Saturday, March 30, 2013

Easter through the Years: Love, Family, Chocolate, and Beer

From skiing in Canada to holidays in London, Paris, and Barcelona, Easter has always been a time of heightened memories and connections for me.  Today’s post is a series of Easter snapshots through the years. Have you had particularly memorable Easter time holidays?

At 12

Thanks to my relatively new stepmother, I got a fancy dress for church on Easter Sunday. In the old black and white photo below, I'm in our backyard wearing the ivory-colored lace dress, with a ribbon that loops around my waist and ties in back. I’m standing a bit slouched, arms at my sides, half-smiling. Really I felt too old for such a dress, but I tried to act pleased for the sake of my stepmother. 

I really wanted to be a hippie instead of a sixth-grader bound to elementary school.

At 18  

I was coerced by my friend Janis into donning a blobby white Easter Bunny outfit with floppy ears for the Girls’ League Easter Egg Hunt.  I run around and try to act bouncy and enthusiastic, but the little kids mostly ignore me. They are much more interested in snagging candy Easter eggs in the grass. Janis owes me.

At 21

Jet-lag hasn’t stopped me from running around exploring Paris, where I just arrived for spring quarter abroad.  I’m amazed by the confections in the patisseries and confisseries  I walk past. Later I squeeze into Notre Dame de Paris Cathedral for Easter mass.  It’s so crowded that we only make it 10 yards or so past the front door, and my only view (but an awesome view) is up to the soaring, vaulted-arch ceiling and stained glass windows. Later, some friends and I wait in the rain at a phone booth in the Latin Quarter (pre-cell phone days). The phone was broken by the Iranian students, so the rumor goes, so we can call anywhere in the world for free. We meet a girl from Colorado College in line who knows someone in our group, and I realize for the first time that it’s truly a small world. I call my parents and wish them a happy Easter.

Age 23

This time around it’s Easter in London, where I’m spending the semester. A nice woman I met at church invited me home for Easter dinner.  At their flat I’m greeted by Corrine, her husband, and her husband’s stepbrother David, who’s about my age and attractive but shy. The husband is gaga over their cat and speaks to it in tones usually used for infants. After dinner we all go for a long walk in a nearby park, then return to the flat for tea and hot-cross buns. This is so English! Mostly I’m grateful for their hospitality and kindness to a young woman visiting alone from America. When it’s time to leave at the end of the afternoon, Corinne presents me with a foil-wrapped chocolate Easter egg.

Age 25

I meet my siblings and their families for an extravagant brunch at the Seattle Sheraton. Although my older siblings and I are not particularly religious anymore, we still celebrate Easter for the sake of tradition. While I’m gingerly holding my 4-week-old niece Lindsey, my sister leans to me and says quietly, “You know this is the 20th anniversary of our mother’s death.” I didn’t remember since I was only 5 at the time. I look into my niece’s sleepy eyes and wish her a long and happy life.

Age 30

My boyfriend Dave and I escaped to Whistler Mountain in Canada to ski, avoiding family obligations. Dave, a flatlander from Chicago, gets sunburned, but I remembered my zinc oxide. We grab a couple Cadbury chocolate crème eggs in celebration of the holiday and down them with a bottle of good champagne after coming off the slopes. I am in love. With Dave. With life.

Age 34

Back at Whistler/Blackcomb in Canada for skiing with a different group of friends. Dave and I broke up last year. I’ve just gotten a layoff notice. A late-season storm has dumped lots of fresh snow, and we make figure eights in the wide open Blackcomb Glacier snowfield. While I’m no longer in love with Dave or even life in general, I’m in love with the moment, with making fresh tracks.  This year there’s no sign of Easter. I brought a bag of foil-covered  chocolate eggs to share with the group. They drink more beer instead.

Age 39

My sister Anne awakens me at 6 a.m. by turning on the TV in our hotel room, the day after arriving in Barcelona. I carried a chocolate Easter egg from Seattle in my suitcase for my sister and am pleased when she smiles at this gesture. After breakfast, we visit the Sagrada de Familia, a whimsical late 19th century cathedral.  What strikes me about this Easter Sunday in Catholic Spain is how casually everyone is dressed at the cathedral. I even see people in sweat suits. This is not the Spain I visited in college, when women wore conservative dark skirts and sweaters in public, hair tied back. Is this the Americanization of the world?

