Because it's the Thought That Counts...
All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales
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All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales
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.
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!
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.
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.
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.
All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski, Drew Kelly, Kate Webber
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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
It was great to read Andrew Carmellini’s strident defense of “the long lost art of the arroser” in the New York Times last week as we are big time proponents of this traditional French technique of rapid butter basting to finish proteins. À la minute cooking allows a little butter to go a long way; done right it has the potential to deliver saturated flavor that is as rich as it is nuanced.
Drew’s Dish of the Week ~ Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon with Smashed English Peas and Hedgehog Mushroom Tempura ~ relies on arroser and several other tricks of the trade that make the most of ingredients that are inherently umami, the basic taste profile we define as savory which, crave them as we do, can easily overwhelm the palate. On a scale of 1 -10, sturgeon has the potential to be gloriously satisfying, but without a deft approach to respect its subtle flavor and fragile texture it can easily go dry and bland. Drew’s use of thin strips of raw bacon tightly wrapped around the portioned fish and left to rest in the fridge keeps the cut flesh from drying out. It also lightly flavors the fish, adding a layer of complexity which his cooking method ~ a four sided pan sear ~ extends as the sturgeon slow cooks inside its carapace of sizzling bacon. The result is heavenly moist fish inside a golden crispy outer ‘skin.’
An arroser can use any variety of herbs that will hold up to the heat ~ Drew chose fresh rosemary and garlic for their pungency and green notes. The secret of the technique ~ like many great things in life that have nothing to do with cooking ~ is all in the wrist. You need to move the spoon into and over the pan at a constant speed; this rhythmic basting motion results in dozens of tiny bubbles that aerate the butter. You’re going for foamy butter that does not burn. The fish is then pulled off the flame and allowed to briefly rest while the flavors harmonize, and it finishes cooking.
The earthiness of the hedgehog mushrooms, dredged lightly in tempura batter and deep fried, were an inspired land-meets-sea pairing for the fish, but Drew wanted more ~ color to brighten the dish and something to provide a foil for the savory proteins. Happily, the first of the English peas arrived in kitchen the same morning as the sturgeon, so we were off to the races. The peas were lightly smashed, then sautéed in VOO with a small dice of confit garlic, tomato and carrot, emulsified with a spoonful of fragrant spring vegetable stock. Pancho then made a vibrant pea purée (with a touch of spinach to hold the color) and a broken vinaigrette of VOO and port reduction.
Pancho and I did a little spring jig over this dish ~ he while plating it, me while eating it. Drew just stood back, arms folded, big smile.
Of all the reasons I’ve come to see Ryan as a great chef, the talent he’s nurtured in this team resonates the most. Encouraging them to shine isn’t just his way of honoring his own mentors, though it certainly does that in spades. It’s also a reminder that for all the years of hard work it takes to become great at this profession, cooking like this is all about love, and respect.
The first container of treasures we found on our recent trip to Paris this past (freezing!) January have just arrived in the Studio. Thick felt firewood carriers (also perfect for kids toys); handwoven cotton and leather everyday summer bags (larger ones for market or beach); elegant wire votive holders; a delightful selection of distressed steel bird feeders and planters; handcarved and painted picture frames ~ we done good! Come in and let us talk you through our charming Spring Collection.
Also just in time for Easter are the first of Neeru Kumar's elegant scarves in black & white and light summer colors. Kumar is one of the most beloved and well known textile designers in India at the moment ~ reviving hand loomed textile traditions one village at a time. Her work is sold at the V&A in London, at the Met and Guggenheim in New York...and now at Studio Barndiva!
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski
What could be a nicer way to spend an evening in the middle of Winter than dining in Barndiva, listening to great jazz and knowing the proceeds will go to support music education in Healdsburg public schools?
For this year's Jazz in the Schools citywide benefit, we are thrilled to welcome the Dick Conte Trio with Steve Webber and Bill Moody. Rachel will be shaking signature cocktails & Chef has put together a very cool prix fixe menu in addition to our regular à la carte. Call for table availability ~ 431 0100. If there's room at the bar, of course you will be most welcome. It's going to be great to have live music back in the Barn.
Valentine's Dinner reservations are pretty much sold out, but if you had your heart set on spending a romantic evening here at Barndiva, all is not lost. What's that they say about pleasure delayed is pleasure multiplied? Pick up a Barndiva Gift Certificate ~ good all year for a great night out. While you are here, check out the beautiful gifts we have in the gallery. Not all pleasure needs to be delayed!
Hard to believe this will be our ninth year hosting a big screen Oscar Party ~ one of the few things I miss about growing up in Los Angeles (oh Swifty, where art thou?). But it is: we've hosted a variety of themed parties for Oscar Sunday since the year we opened. This year the field is particularly exciting ~ if challenging themes don't set your teeth to grind ~ with some stellar performances.
There is no set menu this year ~ come in for a drink to catch the Red Carpet or stay for the entire evening until Best Picture. Call if you don't want to risk disappointment ~ it's hard to leave once you get here, and we will honor dinner reservations. And yes, we will have a bottle of sparkling for a local Nate Silver who guesses the most winners (and no, you don't have to be present to win ~ come in anytime Sunday and vote.)
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales. All graphics (except Jazz): k2pdesigns
Happiness is as ephemeral as anger, as pain. Because we crave it more doesn’t make it easier to attain than those less desirable but fully human emotions. Hit any bookstore and you’ll find dozens of titles on how to become Happy, right alongside books on how to deal with your pain or marginalize your anger. But for all the thought we give to what we want and how to get it, relatively few of us get to old age any better at making ourselves (lowercase) happy than succumbing to a grumbling melancholy. One of the tragic ironies of life may be that the most quintessentially pleasurable moments we’ve felt ~ as children running wild, as travelers the first time abroad, as lovers in the arms of our first infatuation ~ cannot be duplicated, except in paler versions.
Perhaps if we were better at knowing why the heart wants what it wants we’d live more fulfilled lives. Instead, most of us settle for a self-serving definition of happiness the culture presents as aspirational ~ we know that to be rich and famous isn’t the route to satisfaction and security, yet rare is the person who won’t take either when offered. Throughout our lives the people who choose to serve and protect ~ first responders, teachers, healers, volunteers ~ are the ones we reach out to first in times of trouble. Why is it then, for too many of us, the only time of year we acknowledge the importance of giving is at Christmas?
Even for non-Christians, it's a holiday that speaks to the better angels in all of us. Because it’s about family, hearth and food, it recognizes the need to share a communal spirit that has goodwill embedded in its DNA. Sure, the conspicuous consumption part dumbs it down. And yes, the desire to hang fairy lights, decorate the tree and festoon gifts in gay attire comes as part of a mixed bag which can also include obnoxious relatives, too much traffic and a depleted bank account. Doesn’t matter ~ Christmas provides an opportunity to make peace, enchant the little ones, lavish those who have been good to us with an extra measure of joy. Whether you buy it or make it or simply will it into existence, it encourages a particular kind of hopefulness which only children seem to come by naturally but most adults need a yearly holiday to remember. To work selflessly for a greater good does not promise financial rewards or glory, to be sure. What it does offer is a connection between doing good and feeling good, the possibility that through virtuous deeds you find something which ultimately shines longer and brighter than bling. The good news is that to be hopeful IS a choice. While we (mostly) do not get to choose what happens to us in life, we never lose the ability to choose what we believe in, and to act on those beliefs.
In the wake of the tragedies in Newtown, which we all know by now could have happened in any town, we have an opportunity this holiday season, as we hug our loved ones close and contemplate how best to keep them safe, to consider the values that truly strengthen us as human beings, and to work towards realizing those values more fully all year, long after Santa has left the building.
