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Tomato Season

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The less cooking you do in summer, the better, especially true when it comes to tomatoes, summer's sexpot that swings both ways - as fruit or vegetable. Sweet, with subtle acidity, unless you are going for sauce the trick is not to overcook them. The less you fuss with them the better, and while bruschetta and a perfect caprese are rites of passage in summer, it's great to stretch for new combinations. 

"Look at this,” Ryan said as he sliced through the translucent skin of a huge heirloom Amana. The flesh of the yellow tomato glistened like it was oozing sunlight. He was cutting beautiful Kinsella Vineyard heirlooms for a quick salad, fanning them across the platter before reaching for a container of tiny jewel colored flowers from Early Birds Place - borage, Johnny jump-ups, bachelor buttons and marigolds. The shot had almost too much color in the frame - do I sound like I am complaining? I am not. It was a marriage made in heaven. We did not even dress the salad. It was that good.

Early and Myrna try and grow the flowers separately, important as we’ve found when grown as a ‘mix’  individual flavors tend to bland out. Edible flowers have a surprising diversity; there was a gentle bite to these, which played off the sweetness of the tomatoes, heightening the flavor of both ingredients. 

 

 For a tomato dish with a little heat,  I shot the heirloom tomato soup that’s currently on the menu - which Ryan plated with a single, perfect lobster filled ravioli. 

Pancho is our consummate ravioli guy whether the filling is a single egg yolk, lobster or spicy Preston lamb. He's just got the touch. His beautiful brown hands fly over the table as he rolls, stretches, and cuts, making each little bundle seal perfectly with the thinest carapace of pasta dough.

 

Our heirloom tomato soup has hints of garlic and sherry vinegar, nothing to mask the full bodied flavor of this incredible summer 'fruit.' Concentric circles of EVO and chive sour cream and that lobster ravioli with a few shavings of pecorino finish the dish.

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God I love summer.

barndiva reading of the week

seaweed farmer speaks out 

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Summer Cocktails

 The past few weeks the back bar has been overflowing with peaches, plums, apricots, watermelon, and juicy berries, all crying out to be macerated, puréed, sliced, muddled, or left to gently infuse in spirits. The gardens too are in resurgence with herbs and edible flowers Daniel planted in Spring – golden fennel, pineapple sage, Thai basil, bright blue bachelor buttons, society garlic, nasturtium, variegated mint, borage, lemon balm, and gorgeous bi-colored Britton shiso. There are six varieties of thyme in Barndiva’s stone wall, Polish wash tubs in both gardens are filled with Johnny jump-ups and delicately edged purple and white pansies ~ all in all, an embarrassment of riches. Luckily, we don’t get embarrassed all that easily. Happily, Summer Cocktails are all about bringing the orchard and garden right into your glass.

The Mystery Tattoo Club has at its glowing center of golden rum aged 3 years in American oak blended with agricole, rum made from fresh sugar cane juice. Rachel has paired the rum with California blueberries made into a light champagne vinegar shrub. It’s a gorgeous steely blue I’ve come to think of as tattoo blue, which inspired the name (it’s also a real club in Paris). Other elements are the herbal notes from garden verbena she’s steeped into a light syrup tea, and fresh lime juice, which sharpens the overall flavor profile bringing a bright but fleeting citrus nose to the drink. It remains to be seen whether The Mystery Tattoo Club will unseat Barndiva’s most popular rum drink with longtime customers, On The Beach With Fidel, but I wouldn’t be surprised at anything Ray’s set her mind on. You be the judge. Come in and we’ll do a throw down between the two.

Scorched Earth has burnt orange tequila and an intriguing gingered plum purée ~ think smoky booze with a hint of chutney spice, which Ray calls a peek of Asia in the finish. I’m not a lover of tequila cocktails that are overly complicated but this combination had me at hello. There is Canton and local verjus in it, and the Santa Rosa plums (for the next few weeks at any rate) are from our farm.Scorched Earth comes with its own cooling topper, a salty foam that makes for some tasty lip action. It won’t solve the drought but may well help sort out any other problems you’re having on the night.

Lift, Flirt, & Slide are a series of “spirit elixirs” we add to a few times a year. The idea behind the series follows the belief that customers are in a specific frame of mind when they sit down to drink. Each drink in the series is crafted to meet “the mood”; all are finished with an organic herbal elixir. We make no claims the drinks are at all medicinal, though tinctures like these have been used for centuries in homeopathy.

Lift 4 is lemon peel vodka, fresh cucumber water, and a fennel shrub with a half dropper’s worth of dandelion root (taraxacum officinale). It’s light and refreshing, just what you need after a long day you just want to put behind you.

Flirt 2 is the drink you want when the day is already behind you, and it’s the night ahead you want to concentrate on. It’s got Pisco, watermelon juice and an incredible house-made Serrano tincture. It’s finished with a juz of elderflower liqueur with the addition of Damiana (Turnera aphrodisiaca) which elevates the cocktail to our elixir list.

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The new cocktail collection comes with an invitation. We don’t just want to bring the gardens into your glass this summer, we’d like to bring you out into the gardens to enjoy our fabulous new cocktails. Towards this end we’ve created a cool new spot beneath the arches where you can enjoy our artisan cocktails (or any of the classics). Come a bit early for your reservation or hey,  just stop by for a drink before you poodle off home to cook something out of your own garden. It’s all good. What am I saying? It’s all great.

Enjoy!

 

Click here to view our new cocktail list!

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Tête a Cochon

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Just as the term ‘farm to table’ should imply a direct connection to an actual place where things are grown, ‘nose to tail’ carries with it a literal meaning: start with a whole animal and render as many parts of it delicious as talent and time allow.

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There are great reasons to cook and eat this way. Starting with the extremities and moving through a properly raised animal you have brain, heart, liver, tongue, kidneys, sweedbreads, caul fat ~ all nutritious with incredible potential for tasting delicious. Our ancestors in the food chain saw using every part of the animals they killed as a way to honor the exchange of life for sustenance and warmth. They were also hedging their bets, never sure where or when they'd find their next 'free range' protein rich meal.

Which, sadly, isn’t that far off from where we find ourselves today. Grazing land is a rapidly diminishing resource in the world, while the skills needed to raise and humanely dispatch healthy animals “the old fashioned way,” because of our tragic reliance on CAFO's, has become a lost way of life. For those of us who still have access to pasture raised animals, cooking nose to tail honors every step of the journey that goes from animal, to farmer, to chef, to eater. It encourages us, in the most wonderful way possible, to use as many parts of these precious animals as we can.

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But nobody said it was pretty.  In a society that gorges on all manner of evisceration day after day, night after night, on screens big and small, we are still, by and large, squeamish as a nation when looking into the animals we eat. Food blogs are inordinately obsessed with staging only the most beautiful pictures ~ which fun as they are to look at ~  tell an incomplete story. Whatever the disconnect (perhaps fascination with fictional gore allows a certain distance to real death) it's important to post images now and again that honestly document what it looks like to cook the way we do. We do not wish to offend. But for those of us still eating and loving animal proteins raised sustainably, getting as close as we can to the history, the science, and yes, the mystery of why we love eating them is part of the story of our lives.

