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Dish of the Week.......Singing the Praises of 2011.......

Dish of the Week

Early Bird Omelet with Caviar Crème Frâche

I think it was Julia Child who once said the single hardest dish she ever mastered was “a perfect omelet,” but I bet more than one great chef would proffer the same reply. Ryan, who’s both intuitive and technique driven in equal measure, believes the secret to a light, fluffy and oozy omelet lies in patiently stirring over constant heat, and while this is true, it's only part of the equation. Even if you start with great eggs (ours were from Early Bird's Place), the right pan, and a perfected wrist action that keeps the eggs from scorching, making the perfect omelet is no walk in the park. If anything it’s a dance. One whose music you need to listen to long and hard before you know the rhythm well enough to move to it gracefully.

To the extent that science plays a role, for an omelet that’s smooth as silk on the outside but filled with creamy wet curds, don't be tempted to mix dairy into the eggs. Though it seems counter-intuitive ~ cream should make something more creamy, not less ~ eggs don't need anything to bind to themselves, in fact, any ingredients you add will affect the omelet's ultimate viscosity. The balance at play is air, heat and time. Whip the eggs to a consistent froth and once they hit the heat (we use olive oil, not butter), drag a rubber spatula (or wooden spoon or fork) slowly front to back and side to side. Watch the edges. You will know from the look of them whether your heat is too high, or if you are dragging too slowly or too fast. When the eggs are at the soft curd stage, stop mixing. Now comes the crucial moment. You want a soft skin to form on both the top and the bottom surface while keeping the heat constant throughout. To accomplish this you can either pop the omelet under a brazier where the top will finish while the residual heat from the pan continues cooking the bottom, or stay on the burner while carefully flipping the omelet over in the skillet. Do neither and you risk the bottom sticking (or worse, turning brown). Whichever method you prefer, don't overcook the eggs.  This is essential.

Omelets stuffed with fixings like cheese, asparagus, crab, (you name it) are fun, but if we’re talking perfect omelet you don't want any other ingredients that will affect the perfect storm of  silky skin containing billowy curds.  As a topper, Caviar and Crème Frâiche are an inspired pairing ~ the cool of the crème combines with the pop of salty ocean to compliment, without overwhelming, the eggs, which should arrive to the plate as delicate in taste as they are in texture.

A word about caviar: while the name caviar can be used to describe the roe of almost any fish that produces eggs ~ salmon, steelhead, trout, lumpfish or whitefish ~ anyone who's tasted roe from the wild sturgeon living in the Caspian or Black Sea knows Beluga, Ossetra or  Sevruga are to lumpfish what cashmere is to boiled wool. That’s not to say that domestic caviar isn’t a wonderful and affordable addition to any dish that calls out for an oceanic bite. But stay away from pressed products. No matter where they come from,  no matter what size or shape the eggs, caviar needs to be fresh, to explode against your upper palate with a fresh briny snap.

Omelet with Caviar Crème Frâiche is the last Dish of the Week for the Blog this year. Looking back at the dishes we documented in 2011, we hope we managed a few Aha! moments that bridged the gap between the professional and the home cook, showcasing superior ingredients while finding the key to dishes that were both simple and elegant. No matter how labor intensive they were, and some of them were doozies, our hope was to delight your eye with finished dishes where the chef’s hand was all but invisible, his talent subsidiary to taste. The best dishes we eat in any year are usually the ones that don’t shout so much as fervently whisper, overwhelming neither the palate nor the stomach.

Because we think the first meal of the New Year should be as memorable as the last, Early Bird's Omelet with Caviar Crème Frâiche will be one of the stars of our New Year’s Day Brunch Menu this Sunday,  Janurary 1, 2012. On the drink side, for those of us who intend to party hard on New Year's Eve, the New Year's Day menu also brings back two classic Barndiva hangover cures:  Bite the Dog and the Fernet Old Fashioned.

2011: The People Who Made It All Possible

It takes a lot of hard work (not to mention talent) to keep Barndiva going all year. Even more to keep it growing in the ways we care about most. At the end of the day, ironic as it may sound, great restaurants aren’t about food as much as they are about people.  A lot of people ~ from the farmers and ranchers who grow and raise our ingredients, through the chefs of various stations who clean, cut, cook and plate,  to the servers, hostesses and bartenders who deliver our drinks and food to the table with a skilled flourish that honors the work and love that's goes  into every dish.

We are truly blessed to have talent in abundance here at Barndiva. And it isn’t just the professionalism our purveyors and staff have that is ultimately so remarkable; it's the way they rock it, with an abundance of humor and good will.

2011 was a great year for us, hard but truly wonderful.  We have always had great heart for what we do but I’m the first to admit our best intentions haven't always gone hand in hand with perfect timing. If you’ve eaten here in the past year, or shared the excitement of an event, you know we are on a roll.

None of us knows what lies ahead this year. It's hard to ignore the fact that most mornings the world outside feels like it is going to hell in a handbag. There’s too much greed and fear around, coupled with the uneasy but pervasive message from on high that even if you do a good job in life, an honest job, you’re going to end up with the short end of the stick. Don’t believe it. There are wonderful things happening all around us, they just need to be acknowledged and supported. Fought for. Enjoyed.  Joy should be at the heart of  what gets us out of bed every morning ~ even if some days it's just the fumes of the possible. But joy is like a fire, it needs kindling to get started. Constant feeding to keep it going.

So here's a Big Thank You to our kindling makers and fire builders of 2011 ~ starting with the singular farms and ranches that have supplied Barndiva throughout the year, especially the ones (you know who you are) that do not mind bringing in only one or two crops that meet Ryan’s exacting standards. Special shout out to Bonnie at Dragonfly who lets me fill the barn with the most impossibly beautiful blooms from her gardens while never failing to kick me in the ass when I need it; Alex and all the guys at Mix Gardens, Myrna and Earl at Early Bird's Place, Vidal and Daniel (and of course Lukka) at the farm, Lou and Susan Preston for writing the manual on how to raise happy pigs and sheep and besides great wine, produce some of the best olive oil around.

