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Dish of the Week

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Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon

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It was great to read Andrew Carmellini’s strident defense of “the long lost art of the arroser” in the New York Times last week as we are big time proponents of this traditional French technique of rapid butter basting to finish proteins. À la minute cooking allows a little butter to go a long way; done right it has the potential to deliver saturated flavor that is as rich as it is nuanced.

bacon wrapped sturgeon delicious

Drew’s Dish of the Week ~ Bacon Wrapped Sturgeon with Smashed English Peas and Hedgehog Mushroom Tempura ~ relies on arroser and several other tricks of the trade that make the most of ingredients that are inherently umami, the basic taste profile we define as savory which, crave them as we do, can easily overwhelm the palate. On a scale of 1 -10, sturgeon has the potential to be gloriously satisfying, but without a deft approach to respect its subtle flavor and fragile texture it can easily go dry and bland. Drew’s use of thin strips of raw bacon tightly wrapped around the portioned fish and left to rest in the fridge keeps the cut flesh from drying out. It also lightly flavors the fish, adding a layer of complexity which his cooking method ~ a four sided pan sear ~ extends as the sturgeon slow cooks inside its carapace of sizzling bacon. The result is heavenly moist fish inside a golden crispy outer ‘skin.’

prepping sturgeon

An arroser can use any variety of herbs that will hold up to the heat ~ Drew chose fresh rosemary and garlic for their pungency and green notes. The secret of the technique ~ like many great things in life that have nothing to do with cooking ~ is all in the wrist. You need to move the spoon into and over the pan at a constant speed; this rhythmic basting motion results in dozens of tiny bubbles that aerate the butter. You’re going for foamy butter that does not burn. The fish is then pulled off the flame and allowed to briefly rest while the flavors harmonize, and it finishes cooking.

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The earthiness of the hedgehog mushrooms, dredged lightly in tempura batter and deep fried, were an inspired land-meets-sea pairing for the fish, but Drew wanted more ~ color to brighten the dish and something to provide a foil for the savory proteins. Happily, the first of the English peas arrived in kitchen the same morning as the sturgeon, so we were off to the races. The peas were lightly smashed, then sautéed in VOO with a small dice of confit garlic, tomato and carrot, emulsified with a spoonful of fragrant spring vegetable stock. Pancho then made a vibrant pea purée (with a touch of spinach to hold the color) and a broken vinaigrette of VOO and port reduction.

Pancho and I did a little spring jig over this dish ~ he while plating it, me while eating it. Drew just stood back, arms folded, big smile.

hedgehog mushroom tempura

Of all the reasons I’ve come to see Ryan as a great chef, the talent he’s nurtured in this team resonates the most. Encouraging them to shine isn’t just his way of honoring his own mentors, though it certainly does that in spades. It’s also a reminder that for all the years of hard work it takes to become great at this profession, cooking like this is all about love, and respect.

Sprung!

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The first container of treasures we found on our recent trip to Paris this past (freezing!) January have just arrived in the Studio. Thick felt firewood carriers (also perfect for kids toys); handwoven cotton and leather everyday summer bags (larger ones for market or beach); elegant wire votive holders; a delightful selection of distressed steel bird feeders and planters; handcarved and painted picture frames ~ we done good! Come in and let us talk you through our charming Spring Collection.

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Also just in time for Easter are the first of Neeru Kumar's elegant scarves in black & white and light summer colors. Kumar is one of the most beloved and well known textile designers in India at the moment ~ reviving hand loomed textile traditions one village at a time. Her work is sold at the V&A in London, at the Met and Guggenheim in New York...and now at Studio Barndiva!

Nerru Kumars textiles

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski

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Exciting News!

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Saveur

EAT THE VIEW won the most votes in the documentary category in Saveur Magazine’s Video Festival last week, taking home the People's Choice Award.

How cool is that? Very! In addition to bragging rights (Saveur’s Editor-in-Chief and Top Chef Masters judge James Oseland commended us for a video that “really stood out to us for strong sense of place and story”), we will be getting a check for $250 which will go directly into the video kitty. Making EAT THE VIEW with Drew and the crew was a joy. It is ganache on the cake to have been recognized in this fashion.

To each and every one of you WHO TOOK THE TIME TO VOTE  ~ THANK YOU! We are especially grateful to the social media mavens who helped get the word out ~ Carey Sweet, Elizabeth Cosin, Tod Brilliant, Scott Keneally, John Mamus, you are the best! E.A.T. (all the way in Richmond, Virginia) thank you for your infectious support. As for our co-stars, a shout out to Preston Family Farm, all the guys at MIX, and the Callahan’s and Lenny at Bellwether, who also urged folks to vote through their websites and blogs. Drew and I are sincerely grateful for the continued support we’ve felt on this project ~ with a special nod to the indomitable K2’s, who entered us in the competition and kept the energy flowing. As a result more people will come to know what we mean by eating the view here in Healdsburg.

Saveur is running all the winning videos on their site.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski.

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two cameras, one sunset

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healdsburg vineyard

It was just chance that Dawid and I were both out and about at sunset last Tuesday, reaching for our cameras at more or less the same moment in time. Dawid was traveling south on 101, looking out over Old Redwood Hwy towards Dry Creek Valley ~ his shot of vineyards, back-lit blooming plum trees and gently rolling coastal ridges is bathed in a spectral glow. A methodical photographer who longs to capture light as the eye sees it, I can imagine him stopping the car and getting out, carefully contemplating the layers of color and lineal form as traffic whizzed by and the sun dipped behind the mountains.

headsburg sunset

I was in a speeding car on Hwy 128, Geoffrey driving, between Philo and Boonville, playing the viewfinder game ~ half a second to intimate just when to push the shutter before 'the shot' flashes by, gone forever. 128 is a road etched in my brain after 30 years, yet still revealing its secrets. Just when I think nothing about it can surprise me, that I’ve squeezed everything out of the landscape, it stands up and bites me in the ass.

With much of the country still locked in the cold clasp of winter we are counting our many blessings here in Northern California, luxuriating in glorious weather and sherbet colored sunsets. Both images capture what many of us were feeling this week: if you don’t believe nature is sublime, now is a good time to start.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski.

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Cocktails for Lovers

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It’s harder to create ‘romantic’ cocktails than one might think ~ any drink themed to an ideal (as opposed to a season) comes with so many various interpretations. Valentine's Day runs the libidinal gauntlet from starter romances that don’t need anything more than a gentle nudge, to long married couples in search of a jump start. And then there’s everything in between.

Rachel Beardsley bartender

Be Mine? is a Barndiva Valentine's Day favorite ~ a shy come-on of a cocktail that flirts with just enough flavor in an egg white lavender foam so the punch of citrus you get from Meyer lemon infused vodka comes as a nice, if unexpected, surprise. It's finished with a crème de violette and huckleberry syrup heart, which adds top notes both floral and forest berry. It's a pretty drink, one that's elegantly sexy.

rishi tea cocktail

It’s All About You (a.k.a me me me) is a cocktail for seasoned lovers ~ c'mon, if you haven't heard that refrain in an argument, chances are you've said it. Construction of the cocktail was also a response to the notion that men don’t order champagne cocktails. Gay or straight, they do, of course, but more often than not they like a kick to them. And while It’s All About You could read as hipster chic from a cursory look at the ingredients ~ Rishi organic white rose tea, St. Germain elderflower liqueur ~ its spirit (in both senses of the word) is Pisco, a fortified grape brandy which to our mind is not used often enough in great cocktails. There are so many directions Pisco can take other than sour! Rachel finishes It's All About You with a bracing swirl of creole bitters so you end up thinking New Orleans, not Brooklyn.

sipping cocktail

Then again, think whatever you like. At the end of the day what’s sexy about any cocktail is that it takes you where you want to go. What you do when you get there is another story.

