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Dish of the Week.....Barndiva on the Cooking Channel....Holiday Parties Begin.....

Dish of the Week

Puff Pastry

I don’t know if it's true or not that puff pastry was “invented” by one Claude Gellée, AKA Claude Lorrain, the man John Constable called “the most perfect landscape painter the world ever saw,” but it certainly makes for a damn good story. Food lore has it that Gellée stumbled upon the method one afternoon when trying to bake bread for his ailing father. Up against the clock, instead of waiting for his dough to rise he began to just fold and roll, fold and roll. The rest is history, the flakey kind in at least one sense of the word, as it eventually inspired thousands of savory and dessert classics. As Gellée’s father is known to have died when he was 12, one can only extrapolate that the 17th Century painter ~ born into poverty, soon to be an orphan in charge of his five brothers ~ was a savant baker long before he picked up a brush.

Of course centuries before Gellée’s discovery, across the Mediterranean Basin bakers were making a flatter version of puff pastry we came to call Phyllo Dough. Two salient differences: the type of fat used, and, crucially, the number of layers in the final product. Where Phyllo traditionally uses oil, a classic French Puff Pastry usually relies upon butter…a not inconsequential amount of it. And while the perfect Baklava may look like it has tons of layers, it doesn't have anywhere near 730, the number needed, according to the mathematical equation offered by none other than Julia Child in Vol II of The Art of French Cooking, for a perfect pâte feuilletée fine.

Still, the science is the same: unleavened pastry is repeatedly folded, rolled and chilled. When the pastry shell hits the heat of a hot oven, moisture in the dough forms steam causing the pastry to rise on the seam lines of the folds as the water evaporates.  Shortening or lard can be used to make Puff Pastry ~ with a higher melting point than butter they allow the pastry to rise faster ~ but for that rich buttery mouth feel, Ryan believes you need…well….butter.

Vol-au-vent ~'windblown' ~ is the lovely French name for the pastry shell, which can be filled with just about anything. Our Vol-au-vent this week is a savory dish that is all about the taste and beauty of vegetables. To make the Puff Pastry shell Chef cuts chilled Puff Pastry into rounds with a fluted edge, brushing each stack with a little egg white as he works. Toy Box carrots and radishes are shaved and lightly dressed for a raw salad condiment while the rest of the ingredients ~ artichoke hearts, oven roasted tomatoes, brussels, pearl red and yellow onions, garlic confit, spinach, carrots, celery and fines herbs ~ are whittled or minced to within an inch of their life before being sautéed à la minute, while the shells are baking. Assembly takes place just before the dish leaves the kitchen.

A word about the labor-intensive job of getting our vegetables into the shape and size you see here: it’s not folly. Just like a diamond needs to be precisely cut to show its facets to greatest sparkle when light hits it, the cut and size of vegetables has a great deal to do with how they taste, and even how they feel, in the mouth.

Served on Onion Soubise with a pillow of Puff Pastry on the side, this Vol-au-vent is an elegant dish which makes a beautiful entrée this time of year. Using the same vegetables you have on hand to accompany the bird, with a little extra effort you can serve your vegetarian guests something even the diehard carnivores ~ and the odd landscape painter ~ will look down the holiday table at with envy.

The Big Cheese

Don't miss Barndiva and our wonderful friends at Bellwether Farms on the Cooking Channel this week. Filmed a few months ago for the exciting new series called The Big Cheese, (no, it doesn't refer to Ryan, but after we see the episode maybe it will), the program follows several types of cheese being made at Bellwether Farms which Chef then prepares and serves in Barndiva's upstairs studio. (Above: Chef Ryan getting ready for his close up, and with Big Cheese host Jason Sobocinski)

Barndiva and Bellwether on The Big Cheese November 17 @ 9:30PM and 1:30AM (program your TIVO!) or November 19 at 6pm.

Holiday Parties

The holidays are upon us, the first with Dawid at the helm of the Gallery. Though we've told him he absolutely cannot put any Christmas decorations out before the 'official' launch of the season, the day after Thanksgiving, we fear his naturally infectious enthusiasm ~ which he informs us only gets heightened at Christmas ~ may be getting the better of him.

Studio Barndiva, along with the entire town of Healdsburg, will celebrate the holidays together on Friday, November 25th, from 6-8.

Join us for Cocktails and Croque-en-bouche.

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

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Menu of the Week.....In the Gallery.......

Dish of the Week

New Fall Menu

The garden dictates changes to our menus virtually every week of the year. But while there’s no hard line in the sand that can be drawn to signal the end of one season and the beginning of the next, some weeks, like this one, the juggling we do to accommodate the superlative produce our farmers bring to the kitchen door is more dramatic than others.  While heirloom beans, sprouts, quince, and pancetta all started to arrive in abundance this week, so did the last of the heirloom tomatoes. The crazy weather that had left Lazero’s fig trees still bursting with fruit also had chestnuts falling from our trees on the ridge in Philo … I know, there are worse problems to have in life. But it makes calling the menu below the "definitive Autumn" menu a bit of a stretch.

I love this time of year for the crisp snap to the mornings, coming in from the chill to a kitchen fragrant with the smell of quince.  Creamy Mushroom Ragù and classic Frisée salads with lashings of bacon. Lobster Risotto scented with preserved lemons. Ryan’s incandescent Cauliflower Velouté with caramelized florets, raisins, and brown butter almonds (he calls it Trail Mix).  The menu is a blessing right now, a garden-sensitive work in progress, the first of the delicious holiday season to come.

BARNDIVA DINNER Autumn 2011

CAULIFLOWER Velouté, Caramelized Florets, Raisin, Caper, Almond, Caviar   15 Caramelized Diver SCALLOP, Gnocchi, Brussels Sprouts, Quince, Pancetta   16 BUTTER LETTUCE, Champagne Vinaigrette, Orange, Radish, Shaved Carrot   10 Crispy PORK BELLY, Heirloom Bean Cassoulet, Tomato Marmalade, Chive   14 BEET & ENDIVE, Avocado, Apple, Walnut, Warm Chèvre   13 FRISÉE LARDON, Creamy Cabernet Vinaigrette, Garlic Croutons, Fried Hen Egg   15 Local FIG Salad, Bellwether Farms San Andreas, Almond, Shaved Radish   12 Cowgirl Creamery “MT, TAM”, Fall Fruit, Radish, Marmalade 18 “THE ARTISAN” Hand Made Cheeses, Charcuterie, Seasonal Accompaniments   39

LOBSTER Risotto, Corn, Crispy Garlic Chips, Preserved Lemon, Watercress   30 Crispy Young CHICKEN, Roasted Artichoke, Pancetta, Ricotta & Egg Yolk Ravioli   25 Wild Alaskan HALIBUT, Caramelized Brussels Sprouts, Butternut Squash Agnolotti, Bacon   28 Niman Ranch Tenderloin of BEEF, Creamy Morel Mushrooms, Yukon Gold Potato Tots, Carrot Purée    32 Crispy Leg & Sliced Breast of Sonoma DUCK, Spinach, Glazed Cipollini Onion, Caramelized Pear, Foie Toast   29 Bacon Wrapped PORK Tenderloin, Yukon Gold Potato Purée, Apple Marmalade, Caramelized Endive   27

 Goat Cheese CROQUETTES, Wildflower Honey, Lavender   10 BD FRITES, Spicy Ketchup   10 Preston OLIVE OIL, Maldon Salt, Port, Chive   4

TASTING MENU Five course   75     Wine pairing   40 Tasting menus available for the entire table only

Chef Ryan Fancher

In the Gallery

All that glitters is not gold...and thankfully isn't priced like it either. These cuffs and bracelets just in for Xmas are some of the coolest ~ and most affordable ~ we've had in years. Beautiful handcrafted pieces are arriving everyday ~ wire sculpture by Ismael, textiles from Ethiopia, antiques from Burgundy, glass from Syria, ceramics from Japan, and beautiful paintings and steel sculpture...from just down the road. Shop local this holiday knowing you are supporting talented artisans from all over the world.

Above: Brass Squares Bracelet:  brass plated metal squares nestle together to create this light and fluid bracelet with a warm, burnished patina. Great worn in multiples. Strung on elastic to fit most wrists.  $35/ each

left: Square Bead Cuff: Handcrafted brass-plated metal beads strung on wire and finished in softly antiqued tones. $35

middle: Liquid Bronze Cuff: Cast from high quality brass, has molten appearance. $45

right: Crocheted Pyrite Bracelet: Lustrous Pyrite married with gold vermiel make for a striking pairing. Comprised of seven strands of small pyrite beads intricately woven and bound together with gold-filled wire and clasp. $150

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.......

Dish of the Week

Sous Vide Pork Belly

I did not come to sous vide cooking as a fan, quite the opposite.  The idea of using a plastic pouch to cook ~ instead of relying on traditional methods that depend upon smell, touch, and taste ~ just seemed a bit of a cop out, little more than an upscale version of Uncle Ben’s ‘boil in a bag.’ Where's the magic?

But just as there’s science in alchemy, I’ve come to see that suspending food in plastic and setting it loose in a constant swirl of soft heat actually takes a page from some of the oldest culinary traditions in history which called for wrapping or burying foods and slowly cooking them for long periods, the better to capture the essence of their flavor.

Chef Ryan has always said that for him sous vide isn’t about convenience so much as consistency, that and the ability to control the outcome of a dish in a way that extends the potential of each ingredient. For a little light reading he gave me Thomas Keller’s “Sous Vide,” a trade manual Keller wrote for PolyScience a few years back which succinctly explains the complex way a precise control of pressure, temperature and time allows a chef to infuse flavor (which even with marinades is often lost to the braising liquid) and enhance texture (which over the course of cooking heat can easily destroy).

The temperatures used in sous vide are always kept below a simmer ~  but within that lower range they vary greatly depending on the type and cut of the protein, the cellular density of the vegetable, and what, if any, other cooking techniques you intend to use in the dish. With Pork Belly, where you have an inordinately high fat to meat ratio to begin with, the object is to use the fat primarily to flavor the meat, delivering a finished dish with a perfect crackling that beguiles the mouth when you bite through it to the soft fragrant depths below. Too fatty, too dry, not enough flavor, and it's game over.

For Dish of the Week, Chef cooked pork belly sous vide for 12 hours in a heady mix of shaved apple (Cox's Orange Pippin from the farm), white wine, garlic, leeks, rosemary and carrots.

Two things were notable when he finally lifted the pouch from the water: the first was the degree to which the long cooking process had allowed the meat and fat to take on the flavors of the marinade, all but melding them together.  The second was that by taking the pork from this nearly gelatinous state and immediately chilling it (above left), Chef was able to reduce the fat as he compressed the meat into perfect shape and portion sizes, essential for a dish which can easily become overly rich. He then refrigerated it again ~ cooling the pork before letting it hit the hot skillet which resulted in a perfectly crisp surface without pulling any moisture from the meat.

To accompany the Pork Belly, Andrew, Chef's entremetier, caramelized cauliflower florets in VOO before adding raisins, capers, herbs and shaved almonds.

