30 Days of AWESOME

Greetings!

As an artist, it is important to have inspiration and be motivated to create. Whatever the impetus might be – muse, inspiring situation, location, etc. – it is vital to the process. That said, when working as a professional artist, it can be equally important to develop the skill/ability/tricks to perform creatively when the feeling of creativity is at a minimum. It’s like any other job in that regard – you’ll find some days tougher than others to muster up the enthusiasm.

I’m lucky to work in a creative industry, but this can sometimes backfire when attempting to carve out time for my own artistic endeavors. One can gain a certain complacency in creativity when the job which largely pays your bills demands a high level of creative input and output. It can also be deceptively satisfying when you are indeed contributing artistically, but the artistic vision to which you’re contributing is not your own. This is definitely where I draw on the skills/abilities/tricks I’ve developed over the years to perform effectively as a creative person.

But sometimes a girl just needs a good dose of actual, real-deal artistic inspiration…

It’s been a few years since I’ve experienced that absolute, uninterruptable drive to create something – to actually feel like an artist capable of original expression. It hasn’t been for lack of looking or trying, but the inspiration just hasn’t presented itself. I’ve always loved trekking off to worlds unknown and my wanderlust has certainly led me to great inspiration, but with the trappings of being a somewhat responsible adult, come the trappings of staying in one place for longer periods of time. And having a “real” job. And paying bills. (On time) And actually going to bed at a respectable hour… Bah. So how do I bring my old globe-trotting, creative self into the responsibility of my present day? Hmmm…. There must be a way!

And with that, I present to you the last 30 days of my life. Bottom line, I think I’ve more than succeeded in jumpstarting my creative soul. Because honestly, if I can’t find inspiration in the total awesomeness of the past month of my life, I should probably just hang it up as an artist. Heh. I’ll elaborate more on certain aspects of the month – and I even plan on getting back to my original writing and music projects – but initially I’m simply going to write down a list. (Okay, a list with small descriptions – I just can’t help myself!) To quickly share my adventures, yes, but maybe also for a selfish need to bask in the awesomeness just a little longer …

30 Days of AWESOME

Prelude – I decided to finally use some of my vacation time and take a real vacation this year. Something longer than a 4-day weekend which didn’t involve answering email while on said ‘vacation.’ Hey – why not go to… CHINA! The dojo I belong to was planning a trip to China, so I signed up. YEAH!

  • July 1: After a 12+ hour flight, complete with five in-flight movies and several glasses of wine, arrive in Shanghai, China. OMG IT’S HOT IT CHINA!!! Wall. Of. Heat.
  • July 2: Shanghai city tour – Visit The Bund, Jade Buddha Temple, Yu Yuan Garden – Beautiful! And I’m pretty sure I’d already sweated away 5lbs by this point.
  • July 3: More touring of the ENORMOUS city of Shanghai. Biggest city in the world – the urban sprawl (side by side with the ancient urban sprawl) never seemed to end. Visited the Shanghai Museum and saw real Ming vases! (And made a very cool addition to my ongoing global museum quest.) Went on a very cool Shanghai River boat cruise that night with dinner. Crazy Sci-Fi skyline on one side of the river, beautiful, stately British colonial architecture on the other side. It was like Blade Runner meets Empire of the Sun…
  • July 4: After a very long bus ride, a 2-hr flight and another long bus ride up a CRAZY, winding mountain road, arrive at Wudang Temple. A magical, mystical place – completely awe-inspiring. I’ve always marveled at this scenery in the movies and there I was, right in the middle of it. Worked out that night with dojo-mates in the ancient courtyard under the stars. Amazing.
  • July 5: Enjoyed a package of red, white and blue Skittles to celebrate the 4th. (As it was technically still the 4th back in the US) Bus ride back down crazy road to the Purple Cloud Temple for cultural exchange with the Taoist Monks and Abbot. Turned out we were the largest group to ever visit – in the history of the monastery! It ended up being a major event and was apparently covered by Chinese national TV and newspaper! We then trained for 2 hours in the ancient temple courtyard with the monks. 2 hours learning Tai Chi forms from the masters was INTENSE. Oh, and OMG IT’S HOT IN CHINA!!! We then went back up the mountain to Wudang Temple where we proceeded to trek further up the mountains (and a LOT of steps – A LOT!) to visit the Golden Temple. I can’t begin to describe the beauty… Ancient and breath-taking… And if that weren’t enough hard-core physical activity for the day, we hiked back down the mountain to go get ready for a 2+ hour belt test with the masters in the temple courtyard. (I was going for my purple belt – ACHIEVED!) After a day spent doing martial arts in the cradle of martial arts, we all enjoyed a lovely dinner in the communal dining hall and then consumed several rounds of questionable Chinese liquor. One of the best days of my life…
  • July 6: Very long bus ride through the countryside to Dengfeng City, home of Shaolin Kung Fu. Arrive (finally) at hotel and the entire area is dedicated to the martial arts. KICK ASS. Literally. Students out in courtyards everywhere practicing, “malls” dedicated to selling martial arts goods and weapons – wow! Before we all passed out that night, we attended an excellent exhibition show performed by the Shaolin monks. My mind still cannot comprehend how they are able to perform some of those moves.
  • July 7: We visited the Shaolin Temple and TRAINED WITH THE SHAOLIN KUNG FU MONKS. Still can’t quite process learning forms from the actual monks… Also took a little “hike” up to Dharma Cave – part of the birthplace of Chan Buddhism in China. (Thousands of crazy stone steps! OMG.) Tiny cave on the top of a mountain with a very ancient alter inside – and a monk! I’m not Buddhist, but I kneeled down with the monk and gave offerings anyway. When in Rome.
  • July 8: Travel on bullet train to Beijing. 250 mph – NICE! Tooling about Beijing – total different vibe than Shanghai, but mesmerizing in its own way. Definitely know you’re in the heart of the People’s Republic of China. (It also added to the feeling being our hotel was 3 blocks up from Tiananmen Square. Our guide warned us to not talk about topics such as the Tiananmen Massacre while walking through the square as she didn’t want any of us to ‘get disappeared.’ She was serious.) Attended an insane Chinese acrobatic show – AMAZING!
  • July 9: Visited the insanely beautiful and epic, Summer Palace. Such opulence… With sprawling grounds and a huge man-made lake! But not to be outdone – and one of the reasons I came on the trip in the first place – was our visit to The Forbidden City. I’ve been fascinated by this place since the first time I saw The Last Emperor. To actually walk the grounds on my own and take in the history will forever be one of the highlights of my life. Later that night, my dojo mate, Allen and I took a stroll towards Tiananmen Square and ended up in the 600 yr. old marketplace, Qianmen Street. This particular adventure deserves an entry all its own, but in a nutshell, I thought we were gonna have to throw down in Beijing. True story. Luckily, we eventually made it back to our hotel. Throw down in Beijing evaded.
  • July 10: Last full day in China. OMG IT’S HOT IN CHINA!!! Visited the Badaling portion of the Great Wall of China. Walked along the route that Chairman Mao took to give his big speech from ‘Hero Rock.’ One of my favorite pics from the trip is from this area:(I will be posting more pics in the near future, but this one just keeps cracking me up. You think there’d be better language translations at a UNESCO World Heritage Site. But I’m glad there aren’t!) To walk along the Great Wall of China was pretty epic, to say the least. Again, still processing… Topped off the night with a lovely Beijing duck dinner. Delicious! (On a related note, the food overall was excellent! There indeed some mystery items, but I love a good mystery – More on the food scene later!)HeroStoner
  • July 11: 12+ hour flight back to Seattle. Watched five in-flight movies and enjoyed several glasses of wine. Because that’s what I do on long-ass flights.
  • July 12: Jet-lag like I’ve never experienced! Yowsa. Everything is floaty and surreal… La la la la laaaa…
  • July 13: Return to work. Insert sad trombone: HERE Still in floaty jet-lag land…
  • July 16: Competed in Warrior Dash race! Jet-lag still present, but starting to fade… Fully covered, head to toe in MUD. Jumped through fire, crawled on belly thru mud pit under barbed wire, etc. But there was beer at the end! I’ve been wanting to compete in obstacle course races for quite some time and I finally did it. (And several of my excellent co-workers joined me!) Next up is the Tough Mudder race in September and the SPARTAN race in October. (I’m kinda scared for that one!)
  • July 17: Attended a screening of The Lord of the Rings at Benaroya Hall – with live a live performance of the entire score (including choral!) by the Seattle Symphony. The entire movie! It was amazing – and I was sitting in 10th row!! Phase I of my return to musical inspiration – COMPLETE.
  • July 21: Saw Peter Gabriel and Sting perform as part of their Paper, Rock, Scissors tour at Key Arena. My friends Beth, CJ and I were in the very top row, but the sound was still awesome! Eddie Vedder even joined them for a couple of tunes! (Driven to Tears and Red Rain – badass!) For the tour, they’ve both got their full bands and take turns performing their own tunes along with each other’s! Like a good-natured battle of the bands sort of affair. AWESOME! Part II of return to musical inspiration – ACHIEVEMENT UNLOCKED.
  • July 23: Went on a crazy road trip with my pal, Patti and caught an AMAZING performance at the Gorge. Dead & Company pulled off two mind-boggling sets of music. Truly one of the best shows I’ve ever seen! I was speculative of the mix of original Dead members along with new additions like John Mayer, but it turned out to be the perfect recipe. And the bassist, Oteil Burbridge blew my mind! I also experienced a similar recipe regarding friends at the show. While Patti and I haven’t known each other for that long, we’ve become fast friends. Add in a very serendipitous reunion with three great guys I hadn’t seen since HIGH SCHOOL and WOW! Good times with new friends and old – amazing! Scott, Corey and Danny – So many great memories with these guys and it was beyond excellent to catch up. I just hope we don’t go that long without hanging out again. :-} Part III of return to musical inspiration – and just my inspiration in general – 100% COMPLETION ACHIEVED!
  • July 24: Trip back to Seattle area. Stopped at two of my favorite places in the world on the way back home – The Thorp Fruit Market and the awesome town of Roslyn. Picked up WAY too many items at the Thorpe Antique market and followed it up with a great lunch at the new Basecamp Books café and bookstore in Roslyn. We also stopped on Snoqualmie Pass on the way back. It’s rare I ever stop there in the summer and it was a particularly beautiful day – brilliant green mountainsides, blue sky and fresh air. Ahhhhhh.
  • July 24: Actually muster the strength to return to my regular dojo training – and it was great! Needed to take a few days to process all of the intense training in China… But glad to be back!
  • July 31: In the midst of a week of crazy overtime, got to meet up for brunch with my dear friend, Emily. At which point I pretty much recanted everything I just wrote out above. And she was kind enough to humor me and listen to the whoooooooooole story. (sucka!) (jk) (sorta.)

