I have enjoyed cooking as long as I can remember. I love eating; experiencing different tastes and textures is exciting for me. My dad is Italian-American, so I was raised in an environment that revolves around food; family gatherings are like eating marathons.
As a child, I never thought I would be a chef, or had even considered the food service industry as an option. Of course, I changed “What I’m gonna be when I grow up” almost weekly. I always imagined myself in some sort of white collar position, with at least a Bachelor’s Degree. I love learning, and have a knack for science and math. In high school I planned to go to college to study chemical engineering, but once I got into college, I changed my mind, deciding I would study graphic design. That lasted about a year, then I switched to mathematics. After another year I dropped out, telling my parents I would work full time managing a KFC, and eventually go to culinary school. I think I am attracted to cooking because it combines science and art. There is real chemistry involved, but you get to be creative and expressive through it.
It took two years for me to get my act together and get into culinary school, but I eventually did enroll at Kitchen Academy in Sacramento. After school, I continued to work in the Quick Service Restaurant industry, managing three Cold Stone Creameries for two years. I also work part time in a chocolate shop for several months while managing the Cold Stones.
Once I left the QSR world, I was hired as a pantry cook at Stone House Bistro in Rancho Murieta, CA, a small (Friday Harbor small) gated community outside of Sacramento. I worked my way up, essentially managing the restaurant over the course of two years. Eventually I felt the need to move back to Lodi, where I grew up. There is a wonderful bakery there, The Dancing Fox, and I’ve always enjoyed baking and pastry more than savory cooking, so I decided that I was going to get a job there. In the meantime, I would sell cheese and wine. After a few months, a breakfast cook position opened up at The Dancing Fox, so I applied; even though I really wanted to bake, I figured a foot in the door couldn’t hurt.
At Kitchen Academy the chef instructors told us that breakfast cook was the most difficult position to have in a kitchen. They had me terrified of it! It didn’t help that when we had “Egg Day” at school, I had the worst time ever trying to fry an egg properly. I couldn’t do it. In my defense, I had never tried to fry an egg before because I didn’t like eggs very much. In fact, I still don’t like the taste of a fully cooked egg yolk. I was so hard on myself for not being able to do it well, I actually started to cry. Since then I’ve eased up a little bit. I have to keep reminding myself, it’s just eggs, not life or death. But I digress.
At Dancing Fox I took to breakfast cooking like a duck to water. I love it. Maybe it’s because I feel like I overcame a challenge, or because I feel confident at something I know others feel uneasy about. As I cooked breakfasts food more and more, I learned to like eating them more and more. (I had never been a breakfast eater before.)
Once my aunt Stephanie (who has been with The Tucker House Inn and Harrison House Suites for several years) heard I was doing breakfasts, she started asking me to come here and check out the Inn. After almost a year of her saying “We need someone, come see.” and me saying “Oh, I don’t know, it’s a big move,” I finally came up and checked out the island. And, like everyone else who comes here in July, I fell in love with San Juan Island. I knew I had found my home. I flew back to California, packed up and came back here within a month to start working.
So now I’m here, watching the rain fall, thinking about myself and what to tell you all to make me sound interesting. My thoughts keep coming back to my table. All of my best memories from childhood were either outdoors or at the big butcher block table my dad built that was in our kitchen. (I love being outdoors, that’s part of why I love SJI, great outdoor activities.)
About the table — I love it. As a child, I thought it was gigantic. I know now it’s not, but I still remember climbing the barstool so I could climb on top of it and sit with my mom while she cooked. I spent as much time at that table as I could, cooking, eating, doing crafts, doing homework, or any other excuse. One of my fondest memories from childhood is spending all day in the kitchen with my mom while she made her post -Thanksgiving turkey soup, tasting it along the way as she added ingredients.
I began “helping” my mom cook at an early age – cracking eggs, grating cheese, licking the beaters. I never saw her use recipes, though she had many books and several tins full of recipe cards. I suppose that’s where I picked up the habit of cooking with intuition. My tutelage did not last long; I am a self-guided learner. That’s my fancy way of saying I’m too stubborn and independent, and need to learn from my own mistakes instead of taking others’ word for it. After age 12 or so, cooking dinner one night a week was one of my chores. I would trade all the other duties I was assigned in order to cook more, but my mom didn’t want to scrub the bathrooms either.
