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Tomato Season

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

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

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

 

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

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

 

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

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God I love summer.

barndiva reading of the week

seaweed farmer speaks out 

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Return of Wednesday at the Barn

gallery xmas decorations

Return of Wednesday at the Barn

prix-fixe-menu

Truffle Madness

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

two types truffles

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

ryan and truffles2

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

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

shaving

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

truffle pasta

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

New Year's Eve Menu

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

Barndiva New Years Eve Menu

Anticipation

Xmas in the gallery

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

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

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Fall on a Plate

holiday blog 2013

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

deron-ryan

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

vegetarian dish

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

Mix Garden Kale

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

beautiful vegetarian dish

Studio Lights

grilling chestnuts

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

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

holiday kids

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

downtown heladsburg party

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

studio lights

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

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

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu..... Lucknam Park.....The Microgreen Project Continues...

Dish of the Week

A Summery Microgreen Salad

Lucknam Park, the 500 acre estate where Geoff and I spent two blissfully sybaritic days at the tail end of our recent trip to England boasts an equestrian center, a world class spa and a Michelin star restaurant led by the extremely talented chef Hywel Jones. If you’re willing to spend a bundle England has a good number of historically luxurious country house hotels ~ Downton Abbeys with mod coms ~ to choose from. (For the ultimate in posh food and wine a la campagne, Raymond Blanc’s La Manoir aux Quatre Saisons is just up the road.) What brought us to Lucknam, however, was not the desire to spend a few days pretending to be 'to the manor born'. It was the chance to explore this part of Wiltshire on horseback, along with the compelling detail that in writing about their kitchen garden on their website, Lucknam had taken the time to wax poetic about their microgreens. Here in Healdsburg we are six months into a microgreens program that may soon involve building a dedicated greenhouse. My not-so-stealth mission was to find out if that made sense, and what Lucknam had that Barndiva didn’t.

The most obvious thing, of course, is the weather. Lucknam, an hour from Bath, has mornings blanketed with dense fog, ghostly shadows of towering plane trees followed by afternoon skies the bluest of blue, mischievous clouds playing endless games of hide and seek with the sun. Plants that drink water from the air love this kind of weather. While the main buildings date back to the Doomsday Book, improvements made over the centuries by a succession of heirless owners have thankfully been more sensible than grandiose, resulting in a series of well built cottages and renovated stables that feel like they have been kitted out by someone’s rich aunt. The nicest thing about the ground floor suites is the uninterrupted views they afford across faded formal gardens, parterres with buried fountains and lush green lawns which flow unimpeded into acres of open fields dancing with cover crop grasses.

The first day and night we fell into a stupor lulled by the slow ticking of clocks, the gleam of breakfast silver, spa, swim, spa, drinks in the library, and to cap it all off, a stunning gourmandise menu that Jones sent out ~ which was excellently wine paired and simply did not put a foot wrong. The second day I spent riding, then recovering from my ride, which again seemed to involve a good many libations, more spa and yet more food. Could one get used to this life of leisure? My guess is that one could.

It was only on the third morning that I remembered my mission and headed out into the mist to meet Lucknam’s charming lady gardeners, Lou and Sarah. Though they do it as a loss leader, as we do, Lucknam has an exciting microgreen planting schedule under the talented hands of these two gals. One hopes more of their guests will begin to take notice at the table, which will allow Jones to expand the kitchen garden program. They certainly have talent and land in abundance.

It must be noted that Ryan’s admiration for microgreens has its limitations ~ while he loves the ability to step outside into the gardens, especially to harvest herbs and edible flowers that do not travel well, anything with the word ‘micro’ in it needs to justify its culinary street cred. He especially abhors using microgreens as a garnish, going so far as to call the bit of fluff one (too) often finds on top of entrées “lazy plating.” Up to a point I’m on the same page, but where he believes most varieties have inherent heat which can throw the careful flavor layering of a dish off, I’ve come to disagree.

While heat is certainly present in the cress and mustard families, many microgreen varieties make it through the exceedingly short growing time ~ which can be as swift as five days ~ with subtlety and a range of fragrances that gently hint at the flavors of the full grown plant from which they take their name. Amaranth, chards, kales and micro basils are wonderfully creamy, earthy and herbaceous by turn, without being in the least overwhelming on the palate.

Below are some Lucknam Park microgreen varieties.

The fact that I am a new convert may account for my enthusiasm ~ until a few years ago I avoided microgreens completely as I simply (and stupidly) did not realize there was a difference between them and sprouts. I do not like sprouts. Something about the idea of growing and transporting produce in water, coupled with their wan flavor, has always made me queasy. I have since learned that because sprouts are just seeds, their first leaves are always pale and inedible, their stems an afterthought. With microgreens it’s all about a lilliputian world of crunchy stems and plump flavor packed leaves redolent of curious flavors that a mindful chef like Ryan can build upon. Add to this the fact that they are beautiful, dancing on the eye as if drawn by Matisse, and you have a good enough reason to embark upon yet another build and grow project. Stay tuned.

The microgreens in Ryan’s delightful summer dinner salad are delivered daily from Mix Gardens, Daniel’s Flats, or Earlybird’s Place. This week it featured blood sorrel, purslane, watercress, bachelor buttons, yellow and red beets, shaved purple carrot and calendula. It was lightly dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and slivers of opal and green basil from the raised beds here at the barn.

Eat the View.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted.)

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DOW: Warm Pea Shoot Salad........Diwale In the Gallery......Hangin' with the Lambs......

Dish of the Week

Warm Pea Shoot Salad

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.

In the Gallery: Diwale from Paris

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.

Fritschen Lamb

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).

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Wild Mushroom Hunting ......

Dish of the Week

Wild Mushrooms

Growing up in LA I had a good friend whose father often disappeared on weekends to go mushroom hunting. Everybody, including his wife, thought it was the weirdest thing to do. This was in the years before being weird was cool; a few years before ‘shrooming’ took on a whole other significance.

I think about my friend’s dad from time to time because looking back now I realize he was the only person I’d ever met that went into the wild to look for food. Foraging was something people only did when they didn’t have access to a supermarket; it never would have occurred to me then that it might even be preferable to needing one.

There’s no telling what he would think if he were around today, with mushroom foraging weekends offered up and down the North Coast, wild mushroom classes in every cooking school, and shelves in local bookstores stocked with books on mycology. Last week I even heard tell of an app that can identify mushrooms you find in the wild instantly by simply uploading an image of them. Here in Healdsburg, as part of Epicurean Winter, for one week in February (Mushroom Week!) you will be able to restaurant hop across town, eating a different dish starring a locally foraged mushroom at each stop.

But for certain folks, like Corey Gates and the generations of families like his, who have lived and foraged in Northern California for the past century, mushroom hunting has never been geeky or a food fad. It has always been just a part of their lives, a cherished piece of their culinary history.

