Farm Tour: Red Barn Lavender

When the lavender blooms, beginning in June, you'll have no need for a map. Red Barn Lavender owner Marv Fast tells me, "We've had people who followed the lavender scent from two miles away!"

Red Barn Lavender is nestled among the rolling hills two miles from the heart of Ferndale, Washington. A stunning view of snow-capped Mount Baker and tufts of lavender plants arching over gentle slopes make it a popular stop for photographers and lavender lovers.

Two distinct styles add to some misconceptions about lavender. French lavender has a component called lavendine, which is camphor-based. This aromatic--some say pungent--lavender is widely used in the fragrance industry. It is distinctly different from English lavender, which is used for culinary purposes.

During peak blooming season, bee hives are placed on the farm. The honey extracted reflects a pale golden color and a slight hint of lavender essence. The delicate flavor shines on scones or stirred into yogurt.

In anticipation of blueberry season, I grab a bag of English lavender buds. Blueberries and lavender are wonderful paired together. Warmed over a gentle heat, blueberries infused with lavender buds makes a great topping for ice cream or pound cake.

Want to visit Red Barn Lavender? Mark your calendar. April through the end of July, plants, buds, honey, and essential oils are available for purchase and during the peak blooming season, they offer a variety of craft classes. Check the website for details.

I was immediately smitten with Red Barn Lavender's salvaged window and cedar greenhouse. Spacious and flooded with light, it has an unobstructed view of snow-capped Mount Baker.

Take a peek inside the greenhouse.

Cultivating over 3,600 lavender plants, beginning in April Red Barn Lavender also has starts available for sale.

In due time...

Who knew there were so many different varieties of lavender? Culled from their website, here's a sampling of the varieties they grow: Buena Vista, Grosso, Maillette, Fred Boutin, Hidcote Giant, Old English, Twickle Purple, Royal Velvet, Blue Hidcote and Pink Hidcote. We have many specimen plants including Sawyers, Dilly Dilly, Sarah, Sachet, Munstead, Jean Davis, Cascade Velvet, White Spike, Folgate, Seal, Silver Frost, Dutch Mill and Lodden Blue.

Another look at that beautiful greenhouse.

A patch of succulents near the barn.

Lavender farmers, Lynn and Marvin Fast.

We do a quick sniff and taste test. French lavender, used for perfume, is vastly different than English lavender, which is used for culinary purposes.

Lavender-infused treats. A classic combination: lavender and blueberries. English lavender infused in simple syrup makes a nice addition to lemonade.

Strolling the lavender fields, daydreaming about the English moors in Wuthering Heights.

Tarps are laid between the tufts of lavender to keep weeds at bay.

Red Barn Lavender
3106 Thornton Road
Ferndale, WA

Farm Tour: Pleasant Valley Dairy and the Spring Cheeses

Point your car an hour and a half north of Seattle and stop before you hit the Canadian border. You are now in Whatcom County and until this trip, I paid little more than a passing glance en route to more northern points of interest. But when you slow down a while, what comes into view are some destination-worthy stops. Picture rolling valleys, lush coastal waterways, and artisan craftsmen around every bend...if you know where to look. It's an easy day trip destination from Seattle, but I recommend making a weekend out of it. Pack a cooler, arm yourself with a copy of Whatcom County's Food & Farm Finder (download here)...and you are ready for a delicious adventure!

Earlier this spring, I was invited on a culinary tour with the Whatcom County Convention & Visitors Bureau. On the go from morning 'til night, I joined a handful of media folks for a three-day trip that had no shortage of eating and drinking.

Returning to my room at the fabulous Chrysalis Inn & Spa, lulled by the waves lapping on the shore just outside my window, I'd slip into the soaking tub and review the day's notes. This was a whirlwind feast heady with new experiences...and it left an indelible impact.

I've been going through a ton of photos and have lots to let's get started. First up: Let's take a spin down Kickerville Road and visit the folks at at Pleasant Valley Dairy.

Note: The tasting room operates on a seasonal schedule and is closed Sunday & Monday. To be on the safe side, give them a call before you head out. (Contact info is at the bottom.)

Pleasant Valley Dairy is a working farm, surrounded by sweet grass and herds of grazing dairy cows. It's here that I finally realized...some cheese makers buy their milk, others take control of the whole process and raise their own dairy cows. Our visit to Pleasant Valley Dairy coincided with the spring calving season.

Milked twice daily, these cows are heading into the barn for their morning milking.

Shortly after birth, the calves are separated from the mother and at this farm, they're housed in these mini yurts. A dozen of these units were lined up, each occupied by a young calf. Eventually the calves will be reintroduced to the herd.

This sweet calf was born just days before we arrived.

Vat of raw milk, separating into curds and whey.

Often called "guitars" or "mandolins" these are used to cut the curd.