The final component to this starter was a finishing ‘sauce,’ something which could cut through the richness of the belly but would not overwhelm the sweet, sharp and crunch of the cauliflower nest. For this Chef reduced Pinot Noir to the syrup stage, then broke it with Preston Olive Oil, producing a gorgeous, deep red vinaigrette.

Slow Cooked Pork Belly served on a whoosh of Cauliflower Purée with Caramelized Cauliflower Florets, Capers, Raisins, Almonds and Pinot Noir Vinaigrette….15 hours start to finish…done.  To perfection.

In the Gallery

There’s an old-fashioned capacity for heartfelt joy embedded in the DNA of Healdsburg which makes it the perfect place to get married. This is not news to those of us who live and work here. But thankful as we are for the visitors who keep our local economy humming all Summer and Fall, boy, do we look forward to the Holidays and Winter. That's when the homegrown parties begin, the ones which seem, more than any others, to refresh the spirit and invigorate the soul.

Saying thanks to co-workers, gathering family and friends together to eat and drink with joy, kick back, maybe even dance  ~ all used to be part of what we all did at the end of every year to celebrate the fact that we were still standing.  Resourceful and thankful. We still should be.

There’s a particular magic to the fêtes we throw here in the Studio we’d love for you to experience. Doesn't matter if you come for a night of cocktails and hors d'ouvres or sit down to one of Chef Ryan's incomparable menus. We're especially proud of our staff, as committed as we are to supporting this food shed and all those who work within it. An art gallery is a great place to spend an evening. And this space sings.

To throw a party in the Studio this Winter all you need to do to start the ball rolling is give us a call.  If budget's a concern just let us know and we will figure out a way to make it work.

707.431-7404 info@barndiva.com

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week.....In the Fields with Friends.....A Special Baby Shower.....

Dish of the Week

Artichoke Heart Provençal

Chef thought it would be fun for Dish of the Week to follow Pancho around as he made the delicious, vinegary-bright hearts of artichoke filling for the Saffron Ravioli we are currently serving with a lovely seared halibut entrée. Cut it into bigger dice and the same recipe (sans the pasta) is a great accompaniment to any fish or chicken dish. I was game, but then I had an ulterior motive. I love artichokes, but more often than not when it comes to cooking them I seem to take the easy route and just boil or steam them, eating the leaves with copious amounts of melted butter or aioli as a dipping sauce. For all the messy fun you can have, even if artichoke fatigue hasn’t set in by the time you get to the heart you still have to deal with those fiddly, fibrous beards, AKA the Choke.

With artichokes (as with most things) when it's all about the heart Ryan cuts right to the chase: the first thing this recipe calls for is to strip the outer leaves and discard them, paring the stem down to almost nothing.  As Pancho did this he tossed what he’d cleaned into a cool water bath that held cut up lemons and some parsley, the better to keep the artichokes from discoloring, which they do quite rapidly. Here’s a revelation for all you other lazy artichoke lovers: a half hour in this bath and using just the edge of a spoon, the choke slides off the heart like water off a duck’s back.

While they were soaking Pancho set about making a Barigoule, the French term for a traditional artichoke braise technique which takes large cubes of onions, carrots, fennel, garlic cloves and herbs and sweats them in a few tablespoons of VOO before adding wine and vegetable stock.  Roger Vergé, well known for his Barigoule, uses thyme but as Ryan was going a bit further south with this recipe he used rosemary, a stronger herb with heavier green aromatics. The hearts were added once the vegetables were soft, but just long enough to heat them through. The white wine was brought to a boil and allowed to reduce until the fumes began to dissipate. At this point Pancho added vegetable stock to cover and lowered the heat.

But while you want the broth to simmer you still need to take care the hearts don't discolor. To prevent this Chef employed a nifty trick I'd never seen before. He does not use a lid which would would trap the steam and encourage oxidation.  Instead, he tucks a fresh folded linen napkin down into the saucepan where it lightly rests on the simmering artichoke mixture. Voila.

When the artichokes were just cooked through, Pancho lifted them from the broth and diced them finely with the other ingredients: Picholine olives, peeled heirloom tomatoes, red onions, garlic confit, roasted Piquello peppers and fresh chives. Salt, pepper and a little sherry vinegar to taste and Pancho smiled. We were there. He used a tablespoon of filling for each ravioli ~ as a side dish to accompany an entrée allow a cup per person. Deliciously piquant, this is a simple preparation for artichoke hearts that uses no butter or mayo. Good news for the health of my heart.  And yours, if it's a consideration.

In the Field with Friends

Squash Love

Ever since I was a child I’ve had a thing for Winter Squash ~  the gorgeous patterns, the sinuous lines, the vibrant colors.  With their lopsided shapes and expressive stems they are beautiful in a highly idiosyncratic way, the tropical fish of the vegetable world. While the squash you find in the supermarket have all been genetically dumbed down to conform to uniform shapes and flat pumpkin carving sides,  if you look for winter squash and gourds in Farmer's Markets you will find heirloom varieties going back hundreds of years.

Happily, The Fincher's, great friends and farmers from Earlybird’s Place (Earl Loves Myrna Loves Earl) share my fascination for the weird and the wonderful of the genus world known as Cucurbita. I know it’s Fall when I get a call from Myrna to come over and cherry pick through her ‘Fall Collection’ which we display in the restaurant and the gallery. Unlike Summer Squash, which are harvested as immature fruit, Winter Squash will keep ‘til well after Christmas, unless of course you do what we do, and slowly, deliciously, cook through them.

A Very Special Baby Shower Brunch

We don't just throw great wedding and rehearsal dinners in the Studio Gardens ~ any reason to celebrate is enough for us to break out the flowers. Sunday we took a personal day to throw a Baby Shower for K2,  my wonderful assistant, who in addition to keeping me sane is the talented gal who manages to wrestle Eat the View out of my camera and brain and onto the blog each week. K2 and John's new baby is due around Thanksgiving and while no one knows (or cares!) whether it's a boy or a girl, around Barndiva it's no secret we're hoping for another glorious redhead to keep sister Teagan company.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted) Food Shots of the Brunch by K2's friend, Richert Gordon Salondaka

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Dish of the Week.....In the Gallery.....In the Fields with Friends.....

Dish of the Week

You & Mother Jus

‘You are what you eat’ is food politics 101, impossible to refute, but not far behind when it comes to the emotional vocabulary we use to describe food experiences is the truism ‘you are what your parents fed you.’  For generations like mine, who grew up in houses where someone cooked every day, the inexorable slide into a world where fewer and fewer people can make a meal from scratch is pretty shocking. And sad. Instead of a family's unique food traditions more and more formative food memories now seem to come, fully formed, from the same folks who have a vested interest in selling the corporate food culture.

Beyond the serious issues of how that culture may be compromising our health (if you ever truly get beyond them), there’s a significant qualitative difference between food memories created when people make the time to sit down together and eat a meal made from real ingredients and the default dining that's become a mainstay of the new American diet which is little more than a simulation of a home cooked meal, pseudo-foodstuffs you eat on the run or in front of a screen.

When Chef proposed Au Jus for the blog this week, neither of us was thinking of the Arby’s empire, or even the vast number of diners and truckstops that have sold Beef Au Jus sandwiches since they became popular in the 50’s. We were thinking in French, as we often do when it comes to the kind of food we cook. A direct translation of Au Jus is ‘of the juice,” with the clear reference being ‘the juice’ of the animal ~ usually lamb or beef ~ you are cooking. Once upon a time using every part of an animal meant survival; used correctly it's a term which should infer access to whole animals, which fewer and fewer restaurants have the skill or take the time to accommodate anymore.

 I have no idea where the ‘beef taste’ in the standard Au Jus served with millions of beef sandwiches bought and consumed every day comes from, but I’m willing to bet the farm there is no connection whatsoever between that sauce and the piece of meat you end up eating it with. This isn’t a rant against bouillon cubes, which we all resort to from time to time, but a reminder that even the ones that promise they are made from 'quality' ingredients are primarily salt, color, and a mix of artificial and hydrolyzed natural flavorings. (FYI: the most common way to hydrolyze a protein is to boil it in a strong acid triggering a chemical breakdown that results in the formation of "free glutamate," which, when joined by sodium, makes MSG. When added this way, the FDA does not require the label to list it as such.)

Which is not to say you need a whole side of beef in the kitchen to make a decent Au Jus at home. Sauté a piece of meat with a few diced veg, skim the fat, squirt some wine in the pan, scrape up the delicious bits clinging to the sides, and you’re good to go. (Add flour and you have a decent gravy.)

But Classic Au Ju, the way we make it here, is something else again. Everyone in the kitchen knows the various stages it goes through by heart and everyone pitches in to make it. Ryan's recipe was adapted from his mentor Richard Reddington, similar to one Daniel Boulud is known for  ~ all three men incorporate a bone stock and a trim sauce, with each contributing different aromatics. They also make use of a 'Mother Jus', which is simply the saved composite of past Au Jus, in much the same way a great balsamic comes from a mother starter, as do bread and yogurt. If you love meat Ryan's Au Jus is liquid Nirvana, more vegetal than starchy, semi-transparent with a rich caramel color, dense with flavors that compress the essence of the protein. Woven throughout are fragrant, rooty aromatics. The images below document the stages from trim sauce to finish ~ directions for the bone stock follow.

The Au Jus is ready. At Barndiva we finish it with a knob of butter and a zoosh of sherry vinegar which brightens the meaty flavors and lifts the wine, tomato, fennel and all the aromatics.

The importance of  roasting the bones and making them into a stock that is combined with the trimmings sauce and the Mother Jus can’t be overstated ~ the natural thickness of the final sauce is a direct result of the gelatin released from the collagen in the bones, the tendons, sinew, and connective tissue. Roast the bones for 1-2 hours at 350, then add to a stock pot in which mirepoix has been sautéed and combined with water, tomato paste, bay leaf, garlic, cloves, black pepper, and thyme. The bone stock is simmered for six hours, strained and reserved. The sauce made from the trim, detailed above, takes about 3 hours.

In the Gallery

Ah Coco, une femme douce, a lady we always love to hear from, especially when a new container arrives from France. This one had some gems ~ including cast iron heads that looked like they'd survived a hundred years of trial by fire which, in fact, they did. Cut from fireplace dogs from the 1920's on, most come in pairs which make beautiful bookends. Singly they are wonderful, unique pieces. Coco tells us the vases were part of an elaborate 19th Century garden wall, pitted and burnished a gorgeous old penny bronze. Heads: $75 Vases (only two left): $100

In the Fields with Friends

File this under "We're not the only ones around here still doing things the old fashioned way."

On Sunday we took a ride out to the Preston's to see how they were getting on with their new apple juice press. If you haven't been to Lou and Susan's beautiful farm and winery on West Dry Creek in a while, go soon, before the rains set in. Their new indoor farmstand ~ with select pieces of Susan's indelible art ~  is almost finished, built to go year round with room for drying and storing. Out in the fields there are still lots of tomatoes on the vines and vegetables growing in the various gardens. This is a great place to bring the kids, to walk and talk to them about everything you see. Keep an eye out for the traveling Hen House Gypsy Wagons where you'll find the pigs rototilling the soil, chickens not far behind (the better to picks up any delicious morsels those pig snouts miss).  The way animals co-habit at Preston Family Vineyard could teach our elected officials in Washington a thing or two about getting along. All of us, for that matter. If you haven't signed on to Lou's blog yet, do so, it's great stuff... here's the link.

