A farmer-cook digs deep to write of truth and joy
Kurt Timmermeister says it’s hard work, not luck, that grew his Vashon Island farm and the feasts held there.
Seattle Times food writer
NOW HEAR THIS
Kurt Timmermeister talks with Dan Savage about “Growing a Feast” at Town Hall, 7:30 p.m., Jan. 9, 1119 Eighth Ave., Seattle; $5. For details see www.townhallseattle.org..
FIRST HE GREW a farm. Then he grew a feast. Along the way, he’s grown a reputation as a writer. He’s Kurt Timmermeister, the Vashon Island memoirist whose delicious new book is “Growing a Feast: The Chronicle of a Farm-to-Table Meal.”
Timmermeister lives the life urban foodists so often dream of: grow your own (vegetables, orchard), milk your own (Jersey cows), make your own (farmstead cheeses), build your own (barrel-vaulted cheese cave) — a short ferry ride from the bright lights of the big city.
When he’s not delivering his standout Dinah’s Cheese, among others, you’ll find him working in the vast contemporary cookhouse at the heart of “Growing a Feast,” built on his 13 acres with proceeds from the sale of his long-loved Seattle restaurant, Cafe Septieme.
Timmermeister’s farm-grown “Feast” (W.W. Norton, $24.95) chronicles a single meal for 20 guests, two years in the making, and takes a realistic look at a world we’ve come to fetishize and glamorize.
“This is my life!” he says, nodding toward a trio of muddy pigs, weeks from their slaughter, as one porker takes a wiz and another takes that as a cue to cure a thirst. We’re touring land the 51-year-old Seattle native bought 23 years ago, purchased on a whim back when a whim was affordable, and described in his first book, “Growing a Farmer.”
Life at Kurtwood Farms, lived alone with his canine companions, is one of “tremendous privilege,” he acknowledges. One that — thanks to a small crew of hardworking farm- and field hands — allows him to indulge a passion for words while growing a dairy herd and a creamery business.
Tell him how “lucky” he is to live and work on Vashon, to slumber in a beautifully restored 1881 log house said to be the oldest-standing home on the island, and Timmermeister bristles.
“There’s not a drop of luck here,” says the man who oversaw that ramshackle shack’s revival and has supported himself since he was 15.
Growing this farm, and many a feast, has taken its toll. After an accident involving a tail flick from a cow, Timmermeister lost sight in one eye. He writes books that make the life sound pretty, he says, “but homesteading, the idea that it’s all joyous? It’s not.”
Writing, on the other hand, brings joy, and his latest book makes that abundantly clear.
Timmermeister has cooked at his farm for Michael Pollan, one of his literary heroes. And for Patricia Wells, whose “Food Lover’s Guide to Paris” he devoured while working, long ago, at a bakery mentioned in it. He made these simple butter cookies for her, and for the meal recounted in “Feast.”
He, of course, used fresh butter from his farm. You should use the best you can buy.
Kurt’s Butter Cookies
Makes 4 dozen
2¼ cups all-purpose flour
¼ cup rice flour
½ pound unsalted butter, at room temperature
½ cup sugar
1. Preheat the oven to 350 degrees.
2. Sift together the flours and set aside.
3. Combine the butter and sugar in the bowl of an electric mixer and mix with the paddle attachment until well incorporated but not whipped — 2 minutes on medium-low.
4. Switch to low speed and slowly add the flour mixture to the butter mixture. Mix just long enough for the dough to come together.
5. Roll out the dough on a lightly dusted wooden counter until ¼ inch thick. Cut with a 2-inch round cookie cutter (or the floured rim of a juice glass) and gently move to baking sheets lined with parchment paper. Bake until the edges are just brown — 22 to 28 minutes.
Nancy Leson is The Seattle Times’ food writer. Reach her at email@example.com.