Trip to Napa

I had the pleasure and privilege to speak on my favorite topics at a medicine conference in Napa recently, and the week was filled with magic of all kinds. Here’s a little taste:

I ate an unbelievably delicious banh mi sandwich (of pickled veggies and edamame hummus on a perfect baguette) at Cate & Co. in the Oxbow Market, and it was so spectacular that I felt obliged to return for a repeat performance before flying home. I was very lucky to discover Far West Fungi and their dried mushroom jerky at the farmers’ market, and I very happily picked up the last two bags.

We enjoyed meals at Redd (tuna tartare with popped rice, melon gazpacho, chicken with cranberry beans), Press (cucumber gazpacho, kale & pine nuts, lavender-infused gin & tonic), Bottega (shaved Brussels sprouts with Marcona almonds and Meyer lemons; a salad of charred broad beans and wax beans, the duck), Torc (corn & pepper risotto, frito misto zucchini blossoms, coconut lime sorbet) and more and more. Gazpacho with tiny lavender chive blossoms. A spoonful of basil sorbet. A perfectly crusted-skin piece of coho salmon. Wine, wine, wine. What kinds? Take an educated guess!

I was startled and delighted by simple things, like the mounds of dried purple flower blossoms mixed into the detritus along the streets. There were silver-leaved olive trees planted in front yards, and massive bushes covered in red-orange blossoms and growing all the way past the second floor. Rows and rows of oleander sparkled in the unseasonable heat. Black raspberry bushes growing wild. Creeping thyme in the cracks of the sidewalks. Ripe pomegranates dotted the espaliered branches of foliage growing along a wall of the Oxbow Market.

On day three of my trip, I stepped through giant bronze doors into the rarefied air of the Jarvis Winery, and was hit immediately by the fragrance of the wine being bottled that morning. I think it was Merlot, maybe. When our wonderful guide, Rob, on entering the bottling room, proudly announced that we’d soon be able to smell the wine; I realized he was unaware that the scent actually permeated the entire underground network of rooms and tunnels. Built-in air purification.

I loved it all, I truly did. But I have saved the best for last. Steve Sando at Rancho Gordo is reclaiming, restoring, respecting, returning, and reviving glorious, old-fashioned heirloom beans for all of our dining pleasure. You know how I feel about beans. Like Jack, I am sure they are magic. And these are especially so.

At every restaurant, everyone I spoke to sang the praises of Rancho Gordo and confirmed that, yes, Steve Sando’s “new world specialty food” was on the menu. These beans are the best! Steve and I had a great chat, and I even got a taste of the delicious variety that was cooking that day in the store’s crockpot. It turned out to be impossible to choose, so I had to take one of everything! Good thing I had packed light! I left with a large bag filled with beautiful beans of every color, not to mention hominy and fresh bay leaves.

To make this post even more special, I have included below the recipe my talented daughter created last night with Steve’s Yellow Indian Woman bean. Rancho Gordo calls this “a small bean with an addictive creaminess not found in ordinary legumes. Yet it keeps its shape after cooking. Ideal in salads, chilis soups and stews.” And with my first-hand introduction to these beans, I can now say that I second that. 

Of course you may substitute any bean you’d like, and if you choose to go that route then I recommend substituting a small white bean, like navy beans. But consider getting on line to place an order at Rancho Gordo. Beans are some of the cheapest high-quality protein around. Protein can be costly, but even the best beans cost just — well — beans.

1 cup Yellow Indian Woman heirloom beans, rinsed
1 large onion, sliced thinly
2 cups tomato sauce
5 cloves garlic, peeled but left whole
2 T olive oil
1 qt (32 oz.) organic vegetable broth
½ tsp. cinnamon
½ tsp. dill weed
1 tsp. Kosher salt
3/4 tsp. black pepper
6 small organic potatoes, scrubbed + quartered
2-3 cups water to cover

Add all the ingredients to a crock pot. Turn on high for 1 hour, and then reduce heat to low. Cook 4-6 hours, until beans are soft. Bon appetit!

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