PCC blog

One wine fits all?

 
I’ve said it before, I’ll say it again: the more you try to be all things to all people, the more you become nothing at all. There’s a word for this phenomenon: homogenization.  Those of us old enough to remember what milk tastes like (the old-fangled kind, delivered to our door, complete with that deep, delicious cap of cream at the top) will attest that the homogenized product sold in the dairy case of groceries everywhere bears only the faintest of resemblances to real milk.
 
Speaking of milk and homogenization, it bears pointing out that Starbucks isn’t really about coffee so much as it’s about milk. Milk as delivery beverage for various flavorings – primarily coffee, true, but let’s not kid ourselves. Starbucks figured out right from the get-go that adults are really just big kids. Give ‘em a hot chocolate in the guise of a sophisticated quasi – Euro beverage, slap a cool logo on it, and well, you know the rest. Think about it, how often do you ever hear someone even bother to say “caffe” when they order their double-tall butterscotch extra-whip latte?
 
But I digress, sort of. As consumers are increasingly, incessantly bombarded with messaging and marketing , the lion’s share have become conditioned to be less concerned with the contents than the package – and most importantly, the brand that package wears.  As the average American becomes more and more distracted by competing sound-bite calls for his or her attention the most effective means of attracting a consumer’s attention (read: dollars) is pretty much reduced to being the shiniest shiny thing or yelling the loudest (and I mean that both literally and metaphorically). Done effectively it’s not the sort of thing that invites contemplation or anything resembling reasoned consideration.
 
So…HEY! It’s all about the brand. Get the prospective buyer’s attention, give ‘em a package they‘ll feel good flaunting, one that flatters their self-image -- and all that remains is to make sure that they come back for more. No rocket science or hocus - pocus there, either. It’s not even a matter of putting anything particularly impressive behind the brand – in fact, if it’s mass market appeal you’re after, the less impressive, the better.
 
Back to the milk riff for another chorus… Real milk actually tastes like something, has character, a very particular flavor. When it’s at its best, it’s the sort of thing that you either like or you don’t. Like great wine, real milk can even take on the character of the place it’s from. High mountain meadows, sweet alpine grass, coastal pastures, maybe a kiss of salt breeze, folded into a marshier kind of grassiness. More defined, more particular – and appealing to an even more specific customer.  When it’s the goods, everybody doesn’t necessarily love it. Great stuff for the discerning milk drinker, but not the sort of thing that builds market share.
 
Music? Play it again, same deal, Sam. For the dialed in urbanite, Jazz is a cool word to fling around and makes a nice bumper sticker for the public persona. But Miles, Coltrane, Blakey, Ellington, Charlie Parker, Bud Powell, et al aren’t necessarily always pretty. It’s music that comes from real, living, breathing, feeling, suffering, joyous, sad, elated , longing, melancholy, happy, hurting, exuberant souls in all their messy rawness. Hard to ignore, hence not the best choice for background music. Not to mention that to really get what’s going on in music like that requires actual listening. And maybe even thinking. Not a recipe for big sales. Wanna sell records and make money? Think Kenny G. Nice, saccharine little melodies that require neither attention nor participation. Sonic wallpaper.  You need not be present to win.
 
Wine? Same basic idea (with a few fun peculiarities that’ll be fabulous fodder for future forays --stay tuned!).  Get the bottle on the table with nice graphics. Keep it there by making it a nice, friendly, lush, innocuous alcohol delivery beverage. Update the package from time to time to “keep it fresh” and viola! You’ve got yourself a brand. Thirst-quenching wallpaper, complete with a buzz.
 
Is that a bad thing? Nope, not really. We all like what we like – and sometimes, all we want is a little refreshment, a cocktail, as it were.  But the world is your oyster -- or oysters, as it were. The array of flavors, shades of nuance and cast of characters out there is as astounding as it is endless. And it’s all just waiting to be discovered, tasted, savored and to broaden the lexicon that makes up your story of the world. Best of all, you get to choose. If you like the homogenized kind, well, that’s just fine. There’s plenty of it and plenty of folks who’ll be happy to sell you some. Nothing could be easier.
 
If, on the other hand, you want something that actually IS something, has a story to tell, real flavor, character … soul – well, all you have to do is open your eyes, ears, mouth and mind. Must be present to win.
 
Got wine?

