Kathleen Alcalá

The Clueless Eater

Ten Things

October 2, 2016

Tags: food, sustainable, Bainbridge Island, PNBA, clueless, eater, land, pie, book, Washington

Pie judging at the Harvest Fair
The launch for "The Deepest Roots: Finding Food and Community on a Pacific Northwest Island" is scheduled for October 13, 7:30 pm, at the Bainbridge Island Museum of Art. I am very happy to be able to present the book to the general public.

Yesterday, I was able to present it to (more…)

Desperation Salad

December 17, 2015

Tags: Bainbridge Island, sustainability, climate change, sustainability, kale

It's been a long road and a long week, but I am almost finished writing my book about our relationship with food on Bainbridge Island.

I started out as The Clueless Eater, and now I am - slightly less clueless. Almost thirty people indulged me in interviews where I asked about their families, their (more…)

Mid-Winter Experiment

February 19, 2015

Tags: Bainbridge Island, cooking, farming, sustainable eating, chayote, Chihuahua, Mexican food.

I liked chayote as a child, but I had no idea how to prepare it.
While the East Coast has had a winter of discontent, we have experienced mild temperatures and even sunshine in the Northwest. Our growing season ended last fall with a whimper when freezing temperatures took out my late planting of squash in early November. I didn't think to check the garden space I rent until (more…)

June

June 17, 2014

Tags: June, vegetables, garden, Bainbridge Island, sustainable, gardening, organic, ravens

As the season progresses, the community garden is bursting with life. A neighbor kept my plants watered while we traveled for two weeks, and I returned to kale, mixed greens, and more kale! We have enjoyed it many ways – stir fried, as salads, as a soup with white beans, and in a frittata. We are almost caught up now.

The carrots are well-established, and my yellow tomato plant survived its baptism of copper sulfate and sideways planting – la jefa of the garden, Anita Rockefeller, had me lay the gangly plant on its side and bury it, only allowing about eighteen inches at the top to curve out into the air. It seems to be working.

It rained intensely over the weekend, so there is no need to water. As I harvest and weed, two ravens greet each other overhead, (more…)

Gardening with Frog and Toad

April 20, 2014

Tags: Bainbridge Island, sustainable, seed library, garden, community garden, Rock Farm

This year, I will apply my mad skills in gardening to a 10x10’ plot at The Rock Farm, a community garden on the west side of the island. This lacks the convenience of walking next door to garden in Hilary and Neil’s yard, but affords a larger space with more sun and a Master Gardener to crack the whip if I get too lazy.

In addition, I will be able to (more…)

Hope for Trees

March 10, 2014

Tags: trees, Bainbridge Island, sustainability, development, tree ordinance, future

A tree was saved today.
A miracle might have occurred today. People who have worked in opposition for years were smiling and agreeing on something. Solutions were suggested and accepted. A tree was saved.

After years of e-mails, public meetings, and tense confrontations on the street, and a final sit-down meeting at City Hall, the city agreed to spare the lone tree on Cave Avenue that straddles the edge of the city right-of-way for a sidewalk. The sidewalk will bump out four inches into the street to maintain the four-foot width required in order to meet ADA standards.

What’s more, as the work began, the developer asked for his arch-nemesis, renowned arborist Olaf Ribeiro, to come out and consult on how to handle boles found at the base of the tree. They can be safely flattened, he said, using a diamond saw for a smooth cut. The one-hundred year old tree probably formed the boles in reaction to the street first being paved sometime in the 1970s.

Four inches of gravel now wind along a path between (more…)

Roxbury Russets

November 25, 2013

Tags: apples, empanadas, Bainbridge Island, local farms, sustainable living, fruit trees, heritage, Secret Spring Farm, Sweetlife Farm.

Empanadas made with Roxbury Russet apple filling.
The Farmers Market decamped for the season, taking down their white pavilions and moving from colorful vegetables and squash to more sensible potatoes and other root vegetables. A few farmers continue to sell in the Eagle Harbor Congregational Church community room, and even fewer brave open tents in the parking lot.

Now is the time to buy homemade preserves and dolls, wood products, and other goods that are made by hand. Now is the time to be thankful for our harvest and lower our sunlight expectations, the hardest thing for me. (more…)

The Rock Farm

August 29, 2013

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, sustainability, farming, Rockefeller, community, garden

Anita and friend at The Rock Farm, a community garden
In July, Phil and Anita Rockefeller invited me (okay, I begged) to see The Rock Farm, a portion of their property that has been turned into community gardens.

