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Greenwood Ridge


Oven Roasted Squab ...... Valentine's Day Menu......

Dish of the Week

Oven Roasted Squab with Huckleberries and Fois Toast

Squab may look like baby chicken, but with a thicker layer of fat beneath the skin these farmed gamebirds react to heat more like duck.  Cooked properly the dark meat is rich and delicious. Before I tasted this dish the best squab I ever had was at St. John’s in London, where they grill and serve the heart and liver alongside the whole bird, as close to nose to tail as you get with poultry.

Ryan used two kinds of sage in the dish. He stuffed the birds with garden sage before searing and oven roasting them; for plating, he pulled the petals off the flowering spikes of the pineapple sage we have blooming in the garden as if it were spring ~ probably as confused as we are by the unseasonably warm weather. Alongside the lush purple velvet of the huckleberries, the edible flowers added a tropical note of color to a dish which otherwise would have been all golden hued brown.  We sourced our pineapple sage from one of Occidental Arts and Ecology's popular plant sales a few seasons ago. Its fragrant leaves are wonderful in cocktails.

Chef cooked the squab in three stages. First, over high heat he seared the bird on all sides (including the ends), then popped it in the oven to roast before finishing back in the pan, basting furiously with garlic, thyme and butter as the skin caramelized. It's a labor intensive way to cook each bird but you can't argue with the result: a brilliantly crisp skin with meat the consistency of a medium rare steak. Seeing red when you cut into a gamebird takes some getting used to, but no worries: what the eye perceives as underdone, the mouth will soon convince you is moist and bursting with flavor.

Ryan served the squab over a bed of sautéed endive. He balanced the breast of the bird over the leg and thigh, placed a triangle of toast on top, grated the fois and then dribbled huckleberry sauce over the dish like they were pancakes on Sunday.  There was crunch and then creaminess from the shaved fois which bumped up nicely against the sharp tang of the huckleberries and the soft herbaceous notes of the sage.  Surprisingly, if you take fois gras directly from the refrigerator and use a fine microplaner, it grates into flakes as light as snow. They melt on the tongue, playing off the subtle but distinctly gamy flavor of the squab.

Strip away all the beautiful finesse Ryan brings to this dish and you could well imagine eating it on the ridge in Philo 100 years ago when all the ingredients could be found without leaving the farm.  Though most of the larger animals have fled farther north in the last decade ~ it’s five years since we’ve seen a wild boar around our place ~ we still have small game birds in abundance, wild sage grows everywhere, and huckleberries line the road in from Greenwood Ridge, plentiful when the deer don’t get them first. Even in low water years, shaded by the towering conifers and redwoods, they are one of the great delights of foraging.

Be Mine?

Last week Rachel and I came up with a great cocktail for the Winter Menu called What A Girl Wants. It would have been fine to star with the Valentine’s Menu, but I’m getting (happily) used to the fact that our new bar manager is never satisfied with one drink when she can come up with two.

Be Mine? is without a doubt a more girlie drink than What a Girl Wants ~ which is fine, as the "girls" who frequent our bar come in all temperatures, cool to smoking hot. Made with Tito’s handmade vodka and fresh Meyer Lemon Juice, with a hint of lavender infused simple syrup, it’s finished with a foamy egg white which Rachel will use as a canvas on the night for a simple Crème Yvette heart.

Click on menu to view.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted). Valentine's artwork K2pdesigns.



Happy Birthday Baby

(originally posted July 14, 2010)

Seven years ago, the day before we opened Barndiva for the very first time, we hosted an unforgettable interactive art exhibit celebrating the work of ten renowned local food producers. Each food artist was paired with two other artists: one to document their work, the other to interpret it. The interactive part was that we invited guests to “eat the art” while they experienced it. 300 old friends, new neighbors, journalists, vintners, and tout Healdsburg descended upon the barn on a warm and sunny Saturday in July expecting to be wowed. We wowed them. Who could resist the heady perfume of art, food, wine and music, all served up in a beautiful new building on a perfect evening at the height of summer?

