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vandana shiva


Dish of the Week.....On the Ridge

Dish of the Week:

Bellwether Farms' San Andreas and Ripe Summer Figs

If you’ve ever traveled through France, Italy, Spain or down into the Mediterranean basin in summer, chances are you’ve eaten at least one meal that included ripe figs and a hunk of local cheese. It’s a classic pairing which has been with us since antiquity. And while a lot has changed when it comes to the finesse we bring to artisan cheesemaking since Plato hung out talking about the notion of an Ideal Universe, the elements which make figs and cheese an indelible pairing remains hard to beat. We all know cheese is great with apples, pears and quince, but only figs, the earthiest of biblical fruits, has the dark sugar and beguiling sensual texture (all those tiny seeds popping on the palate) to stand up and fully embrace the grassy, salty, acidic nature of cheese.

Not a lot of people know that Bellwether Farms was California’s original sheep dairy. This family-run farm brings a level of passion and commitment to their cheese and yogurt program that is truly rare. The story goes that when Cindy Callahan first brought sheep to the ranch she and her husband owned a few miles from the ocean, she had only a vague notion of what to do with them. After a trip to Italy in 1992 they  began to age their sheep milk, producing their first Pecorino, but  it wasn’t until son Liam came onboard that the family began in earnest to experiment with ways to control moisture and acidity which led them to the considerable success they enjoy today. Bellwether produces award winning sheep, cow and goat cheese that consistently exhibits remarkable complexity of flavor that is unique to their location.  We hear a lot of talk about terrior when it comes to wine, but unlike almost any other artisanal product, cheese like Bellwether's truly expresses the taste of milk from animals that are born, raised and grazed in a specific location, in this case the beautiful rolling hills of the Sonoma County Coast only a few miles from the ocean where mild temperatures and coastal fog produce some of the richest and sweetest milk in the land.

Sheep's milk is higher in fat and protein than either cow or goat’s milk, important when you consider that during cheesemaking much of the water is drained from milk with most of the fat and protein staying in the curds. San Andreas is a raw sheep milk farmstead cheese unique to Bellwether Farm. It has the marvelous nutty flavor and soft underlying bite of a good cheddar, but is unusually smooth and full-flavored.

Last week we featured Bellwether's San Andreas with nothing more than a plate of ripe Black Mission Figs, deeply caramelized walnuts, a few shavings of radish and a sprinkling of Calendula flowers.  Now that our own green Napoli figs are finally coming in on the Ridge, (see below) we will offer them while they last. Gray Kuntz has famously described cheese as a taste that pushes, as opposed to pulls, which may explain in part why cheese and figs, with their juicy, sweet mesmeric power, make such a good marriage. As for that other artisanal product that's only gotten better since antiquity...happily, we've got plenty of that around as well at Barndiva,  by the glass or bottle.  Want to talk about an ideal universe? This is a good start.

Harvest On the Ridge

While what we grow on the Ridge hardly puts a dent in the amount of produce Barndiva needs, every year we try to up our game and grow a bit more in hopes of closing the circle of sustainable supply and demand as much as we can. So despite the late frost which knocked out almost all our stone fruit this year, I was pretty proud at the variety of fruit and veg we were able to start harvesting for the restaurant on Tuesday morning, starting with a bumper crop of green and red Gravenstein Apples.  I thought it might be fun to document some of what Vidal and I picked before the fog lifted and the third member of our picking team managed to haul her butt out of bed.

Sadly, with the exception of the cherry toms, the bulk of our Heirloom Tomato crop (33 varieties from Mix Garden) is still hanging green on the vines, waiting for it to get over 55 at night, which Bonnie Z says is the magic number. (According to Bonnie, once upon a time she would start harvesting tomatoes at Dragonfly in early June!)  Looking on the bright side, in addition to the Gravs, Vidal and I managed to pick five cases of incredible green figs, string beans, three varieties of squash, cucumbers, radishes, basil, thyme, lavender, rosemary and the first of the slicing tomatoes. Not bad for a morning's work, especially considering Lukka and Daniel haven't started to harvest anything from their new patch in the pear orchards. Next week it looks like we will have Asian Pears, which Vidal grafted only a year ago, along with Victoria's red pears, and the first of our melons. Fingers crossed about those tomatoes.

