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The Islands

Tuesday, September 27th, 2005

Whidbey Pies Cafe

consumed on 8/6/05

I was visiting my mom this weekend and she suggested that we have breakfast at Whidbey Pies Cafe. In the spirit of full disclosure: My mom works at Whidbey Pies. She has been working there for a while now, but this was, oddly enough, my very first visit. I remember hearing that they were serving breakfast and lunch, but part of my brain just insisted that Whidbey Pies Cafe only made pies and I already get to eat those at least once a month because mom stocks a few in her freezer. So, no reason to visit the cafe, right?

Even though I was predisposed to like Whidbey Pies Cafe, I liked it even more than I thought I would because:

  1. It was a beautiful, sunny morning on the island and
  2. the cafe was comfy and cozy with a picturesque view of the pond and
  3. despite it being 10am, they were serving lunch in addition to breakfast and
  4. there was bacon on the menu.

It felt weird ordering salmon chowder ($5.50/bowl) in the morning, but mom highly recommended it. Jan apparently smokes her own salmon out back from the cafe (over Alder wood, I think) and it was stellar. The salmon was smoky and salty and went well with the other flavors in the soup: corn, celery and dill.

Mom ordered a “make your own omelet” ($6.95) which came with a choice of three fillings. Today, she requested spinach, salmon and gruyere. The omelet was gigantic, light and fluffy with a good proportion of fillings scattered throughout. On the side were tender pan-fried potatoes, which were surprisingly good (considering that I’m a hash browns kind of girl). It also came with a selection of Screaming Banshee bread. From what I hear, people either love or hate this bread. It’s made locally on the island and the trademark signature of the bread is that it’s… for lack of a more technical term… burnt. I ordered the BLTini—a bacon, lettuce and tomato panini ($5.75). It came on crisp bread layered with lots of mayo (I’m one of those people who unconditionally loves mayo, so this was a very, very good thing), a few thin sheets of lettuce, the obligatory tomato slice, melted, gooey Monterey jack and lots of crisp, meaty bacon. It was just what I was craving and it was delicious.

We didn’t save room for pie, which was unfortunate because their Marionberry pie is the best pie I’ve ever had. Luckily, my mom bakes one up for me every time I come up for a visit.

Whidbey Coffee Cafe on Urbanspoon

Sunday, June 26th, 2005

Weekend on Whidbey

I’d been long overdue for a trip up to Whidbey Island to see my mom. These were a few of the highlights from my weekend:

Stopping at a roadside stand to pick up live Dungeness crab and spot prawns. I steamed the prawns whole with garlic and soy sauce and the crabs were boiled in spices and eaten with melted butter. The crab meat was incredibly sweet, meaty and delicious.

Visiting friends and seeing their cool silver and golden sebright chickens (pets, not for eating) and picking fresh arugula and nasturtiums from their garden for a bright summer salad.

Eating mom’s incredible chocolate shortbread cookies made with Scharffen Berger chocolate and cacao nibs. The lavender shortbread cookies looked great, but I have this weird thing with lavender where I can’t disassociate the flavor from hand lotion.

UPDATE: Here are the recipes!

Chocolate Shortbread Cookies

Lavender Shortbread Cookies

Saturday, April 9th, 2005

Mother-daughter weekend

My friend K’s mother was in town for a few weeks and we thought it would be great to take her up to my mom’s place on Whidbey. It turned out to be a relaxing and fun mother-daughter weekend.

When we arrived in the early afternoon, the weather was trying it’s hardest to be nice, so we felt obliged to sit on the deck with drinks and a cheese plate. It was before noon and I felt a little weird drinking that early, but K’s mom opened a bottle of red and started pouring. The funny thing is that she was still on East-coast time and thought it was more like three in the afternoon.

Once the weather turned too cold to be outside, we headed into Coupeville to check out some antique stores and have a proper lunch at Toby’s. We had an order of the Penn Cove mussels, which were extra delicious that day and almost sweet. My mom and I split a crispy halibut burger and a pepper-jack hamburger. They are just regular burgers and there isn’t anything fancy about them, so I have a hard time explaining exactly why they are so amazing and delicious.

