E. I. Ho and I had a wonderful time visiting the Northwest last week. We went to Seattle and then took the train to Vancouver to visit some friends. Both locations were crazy rich with wonderful local food.
Not to be Mistress of the Obvious here, but rain really does good things for local harvest choices. I'm panicking in Austin, trying to make sure that I freeze enough tomatoes, onions, and peppers for the winter so I can take full advantage of the last bit of the harvest season. Meanwhile, Washington residents can take full advantage of delicious local blueberries, strawberries, cherries, and crisp Romaine lettuce. In Austin, we are essentially berryless until April. For a full list of Austin area crops, there is a helpful site that outlines when certain foods are likely to be available.
But we're talking about Seattle and Vancouver B.C., and how lucky those bastards are.
Although we had many adventures in local fare (including an exquisite dinner with Man of La Muncha and Butter Bitch), I will highlight homecooked meals here -- two in particular.
Tomatoes, smoked mozzarella and blueberries with Justin and Bill
My friend Justin, who I've known since high school, and his partner, Bill, prepared a wonderful meal for my parents, their friends John and Steve, and my hubby and myself. The appetizer was smoked mozzarella, fresh basil and tomatoes, and pine nuts, with a balsamic vinaigrette dressing. Pasta and "cold sauce" was the main entree -- a tomato sauce made with fresh tomatoes and basil and served at room temperature. Too much tomato and basil, you say? Wrong! You can never have too much tomatoes and basil!
Here's what I noticed about local food in Seattle - it's no big deal. What I mean is, people eat locally but they are kind of puzzled by my admiration of their "commitment" to local food. Bill purchased most of the produce from the Pike Place Market and John and Steve picked blueberries in North Bend, Washington. Why? Because it tastes better and it's fun to pick blueberries. I felt a pang of something like shame when I thought of how damn proud of myself I am for buying local produce and meat, and how I brag -- I mean blog -- about it all the time. There was something cool about doing it just because you want to -- not for all the high-falutin' reasons for which I'm choosing to shop local.
That feeling passed as soon as I tasted those tomatoes and those blueberries. I must blog about this yumminess, I thought deliriously.
I complained to Bill about the winter coming up and the tomatoes I wouldn't get to eat during that time. "That's good though," Bill said. "It makes you appreciate them more when you have them." Wow. I'd never thought of it that way. He's right though -- if you don't get to have certain kinds of food at your whim, then you appreciate them all the more when they are available, and appreciating food is part of my ethicurean journey.
John and Steve's Finnish cheese cake with blueberries was so scrumptdiddlyumptious that no one spoke while we ate it, except to say "mmm!" and "wow!" I'm jealous. I wanna pick my own blueberries.
Halibut, homegrown squash, and pretty flowers
Maura Nara and her partner, Tara Gon, made a stellar meal for us in Vancouver, Canada. I now understand why the 100-mile diet originated there -- it's like Christmas for locavores!
Maura, knowing my newfound obsession with all things local, took E. Ho and I to the Vancouver Farmer's market. It was huge, busy, and very proud of local produce. At the Seattle Pike Place market, I had to dig to find out where the food was from, and it was largely local. However, in Vancouver it must be a bigger deal because there are signs everywhere that say "locally grown!" and in some cases even list the miles the food has traveled.
I purchased a local chevre from Salt Spring Island, off the east side of Vancouver Island that Maura said is famous for its cheeses. It was a truffle chevre from Salt Spring Island Cheese Co., and it was twelve bucks. "Are truffles made out of gold or something?"
"No," Tara explained. "They're really hard to find -- you need a pig to find them. They grow underground."
"So we can't cultivate them?"
"No," she said, "you need a pig." She's right, I do need a pig. Because truffles are delicious! Plus, I really like pigs. I feel a special affinity to them. They're intelligent, they like getting dirty, and they're super cute!
The halibut was perfectly light and lemony. Maura grilled it with lemons and she claimed that you can eat the lemon slices but no one did. Tara has a delightful garden in their backyard, complete with Romaine lettuce, eggplant, squash, pumpkins, tomatoes, and peppers. I didn't know that you could grow peppers in Vancouver. It was my only defense for the Austin harvest: "Oh yeah? Well, we can grow peppers!" To be fair, they were only growing some little jalapenos out there, whereas Austin has gorgeous bell peppers, Anaheims, and big Texas-sized jalapenos.
The squash was a garden-grown patty pan squash. Sliced and then marinated with a little olive oil and crushed garlic, it was a little bit of heaven.
For dessert, we had grilled peaches, with a bit of amaretto liqueur and whipped cream. Two words: Dessert orgasm.
It was wonderful taking advantage of the magnificent Northwest harvest. I loved both meals, and I loved the people who made them for us. The real joy of the meal was being able to appreciate the company and the excellent food that they prepared for us. The local goods were just a bonus.