Wednesday, April 15, 2009
Sunday on the Farm with Clare (and company)
Once in awhile an invitation comes over the transom (or, in this case, the ether) that feels like winning the lottery, or indicates that your karma is enjoying an attack of the happies. (Was it the three dogs I found on separate occasions wandering in the park across the street and returned to their owners? Or some random act I was completely unaware of?)
Brian's fried and marinated smelt.
In any case, the kind offer was made by Brian and Clare, the hard-working stewards of Big Table Farm, to come out to their 70-acre spread in Williams canyon near Gaston. The occasion was Easter dinner and a tour of their property and critters, which to me is the equivalent of having Christmas, a trip to Paris and a litter of puppies magically fall in my lap on the same day.
Though Dave had come down with an unfortunately timed head cold, my brother and his bride were also invited, so we piled into their brand-new Mini and drove out into the wilds of Washington Country. We turned off the two-lane highway onto not one but two dirt roads till we spotted the telltale pink Victorian farmhouse on the canyon's steep sides, and pulled up to be greeted by the lovely Clementine, their Catahoula Leopard Dog.
The tiny woodstove was cranking out the heat and the kitchen island was covered with incredible homemade appies prepared by Brian and another invitee, David Padberg of Park Kitchen. (Get what I mean about the karma-working-overtime thing?) Included were...get this..fried and marinated smelt covered in sautéed onions and toasted pine nuts, a rabbit rillette, head cheese made from last summer's pig, and sides of crispy crostini, homemade mustard and tart cornichons. Where to start?
Since Clare had suggested touring the farm during a break in a drenching downpour, I scarfed as much as I could grab, pulled on my wellies (I came prepared) and we set off to meet their chickens, cows, draft horses, pigs, goats and Edward, the guard llama. I was in heaven, of course, tromping up and down the steep hillsides and feeding the animals out of hand from the bucket of feed Clare had brought along.
Clare on tour.
It was on the tour that the full extent of this talented young couple's skills came to light. Brian is (and I'm not laying it on hoping for an invitation back): a talented winemaker, farmer, expert gourmet-level cook, welder (he made most of the coops and animal shelters as well as the biggest steam-punk-style smoker I've ever seen, all of them on wheels), and millwright, felling trees and milling beams to shore up the barn that collapsed in last winter's snow. Clare is: a martial artist, plowhorse wrangler, farmer, painter and graphic designer, responsible for not only their wine labels but those of many other wineries. It made me tired just hearing about it!
The tour over, we got back to find the eponymous Big Table in the dining room set with a beautiful collage of old silver, mason jars for water and an egg at each place that, when we sat down and read each one in turn, was a praise poem for spring. Then the food started coming, beginning with Brian's incredible homemade homemade ravioli stuffed with ricotta, caramelized onions and pine nuts with sage butter.
Dinner, not only gorgeous but soooo good!
As the dozen of us ate and laughed and drank some of the many bottles of wine that had been opened, Clare and Brian served up the main course of a luscious corned beef from Mossback Farm that had been brined for five days, a potato gratin from Amy Benson and Chris Roehm of Square Peg Farm (who were also there that evening) and farmers' market asparagus topped with Brian's rich garlic aioli.
Then came...are you still with me?...a warmed arugula, walnut and grilled onion salad with greens from Square Peg. And, as the evening grew dark and candles were lit, an assortment of cheeses for dessert, plus, obviously, more wine, much happy chatter and eventually a walk back our cars in the star-studded moonlight shepherded by the attentive Miss Clemmie.
Lighting the Pascal tea lights.
As I've said so often before, am I lucky or what?