For the love of good farmers.

Apples, cherries, grapes, and hops. I am fascinated with agriculture.

Wonder worked its way down my spine while I looked out across the verdant Yakima River Valley from a rental RV, the fruits of some of Washington state’s almost 40,000 farmers on awesome display. Ice-edged mountain tops of the north Cascades evolve over 200 miles, melting into the undulating, sage-brushed hills of the Yakima River Valley, the oldest and largest AVA (American Viticultural Area) in Washington state. It is here that Washingtonians have immediate access to some of the most productive, diverse agricultural land on the planet:

“Washington ranks first in the U.S. for production of 11 commodities, including apples, sweet cherries, pears, hops and red raspberries. Growers’ production ranks second in the U.S. for an additional eight commodities, including potatoes, grapes and onions. Washington is also the second-largest producer of wine in the U.S. The state’s diverse agricultural economy includes aquaculture, farm forest products, cranberries, spearmint and peppermint oil and mink.” National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) 

Yakima Valley Wineries Map

Drought is Bearing Fruit for Washington Wineries

Chocolate and Wine Are More Similar Than You Think

The drive from Seattle to Prosser isn’t that long: four hours or so, over Snoqualmie Pass, through Ellensburg and Yakima, out of the Puget Sound rain shadows, straight into the eastern Washington desert. I’ve driven this road hundreds of times, mostly in the act of broken parenting, shuttling Seth and Michaela from Ellensburg to the Tri-Cities, from Mukilteo to Ellensburg, transferring them to and from weekends with their dad. The man who introduced me to this beautiful state in the first place, even though I hated him for it at the time. I’ll never forget that day in the fall of 1990 when, as a naive 22-year old who’d barely set foot outside the Four Corners region, we drove through a blizzard crossing from Oregon into Washington. A type of blizzard I’d never seen before: comprised of dirt instead of snow.

Wine country in the Yakima River Valley outside Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

Wine country in the Yakima River Valley outside Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

Wine country in the Yakima River Valley outside Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

Wine country in the Yakima River Valley outside Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

washington hops

Washington state produces 75% of the country’s hops. Outside Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

A delicious cold corn soup at Wine O' Clock in Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

A delicious cold corn soup at Wine O’ Clock in Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

winecountry

Laura’s birthday dinner in 100-degree heat under a delightful, man-made mist in Prosser, Washington. July 28, 2016.

Until I started making chocolate, I never really looked out the window at these freeway landscapes through this lens of wonder. I never thought much about the farmers and their fruits. The vintners and their wines. The ranchers and their milk.

“Washington’s combination of rich soils, diverse climates and large-scale irrigation make it one of the most productive growing regions in the world. The cool, moist valleys of Western Washington are ideal for raising milk cows, berries, nursery products, flowers and poultry. Eastern Washington, known for its desert-like climate, has both irrigated and dry land farms. Agricultural highlights include cattle ranching, dairy farms, wheat, apples, pears, cherries and other tree fruits, as well as varieties of grapes and vegetables.” National Association of State Departments of Agriculture (NASDA) 

Comparing California, Washington wine

Now that I make chocolate, I look at everything through a lens of agricultural wonder. And I think about the farmers who grow our food. The farmers who, via indulging their passion for science, mechanics, and biology via the practice of agriculture, brave the blizzards and the bugs and the booms and the busts and heat and the dust to feed us. All of us. And I am grateful. So very, very grateful. You should be, too.

Momofuku birthday cake.

On birthday cake and ramen noodles.

In exactly two weeks, I will be 48. Which means it’s time for birthday cake.

Enter my coworker, Safiya, who introduced me to the Momofuku Milk Bar last year when we were in New York City for the Visualized conference. They are famous for their birthday cake, among other things, so this weekend, I took my place in the kitchen and made one. It took me two days to do it.

Chef On the Edge: David Chang’s Search for the Perfect Restaurant

Cake is a term with a long history (the word is of Viking origin, from the Old Norse kaka) and denotes a baked flour confection sweetened with sugar or honey; it is mixed with eggs and often, but not invariably, with milk and fat; and it has a porous texture from the mixture rising during cooking. – This History of Cakes

“Momofuku” could be translated from Japanese as “lucky peach”, though Chef David Chang has written that the name is “an indirect nod” to Momofuku Ando,[7] the Taiwanese-Japanese inventor of instant ramen. Chang also suggested it is not an accident he chose a word that sounds like the English curse word “motherfucker”.[8] – Wikipedia

 

WassupPham

On Seattle, hungry musicians, and the culinary arts.

