October 23, 2009

Hello, Canada.

Among the many opportunities my time at Featherstone gave me was the chance to meet a talented Minneapolis food photographer, Mette Nielsen. You may remember reading about last year’s Squashfest at the farm– the weeklong squash picking extravaganza that brought various volunteers and farmworkers together. I can personally attest to the power of those connections through my sustained friendship with Mette, who I met there.

After hearing I moved on to the Pacific Northwest, Mette soon told me that her and a friend, food stylist Robin Krause, were using up some frequent flyer miles to travel to British Columbia, and kindly invited me along. How could I resist? After some time in Vancouver, they were going to a tiny island off of Vancouver Island, one which goes by the name of Salt Spring Island. The hour long drive from tip to bottom of the island will show you it’s filled to the brim with farmers and artists.

Michael Ableman, author of ‘Fields of Plenty’, owns and operates Foxglove Farm, the place where the cottage we stayed in was located. After snaking through the country roads we approached the gate to the property. Passing multiple farm houses whose chimneys were billowing with smoke, we eventually came to our cabin, where a basketful of produce was waiting for us, demanding to be cooked. We had no problem complying.

After adventuring throughout the island (visiting dairy farms, the bread bakers house, a goat farm, etc.) we often found ourselves cozying-up in the cabin, knitting, listening to the wood crackle in the fireplace, writing, taking baths, cooking, drinking tea. It was there I discovered the power of Epsom salt and smoked oysters, not together, of course. The taste of the smoked oysters blew my brains, and I never felt more relaxed than after that Epsom salt bath.

Featherstone was my first and only direct experience with an organic vegetable farm before this trip. Not having anything to compare it to, the visit to Foxglove gave me a meter to which I could compare Featherstone. And the conclusion I came to was the same conclusion I’ve come to regarding the Midwest and Pacific Northwest cultures: When it comes to the essence of living, everybody is the same, everywhere- all having insecurities, ambition, and a need for love. Featherstone and Foxglove are no different in that their goal is very humble, yet very ambitious – to feed real food to real people. The employees of both farms have very curious minds, and have traveled far to learn about farming or to be part of a close-knit community. Each farm has their unique challenges, whose farmers have come up with even more unique solutions to tackle them.

Time spent at Foxglove also reaffirmed what Featherstone had shown me, that a place is defined by its people. More than any logo, photograph, or advertisement, the character of both Featherstone and Foxglove is defined by the farmer, the employees, the consumers, and the farm-friends. It’s people that breathe life into a place, it doesn’t become alive by itself.

And the same could be said for our little cottage in the woods, on a remote farm, on a remote island. The warmth within the walls were barely from the wood burning stove. It was from these two women, who put up with questions of mine such as, “What do you wish you would have known at the age of 22?” and taught me how to make a bowl of granola and yogurt look appealing.

Foxglove and Featherstone - two experiences that have brought me to different parts of the world and showed me the exact same things. People, not things, enrich life. And a farm is about making people more alive.

October 9, 2009

A New Season

I love Seattle. I really do. But I've got a confession to make, as painful as it is to say: I like the Eastside, too. (It's a cluster of wealthy neighborhoods that is separated from Seattle by Lake Washington. Think of the Eastside as Seattle's hipper, more refined younger brother. Seattle wears Birkenstocks and drinks black coffee; the Eastside wears Jimmy Choos and sips lattes.) To Midwestern readers, this may not seem like much of a statement. But it's akin to liking Edina after living in Seward for so long. Yes, I know. How can this be?

As a few readers may know, I haven't come over here willingly. It's been for a very special person: him. Maybe you've noticed a dangling hand that's been showing up around here lately (below with beer, further below with ice cream, and many weeks ago in a picnic photo)? Yup, him. Since I've been hard to reach as of late, here is a full update about the entrance of this long-legged, witty European that wiggled his way into my life.

No names yet, but a bit about him. He's a 26-year-old software engineer from Belarus. He has worked both in Russia and Norway and now works for a very large software company, which is headquartered here. You are probably using its products as you read this. As many of my past friends know, I'm a bit on the choosy side when it comes to men. So why him?

Glad you asked. For starters, he puts up with movies like 'You've Got Mail' and 'PS I Love You'. When we are walking he stops me at intersections with his hand for safety, like my mother would do in the car when she would brake too fast, making sure I don't go through the windshield. He locks the door behind him when he leaves and I'm still inside. He smells like a man. He gives me the middle bites of sandwiches, you know, the bites with all the innards, AND leaves me the last delicious bottom bite of the waffle cone. He never neglects to hang my jacket up in the closet for me.

He gets excited about things like fresh air, clean sheets, and 60-Minutes interviews. He likes Tchaikovsky as much as Metallica. His hands are well kept. He helps with dishes and listens patiently as I gush about things like parsnips and squash. He doesn't like drinking water out of plastic bottles. And my father will be happy to hear that he's requested more meat at meals on more than one occasion.

To say we've had many interesting experiences would be an understatement. We snaked along the historic Highway 101 to Long Beach for my birthday, where we drove on the beach and hiked on a sandy trail, which was followed by numerous games of air hockey at a local arcade. Another road trip (this time on Highway 2) brought us to Leavenworth's Oktoberfest, where we were found stuffing ourselves with bratwursts and drinking dark beer (see pic above), all the while listening to a band from Munich play in their lederhosens. (We even managed to fit in some Maple Nut ice cream.)

A weekend trip to Bainbridge Island found us at a vineyard for a wine tasting and chatting with the farmer, Gerard. We had lunch at the Streamliner Diner where we split a gargantuan omelet and breakfast burrito while sitting elbow to elbow at the bar-like tables in front of the kitchen cooks, watching them heap mounds of potatoes on the stove, wiping the sweat off their foreheads with their forearms, yelling out ticket numbers. Visiting a pumpkin patch was also thrown into the mix of this Bainbridge Island trip. After listening to me beg for a squash like a kid in a toy store, he managed to leave squash-free, but I will say that not even a week later he devoured a sweet dumpling squash I roasted for dinner. (That's when I knew he was a keeper. A girl must have standards. )

After a visit to Snoqualmie Falls we feasted on a platter of Trader Joe's sushi in the parking lot and picked wild blackberries before heading to Alki Beach in West Seattle, where we got French pastries at the award winning Cafe Nouvelle. Our most recent journey found us at a Korean BBQ. I must say, culinary-wise, we've already been around the globe. And you'd think we'd be rolling around at 200 lbs by now, but we manage to walk it off during our strolls. When we're not feasting or exploring, we are entertained at home by such things as this.

Our American and European cultural exchanges are nothing but interesting. They go a little something like this: I explain to him what a B.L.T. is, and he tells me about the excitement of playing Monopoly after the Soviet Union fell on itself.

You could call this thing luck; you could call it a coincidence. All I can say is that I'm simply happy that it is. Things change when you really look. It's a new season for both of us, and I've never seen a more beautiful change in seasons than here. More delicious stories to come...


(And, Ty, I promise you a recipe next time.)