When Inland Northwest days have a hint of crispness in the air and leaves on the trees are turning shades of golden and crimson, it's the perfect time to take a drive in the country. And what better place to savor the bounty of fall's harvest than Green Bluff? This farming community northeast of Spokane offers goodies from just-picked apples and fresh-pressed cider to bright orange pumpkins and succulent grapes. Some farms feature corn mazes, train rides, animals to pet, antiques and crafts. Topping it all off are the breathtaking views of miles and miles of orchards and farmland with mountains in the distance.
So what are some of the 19 Green Bluff farms offering this year?
Byron and Donna Siemer have been farming on the east side of Green Bluff for 25 years. The copper-spired castle in the middle of their huge corn maze is hard to miss, and it's a big draw for kids of all ages. Who can resist getting lost in a labyrinth with crocodiles and dragons roaming its paths? Their pumpkin fields are dotted with children looking for that perfect pumpkin or struggling to cart it away. I'm enamored with their produce, especially since most of it's chemical-free--apples, carrots, onions, potatoes, beets, cabbage and squash.
"This year, our apples are surprisingly large," Donna Siemer says. "Most of our Galas are too big for our caramel apples."
Nearby at Thorson's Country Farm, Jan and Lloyd Thorson won't have the d'Anjou and Bartlett pears I adore because this summer was too warm and dry. But they still have full clusters of seedless and juice grapes, apples, squash and pumpkins. Their garden chrysanthemums are some of the most vibrant I've seen. This year, Jan has crafts and fall wreaths.
At Larry and Karen Knapp's farm on the west side of Green Bluff, you can hunt for pumpkins in their fields. On the weekends, there's "punkin chunkin", in which a pumpkin is launched from an air cannon into a deserted field. The Knapps have squash, gourds and ornamental corn, as well as miniature horses and donkeys.
"We're still picking fall raspberries until we get a heavy frost," Karen says.
Green Bluff's Apple Festival runs through October. Pick up a brochure and map at your local library or log on to www.greenbluffgrowers.com.
New Fall Menus -- Small, locally owned restaurants add a unique character to the Inland Northwest. Here you can experience exciting cuisine prepared by chefs who enjoy utilizing the bounty of our region. I asked a sampling of these chefs what they're offering diners this fall.
At Solstice in Liberty Lake, chef and co-owner James Malone is a master of sauces. One of his new dishes is Tiger prawns seared with a Thai-curry coconut sauce. Dinner brings pan-seared duck breast with chestnuts, currants and orange, served with forest mushroom risotto and seasonal vegetables. Another fall entr & eacute;e, grilled rack of lamb with Nicoise olive sauce, is served over Palouse lentils and seasonal vegetables.
On Sunday, Oct. 26, at 5 pm, Malone presents a winemaker dinner with Rex Hill Winery. The five-course dinner ($65 per person) pairs wines from the Willamette Valley winery, known for its pinots, with Malone's inspired cuisine.
Solstice, at 1332 N. Liberty Lake Rd., is open Tuesday-Friday from 11:30 am-2 pm. for lunch and Tuesday-Saturday at 5 pm for dinner. Call: 892-5901.
Since co-owner and chef Tonia Buckmiller left both Mizuna and Spokane this summer, chef and owner Sylvia Wilson has continued to expand the offerings at the mostly vegetarian restaurant. She's also featuring a guest chef who has been missed by many diners since he left the Davenport's Palm Court. Ian Wingate brings his talents to Mizuna nightly with innovative special dishes featuring the best of local, organic and seasonal ingredients. This week he works his magic with organic filet mignon. Creative vegetarian fare, moreover, continues at Mizuna with dishes like butternut cannelloni enclosing roasted fall mushrooms, fresh sage, toasted pecans, spinach and ricotta cheese, all baked in a savory butternut-shallot sauce.
Mizuna's fall wine tasting on Wednesday, Oct. 29, at 6:30 pm features five newly released wines from five different wineries paired with hearty appetizers and dessert. John Allen from Vino will be on hand for commentary for this event, which costs $45 per person.
