July 8, 2020

Burning Beast

With an enticing name like “Burning Beast,” how could I possibly resist?

Well, there were reasons… The event was to take place waaaaay up north, much further afield that I normally travel for a meal. And did I really have the intestinal fortitude to consume the acres of meat the event’s name clearly implied?

/ photo by Alix /

Turns out that none of these were real obstacles, because last Sunday I found myself trundling up I-5 toward Arlington, with three intrepid friends and proven good eaters, on our way to Burning Beast. The event takes place down a winding series of roads that lead to Smoke Farm, a former working dairy that has been transformed into a home for artists, educators and performers, all working to promote art and creativity. Burning Beast is one of the major fundraisers for the year, and helps to support a range of initiatives and programs of Smoke Farm, among them things like poetry retreats, puppetry classes, blacksmithing camps and workshops for theater-makers.

/ photo by Andrew van Leeuwen /

Passing a tractor shed on our way into the farm we got a peek at the physical incarnation of one of those creative undertakings, the letter press machines that make up Smoke Farm Press. For a closer look, check out the post by one of my fellow travelers who went to examine in more detail the machines and what they’re producing.

So what exactly IS Burning Beast, you ask? In theory, it’s a chance for a group of extremely skilled local chefs to lend their time and talent to an excellent cause, and along the way teach the rest of us a bit about where our food comes from (connecting us to the WHOLE animal), and how good local, sustainably raised animals can taste. In practice, it’s 15-ish chefs and their cooking teams who spend a weekend preparing and serving an animal, vegetable or sea creature, using fire, earth, steel and little else. No electricity; it’s all open flame and a great deal of creativity.

I meant it: whole animal!

Picture this…

… times the number and variety of meats and sea creatures listed on the chalkboard menu.

/ photo by Andrew van Leeuwen /

(In case you didn’t catch that, we’re talking some of the best restaurants in Seattle represented here: Emmer & Rye, Serafina, Cicchetti, Marjorie, Monsoon, Crush, Art of the Table, Lark, Licorous. Be still my beating heart!)

A laid-back crowd, a fair number of people seemed to arrive at 3pm when the “doors” opened, interested in checking out the farm, the nearby river or maybe just lounging in the sun. At some point the trapeze artists set up in the middle of the field started performing, and there was live music from a couple of different bands throughout the afternoon and into the evening.

Music, and music in waiting / photo by Alix /

That photo also gives you an idea of the size of the field where the event took place, with all of those tents representing different chefs and beasts. And after about 6:30pm when the food started coming off various fires, the scene looked a bit like this, with people lining up at various tables and tents for all sorts of deliciousness.

Where to begin with that deliciousness… Moose and blueberry sausage wrapped in bacon; rabbit stuffed with rabbit and housemade (fieldmade?) prosciutto sausage; Painted Hills ribeye on crostini; lamb with pistachios, golden raisins, golden beets and mint; slow-roasted harissa goat; moose confit –– just to name a few. And the sides that accompanied some of the meats were pretty fantastic as well: Calvados fig jam; farro with peas and blueberries; English pea and tarragon cream.

As promised, the event did include several non-meat options including a slew of extremely tasty roasted vegetables, the most enormous sardines I’ve ever seen and a huge stack of mammoth oysters steamed under a pile of wet burlap bags. Ingenuity at its best, I say.

And finally, after everyone was absolutely stuffed to the gills, here’s where the burning beast part came in: The massive wooden goat was set aflame and everyone gathered around as eventually, it became campfire-sized.

That’s the moment when the crowd began to disperse a bit, and we departed to make the drive back to Seattle. Though I suspect that’s when the real fun started, as there looked to be plenty of people armed with camping gear planning to spend the night. Maybe for year four I’ll be ready to eat myself silly and then crawl into a tent for the night. But only if I’m promised a rib-eye breakfast, I think. And maybe only if Fonte is still there and still pouring coffee.

/ Unless otherwise noted, photos by Chong Kim /

Mindful eating DOES include Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars

I’ve been lucky, food-wise. I didn’t have any food allergies growing up, and don’t seem to have developed any as an adult. Just the usual stuff about getting older and being more careful about what I eat — the results of a recent cholesterol test suggest that perhaps I be a bit more restrained on my intake of pork belly and foie gras — but otherwise I’ve been able to amble quite happily through all kinds of eating. I haven’t had to structure my choices around shouldn’t or can’t; more likely it’s “I tried the tripe pho and it just really wasn’t my thing.”