Later that evening it was still cold out, but the wind had died down and I was determined to be outside. K helped me build a fire in my mom’s fire pit and we opened some more bottles of wine and prosecco. It was really pleasant being out in the garden, watching the sun set through the trees and listening to the whir of the hummingbirds. K put some rosemary on the fire, so the smell of the fire was incredible. The wind picked up a bit and created a funnel through the fire, which brought the ashes up into the sky and it felt like it was snowing. It was one of those times when I just stopped thinking and had to breathe in how perfect everything can be in a single moment.

When it was too dark to see, we went inside and cooked a beautiful dinner of dry-brined salmon grilled with lovage from the garden. We also had asparagus, a fresh green salad with pear dressing and soft baked polenta with gruyere. It was a perfect end to a wonderful day on Whidbey.

Friday, March 18th, 2005

Home Cooking

This was the big weekend of Zach’s Birthday Pizza Party so Zach and I headed up Whidbey Island the night before to prepare. Mom had a dinner of dilled carrots, pan-fried steaks and fried potatoes waiting for us. Lately I’ve either been cooking huge, fancy event meals or been so exhausted that I just make myself a sandwich, so having my Mom’s home cooking was such a treat. The dinner was delicious, but I especially loved the hand-cut wedge fries that were soft and fluffy on the inside and crisp and golden on the outside.

As we were eating the last of the fries, I suddenly remembered that I had brought along my Casina Rossa Truffle & Salt (from La Buona Tavola, Truffle Cafe). We sprinkled it on our remaining fries and there were moans all around the table. It was so good. My mom actually got mad at me for not bringing it out earlier. Then she suggested we make truffle salt omelettes for breakfast the next morning. I think Zach called her a genius.

We spent the rest of the night making pizza dough and watching Word Wars, which was fantastic. It was not only the best documentary I’ve ever seen, but also one of the best movies I’ve seen in a long, long time. It was funny and engrossing and it made me realize that I’m not neurotic or obsessive in the least bit.

Sunday, February 6th, 2005

A rambling post about my weekend on Whidbey

This weekend Zach and I went up to Whidbey to visit my mom. We left after work on Friday and didn’t get there until late, but mom had a great home-cooked meal waiting for us. We had thick-cut pork chops (braised in a porcini broth that mom transformed into an amazing, salty gravy), creamy mashed potatoes, broccoli with mayonnaise and my mom’s home-made applesauce—which Zach claimed was the best he’d ever tasted. She had also made a batch of chocolate-hazelnut biscotti, which are incredible. Everything was so good that it made me miss being a kid and getting to eat my mom’s cooking everyday. Sniff.

After dinner mom showed us her spoils from Sfoglia—a gourmet takeout place on the island that just went out of business. She had a table full of flavored and balsamic vinegars, cookbooks, chocolate bars, flavored oils, chutneys, jams, torrone, tomato sauces, quince paste and more. She had paid $88 for everything. Out of curiosity, we added up the retail prices and it came to over $600. Mom gave me half of everything, so I ended up with lots of great things… specifically the Chez Panisse Vegetables cookbook. My mom rocks.

The next day we went for a great beach walk at South Whidbey State Park. It was insanely cold (and therefore empty) but beautiful. We poked around the beach and found these beautiful chiton shells that were a brilliant turquoise color on the inside. Afterward, we checked out The Grange—a weird rental hall located just outside of Langley. It has a large kitchen so I was hoping that I could rent it for my Iron Chef party, but once the owner found out I was a Seattleite she jacked up the price. That’s one really weird (and annoying) thing about Whidbey; almost everyone hates “outsiders”. (Does anyone know of a cheap, commercial kitchen in Seattle that you can rent by the day?)

That night we ate pizza and played mah jong into the wee hours of the morning. I had heard several people talk about a great New York style pizza place on Whidbey called the Village Pizzeria. Seattle PI’s Penelope Corcoran actually called it “the best New York-style slice of pizza I’ve unearthed to date anywhere in the Puget Sound”. Uh, too bad I didn’t specify I wanted thin crust. Damn! It was still good, but my mom said that the thin crust pizza was much, much better. I ordered three different flavors; sausage, Hawaiian, and clam & garlic. The clam & garlic was surprisingly rich and delicious, and by far the best of the three.

