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Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce

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Thanksgiving....Holiday Parties.....

A Turkey with Whiskers

I am an unabashed fan of Thanksgiving, a happily non-sectarian holiday all about our deep abiding love of sugar, salt and fat. I even love that it's wrapped around a ceremonial protein of questionable historical relevance everyone pretends to like, knowing full well it's all but impossible to get right. The challenge of cooking turkey ~ and believe me I’ve tried every crazy recipe out there ~ is one of those culinary conundrums that for someone who hates to give up is the gift that keeps on giving. Side dishes ~ with all manner of roots and berries and nuts, pumpkin cakes and sweet potato pies ~ now that’s where Thanksgiving comes into all its harvest glory. And say what you will about the veracity of the Pilgrim and Indians story, it's always nice to put bounty, humility and gratitude together before you sit down to eat.

For the decade we lived in London we threw great parties every Thanksgiving.  Lukka would hang American flags from his balcony and everyone we knew would come over for a long afternoon of what can only be called debauched eating and drinking, after which we’d sit around the huge disheveled tables unable to move while the children, high on sugar and just being together, created mayhem in the gardens.

If I’ve learned anything over the years celebrating Thanksgiving ~ mostly at home, sometimes in restaurants, once in a country where a giant fish with whiskers stood in for the turkey, it's that after the fact it's never actually the meal you have a desire to recreate. Whether served on silver platters or paper plates, with vintage wines or plonk, in the end it's the people you share it with that make it special. It's the people you will miss.

So here's to Family, Friends, Food and Wine.... From our kitchen to yours we wish you a Happily Rambunctious, Thoroughly Delicious Thanksgiving.

Then Let the Holidays Begin...

Barndiva is always closed on Thanksgiving so our hardworking staff can eat themselves silly, but we open the next day with a Bang. The Downtown Holiday Party on Friday is Healdsburg's official kick off to the season, a chance to experience our town "drinks on the house" style, all lit up and ready to party. We haven't decided yet what special libation to concoct for you, but we've  managed to get Octavio to agree to make a  croque-en-bouche ~  a towering French pastry made of cream puffs and spun sugar. How high will it go? You'll have to come and see. This is a wonderful evening, a chance to reconnect with the community and maybe pick out one or two special things for Christmas you won't find in the boring big box stores. We hope to see you here.

Join us for Cocktails and Croque-en-bouche ... at the Downtown Healdsburg Holiday Party... in the Gallery  from 6-8.

And don't forget...

Dining Out For Life ~ Thursday December 1- countywide, a wonderful once a year event to support Food For Thought, which in turn supports the Sonoma County AIDS Food Bank.

Strolling Dine Around ~ December 7, 8, 14, 15- a chance to enjoy a delicious multi-coursed meal served at various restaurants across town, benefiting the Healdsburg Shared Ministries Food Pantry.

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

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

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Summer Vegetable Chicken Fricassee

I’m super critical of any dish with chicken in it, probably because it’s the protein we ate the most of when I was growing up, the one I know the taste profile of by heart.  When my mom was on form there was nothing in the world like one of her juicy, bursting with flavor whole roasted birds. But when she was tired, it often became dinner by default, dry and tasteless as cardboard (sorry mom. Love you.). Even the texture changes in poultry when it's not cooked to perfection, which to my mind is just the far side of pink.

Hang around kitchens and you’ll learn that while good chefs can prod any protein and know if it’s the witching moment, great chefs can tell just by looking. With poultry, often the hardest to discern, Ryan can tell from across the room.  He’s just a great chicken chef ~ even with a small poussin, his brigade consistently produces birds that have crisp skin with hits of briny salt followed by moist meat that is the essence of comfort.

When Chef said he was going to do a Chicken Fricassee for Dish of the Week, I was somewhat surprised. Fricassee is basically a stew, which in my experience can only ever be, at its best, a satisfying mess.  The classic recipe calls for a good number of vegetables and a protein, usually chicken, cooked together and served together. Great stew recipes invariably run the risk of losing the unique taste profiles of singular ingredients. In general you don’t say the word ‘stew’ and think ‘vibrant distinct flavors.’  Comfort, yes.  Elegant presentation, no.

