Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Oh yea

That's why we live here.

After a sweltering day, my visiting dad took us to dinner across the water at a Sound's edge restaurant.  We sipped and dined and indulged in chocolate and afterward lingered while the once per hour ferry made its way back to our side once again.  I watched it dock twice while relaxing over food and drink and tried hard to see the scene laid before me through the eyes I use to read of Greek isles and sleepy sea-drenched locales on the other side of the globe.  Are we really so different?

As the commercial might say:

Dinner at the waterfront restaurant?  Expensive (but admittedly I didn't pay)

Everything else?  Priceless.

Northwest Heat Wave

Here in the Puget Sound region, we are admittedly weather wimps.  We are truly pathetic when it comes to, well, really any temperature outside the 65' - 75' range.  We whine about how much it rains, but the minute it stops, our brows furrow.  

Hey, my flowers are all wilty!
This water bill is outrageous! 
My husband is cranky!

So, imagine the general malaise 'round our warmer-than-anywhere-on-the-island farm these past few - nearly record-breaking - days.  

Actually, we're managing better than could be expected, save, probably for me.  So, I am retreating into silence as much as possible to spare everyone else my ire.

Wherever you are these dog days of summer, I hope you are soaking it in and enjoying every minute.

The gauge on my porch says 98'!  

Wednesday, July 22, 2009

Come visit me at Seattle Examiner!

I've just joined the legions of local "subject matter experts" on the Seattle version of Examiner.com as the Tacoma Healthy Food Examiner.  I'll be writing 4-5 brief posts each week on food, farming, the Tacoma culinary scene, and delicious ways to use what's fresh at your local farmers market now.

Follow the link below or go to Examiner.com and look for me in the Food and Drink channel.  Drop on by!

Tuesday, July 21, 2009

What a farmers market feels like

At the height of summer, when it's really rockin', your local FM feels like a summer picnic where the best foods and all your friends come together and bask in sun and goodness...

Everybody's got a zucchini story...

But, seriously.

Also, mea culpa to my friends who suggested I might have planted the tomatoes a wee bit close together.  Yea.

Saturday, July 18, 2009

Giant Coffee Purveyor Signaling a Broader Localvore Movement?

Spending much of the past 2 weeks inside the cool clean relatively quiet confines of the giant coffee purveyor has admittedly been a guilty pleasure.  For one who evangelizes the need to shop local, I guess I could make the argument that the global conglomerate is technically a local company, but I think we would all agree that that would be pushing the envelope a bit.  Nonetheless, with my loaded up (red) card - a percentage of all purchases finding its way to humanitarian aid in Africa - and my free and easy wi-fi, I can drop Dylan off each morning, head to my favored locale just blocks away, and tippy-type the morning away with need of neither cash nor office.  Very seductive indeed.

Not all is so sublime, apparently, in the rest of Giant Coffee Purveyorland.  And it is with curiosity and hope that I read the story below.  Has the sheen of upscale national branding begun to dull?  Has all that consistency and predictability started an inevitable slide toward the simply mundane?  

When did any of us think that the giant coffee purveyor would shed its brand and image to don the, admittedly misleading, cloak of Your Local Coffeehouse?  Hiding behind folksy facades are experiments in branding here, where the Giant first started as just such an establishment so many years ago.  Here, in 3 neighborhoods, the giant is ripping out its iconic green and white mermaid in favor of homey browns and comfy names.  

One of history's most wildly successful corporations, opting to pose local to increase market share.  Interesting.  Dangerous?  Or a signal that the money wants to stay close to home?

One to watch.

From AP:

Starbucks wipes name from Seattle location

Starbucks to open 3 non-Starbucks Seattle stores, may bring pilot program to other cities

  • On Thursday July 16, 2009, 4:40 pm EDT

NEW YORK (AP) -- Starbucks Corp. said Thursday it is wiping its name from one of its Seattle-area stores and adding alcohol to the menu.

Related Quotes

Chart for Starbucks Corporation

The Seattle-based gourmet coffee chain said it is changing the name of one of its existing stores in its hometown to a name that reflects the neighborhood location. The store will be called 15th Avenue Coffee and Tea. It will open next week and will serve coffee and tea as well as wine and beer.

The company said it will then open two more Seattle-area stores without the Starbucks name in locations that aren't currently Starbucks stores.

The chain said if the rethought coffee shop is a success it will consider replicating it in other cities.

"It's interesting," said Morningstar analyst R.J. Hottovy, "especially since the Starbucks brand has been such an integral part of their success."

