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Philo Apple Farm

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The Crush

Turns out you can do a great many things with apples besides eating one a day to keep mortality at bay. You can juice ‘em, of course, but incredibly, without adding anything at all except labor, time, and TLC, you can also make sweet and hard cider, apple syrup, apple cider vinegar and aged apple balsamic.

Following our unwritten mantra here at Barndiva to never do anything at half measure when we can over-extend and really drive ourselves crazy, we went full monty on our apples this year.  In the next few months we will attempt to make ALL of the above.  What the hell, right?

We’ll keep you posted on the results as the kitchen and bar concoct dishes and cocktails from fresh juice and syrup while we slowly ferment in drums and barrels the bulk of what we juiced for apple cider vinegar, and down the road, balsamic. The good thing about a labor of love is that even when heavy on the labor, as this one certainly was, whatever happens, you get to keep the love. Which is pretty much what we all felt on Tuesday Sept. 23, a balmy Fall kissed afternoon that was equal parts exhausting and exhilarating. We were blessed to have been invited to use an apple press just 2 miles down the Philo-Greenwood Road from the farm, at the gorgeous Philo Apple Farm, where Karen and Tim Bates and their children have been good neighbors and great friends for three decades. Full disclosure: Tim and Karen had agreed to mentor us on the fine art of cider and vinegar making after dinner and a long night of drinking upstairs at the Barn a few months ago. We laughed about it afterward but the truth is they've always been generous sharing the skill set they've gained over the years slowly transforming 40 overworked acres of commercial apples into an organic, bio-dynamic, heirloom fruit and vegetable farm where they also excel in design, gardening and hospitality in ways that are off the hook yet somehow classically sublime. I do not use that word blithely. The Philo Apple Farm is a treasure.

Karen would be the first to tell you that in the remarkable way they always offer encouragement they are only following customs endemic to most small family farm communities, where sharing hard won knowledge is a badge of honor as much as a way to pass time;  where time itself, that most precious commodity for a farmer, is mutable when it comes to lending a hand.

The Bates agreed to open their press to us during their very busy harvest, when pressing and jamming their apples and fruit is almost nonstop, so that our chefs  - always eager to get closer to the ‘farm’ part of our farm to table ethos - could participate.

Their beautiful old press sits above the Navarro River shaded by plane trees that refreshingly, for our evergreen side of Anderson Valley, act like trees should this time of year with leaves turning brilliant crimson yellow and gold. Everybody but little Rylee, the dogs and yours truly, handling the camera, threw their backs into it. Local radio KZYX was on low, playing Mexican dance music; the air was redolent of wood smoke then, increasingly, sweetly pungent with the smell of freshly pressed apples. Five tons of them.

As tired as we all were at the end of the day, the only thing crushed were the apples. Spirits ran high as we carefully placed a half dozen 55 gallon drums into our lower barn where they will begin the process of losing their sugar, then alcohol, on the way to becoming vinegar and (hopefully, this part being a bit trickier) balsamic. We also have 100 gallons of fresh juice here in Healdsburg, the better to offer cocktails like “Why Bears Do It” to our customers through the year. We even managed to start ten gallons of hard cider - an experiment which has been a long time coming. The only thing on our wish list it looked like we would not accomplish, reducing fresh juice for eight hours to made something approximating the ethereal apple syrup the apple farm produces, Rita Bates, rare and beautiful creature at heart that she is, took on for us. Heavy brown glass jugs of it now sit in pride of place in Barndiva's pantry to be used in desserts and savory dishes like apple glazed whole roasted chicken. Yum.

Barndiva would like to give a big shout out to Tim Bates for opening the press on a Tuesday and also finding the time to help us move our apples from farm to farm; to the awesome Sophia Bates, who like her mum makes it all look easy even when its not; to Rita, Jerzy, and Lauren, and most especially to Vidal Espinoza, our farm manager of thirty years who spent weeks picking and mixing the heirloom varieties that give our juice - and now hopefully our vinegar and balsamic - its unique, dry farmed ridge-top flavor profile.

