Sunday, August 30, 2009

Fair Food and Fainting Goats

"I wish we lived in Wallingford," Michael mused.

"Yeah, but if we lived here we'd probably get fat," was my response.

Case in point: We had just bought a chocolate mint cupcake at Trophy - for later, naturally, because we'd just shared three scoops of gelato from the Fainting Goat, a new gelateria that has joined the conspiracy to make Wallingford a center for sweetness. The verdict on the Fainting Goat: the mango sorbetto is excellent, the peanut butter (yes, peanut butter gelato) and the coconut very good, but perhaps not the best we'd ever had.

"It's hard," said Michael. "I really judge a gelato place by their coconut; it's my favorite."

"Yes, but you can't beat that mango!"

"True, that was amazing."

At least we'd been responsible adults and eaten our lunch before our dessert. Joule was having the last of their "urban barbecue" Sundays for the summer, so we stopped in to try their take on fair food. As always, food at Joule comes with a twist. Michael tried a homemade hot dog topped artfully with shoestrings of pickled white cabbage, while I went the healthy route with "Farmers Market in a Cone", which turned out to be a paper cone stuffed with a variety of heirloom veggies served alongside a tasty dipping sauce. Maybe it seems silly, but I don't know when I've had so much fun eating a salad. Pulling out mustard greens, a skinny radish, an albino carrot, and an Anaheim pepper and dipping them in the mystery sauce allowed me to snack on my salad the way I always secretly want to - with my hands rather than a fork. Actually, in the privacy of my own home I will often roll up salad leaves and pop them straight into my mouth; it seems much less fussy than stabbing them with a utensil, only to find that half of what you wanted didn't even end up on the fork.

We also split an order of cheese curds, a collection of precious cubes of fluffy farm cheese lightly battered and appetizingly golden, scented with truffle oil. Rather than the heavy, tastes-so-good-but-you-know-they've-got-to-be-so-bad cheese curds I've had before, these ones tasted suspiciously... healthful. OK, healthful would be an exaggeration, but they had none of the oozy melting qualities of the typical fried curd. I can't say I really minded once I dug in, however. Cheese is cheese, after all, and I am a fan of all kinds.

And yet, I am already feeling a little hungry again. And that cupcake is just sitting upstairs.... so lonely. Yes, I think a little snack may be in order. We may not live there, but at least we can bring a little Wallingford home when we want it.

Monday, August 24, 2009

A Golden Afternoon

This year's barbecue at Golden Gardens was, like last year, a small gathering. Still, we managed to light the charcoal grill without the use of lighter fluid or a chimney starter, and the evening bonfire provided a good opportunity for s'mores. All in all, it was a pleasant afternoon on the beach, but a sad reminder that summer will soon end.

Discovering Magnolia

It's funny how you can live some place for ten years, and yet still find a part of town that feels wholly new and undiscovered. On Saturday, inspired by the chance to try what Seattle Weekly recently claimed was the best malted milkshake in town, combined with the opportunity to take Lucy out on a much needed walk through the woods, Michael and I headed to Magnolia for the first time in years. How many years? There is no conclusive evidence, but I'm going to guess it's been seven or eight.

After surviving grueling traffic on Denny (I will not take that route again if I can help it), we headed over the bridge and wound our way into "downtown" Magnolia, when I realized... I'd never been here before. At least, as far as I could remember. It was as though I'd left Seattle behind and stumbled upon some idyllic little town with classic car shows (there actually was one going on), Snoqualmie ice cream instead of Molly Moon, and tree lined streets with little traffic. Welcome to Our Town! Really, it was unexpectedly charming. Michael and I split a luscious "Mukilteo Mud" malted shake from Cocoa & Cream, which I thought was perfect, but he declared needed more malt.

We then headed to Discovery Park, which, although we had been before, still felt like a discovery after so many years away. On the 2.8 mile loop trail we walked through dark maple forests and sun bleached meadows, finding new views across the Puget Sound and even stumbling across a string quintet playing Appalachian style folk music in the grass.

"This is like a mini-vacation," I told Michael. "And in our own city!"

Heading home, we were back in familiar territory before long, heading across the Ballard Bridge and then Holman Road. It had been a nice break while it lasted. But I don't know if I'll go back soon; sometimes, a little distance makes it that much more special.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Music at the Mural

Seattle Center's Mural Amphitheater is misnamed - behind the stage, you'll find a large mosaic, not a mural. But, as my friend and I agreed, "Mosaic Amphitheater" sounds kind of pretentious. Mural Amphitheater somehow doesn't, which is fitting for a stage that has hosted the likes of Mudhoney and other Seattle bands over the years. Once upon a time these free summer concerts were called the "Pain in the Grass" shows. Now, as local radio station KEXP is trying to revive them, they're simply called "Concerts at the Mural".