To read more about the extraordinary history of the farm:  At the End of the Day, May 26, 2011

In the News

We were especially pleased the Gravensteins came in this week just in time for us to participate once again in Slow Food Russian River's Gravenstein Apple Presidia Project, which the indomitable Paula Shatkin reminds us needs full community participation if we hope to keep the Gravenstein, a unique Sonoma County heritage, alive.  For the next few weeks we encourage you to check out the restaurants in Sonoma County who are participating in the Presidia by putting Grav-centric dishes on their menus. At the very least buy some Gravs at your farmer's market and bake a pie. No excuses, do your part! Save the Gravenstein apple!

For more information go to Slow Food.

And finally, in case you missed it, some very good news from Eastern Europe.

Hungary destroys All Monsanto Corn Fields

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



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

Dish of the Week:

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Summer' Carpaccio with Crispy Basil Rice Croquettes

When Giuseppe Cipriani made the first Carpaccio at Harry’s Bar back in 1950, he had no way of knowing that thousands of recipes for a dish with the same name would follow, or that his creation would move well beyond raw beef to fish, veal and venison. (Then again, as this was the same Giuseppe Cipriani that also ‘invented’ the Bellini cocktail at Harry's, perhaps he did).

Food lore has it that Cipriani came up with the dish at the behest of a wealthy customer, the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor had suddenly prescribed a raw meat diet. While culinary history is silent on what in the Countesses' constitution the good Dr was trying to cure (anemia? flagging sexual prowess? ), Amalia found the taste of raw meat repugnant so Giuseppe pounded it paper thin and smothered it in mustard sauce for her.

Whether you pound it with a meat mallet like Giuseppe, or wrap it in saran wrap and just whack it once or twice with the wide end of a chef’s knife as Ryan did with beautiful yellow fin tuna this week,  Carpaccio is a dish that has the potential to be a lot more than just a novel technique that transforms a base protein's thickness and texture.  Whatever the protein, it’s a dish where a delicate approach is required when it comes to the accompanying sauces, spices, and key ingredients.

Ryan’s great with dishes like these. For a big man he has an incredibly light, deft touch, coupled with an attention to detail that is immediately apparent in the artistry of his plating well before you take your first bite. While I doubt he ever sits down to count the steps it takes to arrive at the moment when a diner lifts a fork, stops, looks, and thinks, ‘oh my, this is beautiful ’, there are often many laborious ones his crew must practice and master.  God is in the details with this guy.

In the beginning of our professional relationship I often wondered if all this precise cutting, slicing, and dicing ~ though it goes a long way in defining his style ~ was really essential. Most professional and home cooks accept that having ingredients the same size when you are going to apply heat is important  ~ but until Ryan came along I never considered how synchronicity can be a game changer when it comes to what we taste.

This week’s Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio is a case in point. Ryan conceived the dish as a play on sushi and rice, one that takes Yellow Fin Tuna for a jaunt through a bountiful Sonoma County summer field at the height of August. Avocado, watermelon and golden beets ~ all cut to exact dimensions ~ brought key elements of creamy, refreshing and earthy to the plate.  Even with light assist from favas, chive flowers and purslane, everything on the final plate was meant to dance with (and around) the fragrant flavor and almost transparent texture of the tuna ~ enhancing, but never dominating its subtle taste.  The visual joy of Chef's plating wasn't subsidiary to the success of the dish, but an elaborate seduction, through color and form, integral to the experience of eating it. But that wasn't all. He also had a few surprises in store. The first was a deliciously crispy basil rice ball that referenced the sushi while extending its normally cold bland taste profile with surprising heat and crunch. By using Carnaroli rice instead of Nishiki (Sushi rice), and a touch of pecorino, Chef also brought more cream to the bite instigating an Asia meets Italy moment. Then there were the bright flecks of preserved lemon rind scattered through the dish which exploded in tiny bursts when you least expected it. Not sweet, but not overwhelmingly tart either they had the effect of bringing all the other subdued flavors forward while paying direct respect  ~ as only citrus can ~ to the fresh fish taste of the tuna.

The lemons had been preserved in equal parts of salt and sugar five months ago. I don't mind harping on it: preserved  lemons are a really great condiment to keep around.  Traditionally stored in ceramic or glass jars, Ryan uses sous vide pouches to cure and hold them, which take much less space in the fridge and uniformly bathes the lemons so you never even have to turn them (a great help if, like me, you always forget anyway).

