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In the Fields with Friends

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Up Close and Personal to the Rapid Beating of their Wings

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


barndiva reading of the week


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Tête a Cochon

lavender topper

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

final tasting two cuts

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

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

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

drew

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

cuts of meat

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

broth

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

final dish

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

pighead

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

Follow Us in 2014!

milking the goat

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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

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

bright eyed goat

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

bucket of goats milk

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

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

pied piper

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

pouring into jar

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

hanna flexing

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

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

links to: Wyeth AcresSonoma Meat CompanyReal MilkFront Porch Farm Shed

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Spring Lamb with Stinging Nettle Foam

lawn topper

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

lamb shank

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

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

veg delivery

Later that night Chef sent me this:

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

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

Enjoy the rest of Spring.

spring lamb

A Special Sunday

mothers day bouquet
mothers-day-brunch

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Notes from the Ridge

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The New Bar Menu!

THE BARNDIVA BAR MENU

DUNGENESS CRAB SALAD avocado, mandarin, pickled chili 20

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

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

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

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

caper berries, calabrian chilis 12

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

 FILET MIGNON potato purée, asparagus, caramelized onion jam

bone marrow “tater tot” 38

 BD FRITES crisp kennebec potatoes, spicy ketchup 12

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES wildflower honey, lavender 12

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

fried chicken2

All text Jil Hales. Photos © Jil Hales

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Fall on a Plate

holiday blog 2013

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

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

vegetarian dish

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

Mix Garden Kale

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

beautiful vegetarian dish

Studio Lights

grilling chestnuts

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

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

holiday kids

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

downtown heladsburg party

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

studio lights

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

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

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Finding New Friends in the Fields

heirloom-beans

Most of us have split personalities when it comes to travel, forever trying to reconcile our need to relax with a little (or a lot) of adventure on the side. Learning how to switch off comes with practice, it's finding destinations you hope will spark new trains of thought once you return home that's by far the harder side of the equation. It certainly doesn’t help that we usually travel as we live, burdened with stereotypes. I was born in the South, but rarely travel there ~ what's up with that? From what I've been hearing for a few years now, some of our greatest new chefs are "down there," working in some of the most dynamic food sheds left in the country. It was time to explore...

Blackberry Farm

blackberry-farm

Blackberry Farm is one of the most beautifully engaging resort properties in America, 4,200 acres of rolling green Appalachia that sits at the foothills of the Great Smoky Mountains ~ and yes, smoke they do, natural plumes of fog that rise from the tree lines in the morning or after rain, a reaction to warm humid air that drifts in from the Gulf of Mexico. You can swim, ride, fish, hike and spa yourself silly at Blackberry, negotiating the extraordinarily well-tended property by day or night anywhere your legs (or the golf carts they provide) will take you.

John-Coykendall

But while cruzing around this gentile Southern estate with heirloom breeds of Friesian sheep, horses, alpaca, ducks, chickens and pigs, all cavorting happily behind hundreds of miles of undulating white split rail fences definitely channels your inner Oprah (if you were not, as I was not, to the manor born), what brought us to Walland was the chance to meet John Coykendall, the master gardener who inspires the extensive seed to table dining program. The Beall Family has owned Blackberry for three decades and in that time have made a respect for the land the heartbeat of their enterprise. Rightly proud of the fact they forage and farm with an appreciation for sustainability that goes back to the Cherokee and the founding Appalachians, what I found equally remarkable was the degree to which they allow their farmers to expand the genetic diversity of the region, a passion John shares with Jeff Ross, their engaging garden manager. Blackberry actively encourages guests to access all aspects of food production at the resort, which has grown to include impressive vegetable gardens, fruit, grain and nut orchards, a bakery, butchery, creamery, and 8,000-square-foot wine cellar.

inside barn

A stay at Blackberry begins with a groaning board Southern-style breakfast (I can take or leave grits, but the estate’s sausages and wildflower honey are to die for), an elegant boxed lunch you are encouraged to disappear into the landscape with, and a Michelin Star dinner served in an 18th century Amish bank barn you are chauffeured to and from each night. Or, as we chose, allowed to make your own way on the aforementioned golf carts. Getting back to our cottage after an evening of outstanding food and (possibly too much) drink proved to be highly entertaining. On our last night no sooner had we parked on a rise overlooking the Great Smokys lumbering in the dark when the fields suddenly began to blink on and off in a luminous sea of fireflies. Though we had departed the barn long after a scheduled bonfire party had dispersed, everything had been left for us: wood to feed the fire and all the fixings for s’mores in jars tucked in a stone wall. If Martha Stewart had jumped out of the bushes at this point and asked if the marshmallow toasting sticks were whittled to our satisfaction I would have been delighted, but not surprised.