A hand turned apple press is simple to use.  A lined, wood slate bucket catches the chopped apples, when it's full you slide the bucket under the press.  The handle is connected to an Acme Thread Screw which is attached to a plate that as you turn applies pressure to the apples. All you do is turn the handle until the juice stops running. Fresh Preston Apple juice is available in the new farmstore while it lasts. Their custom Oak press is made by Correl Cider Presses.

A pensive but happy customer.

Another happy customer who, who along with the chickens, will dine on what's left of the apples.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales(unless otherwise noted)

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

Dish of the Week

Gravenstein Apple Pepper Relish

Jammin’ is all about hanging out in the kitchen with people you like. Sure, your goal is filling the larder for Winter with the best of what you've grown or sourced from Summer to Fall, but to get the stuff in the jars you will spend an inordinate amount of time peeling, cooking, and waiting for those jars to boil. The better the company, the sweeter the ride; the more love in the jar, the better the product.

So I was particularly lucky when Daniel Carlson graciously offered to help me turn the last of our Gravenstein’s into Chef’s Apple Pepper Relish this past week. Dan is the lovely young man helping Lukka expand the gardens at the farm, where we are at the crucial stage of ordering ground cover and setting out a new and greatly expanded planting schedule for next year. It wasn't lost on either of us that the gabfest that ensued was all about what we'd be stirring in these very same pots next year.

While canning and jamming is not a solitary art, mindful it most certainly is.  There came a moment with each batch when we stopped talking, looked deep into the cauldron, and asked in timorous voices the question only masters of the form ever have an easy answer for...'are we there yet?' Knowing the answer takes more than practice.  No matter how rigorously you stick to Grandma’s recipe, if she's still around Grandma would be the first to tell you that each particular batch of fruit is bound to react differently when it hits the pan. This recipe is a case in point: it only calls for four ingredients ~ sugar and vinegar, heirloom apples and peppers ~ but the flavor of the final product is all about developing a talent to play the alchemist when it comes to heat and timing.

You start by making a gastrique ~ but where a normal gastrique only uses vinegar to cut sugar that's been caramelized in water,  in this case you eliminate water and use vinegar to caramelize the sugar. This intensifies the flavors of the syrup in a way that downplays the sweetness of the sugar, allowing the apples and the peppers to shine.  Chef uses Champagne vinegar because it's bright yet mild enough not to step all over the fragrant subtleties you hope to get from the apple-pepper combo.

Apples have a good percentage of pectin, a natural thickening agent, but they also throw off a lot of juice.  Success is all about keeping a vigilant eye, knowing what you are looking for ~ that brief moment when a wooden spoon pulled slowly across the bottom of the pan moves easily through the golden amber syrup, but takes a second longer than it just did to roll back and cover its tracks. If you put the apples and peppers in before you reach this point, when the apples release their juice you'll have to wait for the syrup to thicken again, during which time you risk overcooking the apples. Lose that soft crunch and you lose a key element in what makes this deceptively simply relish so special.

This relish is meant to star our dry farmed Gravenstein's, but any good quality cooking apple will make a nice relish. You can also use any variety of pepper so long as you stay on the sweet side ~ the bite from this relish comes from the vinegar. This is NOT a pepper jam, it’s an apple relish that’s danced in the pan a bit with heirloom peppers. Big difference.

How you cut the fruit is also crucial in the way it affects cooking time and the final look of the relish. We peel the peppers, cutting them into a perfect brunoise. We grate the apples with their pectin rich skin on, before crosscutting them into the same size as the peppers. Invest in a good mandolin ~ Ryan prefers Japanese to French ~ no kitchen should be without one. Yes, they take a bit of getting used to and yes, you will probably shred some skin along with the apples if you take your eyes off the prize for even a second. (They come with a guard, but it's pretty useless). A mandolin, as opposed to a grater, will give you uniformity and a cleaner edge to the cut fruit. Work quickly once you start cutting the apples so you can add them to the syrup before they oxidize and discolor.

The recipe below is for a small batch ~ the better to control the viscosity of the syrup ~ but double it if you hope to still have some left by Christmas because it will go. It's that delicious.

Simple Apple Pepper Relish one sweet red pepper five large (or six smaller) apples 320 grams champagne vinegar 320 grams fine baking sugar

In a large sauce pan, add the sugar to the vinegar and stir until it dissolves, then let the syrup simmer until you reach the moment described above. Add the brunoise of apples and pepper and bring them to a soft crunch stage which should occur right about the time the gastrique has thickened again. Pour into sterilized jars and follow directions using the standard hot water bath process for hot packing hi-acid fruit. Cool and check to see the tops have sealed.

 If you plan to refrigerate the relish and use it within a few weeks,  you can back off to 300 grams each of sugar and vinegar which results in a relish on the drier side, the better to quenelle and serve with lamb or fish.

In the Gallery

Ferdinand Thieriout, the former Yorkville glassblower who has supplied us with a distinctive range of bowls and vases for the past two years, stopped by the Gallery this week with his beautiful family and two boxes full of his coveted 'bubble' bowls which we'd completely sold out of. In a style that references 60's Mad Men glamor with a spare Swedish approach to color,  these are functional pieces of art, equally stunning displayed on their own or filled with salad and veg.

The large salad bowls come in two shapes; both have the distinctive red radish lip, while the smaller fruit bowls are edged in a variety of beautiful colors: Saffron, Forest, Ruby, Denim & Ivory. Prices range from $85. FYI: Due to his move to Little River this month, Ferd informs us this will be our only shipment before Christmas.  He should have a new Studio up and running (there's talk of it being mobile!) early next year.

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..... Barndiva Weddings........

Dish of the Week

White Wine Poached Pears with  Chocolate Ganache, Coconut Sorbet & Graham Cracker Crumble

For as long as I can remember the Red Bartletts at our farm have fallen to the ground each year uneaten and unloved.  Big and ungainly, they are a cooking variety so low in residual sugar even the bears ignore them. To make matters worse, unless you spray them in Spring before the green tip stage of flower bud development ~ which we never do ~ they are especially susceptible to something called Black Spot which, while harmless, looks as bad as it sounds.

This year was different however ~ strange weather patterns in Spring left the Bartletts almost blemish free for the first time in memory; by September the pears had begun to turn a lovely deep russet, a beguiling color that caused me to wonder what had led the Cassinelli's to grant them in their own little orchard a few steps from the old house. The word 'heirloom' has great cache these days as we seek to re-discover the great variety of fruits and vegetables we once had access to, before corporate mega-farming interests hijacked control of the journey almost all our food takes from their "farms" to our plates. But not all heirlooms are inherently better in flavor then modern varieties. I was curious what a gifted modern pastry chef like Octavio would make of Victoria Cassinelli's pears. He liked them, as it turned out, but not exclusively for their flavor, which was mild and lightly floral. What he valued most was their size coupled with the fact that because they were bred to be "keepers" their dense flesh would take poaching extremely well, crucially in the way they absorbed liquid without sacrificing texture. A great poached pear takes on the flavors of the infusing liquid without losing its shape ~ softening just enough so a knife with a good edge could glide easily through the flesh.

The trick to ripening pears is to refrigerate them as soon as they are picked,  2-3 days, then let them finish ripening outside the box for a few more days. Once they are ripe they really need to go back into the fridge. So it was that five days after I brought them back from the farm Octavio peeled, cored, and poached our Bartletts in Sauternes, a great cooking wine with its own subtle floral attributes.

After they cooled, the poached pears were filled with a lightly scented vanilla crème fraiche and chilled. To plate, the pear was placed over a disc of crushed candied walnuts around which Big O gently ladled a warm pool of dark chocolate ganache.  The walnuts did more than provide a stabilizing base for the pear; their sweetness hid a surprising back-of-the-throat smoky tannin that worked brilliantly against the soft texture of fruit but complimented the rich liquidity of the 61% bittersweet chocolate. The final components of this elegant 'pared-down' dessert was a lovely coconut sorbet, cool respite to the chocolate, which sat on a small mound of crumbled house-made graham crackers. The comforting, old fashioned flavors of the cinnamon graham crackers brought the dessert full circle for me.  I could imagine Victoria Cassinelli cooking up a storm in the old kitchen on a chilly day in late Fall, poaching pears for dessert, perhaps in the heavy red wine the family made from the grapes which before prohibition grew in abundance on the ridge. I wonder what she would have thought of all the steps Octavio had taken to create a modern dessert around her old Red Bartlett's.  At the very least, I'm willing to bet it would have made her smile to see and taste how we’d re-discovered them.

In the Gallery

We rarely source pieces for the Gallery from catalogs but when this chair from Roost showed up in New York Magazine a few weeks ago on their 'design pick' page we fell in love with the way it looked, suspecting it was wonderfully comfortable as well. We are always on the look-out for chairs that can live inside or out, so we got on the horn to Roost and snapped up the last six.  Good news: our eyes did not deceive.  They are beautifully made of washed and sanded bent bamboo with a sinuous line that cradles the body from the neck all the way down to the lower back.  Called The Lanai, they have an unusual bulb out for the elbow. They are designed long in the seat, the better to support your legs.  Color is a light blond which will darken with age.

Not so good news: only four left.

The Roost Lanai indoor/outdoor lounge chair is $525.

And The Beautiful Weddings Continue...

Photos by Studio Barndiva Manager and photographer, Dawid Jaworski

Follow more Barndiva nuptials check out  Style Me Pretty this week featuring Matt Edge's wonderful images...

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

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Dish of the Week.....Local Harvest Festivals.........

Dish of the Week

Saffron Pasta

I’ve never been fond of flavored pastas. Fresh tomatoes are never bitter when you chop them up and add them to a sauce, and you'd be hard-pressed to use too much fresh basil in an Italian dish. But for some reason when the same ingredients are solidified into flour and water more often than not they taste off to me; resinous herbs like rosemary or thyme end up with a slightly medicinal edge.

Saffron is different. All it adds to the taste of fresh pasta is a slight floral note, but more importantly it brings back the glorious color of the egg yolks ~ always doomed to be lost in the white blur of flour, salt and milk. Saffron brings that yellow back to the front, where it belongs. It's also the color of the sun, which makes me think of wheat in a field.

Everything about Italian food references the simple beauties of nature; it is the earthiest cuisine, the most able to satisfy the base comfort I look for in food. I admire French presentation and technique, I crave Indian and Thai, but it's Italian I return to when I've had a bad day or just need that little bit of mama in my soul. To get that splendid color, saffron threads are added to white wine which has been brought almost to a boil, a process called 'blooming'. As the saffron dissolves you cool it over ice water, leaving some threads intact, then add to the egg yolks. We use a classic old machine Geoff rebuilt for us to cut our dough, but we always start by mixing and kneading our pastas by hand which demands time and patience, a good practice in a kitchen like ours where speed under pressure is constantly required. There's also a sound technical reason for making pasta by hand rather than dumping all the ingredients into a big machine. Pasta is all about texture. You need to feel it as you go; to learn to trust your fingers when they tell you more, or tell you stop. Which, in a round about way, brings me back to my comment about nurture and comfort. To have an abundance of both in life, you need to be hands on.