The entire day was our business plan writ large, with the central proposition that diva’s don’t just live in opera houses. When it comes to food there are people who hit the high notes every day of their lives in vegetables fields, olive orchards, dairies, bakeries... even restaurants shaped like barns. There was a sense that day, articulated by almost everyone who was here, that something exciting was gaining momentum in Healdsburg; that Barndiva was only part of a zeitgeist that was happening in our town, and towns like ours (which admittedly is not many) across the country. The term ‘farm to table’ didn’t mean what it does today; the concept of ‘artisan’ had only recently begun being applied to something you’d find on a plate in a restaurant. The adoration we lavished on our food savants felt new and exciting, an homage to hand made and home grown that felt wholly warranted and fully our own.

It was the greatest opening party Barndiva could have imagined. Of course we needed the good will, inexperienced as we were, to get through that first tumultuous year. And we were thrilled to have pulled off an exhibit of such great complexity to launch our business. But what we were most proud of was the $16,000 we helped raise with Slow Food Sonoma County, our partners for the event, to be spent on a program that would bring sustainable farmers to the kitchen doors of Healdsburg Public Schools to provide for their lunch programs.

Paul Bertolli, already contemplating Fra Mani, the next great act in his remarkable culinary career, arrived first with homemade salumi he’d cured in his basement in Berkeley. He had been paired with the artist Ismael Sanchez, who fashioned a life size homage to the dead pig out of rusted wire, and with Evan Bertoli, his nephew, a classmate of our daughter Isabel and a budding photographer. The group vetting the artists with me had concerns that a boy as young as Evan could pull off work that would raise significant money at auction, but one look at the image he took of Paul’s beautiful hand slicing through a sheaf of snowy white pork fat put that fear to rest: it was haunting, fully capturing the skill Paul brings to the art of charcuterie.
And so it went, with virtually every collaborative exhibit: Lou Preston’s wine was exhibited alongside Susan Preston’s installation piece of a single worn blue kitchen chair sitting, as if floating, on a mound of flour with a jug of their Guadagni on the floor. Ig Vella brought huge rounds of cheese and a lifetime’s worth of craft in his worn and irascible smile. Elissa Rubin Mahon stacked a dozen of her jams in an old wood box by the front door where they sparkled like jewels in a Bulgari window. John Scharffenberger sent slabs of different grades of chocolate and huge bags of chocolate nibs which we poured on a wine barrel below Michael Recchiuti’s accompanying ‘canvas’ of hand poured chocolate upon which he had painted a shimmering, incandescent barn. The smells of Olive Oil and Honey and Bread and Peaches ~ all other exhibits ~ filled the air, mingling with the laughter and music and talktalktalk.
One of the artisan producers I’d personally invited to participate was Karen Bates of the Philo Apple Farm. Though the focus of the exhibit was the artisan bounty from Sonoma County, Slow Food understood that as a family we intended to draw from a sustainable food shed that started in Mendocino County where we own a farm on the Greenwood Ridge. Our place is directly above Karen’s; her family and ours have been nearest neighbors and friends, raising our kids together, for going on 30 years. Karen’s artisan product, her ‘art,’ as it were, was the ‘mother’ starter she used for the farm’s infamous apple cider vinegar, made from organic heirloom apples that grow on their 40 acres along the Navarro River. I had only ever seen yogurt or bread starters before so Karen’s massive disc of fulminating bacteria blew me away.

Karen has chosen the artist Laura Parker to document her work and towards that end Laura has spent many hours at the farm that spring photographing apple trees in full blossom. She then transferred 55 images onto fabric panels that on the morning of the exhibit she slung across the entire rear of the barn. It was a gorgeous body of work. Remarkably, she’d taken an inherently flat, captured image and given it back the life it once had out in the fields. Karen and Laura are good friends, which you could tell from the way their pieces played together. There was also something wonderfully incongruous between the mothership starter floating in a huge glass bowl of rust colored cider, and these ethereal blossoms, splashing sunlit patterns through the air, moving like a curious school of butterflies, hovering, but with no intention of landing.

Laura and I connected that day, talked briefly, then lost touch, except for infrequent emails about our respective openings. From hers I gleaned that she was mixing up her time between fine art, highly sought after pastel images of fruit and vegetables (presently on exhibit in Studio Barndiva), and interactive work which sounded more experiential than performance. It wasn’t until she sent something about a new project called Taste of Place that I started playing closer attention.


