Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

“There are many good olive oils out there, but few that are exceptional, especially at a reasonable price. I tried Azeite Esplendido at the Fancy Food Show earlier this year and was blown away. Sheila Fitzgerald, the importer, impressed me with her passion and knowledge for all things olive oil, from its health benefits to the advantages of small-scale artisanal production. I love the balance this oil has. It’s assertive, with that great peppery spice, not bitter, and low in acidity. I am proud to add Azeite Esplendido to the small curated line of products we carry at Macrina.” 

Leslie

Azeite Esplendido: Gold-Medal Winning Olive Oil from Portugal

Screen Shot 2017-03-02 at 11.14.12 AM

A great extra virgin olive oil is as different from the typical pale yellow stuff sold in supermarkets as pure maple syrup is from Aunt Jemima’s. Good olive oil is alive and peppery, not bitter, and taken straight can make you cough. If you’re accustomed to bland commodity olive oil one spoonful of the real thing will transport you to another gustatory plane where flavor defies known parameters.

That’s sort of what happened when Seattle resident Sheila Fitzgerald was hiking through northern Portugal en route to the shrine of Santiago de Compostela in 2012. In the high hills above the Douro Valley, a soaring majestic patchwork of cultivated agriculture and natural, craggy slopes, she found herself in a grove of olive trees. Some had massive trunks, their limbs twisted and magnificent with age. She introduced herself to the property owner, Henrique Cardoso, a fourth-generation farmer, who then introduced her to his olive oil.

fullsizeoutput_3e9a “I knew good olive oil, but I’d never tasted anything like his,” Sheila says. “The golden-green oil had a peppery spiciness to it, no bitterness, and a complexity and balance that I’d never experienced.”

That revelatory moment kicked off Sheila’s four-year journey to become the sole US importer of Henrique’s olive oil. The first challenge was winning Henrique’s trust, persuading him that she would uphold his fierce commitment to quality. Next came an extended process of gaining FDA approval, an involved study of the existing US market, selecting bottles, and designing a label.

Since that first visit, Sheila has been back many times, including at harvest time, which starts in November and goes through January.

fullsizeoutput_3257

“Henrique picks his olives early and makes Azeite Esplendido from the first harvest,” Sheila says. “That means the olive is picked when they’re very green. Most farmers wait until the olives get plumper. That way they get more oil out of it. But the olive loses flavor as it ripens. My oil has a peppery spiciness to it. That’s indicative of an early harvest. It can bring tears to your eyes, even make you cough. That’s a good thing.”

Harvest is a time of celebration. An autumnal chill in the air, the groves often laced with tendrils of fog, pickers go from tree to tree using long rakes to pull the olives into nets. An old tractor hauls them to the press, no longer one of the picturesque stone mills, but a state-of-the-art stainless steel centrifuge.

fullsizeoutput_3383

“The olives are washed then ground into a mash before they’re dumped into the centrifuge,” Sheila says. “Henrique continually adjusts the revolutions per second, which changes the oil. He’s always testing it.”

Before the bottling, which is done within twelve hours of pressing, comes the blending. Azeite Esplendido is composed of first cold-pressed oil from four types of olives: Transmontona Verdeal, Cobrançosa, Cordovil, and Madural.

Sheila says, “Henrique guards the percentage of each olive in the blend. It’s the secret to his recipe. Along with picking at the right time, carefully monitoring of the oil extraction, and cultivating the best trees.”

fullsizeoutput_3138

The Tras-os-Montes region, where the farm is located, is one of the six protected designation of origin (DOP) zones in Portugal. The microclimate and soil make it an ideal place for olive trees. On Henrique’s farm, the trees are widely spaced to allow each tree plenty of sun and wind and rain. Some of the trees are five to six hundred years old. These are called the mother trees. Around their base workers mound extra dirt. When new shoots come up they are transplanted, hence the name mother tree. The trees are not irrigated.

Sheila says, “Henrique told me doesn’t want to babysit his trees. It’s survival of the fittest. If it can’t grow there, he doesn’t want it.”

While Italy’s olive trees suffered through a terrible year in 2016 that halved production, Henrique’s groves fared well.

“Olive oil is a live product. It changes over time,” Sheila says. “It’s dependent on fluctuations in the weather. The new harvest is so bright green. Henrique tasted the oil at bottling and said, ‘My olive oil is so good this year we’re gonna blow the dishes off the wall.’ It wasn’t a translation issue. That’s his expression. No one makes olive oil like he does.”

Last April, at the New York International Olive Oil Competition, 827 olive oil entries from 26 countries were judged. Azeite Espledido took home the top honor, a gold medal.

Macrina is proud to carry this fine olive oil. Buy a bottle and a loaf of your favorite crusty bread, puddle a bit of oil on a plate and dip. Will it blow the dishes off the wall? Probably not. But it just might blow you away.

