Update: Discovering Cascadia From a Land Afar

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It is no secret that I have failed to update the Cascadian Kitchen in quite some time.  Two life events have transpired that have impacted my attention to this food blog, which have left me uncertain about how to adapt.  First, I started law school in 2014.  Second, I moved away from Seattle to Los Angeles.  I won’t dwell on how these two events have “taken away” my time; rather, I would like to briefly talk about how I’ve discovered that being a Cascadian “foodie” during law school in Southern California may not be impossible.

The cuisine of the Pacific Northwest, I have come to realize, is as much about what it is and how it is as it is about who it is.  By that, I mean we are interested in where our food comes from, how it came to be there, who brought it to us, and what sorts of changes it underwent through its cycle.  This is evident in grocery stores that indicate which products are “local” or name the farmer of particular seasonal produce; this is also evident in the menus of especially up-and-coming restaurants.

We love the various identities of our food–from the 800-degree wood-burning pizzeria oven to the Caribbean-spiced pulled-pork sandwiches to the steaming, fragrant broth of ramen or pho.  We love how our food regenerates, from the crudités of a fresh summer salad, to the roasted caramelization of an autumn Brussels sprout, to the fermented cabbage of some wintery kimchi.  We love the ugly and the tossed-out and the oft-ignored features of our food, embracing a dish with offal or all-out digging up the relics of the past, from heirlooms to old-fashioned curing techniques.

It is these features about who we are as eaters that makes–at least, for me–living and visiting the Pacific Northwest so fun.  It is what makes being a Cascadian feel so special.  Then, I went to law school, moved away and felt utterly disconnected from that.  Of course, I still cooked my salmon on cedar planks and made my own jams.  But it was with the somber habit of an exile.  It was as if the Cascadian food scene were an island and I was an ocean away from its fruits and bounty.

Then I started seeing Cascadia around me.  Suddenly, Costco (yes, Costco!) began selling wild Pacific Northwest chanterelle mushrooms; Portland-based ice cream innovators Salt & Straw popped up in Larchmont (then came Blue Star Donuts, and all along Pok Pok was here); and, then, Stumptown Coffee had trouble keeping their Hair Bender blend on the shelves at, like, the one store (albeit, it’s Whole Foods) that carries them.  Could it be true that Cascadia was exporting its own identity to Michelin-starry Los Angeles?

I don’t know.  But I like what I’m seeing.  I like what I’m tasting.  What this means for Cascadian Kitchen is still unknown.  I just wanted to tell you–and myself–that it is entering a new chapter.  I am rehabilitating my Cascadian foodieness, but with a fresh perspective, wiping away the rain and squinting with the sun in my eyes.  Isn’t this sort of transformation necessary?  Isn’t this also the nature of our food and how we relate to it?  I sure hope so.

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