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Mimi and Peter Buckley get this. Their two much admired food production enterprises in Sonoma and Mendocino are deeply respectful of land, animals and people. Front Porch Farm, here in Healdsburg, produces organic fruits and vegetables and Mimi’s great love ~ flowers. Up Hwy 128 in the heart of Yorkville, where they have been renovating the old Johnson spread, Peter and a talented young crew are raising heirloom Cinta pigs.Cintas are classic salumi pigs, usually weighing in at well over 300 lbs at slaughter. But when Ryan heard about Acorn Ranch he began to dream much smaller, about the size of the milk fed pigs he loved to cook at The French Laundry. He wondered aloud if the Buckleys were open to producing something special for us. They were. And so we received two 30 lb pigs a few weeks ago, beautiful animals he set about cooking "through" before inviting Peter, Mimi and their ranch and garden managers to dinner.

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Several skill sets are needed for nose to tail cooking, but they all start with great butchery ~ the cleaner and closer the cut, the more protein per lb. Each part of an animal is then prepped and cooked using often laborious techniques where the main objective is teasing flavor out of each cut with an understanding of texture and how each cut will react to heat. It takes optimizing the characteristics of each region of the animal, understanding the way grain runs in sub-primal cuts, fat to muscle ratio, which bones to roast, which to braise. Nose to tail is not a proprietary culture but one about taking nourishing culinary traditions and playing them forward. The techniques Chef relies upon, ones he learned working alongside Richard Reddington and Thomas Keller, key off preparations handed down the centuries from country kitchens where the main objective was to marginalize waste. Chefs of this caliber, while pulling on those traditions, have taken nose to tail taken to a whole new level.

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Tête a cochon is a good case in point. It is all about using up the least lovely, hard to get to bits in the head. As Drew broke down the whole animal and went about portioning it, Chef wrapped the head in cheesecloth and slowly braised it in a stock with leeks, apples, white wine, garlic & herbs. He then peeled everything off the bones, discarding the fat and gristle, mixing the soft bits of meat with the thinly sliced tongue and ears. This mixture was then seasoned and tightly wrapped in plastic wrap into a roulade, which he put into an ice bath to start the consolidation of protein and fats, then left to rest overnight in the walk-in. (Another route would have been to pack the softly rendered collection of head meats into a terrine mold and serve them cold.)

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As the orders came in the roulade was cut into 1 1/2”discs, brushed with Dijon, dusted with Panko and spices, and sautéed in a bit of butter, garlic and thyme until crisp. Tête is often served with gribiche but Ryan finished this first course dish simply, with a sprinkling of chives and a crispy trail of sublime Acorn Ranch bacon. For a special entrée tasting he did the same night, (our first image, above) he served the chop, belly and shoulder, with a summer spin-off of bacon, blistered tomato and avocado, a brighty acidic, fresh olive tapenade on the side. The shoulder in this dish was one of the best I've ever had, bathed in an sauce he'd made by heating the bone jus with a touch of butter, letting it reduce slowly in the pan while basting to form a beautiful silky glaze.

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There is no taking away the initial visceral intensity of watching a dish like this prepared from scratch. But beyond the fact that the tradition of nose to tail produces food which is incredibly nuanced and nutritious, we consider ourselves lucky, if not blessed, to be able to cook this way for you.

Follow Us in 2014!

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All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Wyeth Acres Vanilla Bean Goat Milk Ice Cream w/ Barndiva Farm Cherries & Honey Almond Pralines

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 Chef and I have been reading Cooked in tandem for the past few weeks, amazed and grateful that opportunities keep cropping up to take what we love about Michael Pollen's new book directly onto Barndiva’s menu. Case in point: a few weeks back, after salivating over his description of slow roasted pork (“an irreducible packet of salt, fat and wood smoke… with the occasional mahogany shard of crackling”), I was contemplating an acre of scrub Oak and Madrone we’d just cleared from the upper ridge when David Pronsalino, our forester at the farm for the past 35 years quipped, “You could chip it all ...or you could have a lifetime of wood fired BBQ.” The following Wednesday, at lunch with Mimi and Peter Buckley at their beautiful Front Porch Farm, we got to talking about Peter’s passion project in Yorkville where he is breeding pure bred Italian Cinta Senese ~ the ultimate salumi pig. Which, as it turns out, is also delicious slow roasted. Over wood. Bingo.

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In the last section of Cooked, on fermentation, Pollen makes the point that in our 20th century haste to eradicate all bacteria from our food, American producers missed the fact (by accident or design) that, er, actually not all bacteria are bad. Many in fact, like those found in raw and fermented products are very, very good, especially when it comes to bolstering our increasingly beleaguered immune systems. Chef was ahead of me on this one. When the engaging Hannah Paquette from Wyeth Acres showed up at our kitchen door with fresh goat milk he wasted no time asking Octavio to produce a batch of ice cream with it. Diners have been loving it and after one bite I could see why ~ the taste is fresh and clean with the slightest hint of a welcome acidity, like alpine snow that still carries the herbal memory of Spring.

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I like goats because they are so light on the land, the meat is lean, the milk nutrient dense, packed with calcium and minerals ~ especially the important antioxidant selenium. What I didn't know before I met Hannah was that absent the protein aggllutinin, the fat globules in goat's milk do not cluster together like cow's milk which makes it easier for the body to digest ~ better tolerated by folks with lactose sensitivity. Goat’s milk is rich in oligosaccharides (in an amount similar to human milk) which acts as a prebiotic in helping maintain the health of the digestive tract by encouraging the growth of valuable gut bacteria.

One of the things I love most about Healdsburg is that you can drive a few blocks from downtown and find an enterprise like Wyeth Acres where they produce goats milk and sell eggs. Lots of them. And that’s not all they do ~ Rian Rinn and Jenine Alexander, Wyeth Acres owners, just opened the Sonoma Meat Company in Santa Rosa, where the enterprising Hannah also works in addition to her feeding, milking, egg polishing and bottle washing duties at Wyeth Acres. CSA's get most of the milk, but Wyeth Acres eggs and Sonoma Meat Company bacon and sausages can be found at the Healdsburg Farmers Market every Saturday.

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I had a great time with Hannah ~ though I bombed at milking. I’m not at all squeamish but for the life of me I couldn’t get the right hold on that docile animal's teat and get more than a few squirts out of it. Hannah, on the other hand, is a natural. She has an ease around the animals at Wyeth Acres (besides the pure bred Toggenburg and Saanen and American Lamancha mixed breed goats there are dozens of chicks and hens, a sheep and a few mismatched dogs) that you’d guess came from years of working on a farm. Not so. She fell into goatlove when she and her sweetheart were asked to babysit for Rian and Jenine one winter while they traveled. Her previous experience with goats had come from run-ins with Billy goats, by nature irascible and menacing to whatever strikes their fancy. Working with the females she found a simpatico nature, a lean supple beauty in the way they looked and moved, a subtle intelligence that gave up a perfect product through a delivery system that was almost as easy to access (except for me apparently) as turning on a tap. Hannah, the epitome of girl power in a rapidly changing world starving for relevance, knew she’d found kindred spirits.

