This is going to be a long post.. Sit down and get comfy.
YEP, we are back from our holidays. Two weeks of fun with our little lad Drake. Much needed I must add. The first week of vacation was spent in California, visiting family, friends, and going to Disneyland.
The second week is what I want to talk about. One of the most amazing, and simply most enjoyable weeks of my life.
We have been back a good few days now, of which I have been sorting through what must be 1000 photos of Vashon Island – where spent 5 brilliant days.
“What Island?” you say… Vashon Island is a small island off the coast of Seattle – only about 20 minutes away by ferry. Those 20 minutes make all the difference in the world in the place, and the people. It could be on the other side of the globe to Seattle.
So I have been sitting in front of this blog entry for a little while now, wondering how to begin. There is so much to say. We saw so much, and yet did so little. It was fabulous. I could start with the beautiful scenery, the amazing people, or the fantastic food.
Instead, I will start at the beginning.
I grew up in a tiny little rural village in England. Slinfold is the village name of it. Google it if you are bored! Playing for me as a kid always involved being outdoors, or doing something very hands on. We grew up (my brother and I) fishing, hiking, building tree-houses, damming rivers, picking wild fruit, camping… blimey, the list goes on.
Somewhere through my life I lost that. I studied Industrial Design, which really led me on to computer graphics, which as one might guess, has precious little to do with the outside, and any kind of rural activity. More time was spent indoors. I have a desk based job for the most part, and little time to get out, back to a rural community again.
This week in Vashon Island changed all that. So many memories of my childhood in England came flooding back – thanks somewhat to a rural landscape not completely dissimilar to the south of England.
The three of us pretty much lived in welly boots on Vashon (Wellington boots, or rain boots as they are known in the US) – not because it was raining, but because every day was spent walking on a wet beach, going into the ocean, or at a muddy farm. Welly boots rock for that, when the water is way too cold to go bare foot.
I was in complete heaven. All three of us were. Drake learned to say “WEEEELLLLLIEEEE” really quickly, and pointing to his feet. He loves his wellies almost as much as we love ours. He was fearless in them too – I swear he would have tried wading across Puget Sound back to Seattle if we hadn’t stopped him.
The idea of this short trip was to get back to basics. Spend time outdoors. Leave the city behind. Connect again as a family.
What I wasn’t expecting however was to meet some truly amazing people, and eat some pretty incredible food.
Nice segway. As we all know, it is really the people that make a place great. Something about that 20 minute ferry ride…. “Vashon people” are some of the warmest, most friendly people I have ever met. I am not saying that Seattle people aren’t, not at all – Vashoners (as I will now call them) just push it further. Much further. Young generations have engaging conversations with old. People really help each other out. There is a real sense of community – something you only get with a small town, which I think is pushed even further with Vashon, since it is an island.
And then there is the scenery. Oh my. Rolling hills. Great old growth trees. Lush pastures, coppices, woodlands and meadows. Startling beaches, that actually have public access (go figure Seattle..) – which aren’t all sand and volleyball nets – they are gravel with rock pools, and make for wonderful early morning walks.
So where did we stay? Well, we were lucky enough to be able to rent a lighthouse keepers cottage. Seriously. How amazing is that. Point Robinson lighthouse has a couple of cottages in it’s grounds, that were originally for the lighthouse keeper and his assistant. They have now been converted into a couple of vacation rentals, with some space for a caretaker. The front door of our rental was honestly about 7 feet from the beach. The kitchen, living room, dining room, and two bedrooms all have drop dead amazing views of the ocean.
It gets better. You look out back towards Seattle, and can almost see the headlights of people rushing around stuck in traffic, whilst you sit in your rocking chair on the front porch enjoying some wine. A tough life…. a seriously tough life.
This is what I needed. We needed. To get back to nature. Back to a life that I had when I was a kid, and have just come to realize that I sorely miss.
So – here are some of the highlights of the vacation:
- Spotting starfish, crabs, shells and dear with Drake, instead of spotting the construction cranes and diggers that litter the urban scenery.
- Drake playing in welly boots, with sand and seashells, and giggling at chickens – not playing with electronic toys.
- Talking honestly and openly with farmers about properly raising and breeding livestock, so they have a great quality of life, and ultimately yield amazing tasting meat.
- Realizing that everyone on the island seems incredibly happy. Heck, I would be too living there – and most look very healthy (er.. natural food, free from additives?)