Thank you to our incredible Kitchen Staff  (special shout out to The Incredible Flying Wycoff Brothers, the irrepressible Pancho, Manny, Danny, Octavio, Shale,  and expediter extraordinaire Katie) and our charming and informed Front of House, now lead by the eminently able and urbane Bennett and the lovely Catherine.

To Dawid, who has taken the gallery on by storm, and to Amber, who helped Lukka fulfill all our wedding couple's dreams.  And last, but hardly least, my assistant and new mum K2, who keeps the blog (and the website) fresh, even when Chef and I threaten to run out of steam.

All of us here wish you a New Year that’s easy on the eyes, fulfilling and just plain filling ~ some of which we hope you will do here. Thank you for reading Eat the View this year (we know a lot vies for your attention) and for your support in person, here in the restaurant, the gallery, and at our weddings. Your continued health and well being matters greatly to us. Have an exciting year. Keep the home fires burning.

Salute!

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 with Joy.......

Dish of the Week

Crispy Whole Poussin and Egg Yolk Ricotta Ravioli

Poussin is simply the French term for a domesticated young chicken. Similar in flavor to Rock Cornish Game Hens, they weigh just over a pound, small enough to serve the whole bird which Chef loves to do when he can. Nothing goes to waste ~ we bone the legs and use them and the backbones for stock that is reduced for the jus. By breaking the Poussin down into pieces you are able to pull the breast meat out of the pan and let it rest while finishing the dark meat to perfection. Ryan leaves the tiny wings intact, crisp around the edges, to make them easier to eat. I know there are fine dining restaurants which frown upon eating parts of the meal with your hands. I hope ours will never be one of them.

It's worth learning how to break and bone poultry down ~ Always work with gloves and a designated chopping board you scrub down before and after. With some practice you can do it swiftly and neatly and you will never have to worry again that in order to keep the white meat moist you risk having the dark meat red at the bone. There is nothing quite as delicious as biting down through crispy skin to perfectly dark moist meat. The right answer to the eternal tableside question of 'dark or light' should be "both, thank you."

The egg yolk inside the ravioli isn’t just a play on the chicken and egg routine (though in this instance the egg comes first) it's a wonderful taste component to the final dish. When you cut into the ravioli the yolk and ricotta stream down into the meat, bringing everything together: aromatics, crunch, soft comfort flavors. Chef plates the Poussin over a sauté of baby artichoke hearts, spicy pancetta and the last of the heirloom tomatoes oven roasted until they are so redolent with flavor they taste sun-dried. He finishes the dish with the jus and a translucent chive oil with bright grassy notes and a just a hint of pepper.

In the Gallery.... with Joy

It was a weekend of extraordinary highs and lows for all of us here at Barndiva, one that reached into the very heart of what we do, and why.

Saturday we threw one of the truly stellar weddings of the year, an evening where everything that could have gone wrong didn’t, and exceptional food, wine, flowers, music and dancing just flowed. Behind the scenes before the wedding began we scrambled to deal with a rainstorm that came early and far more intensely than expected. An hour before 'show time' half the staff was pulling furniture out of the dining room to accommodate the cocktail hour (which had been planned for sunset in the Barndiva Gardens), while the other half was meticulously setting the Gallery for the formal dinner (which had been envisioned under the stars in the Studio Gardens.)

A last minute decision by the bride and groom to go ahead with the ceremony outside was brave, and, as it turned out, inspired. Beneath a darkening sky as fairy lights in the trees caught and reflected the jewel-like colors of hundreds of Dragonfly peach and cream roses, pale green hydrangeas, flowering kale and white freesias, the wedding guests huddled under umbrellas holding their collective breath to hear the vows above the rain before erupting into cheers of joy. Coming into the warmth of the candlelit Gallery was magical. For the next five hours it was as if we had created a parallel universe where nothing bad or sad could ever happen.

Sad things do happen though. When we woke Sunday morning it was to prepare for a very different event, a memorial for Rhiannon Joy Hull, the adored young daughter, wife, mother, friend, teacher and athlete who lost her life last week in the waters off the beach at Playa Avellanas in Costa Rica, where she had gone to start a Waldorf Kindergarten. The swift and seeming randomness of Rhiannon’s death had left more than her immediate family in shock. For the young parents in town ~ and we have many ~ it was a tragedy that posed frightening and unanswerable questions. Rhiannon was a woman of exceptional physical strength, and while she faced her last moments of life using every ounce of it to save her son Julian, there was no escaping the feeling that her loss was a reminder of how tenuous a hold even the strongest of us have on life, how easily even those lives which we painstakingly construct can come undone. The first hour of the memorial the mood of the 300 or so that had gathered was friendly but awkward as grief stricken friends and family mixed with members of the community who had only known Rhiannon through school or her classes. As Amber, Barndiva's event coordinator and Rhiannon's close friend plaintively asked after the eulogy and stories and songs were all done …what now?  How do we as family, friends and casting a bigger net, as a community, make sense of this?

It was a question without an immediate answer.  Yet as the afternoon unfolded what transpired held a clue. Octavio had baked all morning ~ platters of tiny exquisitely composed desserts ~ and as people arrived more platters joined ours on the long wood tables from kitchens across the county ~ casseroles of comfort food, baskets of freshly baked bread, salads of all description, cases of juice and wine. Lukka opened bottle after bottle of champagne and big pots of coffee got refilled while the crowd mingled, eating and drinking while babies squirmed and kids ran amok in the gardens.  Conversations rose and fell. We laughed, some cried, everyone present taking simple pleasure just being in the company of others. The word 'celebration' was repeated over and over, as it had been the night before, under vastly different circumstances. How strange that Saturday night’s 'celebration' for one couple’s life beginning, and Sunday’s 'celebration' of  a vibrant young life cut short shared this word so fully ~ that it was the one we reached for both in hope and to console ourselves.

•   •   •

As I write this, I’m thinking of a line in Adam Gopnik’s wonderful new book The Table Comes First, in which he makes the point that  "we don’t always acknowledge enough, that we still live the truth Darwin saw: food is the sensual pleasure that passes most readily into a social value.”

