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31 August 2009

a party to preserve the season

canning apron

A joyful noise, wonderful women and men both, the smells of plum chutney and lemon juice and blueberry jam in the air, corn being shucked on the porch, people canning tomatillos in turkey roasters with a propane tank, burnt sugar cake and head cheese and blackberry pie, people laughing and chatting and making new friends. It was a fine frenzy, to be sure. The first friends arrived about 10:15 in the morning and our last friends left at 7:30 as the evening was descending. We were all filled with happy exhaustion.

We had a canning party this Saturday.

soft-focus tomatoes

Remember when I told you about the Canvolution going on? And so many of you shared your own stories of preserving food? The excitement has been building, all across the country. Maybe some of you gathered in a friend's kitchen, to put up peaches or pickle green beans or learn how to make jam. I hope so, because this was one of the most joyful afternoons I have ever spent.

And just think what it will be like to taste these tomatoes in January.

peeling tomatillos

We have potlucks, often. We welcome our friends into our living room and backyard, laugh all day, and eat well.

But nothing compares to making food together. Some of us gathered around the table, peeling the skins from home-grown tomatillos. The conversation followed the same easy pace as those skins slipping off.

women in the kitchen

Within half an hour of the party starting, all four burners on the stove — as well as the two portable burners Jenise and Mike brought with them — were glowing bright blue with flame. Crushed blueberries bubbled with sugar. Squeezed and spent lemon rinds sat in the sink. The air began to smell of summer and wonder and something acrid too.

All the women talked and shared food secrets, demonstrating techniques with their hands in fast conversations, back and forth. (The men did too.)

Sheryl crushing plums

Mostly, we used our hands. To talk, to point toward the work going on, to chop fruits and red onions and vanilla bean pods. Sheryl is crushing plums with her fingers here, softening, cajoling, making them ready for chutney.

In stations around the kitchen and the living room table and in the front garden, people made food ready with their hands.

Marisa squeezing lemon

Marisa, who writes Food in Jars, flew all the way from Philadelphia for this party. We were so honored. And so happy to meet her, all of us. She slid into the kitchen and enlightened many people on techniques and what to do with a giant Le Creuset pan full of simmering-hot blueberries and sugar. Look closely — do you see the lemon juice about to drop?

figs ready to be made into jam

Besides blueberries and plums, tomatoes and tomatatillos, green beans and red onions, my dear friend Viv brought us figs. Fresh figs, plucked from trees on the island not five miles from where we gathered. We all oohed and aahed at them in the box when she walked in.

But looking at them flecked with lemon zest in this metal bowl? That brought out the food blogger papparazi — a circle of us honed in on the pink flesh with our cameras, trying to capture the beauty before us.

outdoor canning station

The house thronged with so many people that we didn't have room for all the work we had to do. Laura brought this propane tank and giant pot, fired it up, and set to work on the tin table top outside. Within a few moments, this became the main gathering place, as people stood in the sunlight together, talking and topping green beans.

Kim cutting plums for jam

Kim, amazing woman, cut up plums, as she told stories and talked about her favorite books from childhood. We grew spirited, quickly, talking about the Boxcar Children and the Borrowers and Harriet the Spy.

This was my kind of party.

work in progress

In that light, even the detritus of the vegetables looked beautiful.

Maybe it always does.

canning tomatillos

And then Laura canned her tomatillos, on the porch, with the leaves that needed sweeping, all her jars awaiting that swirling green.

canning on the counter

In the kitchen, people rinsed and cleaned, setting everything aside for the next batch of canning.

(We had a lot of dishes at the end of the day, but they were mostly done for us. We would have happily scrubbed and loaded the dishwasher and emptied it, only to begin again, for days, if we had been required to. But people were lovely and left us an organized kitchen, on top of it all.)

tea making zucchini noodles

Of course, no party would be complete without food to eat while gathered. It's one thing to put up food for the winter, to make blueberry jam that will taste of August when we open it in February.

It all tasted better with zucchini noodles with pesto and sun-dried tomatoes, however.

some of the food spread

We had quite the spread on our table, and in various places of the kitchen (any spot that didn't have a burner, really). All of it fresh and vibrant, from farmers' markets or small businesses.

And all of it gluten-free.

(If you have been recently diagnosed, and you're feeling sorry for yourself, just look at this photo sometimes. All this can be yours, plus more.)

blackberry pie

Plus, there was pie. Blackberry pie from the berries Little Bean and I gathered with our friend Anna and her son, Jamie. Little Bean sit on the path and demanded more and more blackberries. After eating only a couple of them, she looked up at me and said, "Yum!" That stopped my hand from reaching for the next berry for awhile.

That night, I made a pie, with my first lattice crust. I was surprised when any of it was left for the party.

It didn't last long.

gluten-free burnt sugar cake

And gluten-free burnt sugar cake, made by a talented ten-year-old girl.

Jon with the shucked corn

Our friend Jon brought sweet corn, a little later in the day. A few of us sat on the porch, talking about salmon and different methods of composting and corn shucking contests at the state fair. Those husks were tough, but we made quick work of them.

I made Jon sit there for a minute until I could take this picture.

