A former Assistant Editor at Gourmet Magazine and a freelancer for more than 20 years, Melissa Trainer is an avid cook, writer and gardener. Aside from writing content for a diverse group of clients, Melissa enjoys tending her organic kitchen garden and using the fruits of her labors in her family kitchen. Over the years, Melissa has written for The New York Times, The Wall Street Journal, The Seattle Times, Real Food, Amazon, and many other publications, business, and organizations. For many years she was a daily contributor to Amazon's Al Dente blog, writing daily about kitchenware, recipes, culinary tips and dining trends.
Honey from the Neighborhood and Tips for Sourcing in Your Area
I am very lucky to have a beekeeper in my neighborhood who has been sharing her beautiful amber golden honey with those of thus in the ‘hood for many years now. A dear friend tipped me off to the flower/honey stand down the block during COVID.
Over the years the stand grew and Monica, who owns From the Hive, is also producing some gorgeous soaps, candles, candlesticks and more. Just yesterday I was buzzing down the road and saw her handwritten sign, “Local Honey.” Of course, I took that left hand turn and was pleased to find the Spring 2023 honey proudly displayed, The labeled informed that the honey was made from Fruit trees in Northwest Seattle. How Local is THAT? Yeah!
I forked over the requested amount, dropping the cash in a secure chute, and went on my way. Another knowledgeable neighbor was there buying a container and reporting to his little daughter, “There aren’t any honey sticks today.” This was clearly a bummer to the kid in the car!
According to the USDA it is estimated that there are between 139,600 and 212,000 beekeepers in the United States and many of these beekeepers are hobbyists who tend less than 25 hives.
This is an interesting fact to me because bees have to work really hard to make even the smallest amount. Apparently to make one pound of honey, honey bees have to tap two million flowers!
Here at my house, the honey from the ‘hood often gets used very simply. On a piece of breakfast toast. Perhaps in a vinaigrette with apple cider vinegar. Sometimes stirred onto a soothing cup of tea during cold and flu season. Or, drizzled over plain nonfat Greek yogurt topped with seasonal berries!
Looking to preserve the fragrance of fresh lavender? Follow these tips for harvesting, drying and storing!
I have an abundance of lavender in my yard and garden right now and it’s one of my favorite plants to clip, dry and store for use throughout the months. I often bundle it fresh when it’s in season and share bunches with friends and neighbors as a thank you or a little pick me up. As for the flowers, once they are dried, they are great in potpourri, bath salts, and even tucked into a jar of sugar or honey to make an aromatic sweetener! I have even made lavender wreaths with it!
If you happen to have some lavender in your garden or can find it at the farmers market, consider gathering it into bundles and drying it for use throughout the year. It’s renowned for its soothing aromatic and relaxing benefits so why not harness that for busy days ahead?
Here are some tips for harvesting, bundling, drying, and storing!
Step 1: Harvesting: It’s best to harvest or purchase your lavender during a dry spell so choose a sunny morning to harvest (or purchase) your lavender. Cut the stems with sharp scissors or garden shears, leaving a few inches of the stem intact. This will ensure that the lavender bunches hold together during the drying process. (Here in Seattle, I generally harvest it in July or August shortly after full bloom.)
Step 2: Bundling: Gather 10-15 stems together and tie them at the base with a string or rubber band. Make sure the stems are facing in the same direction. Create multiple small bundles rather than one large bundle to allow for better airflow and even drying.
Step 3: Hanging: Find a cool, dry, and well-ventilated area for drying. Hang the lavender bundles upside down, ensuring they are not overcrowded and have enough space for air circulation. You can use hooks, clotheslines, or a drying rack to hang them. This is an important factor because moisture may cause the bundles to get moldy before fully dried.
Step 4: Drying Time: Allow the lavender to dry naturally for about two to four weeks. The drying time may vary depending on the humidity and temperature of your environment. The lavender is ready when the flowers feel dry and crumble easily when rubbed between your fingers.
