Viewing entries tagged
Russian River


Apple Harvest Begins with an Homage to Johnny (Appleseed that is)

While History has an inevitable way of dumbing down the complexity of human nature, most of us have gotten the memo by now that there was more to Johnny Appleseed than we were taught as children - the proto-hippie who wandered the American mid-west barefoot and barely clothed, randomly throwing apple seeds everywhere he went. To my mind the engaging pragmatism of John Chapman’s story is what makes him most fascinating, starting with the fact that far from random his travel routes across Pennsylvania, Indiana and Ohio were guided by the expectation of settlements spurred by the great migration west.  

When his seeds pushed their way up through marginally tilled hard scrapple dirt and managed, with no irrigation save rainfall, to grow, he fenced them into orchards which he then rented, bartered or sold to new settlers at a time when having a standing orchard of apples and pears was often a prerequisite for claiming ownership of land. 

Another pre-requisite to survival - though more a cultural imperative than a legal one - was the ability to have a cheap and easy way to make hard cider, “the nectar of the frontier.” Yet though he was responsible for propagating most of the wild apples across the mid-west used to make booze, Johnny himself did not drink. Nor did he marry. Nor did he care about possessions, though at the time of his death he was technically a “wealthy” landowner.

Set against the modern model of an entrepreneurial American, though he obviously had a businessman’s brain in that tousled head, grace and salvation, not greed, was what motivated and defined Johnny Appleseed.

Interesting fellow. Even the tin pot he wore on his head was more canny than crackpot - it was simply the easiest way to carry his main cooking implement.

The definition of a wild apple is one propagated only by seed, what we commonly call crabapples. In another lifetime, when wine barrels and cider stills could be found down most dirt roads in Mendocino there was a crazy quilt orchard of crabapples on our ridge, pulled out, along with all our wine grapes, during prohibition. The single crabapple tree that survived probably only got a reprieve because it was near the kitchen garden - Pectin rich, crabapples were often used in jams to thicken them. 

What makes crabapples great for cider is what makes them horrible for eating. They are small and knobby, usually sporting a blemish or three. They are bitter, with very little flesh on them. But oh are they great for developing flavor as they ferment.

 We managed a full case of crabapples this year from our single antique tree, and with a new project looming at the barn that will explore less familiar tastes and aromas in food and wine, I was curious what the kitchen could do with them. The flavor profile is intriguing - tart like a Greening, crisp like a Mac, but without almost any residual sugar. Our long suffering pastry chef Octavio Alcazar (who just got through processing a ton of figs from our harvest which come in all at once) choose to poach them, devising a liquor he hoped would soften the tannins while teasing out more subtle flavors.

He used La Vielle Ferme Recolte, a white Rhône from Chateau Beaucastel, threw in a handful of vanilla beans, lemon peel and bay leaf. This mélange brought out surprising floral notes to the crabapples, while the flesh – the little there was of it - retained a curiously crisp bite. 

Instead of a classic pairing with pork or duck, Chef served a trio of poached crabapples alongside another old-timer making its brief seasonal appearance in the dining room this month, the heavenly Gravenstein. 

The Gravenstein is a very special apple - a cultivar that started its life as a chance seeding in Denmark almost 400 years ago.

Brought over to California by Russian fur traders who landed in Fort Ross in the early 1800’s, Gravensteins took root and thrived in Northern California for generations - especially prolific in Western Sonoma County.  

Sweet yet tart, they are incredibly delicious cooked into pies and sauce, excellent for juice and cider.   

Sadly, because they are difficult to harvest and do not keep well, Gravensteins* were one of many apples that began to disappear with the great American dumbing down of fruit and vegetable varieties which followed the rise of commercial farming - though in this particular case Gravensteins orchards were not pulled out to plant other apple varieties so much as to make way for grapes.

We run through our precious supply of dry farmed Gravs from the ridge pretty quickly, but the week the crabapples made their appearance we were still baking light and fragrant Gravenstein tarts for the dessert menu. Octavio devised a delicately spiced flakey crust, baking the apples until just their edges begin to caramelize. We finish the tart with a light dusting of confectioner’s sugar and serve it with a creamy scoop of refreshing Wyeth Acre Goat Milk Ice Cream which I wrote about a few weeks back and is fast become a dining room favorite.  Already a wonderful dessert, the crabapples added a bit of gravitas (sorry, couldn’t resist). 