Danny chopping corn for the relish

And even though we had been canning all day, and the kitchen was littered with dishes to put away (and sliced apples still to be made into applesauce), Danny started cutting the kernels of corn from the cob.

He and Jon stood in the kitchen, talking about flavors and what to make with roasted peppers and coriander seeds from our garden. Neither one of them is much for drawing attention to themselves, however. They just set to work.

some of the leftover flats

By the end of the day, empty flats stained with raspberries and green half-pint boxes sat on our front porch, so we could take them to the recycling center today. All that fresh fruit, ripe, made into something memorable the day it was purchased, instead of sitting in the refrigerator, wilting.

This sight makes me happy.

some of the cans we had left at the end of the party

As does this one — just some of the jars of preserves people left for us at the end of the day. Fig jam. Plum chutney. Blueberry jam. Blueberry chutney. Corn relish. (There were also smashed tomatillos, homemade salsa, and bread and butter pickles.)

We will remember this joyful day deep into the long winter, and beyond.

baskets at the end of the day

And in the end, it was all about this. Jars, lids. Some canning salt. Fresh fruit. A pie or two.

Homey, comfortable. An activity as old as our great grandmothers and before them. We were a group of people — many of us new to each other — drawn into those rooms by our love of food and the desire to preserve it. We all went home with jars of jam. We left each other with new friendships, a raft of information about pectins and canning techniques, and the memory of a sunlit-dappled day of laughter and magic connections.

If you haven't attended a canning party yet, may I recommend you throw one? (See Canning Across America for advice and content.) You won't regret it.

You will be fed.

24 August 2009

eating at the Herbfarm

happy anniversary

A few times in your life, you have a meal so memorable that you know you'll be tasting it again, decades later.

We know that when we are in our 80s, we will be discussing food on the front porch, our feet up on the railing as we talk about black truffle risotto in Gubbio, fresh oysters from Hogg Island, and peach crisp from our kitchen in August. And often, I imagine, we will circle back to the evening we ate at the Herbfarm.

In honor of our anniversary (and making it through this tumultuous year still laughing), we splurged on a nine-course tasting menu at the Herbfarm, one of the most respected restaurants in Washington state, and beyond.

This was the best meal of our lives.

Herbfarm garden

The Herbfarm has been working its magic since 1986, first at a large rural farm in Fall City, and then at its current location in Woodinville after a terrible fire took down the original buildings in 1997. Long before the phrase "eating local" became common vernacular, these guys were serving tremendous food in season, most of it harvested from the farm just outside the kitchen door.

Danny and I have always dreamed of going, individually before we met each other, and then together after we fell in love. It wasn't possible before this. There was no time for restaurant dining when Danny was the chef at a restaurant six days a week. And after Little Bean arrived, there wasn't much time for 5 hours of dedicated dining. In fact, before Sunday, we had not been out for the evening in well over a year.

This was one heck of a way to start that tradition.

We started first in the gardens. We were handed rose geranium punch in delicate glasses and asked to walk with Carrie Zimmerman, one of the owners of the Herbfarm, as she showed us some of the bounty of the place.

Carrie shows us zucchini blossoms

These are zucchini blossoms (see the tiny zucchinis on the end?). Danny and I fell in love with squash blossoms in Rome, when he ordered a dish of braised veal cheeks and risotto-stuffed squash blossoms. It was the only time that he has ever taken a bite, then curled his arm around the plate so I couldn't reach in. I laughed. (Later, he let me have some.) Anything that good deserves to be his.

Did you know that squash blossoms come in male and female form? Which one is which here?

amaranth leaves

It pleased me no end to see this. The leaves of the amaranth plant, with that magenta splash down the center of the leaf. (It's usually called Chinese spinach in the farmers' markets.)

Seeing this made me feel better. Certainly they could feed me gluten-free.


After the tour, we walked into the lobby, ready to be seated. Just as we entered, Danny whispered to me, "Be sure to mention to your server that you're gluten-free. I just don't want you getting sick."

And then we saw this.

Wow. I mean, wow.

I kind of wanted to cry, seeing this. So many of us who are gluten-free feel like outsiders, left with the table scraps and the salads without croutons and plain meat served without any sauces. Not here. Not at The Herbfarm.

I turned to Danny and giggled. "Yeah, I think they know I'm gluten-free. I'm not going to worry about it."

(And for anyone reading who is gluten-free? The Herbfarm has been feeding gluten-free customers for years. This is what I have found: any restaurant that makes food from scratch and pays attention to seasons and the best ingredients? They can feed us well. Especially the Herbfarm. You may not have a sign like this greeting you. But you will have one of the best meals of your life, entirely safe.)

show plate

The Herbfarm is more than a restaurant. It's a little like food theatre. Every place setting has wine glasses set up for a flight, lacey placemats, the name of your party in a little frame, and these lustrous green plates, waiting. Danny tells me they are show plates. All I know is that the sight of this reminds me of the time between courses, when we were waiting for the next white plate.

three soups

And here was the first.