All text Jil Hales. Photos/Graphics: Dawid Jaworski, (a stealth) Kirsten Petrie
John Dory is a fish of many aliases ~ St. Pierre, Peter’s Fish, Janitore, Kuparu (the name used in New Zealand by the Maori, where the fish thrive in great abundance) with stories burnished through time for each name. Chef’s favorite comes from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which St. Peter leaves a thumbprint on the fish’s body as he pulls it out of the sea at the behest of Jesus, hounded by the Romans for a temple tax. Saint Peter pays with a four drachma coin he miraculously finds a in the fish’s mouth. I favor the French nursery rhyme that tells the sad tale of a sea captain named John Dory who happens to meet the King of France as he ambles drunkenly toward Paris looking for a benefactor. Farfetched, if not miraculous, the King gives him enough gold coins for a new ship, which our boy John promptly sinks in a battle with pirates on the high seas.
But even the most likely historical attribution ~ jeune dorée means ‘gilded yellow’ in French which amply describes the appearance of this silvery, olive yellow coastal fish ~ does not explain that spot, which, as it turns out, is more Darwinian than religious or fanciful. The distinctive tattoo just below the Dory's dorsal fin functions as a highly effective “evil eye,” flashing predators to buy time for escape, and also serves to confuse the Dory’s prey so it can pounce. Nature may not have had a hand in naming the John Dory, but it more than compensated for the fact that it needed help to survive. The Dory, it turns out, is one of the slowest swimmers in the sea ~ yet another reason it has eyes at the back of its head.
For a fish with such a long and colorful history, there are surprisingly few cooking preparations that won’t destroy its delicate buttery flavor. Overcook the Dory even by seconds and you lose the fragrance it carries of the sea, ruining the lovely texture of its flesh. Another caveat: because it retains a great deal of water for such a thin bodied fish, the Dory should be served within 48 hours of being pulled from the water, never frozen. When Ryan was considering what to serve as a second fish course for our NYE Menu, he went straight to the Dory with an idea of pairing it with caviar and chive crème brightened with Spanish sherry vinegar. Shown here, as Dish of the Week, the sherry caviar crème brings out the earthy sweetness of honey braised turnips against two distinct presentations of slivered cabbage: garlicky, buttery Savoy beneath the fish, with a beautiful tangle of pickled purple cabbage on top. (As it turns out, this dish was a delicious runner up for the NYE menu when the John Dory will be served with a lobster brussels sprout hash and crispy prosciutto.)
Pictures don't do justice to Ryan's artistry when it comes to plating, nor do they reflect how much time he and the brigade spend on the visual components of each dish. Nothing is superfluous ~ each ingredient must play a distinct flavor role ~ but he always manages to bring often disparate (in terms of color and shape) elements together in such a way that they dance on the plate. In this case think Balanchine, not Pina Bausch. On New Year's Eve the John Dory course will follow a seared Day Boat scallop with caramelized cauliflower and his "trail mix" of toasted almonds, golden raisins and capers. To find out what comes next, click here. FYI: We will open specially for New Year's Eve as it falls on a Monday, but with modified earlier hours. If you are considering joining us for what may well be the best meal of the year, book it Dano!
If you don't make it for New Year's Eve, fear not, John Dory is currently on the new Fall menu, finished in butter atop a stew of herb roasted Manila clams, heirloom beets, swiss chard and chorizo. It’s a heartier dish than the one Chef will serve on NYE, perfect for early winter with spicy heat from the Chorizo playing off the light brininess of the Dory. It's also a nose to tailfin dish, which brings us nicely to our 'glorious icky bits' shot of the week. (Read last week's blog for our position on Icky Bits). There is not a lot of flesh on a Dory ~ superior knife skills are needed if you want to get the plumpest filets ~ but procuring the fish whole has a great plus as the bones of the Dory are especially gelatinous, making them great as a thickening agent for a fumet. This is the same fish shown at the top of the blog, after filleting, as Drew lowers it into the simmering fish stock he will use for our bouillabaisse, a la Ryan.
Ismael Sanchez dropped off a new collection of his wondrous wire sculptures last week, just in time for the holidays. This butterfly is studded with ocean worn 'jewels' collected over the years from Glass Beach in Ft Bragg. Pigs with wings, scorpions, bulls, his signature simple horses and a (nearly) full sized goat round out the collection. We rarely have this many Ismael pieces in the gallery.
We also rarely have as much jewelery ~ cuffs, earrings and necklaces that won't break the bank. Christmas decorations from around the world. Geoffrey's antique cigarette card collections. Beautiful vegetable calendars from Maria Schoettler and a slew of new books you won't find in stock anywhere else in this bookshop rich town of ours. Come in and look around. If you find yourself in the throes of indecision, go next door for a cocktail, or better yet go after you shop ~ a cocktail is on the house with gallery purchases of $50 or more.
Peace, love and happiness is not a phrase that normally rolls off my tongue, not since the 60’s at any rate, but that’s the only way I can describe the extremely mellow mood that flowed through the gallery and it's gardens Saturday evening when over two hundred kindred souls came to the opening of Salon des Sens.
It didn’t hurt that the weather was sheer bliss, warm and soft, with magical early summer light. Nor that thanks to St. George Spirits and Copain Winery there was copious amounts of excellent drink to enjoy with Ryan’s infamous Quail Egg BLTs, Compressed Watermelon Gin Fizz' and Aviation Bon Bons. At one point, when I thought the evening had peaked, K2 laughed and said "Are you kidding? Have you been outside?” The garden was full. Everyone was smiling. No one had any intention of going anywhere soon.
But if anyone passing by thought the genuine bonhomie of this crowd was just down to alcohol and a sugar rush, they would have been mistaken. In fact, when the next night rolled around and the same mood prevailed as Freddy Cole sat down to play the piano beneath the chandeliers on Barndiva’s rear patio, I realized that while art and music were clearly the driving force behind both evenings, something else was at play besides Freddy.
Salon des Sens is an exhibit brim full of fresh ideas about how we view food, while the music that came out of the fabulous Freddy Cole Quartet was so comfortable and familiar it had all the ease of slipping your hand into a soft leather glove. What made these two remarkably different experiences similar was how well they both captured, without a complicated political or social agenda, something we’ve come to miss in our increasingly isolated WiFi lives. Communal good will.
There is a lot of talk these days about how the “old” Healdsburg is disappearing, and indeed, we do live in a town that’s increasingly benefiting from the kindness of strangers, thanks to our emergence as the new heart of Wine Country. But the crowds that flocked to the barn and the studio this weekend weren’t tourists looking for the latest wine thrill. I saw a lot of familiar faces as I helped pour JCB’s sparkling before the Freddy Cole concert, but I also got the sense that even folks new to Barndiva felt they had found safe harbor; a beautiful garden where for a few short hours they were exactly where they wanted to be.
Which was true. Barndiva hosted the evening, but the concert was made possible because Tommy Sparks and Jean Charles Boisset who joined forces and stepped up to support the festival. Ditto the Bay Area artists who exhibited alongside local artists at Salon des Sens ~ strangers committed to working together to extend an important conversation about food.
It doesn’t take a social anthropologist to see that the zeitgeist Healdsburg is channeling at the moment is consistently drawing from a mindful collaboration of old and new. It takes it’s cue from the town's most cherished traditions ~ farming, food and wine ~ recharging the mission to protect them in exciting new ways, essential if we are going to survive this current economy without selling out and losing what made Healdsburg so great in the first place. It’s no accident that all the exciting new ventures coming to town ~ Ari and Dawnelise’s new Campo Fina, Doug Lipton and Cindy Daniel’s Shed project, Pete Seghesio’s Salumeria are all backed by people with deep ties to the community and a genuine investment in its long term health. All of them, along with newcomers like JCB recognize, as we did seven years ago, that however unique they hope their new ventures will be, ultimately we are all drawing from the same well. Keeping the water clear, making sure it continues to flow even as more and more come to drink from it, must be a shared goal.
Two moments exemplified what I can only call the quality of worthfulness ~ an old-fashioned concept that needs to come back into use. The first was watching Alex Lapham’s beautiful son’s face light up with pride as he watched his dad farming in the video Drew and I made that had it’s ‘world premiere’ at Salon des Sens. What Alex does ~ what all the other ‘stars’ of Eat the View do ~ is backbreaking work, far too long under appreciated as the culture has shifted it’s focus of what’s laudable to a grandiose definition that equates being rich or famous with being valuable.