Every mouthful of this dish was about what’s best in summer here in Sonoma County.  Whatever ailed her, I'm betting The Countess would have loved it.

New In the Gallery

WOVEN WITH PASSION, NOT WITH POWER is the mantra of SlowColor, a company that produces extraordinarily beautiful linen textiles we have just started selling in the gallery. Made in and around Hyderabad, India, exclusively on small pedal looms using only natural plant dyes, this politically focused enterprise was started by two Americans, Jala Pfaff and Sanjay Rajan, who hope their C2C (cradle to cradle) efforts will help keep ancient textile traditions alive by providing commerce to the hundreds of hand loom and natural dye co-ops struggling to survive in India. It wasn’t long ago we wrote about the tragic increase of small farmer suicides in that country which were directly triggered by a Monsanto-led movement which encouraged mega-scale chemically dependent farming over the small and sustainable methods India has used for centuries.  (Courting Armageddon, April 28, 2010) Well, it seems that for some time now thousands of small village textile weavers and dyers have also been driven to take their lives faced with obsolesce as the world has increasingly moved toward large scale factory production.

SlowColor textiles are made from premium organic flax, actually a more sustainable raw product than either cotton or bamboo as growing it is lighter on the land, and requires less water.  Gauze woven on foot pedal looms before being turned over to separate dye cooperatives in the same village, the line uses an “adjective” dyeing process where only natural mordants like saffron, tumeric, annatto, walnut, and cochineal are added to a dyestuff's natural color.  For indigo, Slowcolor follows the traditional method of fermenting indigo in earthen pots underground to create blues because, as Hindu, they will not use cochineal, or insect carcasses.
Pricing on the scarves (depending on the vegetable dye used and the length of the textile) ranges from $70-$120.  Hand-washable, these resilient pieces will only grow softer and more beautiful with age. No two are alike ~ except to the extent they are all intrinsically beautiful, and carry in their making the same life affirming message.

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



Courting Armageddon

(originally posted April 28, 2010)

The mid-60’s were pretty heady times to grow up in LA, especially for a teenager on the prowl with a fake ID and somebody’s parents borrowed car. You could catch Buffalo Springfield at the Roxy, the Byrds at the Whiskey, with drinks caged at Ciro’s between sets. The world was already starting to go to hell in a handbag, but if you drove down Sunset to the beach to watch dawn break over Santa Monica Bay, youth and the hubris that goes with it softened any nagging doubts a night of great rock 'n roll hadn’t already swept away. And then there was Norm's. Doris’ section at Norm's coffee shop on La Cienega Blvd to be precise, where, for the incredible sum of 99 cents, you could feast on steak, two eggs any style, toast, jam, and unlimited mugs of coffee. 99 cents. 24 hours a day. 7 days a week.

Norm's wasn’t just stoner heaven ~ it was trucker heaven, housewife with screaming children heaven, bus driver and cop on their way to work heaven. No one asked where the beef came from, much less how it had been raised or slaughtered. The endless cups of coffee came out of a metal jug that sat on a warmer, not French pressed from fair trade organic beans. The jams were luridly colored, and, except for a stray seed, you couldn’t tell wheat toast from rye. But hot damn did it all taste good. There was no greater way to spend an early Sunday morning the year I was 16 than to sit in a warm vinyl booth with my best friends, stuffing our faces and laughing hysterically about our antics of the night before. Warm, hospitable, it was actually a meal that hit all the flavor profiles we aspire to serve at the restaurant today ~ salty, sweet, and bitter, all wrapped up in a big umami bow.

Excavating and analyzing significant food memories is quite the pastime around here, as I would guess it is throughout foodie enclaves across the country. And I bet I’m not the only one whose noteworthy food recollections were born in a cheap diner, not some Platonic ideal universe filled with grass fed beef and biodynamic vegetables grown from heirloom seeds.

My personal journey from Norm's to owning a farm to table restaurant in the heart of one of the most extraordinary food sheds in the world started with a baby. He was bald, enchanting, and utterly gorgeous, the most life-affirming creature I’d ever seen. From the day he arrived I went from not paying much attention to what I ate to considering every spoonful ~ simply because the food I put into my body was going to end up in his body too. By his second birthday I was president of one of the largest food co-ops in the country, fighting to establish national organic laws. Four years after he was born, with his little brother in tow, we stuck our first spade in the ground 600 miles away in a rural community where I was a virtual stranger. To quote John Lennon, it was a life that happened while I busy making other plans.