More about: coffee, milk, wine

Behind the scenes at PCC: Christmas in August

I know few of us are ready to give up on summer quite yet. But retailers always think several seasons ahead. We must, to ensure our shelves are stocked and looking splendid when the Puget Sound's chilly mists return and we finally *are* ready for it to be the holiday season. And thus, August is prime time for events like our annual PCC Holiday Expo.

A Charlie Brown-style Christmas tree, courtesy of Bissinger's Chocolates (many thanks to Janice, our board coordinator, for these photos!). 

The Expo is a chance for purveyors of chocolates, caramels, candies, gifts and more to show their wares and meet with Deli merchandisers from each PCC store in one place and on one convenient (and decadent) day. Take a peek at some of what you'll find in our stores later this year.

 

A full complement of Theo chocolate, truffles, caramels and drinking chocolate. Did you know PCC was the first local store to stock Theo? 

Sweet treats from The Essential Baking Company in Seattle. The mini yule log is super cute. 

Truffles and other treasures from Dilettante, another local chocolatier.

Who doesn't love a happy gingerbread man? 

Decadence galore from Fran's, perfect for hostess gifts, stockings, or as a gift to yourself!

Next year I'm definitely going. Now, back to our regularly scheduled season: summer!

More about: chocolate, cookies, desserts, holidays, PCC Deli

Energy bars: some staff favorites

Did you know PCC carries more than 20 brands of energy bars, including vegan, gluten-free and soy-free varieties?  If you ever get overwhelmed by all that great variety (I know I do!) it's helpful to have a game plan so you can find the bars that will best meet your needs.

To gain some clarity, I interviewed Liz Kirk, PhD, R.D., a faculty member in the Department of Nutrition and Exercise Science at Bastyr Univerity. Read her tips for choosing the best energy bar for your needs (and, a quick guide to energy bars at PCC) in this piece in September PCC Taste magazine.

Meanwhile, here are a few favorirtes from the staff of PCC Taste: 

  • KIND Bar: Sue, our art director, likes their flavor and short ingredients list (whole nuts, fruit and not much else). So does designer Angela, who enjoys them atop her stand-up paddle board while watching for rogue ferry wakes.
  • BumbleBar: Sue’s daughter likes these calcium-rich sesame bars as a quick snack between classes. Made in Washington’s Spokane Valley. I'm a big fan of the Amazing Almond.
  • Probar: Says Jovanna from our graphics team: “Not your usual boring raisin, oat and peanut bar.” She describes them as full of dried fruit, big chunks of chocolate and nuts, just right for an outdoor adventure or emergency snack. 
  • Lärabar: “They aren’t filled with a bunch of processed ingredients — everything’s pure, straightforward and simple,” says Lydia, Taste co-editor. “They’re perfect when you need a little something to tide you over between meals. She likes: Cocoa Mole, Chocolate Coconut, Peanut Butter & Jelly and Ginger Snap.

What are your favorite energy bars? When do you most like to enjoy one? 

Remembrance of things past?

 A warm, late spring evening in Avignon. François Mitterand is President of France, while Robert Parker, Jr. and Microsoft have only just begun their campaigns to digitize wine and the whole damned world, respectively. Bathed in an indescribable, inimitable, rosy glow, light that could launch a crusade or inspire a man to cut off his ear, a group of scruffy, itinerant musicians are having an impromptu soirée atop the ancient walls that surround the city. The second or third of many bottles of modest Côtes du Rhône is circulating, passed from hand to hand among the motley but merry crew, fueling a crescendo of Bacchanalian abandon.  A Babel of conversations rises into the dusk in four languages, ranging from the ether of high-minded, wine-inspired philosophy to the ribald argot of besotted, blue-collar baseness.
 
Among the revelers, a punk-ass but wide-eyed, twenty-something,  French-hipster-intellectual-wannabe American piano player pauses between drags on an unfiltered Gauloise, takes the bottle from a  copain, raises it to his mouth, drinks, thinks, drinks again…and after some thought, passes the bottle on, takes another drag on his cigarette, still tasting, savoring, searching the back closets of his brain for a means to explain just why the hell that sh** was so damned good...
 