Paul Bertolli, a friend from the early Barndiva days, wrote what I still consider a benchmark Italian cookbook no kitchen should be without called, appropriately enough, Cooking by Hand. Written in essay form with chapters like Twelve Ways to Look at a Tomato,  it's not a book you pick up when you need a quickie recipe, but one you linger over in bed before you fall asleep.  With any luck you may find yourself in a dream where you have miraculously found the time to work the dough, cut the tomatoes, rip the basil, crush the oregano, taste the wine.  Only a few chef-writers capture the magic of why we cook ~ MFK Fisher comes to mind ~ by managing to tap into our culinary soul. Paul finds the magic.

Chef served Rabbit with the Saffron Fettuccine this week:  kidneys, loin, and rack, beautifully butchered then flash seared in butter and garlic and thyme. Wish I could say  “just like the mama used to make,” but with no disrespect to my mother,  I grew up thinking rabbits were girly pets, pasta only came in boxes, tomato sauce only came in cans.  I’ve since learned that it’s usually the time it takes to do things simply that matters most when it comes to food.   Happily, the joy of Italian food is that when you use great ingredients and put your heart into it,  wherever you started on your food journey  you can end up making your own delicious traditions.

Local Events

As it happened I attended two Harvest Festivals this week. The Mendocino County Fair, held in the Boonville Fairgrounds ten miles from our farm, has been going strong for 87 years (we’ve been attending, on and off, for the past 30).  The National Heirloom Expo, held amidst great fanfare (and high expectations) at the fairgrounds in Santa Rosa is brand spanking new.

Besides the fact that both the Fair and the Expo are at heart celebrations of all things grown and living, from inception to delivery they were radically different events. The Mendocino County Fair opens with a rodeo and ends with a parade down Hwy 128 with people and horses in fancy dress; it boasts an impressive collection of award winning animals, rides, cotton candy and hot dogs on a stick. No one cares where the hot dogs come from. It’s simply a fair all about fun, and the folks that put it on, from the 4H and FFA kids who raise the animals to the women who bake the pies from the (fast disappearing) apple orchards of Anderson Valley work hard all year long to make it happen. The fair celebrates their labors and their lives ~ it's not about thinking deeply about farming methods or where the seed they use to grow their food and feed their animals comes from. It's about taking three days off in September to stand back and go, phew, can you believe we made it through another year? Pass the popcorn.

There were no rides at the National Heirloom Expo. There was a mind boggling array of open pollinated fruits and vegetables, food vendors clearly vetted for where they sourced ingredients (not a hot dog on a stick in sight), a giant tower of squash (by the same folks who built the squash tower in Michelle Obama’s White House vegetable garden) and an entire hall filled with non-profit (read: optimistically struggling) seed people. While there was country music and a convivial air in the crowds milling around the fresh produce stalls outside the halls, it was clear from the moment you pushed through the turnstile that unlike the Mendocino County Fair there was a decidedly political bent to this event.

On Tuesday Ryan gave a cooking demo at the Expo in the Hall of Flowers with Alex Lapham of MIX Garden. The bromance these two extremely talented big guys have going, sustained by the superlative produce one grows and the other cooks, is something to behold. They did a reprise of their heirloom tomato and melon salad, bantering non-stop back and forth while I sat snapping away in the first row with Geoff and Chef’s beautiful wife Rebekah.  Mick Kopetsky and Bryan Hohnstein, the other two parts of MIX Garden’s phenomenal success, stood at the back of the crowd grinning madly.

It’s great when you can walk around a fair and connect with people whose livelihood is integral to your own: old friend Kristee Rosendahl was there with her exciting Smart Gardener website, new friends Belle Starr and Bill McDorman of Native Seed/SEARCH were there with their special varieties of Southwest seeds which they'd also brought to Barndiva for us to cook with. On Thursday night we returned to the fairgrounds to hear Dr. Vandana Shiva speak. Dr. Shiva is one of those rare human beings who can deliver a message that is dire, yet manage to take you to a place where you know you are up to the challenge.   If you don’t know who she is, I urge you to go online and find out.

On Sunday we arrived at the Boonville Fairgrounds a half hour before the sheep dog trials began. Sheep Dog trials are my all time favorite spectator sport ~  if you have children trust me on this one, sheepdog trials hold a paradigm for your life. The trials this year delivered big time with great dogs and wonderful handlers (all but one of whom were women). After the trials we toured the animal tents and spoke to some of the kids who raised them, falling in love with a breed of pig we hope to raise at the farm.

What I didn’t do this year in Boonville ~ that I’ve always done in the past ~ was visit the Apple Hall to see the stands filled with boxes of apples in competition. The Mendocino Apple Fair is a cherished part of my life’s traditions (Knowing More and More, about Less and Less) but it’s increasingly hard for me to reconcile the absence of awareness at this event. The organizers in Boonville ~ and 4H and FFA at the national level ~ could use a good dose of fire in the belly that drove the organizers and participants of the Heirloom Expo in Santa Rosa. This is one case where if worlds could collide we'd all be the better for it.

87 years ago almost all the apples polished to a shine at the Mendocino Fair were grown from diverse varieties, many brought to the valley with the immigrants that came over to work the forests before they settled down to farming and raising sheep. These days less than 10% of all the apples grown in the US are heirlooms, much less open pollinated, thanks to nefarious inroads made by Monsanto to control and limit seed varieties (for their own profit) which ultimately will imperil the world’s ability to feed itself. Much as I’d like to go to the Fair in Boonville and forget for a day about GM, forget about the 'legal' patenting of seeds, forget the damage chemical dependence is doing to our soil, forget about CAFO’s, I can’t get away from the feeling that mindlessness, even for a day, is no longer an option. For those of us whose lives depend upon the soil and the animals reared on it, hell,  for anyone who eats, we do so at our peril, and at risk of losing everything we hold dear.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week.....Local Food & Wine Events...

Dish of the Week

La Garniture

We’ve come a long way since the days when garnishing a dish meant little more than throwing a bit of commercial parsley and a few superfluous vegetables on the plate, that quickly got pushed to one side. These days thoughtful chefs like Ryan have transformed our very notion of garnish, expanding the variety, colors and textures of the things they reach for in those last moments before a dish heads out to the dining room. To my mind, even the word is moribund ~ garnish has the potential to do a hell of a lot more than decorate a dish like a few accent pillows.  They are the subtle but dramatic finishing pieces to a complex flavor puzzle a chef begins to fit together with initial conception of the dish.

Consider the steps: raw ingredients are rubbed, cured, infused, marinated and seasoned before the cooking process bastes, sautés, caramelizes, bakes, flambés, glazes, braises, grills, barbeques or smokes in yet more flavors.  As food is plated the element that arguably demands the most finesse, (and in fine dining restaurants has its very own chef ) the final sauce, is added. Only after all these steps are completed does a chef reach for final finishing flavors which, if he isn't careful, can misrepresent or throw the complexity of the entire dish out the window.  When I asked what flavors and textures he might look for in a garnish Ryan reeled off,  “sharp, sweet, tart, viscous, buttery, floral, creamy, caramel, crunchy, earthy, herbal” adding he includes vinaigrettes as well.

If you’ve dined at the Barn over the past few weeks you will recognize most of the elements photographed here which were used to garnish our plates one day last week; chances are if you come in next week they will have been replaced. For restaurants like ours that tout their farm to table pedigree,  garniture offers a not-to-be-missed opportunity to showcase what’s local, seasonal and freshest. Towards this end we devote three raised beds here at the Barn just for finishing. In addition to these edible flowers and herbs which Chef uses raw or infuses in oil and a range of vinegars,  our farmer partners grow a variety of tiny vegetables and greens he may pickle or lightly dress. And let's not forget root vegetables which can be deep fried for a sprinkling of chips...once you see the potential of garnish, the list just keeps on growing.

Grown or foraged or bought, finishing flavors are an essential, if ephemeral, piece to dining you owe it to yourself to explore. Whatever you call them.

This Week!

Expectations are running high for this week's first National Heirloom Expo ~ with good reason. The time is right for a truly meaningful countywide event with a focus on seeds, farming and superlative products. The Expo starts Tuesday and runs through Thursday at the Santa Rosa Fairgrounds. Barndiva will be participating in the chef demonstrations (Ryan will be there today  at 2, as well as Alex from Mix Gardens), and there will be scintillating panel discussions with food savants from around the country, in addition to keynotes speakers including  Alice Waters and Dr. Vandana Shiva. If you've never heard Dr. Shiva  (chances are you've never even heard OF her) don't miss this opportunity to experience this Nobel worthy woman who speaks truth to power about the future of food.

Without a doubt one of the more interesting groups coming to the Expo are the folks from Native Seed/SEARCH, a seed saving educational non-profit that has been going strong in Arizona for over two decades.  Native Seed's Bill McDorman will be speaking on Tuesday at 3, directly after Ryan's demo, and will also participate in an important panel Thursday called Seeds of Sustainability.

On Friday morning Studio Barndiva will host a benefit for the Native Seed/SEARCH organization with an incredible brunch starting at 11 using Native Seed products. Our pastry chef Octavio will be making muffins with their Senoran White Wheat, while Ryan and the gang will serve up our infamous Huevos Rancheros with Early Bird Eggs, heirloom salsa and Native Seed Tepary Beans. Bloody Marys, made with our tomatoes and their rare Native Seed spices will (quite literally) kick off the meal, after which there will be a chance to talk with Bill and his dynamic wife Belle Starr and many other seedsmen and women who were at the Expo and are coming for a last chance to compare notes.   This is a not-to-be-missed event folks, with a great meal, in support of a wonderful organization. It just doesn't get any better.

To book a place at the table, call Barndiva at 707 431 0100.

See you there!  See you here! Details below.

Sonoma Wine Country Weekend

We sent two of our biggest diva's ~ Isabel and Eric ~ to Taste of Sonoma a week ago to sing our song to a sold out crowd of  3,000. Good thing that in addition to our compressed watermelon + lemon verbena we also served up Barndiva Farm's Heirloom green figs and Gravenstein Apples ~ these terrior hunters were hungry, and not just for information.   Taste is a great event ~ at the gorgeous MacMurray Ranch ~ in which to get a comprehensive overview of the wines produced across the county. We were in the Dry Creek Valley tent, but we couldn't help noticing while visiting friends in the other tents that there was decidedly less food this year. What's up, Chefs? We are busy as all get out this time of year but we made the time and are really glad we did.  Not counting Pigs n' Pinot ~ which is one varietal and Healdsburg centric ~ Honor Comfort and the gang throw the most convivial wine event of the summer.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales (unless otherwise noted)

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Dish of the Week.....On the Ridge

Dish of the Week:

Bellwether Farms' San Andreas and Ripe Summer Figs

If you’ve ever traveled through France, Italy, Spain or down into the Mediterranean basin in summer, chances are you’ve eaten at least one meal that included ripe figs and a hunk of local cheese. It’s a classic pairing which has been with us since antiquity. And while a lot has changed when it comes to the finesse we bring to artisan cheesemaking since Plato hung out talking about the notion of an Ideal Universe, the elements which make figs and cheese an indelible pairing remains hard to beat. We all know cheese is great with apples, pears and quince, but only figs, the earthiest of biblical fruits, has the dark sugar and beguiling sensual texture (all those tiny seeds popping on the palate) to stand up and fully embrace the grassy, salty, acidic nature of cheese.

