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Getting out of the country, eh?

HOLY CRAP A DOE JUST WALKED THROUGH OUR YARD! We have lived here over 10 years and never had a deer here because all the neighbors can’t manage to keep their animals put, so there are many dogs roaming our unfenced acre+. It JUST happened as I was sitting down to write this! A couple of weeks ago Mark said he saw a doe in the driveway, but he didn’t get a good look and I didn’t see it at all. How cool is that! (Yes, I am easily entertained..)

We always close the cafe on the 4th and 5th of July, as business is down to nothing those days and it gives the staff (and us if we don’t take catering) a nice weekend off. Mark and I decided not to work it, as we have been working a ton lately, and since I HATE the noisy war zone (there is a CANNON in Olalla! Seriously! And they shoot firearms as well as bombs going off all night long into the wee hours…) that our area becomes. So we left the country for a couple of days. Doesn’t that sound exotic? It was Vancouver, BC, and we had not spent any real time in that city before so we had a fun time. Our first night’s stay was in North Vancouver, at Lonsdale Quay (pronounced ‘key’), where there is a big public market, some of which is in a building and some of which consists of vendors outside. We didn’t end up exploring the area much because we got on the foot ferry and went across to downtown. It is quite the cool setup they have for their commuters and between that and their light rail and buses, I was once again reminded of how our region is at least 50 years behind the times with our public transportation (or lack thereof) and we need to get on it! (that’s a different blog altogether…)

We walked all over the place that evening and we passed some interesting sights. The first store we saw was ‘Cannibus Culture’, which is Marc Emory’s headquarters and storefront. I had a good giggle looking through there, it is the biggest, most amazing head shop I have ever seen! Beautiful hand blown glass items… all out in the open. Mark took some pictures of the whole trip that we will post on Facebook this week if you want to see them, check the cafe page there.(The pictures are HERE now) We were headed to China Town and it was an amazing destination! It is the second largest in North America (San Francisco is largest) and I want to go back and get a tour so we can find out what the items in the herb stores are. I knew some of them from my past experience as an herbal nutritionist, though there were piles and piles of different things that I could never have ID’d. We were pretty hungry so and we were in the area of the ‘meat stores’ (that is how the English language signs read) watching the butchers at work. The windows had all sorts of items hanging in them (all cooked) from duck and chicken to fabulous pork, sausages and so much more. Mark and I ventured into a couple of them just to watch, and in a smaller one we got a small box of goodies to eat as we strolled. I never knew the Chinese did ‘chicharones’, (aka ‘cracklins’ if you are from the South) that is as good as in Mexico…oh yes they do! There was lovely meat left on and the skin was crisp and dark and delicious! We got a few slices of sausage, a couple of chicken wings and a ‘hom bow’ (a steamed bun filled with pork in a sweet sauce) and I was so happy! We window shopped and slowly made our way through the night market, which turned out to be a little more kitch and less authenticity than we had hoped. All in all the experience was a sensory feast and we definitely want to go back with someone who can tell us what things are and maybe help us try things that we didn’t know about. One of the items I am curious about was hanging in the meat shop curing, much like prosciutto in Italy, but it looked like whole chickens! They were splayed out flat and I have no idea how or why and I am fascinated by it. I may just go into Seattle’s ID and see if they have it if I don’t find out soon. If you know please send me an email… I am embarrassed that I know so little about authentic Asian food cultures, but I dare you to go to Italy with me!

We made our way back towards the foot ferry, looking for a place to have a drink, and after a couple of false starts we eventually ended up at a place called Steamworks Brewing. Their beer was really good and the bartender was extremely friendly, in spite of being very busy. He gave us some tips on other places to go and when we finally got back to the room it was 9:15! I think there must have been a time change because although I was tired (I am usually fast asleep by then) it did not feel like 9:15 to me! We checked out the massive ‘super yacht’ that was docked outside our window. It is called ‘Attessa’ and at 225 feet she is unimaginable. That night I dreamed of going aboard and travelling the world in rare style.

We got an early start, had a really crappy breakfast at a place I will not name, and went to our next stop which was the Worldmark in Downtown Vancouver. Although it was early, they allowed us to park so we could wander off for the day. We walked down to the docks and hopped a tiny little boat over to Granville Island, which used to be entirely industrial and now is full of shops, artists, and global crafts. We wandered the island and my favorite stop was at an Artisan Sake Maker that a waitress had told us about earlier. Thankfully! We tasted 5 sakes and only missed the sparkling sake, which I know I would have loved. It is truly amazing how different and complex good sakes are, much like tequila in that there is an aging process and so there are different types (blanco, reposado & anejo in tequila speak) with very different characteristics. We bought a bottle and I am looking forward to enjoying it!