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Oscar Party!

Speaking of  One Night Only Cocktails ... Oscar Sunday is within sight and we have Tiger Blood on the mind. The hype around this year's Academy Awards continues to grow ~ latest from the mediaplatz is that Silver Linings Playbook is "surging," while Argo is falling back. Whatever. It's a great field of films this year. Our favorite, Beasts of the Southern Wild, is a genre hybrid of unsettling beauty, with bravura performances and a first time director who makes heartbreaking connections between the personal and political. Doesn't have a chance in hell of winning ~ but let's hear it for the nominations! The best part about watching the Oscars is all the schmoozing going on ~ a good indication of who will get work next year.

There is no prix fixe menu this year ~ come in for a drink and fill out a ballot or stay all evening ~ but come ~ schmooz with us! We've been hosting an Oscar party since the year we opened, it's great fun, and to make it more exciting this year there will be a $50 Barndiva gift certificate for the winning ballot. Voting starts at brunch on Sunday, and you need not be present to win.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales, Dawid Jaworski. Oscar Graphics: k2pdesigns.

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Happy Valentine's Day (almost)

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If you haven't bought a gift or made dinner plans for V Day this Thursday, we've got you covered. While the restaurant has been booked up for weeks, a Barndiva Gift Certificate holds the promise of a romantic dinner on an evening of your own choosing ~ surely one of the few instances where 'it's the thought that counts' rings true. We also have lovely gifts ~ from the quirky to the sublime ~ to choose from in the Gallery. Ain't love grand?

♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥ ♥

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The Race is heating up, with Argo upending an expected rout by Lincoln in all the press awards ceremonies leading up to the big night on Feb. 24th. This will be Barndiva's 9th Annual Big Screen Oscar Party ~ a great night at the Barn. We will offer an à la carte menu so you can eat and drink as little or as much as you want, and back by popular demand an in-house ballot contest that could win you a $50 BD gift certificate if you turn out to be the cinéaste Nate Silver of Sonoma County. You don't have to be present to win (balloting opens at 11 am Sunday Feb. 24) but where's the fun in that? There is a great field of films this year ~ come for the Red Carpet and stay for Best Picture....and dessert!

Lucky Ducks

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The post office called Bonnie Z at 4am last week with the news her day old baby ducklings had arrived ~ I had no idea our beleaguered postal facility even offered that service! Bonnie dutifully got out of bed and picked them up and voilà, the Dragonfly flock had doubled in size. Well, almost. The little ones, Runners and Campbells, will stay inside until their fluff turns into proper water repellant feathers. After that they will join the other ducks and chickens waddling, eating and fertilizing the beautiful flower farm on Westside Road. They should start laying eggs in early Fall ~ if they produce enough Barndiva can start using them in Octavio's desserts by September. Stay tuned. Better yet, take a trip out to Dragonfly and see them for yourself. For a list of Dragonfly's ever changing but always wonderful educational and social calendar, check them out online here.

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happy boy and ducks

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales. Oscar Graphics: k2pdesigns.

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Great Fun in Feb

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February 7

Click here for more details

What could be a nicer way to spend an evening in the middle of Winter than dining in Barndiva, listening to great jazz and knowing the proceeds will go to support music education in Healdsburg public schools?

For this year's Jazz in the Schools citywide benefit, we are thrilled to welcome the Dick Conte Trio with Steve Webber and Bill Moody. Rachel will be shaking signature cocktails & Chef has put together a very cool prix fixe menu in addition to our regular à la carte. Call for table availability ~ 431 0100. If there's room at the bar, of course you will be most welcome. It's going to be great to have live music back in the Barn.

February 14th

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Valentine's Dinner reservations are pretty much sold out, but if you had your heart set on spending a romantic evening here at Barndiva, all is not lost. What's that they say about pleasure delayed is pleasure multiplied? Pick up a Barndiva Gift Certificate ~ good all year for a great night out. While you are here, check out the beautiful gifts we have in the gallery. Not all pleasure needs to be delayed!

February 24

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Hard to believe this will be our ninth year hosting a big screen Oscar Party ~ one of the few things I miss about growing up in Los Angeles (oh Swifty, where art thou?).  But it is: we've hosted a variety of themed parties for Oscar Sunday since the year we opened. This year the field is particularly exciting ~ if challenging themes don't set your teeth to grind ~ with some stellar performances.

There is no set menu this year ~ come in for a drink to catch the Red Carpet or stay for the entire evening until Best Picture. Call if you don't want to risk disappointment ~ it's hard to leave once you get here, and we will honor dinner reservations. And yes, we will have a bottle of sparkling for a local Nate Silver who guesses the most winners (and no, you don't have to be present to win ~ come in anytime Sunday and vote.)

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales. All graphics (except Jazz): k2pdesigns

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + Will the real John Dory please swim up + Xmas in the Gallery

John Dory prix-fixe-menu

John Dory with Honey Glazed Baby Turnips, Pickled Red Cabbage & Sherry Caviar Crème

JD spot

John Dory is a fish of many aliases ~ St. Pierre, Peter’s Fish, Janitore, Kuparu (the name used in New Zealand by the Maori, where the fish thrive in great abundance) with stories burnished through time for each name. Chef’s favorite comes from a passage in the Gospel of Matthew in which St. Peter leaves a thumbprint on the fish’s body as he pulls it out of the sea at the behest of Jesus, hounded by the Romans for a temple tax. Saint Peter pays with a four drachma coin he miraculously finds a in the fish’s mouth. I favor the French nursery rhyme that tells the sad tale of a sea captain named John Dory who happens to meet the King of France as he ambles drunkenly toward Paris looking for a benefactor. Farfetched, if not miraculous, the King gives him enough gold coins for a new ship, which our boy John promptly sinks in a battle with pirates on the high seas.

But even the most likely historical attribution ~ jeune dorée means ‘gilded yellow’ in French which amply describes the appearance of this silvery, olive yellow coastal fish ~ does not explain that spot, which, as it turns out, is more Darwinian than religious or fanciful. The distinctive tattoo just below the Dory's dorsal fin functions as a highly effective “evil eye,” flashing predators to buy time for escape, and also serves to confuse the Dory’s prey so it can pounce. Nature may not have had a hand in naming the John Dory, but it more than compensated for the fact that it needed help to survive. The Dory, it turns out, is one of the slowest swimmers in the sea ~ yet another reason it has eyes at the back of its head.

preparing john dory

For a fish with such a long and colorful history, there are surprisingly few cooking preparations that won’t destroy its delicate buttery flavor. Overcook the Dory even by seconds and you lose the fragrance it carries of the sea, ruining the lovely texture of its flesh. Another caveat: because it retains a great deal of water for such a thin bodied fish, the Dory should be served within 48 hours of being pulled from the water, never frozen. When Ryan was considering what to serve as a second fish course for our NYE Menu, he went straight to the Dory with an idea of pairing it with caviar and chive crème brightened with Spanish sherry vinegar. Shown here, as Dish of the Week, the sherry caviar crème brings out the earthy sweetness of honey braised turnips against two distinct presentations of slivered cabbage: garlicky, buttery Savoy beneath the fish, with a beautiful tangle of pickled purple cabbage on top. (As it turns out, this dish was a delicious runner up for the NYE menu when the John Dory will be served with a lobster brussels sprout hash and crispy prosciutto.)

healdsburg chef

Pictures don't do justice to Ryan's artistry when it comes to plating, nor do they reflect how much time he and the brigade spend on the visual components of each dish. Nothing is superfluous ~ each ingredient must play a distinct flavor role ~ but he always manages to bring often disparate (in terms of color and shape) elements together in such a way that they dance on the plate. In this case think Balanchine, not Pina Bausch. On New Year's Eve the John Dory course will follow a seared Day Boat scallop with caramelized cauliflower and his "trail mix" of toasted almonds, golden raisins and capers. To find out what comes next, click here. FYI: We will open specially for New Year's Eve as it falls on a Monday, but with modified earlier hours. If you are considering joining us for what may well be the best meal of the year, book it Dano!

