Bringing ‘radical hospitality’ to the table at Langley retreat

Denise Barr, head chef and co-author of the Hedgebrook cookbook, prepares a recipe called “Vito’s Flourless Chocolate Cake.” - Celeste Erickson / The Record
Denise Barr, head chef and co-author of the Hedgebrook cookbook, prepares a recipe called “Vito’s Flourless Chocolate Cake.”
— image credit: Celeste Erickson / The Record

For 25 years the kitchen at Hedgebrook, a writing retreat for women, has gathered women from around the world to the farmhouse table as they share writings and ideas over a home-cooked meal.

Some of the most popular recipes used throughout the years have been compiled in the “Hedgebrook Cookbook: Celebrating Radical Hospitality” by Denise Barr and Julie Rosten, released Sept. 10. The cookbook was put together to bring part of the Hedgebrook experience to the reader’s kitchen.

Executive Director Amy Wheeler said she wanted readers to feel the “radical hospitality” of Hedgebrook through original writings by alumnae throughout the cookbook. The book features 90 recipes, 71 images and 18 original writings from Hedgebrook alumnae.

“We want other people to have that experience,” she said.

When women are nurtured, instead of doing the nurturing, it allows them to tell their stories, which impact the world, she said.

Proceeds from the book will support the program’s mission of supporting the creative process of women in a diverse and global community.

“When you give a woman space and time to show what you have to say matters, and we’re going to make that happen, that’s a radical act,” Wheeler said.

The nonprofit offers residency programs and professional development opportunities for writers across many genres including poetry, plays, films and music. Notable alumnae of the residency include Gloria Steinem, Karen Joy Fowler, Dorothy Allison, Ruth Ozeki and Mary Lambert.

Each retreat lasts between two to six weeks depending on the writer’s needs. The number of applicants have grown over the years. About 1,500 applications were submitted this year for 40 spots. Wheeler said that number grows by about 200 applications every year. The program now has about 1,500 alumnae, ranging in age from 18 to 85, with more than 50 percent who are women of color.

The 48-acre retreat uses food from its own garden and from local farmers. Writers can pick food for the next meal at the garden and wander through the trails throughout the property to take in views from Useless Bay to Mt. Rainier.

Vito Zingarelli, residency director, said the experience is a great combination of solitude and community.

“We make no demands here, except to meet once a day for a communal meal,” he said.

The program aims to nourish the body and soul so the women can be the best writers they can be, he said.

Denise Barr, co-author of the book and head chef at Hedgebrook, said working here for six years has been a wonderful experience. The Langley resident enjoys being able to sit in on conversations and observe writers’ creativity.

“It’s incredible to participate in a moment when people are in deep thought, sharing personal stories,” she said. “It’s a gift to be able to know someone on that level.”

Some women who come to the retreat have never had a meal cooked for them before and find the meals hard to receive, she said. Barr wants to show them their needs are covered while at Hedgebrook.

“What they have to say to the world is powerful. To be part of that is a blessing,” she said.

Some of her favorite recipes in the cookbook include the “Carrot Ginger Orange Soup,” which she makes often for writers, and the “Rhubarb Cake.”

Wheeler is looking forward to the next 25 years and wants more people to experience the impact of Hedgebrook.

Wheeler wants to partner with more organizations that support women writers to get their voice into the world.

She said less than 30 percent of books are written by women and she wants to see that number at 50 percent.

“We need to be hearing from women too,” she said.

Hedgebrook will be open to the public for its annual open house from 1 to 4 p.m. Saturday, Sept. 14. at 2197 Millman Rd., Langley. Founder Nancy Nordhoff will be telling stories of the program’s past from 3 to 4 p.m.

“It’s kind of an amazing moment for Hedgebrook to have our founder still part of everything we’re doing,” Wheeler said.

Wheeler said she is grateful for the Whidbey community and that Hedgebrook has flourished here for 25 years.

“Hedgebrook is special because of what we do, but also because it’s on Whidbey. It’s an extraordinary place,” she said. “We’re happy this is our home.”


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