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A culinary affection

Waiting Games

Emile and an accordionIt’s public knowledge that toddlers are not known for their vast quantities of patience. Instead, the image is more of screaming, purple cries, stomping feet and/or thrashing on the floor. I often cover my face so I don’t get hit while Emile does his version of tilting at daddies. But he calms down quickly, at least, as I remind him of the obvious, saying “We don’t hit each other in this family.”

“But I want to,” is often his counter. And then there’s a discussion of why wanting to do something isn’t always a good enough reason to do it. At some point he will likely tack on a “But why?” and then we’ll have a whole new level of explanation to provide whilst ducking tiny blows.

Another tactic—I guess—is modeling the good behavior we want to see in him. Sometimes I tell him when I feel exasperated, but more often he notices my frustration and asks me what’s going on.

“Daddy just wishes the traffic light would turn green already.” “Well, I’ve been on hold for a while now and I would just like to resolve my customer service problem.” I’m sure a lot of this is over his head, but the point is that I’m talking despite my negative emotions, I’m digging a little deeper to continue being patient with an aggravating set of circumstances. That’s the lesson here, right?

We’re in Week 39 of Susanne’s pregnancy, and our patience at this point is thinner than a string of fibre optics carrying NSA eavesdroppers across the Atlantic Ocean. The baby is squirming, bonking Susanne from the inside, and throwing triple axels in a bid to become the youngest Olympian ever. It was several weeks ago now that mom redux started throwing her hips forward in a bid to maintain her center of gravity while walking, and now she’s just ready for a tiny human to emerge from her body. The cocoon is closing, kid. I whispered to her belly this morning, “Get out.” So far child number two ignores us as well as Emile does. Read More…

Buffet Lunches Leave Something to Be Desired

Hypothetically speaking, what if the lunch fare at one’s weekly meeting of philanthropists often left diners with a sense of . . . intestinal turmoil? What if many a Thursday–not all of them, certainly–included clutching at one’s midsection, hoping that none of the fellow meeting goers can see one’s distress as one drives out of the parking lot on the way toward one’s office across town? Would one necessarily become masterful at just smiling through the pain while waiting for it to pass? I suppose one would begin fantasizing about relief in one’s office rest room, before recalling that in that building, rooms are only separated by paper-thin walls, acting more like amplifiers than mufflers of decible-laden noise. At that point perhaps one recalculates one’s options, noting that there is also a family rest room in the first floor hallway.

Of course, at this point one may walk in, sphincter at red alert, and come to a disturbing scene in which some other human has decided to smear his or her excrement on the vinyl walls of the room. In all likelihood one would then back away in horror, nervously twitching and holding one’s nose in a vain attempt to shut out the wicked smell of decomposing stool. Oh, the humanity! Surely one would avoid coming into contact with any foreign substance, ducking into their own section of the building and smearing alcohol gel all over their topmost limbs up to their elbows, and over every inch of skin that had been exposed to the noxious air.

Maybe, just maybe, one would forget one’s own indigestion and simply cower at one’s desk, hoping the substantive content of one’s job was adequate for moving on from the terror of the previous 75 minutes. Perhaps one could find an Internet animated gif of a kitten jumping straight up and could move on emotionally to a better reality. And just say that at some point it would be time for one to head home to one’s toddler, who would pant at one through the living room window, calling out one’s name with a smile on his face, as if all was right with the world.

So in our hypothetical situation, say an entire week elapsed and one forgot the trauma of the previous Thursday, until such time that one came face-to-face with the same buffet, and what if it wasn’t until one was standing next to the “Spinach Chicken Cannolini” that one remembered the danger? Wouldn’t it look suspicious to one’s friends if one did not serve oneself, but acted as if one was better than the lunch presented? And then one would continue on with eating the meal and acting as if every internal organ agreed with the food consumption? And afterward one would smile again as one drove away, through gritted teeth and just enough taste of bile in the back of one’s mouth to set one into a real sense of urgency?

Wouldn’t that make a great short story?