John Dory dinner

'Glorious Icky Bits' shot of the week

john dory bouillabaisseIf you don't make it for New Year's Eve, fear not, John Dory is currently on the new Fall menu, finished in butter atop a stew of herb roasted Manila clams, heirloom beets, swiss chard and chorizo. It’s a heartier dish than the one Chef will serve on NYE, perfect for early winter with spicy heat from the Chorizo playing off the light brininess of the Dory. It's also a nose to tailfin dish, which brings us nicely to our 'glorious icky bits' shot of the week. (Read last week's blog for our position on Icky Bits). There is not a lot of flesh on a Dory ~ superior knife skills are needed if you want to get the plumpest filets ~ but procuring the fish whole has a great plus as the bones of the Dory are especially gelatinous, making them great as a thickening agent for a fumet. This is the same fish shown at the top of the blog, after filleting, as Drew lowers it into the simmering fish stock he will use for our bouillabaisse, a la Ryan.

In the Gallery for Christmas and Hanukkah

Ismael Sanchez dropped off a new collection of his wondrous wire sculptures last week, just in time for the holidays. This butterfly is studded with ocean worn 'jewels' collected over the years from Glass Beach in Ft Bragg. Pigs with wings, scorpions, bulls, his signature simple horses and a (nearly) full sized goat round out the collection. We rarely have this many Ismael pieces in the gallery.

ismael sanchez butterfly

healdsburg gallery jewelry

We also rarely have as much jewelery ~ cuffs, earrings and necklaces that won't break the bank. Christmas decorations from around the world. Geoffrey's antique cigarette card collections. Beautiful vegetable calendars from Maria Schoettler and a slew of new books you won't find in stock anywhere else in this bookshop rich town of ours. Come in and look around. If you find yourself in the throes of indecision, go next door for a cocktail, or better yet go after you shop ~ a cocktail is on the house with gallery purchases of $50 or more.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + New Fall Cocktail List

Fall Cocktails

I’ve heard some bad ideas in my time (many of them attached to the words “time saving”) but Push Button Cocktails? That’s the tagline the Rabbit Company is hoping will sell their new Electric Cocktail Mixer, a product that is dumb, dumb, dumb. Come on people, one of the great anticipatory sounds of the civilized world is that of ice hitting the sides of a cocktail shaker held aloft. At the end of a long day it's the sound of an evening opening up in front of you with the promise of great food and conversation...and if you play your cards right and the stars align, maybe a whole lot more. The idea of replacing it with a Double AA battery pushing a superfluous motor that grinds the life out of the inherently delicate ingredients isn’t just stupid, it’s soul destroying. They aren’t called spirits for nothing.

I have little patience for dumbing down the art of the drink. I’m no snob ~ great dives can produce great martinis ~ but skill and individual style come with the territory (+ a touch of OCD doesn’t hurt). Since we opened Barndiva, cocktails have been at the heart of the dining experience we’ve wanted to create; seven years on we have developed one of the best cocktail programs in Northern California. Our passion has been fueled by consistently bringing on bright new talent and giving them stellar ingredients and an environment in which they have every opportunity to thrive.

But it hasn’t always been easy to put all three elements in play at the same time. Rachel Beardsley is the first woman to manage the Barndiva bar ~ about time, right? Turns out, Audrey Saunders notwithstanding, the mixology world is a glorified version of boy's town, as I suspect it always has been. In addition to the usual stereotypes, beauty like Rachel's can be an obstacle for being taken seriously behind the bar. She rocks it with professionalism and a cool but commanding presence. Brendan O'Donovan, who manages our wine list with an impressive understanding of nuance and nose has been a great foil for her. But with respect to the Fall list, it’s also hard to ignore the energy a new apprentice is having on the program. Justin Wycoff worked under Ryan in the kitchen for the past two years, but found his heart wasn’t in it for the long run. Affectionately known around here as Junior, he is the younger brother of our talented sous chef Drew sharing the Wycoff gene for crushing long hours with unbridled enthusiasm. Both brothers have an impressive focus for detail, but it turns out Junior also has a bit of the mad scientist in him. We’re going to encourage him to take what he learned under Ryan ~ especially from the garde manger station ~ and run with it.

Cocktails are an innately human endeavor, one of the few which fully combines art and science, but you don't need to be James Bond to understand the difference between shaken and stirred ~ it’s all in the wrist. And heads up: anyone who tells you differently is just trying to push your buttons.

Here's a preview of our new cocktails. It comes together at a great time of year for spirit drinks which pull inspiration from the gardens and the forest. Consider yourself invited.

 Lady Penrose is a gin cocktail where the complexities of the spirit soften and open, house-infused with garden sage. Gently shaken with huckleberry jus and fresh lime, the drink is topped with sparkling Roederer from just down the hill from our farm in Philo. Named after the great modern photographer and Man Ray muse Lee Miller, Rachel incorporates a perfume of angostura for a spiced nose and a bit of heat ~ in her incredible life, Lee had plenty of both to go around.

Golden Boy uses our ever popular house-infused browned butter whiskey with a hint of black pepper syrup and fresh lemon juice. The drink stars Barndiva’s apple juice from our farm, pressed at Apple a Day over in Sebastapol (a blend of Spitzenburg, Golden Delicious and Jonathon’s ~ if you dined with us in the past month you've no doubt enjoyed a shooter on the house and would agree, it's killer). A charge of soda frames the conversation of this drink, the epitome of smooth ~ more Oscar De La Hoya than Clifford Odets.

Ruling Class Lite is made with house-infused burnt orange tequila hit with a splash of fresh lemon juice. The drink's citrus is tempered by a light but distinctly herbal tarragon syrup. Rachel’s first interactive cocktail, RCL comes with a sidecar of beet and tarragon foam, earthy and wonderful. Check out the drift.

Bitches of Seiziéme is a thoroughly modern take on a champagne cocktail made with sparkling Roederer, house-infused orange peel brandy, coriander syrup and a hint of creole bitters on the nose, reminiscent of absinthe. Ask the bar about the name.

Ninth Ward is Brendan’s contribution to the collection with fennel infused vodka, a bit of citrus, and a mist of Herbsaint over a beautiful sea of egg white foam. Garnished with bronze fennel from the gardens.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu + Dish of the Week: Braised Oxtail with Lobster + Photos of the Porchetta Roast!

Braised Kobi Oxtail & Lobster Claw Fricassée  w/ Chanterelles, Harvest Vegetables & Yukon Gold Potato Tots

We eat to nourish and sustain ourselves, but for the most part we've all been trained to look at images of food to be aroused. In this respect there is little difference between commodity chains like Red Lobster and upscale magazines like Martha Stewart Cooking: the production of images that have been set-designed and stage lit to beautify and romanticize what we eat. In order to meet what are essentially market driven expectations, photographers increasingly try to avoid what a food stylist friend once described as “the icky bits of cooking.”