Not a lot of people know that Bellwether Farms was California’s original sheep dairy. This family-run farm brings a level of passion and commitment to their cheese and yogurt program that is truly rare. The story goes that when Cindy Callahan first brought sheep to the ranch she and her husband owned a few miles from the ocean, she had only a vague notion of what to do with them. After a trip to Italy in 1992 they  began to age their sheep milk, producing their first Pecorino, but  it wasn’t until son Liam came onboard that the family began in earnest to experiment with ways to control moisture and acidity which led them to the considerable success they enjoy today. Bellwether produces award winning sheep, cow and goat cheese that consistently exhibits remarkable complexity of flavor that is unique to their location.  We hear a lot of talk about terrior when it comes to wine, but unlike almost any other artisanal product, cheese like Bellwether's truly expresses the taste of milk from animals that are born, raised and grazed in a specific location, in this case the beautiful rolling hills of the Sonoma County Coast only a few miles from the ocean where mild temperatures and coastal fog produce some of the richest and sweetest milk in the land.

Sheep's milk is higher in fat and protein than either cow or goat’s milk, important when you consider that during cheesemaking much of the water is drained from milk with most of the fat and protein staying in the curds. San Andreas is a raw sheep milk farmstead cheese unique to Bellwether Farm. It has the marvelous nutty flavor and soft underlying bite of a good cheddar, but is unusually smooth and full-flavored.

Last week we featured Bellwether's San Andreas with nothing more than a plate of ripe Black Mission Figs, deeply caramelized walnuts, a few shavings of radish and a sprinkling of Calendula flowers.  Now that our own green Napoli figs are finally coming in on the Ridge, (see below) we will offer them while they last. Gray Kuntz has famously described cheese as a taste that pushes, as opposed to pulls, which may explain in part why cheese and figs, with their juicy, sweet mesmeric power, make such a good marriage. As for that other artisanal product that's only gotten better since antiquity...happily, we've got plenty of that around as well at Barndiva,  by the glass or bottle.  Want to talk about an ideal universe? This is a good start.

Harvest On the Ridge

While what we grow on the Ridge hardly puts a dent in the amount of produce Barndiva needs, every year we try to up our game and grow a bit more in hopes of closing the circle of sustainable supply and demand as much as we can. So despite the late frost which knocked out almost all our stone fruit this year, I was pretty proud at the variety of fruit and veg we were able to start harvesting for the restaurant on Tuesday morning, starting with a bumper crop of green and red Gravenstein Apples.  I thought it might be fun to document some of what Vidal and I picked before the fog lifted and the third member of our picking team managed to haul her butt out of bed.

Sadly, with the exception of the cherry toms, the bulk of our Heirloom Tomato crop (33 varieties from Mix Garden) is still hanging green on the vines, waiting for it to get over 55 at night, which Bonnie Z says is the magic number. (According to Bonnie, once upon a time she would start harvesting tomatoes at Dragonfly in early June!)  Looking on the bright side, in addition to the Gravs, Vidal and I managed to pick five cases of incredible green figs, string beans, three varieties of squash, cucumbers, radishes, basil, thyme, lavender, rosemary and the first of the slicing tomatoes. Not bad for a morning's work, especially considering Lukka and Daniel haven't started to harvest anything from their new patch in the pear orchards. Next week it looks like we will have Asian Pears, which Vidal grafted only a year ago, along with Victoria's red pears, and the first of our melons. Fingers crossed about those tomatoes.

To read more about the extraordinary history of the farm:  At the End of the Day, May 26, 2011

In the News

We were especially pleased the Gravensteins came in this week just in time for us to participate once again in Slow Food Russian River's Gravenstein Apple Presidia Project, which the indomitable Paula Shatkin reminds us needs full community participation if we hope to keep the Gravenstein, a unique Sonoma County heritage, alive.  For the next few weeks we encourage you to check out the restaurants in Sonoma County who are participating in the Presidia by putting Grav-centric dishes on their menus. At the very least buy some Gravs at your farmer's market and bake a pie. No excuses, do your part! Save the Gravenstein apple!

For more information go to Slow Food.

And finally, in case you missed it, some very good news from Eastern Europe.

Hungary destroys All Monsanto Corn Fields

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales  (unless otherwise noted)

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

Dish of the Week:

Yellow Fin Tuna 'Summer' Carpaccio with Crispy Basil Rice Croquettes

When Giuseppe Cipriani made the first Carpaccio at Harry’s Bar back in 1950, he had no way of knowing that thousands of recipes for a dish with the same name would follow, or that his creation would move well beyond raw beef to fish, veal and venison. (Then again, as this was the same Giuseppe Cipriani that also ‘invented’ the Bellini cocktail at Harry's, perhaps he did).

Food lore has it that Cipriani came up with the dish at the behest of a wealthy customer, the countess Amalia Nani Mocenigo, whose doctor had suddenly prescribed a raw meat diet. While culinary history is silent on what in the Countesses' constitution the good Dr was trying to cure (anemia? flagging sexual prowess? ), Amalia found the taste of raw meat repugnant so Giuseppe pounded it paper thin and smothered it in mustard sauce for her.

Whether you pound it with a meat mallet like Giuseppe, or wrap it in saran wrap and just whack it once or twice with the wide end of a chef’s knife as Ryan did with beautiful yellow fin tuna this week,  Carpaccio is a dish that has the potential to be a lot more than just a novel technique that transforms a base protein's thickness and texture.  Whatever the protein, it’s a dish where a delicate approach is required when it comes to the accompanying sauces, spices, and key ingredients.

Ryan’s great with dishes like these. For a big man he has an incredibly light, deft touch, coupled with an attention to detail that is immediately apparent in the artistry of his plating well before you take your first bite. While I doubt he ever sits down to count the steps it takes to arrive at the moment when a diner lifts a fork, stops, looks, and thinks, ‘oh my, this is beautiful ’, there are often many laborious ones his crew must practice and master.  God is in the details with this guy.

In the beginning of our professional relationship I often wondered if all this precise cutting, slicing, and dicing ~ though it goes a long way in defining his style ~ was really essential. Most professional and home cooks accept that having ingredients the same size when you are going to apply heat is important  ~ but until Ryan came along I never considered how synchronicity can be a game changer when it comes to what we taste.

This week’s Yellow Fin Tuna Carpaccio is a case in point. Ryan conceived the dish as a play on sushi and rice, one that takes Yellow Fin Tuna for a jaunt through a bountiful Sonoma County summer field at the height of August. Avocado, watermelon and golden beets ~ all cut to exact dimensions ~ brought key elements of creamy, refreshing and earthy to the plate.  Even with light assist from favas, chive flowers and purslane, everything on the final plate was meant to dance with (and around) the fragrant flavor and almost transparent texture of the tuna ~ enhancing, but never dominating its subtle taste.  The visual joy of Chef's plating wasn't subsidiary to the success of the dish, but an elaborate seduction, through color and form, integral to the experience of eating it. But that wasn't all. He also had a few surprises in store. The first was a deliciously crispy basil rice ball that referenced the sushi while extending its normally cold bland taste profile with surprising heat and crunch. By using Carnaroli rice instead of Nishiki (Sushi rice), and a touch of pecorino, Chef also brought more cream to the bite instigating an Asia meets Italy moment. Then there were the bright flecks of preserved lemon rind scattered through the dish which exploded in tiny bursts when you least expected it. Not sweet, but not overwhelmingly tart either they had the effect of bringing all the other subdued flavors forward while paying direct respect  ~ as only citrus can ~ to the fresh fish taste of the tuna.

The lemons had been preserved in equal parts of salt and sugar five months ago. I don't mind harping on it: preserved  lemons are a really great condiment to keep around.  Traditionally stored in ceramic or glass jars, Ryan uses sous vide pouches to cure and hold them, which take much less space in the fridge and uniformly bathes the lemons so you never even have to turn them (a great help if, like me, you always forget anyway).

Every mouthful of this dish was about what’s best in summer here in Sonoma County.  Whatever ailed her, I'm betting The Countess would have loved it.

New In the Gallery

WOVEN WITH PASSION, NOT WITH POWER is the mantra of SlowColor, a company that produces extraordinarily beautiful linen textiles we have just started selling in the gallery. Made in and around Hyderabad, India, exclusively on small pedal looms using only natural plant dyes, this politically focused enterprise was started by two Americans, Jala Pfaff and Sanjay Rajan, who hope their C2C (cradle to cradle) efforts will help keep ancient textile traditions alive by providing commerce to the hundreds of hand loom and natural dye co-ops struggling to survive in India. It wasn’t long ago we wrote about the tragic increase of small farmer suicides in that country which were directly triggered by a Monsanto-led movement which encouraged mega-scale chemically dependent farming over the small and sustainable methods India has used for centuries.  (Courting Armageddon, April 28, 2010) Well, it seems that for some time now thousands of small village textile weavers and dyers have also been driven to take their lives faced with obsolesce as the world has increasingly moved toward large scale factory production.

SlowColor textiles are made from premium organic flax, actually a more sustainable raw product than either cotton or bamboo as growing it is lighter on the land, and requires less water.  Gauze woven on foot pedal looms before being turned over to separate dye cooperatives in the same village, the line uses an “adjective” dyeing process where only natural mordants like saffron, tumeric, annatto, walnut, and cochineal are added to a dyestuff's natural color.  For indigo, Slowcolor follows the traditional method of fermenting indigo in earthen pots underground to create blues because, as Hindu, they will not use cochineal, or insect carcasses.
Pricing on the scarves (depending on the vegetable dye used and the length of the textile) ranges from $70-$120.  Hand-washable, these resilient pieces will only grow softer and more beautiful with age. No two are alike ~ except to the extent they are all intrinsically beautiful, and carry in their making the same life affirming message.

