Farmer Jane Dinner: Celebrating Women in the Food Movement

It's amazing what can happen with two degrees of separation, and a willingness to provide introductions. Temra Costa, longtime friend of my buddy Shango, is a force in the sustainable food movement . She is also the author of a new book "Farmer Jane: Women Changing the Way We Eat." With Seattle as a prominent stop on her book tour and intro by Shango, "We should meet!" quickly evolved into a dinner at one of my favorite restaurants.

A thoughtful approach to food, teamed with a commitment to building community, there was no better place than the ever-so-charming Volunteer Park Cafe. Owners Ericka Burke and Heather Earnhardt jumped on board, and brought with them Full Circle Farm's Wendy Munroe. From there, like an old-fashioned barn raising, the list kept growing...

When you gather a dynamic group around the table, the conversation is rich with meaningful connections. As we wound our way around the table with introductions, it was startling to see who was there. Farmers, ranchers, restauranteurs, Les Dammes Escoffier members, a buyer from Whole Foods, a butcher, a Slow Food Board Member, and on it goes. Throughout the meal, seats shift, and conversation stretched long across table.

Temra's book rivals the ideal cocktail party. Chapters in "Farmer Jane" pay tribute to the women who have shaped the modern food movement. While some names may ring familiar like chef/author Deborah Madison and "Farm City" author Novella Carpenter, others...are women you want to know. Above all, their stories provide valuable insights to the journey that's been taken, and the road that lies ahead. With a thoughtful approach, Temra showcases inspiring women who are leading the way as advocates for social change, promoting local & seasonal food, and the next generation of sustainable farmers.

Now, come along with me....

Charming Volunteer Park Cafe on Seattle's Capitol Hill (corner of 17th and Galer)

The patio behind Volunteer Park Cafe.
(Then it was still under construction. It's finished now.)

Nothing like a hearty welcome & a glass of bubbly!

Note to self: pick up a case of this Prosecco.

Volunteer Park Cafe co-owner, Ericka Burke

How cute is this? Aprons at VPC are custom made.

Love these garden tags.

Served fresh from the garden.

Heather Earnhardt, co-owner of VPC. She's responsible for those beautiful pastries & cakes.

Tracey Baker, fifth generation cattle rancher at Gleason Ranch.
(100% grass-fed, grass-finished beef)

(L-R) Evergreen Escapes adventure guide Kieron Weidner and Full Circle Farm owner, Wendy Munroe

Guest of honor: "Farmer Jane" author Temra Costa

Meet Zoe Meats (charcuterie) co-founder, Charlie Hertz

VPC's Ericka Burke kicks off the dinner

Gathered around the communal table

During the course of the night, Full Circle Farm's Wendy Munroe described her own farm's evolution. Not only do they have a thriving farmer's market presence, Full Circle Farm also supplies Seattle-area restaurants and thousands of Community Supported Agriculture subscriptions (4,000 of those are shipped to Alaska!)

This photo album (pictured above) is a tribute to the unsung heroes at Full Circle Farm.

The caption says, "Our humble beginnings, North Bend 1996"

"Wendy [pregnant] with Claire, 2004"

(L-R) "Aviva - Our 1st field manager, 1998" and
"Erne, one of our first interns, 1998"

Asparagus with shaved radish

Bean salad

A break between courses

Organic greens with Green Goddess dressing and edible flowers.
(Don't you just love this enamel pot?)

Roasted fingerling potatoes

Roses and rosé

Salmon with shaved onion, cabbage and herbs.

Ropa vieja, served with a side of chimmichurri

Grand finale: autographed copies of the book!

P.S. If you're wondering where the dessert shot is...I was gabbing and completely missed that course. :)

Entertaining Tips from Coastal Living's Premier Party

Earlier this summer I had an opportunity to attend Coastal Living Magazine's Premier Party for the Ultimate Beach House. Situated on the rugged Washington coastline, the house was chocked full of inspiring ideas. (Read more about that here and here.)

Elements of a great party range from the venue (windswept beach. Check!), the guest list (A party full of designers, artisan craftsmen, and media-industry folk. Check!), and memorable food (oyster bar by Emmet Watson's Oyster Bar and catering by Gourmando. Check!).

