Thursday, April 30, 2009

International Food Bloggers Conference

The International Food Bloggers' Conference is getting closer! I'm really looking forward to meeting some incredible food bloggers, speakers, cheese makers and chefs that will be coming to the event. Along with others, I've been helping Sheri of Foodista nail down details, create to-do lists and organize the chefs and other artisans that will be participating at the conference. The IFBC is taking place at The Sanctuary in West Seattle. It's fairly new event space located in a fantastic setting right off Admiral. As the name implies, it's a remodeled church, with an open gourmet kitchen, Tiffany-style lighting and Seattle antiques decorated throughout- it is absolutely gorgeous. With a little over a week left to go, the check lists of "to-do's" seem to only be getting longer as all the small details are left to tackle.
The event sold out in only 10 days, but the good news is that the event will be webcasted! More details regarding the webcast are still to come.

Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Wanting to capture it all

I learn so much each time I'm at the HerbFarm that I wish I had one of those official "Press" recorders or at the very least, a note pad. It's not like the note pad is that far off, it's just that likely when I am catching some great bit of information I have some soil-encrusted purple gardening gloves on my hands or I am too busy absorbing the information and asking questions that I don't have time to write it all down. Thankfully, I remember to bring my little digital camera with me and capture the moments that are reminders to write about later. And of course the chickens keep growing and causing mischief, like this one chicken who has found her way inside the feeder and she doesn't look one bit guilty to me.

Wednesday, April 22, 2009

The "er" Drawer

My mother-in-law is one of the biggest kitchen gadget fans that I know of. So much so that she became a kitchen rep for a highly respected brand of cooking gadgets.
For years she would drive all over town and demonstrate to groups of giggling women the “must have” cooking gadgets of the season. She would demonstrate how the Pineapple Wedge-er is essential when slicing a pineapple or how the Egg Slicer is actually an Egg Slicer “Plus,” and how these kitchen gadgets would greatly help out in the kitchen and make their lives easier.

Before I was married, I just expected to receive kitchen gadgets for Christmas and birthdays from my mother-in-law’s increasingly expanding kitchen tools catalog. Everyone would look at my reaction as I opened the Crinkle Cutter, or the Avocado Peeler, “Oh how perfect for you!” Someone would say or “I bet you are going to use those a lot in the restaurant.”

Ironically, I don’t ever use them. Not because they are not useful, it’s just that when you learn how to use a knife, most kitchen gadgets get demoted to the “er” drawer. The “er” drawer is something we all have in our kitchens. The place for the pizza cutt-er, the mash-er, the melon ball-er, you get the idea. My personal favorite the “Bamboo Tong Toast Grabber,” which I actually did use for grabbing a small piece of toast that was stuck in my toaster- thankfully I had my Toast Grabber to help me out! Depending on the type of cook you are will determine what your “er” drawer contains.

I’m not saying all anyone ever needs is a knife to cook with- hardly! I’m just talking about some of the crazier kitchen gadgets that perhaps you will try out once and then demote to “er” drawer, or the garage sale box or pass off as a cool bath tub toy for your nieces and nephews.
In all seriousness, there are several cooking tools that I cannot live without. Ask any chef and they will admit the same. Better yet, ask to see their knife bag or tool box- you might just be amazed at what chefs carry around with them.
My list of must have small cooking tools:

-Chef knife, pairing knife, serrated knife, boning knife
-Fine grater
-Kitchen shears
-Tongs, spatula

It’s not a whole lot- more like the necessities. When it comes to special luxury tools that truly make my life easier, there are more than a couple that I would spend the money on, like my cherry/olive pitter or my mandolin slicer. The beauty of kitchen gadgets is that everyone cooks differently, thank goodness, and everyone uses different tools. My mother uses her garlic press on a weekly basis, and my father uses an apple corer/slicer everyday and my husband swears by this hand chopper gizmo that we have.