Taking the current interest in terroir out of the vineyard and bringing it to the farm, Laura was making the case that everything we eat, not just wine we drink, has a indelible fingerprint connecting it with the soil it is grown in. She visited farms and tramped around, meticulously labeling soil samples, which she then put into wine glasses for folks to smell and discuss. She only used dirt from sustainable farms (fyi: soil becomes dirt when you take it away from where you find it). She didn’t ask anyone to taste the dirt (though some did) but she made the case that by smelling deeply we are in fact tasting: scientifically that’s what happens on the sides of our tongues when we salivate, the result when something piquant ~ in this case dirt with a little water added ~ hits our olfactory senses. What she found from the first few interactive shows was that often just the smell of dirt played a strange alchemy on memory. It can bring back a moment in time when we were very young, before dirt was just something to wash off. Sound implausible? Maybe, but this is exactly what happened to Geoffrey at the Taste of Place lunch Laura put on at the Boonville Hotel in 2008.

I have a long history with the Boonville Hotel: I was among the second round of investors when the restaurant was in its glory, and it provided my first real connection to Anderson Valley. Ironically, given what I do now, it also exposed me to a style of country dining I’d only ever seen in Europe, where it’s not unusual to see some of the food you are eating growing or frolicking in the fields beyond the dining room windows. The hotel is now owned by Johnny Schmitt, Karen’s brother, a wonderful cook who had worked with Laura and her farmers to create a soil-paired meal I had no intention of missing. My husband thought otherwise. On the day of the lunch, with temperatures already climbing over 80, it was all I could do to get him in the car.

The first thing that strikes you when you experience Laura’s Taste of Place is how different the soils look when you are able to study and compare them, side-by-side. Some soils are deep and rich, while others look almost too thin to support growth of any kind. Some are rocky, with bits of granite, some smooth as silt, several so light and airy they seem to be crawling up the sides of the glass.

There are two ways of describing what happens after that. The first is to take a page out of wine Terroir vernacular (albeit tongue and cheek) as indicated from crib notes Laura and Karen wrote about the Philo Apple Farm.

Philo Apple Farm – Flood Plain, Navarro River District. Unlike the Indian Camp Ground variety, flood plain has a yellow mustard color. It's texture is hard and clod like. A bit less exotic in aroma, but more varietal, with olive and mineral notes, and a bit weightier finish. The nose here is clay and smoky with huge extract and extraordinary elegance.

Then there is the way Geoffrey experienced Taste. First he stuck his long aquiline nose into a glass of “Indian Campground: Arrowhead Reserve” and inhaled deeply. Then he furrowed his brow, closed his eyes, sighed. “This brings me right back to our coal cellar in London when I was 5." He looked up at Laura and smiled. “It’s the smell of anthracite and moisture. God, I spent hours playing down there, with this smell in the air.” Later, in the car on the way up to the farm he remarked that he hadn’t thought about those years for a long, long time.

It is amazing to me, and quite wonderful indeed, that after seven years we are still talking about the sanctity of the soil here at Barndiva. Since Ryan arrived the idea behind “eat the view” has taken on even greater meaning. It’s not just a nifty tag line for our patrons anymore, but embedded deep within their enjoyment of everything we surround them with here at the Barn. With inspired cooking, as with bio-dynamic farming, it's hard to know where the passion ends and the science begins. A growing part of me feels we may be seeing the beginning of a thoughtful re-consideration of why food tastes the way it does, which could even lead us to a reappraisal of the very concept of nourishment. There is now talk about Secondary Metabolites in plants which, while they have probably been around since the beginning of time, are only now being studied for the possible secrets they hold in protecting the plants that produce them. If we are ever able to unlock that connection, they may someday be able protect us as well.

These are exciting times to be considering taste and how it applies to farming practices and food. What’s most incredible is the fact that this new frontier has been here all along, where it’s always been, right beneath our feet.

If you missed our opening party seven years ago, now is your chance to share an historical evening at Barndiva. If you were here for The Taste of Art, thank you for your continued patronage. We hope to share A Taste of Place with you in August.



At the End of the Day

(originally posted May 26, 2010)

Heavy coastal fog spilled over the ridges last night blanketing the orchards and burning off just after dawn in great drifts, like magic smoke. Sunlight reflected in puddles on the stony paths and dew dripped like small fat diamonds from the rosebushes. By 9:37 on Tuesday May 18, 2010, it is fair to say the world was sparkling where I stood on Greenwood Ridge.

