Glamping, Birthdays & Back Pain


Another trip around the sun, another birthday camping trip with my family and friends… AKA, another year I sucker everyone into pitching tents and making me birthday food in the woods! (It’s been working since I was a kid! If it ain’t broke, I ain’t gonna fix it. Moowhwhahahaahahahahahh!) And while one might not equate fine dining with a camp stove and fire pit, my brothers never cease to amaze me with what they’re able to whip up. This year was no different.


My brother Ryan and his campground delivery service.

The exception, however, to the overall Smith family camping awesomeness, was the addition of my unexpected and unwelcome return to searing back pain. YES!! And lemme tell ya – it’s definitely not what you want when facing your next couple of nights on the forest floor. (Or in the back of a KIA Sportage – I mean, come on – there was a pack of WOLVES in the area! True story.) Yep – rather than hiking around one of my favorite places in the world, the campground of my youth, I spent the entire trip reclined in my little brother’s swanky zero-gravity lounge chair, which I ruthlessly occupied he generously let me commandeer the entire time.

Long story, short – seems the back surgery I had a few years ago didn’t quite take care of business. I visited the doctor after returning from camping and it appears I have a bone-rubbing-bone situation in the same area as my old surgery – Who needs cartilage?! I’ve always found it overrated… ANYway – I anticipate more surgery in the near future… But who wants to talk about that? NOT ME. I’ll just proactively ignore it while taking pain pills and burning through my DVR queue… And finishing my family camping story.


Since we’ve all been having a fairly busy summer, there wasn’t as much planning and prep that went into the trip. My brothers usually bust out some ridiculously elaborate campsite feasts – ones I wouldn’t attempt even in my own kitchen. As mentioned, this year wasn’t any different, but we did simplify things a tiny bit. For instance, we did make more than a few meals on sticks – Team Food on Sticks ™ for the win!! Nothing like meat cooked on a stick over an open fire… Granted, open fires were banned due to an incredibly dry forest, but my brother’s gas fire pit did just as good a job. (Legally, thank you.) It didn’t put out quite the same heat as a campfire, but it certainly did justice to those wily hotdogs… Mmmmm… Food on sticks!

In addition to meat prepared on sticks, my brothers also produced quite an excellent fish fry-up. My brother Ryan and sister-in-law, Beth hauled up the iron kettle deep-fryer that Beth’s dad handcrafted. (Beth’s mom and dad also made it up camping – first time camping with the Smiths. Heh. I hope we didn’t scare them off!) They hand-cut and breaded fresh cod and fried it up with freshly cut potato chips. (Beth and I lovingly cut EACH chip ourselves. With questionable knives. On a wobbly camp table. #RoughingIt) Beth’s mom also made her delicious coleslaw and my Stepmom, Marilyn brought up some incredibly tasty macaroni salad. There haven’t been many times I’ve had deep-fried cod and potato chips in the mountains – no other times, actually. However, when cooking in the woods with my brothers, you never know what’s gonna happen. I think they should do a cooking show from the campsite, in fact… (Food Network – are you listening??) I think it should be called, “Cooking with The Glampers.” ™


Delicious hand-breaded fried cod and chips



On the topic of glamping, I come from a long line of glampers. Don’t get me wrong, I love me some backpacking and can bathe in the creek with the best of them, (with eco-friendly soap substitutes, of course) but I do love my family’s tradition of bringing ALL the comforts of home into the campsite. Before the days of the more conveniently sized generators and such, my family brought big screen TVs (before they were flat screen), all manner of cooking devices and whatever else which could possibly make sitting around the campfire more ‘comfortable.’ I’m pretty sure someone in my family has attempted to bring a hot tub up to the campsite at some point… Because, what’s better after a long, hot day of motorcycling than a nice soak in the hot tub? While roasting some food on sticks…

And to top off the birthday affair, my awesome family and friends helped further distract me from back pain by showering me with lovely gifts and a GINORMOUS birthday cake! Seriously, we’re all still eating that cake – and there were 15 of us up there to tackle it! It was honestly one of the largest cakes I’ve seen in a while… Thanks, Dad! I think there was pretty much enough room in there for someone to jump out. Seriously – can we get on that for next time? Cute guy jumping out of cake. Check.

Well, I guess that’s all I’ve got for this installment. I shall now retire with my pain pills and ice packs back to the couch. And continue blowing through my DVR queue. And some of that cake…

Thanks to Dad, Marilyn, Ryan, Beth, Eli, Josh, Ann, Belle, Emily, Layla, Beth, CJ, Marvin and Ruth for making my birthday awesome!