Ayako and Family Jam

ayakoandfamily_09copy

Ayako and Family Jam

During lunch at Sitka & Spruce some years ago, a gentle-spirited dog walked in. Taking a stroll around the restaurant, just checking things out, he seemed to be saying hello to everyone and then waltzed out the door. I asked our server whose dog it was and she responded, “Ayako. She works at Marigold & Mint next door and makes the best jam in the world. You should try some.”  I went straight over after lunch and got a bottle.  Apricot jam.  Golden in color, perfect consistency and not too sweet.  I had to agree.

A jar of Ayako Gordon’s mouthwatering jam has that special homemade quality because it is essentially that. It’s a simple thing, an age-old tradition, taking the abundant fruit at harvest and preserving it as jam. But so few take the time today, or do it with the skill that Ayako does. Done right, the result is transcendent, the flavor taking us back to memories of grandmother’s jam or that perfect juicy plum you had in Italy. If you don’t already have a reverence for plums, this jam will change that.

These days, Ayako uses a commercial kitchen and no longer has the time to create beautiful flower arrangements at Marigold & Mint. She is the sole jam maker, processes all the fruit by hand, and jars it herself. All her fruit—Damson plums, apricots, rhubarb, Coral Pink plums, Water Balloon plums, Mirabelle plums, quince, and more—comes from Mair Farm-Taki in the Yakima River Valley. Ayako considers her relationship to Mair Farm-Taki a collaboration, where her aim is to highlight the quality and the uniqueness of the organic fruit grown there and to honor both of their Japanese heritage.

ayakojam_126smallFor such a small, artisan producer news of her remarkable jam has spread from coast to coast through national press, including the New York Times. Web orders from across the country have filtered in and a few small business owners enchanted with the jam and Washington small-farm agriculture now retail the colorful hexagonal jars of jam.

The whole serendipitous endeavor began in 2010 when Ayako began helping at the Mair Farm-Taki stand at the University District Farmer’s Market. One day the owner, Katsumi Taki, suggested Ayako make jam with all the fruit that didn’t sell at the market. She played around with recipes until she found one for each fruit that brought forth its essential flavor. She began selling the jam at the Mair Farm-Taki stand, Marigold and Mint in Melrose Market, and through farm CSA’s. As word of mouth spread a few local retailers began to carry it.

While Ayako still makes all the jam by hand, her children have jumped in to help her with the business, handling web design, sales, and other administrative tasks. Damson Plum and Apricot are her two signature flavors and are usually in stock. Other offerings rotate through the year, with over a dozen different plum varieties available mid to late summer as the harvest comes in. Rhubarb is one of the earliest harvest flavors to come in. A look through the website shows how many flavors are sold out. Not being able to find your favorite flavor only makes you want it more. And really, it couldn’t be any other way. Such is the cost of local, seasonal produce, hand-selected, and carefully prepared in small batches. It’s what makes it so memorable.ayakoandfamily_02

I’m delighted to carry Ayako and Family Jam at Macrina. It is the kind of local, artisanal
product that I love. Grab a jar next time you’re in one of the cafes and try some on a toasted slice of your favorite loaf. You’ll see what I’m talking about.

Leslie

Edible City: A Delicious Journey

On view at MOHAI through September 10, 2017

slide1

(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

There may be no better way to know a city than by the way its people eat. Seattle’s Museum of History & Industry (MOHAI) currently has a beautiful new exhibit, Edible City: A Delicious Journey, which explores Seattle’s culinary history over the last two centuries. You journey across shorelines that provided abundant seafood to Native Americans in this area and trace the influences of Pacific Rim nations on signature dishes in four-star restaurants. If you haven’t already seen it, put it on your calendar. You’ll appreciate this place we call home all the more.

The exhibit, which runs through September 10, 2017, was curated by two-time James Beard Award-winning food writer Rebekah Denn. An exhaustive researcher, she writes beautifully. Enthralled by the exhibit, we recently asked her some questions to learn more.

Leslie

slide3

(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

How did you get involved in the project?

RD: MOHAI first contacted me in October of 2014 to see if I had ideas for how to tell the story, so I’ve been working on it on and off for two years.

What came first: the idea for the book or the exhibit?

RD: The exhibit idea definitely came before the book! But we ultimately wanted a way to preserve some of the exhibit and expand on the stories.

When I first met with the MOHAI staff, they asked me if I had any questions about doing the exhibit. I said, “What’s my biggest problem going to be?” One of the designers said, “You won’t have room for everything you want to say.” That was so true, but the book helped get at least some more of the information out there, and some of the really striking photos from MOHAI’s archives. We also got to include some recipes that we think of as Seattle signatures, and artist Julie Notarianni illustrated them for us.

In your research, what are a few things that surprised you?