The second occurred the next night, listening to my friend Joanne Derbort speak about her husband David Dietz moments before Freddy Cole took the stage. Though most of the people attending didn’t know David, who died last year of cancer, the concert was in his honor. A man of rare intelligence and charm, his loss was greatly felt throughout our small community. In a short but eloquent speech Joanne managed to communicate to hundreds of strangers the true measure of a man who believed most of life’s problems, large and small, could be solved by working thoughtfully together. This weekend took a lot out of us ~ extraordinary efforts on the part of everyone here, especially Dawid, K2, Amber, Rachel, Daniel, Ryan and the entire kitchen staff ~ but along with the exhaustion there was a great sense of pride of jobs well done.
It’s an old-fashioned concept that gets no respect in Washington these days, but is very much alive in small towns like Healdsburg, where quite a bit gets accomplished before the sun goes down. Then we party.
St. George's Botanivore Gin includes the following ingredients: Fennel seed, Caraway Seed, Bay Leaf, Cinnamon, Cardamon Seed, Star Anise, Citra Bergamont Peel, Orris Root, Black Peppercorn, Angelica Root, Juniper Berry, Celery Seed, Cilantro Seed, Seville Orange Peel, Lemon Peel, Lime Peel, Dill Seed, Coriander Seed, Ginger Root
All text Jil Hales. All photos Dawid Jaworski, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)
Finding the sensate in food ~ luxuriating in the way it looks and tastes ~ is something we give a lot of attention to around here. If our comment cards ~ not to mention the word on the street ~ are anything to go by, it’s something we have learned to do rather well. But how to capture those same deeply satisfying elements in the works of art we exhibit (and let’s not mince words, hope to sell) in the fine art gallery we run next door to the restaurant has been more of a moving target.
Up to now the shows we’ve put together for Studio Barndiva, with the exception of Laura Parker’s Taste of Place, haven’t revolved around a single subject though it’s fair to say the artists we represent ~ Cohen, Minor, Morgan, Scheid, Youngblood, Sanchez, Rizzo ~ are all deeply invested in and take inspiration from the magnificent foodshed we live in. I loved the idea of Salon des Sens when San Francisco curator Maggie Spicer first approached me with the idea of collaborating because it presented an opportunity to mount an exhibit where artists from across the Bay Area could join our existing group in an attempt to answer in paint, photography, video and sculpture a question which has come to vex us: What really constitutes art when it comes to food?
We live in a technological culture that increasingly tries to seduce us with fastidiously perfect images which glorify food in much the same way pornography exploits sex. Every year thousands of cookbooks and magazines are published that cater to a food as porn continuum based on the titillation and voyeuristic charge we get from looking at something we cannot physically touch. Social acceptability that it's food and not sex does not alter the fact that arousal is the goal when food is idolized in order to make us long for it. Qualitative differences abound, of course ~ one man's mind bending, scientifically inspired images from a series like Modernist Cuisine is another's Red Lobster advert on TV, but the end game is the same. Like sex, we go in knowing there is no substitute for what we feel when we experience the real thing, but in a revealing way that knowledge is part and parcel of the attraction.
Which begs the question Maggie and I are posing with Salon des Sens: if actual hunger is not being sated by this kind of idolatry, is there something beyond longing which we crave from these images? Is there a difference between the earnest documentation found in cookbooks and food magazines and the commercialization of endless junk food adverts? What more might we expect from work that takes food as its subject matter but asks us to elevate it to an artistic level? I’m not, in general, a great believer in the ‘reception theory’ of art where one’s personal experience is used as the litmus test for the efficacy of a work rather than the forces the artist had a hand in creating, but when it comes to a subject so basic to our needs it stands to reason our response is bound to be highly personal. More so than a painting of a landscape or a portrait, even if we know the terrain or the face well. But does that mean food as a subject for art can never really move beyond a personal narrative the way Mona Lisa’s smile, Matisse’s dancers or Cezanne's landscapes are infinitely about so much more than the subject matter they present?
Salon des Sens will not provide definitive answers to these questions, but we’re confident the artists we’ve selected have the talent to frame them with a level of provocation that’s in sync with the true spirit of a salon.
The best art is a conversation you start with yourself where, if the art is good, some of your deepest longings to know more about what it means to be alive can be addressed in a way that leaves you wanting more ~ of life and art. In this way Caren Alpert’s work penetrates the organic yet formal elements of raw ingredients, while Maren Caruso elegantly dissects and codifies what we make from them; Michael Lamotte renders exquisite poetic light redolent of the earth, while John Youngblood documents with an Atget like respect the contours of farmworker's worn faces and hands. The movie Drew Kelly and I have made traces the human journey one plate of food takes to reach the table, while Susan Preston’s compost piece contemplates what should be the companion question ~ where all that food goes after we eat it. All the artists in Salon des Sens offer a way into a discussion we need to be having about this most precious stuff. The more we understand food in all its forms and expressions, the more we can understand what it represents: nothing less than our tenacious hold on life.
Wandering through SFMOMA on Saturday I took a detour from the Mexican photography exhibit we’d come to see and ended up in front of a Wayne Thiebaud painting. Display Cakes, like the best of Thiebaud, straddles representation and abstraction by taking desirable, seemingly well known objects and rendering them (and crucially, their shadows) into another dimension, one which hums with mysterious new possibility. What I’d never noticed before was how beautifully Thiebaud applies his paint, creating luscious texture across the surface of his cakes which elevates their formal qualities so they appear both seductive yet ironic. Go ahead, it seemed to say, swipe your finger across my frosting and see what you get. It won’t be sweet. Is that what you were hoping for?
Salon des Sens, with an opening reception on June 2 hosted by our good friends at Copain Winery and St. George Spirits, will run through June 12. Join us.
Tickets are going fast for both shows of this consummate jazz pianist and singer who kicks off the opening weekend of the Healdsburg Jazz Festival. JCB is pouring their sparkling and the weather is promising to be splendid when Freddy plays his grand in the gardens with an incredible line up that includes Randy Napoleon, Elias Bailey and Curtis Boyd. The Freddy Cole Quartet will preform an afternoon show at 4, followed by a Gold Circle JCB wine reception in the Studio Barndiva Gardens. The second show begins at 7. Tickets can be purchased by clicking here, but if you're hoping for the Freddy Cole Sunday Supper there may be a few remaining reservations to be had by calling 431 0100. The concert is dedicated to the memory of David Dietz.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)
A few important announcements this week, but no blog. It’s my birthday and I intend to use the day I usually set aside to write to go sit on top of a mountain and do nothing. Silence packs a wallop these days. There are times when I feel more turned on to the possibilities in life than when I was 20, more engaged than when I was 30, more satisfied with what I have accomplished then when I breached 40. I’ve also felt more frustrated than when I turned 50. We make a big deal about birthdays because we can’t or won’t use arbitrary markers to judge the depth of our true feelings as we move through life. The thing is, in the big picture ~ aka what it all means ~ everyday should be as important as the one before. Youth isn’t wasted on the young, abused maybe, but not wasted. It all matters if you say it does. So get out there and eat the view.