Until next time – Cheers!

p.s. The aftermath of Ryan’s campsite delivery service


I think my brother’s can-smashing expertise and CJ’s jaunty scarf really make the shot.

I ATE THE STATE – Camping Edition!

Greetings – And happy Memorial Day!

There’s something magical about a campfire.  Something that draws you in…That pulls you into its dance… OR, maybe that was just the beer and the fact I had my fair share while sitting around the campfire with friends and family over the holiday weekend.  Enh.  Tomato / tomatoe… Campfires and camping are awesome!  And so is beer…


Nothing like the smell of a campfire. That you still can’t get out of your clothes several days later…

In keeping with a very enduring family tradition, I joined friends and family in the wilds of Central Washington for a weekend of campfires, food-on-sticks, motorcycles, bugs and various beverage concoctions.  Throw in some very creative – and questionably comfortable – sleeping configurations, a bit of makeshift DJing and me again breaking off a front brake lever on the Honda Trail 90 and it was a pretty well-rounded affair.  (And I wasn’t even riding the Honda 90 this time… I’m clearly a motorcycle menace.)

We had planned on hitting up the awesome Icewater Creek Campground, located not too far past the Cle Elum area in Wenatchee National Forest.  It sits next to Taneum Creek and connects easily to the many motorcycle trails in the area.  It’s also very well-maintained, has decent outhouses and easily accommodates tents to trailers.  That said, it also fills up INCREDIBLY FAST on holiday weekends.  Eeesh!  We thought we’d have no trouble finding a place as we left on Friday, but that was simply not the case.  Campground fail!

After being shut down at Icewater Creek and in the nearby surrounding campground areas, we went for broke and drove further up the road.  As it was getting dark, we had no idea what we’d find – or not find – and since we were a bit of a ragtag caravan, it was getting dicey.  We continued up the rain-gutted, gravel road, only gaining in elevation, hoping desperately for a campsite to magically appear just around the corner… And it finally did!  It seriously couldn’t have come at a better time.  My nephew, Eli and I had maxed out on rehearsing our amazing duet of ‘Love Is an Open Door’ from the FROZEN soundtrack and we were both getting tired, hangry and antsy.  In a twisted coup of road trip madness, Eli even got me to sing some opera for him… We very obviously needed to get OUT of the car.

We really were very lucky to have found the spot we did.  Not only was it one of the last in the area, but it was now fully dark, the entrance to the campsite was very easy to miss on the tree-lined, unlit road and our camping posse wouldn’t easily fit into just any spot.  (Although, by this time we’d seriously begun contemplating pulling over and setting up camp on the side of the road.)  The fact we all fit, there was a fire pit already established and a source of water was close by went far beyond what we thought we’d find at that point in the evening.  SCORE!


We’re lucky there weren’t more of us on this trip – we wouldn’t have fit!

After my brother situated his monster camper rig in the site, we all filed in after and situated ourselves for the grand setup.  Our friend, Gabe was setting up his tent and I typically also set up a tent, but I’d decided to try and trick out the Sportage for this particular adventure.  The backseat folds down and makes for a fairly large area – why couldn’t it work as a bed?  Suffice it to say there are still a few details to work out, but my plan was overall a success.  Granted, something slightly cushier than my Thermarest might be in order, but it really was fairly comfortable.  (Considering how comfortable one can actually be on any camping/backpacking expedition…)

However, before any full-on campsite trick-out could truly get underway, drinks were in order.  And some tunes… And the promise of upcoming food-on-sticks.  (Go Team Food-on-Sticks!)  It was also at this point when my 11-year nephew, Eli further illustrated the breadth of his musical interests.  We’d already been rockin’ the FROZEN soundtrack and various operatic arias on the way up and he had additionally professed his deep love of Dubstep, but it wasn’t until I put on BACK IN BLACK and he yelled out, “Now, this is what I came for!”  that I understood how diverse his musical appreciation actually was.  Throw in a conversation about the intricacies of horn lines in Earth Wind & Fire arrangements and various shout-outs to Rush songs and that kid just owns my musical heart… However, he wasn’t too pleased with my foray into salsa music – we’ll have to work on that one…

Snacks and Music

Snacks and music – Two very important items for any camping trip.