Which makes the job of producing a curious little food blog like ours somewhat conflicted. Two weeks ago our bookkeeper was passing the computer when she caught sight of an image we had up on the screen of a whole, uncooked octopus. It was gray, wet, limp, about the size of a small child ~ by any stretch the definition of unappetizing. “God, I wish I hadn’t seen that," she shrieked. "I’m not sure I can ever eat octopus again.” Least you get the wrong impression, our bookkeeper is no wimp. She is ex-navy with five children. But as it’s hardly the intent of a restaurant blog that touts the talents of its omnivorous kitchen to turn people off ~ and turn her off it did ~ after some discussion we took the easy way out, choosing a close-up of one graceful tentacle, brined a rich merlot red. But I haven’t written a blog since.

Because I haven’t found a way out what's become an ongoing dilemma. I love gorgeous images of food as much as the next guy, and happily my life is full of them. But that's not always what I see when I look through my lens each week as I set out to document a dish through the laborious stages it takes on its journey to the plate. And what I see has increasingly led me to believe that it's precisely this narrow definition of what constitutes ‘beautiful’ and "exciting" that inhibits us from exploring anything that can't be photoshopped into submission or reduced to copy the length of a long tweet. Because it's in the icky bits that the best flavors slumber, needing to be coaxed, step by step, to reveal themselves.

There are a lot of icky bits in nose to tail cooking ~ starting with a whole (dead) animal. But if you’ve been reading this blog at all you know that the intricate and loving steps we take to properly cook animal proteins is a huge part of what we do. It flows from the pleasure we get from eating everything that comes our way, nose to tail (if they have one), which is measured by a relationship with animals based upon respectful dependence: eating animals after they’ve lived a good life honors and engenders the bio-dynamic precepts of farming we hold most dear.

This week’s dish started with a decidedly ungainly looking animal part, the tail of an Ox. Serpentine, mostly bone and sinew, this off-cut has surprisingly little meat. It took four days to render the tail into one of the most delicious dishes I've had all year (including a full day to let the flavors develop). Check it out:

From the brining of the tail overnight there followed protracted stages: mincing vegetables and roasting bones for the veal stock, flouring and searing off the Oxtail before adding it to an all day braise, straining and clarifying the stock and the finished sauce (six times that I counted), peeling, boiling, puréeing, forming, and deep frying the Yukon Golds for the tater tots, cracking and steaming the lobster claws, peeling, paring and cooking each vegetable for the final dish. Raw meat, grease, mounds of uncooked vegetables ~ there was not one vanity shot. The drying of chanterelles, which we do in the garden, was indeed pretty, but didn’t feel an essential part of the dish. The bi-product of the only truly dramatic moment ~ Chef pouring a magnum of red wine over the meat and vegetables and igniting them, the room exploding in a foresty, primal smoke that stroked a curious longing in me ~ was a smell.

To coax a sweet, rich, tiny bundle of meat out of that Oxtail took immense concentration with a surfeit of heat, sweat, blood and guts. (Not just of an animal variety.) What we do may not always look pretty until we get to the finished plate, but at the end of our very long days, it's the getting there that's truly fascinating. As least that's what I've come to believe, with the hope that you will too.

 

End of Summer Porchetta Roast: Friends and family celebrate the life of a pig named Denise.

Yes, Denise is a curious name for a pig, but when Lukka, Daniel and Olga were warned not to personalize their first experience of raising an animal for the table by naming it, they stood their ground: if they were going to raise a rare mule foot, build her an acre pen to root around in, schlepp vegetables the staff collected every day for her to eat, and see to it that she lived a pain free life up to and including the way she left it, then hell yes, it was going to be personal!

Naturally, when it came to deciding what to serve our staff and a few close friends at Barndiva’s end of year harvest celebration, all eyes turned to Denise.

To allow Ryan a night off, Dino Bugica, our good friend and undisputed porchetta master was called upon to look after the "main course."  If you are not conversant with the details of Porchetta, it’s a classic Italian preparation in which the body of a whole pig is de-boned, herb rubbed, then re-rolled up tight so the skin crisps as the meat slowly roasts into the melted fat. Dino used a simple fennel pollen, salt and pepper rub which enhanced the incredibly sweet, herbal notes of the meat.

For the rest of the meal, Daniel baked sublime muffins from a closely guarded family recipe and he and Olga roasted squash and potatoes from the gardens at the farm. Amber baked three stellar sweets: chocolate chip banana bread, sour cream forest berry muffins and incredible pumpkin pie brûlée. Lukka stocked the bar. Geoff helped carve. Though it wasn’t a pot luck, friends brought loads of other goodies ~ Dragonfly's beautiful salad was stellar ~ but most of all everyone arrived with tons of good will. It was a great afternoon of food, drink, and laughter, with kids running wild in the gardens until long after dark.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ Nov. 6, 2012

November 6, 2012

It all comes down to this... knowing where your food comes from.

We hope you will join us and vote YES on Proposition 37 today. This is an election year where truth feels relative, indisputable facts are hard to come by, and no bill is going to be perfect. Let common sense, not the power that flows from vested interests, help you decide how to cast your vote on this vital issue.

California can lead the way to an informed approach to GMOs across the country ~  every vote matters.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Kirsten Petrie (unless otherwise noted.)

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Wednesday at the Barn ~ Rachel Dreams Kiss Kirá ~ On the House: First Press of BD Ridge Apple Juice

Cocktail of the Week

Kiss Kirá

Rachel's stellar new cocktail Kiss Kirá started with the simple desire to celebrate our Asian Pear harvest, which was particularly abundant this year. But nothing is simple when it comes to working with pears, whose subtle flavor registers as a fragrance as much as a taste. Their delicacy is easily overwhelmed ~ whether in a composed dish, lost in the sugar of a jam, or buried beneath the bolder competing piquancy of a chutney. Asian Pears, prized for their high water content (which contributes to a nice crispness when ripe and chilled) are particularly hard to work with. But ah, when ‘paired’ with spirits, these pears can really soar.

Good Eau de vie captures their essence particularly well, and in the past we’ve crafted some great pear cocktails using vodka. Kiss Kirá is our first go at using citrus and spice infused whiskey with fresh purée from our dry farmed Nashi's.

Rachel had it in her mind to work with Rye, which she infused with an autumnal mix of orange peel, roasted fennel and coriander seed, clove and cinnamon. Shaken with Canton Ginger Liqueur and a hint of fresh citrus, which brightened the spice, the final cocktail created a beautiful nimbus when poured. It was the color of a desert sunset. Even filtering the purée twice, the body of the cocktail ended up on the thick side with a silken texture redolent of our pears.

An inspired final touch was to paint the martini glass with a swirl of balsamic honey gastrique which according to Rachel, “provided a balance of tart to sweet, while adding another element of depth at the forefront of the palate.”

Usually, with a flavor profile as difficult to nail down and hold as an Asian Pear's, less is more, but this is an incredibly thoughtful cocktail. It opens slowly in the glass, and as the gastrique melts it plays an intriguing game of hide and seek that dances with the rich loamy flavor of the Rye, always managing to return to the elusive flavor of pear. Kiss Kirá is a knockout. Be warned though, as ethereal as Indian Summer, it will only be on the Fall menu while the pears last.

