Thursday, August 27, 2009

I bought a huge blue ring...

From N.

I've been attempting to curtail shopping lately, with weddings, bachelorette parties and a trip to Mexico on the docket all within a month or so. I have a list of all the things I "need," i.e. an iphone. But I also don't have a lot of restraint. Exhibit A: the Rachel Leigh gumball ring.

I blame lookrichbitch. She made me realize I wasn't subscribed to the weekly DailyCandy deals. I think it was better when I wasn't subscribed to the weekly DailyCandy deals. I had been musing about buying more dramatic statement rings but I wasn't going to do anything about it until I saw this ring online, at 30 percent off. The gumball came in fun colors like strawberry, grape, cookie (actually a bland brown) and pacific. The discount was not such a fabulous deal, but I was waiting around for the King County elections results (Seattle Mayor Greg Nickels came in a shocking third in the primary) and had a lot of unfocused energy, so I zeroed it in on my checking account.

I had buyer's remorse waiting for it to show up, but now that it's here, I'm quite happy with it. It's big and bold and fun, and will perk up plain dresses and shirts that need a pop of color.

I ate at Moshi Moshi

From K.

Ring-ring, ring-ring.

"Moshi moshi?"

"Hai. K desu!"

"Hai! O genki desuka?"

Yes, I'm definitely genki, or feeling energized. I always feel this way after good Japanese meals. Something about the combo of miso soup, fresh fish, pickles, good rice and something fried just sets me smiling (all that tonkatsu et all is from Portugal's legacy in Japan BTW, but we can forgive them because it tastes so great). My friend KT suggested a trip here after we realized we hadn't shared dinner in ages. Too much training for triathlons and bootcamp make us forget how much fun we can have when we're not working out.

After the typical Ballard parking drama, we met up in a booth along one of the walls and perused the menu. KT went for a bowl of fresh sashimi (chirashi) and I ordered tonkatsu. We split pickles and each got miso soup. I think KT would have appreciated a pictoral sushi guide to better enjoy her dish, though she seemed happy. My tonkatsu came out piping hot, crispy and meaty, with a rich-yet-fruity dipping sauce (made me wonder if they just go ahead and pour Bulldog Brand straight from the bottle?). The pickles ranged from super tasty to bland and spiritless (they need to perfect the eggplant for sure). The miso made my mouth happy, as did the high-quality green tea. We enjoyed all this beneath the glow of their LED pink sakura tree that crowns the restaurant. While MM did not displace the ID's Kaname as my favorite Japanese spot, I shall return (I also love Hiroshi's on Eastlake for nikku udon and curry rice, but I digress :)

Next time I want to explore their drinks menu, as well as their mochi (I wonder if it's from Tokara in Phinney/Greenwood? Or of their own creation?). But this night we headed down the street to Cupcake Royale to try out their new, reformuated cake recipe.

They definitely seemed more moist and less crumbly. But then again, their cupcakes always taste great in store, not as swell by the time you're home (unlike Trophy). Seemed promising though, and I'm happy to experiment some more for the sake of scientific research :)

The deets
Moshi Moshi: 5324 Ballard Ave. N.W., Seattle, 206-971-7424
Cupcake Royale (Ballard): 2052 N.W. Market St., Seattle, 206-782-9557

I made the most of a day trip to Portland

From K.

I've been making the three-hour trek to Portland for years. The reasons abound: Prom dress shopping, family functions, Trailblazer games, conventions, great food, rare books at Powell's. This time was family function/fun. Mom and I piled in her Highlander and hit the road.

First stop: Country Cousin.

If you've stopped in Centralia, Wash., before for gas, you know this place. It's the super kitschy, country-themed restaurant by the outlets that resembles a giant farmhouse. Inside is a gingham-checked wonderland of country decor and some very good pot roast and BLTs. They also serve yak meat cooked up a variety of ways. We saved that for next time.

Second stop: Multnomah Falls

I'm not sure how the heck I've been to Portland dozens of times and never managed to visit this gorgeous spot. It's about a 30 minute drive from downtown toward the Columbia River Gorge. You'll notice the rocks start changing into quirky formations. You'll see it get more woodsy. You'll pass other, smaller waterfalls on your way to Multnomah. Then BAM! There it is, within view of the parking lot. We passed three separate weddings getting photographed with the falls as a backdrop that day. Hiking to a little footbridge mid-falls took us only a few minutes.

A refreshing close-up

The view gazing down from the footbridge! Whoa!

So doable, yet still beautiful. Don't miss it (but wait to buy cheaper and just-as-good soft serve at Dairy Queen en route to home I-5, or stop at a Burgerville for a blackberry shake (yum!) OR head to our third stop!

