Rock'n Both Houses

We had TWO elegant NYE dinner parties last night, followed by a rock'n dance party that rang in 2015, Barndiva style. It was the first New Year's Eve we dined in the Studio Gallery thanks to finally finishing the build-out of our second kitchen. In both the Barn and Studio we felt especially blessed with incredible guests... romantic deuces, four and six tops who always celebrate NYE together, some great groups from NYC, DC, and the very cool Toronto. Everyone was primed to party. Our little group of 11 camped out on the new couches, drank, ate, and (I know I was not alone) drank some more. Then we started dancing. NYE is about creating a great din and ours grew louder still when diners from the Barn wandered over. I try to keep bragging at a minimum, but food and service were incredible, no two ways. Hats off to Chef Fancher and our entire staff.

Ever wonder why it's so easy to party with strangers on NYE? Doesn't matter if you've had one of those years you are just happy to get out of alive or you're genuinely looking forward to a new year, new projects, renewed optimism for something... partying with other people in rooms decked out to show off your finery and your cool moves (be they actually cool or not) can feel so good. Now is the time to say thank you to everyone who dined with us, or entrusted us with your special event this past year  -  NYE was reflective of a year of great patrons who have helped us become better at our jobs. We actually love working together, which makes earning your continued support resolution #1.

Glasses raised for an interesting, forgiving and fortifying new year.


Clockwise from 11:00: Chris,our musical prodigy/ bartender with New Orleans moves; the lovely Sarah, shining star of the main bar with two new cocktails on the list; the one and only All Night All Dave; Andrew, who with Pancho, crushed it in the Studio Kitchen

So I say it quickly; whoever is in your life, those who hurt you, those who help you, those whom you know and those whom you do not know- let them off the hook, help them off the hook, Recognize the hook.
You are listening to Radio Resistance.
— Leonard Cohen



Decapod Heaven for the New Year

Beautiful Northern Lobsters from Maine are back in the kitchen this week, and really, what odd extraterrestrial looking creatures they are. Hard to believe that beneath that foreboding carapace, gleaming with extraordinary color, is the softest most succulent white flesh in the Crustacea kingdom. The work to get at what’s inside is well worth it, even if all you end up doing is gobbling it off a small fork, sea water dripping from your chin. Ryan’s plan for them was a bit more evolved however, Ryan being Ryan. Imagine a tower of freshly cracked lobster meat gently mixed with lightly pickled red cabbage, mascarpone, tarragon and lemon zest, gently tucked inside a giant saffron ravioli. Delicious. I especially loved the dish being paired with cardoons glazed in brown butter in an al dente mirepoix of vegetables as a bed for the ravioli. 

Cardoons, another beautiful freak of nature, look like they come from ancient times, which in fact they do. Often mistaken in the garden to their cousin the artichoke (also known for its pairing with lobster), they have spiky celery-like stalks topped with thistle flowers that bloom a gorgeous imperial purple. The expressive geometry of the cardoon flowers look like something designed by Rei Kawakubo, but are all but inedible. The stalks on the other hand, if harvested before the flowers bloom, are delicious. Like celery, cardoon leaves and stalks need TLC, trimmed carefully to render them string less. I've never seen them sold in supermarkets and even around here they disappear from farmers markets this time of year. We usually get beautiful cardoons from Preston, but this week they arrived from Knoll Organic Farm in Brentwood. 


Pancho, our consummate pasta guy, was entrusted with making the saffron pasta, then enclosing the lobster filling in perfectly air tight ravioli so the shellfish and herbs steam through without any water slipping in. Slide a fork through one of these heavenly bundles and a heady perfume of sea and garden inundates the senses for a brief few seconds. What you taste picks up the theme from there, and for a few perfect mouthfuls you could be facing the sea, dreaming of a trip to Italy.

We are serving this luxurious dish as a winter starter. Elegant and surprisingly light, it's a perfect first course before a heartier stick-to-your-ribs entrée. It will also be one of the choices on our NYE menu. I have no idea if any seats remain for the 31st but Natalie tells me the response to us scaling down the price and opening the gallery to a midnight dance party for guests dining with us has been impressive. We have a few surprises up our sleeve - the more Eat the View readers present, the better. (always the case, of course).




Our Cup Runneth Over


I’ve been drinking wine and loving it for more years than I care to count, but in the unique way wine manages to be both celebratory and sustaining, I’ve always thought of it as more of an art form than a simple entertainment. Wine is one of the few things in life that can be either playful or serious, sometimes, depending on the occasion (or the vintage), both at the same time. But from a restaurant’s perspective, building a cellar can be an ongoing conundrum. Even a lot of money invested towards creating a stellar list doesn’t ensure the final product will have heart, must less integrity.

For a start, you need to remember that no two customers will look upon your list (and judge it) through the same eyes. Some diners come in hiding their preferences, or not knowing them, while others wear their new found expertise like a badge of honor, or use it like a high powered flashlight.

A few years back, hoping to address this diversity of interest, we created narratives for our wine book - with chapters titled Local Heroes, Hands Across the Water, Off the Beaten Path. We even called one 97+, because while we held the opinion Robert Parker’s rating system was deeply flawed, if that’s what customers came in looking for, we wanted them to have it. We were happy, if not relieved, when diners gravitated to Local Heroes, followed closely by the foreign entries on the list, but we had to admit we still hadn’t cracked the code. 


