On Friday, I promised you tales of a grand adventure. I can deliver on that promise! Tom and I took the weekend away, leaving the kids and the dog in the care of my folks, and spent a "Stay and Cook" weekend in Philo at The Apple Farm.
The farm is located in the Anderson Valley, a forty-mile stretch of hilly land between Highway 101 and Highway 1, on Highway 128. Many folks take this road from our neck of the woods en route to Mendocino. But Anderson Valley is a good trip in its own right; full of good food, wineries, fun shops, and an excellent State Park, Hendy Woods.
On that camping trip, we stopped to buy apples and juice at The Apple Farm's fruit stand. They had a lovely pink apple I had never tried before, the Pink Pearl. It was crisp and sweet and perfect, and that apple stuck in my memory.
Fast forward to my birthday of this year, a couple of months ago. Tom surprised me with a wonderful trip to this same farm. He had remembered, too, and thought to check out if we could stay there. He booked us on a 'cook and stay' weekend, which meant we would stay in one of the cabins, and cook three delicious meals in the wonderful kitchen, with the owners, Karen and Tim.
We took the day off Friday and drove up in pouring rain, stopping for a delightful Cuban sandwich in Windsor at Rumba Cuban Kitchen. By the time we got to the farm at 3, the skies had cleared, and after getting settled, we immediately went for a walk through the orchard. We were sure glad we took the opportunity, because it started raining again that evening and didn't stop the entire weekend.
What an incredible farm. Tim grows over 80 different varieties of apples, along with other fruit trees. Karen keeps a large kitchen garden with plenty of veg and herbs, and there are flowers all over the property. At the moment, they have sheep and goats, ducks and chickens, and several farm dogs.
The acreage is bordered by a small, unnamed creek on one side ("some people call it Bitter Creek," Karen told us) and the extremely swollen-at-the-moment Navarro River, which runs all the way down to the Pacific Ocean.
We very much enjoyed our walk around the property, throwing sticks for the dogs and checking out the flowers growing everywhere.
That night, we had a truly memorable dinner at The Boonville Hotel, which is owned by Karen's brother. After that meal, it was up to us to cook and create Karen's menu for the weekend.
We had a terrific time learning from Karen and her helpers in the kitchen, as well as from the other couples (there were two) that were cooking with us. Karen's family owned, among other restaurants, the French Laundry before Thomas Keller, so she was an excellent teacher and we learned so much from her. I was glad that Tom and I had some pretty extensive cooking experience going in, but it was clear that you didn't need that to succeed over the weekend. Beginners are also quite welcome.
We used many ingredients from the farm itself, as well as local meats and dairy. It was very much a farm-to-table experience as well as a great lesson in locavore eating. We went hoping to learn how to use or preserve some of the excess in our own garden, and perhaps pick up some fancy (and practical!) techniques that would help us in our cooking going forward. We learned all of these things.
There was also plenty of time to get to know the other couples and the owners of the farm. Tim was supposed to take us on an 'official' farm tour, but since it was raining so hard, we just sat and talked about the farm and his operation. It was fascinating.
I don't have to tell you, the meals were excellent. I mean, mind-blowingly good. Karen showed us how to make the most out of our garden herbs to extract fabulous flavor. We used the farm's homemade vinegar and juice constantly. Tim served local Navarro wines with every meal, as well as the farm's own hard cider.
We also had plenty of TV-and-computer-free time in our bright and cheerful room, snuggled under duvets, reading books, with the fireplace on, listening to the rain on the roof.
We loved our weekend, cooking, eating, exploring the beautiful farm. I hope we get to come back someday.
Driving home, we wondered how things had fared flood-wise at our little homestead. Sure enough, we came back to extensive standing water in the back yard, and some water in the garage. The experts say the drought isn't over, but I'm guessing we've had a good dent in it, anyway. I made a mistake leaving the tomato and pepper seedlings outside while we were gone, as the forecast was for a little rain and a little sun. They look pretty droopy, but I'm hoping a few days in the sun will perk them up. (We're supposed to have five clear days before the next storm.) I took a short, wet tour of our garden just to make sure everything was ok, and I was given a gift, near the kale.
This is a 'bird's nest fungus,' which I have always hoped to see in our garden, but never have. These are all over right now. Aren't they fabulous and strange?
There's broccoli to pick, as well as shelling peas, carrots and beets, and of course the ever-present greens. I have a heeled-in Asian pear waiting for planting along with 10 lavender plants, two rhubarb crowns, and two lemon verbena plants. Oh yeah, and don't forget 50 plugs of herbs! And before that gets done, three cubic yards of dirt needs to be wheelbarrowed over to the new beds. It's a good thing the weather is supposed to clear up.
It was a wonderful weekend. Here's to vacation!!! And thanks so much to The Apple Farm for a really incredible experience.