A couple of years ago, Kim O'Donnel got into a conversation with an editor at Seattle's Sasquatch Books.
"They wanted to publish a vegetarian cookbook with a Northwest focus," says O'Donnel. "I said, 'Well, that sounds interesting, but what does that mean to you?' They said, 'We don't know, we want you to find out.'"
O'Donnel started thinking back on her move to Seattle in 2008 (from the "other Washington"). At the time, she was writing a food column for the Washington Post, stopping at farmers markets along her route across the country. When she arrived in the Northwest, she was surprised by what was available here.
"Like many others, I thought this was a great place to get wild seafood — and it is, but I had very little idea, beyond salmon, shellfish and berries, that the Northwest was just this cornucopia waiting to be explored."
Remembering her own excitement got her excited about the project's potential.
"Even if I only traveled a hundred miles in one direction, the climate was different and different things could grow," she recalls. "The Northwest is not one-dimensional by any stretch; the types of things that farmers can grow and bring to market, what's accessible to curious eaters — it's second to California, which I don't think a lot of people understand. The bounty is amazing. I thought, 'OK, I can sink my teeth into this.'"
The result is PNW Veg: 100 Vegetable Recipes Inspired by the Local Bounty of the Pacific Northwest, a collection of recipes using ingredients native to the diverse growing regions at our fingertips. While waiting for the tomatoes to ripen, you can try your hand at rhubarb salsa. Or, up your pasta game with sage pesto and roasted winter squash, and figure out what to do with those sea beans from the farmers market by tossing them into a three-bean salad.
"I thought about making sure that there was variety for folks who just want to dip their toe in, and for other folks who want to dig deeper and explore more," O'Donnel says.
No matter your level of cooking or vegetable expertise, you'll feel at home in this cookbook, published last month. O'Donnel covers the basics, with sections on specific ingredients like sunchokes and stinging nettle, and offers helpful tips throughout to give further insight into the recipes.
For its creator, the project is like a love letter to her chosen home: "I feel like we belong here now, but I didn't grow up here, and to be able to share it through kind of an outsider eye; I'm excited.
"If you had a bookshelf of cookbooks about the Northwest over the last 20 years, most of them would be about seafood or foraging," she says. "That's great, but I think that this book is an opportunity to show people the world beyond that. Now you have a chance to learn about this region from a produce point of view." ♦
Reading: Kim O'Donnel with Kate Lebo • Wed, June 7 at 7 pm • Free • Auntie's Bookstore • 402 W. Main • auntiesbooks.com • 838-0206