And, as ever, I’d like to thank chefs Fancher, Wycoff and Mulligan, who despite being in the middle of an exhausting summer season here at Barndiva showed up on their day off to crush apples with us.  This was truly a family affair we will remember and cherish.

Studio Barndiva’s multi talented manager Dawid Jaworski edited my images into the 2 minute video of what crush looked like on that resplendent Fall day. 

Drink the View!

Geoffrey, Lukka, Daniel and Jil

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

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Tasting Menu, 4th course : Caramelized Lamb Chop with Fiddlehead Ferns, Fava Beans, Morels & Spring Garlic Soubise

Our lamb this week came from Wyland Ranch in Petaluma, sourced from Ritz @ Sonoma Direct. It was grass fed, with a surprisingly mature flavor for early Spring. The secret of a caramelized crust is to heat a dry pan until the first wisp of smoke starts to rise, and only then hit it with the lamb.

First of the Fiddleheads arrived in the kitchen ~ these are local, not the prettiest we've ever seen but the season is too short for beggars to be choosers. Legend has it the best Fiddleheads grow wild in Michigan ~ a bit too far for us but we're dying to know if it's true.

Take the time to peel Favas all the way,  that’s out of the pod AND skin off before blanching. A bit of sugar in the water will hold the color .

Finally, about Morels: suck it up and spend what you need to on the best you can find. They are worth it. Nothing wrong with dried but oh the fresh are where it’s at. Even if you use dried, soak and rinse these babies because they WILL have sand hidden in those crenelations that will ruin one of the most sensual mouthfuls around. Trim bottoms, cold water bath, rinse. Do it again if you're not sure.

We served this 4th course of our tasting menu with a decadent, creamy soubise of spring garlic. Very little of a sauce this rich is needed.  Soubise is a variation of fondue but this one has no cheese or milk. It does have spun butter, because, well, you know.

Tommy paired one of his favorite merlots with the lamb. Paloma is a Napa winery on the summit of Spring Mountain, owned by Barbara and the late Jim Richards.  With only 15 acres under vine their singular focus produces just one wine, an Estate Merlot that The Wine Spectator awarded #1 Wine of  the Year in 2003 (for their '01). "They've been producing since 1994, it's a voluptuous wine,  with an uncanny balance and structure that provides the framework for graceful aging."  Tommy knows we don't go over the hill too often in search of great wine, but when we do, rest assured it's going to be special. The tasting menu changes every week.

In the Gallery

Beautiful, well made and functional are all things we look for ~ as consumers and vendors ~ in a fine piece of furniture.  At the Studio we up the ante even more: we want to know who makes the things we sell which you will use everyday and hopefully come to love. These  pieces are a case in point.

The big fellow below is named Joe Bates. We've known him since he was as old as the little fellow, his son Max. No one knew then, least of all Joe, that someday he would begin the journey to being a master craftsman. Maybe the interest in being at bomber pilot (at age 8 ) indicated an early love of steel? What he always possessed was a dogged determination to get things right, especially those things that take form under his hands. His work, whether in concrete or steel, elevates raw material to the next level; they are clean designs using processes like patination and burnishing, and finishes like specialized waxes and innovative hybrid clear coats.  Working from a studio in Napa where his commission pieces can be seen at some of the highest profile wineries, hotels and restaurants in Wine Country, we  have carried a range of his armoirs, bookcases, fire pits and food pyramids in Studio Barndiva since the day we opened. Bookcases and tables can also be commissioned in a variety of sizes and lengths.

Shown below: Silver Armoire in Patina'd steel and glass $4,800; above, "The Cubby" in steel $2,850. Photography for 'In the Gallery', DP Jaworski, the newest member of our team.

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Know Your Lamb

(originally posted July 28, 2010) Squeamish, are we? Then you may want to forgo this week’s journal entry in which we butcher the fine animal to your right. Before you stop reading however, consider this: if you enjoyed perusing the Dish of the Week just seconds ago, what makes you think you won’t also find it interesting to make a real connection between that delectable plate of food and the honest labor it took on the part of a farmer and a chef to get it to table? Dish of the Week was all about this animal’s liver, which came out of its body. In the run up to the Taste of Place Dinner we’re going to cook our way through the animal from nose to tail, a delicious endeavor, but ~ as with most everything we serve at Barndiva ~ it’s germane to remember the delicious part didn’t start at the plate.