RD: a. How many times what is old becomes new again. There’s a 1927 letter I love from Pike Place Market warning a vendor against selling spinach from California when local spinach is available (they threaten to confiscate his spinach!). Similarly, back in the 1940s, Angelo Pellegrini was encouraging Seattleites to eat fresh, local, seasonal foods — his writings are absolutely on-point for modern diners. You could also slip some of the menus from oyster bars 100 years ago into a modern restaurant without anyone noticing (except maybe the price list.)

b. How it seems that people have always wanted to find a way to stay in Seattle once they got here, and how prescient some observers were about what Seattle’s food scene would become. Actually, let me quote you a paragraph from the catalog about the Boeing bust years (which in turn quotes Roger Sale): “Given the flagging economy, it might have seemed an odd time for a restaurant renaissance, yet food provided an entry point into business for job-seekers who didn’t want to leave their beloved hometown. Restaurants were perhaps the best example, wrote historian Roger Sale, of a new consumer culture where it seemed everyone laid off from Boeing wanted to turn a lathe or cook an omelet. Young workers and female entrepreneurs entered the field, attracted by small-scale projects that weren’t beholden to banks and didn’t require a corporate slog to the top. “Cheeses, wines and coffees Seattle had never heard of became available,” Sale wrote. It was possible, he presciently suggested in 1976, that this rush of activity could push the city into an era of culinary greatness.”

c. I’ve written about food in Seattle for well over a decade, and I learned so much that I hadn’t known… like the story of the huge Crescent spice company that was based here (now part of McCormick), producers of Mapleine, a hugely popular imitation maple flavoring. Or how every era seemed to have its own version of our Tom Douglas. Again, from the catalog: “In the ‘20s and ‘30s the name Clare Colegrove was “associated with good eating in Seattle,” by one account, with alliterative eateries like the Purple Pup. Walter Clark, known as the dean of Seattle restaurateurs, owned an astonishing 55 restaurants between 1930 and 1970 (including the iconic Twin Teepees), according to old-Seattle expert Clark Humphrey. A critic once wrote that it was unlikely anyone in Seattle had not heard of Clark’s restaurants. A few decades later, it was unlikely that anyone had.”

What primary sources did you rely on for foods and restaurants for Seattle’s early history?

RB: I spent some time in MOHAI’s archives and found some fabulous materials (menus… matchbooks…photographs…cookbooks…the sign from the original Manca’s and the equipment from the Sagamiya bakery!) The museum staff members and public historian emeritus Lorraine McConaghy were also invaluable in helping track down material, from ancient newspaper advertisements to a still-working farm machine used to make berry-picking boxes. Nancy Leson let me raid her archives and interview notes from her decades covering the Seattle restaurant scene. People and institutions were unbelievably generous. Angelo Pellegrini’s children shared stories of their dad and agreed to loan us family treasures. Bob Kramer invited us to tour his workshop and see how he forges his world-famous knives. Jerilyn Brusseau and Greg Komen loaned us original Cinnabon items, including their cinnamon tasting notes from the Restaurants Unlimited Inc. kitchen. Jon Rowley brought us letters from Julia Child (they had a running correspondence on salmon and on peaches, among other subjects.) The Seattle Public Library let us borrow items from the library’s Pike Place Market collection, including a grand old ledger book from the wartime years and buttons from the Save the Market campaign. (Speaking of SPL, their online archives are an amazing resource. When we had questions like “When was Maison Blanc destroyed in a fire?” the library website let us simply search Seattle Times archives from 1895 onward from our desks. (The answer: It was front page news on April 30, 1960.) The owner of the Monorail Espresso cart delayed her own plans for the cart so that we could include it in our displays. “Starbucks Melody,” the blogger, brought over pieces from her personal collection like bottles of “Mazagran,” the company’s first bottled beverage. Mario Batali gave us permission to use a video of his grandmother Leonetta making ravioli… and then, when we visited Armandino Batali and his daughter Gina at Salumi, they loaned us a Merlino olive oil tin that was the “Leonetta” brand, also named for her (Armandino’s grandparents founded the Merlino company.) Serendipity! And the people who are a part of Seattle’s modern food history shared their expertise (including Matt Galvin, who served on the advisory committee) and their stories. The founders of the Beacon Food Forest sent over the original maps for the project; Seattle Neighborhood Farmers Markets dropped off the bells that they ring to open and close the market. Allrecipes staff members did Seattle-based recipe searches for us. The thank you list could go on for pages.

aprons

(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

The Joy of Holiday Giving

The Joy of Holiday Giving

2016purchased_image_blogstocksy_763468_giving_smallb

When the days grow short and cold, my thoughts turn to baking. A warm blast from a hot oven on a chilly winter night, even better if it carries the aroma of baking cookies, is enough to make even Scrooge smile. And nothing fills a wintry home with more cheer than the clatter of a busy kitchen. Did I mention the smells that waft throughout the home? Maybe this is part of why I bake so much when it’s cold and dark. Another part is the lovely tradition I grew up with of bringing Christmas baskets with homemade foods to friends, neighbors, and relatives.

My mother was the driving force. From an early age she’d been creative, starting at Roosevelt High School in Portland, Oregon, where she joined a social club called MyPhidias. The group remained friends until my mother was well into her 70s. They were the most artistic group of gals I knew. They did toile painting, made theatrical backdrops, choreographed entertainment, and created all kinds of handmade cards, tags, and preserves that they sold at holiday bazaars.