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

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Dish of the Week.....In the Field with Friends

 

Dish of the Week:

Chesapeake Bay Soft Shell Blue Crab BLT

Summer is Blue Crab season all along the Eastern Seaboard, especially in the fishing villages off the coast of Maryland where the fresh waters of the Chesapeake Bay empty into the Atlantic. These soft-shelled delicacies ~ still listed as a “good alternative” on Seafood Watch ~ are a decided luxury for those of us living on the West Coast where they usually arrive frozen, if at all. Happily, ours arrived alive, freshly (and properly) packed in straw. Following a recipe that was as traditional in its judicious use of Yankee spices as it was Fancheresque in style (California Modern Country from first bite to last) our blue crabs reached the plate by dinnertime. A "soft" shell crab may sound like a crustacean oxymoron until you consider that technically they are without any shell when they are harvested, just after molting, only a few hours before their new shell begins to harden. Blue crabs shed their hard carapace in order to grow, burrowing deep in the muck to protect themselves from predators ~ but while an experienced fisherman (and most along the Atlantic are third generation or more) are canny at finding them, and can tell with a glance when to harvest, nowadays it is considered less harmful to the seabed for migrating crabs to be trapped and held in large shedding tanks until the witching hour.  Males have blue claws and a narrow abdominal apron, referred to in local parlance as the 'Washington Monument', while females have red tipped "painted fingernails," and a broader apron ~ ergo 'the Capitol Dome'. (There's a joke in here somewhere, but I'm not finding anything to do with Washington particularly funny at the moment)

Ryan prefers not to deep fry them, believing a lighter batter stands less chance of interfering with the blue crab's fragrantly delicate meat, which tastes more of the estuary than the sea.  The crabs were broken down, cleaned, and lightly tossed in seasoned flour and Old Bay (Celery Seed, Salt, Paprika and goodness knows what else), his play on a Southern Fricassée sauté.

To cook he placed them directly into an extremely hot pan, shook it a few times, then added a generous knob of butter and a few cloves of garlic. This instantly turned the pan into a furiously bubbling, fragrant morass.  All very dramatic, and over in a few minutes, precisely the time it took for their cool blue to turn a gorgeous russet around the edges. The finished dish was the perfect cross between the best parts of a BLT ~ think heirloom tomatoes and crunchy prosciutto ~ and the briny mayo you find in a lobster roll, though Chef upped the ante by dropping the roll and substituting the mayo with a rich housemade aioli that took its color from letting the saffron 'bloom' in white wine.

As dramatic as the cooking process was, at this point the slices of heirlooms stole the show visually, bringing, along with brilliant color, a subtle taste comparison. While the red tom's were sweet, the green, with less residual sugar in the flesh, tasted tart on the tongue with a more pronounced, firmer texture. (full disclosure: I never get much from yellow tomatoes.)

My God, this was a good dish, with mouthfuls of soft crunchy crab giving way to the vinegar from the tomatoes and an ethereal, buttery sweet seawater juice flooding the palate as it mingled with aioli.  Eating it brought me back to a night I spent on a beach somewhere on the Eastern Chesapeake years ago when, after an epic meal, one of locals stood drunkenly to his feet and began to recite the names of  tidal creeks and small harbors surrounding us in the dark. They rolled off his tongue like poetry ~ Pocomoke Sound,  Ape's Hold Creek, South Marsh, Devil's Island to the Head of Tangier Sound.  It all came back to me in a rush ~  stomach full to aching, the heat of the bonfire, the smell of the sea. Then again, food this good makes it easy to speak in tongues.

If you'd like to read more about what threatens the Chesapeake Bay's historic Blue Crab population, click on the link below for an article that succinctly summarizes most of the data I read on the current health and methods of harvest for this remarkable crustacean, which once drove the local fishing economies of both Maryland and Virginia.  We're so used to reading about overfishing, you may be surprised at the main culprit. Or not.

Click here.

In the Field with Friends

Mix Garden Garlic

So many reasons we feel blessed to have Mick Kopetsky and Alex Lapham in our lives, not least the joy of having access to this lovely collection of garlic they grew which recently showed up on the Mix wholesale list.  I baked and tasted through them all and the descriptors below, from Mix, were right on the money. What was most surprising beyond the different levels of heat and bite each brought to the mouth was how much their texture varied, from the Chesnok Red, which held its shape (one reason we use it for confit) to the Northern Italian Red, which went a bit too mushy for me. My favorite: Rose of Lautrec, which Drewski uses for our garlic chips (though to be fair, it had me at hello with the name).

Chesnok Red: One of the best cooking garlics with large easy to peel cloves Late Italian: This softneck variety is very pungent

Silver Rose: Rose-colored cloves are ideal for storing Northern Italian Red: Large bulbs are sweet and spicy

Rose de Lautrec: French variety that has a complex sweet flavor Drew with fresh garlic chips

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales  (unless otherwise noted)

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

Wednesday at the Barn Menu for August 3, 2011

$35 per person *Special wine pairings for this menu, add $18, Large Parties Welcome

Soft Shell Crab B.L.T. Heirloom Tomatoes, Bacon, Arugula, Saffron Aioli Wine Pairing: Azur, Sauvignon Blanc, Rutherford 2010

Herb Roasted Breast & Confit Leg of California Squab Nectarine, Picholine Olive, Almond, Purslane Wine Pairing: Barndiva, Cabernet, Dry Creek Valley 2008

Vanilla Cake Salty Caramel Sauce, Housemade Vanilla Ice Cream, Caramelized Bananas

Tractor Bar Trio this Wednesday!

Dish of the Week:

Heirloom Gazpacho with Grilled Gulf Prawns

The lovely young man in the picture to the left is Justin Wycoff, AKA Junior, younger brother of Chef’s entremétier, Andrew Wycoff. While not the only brothers on staff at Barndiva (we are big on family here ~ Sous Chef Pancho and back waiter Joel are brothers,  Jessica and Rosario sisters, garde manger Shale is my nephew), the Wycoff brothers, in addition to working their tushies off here in the Barn all week are also our dedicated gardening guys.  On his day off Drewski gets down and dirty in the Quivira gardens to learn all he can about how to grow the food he loves to cook, while Junior here has undertaken care of all the herb beds in the garden behind the Studio.

But while Drew has already put in serious hard time on his culinary career, Junior arrived last fall a newly minted graduate from culinary school. As such he is the first to be assigned the most tedious, dirtiest, smelliest jobs in the kitchen. Goes with the territory. Best way to learn.

Chef let him off grunt work for a few hours this week to tease out the first steps for our Dish of the Week, which not coincidentally uses all the trim Junior saves from the dozens of heirlooms he slices his way through every day prepping our popular Heirloom Tomato, Compressed Watermelon and Mozzerella Salad. The trim, slow cooked with OO and garlic for about six hours, morphed into a thick velvety soup redolent of summer.  Cooled, then passed through a fine chinoise, it was added to a purée of freshly chopped red and yellow peppers, cucumbers, fresh dill from the garden, a few squirts of Worcestershire, sherry vinegar and a small handful of our secret weapon (release the secret weapon!), a house-dried pepper mix we created after last Fall's abundant harvest. (Moral of the story: you can never grow too much of anything that can be dried).

Ryan’s Gazpacho veers from the norm by this blending of cooked and raw: the classic dish, whose original Andalusian recipe has ancient roots, traditionally uses only raw tomatoes. In marrying a slow cooked saporous tomato base to the flavors of the fresh peppers and cucumbers, Ryan creates a deep russet colored gazpacho that is light but earthy, full of bright spice, and rife with the flavors of high summer.

Chef paired this ‘King of Cold Summer Soup” with fat, wild gulf prawns he flash seared with basil stems and OO until they colored and curled at the tail, as if trying to jump out of the pan and back into the water.

To plate, a disc of green tomato was soaked in balsamic, then hidden beneath a fan of sliced avocado. The seared prawn was placed on this edible plinth, surrounded by its own little sea of gazpacho, which at the last minute Chef flecked with freshly diced heirloom tomatoes.

Shooting this dish brought home yet again how important our quest to source seafood sustainably really is. We've come a long way since we opened Barndiva and our best selling starter was deep fried shrimp from Indonesia, but we still have a ways to go. To bring our fish sourcing to the same standard we hold for land bound proteins means continually finding a compromise with diners whom have come to expect ~ and often demand ~  unsustainable diversity when it comes to seafood.

Thankfully a lot has changed since we took those Indonesian fish off the menu three years ago. We now have growing support from many customers who understand our reasons behind offering a more limited  ~ but no less delicious ~ seasonal selection of seafood that respects the ocean and those who fish it.  This dish is a good case in point, with prawns sourced from a newly thriving wild population in the gulf of Texas. It's a win win dish all around. Except, I guess, for the prawn.

 In the Gallery:

Since the day we opened the gallery we’ve made room on our walls to carry an exquisite collection of botanical prints from Hagemann Lehrtafel. Extremely high quality reprints from the original collection of school science charts produced by the same family since they first appeared in German classrooms in 1927, they are virtually indistinguishable from the originals, printed on high quality canvas with strikingly lush black backgrounds which serve to innervate the brilliant colors of the plants.  All are scientifically correct.

All Charts: 46 x 32, $245

Tulip Botany chart                                              detail of Potato Botany Chart

detail of Anemone Botany Chart                     detail of Oak Botany Chart

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

 

Dish of the Week:

Frog Hollow Peach Frangipane Tart

Once upon a time the valleys surrounding Healdsburg were filled with commercial stone fruit farms ~ dozens and upon dozens of plum, peach and apricot varieties which flourished in the temperate climate and rich soils of all three valleys. Sadly, we now have only one lone peach farm left in Dry Creek Valley, a result of rising land prices and the ongoing difficulties of making a living farming any fruit that cannot be made into wine.  Thankfully some parts of Northern California are still known for superlative fruits and nuts; for our dessert this week we ventured down to the San Joaquin River delta where our featured farm  ~ the beautiful Frog Hollow Farm ~ is located. One of the first stone fruit farms in the country to move to large scale organic farming methods twenty one years ago, besides supplying restaurants like Barndiva and Chez Panisse, Frog Hollow thrives by selling its fruit at farmer's markets, online, and servicing a thriving 400 strong CSA.  With fruit like this, only picked when it is hanging fully ripe on the tree, imagination and talent ~ rather than a whole lot of sugar~ is all you need to create memorable desserts.

Closer to home the man responsible for Dish of the Week is our wonderful new pastry chef Octavio Alcantar, who started his professional career ~ as many great chefs have ~ at The French Laundry as a dishwasher way back when the restaurant first opened. He quickly graduated to the pastry station and worked there learning his craft for 11 years, eventually becoming an integral part of the opening team at Bouchon Bakery in Yountville. Over the years he has had the opportunity to learn from a number of world class pastry chefs including Stephen Durfee and Sebastian Rouxel.

Ryan and Octavio, who met when their stations faced each other at TFL,  remained friends always hoping to connect again professionally.  We were truly pleased when he joined our staff earlier this summer as his consummate baking and chocolate skills have lead to a remarkable following in just a few short months.  In addition to inspiring our dessert menu and baking all of Barndiva's wedding cakes, Octavio brings a deft hand to ice cream and sorbets ~ it would seem there is nothing this guy can't do.

For this Frangipane Peach Tart ~ the natural almond flavor of Frangipane is a beautiful partner for fruit with aromatic floral notes ~ Octavio macerated Frog Hollow peach halves in vanilla bean infused white wine overnight,  leaving the skins on to impart a beautiful color to the liquid which was then reduced for the peach syrup that completed the final dessert.

Before baking, the macerated peaches were slipped into the light frangipane batter which had been poured into a shallow baking pan just deep enough to leave all but the surface  ~ which softly crisps in baking ~ submerged, resulting in an exceptionally moist cake filled with succulent, almond infused peaches.