Corey’s grandmother first took him foraging for wild Chanterelles at the age of three; over the years she taught him all she knew, making him swear never to reveal their secret spots  ~  always the number one mushroom hunting rule, which took on extra significance after she died.  For Corey, foraging for mushrooms went from a hobby to a passion to a business, The Mushroom Hunters.

On Tuesday he stopped by to show me his bounty from what he considered to be a good day foraging the mountains around Ukiah. All but one belonged to the genus Cantharellus, aka Chanterelles. He had California Golds (C. formosus); Black Trumpets (C. cornucopioides); rarer whites (C. subalbidus) and Yellowfoot (C. tubaeformis). He was most proud of the beautiful cream colored Hedgehogs (Hydnum repandum), which are technically not in the same genus. They are great eating mushrooms, if you don't get put off by the tiny razor teeth which make them look like they belong in a Tim Burton movie. Hedgehogs are delicious, with a wonderful earthy, almost nutty aroma.

Ryan loves to caramelized wild mushrooms; in truth he is not a big fan up cutting them up because they can go too soft as they sweat, resulting in a less than desirable texture. Cut up they are best when used in a sauce, or a dish like Ragu where the flavor is paramount. With a few exceptions he prefers his mushrooms small, the better to be served whole. He likes Morels in a nice Madeira sauce, rich and creamy; his Girolles and King Trumpets grilled, preferably over an open flame; meaty Hen of the Woods, sweet Chanterelles and woody Porcinis are best for him roasted, lightly dressed with a nice sherry vinaigrette. Last week he quickly sautéed white Chanterelles serving them with a crispy duck leg, sliced duck breast and root vegetables on onion soubise.

A few months ago I wrote a bit about the complex taxonomic history of fungus and their mycorrhizal (symbiotic) relationship to the conifers, oaks and redwoods that grow in abundance throughout the North Coast. Sonoma, and especially Mendocino counties benefit greatly from mixed new and old growth forests. That, along with our mild extended winters make this part of the world prime mushroom hunting terrain ~ hell, it's almost impossible to take a walk in the country from January on and not come upon some growing wild. All the more reason to learn some salient features it takes to begin to identify them. Forget eating any wild mushroom you haven't foraged with an expert ~ just identifying them can be great fun. Check out the graph below courtesy of (thankfully still) free file sharing Wikipedia. Learn how to forage and if nothing else, you'll never go hungry in the forest. (As long as our forests are there ~ but that's another blog altogether).

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).

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Dish of the Week.....Barndiva on the Cooking Channel....Holiday Parties Begin.....

Dish of the Week

Puff Pastry

I don’t know if it's true or not that puff pastry was “invented” by one Claude Gellée, AKA Claude Lorrain, the man John Constable called “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw,” but it certainly makes for a damn good story. Food lore has it that Gellée stumbled upon the method one afternoon when trying to bake bread for his ailing father. Up against the clock, instead of waiting for his dough to rise he began to just fold and roll, fold and roll. The rest is history, the flakey kind in at least one sense of the word, as it eventually inspired thousands of savory and dessert classics. As Gellée’s father is known to have died when he was 12, one can only extrapolate that the 17th Century painter ~ born into poverty, soon to be an orphan in charge of his five brothers ~ was a savant baker long before he picked up a brush.

Of course centuries before Gellée’s discovery, across the Mediterranean Basin bakers were making a flatter version of puff pastry we came to call Phyllo Dough. Two salient differences: the type of fat used, and, crucially, the number of layers in the final product. Where Phyllo traditionally uses oil, a classic French Puff Pastry usually relies upon butter…a not inconsequential amount of it. And while the perfect Baklava may look like it has tons of layers, it doesn't have anywhere near 730, the number needed, according to the mathematical equation offered by none other than Julia Child in Vol II of The Art of French Cooking, for a perfect pâte feuilletée fine.

Still, the science is the same: unleavened pastry is repeatedly folded, rolled and chilled. When the pastry shell hits the heat of a hot oven, moisture in the dough forms steam causing the pastry to rise on the seam lines of the folds as the water evaporates.  Shortening or lard can be used to make Puff Pastry ~ with a higher melting point than butter they allow the pastry to rise faster ~ but for that rich buttery mouth feel, Ryan believes you need…well….butter.

Vol-au-vent ~'windblown' ~ is the lovely French name for the pastry shell, which can be filled with just about anything. Our Vol-au-vent this week is a savory dish that is all about the taste and beauty of vegetables. To make the Puff Pastry shell Chef cuts chilled Puff Pastry into rounds with a fluted edge, brushing each stack with a little egg white as he works. Toy Box carrots and radishes are shaved and lightly dressed for a raw salad condiment while the rest of the ingredients ~ artichoke hearts, oven roasted tomatoes, brussels, pearl red and yellow onions, garlic confit, spinach, carrots, celery and fines herbs ~ are whittled or minced to within an inch of their life before being sautéed à la minute, while the shells are baking. Assembly takes place just before the dish leaves the kitchen.

A word about the labor-intensive job of getting our vegetables into the shape and size you see here: it’s not folly. Just like a diamond needs to be precisely cut to show its facets to greatest sparkle when light hits it, the cut and size of vegetables has a great deal to do with how they taste, and even how they feel, in the mouth.

Served on Onion Soubise with a pillow of Puff Pastry on the side, this Vol-au-vent is an elegant dish which makes a beautiful entrée this time of year. Using the same vegetables you have on hand to accompany the bird, with a little extra effort you can serve your vegetarian guests something even the diehard carnivores ~ and the odd landscape painter ~ will look down the holiday table at with envy.

The Big Cheese

Don't miss Barndiva and our wonderful friends at Bellwether Farms on the Cooking Channel this week. Filmed a few months ago for the exciting new series called The Big Cheese, (no, it doesn't refer to Ryan, but after we see the episode maybe it will), the program follows several types of cheese being made at Bellwether Farms which Chef then prepares and serves in Barndiva's upstairs studio. (Above: Chef Ryan getting ready for his close up, and with Big Cheese host Jason Sobocinski)

Barndiva and Bellwether on The Big Cheese November 17 @ 9:30PM and 1:30AM (program your TIVO!) or November 19 at 6pm.

Holiday Parties

The holidays are upon us, the first with Dawid at the helm of the Gallery. Though we've told him he absolutely cannot put any Christmas decorations out before the 'official' launch of the season, the day after Thanksgiving, we fear his naturally infectious enthusiasm ~ which he informs us only gets heightened at Christmas ~ may be getting the better of him.

Studio Barndiva, along with the entire town of Healdsburg, will celebrate the holidays together on Friday, November 25th, from 6-8.

Join us for Cocktails and Croque-en-bouche.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).

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Menu of the Week.....In the Gallery.......