With our campsite set up, music playing, drinks in our hands – of both the adult and kid-friendly variety – and food roasting on sticks, we finally relaxed into the prospect of a few, fun-filled days in the mountains.  A few marshmallows might’ve been dropped, a brake lever might’ve seen better days and my back could’ve used a more enduring sleeping pad, but a great time was indeed had by all.  Chalk up another success in the records of Smith family camping adventures.

Some of the glorious highlights:


Nothing like meat in the woods. As long as it doesn’t involve an animal chasing you for it.


We had a few more of these lying around – I’m pretty sure at least one of them had actual food in it… Beer and ice take up A LOT of room.


BACON. Need I say more?

Honda 90

Ryan on wood gathering detail. BEFORE I knocked off the brake lever.


My brother, Ryan and nephew, Eli back from the trail.

Until next time – Happy trails!


I Ate the State – Maltby, Washington


As I’ve mentioned, I come from a foodie family.  One of the newer contributing members to the family foodie scene is my 10-year old nephew, Eli.  He has served as my partner in many foodie shenanigans and is well on his way to rocking his own foodie commentary.  Eli is also a co-founder of The Sandwitches – Our ongoing effort to reinvent the sandwich wheel.  I think we’re really making headway!  We’ve been putting together some crazy recipes and dream of someday sharing our creations with the world at large.  Stay tuned!

In the meantime, Eli and I recently visited The Maltby Café in the tiny town of Maltby, Washington.  Quaintly tucked away in the basement section of an old schoolhouse (circa 1937), this place is beyond a gem.  They regularly win ‘Best of’ awards and I can’t imagine this will change anytime soon.  Granted, Maltby might be a little off the beaten path for many in the greater Seattle area, but I assure you The Maltby Café is worth the trip. 

They are open daily from 7am – 3pm (lunch starts at 11:30am) and seem to be constantly busy.  However, due to an unexpectedly early morning for us, we got there early enough to beat the breakfast rush.  (It required extra coffee on the part of Aunt Dayna, but whatevs.)  When we walked in, we were immediately greeted by a hostess and led to a table.  On the way to be seated, I noticed a stack of cinnamon rolls packaged to-go, sitting on a stand near the entrance.  Due to the size of the packaging, I assumed they were servings of four rolls.  And that was where my assumption was very… WRONG.

After being seated at our table, our server stopped by right away and got us going with our morning beverage requirements.  We both perused the menu and Eli immediately zeroed in on the homemade cinnamon rolls – with a side of delicious bacon.  I opted for the breakfast classic of bacon and eggs with potatoes and toast and we were ready to roll. Key word: ROLL.

When the breakfast arrived to our table – very quickly, I might add – both of our jaws dropped to the ground.  Not only was my breakfast and Eli’s side of bacon ENORMOUS, the cinnamon roll was quite literally the SIZE OF OUR HEADS.  Possibly the size of both our heads put together!  We both stared silently at our plates and then back at each other.  And then started laughing hysterically.  There was no way we could ever finish everything!  If this were an episode of Man vs. Food, food would definitely walk away the victor.


Note the size of the cinnamon roll as compared to Eli’s head. They’re the same!


Eli’s cinnamon roll was not only gigantic, it was incredibly delicious.  Warm and topped with gooey frosting, it was melt-in-your-mouth perfection.  Our only issue was the fact it was studded with evil raisins.  (Are raisins evil?  Yes.  As are bananas and walnuts.  Be aware.)  I know it’s common to add these little monsters to cinnamon rolls, but I just can’t get on board.  That said, as the roll was so ridiculously delicious, neither of us were too bothered to have to pick out the raisins.  And I’m sure we’d do it again… However, we plan on having at least four people at the table to collectively take on this beast moving forward.

My breakfast was prepared perfectly and the bacon was fantastic!  The ratio of crispness to thickness was just right and it had an excellent smokiness.  Not to be outdone by the enormity of the cinnamon rolls, the bacon slices were equally great in size.  Between the two of us, there were eight slices of bacon on the table.  We are both bacon freaks, but by the time we squared our to-go boxes, there were still six slices left.  (I honestly got two more meals out of my own to-go box!)  They even actually made my eggs the way I’d requested – Over-hard.  Restaurants always seem to dork up that particular egg order, but the Maltby Café completely nailed it.  Fried eggs with the yolks broken and all the way cooked… Thank you, Maltby Café!  I also want to mention their homemade bread – thick cut and super fresh.  I haven’t tried their sandwiches yet, but I’m sure the homemade bread is a winning addition.


