Summer's last by some of the best


By Vienna Catalani

They say the world is your oyster, but to a group of quirky foodies, it's much more than that.

You wouldn't find any store-bought cookies, GMO soy products or fruit trucked in from unknown origins here. There wouldn't be any Costco platters, or iPods playing indie rock.

What you would find are steamed oysters, freshly-pressed corn tortillas and a 75-pound pig roasted in a box trough. Highly sought-after grilled peaches, homemade ice cream, and various dishes made with hand-picked berries would grace the table.

And that secret recipe - the one that involves only the ripest Washington tomatoes and succulent Mediterranean mussels - well, if you're lucky, you might get a taste before the masses leave behind only broth.

Labor Day, the unofficial end of a Seattle summer, is rapidly approaching, and with it one of the year's last opportunities to lose yourself in a day of sunshine and waste a hot day by the water with great friends, music, and, of course, food.

So, what's a group of like-minded folks to do when the forecast reads 80+, and you've only had some odd 30 minutes of legitimate summer sunshine?

That's right, you picnic. In style.

It started years ago as a little gathering, a potluck picnic of homemade dishes with both wine and stories flowing freely. Since then, it has turned into an entire day of conviviality, a chance to taste fresh and delicious creations, immerse yourself in great conversations and truly indulge in the gems of the Pacific Northwest.

As a Texas native, I feel I have a unique perspective on the Northwest. Seattle's haute food culture and devout recycling habits have replaced the previous pot-smoking, flannel-wearing image I had initially read. Yes, Seattleites obsess over their coffee, and hibernate for nine months out of the year. They also happen to attack a day of sunshine with the kind of zeal you only see on the Discovery Channel, when a pack of lions go after a prey.

Instead of running from one air-conditioned building to another, you're able to embrace the day, feel the sea breeze cool your face, and gorge yourself on great local wines and food. Dave Smead, Ron Jones, Tamara Murphy, and Jon Rowley dreamed up a day when you could do just that -- embrace what might be either the first or the last hot day of summer, or the only one you can plan for.

This is precisely what this little lost Texan was privileged to take part in. The e-mail said to bring "your favorite potluck dish, or fruits/veggies from your garden, Farmer's Market, or beverage." OK, I thought, we've got a wicked blackberry bush in our alley, we'll bring a crisp and try to blend in. I've never really been one to blend in though, and the zeal for the day overwhelmed me upon arrival.

Oyster shucking had already commenced, and the smell of fresh corn tortillas filled the air. A fantastic jazzy band called Zizzy Zi Zixxy played along to some dancing, while master chefs chopped, flipped, grilled and prepped their dishes.

And then there was La Caja China.

La Caja China isn't just a roasting box; it's an experience. Where lambs and chickens had gone before it, a 75-pound pig lay splayed, crispy and brown. Tacos de pesca had already been devoured, and it was time for the lil' piggy to join its roasted chicken friends on the butcher block. Credit goes to Ron Jones, Billy Burton and Tamara Murphy for transforming this amazing porker into delicious chopped pieces of roasted meat. Placed upon one of Ruth Ishihara's tortillas and topped with other grilled veggies, and it really hit the spot.

Amid fish grilling and pig butchering was Jon Rowley, preparing his annual mussel dish originally crafted to showcase Taylor Shellfish's Mediterranean mussels. According to Rowley, the peak season for Mediterranean mussels is when our local tomatoes are ripe. The dish calls for mussels, tomatoes, sausage, corn and a little basil for color.

Rowley also showed off his peach-grilling skills, using Frog Hollow peaches for their high brix levels. If you want to be truly decadent, you can go ahead and just grill some peaches, and pair with champagne. At sunset, we topped our grilled peaches with homemade bay leaf, and coconut ice cream. Perfection.

The perfect outdoor picnic - it's really what Seattleites do best. The festivities made for what just may have been the best weekend of the summer.

When any given sunny day could be your last, why not embrace the day and the fresh ingredients around you?

According to meteorologist Scott Sistek, the rest of August and September are up for grabs, despite summer's official end on Sept. 21. Either way, the days are only getting shorter, so if you haven't truly "carpe aestatem," you'd better hurry and forge some sunny memories, and top 'em with grilled peaches.

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