- MMM-MMM Doh sants and salt boxes: sign us up!
Living in a culinary wonderland does have its drawbacks: there are sometimes too many food gifts to choose from. Narrowing it to locally made is one way to thin the herd, but a mind-numbing selection still remains. Here is a path from morning to evening to keep the food lover in your life happy.
Start with a doh sant from Santa Rosa's Our Lady Grace Confections. Actually, get a half dozen. Usually available at farmers markets in the North Bay (get there early, they sell out fast), this is a take on the popular "cronut," which is a fried croissant coated like a doughnut. It's a lot of work to make them correctly, but Our Lady Grace does it right, dipping them in homemade caramel, delicious dark chocolate ganache or adding a generous sprinkle of cinnamon sugar. Double the guilt, yes, but the sweet, fried tastiness makes up for it.
Of course, an hour or so later it's time for midmorning snack: toast and jam. When made with the right ingredients, this is one of the most satisfying of simple pleasures. The Chutneyman, aka Leon Day, has been making sauces, jellies, jams and chutneys for decades. He's a staple at Marin and Santa Rosa farmers markets, taking curious customers on "flavor journeys" through his remarkable selection. Be careful when he asks, "Do you like spicy?" and be adventurous when the guava coconut lime or chocolate coffee coconut vanilla habanero jelly catches your eye—he'll give a sample or two of anything on the table. Toast a slice of seeded bread from Penngrove's Full Circle Baking Company (10151 Main St., Penngrove; 707.794.9445) and spread the love.
At this point, it's time for protein. Meat protein is the best protein, and meat in tube form is often the best way to get it. Diavola (www.diavolapizzeria.com) specializes in European sausages, with especially wonderful Calabrese, Spanish chorizo and French Toscana offerings. There's always something new, with chef Franco Dunn pulling out old-school (like, hundreds of years old) recipes for traditional New Year's dinners, and sometimes, when we're lucky, rillettes. The latter will be foreign and possibly off-putting to inexperienced diners, but those in the know spread it like meat jelly over toast. It lights up the taste buds with rich, meaty flavor that's unmatched by anything else (because it's meat that's been rendered in delicious fat!).
There surely must be vegetables in this day of gluttony, but opening a box to find dirty, weird-looking heirloom produce (no matter how delicious it may become when cooked) is like opening that big box under the tree to find a six-pack of wool socks. Yeah, it's nice, but not exactly a "sexy" gift. Sex up those veggies with a salt box from Napa Style (www.napastyle.com). This beautiful, five-compartment-long box is made from acacia wood and comes with five different salt varieties, each of which imparts a different flavor to a healthy veggie dish. Gray sea and Hawaiian red salts are the basic starters, and sundried tomato, citrus rosemary and roasted garlic salts are good enough to be the sole seasoning for asparagus, squash, leeks or a variety of "balanced diet" favorites.
Finish the day with a chocolate bar or 10 from Oliver's Market (www.oliversmarket.com). These new additions bear the Oliver's name but are made by Le Belge Chocolatier in Napa (761 Skyway Court; 707.258.9200). The bars taste, for the most part, like they should cost twice as much as their modest price tag. A quick check shows Le Belge sells its identical chocolate bars for about that—$4.50. The chocolate is smooth and rich, far superior to Ghirardelli (which costs more) and other comparable products. There are almost a dozen varieties, with highlights being the dark chocolate, espresso dark chocolate and Champagne strawberry—little bits of what seems to be freeze-dried berries somehow infused with the lightness and essence of Champagne explode with flavor, all coated in a velvet chocolate bath. Get one of every flavor (except sea salt—too salty), then taste them all to find a favorite.—Nicolas Grizzle