Note the size of the bacon strips as compared to the plate. Nay, PLATTER!

While although each of us only finished about a quarter of our respective meals, we were both completely and positively full – and deliriously happy.  (And hopped up on a cinnamon roll/hot chocolate sugar overload in the case of Eli.) We can’t wait to go back and try more of the menu.  And we’ll be bringing more hungry family members to help us out!  

Check out The Maltby Café, located in Maltby, Washington.  Open every day from 7am – 3pm – Stop by and enjoy some classic, home-style cooking.  Come hungry!  Suggestion:  This a great place to stop on your way up to Stevens Pass for a day of snowy fun. 🙂

Other places of interest in the Maltby area:

Snoqualmie Ice-Cream – Makers of amazing ice-cream and custard.  They have a nice little café, featuring great sandwiches and deliciously fresh ice-cream and custard.  (And espresso!) Their salted caramel and French lavender ice-creams are two of my all-time favorites.  They even grow their own lavender!  (And offer tours of their farm and creamery!)  This is located just past The Maltby Café, on the right side of the road.


Up next:  Deru Market in Kirkland. YUM!


I Ate the State – Yakima Valley Edition – Part Deux!

Alrighty – It’s Part Deux of my Yakima Valley adventures!

As I mentioned earlier, I was born in Yakima, Washington.  (Pronounced YAK-ih-ma, not Ya-KEE-ma  J)  I only officially lived there until I was 7, but of the early memories I carry with me, some of the fondest are my visits to Miner’s Drive-In Restaurant on 1st Street. 


Miner’s Drive-in as it was in 1948.


Miner’s Drive in today. 

What is now a fairly sprawling sit-down restaurant was then only a drive-thru with a small, ordering area inside.  When it was nice outside, there was – and still is – ample picnic-style seating available in a grassy area next to the restaurant.  Open since 1948, it was one of the first drive-thru restaurants in the area.  I can’t count the times I went through that drive-thru with my mom, grandma, great-grandma – whoever in the Smith or Brown family who happened to be craving a milkshake and fries at the moment.  It was always especially enjoyable for me due to the somewhat backwards drive-thru layout.  The driver does the ordering, but the pick-up window is actually on the passenger side.  Not only did it make me feel very adult and important to be handling the monetary transaction, it also meant I was the first one with hands on the fry bag.  HA!  (I will fight you for your fries.)

And on the topic of those fries, here are a few menu items I can recommend:

The Big Miner burger – Seriously.  There is no exaggeration in the use of ‘big’ to describe this burger. Words such as humungous, ginormous, gut-busting and insanely-proportioned are also appropriate descriptors.  Made with giant, grill-fried patties of locally-sourced beef, buttered and toasted sesame seed buns (very important ingredient) and all the fixin’s, one burger will likely cover your food requirements for the day.  (I like to add cheese and Walla Walla sweet onions)  Throw in an order of fries or TATOR TOTS and a thick shake and you’re probably good for a few days.  (Did I mention they have TATOR TOTS?  Yeah.  TATOR TOTS.)  Note to the incredibly hungry, incredibly brave or just incredibly insane:  They also have a DOUBLE Big Miner.  Yowsa.

Hot Dogs – Not to be outdone by the burgers, their hot dogs are equally tasty and ENORMOUS.  High-quality beef dogs, split down the middle and grilled, served on a buttered grill-toasted bun.  Add onions, relish, mustard, chili, etc. – they’re delicious!  Also try the DOUBLE Dog!  ;-} Pairs nicely with TATOR TOTS and…

FRY SAUCE – Do they have other condiments besides fry sauce?  Certainly.  They have quite a few delicious dipping sauces, in fact.  Does that really matter when FRY SAUCE is on the table?  NO.  End of discussion.  (Oh, wait – one more thing.  TATOR TOTS.)

Other delicious items of note:  I’m not gonna lie.  I typically order either the Big Miner or a hot dog.  With TATOR TOTS.  Or sometimes a small order of fries.  (A large order will feed your neighborhood.)  However, I have sampled many other delicious items on their menu.  Check out these tasty gems:

–          ANY of their BBQ items.  Want a BBQ Ham sandwich?  They’ve got it. 

–          Big Chicken Swiss w/Ham – YUM!

–          Fish Burger.  Mmmmm.  Try adding cheese and Walla Walla sweet onions!

–          ANY of their salads – particularly the Shrimp Louie salad.  (‘lots of shrimp!)