Months later, it's the special touches provided by Gourmando Catering that's still on my mind. I do a little cheer whenever I see them at events. Thanks to their full-flavored food and innovative ideas, over the years, Gourmondo has become one of my favorite caterers.

With the full force of holiday entertaining fast approaching, I'll share a few of their special touches. Keep in mind: the goal for great party food is quick or advance preparation (assemble onsite), teamed with an elegant presentation. Take a cue from the caterers on that one. Entertaining at home is less of a hassle when you're not tied to the kitchen.

Destination: The Coastal Living Premier Party at Seabrook, Washington. See the tent? It's situated on a lot near the water.

This is my favorite style of tent. Side flaps lift up during great weather, or, in this case, come down...creating a wall against the wind. The see-through "windows" add a welcome touch.

The tent is perched on a bluff overlooking the beach. (The tide is out!)

First house on the right is Coastal Living's Ultimate Beach House. Photos of the house, inside and out, are here.

Tying in the beach theme are these adorable clam buckets, which served as passed appetizers.

Ready in minutes: steamer clams and crostini.

Main table for food. Love the risers and colored linens. Buckets with beach grass tie in the theme, along with driftwood, hollowed out and serving as a platform for votive candles.

Table-side presentation.

Chinese "to go" boxes are great for portable food...and keep the line moving. Here we have roast chicken fettuccini with spinach pasta and tri-color peppers. (Loads of color = visual appeal) Adding a bit of branding glam, placed on the front of the box is a gilded sticker commemorating the Coastal Living's 2010 Ultimate Beach House.

A bevy of Washington state oysters and jumbo shrimp. Sauces were served on the side. (Raw bar courtesy of Emmet Watson Oyster Bar.)

Roast beef sliders. Rolls baked in-house provide a rustic touch with yellow & black sesame seeds. Tomato tends to get watery and doesn't hold up well on bread. Here, Gourmondo has skewered the slider, topped with a cherry tomato, cut side up. (The tomato's skin keeps it from bleeding on to the bun. Smart, eh?)

Party guests. Notice the string of lights around the perimeter of the tent? When the weather suddenly turned cloudy, these were crucial. The beauty here? The lights are on dimmers, which makes it easy to adjust when the weather turned inclement.

Of course, a great location is always a plus. Sunset over the Pacific Ocean.

Traveling Coca Cola and Melinda Gates at TEDxChange

Proudly offering my unblemished passport for the first time, I flashed the border guard a broad smile that rivaled a Miss America pageant. Giddy with possibilities and adventures yet to be lived, I was embarking on a month-long whirlwind trip to Europe. No longer the daydream of a Midwestern girl with visions of 19th century Grand Tours, I was finally on my way.

From the beginning, I was no ordinary traveler. People were more important than landmarks. Months before I left, I joined Hospitality Exchange (like SERVAS) in an effort to meet the locals, and stretch my budget. The idea works like this: travelers with roots, offer to host other travelers...for free. Now, hospitality means different things to different people and this means, you could be sleeping on an air mattress with a blind cat circling your bed, moaning for hours, or you could be treated to a guest house in the back of a rustic estate. Meals provided? Sometimes. A place to sleep and a shower? Definitely.

And so it was. With an envelope full of phone numbers and confirmations, I embarked on my first trip out of the country...heavily invested in the kindness of strangers. To this day, it's the people who have had a lasting impact. I stayed in Berlin with a contentious objector and toured newly liberated East Berlin, stepping in abandon buildings, trying to envision a life in the former communist bloc. In Amsterdam, I met a husband and wife duo who ran an illegal B&B business. I'd get up early in the morning and head to the local bakery, buying a loaf of bread, fumbling badly in Dutch, and was startled by a response in perfect textbook English. Breakfast at the B&B was served in your room, on a tray laden with soft-boiled eggs in tiny egg cups, and toast batons with jam. And in Brussels, I met a French woman who worked for the European Union. Within minutes, she assessed my travel fatigue. Once I was in bed, she left a key on the table and said, "I'm working tomorrow. Feel free to take a bath, do laundry, whatever." The next morning, I lingered over my journal and a hot cup of coffee while the whir of the drier droned on.