Sorry about the focus on that gaspacho (made with fennel and chardonnay seed oil). That dish was taller than the rest. And the lighting was ambient and lovely, but not best for food photography. I think you'll forgive me. Just imagine the tastes.

The soup on the left, with the spoon, was an incredible mussel stew, made from mussels grown in Quilcene, by a fisherman so dedicated to freshness that he delivers his seafood in an aquaraium, still bubbling away, because the power cord is connected to the cigarette lighter in his pick-up truck. This stew had the slight sweetness of mussels and basil, with a housemade aioli. I didn't have the crouton. I didn't miss it.

On the right a small shot of fresh corn soup. It was simply sweet corn, marjoram, butter, and salt. Oh my this stopped us in our talking. We took smaller and smaller spoonfuls with each new taste, to make it last as long as we could.

After these, we could not wait for the rest of dinner.


Before we could continue eating, however, we had the chance to meet the staff. Starting with this man. It's Herbguy!

Forgive me if you are not on Twitter. But if you are, and you care about food, you're probably following Ron Zimmerman, known on that chatty community center as @herbguy. It was reading his updates on the staff's efforts to create this 100-mile dinner that inspired Danny and me to come to dinner. That, and Ron's kindness. He's a lovely man. He and his wife Carrie (the one with the squash blossoms above) have put their life's work into this restaurant, first serving as chef and dishwashers and now overseeing all the operations.

Here he is, telling us about the history of the place and his remarkable staff.

chef de cuisine

This is Lisa Nakamura, the chef de cuisine at the Herbfarm. Here she is describing how the kitchen staff scrambled, creatively, to find the ingredients to feed us.

You see, the Herbfarm changes the theme of its menu about every 10 days to 2 weeks. We almost went a few weeks ago to partake of the local game menu. Of course we would love to go to the makin' bacon menu in November. But when we heard that the 100-mile dinner would only include ingredients sourced from within 100 miles (as the crow flies) from the Herbfarm, we had to part of that.

Lisa and the other chefs scoured farmers' markets and followed tips to small farms in far-flung places. They actually made their own salt, by evaporating seawater from off the coast of one of the San Juan Islands. We don't grow peppercorns in the Northwest, or olives, or coffee beans. So the chefs had to start from scratch on everything, and be more creative than they normally are.

It's a little like going gluten-free.

We grew excited, listening to the chef talk about the food, and the ebullient sommelier, Michael Kaminski, discuss the wine choices they had made for the dinner. (Luckily, there are plenty of good wineries in the Northwest.) Danny, especially, sat rapt, his eyes focused but his brain already dreaming of the food he might make after hearing this.

We were ready for more.

buttermilk and yogurt panna cotta

This is a savory buttermilk and yogurt panna cotta, smooth and light, fresh as the buttermilk they had created by churning their own butter with local cream. That's a squash blossom wrapped around it. And a tiny cucumber with the blossom still attached.

This panna cotta appealed to my eye so much that I didn't touch it for a few moments. But once I took the first taste, I could have spooned it up in small bites for another 30 minutes and still not be done.

gluten-free spoonbread

The friendly, efficient servers brought each patron small slices of brown bread, made with local hard wheat. I didn't really need anything. The memory of that panna cotta was still in my mouth.

Then David (wonderful, funny David, who actually reads this blog!) untucked something from behind a white napkin.

Corn spoonbread, made with sweet corn and its milk. Topped with house-made butter.

Yeah, it was exactly as summer-warm sweet as you would imagine. It made me a little teary, to tell you the truth.

eggs, clams, and potatoes

Oh goodness. This was my kind of course. Breakfast in the midst of this high-end dinner.

Sausage (house-made), bacon, potatoes that had been picked from the garden that morning, grilled clams from Quilcene, and a perfectly poached egg.

Honestly, at this point I would have thought we were done. This was exquisite. If only I had something to sop up those lovely juices.

cornmeal crackers

And like a dream, it appeared.

These are cornmeal crackers. The staff had ground dried sweet corn into a meal. (Cornmeal, they found out, is traditionally made from grist corn, which holds the meal together better.) These were a little crumbly. Did I care? Not one whit.

After all, these were also made with summer truffles and house-made Parmesan cheese. Yes, please.

(The truffles had been hunted by a local chihuahua, who was a dog rescued from the pound. Her new owner noticed the dog digging in the garden and went to look. Truffles. She showed up at the Herbfarm one day and offered to sell them, since she couldn't eat them all.)

lummi salmon with prosciutto chip

Silly me, thinking that was enough. I ate my words when this course arrived.

This is salmon that had been caught by reef nets off Lummi Island. (Reef netting is an ancient practice for fishing, one of the most humane and respectful fishing practices in existence. If you'd like to read more about it, go here.) The chefs slow roasted it until the flesh felt like butter, soft and yet whole. Sweeter than most salmon, this small piece will live in my memory. Underneath it a smoky thyme and cream sauce, accompanied with baby beans. And on top? Something we'll be trying in our kitchen soon — a crisp prosciutto chip.


tiny fava bean cakes

And then these arrived, too. Tiny cakes made of fava bean and potato puree. They were heavenly, bursting with fresh herb taste.