How to Get Through Thanksgiving Without Overly Gendering Everything

It’s one thing to recognize I’ve reached adulthood, but it’s quite another to be able to look back over many, many years and see that the threshold was crossed quite a long time ago. I’ve now got under my belt a large swath of experiences that have pointed in the direction of today. When it comes to Thanksgiving, I’ve learned to perfect my turkey preparation, just one of many aspects to the day that are now part and parcel of the holiday for me.

I’ve also gotten attached to a certain table setting for Thanksgiving, and to having the Macy’s Day Parade on in the background as I cook, which let me just say really sucks for people in the Pacific Time Zone. For those of us who grow up with Thanksgiving through our childhood and into adulthood, we have expectations around something that happens in that day. Eating the crappy green bean casserole, or at least having it on the table, arguing about who sits where, making a particular holiday cookie, there’s always something.

Also in my personal history is the need to dress up. It’s a formalish dinner, with the special china laid out and the polished silver on the fancy schmancy tablecloth. Mom would even enlist me in ironing the napkins, which of course I hated but which of course she hated worse. Which is why the job fell on me. (Remind me sometime to tell you about the enormous Jabba the Hut pile of ironing in the downstairs laundry.)

Now then, dress up often meant dress, which by the time I’d reached adolescence was more often a clean sweater and khakis, but my point, as obtuse as I’ve made it, is this: Thanksgiving is a gendered experience. Who sits on the couch, yelling at the football game, and who is in the kitchen prepping the meal. Who does the dishes afterward, who carves the turkey, there are many moments throughout the day that tell us something about gender roles and expectations.

Now that Emile is more aware of his surroundings and the relationships of the adults around him, it’s occurred to me that there are things I can do–as the adult that I am now–to help dial down some of the more sexist traditions that my culture has handed to me. There’s nothing revolutionary here, but maybe if we can make it through the next 15 Thanksgivings with less emphasis on sexist ideology, we’ll have made a small difference in the experience for our family and friends. Some of the ideas that come to mind are: Read More…

More Injustice, This Time at the Walla Walla Farmer’s Market

Once again, Walla Walla gets mired between petty politics, entitlement, and good people.

The Curious Case of the Missing Yelp Reviews

yelp angry logoWalla Walla found its tourism groove when the rolling hills that once were covered in wheat fields gave way to grape growers, and rows of vines, carefully structured, took over the topography. Sitting on enormous paychecks, the Seattlites who worked at Yahoo! and Amazon and Microsoft discovered that it was a pretty drive through the Cascades or a quick flight to the tiny airport, and they could boast of their own wine club memberships, since Napa and Sonoma were booked full.

It was only a matter of time then, for a hospitality industry to respond to the need to serve the west-side tourist while they spent copious amounts of money in our little town. One of the fastest growing businesses in Walla Walla was the independent restaurant. In fact, there are no mid-range chain restaurants within the city limits; right next store in College Place is an Applebee’s, and that’s notable for its singularity of presence.

When the bottom fell out of the economy, many of the fine dining establishments closed up. Even the Microsoft executives were feeling the pinch. But time passed, and people started carving out new opportunities for themselves in the city’s downtown. A public house, a beer tavern, gourmet pizza, $9 sandwiches that boast of their hand-craftedness. In the space of one month two breakfast eateries opened up, and excited as we were, Susanne and I tried them both out to see if they would likely stick around or make it onto our dining circuit. Read More…

Desserts, Disasterously Easten

sugar panoramic eggsPicture a frozen lake midwinter, freshly fallen snow clinging to its banks as brightly colored skaters twirl about, carving figure 8s in the ice, while a protective line of evergreens takes up the background mountain range.

It all comes crashing apart as a gigantic tongue descends from the sky, slobbering over the scene and crashing onto the crowd. In one saliva-laden, fell swoop, the landscape is obliterated.

I look at the crumbled remains of the sugar egg on my mother’s dining room carpet, and think about Humpty Dumpty. There’s no putting this delicate creation back together, either. Now the paper figure skaters look unimpressive, lying among the crumbs of sugar on the area rug under the formal long dining table. Read More…

124 Is the Loneliest Number

main street, walla walla, circa 1920sWe went out a couple of weeks ago to Public House 124, a new eatery and watering hole on Walla Walla’s Main Street, and no location gets any more “heart of downtown” than this. Inside, brick walls run from the front windows to the kitchen area, where a counter lets patrons watch the culinary work in action just like over at Whitehouse Crawford. This isn’t surprising, I suppose, given that PH124’s chef used to work there; he’s doubled down with a former bartender at the Marcus Whitman Hotel, and yes, the drinks are pretty tasty. There’s no word yet on if the Cocoa Cowgirl, a pint-glass of liquor with a little bit of cream, made it over to this new establishment, but I’ll ask the next time I go.

