We are three sisters united in our search for the divine - in food, libation, literature, art, and nature. This blog will capture the true, sometimes decadent, at times humorous, and every so often transcendent adventures of the Salvation Sisters.

Sunday, February 2, 2014

Lynmar Estate Gardens and Mark's Classic Potato Gratin with Black Truffle

My Traveling Tales by Linda

The clouds of gray engulf the day
And overwhelm the town;
It's not raining rain to me,
It's raining roses down.

It's not raining rain to me,
But fields of clover bloom;
Where any buccaneering bee
Can find a bed and room.

~from April Rain by Robert Loveman 
(a poem that I memorized in elementary school)

Some "buccaneering bees" working the poppy patch at Lynmar Estate in the late spring.

The Lynmar Estate tasting facility stands in contrast against a gray and cloudy May sky. 

Michelle and my niece Maddie pose for a photo in the gardens at Lynmar Estate in late May.
A slight break in the clouds allows for some light to fall on the vineyard in
late May illuminating the vines for just a moment.
   There is a gem hidden deep in Sonoma County, and in all honesty, I am hesitant to reveal the location of this treasure for all seasons, because I fear that even more people will discover it. If that happens, it will no longer serve as my semi-private haven. Upon reflection, the prices of the luxurious and very delicious Pinots and Chardonnays that are sold here might be a possible deterrent. The wines are amazingly well-crafted, and are not inexpensive.
   Since wine tasting isn't really an activity that is conducive to having small children tagging along, one would think that folks would visit without babes in tow, but that was not the case on our last visit this past November. To my utter dismay, Mark and I watched beleaguered parents just wanting to have some fun, leave their three very active children unattended in the garden. The kids immediately began senselessly ripping into some of the kale and cabbages in the raised beds. I had a really hard time keeping my mouth shut, but I was hesitant to shatter the beautiful afternoon all, just for the sake of a purple cabbage or two. After regularly visiting this gardener's and wine lover's paradise during the year, I felt as if those little hands were plucking apart a place that I have come to feel very proprietary toward.
   The treasure of which I am speaking is Lynmar Estate, which is tucked away on beautiful acreage near the outskirts of Sebastopol in the Russian River Valley. This acreage backs up to the 30,000 acre Laguna de Santa Rosa.

A sunny afternoon in late November.
   I was first introduced to Lynmar Estate by Mark, who took me wine tasting on a bright January day a couple of years ago. We had stopped at two other locations to do some wine tasting earlier in the day, with Lynmar being the grand finale location that he had saved as a surprise for last. We were greeted by Peter in the tasting room. The tasting room is designed to open out to a beautiful courtyard with majestic views. In the winter months one can see the blazing yellow mustard blooming in the distance out near the Laguna. I was immediately smitten with the place, and then when I tasted the Pinots I swooned. As Peter poured for us, Peter and I discovered that we both had ties to the Santa Ynez Valley, and we immediately struck up a conversation. Now when we visit, we also look forward to catching up with Peter, who always greets us enthusiastically with his gorgeous baritone. Peter is a vocal coach who teaches students of all ages, and he sings in performances all over the world.

Paths wind around large and beautiful edible garden beds that are always abundant with
seasonal veggies, herbs and flowers.
Chinese poppies dance in the spring breeze.

This Santa Rosa plum tree is loaded with fruit almost ready for harvest in summer.
Sweet peas thrive in the cool spring weather.

The raised beds in front of the tasting room abound with seasonal veggies and flowers.
Mark sips the truly delicious Lynmar Pinot Noir in the garden.
   Being an avid gardner, though, it was the extensive, diverse and manicured gardens that sent me into a sensory ecstasy. Where else can one wander with a world-class glass of Pinot Noir in hand, and see countless varieties of herbs, flowers, grasses, shrubs and trees? All of this flora attracts fauna. Lynmar has created an amazing pollinator habitat that I consider to be an important treasure for all of Sonoma County. Protecting our pollinators, particularly bees, is so important and timely. Bees are in grave peril in the world, and are vital to our future survival.

In winter, when the trees are bare, the vista opens up to the 
Laguna de Santa Rosa, where the mustard is beginning to bloom.
This visiting couple is enjoying some winter sunshine.
   There are vegetable, flower and herb beds in front of the tasting room that are always growing something seasonal. Right now, in the late fall and winter months, the beds are abundant with chard, kale, cabbages, calendula, onions and garlic. In the summer, borage, yarrow and heirloom tomatoes abound, with violas, mints and salvias of all kinds. The variety and beauty of plants to be found any time of year at Lynmar never fails to amaze me. Kate Frey is the designer of the gardens at Lynmar. From her website:

"The goal of the gardens were to integrate edibles that expressed the flavors generated from the soils and climate of the estate, as well as highlight the owners, Lyn and Anisya Fritzs, concern with the environment. They wanted a landscape that expressed their enthusiasm and love for the site and the artistry of the wines. The main focus of the gardens are the edible gardens around the tasting room. There are also extensive habitat gardens edging the vineyards- to attract beneficial insects to attack insect pests, but also support the many native organisms that live in or move through the estate which is next to the Laguna De Santa Rosa. Interspersed around the landscape are vegetable production gardens to supply food for the kitchen. All plantings are organically managed. Eytan Nevah is the garden supervisor who sees to the day to day management of the gardens."