Also making a brief appearance in the restaurant over the next few weeks is an 'Amuse' of the first press of the season of Barndiva Ridge Apple Juice, a blend of dry farmed Spitzenberg, Golden Delicious and Jonathans.

Even if  you aren't dining, come in for a shot on the house. Fall is a great time to reacquaint yourself with the Barn. But get ready for a surprise if you haven't been in of late.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......Octopus Hispaniola....In the Press...

Dish of the Week

Sauté Octopus Hispaniola

They are strange creatures to look at and not the easiest to cook, but oh how delicious Octopus is when you get it right. We brined them first in a salt mixture, then slow cooked them sous vide for five hours, which softened and tenderized them. Octopodes are mollusks, but the meat is similar to a mild tasting crustacean like a lobster. Hispaniola was Chef's inspiration for the dish. The stellar dipping vinaigrette of chili peppers and chives which accompanied it captured the vibrant spirit of the second largest island in the West Indies. Fingerling potatoes, baby artichokes, and green cherry tomatoes were all cooked separately, then combined, while the octopus was simply sautéed in olive oil and confit garlic.

At the last minute Chef added golden cherry tomatoes he blistered in olive oil, then dressed with Spanish sherry vinegar. I love this technique ~ you end up with a sweet peeled cherry tom with crunchy wings that looks as if it's taking flight off the plate. The octopus was soft and pliant, with a gentle heat from the chili, and a soft almost ethereal texture.

Hawaiian mythology holds that the octopus is the lone survivor of an alien universe. Perhaps, but far more fascinating is that they are equipped with chemoreceptors in their suction cups which allow them to taste what they are touching. Now that's a talent that would go a long way in a kitchen.

Style Me Pretty

It was great to see one of our favorite couples published in Style Me Pretty this week, one of the more popular wedding blogs around. Leah Lee captured all the details. Here's the link.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......Crispy Skin Striped Bass...Goldie Delivers...

Dish of the Week

Crispy Skin Striped Bass with Tapenade, Tomato Relish & Mediterranean Vegetables

Mike the fish guy is what you’d call a raconteur. A charmer and a storyteller with a hint of malarkey in his smile. He’s one of the few purveyors I’ve ever seen Chef stop work to spend time with ~ the genuine hospitality in his voice can lift your whole day. Sure, he’s selling fish, that’s what he does, extremely well as it turns out. But this lovely man’s personality flows from a interest in people, in being connected to them.

Ryan’s known Mike for 18 years, and he’s been supplying Barndiva with much of it’s fish since we opened ~ we made the switch with him when he moved to Aloha from Royal Hawaiian. If you don’t live by the sea or have fishermen stopping by the back door, as we used to daily, you need a good fishmonger more than they need you.

But as we’ve grappled with ~ and shared with our customers ~ questions of sustainability that bump up against the wide range of what's available and tastes the best, Mike has happily gone along for the ride. He’s never given up trying to convince us to buy farmed fish, going so far as to put together a Clean Fish seminar here at Barndiva a while back, open to any local chefs who wanted to attend. He put himself out for that knowing, going in, he probably wouldn’t convert us to farmed. But as long as we had questions, he wanted to try and answer them.

On Friday Mike bounced through the kitchen and caught Chef and I talking in the office, which led to a riff of funny fish stories, one after another, that ended with him cajoling Ryan into frying up a striped bass he'd brought for us to try. It was farmed not far from Sacramento. Ryan obliged, in part because he’s been dreaming of crispy skin fish of late and wanted to taste through a presentation using tapenade and a medley of Mediterranean vegetables. He had the idea to use thin discs of watermelon radish as a foil for the fish and olives, heirloom cherry tomatoes, baby artichoke hearts, squash, minced carrots and confit garlic. Lots of rich, competing flavors which frequent bites of cooling radish helping to differentiate them.

Alas, though the dish was a success, when we put it on the menu later this week it will not be with the farmed bass. Chef will go in search of something wild that will deliver crispy skin without sacrificing a sweet flesh that holds its texture, which the farmed bass did not. Eric and the staff, who tasted the dish with us, said it reminded them of bottom feeders, like catfish. Fish like that need a heavy crust to offset the hint of muddiness that comes in the finish. Sorry Mike. But come back soon. We miss you already.

And on the home front...Goldie delivers!

More newborn news this week with pictures of the day-old chicks born to Goldie, Lukka and Daniel's favorite hen. What with their Mule Foot pigs, trapping wild boar, starting a huge new garden and documenting every apple tree up on the farm, these guys are on a roll.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......Chef's Best Dish (ever) ......On the Farm in Philo ...

Introducing Rylee Ann Fancher (!)

The best dish Chef is ever likely to cook up arrived on the plate of life last Monday afternoon just after 2. Taking the fact it was 'officially' Labor Day in stride, Chef’s wife Bekah delivered her first baby in just over three hours. Rylee Ann Fancher was 8 lb 13 oz and 22 inches of perfect at birth. Not all babies are cute, nor should we expect them to be, but this one is gorgeous. Mellow to boot.

Now that she’s here, the world has shifted in its rotation for the new parents ~ if you’ve had kids you know what that feels like ~ but instead of being thrown for a loop, Chef hasn’t missed a service and he’s cooking like a man inspired. We all are ~ there’s nothing like a new baby to give life a sense of purpose, hope and outright joy.

Sept. 3, 2012, On the Ridge in Philo

A week ago Monday, at just about the moment Rylee was coming into this world, I was wandering around the farm pondering the efficacy of timing in life which seems to hold us all in constant thrall, whether it’s a baby we are waitin’ on or a crop of heirloom Damsons.

The farm is astounding this time of year, especially when you take the time to stop, smell and listen. It’s a living, breathing machine for energy production, only a fraction of which we actually see. While I am struck dumb by the beauty of the gardens and the trees, laden with known and mysterious varieties of nuts and fruit, more fascinating by far is what's happening beneath the ground, where all this relentless life begins and ends.

Patience has never been my long suit. It took me a decade to understand what the first great gardener friend I ever had, Stephanie Tebbutt, meant when she said, "It's going to take a while to settle in." She wasn't just referring to the new flower gardens. I needed time, before I had a prayer of grasping the fluctuating intangibles that control everything ~ the health of the soil, the rain that may or may not come this year, the predators both small and large that have their own proprietary interests in what we grow and hope to harvest.

Late at night, when it’s so quiet you can hear the gardens breathing, Geoff and I sit in two old blue metal lawn chairs from the 60’s drinking wine from somewhere in the valley. When we stop talking about other things the conversation always rolls around to what to pick the next morning. We know we are not the only animals up here who will dream of ripening fruit. If we miss the cherries by a few days the jays will have at them. They are even ruder when it comes to the figs, which they poke holes in and leave to rot as they ripen. The bears make off with the apples and pears, smashing the vegetable gardens as they go; the squirrels can strip the filberts and our old chestnut trees bare inside of a night. The animals have the clear advantage ~ Chef sets the bar at ripe, not just edible ~ but while their marauding used to make me run for the shotgun or the poison, it's been a long time since I've reached for either. I've learned to accommodate, to a point just north of contentment, that I’m not the only living thing up here playing the waiting game.

And I see a synergy here between Ryan and Bekah waiting for their baby to be born, playing for keeps, and the patience and perspective required to farm and garden every year knowing however much we want them, there are no constants. Patience and perspective are qualities you need in abundance in life. And that holds true whether it’s a child or a garden you hope will thrive under your care.