Which will be when the weather has cooled off, because PH124 doesn’t have air conditioning. Read More…

Sucking the life out of a city

We’re just about at the two months to moving mark, as we’ll be heading back to beer brewing equipmentWalla Walla in January, a bit before classes start up again. This has propelled me into renewing my original intention to check out various eateries, classes, and people in Seattle while I still have time here. I suppose I could be beginning an affair with a sense of doom, but I’m appealing to what’s positive about this whole process—I’ve gotten to know a new city pretty well, I’m learning some new things, and I can look forward to spending time with friends I miss when we relocate early next year. Hey, I made saag paneer on my own last night and it was pretty good! I will note that I need to let the aromatics cook a bit longer when I put that dish together next time. Read More…

Interview with Graze

I’ve been curious about the people behind the newer eateries in downtown, so I decided to ask a few of them to give interviews about their lives as business owners, gourmands, and as part of a revitalized, local food community here. Last month, I sat down with the owners of the Colville St. Patisserie; this time around, I talked with the owners of Graze, a sandwich shop overlooking Mill Creek, and a catering business. Becca and John Lastoskie came to Walla Walla in a very food-model way: by sampling towns across the Pacific Northwest for a few days each. After some thought, they realized this was the town for them.

EM: Tell me what drew you each into cooking.

BL: Well. . .

JL: You first.

BL: I was putting myself through school and working at the Olive Garden, and the kinds of friends that I had were really cool, and they were talking about how they were going to go to Paragary’s in Sacramento, and how great it was, and I had no idea what it was. So I went in and applied for a job, and it was this whole, brand new world. I started hostessing and did that to try to get to waiting tables and I bartended for a while. I did that for a long time.

JL: You did that for ten years.

BL: I did that for a long, long time.

JL: Yeah, and I knew nothing about good food. I started working as a dishwasher at an Italian restaurant. Went to college, got a degree, and as I was just finishing up college I got a job making French fries, chicken strips, and another cook there said, “my brother works at the best restaurant in Sacramento.” I really liked to cook, but I didn’t know anything about what the food was, or what, but I thought if his brother could get a job, I could get a job, so I met the chef and he asked, “what can you make?” And I said “I can make ranch dressing.” He asked, “how do you make ranch dressing,” and I gave him the recipe for it, half-part buttermilk, half-part mayonnaise, packet. And he was impressed, so he hired me. And I met Becca the first day working there.

EM: Wow. And that’s when you knew this new world of stuff was really interesting?

JL: Yeah, it was like the second week of work at Paragary’s and I had a sandwich with rosemary, pumpernickel, artichoke hearts and other things and I thought this is the best thing I’ve ever had in my life—what did you do? Is there magic dust in it? And from there I just turned to learning.

EM: Okay, so fast forward now to Graze and what’s your vision for your restaurant?

JL: You go first.

BL: Um, boy. Graze is . . .

JL: It’s like counseling, we’ve never done this before.

BL: The sandwich shop is kind of what we always thought it would be. I think the menu could be a little bit bigger, I think there are a few things I would change a little bit, but we’re just starting out having never done this before, but we’re on track with what we envisioned: simple, for people who don’t know much about food, and when they come in, might keep trying something different.

JL: They’ll start with the turkey bacon panini, and then they’ll see something with Béchemel, and say, oh wow, let me try that. Not to try to teach people but to have good, nice, honest food, we should be able to fit all people, have them walk in, want to eat something that’s really good, and I think we’ve kind of hit that whole demographic. When you look around the room, oh, there’s a couple kids who really know what they’re doing, all the way to someone who probably eats Chef Boyardee Stroganoff every night. And they’re equally comfortable ordering off our menu, so I think it’s the one great thing, we can serve all. We get them all. Not enough kids. We see two-year-olds, and then we don’t see them until their teens.

