Herkimer Coffee: New World Microroaster, Old World Aesthetic

Not only am I fan of their coffee, I admire Herkimer’s employee-driven focus. It shows in the quality of their product and service. If you don’t already know them, drop by one of their three locations. You won’t be sorry. —Leslie.

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Third wave coffee refers to the direct trade, farmer-obsessed purists, many of whom feature lightly roasted single-origin coffees best brewed with a slow-motion pour over. Stumptown, Blue Bottle, and Intelligentsia Coffee are three of the big ones. All have recently taken on large investors and big expansion plans are underway. Their founders are living the dream.

But what of those who dream differently?

Herkimer Coffee, founded in 2003, roasts exquisite coffees but prefers to stay small. Mike Prins, the owner and founder of Herkimer coffee, named the business after the town in upstate New York where his father was born. For him, Herkimer Coffee is about roots and simple dreams. It’s about values that run deep. It’s a place where relationships are more important than profit and the only palpable marketing plan is to make an authentic, high-quality product.

Herkimer Coffee probably wouldn’t exist had Mike not gotten a do-over.

Back in the early 90’s, while working for a Seattle company that sold and repaired espresso machines, Mike visited B&W Specialty Coffee, a small roaster in Minneapolis. “I wanted to open a small café that roasted its own coffee, but it seemed unattainable. Then on this business trip, I met the folks at B&W who were young and making great coffee in a small-batch roaster. The main thing I remember is their passion and how much fun they seemed to be having. It was just a brief visit, but it sparked a dream.”

In 1994, Mike opened Caffe Vita on Queen Anne with a partner. Their little café took off, and in 1995 they began roasting. By 2002, the business had flourished. But it wasn’t that little roaster on the corner anymore. Mike sold his stake in the business.

“I thought I’d left coffee for good,” Mike says. “I was in limbo, no job, not sure what would come next. Some months later, walking home from the store in my Greenwood neighborhood I noticed a corner building with a For Lease sign in the window. That’s a good spot, I thought. I made a phone call and away it went.”

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This time though he wasn’t going to let the dream get away from him. Herkimer Coffee, whatever it would become, would remain small and sustainable, and it would focus on relationships with employees and customers. And most importantly it would be a place he enjoyed coming to each day.

“This place is really well thought out,” Candace Harter, the Greenwood café manager, says. “We focus on traditional coffee bar fare. Espresso drinks and drip coffee. We don’t try to do too much. We use Macrina products and Mighty-O donuts. It allows us to focus on what we do well, serving coffee to the community.”

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Mike started the café using coffee roasted by Caffe Vita. That changed in 2007 when he added a roaster in the space adjacent to the café. Mike then brought on Scott Richardson to buy green coffee, to roast, and to be the wholesale manager.

“Scott and I go back to 1996, Kara, too,” Mike says (Kara MacDonald was the first hire at Herkimer and now runs the Ravenna shop). “We all worked together back in the Vita days. Scott was roasting and overseeing wholesale while Kara was managing retail.”

Much has changed in elite specialty coffee since then. In the mid-nineties, Seattle was in the midst of the European-inspired, espresso-oriented second wave. (The first wave occurred in the early twentieth century with the establishment of national brands like Maxwell House and Folgers.)

“When I started sourcing coffee for Herkimer I wanted to take it to another level,” Scott says. “I wanted to know the producers. The old style was to buy the best coffee on the commodity market at the lowest price. But that’s not very fair to the grower, nor does it get you the finest coffees.”

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Scott now travels to source countries frequently and purchases much of Herkimer’s green coffee directly from the producer. “My interest is a long-term reciprocal relationship. Farmers come out better, we can both budget, and I can count on excellent coffee.”