30 Days of AWESOME, indeed!!

If you’ve made it this far, thank YOU for humoring the sharing of my saga. And a special thanks to the actual saga for pulling me far, far out of the artistic funk in which I was languishing. Like I said earlier, if I can’t get inspired from the past month, I think I’ll just hang up my artistic license…But I’m not really worried of that happening.  🙂

I really didn’t intend on elaborating quite as much as I did, but I honestly feel like I was super condensing things. I shall expand further on some of the highlights in the coming month – with more pictures! Will this month be awesome as well? Let’s just see, shall we. Please join me!

Cheers

I ATE THE STATE – Café Juanita, Kirkland WA

Greetings!

I’d like to take a quick break from my planned Whatcom County itinerary and tell you about an AMAZING dinner recently enjoyed at Café Juanita in Kirkland, WA.

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Café Juanita is nestled appropriately in the charming Juanita Beach area of Kirkland.  A creation of award-winning chef, Holly Smith (James Beard award, Best Chef Northwest 2008), Café Juanita has graced the NW palate since 2000.  Winner of many prestigious awards and nominations both locally and nationally, it has become a coveted destination for lovers of fine Northern Italian food and wine.  I’ve been wanting to visit Café Juanita for quite some time and am more than pleased to finally add it to my list of culinary experiences.  (Due in generous part to an awesome gift certificate!)

While although certainly an upscale dining establishment, Café Juanita manages to nicely balance elegance and classic presentation with the casual vibe of the Northwest.  Smart casual is the recommended attire, so don’t feel obligated to don the formal wear.  However, I think black-tie and little-black-dress would be equally at home with the casual set at Café Juanita.

My companions for the evening were my brother, Ryan and sister-in-law, Beth.  They are both ardent foodies and were quite looking forward to an evening of deliciousness.  They’d also been given a passionate recommendation to try the rabbit and were excited to comply.  I’d also received several glowing endorsements for various menu items and was quite ready to give as many a try as possible.   Suffice it to say we were in for quite an amazing culinary adventure.

MEAL HIGHLIGHTS

Starter – We began the evening with a lovely bottle of 2011 Eola-Amity Hills Willamette Valley Pinot Noir, Evening Land.  Joining our wine was an enticing presentation of fresh bread and house-made artisan crackers.  I can honestly say the cheese crackers and olive crackers were by far the best crackers I’ve ever had – Flakey, buttery masterpieces.  Even my brother who is typically opposed to olives loved the olive crackers.  It’s often suggested that one ‘not fill up on bread’ and while although I do love bread, I often (begrudgingly) obey.  However, one should never heed such advice when dining at Café Juanita.  You’d be missing out on something truly wonderful.

