Sunday, November 8, 2009

My family is eating well

My 2-year-old twins are far from identical, and over the last few weeks I've learned that even their palates are incredibly different. Turns out that one of them loves chanterelles, cayenne pepper and goat brie. The other one's eyes water at their mention. But if it only takes ten tries to learn to like something, we are well on our way to adding things like truffle oil, celeriac and jalapenos to our family meal repertoire. I may rue the day...

In the meantime, I'm loving all the recipe testing. And for the most part, so is the rest of my family. My husband can spot a "test" from across the room. If the plate is beautiful he asks where it comes from. I'm too excited and proud to be insulted.

I am so grateful to all the chefs who've contributed recipes so far, and I know that the farmers I'm writing about will be truly honored. This weekend I made a cake from Macrina using beautiful Clara Frijs pears from Booth Canyon Orchard. I think it's a marriage made in heaven. The pears were so sweet even though they were still crunchy, so they held their shape beautifully while the cake baked, but turned practically to custard. I took a big hunk to the market on Saturday, and was glad to be able to give it to John at Booth Canyon in the middle of a torrential downpour.

In addition to the recipe from Leslie Mackie at Macrina, I've been following recipes from Bobby Moore at Barking Frog, Chester Gerl at Matt's in the Market, Maria Hines at Tilth, Jeffrey Wilson at Table 219, John Howie at Seastar, Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt at Volunteer Park Cafe, Angie Roberts at BOKA Kitchen & Bar, Brittany Bardeleben at Betty, Lisa Dupar at Lisa Dupar Catering and Pomegranate, Charlie Durham (formerly at Cassis and Sand Point Grill), Walter Pisano at Tulio, Sabrina Tinsley at La Spiga, and Danielle Custer at TASTE at SAM.

A couple of weeks ago my 5-year-old was at a birthday party. On offer for lunch was an assortment of meats and cheeses and other sandwich fixin's. He wanted to know if there was any Idiazabal. Warms the cockles of my heart. (And thanks to Chester Gerl for introducing us to it!)

Monday, October 5, 2009

Checking Out The Scenery


I have so much to post about, I hardly know where to begin. So for tonight (late as it is), I'll take the easy road (as opposed to the high road, which my 5 year old likes to remind everyone is the best place to be) and tell you about a road trip that my husband and I took last week. My parents were visiting from the East coast, and offered to babysit for a night. We took about 30 seconds to take them up on their offer.

We decided to try to take Highway 20 before it closes for the winter, so I contacted Bluebird Grain and Booth Canyon Orchard and made arrangements to meet them, visit their farms, and interview them. Brooke Lucy at Bluebird made a few recommendations for places to stay, and we booked ourselves a room at the Chewuch Inn in Winthrop, WA.

We took our time leaving in the morning, which we really regretted later because although I stopped 50 times to take photos along the way, I would have liked to stop 100 times. Heading north on I-5 out of Seattle the scenery turns rural pretty quickly. The land on either side of the road is very flat, and it seemed very pretty on the way up (it's hard to report on it after the fact, what with the hours and hours of magnificent scenery which followed). A little over an hour after leaving home, the roadside becomes rainforest. We stopped for lunch at the Buffalo Run in Marblemount, where clumps of ferns nestle under trees covered and dripping with moss. A big bowl of buffalo chili and cornbread hit the spot, and we were back on the road in no time.

Soon after, the scenery turns alpine. The road climbs, and twists and turns, almost all the trees are enormous evergreens, and the Cascade Mountains rise up as a backdrop, already spotted with snow. The temperature dropped 25 degrees in less than 15 minutes, and it rose just as quickly when the road started down again.

And then, the Methow Valley. The mountains cradle lush flat lands where cattle graze and grasses grow, and as we got closer to Winthrop the greens were replaced by golds, and the land begins to undulate.

Winthrop is just about the cutest town I've ever seen. It looks like it was built as a set for an old Western. There's a bookstore, a candy store, bakery, a couple of pubs, some gift stores and outdoor outfitters, and they are all perfectly old-fashioned on the outside. Even the gas station has old pumps. Our room at the Chewuch Inn was beautiful - luxurious, spotless, and quiet. We had Mexican food for dinner at the Duck Brand and slept like the dead.

I had fantastic conversations with both Brooke Lucy from Bluebird and Stina Booth from Booth Canyon, and will write separate posts about each of these amazing women when I can do them justice. For now, I just wanted to say, "Take Highway 20 East!" and don't forget your camera. Or to stop at Cascadian Farms on your way back for a milkshake (thanks to Stina for that bit of very worthwhile advice!).

