In lieu of a recipe post (though I’ll get on that soon!), here’s a piece I’ve written about my summer happy place and the inspiration behind my cooking philosophy:
Coming Home to Quillisascut and Bringing Quillisascut Home
I left my second summer session at Quillisascut Farm School of the Domestic Arts on an afternoon late this past August. My car was packed full of my belongings as my nomadic summer drew to a close, and the beauty and work of the previous week were already becoming a blur in the back of my mind by the time I crossed the Columbia River heading west, just an hour into my drive. My memories of the past week seemed held fast among the white plastered straw bales of the cheery farmhouse kitchen and the sweeping hillsides where the goats grazed. They followed me down highway 25, stretching out behind my car, but quickly began to fade. Of course I had recipes and the entries in my journal and a few pictures, but how could I truly capture what it’s like to be a part of creating a community and an experience like Quillisascut? I was compelled to try, but here I am, six months later, only just now capable of giving words to the gratitude I have for finding this haven of good food and simple living. Quillisascut is one of those places we come across in life that is so pivotal in shaping who we are that it takes some of our memories (and a part of our soul) and holds them safe, so they can only be accessed once we return again.
From my first moments at the “Farm Culinary” program in 2012, I knew I had found a summer home to which I wanted to return year after year. The constant cooking and cleaning, the planning and bustling about, the connections made over meals, and the conversations about how we might effect change in a broken food system—every piece of this carefully constructed ecosystem of education nourished my passion for life, for people, for the joy of sharing quality food. There is something miraculous about the way the days run together at Quillisascut: the freedom and room for thought born from routine. Rick, Lora Lea and Chef Kären provide the heart of the experience. Rick’s wit and practicality, Lora Lea’s quiet leadership and intelligence, and Kären’s grace and artistry embody the qualities of the sort of people with which I wish to surround myself. They each exemplify the result of a life dedicated to careful craft, hard work, and lost arts and, while they are quietly confident in their teachings, there is a certain unpretentiousness about Quillisascut that makes it that much more dear. These are individuals that are inherently so skilled at what they do that they need not prove it to anyone—and the best part is that they are willing to share this knowledge. I wish that every emerging adult in our age of technology could experience such a model for respect, care-taking and physical work.
My first year at the farm, as a student, I saw the world of Quillisascut unfold effortlessly before me, led by Kären, Rick and Lora Lea through an abundance of knowledge wedged between glorious feasts at the long wooden table. This past year, I was able to return as an assistant, where I learned that while “behind the scenes” life was not perhaps as effortless as it had appeared, being a part of translating the beauty of Quillisascut to new students had forged in me an even deeper connection to the people and the landscape of this place, transforming me into my most creative, confidant and hardworking self. Now came the challenge of carrying Quillisascut through with me into my everyday life. Most of us who have been through “Farm School” have lives that take us far away from farm ideals. We experience let down for a few days, but then we reluctantly get on with our yearly projects, work and agendas. Amidst my own flurry of activities this year, I have carved out time to cook nearly every day. This was my promise to myself after last summer: to cook and share food and recipes in an attempt to keep the spirit of Quillisascut alive in me and hopefully pass on some of that energy to others.
After my first year at “Farm School” it was more difficult for me to find this space in my life for focused cooking time. I would often feel a desperate sense of nostalgia, as if the farm was going to disappear before I had a chance to go back. I would spend some weekends in the kitchen, but never felt particularly inspired. I hungered for something just out of my reach—an experience I couldn’t possibly recreate in my “real life.” Quillisascut provided me with a sense of discipline and presence and at first I didn’t trust myself to find that sort of focus on my own. But this year, I feel less urgent. I realize now that I can find solace in my kitchen without straining to create moments from the farm–my food is full of memories and that is enough. Each time I cook, whether for myself or for others, I know that I have brought my past experiences seamlessly into each moment. After two summers at the farm, I now have a certain faith that I am an effective ambassador of the food values of Quillisascut. I believe my family and friends can taste the love, the joy, and the effort that goes into my food and, by extension, are getting a feel for the routines and traditions embedded in the central message of Quillisascut.
Wendell Barry has written: “Until we understand what the land is, we are at odds with everything we touch.” Quillisascut provides a model for how to fully interact with the land from soil, to vegetable, to animal, to meals, to compost and back again. If we, as humans, can come to comprehend what it means to place ourselves within this cycle and not above it, there is hope for mending our predominantly fragmented way of eating and interacting with our environment. And it all starts at the long wooden table with a bright yellow tablecloth in a house made of straw bales where I am confident my memories are kept safe, along with the memories of hundreds of others who have been captivated by the magic of Quillisascut.