What's in an egg?

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Alfresco Eggs.jpg

A generation ago, a century ago, young Minnie Rose grew impatient waiting for the Titanic to sail and took another boat instead. She settled on Bainbridge Island, married, and in 1975 published a slim volume called Recipe for Raising Chickens with a prophetic subtitle: "The main thing is to keep them happy."

So let's just leap over the question of whether chickens have enough sense (or self-awareness) to be "happy." Rather, let's look at this from an animal rights and animal welfare perspective. Man has a very limited view of Gallus gallus domesticus. Aside from a few chooks kept as pets, there are two kinds of chickens: those we eat (broilers), and those whose eggs we eat (laying hens). It's a short life, six weeks for broilers, no more than two years for hens.

The exploitation of these birds in much of the poultry industry demonstrates the worst of human indifference. Chickens may appear to be dumb farm animals but they're as social as puppies. A typical "egg factory" crams tens of thousands of live animals into a henhouse. Even if their eggs are labelled free-range, the hens don't have more than two square feet of space.

Into this desultory state of affairs come Matt O'Hayer and Jason Jones with a concept called pasture-raised: hens that aren't fed soy and corn but eat whatever they can forage: bugs, grass, worms. No pesticides, no hormones, no antibiotics. The company they run, based in Austin, Texas, is called Vital Farms; they market eggs from over 60 farms in states from California to Georgia. The "girls" are turned out from their coops in the morning and spend their days outdoors with an average of 108 square feet of pasture per bird. (In California, the law mandates 110 square inches per bird.) Hence the name: Alfresco Eggs.

Vital's director of communications, Dan Brooks, teamed up with chef Jason Stoneburner for a brunch featuring Alfresco eggs this weekend: richer yolks, more omega 3s, less saturated fat, less cholesterol. So far, Alfresco's been in specialty markets like Whole Foods; now they're going more mainstream (QFC, Fred Meyer). Seattle's a test market of sorts: a similar demographic to Austin's of people who care about what they eat, and aren't averse to spending an extra couple of bucks at the store to buy better eggs.

It's not the extra money, but I'm still not convinced about the distance those eggs have to travel to get to Seattle. Industrial "quality control" requires that all supermarket eggs in the US be washed, destroying their protective cuticle, which in turns means they must be refrigerated. If I buy eggs in Paris, the date the damn things were laid is stamped on the box. Here? Nah.

Stoneburner, 5214 Ballard Ave. NW, Seattle, 206-695-2051  Stoneburner on Urbanspoon

Inside Stories for Local Foodies

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Cover for News Release.jpgMy book is ready! You can buy it for Kindle right now, and the print edition should be ready within a few hours. Here's the release we're sending out:

Veteran Seattle food critic Ronald Holden tells '101 True Tales of Local Food & Drink' in his new book, HOME GROWN SEATTLE, which is being officially released on October 1st. It's a 258-page trade paperback that celebrates the region's culinary history. More than just restaurant listings for newcomers, it's a gossipy reference for local food enthusiasts, filled with stories about the people behind Seattle's kitchens, cafes, bars, farms,vineyards and markets.

"I've been waiting for this book since I was a kid," says The Stranger's associate editor Dominic Holden in the foreword to his father's book. "These were the stories we heard as a restaurant critic's family. They were tales of the Machiavellian power plays and ingenious risks--some ending in wealth and some in utter failure--that the public didn't read. Finally, here, my dad dishes out the stories behind the stories, profiles of the people who made the homegrown scene here taste as good (and occasionally as bad) as it does."

Holden has written about food, wine, and travel for over 40 years. (His earlier books covered the wine country of Washington and Oregon.) HOME GROWN, he explains, is more than a directory of Seattle's restaurant scene, which teems with literally thousands of eateries, but a guide to understanding it. "There are dozens of constantly updated websites, daily emails, weekly news magazines and glossy monthlies that will tell you what to eat in whose trendy establishment. But they do not bother to remind you why, they do not give you any human context."

Hence the "101 True Tales," some fresh, some long-forgotten:

  • A peasant boy from Tuscany--who grew up to become a beloved professor of classics at the UW--was the spiritual godfather to Seattle's grow-your-own food movement.
  • Gordon Bowker, not Howard Schultz, is the true founder of Starbucks. Bowker also launched the Red Hook brewery.
  • The owner of the Pike Place Market, an Italian immigrant named Joe Desimone, kept the Boeing company in Seattle.
  • The Market itself was later saved from "urban renewal" by the designer of the Space Needle.
  • A financial analyst for Safeco Insurance invented the company that became Chateau Ste. Michelle

In his Afterword, David Holden writes, "Seattle didn't magically become a foodie paradise. A lot of people worked hard and took incredible risks. Now, 35 years later, it's paying off. Seattle is a landmark, a food destination. And who better to capture those stories than someone who lived that world, walked the walk, and talked the talk."