–          Dipped ice cream cones, milkshakes and hot fudge sundaes! 


Many delicious items to be had on the Miner’s menu. And… TATOR TOTS!

Even though I no longer live in Yakima, much less the Central/Eastern side of the state, I try to visit Miner’s whenever I’m in the area.  It might also be true I’ve been known to make daytrips to the area just for the sake of a Miner’s Burger.  I can neither confirm nor deny this.


Moving on to the beverage portion of the adventure, I’d like to give a shout-out to Yakima Craft Brewing Co.


Yakima Craft Brewing Co. = Delicious beer!

If you’re looking for a meal other than beer, you might want to perhaps stop at Miner’s first.  While although Yakima Craft Brewing does have a simple appetizer/bar menu in their Taproom pub, they don’t have a full kitchen, so the offerings are pretty basic.  However, if you are perfectly content with making a meal out your beer – and what’s wrong with that?? – Yakima Craft Brewing Co. is a good place to check out. (And the sausage sampler w/German mustard IS pretty tasty if you’d actually like something to accompany your beer.)

Tucked back into the River Road industrial area of North Yakima, (just off Hwy 12) Yakima Craft Brewing Co. has been brewing some very enjoyable beer since 2007. The Taproom is a fairly small pub siting adjacent to the main brewery.  Stop in for a pint or two – or several – and be sure to fill up your growler on the way out!  While we were there, my brother and I sampled the following brews:

Pale Ale – Light, very drinkable ale and not overly hoppy. 

1982 – Amber ale with just the right amount of depth and hoppiness.  Not too heavy for the hot summer days and not to wimpy for cooler fall nights.  Plus, the label is an awesome homage to the cassette tape.

Imperial Red – If you often go by the nickname, ‘Hoppy McHopperson’ you will love this beer.  VERY hoppy and pretty in-your-face.  I will admit to siding more with the Belgian-style golden ales, so this was a bit much for me.  My brother, aka ‘Hoppy McHopperson’ LOVED it.

Heather – A light, Scottish ale brewed with honey and heather.  My favorite of the day – and that was saying something.  Delicious!

Summer Serendipity – VERY tasty Kolsch-style brew and from what I understand, very limited in release.  Made me want to float down the Yakima River in an inner tube and a 6-pack of the stuff…  Yeah.


There were many other beers we would’ve liked to have tried, but the evening was approaching and it was time to consider eventually heading back towards Seattle.  I will, however, definitely be back – and in the near future.  In a nutshell, drinking locally brewed beer in the area where the majority of our nation’s hops are grown is a not only a privilege, but should also be a Washington beer lover’s rite of passage.  It makes me very happy to see the craft beer scene continuing to grow and develop in this part of the state.  It just makes sense!  And I am very happy to do my part to support this plan.

I’d definitely recommend stopping in for a visit the next time you’re in the area.  And don’t forget your growlers!


Some other areas of interest in the Yakima Valley area:

Additional Old Skool Burger Joints – Try them all!

Pepp’rmint Stick (Union Gap)

Laredo Drive-in (Naches)

King’s Row (Selah)


More beer!

Bale Breaker Brewing Co.Excellent local brewery and taphouse.  Try their High Camp Winter Warmer – delicious!

Moxee Hop FestivalCome celebrate hops in the tiny, hop-growing mecca of Moxee, Washington.


Learn more about the Yakima Valley!

Yakima Valley Museum  – The very first museum I ever visited.  And largely responsible for making me the giant nerd I am today.  Thanks, Yakima Valley Museum!

Yakima Valley Appellation – Wine TrailThe Yakima Valley AVA (American Viticultural Area) is the oldest and most diverse wine growing region in Washington.  Tour all the local wineries and ENJOY!!

Yakama Nation Museum & Cultural CenterStop in and learn about the history, people and culture of the Yakama Nation.  Located 18 miles past Yakima in Toppenish, WA.  Well worth the visit!

Next up:  The Maltby Café in Maltby, WA.  Cinnamon rolls the size of your head!


I Ate the State – The Yakima Valley


In a continuing tribute to my family and the roots of my foodie propensities, please join me on a visit to Yakima, Washington and the nearby, mountainous community of Cliffdell.

