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Photo Credit: Charity Lynne Burggraaf

Last Saturday night at La Boucherie had my favorite vibe; the room full of diners, lots of chatter and laughter and enthusiastic responses to the food we prepared and served, music and candle light just right.   The crowd was a lovely mix of new customers, regulars, neighbors, Vashon Island visitors, and friends.  At least two birthdays were being celebrated.  And we were particularly happy to be hosting the crew of Pacific Crest Farm, who had grown nearly all the produce on the menu that was literally being enjoyed all around them.  Jen and Bob Parker and their intern Emily were living it up with a celebratory dinner, marking the end of their busy harvest season.

Now over the past four years, we’ve had the pleasure of serving a fair number of celebrities; well-known actors, musicians, performers, chefs and restaurateurs, and for the most part they have enjoyed privacy and anonymity while eating at La Boucherie.  I like knowing that a world-famous individual, who normally has very little privacy in public, can be in our little room that seats only 26 patrons and perhaps enjoy what is a “normal” night out for the rest of us.

Similarly, I’m going out on a limb to say that I’m guessing there have been precious few times when fans or paparazzi interrupted a farmer’s public existence.  So it was a fun twist of the predictable when Chef Dustin turned down the music and asked for everyone’s attention, explaining we had some special guests in the room that night he wanted to acknowledge.  Our farm friends looked around and wondered about whom he might be referring.  Dustin proceeded by introducing the Pacific Crest Farm team, and identifying all the ingredients of that evening’s menu that had been planted, nurtured and harvested by these three individuals, which was heartily applauded by all.

It’s something pretty special to be that close to the source.  It’s also our restaurant’s raison d’être.  Thanks again, Pacific Crest; you guys are rock stars! At least at our place.

La Boucherie, Vashon Island

Saturdays in the butcher shop are quite social. When the front door opens, the jangle of the bells hanging from the handle announces “We have company” and honestly, I’m thankful every time.

More often than not, a fun conversation ensues.  Our customers often share their cooking intentions, or describe how they prepared their last purchase. Tangential threads about meals and experiences abroad are also common. Regardless if the customer lives on Vashon or not, it’s rarely a story-less transaction, and I love it.

Through our doors walk our regulars; folks that have become happily hooked on the taste of real, raw milk; fans of fresh, pasture-raised pork, lamb and poultry; sausage lovers who pour over the selection of styles; organ meat connoisseurs who delight in taking home nutrient rich offal; bakers who love leaf lard; soup makers who appreciate our rich, gelatinous stock; nibblers of pate, rilletes, head cheese, and smoked sausage; and many, many fans of bacon.

Vashon “summer people”, weekenders and day-trippers also often incorporate a visit into their island sojourn, and it’s pleasing to know we have become part of their furlough.   More often than not, they are already familiar with our products and farm from the Seattle Farmers Markets.  While shopping at La Boucherie, they now see where the production for those markets takes place, and meet the butcher who prepares those offerings.

Occasionally we are visited by an Islander leading their out-of-town-guests, who announces as soon as they enter the shop that they are “…just showing friends what we have on Vashon.” Although I haven’t seen them in the shop or the restaurant before and they usually leave empty-handed, I’m heartened by these visits.  It tells me that even if they are not (yet) a customer, on some level they appreciate our endeavor enough to consider it a point of interest on their Vashon tour. Indeed, I am eternally optimistic; on their next visit, I tell myself, they’ll try something out of the case.

With the exception of the tour guides, each of these folks makes a choice.  Industrial meat and milk can be purchased in multiple locations on Vashon, and at a significantly lower price.  Even cheaper meat and milk can be purchased at Costco, Trader Joes, etc. just a ferry ride away. Our customers have placed a value on the products we provide that is in equilibrium with what it costs to bring these products to market, sans middleman.  They understand that food grown on Vashon, naturally and never frozen or pasteurized, is more nutritious; requires less fossil fuel; supports their local economy; and will taste better. Their presence in the butcher shop allows my presence.  We are mutually dependent, and I’m thankful every time.