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

Yum

Drove out to Woodinville today and it felt a little like I'd gone on vacation. The weather report was calling for a high of 72, but by the time I left there this afternoon is was 78 and rising. Gloriously sunny, light breeze blowing, and I felt so lucky to live here as I drove past Chateau St. Michelle and Columbia Winery, and then Red Hook Brewery, on my way to The Herbfarm and Barking Frog.

I chatted with Ron Zimmerman of The Herbfarm about their 100-mile dinner because I'm planning on a sidebar in the book about it. EVERYTHING they use in that dinner comes from within 100 miles. We're talking the SALT, the oil, even the tea. No coffee grows around here so they even came up with a brew of roasted dandelion, roasted chicory, and madrona bark that really tasted (and looked) like coffee. I was curious as to what inspired the dinner, since most of what The Herbfarm prepares comes from not too far beyond that border. "The challenge!" Ron replied.

Then I met with Bobby Moore at Barking Frog. I wished I didn't have to head back to the city to take my kids to swimming lessons ;-) because a glass of wine on their grapevine-shaded patio, where the sound of a trickling fountain masks every sound but the birds sure would have hit the spot. Bobby is obviously so happy doing what he's doing, where he's doing it, his enthusiasm is contagious.

And I get to call this "work".

Tuesday, September 1, 2009

First Annual Skagit Valley Ranch BBQ


On what very well may have been the last absolutely perfect day of the summer, my husband, 5-year-old son and I headed north to the Skagit Valley Ranch for their First Annual BBQ. Less than 1 1/2 hours north of Seattle, the ranch is on 850 acres on the beautiful Skagit River. I must confess that I had no idea the river itself was so pretty. The water is a pale gray-blue, and it makes a quick turn past the ranch. They have a big sandy beach where all the visiting dogs were having a fabulous time swimming and chasing sticks. My son absolutely could not resist getting his feet wet, even though he was wearing socks and sneakers. The path to the river is very dusty, and it winds its way between walls of blackberry bushes, heavy with fruit. So by the time you inch your way down and back, you're pretty dirty. The definition of heaven for a 5-year-old boy.

We met "cow puppy" and watched Farmer George and a young helper (another bbq attendee) feed her a bottle. She shares a pen with some beautiful goats named "Goaty" (all of them) and a sheep named "Sheepy". There were also a few horses, and hundreds of chickens and turkeys. The cattle were off grazing but we were too busy checking out the family garden, the fruit trees, and the baby chicks to really miss them.

The farmers, George and Eiko, went to a lot of trouble to make the bbq a real occasion and it was so much fun. They had burgers and sausages for lunch, live music, a burger cook-off between James Beard award-winning chef Maria Hines, cookbook author and culinary instructor Greg Atkinson, and TASTE chef Craig Hetherington, a neighbor brought over a bunch of chickens to play Chicken Poop Bingo (our new favorite game), and they had a big box of hay with plastic animals hidden in it that was a huge hit with the little guys.

There were two highlights for me. One was a sustainability panel with Farmer George and the visiting chefs. They took questions from the audience, and it was clear that this bbq was really a meeting of the local, sustainable, organic food fan club. The panel was joined by a number of other "food dignitaries" and Seattle Times food critic Nancy Leson said something that really resonated with me. It could go without saying, but sometimes I forget that it should really be said - if you believe in eating local, it doesn't mean that you can't eat anything that isn't. And when you don't buy local it doesn't mean that you've failed. You do what you can do - you vote with your dollars. If you believe in buying local, do it when you can. That's me paraphrasing Nancy. I taped the panel (I think), and when I get a chance to listen to it, I'll post her words.

The other highlight was that the farm was on display as is. I've been shopping at the farmers market for more than ten years now, and have been bringing my kids their whole lives. I'm glad they get to see carrots with the tops on and that they get to meet real farmers. But the farmers market is still a far way from the farm. George and Eiko had made signs around the farm and one, posted over a small open shack of a building filled with the cutest, fluffiest bundles of baby chicks running around under heat lamps said "Broiler chickens. Two weeks old." They were really, really cute, but that sign made their destiny pretty clear.