Of course I want you to continue reading. For most people knowing where their food comes from blithely stops with an image of an animal grazing in a bucolic pasture. What happens after that is often thought to be unpleasant or disgusting or mysterious, sometimes all three. Yet it’s possible to embrace the icky bits of life when they are integral to the process. I always smile when new parents describe natural childbirth as ‘so incredibly beautiful,’ because it is, icky bits and all. I know, I know, that’s about life, where slaughter and butchery is about death, and yet, unless you forgo eating animals on ethical grounds, isn’t your appreciation of meat a celebration of life? The animals… and yours?

There can be no true locavore economy without making it possible for farmers and ranchers who raise the animals we eat to get those animals processed locally. While clean and humane mobile slaughterhouses have made it possible for a few dogged consumers (with big freezers) to purchase animals that are slaughtered humanely where they lived their lives, it’s going to take more than a few diehard foodies before the word local can be applied to animal proteins as easily as we now apply it to fruits and vegetables. There were understandable reasons over the past thirty years that resulted in America consolidating localized slaughter into larger and less humane facilities farther and farther away from where we live and eat our food, but those reasons are no longer viable. It is an incontestable fact that their size has given rise to unsafe, inhumane feedlots ~ massive holding pens ~ which do not and should not be part of the abattoir. Four large corporations now process 85 percent of the nation's cattle, which they can only control (barely) with dangerous cocktails of antibiotics and chemicals. Make no mistake: it isn’t only the animals who suffer as a result of corporate agriculture’s take over of this essential part of our food chain.

But while I’ve yet to meet a person who disagrees with me when I launch into a rant about the dangers of corporate control of the food chain, or bemoan the energy squandered shipping animals that are raised and will be consumed in one area away to be slaughtered, or even how inhumane it is to make an animal take such an unnecessary journey, something always happens when the conversation drifts toward the slaughterhouse door. A strange NIMBY response occurs when the words local (which we revere) and slaughterhouse (which is frightening) are put together. When a town like Ukiah, whose roots in ranching go all the way back and is now struggling economically, can reject a proposal for a small, progressive slaughterhouse that could serve the entire county of Mendocino, as they did last year, you know something is wrong. Change is possible ~ in two decades New Zealand has gone from American-sized centralized slaughter and meatpacking to smaller locally owned slaughterhouses dispersed across the country ~ but it’s not going to happen until we get over a modern repugnance against all things connected with death and begin to see it again for what it truly is: the final part of the life cycle.

So here’s what I propose. We do it lamb by lamb. All the talk in the world about the bigger issues of sustainability and safety won’t get us to change the way things are now if we aren’t able to bridge the disconnect between the meat on your plate and the whys and wherefores of how it got there. A good place to start is one single step back from the sexy part of cooking and consuming. Butchery is a lost art in American kitchens thanks to the role supermarkets played in making it easy to look away from slaughter. But something is lost every time you break the seal on the plastic and lift an animal part out of its Styrofoam package. Even the way you handle it communicates an “ugh, let’s get this part over with.” The smell, more a result of flesh being trapped beneath plastic, is not appealing, while the touch, instead of firm and resilient, is usually slimy. Dozens of hands, often in different states, handle one mass produced lamb as it makes its way to your table. Compare that to the short journey our animal took. John Fritschen, who raised the animal in his beautiful vineyard overlooking the Russian River Valley, guided it into a cage and took it over the hill on Monday where a USDA agent inspected it for 24 hours before the proprietor of the facility quickly dispatched the animal on Tuesday. John delivered the carcass, its organs in a separate bag, to Barndiva on Wednesday. Ryan was the fourth person to handle the meat before Pancho and Andrew began to see cuts of it coming down the hot line in the restaurant Thursday night.

