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    Merle Enjoy's Whatcom County's Food and Farms

    My bags are packed as I depart my sauna-style room at the Willow's Inn on Lummi Island. Needless to say we had a tasty breakfast before our long 10-minute journey on the Whatcom Chief Ferry. It looked as if someone missed the boat as we arrived at Gooseberry Point in Bellingham. 

    On board Bellair Charters Shonie Schlotzhauer shared information about a 48-page brochure that she had written called, "Sustainable Connections Whatcom Food and Farm Finder" that allows consumers to easily find 132 farms, markets, restaurants, and caterers that are dedicated to food locally produced in Whatcom County. The adventurous itinerary that followed certainly allowed for experiencing this phenomenon. 

    It was far past the 15-minutes of traveling and feeling a little weak our first stop was to Everybody's Store in the town of Van Zandt, located in the foothills of Mt. Baker. Jeff Margolis, who originated from Brooklyn, gave us a tour of this exotic grocery, noted for its specialty cheeses, custom made sausages and selections of international ingredients. The surprise was finding true bialys, something that tends to be a New York known "bread".  

    After some cheese tasting we were taken to the back for a tour of the garden of fruits, vegetables and herbs. This was followed by further noshes of the garden's berries and a few other tidbits to sustain us until our next venue, Cloud Mountain Farm in the town of Everson.  

    What began as an apple orchard has turned into a 20-acre farm with a multitude of fruits, vegetables, herbs and flowers. I slowly hiked up the mountain to check out the hothouses of tomatoes and peppers. Most of the tomatoes are "heirloom" with a variety of sizes and colors, all of which sported a different flavor. More of a sampling would be done during dinner as Josh, the Executive Chef of Nimbus, laced his bill of fare around this and a few other local farms. The wine grape vines were for show at this point as the growth had not blossomed as yet. However, our next stop was to the Samson Estate Winery. 

    Located in the Nooksack River Valley, less than 15 minutes (thank goodness) from Cloud Mountain Farm, it is a small family-owned operation noted for the raspberry and blackberry wines produced by their winemaker Rob Dhaliwal. We were led to the raspberry field and let go to pick and sample. You'd think that I was deprived of food on the entire trip the way I just couldn't stop eating these absolutely most delicious and largest raspberries I've ever indulged in.  

    Not only were they sweet but also lacked those tiny little seeds that get stuck between your teeth. Having been joined by representatives of the Washington Red Raspberry Commission, we got the low down that 65% of all US raspberries are grown in Whatcom County. The fresh ones that you tend to buy from Driscoll may be fresh but not picked when they are fully ripened. Thus those annoying seeds are embedded. The raspberries from Washington are either sent to companies to "juice" or frozen. It means that you have to read the package to be sure that it did come from Washington. I'm still hunting for them. In the meantime, as August is the season for raspberries on the East Coast, particularly Long Island and New Jersey, I will compare them.  

    As far as the wine tasting, we were provided with lunch (I know that your laughing) to pair with their various wines including one regular raspberry and sweeter dessert version.  

    It's off to Lynden for the Raspberry Festival. I love this town, Washington's largest Dutch settlement with 30% of its residents still embracing their Dutch ancestry. I know that we're there specifically for the festival, but I just needed to sample some of the Dutch fare, specifically the sweets. It was at least 15 minutes and they were making something called "Poffertjes" (little pillows) - then there was the Dutch bakery and Dutch chocolate shop. Oh yeah, the raspberries. We had a freshly made vanilla ice cream with a chunky raspberry sauce.  

    The Dutch chocolate shop didn't compare to our next stop, Chocolate Necessities, back in Bellingham (Hey - more than a 15-minute ride). Kevin Buck uses the finest grade of Callebaut Chocolates for most of his creations. Aside from tasting the various cocoa percentages of both dark and milk chocolate, we went to the kitchen where he was preparing chocolates with fruit. We just had to sample those. This was the first chocolate store where I was able to taste Amarena cherries dipped in chocolate.  

    It wasn't long before dinnertime at Nimbus Restaurant, located on the 14th floor of Bellingham Tower, the tallest building in Bellingham. Great views! What did Josh prepare for us? Marbled King Salmon Tartar  -  cherry tomato, California olive oil jam and powder. Braised Lamb Shank  -  grape leaf, golden raisin, pine nut "risotto", Meyer lemon puree. "Chili Relleno"  -  Buffalo mozzarella, heirloom tomato, Guajillo relish, basil. Crispy Pork Belly  -  tart cherry mustard, thyme spaetzle. Sous Vide Washington Halibut  -  summer onions, house cured pancetta, baby turnip confit, fava bean puree, sunflower sprouts (and, of course, more wines).

    We had to pass on dessert as this final day's venue was taking place at Silver Reef Hotel, Casino, Spa, located in Ferndale, where we were also bedding for the night. Amongst the dessert offers were: chocolate rockettes, a pastry topped with chocolate feet; a peanut butter cookie creation (created by pastry chef Audrey Hursh); and both a flaming bananas foster and cherries jubilee prepared tableside. Sparkling gets created using powdered cinnamon.

    The Lummi Nation is responsible for the acreage used for this resort and operates the casino. I didn't partake in the casino due to the smoking, nor the spa due to my time constraint as I was hosting my radio show there. I did get a great night's sleep in a most comfortable king bed, that had a chocolate on the pillow. Oy!

    Although I didn't get to visit some of the other culinary delights participating I would like to thank Holmquist Hazelnut Orchards, Red Barn Lavender, BelleWood Acres, The C Shop and Glacial Lake Missoula Wine Company. Needless to say much thanks is given to the staff of Whatcom County tourism for assisting in my amusement and humor.  

    Getting There:

    Discover more dining, events, attraction, and recreation to enjoy in Bellingham by visit the Bellingham Whatcom County Tourism at http://www.bellingham.org/