Blooms of Change

I've lived in this neighborhood for nearly 15 years. When the lease on my boyfriend's place mercilessly expired, we moved here. On full-sun days, his place was so dark, we dubbed his top floor apartment "the bat cave." I spent the next six months getting to know the area...and shopping for an apartment.

We found a sweet spot with a view of the lake, misty snow-capped mountains, and sunsets so beautiful, I'd drop everything and race home. Watching, transfixed, as the colors in the sky shifted from vibrant oranges and fire-glow pink, and receded into shades of sherbert. Eventually, the sky would yield to the moon, and a study of blues.

Just down the road was a blackberry patch, deep and lush. We'd fill 5-gallon buckets and then, after a quick check for bugs, I'd submerge the berries in vodka and wait 'til Christmas. In the dreary days of winter, inky blackberry vodka provided an instant infusion of summer.

The blackberry patch was prone to flooding, but I didn't mind. Penetrating the tangle of new growth to harvest the more seasoned branches, I'd slip and slide, wondering exactly how many layers I'd have to wear to avoid the thorns? Scratched and bleeding, my hands bore heavy stains and I'd chuck it up to "opportunity cost." The berries--and their many incarnations--were worth it.

But there will be no berries this year. That land is now home to a massive 200-room hotel. I watched as they hung the fake Greek-inspired trim--noticeably hollow from my vantage at a nearby stoplight.

A construction boom on a city-wide scale has eliminated most of the mom & pop shops. My favorite Thai restaurant shuttered years ago, and sits idle while developers secure the surrounding properties. Another massive construction project is inevitable.

They leveled the place where my friend Amy worked. And that 250-seat restaurant was turned to dust within a matter of days. The electronics store is now a prospering Whole Foods and that car dealership on the corner was overtaken by the hospital expansion. I feel like George Bailey in "It's a Wonderful Life," washed up in Potterville.

Lost in a sea of change, today I drove by a spot where that funky hotel used to sit. The Mexican cooks used to meet there every Thursday for salsa night. Ostrich-skinned cowboy boots and five-inch wide belt buckles replaced checkered chef pants and marinara-splattered tennis shoes. Emboldened by Tecates and tequila, we'd linger late into the night.

Lost in that memory, I was jolted into the present. In the shadow of a towering--and mostly vacant, glass & steel condo building, a sea of poppies waved gently in the breeze. Trying to get a closer look, I rounded block and quickly abandoned my car. Dodging ambulances and evening commuters, a simulated bird chirped my way through the crosswalk.

Philosophical and more than a wee bit sentimental, I thought about digging my heels in, and resisting the change swirling around me.'s time to embrace something new. It's not a blackberry patch, but rooted in an unlikely spot next to the freeway, this brazen field of poppies was dancing in the wind.

Perhaps it's time to take a cue from them.

Field Trip to Sahale Snacks

Noshing over a cheeseboard, I struck up conversation with the man next to me. "Hello" was quickly followed by, "So what do you do?" His answer was succinct. "I work at Sahale Snacks." I quickly proclaimed my love for Sahale Snacks, my secret weapon for entertaining on the fly. (Their nuts, a wedge or two of cheese, a loaf of bread and voila! Party ready.)

At this point, I discover he's one of the Sahale Snacks founders and we launch deep into conversation.

Truth be told, I've had my sights set on Sahale Snacks from the early days. Their modern day success story goes like this: two media guys form a friendship and discover a mutual love of climbing. The problem? Nourishing and delicious food for the trail is tough to find. Raise your criteria with a desire for organic, all natural, AND delicious? The solution is...make it yourself.

Descending from a climb on Mount Rainier, a plan began to take shape. Once on terra firma, the two took to the kitchen and played mad scientist, whipping up a myriad of flavor combinations. Riffling through the cabinets, co-founder Josh Schroeter admits, "My wife thought I was crazy!"

The pair continued to work out recipe formulations, and brought in an outside consultant for some refinement. Eventually, they had a retail ready product and scheduled a demo at a local market. They quickly sold out and as Josh tells it, "I called Edmond and said, 'We've got something here.' "

That was in 2003.