Coffee, salmon, berries, kale, fennel, lavender, rosemary, hops, beer, wheat, wine, oysters, clams and Dungeness crab. These are foods and flavors of the Pacific Northwest. But in addition to things indigenous to this region, Seattle is also on the Pacific Rim, making it a great hub for Asian food. The Blue Scholars, Seattle’s precursor to Macklemore, played on Friday night at the Showbox, singing about phở:

Top 5 Food References In Pop/Rock Music

Iced coffee, the egg, and the banh mi
We eating hella good in the city by the sea
Pho Bac, Pho viet, Pho Cyclo
Thanh Thao, maybe Than Bros, or Thanh Vi
Laughing cow smiling at me.

 

“Pho is absolutely a part of Seattle culture,” said Sabzi, “all of South Seattle is secretly run by Vietnamese people. There’s pho places, all kinds of banh mi, Viet bakeries, billiard halls. There are different sides to Seattle, but I’ve spent the last 10 years in South Seattle, so I eat a lot of pho.” –Macklemore Loves Pho

and this, from the New Yorker:

“Why,” asks Sandra Gilbert in “The Culinary Imagination,” a new history of “eating words” in a cultural context, “do we so massively—and often so hungrily—meditate on food, its history, its preparation, its stories, its vices and virtues?”

Along with sex and death, food is one of the three great universals, and it can be discussed in a far wider range of registers than those other two.

An obvious response is: Why wouldn’t we? Along with sex and death, food is one of the three great universals, and it can be discussed in a far wider range of registers than those other two. When breaking the ice with someone you’ve just met, you might hesitate to bring up sex (creepy!) or death (morbid!). Food, on the other hand, provides an instant topic of conversation that anyone can join, inoffensive without being boring. – The Allure of the Imagined Meal

On Whisky-Centered Design: Designing the Glencairn Whisky Glass

TASTING whiskies can be a clinical, prosaic task, nosing and assessing, jotting notes, reconsidering, lips compressed in concentration, brow furrowed. Yet, as the spirits panel tasted 20 single malts from Islay, we reminded ourselves to step back a moment, to contemplate with no small amount of awe the magic of what was in the glass. – The New York Times, From Scotland, Fog and Smoke, and Mystery

See also from the Princeton Architectural Press Instant Expert Series: Whiskey by John Lamond

Not to mention the magic of the glass itself. The first time I realized I liked Scotch was at a party thrown by The Stranger at the newly-minted Seattle Public Library. Back in 2005-ish, when I was still in grad school. I was standing around, mingling, when someone in our group said, “Hey, could you hold this for a minute?” handing me his cheap, plastic tumbler half-full of Scotch, on the rocks. He never came back, so I finished his drink for him, the foggy, smoky amber of the whisky leaving a lasting impression on its way down my throat. This despite the fact that I was drinking it from a cheap, plastic tumbler. I wish, though, that my inaugural experience with Scotch had been via a Glencairn Glass, one designed specifically for tasting Scotch. It would have tasted even better, I’m sure.

On Christmas lights and warehouse smoke.

Bring yourself. Take your time. The food will bring the minds together, as foreign as they might be. Friends will be found in a shared experience. Without need of history or gestures known. If you have a bit of hunger, bring that as well. We will not wear our masks here. Come with a word. Think about a story. Come to eat. We are far from peril and storm. We are here. We are here together. – The Kinfolk Manifesto

December 24, 2013. On Capitol Hill. East, toward Volunteer Park, twinkling with Christmas lights and smelling of smoke from a warehouse fire. We passed Will’s old house on the way there. The big mansion at Fourteenth and Aloha where he lived before he met me.

First there were six, then there was one more. Andrew, Kyle, Petra, Callie, Will, Allison, then Candace. Four of us had just rolled in from the Methow Valley. Three of us had been waiting in the city, there all along. Roast chicken. Toasted hazelnuts and squash on a bed of green and red from a million kernels of fresh pomegranate. Warm, fresh bread, a hearty loaf straight from a cast-iron skillet, dipped in oil that tasted like a wind blowing from San Francisco to Napa. The wine, the gåteau, the raspberries and mint. Twenty, thirty, forty, fifty years prior, each of us set out on our path to that very moment: from New York, Maryland, Colorado, Australia, California and Arizona. We started out scattered across the world as many, but ended up converged at a table as one. One in our humanity, our conversation. In our laughter, good friends and good food.

Kinfolk Magazine

On what software designers can learn from Japanese knife makers.

From Kinfolk, Volume Eight: The Cutting Edge, by Ethan Kawasaki.