Though we live in the heart of arguably the best wine growing region in America, our list has always had a healthy percentage of foreign inclusions. It was our hope that the vintners who might become regular customers (they did and thankfully still are) already had plenty of access to local expressions of terroir and style. What they sought when they dined out - what we sought ourselves - was expanding a life-long love of the grape and the almost mystical way it transforms itself - with a little help from the human hand - in the bottle.

Figuring out the secret of what drives an exciting wine list is a conversation we’ve had with every wine director we’ve ever hired. Our litmus test was never how much ego they brought to the job - too little and the list floundered, too much and we soon parted ways - but how creatively they tapped into a hunt for gems, how closely they wore humility next to prowess.   

Which brings us to our new list, and the talented woman now guiding it. 


I can give you Alexis Iaconis’ impressive achievements  - she was Head Sommelier at the Restaurant at Meadowood, and has reached level three in the four level Court of Master Sommeliers - but a careful reading of her résumé does more than shout accomplishment. To command respect in what remains the still very cliquish, male centric world of wine takes hard work, long hours, and incredible focus. It takes mastering the ability to communicate what you know with elegance instead of verbosity. She worked as a food runner at Cyrus to get her fine dining knowledge, and before that was the brains (if not the heart) behind the still much lamented Green Grocer in Windsor. Once upon a time, after art school and the CIA in New York, she had thought work behind the scenes in the kitchen was the future, but life had other plans. These now include, in addition to being Barndiva's Wine Director, the demanding full time job of Hospitality Director at Copain Winery where she manages the tasting room, direct sales, a huge wine club and all their events, while raising two great kids with new husband Matt Iaconis. Who just happens to be a terrific winemaker.  


In the course of getting to know Alexis I’ve learned that it’s not the bragging rights of having an exquisite palate that is her favorite part of the life she’s chosen, it’s sharing her excitement for wine and its flavors, passing on the story behind the region, the history and culture that cross-pollinates wine and food. I don’t just love the fact we have a woman now managing our wine program, I love the fact it's this woman. One who cares about how grapes are grown, and every step they take after they leave the vine. Because it’s the same way we feel about food.

 It's early days in knowing what lasting changes Alexis will bring to our cellar, but we’ve already seen an end to the line of rolling suitcases that used to form on tasting days. There is a sharper focus on balancing new winemakers with revered ones, with special care taken to bring back old friends. With Lukka and Cathryn’s help we’ve introduced a single page “snapshot” of wines-by-the-glass, splits and specials treasures for those who don’t want to peruse the book. And for those guests who have longed to taste a glass of a precious vintage without committing to a whole bottle, Alexis has instigated a Coravin program where single glasses can be extracted from bottles without pulling the cork - a thin hollow needle is inserted to withdraw the wine before the cork reseals, with argon gas preventing any oxidation in the bottle.


Perhaps the art of curating a discerning wine list is allowing that it is an organic document, and so, by its very nature, will always be a work in progress. Therein lies the fun and the challenge. I look forward to growing the list in more ways that fully reflect the diversity of talent possessed by the growers and vintners we are so fortunate to know. And most especially, with Alexis' help, to revitalizing our commitment to creating a cellar with a personality reflective of the multi-faceted Barndiva experience.  

For the look at our complete current wine list,  click here

For a look at how Alexis is pairing our wonderful menu for New Years Eve , click here.



Finding the Community in Christmas


One hears the term “Home for the Holidays” so often in the run up to Christmas it starts to feel positively anxiety inducing. Of course Home is the best place to be on Christmas Day (duh), but out of love, not obligation. And it’s not the only place to be. Sometimes it feels like everything is conspiring to turn us into holiday machines, instead of acknowledging and building on the obvious: people just long for a connection to other people of good will this time of year. Not so long ago even war stopped for Xmas. Now we’re encouraged to start rushing towards it before we've even given Thanksgiving its due.  'Tis a season to be joyful, and thankful, folks. In equal measure if we can manage it.

It takes a lot of creative minds - and hands  - to decorate two public spaces for the holidays in ways that will continue to surprise and delight our patrons, whether they come bundled with their extended families, or in ones or twos, seeking the warmth and succor of a bar stool or a banquette, a cocktail or a great meal.  Dawid, ever the track star, hurdles over most creative challenges, but we've both loved working with the HEW team this year. With Daniel in Paris with his family over Thanksgiving,  Alexis drove up from LA to help put the finishing touches in the Studio, even as workmen crashed and bashed through the final stages of the Gallery Bar, which we hope will be fully operational by New Year's. What’s it going to be? Come in and find out!

Consensus around town is that as Healdsburg rushes to embrace its future as a year round tourist destination, those who live and work here need places to unwind and relax, and share news of the day.  The gallery is often busy with private events, but with a new kitchen and now a wonderful new bar, we're going to do whatever it takes in 2015 to open it regularly to the community, and to stay open late. 

But I digress - back to Christmas.  I gathered an assortment of found treasures to hang this year - heavy Indian silver balls, red dogwood, recycled tin angels from Alabama (he’s a king, she's a ballerina).  Geoff and I cut long boughs of conifer and brought them down from the Farm for that fresh green smell of forest that should always be a part of Christmas. The night before Alexis arrived I had a strange dream that we were standing in the gallery filled with poinsettia plants. I know, beloved at Christmas, but with their dull red leaves, definitely not a personal favorite.  I remember shouting “but I hate poinsettias!” then I woke up. We laughed about it on the way to Safeway where I’d heard a local flower wholesaler has been selling roses. It was early in the morning, the Healdsburg time I love best. Inside the flower shop blooms were just arriving, and low and behold there were eight poinsettia plants at my feet, unlike any I'd ever seen before. They were ivory, with just a light sprinkling of crimson across the leaves. We bought them all and Dawid hung them upside down from the highest beams, burlap tightly wrapped to keep the dirt, and the whole plant, from plopping on the heads of customers.