Some of that coffee goes into single-origin roasts. But most of it is blended for espresso. “Seatle was born as an espresso-driven market. And it still is,” Scott says. “Old world aesthetic means I love a big, gooey espresso. One with high oil saturation, high carbohydrates, good acid balance, but not sour. Too many pull acidic espresso with light roasts. Those light roasts are great in a pour over, but as espresso they’ll curdle milk. I like where espresso comes from, its history, everything about it. I go out of my way to source coffee from very high elevations. The coffees I put in our espresso blend have what it takes to make them big and balanced, a coffee you won’t get sick of drinking every day.”

Herkimer’s quality is a function of relationships: relationships with employees, with customers at the coffee bar, with wholesale accounts, and with coffee producers.

“We have 24 employees, including myself,” Mike says. “Over a third have been here more than five years, and many more than ten. That’s pretty unique. I try to put everyone in a position where they can succeed at what they like to do.”

Choosing the right person for the job is like choosing the right coffee. The wrong one can sour the blend.

Two early employees, Nathan Reasoner and Reid Hickman, both worked at Zoka before coming to Herkimer soon after the roastery opened. They both roast and help with sales. In addition, Reed built and manages the company website. Nathan manages the wholesale accounts.

IMG_6324 “Now that the third wave, the premium farmer-focused coffee movement, is getting a lot bigger it puts us in an interesting position, trying to manage our own growth and retain what makes our coffee special,” Reid says. “We find these small lots that are beautiful. We have great people roasting. If we grow too fast we wouldn’t be able to source enough of the best coffees or find and train the right people to roast and prepare it.”

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“We’re lucky to be in an environment, around people we enjoy, doing something that we like,” Nathan says. “I wanted to find a career where I could have a good life and make something I’m proud of. In this day and age, in this city, that’s hard to find.”

Mike says, “People make strange decisions that aren’t always the best when they’re trying to grow too fast. For us, quality of life is the most important factor in our growth decisions. We want to continue to do for our customers and staff all that we say we are going to do. That’s very important to us.”

This focus on relationships is the beating heart of the extended Herkimer community, on both sides of the coffee bar, with the wholesale buyers, and with the coffee producers.“I like coming to work every day,” Mike says. “I like being around all the great people we have. I love coffee. Those are boring statements, but it’s what I enjoy.”

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Herkimer Coffee has locations in the Queen Anne, Phinney Ridge and Ravenna neighborhoods. Find out more at https://herkimercoffee.com/.

Edible City: A Delicious Journey

On view at MOHAI through September 10, 2017

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(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

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(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.

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(Photo courtesy of MOHAI)

Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Ethan and Angela Stowell probably don’t need an introduction, but just in case, they’re the couple behind 15 esteemed Seattle restaurants, namely Anchovies & Olives, Ballard Pizza Co. (3 locations), Bar Cotto, Bramling Cross, Goldfinch Tavern, How to Cook a Wolf, Marine Hardware, Mkt., Red Cow, Rione XIII, Staple & Fancy, Tavolàta Belltown, Tavolàta Capitol Hill. Ethan is the chef, Angela the CEO. That they ever relax may come as a surprise, but they make time. I’ve always loved Ethan’s cooking and his dedication to using local and seasonal ingredients. I’m honored that they use Macrina breads at their restaurants. They are wonderful people and one of Seattle’s premier restaurateurs. Learn more about their life outside of the kitchen right here.

Leslie

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Out of the Kitchen: Relaxing Stowell Style

Everybody knows running restaurants is not for the lazy or the faint of heart. Add kids and a serious commitment to philanthropy and you’ve got a recipe for a life few would call relaxing. Humble, as Angela and Ethan Stowell both are, they’d be the first to point out that they have the support of a great team in all they do. But even with a strong team, Ethan and Angela work long and hard and are pulled in many directions. Still, they remain deeply committed to spending quality time together with their two young children, Adrian and Franklin.

Given their culinary prowess you might expect them to spend their free time teaching the kids how to foraging for chanterelles or morels in the forest, or out on the beach digging for Manila clams. Turns out they’re just like most parents with two young kids, racing home from brunch at their neighborhood dim sum restaurant before their two-year-old, Franklin, falls asleep.