First course – While enjoying our wine selection, our appetizer course arrived. We were a bit torn over what to order as we basically wanted everything on the list, but we agreed to at least share samples with one another.  (I won’t lie – it was insanely difficult to part with a single morsel of my smoked sablefish.)  My brother opted for the Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Smoked Bone Marrow, Green Sauce and Chickpea Purée, Beth went for the Grilled Asparagus with Local Organic Hen’s Egg and Parmigiano Reggiano and I lorded over the Smoked sablefish with English Pea Crema, Guanciale and Smoked Wild Steelhead Roe. 

The three of us are all big seafood fans and have tried octopus several different ways and in several different dishes.  We all agreed this preparation beat anything we’d ever had in a landslide victory – SO tender and melt-in-your-mouth delicious.  And I’m still feeling a bit dreamy about the bone marrow… Positively fantastic.  Beth’s asparagus was grilled perfectly and was tender and garden-fresh and not only was my smoked sablefish ridiculously good, I’m not embarrassed to say I would’ve licked every bit of the English pea crema off of my plate. However, I’m sure my tablemates were happy I refrained.  Next time.

Second course – Well into our second glass of wine and only slightly regretting my bread indulgence, our second course made its way to the table.  My brother went classic with the Hearts of Romaine with Garlic Anchovy Vinaigrette and Toasted Bread Crumbs.  It was as expected, delicious.  I opted for the Roasted Beets and Burrata with Poppy and Sunflower Seeds, Citrus Blossom Honey and Thyme and it was, ummm, wonderful!  The beets were tender and delicious, but what absolutely made the dish amazing was the burrata cheese.  It was blended to creamy perfection with a very high quality olive oil and if I had my way, I’d eat it every day on everything.  EVERYTHING.  Beth embarked upon the pasta special of the evening, a Cuttlefish Ink Risotto.  It was rich, creamy, buttery and perfectly cooked with a delicate taste that didn’t remotely match its presentation.  Don’t get me wrong, the presentation was lovely and the dish looked incredible, but it resembled what might’ve been a hearty black bean dish.  I was so enamored of my sample I ordered it as part of my next course.

With our bottle of wine no more, we hit up our very knowledgeable and patient server, Karinfor suggestions.  After additional input from the resident sommelier, I embarked upon enjoying a glass of the 2010 Movia, Ribolla Gialla and Beth went with the 2012 Villa Remotti, Barbera d’Asti.  Just in time for the next course…

Main course – As I mentioned, it was recommended we try the rabbit.  My brother took up the gauntlet and went with the Rabbit Braised in Arneis with Chickpea Gnocchi, English Peas, Porcini and House Made Pancetta.  We had all tried rabbit in various preparations, but the Café Juanita presentation was on an elevated level all its own.  Tender, delicate, pulled back from the bone and filled with porcini mushrooms, it was truly exceptional. I entertained several “No way!  Look over there!” scenarios to take my brother’s eyes off of his plate so I could steal more samples, but I chose to be an adult.  NEXT TIME… Ryan also ordered the Roasted Spicy Cauliflower with Cumin, Lime and Pinenuts as an accompaniment to the rabbit.  The char of the roasted cauliflower mixed with the cumin and lime was fabulous.  It gave the cauliflower a slight crisp on the outside with the lime and cumin brought in a very nice and unexpected depth of flavor.

As an accompaniment to my Cuttlefish Ink Risotto, I opted to make the course a pasta combination and added the house-made Maltagliati with Lamb Ragu.  The Maltagliati pasta was delicious and the lamb ragu was rich without being overwhelming.  It was a great contrast to the risotto and the wine made for a delicious bridge between the two.

Beth was intrigued by the featured seafood course and ordered the Trevally.  It was grilled lightly in olive oil and served simply and elegantly.  As she was already somewhat full from the previous courses, it was a perfect and light addition to the meal.

Dessert course – Not to mince words, the Vanilla Bean Panna Cotta with Cardoon Blossom Honey and Vanilla Saltwas one of the most amazing things I’ve ever eaten.  Period.  Hands down.  It was light, silky, creamy, perfectly sweet and just plain extraordinary.  I would happily eat it every day for the rest of my life.  Arteries be damned.  We were also insanely full at this point, but I have no regrets regarding ordering dessert.  None.

Aperitif – While I enjoyed another glass of the Ribolla Gialla, Beth tried an Italian Amari (bitters) – I think it was Amaro Averna. (Recommended by our server)  A wonderful herby and somewhat soothing way to end the meal.

As we had taken full advantage of the menu and enjoyed our fair share of wine, it was time to go. I also couldn’t possibly have fit in another bite.  Well, unless it was the panna cotta… (My new philosophy: There’s always room for panna cotta.) To say my evening at Café Juanita was delicious would be an understatement.  In fact, I’m still searching for words to justly describe some of the dishes we sampled.  What I can say is my evening at Café Juanita was truly one of the best dining experiences I’ve ever had the privilege of enjoying.  I can’t wait to return.  Oh, and try the rabbit…

Cheers!

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…

Campfire

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!

Campsite

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:

Dinner

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

Coolers

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

BACON. Need I say more?

Honda 90

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

Gear

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

Until next time – Happy trails!

🙂

I Ate the State – Clallam County Rides Again!

Annnnd we’re back!

Continuing on the winding path through the hills and dales of Clallam County…

After packing up my gear and taking one last sojourn on my deck to enjoy some coffee and waves (much to the chagrin of the ever lurking seagull), I headed out of La Push.  A note regarding the road out of La Push (and the greater Forks area in general) – watch your speed.  At least twice a day I drove by well-placed speed traps on these roads.  Unless, of course, you’re one of the odd few who have actually purposefully gotten a ticket in Forks – in which case, don’t worry about it.  I’ve heard through the local grapevine a few Twilight nuts have done just that… Charlie and his friendly copstache don’t actually live in the area.  Just sayin’.  ;-}

 

Forest above 3rd Beach

Beautiful coastal forest on the hike down to 3rd Beach in La Push. Gorgeous beach!

 

Since I’d neglected to fill up my water bottle before leaving the hotel, I needed to remedy the situation.  And what better place to stop for water and breakfast than The Three Rivers Resort.  We meet again… I was in the mood for a home-style breakfast with possibly a bit of biscuit and gravy action – And that’s exactly what I got!  Complete with Pyrex plate and no-frills presentation, I felt like I was sitting in my grandma’s kitchen or something.  (A compliment of the highest form)  I also had the eavesdropping privilege of catching up on the local gossip being exchanged between the staff.  Seems there are quite a few people “living off the grid” in the area… Interesting…

Biscuits & Gravy

Pyrex plated, stick-to-your-ribs goodness! The Biscuits & Gravy at The Three Rivers Resort.