EM: You have some complicated flavor profiles in some of these sandwiches. How did you develop the menu?

JL: How would you know, Everett, you always get the turkey sandwich!

BL: He always gets the turkey sandwich?

EM: No, no, I get other things there.

JL: Turkey sandwich, no tomato. [Ed. note: this is patently untrue.]

BL: I don’t know why people put tomatoes on everything anyway. Even when they’re not in season, when they’re not good.

EM: So tell me, how did you come up with the menu?

BL: Well, we knew we had to have some standard things.

JL: You have to include things that make people feel comfortable.

BL: And then, we love chimchurri sauce, so we put that on. And that’s based on seasons, too; you can always get parsley and cilantro.

JL: Yeah, and the menu actually revolves around the space, because it’s based on a Subway. There’s no stove, there’s no oven, so we looked at the space and said, okay, how do we make this work for fast service, good price, and we developed a menu. A few years ago when we were catering, we thought a good promotional thing would be to go serve something at the farmer’s market. The first week at the farmer’s market, we made Belgian waffles.

BL: Oh my God, it was just bad.

JL: Belgian waffles with raspberries and fresh whipped cream, it’s just heaven when you make them yourself. So, we thought we’d also make panini. Waffle for breakfast, then as the day goes on, panini. Well, I burned one out of three waffles, and I was so angry about it. For every waffle that I gave somebody that they paid for, I was basically giving it to them for free, because I’d burned the previous one and undercooked the second one, and they’re standing there for 15 minutes watching me fumble around with the waffle iron, but the paninis we sold out of those right away. Then I said, okay, we’re going to do paninis, and we sold out again, and so we started serving the turkey bacon panini that we serve here, and five weeks later, we’re selling 120 paninis. So we realized we were on to something. So that’s how the sandwich shop came about. Since we have a catering business there’s no way we’re opening a real restaurant. We’re cautious—you can lose a ton of money opening a restaurant. But that’s the evolution of it.

EM: Why Walla Walla? What is it you think about Walla Walla that’s interesting or a good place to set up shop?

BL: That’s a really good question. (laughs)

JL: It’s a good story. We were living in downtown Sacramento, on the verge of a [bad] neighborhood. In one direction, it was pretty nice, but 180 degrees in the other direction, it just got incredibly bad. Two blocks away were two murders. We decided to move to Portland, and then we started reading this book, called The Next Great Place, about smaller towns with a great quality of life.

EM: Was Walla Walla in that?

BL: No, no. Not at all.

JL: No. Although Walla Walla would probably be in that book if they rewrote it now.

BL: I’d always thought about living in a small town, I’d thought I’d enjoy small town life. Coming from California, it sounded kind of cool. So we thought, okay, we’ll sell our house and we’re gonna move to Portland, so we packed up with our kid who was 17 months old.

JL: We decided, after reading this book—

BL: You didn’t read the book.

JL: Yeah, I did. I read the book. So, we packed up our son, our stray dog, we tried to live in each of the towns on our list for three or four days. It sounds incredible, but we didn’t have a great plan.

BL: And in my mind, we went the wrong direction. We went northeast, to the desert side of the mountains, instead of going up the coast. We went the wrong way. So we made it up to Coeur d’Alene.

JL: So on our list were all the like, small cities and towns—

BL: Bend, Missoula, Boise. . .

JL: And then, when we were in Bend, someone actually said, a young couple with a couple of kids, said, what you’re describing sounds like Walla Walla, you should go there. Okay, so we stopped here on our way to Coeur d’Alene, and after just a couple of days, I was saying to Becca, it’s great, this is the place to come to. She agreed with me. So then we came here, and fought, madly.

BL: And we’d never fought before.

EM: But at that point?

BL: Yeah. Well, not so much a fight, but a discussion about what to do. We wound up going to Portland after our trip, and had a really good coffee. We went to a bookstore, heard some great music, talked about it.