I am the first to admit that from the beginning Barndiva has offered a social agenda. We built and we use our beautiful spaces to strengthen the bonds between farmer and chef, to connect the diner to all the components and meanings behind the dinner served. But while it is vitally important to talk about what we eat within the context of our own and the planet’s health, in fostering celebrations in our space ~ celebrations of every kind ~ more than actual hunger gets sated. Now more than ever we need to take a break from technology and networking and zoning out with social media to make the actual physical human connections that validate joy. Sometimes that celebration is as simple as a meal and bottle of wine with someone you love or hope to love; sometimes it marks a day you will never forget. But the distances we travel to remind ourselves why life is worth living, even when we are forced to come to that moment from a place of pain, is always shorter over a table of food. Of course it matters what you put on that table. But what matters more is remembering, before you sit down, to come with an open heart.

If you’d like to read more about Rhiannon here are a few links…

The Press Democrat The Patch

Donations to the family may be made in Hull's honor to the Julian and Gianni Hull Education Fund at Wells Fargo Bank. For information, contact Jenn@yogaoncenter.com.

Another way to help out, Take Them A Meal.

All text Jil Hales. All photos Jil Hales and Dawid Jaworski (unless otherwise noted).  NYE artwork k2pdesigns.

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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........ 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 Gallery

Wednesday at the Barn

Dish of the Week

Summer Vegetable Chicken Fricassee

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

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

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

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

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

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

In the Gallery…

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

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

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

In the Press

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

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

All Hail Soil, Edible Marin, page 15

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

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Studio Barndiva ~ Special Events

Here’s a great shot of artist Jordy Morgan’s chiseled redwood boulders, captured in yet another wedding blog: idovenues.com FYI: Jordy is just about finished on his ‘living room’ sculptural pieces in the Studio Barndiva Gardens. As soon as the rain stops, come by and see these extraordinary pieces. Jordy's work will be available in various sizes and configurations on commission beginning of May.

Vintage with a Twist: (visit idovenues.com to see all the beautiful pictures taken by photographer Rosemarie Lion at this wonderful wedding held at Barndiva)

There is a level of anticipation and excitement that every bride feels right before the guests enter the main reception area. In the industry, we call it the Ohhh…Ahhh factor – it is the sound your guests make as they enter the room.

Barndiva is a perfect location for the avant garde couple that wants to maximize their Ohhh…Ahhh factor. It is such an amazing venue and so unexpected – when your guests arrive, they truly have no idea what awaits them.

The restaurant turned trendy reception venue has successfully captured the aura of part shabby chic, part retro. The organic gardens (where many of your dinner items are sourced) are meticulously cared for and provide a stunning backdrop. The abundant details at your fingertips deliver a plethora of wonderful design elements – all which act as inspiration for an incredible wedding theme.

Barndiva is perfect for the bride who wants to experiment with vintage or shabby chic details for her celebration. Everywhere you turn, you will be mesmerized by amazing design touches that have been perfectly incorporated into the outdoor patio and fun reception room.

This bride does a wonderful job of enhancing the facility’s existing design elements without taking away from their own natural beauty and charm. The iron gate is a perfect example – this piece is timeless all on its own, but with a few elegant floral accents, you now have great WOW factor as a welcoming point for your guests. I love, love, love the use of the wrought iron garden chairs in this design. They are perfect for this venue and look as if they belong here.

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Top Ten 2010

(originally posted December 29, 2010) Considering the tragic, scary and downright stupid things which dominated the news this year, we thought we would end our last newsletter of 2010 with a Top Ten list that speaks to brilliance and talent, with one pertinent reminder that because nothing ever stays the same ~ the only direction that ultimately matters is forward.

1. The Low Budget Film, alive and kicking

The Social Network had a great script, and Inside Job should be required viewing for every American, but the cinematic theme of the year wasn’t about greed and technology, rampant though they both are. Film is primarily a visual medium, so it was all the more remarkable that the most inspired films released this year focused on how, in spite or because of the proliferation of social media, language is failing us. Nicole Holofcener’s mordant, deeply funny Please Give was a pointed but gentle rebuke at the narcissistic face of liberal guilt. Luca Guadagnino’s I Am Love was a ravishing visual roman à clef that brought Visconti to mind, confirmed Tilda Swinton’s face as a force of nature, and for all the power in which it captured the empty language of the rich, could have been a silent picture. Of all our favorite films this year, however, none was more impressive than Debra Granik’s Winter's Bone. An explosion of brilliant new talent both in front of and behind the camera, it was the kind of low budget film about the human condition we used to think only foreigners could make. A mystery, an exploration of what it means to be poor and illiterate in America, and, most poignantly, a use of lost language as spare and wounding as a Faulknerian tone poem, this is a great American film. In drawing a world bereft of morality and faith, it speaks to what happens when human beings fall back on superstitions and tribal tradition to guide their destiny. Which, when you think about it, is a pretty powerful global message as well.

2. Montaigne Rules

Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom was the great American novel of the year, deserving of all the hype, but the most remarkable book this year, for being both a homecoming and a map to the future, was How to Live (or) A Life of Montaigne by Sarah Bakewell. An inventive biography about a dude who lived four hundred years ago, Bakewell invites us to re-discover a voice so honest, charming and clever its wisdom is as relevant today as any self-help book you are likely to find. I am an unapologetic member of the dying tribe that still believes the unexamined life is not worth living, but even if your definition of wisdom runs only to aphorism, you will find a lot to chew on here. Bakewell does an extraordinary job of letting Michel Eyquem de Montaigne speak for himself, while placing him firmly in a Renaissance tradition that exalted the life of the mind. This genteel nobleman was a winegrower who spoke fluent Latin, a self-taught philosopher who participated fully in politics and invented the short for essay which he used to reflect amusingly on every issue of the day. Montaigne believed the more thought we put into life, the more we get out of it. Amen to that.