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The goats jump up and down from the milking platform with alacrity, munching from a bucket of oats and molasses while being milked (their main diet is alfalfa). Two goats fill a bucket with gorgeous white foaming milk, which Hannah filters through stainless steel, then pours into sparkling clean glass bottles. The milk we use to make our ice cream is but a few hours old. Take it from a city born girl who has walked a bumpy road toward understanding what a healthy relationship to land and animal should look and taste like: this is as good as it gets.

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We are serving Wyeth Acres Vanilla Bean Goat Milk Ice Cream with Barndiva Farm cherries and delicate honey almond pralines this week ~ and while we’ll swap the fruit in the coming month as summer comes into its own, we’ll try to keep it on the menu as long as Hannah and the goats oblige.  Enjoy.

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LEARN MORE: The life changing book Nourishing Traditions should have a place on your book shelf ~ what I didn't know until Hannah told me was that its author, Sally Fallon Morell, is also the driving force behind A Campaign for Real Milk. The indefatigable Morell has some profoundly important things to say about food (this campaign is about more than milk) that you owe to your yourself (especially if you have young children) to hear. A Campaign for Real Milk and videos of Morell can be found online.  Closer to home, Shed in Healdsburg is a great proponent of delicious ways to incorporate raw and fermented things into a probiotic lifestyle ~ with delicious kombuchas and shrubs they serve by the glass, fermenting kits and the occasional class upstairs.

links to: Wyeth AcresSonoma Meat CompanyReal MilkFront Porch Farm Shed

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Seared Halibut with Citrus and Olives

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Chef and I talk a lot about how to indulge our shared passion for clean, beautifully composed dishes with dinerswhose main wish is just to see an abundance when their plate arrives at the table. Common sense would tell you the best time to judge how satiated you’ve been by a meal is after you’ve consumed it, but too much white on a plate scares people. They jump to the conclusion they are in for a show and tell, one that’s going to be more about the chef's ego than what they came in hankering for, which most of the time they have a pretty good handle on.

Or do they? No one leaves hungry after a meal at Barndiva, but neither do we throw away food at the end of a night, which I’m proud of. But that begs the question of where one draws the line between food that fills you up and food that fills you out ~ stimulating all five senses, capable of connecting you to a time and place that memory might tag indelible.

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It's long been thought that for most of human history we ate simply to survive, but as Michael Pollen's wonderful new book “Cooked” explores in depth, there’s a lot more to why we came to crave certain tastes in food, and avoid others. For thousands of years, most of the early signs which informed us of what might taste good as opposed to what might kill us were visual, which got me wondering what replaced those signifiers once we started growing and cooking food as opposed to just foraging for it. We know that aroma triggers hunger, while ten thousand taste buds wait to inform your brain whether the commingling of sweet salty sour bitter and umami in the food you ingest is delicious or not. But to what extent does visual appeal ~ the color, form, and texture of food ~ affect imagination and memory?

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Last week Spring produce was still bountiful in the kitchen when a bright sharp heat wave took us all by surprise. Spring was not yet behind us but Summer had suddenly arrived, demanding a place on the menu. As I set up the camera to shoot Dish of the Week the question of how food tells a purely visual story was still very much on my mind. Chef seared off a glistening filet of Alaskan Halibut, then started plating by added caper berries bathed in a sea salty brine with sliced rings and whole Calabria chilies which he'd made earlier into a quick pickle with a little sugar and Bates and Schmitt Apple Cider Vinegar. Next he reached for an avocado, paring creamy pale green cubes which played off the color and promised taste of the cool bitter citrus of the kumquats. The plate was now beautiful, but stagnant. Fresh olive tapenade, dots of saffron aioli, tiny deep green pools of watercress purée and a few strategically placed leaves of microgreens took less than a minute to add, but made all the difference, setting the ingredients in motion as if they were about to dance off the plate. Looking back now at what I shot that morning I realize how visually, before we'd even taken a bite, Chef had plated a dish that was a perfect snapshot of that vibrant Spring meets Summer moment.

Ryan's laconic comment: “citrus and olives like each other.” But he had a wicked glint in his eye. And so the education continues.

Mother's Day 2014

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Last Sunday at the Barn it was all about Mothers and Grandmothers, with some lucky Dads and Granddads along for the ride. Families with young children filled the dining rooms and gardens for a knock out brunch followed by kids buying mom a cocktail and dinner. The energy all day and into the evening was incredible ~ here are just a few wonderful moments captured by our intrepid Dawid Jaworski. To all those families who have made Mother’s Day at Barndiva a yearly tradition, we thank you for the gift of watching your families grow.

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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Spring Lamb with Stinging Nettle Foam

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We get a lamb a week from the Preston's, lovingly grazed on their biodynamic farm, and while I’ve seen the hours that go into breaking down the animals and prepping an incredible range of veg (much of it from Preston Farm and Vineyard as well) all chef will say about the beautiful spring entrée we shot last week is:

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We had assembled some amazing ingredients.  We did not mess with them too much.   We let them fall naturally on the plate.

The most elegant preparation of the whole animal is the chop and saddle, grilled like this was, to perfection. But when Ryan says the ingredients ‘fell’ naturally on the plate, don’t believe him. His mastery of all the colors in his culinary paint box only make it look easy. I ate the dish with my fingers, the better to enjoy every morsel, though a spoon was in order for the stinging nettle foam. The color reminded me of what my mom used to call new spring grass ~ a singing green. It's everywhere you look right now.

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Later that night Chef sent me this:

Here are some other gifts the lamb gives us. Braised shanks Crispy meat balls Rillettes Fresh ground burgers (with feta & olive) Rosemary roasted & sliced leg of lamb Braised tail salad (with frisée) Little tiny tenderloins (wrapped in chard or green garlic) A wonderful rich natural jus Sautéed liver (and onions)

A man of few words our chef. But when it comes to food, they seem to be always the right ones.

Enjoy the rest of Spring.

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A Special Sunday

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All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Notes from the Ridge

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The New Bar Menu!

THE BARNDIVA BAR MENU

DUNGENESS CRAB SALAD avocado, mandarin, pickled chili 20

 ALL KALE CAESAR pickled pearl onion, tapenade crostini, boquerones 12

 Yellowfin Tuna SASHIMI sticky rice, avocado, pickled chili, ponzu 18

 Crispy PORK BELLY asparagus tempura, organic hen egg, gribiche 16

 ‘FRIED CHICKEN” crispy chicken leg confit, shaved endive & apple slaw

caper berries, calabrian chilis 12

 HALIBUT CHEEKS mussels, fava beans, chorizo, potato, saffron tomato broth 28

 FILET MIGNON potato purée, asparagus, caramelized onion jam

bone marrow “tater tot” 38

 BD FRITES crisp kennebec potatoes, spicy ketchup 12

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES wildflower honey, lavender 12

Putting a new kitchen in Studio Barndiva means we never have to close the restaurant again when we host a wedding or private party ~ a long time coming. It also means the new kitchen affords us the space and extra hands on deck to offer new menus and hours of service. I love this bar menu because it has something for everyone. Some of the dishes are favorites pulled from the lunch and dinner menus; others, like Ryan's fabulous new fried chicken over spring slaw, are built for speed and lighter dining (by lighter in this case we mean incredible crust, but no gluten). Over the years we've had to say no to so many guests who dropped in for a late lunch or early dinner. No more!