I was born in the sunny expanse of the Yakima Valley and spent the beginning years of my life in the area.  Home to hops, orchards, wine, a lot of sunshine and the gateway to the Cascade Mountains, it was an idyllic place to spend part of my childhood.  And since my family only moved a little further to the southeast for the remainder of my formative years, we returned often to visit family and friends.  To this day, I frequently visit the area to get a dose of sunshine and enjoy the surroundings.  (And the wine)  (And the beer)  It does of course help that it’s conveniently located along the route to visit my Eastern Washington relatives.  (And the wine and beer)

Recently, my brother and I made a couple of summertime foodie pilgrimages to Yakima and its surrounding communities.  Allow me to share a brief breakdown of our culinary adventures…

First stop:  Whistlin’ Jack Lodge – Located on Hwy 410 (Chinook Pass Hwy) in the community of Cliffdell.  (Pop.  Approx. 100)


Whistlin’ Jack Lodge in the mountain community of Cliffdell, WA. 

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge was built in 1931 and has been an official operation of the Williams’ family since 1957.  It’s a rustic oasis for weary travelers, bikers, sportspersons and campers who just can’t handle another meal over their makeshift fire pit/outdoor grill. (Losing 4 hot dogs to the fire was enough; let alone the T-bone steak…) Whistlin’ Jack Lodge is host to a cozy assortment of bungalows and riverside cottages along with rooms available in the main lodge.  In addition to the main lodge restaurant, they have the Fireside Lounge which sports a full-service bar, a café style menu and live music on the weekends.  They also have a nice little deli and grocery store if you’re stocking up for a hike or have run out of marshmallows. (Not good.) Throw in a gift shop with ‘lots of quirky souvenir items, interesting antique displays and a somewhat frightening taxidermy tribute to local wildlife and you’ve got a mountain wonderland.  And if you’re running low on fuel, be sure to stop in at their gas pumps before traveling further.  (Seriously – the next gas station if you’re heading west isn’t until Greenwater – 53 miles away.)

If you’re stopping in for something more substantial than marshmallows, there are many items I can recommend in the riverside lodge restaurant.  During my last visit, my brother and I, along with my three nieces all enjoyed some tasty meals.  We happened to be there during brunch, which is quite an elaborate spread, but since we weren’t hungry enough to require such a large affair, we chose to order from the menu.  They were serving both breakfast and lunch at the time and we were a bit torn, but we all opted to enjoy a spot of breakfast…

Ham & Eggs – Nicely smoked, thick-cut and pan fried, the ham was very tasty.  Served with lodge-made hash browns, fresh eggs and toast, this was much more food than I’d planned on eating, but I didn’t argue!  (I also stole some of my brother’s gravy for my hash browns.  Don’t judge me.)

Country-fried Steak & Eggs – My brother’s selection.  While although the steak was served on top of the gravy, rather than the gravy being on top, it was nicely battered and tender.  As I come from a family of gravy lovers, my brother ordered an additional side.  That was a good plan. (And nicely supported my own gravy theft plan.)

French Toast, Hotcakes, Belgian Waffles – All of the sugary menu options for my sugar-loving nieces.  Who am I to argue?  Syrup is delicious!  They all loved their orders and as I sampled each dish myself, I’d have to agree.  (They may or may not have been looking when I sampled everything.  Again, don’t judge me.)  The hotcakes were fluffy, the French toast was nice and thick with ‘lots of butter and the Belgian waffles were deliciously malty.  For the lover of sweets, I’d also recommend their homemade blueberry cinnamon roll and the blueberry hotcakes.  (Great remedy for a night of drafty tent camping.)

If you’re in the mood for some very tasty, local fish, I recommend the pan-fried Rainbow trout.  It is delicious and is boned tableside by your server.  Cool!

If you happen to be around for dinner, try their dinner preparation of the Rainbow trout – or any of their delicious steaks.  (Including elk steak!)  In the lounge, they serve a great burger and have a good selection of beer, wine and other assorted adult beverages.  As a note, the main lodge restaurant can get crowded on the weekends and sometimes the service can be slow.  I’d recommend reservations for the dinner hour and if you’re in a hurry, I’d opt for the Fireside lounge or their deli.

Whistlin’ Jack Lodge occupies a very special place in my heart and is home to many happy memories.  I grew up spending countless summer weekends camping in the area with my family.  With bated breath, I’d sit in the back of our loaded down Ford Super Cab, anxiously waiting to see Whistlin’ Jacks appearing magically out of the forest.  If I were lucky, we’d make a quick pit-stop before heading onto the campground.  If not, I knew I could probably sucker one of my family members to give me a ride over on one of their dirt bikes.  Or, as I got older and was able to ride a dirt bike myself, I’d grab the hotrod Honda Trail 90 and make my marshmallow run. (It’s important to not run out of marshmallows.)  After all this time, I can honestly say that I still get an anxious, excited feeling whenever I’m heading up Hwy 410 towards the mountains.  I know it’s getting close; just past that next bend in the road… A good meal, a goofy shot glass, a bathroom that doesn’t involve an outhouse and a replenished marshmallow supply!  Thank you, Whistlin’ Jack Lodge!

