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Archive for the ‘Washington State’ Category

Written by Contributor Susan Troccolo

What’s better than a road trip with a good buddy? Some people may have thought: boyfriend. Some of you thought, no way, I like to travel with my dog. But girlfriend, boyfriend, husband, dog, or your current stud muffin…… a good road trip friend is a great friend indeed.   Just think what you find out about this—ahem—person: the music she likes on the road, favorite snack foods, if he has a wandering spirit or if he goes straight to the destination. Can he read a map? Does she know the value of a cup of bad coffee and funky cookies at the rest stops? Can he handle a gas pump and get those yucky yellow squishers off the windshield? Can she harmonize to Jackson Browne’s Runnin’ on Empty? (Okay. That’s for extra points.) What have I forgotten? Tons, I’m sure.
La Conner Rainbow Bridge and boat2_small  Last fall, my friend Susan and I went for a week to La Conner, Washington, a trip  of about 250 miles from Portland, where we both live. I wish I could say it was  purely for fun, but the fact was we had so much fun that next time we won’t need  an excuse. No, Susan and I went to look in on my aunt who had suffered life- shattering losses within two years’ time: the deaths of her husband and her daughter, Jenny. It is such unimaginable loss that she has needed lots of support. And in that magical way these things work, I needed some support of my own. In stepped Susan to fill a pretty big void. I had not even thought someone would be ready and able to make such a trip with me, but Susan was. As a road trip buddy, she is an A+.

Have you noticed as we grow older how much we rely on our friends? Frankly, I don’t know what I would do without my friends. I am grateful for them every single day. It’s possible that we don’t even know yet how the depth and kindness of our friends help make life worth living, but as the years go by, I believe it will become clearer and clearer.

La Conner is a charming small town that has retained all itsView of Strait of Juan de Fuca_small charming small-townness. You’ll see the famous Rainbow Bridge that connects La Conner to Fidalgo Island, which includes the city of Anacortes, jumping off point for ferries going to Vancouver, Victoria, and parts of the San Juan Islands. The Swinomish reservation is there and the center of town is a historic district, listed on the National Register of Historic Places.  The San Juan Islands contain some of the most magnificent scenery in our country. They make up an archipelago in the northwest corner of the contiguous United States between the US mainland and Vancouver Island, British Columbia, Canada. Four islands are accessible by passenger ferry operated by the Washington State Ferries system.

Butterfly lifecycle sign close up_smallApril and May are great times to visit La Conner and, actually, the entire Skagit Valley, because the annual tulip festival is in all its colorful glory. My aunt describes the show as “rainbows on the ground.” Short of hopping on an international flight to Keukenhof Gardens in Holland, you can’t find a more exquisite display of acres and acres of tulips. Just be sure to book your accommodation early—the sooner the better. And, for you gardeners, you may enjoy the small but lovely Butterfly Garden in the historic part of La Conner. I loved seeing the LifeCycle of the Butterfly at the entrance.

As we left La Conner, we drove slowly through the Skagit Valley,LaConnerSweetShop_small stopping to sample farmers’ markets and flower stands all along the road. Mount Rainier was glorious in the sunshine. Susan bought spot shrimp at a price she can never find in Portland. And then we yakked all the way home.

What a great trip, full of the best life has to offer. Love and service to others, beauty, good food, and lots of laughter. What do you look for in a road trip companion? If you say someone who stops for immodest ice-cream cones, I’ll completely understand.sign-immodest ice-cream cones_small

Cross-posted at Life.Change.Compost.

 

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DSC07965 Rattlesnakes. Poison oak. Ticks.  We were well-warned, and I’m prepared   with thick boots, long pants, walking sticks and tweezers. Sure enough, ten minutes after starting up the rock-strewn trail, I spot a  rattlesnake sunning on a rock. It’s a pretty little thing, with black and orange-yellow stripes, and doesn’t bother rattling, just slithers away between rocks. Great start! I’m thrilled, but just as glad it’s the only snake I see on this beautiful 5-mile hike in the Columbia River Gorge in southwestern Washington.  No ticks, either, but vast quantities of poison oak. I’m steering clear of the shiny green, red-edged leaves, and all clothes will go into the washer at the end of the day.