The National Chefs Collaborative Summit took place in Seattle this week, and I’ve enjoyed many thought provoking tidbits posted on Twitter by participants.  On Monday during Ruth Reichl’s keynote address, New York Times writer Kim Severson broadcast a statistic that certainly got my attention, and was re-tweeted by 25 others:

Kim Severson ‏‪@kimseverson

Stunning stat: ‪@ruthreichl says only 2% of Americans have been to a farm. ‪#natlsum12

I did some very quick and unscientific fact-checking which was inconclusive about how many Americans have in fact visited a farm.  The 2% number is frequently sited as the percentage of Americans who live on a farm. But I’m not going to get hung up on the validity of that number; that’s not what motivated me to write today.

My first (and online) reaction to this small percentage of American farm visitors was this: it’s definitely not for lack of interest.  We field farm tour requests on a daily basis.  And when our city customers come to the town of Vashon and visit our butcher shop and restaurant, they frequently remark –usually with a detectable note a disappointment– that they were expecting the enterprise to be located within our actual farm.

The fact is we offer tours on a very limited basis; about four times a year, and this schedule falls woefully short of the demand.  If we could fling open the gates to every request, we’d be doing so every weekend, to dozens of farm-curious folk.  And it’s this very non-existent openness that our customers expect.  Isn’t that what healthy, small-scale farming is supposed to be about: transparency?  But it’s more complicated than that.  As I explain to many, we have electric fencing.  We have a bull.  Neither should be experienced on a self-guided “tour” of the farm.   Which means farm visits require a docent of sorts, and therefore one of our already-stretched-thin employees must stop milking the cows, feeding the pigs, moving the chicken tractors, etc. to serve as farm guide.  We’re not there, yet.

For now, the limited and scheduled “farm events” must suffice.  In fact, we are holding such an event next week and 36 guests will join us for a full tour during the afternoon milking, plus barrel sampling and cheese tasting from the cellar, followed by a harvest feast at the restaurant.  The event sold out quickly, affirming what I already know.  People are hungry for more than the food.

Visit La Boucherie on Vashon Island, and chances are the first thing you will see is a wide-eyed lamb’s head in the meat case.   Nearly everyone comments on this, and the reaction ranges predictably from fascination to revulsion.  Children are particularly curious, and usually a species guessing game ensues, followed by a parent’s reminder that beloved bacon and hot dogs are derived from animals that have heads.  It feels silly to even write that, and probably even more so for the parents to say it, but frankly most of the adults that freak out need the same reminder.

“Who would buy that?!” is the next most common inquiry, once we have identified the animal in question.   The honest answer is that the lamb heads are often purchased for pets.  Occasionally, we are visited by the rare cook who is excited to get that head into their own kitchen, and we’ve also sold a few to prop makers and curios vendors, but primarily Man’s Best Friend is the recipient.  But is it that simple?  Are we in the butcher shop business to sell high-end dog treats?

For me, the head of the butchered animal is a symbol of authenticity.  One, it demonstrates our commitment to the freshness of the meat.  It also signifies our commitment to whole animal butchery.  And frankly it is a reminder for all of us that have also purchased meat wrapped in plastic on Styrofoam trays that indeed this flesh did come from an animal with a head.  Let’s have our own eyes open about that fact.  I know there are countless essays and books debating this subject of eating animals, a debate I do not wish to join here.  Rather, I am assuming that if you are standing in front of my meat counter contemplating a purchase, you are decidedly a meat eater.  And at the very least, we should be willing to look at the head of that animal.  In fact, I’ll even open the case so that you can get a really good close-up picture with your Smart Phone.

La Boucherie’s Butcher Shop on Vashon Island is open Tuesday – Saturday, 9:00AM – 6:00PM.

Image courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

My friend Gene shared this phrase with me, “mud-luscious and puddle-wonderful”, from E. E. Cummings’ poem about spring, [in-Just].  It’s hard to scowl while uttering these words.  So despite our very, very wet March, when it comes to my attitude about the recent weather patterns, I’m turning over a new tree.  After all, Spring Solstice is this weekend.

Technically, Spring Solstice occurs on March 20 or 21, when our sun crosses the celestial equator from south to north; day and night are balanced to nearly 12 hours each all over the world, and the earth’s axis of rotation is perpendicular to the line connecting the centers of the earth and sun.  But this date alone is not my only clue that our “mud luscious” spring is upon us.  The Pacific tree frogs are also singing; an annual rite that makes me smile in bed as I listen to their seasonal cacophony.  The wild daffodils have appeared; lining the northwest perimeter of our pasture; glimmers of hope on the horizon.   And best of all, the first batch of spring chicken is on the menu.