Salon des Sens is two weeks away and the show is starting to come together. Incredible artwork from Carol Beck and Caren Alpert has just arrived, with more to follow all this week. Out in Dry Creek, Susan Preston is putting the finishing touches on her compost piece (pun intended) while here at the barn Drew and I are rushing to find a soundtrack for our movie, Farm to Table in 3 Minutes. (The image used for our topper is Alex Lapham of Mix Gardens starting his day). We've fallen in love with all three of the artisan gins Lance and Ellie of St. George Spirits are bringing to the opening ~ so much so that Chef and Octavio will be collaborating on an Aviator Bon Bon while Rachel and I are zeroing in on a deconstructed gin and tonic with Quinine Lime Granita. Copain, our other talented host for the opening reception, has let us know they will be pouring both their remarkable Pinot and a Chardonnay. Thanks in great part to guest curator Maggie Spicer, it will all come together on Saturday June 2. Great party, serious collectible art. (If you think I'm kidding about how good the art for this show is going to be, check out an image from Michael Lamotte's work, below. )
This Grammy nominated pianist from one of the great jazz families of all time promises to up the sass and the class for this year's Healdsburg Jazz Festival. Freddie Cole will play two shows at Barndiva on June 3, in the gardens. JCB is pouring their wonderful Brut sparkling. Dedicated to the memory of David Dietz, whose presence will be profoundly missed.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)
Salon des Sens is shaping up to be to one very cool show: Maren Caruso’s clean-edged, explosive photographic vegetable dissection series; Caren Alpert's astonishing microscopic studies which explore the color and texture of food we put in our mouths everyday, making them appear as if they were shot from outer space; Michael Lamotte’s exquisite black and white ‘portraits’ which exhibit a masterly control of light. I look at a lot of photographic work throughout the year, but the level of talent curator Maggie Spicer has gathered from across the Bay Area for this collection is remarkable indeed. It helps that she’s approached this show from a number of angles. Susan Preston is doing an earthwork piece with compost. Seth Minor will be back with a single-wire sculpture. John Youngblood has agreed to fill a wall with his rarely seen portraits of farm workers, printed from 8x10 negatives. Carol Beck, a new artist for us, will be showing vibrant acrylic work which captures in paint a complex of emotions triggered by the taste of certain foods.
The show will run until June 12, but don't miss the opening night party. Nader Khouri, who had the cover of SF magazine a few weeks back, shot the poster for the show, while two talented long time friends have stepped up to host the evening with us. St. George Spirits, the folks who brought you Hangar One Vodka, also have an impressive array of superb artisan spirits, including three premium gins and a rye with the intriguing name 'Breaking and Entering,' with which Rachel and I will be devising diabolical cocktails to serve on June 2. Distillers (and owners) Lance and Ellie will be here on opening night, as will the fine folks at Copain Winery, pouring something special from their cellar. (Heads up if you haven't visited Copain yet ~ it is one of the most impressive and beautiful wineries around). There are only two big unknowns: whether the video Drew Kelly and I have shot will be done in time for its grand premiere and what Chef is contemplating for his ‘edible art’ pieces. While the stars are aligning for this show, this being art it’s also nice to know there are a few uncharted planets in our orbit, right?
Click on the image for details to the show and opening party!
If you can’t make the Salon des Sens opening night, buy tickets for the Jazz Festival the next night ~ we will keep the gallery open so folks arriving for the afternoon performance can see the art show first. Or, here's an idea, come to the barn both nights and kick off your summer with memorable art and music. We are thrilled to be a venue for The Healdsburg Jazz Festival again for two shows which everyone is saying will be ‘unforgettable,’ not least because our star is Freddie Cole. Yes, he's the brother of Nat, uncle of Natalie, but if you didn't know it already Freddie has had his own remarkable career in "a little less crystal, a lot more barrelhouse" jazz for going on four decades. Come for the first show to enjoy the sun setting in the gardens, or bring a sweater and listen to this smokey voiced crooner under the stars.
We want to thank the irrepressible Jean Charles Boisset for his support of Freddie Cole at Barndiva. Jean Charles, along with long time Barndiva friend Tommy Sparks, have stepped up to make this evening possible. You no doubt have been reading a lot about the French wunderkind's invasion of Sonoma and Napa lately, come meet him on Sunday June 3. For both shows JCB will be pouring their sparkling ~ it’s the classy thing to do for this particular headliner in the Barndiva gardens on a warm Sunday evening. Trust us on this one: JCB is not one to miss a classy move.
While we are pleased to have the festival back at Barndiva, make no mistake: the heart of this evening belongs to our great friend David Dietz, whom we lost last year. David believed in the festival as a dynamic and unifying force in Healdsburg and brought his signature passion in support of it. Come and support the festival! This one’s for you David. And for Joanne, as always.
Tickets include a glass of bubbly, but to meet Freddie Cole and JCB, if you step up and purchase a gold ticket it will include a special drinks reception in the studio gardens between the shows.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales.
Like it or not, we are all defined to a large extent by the landscape we live in. If on a molecular level you are what you eat, on an emotional level you are what you look at every day.
A landscape does not have to be beautiful to feed you (though it helps) so long as you have a true relationship to it, and crucially, the people who live in it with you. Solitude is nice but only through an honest connection to community can we change our outlook, and, in effect, our lives as a whole. Sometimes in ways we never imagined.
Until we moved to Healdsburg 10 years ago I really only took note of the Sonoma countryside in passing. It was beautiful, of course, but then so were similarly stunning vistas I’d traveled through. Even in Italy and France, once you take out the castles and gorgeous old villages, after a while vineyards are vineyards are vineyards.
The truth of how differently I feel now, living in and from this foodshed for almost a decade, was brought home to me all last week as I crept from a warm bed to leave the barn before dawn and travel from one end of the county to the other capturing raw footage for a video I’m making with Drew Kelly. Farm to Table in 3 minutes will tell the story of one plate of food as the ingredients travel to reach the table here at Barndiva. Foraged and farmed, made from animals that share the view with us, the dish relies entirely upon products that were sourced from people who would not normally consider themselves artists. In my view they are, contributing to a final dish which on every compositional and sensory level form a complete, if transitory, work of art. Let me explain.
Drew and I have wanted to work together again ever since he documented A Taste of Place for us at the Studio two years ago. Laura Parker’s exhibit had fascinating aesthetic and interactive components to it ~ smelling the soil as you eat the food grown from it is pretty sensate stuff ~ but Salon des Sens, the upcoming group show where we will premiere FT3minute has a decidedly different MO. It’s SF curator, Maggie Spicer, while not denying that all food is political, is an art first girl whose distinct vision for the show is an exploration of the ways in which, in the right hands, food can be used to create an authentic aesthetic experience. Towards this goal she has invited 15 Bay Area artists to participate, including four from Studio Barndiva. They work in a variety of media ~ photography, watercolor, acrylic, wire, compost and sod. Ryan, Drew and I have joined this group with the aforementioned video. Ryan will also be creating edible "works" which will be served on opening night.
We felt compelled to contribute to the show because while everything we do at Barndiva is made manifest by the fields and farms which surround us, even with the rise in popularity of the term Farm to Table very few people who come across a restaurant like ours for the first time have a real understanding of what it means. Lately, Ryan and I have even begun to wonder if "farm to table" isn’t growing into just another misappropriated catchword hard on the heels of "artisan" and "handcrafted."
Drew gets this. He comes to the discussion from a perspective of someone who creates art to tell a story, a talented imagesmith who is also a passionate eater and crucially, a new father, trying to make sense of this very complicated subject.
And so it was that we found ourselves crouched in the old vines in front of Lou and Susan Preston’s house at 6:30 on Friday, just as the sun was coming up. The day before we had followed Alex Lapham, who manages the vegetable program for Mix Gardens, as he went on his rounds harvesting fennel, wild garlic, favas, rapini and chive flowers ~ all crucial ingredients in the dish that would be the star of our video. It had been cold, gray and wet, not remotely sensuous in the Maggie Spicer sense of the word. Farming is hard work, by turns sweaty, grueling, repetitive. As much as you can you rely on experience, knowing full well that weather and dumb luck will ultimately control the cards you play.
If the video is to be a success we knew we needed to connect the line that exists between the muck of a compost heap and a sculpted, beautiful vegetable presented on a gleaming white plate. Unlike any other artistic medium where raw product ~ a lump of clay or paint or steel ~ stays inert until the hand of the artist gets involved, everything about the final dishes we present on our plates, the way they look and taste and smell, starts in the field. This is our message: that everything about beautiful food ~ what it does to our senses when we take it in visually, breath it, open our mouths and suckle its taste ~ is inherent in the initial thrust of the shovel that starts the process to bring it along the food chain to us. In this regard, talent and vision and a steely focus come into play, marking the difference between grass fed beef and pink slime just the same as a lump of paint in different hands produces work as various as Vermeer to Kincaid. It is truly an art form where what you see at the end is set in place at the beginning. All the aesthetic components like shape, color and texture exist from the beginning in unadulterated form. The beauty of the process, what makes it art, relies on a partnership of artisans who alter and inform the material at every step as it winds its way to that last set of hands, waiting in the kitchen.