 

Filled with enough biscuits and gravy to fuel the entire day, I continued on to the next destination.  Since I’d already driven up US-101 on my way into the area, I decided to get back on WA-113 and follow it along the coast and back into Port Angeles.  Along the way, I stopped at The Old Mill Trading Post, located in the 110 Business Park at the junction of WA-110 and US-101.  It’s a very unique market featuring antiques, Native American art and collectibles with a very nice staff.  I picked up some pretty groovy diner-style salt-n-pepper shakers and a cool restaurant mixing bowl.  Certainly not items I’d planned to obtain in Forks, but you just never know what you’re going to find – and where.

A query for the town of Forks:  Why is there no ‘Forks of July’ celebration?  You have a big parade and celebration for the Fourth of July every year – why not customize it a bit?

With my newly acquired salt-n-pepper shakers in tow, I continued on towards WA-113.  It was at this point in the morning it really began to snow.  In Forks.  I was feeling speculative of how things would look around the Burnt Mountain area, but decided to take the WA-113 turnoff regardless.  As I drove along the road, gaining elevation, it got snowier and snowier with not a soul around.  It was a beautiful scene, but since I was alone, my phone had no reception, one of my arms wasn’t in full form and NO ONE was on the road, I made the decision to turn around.  I really wanted to drive along the coast, but had no idea what the road would bring on the way back through the mountains to Port Angeles.  Perhaps I’ll revisit my back roads plan in the summer months…

Back on US-101, it continued to snow.  A lot.  There were people sliding out, people driving who really shouldn’t be driving in the snow and errant recreational vehicles backing up the single lane stretches of highway.  Gah!  I kept thinking it would let up as I got closer towards Port Angeles, but it in fact continued to snow almost all the way back to Kingston.  I do love the snow and am normally fairly cool with driving in it, but must admit to not being a big fan on this particular day.  Nor was my elbow.  But onward we trekked – me and KC Sporty Spice (AKA my 2011 KIA Sportage) on the snowy road to dooooooom.  The stretch of road along Lake Crescent was particularly beautiful in the snow.  Be sure to check out the Lake Crescent Lodge in the summer months.  A truly beautiful and historic lodge set in the amazing Olympic National Park.

I’d been planning on taking a late lunch break in Port Angeles, but due to the continued snow and a desire to not get stuck in snowstorm traffic, I kept going.  I’ve traveled through Port Angeles many times and find it a charming area, as well as a great place to use as a base of operations for close-by mountain adventures and gateway to Canada.  (Ferries depart daily from the International ferry terminal – Check out Victoria BC!  Drive up to the beautiful Hurricane Ridge area.  The area features limited skiing in the winter and you’ll feel like you’re in THE SOUND OF MUSIC if you visit in the summer.) The downtown area of Port Angeles is very quaint and hosts several good dining options.  (Local eateries to try:  Cornerbox Restaurant & Cocktails,  SoHo Asian Bistro, Jasmine Bistro, Chestnut Cottage Restaurant, Michael’s Divine, La Belle Creperie, New Day Café)

 

Hurricane Ridge

Doe, a deer… Scenic Hurricane Ridge as seen in the summer months.

 

Heading back towards Kingston, I passed through the scenic area of Sequim – home to sunshine and expansive lavender fields.  (It’s the lavender capitol of North America, in fact!)  Considering how close Sequim is to the ocean and the rainier climes of Forks and the Olympic National rain forest, the area is surprisingly sunny.  It’s an absolutely beautiful area to drive through and there are many scenic back roads to check out.  For dining in the Sequim area, try the Alder Wood Bistro, The Dockside Grill at the Marina or Nourish.  And if you feel the need to stop and play a few slots or a bit of poker, check out the 7 Cedars Casino just outside of Sequim on the way towards Kingston.  The complex also hosts a very nicely stocked deli/grocery store/gas station (The Longhouse Market) with great additions to a local hiking adventure or beyond.

Just before getting back to Kingston and onto the welcoming decks of the Kingston/ Edmonds ferry, I drove through the ridiculously adorable town of Port Gamble.  This tiny hamlet, nestled on the shores of Hood Canal, is simply lovely.  White picket fences, beautifully preserved clapboard houses, charming antique stores and coffee shops all make it well worth a stop.  There is also a very nice outdoor market during the summer weekends.  However, as it was early spring and it was still snowing, I sadly did not get to enjoy Port Gamble’s charms on this particular day. 

That said, just as I rounded the bend out of Port Gamble, the snow finally began to subside.  And as I rolled into the ferry line – after learning I’d just missed the ferry to Edmonds – the familiar spring rain began to fall.  Welcome home!

And with that, I shall bid you adieu.  Hopefully with lovely visions of Clallam County dancing in your head…

I’m thinking perhaps a little Whatcom County action might be in order…

Cheers!

I Ate the State – Clallam County Edition

Greetings!

As previously mentioned, I recently made tracks to the Clallam County area of Washington State.  Accompanied by a recovering broken elbow and freakish spring weather, I trekked through the wilds of one of Washington’s more remote – and beautiful – counties.  It is truly one of my very favorite areas of the state.  Join me for a few of the highlights. 

3rd Beach - La Push

The clouds part at 3rd Beach in La Push.

 

I almost didn’t even head out on this particular adventure.  My elbow was still feeling dicey and I’d completely drug my feet in securing a hotel – just couldn’t decide whether to go for one or two nights.  I was planning on hitting up the Quileute Oceanside Resort in La Push, but was dismayed to find no availability on their website.  However, since human contact sometimes beats tech in the Rochambeau of hotel procurement, I decided to call directly and double-check.  Score one for human contact!  Granted, they had a minimum two-night stay which explained the online denial, but as I really had nothing else planned but sitting around the house and kvetching about my elbow, I decided to go for it.

Which meant that in order to actually get any benefit from a two-night stay, I needed to pack like the wind. (To be free again – ‘cause I’ve got such a long way to go… name that tune!)  And even though I whipped together my gear in near record time AND blazed through my trip to the grocery store, I still just missed the Edmonds/Kingston ferry.  Gah!  Although, as the grocery store trip ended up providing an invaluable source of supplies during my journey, I suppose it all worked out for the best.  Plus, it allowed me to experience a very unique ‘tree-worship’ performance while parked in the ferry line.  I don’t really know exactly what was going on there, but that guy really loved that tree… (In a relatively non-intimate way.  Come on.)  At any rate, he seemed pretty happy about life, so more power to him.

Once finally aboard the ferry, I headed to the upper decks to enjoy the ride.  (Albeit short – only about a 30 minute ride to Kingston.  If you haven’t yet enjoyed the WA State Ferry system, I highly recommend it.  It’s the largest ferry system in the country – and third largest in the world!)  As I’d been racing around like a maniac (ala Flashdance) trying to make the ferry, I’d neglected to grab any breakfast.  Or, based on the amount of time I’d spent waiting in the ferry line, any lunch… Due to this fact and the accompanying sudden urge to eat my shoe, I decided to head over to the ferry galley to check out the food options.  Since I was embarking on a foodie adventure, I was a bit reluctant to begin the trip with snack bar options.  However, since my shoe was (bad pun alert) gaining traction as a possible food source, I caved and grabbed a corn dog and cup of chowder instead.  And I’m not gonna lie – I enjoyed that meal as much as the tree-lovin’ guy enjoyed his tree.  (In a relatively non-intimate way.  Come on.)

