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Northwest by South: The Path to my New Way of Cooking

I’ve been thinking a lot about how my cooking has changed over the last 10 years since moving from the South to the Pacific Northwest. I was thinking mostly of my recipes and how I don’t fry as much, almost never actually. I’ve been exposed to so many more food types over the years that my own food now has more Asian, Thai, Mexican, and Mediterranean influences. It’s also been influenced by numerous friends, who also happen to be foodies. Funny, how one foodie attracts another. 

But, it happened today, when I realized what the real transition of the cooking experience was for me. It is not about the style or type of cuisine; it’s how the food is prepared. I’m not referring to some sort of knife skills technique or a braising method. I’m talking about a more communal approach, where multiple people do the cooking. This is not the standard way I entertained in the past, nor how I learned to host in the South. In the past, I would invite friends for a cocktail party or dinner party, then slave for hours by myself on tedious appetizers and elaborate entrees.

But that began to change ten years ago when I moved to the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle from Atlanta. Our infamous dinner parties were a way of introducing the newbie in the house (me) to all of my housemate’s friends. The majority of us were certainly foodies. Our dinner parties were about trying new foods, making new friends, and having a nice break in the work week. Tuesdays were “dinner party” night. It was a bi-monthly thing and to this day, our dinner parties, which ran the course of three to four years, were like a religion for some of us. We always had a theme. Some of the popular ones were Indian, Thai, Mexican, Fondue, and Breakfast. The Comfort Foods theme was quite interesting! 

If it was your birthday, you got to choose the theme. There were introductions made and marriages that came out of our dinner parties. And, of course, children followed marriage, or not necessarily in that order. I thought our dinner parties were a thing of the past, but realized recently they are changing to a new concept – The “Come As You Are” breakfast party. This way, the kiddies can be involved and bond just like the grown-ups do. Beer and wine with dinner has transformed to Mimosa’s and Bloody Mary’s for the adults, while the kids get their splurge of chocolate milk! 

Another experience that is becoming a new routine is with some friends just outside Seattle, on Vashon Island. I have found another group of foodies that enjoys cooking together, while eating local and gluten free. We gather for full weekends of cooking.  We choose a theme based on what is fresh, local, and abundant - then go into “factory production” of cooking. We each go home with a load of items for the freezer to enjoy for months afterwards. image

The first one of these cooking events was the “Tamale Fest” at Judith & Ramon’s home, where we spent two full days roasting a turkey and a pork butt, while making a red sauce and a green sauce for each type of tamale. The second day consisted of making the masa dough and soaking the husks for the final stage of the tamale. Also, in the background, a large pot of plum jam was simmering on the range. Not for the tamales of course, but plums were in season!

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The weekend included harvesting fresh goodies from the garden, watching the dogs run through the pasture, petting the horses, visiting the local farmers’ market, and just plain enjoying each other’s company and laughter. We discovered our new favorite summer afternoon cocktail. We call it “Gingerita” and the recipe is below. For me the trip to Vashon is a short ferry ride from Seattle and it’s the best “stay-cation” I can think of. The next Vashon event was the Pre-Thanksgiving Bakeoff. This was a one day cook-off held the Sunday prior to Thanksgiving. This time, Bonnie hosted in her home as she had the double ovens. We needed the oven capacity for the apple and peach pie production. The apples were brought by Judith and Ramon. They almost needed a wheelbarrow to haul in all the apples from their trees, the last harvest of the season. There were just enough frozen peaches left over from an earlier harvest to make one peach and cardamom pie.

Once again the factory production began. This time it was the peeling and coring and slicing of the apples. Dough (gluten free, of course) mixing began right after that. I played the part of factory support by bringing the makings for an antipasto platter and a selection of wine. We certainly needed our nutrition and energy throughout the process! Other than the wonderful pies we all walked away with, it was the sharing of the process, the laughter, the banter, and joking that really made this experience special. image

I am always looking forward to the next dinner party, cook-off, or whatever function it may be that brings my different groups of friends together where the focus is on food, friends, and fun. I have learned many new recipes, food types, and cooking methods. I have also shared my own skills, knowledge, and family recipes with my friends. There is now a bank of memories associated with those dinner parties in Wallingford and new ones being deposited from the Vashon cook-offs. These are such unique experiences for me as an avid lover of kitchens, be it designing one for a client or cooking in one with friends. The kitchen is the setting for so many memories. 

 “Gingerita”

6 oz Ginger Beer

1-1/2 oz clear 100% Agave Tequila

Squeeze of lime

A fine grating of fresh ginger

Shake and pour over ice

BY: Kayron Brewer

Where to Begin

We all do it. We shop at a few farmers markets and fill our refrigerator with a large amount of vegetables and with each passing moment they lose the qualities that make us love them: greens and lettuces begin to wilt, garlic starts to shoot, tomatoes and squash begin to bruise.