It wasn’t exactly a Marcel Proust moment. No remembrance of things past, no resonant chord struck, no wellspring of distant memory tapped. Call it a whole new groove in the gray matter. And every bit the catalyst for sentences of epic complexity. The wine? Not extraordinary, not epic. Not self-conscious, either. Modest, in fact. Down to earth…
 
It was real. It tasted like nature – not in a Hallmark card sort of way, but like it was grown in dirt. Good, clean dirt. Dirt with a certain character, surrounded by various growing things of a certain type and nourished by sun, plenty of sun, sunshine you could literally taste. It wasn’t upwardly mobile, didn’t put on airs, try to be something it wasn’t nor everything to everyone. It wasn’t polished or buffed up, or made for any particular demographic. It was what it was. Just wine. Wine made by ordinary people, for ordinary people to drink, every day. And it was good, as Hemingway once said.
 
That was me, a long time ago. And it was no big deal, really. Just another bottle of wine on just another evening hangin’ with a bunch of fellow slackers. But that bottle (in whose mysterious deep…) sang a song that stuck in my head, an aria (no, take that back, it wasn’t  an aria, it was just a freakin’ song) of dirt, fruit and sun, sung without accompaniment or artifice in the voice of ancient, head-pruned grenache.  A little melody of flavor, a nudge of an nth of a degree that changed my course just enough  to color the way I’ve tasted just about everything since—especially wine. My first job in the wine business was still a couple footloose years down the road, but once I got there, that aha! moment, that little gift, in all  its directness and no-bullshit sincerity kept right on giving.
 
So here I am, and, with any luck, so are you. I could go on, of course. In fact, you can bet that I will. There’s more to the story, and plenty more stories to tell. But enough for Act I, Scene I.
 
Thanks for tuning in.  À bientôt.

More about: wine

Make it at home: popsicles

I've anticipated making these popsicle recipes from my colleague Eli Penberthy ever since I opened July's issue of the Sound Consumer (free in our stores, or find those recipes online here).

To quote Ciscoe, "Ooh, la la!"

The recipe for Peach-Raspberry Popsicles caught my eye. Lacking peaches or raspberries, however, I subbed in equivalent ratios of what I had on hand: local organic strawberries, ripe bananas, nonfat Greek yogurt and honey. 

If you lack a proper blender, an immersion blender works just fine!

 

Making this recipe also meant the chance to bust out my new BPA-free popsicle molds! I received these as a gift; but you'll find some good options at your local PCC. In a pinch, you also can sub in shot glasses. Just cover them with wax paper secured with a rubber band and slit the paper to insert a popsicle stick or small spoon to serve as a handle.

Pretty stars, ready for the freezer!

 

 It took about five hours for mine to set.

...et voila!

Here's what I learned.

  • As with most things culinary, using fresh, ripe fruit produces the best results. The flavor of these local strawberries was intense and jammy, a true taste of summer.
  • Next time, I would use reegular yogurt over Greek yogurt -- it seemed almost too thick when frozen.
  • I also would refrain from testing the handles before the popsicles had spent their full time in the freezer (can you blame me? I wanted a taste!). Testing them too soon meant I yanked the handles out before they set, so I had to eat the results out of the mold with a grapefruit spoon. Thankfully, I limited my curiosity. The ones I left alone set just fine.
  • Let them defrost for a minute or two before you attempt to release them from their molds, or run warm water over the molds to get them a bit loose.This will help the pop maintain the pretty shape of the mold.
  • A friend made the Watermelon-Pineapple Popsicles recently and noted that the honey settles at the bottom of the molds during freezing. That first bite is sweeet! To avoid this, Eli suggests blending the honey with the watermelon first, so that the honey gets dissolved in the juice.

Have you made any of these recipes? Post your photos to our Facebook page! facebook.com/pccnaturalmarkets.

Happy summer!

More about: bananas, desserts, produce, Sound Consumer, strawberries, yogurt

Brunch time? Bake the summertime version of this tasty tea bread

You don't have to wait for the return of local organic pear season to bake a fragrant loaf of PCC Chef Lynne Vea's famous Warm Pear and Hazelnut Tea Bread.

Says Lynne: "This bread can be made with juicy seasonal fruits like plums or nectarines. Don't even bother to peel the fruit, just chop it and substitute in the same amount for the pears." 

This robust bread is great to serve at brunch, take along to someone else's brunch, freezes well for future use and is great toasted and slathered with your favorite butter. If you don't often keep kamut, barley or hazelnuts on hand, visit the bulk section of your local PCC and head home with just the amount you need for this recipe.