Mizuna, at 214 N. Howard St., is open Monday-Friday from 11:30 am-2:30 pm for lunch and Tuesday-Saturday from 5-9 pm for dinner. Call: 747-2004.
Head Chef Travis Mason has been with Brix Restaurant in Coeur d'Alene since it opened just over a year ago. He likes to use fresh, local ingredients to create new American cuisine. Drawing upon his experience at restaurants in Portland and Big Sky, Montana, and blending that with the talents of his line staff, Mason presents new fall menu items at Brix. His yakisoba chicken is marinated in ponzu and ginger and saut & eacute;ed, then tossed with soba noodles, fresh vegetables, sesame oil and oyster sauce. A braised lamb shank is covered with red wine and tomato sauce, served over creamy polenta and finished with gremolata.
Brix, at 317 Sherman Ave., Coeur d'Alene, is open Monday-Thursday from 11 am-9 pm, Friday-Saturday from 11 am-10 pm, and Sunday from 5-9 pm. Call: (208) 665-7407.
At Laskar's in Lincoln Heights, Executive Chef David Goldman brings fall flavors to the foreground with beef tenderloins and prawns accompanied by bow-tie pasta in a tarragon-white wine sauce, as well as apricot-glazed grilled double-bone pork chops. (Call 533-0064.) Fugazzi's Executive Chef Jason Rex offers diners a buffalo rib-eye dish, fresh swordfish and huckleberry desserts for autumn. (Call 747-9750.)
Shades of the SW -- How far is it from Arizona to Santa Fe? Not far at all if you're in downtown Spokane. That's because this summer, Arizona Steakhouse became Santa Fe Steakhouse. The new bar and eatery is celebrating with a grand opening on October 15, featuring special dishes and a remodeled interior.
Owner Don Goligoski brings plenty of experience to Santa Fe Steakhouse, since he also owns the Double Dribble Sports Bar and Outback Jack's. Santa Fe Steakhouse, at 333 W. Spokane Falls Blvd., is open from 11 am-2 am on Monday-Saturday, and from 3 pm-2 am on Sundays. Call: 455-8206.
Autumn Benefits -- With fall comes a bevy of events that benefit local charities while offering unique entertainment.
The Fall Festival of Wines & amp; Benefit Auction on Saturday, Oct. 18, at 7 pm, features 300 fine wines. Sixty wineries will be pouring, including Coastal Ridge, Kendall Jackson, Pend Oreille Winery, Walla Walla Estates, Napa Ridge and champagne from Shieffelin & amp; Somerset. Beverly's, Tito Macaroni's, Dockside and Daanen's Deli will provide a generous buffet of hors d'oeuvres. A Pacific Northwest-themed, five-course dinner with select wines begins at 4:30 pm for $100 and includes admission to the festival.
The ninth annual event, held at the Coeur d'Alene Resort, benefits Trinity Group Homes, which provides housing and support services in Coeur d'Alene for those with emotional disorders. Tickets are $45 and are available at Vino, Daanen's Deli and Gourmet Way. Or call: (208) 667-9607.
Also on Oct. 18, at 5:30 pm, the Octobrewfest beer tasting and auction benefits the Multiple Sclerosis Society. Nineteen breweries are participating in this year's event, including western Washington's Snoqualmie Falls, Missoula's Bayern Brewing and California's Mendocino Brewing. Fall harvest ales and winter brews will be featured at the event at Spokane County Fair & amp; Expo Center. Tickets ($12; $14, at the door) include four drinks and a souvenir mug. Call: 482-2022
On Friday, Oct. 24, at 7 pm, the Swing into Autumn dinner dance features a grand buffet of assorted entrees, salads, appetizers, pastries and live music from the U of I's swing band. The 11th annual event benefits the Inland Northwest Culinary Academy and is held in the Sasquatch Room of SCC's Lair-Student Center. Tickets are $45. Call: 533-7283.