Ethan explains, “Because when you’re doing naps—you know what it’s like having kids—after lunch you’ve got to race home before he falls asleep. If you have a half-hour drive, you’re in trouble. The last thing you need is a twenty-minute power nap.”

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Because Ethan frequently works in the evening, mornings become family time.

“The nice thing about our schedule is we have family breakfasts every morning because we have the luxury of not leaving the house until nine,” Angela says. “Breakfast is our long time together, kind of the reverse of most families.”

Ethan gets up with the kids and starts breakfast. When he can he gets them involved, often making pancakes, eggs, or oatmeal.

Angela adds, “Well, we try not to do pancakes more than two mornings in a row.”

Presently, in fact, Ethan is skipping the pancakes nearly altogether. About a year ago, he lost over 50 pounds through a mixture of diet and exercise and has kept the weight off. He is very careful about what he eats for breakfast and lunch, then lets loose at dinner. And he is religious about getting in an hour of exercise each day. Angela has always been a fitness and health advocate.

“Before having kids I did lots of triathlons and a half ironman,” Angela says. “I’ve been a runner for a long time. For me, it’s a stress relief. This may not be the most romantic thing in the world at 9 p.m., but if we’re both home, when we get the kids to bed, we’ll both go exercise. Sometimes it’s the only time we have, especially if it’s a Sunday and we’ve been busy with them all day. We both get our hour workout in.

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One key block of time for Angela to sneak in a long run is Saturday mornings when Ethan and a group of dads take the kids out without the moms.

“Saturday I just work a half day, so it’s dad and kid time,” Ethan says. “I have a friends’ group of five to six guys. A text thread goes out. Not everyone can make it every time. We meet somewhere at ten, go to the zoo, or the Science Center, or Golden Gardens. Then we get lunch and rush home for nap time.”

In the summer, weekends are often spent on Whidbey Island where Ethan’s parents have a vacation home. The island is Angela’s favorite place to be.

“Our weekends there are kind of always the same,” Angela says. “In the summertime we go to the farmers market in the morning, we go to Primo Bistro, we always go to Moonraker Books to check out what’s happening there and visit the owner Josh, then we visit a couple of farms with stands, maybe grab a loaf of Screaming Banshee bread. The cool thing about Whidbey is that there are a lot of people who knew Ethan when he was five years old. Those people are now super invested in our family.”

In Seattle, when the Stowell’s have the occasional night together they frequently go out to eat.

“We are definitely a family that doesn’t shy from taking them out to restaurants,” Ethan says. “I’m a big believer in bringing kids to our restaurants. You want kids getting used to eating good food, getting used to being out socially.”

In fact, this January they will be starting a family dinner night at Rione.

“I’m super excited about it,” Angela says. “From five to seven anybody who makes a reservation will be told that there will be kids around. It’s an opportunity for families to come out with their kids. Don’t feel bad if things get spilled. It’s gonna be hard to keep the kids in their seats.”

“There’s gonna be spaghetti on the windows,” Ethan says with a smile.

Angela adds, “We’ll be there. And at some point our kids will have iPads out. I think it’s good for parents to see that it is okay to do what you have to do to get through dinner at a restaurant. Because it’s not always going to be like this, and sometimes you just need a moment’s peace to finish your wine.”

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While they may be a more high-profile couple than most in Seattle, they both stress that their private lives are much like any other family.

“My life isn’t much different than any working mom,” Angela says. “You wake up and someone needs you right away—this morning it was who gets to sit next to mom—then you go to work and someone needs you. Then you get home and they need you again. Then maybe I squeeze in a little workout. Not anything different than any other working mom. We’re just really appreciative of the window of time we get together.”

Visit www.ethanstowellrestaurants.com to learn more and make reservations at your favorite spot.

Macrina Pumpkin Pie: From Seed to Table

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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.