JL: We decided [to] drive back to Walla Walla, spend a couple nights there, and see. We came back, and we stayed. It was completely the right move. If we were going to do anything with food, there were talented people here, didn’t have to spend a lot of money, or need a lot of experience. I was a school teacher in Sacramento, and to move out to Portland or Seattle to set up a shop and get in there was not as appealing.

EM: Are you saying there is something less pressured about Walla Walla?

JL: I looked around and decided, a catering business would work here. It’s way less risky than opening a restaurant. It’s more precision-oriented. At a restaurant, you’re gonna buy a bunch of food and you hope people walk in the door. If people don’t walk in the door, you throw a bunch of food away. So, at the time, nobody in Walla Walla was doing that kind of food in a catering business.

EM: It can be hard to break into a catering market.

JL: It was difficult, yeah. But a lot of interesting things happened and in a couple of years, the catering business—we have turned into a very large caterer, with lots and lots of events, with fairly high quality [food].

EM: Where do you see yourselves with regard to local or organic producers and the market here?

JL: The food costs for the catering business—my costs for the catering business are higher than any other catering business in town. I spend plenty on goods from local farmers. Number one we do everything from scratch. This summer we’ll probably buy 80 percent of our stuff from local farmers. As for the sandwich shop now, pretty much all of our stock is coming from a couple of local farmers. And I’ve told them, you walk in the door with it, we’ll buy it. So, they show up with salad greens, whatever. For summer weddings, I’ll show up at the farmer’s market at 7:30 in the morning and buy five giant boxes of things, fill up the back of the truck, take it to the catering kitchen, prep it, and then we’ll go to the wedding. So we try to have a good relationship with everybody who goes to the farmer’s market. It’s good to be tied to a community. We were asked [to do a May 15 wedding] so we got meat from Thundering Hooves, asparagus from Bonnie, we got milk and cream that we turned into butter from Pure Eire, we got garlic scapes and lettuces, the whole meal was 98 percent local.

BL: So how can you go wrong?

JL: Even being that local, you can get caught forgetting some of the things that are available, so on a menu that you arrange with somebody two months in advance, I show up at the farmer’s market and buy my stuff, and then I see something that would be awesome for today, but I can’t not give them what I promised, so it’s hard. We may show up with a different menu than we drew up! So that’s our relationship with food providers here. The only thing that stinks is that we only have a growing season of 8 months.

EM: Do you have anything you want to share about your next plans? New menu items?

JL: We’re opening three restaurants simultaneously.

BL: John maybe is, his vision is he’d like to open more Graze sandwich shops. Maybe one in Tri-Cities. I’d like to expand Graze here.

JL: The idea was to provide the high quality of food at a lower price with the fast service of a Subway. I want to have one central kitchen that serves a few stores. If we’re talking big picture, we still don’t know what’s really going on, but if [the sandwich shop] does what I think it can do, then the idea of putting up a number of them all in a similar geographic area, servicing from one central kitchen, isn’t crazy. It’s reproducing a whole nother business model. At the heart is the food. And really, I just want to eat nice stuff. I wouldn’t want to sell food if I felt like people weren’t getting a value. If you don’t walk away saying, I’m really glad I had lunch there—I never want anyone to walk away saying I don’t like what they did, because if they did that they wouldn’t want to come back.

EM: Now that summer is upon you, what ingredients are you excited to work with?

JL: I went to see this lady; we have a blog, and we went to Portland, and saw padrone peppers, and we got an email from a woman who said she had a whole back yard full of padrone peppers. I never met her, I don’t know who she is, but I really want someone here to grow padrone peppers. Put the word out, Everett.

EM: Okay!

BL: I’d love to see just basil and tomatoes. They’re just summer to me. I know it’s the same answer anyone would give, but to me, that’s what summer tastes like.

EM: Anything else you want to add?

BL: I’m really glad we’re doing what we’re doing.

Graze’s hours are posted at http://www.grazeevents.com/

Interview with the Colville Street Patisserie Owners

Cain and ChristensenTiffany Cain and David Christensen represent a new generation of restaurant owners in Walla Walla. I’ve been curious about the people behind the newer eateries in downtown, so I decided to ask a few of them to give interviews about their lives as business owners, gourmands, and as part of a revitalized, local food community here. Taking over the Colville Street Patisserie in 2008, Cain and Christensen quietly began updating the items in the shop, giving the windows a new look, and making the place their own. David previously was the pastry chef at Whitehouse Crawford and Tiffany was the owner of The Weinhard Cafe east of town, in Dayton. I sat down with them last week to talk about their adventures in cooking, or more precisely, baking. French style.

