Seattle & Portland Events, Spring 2014

14 Jan

The Pacific Northwest has a lot of events. Here are a few coming up soon.

Feb 1 – Chinese New Year, free (International District and Oregon Convention Center)

Feb 1-3 Antique Expo, $6 or $20 (Puyallup)

Feb 15 – Cupid’s Undie Run (Seattle)

Feb 21 – Pacific Northwest Yo-Yo Championship, free (Seattle Center)

Mar 1 – “Venice is Sinking” Masked Carnival, $75 (Seattle)

Mar 1-2  Huge Antique Expo, $6 or $20 (Portland)

Mar 15 – St. Patrick’s Day Parade, free (downtown)

Mar 23 – French Festival, free (Seattle Center)

Mar 24 – Independent Literary Festival, free (Capitol Hill)

Mar 28 – Taste Washington, $80

Mar 28 – Arts and Crafts Fair, free

Thanksgiving in Djibouti with Mukbasa or Yemenite poisson

24 Nov

My French teacher is from Djibouti, a tiny country in Africa near Ethiopia that has an important port and was once colonized by the French. His French is très bien but I was intrigued to learn about his native cuisine.

After hearing about Mukbasa (also called Yemenite poisson), I was able to get a rough recipe for it and found a few hints online. It seems to be a whole fish that resembles a tilapia, grilled in a wood fire pit. It is served with an assortment of sides including tomato dipping sauce and a thin flatbread like Indian chapati mashed with bananas, sometimes with honey or dates also.

I decided this would be a fun and challenging dish for Thanksgiving dinner, slightly modified to our taste – we don’t like that much sweet in a savory dish. The first challenge was the fish, after visiting 4 grocery stores looking for a whole white fish similar to the ones found in Djibouti, we settled on rockfish fillets.

Ingredients:

  • 2 whole fish or fillets of firm, non-oily white fish
  • 2 tablespoons each of coriander (seeds that you grind yourself recommended), red pepper flakes and black pepper
  • 2 pieces of cheese cloth (optional)
  • 1 lemon (not traditional, you could skip)
  • 4-5 tablespoons walnut or other oil
  • 2-4 flat bread such as Indian chapati
  • 1-2 plantains (or ripe bananas if you want it sweeter and more traditional)
  • 1 tablespoon butter
  • Salt to taste

Directions:

  1. Prepare the grill early enough to get it hot, this takes about an hour for me with natural charcoal and hickory chips
  2. Meanwhile, grind the coriander and pepper, if they are seeds
  3. Place the fish on a plate or in bowl and squeeze half a lemon over each, and a tablespoon of oil
  4. Place the cheese cloth over the fish (this ensures the biggest bits aren’t left on the fish)
  5. Sprinkle a tablespoon or so of the 3 spices mixed together
  6. Marinate for at least 30 minutes if you can
  7. If using fillets, wrap in tinfoil and remove cheesecloth, then put in covered grill for ~10 minutes (tinfoil to prevent it flaking apart)
  8. If using a whole fish, butterfly it and place on the grill directly or in tinfoil, remove cheesecloth and cook for 10-20 minutes or until firm
  9. Peel and cut the plaintains into 1 inch pieces crosswise, fry in oil for 4-5 minutes until golden brown on each side, and soft-ish to a fork
  10. Place the chapatis in a warm oven to maintain heat
  11. When all items are done, place a chapati or two on the plate, put the fish and plantains on it, salt the fish to taste

      

Enjoy!

Delightful English tea weekend in Victoria, British Columbia

21 Nov

Victoria, BC is a lovely little island of Canada that is picturesque and well known for Butchart Gardens. But if you don’t know, it’s also a delightful place to pass the time away with fun little bookstores, tea shops and walks along the harbor.

It’s also the location of a tea festival every year, and so every year a friend and I drive up there to enjoy a weekend of bliss.

            

Gorging ourselves at Murchie’s - though the lines are some times long, many of the cakes are worth the wait. I am sorry to admit that instead of a healthy lunch, I opted for a sandwich and two entire desserts just for me. The cheesecake was tasty and the fruit tart delicious. I do not regret this decision.

Tea display at the Victoria Tea Festival – usually  full of vendors and providing an enjoyable afternoon with displays, samples, souvenirs, talks and classes. If you like tea I definitely recommend it.

           

          

High tea at the Fairmont Empress – a very posh affair with a fresh fruit cup, sweet treats like chessboard cake, Key Lime chocolate cake and nut shortbread, delightful little sandwiches with traditional egg salad or fancy crab, and a scone with tiny jam jars and fresh cream. You have to dress up a little and it is a fun time.

Wine and cheese plate at the Magnolia Hotel – a nice hotel that is central, with excellent service (better than the Fairmont Empress in my opinion). Everyone was extremely friendly and their Girls Getaway package features money to spend at their spa or restaurant, and a cheese and wine plate. They were so nice about providing goat and sheep’s milk cheeses only, all fantastic (I regret not asking for the names) and a bottle of very good red wine. The spa was a relaxing way to start our morning, I highly recommend it.

             

A French inspired lunch at Bon Rouge – right next door to the hotel is a French bistro that is packed at night and reasonably quiet on Sunday afternoons. The duck prosciutto with toast and the pistachio-crusted pate were both delicious, as were the main courses. Service was nice and we sat in plush chairs that were practically couches for one.