To my mother-in-law’s defense, she told me the real reason she started selling kitchen gadgets was to get people interested in cooking for their families. She felt there were just too many people that didn’t sit down at the table together for meals anymore.
If she was able to get people excited about a nifty little garlic press or an avocado peeler, then she had reached out to a couple people who might be inspired to cook with it that night for their families or at the very least, add it to their “er” drawers.
Also posted on Foodista

Thursday, April 16, 2009

The Importance of Plate Liners

Green Wave Mustard Green Plate Liner

Each day that the restaurant has one of its nine course seatings, you can guarantee that every detail is met with thoughtful consideration and care. I'll be the first to tell you that I haven't dined at the HerbFarm, so when I say this, it isn't from a dining experience, it's what is happening behind the scenes. The HerbFarm isn't something you just swing by. Reservations are made months in advance and people actually fly in for dinner. It's a true investment to dine there, an experience. Which brings me to my next topic: Plate liners. Each day that I come to the HerbFarm garden, there is a harvest list. It varies day to day, but one thing is always certain to be included and that is plate liners. Since I haven't dined at the restaurant (yet) I have to imagine what plate liners are...obviously I cannot help but think of a leaf version of paper doilies- which I know cannot be right. The mystery alone is delicious. Once I actually doubt I'll be revealing all.
Plate liners are super important at the garden, each leaf is hand-picked and each leaf is carefully selected to match the rest of the leaves as close as possible. Plate liner harvesting can take up to 25 minutes to gather just 75 tender leaves that all resemble the same size and are free from any insect or color blemishes. Once the leaves are selected, they are placed into reusable containers that are labeled carefully.

According to Bill, at one time, the cooks use to come to the garden before service and gather the plate liners, but now it is something that the gardeners take care of. Were they even more specific than us? How nit picky are we compared to them? I wonder each time that I am picking plate liners; where is this tender leaf going to rest? Who is going to notice the intense shade of burgundy on this Ruby Streak leaf compared to the others that were gathered in the same bed? Obviously no one is- that's a laughable question. Especially with Kobe beef or a lovely salmon is resting next to it. Now that I am in the garden, foraging the product instead of using the product, I am seeing things with new eyes.

Lovage Plate Liner

Monday, April 13, 2009

HerbFarm days 10-14

Once all the animals are fed and the greenhouse harvest list is checked off, I look outside at the fields and I can only imagine what it will be like in a couple months. It's still the calm before the storm at the HerbFarm. It's the tender game of waiting now and wondering if it will it freeze again. In the mean time- there is always something that needs weeding.
I'm enjoying the routines at the farm. I love the fat hens, the ladies elite, with their posh chicken trailer now in the tall grass. Since the fields have dried up a bit, Bill moved them from a higher area that they picked clean, to an area of lush grass that is taller than most of the hens. The teenage chicks however are still in their nursery, growing before my eyes. It won’t be long before they will join the hens and enter into a new pecking order.
I've been studying the greens at the HerbFarm. I think about the wimpy leaves in the bags of salad that are readily available in grocery stores. The greens at the HerbFarm are of such quality- perhaps because they were made with so much care? Perhaps it’s simply the varieties that are grown? Likely, it is because of what they are not- mass produced.
I have to say that I love the convenience of bagged salads and would argue that perhaps it has helped several busy/ or lazy people eat a bit healthier. Then I take a step back and wonder how healthy those mass produced lettuces really are? (this is turning into another blog post all together- which I'll elaborate on another time.)
The purple leaves below in this picture are the Ho Mi Zi and the ruffled bright green leaves are called Green Wave mustard greens.
The ideal cut for the restaurant is about two-three inches, and any taller then it's considered too old. The main reason is that some of the characteristics of the greens change as the greens mature; arugula for example gets spicier as well as nuttier as it gets bigger and older. Depending on the flavors needed on the menu, stronger flavored greens could really change an entire dish.