Just a few years later

A few days before Easter and I’m trying to find some special, Old World Easter culinary tradition to share with my stepmother in Portland. The most authentic Italian deli in Seattle is not doing their special Easter bread this year—they are too busy making fresh gelato for upscale restaurants around town.  I’m too busy to bake anything myself. It’s a busy world—too busy. I’m looking forward to the leisurely train ride to Portland, where I’ve not spent Easter for many years. I promise myself to slow down and savor the rebirth and renewal that this holiday, this season engenders.  


I hope you do, too. 


Tuesday, March 19, 2013

Madison Valley Afternoon: Cafe Flora Feast and Scenic Japanese Garden

Seattle Japanese Garden

Recently I spent a wonderful afternoon  in Madison Valley due east of downtown Seattle between Capitol Hill and Madison Park.  If you haven't been lately, I suggest you head there, too.

A few decades ago when I was just out of college, I used to bicycle frequently in the area, through the Washington Park Arboretum that borders the eastern edge of the valley.  My how Madison Valley has changed since then, from a borderline scary neighborhood to a spiffed-up, gentrified stretch along Madison Street lined with charming shops and sophisticated eateries.

A couple girlfriends and I started our afternoon at longtime vegetarian/vegan favorite Cafe Flora, which after 22 years is still packed with long waits for their outstanding weekend brunch. When they opened in 1991 in the space of an old laundromat, Cafe Flora was the first truly vibrant and stylish vegetarian restaurant in Seattle and helped spark the Madison Valley renaissance.

There's a reason we waited 45 minutes for our table (no reservations accepted for parties under 6).  The organic, mostly locally produced food is excellent, prepared in innovative ways along with classics.  Mary got the kale and leek scramble, MaryAnn enjoyed the vegan and gluten-free southwest tacos with quinoa, yams, and black beans, and I had a caesar salad and side of the best roasted breakfast potatoes I've ever had.  Yes, they were that good, creamy and savory and perfect.  And because we were celebrating a birthday, we also shared a spiced apple scone and cinnamon roll. Divine!

Yummy Cafe Flora cinnamon roll

Best. Potatoes. Ever.

To work off some calories, I did a little wandering before heading to the Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum, with a stop in the fabulous City People's Garden Store, another long-time Madison Valley fixture. Besides the garden supplies, this store features an eclectic gift shop as well.

City People's Garden Store
And oh, because I can't avoid anything that says patisserie, I had a peek in sweet little Ines Patisserie, tucked behind Cafe Flora.  I bought one of the pistachio hazelnut macarons, and the owner threw in an extra lemon macaron for the road (closing time), an exquisite treat for later. [Sadly Ines Patisserie is no longer there since I wrote this blog post.]

Ines Patisserie macarons
From there it's just a 10-minute walk to the Seattle Japanese Garden in the Washington Park Arboretum, which celebrated the season's "first viewing" a few weeks ago with a Shinto priest's blessing. Although I'm a native-born Seattleite, surprisingly this is my first time inside the garden gates.

When I arrive on what is a rainy, gray, and chilly afternoon, there's an open house for an exhibit of autumn photographs taken at the garden by local photographers.  Ravishing fall colors and delicate Japanese maple leaves splash across these images. What a contrast to today!

 "Today," photographer Aurora Santiago tells me, "the garden is just bare bones."  Indeed. But still lovely and worth a stroll through this 3.5-acre formal garden laced with pathways  and bridges surrounding a large central koi pond. Benches for admiring the views are scattered throughout.


 Aurora told me that there is a special photographers membership to the Japanese Garden, which allows photographers access to the garden in the early morning and after it has closed.  I can only imagine the more dramatic light here early and late in the day. Even on a day with flat light, I can't stop taking pictures.


After an hour or so of walking in the rain, it's time to get out of the early March chill.  This garden definitely needs more exploring in different lights and later in the season.  My next goal:  come back for one of the formal Chado tea ceremonies at the garden's Shoseian Teahouse.

How about you? Have you been to a tea ceremony there or participated in some of the many annual events at the garden? 