I might have thought tiny cakes were too small before. But with this much flavor — and a smear of great butter — these were all I needed.

(I still cannot believe that the staff made three separate gluten-free savory treats for me.)

beef course

Talk about tiny tastes being plenty.

This is Lummi Island beef, bathed in lardo while cooking, with a huckleberry-rosemary gastrique. Oh, and horseradish butter. Danny took a bite of this first, while I was taking this photograph. It was the only bite where he grew truly irritated with me. "Put down the camera and have a taste right now. I want you to have this.."

So I did.

After nearly fainting, I sliced into the veal pave on which it had rested. This local veal is pasture raised, humanely. The meat tasted even brighter for it. And to the side, small vegetables, picked that day and slow roasted.

In our house, when food is this good, we turn to each other, slap the other one's arm, and say, "Shut up!" I didn't feel comfortable doing that at the Herbfarm, but I wanted to do it.


And the wine. Oh, the wine was perfect. I don't know the words to talk about wine in the right way. I mean, I know them, but they don't feel like mine.

All I will say is that everything was spectacular, supportive of the food without outshining it, rising above my expectations, and kind. Can wine be kind? These wines felt like they could.

Also, the non-alcoholic option was possibly even more extraordinary. Each course came with a wineglass of an herbal concoction — a natural Sprite, blueberries juice, an attempt at cola with burdock root — so interesting and delicious that I actually asked for those for a few courses, instead of the wines. Danny and I were both delighted.

sour cherry sorbet

Now this, I have to say, is my kind of palate cleanser.

Sour cherry and tarragon sorbet, with a pickled cherry on top. And to the side? A bacon chip made with Mangalitsa pork.

Okay, I have to say it. Shut up!


One of the lovely parts of the Herbfarm we loved best was the communal table. Danny and I could have sat at our own table, off in the corner by ourselves, on our first real date night out. But we chose to sit with others, to hear their stories, to learn about their culinary adventures, to be part of a larger experience.

This is Keltie, the wonderul woman who sat across from us with her husband, Richard. Her little sighs of delight, questions about the ingredients, and fond memories of learning how to cook out of Mastering The Art of French Cooking made our evening even more wonderful than it would have been if we had sat alone.


Do I have to tell you that dessert was deserving of every accolade possible?

On the top is a hazlenut souffle (no flour involved!) with a smoked hazelnut creme anglaise. We poked holes tentatively into the top, then poured the creme into the hole, watching it swirl for a moment before we dove in. That was the lightest soufflé I have ever eaten. Entirely gluten-free.

The small green sliver is a chocolate mint semi-freddo. Not chocolate and mint, but made with chocolate mint, so only a small touch of the familiar flavors. And instead of sugar, they used stevia, which is made in the Northwest too.

And on the left, perhaps my favorite bite of the night. A ripe nectarine poached in anise-hyssop, with a dollop of creme fraiche.

I could eat that all summer long and not be done.

the last of the evening

The evening could not end without beverages, of course. But no one grows coffee beans in Washington state, or black teas. What to do? There were tisanes of herbs, a coffee-like brew of dandelion root or chicory. Green teas grown on the Skagit River flats, the only working tea plantation in North America. They all sounded appealing to me.

But I had to have the madrona bark tea, foraged by a man named Neal Foley (who goes by @Podchef on Twitter) on Shaw Island. I could not resist the chance to taste this. When was it ever going to happen again? It was earthy, something like mushrooms, slightly sweet, and wonderfully pleasant. The best end to an extraordinary meal.

Danny and I sat back in our seats, entranced with the sensory pleasure we had experienced during those past 4 1/2 hours. We didn't want to leave.

One of the parts of the Herbfarm experience I especially like is that you give your credit card number when you make a reservation, for a deposit. When you show up, and they know you have eaten there, they quietly charge the rest, plus service, to your card. This means you can leave without ever seeing a bill.

So Danny and I were surprised when our waiter brought over a small book for us. "You two have paperwork," he said, smiling. "Look inside."

Inside was a card, made from a photograph that Ron had taken of us during the evening. We thought that was lovely. We opened it up and read. It took us a few moments to take it in.

The names of eight of our good friends were written inside, with a little note: "We picked up the bill! Happy Anniversary."

We both cried. I'm teary again just writing this. Thank you to our friends (who have been privately thanked before this). For food and ambience, and the occasion, this was already the best meal of our lives. Our friends' kindness took it to another level.

That's the Herbfarm. It's like that.

the chefs and staff

And so, I want to end by showing you this photograph of all of the chefs, lined up to be introduced by Ron. I've never been to a restaurant where I learn the names of every cook, where they come from, how their background brought them here.

Thank you, every one of you.

I also want you to see this to know: if you encounter a chef who says he cannot cook for you, gluten-free? Get up and leave. The true professionals don't regard this as an imposition. The best chefs know that this is their chance to be even more creative and give you joy in the belly.

We will never forget this meal.

19 August 2009

unexpected tastes in the kitchen

melted leek coulis

You think you know someone and then he surprises you.

For me, wishing to be married was like walking around thirsty all the time, and only getting gulps of lukewarm tap water once in awhile.