Other spots to visit in the area:

Boulder Cave – Family-friendly hike featuring one of the largest caves of its kind in the state.  It’s a beautiful and very interesting hike.  Bring flashlights! 

Naches River – Great places for fishing, camping, rafting and general adventuring all along its shores.

Chinook Pass – One of the highest drivable mountain passes in Washington State at 5430 ft.  Stop at the top of the pass and hike around Tipsoo Lake or investigate part of the Pacific Crest Trail.  Absolutely beautiful area and an absolutely beautiful drive.

Mt. Rainier National Park – I can’t say enough about Mt. Rainier National Park.  I spent many summers working at the lodges and ‘The Mountain’ is one of my favorite places on earth.  So much to do – so much to see.  If you haven’t been, make it a priority.

Crystal Mountain Ski Resort – Ski resort just over Chinook Pass.  Great hiking, biking and summer adventure options. Not accessible via Chinook Pass during the winter months.  (Although I highly recommend hitting it from the other side as the skiing is fantastic!)


And as this entry is getting long, I’ll continue the Yakima Valley journey with my next entry.  (Miner’s Drive-in, and the Yakima Craft Brewing Co.)


Food and Family – A Tribute to My Grandma


Food helps shape the culture, traditions and soul of family life.  In addition to simple nourishment, food offers entertainment, adventure, reward and comfort; and often within each family are those individuals who gravitate towards the nurturing of one or more of these esteemed conventions.  

Within my own foodie family, there are many members upholding these pillars of culture and tradition.  We are lucky to have several amazing cooks, not to mention artists, musicians, engineers, scientists, adrenaline junkies – you name it – adding their expertise and enthusiasm to the family table.  Thankfully, we also have some very sympathetic shoulders to cry on when one or more of these activities (and recipes) leads to a less than desired outcome.  I feel very lucky – and somewhat intimidated at times – to be part of such a dynamic group of people.

While although my family is quite a multi-talented bunch, there has always been one member to whom we have all looked for guidance.  One person who encompassed all the aforementioned attributes and to whom we all have aspired to emulate.  One cook who made the lemon meringue pie none of us could ever seem to master…  The matriarch of our family, my grandmother, Dorothy Brown.

Sadly, my family recently lost this very remarkable and amazing woman.  She passed away in the company of family at the age of 90 on June 15th in Richland, WA.  Wife, mother, office administrator extraordinaire, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend – she wore many hats and she wore them exceptionally well.  (All without messing up one hair in her always perfectly styled hairdo)  To say she will be missed is an incredible understatement.  She was the matriarch of our hearts and history and the irreplaceable head of our table.  It is with much love, gratitude and many happy memories that I dedicate this entry to her…

My grandmother was born in 1923 in Philipsburg, Kansas and spent her childhood years in Lincoln, Nebraska.  She moved with her family to Yakima, WA as a teenager, where she met her soon-to-be husband (and my grandpa), Leland Brown.  They married in May of 1942 and were able to spend a precious few months together before my grandfather left to fight in WWII.  My mother was born in May of 1943 and it wasn’t until the end of the war at age two when she finally met my grandfather.  My grandparents were two of the strongest, most formidable people I’ve ever known, but the hardships they faced were many.  Their stories have never ceased to amaze and inspire me.  (On that note, I’d say that of all my grandparents and great-grandparents)  I only hope that someday I’m able to look back and feel I’ve faced my own challenges with half their grace and fortitude.

I could write endlessly of the love, support and adventures shared with my grandmother over the years, but in keeping with the spirit of my project, I’m going to share stories of something else she gave in endless abundance:  Food – And a complete mastery of its preparation, presentation and place in the lives of my family.

