Tuesday, October 2, 2007

Dandelions and Radicchio

This is our second year at County Line Harvest. Last year we dined at a site just down the road; this year because of the low rainfall we moved to the County Line Harvest field at Red Hill Ranch.

After the two and a half hour drive north to Sonoma County, we arrived with jeep and trailer in tow to find Veronica already set up in the field folding napkins. Jim promptly began his ritual walk through the rows in the field to find the most aesthetically pleasing spot for the table: naturally this would be the one furthest away from where our equipment. Luckily County Line Harvest owner/farmer David Retsky had just returned from market and was there to help us out by loading up his quad cycle and trailer to haul out the tables, glassware, chairs, utensils and plates and then finally the massive stove and grill.

It was great to have our familiar California staff: Johnny, Emily and Aubrey. Also a couple of new staff who found Outstanding in the Field from reading the GQ Magazine and Common Ground articles, were joining us in the field. Chef Duskie Estes and her Zazu crew soon arrived and efficiently began setting up the kitchen and welcome area. Set up ran smoothly and quickly.

As guests arrived, they were welcomed with a beautiful arrangement featuring Soyoung’s 5 favorite cheeses from Andante Dairy, County Line’s radishes with lavendar salt and sweet butter and a Brut Rose from Iron Horse Vineyards. Everyone mingled by the old red dairy barn with Soyoung, accompanied by her husband Jamie, happily answering questions about her nearby Petaluma-based cheesemaking operation.

Eventually the guests, guided by David, made the journey over to the table, tucked far into the deep green dandelion rows. Occasionally, in the excitement of the moment, the farm tour breaks off and rushes the table; David was left behind chatting with a few, more attentive guests.

Andy Peay, of Peay Vineyards, had contacted Outstanding in the Field a few years ago interested in working with us. This year Duskie Estes, when discussing winemaker options for the dinner, mentioned Andy Peay and the match was made.
After the Peay Vineyards Chardonnay was poured at the table, Duskie’s first course of soup and salad went out to the table. It featured onions and lettuce from County Line as well as bread from Della Fattoria and Soyoung’s tome cheese. Here is a complete version of the menu.

Also joining the us at the table that evening were the folks from McEvoy Ranch Olive Oil along with Andy Peay and winemaker Vanessa Wong from Peay Vineyards; throughout the meal they wandered along the table chatting with the guests.

With sunset, the diners enjoyed the family platters of roasted roots and CK Lamb salumi with shelling bean gratin. Once the entrees were finished and we had begun to clear the table, the candles were set out on the table illuminating contented guests. Darkness had arrived and the temperature had dropped drastically as the wind picked up. Jim went around offering guests colorful Mexican blankets that we had picked up at a truck stop in Oklahoma on our way back across the country. It was the first dinner we had ever offered blankets to those at the table and they were very well received! Our 20 blankets couldn’t quite stretch over the shoulders of 140 guests, but most of the guests had dressed warmly for the occasion.

By the time dessert was served - a phenomenal goat cheesecake with bruleed figs - many of the guests were more than ready to escape the elements: the novelty of dining in the field had been blown away with the wind. There was a quick rush to collect plates and then follow the trail of lanterns back out of the field towards the cars. A few people enjoyed the thrill of it all and huddled around the glowing grill to warm their hands and linger, expressing their gratitude to Duskie and her kitchen. Once all of the guests had filtered off and the kitchen had packed and left, our crew was left in the silence of the middle of the field under the stars. We warmed ourselves by the fire for a while until the wind died down. With the wind chill gone, clean up was slightly less daunting: we handed out the headlamps and began collecting wine glasses from the long vacant table.

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