Octavio paired his Peach Frangipane Tart with a Vanilla Bean Lemon Thyme ice cream, a seemingly unusual combination which played off the natural sweetness of the peaches bringing the slightest hints of citrus and green aromatics to this delightful summer dessert which was elegant, timeless... and delicious.

In the Gallery:

When Karma Palmo walked into Studio Barndiva unannounced two years ago this slight, extremely shy Tibetan woman was dragging a rather over-sized suitcase behind her full of exquisite naturally dyed rugs, tightly woven table runners and intricately crocheted scarves made by the women in her village which she explained was little more than a refugee camp in Nepal still under Chinese rule after a half a century.  To hear her describe it, each day they trekked outside the gates of the compound to harvest the only raw materials available to them to practice their craft, which thankfully grew wild (and free).

One of the joys of owning this gallery for the past four years has been to support talented artisans whose work is often made from found, as opposed to bought, materials. But while we have seen a lot of hemp and stinging nettle products over the years, admired for their sustainability and sought after because they are so durable, as raw materials they are actually not easy to work with. The pieces from Karma's fledgling company ~ Tibetan Organic Textiles ~ are elegantly designed and constructed pieces, expertly hand made, that will only get softer and more beautiful with age.

Karma now lives in the Bay Area with her father, Ngodup Tsering, who finally received his green card after decades of waiting and helps her run Tibetan Organic Textiles as she goes to school and they both acclimate to life in America.

Moving story, beautiful useful objects made by people we are proud to support.

Nettle place-mat/runner (shown below) $18 per 20" section Hand crocheted scarves $130  Rugs priced per piece.

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

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Dish of the Week........ Wedding in the Gardens

 

Dish of the Week:

Seared Scallops with Chanterelles & Corn

Scallops are one of those foods you either love or hate because of their unusual pillowy texture ~ which is offsetting to some, alluring to others ~ but did you know that the part we eat is actually the muscle which propels this mollusk across the ocean floor every time it claps its shells? Tasting fragrantly of the sea, they are often one of the most expensive items on a fine dining menu.  The good news about sourcing high quality scallops in season is that they grow quickly and mature at a young age, so there are abundant supplies of them this time of year especially in the Atlantic. The reason Seafood Watch only gives them a "good alternative" rating for sustainability is down to the fact that the further out to sea you go to harvest them, the more likely the catch can cause damage to the seabed.  Currently the only 100% safe alternative to wild sea harvest is eating farmed, which to our mind comes with its own set of trade offs.  Our scallops this week were caught off the coast of Massachusetts where Mike, our fishmonger of many years (who works for Aloha Seafood and closely with CleanFish) tells us they were scooped up from a  sandy bottom habitat where harvesting is less likely to cause ecological damage.

When you see the word ‘day boat’ on the menu, it simply means the ship was out at sea for less than 12 hours. Anything longer and you can assume a catch was frozen; with scallops this is something you want to avoid as they naturally retain excess water. Freezing can adversely affect their milky soft texture. And with scallops, at the end of the day, it’s all about the texture.

Fresh scallops are easy to cook if you learn to nail the timing. They can take high heat ~ the better to get that thin caramelized edge especially surprising when followed by the soft meat of the muscle ~ but you can’t take your eyes off them, which is hard in a busy kitchen (and probably the reason I’ve had more than my fair share of undercooked or overcooked rubbery scallops over the years). At Barndiva, we pull them off the heat the second they’ve reached medium rare, then let them rest momentarily on toweling to drain.

Earthy, sweet, summery, with just a touch of bright acidity was how Chef Ryan rolled out his thinking on combining sun-dried fresh chanterelles, the first of the good corn, opal basil from our garden and diced heirloom tomatoes from Mix Garden for this dish. It was a combination of ingredients calibrated to enhance but not overwhelm the subtle taste of the scallops, which had been flash seared in grape seed oil and a sprig of thyme garlic.

Ryan plated over a Starry Night swirl of Genovese basil which Andrew had spun just before service with EVO and garlic. This vibrantly colored pecorino-free pesto is a neat one to learn, working especially well when you have a protein that is delicate in flavor.

To hell with the Freudian connotations, this was an unabashed, guilt free sensual mouthful. If you aren’t a scallop fan yet, come on down. If you are.... you know where to find us.

Wedding In the Gardens

It goes without saying that this week's bride looked beautiful as she walked out of Barndiva's enormous mahogany doors to marry her sweetheart in our gardens a week ago Saturday. Her calm, elegant, smiling demeanor did not even falter when  an ecstatic cheer rose up from the  200 friends and relatives in attendance. She made it all look easy but for this bride, who pulled off a wedding that bridged vastly different cultural traditions with complete aplomb, God was in the details.

From her French net birdcage veil down to the chapel train of her elegant strapless gown, with its demure sweetheart shaped bodice, every small touch she had spent months putting into place spoke volumes. The gown’s taffeta bow, which would not have been out of place on the runway of a couture show circa 1950, also channeled ~ apologies for not knowing the Chinese equivalent ~ a beautiful  Japanese Obi. The exquisite  bouquet she designed with Bonnie Z of Dragonfly featured pink Cymbidium orchids, Vandella roses and burgundy Calla Lilies ~ all traditional for an Asian wedding where the bride never carries white flowers ~ but was encircled by exuberantly swooping blades of bright green bear grass that eloquently captured the thoroughly modern spirit of this young woman.

It's often been said that the trick to a truly successful wedding is to plan to your heart’s content ~ then let it all go, trusting that if you set the right wheels in motion joy will carry the day.  For all the meticulous planning that went into this wedding, from the minute they said their vows in dappled sunlight on the grassy verge, to the last dance in the gallery six hours later ~ this couple let it flow.

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

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Dish of the Week........ In the Garden......In Our Glass...In the Press

 

Dish of the Week:

Strawberry Salad

I forget how crazy busy summer gets until Friday rolls around and we haven’t shot or even discussed Dish of the Week. Last Saturday I found myself shooting it guerrilla style in the middle of the hot line during a busy dinner service which had come hard on the heels of a wedding in the gallery.  More than my nerves got singed.

So when I drifted into the kitchen on Wed morning and saw Lou Preston had just dropped off a box of the most beautiful strawberries anyone had seen in a long time, Chef and I jumped on the idea of a super quick summer salad that would star these glorious babies, grown in some of the most loved soil in the county at the height of their season.  We momentarily toyed with the idea of just putting them in a bowl and calling it a day but that begged the question of why berries, especially strawberries, are often just so much better on their own. The truth is they don’t mix well with proteins, or most vegetables, which is why they are almost always relegated to the desert column.

There’s nothing wrong with a natural sweet food profile but it needs a foil to stop it going flat on you after the first few bites. Chef used the strawberries themselves to provide this counterpoint by compressing half of them in verbena, which took most of the sugar out, replacing it with a nice soury kick and a woody floral aroma. Not quite pickled, a step before fermented.  The process of compressing the strawberries deepened their color to a bruised red which saturated the berry all the way through, creating a nice confusion between the brain, expecting sweet, and the taste, which was uniquely savory.

Edible flowers, with their delicate shapes, colors and earthy taste profiles, were a natural bridge between this Janus-like strawberry presentation and the other ingredients:  the purslane, the gentle heat provided by the arugula and the radishes, the creaminess of the avocado and the great crunch of the tempura squash blossom.  We are particularly proud of the bachelor buttons, which we grew from seed here at the Barn.  I thought vibrant saffron Calendula petals would have been a nice touch as well, but Chef demurred ~ he was on a groove with his muted color palette.

All this attention to detail isn't just about taste, and the tiny petals are a case in point: most chefs in the middle of a hectic service would have just sprinkled them on, but that wouldn't satisfy Ryan's belief that we eat with our eyes first.  No matter how involved you are in conversation when you're dining out and a plate arrives there's always a moment when you pick up your fork and look down.  The eye really does luxuriate in color and form and the result of Ryan's artistry in that moment~  brief as it may be ~  has the effect of slowing everything down.

A few days ago Sandra Jordan dropped off a precious allotment of her exceptional balsamic which Chef used as Morse code on the plate, instead of dressing the salad. Jordan’s balsamic is a thing of wonder, not cheap mind you, but like everything this classy lady does (her exquisite alpaca fabric line, sandrajordan.com, is now sold worldwide), worth every penny. We use it sparingly to finish dishes ~ it’s so full flavored it even works with desserts ~ and the bar uses it in Sandra’s Ballsey, a sparkling cocktail we created for Sandra because, well, she is.  Whatever it takes.

Enjoy the fine weather.

In our Glass

We’ve gotten a lot of offers over the years from winemakers who want to collaborate with us on a Barndiva label wine. And we’ve been tempted, boy have we been tempted. But we suffer from this particular disease ~ passionitis controleria ~ which strikes whenever we put our name on something. And wine, most especially, is not to be trifled with around here.

There is one winemaker we have believed in so much our own label Cabernet is all but a standing order.  Dan Fitzgerald was a very young winemaker when we met him a few months after opening Barndiva when he came to tend bar. We saw character twinned with talent which was remarkable.  He was just finishing school, after some years working in vineyards in France. Through his tenure at Williams Selyem until he landed at Pellegrini, where he is now head winemaker, we have been proud (but not surprised) at his progress in this most competitive industry. In partnership he now has his own collection of wines under the Ellipsis label ~ which dad Chris markets (stepmom Honor Comfort is the power behind Taste of Sonoma) but the wine he makes for Barndiva is a singular accomplishment.

The grapes are grown exclusively in the Fitzgerald's 55 year old Deux Amis vineyard, which sits behind their beautiful home on West Dry Creek. A true vin de terroir made the way they made wine 200 years ago, grapes are handpicked and fermented with wild indigenous yeast from the grapes, hand pressed in a basket press in six tiny loads. Aged in neutral oak for two years, this is a cabernet made in an elegant old world European style.  It has an extraordinary ruby running to purple color that speaks of rich black and red fruit, which you get instantly from the nose, along with a hint of green that rises like mist from the berry patch. Tommy says there is a slight intimation of cigar box in the nose, and that he gets lots of fresh acidity framed by oak in the 2008, which we all agree is the finest vintage yet.

This is more than Barndiva’s house wine, it’s a family collaboration even down to the label, which was designed by Geoffrey's goddaughter Elly and her talented mate Charlie who, like Dan, have risen to the top of their profession in London in only a few short years.

Love the wine, love the story, worth the wait. By the glass and by the bottle, while it lasts.

To learn more about Ellipsis go to www.ellipsiswines.com

To learn more about Campbell-Hay Design Studio (and yes, after the bubba is born they will once again travel for work) go to www.campbellhay.com

In the Garden

Final words this week: check out the ‘new’ Tractor Bar Trio soon. Last Wednesday they played two extremely mellow sets in the garden and it was  Gypsy Jazz at its finest, folks.  We are now serving lunch and dinner in the rear gardens throughout the week, weather permitting, but be warned, the summer's already flying by.  Catch it.

