Jennifer and Ignacio Laguna Farm Snail of Approval

Laguna Farm CSA: Beyond Organic

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Farming on a floodplain certainly has its challenges. Every winter without fail, even in a drought year, Laguna Farm and its fields hibernate under water for weeks at a time.  Kayaks become the mode of transportation. Yet according to Jennifer Branham, co-owner of Laguna CSA Farm, “Farming on a floodplain presents our biggest challenge and our biggest benefit.” Each flood deposits rich topsoil in the fields. Better yet, gophers don’t like the wet ground, which is always a huge plus for any farmer.

Entrance to Laguna Farm CSALaguna Farm Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) earned the Snail of Approval, from Slow Food of Sonoma County for producing food that is good, clean and fair. The 25 acre farm nestles in the Laguna de Santa Rosa in Sebastopol and currently serves over 400 members. The idea behind the CSA is that regular subscribers allow the farmer to have a predictable steady income all year. The farm becomes a shared venture between farmer and members.

By farming organically and using cover crop instead of tilling, Laguna Farm is making an important contribution to the health of our planet. The Green New Deal presented by the U.S. House of Representatives is a movement to address climate change. One aspect of the resolution is for the U.S. to become carbon zero by 2050. It is a bold initiative and agriculture can play a role. An important way to reduce the amount of CO2 in the atmosphere is to retain it in the soil. For more information, check out the Slow Food USA article on The Green New Deal.

Fresh farm flowers

A special family heirloom

Established in the 1980’s, Laguna Farm was the brainchild of Scott Mathieson. Scott’s passion for innovation and farming inspired him to turn his family’s lush acreage into a thriving business. He established the CSA and quickly built a strong member base.

Scott grew a thriving business and helped create the Sebastopol Farmer’s market. Many of his innovations are models of sustainability. For example, using an old meat freezer as a base, he built an eco-friendly walk-in out of hay bales and cob. In addition, a solar array provides power to run the farm. Sungold tomatoes and Scott’s famous mesclun, the French-inspried salad mix are the gold standard at Farmers Markets and helped put Laguna Farm on the map.


He build a vast legacy, and in 2011 Scott was ready to sell the business. He leases the land to Jennifer Branham and Ignacio Romero (aka Nacho). Jennifer used to run the barn, CSA and farm stand, and Nacho managed the fields, planting and irrigation, so buying the business was a logical next step for them. Jennifer and her family live in Sebastopol, Nacho and his family live in Rohnert Park, but the bulk of their time is spent on the farm

Solar array

The solar array provides energy for the farm.

It’s easy to support your local farmer

Becoming a Laguna Farm CSA member is easy. Subscription choices include a weekly produce box with one of three delivery choices. Choose Farm pick-up for $20 per week, Drop-site pick-up for $25 per week, or home delivery for $29.50 per week. Each produce box contains salad mix, in-season vegetables, herbs and fruits OR a juice box specifically designed for juicing or smoothies. (Watch Jennifer’s instructional videos here on how to get the most out of your weekly produce box.) Each week brings a surprise as you open the box to reveal the bounty inside; for example, a box might include beets, radishes, gold or purple potatoes, dino kale, cucumbers and summer berries.

You can always exchange items in the produce box.

produce boxes

Weekly produces boxes in the ecological  hay bale and cob walk-in

Jennifer and Ignacio work with other local CSA’s to fill out the produce boxes all year long. In addition, they work a piece of land located on Spark’s Lane, just up the road. Because it is on higher ground, production continues year round when the Laguna floods. 

Beyond Organic: A lovely tour

Jennifer took some time out of her busy schedule to take me on a tour. First, we walked past the Grandmother Oak that provides shade for farm picnics and other events. This ancient landmark watches over the plants, trees and creatures. Across the plain, we see heritage plants such as Silver willows, various varieties of oaks, and hedgerows of wild Laguna roses.  We hear the crickets, bees and happy insects who live on the farm, too. Just a couple of years ago, a new tenant moved in; a bee hive took residence in one of the twin oaks, bringing their gift of pollination to the farm. The bees know a good location when they see one. 

Grandmother oak on Laguna Farm

Grandmother Oak keeps watch over the farm

Ignacio Romero: co-owner and organic farming expert

After twenty-seven years at Laguna Farm, Ignacio Romero can tell us a thing or two about organic farming. When I met with Ignacio on the warm June afternoon, he was getting ready to plant rows of cucumber in a large prepared plot of soil. He carried his simple seeding machine and a sack of seeds. He plopped his materials down on the verdant soil and adjusted his baseball cap as he answered my questions. We talked about the pros and cons of the heavy rains this past season. The overly wet soil postponed much of his spring planting, but he was glad for the rich topsoil brought in and the chance for some of his fields to rest and be replenished. 

Laguna Farm Ignacio Romero

Co-owner and master farmer, Ignacio Romero

Pest control that works with nature

Laguna farm works with mother nature to control pests and keep plants healthy. Hoop houses are used to keep warmth and moisture in and deer out. Other pest control methods include Ag-fabric over new seedlings to keep out the beetles and provide protection from the sun. Raccoons can reek havoc on rows of corn, so Jennifer might put in some fencing if the problem gets out of hand. In addition, they use natural predators such as ladybugs and praying mantis.

Ignacio and Jennifer know that healthy plants grown in healthy soil are naturally pest resistant. They like to pride themselves on clean, nice looking fruits and vegetables, but every now and then there might be a nibble in a piece of lettuce. We really don’t mind sharing a bit with the local farm dwellers to keep everything in harmony.

Laguna Farm organic

Ag fabric protects new plants

Working at Laguna Farm CSA

An important aspect of the Snail of Approval is the work environment for the employees. Are they paid a living wage? Is the work environment safe and positive? Laguna Farm earns an A+ in this category. At Laguna Farm the employees are treated like family. One of the many benefits of working at the farm is the opportunity to grow and market their own produce. Of course, a huge perk is getting to take home free produce that the workers grow themselves. This is truly a win, win situation.