And the partners don’t just work together, mano a mano. They are also engaged in a profound partnership with the land and with the animals on it that fertilize, till and feed off it. There's magic in these relationships. If we do it right, FT3minute will cast a spell, the way only art can when it moves us. Alex bending in the soft gray light coaxing exquisite color from his vegetables, Liam reaching into a vat of steamy ricotta with the deft grace of a dancer, Lou’s maestro conducting of his sheep, Daniel moving up a forest road filling his basket with foraged nettles like a character out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Even Earl, talking to his hens, giving them a gentle push to get to their eggs, when viewed through the lens of our camera evokes a complicated Coen Brothers relationship to his brood that is pure visual joy.
Does it matter that our audience eats the art? According to the preeminent performance artist of our times, Marina Abramović, the answer is no. We are all participants in potential aesthetic experiences that masquerade as daily life, even if we don’t immediately recognize them as such. When you dine at Barndiva you buy a ticket to experience the talent of dozens of food artisans who would not exist, could not exist, without your patronage.
Or so I sat thinking, as the three of us waited in silence for the Preston sheep to come down the road. They would be lead by Giuseppe, the great white Maremma dog who lives with them from the day they are born. Following Lou’s instructions we were stationed off the road so as not to startle them. Nathan Cozzolino, our intrepid soundman who had traveled up from LA to work with Drew was to my left, crouching in the tall grass wearing serious looking headphones, his mic suspended on a tall pole. Drew, to my right, had set up a camera on a tripod directly across the road from the open gate to the olive field where the sheep would make their final pasture.
The grass grows high around the vines in Lou’s biodynamic vineyards, feeding the soil, creating an aerial meadow of insect sounds, more buzz than bite. When the wind picks up there is a sea swish that roils, softly, the pure definition of what it means to whisper. A cat, one of Susan’s half wild brood, jumped up on a vine to complain about something. Nathan, hearing everything in amplification, pointed up at the sky, where a curious Heron circled low.
And then we heard them coming. I’ve been in places where shepherds have the right of way on small country roads but this was different, a singular procession lead by a dog with all the dignity of a Catholic Priest leading a flock of keening mourners. Perhaps because art was on my mind, references abounded: the light on the landscape was Turneresque, the passion play had all the irony of Chaucer, the cacophony of bleating pure Philip Glass. Marina would have loved what I did with the moment.
But was it art? While the cohesive parts that would make it whole were yet to come ~ Ryan breaking the animal down, the many hours of prep and cooking our staff would put into all the other ingredients before Ryan returned to arrange the elements on the plate in his inimitable style ~ yes, I’d argue that is was. What we filmed at dawn was as integral to the process of the finished piece as a composer picking up his pencil to jot down some notes long before the orchestra gets them, before the sound of a single virtuoso violin can wing its way through the air in some palace of fine arts.
But then, I love to argue. So come see for yourself and you decide. Salon des Sens, a Food Art Show, opens on June 2. Our talented friends at St. George spirits will be collaborating with Rachel on exciting new cocktails; Copain Winery will be pouring their extraordinary wines.
Are cocktails like ours which are made from beautiful spirits considered artful? Is wine? Don’t get me started.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (Susan Preston's hand, Drew Kelly).
For this week’s Eat the View, we are thrilled to announce an exciting new exhibition in collaboration with San Francisco curator Maggie Spicer.
Salon des Sens is a food art show engaging the senses from compost to carrot crémeux, a curated collection from 15 remarkable artists who work in a variety of media ~ photography, video, acrylics, wire sculpture, watercolor, soil and food.
The opening reception on June 2 will feature edible art by Barndiva’s Chef Ryan Fancher and cocktails by St. George Spirits.
Details for the show are below and we will be writing more about it over the next few weeks, but mark your calendars now. This will be the art event of the season in Sonoma County.
To experience life’s cycle from compost to plant to plate, is a sensual journey we take every day with little or no thought. Yet it is potentially a visual exploration of taste, texture, shape, and smell which has the power to affect and teach us on the deepest level.
Studio Barndiva and Guest Curator Maggie Spicer are proud to present Salon des Sens, a group exhibition which sets out to explore how art can frame and elevate a conversation we should be having about the food we eat.
Studio BARNDIVA Saturday, June 2, 2012 6-8pm Show runs June 2-12
Artists: Caren Alpert photographer, electron microscopes Carol Beck artist, poet, author, acrylic on canvas Maren Caruso photographer, vegetable dissection, wine viscosity Ryan Fancher chef, savory edible art Jil Hales visionary, video creative direction, 3 Minute Meal Drew Kelly videographer, 3 Minute Meal Nader Khouri photographer, food & landscapes Michael Lamotte photographer, local food stills Seth Minor wire sculptor Susan Preston mixed-media artist Rob Scheid photographer, food & travel Maria Schoettler painter, watercolors Maggie Spicer curator, edible compost Rachel Weidinger watercolorist, farmer's markets John Youngblood photographer, selenium agriculture
In the end, it wasn't just about the money we raised, though the sum of $25,000 is fantastic, especially in these trying times when worthy causes go begging. It wasn't entirely about the Diabetes Foundation either, though their efforts to make inroads into finding a cure for this insidious disease is so very important. Diabetes affects the young and the old, the overweight, pregnant women and, increasingly, growing numbers in the Hispanic and Africa American communities. A cure is within our reach.
But what really hit home for me and the Barndiva staff late Sunday night after the last glass was polished and put away was simply how wonderful it felt to have participated. Even a small town like ours can accomplish big things when members of the community come together to work for a common goal. Hats off to David and Nicole Barnett and all the good folks at Brush Salon who instigated Couture for a Cure and brought together the talents of Susan Graf Ltd, M Clothing, Outlander Men's Clothing and Clutch who joined forces to put on a really cool fashion show. Congratulations to the wonderful people who donated to the silent and live auctions, Vin Couture for pouring their wines, Fabian for DJ'ing, KZST's Debbie Abrams for MC'ing, the incomparable auctioneer Lucy Lewand, and last but not least, The Flower Guys, who filled the Studio with glorious spring blooms.
We throw beautiful, memorable parties in the gallery almost every week ~ as anyone who has been here for a wedding, baby shower, special birthday or anniversary will tell you ~ but rarely do we get that 'change is gonna come' feeling as strongly as we did after Sunday's event. As you can see from the slideshow below, shot by our own Dawid Jaworski, we live in an extraordinary community, one that knows how to work hard and then make it look easy. People come from around the world to eat our food, drink our wine, and look around in wonder at the magnificent countryside, but for those of us who make Sonoma County our home a great place to live always comes down to the people you live alongside.
It was good to see so many of them here on Sunday.
This is a first: combining the energies of a sold-out Passport Weekend with Healdsburg Galleries Art Walk. This Friday, April 27th, all 18 of our member galleries will be paired with wineries that normally don't have a presence downtown. I know what you're thinking, Passport Weekend is for tourists, why fight the crowds? Because it's a chance to support our wonderfully diverse collection of galleries, sipping as you go. Think of it as a scavenger hunt where you may just discover a work of art you can't live without. Or a wine you've been wanting to try. Book dinner here in town after the walk!
We love your mum. We do. And to prove it we're going to open the gardens just for her on Sunday May 13, give her a sparkling cocktail on the house, and while we're at it send out one of Octavio's best crumbles for the whole table to enjoy while you watch mum sip away and smile. Chef will be serving our full Brunch Menu with a few special entrées which we'll reveal next week, but consider this a heads up: make your reservations now. Mother's Day at Barndiva always attracts a sell out crowd.