The knife is unequivocally the most important tool in the kitchen: It is an icon in the culinary arts. Cooks get them tattooed on their bodies. You don’t touch another cook’s knives. A knife is one of the only tools professional chefs and cooks bring with them to their jobs, and cooking almost always begins with cutting.

and on the craft of making tools that honor, respect, and inspire love:

The Japanese are known for sparing no attention to detail, and this strict discipline is clearly evident in their cuisine. As this food culture has evolved, master knife craftsmen have developed a vast array of knives, many of them designed for just one specific task in the kitchen. This expansive menagerie of knives really shows the love and respect the Japanese have for their food, the ingredients, and the land the ingredients come from.

What, I wonder, can software designers, also tool makers, learn from master Japanese knife craftsmen? Simplicity. Focus. Attention-to-detail. Beauty. Pride in craftsmanship. How to build tools to love.

–––––––

On that note, one day I will buy a Japanese knife, and use it to slice peaches for this peach raspberry tart:

Serves 6 to 8

For the pastry dough:
1 1/2 cup flour
3/4 teaspoons salt
1/4 cup sugar
6 ounces cold butter, cut into pieces
3 tablespoons ice cold water

For the fruit filling:
4 peaches, peeled and sliced (see note)
1/2 pint, raspberries
2 tablespoons butter, cut into pieces
1/4 cup sugar

1 Place a rimmed baking sheet onto the center rack of the oven. Preheat oven to 400º.

2 To make the pastry dough, add the flour, salt and sugar to a deep bowl; whisk to combine. Scatter the butter pieces over flour mixture and use a pastry blender, two butter knives or your fingers to cut in the butter (this can alternately be done in a food processor). Sprinkle the cold water over the butter-flour mixture and stir with a fork until the dough forms a rough ball. Wrap in plastic and let rest in the refrigerator for 20 to 30 minutes.

3 On a lightly floured piece of parchment paper, roll the dough out into a 16-inch circle. Scatter the fruit over the dough, leaving a 4-inch border. Sprinkle the sugar over the fruit and dot with the pieces of remaining butter. Fold the dough border up and over to cover the fruit, forming a crust. Leaving the tart on the parchment paper, place it on the heated baking sheet. Bake 40 to 45 minutes, or until pastry is a deep golden and the fruit is bubbling in the center. Let cool for 10 to 15 minutes. Serve warm or at room temperature.

On fizz and fog.

discovery_fogOslo, Mies, and me. Seattle’s Discovery Park, December 2012.

Only the head of a Dublin pint froths like that. Milky white density; super foam. Unless you count the merinque of that baked Alaska I made one time. One time when I was young and married and living in a trailer when my first husband threw it across the room and it hit the cheap wood paneled wall and slid down down down. That viscous, sliding foam, like my heart every time his face twisted in anger and I wondered how my life came to that.

But I’m not married to him anymore and it wasn’t then this is now. Laura came over that night. That last night of 2012, to say goodbye to that one and hello to this one. She looked pretty like she always does and texted me to tell me she was on her way, Dropping Ash off at Paul’s!

Could you please pick up some ice? my fingers flew. Let’s make a Gin Fizz for New Year’s!

No, wait. A Diamond Fizz. Because you have to have champagne for New Year’s. Even before I started watching Mad Men, I had an interest in classic cocktails. It all started in New Orleans, I think. That balmy night on the mansion’s porch just off of Charles Avenue with Sweet William and my friend Tom. That balmy night on the mansion’s porch just off of Charles Avenue when I had a Sazerac or two.

So I went down to the U-District for Hendrick’s and Met Market for bitters. Down to the fog for some eau de vie. The milky opaque frothy fog. The condensed thick salty fog. Like the head of a Diamond Fizz, veiling the Emerald City in winter.

Ramos Gin Fizz
1/4 cup (2 ounces) gin
1 dash (3 to 4 drops) orange blossom water
1 large egg white
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) half-and-half
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lemon juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) fresh lime juice
1 tablespoon (1/2 ounce) simple syrup
1 cup ice cubes
2 tablespoons (1 ounce) seltzer or Champagne

In large cocktail shaker, combine gin, orange blossom water, egg white, half-and-half, lemon juice, lime juice, and simple syrup. Shake vigorously for 25 seconds. Add ice and shake for 30 seconds more.
Strain mixture into 8-ounce glass. Slowly pour soda water down inside edge of shaker to loosen remaining froth. Gently ease soda water/froth mix onto drink and serve.

On artisanal food and artisanal technology.