In the Press

Sylvie Gil, one of Barndiva's favorite photographers, recently posted a few pictures of a Barndiva wedding- Congratulations Sarah and Ted!  Click here to enjoy.

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

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Dish of the Week........ In the Gardens...

 

Dish of the Week:

Crispy Sonoma Duck Breast w/ Frog Hollow Peaches, Pancetta Wrapped Asparagus and Golden Polenta Cakes…

The unseasonable weather we’ve been having ~ rainstorms followed by 100+ degree heat in just the last week alone ~ has delayed the normal flow of seasonal produce to our kitchen. No big deal when you consider that tornadoes, floods and drought seem to be occurring on a daily basis with "unexplained"frequency throughout the world. Still, it was odd to see peaches make their first appearance in the kitchen the first of July when I traditionally celebrate my birthday ~ which is in May ~  waking up to the first white peach of the season.

The best way to tell if a peach is ripe is by smell ~ ripeness increases chemicals called lactones which give peaches their ethereal heavenly  fragrance.   If  you don’t trust your nose, start by looking for a yellow ground color ~ keeping in mind that some varieties will retain a slight green color to the skin even when they are ready to pick. That beautiful red blush? Only happens on the part of the peach that faces the sun. There are over 70 volatile compounds that contribute to a peach’s flavor,but rain and cooler temperatures affect peaches more than most crops.  While you can soften firm peaches by putting them in a paper bag to rest, don’t expect them to become sweeter. A peach stops ripening the moment you pick it from the tree. There's a moral in there somewhere.

Happily, Chef made the most of these early beauties from Frog Hollow, pitting and slicing the flesh before compressing them in elderflower syrup and opal basil from the garden. Knowing how to work with fruit that is either a little under or over-ripe is really handy in extending the  season, but it does take knowing what constitutes ripe for that particular fruit. I’m good with drupes like peaches plums and apricots, but horrible with melons, where a great smell can sometimes actually only mean the fruit is over-ripe and mushy. Go figure.

The duck was sourced from our friend Jim Reichardt at Liberty Duck (aka Sonoma County Poultry), who has been supplying Barndiva since the day we opened ~ we add purveyors all the time but it’s always great to see an old friend’s name on the menu. To cook the duck to perfection we used Chef’s fail-proof method  ~ which I’ve written about before but merits repeating because while its so easy to cook duck right, its even easier to mess it up. If you are not going to confit, the way to go is to oven roast the breast before finishing, skin side down in the pan w/ herbs, OO and a knob of butter.   Be warned: this method won’t work if you don’t pare down the duck fat to its thinnest membrane first... even a bit too much fat is way too much fat.  What you are after is crispy skin that immediately dissolves into moist duck meat.

The golden polenta cakes also celebrated a crispiness that stopped at the edge ~ crispy was the theme song of this dish ~ in this case giving way to a meltingly soft rich center thanks to the mascarpone and garlic confit that had been folded into the corn meal before it set.

The prosciutto wrapped asparagus made me laugh when I first saw them ~  they reminded me of those 80’s hors d' oeuvres that lifestyle magazines told you were the ne plus ultra to throwing a chic dinner party ~  but Ryan’s interpretation, in Emeril’s classic words, “took them up a notch.”  Dainty in size but big in flavor, they were a perfect accompaniment to the duck and peaches, discrete but winning, mingling in an especially moorish way with a balsamic reduction that trailed across the plate. If the duck hadn’t been there in all its glory, I would have wanted a whole lot more of these babies, a plate full in fact. But in the end I came away from this dish dreaming of all the peaches still out there ripening on trees, just now coming on to summer…just like the rest of us.

In the Garden

Speaking of coming on to summer, peaches are not the only thing we’ve been waiting on that’s finally arrived  ~ This week we are finally able to open Barndiva's rear gardens to dining!

Know how the best thing about you is often also the worst? That surely holds for our gardens. Usually glorious from May-November the late rains of June turned them into a mosh pit this year, and I don’t mean the kind you jump in to get up front and personal. We live in the country and want our restaurant to celebrate the anti-paved life we've chosen, but decomposed granite needs lots of TLC which includes raking it every morning,  impossible to do when it looks like the last day of  Woodstock out there. Our apologies to anyone who showed up over the past month (especially after waiting all through winter for a long leisurely Sunday Brunch) and found them off limits. Starting this Wednesday evening we promise to open them whenever we can, weather permitting.

Also starting this Wednesday Seth Minor will return with the newest incarnation of the Tractor Bar Trio who will play two sets of mellow gypsy jazz for your dining pleasure, starting at 6.  If you haven’t experienced the reason we started Wednesday at the Barn ~ incomparable food, wine, and music enjoyed beneath the trees ~ come on down.

(speaking of peaches…check out the dessert on the Wednesday at the Barn menu.)

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

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

 

Dish of the Week:

Lunch at Copain Winery

I hadn’t planned on attending the lunch party we were set to cater at Copain Winery last Monday, until I happened upon the list of ingredients Chef left in the kitchen for staff to start packing up early Monday morning.  Charmed by the confluence of ingredients, it being a gorgeous day, and Copain being a beautiful winery, I decided to crash the party.

We are partnering with Copain on a number of weddings this summer and I’ve heard nothing but wonderful things about it and about Wells Guthrie, the inordinately talented winemaker and driving force behind this state of the art facility ~ one of the most ergonomic around. Set on a hillside with a magnificent view running almost the length of the Russian River Valley, the facility is pleasing to the eye with a pared down, elegantly understated style.  Farmhouse meets Koolhaas.

Still, I was curious to take a closer look for myself.  Crucial to us with any off-site venue is whether or not the right pieces are in place which will enable us to pull off an authentic Barndiva experience when we aren’t on home ground.

According to Tommy, the critical trademark of the Copain wine list is lower alcohol wines that preserves the brightness and acidity of the fruit. It was to taste through this remarkable line up of vintages ~ which would precede Barndiva’s four course lunch ~ that key servers and chefs from The French Laundry were coming to Copain that day.

Scheduling off-site events on our days off happens very rarely around here, but such is the affection Thomas Keller and TFL inspire in many of our staff that Ryan, Pancho, Katherine, Bennett and Tommy were more than happy to work on their day off to provide a meal that would honor the ingredient driven, classical technique focus  TFL  is know for. That they are standards we too aim for with every plate that leaves our kitchen didn't lessen the tension on our end:  this would be a most discerning crowd to please. Restaurant folks ~ especially those who work at places like The French Laundry and Barndiva ~ eat out a lot. They are usually generous to a fault to your face (knowing how hard it is to pull off that level of excellence on a day to day, meal to meal basis) but intensely critical as a matter of course.  While Ryan planned four courses that would elevate the wine experience ~ the entire menu was designed to highlight the wine friendly (especially for Pinot) flavor profiles of truffles, beets, salmon, bacon, mushrooms ~ he was also intent on balancing proteins to vegetables to fruits, so the meal as a whole would flow seamlessly from one paired course to another.

The three passed appetizers, all served with sparkling wine, exemplified this approach. First up was fresh Dungeness crab on sliced cucumber topped with a thin disc of kumquat ~ tart orange fruit which opened the palate with a citrus slap, followed by the fresh smell and taste of the sea and a green crunch. Next came a smiling nod to TK with a quail egg BLT ~ a rich mound of yolk, bacon, tomato jam and brioche with a delicate trailing stem of chervil, an herbal grace note to civilize all that umami.

The last of the passed appetizers, a single ripe strawberry from Quivira, went out unadorned, but was no less complex for the role it played in the flow of the afternoon. A tart and fruity palate cleanser which also signaled the seated lunch was about to begin, for the wise (or the lucky) it provided an opportunity for one last look down into the vineyards below, where the valley spread out in all its summer glory, caught in the throes of the first real heat of the season. Cicadas buzzed the air, and the connection to lush vines and the wines that had come from them and just been drunk, was palpable. Whether Ryan intended it or not, the moment made sense in the way poetry makes sense when you stop worrying about what the words mean and just lean in and let yourself relax.

The next two courses have both been featured as Dish of the Week before.  Chef wanted a flawless summer salad, Healdsburg style, which meant every component at the peak of ripe perfection. Another single strawberry was joined by heirloom golden and red beets, two varieties of radish, whole peeled truffled almonds, chives, chervil and a perfectly ripe wedge of Cypress Grove Truffle Tremor.  Beet vinaigrette (beet juice, Preston VOO, champagne vinegar) was drizzled alongside the salad. The summer salad was paired with a 2004 and 2006 Roussanne, both from Copain's James Berry Vineyard.

Using Wild King Salmon from Oregon on a Lucian Freud sized brush stroke of fresh pea purée with a generous trail of caviar crème fraîche, the main course was finished with fresh porcini from Mt Shasta, tiny house made chips, and chive flowers. The salmon was paired with two Pinots: a 2006 Hacienda from the Sequoia Vineyard,  and a 2006 from Cerise.

Dessert had been made that morning in the Barndiva kitchen by yet another French Laundry and Bouchon alum, Octavio, our wonderful new pastry chef who has been wowing diners and wedding guests all summer. Big O’s Blueberry Clafoutis was presented with vanilla bean crème fraîche and a not overly sweet but wonderfully indulgent crème fraîche ice cream.

I left Copain just as the desserts were being plated, luckily not before I heard a short but pithy exchange that summed up the meal for me precisely. Shale, a young garde manger whom Chef has taken under his wing this summer quietly reminded Ryan that he hadn’t plated the Clafoutis with the raspberries he'd been told to bring expressly for this dish.  Ryan looked at him, deadpan, “Knowing what not to put on a plate is as important as knowing what is, ” he said, waiting a beat for it to sink in before he broke into his first real smile of the day.  Standing in Copain’s beautiful space, after the meal he’d pulled off, it was an almost perfect moment. The only thing that could have made it better was if TK had been there to enjoy it.

In the Gallery

Seth Minor, our favorite single-wire artist and all around guy (Camp Meeker politician, MFA student, killer accordion player, seminal member of Barndiva's Tractor Bar Trio) has just brought in six wonderful new pieces to bolster up his coveted collection in the Gallery.

To my mind Seth is the closest thing this medium has to John Updike, managing to capture in a few spare but elegant lines universal character traits that ~ like it or not ~ make us vulnerable, if not lovable, humans.  Mordant in tone, yet oddly hopeful in a insouciant way that can't help but make you smile (a lot like the artist) believe us when we say this shadow driven rogues gallery needs to be viewed in person.  Photographs ~ even ones as good as these by Studio Barndiva's Dawid Jaworski~ don't do them justice.

Until he lets us increase them, prices for Seth Minor's work will start at $110 this summer,  for any in the ‘Faces Collection,’ with larger pieces from $800 - $3,400.  Mr. Minor will work on commission, from photographs, as his schedule allows.

To meet Seth in person, come for dinner any Wednesday night through August when his Tractor Bar Trio will hold court in the Barndiva gardens where, weather permitting, they will serenade diners with two full sets of beer fueled excellent gypsy jazz.

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In the Press:

If you've missed the incredible edible issue on soil, it's not to late to check it out online:

Edible Marin - All Hail Soil   (fyi, we're on page 15).

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

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