I know Ryan: vibrant flavors and elegant presentation is usually what he is after. He pointed out that while many great chefs ~ think Boulud or Bouley  ~ might rely upon adding ingredients slowly to the pot to the build flavor in a stew, he preferred the Thomas Keller approach ~  prep each ingredient separately in order to vary and control how each was cooked, and with what herbs, oils and spices (if any).  The flavors, colors and textures in this fricassee only met up when they slid into the pan for that last hit of heat ~ with a few knobs of butter and confit garlic ~ a few minutes before plating.

Here’s what I tasted in Ryan’s Summer Vegetable Chicken Fricassee, which in honor of its humble origins I ate straight out of the skillet: the favas and fiddleheads were punchy, green and earthy, the baby red onions bright and vinegary. Nuggets of bacon were salty and chewy, while English peas and Nantes carrots, despite being different shapes and colors, shared a delicate garden flavor profile. The stand-out vegetable were the Tokyo White Turnips Myrna Fincher of Earlybird’s Place had dropped that morning in a plain brown box. To my eye these white jewels with their bright green stalks would not have been out of place in the window at Tiffany's . Ryan simply steamed them, taking care to leave them with a juicy crunch that was rooty and beguilingly sweet. To this vegetable mélange he added the whole poussin which had been pan seared to a golden hue.

The biggest surprise of the dish was how well the sauce, which consisted of nothing more than a diaphanous halo of white crème fraîche foam, worked to unify all these delicate flavors. I’ve come around to Chef’s appreciation of foam, which is not so much making a comeback in our kitchen (because it was never really here) as much as a re-evaluation. I loved how it worked, especially with the garlic confit, to open a vegetable bouquet that seemed to carry the essence of the dish in every bubble. “The next time someone asks you to define Modern Country,” Chef said as I snapped away, “show them this.”

In the Gallery…

No doubt a rainy Wedding Day gives pause, especially one that’s been anticipated to unfold in “sunny” wine country. But I must say I find something very special ~ as in beautiful, intimate, memorable ~ when we have a ceremony inside the Barn, with dinner in the Gallery, as we did this past weekend thanks to tumultuous thunderstorms.

Happily, as our Saturday couple, Allison and Shaun, have strong ties to Healdsburg and had it in their hearts to be married at Barndiva in great part because of out commitment to the food shed, the symbolism of their ceremony ~ beneath the crossed pitchforks in the Barn filled with Dragonfly flowers and lit by a dozen tapers ~ was right on (and pretty wonderful).  Something about the space makes every word clear and distinct, so it was especially dramatic when the hush that descended on the perfumed warmth of all those in attendance exploded with joy when Lukka pronounced them husband and wife. It was the bride’s inspired idea to have table arrangements of summer salad greens and herbs that could be taken home and used again to flavor future meals of those she loved ~ a small, beautiful, mindful detail that bodes well for their future, rain or shine.

If you love looking at weddings, here’s a link the wedding of Laura and Charles last week. Though in this case the sun came out briefly on the day, they were married in the gallery by choice, and it was intimate and wonderful. Some great shots by Flory Photography. Thanks for sharing!

In the Press

Healdsburg Chamber of Commerce President Mo McElroy introduces the irrepressible Clark Wolf who was a funny and charming MC for the Early Summer Farm Forum hosted by Barndiva last Thursday.  In the only break in the weather all week, even the sun came out to hear about a wide range of farm, garden and culinary programs that make a difference in so many lives here in Sonoma County.  How we might affect the controversial Farm Bill which goes before Congress in 2012 was just one of the many issues discussed by an information rich, forward looking line-up of speakers who addressed a group that had as many local luminaries in the audience as on the dais.

And as it turned out, The Forum took place the same day Edible Marin's All Hail Soil summer issue was published, with a feature about last fall's Taste of Place dinner which was truly an edible exploration of many of the subjects discussed at the Forum. We love Edible (and its editor Gibson Thomas) because rain or shine one can feel the commitment to the health and well being of the Northern California Food Shed on every page. Check out the issue using the link below, or better yet pick up a hardcopy at the Studio or in the restaurant next time you are in town.

All Hail Soil, Edible Marin, page 15

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

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