UW Club’s Farm to Table dinner: Beautiful lamb, beautiful wines!

Who doesn’t love an excellent dinner prepared with great skill from first-rate ingredients? But to appreciate it even more, just catch a glimpse of the complicated journey made by all those ingredients from the field to your plate. At the UW Club’s Farm to Table dinner, we got just that chance, to see our meal through the eyes of the family that raised our lamb and the family that made our wines. An eye-opener!

Paulette Lefever and her two kids Madison and Conor sketched a picture of life on the Lefever Holbrook Ranch: raising not just lambs but pigs, turkeys, ducks, rabbits, and more; growing vegetables for sale; running a bakery; running a catering operation; and just cultivating as many varied revenue streams as possible, to get the most out of their land and to hedge their bets against losses.

Paulette explained that when you are working with 1% profit margins, pretty much everything is a threat, and you deal constantly with the tradeoffs and unintended consequences of “competing goods.” For example, we all value biological diversity and the protection of indigenous wildlife. And we all value humanely raised, naturally pastured farm stock. But guess what happens when that indigenous wildlife is a wolf, and the farm animal out there in the pasture up on the butte is a lamb. It turns out that I’m not the only one who loves leg of lamb. But even in the face of all the challenges, it was clear that Paulette, Madison, and Conor are committed to the choices they have made—humane ranching and the best stewardship of their land. And the quality of the result was evident right there on our plates!

We also heard from Takashi Atkins, the owner of Waving Tree Winery, just down the road from Paulette’s ranch. He contrasted his family’s small-winery approach to that of the larger players: not “I know you are going to love this” but “how does it taste to you? Tell me what you think!” Waving Tree produces small quantities and really values engaging in a  dialog with customers about how the wines are working for them. And the ones he brought for us were working very well indeed!

But now on to that meal. The first course, sliced lamb sirloin crostini with caramelized onions and fig relish, was so appealing that I forgot myself and ate it up before I took a picture for you! So you have to trust me on this: a succulent curl of lamb with sweet onions and small quartered figs nestled together on an oval of lightly toasted chewy baguette.  With it, we had Waving Tree’s 2007 Grenache, a rich red with (according to the owner of a better palate than mine!) notes of cherry, dark chocolate, and caramel. Great start!

Next up, a lovely salad with spring peas, house-made ricotta, and red peppers in vinaigrette. Fresh tender salad with peas straight out of the pod! But the big surprise for this course was the wine—a sweet (but not too sweet) 2011 Sangiovese rosé. I liked it so much that I bought a couple of bottles and opened one at home on Sunday evening. The mystery of pairings!—It was still very good, but just not as striking with my asparagus-chevre omelette. But then on Monday it went really well with a hot stir-fry of my snow peas with red peppers in sesame oil. Go figure.

So! Now on to the main event—the leg of lamb. I have to quote the menu: “nicoise olive tapenade rubbed leg of lamb stuffed with seasoned house-ground lamb served with a garlic lemon zest au jus.” The earthy duet of olives and lamb was balanced by the lemon, and the ground lamb stuffing was really unusual—don’t picture hamburger!—Closer to a smooth paté or dense mousse. Yes, there was a small salad there on the plate too—field greens in a vinaigrette with cute baby carrots cut lengthwise—and some roasted small potatoes, and a dab of kale, all lovely. But the lamb au jus!—To die for. We had a 2008 Barbera with it, which had the body and complexity to hold its own very nicely with the rich lamb.

Dessert? A fresh fruit Napoleon with a little scoop of sorbet, very refreshing! And it was paired with the 2011 Muscat Canelli, a sweet white wine perfect with the fruit and berries.

Another excellent meal from UW Club manager Alex Chordas, executive chef Jon Maley, sous chef Jeff Soper, and chef Mike Hoffman! I’ll have more to say in upcoming posts about Paulette, Madison, and Conor and the Lefever Holbrook ranch; stay tuned! And if you’d like to sample Takashi’s Waving Tree wines, visit the website or the tasting room in Kirkland (11901 124th Ave. NE;425-820-0102).

 

 

Come to Paulette’s Slow-Food lamb dinner this Saturday!

I’ve been raving for some time now about Goldendale rancher Paulette Lefever and her kids Madison and Conor. Now’s your chance to meet them and feast on Paulette’s succulent grass-fed, hand-raised lamb! This Saturday June 16th, the UW Club is hosting a Slow Food dinner featuring lamb from the Lefever/Holbrook Ranch and wine pairings from the Waving Tree Winery, a small winery in Klickitat County down the road from the ranch.The UW Club’s fantastic chef Jon Maley and his staff have built a beautiful menu to showcase the products from these two Washington food artisans.

As I write this, I’m sitting in a house filled with the aromas of a lamb shoulder roast I got from Paulette slow-roasting in a thicket of rosemary sprigs and cloves of garlic. Two more hours before I can eat!—I’d like to go in there right now and swallow the meat, the pan, and the oven all together. Trust me, you don’t want to miss this chance to savor this beautiful lamb!

Not a member of the UW Club?–No worries! For this event, club manager Alex Chordas tells me that non-members are welcome to attend. (You can pay in cash when you get there. Note!—No credit cards.) Don’t miss it!—And if you’d like to sit at my table, let me know—Alex will make sure we make up a “party” (this will not be a hard task . . .).

Paulette tells me that “one of the best experiences for someone in food production is to share with others the fruits of their labor.” She and the Waving Tree folks are looking forward to sitting down to a great meal with you and a roomful of like-minded people.

Stats:  Saturday June 16th, $50+tax, starts at 6:00 pm, UW Club on the University of Washington campus. Call 206-543-0437 to make a reservation. I hope to see you there!

Here’s the blurb and menu, shamelessly copied from the UW Club website:

Lefever/Holbrook Ranch and Waving Tree Winery

This is a very special evening about Slow Food.  Grazed on native dry land hills and pastures of Lorena Butte in Klickitat County, Lefever/Holbrook natural spring lamb is free of added hormones and are never fed antibiotics.  Lefever/Holbrook Ranch focuses on achieving balance that protects the environment, promotes sustainable agriculture, practices humane treatment of food animals and supports the rural family.  Ranch owner Paulette Lefever will be at the Club to talk about her 30 years of experience in the food and livestock industry.

Waving Tree Winery is a small, family owned winery down the road from Paulette’s Ranch concentrating on red wines.  Their vineyard has the longest growing season of any area east of the mountains.  Don’t miss this wonderful evening celebrating Washington’s bounty.

Dinner begins at 6pm.  Cost is $50.00 + tax per person

Menu

Sliced Lamb Sirloin Crostini with Caramelized Onions and Fig Relish

Petit Green Salad with Spring Peas, House Made Ricotta and Red Peppers in Vinaigrette

Nicoise Olive Tapenade rubbed Leg of Lamb stuffed with Seasoned House Ground Lamb, served with a
Garlic Lemon Zest Au Jus

Fresh Fruit Napoleon

April 14th! Skagit farm-fresh dinner on a field of tulips

Every April, the Tulip Festival draws pretty much the entire population of Seattle north to the Skagit Valley to marvel at the giant ribbons and patches of red, pink, yellow, and orange that quilt the valley’s fields as the flowers come into bloom. The article about the festival in the paper yesterday offered an “If you go” sampler of other attractions to take in while you’re there, but left out one of the best–the “Celebrate Skagit–Dinner on the Farm” on Saturday April 14th. Don’t miss it!–There are only a few seats left!