3. Park Here If You Must

I’ve not yet been inside Herzog & de Meuron’s new parking & retail structure in Miami, 1111 Lincoln Road Garage, but I almost don’t need to. It's pretty damn hard to rethink space on any level in the current economic climate ~ when you work as big as these guys do it's practically impossible. Yet this Swiss firm consistently challenges preconceived notions of material, design and program in future-forward ways. While the current focus in architecture on ecological and ergonomic utility is certainly important, aesthetically, when it comes to public spaces that aren’t deep pocket museums, it’s been pretty much of a bust. As Healdsburg’s parking problems continue to grow, it’s refreshing to think there may be alternatives to addressing that problem without resorting to the concrete parking bunker. 1111 Lincoln has a mixed-use program with pop-up retail on the top floor. Its undulating concrete walls will eventually be grown to soften the ‘view’ of all that metal inside. During the recent Art Basel Miami Beach some of its vast floor space was also used for performance art, very cool indeed. Even for a town as small as ours I see the potential of parking cars, flea market sales, and stimulating performance art all in one place, especially when that art could represent a segment of the community that cannot afford high street rents.

4. In Bed with Jon and Frank

With the exception of my husband, I spent an inordinate amount of quality time in bed with these two men this year. Late at night, especially when it was a frustrating news day, I fell asleep with a smile on my face thanks to Jon Stewart, America's court jester, who says what we are all thinking a hell of a lot funnier than it plays in our aching heads. Frank Rich provided a different kind of salve for these trying times. In an age when facts have become almost beside the point on a increasingly partisan and commercialized media playing field, his thoroughly researched, riveting editorials in the New York Times every Sunday morning were David and Goliath efforts that never failed to speak truth to power.

 

5. Public Speaking

While Stewart and Rich deserve twin “the Emperor is Wearing No Clothes” awards this year, Martin Scorsese did us all a favor by bestowing a lifetime achievement nod on Fran Lebowitz, the closest thing America has to a wit the size of Oscar Wilde’s with the feminine acuity of Dorothy Parker. Public Speaking, which arrived on cable without much fanfare is a program that actually lives up to being Must See TV. An hour spent with this woman is an instant elixir, brief respite to the proliferation of Kim Kardasian types and all those other 'fame ho’s' (both male and female) that increasingly clutter the airwaves, and our lives. This is that rare hour of amusing enlightenment which sidesteps youth for age, fake beauty for character, stupidity for profundity. I was especially taken with her remarks about the audience that was lost with AIDS and how that has affected the arts, and the importance of elitism in culture (as opposed to building an elitist society) which has lead to a degradation of quality that has affected every aspect of American cultural life.

 

6. Jamie at Home

One of the questions I asked myself in 2010 ~ that I didn’t get any closer to answering~ was why food programs on TV continue to get worse instead of better. With the proliferation of farmer's markets, the fervent interest in sourcing, the rise of urban farming, why does food programming increasingly reek of such dumbing down? I haven’t been a fan of the Food Network since they went over to the dark side dropping Mario for Paula. So I was thrilled to find Jamie Oliver over on the Cooking Channel (with fellow Brits Nigella Lawson and Two Fat Ladies) a few months back. I have no idea if he really lives on his farm with Jools and the kids, cooking in wood fired ovens using food he has grown, and I really don’t care. His visceral description of ingredients, the way he touches food, the simplicity of his ideas (recipes are almost besides the point for Jamie) are simply brilliant. I’ve loved Jamie since Naked Chef days. He is a lovely boy (as my dear friend Lynda would say) who has taken his fame as a serious opportunity to improve everything around him for as long as the dance lasts. Yes, his experience with getting Americans to eat healthier was a disaster, but this program is worth taping and referring back to. If you don’t get the channel, go online where you can download the recipes for free.

7. Jil at Home

Speaking of food that doesn’t have to be precious to be delicious, go figure that the best meal I had all year (not made by Chef Fancher) was a simple vegetable soup. Why vegetable soup when I had the great privilege to eat food from the kitchens of Mario, Jean-George, Daniel, April, David, Doug and Ari? You know the Paul Simon line ‘life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans?’ Sometimes it's true about great dishes as well. Food was the last thing on my mind when I started to think about dinner on November 2nd. The stupidity and vitriol in the run-up to the elections that day had, quite literally, made me sick to my stomach. As it was a Tuesday and the restaurant was closed, I rummaged through the walk-in and the fridges, then spent a long time foraging through the raised herb and vegetables beds behind the gallery. It must have taken three hours to make that soup. At first I was simply avoiding the results of the election, but slowly, as I sliced every vegetable carefully, adding them to the pot one at a time, patiently watching them turn translucent, bubble, and simmer I came to see that while the results were now out of my control, feeding myself, my family, and members of the human race who, by luck or by design, wander into Barndiva, wasn’t. In the end I didn’t make that soup so much as it made me. When I finally came to taste it I took great pride in the balance of sweet to salty, the rooty, herbal, heavenly smell, the glorious color. When Geoff tasted it later that night he looked up and said “this is really great, what’s in it?” “Hope”, I replied. He probably thought I was crazy, but there is nothing new in that.

8. Cocktail of the Year

I don’t care if it sounds like nepotism, the best cocktails anywhere this year were served here at the barn. Strawberry Life called for the ripest of wild strawberries macerated into a cognac base to which we added a touch of Nagori Sake (cloudy, the result of unfiltered dormant yeast particles), homegrown Thai Basil and fresh lemon juice. Finished with a mist of Crème de Violette, it was summer in a glass which we should have called Sex in the Grass (no, not that grass Virginia). Ernest in Love, another favorite (ode to Hemingway’s first marriage) featured Tequila and Aperol with local watermelon compressed with lemongrass, lime juice, agave nectar and, as a grace note, a spray of fresh rosewater. Thanks in great part to Stefan’s mad genius and Adam and Sammy’s desire to push the limits, we infused spirits with all manner of fresh fruit, herb and spice drams, cold smoked apples and rosemary from our farm, washed brown butter, infused rare black teas, fabricated pumpkin curries and stone fruit jams, chopped through all manner of homegrown chili and exotic citrus until our eyes rolled. Croatian cherries? No problem. Jack Daniel's barrel woodchips? Torch ‘em. With the exception of the night Stefan almost burned down the barn cooking up some concoction, every drink these three guys put out this year was bloody brilliant. I was a very proud mama indeed (albeit one with an aching liver.) Cocktail of the year goes to The Lover (named after the great Marguerite Duras novella of the same name) because it perfectly balanced my favorite fruit (white peaches) with fresh ginger and the green herbal notes of lemon verbena we grew from a plant Bonnie Z gave us. Filtered sake and a hit of Navarro grape juice added sweet and yeasty notes. We finished the drink at the bar by igniting a poof of green chartreuse ~ this Divatini even had magic. The trick of making craft cocktails at this level is that all the flourishes must soften and meld the minute you pick up the glass to drink. These do. Cheers.

