Happiest of holidays. In this 24th issue of Field Notes, don we now our hard hats and gay apparel. I have an update on three months into construction of our Studio For Gustatory Well-Being.
Our holiday hosting is in full swing this month, along with gratitude for our veterans.
I’ll introduce you to a San Francisco wine and food writer and a cookbook author.
At the bottom of this missive is my favorite holiday cookie recipe.
Do you hear what I hear? That is the clock counting down the few remaining days of 2022. The good news is there is still time to give the gift of Gentleman Farmer Wines with a gift card or nab something just for you to enjoy; you’re worth it.
Vintner, Cook, Cookie Monster
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The past two years have been an experiment of fits and spurts with permitting, design, and construction. Now, the project of creating a proper home for Gentleman Farmer is sailing along with construction that started on September 29, 2022. Walls have been blown out, new walls have been installed, and kitchen equipment is en route. In good nick, we will be greeting guests at The Bungalow, A Studio for Gustatory Well-Being.
This will be a place for club members to share wine, food, cooking, music, magic, and a few other arts. Not the Dark Arts. That is verboten. I took an oath as a standing member of the Society of American Magicians. Yes, it is tempting. I know what you’re thinking; I am often pulled away by that siren song of novelty and opportunity.
Maybe I digress. Back to the point, Jeff and I are super excited to share what will be a magical space. We will swing the doors open in late spring/early summer.
Now watch me dance.
Oh, the parties! Parties, yes, plural. We welcomed friends, family, and wine club members to our home over two days this month. We stayed true to the Italian-Polish household serving pierogi, kiełbasy, Cavallucci (recipe below), egg nog, and a spiked punch that packed a punch, making sure everyone’s jingles were jangled.
Our cozy home hosted over 130 people that weekend, and we still have a few more get-togethers on the books for 2022.
Last Saturday, Jeff joined eleven other volunteers to place wreaths at the headstones of 127 veterans laid to rest at the George C. Yount Pioneer Cemetery and Native Burial Grounds at the north end of town. He and our Mayor, Marjorie Mohler, came upon the idea when they laid over 700 wreaths at the cemetery at the Veterans’ Home at the south end of town last year as part of a nationwide project.
Volunteers hailing from as far as Alabama showed up to pay respects. Jeff came across war veterans from conflicts dating back to the Civil War and possibly further, as some headstones were no longer readable.
Jess Lander is the wine writer for the San Francisco Chronicle and someone you should know.
I met Jess a little over a year ago when she joined a few friends at our home for a warm winter lunch.
As a freelance writer of food, wine, and travel, Jess has an impressive history covering California wine country, regularly contributing to Decanter, Wine Enthusiast, Wine Business Monthly, 7×7, Eater SF, Napa Sonoma Magazine, and our own Napa Valley Register. Her pen has graced the page of many other publications, including SevenFifty Daily, Eating Well, and Lonely Planet.
In 2021, Jess published “The Essential Napa Valley Cookbook,” a project that has raised more than $100,000 for Napa Valley restaurant workers impacted by the pandemic and fires. The book features recipes from some of Napa Valley restaurants’ most iconic and comforting dishes, an active way to bring a bit of wine country into your home and kitchen.
Follow Jess on Instagram @willwrite4wine.
Somehow I got her to agree to an interview.
Joey Wolosz: What brought you to food and wine journalism?
Jess Landers: One of the things I love most about the wine industry is that everyone seems to have a different, often random story of how they got into it. Mine is that I landed in Napa in 2010 after I was laid off from my job in Boston. I was pursuing sports journalism and had been working for Boston’s professional women’s soccer team. I was then hired as a sports reporter for the Napa Valley Register — where I’d mostly cover local high school sports in St. Helena and Calistoga — and moved cross-country on five days’ notice. I didn’t know anyone in the area and I was a beer drinker back then, but I couldn’t avoid the wine industry once I got here. I met my now-husband, who is a winemaker, and after a few years, I found myself writing about wine, food, and travel and loving it. It definitely beats writing a football story on my phone, in my car, at 11 p.m. on a freezing Friday night.
JW: How did your cookbook come about?
JL: 2020. I feel like that says it all, but like most people, I was feeling quite hopeless about all that was happening in the world and I wanted to do something to help beyond ordering takeout as much as possible. I discovered two cookbook projects in Boulder and New York, which were raising money for restaurants, and I just thought Napa Valley would be the perfect subject for a similar effort, as it’s a world-renowned culinary destination. I was also, admittedly, looking for a distraction, as we’d lost our home in the Glass Fire about three months prior to starting the project. It definitely helped.
JW: What cookbook(s) are you currently diving into?
JL: I’m actually more into mixology books than cookbooks right now. I just got one called “The Little Book of Aperitifs,” so I can get more creative with my vermouth and port stash.
JW: When did you first make a connection with wine and food?
JL: I didn’t grow up in a big food or wine family, so I think my first big connection was when I studied abroad in college. We were based in a 12th-century castle in the Netherlands — it had two moats! – and I traveled to about 10 countries over the course of three-and-a-half months. It was the first time I’d really pushed myself out of my comfort zone to eat and drink new things and the whole experience really informed my love of travel, which organically informed my love of food and wine.
JW: What are your other creative outlets?
JL: I’ve always enjoyed photography, though I don’t do it as much as I used to. This year, I’ve tasked myself with getting into mixology. And my husband and I like to create scrapbooks of our travels, which always involves a bottle or two of wine.
JW: What do you have a really good time doing?
JL: Literally anything by the ocean.
JW: Friends and family excluded, who are two people you’d like to share a long and lingering meal with?
JL: My friends and family would probably guess I’d say Tom Brady here (Boston fan and all), but he has a terribly restrictive diet and would be no fun at a dinner party. Can I do one living, one dead? I’m going with Elton John and Anthony Bordain.
JW: What would you serve?
JL: I’m Jewish — less practicing, more cultural — and I love sharing Jewish food with people, especially my family’s recipes. So, the heart of the meal would probably be my go-to brisket and kugel, a sweet noodle casserole that is always a hit. While it’s not a Jewish recipe per se, I’d probably also add the horseradish mashed potatoes that I make for every major holiday. Comfort food all around. And then lots of wine.
JW: What is your spirit animal?
JL: This isn’t an animal, but Italy. I’m not Italian, but I’m happiest when traveling there and keep returning. I completely identify with Italian culture, the focus on food and wine, taking your time, rest, and togetherness.
JW: What is your motto?
JL: If you’re not stirring the pot, you’re not doing it right.
Jeff’s family is Italian-American. I give a nod in his direction this holiday with what has become my favorite cookie, Cavallucci. Easy to make and a crowd-pleaser to boot! I put these in the category of adult cookies; not too sweet, laced with anise, walnut, and candied orange for sweetness. Although not traditional, I add some adultness (not something I’m often known for) with a splash of amaretto.
These make for a fun holiday snack. Dunk them into hot tea, Vin Santo, or even our 2021 Gentleman Farmer Napa Valley Rosé.