When You Go
Here's a general location map of Madison Valley in the Seattle area and some basic info on this desirable neighborhood.  Besides Cafe Flora, there are several excellent restaurants and cafes in the valley, like Harvest Vine (Spanish), Voila (French Bistro), Essential Bakery Cafe, and Luc's (French-American bistro); here's a link to dining in Madison Valley

Admission to the Japanese Garden is $6 for adults, and it's open each year from March 1 through November. Here's more basic visitor information about the garden.

Saturday, March 9, 2013

Great Northwest Sandwiches: Simple and Sublime

What makes a great sandwich?  Of course the answer is entirely subjective, but some sandwiches stand out bread and shoulders above the rest.  I say it's the lucky combination of wonderful bread filled with fresh, quality ingredients that together create something even better.  And here in the Pacific Northwest we have plenty of both.

While I love local fresh raspberries and alder plank-roasted wild salmon, a good sandwich is near the top of my food craves.   So today's post is dedicated to sandwiches I have known and loved, along with a few contributors' fave sandwiches. 

The first sandwich I fell in love with was an Italian salami sub at a little indie sub shop downtown Portland.  That shop is long gone, but the memory lingers. The mixture of a fresh, chewy sub roll piled with savory thin wine salami, tangy oil and vinegar with herbs, provolone, shredded lettuce, and spicy pepperocini was exotic compared to the meat and potatoes fare at my home when I was a kid.
Here's my random list of memorable sandwiches.  Please add yours in the comments below! 

Simple Done Well Doesn't Need More
It's a safe bet that any good artisan bakery that offers sandwiches will do a stellar job because they clearly care about quality ingredients. The top of my list is the ham and butter baguette sandwich from the Anjou Bakery in Cashmere, Washington, right off Highway 2 between Leavenworth and Wenatchee. So simple, so exquisite. With one bite through the crusty-soft bread, I'm transported back to my college days wandering the streets of Paris. With top-notch ingredients (sweet cream butter, Niman Ranch ham, fresh onsite baked bread) in a classic combination, who needs more?

Anjou Bakery ham and butter baguette sandwich

Essential Bakery, Essential Sandwiches
Set in an old refurbished brick building above Lake Union near Gasworks Park, Essential Bakery was one of Seattle's first enduring artisan bakeries.  Some years ago they added a cafe to their bakery, where tasty soups, salads, and sandwiches are served with freshly baked bread.  My favorites are their classic tuna salad sandwich (pictured above) and the sophisticated roasted fennel and shitake mushroom sandwich generously heaped with fresh arugula, herbed goat cheese, and caramelized onions on rosemary bread. (Now Essential has cafes in Madison Valley and Georgetown.)

Essential Bakery's roasted mushroom and fennel sandwich

Vietnam meets Ballard
A classic East-West fusion is the bahn mi sandwich popular in Vietnamese restaurants.  I prefer Monkey Bridge's vegetarian baguette, a light baguette stuffed with an in-house mayo and marinated tofu then topped with pickled carrots and daikon and sprigs of fresh cilantro. It's always served warm on the crispy soft bread.  I find the blend of textures (soft, crisp) and flavors (savory, tart, tangy) irresistible.  The photo below taken on my phone in low light doesn't do this splendid sandwich justice. Head to Ballard in Seattle for this treat.

Monkey Tree's vegetarian baguette sandwich
Bainbridge Bests
When visitors to Seattle ask me about ideas for things to see and do here, I always recommend hopping the ferry to Bainbridge Island. In the last decade a multitude of excellent places to eat have opened in the former downtown Winslow (now encompassed  as just Bainbridge).  I've had several outstanding lunches at the informal but charming Fork & Spoon, opened a few years ago by the owners of beloved Blackbird Bakery a few doors away.  Since I've loved tuna sandwiches since I was a wee girl, I always enjoy their tuna on whole wheat laced with thinly sliced red onions and organically grown lettuce.

Fork & Spoon tuna salad sandwich

My sister Vic, who lives on Bainbridge and works at Eagle Harbor Books, loves the deli sandwiches at Hitchcock just a few doors down.  Hitchcock is all about island-sourced, hand-crafted foods, meats, and charcuterie cured on the island. They even make their own mustard! One of my sis's favorites there is Zee German (braunschweiger, Swiss cheese, and mustard on rye).