Chef and I were working on a plan to use fava flowers or nettles for some intricate Dish of the Week when Daniel walked through the kitchen door on Friday carrying a flat of pea shoots. It was the first crop of micro greens he and Lukka have been growing as a surprise ~ Chef's been complaining that no matter how quickly he gets them from our farmers (when we can get them), micro greens are so fragile they suffer in transit. He was ecstatic.
Seeing the pea shoots didn’t just make Ryan happy. Since I’ve been back I’ve been off the sauce and trying to eat a light, mostly vegetarian diet to recover from my two weeks of excess in London and Paris. As a result I'm hungry all the time. When Chef offered to make me a quick warm pea shoot salad that incorporated vegetables he had on hand I was all over it. Check it out: purple potatoes, peas, favas, baby turnips, preserved tomatoes, chives, sorrel, artichoke hearts, and rapini flowers.
All the work for the dish had already been done in prepping the veg ~ we do more whittling in a morning than cowboys on a cattle drive. Once you have this exquisite mise en place all you need is some heat in a pan with olive oil. For a sauce Ryan warmed crème frâiche with fragrant sorrel and hit it with his indispensable (and inexpensive) battery-run cappuccino frother. To plate, he gently piled the warm vegetables in a bowl, added a halo of foam, a few squirts of VOO, and a generous handful of freshly cut pea shoots. The foam added richness but hardly any fat, which I’m beginning to realize is what I like best about its return to the kitchen. I think my initial antipathy to foam was a reaction to a less than judicious use of it in the past ~ not, I must add, by Ryan, who loves it for the way it lightly carries the essence of a flavor. And of course the way it looks. Heavenly.
Pea shoots are packed full of carotenes ~ strong antioxidants that protect cells from damage and help prevent disease. Daniel and Lukka got their seeds ~ the variety is Dwarf Gray Sugar ~ from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. They are usually grown for quick harvest as micro greens but would produce a pea pod if given more space and left to grow. Next time you are at the Barn tool out to the patio and gardens and take a look at what’s growing; already poking out of the dirt are tiny blood red sorrel leaves. While we expect rain this week, with all the trees starting to bloom it feels like winter has come and gone, and like it or not, we are already hurling headlong into spring.
I've seen my share of lovely cotton scarves and ethnic jewelry the last few years as I've gone about ethically sourcing for the Studio. Still, I couldn't help but stop when I passed the Diwale window display on Île Saint-Louis when I was in Paris. The colorways were straight off the runway and some of the jewelry, especially the colored bangles with thin gold training bands, were uncannily like... Bulgari's? Someone's got a great eye, I thought. Diwale is the brainchild of a Frenchman working in India who has been so successful he's now got about six shops in Paris. I liked what I saw so much we've reached out to see how and where they are made ~ and if that all checks out, whether or not we can get more. But for now all we have is what I could fit in my suitcases ~ and hey, my suitcases aren't that big.
In the Gallery: Great chunky bone cuffs and très chic metal bangles (also available: hand carved bone necklaces, earrings and rings.) Prices start at $35. Also available: Cotton scarves and a few exquisite wool shawls.
There are worst things in life than to end up at Fritschen vineyards if you are born a lamb: the food is great, the caretakers gentle and the view ain't bad either. Of course the lambs don't care that John Fritschen's vineyards sit smack dab in the middle of some of the most fertile and beautiful land in Sonoma County, but watching them grazing through the olive orchards sure makes for a pretty bucolic scene. John's lambs are Dorpers, a cross between the English Dorset and a breed from the deserts of Somalia. They were introduced in the 1940's because of a strange anomaly which makes them perfect for our warm days and cool nights. The first time I laid eyes on them I thought something weird was going on with their wool, which on the older animals seemed to be sliding right off their bodies. Turns out this is what Dorpers do, they self-shed, and it isn't wool they shed, but hair. The birds love it (wool nests anyone?) as does John, who never has to shear them in summer. We love them too, though perhaps for slightly different reasons. (If you haven't already, check out the Wed prix fixe menu.)
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).
I love apples, but truth be told if Eve had been any kind of cook when she was flirting with being thrown out of Eden, she would have given some thought to reaching for a lemon no matter how puckery that first bite might have been for Adam. Why? Because when it comes to cooking the things we comfort loving heathens love, citrus is all but indispensable. Without acid producing fruits like lemons and grapes (for vinegar), we’d drown in a sea of rich fatty flavors. Ryan’s a big fan of all things acidic ~ when we talk about food the words ‘brighten’ and ‘lift’ always go hand in hand with ‘rich,’ ‘buttery’ and ‘redolent.’
He’s not alone in recognizing the merits of the humble lemon which has been around since biblical times, coming to the new world with Christopher Columbus. The recipe for preserving them ~ surely the simplest ways to extend their season ~ also hasn’t changed in centuries. In Elizabeth Raffield’s “The Experienced English Housekeeper,” written in 1769, she has a version of “lemon pickle” almost identical to one penned by an anonymous ‘Lady’ in Shakespearean times:
The lemons should be small, and with thick rinds: rub them with a piece of flannel; then slit them half down in four quarters, but not through to the pulp; fill the slits with salt hard pressed in, set them upright in a pan for four or five days, until the salt melts; turn them thrice a day in their own liquor, until tender.
Meyer lemons, thought to be cross between a Lisbon lemon and a Mandarin (or a Eureka and an orange, take your pick), are perfect for preserving owing to their thin skins, which are shiny, smooth, small pored and edible. The pulp has a mild sweet flavor. Here in Sonoma, our season for them is early spring, but thanks to crazy ‘new’ weather patterns, when Myrna and Earl Fincher from Early Bird's Place showed up last week with their first crop, besides a quick of the head, no one was really surprised.
Meyer’s are best when medium sized (in general they are less ellipsoidal than true lemons) and ripe when they turn a beautiful golden yellow color. To preserve, start by simply cross slitting through the skin until 1/2 to 3/4 a way down the body of the fruit.
Position the fruit on a bed of large grain salt, a thumb's distance between each one. Kosher salt, made by compacting granular salt to produce larger irregularly shaped flakes, is the least expensive option, and perfect for preserving because while it dissolves easily, its wider surface area won't overwhelm the flavors of the fruit as it softens.
Sift salt over the cut end of the lemons allowing it to fill every nook and cranny until they are covered. If you have a ceramic terrine lying around it’s shape makes the perfect preserving vessel as its thick walls keep the fermenting temperature constant.
When the lemons are covered, replace the lid and store in a cool larder or at the back of the fridge. For a quick lemon pickle you can blanch the fruit to get the process started. Preserved lemons, sliced or cut into chunks, makes a delicious addition to any stew, especially those with poultry. They figure heavily in Indian and North African Cuisine. In Morocco they like to leave preserved lemons or “leems” for months before using them.
But preserved lemons aren't just for savory dishes; they add a j’ne sais quois to sweet desserts, especially where you might expect a candied citrus peel. Perfect case in point is Octavio's newest winter dessert ~ Meyer Lemon Tart with house-made lightly spiced graham cracker crust. This week he's serving it with a gorgeous huckleberry sauce, crème frâiche ice cream, and, in pride of place on top, a translucent flourish of thinly sliced preserved Meyer lemons. Eat your heart out Eve.
The first pieces of Jordy Morgan's work we represented in the Studio were steel cage stone-filled sculptural pieces of sofas, chairs and standing vases. These monumental outdoor pieces played off a use of common indoor shapes and materials which took them to a new place. Extremely comfortable (though you don’t expect them to be), Jordy's stone sculpture/furniture manages to be both corporeal yet highly imaginative ~ physically heavy but spiritually light, if you follow my meaning. Rare is the day we don’t find guests from the restaurant migrating over from the main gardens to sit in these Flintstone looking armchairs, taking them in with childlike joy.
Two new pieces of Jordy's which arrived in the Gallery last week speak to yet a new direction for his work. The first is a bar-height table and four stools that look like they stepped out of Toy Story. Fabricated from a 1950’s steel shelving unit, with John Deere tractor-orange distressed skewed legs, the pieces work as a wonderful breakfast set or just as happily as an idiosyncratic desk for the office (whether or not you work for Pixar).