Cherry Orchard Trail starts just east of the tunnels on Highway 14, east of the small town of Lyle. On a warm spring day, it is lovely, with stunning viewsDSC07971 of the wide river, the columnar basalt cliffs, and hillsides glowing with yellow balsamroot and purple and blue lupine.  After a few minutes’ walk, we reach the trailhead sign and a metal box of releases. This is private land, but hikers are allowed if they sign releases stating that they assume all risks and agree to not have fires. We wind through forests of scrub oak and across open green hillsides where wildflowers bloom; I-expect to see Julie Andrews come toward us singing “The Sound of Music.”

This hiking trail was redone not long ago. It’s not as steep as the old route, DSC07976but has plenty of up-and-down, with an elevation gain of 1160 feet. The trail switchbacks up and eastward through woods and  fields, passing a seasonal pond where butterflies gather. Few are here now, but we have company: shiny black beetles, red-winged flies, a still-as-stone green lizard, flies with black and white stripes, crows, hawks, and blue moths.  And the rattler.

When you’re looking for solitude, this is a good place to find it.  On the entire 5-mile, 3.5-hour hike, we encounter a single walker and a small group of friends on an outing. We hear nothing but the breeze rustling oak leaves and, on the lower slopes, the hoot of a train and the faint roar of freeway traffic from the Oregon side of the river.

When we reach an old dirt road, we turn right and go a few yards more to a former homestead site and the orchard that gave the DSC07973trail its name. It’s the end of the trail and our grassy picnic spot.  The view is stunning. We’re high above the Columbia, looking down on a bend in the river, with hills and flatlands stretching to central and eastern Washington. Oregon’s cliffs, forests, and snow-peaked mountains lie to the south.

The orchard itself is at the end of its life; I see only one tree with cherry blossoms.  I’m already thinking of coming back in summer to see if any cherries appear, but that’s only an excuse. This is such a great hike, I’ll be happy to return with or without cherry trees.DSC07981

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Here’s a terrific opportunity for travel writers: the Spring ’12 Pacific NW Travel Writers Conference, April 29-30, at Fort Worden Conference Center near Port Townsend, Washington. Myrna Oakley, Portland-based writer, guidebook author, and teacher extraordinaire is the main organizer.     Myrna’s message:

The theme for this year’s Travel and Words conference is “Go! Pitch. Write. Publish.”  We have some dynamic speakers who’ll bring us their expertise on these key issues. They include —

Jason Brick, Portland, OR, a freelance writer. He’ll share his strategies for writing full-time while being a house-dad and utilizing his business experience to gain paying gigs online and in print.

Michael Fagin, Redmong WA, FL writer, blogger, and weather forecaster.  He plans to tell us how he casts a wider net with his freelancing endeavors.

Sue Frause, Whidbey Island, WA, FL writer, blogger, and social media expert who also does radio and culinary theater work. Sue will give us glimpses of the travel writing life, frequent ferry trips, and her love of B.C. Her blog: www.ClosetCanuck.com.

Karen Gilb, Vancouver, WA, FL writer, travel blogger, and fiction writer. She’ll talk about looking ahead and how she is expanding her Northwest writer’s brand for 2012-2013.

Marty Wingate, Seattle, WA, FL garden writer, garden tour developer, and mystery writer (The Garden Plot and the Potting Shed series).  Marty will tell us about marketing and how she connects her niches and  travel interests.

Carrie Uffindell, Portland, OR, FL writer, travel blogger, and fiction writer. Carrie specializes in family travel in the Pacific Northwest and in Wales and will discuss how she does it successfully.

