Bounty dinners at Bluebird Canyon Farms: A unique dining experience at a magical place you won’t want to leave

Story and photos by LYNETTE BRASFIELD

So when I was about ten years old, I read a book called The Faraway Tree by author Enid Blyton. Every week, a new land would arrive at the top of the Tree, and three lucky children would climb up the trunk and enter a new dimension. 

Some of the lands were magical and some of the lands were terrifying – but in every case, the children had to leave before the land moved on, or they’d be stuck within that world forever. 

For different reasons, some lands were harder for the kids to leave than others. 

This was the experience that awaited me at Bluebird Canyon Farms. 

My Uber climbed the short but steep driveway off Bluebird Canyon Drive. I emerged from the car and looked around, breathed in the scents, heard the soughing of leaves in the breeze. 

And I knew immediately that I had arrived at a truly magical place, a serene and wildly lovely oasis floating a mere ten minutes above Laguna’s downtown. 

Click on photo for a larger image

The tables are set with beautiful flowers

After a tour led by Farmer Leo, aka Ryan Goldsmith, it seemed to me that the bees danced more giddily here than most bees, the chickens were happier and cluckier here than most chickens, and the vegetables more saturated in color here than most vegetables.

Soon I was to enjoy a dinner that would taste more delicious than most dinners I’ve enjoyed in my long eating life. 

During the spring, summer and fall, the farm hosts twice-monthly Bounty Dinners of five to six courses, each of which is true to the season and exquisitely prepared.

Ninety percent of the vegetables served are grown on the farm. Farm to table is a literally true here – the distance between the two minimal.

Farmer Leo and Chef Jen Alvarez espouse a philosophy about food that echoes the Native American belief that every part of an animal that has given its life to provide sustenance for others, should be used as completely as possible.

Chef Jen recalls, “Recently we served slow roasted duck, freshly brought in from [a place in] Lake Elsinore. We rendered the fat to cook dumplings; we made stock from the heart, liver and bones and served consommé; we even created crackling that we sprinkled on the salad.” 

(Maybe there’s also a new down pillow or two on the farm? I forgot to ask.) 

Click on photo for a larger image

Welcoming cocktails in a genial atmosphere

Dinnertime. We sit at beautifully decorated tables under a string of lights. A guitarist plays in the background. Stars sprinkle the night sky. Candles glow.

After a pink cocktail incorporating grape jelly, mint soda and vodka, which started a gentle buzz that I happily maintained throughout the evening by imbibing wine brought by guests and willingly shared by all, we were served our first course.

Lusciously plated, the corn squash tortellini was accompanied by creamy sage butter, a perfect accompaniment to the rich texture of the squash and satiny pasta.

Conversations began among strangers, commonalities found. “You too?” “Oh, I agree.” “No, really, how funny.” 

A dreamily good arugula and pea shoot salad with pomegranates, persimmons, spiced walnuts, Nicolau Farm goat cheese, and honey then arrived. The dish made my mouth strike up a band, the peppery arugula a great contrast to the sweeter ingredients, harmony on a plate. 

Click on photo for a larger image

Lynette’s iPhone cannot possibly convey the fabulous look and taste of each dish: hence the salad will be the only food photo you will see in this article

The arugula reminded me of the aquaponics system we’d seen earlier, and the chicory, among other vegetables, it was nurturing. Chicory, the farm believes, may be the next trend after kale.

Aquaponics was a new term for me: it combines aquaculture (raising fish) and hydroponics (the soil-less growing of plants) into one one integrated system.

Back to the dinner: the soup was rich and tasty and earthily good, incorporating free-range chicken broth and farm greens with new onions and crème fraiche. 

The chatter grew louder, with more introductions made across and around the table, without any of the acoustic issues that happen in the best of restaurants.

“Each dish is so good, I feel that we should be standing up and applauding after every course,” said the diner across the table from me, Don Meek, formerly a top executive with the Tribune media company, dining with his wife Summer Meek.

Click on photo for a larger image

Summer and Don Meek, fellow diners, were great conversationalists

Founders of The Soul Project in downtown Laguna, the Meeks explained the goal of their company, which started as a way to build a sustainable company that could support their family while also making an immediate and positive contribution to the world around them.

Well, they made an immediate and positive contribution to my enjoyment. Several anecdotes about cousin Sli Dawg and his tendency to steal spoons were hilarious. I guess you had to be there, though…(so go!)

And then I was served my very first rabbit. (I have eaten a Patagonian hare, I have to confess, or at least part of one.)

After walking the trails that very morning, and seeing bobtail bunnies happily be-bopping in the brush, I was a little more conscious than I normally am about being a meat-eater, especially with a vegetarian sitting to my left. (She was served an amazing squash dish instead, and was reassured that none of it had touched the rabbit or vice versa. She said her dish was “amazing.”)

Click on photo for a larger image

Chef Jen loves her kitchen – I get a preview of the magic to follow, though I did not personally see the rabbit

The Da-le-Ranch rabbit was good, very good indeed, the flavors of the dish encouraging each other to be their very best selves. The meat was braised with wine, mushrooms and thyme, served with baby turnips and dandelion greens. 

“Is it wrong to lick the plate?” someone asked, rather longingly.

By now, conversations had grown funnier and funnier – time, wine and good food tend to have that effect – and I was enjoying myself immensely. The evening felt like a Thanksgiving dinner but with new stories instead of the usual oft-told anecdotes (which of course have their own charm).

The evening was topped off with a Kabocha squash cake with cocoa nib cream, cinnamon meringue and chocolate ganache sauce. 

Guest Kim Narel said, “This was like a lava cake marrying a carrot cake (with chocolate too). Not too sweet, and the ingredients mixed together so well,” she said. “Yet they could still be individually tasted and savored.”

A hot toddy ended the evening and warmed the stomach as well as the soul. 

To stay or to go?

Then I had to leave. Given the choice, I might well have wanted to stay in that happy land forever, but that would not have gone down well with my husband Bill and family (or with Shaena, most likely). And the truth is, I was happy to be transported to home by Uber, with no climbing down a Faraway Tree required.

Because that’s the great thing about Bluebird Canyon Farms. The Farm is not moving on. It’s here to stay. I can go back, and I will.

Bluebird Canyon Farm’s next Bounty Dinner will be on October 26, the final dinner before a winter break. Dinners will resume in spring. Visit www.bluebirdcanyonfarms.com for more information. They’re also available for private functions.

Be warned, Bluebird Canyon Farm is not an easy place to find…do not take that first steep driveway on your right, take the second steep driveway to find this magic land.

Kya

Shaena Stabler is the Owner and Publisher.

Lynette Brasfield is our Editor.

Dianne Russell is our Associate Editor.

The Webmaster is Michael Sterling.

Katie Ford is our in-house ad designer.

Alexis Amaradio, Cameron Gillepsie, Allison Rael, Barbara Diamond, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle, Maggi Henrikson, Marrie Stone, Samantha Washer and Suzie Harrison are staff writers.

Barbara Diamond, Dennis McTighe, Diane Armitage, Laura Buckle and Suzie Harrison are columnists.

Mary Hurlbut, Scott Brashier, and Aga Stuchlik are the staff photographers.

We all love Laguna and we love what we do.

Email: Shaena@StuNewsLaguna.com for questions about advertising

949.315.0259

Email: Lynette@StuNewsLaguna.com with news releases, letters, etc

949.715.1736