overlooking-blackberry-farm

Coykendall, when we met him, was exceedingly gracious, a rich man’s Wendell Berry, and I mean that as a compliment. Subsidizing this level of food production for so few people is a significant ongoing investment. That he and Jeff polish the apple of a Relais and Chateaux lifestyle in a way that is also politically relevant is a testament to the sincerity of the Blackberry’s mission ~ and Barndiva's for that matter ~ namely to increase our guest’s understanding of the relationship that exists between the land and its food. It’s hard to get this right without having the whole dining experience turn into a polemic. Yet everywhere we ate on this trip, starting with Chef Joseph Lenn here at Blackberry, we found commitment to local mindful sourcing as a matter of course. John and Jeff constantly consider what a definition of food justice might be that would allow the riches of a farm like Blackberry’s to be the norm. While the farm program they’ve put together is a living work of art, they don’t view it as a museum of food but a depository of a collective history with a proud, hard scrapple past. The growth of the resort has also been a boon to the local economy, and the importance of that is lost on neither man.

corn-treatment

We had come bearing gifts ~ Petaluma Gold Rush beans and Burbank Barley (as in Luther), a thank you from Lukka and Daniel for seeds John had given them last year ~ a variety of Appalachian mountain beans including the coveted Reverend Taylor Butter Beans which date from the 1800’s, and we are now growing for Barndiva. Blackberry prides itself on what it calls ‘foothills cuisine’ ~ but our conversations with both men provided a fascinating overview of the differences and convergences of the Southern food sheds surrounding the farm leading all the way down to the sea ~  a preview of what we could expect in Charleston, where we were headed next to explore what is reputedly one of the best fish sheds in the country.

animal-lineup

Taking the Time to Thank Dad for All the Love

When we asked the dads who work here what their entrée of choice would be for Father's Day (if they didn't have to work!) the answer came up red, as in a prime cuts of beef. In part, we suspect, this is because that's what they too often get stuck grilling at home. Whatever the reason, while we fully intend to make all your vegetarian, vegan and pescatarian dads incredibly happy on June 16th, brunch in the gardens this year will include a special entrée of petit filet with lobster hash and sunny-side up Early Bird eggs; while for dinner we will have prime ribeye with roasted asparagus, béarnaise and an artichoke tomato tart. Special wine pairings and cocktails TBA.

As Father's Day seems to be ramping up a lot like Mother's Day this year (about time, too) call the barn for reservations even if our link on the website says we are fully booked, and we'll try to make it work. These are the holidays we love sharing with you.

All text and photos Jil Hales

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Exciting News!

beautfiul-barndiva-wedding
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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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VOTE FOR US!

eat the view topper

It's coming down to the wire....

Ok, so let's cut right to the chase: We're thrilled we made it to the final round with a chance to win Best Documentary in Saveur Magazine's Film Festival 2013. To win would sure feel good ~ and be a much deserved pat on the (aching) backs of all the incredibly dedicated chefs and farmers who work to make the food experience at Barndiva something we are truly proud of.

But we also believe that if we win, more people ~ most of them living far from our small corner of the world ~ will get to see EAT THE VIEW. This is what farm to table looks like ~ what the word sustainable can mean ~  when it's not just a buzz word in an article, or a marketing description on a menu.

Please vote for us, and consider putting the link on your Facebook page and/or tweeting about it! VOTING WILL BE OVER BY WEDNESDAY,  so do it TODAY.

Whatever the outcome, a heartfelt thank you for reading the blog, and for your continued interest and support of Barndiva and the beautiful food-shed that surrounds us here in Sonoma County.

Eat the View!

Jil, Ryan, Drew Kelly (our talented cinematographer and Eat the View’s director) and the ENTIRE Barndiva and Studio Barndiva cast of food obsessed characters.

Click here to vote:

vote-for-Barndiva

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Happy Valentine's Day (almost)

ducky topper
prix-fixe-menu
carrot heart new darker

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?

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

oscars silver

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

smiling duck

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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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.......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.......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 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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Introducing...

Our food... on film!

We made a movie because we could, because someone around here asked us to (I think it was Chef), because the words ‘farm to table’ started appearing everywhere, which was good, until it wasn’t. Like the use of the words 'organic' and ‘artisan’, it's begun to feel a bit promiscuous. There are incredible people behind each and every plate of food we send out into the dining room and it’s a beautiful thing to know who they are. If it helps fill the restaurant, to keep us all employed doing what we love, that’s great. Reminding ourselves why we fell in love in the first place is even better.