Helping those in need

Jennifer smiled when she told me about how Laguna Farm gives back to the community. Each week Food For Thought Food Bank and Ceres Project nonprofits come to the farm and get free produce. Both of these organizations benefit those facing health challenges. By eating foods grown in such nutrient-rich soil, each recipient has huge benefits.

After unused produce is past expiration, Jennifer donates it to the Wildlife Refuge to feed the birds and other animals.

In addition, there are four families who come to the farm weekly and get a produce box donated by other CSA members. Thank you Jennifer and Ignacio for your generosity. 

farm hours

You don’t have to be a member to shop at the farm store!

Laguna Farm is located at 1764 Cooper Road in Sebastopol. To learn more about subscribing, visit their website here. If you are in the neighborhood, stop by and pick up a few fruits and veggies to bring home. Take some time to look around, sit under Grandmother oak and listen to the sound of nature.

For more information about Community Supported Agriculture: USDA website on CSA’s
To find CSA and farms near you, search by zip code at Local Harvest

flowers at Laguna Farm

Handline Fish Market Ceviche

It’s No Fish Story: Handline Coastal California Offers Fish Market

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It’s a cold and dark June morning at 4:00. The sky is cerulean. At Pier 45 in San Francisco Bay, a fisherman unloads halibut caught with a hook and line. The crew at TwoXSea packs the fish in ice, loads it into the truck and sets off for Handline Coastal California in Sebastopol.

Head Chef Sam Ehrlich arrives at Handline at 8:00 a.m. to greet the day’s catch. He sets aside some fish for ceviche or the fish burger then cuts fillets for his fish market customers.

At 9:00 a.m., the social media blast on Instagram alerts the community. Come to Handline and pick up your fresh halibut fillets caught just this morning.

Fish does not get any fresher than that, unless you catch it yourself.

Welcome to Handline’s Fish Market.

Handline Fish Market

Fresh Halibut from the Fish Market

What is sustainable fishing?

Handline Coastal California in Sebastopol, CA, received the Slow Food Snail of Approval in January 2019. Their dedication to sustainability is the primary reason. What does it mean to fish sustainably? As indicated in the name Handline, it refers to a fishing method that eliminates what is called “bycatch.”

I sat down in the shady outdoor seating with Sam Ehrlich, head chef at Handline, and he explained it to me. “The name of the game is NO BYCATCH. When you are fishing with hook and line (fishing rod and reel), if you catch a fish you don’t want, you put him back. It’s about fishing in a manner that allows you release the things you are not targeting,” said Sam.

Sam Ehrlich Handline staff

Sam Ehrlich (in yellow T-shirt) and his crew

Sam Ehrlich, 33, grew up in Florida with a fishing pole in his hand. In his dad’s boat, father and son spent many pleasurable days fishing along the Florida Coast. Sam remembers, “You park your car, take off your shoes and walk out to the water. Looking over the flat, you can see the fish tails poking out. That is the type of fishing I hope to share with my boys when they are big enough.” Oh, did I mention that Sam is the proud father of 6-week-old twin boys? He returned to work last week, and somehow keeps his motor running.

Sam learns the ropes in San Francisco

After high school in 2007, Sam moved west and honed his cooking skills in San Francisco, working for Mission Rock Resort, near the SF Giants’ ballpark. It was fast and furious. When he and his wife decided to start a family, they moved north. A year and a half ago, Sam landed the job as head chef at Handline. He loves working for owners Natalie Goble and Lowell Sheldon. Sam appreciates the care that goes into every aspect of the business. “I want to inspire the next group of chefs and to be able to inject some of what makes this area very special.” said Sam.

Handline Menu

On the menu

Fish Purveyors

Handline’s purveyors are passionate about sustainable fishing and are stewards of the sea. In other words, they reduce habitat destruction and leave enough fish for future generation. In addition, they pay fishermen/women a fair wage and fish as locally as possible. Mostly, they fish with a rod and hook to eliminate bycatch.

Handline fish Market

Water 2 Table operates from April to October to bring the best seasonally available hook and line fish to restaurants. Some of their products include halibut, king salmon, Dungeness crab, oysters, and black cod. The seafood comes from Bay Area and Half Moon Bay hook and line fishing fleets.

TwoXSea out of Sausalito also lives the ethos. On their website, they say, “Our goal is to alter the way seafood is farmed, caught and handled from fishery to plate.” Their products include halibut, clams, mussels and oysters. The peak is from early spring through late summer. 

Handline fish Market

Freshly shucked oysters

Red – Algae Feed from UC Davis

Sam and Handline’s owners want to keep delicious fish on the menu throughout the year and support businesses that are doing everything right by the environment. An important year-round supplier for Handline is McFarland Springs Trout Farm in Susanville, CA. The trout eat a red-algae based food that was carefully designed at UC Davis. McFarland Springs Trout Farm uses a very thoughtful approach with a product that restaurant owners can rely on. The good news – because the trout eat a vegetarian diet, they never accumulate mercury, thus providing a super healthy product. 

Handline uses McFarland Springs trout in their in-house smoked trout salad. Thanks to the trout farm, when salmon is out of season, you can still enjoy the signature fish burger.

Handline’s Goals

Sam sells and handles fresh fish that are caught with care, with conservation and sustainability in mind. He connects that line to the community. Sometimes Sam buys crab and salmon directly from commercial fishermen. When he meets the local suppliers, Sam feels even more connected to the food in Northern California.

In addition to serving delicious dishes made with their fish, Handline wishes to share the abundance with customers. They want support companies like Water2Table, TwoXSea and all the fishermen and women who value sustainably caught seafood and who don’t just pay lip service to these ideals, but live them each and every time they go out to sea.

The Handline fish market offers halibut and salmon. If you want the oysters and other delectable treats, you’ll just have to come into Handline and work your way through the menu.

Handline outdoor seating

Handline outdoor seating

Bring the whole family and sit outside under the oak trees. Kids (and adults) can play ping-pong and finish off the meal with a soft serve ice cream, reminiscent of Foster’s Freeze Drive-in.

Handline and Fosters Freeze

The new meets the old: Handline restaurant and Soft Serve.