At home I have a pair of shoes I refer to as my "poop shoes". I wear them when I pick up after our dog. They don't often come up in conversation. But over the course of our day on the farm our feet got really dirty. We should have worn galoshes (if I had been thinking straight). We stepped in puddles, and dust, and the river, and horse poop, and chicken poop, and more dust, and finally Harry asked me how long Farmer George has been farming. "15 years" I told him. "He must have at least TWO pairs of poop shoes", Harry yelled with glee. Indeed.

Thursday, August 27, 2009

Spuds

Meat and potato guy Brent Olsen of Olsen Farms was kind enough to be my inaugural interview. He is so charming it's hard to picture him living in a ghost town, but he does. (It's called Aladdin, and it's nestled in a valley not far from the Canadian border and Idaho. And it really is a ghost town.) He's been growing potatoes for about 15 years, and in recent years has branched out into meat - he grazes cattle and sheep on his pasture land. His work is never done (and that's not even remotely a cliche in his case). If he isn't planting, caring for, or digging more than 20 varieties of potatoes, he's feeding cattle, caring for the row crops he grows for the market in Spokane, loading trucks, driving to Spokane or Seattle, selling at markets, or delivering to restaurants.

But watching Brent at the market, you'd think he had nothing better to do. He knows so many of his customers, and they all know him. He remembers what they've bought before and asks after their families, all with a great big smile, teeth and eyes sparkling from behind his enormous beard. He looks like a grunge rock star in overalls.

Brent was a particularly great first interview because he is an incredibly generous guy who, when asked what benefits of buying directly from small farms at the market he'd most like consumers to know about, he explained, without hesitation, that the money he earns in Seattle and Spokane goes right back with him to Stevens County, one of the poorest in the state. There he employs locals on his farm and spends money on food and supplies. In fact, he tries to do as much of his purchasing at home as he can.

There are so many reasons to buy local that sometimes it seems like no two people do it for the same reason. As consumers, the easy reasons are that we can get super-fresh product, and when we get it direct it feels like it comes with a personal guarantee. When there are unselfish benefits bundled in there, too, it feels even more like a win-win situation.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Chefs!

So I thought I'd whet your appetite tonight with a quick run-down of some of the chefs who have agreed to contribute recipes so far. I can't wait to use this cookbook, never mind write it! Take gorgeous product, as fresh as you can get it, from practically around the corner, and let true artists show you what to do with it. Hungry yet? Here goes:
John Sundstrom of Lark
Maria Hines of Tilth
Brittany Bardeleben of Betty
Charlie Durham
John Howie of Seastar
Tom Douglas of Dahlia Lounge, Palace Kitchen, Lola, Etta's
Ethan Stowell of Union, Tavolata, How to Cook a Wolf, Anchovies & Olives
Lisa Dupar of Lisa Dupar Catering, Pomegranate Bistro
Ron Zimmerman of The Herbfarm
Leslie Mackie of Macrina
Walter Pisano of Tulio
Brian Cartenuto of Cantinetta
Angie Roberts of BOKA

More coming soon!

Monday, August 24, 2009

Drool-worthy photographs

I may be speechless, but fortunately the talented Clare Barboza is not. And since it is said that a picture is worth a thousand words, I want to share Clare's blog with you. She is working on a couple of other cookbooks for Sasquatch Books in addition to mine, and has posted some truly stunning photos of fruit. Here is a link to her blog: http://claremariephotography.blogspot.com/. She'll be posting photos as she goes, and I hope you'll check them out from time to time. I will!

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Baby Steps

Things are moving along so nicely and I am overwhelmed by the generosity and kindness of everyone I've approached about this project. As excited as I was when I first thought about doing this, it's nothing compared with the way I feel now. The looks on people's faces when I tell them about it and the speed with which total strangers reply to my "cold call" emails amazes me and leaves me so grateful and very humbled. I am shy, and the conversations I've been having and the requests I've been making do not come easily to me. But I'm quickly learning that the community I'm writing about is even warmer, more enthusiastic, and healthier than I ever dreamed possible.

So what's the project, exactly?

I'm so glad you asked! I'm writing a cookbook about Washington (state, that is) food artisans. Each chapter will highlight an ingredient or type of ingredient, and then I'll tell the story of one or two producers or farmers or artisans. The stories will be followed by recipes contributed by local chefs.

As I make contact with the producers and the contributing chefs, I'll try to post progress reports. Stay tuned.

Friday, August 7, 2009

How lucky am I?

Big news on the book front: Clare Barboza has agreed to do the photographs for my book! Her work is stunning, and so exactly what I pictured for this book, it's scary. Check out some of her work: http://clarebarboza.com/