I know a lot of people who hate celebrating their birthdays. For whatever reason, it has no special significance, bears no weight and just becomes an ordinary day in an otherwise ordinary life.
Not me. I love every minute of it, from the morning I wake up in it, to the way the day unfolds and I get to celebrate me. This year on my 39th birthday, I’m especially aware of looking back and seeing what a difference a year has made.
Lately, I have been keenly aware of a certain energy swirling around me, drawing people to me, making the connections that I’ve wanted to make. A friend of mine used to call that synchronicity, when the world came together just right and you couldn’t blame it on coincidence. I like to think I’m just where I’m supposed to be.
It was a year ago this month that I had the privilege of taking part in a remarkable experience only a chosen few will ever get to partake in. A lot was changing in my life then, I had left a good job a few months earlier and said goodbye to people who were like family. I took great joy in napping and jogging. I had my heart broken by someone who was broken himself. I started a new job, in an office, where I had to wear normal clothes again, not stretch pants and chef coats. I was living, breathing every single minute, both the joy and the heartache and in the midst of it was Quillisascut Farm School.
It’s an amazing thing that these days one just has to utter the name Quillisascut and there is instantly a sweet spot in one’s eyes and heart about what that name represents. For those who have been, it means a world of things, and each thing different to each person who experiences it. To those who’ve yet to go, it means the promise of being part of a righteous place, a secret society almost, where people, animals and land meet and coexist harmoniously. It is all of those things and more.
It was at times, raw, emotional, beautiful, strange and different. The mind wants to always find parallels, but this was like no other experience I’d ever had before. I slowed down and I listened. I watched. I learned. I tried to get out of my head and just let the moments teach me. Shoving my hands against the warm flesh and hide of a freshly slaughtered goat, I felt respect and amazement and not at all an ounce of cruelty or disgust. Listening to the soft hum of bees on a warm afternoon, I felt an electricity and understood the significance of the delicate balance of nature. Pulling out weeds in the garden, under a hot sun, I felt peace and clarity and witnessed space clearing for things to grow again.
When I left Quillisascut, I felt there was still a lot of unfinished business and restlessness in me. Part of the reason I went was to awaken my senses to what originally brought me to take a closer look at food, and make part of my life a pitstop along the culinary highway. I also wanted to see if I could try and answer the question about how we could make good food accessible to anyone who wanted it regardless of income, identity and class. Particularly in Seattle, where there is an abundance of local ingredients, from fresh produce to seafood, to grains and dairy, we are among the very fortunate to call this landscape of plenty our home. And yet, right in our very own backyards, I meet people everyday who struggle to put food on their table, nutritious food that not only feeds their hunger but nourishes their minds. And so I struggle with this juxtaposition of bringing the two together because it’s what I know is right and what I know can change the world in a bigger way. I don’t pretend to have the answers and if anything, Quillisascut left me asking even more.
But that’s the lesson I took away. We can’t stop asking and we can’t stop doing. Even though I am one person, if I sit back and let my voice go unheard, then their voices are silenced and no one gets what they need. It has to be one foot in front of the other, one small change at a time. It’s like I tell my participants who take our Cooking Matters classes, changing the way you see food and how you cook and eat it has to be a lifestyle, a habit, just like brushing your teeth. It has to be something you do everyday, not just once in a while.
And so a few months ago when I got invited to speak about my Quillisascut experience for the Seattle Chefs Collaborative, I was reminded of those ideas. How we can’t give up and we can all start somewhere, but if we never do, than the worst happens and that is that nothing happens at all and nothing will ever change. Reflection puts the pause button on our lives so we can readjust our course if need be.
I’ve had a glorious last year and I feel that great things are ahead. While the work is heavy and plentiful, I feel like I am again amidst a family of co workers who understand that where there is great need there must also be justice and equality. I like being part of this new clan, even if I have to wear grown up clothes again.
What follows is a seasonal recipe taken from my cherished copy of the Chefs On The Farm cookbook put out by the real people behind Quillisascut Farm. This is no recipe for those in a hurry. Like the gentle pace at Quillisascut, this one requires a little time and love so it comes out just right. The results are the reward.