The next morning I woke up groggy and before I knew what I was doing, I had offered to cook a waffle breakfast. Now usually I’m pretty skilled in the kitchen, but for some strange reason I can’t make a decent waffle to save my life (pancakes are even worse). I really don’t know what my problem is, but I’m going to blame it on shoddy recipes. This time I ended up with one or two perfect, crisp waffles, a few deliciously chewy ones, a few well-done ones and one that was so burnt that it shattered into pieces when we tried to remove it from the waffle iron. I know this doesn’t sound like a huge success, but the good waffles were so good. I think it was the secret, crispy waffle recipe that is found only in the 1970s edition of The Joy of Cooking (and here). It’s kind of involved and requires an insane about of butter and whipped egg whites, but the waffles were so good! We ate them with bacon and some maple butter that I had bought for mom during my last trip to Vancouver. The “butter” was made entirely from maple syrup, so it was like a whipped and condensed version of maple syrup; delicious and sweet.

Before heading back to Seattle we called my brother Ross in NY so I could catch up and hear about his recent trip to China. We had both been to China once before in the early ‘80s. It was before China had really opened up to foreigners, but we were able to visit because we were considered “Overseas Chinese”. Which is really funny because I was born and raised in Seattle and have no intention of ever moving to China. I guess they’re eternally hopeful that, one day, all Chinese people will return to the mainland…

Ross said that China had changed drastically and that everything was now very modern and luxurious—an extreme contrast to what we experienced before. He also said that it was much more colorful and that the people didn’t wear those awful drab olive uniforms anymore. I asked if the streets were still packed with bicycles and he said yes. Except that the bicycles are now cars and there are no driving rules. Basically if there’s an open spot in traffic you take it; it doesn’t even matter what side of the street it’s on.

I also asked about the food (of course). Ross said the food was really, really good—which I found surprising because on our first trip to China we could barely eat anything. I got incredibly sick from eating an entire bowl of garlic shoots (lord only knows why I thought eating the entire bowl would be a good idea). After that I only ate packaged crackers or fruit that I could peel myself. Everything was segregated so it was illegal for us to eat where the Chinese people ate and vise-versa. So our dining options were limited. Ross said that on this visit he ate almost every meal from street vendors. He tried frog on a stick and also a crepe with an egg cracked into it which was then wrapped around a donut. You could also get it wrapped around a hot dog. It sounds very bizarre to me, but he said it was delicious.

Saturday, November 20th, 2004

Self-serve chicken

We started out a great day on Whidbey Island at the farmer’s market in Bayview. It was chilly out, so I was glad that they had moved it indoors for the winter. Boxes of beautiful, tiny Brussels sprouts caught my eye first and I loaded up. Then I saw fresh, bright orange baby carrots that I couldn’t resist. I was already picturing a bountiful fall dinner when I ran into my mom who was holding a gorgeous hubbard squash. A perfect food trifecta.

We went to breakfast at the Smiling Dog Cafe. After looking over the menu I asked if it was a vegetarian restaurant; it turns out that they used to be, but they have now added sausage to the menu. I was upset that they didn’t serve any bacon, but I got over it and ordered one of the few dishes with sausage: chilaquiles. I am a chilaquiles snob. After having them for breakfast and lunch everyday for a week while at the beach-front, open air restaurant in Puerto Escondido, I really should know better than to order them in the states. Even the ones I make at home don’t compare. Anyways, if you pretended that it was more like an egg scramble with a few tortillas and a chopped up hot dog, it was pretty good.

After breakfast we discussed what we should cook for the main dish that night. We were torn between a roasted pork loin or a roasted chicken. Then I remembered stories about a place where you can buy fresh chickens at a house somewhere on the island.

We almost drove right by it, all of us shouting “CHICKEN!” in unison when we saw the sandwich-board by the side of the road. We pulled into the driveway of a little red house and got out. There was no indication of where to go, so I headed up the hill to find what turned out to be the tool shed. I turned around and then spotted some freezers in the back of the garage. Once in the garage, the freezers were labeled with instructions to take your chicken and leave the money in a cigar box on the table. Someone hadn’t read the instructions and had actually left their money in the freezer.

