dsc04372The bright sun, cool air, and rolling green hills dotted with oak trees — clusters of them here and scattered sparsely there —  on the drive to my friends’ ranch in Fiddletown, California whetted my appetite for a weekend of ranch work, hours of reading, and good food. After I deposited my bags in the guest house, I grabbed my camera and started up the hill to the main house. When I reached the summit, I stopped.

Strutting around on the concrete slab under the kitchen window was a large tom turkey. I slowed down and slipped my camera out of my pocket. Its tail was fanned out, its body feathers stood on end,  transforming the bird into a white and black ball. The vivid red and blue of  the wrinkled skin on its head fascinated me and I moved closer to take a photo — which I did, as you can see. The turkey walked in circles, eying me.

Then Sherry stepped outside the kitchen door. The turkey ran directly towards me and leapt at me with taloned feet forward in attack. I admit it wasn’t until afterward when it was all over that I realized that it had come at me with its feet. All I felt at the moment was a thud on my knee. If its claws reached as high as my knee, just imagine how high and close to my face the rest of it was. With my arm, I clubbed the bird away from me. It turned right around and flew again at me. I swung my leg and only managed to push it — not kick it — away. I was screaming at full throat to scare it, because I was scared, and to summon help for me and Sherry, who was also screaming, neither of us capable of stopping this furious, viscious bird from coming at me. Finally Dan ran out with a long stick.  He tried to hold it off and step between me and the turkey, which dodged this way and that in order to get at me. The three humans moved in concert around in a circle, all of us yelling, shouting useless commands, pushing the bird away until we had all manouevred ourselves close to the kitchen door. I saw my chance and ran to the door and slammed it shut from the inside.

What a wonderful start to a relaxing weekend. Earlier that morning, Dan and Sherry had taken possession of the turkey from a neighbor who said it was “a little aggressive” and so not suitable around other animals. In the hours that they had the turkey, apparently Sherry had come to occupy a soft place in that avian heart. It only took a few hours for the bird to consider protecting Sherry its life mission. And I got in the way.

In the house, I rolled up the pantleg of my jeans. A bloody little hole to the left of my knee reassured me (this being a food blog, I don’t feel I can post the unappetizing photo I took of it). Later on, Dan, a doctor, determined that the turkey had bruised the peroneal tendon connecting my quadricep to my shin. The pain made it impossible to sleep that night. I limped all the next day.

But as the day progressed the tendon loosened up and the pain diminished to such a degree that I accompanied Sherry on a trip to the hardware store. Along the way, we stopped at an excellent bakery in Amador City, a very good new tacqueria in Jackson, and three wineries in the Shenandoah Valley.

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Andrae’s Bakery and Cheese

14141 Highway 29

Amador City

(209) 267 1352

The Gold Rush towns like Sutter Creek, Amador City, and Jackson, look too touristy and too isolated to hold much promise for good food. In fact, the reason the entire wine country of Amador County seems like Napa County circa 1975 has everything to do with the lack of really good places to eat.

But this little gem of a bakery produces bread that is astonishingly good. Although it occupies a rather large house, the store itself is a tiny suite in it that is crammed with its cheese counter and bread shelves. They make all sorts of breads, pastries, cookies, and tarts. We bought a dozen Chocolate Chewies, a flourless cookie made with egg whites, cocoa, and pistachios that were very good. On offer, as well, are little demi-loaf sandwiches to take away, olives, salami, and other picnic food.

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También Mexican Kitchen

250 French Bar Road

Jackson

(209) 257 1122

The owners of Andrae’s have opened in Jackson, a few miles away from Amador City, a tacqueria that serves three kinds of tacos (carne asada, chicken, carnitas, and Yucatan pulled pork), sopes, tortas and salads. The salsa bar had a variety of fresh salsa. The tortilla chips looked great. I noticed on the shelf behind the cash register a big dispenser of fresh drinks, Jamaica and lemonade.

Because we had already stopped for a bite at Andrae’s, we bought two tacos, a carnitas and a pulled pork. The carnitas was a little bland and too moist. The meat lacked crispness, which I regreted. The Yucatan pulled pork, on the other hand, was very tasty. The pork was cooked in a tomato sauce seasoned with citrus. I suppose it’s the cook’s version of cochinita pibil.

We heard that the place is already popular at night, not surprising since the principal cinema is is right down the block. Both of us agreed that También is definitely worth a visit.

And what happened to the turkey? Saturday afternoon, Armando, a neighbor with a pickup truck, took the doomed bird off.  I felt a pang of remorse. For a moment. In spite of being attacked by a manic tom turkey and, more poignantly, despite finding the same evening a dead baby lamb that had trapped itself between a patio chair leg and the guest house wall, a weekend at the ranch in Amador County made me want to return.