This creative streak made its way into our Christmas baskets. Starting with jam, which we made all summer. We bought freshly picked strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries from local farm stands and made freezer jam, the favorite in our house because of its brighter color and fresh-fruit flavor. We certainly ate our supplies down throughout the year, but always saved plenty to give away.

Just after Thanksgiving we started baking holiday cookies—lefse, fried rosette cookies, and many other family favorites, all in preparation for our holiday baskets. We had boxes lined with paper towels for the rosette cookies and tins–o-plenty for all the other cookies. When it came time to assemble everything my mother lined the baskets with colorful tissue paper, arranged the cookies and jars of jam and wrapped the basket in clear cellophane with a wire edged ribbon. They were beautiful.

I have carried on this tradition of making jams from local berries, plum bbq sauce, plum & quince paste (see our blog and video for plum paste), roasted tomato sauce, and holiday cookies (see our blog and video for holiday cookies)—both old family favorites and many new recipes I’ve discovered. This year I even made bitters. When the time comes, I buy a bunch of baskets and fill them with my handmade treasures, much as my mother did. The baskets are synonymous in my heart with festivity, giving, and joy. They are also the perfect antidote to the gloomy weather we get this time of year, both in the making and the giving. Delivering them to friends and seeing the smiles on their faces brings me such happiness. To me, this “giving from your heart” is the true spirit of Christmas.

If your life has just been too crazy to make any of your traditional specialties, Macrina does have a selection of artisanal handmade delicacies, both savory and sweet. We make many of them, but we’ve also curated a few of our favorite local artisanal products, such as Ayako and Family Jam. Drop by one of our cafés and we can help you put together a gift basket.

Leslie

Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

pumpkin_pie_2015

Little is more satisfying than cooking from my garden’s bounty. It represents months of work and patience. Every vegetable started as a seed I planted, nurtured and harvested. And while the process is on a much larger scale at Macrina, it is still just as fulfilling. Yesterday, the first crates of butternut squash (more on this secret later) were delivered for our Thanksgiving pies. I didn’t grow them myself, but I worked with local grower extraordinaire Oxbow Farm in selecting the seeds and establishing the quantities we’d need.

seeds

Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

Oxbow Farm gets their seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds. Johnny’s has been around since 1972, is 100% employee owned and does not use genetically engineered plants or seeds. Our squash began with a hybrid seed called Metro PMR. It has superior flavor, resists powdery mildew and matures relatively quickly. Butternut is a moschata species of squash, which can be hard to ripen in our region’s limited growing season.

Butternut squash plants are tender, and their seedlings are especially susceptible to frost damage. Before planting growers have to wait until the soil is warm and the danger of a cold snap has passed. In the Pacific Northwest this means no earlier than May. The growers at Oxbow sow the seeds in a large protected hothouse to give them a head start. Because the seeds sprout quickly and are susceptible to becoming root bound, this can’t be done too early. Once they reach transplant size in the nursery there is quite a scramble to get so many tender plants out to the fields with enough time remaining for them to mature before the first fall frost.

seedgrid

Like zucchini, the butternut squash plant sends off several vines as it grows, some as long as 15 feet. Lots of work is required to keep the plants weed and bug-free. After flowering, two or three young squash will grow off each vine. Green at first, tan vertical stripes emerge as the squash ripens. Eventually the green fades and is replaced by the matte tawny color of the mature fruit.

Depending on the weather during the growing season, the squash are harvested anywhere from mid-September through mid-October. This year, at Oxbow, the butternut were ready later than the other varieties of winter squash. The crew at Oxbow harvested them all in mid-October.

squash1

Photo credit Johnny’s Selected Seeds

More than six months after choosing the seeds it was a joy to hold the ripe squash. Each is unblemished and heavy in the hand. Cutting one open, I found the orange flesh inside creamy and sweet. Perfect for pie.

Butternut squash are the not-so-secret ingredient in our pumpkin pies. Simply put, the pies made with roast butternut squash won our taste test. They had more flavor than those made with only pie pumpkins. While our pumpkin pies are predominantly made with butternut squash, we do add a bit of pumpkin.

To make our pie, we cut the squash in half, remove the seeds, and roast them on a sheet pan lined with parchment paper. Once the roasted squash cools, the skin peels off easily. Roasting them concentrates the natural sugars, and they puree beautifully. With the butternut squash we found we needed both less sugar and less cream in our recipe to create the perfect texture and taste for our pie.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

Roasting butternut pumpkin, for a warming soup. Top view on oven tray.

The week of Thanksgiving is when our bakery floor gets truly insane. We start by roasting the squash and the pie shells. Then the filled pies shuffle in and out of our ovens. At the cafés, managers and crew pull together the long list of pre-orders that customers have placed throughout the month. Thanksgiving Eve managers and crew are usually at the cafés by 3 a.m. to be sure every order is ready to go, as well as plenty of extra stock on the shelves to accommodate last minute shoppers.

