This Summer 2001 issue features our second report by the irascible Morris Pishpot, wine country gourmand. Always in the company of the mysterious and lovely Miss Helena, Morris is the invariable outsider. He reports irreverently from inside the world of catering as he bumbles from one wine country event to the next.
DATELINE: Healdsburg, California, Sunday, April 22, 2001 . . . . 10 p.m. . . . .
The lovely Miss Helena and I were snug in our bed, dreaming blissfully of happy days now and past and in the future, when there was an alarming clanging about in the room. We awoke, much to our dismay, at 6 a.m. this past Sunday morning because, "We must work today, my naughty, narrow-minded newt," the lovely Miss Helena explained to me. "We are off to Sebastopol to sell Olive Tapénades on Earth Day."
"Oh, dear," was all I could mutter. "Not Sebastopol, that small town of hippies and liberals with soy products in their ice boxes. Good heavens! A majority of the city council are members of the Green Party."
"Oh, now, Morris," said the lovely Miss Helena. "You were a hippie once. I still fondly remember you in your bell-bottomed trousers with the rainbow-hued suspenders and your thin belly and smooth-skinned chest beneath them."
"Oh, please, Miss Helena, you're ruining my breakfast."
"And that blue-jean cap you used to wear! It was your 'Working Class Hero' John Lennon cap."
"All right! Enough of that!"
(It is so irritating to have the lovely Miss Helena giggling at me so early in the morning.)
"And besides," she continued, "We are selling the wonderful Olive Tapénades made by our good friends at Jimtown."
"Oh, yes," I agreed. "The Jimtown Store sells three types of Olive Tapénade . . . the Olive Tapénade, the Olive and Fig Tapénade, and the Olive and Vegetable Tapénade, all three of which are excellent toppings to any cheese and cracker or on bread. And did you know, Helen, that the local paper, the Santa Rosa Press-Democrat
"Now, Morris," said Helen, "You aren't just saying or writing this because your publisher's wife is a manager at the Jimtown Store?"
"Of course not, my lovely," I said. "Morris Pishpot's critiques are not for sale!"
"Hmmm," my wonderfully honest treasure mumbled.
And off we went in our Mini with the cooler full of Olive Tapénade samples in the boot. It's a lovely drive thru the sunlit vineyards to Sebastopol. It's not named after a city in Communist Russia by accident . . . but we found a great parking place at the Whole Foods Grocery Store across from the square where the Earth Day Festivities were taking place.
And what a "square" it is. It does fulfill the Euclidean measure of such a space, but it's no English Square. There are no trees, no grass, no pond, no shrubberies; just a naked bandstand amidst Portland Cement and Macadam parking spaces for the American SUV's, BMW's, Volvos, and the odd Porsche driving by on the three-lane one-way street that winds around the square on two sides. A river of internal/infernal combustion machines with no crosswalk to stop them surged between the square and the huge Whole Foods Grocery Store. The odd hippie was diving thru traffic from place to place all afternoon. And once in awhile an old hippie would stop his or her huge SUV and gaze at the hippies walking about the square, or try and listen to the live band in the bandstand, and maybe they'd have a fond memory of their youth
And it was a good band. Three guys. The lead guitarist looked liked Joe Walsh of the James Gang. He had that old white squinty look with the granny glasses and his mouth was all wrong. The drummer was a skinny black guy with sunglasses and his curly hair tied back in a ponytail. The bass player was white with long brown non-descript hair and he lounged against a tall stool in the usual bass-player-unassuming-anonymous way. They were tight.
A few hippie mommas were out dancing with their children on their hips. A few weird white guys with big bottles of water in their hands were trying to dance with them. I just walked around.
"Now, Morris," the lovely Miss Helena had told me earlier in the Whole Foods Grocery Store, "Don't be gone too long. I'll be needing a relief in an hour. And for goodness sake's don't spend this beautiful sunny afternoon in a pub! It's Earth Day!"
"As compared to what?" I said. "Mars Day?"
Well, I'd seen that look before.
"I'll be back in an hour," I promised.
Oh, it was a beautiful sunny 70 degree afternoon in Sonoma County. And I did walk around all the stalls the hippies had put up. Lotsa VW vans with organic honey and organic vegetables and smoked salmon and organic seeds, and at the end of the row were the ZAP guys selling electric push scooters and cars. The kids enjoyed riding the scooters around a course of orange cone barriers in the lot. I bought Miss Helena and myself a couple of Earth Day T-shirts to commemorate the occasion.
I noticed a beautiful young woman with dark long hair wearing camouflage clothing. On the back of her olive drab T-shirt she'd written "Bush is a Wanker" in very well done calligraphy. I wondered if she was British.
There were the odd young women walking about without bras and pushing wheelbarrows of fresh produce as the band played and the traffic of luxury autos kept on winding its way around the scene.
Well, I retired from the bright sunlight into the Main Street Station Saloon that backs onto the square. It has railroads for a theme. There is an electric train that runs around the ceiling of the bar and it's only 25 cents a run. I ordered a pint from the barman and put in a quarter to watch the Rock Island Engine pull its train about the bar. There are many photos of old trains and old trainmen on the walls. It was very relaxing and I'd lost track of the time.
"Where have you been?" said the lovely Miss Helena. "We need more baguettes. These people are little oinkers! I went off to the loo and they ate all my samples and pinched two tins of Olive Tapénade from the cooler."
"Beastly!" I replied.
"Good lord, you're toast!" said the lovely Miss Helena. "You've been in the pubs haven't you? Oh, no bother, just go get us some more baguettes, and remember to have them sliced."
And off I went on my mission. I returned and replaced my lovely Miss Helena at the little table we'd assembled next to the chicken counter in the meat department.
"Please go check out the band," I said. "I am so sorry for being late. It's a beautiful day, have fun!"
And I was left alone at the give-away sample counter of wonderful Olive Tapénades from the Jimtown Store in Jimtown, California.
"Well, yes, sir, that is the Olive Tapénade, and that's the Fig and Olive Tapénade on the Goat Cheese. . . . . yes, that's the bleu cheese, and the Vegetarian Olive Tapénade is with the Cream Cheese there."
"Oh, sorry, but we only have the Olive Tapénade and the Fig and Olive Tapénade for sale in the cooler case next to you there. They are both on sale . . . but the Vegetarian Olive Tapénade was hijacked by some crazy Vegetarians in Graton. Yes, one would think vegetarians were more peaceable. . . . . Wait, wait, come back!"
And the hippies packed up their gear into their VW's. . . . the honey guy sold out all his beeswax candles and most of his honey. The seed lady didn't do as well and left early. The book lady was very lonely.
Ron of Healdsburg brought down a pickup of fresh organic produce and he did very well. His organic garden can be found to your immediate right as you exit Highway 101 North at the first Healdsburg Exit. It is all scrumptious. The fact that Ron is my friend and a frequent contributor to this website has absolutely nothing to do with Morris Pishpot's opinions. My critiques are not for sale.
Well, the Earth Day slowly ended into the usual non-commercial frenzy. More and more people just came by for pre-cocktail snacks, and fewer and fewer bought anything.
The lovely Miss Helena and I packed up our Olive Tapénades and drove home.
And laughed and laughed in our little VW traversing wine country in the setting sun. On Earth Day.
All the best and I will continue to endeavor to find good food and good times for you the faithful reader . . . .
Meanwhile, I remain,