Wow. Just home from a fantastic two-day book event at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Stacy, Skyla, Weston and I all had a wonderful time, and I can’t imagine a better place for food, books and sheer beauty. We arrived, checked into a beautiful house on Legoe Bay and had to fight off the urge to run down to the beach and fish. We were due shortly at the reading, which was hosted by author Julie Trimingham (her novel, Mockingbird, will be out in July) at her lovely waterfront farm, Loganita.
We gathered in the airy, glass-fronted meeting place with sunshine streaming in and breathtaking views of the Strait of Georgia and San Juan Islands. To be honest, it was a bit difficult to start talking about the book and reading with a backdrop like that. But the guests were enthusiastic, engaged and kind, and I think it went pretty well. And the snacks provided by the Willows Inn kitchen! Huge, sweet radishes fresh from the raised beds out back, with a creamy dipping sauce; local goat and sheep cheeses; handmade herb crackers; and some spectacular, chewy, salt-dried whole smelt (kind of like portable, jerky versions of Spanish bacalao) that I couldn’t stop eating.
Dinner was even better. The whole group dined together on all the best locally grown, caught and foraged ingredients, lovingly (and skillfully) prepared. Highlights for me were the steamer clams in herb broth, the pan-roasted local asparagus and a halibut dish that literally melted in the mouth. Oh, and the house-made bread, crusty and slathered with fresh-churned Island herb butter, that we ate with everything. Awesome. If there’s a unifying theme to the cooking here, to me it’s that they feature the fresh, intense flavors of the raw products with a light (and perfect) cooking and seasoning touch. It’s a philosophy that requires an enormous amount of skill to pull off, and they do it here at the highest level.
Next day started with eggs “benedict” made with locally reef-net caught sockeye lox, and blueberry-buckwheat pancakes, followed by a tour of the restaurant garden with culinary gardener Mary. Stacy put on her boots and did a little garden work (you can take a farmer off the farm, but…) while I stood around and talked books with the guests. Finally, the kids and I hit the beach for a little fishing. Actually, Skyla led the charge and took off with the six-weight while I was still eating lunch. I snapped this picture from the balcony, as Skyla worked a Miyawaki popper off the rocks.
Then it was off to the ferry and the drive home. We were all a little sad to leave beautiful Lummi and all the wonderful people we met there, but inspired as well. Many thanks to Julie and everyone at the Willows Inn and Village Books for their generous, thoughtful hosting, and to the guests who came to share the experience. Our family definitely felt the love. As Paul from Village Books said at dinner, “We come together here as strangers and leave as friends.” True, that.
I learned about fir tip tea from Nikki McClure, the fantastic artist who did the cover and chapter illustrations for Closer to the Ground. We did a book event together at the Olympia Library in January, and she brought and brewed this tea for the whole crowd. I was amazed at the flavor–it smells like Christmas trees, but the taste is completely unexpected: Lemony, bright and almost sweet. Delicious. It’s also packed with Vitamin C and other nutrients, and though it lacks caffeine, I felt a distinct, refreshing uplift from sipping it.
So we’ve been waiting for the new growth to pop on the Doug firs around the Island, and this last week of warm, sunny weather did the trick. Of course, you have to find firs with branches you can actually reach, so Skyla and I walked down our road yesterday evening, looking for small trees or ones with boughs hanging down.
We found plenty and picked about a pound, making sure not to take too many from any one tree–it is the year’s new growth we’re harvesting, after all. It’s a fun and relaxing way to spend an hour or two, and Skyla and I had a great time chatting and picking the soft, bright-green tips. Now we’re drying them to store the spring flavors and nutrients for later, but I think we’ll need to pick more in the coming weeks. And on that note, I’m headed into the house to brew up a cup now.
Spurred on by this unseasonably warm, sunny weather, we had to get the farm irrigation systems up and running early this year. Last week, Weston and I walked the blueberry rows and marked all the drip emitters that didn’t make it through the winter. Having a very short assistant is key to this job, because he can see under the foliage to the irrigation mainlines much easier.
This week, I spent a day going back and replacing broken emitters in the blueberry field, and as soon as Stacy was done planting dahlia tubers, we put in the new drip tape system, shown here.
Then, we started watering. Three weeks earlier than last year, a testament to the gorgeous weather we’re experiencing this year. A little more work a little earlier, but we’ll take the sunshine.
Saturday was the Puget Sound shrimp opener, and in what has become a May tradition for us, we joined Smarty and his Mom, Helene, for a fun morning of pulling pots. We all had a great time. Spot prawns are big, plentiful and delicious–with a texture and sweetness that’s more like lobster than shrimp.
The opener is also a great social occasion, a time to say hello and catch up with people we haven’t seen in a while. Here, Stacy, Helene, Skyla and Weston are cleaning the catch. My mouth is already watering at this point, and Skyla and I boiled some up for lunch within a half hour of this photo.
It was blowing pretty hard out of the northeast, but gorgeous: Bluebird sky, sun, and perfect views of Mt. Rainier, Mt. Baker and the Olympics. A much needed break from farm and writing work, many tasty meals to follow and a reminder of how lucky we are to live here. Thanks a ton, Smarty!
A couple weeks ago, I was trading fish pix with my buddy Matt Stoecker (a steelhead biologist working to bring down Stanford University’s fish-killing Searsville Dam…more info HERE) and found this old Kodak print in the dusty, musty archives.
I think it proves two things: One, I was a complete fish nerd before anything else (look at that expression…totally geeked for fish!) and two, I am now really old (check out the cars!).
Anyway, figured it was worth a Friday laugh. Have a great weekend.