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All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Play the Cat ~ Spring Cocktails are here!!

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Ray gets these giant bursts of creativity that always follow the same trajectory ~ she comes in mumbling for a few days, then goes into a flurry of chopping, infusing and cooking up a storm. Pacing behind the bar mid-service comes next, as she second guesses every step in every drink she's considering. All this is AFTER she’s researched and ordered a bunch of stuff she can’t source from any of Ryan’s farmers or purveyors. By the time she presents the list to me with ‘certain’ members of staff hovering nearby (they shall remain nameless but you know who you are, Cathryn) we’re all as excited as kids the day before a trip to the fair. Kids who drink.

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I’m not sure when the tradition of presenting the new season of cocktails all at once started, but I don’t remember it taking on the formality it has before Ray. It usually takes a few days after the initial tasting to finesse the ingredients, which gives me time to come up with the names, but this week she had me scrambling because the first four were absolutely smashing, ready to go public. Lift #4 takes the current interest in vinegared digestifs to another level with a fennel shrub, cucumber water and verjus around a base of house infused lemon peel vodka. Play the Cat (think Lawrence of Arabia by way of Montaigne), starts out a classic gin with Pimm's Cup, but a lashing of mint syrup and a bright three citrus juice brings it decidedly fruit forward. Casa de Gumby is rosemary infused tequila, shaken with a creamy rice water with cinnamon notes reminiscent of Horchata, but light on the palate, until the peppered syrup hits you. The Neverending Now is strawberry infused vodka with rose water honey, orange bitters, Navarro Gewürztraminer grape juice and a flash of champagne at the finish.

Lift #4

By this weekend Ray, George and Sara, our most excellent bar team, should have the entire 2014 Spring Cocktail Collection ready for you to taste. If you are off spirits but still hanker for a little cocktail time, Ray has also concocted three great NA (non-alcoholic) cocktails for Spring to add to our Lift, Flirt and Slide series. Rum and bourbon cocktails will be added in the next few days. If you want the story behind the names of our cocktails you need to come in.

I’ve worked with a good number of gifted mixologists over the years, but Ray has been the sleeper. She doesn’t play the mad scientist, hang with the boys or throw down in bleary cocktail contests. Self taught, she’s grown into her talent, growing stronger with every season. The full range of house bitters she made last year were a testament to how seriously she takes the art and the science in this profession. What I love best is that for all the time she puts into crafting, she gets that cocktails are fun. They set the mood, but the best of them linger. These do. But don't just take my word for it.

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Rhubarb is Back

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The botanical description of Rhubarb is a rhizomes with long fleshy petioles, but celery dressed for a night on the town is a more apt description of the plant, which Europeans consider a vegetable but we Americans call a fruit. With its large green leaves and florescent fuchsia stalks, it's tart and slightly bitter if not cooked with something sweet. A vegetable cross-dresser then, that makes a colorful appearance just when you’re sick to death of winter’s gray palette. The plant is ancient ~ used by the Chinese as a laxative before it traveled along the silk route and ingratiated itself into the cuisines of the Middle East and European. Chef pickles and ferments it, serving it in ways you'd never expect, but he admits most of us come by our fond memories of rhubarb (often mixed with strawberries) baked into pies, cakes and cobblers.

At the French Laundry he remembers an Austrian chef who would prop the oven door open with a spoon so he could slowly cook the rhubarb at the lowest possible temp, the best way to sweat the water out and soften the fibrous stalks. This week Octavio poached it in grenadine with a touch of Grand Marnier, then dropped the slivers to sink luxuriously into a baked frangipani tart. The Hazelnut flour brought out a nutty richness.

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Join Us for Easter Brunch

Easter Menu

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Hot Off The Press

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Smithsonian

This is one of two gorgeous photographs Erin Kunkel shot at Barndiva

for the April edition of Smithsonian Magazine's much anticipated

Ten Best Small Towns to visit in America

.  Healdsburg is #2 on the list, noted for "Food and Living."  The writer nominates Wendell Berry as Healdsburg's patron saint, which gets my vote, but it took me a moment to get my head around us being "farm-to-table via nirvana, a sophisticated culture of nourriture that would have astonished 19th-century food philosopher Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin." The image of Savarin trumbling down Center Street brought a chuckle, but I had to look up nourriture. Turns out it's not far off what we've been saying all along:

mange le terrior

!  Check out the entire article here:

20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2014

First Weeks of Spring

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Poets wax romantic about Spring, but I love Margaret Atwood’s line best: ” in the spring, at the end of the day, you should smell like dirt.”

There’s no substitute for digging in it, but even if you aren’t so inclined, just get out there and wander. The smell of Spring will seep into your soul. For weeks now at the farm (and all around town) trees and vines and even the most ordinary curbside plants have been bursting into leaf and flower. It's Nature just doing it's thing, but to the human heart this has got to be as close as we get to Irrepressible Joy.

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All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Barndiva Down Under

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The night before we leave Australia I get jammed up in a dream. I’m in a small plane flying low to the water, face pressed against a small oval window. All I can see are receding tracks of sunlight lit like diamonds in our wake, as if they are being dropped from the hold. The plane isn’t one we’ve taken on the trip that’s just about to end, though it’s similar to the prop we flew from Auckland to Napier which landed on tarmac edged with wild grass just after dawn, breaking through warm summer rain clouds to reveal a landscape that was achingly beautiful, primeval. My dream plane doesn’t touch down and there is no land is sight. I wake up in a dark hotel room in Sydney trying to make sense of a journey that I realize has already begun its inexorable fade into anecdote and history.

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Travel is heightened life, a high without drugs (though in our case fueled with a more than sufficient amount of alcohol). The three of us travel much as we live ~ Lukka in command of all the boats, planes and automobiles, me booking the views and cherry picking the restaurants, Daniel plunging off the road to forage plants and flowers, name birds. Except for Singapore (a conundrum of a city) everything we chanced upon in Fremantle, Margaret River, Rottnest Island, Hawkes Bay, Waiheke Island and finally Sydney ~ the people, the landscape, even the notoriously fickle weather ~ opened its arms to us.

island

As it turned out, because we were chasing summer, we ended up in regions built around food, wine and farming, some caught up in a busy wedding season, all hammered by tourists. Without consciously planning it we’d traveled around the world to drop into communities much like our own. Except they weren’t. While we could discerningly judge the varietals, deconstruct the meals, wheedle our way into kitchens by proffering a parallel connection to craft, we were strangers in a strange land.

