A Non-Review of the Willows Inn, Lummi Isl., WA: Locavore or Loco-what?

While I do not do restaurant reviews or “serious” essays on IslandEAT, I have been thinking about a recent fine-dining “locavore” experience at the Willows Inn, Lummi Island, Washington.  It was one of New York Times10 Restaurants Worth a Plane Ride.  This is a lofty honour for a restaurant on an obscure island of 800 year-round residents off Bellingham, WA.

If you are not familiar with the term – in its most simplistic definition  – “locavore” refers to a person who focuses on local, in-season foods, in large part or exclusively.  The philosophy behind this “locavorean” ideal is that local foods:

  1.  Taste better, as they have not traveled tremendous distances.
  2. Work better together, as they are from the same area/region.
  3. Feature high nutritional value: they are fresh, seasonal, and often organic.
  4. Benefit the environment more, due to less packaging and transportation.
  5. Create less waste (see #4) and are to satisfy – but not stuff.
  6. Support local economies, small farmers, and independent growers.
  7. Represent how humans – or other animals – are meant to eat.

The above definition is my explanation and understanding of what constitutes a “locavorean” approach to eating.  It is one that makes sense to me as well as one I try to follow, to a large extent.  For me, I cannot find – or “source” – locally produced citrus, avocados, olive oil, cocoa/chocolate, vanilla beans, coffee, and tea (black, green, or white, that is, as opposed to herbal teas or tisanes).  Hence, I am not a hard-line “locavore”, as I have not stopped consuming these staples – at least staples in my kitchen.

Salmon comes from the Gulf Islands, though the lemon does not...

However, I eat only blackberries I have picked, as they are free and abundant in the Gulf Islands; buy eggs – all free-range/grain-fed/organic – just a 20-minute walk up the road; and have harvested nettles for cooking.   It is rare that I have any fish or shell fish from outside the seafood-rich waters of British Columbia, even some of which comes from right off this island.  (Here are some of my favourite recipes for maple-ginger-soy salmonsalmon chowderhalibut with lime-ginger-cayennehalibut cheeks, and scallops in brown butter with hazelnuts.)  Last week, I had eaten lamb raised on a farm on the other side of the bay, which I can see right from our house.  So that is pretty good, as far as “locavores” go.  I am privileged to live in a place where all this is possible.

For the “non-review”, keep reading…

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Guest Post by Moby on I Can Haz Food Blog?

I have been posting on IslandEAT for nearly one-and-a-half years ago – without any requests to do a guest post yet.  However, George and Jinja did an April Fools cat-food blog, but they already have their first guest cat food-blogger, Moby (AKA, “Mobesity Dog-Roast”).

Read about Moby and his many food issues on I Can Haz Food Blog?

IslandEAT will return with human-appropriate food matters shortly.

Avocado Sandwiches: Possibilities & Permutations

Are you looking for an avocado sandwich recipe? I was not really until I came across a recipe in Australia’s glorious gastro-porn, delicious.

In fact, I have hesitated to post about sandwiches, as they seem, um, well, so easy and straightforward.  So why bother?  Then this month’s Saveur arrived: The Sandwich Issue.  I happened to note that this excellent, wide-ranging, and thorough overview of (mostly American) sandwiches did not have many of the avocado varieties I often eat.

Avocado is one of the best sandwich ingredients I have come to realize over the years.  In fact, I myself have developed a number of avocado sandwiches varieties – more or less variations and permutations of other classics.

For instance, instead of a classic bacon-lettuce-and-tomato, I use prosciutto, a bit of mayonnaise, avocado, and tomato – faster, easier, and less messy than cooking bacon. This is one of my favourite sandwiches.  I serve it on sourdough, wholegrain, or even challah, for real decadence.  In my feeble attempt to mitigate the sandwich’s fat content, I remove the white lardy edges of the prosciutto and offer it to Jinja and George (who, BTW, might continue their April Fools Day food blog, I Can Haz Food Blog, due to interest from readers of IslandEAT).  These two cats sure love their prosciutto!

