Photo credit: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

Photo credit: Ken Lambert/The Seattle Times

I had been watching Catherine Reynolds and reading her lovely blog for some time before meeting her in person. For years I thought it would be interesting to write about her. No one could have predicted how it would finally come about.

In last Sunday’s Seattle Times, Catherine let me try to share her story. Her journey could have filled a book, and I hope one day she writes one.

I owe a big thanks to Traca Savadogo, who grinned when she told me she had invited Catherine to a dinner party and I asked “Can you seat me next to her?”… and to Kye Soon Hong and Eric Vigesaa, to Dawn and Eric Wright… and, most of all, to Catherine herself.

The beginning of her story is here.

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It’s been a busy year.

Our biggest and most delightful project, of course, is this wonderful new arrival.

But I also had the pleasure of doing some work on Nathan Myhrvold’s Modernist Cuisine, the 2,400-page opus that David Chang called “the cookbook to end all cookbooks” and Tim Zagat said was “the most important book in the culinary arts since Escoffier.” My part was that of a tiny cog in a big centrifuge, so to speak, but, even so, I haven’t found a project so fascinating and educational and fun since… well, ever. I’ll write more before the 6-volume book’s release in March, but in the meantime this article sums up the big picture pretty well.

Beyond that, here are a couple things I’ve been nibbling on:

In “Waste Not, Want Not” in the Seattle Times, Iron Chef winner Maria Hines and Christina Choi showed me how restaurant kitchens can teach home cooks lessons in frugality.

That marvelous movement called the Canvolution was on again this year, and I wrote about it here in the Times.

The neighborhood butcher is back. Read all about it! (And get yourself to Rain Shadow Meats, which had just opened when I wrote this story for the Times, before they run out of bacon.)

Don’t miss out on the last sweet days of pluot season. Pluots? Yes, if you try to get to the bottom of what exactly a pluot is, it’s complicated. Chip Brantley devoted an entire (great) book to that topic. But all you really need to know, as I wrote here in the Times, is that they’re reliably more tasty than either their plum mothers or apricot dads. (Or apricot great-uncles, or second cousins twice removed — never mind).

Get recommendations on some of the best Washington cheeses you won’t find in your supermarket here.

For a city supposedly wired on caffeine, this used to be a tough place to find a solid late-night meal. No more. As I wrote in Sunset magazine, Seattle’s woken up. Got a 3 a.m. craving for a bistro burger with Painted Hills beef and Beecher’s Cheese? We know the place. (Even more midnight bites have opened since the article ran, including Homegrown on Capitol Hill).

Here in Seattle’s Child, where I write regularly about kids and food, I fulfilled a longtime goal of using the words “stracciatella” and “Choco Taco” in the same story.

Over at the Christian Science Monitor, where I regularly contribute to the “Chapter and Verse” blog and review books, I talk about Gwyneth Paltrow, Amazon.com rankings, and carrot coconut soup with Urban Pantry’s Amy Pennington, get tips on the changing field of food writing from Dianne Jacob, and pine over memories of Scott McCloud’s “Zot!” (Zot! has nothing to do with food, I know, but now and then I have to remind myself of my teenage years among Mylar bags and the Overstreet Price Guide).

Finally, you can usually find me on Al Dente, talking about things like the best ginger scones ever, a remarkably unscientific list of the 50 best cookbooks in history, and how to give your wok a facial.

Thank you all for reading along, for bearing with me during the months my out-of-office email was on, and for all your good wishes. I hope your year has been equally joyful and full.

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Check out the Sunday edition of The Seattle Times for my Q&A with Michael Pollan.

I had lunch with Pollan a few years ago, and was impressed even then with his smart, thoughtful take on what we were eating and where our country was headed. I’ve always admired his combination of shoe-leather reporting and clear thinking; how he can, for instance, cut through the endless circular arguments over whether high-fructose corn syrup is worse than sugar. (There are entirely different reasons to avoid foods containing HFCS, he says — it’s a “reliable marker for a food product that has been highly processed,” and it has some significant environmental problems.)

