Friday, January 29, 2010

Always Fresh, Always Good

The website for Volunteer Park Cafe can be found at It's an easy one to remember because the food at VPC is always fresh and definitely always good.

Until last night, I'd only visited for lunch. January proved to be a good time to try out dinner, as the cafe was offering a three course menu for $30 in celebration of their third anniversary. Fittingly, we went as a group of three - Lewissa, Michael, and I - and together shared one of the most enjoyable meals I've had this winter.

VPC doesn't do fancy food. At least, not fancy by urban restaurant standards, although I realize that to some the fact that wild boar bolognese appears on the menu takes the food out of the realm of the everyday. But ultimately, the food is just good. Really good. Twirl the homemade pasta onto your fork and just revel in the flavors, food doesn't get much more satisfying than this.

Michael and Lewissa each ordered the bolognese mentioned above, while I got the vegetarian offering, a fantastic dish of pappardelle tossed in a light coating of creamy, tangy sauce tasting richly of cheese. Salads were tossed to perfection, and dessert almost stole the show. Tender bread pudding that melted in the mouth, a concoction of hot chocolate sauce, soft chocolate cake, and whipped cream they call "muck muck", and - almost surprisingly the piece de resistance - a pear and ginger crisp. With just the right amount of ginger, it was a winning combination.

I always feel like I'm walking on clouds after a meal there. Sure, it can be crowded around mid-day on the weekends, but I've never had a bad experience here, never a bite that wasn't delicious, never a server that just didn't care. And the homey atmosphere with window seats and throw pillows but without the tablecloths and overly styled decor make me want to stay for hours. So yes, I may sound a little overly enthusiastic, but Volunteer Park Cafe is always fresh, always good, and pretty much what I've always wanted in a restaurant.

Tuesday, January 26, 2010

Lazy Hazy Days

My mind, it is mush. I've spent the last few evenings at home on the sofa with Michael, watching DVDs. In the morning, I feel listless, unable to keep sleeping, yet not eager to rise. What causes such lethargy? Clouds may still hang overhead, but the sun does occasionally push through, and when I head home from work at five, the heavens are not yet cobalt in hue, much less black.

Still, it must be the winter blues, at least in part. Fortunately, Saturday was a nice reprieve, and I made the most of it by working in the front yard and taking Lucy on a long walk along the Burke. Sunday was "date night"; Michael and I followed an early dinner at the Tin Table with the live production of Xanadu at the Paramount (it's our favorite campy 1980 cheese fest). We finished with dessert at Dilettante. If a big bowl of salted caramel ice cream topped with molten truffle sauce and studded with shards of dark chocolate praline doesn't chase away the doldrums, what will?

Or perhaps it's the letdown after the guide summit. Ever busy at work, it's still not the same without people speaking in foreign accents around every corner, and your employer's blessing to live it up each night in the name of getting to know one another. The fact is, I'm getting a little home-sick again. Yes, that's sick of home, not sick for home. The combination of winter weather with no travel plans clearly visible on the horizon is a bit difficult for me.

But I shall persevere! Spring is around the corner, and I just need to find some projects to keep me well occupied in the meantime. Perhaps some more volunteer work? I've sadly gotten out of the habit of that lately. New adventures are ahead, and I'll be back, hopefully with a new story to tell.

Saturday, January 16, 2010

I'm Sooo Tide

There's a blues song I love where a man and a woman are having a conversation with each other about the woman's state of being.

"I am tired," she drawls.

"Mmm-hmm," the man agrees. "How you spell that?"

"T-I, D-E, tide," she shoots back.

And tonight, I am T-I, D-E tide. After working more than 11 hours, most of them on my feet, at our "Test Drive a Tour Guide" event, I want nothing more than to be lazy tonight. With about 80 guides from Europe visiting Edmonds for a week, I've spent the past two evenings in extended happy hours after work, but tonight opted for the peace and comfort of my own home. Of course, I had to wear my heeled boots today, leaving my feet screaming even as I sit here at my desk. Bad decision. Bad, bad decision.

But tomorrow I have the day off - well, from work and happy hours at least. Except for the fact that I do have to make a dessert for the staff and guide potluck on Monday night. Which will be followed by the tour member prospects and guide mixer on Tuesday night. Hmm...

Aw, I'm not really complaining. Guide summit happens but once a year, and happy hours are called "happy" for a reason. Tide though I may be, I'm still smiling.

Thursday, January 14, 2010

Two on the Road

Jane and Michael Stern are my road food heros. Understandably, considering they wrote the book Road Food, as well as many others, including Two for the Road, a book full of hilarious tales from their times on the road that Michael and I read out loud to each other in the fall of 2008 on our own California road trip.

So, when I heard the couple was coming to town for a talk at Benaroya, I convinced Michael we should go; hilarious as they are in writing, I was sure it could only be better in person.

I was right. We spent almost an hour and a half laughing along with crazy anecdotes and learning about how their food and writing experience evolved. The only problem was, not quite an hour and a half was not quite enough. We could tell Jane and Michael had more to say, and there was little time time to answer questions from the audience before they were whisked off the stage. Boo.

