Dish of the Week
Crispy Whole Poussin and Egg Yolk Ricotta Ravioli
Poussin is simply the French term for a domesticated young chicken. Similar in flavor to Rock Cornish Game Hens, they weigh just over a pound, small enough to serve the whole bird which Chef loves to do when he can. Nothing goes to waste ~ we bone the legs and use them and the backbones for stock that is reduced for the jus. By breaking the Poussin down into pieces you are able to pull the breast meat out of the pan and let it rest while finishing the dark meat to perfection. Ryan leaves the tiny wings intact, crisp around the edges, to make them easier to eat. I know there are fine dining restaurants which frown upon eating parts of the meal with your hands. I hope ours will never be one of them.
It's worth learning how to break and bone poultry down ~ Always work with gloves and a designated chopping board you scrub down before and after. With some practice you can do it swiftly and neatly and you will never have to worry again that in order to keep the white meat moist you risk having the dark meat red at the bone. There is nothing quite as delicious as biting down through crispy skin to perfectly dark moist meat. The right answer to the eternal tableside question of 'dark or light' should be "both, thank you."
The egg yolk inside the ravioli isn’t just a play on the chicken and egg routine (though in this instance the egg comes first) it's a wonderful taste component to the final dish. When you cut into the ravioli the yolk and ricotta stream down into the meat, bringing everything together: aromatics, crunch, soft comfort flavors. Chef plates the Poussin over a sauté of baby artichoke hearts, spicy pancetta and the last of the heirloom tomatoes oven roasted until they are so redolent with flavor they taste sun-dried. He finishes the dish with the jus and a translucent chive oil with bright grassy notes and a just a hint of pepper.
In the Gallery.... with Joy
It was a weekend of extraordinary highs and lows for all of us here at Barndiva, one that reached into the very heart of what we do, and why.
Saturday we threw one of the truly stellar weddings of the year, an evening where everything that could have gone wrong didn’t, and exceptional food, wine, flowers, music and dancing just flowed. Behind the scenes before the wedding began we scrambled to deal with a rainstorm that came early and far more intensely than expected. An hour before 'show time' half the staff was pulling furniture out of the dining room to accommodate the cocktail hour (which had been planned for sunset in the Barndiva Gardens), while the other half was meticulously setting the Gallery for the formal dinner (which had been envisioned under the stars in the Studio Gardens.)
A last minute decision by the bride and groom to go ahead with the ceremony outside was brave, and, as it turned out, inspired. Beneath a darkening sky as fairy lights in the trees caught and reflected the jewel-like colors of hundreds of Dragonfly peach and cream roses, pale green hydrangeas, flowering kale and white freesias, the wedding guests huddled under umbrellas holding their collective breath to hear the vows above the rain before erupting into cheers of joy. Coming into the warmth of the candlelit Gallery was magical. For the next five hours it was as if we had created a parallel universe where nothing bad or sad could ever happen.
Sad things do happen though. When we woke Sunday morning it was to prepare for a very different event, a memorial for Rhiannon Joy Hull, the adored young daughter, wife, mother, friend, teacher and athlete who lost her life last week in the waters off the beach at Playa Avellanas in Costa Rica, where she had gone to start a Waldorf Kindergarten. The swift and seeming randomness of Rhiannon’s death had left more than her immediate family in shock. For the young parents in town ~ and we have many ~ it was a tragedy that posed frightening and unanswerable questions. Rhiannon was a woman of exceptional physical strength, and while she faced her last moments of life using every ounce of it to save her son Julian, there was no escaping the feeling that her loss was a reminder of how tenuous a hold even the strongest of us have on life, how easily even those lives which we painstakingly construct can come undone. The first hour of the memorial the mood of the 300 or so that had gathered was friendly but awkward as grief stricken friends and family mixed with members of the community who had only known Rhiannon through school or her classes. As Amber, Barndiva's event coordinator and Rhiannon's close friend plaintively asked after the eulogy and stories and songs were all done …what now? How do we as family, friends and casting a bigger net, as a community, make sense of this?
It was a question without an immediate answer. Yet as the afternoon unfolded what transpired held a clue. Octavio had baked all morning ~ platters of tiny exquisitely composed desserts ~ and as people arrived more platters joined ours on the long wood tables from kitchens across the county ~ casseroles of comfort food, baskets of freshly baked bread, salads of all description, cases of juice and wine. Lukka opened bottle after bottle of champagne and big pots of coffee got refilled while the crowd mingled, eating and drinking while babies squirmed and kids ran amok in the gardens. Conversations rose and fell. We laughed, some cried, everyone present taking simple pleasure just being in the company of others. The word 'celebration' was repeated over and over, as it had been the night before, under vastly different circumstances. How strange that Saturday night’s 'celebration' for one couple’s life beginning, and Sunday’s 'celebration' of a vibrant young life cut short shared this word so fully ~ that it was the one we reached for both in hope and to console ourselves.
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As I write this, I’m thinking of a line in Adam Gopnik’s wonderful new book The Table Comes First, in which he makes the point that "we don’t always acknowledge enough, that we still live the truth Darwin saw: food is the sensual pleasure that passes most readily into a social value.”
I am the first to admit that from the beginning Barndiva has offered a social agenda. We built and we use our beautiful spaces to strengthen the bonds between farmer and chef, to connect the diner to all the components and meanings behind the dinner served. But while it is vitally important to talk about what we eat within the context of our own and the planet’s health, in fostering celebrations in our space ~ celebrations of every kind ~ more than actual hunger gets sated. Now more than ever we need to take a break from technology and networking and zoning out with social media to make the actual physical human connections that validate joy. Sometimes that celebration is as simple as a meal and bottle of wine with someone you love or hope to love; sometimes it marks a day you will never forget. But the distances we travel to remind ourselves why life is worth living, even when we are forced to come to that moment from a place of pain, is always shorter over a table of food. Of course it matters what you put on that table. But what matters more is remembering, before you sit down, to come with an open heart.
If you’d like to read more about Rhiannon here are a few links…
Donations to the family may be made in Hull's honor to the Julian and Gianni Hull Education Fund at Wells Fargo Bank. For information, contact Jenn@yogaoncenter.com.
Another way to help out, Take Them A Meal.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted). NYE artwork k2pdesigns.