Burt Wolf's Table: Seattle - #210

BURT WOLF:  Seattle, Washington.  It's a town that's been able to preserve much of its past while building for its future.  We'll discover why the people of Seattle drink more top-quality coffee than anyone else in the U.S. and how America became a country of coffee drinkers.  We'll visit the most successful herb farm in the northwest and cook along with some of the area’s best chefs.  So join me in Seattle at Burt Wolf's Table.

The geography of the northwestern corner of the United States is dominated by a large body of water called Puget Sound.  It starts at the Pacific Ocean and cuts into the state of Washington for over 100 miles.  At its eastern end is the city of Seattle, which has often been described as one of the most livable cities in North America.

One reason that the city is so well thought of and perhaps the most important one, is the sense of civic pride.  The citizens of Seattle have been relatively successful as preserving their city.  They've held onto many of their most important structures and kept them in a state of good repair.  They have been able to defeat the type of urban planning that has obliterated the historical character of many American cities.  As a result, Seattle looks good and feels good.

Seattle has a program that directs one percent of the cost of a public construction project to artwork.  Artists have even brought their talent to the design of the town's manhole covers.  But the creative community is not just limited to painters and sculptors.  Seattle has become one of the most important centers for music, theatre, and literature.  And its film and television business is very busy competing with Vancouver for the title of Hollywood North.

The city of Seattle is shaped by the shores of Puget Sound and that is true in many different ways.  Seattle's docks are the closest North American docks to Japan, which has made the city an important commercial port. 

The accessibility to the sea has also made water sports a major area of recreation.  And the contours of the sound have turned the area's island and inlets into Seattle suburbs... thousands of people commuting to work on ferries. 

Down the road is Pioneer Square, clearly worth exploring.  There's the Merchant's Cafe which once sold beer to gold rush miners at 5 cents a glass.  Lots of art galleries and craft shops and book stores, including my personal favorite, the Elliot Bay Book Company.  Old books, new books, newspapers and magazines.  A place to just sit and read, and a cafe.  Hey, plus they had copies of my book.

This is an old trick for authors.  If you autograph a book while it's still in the bookstore, they will never return it to the publisher and you'll get your royalty.  Hey, every penny helps.  I paid for three kids to go to college and just when I thought I was going to have a few extra bucks, I find out that I'm going to help pay off the national debt, which is fine, but I think with all of the money they have in Washington, they could have hired one bookkeeper who would have told us the truth.

And there's the Smith Tower.  When it opened in 1914, it was the tallest building in the west.  And it held that title for many years.  The guy who built this building was L.C. Smith.  He had made his fortune as the Smith in Smith and Wesson, the gun manufacturers.  When he retired from Smith and Wesson and came out here, he started a second company and became the Smith in Smith Corona, the typewriter guys.  I guess he liked to make things with little moving hammers, huh?

Seattle has a large international district which is really a pan-Pacific community with lots of good restaurants serving food from Thailand,  Vietnam, Korea, Cambodia and Japan, as well as China.

Seattle is one of the first cities in the world to introduce free public transportation.  Just hop on board and head off.  It's faster than going by car, ecologically more responsible and perfectly priced. 

BURT WOLF:  The first European settlement in the Seattle area was built by a group of fur traders.  They bartered goods with the Native Americans and did a little trading.  The discovery of gold in California in 1849 brought hundreds of thousands of immigrants to the west coast of the United States.  In those days, it was not uncommon for a group of people to get together and plan a totally new city.  Some entrepreneurial settlers would group up, stake a claim to some land, develop a plan for a new city, and then do everything they could to get other people to buy into their dream.  They were kind of the Donald Trumps of the time.

In the case of Seattle, the first developer was David Denny, who arrived here with a group of twenty-odd people in September of 1851.  Denny was soon joined by three other visionaries: Charles Boren, William Bell and Dr. David Maynard.  Together they worked out the grand plan for the city that was to be.

One of Doc Maynard's friends was a Native American chief named Sealth, sometimes pronounced “Seattle.”  And it was the Doc's suggestion that the new city be named after his pal. 