The food I subsisted on before my “conversion” was no doubt the cheap product of large food concerns, but it was still real food. For that Norm’s 99er, the steer and the cow that provided the steak, the milk, and the butter had not been unnecessarily treated with antibiotics. The wheat in the bread and the corn syrup in the jam did not come from genetically modified seeds. The chickens who laid the eggs didn’t have to play a trap door guessing game ~ where if they didn’t figure out which flat panel in the enormous coop was actually a door to the outside within the first weeks of their life meant they were doomed to be stuck inside it until they died.

It’s increasingly hard to know where to begin a discussion of what’s gone wrong with food production since then.

*Do you start with busting the myth of the green revolution that told us that only through genetically modified foods we could help feed a starving world? *Do you question the logic behind dousing the animals we eat with massive amounts of antibiotics, thus rendering those drugs less effective to fight new mutant strains overuse of them has created? *Do you challenge the morality of not giving the animals that feed us healthy lives and a good death? *Do you throw common sense at an agribusiness numbers game that bases profitability on the amount produced per crop, not the nutrition produced per plant?

A few years ago I was fortunate to meet Vandana Shiva when she spoke at Sonoma Country Day School, part of a wonderful series the intrepid Cindy Daniels created to bring passionate educators to our community. Vandana came to dinner at Barndiva after the talk and great skeptic though I am, (another throwback of growing up in Hollywoodland) I had the sense that I was in the presence of a great woman: that I’d better listen up and listen good. If you haven’t ever heard Vandana speak, through the wonders of the internet you can do so. I urge you to do so.

Vandana fights causes in many arenas but none are closer to her heart than the global threat to the seed. Her case, simply put, is this: A seed is not an invention that should be patented. A seed renews, multiplies, spreads, and is shared. It is the essence of life, and belongs to civilization, to history, not to agribusiness, as their property to be sold, and thus controlled.

Yet that is just what is happening today. Using something called The Trade Relationship Intellectual Property Protection Agreement (TRIPP), Pioneer Hi-Bred, Monsanto, Novartis and a handful of other powerful agribusiness corporations have, in the last two decades, laid claim in the form of “patents” to thousands upon thousands ~ some say nearing 80% ~ of open seed varieties in the world today. These are seeds that throughout history farmers have traditionally saved and replanted to feed humanity. Yeah, that’s a Trip all right.

But here’s the best (read: worst) part. The battles being waged in the International Court of Justice in The Hague on the veracity of any “agreement” made between governments and corporations which can affect the human race’s ability to feed itself, even if they are won, will come too late to stop what is going on. By controlling and diminishing the use of wild seeds in third world countries, companies like Monsanto have already ensured the predominance of their own Genetically Modified products. It's hard to fathom the morality of a mindset that seeks to make money out of killing the essential nature of the seed to reproduce, but this is their endgame, make no mistake.

As Vandana succinctly explains ~ when one (wild seed) gives rise to many, there is no money to be made. But when one (GM seed) gives rise to nothing, there is a great deal of money to be made ~ when you control the rights to that seed. He who controls seeds, controls what is grown. A farmer that cannot use gathered seeds to regenerate crops is forced to buy whatever seeds are on the market. And whatever chemicals ~ which in the case of bioengineered seeds is a lot ~ needed to sustain them.

The writing is on the wall. In the Punjab region of India, a third world test case for the so called green revolution, when GT cotton ~ sold to farmers with the promise it would increase productivity tenfold ~ was planted, in one decade it all but destroyed the fecundity of a valley that had been naturally farmed for 5,000 years. 8 million farmers lost their livelihoods in that government assisted debacle, partly as the result of chemical dependence they could not afford. Where traditional bio diverse farming techniques once provided alternatives, when their monoculture crops failed, they left only depleted soils behind. If Vandana is to be believed, and believe her I do, 200,000 Indians farmers in this region committed suicide as a direct result of the GT cotton experiment. Many died by drinking Monsanto Round-Up as a final wake up call to the world.

Yet the world slumbers on.

If you want to wake up, there are still things you can do.

For a start, click on the links below. The link Food Democracy Now will let you voice your concern on a very important, time sensitive issue about GMO labeling. Stand Up for Your Right to Know! Food Democracy Now

Organic Consumers Association

Huffington Post


Oregon Tilth

Tierra Vegetables

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