Finding the guy I would marry was like a long cool drink, in fast slurps at first (with stops for a moment to pant), and then long slow sips, knowing the well wasn't going to run dry after all.

Now, it feels like floating down a river, the water always there, always moving, part of my breath, clear and there if I need to lean down my hand and have a drink.

And then I find a small pool of melted leek coulis.

* * *

Yesterday, our good friends Matt and Danika came over in the morning, loaded down with bags of food and fabulous cameras with various lenses. Little Bean waved to them as they walked through the door. We all talked fast with our hands. We had a mission.

The men had cooking to do.

Next week, Danny and Matt are going to be the guest chefs at La Boucherie, here on the island. It's the restaurant run by the folks at Seabreeze Farms, one of our favorite small farms in the Seattle area. We're regular customers. So are Matt and Danika. Naturally, we all began talking, and sharing portions of head cheese, and pork and game terrine, and talking about making our own butter and curing our own meats. Our friendship has been forged of many forces — our children; our love of this area; gardening; ridiculous humor — but cooking food grown by local farmers has been one of the strongest.

Bantering turned into conversations became plans. The folks at Seabreeze asked Matt and Danny to be guest chefs and they jumped at the chance. Danny has been cooking a bit outside of our home, here and there, but it has been nearly a year since he was a restaurant chef. (wow.) He's so excited that he's walking around the kitchen, making shapes with his hands, imagining.

And so, next Thursday, August 27th, Matt and Danny will be cooking this menu:

Smoked Salmon, Tomato, and Horseradish Cream Napoleon

Charcuterie Plate: Head cheese, Game Pate, and Red Onion Confit

Homemade Sausage, Piperade, and Roasted Potatoes

Chicken Leg Confit with Bacon-Dripping Lentils

Pork Belly Roulade with Mushroom Duxelle with Melted Leek Coulis

Lemon Chocolate Tart

And the entire menu is gluten-free!

To be sure, it's a meaty menu. However, this is a chance for the fellows to show off the Seabreeze product. Since they raise cows and pigs, here it is. But for Danny and Matt, this is a delight. They just can't wait to feed the people who arrive.

(There are just a few spots open, so if you'd like to be part of this tasting menu experience, go here for more details and to make a reservation.)

So Matt and Danny bustled in the kitchen together while Danika and I hovered, taking pictures. At one point I sat on the kitchen counter to get a better angle and Danika nosed in like a roving reporter. We all stopped to laugh. We were the food blogger paparrazi. She and I stepped away from the food to talk and let the boys work.

(If you'd like to see our photographs of the afternoon, here are some of my photographs and some of Danika's amazing shots.)

It was an extravaganza of preparation in the kitchen. And these were only practice portions -- the real cooking happens next week at the restaurant. Danny tended pots on all four blazing burners while Matt chopped herbs and prepared the casings for the homemade sausages. Conversation stopped and we just watched as they stepped, stirred, and sliced, asked quick questions of each other and learned how to work together.

That kitchen smelled like Danny's skin at the end of a long restaurant day.

We sat down to sample a small portion of each dish. The chicken confit made Matt giggle. It tasted that good. We grew silent and then jabbered. Little Bean grabbed for a chicken leg, a handful of lentils, a few slivers of red onions. We sat around that table for a couple of hours, at least.

Danny put the last dish of the day -- the pork belly roulade, stuffed with mushroom duxelle, accompanied by pickled okra -- down in front of me. To the side of it sat a small skim of green sauce.

Earlier, when he had finished making it, he offered a bowl full of that asparagus-green to us. We dipped our fingers in it. We couldn't wait.

It was warm and green, like the feeling of sunlight in May. It had the depth of a sauce with veal stock but without any meatiness. I could have drunk that bowl down.

"What's this?" I asked him, surprised. I thought I knew all his sauces by now.

"Melted leek coulis," he said.

As we at the table, I dug into the roast pork belly, then dipped my bite into that green. The cool green sauce cut the unctuous fat of the belly, making a new golden mean of flavor.

"Oh god," I shouted. "This is amazing."

I turned to Danny and batted him on the arm. "Why haven't you made this sauce for me before? It's unbelievable."

He shrugged, in his shy way.

That's part of the reason I love him. He has so much more up his sleeve.

melted leek coulis III

Melted Leek Coulis

Danny first learned to make this when he was the sous chef at Papillon, one of Denver's best and biggest restaurants. There he drizzled it atop seared salmon. But I'm already imagining it with the Thomas Keller roast chicken we have been eating lately. It seems to me the leek coulis would also brighten up any kind of fish (halibut, artic char), or a dish of quinoa or millet.

Really, it's friendly with so many foods.

For those of you who are bemoaning the fact that eating gluten-free seems boring? You don't need much to liven up the plate. A well-roasted chicken lightens up a dark evening with its crackled skin and juicy meat. Slice up the breast, drape it over a hill of fluffed jasmine rice, and share this sauce with both. You won't complain about dinner again.

1/2 pound leeks, white part and just a touch of the green part
1 tablespoon extra-virgin olive oil
1 small fennel bulb, fine chopped
2 teaspoons fine-chopped fresh thyme
1 cup heavy cream
1/2 bunch spinach, stems removed and rough chopped
1 cup grapeseed oil
1/4 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Wash the leeks. Drain and dry them.