We call the blog (and now the movie) Eat the View because no one really knows straight away what that means until we explain, pointing out the window. It is time well spent. But eating the view isn’t just about food. Everything we take in needs a bit of time to be properly digested ~ broken down into a nutritious soup that keeps the human engine humming.

These are the people and animals and plants which keep our engines humming. Enjoy. And if you are so inclined, pass it on.

[vimeo http://www.vimeo.com/43933864 w=500&h=281]

Written & Produced: Jil Hales Directed & Filmed: Drew Kelly

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu.....Dish of the Week: A Niçoise Worthy of Dufy.....

Dish of the Week

Seared Tuna Niçoise with Saffron Aioli

Before I tasted this dish on Sunday, the best Salade Niçoise outside of France I ever had was at Wolfgang Puck’s old Ma Maison on Melrose Avenue. It was a revelation, every wonderful Mediterranean flavor on the end of the fork: the sea, briny olives, crispy haricot vert, boiled potatoes glistening in virgin olive oil.

If you are a Niçoise fan like me you've probably suffered through innumerable misguided versions through the  years trying to get back to the one that made you fall in love with this dish in the first place: overcooked fish the consistency of cardboard, sodden haricot vert, heavily sauced greens, quartered (sometimes halved) hardboiled eggs so dry they made swallowing a chore. What seems a simple dish is anything but.

Wolfie came to prominence the same time as Alice Waters, one of the first chefs who really knew how to source, though he worked his end of that passion down in Southern California. Sourcing is crucial to the dish but you also need a deft hand: each and every one of the ingredients needs to be treated with summertime love.

It starts with the fish, which should have the texture of fine silk with a  color somewhere between an overripe plum and Dior Rouge Blossom (a great lipstick color, check it out). Whether you poach it or flash sear it (as we do), when you finally glide a fork through the center the fish should be the texture and glorious color it had when it first came out of the sea. Chef uses Yellowtail, sushi grade. That's half the secret, the other is a light hand with the oil. I have a friend who swears canned tuna packed in OO makes a great Niçoise because "it is all about the oil," but while it's a dish that calls for an oily fish, I disagree. A light olive oil based dressing (ours is made with sherry vinegar and fresh basil) pulls all the ingredients under the same umbrella but each stands out ~  new potatoes, confit garlic, blanched haricot, green olives, ripe tomatoes. Ryan likes to add a spoonful of finely diced mirepoix which adds a bit of earthiness to the mix.

All the ingredients are cooked separately, warmed together in olive oil at the last minute which sets off the fragrant magic of their particular compatibility. There's a reason this dish became the go to for 'ladies who lunch' as it manages to be both incredibly rich, yet healthy (their version of not fattening) ~ rumor says it was created for Balanchine one summer as he was knocking about by the seaside in Nice. Makes sense.

As for that egg, Chef is not interested in dumbing down the palate by either hard boiling then slicing or grating it so it disintegrates into mush- his serendipitous play on a Niçoise uses a single quail egg, lightly fried in OO. It's just big enough for the yolk, once broken, to give you a few creamy mouthfuls as it settles down into the acidic tang of the dressing without upstaging a sublime saffron aioli on which he mounts all the ingredients.

For the next few months we are serving this Niçoise as a warm first course on the dinner menu. The single Calabrian pepper that sits on top, whose heat triggers the delight of everything that follows, reminds me of a flag on one of the little fishing boats in a Dufy painting. You can't see the sea from the Barn, but like Dufy, Ryan's edible semaphore makes me smile.  Summer has arrived. Eat the View.

Coming Soon...

Speaking of Eat the View, we're just about to release our 4 minute video of the same name. Working with Drew Kelly as we traveled across Sonoma County to Preston Vineyards, Bellwether Farms, Mix Gardens, Earlybird's Place and Daniel's Flats has been one of the most memorable experiences of the past few years. Even knowing all I do about the quality of work our staff is capable of, watching the footage we shot in the kitchen was a revelation. There's something about seeing action on film that heightens the small gestures you take for granted, in this case isolating the grace and skill they expend with every dish. We may have a small kitchen at Barndiva but, boy, do we make big memorable food.

Crowds at the opening reception for Salon des Sens were blown away but we can't wait to hear what you think, dear reader.  Coming your way later this week!

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

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Wednesday at the Barn Menu..... Farm to Table in 3 Minutes.... Salon de Sens....The Jazz Festival returns to Barndiva...

Yes, but what makes it art?

