unsalted butter, at room temperature
  • 1 cup (200g) granulated sugar
  • 3 large eggs

Preheat oven to 350 F.  Line the bottom of a 9-in pan with parchment paper, cut to fit the pan and lightly butter the sides.

In a medium saucepan, bring the dates and water to a low simmer for 5 minutes.  Add the baking soda to the saucepan, being careful as it will start to fizz, turn off the heat and let sit for 20 minutes until cool.

In a large bowl, combine the almond flour, tapioca flour/starch, oat flour, baking powder, cinnamon, ginger and salt.  In the bowl of a stand mixer fitter with the paddle attachment, beat the butter on medium-high until light and fluffy, about 1 minute.  Add the sugar and continue to beat for another 1 minute.  Add the eggs one at a time, beating well after each addition.  Stop the mixer and scrape down the sides.

With the mixer on low speed, add the flour mixture and date mixture, beating until just combined.  Pour the batter into the baking pan and bake for 45 to 55 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean.  Let cook in the pan while you make the toffee sauce.

For the Toffee Sauce

  • 3/4 cup (165g) unsalted butter, cut into peices
  • 1.5 cups firmly packed (270g) dark brown sugar
  • 1 cup (240ml) heavy cream
  • 1/2 tsp vanilla
  • 1/2 tsp salt
  • 1 tbsp lemon juice

Combine all ingredients in a small saucepan and bring to a boil.  Cook for 5 minutes, stirring occasionally, then remove from heat.

Nothing short of a magical expirence
— Asha Agrawal


Wild Animals


Wild Animals


It started as a persistent whisper.  Quite but very present, voicing its thoughts at the most unexpected times, in the most unexpected places.  It popped up in movies, out of the mouths of friends, in the pages of books—like an orchestrated campaign, seemingly just for me.  The world, it seems, had a message that it wanted to make sure I heard.

It all started with Fantastic Mr. Fox, a movie that was misunderstood and promoted for children despite being made for adults.  Or it was really intended for children and I'm less evolved than I think.  I'm open to both options.  Anyways, as you may have gathered, it is a movie about a fox, but not just any fox.  Unlike your normal fox family, this fox family has all the trapping of civilization--tailored clothes, kitchens and the dishes that come with them, houses and the mortgages that come with those, jobs.  Mr. and Mrs. Fox have their fair share of marital strife and both constantly want what is best for their children. Mr. Fox just can't quite catch happiness, because in the back of his mind he's wondering if the path he's has choosen is the right one.  Anything sounding familiar?


There are mad farmers, stolen chickens, and addictive apple cider, but in this children’s/adult’s tale all comes back to this: we're all wild animals.  Despite Mr. and Mrs. Fox's trappings of civilization, they can't fight the wild and are in fact, only successful when they embrace it. 

Mr. Fox to Mrs. Fox: "I think I have this thing were I need everyone to think I’m the greatest…"
Mrs. Fox to Mr. Fox: "I know, you're a wild animal. We're all wild animals."
Mr. Fox to Mrs. Fox: "I guess we always were.  I think it might be all the beautiful differences among us that might just give us a chance."

Then it showed up in a book, The Heroes of the Frontier.  All throughout it actually, but mostly here:

“She was a star, a natural being of the theater, meant to exaggerate and eviscerate the attempted dignities of being human. Animals! her body was saying. You are animals. I am an animal. It's good to be an animal!”

Then out of a yoga teacher’s mouth.  Then a friend describing his sense of being stuck, of wanting to feel challenged and afraid.  To feel a quiver of wild.

We are all wild animals! the world whispered, again and again.  But what world, do you mean by this?

Maybe, just maybe, all of the convenience and optimization we introduce into our lives to make this easier and that quicker works against us.  Because you see, what we all want, desperately, is to prove our courage and our worth.  It is a drive as innate as breathing and as true as our wildness, but it is very hard when our lives are set up to minimize challenge.  By being over-prepared and hyper-optimized we limit the space where we can be creative, fly by the seat of our pants, find out what we are made of, and possibly prove our greatness.  We limit the possibilities.  We need things to break in order to fix them.  We need hardship because we crave the overcoming.  But when is the last time you invited hardship in your door?

The soul needs space- blank, unplanned space that could go as right as it could wrong. Because we're wild animals; because we are wild.

Maybe the most civilized thing about us is not our machines, or our houses and their mortgages, or our fancy clothes, but maybe it is our ability to recognize the animal buried in each of us.  This burning desire in each of us to just have a chance to prove what we’re made of.   So the next person you see on the street, instead of just passing them by, look at them as something beautiful and wild trapped in a human’s body—as a fantastic force of courage, and action and grit looking for an outlet. 

It feels good to be seen as fantastic.  It’s good to be a wild animal.