One sandwich I have developed of late is kind of a French tartine, with slow-roasted garlic spread over Dijon mustard on a multigrain flatbread or crackers, topped with a sliced avocado fanned out in wedges.  Sea salt (fleur de sel works especially well) and scads of freshly cracked black pepper are all you need for a great snack, brunch option, or lunch.  The tangy mustard and and nutty sweetness of the roasted garlic are superb complements for the rich creaminess of the avocado and the crunchy counterpoint of the flatbread – and vegan, vegetarian, and very healthful, too!

For the recipe – and the review…

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George and Jinja announce their new food blog

George and Jinja, who have more time to post than I these days, would like to announce their new cat-food blog, I Can Haz Food Blog? Check it out.

IslandEAT will return next week with human recipes.

 

Chill-Out Brownies: High Temperature Baking + Ice-water Bath = Creamy Interior + Chewy Crust

Are you looking for yet another brownie recipe? I was not, until I had come across one with a very unusual technique from the great Alice Medrich.

I though my brownie recipe collection to be complete, what with the extravaganza that is Ina Garten’s Outrageous Brownies, my grandmother Jessie’s very gooey double-chocolate brownie, the original 1897 brownie recipe, or the spectacular iced double-chocolate, double-malt brownies.  Really, I was not seeking another one for my arsenal.  After all, I have an entire cookbook dedicated to brownie recipes and a number of tried-and-true versions, with which I am completely satisfied.

However, I had borrowed Ms. Medrich’s book from the library, in an attempt to read more library cookbooks, rather than my habit of buying more and more.  This particular recipe jumped out at me.  Apparently, an acquaintance of hers named “Steve” rescued a batch of brownies from an oven which was much too high (or on fire – the author was not sure which) and immediately plunged the pan into an ice-water bath. Ms. Medrich relates that the brownies turned out to be very creamy, far from dry, with a chewy crust.  Thus, the “Steve ritual” intrigued me enough to try yet another recipe.

I had returned last week from a trip to Connecticut to visit my family, with a bit of time in New York; the latter destination was a day on my own for, in pursuit of evaluating the top cookies in the city at Levain Bakery and Momofuku’s Milk Bar.  I enjoyed my comparative taste-testing of Levain’s famed dark-chocolate-chocolate chip cookie and David Chang’s even better-known “compost cookies”.  This was most fun – actually it was a highlight of my trip – not to imply that seeing my family is not fun…

When I needed to make brownies for a potluck baby shower in Vancouver, I decided to try out this mysterious technique.

Gratuitous Floral Interlude

With the first day of spring – a Very Important Day of the Year – fast approaching, I noticed that the camellia outside our kitchen door finally started to bloom.  It is very late in blooming this year, what with the La Nina and her cold-wet winter, here in Canada’s so-called moderate Mediterranean climate (NB:  notice the teeth marks on the leaf below the flower – the local deer keep chewing the camellia’s leaves, although they are not supposed to like such leaves. Please get the word out to any deer you know…).

For the brownie review – and the recipe

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Avgolemono Soup: Fast Flavourful Greek Egg-Lemon Soup

Do you need a quick yet unusual soup to help you get through the end of winter? Avgolemeno soup, in my abbreviated version, is bright, creamy, and healthful.  It is thick and rich, yet relatively low-fat and easy to make.  This is one of my favourite soups to make during the winter for its simplicity and ingredients, which I regularly stock.

Avgolemono soup is a traditional Greek soup, which requires eggs and lemons for its consistency and lively taste.  While it is generally chicken-based, recipes sometimes call for vegetarian stock or other meat broths.  NB:  I do not agree with the Wikipedia entry for avgolemono soup “invariably” curdling, when refrigerated and reheated; I have not had this happen to me.

I have fond memories of avgolemeno soup from living in “Chicagoland”.  Greater Chicago had such an influx of immigrants in the 19th and 20th centuries that it would make such claims as more Poles than anywhere in the world except for Warsaw and more Greeks than any place outside Athens.  There were many outstanding Greek restaurants throughout Chicago, as well as diners, coffee shops, and other such American-style restaurants run by people of Greek descent.

As my family ate out many times each week while I was growing up, we often had Greek cuisine in “Greektown” as well as eating in Greek-influenced diners.  Avgolemeno (“egg-lemon”) soup was frequently on the menu in the former and the latter, with the name always in English at the diners. Except during my strictest vegetarian years, I always enjoyed avgolemono soup.