The 90 lb, eight-month old lamb Ryan butchered had virtually no odor. Watching Chef break it down ~ hack sawing the neck from the body, deftly detaching the shoulders, precisely separating the belly, rack and saddle, breaking the vertebrae to make cutting the legs away from the trunk easier ~ it struck me that the techniques inherent in really great cooking, as well as the vegetables, herbs, spices and condiments, everything we use that constitutes a recipe, don’t start in a cookbook they really start here, ruled by which part of the animal the cut came from. Chef worked swiftly and cleanly ~ there was no hanging about ~ but it was the animal that provided the road map. Every now and then he closed his eyes and felt along a contour of a joint, trusting his fingers more than his eyes to tell him where to direct his knife. It was beautiful to watch ~ and it went a long way in explaining why he always cooks his proteins to perfection. This kind of understanding starts long before the meat hits the pan.

Years ago I knew a great Irish butcher in London, name of Mack, who used to make up stories about the animals as he carved them up. Nice and lean he’d say about a shapely lamb’s leg, this lassie must ‘a been a runner, or, oh look at the beautiful fat on this boy, as he sliced through the perfectly marbled ribeye, he liked the shade by the tree, he did. At the time I assumed he only nattered on to keep himself from being bored or having to talk to the endless stream of Hampstead housewives, but now I’m not so sure. I thought of Mack as Ryan ran his hand down the entire length of our lamb’s body. Beautiful animal Chef said before he made the first cut. Mack used to say the same thing as he wrapped a cut of meat in paper and tied the bundle with string, nodding as he handed it across the counter and I headed out into the night to feed it to my family. For both men, whose livelihoods are intrinsically reliant upon the animals we raise to eat, the words offered a kind of benediction. We often forget that a benediction is both blessing and guidance. We need both now.

LINKS:

Heather Smith wrote a good article in in San Francisco Magazine worth reading.

Michael Pollan's PBS interview Modern Meat.

There are usually no butchery classes offered this time of year, but you can go to an incredible fair this weekend where butchery will be only one of the food related skills you can learn about ~ with lots of opportunity for hands on experience. As Sophia Bates is one the organizers, we highly recommend a drive up to Anderson Valley this weekend. Where Sophia goes great food, music, and life changing good times are not far behind.

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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.

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From the Garden

(originally posted February 24, 2010)

Writing about gardening last week I felt overwhelmed with the space restrictions of this web-blog WTF format ~ not to mention what I can fairly expect of your attention span when I suspect most of you get dozens of newsletters a week. I lay in bed wondering: Did I make it clear that while I believe growing food may be the most sensible thing you can do in the dirt, it might not, does not, have to be the trigger to get you started? I feel almost guilty with how much time and energy I’ve spent indulging my passion for growing flowers and vines over the years, but there you have it. The life cycle from seed to wilt of almost any non-hybrid flora can get me jonesin’ like almost nothing else ~ god (or Irving Penn) only knows why.

The renaissance in back yard food gardening we are witnessing is a truly powerful thing. Transforming lawns that suck water like drunks on holiday can give you something approaching ultimate security. “I can feed myself’ is probably the most empowering sentence in the English language, especially now that “I am rich” as a marker has thankfully imploded (somewhat). But. The nourishment you will get digging in your garden over the years does not necessarily have anything to do with literal sustenance. Something else is afoot but don’t look for it. Spend enough time in your garden and it. will. find. you.

When I first moved to Healdsburg seven years ago I certainly wasn’t looking for new friends. One of the few real benefits of being older is that you don’t have to truck in euphemistic social bullshit anymore, your toddlers don’t need friends and hopefully your work life is based upon what you produce, making business socializing passé. But when the eldest called me up one day a few weeks after he had followed us here from England and said “I met a woman you have to know,” followed by “she has an incredible garden,” I jumped. Why?