I haven't included any recipes because the food that seemed most fitting to our wild summer was defined by its simplicity--fresh produce and meats cooked over an open flame; canned sardines soaked up with hunks of fresh bread enjoyed on a hike; sandwiches from roadside stops.  Perfect for these wild animals.



Winelands to Wild Lands: South Africa and Botswana Travel Report

Photos credit of Nicholas Markman

Cape Town

This cape is the most stately thing and the fairest cape we saw in the whole circumference of the earth. — From the journal of Sir Francis Drake, on seeing the Cape for the first time, 1580.
Chapman's Peak on the way to Cape Point.

Chapman's Peak on the way to Cape Point.

Enjoying the decent

Enjoying the decent

As we groggily stepped out to discover the city, seemingly unfurling from out our hotel window perched on the side of Table Mountain, we felt strangely…at home. It’s almost as if San Francisco was reincarnated as Cape Town, or visa versa. Despite obvious differences the two cities seem to share a common DNA. Both come with a staggering abundance of farm-to-table food, proximate wine country, locals inclined toward outdoor activities, precipitous hills, an island prison and a certain edge. Sir Francis Drake, it seems, was rather fond of both.

One key difference, happily is how far a dollar will take you — a quality bottle wine at a high-end restaurant will cost you around US$40 or a measly $5 at a grocery store.

Our first night we met a friend for a drink, which turned into dinner. Due to our jet-lag-induced ridiculously early dinnertime, we were able to walk into Chef’s Warehouse, one of the Mother City’s most popular restaurants where they rolled out course after course of deliciousness in a casual, homey setting.

We woke up bright and early the next morning to sweat our jetlag away with a 101 km road bike down to Cape Point. This has to be the only place in the world where baboon, zebra, ostrich and penguin sightings are possible in one ride. Not to mention the stunning scenery and grin-inducing descents.

That night we enjoyed one of my favorite meals in recent memory at The Potluck Club, which doles out modern small plates. Perched on the top of the silo of an old biscuit mill and encased in glass, the dining room spoils you with its views. If you have one meal in Cape Town — make it here. Just keep in mind that advance reservations are required.

You can’t come to Cape Town without visiting Robben Island, the former prison where Nelson Mandela and other members of the ANC spent nearly 30 years as political prisoners. The tour, led by former political prisoners is both a grim reminder of the injustice humans can met, as well as the resiliency of the human spirit.


The Stellenbosch valley is a wine-y slice of heaven. We checked into our Airbnb cottage, which I would happily move into and spend the rest of my days, and then preceded to check out. Vacation oozed in. Morning runs through the vineyards, lazy afternoons by the pool, biltong wine pairings, ostrich on our backyard BBQ.

Our last night in South Africa we treated ourselves to a stay at Babylonstoren, a 17th century Dutch farm that has been lovingly transformed into the epitome of bucolic lifestyle mixed with a serious eye for design. The property is home to 8-acres of walled garden that pump out all variety of produce that in transformed in the kitchen into artful plates.

Left to Right: (1) Admiring the shop at  Maison  ; (2) The view from our Airbnb; (3) Yes please to the bathroom in our hotel room at  Babylonstoren

Left to Right: (1) Admiring the shop at Maison ; (2) The view from our Airbnb; (3) Yes please to the bathroom in our hotel room at Babylonstoren

Left to Right: (1) Ostrich, leeks and halloumi on the grill; (2) Our adorable Airbnb cottage; (3) Wine tasting at  Maison  ; (4) Getting warm and drinking wine.

Left to Right: (1) Ostrich, leeks and halloumi on the grill; (2) Our adorable Airbnb cottage; (3) Wine tasting at Maison ; (4) Getting warm and drinking wine.

Left to Right: (1) Enjoying the sunset and some wine at  Babylonstoren ; (2) Biltong — a more delicious version of jerky — drying at  Babylonstoren ’s farm store; (3) Sunset cruising.

Left to Right: (1) Enjoying the sunset and some wine at Babylonstoren; (2) Biltong — a more delicious version of jerky — drying at Babylonstoren’s farm store; (3) Sunset cruising.

Victoria Falls & Botswana

Safari. Both what I expected and something entirely different, perhaps the furthest I’ve gotten from my everyday life. The hours spent gazing out of the jeep at an endless landscape of brush and ancient baobab were like a healing salve. The mind could wander, not away, but back to something. A rediscovery — of yourself.

A very classy cat.

A very classy cat.

Africa — You can see a sunset and believe you have witnessed the Hand of God. You watch the slope lope of a lioness and forget to breathe. You marvel at the tripod of a giraffe bent to water. In Africa, there are iridescent blues on the wings of birds that you do not see anywhere else in nature. In Africa, in the midday heart, you can see blisters in the atmosphere. When you are in Africa, you feel primordial, rocked in the cradle of the world. — Jodi Picoult, American author
(1) Mokoros, a traditional dugout canoe, at sunset, (2)Enjoying the view before dinner.