The issues Pollan deals with have become stunningly mainstream, and it was a treat to get to follow up on some of the topics we had talked about when they were less in the public eye. (He had this to say about health care reform and the insurance industry: “What the food movement has lacked until now is a powerful corporate ally, and it may have gotten one.”)

And, Pollan himself is now being looked to as a leader in the good-food movement as much as a reporter — not a role most journalists are comfortable juggling. I asked how he felt about that:

“This is a movement that is in need of leadership…But it’s not a role I’m well suited to. I’m not a political actor. I know how to talk to the public, I don’t know how to negotiate with the food industry, I don’t know how to move legislation in Congress, I don’t know how to write legislation. If you told me, “OK, buddy, put up or shut up, how do we write the farm bill?” I don’t know how we do that. And the movement needs people who do, people who understand the ways of Washington.

“But there are signs that these people are emerging. There are a lot of young people getting into the food movement now; they ask me how to get involved. I tell them to go to law school and do things like that. They all want to be chefs and writers, but we need other people, other roles.”

The edited interview is online here. And if you’re interested in hearing Pollan firsthand, this interview came about because he’ll be speaking at the American Cheese Society conference in Seattle in August. I’ll be writing more about the conference as it approaches, but the basic conference info is here.

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To me, there’s no such thing as too many farmers markets. Each one has its own personality and unique opportunities. Practically, though, as I wrote in this month’s Seattle Magazine, more people are questioning whether our region has reached a saturation point. The full article is online here.

Speaking of farmers, I also took a look at rhubarb recently in The Seattle Times. For the article, I visited Ron Leslie in Sumner,the rhubarb pie capital, who grows a startlingly large percentage of the nation’s rhubarb crop. The official figures don’t count backyard patches and other smaller sources, but I was still so surprised at the country’s low rhubarb consumption — doesn’t everyone you know love it? — that I checked with the USDA to make sure I hadn’t mangled my math. Their folks assured me the numbers were right, and said that there are parts of the country where people don’t even know what you’re talking about when you mention rhubarb. What a loss! (And I wonder if there are other wonderful crops that grow well in Maine or Florida that we never hear about over here.)

In Sunset magazine, I got a chance to taste ohmigyu steak at The Metropolitan Grill, (talk about sourcing — I could see the official papers and breeding history of the exact cow I was eating), to recommend Amy Pennington’s “Pantry Royale” preserving classes, to weigh in on some of the best ice cream in the West (I have a bunch of favorites, but if you haven’t been to Parfait, you’re missing out), and to share some love for the city of (speaking of great farmers markets) Edmonds.

I combined my two favorite pasttimes — reading and eating — for a look at bookstore cafes in Seattle’s Child magazine, and for its cover story on local books. (I also occasionally review books for The Christian Science Monitor, and contribute regularly to the paper’s “Chapter and Verse” blog.)

And, at Amazon.com’s Al Dente blog, I had the pleasure of interviewing Steven Raichlen, “the guru of grilling,” in advance of his Cooks and Books event, to check out Delores Custer’s impressive new book on food styling, and to share some expert advice from Grace Young, author of Stir-Frying to the Sky’s Edge, on how to season a wok. Here’s a video from the memorable afternoon we enjoyed in Young’s company.

Thank you for reading along! I’ve been working on some nifty other projects that I’m looking forward to posting here. Also, on the home front, we’re expecting another baby at the end of the month, and are looking forward to sharing — eventually — the joys of the farmers markets, rhubarb, ice cream, bookstore cafes, and all the other wonders of Seattle life. I hope your summer is filled with good things and good meals too.

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On the days you don’t see me on this page, here are a few other places I’ve been writing lately:

In the May issue of Cooking Light, I have an article on the national push to post calories and other nutritional information at chain restaurants. The most surprising part of researching this, for me, was the consensus that menu labels alone aren’t a magic bullet that will change what people order and eat. Seeing the amount of fat and calories and salt on the menu after a labeling law went into effect in Seattle certainly changed my dining habits – but then, I’m the one who hasn’t been able to enjoy an Entemann’s donut since similar laws for packaged food went into effect in 1990.

In the May isue of Sunset magazine, I take a look at the sensational Shigoku oysters making their way across Seattle menus, and sample some excellent brunch cocktails around town.

