There’s a little shoppe in the Ferry Building here in town that carries California bay laurel soap — and whenever I go through the market I stop by for a quick fix. But nothing compares to the real thing, as I am reminded every time I go out to West Marin. There, the air is thick with crushed bay leaves and earth and water mixed together in an intoxicating, pungent blend. It smells alive.
I’ve long considered PR/Inverness to be my home just as much as Sebastopol, for I truly grew up in both places. Many Saturday mornings were spent navigating the winding, rural roads — Tomales Bay shining and winking to the right, the golden summer hills to the left — to the house in the woods with the great lawn and happy, wagging Labradors. On warm days, we’d sit around on the deck or play badminton; later, we’d pile haphazardly into cars for the drive out to Keyhoe Beach with a picnic. If it was chilly, we’d sit by the fire drinking tea and watch the fog seep over the bay through the tall windows.
There are so many wonderful local growers and producers in the region, which has been protected for years by the the Marin Agricultural Trust. Pt. Reyes Station, once a biker and latent hippie hang-out, has become a destination for food-lovers and tourists alike (on Saturdays the little main street that runs through town is even more congested) but when I go out there, I usually am visiting or hiking and/or camping out at the Point Reyes National Seashore — and leave the crowded town behind.
I made this soup last week with farmers market potatoes and a bunch of lovely leeks sold for an outrageous price (out of season, perhaps?). As I chopped the garlic, I remembered I had gathered a few bay leaves on my last foray to Inverness. I knew a they would be exactly what this soup needed to transform it from mere week-night dinner to something much more enticing. California bay laurel is quite powerful, and its addition to this admittedly bland blend of vegetables is the soup’s savior. It is still mellow and smooth — with all those potatoes, how could it not be? — but hints of water and trees. It is of and from the forest, which beckons with all its unexplored beauty and mystery.
Each sip brought me back to the woods — to a night sky thickly blanketed with stars, to a weekend filled with booming ocean and empty stretches of sand, to hills lining the coast for miles, to Limantour Beach littered with whole, perfect sand dollars.
It brought the wild to the city, if only for as long as it took me to finish the bowl-ful.
Inverness Ridge Potato Soup
5-6 small potatos, mix red and yellow, washed, scrubbed and quartered (I leave the skins on)
1 bunch leeks, washed, separated and chopped
3-4 gloves garlic, minced
5 cups vegetable broth or water
2 bay leaves
Saute the leeks and garlic in a soup pot until soft (about 5 minutes). Add the broth (and more water or broth as needed), bay leaves and potatoes and bring to a boil. Turn heat to low and simmer until the potatoes are tender. Fish out the leaves. With an immersion blender, or in a food processor, blend the soup until well-mixed, but not too smooth (leave it a bit chunky). Season with salt and pepper to taste, and herbs de provence, if you have them.
Serve with bread and cheese, or salad, preferably after taking a long walk outside.
[Wildcat Beach, Point Reyes National Seashore, August 2006]