After appreciating my “meal” and the view of the lovely Puget Sound, I returned to my car to prepare for the offload in Kingston.  (A very cute port town – and good to check out during long ferry waits.)  While driving off the ferry and continuing on towards my destination, I noticed the GPS was displaying my car as if it were actually a boat – and continued to do so for at least the next 10 minutes.  Who knew the KIA Sportage was so versatile!  Also incorrectly displayed on my GPS was the time display – I think it had me driving/sailing through the East China Sea or something.  :-}  However, after a bit of fiddling and my car eventually deciding on its own we were no longer navigating the seas, the time righted itself and I noticed just how far behind schedule I actually was.  The hotel check-in deadline was 8pm and as it was already after 4pm and I still needed to make it through rush-hour and all the way up to the peninsula, I needed to move it!

I’ll just fast-forward through what was generally a very windy, rainy, poorly visible race against time and announce my arrival to the hotel check-in as being 8:02pm. BAM!  (They were just closing and humored my tardiness…) And it would’ve been a few minutes before 8pm had it not been for the haphazardly loaded, slow-mo pickup truck I got stuck behind around Lake Crescent.  Yeah.  (Take US 101 North towards Forks and turn off onto WA-110 – La Push Road.  Follow signs into La Push.)

To say La Push is a small community is an understatement; but this is a huge part of the area’s allure. I’ve been coming to this area for years to escape the city and get lost on the beach.  (Which I might add, are lovely and full of sand – contrary to the popular image of rocky Washington beaches.)  It’s also incredibly windblown, remote and lacking in cell service.  (La Push is located directly on the Pacific Ocean, at the mouth of the Quileute River and is home to the Quileute tribe.)  But again, that’s much of its charm. (“What?  You called me two days ago??  Well, good golly – SO sorry I missed you!  I didn’t have any cell service…”) That said, being a small, remote community isn’t terribly conducive to late night dining options.  However, I’d learned the local store/deli/gas station was open until 9pm, so I quickly threw my stuff into my room and raced over to hopefully grab some dinner.  Following below is the majesty that was my dinner:

 

Dinner!

A taste sensation! But pretty good for 9pm in La Push. (especially after traveling all day)

 

After enjoying my Michelin Star-worthy fare, I poured another glass of wine and headed out onto the deck….

Deep sigh… Beautiful!!!  Such a sublime, clear night… I grabbed a deck chair, propped my feet up on the railing and enjoyed a bit of wine.  It had been windy and rainy on the way up, but all of a sudden the clouds had parted and the sky was a pristine, star-filled wonder.  Even though I’ve experienced many a rainy day in the Forks/La Push area, I’ve been equally privy to its gorgeous, blue-sky filled days – And clear-skied nights like this one.  And with no interfering light from the city and the stretching expanse of ocean providing a backdrop, it’s a truly breathtaking thing to behold.  I really don’t know how long I sat out there enjoying the scene… Well, okay – maybe I do.  I think it had something to do with when my glass of wine ran out. (But I did grab another. Whew! And promptly resumed my deck watch. Crisis averted.)

Other than the stunning location and close proximity to the many beautiful hikes and beachcombing opportunities of the area, I can’t honestly say I’d stay in the hotel portion of the resort again.  They also have cabins and I’m interested in further investigating, but regardless of the hotel being clean, sporting a decent kitchen and an amazing view of the ocean, it was insanely NOISY.  (Especially considering the no phone, no Internet, no TV appeal) I could pretty much hear every footstep from every surrounding room – including the room below mine.  Every flush of the toilet, every coughing fit from the dude next door and every scream of the inconsolable child a couple doors down…  There was also a kid who felt the need – with the unfortunate blessing of his parents – to run up and down the stairs and back and forth on the walkway in front of the room doors.  Wow.  Louder than Stompy McStomperson who lives upstairs from me in my apartment building – and that’s saying something.  (Stompy McStomperson!!   /raises fist)

The next morning, the clouds had returned, but this didn’t hamper the surfer scene.  Anyone who doesn’t think there are surf opportunities on the rugged Washington coastline clearly hasn’t been to La Push.  Granted, full-body wetsuits are much less a suggestion than requirement for the water temperatures of the area, but that doesn’t seem to hamper the enthusiasm for catching waves.  And there are some pretty nice ones depending on time of day and weather conditions.  I did have to brave the incredibly bold seagull who’d camped out on my deck railing – and wouldn’t leave – but it was a nice start to the day to drink my coffee (thankfully one of my staples purchased beforehand) and check out the surf.

After determining that the one restaurant in La Push was apparently closed down, I got my gear together for the day and drove back towards Forks.  I’d been thinking about heading up towards the Neah Bay area and seeking out the northwesternmost tip of the contiguous United States, Cape Flattery. (Also the oldest, permanently named feature in Washington State, circa 1778 – named by British explorer, James Cook.)  Knowing that I was heading into a very under-populated area, not to mention it being the tourist off-season, I decided to stop and grab a local area map and extra water/supplies in case my GPS was plotting a return to the East China Sea.

On that note, I ended up at the Three Rivers Resort for said supplies – and a delicious, old-skool burger lunch to boot.  WITH TOTS!  (And fry sauce!) I’ve stopped at the Three Rivers Resort several times during my area visits and they’ve never disappointed.  They serve good, classic burgers and sandwiches with great shakes, pie and other assorted diner treats.  The staff is always friendly and it’s a great jumping off point for many area hikes, beach adventures, fishing and drives.

 

Delicious burger!

Lunch at the Three Rivers Resort near La Push

 

With a belly full of tots, I continued back towards Forks and US 101 North.  After gassing up and ensuring I did indeed have all the supplies I might need if stuck out in the middle of nowhere, I drove east on 101 towards the Neah Bay turnoff.  (WA-113 – Burnt Mountain Road) At this point in the day, it started to full-on SNOW.  In Forks.  Home of rain-by-the-bucket.  K  Luckily, my car does quite well in the snow and onward I went.  (However, my wonky elbow really wasn’t excited about the prospect of needing to be fully present during the drive.  It would’ve been much happier lounging listlessly at my side.)