9. Picture of the Year

Without a doubt you will find more globally important images if you click the links below, but the moment Lukka captured of the Healdsburg Post Office burning resonates deeply for us on several levels. It marks the end of an era: no more walking distractedly through town to post a letter and find the moment of the day in which the town reclaimed you. Sometimes it was just a wave from a neighbor, a quick coffee from Flying Goat, a simple breeze that made you look up at the trees in the Plaza. I am not alone in mourning the loss that experience will mean to living here. But in the weeks and months that followed the fire, as it became clear that efforts by Jim Wood, Ray Holly and others to re-build would come to naught, I began to understand that more than the post office was gone. What if the loss we were experiencing on a community level was just the beginning of the end to Snail Mail which will be gone soon, like listening to music on CD’s, watching films on DVD’s, conversing on land-line telephones. Some of these ‘advances’ are good, no doubt, and all of them will seem inevitable when we look back. What is hardest to reconcile is how change like this undermines a precious connection to the time and place, and to the people you accidentally get to know when you wandered out to experience life first hand.

New York Times 2010 year in pictures

Magnum Photos of 2010

10. A Town Full of Babies

Losing the post office was sad, which makes the last item on our top ten list all the more important. 2010 was the Year of the Baby here in Healdsburg ~ everywhere you looked gorgeous babies glided by with their newly minted parents, making everyone in their wake feel like a cockeyed optimist. Some were spied repeatedly dining in our gardens or at Scopa, others were seen hiding in the foliage at Dragonfly, the changing rooms at Arboretum, the shampoo station at Brush. One young man we knew as a baby had his first, while our bookkeeper had her fifth. This proliferation of new life, the growth of families that have put roots down here and have already contributed so much ~ with so much more left to come ~ is something we can take joy in. And we do.

 

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Rhymes with Play

(originally posted September 29, 2010)

Healdsburg made a joyful noise on Saturday night ~ especially on our part of Center Street where 200 elegantly dressed people of all ages came together and kissed, wept, drank, ate, laughed, told stories, then lost their shoes and danced their hearts out. Our weddings are always very special, but something else was in the air as well. As if the brief return of a warm night coupled with the sense that only a few weeks are left of summer heightened the mood so it swelled beyond the happiness felt by this particular couple and their families and friends. It reminded me how important it is going to be in the coming year to express delight whenever we can. We will continue to face seemingly insurmountable problems ~ a faltering economy, an ailing ecology, a paucity of leadership ~ that history has placed at our door. Most solutions will come in tiny packages. All but a few will seem to take too much time. Many of us reading this will not be around to see how it all plays out for our children and grandchildren. But we are in the game right now, and each of us with a powerful role to play. With the stakes so high, we need to keep from feeling overwhelmed. It’s essential we stop when we can to acknowledge that good things are still happening, though sometimes they need a jump start.

The first thought we came up with to keep the parties going ~ stay tuned for lots more ~ was to open the Gallery for musical evenings, films, talks and fun cocktail parties of any size. We will waive all facility rental fees to make use of the space more affordable. Our menus will be keenly priced, but will continue to be sourced locally and sustainably. Our farmers need to feed their bottom line, as do we, but we want Studio Barndiva to feed something else as well ~ a sense that as a community we have a great deal to be thankful for.

We like the French word soirée, even though it sounds a bit poncy, because it really does capture what we’d like to see happen in the Studio. To wit: “An evening party or social gathering esp. one held for a particular purpose” yes, that hits the nail on the head! Besides, it rhymes with archway, which is nice. Sometimes friendship alone pulls us through to the next courtyard in life, sometimes it’s music, or the spoken word. The point is to keep moving in an interesting direction. Yet real social contact is precisely what our all-consuming electronic media is robbing us of. What’s most important when we come together in groups, after the work of the day is done, is often simply that we are together. And while it’s great when you know people at a party, often it’s more exciting when you don’t. In a community our size ~ with so many interests and passions and so much talent to express them ~ it almost doesn’t matter what draws you away from the campfire of your hi-def screens and out to the town square. Your presence alone has the power to redefine the space, and claim it. Not knowing the outcome is part of the magic.

Of course it helps when there is great food and drink ~ which we will happily provide. When Ryan first came to us we weren’t sure how he would feel about all our weddings and special events. Lots of chefs look down on events, understandably. It’s not just the amount of work that goes into coordinating them. From a chef’s point of view, because of the timing and the sheer number of plates, most often they don’t showcase a chef’s talent in the way fine dining does.

Taking his cues from Lukka, whose joie de vivre is legendary, Ryan has fun with the menus, be they family style or comprised of many wine paired courses. He approaches a glitzy Oscar Night or a serious dinner where each course is paired with the dirt it was grown in with the same intensity, and as his talent blossoms it reflects on each and every farmer partner. Even for those working the events the sheer exuberance and style of our parties is contagious. By summer’s end we will have sent thousands of people back to their own cities and towns across the country talking about what’s going on in Healdsburg. Not just Barndiva ~ but the connection they made here with the surrounding community. Hopefully it sent them looking to recreate parts of that experience closer to home.