- Learning that the only chain food place on the island is Subway. OK, Subway does suck badly, but at least it isn’t really crappy fast food.
- Introducing Drake to some great food – Raw milk and butter, slow braised pork shank, lamb.
Mornings were spent with a walk along the beach. Skipping stones. Spotting starfish and crabs. Trying not to get booties (where the water comes rushing in over the top of your welly, filling your boot up).
I have digressed enough however. This is a food blog so I guess I should talk about the food a little. This was actually one of the reasons we chose Vashon as a place to relax and unwind. Farms. Lots and lots of farms. It seems like the people of Vashon really care about their island, and its habitat too. Most of the farms are either organic, or what I like to call beyond organic – meaning they practice organic, sustainable farming methods, but don’t want to pay the US government a ridiculous sum of money to get “certified”.
We ate some great food there. Most of it was at one place, and if it wasn’t there, it was food I cooked, with ingredients from there. I am not blowing my own trumpet, all I did was bung their food in the oven. I am blowing the trumpet of Sea Breeze Farms……..
Sea Breeze Farms and their tasting menu.
I should start by saying that this might seem like a shameful plug for the farm. It honestly isn’t. They haven’t paid me, not even in pork (I would take free pork though.. hint hint) – in fact, I am sure I hampered them somewhat by wanting to chat to them for what must have been hours.
I have been visiting their farmers market stands for what seems like a year now. I recently learnt that they had opened up a tiny restaurant in their retail store, and wanted to find out more. Well, there was only one thing to do. Go visit.
I will say this up front. I have been a fan of Sea Breeze for a while now. Their commitment to raising animals naturally, beyond organically, in a caring environment is one that I have only seen met by the likes of Hugh Fearnley-Whittingstall.
Sure, other farms raise animals on pasture, and organically. I thought that this was Sea Breeze too. What I came to realize on the trip is that George, the owner of the farm, is a really strong avid campaigner on raising animals naturally – to the point where he will fight the US government on how he sells his products, presents them at farmers markets, and butchers his animals.
In his mind, it is only fair that if we raise and kill and animal he should not only give it a fantastic quality of life, but we should also be so respectful that he sells the meat in its up most condition – so the consumer gets the most enjoyment and satisfaction from it.
This means hanging all meat properly, 7 weeks for beef and mutton if my memory serves me correctly. This also means selling the meat fresh, not frozen and vacuum sealed in sweaty plastic bags.
He is currently fighting to supply his meats at farmers markets fresh, and not frozen/bagged. The government it would seem wants to stop this. He even drags along a cold cabinet to each market to present his wares in (much like the glass fronted cabinets you see in butchers). This isn’t enough for the FDA/Health Department however. But, screw them. He will supply his meat only one way – fresh, quality hung meat, not sweating away in a sealed bag.
We need more people like George. We honestly do.
I choose to only eat meat from farms that supply a very high quality of life to their animals, in both their life and their death. In my mind, it is the least I can do if I choose to eat meat. George started Sea Breeze because of exactly the same principles. He wanted to give his family top quality naturally raised food, that also meant giving animals a better quality of life than they might get in the wild.
“MATT TALK ABOUT THE BLOODY FOOD”. I hear you shout.
So, Seabreeze opened a small restaurant on the side of their retail store. You can sit in fact, if you wish, looking over their cold cabinet of meat cuts. YUM. 6 tables maybe? Something like that.
All the meats (and a lot more) comes from their farm. The butter does. The stock does. They make their own pasta. They grind their own wheat. They make their own wine, vinegar, creme fraiche and lots more.
The menu there reflects that. Obviously very meaty, but also very simple. Very down to earth. “the food we like to eat on the farm” is how they describe it.
I have long been a believer that if you want to find out the very best way of cooking something, go talk to the farm that raised it. Thankfully, I was able to do that.
So we turn up, Danika and I, with baby in tow. We chat to George, the owner, for a while, and he convinces us to try their tasting menu. The idea of a tasting menu by a farm restaurant intrigued us… “sign us up we said!”
HANG ON. What the fuck are we doing sitting down for what is most likely going to be a two or three hour meal, with a 20month old toddler. OPPS.
They say they can speed it up a little bit for us (heck, it would be in their best interest to.. they don’t want a screaming Drake, any more that we do). They have kids, they must know this.. right?
The start of the meal makes me nervous. George comes out and says “Sit back, and enjoy five courses of culinary genius”. If you are going to say such bullshit, you had better make darn sure you are Thomas Keller.