When I arrived Sunday at 10:30 am, Phil and Anita were hanging what looked like prayer flags along the eight-foot high deer fence. Up close, I could (more…)

The Next Big Thing

May 22, 2013

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, sustainability, sailing, why I write, Wendy Hinman

Apple harvest
I first met Wendy Hinman at the Seattle7 Novel Live! Event, where a number of us wrote a group novel, The Hotel Angeline, as a fundraiser for literacy. We each got up and flailed away at an unfamiliar computer on a stage with a camera pointed at us. The result is still pulling in (more…)

Walking the Food Forest

April 22, 2013

Tags: Food Forest, Bainbridge Island, sustainability, food, Friends of the Farms, land use, Todmorden, Beacon Hill Food Forest

The philosophy behind a food forest is that of abundance, rather than scarcity.
Last week, I took a sunny day to walk land designated for a Food Forest on Bainbridge Island. What is a food forest? It is land on which edible plants will grow using the fewest artificial resources, while attracting and supporting insects, animals, and people to enhance its well-being.

I first heard of the idea from (more…)

The Ocean

April 3, 2013

Tags: The Ocean, Bainbridge Island, sustainable fishing, sustainable food, renewable resources, local food.

The 38 foot Ocean
The power was out when I interviewed Paul Svornich, a third-generation fisherman on Bainbridge Island. By the light of a flashlight and a lantern, his wife Lorraine Svornich carefully pasted labels on cans of tuna caught by Paul from his sailboat 50 miles off the Oregon coast.

No one goes tuna fishing in a sailboat,except Paul Svornich.
(more…)

Winter Dreams

January 16, 2013

Tags: sustainable eating, Bainbridge Island, winter food, food, citrus, muktuk, California, Ometepe, oranges, berries, grapefruit

My winter dreams
I’m pretty sure my broccoli plants are dead now. After two mild winters, I thought I would plant some late in the season to see if I could get it to overwinter and provide an early spring crop. We are now in our second week of freezing temperatures. We managed to eat a (more…)

The Salish Sea

December 3, 2012

Tags: Salish Sea, salmon, shellfish, clams, oysters, Dungeness crab, Bainbridge Island, Filipino, First Nations, food practices, Indipinos, Suquamish

Oyster beds on Bainbridge Island in foreground, Olympic Mountains behind.
Winter has settled upon us, and we are into the long rains of the northwest. Mornings tend to be the driest times, with moisture piling up to break loose in the afternoon.

I sloshed out to Cooper Creek one day to look for returning salmon, to no avail. Bainbridge has just a few streams, (more…)

Tomatoes at Last

September 20, 2012

Tags: Bainbridge Island, tomatoes, writing, fiction, creative nonfiction, health, cholesterol, metabolic syndrome

First ripe tomatoes
It is September, and I spent much of the summer growing two tomato plants that are the size of small trees. At last, I picked three, ripe, yellow tomatoes yesterday. There are many more on the vine. Until I pick them, these first three are worth about $10 apiece in the cost of the plants, (more…)

Hearing Moles

July 30, 2012

Tags: mole hills, Bainbridge Island, sustainability, childhood, San Bernardino

Building mighty mountains
As you can see in the photo, there are three mole hills along the edge of our driveway, and a small one closer to the mailbox. There is a matching set on the other side of the driveway: front doors, back doors. I suppose the little one by the mailbox is a skylight. (more…)

Trash Talking Crows

July 11, 2012

Tags: Climate, Bainbridge Island, Crows, Trees, Fires, Colorado, New Mexico

Trash talking crows
The crows in my neighborhood have been talking a lot lately. Flying back and forth from tree to tree, sharing their thoughts with each other and anyone who cares to listen. They like to stay up high, where they can look down on us and criticize our clothing and our hair. They are gossips.

(more…)

Who Are My Heroes?

June 4, 2012

Tags: Joel Salatin, Bainbridge Island, sustainable farming, young farmers, Abundantly Green, Michael Pollan

Joel Salatin on Bainbridge Island
A chilly June day brought us an unexpected visit from farming guru Joel Salatin. Marilyn, co-owner of the CSA Abundantly Green, sent me an invitation to hear Salatin at the Day Road Farm on Bainbridge Island, just up the road from my house. It seemed to be only for farmers, but I signed up anyway. Maybe I know the secret handshake by now. (more…)

March

March 12, 2012

Tags: Bainbridge Island, food forest, Seattle, permaculture, sustainable, Abundantly Green

A greenhouse at Islandwood on Bainbridge Island.
As the winter season wanes, we miss the foods that are in such abundance in the late summer. We ate the last of our frozen green beans, but still have a few potatoes from Abundantly Green, and our homemade saur kraut. I made hamentashen dough with duck eggs for Purim. Pinto beans are boiling (more…)

Feeding the Dragon

January 14, 2012

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, sustailable living, Fall, Thanksgiving, writing, writers life, Red Smith, The Clueless Eater.

A writer's life.
January 2012

2012 is the year of the dragon, and an apt symbol for something I just experienced.

