The Autumn of Our Content

I woke this morning to the first day of autumn. Not the official first day — technically, it’s been fall for a month now. But the first real first day of autumn, where I could feel it in my bones and soul. It’s one of my favorite feelings.

Silvery Autumn morning through the oaks

We in Southern California are less fortunate than our friends in other parts of the country who enjoy spectacular displays of changing foliage. Our poison oak turns kinda pink, which I guess is nice. And typically, when October arrives and those same friends are raking leaves and building fires, we’re out on the deck in shorts and t-shirts, grilling ribs and drinking beer. They envy us, we envy them.

But not today. Today was different. I awakened to a chill, reluctant to emerge from under my pile of covers. Out the window wisps of gossamer fog weaved through the muscular arms of the scrub oaks, softening them. Our silky rooster crowed plaintively, and I could smell coffee that was not yet even brewing. My favorite season had come. More

Sonoma Market Breakfast

One sparkling winter Sunday morning in Sonoma County, as mist rose from frozen fields through the bare leaves of apple trees, with my wife and kids, my mom and the Wine Guerrilla and miscellaneous sisters, we went to a favorite spot for breakfast. Willow Wood Market Café in the tiny one-horse town of Graton. If you’re ever hungry and meandering along the Gravenstein Highway north of Sebastopol some morning, I suggest you hang a left on Graton Road and do the same.

Unraveling scarves and jackets as we settled around a large table, the comforting scent of sausage and coffee filled the sunlit room. Browsing the menu, my eyes gravitated toward the usual suspects: steak and eggs, smoked salmon, french toast and sausage. And then I spotted an interesting choice: the “market plate breakfast”. Warm polenta, a farm fresh egg, spinach cooked with coppa, roasted tomatoes and camboloza toast. It was a surprisingly harmonious symphony of morning flavors — even the things you wouldn’t expect on a breakfast menu like spinach and blue cheese.

Your kids might screw their noses up at this breakfast, as mine did. That’s just fine… give them Eggos, and save this gem for the grown ups. Did I mention it’s the perfect brunch, particularly when served to friends with a good, spicy Bloody Mary? Cheers.

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Sonoma Market Breakfast
Note: for my version, I like two eggs per and use pancetta instead of coppa

for each breakfast:

2 eggs
1/4 cup dried fine polenta
1/2 cup spinach
1 slice pancetta
5 or 6 heirloom cherry tomatoes
1 slice crusty bread
1 slice (or 1 tbsp crumbled) blue cheese such as cambozola or gorgonzola
extra virgin olive oil
salt & pepper

Cook the polenta first: use 2x the water of the dried polenta you are cooking. Heat the water to a boil and add polenta, lowering heat to medium-low. Cook polenta, stirring every few minutes and adding water as it cooks away, for 20 minutes until thick. Cover and set aside.

While the polenta is cooking, roast the tomatoes. Make a little pan out of foil, add the tomatoes and drizzle with olive oil and sprinkle with salt. Cook about 20 minutes at 350 degrees.

For the spinach, cut each slice of pancetta into a few pieces, and saute until rendered and crisp in a tbsp or so of olive oil. Add spinach and cook briefly until wilted. Toast your bread slices and top with a little blue cheese while still hot.

Lastly, cook your eggs. They served poached eggs at Willow Wood, I like to fry them in a pan with a single flip. To compose your Market Breakfast, place some polenta on a plate with the tomatoes and cooking oil drizzled over the polenta. Put the spinach and pancetta next to the polenta, and the eggs next to that. Put a slice of toast on each plate, sprinkle some good sea salt and pepper over the top, and serve.

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