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I guess if you live in a small town, chances are, you think it’s special.   “It’s different here; we look out for each other.”  It’s been sensed and expressed forever.  So you would think that residents of such a place would eventually grow accustomed to random acts of kindness.  But we don’t.

This morning I embarked the 7:10 AM passenger-ferry, joining my brethren of fellow commuters heading to downtown Seattle.  The ridership has swelled this winter, and we are all nervously aware of the catamaran’s 150-passenger limit.  A good friend who commutes with her daycare-bound toddler was at the end of the line.  Those of us already on board were going about our morning rituals; chatting with friends, reading the news, dashing off a few emails, when one of the deckhands came on board and made an announcement:  my friend was the 150th passenger, and her toddler-in-stroller would be the 151st.  Therefore was anyone willing to relinquish their seat to make room for the child, and take the next ferry?

Instantly a hand flew up; “I’ll get off!” a woman called and she quickly picked up her bag and headed toward the gangway to disembark, making room for my friend and her daughter.  Most of us remained quiet, taking in what had just happened, taking stock of our own willingness, or ability –or lack of either—to give up our seat and wait an hour for the next boat.  Anyone that hauls themselves onto public transportation that runs hourly recognizes this act as no small sacrifice.  “I feel like I should donate a kidney or something…” my bench mate whispered to me.   Just then my cell phone beeped with a newly received text message:  “I would have done the same for you J” from my dear friend Matt on the other side of the boat.   Yep.  It’s different here; we look out for each other.

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Here we are, on the cusp of La Boucherie’s second anniversary in the town on Vashon.  But additionally and maybe more significantly, next week is Sea Breeze Farm’s tenth anniversary.  It was Thanksgiving weekend in 2000, when George and I bought the land and small house on the north end; before the daughter, before the dog, before the goats and sheep and pigs and cows and ducks and geese and chickens.  Before fences and gates.  We didn’t even know we would eventually need and build a milking parlor.  Before inspections and certifications.  Before trucks.  Before market tents.  Before chicken slaughter classes.

That last one is something.  Ten years ago, George had one chicken slaughter under his belt.  I wrote about that experience a few months ago.  (“Claire, the Urban Chicken Experiment”)  Fast forward to yesterday; our Farm Manager Liz passed on our cumulative poultry processing knowledge to a group of fine folks attending our first class on the subject.  Time flies, but quite a bit of experience and knowledge is amassed in the process.  You just don’t always realize it while it’s happening.

So Sea Breeze is ten.  I’m trying to wrap my head around that.  What strikes me most profoundly, more than the distance traveled or the growth and expansion of the business or knowledge gained, is the human sum of this benchmark.   The word “farm” traditionally conjures an image of animals; red barn; weathervane; pasture.   For me, it is the collective hard work, creativity, passion, perseverance, humor, and intellect of so many amazing individuals –friends, employees, volunteers– that have contributed to building Sea Breeze Farm.  All have left their mark; helped launch us to the next phase; allowed the possibility of an impossible idea; put their own cleverness into the mix; waved the flag, and continue to do so, even beyond their time at Sea Breeze.  Sam, Marcia, Matt, Andrea, Carol, Charlie, Josh, Will, Telly, Brandon, Liz, Ed, Ellen, Jon, Jessie, Jemma, Chevon, Edys, Sabery, Leah, Peggie, Betsy, Margot, Ben, Max, Alex, Emily, Zeph, Teale, Meredith, Jennifer, Jared, Melanie, Thom, Marcia, Dustin.  I fear there are some I am forgetting.  But I am grateful to all, and hope to celebrate with as many as possible this evening.

La Boucherie Open House

Thursday, November 18, 2010

6:00 – 9:00 PM

Music starts at 7:30

For directions or more information, call

206. 567.GOAT

 

Photo courtesy of Tim Aguero

 

 

 

Calves by Jackie Baisa Donnelly

 

This morning I couldn’t stop thinking about the sense of smell.  We watched a movie last night, Perfume: The Story of a Murderer (2006) that was a mediocre adaptation of an incredible book originally published in 1985 by the German author Peter Suskind.   The book’s descriptions of scents –from 18th Century Paris no less—have stayed with me for over a decade, and despite the lackluster reviews, I just had to see how the story was depicted in the film.