If you go visiting Victoria, BC you can get there by a seaplane, the Clipper ferry or by driving up and taking the car ferry across. I’ve done all three and I recommend the seaplane for the views or the Clipper ferry for the speed, but we go by car due to my getting seasick. If you get seasick too I warn you that there’s a strait on the way that you will not enjoy. I have a special and irrational dislike of the Strait of Juan de Fuca.

There are many other great sights even aside from the world famous Butchart Gardens that I still have not seen. Great tea shops, restaurants, bookstores and clothing stores, surprising for such a small island. One year the Royal BC Museum had an Egyptian exhibit on loan from the British Museum that was superb. It even had real mummies, something I haven’t seen since. Even after 3 weekend trips I can’t seem to fit it all in.

Bon voyage!

Secret Garden tea room in Sumner

19 Nov

Some time ago a friend and I decided on a delicious quest – to eat our way through local tea rooms in search of the perfect High Tea. After a longish pause due to food intolerances, I’m happy to be back on this quest once again.

While the Secret Garden tea room in Sumner, WA might not be perfect, it is one of the best I’ve had and easily the best in the Northwest. One Friday afternoon I had some unexpected free time and we wandered down to Sumner. We were lucky enough to find a spot available in a few hours and after wandering local antique stores, we came back.

Located in a beautiful old mansion, the tea room was large and bustling with people. We took a peek at their gift shop, where we found charming items like a small set of mussy tussies, little fabric bags for holding a bouquet or sachet.

The menu has a good selection of options, I got the Hollyhock for ~$27 that includes a cup of soup, a small salad, unlimited scones and tea (!!), a plate of sweets, a plate of fruit and a plate of savory sandwiches.

First up was the unlimited scones and tea. It was wonderful, the tea was excellent and very hot. This is one of the most common and infuriating failings in a tea room, so high points on the tea. The cup was not heated (you can see my attempt to warm it), which would’ve been nice, but wasn’t a big deal.

I was a little dubious of the pumpkin with coconut milk, ginger and lemongrass but I was really hungry so I ordered it. What a pleasant surprise, a warming and fragrant soup served in a tea cup.

The scones came with as much Devonshire cream, lemon curd and strawberry jam we could stuff done. The scone was light and fluffy and not too heavy. The lemon curd was good but a bit sweet, more like Americans seem to love, so I piled mine high with the amazing cream and jam. Mmm!

Next up was a palate cleanser of mango sorbet, served in a pewter egg cup, which I really must do at home. The mango flavor was nice and strong.

And finally the main courses. So much food. For sweets there was pumpkin mousse, apple cake, truffles, hazelnut shortbread and chocolate-center cookies. Then fresh fruit alongside bacon bruschetta (yes bacon!), Gruyere pastry puffs and olive quiche. Lastly the sandwiches, cucumber on fresh butter, creamy chicken salad with nuts and cranberries, and a divine dill egg salad.

The bread was soft and firm, not at all mushy, and everything was incredibly fresh. It obviously was made mostly to order, and best of all we had a leisurely hour and a half to consume all these delectables over multiple courses.

Highly recommended!

Tipsy Brit cheddar and Branston Pickle

17 Nov

 

Nothing says British like strong cheddar with a side of pickle. The Tipsy Brit with mustard and ale from Ford Farms is a West Country Cheddar, meaning it is produced from local milk within 4 counties of South West England. Apparently this designation is protected and enforced.

By pickle I mean something like Branston Pickle, a brand that is basically crunchy vegetable bits like carrot soaked in vinegar. It is slightly sweet and sour, and a perfect partner for cheese, cold meat pies, etc.

I sometimes wonder if pickle was invented to hide ‘footy’ cheese (you know, when it smells like feet), but in this case there’s really no need. The cheddar is surprisingly smooth and creamy tasting, with a tang of ale and tiny sharp bites of mustard seed. No crackers required.

Chocolate Review! Mahalo bar and peanut butter patties

11 Nov

Another trip down the chocolate aisle has produced two new contenders. I’ll jump right in, starting with the Mahalo bar made by Go Max Go. This is like a vegan almond joy, with smooth milk chocolate coating the sweet, dense coconut interspersed with almonds.

The Mahalo is a definite success, with the chocolate tasting milky and the whole thing not being too sweet but still giving you that candy bar high. A tasty and satisfying find for $3.

Next up are the Golden Smackers peanut butter patties, I had high hopes for these. They taste okay at first. The chocolate is not bad, the peanut flavor is fairly low but then there’s this odd bitter aftertaste. I’m not sure if I got a bad batch, sometimes sesame can taste that way. I would probably not get these again but I’d be willing to give it another try if they were sampling them.

PS: While we’re on the topic, these homemade almond joy bites from tasty-yummies look delicious if you’re in the mood to make some.

Pasta vs. mashed potatoes

8 Nov

 

Admittedly, writing a 50,000 word novel during the month of November (NaNoWriMo) does not make it easy for trivial details like blogging, dinner or doing your laundry. You really have to choose your priorities.

So tonight we were scraping the barrel for dinner – a tub of frozen homemade Bolognese sauce made during my more leisurely time and some gluten-free pasta that turned out too terrifying to eat after cooking. Mashed potatoes to the rescue!

While frozen mashed potatoes would work, we had leftovers from yesterday’s shepherd’s pie. Just fry them up in duck fat, heat up the pasta sauce, and viola! A seemingly intentional dinner that’s pretty hearty. Mashed squash or other vegetables work equally well.

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