In the April issue of Veranda magazine, I was lucky enough to share the pleasures of Cafe Juanita with readers.

In the May issue of Mix magazine, I’ll be talking about good places to eat in my favorite Oregon coastal town.

You can frequently find me on Amazon.com’s Al Dente blog, where I recently wrote about a local branch of Jamie Oliver’s Food Revolution, my response to the inevitable canning backlash, and David Lebovitz’s latest cookbook.

I occasionally write about food for Seattle’s Child magazine, including this interview with everyone’s favorite Hungry Monkey dad, Matthew Amster-Burton.  In the current issue, which isn’t yet online, I look at the new generation of home-delivered groceries, from Full Circle Farm’s vegetables to Trophy Cupcakes dropped off on your doorstep. (And yes, people have asked Trophy to send a driver to their home address ASAP delivering a single cupcake, and they have indeed fulfilled such orders, albeit at a price.)

And, since I tend to think about books when I’m not thinking about food, I regularly contribute to the Christian Science Monitor’s “Chapter & Verse” blog, and I write occasional book reviews for the Monitor. Here’s the latest.

Thanks for the chance to read and write and eat along with you. I hope to get to meet some of you in person at the International Association of Culinary Professionals conference in Portland this week — let me know if you’ll be there.

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You might have met farmer Joel Salatin, “America’s most celebrated pioneer of chemical-free farming,” on the page through Michael Pollan. Now, you get a chance to meet him on the screen in the movie FRESH — or in person, when he appears at the University of Washington on Tuesday, April 20.

Organizers of a week full of events to celebrate the movie’s Seattle opening are kindly offering a pair of tickets to Salatin’s $25 Kane Hall appearances to our readers. The winner can choose between Tuesday’s 6 p.m. talk on “The Sheer Ecstasy of Being A Lunatic Farmer,” and the 8 p.m. talk titled “Can You Feed The World? Answering Elitism, Production, and Choice.”

(For a closer-up conversation, you could also attend a FRESH fundraiser at Emmer & Rye earlier in the day, with attendance limited to 25 people, but that one’s $125.)

Want to play? Leave a comment on this post, and be sure I have a way to contact you if you win. Time is short, so I’ll be randomly picking a winner from the comments at 9 p.m. PST Monday. If you have time to mull it over, I’m curious to know how you would answer the question posed in Salatin’s 8 p.m. talk. How do you answer charges of elitism about what you eat?

*Updated 4/19 to say that our random number generator picked Debra E. as our ticket winner! Debra, email me at rebekahdenn at gmail.com so I can arrange to get your tickets to you! Thank you for playing, and we do have discount tickets available for other readers — the organizers will give you 20 percent off the list price by using the code “FRESHpromo” on Brown Paper Tickets.

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“Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”

That’s just one of the interesting tidbits of information in a generally comprehensive and frank new study on farmers markets in King County. Staff from the county Agriculture Program surveyed market managers and farmers for the report, yielding a nice trove of data on the challenges markets face and some paths toward improving their long-term stability. Some of the summaries and conclusions will be no-brainers to dedicated market watchers: Farmers markets need good, long-term locations, which are in short supply. Having more vendors process debit cards and food stamp benefits would increase sales. It’s frustrating that so many shoppers believe prices are higher at farmers markets than grocery stores, and frustrating that grocery stores are now grabbing the “locally grown” label while selling a very different product. Still, the report has plenty of new information and plain-spoken advice for the future. Here’s a random sampling of points that caught my eye:

1. There were 39 farmers markets in the county last year. Ten years earlier, there had been just nine. The markets are clearly boons to communities, but they’ve grown so fast there hasn’t been time to research what makes for successful markets in different areas — or time to develop regulations and land use politicies to support them. The growth also is causing concern among some market managers that newer markets are pulling shoppers away from established markets, and some farmers are reporting that their per-market sales are dropping.”If the number of farmers markets is to continue to grow successfully, it will have to be matched with increasing the shopper base and increasing the number of farmers available to sell at them” — and there are plenty of roadblocks to both those goals.