I tend to short-change scent, as a sense, so this morning I tried to rectify that.  While walking up Western Avenue in downtown Seattle, I endeavored to mimic the main character of Perfume and quite literally ‘follow my nose.’  I forced myself to linger on each scent, good and bad, and as if meditating, gently return my consciousness to the project at hand, when I found my thoughts –and other senses—taking over.

The creosote planks of the pier; the fuel-laced, hot Earthy air discharged by a leaf blower; the awakening inhabitants of the Victor Steinbrueck Park in Pike Place Market.  I tried, in the olfactory sense, to acknowledge each; some obviously more pleasant than others.  Which led me to mentally ruminate –and temporarily forget about smelling—on what we think smells “good” and what scents are conversely labeled “bad.”  I definitely have some experience in this regard.

After all, there are many strong smells on the farm.  I suspect most visitors notice them immediately when they arrive.  I confess I have probably become immune to all but the strongest.  But cows, pigs, sheep, chickens, ducks, geese, dogs and humans all omit distinct smells, as does the grass, grain, and food scraps they consume, to say nothing of the waste they create.  But there are wonderful smells, too.  Bacon smoking.  Dew-drenched fresh pasture.  Skins and stems of stomped grapes, to say nothing of oak barrels, and fermenting juice.

These smells are absent in the city.  The degree to which this is so thorough surprised me.  This morning during my experiment, I saw a Charlie’s Produce delivery sitting curbside in front of Cutter’s Restaurant.  Approaching the dozens of vegetables crates, I expected the scents of their contents to reach my nose.  The boxes were hardly impermeable; I could see the produce.  I drew in; nothing.  I slowed as I walked past, focusing on what I thought I should smell, my imagination trying to help my nose along.  Didn’t happen.  Nada.  My nose moved on to the Mid-Westerners asking directions to the fish market.

The farm smells of life.  Of beginning, of nurturing, of thriving, of dying, of decomposing.  Plants, animals, people.   And life is not always tidy.

Granted, I know people who are terribly burdened by keenly sensitive noses.  In Perfume, Jean-Baptiste Grenouille, born without a scent of his own, certainly met –and led others to—a very ugly demise as a result.  But I suspect for the rest of us, we underutilize and fail to recognize this aspect of interaction.  Of life.

What do you smell, right this minute?

Vin de Noix

It’s Vin de Noix week.  Not drinking Vin de Noix, but making it.  Well, that’s not true.  I’m sipping Vin de Noix as I type; from 2005.  Truth is, there’s a narrow window of opportunity that must be seized for making Vin de Noix.  I’m feeling a little smug, knowing we got our Vin de Noix made on time.  Kind of like getting all your firewood chopped and stacked by August.  But, credit given where credit is due; it was our strangely cool and late summer I have to thank.

Vin de Noix is a liqueur made from green walnuts, and traditionally the immature nuts must be picked between the 24th of June (St Jean’s Day) and Bastille Day, the 14th of July.  My brother Douglas and his sweet friend Jenny harvested my parent’s walnut tree on the South end of Vashon Island just last week, late August.  But the green walnuts were perfect, and perfectly late, as likely no one would have gotten around to it in the panic of hectic early July.

Vin de Noix is easy.  Don’t let anyone tell you otherwise.  If you have a walnut tree, or know someone who does, you should try it.  Long before we started farming, George picked up a book called, Aperitif: Recipes for Simple Pleasure in the French Style.  Used copies are available on Amazon for less than six dollars.  (I’m hardly able to resist a tangent here and scream, BUY THIS BOOK!   This gem has given us a lot of pleasure over the years.  For six lousy bucks; just do it.)  Anyway, it was the Vin de Noix recipe in this book that got us hooked.  And as long as we get our act together with the walnuts, we make it every year.

Besides the green walnuts, the ingredients are so simple: red wine, sugar, brandy, a vanilla bean.  Green walnuts, however, are not something you will casually find at the grocery store, or even most farmers markets.  You need a tree.  Or a friend or family member with a walnut tree.  Ask around.  Someday there will be an app that gives you the exact location of the nearest walnut tree, but until then, you have to network for your aperitif the old-fashioned way.