By making the story of local sourcing the point of our food, we haven’t relegated Ryan’s talent anymore than Bonnie Z’s, whose gift for arranging flowers is sometimes subsumed by the sheer extravagance of her locally grown blooms. Talent and product become indispensable to each other, and for the end user, indistinguishable. We all live in cultivated landscapes, in self-curated spaces. What we choose to seed and grow and prune is up to us. If only a fraction of our wedding guests go back to their hometowns and seek out a Farmer’s Market, that’s a fraction more than had the desire to do so when they sat down and unfurled their napkins on a warm summer night beneath the fairy lit arches in our gardens.

But make no mistake: Joy is the carrier of that message. And Joy, while clearly not in abundance these days, does not need a wedding to thrive.

So listen up: If you own a business and want to say thanks for a year of hard work (with another yet to come) or are a group of friends wanting to meet up to raise high the roof beams, we want to make Studio Barndiva ~ and the food and drink we serve ~ available to you. While we hope you will join us for some of our upcoming scheduled events (first up: the opening party for the much anticipated Susan Preston Exhibit: One Button Off) consider this an invitation to think up your own reason for a soirée in the coming months ~ rhyme it as you will.

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Waiting for Scarlett Johansson

(originally posted June 23, 2010) Sofia Coppola made a sweet little film a few years back called Lost in Translation, where an incandescent Scarlett Johansson meets a morally exhausted has-been actor played by Bill Murray in a hugely impersonal skyscraper hotel in Japan. Needless to say, the terrain they find themselves lost in is not just Japan.

I’m thinking of this movie on Wednesday, standing in the middle of Target in Rohnert Park, when it suddenly occurs to me I’m in the remake playing the Bill Murray role, with Target standing in for Japan. Scarlett Johansson is nowhere in sight. A good number of exceedingly large people are however, gliding around me with shopping carts, some motorized, as I stand stock still with what feels like a classic Bill Murray look on my face ~ bemused, baffled, slightly demented.

The carts have no trouble navigating around me because the aisles are inordinately wide. Wide enough to swing a cat. They are also very clean. In fact the entire enormous store, as big as side by side football stadiums, feels like one big clean country. I know I am lost in more ways than one, and I’m pretty sure I don’t speak the language.

The journey which lead me here actually started on Tuesday in another Target down the road in Santa Rosa. My good friend Bonnie Z and I left Healdsburg just after nine heading for a nursery to buy chef flats of basil and peppers for our gardens. As I also needed umbrellas for the front dining patio, and Bonnie needed a large grill for Dragonfly, we agreed on a ‘brief’ foray to Target and Costco to see if mega store America couldn’t fulfill our needs.

Contrary to popular opinion, I am not a shopping snob. I will shop anywhere when the mood strikes, the Salvation Army, Ross, Barneys, Bergdorfs ~ bring it on. My usual litmus test for purchase is that sweet spot where beauty meets quality. But since I opened the restaurant and the gallery and began in earnest to meet the people who grow my food and make things I choose to sell, more and more, before I make any purchase I find myself wondering how an object came to be sitting before me in the first place.

Like most of us I can play fast and loose with the word ‘need,’ when desire strikes, rendering its true definition useless. How many pairs of shoes does a woman really ‘need?’ As far as I’m concerned it’s an unanswerable question, right up there with angels on the head of a pin. The frustration around sourcing a decent American-made umbrella every summer has lead me to make peace with the fact that until such a time as I start hand-looming them, Chinese umbrellas live in my world. It was the name right next to the words "Made in China" that took me by complete surprise.

If you haven’t been following the sad tale of what happened to Smith & Hawken, once one of the most wonderful companies in America, here it is in a nutshell: In 1979, Dave Smith and Paul Hawken opened a shop catering to organic farmers in Mill Valley in order to sell beautifully designed, handmade English gardening tools. That they were equally mindful of ecological and social justice issues made them visionaries for their time in developing what we now call a sustainable business model. The shop grew in its product line, and then into many shops and then into a corporation. But it held the line with its original ethical model. I still have the English bench (same one as Kew Gardens!) I bought from the flagship store. It has survived 28 years of storms and intense summer heat, yet managed to age to a beautiful smooth gray patina, yet with an integral strength which is rare for a garden bench (except for the ones in Kew Gardens!).

Smith retired after a few years to open a bookstore in Ukiah, but Paul Hawken soldiered on at the company, in addition to writing a number of significant books on his journey trying to create a mindful but profitable business in America. So far, so good. Then, in 1993 when Paul Hawken retired, the company began to change hands. It went first to a retail conglomerate that expanded the line and eventually went bankrupt, then was bought in receivership by a private investment company that quickly unloaded it to the Scotts Miracle-Gro conglomerate. Scotts Miracle Gro is a corporation at the top of a merchandising food chain quaintly known as "Grow and Kill" (to us layman, that means a company that sells gardening and chemicals). The irony of this purchase was not lost on anyone, except perhaps the GM at Miracle Gro, who blithely told the SF Chronicle that his company had only purchased Smith & Hawken to “make us seem more green than we are.” As if that wasn’t unintentionally droll enough, he concluded, “We want to enter categories less chemically oriented and much more female."

The first thought that occurred to me as my hand hovered was that perhaps the fact that Smith & Hawken had landed at a company known for using great design to move merchandise wasn’t necessarily a bad thing. Hadn’t great design been an indisputable part of Smith & Hawken’s original précis? Isn’t getting companies to acknowledge that things need to be designed well before they are sold a first step toward the redemption of production? The back-story on Target lines like Michael Graves and Issac Mizrahi is that their contacts with Target saved these iconic designers ~ both of whom had expanded too fast and had lost (or were about to lose) control of their creative empires. Designers need to keep working if they are to survive but it's valid to ask if this kind of pseudo design ultimately does more harm than good. It wasn't a question I was going to be able to solve with this one purchase however, so with a 'what difference can two umbrellas make' shrug I slung them in my basket, paid for them, and Bonnie and I got the hell out of dodge.