Interesting, then, that within the last several weeks I’ve been spending time with two people for whom gluten intolerance is a real issue. My first thought was: Horrors! No bread or pasta? (and as a big baker…) No baked goods!? My first reaction was shouldn’t and can’t, when really it just means thinking a little bit more about what you’re eating — not a bad thing for any of us. That might include seeking out restaurants with good wheat-free options, and as you might expect this is a task that I plan to embrace with great enthusiasm. Already we’ve had a great meal from the gluten-free menu at Tango on lower Capitol Hill. And I was impressed to learn, during dinner at Volterra in Ballard, that they have started making gluten-free pasta and you just need to let them know when making your reservation that you’re interested in said pasta. I also hear tell of a fantastic little spot in Greenwood called Wheatless in Seattle, though I have yet to check it out…

With my gluten antennae firmly in place, last week I moved to a more advanced level of food awareness when I, along with my visiting mother, moved in with my nieces for the week. I knew that the youngest had recently been put on a diet that excluded the broad categories of gluten and dairy, but when I arrived and read through the list of can’ts there were also things like onion and garlic. So I went back through the recipes I had carefully amassed to see what could work with these new restrictions and sure enough, I had to shift my thinking once again. It’s good for me, this business of eating mindfully. Or at least mindfully in a way that doesn’t just include appreciating fresh ingredients and careful preparation, but also the specific components of each meal.

I am pleased to report that this meal of marinated flank steak, roasted asparagus and red potatoes that look suspiciously Yukon Gold-y was a big hit, and was delicious (if I do say so myself) while meeting all dietary requirements. Luckily the hectic schedules of two very busy girls meant that someone else preparing the food was sometimes the better option, so the chicken teriyaki at Himitsu and gluten- and dairy-free pizza from Garlic Jim’s also figured prominently in my week.

Remember my initial reaction and the horror at no longer being able to bake if gluten-restricted? I had been doing some research over the last few weeks, reading about all of the ways to replace wheat flour in various recipes. While I may eventually make my own flour mixture, for the moment I’m using Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour with great results. One square of these Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars is about all my youngest niece can have for the moment, until dairy is less of an issue, but the successful substitution of the non-wheat-y flour means that they are good to go for the gluten intolerant of the world. And quite delicious, if I do say so myself.

Ginger Chocolate Chip Bars

1 cup (2 sticks) unsalted butter, at room temperature
2 1/4 cups Bob’s Red Mill gluten-free flour
2 teaspoons ground ginger
1/2 teaspoon cinnamon
1/4 teaspoon ground cloves
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
1 1/4 cups light brown sugar
1 1/4 cups granulated sugar
4 large eggs
1 teaspoon pure vanilla extract
12 ounces semisweet chocolate chips

Heat oven to 350°. Use cooking spray to coat a 9-by-13-inch baking pan and line it with 2 crisscrossed pieces of parchment paper, leaving an overhang on all sides. In a large bowl, whisk together the flour, ginger, cinnamon, cloves, baking soda, and salt. With an electric mixer, beat the butter and sugars until fluffy. Add the eggs and vanilla and beat to combine. Gradually add the flour mixture, mixing until just incorporated. Mix in the chocolate chips. Spread the batter evenly in the prepared pan and bake until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean, 55 minutes. Cool completely in the pan, then cut into 32 bars.

[Thanks to Real Simple for the original, wheat-y version of this recipe]

Quick party turnaround

Hey Alix,

I am hoping you can help me with something:

We are having somewhat of a last minute “big wig” dinner on our boat for a group of eleven this Thursday! The higher ups from a large corporation are coming in from all over the nation — including Hawaii — for this occasion. I am thinking finger food and cocktails along with our tour. We have hired a captain but feel like we don’t need catering staff. Looking for Northwest-y food, artfully displayed.


– Happy Boater

– – – – – – – – – – – – – –

Dear Happy Boater,

A small event two days from now, and you want the party to have a Northwest flair? Here are a couple of options:

1. If you’re looking for easy, my first suggestion would be to call caterer Madres Kitchen and see if they can get something together this quickly. They are great — two mothers own it (hence the name) — and they are terrific to work with. They can likely put together lovely platters that they simply drop off, rather than having to hang around and be “cater-y.”