I made some great meals at that table, a lot of mediocre ones, and a few real stinkers. The most epic failure I can remember was a batch of chocolate chip cookies. My friend was there with me, and she didn’t want to make them without adult supervision, but I would hear none of that. I was old enough (I think I may have been 8-10), I’d made them with help before, we would be fine. So we mixed the dough and got them baked without incident. But we thought they were a little off. Then I took one to my mom and she could barely choke it down. She asked what I’d put in them so I showed her the eggs, flour, sugar, and can of Crisco in the fridge I had used. When I pulled out the shortening can, she began laughing hysterically. It wasn’t Crisco, it was bacon fat! So now I know the importance of labeling, and being able to identify ingredients.
On my first day at The Dancing Fox, I discovered that we donated day old pastries to the same women’s shelter where the table had ended up. After a few weeks, I inquired about the table with the woman who picked up the pastries every day. She told me they had it in storage, because they had since gotten a new table. She told me I could have it back! I was so excited I made plans to get it immediately, even though I didn’t have a place for it in my apartment. Thus, it found a home in the kitchen at The Dancing Fox. It served us well there, but I was certainly not going to leave it there once I decided to come up to Friday Harbor. I brought it with me, and now I have truly been reunited with my favorite piece of furniture. A piece of my childhood, here in my new home, it helps me feel grounded, when I am so far from my family for the first time in my life. I can’t wait to see what I make on it up here. I don’t plan on reliving the awful cookies, but time will tell. We all have good days and bad days.
Meet Molly. Or maybe you already have. If you haven’t, you’re missing out because Molly is cooking up some fabulous breakfasts!
Molly Prima joined us at the end of August, jumping right into the heat of a busy commercial kitchen on Labor Day weekend. Undaunted from her “christening by fire,” Molly has been introducing our breakfast guests to her favorites of comfort food classics with an upscale twist. When it comes to breakfast, Molly feels “Sometimes it’s hard for people to branch out. I don’t want to scare people, but I want them to get just outside of their box so they can try something just a little new on vacation.” Her Pacific Northwest biscuits & gravy is a prime example: Fresh baked from scratch herbed biscuits, vegetarian gravy, topped with lox, still has that smoky flavor that pairs astoundingly well with cream gravy, but it just a tad different. There is a world of difference in her Breakfast Sandwich, where everything is made fresh from scratch; hash is made with a variety of root vegetables instead of just potatoes; a simple poached free range egg on top keeps the flavors clean and allows the natural flavors to shine through. “I want to be able to share wonderful tastes with other people, and bring brightness to their morning with wonderful food.”
To determine “wonderful flavors,” after graduating from Kitchen Academy in Lodi, Molly trained passionately to develop her palate in specific foods. She put in a stint at Ginger Elizabeth Chocolates in Sacramento, making cookies, ganaches, truffles, mousses and more. Cheese Central in Lodi, CA is where she honed her skills and knowledge of the fine art of cheese tasting, and pouring wine at the Heritage Oak Winery in Lodi, CA opened the world of wine to her. “I had the awful chore of taking home pieces of cheese or bottles of wine and tasting them,” Molly jokes. “You have to practice, practice, practice. Your food is a whole different experience when you actually stop and think about what’s in your mouth when you’re tasting; it brings eating to a whole different level.”
In addition to all these fun jobs, Molly managed a slew of Cold Stone Creameries and fast food chains, served as kitchen manager at Stonehouse Bistro in Rancho Murieta, CA, and breakfast cook at The Dancing Fox in Lodi, CA. From her varied experience, she’s discovered that her favorite things to make in the kitchen are custards, meringues, and technique-based dishes with a lot of room for creativity and applications as components of other desserts. She will be applying this to desserts for Coho Restaurant as well as at the Inns.
Growing up in the heart of California’s Central Valley cornucopia, remote San Juan Island is a long way from home. Molly came up to visit in the summer, and as do so many visitors, she fell in love with the island. She spent time meeting as many local residents as she could, and got a very good feel from the community; she really liked the community – and the ORCAS!
Now that she’s established a home here (complete with her childhood kitchen table) and we’re moving into our quiet season, Molly’s goal is to learn as much as she can about sustainable agriculture on a small scale, and to develop our Chef’s Garden to produce more usable crops. She wants to make the best food and variety with what we can grow right here on site. That, and continue to work on the craft of cookery, developing technical proficiency and creativity.
Please join us in welcoming Molly to our family at the inns. To read more about Molly and the journey of her kitchen table in Molly’s own words, see our blog post.