I don’t know what it is about the Pacific Northwest and food, but I’m really glad to be going back to it (I’m seriously considering writing a book about it someday, though – what do you think?). One of the things I’ve missed the most while living on the East Coast is the ubiquitous artisanal approach to food. There’s something about the cloudy rainy salty fresh mountains that inspires people to make good food, eat good food, and surround good food with inspiring architecture and interior design. Not to mention easy access to the agricultural abundance of the entire West Coast. In Seattle, the culinary is truly an art. The spatula, a paintbrush. The gleaming plate, a canvas.

Artisan. What does this word mean, exactly? What does being an artisan entail? I just finished Walter Isaacson’s Steve Jobs bio, and the story of Apple provides thought-provoking insight into what it means to be an artisan. Technically speaking, Apple products don’t meet the definition of the term artisan, but regardless, one of the initial hallmarks of Apple’s success was the artisanal approach with which the two Steves approached designing and building technology. I am inspired to do the same in my own work. O, to be an Artisanal Technologist.™

On that note, here are a couple of my favorite artisanal things, from both coasts.

Scrappys Bitters

Scrappy’s Bitters. I discovered these while shopping on Capitol Hill with my best friend, Laura, when she introduced me to Sugarpill. When I lived in Seattle pre-East Coast, I wasn’t really into cooking that much. I figured I would take full advantage of the division of labor in the Emerald City: why cook for yourself when there are tens of amazing restaurants right outside your door? I started developing a serious interest in cooking only after moving to the mid-Atlantic and realizing that if I wanted to eat the same caliber of food I was used to on the West Coast, I was going to have to make it myself. Almost five years later and I have yet to find a decent bakery here. Meanwhile, my culinary explorations carried over into cocktails and I discovered bitters when I started making Sazeracs. Bitters, in case you didn’t know, are like spices for cocktails.

Rhuby Spirits
Then there are the wonderful spirits by Art in the Age of Mechanical Production. These I discovered while on a trip to Philly last year with my friend Lindsay. She has incredible taste and an eye for truly good and wonderful things; I owe her for this. As you can see, I’m almost out of my bottle of Rhuby, but I’m waiting until I’m back in Seattle to buy more. I will try Snap next. If you’re in Seattle sometime soon, come try it with me. Until then, you might familiarize yourself with Walter Benjamin’s essay and inspiration for the spirits’ creators: The Work of Art in the Age of Mechanical Production.

Even the most perfect reproduction of a work of art is lacking in one element: its presence in time and space, its unique existence at the place where it happens to be.

An apiary, a city, and beautiful cinematography.

Made by Hand / No 3 The Beekeeper. Via Made by Hand on Vimeo.

First I wanted chickens. Now I want bees. I don’t have either yet, but…maybe this summer. Will and I have been learning about wonderful things in our research on sustainable agriculture. Things about biodynamic farming, about the reasons behind different colored chicken eggs, and about how farming is a lot of long, hard work.

I also had my interest in beekeeping piqued after an interview with Denzel Mitchell of Five Seeds Farm. We drove half an hour to his farm in upstate Maryland, talking for a while at a long, stately wooden table in a light-bathed room. Then we meandered a mile or so down the road to his fields: me, Will, Denzel and his delightful daughter, followed by the long February sun. Even if you’re not a country person, you would have loved it out there. I just know it.

Denzel runs an apiary as part of his urban farming and my interest in bees was piqued. So I did a little research and came across the beautifully shot video above, and

With friends and crême brulée.

Last night, Will and I had his friend Glotz (aka Chris Glotzbach) over for dinner. Glotz is an old friend of Will’s. They met at the University of Maryland. He’s been Will’s financial advisor since before I met him and our dogsitter every once in a while. Everybody calls him Glotz, not Chris. So even today, after 10 years of knowing him, when he is referred to as Chris on that rare occasion, I always say, “Chris? Chris who?”

I told him I’d make crême brulée for his birthday. I love crême brulée. It’s one of my favorite desserts. It’s one of those foods that you hesitate to eat because it’s so elegant. So beautiful. It’s a food of amazing tactile qualities, with references to design elements: unity and variety, contrast, texture, and rhythm. Unified in its aesthetics –burnt golden atop a butter yellow lustre; layered in variety and contrast – a dark for a light, a caramel acrid for a creamy sweet. And finally, what I like best of all, steeped in texture and rhythm: the tap of a spoon to break the ice, plunging deep into waters of eggs, cream, and sugar; the rhythm of your tongue as it finds its way back to the surface of your spoon.

Heaven.