Heat the olive oil in a saucepan on medium heat.

Sauté the leeks and fennel until they are soft, about 4 to 5 minutes. Add the thyme. Cook until until the thyme is fragrant, about 1 minute.

Pour in the cream. Turn the heat to high and bring the cream. to a boil. Turn down the heat to medium and simmer the cream until it begins to thicken slightly, about 3 to 4 minutes. Add the spinach and let it wilt in the hot cream. (Don't let it sit for a long time. Maybe 2 minutes.)

Transfer the mixture to a blender. Blend to a smooth puree. Slowly add the grapeseed oil into the mixture as you are blending. When the mixture has become coulis (perfectly blended), stop.

Strain the coulis through a fine-mesh sieve, reserving some of the pulp. Add 1/4 of the pulp back into the bowl of sauce. Squeeze in the lemon juice and season with salt and pepper to taste.

Makes roughly 2 cups.

17 August 2009

sliced tomatoes (and smoked tomato salsa)

on the kitchen counter

Remember winter? When everything came in shades of grey? When the world felt silent, waiting, dormant beneath the earth? When nothing had a smell and we longed for something, anything to release its scent?

Here is the color we longed for then. A rioutous shout of reds and yellows and greens. The slightly acidic tinge in the nose, a rich deep smell of sun and wind and life itself?

I wait all year for tomatoes.

yellow tomatoes

I could talk about mealy canteloupe in January versus the glorious juices of local orange flesh right now. Or how different grapes taste in mid-December than the round-mouthed ohhhhhh of a grape grown in summer. But when I think of the flavor for which I wait until August, it's always tomatoes.

The weekend before our wedding, Danny and I ate a lot of great food. But the meal I will always remember best is one I didn't even eat.

Danny's father, wonderful man, grew up in Iowa. He lives his life in simple pleasures now: a game of golf early in the morning, a newspaper at the breakfast table, being with his wife, having conversations with his best friend (whom he has known since he was five, who lives down the street from him now in Arizona), talking with his adult children on the phone, a glass of bourbon in the evening.

But I have never seen him so happy as when he ate slices of tomato over our kitchen sink.

He cut into the heirlooms we bought at the farmers' market, mostly for him. He sliced each one slowly, with a small knife, on a white cutting board. He sprinkled sea salt over the tomatoes swimming in their juices. And then he raised one to his mouth and took a bite.

I will never forget the look of pleasure on his face.

We love coming up with new flavor combinations in this house, braising meats and combining flours to make new favorite foods. However, in the summer, these long days of August — the light already leaning toward fall— I don't need much more than tomatoes.

smoked tomato salsa

Smoked Tomato Salsa

Once we have eaten a case of tomatoes with sea salt over the sink, we do start thinking of other ways to eat them, in combination with other summer foods. We've been eating lots of salsa around here, and we thought you might want to eat this too.

5 large tomatoes, at the height of ripeness
1 medium Anaheim chile
1 medium red onion, peeled and fine-diced
1 tablespoon fine-chopped garlic
1/4 cup fine-chopped fresh cilantro
2 tablespoons fine-chopped fresh Italian parsley
1 tablespoon sherry vinegar
1 lime, juiced
1 lemon, juiced
Kosher salt and cracked black pepper

Smoking the tomatoes. Get your smoker ready, with a good amount of smoke going. Cut 4 tomatoes in half, and leave 1 of the halves on the kitchen counter. Put the tomatoes, skin side down, onto the smoker's rack. Cover. Let the tomatoes smoke for 30 minutes. Remove them from the smoker and let them cool. Remove the skins from the tomatoes. Chop them up. Save as much of the juice as possible. It's an important ingredient.

And if you don't have a smoker... You will need to add smoked paprika (about 2 tablespoons) or a dried chipotle pepper that has been hydrated and de-seeded. This will give you a smoky taste, different than the smoked tomatoes, but equally delicious.

Roasting the pepper. Rub a little oil on the Anaheim pepper. (This is a mild pepper. If you want more heat in the salsa, use a different chile. But be careful.) Throw it in a 425° oven and roast it until the skin begins to blister. Put the pepper in a bowl and cover it with plastic wrap. Let it sit until is cool to the touch. Peel the skin and de-seed. Chop it up with some care.

Blanching the other tomatoes. Bring a large saucepan of salted water to boil, using enough salt to make the water taste like the ocean. Mark a small x on the bottom of the tomato with a paring knife. Add the tomatoes into the salted water and cook until the skin starts to slip off, about 5 to 10 seconds. (Don’t let the tomatoes stay in the water for much longer, or you will start to cook them.) Transferthe tomatoes in a bowl of ice water to cool quickly. Remove the skins from the tomatoes, which should slip off fairly easily. Cut the tomatoes in half and remove the seeds. Chop the tomatoes.

Making the salsa. Combine the tomatoes, the roasted pepper, the onion, garlic, cilantro, parsley, and sherry vinegar. Stir.

