Viewing entries tagged
Mimi Buckley


Why grow flowers?

Most obsessions are formed early in life, but 40 years into a passion for gardening which has led me down a fragrant, if financially imprudent path, I’m still wondering how I got here. Until the age of ten my floral universe was pretty much a blank, relegated to what I saw at weddings or funerals. Except for my friend Dave's crazy uncle who grew orchids in a greenhouse he rarely left, no one I knew had a house full of roses, much less a garden to cut them from. 

As it happens, I had been born somewhere with exotic, sensual flora and sometimes, exploring the canyons above the Pacific, I’d come across a bloom growing wild that stirred a memory. Then one afternoon on a school trip to the newly opened LA County Museum I wandered away from the group and found myself in a room filled with Dutch still life paintings. A canvas on the far wall depicted flowers in a vase, but oh, what extraordinary things they were - tight buds, opulent blooms, and one wilting rose whose molding petals were so luminous they seemed rendered in pearl. There were a few pieces of fruit on the table beneath the vase, grapes and a half eaten pear which had begun to rot, drawing a single black fly with filigree wings as intricate as old lace, transparent as glass. There was nothing still about the painting. It pulsated with dangerous, beautiful life. 

From that moment on I began to really look at flowers - how their symmetry and myriad of textures delighted the eye and eased my brain, slaking a deep thirst for natural color that living life in the fast lane of big gray cities had engendered. It would be years before I wandered into the gardens at Sissinghurst wanting to know more about the kinship between Virginia Woolf and the great diarist and gardener Vita Sackville West and discovered in myself not just the need to look at beautiful gardens, but the desire to get my hands dirty. To echo, if only in the smallest way, some of the intrinsic beauty I began to see in great gardens all over the world.

I've always felt a connection with the untamable parts of the natural world. Jungles, forests, and bodies of water you cannot see across test one's bravery, feed a boy's own (and girl's!) desire for adventure - they astound with a fearsome, beautiful inevitability. The untamed world is a Russian novel. A tended, truly loved garden, no matter how large or small, is a middling poem striving to be a great haiku.

And while the pride I've felt harvesting crops and orchards is inestimable, it's prosaic. Grow food and the result, a full stomach, is its own reward. A flower garden feeds something else. You must suffer through many cuts and something that looks an awful lot like death to get there, but as counter intuitive as it seems the end result - a garden in bloom -  does not just fill you with it's beauty, it's also incredibly optimistic. For a soul like mine that leaned toward the melancholic, flowering gardens held a sort of salvation. They were the opposite of Virginia's pocketful of stones. 

In a wonderful short piece which appeared in the NY Times Magazine last June the horticulturist Umberto Pasti writes “To become a gardener means to try, to fail, to stubbornly plug away at something, to endure serious disappointments and small triumphs that encourage you to try and fail again.” It also sounds like the quintessential definition of a romantic. Or an artist. Or a mother.

What the garden doesn’t do in so many words, that partners and children can and do, is talk back. It speaks of itself or for itself, but in its total obliviousness to your imprudence in trying to control it, frees you in a way that loved ones and work - which depend on approbation -  cannot. It encourages you to risk, to take chances. Even when some grand plan fails, you know winter is coming and with it rain and spring and something remarkable rising from the soil. It’s hard to remember that happiness follows sorrow in life, but it can and more often than not does. The garden is a reminder of this, and the great truth that sometimes what doesn’t grow in one place often thrives in another. 

For me, time spent in the gardens is a guiltless way to recharge an appetite for joy and in a roundabout way, to dig away at sorrow. It's a place where you learn not to take yourself too seriously. It may be a garden you've created and encouraged to thrive, but Nature rules and you inevitably contend with the truth that you are not much more than a part of the equation. I see this as a good thing. Being constantly self-referential is a boomerang, not a kite.  