Like it or not, we are all defined to a large extent by the landscape we live in. If on a molecular level you are what you eat, on an emotional level you are what you look at every day.

A landscape does not have to be beautiful to feed you (though it helps) so long as you have a true relationship to it, and crucially, the people who live in it with you. Solitude is nice but only through an honest connection to community can we change our outlook, and, in effect, our lives as a whole. Sometimes in ways we never imagined.

Until we moved to Healdsburg 10 years ago I really only took note of the Sonoma countryside in passing. It was beautiful, of course, but then so were similarly stunning vistas I’d traveled through. Even in Italy and France, once you take out the castles and gorgeous old villages, after a while vineyards are vineyards are vineyards.

The truth of how differently I feel now, living in and from this foodshed for almost a decade, was brought home to me all last week as I crept from a warm bed to leave the barn before dawn and travel from one end of the county to the other capturing raw footage for a video I’m making with Drew Kelly. Farm to Table in 3 minutes will tell the story of one plate of food as the ingredients travel to reach the table here at Barndiva. Foraged and farmed, made from animals that share the view with us, the dish relies entirely upon products that were sourced from people who would not normally consider themselves artists. In my view they are, contributing to a final dish which on every compositional and sensory level form a complete, if transitory, work of art. Let me explain.

Drew and I have wanted to work together again ever since he documented A Taste of Place for us at the Studio two years ago. Laura Parker’s exhibit had fascinating aesthetic and interactive components to it ~ smelling the soil as you eat the food grown from it is pretty sensate stuff ~ but Salon des Sens, the upcoming group show where we will premiere FT3minute has a decidedly different MO. It’s SF curator, Maggie Spicer, while not denying that all food is political, is an art first girl whose distinct vision for the show is an exploration of the ways in which, in the right hands, food can be used to create an authentic aesthetic experience.  Towards this goal she has invited 15 Bay Area artists to participate, including four from Studio Barndiva. They work in a variety of media ~ photography, watercolor, acrylic, wire, compost and sod. Ryan, Drew and I have joined this group with the aforementioned video. Ryan will also be creating edible "works" which will be served on opening night.

We felt compelled to contribute to the show because while everything we do at Barndiva is made manifest by the fields and farms which surround us, even with the rise in popularity of the term Farm to Table very few people who come across a restaurant like ours for the first time have a real understanding of what it means. Lately, Ryan and I have even begun to wonder if  "farm to table" isn’t growing into just another misappropriated catchword hard on the heels of "artisan" and "handcrafted."

Drew gets this. He comes to the discussion from a perspective of someone who creates art to tell a story, a talented imagesmith who is also a passionate eater and crucially, a new father, trying to make sense of this very complicated subject.

And so it was that we found ourselves crouched in the old vines in front of Lou and Susan Preston’s house at 6:30 on Friday, just as the sun was coming up. The day before we had followed Alex Lapham, who manages the vegetable program for Mix Gardens, as he went on his rounds harvesting fennel, wild garlic, favas, rapini and chive flowers ~ all crucial ingredients in the dish that would be the star of our video. It had been cold, gray and wet, not remotely sensuous in the Maggie Spicer sense of the word. Farming is hard work, by turns sweaty, grueling, repetitive. As much as you can you rely on experience, knowing full well that weather and dumb luck will ultimately control the cards you play.

If the video is to be a success we knew we needed to connect the line that exists between the muck of a compost heap and a sculpted, beautiful vegetable presented on a gleaming white plate. Unlike any other artistic medium where raw product ~ a lump of clay or paint or steel ~ stays inert until the hand of the artist gets involved, everything about the final dishes we present on our plates, the way they look and taste and smell, starts in the field. This is our message: that everything about beautiful food ~ what it does to our senses when we take it in visually, breath it, open our mouths and suckle its taste ~ is inherent in the initial thrust of the shovel that starts the process to bring it along the food chain to us. In this regard, talent and vision and a steely focus come into play, marking the difference between grass fed beef and pink slime just the same as a lump of paint in different hands produces work as various as Vermeer to Kincaid. It is truly an art form where what you see at the end is set in place at the beginning. All the aesthetic components like shape, color and texture exist from the beginning in unadulterated form. The beauty of the process, what makes it art, relies on a partnership of artisans who alter and inform the material at every step as it winds its way to that last set of hands, waiting in the kitchen.

