The Living Kitchen’s Farm Table Dinners bring the best tastes of the season to the table for a unique dining experience.
Sometimes the best meals are served not in a swanky restaurant but in a good friend’s home.
The Living Kitchen is no exception. Lisa Merrell (daughter of “The Tomato Man,” the late Darrell Merrell) and former Seattle chef Lisa “Bibi” Becklund created The Living Kitchen Farm and Garden in 2004, when they purchased a seven-acre farm in Bristow out of a desire for a simpler lifestyle.
Merrell recently left the farm to focus on sustaining her father’s eponymous plant business, while Becklund continues to run the farm. In addition to growing organic fruits and vegetables, she raises chickens, sheep and dairy goats, as well as a hearty crew of cats and dogs … and even Pascal the Llama, whose job involves keeping the coyotes at bay.
Becklund offers produce and dairy items from The Living Kitchen Farm and Garden at local farmers’ markets, but the glorious Farm Table Dinners, offered from spring through fall, draw the most attention.
The first thing I noticed when approaching the farm the night we visited last fall, in addition to the cock-a-doodle-dooing of the Rhode Island Reds, was a chalkboard stating “Idonapshe,” a Zuni word meaning “Let’s eat.” I could tell we were in for a treat. Merrell welcomed guests while Becklund fixed dinner — no small feat, as she had just one refrigerator and a four-burner range to cook for 24 people.
Upon arriving, guests were offered a refreshing spritzer, served in Mason jars, made from heirloom Hopi watermelon and homemade blueberry wine — the perfect aperitif to accompany us on our tour of the farm.
Merrell led us around the grounds, introducing us to the milking goats (Becklund rarely gets a day off anymore — the “girls” require milking 365 days a year!), the dogs, the cats, the sheep and the llama, and led us through the large garden, still brimming with late-harvest tomatoes and just-planted broccoli and cabbage. The chickens — an assortment of Rhode Island Reds, Delawares and Black Orpingtons — roam freely, laying eggs wherever they desire. I was dreaming of a pair, their bright golden yolks sunny-side up …
As the sun started to set, guests made their way into the house. Two dining areas were set to accommodate 24 people at two communal tables, decorated with warm earth tones, gourds and dried corn, reflective of the Native American cuisine featured that evening.
Becklund started dinner with a velvety winter squash soup (featuring Kirin, Seminole and Butternut varieties) topped with a pumpkin seed and matzo cake.
By the time the dishes had gone out to the tables, she had started on the next course. Guhitligi, a Cherokee salad of wilted wild greens, was accompanied by her homemade garlic chive goat cheese, served warm, encrusted with sunflower seeds and bacon.
A refreshing ice, made with Yerba Buena (a wild mint) and lime, served as the perfect palate cleanser between courses.
The main course, a sage-encrusted roasted pork shoulder, was fork tender, and stirred into a Chico (small dried corn kernels that have been roasted in an outdoor adobe oven) and Anasazi bean stew. Gorgeous Hen of the Woods mushrooms stood in for the pork as a vegetarian option.
Talk among guests started off shyly but rose to boisterous by the time we left, with new friends exchanging contact information. By the time dessert was served — a sweet corn ice cream with grape sauce and blue corn shortbread cookies — the atmosphere seemed more like a family dinner party than a room full of previously unfamiliar guests.
The Native American Dinner is only one of several offered throughout the spring and summer months, but it happens to be Becklund’s favorite.
“I love featuring foods of different nations using traditional methods,” she says. “The dinner is, in all honesty, a spiritual experience for me.”
And speaking on behalf of the guests that evening, it was for us as well. Nourishment for the soul as well as the tummy.
Editor’s note: In addition to the Farm Table Dinners, Becklund sells fresh-made plain and flavored chévre and feta ($8 for 8 ounces), in addition to fresh raw goat’s milk ($8 per gallon), sold in old-fashioned glass jars.