And when it’s all done we do the same thing you do. We gather with our families and friends for a feast. It’s one of my favorite days of the year. I love every part of it: decorating the house, setting the table beautifully, organizing the beverages, and—the best part—cooking the Thanksgiving dinner. Because there are so many dishes to prepare and only so much time, I always rely on Macrina Stuffing Mix, a selection of bread and rolls, crostini and a few of the appetizer spreads, and, of course, our pies. The pumpkin pie is my all-time favorite. The sweetness of Oxbow’s roasted squash with brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, allspice and ginger is perfect with slightly sweetened whipped cream.

Our Thanksgiving menu is now available for the whole month of November. We will be taking advanced orders for the holiday through noon, November 21st.

Leslie

pumpkin

Oxbow Farm & Conservation Center cultivates 30 acres of vegetables, tree fruit, and berries on the banks of an oxbow lake in the lower Snoqualmie Valley. We have been growing food for our customers for 16 years. Our produce is available throughout the greater Seattle area at independent grocery stores, restaurants, and most importantly, through our Community Supported Agriculture (CSA) program.

Macrina Cornetti

croiss-coffee

For years, my business partner, Matt has asked if we could make cornetto. Matt spent a year living in Italy and became quite enamored of the Italian breakfast – a stop at the local café on the way to work, a beautiful cappuccino, a cornetto and an animated conversation, usually about soccer. Every time Matt asked, I had to tell him we don’t have enough space. Well, this summer, we moved into our new production facility. There is space and I am finally able to grant Matt’s wish!

Cornetti are often referred to as the Italian cousin to the French croissant. Cornetti are made with laminated dough. Buttery dough is repeatedly folded and rolled to lace the dough with thin layers of butter fat. This creates a moist and flaky texture. Macrina’s laminated dough is slightly sweeter and made with a smidge less butter to create the perfect texture. We use the laminated dough to make our Cornetto, Chocolate Cornetto, Morning Rolls and Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels.

The story behind laminated pastry is an interesting one. It seems to have originated in Austria with a pastry called a kipferl. Some say the crescent shape was created to celebrate the Austrian defeat of the Ottomans whose flag carried an image of the crescent moon. Whether that story is myth or not, what is certain is that the pastry spread throughout Europe with regional and national differences.

Recently, The New Yorker published a story, Straightened-out Croissants and the Decline of Civilization” after one bakery in England started making their croissants un-curved. We have wisely opted to stay out of the centuries old England-France controversy. Our cornetti are slightly curved and available in our cafes and for wholesale sales. Come down to one of our cafés, order a cappuccino and a cornetto, and treat yourself to an Italian breakfast (while you read the New Yorker article, it is a fun one!)

Leslie

 

Cornetto (pictured above): “Little horn” in Italian. We form our cornetti from a triangle of our laminated dough rolled to create a crescent shape, brushed with egg wash and sprinkled with pearl sugar and baked to a deep brown. Lightly sweet, flaky on the outside and moist inside. Enjoy plain or with fresh preserves.

chocolate_cornetto

Chocolate Cornetto: Our cornetto filled with batons of semisweet chocolate.

morning

Morning Rolls: Our laminated dough layered with house-made vanilla sugar and rolled into a swirl. Baked to a golden brown. Flaky and light with buttery caramelized sugar at the base.

pinwheel

Orange Hazelnut Pinwheels: Our laminated dough layered with house-made hazelnut sugar and fresh orange zest, rolled into a pinwheel and baked golden brown. Dusted with powdered sugar. Flaky and sweet with just the right touch of citrus.

New Bakery: Making Kent a Little Sweeter!

IMG_8446

Lady Macrina watching over us all.

Not too long ago, I was working away at our Sodo bakery marveling at how small the space had become. Our team was working shoulder to shoulder, each process a fine-tuned choreography of mixing, forming and baking with counter space at a premium. My mind wandered back to 1993. When I first opened Macrina Bakery, I had six employees, and 847 square feet packed with a French Bongard oven, a stack of convection ovens, one mixer, an espresso machine and steel baker’s racks to cool the bread. I had been dreaming of having such a kitchen for years and here I was producing a full line of artisan breads, muffins, coffee cakes and tarts. Business took off through word of mouth, some very beloved wholesale customers and some very positive reviews. All my energy went into baking. Soon this kitchen was bursting at the seam and after only a year, I leased the adjoining space, enlarged the kitchen and added a cafe. We were able to offer more pastry items, develop some savory dishes and add new breads. It was a time of incredible growth for Macrina.

Eight years later with another cafe open in the Queen Anne neighborhood, production was moved to a larger space on 2nd Avenue. With more space, more ovens and better equipment we were able to organize better and again add items to our line of breads, pastries and savory items. We even improved some old favorites. Business continued to grow. Our cafes were thriving and more and more wholesale customers were added to our family. My crew and I shared great highs and weathered growing pains that tested our collective graciousness.

And soon we needed more space.