The next heavy to arrive in town was Henry Yesler who built a saw mill and made lumber the area's major industry.

To get the logs from the top of the hill to the water below, a road was built and covered with wood.  The wood helped the logs skid down easily.  It was called a skid road.  Eventually it became a hang-out for drunken loggers and miners at the bottom of their luck.  At which point it became known as Skid Row, a phrase which is now synonymous with the down and out neighborhood of any city in North America. 

During the second half of the 1800s, the local Native Americans began to realize what the settlers were doing to the area and there was an uprising that was quickly put down by the U.S. military.  The leader of the uprising, a man named Leschi was tried for murder.  His lawyer was named Crosby.  Crosby lost the trial and Leschi lost his life. 

Eventually, Leschi became a local hero and today one of Seattle's most popular parks is named after him.  Crosby didn't do too badly either.  He ended up being the father of Bing.

BING CROSBY:  Oh, hello, Father.

PRIEST:  Hello, Bing.

BURT WOLF:  Meanwhile, up in Alaska, gold was getting ready to be discovered.  When word of the Yukon gold hit the newspapers in 1897, Seattle became the jumping-off point for thousands of miners.  In one year, the sales of the Seattle merchants went from under $500,000 to over $25 million.  This place was hustling.  And Seattle became the center for trade and commerce in the northwestern part of the United States.

One of the first things that you notice about Seattle is the town's unusual interest in coffee.  Seems like every available space has been given over to the selling of coffee.  There are hundreds and hundreds of coffee shops and coffee carts all over the town.  Even when you go into a store that has almost nothing to do with coffee, you'll find a coffee bar to welcome you into the space.  It's Mocha Madness.

The relationship between the United States and coffee makes a rather interesting story.  A story that actually began in London.  During the 1700s London was clearly a coffee-drinking town. 

The town had over 2,000 coffee houses and drank more coffee than any other city.  So the first English colonists to arrive in the New World came with a love of coffee. 

Ultimately it was economics that made England and its American colonies into tea drinkers.  Until the American Revolution of 1776 that is.  Of all of the taxes that the King of England placed on the American colonies, none was more offensive than the tax on tea.  And that frustration eventually boiled over to the Boston Tea Party and shortly thereafter, a general boycott of tea drinking by the patriotic colonial housewife. And it was at that point that Americans began their love of coffee.

But the history of how people really eat and drink shows that politics plays a very small role in our food selection.  Price, on the other hand, is a powerhouse and constantly alters the way we eat.  So when the American Revolutionary War was over and cheap tea showed up, we went right back to drinking it.  So what happened?

Well, what happened was the War of 1812.  During that war, the price of tea shot up.  We went back to drinking coffee.  Only this time the coffee was coming in from Latin America.  It was very inexpensive and it was also very good.  When the War of 1812 ended, tea came back, but this time it was not that inexpensive and it wasn't very good.

In the early days tea had been selected for us by the great English tea houses.  Now it was coming to us from American shippers who were interested more in tonnage than in taste.  And we stayed with coffee.  Why drink a terrible cup of tea when you could get an excellent cup of coffee and at a lower price?  It was then and for that reason that we became a nation of coffee drinkers.  Over half a billion cups every day.

If you want to try and find a reason for Seattle's passion for coffee, you might look at a number of factors.  Seattle has a rather gray climate which tends to keep people indoors, stimulating themselves with hot coffee.  And you might give some credit to the large number of Seattle's creative artists who like to hang out in coffee houses.  But the most important element in the passionate relationship of Seattle to coffee is a company called Starbuck's.

It was started here in Seattle in 1971 as a small coffee roasting company with a few retail outlets serving freshly roasted coffee.  Today it is America's leading importer and roaster of specialty coffee with over 230 company-owned stores, making it the largest coffee retailer in North America.

The company is run by a man named Howard Schultz who very well may have coffee running through his veins.  He definitely has it in his heart and his mind.  Take a look at this.

It's a series of architectural-styled drawings that explain each of the drinks that are regularly served at Starbuck's.  Seattle's favorite is called the Latte; it's a shot of espresso with steamed milk and a quarter-inch of foamed milk on the top. 

