Have you ever been to a place that overtakes your heart so completely, you don’t know how you are going to leave and before you leave you start to plan your return?
For me, that place is Napa.
We were lucky enough to stay a week there, about a year ago. We hadn’t had a chance to return until recently. Unfortunately, for both of us, it was too short of a trip. (The dog always joins us and I think it was too short for her, as well).
For this trip, we stayed at a nice hotel in Yountville, called Bardessono. It was a really great place and I recommend you stay there. If you do, have Vince or Brady make you a drink. The pleasure of this hotel is it sits in the heart of this small village best known for its restaurants: Bottega, Bouchon, Bistro Jeanty and, of course, The French Laundry.
Staying in Yountville was wonderful. It has a walking path that guides you along the edge of town, toggling you between the backyards of the residents and the fields of grapevines. We woke up every morning for our jaunt through town, dog in tow, meandering up and down city streets. It was the perfect way to start our day.
I would say, in some regards, there is a downside to this: we became familiar with the town. We got a sense of what it would be like to live there; to walk every night to the most amazing restaurants, to wake in the morning and stroll for a perfect cup of coffee, to take long bike rides on roads that allowed you to watch the progress of the grapes, waving “hello” to the neighbors, at every turn. It made this trip much harder to leave.
I have to share with you my favorite place, though. And in some ways the most transformative.
The French Laundry has a garden. A huge, massive garden.
We found it along one of our walks. Within a few minutes, I was lost inside. Not lost physically. Mentally.
I made it a game to see if I could identify each plant before I looked at its identifying sign. I knelt down, I sat on the earth, I stood with my eyes closed and listened to the sounds of the garden. Now, it is hard to hear the sounds of a garden when you are listening to the sound of a chicken. But, I tried. I still don’t have the answer… maybe one of you can help me… but I watched a sous chef come out at around sunset and pick some herbs and other little things. Do they pick the food to order???? Or only when something has been used in the kitchen from the mornings clippings? I would love to know.
I hope I can brief about the true lesson of the garden. Bees. It’s all about bees. Typically, I avoid bees. Like many, I do not choose to be stung. In this garden, you cannot avoid bees. So, I sat with them. I let them do their thing, because in this space, I got it… I mean I really got it. Their thing is really fricking important.
So important, that I started thinking: Is it actually the more ethical choice for a vegan to support bee farmers and honey?
This is my thought process. I live a meat free diet because of the environment, my health, the economics of it (mine and globally) and the animals. I eat organically grown vegetables because I believe that is the best choice for all of the above considerations. I do not believe in the positive rhetoric behind the marketing of genetically modified foods. I don’t support them and do not actively participate in putting it into my body.
The food I eat can only be created in one manner: pollinators. We need bees and other insects to make sure we have fruits and vegetables to eat. Commercial bee keepers… ok, they’re bad. I’ve read enough to know that they are only in it for the money and view the bees as a commodity. There is strong enough data to suggest that they are the reason behind Colony Collapse Disorder.
We need to support the people advocating for bees. Those that are helping the little guys do their little dance to tell others how and where to go for the good flowers. I have come to believe that this is the job description of the artisan bee keepers. We need to support them to make sure that there are bees that are well taken care of, that they have a voice to stop the commercial bee keepers and their harm to what I believe is, quite literally, the one thing that is keeping us from a huge GMO takeover and the end of good, wholesome, nutrient rich food. I have to be logical and reasonable about where I want my food to come from.
Maybe I am wrong. But for everything that I stand behind that makes me eat a meat free diet, I think the ethical choice is to support small, local, family owned artisan bee-keepers. The way to do that, of course, is financially. Which logically concludes to the purchase of their honey.
These are my thoughts. I know some people may be angry and I hope we can have a discussion about where my argument may be wrong or help others understand why it is right. I don’t know. Just thoughts that came from the French Laundry garden.
On a different note, the chef at Bardessono made an AMAZING Strawberry Consumme with Basil Sorbet. We even got a tour of the kitchen, which was truly a highlight of the whole visit. Now, I do not know how to sous vide a big bag of fresh picked strawberries to make a delicious dessert soup. But, I did figure I knew how to take the flavors and create another summer dessert favorite. I hope you get a chance to enjoy this on a warm night while the berries are still fresh.
Basil Strawberry Shortcake <– click here for printable pdf recipe card