While we were hard at work in the gallery, over in the kitchen Octavio was putting the finishing touches on a giant Croquembouche, which thanks to his considerable talent is fast becoming a Barndiva Christmas tradition. Like culinary paparazzi, Dawid and I circled him with cameras as he carefully made his way through the gardens to the gallery. There was something wonderfully incongruous in seeing this towering sculpture of choux pastry balls and spun sugar, first created by Marie-Antonin Carême for Talleyrand, moving through our gardens in Healdsburg. The mulberry trees have begun to turn from green to brilliant canary yellow, and thanks to the recent rain everything else is green green green. A shaft of sunlight reflected off the medallions of sugar as Octavio maneuvered down a series of steps and through the narrow Tunisian gate. Producing things that delight the eye and excite the appetite is what the holiday season is all about for us. This was one of those moments.


The croquembouche is gone, but there is a lot to see in the gallery right now, not least some enchanting statues of French Saints that once played their role in traditional market nativity scenes, circa 1950.  Their edges are chipped a bit, colors faded, but they speak to an era when the holidays still revolved around something spiritual, and communal. I rarely find pieces like these anymore but I'm so happy to offer them in the gallery when I do.  Mention to Dawid or Fatima that you read the blog and we’ll see if we can’t find a sparkling libation behind the new bar to help keep your holiday spirits from flagging. Be they ever so humble or ever so small, there is great joy to be found in this holiday season.   Enjoy.

Here’s the New Year's Eve menu hot off the press - with a beautiful wine pairing for each dish from the talented Alexis Laconis. Should you wish to forgo the pairing, we will have exciting Champagnes poured from the Magnum and a by-the-glass selection, as well as special cocktails created for the night. After dining we'll be opening the new gallery bar for an after party with great music. Book your table (or tables) in the next week or two if you’d like to ring in the New Year with us.  We’re also excited to be able to welcome larger parties this year.  Shaking it up this New Year's Eve, for smooth sailing into 2015!  Join us!



On the Hunt for Zuzu's Petals

Holiday madness is almost upon us so this week's Eat the View is all about keeping one’s gaze focused on spending delicious, meaningful time with loved ones. Though we will be closed for Thanksgiving so our staff can celebrate at home, where they hopefully get to step away from the stove, Black Friday we open our doors (and our arms) wide for a holiday season we’re really looking forward to....with a few well chosen festivities we think are gonna rock it. Here are some unique treats and dates to get on your calendar. 

First up is Healdsburg’s Downtown Holiday Party, this Friday from 4-8.  We love this evening when the whole community is engaged with strolling around, catching up with old friends, sipping, nibbling and checking out all the beautifully decorated shops around the Plaza.  We do our bit: the Studio will be glittering with charming Christmas ornaments, soaring porcelain vases for your holiday table, and unique arts and crafts from down the road and around the world - all one of a kind gifts - all here for your ogling enjoyment.  Until Christmas Barndiva Gift Certificates for over $100 will include a bottle of Preston/Barndiva proprietary red or white. We've never met a person who didn't love getting one of our gift certificates -  good for anything we do in either the barn or the gallery - cocktails, food, wine, art. The perfect gift when you don't know what to give, and most especially when you do.

There will of course (it's Barndiva) be a special spirited libation Friday night and Octavio has promised a towering Croquembouche with plenty of bite sized versions of this classic French Christmas treat to pass around. It will also be the first time the town gets a glimpse of what all the banging has been about in the studio lately - come take a look!  Our lips are sealed what will happen in the space come January, but hints abound...

On Friday we will publish the NYE menu, elegant, three-course, classic Ryan (with a few surprises) for $85, with an extraordinary wine pairing by Alexis if you so choose for $55. There will be a full bar in both the barn and the studio and we’ll be pouring magnums. This year you can reserve from five o'clock on - so even if you choose to dine earlier in the evening and go visit friends, you are invited back at midnight to dance and raise high the roof beams as we ring in 2015.  We will accept large parties this year, but feel free to come a deux and make new friends. 


nye simple angle.jpg

And don't forget: Barndiva will be participating in Strolling Dine Around on December 3rd, 4th, 10th & 11th,  and we are proud to once again be contributing to Dine Around for Life, which is December 4th.

All in all, it's shaping up to be a great season. We invite you to escape into the barn for a drink after shopping or a quiet dinner with friends before the whole family descends. Whether you join us for a little moment this season or the last blowout of the year, we look forward to seeing you and raising a glass.

Happy Thanksgiving!



Barndiva does Banshee Fest

Banshee Winery runs one of the most popular tasting rooms in Healdsburg, with a cool design vibe and great wines, so when founders Noah and Kelly Dorance approached us six months ago to play a key role in their first annual “Banshee Fest,” we didn’t think about it too long before saying yes. With all their hard work paying off (Banshee was just named best winery to visit this fall by Harpers Bazar) they were right to want to celebrate. 