On mornings like these I think of Victoria. At any time of the year I know I can walk outside and see her hand in something that is blooming or growing, but it is in late spring that her passion for color unfurls as if to shout, Here I am. Look at me.

The little history I know of her does not indicate she was a woman who had time on her hands for passionate pursuits, or, for that matter, leisure of any kind. She lived remotely on the top of a mountain in an age when everything you did to survive pretty much had to be done right where you stood. From morning to night she washed and wrung and hung and ironed and sewed and weeded and picked and stirred and baked and cleaned and tended the animals first thing upon waking, last thing at night. Hers was a small family for an Italian woman, just the two boys and John Cassinelli, her husband. But during the seasons when itinerate workers arrived in the valley for logging, sheep shearing, or (before prohibition) grape picking, she also fed dozens of single men who made their way up the back paths to the door of her kitchen, where she gave them a meal hearty enough to stick to their ribs for a nickel.

She never had a daughter, no one to help with the house or jamming or cooking except on those days when all the families who lived on what was then called Vinegar Ridge gathered. The Fashowers, The Pronsolinos, The Pardinis, The Fratis, The Giovanettis. At those times I imagine a house filled with laughter, pots and pans clanging, bottle after bottle of unlabeled zinfandel passing hands. Had there been womanly touches in the house once, they were long gone by the time I took possession of it. But even if one imagined frilly curtains in the kitchen or a hand loomed rug by the hearth, it would not have brightened what was a resolutely masculine house. Big and dark, with very few windows, a house built in defiance of the cold nights and the long rainy Mendocino winters. Houses with walls of glass to “open” the view are very much a modern construct, not something people who worked their land, and lived the view all day long, thought much about.

When I bought the house and the land on which Victoria had planted her gardens, thirty years had already passed since her death. I was coming from a great metropolis bringing all the mod-coms I thought I needed to survive with me ~ computers, washers and dryers, gourmet restaurant kitchen appliances. I painted the dark paneling white and hauled old iron beds out of the barn for the boys, and painted them white as well. I hired a brilliant couple who had worked in the Queen’s gardens in England, before Alan Chadwick had lured them to northern California, and had them plant formal flower borders like I was channeling Vita, (which I was) with yew hedges that they warned would take decades to reach any ‘significant height.’ I didn’t mind. ‘Significant height’ was exactly what I had come in search of.

Over that first year of innumerable mistakes, slowly but surely Victoria began to make her presence felt.

At first the connection was one of simple appreciation: for the double and single daffodils that sprung up along the road to the house, signaling the end of the rains; for the riot of Matisse colors ~ deep purples and hot pinks ~ that bloomed in what I came to call the shade garden; for the varieties of Azaleas and Camellias she had planted, some as big as small trees. Black bearded Iris, and whole fields of naturalized Ixia would come and go, sometimes making it into a vase and I would wonder when they had been planted, where the tubers or starts had come from.

I also never ceased to marvel at her practicality: like most Italian kitchens there were fruit and nut trees that spiraled out from the back door so at any moment you are only a few steps from that extra Rome needed for a pie, or fat green figs for the cheese, which Victoria had made in the cheese room down in the barn, which I brought up from the city, or from Bert at Boontberry Farms.

It's possible she saved my life once: One summer evening I was loading a heavy pump on the dolly, late to start dinner, when it slipped and the handles sprang forward, cutting a deep gash above my eye. There was not enough time to call for help but before I could grow afraid I remembered the patch of Comfrey growing on the damp side of the house. My gardener friend had thought Victoria had grown it to staunch wounds, 'an old Indian trick.' The boys rushed outside, grabbing handfuls, which we crushed and stuffed deep into the flap above my eye. The last thing I remember before passing out was Victoria's voice in my ear whispering, tell your boys they did good.

It was after that accident that I began in earnest to look for connections between us: the chicken coop had been built beneath a copse of firs where it was hidden from view. Had Victoria planned the path running to it along the ridge so she could follow her boys as they made the journey to collect eggs every morning ~ as I did mine? There was a straighter route, but one that did not afford the same view. I knew that even if we had lived at the same time in history, Victoria and I couldn’t have been more different, culturally or temperamentally, and probably would not have been friends. But that never stopped me wondering how she might resolve situations that I knew she had faced in that very same spot. A sick child in the night and no doctor within easy reach drives the same wedge of fear in a young mother’s heart, no matter what century she lives in, or to which god she prays.