Step 5: Removing Leaves: Once dried, gently remove the leaves from the stems by running your fingers along the stem. You can discard the leaves or use them in potpourri or sachets.
Step 6: Storing: Place the dried lavender flowers in an airtight container, such as a glass jar or a resealable bag. Make sure the container is clean and dry to prevent moisture from affecting the quality of the lavender. Store the container in a cool, dark place away from direct sunlight, which can cause the flowers to fade.
Step 7: Labeling: Don’t forget to label your container with the date of drying and the type of lavender if you have different varieties. This will help you keep track of freshness and differentiate between different batches.
For additional inspiration on using lavender, check out my blog posts:
Fresh herbs are infinitely versatile and are a great way to add flavor, zing and interest to otherwise basic preparations. I have a large herb garden and the tender leaves and plants are a powerhouse of inspiration. They get used in everything from seafood dishes and savory bone broths to fresh fruit desserts and refreshing drinks.
Many folks, however, find herb preparation tedious. They tell me it’s a hassle to clean, store, and chop the leaves!
That’s usually when I suggest that they get a little herb spinner. Much like a salad spinner but smaller, herb spinners are quite handy. You can put the herbs right in the container and fill the container with cool water. You swish the herbs gently to remove any grit and you then gently lift and remove the herbs, leaving the dirty water behind. Drain the water, rinse the container, and return the herbs to the basket. Pop on the lid, give the whole thing a good spin, and you have fresh clean herbs ready for chopping and adding to a variety of dishes!
To store the whole clean herbs, wrap them in a paper towel and put them in a baggie in the fridge. They should last quite nicely for a few days.
This blog post was originally published on Amazon’s Al Dente blog on July 19, 2012. Since Seattle is having a wonderful berry year thanks to an abundance of sunshine, I decided to pull it from my archives and share again! Berries are also showing up at farmers markets and on sale at local grocery stores, so berry get busy!
Have you started making any jams, jellies, or preserves this summer? I haven’t gone whole hog just yet, but yesterday morning I was inspired to make a small batch of Darina Allen’s fabulously simple Raspberry Jam. Darina showed me how to make this jam when I attended her school, The Ballymaloe Cookery School located in Ireland, years ago.
I remember being fairly dumbfounded when she demonstrated it and within minutes presented the softly set aromatic jam to the class! Darina had learned how to make jam from her mother in law, Myrtle Allen, and to this day the recipe remains one of the cookery school’s classic recipes.
The recipe simply calls for fresh raspberries and sugar. Essentially, you warm the berries in a heavy saucepan and stir until they start to give off some juice. While the berries are cooking, you also gently warm the sugar in an ovenproof bowl in a low to moderate oven. Once the berries are bubbling you stir the warmed sugar into the berries, stir to dissolve the sugar and then continue to cook over moderate heat, stirring, for about five minutes.
The beauty of this recipe is that the jam is softly set and the raspberries retain their fresh berry patch aroma and flavor!
If you have ever made jam and cooked it and cooked it, then you have probably lost some of that amazing aromatic flavor naturally found in the berries.
I only made a half batch yesterday so I didn’t bother putting the jam into hot sterilized jars. I just poured it into a French mason jar and stashed it on the top shelf of the fridge. When I flip the lid back, the contents truly smell like a berry patch!
What’s on your plate during these dark dreary winter days?
For me, it’s been the wild and wonderful winter seafood of the Pacific Northwest.
Yes, I know that sounds a bit odd. Seafood always hits the hot button during the summer months when we naturally pair it with sunshine and sea breezes.
That said, in January and February I was drawn to the fabulous seafood counters we have here in the Emerald City. During the rare moments when I can escape my desk, I often choose to visit the supermarket and troll the produce and seafood counters, watching the sales and in store specials for inspiration.