As is the case with many families, there are certain recipes that define a celebration – Or the family itself for that matter.  There are recipes which have been handed down through the generations and there are recipes that would produce heartbreak if they were ever lost in the shuffle of time.  I can say with complete authority there are several such recipes born as a result of my grandmother’s foodie expertise and experimentation.  I’m heartbroken indeed to have lost my grandmother, but it gives me comfort and hope knowing that a piece of her lives on through her recipes.  I was very excited and relieved to learn of my aunts’ plan to create an actual cookbook containing all of my grandmother’s most popular and irreplaceable recipes.  I will do my best to channel my grandmother as I use the cookbook to try and recreate her chicken and noodles or her pumpkin torte.  (Note: The chicken and noodles recipe is actually from my great-grandmother, handed down to my grandmother – And now to the rest of our family… The deliciousness lives on!)

People were always asking for my grandmother’s recipes and to my knowledge she was never hesitant to share them.  The caveat being, however, it was rare the recipe ever turned out like my grandmother’s version.  Many a cook has attempted to replicate the towering peaks of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie and many have failed mightily.  And I’d be a complete liar if I said I’d ever been able to duplicate the fluffiness of her divinity or the perfection of her pie crust.  (Even after watching over my mom’s shoulder as she nailed it every time.  Apparently I did not inherit the pie crust gene…)

Several years ago, I spent some time working in the Scottish Highlands at a small village inn.  While there, I became friends with a few of the chefs working in the well-reviewed inn restaurant.  They were truly talented and I am happy to have returned home with many new recipes and delicious memories of their Scottish (and Irish!) cooking.  One day, we were chatting about foods they’d enjoyed during their visits to the States, but had never been able to copy.  Among the foods on their lists were peanut brittle and zucchini bread.  When I mentioned those were two of the recipes for which my grandmother was widely known, they practically marched me out to the village phone booth to call my grandmother straight away.  However, as there was a 9 hour time difference and it was probably 3am at my grandmother’s house and there was currently a large gathering of sheep loitering around the one and only phone booth, I promised to call her as soon as reasonably possible. (And after the sheep mob had dispersed.)  

A phone call later and a few hand printed recipe cards sent courtesy of my grandmother, my chef friends were madly racing about the kitchen gathering ingredients.  After days of experimentation and several takes on the recipes, they came pretty close to recreating the magic.  Close, but based on my personal consumption of the real deal, not quite close enough.  Granted, their versions were very tasty and I much appreciated the effort, but a couple of things were off.  Not enough lightness in the crunch of the peanut brittle – not quite enough moistness in the zucchini bread…  These were top chefs and they’d made some very enjoyable tributes to my grandmother’s recipes, but they just weren’t the same. 

I never did have the heart to give them my thoughts on their renditions.  They were so happy with the results and definitely thought they’d recreated what they’d sampled in their journeys, so why ruin the party? (Plus, their results really were pretty good – and I love peanut brittle…)  Most importantly, however, was the idea that I’d been able to share a little of my family’s food traditions with people living on the other side of the planet.  Thanks to my grandmother, peanut brittle and zucchini bread now make people happy in the Scottish Highlands – hopefully just as much as they do in my family and in our home of Washington State.

I can honestly say that I’ve never eaten anything my grandmother made that I didn’t like.  Granted, I’ve never been a fan of cooked fruit and I’m allergic to walnuts and bananas, but that’s not on her.  In retrospect, I feel bad if she ever happened to catch some of the faces I made whenever I accidentally sampled her food containing any of those items.  (I do have it on absolute authority that she pretty much rocked all of those ingredients in many dishes over the years.)  Whether it was a simple fried egg, a cream pie she’d made especially for me so I wouldn’t have to eat the fruit pie or any of the dishes she made for our elaborate family celebrations or camping trips – it was all amazing. 

Through my grandmother’s cooking she brought us love, comfort, camaraderie, identity and probably a few buttons popping off after one of her gloriously decadent desserts.  She brought a kind of magic to her dishes and I will forever miss hanging out in her kitchen and taking it all in.  But just as will our memories of this amazing woman live on, so will her recipes.  I can only hope we’re able to do those recipes justice as we attempt to recreate the magic.  I know we’ll give it our all, but as was the case with my Scottish chef friends, it likely won’t be quite the same.  And who knows – in following my grandmother’s inspiration, maybe one of us will get lucky and create a dish of our own to pass down through the generations.  A foodie girl can dream…

One of my very favorite pictures of my very favorite people.

(from left to right) Joann (my mom), Leland (grandpa), Dorothy (grandma)


NEXT UP:   A visit to Miner’s Drive-In Restaurant in Yakima, WA.  (Yakima County)  I’ll get back to my previously scheduled programming soon thereafter, but I’d like to add a little bit more to my family tribute.  🙂