(1) Mokoros, a traditional dugout canoe, at sunset, (2)Enjoying the view before dinner.

No amount of writing can describe the warmth, care and passion that the AndBeyond team infused in our experience. We tapped our inner Hemingway and opted for the “original” safari in mobile tents — with a few modern luxuries like soft, warm beds, flushing toilets and meals that set a whole new standard for “camp” food. If it is survival of the fittest on the savanna, then we each day we were increasingly in trouble, aided and abetted by fresh baked cakes and delicious meals all cooked over an open fire.

Five planes later we arrived back in San Francisco, but it was a different us that came home.

Left to right, top to bottom: (1) Sunset cruise on the Zambezi; (2) Flying over the Okavango Delta; (3) An insect dinner guest; (4) The king; (5) My kind of camping on safari with  AndBeyond ; (6) Chef du cuisine and entertainer; (7) Our rig; (8) Lily pads.

Left to right, top to bottom: (1) Sunset cruise on the Zambezi; (2) Flying over the Okavango Delta; (3) An insect dinner guest; (4) The king; (5) My kind of camping on safari with AndBeyond; (6) Chef du cuisine and entertainer; (7) Our rig; (8) Lily pads.



Where in the world?

We recently got back from a fairytale trip to France. It was one of those trips that we had been planning and looking forward to for a year, 12 months, 365 days of dreaming of croissants and Provencial rose.  And yet, it was one of those trips that was better that we could have ever planned.  The French were warm and welcoming, the castles grand, the food to die for, the wine in magnum format and the French countryside perfectly dotted with medeval churchs.  (Itenerary and recommendations to come in the next post).  By the end, my skeptical fiancé was ready to move to Bordeaux and we were sad to leave.

Despite our (far-flung) dreams of buying a chateau and never coming home, come home we did, to our jobs, our alarm and salad after salad in penitance for all the butter we had consumed.  And of course to California.  Once the first weekend home rolled around, we found ourselves driving down to Carmel.  For some reason, we decided to take Highway 1 rather than the faster route on 101, perhaps because it felt more French.  The feilds of strawberries, followed by articokes, rolling into kale; however, felt decidedly Californian.

My fiancé Nic has a photo collection he calls, "Where in the world are we?"  It includes a picture of him mountain biking looking over a ravine fit for the Lion King, me sipping a cappuccino outside of an old stone cottage, an Italian butcher showcasing his knives and the two of us standing in a Japanese whiskey den.  So many adventures.

Maybe you have guessed where I'm going with this.  All of these photos were taken in California, in most cases, within two hours of our house.  Huge, brimming, seemingly all-encompassing California. Amorphous California. Italian here, Korean there.  Snow capped and sun-laced, verdent hills edged by desert mesas.  Sometimes it just takes a traveler's eyes to recognize it.

Half way through our drive, we made a screaching right to a roadside produce stand.  Nic never stops at these roadside stands despite my pleads, so focused on where ever it is we are going. I guess it just takes a traveler's mindset of focusing more on whats found along the way than the destination.  And willingness to slam on the brakes.  Bright handpainted signs advertised their goods: "Apricots!", "Avocados $1/pound", "Artichokes 3 for $1!", "Fava Beans!".  A bowl of fresh salsa and  chips sat outside for sampling.  Here we found real California, nothing amorphous about it. Steinbeck's California. California that is nothing but itself. 





To be Pirates

In 1579, when Sir Francis Drake and his men first sailed up the northern California coast, driven by a search--for gold, glory, safe hiding, beauty, adventure--they sailed right past the magnificent San Francisco bay.   So shrouded it was in its viel of protective fog, the pirates were oblivious to the narrow mouth in the long Pacific wall of chert cliffs.  No doubt, looking for a scrap of land forgiving enough to pull ashore, they unwittingly kept the sails of the Golden Hind full and pointed northward.

In fact, the Golden Gate lay undiscovered for over 250 years after the first exploration of the California coast.  It played a perfect game of hide and seek for the 200 plus voyages bestowed with hardy explorers sent to discover what bounties California might have to offer.  One of the greatest natural harbors of the world shied behind her foreboding Golden Gates and pulled up its cover of fog.  While the San Francisco bay was, of course, eventually uncovered--by Don Gaspar de Portolá over land, not sea--centuries and revolutions later, the fog remains. 