This seasonal make-ahead treat is equally at home at the most elegant holiday dessert table or as comfort food after family meals. It’s tall and fluffy; topped with a dollop of fresh cream, it’s luscious, and pairs well with a rich cup of freshly-brewed coffee.
For the Crust:
(This will cover the bottom of a 9″ springform pan. If you wish to cover the sides as well, double the recipe.)
1 package graham crackers (9 crackers, 4.8 ounces)
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
1 teaspoon ground cinnamon
1/2 cup European unsalted butter, melted
For the Filling:
3 8-ounce packages (24 ounces) cream cheese, at room temperature
3/4 cup packed brown sugar
pinch of sea salt
1 egg yolk
1/2 C sweetened condensed milk
1 teaspoon vanilla
2 cup pumpkin puree
2 Tablespoon pumpkin pie spice
Caramel sauce, chopped roasted nuts, and whipped cream, optional garnish
For the Crust:
1. Pulse the graham crackers, brown sugar, and cinnamon together in a food processor to pulverize.
2. Transfer the crumbs to a mixing bowl; pour the melted butter over the top and mix it in by hand. When it is fully mixed, it will hold it’s shape if you squeeze it, and crumble apart if you tap it.
3. Press the crust into a 9″ springform pan evenly. Use a glass with smooth sides and bottom to press it down firmly.
For the Filling:
1. Preheat oven to 350ºF. Mix the cream cheese, brown sugar, and salt in a mixer with the paddle attachment on medium speed about 3 minutes, until smooth. The longer you mix them, the fluffier your cheesecake will be. Half way through, stop the mixer and scrape the sides of the bowl down.
2. Add the eggs and egg yolk, one at a time, mixing lightly and scraping the bowl between each addition.
3. Add the remaining ingredients and mix until fully incorporated, scraping the bowl as needed.
4. Pour filling into crust and place in a water bath (place the cheesecake inside a larger pan filled with water at least half to three quarters of the way up the sides of the cheesecake pan.) Bake uncovered about one hour, or until the center is just set. It should still have a little bit of jiggle to it but not be liquid. Let cool in the pan and refrigerate overnight before serving.
5. Drizzle with caramel sauce and top with chopped nuts and whipped cream if desired.
Throughout the summer and fall we get get luscious apricots, peaches, nectarines and plums from our Eastern Washington farmers. This tart can be made with any stone fruit you’d like; just make sure it’s ripe. Taking the time to arrange the fruit in a decorative pattern adds to the visually beautiful dessert. It’s also lovely with coffee in the morning, or afternoon pick-me-up.
1 egg yolk
1 TBLS whipping cream
½ tsp vanilla extract
1¼ cup all purpose flour
2/3 cup confectioners sugar
¼ tsp sea salt
8 TBLS unsalted European style butter
- Combine flour, sugar, salt, and butter in a food processor. Process until course. Add egg yolk, vanilla, whipping cream and process until dough comes together.
- Refrigerate for 1 hour
- Press into 12-inch tart pan with removable bottom.
- Place in freezer for 30 minutes.
- Bake at 375°F for 20 minutes until lightly golden brown.
- Cool and set aside. Can be made the day before.
13 ounces ripe apricots or other stone fruit
1 cup sugar
2 egg yolks
¾ cup heavy cream
2 TBLS All-purpose flour
Pinch sea salt
¼ cup sliced almonds
- Preheat oven to 325°F.
- Slice fruit ¼ inch thick and lay them in a decorative pattern in the bottom of the pre-baked tart shell.
- Whisk together remaining filling ingredients and pour over apricots.
- Sprinkle with almonds.
- Bake for 35 minutes until custard is set.
Washington State is filled with incredible beauty and diversity, the best of which is featured in premier driving tours designated as Scenic Byways. The spectacular San Juan Islands Scenic Byway is Washington’s newest byway, and is unique as the only state byway that includes a marine highway. The Islands overflow with natural beauty, history and a wide array of attractions to soothe and excite. And with 247 days of sunshine and just half the rain of Seattle, this trip is a year-round getaway.
Give yourself time to experience the wildlife, hiking, gourmet restaurants, historic town, museums, whale-watching opportunities…and that’s just for starters. A little time spent on this byway and you’ll discover for yourself the beauty at every turn in the road, and what makes this island so very special.
For more information on the WA State Scenic Byways, see http://www.experiencewa.com/experience-washington/scenic-byways/san-juan-ferry.aspx. Contact our local Scenic Byways representative at https://www.facebook.com/pages/San-Juan-Islands-Scenic-Byway-Explorer/273885016025751.