I have honestly never met a true plants woman I didn’t want to hang out with. Irascible, yes, opinionated, most definitely, but you always have something to talk about with farmers and gardeners. Turns out Bonnie Z was all of the above, and dragonfly wasn’t a garden so much as seven acres of rose filled heaven. As has often happened in a blessed life, the garden interests soon lead to real friendship. Same thing when I moved to the ridge. The kids were little then and I was looking for friends for them as they were going to be stuck on a mountaintop, out of the city, for the first time in their lives. I befriended the woman down the road who had just moved to Philo as well, and had two of the most unaffected charming kids I’d ever met. Over the past three decades I have watched Karen Bates grow The Apple Farm in Philo into one of the more superlative farms ~ with flowers gardens ~ in the country. She and Bonnie work their acreage full time, while I do not, but I have grown through knowing them in ways that friendships not based on shared passions are at a loss to match.

I’ve picked both their brains for the shortlist below of our must read garden tomes ~ some very odd titles perhaps but books we return to for inspiration over the years. Lucky you….lucky me.

Happy reading.

Jil’s Short List: The Metamorphosis of Plants Johann Wolfgang von Goethe The Well Tempered Garden Christopher Lloyd In Your GardenIn Your Garden Again Vita Sackville West Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Down the Garden Path Beverly Nichols Planting Diarmuid Gavin & Terence Conran Chefs Garden Terence Conran Allotment Handbook The Royal Horticultural Society The Dry Garden Beth Chatto

Bonnie Z’s Short List: Vintage Pellegrini Angelo Pellegrini Honey From a Weed Patience Gray Cooking From the Garden Rosalind Creasey Green Thoughts Eleanor Perenyi Compost Preparations and Sprays E.E. Pfeiffer Great Garden Formulas Rodale Press Book edited by Joan Benjamin and Deborah Martin The Worm Digest

 

 

 

Karen’s Short List: In and Out of the Garden Sara Midda Painted Garden Sara Midda The Unprejudiced Palate Angelo Pellegrini   Everything by Penelope Hobhouse

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Love Thy Neighbor

(originally posted April 14, 2010)

Our first show in the new Studio will be photographer Wil Edwards’ Art of the Rind, a series of seemingly abstract, deeply saturated color images that if you didn’t know what they were, would put you more in mind of Salvador Dalí than smoky Gouda.

Going through Wil’s portfolio this week for a B&W series that will run concurrently in the restaurant, I happened upon some strong shots of animal carcasses he had not shown me before. Their formal elegance was reminiscent of the great photographer Atget. Wil captured the sinuous and quite beautiful line of the hollowed out bodies in a truthful way, one that did not objectify the animal so much as respectfully document its life. There is, after all, a long history of artists using the dead as models and inspiration: Michelangelo, da Vinci, Delacroix.

Only his mother liked them, Wil told me. Probably not a good idea to put them in the show. Did he like them? Yes, he did. A great deal. Still, he worried about offending people, turning them off.

I’m usually not drawn to art that takes its impetus in empty provocation, but showing these elegiac images isn't touting abattoir chic. Maybe its time we asked what's up with passionate omnivores who can romanticize the animals they eat while they are frolicking in the field, but still find methods of killing and butchering a squeamish subject. A reality check is important now and again, if you eat meat.

The majority of the Big Mac eating world is only dimly aware of the current national conversation about the dangers of factory farming which books like Jonathan Safran Foer's Eating Animals and films like Food First have rightly raised. Thats cool. It will come. After that, unless you refrain from eating animal proteins on moral grounds, knowing the animals you eat lived healthy lives and were killed humanely can make a consequential difference to your appetite and the way you choose to satisfy it. One of the most important goals of Fork & Shovel ~ the sustainable farmers and chefs collaborative we worked to get started two years ago~ was to make it easier for diners in our restaurants to get honest answers when they ask the question ~ “where does this food come from?”

The fact that ethical ranching represents less than 2% of the animal proteins served to the American public does not negate the paradigm we are supporting here in our food shed with groups like Fork & Shovel and our thriving Farmers Markets. Quite the opposite.

If you haven't read Temple Grandin, or seen the TV film with Claire Danes about her, do one or the other, this is fascinating stuff.  I'm of the opinion it helps to look death in the face and honor it, and animals give us that chance, in addition to feeding us.  Most Americans can't stop gorging themselves on endless images that celebrate gratuitous violence but don't want to know how the animals they eat are being slaughtered.  Major disconnect, no?