The outline for Banshee Fest was ambitious. Starting with an early pinot tasting at Spoonbar, Barndiva would then host a backyard bash with two bands - Crazy Famous and Fool’s Gold - here in the studio and both gardens. At 8 'clock everyone would stroll down the street to a concert by the DODOS at the Raven Preforming Arts Theatre, and after that, a final party at Bergamot Alley.  Saturday dawned a glorious day, all autumnal light and gorgeous colors. There was even a snap in the air - fall in Sonoma County is sublime. There is no resisting it.


We’d already had a run of great parties all week - a heartfelt harvest dinner for Peay Vineyards, an elegant annual Planning Conference for the SF Chamber of Commerce, and a lovely wedding rehearsal dinner -  so our staff was jazzed going into Banshee Fest. The back of house machinations that must collide to pull off a “whole pig” event with wine, cocktails, and live music for 200 are many, but the moving target was to run three bars offering three classically inspired cocktails, four Banshee wines, and Scrimshaw Pilsner, while the kitchen sent out three interpretations of classic street food starring pork - yummy bites you could eat while standing and listening to music. Eat neatly, with maybe a finger lick or two.  We had ordered beautiful heirloom Cinta hogs from Front Porch,  delighted when Acorn Ranch Manager Tommy Oteley showed up to deliver them. The goal was to really do a “whole hog” bash using every ounce of these precious animals.

For the Cuban we dry rubbed cumin, fennel, paprika and garlic on the hind quarters, then brined, cooked, and broke them down before rolling them on the grill, which renders the meat succulent but super crunchy. Sliced and mounded into a soft bun with aioli, gruyere, and a pile of pickled Fresno chilies, traditional Cubans are finished by pressing them on a flat top, creating a second crust to the ham. These things are addictive. We think Pancho might have perfected the Mexican equivalent of a croquet monsieur.

Banh Mi is a meat filled sandwich which originated in Vietnam, that great kingdom of street food culture, but the kind of meat, spices and other flourishes tend to change from one country to another.  Ryan used the tastiest bits from the neck and ribs, seasoned with equal parts rice wine vinegar and white wine with generous handfuls of cilantro and garlic. He swiped the bottom with Jalapeno Escabeche, a decadently hot and saucy guilty pleasure.  Mi means wheat, and ours came in the form of what local Healdsburg bakers at Costeaux call Hawaiian buns - I know not why. Topped with thinly sliced cucumber, fresh herbs and micro greens from MIX, even the Banh Mi we served without the Thjt (meat) for vegetarians were pretty damn tasty.

mise en place waiting .jpg

The last savory dish we launched on the crowd was our new carnitas - handmade corn tortillas stuffed with shredded shoulder, head, and trotter which had steeped in bourbon and coke overnight.  Yes, I know, I raised a brow, but turns out the sugar in the soft drink and the punch in the booze gives the meat an incredible finish, sweet and crispy, with a sumptuous bite after it has cooked down a good long time. Essential to the dish is bright red fermented cabbage. Rosalia and Teresa pressed tortillas while Francisco cooked them on the grill, letting them get softly charred around the edges.  I managed to devour four of them, and I was on the run most of the time.

To go with all this fatty, juicy, salty, vinegary finger food we poured Banshee’s Sauvignon Blanc, and two of their Pinot Noirs, one the beautiful 2012 Marine Layer, a 2012 Cabernet, and three cocktails.  Sara, George and I wanted the spirit drinks to be classics with a tilt - paired to the bold street food flavors, but with a nod to the expediency of time. We offered a Missouri Mule named in honor of Noah and Kelly (Buffalo Trace and Cock n' Bull ginger beer, on the rocks) ; a Smoky Dog (fresh grapefruit and vodka - the smoky rim was Cathryn’s idea that we talked Sara into making); and a batched version of Barndiva’s Flirt #4 (renamed Frisky for the night). Frisky has Jalapeno infused tequila, peach bitters and essence of golden root. Its one of our lift/flirt/slide elixirs. For the Fest we added spicy sugar lip.

Just before Fools Gold went onstage for the final set, Octavio’s desserts left the kitchen on big wooden boards - succulent brownie cakes with cocoa cream and a single raspberry and light lemon cakes with dark Amarena cherries.

People drank and talked and visited and danced - bluesy rock with Crazy Famous that moved in a smooth groove with Fool's Gold. The night was young, the winter not yet upon us. All was well in South Healdsburg. Late that night I saw one of the Cinta skulls in a place of honor above Drew's station. As Chef had promised, it was picked clean. 



Opening Night

One of the great joys of my life has come from looking at art, which always manages to confound, goad, teach, humor and ultimately save me from myself and a general unhappiness with the world. It’s been a constant, this love affaire, always urging me forward. Until I opened a gallery however, my understanding of what it takes to ‘be’ an artist, someone whose life revolves around the making of art, was cursory at best. The great privilege of nurturing Studio Barndiva through its seven years of existence has been to peek around the canvas and watch artists whose work I believe in evolve and flourish. But while I never forget that finding an audience (and selling work to them) is paramount, thats not the engine that’s kept the gallery going in what has become an increasingly uninspired, commoditized marketplace.

Don’t get me wrong, I think its great how our Etsyized world has given rise to millions of “artists” finding a way to speak directly to an audience who might appreciate and subsidize their careers. Artistic vision is a true democracy, or should be. But art created solely for business misses the point. Theo van Gogh didn’t expect to make bank on his brother's paintings, he wanted to find a place for them in the world because he believed they said something about the human condition the rest of us needed to see.