Here’s how to get Handline’s fish market alerts:

The first step is to follow Handline on Instagram (handline.sebastopol) and look for the Fish Market icon. If you don’t use Instagram, be sure to subscribe to the Handline newsletter. When in doubt, call the restaurant and find out the current offerings (707-827-3744). Open 11 – 10 daily.

Need some recipe ideas?


Check out Local Food Matters, the blog for Handline Coastal California, Lowell’s and Fern Bar for recipes, collaborations and fun facts.

Sam’s favorite is ceviche (click here for his own recipe). He told me, “It’s hard to go wrong with fresh fish cured in a little bit of lime juice. I’m the kind of guy that loves to steam it up, shuck it, send it out; give me all the dipping sauces and the butter, and I’ll just put on the bib and dip, dip, dip.”
Thanks for the tip, Sam!

Try it at home!

Last Friday afternoon, my husband and I headed for Handline after checking Instagram. We brought our dog, sat outside in the shady patio, and after enjoying some local beer, we took home a 12-oz halibut fillet, packed in ice for the ride home.

As we watched our dinner sizzling in the oven, we felt proud to support hook and line fishing. In the same way that locally grown produce tastes so incredible, our halibut fillet tasted of the ocean and each bite had the integrity of hard-working conservators of the sea.

Fresh Halibut

Halibut for dinner

Breaking New Ground: Lantern Farm wins Snail of Approval

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Rebecca Bozzelli, owner of Lantern Farm, dreamed of starting a farm and knew that growing good food and building community would make her happy. She was head farmer at Preston Farm and Winery where she practiced biodynamic and organic growing methods. All the while, the idea of owning her own farm percolated in the back of her mind. Her dream was realized in 2017 when Lantern Farm opened, and, in 2018, Slow Food chapters in Russian River and Sonoma County North awarded Lantern Farm with the Snail of Approval for producing food that is Good, Clean, and Fair. The Snail of Approval award recently expanded to include local farmers and producers and Rebecca was one of the first recipients. Rebecca says about her farm,” I am fortunate to have found an old farm down the road from where I live, and I have big plans to make it the best little farm in Cloverdale.”

mustard flowers Lantern Farm

Among the Mustard Flowers

Lantern Farm sits in Asti Valley among the wooded hills of Cloverdale, California. I visited Rebecca on her beautiful three-acre farm located on River Road. I drove down the dirt road leading to the farm and spied Rebecca as she pulled her large wheelbarrow along neat and tidy rows of winter crops: kale, broccoli, and fennel. In the distance, I saw green vineyards and caught the fragrance of fresh mustard flowers.

Rebecca greeted me with a large bunch of spigariello, a leafy green from Italy. It’s in the Brassica family along with broccoli and Brussels sprouts. Rebecca learned about spigariello from Tucker Taylor when she took a tour of his farm. She loves to grow innovative and unusual veggies. It’s a fun way to open conversation and connect with her customers.

Lantern Farm Rebecca Bozzelli

Building the Soil and Community

Rebecca starts each day thinking about the soil. She cares about the dirt, and she knows that happy soil contributes to vibrant food that nurtures the whole community. Her core beliefs center around biodiversity and growing without the use of chemicals. She says, “For me this means building soil the good old fashioned way using compost and cover crop, selling my goods locally, supporting local businesses, using organic growing methods, paying fair wages, and creating community at my local farmers markets.”

Beneficial Insects

I asked Rebecca about some of her favorite sustainable farming methods. First, she told me about her perennial insectary, which is a “permanent area with plants that attract beneficial insects and predators.” She uses rosemary, salvia, cardoons and native trees and grasses. Thank you, Rebecca, for using nature’s very own wisdom to control those unwanted guests!

Lantern Farm flower blossoms and insectaryNext, she talked about her seeds and favorite varieties. She starts with seeds sourced from reputable companies that supply non-GMO seeds grown in organic conditions. She loves growing Slow Food Ark of Taste foods such as Bodega Red Potato, Sheepnose pimento, and Italian Purple Basil which she discovered in Italy at the Terra Madre Salone del Gusto food festival. In addition, Rebecca loves to support humane farming practices; she buys an organic compost made from the manure of chickens living a free range lifestyle.

Why Lantern Farm? 

Rebecca wanted to find a perfect name for her farm. It was a family affair. One night, Bea, Rebecca’s six year old daughter, Lantern Farmwatched the movie Rapunzel and loved the magical lanterns sent up to the sky at the end of the film. Soon after, while the family was out looking for land, they spotted two old lanterns hanging on the wall in an old barn that would later become the current Lantern Farm location. That seemed like a sign and the number of lanterns has been growing there ever since.

At this year’s Snail of Approval award ceremony, Rebecca told the crowd, “Staying tuned to the environment is the right thing to do. That’s what the Snail represents. That means not always taking the easy road. It means growing varieties that might not grow as much yield as other varieties, but they taste better. You have to grow your soil, and that takes longer, but it feels better. It makes your body feel good, it make the soil better, and it makes me feel good. So I’m proud to be one of the first farms to earn the Snail.”

Rebecca and her fresh produce and flowers can be found on Tuesdays at the Cloverdale Farmers’ Market, and on Saturdays at the Santa Rosa Farmers’ Market at LBC. Her produce is featured in Diavola Pizzeria, Brass Rabbit, and FEED Sonoma. She sells flowers to Single Thread.

Next time you are at the Farmers’ market, stop by and say hello. She would love to meet you!

Handline Coastal California Seafood Eatery sustainable wins Snail of Approval Slow Food

Catch of the Day: Handline Coastal California Receives Snail of Approval

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It is with great pride that Snail of Approval – Slow Food in Sonoma County, a joint project of Slow Food Russian River and Slow Food Sonoma County North, has presented the Snail of Approval to Handline Coastal California. This seafood eatery is located at 935 Gravenstein Hwy. South in Sebastopol, in what used to be the Foster’s Freeze drive-in. Handline offers farm-to-table food that is good, clean, and fair. Handlining is one of the oldest forms of fishing and oriented towards sustainability: in the words of the restaurant, “fishing by hand while thinking long-term.”