Thankfully, the meats lived up to this. The cooking was simple, honest, well executed, and well presented. The genius part I think should really be held in regards to their raising and processing of their animals.
So here is a lowdown on some of the food served:
DISH 1: House cured prosciutto (two years in the making..), artichoke, with fig vinaigrette (vinegar they made..)
This was solid. But in a way was a waste of great, really great prosciutto. I would have been far happier with a few slices of this, some of their cheese, and a little olive oil and bread. The texture of the meat was amazing – the fig and artichoke got in the way a bit of the flavor. It was good though, but I longed to eat the slices of prosiutto by themselves.
DISH 2: Roasted potatoes and beets with their creme fraiche
This was a joy. My kind of food. Two dishes, very simple, you could taste all the ingredients, very clean. The beets trumped the spuds.
DISH 3: Pasta – Pappardelle with wild mushrooms, and a ravioli with meat reduction
My memory is getting a little faint here. Most likely because of the great wines that they produce, and kept us stocked up with. Neither pasta was stellar in my opinion. The wild mushrooms were great by themselves, but with the pasta the dish didn’t have much kick. Some bay or thyme would have really helped I think. The ravioli was nice enough, and the meat sauce (sorry, this is so lame that I don’t remember specifics) was rich – but again, not one of my favorite dishes of the night.
DISH 4: Slow braised pork shank, lamb chop
Both dishes came with a simple starch, which in my mind is just the perfect compliment to fine meat. The vegetables should be separate, and they were. The pork shank was out of this world good. Seriously, unbelievably porky. Rich, with a fantastic layer of melt in your mouth fat. Incredible stuff. I have never seen Danika eat fat so quickly in my life. The pork from Sea Breeze in my mind is the best you are going to find in the Seattle area.
The lamb… I am a big lamb eater, but I have never eaten such sweet, tender lamb as this. I was hooked. The only problem was the portion. I wanted more, so much more. That’s just me, I can never get enough lamb.
DISH 5: Desert
It was chocolate. Tasted great. I am crap, I forget the name of it. Shoot me. I am not a big desert guy, so this wasn’t the highlight. That was undoubtedly Dish4.
What is great is that with every course George would chat to us for a while about his philosophies of raising animals, why he does what he does, and his plans. He shared a lot about his battles with the authorities over the way he sells his meats, and even what he can sell and can’t.
Which leads me on to BUTTER. Yes, they make their own. They make it from their raw milk. It is, by far, the best butter I have ever tasted. That just isn’t doing it justice. It tastes so bloody fresh. So clean, so simple.
Here is the kicker. The Health Department won’t let them sell it. Products from raw milk cannot be sold, unless aged (Reggianno is an example of this..) How fucking ridiculous. Here you have something so natural, so healthy (in butter terms..) so incredibly basic, yet they have to sell it as pet food. PET FOOD!
I bought 1/2lb of the stuff to take home to my non-existent dog. Not only that, but I bought some eggs, a whole chicken, and some mutton chops.
We were also lucky enough to go to a couple of their farm locations, see the animals, and let Drake giggle at the chickens, whilst doing impressions of them.
So did I even cook on this vacation of ours?
Why yes, yes I did. Not much. But I did. I cooked some of the best food I have ever cooked, thanks to some fabulous ingredients.
Eggs from Sea Breeze. Simply soft boiled, with solider’s (strips of toast). All this with some of their fantastic butter. The biggest dilemma.. to eat a solider with egg, or with butter.
The cottage we rented had a kitchen. A large kitchen. With a crap stove, and blunt knives. Seriously, my toe nails are sharper than those things. That didn’t stop me however. I HAD, just had to cook the chicken that I bought from Sea Breeze.
Holy crap. The best chicken I have ever tasted. Just goes to show, it isn’t about professional stoves and expensive knives.. it is about ingredients, top flight ingredients.
I just simply roasted the chicken. 475F for about 45 minutes. I made a jus, but forgot about it. We didn’t need it. I glazed some great local carrots, and roasted some potatoes.
On the evening of our final full day, we sat out in the garden of the cottage we rented, looking over the water back to Seattle, with the sun slowly setting behind us. We picked chicken off the bone, and ate some great local vegetables.
For the first time ever Drake ate carrots. And potatoes. He has turned his nose up at them countless times back in Seattle. I think he must just love Vashon Island.
I might not agree with Drake on everything, but I do on that. Vashon is awesome. I want to move.