HOME GROWN looks under the rug and behind the scenery at several of Seattle's so-called celebrity chefs (the ones regularly featured in glossy magazine articles), and comes down squarely in the camp of family-run neighborhood kitchens (Mamma behind the stove, Dad at the door or tending bar, Sis and Sonny waiting tables). "These places, located along every neighborhood's main drag, can be wildly inconsistent, not so much for the food (though their menus can try too hard to please everyone) but for the rest of the dining experience, ambiance and service. Yet it's here that you find the essence of home grown comfort."

The book ended up being a family affair of its own; all three Holden sons contributed. Michael, the oldest, contributed the cover photography. Dominic, the youngest, wrote the foreword; David, a Hollywood comedy writer, penned the afterword.

Silver Linings

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MPC streeteview.bmp.jpgThe news is not, fortunately, unremittingly dreadful. Not crazy-great, but not entirely morose, either. Consider that Ricky Eng, a chef with a restaurant called BeachHouse, on the Kirkland waterfront, bought up the unlucky space at the end of E. Madison this summer (home to Sostanza, home to Madison Park Conservatory) and is giving it a new floor and some new banquettes. BeachHouse Madison will be the name, and the menu, strong on seafood, will be expanded to allow for a few carnivorous items to come out of the wood-burning stove that Cormac Mahoney left behind. Don't look for upscale cuisine, though; BeachHouse is known for classic American comfort food.

And a second encouraging spot of news. Replacing the Madison Park outpost of Mad Pizza is a pho parlor. Spirits be praised, a pho parlor! The owners are business partners chef Tani Phan and Elena Vo; the name is Bella Viet Café.

The fairest tomato of them all

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Holly Smith .JPGRoma, Roma on the vine, who's the one who will be mine? Campari? There's actually a tomato cultivar named Campari? Yes, but it doesn't rhyme with marry-me. (You could drive yourself nuts with this stuff.) And technically, they called this an Heirloom Tomato Festival, so no cultivars at any rate. Heirlooms like Indian Moon, Hillbilly, Carbon, Ace, Russian 117, Amana Orange, Serendipity Striped, Strawberry, Bull's Heart, and Berkley Tie Dye. Got that?

So here's Holly Smith, straight out of a fairy tale, unquestioned princess of yesterday's Tomato Faire at Cedarbrook Lodge in the sheltered woods east of the SeaTac runways. A coterie of intense hobbyists, wine makers and chefs assembled on the grounds In homage to the late-summer crop of Solanum lycopersicum.

Smith's own restaurant, Café Juanita, lies 25 miles to the north, but before we take you there, a bit of an aside.

Earlier in the week, the New York Times ran one of those insufferable "trend" stories, where an editor will assign a dozen writers to turn in a quick paragraph about something that's barely worth a mention (e.g., women bartenders--really?). Among the results, this:

VEGETABLE-ADDED TAX Remember when Mom used to pair your meat with a mound of vegetables? More and more restaurants are choosing a different model, based on the Italian idea of contorni: the seasonal vegetable side dish, which you order separately -- and pay extra for. At spots like Navy, Rosette, √Član, Fung Tu, All'onda and Telepan Local, this expanding menu category may involve pea shoots, roasted avocado or heirloom tomatoes.

Smith took over the venerable spot overlooking Kirkland's Juanita Bay some 20 years ago; until then, it had belonged to Cavatappi wine maker Peter Dow. Under her stewardship, Cafe Juanita has maintained the highest standards for northern Italian cuisine. When she redid her menu a while back, she divided up the tri-fold page into neat categories. Aperitivi (Krug Grande Cuvé with bone-marrow bruschetta) and antipasti (veal sweetbreads) on the left; salads (smoked eggplant panzanella) and pastas (goat cheese gnocchi) down the middle; fish, meat, and fowl (the famous rabbit braised in white wine) on the right. And then she realized she still had room for five or six items. Bingo, contorni! Side dishes! Cauliflower with cumin, organic green beans, roasted carrots, heirloom tomatoes. Well done.

Cafe Juanita, 9702 NE 120th Pl, Kirkland, 425-823-1405 Cafe Juanita on Urbanspoon
Copperleaf Restaurant at Cedarbook Lodge,18525 36th Ave S, Seattle, 206-214-4282  Copperleaf Restaurant & Bar on Urbanspoon

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  • https://www.google.com/accounts/o8/id?id=AItOawnbwbejZ1MsEAD7tUryc0LW5VoGSME1aF0: Hi Ronald, Great post!:) Your timing was perfect, as I read more
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