In the fall of 2013, when we returned from a 3-week stay in Provence, my husband and I had a bit of a hangover. It was less from the 42 bottles of wine we’d consumed collectively with various visitors over long lunches and drawn-out dinners, and more from the extended thrill of exploring new things, from the heady combination of having the little Citroen that could and no schedule. We agreed we’d had the trip of a lifetime. And over the course of 2014, as we were reminded time and time again that the same magic mix of time and freedom and savings might not present itself again for years, we mourned. The downside of taking the trip of a lifetime is that once you’ve taken it, it’s over.
Then last fall, an east coast acquaintance visited Seattle. She’s someone I’ve met many times but haven’t spent much time with, and as she traipsed her way through The Emerald City—through my own neighborhood, at times—I watched it on social media with the same interest and bewilderment I felt as I watched another acquaintance journey through Morocco. It became clear that the Seattle visitor was treating her trip here the same way we’d viewed our time in France; she skipped from market to café to restaurant to farm, ending up, more often than not, back in her own rented dining room, with food from the region and a good bottle of wine. She made me realize that while Provence was lovely, we live in a pretty epic spot ourselves. (Isn’t that why we moved here?) That while I skipped with joy at the prospect of picking up fresh lamb from a local butcher across the Atlantic, I had grown blind to the possibility of buying crab off a dock so close to home. That while I swooned when our French hosts brought wine from a friend’s vines, I forgot I knew folks who make cider right here in Seattle.
And so it came about that rather than pining for a full year in Provence, that sabbatical from life so many of us began imagining with the publication of Peter Mayle’s A Year in Provence, I began daydreaming about how I’d spend a year in the Pacific Northwest, writ large, if I could go anywhere within a day’s drive of Seattle. If I could learn about anything. If I could talk to anyone. And if about half the time, I could take my family with me.
This month, I started working on A Year Right Here: Essays on Food and Life in the Pacific Northwest, due out on bookshelves in (gulp!) the spring of 2017. And by “working on,” I really mean planning for, because at this point, my poor beleaguered calendar isn’t sure what hit it. I’ve signed up for a hunter’s safety course. I have a shellfishing license. I’ve sized my child for a wetsuit he may or may not permit me to put on, for a winter surfing trip also linked to a restaurant off the coast of Vancouver Island. I’ve planned a chicken coop for the backyard, which involved bribing ten friends into digging out iced-over waterlogged grass on a cold-for-Seattle January 1st, hauling flagstone til my fingers (literally) bled, and, tangentially, installing a fire pit where the grass had been. (You’re not the only one who has asked whether we plan on roasting old chickens in plain view of their former coopmates. We won’t.)
I don’t know how many wine corks I’ll collect over the course of the year, but I’ve started a bucket, right on top of the bookshelf. And on Saturday, we’ll make the long, winding, likely rainy drive up Vancouver Island from Victoria to Tofino, through the Douglas fir trees, to a crab shack whose supposed location I know only in relation to a Gas-n-Go, because it apparently has no address.
So it’s a new year, and for us, that means new adventures, right nearby. This year, Hogwash will be full of outtakes–everything from our upcoming surf lesson, slated to take place in 40-degree driving rain, to the meals I can’t write about in the book, to the sad stories, like the one I’ll inevitably face when I mark the anniversary of a barn-burning accident with two lovely cheesemakers near Yakima, WA.
Don’t worry, you don’t have to go anywhere. Just stay right here.*
If just talking about surfing in January makes you cold cold, head for the hot-and-sour soup recipe I made this week for some of the generous backyard diggers, as repayment for spending the first day of the year hoisting dirt up into rickety wheelbarrows and piling it into big mountains on our front lawn.
And just think: you won’t even have to pick up a shovel.
*Or follow me on Instagram (@jessthomson)
This is not traditional Chinese hot-and-sour soup, but it was born close by. Down an easily forgotten staircase near City Fish—the Pike Place Market’s oldest fish shop—Pike Place Chinese Cuisine serves fantastic fare with an astounding view of the Sound. Start your market trip with a bowl of its pork-studded soup, then march upstairs to gather ingredients for this brightly hued vegetarian version, which has the same punch of white pepper and vinegar but uses fresh fall farmers’ market ingredients, such as mushrooms, kale, squash, and carrots.
Outside of chanterelle season, you can use all shiitake mushrooms.
Active time: 45 minutes
Makes 4 servings
3 tablespoons cornstarch
3 tablespoons cold water
1 teaspoon sugar
1 tablespoon soy sauce
3 teaspoons dark sesame oil, divided
8 ounces tofu (about ½ package)
3 leaves lacinato (aka dinosaur) kale
1 tablespoon canola oil
2 carrots, peeled and shredded
½ delicata squash, seeded and shredded
¼ pound chanterelle mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed and thinly sliced
¼ pound shiitake mushrooms, rinsed, trimmed, and thinly sliced
6 cups vegetable or mushroom broth
¼ cup plus 1 tablespoon white vinegar
½ teaspoon freshly ground white pepper
1 large egg, beaten
In a small bowl, blend the cornstarch, water, sugar, soy sauce, and 2 teaspoons of the sesame oil together with a fork until combined, and set aside.
Cut the tofu into ¼-inch batons and set aside. Cut the tough ribs out of the kale and slice the leaves horizontally into ¼-inch strips. Set aside.
Heat a wok or large soup pot over high heat. When hot, add the canola oil and the remaining teaspoon of sesame oil, then the carrots and squash. Cook for 1 minute, stirring, then add the kale and mushrooms. Sauté for 2 minutes, until the kale has wilted. Add the broth, then the tofu, and bring to a simmer. Stir the cornstarch mixture, add it to the soup, and bring the soup back to a simmer, stirring occasionally until it looks a bit thicker and almost glossy. Remove the pan from the heat, stir in the vinegar and pepper, and taste for seasoning—you’ll probably want a bit more vinegar and/or pepper. Stir the mixture around in a circle once or twice, creating a gentle whirlpool. Stop stirring and drizzle the egg into the swirling liquid—it will cook upon contact in long, thin strings. Serve immediately.
*(c)2012 By Jess Thomson. All rights reserved. Excerpted from Pike Place Market Recipes by permission of Sasquatch Books.