Dish of the Week

New Fall Menu

The garden dictates changes to our menus virtually every week of the year. But while there’s no hard line in the sand that can be drawn to signal the end of one season and the beginning of the next, some weeks, like this one, the juggling we do to accommodate the superlative produce our farmers bring to the kitchen door is more dramatic than others.  While heirloom beans, sprouts, quince, and pancetta all started to arrive in abundance this week, so did the last of the heirloom tomatoes. The crazy weather that had left Lazero’s fig trees still bursting with fruit also had chestnuts falling from our trees on the ridge in Philo … I know, there are worse problems to have in life. But it makes calling the menu below the "definitive Autumn" menu a bit of a stretch.

I love this time of year for the crisp snap to the mornings, coming in from the chill to a kitchen fragrant with the smell of quince.  Creamy Mushroom Ragù and classic Frisée salads with lashings of bacon. Lobster Risotto scented with preserved lemons. Ryan’s incandescent Cauliflower Velouté with caramelized florets, raisins, and brown butter almonds (he calls it Trail Mix).  The menu is a blessing right now, a garden-sensitive work in progress, the first of the delicious holiday season to come.

BARNDIVA DINNER Autumn 2011

CAULIFLOWER Velouté, Caramelized Florets, Raisin, Caper, Almond, Caviar   15 Caramelized Diver SCALLOP, Gnocchi, Brussels Sprouts, Quince, Pancetta   16 BUTTER LETTUCE, Champagne Vinaigrette, Orange, Radish, Shaved Carrot   10 Crispy PORK BELLY, Heirloom Bean Cassoulet, Tomato Marmalade, Chive   14 BEET & ENDIVE, Avocado, Apple, Walnut, Warm Chèvre   13 FRISÉE LARDON, Creamy Cabernet Vinaigrette, Garlic Croutons, Fried Hen Egg   15 Local FIG Salad, Bellwether Farms San Andreas, Almond, Shaved Radish   12 Cowgirl Creamery “MT, TAM”, Fall Fruit, Radish, Marmalade 18 “THE ARTISAN” Hand Made Cheeses, Charcuterie, Seasonal Accompaniments   39

LOBSTER Risotto, Corn, Crispy Garlic Chips, Preserved Lemon, Watercress   30 Crispy Young CHICKEN, Roasted Artichoke, Pancetta, Ricotta & Egg Yolk Ravioli   25 Wild Alaskan HALIBUT, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash Agnolotti, Bacon   28 Niman Ranch Tenderloin of BEEF, Creamy Morel Mushrooms, Yukon Gold Potato Tots, Carrot Purée    32 Crispy Leg & Sliced Breast of Sonoma DUCK, Spinach, Glazed Cipollini Onion, Caramelized Pear, Foie Toast   29 Bacon Wrapped PORK Tenderloin, Yukon Gold Potato Purée, Apple Marmalade, Caramelized Endive   27

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES, Wildflower Honey, Lavender   10 BD FRITES, Spicy Ketchup   10 Preston OLIVE OIL, Maldon Salt, Port, Chive   4

TASTING MENU Five course   75     Wine pairing   40 Tasting menus available for the entire table only

Chef Ryan Fancher

In the Gallery

All that glitters is not gold...and thankfully isn't priced like it either. These cuffs and bracelets just in for Xmas are some of the coolest ~ and most affordable ~ we've had in years. Beautiful handcrafted pieces are arriving everyday ~ wire sculpture by Ismael, textiles from Ethiopia, antiques from Burgundy, glass from Syria, ceramics from Japan, and beautiful paintings and steel sculpture...from just down the road. Shop local this holiday knowing you are supporting talented artisans from all over the world.

Above: Brass Squares Bracelet:  brass plated metal squares nestle together to create this light and fluid bracelet with a warm, burnished patina. Great worn in multiples. Strung on elastic to fit most wrists.  $35/ each

left: Square Bead Cuff: Handcrafted brass-plated metal beads strung on wire and finished in softly antiqued tones. $35

middle: Liquid Bronze Cuff: Cast from high quality brass, has molten appearance. $45

right: Crocheted Pyrite Bracelet: Lustrous Pyrite married with gold vermiel make for a striking pairing. Comprised of seven strands of small pyrite beads intricately woven and bound together with gold-filled wire and clasp. $150

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week.....In the Fields with Friends.....A Special Baby Shower.....

Dish of the Week

Artichoke Heart Provençal

Chef thought it would be fun for Dish of the Week to follow Pancho around as he made the delicious, vinegary-bright hearts of artichoke filling for the Saffron Ravioli we are currently serving with a lovely seared halibut entrée. Cut it into bigger dice and the same recipe (sans the pasta) is a great accompaniment to any fish or chicken dish. I was game, but then I had an ulterior motive. I love artichokes, but more often than not when it comes to cooking them I seem to take the easy route and just boil or steam them, eating the leaves with copious amounts of melted butter or aioli as a dipping sauce. For all the messy fun you can have, even if artichoke fatigue hasn’t set in by the time you get to the heart you still have to deal with those fiddly, fibrous beards, AKA the Choke.

With artichokes (as with most things) when it's all about the heart Ryan cuts right to the chase: the first thing this recipe calls for is to strip the outer leaves and discard them, paring the stem down to almost nothing.  As Pancho did this he tossed what he’d cleaned into a cool water bath that held cut up lemons and some parsley, the better to keep the artichokes from discoloring, which they do quite rapidly. Here’s a revelation for all you other lazy artichoke lovers: a half hour in this bath and using just the edge of a spoon, the choke slides off the heart like water off a duck’s back.

While they were soaking Pancho set about making a Barigoule, the French term for a traditional artichoke braise technique which takes large cubes of onions, carrots, fennel, garlic cloves and herbs and sweats them in a few tablespoons of VOO before adding wine and vegetable stock.  Roger Vergé, well known for his Barigoule, uses thyme but as Ryan was going a bit further south with this recipe he used rosemary, a stronger herb with heavier green aromatics. The hearts were added once the vegetables were soft, but just long enough to heat them through. The white wine was brought to a boil and allowed to reduce until the fumes began to dissipate. At this point Pancho added vegetable stock to cover and lowered the heat.

But while you want the broth to simmer you still need to take care the hearts don't discolor. To prevent this Chef employed a nifty trick I'd never seen before. He does not use a lid which would would trap the steam and encourage oxidation.  Instead, he tucks a fresh folded linen napkin down into the saucepan where it lightly rests on the simmering artichoke mixture. Voila.

When the artichokes were just cooked through, Pancho lifted them from the broth and diced them finely with the other ingredients: Picholine olives, peeled heirloom tomatoes, red onions, garlic confit, roasted Piquello peppers and fresh chives. Salt, pepper and a little sherry vinegar to taste and Pancho smiled. We were there. He used a tablespoon of filling for each ravioli ~ as a side dish to accompany an entrée allow a cup per person. Deliciously piquant, this is a simple preparation for artichoke hearts that uses no butter or mayo. Good news for the health of my heart.  And yours, if it's a consideration.

