For my grandmother’s 80th birthday, my aunt decided it would be great for the extended family to get together. She discovered that the ranch house where my grandmother was born in 1906 had become a bed & breakfast. So, off we went even though I’m sure my parents weren’t too thrilled about the expense.

I still remember that the weather was rainy and beautiful in turns and there were little hiking paths to wander down. Less exciting was the breakfast part of the B&B because meals were served communally (I’ve never been too excited about eating with people I don’t know–it’s almost too intimate an activity to share with strangers). My grandmother also told stories about when her aunt Jennie had died in the house and they’d taken her body out in a basket off the balcony because the stairs were too narrow to remove her in any other way (creepy!). Apparently the ranch house had been a boarding house when my family lived there. My great-grandfather, who was always about the get-rich-quick schemes, had wanted to work some of the abandoned mines in the area. He didn’t strike it rich.

I was twelve (nearly thirteen in my mind, at least) and that trip may have been the beginning of my culinary adventures. At a fancy little italian place right off of the Sonoma Highway near Glen Ellen I had pesto for the very first time (it was just gaining mainstream popularity in California, I think) at the encouragement of my grandmother’s sophisticated cousin Margie. And I ate a marvelous little dessert called “funghi” that I tried to replicate when I got back home–it was something like an eclair but shaped like a mushroom. My replication efforts, though tasty, were nothing like the original.

Swordfish was also on the menu (and my plate) at the restaurant where we had the main birthday celebration dinner. I believe we brought in a chocolate decadence cake (also at the height of its popularity at the time and, probably, there was a cakeage fee but I don’t remember). I don’t remember the name of the restaurant either or exactly where it was so I can’t tell if it’s still around. I remember it had a water wheel, though.

And back on the second floor of the B&B, I had my own little sleeping nook  that was light- and wicker-filled. Wonder of wonders, there were lots of books stuffed in the room. I love it when I can go through other people’s book collections. I chose M.F.K. Fisher’s How to Cook a Wolf and what a strange but engrossing book it was.

I haven’t read How to Cook a Wolf for almost 25 years. I’m revisiting it today from an adult perspective and with the lousy economy in mind. The result is this blog which takes its name from HtCaW‘s first chapter: “How to Be Sage Without Hemlock.” I hope you’ll follow along.


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