I take heart that the recent butchery class at Relish was such a huge success.  More and more eaters (and it usually follows, good cooks) are beginning to accept the fact that you can't talk about following the food chain all the way back to the animal in a field without also accommodating the icky bits that happen in the abattoir.

On Friday when we arrived at the farm for the weekend we found we had no water in the house ~ our entire 200 gallon storage tank was empty.  We did what we could to figure out the problem but had to switch locations for dinner we had planned with our friends, Tim and Karen, of Apple Farm fame, who live just down the road.  We got to their place just as the sun was setting.  As we pulled in I saw Sophia, their daughter, at the end of a row of blooming apple trees, setting off on her evening rounds to check on and feed the animals.

The Philo Apple Farm raises only enough animals to eat and serve to their guests.  What Karen learned at the knee of her Mum, Sally, owner/chef of the original French Laundry, about food and where it comes from can't be put in a book (unless they choose to write one.  Which I wish they would).  When Charlie Palmer gifted us a whole 'leftover' pig from his Pigs n' Pinot a few years back,it was Karen I called to walk me through butchering it. I have never been squeamish, but even I was surprised by how much satisfaction I got from holding the animal and guiding the knife as it cut clean deep channels in the layers of flesh.  That same feeling of connection came back when I viewed Wil's photographs this week.

The light was fading as we tended to Sophia’s horses and moved onto the pigs, who are kept in pens that are moved around the orchards for grazing and fertilizing ~ the heart of bio dynamic farming. Animals have a crucial role to play in this family’s life that goes beyond feeding them. In the case of the magnificent Nordic draft horses Sophia is training ~ they are partners in her life’s journey. What occurred to me traipsing through the gloaming was how all of us ~ Geoff, Sophia and I, the pigs, goats, horses, dogs, & chickens ~ were all sharing the same evening. Hunger and the approaching dark had triggered in us similar concerns. Whether we were able to acknowledge it or not, we were in it together, dependent on each other, on what felt like a pretty profound level.

Before I ambled off to one of Tim’s perfect gin and tonics, I’m not sure, but I think I had a moment with the goat.

www.forkandshovel.com www.philoapplefarm.com www.templegrandin.com www.relishculinary.com

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

 

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Speed Dating with Fork & Shovel in Healdsburg

(originally posted March 3, 2010)

Writing about gardens last week all my reference points seemed to be pulling from old friends and dead writers? A bit maudlin, no? Luckily, on Tuesday night Barndiva hosted Fork & Shovel’s annual get-together ~ a speed dating evening between the county’s best sustainable farmers and the chefs who rely on them. It was (excuse me for tempting fate) a hopeful evening in the extreme. Screw maudlin.

Fork & Shovel is primarily an Internet grange, but once a year we face off, flirting shamelessly about our varieties, heirlooms and breeds. A barn dance, without the music. A chance to build a definition of sustainable that can’t be co-opted. This is a crowd that doesn’t just know its food, it grows its food. Then cooks it.

But we really do live in different time zones. Think the Early Bird & the Owl on bio-dynamic crack.

The evening started a bit awkwardly ~ with everyone soaked from the rain and fumbling with name tags with either a fork or a shovel stamped on them. There were loads of new (young) faces. Luckily, Spencer had filled a huge punchbowl with one of his vodka and blood orange concoctions (this one held about 80 portions) and before long the drink wasn’t the only thing flowing. The evening officially began with a hilarious improv between Deborah Walton (Canvas Ranch) and Sondra Bernstein (Girl an the Fig) ~ issues of pricing, and delivery and how much mud a commercial kitchen can handle were deftly raised, then put to one side as farmers took to the podium, one by one. They had 30 seconds to charm chefs, tiny pencils hovering above Fork & Shovel pads.