In the Field with Friends

Squash Love

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a thing for Winter Squash ~  the gorgeous patterns, the sinuous lines, the vibrant colors.  With their lopsided shapes and expressive stems they are beautiful in a highly idiosyncratic way, the tropical fish of the vegetable world. While the squash you find in the supermarket have all been genetically dumbed down to conform to uniform shapes and flat pumpkin carving sides,  if you look for winter squash and gourds in Farmer's Markets you will find heirloom varieties going back hundreds of years.

Happily, The Fincher's, great friends and farmers from Earlybird’s Place (Earl Loves Myrna Loves Earl) share my fascination for the weird and the wonderful of the genus world known as Cucurbita. I know it’s Fall when I get a call from Myrna to come over and cherry pick through her ‘Fall Collection’ which we display in the restaurant and the gallery. Unlike Summer Squash, which are harvested as immature fruit, Winter Squash will keep ‘til well after Christmas, unless of course you do what we do, and slowly, deliciously, cook through them.

A Very Special Baby Shower Brunch

We don't just throw great wedding and rehearsal dinners in the Studio Gardens ~ any reason to celebrate is enough for us to break out the flowers. Sunday we took a personal day to throw a Baby Shower for K2,  my wonderful assistant, who in addition to keeping me sane is the talented gal who manages to wrestle Eat the View out of my camera and brain and onto the blog each week. K2 and John's new baby is due around Thanksgiving and while no one knows (or cares!) whether it's a boy or a girl, around Barndiva it's no secret we're hoping for another glorious redhead to keep sister Teagan company.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted) Food Shots of the Brunch by K2's friend, Richert Gordon Salondaka

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Dish of the Week........ In the Garden......In Our Glass...In the Press

 

Dish of the Week:

Strawberry Salad

I forget how crazy busy summer gets until Friday rolls around and we haven’t shot or even discussed Dish of the Week. Last Saturday I found myself shooting it guerrilla style in the middle of the hot line during a busy dinner service which had come hard on the heels of a wedding in the gallery.  More than my nerves got singed.

So when I drifted into the kitchen on Wed morning and saw Lou Preston had just dropped off a box of the most beautiful strawberries anyone had seen in a long time, Chef and I jumped on the idea of a super quick summer salad that would star these glorious babies, grown in some of the most loved soil in the county at the height of their season.  We momentarily toyed with the idea of just putting them in a bowl and calling it a day but that begged the question of why berries, especially strawberries, are often just so much better on their own. The truth is they don’t mix well with proteins, or most vegetables, which is why they are almost always relegated to the desert column.

There’s nothing wrong with a natural sweet food profile but it needs a foil to stop it going flat on you after the first few bites. Chef used the strawberries themselves to provide this counterpoint by compressing half of them in verbena, which took most of the sugar out, replacing it with a nice soury kick and a woody floral aroma. Not quite pickled, a step before fermented.  The process of compressing the strawberries deepened their color to a bruised red which saturated the berry all the way through, creating a nice confusion between the brain, expecting sweet, and the taste, which was uniquely savory.

Edible flowers, with their delicate shapes, colors and earthy taste profiles, were a natural bridge between this Janus-like strawberry presentation and the other ingredients:  the purslane, the gentle heat provided by the arugula and the radishes, the creaminess of the avocado and the great crunch of the tempura squash blossom.  We are particularly proud of the bachelor buttons, which we grew from seed here at the Barn.  I thought vibrant saffron Calendula petals would have been a nice touch as well, but Chef demurred ~ he was on a groove with his muted color palette.

All this attention to detail isn't just about taste, and the tiny petals are a case in point: most chefs in the middle of a hectic service would have just sprinkled them on, but that wouldn't satisfy Ryan's belief that we eat with our eyes first.  No matter how involved you are in conversation when you're dining out and a plate arrives there's always a moment when you pick up your fork and look down.  The eye really does luxuriate in color and form and the result of Ryan's artistry in that moment~  brief as it may be ~  has the effect of slowing everything down.

A few days ago Sandra Jordan dropped off a precious allotment of her exceptional balsamic which Chef used as Morse code on the plate, instead of dressing the salad. Jordan’s balsamic is a thing of wonder, not cheap mind you, but like everything this classy lady does (her exquisite alpaca fabric line, sandrajordan.com, is now sold worldwide), worth every penny. We use it sparingly to finish dishes ~ it’s so full flavored it even works with desserts ~ and the bar uses it in Sandra’s Ballsey, a sparkling cocktail we created for Sandra because, well, she is.  Whatever it takes.

Enjoy the fine weather.

In our Glass

We’ve gotten a lot of offers over the years from winemakers who want to collaborate with us on a Barndiva label wine. And we’ve been tempted, boy have we been tempted. But we suffer from this particular disease ~ passionitis controleria ~ which strikes whenever we put our name on something. And wine, most especially, is not to be trifled with around here.

There is one winemaker we have believed in so much our own label Cabernet is all but a standing order.  Dan Fitzgerald was a very young winemaker when we met him a few months after opening Barndiva when he came to tend bar. We saw character twinned with talent which was remarkable.  He was just finishing school, after some years working in vineyards in France. Through his tenure at Williams Selyem until he landed at Pellegrini, where he is now head winemaker, we have been proud (but not surprised) at his progress in this most competitive industry. In partnership he now has his own collection of wines under the Ellipsis label ~ which dad Chris markets (stepmom Honor Comfort is the power behind Taste of Sonoma) but the wine he makes for Barndiva is a singular accomplishment.

The grapes are grown exclusively in the Fitzgerald's 55 year old Deux Amis vineyard, which sits behind their beautiful home on West Dry Creek. A true vin de terroir made the way they made wine 200 years ago, grapes are handpicked and fermented with wild indigenous yeast from the grapes, hand pressed in a basket press in six tiny loads. Aged in neutral oak for two years, this is a cabernet made in an elegant old world European style.  It has an extraordinary ruby running to purple color that speaks of rich black and red fruit, which you get instantly from the nose, along with a hint of green that rises like mist from the berry patch. Tommy says there is a slight intimation of cigar box in the nose, and that he gets lots of fresh acidity framed by oak in the 2008, which we all agree is the finest vintage yet.

This is more than Barndiva’s house wine, it’s a family collaboration even down to the label, which was designed by Geoffrey's goddaughter Elly and her talented mate Charlie who, like Dan, have risen to the top of their profession in London in only a few short years.

Love the wine, love the story, worth the wait. By the glass and by the bottle, while it lasts.

To learn more about Ellipsis go to www.ellipsiswines.com

To learn more about Campbell-Hay Design Studio (and yes, after the bubba is born they will once again travel for work) go to www.campbellhay.com

In the Garden

Final words this week: check out the ‘new’ Tractor Bar Trio soon. Last Wednesday they played two extremely mellow sets in the garden and it was  Gypsy Jazz at its finest, folks.  We are now serving lunch and dinner in the rear gardens throughout the week, weather permitting, but be warned, the summer's already flying by.  Catch it.