There are over 700 varieties of Eucalyptus in Australia, wherever we traveled the air seemed scented with them. "Exotic" flowers like protea, melaleuca, grevillea grow wild, gorgeously colored parrots don't just congregate in the forests but come out at dusk in ordinary neighborhoods, filling the trees.  Stories of shark attacks, while only rarely true, keep the white sand beaches crowded but the sparkling sapphire sea relatively empty of swimmers. Nothing stops surfers. Nothing to stop you, if you decide to just throw caution to the wind, a big beautiful ocean awaits. Kangaroos are curious but shy; snakes, a constant worry, are almost always venomous. The answer we received (more than once) when asked what the protocol was if we got bitten was "just lay back and enjoy your last few minutes." Sage advice? Sarcasm? From the little I gleaned into Aussie nature, a combination of both.

parrots

On the North Island of New Zealand there is less that can kill you and the landscape is even more compelling; an ancient terrain suffused with an indelible English gentility, a new world sense of humor. Here, small telling details resonate. In the Hawkes Bay appellation a curtain wall of closely planted trees and vines become towering roadside hedges. Great dining happens at lunch (as it did in Margaret Riverl)  where you dine only a few feet from what you're drinking (and often, what you're eating). Wine tasting is done before you are seated, so in effect you get to play your own sommelier. Every winery has a billboard at its entry that forces you to ask the question, “who is the skipper?”

In both countries you don’t need to inquire where the lamb or beef or fish comes from. Local sourcing isn’t a sales pitch, it’s a way of life. And remarkably, during our entire stay in rural areas in Australia and New Zealand, not one service professional we came across launched into a rote presentation about the wine or food or ‘their’ way of life. The Aussies are in general a bit more up front, the Kiwis more laid back, but both seem innately comfortable in their bones. It reflects in the conversations you share and ultimately what you take away. It’s hard to stay fresh when you work in hospitality, what is genuine the first dozen times you say it can’t help but get stale. Part of the game we seemed to be playing with all our interactions was shifting that paradigm. It was fun.

weleda steers

A small epiphany came while driving through the countryside in Hawkes Bay. Gorgeous vineyards, many sheathed in pale netting, followed the contours of gently rolling hills, but grapes weren’t the first thing you noticed. Pastured animals, olive groves, apple orchards, vegetable, fruit and flower farms ~ all were as prevalent as vineyards. Make no mistake, these are world famous wine communities justly proud of what they produce. To a great extent wine drives vital parts of the economy, yet it seems to do so without permeating everything else. It struck me that perhaps, in the grand impulse to turn everything good we invent, grow, or stumble upon into a successful business model, Americans lose the plot of why we came to loving or needing a thing in the first place. We lose the balance. If we’ve relearned anything these past few years it’s the reminder that Nature is all about balance, human and otherwise.