The drive along WA-113 is beautiful.  It’s winding, incredibly scenic and very, very quiet.  Sooooo very alone out there… And sure enough, between the overhanging trees and general remoteness of the road, my GPS was a bit challenged.  It should also be mentioned that cell service is very much out of the question.  Grab a map, take supplies and maybe bring someone along who might know a thing or two about cars.  You just never know… And regardless of time of year, make sure your vehicle can handle snow, heavy rain, freakishly strong gusts of wind, etc.  Also keep a lookout for the most awesomely named highway in the state… Pysht Highway – Also known as Pysht River Road.  It leads, of course, to the awesomely named, tiny community of Pysht.  Even though the area is quite lovely, I can’t help but drive down that road feeling smug and generally disgruntled – it’s in the name!  Throw in a few slow head shakes for full, disgruntled effect…

On my way to Neah Bay, I passed through a couple of small coastal communities along the way. (WA-113 will hook up with WA-112)  While although I was rolling through during the off-season, there were still a couple places here and there that were open.  There’s a small strip-mallish area as you drive into Clallam Bay and there was a cute little restaurant open in Sekiu. (Check out By the Bay Café – nice diner with good diner fare.)  There is definitely a lot more activity going on in the summer / early fall months, but there are places to visit during the offseason as well.

HELPFUL TIP:  If you’re fond of using real deal, fully functional restroom facilities, I’d like to heartily suggest you do your business in Forks before heading out.  Just trust me.  Sure, there’s plenty of forest along the road to Neah Bay, but it’s a less than desirable scenario on a snowy day, for instance.  Ladies in particular, please take heed.  There is, however, a public restroom (daylight hours only) in Clallam Bay.  Please also note there’s an actual state correctional facility in the area – so don’t get any ideas of a late night potty break-in…

There is also no shortage of wildlife along these back roads, year-round.  I saw a very large herd of Elk along with two, GIANT eagles.  (Actually, I spotted many more than two, but I saw this particular duo sitting side by side on an outcropping of rocks, just taking in the sea.  AMAZING!)  Drive carefully on these roads. There is much wildlife, many errant branches blown about, rocks, potential washouts and crazy turns in the road.  You never know when you mind round the corner and come up against a 7-point elk…

 

The Eagles (not the band)

Eagle buddies checking out the sea. (they look small in the pic, but they were huge!)

 

After navigating the windy coastal drive to Neah Bay, (located in the Makah Reservation) I took a little time to investigate the town.  Again, as it was the offseason, there wasn’t a lot of action, but Neah Bay is definitely the largest settlement in the area.  There are a few dining options, a grocery/hardware/outdoor supply store, a gas station and a nice museum run by the Makah tribe.  Check out Linda’s Wood Fired Kitchen or the Warm House for good local fare.

Just out of Neah Bay, you’ll find the road leading to Cape Flattery – follow the signs to ‘Cape Flattery and Beaches.’  (Stop at Washburn’s General Store in Neah Bay to grab the necessary recreation pass for the Cape Flattery area.)  If you happen to be in the area during or just after a storm, be prepared for the GAUNTLET OF DOWNED TREES (Oh nooooooos!) you’ll need to navigate on the way to the Cape Flattery trailhead.  It’s a nicely paved and maintained road, but there were some serious fallen trees and strewn branches accompanying me on my drive.  Yowsa! 

Cape Flattery

Beautiful part of the trail to Cape Flattery

 

The hike to Cape Flattery is fairly accessible and well maintained, but does get slippery/muddy during the wet months.  And if, for instance, you happen to be nursing a broken elbow and decide to make the trek ANYway, be extra careful through the muddy sections right before you reach the point.  (I was doing so well!  Until about 100 yards before my destination… Bah!)  There are so many amazing vistas and lookouts as you get closer to the point.  Be sure to check out the amazing coves, rock formation and PIRATE CAVES on either side of the trail.  (Maybe there weren’t ever pirates in those caves, but there should’ve been.  Or maybe I’ve just seen Goonies too many times…) The view from the actual point of Cape Flattery is amazing and while although you can’t actually step out to the true northwesternmost tip of the United States, it’s still pretty fun to check out.  The lighthouse-hosting island just off the point of Cape Flattery is Tatoosh Island.  (NOTE: Binoculars are a great addition to the Cape Flattery experience.)

Cape Flattery

Check it out – The northwesternmost tip of the contiguous United States!

Cape Flattery

So many beautiful coves and caves in the Cape Flattery area.

After a somewhat successful afternoon of hiking (my elbow disagrees), I made the windy return trek back towards Forks, where I decided to stop for dinner before returning to La Push.  I’ve tried several of the dining options in Forks over the years, but I decided to go with something new that night.  And why not Chinese?  I will admit to not expecting much, but was pleasantly surprised by the food and service and now stand corrected.  I stopped by the Golden Gate and had a very nice meal, complete with steamed dumplings, orange chicken and steamed rice.  And considering the dinner I’d had the night before, it was DELICIOUS!  I’d certainly return the next time I’m in the area.  Forks isn’t exactly a culinary hotbed, but there are a few classic options to enjoy.  Other Forks restaurants to check out:  Sully’s Drive-in,  Forks Coffee Shop,  The Hard Rain CaféForks Outfitters (Grocery/Hardware/Outdoor supplies)

With that, I bring this portion of my Clallam County adventure to a close.  I still have more areas and more cuisine to cover, but as this entry is getting fairly long, I’ll save it for my next entry.

Until next time… Cheers!

 

I Ate the State – Mount Rainier Edition

Greetings!

I hope this finds you happily ensconced in the (slowly) unfolding spring.  Hmmm… The word ensconced makes me think of scones… Scones are delicious!  Especially with fresh, clotted cream and strawberry preserves… Great.  Now I want a scone.

ANYhoozen – On to other food-related topics…

With this entry, I’d planned on featuring Clallam County, located in the uppermost western tip of Washington State.  I’d also planned on posting it much sooner, but due to a surly and unexpected encounter with a gas pump hose, I ended up with a broken elbow and a couple months recovery.  Granted, I lucked out and needed only a sling, but it was a bit awkward at the keyboard for many weeks.  I will indeed carry on with the Clallam County plan, but want to add in my notes from a recent sojourn to the area.

In the meantime, I bring you tales from another favorite part of the state… Mount Rainier National Park – and its surrounding areas.  (Located in Pierce County and Lewis County – double whammy!)

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Mount Rainier as seen from the Paradise side.