Of course once you succumb to a garden’s magic, it will take all you have to give it, in both time and money. I could have circled the globe a dozen times for the amount I’ve spend in four decades fighting, then learning to work in tandem with the wild forests that surround our gardens on Greenwood Ridge. It has never felt, not for an instant, like time or money ill spent. The flower gardens have been my emotional tuning fork in life. Just below the sound of the wind and in among the bees, whose buzzing happily attests my irrelevance, is a place where I can really hear myself think. 

There is a prescient line in Sherry Turkle’s Ted Talk about how technology has made being alone feel like a problem that needs to be solved. It isn’t, it’s a solution, for to be comfortable in your own skin and to do so (sometimes at least) without other people is to be receptive to a state of being honestly alive, free from false exigencies. 

The art of being yourself and losing yourself, this is what I find when I wander my gardens now, especially in the early morning or just before dark. Whether I am filling buckets for the restaurant arrangements, raising the camera, or just wandering, I do not really have a predetermined agenda. For while gardening reawakens the recognition that all we have is time, it reaffirms there is no time to waste. The preciousness of the present is so easily lost in the rushed way we are incessantly encouraged to live our lives, it's a message you need to hear whatever your age. I think this was the whisper I heard from that painted vase of flowers I came upon so many years ago. In any case, it is a meditation that lingers.

Moving forward...

2016 is going to be an even more exciting year for florals in Barndiva.  

For the past two years Daniel Carlson has been Head Mover of Soil at the farm and Instigator in Chief behind apple cider production, while overseeing the edible floral beds in the Studio Garden.  In the same time frame he has also been designing extraordinary floral displays for weddings and private parties across the country on his own and under the auspices of our great friend Danielle Rowe at Brown Paper Design. This year Dan will launch an in-house floral program at Barndiva and offer his exquisitely designed natural arrangements to all of Barndiva's dinner parties and weddings, large and small. He can be reached directly through his new website:

A short list of "local" FLORAL RESOURCES

NOW is the time to start thinking about expanding or even starting a flower garden. Some of our favorite flower farms and nurseries offer retail accounts and fantastic educational opportunities. When it comes to buying seeds and flats remember: Like most everything else in life, you get what you pay for.

Dragonfly Floral is both a resource and an inspiration, it always tops our local list. They are not a nursery but do everything else: you can order an arrangement to be delivered, buy loose blooms directly from the farm, take a class or a degree oriented series, or ask advice from Bonnie Z, Dragonfly's beloved owner and a muse for three generations of Healdsburg gardeners. You're even welcome to stop and smell the roses in their magnificent gardens on Westside Road.

Emerisa  is a great nursery that works both wholesale and retail lanes Don't expect a lot of help- do your homework first.

Goodness Grows in Boonville is Dan and Lukka's favorite "local" nursery in Anderson Valley, always helpful and they will order for you. 11201 Anderson Valley Way, Boonville.

Digging Dog Nursery all the way out in Albion is an acquired taste, but one you should acquire if you have any esoteric aspirations for your garden at all. Check they're open, and don't expect a lot of help, but it's always worth a visit for their unique plants.

Occidental Arts and Ecology  - Become a member. Their plant sales in spring - though they have others- is a rite of passage. But get there early and leave time for a walk.  (Just don't trust they can look after your stash, even once you pay. Stuff your treasures in a back seat, with the window cracked.)

CalFlora is worth a trip because it's one of the Bay Area's oldest California native plant nurseries.

Even farther down the road in Richmond but also worth the trip is Annie's Annuals for it's impressive table displays. They always have plants in all stages of bloom, so you can see what you're committing to.

Finally, a second organic local farm where you can source superb cut flowers. Front Porch is a relative newcomer to the scene, but driven by the flower mad Mimi Buckley it has become one of our favorite suppliers. Front Porch grows over 60 varieties throughout the year for events, but they are equally happy to fill small custom orders that can be picked up at their beautiful farm. Contact




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.


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.


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.


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.


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



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

milking goat topper

 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.


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