In January, I noticed that retailers in town were featuring fresh Pacific Rockfish, a wild whitefish harvested in the cold offshore waters. On sale for less than $6 a pound, I dove in and bought a few fillets. At home, I decided to take a French inspired approach and, after pin boning the fillets, crafted a basic herb sauce to top the baked fish. A delicious success that sent me back to the fish counter.
For Round 2, I rustled up a crab stuffing which I mounded on the thin fillets and created a tidy bundle. The packages baked in the oven while I raced off to another task. This second success sent me back to the seafood counter at Shoreline’s T & C Market where I chatted with the young fishmonger who totally agreed it was a winner of a local wild fish and pointed me to the Rockfish poster nearby. Although he couldn’t tell me which species of rockfish they were featuring (there are many!), he happily wrapped up a few more pounds so I could stash them in the freezer.
Shortly thereafter, I eyed some fresh Pacific Winter King Salmon fillets, although price at $39 a pound, they looked stunning in the seafood case at the market, and were from Southeast Alaska, which is renowned for being some of the best. Back at home, a pound of that beautiful king was wrapped into French inspired medallions which I seared on my Le Creuset ridged grill pan and finished in the oven.
Oui! Oui! Bon Appetit! I was on a roll….
Next up? Local Dungeness Crab. I love this cranky crustacean but during the Pandemic the prices skyrocketed and after visiting Merino’s Seafood Market in Westport last summer, I shifted toward their spectacular canned Dungeness which I have been happily using all winter.
That said, when my local QFC, Winco, and Costco were featuring these fresh cooked beauties for less than $6 a pound, I dove in, bought a bunch, and got cracking at home! My first round was simply steamed in my Le Creuset wok, picked by my husband and me over newspaper at the kitchen table and served with a stunning Garlic Ginger Soy dipping sauce that I created. The ginger was the perfect counterpoint to the briny richness of the crab.
My husband gathered the crab shells and made a superb crab stock. I went back for more and stashed the whole crabs in the freezer.
Finally, this week, Fresh Wild Pacific Cod from Alaska is showing up. I love Pacific Cod as it’s a buttery blank slate that lends itself to being served in the most basic way over mashed potatoes with garlic green beans or chard on the side. But it’s also great turned into endless other creations. Shoreline T & C Markets is currently featuring big buttery fresh fillets of this cold-water fish and I’ve purchased two large fillets just since the sale started. A quick check to remove any pin bones and a generous salting with La Baleine sea salt, sets this fish on the path to success. Placed in an au gratin pan with some lemon slices underneath, drizzled with a reduction of fish broth, wine, and butter, and baked in a 375 oven until warmed through, It’s a very cozy preparation.
When I recently reflected on all this stunning local and wild seafood being featured at markets this winter, I began to wonder WHY. It feels different this year. I’ve lived here for over 28 years now and have trolled these counters for nearly a generation now.
When I questioned my friendly fishmonger (yet again!) if something was shifting…he looked up from the case while preparing my order and said, “You know, I think it is…I think we are seeing more this winter.”
Indeed, I do believe there is a shift and I’d like to think that more of our domestic wild and wonderful seafood is being kept here in the local American markets. With a global pandemic, disrupted supply chains, and international wars, the pivot to local and American seems stronger than ever.
It’s a big bright spot for me as we schlep through the dark days of winter, waiting for those breezy days at the beach!
Sometimes you have to step out of your comfort zone to discover something delicious, local, and timely.
In September my husband and I headed out to the Westport, Washington, which is a small remote fishing town located on the Pacific Ocean. About three hours from Seattle, this town has long been a favorite misty destination for us. For many years we brought our kids out there and spent many a summer weekends camping at the state parks. This year, as empty nesters, we decided to head out to Westport after Labor Day. School was back in session and the weather looked to be great.