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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.

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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.

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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

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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.

New Bakery: Making Kent a Little Sweeter!

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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.

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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 Buzz on (Really) Local Honey

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On my Vashon Island farm, I have plenty of space for my gardens and chickens. But the current trend in urban farming blurs the old line between city and country. Farming used to be something that took place outside of town. Nowadays, many Seattle homes have parking strip planter boxes overflowing with beans, zucchini, tomatoes, peppers, corn, and much more. Composting boxes overflow. Chickens cluck proudly in backyards, supermarket eggs are no match to their prize offerings. So it’s no surprise that urban bees should follow. That urban produce needs to be cross-pollinated somehow.

Corky Luster started Ballard Bee Company out of his Ballard garage. He’s the Steve Jobs of local honey, the godfather of the urban hive. Turns out it takes more than just plonking a couple of hives in your yard. You need to know how to manage the colony.

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(Photo: Seattle Tilth)

Corky’s love for beekeeping began in college when a German roommate started a couple of hives in their backyard. While working as a designer and contractor building homes in Seattle, he started raising bees in Ballard. City ordinance only allows up to four hives on lots less than 10,000 feet. So Corky began recruiting others to host hives. He manages them; the homeowner gets a dividend of honey and the knowledge that they’re helping our local ecosystem. The hive takes up little space, but its impact is large. Corky combats disease-and-mites by using integrated pest management principles and avoids harsh pesticides, such as acaricides, in his efforts to keep the hives healthy and happy. The city, surprisingly, turns out to be a great place to produce honey since urban trees and gardens tend to be free of industrial agricultural pesticides. With a surplus of fantastic honey, Corky bottled it and began to sell it through a few local stores in 2010.

Renee Erickson, chef of Ballard’s The Walrus and The Carpenter and Fremont’s The Whale Wins, has Corky manage hives for her restaurants. Corky’s cult status in the beekeeping world has also allowed him to partner with Seattle Tilth to teach classes on building and maintaining healthy hives.

At Macrina, I’ve always tried to carry a few locally produced items that complement our breads—it’s hard to find anything more local than Ballard Bee Company’s honey. The flavor is delicate and floral, with just a hint of lemon in the aftertaste. With Seattle’s explosion of urban farming, there are plenty of flowering trees, flowers, and gardens. Plus all those wild blackberries. So the bees do their important work, Corky’s careful attention keeps their hives healthy and we get to offer this beautiful honey. Everybody wins!

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.

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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

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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

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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.

POP! Bubbles & Seafood

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This coming weekend I’ll be participating in the Seattle Wine and Food Experience (SWFE). This event has grown into one of the premier Northwest culinary events – gathering epicureans from all over the region. This year, I have been asked to work with sustainable seafood, specifically Weathervane sea scallops. After playing around with different approaches, I will be serving Seared Scallops with Feta and Citrus Vinaigrette on Rye Crostini. It is a tasty appetizer that would be fun to serve at a party.

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More than 200 vendors will be there, including many other chefs, lots of great wine, brew masters, and distillers. An excellent way to find new favorite foods, wines, and more.

This year a percentage of the proceeds go to Les Dames D’Escoffier Seattle, an organization dear to my heart. The non-profit focuses on raising funds for scholarships for women in the culinary, beverage, and hospitality industries. All efforts are based in Washington State. Les Dames also supports community outreach programs and sustainable agriculture projects.

If you’re free this weekend, come down to SWFE and find me. Try a bite of my scallops before heading off to find your new favorite Washington wine.

Leslie

POP!  Bubbles & Seafood is held at McCaw Hall on Saturday, February 20th between 6:00-9:00 pm.  Tickets are $75 per person.

Seattle Wine & Food Experience is held at the Seattle Center Exhibition Hall on Sunday, February 21st, between 1:00-5:00 pm.  Tickets are $60 per person.  A weekend pass for both events is sold for $140.