In the Press

Sylvie Gil, one of Barndiva's favorite photographers, recently posted a few pictures of a Barndiva wedding- Congratulations Sarah and Ted!  Click here to enjoy.

All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski  (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week........ In the Field with Friends

 

Dish of the Week:

Sautéed Fresh Cèpes with Early Summer Vegetables

Thursday afternoon on my way to water the thyme and basil I found Tommy and Chef Ryan sitting quietly on the back patio looking into a plain brown box, smiling like kids in a candy shop. The box was filled with cèpes.

Fresh cèpes will do that to you, whether or not they bring to mind the dancing mushrooms in Fantasia. The thing is, while there is something undeniably funny about their shape they are also one of the most sensual taste experiences around, one of the few that offers an Umami satisfaction that truly rivals beef.   Funny, sexy, can't be domesticated  ~ fresh cèpes are the Gerard Depardieu of the mushroom world. Who needs Brad Pitt ~ sorry, I mean steak ~ when you get wild cèpes in season?

Cèpes, also known as Porcini, belong to the fungi genus Boletus. Instead of gills they have stems (technically known as stipes) that start by enveloping a sympathetic tree's underground root system, encouraging the production of “fruit” that eventually pops up above ground a short distance away from the host trees in summer and fall.  In  years when a lot of rain is followed by intense heat, cèpes proliferate in the needle dense deciduous forests that run along the western seaboard. Because they are easily recognizable they are perfect mushrooms for beginning foragers.

The spore print ~ which is how mycologists and budding mushroom hunters refer to the color and pattern of the cap ~ is fawn brown, growing darker the older the mushroom is. Don’t be dissuaded from eating them if you see a bit of green under the surface of the cap as this too is just a sign of maturity.

While dried cèpes are wonderful, deepening in flavor when reconstituted in a little warm water, if you are lucky enough to get them fresh ~ our cèpes this week hailed from Oregon ~ you really don’t want to mess with them too much. Chef choose to make an elegant, simple starter studded with root vegetables because, in his words, "These guys are all about the earth." He sautèed them first in VOO,  adding butter with finely minced shallots and garlic confit.  Tokyo white turnips from Earlybirds Place, favas from Big Dream Ranch, and freshly shucked English peas came next, followed by chive flowers from the Studio garden. He finished the dish with a drizzle of VOO, a splash of Balsamic, and a generous (and crucial) sprinkling of Maldon Salt.

If the cèpes you are using are particularly large, they can be finished in the oven which will ensure the white flesh, thick and firm when young, does not become tough. For Chef, the addition of a few pickled baby red onions provided an essential contrapuntal vinegar note he felt was needed to balance the intense richness of the cèpes.

A quintessential Ryan moment occurred as we stood over the stove just before he began to plate. “Take a look in here,” he said, staring into the blackened skillet, “if you don’t love everything you see right now, we can’t be friends.”

It didn’t take eating the dish (though I did, sighing happily throughout) to think “Well, thankfully we are.” But it didn’t hurt either.

Love was in the air on Father's Day

I'm an unrepentant romantic when it comes to falling in love, but I've always been pretty pragmatic when it comes to what it takes to keep love going, beginning with the supposition that most human beings don’t start out with an innate instinct to nurture and protect any life other than their own. Love is something we choose to experience, but that’s just the first step. To become good at it, we need to practice. A lot. Which to my mind takes time, effort, and no small degree of sacrifice.

Walking through the dining room on Sunday to the gardens, where two of our three kids waited to celebrate Father's Day with Geoffrey, I couldn't help but be reminded that while love is a test everyday (and to this extent a self-fulfilling prophecy) if anything that's all the more reason to celebrate the fruits of our labor whenever we get the chance. Happily, some of our favorite fathers came to Barndiva to do just that.

David and Rhys (Brush Salon)

Ari and Serafina (Scopa Restaurant)       Dawid and Miko (Studio Barndiva)

Albert and Mario Lukka Jovel                 Emily and Ruby with dad Aaron

Lukka, Geoff, Isabel and I want to thank the families who chose to share their Father’s Day celebrations with us…with a very special shout out to Debbi and Albert Jovel, married by Lukka in the Barndiva gardens three years ago, who surprised us on Sunday with their beautiful new baby son  ~ Mario Lukka Jovel (no kidding).

Talk about food memories that make you smile. It's days like Sunday that make everything we do here at Barndiva oh so very worthwhile.

In the Fields with Friends

These are the favas used in this week’s Dish, and the beautiful lady holding them is our great friend Kristee Rosendahl, who along with her partner Matt owns Big Dream Ranch, 300 fertile acres beyond Lake Sonoma. As some of you may remember, Kristee was instrumental in helping create the complicated tech aspects of Fork & Shovel…using a breadth of skills she’s now applied to what we think is the most beautiful gardening site on the web. Smart Gardener comprehensively enables you to personalize a garden plan with multiple applications that lets you choose what to plant, and how to manage, harvest, and even shop for and share your organic vegetable garden.  Partnering with seed companies like Peaceful Valley Farm Supply and Baker Creek Heirloom Seeds ~ the site already has over 700 organic, GMO free heirloom and exotic seeds ~  it will be expanded soon to include a number of wonderful community networking uses, Signature Gardens (Barndiva’s will be one), books, articles, recipes ~ really there is nothing around farm to table Kristee promises this site won’t eventually do.

We hope you’ll take this opportunity to become one of its first members (free to join!) and grow with it as your (possibly first) garden grows around you. We are so proud of Kristee and what she’s accomplished. Check out Smart Gardener and pass this link on to anyone you know who cares about what they eat and wants to expand their definition of local to include... their own backyard.

Read what Peaceful Valley Farm Supply had to say about Kristee and Smart Gardener.

All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week........ In the Garden....... In the Gallery

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Mix Garden Organic Carrot Soup with Chervil Crème Fraîche and Wild Asparagus Tempura

While this extraordinary carrot soup celebrates a single flavor profile ~ sweet organic carrots ~ Chef did not want a one dimensional vegetable “dessert,” hence the additions of a quenelle of puckery crème fraîche and batons of salty, crunchy, wild asparagus tempura.

To make the soup we first sweated chopped Mix Garden carrots with shaved fennel and spring onion in a little virgin OO with just a hint of turmeric and 5 spice. A crisp white wine (we used Sauvignon Blanc) was then added to the glistening vegetables along with organic carrot juice ~ the addition of the freshly pressed juice serving to intensify the flavor.  Once the vegetables were soft, there were two steps to achieving a velvety final texture: the first was to spin (or purée) the mixture; the second, to pass it through a chinoise (or fine mesh screen).

A quenelle of crème fraîche flecked with chopped chervil, garnished with a sprig of carrot top and a chive flower finished the soup, but for Chef did not complete the dish.  He wanted a stand-alone accompaniment, something that would play against the sweetness of the carrots.