John had brought the wood burning Rosso oven and before long crispy-edged pizzas laden with examples of the produce we’d just heard farmers singing the praises of started arriving on the bar. Even Mr. Hales, who is not known to enjoy anything he can’t eat with a knife and fork, seemed to be tasting one of each. (One of the nicer moments of the evening for me was sharing the Rosso energy under the makeshift tent during a sudden deluge ~ the smell of warm crust, wild mushrooms, arugula, chorizo, fontina was transporting).

We drank many bottles of wine ~ this is a great BYOB crowd ~ they bring it and they drink it. Bellwether contributed three gorgeous mounds of their new ricotta to taste, there was Big Dream Ranch Honey, Apple Farm Cider and Syrup and toward the end of the evening Doug Lipton opened bottles of his exquisite Home Ranch ’07 Muscat Blanc. If all that weren’t enough, everyone brought an old fashioned dessert ~ double stacked platters of cookies and fruit bars, spice cakes, cheese cakes, Hungarian “these are the walnuts I grow” layer cakes. Somewhere in heaven, Fanny Farmer was smiling down.

We are a Gossipy crowd: doll sheep, who already has tomato starts in the ground (lots of dubious eyebrow raising), how long before Sofia’s plow horses would be fully trained, and whoa, what to make of the sudden interest in classes on how to butcher whole animals? By the end of the evening Barndiva’s contract planting list had doubled, we had finally made it onto Liam Gallagher’s baby lamb allocation list, Karen agreed (though I doubt she will remember) to sell us a pig and do a cooking class with it in the new studio space, and I had collected the names of several goat farmers that swore they would serial call Chef Ryan. (My repeated efforts to bring this lean, light on the land source of protein to Barndiva’s menus have not, up to now, been successful.)

Fork & Shovel is about farmers and chefs working together to create an honorable business model that brings our enthusiasm to the public through increased sales. But we also share a landscape, a view. We are all trying to survive, to thrive even, in this difficult recession, growing beautiful food and cooking it with commitment and passion. We ended the evening with a promise to launch a series of First Sunday Fork & Shovel Dinners across the county.

I suppose maudlin serves a purpose, but what keeps me going in this business does not reside in looking backward. It is knowing that everything these farmers plant tomorrow, any animal they raise, might eventually land on a plate somewhere in my kitchen, eye to eye with Chef Ryan, to be blessed by his talent before being sent out for you to devour in the dining room. “Eat the view” is the most heartening three words in my vocabulary.

Here is the list of Barndiva’s fellow speed daters on Feb. 23, 2010.

Reminder: even if you were born to it and have your parent's experience to pull on, farming is crazy hard work with very few pots of gold at the end of the day. (Pots of poop is more like it. Which is gold to them). Support these sustainable farmers by frequenting the talented chefs who feature their food.

(The list below represents about half our membership. For a full list, visit www.forkandshovel.com and become a supporting member!)

Fork & Shovel Farmers who speed dated Tuesday Feb. 23 @ Barndiva

Bellwether Farms, Big Dream Ranch, Blankety Blank Farms, Canvas Ranch, Cultivating Impact, De Vero, Dragonfly, Early Girl Farms, Eastside Farm, Foggy River Farm, Gleason Ranch, Gretchen Giles (editor of The Bohemian), Healdsburg Eggs, Home Farm, Jim Leonardis Organics, Linda Peterson (representing Farm-Link), Mendocino Organics, Mix, Nana Mae Organics, Owen Family Farm, Oliver’s Market, Paula Downing (F&S Steering Committee, SR and Sebastapol Farmers Market Director), Quetzal, Sky Saddle, Sonoma Meat Buying Club, The Philo Apple Farm,Weed Farm

List of Restaurants Chefs they flirted unabashedly with:

Barndiva, Boon Eat & Drink, Cyrus, Dry Creek Kitchen, Inn at the Tides, Jimtown, Mateo Granados Catering, Mayacamas, Nick’s Cove, Park Ave Catering, Ralph’s Bistro, Relish Culinary School, Rosso Pizzeria and Wine Bar, Santi, The Girl & the Fig/ ESTATE/ The Girl & The Fig Cafe, Vintage Valley Catering, Zazu, Zin

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

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