And the partners don’t just work together, mano a mano. They are also engaged in a profound partnership with the land and with the animals on it that fertilize, till and feed off it. There's magic in these relationships. If we do it right, FT3minute will cast a spell, the way only art can when it moves us. Alex bending in the soft gray light coaxing exquisite color from his vegetables, Liam reaching into a vat of steamy ricotta with the deft grace of a dancer, Lou’s maestro conducting of his sheep, Daniel moving up a forest road filling his basket with foraged nettles like a character out of a Thomas Hardy novel. Even Earl, talking to his hens, giving them a gentle push to get to their eggs, when viewed through the lens of our camera evokes a complicated Coen Brothers relationship to his brood that is pure visual joy.

Does it matter that our audience eats the art? According to the preeminent performance artist of our times, Marina Abramović, the answer is no. We are all participants in potential aesthetic experiences that masquerade as daily life, even if we don’t immediately recognize them as such. When you dine at Barndiva you buy a ticket to experience the talent of dozens of food artisans who would not exist, could not exist, without your patronage.

Or so I sat thinking, as the three of us waited in silence for the Preston sheep to come down the road. They would be lead by Giuseppe, the great white Maremma dog who lives with them from the day they are born. Following Lou’s instructions we were stationed off the road so as not to startle them. Nathan Cozzolino, our intrepid soundman who had traveled up from LA to work with Drew was to my left, crouching in the tall grass wearing serious looking headphones, his mic suspended on a tall pole. Drew, to my right, had set up a camera on a tripod directly across the road from the open gate to the olive field where the sheep would make their final pasture.

The grass grows high around the vines in Lou’s biodynamic vineyards, feeding the soil, creating an aerial meadow of insect sounds, more buzz than bite. When the wind picks up there is a sea swish that roils, softly, the pure definition of what it means to whisper. A cat, one of Susan’s half wild brood, jumped up on a vine to complain about something. Nathan, hearing everything in amplification, pointed up at the sky, where a curious Heron circled low.

And then we heard them coming. I’ve been in places where shepherds have the right of way on small country roads but this was different, a singular procession lead by a dog with all the dignity of a Catholic Priest leading a flock of keening mourners. Perhaps because art was on my mind, references abounded: the light on the landscape was Turneresque, the passion play had all the irony of Chaucer, the cacophony of bleating pure Philip Glass. Marina would have loved what I did with the moment.

But was it art?  While the cohesive parts that would make it whole were yet to come ~ Ryan breaking the animal down, the many hours of prep and cooking our staff would put into all the other ingredients before Ryan returned to arrange the elements on the plate in his inimitable style ~ yes, I’d argue that is was. What we filmed at dawn was as integral to the process of the finished piece as a composer picking up his pencil to jot down some notes long before the orchestra gets them, before the sound of a single virtuoso violin can wing its way through the air in some palace of fine arts.

But then, I love to argue. So come see for yourself and you decide. Salon des Sens, a Food Art Show, opens on June 2. Our talented friends at St. George spirits will be collaborating with Rachel on exciting new cocktails; Copain Winery will be pouring their extraordinary wines.

Are cocktails like ours which are made from beautiful spirits considered artful? Is wine? Don’t get me started.

Salon des Sens is coming...click for details to the show and opening party!

The Jazz Festival returns to Barndiva

And Finally...

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (Susan Preston's hand, Drew Kelly).

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Guest Dish of the Week.....Happy Valentines Day!

Dish of the Week - The Mix Garden Special

It's a well known adage that one should never do business with family or friends, one which we have sadly found to be true the hard way over the years. Yet there's something counter intuitive about the notion that spending your working life with strangers is healthy or wise. Nothing feels better than helping grow a business you believe in while supporting and working alongside people you care about and enjoy spending time with. We love the folks at Mix Gardens and are proud to call them friends. Mick Kopetsky has built up a series of fruit and vegetable gardens across Sonoma County that supply some of the county's finest restaurants with extraordinary produce. With Healdsburg Landscape Materials he has created a valuable community resource that offers everything a gardener needs ~ from soils to seeds. We were very proud to be included in a series he's currently doing for his newsletter which follows the food Mix grows from their garden to the plate.  It's beautifully shot by local photographer Caitlin McCaffrey.

Come spring we hope to collaborate with Mix by supplying 'starts' for some of the fine herbs, edible flowers and vegetables we feature in Dish of the Week directly to our guests for them to grow. Redefining and expanding the notion of farm to table is a goal we share with Mick, Alex and Bryan, whether it's our table here at the restaurant, or yours at home.  Stay tuned.

Meanwhile, we invite you to click below, which will take you to the beautiful Mix Blog and a slideshow of this week's Dish: Creamy Celery Root & Lobster Risotto with Mix Garden Greens and Edible Flowers Enjoy.

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

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