When wild asparagus arrived unexpectedly at the kitchen door, he saw the perfect pairing ~ the chlorophyll would add a wonderful woodland element, and with the addition of batter, a nice crunch. The secret of a good batter, whether or not you use rice flour for “tempura," is soda water. We use the gun, but Badoit is a good choice as it will bring a subtle taste of minerality.  All in, this week's dish sang with the colors of early summer.

From the Garden:

Few things make Chef Ryan smile like the arrival of the guy in black standing next to him in this picture. His name is Alex Lapham,  and he's Mick Kopetsky’s main man, along with Bryan Hohnstein, at Mix Garden, the burgeoning wholesale vegetable business Mick started some years ago at Bieke and Bryan Burwell’s beautiful estate in West Dry Creek. From the beginning Mix has supplied Barndiva with superlative produce, and we’ve watched with growing admiration as Mick expanded to include more fertile, unused fields across the county.  That Mick’s organic produce is priced so as to be affordable to restaurants like ours ~ who want the basis for their success to go hand in hand with support of the food shed ~ makes us natural partners.  He’s a perfectionist, but no dilettante (which we love about him) with a clear-eyed pragmatic approach to farming. This year he even expanded into selling vegetable starts ~ we now have 30 different heirloom tomato varieties growing at our farm in Philo, all from his incredible first year list. The arrival of Alex to our door each week is one of the many joys of working ~ and dining ~ at Barndiva.

FYI: Mick is also the proprietor of the former Healdsburg Landscape Material ~ now Mix Garden Material ~ a great place to start if you are considering a vegetable garden!  Check it out.

For more on local produce you may want to read Ann Carranza in last week's The Patch.

In the Gallery

Ishmael Sanchez is back, and not a moment too soon! While we sorely missed him the past year as he wound up his life in Anderson Valley for a move down south, we are thrilled to announce we once again have a collection of his incredible wire animal sculptures in the gallery, in addition to being able to offer his work on commission.

Just in: a crow worthy of Poe, a chicken, a rooster, and two of his Picasso-like “simple” horses. Ishmael also delivered a magnificent full-sized horse that presided over a lovely ‘New York’ wedding this weekend in the Studio Garden.  Ask to see it when you come in, and while you are enjoying the garden, don’t miss Jordy Morgan’s new stone filled wire wall.

All text Jil Hales. All photos, Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).

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Wednesday at the Barn Prix Fixe Menu........ Dish of the Week........ At the Farm

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Early Summer Vegetable Plate

When Chef Ryan went to pick strawberries and a load of other beautiful vegetables at Quivira early Thursday morning, he took Justin along, younger brother of his entremetier Andrew Wycoff. “Jr”   is the youngest and newest member of the kitchen brigade, currently working the garde manger station. The trip made such an impression he couldn’t stop talking about it. He was especially blown away by "how much food" could be grown in such a (relatively) small area.  You have to know what you are doing, of course, but when you do ~ as Andrew Breedy, Quivira’s lead gardener certainly does ~ it’s hard not to be impressed with the variety and abundance of what we can grow here in Sonoma County. For a young chef it’s particularly important to understand at the beginning of a career how essential it is to get to know a few great farmers and endear yourself to them, the better to get up close and personal with what they grow.  Back in the kitchen, Ryan decided to create a vegan vegetable starter for guests dining with us that night, which is not as easy as it sounds. Put a few delicious veg on a plate and call it a day, right? Not around here.

Look up the definition of Haiku in the dictionary and you will find it is a classic Japanese poetic form which traditionally has 17 distinct phonetic units, concluding with a lingering message. Historically, it adheres to a strict format that relies on the juxtaposition of  key words to describe images, separating them by what the Japanese call "Kireji"or ‘cutting words’.  I was reminded of Haiku as I watched Ryan ~ with Jr. eagerly assisting ~ begin to plate an edited version of the bounty they’d collected at Quivira. One of the hallmarks of a good Haiku is that it leaves you with a single resonating thought. With his Early Summer Vegetable Plate from Quivira Gardens, the message of this visually arresting Vegetable Haiku was clear: when it comes to great produce, less really is more.

While Ryan's creation was only comprised of 13 "elements" for me it captured  the spirit of the Haiku form, and what I love most about Japanese culture in general.

Theirs is a pared down sensibility that goes hand in hand with a reverence for spare lineal form, with a profound, if understated, message that often takes a reverence for the natural world into account. While Chef seemed to place the ingredients on the plates swiftly, he did so in a way that allowed each to “speak” to one another ~ in color, shape, and most certainly in taste. As you ate across the plate each element played against the next, yet each, in its own way, remained completely distinct.

The rhubarb was peeled before being steeped in boiled water with a bit of grenadine, the ‘secret’ prep I mentioned last week that Octavio, our talented pastry chef, also employs for the rhubarb batons we serve with the Layered Rhubarb Financier we currently have on the dessert menu. To get the most out of its unusual flavor profile, rhubarb needs to be peeled (the skin is stringy, and can be bitter) then treated with care. Never boil it. Don’t let it get too friendly with sugar. Slipping it into water that has boiled and been infused with grenadine allows this faux fruit to cook just enough as the water cools. The grenadine helps hold and even enhance its extraordinary color. The strawberries were cored and slivered; the fennel was shaved, thinly, then lightly dressed in a few drops of Preston OO and champagne vinegar.

Ryan’s generosity as a chef is always present in the way he encourages those on the brigade that show an interest (and a propensity) for visual artistry to try their hand. It’s NOT as easy as it looks. I have seen him change one thing on a plate that shifts the entire visual balance of the dish. I can’t say how much this ultimately affects the diner but if you believe, as we do, that you eat with your eyes first,  his talent provides an vital conduit to our guests that truly expresses what we feel about the primacy of our exquisite ingredients.

No matter how complex or how many steps Chef takes to complete a dish  ~ initially it's the integrity of those ingredients which inspire each plate of food.

At the Farm: Quivira

The interest our young chef showed for his experience at Quivira is a good lead-in to a subject I’ve wanted to talk about for a while now, as the dialogue over whether or not it’s a good thing for wineries to grow food heats up.  Not simply because I have strong feelings about the subject  ~ whatever your viewpoint, I hope you’ll agree it’s an important discussion that should not be dominated by fear.

When Quivira was denied a space at the Healdsburg Farmer’s Market last year we understood why ~ growing food is not the main thing they do and we could see the argument that coveted space at Farmer's Markets should be allotted to farmers whose main source of income is food. The revenue generated from market sales is often crucial to their thriving, if not surviving. But. It’s a far step from that thought to not supporting wineries with a genuine interest in expanding their business model from the mono-culture of grapes into a diverse ecology that includes vegetables, fruits, and even animals. Quivira has done an exemplary job in this regard. Their single acre garden is open to the public, laid out and 'explained' in such a way as to make a trip to the winery, whether or not you are imbibing, worthwhile.  In addition to the educational piece of having the veggie beds, the chickens, the bees, and the fruit trees all up front and accessible to the crowds that visit the winery all year, they sell fairly priced produce to a select number of farm to table restaurants, as well as hosting events throughout the year that make a direct connection between their wine and food grown sustainably right alongside their grapes.