After the curds separate from the whey, they are seasoned and packed into plastic molds to drain away moisture. Next step, a brine bath.

The brining solution helps flavor the cheese and stiffen the curd. (This is Pleasant Valley Dairy's red jalapeno.)

Aging the cheese.

Looks rather alarming, doesn't it? Those splotches of red are traces of wax, which is used to enrobe the cheese.

Another aging room. These cheeses have already received their wax seal.

Third-generation cheese maker.

It doesn't get any fresher than this.

Have a taste.

There are a multitude of variables when it comes to making cheese...seasonality, temperature, and humidity are just a few. Ensuring a consistent product requires detailed notes.

Look who I found at the tasting room! (Love his Oshkosh shirt.)

Sampling the finished product. We tried them all.

Cheese lovers come in all sizes.

Farm living--a perfect spot for a swing and a nap.

Pleasant Valley Dairy

6804 Kickerville Road
Ferndale, WA 98248

Impromptu Party - Loft on Vine

Friday night. Summer in Seattle. Julie's friends are in town from Paris. Juggling a never ending stream of calls, followed by a quick pass through the market and voila! Within hours, we are party ready.

What could be better than a fabulous party in a loft just blocks away from the Pike Place Market? 4,000 square feet of splendor with an eclectic art collection, a view of Mount Rainer, Elliot Bay, West Seattle, and the Port of Seattle. The guest list--comprised of artists, patrons of the arts, tech gurus, and yes, a nun--compelling and eclectic--just like the space.

Back in the day, this was not the desirable neighborhood it is now. At the time of purchase, it's not a stretch to think some days...the homeless outnumbered residents. The owner, an architect by trade, purchased two adjoining units in the building and tore down the wall to create this luxe living space. And fortunately, the neighborhood followed suit. Galleries, restaurants, and condos sprung up, creating a trendy neighborhood strategically situated near the downtown core and just blocks away from the waterfront.

Originally a large open space, an inventive design maintains the airy loft feel. The back end of the unit has been divided to create living spaces--a guest room, office, and entertainment room. Above, the master bedroom and a small seating area face a large bank of windows, providing a perfect vantage for ferry-watching on Elliot Bay. An avid art collector, the loft's expansive walls serve as a rotating gallery for the owner's collection.

The building across the street. Rain gutters have been turned into flower plantings.

Entrance to the loft. A feast for the senses with artistic touches incorporated throughout the space.

Pass the kitchen and enter large open space with a floor-to-ceiling bank of windows stretching three stories. Surprising touches like the carved wood chair with a leopard seat are scattered throughout the space, creating a touch of whimsy and propel the visual treasure hunt.

A large pantry houses party-ready elements including plates, platters, and vases. The dining table has been turned into a buffet with cheese, charcuterie, and pickled veggies. In the background, you'll find a professional kitchen with a built-in grill and hood, complete with warming drawers for large-scale entertaining.

A view from the deck includes Elliot Bay, and when the weather is right, a stunning look at Mount Rainier (the tallest mountain in the lower '48).

Guests begin to arrive. Shot from a lima bean-shaped seating area, jutting out above the buffet table.

A better look at the features here: grand piano, rock garden, and large-scale art installations.

An expansive of wall showcases more pieces in the collection. Notice the images span the space from top to bottom. The exposed beam provides both structure for the second floor, and a vehicle for lighting.

Original art pieces includes a funky series of photography. This piece is prominently featured, just off the kitchen.

- - -
Entertaining on the fly is tricky. The objective? Great food...with the least amount of hassle.

Impromptu party success hinges on a few key elements:

1. A well-stocked pantry

2. A handful of easy, yet satisfying recipes

What's in my pantry?

- Crackers & gourmet chips
- Olives (green, black, and stuffed)
- Pesto
- Tapenade
- Seasoned nuts (Sahale's are great)
- Dried fruit
- Biscotti
- Smoked salmon
- Sundried tomatoes in oil
- Cous cous, orzo, tabouli
- Garbonzo beans
- Olive oil
- Seasoned salt
- Wasabi peas
- Red & white wine
- Champagne
- Beer

1 hour and need food fast. What do I serve?

- Hummus

- Fig and Olive Tapenade
Serve plain or alongside a creamy goat cheese, if you have it.

- Crackers or pita chips

- Olives
I like these lemon-stuffed olives

- Seasoned nuts
Sahale's Valdosta pecans or Tuscan almonds are two of my favorites

- Orzo, cous cous, or tabouli salad
Top cooked orzo, cous cous or tablouli with a citrus vinaigrette.
Add chopped olives and sundried tomatoes.
Throw in some fresh basil, if you have it.

- Chocolate-dipped biscotti
Melt some chocolate, dip the biscotti ends 1/2 way.
Got a little more time? Before the chocolate sets, roll chocolate-dipped biscotti in crushed nuts.