Northern California

napadonutsWhilst in the Napa Valley, this Farmer gave into a deadly sin – no, not drunkenness in the wine country…gluttony! There's no beating around the bush about my love for food - I write about food, I photograph food, I travel to eat and relish in reading a cookbook like a good novel. Between design projects and book tours, I was able to squeeze in a few days in the Napa Valley proper after the ACS convention was adjourned. A dear friend from home said she would meet me there, and our journey through the aforementioned valley began.

Allow me to divulge a Farmer faux pas - I do not drink much wine and worried a trip to Napa would not be as grand sans vino - boy was I wrong! Trust me, I sipped and savored some of the best vintages the valley had to offer, yet it was the food that hung the moon for my Napa trip. As I'm in a food coma recovery program now, allow me to try my best at recalling some highlights from these days of delights. In the words of Julie Andrew's “Maria” from The Sound of Music, let's “start at the very beginning- a very good place to start!"

Boon Fly Café. This cafe nestled into The Carneros Inn is wonderful! Just outside of the town of Napa towards the Sanoma Valley, Boon Fly Cafe was highly recommended for its breakfast. Now, I truly adore a big breakfast and any place that offers a starter to the starting meal is right up my alley. I commenced with some hot Earl Grey and their famous donuts. The donuts were small and delicious and served in a small galvanized metal pail. I'm a sucker for galvanized anything and a galvanized pail of cinnamon sugar donuts just may be a Farmer's fave! I grew up with a cattle farm and our cows ate and drank from ginormous galvanized troughs- looks like I'm grazing in the same fashion! Once a farm boy, always a farm boy!

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tacos01.jpgFor several years now I'd been hearing about the taco trucks of Fruitvale, a section of Oakland known for having a large Latino population. After reading endless reports on Yelp, Chowhound and an article in the East Bay Express by John Birdsall, I was ready to hit the road, or rather, International Boulevard, where there's a high concentration of taco trucks. I didn't spend a month investigating like Birdsall did (thanks John!) but I did put together a hit list, based on recommendations and testimonials. A word about pricing, you'll spend more on bridge toll than you will at most spots along the corridor. Tacos ranged in price from $1 to $1.25 and the agua fresca I ordered was $1.

First stop was the Sinaloa complex, located in a parking lot at 2138 International Blvd. You can't miss this stop and frankly, it's one of the best. Here there are two trucks to visit--one has the standard kinds of tacos, while the other is devoted to seafood. The fish taco was good, but the shrimp tostada was outstanding. A crisp tortilla was topped not just with sweet, plump and juicy shrimp, but also chunks of cucumber, tomato, onion, slivers of avocado and fresh cilantro. Not to be missed!

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NapaFallGott's Roadside (formerly Taylor’s Automatic Refresher) in St. Helena has been a Napa Valley institution for years. Everyone talks about wine when they think of Napa, but they should also think of great hamburgers.

My wife, Patricia, and I visited the St. Helena location on an unseasonably hot Saturday in November. This is a great time of year to visit Napa, because the fall colors are in full swing. The great weather brought out a throng of like-minded folk. The mid-century style building sits just south of town. A sheet metal smoke stack belched smoke form the grill.

At the refresher you order at one of two windows. They take your name and you sit at one of the many picnic tables outside to wait for your order. There was a line of at least 50 people waiting to order when we arrived. It took a good 20 minutes. But we got acquainted with burger lovers from Fresno, Denver and Mississippi while we waited in line. Pat got a white wine for her and a beer for me while we waited.

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Boon Eat + Drink in Guerneville on the Russian River is a delightful place with delightful food. We stopped by one Saturday to have lunch. The summertime crowd was out in force. The restaurant was pleasantly busy, but not too crowded.

Perusing the menu, I spotted the Boon Burger with grass fed beef, fiscalini aged white cheddar, arugula on a toasted milk bun with house made Parmesan herb chips ($11). I could not resist adding the truffle fries with house made ketchup and garlic aioli ($6). While we waited I soaked in the modern feel of this small storefront restaurant. It has a great vibe with both locals and visitors mixing in together.

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ImageI was invited – along with six other authors – to talk about my latest book, “Family Meals” at the annual Author’s Luncheon in Sacramento. It benefits the National Kidney Foundation and it’s a great event. Jill came along as Muse – I never travel without my Muse – so we made it a combination work and play trip, which we always try to do.

Our first stop was at our friend Caroline’s graduation from the Napa Valley Cooking School. Caroline is a great friend; she first worked for us as a personal assistant and sous chef in my kitchen (I taught her everything she knows about cooking, of course) – and now she’s a real certified chef on her own. We’re very proud of her.

Next stop was Sacramento for the luncheon and signing and then we decided to drive up to the Russian River area to eat and drink for a couple of days before we finish the trip with a reading and signing at Books, Inc. – a great independent bookstore in San Francisco.

Guerneville is an adorable town on the Russian River – foggy, but adorable. It’s nestled under the majestic coastal redwoods that thrive on the local fog and it’s surrounded by vineyards that turn out some of the best wines California has to offer.

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