After a few days of holiday festivities, I turned back to “Notes from a Food Oasis.” When I opened the file, it hissed at me. I tried to read my work over the last two years, and it (more…)

The Gift

December 15, 2011

Tags: Systems, The Gift, Bainbridge Island, Sustainability, Culture

Neglected apple tree.
For the last several weeks, I have been thinking about systems. I realized that the stories I am trying to tell – of farmers, of the land, of what we need to survive and how we would go about securing it – do not fit into a tidy arc of story that will lie down nicely between the covers of a book. (more…)

Even Farmers Have Their Bards

November 28, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, sustailable living, Fall, Thanksgiving.

Poet Paul Hunter
On November 20, Paul Hunter visited from Seattle to speak, sing and declaim at a dinner celebrating the fall harvest on Bainbridge Island.

Ostensibly a fundraiser for the Educulture program that brings school children to the farms and local farm produce into the schools, the dinner really celebrated local farming. Many of the people I (more…)

Corn Harvest

September 26, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, sustailable living, corn, school partnership

EduCulture Director Jon Garfunkel with fresh corn.
On September 26, children barked and dogs frolicked as we harvested 600 ears of corn that will be served in the Bainbridge School Lunch Program this week.

Farmer Karen Selvar and friends from a preschool in my neighborhood finished this off in less than an hour. Pull down and twist, and the ears come off with a satisfying snap.

Clamming with Neil

September 5, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, shellfish, geoducks

All year, Neil had bragged about the special place where he found geoduck, someplace no one else dug. He made a mystery of it, but said he was willing to share it with me. Eventually, I took him up on the offer, and we picked a day. When I e-mailed the day before to see what time to meet, Neil seemed reluctant to go, although he had already instructed me to go to Walmart and get a shellfish license. Walmart is not that close, so I went online and, sure enough, was able to buy a license for shellfish and seaweed for $12, and print out a temporary license on the spot. It was good for ten days. There are all these rules around harvesting crabs and shellfish in Washington State, and a lot of disputes about who owns the rights to the tidelands and their product. I guessed that Neil’s secret geoduck stash was on public land if I needed a license. I was right, sort of. (more…)

Mora

August 11, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, blackberries, sustainable living, wildlife.

Just north of our neighborhood is a deep, wooded ravine that runs under the nearby highway to join a salmon stream. Just south are five acres of open land, privately owned. When I say open, I don’t mean empty. The land is dense with salal, wild blackberries, and scrub trees. Our neighborhood, on a dead-end street, serves as a wildlife corridor between the two areas, one of the reasons we love it. On the other hand, my cat disappeared about this time last year. (more…)

Laughing Crow Farm

July 20, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, chickens, potatoes, bell peppers, garlic, sustainable living

Betsey Wittick met me at a purple, open-sided shed on the eastern edge of Laughing Crow Farm. Her four acres are part of the Day Road Farmland Trust, an area protected by the City of Bainbridge from urban development. While waiting for Betsey to come out of the main farmhouse, I walked around and noted the garlic and potato beds near the house, the chickens in their coop making those low, rusty gate sounds that people find so comforting. (more…)

The Perfect Carrot

June 24, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, broccoli, carrots, sustainable living

Nasturtiums, carrots, and broccoli. My carrots are in the ground. Those are CSA carrots on top.
The summer of 2009 I lived in San Miguel de Allende, Guanajuato, Mexico where I rented a small condominium with a kitchen. The furnishings were basic, and I ate simply when at home, mostly breakfasts and salads.

The stores are clustered by type along the narrow, cobble-stone streets of San Miguel – pharmacies on Insurgentes, clothing stores on El Reloj, and produce stores on Mesones. One day, I bought some carrots. I didn’t eat them for a couple of days. Then I washed and peeled them, although at home I probably would have left the peels on. Hungry, I cut one into rough junks and took a bite.
This was my Proustian moment, the madeleine of my vegetable experience. (more…)

Town & Country 2

June 1, 2011

Tags: Town & Country, Bainbridge Island, sustainable living, local food, produce

The Town & Country Signboard
Town & Country Market 2
A few days later, I met Vern and Rick Nakata in a small, upstairs board room across the parking lot from Town & Country, near the Bainbridge Post Office. Glen was late. All three cousins are in their mid to late 50s, and all wore some piece of clothing with the Town & (more…)

Broccoli Reset

May 20, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, broccoli, carrots, sustainable living

Broccoli and marigolds
Last week, something ate most of my broccoli sprouts. This was followed by 1 1/2 inches of rain in one day, washing away anything left. So I visited Bay Hay & Feed to purchase more substantial broccoli starts. I also added marigolds, remembering that I used to mix them with my vegetables to ward off bugs. I (more…)

First Light

May 3, 2011

Tags: Bainbridge Island, local food, broccoli, carrots, sustainable living

Tiny sprouts, just above center.
... for my broccoli sprouts! This year, the neighbors loaned me a planting bed, so I will attempt to grow a few vegetables. About two weeks ago, I planted broccoli and carrots. There are a couple of specks on the carrot rows, but I expect them to be more pronounced next week.