moon

This conversation about diversity is an important one for us to be having in Sonoma County right now, especially in Healdsburg as we figure out how to manage our incredible appeal as a travel destination while deftly trying to balance the quality of life issues which made us want to live here in the first place. Investing in a sustainable future that encourages diversity isn’t just a way to celebrate the past, but to take it with us as we invariably change and grow. Talk is good, but let's keep it interesting (and yes, listening is even better.) It’s great to be home.

~~~~~~~~~

best of the best

Fremantle ~ Perth ~ Rottnest Island

rottnest cabin
quokka

In Fremantle we stayed with my great friend (thankfully still crazy after all these years) artist and children's book illustratorFrané Lessac and her husband, the writer, historian and gemologist Mark Greenwood, so we have no hotel recommendations to pass on though I’m sure they abound as it’s a terrific town. Mark spent childhood summers on Rottnest, which is how Frané came to fall in love with it, and boy am I glad we didn’t just go for the day. The island was discovered in the Stone Age by Noongar Aboriginals who named it Wadjemup, "the place across the water.” It had a sad history for centuries, first used by the Dutch as an Aboriginal prison, then a reform school for bad boys, and finally as an internment camp during WW2. But it’s a story with a happy ending after the Australian Government took it over at the turn of the 20th century ~ since then three generations of families have spent summers there. The accommodations are marginally rehabed reform school cabins, but while they are as far from lux as you get, who cares? There are no cars allowed on Rotto, you just tootle around on bikes until you find a small white sand beach to your liking. Surrounded by miles of ocean with only the wind and bird cries to fill your brain, time spent is like taking a Spartan cure. The spell of Wadjemup is especially magical at dusk when the Quokkas come out to play, and late at night when you don’t need a telescope to chart the stars. Cabins are booked first come first served (we lucked out with the lighthouse keepers) but most have functioning kitchens and a place to BBQ. (oh yee- it’s Australia after all.)The Best Meal we had in Fremantle (not counting Chez Lessac-Greenwood) was at Bread in Common. Everything about this laid back kitchen/bakery was wonderful, especially the lamb ribs with chili, mint and black garlic ~ high praise in a country that is rightly known for all things lamb. The Best Meal we ate in Perth was at Print Hall. It's located in the heritage listed Old Newspaper House on St. George Terrace, but the menu is anything but old-fashioned. Under executive chef Shane Watson there is considerable talent in the kitchen here. The Blue Manna crab with curried egg and Avruga caviar was a standout, as was a wood fire grilled Cape Grim beef sirloin with faro, shimeji and smoked onion. Service was Grand Guignol, but the food was remarkable. Definitely worth a visit (which sadly, Nobu was not ~ a soulless meal, served by a joyless staff. Didn’t help that it’s located in a casino). There is a long list of great microbreweries Down Under, but few have the definitive range of Little Creatures where we did a fantastic beer tasting.

beer tasting little creatures

Frané Lessac Rottnest IslandBread in CommonPrint HallLittle Creatures

Margaret River NSW

Great hotels in Margaret River are tres cher (the best are over a grand a night) so we checked out Australia’s answer to Airbnb, called Stayz, and found an amazing property called Ooi House that was everything we wanted and more. Modern in the best sense of the word ~ think IM Pei Glass House meets rammed earth and you’re there. Very cool kitchen, DVD library in a sunken viewing room with a fireplace, three bedrooms, and best of all, deep decks overlooking the property which was only a few minutes walk to the river through eucalyptus woods filled with Galah parrots and a mob of kangaroos (and their joeys!)

vasse felix chocolate red velvet
barrel vasse

Lunches were long affairs, each one phenomenal. Shout out to the folks at Voyager Estate who carried Frané’s books in their shop and were kind enough to share roses from their gardens with Daniel, who did the knock out arrangements for a cocktail party we threw at Ooi to celebrate the publication of Frané and Mark's new children’s book, MidnightVasse Felix ~ the food and the wine ~ was also a standout.

Vasse Felix'  pork shoulder, onion, endive, mustard seed
Voyager Estate's   Donnybrook Angus Rib Eye with braised eschallots, chimichurri, tapenade
Vasse Felix  Mango, coconut ice cream, yuzu, forbidden rice
vineyard

In a serendipitous move I still can’t explain I had rearranged our entire trip around a stay at Black Barn Vineyards; it turned out to be one of the highlights. Black Barn is thoughtful diversification personified. The property grows and produces its own wine, is the location for Hawkes Bay’s seasonal farmer's market, boasts a stunning outdoor amphitheater for live music and film, AND has a stand alone art gallery that specializes in NZ artists. Last, but certainly not least, it supports a brilliant restaurant and tasting room.

blackbarn combo

We stayed in Black Barn’s namesake cottage smack dab in the middle of vineyards heavy with grapes as it was getting on for late summer. On one side of our cottage sheep wandered through olive groves, on the other the biodynamic skin company Weleda grazes long horn bulls.

Four partners own Black Barn, but the man responsible for the exquisite design of the buildings and the remarkable landscaping is one Andy Coltart. In true NZ style, once he learned of our interest in all things related to food and design he invited us on a hike down to the Tuki Tuki river, followed by dinner with his lovely wife Susan at their home. We enjoyed the time spent with him immensely, not least because of a long conversation we had about how to encourage selective development. Turns out Hawkes Bay is grappling with some of the same issues "popularity" has brought to Sonoma County and Coltart, who loves to build things, is looking for the sweet spot. FYI: Black Barn has gorgeous places to rent across the north island.

river

Blackbarn Vineyards

Waiheke Island

randomists

On the last leg of our journey we took a car ferry from Auckland to Waiheke Island, landing on the busiest weekend of their summer. It's a small island but incredibly, there were five weddings in play at the larger wineries. The kind folks at Lavender Hill took pity on us and rented us a small room in the manager's cottage, which happily commanded one of the most exquisite views of the trip (it was hard to beat Rottnest). Then again, every view on Waiheke is commanding. If the cicadas don't drive you crazy and you can find a property with a well (water is a problem) you could retire here or do a winter for summer exchange if island life is your thing. Thanks to an accommodating waitress at Batch Winery where we did a tasting and enjoyed (incongruously) high tea, we finagled a table at Oyster Inn, the hottest dinner reservation in town. As it turned out, we never got to the table because sitting at the bar was so much fun. The lovely Tamarah, a native, filled us in on all things Waiheke as she and her crew rocked it, knocking off cocktail after cocktail. Tipsy wedding guests wandered in from various parts of the island and were gently sent on their way, the dress code went from formal to board shorts and flip flops, the crowd at the door never let up. We had quite a few Dealer's Choice cocktails, then a bottle of white to wash down incredibly delicious local oysters, whole grilled flounder, and a kick ass Lemon Tart which, if memory serves me, Daniel and I fought over. A great night.

waiheke

Lavender HillNikau Luxury ApartmentsThe Oyster InnBatch Winery

Sydney

I first stayed at Establishment Hotel years ago and it’s an even better choice now that the hottest Chinese Restaurant in town, Mr. Wong, has taken up residence right next door. Located down a difficult to find mews street (ok, alley) in the heart of the Market St. business district, Establishment is spare and moody, with dark wood beams and distressed floors. The bathrooms are big and most of them have tubs, which is becoming a rarity. Mr. Wong does not take reservations but if you are staying at Establishment they will call over and snag you a table. Though dinner was delicious, hands down the best meal we had in Sydney was (again) at lunch, at Kitchen by Mike, which takes up part of the industrial hanger-like space Koskela expanded into with its move from Surry Hills. Koskela is a collection of arts, crafts and furniture from all over New Zealand. Kitchen by Mike is a take off on an English worker's canteen, though Mike McEnearney, former executive chef at Rockpool, is as far from a cafeteria chef as it’s possible to be. The sourcing was impeccable, the dishes inventive, bread and coffee (which they also sell along with a range of condiments) the best we had on the trip. Mike once worked for the Conran group in London, which may explain how easily the design and food concept live together here. How did we find Kitchen by Mike at Koskela? We asked a lovely saleswoman who was selling me a sweater in The Standard Store in Surry Hills. She ‘looked’ like she’d know. She did. Seek and you shall find!

You can book Establishment Hotel on their website, but I used Tablet Hotels because that’s where I first found it. It’s not fair to find hotels on ‘good’ travel sites (and Tablet is one of the best) and not use them to book!

Establishment HotelKitchen by Mike - KoskelaTablet Hotels

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Wednesday at the Barn

healdsburg valentines
prix-fixe-menu

Fruit as Love

kumquats

Valentine cocktails should be capricious, with that air before the storm anticipation. Romantic of course, and sensual. Suggestive.

lovely rachel

Barndiva is bringing it all with a beautiful menu for our Valentine's Eve dinner ~ while the bar will be shaking up some classic favorites in addition to a new sparkling cocktail ~ Fruit as Love ~ which Rachel just created featuring house-infused kumquat vodka, Damiana syrup, fresh citrus, Prosecco and pomegranate pips.