Sadly, the tradition of the art dealer who nurtures a career over decades “because they believe in them,” is for the most part a thing of the past.  Investment trumps passion as the driving force behind art sales at the very fickle top end of the art industry, while collecting art, for arts sake -- where it does still exist -- implies disposable income and lots of wall space most folks simply don’t have.

Yet I’d make the case that without surrounding ourselves with art that moves us, we miss an indelibly important connection that both explains and ennobles existence. Movies, TV, the  Amazonification of literature, an art landscape where Jeff Koons is king, is culture by committee, codified and calibrated to cater to our fears and feed on our illnesses. It’s dumb and getting dumber.

Which makes the individual artistic vision a rare and necessary tonic.

Manok Cohen and Seth Minor, whose second show together opens tonight, are not tortured artists. Manok’s paintings are seductively pleasing to the eye, giving up landscapes that are both primordial and thoroughly modern. Seth’s single wire work cannot help but make you smile though at heart his vision is a mordant one, a wry pronouncement on what we see when we look in the mirror and find ourselves confused yet steadfast. To have been able to nurture and watch them both grow in their respective mediums over the years has been an honor, which makes this show a celebration of their still evolving talents and a source of pride for all of us here at Studio Barndiva.

At the end of the day art does not explain anything we don’t already know, or at least have an intimation of, about the human condition. Which is perhaps why it feels so damn good when we connect with a work of art. To be able to see clearly even the smallest movement in the complicated dance we have with life filtered through someone else’s hand is confirmation that we are not alone. That as hard as it is to make sense of life, not only does it beat the alternative, but there is great joy to be found in the journey.

Come celebrate with us this evening. Support the arts!


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The Crush

Turns out you can do a great many things with apples besides eating one a day to keep mortality at bay. You can juice ‘em, of course, but incredibly, without adding anything at all except labor, time, and TLC, you can also make sweet and hard cider, apple syrup, apple cider vinegar and aged apple balsamic.

Following our unwritten mantra here at Barndiva to never do anything at half measure when we can over-extend and really drive ourselves crazy, we went full monty on our apples this year.  In the next few months we will attempt to make ALL of the above.  What the hell, right?

We’ll keep you posted on the results as the kitchen and bar concoct dishes and cocktails from fresh juice and syrup while we slowly ferment in drums and barrels the bulk of what we juiced for apple cider vinegar, and down the road, balsamic. The good thing about a labor of love is that even when heavy on the labor, as this one certainly was, whatever happens, you get to keep the love. Which is pretty much what we all felt on Tuesday Sept. 23, a balmy Fall kissed afternoon that was equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. We were blessed to have been invited to use an apple press just 2 miles down the Philo-Greenwood Road from the farm, at the gorgeous Philo Apple Farm, where Karen and Tim Bates and their children have been good neighbors and great friends for three decades. Full disclosure: Tim and Karen had agreed to mentor us on the fine art of cider and vinegar making after dinner and a long night of drinking upstairs at the Barn a few months ago. We laughed about it afterward but the truth is they've always been generous sharing the skill set they've gained over the years slowly transforming 40 overworked acres of commercial apples into an organic, bio-dynamic, heirloom fruit and vegetable farm where they also excel in design, gardening and hospitality in ways that are off the hook yet somehow classically sublime. I do not use that word blithely. The Philo Apple Farm is a treasure.

Karen would be the first to tell you that in the remarkable way they always offer encouragement they are only following customs endemic to most small family farm communities, where sharing hard won knowledge is a badge of honor as much as a way to pass time;  where time itself, that most precious commodity for a farmer, is mutable when it comes to lending a hand.

The Bates agreed to open their press to us during their very busy harvest, when pressing and jamming their apples and fruit is almost nonstop, so that our chefs  - always eager to get closer to the ‘farm’ part of our farm to table ethos - could participate.

Their beautiful old press sits above the Navarro River shaded by plane trees that refreshingly, for our evergreen side of Anderson Valley, act like trees should this time of year with leaves turning brilliant crimson yellow and gold. Everybody but little Rylee, the dogs and yours truly, handling the camera, threw their backs into it. Local radio KZYX was on low, playing Mexican dance music; the air was redolent of wood smoke then, increasingly, sweetly pungent with the smell of freshly pressed apples. Five tons of them.

As tired as we all were at the end of the day, the only thing crushed were the apples. Spirits ran high as we carefully placed a half dozen 55 gallon drums into our lower barn where they will begin the process of losing their sugar, then alcohol, on the way to becoming vinegar and (hopefully, this part being a bit trickier) balsamic. We also have 100 gallons of fresh juice here in Healdsburg, the better to offer cocktails like “Why Bears Do It” to our customers through the year. We even managed to start ten gallons of hard cider - an experiment which has been a long time coming. The only thing on our wish list it looked like we would not accomplish, reducing fresh juice for eight hours to made something approximating the ethereal apple syrup the apple farm produces, Rita Bates, rare and beautiful creature at heart that she is, took on for us. Heavy brown glass jugs of it now sit in pride of place in Barndiva's pantry to be used in desserts and savory dishes like apple glazed whole roasted chicken. Yum.

Barndiva would like to give a big shout out to Tim Bates for opening the press on a Tuesday and also finding the time to help us move our apples from farm to farm; to the awesome Sophia Bates, who like her mum makes it all look easy even when its not; to Rita, Jerzy, and Lauren, and most especially to Vidal Espinoza, our farm manager of thirty years who spent weeks picking and mixing the heirloom varieties that give our juice - and now hopefully our vinegar and balsamic - its unique, dry farmed ridge-top flavor profile.