Part of the greenhouse harvest list is picking nasturtiums. They are absolutely gorgeous right now. Bright yellow, orange and reds. The restaurant uses their leaves for salads and garnishes but they also juice the petals- which I find fascinating. Every once in awhile while I am picking nasturtiums I just pop an entire flower into my mouth. Feathery-light petals melt a light perfume, the stamen is honey-sweet and then the stem is spicy hot like a radish.
I’ve been waiting for Bill to post a menu up in the greenhouse so I can follow or guess where each ingredient is being used in which dish. As a cook, my question about each herb, plant and vegetable is “how” are they using it in the kitchen, not just “is this the size and shape you are looking for in a harvestable burdock root," for example. So far I think one true separation I have from some farmers/gardeners that strive to produce the best product possible is that it ends with the product being sold to a customer. Like, "here is the juiciest apple"-Whereas I am also the customer, the user who is going to take that product, the apple and create an entirely new product, completely transformed and re-packaged. "The juiciest apple" is now an apple crisp, a chutney or sauce. Is it a fair question to ask if all commercial gardeners' and farmers' crops would be better if they were all great cooks?

Wednesday, April 8, 2009

Herbfarm, 9, Planting Rosemary Bushes, Changing Weather

I've finally begun to shed layers at the farm. My fleece hat is now optional instead of required and my fleece coat is far too hot now underneath my raincoat. It's taken more than a month to feel "hot" only because it's just been that cold outside. On Wednesday, Sally needed some assistance planting five rosemary bushes at the Herbfarm restaurant garden. When I arrived, Sally had already started on the rosemary hedge. How brilliant, really- in the future, instead of planting a non-edible green bushy hedge for a border, why not rosemary? And what a sensory experience to plant rosemary bushes. The variety of rosemary we planted was called Tuscan Blue.

Straight from
“'Tuscan Blue' is a fast growing rosemary with a tall upright habit. The flowers are dark blue, the slightly glossy foliage is light green against red-brown stems. Height and spread are 3-6'. Dense, bushy, upright, aromatic evergreen shrub. Leaves are narrow and linear, dark green and leathery, up to 2 inches long. Small, tubular blue flowers in whorls, up to 1/2 in long. Rosemary is an excellent choice for making topiaries, and widely used in cooking especially Italian cuisine. A wonderful companion plant with roses."

Ironically, my first true encounter with the hypnotic scent of rosemary was working as a pastry chef's assistant at age 16 at Il Bacio, an Italian pastry shop. Tuscan pastry chef, Roberto would make focaccia bread from scratch every day, drizzled in olive oil and sprinkled with crunchy sea salt and rosemary. No doubt, the best $2.00 ever spent on bread. Even though I was in Redmond, I could have been in any cafe in Tuscany.

For the five gallon rosemary bushes we planted, we had to dig into the soil far enough to reach a hard clay layer. This layer needed to be broken up to help the plant's roots stretch out and to help with drainage. The rosemary bushes had grown into their pots- their compact root system looked like a woman's long hair after she has taken the towel off from the shower- moist, tight strands molded to her head.

Before we placed the roots into the ground, we cut a small layer off the bottom of the bush and pulled and broke up some of the strands. Similar to cutting the bottom stems off flowers before placing them in a vase of water, we encourage the rosemary roots to get comfortable to the new surroundings. Once the hole was ready, just before adding the plant, we added a little compost soil to the bottom of the hole, a couple handfuls of fertilizer and a sprinkling of lime and mixed well.

While placing the rosemary bush in the hole and filling it in with soil, it was hard not to keep my face out of its fragrant bushy stems. I’m reminded of pouring water into the base of the Christmas tree stand as a little kid, getting brushed with those heavenly scented pine needles. And it's not just the scent of what you are planting that fills the air, when planting in an herb garden several herbal aromatics take over even the strongest of fertilizers - chives one moment and thyme the next.

Friday, April 3, 2009

Teenage Chickens with Pink Tiaras

The girls are growing up!

Okay, not the best picture, but check out her pink tiara!