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farm-to-table fall: rooted in the valley with audra mulkern

Author, farm-to-table photographer, event and marketing consultant, and mother – the inspirational Audra Mulkern shares her farm-to-table fall pairings!
Audra Mulkern - Rooted in the Valley

Audra Mulkern, author of Rooted in the Valley and farm-to-table photographer. Photo by Rosy Smit.

Why we love her:

Audra Mulkern’s book, Rooted in the Valley, is a gorgeous compilation of photographs documenting two farmers markets nestled in the plentiful Snoqualmie Valley of Western Washington.  Audra’s images capture portraits and stories of local artisans and producers.  Better yet, she donates all proceeds from book sales to Sno-Valley Tilth, an organization and community of local farmers.  We couldn’t love that more.

This farm-to-table photographer and foodie shares her unique fall harvest pairing ideas with us in a beautiful collection of photos.  We promise you’ll be drooling in addition to planning how and when you can recreate this colorful spread.

What is your absolute favorite food?

I am a huge fan of street food.  If it’s cooked in a hut off a dirt road or served out of a window or cart on the sidewalk, I am in!  In Paris there is a little place in the Marais district with a walk up window.  There are lines of people waiting to order their falafel sandwich and then sit on the sidewalk to enjoy it.  It is the perfect combination of hot falafel, spicy harissa, pickled cabbage, and creamy yogurt sauce.  It was very difficult to not go back every single day and eat there.

What inspired you to take up photography and how did you come to focus on farm-to-table shots?

As a new mother in 1999, I wanted to find a way to provide my children with fresh, organic food.  I joined a CSA (Community Supported Agriculture) and began to visit farms and different farmers markets on a regular basis.  That’s how the love affair began.

During the 2010 farmers market season, I began to take a few photos with my iPhone and really started to talk and get to know all of the farmers and farm interns that I met.  I became a better cook by talking to them about how they prepared their vegetables and was inspired by their incredible dedication and hard work.  It may seem cliché to say, but wanting to know the people who grew my food inspired it all.

I now partner with local farms to find other ways to help tell their story.  Part of that is through photography but I also help plan events and create programs to help promote and educate about topics ranging from sustainable farming to eating seasonally.

As a self-confessed fresh food junkie, what has been one of your go-to seasonal items this summer that you can’t seem to get enough of?  What are you expecting to see a lot of for fall?

Summer in the Northwest is glorious in its abundance and bounty.  My go-to item is fresh herbs.  I use them liberally in my cooking, even in my jam making or infusing vinegars.  I often put them in vases around the house before tossing them in a salad or soup.  It can be the one thing that elevates a dish from ho-hum to fresh and interesting.  I also love all the dark leafy greens.  People would be surprised how versatile and delicious Chard is.  One week I may make pesto with the greens and pickle the stems, and the next week chop up the whole bunch and use it in a frittata.

In fall, the farming season begins to wind down and the harvest season begins.  In the markets and farm stands, you’ll start to see the long awaited tomatoes, celery, corn, chiles, and peppers.  It’s also the beginning of the season for the larger potatoes, cabbage, apples, and the beginning of winter squash.  Keep your eye out for the wonderful Delicata Squash; it’s one of the few winter squashes that have an edible skin.  I stock up with as much as I can and store it to enjoy all winter long.

Simple & Crisp - Audra Mulkern

Audra & Dewdrop. Photo by Clare Barboza Photography.

What is your favorite dish to create with the items above?  Any perfect fall meal suggestions?

Once I started to follow and cook the season, I began to see the patterns of harvest seasons for certain vegetables and it finally dawned on me why certain foods are paired.  Corn Chowder, for example, is a great late season dish that utilizes corn, potatoes, chiles, and celery.  I also love to roast winter squash with smoky spices and make a cabbage slaw with apples for veggie tacos. Fall just might be my favorite cooking season; I love to celebrate all the flavors of the harvest.

Your book Rooted in the Valley is a beautiful collection of photos of the amazing, colorful, and farm-fresh bounty that the Pacific Northwest has to offer.  What initially inspired you to start collecting these photos and eventually turn them into such a lovely creation?

Thank you!  In 2011, I documented the entire season at the farmers markets in the Snoqualmie Valley and sought out the stories of why the farmers came to market.  It evolved into printed form, featuring passages and poems from the farmers and artisans themselves.  All of the proceeds from the book have gone back into the farming community to help support educational programs and our local markets.

My photography has now evolved to occasionally involve a ‘real’ camera but the subjects remain the same: farmers, farms, and their beautiful food.

What are your farm-to-table, seasonally delectable pairings with Simple & Crisp?

1. Simple & Crisp Orange paired with some Tieton Farm Bianca, a sheep and goat milk cheese, (chevre would also work well here) perfectly ripe figs, and a drizzle of balsamic reduction.  Figs are so seductive and rich and pair perfectly with the sharp bite of orange.  If you see them in the market, snap them up.  Their season is extraordinarily short.

2. I paired Simple & Crisp Apple with my take on a classic fall salad.  Celery tossed with lemon juice, olive oil, fresh thyme, and toasted hazelnuts along with a tiny slice of Two Faced Blue from Willapa Hills Farm.

3. I paired Simple & Crisp Pear with a Roasted Corn Salsa: roasted corn with olive oil, roasted chiles, cilantro, green coriander seeds, and cotija with a squeeze of lime make for the perfect savory-sweet pairing.

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For more information on Audra Mulkern and her photography, please visit her website or follow Rooted in the Valley on Facebook or Instagram.

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