My love affair with Mt. Rainier National Park has been going strong for quite some time.  Since first viewing it atop Raven’s Roost lookout on childhood camping trips and seeing it standing guard over the city while visiting Seattle on family vacations, I’ve been in love with ‘The Mountain.’ (As it’s affectionately referred to in the greater Seattle area)  So enamored, in fact, I spent many a summer working at both the Sunrise and Paradise lodges along with occasionally volunteering with the National Park Service working on trails, fire look-out, etc.  Some of my very fondest memories have taken place in the shadow of The Mountain…

If you’re on the hunt for food within the park, I can offer no better suggestion than to pack a picnic and hike off into the never-ending beauty of the area.  (Tolmie Peak, Spray Park, Grand Park, Glacier Basin, Camp Muir, Van Trump Trail and Narada Falls are just a few lovely options.  (*Always pack the “10 Essentials”, check road status before you go, let someone know your destination, stay on the trail and make sure you have the proper permits if you’ll be camping or climbing. Safety first!)  However, if you’re on a road trip and would like to enjoy the area’s culinary offerings via wheels, allow me to suggest the following destinations:

SUNRISE area (SR 410, SR 123, SR 165 for Carbon River/Mowich)

If you’re heading from the eastern part of the state, you’ll be coming up SR 410 from Yakima.  A great stop coming or going is one I’ve highlighted previously, Whistlin’ Jack Lodge.  It’s located directly alongside 410 – you can’t miss it!  Check out my feature on this locale – it’s one of my very favorite places!

If you happen to be venturing from the west, you’ll inevitably hook up to SR 410 in Enumclaw.  (‘The Claw’)  Always a great place to fuel up and grab snacks, check out Enumclaw’s growing restaurant scene as well.  (The Mint, The Pie Goddess andRendezvous Wine & Brew are a few great options.)  Located in Buckley, just before you get to Enumclaw is the turnoff for State Route 165 which will take you to the park’s Carbon River entrance.  (Mowich Lake and Spray Park are beautiful!  No services are offered in this area, but it’s a lesser visited part of the park and completely worth a visit.  BRING BUG SPRAY!)

After you pass through The Claw, you’ll eventually find yourself driving through the very small community of Greenwater.  Don’t blink, you’ll miss it!  (NOTE: This is the last point to get gas on 410.  There is NO fuel available within the park and the next spot to gas up on 410 is over Chinook Pass at… Whistlin’ Jack Lodge! Where apparently all paths lead to in this entry.)  While although small, Greenwater is definitely worth a stop – if only to make sure you don’t run out of gas further down the road!  The Naches Tavern is a decent place to pop in for a cold drink and burger – especially after a long day of hiking or skiing.  Wapiti Woolies is a great place to stop for a beautiful, hand-knit ski hat or a nice cup of coffee. (Seriously – they have great hats!)

Heading further east on 410, you’ll see the turnoff to Crystal Mountain Ski Resort on your left, just before you officially enter Mount Rainier National Park.  Crystal Mountain is one of my favorite places to ski and they offer great hiking, mountain biking and sightseeing in the summer as well.  They have several dining options during the winter and a pretty kickass taco truck which I believe now sits near the base lodge on a regular basis during the ski season.  Even if you don’t ski, take the gondola up to theSummit House for a breathtaking view of Mt. Rainier and surrounding areas.  They also host great ‘Sunset Dinners’ at the Summit House in the summer months.  (Book ahead!)

After entering the park, travel along 410 for a few miles until you come to the Mather Memorial Parkway marker.  At this point you can continue east on 410 towards WHISTLIN’ JACK LODGE or towards the west side of Mount Rainier via Cayuse Pass (SR 123) OR – take a right onto the Sunrise access road and head up to Sunrise Lodge.  (Highest drivable point in the park at 6400’ – many car commercials have been filmed on this road over the years – it’s a spectacular, 17-mile twister!)

Sunrise Lodge is a day lodge and offers basic sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs and snack bar fare.  As I mentioned, I spent many a summer working in the park, much of that time at Sunrise Lodge.  (Actually living upstairs in the lodge – great fun!)  We always used to joke that with the rise of elevation came the rise of prices. Seriously – how can a 6 oz. can of juice cost $20?? Okay, I may be slightly exaggerating the $20 price tag, but I won’t lie – you’ll pay a lot more in the park restaurants and gift shops for basic items.  Regardless, I love Sunrise Lodge.  I could write a book based solely on my excellent and ridiculous adventures experienced during my tenure – it occupies a very important and indelible place of importance in my heart.  It was built nearly 100 years ago and remains a bastion of rustic elegance in an otherwise undeveloped part of the park and state.  And even though chilled beer wasn’t around on the mountain 100 years ago and one from the snack bar will likely set you back your kid’s college fund, it’s well worth it after a couple hours exploring the area trails.

There are many amazing hikes that take off from the Sunrise area, some shorter and perfect for family outings and some perfect for a few days away from civilization.  Check out the Northern Loop for a glorious, 3-day backpacking getaway.  If there happens to be a full moon, head up to Second Burroughs at dusk, locate the stone “couch” and sit back and watch the “movie.”  (There’s no actual movie, but the view from the stone couch puts you smack in front of the massive amazingness of Mount Rainier – it’s your own, personal IMAX experience.)  Just settle in and watch the magic as the night unfolds over the snowy majesty… The full moon only adds to the magic. (A thermos filled with Baileys and coffee is also a nice addition.)  Sunrise is also an amazing place to check out the yearly Perseids meteor shower.

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Wildflowers in the Paradise meadows.

LONGMIRE/PARADISE area (SR 123, US 12, WA 167, WA 161, SR 706)

If you’re interested in visiting the side of the park opposite Sunrise, there are several available routes.  Take US 12 past Yakima if you’re coming from the east, SR 123 in the summer if you’re coming over from Sunrise or any number of routes from the Seattle/Tacoma area that will connect you to SR 706. (Always check ahead for seasonal road restrictions and updates.)

There are many great places to eat along the way, but since it’s such a large area to cover, I’ll focus on the places closer to the park entrance on the Paradise side.  (Nisqually entrance)

As you come up SR 706, you’ll pass through a couple areas with good food options.  One of the first ‘towns’ you’ll encounter will be, Elbe.  Home to the ridiculously quaint,Elbe Historic Church and the Mt. Rainier Scenic Railroad, it is also host to my local favorite,Scaleburgers.  During the busy summer season, you might have a little wait as it’s a small (really small!) place with a small kitchen. (Really, really small!)  However, the classic burgers, onion rings and shakes are worth it.  YUM!  (Check out previous posts to gain more perspective on my love of the old-skool burger joint…)

A few miles past Elbe, you’ll find the slightly larger community of Ashford.  Check out historic Whittaker’s Bunkhouse for one of many services.  It’s a motel, café, guide service and shop – and then some!  It’s also owned and operated by mountaineering legend,Lou Whittaker.  Improve your Mount Rainier pedigree by stopping in for a visit.  It’s incredibly charming, well-run and a part of local culture and history.  Also in the area is the Highlander, if you’re looking for good bar food and a bit of local color. Alexander’s Country Inn is also a lovely place to stop for the night and they serve a wonderful, fresh-caught trout dinner.  It is definitely one of the more elegant destinations in the area.  (NOTE:  Ashford is the last place to gas up before entering the park.)

