Joe Hardiman is the produce merchandiser here at PCC, which makes him privy to an immense amount of random factoids about fruits and vegetables. He knows which melons are ripe, how hail, high heat, windstorms or frost will affect the flow of produce into our stores and which types of vegetables can survive beneath snow yet flourish come spring (certain varieties of cauliflower and leeks, for example).
So stay tuned to Stir-fry for regular produce reports I'll gather from Joe. You never know what we're all going to learn together. And if you come across an especially great recipe for fresh and local produce, feel free to share it here. It's always good to have more options in our cooking arsenals!
Local organic asparagus en route: That hard frost we felt last week nipped the organic asparagus crop in the bud, literally. Local asparagus already is in stores but the local organic crop should be in by this weekend from the Yakima Valley, Hardiman says.
On the strawberry front: Strawberries from the berry farms of Watsonville, CA are arriving. But that endless winter we've endured here could delay our local berry harvest to later June, just like last year. The best hope for a normal harvest is for this unseasonably (and absolutely lovely) warm weather to linger for long stretches throughout May.
Broccoli is back in "stalk" (har har).
From Full Circle Farm in Carnation: Spinach, radishes and arugula!
There's often much more to labels than meets the eye. Over the past decade the powers that be have battled over country-of-origin labeling, the meaning of the word "natural," how free chickens must be to carry a free-range label and what we should expect when we see the label "organic," among scads of other concerns.
A current label that's on our brains here at work is "gluten free." I'd wager that most everyone by now has at least one friend or family member who avoids gluten, either due to allergies, Celiac disease or at the suggestion of their naturopath for better digestion. I've sat in on a few meetings where we've discussed how best to label such items at PCC stores so shoppers can find them easily. When I leave my head is spinning with visions of symbols and color coding and different wordings. One big challenge: If we help the gluten-free folks, do we also want to expand these labels with symbols or colors to represent the myriad other special diets our shoppers possess? If we do so, will the number of symbols and colors render the labels impossible to decipher?
While searching the Internet to see how other grocers handle this situation, I happened upon what may be the sweetest image ever associated with Celiac disease:
Quinoa here is part of a team of gluten-free bears named after several gluten-free grains (his buddies are Teff and Buckwheat). They hail from Montrose, NY, where they serve as ambassadors with the Westchester Celiac Sprue Support Group. Aside from being adorable, these bears travel the country (and in Quinoa's case, the globe) to visit gluten-free kids and attend show-and-tell as a way to start a conversation with classmates about food allergies.
Not sure if traveling bears are in our future, but it's good to learn about new ways of spreading awareness.
I like to bring gifts when I travel, especially local foods. It's an easy (and tasty) way to share a bit of home with people I love, especially given the bounty we enjoy in this part of the country.
I've also spent a lot of time on www.etsy.com lately looking for unique handmade gifts and typed "food" into the search bar the other day just to see what would come up. Take a look!
Groceries (not sure if they're organic ;), by buggabugs
Bacon and egg magnets by rubbishtees
Other bits of cuteness: Dangling "grilled cheese sandwich" earrings, a Hello Kitty shaped like tofu, pincushions shaped like frosted wedding cakes. Happy Friday!
A fun part of working for a food co-op is finding interesting new foods to try and new ways of cooking and eating. Our effervescent office manager, Dana, just introduced me to one of her favorite snacks: Artisana Organic Raw Coconut Butter (perhaps this is what keeps her cheerful day after day? ;)
I mentioned before the diversity of diets at our company and Dana is no exception. She must avoid peanut and tree-nut butters but has found that a tablespoon of this creamy, super rich coconut butter helps hit the spot. She'll also toss it into kale smoothies for an added flavor boost. Artisana's site has some other options, too.
Here's what it looks like up close (I'm sitting here now sniffing the jar, which makes me want to sit on a beach in some sunny place:
We'll feature more favorite snacks in the coming weeks. Feel free to share some of yours!
All kinds of olives! (plus cherry tomatoes and marinated mushrooms). You never know what will be in the office kitchen awaiting a taste test to help determine what to stock at the stores.