And that’s not all.  A few years ago when Quivira first started their food growing program in earnest, they invited restaurants that shared a commitment to superior local sourcing to each subsidize a raised bed that could be grown exclusively for that restaurant. The worthy sub-text to this plan was that in addition to the publicity it afforded both ends of the collaboration, all the money raised from the restaurants was donated to the Northern Sonoma Healthcare Foundation.

That Quivira could afford such largess because the owners are not struggling farmers doesn’t take away from the merit of this ongoing program, nor does the grape component dilute an authentic ‘how food is grown’ experience their garden offers to thousands of visitors who thought they were only heading out to West Dry Creek to sniff and sip.

To our mind, it’s always a good thing to see more land turned over to growing food  ~ especially when it’s done properly, which Andrew and his crew are certainly doing at Quivira. We fail to see a down side to it.  Can every winery go the distance to the extent Lou and Susan Preston have as they literally 'grew' what was once Preston Vineyards into the bio-dynamic farm+vineyards that is now Preston of Dry Creek?   Of course not. But does that mean we shouldn’t encourage more wineries to have a go?

On the one side you have farmers who do not have the benefit of a potentially lucrative cash crop like grapes feeling threatened that they are up against deep pocket dilettantes who are using produce gardens and a few farm animals to romanticize their core business to the public.

On the other you have the oft-criticized mono-cultural business model of the vineyard/winery diversifying into food ~ allowing the wine obsessed public to be exposed and educated a bit about how food is grown, as well as making more sustainably farmed crops available to restaurants who want to source locally. Least we forget ~ restaurants, especially those committed to buy from the food shed, also struggle with small profit margins.

Barndiva welcomes relationships with wineries that grow food, especially when they also extend ethical farming practices to their vineyards. At the end of the day, we will always try and support those who have a vested interest in seeing local farm to local table sourcing thrive.

But dinner on the house to anyone out there who feels a Haiku coming on that might further clarify this complicated and often vexing issue .

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).

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Dish of the Week........ In the Gallery

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

The Cheese Course

The Cheese Course at Barndiva is the perfect way to spend an afternoon in the gardens with a glass of wine, but we love to  serve it as they do in Europe, after the salad course and just before (or in lieu of) dessert. With due respect to local sourcing we have always searched far and wide when it comes to serving artisan cheeses. It's important to keep age old cheese making traditions alive wherever you find them, and cheese is one of the few things you can enjoy that most truly reflects the taste of the land where an animal has grazed.  A goat cheese by any other name does not taste the same! When we do source locally, we often return to Cowgirl Creamery, who in addition to importing artisan cheeses from all over the world produce their own exquisite selections. Mt. Tam Cheese is a soft cow's milk cheese made from organic milk produced in Marin County.  It has a bloomy rind, a firm buttery texture and is aged about 3 weeks.

Our favorite condiment to eat with cheese is pure honeycomb.  Hector's Honey is produced just a few miles from our restaurant.

In Spring we pair cheese with bright fruit: a slice of kumquat, rhubarb, delicate citrus, and edible flowers. This week Chef lightly poached field rhubarb in a touch of grenadine bitters to help the natural red 'pop' a bit.

We caramelize walnuts to balance the earthiness of the cheese and the tartness of kumquat, rhubarb and citrus. We add, as a final grace note, yellow blue and russet pansies from our garden.

In the Gallery

Manok is a local talent who has been painting in Sonoma for over a decade, but while she truly captures the bucolic heart of the gently rolling landscapes that surround us, it's easy to see traces of a nomadic life that took her from Laos, where she was born, to Paris, where she worked for Kenzo for many years. It's something in the way she can make the most normal forest, field or river feel exotic, using a range of colors imbued with light that brings Turner to mind. Yes, her skies are that remarkable. Layered texture comes from exclusive use of a pallet knife, but the sly sense of humor she brings to the natural order of the universe is, we suspect, all her own. In addition to the work we have on view in the gallery, her work can be seen in Diavolo Restaurant in Geyserville.

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Dish of the Week .... In the Gallery .... Easter Brunch Menu

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Artichoke Salad

Chef peeled and lightly cooked the artichokes using the French method of Barigoule, which calls for braising with white wine and carrots. When the artichokes were cool, he  sliced and dressed with champagne vinaigrette. Served with thinly sliced watermelon radish, fava beans, navel orange, kumquat, kale flowers, chervil and tarragon, all this salad needed to finish it was a fragrant citrus vinaigrette.

Color is everything in spring after a dull gray winter of rain ~ but color is just the start.  The flavors have to follow through and in this case they do: green and citrus bright, with a gentle bite of semi-bitter radish. The crunchy texture of al dente vegetables is complimented with soft floral notes, and a mellow finish in the meaty chokes.  Sun is out.

In the Gallery

The Bali artist Ketut Kardana meticulously hand draws his extraordinary "Goddess of Knowledge" series from a small hut in the middle of the rice fields above the mountain town of Ubud.

Trained by village elders from the age of eight, he works primarily in palm fiber for his initial sketches, judiciously using Russian inks for delicate color. He normally finishes his work in acrylic, which gallery owners in Ubud  told him tourists prefer.  For the pieces he creates exclusively for Studio Barndiva we have prevailed upon him to stop before the application of any bright color, giving the work the effect of tintype while allowing a greater appreciation of his masterful drawing skills. Matted in archival linen and framed in patina'd hardwood to the artist's specification.

10.5 x 19 and 12 x 21  each $750

Ketut images:

Easter Brunch Menu

all photos and text,  Jil Hales, unless otherwise noted

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Winter Fruit Salad

Dish of the Week:

Bright jewel colors in the dead of winter are nothing short of magical and Chef Ryan's Winter Fruit Salad with Honeycomb is a case in point.  Check it out: Navel Oranges, Blood Oranges, Page Mandarins, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Fuji Green Apple, chervil, chive, edible pansies, rapini, radish,  & last but not least, slivered kumquats from Chef's own backyard tree.  Interesting combinations result as the taste buds pick out fruity, floral and fresh green notes in the dish.

The dish also celebrates Chef's deft hand with Gastriques ~ sweet or savory reductions which are the result of sugar, often combined with fruit, caramelized until nutty brown, then cut with either vinegar or wine.  Despite their reliance on sugar as a catalyst, gastriques are often savory for as sugar cooks, its sweetness subsides.

Most bistro dishes are a result of the classic line up: Marbled cuts of meat using salt and herbs to heighten flavor, wine to mellow, starch to carry the sauce.  But the ultimate brightness in many of Ryan's classic French country dishes comes from his love and use of vinegar.  Two gastriques here rely upon vinegar ~ the mandarin and the apple ~ to bring a brighter nose and sharper initial taste before they mellow on the palette.

