A local cookbook to meditate upon, change in Carmel and the anti-funnel cake.

Open Book: Tassajara - Dinners and Desserts offers a peek at both the food and culture that defines a singular place.

Tassajara Zen Mountain Center practitioners and chefs Dale and Melissa Kent have moved to garden and cook in the shadows of the Sierras, but not without leaving us a thick reminder that “preparing food can be a spiritual practice” with the recently released Tassajara: Dinners and Desserts.

The tome trains its gaze both on tasty monastic meals – like dragon’s head tofu and sweet tapioca soup with honeydew – and the importance of how they are prepared. Its 224 pages collect fresh recipes and telling anecdotes from more than 20 cooks (including guest chefs like Deborah Madison, Ed Brown and Annie Somerville) and images from Monterey-based photog Pat Tregenza that summon stomach growls.

The recipes are vegan, vegetarian and versatile, from starters to salads to sides to whole chapters on beans and legumes, tofu, grains and pastas, and 30 pages on dinner dishes. Just a wink of the eye-catchers includes macca truffles, mint-cilantro udon and Annie’s frittata with carmelized onions, goat cheese and sage. Solid staples range from naan, saffron rice and pad thai to vegetable stock, pickled ginger and fresh pasta.

Reflections you might expect to emerge from a Zen existence in one of the county’s most peaceful corners provide welcome seasoning, like the quote that welcomes in the reader: “In your very own kitchen there is a refuge – / to work as a cook – / like an artist, like a priest./ Sacred space is but one breath away./ Offer yourself up to it.”

The book ($30) is available at major book retailers or by calling 1-800-835-4993; access to the TZC and its soothing springs, meanwhile, is free for locals Monday through Thursday until Sept. 12 (and they’re serving delicious lunches). Grab an ID with a local address and get directions by clicking on “Getting Here” at www.sfzc.org/tassajara.

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Monterey County Vintners and Growers Association and the winemasters of our local area did it again last weekend, putting together a memorable festival with Saturday’s Winemaker’s Celebration. Among the dozens of grape acts, including a surprising number of newcomers, there were some discoveries. Pierce Ranch revealed some rare varietals for around here: the Albariño was great for an August afternoon (as was the Graff 2007 Viognier), and their Cosecheiro was spicy, rich and dark. The Line Shack label by Balentine Family Vineyards poured another uncommon grape, a Roussane, as did Pelerin, and both carried a nice broad complexity. As befits our climate, a passel of good Pinots were present: Paraiso, Manzoni, Figge and Pelerin’s Rosella Vineyard all impressed. Next up for MCVG: The Great Wine Escape Weekend Nov. 13-15, www.montereywines.org.

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The Weekly’s Paul Wetterau reports an institution is changing hands in Carmel: Former owners Nancy and Merv Sutton sold Nielsen Bros. Market, which was first opened in 1930, to Azniv and Tigran Amirkhanian earlier this month. The new Nielsen’s proprietors want to keep the outpost and reputation – forged on customer service (the picnic basket-to-go delivered to hotel doorstep is a nice touch) and a standout wine selection – intact.

“You never want to make something that is already working go bad,” Tigran told Wetterau.

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Not that they don’t want to add some elements. “Hopefully we can make room for two new tables – people can have coffee and a croissant,” Tigran continued. “We would like some more Mediterranean wine and food too.

“Even the best businesses have room for improvement.”

Patrick Schrady, who’s run the store’s wine for the past 15 years, will remain. According to one insider, the Amirkhanians say staff will be “99 percent absorbent.”

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That Bernardus Lodge has become such a fixture on Carmel Valley Road in just 10 years testifies to how mindfully Ben Pon and company have approached their mission. It also offers a good reason for a garden party. Sunday, Aug. 23, it’s a boutique luxury resort birthday party: Live music, bocce, newly released wines, signature cocktails and the master crafts of the guy they call Cal. The $20 benefits the Carmel Valley Village Improvement Committee, 658-3400… Stopped by the new Blue Fin (717-4280) the other day. New owner Tyke Marasigan’s got a great staff, the third-story balcony still enjoys some of the best views of the Row and the water (without the $400 hotel room tab) and the happy hour deals on billiards and beer are strong. The new stage area, meanwhile, was a nice surprise, in the back by the balcony where it can enjoy its own space.

That bodes well for shows like Aug. 23’s with the smokin’, L.A.-based, French Cafe-gypsy jazz, singer/accordionist Jessica Fichot… Among the tempting reasons to get in on the Monterey County Fair fun – besides the jumping/splashing dog meet and the diverse contest entries (the woodworking and cake-making is cool, but don’t miss the bizarre hobbies entrants submit in the “collections” category) – are some potable and edible incentives. Thursday, Aug. 13, Rosine’s is serving some of their fine cakes at an 11:30am flag raising, then a “Taste of the Vine” wine mixer runs 5:30-7:30pm at the Turf Club for $10-$20; 4-6pm Sunday, Aug. 16, there’s a free Tequila Correlejo tasting; and every night Flaherty’s is serving free chowder samples 6-7pm. That’s better than fair fare.

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