Have you heard of the “Outstanding in the Field” dinners, with their landmark long tables stretching across a farmer’s field? The Celebrate Skagit dinner draws on the same inspiration, but let’s face it, nobody in the Northwest is going to sign up to eat dinner in a sodden April field!–This dinner will be held in the Sam Hill Barn near Mount Vernon, a 1927 Washington State Heritage barn on property that was one of the first bulb-growing fields in the valley. (Note!–The barn pictured above is not the Sam Hill Barn! It is just one of the beautiful faded structures that linger among the tulip fields.)

What’s on the menu? To start, Skagit Valley yields a prodigious crop of potatoes, and some of them may show up on your plate, but others will arrive in a glass!–Skagit Yukon Golds, distilled into vodka,  will anchor a signature cocktail created by Skip Rock Distillers for this event. For the meal itself, chef Michael Miller is creating appetizers and a four-course dinner from the diverse harvests of the valley–seafood, meat, cheese, grains, produce, berries, and more. And Hellam’s Vineyard of La Conner will be selecting Washington wine pairings for the dinner.

The dinner will be elegant, but don’t show up in black tie! The event will take place rain or shine, and remember, you’ll be on a farm–the website recommends galoshes, jeans, and jackets.

The event sponsors, Skagitonians to Preserve Farmland (SPF), have gone all out on this event to showcase the products of the lavishly fertile Skagit Valley, on the same latitude as France’s Loire Valley. The proceeds of the dinner (which costs $100 per person) will support their critically important work of sustaining the viability of Skagit Valley agriculture. I hope I’ll see you there! (But if I don’t, stay tuned–I’m going to write it up here to tempt you into signing up for the July edition!)

Never told you about the Crush! (A holiday story that starts in September)

On Thursday afternoon of that last long September weekend before this school year started, some friends and I drove across the mountains to the heart of wine country for Catch the Crush, the yearly celebration of the Washington grape harvest. (The “crush” starts the process of making wine. The business of stepping barefoot into a barrel of grapes?–That’s one way to do a crush.)

On Friday Denise and Diana went off for a warm-up round of golf, so I was on my own. I first set out for the Bookwalter Winery, but they weren’t open yet (why not?–it was already 10:00 in the morning!). So I walked down the road to Barnard Griffin. The person setting up there explained how the Crush wine-tastings work: to sample the wines they’ve opened for the tasting, you pay a small fee (say five dollars), which usually will apply against any wine you buy from them.  Or, for I think $30, you can buy a Catch the Crush Premier Pass passport, a booklet that has a page for each of the wineries taking part in the promotion (38 this year!). At each stop, you skip the fee and get a stamp in your booklet. (Was it a good deal? Probably, given the number of wineries we visited, but some of them were waiving the fee anyway.)

Also, as I learned at Barnard Griffin, for about five dollars you can buy a commemorative wine glass from most of the wineries. I went for it! (–And it was only my first one! By Sunday I had accumulated a glass from almost every winery I visited. In fact, as I click away on this post, I have a full one sitting right here on my desk–a nice stemless model from Chandler Reach.)

At any rate, Barnard Griffin gave me my first wine surprise of the trip–their 2010 Tulip riesling. I’m usually wary of rieslings (wouldn”t want to stray into sweet territory!) but I liked this off-dry one best out of their whole tasting lineup. I also learned a little about how to concentrate on the taste and see how it unfolds as you savor it. (The person pouring for me clearly loved the wines, and knew how to help a novice like me appreciate them!)

After Barnard Griffin (nice folks!), I walked back over to Bookwalter. This winery really exercises the “book” motif. The wines have names like “protagonist,” “subplot,” and “foreshadow.” They have a “book club,” and they offer a “library” of wines. I tasted a couple of outstanding reds, especially the 2008 Foreshadow merlot and 2009 Antagonist syrah-cabernet-malbec blend. (But seriously–completely out of commemorative wine glasses, on the first day of the biggest tourist event of the year?) This is where I also heard the first throat-clearings of what would be a trip-long running conversation about AVAs. I already had a sketchy idea about AVAs (American Viticultural Areas), also called appellations, but now I was right in the neighborhood. That 2009 Antagonist?–mostly grapes from the Columbia Valley AVA, with some from Elephant Mountain Vineyards, on the southern slope of Rattlesnake Ridge, in the new appellation of Rattlesnake Hills. Take Highway 82 up toward Zillah–you can’t miss it.

Next, I made my way over to my old friend Hogue Cellars, one of the largest Washington wineries. (Their red label is a staple on grocery store shelves.) These folks make some really good wines! A standout that was new to me was the 2010 Terroir bII, a Bordeaux-style blend of 90% semillon and 10% sauvignon blanc, made from grapes grown on the Fries Vineyard in the Wahluke Slope AVA. (The Fries family owns the Duck Pond and Desert Wind labels, but also, I gather, sells grapes to other winemakers.) I also really liked the 2008 Reserve chardonnay, from grapes grown in the Yakima Valley AVA; they produced only 100 barrels of it that year. (I know this because the enthusiastic young pourer told me so. This and much, much more.)  I usually just grab their chard, but I’ll explore a little deeper on the Hogue shelf after this tasting!

Then, after a couple of false starts, I made my way to the Desert Wind Winery. (It’s right there on that hill!–Why can’t I find my turn??)  I sensed that lunch was getting important, so I went straight to the winery’s restaurant, Mojave by Picazo. Good choice! I had the blue crab “cigars”–hand-rolled feather-light blue corn tortillas filled with blue crab, served with a tart fresh tomatillo salsa. (Wait, aren’t blue crabs from the Atlantic coast? What a hike to eastern Washington! But I digress.) The side of gargonzola potato salad was spiked with tiny bacon bits and bright with green onions. Tasty! With it, I had a glass of Desert Wind sauvignon blanc (made from grapes grown in the Wahluke Slope appellation in the larger Columbia Valley AVA). And what a dessert!–molten Mexican chocolate lava cake with a lightly salted caramel drizzle. Had to wait for it to cool a bit!–Not easy.

I caught chef Chris Nokes to ask him about the “cigar” filling, which had been riffling some little edge of a food memory. “Think spinach artichoke dip, but without the spinach, crab instead, rolled up in a corn tortilla. Add a touch of parmesan.”  Got it! After lunch, I took in their tasting and found two more excellent whites–a slightly oaked 2009 chardonnay and a 2009 semillon.

Sound like a lot of wine?–Remember: in a tasting, you tilt your nose down into your glass and breathe over the little splash of wine at the bottom, then you tip your glass up and moisten your mouth with the wine and breathe again. Maybe you swallow a trickle–then you dump out the rest into a big jar on the counter. This is wine-tasting, not wine-swigging. Which is why I wasn’t sprawled on the gravel out in the parking lot.