Just before you enter the park, don’t miss the Copper Creek Inn on the left of SR 706.  Everything I’ve tried there has been very tasty, but I can’t say enough about the homemade bread and blackberry pie.  It has a very cozy, relaxing vibe and is a great destination in and of itself.  (They also have many well-appointed cabins nearby – well worth investigating.)

Once you’ve passed through the Nisqually entrance into the park, your dining options become reduced.  However, somewhat inflated pricing aside, it can still be an enjoyable affair.  The National Park Inn restaurant, located in theLongmire area is the first dining option you’ll encounter within the park.  Featuring rustic architecture and a respite-worthy front porch, it also hosts lodging, a gift shop and nearby is a museum featuring park history.  (Housed in the original park headquarters)  It’s also a great jump-off point for winter show shoeing and cross-country ski adventures.

The next and final destination on the beautiful and windy mountain road will be Paradise Inn.  Built in 1916, it is truly a gem in the crown of ‘National Park Service Rustic’ design and architecture.  The main, Paradise Inn Dining Room features breakfast, lunch and dinner and highlights great NW fare such as salmon, crab cakes and all things blackberry.  Check out the Sunday brunch for more classic NW dishes.  The lodge is open seasonally from mid-May through early October.  Reservations are recommended for the dining room and lodging options fill quickly every year.  There are also snack bar and café offerings in the Paradise area housed in both the Paradise Inn and the Jackson Visitors Center.  The café and snack bars also offer trail lunches to accompany you while viewing the amazing vistas, wildflowers, wildlife and towering slopes of the mountain.  Beautiful!

And with that, I bring to an end my foray into the travel and culinary offerings of the Mount Rainier National Park area.  I hate to admit it, but I’ve really only touched on a small portion of what the park and surrounding areas have to offer.  I’ve been exploring the area since childhood and still don’t feel like I’ve scratched the surface – but will certainly keep trying.  And on the note of scratching – Seriously – BRING BUG SPRAY!  (In the summer months, at least 😉

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My travel buddy, Eli – First visit to Mount Rainier/Paradise.

Until next time… Cheers!

I Ate the State – Kirkland, WA

Greetings and salivations!

Hitting much closer to home, this entry will highlight the Deru Market in Kirkland, Washington.  Tucked back into a cozy neighborhood off of NE 85th Street in Kirkland, you might start to question if you’ve taken a wrong turn as you drive further into the residential area.  Ignore your instincts to turn around and keep going towards the end of the street – and there it is! 

Upon receiving a glowing review and recommendation from a coworker, I was excited to make a visit. Not only do they have in-house café dining (just added this fall!), they also offer full-service catering and cooking classes.  As I regularly plan events as part of my day job, I’m always looking for quality local restaurants to support.  I can honestly say I was hooked after my first visit and now that I’ve gone back a few times and have also used their catering services, I’m looking forward to a long and delicious partnership.

On my first visit, they hadn’t yet added their indoor dining area so I made my order to go.  Right away I was drawn in by the delicious smells coming from the kitchen.  Then as now, the kitchen area is viewable to the public and I was happy to play foodie voyeur as I waited for my order.  I surmised that some of the amazing smells must be coming from the large, brick pizza oven perched just inside the kitchen.  I’m sure the large trays of handmade focaccia cooling on the counters were also contributing to the mouthwatering aroma.  The more I breathed in, the harder the wait became.

While anticipating the tastes these smells would accompany, I had the chance to scope out the kitchen layout and design.  It’s a large, open area with high ceilings and several long, artistically arranged counters and tabletops.  While although the staff was abuzz with activity, the well-organized, open feel of the kitchen lent an unexpected sense of tranquility to the scene.  It was also great to see the two co-owner/chefs personally preparing the dishes.  Chefs Jamie Cassady and Jordan Cooper are graduates of the prestigious Culinary Institute of America in New York and it certainly shows in the manner in which they present themselves in the kitchen.  Alas, if I had only half of their knife skills, my kitchen would be a much more productive place indeed…

As I admired the kitchen scene, I was also drawn to the well-stocked deli-case and counter at the front of the shop.  Loaded with rustic salads and stacked with freshly made bakery goods on the counter, I desperately searched for a justification to try each and every one of them.  And then it dawned on me… Catering! I vowed if I made it out of the shop with only my lunch order, they’d be hearing from me the very next time I was in need of a caterer.  (And a happy ending it was!  I only ordered enough for one that day, but did indeed get to try SO much more when I procured their catering services a few weeks later. I win!  And as I received rave reviews from the recipients of said catering, I’d say everyone was a winner!)

 

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Smoked brisket on house-made focaccia.

 

Of the delicious Deru Market items I’ve tried, here are a few of my favorites:

  • Smoked Brisket Sandwich (w/Beecher’s cheddar, arugula and aioli) – Tender, melt-in-your-mouth brisket on house-made focaccia.  I would eat this sandwich every day if I could.  Come to think of it, why can’t I??  (Except on Sunday. They’re closed Sundays. Sigh…)
  • Sardine & Herb Pesto Sandwich (w/aioli, arugula, lemon and pickled red onion) – Not made with the canned, oily sardine variety, this sandwich features delicate fillets on house-made focaccia.  The creaminess of the aioli with the bitterness of the arugula and tang of the onion is a perfect mix of flavors.
  • Kale Caesar Salad – Fresh baby kale with house-made anchovy vinaigrette and Parmesan.  Simple and delicious.
  • Celeriac Soup – This wasn’t on the menu the last time I went in and I hope they bring it back soon!  A satisfying blend of cream and comfort, but still very light and refreshing.
  • Marinated Beet Salad (w/pistachio, goat cheese and frissee) – Perfectly marinated beets tossed with frissee and pistachio encrusted dollops of goat cheese.  SO good!
  • Orzo & Cauliflower Pesto Salad – Orzo pasta tossed with pesto, walnuts, garlic, lemon and Parmesan. This salad is a wonderful side, but could easily stand on its own as a main dish.
  • Salted Peanut Butter Cookie – All of their baked goods have been delicious, but I have a special place in my heart for their salted peanut butter cookies. 
  • Any of their coffee drinks (w/house-made syrups!) – Did I mention they make their own syrups??
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I was able to snap one more photo before diving into the sandwich… It was a difficult task, indeed. 

There are several other items I could list, but at the risk of typing out their entire menu, I’ll leave some of that list for you to explore on your own.  You won’t be sorry.  But if you happen to grab the last brisket sandwich or salted peanut butter cookie, I’ll be comin’ for ya… To very politely ask you for a bite, of course. 

 

Deru Market

723 9th Ave – Norkirk Neighborhood

Kirkland, WA 98033

(425) 298-0268

 

M-F:  11am – 9pm

Sat:  9am – 9pm

Sun:  Closed

 

 

Next up:  Kalaloch / La Push / Forks

 

 

Happy New Year!!