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Archive for the ‘Farmers' Markets’ Category

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A jungle of Ronde de Nice squash blossoms and their developing squashlets

Nothing is as ephemeral or as potetially banal as summer squash.  As a teenage cook, working in not-so-fine-dining restaurants on this island I cooked a lot of zucchini every summer.  I think the chef I worked for chose zucchini as our perpetual “vegetable of the day” because it was inexpensive and easy to cook.  Trucked in from California, it was sort of fresh, and by that I mean it wasn’t frozen and it wasn’t canned.  And we certainly didn’t show it a lot of love:  We would make up a mixture of sauteed red onion, canned tomato and “Italian seasoning” and saute it all up together.  Zucchini came to represent to me the thing you put on a plate because you had a space to fill, the thing that you gave to your guest because you hadn’t thought about it very hard or because you didn’t know what else to do or because  you thought it was good enough.

I hated zucchini by the time I was 18. (more…)

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My newly completed Hoop House will be, I hope, the cure to the tomato-less summer blues.

If you have read this blog in the past I’m sure I do not need to tell you that I love Western Washington in general, and Whidbey Island specifically.  The beauty of this geographic region is ideal to me.  I love the fishing, clamming, crabbing and other foraging opportunities that this area alone has.  The access to calm, inland waters is unsurpassed.  And the climate is pretty much perfect in my mind.  It is never much over the mid-70’s in the peak of summer, which is perfect for someone who’s family originated in the bogs of Ireland and Scotland.  I start to wilt when the mercury climbs much above 90.  I really cannot take the heat.

The one thing that has been killing me about this place is that unlike me tomatoes love heat and I love tomatoes.  I have grown accustomed to a certain level of quality from my tomatoes, especially after spending the past 16 years in Napa Valley where, in my opinion, the quality of the tomatoes is at least as high as the quality of the wines.  Western Washington just isn’t tomato country; it’s too cold.  Case in point, last summer a good friend of mine, who also grew up here, came up to the island for the weekend.  He and his very cool family come up many weekends in the season which means my family and I get a chance to hang with them quite a bit, which is a particular treat because Chuck is a great cook.  Anyway, on this particular weekend he brought up a harvest of tomatoes from his garden in Seattle.  He says to me “Hey, I brought up our tomatoes, check them out, they are in a bowl on the counter in the kitchen.”  So, with visions a huge salad bowl brimming with ripe, pound-and-a-half Marvel Stripe and Brandywine tomatoes dancing through my mind I practically ran to the kitchen… where I found a little cereal bowl with about a dozen tomatoes in it, the biggest of which is smaller than a tennis ball.  I know that he was trying, but for the love of God, this is simply not acceptable. (more…)

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Willowood Farm's Fresh Potatoes are a thing of beauty

Willowood Farm’s Fresh Potatoes are a thing of beauty

My three-year-old-daughter Molly is a big fan of potatoes in just about any from.  She likes them with or without skins, boiled, fried, simply mashed with olive oil and salt or pureed and adulterated with cream and butter.  Regardless of how they are prepared she refers to them as “mash potato”.  Last Saturday at the Farmers’ Market in Coupeville, we got a variety of fresh potatoes from Willowood Farm.  My wife, Tyla, roasted a whole chicken last night, and she prepared the potatoes very simply to go with the chicken.  She cut them in half, tossed them with olive oil, salt and pepper, and put them beneath the bird as it roasted, along with some whole cloves of garlic still in the skins.  I made my contribution by stirring the spuds a couple of times during the roasting process.  The result: They achieved that incredibly crisp crust on the cut side, the side that had been in contact with the bottom of the pan and the love from the chicken, while maintaining a light, fluffy-creamy texture inside.  They were perfect. (more…)

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The Yellow Transparent variety of apple, which originated in Russia, was introduced to the United States around 1870.  This is a common, old time variety here on Whidbey Island, and right now they are ripe and fallnig on the ground everywhere you look.

The Yellow Transparent variety of apple, which originated in Russia, was introduced to the United States around 1870. This is a common, old time variety here on Whidbey Island, and right now they are ripe and fallnig on the ground everywhere you look.

A friend of mine told me that when he was a kid in the 1940’s he knew the location of every fruit tree within a three mile radius of his house.  For him summer was all about which yard had the best plum tree, with limbs that had grown over the fence, draping into the alley so that he could get at the fruit.  Of course he admits that as a youth he was not at all averse to jumping a fence if he thought he could get at those plums and not get caught.  I appreciate that story because I too grew up with fruit trees, both here on Whidbey Island as well as in Northern California.  I can attest that a ripe apricot, picked right off the tree on a warm early summer day has the potential to change a child’s life forever. (more…)

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Fresh Chick Peas or Garbanzo Beans from Willowood Farms in Coupeville make a tasty summer vegetable stew.

Fresh Chick Peas or Garbanzo Beans from Willowood Farms in Coupeville make a tasty summer vegetable stew.

I have been a sucker for fresh shelling beans ever since I first worked with fresh Cranberry Beans in France back in 1992.  I truly long for late summer when the first beans arrive.  Invariably the first beans to show up at the market were picked too early, before the beans inside are fully developed.  I completely understand the impetus on the part of exuberant farmers to pick those bright purple and tan Dragon Tongue beans when they are so visually appealing, but Chefs must show restraint in this regard.  The pods need to be papery and not bright and fleshy.  That is how you know the beans inside are ready. (more…)

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