And with the same satisfaction that you feel after canning peaches, making blackberry jam, or putting up any seasonal goodness, Vin de Noix will titillate you.  It peacefully steeps for two months, without requiring so much as a stir.   Leave it be for a spell.  Then in the fall, on a rainy afternoon, you can bottle your summer’s handiwork, and literally enjoy the fruits of your labor all winter.

I promise.  It’s worth it.

Vin de Noix

Portland has my attention. To be specific, their food cart culture is all I can think about. While we’ve had our nose to the farmers market grindstone, Portland has enjoyed a street food revolution that has grown to hundreds of food carts in all shapes, sizes and colors, loosely grouped in “pods” around the city; filling otherwise empty parking lots with entrepreneurial micro-venues of gastronomy. Every imaginable culinary style is represented by these mobile food establishments.

Food Carts in downtown Portland

I love everything about these carts. Most are obviously hand-fashioned with a lot of ingenuity and elbow grease. Nothing about these carts make you wonder who is financially backing these entrepreneurs. (After all, I am a huge Maximus Minimus fan, but that food truck of porky goodness clearly required BANK.). And nothing whets my appetite more than the smell of DIY.

I also love the kitsch aesthetic. Decorative Christmas lights, adjoining picnic tables, and hand-painted signs abound. Some are custom fitted with antique appliances. The carts are entirely unique, and speak to the individualism of each ‘cartrepreneur.’

And the quality of the food? I suspect there is the full gamut. My own experience at ‘The People’s Pig’ cart downtown was excellent, after sampling three different pork sandwiches including the daily special that included both fresh watermelon and pickled watermelon rind. www.foodcartsportland.com provides a comprehensive list, which seems to change and grow weekly. (There are 579 food carts currently registered by the Multnomah Health Department.)

But what I love best about this cartopia in Portland, is the fertile environment for both the entrepreneurial spirit and the culinary Renaissance. despite these lethargic economic times, Portland’s cart culture thumbs it’s nose at the necessity of an angel investor, and embodies the American Dream at it’s best. Even when we are at our worst. Viva Cartopia, Portland! And may you inspire other cities to nurture the same.

(P.S. If you are heading to Portland soon, pick up a copy of Portland Monthly Magazine, as their cover story lists the 40 best food carts in the city. There also happens to be a nice little piece in the issue about visiting Vashon Island, with La Boucherie written up on page 41.)

Our chosen life of inventing, trail blazing, and resurrecting small-scale food production methods may seem foreign to many. But within the Page family, such a path is entirely normal. This week, we spent an evening with George’s brother and family in Centralia, Washington, where Justin and Lucy Page have created Santa Lucia Coffee. Their business encompasses both a roasterie and cafe, and true to form, is entirely unique.

Justin began roasting coffee on a micro-scale, using an electric popcorn popper. For personal consumption, such equipment is perfectly adequate. But as his new hobby blossomed into a cottage industry, he began building custom roasters. Each roaster was slightly larger and more sophisticated than the last. justin’s newest machine roasts ten-pound batches; still very small on a commercial scale, but a quantum leap from where he began. It is a Willy Wonka looking contraption of black stove piping, but after the second crack, perfectly roasted beans pour out onto the cooling tray.

The brothers Page are notorious for this kind of thing. From carpentry to charcuterie, sculpture to software, forging to foraging, they are self-taught and proficient in nearly every craft that catches their interest. Perhaps growing up in Southeast Alaska, surrounded by back-to-the-land ambition and self sufficiency, cultivated such confidence.

The next time you you make the drive to Portland, stop in Centralia (aptly named as the midway point between Seattle and Portland), and visit Justin and Lucy’s Santa Lucia Cafe In historic downtown Centralia. Relax in the sunny courtyard, and savor the smooth, chocolaty brew that is distinctly Santa Lucia. If Justin is there, you can ask him about the last roaster he built. Or, the next roaster he intends to build. Because that is the cycle; constant observation, conclusion, innovation. Who says artisans aren’t scientists.

Justin and George roasting coffee