As we were wandering the island I realized that we were as close to the book store that I wanted to visit as we were going to be, so we walked off the island and up about 6 blocks to Barbara Jo’s Books to Cooks. I have known about this magical kingdom for a few years. I read Barbara Jo’s blog, newsletters, and anything else I can find. They often have chef demo’s and all sorts of great sounding events and here I was, finally in the store! Barbara Jo was not there, but copies of her books were, so I bought one that unfortunately was not signed. I had an arm load of books and when I found the 50% off shelves I did put a few back so I could get more of those. I do love a bargain book! I increased my wish list by about 20 (good thing I brought a note pad!) and Mark indulged me in about an hour of browsing and leafing through books about all things food related. It was heavenly! The man at the counter was extra sweet to me as I bubbled on about fun it was for me to be there and gave me a cloth book bag from the store! I was rather giddy as we went back to the island to finish our tour.

Hours later we returned to the Worldmark and were allowed to check in. My parents have timeshare with this company and that is how we got in… the apartment was tiny and fantastic! A kitchen, bedroom eating area and living room with full bath and even a closet with laundry facilities! From our 24th floor nest we had great views and I loved imagining that we lived in the city for a day. We scoured the restaurant listings and while we wanted to hit one recommended place, it was far from where we were, we were tired, and we didn’t want to drive. Had we not walked 4000 miles in the past two days we may have been more up for it, but we wanted some place close so we picked a few spots and headed out. With more than one choice we knew that if we didn’t like our first pick we could have a drink and move on, which is what we intended to do when we walked into the dark, unimpressive bar. It was called Relish Gastropub and Bar. Our waitress (a raven-haired beauty hailing from Ireland) was intent on showing us a nice time and impressed us right away with her excellent service. I wanted her name to be Fiona but apparently her parents chose Jessica instead, which is still very lovely if less exotic for my imagination. We ordered our drinks and agreed to look at a menu, all the time thinking we would not stay. We had already had a couple of crappy meals with mediocre drinks (one really great beer at Steamworks) and we wanted to have a decent meal. Pub burgers were not going to do it for us. Then she brought my drink and the menus. I love Caesars (aka bloody caesar) and in Canada I can get them everywhere! It’s more difficult around here where the thicker Bloody Mary is far more popular. Caesars usually come with a nice garnish of at least olives, often pickled beans or asparagus, less often celery, and of course there are various other things as well. This Caesar was set down in front of me, a tall glass with a celery salted rim, and a celery stick inside. On top of this drink, however, was the finest accoutrement to a Caesar that I have ever seen: a fresh local oyster perched plumply on its shell. Oh my, this was a good sign! My night was looking better already!

We were stunned as we began reading the menu. It started with Cures & Charcuterie alongside Cheese and Oysters. There were small plates, sharing plates and full plates to choose from and every item was gourmet. We knew it would be fantastic because really, why bother producing a menu like this, in a pub environment, if you are not going to execute it perfectly. Perfect it was. We chose several things from the small and sharing plates, starting with a half dozen of those local oysters and I have to say I enjoyed them as much as our own local bivalves. We moved on to a Scotch Egg, which we had never tried before. It is a hard cooked egg wrapped in (house made) sausage, breaded and I believe it was then fried. The crispy outer shell gives way to a taste sensation that we dipped in house made spicy mustard and coated with ‘Branston Pickle’ which is a gourmet relish.

We also chose Gnocchi Poutine. I have never had Poutine, which is normally french fries and cheese curds covered in brown gravy, and after this I can’t believe anything else can be as good. The gnocchi were rather large and sure to be gummy at that size. Not. Even. A. Little. Puffs of gnocchi clouds mixed with cheese curds and served in a balsamic reduction. Another delight was what they named ‘Slambers’. You all know what sliders are, and this was a playful rendition that was better than any silly slider you can find. Including the best sliders ever which are at Pacific Grill in Tacoma. Slambers are braised lamb cheeks served on ‘choux buns’ with mint aioli and grainy dijon mustard. Choux buns are, as you may expect, pate a choux puffs cut in half to make tiny buns. Pate a choux is the same thing that cream puffs and eclairs are made from, so you can imagine that they are a light and airy pastry and the perfect encasement for braised lamb cheeks. I am, by the way, stealing this idea for our catering menu. It is fun and delicious!