Dynamic Sebastopol Couple

This represents the second Snail of Approval for the wife and husband team, Natalie Goble and Lowell Sheldon, Sebastopol locals. When they are not spending time with their two sons, ages one and three, they run two restaurants with 80 employees in total. In 2007 Sheldon had a dream to open a sustainable organic restaurant in his hometown, and Lowell’s opened that same year. It quickly gained popularity with an all-organic menu that fuses Italian traditions with local West County fare. Lowell’s earned the Snail of Approval in February of 2018, and with Sheldon’s steadfast commitment to sustainability, it is no coincidence that Handline receives the same high praise. In keeping with their commitment to community building, Lowell and Natalie have created their West Sonoma County Field Guide, a collection of local wineries, scenic trails, spas, and other favorite spots along the Sonoma Coast.

West Sonoma County Field Guide

Destined to be a chef

At Handline’s wine and beer bar, Natalie Goble and I sat down to talk about her life and how she became a chef. During our visit, I learned that Natalie began developing her skills at age 21 while working with Daniel Kedan, owner of Backyard (another Snail of Approval recipient). She radiated an inner peace, a solid grounding and a confidence that comes from living out your core beliefs and keeping the important things in life in balance.

Natalie is a local gal, raised on 24 acres on Green Valley Road in Sebastopol. Her father purchased their home in the 1980’s during the “back to the land” movement. They raised apples, kiwi, and persimmons. Through her home garden, Natalie developed a connection to nature and an understanding of sustainable food systems. After earning a degree in philosophy from UC Santa Cruz and with some world travels under her belt, Natalie returned home to Sebastopol and started working at Lowell’s as a cook. It turned out to be an excellent match. Lowell and Natalie fit like a glove and found that they worked side by side in perfect harmony.

Natalie and Lowell owners of Handline Sustainable fish Eatery in Sebastopl

Natalie and Lowell

Local, sustainable sourcing

During our visit, the waiter brought Natalie one of her L.A.-inspired creations: the mighty salmon burger, which stood several inches high with its generous slab of local salmon. It reminded me of one of those juicy California burgers where the special sauce oozes out, runs down your arms and drips in puddles on the plate below. I realized that this fabulous burger personified the farm-to-table, seasonal, and collaborative principles that Natalie and Lowell bring to their restaurants:

Handline’s concept embraces Slow Food principles.

During the Snail of Approval process, Lowell shared some important background. He stated, “The trout we source comes from McFarland Springs, which is the world’s first deliberate collaboration to responsibly farm sustainable fish. The result is a sustainable and wonderful artisanal product.” Handline now offers a fish market where customers can buy fresh fish in season and learn where their food comes from. For example, their San Francisco purveyor for halibut is Water 2 Table, focusing on hook-and-line fishing.

In addition, Natalie and Lowells’ stewardship of the land and connection to the community is at the center of their ethos. They participate in “Dining Out for Life,” the annual dining fundraising event to raise money for AIDS service organizations. This year they took part in the “Dine and Donate” program, with 30% of each purchase going to support Sebastopol Charter School.

Handline Local Oysters Sustainable Fishing Snail of Approval

Sustainably farmed oysters

Sustainability in practice

Connection to the farming community is robust. Their family farm, named Two Belly Acres (a play on “two bellyachers”), provides 60% of the produce for their restaurants. In addition, as Lowell will tell you, “We work directly with no fewer than two dozen farmers and producers.”

Light years away from the typical L.A. burger after which it is modeled, the beef in the Handline’s burgers are “sourced from local Mindful Meats/Marin Sun Farms. Their cows live long and healthy lives as pasture-raised dairy cows. One cow alone provides over 80,000 pounds of food in her six year lifetime, in the form of milk, butter, cream, cheese, ice cream, and beef.”

Their respect for the environment extends all the way to the parking lot. When the large driveway in front of Foster’s Freeze was torn up, they used the discarded chunks of concrete to build a lovely Gabion wall around the restaurant, which keeps out the sound from passing cars and adds to the rustic yet new-age feel of the place.

Two Belly Acres Handline Family Farm

Seasonal favorites from Natalie and Lowell’s family farm

The story continues with cocktails

The dynamic couple is not stopping there. December 20, 2018, saw the grand opening of their third establishment, the Fern Bar. located in the historic Barlow district, once home to Sebastopol’s apple canning industry. The Fern Bar serves cocktails and share plates in the style of a modern American bar with a garden-to-glass focus. Perhaps you remember the term “fern bar” used in the 1970’s to refer to a trendy tavern. When entering the Fern Bar, customers find themselves inside a lush greenhouse. There are several cozy spaces lined with soft green couches, hanging plants, and sunny window seats.

Fern Bar Barlow Sebastopol

Enjoy a locally inspired cocktail in the Fern Bar

Natalie said their fern-bar idea had always been on the back burner, and she is happy to see it come to fruition. Much like Foster’s Freeze embodied the cultural history of California burger drive-ins, Natalie is firmly grounded in Sebastopol’s apple history. Now she is coming full circle. The Slow Food chapters give a big thank you to Lowell and Natalie for their passion and commitment to food that is good, clean and fair. After I try one of those enormous salmon burgers, I will be stopping by the Fern Bar for a cocktail. Want to join me?

Red Horse Pizza Races Away With Newest Snail of Approval

Red Horse Pizza Races Away With Newest Snail of Approval

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Red Horse Pizza, a converted horse trailer — and the source of amazing organic pizzas — is the latest recipient of a Snail of Approval from Slow Food in Sonoma County. The award is presented to restaurants and artisan producers who adhere to Slow Food’s principles of Good, Clean and Fair.

Kendra Stuffelbeam is the chef/owner who “can’t think of any other way” to make pizza other than organic … from the flour for the dough to the cheese, meats, tomatoes and veggies that top her creations. She grew up in a household with parents who served only organic foods.

