This Month at The Willows Inn
Author, author. Dylan Tomine heads our way May 14-15 as the third in our popular author series. His story melds so perfectly with ours. Dylan and his family – wife, and two children – lived off the grid for a couple of years, foraging, farming, living off the land. His book, Closer to the Ground, weaves the story of that time, and he will bring it to life with you as a participant not only through discussion, but also meandering through our garden and the forest to forage.
The kitchen goes very green each May, surrounding our usual staples – fresh salmon, venison, razor clams – with varieties of aromatic baby greens on the array of tastes and bites. These come from the first planting April 1 in our new garden, produced precisely – as identified and requested by Chef Blaine from our new culinary farmer, Mary—only for your plates in our dining room and at the Beach Store Cafe. Tip: close your eyes as they rest on your tongue, and enjoy the mind-buzz.
Starting mid-month, the dining room sittings begin on Wednesdays. Dining-only reservations began May 1 (two weeks in advance, as overnight guests receive dinner priority). Downstairs, we’ve opened the Taproot to a seven-day schedule and added dinner on Mondays and Tuesdays when our main dining room is closed.
Beyond the table, you’ll now find an exciting menu of activities during your stay as the weather opens its arms to adventure – more than a dozen choices among four categories: Earth, Water, Air, and Artists/Farms/Other Places.
The calendar turned us toward anticipation, also, of the James Beard Foundation as it makes its awards May 6 in New York City. Chef Wetzel sits as a nominee. We’ll update you here immediately. Good luck vibes accepted, thank you.
April sashayed breezily into springtime with a number of wonderful surprises. Foremost, Chef Blaine Wetzel earned a seat at the James Beard Foundation Awards dinner during May in New York City as a nominee for Rising Star Chef of the Year. This was his third straight year as a semifinalist among chefs ages 30-under.
Chef Blaine turned 27 last month. (He cooked that night, our first day back from winter break.) The other final nominees come from Chicago (two), New York, and a combination New York/San Francisco chef.
Speaking of San Francisco, Chef Blaine also received a high compliment – an invitation to cook as a guest chef in the Mission District this month. The co-owner and executive chef at Commonwealth, Jason Fox, invited him. The special dinner sold out quickly. Chef Jason was one of the headliners at our inaugural First Harvest Dinner last summer. (We’ll have news soon of that annual event for Summer 2013.)
Our esteemed chef also fit in a trip to Iowa City to start the month, no fooling, where he helped present The Art of Food as a $200-a-plate benefit for the Summer of the Arts program in Iowa City.
We have broken new ground. Loganita Garden, and its gardener. Excitement rose on April 1 when we sowed the first seedlings – herbs and edible flowers – on the backside of yet another Lummi Island landmark steeped in rich legacy, Loganita, once a farm-and-fishing resort lodge at the turn of the 20th Century.
The first planting marked the coming out of our Spring, and of our latest addition in our commitment to you to deliver only the highest, world-class dining experiences: a full-time, star-power gardener, Mary VonKrusenstiern, dedicated to specific seed-to-table Willows Inn production.
Mary, degreed in environmental studies, brought her eight years of agro-ecology experiences in New Hampshire, Alaska, and home-state Washington to team with head chef Blaine Wetzel. They will select and grow specifically to Chef Wetzel’s widely-acclaimed menu, exclusively for.
Their passions and insights will combine with Loganita’s unique features – rich soil base, strong sun splashes, and cool breezes off the water, greenhouses and outdoor rows on but a third of an acre, planted and replanted – to grow amazing food for The Willows Inn and the Beach Store Café.
You’ll experience results such as a specially-designed salad mix unavailable anywhere else on earth, for example. Especially this time of year. We always find fresh fragrances and eye appeal as island flora awaken a bit later than the calendar designation of springtime. Needles, and stinging nettles. Green, and more green. Herbs rule, blossoms beckon. The first tastes of those from Loganita will highlight May’s menus.
Author Series with Jim Lynch
Another special event takes place April 17 when you can join award-winning author Jim Lynch in the second of our Authors Series dinners. Jim’s new book Truth Like the Sun serves as centerpiece for discussion, fresh off its nomination for the prestigious Dashiell Hammett Award for crime writing. A New York Times reviewer named Truth Like the Sun one of the 10 Best Books of 2012. Our first author in the series, NPR reviewer and professional librarian Nancy Pearl, was a smash hit – and we’re working toward having her back next year.
Our casual dining properties have prepared new menus reflecting the season – the Beach Store Café near the ferry landing, and The Taproot on ground level of the Willows Inn. For your leisure time, we’re creating a plethora of new activities, hinged on the catchphrase of having fun.
Please call us any time for questions, or to book a stay and dinner, and to reserve a chat with Jim Lynch. 360.758.2620. We’re prepping for wedding season, planning new events, treasures and pleasures, hosting groups of all kinds, and bracing for a fabulous summer. We welcome you to our world of fishing, farming (with a powerful new emphasis), foraging, and…. Fun.
Chef Blaine Wetzel and his worldly team of chefs returned, and we reopened the dining room doors at the Willows Inn on Lummi Island. Make your reservations for lodging and dinner today. Service continues every Thursday-Sunday by reservation only. We’ll add Wednesdays starting May 15.
