Monthly Archives: October 2011

Natural or Unnatural?

“High-tech tomatoes; mysterious milk; super squash. Are we supposed to eat this stuff? Or is it going to eat us?”

— Annita Manning



Natural or unnatural?

I often get odd questions from people who I enjoy looking up. One, which a number of people have asked me is, “What is ‘natural,’ and what does it mean?”
The confusion hit me several months ago when I picked up a jar of peanut butter at the store. The label was very old-fashioned looking and said “natural.” Thinking it was just peanuts and salt, like the ones labeled “Old-Fashioned,” I discovered it contained quite a list of ingredients, in fact the same ingredients that were on the regular jar of processed peanut butter. The only difference, the price was higher for the “natural” peanut butter.

Most people have a common-sense definition of what “natural” is or should be. For example, “natural” to a lot of people simply means being able to pronounce all the ingredients and not needing a chemistry textbook to understand them. Good luck on that one. The simple dictionary definition is “something not manmade or artificial.”

Many people have written about the subject and come up with many ideas which show how really hard it is to define, and also point out that all things “natural” are not necessarily good. Fleas are natural, flea collars are unnatural; nudity is natural, clothes are unnatural; being bitten by a snake and dying is natural and civilization, indoor plumbing and cars are all obviously unnatural.

Back to the subject at hand, the Federal Trade Commission is the watchdog for bogus environmental claims. The FTC’s guidance does not address “natural” marketing claims specifically. However, it does include a section that states: “… every express and material implied claim that the general assertion conveys to reasonable consumers about an objective quality, feature or attribute of a product or service must be substantiated.”

Since most of us that read that say, “What?” It is obviously up to the consumer to make the final decision.

When it comes to food labeling, there is not much help. It is only applied to meat, fish and poultry products. In that case, “natural” labels can only be used if they do not contain “artificial flavoring, colors, chemical preservatives, or synthetic ingredients” (whatever that may mean). Thus, in most cases the “natural” label has no official definition and can be used without any government approval.

So, what do you do? If you want to feed your family foods with the least artificial ingredients, educate yourself — read and ask questions, and, by the way, as my son told me 20 years ago, the Internet has more misinformation than information.

Then pick brands that not only list, but discuss their ingredients. Then, stick to those brands if you like them. And remember, just because it is in the “natural” food section of the grocery store does not mean it should not be scrutinized.

D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café – Mt. Aukum

“We should look for someone to eat and drink with before looking for something to eat and drink.”

— Epicurus




D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café
Last weekend, on my way back from trying some wines in Amador County during the “Big Crush” event, I stopped by D’Agostini’s Delights Bakery and Café in Mt. Aukum. As I said a few years ago when I first wrote about it, it is a place you might easily miss if you weren’t looking for it.

It is located at 8031 Mt. Aukum Road in Mt. Aukum, just south of the intersection of Mt. Aukum and Omo Ranch roads and is owned by Nikki D’Agostini, whose family has lived in the Mt. Aukum area for generations.

D’Agostini is a delightful young lady with a lifetime of experience in the baking business, a genuine and wonderful smile and, as you will notice when you see her, piercingly beautiful blue eyes. When I arrived I spotted her getting ready to deliver a couple of wedding cakes she had made and, unfortunately, only had a couple of minutes to spend with me.

She opened this bakery and restaurant in April of 2007 and has been serving breakfast and lunch, Wednesday through Sunday ever since to local residents, owners and employees of the many local wineries and visitors to the area.

As you walk into the restaurant the first thing that you notice is that the place is spotlessly clean. “We are clean freaks,” said D’Agostini, “so the place is always this way.” Then something else catches you, the delicious aroma from the freshly baked goods in the display case: huge cinnamon rolls (everyone’s favorite), cookies and muffins, among other delights. And in the refrigerated case, savory breakfast croissants, lemon squares, tarts, cheesecakes, cakes and more, including a wonderful looking chocolate Kahlua Frangilica cake, which she said was the local favorite. And, if that isn’t enough, her speciality is wedding, birthday and special event cakes, custom-made for you.

As I did last time I asked D’Agostini what was her number one breakfast dish. First she said, “Eggs Benedict,” pausing a minute and then adding, “and also the country fried steak, with homemade gravy, eggs and potatoes.” For lunch, the burgers and paninis seemed to top the list, especially the house burger, which is a grilled chuck Angus burger topped with melted bleu cheese on a toasted bun with garlic ailoi.