If Howard is the vision, then Dave Olson is the taste.  Dave is the guy who travels around the world to make sure that Starbuck's gets the beans that it wants and that those beans will brew the coffee it loves.  Back from his annual trip around the equator, I thought I'd ask him how to make the perfect cup of coffee.  Dave ought to know.

DAVE:  This is a method that comes real close to approximating what we do in the tasting room with nothing but ground coffee, glass, stainless steel, and hot water.  One scoop, or two level tablespoons ...

BURT WOLF:  A scoop is two level tablespoons?

DAVE:  Correct.  Per six ounces of water.  So now I have the grounds ... add a little water ...

WOLF:  Fresh water?

DAVE:  Fresh water, hot ... just off the boil.

WOLF:  Okay.

DAVE:  Stir it to get the grounds good and wetted ... fill it up ... now we have to wait for about three to four minutes while the coffee steeps.  While we're doing that, I'll explain some of the benefits here.  All of the water and all of the coffee are mixed together for the duration of the extraction period, unlike a drip method where the water slowly drips through and only a little bit is actually doing the extraction.  So now we'll imagine that those four minutes have passed, simply push down, press the grounds to the bottom of the beaker ...

WOLF:  Could I have just poured the water and the coffee together in that ratio in any kind of a pot and then drained it out?

DAVE:  Yes, yes. 

WOLF:  So the plunger system is just to separate the grinds from the ...

DAVE:  That's a real convenient way to accomplish the whole process.  So now we have six cups of hot, fresh, Gold Coast blend, just like we see it in the tasting room for us to buy.  Cheers.

WOLF:  And once you have a great cup of coffee, you might be interested in having a great cookie to go along with it.  And if that is the case, I would like to suggest the Chocolate Hazelnut cookies of pastry chef Regis Bernard at Seattle's Four Seasons Olympic Hotel.

Regis starts by putting ten and a half ounces of butter into the bowl of an electric mixer, followed by three-quarters of a cup of confectioner's sugar.  That gets blended together.  At which point, in go a cup of ground hazelnuts, three teaspoons of cinnamon, five egg whites and a cup and a quarter of flour.  That batter gets piped out onto a parchment-covered baking sheet in four-inch strips.  And into a 350 degree oven for fifteen minutes.  When they come out, every other cookie is turned over and given a coating of raspberry jam.  Regis has chosen raspberry jam but quite frankly, you can use whatever jam or fruit preserve that you like. 

The second cookie goes on top to make a sandwich which is them dipped into melted chocolate.

In 1938, Lloyd Anderson and a group of Seattle friends who enjoyed mountain climbing were bemoaning the fact that they were having a difficult time buying quality outdoor equipment at a reasonable price.  And so they decided to form a cooperative.  Their first retail space was a few shelves and a gas station.  Today that cooperative is called Recreational Equipment, Inc., or REI.  And it's the largest cooperative in North America.  Over 3 million people belong to REI though anyone can actually shop there.  They sell everything from a tent that will help keep you alive on Mt. Everest to a sensible pair of shoes for taking a walk.  But their heart still belongs to the great outdoors and the spirit of natural adventure.

Climbing over rock is definitely one of the more challenging experiences.  It challenges your body and it challenges your mind and it challenges your equipment. 

I think my favorite piece of equipment at REI is the one-cup outdoorsman's espresso maker.  You put in water and coffee and you heat it up and the espresso comes out.  I can just see Sir Edmund Hillary reaching the top of Mt. Everest, turning to his trusted Sherpa companion and saying, “Tenzig, old man -- twist of lemon?”  I should point out however, that it only makes espresso.  No steamed milk.  So cappuccinos and lattes are out.  You've got to understand that mountaineering is tough.

I originally came into this store looking for a new jacket.  But the more I walked around, the more cooking equipment I saw.  Cooking equipment that would be perfect for people who never intend to go camping or would never get involved in the adventure sports.  At least not the kind you play outside. 

This is a cooking fork that I liked because it came tightly folded up for backpacking but then I could extend it to any length I wanted for barbecuing back home in the back yard. 