Third stop: Voodoo Doughnuts

Don't you just wanna sink your teeth into it?

I'd heard about this place from a several friends now, where they lay strips of bacon atop their maple bars, craft doughnuts to resemble unmentionables for bacheloette partie and even create voodoo doll-esque doughnuts complete with pretzel sticks for pinning (they're also open 24 hours, which makes for great people watching).

We waited in line with all manner of Portland humanity for about half an hour, then realized we had only $5 cash (beware, they're a cash-only joint). Thankfully, that was enough to get us two creations: The aforesaid maple bar and a chocolate ring (Mom likes to keep things simple). We couldn't even buy milk. But the doughnuts lived up to their promise: Fresh, fragrant, not too sweet, not too simple, good texture in dough and frosting, goooooood flavor. Next time I will bring J. to have a Grape Ape doughnut.

The deets
Country Cousin: 1054 Harrison Ave., Centralia, Wash. (360) 736-2200
Multnomah Falls
Voodoo Doughnut: 22 S.W. Third Ave. in Portland. 503-241-4704

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

I found a good way to use zucchini...

From N.

I don't garden, so an abundance of zucchini isn't an issue, but last week I took on everyone else's zucchini stress. I have read so many food stories about creative ways to use up zucchini from overflowing gardens that I got really worried when a friend bestowed a beautiful one from her garden.

I usually like to chop it up and put it into veggie enchiladas, but I wasn't in the mood. So I read every zucchini recipe I could find. In my scanning of a million zucchini recipes, I found one in Gourmet's cookbook for zucchini and portobello pizza with Robiola cheese and truffle oil. It sounded promising.

I couldn't find robiola cheese which is described as custardy, and substituted taleggio cheese, which is rich, creamy and slightly stinky (my favorite kind.) The recipe is simple. Clean out the gills from two portobello mushroom caps and dice along with one zucchini. Toss with salt and pepper. (And chopped chives if you have it.) Stretch out dough on baking sheet or pizza stone, drizzle olive oil on dough, spread the vegetables in a thick layer, and then add cheese. Bake at 450 until the crust is golden. Drizzle white truffle oil if you have it.

I was afraid the vegetables wouldn't cook in the short time in the oven, but they were tender, and with the creamy cheese and delectable truffle oil was quite perfect. I don't always make recipes again, but this one is going into the rotation. I've included my favorite pizza dough recipe from Gourmet below. (Tip: make it the night before and let it rise overnight in the fridge.)

Pizza Dough
Combine 1 tbl. flour with 1/4 c. warm water and one packet yeast. Wait until top looks creamy, about five minutes. Add to 1 1/4 c. flour, 2 tsp. olive oil, 2 tsp. salt, 1/2 c. warm water. Mix until combined. It will be very wet, add another 1/2 c. flour. Knead on floured board for eight minutes until elastic and smooth. Put back in floured bowl, add flour to top, cover with plastic wrap tucked around dough, let rise for 1 1/4 hour in warm place, or overnight in the fridge. Let warm before using. Stretch out on oiled baking sheet. Bake at 450 until golden, about 10-15 minutes.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

I snagged the last camping spot in Leavenworth...

From N.
I haven't totally given up on backpacking, but it's easy to think of all the reasons to avoid it: bear bags, 40-pound packs, simple food that's maybe even freeze-dried, less prep and repacking of bags. Wine weighs a lot.

By comparison, car camping is total luxury. Although I'm pretty bare bones compared to the RVs that roll around with full set-ups including tables, canopies with mosquito netting and grills. Here's my tent.

Backpacking gets you deep into the wilderness, but car camping still gets you two to three hours closer to amazing hikes. This past weekend, my friend L. and I headed to Leavenworth, the uber kitschy Bavarian town set in stunning scenery two and a half hours from Seattle. We were there to get a taste of the Alpine Lakes that are the entryway to the popular Enchantments, which is, you know, overrun with backpackers.

My friends and I are always last-minute about camping. We tend to drive someplace, cross our fingers and look for camp sites. I think Leavenworth has more rock climbers and families camping than any place in the state. Seriously. We drove through four full campgrounds on Icicle Creek Road before a guy waved us down at Ida Creek, the very last campground on the road. He told us to wait for the people clearing out of spot 5. If that site wasn't open, I'm not sure what we would have done. Possibly panic.

We set up my tent, then took a stroll along Icicle Creek, exerting ourselves just enough to tell ourselves we deserved our hamburger dinner. But first, L. set us up with an adorable oilcloth tablecloth on the picnic table and even lit colorful citronella tea candles to try and dissuade the bugs. It didn't work on the bees.