In 2008, with new partners, we found an industrial building in the Sodo neighborhood. We doubled our kitchen size, had plenty of parking for delivery vans and space for a cafe that could feature big windows both outside and into the kitchen. There was even space upstairs for administrative offices. I thought we would never fill all the space! The expertise, dedication and experience of my managing partners allowed me to step back from business operations and spend more time in the kitchen. We invested in and learned from our talented staff who are devoted to making the best breads and pastries. We improved ingredients, sourced more local products and services, and added sweet and savory items our customers requested. We increased our delivery area, our cafes were thriving and our growth continued.

Remarkably we outgrew this space quickly.

For the last few years we’ve been bursting at the seams again, forced to find more efficient ways to work within our confines. So, after a year of planning and another 6 months of construction, we have moved again!  Our new bakery is in Kent, which I like to refer to as the new Sodo (industrial, up and coming). I am in love with our well thought out bakery, with impressive temperature controls, the tools we need to keep up with demand and enough space for each team to spread out.

IMG_8540

The first bake in our new home.

As I was working shoulder to shoulder in our Sodo space that day not too long ago, I was very much looking forward to sharing the new space with my team. Now that we have officially moved in, I am even more excited. I love seeing the smiles on everyone’s faces as they acclimate to their new home. We no longer have to push racks of bread around to get into the walk-in and we aren’t tripping over pallets of flour. I love having the space to create.  I am working on a new line of pastries that will blow you away.  You will have to stay tuned to see what we have coming later this summer.  Trust me it is worth the wait.

I think I speak for all of us when I say we’re very excited about Macrina’s future.

Leslie

 

The Bread Lab: A Washington State Treasure

BreadLabFieldsThe flour most of us are familiar with—the inert, white powdery stuff from the supermarket with a long shelf life—is a very modern development in our long relationship with wheat, the most important food in history. Before industrial agriculture became dominant, milling was done at regional mills with diverse strains of wheat. The effort to create uniform flours that won’t spoil has taken much of the flavor and nutrition from our flour and the products made with it.

One of the national leaders in the effort to restore flavor and nutrition to available wheat is located just north of Seattle in the Skagit Valley. Dr. Steven Jones runs The Bread Lab, an extension of Washington State University. He is devoted to bringing grain agriculture back to our region. A hundred years ago, fields of grains filled the Skagit Valley, but as industrial wheat brought the price of the commodity down farmers shifted to more valuable crops. Recently though, farmers, using wheat as a rotation crop to break disease cycles and to restore vital elements to the soil have discovered, or rediscovered, that many varietals grow wonderfully there. This is where The Bread Lab comes in. Jones is a wheat breeder dedicated to making regional grain farming viable again. His lab develops vigorous wheat hybrids full in flavor and nutritional value that grow optimally in particular climates.

Wheat

Over six years ago, I was invited to be part of The Bread Lab’s advisory board. Back then I had no idea how impactful it would be. At the time, I was happy with our flour and didn’t imagine I would be looking elsewhere. A few bakers I knew in Seattle were experimenting with milling their own flours. I was eager to learn more. The Bread Lab proved to be an excellent resource. It gave me the opportunity to test wheat from smaller growers. Jones and his team check it for strength and provide us with its falling number, which indicates the speed of fermentation. As you can imagine, our baking schedule is pretty tight. A dough moving unexpectedly slowly or quickly can really throw things off.

Using ingredients with the highest integrity has always been central to my mission at Macrina. In flours, flavor and high nutritional value are the two most important things I look for, along with consistency and a reliable supply. My earliest fascination was with whole grain milling. Most commercially produced flour is made only with the starchy endosperm of the grain. Both the nutrient-rich bran and flavorful wheat germ are discarded because the oils they contain will turn rancid in a few weeks. But the durability that commercial flour gains by discarding them comes at an enormous cost—the loss of flavor and nutrition.

This is why, years ago, I started using freshly milled whole grain flours from Fairhaven Mills. I admire the nutty and natural caramel flavor that comes from the milled whole grain flours. When I first started experimenting with this whole grained milled flour, I was hydrating a portion of the flour to soften the bran. This worked to some degree, but I was still not getting the rise I wanted, resulting in a dense texture. The Bread Lab provided me with many strategies. With their help and plenty of experimenting, I got the results I desired. On another occasion, we had a difficulty with a flour we were getting from Fairhaven Mills. They’d had to substitute a wheat from Montana rather the Walla Walla wheat we’d been using. I sent a sample to The Bread Lab. They tested it and determined that the wheat had a smaller falling number, which means the dough develops quickly. We reduced the mixing time and with lots of tweaking got consistent results. When you’re mixing hundreds of pounds of dough destined for someone’s table in a few hours and the dough isn’t behaving you can imagine the frenetic scene that results.

SkagitWheatEvery year The Bread Lab hosts an annual conference called Grain Gathering. Professional bakers, bread enthusiasts, brewers, farmers, and chefs from around the country descend on the Skagit Valley. Workshops, panel discussions, and demonstrations cover a range of wheat-centered topics (I’ve learned lots from these over the years). At the 2015 event, they held a bread tasting for a group of experienced bakers. We tasted seven breads, each made with a different locally grown wheat. For each loaf the recipe was essentially the same, with small adaptations made to create the best loaf with each flour. The varying tastes, textures, and the overall natural sweetness was a revelation. The flour made all the difference. The experience inspired my commitment to bringing more locally grown flours to the breads we make at Macrina.