A single spice bottle that's divided inside so it holds six different seasonings.  You flip up the top on the seasoning you want.  Not bad.

If you don't cook very much or you have a very small kitchen, this set of nesting pots could be kind of interesting.  It opens up to give you three small frying pans, two sauce pans, and a mini stock pot. 

I like this pan.  Non-stick surface on the inside, very very light.  Ideal for backpackers.  But also very good for anybody who has a problem lifting a heavy pot or pan.  A while back I developed a calcium deposit in my left shoulder and I just couldn't lift my regular pots and pans.  They were just too heavy.  Something like this would have been ideal. 

And when you're traveling to a part of the world where you're concerned about the safety of the water supply like, say, New York City, this awesome water purifier.  You pour in a little bit of the water you are concerned about, close the cap, and pump it into this glass.  Out comes water that is safe to drink.  Amazing, my dear Watson.  You never know where you're going to find something to make your life safer.

Just east of the city of Seattle is a place called the Herbfarm.  It got started in 1972 when Bill and Lola Zimmerman purchased a small piece of land and started to get ready for Bill's retirement from the Boeing Aircraft Company. 

One day Lola noticed that she had a few extra potted herb plants in her garden.  She put them into a wheelbarrow and put the wheelbarrow by the side of the road.  She also put in a little jar asking people to buy them and to pay for them by putting their money in the little jar.  Well, at the end of the day, Lola came back and the herbs were all gone.  Ah, but the jar was full.

Lola repeated the process until the Herbfarm grew into a business that produced over a quarter of a million plants a year.  It has a wonderful restaurant that is regularly chosen by the people of Seattle as one of their favorites. 

There's a gift shop, a national mail order catalogue, and an herbal education program that holds classes.  And these days, over 80,000 people stop by each season.

The Herbfarm had really not grown very much until 1986.  That was the year that Lola's son Ron and his wife Carrie Van Dyke took over the operations of the business and put Ron's marketing talents to work. 

CARRIE:  We have many different culinary herbs.  Probably several hundred varieties of oreganos and thymes and mints and lavenders.  And we also have all sorts of other products, a lot of books and things which we carry in our shop that we can ship anywhere.

BURT WOLF:  Um, I can smell this.

CARRIE:  That's my favorite plant.  That's the Tuscan Blue Rosemary.  It's very hearty and it has just real lovely thick foliage.

WOLF:  Pungent.


WOLF:  And then there's the restaurant.  It was originally opened by Ron, who had no formal training as a chef but clearly knew how to cook. 

As the business grew, it became necessary for Ron to bring in a professional chef.  His choice was Jerry Traunfeld, who's going to prepare two of the restaurant's recipes.

The first is a delicious soup based on carrots.  Jerry starts his recipe for carrot soup by toasting two tablespoons of coriander seeds in a frying pan for three minutes.

TRAUNFELD:  I'm just shaking the coriander seeds in the dry pan because once they're toasted, they have a completely different sort of a flavor and fragrance.  Before they're toasted, you can hardly smell them at all.  And I want to get them like a nice medium brown.

BURT WOLF: The seeds are then ground and held aside.  A little vegetable oil is heated in a saucepan and a large sliced onion goes in.  That's cooked and stirred for about three minutes.  A minced clove of garlic goes in.  A teaspoon of minced ginger, a pound of sliced carrots, six cups of chicken stock, a little salt and four tablespoons of toasted coriander.

All that simmers together for forty-five minutes.  Just at the end of the cooking time, Jerry adds in a quarter cup of freshly chopped mint.

TRAUNFELD:  It's really important with herbs to add them at the right point in cooking.  And a lot of herbs sort of lose all of their essential oils when they've been boiled for a while.  So, I often like to add to a soup or a sauce, the herbs at the very end and then ... you really get that fragrance and the full impact of the herb.

WOLF:  Then the soup goes into a blender and is turned into a puree.  Back into the pot.  A little pepper, a little lemon juice and it's ready to plate. 

TRAUNFELD:  And I'm always going to taste the soup because some carrots are sweeter than others, so if you're using ... carrots are very sweet, you can add a little more lemon juice.  If your carrots aren't so sweet, you can add a little bit of sugar.