rishi tea

Damiana is known as lover's tea because of its legendary abilities to induce erotic dreams and increase arousal ...

pommegranites

while pomegranates are the original love apple going all the way back to you know who... and that tree.

berry cocktail

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Wednesday at the Barn

bespoke cocktail
prix-fixe-menu

Chimichurri

Last week's blog about the ease of throwing together a snack instead of just buying one got me thinking about all the other store-bought shortcuts we take that aren’t as satisfying as they could be ~ and don’t really save us time or money. Chimichurri is a great example of a wonderful, easy to make condiment that simply does not taste as good when you don’t make it fresh.

sauce prep

Ryan’s definition strays from the classic Argentine version which traditionally has garlic and parsley, but if anything he expands the spirit of the sauce with gentle heat and great green notes. For a Chimichurri we threw together in a few minutes for staff meal this week Chef used cilantro, mint, chervil, chives and parsley.  Almost any fresh herb will do ~ what's delicious about the sauce is the combination of the selected herbs, a pickling compound with something in it to spark the heat, and Virgin Olive Oil. 

onions
peppers
herbs

Ryan’s definition strays from the classic Argentine version which traditionally has garlic and parsley, but if anything he expands the spirit of the sauce with gentle heat and great green notes. For a Chimichurri we threw together in a few minutes for staff meal this week Chef used cilantro, mint, chervil, chives and parsley.  Almost any fresh herb will do ~ what's delicious about the sauce is the combination of the selected herbs, a pickling compound with something in it to spark the heat, and Virgin Olive Oil. 

We used pickled Fresno chilies and red pearl onions, which Chef always seems to have on hand. When it comes to the brine, unless you are longing for a signature pickle, equal parts Champagne vinegar and sugar will get you where you want to go, deliciously, in record time. The only things you need pay attention to for a fail-proof chimichurri is using a good quality VOO and remembering to cut ingredients into equal size. It may take an extra minute or two but trust me on this ~ cut them ridiculously small and uniform. You can pickle almost any raw ingredient this way in as little as 30 minutes....and it will keep all week. Always chop and add the herbs and oil just before serving.

chicken chimichurri

 

 

 

Chicken, fish, especially grilled steak ~ there is almost no protein that doesn't love a freshly made chimichurri.

Get out those knives.

 

 

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Wednesday at the Barn

wood wall

Wednesday at the Barn

prix-fixe-menu

Snack Time

At the end of the day, kitchens are kitchens... we get hungry, we raid the fridge. Here at the barn, while something we throw together on the fly may provide interesting combinations that eventually end up in the dining room, mostly they do what a snack does best ~ give us a few minutes to relax and re-fuel before dinner service.

One of the saddest things about the way Americans eat now is how dependent we've become on the ease of opening a bag of nutrient empty, preservative loaded junk instead of tossing something fresh together. Time should never be the issue: Ryan threw together this snack of Mandarin Creamsicle Ice Cream and Valencia orange segments over a mound of crushed almond streusel in less than five minutes. The only chefy thing he did was quenelle the ice cream and shave some orange rind over the dish. Talk about fast ~ did you know you can 'peel' an orange in five seconds by just swiftly slicing off the sides? Gets rid of the pith, making it easier to liberate the segments. And oh, that shaved rind made all the difference ~ a nice tart top note to the creaminess of Octavio's ice cream.

orange creamsicle
homemade dessert
healdsburg dessert
homemade ice cream
eating orange creamsicle
chef fancher

Join us!

valentines 2014

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Happy New Year!

new years party

The yin and yang of throwing a great party is a balancing act of hard work and talent behind the scenes playing to a discerning but game audience out front. Happily, we had both NYE. I stopped shooting at 11:57  but a big shout out to my fellow dancers in the bar from 12-2am ~ you know who you are ~ you guys rocked it. As did DC West for the extraordinary floral arrangements, Isabel Hales for her late night playlist, K2 for our beautifully designed menus, and the Barndiva staff, both in the kitchen and on the floor, who took what is far too often an overrated night and made it stellar.

final preparations
Mix Garden arriving
food prep
kitchen staff preparing
kidding in kitchen
beautiful bar
barndiva vip
barndiva staff
Jil and geoff2
plating food
serving cauliflower veloute
short rib truffles mash
happy guest
good times
beautiful guest
good company
party girls
ray pouring for midnight
social media

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Random by Design ~ Lingering Desktop images from 2013 + a new video!

champagne toast

Random by Design ~

Lingering Desktop images from 2013 + a new video!

barndiva specialties

Coming to terms with the year we’ve just lived as it flips over into the next is something we all grapple with in late December, as we eat and drink (too much!) while wrestling with appropriate New Year's resolutions that put a hopeful spin on all the things we should have accomplished this year, but didn’t. We’re having none of that. The random images I found floating around my desktop that grace this last blog of the year speak to life here at the Barn lived to the fullest, in the heart of a community we love and respect.

gallery

For Geoff, Lukka, Ryan and myself,  2013 will go down as a very good year. We finished construction on a much needed new kitchen in the Studio, which in addition to offering exciting new dining possibilities means the mothership will never have to close again for weddings. We hired our very first GM, the wonderful Andy O’Day, who has become indispensable. We put our name on proprietary blends of biodynamic red and white wines made by our friends at Preston of Dry Creek. Kicking and screaming, but in our own inimitable style, we joined the social media circus on Pinterest, Instagram, Tumblr, with a new in-house website which will launch in January. At the farm we renovated the old Tintin clubhouse as a retreat and with Daniel's help continued to expand the gardens, open the view, and planted more fruit and nut trees. For the first time in 35 years, thanks to a night scope camera, we even saw pictures of ‘our’ bears!

mendo bear

2013 will be remembered as the year Front of House and Back of House  became one extended family. Our incredibly talented staff produced and presented thousands of exquisite meals with consummate professionalism and a heartfelt commitment to the Barn, the beautiful town of Healdsburg, and the magnificent foodsheds of Sonoma and Mendocino Counties. Rylee Fancher, who blossomed from beautiful baby to beguiling toddler in our midst wasn’t the only one who mastered life changing new skills this year.

barndiva guys

Americans are culturally programmed to always want for more, which is what’s good and bad about us. Make no mistake, as we head into 2014 we have plans aplenty, but it would be hubris in the extreme to expect for more ~ we know how lucky we are! This work we do everyday with food and spirits and wine, with art and flowers and design, is bloody hard and not all that ruminative. But by God, it’s rewarding. We’ve come to see that the best New Year's resolutions are the ones you live everyday.

Thank you for your patronage this year. We wish you all the best in the coming year.

reflection

Barndiva's 2013 wedding season remembered...

Our intrepid Dawid Jaworski ~ gallery manager, event facilitator, in-house photographer ~ threw this charming video together entirely from still images he took over the course of three weddings near the end of the season. We  love the way it mixes up what's happening behind the scenes with the beautiful party out front. We love Dawid, who has high jumped into our hearts these past few years, for so many reasons. This short sweet gift to the staff is only one. Enjoy.

Barndiva Wedding Video

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski, Drew Kelly, Kate Webber

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Return of Wednesday at the Barn

gallery xmas decorations

Return of Wednesday at the Barn

prix-fixe-menu

Truffle Madness

So I’m sitting here wondering what that ancient Sumarian must have thought when a wild pig unearthed that first truffle at his feet. I mean whatever compelled him to pick the thing up, much less consider eating it? The French have a term, jolie laide, usually applied to women, which roughly translates to ugly beautiful ~ a curious attraction one feels for an object which, for all intents and purposes, should repel.

two types truffles

It was the smell, of course, an explosive perfume that makes a direct hit on the senses, earthy, yet transportive. Pigs go wild because the tubers, which only grow underground on the roots of certain trees, emit androstenol, the pig equivalent to a sex pheromone. It may well be ~ as the same pheromone is found in human sweat glands ~ that on some deep level our brains are wired to recognize it as well.

ryan and truffles2

Revered by the early Greeks and Romans who believed lightening and thunder accounted for their mysterious fecundity, the truffle's coveted place in culinary history was firmly established in the 1780’s by the first great food historian/writer/critic Brillat Savarin who anointed them the 'diamonds of the kitchen’ for their magical, umami fragrance. It's a doubly apt description for these subterranean fungi are still often as pricey as jewels.