Scoop up 1/4 of the salsa and put it in the food processor. Pulse the processor until the chunky salsa is pureed. Add this back into the salsa.

Squeeze in the lemon and lime juice. Taste. Add more if you wish. Season with salt and pepper.

Let the salsa sit in the refrigerator for at least 1 hour before eating it. (I know. It's hard.) It will be even better the next day.

summerfest badge

Today's post is part of the continuing celebration called Summer Fest 2009. Danny and I are honored to be part of this four-week cross-blog event, co-created last year by Margaret Roach of A Way to Garden, Matt Armendariz of Mattbites, Jaden Hair of Steamy Kitchen, and Todd and Diane of White on Rice Couple. This year, they've asked a couple of new folks to join in, including Simmer Till Done’s Marilyn Pollack Naron and Paige Smith Orloff of The Sister Project. Oh, and Danny and me.

And you.

THE 2009 SCHEDULE (you can go back to look at the past weeks, if you want)

* Tuesday, July 28: HERBS. Any and all.

* Tuesday, August 4: FRUITS FROM TREES

* Tuesday, August 11: BEANS-AND-GREENS WEEK

* Tuesday, August 18: TOMATO WEEK.


Leave a comment here, sharing your tips with tomatoes. We'd love to learn what you do.

And then go visit the other blogs, to read their ideas and leave comments with them. Soon, this will feel like a huge party, focused on tomatoes in this time of glorious ripeness.

12 August 2009

canning, preserving, and giving away

making blackberry jam

A couple of afternoons ago, Danny and I set out for the bluffs overlooking the sound a few moments from our home, Little Bean on my back and an 8-quart cambro in Danny's hand. The first rain in months had come and gone in the morning, leaving everything smelling damp and alive. We sang to Little Bean as we walked, who squirmed in her carrier trying to look over my shoulder, to see where we were headed.

We were going blackberry picking.

This may be my favorite time of the year. Blackberries grow ripe purple on the vine in the Pacific Northwest, in backyards and public parks, and along nearly every road. Here, though, we have a secluded walk, away from the street, where the blackberry vines grow as high as houses and the berries are sweet without being coated in car exhaust.

We settled into a patch with fat berries. Ignoring the thorns as much as possible, while keeping them away from Little Bean's legs, I dove in. Every year that I can, I pick blackberries. The thorns that attack me may leave my arms looking like a skating rink at the end of a long day. The sun may grimace too hot on my head by the end. But I stand there picking, moving from one spot to another in a constant quest for the biggest berry, never coming to terms with the fact that the best ones are always out of reach.

There's something humbling about standing in front of a vine that produces fall-apart-in-their-sweetness berries at the same time each year. There's a much bigger force at work in their presence than my desire for pie.

However, pie is always a good motivating force.

As we picked, I noticed that Danny's hands moved more slowly than mine. That's fine, but it's certainly not the norm. After humming to Little Bean and moving my hips to keep her dancing, I looked over again. And then it hit me. "Sweetie, is the first time you've ever picked blackberries?"

"Yes," he said, reaching up for another one.

I don't know why it didn't occur to me. Every summer before this, Danny has been in a restaurant kitchen, working on the line, getting ready for dinner service. He knows much more about food than I do, but he never had the time for an entire afternoon given to picking blackberries.

This has been such a beautiful summer.

We picked 4 quarts, a mighty pile. We were trying to fill that cambro, but Little Bean grew antsy. My hands were pretty scratched by then, too.

We walked home singing in the late afternoon sun.

And soon there will be blackberry jam, tasting of fat berries and sugar, a little lemon juice, maybe a touch of sage, and the lift of that afternoon. The sun on our hair. The baby on my back. The relaxation of Danny outside of a restaurant kitchen. The ritual for me, the joy for him, the newness of it all for our daughter.

In January it could be I'll taste all of that in a spoonful of blackberry jam.

* * *

Have you been canning this summer? Making raspberry jam? Tomato sauce for the winter? Pickling okra or maybe zucchini?

We're certainly not alone.

Putting up the surfeit of summer food for the dearth of winter? Old as time can tell, really. Our grandmothers probably had this knowledge in their hands. These days, most of us need the tutelage of older friends, books and blog posts to learn how to deal with our food directly.

I'm just learning, really. Four summers ago, I made raspberry freezer jam for the first time. And looking at that post flashes my mind with the understanding just how long ago that was. I've come to know so many foods well now, foods I never even knew I existed before I stopped eating gluten. More than that, however, I have a much more direct relationship with the food I eat now. Making my own jam and pickles seems natural.

I like what Amanda Hesser wrote in a piece about preserving in The New York Times yesterday:
"If you choose to watch a rerun of “Friends” rather than whip up some canned peaches one night this summer, then in the middle of February you’ll find yourself eating Chunky Monkey for dessert when you could have been indulging in a bowl of juicy peaches, lightly glazed in syrup."

There are so many reasons to put up our own food for the winter besides the sensory pleasures. I'd love to hear yours. But those of us with food allergies or intolerances in particular would do well to learn how to preserve our own food. That way, we know exactly what goes into it.