The second piece, though not without a tongue in cheek nod to the game of Tic Tac Toe, is a serious dining table, one of the most elegant pieces Jordy has ever done for us. Starting with a reclaimed 13" diameter heavy steel pipe, the artist has fabricated (perfectly pre-rusted) four-piece X casing legs. The dining surface, 1.5” thick, is satin finished Doug Fir.
Breakfast/Office Table 56"X 24.25" X 35.75" With four stools, $3600
XO Dining Table 8' x 24.25" wide x 30" $4200
This Week begins a series of Winter Brunch Specials. First up a languorous Barndiva brunch that starts with a Bloody Mary (ok, or Mimosa), followed by our classic Barndiva Benny made with Costeaux Brioche Toast, two Early Bird's Place Organic Eggs, spinach, crispy pancetta and the yummiest (and possibly lightest) Hollandaise around. While this Benny was photographed solo, rest assured if you come in to claim it this coming Sunday, yours will come with roasted potatoes and a toy box salad. Say the magic words, "I eat the view!", and we'll throw in coffee as well.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).
I think it was Julia Child who once said the single hardest dish she ever mastered was “a perfect omelet,” but I bet more than one great chef would proffer the same reply. Ryan, who’s both intuitive and technique driven in equal measure, believes the secret to a light, fluffy and oozy omelet lies in patiently stirring over constant heat, and while this is true, it's only part of the equation. Even if you start with great eggs (ours were from Early Bird's Place), the right pan, and a perfected wrist action that keeps the eggs from scorching, making the perfect omelet is no walk in the park. If anything it’s a dance. One whose music you need to listen to long and hard before you know the rhythm well enough to move to it gracefully.
To the extent that science plays a role, for an omelet that’s smooth as silk on the outside but filled with creamy wet curds, don't be tempted to mix dairy into the eggs. Though it seems counter-intuitive ~ cream should make something more creamy, not less ~ eggs don't need anything to bind to themselves, in fact, any ingredients you add will affect the omelet's ultimate viscosity. The balance at play is air, heat and time. Whip the eggs to a consistent froth and once they hit the heat (we use olive oil, not butter), drag a rubber spatula (or wooden spoon or fork) slowly front to back and side to side. Watch the edges. You will know from the look of them whether your heat is too high, or if you are dragging too slowly or too fast. When the eggs are at the soft curd stage, stop mixing. Now comes the crucial moment. You want a soft skin to form on both the top and the bottom surface while keeping the heat constant throughout. To accomplish this you can either pop the omelet under a brazier where the top will finish while the residual heat from the pan continues cooking the bottom, or stay on the burner while carefully flipping the omelet over in the skillet. Do neither and you risk the bottom sticking (or worse, turning brown). Whichever method you prefer, don't overcook the eggs. This is essential.
Omelets stuffed with fixings like cheese, asparagus, crab, (you name it) are fun, but if we’re talking perfect omelet you don't want any other ingredients that will affect the perfect storm of silky skin containing billowy curds. As a topper, Caviar and Crème Frâiche are an inspired pairing ~ the cool of the crème combines with the pop of salty ocean to compliment, without overwhelming, the eggs, which should arrive to the plate as delicate in taste as they are in texture.
A word about caviar: while the name caviar can be used to describe the roe of almost any fish that produces eggs ~ salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish or whitefish ~ anyone who's tasted roe from the wild sturgeon living in the Caspian or Black Sea knows Beluga, Ossetra or Sevruga are to lumpfish what cashmere is to boiled wool. That’s not to say that domestic caviar isn’t a wonderful and affordable addition to any dish that calls out for an oceanic bite. But stay away from pressed products. No matter where they come from, no matter what size or shape the eggs, caviar needs to be fresh, to explode against your upper palate with a fresh briny snap.
Omelet with Caviar Crème Frâiche is the last Dish of the Week for the Blog this year. Looking back at the dishes we documented in 2011, we hope we managed a few Aha! moments that bridged the gap between the professional and the home cook, showcasing superior ingredients while finding the key to dishes that were both simple and elegant. No matter how labor intensive they were, and some of them were doozies, our hope was to delight your eye with finished dishes where the chef’s hand was all but invisible, his talent subsidiary to taste. The best dishes we eat in any year are usually the ones that don’t shout so much as fervently whisper, overwhelming neither the palate nor the stomach.
Because we think the first meal of the New Year should be as memorable as the last, Early Bird's Omelet with Caviar Crème Frâiche will be one of the stars of our New Year’s Day Brunch Menu this Sunday, Janurary 1, 2012. On the drink side, for those of us who intend to party hard on New Year's Eve, the New Year's Day menu also brings back two classic Barndiva hangover cures: Bite the Dog and the Fernet Old Fashioned.
It takes a lot of hard work (not to mention talent) to keep Barndiva going all year. Even more to keep it growing in the ways we care about most. At the end of the day, ironic as it may sound, great restaurants aren’t about food as much as they are about people. A lot of people ~ from the farmers and ranchers who grow and raise our ingredients, through the chefs of various stations who clean, cut, cook and plate, to the servers, hostesses and bartenders who deliver our drinks and food to the table with a skilled flourish that honors the work and love that's goes into every dish.
We are truly blessed to have talent in abundance here at Barndiva. And it isn’t just the professionalism our purveyors and staff have that is ultimately so remarkable; it's the way they rock it, with an abundance of humor and good will.
2011 was a great year for us, hard but truly wonderful. We have always had great heart for what we do but I’m the first to admit our best intentions haven't always gone hand in hand with perfect timing. If you’ve eaten here in the past year, or shared the excitement of an event, you know we are on a roll.
None of us knows what lies ahead this year. It's hard to ignore the fact that most mornings the world outside feels like it is going to hell in a handbag. There’s too much greed and fear around, coupled with the uneasy but pervasive message from on high that even if you do a good job in life, an honest job, you’re going to end up with the short end of the stick. Don’t believe it. There are wonderful things happening all around us, they just need to be acknowledged and supported. Fought for. Enjoyed. Joy should be at the heart of what gets us out of bed every morning ~ even if some days it's just the fumes of the possible. But joy is like a fire, it needs kindling to get started. Constant feeding to keep it going.
So here's a Big Thank You to our kindling makers and fire builders of 2011 ~ starting with the singular farms and ranches that have supplied Barndiva throughout the year, especially the ones (you know who you are) that do not mind bringing in only one or two crops that meet Ryan’s exacting standards. Special shout out to Bonnie at Dragonfly who lets me fill the barn with the most impossibly beautiful blooms from her gardens while never failing to kick me in the ass when I need it; Alex and all the guys at Mix Gardens, Myrna and Earl at Early Bird's Place, Vidal and Daniel (and of course Lukka) at the farm, Lou and Susan Preston for writing the manual on how to raise happy pigs and sheep and besides great wine, produce some of the best olive oil around.
Thank you to our incredible Kitchen Staff (special shout out to The Incredible Flying Wycoff Brothers, the irrepressible Pancho, Manny, Danny, Octavio, Shale, and expediter extraordinaire Katie) and our charming and informed Front of House, now lead by the eminently able and urbane Bennett and the lovely Catherine.
To Dawid, who has taken the gallery on by storm, and to Amber, who helped Lukka fulfill all our wedding couple's dreams. And last, but hardly least, my assistant and new mum K2, who keeps the blog (and the website) fresh, even when Chef and I threaten to run out of steam.
All of us here wish you a New Year that’s easy on the eyes, fulfilling and just plain filling ~ some of which we hope you will do here. Thank you for reading Eat the View this year (we know a lot vies for your attention) and for your support in person, here in the restaurant, the gallery, and at our weddings. Your continued health and well being matters greatly to us. Have an exciting year. Keep the home fires burning.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).
This is the perfect Early Winter dish that delivers all the satisfying meaty flavors we long for as the nights turn cold. The persimmons and pomegranates come from Bruce and Vicki Pate, who graciously opened their farm in Geyserville to us last week. If you think a single leafless persimmon tree with its gloriously colored fruit is Christmas beautiful this time of year, imagine an orchard full of them.