Skip Lasky is a passionate truffle purveyor, the American face of an international network of truffle hunters that originated in Croatia during the civil war when culinary foresight led his (now) partners to smuggle poplar and oak root truffle scions out of the country. The family planted them in the various countries across Europe as they were repatriated and ten years on, incredibly, most of the host trees are now producing. The American arm of UNDERGROUND Truffle Purveyors is based in Petaluma. They sell an impressive range harvested across Italy, Spain, France, Croatia, Slovenia, Serbia, Macedonia and soon (according to Skip) Hungary and New Zealand. Though this geographic reach has somewhat extended the Fall window for harvesting them, it hasn’t brought the prices down, which is fair when you consider their fragility and factor in what it costs to get them to SFO ~ Underground promises delivery within 36 hours of their truffles being gently dug out of the soil by specially trained dogs who respond as pigs do to the scent, but don't gobble down the product.

shaving

The white truffles ~ Tuber Magnatum Pico, also known as the Alba, made their first appearance in our dining room in November ~ served raw, shaved tableside. They were from the Piedmont region of Italy, and true to their specific terrier held hints of river bed willows and honey.

truffle pasta

This week Skip brought in Black winter truffles, Spanish Perigords, and while not as commanding in scent as the white, open up beautifully when warmed, with a delicate flavor that rolls around the palate, confounding the nose brain connection in a wonderful, seductive way.

New Year's Eve Menu

We've added Truffles! (but you will have to join us to find out where)

Barndiva New Years Eve Menu

Anticipation

Xmas in the gallery

Christmas in the Gallery ~ come in and enjoy the decorations with a glass of wine!

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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Fall on a Plate

holiday blog 2013

I love looking at food almost as much as I love eating it, so being able to photograph the many stages it goes through as it makes its way from farm to table has been one of the greatest pleasures of living this business. Raw or cooked, the color, form and texture of the fuel which keeps us alive ~ and gives us so much pleasure throughout life ~ never ceases to amaze. When you add being able to share its provenance, the blessings multiply.

deron-ryan

This week's ‘Dish’ comes as a double celebration ~ of the glorious Fall season that is upon us here in Sonoma County as we wait for rain, and of the growing talents of one of our hardest working young chefs, Deron Ryan. Deron has been at the garde manger (vegetable) station for a year and two months. He arrives at seven and keeps his head down through an arduous prep routine and a non-stop lunch service. As focused as he is, he's always ready to talk about what he’s doing and why. But here’s the thing: while Chef's a great teacher, it’s not a simple thing to meme what he does on a plate. Ryan has a painter’s eye for color, a dancer's agility for balancing form and movement on the plate. It is not as easy as it looks.

vegetarian dish

Deron nailed it. The closer you climb into this dish, the more beautiful it becomes. With the exception of the pansies and society garlic flowers which we grow here ~ everything on the plate arrived in the morning with Alex from Mix Gardens. Mix is producing exquisite roots and leafy vegetables this year. Most of what we buy is small and precious, the better to dazzle the eye and capture condensed flavors, redolent of the soil. As perfectly as they arrive, we spend a considerable amount of time ‘communing’ with them ~ peeling, steaming, pickling, infusing, lightly dressing when it suits to bring combinations together.

Mix Garden Kale

I don’t wish for a meat free world, but for the humane, sustainable rearing of animals and mindful catch from the sea. But there’s something about our vegetables that trumps everything, directly routing joy to the heart. Here then, is Fall on a Plate, as seen through the eyes of one very talented young man, and his mentor.

beautiful vegetarian dish

Studio Lights

grilling chestnuts

It’s a given that because of our location down the dark side of Center Street (not quite the dark side of the moon, but close) that whenever the town is having a big event we wait for the crowds circling the Plaza to catch wind of what's going on at Barndiva before they begin to drift down to the gallery in great numbers. Because of what we have to offer, once they come, they stay, and last Friday was no exception. With a huge crystal coupe filled with a cocktail called Why Bears Do It, passed trays of chestnut cream profiteroles, an art gallery decked out in sparkling ornaments, and Geoffrey roasting bangers on a bonfire grill  in the garden, it was only a matter of time.

All the locals wanted to talk about was "proposed" hotel projects, difficulty finding parking, and, inevitably, how much Healdsburg has "changed." All the newcomers wanted to do was party in a beautiful space offering spirited libations and pork fat, enjoying the charms of a little town that sang to them. It was a wonderful night,  and curiously revealing. Because for all the differences in the demographics of the crowd, everyone had come to town looking for the very same thing: a start to the holiday season as a shared communal experience.

holiday kids

Once upon a time the Barndiva name was synonymous with “change’ in Healdsburg. Ten years ago there was opposition to the size of our building ~ though it included massive setbacks in a commercial district ~ and a dance card full of businesses we dreamed of launching from it. We have worked hard to reap the waves of goodwill we felt from friends and strangers alike last Friday night. Which got me thinking. Healdsburg’s growing popularity as a travel destination, a beautiful place to live, a town in the heart of a world class wine region, makes change inevitable. But perhaps what could be a priority for us right now is not how fast to pull up the drawbridge for newcomers but how to set boundaries for those wanting in when it appears cashing out is all they care about. There are enough of us committed to honoring our agrarian past as it struggles for a sustainable future, for respecting our small town/big heart traditions. We have a hardworking, thoughtful city management ~ and our elected officials are clearly listening.

downtown heladsburg party

The health of the wine and tourist industry will always be intricately tied to the wealth of Sonoma County. What sets Healdsburg apart has been our diversity. Of what we do, and crucially, how we do it. A lack of imagination is actually a discernible thing one can measure ~ and while it’s hard to be an innovator in a world that’s consistently dumbing down its messages, we have the raw ingredients to attract entrepreneurs who want to start or expand businesses in technology, education, craft, agriculture. There is still so much we can contribute to Healdsburg’s incredibly rich narrative. But it’s going to take effort, as opposed to anger, to guide properly scaled development in a direction which keeps the business engines humming without undermining our extraordinary quality of life.

studio lights

We have a great deal to be thankful for this holiday season. Come and see the wonderful decorations in the gallery! Or better yet, plan to share a meal here with friends ~ we are now serving in the gallery for parties of 6 or more. Don't take our word for it that we throw the best dinner parties in town...come and let us prove it to you.

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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Dish of the Week: Roasted Duck with Barndiva Farm Chestnuts and Huckleberry Sauce

chestnuts topper

The first chestnut I ever ate had a fancy French nameMarron glacé~ that sounded like an exotic, elegant ice cream. It was anything but. What looked like little brains were covered in layers of sugar that made my teeth ache, with a dense texture that tasted like wax. I didn’t go near a chestnut by any name for years.

But when we bought the farm it came with a stand of heirloom chestnut trees, which because of our remote location on the ridge had managed to survive the great blight of the early 1900’s. By the 1940’s almost the entire American chestnut population ~ we’re talking nearly 4 billion trees ~ had perished, making our little orchard of Chinquapin’s not only very old, but extremely rare.

pretty chestnut

The chestnut is the Marquis de Sade of the nut world, seductively emerging each November from a diabolical looking carapace of spikes. Even with long gloves to shake the trees, and heavy boots to loosen that S&M exoskeleton, you are still a long way from the soft nutmeat buried inside a hard glistening outer shell and, beneath that, a bitter, furry inner sheath that sticks to the fruit like it’s been glued on.

We had a good harvest this year ~ about 100 lbs ~ enough to set aside a burlap bagful to roast in the gardens for the Healdsburg Holiday Party on the day after Thanksgiving. But while roasting them over an open fire is a great way to eat them on a cold night,  it can scorch and dry the nutmeat out. Chef has other plans for how to serve them in the dining room.

chestnut duo

To get the outer shell off, he scores the nut with an x, then drops them in the deep fryer just long enough to split the shell. Then he cooks the nutmeat sous vide, long and slow, vacuum-sealed with a little butter, honey and pinch of salt. It’s a method that softens the sharp tannic bite of the nut, and while it still has that odd texture, just this side of mealy, the resulting flavor is rich, round and earthy.

The most popular entrée on the menu right now is this rustic pairing of crispy sliced duck breast and confit leg, honeyed butter chestnuts and huckleberry sauce. The perfect Fall dish, it's served with a scattering of roasted baby carrots and turnips, grilled fennel, and a house-made pierogi stuffed with a creamy blend of Bellwether ricotta, caramelized onions, chives, and shallots.

dish of the week

Chestnuts are a genus of the deciduous bushes and trees known as Fagaceae ~ which also includes oaks and beech. They are unisex, with self-pollinating flowers in the form of catkins. Fair enough. I take back what I said about the Marquis de Sade. But one sided though it may be, this is a courtship you don’t want to give up on.

All text and photos ©  Jil Hales.

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