Afterwards, Michael (my own Michael) and I were in the mood for food, but I admit our choice was hardly a Road Food kind of destination. The dessert menu at Poppy on Capitol Hill was calling; I'd been longing to try a dessert thali there for a long time, and this was the perfect excuse. On a Tuesday night just after nine, it was easy to find a parking spot and a spot to sit in the bar. The happy hour offerings led us to each pick a fancy schmancy cocktail, but I was really here for the food. The food held up its end of the bargain; it was really there for me, too.

The concept of the dessert thali is a great one: for $15, choose one dessert off the menu and one ice cream. You'll receive your choices on a small platter accompanied by five other mini desserts, perfectly paired for two to share. Mmmm...

The highlight was our main dessert, the "herbed apple deep dish with bay leaf ice cream". Amazing. Underneath a cracklingly crsip pastry crust studded with turbinado sugar crystals were squares of perfectly cooked apple, soft cubes with just enough bite and nary a mushy piece to be found. We twirled the small sccop of bay leaf ice cream over the crust, letting it melt against the hot pastry, making each bite a combination of hot and cool, the faint herby quality of the cold ice cream providing balancing out the sweet, hot apples. Heavenly.

Not that the rest was anything to complain of. Passion fruit gelees were flavorful, semi-sweet and semi-sour, the taste of the fruit shining through. Nutter butter squares combined a creamy peanut butter frosting with a crunchy, nutty bar. Best of all the small bites, though, were the salted chocolate caramel truffles. Nothing more than a thin slice of chocolate dusted with cocoa, these packed big flavor. The chocolate melted elegantly on the tounge, a perfect balance of dark chocolate, deep caramel, and a hint of salt.

It may not be as exciting as getting rear-ended by a truck with a couple dozen jars of homemade barbeque sauce in the back of your Suburban (yes, this happened to ther Sterns, not us), but our night out was still an experience.

Saturday, January 9, 2010

So Happy Together

I love long days at home that make me feel productive, both in work and socially. In a society where it feels that people often move too quickly and substitute online tweets for lengthy conversations, it feels good to busy myself in the kitchen, making chocolate cream pie, washing the dishes, and even wiping down the floors, all with the expectation for an afternoon of company.

Two friends, complete with two baby daughters, made it out for a casual lunch and visit. Nothing special was on the menu, other than the aforementioned chocolate cream pie, but is there a better way to spend an afternoon than together with friends? Ultimately, what you do matters so little when compared with the value of time spent with each other.

And now it's back to work, preparing for tonight's dinner. But I don't mind. In fact, I'm looking forward to it.

Friday, January 8, 2010

These Boots Were Made for Walking

The best purchase I made in 2009? Rubber boots! Thanks to rubber boots, my feet stayed dry both heading to and from work in what proved to be a very wet bus commute. Rubber boots, you're the best!

And second best? Thanks, black button-up $25 cardigan from H&M. I wear you almost every day and your button-up collar even keeps my neck protected in the cold. It's like having a scarf without having to carry it around. Plus, you go with everything, over shirts and under coats.

It's friends like these that make the winter commute bearable.

Sunday, January 3, 2010

The Beauty of Everyday Objects

While it seems we are always looking ahead to future home projects, and my head always hs a couple of decorating ideas percolating in the background, sometimes it takes a long, long time for these ideas to come to fruition. Finally, with a free afternoon today, I took some time to take photos in the hopes of picking some to display in our dining area. While my theme for these photos has changed somewhat over the years since the idea first sprouted, I think I have my final four picked out from this afternoon's shoot. Plus, I already have the frames and mats, which have been sitting in a closet for about a year. It looks like I may have even found a high quality photo shop to reproduce my first ever digital prints. And here they are:

I like to play with macro, can you tell? And I love my Nikon DSLR!

Saturday, January 2, 2010

New Year Tidings

So. The blog posts, they be a-slow comin'. And I, well, I be a-pretty slow movin' myself at the moment. After the bustle of Christmas, which involved a three day trek to Oregon including two family gatherings, skiing for the first time since college, and a stop off to see Michael's sister's family at her in-law's in Vancouver, I hit the New Year feeling a little under the weather. Is it the flu? Do I just have some unidentifiable stomach pain? I'm not sure, and I rather feel too tired to care.

Still, we rang in the New Year successfully a small group of friends and plenty of Greek food. In fact, we still have plenty of Greek food, so if you'd like some pita, tzatziki, or melitzanosalata, come on over! Tonight I'm baking the last of the spanakopita.

Lucy, the dog, decided that, rather than ringing in the New Year, she would pee in the New Year. On our downstairs sofa. While sitting next to me. Happy New Year! To be fair, I should say that it was not so much that she "decided" to pee at the stroke of midnight, but rather that all the tooting horns and the sound of Michael shooting off confetti poppers with abandon caused an involuntary urinary reaction. Oops. As this has not happened previously, I concluded that in other years she must not have joined us downstairs for the big event. Next year we will be more cautious. Our dog continued to shake in abject fear for about half an hour, so I'm sure she'll be grateful for the distance.

So, happy New Year everyone! May it be a good one, free from want and and the unwanted (like dog pee). What more could we want in 2010?