Wednesday, September 18, 2019

Quillisascut Farm: Hands-On Approach Teaches How a Local Food System Works


"It was mind-opening to hear others' opinions, perspectives and how passionate they were about them. I was inspired to see how beautiful everyone's cooking was and how sustainably it was done. To see that it CAN be done with effort and knowledge." - Culinary student attending Quillisascut Farm School

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In the far northeastern corner of Washington State, among the high desert pines populating the northern reaches of the Columbia River, Lora Lea and Rick Misterly have created a hands-on learning center where students spend a week immersed in a living example of what a local food system looks like. No lemons spark the salads; instead, the kitchen uses verjus made from the pressed juice of unripened grapes—the vines left from an abandoned attempt to make wine in the farm's early days. No branded items are allowed at the table, save for wine bottles (thank heavens).

The farm table.

I was invited to Quillisascut Farm to experience the program that now exposes dozens of students a year to small intensive workshops like Farm Culinary 101 (the workshop I attended), Edible Education, and Chefs of Color, among others. Each workshop has a particular focus, and most are aimed at professional chefs and culinary students, though serious cooks and those interested in building strong local food systems will find them perfectly approachable.

Lora Lea Misterly.

Lora Lea and Rick originally bought 26 hillside acres in the early 80s, intending to build a self-sufficient homestead where they could raise animals and have a garden to feed them throughout the year. She had grown up on a dairy farm in the area, so they started with both cows and goats, but Lora Lea was increasingly drawn to goats because of their intelligent and inquisitive natures. She also began making cheese from their milk.

The school building.

They built a home with a cheese room and cellar for Lora Lea, and eventually added another 10 acres to the property. The couple marketed their cheeses to chefs in Seattle, Rick making the exhausting twelve-hour round trip deliveries. Several of their customers became interested in visiting the farm after hearing of their integrated approach to farming and making food from what they grew themselves. These customer visits and the inclusive approach the Misterlys took led them to start offering classes to culinary professionals, students and food writers. The visits prompted Rick to build a large straw-bale building that houses a professional kitchen, a large dining room, a living room for nightly gatherings and dorm rooms upstairs. (He also included a large double-wide barn entrance that farm equipment could access in case the school idea didn't work out.)

Rick demonstrating the farm's compost system.

Conservation and use of resources is a key tenet of the curriculum at the school, and the very first workshop on the week's schedule was a demonstration of making the compost that enriches the soil that feeds the plants, animals and people who live there. It's a holistic approach that underlies everything at the farm, which depends on a well system for water—the bathroom mantra "if it's yellow, let it mellow" is drilled into students' heads—as well as the need to make use of every part of the plants and animals harvested.

Slaughtering and cleaning chickens.

A typical day at Quillisascut begins in the pre-dawn dark after a (very) quick cup of coffee made by the saintly staff who volunteer their time at these workshops—and fyi, that 5:45 start time was tough for this freelance writer. The morning session usually begins at the barn up the hill with anything from butchering a neighbor's heritage Karakul ram killed earlier that morning, to slaughtering and eviscerating several of the farm's chickens, to helping Lora Lea milk her goats.

Cracking walnuts for walnut oil.

After the early morning session, a large breakfast of farm-grown fruit and eggs, with breads made from grains milled onsite, is served buffet-style off the butcher block counter in the kitchen along with (thank the goddess once again) lots more (locally roasted) coffee. Each day has a "Word of the Day" theme—the first word was "Respect"—which students are encouraged to consider as they move through their assignments. The schedule moves swiftly from breakfast to classes on cheesemaking with Lora Lea, or a foraging walk with Chef Kären Jurgenson, or feeding and watering the pigs, chickens and goats. At least one morning is dedicated to harvesting whatever is in season in the garden (top photo), which will be pickled, cooked, baked or otherwise utilized in meals that week.

Making bread with Chef Don Reed.

After a hearty farm lunch prepared by students, who are divided into four or five-person "teams" for the week, classes continue apace with field trips to other area farms—John and Michelle Progar of Meadowlark Farm's innovative organic cropping system was fascinating—a presentation on bees and pollinators with beekeeper Steve Schott or bread baking with Chef Don Reed. After dinner is discussion and reflection on the day's activities led by Lora Lea, followed by well-earned sleep.

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[Quillisascut] really created some sort of special bond.  Maybe it was the community that type of work creates, but on the last day, our final word was "grateful." It was a wonderful experience and one of those places your soul likes to stay for a while even after you have left." - Professional chef attending Quillisascut Farm School

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Student making goat cheese.

The farm school at Quillisascut has drawn participants from around the country, indeed from around the globe, but is primarily attended by students from Seattle-area culinary programs who compete for scholarships to the workshops. The school has become successful enough that it provides the bulk of the farm's income, and Lora Lea has cut back her milking goats to seven from a high of around 40, and they have found a distributor for the cheeses so that Rick no longer needs to make the long deliveries to Seattle.

Now in their mid-60s, the Misterlys believe that their primary mission is to spread the message about the hard work and care it takes to produce good food, with the intention that not just the education, but the interactions with the people and animals, as well as the quality and flavor of the sustainably grown food that students harvest, make and eat, will become an integral part of their lives as they move forward in their careers.

See more photos from my trip to Quillisascut Farm on my Instagram feed.

Thursday, September 12, 2019

Miso Happy: Creamy Miso Vinaigrette


Oil and vinegar. Oil and lemon. Oil and balsamic. Mustard vinaigrette on lively greens tossed for the briefest amount of time possible and showered with crunchy salt.

