Vegan Tomato Coconut Soup

by Carlye Cunniff
( September 15th, 2015 )

Vegan tomato coconut soup

Alas, the end of summer is upon us. The days will surely get shorter, colder and wetter. There is little to comfort us as we become indoor people once again, destined for winter-time rituals of over eating and over sleeping. We in the Northwest can however, take comfort in the post summer bounty of, fresh fruit and veggies. Our markets are exploding with peaches, berries, and, you guessed it, tomatoes. This is the best time of year to craft salsa, sauces, tomato salads and every variety of tomato soup you can imagine.

I went a little overboard on the tomato dishes this year, and found myself in need of a different twist on a classic dish. Pleasantly surprised I was – this vegan tomato coconut soup is comforting and classic, with just a hint of the non-traditional to keep things fresh. With a pot of this soup bubbling on your stove top, you might even wish for cooler days.


1 Tablespoon olive oil

1 red onion, diced

2 carrots, peeled and diced

2 cloves garlic, diced

5 fresh and flavorful tomatoes, chopped

5 basil leaves, chopped

1 can chick peas

1 Tablespoon balsamic vinegar

1 Tablespoon sage

1 Teaspoon crushed red pepper

1 can coconut milk

Tomato coconut soup


In a large, heavy bottomed soup pot, heat olive oil over medium heat.

Cook onions, garlic, and carrots until fragrant, about 3 minutes.

Add salt and pepper, to taste.

Add tomatoes, basil, chick peas, vinegar, sage and red pepper, stir and cook until slightly softened.

Add coconut milk, stir and bring to a low boil.

Reduce heat to simmer, cook over low heat for about an hour, or until veggies are very soft.

Working in batches, blend soup in a counter top blender.

Add salt and pepper to taste, serve with crusty bread or grilled cheese sandwiches.

Vegan tomato coconut soup



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It’s Not The Water Anymore – Tasting the History of Olympia Beer

by Carlye Cunniff
( September 10th, 2015 )


Olympia Brewery

I grew up happily in Olympia, Washington. For those of you who haven’t been, it’s a pretty sleepy place – it’s on the water, the downtown is walkable and artsy and just weird enough to qualify it as a true Pacific Northwest holdout. Aside from ‘artsy’ and ‘Evergreen State College,’ Olympia is also affiliated with beer, Olympia Beer.

Olympia Beer is the stuff of legend. Olympia Beer was brewed in Olympia until the early 2000’s – it held out from corporate beer moguls longer than most. Some even suggest that Olympia beer may have created that slightly ‘weird’ culture for which Olympia is so famous. The Olympia Brewery (originally called Capital Brewery) was housed in a gorgeous, historic brick stackhouse, framed by greenery, nestled next to the water.  That stackhouse still rises from the valley, you’ve probably seen it from the freeway, you’ve probably wanted to go exploring in it. Problem is, it’s not readily available for exploring. Of course, unsanctioned exploring is always an option, but not a very good one. The building is not necessarily super-stable at this point, and getting caught trespassing on a brewery is likely not as fun as it may seem (especially because there is no longer any beer at said brewery). That lack of beer issue might be changing, however – explorers and beer lovers alike, rejoice!

Olympia Beer, in it’s hay day, was actually brewed in Tumwater, an even smaller town right next door to Olympia. Tumwater holds the title of oldest permanent American settlement on Puget Sound, the parties of Michael T Simmons and George Bush – no relation – bush wacked their way from Vancouver, Washington to settle at the raging Tumwater Falls. Wisely, the group decided to make camp at the falls because of the potential for built-in energy, they soon had a full-fledged settlement, complete with sawmills and farm land.

In the early 1890’s, successful Montana brewer Leopold Schmidt visited Tumwater on a business trip. On a hunch, Schmidt sent some of the famous artesian water back east to be tested. Confirming his own musings, Schmidt was told that the water was was ideal for brewing beer. In fact, the water was one of the only naturally occurring waters in the world that was perfect for beer making. Schmidt packed up his family, sold his Montana brewery and headed west, opening a new brewery in Olympia.