One of the challenges The Bread Lab faces is that making local wheats prevalent takes more than introducing them to local bakers. Local grain economies that existed before the mass produced flours drove them out of business must be rebuilt. That includes persuading farmers to grow the grains, mills to grind them, stores to sell them and buyers to purchase them. Contributing to a healthy and sustainable local food economy is not just a good thing for Macrina to do, it’s a great thing for our bread. You just can’t beat the taste that freshly milled whole grain flours provide.

With the success The Bread Lab has experienced they’ve outgrown their small space and this summer will relocate to a 12,000-square-foot building. King Arthur Flour is partnering with them to add a full-scale mill and educational center. The state-of-the-art facility, and the passion and knowledge of Jones and his team, is a unique treasure. We are lucky to be so close to the innovation taking place in Skagit Valley, innovation with benefits that extend through the state and beyond.

Leslie

Space Needle

I had the pleasure of dining with Phuong Bui, Macrina’s head baker, and his wife at the SkyCity restaurant to celebrate his 10 year anniversary. It was a big treat and fun for him to see the bread he bakes on the tables of one of the most iconic locations in the country. Nothing beats the remarkable view or the delicious food of this longstanding Seattle restaurant.

Leslie

600_ft_Space_Needle_Seattle_World's_Fair_C11687

The Space Needle

Imagine this: It’s 1961. Seattle is soon to host the World’s Fair. You walk into a bank and announce that you plan to build the tallest building west of the Mississippi and slap a revolving restaurant on top. Oh, and so it’s ready in time for the fair, you need to build it in about 400 days. Might as well ask for a time-traveling DeLorean while you’re dreaming.

But somehow they pulled it off, sans the DeLorean. A group calling itself the Pentagram Corporation, which included a few of Seattle’s most recognizable businessmen, didn’t need a bank loan. They were the bankers and developers of the day. The risk was sizable. 550 feet of risk. 467 dump trucks of cement poured to a depth of 30 feet of risk. $4.5 million dollars of risk. They sought nothing less than to present a vision of the future to the rest of the world.

Seattle_World's_Fair_and_Mt_Rainier_C13119Billed as The Century 21 Exposition, the World’s Fair of 1962 in Seattle also featured the monorail. Just before the fair opened The New York Times wrote, “The high-speed, quiet monorail cars catapult northward from the heart of Seattle for a few breath catching moments, then glide to a stop. There suddenly, all around you, are glimpses of the world of tomorrow.” The monorail was the time-traveling Delorean carrying hordes of visitors to the world of tomorrow.

Back then, world’s fairs were major spectacles, attended by people from around the globe. Seattle was a company town, a yawn of a city that functioned as a Boeing bunkhouse, and a long ways from growing up and joining the ranks of major American cities. Much of the world then thought Seattle rhymed with fetal.

As the structure went up, doubters arose. The Committee Hoping for Extra-Terrestrial Encounters to Save the Earth—CHEESE (an appropriate acronym) claimed to have plans from the 1962 World’s Fair that show the Space Needle was constructed to send transmissions to advanced beings in other solar systems. True story.

4171626313_f5d5797ce6Another fun fact: Elvis filmed a movie at the Space Needle during the World’s Fair named, aptly enough, “It Happened at the World’s Fair.” In the Seattle Post-Intelligencer, reporter John Voorhees described the insanity surrounding The King: “The biggest attraction at the World’s Fair continues to be Elvis Presley, who may turn out to be the biggest boon to the sellers of camera film since the Space Needle was unveiled.”

Fast forward a little more than 50 years and Seattle has been transformed from the scenic hillside town without an interstate to one of the fastest growing major cities in America. In the shadow of the Space Needle, South Lake Union has been transformed by Amazon’s growth. Boeing is still a major employer, but the local economy has diversified, much of its new growth driven by the technology sector.

amazon-campusThrough all this growth the Space Needle has provided a spectacular revolving view of the city’s evolution; neighborhoods torn down to build Interstate 5, construction cranes raising Belltown to new heights, new high-rise towers, more cranes, more towers, and suburbs oozing further north, east, and south.

While some today consider the Space Needle an anachronistic vision of the future, more Jetsons than anything that looks like the future today, it has always symbolized a city leaning into the future. So, when the weather is clear, take the elevator up 500 feet to the SkyCity restaurant and enjoy the Macrina potato rolls (or a basket of our pastries at brunch) while you peruse the menu and take in the revolving view of this beautiful city. We’re proud to play a small role in such an iconic location.

space-needle-northwest-scenescapesAnd lastly, while you’re enjoying your meal don’t forget that only the interior rotates, not the external structure. If you set your drink on the window ledge, it’ll slowly drift away from you. More than a few enterprising and frugal drinkers have enjoyed their neighbors fine scotch, or their cocktail; one after the next, helpless to resist as they just kept appearing on the window ledge next to their table.