But I wasn’t done yet! After my late lunch I met up post-golf with Denise and Diana and we hit four more tastings. Now that I had the two of them to talk to, my note-taking tailed off, but at least I noted our stops: Airfield Estates (another winery working a motif; we tasted wines named Runway, and Aviator, and Lightning); Coyote Canyon Winery, where my pick was the 2010 Albariño, a Spanish grape that Coyote Canyon was apparently the first in Washington to plant, at Coyote Canyon Vineyards in the Horse Heaven Hills AVA; Milbrandt Vineyards, with its own fantastic riesling fragrant with fresh grapefruit; and Apex Cellars Winery, where I found maybe my best wine of the day, a beautifully creamy oaked chardonnay. (I tend to choose whites over reds, and this trip was no exception.) Finally, done for the day!

On Saturday, now with reinforcements (friends CJ and John had pulled in on Friday evening), we headed for Red Mountain. The Red Mountain AVA, a triangular wedge just east across the Yakima River from Benton City, is, at 4,000 acres (with only 600 of that in cultivation), the smallest appellation in Washington. Our map showed 14 wineries in the AVA, but we tasted at just two. At the Kiona Vineyards Winery, the tasting stretches out along a couple of intersecting long rooms, each with stations offering several wines. I was taken with a spicy rosé (I believe it was their Mourvédre rosé, though they also have one made from sangiovese grapes; my notes fail me here). I also really surprised myself by loving a late harvest sweet wine! Next we visited Tapteil Vineyards Winery, where the cabernet sauvignon was most interesting to me (also a surprise because of its strong tannin, which I don’t usually go for). The Tapteil tasting room was refreshingly homey and the people were good-humored and helpful.

Then we zoomed back westward to Prosser to take in four more wineries. The three-story stucco villa of Chandler Reach Vineyards whisks you off to Tuscany before you even get in the door, and the wine selections tilt Italian as well, especially their Corella sangiovese blend. But we also tasted a viognier. (Floral; some like it, some don’t. I don’t always, but I did like this one!)

By now, mid-Day Two, I had given up trying to take pictures, and I began to notice a certain truculence in my reactions to the wines I was tasting. I know that we stopped at Hightower Cellars, but my only note, quoted completely, is “cab sauv.” I was already familiar with Kestrel Vintners; I had visited their tasting room a couple of years ago, and had belonged to their wine club for a year after that. They have a great old-vine chardonnay and a very light sauvignon blanc, as well as an array of reds from easy quaffers like Lady in Red to serious high-end merlots and cabernet sauvignons, But by the time we got there, my palate was too exhausted to detect much beyond “red” and “white.” I didn’t write a single note! On the up side, they were serving a cheerful spiced-wine punch that brightened us up considerably.  Finally, at our last stop, Mercer Estates, I tasted a 2009 pinot gris that I could rise to “love”–but I can  only guess why because I didn’t make a single other comment! And so my wine-tasting shambled to an end.

But now, with the end-of-year holidays finally here, I find myself buying a lot of wine for my friends, and as I reach for this bottle or that, I often let my hand be guided by my memories of these tasting rooms and labels, these helpful people, friendly winery dogs, and lovely golden fields braided with rows of grapevines. Desert Wind, Kestrel, Barnard Griffin, Kiona, Mercer, Apex, Milbrandt. And I still have my slender bottle of First Crush, Kiona’s 2006 Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc, a liquid-gold dessert wine produced from nearly frozen grapes. Maybe I’ll open it this New Year’s Eve to sip with my own attempt at  Mexican chocolate lava cake!

On the Sunday of that long weekend, we got up early to make it to the Prosser airport by 6:00 (that’s in the morning) for the Great Prosser Balloon Rally. Look!–They launched a whole blue sky of ornaments! Happy wine tasting, and Happy New Year!

More cheese, please!

You may recall my post (almost a year ago now!) about Cheese 101, the excellent introduction to world-class cheeses by cheesemonger Sheri LaVigne. Browsing in Sheri’s store The Calf & Kid after class, I picked up Tami Parr’s great book on the Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest and proceeded to munch my way through a big chunk of it. So how could I resist when Sheri offered a second cheese class hosted by Tami herself?

We convened once again at the common table in Sitka & Spruce (Matt Dillon’s very uncommon restaurant in the Melrose Market). Sheri introduced us to Tami and then we settled in to learn about a baker’s dozen of local cheeses. (It had to have been a challenge to select them; since 2000, when the Northwest had just six cheesemakers, the number in Oregon and Washington has grown to 72–and counting!)

We tasted our way around a first plate of eleven cheeses, starting with a fresh chevre from Yarmouth Farms (at high noon in this picture). I’ve mentioned Louise Yarmouth’s French Creek cheese before, but I gather that she now produces only this chevre. [This just in!–Sheri tells me I got it wrong. In fact, Louise also produces bloomy rind cheeses and two or three aged hard cheeses. Better and better!] To make the chevre, she blends the milk from the four breeds that make up her 25-goat herd. It’s an airy fluffy chevre that I liked so well I went back for a little tub of it; I served it on crackers with just a simple herb garnish.

The next two cheeses (at 1:00 and 2:00 on the plate) are Dinah’s Cheese from Kurtwood Farms on Vashon Island and Seastack Cheese from the Mt. Townsend Creamery over in Port Townsend. (Dinah is one of Kurt Timmermeier’s six Jersey cows; I told you earlier about his adventures becoming a farmer. ) Both of these soft-ripened cheeses, made from pasteurized cow’s milk, are buttery, earthy, and  aromatic. Not from Seattle?–You can get them in many regional grocery stores that have fine-cheese counters.

The next cheese, an “ashed camembert” from Tieton Creamery in Yakima, was a real find. Made from pasteruized goat and sheep’s milk (Tami tells us that owners Laurie and Ruth mix the milk of their 16 goats and nine sheep), this soft-rind cheese was creamy and rich. I went back to get more of it too, but ended up with a different camembert–also made from goat and sheep milk, but not ashed. This very soft, pungent camembert was lovely but I’m holding out for the one I first tasted; stay tuned!

Dutchman’s Flat, the cheese next on the plate, is a raw goat’s milk cheese made by Juniper Grove Farm in Redmond (no, not that Redmond–this one is in Oregon). I found it a little chalky; Tami says it is very good with fig compote and similar cooked fruit.

On to the firm cheeses. At 6:00 is Mopsey’s Best, a manchego-style cheese made from raw sheep’s milk that had a nice rich, deep flavor. (Maybe because sheep’s milk is 8% fat or more, compared to a meager 4% for cows and goats?) Went out and got more!–It’s great for simple munching.

The next two cheeses, Dulcinea from Larks Meadow in Rexburg, Idaho and Brindisi from Willamette Valley Cheese in Salem, Oregon, were both really nice, but I especially loved the last of this batch, the Classico Reserve made by Tumalo Farms in Bend, Oregon. (The owner, I gather, made his fortune from WebMD and then retired to tend his 300 goats.) Like a Gouda, it is brined, and has a vaguely sweet taste and a firm but creamy texture with a tiny bit of crunch. I couldn’t resist more of this one, either–I served it with just a curl of salami on top.

The final two cheeses on this plate were the blues. (My notes tell me that, to get the characteristic blue marbling of this cheese, the makers pierce the cheese wheel as it ages to enable the mold to grow inside.) The first one, Billy Blue, from Oak Leaf Creamery in Grants Pass, Oregon, is unusual in that it is made from goat’s milk. The second one, Caveman Blue from the Rogue Creamery in Central Point, Oregon, was well-known to me (another well-established producer whose products appear in better-cheese cases in area grocery stores), and still remains a favorite–sweet and pungent at the same time. Get some, if you like blue!

