There is an autumnal feeling in the air the past few days. The days are growing shorter, the nights longer; or is it the other way around? I get so confused with the whole “Fall forward, Spring back” thing. Back when I used to punch one, changing the clocks was a ritual that I managed to screw up consistently. I was the waiter (or cook) who would be sitting outside the restaurant for two hours, waiting for the manager to show up and unlock the doors, because I had set my clock AHEAD when it should have been back; and conversely, I made up for it in Spring by being appropriately late. It’s all about balance. When I was bartending, the “Fall-Back” scenario inevitably resulted in some drunk at my bar blathering about how they would get an extra hour of drinking time when the clock hit midnight. This usually resulted in other, sensible patrons joining in, entreating me to set the clock back. Wrongo! There is no force of time or space that could make me voluntarily listen to your drivel for another hour. Last Call is an immovable object. The Ugly Lights go up at 1:45 Bartender Standard Time (which was always 20 minutes ahead, anyway…)
There has always been a Love-Hate relationship between Fall and me. I am a Summer Guy. I don’t enjoy the “crisp Autumn air”; I don’t ski, I hate the snow. Sly and The Family Stone’s “Summer Days” is my anthem. Bring the heat, Baby! In fall, the garden I nurtured all spring and summer long starts going to seed, tomatoes and melons that arrived just a little too late are left sadly green and undersized; early autumn rains mean unsolicited weeds will soon make their appearance, and leaves need to be raked. At one house I used to live in, we had three of those gigantic Flame Ambers that would drop leaves that piled up waist-deep despite daily raking, and hundreds of those little spiky balls that grabbed onto my slippers every morning when I ventured out to get the paper. If ever a case were to be made for a Rock Garden landscape, that house was it.
Here in Napa, fall also means the end of the “Season” for restaurants. This has always been a “good news, bad news” scenario. As much as we love and need the tourists’ visits to drive our business and make our dough all spring and summer, I embrace the “Welcome to the beautiful Napa Valley, now go home” philosophy. The day we change the clocks is like a Ground Hog Day for the locals. It’s the day when the year-round residents poke their heads out, look for the tourists’ shadows, and if they don’t see them they know it’s safe to go up to the Auberge for a drink on the deck or maybe visit a winery without fighting elbow to elbow crowds. It’s like somebody throws a switch and the big, neon “Safe For The Locals To Come Out” sign is illuminated. In the restaurants we begin to see people we haven’t seen since March; the regular guests who are our winter bread and butter. Welcome back, we’ve missed you!
The end of real summer and the passing of Indian Summer brings to an end our supply of beautiful local strawberries, peaches, tomatoes and corn on restaurant menus; but it also means earthy squashes, bright citrus fruits (excellent Blood Orange Martini at Cole’s last night, thank you, Kelly and Eric!), local wild mushrooms and, my absolute favorite, fresh white truffles from Italy, all begin to make their appearances. Big pots of lentils and white beans and split peas are cooking on stoves; and even though the arrival of Fall means The Silly Season is soon to be upon us, it also means my favorite Holiday, Thanksgiving, is just around the corner. I can suffer relentless Elevator-Music versions of Christmas Carols if it means I get to have Oyster Stuffing and Blood Orange Martinis.