This is the view toward the Laguna de Santa Rosa in May.

   So I will end this piece, and allow my photos do the talking. Each visit to Lynmar Estate feels like a mini-vacation to me. My soul feels renewed by the beauty of this place that I have come to love. After I have sipped amazing wine, wandered throughout the garden to my heart's satisfaction, and taken a least a hundred photos, my burdens feel less heavy somehow. I have the awareness that I have been touched by a piece of wise and precious Earth magic that is expressed in a riot of color, forms and fragrance. I encourage you to pay a visit to Lynmar Estate when in the area, and when you do—please be nice to the kale and cabbages.

Delicate yet majestic purple statice.
A blackbird about to launch into flight among the grape vines.
There is a chicken coop with a collection of exotic specimens and one very noisy rooster.

Just after the berries have set on the grape vines.
The fruit is reaching maturity in mid-summer.
Mark and I love this old truck that often has the bed loaded with straw for the garden.

This photo never fails to make me laugh… Maddie photo bombs me!

Mark's Classic Potato Gratin with Black Truffle
(Black Truffle is Optional)

   This is a classic potato dish that Mark likes to make as an alternative to Michelle's Cheesy Scalloped Potatoes. Since potatoes are one of my favorite foods, and in my humble opinion, one of God's greatest gifts to humankind (are my Irish roots showing?), I am always figuring out new ways to prepare them, like our Oven Duck Fat Fries. In addition, there is our essential and "can't imagine life without" Michelle's Mashed Potatoes. This Potato Gratin is a dish that Mark picked up from his friend and mentor, chef Rick Boufford.
   This past December, I was able to purchase some black truffles from Europe. Mark and I had lots of fun using the truffles in risotto and other assorted dishes, and this potato gratin was one of them. It is a delicious side, whether you use the black truffle or not.

If using a truffle, carefully peel the black outer bark from the exterior. 
Then shave with a very sharp knife or a truffle shaving tool.
4 Tablespoons butter
1 teaspoon olive oil
2 pounds russet potatoes, washed and peeled
4 small leeks or two larger leeks, washed and chopped
2 garlic cloves
4-5 sprigs of fresh thyme leaves
3/4 cup each of grated sharp Cheddar and Gruyère
1/2 cup grated Parmigiano-Reggiano
2 cups heavy cream
Salt and pepper

1 Black truffle (optional)

1. Pre-heat oven to 350 degrees.

2. In a 9x13 inch baking dish, use one tablespoon of butter to rub the sides and bottom of the dish. Take one clove of garlic sliced in half to rub over all sides of the dish on top of the butter. Then mince all of the garlic. In a large sauté pan, heat the remaining three tablespoons of the butter and one teaspoon of olive oil over medium heat.  Add leeks and minced garlic and sweat gently until softened, being sure not to brown them. Set aside to cool.

3. Using a mandoline slicer, slice potatoes thinly (about 1/8 of and inch thick).  Pour 1 1/2 cups of cream over the potatoes to keep from discoloring.  

Mandolines can be dangerous if used without the safety guard in place.
Prep your cheeses and herbs. Season the potatoes in cream with 
Celtic sea salt and freshly cracked ground black pepper.
If using black truffle, peel and then shave into thin slices. You may
not need to use the entire truffle depending on the size.

4. Assemble the gratin starting with a layer of single potato slice, slightly overlapping.

5. Then lightly, but evenly spread 1/4 of the sautéed leeks over the potatoes, followed by some of the cheddar and some of the grated gruyere. Sprinkle some of the thyme leaves and salt and pepper and truffle slices if using.

6. Repeat until the pan is filled or potatoes are used.  From the bowl containing the soaking potatoes, pour in the remaining cream. Press gratin in the baking dish gently to distribute the cream in all layers. 

Mark grates fresh Parmigiano-Reggiano over the top of the finished casserole.
Ready for the oven.
7. Add remaining 1/2 cup cream and press again. Top with the grated Parmigiano-Reggiano and bake in oven, uncovered for about one hour. If desired shield the top casserole with another cookie sheet placed on a rack above the casserole. See that technique demonstrated in a photo by clicking here. Remove shield for the last 20 minutes of baking time.

8. The gratin is finished when the potatoes are cooked through and set, and all is bubbly and golden brown deliciousness.

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