2. Or, if you’re up for a little bit of assembly and a little bit of cooking, how about the Whole Foods route? Their prepared food section would have a bunch of good options, including outstanding crab cakes if you have access to an oven. A quick bake and some bottled sauce, and you’re all set. Chicken and vegetable skewers can be done slightly in advance, so that you’re not slaving over the grill and trying to be hostess with the mostess at the same time. Add a couple of salads from that same section, maybe a shrimp something and whatever orzo variety they have on hand.

Elsewhere in the store, pick up packaged lox, cream cheese, capers and sliced tomato, along with thin rye toasts; such a Northwest kind of thing to serve. A cheese plate with a selection of two to three always helps to round out heavy hors d’oeuvres; Mt. Townsend’s Seastack is one of my favorites.

3. As for beverages, how about St. Germain gin and tonics, made with gin from Spokane’s own Dry Fly Distilling. You might also want some beers on hand, and perhaps at the same Whole Foods you’ll be able to find some local options. Two of my personal favorites are made locally in Georgetown, Georgetown Brewing Company’s Manny’s Pale Ale and Baron Brewing Company’s Baron Pilsner.

4. For dessert, how about a tray of artfully broken up bars from Theo Chocolate or Fran’s salted caramels — both available at Whole Foods, I’m nearly certain. Add a couple of small bowls of different berries (strawberries and blueberries, say) and you’re set.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Anyone who knows me knows that I have an inordinate love for peanut butter, particularly desserts which contain this magical ingredient. On this post-Thanksgiving day, having just overindulged in turkey, stuffing and pumpkin pie, why not share a recipe? These bars got good reviews on their first public outing, and I promise that you will be well-received when you bring these along with you to your next holiday party.

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars
Makes 48 bars

3 c powdered sugar
3/4 c brown sugar
1/2 c softened butter
2 c crunchy peanut butter
8 oz semi-sweet chocolate chips
1/4 c milk

Beat together sugars and butter until blended; the mixture will be crumbly. Mix in peanut butter. With clean hands, press the mixture into an ungreased 9”x13” pan in a smooth layer. Melt the chocolate and milk together in a small pan on the stove, and spread over the peanut butter layer. Freeze until the bars begin to set (approximately 20 minutes), cut into 48 bars, then return to the freezer to continue to set. Bars can be stored in a sealed container in the freezer, and are tasty straight out of the freezer or allowed to warm up slightly.

Thanks, Joanna, for introducing us to this recipe and Mom, for bringing it back from your Australian visit. Ah, the extra special challenge of converting from metric…

Chocolate Peanut Butter Bars on FoodistaChocolate Peanut Butter Bars

Honeybees — who knew?

I went to a fantastic event this week downtown at the Palace Ballroom, part of “The Good Life” series from Kim Ricketts and interviewer extraordinaire, Warren Etheredge. The series features authors who have created for themselves this kind of life, and share with the rest of us how to do the same. Tuesday’s special guest was C. Marina Marchese, author of Honeybee: Lessons from an Accidental Beekeeper and owner of Connecticut’s Red Bee Artisanal Honey. I haven’t had a chance yet to read the book, but a couple of things from the conversation stuck out for me.

One is the concept of flower constancy and how it relates to flavors of honey. Apparently honeybees have a traveling radius of 2-3 miles, so that’s the area in which they seek out various flowers. And within that radius they return to the same flower time after time. It’s this pattern that allows beekeepers to produce honey with a consistent flavor profile. In order maintain that consistency, they track what is blooming at a particular time and stop harvesting the honey that their bees are producing 2-3 weeks after that flower stops blooming. And voila, you have lavender honey or wild raspberry honey or blueberry blossom honey, whatever is in season and within the honeybees’ nectar-gathering radius.

The second has to do with the traveling radius of a honeybee as well, but as it relates to what’s an organic product and what’s not. Because bees leave the hive and collect nectar from flowers within this 2-3 mile radius, it’s tough for a beekeeper to guarantee that nothing the bees come into contact with contains pesticides or other nasties, thus making the organic stamp of approval very difficult to attain. The good news is that if it’s challenging to buy organic honey, it’s really easy to buy honey blessed with our other current favorite stamp of approval: “produced locally.” And even better, eating this honey means that you’re ingesting allergens local to your particular environment, thus you’re less likely to suffer the effects of these same allergens when you breathe them in their flowering form. What a deal!

I’ve been meaning to attend a Kim Ricketts event for a while, and now that I’ve been to this one I’m looking forward to the Cooks and Books visiting chef series, particularly. Who wouldn’t love the pairing of interesting venue, fantastic food and entertaining personality?

[Photo courtesy of Red Bee Artisanal Honey]