I use a strategy from our restaurant kitchen to help solve this problem at home. At Restaurant Eugene, we break down our produce from its large raw state to smaller more manageable sizes as soon as a farmer brings us their vegetables. Ideally at Restaurant Eugene, vegetables are only in my possession for 36 hours. Eugene’s kitchen is small. We just don’t have room for bulk storage. The faster the food goes out, the fresher it is.

One of the best ways of doing this is to do most of the beginning preparation as soon as you get home from shopping. I know, I know, this sounds like a chore. Coming home after driving to the market and carrying all your bags to the kitchen can leave you with little energy for getting into some knife work, but a few minutes with a knife, cutting board and some good storage containers can save you a load of time later when you need to cook a meal.

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Take broccoli for instance: go ahead and cut off the florets and put in a bag for a meal later (sautéed with shallots, pine nuts and raisins). Save the stems, slice them into thin disks and place in a bowl of salt water; they have an amazing flavor and are great for that quick snack. Most raw vegetables take little prep to transform them to ready to eat or ready for recipe. This takes very little time and also has the benefit of saving room in your refrigerator.

PREP TIPS:

  • Break down raw vegetables into smaller, more manageable sizes as soon as you get back from shopping.
  • Use the whole vegetable: many times what seems like waste, makes a great raw snack.
  • The more prepared a vegetable is when you need to cook, the more likely you are to use it.

BY  Linton Hopkins

On Being a Locavore

Napoleon Bonaparte and Clarence Birdseye forever changed the course of our culture and lifestyle. Two events separated by a hundred years contributed to the change from a farm-to-table locavore culture to a farm-to-factory-to-freeway distribution of food. Bonaparte could only advance his armies as far as the food rations would allow. He sponsored a contest for food preservation that ultimately led to the Mason canning jar. Clarence Birdseye was inspired to develop flash freezing techniques after observing Inuit ice fishing. Today that technology allows us to enjoy “fresh, previously frozen” tuna from Samoa.

“Fresh, previously frozen” tuna from Samoa was the catalyst that forever changed the course of my food buying habits. I live on an island where “live locally” is not only the community’s daily mantra, it is a state of mind. One in every three cars in line for the ferry is a Prius and if you are at the four-way stop in town the default right of way goes to the car that runs on recycled cooking oil.

As I picked up the piece of tuna from Samoa that was wrapped in plastic and on a Styrofoam tray, I started to think about what it took to get that $6.00 piece of fish to the island market. The mindset of a culture that supports purchasing tuna from Samoa is sheer insanity. I put the fish back and bought locally FARMED…that’s right…farmed salmon!

Here in the Northwest, the locavore lifestyle has been around since the late seventies and early eighties. It never was a trend; it was a consciousness about “What’s available from the farmers right now?” Local restaurateurs have embraced this philosophy and have a devoted following of customers. The granddaddy of locavorism is the Herbfarm located in Woodinville, Washington. The annual 100-Mile Dinner features nine courses of food, including wine, originating within a 100-mile radius.

I will confess that around February when the northwest winters take their toll on my attitude I will buy oranges from California. I resist the strawberries as I will wait for the ones that are grown locally in the summer. Avocados are my karmic downfall…I just cannot resist fresh guacamole on my salmon fish tacos.

A friend in the community raises turkeys. Starting in late September he starts feeding them apples from his trees. By the time November rolls around and they end up scheduled for the dinner table, their meat is flavored with the taste and smell of Washington apples. The one drawback is that he started naming them after famous baseball players. Ichiro is still around but Ken Griffey Jr. is gone from the team.

While I live in a unique community and embrace the lifestyle and culture of being a locavore, not everyone has that luxury. I consciously rethink my food purchases and have enjoyed the challenges of cooking seasonal offerings from my garden or the local farmers market. With that said, can anyone give me some suggestions on a menu that includes Walla Walla sweet onions, Yakima cherries, Coho salmon and wild fennel?

Locavore Living: A Checklist

Find out where your food comes from: Check labels, talk to merchants, ask questions at the grocery store. You may be surprised by how much is local, or not.

Do some homework: Learn the local farms and food purveyors where restaurants source their foods locally. Often, the same names may pop up. Call them (or check their website) to see if they sell retail as well as wholesale. Check for CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) organizations; these groups of local farms sometimes deliver directly to members.

Enjoy the fruits (and vegetables, and meats) of your sourcing: Does local taste better? Often it does. It’s fresher because it has less distance to travel, and often more pristine from not traveling great distances in trucks, trains, boats and planes.

BY  Judith A. Neary