While she got the fire going, I made hamburgers on my camp stove. There ain't no hamburgers when you backpack. I seasoned the patties with salt and pepper, then pan-fried them on my stove. Our patties were cradled in buttered, grilled brioche buns lathered with mustard and then topped with melted cheddar, lettuce, tomatoes from L.'s garden and sliced crunchy pickles. Hamburgers are awesome anywhere, but they are unspeakably awesome in the woods. We ate it along with a delicious potato salad with olive oil and herbs L. made and Caesar salad from a bag. We finished off the night with dark chocolate wafers and some Maker's Mark in front of a fire. Car camping totally wins.

The next day, we sprinted past the backpackers with our featherlight daypacks on the 4.5-mile trail to Lake Stuart at the foot of Mount Stuart. The moderate trail is gorgeous, winding along a creek in a dappled forest before opening up to alpine vistas. We ended with lunch by the lake. It was quite perfect.

The backpackers are headed past these peaks into the Enchantments. So I'm maybe, slightly, just a little bit jealous. I could probably be convinced to do it. Sigh. Maybe backpacking wins.

Wednesday, August 19, 2009

I relaxed to The Dodos at Seattle Center...

From N.

KEXP has been hosting free concerts at Seattle Center at the Mural every Friday and it's the perfect way to check out bands and wind down from the week. Sometimes it's local acts like hip hop dynamos Dyme Def. Last week was opener Army Navy and main act The Dodos.

I've been to a couple, but it was the first time I arrived early enough to see the opener. I have a weird weakness for nasally indie rock with poppy hooks (see The Rural Alberta Advantage), so I naturally loved Army Navy. They had a great, confident presence and the show made me want to listen more closely to their music.

The Dodos were the stars of the show, and I also loved their quirky, creative music, including what I thought was a xylophone, but was actually a vibraphone (I had to look it up.) The vibraphonist played with mallets, but partway through pulled out what looked like a cello bow and coaxed out wistful, haunting sounds from his instrument. Some people describe them as folky, and they sort of verge on folkish, but they're really much more abstract. I was mesmerized by their show.

This Friday is the Fruit Bats and opener the Moondoggies, with doors at 5 p.m. and the show at 6 p.m. Think about passing an evening sitting on the grass in the beer garden (until security rousts you vertical because of overcrowding), drink a cheap beer and check out some creative people at work.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

I made the easiest dinner ever

From K.

Hubby J and I were exhausted last night despite it only being Wednesday. After our record-setting sunny summer here in Seattle I fear I have become solar activated, and energetic only when the yellow orb hangs in the sky. This could be a problem come winter, and even now on this rainy week.

I decided last night we needed some sunshine, even if we had to eat it. Pasta is a great go-to on weary days, so I hit Metropolitan Market for some of my favorite Cucina Fresca pasta (few ingredients, good taste), fresh corn and heirloom tomatoes. I don't think I've ever spent $8 on tomatoes before!

Some of the beauts

Took 10 minutes to pull it all together. Boil water, drop in the husked corn and lower to a simmer with lid on for five minutes. Boil water, drop in pasta, cook for four minutes. Dice those luscious tomatoes, drop into heated pan with a swirl of extra-virgin olive oil and sautee with some salt and pepper. Assemble. Eat. Enjoy.

Real tomatoes are filled with sunshine. And soon, so were we.

Wednesday, August 12, 2009

I stuffed myself at Kingfish Cafe...

From N.

It was a fried chicken, ribs and mac and cheese kind of weekend. That's what happens when you eat at Kingfish Cafe. There's no way around having the biggest, heaviest meal imaginable and loving every bite.

Kingfish is legendary, at least among people I know. It's one of Seattle's few Southern spots, and wins the award for biggest portions in Seattle, including massive slices of cake. But I have never indulged in dessert because by the time I've gotten through a plate of food, I can barely waddle out, let alone consider red velvet.

A couple of friends recently moved from New York to Seattle into an adorable Jolly Rancher house a few blocks from the 19th Avenue business district on Capitol Hill. Kingfish is their neighborhood spot. I hope they are prepared to join a gym.

Kingfish always has a wait, so we started off at the bar. After spending some time in the South, I am a fan of sweet tea and I also have an out-of-character weakness for sugary coffee drinks, but I am strict when it comes to my cocktails. I like them balanced and tart and I like to taste the alcohol. Southern or no, unbearably sweet cocktails are just wrong. And my mint julep ($9) was all kinds of wrong. I could barely detect the Maker's Mark whiskey or the mint buried beneath half a glass of simple syrup. I couldn't even come close to finishing it and O. abandoned hers for an IPA.