The irony is that with all my education and relative wealth I was adrift in a terrain that she had mastered with no such ‘resources’. Significant height, remember? A Jeep took me to town, not a horse and buggy; when the crops failed I went to the supermarket. But what if there was suddenly no supermarket? I had circumnavigated the world, speaking in tongues, but when it came to understanding the rhythms of a simple existence on the ridge, nothing life had taught me thus far gave me the upper hand. More and more I found myself taking the measure of my day against the faint pattern of hers, as, and when, I could discern it.

For the most part, our farm was a series of outbuildings that served masculine endeavors ~ building, chopping, fixing things. You could go from one shed to another all day long and come upon old and rusted things men had touched: from the lower barn which was dark and dank, its hand hewn redwood beams soaked black by a century of tractor oil, to the wood shed with its wall full of saw blades, some as big as 8’ across, to the tool shed with its cabinets of screw boxes, chains, and hand hewn tools. I never found many things that were hers though: a potato masher with a chipped red handle, a set of framed flower prints, pillow cases from Sears Roebuck catalogue printed with tiny cowboy guns, hats and boots (which Tex loved and claimed), and a prized treasure: a framed picture of Jesus as a handsome young man who looked like he didn’t have a care in the world. I showed it to my mother when she came to visit she said oh look, a picture of Jesus with bedroom eyes.

My mother would have made friends with Victoria, of this I have no doubt. But then she had a talent for looking beyond differences in language, culture, ethnicity and religion. Differences we make into obstacles between ourselves and other people, in spite of what we know of the importance of human kinship. I do not have that talent down yet, but I'm trying. Survival is a collaborative enterprise. At the end of the day we all have another night of total darkness to consider. It comforts me knowing Victoria was up here once, thinking it all through, before me.



A Short History of the Ridge

(originally posted May 26, 2010) The first Europeans to settle in the Anderson Valley were Russian hunters and trappers who made their living selling seal and otter pelts. With the Gold Rush came a building boom in the San Francisco Bay Area and the need for lumber, which made the first growth redwood forests in Anderson Valley highly desirable. Though this was for the most part a transient work force, families that began to settle on the Ridge, mostly Italians, brought with them a rich agricultural heritage. They homesteaded on Greenwood Ridge in part because it offered high ground with a good road that connected the Port of Greenwood with Anderson Valley, a road distance of about 18 miles.

Greenwood Ridge has a very different climate from Anderson Valley proper. The broad ridgetop plateaus and benches sit at elevations of up to 1600 feet above sea level. This puts them above the persistent coastal fog that hangs in the canyons of Greenwood Creek and the Navarro River, fog which can chill lower portions of Anderson Valley in summer as well as winter. Ridge lands are drenched with sunlight, however, the close proximity of the Pacific Ocean keeps ridge top temperatures from rising--or falling to valley extremes. Occasional summer heat waves drive Anderson Valley temperatures well into the 90s, or even 100s. Ocean breezes reaching Greenwood Ridge often moderate these highs by ten degrees or more. Springtime frosts are virtually unknown to many parts of the ridge, where cold air drains down the steep slopes into the canyons below.

The first grapes were grown during 1850s but wine production was “local” until prohibition when most of the vines on the ridge were pulled out. Italians had come from areas where grapes were often grown on hillsides, so in this respect they were at home with their new topography. The climate and rich clay soils also reminded them of their native Northern Italian homeland. They painstakingly hand-cleared the wooded slopes and planted their native Vinifera grapes.

While the incredible reemergence of grapes in the valley since the 1970’s is a result of these factors, over time whole industries ~ forestry, wool, apples ~ have disappeared from our Valley. Some of those loses made sense ~ decimated forests resulting in the closing of the mills, for example, but some have cut deeper into our cultural heritage, most notably the apply industry being co-opted by Washington, Oregon and (wait for it) China. These major players can ship apples and juice (mostly syrup) cheaper and faster the Gowan's, the last commercial apple farmers at the bottom of Greenwood Ridge.

Comfrey Symphytum officinale (Borage Family)

This herb is a favorite first aid remedy. It contains a compound called allantoin, which when applied to the skin accelerates the healing of tissue and the closing of wounds. When fresh leaves or roots are applied to a wound it causes it to contract and close quicker and inhibits the opportunity for infection while minimizing scarring.)