Check the Travel and Words website for see the full Event Schedule, Travel and Tourism Exhibitors, and Registration details. I hope to see you April 29-30 in Port Townsend! — Myrna Oakley

Thanks, Myrna. I’m looking forward to a great time at Fort Worden State Park Conference Center and a visit to the historic charms of  Port Townsend.  And to meeting writers, bloggers, editors, and tourism and winery reps. See you there.

 

 

 

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Wine and food and Whatcom County go oh-so-well together. Unexpected treasures keep showing up here in the green fields outside Bellingham, in northwestern Washington. A few: lush tomato plants in long tunnels, cherry trees growing at an angle under a roof, hazelnut wine, 200 varieties of heirloom apples. Hardy pomegranate and olive trees are on their way. Amazing. In a big Rainier cherry grove, at Cloud Mountain Farm, trees are planted at an angle, rather than upright, so the pinkish-red fruits will hang lower and can be picked more easily. They’re under cover as protection from hungry birds and skin-splitting rain, which even now spatters on the clear roof. The cherries are huge and sweet (I know this because I snitched one. Delicious.) There’s only one other grove like it in the U.S., I’m told. Further up the path on Cloud Mountain’s 20-acre farm, another translucent shelter houses tunnels of tomato plants.  In this green spicy-scented jungle, 20 varieties of tomatoes ripen, most to be sold through farmers’ markets and restaurants.

The nursery, 20 miles from Bellingham, sells fruit and nut trees, berry plants, ornamental shrubs, dwarf conifers, Japanese maples, grapevines, tools, books and supplies. Working with Western Washington University and Seattle College, they perform all kinds of botanical tests and trials. Edgy experimenting, I call it, when you plan to grow olive trees in damp, cool Washington. If anyone can do it, Cloud Mountain can, and I have no doubt they will. Visitors are welcome, especially at various free workshops, cooking classes, and the annual fruit festival in early October.

Samson Estates Winery is also about 20 miles from Bellingham, but it’s a whole different experience. On the 500-acre spread in Nooksack Valley, Rob and Dhar Dhaliwal have created a unique farm and winery. Their large, juicy raspberries are headed mostly for Ocean Spray and Smuckers jam jars, but some, combined with Chardonnay grapes, produce a fine wine. It’s perfect with, for example, a between-courses cantaloupe sorbet. Our little group gathers around a table to taste a few Samson’s wines and feast on a lunch prepared by Fool’s Onion Catering. Here’s the menu, or part of it: First, pancetta-wrapped scallops with vanilla beurre blanc, served with a delicate, citrusy Chardonnay. Then grilled salmon with wild mushroom risotto, a delectable dish that goes well with the earthy, full-bodied Cabernet franc. Herbed gnocchi gets a Merlot ’04, followed by the refresher of framboise (raspberry) wine with sorbet.  Are we done yet? No, here’s a cocoa-chile rubbed duck breast with blackberry coulis, accompanied by a fruity, not-too-sweet blackberry wine. We all insist we can’t eat another bite, but dessert arrives and suddenly it’s no problem. The chocolate torte with roasted hazelnut crust is outstanding with a taste of Oro, a hazelnut wine that is almost a liqueur.  Lance Bailey and Kristine Kager, creators of Fool’s Onion, make a superb culinary team. Any time I’m in the area and need someone to cater a party or dinner, I’m calling them.  Did I mention the truffles? If you’ll stop drooling on your keyboard, I’ll tell you about Samson’s chocolate truffles. Made locally using Belgian chocolate and Samson Estate wines, they melt in the mouth: chocolate as smooth and rich as it was meant to be.

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oysters, Taylor Shellfish FarmsI used to loathe oysters–slimy, gray, icky things, cooked or, God forbid, raw. So here I am at Taylor Shellfish Farms, on beautiful Samish Bay, Washington, at an outdoor table with three Pacific oysters set before me, and I’m expected to open their hard, craggy shells, scoop them out, and presumably eat them. Not sure I’m up to this, but I grab my knife, as do the other wary novices in aprons. This may get a bit goopy.