After a two-month sabbatical to forage for cooking ideas and methods around the world, including Southeast Asia, Peru, Hawai’i, and across the U.S., our talented team regrouped for reopening. And the first thing they did was take a walk together — to see what they would find growing, and what the bays had to offer.
For the third consecutive year The Willows Inn proudly congratulated Chef Wetzel on becoming a semifinalist for a James Beard Award. And, then the Beard Foundation named him a nominee, one of just 5 finalists, in the Rising Star Chef of the Year category. Known as the “Oscars” of the culinary world selected by more than 600 voters, the James Beard Awards rank as the highest honor for food and beverage professionals in North America.
Author Series 2013 with Village Books: The Willows Inn partnered with Village Books and created a unique opportunity to share a private discussion and dinner with authors. The first event took place this month, an exclusive getaway with librarian extraordinaire Nancy Pearl and was a smash hit. Registration opened immediately for the next event April 17 with Jim Lynch. In the coming months we also will host guest authors Steven Raichlen, Sherman Alexie, and Rick Steves.
The Main Dining Room is closed for winter sabbaticals by our chef team, and will re-open on March 7, 2013. Upon reopening, our widely-acclaimed dinner by Chef Blaine Wetzel will become available in the Main Dining Room four nights a week, Thursday-Sunday, by reservation only.
As we pull shut the year’s curtain, fittingly we highlight the end of the meal, as well, in twofold tastes: one traditional, pumpkin, and the other a mythical fruit of gods, quince. Roasting the farmed pumpkin in butter and brown sugar for many hours, we evoke amazing flavors in a dessert presentation. We freeze the fresh quince we picked nearby, and upon serving we grate a flourish of quince atop a yogurt mousse with rosemary.
How fitting. Aphrodite, goddess of love, beauty, and pleasure, favored quince, and it was served as a wedding ritual in Greek mythology. The bride would eat quince to perfume her kiss before entering bridal chambers. Our table’s perfect prelude to your mistletoe moment….
This season at the Willows Inn, we’re excited about Freedom and Liberty apples. Sweet, crisp and acidic, these beautiful fruit are grown here on the island at Three Pheasants Farm. On the menu, we grate them whole into small shards. By grating the apples we change their texture just a little, binding the pieces with seeds so each bite is a touch different. With apples like these, there are loads of exciting possibilities.
With the flowers and abundance of summer behind us, we look to the fall for seeds. “Green” seeds are one of the most intriguing ingredients we work with. We harvest before the tough seed’s shell has formed. Unripe, “green” seeds are strong, juicy and herbaceous garnish. A little burst of flavor in each bite. Unripe coriander seeds explode with a rich, herbal flavor. Nasturtium seeds, juicy and spicy, carry on a legacy of summer’s warmth. Dill and Parsley seeds add freshness and texture to fish and shellfish. On the beaches and in the garden, seeds are a priority for us this season. What we don’t use we preserve for the coming months. Salted for weeks, pickled in vinegar, these seeds are an absolute staple in our pantry.
Crab, at last, is cracked as we crawl through the equinox marking autumn–the first crab of the season following a sparse summer supply. Savor a variety of tastes with the succulent meat of one of the sea’s most versatile delicacies. Aside, the first hard squash blesses us from the neighboring farm. Fruit abounds around our grounds, by tree and bush. Pick with us through a late-season flush of raspberries, and the ripening of pears, plums, and apple.
The salmon run, and the berries bloom. At the fore and the finish of our dinner for you and yours, you savor the locally-caught salmon (many from the ancient practice of reef-netting, a few bays down the road from us), both smoked for bites and/or seasoned on a plank for a main. After the crescendo of tastings, the punctuation of your memorable night at our table comes from a wild-berry dessert, straight from a chef’s sweet imagination.
The horn has sounded, the hunt is on: venison has long been food for kings. Look across the tall grass, beyond the alders, into the the lines of shadow and shifting light, the crowded conifers – was that a stag’s leap, a flash of antler? Adventure there, if you follow. And here, raw heart of the hart: a delicate tartare of animal power, served on a pine-seasoned cracker, with wild herbs. Salmonberry flowers, spruce needles, stinging nettles: the forest at your lips.
A secret: up in the mountains, there’s a spring harvest for porcinis. It is fleeting, and the mushrooms gathered have the taste of an imaginary place, of something stolen. The soil is still wet; this is the thickest, greenest time of year. Salmonberries have come to fruit. Fragrant woodruff, with its tiny white blooms. Wild mushroom, berries, flowers, all roasted and glazed. Edible spring. Too, here’s troll-caught King, leaping from saltwater waves to your fork.
Wait for low tide, then go barefoot. Look for a coin-sized hole in the wet sand, a squirt of water straight into the air. All you need is a narrow shovel, a pail, and a yen for the briny, tender meat of a razor clam. Careful as you dig: the razor’s name is apt, a broken shell cuts quickly though skin.The Quinault have clammed for thousands of years in their wild stretch of beach; they bring their bounty northward to Lummi. Here, razor clams on the plate with all manners of green: baby arugula, chives, seaweed, pine.