WOLF:  The soup goes into a bowl, followed by a garnish of creme fraish, or yogurt, and a few edible flowers.

Carrots were one the very first foods in the human diet.  They got their start in Afghanistan and moved out to both Europe and Asia.  When they were brought to North American by the early colonists, some of the seeds escaped from the gardens and became wild carrots.  You see them all along the roadsides in the form of Queen Anne's Lace.

These days, the cultivated carrot is getting the royal treatment because of its nutritional value.  It appears that carrots help protect us against heart disease and cancer. 

The state of California cultivates 60,000 acres with carrots so the country has a fresh supply of carrots all year long. 

There are, however, a few things about carrots that should be remembered.  In order to get the full complement of Vitamin A in a carrot, it should be cooked.  Five minutes of steaming, or five minutes in the microwave will do the trick.

The darker the orange color, the more beta carotene in the carrot.  If you purchase carrots with the green leaves on top, take them off when you get them home.  The leaves draw moisture from the roots. 

And finally, don't store carrots next to apples or pears or other fruits that give off ethylene gas as they ripen.  That gas can cause the carrots to be bitter.  The best way to store carrots is in the refrigerator in the same type of plastic bag in which you find them in the supermarket.  These days, it looks like a carrot a day will keep the doctor away.

Jerry's second recipe is for an Apple Shortcake.  He starts by taking the leaves of some fresh rosemary and chopping them.

TRAUNFELD:  It's one of my favorites.  It's very, very versatile.  And it's a wonderful ... used in desserts with fruit.  Sort of like an Italian influence, but it's great with ... especially things like apples and pears.  If you grow it yourself, it tends to be tender in the colder parts of the country, so you'd have to bring it inside or grow it in a greenhouse or a sunny window or something.  But if you live in a climate where it will live through the winter, it gets to be a huge shrub and you have more rosemary than you could ever want.

WOLF:  Two cups of flour go into a mixer, followed by a tablespoon of baking powder, a half teaspoon of salt, a little sugar, three tablespoons of the chopped fresh rosemary and six tablespoons of butter.  All that gets mixed together.  Then in goes three-quarters of a cup of cream and a single egg yolk.  That's the dough, which gets rolled out on a floured surface.  When it's a half-inch thick it gets cut into three-inch rounds.

The disks get placed on a baking sheet that's covered with a piece of parchment paper.  A wash of egg white gets painted on.  Followed by a sprinkling of brown sugar.

The rounds rest in the refrigerator for half an hour and then go into a 375 degree oven for twenty minutes.  At that point, the shortcakes come out of the oven to cool.  While that's happening, three apples get peeled, sliced in half and cored.

TRAUNFELD:  I usually use melon ballers to take the cores out of the apples.  It really works better than anything else I've ever tried.  And whenever you have to do huge amounts of something like cases of apples, you always find the easiest way to do it.

WOLF: If I'd only had a melon baller in the army, it would have changed my whole approach to peeling and coring apples.

Next, three quarters of a cup of sugar go into a frying pan that's been placed over a medium heat.  A few minutes of cooking will draw the moisture out of the sugar.  As soon as that happens, three tablespoons of butter go in, the apple halves, and a few sprigs of rosemary. 

Then into a 375 degree Fahrenheit oven.  Fifteen minutes later, the apples get flipped over and go back into the oven for fifteen more minutes of baking. 

The cooked shortcakes are sliced in half.  The apples come out of the oven and are removed from the pan. 

The pan goes back on the range and six tablespoons of cream are used to deglaze the apple drippings.  The sauce gets drained out and the plating begins. 

The bottom of the shortcake goes onto the plate, the half apple goes on, scoop of ice cream, some of the sauce, then the second half of the shortcake on top.

Seattle is clearly becoming one of the better food towns in North America.  Excellent ingredients, many of which are produced locally,  fine chefs, and a general population that truly appreciates good cooking.

Please join us next time as we travel around the world looking for foods that taste good and make it easier to eat well.  I'm Burt Wolf.