Zee German sandwich from Hitchcock deli

Nordy's Finest
My friends Dan and Suezy rave about the roasted portobello and artichoke ciabiatta sandwich at the Southcenter Nordstrom's Cafe (right off I-5 in Tukwila near Sea-Tac Airport). Says Dan, "One of our favorite sandwiches is a crusty artisan ciabatta bread with roasted portobello mushroom, baby artichokes, spinach, a little gruyère cheese. You may want to split this hearty sandwich with a friend to save room for kettle chips or a salad, and a chocolate chip/coconut/macadamia nut cookie. Wash it all down with a Blue Moon Belgian White Ale and you are refreshed and ready to continue shopping."

Nordstrom's Cafe roasted portobello and artichoke ciabiatta with Blue Moon beer
And Many More
Because I live in the northern fringe of Ballard in Seattle and spend a lot of time there, I must plug three more great Ballard sandwiches. Any sandwich at Savour on Market Street in downtown Ballard is outstanding, made fresh with high-quality ingredients, locally sourced meats and excellent cheeses, and breads from Ballard bakeries.  Over at Miro Tea, they serve several tasty sandwiches, including the ham and swiss with roasted red onions and the light matcha chicken wrap stuffed with fresh greens and a light minty, matcha green tea-infused mayo. (Go early, their sandwiches often sell out by  early afternoon.)

Continue west on Market Street past the Ballard Locks to Paseo in the old pink shack on Shilshole Avenue facing Puget Sound. (They also have a shop on Fremont Avenue.)  I haven't eaten there in several years, but people still rave about their Caribbean-style marinated chicken sandwich. Go with a good appetite and a bib.

My friend John recommends the Bayview Star Store in Bayview on Whidbey Island (on the main highway up the island from the Clinton ferry terminal). Says John, "It's a perfect stop for picking up lunch on the way to Ebey's Landing or Fort Casey for a hike. They use really good ingredients and make all sandwiches to order. My favorite is the half molinari salami on multigrain, with a small bag of kettle salt and pepper chips."

I love half sandwich and salad combos, Essential Bakery

The topic of good sandwiches elicited an excited response from Suezy, "OH...Oh...Oh! I love Rebar Modern Food Restaurant in Victoria, B.C. They have some fantastic sandwiches. Favorites: Tempeh Reuben with Swiss Cheese, Beets and Sauerkraut, or The Rebar Club with Lox, Shrimp, Chipotle Mayonnaise and Avocado....but my #1 Fav from there is the Cheddar Chutney Grilled Cheese with Green Apple and Watercress....OH I'm really hungry."

My niece Lindsey, a Ballardite, loves the huge, freshly made sandwiches at the Other Coast Cafe East Coast-style deli on Ballard Avenue (my favorite there is the turkey) and the meatball subs at Olympic Pizza

I've got to give a shout-out for the made-to-order sandwiches at the Homegrown Market & Deli in Eastsound on Orcas Island. When I was there for a weekend this winter, I let go of restraint and got three of their sandwiches over four days. My choice was wonderful fresh whole grain bread, natural Applegate turkey, organically grown carrots, spinach, pickles slathered with organic mustard and light mayo. These sandwiches are so big that I ordered a half each time.

I know there are many more great sandwiches here in the Northwest (and elsewhere).  Absent from my list is anything in Oregon.  Sorry, haven't spent enough time down there recently and didn't get any feedback from my Portland peeps.  So you Oregonians need to chime in with a comment below about where to get your favorite sammies!

Where and what are your favorites?

Monday, March 4, 2013

Liebster Award: Sharing the Blogger Love

Along the Heather Lake Trail, Mountain Loop Highway, Washington
While my mission here at Pacific Northwest Seasons is to share adventures and fun things to do in the Pacific Northwest region of the USA, you regular readers know that I occasionally post personal essays or promote causes I feel strongly about. (Yes, I'm a tree hugger, literally and figuratively).

That's the beauty of a blog.

I usually like to stay in the background and reveal just snippets about myself while recounting what I did that you might like to do also. But today I'm responding to a fellow blogger who tagged me for a "Liebster Award."  Thanks to Marie, an incredibly prolific blogger and former co-worker who writes an entertaining, heartfelt, and impassioned blog called Every Day is a Miracle.

What exactly is a Liebster Award?  Well, it's basically a tool for drawing attention to bloggers who are toiling in relative obscurity (like me).  While my Pacific Northwest Seasons FaceBook page is gaining followers weekly,  not as many of you have signed up to follow this blog directly. (But big thanks to those of you who do!)