Gravenstein Apple Tart with Wyeth Acre Goat Milk Ice Cream and Poached Crabapples - our humble homage to the unusual historical figure of Johnny Appleseed- may be gone by the time you read this, but apple harvest is just picking up steam. Pink Pearls and Macintosh arrived this week (along with the first of the Asian pears and red and gold Bartletts) so no worries, our apples will continue to make an appearance in one form or another in the dining room through Fall.

And Daniel and Lukka have once again entered Barndiva Farm in the Mendocino County Apple Fair where we won quite a few ribbons last year. If you’ve never been to a real country fair and you’re in striking distance to Boonville this Sept. 12-14, don’t hesitate. Country Fairs are a great way of supporting family farms, especially young farmers, and of keeping food and sustainable farming traditions alive.

If you can’t make it up to Mendocino in Sept. but crave a taste of apple cider history, come in and sidle up to the bar where Rachel, Sarah and George will be happy to pour you a flight of handcrafted apple ciders made right down the road from us in Sebastopol by the Devoto Family,  organically farming heirloom apples since 1976. One of their ciders is made from 95% Gravensteins.  A real treat, one you can enjoy all year. Come on in and raise a glass to Johnny. 

* While Gravenstein production will never return to Sonoma County in any great numbers, it is now highly sought after thanks in great part to the efforts of The Russian River Slow Food Convivium, who helped get the Grav into Slow Foods vaunted Arc of Taste in 2013.  Wherever you call home, The Arc of Taste is a wonderful thing to support. Learn more about the Sebastopol Gravenstein Apple Presidium.



Dish of the Week.........Cocktail of the Week...

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week:

Creekstone Ribeye with Hand-Cut Gnocchi, Spring Vegetables, Tomato Marmalade, Arugula Coulis, Fingerling Potato Chip

We were punch drunk this week with a mouthwatering new cut of steak and the first spring vegetables to come in the kitchen door ~ favas, ramps (wild leek) & stinging nettle!

The secret to keeping the bright color and taste of spring is to blanch vegetables briefly in boiling water, then 'em shock in ice water. However you cook to finish take care to stop at al dente for fullest flavor.

Our potato gnocchi is made with rich saffron orange egg yolks from Early Bird Place with very little flour. Mirroring the cooking process for the vegetables, we poach then cold shock the gnocchi to cook them through before sautéing for color and texture.

As for that steak: We talk a lot about sourcing beef around here. Grazing cattle brings great benefits to the soil, but 9 out of 10 of diners prefer grain fed beef.  Creekstone Farms seems to promise the best of both worlds as the animals are pastured until the last few weeks, when their primary feed changes to grain. It's delicious but the conversation about sourcing continues.

And there’s a good reason Chef Ryan separates the rib ‘eye’ from the cap (calotte) and serves them side by side. Ribeye is part of a long muscle that runs from the shoulder to the loin and as such has a different fat ration depending on where each cut is made. By separating the eye from the cap (which have the same flavor profile, though their different textures subtly affect taste) we are able to give guests a perfect portion of both.

The well-seasoned ribeye is pan fried in grapeseed oil but any oil with a high smoke point will do. Yes, we baste in butter with a sprig of fresh rosemary just before removing the steak to rest.

Spring favas, asparagus, and herb studded gnocchi were piled on top of the eye which rested in a vibrant wild arugula coulis. The beautifully marbled cap was paired with a quenelle of last summer’s tomato marmalade and a single fingerling potato chip.

The tomato marmalade, like much of what we preserved last summer, is starting to run out. Just in time for spring, when we start to do it all again.

♦ ♦ ♦

Cocktail of the Week


The first dinner menu of spring continued to take the lion's share of our attention last week, as we waited for the rains to stop long enough to get our edible flowers and herbs into the ground. Meanwhile, the bar has been quietly crafting away, with Adam and Sam merry as mice on a busman’s holiday.  They previewed the first of the new cocktails for me this week, using two of the hardest spirits to finesse…tequila and pisco. The tequila cocktail is stunning, with lots of lovely bitter notes around a big pink heart of grapefruit citrus. The cocktail is finished with a mist of rosewater,  homage to the drink's namesake, Fantômas, the world's first modern villain.

Ingredients: Grapefruit syrup, fresh grapefruit juice, Amaro Nonino, Aperol, hint of fresh lime mist of rosewater (a small stainless mister is a great investment)

FYI: if you want the recipe, drop us an email and we’d be happy to oblige.



The first official week of summer, this is what we are.....

(originally posted June 30, 2010)


doing early in the morning...... Lukka's ideal, relaxing, magical day in Summer is a journey down the Russian River between Healdsburg’s Memorial Bridge and Wohler Bridge - an undeveloped, eight mile stretch of clean river that boasts some of the most exquisite and diverse landscapes in Sonoma County.

