I saw a commercial for the Bounce Dryer Bar. The woman in the ad was over-worked and over-wrought and then she had to do laundry! When it came time to do that horrid chore of throwing in a dryer sheet she smiled…she didn’t have to do all that extra work! What a relief! She happily proclaimed ‘it’s one less thing to worry about!’and I thought HOLY CRAP! I never realized what a huge burden and chore putting in the dryer sheet was! I would LOVE to have one less thing to worry about! I immediately went online to see what this magical stress reliever was all about and to make sure it was environmentally friendly (after all, fewer dryer sheets in the dump is probably good) and alas, they add perfume to it. I get enough headaches without that, so until they come up with an unscented version I am doomed to a stressed life of dryer sheet chores. sigh. A life free from stress was SO CLOSE!

Last weekend Mark and I got away for a whole 18 hours (including travel time) and spent an evening with old friends. My friend Melanie turned 50 and I have known her since she was 30 so this was a big deal. Her party was up north in Skagit County on Chuckanut Drive so we used miles to get a room at the Best Western (for the 8 hours we would be there) and had ourselves a time. There were about 40 of us at the restaurant (we had a private room) to celebrate her life and times and we had us some FUN! There was a slide show up of pictures of Melanie throughout her life along with many of the friends and family that she loves. I enjoyed seeing pictures of her mom, who passed away nearly 8 years ago. Mark enjoyed seeing pictures of me and my perms back then… I always did want curly hair! Mel is all grey now and we were all much older versions of those pictures, and I had not seen most of those folks for a very long time, so hugs and laughter were the game of the night.

Her lovely wife Brenda had appointed another friend to emcee a ‘story time’ and he had us all stand up together. He asked ‘who here has known Melanie for less than 4 years? You may sit down’. He went on to have people sit as they had known her for less than 6 years, 8, 10, 15, and 19. There were only 3 of us left standing: Beth, Mark and me. Beth has known her nearly 24 years so she won, and she went first. I had chosen only 2 Mel stories to tell and as I was sitting down I heard others shouting out ‘tell the one about…’ and so I stood up and told a couple more. We were laughing so much I think the room could have lifted off and flown with all that levity! Melanie loves good food as much as I do and this was one of the few times in our lives together that the food was not very important to the event. We were at one of her all time favorite restaurants (Chuckanut Manor) and there was an abundance of food, but we were all more interested in the visiting. The service, by the way, was phenomenal. Two women worked the room and we were never without a drink, a water refill, or whatever else we desired, in spite of the close quarters and colorful crowd. They were really great!

We were up and out of the hotel early so we could get back and put out some Mother’s Day quiche and other orders that we had for the day and it was a really great, busy day. Business has been picking up and I am so grateful for that! Thank goodness our customers are so great and I am beginning to realize that they love us for who we are and what we have to offer, and they don’t seem to want or need very many special deals. We have been putting them out there (and we make them really good!) and very few folks actually take advantage of them. Maybe the just like knowing that the deals are available… whatever it is, our family of customers is the most loyal and great bunch out there and we are extremely lucky to have them. I may be waxing a bit, and that is probably due to our pending anniversary. Four years at the cafe becomes official on May 20th! Every successful day that passes is a celebration and four years is a great big deal! It is very exciting.

For our own Mother’s Day my parents came over Saturday night and we grilled some pork ribs and steak, along with some bok choy and a baguette from the Loaf and Round truck. I was so happy to remember where they would be as I was running errands on Saturday and my timing was great! I have fallen in love with their baguettes and I cannot live without them. I also stopped at Colello’s Produce stand to pick some things up and it is really a nice place! They assure me that they are reaching out to local farmers to bring in as much local stuff as they can, which will be fantastic once we are in the growing season! It was about this time that I was yelling at the radio announcer for the Sounders. He needs to move to LA! And I digress… So anyway, we grilled it all up, I tossed a raw asparagus salad together and we had some lovely Cab from Eliseo Silva and enjoyed a great candle-lit dinner. Then we all went into the living room and bowled 10 frames. I bowled a record high! Mom and dad played 3 holes of golf and we watched Mark in a boxing match. Oh, did I mention that we used our Costco rebate to get a WII? It is so fun! And since it was sort of free I love it even more! It was a great way to spend an evening for sure.

The next day we went out to Mark’s parents to spend the afternoon with his family. Travis mentioned that he probably won’t be coming to stay and work with us this summer, which did not surprise me too much. We will miss him like crazy and I hope he will spend at least a couple of days with us just for fun, but he is 16 now and so we may lose him for a few years. It is still my only regret in life that I allowed my last job to keep me from being more involved in his early years, so I don’t intend to miss anything else if I can help it. I know that as he gets older he will come back around and meanwhile we will encourage him to live a great life and have lots of fun! He is one very smart kid (all the Downen men are, he is just the first to start finding his potential at such a young age) and he is running, so in great shape, and I bet they will be beating the girls off of him if it hasn’t started already. His mom told me that they will let us know when his track meets start up again so we can get out to one, and I can’t wait to root him on!

So the week has flown past (again) and the Hama Hama Day Trip is so close! I am so excited to be able to do this, because it is so like the things we do in Italy and I have wanted to share that with the folks here since we started the Italy trip. This is the first in what I hope is a series of food & wine extravaganza farm visits and it is already a success! The next one is in the planning stages and it will be at a different place yet still tons of fun. I promised the staff that it would be on a Sunday so that they can come too, they are all totally bummed that they can’t come out with us and enjoy this day. Besides, it is always more fun when the girls are with us! I am trying to decide if I should make the entire batch of Oyster Bisque with the day trippers, or if I should just do a small pot and have the rest done. It is so easy to do, I am leaning towards the whole pot, but if anything goes wrong (I am cooking on a camp stove after all!) then we are down an entree. Not that there won’t be enough food mind you… we shall see.

For the recipe today I am offering up my brother-in-law Don’s SweetTart Cucumber Salad. He made it at the last family reunion and I fell in love with it!

2 1/2 cup rice vinegar
1/2 Cup granulated sugar
15 medium cucumbers , sliced, salted, and drained (see directions)
2 medium red onion , sliced very thin
2 small jalapeño chiles , seeded and minced (or more, to taste)

To prepare the cucumbers: Peel, halve lengthwise, and scoop seeds from cucumbers using a spoon. Stack halves flat side down; slice diagonally 1/4-inch thick. Toss with 1 tablespoon salt in strainer or colander set over bowl; Drain for at least 1 hour, and up to 3 hours. Transfer to medium bowl; reserve for further use.

1. Bring vinegar to boil in small nonreactive saucepan over medium heat. Stir in sugar to dissolve; reduce heat and simmer 15 minutes. Cool to room temperature.

2. Meanwhile, mix cucumbers, onions, and jalapeños in medium bowl. Pour dressing over cucumber mixture; toss to coat. Serve chilled.

The longer this one marinates the better it is!