Moving on to more pleasant topics, like the food. Sho'Nuff fried green tomatoes and crab and catfish cakes appetizers tempt me every time, but O. and C. had seen the tremendous platters of food float past and I knew better, so we all showed huge restraint. Then decided we were splitting ribs, fried chicken and mac and cheese.

The My Way or the Highway buttermilk fried chicken had a lovely, crisp coating and moist, tender meat, while the brick of Down Home mac and cheese broke apart easily and revealed layered flavors that comes from, surprisingly, just two kinds of cheese. Onion, green pepper and mushrooms are probably the reason. Or maybe it was just a lot of cheese.

The ribs also were fork tender and had a tart, sweet sauce, which merely confirmed that I am not out of the woods yet on my bbq-sauce burnout. The wild green salad that came with the mac and cheese was a bit overdressed, but the potato salad was a nice, creamy counterpoint to the rich barbecue, along with some collard greens.

The menu also includes ribeye steak, pork chops and catfish, but you try saying no to mac and cheese. I'd love to see dishes like shrimp and grits (maybe they do on other nights), and they need to overhaul their cocktail recipes STAT, but Kingfish otherwise is a hugely fun and tasty slice of the South.

Kingfish Cafe
602 19th Ave. E.
Open for dinner seven days a week, lunch on weekdays and brunch on Saturday and Sunday.

Thursday, August 6, 2009

I hiked Discovery Park

From K.

My husband J is not the biggest hiking fan. Which is why I neglected to tell him our evening, sunset "jaunt" through Discovery Park would really be more akin to a two-hour adventure. I gambled that when he saw the view of the placid Sound, Golden Gardens to the north, downtown to the south, pleasure boats lolling by, he wouldn't be too annoyed. Thankfully, I was right :)

Discovery Park's vastness appeals to me. It's tricky to be completely alone in Seattle, but here in the "wilds" of Magnolia you can walk for long moments of solitude. The Loop Trail takes you through leafy and needly woods, past a pretty lighthouse, up and down some big hills and past plenty of nice Sound views. It's a great spot for trail running, though I like West Seattle's Lincoln Park even better for that if I'm alone (better chance of running into fellow humans when I need them :)

But back to Discovery. J and I left feeling refreshed and reconnected after feasting our weary, Smartphone-tired eyes on glimmering water and lush greenery. Can't wait to return.

Saturday, August 1, 2009

I waited in line at Maximus Minimus on the hottest day ever...

From N.

The lunch date was set a week in advance, before we knew it was going to be the hottest day on record in Seattle. (Official temp: 103. My thermostat on Wednesday.)
Even after a few sweltering nights, we didn't seriously think about changing our minds. Our food-crazed selves wanted pig. Maximus Minimus would be ours, even if we had to stand on baking hot pavement at Second and Pike to get it.

First, you have to track the Beecher's-owned pig down. We were not the only crazy people; there was a line. The menu here is limited to a pulled pork sandwich with either Maximus or Minimus sauce, a Maximus or Minimus slaw ($2.73 alone or $1.37 with a sandwich), Maximus or Minimus drinks ($1.82) and vegetable chips like beets, potatoes, green beans and jalapeno ($4.55 alone or $2.28 with a sandwich).

Sandwiches emerge cradling plenty of pulled pork coated in your choice of sauce and a generous amount of slaw. You can add Beecher's flagship cheese for $.91, which I forgot while ordering.

The pork was mostly tender and moist, although bigger chunks were slightly dry. The bun was soft, and was dense enough that it didn't completely fall apart when soaked with sauce. But the Maximus sauce, a slightly spicy Thai with a six-pepper blend, onions and fruit juices, did not max out on the spiciness by a long shot (you can ask for them to pile on the "Hurt"), though it had a light, appealing sweetness. The Minimus slaw was based around crisp sliced fennel bulb tossed with refreshing mint and chewy cranberries in a honey mustard vinaigrette. I regretted not getting the Maximus slaw of radishes and cilantro in a light chipotle vinaigrette, which I think would have added bright flavor and more contrast. My combo was altogether too sweet and I longed for more acidity and tartness.

The Minimus drink might have been my favorite part of the meal. The juicy red hibiscus nectar was tart, sweet and lovely. The Maximus ginger lemonade also had a fantastic ginger, and almost puckery, punch.

Perhaps I wasn't in the proper pulled pork mood or maybe the cheese was the missing link, but I was not blown away by my sandwich. Despite a limited menu, there was not enough on my plate to cut the sweetness. I love me some barbecue, but highly doubt I'm going to chase Maximus Minimus around again. Definitely not during a heat wave. I'll leave the pursuit to others and content myself hotfooting it to the Marination Mobile for kimchi fried rice.