What happened next was a perfect ‘you can run but you can’t hide’ experience. I had not bought enough umbrellas. This necessitated yet another trip to Santa Rosa the next day, where I was belatedly informed that during the night gremlins (my word) had crept into the store and fiendishly marked all the remaining umbrellas in stock on close-out to make room for back to school gear (in June?) Since that morning they had been selling like hotcakes ~ that’s Target shoppers for you the salesgirl helpfully informed me ~ and they were all gone. Except for the floor model which they agreed to sell me. That’s when I made my fatal mistake. I asked if she might check to see if any other Targets had more umbrellas.

What commenced after that I am not completely sure. Target strategically places a popcorn machine at every entrance to their stores, so the first thing you smell when you pass through their doors is comforting. It’s a clever marketing ploy to make you feel relaxed, to slow time, and now that I’ve subjected myself to it I can attest to the fact that it really works. For the next forty minutes, life as I knew it went into suspended animation. I suspect this is where millions of Americans get lost in our country, some of them forever. The longer I waited the more I felt compelled not to give up and thus squander the time I had already wasted.

They located the last Made-in-China Smith & Hawken umbrella in Northern California, also a floor model, down the highway in the Rohnert Park store. This meant time spent in horrendous traffic because THEY WILL NEVER FINISH WIDENING HWY 101, then involved getting lost looking for the right shopping center. I found it but then had to park a mile away because, incredibly, all the spaces in all the rows directly in front of the store were marked handicapped. There simply cannot be that many handicapped people in Rohnert Park, can there? According to a clerk I asked once I finally reached the front door, if you count obesity as a handicap there certainly are.

Helpful as he was on this issue, neither he nor three other team members could tell me where Backyard World transitioning to Back To School World was located. So I began to wander, more Andy Warhol than Moses, but still a woman on a mission. I did not find umbrellas. I found: a row with 14 different toaster models (every single one made in China), two rows of shiny trash cans (ditto), picture frames, pickled things, Target sheets, hampers, rings for the shower, and row upon row of plastic this and that (ditto ditto ditto). I contemplated for far too long a close-out sale that included some very attractive lamp shades. I steered clear of the sections I knew were outright wrong ~ food and drugs ~ though by now the word drugs was starting to sound pretty attractive. It wasn’t until I found myself in the George Foreman aisle for the THIRD time that things started to unravel. I love George, but I do not want to be alone with an entire row of his grills again in this lifetime. Where had I gone wrong? I knew better then to get lost in translation.

I knew better because for me, at this point in my life, there is no middle ground left for pragmatic decision making when it comes to what I purchase and what I eat. I don’t have a large family to feed anymore. I know too much about how things are made. It doesn’t take a mathematician to figure out that when an object like a toaster is put together on the floor of a Chinese factory, then packaged and shipped and tracked and trucked and stocked on the aisle of your megastore of choice, it shouldn’t cost “only $12.99.” Something is seriously wrong with that equation. If you have any doubts about where our greedy dependence on cheap fossil fuel driven products has lead us, turn on your TV and take another good look at the oil burbling up from the depths of the ocean in the Gulf of Mexico.

Still, it’s possible that the aroma of fresh hot popcorn or even Scarlett Johansson might have saved me from this dénouement, which I know full well will bring a world of tsuris for me in the future. The thing is, only a few aisles away from where they pop their corn at Target, the lovely smell dissipates completely. From there on out, as far as you can smell, all you get when you sniff the air is the vaguely synthetic odor of guilt.

Links: Paul Hawken has a number of wonderful books really worth checking out.

Go Local is a Sonoma based co-op that supports local businesses and runs a number of exciting educational programs throughout the year. Join them!

Consider alternatives when you make purchases, especially big ones for your home. Friends recently demurred buying a foreign made fridge and bought a Sun Frost instead, beautifully made right here in Arcata California. They love it.

Or how about giving Pottery Barn a pass the next time you need dinnerware. Most of the best designs you see in catalogues like Crate and Barrel are stolen from small but talented designers. For gorgeous pottery that will grow old with you check out Aletha Soule, whose studio is right down the road in Sebastopol.

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Art of the Rind

(Originally posted June 16, 2010)

We want to thank Cheese Plus, The Fatted Calf, Cowgirl Creamery, Pt Reyes Blue, Kelley & Young Wines and Dragonfly Floral for making our opening reception of Wil Edwards Art of the Rind such a perfectly delicious event.

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From the Garden

(originally posted February 24, 2010)

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

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

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

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

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

Happy reading.

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

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

 

 

 

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

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Barndiva's Mother's Day Celebration May 9, 2010

(originally posted May 12, 2010)

Thou art thy mother's glass, and she in thee ~William Shakespeare

From all of us at Barndiva, we want to thank the beautiful women who graced our dining rooms with their babies, young children, grown children and grandchildren...

The Barndiva Lounge and the Gallery Diningroom were overflowing with Dragonfly roses, knowing looks, delightful banter and genuinely smiling faces.

Thank you for entrusting us with your Mother's Day celebration.

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I see the moon (and) the moon sees me

(originally posted May 5, 2010) A few weeks ago, on the first real day of Spring, we co-hosted a baby shower in the Barndiva gardens for good friends of ours.  I was busy shooting in the kitchen for most of it, but every now and then I gazed out the window to enjoy the laughter rising from the long table we'd set beneath the still bare mulberry trees.  Four other women at the party ~ all from Healdsburg ~ were pregnant as well.  We are experiencing a veritable baby boom here in our little town.  At the end of the afternoon the expectant mother gave everyone small beeswax candles that we were told to light when she went into labor.  It was a thoughtful gift from a beautiful young woman about to become a new mother.

Seeing the candle on the counter a few days later, however, triggered a complex of emotions.  I'd just come from a meeting with Chef about our Mother's Day menu, which is probably why I paused to consider the rapid progression my thoughts took when I looked at the candle.  In the span of a few seconds I managed to move from 'all warm and fuzzy' ~ envisioning a magic circle of friends all spread out across town in our candlelit rooms, by virtue of our collective energy becoming a force field of positivity unto ourselves, to 'self involved' ~ what if no one called to tell me she'd gone into labor, I'd be left out of the magic circle, to 'worried' ~ what if her labor was a long one and the candle didn't last through the birth?