Gratuitous feline and fowl photos

George seems to be pondering when spring will arrive.

Any sprouts coming up yet?

Jinja may be looking around the corner for spring….

While a bald eagle appears to be contemplating spring nest locations.

For the review – and the recipe

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S’mores Bars: The Classic Campfire Treat, Indoors or Out

When was the last time you had s’mores around a raging campfire? Yesterday?  Sometime during your childhood?  Never?

For those of you who did not have a North American childhood, “s’mores” is a contraction of “some more” – it is a challenge to eat just one.  S’mores consist of graham crackers, marshmallows, and chocolate. There are two ways of making them:

1. Large marshmallows are toasted on a stick or skewer over a campfire and then placed between two graham crackers with a piece of chocolate (the residual heat will melt the chocolate or at least soften it to make the sandwich.

2.  Marshmallows and chocolate are placed in between two graham crackers and wrapped in a piece of aluminum foil (or in a wire basket) which then go close to the fire to heat up the mixture for a melted chocolate-marshmallow result.

Apparently, it was the Girl Scouts in the U.S. who can claim bragging rights to these delectable sandwiches.   Tramping and Trailing with the Girl Scouts came out way back in 1927.  The first published recipe made it into this fascinating guide-book (the title alone makes it worth seeking, at used book stores or rummage sales…).

I made s’mores bars for a new year’s bonfire/potluck party.  Originally, I planned to bring the ingredients for s’mores:  However I could not figure out how anyone could make these in a relatively safe manner, in front of raging fire – not your average campfire.  Fortunately, I had come across a simple and quick recipe Cajun Chef Ryan posted right before new year’s.

On our island, recycling is a major past-time, as is composting and “burns”.  The latter only can take place between mid-October and mid-April.  Such fires are ways of getting rid of non-toxic debris, as we have no municipal garbage pick up.

Gratuitous kitty pictures – to keep things in perspective:

Jinja likes to hide at the bottom of a branch-filled giant vase.

From this angle, Jinja looks like a giant cat, emerging from said vase.

For the recipe and the review…

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Triple Mushroom Barley Soup: Hot, Hearty, Healthful Fare

Looking for an easy flavourful yet wholesome soup for the winter doldrums? This triple-mushroom recipe is the perfect antidote to snow, cold, rain, wind, or whatever weather is making you crave a sturdy soup.  Even if you live in more temperate climes, this soup should cure any longing for mushrooms in a full-flavoured yet exceedingly nutritious meal.

I had been looking to use up a gift of a handful of dried porcini from Poland and had some organic cremini on hand, making me think mushroom soup would be in order.  This recipe recently appeared on Smitten Kitchen, from which I adapted it slightly (it originally was in the New York Times).  As Smitten Kitchen was the first food blog I followed, I thought this recipe would be appropriate for my first visit from a food blog-buddy I had never met before  – in person, that is – Jackie of I Am A Feeder.

Jackie’s site never fails to entertain or educate me. I find it very unusual to discover consistently humourous food blogs.  There are those blogs, which have to use “LOL”, “LMAO”, or such to let me know they are supposed to be funny; hers is not one of them.  I first came across Jackie’s site it while waiting for a flight at YVR (the Vancouver airport, where there is free WiFi!) last May, and it made me chuckle out loud (“COL”?), in the U.S.-departures lounge.  Since then, we have been following each other’s sites.  While we missed getting together in the UK during our visit last October, Jackie made it out to our little island in the Pacific.

I went into Vancouver first to meet Jackie, and the two of us visited some Vancouver food and culinary hot-spots and not-so-hot-spots, as Jackie mentioned on her site.  It was fun to get to know each other in town and back on the island, via very different experiences.  I thought it would be good to introduce Jackie to slow-cooker Italian beef sandwiches, a distinctive Chicago specialty, to prepare for her upcoming visit there.  But the mushroom soup seemed to be a good starter for the meal, if not a traditional one.

I had just about everything on hand for the soup.  We popped out to the local market for some more mushrooms and barley, spelt, or faro (“far-what?” was the clerk’s response, when I asked), but fortunately the shop across the road had “pot” barley – I wonder if they stock this variety for its cheeky reference to British Columbia’s major economic driver).