The Red Horse Pizza “food truck” is parked in front of Hen House Brewery on Bellevue Avenue near Stony Point in Southwest Santa Rosa. It’s only open on weekends. The operating hours are from 4 to 8:30 p.m. Fridays; 11:30 a.m. to 8:30 p.m. Saturdays; and noon to 8 p.m. Sundays.

Kendra and her husband Nathan and Stuffelbeam converted a plain white, 1990s-era stock trailer into the cherry-red pizza kitchen in 2011. They gutted it, installed a propane gas oven, countertops, a serving window, sinks, a refrigerator, glass windows, solar panels and back-up batteries. Her pizza menu changes with the seasons and she scribes the day’s offerings on the chalkboard next to the ordering window. Your finished pies are delivered to one of the many tables under the gazebo in front of Hen House Brewery.

Red Horse Pizza joins eight other Sonoma County restaurants in receiving Snails of Approval in the program’s inaugural year. You can learn more about all the recipients at the Snail of Approval website.  And if you think one of your favorite restaurants should receive a Snail, encourage the owner/chef/manager to apply on the same website.

The pastries at Pâtisserie Angelica are made by hand and from scratch with organic ingredients and no artificial colors. They taste delicious and look like works of art.

Adieu to Sebastopol’s Pâtisserie Angelica

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Condra Easley is the pastry chef. Her older sister, Debbie Morris, keeps the books, runs the front end of the house, and does the all-important decor for the popular fondant cakes. Together they have owned and operated Pâtisserie Angelica in Sonoma County for 24-years.

Now, the two sisters are selling their business, moving to the South of France and fulfilling a lifelong dream. After decades of hard work, demanding schedules and close community ties they’re looking forward to a change of pace and retirement.

The sisters and their pâtisserie were recently awarded a Snail of Approval from Slow Food in Sonoma County, a joint project of two chapters, Slow Food Sonoma County North and Slow Food Russian River.

Angelica is the first bakery in Sonoma County to receive a Snail of Approval for its adherence to the Slow Food values of “good, clear and fair.”

Pâtisserie Angelica is located at 6821 Laguna Park Way, near the heart of Sebastopol and in easy walking distance from shops and stores on Main Street and around the plaza. Open Thursday – Sunday, 10am-5pm.

Pâtisserie Angelica is located at 6821 Laguna Park Way, near the heart of Sebastopol and in easy walking distance from shops and stores on Main Street and around the plaza. Open Thursday – Sunday, 10am-5pm.

For the first ten years Pâtisserie Angelica was located in Santa Rosa, and for the past fourteen years in Sebastopol, which the sisters have come to think of as home. They now live on the outskirts of Santa Rosa.

For years, Debbie served on the board of the Sebastopol Farmer’s Market and also on the steering committee for Cittaslow Sebastopol, the local chapter of the global organization whose mission it is to slow down the pace of urban living and encourage the preservation of local values.

“Sebastopol people really care about food,” Condra told me a few days before Easter, one of the busiest times of the year for the pâtisserie.

She added, “People here care what their kids eat. They also understand why we don’t use artificial flavors and colors and have no GMO products in our products.”

The word pâtisserie hardly needs translation, but for those unfamiliar with French, it means “pastry shop.”

Years ago, shops in France with a sign in the window that said, “pâtisserie,” meant that pastries were made in the traditional way. For croissants, that means the dough is folded again and again and again. It’s hard physical work.

Condra says that on her most recent visit to France (in 2018) she looked for the “pâtisserie” signs in shop windows and didn’t see them.

The vanished signs are signs of the times.

The pâtisserie is named after their mother Angelica who was a great baker the sisters remember fondly.

Pâtisserie Angelica sources local, organic, seasonal ingredients. The butter comes from Petaluma Creamery and the eggs from organic, pasture-raised chickens in Two Rock.

Angelica doesn’t use palm oil, though it’s the most widely used, inexpensive vegetable oil on the planet. In much of the tropical world, where rainforests are destroyed, palm trees are planted and cultivated in their place.

The environmental devastation has decimated much of the Orangutan population in Borneo.

“I’m a big fan of Orangutans,” Condra says.

She and Debbie are also big fans of the Earth itself. They compost, reuse, recycle, and waste little if anything in their shop.

The Snail of Approval certificate from Slow Food is displayed at the front counter of Pâtisserie Angelica. It means the world to Condra Easley and Debbie Morris who have lived and worked in accord with the philosophy and the principles of Slow Food.

The Snail of Approval certificate from Slow Food is displayed at the front counter of Pâtisserie Angelica. It means the world to Condra Easley and Debbie Morris who have lived and worked in accord with the philosophy and the principles of Slow Food.

Pastry and cake lovers—as well as fans of chocolate truffles, chocolate cakes and almond croissants—might visit the pâtisserie before Condra and Debbie hang up their aprons, pack their bags and begin a new life in France, around coming October.

Pâtisserie Angelica offers a wide array of pastries made in accord with French traditions and techniques that Condra learned in Paris from pastry masters. The pastries satisfy the sweetest of sweet teeth, but they’re not too sweet.

Pâtisserie Angelica offers a wide array of pastries made in accord with French traditions and techniques that Condra learned in Paris from pastry masters. The pastries satisfy the sweetest of sweet teeth, but they’re not too sweet.

“When we retire,” Condra explained, “I hope people in Sonoma County will say, ‘Remember those two sisters!’”

Indeed, that seems likely.

Their pastry shop is legendary in Sonoma County food circles.

Locals come for the pâtisserie’s “high tea,” which is inspired by the English version, but transformed into what the sisters call “West County” style. That means that their “high tea” starts earlier in the day than it normally would in, say, London, or in Paris, where high tea might mean champagne, live music and a chef’s trolley loaded with more sweets than a human could eat in an afternoon.

Still, there are English-style cucumber sandwiches and warm cream current scones at Angelica. West county high tea is served Thursday to Sunday from 11 am to 3 pm. Reservations are necessary.

“We have high standards and we’re picky and demanding, but we’re not mean to our employees and we pay everyone a living wage,” Condra said. “When they work more than forty-hours a week they’re paid overtime.”