Draper Girls Farm, Hood River Valley, Oregon

Here are the rules:

1. Thank the blogger who presented you with the Liebster Award, and link back to his or her blog. DONE! Thanks again Marie!

2. Answer the 11 questions from the nominator, list 11 random facts about yourself, and create 11 questions for your nominees.

3. Present the Liebster Award to 11 bloggers, who have blogs with 200 followers or less, whom you feel deserve to be noticed. Leave a comment on the blogs letting the owners know they have been chosen. (No tag backs. Shows my blogging ignorance that I'm not sure what these are!)

4. Upload the Liebster Award image to your blog.

SIDEBAR: Because I'm a particularly independent gal, I'm going to bend the rules and ignore some of the rules.

11 Questions from Marie

1. If you could get paid to do anything, what would you do? Go do adventures and write about them!

2. Who are your favorite actors? Oh gosh, depends on the film.  Jeff Bridges, Ryan Gosling, Daniel Day Lewis, Julianne Moore, George Clooney, Philip Seymour Hoffman, Cate Blanchett, Tina Fey, Steve Buscemi, Mark Ruffalo.....pretty MOR fare.

3. When you were 10, what did you want to be when you grew up? Um, really don't remember. Recall thinking it would be cool to be a photographer when I was in junior high.

4. What is your guilty pleasure? Occasionally splurging on facials and massages. Have my fav local spa (Habitude at the Locks in Ballard 'hood in Seattle), but also love to indulge when traveling.  One of my most memorable  was an outdoor massage in Belize with the live soundtrack of jungle sounds all around.

5. How many pairs of shoes do you own? Gosh, maybe 20 or so? Mostly just wear my Dankso clogs and light hiking boots (for support because of my twisty ankles.)

Along the Snow Lake Trail, Alpine Lakes Wilderness, Washington

6. What made you start blogging? Been in a writing group for years, this makes me write regularly. Thanks to my friend Seanna for planting the seed to get started. Also serves as a counterbalance to the technical writing and editing I do for a living.

7. What is your most popular blog post? Side trip to Mount St. Helens Johnston Visitor Center. This post was tagged in Stumbled Upon by a very popular blogger.

8. What do you order at Starbucks (or whatever coffee/tea place you patronize)? These days it's chamomile tea at my favorite teahouses - Miro in Ballard and the Panama Hotel Teahouse.  (Zen Dog is my other fav teahouse but he doesn't serve chamomile.)

Tea in the pagoda at Zen Dog Studio Teahouse, Crown Hill neighborhood in Seattle, Washington

9. What is your favorite memory of a grandparent? Two died before I was born and the other two died when I was an adolescent.  I loved my Swedish grandmother's wonderful berry pies.

10. If you could change two things in the world, what would you change? The way I see it, everything is constantly changing already! 

11. What is your favorite song?
Depends on the day/mood. Right now I'm feeling Bob Dylan, unplugged.

Random Facts About Me:

1.   I love to camp under the stars.
2.  I really enjoy singing, even though I didn't make the cut for choir in sixth grade.
3. I love to draw!  I take my sketch pad with me when traveling. Thinking of scanning some of my sketches and including them here on the blog.
4. I've been in every state of America except....Arkansas.
5.  I was born in a house in the Wallingford neighborhood of Seattle, near Green Lake.

My Questions:

1.  What's your favorite hike or walk in the world?
2. What's the goal of your blog?
3.  Chocolate or vanilla? Beer, wine, or whiskey?
4. Best trip yet?
5. What has been the most effective way to promote your blog? Do you use social media for that purpose, and do you think it has increased traffic?

Other Bloggers I am Bestowing with Liebster Awards:

1.  Ed over at Everyday Living in the Pacific Northwest.  Great energy, relatively new blogger.
2.  Norwegian transplant Ingunn at Trail Snail. She might have more followers than the number here. I aspire to match her beautiful photographs as she and her husband and dog hike all over Washington.
3. Ron at Ron Mitchell's Adventure Blog.  This man has been EVERYWHERE and writes amusingly, with  heart! 

And that's it.  I have other blogger pals, but I can't see them doing something like this on their blogs - nature bloggers, etc.  Not sure that these three will either.  But sorta a fun departure for a change.  More Pacific Northwest adventures and flavors soon!