And, as ever, I’d like to thank chefs Fancher, Wycoff and Mulligan, who despite being in the middle of an exhausting summer season here at Barndiva showed up on their day off to crush apples with us.  This was truly a family affair we will remember and cherish.

Studio Barndiva’s multi talented manager Dawid Jaworski edited my images into the 2 minute video of what crush looked like on that resplendent Fall day. 

Drink the View!

Geoffrey, Lukka, Daniel and Jil

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Up Close and Personal to the Rapid Beating of their Wings

I am not now nor have ever been entomologically inclined. A confirmed and unrepentant killer of flies and mosquitos or any insect whose modus operandi is spreading s--t around on tiny pointed feet or plunging a needle into some unsuspecting part of my anatomy. But oh, the industry and grace of diaphanous winged things like dragonflies, butterflies and bees! These insectum, who live their relatively short lives in frenzied activity, are astounding life forms.

With the ability to move 360 degrees in any direction at 30 miles an hour calibrating the trajectory of a moving target with 95% accuracy, dragonflies are one of the most effective hunters on the planet. With a brain the size of a sesame seed, its wings stroking at 200 beats per second, the honeybee can differentiate and retain the location of hundreds of floral varieties in an instant - noting whether they carry pollen or nectar. Butterflies can taste with their feet to ascertain whether a leaf is good enough food (for the eventual caterpillar) to lay eggs on; they wear their skeletons on the outside (the better to keep the water on the inside) and have wings made of chitin, which work like solar panels to soak up sunlight without which they cannot fly.

Those are pretty astounding facts. But it’s the animate experience of them I’m reveling in this Summer. Stop moving and sit, just sit, directly inside the world of these beautiful fliers and your perception of them will change forever.

Gloriously colored, multi-legged, compound-eyed, these beautiful organisms are one of nature's most successful arguments to the theory that superior form is one that follows function.

Unlike humans, insects coexist - when they chance to kill one another it is not out of greed or prejudice but hunger or fear, even for those flying insects - like bees - that can kill in unison. Remarkably, huge though we are, they are not the least perturbed by us, more occupied with being industrious than suspicious. Sitting for hours one recent summer day amongst dragonflies, bees, butterflies and hummingbirds - not technically insects but fellow travelers in the communal hunting and gathering space - I was struck by the fact that they didn’t register me at all, as predator or prey. They couldn’t have cared less that I was there. Which, whether you carry a camera or not, can be a wonderfully liberating proposition.

For all their diminutive size the cacophony these little guys make in unison is nothing short of thunderous. We’ve all had a dragonfly moment when one whizzes by close enough to shave eyebrow off; we’ve all watched bees gathering honey across a meadow of flowers. But sitting low to the ground in the middle of a large plot of soil that is flowering for any length of time alters your perception not just of nature, but of sound, as opposed to noise.  Reminding ourselves of the difference is curiously therapeutic.

We have a lot of flying insects up here, to be sure. In Spring we have flowering chestnuts, filberts, and walnuts followed by blossoming orchards of apples, pears, peaches, plums, cherries and figs. All summer long well into late fall we have roses blooming everywhere, lavender lawns, flowering shrubs and vines. You can’t be up here through the year and not notice that insect activity never really ceases, only slowing around the time the bears disappear, starting up in again at end of January.

But while I’ve always “known” that this coterie of flying insects contributes in profound ways to our life here on the ridge, what comes from sustained listening and study of their aerial patterns - which seem random but are not - bumps right up against personal revelation.

I am incredibly grateful for the forty jars of honey Vidal collected this year, but beyond what we can eat or serve at the restaurant it’s the notion that we all share this ridge top together in a mutually beneficial dance that makes me incredibly happy. I plant the fruit trees and flowers, they keep them going.


I doubt I will stop murdering flies and mosquitos anytime soon, but with an expanding awareness of the connective tissue that contributes to making a working farm healthy as well as productive, I’m looking at every flowering thing out there now, across the clover lawn all the way to the edge of the redwoods that surround the ridge, with new found respect. Which is always a good start to turning over a new leaf. Whatever you hope to find there.

We will be serving Vidal's apple blossom honey with our award winning Jonathan Apples on Barndiva's cheese course for as long as the honey and the apples last.  Our apple crush is scheduled for next week, so if you enjoyed those incredible complimentary heirloom apple juice shooters last year, plan on coming by the barn after September 24th. We will have a little less juice this year, as we are finally producing an Apple Cider Vinegar, but serving shooters to Friends of the Barn and to all our diners at the start of lunch or dinner has become a treasured Fall tradition.  Let us share it with you.

barndiva reading of the week



The Ineffable Charm of Fraises des Bois

You don’t need to have read Marcel Proust to know he is famous for immortalizing a pastry.  In thousands upon thousands of words over the course of his epic Swanns Way the comely madeleine comes to represent all we hold dear about memory - how it triggers sensation, acting as a conduit to our lives on the most rudimentary level.

There’s little doubt that food triggers memory, sometimes in uncannily intimate ways. But while many of the food moments we remember best are a tribute to time and place and other people - the pleasure of eating chocolate in childhood, the intensity of tasting your first oyster with your first love - every now and then we come across a taste so singular we instantly know we’re never going to forget it.