Maggie Cortez, the lead baker, trained at the Culinary Arts Department of Santa Rosa Junior College and worked previously at a shop that made only cupcakes.

“Maggie is the baker of all things wonderful,” Condra said.

Condra Easley was born and raised in Iowa. As a young woman, she went to France and worked in pâtisseries, often without pay. She has been making cakes and pasties in the U.S. for decades, for the last 24 years at her Pâtisserie Angelica. A Francophile, she has a European sensibility.

Condra Easley was born and raised in Iowa. As a young woman, she went to France and worked in pâtisseries, often without pay. She has been making cakes and pasties in the U.S. for decades. A Francophile, she has a European sensibility.

There is no corn syrup at Pâtisserie Angelica and nothing much from far away, though Angelica imports unbaked croissants from Normandy, made with French butter that taste the way croissants are supposed to taste: billowy and buttery.

In the spacious kitchen at Angelica, the imported croissants are sliced open, dipped in simple syrup, filled with an almond-based cream and transformed into something new and different.

Christmas is the busiest time of the year for Angelica. Then comes Easter, followed by Valentine’s Day, when lovers want chocolate. Then there’s the Fourth of July when pies, made with peaches from Sonoma County’s Dry Creek, are one of the main attractions.

Condra doesn’t absolutely love pies, but she makes them with love and customers keep coming back for more.

June is big for weddings and that means wedding cakes. The pâtisserie also makes cakes for baby showers, corporate events, bar and bat mitzvahs and quinceañeras, celebrations of a girl’s fifteenth birthday, which are big in the Latino community.

The two sisters, who now seem inseparable, were born and raised in Iowa, where tasty, wholesome bread and genuine French pastries were difficult if not impossible to find.

As a young woman, Debbie Morris became a potter and worked in clay. Then she became a ski instructor in Aspen, Colorado, where she specialized in teaching women how to ski. She says that the training she provided helped to empower them.

As a young woman, Debbie Morris became a potter and worked in clay. Then she became a ski instructor in Aspen, Colorado, where she specialized in teaching women how to ski. She says that the training she provided helped to empower them.

As young women, they went separate ways. Debbie worked with clay as a potter and then became a ski instructor in Aspen, Colorado where she taught women how to navigate snow-covered slopes.

“I helped to empower them,” she said.

Condra worked in France as an apprentice baker. Her resume is two-pages long. Notably, she learned skills and techniques from Monsieur Pierre Hermé, who was awarded the title “Best Pastry Chef in the World” in 2016.

“He’s a real innovator,” Condra said. “I still look up to him.”

When she first arrived in Paris, Condra wrote to Hermé and explained that she wanted to learn the art of making pastries. When she phoned him, he told her to start the very next day.

“I was the only female in the kitchen,” Condra remembered. “I had to change from street clothing into whites in the broom closet. That was in 1986. I had been married with a husband. Now, I was young, single, free and in Paris.”

There’s still a “je ne sais quoi,” about her as the French might say.

The colorful tablecloth made in France, is a constant reminder to both Condra and Debbie that they’re on the brink of moving to France and settling there. It’s a longtime dream and it’s finally coming true.

The colorful tablecloth made in France, is a constant reminder to both Condra and Debbie that they’re on the brink of moving to France and settling there. It’s a longtime dream and it’s finally coming true.

At Monsieur’s Hermé shop, Condra kept her mouth shut and her eyes wide open.

“I was there to learn their way,” she explained. She made dough and turned it into tarts and puff pastries.

“I worked for free for sixteen-months,” she added.

Then she found a paying job at a place that only made brioches and where her employer didn’t speak a word of English. Her French was rudimentary.

She was also undocumented, and might have run afoul of the authorities for working without a permit.

Now, after all these years, she looks back at those days with a certain sense of nostalgia.

She’s also as much in love with France as ever.

“Yes, I’m a Francophile,” Condra said. “It’s pathetic. I think I was French in a previous life.”

When the sisters first came to Sebastopol from Santa Rosa, it seemed sleepy. But it grew on them, much as they grew on the town.

Debbie said, “We threw ourselves into the world of farmers markets and the farm-to-table-movement.”

Condra added, “There’s no point doing farm-to-table if you fall down on desserts.” Indeed, she’s made desserts a passion.

“We ‘ve had ups and downs,” Debbie said. “But having each other is the most amazing thing. I have enjoyed working with Condra’s creativity.

Alex, Condra’s 27-year-old son, works hard at Pâtisserie Angelica and plays an indispensible role at the patisserie. He carries on French traditions and techniques that his mother learned in Paris.

Alex, Condra’s 27-year-old son, works hard and plays an indispensible role at the pâtisserie. He carries on French traditions and techniques that his mother learned in Paris.

Some of Condra’s creativity rubbed off on her son Alex who was raised in the world of baking and who now works at the pâtisserie.

“I was in my baby basket and my mother would be making pastries,” Alex said. He’s definitely at home in a place that has brought genuine French pastry to Sonoma County, though he probably won’t continue as a baker when he moves to San Diego.

In retirement, Condra hopes to write her memoirs and include recipes. The working title is “The Pastry Apprentice in Paris.” Debbie plans to “poodle around” in her garden. The two sisters expect to visit UNESCO sites and Cittaslow Cities in Europe.

“It will be hard for someone to do what I’ve been doing at Pâtisserie Angelica,” Condra said. “But some things are attainable.” She added, “We’d love the space to continue to be a pâtisserie. ”

So would legions of loyal Sonoma County fans.

Pâtisserie Angelica 707-827-7998 6821 Laguna Park Way, Sebastopol, California 95472

Jonah Raskin at Pâtisserie Angelica

Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California, and a member of Slow Food Russian River’s Media Team. The photos are his.

He learned heaps from talking to Condra and Debbie. He left Pâtisserie Angelica with a beautiful chocolate cake and two croissants. He ate one of the croissants immediately. The other items made it home with him. He enjoyed them later in the day.