It's a great setting for an outdoor show. A grassy lawn slopes down towards the stage, behind which the Space Needle towers, offering the chance to watch the elevators glide up and down its spine like golden beetles. That is, if you can take your eyes off the people - an outdoor concert is prime people watching territory, ranging from kids chasing after soap bubbles to the guy in the blue shirt who never sits down or stops hammering his fist to the music, even during the slow songs. Most of the crowd sits nowadays, which I initially find pleasant, but after a few hours, you do feel kind of a pain in your, well, you know.

Last night Johnny and the Moon, the Moondoggies, and the Fruit Bats took to the stage. Liz took a liking to Johnny and the Moon, and everyone seemed to get just a little more into the Fruit Bats (you can tell when a few more heads pick up that slight nod to the beat, and when a small crowd actually gathers in front of the stage - a very small crowd in this case, but still). As the evening grew to a close and the sun began to set, the Fruit Bats played the best known of their old songs, "When You Love Somebody", with many in the audience happily humming along. Happy to listen to the music, happy for the sunshine, and happy that the weekend was just beginning.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Pizza on the Grill - It's What's for Dinner!

Once the Cook's Illustrated Guide to Grilling and Barbecue arrived last week - only about five weeks after I placed my order directly with the company, mind you; let this be a lesson that can be a beautiful thing - the first recipe that really caught Michael's and my eye was that of grilled pizza. We had first attempted grilled pizza the night before the book arrived, a spur of the moment decision using pre-made dough from Trader Joe's (something I had never, ever done before). But sliding the pizzas off of the peel and onto the grill proved a definite challenge, and the pizzas were a bit soppy.

According to Cook's Illustrated, you can fix both of these problems by grilling one side of the dough before topping the pizzas. This allows you to flip the pizzas onto the grill using your hands rather than the ineffective peel, and you simply put your toppings on the grilled side before placing the pizzas back over the coals to grill the underside of the dough (this time homemade)and heat up the toppings.

Ahhh, heating up the toppings! Since there were six adults at dinner, I had the brilliant idea that we should grill one side of all the pizzas first, then we could each load up some tomatoes, cheese, and such and toss (or rather, gently place) them back on the grill and be done with it. The catch? Since by this time the pizza rounds were already cold from having been off the heat so long, we had a hard time heating the toppings thoroughly. When topped immediately after coming off the flame, the toppings have the advantage of warm bread to start the cooking before they even hit the grill. But we're learning! This is why you experiment; next time, it will be better.

But even now, these pizzas were pretty darn good. Grilled pizza should be a summer staple.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Washington Whirlwind

A month or so ago, I got the inspired idea that we should visit Washington State's two most famous national parks - that would be Mount Rainier and Olympic - while Leonie, our German "exchange student" (actually a seventeen-year-old friend of a friend from Wiesbaden who stayed with us for ten days during her summer vacation) was visiting. After all, no visit to Washington would be complete without taking in some of the natural beauty and grandeur of our mountains, forests, beaches, and lakes. The catch was that we really only had two days in which to do this.

Now, I am here today to tell you that this can be done. With better planning, in fact, it could be done much more efficiently than our two day road trip bonanza turned out. This is not to say that we didn't enjoy ourselves, but after getting a late start and not leaving the house until 11am on Saturday morning, due partly to the fact that our entire household stayed up until 12:30 the night before locked into a game of Settlers that Michael had gleefully instigated, we were pretty much two hours behind schedule for the next two days.

First up: Mount Rainier. What better time than August, right? The wildflowers are in bloom, and the meadows at Paradise live up to their name. But as we left Seattle the blue sky turned to mostly cloudy, and the fog started in earnest right around the elevation of Paradise. After a four mile round trip hike to view Comet Falls looking mysteriously disembodied in the mist, we made our way up the road, where Leonie commented that it was hard to see even the trees ahead of us, let alone the giant mountain that was supposedly just beyond.

A late trip to Rainier led to a late arrival in Shelton, where I whipped up dinner for six at my friend Rebecca and her husband Chris's place in town rather than meet up with everyone at the Hartstine Island cabin as was the original plan. Heading out late once again, Michael, Leonie, and I made it to the cabin in time for a slightly earlier bedtime than the previous night, but not by much. At 10am the next morning, with just enough time for Leonie to observe the emaciated starfish that crowd the waterline at low tide, we were back on the road.

