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Jess Lander Leftovers: Eating on the run from wildfires

Jess Lander Leftovers: Eating on the run from wildfires


The evacuation orders came at around 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, Aug. 19, and eight-and-a-half days would lapse before we’d be permitted back home, our house safe and sound thanks to the tireless efforts of the first-responders, and even many of our brave neighbors.

My husband and I moved accommodations four times during that period and aside from “where are we going to sleep tonight?” the big question of each day, since we were suddenly living without a kitchen, was “what are we going to eat?”

These daily dining decisions were fueled by several factors: convenience (how close they were to our temporary residence or workspace), availability (the combination of COVID-19 and the smoky skies meant many places were either closed or fully booked), and comfort, meaning whatever food I felt in the moment was best for “eating my feelings” in an attempt to melt away the stress of the week.

While we were graciously invited for a few fantastic home- cooked meals from friends, these were the restaurant highlights from a week of eating out and taking away.

I usually work from home, so on the first morning after our evacuation, a friend kindly invited me to use her office. She also surprised me with her usual breakfast: a ham and jam biscuit from Contimo Provisions. Filled with smoked molasses-brined ham, it was delightfully simple, sweet, and the exact sustenance I needed to help shift my focus from the fires to work. Next time, I must try the pimento cheese biscuit.

By Friday night, we had relocated from family to a friend’s house in downtown Napa. We were feeling like we deserved a little treat, so we ordered what can only be described as “a boatload” of sushi from Eiko’s. There are a lot of great sushi spots in Napa Valley, but Eiko’s truly never disappoints, and this was easily our most memorable take-out of the evacuation in terms of both food and company.

We moved to The Archer Hotel Napa on Saturday afternoon. We didn’t want to keep burdening our friends and family, and the hotel was offering evacuees a heavily discounted rate.

At this point, we were completely exhausted and mentally drained from the week’s events and spent the entire Sunday in bed — it was far too smoky to be outside anyway — vegging out and watching TV. We ordered take-away brunch from JAX Diner and the loaded BottleRock Tots hit the spot (never mind that their name served as an unpleasant reminder of what we’ve missed this year). We paired them with the best California sparkling I’ve had in a long time—watch out, Schramsberg!—the 2016 Brut Rose from Long Meadow Ranch.

A few nights later, still evacuated and still at The Archer, we picked up take-out from one of my all-time Napa favorites: Small World. I got my usual, the lamb salad. The smoke had mostly cleared for the evening, so we enjoyed it with fresh-ish air and red wine in a fire-side cabana on The Archer rooftop. It was the most relaxed I felt all week.

The final two nights were spent back with family and on one of those, we ordered Heritage Eats take-out. After a week of not-so-healthy eating, I went for a falafel bowl, but allowed myself a little dessert in the form of a Brown Sugar Boba Ice Cream Bar. Yes, it sounds a little weird, but it was delicious and totally beats the low-sugar Fudgesicles I keep in my freezer.

A week had officially passed and on Thursday morning, we received a Nixle alert that was equally promising and frustrating. Little by little, they were lifting mandatory evacuations in our area, but this one stopped just a handful of houses before ours. My husband and I lamented about this over lunch at R+D Kitchen, where I got my go-to Dip Duo and the fried chicken sandwich. Later that day, our mandatory evacuation was lifted.

Finally back home on Friday evening, we decided to have a grand finale, a Friday night date night that would make everything feel normal again — well, as normal as you can feel during an ongoing pandemic. We chose The Charter Oak, home of our favorite burger in wine country, and discovered a new underdog on their menu: the hearth-roasted eggplant, cooked in caramelized koji butter. Rich with a consistency that’s kind like bone marrow, my husband described it better than I could have written it, proclaiming, “It’s like vegetarian foie gras.”

Food may not be able to solve our problems. But in my experience, it’s certainly an effective coping mechanism.

Watch now: Main Street dining in Napa

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