When we can, we serve honeycomb with our artisan cheese plates to remind folks honey doesn't start out refined in a jar.  The honeycomb served with this fruit salad comes from Hector's here in Sonoma County.

Bees have been much on our mind as of late, as the mysterious 4 year-old crisis of disappearing honeybees deepens.  While a new heavy bee die-off this winter may be the result of extreme weather, no one really knows yet what's causing a worldwide hive collapse.  Pesticides surely play a role, but sometimes I think ~ between CAFOs and suburbs ~ bees have just had enough.  Say it isn't so.

all photos and text, Jil Hales, unless noted otherwise.

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Barndiva's 6th Annual Oscars dinner party

The Fighter: Raw Course

Chiogga Beet Tartar, Caviar Moussaline, Mustard Vinaigrette, Sunchoke Chips

The dish we paired with The Fighter was meant to be raw and bloody ~ though the ‘blood’ came from a vibrant beet tartar whose magnificent color was spiked with a bit of vinegar.  It was topped with a moussaline of whipped crème fraîche, a dollop of caviar, and a wreath of baby sunchoke chips.  Texturally, while the beets and sunchoke chips initially tasted very different, the earthy flavor profiles of both root vegetables played in concert when paired with the creamy moussaline and salty caviar.

Black Swan: Salad Course Butter Lettuce Salad, Ruby Red Grapefruit, Meyer Lemon, Virgin Olive Oil, Radish

The idea behind serving a spare green salad to honor a movie about starving ballerinas started as a joke.  Then Chef saw Black Swan and was actually incredible moved by Natalie Portman’s beauty and elegance.  With it’s ruffle of butter lettuce, sharp crimson edge of radish, and delicate segments of ruby red grapefruit, the salad, finished with champagne vinaigrette and a shower of flowering rapini, was indeed a visual ballet of color and form.  Delicious as well.

True Grit: Fire Course Veal Chop, Boulangère Potatoes, Golden Chanterelle Mushroom, Pickled Pearl Onion

Back in the day, when people still cooked on the hearth, small town bakeries were often used by villagers to cook their evening meal in the still warm wood fired ovens once the bread run was finished.  There wasn’t a lot of heat left and space was always at a premium ~ but I’m guessing some wonderful rustic recipes came out of this unique and very communal way of cooking.  The story behind Boulangère potatoes was simple: meats were put on the top shelf with sliced potatoes beneath them, the better to catch the delicious meat drippings.

Ryan’s homage to the dish couldn’t involve a bread oven.  But if you took your eyes away from the screen on Oscar night and closed them, it was easy to taste the inspiration.  His savory layer cake of thinly shaved potatoes was saturated in dark stock that dripped down flavoring the potatoes during the baking process.  Served alongside big juicy veal chops from milk and grass-fed free range calves, this was haute campfire with True Grit.  The veal was sourced from Sonoma Direct, where Ritz Guggiana and his cookbook-writing daughter Marissa (Primal Cuts) find some of the most delicious ethically sustainable animals in the county.

Toy Story 3: Sweet Course 3 flavors of Bon Bons

Opps.  While the Journal’s photographer clearly remembers devouring the Toy Story 3 Bon Bon course just as Best Picture was announced, images of it clearly did not make it into the camera.  The plate was a riot of color ~ with sprinkles, roasted coconut and almond flakes covering dark, milk and white chocolate Bon Bons filled with passion fruit, vanilla and crème fraîche ice cream.  The good news is that the Bon Bons above are equally delicious and better yet, available often on our regular dessert menu.

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Barndiva's Valentine's Dinner ~ 2011

Barndiva’s Valentine’s Dinner ~ 2011

Many a great chef has floundered on the sea of expectation that is otherwise known as ‘a romantic Valentine’s Dinner’.  “It’s the equivalent of making love with your hands tied,” a chef once told me.  “Even happy couples come in with weighted expectations.”

True, but confounding expectations are what’s great about love, right? We followed a hunch this year that the only thing couples who chose Barndiva for this very special meal didn’t want us to do was bore them.  It was Chef’s idea to use the 5 senses to inspire each dish.  When his insistence on a sorbet intermezzo between the entrée and dessert brought us to six courses we did some quick research on ‘the 6th sense’.  Turns out premonitions- especially when they are of greater things yet to come- was perfect inspiration.

1st Course: Touch

We started the meal with a Barndiva Classic, Warm Goat Cheese Croquettes, which beg to be eaten with your fingers.  Golden salty crust, toothsome creamy filling with a heart of housemade tomato jam. Fingers used again to glide through rivulets of honey studded with lavender flowers.

2nd Course: Sight

You eat with your eyes, first and foremost, but the mouth and the stomach have to follow for something to be both beautiful and delicious.  The spirit of Matisse hovered above the salad course, a delightful dance of form and color: glistening gold and red beets, tutu pink and orange citrus, ripe avocado, blades of red radish, all atop a creamy mound of fresh crab meat.  Nestled in a shower of Rapini flowers was a single tiny house-made Kennebec Potato Chip.

3rd Course: Smell

How to fully enjoy the aroma of our third course, a warm wide-lipped bowl of truffle flecked risotto?  Some lifted it up and inhaled deeply, while others just closed their eyes, and slightly bowed their heads.  There was no escaping the ethereal woodsy smell redolent of truffle oil.  A big fat Maitake mushroom in a crispy tempura batter held pride of place, but the bravura touch was a halo of translucent crème fraîche foam.

4th Course: Taste

Though we offered a vegetarian option, most diners headed straight for the Snake River petite fillet seared and bathed in garlic, butter and rosemary for their main course.  Sweet buttery batons of carrots, caramelized endive, and a mount of OMG Yukon Gold Potato Purée with lobster and crème fraîche sent the dish straight to Umami Heaven.

5th Course: Sound

The snap of a sweet and nutty Florentine was point of entry to our fifth course, a late intermezzo of bracing citron sorbet with slivers of grapefruit and mandarin citrus.  Like a dip in a deep cold lake, it brought you to your senses, just in time for the final course.

6th Course: 6th Sense

Love is risk, we all should know that by now, so it’s a good thing that premonitions exist if only to remind us from time to time to trust our instincts.  Which brings us to our 6th course, Temptation, a triple threat… but definitely not one to be afraid of.  A Lady Gaga lunar hat of white chocolate balanced precariously on an orb of creamy passion fruit ice cream, which, in turn, sat melting on a couplet of moist dark chocolate ganache cakes.  Lovers were encouraged to end the meal as they started it, intimately gliding their fingers through a passion fruit syrup the color of a Mexican sunset.  We don’t know what they got up to after they left Barndiva but ‘our’ 6th sense tells us for most of them, the sweet notes continued.

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