That trip set the tone for my travel style today. I arm myself with a pocket full of possibilities and a willingness to rearrange plans at the slightest inducement. "I was going to leave the island tomorrow," I say to a buff dive master with a tousle of jet black hair and an easy smile. He did double duty, working as a fly-fishing guide off the coast of Caye Caulker, Belize. Downing the last of my beer, I tell him, "But if you want to teach me how to tie flies, I'm in." The next morning, he spreads out his materials on a wobbly metal card table...exotic feathers, brightly colored strings, and a kit full of pliers and pinchers. The feathers, he tells me, mimic insects in the water, and your choice, depends on how it moves through the water. We tie flies, talk about his clients, and explore the many jobs he's had in the off season (cab driver in Norway? Yep!)

With an intense focus on international travel and a commitment to the people I met, in college, I studied International Relations and Political Science. Locally, I interned with think tanks and politicians, wondering how the pieces fit together. But soon I discovered, many of these organizations are bogged down with internal and external politics. An inordinate amount of energy is dedicated to fundraising, not tackling causes. Responses to critical issues were slow, if they ever came. Realizing the vast gulf between good intentions and action, it was a humbling and deeply frustrating experience.

And yet commerce was alive and well. Private business was far more effective in reaching their target market in developing nations. Why?

I remember a 17 hour trip from Seattle to Bangkok, then boarding a 4 hour bus out of the city, followed by another 6 hour bus to a small town on the boarder of Thailand and Cambodia. The next morning we hit the local day market. There, among the live fish flapping in shallow buckets and stir fried grubs, resting next to a heaping table full of fresh produce, was a box brimming with Washington State apples. I laughed, thinking, I've been through hell, still woozy from over 24 hours of travel. What have those apples been through?

In the backwater towns traveling through Central America, Coca Cola signs are everywhere. In fact, it's so ubiquitous, in Mexico a remote tribe has incorporated Coca Cola as an integral part of their religious practice. I remember thinking, "Coca Cola can get here, but vaccines for preventable diseases are still years away. Why?"

On Monday, I had an opportunity to attend TEDxChange, sponsored by the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation. Through a satellite feed from New York, Melinda Gates delivered a compelling talk about the third world, the effectiveness of Coca Cola's penetration, and the lessons development organizations can learn from them. It's a heady topic, for sure, but it's the kind of message that has left me pondering for days.

Global citizen? Impassioned traveler? I encourage you to take a look:

Cookbook Lover Confession: Shop Internationally

Above: (L-R) Harumi Kurihara is a Japanese chef who won a lifetime achievement award at the 2010 Gourmand World Cookbook Awards; Bobby Chinn's book Vietnamese Food (see more on him below); Rick Stein is a legend in the U.K. with a handful of restaurants, a hotel, and multiple television shows including Food Heroes; Anissa Helou is a London-based cookbook author, teacher, and chef who specializes in Mediterranean, Middle Eastern, and North African cuisines.

I'm a die-hard cookbook lover and truth be known, over the past few years, my addiction has exceeded our shores. Australia, Singapore, and the U.K. produce books with a different aesthetic--a small twist here and there that provides a unique perspective.

International cookbooks are fertile ground for new insights. Australia's Donna Hay revolutionized food photography. And thanks to a tip from a jet-setting executive, I discovered the U.K.'s Georgio Locatelli (author of this gem: Made in Italy) and Australia's Christine Mansfield (author of flavor-packed Fire and Spice.) While their titles are now available in the U.S., their books were on my radar long before hitting our shelves.

Ever heard of Bobby Chinn? Until the Worlds of Flavor Conference, I hadn't heard of him either. My loss. With a mischievous smile and exuding charisma, New Zealand-born Bobby Chinn has travel-based cooking shows on Asia's Discovery Channel (not available in the U.S.) He also has a restaurant in Vietnam and two books to his credit. Tony Bourdain says, "What Bobby doesn't know about Southeast Asian Cooking isn't worth knowing."

When it comes to international cookbooks, like foreign movies, eventually, the cream of the crop makes it to our shores, but the selection is limited...and often hard to find. To get my fix, I turn to Amazon's international sites. Suggested titles start the ball rolling and in no time, a name pops up and I wonder....who's that? They may be stars in their own country, yet utterly unknown to me.


Name three celebrity chefs in the U.K. who are not Jamie Oliver, Gordon Ramsey or Nigella Lawson.


How 'bout this...who are the top chefs in Australia? France? Canada?


A treasure trove of inspiration is just a click away.....