Enjoy the last weeks of summer…Eat the View!

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......Primal Brain Food......Ginger and Pierre's Wedding...

Dish of the Week

Crispy Ballantine of Marrow & Pan Roasted Scallop

 Summer Corn, Micro Greens & Basil Coulis

Long before we were hunters, we were foragers eating what scraps of meat we could scavenge off fallen prey after the apex predators with full stomachs had moved on. No one knows where the impulse to raise a stone and break the bones of those animals to get to the nutrient rich marrow inside came from, but the fat gleaned from them helped us survive the early winters of our civilization. Many scientists believe the fat-soluble vitamins found in those bones, and the interior columns of marrow, were crucial to hominids developing larger brains.

With the invention of weapons we moved on, to whole animals and choice cuts of meat, but marrow never disappeared from the playing field of cuisine. Every country has classic recipes using it ~ to thicken soups, as a base for sauces, to inspire pasta fillings, or just slathered on bread instead of butter. When served on its own, you usually get the roasted bone with a scoop, a tradition for which we have Louis XV to thank. But whether you eat it off an elegant silver spoon in Monaco (at Alain Ducasse’ Louis XV) or chow down in East London with a platter overflowing with bones in a sea of parsley (at Fergus Henderson's St. John), marrow is delicious. There are some things you put in your mouth ~ oysters and foie gras come to mind ~  when sensation precedes all thought and taste. The flavor of marrow is fragrant and meaty but secondary to its texture, which is incredibly light. It’s fat, yes, but fat with attitude.

When served as an entrée marrow is usually paired with red meat, the classic ‘whole animal’ connection. Makes sense, but ultimately, a bit limiting. After a few bites, with nothing for the rich flavors to play against, umami on umami cancel each other out.

Ryan has found a way around this conundrum by creating a dish that features marrow as a luxurious condiment in a main course. It’s an inspired pairing with scallops that results in a frisson similar to the one you get with Chorizo and Clams ~ disparate ingredients that compliment each other, but ultimately stand alone.

While this week’s DOW is probably not a ‘try this at home dish,’ if you want to cook marrow out of the bone all you need do is soak the bones first in ice water. This will pull any remaining blood out (even yellow marrow will have some), while time in icy water chills the fat making it oh so easy to slide out of the bone. Drew rolls the marrow in sifted flour before sautéing in grape oil and finishing with Maldon salt. Timing is crucial. You need just enough heat to warm the marrow through, stopping just short of its melting point. Drew, always admirably stoic even when facing a full incoming board of orders, handily coordinates a perfect scallop with the perfectly cooked marrow, but it could be nerve wracking for a lesser chef.

This isn’t a straight up surf and turf attraction, but something far more subtle. Ryan's is a very modern presentation which explores marrowfat’s incredible lightness of being, taking it out of the context of the bone altogether. Visually, on its own, marrow is but a white plug of fat, so Chef surrounds it with color ~ a single gorgeously golden pan roasted scallop with late summer corn and a vibrant basil coulis. The dish is finished with a conga line of pungent micro greens with just enough punch in the Russian Kale and Bull’s Blood to refresh the palate.

Reading up on marrow I came across a highly entertaining blog called Mark’s Daily Apple written by a body builder with a discernible jones for primal brain food. No silver spoon for this guy ~ according to Mark Sisson “paleo reenactment is the only justifiable course of action,” when eating marrow.  Just have at it, he says, like our ancestors used to. He (and Fergus) have a point, but when it comes to the evolution of this remarkable ingredient,  I think I’ll stick with Ryan.

Best of the Blogs this Week...

No one would argue that Barndiva isn't extremely photogenic, but though we see ourselves frequently in food and weddings blogs we rarely link you to them. Mea Culpa. My extremely talented goddaughter Zem Joquin (ecofabulous.com), no slouch when it comes to all things 'virtual,' implores me to remember the internet is all about SHARING. And hey, it's ok to blow your own horn. I know she’s right, but I fear I come from another time and place. Chef and I have wanted to keep the blog ‘clean’ looking and ad free, with original copy and images every week that aren't just re-posted. But I'm coming around to see that for those of us dedicated to DO EPIC SHIT (more on this next week) we are stronger in numbers.

So here are two blogs that came across the desktop this week I really admired. The first is the beautiful wedding album of Ginger and Pierre, shot by Traci Griffin. By any accounts, this is a pretty stunning couple. But it’s the warmth of these images, which flowed from the wedding couple and every one of their family and friends on the day that makes this album so special. These guys are from New Orleans, so they started with a surfeit of soul, but Traci captured all the sweet details that made this wedding remarkable. The couple even skipped out during the salad course to quickly shoot the fading sunlight of their wedding day in random vineyards and fields around Healdsburg. (It was nice to see Hotel Les Mars in the early shots, and Dragonfly's florals, which captured the casual elegance of the day.)

Amber got an email this week from the newlyweds, back in the Big Easy, bailing out water from Hurricane Issac, still high from their nuptials. No worries: these guys can float.

The second link is to a personal blog by a couple who travels to ride their bikes, eat and drink wine. Lots of it. Not a day goes by I don’t walk through the dining room and see someone lifting a cell phone to take a snap of their meal, and while I think visual diaries are fun (in small doses), rarely do I see blogs as tight as the one Katie posted about her and Whit's trip to Sonoma on her blog,  Is There Any Wine Left?. Was it laudatory? You bet. Would I have posted it if it weren’t? Probably not, but I sleep better knowing there are bloggers out there who put real time and effort into relaying their lives to friends, especially when what we do is involved. There is so much crap on the internet. And while we’re long past the point of thinking every image taken steals our souls (if true, then we have none), I still believe when you come into someone else's house and take an image away, you should try and make it a good one. Katie can write, as well.

Eat the View!

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

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Wednesday at the Barn.......A Love Supreme......

Barndiva welcomes a very special Justice of the Peace

Since we opened our doors eight years ago, weddings have been a part ~ some would say the very heart ~ of the definition of hospitality we have sought to honor, always taking its cue from the landscape surrounding us. We will move small mountains to deliver indelible dining experiences served in rooms and gardens filled with flowers, art, and music.

But ultimately it’s up to the bride and groom, and their family and friends, to make their wedding speak to them in a way that is unique to the union they hope to forge. Only they know what that means, drawing from how and why they fell in love, the importance of family and community, the contours of the things that make them glad to be alive and for that reason want represented on the day they say their vows. It’s not, after all, a vow of silence.

So when we use the word ‘bespoke’ to describe our wedding services, we’re not just offering to accommodate the curious nuptial request, we’re pretty much saying ‘bring it on.’ As a result, we’ve had our share of unusual moments ~ dueling bag pipes, full gospel choirs, New Orleans jazz bands, dogs as ring bearers, the entire USC marching band, even the odd fortune teller (prediction: a long and happy marriage).  A few weeks ago the best man gave his speech via a live link from Afghanistan, where he’d been suddenly deployed.

But by any standards the wedding on Saturday, August 18 between Miriam Seifter and Robert Yablon was exceptional. We are used to hearing the words “by the power vested in me by the State of California (or increasingly, the Universal Life Church) but it’s quite another thing, and thrilling indeed, to hear a member of the Supreme Court utter the words “by the authority vested in me by the constitution and laws of the United States,” knowing she is one of only eight other people in the world who can do so.