Schmidt had a lot of things going for his fledgling beer operation, the artesian water was simply the icing on the cake – and a wonderful marketing addition. Schmidt was revolutionizing beer making in the US - bringing his German beer school secrets to the trade. He used yeast intentionally to make consistent product, a practice that wasn’t well-known in the states at the time. Schmidt also used a gravity brewery system to create his product. The building itself contributed to the brewery process – beer traveled from the top of the building and went through the various brewing stages as it made it’s way closer to the ground. Olympia Beer was the first beer to be bottled with metal caps rather than corks – allowing for pasteurization, and greater shipping distances. Employees were well paid – and the beer cost more. Consumers gladly shelled out for the famed beer – it was apparently the best thing on the west coast.

Eventually, after trying to see themselves through prohibition (the old brewery served as a papermill, fruit and jam factory before eventually shutting down), Schmidt’s sons sold the brewhouse.

When prohibition was repealed in Washington State, the Schmidts were ready – they managed to build a new, state of the art brew house at the top of the waterfall. The company was competitive in a saturated market – they had a loyal customer base, their workers were the best in the business and they were creative marketers. They held out until the 1980’s when they were finally forced to sell – Olympia Beer was brewed in Tumwater by various corporate owners until 2003, when the final whistle blew on the brewery floor.

As I mentioned, the old brewery and the older brewery are currently both empty – devoid of their beer makers and wares alike. All hope is not lost for Olympia Beer lovers, however. The city of Tumwater has some plans up it’s sleeve that have many beer fans rejoicing. A potential partnership with a local community college would bring a groundbreaking craft brewing and distillery lab to the old buildings. Couple this learning environment with spots for retail, restaurants and brewery start ups and the city might have Washington beer lovers convinced.

The cult-like following of Olympia Beer seems to be well – founded. Craft to the core, original German recipe, well compensated workers who love their job, an iconic design that was way beyond the time – not to mention a potential craft brewery incubator in historic buildings. But where is the beer that started it all now? Olympia Beer does still exist, it’s brewed in Irwindale, California. I tried a glass at the Tumwater Artesian Brewfest, where it was served on tap. It’s tasty – fresh, light, comparable to the more common Rainier. It’s apparently the original recipe – missing only the water.


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Blackberry Buttermilk Breakfast Muffins

by Carlye Cunniff
( August 26th, 2015 )

Blackberry buttermilk muffins

If you live in the PNW, you know that the end of August normally marks prime blackberry picking time. I went out the other evening, basket in hand, only to find that most of my usual blackberry picking spots were devoid of the juicy plump berries of my dreams.  I can only assume that the season happened early this year – the unusual heat causing early blackberry prime.

Fresh blackberries

Though my picking exploits were less fruitful than I may have imagined, I did manage to snag a few good berries from my yard and roadside. The catch? There were not enough berries to make a pie, or a cobbler, or a crumble. There were, however, enough of the little devils to make blackberry buttermilk breakfast muffins. Maybe not as exciting as a blackberry cobbler, but potentially more practical. These fluffy muffins are perfect for busy summer mornings – they are especially tasty with a smear of butter.

If you’re interested in foraging for your own berries – be mindful. Picking berries in city parks is technically a no-no. Read up on those rules on this great post from Wild Harvests. If you end up finding something other than blackberries – have at it. These muffins are great with other fruit, different citrus, chocolate chips or nuts. Buttermilk generally makes for a rich and fluffy muffin, so feel free to experiment.

Blackberry buttermilk breakfast muffins


2 Cups flour

1/4 Cup brown sugar

1 teaspoon baking soda

2 teaspoons baking powder

1 teaspoon salt

1/4 Cup melted butter

1 egg

1 Cup buttermilk

1 teaspoon vanilla

3 Tablespoons honey

zest of 1/2 a lemon

zest of 1/2 of an orange

3 Tablespoons fresh squeezed orange juice

1 Tablespoons fresh squeezed lemon juice

1 Cup fresh blackberries

Blackberry buttermilk breakfast muffins


Preheat oven to 375

Butter a muffin tin, or line with muffin cups

In a medium bowl, sift together flour, brown sugar, baking soda, baking powder and salt.

In a separate, large bowl, whisk together melted butter, egg, buttermilk, vanilla, honey, zests, orange and lemon juices.

Add the dry ingredients to the wet ingredients, mix until combined. The batter will be slightly lumpy, that’s fine!

Bake for about 17 minutes, spread on some butter and enjoy!

Blackberry buttermilk breakfast muffins


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