These dressings make a regular appearance at our table, but every now and then I crave the kind of tangy, smooth and creamy dressings I grew up with. My mother's recipe was based on my grandmother's go-to standard, which started with mayonnaise and a squirt of ketchup—an ingredient almost as ubiquitous as cream of mushroom soup in my mom's repertoire—plus a sprinkle of thyme and basil with a pinch of garlic powder, thinned with a splash of milk.

So when I've got some sturdy heads of romaine, escarole or chicories that can stand up to heftier dressings, my thoughts turn to Caesar dressings loaded with anchovy or, lately, miso mixed with mayonnaise (hey Mom!), studded with garlic and a dollop of mustard.

A small Portland-based miso company, Jorinji, makes authentic red and white unpasteurized miso from non-GMO soybeans fermented from six months to three years. Jorinji products are widely available at area supermarkets and last basically forever in the fridge. A little goes a long way, so get some and add a subtle hint of fabulous umami to your marinades, stir-fries, soups and braises.

This vinaigrette can also double as a dip for vegetables and fried foods, or as a drizzle over meats, fish and roasted veggies, and it's a splashy twist on a traditional coleslaw dressing.

Creamy Miso Vinaigrette

3 Tbsp. mayonnaise
1 Tbsp. Dijon mustard
2 Tbsp. rice vinegar
1 clove garlic, pressed in a garlic press
1 Tbsp. white miso
Herbs, finely chopped (I like tarragon or thyme as well as some chopped chives)
1 tsp. honey (optional)

Combine ingredients and stir until smooth.

Tuesday, September 03, 2019

Farm Bulletin: What's In a Name?


In this Bulletin, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm contemplates the naming schemes of fruits and vegetables, for the most part adhering to geographical references at his farm. And speaking of table grapes, as he so eloquently does below, a selection of the farm's finest will be available along with Astiana tomatoes, tomatillos, Striped German slicers, plums, dry goods and other notions at the farm on Saturday, Sept. 7th, Sunday, Sept. 15th, and Saturday, Sept. 21st between 1 and 5 pm. To order 18-pound lugs of Astiana tomatoes, e-mail Anthony directly.

Traditionally, fruits and vegetables were named either descriptively, with a geographic epithet, or after the plant breeder. We have hewed to the geographic tradition with the "Arch Cape" chicory and the "Astiana" tomato. We are working on a new chicory selection and the project is named "Bald Peak." Sometimes the reference is a bit oblique. The "Peace, No War" corn shares its initials with the region to which it is adapted, the Pacific Northwest. Our "Ava Bruma" melon is descriptive, employing the Latin for “behold the solstice.” Alas, modern breeders are suckers for cute, insubstantial names, or worse.

Jupiter grape.

The "Jupiter" table grape is an example. Naming such a voluptuous fruit, linguistically and biologically a feminine organ, after the male Roman god of war is incredibly stupid and tacky. So callow, makes one seethe.  That said, the Rogers and Hart musical "By Jupiter" (top photo) was adapted from the book "The Warrior Husband." The comic premise is the Amazon women go out to battle under their queen Hippolyta. The story takes the perspective of husband who stays at home. The main character, Sapiens ("wise" in Latin), was played by Ray Bolger. Three songs from the musical made their way into the American songbook, including "Wait Till You See Her," "Nobody’s Heart Belongs to Me" and "Ev’rything I’ve Got."

The last was one of Blossom Dearie’s standards, well-suited to her impish delivery and fine piano playing. Here is the original version with Bolger and Benay Venuta.

There is also a beguiling version with Betty Garrett and Milton Berle. Makes us want to rename the grape "Sapiens," a more apt name for a noble and contemplative fruit such as the grape. But, then again, if named Sapiens we would not have thought about a now-obscure Rogers and Hart musical from 1942, the last and longest-running result of their work together.

Summer Quencher: Classic Gin & Tonic


Whenever my mother would visit, the first thing we did was to sit her down and hand her a gin and tonic. You might say it was the family's signature cocktail, since even before I had been introduced to the joys of a good gin, my father had instructed me in the art of making a decent gin and tonic.

To wit: a glass two-thirds full of ice, two fingers of clear-as-an-icy-mountain stream gin poured over said ice, then fill with tonic—whether plain or artisanal, it made no difference. A final touch was a wedge of lime squeezed over the top and dropped into the glass. A brief stir with a cocktail spoon (or even a finger—the alcohol would vanquish any germ that dared intrude) and it was done. No recipe, no finicky measuring of ingredients. Just gin, tonic and lime over ice was all that was required.

Some of the aunties preferred a little less gin, a little more tonic—that was fine. Some uncles may have tipped a splash more gin in the mix; no shame there, either. Ratios of two parts gin to five parts tonic may be touted by rules-bound aficonados, but in our family a perfect gin and tonic was always a personal matter, a ratio determined when the complex variables of mood, external and internal temperature, maybe even altitude (who knows?) came into play.

The one rule that always applied? Sip and enjoy.

Classic Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.

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Elderflower Gin and Tonic

Gin
Tonic
1 to 1 1/2 cocktail spoons elderflower syrup (equivalent to 1 to 1 1/2 tsp.)
Lime wedge

Fill glass 3/4 full of ice. Pour in two fingers of gin and add elderflower syrup. Fill with tonic. Squeeze lime wedge over top and drop it in the glass. Briefly stir to combine.