Eleven cheeses!–But we weren’t done. The last two tastes were really desserts made from cheese. The first was Chocolate Goat Chevre Truffle from Briar Rose Creamery in Dundee, Oregon–made with just those ingredients. So good I wanted to throw myself on the floor with it. (But when I went back to get more–say a gallon or so–I learned that the makers have suspended production for a couple of months while they move to a new farm. Trying to be patient here . . .) The second taste was Frangelico from River’s Edge Chevre in Logsden, Oregon–fresh chevre, Frangelico liqueur, roasted hazelnuts, and brown sugar. Also delicious! (but for a chocoholic like me, doomed by coming second).

Get all these cheeses and more from Sheri at The Calf and Kid!–She has an amazing selection, sourced not just locally but internationally, and she and her other staff are knowledgeable and friendly. Not sure?–Ask for a taste; they are happy to help.  And be sure to visit Tami’s website, the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project, for cheese recipes, news, profiles, and much, much more!

“Gimme five”? Try seventeen!–A feast from many hands

Do you remember that I asked for five volunteers to help me make some Thanksgiving dishes for the Plymouth Housing Group? Well, seventeen people came over on Wednesday afternoon to get the job done! (Actually, 27 people–lord, count ’em!–had signed up to help, but, because of crazy work schedules, colds, flu, etc., ten weren’t able to join us. We missed you; we’ll look forward to seeing you next year!)

At any rate, with that many volunteers to wedge into my small house, I went into planning overdrive. I made recipe packets. I made shopping lists. I did walk-throughs. As it happens, I have lots of party paraphernalia–folding tables and chairs, leaves for my dining room table, platters, bowls, you name it–so I dragged it all out and converted my living room, dining room, and kitchen into food-prep stations. I asked my volunteers to come in two shifts, one for 4:00 and one for around 6:00. Tuesday evening, I roasted the turkey, saved the pan drippings, and boiled the giblets (ready to make gravy!). Then Wednesday afternoon, I put out munchies, poured a glass of wine, and called myself ready.

We had five recipes to make: cranberry-orange relish, cornbread dressing, mashed potatoes, sweet-potato casserole, and giblet gravy. I tried to split the recipes into two stages; the idea was that the 4:00 crowd would get things going, then the 6:00 crowd would finish up. I pictured people arriving maybe a little bit late, snacking, chatting for a while, and eventually getting down to work. Then Mr. Reality came through the door, and my plans jumped out the window. These people showed up on time and ready to go!

Here’s the Vlachos family making short work out of my cornbread dressing recipe. Darivanh (that’s her in black) turned out to be a power chopper; Vasili (seven years old) and Suriya (three years old) pulverized bread slices and cornbread, stirred eggs, poured broth, and kept us smiling. Laki (in tee shirt) kept everything going in the right direction and did plenty of boy-wrangling. The result?–The dressing in the pan (two pans, actually), ready to bake, before the end of the first shift!

My mashed-potato, relish, gravy, and sweet-potato teams were right behind them. Here’s Charlotte Lee and husband Marcel Blonk on sweet-potato prep, Libby Hanaford making relish, and Kristin Roth in clean-up mode. (They say good cooks clean up as they go; if so, all these guys were very good cooks, lucky for me!)

So-o-o, here comes my new 6:00 crowd of nine people, and I am standing here with five finished dishes!

We stared at each other blankly for a couple of minutes, then did a quick inventory and figured out that we could make another round of relish, mash, and sweet potato (thank heavens for warehouse shopping–a ten-pound bag of spuds goes a long way). Here’s Regina Derda and husband Michael Coleman finishing the relish (oh say 30 minutes after they got here), and my sweet-potato guys (Brian Espinosa, his sister Gretchen, and Thuy Duong)– also all done with cooking and dish-washing.

I didn’t get shots of the Gravy Amendment Team (Liz Diether-Martin and  Diedre Girard), who figured out how to stretch the giblet gravy into a whole second batch while keeping it thick and flavorful. (How did you do that?) And I also missed getting a shot of Julie Brunett (thank you for the extra pans, Julie!) and her six-year-old son Soren, who proved to be a mighty stirrer of mashed potatoes (and who cleaned one of the mixer’s beaters the old-fashioned way–and pronounced the potatoes very tasty).

(Intermezzo!–Midway through the afternoon, the folks from Lefever Holbrook Farm delivered my community-supported agriculture (CSA) meat order–half a lamb, rabbits, and a heritage Christmas turkey.  This stuff filled up two coolers! Here’s Conor with one and Madison with the other. What a treat to have them join us, if only briefly!

By 8:00 Wednesday evening, my gang was gone and everything was in the fridge. (Or I should say fridges; to make everything fit, I had to colonize my stepson’s fridge downstairs as well.)

Early Thursday morning, I baked the two pans of sweet potato casserole until the marshmallow topping browned and bubbled, I warmed up the other dishes, and boxed everything up for delivery (here’s less than half of it; it took me three trips to get everything in the car). We made a real feast!–two cartons of cranberry relish, two pans of sweet potato casserole, two cartons of giblet gravy, two pans of cornbread dressing, four pans of mashed potatoes, and one roast turkey!

Plymouth Housing Group asks volunteers to drop off their dishes at specific apartment buildings; PHG employees Brian Hatfield and Alan Berliner took my delivery at the Gatewood Apartments downtown by the Pike Place Market. Success!

Back home, I ignored the task of putting my house back in order to sit, feet up, cup of tea in hand, and enjoy the event again in hindsight. It had been a simple day, really; some people came over to my house and we cooked some dishes for other people to eat. For the most part, we hadn’t known each other before, but the conversation was easy, the humor ready, and the hands willing and skillful. No spills, no breakage; only one Band-Aid dispensed.

Not TV-worthy; no shoving or throwing elbows. Just a houseful of people taking a few hours out of their holiday to make life a little sweeter for someone else who was having a rougher go of it. There are many ways to get lucky!–but this time I hit it big. Thank you, my wonderful volunteers, for giving me a great Thanksgiving!

Gimme five!

You know me–when it comes to holidays, I’m pretty far over on the Bah Humbug end of the continuum. But I’ve had a great year, and Thanksgiving is coming! So I’d like to invite five of you over to my house on Wednesday the 23rd from 4:30-6:30 to help me prep part of a turkey dinner for the Plymouth Housing Group‘s holiday celebration.

PHG is a fantastic Seattle outfit that “transforms lives by providing permanent, supportive homes to chronically-homeless people.” They’ve got twelve different buildings serving hundreds of people; learn more about them on their website. Every Thanksgiving, dozens of volunteers pitch in to cook up and deliver dishes for their Thanksgiving spread. Last time I made sweet-potato casserole (pretty good, I must say), but this year I want you to help me amp it up! Let’s go for turkey and dressing with mashed potatoes and giblet gravy. (With maybe a green-bean casserole? Cranberry dressing? What’s your specialty?)

Come on over on Wednesday to help me with the chopping and dicing and peeling and measuring and mixing! (I’ll cook it up in time to deliver it hot and ready to eat on Thursday morning.) For your troubles, I’ll provide drinks and munchies for you, and all the ingredients for the dishes we prep.