Find even more baking ideas in our PCC Recipe Database.

Happy baking!

More about: baking, hazelnuts, Lynne Vea, nectarines, pears, plums, recipes, stone fruit

Which PCC shoppers buy the most cookies? Cake? Granola?

Here's what we know from the month of May: 

  • Issaquah shoppers buy the most cake (data remain unclear whether they also EAT the most cake).

  • Redmond shoppers buy the most granola.
  • Greenlake shoppers buy the most cupcakes.
  • West Seattle shoppers buy the most bars and brownies (Seward Park was a close second).
  • View Ridge shoppers buy the most muffins and scones.
  • Fremont shoppers buy the most cookies (with Kirkland a close second).
  • Edmonds shoppers buy the most baked goods, period.

What's your favorite freshly baked treat from the PCC Bakery? As a Fremont PCC shopper, I have to agree that for me, I can't visit a PCC without snagging at least one cookie, especially a Chocolate Crinkle.

More about: cookies, desserts, Edmonds, Fremont, Greenlake Aurora, Issaquah, Kirkland, PCC Bakery, Redmond, Seward Park, View Ridge, West Seattle

Galia melon: The soul of honeydew in the guise of cantaloupe

I first encountered galia melon last summer, while shooting this video on melon selection tips with our Redmond PCC produce manager, P.J. Cawley.

It resembled a cantaloupe. But crack it open, and you discover this:

Looks an awful lot like honeydew, right?

One whiff of its sticky-sweet fragrance transported me instantly to childhood and the neon green "melon" flavor syrup Mom poured over the shave ice she'd grind for us in the summertime: happiness. This galia was perfectly ripe, true to P.J.'s melon selection tips. It turns out it's a hybrid, an ideal solution for those who can't choose between honeydew or cantaloupe, its parent melons (isn't it fun to say "parent melons?").

Do you love adding melon to just about anything? Check out these melon recipes from our database. Come with me to Inaba Farms in Wapato, Wash. to see where PCC gets its organic watermelon later in the summer. And follow this handy how-to video for a quick, easy method to slice it without cutting yourself.

What are some of your favorite melon varieties? How do you like to eat it?

 

 

More about: fruit, melons, organic food, produce

A brand new PCC in the works!

Those of you at Tuesday night's Annual Meeting heard it first: PCC is opening its 10th location! 

This new store, slated to open in 2013 just east of Green Lake in Seattle, will fill the (literal) giant gaping hole where the Vitamilk Dairy once stood, across from the Little Red Hen and a stone's throw from Rosita's and many a sporting goods store.

PCC will be part of a mixed-use project (PCC, apartments, public space, other retail) dubbed Green Lake Village located between N.E. 72nd St. and N.E. 71st St. along Woodlawn Ave. N.E. and 5th Ave. N.E.

 

Says our CEO, Tracy Wolpert: "PCC is thrilled to be part of this exciting project in such a vibrant neighborhood." Read the entire press release here.

Fans of the current Greenlake store on the west side: Don't worry. That store is staying put.

(And for those of you who note the discrepancy between Green Lake (the neighborhood and body of water) and Greenlake (the PCC store), it's a quirky PCC thing, not my misspelling :)

The same team that built our latest stores in Edmonds (2008), Redmond (2006) and Fremont (2003) will bring this one to life, with environmentally friendly features galore. Redmond and Edmonds are LEED gold and platinum winners, respectively.

Just think: you could live upstairs from a PCC! Emerald City Salad whenever your heart desires. 

See you at the grand opening in 2013!

More about: community, Greenlake Village

NEW: Organic, raw, *locally grown* almonds!

No, your eyes do not deceive you. Barbee Orchards in Washington's sunny Yakima Valley has released its first commercial crop of locally grown, certified organic, raw almonds. Find them in 1-pound bags bearing the PCC label (while supplies last!) at your local PCC.

Almonds still in their husks in the Yakima grove.

These Butte variety almonds are a new foray for the Barbee family, which  established its orchards in the 1920s for cherries, pears and apples. This limited harvest is the first from almond trees planted several years ago.

As most commercial almonds are grown in California (and, required to be pasteurized there), PCC is thrilled to offer a locally grown, raw option. Better snag a bag while you can: when they're gone, they're gone!

More about: almonds, local food, organic food

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