A day on the Apple Farm

August 16, 2012 § 2 Comments

Stuck in bumper to bumper traffic for two hours on 101 — making the total drive home about five hours — it was easy to forget that we were coming back from an overnight stay at The Apple Farm, a lazy night and day spent eating, exploring the various ice cream and baked goods options, and sampling a variety of apples, straight from the trees surrounding our little blue doored cottage. A sugar-crusted blueberry scone and honeyed sticky bun from the Downtown Healdsburg Bakery. A scoop of fresh mint chip ice cream, and an assortment of cookies — peanut butter and ginger molasses, our favorites!— from Paysanne in Boonville. Later on, a couple more scoops of homemade ice cream in large waffle cones, in the cold, breezy, seaside town of Fort Bragg.

At the farm, I somehow managed to score the comfy bed in the cottage, snuggled under five quilts and duvets, a heavy shield against the chilly air coming in through the many open windows. Outside, rows of apple trees stretched into the distant dry, yellow hills, most of the fruit still green, firm, and tart to the taste, as the season for most apple varieties begins in September. Still, there were several kinds for sale at the farm stand — the royalties originally from Minnesota, the pink ladies, tinged pink on the inside as well as out — which was self-service on an honor basis. Lines of apple cider vinegar and syrup, jams in apricot, plum strawberry and blackberry, fig and apple chutneys, and cold apple juice in the fridge, next to a small haul of beets and kale.

Breakfast was served in the main building, a very simple affair of crusty toast, with holes where the melted butter seeped through onto the plate below. Little bowls of apricot and strawberry jam (strawberry jam tart recipe to come — they just came out of the oven and are simply adorable!). Raw milk from the farm cows for coffee and black tea. Thick yogurt, topped with raspberries, and, for me, a swirl of strawberry jam and raw cane sugar crystals.

Down the road, kids played in the stream under the bridge, and I turned off into the state park for a quiet run in the shade of the towering trees. The smell of burning wood for campfires creeping in in the evening and then, again, in the early morning. Damp cold air, with just a spit of rain, that melted into the heat of an inland summer.

Fig Ricotta Torta

September 6, 2011 § 2 Comments

This past weekend, we all piled up in the car and headed north. We drove through the rolling hills in Marin, the peaks covered with the dry, crusty yellow grass that makes up much of the Californian landscape, stopped at the Healdsburg Bakery for buttery soft sticky buns and cappuccinos, pulled over to the side of the road for fresh-picked strawberries, small and deep red. We drove into Ukiah wine country, where, just two months shy of 21 I was relegated to taking pictures of the vineyards while my parents tasted at the bar. We drove through the redwood forests and then were dumped down onto the cliffs in Mendocino where waves broke in a wash of kelp and white water.

It was an impromptu trip of sorts (in fact, we booked the hotel room when we were already a good hour outside of the city), fashioned after a week of failed searching for an available campsite in Big Sur. We didn’t pack any special treats for the car trip and didn’t stop at any renowned restaurants. Instead we sampled beer at the Ukiah Brewing Company, tasting the difference between light and dark brews, beer made with wild flowers and made with hops (which was particularly interesting after the article I wrote about hops). We inspected a forty-year-old woman’s dreadlocks hanging down to her waist from a nearby table at the Mendocino Café, which seemed a bit confused about which ethnic cuisine it was trying to emulate — Thai burritos, nachos piled high with guacamole, Brazilian seafood stew and Indian-style curry. At nightfall, run-down hippies with long hair sat on the sidewalk, nursing beer bottles; they would still be there the next morning, peddling scraps and jewelry. We sat by the fire in our room at the Inn and ate waffles made with kamut and oat flour for breakfast at the Inn’s vegetarian and vegan restaurant. A seal glided up beside my kayak in the glassy water that morning and a walk down the highway to the shore saw swelling waves breaking on black rocks covered in moss and slimy green plants that looked like miniature palm trees. Then, we joined the long line for morning coffee and piled back in the car for the drive home.

As is typical for the end of holiday weekends, the drive back to the city was long, slow, and annoying. Around the start of the Golden Gate Bridge, the cars around us started a game of call and answer with their horns. By the end of the Bridge, we were all ready to get home.

Fig Ricotta Torta
Adapted from the Food Network
This tart is perfect for the end of summer, when you’re still clinging to the last of summer’s fruit but craving a dessert that’s a bit more substantial to embrace the cooler weather.

Pasta Frolla:
1/2 cup sugar
1/2 cup (stick) unsalted butter
1 egg
4 tablespoons milk or water
1/2 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
2 1/2 cups flour

Ricotta Filling:
1 1/2 pounds ricotta
1/2 cup sugar
4 eggs
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

1 egg
2 tablespoons honey (pick something with a fairly mild flavor)
6 medium sized purple figs

Mix together the sugar, butter, egg, milk, baking powder and salt in a large mixing bowl. Fold in the flour, just until a dough begins to take shape, being careful not to over mix. Flatten the dough into a disk, wrap in plastic wrap and refrigerate for 30-60 minutes until firm.
While the dough is chilling, make the ricotta filling. In a large clean bowl, cream the ricotta and the sugar. Mix in the eggs one at a time, then add the vanilla and stir until just combined.
Preheat the oven to 350 degrees F. Take the dough out of the refrigerator and cut the disk in two (you can reserve the second half of the dough for later use). Roll out one half of the dough into a 10-inch circle. Press the dough circle into a greased tart pan and trim the excess overhang. Fill the tart shell with the ricotta filling until it looks full but not overflowing (you’ll have some filling leftover — you can bake it up like a custard or reserve it for later use).
Peel figs and cut in half. Press each half fig, inside facing up, in a circle pattern, into the ricotta filling. Drizzle a bit of honey on top of each fig. Whisk the remaining egg in a small bowl, and, brush the exposed edges of the tart dough with egg, using a pastry brush.
Bake the torta for 45 minutes or until the filling is set in the middle and golden brown on the edges.

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