Fraises des Bois, drooping oddly on their seemingly too slender stalks, are an unlikely looking candidate for one of these unforgettable mouthfuls. Shriveled up like full sized strawberries that have had all the moisture sucked out of them, when ripe they are anything but dry, evocative of earth and sun and summertime. Put one on your tongue and it emits a delicate perfume; bite down and a tiny puff of strawberry air fills your mouth and nose, waking up that little stretch of real estate in your brain that longs to be seduced with simple pleasures. Often all you get is one bite. Be warned, the taste does not linger. But what you register in that magical, brief moment is a flavor achingly alive, sweet yet floral, followed by a curious faint earthy afterglow: the phantom scent of a forest or wood, for which they are aptly named. 

In a world where strawberry “essence,” derived chemically, turns up in everything from toothpaste to chewing gum, it can be a revelation to experience real strawberry flavor - that concentrated ripeness that justifies a strawberry’s glorious hue.

Technically, strawberries are not really even a fruit, or a true berry, they are botanically what's called an “aggregate accessory.”

The juicy part we eat doesn’t come from the ovaries of the flower, but the enlarged stamen. But while we don't eat what issues from their seed, seeds in abundance they do have -  a single gram can contain over 2,500. Growing them from seed is notoriously difficult however, even for a seasoned gardener. Better to buy good quality starts and watch them spread their string-like runners across the surface of the ground; their tiny filigreed roots will cling tenaciously to all but the worst soils. 

It is thought that the first wild woodland strawberries traveled over the silk road from Persia two thousand years ago, picking up a French pedigree in the 14th Century, when Charles V grew tired of waiting for them to be collected from his forests and had thousands of Fraise de Bois runners re-planted in the Royal Gardens. More for the king, less for the mule deer I guess - but to this day, wherever you plant them and despite (or because of) their alluring kiss-me-crimson color, they are a bitch to harvest, hiding under masses of three lobed serrated edged leaves, close to the soil where they like seem to thrive best.

Rachel uses a single Fraises des Bois on a rose petal float for one of our newest and most requested cocktails, The Never Ending Now, made with strawberry infused vodka, rose water, a hint of orange bitters, and a splash of Navarro Gewürztraminer. It’s an appropriate finish for this cocktail, whose name was inspired by the transitory but ineffaceable beauty of living moment to moment on our ridge, where Fraises des Bois (and other things) are encouraged to grow wild. Navarro Vineyards, our neighbors for the past three decades right down the hill, makes the heavenly grape juice. 

Chef took a similar circumspect approach with the small supply we grow here at the Barn, keying just a few of them off the bolder flavors of fat, juicy, San Andreas strawberries from Preston of Dry Creek - picked optimally and delivering incredible flavor this summer - which Octavio has front and center in a simple but elegant summer sorbet dessert. To plate it Ryan edges shallow but wide rimmed white bowls with a sprightly trio of Fraises des Bois, micro thyme leaves and pale white flowers. Against the bracing taste of the sorbet, the delicacy of these tiny wonders makes you want to sing an ode to summer.

IMG_7391 edited.jpg

Rarely sold commercially, even when you grow them Fraises des Bois will barely give up more than a bowlful every few days. We naturally use them sparingly in the restaurant, which is fine - the better to appreciate each precious mouthful. 



Apple Harvest Begins with an Homage to Johnny (Appleseed that is)

While History has an inevitable way of dumbing down the complexity of human nature, most of us have gotten the memo by now that there was more to Johnny Appleseed than we were taught as children - the proto-hippie who wandered the American mid-west barefoot and barely clothed, randomly throwing apple seeds everywhere he went. To my mind the engaging pragmatism of John Chapman’s story is what makes him most fascinating, starting with the fact that far from random his travel routes across Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio were guided by the expectation of settlements spurred by the great migration west.  

When his seeds pushed their way up through marginally tilled hard scrapple dirt and managed, with no irrigation save rainfall, to grow, he fenced them into orchards which he then rented, bartered or sold to new settlers at a time when having a standing orchard of apples and pears was often a prerequisite for claiming ownership of land. 

Another pre-requisite to survival - though more a cultural imperative than a legal one - was the ability to have a cheap and easy way to make hard cider, “the nectar of the frontier.” Yet though he was responsible for propagating most of the wild apples across the mid-west used to make booze, Johnny himself did not drink. Nor did he marry. Nor did he care about possessions, though at the time of his death he was technically a “wealthy” landowner.

Set against the modern model of an entrepreneurial American, though he obviously had a businessman’s brain in that tousled head, grace and salvation, not greed, was what motivated and defined Johnny Appleseed.

Interesting fellow. Even the tin pot he wore on his head was more canny than crackpot - it was simply the easiest way to carry his main cooking implement.

The definition of a wild apple is one propagated only by seed, what we commonly call crabapples. In another lifetime, when wine barrels and cider stills could be found down most dirt roads in Mendocino there was a crazy quilt orchard of crabapples on our ridge, pulled out, along with all our wine grapes, during prohibition. The single crabapple tree that survived probably only got a reprieve because it was near the kitchen garden - Pectin rich, crabapples were often used in jams to thicken them. 

What makes crabapples great for cider is what makes them horrible for eating. They are small and knobby, usually sporting a blemish or three. They are bitter, with very little flesh on them. But oh are they great for developing flavor as they ferment.

 We managed a full case of crabapples this year from our single antique tree, and with a new project looming at the barn that will explore less familiar tastes and aromas in food and wine, I was curious what the kitchen could do with them. The flavor profile is intriguing - tart like a Greening, crisp like a Mac, but without almost any residual sugar. Our long suffering pastry chef Octavio Alcazar (who just got through processing a ton of figs from our harvest which come in all at once) choose to poach them, devising a liquor he hoped would soften the tannins while teasing out more subtle flavors.