Looking forward to heading out to the stores in the coming weeks (between doing the rest of my job here!) to share happenings from all around. Which PCC do you shop? You'll find me most often at the Greenlake and Fremont stores, stocking up on Emerald City Salad at the deli. Kale = good stuff.
I'm talking about KUOW 94.9 FM, one of our local NPR affiliates here in the Seattle area and a radio station we support -- financially and culinarily.
We're told former President Carter AND his Secret Service entourage were fans of our deli sandwiches when they visited the station earlier this year.
This morning a trio of us met with fellow KUOW underwriters (financial supporters) including Seattle University, the Seahawks/Sounders, EMP/SFM and Blink Interactive to mingle, tour the station, discuss the economy and, of course, eat! On the menu: fresh scones and muffins from our bakery, fresh fruit (I'm a huge pineapple fan), a variety of cheeses, fresh coffee.
As an avid radio listener I especially enjoyed their radio collection.
And yes, all those phones you hear ringing during pledge drives really *are* sitting all over the office.
On KUOW I enjoy listening to "The Splendid Table" on Saturdays at 2 p.m. It's also fun hearing all the last-minute Thanksgiving disaster prep advice on Morning Edition during the holidays.
After two months with PCC I can say with authority that no two days are the same. Take Monday for example. I teamed up with Ricardo (our multimedia guru) and Diana (our sustainability chief) for a visit to Ballard Organics, the local soap company that supplies great-smelling foaming hand soaps and more to our stores (note to those with sensitive noses and skin: yes, they carry unscented options). Ben, the owner, walked us through soap making from start to finish. Stay tuned for a video of our adventure! For now, here are some tidbits.
The soap kitchen, where the magic happens (thanks Ricardo, for these pix!).
The soap kitchen, where the magic happens (thanks Ricardo, for these pix!).
Soap loaves, anyone? They resemble giant erasers in this shot. They cure them for at least one month to give the bars staying power. Did I mention they are a certified-organic soapmaker by the Washington Department of Agriculture?
And voila! Soap!
There are plenty of great cooks here, as you might imagine.
This is the first place I've worked where omnivores are a definite minority. It's been great learning more about all the different dietary choices that exist, as well as how those with dietary challenges make the most of eating.
Speaking of dietary challenges, I'm thankful that food companies are responding to the growing number of folks who struggle with this particular dietary challenge.
One of the many cookbooks we carry in our stores. I'm interested to know just how many cookbooks are in print around the world right now, or even just by Northwest-based authors.
Other titles that came up:
- "Bottom Feeder: How to Eat Ethically in a World of Vanishing Seafood" by Taras Grescoe
- "Not For Bread Alone: Twenty-two acclaimed Writers Celebrate the Art of Eating" by Dan Halpern
- "Bento Box in the Heartland: My Japanese Girlhood in Whitebread America" by Linda Furiya (that's from me)
What are some of your favorites? What's on your nightstand?
It's the people. And by that, I mean the people who grow and raise the food we sell at our stores, those who deliver it, stock it, bake it, arrange it, wrap it, sell it. Those at the main office who spend months analyzing and debating what should go on the shelves and in the bins and how to better serve the various dietary needs and desires of you, our customers and members.
I joined this team two months ago, fresh from a decade as a working journalist. I've been interested in food all my life but really started paying closer attention to organics, sustainability, local agriculture and all those other big buzzwords about three years ago, when I began covering food for The Seattle Times. It was startling to realize my smallest choices, as simple as selecting one apple over another, could ultimately guide how food is grown in this country when magnified by the "smallest choices" of millions of others.
For years at PCC we've connected with you through Sound Consumer, our monthly newspaper, through our Web site, over the phone (I know this for a fact, because I sit right by the reception desk!) and, most recently, via Facebook and Twitter. We're keeping this blog to provide even greater insight into the people behind the co-op, how we make decisions (from what we carry all the way to how we'll display it), how we weigh in on the important issues of the day and yes, the adventures we have in the wide world of food.
My goal is to create a space where you feel welcome to share your thoughts and views, that you'll want to revisit to discuss everything from recipes to reading lists. Be on the lookout for profiles of the unique personalities behind the counter at our stores. And above all, let's celebrate the bounty of the Pacific Northwest!