In honor of the Solstice, this weekend our tasting menu features roasted ‘poussin’, as the farm crew has initiated our 2011 poultry season with the first poulet rouge of the year.  In addition to our small plates and entrée menu, Friday and Saturday night we are delighted to serve the following:

First of Spring Salad Greens

Sunny side up farm egg and white wine vinaigrette

 

Farm Ricotta Gnudi with Yellowfoot Mushrooms

Sauteed with foraged stinging nettle puree

 

Grilled Veal Cutlet

With wild miner’s lettuce, lemon and thyme

 

Crème Fraiche Sherbet

Made with cultured farm cream, sprinkled with sea salt

 

Roasted Poussin

With spring chicken liver and potato puree and young rapini

 

Pink Lady Apple and Hazelnut Tart

Served with Moscato d’Asti sabayon

We will most likely be tip-toeing through the mud-lusciousness and puddle-wonderful for a few more weeks.   Nonetheless the flavors of Spring Equinox are upon us; a cause for celebration.

Join us;

206.567.4628

 

 

Image courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

Pasión

Image courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

Passion.  It’s what drives us.  For some of us, it drives us nuts.  Others spend a lot of time looking for it.  But like most, I think I fall someplace in the middle.

Some time ago, before moving to Vashon Island and starting the farm, flamenco was my passion.  I took every flamenco dance class I could find in Seattle, then eventually packed up my life and moved to Madrid for six months.  Dance classes by day, performances by night; flamenco was everything.  But frankly, almost anything can be everything for six months.

Concurrently and far beyond, a guitarist named Ben Woods was also passionate about flamenco.  We met in the 90s, both relatively new to the art form and scene, and with four others, started a performing group, La Vida.  (Someone eventually tipped us off that in Spain, “La Vida” was essentially slang for “The World’s Oldest Profession”, which didn’t bother us tremendously.)  Three dancers, two guitarists and a percussionist, we performed in a handful of restaurants, cafes and bars around Seattle.  We experimented with choreography and musical arrangement, and it was a blast.  Ben’s first musical love was heavy metal, and even while still new to flamenco, he was breathtakingly talented.  Light-hearted and fun to be around, Ben was also dead serious about his future as a musician.  And his passion for flamenco ran rivers around my stream.

I went to Spain.  I came back.  By then I knew flamenco was not so all-encompassing for me.  I also understood that only the truly driven, those that are consumed –it is not a matter of choice—by their passion, are the real artists, the real geniuses of their craft.  Ben Woods is such an artist, and lives this depth of passion.  From a distance I have enjoyed watching the trajectory of his career; making CDs, performing with many other critically acclaimed flamenco artists all over the world.  It makes me smile to remember the La Vida days, and to see him live his passion.

This Saturday, Ben and his girlfriend Arlene Hurtado will perform their Gypsy Tears show at the Blue Heron on Vashon Island.  In support of their show, we will be serving a tapas menu at La Boucherie all weekend, in addition to our Prix Fixe menu.  Many of our friends and customers appreciate passion.   For a taste of the ‘real deal’, I cannot recommend Gypsy Tears enough.   Tickets are available through Brown Paper Tickets.

Olé!

Photo courtesy of Charity Lynne Burggraaf

At Sea Breeze Farm, lengthening of the days and the slightly warmer weather of February and March cause the grasses in our pastures to come out of dormancy, and allow our milk cows to eat less hay, and graze on pure, green grass.  Not only is the flavor and quality of the milk improved immensely, the cow’s production goes way up, and affords us the opportunity to make more delicious dairy-based products. Getting to produce these things for a dinner celebration lets us know that spring is close at hand.  This weekend, each item on our prix fixe menu will feature hand made dairy products that are produced with the utmost care and respect for beauty of the milk.  Join us for:

 

FIRST COURSE

prosciutto with fresh mozzarella and butter crackers

 

SECOND COURSE

ricotta gnudi with wild mushroom and shallot butter

 

INTERMEZZO

lemon/rosemary semifreddo

 

ENTREE

pork shoulder braised in buttermilk,

savoy cabbage and creme fraiche whipped potatoes

 

DESSERT

fresh bay leaf ice cream

shortbread tart with cream caramel

 

Friday and Saturday dinner service begins at 5:30pm.

Our a la carte menu  will also be available.

 

To make your reservation:

call us at 206.567.4628

 

Join us in tasting and celebrating the coming of Spring!

 

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