By 2007, Sahale Snacks was sold in over 4,000 locations...and continued growing. Today they're in over 9,000 Starbucks, hundreds of Costcos, and nearly 300 Whole Foods across the US and Canada.

Earlier this week, I joined Sahale Snack founders Edmond Sanctis and Josh Schroeter for a tour of their manufacturing facilities. While they're not open to the public, they've given me permission to write about it.

Come along with me....

Home of Sahale Snacks, located in a non-descript warehouse south of Seattle.

The original line up:

Sing Buri
cashews, pineapple, peanuts, lemongrass and Chinese chili

pistachios, sesame seeds, pepitas, fig and Moroccan Harissa

almonds, apple, flax seed, date, balsamic vinegar and red pepper

pecans, sweet cranberries, black pepper, and orange zest

In the boardroom with Sahale co-founder Edmond Sanctis. In the foreground...biscotti crisps, a new product fresh on the market (see the bag on the right? Mock up label, which is actually a giant sticker on the face of the bag. Final design is the bag on the left. Differences are subtle, but most notably is the text across the top--option 1: above the recloseable seal, option 2: text below the seal.)

Another newly launched product: Tuscan Almonds, flavored with grated parmesan, sun-dried tomato, basil, oregano, and thyme. (One of my favorites.)

Food safety: We grab lab coats, hair nets and wash our hands before entering the manufacturing plant. Like a medical facility, no touching the sink faucets. To start the water, we lean into stainless steel pedals mounted on the side of the sink. (I forgot to wear my hair up. Stuffing my long hair into a hairnet was comical!)

Hand sorting cashews, looking for defects.

On our visit, the entire production was dedicated to Sahale's Cashews with Pomegranate + Vanilla. Pictured here is the spice blend. Behind me is a large walk-in style oven and to the right, a large vat of glaze rests on the stovetop. Once the nuts are roasted, they'll be tossed with the glaze, then the spice mix.

Cashews, hot out of the oven. This entire cart is wheeled into the oven. I'm told the rack, hot out of the oven, continues to hold heat. To speed the cooling process, the sheet pans are transferred to a different rack.

For an intense pomegranate flavor, Sahale makes a minced pate de fruit.

50 pound bags of Brazilian cashews, vacuum-packed.

The finished product is loaded into a hopper. Next up: packaging. Notice the size of the holes? While clusters of nuts are desirable, large clumps are not. The size of the hole ensures large clusters are broken down before packaging. (Side note: the large sheet pans are lined with Silpats. While that's an expensive choice for a non-stick surface, they've found nothing works better.)

Packaging styles vary. This is a wrap set up.

Behind: sheets of packaging on the roller. In the foreground: a finished "wrap-style" package.

This batch is going to Canada. Notice the label in French and English?

In process: a larger packaging style with a recloseable seal at the top. Here, product is loaded from above. "We used to package these by hand!"

Coming to a store near you!

The warehouse is massive. Supplies are here. Behind me is the finished product, ready for shipment.

Giant bags of peanuts. Pictured here is Eric Rivera from (Notice the attractive hot pink "visitors" badge.)

Sahale Snacks founders, Josh Schroeter (left) and Edmond Sanctis (right.)

Outer perimeter: Core ingredients for Cashews with Pomegranate + Vanilla. Bottom right to top left: spice blend, pomegranate bits, raw cashews, roasted cashews, finished product. Center: ground Madagascar vanilla beans (no artificial "vanilla essence" here).

Above and to the right: Tuscan Almonds and herbs (basil, oregano, and thyme). To maximize herb flavor, they use flash-frozen herbs. Tossed with the glaze and spices, the herbs dry in the roasting process, locking in that bold fresh herb flavor.

Back in the boardroom, we sample the new line of Tuscan Almonds, Barbeque Almonds, and Southwest Cashews. While much thought is given to the nut flavors, Edmond and Josh discovered they pair best with beer. Redhook's new summer brew, "Rope Swing" was perfect.