The shells have already been scrubbed to remove mud, dirt and algae. As instructed, I jab the knife into a small opening, push harder, feel for the right spot, and twist. Now I have to sever the top abductor muscle, whatever that is. I find something muscle-like, scrape it, and lift the top shell. As it hinges open, lo and behold, there’s an oyster, slick and briny in its liquid bed. A little worse for the wear, and no pearl, but I’m ready to attack the next one. By the third, I’ve got a system going and I’m a fairly deft shucker, if slow and messy. (To see how the experts do it in an annual competition, check this on youtube.)  Now for the fun part: eating these glistening globs of sealife. I take a deep breath, close my eyes, and bravely chomp. Wow, the oyster fans are right. Pillowy, salty, cold, succulent, it’s delicious. Meanwhile, other oysters have been cooking on the barbecue, and they’re tasty too. A good white wine adds to the pleasure, so Taylor Shellfish Farms holds an annual wine competition for Oyster Awards.

Taylor, a family-owned, 4th-generation company, grows and harvests lots of bounty from the cold waters of the Pacific Northwest: several kinds of oysters, mussels, clams, and geoducks.  They have 8 locations; this one, south of Bellingham, is open daily to visitors. You can buy charcoal here, pick up fresh oysters, and have a barbecue right by the bay. Or come to a festive event such as the Bivalve Bash, held every July, and be prepared for hilarity.  The bash features a low tide mud run, shell sculpture competition (no shortage here–note the lighthouse made of shells), oyster bar, beer garden, face painting, and oyster-shucking contests. Plus music and dancing.

Now we deal with the geoducks, strange-looking 2-pound mollusks that are subject to many a crude joke. In China they are sometimes called “elephant trunks,” and it’s easy to see why. Geoducks are difficult to produce, can only be farmed in super-clean water, and take 4 to 7 years to reach harvest level.  Some grow to 15 pounds, the largest clams in the northern hemisphere. Before my eyes a pro dunks a geoduck into simmering water for a few seconds, pulls it out, slicks off a translucent skin, and starts razoring ultra-thin slices from the “trunk.” She arranges the slices on a plate, and we’ve got sushi that could not be any fresher and tastes light and sweet, with a delicate texture.  Good stuff, as people in Asia know–half of Taylor Farms’ geoducks are shipped there.  Now I know, too, after this royal feast.

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A peek behind the scenes is one of the pleasures of being a travel writer; I get to see bakers, beer brewers and ice cream makers at work, accomplishing their wizardry. In the spotlessly clean production area at Mallard Ice Cream, in Bellingham, Washington, I’m watching them churn out ice cream in 5-gallon batches. They use a traditional salt-and-ice freezer and add real food: ripe local fruits, coffees, teas, spices, herbs, and about 2,000 pounds a year of locally grown strawberries. Only the root beer and licorice are made with added flavorings. The 18% cream base mix comes from an organic dairy. In summer months, Mallard sells 300 gallons a week of the sweet, cold stuff and experiments constantly with flavors. I’m tasting a few samples–well, more than a few–and each one is delicious and far above ordinary. Avocado, lime, ginger, rose, espresso, basil and cinnamon are good, if unusual,  but even the basic strawberry is special.  After careful study I’m settling on the Belgian Super Chocolate as my favorite. So far. I’ll try the tamarind/apricot/cayenne combination next time.

First,  I hope to learn a few secrets of professional bread-making at Avenue Bread, another popular Bellingham company. avenue breadWatching  experts knead heaps of dough on wide wooden tables, I can already tell this is beyond me, though fascinating to observe. Avenue bread is extra-tasty in part because they rely on natural starters more than commercial yeast, and the hand-shaped loaves rise slowly to allow the grain flavors to develop. Then the loaves go into a stone-hearth oven, and the whole place smells like–well, fresh-baked bread, and what has a better aroma than that? Avenue bakes some 2,000 loaves every weekday, and 3-4,000 on weekends. They supply restaurants and markets and have 3 bakery cafes where you can buy soups, salads, and sandwiches made from that terrific bread.  I’m fond of the rosemary loaf, especially when it’s hollowed out and filled with smoked salmon chowder from Boundary Bay Brewery.