ROASTED CORN AND CORNMEAL TART
1 1/4 cups all-purpose flour
1 cup yellow cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
4 TBS (1/2 stick) cold unsalted butter, cut into pieces
2 cups fresh corn kernels (from about 2-3 ears)
1 TBS verjus or lemon juice
3 TBS sour cream
2 cloves garlic, crushed
1 tsp fresh thyme
1/4 cup chopped fresh oregano
1 cup chopped fresh dill
1 tsp kosher salt
2 TBS olive oil
8 roasted poblano chiles, peeled, seeded and thinly sliced
2 pounds ripe heirloom tomatoes, sliced, salted and drained (reserve juice for another use)
3 cups (about 12 ounces) shredded Quillisascut Smoked Curado cheese or other smoked cheese
Preheat the oven to 375°.
To prepare the crust, mix together the flour, cornmeal and baking powder in a large bowl. Cut in the butter, mixing by hand until the mixture resembles small white peas.
In a blender or food processor, puree the corn kernels, verjus or lemon juice and sour cream. Season with salt to taste. Combine with the butter-flour-cornmeal mixture until a dough forms (dough may be sticky). Refrigerate 1 hour.
Roll the dough on a floured surface to a thickness of 1/4 inch, into a round about 10 inches in diameter. Press into an 8-inch tart pan. Refrigerate until ready to use* You can also skip this step and prep the rest of the ingredients and then just roll out the dough and assemble the tart.
Prepare the marinade for the chiles, by mixing together the garlic, thyme, oregano, basil, salt, and oil in a glass dish. Marinate the chiles in the mixture for 20 minutes.
To prepare the filling, layer the tomatoes, marinated chiles and the cheese in a dough-lined pan, alternating until all are used. fold the edges of the dough over the filling edge about 1 inch, leaving the center open. Bake for 45 minutes, or until the crust is golden and the center of the tart is set.
I’ve missed cooking with the seasons and this recipe took me right back to how this is done, simply, beautifully and deliciously. The crust was light, the filling loaded with good flavor. Those who got to enjoy this at the party I took it to, now have the recipe.
As much as I’m a fan of the Quillisascut cheeses, especially the smoked curado, I was at a loss to get my hands on some at the time I wanted to make this tart, so I substituted instead a blend of swiss, gruyere and smoked gouda and the results were divine.
I squeezed more of the juice out of the tomatoes before layering them into the tart shell with the rest of the ingredients and didn’t have any issues with a soggy crust. I froze the juice into ice cube trays and will use them later in a sauce.
A FEW MOMENTS FROM THE FARM: QUILLISASCUT FARM SCHOOL, JULY 2012
Quillisascut Farm, located in Rice, WA. Working and teaching farm for over 30 years thanks to the dedication of Rick & Lora Lea Misterly.
A welcomed storm greeted us our first afternoon on the farm. It was warm and smelled like the earth. I was also almost blinded by it as I was making my way back from saying hello to the pigs. I like to think it was a sort of baptism to wash away any perceptions or expectations I may have had and prepare me for what was yet to come.
A view from the garden: eating what we sow.
Butchering 101: A lesson in humility. An animal raised to fulfill its purpose.
Roasted goat for dinner. One of many beautiful meals we got to share together.
Goat and pork chorizo: where Rick told us stories about working in a cannery and we laughed as we all tried our hand at forming the links.
Beautiful chorizo. Saddly, we ran out of time and did not get to taste it.
I’m not sure which one this was, but Rick would. They all have names.
How can you not love this face?
Thanks to the sweet pigs of Quillisascut, we were blessed with this.
My grandmother had chickens, but not like this. As soon as you turned them upside down they were as docile as a sloth. I felt privileged being the last one to hold this animal.
It was familiar but different.
On a sunny afternoon while weeding, I stole a moment to find this.
- Class of July 2012: Rick & Lora Lea Misterly, Chef Kären Jurgensen back row right.