BY SUSAN WENZEL
Whidbey Life Magazine contributor
Oct. 9, 2013
Serve up Radical Hospitality at home with recipes from Hedgebrook’s farmhouse kitchen.
“Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality” (She Writes Press) is so much more than a simple collection of recipes. Full of decadent ideas for main courses, snacks, appetizers and desserts, as well as mouthwatering photos that beg to be replicated, this tome, co-authored by Hedgebrook chefs Denise Barr and Julie Rosten is a glimpse inside the heart of Hedgebrook, a place once only known to a handful of women selected for a writing residency there.
If every woman has the seed of a story inside her, Hedgebrook’s philosophy of radical hospitality is the fertile soil in which it’s permitted to grow.
Hedgebrook founder Nancy Nordhoff might agree. As a gardener, not a writer, she has always found fulfillment by seeding the soil and working the land. She believes time spent close to nature can empower women to find their own voices. It was this notion that spurred her to develop her 48-acre farm into a safe and supportive environment, where a writer can detach from the outside world and focus solely upon cultivating her vision – in the form of stories, poems, music and plays.
Residents at Hedgebrook are not responsible for the laundry list of household chores typically assigned to mothers, wives, daughters or caregivers. These duties are all but forgotten as writing takes precedence at Hedgebrook. It is there, in any one of the six cozy Hobbit-like huts, that the women finally realize their words have great value.
During its 25 years, Hedgebrook has fostered the efforts of more than 1,500 women by providing seclusion, validation, affirmation and… food.
“When the women come, they take huge baskets of food back to their cabins. Because of the isolation, they fear not having enough, I think,” said Rosten, who credits Barr for dragging her “kicking and screaming” to what she now calls her dream job.
“But that’s not something you have to worry about here. The kitchen is open 24 hours a day for the writers. They are welcome to come in at any time and pop popcorn, have some ice cream, or eat leftovers. Running out of food is never a problem here,” said Barr, now in her fifth year of crafting unique meals to share with the writers-in-residence.
Representing all ages, nationalities, tax brackets and personalities, the writers gather at the requisite evening mealtime and weekly Sunday brunch as equals. They commiserate about the day’s work and bond over dishes from the cookbook, such as Rhubarb cake, Vietnamese Pho and Full Moonssaka, prepared by Barr and Rosten and a tight-knit bunch of others who all join the women once the table is set.
“It’s the difference between serving and nurturing,” said Barr, who has always had a love of the arts.
“When we eat with them, we feel like we are part of it… part of the creative process.”
“And they are so grateful,” Rosten said.
“I have always loved to cook and feed people. And here I meet the best people and cook for them in the best kitchen with the best ingredients.”
The meals are seasonal and accommodate all tastes, dietary needs, and even favorite comfort foods. Most of the items come from local Whidbey Island farms and gardens, including Hedgebrook’s own.
In keeping with the theology of complete and holistic care, the organic garden, under the tender hands of Cathy Bruemmer, offers more than vital nourishment for the writer’s body. It is filled with blossoms and a stillness designed to enrich the spirit as well.
“I don’t grow enough in here to feed everyone for every meal, but there are plenty of flowers for the writers to take back to their cabins, and the garden itself provides a place of solitude; a place for the writers to meditate and think by resting or even getting their fingers into the soil,” Bruemmer said.
“But only if they absolutely want to,” she added. “Because they are here to write, not work.”
“Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality” showcases over 90 of Hedgebrook’s most storied recipes peppered with personal anecdotes by the alumni, such as bestselling novelists Karen Joy Fowler (“We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves”), Dorothy Allison (“Bastard Out of Carolina”), Ruth Ozeki (“A Tale for the Time Being”), Jane Hamilton (“A Map of the World”), Monique Truong (“The Book of Salt”); award-winning poet of witness Carolyn Forché, memoirist Claire Dederer (“Poser”), musician Thao Nguyen (of “Thao & the Get Down Stay Down”) and others.
The foreword is by Gloria Steinem, writer, feminist activist and Hedgebrook proponent.
“It’s also a place where we learn to accept the care we’ve been trained to give,” Steinem said of the mindful attention given to the needs of the writers, who come to immerse themselves in the sanctity and solitude that is Hedgebrook.
Take a seat at the farmhouse table with some of Hedgebrook’s most interesting alumni and enjoy a taste of “radical hospitality” by purchasing a copy of the cookbook at Moonraker Books in Langley or online at Hedgebrook’s gift shop, Powell’s Books or She Writes Press. (She Writes Press is an independent publishing company founded to serve members of She Writes, the largest global community of women writers online, and women writers everywhere.)
Food writer Susan Wenzel believes in the power of locally produced food to fortify the health and well-being of both the individual and the community as a whole.