2. Most farmers need to earn a minimum of $600 per market day. “Information from a number of county markets indicates their average vendor sales are less than $600.”

3. As more markets open or expand, it becomes harder for market managers to know all farmers personally. “Some markets have discovered vendors who claim to grow the crop they are selling, but in fact are buying it from a packing house or other farmer. Besides not complying with the market’s policies, these vendors tend to underprice the legitimate farmers at the market, who may decide to leave the market. It is extremely difficult for market managers to verify the accuracy of vendor claims…Farmers understand this is a difficult and sensitive issue and wish market managers had better tools to address it.

4. Long-time farmers with “a recognized product and an established presence” can pretty much choose the markets where they want to set up shop. New farmers find it harder to gain a spot, especially at more desirable markets with higher sales. Some immigrant farmers have a hard time getting into markets “because they tend to grow the same products which are overrepresented at many markets.” But farmers who have a specialized product in high demand can pick their market regardless of how long they’ve been in the business or how big their farm is. “As one farmer noted in a small group discussion, ‘Goat meat can get you in at any farmers market.”

Interested in seeing more? Take a look at the full study here.

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Concerned about farmland, fish, and wildlife preservation in our area? Head to the polls Tuesday for the practically-unknown King Conservation District elections, which generally draw a tiny fraction of eligible voters. As The Seattle Times put it in a nice look at the issue today, “The chronically poor turnout belies the importance of an agency created after the Dust Bowl of the 1930s to help farmers, ranchers and tree growers be stewards of their land in ways that produce dependable crops, retain soil and keep creeks and rivers clean.”

I first heard about the election from candidate Mary Embleton, who I know from her work with the Cascade Harvest Coalition.  A full list of candidates is online here, and a list of polling places and hours is here.

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The Seattle Food & Wine Experience is coming up Feb. 28 at Seattle Center, and the organizers are giving away a pair of tickets to our readers.

What can you expect? 

For the wine part of the experience, the posted list of participants includes DeLille Cellars, Erath, McCrea, and 100+ more, with breweries to boot. Around 20 eateries are signed up, from Maximus/Minimus (out of hibernation for the day) and Frost Doughnuts to Artisanal and Campagne and — yes, seriously, check out what these folks have been doing – the Tulalip Casino’s restaurant, Tulalip Bay. Kathy Casey will give a signed cookbook to the first 300 guests.

Tickets are $49 apiece (with a portion going to the non-profit Beecher’s Flagship Foundation), which gets you unlimited samples of food and non-alcoholic beverages, and 50 tasting tickets for alcoholic drinks (at 1-3 tickets per taste). Interested in a chance to get in for free? Just leave a comment here telling me what you like (or, if you prefer, what you don’t like) to see at food festivals. We’ll pick the winner using a random number generator at 9 p.m. PST on Feb. 2.

Updated 2/2 to announce that our random number generator has picked comment #19, Dave, as our winner! Congratulations! 

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I wrote about our old friends the Mangalitsa pigs in the new issue of Cooking Light, as part of the magazine’s list of ten ways to eat right in 2010. Yes, those pigs — the ones that inevitably draw the words “fatty, lardy, rich” in any word association game — in Cooking Light. The logic is that the porkers fall under the heading of “Indulge Adventurously,” meaning that “a healthy approach to eating includes permission to satisfy that part of the soul that craves truffles, butter, chocolate, or cheese –in modest proportions.”  (A small serving of Mangalitsa is rich enough to be more satiating than a less modest plate of a lot of other chops, for that matter.) Mag editor Scott Mowbray wrote that he knew the idea “may provoke a few double takes” alongside more typical health-conscious rules like “Eat More Whole Foods” and “Choose Healthy Fats”. However, “What we believe is simply this: The revival of farmers markets, the awareness of the environment, the national excitement about chefs, the relaxing of black-and-white ideas about fat, carbs, and fiber, the reaffirming of food’s role in healthy social interaction — it’s all good. It can be knit together in a positive, nurturing, cook-centered, and fun approach to healthy eating…”

A few excerpts from the print story are over here, though I don’t see the full version online. Other writers contributed nifty pieces on topics like cooking at home (if Grant Achatz can do it, so can you).

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