Of course, trolling the large marina which features an array of fishing and crabbing boats was on our list. Home to a large commercial fishing fleet, Westport has a decidedly salty air. The fog horn blows continuously in the distance. Seafood processing facilities dot the down town…peppered alongside bars, salt water taffy shops, and fish and chips style restaurants.
On this visit I decided to check out Merino’s Seafoods. Locally owned and operated for decades, this no frills shop features seafood and shellfish harvested in the wild from the North Pacific by local fishing vessels just miles off the Washington coast. Merino’s also does all the processing and canning in house only feet from the dock where the seafood is brought in. Local charter boats send their customers to Merino’s in order to get their catch of salmon or albacore tuna processed (filleted and vacuum packed) to their specification. Merino’s also has a full service seafood market and a great fish and chips window which is a new addition since the pandemic.
I had driven by Merino’s many times while in Westport but this year I ventured in. There was more buzz around the place. Sports fishermen were flocking there with the massive quantities of tuna they had caught that day. The fish and chips window had a steady stream of customers daily. In their compact and bustling retail market, I found a crowd of fishermen waiting to pay their processing bill. I also found a large wall featuring cans of local seafood-tuna, salmon, sturgeon, oysters, crab, razor clams and more. I have relied on canned seafood, mainly clams and salmon, in my kitchen for many years but with food inflation and security on everyone’s minds these days I decided to explore the other canned options. The canned Dungeness immediately caught my eye.
My husband and I often catch our own Dungeness crab in the Puget Sound but that’s an arduous task on many levels. I also sometimes splurge and buy the one pound plastic tubs of fresh Dungeness crab at Costco but even that has topped $50 a container in the last couple years. I soon reasoned the canned wild Dungeness crab could be a luxurious pantry item! (Most of the canned crab in the markets these days is imported from Asian and I simply never buy it.) This locally caught and processed crab seemed like the perfect solution!
When I got to the register to buy a can, the chatty gal at the counter assured me it was high quality, as she herself was “a shaker”, which is someone trained in the messy task of picking the crab. She told me she had even trained her daughter the skill cause not that many folks can do it these days! When I asked where it was processed she nodded towards the back of the building and said, “Here!” That was all I needed to know so I turned around and bought 8 more cans! It was a good investment!
Last week I finally got round to cracking a can and decided to craft a simple crab salad inspired by a recipe from a vintage 1970s Scandinavia cookbook. When I opened the can I was greeted with gorgeous crab segments and underneath found the picked flakier crab. Yes, this was a deliciously luxurious find. Tweaking the ingredients, I soon had a spectacularly fresh tasting Krabbsallad. A luxury indeed!
Do you have an itchy green thumb? A thumb that wants to get down and dirty in the garden but you don’t have a lot of space or are limited to a balcony or a strip by the driveway?
Well, fear not and dig in.
As someone who has been gardening for over thirty years now, I’ve learned that lots can be grown in small pockets and in containers. Although I have a Seattle Community P Patch plot and raised vegetable beds in my yard, I remain fascinated with what can be grown in the smallest nooks and crannies.
Over the years, I have experimented with varieties bred or appropriate for mini plots. Some of these varieties are Tumbling Tom tomatoes, Astia Zucchini, and Pixie Cabbage, all of which I have grown from seed. I even have container raspberries, Raspberry Shortcake, growing abundantly in containers in a shady corner of my yard as well as in my P Patch.
If you are just getting started, the best thing you can start with are herbs, edible flowers, and tender lettuces! Many of the tender herbs, such as dill, chives, chervil, parsley, basil and cilantro, can easily be sown by seed in a pot or planter filled with potting soil. Kept relatively moist and even with only scattered sunlight, the seeds will sprout and eventually push forth enough herbaceous material to be snipped and scattered over an egg, a pasta, a homemade pizza or into a restorative soup.
This year, I am trying the Pot and Patio lettuce blend, which I ordered last week from Territorial Seed Company. The catalogue describes the mix as: “Tailored specifically for the container gardener, this lively blend of vibrant green and deep, rich burgundy lettuces will maximize your salad green production in the tiniest of spaces.” So, of course, I wanted to try the blend after reading that description!
