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Thursday
Oct112012

A Fresh-Picked meal: my own Foodportunity

This post is an entry in Keren Brown’s Foodportunity contest. The contest: to describe your Foodportunity, “what does an opportunity in food look like to you?” After four years of doing a site all about food events, I have a lot to say about what it has brought to my table & life. So here it is! With several slideshows from events and Fresh-Picked-inspired activities.(And don’t forget to get your tickets to Foodportunity! It’s on October 22! Buy tickets here. It always sells out, don’t delay.)


To an outside observer, it was a disorganized menu. There were scrambled eggs and pancakes, so I guess it could have been considered a breakfast-for-dinner themed meal. But then there was grilled asparagus, bread and butter (why so much starch?), a fruity sort of cocktail, and cobbler for dessert (yes, even after pancakes).

The organizing principle had only been to make dinner for myself and my houseguest, using what I already had on hand. As we carried the food out to the backyard to eat, I realized the dishes and drinks did have something in common: everything on the table had its origins in a food event. It was an entirely Fresh-Picked meal.

The eggs were from the ducks at Dog Mountain Farm, where I had taken my friend for a class on edible flowers. Chive flowers from the farm were mixed into the eggs, and the nasturtium blossom compound butter we made in class was on the bread. The bread was from Essential Baking Company, whose head baker, George DePasquale, was one of my favorite teachers when I worked at a cooking school.

The mesquite-flour pancakes were served with mesquite jelly-infused maple syrup, both ingredients brought back from a visit to my folks in Arizona. The habits I’ve developed working on Fresh-Picked Seattle now inspire me to check out local food events and native wild foods wherever I travel.

There was also a blueberry compote (Pantry carnival treats class); that asparagus (not usually a fan, but had recently been convinced to give another chance during a morel-hunting trip with food friends Naomi and Jen); fruity cocktail with kumquat syrup from another food pal, Brook (whom I’d assisted at preserving classes at Jubilee Women’s Center); and, as mentioned, cobbler.

The cobbler had extra resonance. The recipe is from Langdon Cook’s website, and I always mark the starting point of my somewhat life-changing interest in wild food to an October 2009 event with him. It was a book talk organized by that lynchpin of Seattle food events, Keren Brown. Langdon spoke about his experiences foraging, and – as a person who had until recently mainly gone outdoors to smoke – I was baffled at and fascinated by the prospect of just identifying wild plants at all, much less eating them.

 


A Fresh-Picked day in Carnation

I left the event, walked down to a park, took a picture of a weird fruit on a tree, and came home to Google image my way to identifying it (it was a strawberry tree). And now, three years later, after several classes with Langdon and about one gazillion other wild food and botany events, I’ve taught my own plant identification class. My free time is organized around the wild harvest: nettle-picking trips in the spring, berry collection in the summer. And that cobbler on the table contained salmonberries my friend and I picked earlier that weekend.

All these food events hadn’t just changed what’s on my table; they’d changed the landscape (in some cases, literally) of my day-to-day life. And, frankly, it had needed changing.

*****

I moved to Seattle on a whim, right before I turned 30. I had the hubris of a young person; it didn’t occur to me that I wouldn’t find a job, have a social circle, or figure things out.

In fact, everything fell apart. It was as if the pigeons of poor decisions, stubborn single-mindedness, un-delayed gratifications, and impatient impulsivity all came home to roost. And poop all over everything.

I was broke, disoriented from the move, and didn’t know many people. I did find a job, but it was a virtual, at-home job: good in some respects, but not for making community in your immediate, non-virtual world. My primary memories from that first gray winter in Seattle are standing in the dark outside my front door, smoking (more poor decisions), and being utterly stunned by how swiftly my world had constricted to a tiny circumference. Every day I woke up, stumbled to my computer, worked for a bunch of hours, stood outside for a cigarette and worried that this tiny daily route I was traveling – tens of feet, if that! – was as far as my life was going to go.

A chocolate tasting class, one of the first food events I attended.

 

 

So I tried to get the hell out of the hole I’d dug for myself. I got a second job writing for pay (something I’d never managed to get my act together enough to do before), and when I became interested in finally learning how to cook, I got a third job working at a cooking school. I hustled. I volunteered. I signed up for classes, tours, events. I did my best to make friends. I didn’t do super well at it, and vacillated between blaming myself and blaming the Seattle freeze. I kept bumping up against the constricted circumference of this new life-in-my-30’s and I kept trying to poke my way through.

