It’s Fall, and Northern California is ripe! California wines are noteworthy, and this year looks like a bumper crop. Driving through the Napa Valley or the Santa Cruz mountains, the somewhat overpowering odor of fermenting grapes can give you a “high” from the open car window! I’m really not kidding. You don’t even need to pop the cork. When the crush is on, it is like sniffing a vat full of wine with your nose 2 inches from the surface. Well, maybe a slight exaggeration.
Wineries welcome you for tours, and the urge to pick up “just one more of that good stuff” can be hard to ignore.
It’s beautiful in these parts of the state at this time of year. The grapes hang heavy on the vines, bulging with sweet juice, while the leaves are just beginning to turn color in some vineyards, though not all.
To see these even rows leading off into the distance, is a siren call for an artist. Bacchus has been honored in paint and print for centuries.
I love the small family-owned wineries in the mountains. We like to grab a loaf of good french bread, a large chunk of cheese, and take off early on a sunny morning ending up at a nice secluded beach along the coast. Perhaps stop at a farm in the Russian River country for some new crop apples dripping with juice, and smelling like they were picked just for you. (Or maybe go to a farm where you canbe the picker. What could be a better fall day? Then shake the sand out of your shoes and drive home. Perfect.


The story of Johnny Appleseed may be apocryphal, but it is so charming that I always think of some little wrinkly old gnome tramping through the countryside sprinkling apple seeds wherever he went whenever I put an apple pie into the oven.  Which I just did.

Years ago when our family had a house at the Russian River, my mother-in-law and I went to orchards in nearby Sebastopol and picked boxes of apples for sauce and pies.  We were great canners of fruit in those days.  We did the picking and the rest of the family ate.  When it was blackberry season she and I picked berries and brought them back so that she could make pies and the rest of us could go swimming.  I feel guilty about leaving her with all that work, but she was a better pie baker than I in those days.

For years, our garage was filled with the delicious and tantalizing smell of apples in summer, at least until I fell off the roof while making applesauce.  I would take a week off from work and devote it to making 50 quarts of applesauce.  As the sink filled with the accumulation  of appleskins, I kept trying to grind them up in the disposal.  It jammed up nicely so don’t ever try that.  Dr. Advice was away on a business trip, and I felt quite capable of unplugging it by sticking a hose down that pipe that sticks up out of the roof.  I don’t remember what they call it.  Anyway, I climbed the ladder carrying the running hose and prepared to poke it down the pipe, when the ladder gave way and I fell off the roof. Dr. Advice said it wouldn’t have worked anyway.   Mott’s makes a fine substitute for homemade sauce now.

My old cooking teacher Marian Cunningham just passed away a few months ago.  She was the second one to teach me to not “sweat the small stuff”after Julia Child had instilled the thought.  Marian believed in keeping it simple.  She was so honest she even disagreed strongly with her good friend Alice Waters about which lettuce was best.  Long after we were using spring greens, arugula, radicchio, etc., Marian still like the old iceberg lettuce she (and I) had grown up with.

I’m passing along Marian’s recipe for pie crust which is infallible.  (I know everyone who gives you their favorite recipe says it is infallible, but this one really is.)

My mother-in-law’s crust was divinely flakey because she only used shortening, but I prefer the buttery taste of this one.  As Julia used to say “Bon Appetit”!!


2 Cups All-Purpose flour, 1/2 tsp. salt, 1/2 tsp. sugar       Pulse 8-10 times till mixed well.

Add 1 and 3/4 cubes of butter very cold and cut into small pieces, 1 Tbs. cold shortening

Pulse about 10 times till butter is nicely distributed and you can still see flakes of it

Add 1/3 Cup ice water and pulse 8-10 times or until it comes together in a mass

Wrap it in plastic wrap and chill about an hour before rolling.  Freezes well