Boundary Bay is the largest brewpub in the U.S. (according to the Brewers Association), with 16-18 beers brewed on the Railroad Ave. site. House brews include Dry Irish Stout, Bellingham Blonde, Best Bitter (ESB), Scotch, Imperial Stout, IPA, and Amber. The brewery has an indoor pub, a porch with picnic-style tables, and an outdoor tented area with a stage, often used for charity fund-raisers. The atmosphere is lively and casual, the service friendly, the food good.

Here’s where the chowder comes in: Boundary Bay makes a superb salmon chowder, which I’m eating (second helping) from a rosemary bread bowl while sailing on the Shawmanee, a 65-foot charter ketch. The boat’s owners, Don and Kathy Beattie, offer sailing trips for up to 46 people, and one is the Wednesday Chowder Sail, a 3-hour sunset sail around Bellingham Bay.

The Chowder Sail only happens in summer, but the Shawmanee  hosts many other trips on Northwest waters. It has comfortable seating and a spacious below-deck cabin, and the Beatties’ hospitality is second to none.

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In Seattle it’s not a surprise to come across a fabulous restaurant serving great cuisine. I don’t expect it 47 miles north, in the little town of Arlington, Washington. Here it is, though, Bistro San Martin, and I’m enjoying well-prepared, creative dishes served perfectly. I’m not questioning, just happily indulging. The chef/owner, Martin Estrada-Perez, left Mexico several years ago and worked for other restaurants before opening this one in 2005. Wearing a high hat with pheasant feathers stuck in the brim, he moves around the open kitchen, stirring sauces and tossing chopped garlic with a sure hand, occasionally flashing a smile at rapt customers. His assistant Olga helps keep the kitchen running smoothly, and his co-worker and general manager, Steve Van Matre, takes care of the busy room, stopping at each table with a friendly greeting. The word is out; the bistro, with a menu that’s expensive for the area, is full on a week night.

First comes an amuse-bouche, compliments of the house: two crispy won-tons topped with a smidge of guacamole and a tomato/onion relish. Then my friend Myrna and I share an appetizer, a twist on insalata caprese — oven-roasted tomatoes with fresh herbs, goat cheese, olive oil, and a balsamic infusion. It goes well with warm bread and a glass of Columbia Valley Sauvignon blanc.  Next time I’ll try the house specialty, mushroom puff pastry, a wonderfully rich combination of local mushrooms, garlic and herbs, served in pastry with a brandy cream sauce. The escargots and Dungeness crab cakes beg to be tasted, too.

My Caesar salad with grilled prawns is classic and excellent (spendy–$5 for 3 prawns?–but perfect).  Myrna’s poached pear salad is a melange of greens, pears in red wine, Cambozola cheese, and toasted hazelnuts. Main dishes range from $16.50 for tiger prawns linguini to $34.50 for filet mignon wrapped with bacon, topped with roasted onion and bleu cheese butter, and served with mashed potatoes and vegetables. That sounds rich enough to make the cholesterol level take notice.  I’ll more likely order the roasted half-duckling with Bing cherries, almond couscous, and vegies. Even then I’ll take half of it home.

When you eat here, do not neglect the desserts, all made in-house by Chef Martin. They vary. Examples are lemon creme brulee, panna cotta with honey-caramel and Almond Roca, and vanilla mousse cake with fresh fruit and almonds. The cake is light and delicate, a final sweet touch to a great meal. However, my plan for the next visit is to save room for “Naughty Chocolate Cake,” dark mousse on a fudgy crust, with a chocolate coating and the whole treat spiced with a dash of cayenne. Now that’s chocolate.

Bistro San Martin has a full bar and  selection of wines from around the world, favoring Pacific NW labels. A few are available by the glass.

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