EM: Talk about how you found your way into the kitchen.

DC: I started cooking just to feed myself. I’ve had a lot of fast food jobs, since I was 14. Diners, French fry stands, other places. Then I moved to Walla Walla. Cooking was something I turned out to enjoy. My mom cooked a lot when we were kids. It was all pretty good. She definitely made an effort to teach each of us how to do it.

TC: It was really a calculated move for me. I don’t like offices. I first started out baking. My mom was really strict with our diets, so I really was excited about making desserts! So that’s how I learned to cook. I just really love being around food.

EM: Tell us the difference between a patisserie and a bakery.

DC: A patisserie is a pastry shop. The emphasis is more on dessert, whether it be cookies, tarts, baked goods that aren’t breads. They definitely have a French technique, but my spin is that there’s no point in just replication.

EM: What is your typical baking day like?

TC: The sobbing starts.

DC: I try to get here at 4:30. Start the ovens, start with things that aren’t yeasted, like the macaroons, the paris brist, then the things like croissants go in around 7. By the afternoon we’re making ice creams and doing assembly for things like the individual tarts, mousse, and other fillings.

Fruit tartsEM: I kind of want to know how much butter you go through.

DC: You want to know?

EM: Yes.

DC: It’s 24–30 pounds of butter for the croissants, and 30–50 pounds for everything else.

EM: Where do you go for inspiration?

DC: Part of it is just having a fairly good understanding of what the classics are and how I can duplicate the spirit of it with a twist. Like the chocolate filled congolais. That’s not how it is classically made.

TC: It makes sense, though. Mounds bar.

EM: Maybe you could put an almond in the middle, too.

TC: He was able to do things like this when he was a sous chef at Whitehouse Crawford.

EM: Tell us what you’re going to bring to the case this summer that we haven’t seen before.

DC: More big, fruity desserts. Crunchy, more crumbly pastry shells. More melon, some other fruits.We’ve also been thinking about a fancy but low-brow s’mores idea, with homemade marshmallows and the macaroon cookie. And we use the blow torch, like for the crème brulée.

EM: Oh?

TC: We had some lemon marshmallows left over one day and we heated them with the blow torch, melting the outside but leaving the middle solid. And we tried them and said, oh wow, that’s good!

EM: What flavors or ingredients are you most excited about using?

DC: This time of year I’m really excited about strawberries. I’m really tired of using apples all winter. Welcome Table Farm has an early berry coming out soon. So does Klicker’s. Actually they have strawberries all summer long.

TC: I think we’re also excited to be making all of the gelato out of local milk from Pure Eire.

DC: They’re the only grass fed raw and fresh pasteurized milk producer around here.

TC: We can’t use the raw milk for the gelato. It’s flash pasteurized. And it’s really good.

EM: I see people bring their goods into the shop. Talk about the environment here for food producers, growers, and restauranteurs.

TC: It’s really changed in the time I’ve been here, about 15 years. The farmer’s market downtown was really small. Now there are lots of young couples in their 30s who own little farms. That’s really changed in the last 5 years here. You don’t have to look hard for them because it’s obvious they’re here. So 15 years ago people moved here or moved back. Back then there was My Grandmother’s Garden, that’s always been here, and they had herbs and other produce. Now there are a lot of places to go, and a nice camaraderie of owners here.

EM: What would you tell others who are interested in doing what you do?

TC: Idiots! No, no. If you want fame but not fortune, do it.

DC: Go find a place you like, bug them until they let you work, for free if you have to. You don’t have to go to culinary school to get started.

TC: Yes, find out if you like it before you make an investment.

DC: It’s good to familiarize yourself with how kitchens and restaurants work.

TC: I’m always a fan of the shortcut.

EM: As long as there’s chocolate inside.

TC: Yes!

The Colville Street Patisserie is located at the corner of Alder and Colville Streets. For hours, check their Web site.

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