Hottovy said he thinks the Starbucks brand still "resonates" with those who drink coffee regularly. But, he added, with the recession now in its second year, the brand may be struggling more because it is considered "premium," and therefore expensive, by consumers.

The company has been unable in recent months to keep its sales growing as more consumers cut out small luxuries to save money. Starbucks is slated to report its fiscal third quarter financial results on Tuesday and analysts have largely predicted another same-store sales decline, particularly, in particular, that competition with lower-priced rivals like McDonald's Corp. has heated up.

McDonald's has been rolling out its own line of espresso-based drinks to all of its 14,000 U.S. locations and has been heavily promoting the beverages.

Andrew Hetzel, the founder of coffee consulting group Cafemakers, said Starbucks may also be renaming its stores to provide a testing ground for changes and, possibly, to bring in a new brand of consumer.

"It looks to me that they are testing a specialty sub-brand to see if they can capture some other segment of the market that would otherwise be disillusioned by a large corporate chain," Hetzel said, adding that opening only one at first "gives them a live shop to test changes in menu offerings, store design and, perhaps, procedures quickly" without disrupting operating stores branded with the Starbucks name.

Thursday, July 16, 2009

Nothing like new potatoes

Freshly-dug and scrubbed french fingerling and red thumb potatoes ready to be tossed with extra virgin olive oil, a clove or two of minced garlic, a small fistful of Herbes des Provence, and a pinch of salt and roasted in a 425' oven until just beginning to crisp - about 15 minutes. 

The perfect accompaniment to absolutely anything.

Garden Beauty Shots

Though not at the farm much, I am still determined to snap a few pix of this awe-inspiring bounty we call the 2009 garden.  Presenting:  Cauliflower!

I must admit that there are certain vegetables I have a hard time wrapping my mind around in any context beyond the misty produce section.  Sure, a lot of us have planted tomatoes in pots or seen beans and peas climbing up a neighbor's trellis.  But other delectables seem so much more the purview of serious agricultural enterprises - rows upon rows of cabbage, for instance, settle on the mind more readily than a collection of the dense heads in the backyard next to the basil.

And so it is with cauliflower.  Who grows cauliflower?  Well, we did.  It's one of the vegetables that we never seem to work into our dinners, so I figured if we grew it, we'd have to eat it and broccoli could finally have a bit of a rest.  Usually sharing some grocery shelf real estate with the ubiquitous broccoli, cauliflower is heavier and almost always more expensive.  I never see it in anyone's cart, so I wonder how it survives as a commodity.

But, once again, what the knife hacks off in the personal garden looks very little like the cellophane-entombed cousin found at the store.  Not snowy white and dense as a rock, our first cauliflower is tinged with purple, its florets a little twisty and distinct.  The flavor is mild but, again, distinct, and the crunch is authentic and satisfying.  Yummy roasted with just-pulled carrots alongside halibut, its next test will determine how it fares in a creamy 5-ingredient soup.

Wednesday, July 15, 2009

The Spark

I've alluded to this on more than one occasion:  it's been a tough year for our kid.  Socially and academically, the ground sort of shifted underneath him and he's been a little like Wile E Coyote, hanging in midair until he determines whether gravity is the law or just a good idea.

His learning style and the structure of the traditional classroom have slowly, gradually, moved ever apart, now leaving something of a yawning gap where learning and success are supposed to reside.

Until now.

With a wing and a prayer and the willingness to be an obnoxious parent, plenty of emails and phone calls and not a little bit of money, Dylan's doing something for the first time in a long that fits him like an educational glove.

What happens when you take a bunch of quirky, curious strangers age 11 and 12 and throw them on one of the nation's best university campuses and ask a creative, inventive scientist and his team to challenge these kids to create something wholly original and amazing?

Something wholly original and amazing, that's what.  The spark is what happens.  The spark that all kids are born with and that for so many, for just as many different reasons, grows dimmer and dimmer with each passing year.  Even now, just reflecting on the joy that beams out of my son from that spark, the joy that bounces off me and his dad, the joy we've slowly gotten used to living without, even now here in the clean cool space of the giant coffee purveyor, the waterworks turn on unbidden.  I have nothing but pure, unbridled gratitude.

Thank you, UW.  Thank you to all the faculty, the T.A.s, the kind parking attendants, the administration, the dedicated people who run these programs - everyone who pulls together and makes this happen and makes it so easy.  Thank you.  You fanned the spark.  You are saving a life. 