Admittedly, the lamb aspect of this dish would be a bit tricky for the home chef unless you have access to whole animals or are a member of a meat buying club. The beauty of nose to tail cooking goes beyond honoring an animal (and value for money); in great part it's rediscovering cuts like this. The first thing Chef did after breaking down the animal was to get a great stock going with roasted bones and cuts like the neck and shoulder. His braising liquid for lamb consists of white wine, fennel, tomato, rosemary and loads of fresh parsley. After a few hours in this braise, the succulent meat all but falls off the bone.
Neck meat cooked this way has marvelous flavor, redolent of the braising liquid and the free range life of the animal. Our two lambs this week were raised at Lou and Susan Preston's biodynamic Family Farm on West Dry Creek where they played an important role fertilizing the soil as they grazed the fields and vineyards. To make the croquettes, the meat from the bones was rolled in saran wrap and refrigerated just long enough to hold its shape. Just prior to cooking, Ryan brushed the chilled 2” croquettes with Dijon mustard and rolled them in lightly seasoned Japanese breadcrumbs.
Ripe but firm persimmons have an unusual flavor that isn’t sweet so much as fragrant, with a silken honeydew quality that pairs beautifully with the richness of the lamb. Use non-astringent varieties for taste and ease of cutting. I think Serendipity Farm’s persimmons were Jiros, but Chef was going with Fuyus, which are everywhere this time of year. Chef shaved the persimmon into semi-translucent overlapping slices which he used as a canvas for a composition of baby roasted artichokes, pickled red pearl onions, red and yellow endive and one of his current favorites ~ exquisite tiny radishes. A sprinkling of red pomegranate pips completed the dish. Pomegranates are lovely this time of year but always a bit fiddly. Ryan showed me a quick way to extract the pips from their membranes: slice them in half and, using the wider end of a big kitchen knife, whack away, holding the cut side over the plate. Depending on how your day went, you can have a nice therapeutic moment as pips rain down like a shower of rubies.
We always try to fill the Gallery with unique smaller gifts at Christmas time, and this year is no exception. Besides a (rapidly diminishing) table of ornaments, we have cotton tea towels from Portugal, hand-loomed scarves from India and Ethiopia, Alpaca throws from Peru, votive holders made from cinnamon bark and a small but highly eclectic selection of books and hard-to-source cocktail bitters.
One of our favorite items back in the Studio after a long, post-tsunami wait are the exquisite hand-blown blue and yellow whiskey/cordial/ you-name-it glasses from Sugahara.
Out of time to shop? Not sure what to get for that certain someone you don't know all that well (or perhaps know all too well)... The ever popular Barndiva Gift Certificate may be the the most thoughtful gift you give all season. If you can't make it into the Gallery, call (707.431.7404) and we will be happy to take your information and send the the gift certificate anywhere you want. They can also be purchased at the bar, where you can have a glass of wine or a cocktail while you contemplate how clever you are ~ really, how much easier can we make this?
We are always fully booked for our fabulous New Year's Eve soirée, with the rush for tables coming right about now. Last I looked, we were almost out of space ~ so book now if you are thinking of joining us for a "classic" six-course menu culled from what Chef feels are the best dishes he has cooked all year. Don't say you weren't warned! If you already have plans for NYE but would like to join us for a glass of bubbly or taste one or two of the dishes on the NYE menu, we will serving them à la carte from noon to seven. Seating for NYE (dressing up not required, but encouraged) starts at 8:30. Take a look!
Barndiva wishes all of you a joyous holiday season. We thank you for your continued support without which we could not and would not find the vision and resolve to do what we do. Make a joyful sound, friends, for truly we have no time to waste.
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).
The recipe for the elegant and light(ish) Egg Nog we will serve in the Barn this Christmas Eve comes to us courtesy of our new star behind the bar, Rachel Beardsley. Actually, it comes thanks to a desire on Rachel's part to continually up her game at Holiday time so her Japanese grandmother Masuyo ~ not a big fan of heavy cream and alcohol ~ can enjoy one of the richest traditions on offer this time of year. Masuyo's not alone in craving the wonderful flavors of yule time without the cloying, hangover-in-the making qualities that too often come along with them.
All the usual suspects are here: spiced rum, full cream (cut with milk), nutmeg, vanilla and eggs. By reducing the amount of cream and using only the finest ingredients, in this case Madagascar Vanilla and whole Jamaican nutmeg, Rachel's small but significant swaps result in a wonderful Holiday concoction. Crucial to the drink's success is using organic free range eggs in the Nog, then hand frothing the egg whites for a foam that is light but creamy. (Blenders tend to flatten and compress the ingredients.) With this Nog, less is deliciously more, a refinement you don't have to be a Japanese grandma to applaud.
Mix the ingredients together in a shaker or blender and chill. Just before serving, add the vanilla to the egg white and whip until you produce a cloud-like frothy foam. We use a spiral whip in a glass shaker which is more a pogo move, easier on the wrist. Pour the chilled Nog into a pretty glass, spoon on the vanilla foam, grate the nutmeg. You can make this Nog in batches but don't foam more than two egg whites at a time. (Save the yolks for Christmas cakes or stuffing.)
Rachel will be whipping up her Holiday Nog behind the Bar on Christmas Eve ~ consider this an invitation to come by the Barn for a tipple, whatever your plans are for the night! It's a real treat.
Recipe for Rachel’s Holiday Nog with Madagascar Bourbon Vanilla Foam
1 oz brandy (Korbel) 1 oz spiced rum (Sailor Jerry) 3 oz whole milk 2 oz half & half 1 whole organic egg 1 1/2 oz simple syrup
Vanilla foam: 1 egg white Scant 1/4 oz Madagascar bourbon vanilla (most vanilla comes from the same varietal ~V. planifolia ~ from Madagascar and the West Indies, but quality varies. As with any spice, invest in the best you can find.)
Grate a light sprinkling of nutmeg over the drink
There are a lot of knives in the world ~ and almost as many opinions as to what constitutes a great one. Weight and balance, type of steel, heat forged or stamped ~ they’re all critical components. But for us, in deciding what to sell in the Studio, where the knife is made and by whom is the deal breaker. We are not mindless fanatics that just because something is old it’s good, but with certain objects ~ textiles and knives especially ~ traditional fabrication techniques carry the fingerprint of history, traces of who we once were and what we knew, which we would be wise not to lose.
Berti knives have been made by the same Italian family since 1865. While they have kept up with the times by continually refining their sinuous ergonomic designs, they have done so while adhering to a founding principal that reverently guides how each knife is made: every Berti knife is signed by the single artisan that handles it from start to finish. Perfectly balanced Valdichiana steak knives and carving sets have honed Ox handles; all Berti knives are made from the finest high carbon steel which come with a lifetime guarantee that includes repair and sharpening ~ at no cost ~ in the workshop in Firenze.
The first Laguiole knives date back to the early 1800’s ~ named for the area in Southern France where they were made. Because the name and the ubiquitous insect on the mount (most think of as a bee ~ but could very well be a horse fly) could not be copyrighted, knives trading on the Laguiole history are now made without the same regard to craftsmanship all over the world (mostly in China and Taiwan). Of the original 18 villages around Thiers, only one village collective ~ in Aubrac ~ still follows the original fabrication techniques which made these knives and wine keys remarkable. There are 109 production steps to make a single Aubrac Laguiole steak knife, over 200 for the three piece folding knives and wine keys.
Every year we are lucky to get a few mixed wood dinner knife sets (each handle is kiln dried for its specific wood species). We also carry a limited number of harlequin pocket knives and horn handled wine keys.
There was a very good reason we did not publish Eat the View last week as K2, crucial to uploading all the images and pictures for the blog (in addition to creating many of Barndiva's stunning graphics) was rather busy plating her own Dish of the Week... one she's been cooking up for the last nine months. Meet Atticus Gordon Petrie, the newest member of our ever expanding, extremely beautiful Barndiva family. Well done K2. Now get some sleep!
All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted). NYE artwork k2pdesigns.