The Rebirth of The Naked Pig: Culinary Adventures with Dalia Martinez and Jason Sakach

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Dalia Martinez and Jason Sakach, owners of the Snail of Approval restaurant The Naked Pig, have long been movers and shakers in the local food world. The Santa Rosa couple started with pop-up dinners where they also showed movies and played music with help from a DJ. Then, at the Santa Rosa Farmers Market they cooked and served breakfast and lunch under the banner, “Guerilla Foods.”

At about the same time, I met them at an event in Sebastopol where they were the caterers. The food they prepared was plentiful and beautiful.

Then, in 2013, Martinez and Sakach took a culinary leap forward and opened The Naked Pig at 435 Santa Rosa Avenue in a tiny space that had been the ticket office for Greyhound.

No wonder, Martinez described it to me as “a little shack of a place.”

Indeed, on my first visit, I saw that the kitchen was so small there was barely enough room for two people to turn around at the same time. Still, the size didn’t prevent The Pig from attracting loyal fans and receiving a Snail of Approval from Slow Food in Sonoma County. Indeed, it met the Slow Food criteria of good, clean and fair: food that is delicious and healthy, grown sustainably with fair wages for workers in the food chain.

Jose Ariaza, the sous-chef, cooking in the tiny kitchen at The Naked Pig. When he’s not making food at work, he cooks for his own family.

Jose Ariaza, the sous-chef, cooking in the tiny kitchen at The Naked Pig. When he’s not making food at work, he cooks for his own family.

The dining room at The Naked Pig is slightly bigger than the kitchen, but still tiny by comparison with the three dining areas at Dierk’s Parkside Cafe across the street where breakfast and lunch is served.

Customers could sit indoors or outdoors at The Naked Pig, and, while outdoors worked well in good weather, it didn’t work well in bad weather. Even Naked Pig regulars didn’t want to sit outside and brave the cold and the rain.

I know. I was a regular. I always sought an inside seat and asked for hot coffee and a biscuit to warm body and soul.

The pint-sized restaurant made up for what it lacked in space by serving uncommonly good food made from ingredients sourced locally from farmers and ranchers dedicated to growing organic produce and raising organic chickens and pigs.

With a name like The Naked Pig, there had to be a reliable source of first-rate pork. For a pastured-raised product, The Pig relied on Devils Gulch in Marin County.

Seating was communal at The Pig, and service was professional. Sakach was often in the dining room, while Martinez was often behind the scenes in the kitchen, though her presence was felt almost everywhere from the presentation of the food to the fresh-cut flowers on the tables.

Jason Sakach has been the link between the Naked Pig kitchen and the dining room. The menu seems perfectly clear to regulars, not so to newcomers. Here, Sakach explains the basics to a customer.

Jason Sakach has been the link between the Naked Pig kitchen and the dining room. The menu seems perfectly clear to regulars, not so to newcomers. Here, Sakach explains the basics to a customer.

In 2016, their culinary journey took them to 640 Fifth Street in Santa Rosa, where they opened Flower + Bone. The menu offered an array of dishes that originated in Eastern Europe and in Central and Southeast Asia. They have included a California version of Saag Paneer, the Indian classic made with spinach and cheese, and Nepalese-style dumplings known as “Momo.”

Now, Martinez and Sakach are once again on the move. This time, they’re going uptown to 544 Mendocino Avenue. There, The Naked Pig will be reborn, while the old Naked Pig closes its doors for good. While the new site is only eight-tenths of a mile from the old site and a third of a mile from Flower + Bone, it feels like a journey into another world.

Martinez and Sakach describe the old Pig as “1.0” and the new Pig as “2.0.” It might not be an actual quantum leap, but it has all the earmarks of a radical change.

For one thing, Martinez and Sakach own the building at 544. That’s a first and it’s big. With ownership, they both say comes the real possibility of running a sustainable business. Not surprisingly, Martinez and Sakach are stoked, though they were distraught that they were forced to leave the space they rented at 435 Santa Rosa Avenue.

Entrepreneur Eric Anderson scooped up 435, along with the adjacent property that was occupied for years by the seedy Astro Motel that now looks like an outpost of Beverly Hills or La Jolla.

Anderson’s partner, Liz Hinman, is the chef at The Spinster Sisters, an upscale restaurant just a block away from the Astro, and within walking distance of the newly reconfigured Old Courthouse Square at the heart of downtown Santa Rosa.

With a square to rival the plazas in Healdsburg and Sonoma, Santa Rosa might offer their tasting rooms and restaurants competition for tourist dollars.

Hinman and Anderson spent $10 million to renovate and remodel the Astro. Financially speaking, Martinez and Sakach aren’t in same league, nor is The Naked Pig, which might not look appetizing to elite guests at the Astro who pay $160 a night, and more, for a room.

For good reason, Sakach has been troubled about the gentrification of a neighborhood that he came to love.

On the cusp of the big move uptown, Martinez spoke of The Naked Pig, as “her baby.” Losing it, she added, would be “unacceptable.”

Fortunately, the property at 544 Mendocino came on the market at the right time and the right price. A modest bank loan, along with savings and the deal was done.

The space had long been occupied by El Capitan, a Mexican restaurant owned and operated for nearly one-quarter-of-a-century by Luis Castaneda. Fortunately, it has a bathroom, a kitchen and a dining room, though they’ll all be renovated

Large windows look out on Mendocino Avenue and the Unitarian Church across the street.

Before it was El Capitan, it was Evelyn Cheatham’s Tweets where one could eat some of the best downhome, Southern-inflected cooking anywhere in Sonoma County. (Cheatham went on to found WOW, Worth our Weight, our unique local non-profit that trains at-risk young adults to be food industry professionals and place them into jobs.)

El Capitan closed

El Capitan, the Mexican restaurant that sat for years at 544 Mendocino Avenue, was owned and operated by Luis Castaneda. Before El Capitan, it was Tweets, which served southern-style cooking that set the bar very high for good food.

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At the new Pig, Martinez and Sakach will aim for the culinary skies, even as they mean to stay close to the ground in a neighborhood in which they feel very much at home. It’s in walking distance of the house where they live, and just a short bicycle ride away.