Why just five of you?–My house is small, and I want all of the chopping and dicing to be done on food, not people! So sign up early (by replying to this post, or twitter, or facebook, or however we usually get together)–first come, first served!

Not in the Seattle area?–Find a group to cook for in your own town, and (if the time zones are good) we can set up a Google Hang-out to chat while we work.

You know you’re leaving work early on Wednesday anyway; why not carve out a couple of hours to come by and help? We’ll have a great time and help brighten up the day for some other folks as well. I can’t wait to see who wants to play!

Tilth’s demo garden: Life in the sustainable garden

Standing in a garden on a warm sunny day, watching cream-colored butterflies flutter among the tidy plots of vegetables, listening to the buzz and whir of hover-flies and bees, I wasn’t really thinking of Tennyson’s “nature red in tooth and claw.” But I was touring Seattle Tilth’s demonstration garden, and tour leader Amy Ockerlander was just then telling us about watching a centipede cut up a cabbage worm and eat it. How can you raise the odds that you’ll have a hungry centipede patrolling your garden patch? We were there to see how Tilth harnesses natural processes to grow healthy vegetables in sustainable ways.

Big message number one was start with mulch. (That’s Amy by the huge pile of it.) Especially in a climate like ours, where it rains all winter long and then in summer (usually!) rains hardly at all, mulch soaks up moisture, keeps nutrients from being washed away, and suppresses weeds that fight your veg for nutrients. Plus it provides a happy home for critters like centipedes, spiders, and other helpful killers. You can also protect your soil by putting down a layer of feed bags (especially effective over the winter here to keep soil dry-ish). This is Seattle, so of course we go for coffee-bean bags!

Mulch was only one “layer” strategy we talked about. Those cream-colored butterflies?–As they flutter prettily from plant to plant they are laying hundreds of dot-sized eggs on your cabbage-family plants that hatch into voracious bright green cabbage worms. One way to mess them up is to put in a physical barrier–cover the plants with row cover, a light cloth sheet that keeps the butterflies from sticking their eggs to the leaves.

In following the “layer” strategy, you don’t always have to put the layer on top. In “hugelkultur,” the raised garden bed starts with a layer of rotting wood (chips, twigs, sticks, branches . . .) at the bottom. Then you mound the soil on top. Think of the wood as a “nurse log” for your plant, sponging up water and nutrients that otherwise would leach away.

To thrive, your garden also needs pollinator insects like mason bees. The Tilth gardeners have constructed mason bee “blocks,” little bee condominiums, under the eaves of the building, so that the bees can over-winter and re-populate year after year. And to attract pollinators, the garden has flowering ornamentals planted among the vegetables.

Some plants naturally thrive when planted together, like the “three sisters” in Mexican farming: corn, squash, and beans. (Normally, the corn would be close to eight feet tall!–but here in Seattle, it’s lucky to hit five feet.) The corn provides a trellis for the beans to climb up, and the squash shades the roots of the other “sisters.”

Big message number two was keep your resources where you use them. They use a rain garden to manage the rainfall runoff from the building–about 20,000 gallons of it in a typical year! (This is water that isn‘t going into the sewer system, to be processed and then bought back from the city to water the garden. That’s a long round trip to water that veg patch over there!) Pipes capture the water and feed it to a narrow trickle of rock-lined stream bed that delivers it to a  bowl-shaped depression about five feet across. The thick plantings hold it there until it soaks out to the surrounding area. They also use compost “digesters” to break down plant trimmings into nutrients that leak out of the bottom into the surrounding soil to be taken up by the next-door-neighbor plants.

Amy described the whole sustainable gardening endeavor as “bringing life into the garden.” I loved to hear how cleverly these master gardeners wove together and managed the thrust of life in soil, plants, insects, light, and water to make a healthy, bountiful harvest. But for me, it is also a sustaining pleasure to see the order and grace of their well-tended garden–to sit on a lovely trellis bench and gaze at the garden, to admire a fragrant stand of basil corralled by an artful soldiering of bamboo stakes, to imagine beans scrambling up the string trellis behind the lettuces in their hoop pergolas. I love these minutely tended plots that speak so eloquently about the diligence and hopes of the people who built them!

Taylor Shellfish Grand Opening and other action at Melrose Market!

Melrose Market was hoppin’ yesterday when I went by to buy my pork fat! The big event was the Grand Opening of Taylor Shellfish Farms‘ new Seattle store. The grills were cranked up and covered with oysters on the half-shell, and at the other end of the booth, paper boats of curried mussels on rice were sailing quickly into the crowd’s hands. You had to move fast to get a serving, but it wasn’t hard to tell who the go-to guy was! (He looked like he was having a great time, but seriously, how do they get people to do these things?)

Both oysters and mussels were delicious! (I’m guessing that at least one of you out there is saying, but Judy, I thought you didn’t eat bi-valves . . .? Well, that was then! It turns out that there’s pretty much nothing that I can’t eat.)

So, I actually got through the crowd into the store and bought some beautiful frozen scallops. More cheerful people in there! Taylor Shellfish Farms is headquartered south of Seattle in Shelton, Washington, and they also have a store up north near Samish Bay in the Skagit Valley, which is one of the most beautiful places on the globe. (Stay tuned for more on that!) But it will be super to have them here in town too.

I don’t go to Melrose Market without making time to hang around and visit my other favorite shops. I told you a little bit about Rain Shadow Meats yesterday. Proprietor Russell Flint, known locally as a chef but also with ten years’ experience in butchery, opened up about a year ago. He offers beautiful meats and meat products from local farmers, labeled with the name and locale of the provider. And the staff can answer any question you can think of (and the people who shop here can think of a lot of them!).

Across the way, The Calf and Kid owner Sheri LaVigne was heading out the door, but Erin Burgess got me up to speed on their new cheeses. After tasting pretty much everything she mentioned (probably not a great idea to offer me samples), I ended up getting two. The first is a chevre from Yarmouth Farms up in Darrington (I told you about one of their other cheeses in my very first post!)  I also got a raw sheep’s-milk cheese called Queso de Oreja from Adna, also in Washington. This one is a hard cheese similar to a manchego. How do I know that?–Because Erin explained it to me! That’s why I stick with shops like these, staffed by people who love what they are selling. You get a great product, you get an education, you feel like you’ve been chatting with a friend. What a great experience! (Visit Sheri’s blog for a running account of her sixteen months or so ramping up the business–also great stories!)

Opera night at the UW Club: All artistry!

The kids straggle in, swing down their packbacks, fish out water bottles, grin, tease, chatter. Then the baton goes up, they step to the cue, and their outsized voices soar. Rehearsal day for these students in the UW opera program!

The event they are getting ready for is Opera Night at the UW Club–the first ever:  a three-course meal, accompanied by three arias, then an after-dinner ensemble program, itself in three courses.

The UW chefs are also laying the groundwork for the event, exercising their very different expertise: cooking down sauces, searing chicken breasts, stirring simmering rice until it’s thick and silky.

Show time! These two teams, with such very different talents, wove together a delicious program! They let me sit in from warm-up to execution, so take a look at how this event came together (and read the credits below):

Who prepared the dinner:  Chef Greg Fazzini (who unfortunately has just left the UW Club), sous-chef (now Chef!) Jon Maley, and Mike Hoffman.

