The future of food?

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Plant cells grown at a research center in Finland. Photo courtesy VTT Technical Research Institute.

We think of ourselves as omnivores. At least Michael Pollan, author of "The Omnivore's Dilemma," says so. Modern humans, nutritionists point out, typically eat only a small range of plants: eight major crops and some two dozen fruits and vegetables.

But thousands of others could be eaten if they were easier to grow.

Maybe it's because we've still got Soylent Green on our minds that the notion of artificially growing food makes us shudder. But hey, that lovingly tended tomato plant in your garden, those pots of carefully trimmed herbs on the windowsill, they're real, not Frankenfood.

So why should we be afraid of a gadget the size of a crock pot on our kitchen counter? Just drop in a capsule, add water, press the start button, and a week later, you've got a harvest of edible goo.

A pharmaceutical researcher in Finland named Lauri Reuter thinks it's possible. Along with colleagues at the VTT Technical Research Centre of Finland (a 75-year-old, government-sponsored think tank located just outside Helsinki), Reuter is working on a bioreactor to grow cells of edible plants.

"You could harvest something like half a kilo of these plant cells in roughly a week," Reuter told Fast Company. They're not baby lettuces but berries. "You would grow [them] in your backyard, it would take much longer, and the season would be only once a year. Now you can do it any day around the year, and in any place."

What does it taste like? Mild (not gross), although not necessarily what the researchers expected. Strawberry cells tasted like lingonberry jam, they reported.

The team is currently working on technical problems like making a capsule of plant cells that can survive a journey to consumers. "That's a completely new area of research," Reuter says. "Nobody ever thought of putting plant cells in a capsule and sending it somewhere."

Are American consumers ready for a new version of soylent (which supposedly contained soybeans and lentils, until, SPOILER ALERT, Charlton Heston discovered that "Soylent is people")? Or will it seem as natural and effortless as popping a K-Cup into the Keurig?

Would Michael Pollan approve? Wasn't his advice to "eat more plants"? Time will tell.

Bourdain invades Seattle, gets baked

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When you're Anthony Bourdain, parachuting into Seattle for his Parts Unknown show, you go for the cheap shots: weed, serial killers (WTF?), Nathan Myhrvold's Modernist Cuisine, Amazon, and did I mention weed?

GeekWire's John Cook & Todd Bishop try to set things straight, but Tony seems to have made up his mind, even to the point of mistaking Port of Seattle cranes on Harbor Island ("as far as the eye can see") for construction sites on Cap Hill.

It falls to Knute Berger to play defense for the home team. We've got great ingredients up here in the NW corner of the nation, after all. Then comes the fog and the dark days from October to February, and, of course, the serial killers.

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This handsome volume, words & pictures by Kurt Timmermeister, is the sort of thing that will restore your faith in humanity, in the planet's potential for personal goodness, It is impossible to hold it without admiring the character of its author and photographer, and of the fog-shrouded island (Vashon) where he makes his home.

Timmermeister, as many of us know, was a well-known Seattle restaurateur who became a dairy farmer, a writer (an award-winning cheese maker, and ice cream maker.

His first two books detailed the story of how he became a farmer. Growing a Farmer is the story of his journey from Belltown to Capitol Hill to Vashon; Growing a Feast tells story of food itself. "Food is from the earth. It provides us with nutrition to live. It is the source of all life, it has the power to make us healthy."

For a time, Timmermeister cooked monthly dinners at his farm for friends. Then he had a better idea: he opened a shop on Capitol Hill. They another: a series of seasonal cookbooks, somewhere between a traditional book and an elegant magazine.

He found a collaborator who understood his vision, designer Dan D. Shafer, whose studio is a short walk from the ice cream store,

"Kurt approached me about self-publishing a book of stories, recipes and photographs showing not just the idealized moments of living on the farm, but the honest side of it too -- the muddy, pothole-ridden driveway in March, the endless thankless chores, the nature of life and death you have to face when keeping livestock."

The result, produced in under a year from initial meeting to product-in-hand, is Farm Food (Vol. 1), a 128-page perfect bound book, printed and bound in Seattle. It features full color printing throughout, and an embossed cover and dust jacket.

Side note / footnote regarding Timmermeister's landmark Kurt Farm Shop, the tiny space on Cap Hill where he sells home made ice cream. And I do mean home made. The milk comes from his own cows, milked at the farm on Vashon, So do the egg yolks, from his own chickens. He prepares the base, the custard, on the island, then packs it up, puts it into his little refrigerated truck, and brings it to the 300-square-foot storefront in Chophouse Row where it's churned with the flavorings. No vanilla, period (not local). Chocolate from Theo's. Other ingredients vary. The flavors also come from the farm: lemon verbena, Tri-star strawberries, rose geranium, Triple Crown blackberries, bay laurel, Sungold tomato jam among others. Expensive? You bet. A Yelper bestows two stars, apparently because a flavor called Flora's Cheese tastes like, um, cheese. ("I remembered too late that I hate raw cheese.")

Amy Ettinger's book, Sweet Spot : An Ice Cream Binge Across America, came out this summer and added Kurt Farm Shop's ice cream in the epilogue; the book had essentially been finished before Ettinger made it to Seattle. What she found, she writes, was "incomparable." The country's only farm-to-scoop ice cream. Not available in grocery stores. You want some, you go to Chophouse Row on Capitol Hill.


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