Martinez grew up not far from 544 Mendocino. As a girl, she did arts and crafts at the Church of the Incarnation at 550 Mendocino, her grandmother’s favorite house of worship near the end of her life.

Sakach was raised in half-a-dozen places all over Santa Rosa, though he remembers a specific house that burned down last fall in Coffey Park.

The new Naked Pig will have a larger kitchen than the kitchen at the old Naked Pig. The new dining area will also be larger than the indoor seating area at the old Naked Pig, though the total number of seats will be about the same. No one will have to sit outdoors.

(There are plans to develop the space at the back of the restaurant.)

Sakach divides his time between The Naked Pig, Flower + Bone and the location for the new restaurant at 544 Mendocino Avenue. He stays in close contact with the craftsmen and carpenters on the job

Sakach divides his time between The Naked Pig, Flower + Bone and the location for the new restaurant at 544 Mendocino Avenue. He stays in close contact with the craftsmen and carpenters on the job

The farm-to-table concept will carry over. Purveyors will still be local and ingredients will be fresh, local and seasonal.

The Naked Pig's No tipping PolicyThe no tipping policy, which was adopted in 2017, will be in the new place. That means twenty-percent is added to each bill. No tipping, Sakach says, is the wave of the future.

Sous-chef Jose Ariaza, who has been cooking for years at the original Naked Pig, will take his culinary skills to the new Naked Pig. He’ll have a new stove from Bakers Pride that specializes in baking, cooking and pizza equipment.

When asked how he felt about the move, Ariaza smiled and said “Awesome.”

Like Martinez and Sakach, he has come a long way in a short time. He got his start as a cook at his father’s food truck in Windsor. Now, when he’s not cooking at The Naked Pig, he’s cooking at home for his family. Martinez calls him “my rock.”

She and Sakach are now remodeling El Capitan with help from craftsmen, some of them family friends. The walls, which have been covered with colorful murals that depict Mexican scenes and themes, will be repainted.

[In a Mexican restaurant, the murals made sense, but not in a farm to table restaurant like The Naked Pig that emphasizes the local. Martinez and Sakach have taken photos of the wall to preserve the historical record.

[In a Mexican restaurant, the murals made sense, but not in a farm to table restaurant like The Naked Pig that emphasizes the local. Martinez and Sakach have taken photos of the wall to preserve the historical record.

Sakach is building new tables; a potter is making new ceramic fixtures, and there will be refurbished chairs from an old bar in San Francisco.

The Naked Pig – Santa Rosa Then, too, the big, bold Naked Pig sign will be redesigned, repainted and installed anew.

Sakach says that the new space will have “an industrial look and an antique feeling.”

I’m curious to see the new improved Naked Pig. I’m also eager to taste the food at 544 Mendocino. Will it be the same? Or will it taste different? The new location might alter the sensory experience. Wouldn’t that be lovely!

Paul Swenson, who lives in Santa Rosa and who travels far and wide for his work, has long been a big fan of The Naked Pig. As a producer of food-TV programs, he looks at the restaurant with a critical eye.

“Their intentionality rivals the best in the business,” Swenson told me. He added, “And I’ve eaten in restaurants with Michelin stars.” He wasn’t boasting; just stating the facts.

The new, expanded Pig probably won’t receive a Michelin star. Still, for many Santa Rosa residents and Slow Food members, it will continue to be a Snail of Approval star in the culinary sky.

Sakach says that 544 will be his and Martinez’s “final destination.” But that remains to be seen.

Have the changes in their lives and their work taught them anything?

“We learned to deal with stress in a healthy way,” Martinez told me. “The key was not to be desperate and not to be afraid to express what we wanted.”

My first waffle at the old Naked Pig was also my last waffle there. I had to try it before the big move from 435 Santa Rosa Avenue to 544 Mendocino.

My first waffle at the old Naked Pig was also my last waffle there. I had to try it before the big move from 435 Santa Rosa Avenue to 544 Mendocino.

Jonah Raskin with his first and last waffle at The Naked Pig 1.0 Jonah Raskin is the author of Field Days: A Year of Farming, Eating and Drinking Wine in California. He is also a member of Slow Food Russian River and has covered the Snail of Approval program of Slow Food in Sonoma County for the Bohemian.

Marianna Gardenhire and Daniel Kedan, owners of Backyard

Slow Food in Sonoma County Launches Snail of Approval

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Healdsburg, CA (November 6, 2017) – Snail of Approval Launch. Fans of delicious food who are also concerned about social and environmental responsibility now have help when selecting a place to dine in Sonoma County. Slow Food in Sonoma County launched a new program, the Snail of Approval.

Seven restaurants from across the county received the first Snail of Approval awards:

“We’re delighted to recognize this initial group of restaurants that don’t settle for ordinary in the way they source their food, prepare their menus or run their businesses,” said Brad Whitworth, a member of the Slow Food Russian River board and of the Snail of Approval Committee, who presented the awards.

After a brief ceremony, the Snail-approved restaurant chefs served bites of their restaurant specialties to the crowd of more than 60, who attended the November 1 launch at the Modern Grange at Healdsburg SHED. To accompany the bites, Ethic Ciders, Jardesca California Aperitiva, Lagunitas Brewing Company, Thumbprint Cellars and Tilted Shed poured tastes of their artisanal beverages.

The program is a collaboration between two Slow Food chapters, Slow Food Russian River and Slow Food Sonoma County North. A joint committee evaluates establishments based on the Slow Food principles of Good, Clean and Fair food. Some of the criteria include: seasonal ingredients and menus; sustainable ingredients sourced from local producers; humane treatment of people and animals; investment in fair labor practices; and green business practices like composting and recycling.

Each restaurant went through an approval process that included a detailed questionnaire, followed by a rigorous interview and on-site review conducted by a team of three Slow Food volunteers. Each evaluator independently rated the restaurant, before arriving at a collective score.

Carol Diaz, the program committee lead, says the organization plans to add other restaurants and expand to include artisan producers and farms. “We’re looking forward to educating eaters about the benefits of Good, Clean and Fair food by engaging the entire Sonoma County foodshed in a comprehensive program.”