Sometimes when you're stressed, you just want to slow down and imagine yourself in a pastoral setting, with rolling hills, fruit trees, pigs, cows, and sheep. The grass is as tall and green as a hungover basketball player. Milk shoots right out of the cow's udders in a creamy ivory arc and splashes directly into your glass. The pigs amputate slabs of their own bellies and smoke them up into freshly cured bacon, just for you. And every tree branch hangs heavy with apples as sweet as a Camaro, and with skin so highly polished you could reflect a laser beam off of that apple and directly into the cornea of your worst enemy, thus blinding him for life. Wouldn't that be nice?
Just another day at the idyllic, pastoral Kurtwood Farms.
Luckily such a place actually exists. Not only is this pastoral dreamland real, it's also only a half- hour outside of Seattle. It's a small-scale dairy farm on Vashon Island called Kurtwood Farms. It's the home of Kurt Timmermiester, who has chronicled his experiences running a dairy farm into a new memoir, Growing a Farmer.Kurt invited members of the media and representatives of several local bookstores to his farm to discuss his book. He'd also prepared a four-course lunch for us, made from ingredients grown on his farm. But before Kurt would let us eat, he needed to talk about the book.
He'd been encouraged to write a book by Hsiao-Ching Chou, the former Seattle P-I food
editor and current partner in local PR firm Suzuki Chou Communimedia. I have several complaints about the word "Communimedia." First, it's a tortured portmanteau that makes shit like "Brangelina" or "mangina" sound like a clever bon mot delivered by Oscar Wilde himself. Secondly, it sounds too much like "Communism." No one's going to want a partisan of the dastardly political system, which oppressed human rights and made people wait in line and built shitty cars, to represent them. I for one would think twice about hiring them if I had some communimedia for sale.
At any rate, Hsiao-Ching Chou offered to try to sell Kurt's book to W.W. Norton publishers. She pitched it on a Monday; by Wednesday they'd brokered a deal. Clearly there was interest. The cherry on top of this sundae was the assignment of legendary cookbook editor Maria Guarnaschelli. During Kurt's first phone call with Guarnaschelli, she asked him to explain his book. Kurt initially wanted to write a cookbook, detailing the simple recipes based on ingredients from his farm. Guarnaschelli, whose name I'm already tired of typing, immediately shot him down. "Kurt," she told him, "nobody wants your damn cookbook. You're nobody."
Undaunted, Kurt changed the focus of the book: instead of a cookbook, it would be an autobiography. He wanted to recount how he turned a weedy, overgrown plot of land, fit only as a dumping ground for dead hookers, into a functioning small-scale dairy farm. Contrary to what you may have learned playing Farmville, agriculture isn't easy. After all, a real farm wouldn't work as well if you designed it to look like the Iron Maiden logo, though it also wouldn't be nearly as awesome. "People have this idea," Kurt told us, "where you move out to the country and sell $100 worth of carrots per year and somehow pay the mortgage."
Luckily, Kurtwood Farms sells more than just carrots. With the exception of sugar, pepper, flour, salt, and wine, everything on the menu had been grown on the farm. And everything was fucking killer. Lunch was courtesy of Kurtwood Farms' chef- in- residence, Spring Hill alum Tyler Palagi. The first course was an antipasti plate. Coppa had been made from the shoulders of Kurt's own hogs. There was also Dinah's Cheese, the vaunted washed-rind cheese which Timmermiester sells all over town. It's ripe and runny and comes directly from the nipples of the cow who broke Kurt's ribs trying to hump him.
A small ramekin of silken, salty pork rilletes was being passed around, along with pickles, tomato jam, and quince paste. A few of the guests wondered what, exactly, a raw quince looked like. Kurt passed one around the table. A quince looks like a rock- hard, yellow pear. It smells good, apparently, because people kept putting it up to their noses and inhaling deeply. I smelled the quince too. It's got a sweet flowery fragrance, to be sure, but it just doesn't compare to that new monster-truck smell.
There were freshly baked bread and heaping mounds of butter. The fresh farmstead butter is as golden and creamy as a California girl and inspires so much fanaticism from anyone who tries it, it's practically the L. Ron Hubbard of dairy products. People were slathering it on EVERYTHING: first bread, then crackers, then their own arms when the bread and crackers ran out.
The second course was braised kale, with sautéed bell peppers, onions and bacon bits, topped with a poached egg. This, too, was utterly delicious. The kale was tender and not leathery at all, as lesser kale can sometimes be. There was only a little bacon in there, so that the flavor didn't overwhelm, and the peppers and onions remained a bit crunchy for contrast. My only complaint was that the yolk in my egg wasn't as runny as I would've liked, but only a total dick would complain about something like that.
Next up was pasta with braised pork shoulder. It sounded deceptively simple, but this was so fucking tasty. Hand-made fettuccine was mixed with braised pork that was so tender it could have been a Lifetime Original Movie. The whole thing was glistening with copious amounts of the aforementioned farmstead butter, melted to a highly glossy sheen. This was so delicious, I would give a blind man a swirly if I could have it again.
Lunch concluded, as lunches sometimes do, with sweets: ice cream infused with bay leaves. A kid sitting across from me at the table looked torn. I could see her mind working: would the deliciousness of the ice cream be overwhelmed by the possible yuckiness of whatever "bay leaves" were? She kept looking up uncertainly at her mom as dessert was passed around. But the kid didn't have to worry: the ice cream tasted mostly like vanilla ice cream. It was drizzled in berry syrup, and the bay leaf flavor was just a distant savory hint. Whew!
After dessert everyone went home, but I stuck around for a bit so I could get the correct spelling of "Timmermiester" and "Hsiao-Ching Chou" and "Guarnaschelli" and all of those other fucking names. Jesus, life is hard. Maybe I'll camp out at the idyllic Kurtwood Farms, where butter flows out of the faucets and quinces smell like an angel's crotch and cows hump you whenever you want.
Rating: 8 pastoral scenes out of 10
Growing a Farmer goes on sale January 17th. For more information, click here.