The seed catalogues, such as Burpee, Johnny’s Selected Seeds, and Territorial Seed Company offer an abundance of herb seeds and they often offer specifics on which varieties are good for containers. That said, ordering seeds by mail can get pricey, so just head to the local nursery or garden center and troll the seed racks for inspiration. If sowing from seed isn’t your thing, buy starts and tuck them into the containers. (Organic violas, can be grown from seed, but they are a great option for buying as a start. Inexpensive and perky, the cheerful flowers make lovely garnishes on salads, platters or even perched on logs of goat cheese!) Starts, though not as economical as seeds, are a good way to jettison your way towards success. While shopping for starts, ask the specialists at the nursery if they carry varieties suited for containers, and look for icons on the plant labels, such as a mini container, which are indicative that the plants can thrive in small spaces.
Don’t fret too much, just do it.
In a few months time, you’ll be tending your own little homestead whether it’s on the driveway, the patio, the balcony or the backyard. Here is some inspiration from my little garden. Stay tuned for more inspiration on edibles in small spaces!
Every spring Washington’s fertile Skagit Valley, located about 60 miles north of Seattle, turns into a kaleidoscope of blooms, color, and incredible beauty when the tulip fields burst forth in April!
This year, despite a very cool and rainy spring, the tulips are as enchanting as ever.
On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took a little staycation daytrip up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which was started back in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and was a mere two day event back then. The festival now encompasses the full month of April and offers a wide array of events, art shows, cycling tours, displays, contests and of course fields abloom in color!
Our daytrip involved leaving Seattle early in the morning, with our $15 Roozengaarde Tulip Festival tickets in hand. Each fall I order my bulbs from Roozengaarde, which is the largest bulb grower in the United States, so I love to see their display gardens and fields at this time of year.
Indeed, they were stunning when we were there. We arrived early and the crowds and traffic grew exponentially by the time we left. (Hint: get up and arrive EARLY, especially if it’s a sunny day!) The photo opportunities were massive as the colors were amazing. The brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds was the perfect backdrop!
Thanks to the cool and rather wet weather we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, the reports are that the tulip fields will remain in full bloom through the end of the month and perhaps even into early May. So, if you are so inclined and need a dose of spring cheer, head to the picturesque Skagit Valley for a healthy dose of spring!
Think about it. They start their residency in the garden as frumpy brown orbs buried deep in the soil in October or November. They are usually planted here in Seattle on a dark rainy day and are then left to hibernate all winter. They endure snow, darkness, endless storms and in some cases marauding squirrels inclined to dig them up.
Then come mid winter, they start to peek out from the ground and slowly but surely send forth beautiful green leaves, then stalks and ultimately a burst of brilliant color! I have always loved tulips but it was during the spring of 2020, at the height of the COVID shutdowns, that I gained a renewed appreciation for them.
Clearly defying the odds, they bring so much sumptuous color and sheer joy. And, from a busy gardener’s perspective, they require very little fuss, which to me is a true mystery.
As I admire my tulip bed this year and tuck the gorgeous flowers into vases, pitchers, tea tins and jam jars around the house, I marvel at life’s littlest miracles!
Last January, I was sitting on my couch moping and wondering when things would spring back to life. The world as we knew it was shut down. The day was dark and rain was pelting the windows.
I was scrolling aimlessly through Instagram.
One simple post caught my eye. A gal in New York City (a gal who was clearly as bored as I was!) had planted a bunch of seeds in clear seltzer bottles and milk jugs and explained she was experimenting with “winter sowing.” Curious about this winter sowing thing, I went down that Instagram rabbit hole and discovered an ingenious system for sowing seeds, outside, during the winter months without the use of supplementary heat, light, or a classic greenhouse!