Today, the fog does little by way of keeping people out, but it does force you inward in a way.  It quiets, isolates and when it chooses, magnificently reveals.  It may be blazing hot and clear skies fifty miles inland, but here, we live in our own world of moss greens, frothy teals and whirling, muted greys.  You can hide in the fog.  It provides a viel on reality that creates more room to dream.  The fog makes it seem that there is still space enough in the world for it to be plausible and possible to hope that:

"Now and then...if we lived and were good, God would permit us to be pirates." 
- Mark Twain

Just past the forboding hills that gaurd the mouth of the bay is a little strectch of beach, carved into the clifts.  I first discovered this beach in Dave Edgars "Heartbreaking Work of Staggering Genius" in which the it represented the opposite of what it was for me today- a bright, sunny explosion of youth.  Whatever the weather, Edgars captured me with his description of the precipious, rollercoaster road plummeting to a black beach giving way to the hypnotic sea:

...and in a second we're driving parallel to the water, a few hundred feet up of course, for a while without even a visible cliffside to the left, just a sheer drop-and then suddenly we see the Headlands whole, green and mohair hills, ocher velour, the sleeping lions, the lighthouse far to the left, unbelieveable given we're ten minutes from the city, this vast bumpy land, could be Ireland or Scotland or the Faulklands or whatever..."

I first read those words in high school in Colorado, at 9,000 feet, far from the dizzying California coast.  But as soon as I found myself in California at university and in possesion of four wheels that could take me there, I determined to find out for myself what beach, of all the glorous California beaches, was worthy of such sopping laud.  I've since had the pleasure of discovering its black sands and salty air first hand many times, today on a beach day made not for bikinis but flannels and sweaters.  But of course, not shoes, never shoes.  We are pirates after all.

Such a day requires something warm to counter the lasting chill of the condensation of fog and caress of wind on skin.  Something that warms from the inside out, yet manages to scream SPRING.  And of course, something from the sea.  While this is far from the traditional San Francisician preparation of the glorious sanddab, it does conjeur up the scents of adventure and the flavors of treasure.   If you can't find sanddabs, you can substitute with halibut.  

The salad is delicious and bright.  Roasted fennel is one of my favorite flavors and it melds brilliantly with the apricots to create a slightly sweet, complex and surprising salad.  The peas provide a nice texture constrast and a bit of snap.

Shipwrecked sanddabs in harissa

  • 2 tbsp harissa paste (I like the spicy varieties)
  • 1 tsp ground cumin
  • 1 lb sanddabs, filleted and skinned (can be substituted with halibut or any white meaty fish)
  • 2 tbsp olive oil
  • 2 onions
  • 6 tbsp wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp ground cinnamon
  • 1 cup water
  • 1.5 tsp honey
  • 1/2 c currants
  • 3 tbsp cilantro

Mix 1 tbsp of the harissa, cumin and a pinch of salt. Rub the resultant paste all over the fish fillets and marinate for at least 2 hours.

Heat the olive oil in a frying pan over medium-high heat and fry the fillets for 2 minutes on each side.  You may have to work in batches depending on the size of your pan.  Remove the fish and set aside.  Add the onions to the pan and cook for 8 minutes, until golden.

Add the remaining harissa, vinegar, cinnamon, a pinch of salt and a generous bit of black pepper.  Pour in the water and let simmer gently for 10 to 15 minutes, until rather thick.  Next, add the honey and currants and simmer gently for a couple more minutes.  Season as needed and then return the fish fillets to the pan, spooning some of the sauce on to the fish. Simmer for a minute or so more, until the fish is warm.

To eat the sanddabs, gently slide your fork between the meat and the backbone and peel the fish away from the bones.

Roasted fennel and apricot salad

  • 2 handfuls of arugul
  • 2 fennel bulbs, fronds removed and reserved
  • 6 apricots
  • Olive oil
  • 2 cups of snaps peas, ends removed
  • 1 cup of almonds
  • Juice of 1/2 a lemon
  • Sea salt
  • 2 tablespoons of bee pollen (optional)

Heat oven to 400 degrees.  Half and core the fennel blubs, then slice each half into 1/4 inch slices and arrange on a baking tray.  Drizzle about 2 tablespoons of olive oil on the fennel slices and season with two generous pinches of salt.  Roast in the oven for 35-40 minutes, until soft and golden.

In the meantime, quarter the apricots and remove and reserve the seed.  Grill apricots of a hot grill or on the stove over high heat, skin side down.  You want the skin to get slightly charred.  Remove and add to the fennel for the last 5 minutes of roasting.

Toast the almond in a medium pan over over high heat, stirring to ensure that they do not burn.  Coarsely chop the almond.

Add the arugula and snap peas to your salad bowl.  When ready, remove the fennel and apricots from the oven and let cool for 5 minutes.  When cool, add to the arugula, ensuring that the roasting juices from the fennel and apricots make it into the salad bowl.  Top with the toasted almonds and another pinch of sea salt and pepper.  Squeeze the juice of half a lemon over the top and mix gently.  Depending on the juiciness of your lemon, you may need to add more lemon juice.  When plated, sprinkle the bee pollen over top as garnish, if using.