Before Associate Chief Justice Ruth Bader Ginsburg pronounced Miriam and Robert 'husband and wife' (words she alternated throughout the ceremony with 'wife and husband'), she spoke eloquently about the meaning of the chuppa the couple stood beneath, a cloth canopy supported by four poles, open on all sides. The Chuppa is meant to represent the ideal of a Jewish home. Justice Ginsburg made the point that it has no furniture to indicate that the basis of any home always starts with the people in it. It was a great reminder to all of us gathered, of how easy it is living in a culture overly obsessed with possessions, to lose sight of what is left of any relationship when stripped back to its essentials.

Though a living symbol of the most august institution in our land, standing there in the late afternoon sun as a sudden breeze scattered yellow and white rose petals across the ground was a small, delicate women, speaking from her heart. And so it goes. Whether your reach in life is grand or singular (in her case, both) the depth of any genuine connection we hope to forge with other human beings has the best chance of thriving when it starts with empathy. This is true in a marriage of two, or a nation of millions.  We build from the ground up, hopefully, with common purpose, shared goals, hard work. Somewhere in the mix is the desire to be loved. In this last respect at least, it's a good idea to give as good as you get.

We want to thank Miriam and Robert for allowing us to use these images from their wedding. And for entrusting Lukka, Amber, Ryan and our entire staff to care-take and hopefully inspire their wedding day.

Yes, we loved this article (and so will you)

I worked in journalism for a number of years in London and I know how hard it is to control what you write vs. what is eventually printed. The English dailies are among the best written and rigorously researched in the world, and it helped that some of the people I interviewed were important ~ with fully swinging legal departments if you got a quote wrong. In my own small way, being on the other side of the equation these last few years I am constantly reminded of the power writers and editors and art directors have. So I am doubly grateful for articles like Elizabeth Cosin's in last Sunday's Press Democrat about our video Eat the View. I've been a fan of Elizabeth's since she took over for Scott Keneally for Healdsburg's Towns section in the PD, writing wonderfully about neighbors like Dino Bugica and Doralice of The Healdsburg Cheese Shop. I think The Town's articles are the best thing the PD has done in a long while. We were thrilled to be included.

Here is the link to Elizabeth's article, In Healdsburg, you can Eat the View

For a link to the video go to our website, or directly to Vimeo or Youtube.

Eat the View.

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

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Wednesday at the Barn..... A New 3 Minute Version of Eat the View.....

THE NEW 3 MINUTE VERSION ~ CHECK  IT OUT!

We were all very excited with the reception our video Eat the View received after its "premiere" at the Salon des Sens opening in June, especially after Carey Sweet's wonderful article in SF Gate got the attention of the Huffington Post. We are re-posting it here for three great reasons: to give a shout out to all the kind writers who have been passing it along...and to present a brand new 3 minute version that our talented editor Amanda Larson just finished. We think it is EVEN BETTER THAN THE ORIGINAL.

The third reason is perhaps the most important.  In November, Proposition 37, the Mandatory Labeling of Genetically Engineered Food Initiative, faces the voters.  Eat the View tells a story that should be part of the discussion of why passing Prop 37 is so important to anyone who raises a fork and wonders what's on it. We're hoping after you watch our video again (or for the first time!) you will see the importance of sharing it on Facebook, as a Vimeo or Youtube link, or on your blog.

A big Thank You to all the great blogs below who gave us precious space in the last few months to tell this beautiful story. Check Them Out! (Elizabeth Cosin's article, posted last night on the Press Democrat's blog, will also appear in this Sunday's paper.)

Carey Sweet of SF Gate Huffington Post timvidraeats.com food52.com somethingaboutsonoma.com fantasticdl.wordpress.com thebraiser.com diaryofatomato.com beegs.com sfcitysbest.com slowlysmoked.com elizabethonfood.com splendidtable twitter acqtaste.com nourishyamhillvalley.org goodlifevancouver.com Press Democrat pipocaglobal.com Portuguese blog sabrosia.com Venezuelan blog curiosidadesgastronomicas.com Mexican blog

Eat the View!

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Drew Kelly.

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Wednesday at the Barn..... Notes on Barndiva Hors d'oeuvre.....

Dish of the Week

5 Hors d'oeuvre

The analogies between food and sex run as wide as they do deep, but perhaps nowhere are they more apt than when comparing hors d’oeuvre to foreplay. In both, inspiration and imagination go a long way to making you feel an evening holds great promise, while a lack of either does not bode well.

The best hors d’oeuvre should be visually beautiful, with an abbreviated aesthetic that makes you smile, not smirk. Unlike the plated dishes that follow in a meal where the complexities of taste have time to resonate, hors d’oeuvre need to be one bite wonders, a kapow to the senses. They have strict limitations however. The most important is that hot or cold they can’t be messy ~ you aren’t sitting down when you reach for one but talking, laughing, flirting, and most likely juggling a glass of wine or a cocktail in the other hand. A contrast in texture is also crucial, and given the brevity of time you will spend eating and enjoying them, there needs to be an easy congruity to discerning taste ~ these are haikus of flavor, not short stories or novellas. Martha Stewart, an undisputed queen of the hors d’oeuvre party, got it right: “all good things start here.”

Here are our notes on five hors d’oeuvre Ryan served on Friday to a snazzy group from West Palm Beach celebrating a wedding rehearsal dinner in the Studio Gardens.

On paper, Barndiva’s Goat Cheese Croquettes (a BD Classic) and Ryan’s take on Spanakopita (in the style of an empanada, with a deft switch from feta to ricotta) could both be described as basically hot and creamy. But where the goat balls had a thin carapace of golden crunch, followed by warm creamy goat cheese and finished with a hidden nugget of sweet tomato jam, Ryan took the Spanakopita in another direction. Here hot and creamy hid beneath layers of flaky puff pastry in a mouthful that was a rounded tome to the Mediterranean flavors of olive, spinach, ricotta, and garlic confit, with a punch of lemon zest in the finish.

BLTs are another BD classic, but unlike the croquettes which are never off the regular menu, only available at events as they are one of the more difficult hors d’oeuvre to pull off for a large crowd. While the crispy pancetta (a stand in for bacon) and brioche toast squares can be made in advance, the quail eggs need to be fried à la minute, swiftly composed with aioli and cress and served immediately. The reward is a beautiful presentation followed by a mouthful that is pure umami (or as one guest this weekend shouted, "oh mommy") wonderful, triggering every great memory of BLTs and Eggs Benny you ever had.

Cucumbers are an hors d’oeuvre standby ~ they come with their own easy delivery system and are a great base to pile other ingredients upon. The downside to using them is a bland crunch and not a hell of a lot more. Chef uses them here hollowed out, with fresh crab and shaved apple ~ a combination where sweet plays off the salt and sea ~  in a light dressing of tarragon and aioli. They are finished with a slice of perfectly ripe fig and a touch of citrus.

Watermelon cubes compressed with lemon verbena rounded out the hors menu. While they are the simplest hors d'ouevre we produce, they are always welcome (especially by bridesmaids in form fitting dresses) as the ultimate in cool and refreshing.

At the end of the day creating anticipation is perhaps the greatest technique in both the chef’s and the lover’s skill set. A great hors d’oeuvre should be fresh ~ not just the ingredients, that’s a given ~ but the feeling you get when you pop them in your mouth and think, wow, this is new, this is good, I can’t wait to see what comes next. Like candlelight and music and flowers, some things never get old when done right. So it is with flavors you’ve had before but never stop craving, like bright vinegars and sultry sugars which in combination fire the imagination.

We all want to feel that anything is possible in life. Especially true when the night is just getting started.