Visit this link for a long list of Space Needle fun facts.

Walnut Street Coffee

Walnut Street Coffee is a perfect destination, whether you’re a local or looking for a little weekend adventure. Downtown Edmonds is a charming spot. The baristas are friendly and efficient and they make beautiful coffee. ~ Leslie

IMG_4343

A headline in the recent issue of the Edmonds Beacon declares “Edmonds is no longer ‘Deadmonds.” With a growing population and an invigorated downtown, Edmonds is on the rise. Pam Stuller, the founder and owner of local favorite Walnut Street Coffee, is just the kind of entrepreneur that has helped make downtown Edmonds the vibrant place it is today.

When she found the space for her cafe in 2006, Walnut Street was pretty quiet. She and her husband, who live in nearby Richmond Beach, were riding their bikes around town and encountered a funky cinderblock building that had originally been built as a boat engine repair shop. Its defining feature was a roll-up garage door. A dream location; downtown, but enough off the beaten track to be the place locals would seek out away from the ferry and tourist crowd. One problem: a flower shop occupied the space. So she sent the letter to the landlord and six months later he called.

“People thought I was a crazy to take the space,” Pam said.

IMG_4350Out of college Pam didn’t imagine herself running a busy coffee shop. For ten years she worked in human resources. In 2002, a friend, Michael Prins was opening the first Herkimer Coffee on Phinney Ridge. She was working for Nature Conservancy, an organization she loved. But she was restless.

“If you can’t love your job and you’re working at an amazing organization what do you do? I felt like I’d already done everything I could to love what I do and it wasn’t working.”

So she left her job to help Michael get Herkimer Coffee up and running, focusing on the things she had experience doing, such as hiring a staff. A year and a half later she found herself still working there as a barista.

“It was the most fun, most rewarding, most enriching work experience I’d ever had. I loved it. I’d always loved cafes and cafe culture but I’d always been intimidated by the art of coffee. That was where I got to learn the craft and the trade. I knew then this was what I wanted to do. In coffee, you get to know people in such a different way. Most people are pretty routine about their coffee. You have this two-minute touch. Over time you pick up all the little intimate details—a kid is sick, news of a vacation, job changes—and you build a meaningful personal relationship. It’s pretty amazing.”

That led her to Edmonds and Walnut Street Coffee. She and her husband did most of the buildout themselves.

“My goal was to do one thing and to do it really well and to keep focused on what brings me joy. I figured that if I was happy to come here every day, the customers would follow.”

They did, but it took a lot of work. For the first two years, Pam worked seven days a week.

“The business almost ate me alive. Around year three I began adding enough staff that I could have a couple of days off a week.”

Keeping things simple has been key to her success.

“My passion and my love is espresso. But I don’t have experience making pastries. I’ve worked in restaurants and I know how much goes into food service. I wanted to keep things as simple and focused as possible.”

Initially, bakery options were few, but as Edmonds has grown so have options.

IMG_4338“I’m so thrilled to have Macrina. Edmonds is enough off the beaten track that delivery
options are few. You’re not on your way to anywhere when you come to Edmonds. When Macrina started delivering here, I was thrilled. The caliber and consistency of the baked goods are first-rate. Our customers love them.”

Approaching her ten-year anniversary, Pam is lucky to have two baristas who have been with her for over eight years. That’s exceptional in a high-turnover industry where the average barista stays at a job for one year. With her background in human resources maybe it should come as no surprise.

“I have a pretty amazing benefits package, especially for this kind of business. I have a retirement plan, profit sharing, health care, paid time off, holiday pay.”

She attributes much of the success of her business to her employees.

“I never underestimate the value of my people. They’re instrumental in maintaining and in continuing to build our business. Our business has grown every year since we opened, which includes the downturn.”

Occasionally she thinks about expanding, but worries she’d wind up doing more of the stuff she doesn’t love doing, like bookkeeping and back of the house work.

“I love the connection I have with my staff and my customers, and I worry that would get diluted. I live simply, and I’m happy the way things are. I hike, bike, cross-country ski, garden, walk my dog, I’m an avid reader, and I love to spend time with my family, friends, and my parents. I don’t want to lose any of that.”

Her love of the city recently led her to get involved in a business group called the Edmonds Downtown Alliance. She served a stint as president last year.

“That was rewarding, developing deeper relationships with the other merchants and finding ways to take what is so great about this town and amplify that so everybody does better.”

IMG_4345If you don’t already spend time in the seaside town of Edmonds, it’s time to make a trip. There are a couple of breweries, a distillery, a movie theater, lots of shopping, a bookstore, tasty restaurants. Most shops are small and owner-operated.

“You wouldn’t have to leave Edmonds if you didn’t want to. We kind of have it all in this little pocket, and it’s so scenic. It’s very Mayberryish in a way, but it also has an authenticity to it that I really enjoy.”

Start with a caffe latte and a treat from Walnut Street Coffee and take a stroll down 5th Avenue towards Main Street and you’ll discover that “Deadmonds” no longer exists.