I picked out an eight pound chicken (eight pounds!) for $16 and a six pounder for $12. You got a free bag of gizzards with every purchase, so I grabbed a hefty one. I left the money in the cigar box and then we were on our way—the proud owners of a turkey-sized chicken.

Afterwards, we tried to find the Mukilteo Coffee house because it roasts some of the best coffee I’ve ever tasted and I heard that they had a tasting bar. We got so completely lost that by the time we got there it was closed, but now that I know where it is I will have to make another trip out there.

Then we went for a walk on the beach at Double Bluff. The tide was on its way out and we saw lots of stranded jellies. Including a gigantic Lion’s Mane jellyfish that was about one foot in diameter. We also saw a really cool blue-green starfish, which Zach saved by hurling into the water.

We then went home to cook and eat a fabulous dinner:

Fontina Val D’Aosta and truffled cheese with quince paste from Italy
Roasted chicken with porcini sauce
Roasted hubbard squash stuffed with mushrooms and truffles
Braised baby carrots (which were so sweet they tasted like candy)
Brussels sprouts with bacon and shallots
Fudge from the farmer’s market

Sunday, November 14th, 2004

Bainbridge Island

My friend used to live on Bainbridge Island, so we decided to take a day trip over there. We were on a mission for licorice and yarn.

Our first stop was a licorice spree at the Marina Market in Poulsbo—a cute and strange Norwegian town. I honestly didn’t know there were that many different kinds of licorice produced; I guess they import a lot of it. I have never really liked licorice very much but after trying some of Zach’s I’m open to the possibility that I just don’t like bad licorice. He gave me this kind that looks like a piece of chalk and is coated with salt and then a hard candy shell. It was really good. My favorite part of the store was the freezer full of dead, bloody herring that were right next to the bags of crushed ice.

We then wandered down the street and I dragged Zach into an antique store to see if I could find another egg cup for my collection. I did and isn’t is cute?

There wasn’t much else in the town that seemed interesting except for the Marine Science Center. It was a teeny little place, but they had nice displays and touch tanks so we decided to go in. Zach didn’t want to touch anything so I made up for him and touched everything twice. Although, I did make him touch the sea anemone because it was so weird and sticky. I kept looking at the giant sea scallops wondering if they are still tender when they’re that big. More and more I find that when I’m looking at animals I’m picturing them on a dinner plate with an accompanying sauce. Sometimes, when I look at my cat, he runs away.

It was fortuitous that we went to the science center, because if we hadn’t, we would have completely missed The British Market. They actually had real, imported HP sauce (we did a taste-test a while back between HP sauce that was brought from London by a friend and HP sauce from DeLaurenti’s—they are drastically different and the real stuff is much better). We got the HP sauce and some Hob Nobs. They also had a freezer stocked with Pork Bangers, Bubble & Squeak and British Back Bacon, but sadly we had no way to transport frozen meats.

We got back in the car and drove to Winslow to check out Churchmouse Yarns & Teas. I had been used to shopping for yarn at places like Jo-Ann fabrics, so I was impressed and had to touch everything… Twice. I ended up with some really beautiful and soft balls of yarn.

We needed a snack, so we stopped in the Blackbird Bakery. I had to try the pots de crème—I love anything that requires its own specialty cookware or dish. And of course milky, gooey caramel doesn’t hurt either.

After dessert, we decided we needed dinner, so we walked down to the marina and stopped at Doc’s Marina Grill. We ordered a great gorgonzola bacon burger and a prime rib dip with cheddar cheese on sourdough—possibly the greasiest sandwich I’ve ever eaten, but it was incredibly good. The beef was delicious and the waiter told us it was from Misty Isle Farms. The burger boasted some of the best applewood smoked bacon I’ve ever tasted, also from Misty Isle. The waiter said that the farm produces a limited number of pigs (and only in the summertime), so it may be hard to locate bacon available to the public. But I will try.