Then four years ago, I did another thing on a whim. Having worked at cooking school, and being in the market for things to do, I noticed that there wasn’t a central calendar for all the food stuff going on. There were all-purpose event calendars, and people who wrote about food in Seattle, but not a basic food event calendar.

I thought: Well, I’ll just make one. Other than that initial cursory Googling, I did no market research. I just thought it sounded like a good idea. I thought it would be the ticket out of the constricted life I was living. I’m embarrassed now recalling how (vocally) grumpy and frustrated I was that the site didn’t immediately take off.

Eventually, though, things started happening.

Nearly every event I listed on the site seemed like an interesting and fun thing to do. So naturally, in addition to putting them on the calendar, I went to whole heck of a lot of them. I met people. I made friends.  I learned stuff.  I got inspired by other people’s enthusiasm and earnestness. I started to feel less and less doomed to that tiny daily route, that frighteningly constricted life.

Every week brought with it the fun of novelty: new information, new skills, new people, new experiences. All of it served not just to be interesting in the moment, but to remind me that the world is full of possibilities. And when the world seems bleakly devoid of juicy potential, it’s my job to get up and go look for it.

*****

 


Helping my friend Brook as she taught canning to the women of Jubilee Women's Center

This summer, after that visit from my friend, I took a break from the site. My day job was just too busy, and my remaining hours, too precious. My learning about wild food had opened a door to the outdoors in general (here’s me talking on KUOW a little more about that). I’d gotten into hiking, and I wanted to spend my sunny summer off-hours climbing up hills, not hunched over my computer.

Fresh-Picked had changed the landscape of my life, but I needed to map out how to fit the site into that new landscape. While I was sincere about wanting to bring it back, a little part of me wondered if it was time to give it up.

On the last weekend before the last day of summer, I went to the Washington Outdoor Women Weekend Workshop (Lady Camp, as my friend Naomi called it). The workshop is two days of learning about all sorts of outdoor stuff: hunting, fishing, wild edibles, survival, fire-starting, wildlife, etc.

Lady camp!

 

It was awesome to see so many women together and enthusiastic about learning new skills from the engaged and engaging teachers. It occurred to me that for a lot of the folks there, the weekend was so special and fun for exactly the reason why Fresh-Picked has been so great for me: novelty, new information, new skills, new people, new experiences.

I had to rush home from Lady Camp to host Cookbook Club, a group of women who get together to share dishes all cooked from one cookbook. We ate out in my yard, my old desk from the dark days of my initial Seattle move repurposed into a dining table, my impulse-purchase vintage sherbet cups repurposed as candle holders.  And it occurred to me how several of the connections I had with the women sitting around the table had their origins in food events.

Maggi – Cookbook Club ringleader – and I connected through Twitter and then cooked a meal together for Fisher House. Rachel and I had met when I worked at Cook’s World. I met Naomi when I accosted her at the Seattle Chocolate Salon, exclaiming I recognized her from her Twitter avatar. I met Kairu in person for the first time at a Russian cooking class taught by my friend Irina (a friend not in Cookbook Club, but also whom I'd met due to Fresh-Picked).

That evening was also the first time that it really hit me that through all of the past few years of Fresh-Picked, I haven’t just been making random new connections, learning skills, increasing my cooking knowledge and keeping myself entertained. I’ve been developing my own community. Slowly, and at times with great effort, but it’s happening. Sometimes in the midst of my hodge podge life, with all the novelty and newness, it’s hard to see that bigger picture, the interconnectedness of all these disparate elements, but it is there.

So after that night, I haven’t felt any of those doubts about continuing with this odd, rather specific activity that is running Fresh-Picked Seattle. Somehow, I’ll find a way to make it work. I know sometimes it means there is a little too much on my plate, but I also have faith that what I do find there is going to be pretty delicious.

Thank you to Tara Austen Weaver for use of her Cookbook Club photo!

Reader Comments (4)

Loving this. The character arc to who you've become today is so honest and resonant to most of us.

October 13, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterSaltyseattle

love this! thanks for sharing..so enjoyed reading your story. congrats on the Foodportunity contest win!!

October 17, 2012 | Unregistered Commenteralex

I loved reading about your inspiring journey - thank you for sharing. Congratulation on winning the contest! I look forward to seeing you at Foodportunity.

October 22, 2012 | Unregistered CommenterHannah

I just read this and got a little weepy. It is amazing how the little things work together to bring people together.

August 5, 2013 | Unregistered Commenternazila

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