Town & Country

April 28, 2011

Tags: Town & Country, Bainbridge Island, sustainable living, local food, produce, Uwajimaya

How does getting food to market work on a larger scale? The truth is, most of the food at my house comes from Town & Country Market down the street. I make an appointment to see the store director, Rick Pedersen. He leads me from the front of the store to the back, then through (more…)

To Market, To Market

March 29, 2011

Tags: farmers market, sustainable living, local food, Bainbridge Island, marketing

I decided to follow up on one of the practical aspects of this lifestyle, the main influx of cash into small farm households.

One June morning I met Susan Vanderwey at the Bainbridge Island Farmers Market. It had been a late, cold season, and the market was only now really rolling. We sat next (more…)

Abundantly Green

March 3, 2011

Tags: local food, sustainability, Bainbridge Island, Washington, food, agriculture, Helen and Scott Nearing, Sweetlife Farm, Holt Ranch, CSA, Abundantly Green

I continued my questions by driving out to see my friends Marilyn Holt and Cliff Wind, who inherited a farm from Marilyn’s father. About four years ago Holt Ranch became a CSA, or Community Supported Agriculture farm, which means that individual families pay at the beginning of each season to receive a share (more…)

Sweet Life

February 16, 2011

Tags: local food, sustainability, Bainbridge Island, Washington, food, agriculture, Helen and Scott Nearing, Sweetlife Farm, Holt Ranch, CSA, Abundantly Green

Sweet Life
Bainbridge Island curls like a fist of rock around Eagle Harbor on the western edge of Puget Sound, thirty-five minutes from downtown Seattle by ferry. Over half the working population commutes to Seattle every day on a Jumbo Mark II, either the Tacoma or the Wenatchee. The ferries resemble floating airports, they are so large and stable, each capable of carrying 2,500 passengers and 200 vehicles at a time.
I have joked that, if we were completely cut off from the mainland, Bainbridge Island, with its population of about 25,000, could live off of locally made white wine and goat cheese for quite awhile. Every April the farmer’s market reopens, and we have our choice of – goat cheese, honey, and a few vegetables. The truth is, our growing season is short, and there are just some things that won’t grow here in quantity. The soil is bad, and the local gardening guru, Ann Lovejoy, recommends buying good soil and dumping it directly on top, rather than attempting to work it into the rocky hardpan that dominates the terrain.
As a result, most of our produce is still purchased through the locally owned Town & Country Market, and a Safeway store. Once, Bainbridge was famous for its strawberries, but a blight, along with the forced internment of Japanese American farmers during World War II, ended their production. By the fall, a greater variety is available, but as Americans, we are used to having seasonal products year-round: lettuce, tomatoes, broccoli, avocadoes, citrus fruits, things that grow in limited quantities or not at all in our cool, wet climate. “There are no seasons in the American supermarket,” according to the movie, Food, Inc. (2008). (more…)

The Clueless Eater

January 11, 2011

Tags: local food, sustainability, Bainbridge Island, Washington, food, agriculture

In the spring of 2010, I began a series of essays based on the question, “Why did you become farmers?” asked of two couples I had known from their previous, book-related lives. The answers were both interesting and surprising to me.

Along with biographical questions, I found myself asking somewhat apocalyptic questions such as “If there were a food shortage, is there some way I could earn food from you?” and “Can this island support its own population?” (more…)

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Selected Works

Creative nonfiction, memoir, environmental sustainability.
Combining memoir, historical records, and a blueprint for sustainability, The Deepest Roots shows us how an island population can mature into responsible food stewards and reminds us that innovation, adaptation, diversity, and common sense will help us make wise decisions about our future. And along the way, we learn how food is intertwined with our present but offers a path to a better understanding of the future.
Creative Nonfiction
Essays on Family and Writing

The Desert Remembers My Name makes an important contribution to discussions of ethnicity, identity, and the literature of place.”
Bloomsbury Review
Fiction
"...a mesmerizing tale... the author explores the fascinating confusions and contradictions plaguing a culture precariously poised between tradition and modernization."
Booklist
"She never forgot the power of storytelling as testimony."
The Utne Reader
"Kathleen Alcalá's Spirits of the Ordinary is an enthralling book..."
–Paul Yamazaki, City Lights Books

"This book entered my dreams."
–Alberto Rios
Short Fiction
"Thoroughly satisfying."
The New York Times Book Review

"By turns touching, entertaining, and surprising, and uniquely her own."
Publishers Weekly

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