Just before two, we made it to our first official destination, Ruby Beach. Incredibly, the weather at Ruby made up for the disappointment at Rainier, with warm sun shining down above the trees that clung for dear life on the cliffs edging the shore, and piles of driftwood creating the perfect picnic spot from which to sit and watch the waves. We could have spent all afternoon exploring the nooks and crannies of the windswept rock formations, but after an hour we were on our way again, with so much more to see ahead.

Or so we thought. After making a decision to bypass the rain forest due to time constraints ("On a day like this, we can't miss Hurricane Ridge," I asserted. "It'll be more than worth it."), we drove on to Lake Crescent, stopping to marvel at the clear blue water and forested hills that plunged straight to the shore. It was also at Lake Crescent that we learned the fateful news: the road to Hurricane Ridge was closed, owing to an unforeseen landslide. Oh. Well, there's the rub. I guess we could have stopped by the rain forest after all.

But all was not lost. We decided to do a quick stop in Port Angeles, which gave Michael enough time to sneak away and buy a Butterfinger blizzard ("We don't have Dairy Queen in Seattle!" was his not unreasonable excuse). Driving into Kingston at about 7:15, we were making pretty good time, when I saw the sign; there was a two hour wait for the ferry to Edmonds, and we were stuck in line on the highway. Perfect.

But, as it turns out, it was perfect. After about fifteen minutes, the line moved and we were able to park the car in the ferry lanes at the port, get out, and treat ourselves to ice cream cones. Not only that, but we even made it on the ferry in only an hour, not the dreaded two hours as had been warned, and for the first time in her ten day visit Leonie was able to see not only the elusive Mount Rainier, but the stunning silhouette of the Olympic Range, back lit by a sunset that filled the sky with bands of pink that deepened and grew as the ferry sped across the Puget Sound. No trip across the water could have hoped for a more amazing display.

Not much later we were sitting, exhausted, back in Lake City, poring over the menu at Thai One On. A little Thai food hit the spot before going home to unpack and say our goodbyes to Leonie, who took the Greyhound back to Vancouver today before her flight back to Germany tomorrow. We hope she enjoyed her time in Seattle, and maybe even the whirlwind Washington tour despite the lengthy time in the car. And hey, now she can tell her friends, who've all seen Twilight, that she's seen Forks and it really is as boring as anything. But hopefully Seattle was a little more fun, and the bright spots in our weekend getaway made all the driving worth it.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Little Blog Lost

Poor, poor Rutabagastories, I have been neglecting you so. Which is why I've decided to write a short, yet hopefully sweet, post, just to keep my blog from feeling like such a little lost lamb.

As usual, a lack of writing means I've been rather busy. And perhaps just a little lazy. What with many house guests, including the lovely Leonie from Germany, and adjusting to Michael's new daytime work schedule (yes! the husband has joined the ranks of the living and now sleeps at night, everyone!), I've managed to stay fairly active. And some may know how I love to play tour guide, especially when food is involved. Getting to introduce a German girl to her first taste of Japanese food tonight at Toyoda Sushi was quite a treat. A great sushi chef with a sense of humor and a habit of throwing us little treats on the house makes for a fun night out, indeed.

Sadly, it's past time for bed, now that I rise at 6:30am, an hour later than previously. So long, farewell, I promise not to forget you, my little Rutabagastories.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

Summer Sun and Summer Sniffles

This last week did not go exactly as planned. After a busy weekend that began with very little sleep on Friday night (not for any wild and crazy reason - I was simply volunteering overnight at the young adult shelter), I found myself with a sore throat on Monday, and more or less fully sick on Tuesday. Ah, colds! Isn't winter supposed to be the season for them? I must say I'd rather that were the case, as staying home with a cold, yet without air conditioning, during Seattle's hottest heat wave ever was not particularly pleasant. It was nice to be back at work in the land of AC on Thursday, but unfortunately my stuffy sinuses and cough still linger.

Still, we managed a little fun in the sun before the my being confined to the cooler climes of our basement for the week. On Sunday, some of our loosely named "young adults" group from church biked out to the Redhook Brewery in Woodinville, while on Monday evening Michael, Leslie, Amy V, and I enjoyed the substantially less sweaty activity of lying on the grass at Lakeside School, listening to the sounds of Haydn, Brahms, and Bartok as the Seattle Chamber Music Society broadcast their live performance for the benefit of listeners on the lawn.

And now July has ended. August begins in full force with an outdoor wedding tonight, and in the meantime I struggle to find the energy to take Lucy on a walk this afternoon. A little summer sun, I can handle, but summer sniffles, well, that's one thing I won't miss when fall comes around.