This was just the project I needed to push me off the couch and into action!
Developed over twenty years ago by Trudi Davidoff, a resident of Long Island, winter sowing is a system she devised when she wanted to start her plants by seed but lacked a lot of space inside. Using simple recycled materials such as translucent milk jugs, salad boxes and soda bottles, winter sowing harnesses the power of nature on many levels, and for me last year, it resulted in an incredible organic kitchen garden that brought a bountiful harvest!
At first, I was doubtful that sowing seeds in January in jugs and setting them outside in the elements would work, so rather than gambling with my expensive seeds from Johnny’s Selected Seeds and Territorial Seeds, I headed to Dollar Tree where I bought an array of packets-bachelor buttons, larkspur, kale, Parris Island Romaine lettuce, lavender and more. At 25 cents per packet, I figured my investment wasn’t huge by any means, so it was a perfect opportunity to test the task.
Wow! I planted my first seeds—Lupines, larkspur, lettuces in mid-January and by mid-February, I had growth and green sprouts coming up. Even in the midst of a massive Valentine’s Day weekend snow storm, my little plants stayed cozy enough to survive. This was the only proof I needed to go full steam ahead. Within weeks, I had sown probably more than 40 milks jugs with everything from zucchini, beans, peas, sweet peas, sunflowers, and even tomatoes!
My efforts paid off in the spring when I had tons of garden ready flowers and vegetables to plant easily from the jugs to the garden beds. Because the plants had grown outdoors, they were acclimated to the elements and didn’t need to be hardened off or coddled before going into their new homes. (A big bonus for the busy gardener!) When I transplanted them, I did make sure to cover the tender plants with the milk jugs or a clear salad box, to protect them from birds, crows and Seattle’s infamous slugs.
My garden got a huge jump start in and when the vegetables and annual flowers started appearing in the local nurseries in April and May, it was clear that I had saved myself a ton of money because the prices for basic garden vegetables had skyrocketed.
Furthermore, options were extremely limited due to the pandemic challenges at hand.
So, if you want to grow more flowers and vegetables by seed and save yourself a ton of money this spring, gear up now and get winter sowing!
The method involves harnessing supplies such as translucent one gallon milk jugs, duct tape, scissors or a sharp Exacto knife, high quality organic potting soil, a Sharpie, labels and seed packets.
I started by slitting four or five holes in the bottom of thoroughly sanitized and rinsed milk jugs, and then slicing around the milk jug equator, but leaving the milk jug intact at the handle so it can be opened up like a little cloche when weather gets warmer. The milk jug cap is discarded, as the little hole at the top will allow rain to drizzle in and maintain a moist environment. I then put about four inches of organic potting soil in the bottom of the milk jug, wet the soil thoroughly until water runs through the holes in the bottom, add a packet of seeds, label the container, and then use the duct tape to seal the equator slit. The jug is then set outside. It’s pretty much a “set it and forget it” method much like a slow cooker!
In my yard I set the jugs on a southeast side of the house where they simply hang out until they are naturally inclined to sprout. (As the season warms up, the jugs do need to be checked intermittently to make sure they don’t dry out or get too hot but that’s part of the fun and daily joy of checking the little jugs!)
I’m continually amazed by my “Milk Jugs Miracles” because they endure rain, frost, and even last year’s heavy February snow only to spring to life when the seeds are ready. This year on Martin Luther King weekend, I got started by planting leeks, Tom Thumb lettuce, Parris Island Romaine, and Marvel of Four Seasons lettuce. Incredibly, those lettuces are already springing to life! My heirloom sweet peas, planted later in the month, are now also swelling and pushing forth!
I love this simple economical method so much, I am hosting a winter sowing workshop at my Seattle P Patch in order to share the method with my fellow P Patch gardeners.
An excellent resource for further information is the Winter Sowers Facebook page, which was started by Trudi and now has over 75,000 members from all over the world.