Who prepared the music: students of opera from the UW School of Music (names below), under the direction of Thomas Harper, professor of voice/opera

The pianist for all of the pieces was Alexandra Tsirkel.

Learn more about the UW Club here:  http://depts.washington.edu/uwclub/

Menu

First course

The dinner:

Spring greens with pea vines, baby turnips, grape tomatoes, and herb chevre in champagne vinaigrette

The music:

“Mein Shenen, Mein Waehnen,” from Die tote Stadt, by Erich Korngold

sung by Jared Ice, baritone

Second course

The dinner:

Supreme of chicken with wild mushrooms in butter sauce, grilled fresh asparagus and red pepper, and crusted parmesan risotto

The music:

“Quando m’en vo,” from La Boheme, by G. Puccini

sung by Kathleen Payne, soprano

Third course

The dinner:

Local rhubarb cake with strawberry sabayon

The music:

“Vision fugitive,” from Herodiade, by J. Massenet

sung by Jared Ice, baritone

Continuing with dessert, after-dinner music

Card trio, from Carmen, by G. Bizet

Sung by (left to right) Emily Autrey, soprano (Frasquita), Elizabeth Giesbers, mezzo-soprano (Carmen), and Annalisee Brasil, mezzo-soprano (Mercedes)

Quartet from Idomeneo, by W.A. Mozart

Sung by (left to right) Nataly Wickham (Elettra), Jeremiah Cawley (Idomeneo), Cecile Farmer (Ilia), and Nina Alden (Idamante)

Quintet from Zauberfloete, by W.A. Mozart

Sung by (left to right) Annalisee Brasil, Nataly Wickham, Cecile Farmer, Simon Khorolskiy, and (substituting for Thomas Ball, who was ill) Thomas Harper, professor of voice/opera in the UW School of Music

Coda

Auf wiedersehen!

Sung by Thomas Ball and Simon Khorolskiy, with (off-camera) Annalisee Brasil, Nataly Wickham, and Cecile Farmer

Down on the (campus!) farm

On-campus at the University of Washington, on a meandering quarter-acre around the Botany Greenhouse, UW students have labored for over seven years to build out a working farm, complete with “beds in buckets,” cold-frames, irrigation system, two bee hives, and four plump chickens with their own custom chicken-tractor. And last but not least, a functioning clay-and-straw pizza oven! (More on that later.)

UW Farm signLast week, Beth Wheat, newly minted UW PhD in Biology (now a postdoc in the Program on the Environment) and the Educational Coordinator for UW Farm, capped off the Seattle Arts & Lectures series “Following Wendell: the culture and politics of sustenance” by giving us a talk and a tour of the operation.

Beth set the stage by pointing out that less than 2% of our population now farms, and the average age of the American farmer is 57. Even here in Washington (an agricultural state, actually, if you leave out Seattle and Boeing), students were showing up in ecology classes with no idea what a growing vegetable looked like–they couldn’t match a carrot with a carrot top. Hence the motivating idea for UW Farm: actively educate citizens for a more sustainable future by teaching students how to grow food.

cold framesSo they started digging away, preparing all the beds and buckets by hand, adding structures like the cold frames shown here, trying out new ideas about growing food. They now layer crimson clover under chard, to fix nitrogen. They consider the salad-making possibilities of their “weeds.”

planting beds in medianThey also really ran with the concept of the parking-strip garden! Here, between a sidewalk and a bike path, they have a series of beds, borders, buckets, and teepees growing everything from herbs to beans.

student Michelle giving us the tour

Helping out with our tour were student farmers Michelle Venetucci Harvey and Julia Reed (Michelle shown here). Both are also active volunteers with the farm–two of the 150 students typically involved at a given time! The farm has a Compost Crew,  it has a Chicken Crew, it has the Dirty Dozen (now 40 students) who meet on Monday mornings at 7:30 (when I was in college, I didn’t know there was a Monday morning at 7:30) to plan the entire operation of the farm for the week. And, for recruiting, rewarding themselves, and educating the public, they have Pizza Bakes once a month!

pizza ovenNo way were we going to miss out on fresh-baked pizza. So everybody got a ball of dough and  rolled out an individual pie, which we dressed up with herbs and veggies from the farm. individual pizza on pizza shovel Here’s mine, fresh out of the oven!

Did I mention the salad ? As you can see, there was plenty!salad greens in a wheelbarrow

And the Prosecco went very well with both!

After years of operating slightly off the administration’s radar, UW Farm is now writing a business plan and working to become as sustainable organizationally as it is agriculturally. They’ve scored an additional (and larger) farm site at the off-campus UW Center for Urban Horticulture, and our remodeled student union building (now about half-finished) will incorporate a demonstration garden of several four-foot-by-ten-foot raised beds. Next up, they need funding to hire some actual paid staff; it’s hard to keep going when your  workforce turns over practically every quarter!

Read more about this fantastic operation here (oh, and don’t overlook the donation button!):  http://students.washington.edu/uwfarm/

The real staff of life

In the third of the Seattle Arts & Lectures series on the culture and politics of sustenance, UW geologist and Macarthur Fellow David Montgomery walked us through a few millenia of catastrophes caused by people abusing dirt. And in fact, he says, if we don’t knock it off, we stand to run out of fertile topsoil in only one or two more centuries.

First, the science. Basically, Mother Nature sees her job as moving all these mountains right here down there into the ocean, so that she can make room for her new mountains. Here’s how it happens. Rock thrusts up from the mantle of the globe, and heat, cold, water, plant roots, chemical processes and other forces break it up and grind it down. Plants and animals die on it, and worms fold their remains into the mix. Then rain and wind carry it downhill. This is nature’s long slow tumble of creation and destruction. David says that it can take about 500 years to produce an inch of topsoil; the covering of topsoil around the globe is only about one to three feet thick. Comparing the earth to the human body, soil is a “much thinner and more fragile layer than human skin.”

At the same time, the “fundamental condition for sustaining a civilization is sustaining soil and fertility.” Over and over again, civilizations from Neolithic Europe to the Easter Islands to the American Dustbowl have radically suffered or even disappeared as they have exhausted their soil. Remember that it can take 500 years to produce an inch of topsoil? Right now, the rate of erosion is one inch every 60 years.

David calls soil degradation an “under-appreciated crisis, a secret silent environmental disaster.” This was not news to the people living through it; Plato, for instance, comments that “the rich soft soil has all run away, leaving the land nothing but skin and bone.” And (skipping ahead a few years) our own George Washington observed that the situation could be turned around if farmers “were taught how to improve the old, instead of going in pursuit of new and productive soils.”

George had it right–the real cause is not THAT we farm, but HOW we farm. David traces the growing crisis all the way back to the invention of the plow; the plow, he says, fundamentally altered the balance between soil production and erosion, dramatically increasing erosion by breaking up the ground cover that knits the soil in place. (We won’t even discuss the modern “512 disk ripper” plow for ridding your fields of “soil compaction.”)  In short, we practice self-destructive agriculture. As FDR had it, “a nation that destroys its soils, destroys itself.”