There was one more thing that we had and we had ordered all of these items thinking they would be tiny enough that we would share their burger later. Alas we did not get there (the description of their grass-fed beef burger reads: “bacon relish, marrow aioli, aged cheddar”. We must go back for this!) and this next item will explain why. Here is the menu listing: “Duck Fat Steak Frites” served with chow chow, a different kind of relish. These were large potato wedges, very crispy on the outside and creamy in the middle. Fried in duck fat. Ho. Ly. Crap. Seriously. In spite of this writing I am still rather speechless about the entire meal and this place alone is reason enough to go back to Vancouver, even if only for a day. For dessert we skipped the Blueberry Crisp with bacon creme anglaise (it was painful to do!) and instead had another drink. That way I got my oyster for dessert! My mouth is watering at the memory and by the time we left (we lingered for some time over this feast in miniature) we were adopting Jessica and inviting her to come stay with us whenever she could get down our way. We walked the half a block back to the apartment and watched the fireworks on tv. It was well worth it! If you go to Vancouver, go to Relish.

The next morning we packed up and walked a couple of blocks to Joe’s Grill, which the Worldmark receptionist had recommended after hearing my displeasure with my breakfast from the day before. Joe’s is one of those great breakfast finds that everyone should have and we loved it! Fast paced, big plates, really great food made from scratch. Yea, baby! As we walked there we passed “Vera’s Burger Shack” and the tagline read “You can’t beat Vera’s Meat!” so it is on our list for our next visit. We had a lovely weekend and as soon as we got home I read Barbara Jo’s book “Cooking For Me and Sometimes You” and finished it before bed. It was a truly delightful stroll through Paris and it satisfied all my senses.

I am hosting a wine tasting this Friday from 4-6:30 (open house style) and I have some fabulous new wines to show you so I hope you can make it. It’s free, though it would be wonderful if you brought a donation for the food bank. After the tasting we can head south to Rodstol Lane Farm for Music in the Orchard and lounge in the grass together.

So, do you want a recipe today? The produce is really starting to show up at the markets and it is time for lots of fresh, yummy things, especially with the warmer weather. Lori’s favorite pasta is the fresh tomato/almond pesto that I make for Spaghetti. I don’t remember where the original idea came from, though I suspect Lydia Bastianich is to blame, so I am going to print a recipe of hers for you. SO easy, SUPER fresh, and all you cook is the pasta (though you could eat this on rice, chicken, bread, or whatever else you can think of… it is that good! I use toasted almonds in mine (as opposed to pine nuts in a basil style pesto) and I crush them in the food processor first, then add in the rest of the ingredients. Lydia’s sauce is more ‘rustica’ and chopped, less ‘saucy’. Since this is a raw sauce, use the freshest, best ingredients that you can find, along with the best olive oil that you can manage. You will taste it all and you want it to be delicious.

Lydia’s Raw Summer Tomato Sauce

Makes 3 to 4 cups, enough to sauce 1 pound of dry pasta
………………………….
2 pounds ripe summer tomatoes, preferably heirloom varieties in a mix of colors and shapes
3 or 4 plump garlic cloves, peeled
½ teaspoon salt
6 large basil leaves (about 3 tablespoons shredded)
¼ teaspoon dried peperoncino (hot red pepper flakes), or more or less to taste
½ cup extra virgin olive oil
1 cup or more grated Parmigiano-Reggiano or cubed fresh mozzarella (optional)
………………….
These instructions for NOT using a food processor. If you use one, just drop everything in to it and whir it all up!

Cut the tomatoes—cherry tomatoes in half; regular tomatoes into 1-inch chunks and drop them in a bowl.

Smash the garlic cloves with a knife and chop into a fine paste. Scatter the garlic paste and the salt over the tomatoes and stir gently.

Pile up the basil leaves and slice into thin strips (called a chiffonade). Strew these over the tomatoes, then the peperoncino flakes. Pour in the oil, stir, and fold, to coat the tomatoes and distribute the seasonings.

Cover the bowl with plastic wrap and let it marinate at room temperature for 1 to 2 hours. Toss the marinated sauce with freshly cooked and drained pasta. Serve as is, or toss in 1 cup freshly grated Parmigiano-Reggiano. For additional complexity, you could add 1 cup or more cubed fresh mozzarella.

Bring some to the cafe and share it with us!

Ciao for now!