Sanguine to controlling to fearful ~ this is my MO when it comes to motherhood in general.  Since the day after my first child was born and the miracle of oxytocin had not worn off, until yesterday, when I spoke to youngest, in college 6,000 miles away, I go through the same personal zeitgeist: from happiness (to hear their voices) to suspicion (what do they want/need) to dread (are they ok? Is something wrong? What's happened?). I usually get back to happiness when they aren't around ~ thankfully love is my default setting with all three of them ~ but honest to God, nothing has ever screwed with my head like being a mother.

Fascinating subject, motherlove. And skewed quite differently depending upon whether we look at it from the viewpoint of the child, or the mother. I’ve been both and find the second half of the equation ~ being a parent ~ infinitely more fraught, if only because of the power it conveys which you are obligated to administer during their formative years. Being a parent is an early Bob Dylan song that you want to make wonderful sense out of, but ultimately mystifies you. Perhaps because I have the feeling I’ll never get it right, or that there is no right, or that what’s right one minute is capable of being turned on its head the next. And what’s really interesting (bordering on unsettling) is the fact that while we all seem to approach parenting with our own unique set of skills and expectations, at the end of the day there is a startling verisimilitude to motherhood, a DNA set of emotions that is able to transverse both culture and history. It seems to be rooted in the unlimited potential for nirvana or disaster our children’s very existence brings to bear ~ which always lies just beneath the surface.

As to being the child, while not confusing (you have after all, someone to blame or thank outside of yourself) it is infinitely more complex, capable of building your character, or destroying it. Whether you believe in what Freud called the "unshakable optimism" of knowing you are loved despite your faults, or lean more toward Sylvia Plath's visceral underbelly of "you are always there, 
tremulous breath at the end of my line, curve of water upleaping,
to my water rod, dazzling and grateful, touching and sucking,” motherlove, or lack of it, is the one true thing we really never get away from. Besides death.
Here’s my theory: If you’re very lucky in life, you get the mother you need, the one that makes you believe in yourself, but also never ceases to kick you in the ass when you need it most. But even if you aren’t lucky, and get an indifferent one, or dreadfully unlucky and get the awful abusive kind, chances are you will never really give up wanting her to be a mother of the first order, the one who truly loves you. That singular focus of attention is kismet to our souls from the moment we are born, controlling to a large extent our perception of ourselves, a divining force in molding our temperament. Live with it.
Picasso, who used his mother’s name throughout his life, depicted the relationship in the painting First Steps as one of interconnecting power surges, an impossible geometry that fights against itself, yet in its unnatural construction manages to be wholly organic. Berthe Morisot, on the other hand, painted as if she accepted the planned obsolescence whereby success can only be achieved when the child no longer needs the mother. The queen is dead. Long live the queen.

The first time I saw Berthe Morisot and Her Daughter Julie Manet, I related to the transitional use of color ~ the steely gray of the mother’s hair seemed to pour into the daughter’s dress, turning it a luminescent blue ~ a life affirming color. Looking at the same painting now, I can clearly see what I missed: the figure of the mother has had the life sucked out of her! The innocence of the daughters direct gaze does not negate her rising dominance over the smaller older woman, whose stare is in stasis, the heavy folds of her dress rooting her to the foreground, pulling her downward. And what’s with the colorless hand that looks like a cadaver’s? How had I missed that before? Perhaps because I was not yet a mother when I first viewed the painting.

Thankfully, my own experience does not jive with Morisot’s (in this work.) While there have been plenty of times I felt the rigors of parenting sucking the air out of the room, my children have more often than not been the only thing which kept me going long after I wanted to quit. Not because of their belief in me ~ I’m one of the lucky ones who thankfully did have a mother to do that ~ but, quite simply, because they make me laugh. We share the same sense of humor. When we are all together and the stars align we are capable of creating that rarest of human communities: a family that speaks the same language, shares the same values (most of which came from previous generations), trades in goodwill, and draws its strength from a deep well of loyalty. It's not always easy to get there however. Sometimes the stupidest things can derail our best intentions. While some families seen to get there by just hanging out, I suspect most of us have to work really hard at it.

When I was at ULCA as an undergraduate I took a seminar with the great L.A. Times book critic Robert Kirsch. Walking to class one day we got to talking about family and he dropped into the conversation, quite casually, that while he had more than one child, he really only liked one of them. How can you not like your kids, I asked, shocked to the core. You have to love them, he replied, there’s nothing written you have to like them. And, he added, if you make that a condition of your love, you saddle them with not being free to find out who they really are, without the judgment of whom you expect them to be constantly hanging over them. They are their own people, or should be, he concluded, and at the end of the day that’s what you need them to be. His use of the word ‘need’ instead of ‘want’ wasn’t intended to be pejorative, but empowering. Kirsch was very careful with language. I took note.

A lot has been said about the commercialization of Mothers Day that I agree with, but in the end I think it’s a wonderful opportunity that should not be lost, a chance to say thank you to someone who gave you life and, by hook or by crook, whether for a moment or a lifetime, had a hand in keeping you alive. Whether you actually say I love you or just pass the ketchup doesn’t matter. So long as you don’t use the time to settle old grudges or try and change the family dynamic, there is joy to be found in the quiet moments of time just spent together, especially if you listen to them echo. There is truth~ if not god~ to be found in the details, because details are what ultimately define us. Not the grand gesture, but a touch, a conversation, a knowing look. And hey, in case you need it said out loud, this holds true even if your mother is physically gone now, like mine. That’s the beauty of this profound connection. I spoke to my mum just this morning. Good thing, too. She told me not to get too heavy on the Freud.

There is a wonderful poem by Shamus Heaney that ends

So while the parish priest at her beside Went hammer and tongs at the prayers for the dying, And some were responding and some were crying, I remembered her head bent towards my head, Her breath in mine, our fluent dipping knives Never closer the whole rest of our lives

Links: Dragonfly Floral Michael Recchiuti Chocolates

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