Eat the View

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

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Wednesday at the Barn..... Chef's Mid-Summer Tasting Menu with Wine Notes From our Som...

Dish of the Week

A Mid-Summer Tasting Menu

There’s a big difference between the food snob who can bore you silly about the 24 course Omakase he had in Japan just last week and the diner who has yet to step up and put a single meal of his life in the hands of a talented chef, but I’m willing to bet that for most of us, cost, time, and the fear of disappointment does a juggling act in our heads whenever we come upon the Tasting Menu option. Because it’s expedient, restaurants insist an entire table order a Tasting Menu; it only takes one diner to say "I”ll pass" and the decision has been made for you. Which makes the growing success of Barndiva's Tasting Menu curiousier and curiouser. In a good way of course, but still…

Common sense implies that as Ryan’s reputation has grown, so too has the desire to follow a meal where he will take it if you let him. Chef is a very smart guy, secure in his talent, he knows that’s only part of the story. A gentle price and a shorter dance card, with fewer courses longer on taste also factor into making his Tasting Menu “OMG” (the most frequent description we read on the comment cards each week.) But while Ryan and the brigade take great pride in crafting sequential course dining that guides guests on a visually stunning, soulfully satisfying experience, the role sublime ingredients play is key to how far Chef (for that matter any chef, no matter how talented), can truly extend flavor.

Once upon a time the measure of a Tasting Menu was in how many courses the Chef sent out. Even if you didn't lose count during the meal, it was a recipe for a nice little food hangover the next day. Then there was a man I knew once who was convinced all menus were Tasting Menus, providing everyone at the table (his optimum number was four) ordered different things and paid special attention to dishes the chef was best known for. In awkward mouthfuls passed across the table (sounds like a server’s nightmare) I suppose he got some sense of a restaurant's oeuvre ~ but  I think this misses the point entirely as well. While there is certainly a 'greatest hits' aspect to a memorable Tasting Menu, it is, like the counting of plates, but a small part of their ineffable charm. Tasting Menus are first and foremost a celebration: of seasonality, of the beauty to be found in a parade of exquisite plates, of the art of building flavor profiles as courses unfold through calibrated beginnings, sustained middles, and multiple endings. When that end finally does come you should trundle off home in a mood of complete satiety bordering on joy.

Ryan’s touchstone is surprise ~ his own, as he pushes his boundaries, and the guest on the other side of the kitchen door, who really has only a cursory idea of what they will be eating. We print a different Tasting Menu each week, but it's little more than a literary enticement, one that can advise us on any allergies we need to avoid ~  it leaves more out, than in, by design. The fun is in giving up control, in stopping mid-conversation to ohh and ahh as another plate arrives. There should be just enough of each course to get you to the last bite wishing you had one bite more.

Timing is crucial. Tasting Menus are high wire acts: for the kitchen (especially our small kitchen), which has to concurrently contend with a full board of à la carte orders, and for the guest, seduced by a visual joy ride that attempts to raise the bar with each course as it explores, modulates and simply yet elegantly pulls out all the stops when it comes to taste, texture and aroma. Too many dishes delivered too fast and a diner can end up feeling they’ve spent the evening speed dating at MOMA. Too slow and you kill the momentum which should be building with each course. There should be just enough time to linger and memorialize the ingredients of each dish so when they appear again, like characters in a story whose personalities keep evolving, you make the connections. Incandescent melon flirts with crab in an amuse-bouche before taking a sexier approach, compressed with lemongrass, in a vibrant heirloom tomato salad Ryan calls "king of the summer." Squash, first encountered as a blossom in a delicate tempura over a creamy lobster risotto returns a few courses later stuffed Provinçial style, all garlicky crunch, sweet hot mustard, bright green herbs.

Seasonality is a major inspiration, but it should not be considered a mandate. A potato is a potato is a potato ~ delicious all year round. Drew’s pomme de terre can make you weep, pair it with crème de morel, tiny garlic chips and chive blossoms and you have rich, creamy, salty, earthy, sweet. Would it be wonderful in autumn or winter? Yes, but crowned with a perfect piece of halibut you have an ode to summer you will never forget.

In reviewing our Tasting Menus from the past year, I realize they are as much a journal of our days here at Barndiva as the blog. Someday we will look back and talk about Ryan’s Tasting Menus at Barndiva in 2012, the year baby Rylee was born, and know, for all the hard work it took .... good times.

A word about wine pairing the Tasting Menu: while we never forget Barndiva is in the heart of wine country, Brendan O'Donovan, a wonderful sommelier, is careful not to overwhelm dishes whose pedigree vintages may be remarkable on their own but neglect to take their cue from the food. Wine is paired with the dish, rather than the other way around. Connections are there if you look for them ~ in the July Tasting Menu, the fish course incorporates a vibrant Pinot reduction with the halibut, which Brendan complimented by a lighter Pinot in the glass (yes, Virginia, you can drink red with fish) allowing the next course ~ a rich grass fed beef filet ~ to be paired with a commanding bordeaux .

It’s all in the details, but they need to come naturally to the plate and the mouth. His notes for the July Tasting Menu are below.

With the Amuse: Azur Syrah Rosé, California 2011 Watermelon, Crispy Proscuitto, and Crab Salad? I can't think of anything I'd rather have than Azur Rosé. Light, dry, and crisp, this gorgeous wine made by Julien Fayard is a small production local gem. This wine is no afterthought; the vineyards are carefully chosen and the grapes are grown just to make a beautiful Rosé wine.

With the first course: Simmonet-Febvre 1er Cru Vaillons, Chablis 2009 Vaillons is sandwiched between the prestigious Grand Cru of Les Clos and the well-known Premier Cru Mountains. Showcasing a bright, clean style, this wine is 100% Chardonnay. It is an embodiment of a beautiful Chablis with notes of green apple, lemon peel and crushed oyster shell; a hint of fresh fennel on the finish sets this effort apart. This wine is a match made in heaven for the Lobster Risotto accentuated with crème fraîche.

With the second course: Navarro "Methode a l'Ancienne" Anderson Valley Pinot Noir 2007- A gorgeous wine from Navarro, their award-winning flagship Pinot displays light red fruits, silky tannins, and a pleasant earthy character reminiscent of Burgundy. It showcases some of the best of what Anderson Valley and our old friends at Navarro produce.  The earth notes play off of the chanterelles, while the bright fruits and background acidity show beautifully in contrast to the delicate white fish and sweet summer corn.

With the Third Course: Lasseter 'Paysage' Bordeaux Blend, Sonoma Valley 2008 This is the flagship wine from relative newcomer Lasseter Winery in Sonoma Valley. Their inaugural effort, this impressive wine is inspired by the wines of St. Emilion. Well balanced and food friendly, this Merlot-based wine truly reflects the French style. Paired with Filet of Beef and Squash Provençal, the dark fruit, tea and earth tones are a perfect compliment.

With the Fourth Course: Cossart-Gordon 10yr Bual Madeira Bual Madeira, while oft-overlooked, is a prize pairing with our Chocolate Bavarois. This fortified wine is only lightly sweet, not cloying as some dessert wines can be. The character of this wine, with notes of nuts, coconut, and chocolate is reminiscent of a fine tawny port. Lingering brandied fruit character pays delicate homage to the cherries and a note of sweet saltwater air plays well with the sprinkle of Maldon salt on the chocolate. The perfect finish to a evening of stunning wine and food.

Truffles are served with Coffee, Herbal Teas, and a wonderful selection of Digestifs.

Eat the View.

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

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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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