Looking over her large menu I noticed that she has vegetarian dishes at both breakfast and lunch, which she told me are quite popular. And, since they are a family restaurant, they also have a variety of kid’s dishes on the menu.

She is very particular about the restaurant and the food and makes sure that her restaurant has good, consistent food and is a place she would eat. Everything is fresh and she even picks up the vegetables herself. And don’t forget, she serves old-fashioned milkshakes, floats, sodas, coffee and coffee drinks, along with great local wines and beer to accompany the meal.

D’Agostini’s Delights is open Wednesday through Friday from 7 a.m. until 2 p.m. and on Saturday and Sunday from 7 a.m. until 3 p.m. Breakfast is served until 11 a.m. and noon on Sunday. You can even call ahead to order food, pastries and cakes to go, and, don’t forget about her custom-made wedding and other special event cakes. For more information call 530-620-0777 or visit

The Apple Hill Growers – Camino

“Never work before breakfast; if you have to work before breakfast, eat your breakfast first.” 

— Josh Billings


It ain’t just apples folks

Last week I joined a small group for a short tour of the Camino and Pollock Pines areas. It was sponsored by the Apple Hill Grower’s Association and we spent almost four hours visiting a half-dozen different kitchens, bakeries, orchards, tree farms, vineyards, wineries and breweries, before returning to the starting place and being treated to a fantastic lunch at Larsen’s Apple Barn (the food was delicious and the desserts were heavenly — yes, they sell them in the bake shop).

The first stop was at Harris Tree Farm, on Blair Road in Pollock Pines. Sure, they sell Christmas trees, but they also raise fruit and vegetables that are sold there and at various farmers markets. They also have a pumpkin patch and a bake shop. The Harris family has owned that land for over 150 years. The farm is open daily, June through December. For more information call 530-644-2194.

Next we toured the Fudge Factory Farm, which is on High Hill Road. Not only do the candy chefs make fudge and a lot of other candies, they use the fruit they grow in a lot of the candy and also sell the fruit fresh. There is also a bake shop and Christmas tree farm. The farm is open daily, Labor day through mid-December. For more information call 530-644-3492.

A little further down the same road was Cardanini’s Pumpkin Patch. The Cardaninis have acres of various kinds of pumpkins planted, including both those for carving and eating. There is also Indian corn for decorating. The farm is open the month of October for pick-your-own pumpkins, a real treat for the whole family. For more information call 530-644-2140.

At the end of that road is Madroña Vineyards. One of the older family owned wineries in the county, it is known for the many varietals of medal winning wines from the estate grown grapes. We tasted several outstanding wines and learned about the winery. It is open daily all year. For more information call 530-644-5948.

Next we stopped at Able’s Apple Acres, which is at the corner of Carson and Hassler roads. The donuts and apple fritters, along with the many kinds of apple pies, are famous, and the kitchen crew bakes a lot more things. It was packed with people, but we still received a great tour of the kitchen, and even an apple pie to take home. It is open daily, Labor Day through Christmas Eve. For more information call 530-626-0138.

Heading north on Hassler to Fruitridge Road, we visited Lava Cap Winery, another of the county’s older family owned wineries that makes outstanding wines. We were short of time, so we didn’t tour the winery, but we did get a taste of some really great wines. It is open daily. For more information call 530-621-0175.

The final stop was Jack Russell Farm Brewery on Larsen Drive. Not only does the brewery make a number of outstanding brews, recently the owners have started making mead (honey wine) and other wines. Check out the new wine and mead tasting room around back. It is open daily. For more information call 530-647-9420.

From there is was just a short drive back to Larsen Apple Barn for lunch, which I mentioned before, was wonderful. All of the wineries, and the brewery, sent goodies for us to have with our meal.

Larsen Apple Barn is located a the corner of Larsen Drive and North Canyon Road and not only sells apples and other fruit, but has a wonderful bake shop and museum. It is open Labor Day to mid-December, closed on Saturday. For more information call 530-644-8166.

Take a trip to Apple Hill, preferably during the week when the crowds are smaller, and enjoy fresh fruit, baked goods, wines, beers and fun. The outing is great for kids. There are over 50 growers and producers that are members of the Apple Hill Association. For a map or more information, visit any of the places with the “Apple Hill Grower” sign, visit or call 530-644-7692.

Shuttle service from two locations will be available the first four weekends of October.