It's an easy paddle which rewards you with face time with herons, ospreys, turtles, egrets, and Lloyd the bald eagle who lives just after mile 2. Last week Lukka clocked 55 miles! Mondays are reserved for taking groups down the river (whoever shows up) with large coolers filled with copious amounts of delicious food and drink. Russian River Adventures SOAR canoes are inflatable, more stable, and extremely comfortable for lounging . . and owners Larry and Amanda will pick you up at the end of your journey, take care of the boats, and return you safely and most contentedly back to your car!

inspired by... We have more and more vegetarians dining at Barndiva, along with vegans and gluten sensitive guests. It's a misnomer to think that just because you eliminate proteins you lose a discerning palate or the desire for creative options when you dine out.

Ryan is loving re-visiting the vegan cookbook Raw, right now, because of the amazing array of color on every plate. Always a firm believer that people eat with their eyes first, color is a key trigger for him ~ whenever we get new art in the gallery he is immediately drawn to the most vibrant work. Now that summer is finally here he is looking forward to maximizing flavor without heat. "The images for these recipes remind us what bright and fresh looks like. They celebrate in every 'sense' that vegetables are still alive when they reach your plate."


pouring... After this rainy spring we are all ready to enjoy some crisp, lean Italian white wines while basking in the late afternoon sun in the gardens. Tommy has snagged us a few cases of Orvieto "Terra Vineate" from Palazzone, which has everything one would expect from great Central and Northern Italy whites: bracing acidity and minerality coupled with a subtle extra layer of opulence and glycerin. Palazzone produces inexpensive yet highly sought after blends of Umbria's indigenous varietals (Procanico, Verdello, Grechetto, Drupeggio and Malvasia Toscana) the very same ones used to make wine centuries ago by the Ancient Romans and still coveted for their remarkable golden hues and intense flavours. The traditional Cepage is unique in that Palazzone includes a high percentage of Grechetto and Procanico which gives the wine an interesting note of hazelnut oil as well as distinct spiciness. The best part for last: Organically farmed, hand harvested, indigenous yeast fermentation, bottled unfined and unfiltered...and only $10 by the glass in the Lounge.

mixing up... On Wed we hosted a small mixer, one of several Barndiva will be throwing over the summer to say thank you to wineries, concierges, and wedding planners that have supported us. It was a great time to kick start our summer cocktails. New bartender Stephan came up with a wonderful libation for the coupe using pineapple sage from the gardens which we bought a few seasons back at one of Occidental Arts and Ecology Center's plant sales. He paired it with lashing of gin, sparkling water, yellow chartuse and St. Germain. For a peek at our specialty cocktails, check out our cocktail menu...but you better hurry as it's about to change again as more summer soft fruit starts to ripen.

doing with our kids... When 2 year old Teagan isn't searching for the perfect spot to go berry picking in Sonoma County, she's heading North this week to Portland. This summer's trip is to cheer on the kids from Girls Rock Camp. Her aunt, Marisa Anderson, is the Creative Director for this program which runs throughout the summer and teaches girls (ages 8-17) how to form bands, write original songs and play instruments. This spectacular program started in Portland, but now offers camps throughout the US and Europe.


jamming... Turns out our bartender Sam Levy not only has a jones for jam but an incredible talent for making it as well! He will be working with Jil and Chef Ryan all summer as we buy up slightly soft or less than perfect fruit to wave our hot wand over. Voila, come winter we will still be eating peaches, apricots, berries...summer fruit! When apricots from Coombs Ranch showed up this week (with just a little frost damage but great flavor) Sam got busy and came up with a smooth chutney with a hint of brandy, fresh ginger, and allspice ~ perfect to serve with our Artisan Platters. He is also working on a jam for Sunday Brunch with vanilla bean and carmelized Meyer lemon rind, and a cherry jelly which uses apricot and peach juice. Sam caught the jamming bug from his mum, who caught it from hers. At their house some days they have three generations going strong, using fruit from their own trees. We are thrilled to have a jam fanatic in the house this summer.

proud to see in print... Great article in this month's Garden Design Magazine which features our own Mick Kopetsky and our great friend Bieke Burwell. Mick, who owns Mix Gardens with Bieke, is one of Barndiva's main vegetable suppliers and a dedicated Fork & Shovel member. He also recently took over Healdsburg Landscape Materials down the road which supplies many of us with great soil mixes and river rock ~ We know this because we just finished spreading about 12 yards in the new Studio Gardens. Great to see his accomplishments in print. We are thrilled his muse Bieke is back from London for the summer.