Have you been wanting to learn how to can jams and pickles, conserves and spreads? This is our summer.

There's a Canvolution going on.

It started on Twitter, of course.

One afternoon, about six weeks ago, a bunch of us were sitting on Twitter, talking about food and the tiny details of our lives. Kim O'Donnel, good food writer and excited-about-life person I like, mentioned that an organization in San Francisco is having an event called Yes, We Can, a community canning project intending to teach people how to capture produce at the peak of its season. "Why don't we have one in Seattle?"

I offered up our home for a canning party and sent out an email to our friends on Twitter. Someone else suggested another event. Marissa, who writes the wonderfully useful food blog Food in Jars, lamented that she couldn't be here to help. We invited her. She thought, then booked a ticket. And thus, an amazing gathering began taking shape. We have been looking forward to it ever since.

Everyone on the invite list is bringing a flat of produce, in season that week, or a dozen canning jars. We're asking everyone to bring an equal amount in cash, which we'll donate to the local food bank. And then we'll spend the rest of the day talking and chopping, stirring and laughing, measuring and boiling, sharing stories and putting jars in hot water baths. By the end of the day, everyone will go home with at least 1 jar of something for the winter. And, I'm guessing, much more.

Of course, ours is just one house, just one party. The best part is that there will be dozens and dozens of canning parties happening across America that same weekend. Thousands of you will be macerating blackberries, pickling cucumbers, and laughing together. Just take a look at the list of parties and canning events going on in August and September, after this little revolution began. Why not plan your own today?

* * *

And there are also classes galore. If you live in the Seattle area, here are two extraordinary classes you can attend:

1. Preserving the Flavor with Kathy Casey

Thursday August 20th from 3:00 – 5:30/6:00 PM
Location: Kathy Casey Food Studios
5130 Ballard Ave. NW Seattle, 98107

Contact: 206-784-7840,
Class Fee: $55 to cover costs
Class is limited to 30 people. Sign up through Brown Paper Bag Tickets.

What you always wanted to know about preserving … but no one will tell you! Kathy Casey will show you how you can apply the premises and practices of commercial preserving to home use. The how’s, whys and more -- that aren’t in your canning books. Kathy and her can’tastic team will cover the following:

· Jams, Preserves, Conserves and Chutneys- using unique combinations

· Flavored Sugars and Salts

· Fruiting Vinegars and Booze

· Fresh Style Pickling

· Freezing the bounty/garden booty for later preserving

This will be a demo style class with some hands-on. Each attendee will take home at least 1 jar/container of preserved goodness. The class will be based upon what is in season that week. Also, Kathy will have commercial canning jars available for purchase, info on where you can get PH meters and some of her “put-up” creations made this summer.

(I can't wait to attend this one!)

And Marissa, who will be flying all the way from Philadelphia for our party, lined up a great class from Sunday, August 30th while she's here:

2. Canning Basics with Marisa McClellan: Fruit Jam
Sunday, August 30, 2009
2:00 to 3:30 PM
Learn just how easy it is to make and can a batch of jam from scratch. If you’ve never done any canning because you think it’s too complicated, this class will change your mind and your pantry forever. Each student will head home with the knowledge they need to make their own jam (as well as a small jar of the jam made in class that day). To sign up, email me at

Cost: $45

I haven’t determined what kind of jam we’ll make in the class, I’m planning on waiting to see what looks good when I get into town the day before. I assure you though, whatever we make is certain to be delicious.

The class will be held at Starry Nights Catering & Events, 11200 Kirkland Way, #220, Kirkland, WA.

* * *

With all this, do you need more?

Well, there are some extraordinary books out there about canning and preserving. Some of the ones that have caught my eye lately?

Well-Preserved: Recipes and Techniques for Putting Up Small Batches of Seasonal Foods

Jam It, Pickle It, Cure It: And Other Cooking Projects



This summer, I have become utterly besotted with Mes Confitures: The Jams and Jellies of Christine Ferber, thanks to my friend Viv. Christine Ferber has changed the way I make jams, utterly. I'll never use pectin again.

So there's no reason to be afraid of making your own preserves. Take a class, gather friends, or read a book — they would all be a great start.

* * *

However, if you are entirely new to the process, I'd love to suggest another book:

The Ball Blue Book of Preserving

Some form of this book has been around for more than 100 years. Novices love its clear explanations. People who have been canning for decades have well-thumbed copies with smudges on most of the pages.

And now, you can own it too.

Thanks to the folks at Jarden Home Brands, the folks who make the Ball Brand Fresh Preserving Products, I have a Fresh Preserving Kit to give away. Included is a giant canning pot, along with a rack, wide-mouth funnel, jar lifter, head space/bubbling tool and lid wand. And a copy of The Ball Blue Book of Preserving.

I want you to be part of the Canvolution too.

Just leave a story here to be eligible for the giveaway. When did you preserve food? Have you ever hosted a canning party? Have you made your own pickles? Any mishaps? What are your favorite flavor combinations? Do you remember a grandmother (or maybe a grandfather), aunt, mother canning for the winter? What does all this mean to you? We'd love to hear.

* * *

What are you waiting for? Start canning!