But if we change our agricultural practices, we can turn the situation around. And we actually already know how to do this! (–And have for centuries.) For instance, we could cut subsidies for erosive agricultural practices, and we could support no-till ag, terracing, and other soil-preserving strategies. To rebuild soil, you need to apply just two things, David says:  organic matter and labor. Small labor-intensive organic farms are in fact the most productive in the world. But to get there from here, we need to alter our whole socio-economic model of food production: we need to stop treating soil as a commodity and start treating it as the fragile ecosystem that it is.

Great talk!–I can’t do justice to it in just these few paragraphs. Get the book! (David R. Montgomery, University of California Press, 2007)

Getting to know your Mother

After farming for more than 20 years, Kurt Timmermeister is still working on his vision of a farm–working to get rid of it, that is, and replace it with the reality in front of him.

Mother Nature doesn’t love us! She doesn’t glow with pride when we try to do the right thing, she doesn’t catch our arm before we tumble off the ledge, and she certainly doesn’t write us a little check for a do-over when we screw up. Oh well.

Last Thursday, in the second of Seattle Arts & Lectures’ series of talks on the culture and politics of sustenance, former restauranteur and current cheesemaker Kurt Timmermeister took us on a tour of his twenty-year wrestling match with Mother Nature.

Twenty years ago, seeking a calmer life closer to the soil, Kurt found a house he could afford on Vashon island–four acres of brambles with a converted chicken coop for shelter. Later, he added an adjacent 13-acre parcel with the additional amenities of decades of buried industrial detritus and garbage from the old Beall Greenhouses operation.

But that’s not what Kurt saw; instead, he had a vision of a farm. You might recognize it (you might even share it!): a few sheep, some chickens scratching in the yard, maybe a couple of ducks, a bunny or two, some goats, cows of course, an orderly and verdant vegetable garden, and ranks of gnarled fruit trees in an orchard. Now, twenty years later, 90% of it is gone, and he is down to one or two things that he can actually do. He has Jersey cows and he makes a cheese (Dinah’s, a soft bloomy rind cheese). In a year and a half or so, he will offer a second cheese.

So what happened? Well, let’s start with that orchard. He wanted apple trees, to make hard cider. He ordered about 200–”very fussy trees; the more obscure the better I liked them.” The plan was to plant them, wait five years, and be all set to go. But one morning he went out to discover that the first tree had no leaves. The next one?–no leaves. The deer had come through and in one night destroyed his trees. He re-planted. They did it again. They stepped casually around his really scary scarecrow and kept munching. “My idea was, I was good. I took the land and made it better. The deer should respect that! Why are these deer against me?”  Well, say hello to the power of nature.

Even living there on the farm, Kurt says, he still doesn’t fully understand where food comes from. We go out to buy food, and we can have anything we want, all year round; it’s really hard to know what’s seasonal and local, or what goes into producing it. We eat meat, and so somebody slaughters animals; we need to know this and accept it–but it’s hard to get next to the reality of it. He points out that he himself has never seen a cattle slaughterhouse; in fact, he’s seen only two commercial dairy operations (not pretty, by the way).

Why does this disconnect matter? “It’s food. It’s vital,” he says. It keeps us alive; we should want the very best. But it is really hard to make food.

What’s worse, small farmers have to compete on pricing with large agri-business operations. Their advantage is that you can go out, shake their hand, and poke around their operation. You can see how they do things and talk to them about ways to do things better. But if you want this kind of personal relationship with your food providers, you have to pay them a price that allows them to pay for their farm and live reasonably–send a kid to college, hire some help. Replace the fridge. Have a nice bottle of wine. Have the kid see a future in coming home after college to run the place. This is the only way that small farming is truly sustainable, Kurt says.

Small farmers also have to navigate through the murky waters of costs and regulation. Let’s take the case of sending a cow to slaughter. (Kurt doesn’t, by the way; wouldn’t be a good experience for him or the cow, he says.) But he looked into it early on. (This was after he came to grips with a big fact about dairy cows: if you want them to continue producing milk for you, you have to outfit them every year with a baby. Roughly half of those babies are going to be future bulls. Not so useful on a dairy farm. Plus, after a while you have some aged old girls.)

Remember that Vashon is an island; that means that the cow will have to take the ferry to the slaughterhouse. But the fare for a truck pulling the trailer she is riding in is huge (plus, how is she feeling about the scrum of cars being loaded on the ferry? what’s her view of Seattle traffic on the other side?) Then, after she’s had the Bad Moment at the slaughterhouse, you still have to pay the cut-and-wrap facility–and pay them a lot. Plus, Kurt adds pragmatically, you don’t get back the bones and blood. (Nothing going to waste around here!)

So Kurt does his own slaughtering on the farm, and shares the products of it with his employees. More hard work!–And it has its hazards. (Picture yourself wrestling with a 500-pound carcass suspended from a hook above your head.)

So, why does he do it? Why has he stuck with it all these years? Because he loves it, and because he relishes the challenge. “Life is short,” he says, and “I want to be scared every day.”

See my “What I’m reading” posting for February 24th for a review of Kurt’s new book, Growing a Farmer: How I Learned to Live Off the Land. And visit his website to browse his journal and see photos of his beautiful farm:
http://www.kurtwoodfarms.com/kurtwoodfarms/About.html

“Local” isn’t enough

“Mind the ‘local’ trap,” Branden Born warned. But wait, I thought “local” was good!?! Last Thursday, in the debut talk in a Seattle Arts & Lectures series on the culture and politics of sustenance, Born challenged us to get clear about what we really want from our food system.

He points out that the food industry has been nimble in capturing the words we use to describe what we want our food to be: “natural,” “organic” . . . and, yes, “local.” In the face of this country’s huge losses of agricultural land, rapid urbanization, and corporatization of the food system, we no longer know what our food looks like, where it comes from, or how it actually gets from plot to plate. We don’t know who grows it or who processes it for our consumption. But we have a sneaking feeling that we have put ourselves in the hands of people who just may have interests other than feeding us well! He quotes Wendell Berry, the animating spirit of the lecture series:  as urban dwellers, we now share the fears of “people who understand what it means to be landless.”

When we say we want to eat locally, in Born’s view, we point to a whole range of more fundamental ideas that we value (and he encourages us to discuss values, not scale). Food safety. Food equity. Access to healthy food. Democratization of the food system. Connection to the earth. Given our current urban environment and food supply-chain system, these values are in fact in trouble. But Born points out a range of alternative choices that we can begin to make to create a “new urbanity”around food.

For instance, if we value community engagement over food production efficiency, we might join an urban ag activity like Seattle’s p-patch system.  Go here to see a group working  in the High Point Garden (http://www.seattle.gov/neighborhoods/ppatch/)–one of 75 community gardens in the city. These gardens don’t just provide food and a sense of community for the people who work them; last year, p-patch gardeners donated almost 21,000 lbs. of fresh produce to local food banks and feeding programs. (Full disclosure: I put myself on the waiting list for my neighborhood p-patch last year; I hope to get a plot before I’m too old to work it. I mean, I’d better hurry!)

Or, we might go with urban development that scales up our sense of what urban gardening can be; vertical gardens can cover the side of your house (see http://www.cleanspirited.com/blog/?p=336) or a chunk of a huge multi-story building like Weber Thompson’s Eco-Laboratory (see http://inhabitat.com/files/ecolab-lead01.jpg), designed around a community garden and featuring numerous other “green design” elements–energy systems, ventilation, etc.