As it is not quite spring in B.C., it is time for a gratuitous floral interlude, amidst all this brown soup:

For the review and recipe…

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Cocoa Angel Food Cake with Marshmallow-Meringue Icing: No-Fat But Loads of Flavour

Can a home-made cake be fat-free and flavourful? The cocoa angel food cake proves it is possible, capped off with a fluffy seven-minute-style icing (I used the same frosting as on the chocolate-malt-buttercream cupcakes).

I enjoy a challenge when it comes to baking.  As with the oaty-almond crisps (dairy- and gluten-free), I like to find recipes which suit the dietary requirements without resorting to “fake” baked goods.  Thus, I decided to try my hand at baking an appropriately significant cake for a friend’s landmark birthday, one which required a low-fat dessert.

On my island, we have a “free store”, called the “redirectory”. Essentially, the “redirectory” – sounds much more high fallutin’ than “free store –  is like a thrift shop or second-hand store without any costs.  The Gulf Islands do not have municipal garbage pick-up, so people try to recycle, compost, and donate useful items as much as possible, more than in places where there is weekly or daily garbage (and it provides income to the entrepreneurs who haul garbage, off-island, at $5 a large sack).  The theory is that people will donate items in good condition, other than clothes (the one church-run thrift store does that), and those who need something will take it, saving used goods from garbage dumps.

So I found an angel food cake pan more than a year ago at the “redirectory”.  I put off making angel food cake, with all the other cakes vying for attention – not to mention the sheer number of eggs and care needed for making angel food cakes.  However, I have made sponge cakes and génoise cakes before, and I decided that I should give it a try.

I also had found an antique angel-food-cake slicer, at a vintage shop on a trip to Vachon Island, Washington, last September.  It is an elegant implement, used for angel food or chiffon cakes exclusively, though it is somewhat reminiscent of afro-picks from the 1970s, as a guest pointed out.  What other implement can have such disparate associations and represent fundamentally oppositional eras?  There is the prim-and-proper ladies’ tea – think of the 1920s-1950s heydey of angel food cakes and the newcomer, the chiffon cake. In the 1920s, the angel food’s richer sister, the chiffon cake, had its official coming out as a sassy debutante.  For these two desserts, I picture:  white gloves, white bread sandwiches, white cake, and white ladies, on the one hand.  On the other,  the Afro-pick connotes, for me, big-curly hair, free-love, sex, and drugs and rock-and-roll – from the Summer of Love through the disco era of the 1970s.

For the cake review – and the recipe… Continue reading

Spicy Masala Tomato Soup: Classic North American Comfort Fare with an Indian Twist

What happens when you combine down-home tomato soup with Indian spices?  Spicy masala tomato soup is the inter-cultural result.

Every winter around January, I seem to have a hankerin’ for traditional cream of tomato soup.   I grew up with the canned Campbell’s variety.  Sometimes I like to think I had a Warholesque-childhood, but, in truth, it was far more suburban and prosaic than that.  I never really liked the thin tinny-tasting tinned soup.  However, I later developed an appreciation for the home-made version.  I had tried the “real” soup at dinner parties and home-cookin’ restaurants, where the tomato’s true identity shines through.

A few years ago, I came across Martha Stewart’s recipe for tomato soup.     Although I never use the cream option, this version makes a fine North American “cream” of tomato soup (NB:  I would double the ingredients to make a larger portion, as a matter of course).  It is the kind of tomato soup which would pair perfectly with a grilled cheese sandwich for lunch on a rainy or snowy day.  The ingredients are generally in a well-stocked home pantry, so the soup can be ready in just over one-half hour.

I decided to adapt the recipe to incorporate “Madrasi Masala”, which my friend Kip had given us as part of an Xmas gift.  Commercial break:

Looking for unique jewelry or gorgeous photography?  Visit Kip’s Etsy site for her marvelous, distinctive handmade jewelry and stunning original photography. Some of Kip’s vibrant photographs are even food-related!

In case you did not know, “masala” means mixture and often is a blend of spices, varying from place to place.  It can also be a spicy tomato-base for curries (typical of the Punjab region, for instance).  Kip’s particular blend from the Madras region worked well in a Sri Lankan dal I had made a week earlier.  I wanted to make more use of the tantalizing spice blend.

For the review of the soup – and the recipe

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