Blame it on the butcher. Without knowing it, they inspired the idea of a Maxwelton meal. South Whidbey, where I live, is considered rural; but most people living here seem to be either retired, commuters, artists, or some other more urban occupation. Very quietly though, the Maxwelton valley is one of the many places on Whidbey that has managed to maintain quiet enclaves of farms and ranches. When the butcher opened their business a few miles from my house, I realized that a bicycle ride through the valley could gather enough meat, produce, and wine for a local’s meal. The best way to see what the valley provides was to find a sunny August afternoon and fill the panniers. A frugal life can include fine food.
Whidbey Island Distillery
The first shall be last, or at least the first thing I bought was the last part of the meal. Five years ago Whidbey Island Distillery opened. That happened just as I was scaling back my expenses, so I never had the excuse to visit. They were known for their berry liqueurs, which seems appropriate considering all the blackberry bushes on the island. (Though their supply is off-island, but regional.) That sounded like a nice dessert, and I knew they had half-sized bottles, so it was definitely worth adding to the shopping trip. They were the northern most stop, so starting there made sense. The fun part was finding out that they also sell a rye whiskey. Oh, that was tempting, but the thought of having a $60+ bottle of boutique whiskey break in my panniers was too much. Maybe I’ll go back in the truck after pay day, or after saving from several pay days. I bought a bottle of their flagship product: Loganberry Liqueur. On the way out, one of the owners was setting up a bunch of chairs on the lawn. It turned out that it was their fifth anniversary of being in business, and that they’d won several awards. Happy Anniversary!
Spoiled Dog Winery
Drinking a liqueur throughout dinner seemed a bit much, but next on the list was a winery, Spoiled Dog Winery. That’s a winery named after a spoiled dog, not a dog winery that spoiled. There was a narrow window for the bike ride because of the various operating hours, but arriving ten minutes before closing wasn’t good enough. The gate was closed. They didn’t answer the phone. Oh well, that’s island time. For some businesses, posted hours are suggestions, not requirements. Rigid schedules get left behind in ‘Merika. That’s okay, another local vineyard and winery had just celebrated their anniversary, and I had a bottle of Whidbey Island Winery‘s Island White, the wine with a simple name but a flavor I like.
Dinner needed something solid. The first U-pick was working from a limited crop this year. Drought and other interruptions meant they had to rely on beans, but they made up for that with variety. Sure, green beans are common enough, but it is so much easier harvesting yellow and purple ones, too. They even had zucchini. Oh wait. Everyone has zucchini. I wonder what they’ll have next year.
7 Generations Artisan Meats
The instigators were next: 7 Generations Artisan Meats. The place for carnivores who appreciate meat that hasn’t been mass-produced, and the place where the people preparing the food obviously care about taste and flavor rather than just profit margins. I think bacon sausage sums it up. Bacon = good. Sausage = good. Bacon sausage? I’m looking forward to breakfast. Sure, they have steaks, roasts, and burgers. But they also have about a dozen other things in the case like sausages, salamis, jerky, and bacon – the best bacon I’ve ever had. They even have beef bacon. Usually the thing that limits me is my budget. This time it was also my pannier. I had to make sure there was room for a couple other stops. With a bit more money and a bit more cargo capacity I would’ve picked up stir-fry, bacon, and maybe a steak for a special event.
Britt & Eric’s farm stand
Doh! I can’t remember the correct name for Brit & Eric’s farm stand. Brit & Eric run a small farm, and sell most of their produce to subscribers and in the local farmer’s markets. (We have at least four every week – Thursday in Clinton, Friday in Langley, Saturday in Bayview, and Sunday at Tilth, each different with some familiar faces.) They must have had a good week because the only things in the self-serve stand were kale, green beans, and zucchini. I skipped the kale.
Maggie is hitting her stride. Her U-pick had more vegetables and fruits to pick from than any other place except the grocery. Every year her operation improves. I bought onions, peppers, beets, squash, and an apple. It took a while to decide because in each case there were so many options. Yes, she had onions, but not just one type. The same was true for all the fruits and vegetables that I can recall. Her white board listed more. A signup is available for eggs. All of that was already picked and in the farm stand. With a bit more effort there was an entire garden to harvest, with instructions about what to harvest, what to leave for later, how to harvest, and suggestions about preparation and storage.
Bailey’s Corner Store
The last possible stop was far enough out of the valley to not be considered in Maxwelton (which is also somewhat true about Maggie’s) but Bailey’s Corner Store was on the way home and they had one thing I was willing to consider as a stand-in for the wine: locally brewed beer in a growler. They’re becoming much more than a corner store. My panniers were packed. I don’t know how I could fit the big heavy bottle into the pack, but it might be worth it – as long as it didn’t shake too much on the last mile and a half ride home. It was moot. They were out of growlers. Beer and sausages go so well together. Oh well.
For those expecting haute-cuisine, go check with a chef. I’m a cook. I cook for myself, and occasionally for friends. I unpacked the bike, heated up the oven, sorted through my haul, and proceeded to fry up the onions, peppers, and sausage. Then I added the beets, covered the skillet, and let it all roast in the oven while I started writing. Near the end, I threw in the beans and zucchini to let them steam. During all of this, I enjoyed the wine. After I’ve posted and shared this blog, I’ll uncork the liqueur.
In some ways, this is a splurge; but it was a frugal splurge. The total came to less than eighty dollars for a harvest that will become about two weeks of meals. Divide it out and I’ll have spent less per meal than almost anyone going into a restaurant. I know where everything was grown. Even the cattle are local. The farmers and ranchers are more likely to treat the food well because we are all in the same neighborhood. There is community instead of anonymity. I know who is getting paid. There is no intermediary, and if there is, I probably know them too.
This is what is happening in one slice of one part of one island. It is also happening throughout the country. Don’t like GMO? Shop local from someone you trust. Don’t like corporate farming? Buy from the family farmer – directly. Want to make food shopping fun? Deal with people for whom food is a passion. If farmers and ranchers were solely interested in profit, they’d sell out and get a job in IT, or anywhere that has better returns than hoping plants and animals will grow. Maybe you only do it as a splurge every few months, but it is a fine way to explore your community, realize there is one, and be part of it.
If you’d rather have a tour first, take the Whidbey Island Farm Tour, September 12-13. And, it’s free, a fine frugal word.
Now, where’s that bottle of Loganberry liqueur?