Switching gears

It's Week 2 in the city and as I look back I see that I am writing precious little about the farm and probably too much about politics, family, and self.  But, this in itself is a not unimportant lesson to share about farming - no matter how much you love what you do, everybody needs a break now and then.  I'd venture to assert that this is more true relative to farming than to almost anything else because of the sort of relentless nature of this particular beast.

After "Don't raccoons kill your free range chickens?" the question I get asked the most, in one form or another, is "Isn't it just so much work?"  And, honestly, I still haven't formulated an accurate response.  Yes.  And, no.  Sometimes.

It's hard to explain I think primarily because of how our particular culture defines "work."  No, I am not up at 5:30 milking cows or goats, slogging around the back 40 all day, putting up jars and jars of preserves, cooking supper for the family and farmhands, milking again at sunset and then falling exhausted into my grandmother's featherbed.  No, my days actually look nothing like that.  

Neither am I commuting 2 hours each way to sit in my defined space and talk to people via phone, email, or direct human contact 8-10 hours in order to forward my company's product or my organization's goals only to arrive home in time to make supper and collapse in front of the TV.

But, I do have 48 animals and literally countless food and ornamental plants and trees depending on me for their very life.  My body is in action in fits and starts, mostly to do with the heat and/or the rain and also the time of day and the volume of baaing or crowing that permeates the house.  But, always on the shoulders and the brain - is there water?  is there food?  is there shade?  are they eating the trees?  are they destroying the baby yucca?  is that a dog I hear?  did Rob get chicken food in yet?  did I run out of sheep grain on Wednesday (when Gary's closed) AGAIN? 

Is the fence on?  is that a child I hear?  is a lamb caught up in electric netting again?  And, recently, on one of my few days home, why hasn't the cat moved from the rug all day?  (b/c he'd been in a fight and required a trip to the vet and antibiotics to continue on in his merry mousing ways)

So, I'm not ashamed to admit that the city life is a nice break.  I'm also relieved to feel a pinch of homesickness winding its way into my heart and thoughts.  It IS nice to sit in the cool, clean confines of a large coffee purveyor wi-fi'd and iphoned and hip (immediate brown splotches on my white top notwithstanding), but after only these few intermittent days I am catching myself - Mark's excellent caretaking aside - wondering...

I wonder what Mark's up to, if the sheep are baaing, if the chickens are pulling up the baby yucca, if the young willow has water, if there were eggs today, if...if...if....

Wednesday, July 8, 2009

City Daze

For most of July, Mark and I are essentially switching roles.  He does a lot of his work at home these days in any case, but Dylan has a gig all day every day in Seattle, and I am juggling a combination of commuting and crashing at a city friend's house to make it all work.  So, Mark is for now chiefly responsible for animal health and safety and garden and tree survival.

Being in the city during the week without my usual laundry list of Costco and TJ's trips in hand is both confusing and exhilarating.  Only on Day 3 of a 3-week tenure, I find myself cherishing the ability to single-task, blessed, blessed single task.  How sweet art thou?

To sit here and type this without dog fur or dirty forks or disgruntled baaing pulling at my gaze and conscience - pure decadence.  Two mornings in a row, I have spent hours at a time at large conglomerate coffee purveyor, laptop wi-fi'd, cell phone poised, stretching my single double-tall latte as far as it could go.  Other wifi-ers come and go and still I remain tippy-tapping by the window.  Have I mentioned this is Bliss?

No, I am not surfing the web or engaging in endless email debate about health care reform or the economy or the contribution of Michael Jackson.  I'm actually working. Working!  Working for hours and hours and hours.  Writing and thinking about writing and thinking of other ways and things to write.  Researching.  Coordinating.  Planning.  Writing some more.


The bane of all of our modern existences, the requirement to have seventeen things coming at us at once, can only really be appreciated for its true drain when we turn our back on it, I think.  It is not the jurisdiction of town or farm, work or family.  It seems to be our own inability to put one foot in front of the other, over and over.

The beauty of this time for me is that tomorrow I will stay on the farm and do only farm and house things - no blog, no coordinating, no computer work really at all.  Just the physical acts of purging and cleaning and washing and folding and dusting and vacuuming and scrubbing.  I will feel satisfied that the "head work" is done and will throw my back into housework with zeal.  Then, on Saturday, back into the garden for a couple hours to dedicate that part of my brain and body for that part of our life.  Weeding.  Watering.  Harvesting.  Planting.

And on Monday, we start over.

One main thing at a time.  Let's try this for a few weeks and see if the crabbiness subsides.