Or, we might focus on urban community-development activities. Born described a number of fascinating programs. To offer just one example, the Clean Greens program runs a community garden east of Seattle in Carnation (read: likely to get some actual sun) to grow and deliver “clean, healthy, and fair produce for everyone at affordable prices” (http://www.cleangreensfarm.com/), especially families in need in Seattle’s Central District. They also have a thriving educational program focused on healthy eating habits and food justice.

Eye-opening talk! You can find much more on these topics on Born’s website, http://faculty.washington.edu/bborn/.

Branden Born is a professor in UW’s Dept. of Urban Design and Planning. His talk, “Bringing the Urban Back into the Food System–Questions of Culture & Technology,” was the first in a five-talk series from Seattle Arts & Lectures, “Following Wendell: The Culture & Politics of Sustenance,” http://www.lectures.org/season/sal_u.php?id=298. I’m signed up for the series, so stay tuned for future installments!

Food bank gourmet

Last Sunday, FamilyWorks, my neighborhood’s food bank, threw a semi-“iron chef” event! Two top local chefs each prepared a three-course meal using ingredients typically found on the food bank’s shelves. Emceed by local celebrity chef Kathy Casey, the event featured Rachel Yang of Joule Restaurant and Amy McCray of Eva Restaurant, who both cooked us up a treat of a meal.

(Why semi-”iron chef?” Neither of these pro’s showed the least trace of a killer instinct!–More like “tofu chef.” But their food was great!)

Using just a small table for a workspace and two gas-canister-fueled hotplates, Rachel and Amy each came up with a starter, a main dish, and a dessert. And as each course got done, volunteers divvied it up for the dozens of us to sample. We also had a wine-tasting going on in the corner and a spread of hors d’oeuvres laid out on a side table so we wouldn’t get too restive. Sozo Wine was a sponsor of the event. Interesting organization! Check them out: http://www.sozoplanet.com)

Rachel opened with an Asian-accented pancake (a specialty of her newest restaurant, Revel) made with canned peas and fresh spinach.

Next, she went with a stew made with chicken thighs, mushrooms, veg, and–I suspect, not an ingredient she’s used to working with!–Top Ramen. Delicious.

What could be better for dessert than rice pudding? She made hers with sauted apple slices, “left-over” rice (“who doesn’t have left-over rice?”), and canned coconut milk. (The exact brand I have on my own pantry shelf. Yes, I saw it on the shelf in the food bank too. This is Seattle.)

Amy went in a different direction for the starter–a fresh salad with shredded sweet peppers and a citrus vinaigrette. (Like most neighborhood food banks, FamilyWorks gets fresh produce from Northwest Harvest and other large distributors. Stay tuned for a posting on how food distribution works in urban America.)

Next, she went with a chicken curry with carrots. Here, she worked in a “mystery ingredient”–a packet of nasi goreng flavoring. (Yes, from the food bank shelves. Again, this is Seattle.) The curry also incorporated coconut milk and canned peas. This stew may have shared some ingredients with Rachel’s, but tasted totally different! Also delicious.

(The volunteer who gave us our tour of the food bank showed us the substantial range of food products they offer to their clients. Many, many plastic bins of canned goods, peanut butter, fruit, produce, breads and other starches marched along a long table, each labeled with how many of each item could be taken by a family on each visit.)

For dessert, Amy also made rice pudding!–but again, a very different dish from Rachel’s. Amy started her rice in coconut milk, then zested several oranges (remember that citrus vinaigrette?–nothing going to waste here) and threw it all in. A lot of it! And we were glad she did–lovely fresh taste.

Great food!–And a fun event. Hats off to FamilyWorks for a creative fundraiser that was also an eye-opening introduction to the work they are doing to make good food accessible to every family. Do you have a similar effort in your neighborhood? Give us a snapshot of what it does.

The University of Washington Club Passport to Portugal Wine Dinner

Take a behind-the-scenes tour of the February 25 Passport Dinner to Portugal with club manager Alexandra (Alex) Chordas! The Club specializes in these wonderful events that pair the wines of a particular style, region, or winemaker with a superb multi-course meal. This night’s spotlight on Portugal featured wines from the Herdade do Esporao Winery (www.esporao.com).

Here’s the video of the event:

Executive Chef Greg Fazzini designed a great dinner to  complement the wines. But unfortunately he woke up ill the day of the dinner! So Sous Chef Jon Maley (who had joined the team just a week before!) and Mike Hoffman stepped up to the plate, so to speak, and prepared a great dinner for about 60 of us.

Cheese 101 from Calf & Kid

Fourteen cheeses in a couple of hours! –This was a true fromage-orama.

At the communal table in the restaurant Sitka and Spruce, Sheri LaVigne of The Calf & Kid started us off with small offerings of fresh chevre and sheep’s-milk ricotta, then took us on a clockwise tour of a plate of twelve cheeses, from soft-ripened to washed-rind to semi-firm and hard, finishing with a couple of blues. Oh, and along the way, she gave us a concise history of a couple of millenia of cheesemaking and cheesemakers!

What were my favorites?–It’s really hard to choose. Between the two “fresh” cheeses, I preferred the plain chevre from Briar Rose Creamery (Dundee, OR)–a very light, fluffy goat cheese. Among the four “soft-ripened” cheeses we tasted, The Le Pommier Camembert (a cow cheese from Herve Mons in Rhone-Alps, France) was beautifully mushroomy and earthy; its aroma just bloomed in my head.

Between the two “washed-rind” cheeses, I’d choose the Oma (raw cow’s milk cheese from Cellars at Jasper Hill, Von Trapp Farmstead–yes, those Von Trapps, Greensboro, VT)–an unusual grassy flavor that I really liked.

(Sidebar:  the whole question of the rind on cheese turns out to be a study of its own! But “washed-rind” means just what it says–the cheesemaker washes the surface of the cheese roughly weekly during the aging process with a brine solution or alcohol.)

The “semi-firm” cheeses were nice but not as striking or unusual as some of the others. The “hard” cheeses were both cheddars, and very tasty, but the news here was that “cheddar” is also a verb! In “cheddaring,” the cheese block (hunk? batch?–you get the idea) is cut into slices, then the bottom curd is put on top and the whole thing is pressed. Repeat, then repeat . . . This process eventually produces that wonderfully crumbly texture that cheddar has.

For me the big finish was the blues, especially the raw cow’s-milk Caveman Blue from Rogue Creamery in Central Point, OR. This is one pungent cheese, no question about it!–Sheri says it smells like “a skunk died in a sweat sock.” But get through the smell and put it in your mouth!–meltingly  rich and aromatic. Plus, it looks like marble–the blue veins are large and smoky, rippling through the butter-colored cheese.

It turns out that many local cheesemakers do cheese-making classes on their farms! So, for those who love cheese, stay tuned for field trips. For the rest of you, class is dismissed!

You can learn about the cheeses of the Northwest in the “bible”: Artisan Cheese of the Pacific Northwest, by Tami Parr (see my post for 2/23; I got the book!).

You can follow Sheri on Blogspot:
http://calfandkid.blogspot.com/