He used La Vielle Ferme Recolte, a white Rhône from Chateau Beaucastel, threw in a handful of vanilla beans, lemon peel and bay leaf. This mélange brought out surprising floral notes to the crabapples, while the flesh – the little there was of it - retained a curiously crisp bite. 

Instead of a classic pairing with pork or duck, Chef served a trio of poached crabapples alongside another old-timer making its brief seasonal appearance in the dining room this month, the heavenly Gravenstein. 

The Gravenstein is a very special apple - a cultivar that started its life as a chance seeding in Denmark almost 400 years ago.

Brought over to California by Russian fur traders who landed in Fort Ross in the early 1800’s, Gravensteins took root and thrived in Northern California for generations - especially prolific in Western Sonoma County.  

Sweet yet tart, they are incredibly delicious cooked into pies and sauce, excellent for juice and cider.   

Sadly, because they are difficult to harvest and do not keep well, Gravensteins* were one of many apples that began to disappear with the great American dumbing down of fruit and vegetable varieties which followed the rise of commercial farming - though in this particular case Gravensteins orchards were not pulled out to plant other apple varieties so much as to make way for grapes.

We run through our precious supply of dry farmed Gravs from the ridge pretty quickly, but the week the crabapples made their appearance we were still baking light and fragrant Gravenstein tarts for the dessert menu. Octavio devised a delicately spiced flakey crust, baking the apples until just their edges begin to caramelize. We finish the tart with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar and serve it with a creamy scoop of refreshing Wyeth Acre Goat Milk Ice Cream which I wrote about a few weeks back and is fast become a dining room favorite.  Already a wonderful dessert, the crabapples added a bit of gravitas (sorry, couldn’t resist). 

Gravenstein Apple Tart with Wyeth Acre Goat Milk Ice Cream and Poached Crabapples - our humble homage to the unusual historical figure of Johnny Appleseed- may be gone by the time you read this, but apple harvest is just picking up steam. Pink Pearls and Macintosh arrived this week (along with the first of the Asian pears and red and gold Bartletts) so no worries, our apples will continue to make an appearance in one form or another in the dining room through Fall.

And Daniel and Lukka have once again entered Barndiva Farm in the Mendocino County Apple Fair where we won quite a few ribbons last year. If you’ve never been to a real country fair and you’re in striking distance to Boonville this Sept. 12-14, don’t hesitate. Country Fairs are a great way of supporting family farms, especially young farmers, and of keeping food and sustainable farming traditions alive.

If you can’t make it up to Mendocino in Sept. but crave a taste of apple cider history, come in and sidle up to the bar where Rachel, Sarah and George will be happy to pour you a flight of handcrafted apple ciders made right down the road from us in Sebastopol by the Devoto Family,  organically farming heirloom apples since 1976. One of their ciders is made from 95% Gravensteins.  A real treat, one you can enjoy all year. Come on in and raise a glass to Johnny. 

* While Gravenstein production will never return to Sonoma County in any great numbers, it is now highly sought after thanks in great part to the efforts of The Russian River Slow Food Convivium, who helped get the Grav into Slow Foods vaunted Arc of Taste in 2013.  Wherever you call home, The Arc of Taste is a wonderful thing to support. Learn more about the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium.



Tomato Season


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.


God I love summer.

barndiva reading of the week

seaweed farmer speaks out 



Summer Cocktails

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

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

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

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

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

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


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



Click here to view our new cocktail list!



Tête a Cochon

lavender topper

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

final tasting two cuts

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

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


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


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

cuts of meat

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


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

final dish

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


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

Follow Us in 2014!

milking the goat

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



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

milking goat topper

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

bright eyed goat

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

bucket of goats milk

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

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

pied piper

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

pouring into jar

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

hanna flexing

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


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

links to: Wyeth AcresSonoma Meat CompanyReal MilkFront Porch Farm Shed

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



Seared Halibut with Citrus and Olives

eggs topper

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

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


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


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

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

Mother's Day 2014

mothers day pics

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

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



Spring Lamb with Stinging Nettle Foam

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

lamb shank

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

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

veg delivery

Later that night Chef sent me this:

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

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

Enjoy the rest of Spring.

spring lamb

A Special Sunday

mothers day bouquet

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



Notes from the Ridge

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greenwood ridge

The New Bar Menu!


DUNGENESS CRAB SALAD avocado, mandarin, pickled chili 20

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

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

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

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

caper berries, calabrian chilis 12

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

 FILET MIGNON potato purée, asparagus, caramelized onion jam

bone marrow “tater tot” 38

 BD FRITES crisp kennebec potatoes, spicy ketchup 12

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES wildflower honey, lavender 12

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

fried chicken2

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



Play the Cat ~ Spring Cocktails are here!!

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ray prepping cocktail

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

cocktail pairing

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

Lift #4

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

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

never ending now

Rhubarb is Back

rhubarb dessert

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

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

rhubarb dessert3

Join Us for Easter Brunch

Easter Menu

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales



Hot Off The Press

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special menu pic

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

for the April edition of Smithsonian Magazine's much anticipated

Ten Best Small Towns to visit in America

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

mange le terrior

!  Check out the entire article here:

20 Best Small Towns to Visit in 2014

First Weeks of Spring


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

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

reaching out

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales