I Ate the State – Okanogan County

Greetings!

Welcome to the largest county in Washington State, Okanogan County. Seriously, this county is ENORMOUS! In fact, I’d go as far to say it is ginormous – and filled with an equally large bevy of adventure-filled opportunities. I am absolutely blown away by the size and scale of the county every time I’m lucky enough to visit. Towering mountains, beautiful forests, winding rivers and some of the darkest, star-filled skies in North America are just a few of Okanogan County’s stunning attributes. It would take many trips to cover all it has to offer, but please join me as I pay tribute to the amazing areas I’ve visited thus far.

North Cascades
The North Cascades are calling!

There are many ways to hit up Okanogan County, including via our lovely neighbor, Canada. It is also possible to visit Okanogan County via the 440-mile Cascade Loop as it circles through King, Snohomish, Chelan, Skagit and Okanogan counties. This amazing route was recently and appropriately designated a National Scenic Byway in January of 2021. It is a fantastic way to visit the state and a beautiful representation of everything Washington has to offer.

Included as part of the Cascade Loop is the North Cascades Scenic Byway, also known as SR-20. Opened in 1972 to accommodate area hydroelectric projects as well as access to the newly created North Cascades National Park (1968), it is the longest highway in Washington. It is possible to traverse the entire state, beginning from coastal US-101 and ending at the border with Idaho. If you want to experience an amazing cross-section of the state’s bounty, SR-20 is the way to go!

Travel Alert: Okanogan County typically deals with very serious wildfires throughout the summer months. Portions of SR-20 and other thoroughfares are periodically closed and many trails, campsites, homes, lodges, etc. can close or experience various levels of evacuation. Please check the WSDOT before traveling and follow all fire stages and restrictions whenever in forested and dry areas. Be smart. Be safe!

Since Okanogan County is so large, it took me a few visits to experience even the moderate amount of adventures I’m about to share. I took different routes in and out of the county, but for this take, we’ll start out heading east on SR-20, off of I-5 in the Burlington area. (A great alternative off of I-5 is SR-530 to Darrington and then over to SR-20 near Rockport.) When the North Cascades pass is closed during the winter, another great route out of the Seattle area is via I-90 to Cle Elum and then SR-970­ to US-97 and Blewett Pass. US-97 will then meet up with US-2 at Peshastin and then back to US-97 at Orondo. Once in Okanogan County, take SR-153 from Pateros to head towards Twisp and Winthrop or stay on US-97 north towards Okanogan and the Canadian border. If you’re heading over from the eastern side of the state, US-395 out of the Spokane to SR-20 at Kettle Falls is great, as is US-395 out of the Tri-Cities area to SR-17 in Mesa and on to US-97.

The route via SR-20 through Skagit and Whatcom counties is spectacular. There are so many things to see and do along the way and so many glorious distractions. Eyes on the road, lovely travelers – we’re headed towards Okanogan County! That said, if you’re headed along SR-20, it would be road trip silliness to not check out a few of the more amazing spots along the way. I double-dog dare you to pass up these surreally beautiful sights on your next trip through the area. (Don’t actually take my dare – check out the sights!)

  • Directly off of SR-20 is the amazing Gorge Creek and Gorge Lake interpretive trail. The waterfall itself is breathtaking and can be viewed via a careful walk across the highway from the parking area. Even if you’re not a fan of heights, the area is well worth investigating.  
  • The deep turquoise, glacial waters of Diablo Lake blow me away every time I see them. There is much to do in the area, but taking a ride with the Diablo Lake Dam Tour, operated out of the very cool North Cascades Institute, is a great way to experience the area in a few hours. (Also a pick-up point for the Diablo Lake Ferry which heads to the incredibly unique, floating Ross Lake Resort.) Hit up my Whatcom County article for a more detailed view of the area.
  • If you don’t have time to stop at Diablo Lake proper, a quick stop at Diablo Lookout is a must! The views are soaring and everywhere you look presents the most perfect picture you’ve ever seen. (Pro Tip: It’s also a rest area and there aren’t many along this route. Just sayin’.)

Alrighty. After all that preamble and amazing roadway, we have at last arrived in Okanogan County! I will also commend you (and me!) for your fortitude while traversing over the formidable Washington Pass. (This part of SR-20 is very appropriately closed during the winter.) The North Cascades have been nicknamed “The Alps of North America,” and the comparison is well-deserved. This area is a haven for mountaineers, hikers and skiers alike, but even if you’re just heading over the pass, a stop at the Washington Pass Observation Site is a worthy adventure. At around 5500 feet, the views of Liberty Bell Mountain, Early Winters Spires and the highway as it snakes through the valley are awe-inspiring. The Alps are certainly something to behold, but the North Cascades are in a class of grandeur all their own.

After maneuvering through the impressive twists and turns of Washington Pass, the highway descends towards the idyllic, mountain town of Mazama and the enchanting Methow Valley. Washington has its fair share of stunning locales, but I can honestly say I’d move to the Mazama area tomorrow if it were possible. The most amazing scenery imaginable, all the outdoor adventure opportunities you could ever desire and the peaceful bliss of dark, star-studded skies can all be found in Mazama. While the area is rugged and doesn’t cater to modern convenience, it is not without its charms. A few places not to miss in the Mazama area:

  • If I lived in Mazama, I’d be at the incredibly cool, local institution, The Mazama Store every day. I’d have a regular table inside or a spot in their super-cool, outdoor courtyard. I’d eat one (or several) of their ridiculously tasty baked goods with several cups of their excellent coffee – in my personal mug. (OMG – their cream-cheese filled Everything Bagel!) I’d get my groceries, gas and takeaway food there. I’m pretty sure they’d be sick of me, but I wouldn’t leave. I can’t quit you, Mazama Store! And I would most certainly hang out at their yearly, Christmas at the End of the Road celebration. Cheers, Mazama! (Store open daily, 7am – 6pm. Gas 24hrs.)
  • Located conveniently behind the Mazama Store, The Goat’s Beard Mountain Supply has everything you need for exploring the local splendor. Gear sales and rentals available year-round, they have bikes, skis, snowshoes and more. A perfect spot to hit up before setting out on the amazing Methow Trails trailhead, located very close by. (Store open daily, 9am – 6pm)
  • Enjoy the ranch life at Freestone Inn at Wilson Ranch. (c. 1940s ranch) A lovely lodge and cabin layout feature 36 units with lake or forest view. For dining, check out their Sandy Butte Bistro, Moonshine Bar and Jack’s Hut. (Note: Dining options currently closed Monday/Tuesday. Check online for updates.) They are also located along the beautiful Sandy Butte Trail and are close to the Early Winters Campground and Early Winters Trail.
  • Close to cross-country ski trails and year-round activities, check out the Mazama Country Inn for their cozy inn and cabins. They also feature onsite yoga and tennis as well as a seasonal restaurant.

One of the biggest draws to the area is the undeniably spectacular North Cascades National Park. Featuring 300 glaciers, soaring mountain peaks, rugged terrain and lush forest, it is one of America’s most glorious gems. Just next door is the winner for *Best Supporting Forest in a Gorgeous Nature Scene, the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. You truly can’t go wrong wherever you end up in this expansive, amazing setting. (*Not a real award, but should be)

If you’re up for an adrenaline rush and a view of all this majesty from the highest drivable point in Washington, take a trip to Slate Peak Lookout, located above Hart’s Pass. The road ends at 7488 feet at the Slate Peak parking area and is a narrow, steep gauntlet of unpaved twists and turns, complete with no guardrails. (Important note: Trailers are not allowed and RVs are highly discouraged.) Once you’re at the parking lot, it’s a half-mile hike to the lookout. If you happen to be in the area at night, I’ve heard the dark skies are filled with an absolute blanket of stars. Dreamy! (Side note: I totally got sucked into watching videos of people driving up the road. Yikes!)

Pro Tip: While there are no fees required to drive through the North Cascades National Park, they are often involved for parking within the Okanogan-Wenatchee National Forest. Various National Park trails actually begin within the National Forest and could require a NW Forest Pass.

If you’d like to do some hiking, backpacking and camping or perhaps a climb in the park, there are SO many wonderful options for your adventure. For something epic, the 2650-mile Pacific Crest Trail runs through the south part of park and the 1200-mile Pacific Northwest Trail (WA, MT, ID) traverses through the upper-north of the state, through the park and down towards the coast. (Note: All overnight camping within the park requires a park Backcountry Permit.) Good spots to join up with the Pacific Crest Trail are off of SR-20 near the Rainy Pass Trailhead, the Cutthroat Lake trailhead or via the aforementioned Hart’s Pass.

For something not quite as involved, but equally epic and beautiful, consider these great backpacking and camping spots for your next trip to the North Cascades and Mazama area:

  • For the perfect combo of stunning views and a loop trail, check out the Heather-Maple Pass Loop off of SR-20, across from the Rainy Pass Trailhead.
  • Located in the area of the Washington Pass Lookout, Blue Lake is a very reasonable 2-mile hike from SR-20. The elevation gain is relatively low (1050 ft) and makes for a lovely family daytrip. You might even see a mountain goat!
  • Sporting some pretty amazing scenery and backcountry camping, Easy Pass and the Fisher Creek Trails offer a splendid cross-section of North Cascades glory. Park at the trailhead at milepost 151 on SR-20 to start your adventure.
  • For an amazing view, head to the historic Goat Peak Lookout and revel in the wonder of the North Cascades and Methow Valley.
  • Following along with the goat theme, Goat Wall Overlook offers yet another spectacular view of the North Cascades and Methow Valley and is easily reached from Mazama proper.
  • For great forest, flowers and more, the Robinson Creek Trail and the West Fork Methow Trail are very enjoyable hikes. (Hot tip: The Pacific Crest Trail can also be accessed from the West Fork Methow Trail.) If you’re up for camping in the area, the River Bend Campsite and Ballard Campground are good options. (Note: A NW Forest Pass is required for the Robinson Creek Trail and Ballard Campground areas.)

I am a creature of the snow. Winter is coming! (Doesn’t matter what time of year you might be reading this article…) The North Cascades are known for their stellar climbing challenges, both rock and alpine, and I dream of conquering even a small portion. Those snowy heights are within reach. I know it! (Gear up and grab the 10 Essentials first, but the mountains are calling!) In addition to climbing, the North Cascades and Methow Valley offer some of the country’s (nay, world’s) best cross-country skiing opportunities. Should you feel inspired to don your Gore-Tex and hit the winter wonderland, here are just a few of the snowy possibilities:

  • There are SO many amazing places to climb in the North Cascades. WOW. If you’ve got nerves of steel and a love of heights, the iconic Liberty Bell awaits. Forbidden Peak is considered one of the top, classic climbs in North America and is a surefire adrenaline rush. Add to that list, Sharkfin Tower, the Goat Wall and Eldorado Peak and you’re looking at some serious mountaineering magnificence.
  • If you’d like an assist with your ascent, hit up the experts at North Cascades Mountain Guides for both alpine and rock adventures – year-round! (Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 3pm and Saturday/Sunday, 8am – 5pm)
  • The North Cascades and Methow Valley support an incredible Nordic scene which includes cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and fat-biking. In operation since the 1970s, the non-profit Methow Trails system is now North America’s largest cross-country ski area. Working with local landowners to allow access to private land, the groomed trails feature over 120-miles of snowy opportunity. One can even ski town to town and lodge to lodge – just like in Europe! Methow Trails also support some pretty amazing summer action as well.
  • In addition to climbing expeditions, North Cascade Mountain Guides also offer ski tours in North Cascades National Park. You could even try your hand (and legs!) at heli-skiing or backcountry touring with local outfit, North Cascades Heli.
  • Perhaps you’d like to sit down while enjoying your snowy adventuring. If snowmobiling is your jam, there are many amazing areas to hit up in the Methow Valley. Yellowjacket Sno-Park provides access to excellent snowmobile trails in the Hart’s Pass and Blackpine Basin areas. Eightmile Sno-Park, located out of Winthrop on West Chewuch Road is another great area to check out. Visit the Methow Valley Snowmobiling Association for local tips and be sure to have your Sno-Park and snowmobiling permits sorted out. (Required November thru March)
Liberty Bell
Liberty Bell, stunning with snow or without!

Heading east through the Methow Valley towards Winthrop is a beautiful adventure in and of itself. Any time of the year you happen to be in this area is guaranteed to be an extraordinary experience. Featuring snow-covered pastures and scenery in the winter, idyllic harvest colors in the fall and abundant flora and fauna in the warmer months, the area is a picture-perfect wonderland.

Longtime stewards of the valley, the Methow People, now part of the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation have cherished the area for millennia. Flowing through this beautiful valley, the Methow River was a vital part of the Methow Peoples’ lives and to this day is an extremely integral part of valley life. A fine way to experience this timeless splendor is with a horseback riding adventure or a hike along the Methow Community Trail. Take a stop on the lovely Tawlks-Foster Suspension Bridge and take in the river scene. (Groomed for skiers in the winter!) The Methow Valley is always striking and not to be missed on your Okanogan County adventure.

Continuing through the Methow Valley on SR-20 will bring you directly into the very unique town of Winthrop. As you enter town, you might question if you’ve just stumbled into an Old West movie set. Nope – it’s just a typical day in Winthrop! Feel free to bust out your chaps and ride in on a horse, but more modern methods of transportation are equally welcome. In fact, on a busy weekend day, you’ll be lucky to snag one of the parking spots in the center of town. (SR-20 is the main route through town.)

While there are many aspects of early settler life that remain in Winthrop, the “western” feel of the town was inspired by the opening of SR-20 in 1972. Local merchants contributed $1000 each and a new era of industry began. Along with general updates, false facades were rebuilt, sidewalks were replaced with boardwalks and a “Westernization Code” was put in play. (In effect to this day.) Similar to what the nearby town of Leavenworth also accomplished, the town modernized its tourist appeal by taking a step back in time. Everything old is new again! (I say that to myself every birthday.)

Just as is the scene in nearby Mazama, outdoor activities and beautiful views are plentiful in Winthrop any time of the year. Whether you’re into cross-country skiing, snowshoeing, fat biking, ice-skating, hockey, hiking, camping or fishing, Winthrop has you covered. And that’s just the short list! Even if you simply want to sit out at night and marvel at the wonderfully dark skies or look out from your hotel deck onto the Methow and Chewuch rivers as they converge, Winthrop can accommodate you. It is truly an excellent town to spend a spell. And maybe water your horse…

If you’re anything like me, you’re likely pretty hungry (and thirsty!) after all of that adventuring. Even if you were only sitting by the river, that takes some concentration! Which surely burns some amount of calories, right?? At any rate, it’s a very wise plan to spend some time enjoying the food and beverage scene in Winthrop. It may be a small area, but Winthrop certainly packs in some delicious options! Here are some of my favorite spots in Winthrop:

  • Featuring delicious craft cocktails and locally sourced ingredients, Copper Glance is an excellent place to enjoy a meal. The atmosphere is modern, but is set in a historic Winthrop locale. (Open Thursday – Saturday, 4-pm)
  • I absolutely love the Old Schoolhouse Brewery. If it’s a nice day, head directly to the beautiful riverside seating, overlooking the Chewuch River. I particularly enjoy their Methow Blonde with one of their amazing burgers or an order of Totchos. They also regularly feature live music in the summer. (Open Monday – Thursday, 3-8pm, Friday/Saturday, Noon – 9pm, Sunday, Noon – 8pm)
  • If you’re in need of a sugar fix, don’t miss a stop at the popular Sheri’s Sweet Shoppe. It can be a bit touristy on a busy weekend, but the delicious treats are worth the wait. (Open daily, 7am – 6pm. Open seasonally.)
  • I have a very special place in my heart for the fabulous Rocking Horse Bakery. Perhaps I’ll tell you the story one of these days… Don’t miss the amazing carrot cake and cup of their always excellent coffee. They feature Lariat Coffee Roasters which are conveniently located next door! I truly love this place. (Open Thursday – Monday, 7am – 2pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday.)
  • My brother and I enjoyed some seriously delicious pizza at East 20 Pizza. Featuring excellent pizza along with great beer and a fun atmosphere, it’s an all-around enjoyable place to stop. (Open daily, 3-8pm.)
  • Should you be feeling a little fancy during your Winthrop visit, head to the Arrowleaf Bistro for a delicious evening. Their menu features locally-sourced ingredients and a modern flair. Check out the roasted quail with local Bluebird Grain Farms farro! (Open for dinner, Thursday – Sunday, 5-9pm)
  • Featuring apples they grow themselves, the Methow Valley Cider House is a great place for cider and food. They also have the Apple Amphitheatre for live events and music. (Winter 2022 – Open daily, 12-8pm, closed Wednesdays.)
  • Stop in at the tasting room of boutique, family-owned Lost River Winery and enjoy a glass or two. A nice glass of Cab on a fall afternoon… yes, please! (Friday – Sunday, 11am – 5pm)
  • Offering tastings and small plates, the Brix Wine Bar & Bottle Shop is a lovely spot to both relax with a glass and replenish your wine rack. (Open Wednesday, 4-9pm, Thursday – Sunday, 1-5pm, 6pm on Friday/Saturday – Closed Monday/Tuesday)
  • If you’d like to take home a bit of the area bounty, stop by the Winthrop Farmers Market and stock up! (Sundays, 10am – 2pm in Winthrop Park. Spring thru Fall)

The very strollable boardwalks in Winthrop not only host excellent dining options, but feature several wonderful shops. Grab a good book, gear up for your outdoor adventures or stock up on crafting items – Winthrop has what you need. A few of the excellent shopping possibilities for your next visit:

  • In addition to a great supply of crafting, quilting and gift items, the 3 Bears Café & Quilts also offers casual breakfasts and great coffee in their inviting shop. Located at the east end town, it is well worth a stop. (Winter hours: Thursday – Monday, 10:30am – 5:30pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday)
  • If you’d like to cozy up in your cabin, stop by the charming Trail’s End Bookstore and grab something for your weekend library. (Open Wednesday – Sunday, 10am – 6pm and Monday/Tuesday, 10am – 3pm)
  • Forget your ski poles? Need some cool new hiking boots? Stop in at Winthrop Mountain Sports and let them outfit you. They can fill your Nordic ski needs and rentals as well as hook you up with a sweet kayak. (Open daily, 9:30am – 6pm, 9am – 6pm on Saturday, 5pm on Sunday)
  • Backpacks, tents, Nordic ski gear and more! The very cool Cascades Outdoor Store has everything needed to trick out your outdoor adventures. (Sunday – Thursday, 9am – 6pm, Friday/Saturday, 9am – 5pm)
  • Should you plan on braving the local rivers, hit up Methow River Raft & Kayak and make sure you’re ready to go. In addition to gear and rentals, they also offer guided trips for rafting and kayaking. (Open daily, 10am – 5pm)
  • Want to learn more about the fat bike craze or rest a pair of skis or snowshoes? Stop by Methow Cycle & Sport and let them hook you up with all your year-round sporting needs. (Open daily, 9am – 5:30pm, 5pm on Sunday.)

Whether you want to enjoy some quality indoor time or spend your time trekking on a hiking or x-country trail, there are SO many possibilities in the Winthrop area:

  • Even if you are only passing through Winthrop, make time to visit the fascinating Shafer Museum, situated on a small hill above downtown. This step back in time features well-curated indoor exhibits as well as an extensive outdoor collection of mining implements and more. Open daily, 10am – 5pm in summer. (May 9th – September 19th) Note: The museum is also open in winter, but the buildings are closed and snow doesn’t get cleared. Also open by appointment year-round.
  • Looking to see that cool new indie film or catch a live performance from a NW band? The Barnyard Cinema is the place to be! Along with movies and live music, they also have a concession stand and a lounge with beer, wine and coffee.
  • In addition to the stellar Nordic scene, there are other chilly options to explore while in town. Head to the Winthrop Ice and Sports Rink for ice skating and hockey during your winter visit. This all-season rink also has roller/inline skating, roller hockey and pickleball in the summer. Check out their online schedule for more info.
  • In addition to the excellent, year-round outdoor opportunities of the Methow Trails, there are many other areas to check out. The Pipestone Canyon Rim Trail between Winthrop and Twisp and the Sa Teekh Wa Trail (Riverwalk Trail) via the beautiful Sa Teekh Wa Suspension Bridge are excellent options. Just out of Winthrop on East Chewuch Road is Falls Creek Falls with its lovely, 2.6-mile roundtrip trail to a series of falls. If you want to extend your trip to the area, hit up the Falls Creek Campground for some further outdoor adventure.
  • Perhaps you rolled into town with your ski boat or jet skis. If you’re looking for a place to put in, head to Pearrygin Lake State Park located just outside of Winthrop. It’s a great state park with camping, boating, fishing and winter Nordic opportunities. (Discover Pass required)

There are so many beautiful lodging options in Winthrop and surrounding areas. In addition to the large list of local hotels, lodges, cabins and campgrounds, there are also many opportunities available via sites like Airbnb and Vrbo. It does, however, get pretty busy in the summer months in particular. Book early for your adventures! A few of the excellent places where you can rest up from your adventuring:

  • Overlooking Winthrop and the valley, the Sun Mountain Lodge has much to offer from its spectacular, mountaintop perch. Even if you’re not staying at the lodge, the amazing views and beautiful drive are worth your time. If you are lucky enough to be staying there, be sure to check out the spa, excellent wine cellar, gift shop, pool and comfortable lodging. I wasn’t actually staying there on my last visit, but that didn’t stop me from enjoying a delicious breakfast in their restaurant – AND a gorgeous view! Part of the Methow Trails system, there are winter trails for cross-country skiing, fat-biking, snowshoeing and summer trails for hiking, biking and horseback riding. There is truly something for everyone at Sun Mountain Lodge.
  • I’ve stayed at the Hotel Rio Vista and very much enjoyed my time there. It’s more of a traditional motel setup, but what sets it apart are the river views from each room’s private deck. A glass of wine, the river and those star-filled skies? Dreamy!
  • The River’s Edge Resort is located appropriately on the Chewuch River in downtown Winthrop.  Featuring a series of charming cabins, some with their own hot tubs, the resort is an excellent place to spend your holiday.
  • Situated on the Methow River, River Run Inn & Cabins feature lovely rooms, cabins and a 6-bedroom house. They also have an indoor pool and hot tub, large grounds and a fire circle by the river. Methow River Raft & Kayak also offer trips leaving directly from the inn. Adventure at your doorstep!
  • Not only does the Spring Creek Ranch have lodging and host beautiful weddings and events, they are also well known for their alfalfa. Throw a wedding, rent a cabin and grab a bale (or ton!) of alfalfa from their 6-acre farm. All the things!
  • In addition to cozy rooms and complimentary breakfasts in their lodge, the Chewuch Inn also has seven cabins and lovely grounds which include a small, organic orchard.
  • Hit up The Virginian Resort & Hotel for their cozy, western-themed cabins and rooms with tranquil river views. I’m giving them extra points for having a groovy “1969” themed cabin.

As the area can get incredibly dry during the long, hot summers, the danger of wildfires runs extremely high. This danger has been increasing over the years, making the need for a rapid-deployment fire-fighting presence incredibly important and necessary. Enter the North Cascades Smokejumper Base. Located between Winthrop and nearby Twisp at the Methow Valley State Airport, the base supports the local firefighting effort, including the specialized smokejumper crew.

In 1939, Methow Valley became the birthplace of smoke-jumping. Today, there are nine primary locations in the western part of the US and Alaska. These bases support around 400 smokejumpers and owe their existence to the first crew out of the Methow Valley. If they’re not otherwise engaged in fighting fires, the base is open June 1st thru October 1st for free tours. (Daily, 10am – 5pm) The tour includes a museum and smokejumper planes. Go check out what these brave women and men do!

After visiting with the smokejumpers, hop back on SR-20 and head towards the wonderful town of Twisp. This little paradise of a town is well-known as an artist’s haven and even a quick visit easily showcases this claim. Packed into its relatively small borders lie tasty food options, top-notch galleries and beautiful outdoor possibilities. You won’t want to miss taking in the charms of Twisp.

On your next visit through the area, fuel up for your Twisp adventures at these delicious spots:

  • Don’t miss a stop at the iconic Cinnamon Twisp Bakery. Not only do they feature super tasty pastries, they also feature excellent breakfast bagel sandwiches and lunch offerings. Open Wednesday – Sunday, 7am – 3pm, Closed Monday/Tuesday.
  • For wood-fired, tasty Italian goodness, reserve a spot at Tappi. Enjoy pizza, pasta, delicious wines and more! (Open Friday – Tuesday, 5-7:30pm. Closed Wednesday/Thursday)
  • Who doesn’t love a bahn mi sandwich, a tasty burger or maybe a Korean fried chicken sandwich? YUM!! Check out the Fork food truck, located seasonably on the TwispWorks campus. (May thru mid-October, Wednesday – Saturday. Check online for hours.)
  • If you’re looking for a great cup of coffee, stop in at Blue Star Coffee Roasters and get your caffeine fix. Visit the coffee roasting plant where you can get fresh pastries and coffee onsite or order online. (They have a coffee subscription deal!) Open Monday – Saturday, 7:30am – 1:30pm.
  • The very cool Glover Street Market, located in the heart of downtown Twisp features a great grocery selection along with a food counter and groovy wine cellar. (Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 6pm. Kitchen open 9am – 4pm. Closed Sunday.) Note: They’re for sale! If I had money to buy a local grocery spot… Crowd fund me??
  • If you happen to be in town on a Saturday between April and October, stop by the Twisp Farmers Market and stock up on local goods. (AKA: Methow Valley Farmer’s Market) Saturdays, 9am – noon (April – October)

There are so many amazing things to experience in the Twisp area. Want to add a bit of the Arts to your adventure? Done! Consider these creative options for your next stay in the area:

  • Perhaps you’d like to stay right in the middle of all that Twisp action. Drop off your bags at the very cool Twisp River Hotel Suites, located on the lovely Twisp River and relax in style.
  • I’m a sucker for a good vintage or thrift shop. I had a great time perusing the goods at The Thrifty Fox in downtown Twisp. (Open Wednesday thru Saturday, 10am – 4pm. Closed Sunday – Tuesday.)
  • Featuring local artists, the Confluence Gallery is an excellent place to check out all things arty. (Open Thursday – Saturday, 10am – 5pm)
  • Should you be looking for some local theatre or maybe even a theatre camp, check out The Merc Playhouse in downtown Twisp. Check online for upcoming shows and auditions.
  • Located in the downtown area, the Methow Valley Interpretive Center features exhibits and an interpretive garden focusing on indigenous peoples and natural surroundings of the area. They also feature very interesting events and classes. (Open Friday – Sunday, Noon – 4pm, 10am on Saturday)
  • You can find Samantha Carlin’s work in various shops around the area, but Twisp-based Lucid Glassworks is also available online. I picked up a lovely glass from the Sun Mountain gift shop and I’m looking forward to expanding to a full set. (Currently waiting for it to ship, in fact!)
  • For a great opportunity to enjoy all things Twisp and gear up for the holidays, check out their Mistletoe Madness celebration in the downtown area. (December 3rd, 2021 from 3-7pm)

I can’t say enough good about local arts mecca, Twispworks, located in the downtown area. It’s an incredibly cool artist collective, sculpture garden, business incubator and more. A must-stop for your next Twisp visit. A few of the eclectic spots to explore at Twispworks:

  • If you’re looking for tasty beer, visit the OSB Taproom, located on the TwispWorks campus. An extension of Winthrop’s Old Schoolhouse Brewery, this new production facility and adjacent taproom are a great place to spend an afternoon. They also feature Methow Pure sparkling water. (Open Monday – Friday, 3pm – close and Saturday – Sunday, noon to close.)
  • Outside food is welcome at the OSB Taproom and Saskatoon Kitchens is ready to fill the bill. Located on the Twispworks campus, they feature some very tasty items. (Check out their Menu!)
  • Featuring artisan gifts and goods from the Methow Valley and Okanogan County, Methow Valley Goods is the perfect place to stop for that special gift. (Open Monday – Saturday, 11am – 4pm. Also available online!)
  • If you’re in the market for beautiful, hand-dyed wearable art, Culler Studio is the place to be! (Thursday/ Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday, 10am – 2pm. Closed Sunday – Wednesday.)
  • Featuring super cool bags, wallets, masks and more, the innovative eqpd is a great place to check out. Their HEPA masks and stadium bags are super rad!  (Monday – Friday, 10am – 4pm, Saturday to 2pm, Closed Sunday)
  • Check out the Fireweed Print Shop for their letterpress facilities and unique hand-printed items. (Open Thursday/Friday, Noon – 4pm and Saturday, 11am – 2pm. Closed Sunday – Wednesday.)
  • As soon as I have a spot to hang one of their one-of-a-kind nests, I’m heading directly to Nice Nests. These species-specific nesting boxes use recycled materials and are absolutely charming. (Call for hours)

Okanogan County has definitely cornered the market on amazing outdoor opportunities and Twisp certainly holds up its part of the bargain. Beauty is everywhere! Here are a few amazing spots from which to view the majesty:

Trees
Take a moment and enjoy the beauty of the area…

After reveling in the artistic grandeur of Twisp, it was time to head back into the surrounding mountains. As a skier, it’s long been on my bucket-list to ski every ski hill in the state. Sadly, I still have a few places on my list and nearby Loup Loup Ski Bowl is one of them. Since I’m located on the west side of the state and the North Cascades pass is closed during the winter, it’s a bit of a haul to get to the area. However, since my most recent trip was in the summer months, I merrily made the trek. (Sans skis, unfortunately.)

Located in between Twisp and Okanogan off of SR-20, Loup Loup is small, but mighty. They have runs to suit all levels as well as cross-country trails and… Luge sledding!! I might just have to make the long winter trek to the area and check it out. A snow cat ferries lugers up the mountain, where an epic-looking ride down then ensues. COOL! And should snowmobiles be more your thing, head to the South Summit Sno-Park and unload your beast. (The area also features groomed cross-country trails.) Located on the south summit of Loup Loup pass.

Pro Tip: For the record, I’m used to driving in snow and I’ve driven my fair share of wacky ski-hill access roads. That said, the portion of SR-20 leading to Loup Loup pass and ski hill is not for the faint of heart, or driver of non-winter-friendly vehicles. Make sure you have chains and/or AWD during the colder months.

Another route out of Twisp is via SR-153. This path heads east towards a more arid region along the Columbia River before meeting with US-97. If you plan to head further north from Twisp, SR-20 is the most direct route, but heading down SR-153 allows a look at a beautiful part of the Columbia River as well as a visit to the nearby towns of Pateros and Brewster.

Located directly on the Columbia River at an especially wide bend in the river, Pateros is a nice place to enjoy a bit of sun. Set at the confluence of the Columbia and Methow Rivers, it is a particularly excellent spot for all water-based endeavors. Nearby Brewster offers many outdoor opportunities and sweeping views of the river. A few options to consider should you be visiting the area:

  • If you’d like to wake up to a view of the beautiful Columbia River, be sure to book Howards on the River for your overnight stay. In addition to the beautiful view, they feature a boat launch to help with your pursuit of watersports. Hit up their Super Stop for gas and groceries and adjacent restaurant, Rivers by Ed’s Mudville for a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner.
  • Featuring scratch-baked goods, coffee, pizza and more, The Sweetriver Bakery is a great place to stop in the town center. They also feature live music in the summer months on their back patio. (Open daily, 7am – 7pm)
  • Stop in at the Pateros Museum for a look into the history of the area. (City Hall entrance – Open Monday – Friday, 8am – 4:30pm) Don’t miss the Methow Monument Native American sculpture park located behind City Hall near the river. For a more in-depth look into local Native American history and heritage, visit Fort Okanogan Interpretive Center in nearby Brewster. Managed by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation, the center features an emphasis on the Okanogan Tribe. (Open Wednesday – Friday, 8:30am – 4pm from May – September)
  • If you’re looking for golf action, there are great options in the area. Along with golf, the Pateros Alta Lake Golf Resort features lodging and a café by the name of Scratch. (Café open daily 7am – 3pm, 4pm on Friday/Saturday) Located in Brewster, the Gamble Sands course and their Danny Boy Bar & Grill are also a great choice. (Open daily, 60-min after sunrise – 10pm. Winter hours vary – check online) Lodging can be found at The Inn at Gamble Sands, which features a pool, fire pits and beautiful views of the Columbia River.
  • If you’d prefer to rough it a bit, nearby Alta Lake State Park offers camping, hiking, fishing, wind-surfing and swimming. (Discover Pass required for parking and permit required for boating.)
  • Should you be visiting during the winter, ample snowmobiling and x-country skiing opportunities can be found in the Black Canyon and South Fork Gold Creek sno-park areas. (Sno-Park permits required)
  • The towns of Pateros and Brewster and relatively small, but they do feature some big celebrations. Going since 1947, the Apple Pie Jamboree takes place the third weekend in July and is a great opportunity to indulge your love of pie as well as jet-ski races, fireworks and more. Taking advantage of that big bend in the river, the Pateros Hydro Races feature old-school hydroplanes in all their speedy glory. (August 26-28, 2022)

The most common route when heading north from Pateros and Brewster is via US-97. If you’re partial to roads less traveled, hit up Old Highway 97 off of US-97 in the Brewster area. It’s a lovely, tranquil route with acres of cherry orchards, waving fields of grain and sweeping vistas. That said, there was a bit of road construction on my last trip and several miles of it were unpaved gravel. It was well worth it, however, to experience the area from a less modern perspective. It was very easy to imagine riding horseback through the area en route to the next outpost…

Along the route, there are some excellent places to stop for a rest, enjoy the views and sample the area’s bounty. A couple of options to check out on your trek through the backroads:

  • Pull over in tiny Malott and visit the charming Malott Country Store. Along with all-day breakfast and desserts, they feature coffee, groceries, ice cream and more! (Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday, 10am – 7pm and Sunday, 11am – 6pm)
  • Don’t miss a stop at Smallwood Farms, located on SR-20 after the merge with Old Highway 97. Along with being a working farm, it’s a restaurant, fruit stand and grocery/gift store – and they have plenty of picnic space! If you’re into cherries, you’ll be extremely happy with your visit. (in season, of course) The store/restaurant is open seasonally – check online for hours.

After adventuring on Old Highway 97 and merging onto SR-20, it’s not too long before you’re back on the modern US-97. Heading further north on US-97 will soon bring you to the county seat of Okanogan County, fittingly named Okanogan. Established in 1888, Okanogan has long been at the center of local area commerce and culture. Located along the Okanogan River, it continues to serve as an important part of Okanogan County industry and interests.

One of the very interesting stories to be found in Okanogan involves the life and work of artist, Frank Matsura. After emigrating from Japan to the US in the early 1900s, he answered a Seattle newspaper ad and was hired at a hotel in nearby Conconully. During his time at the hotel, he spent his spare time photographing the Okanogan area and eventually moved into Okanogan proper in 1907. He became well known as both a photographer and muralist and contributed greatly to the commemoration of early Okanogan life and heritage. In January of 2022, a 60-foot mural was discovered during renovation of a downtown Okanogan building. (c. 1907) The hand-painted mural is being potentially attributed to Frank Matsura and the building’s new owners are currently working to restore the mural.

To explore the culture, history and industry of Okanogan and surrounding areas, consider these great options for your next visit:

  • Learn more about Frank Matsura and the early days of Okanogan with a visit to the Okanogan County Historical Museum in the downtown area. In addition to the museum, there is a firehouse exhibit next door as well an outdoor, historic Okanogan exhibit. (Open Memorial Day weekend – Labor Day weekend, call for hours/days)
  • For local festivities, entertainment and all things fried, head to the Okanogan County Fair & Rodeo every September and revel in this celebration of the county. If you’re in need of some new boots or a cowboy hat to pep up your rodeo-attending attire, stop in at longtime Okanogan staple, Rawson’s and get yourself outfitted.
  • Enjoy the area bounty and explore offerings from local artisans at the Okanogan Valley Farmers Market. (Saturdays, May thru October, 9am – 1pm. Hot tip: There is also a Tuesday version in nearby Omak from 3:30 – 6:30pm, June thru October.)

Important to any adventure is a great meal and a cozy place to stay. Okanogan can certainly help you out in both departments. On your next visit, check out these fine establishments:

  • For hearty panini sandwiches and fresh salads, head to The 509 – just good food for a tasty lunch. Monday – Friday, 10:30am – 2pm. Closed Sat/Sun
  • If a place features “wieners and wine,” I’m in! The Dawg House, located in the heart of downtown features both as well as delicious BBQ and a respectable tap list – not to mention mouthwatering cheesecake. They also feature live music on weekends and great outdoor seating. (Wednesday – Saturday, 4-8pm)
  • If you’re in the mood for a hearty breakfast or juicy burger, stop by local fav, the Stockyard Café and fill up. Also, they have crinkle fries. Very important to note. (Open Tuesday – Saturday, 7am – 2pm)
  • I require a good cup of coffee (or three) in the morning and drive-thru spot, Free Bird Espresso fully came to the rescue on my recent visit. (Open Monday – Friday, 5:45am – 6pm, Saturday/Sunday, 6:45am – 5pm)
  • There are Vrbo and Airbnb options in the greater Okanogan area, but on my last visit I stayed at the local Quality Inn & Suites. It’s relatively basic, but reasonably priced and the staff was very friendly and helpful. Located close to US-97, it’s well situated as a base for exploring the area.

Not far north on US-97 lies the largest city in Okanogan County, Omak and its suburb, North Omak. The area is famous for its yearly Omak Stampede, but there are many great ways to enjoy the area. Located in the foothills of the Okanogan Highlands, a hilly, mountain range spread across Canada, Washington and Northern Idaho, the dark skies alone are worth a visit. It is also a great base of operations for your northern Washington adventures.

Okanogan is a big county and you’ve likely worked up a big appetite if you’ve made it all the way up to Omak. There are many great options to stave off the hunger on your next visit:

  • Check out the fresh bread and home-style cooking made with locally sourced ingredients in this classic Omak location. (c. 1906) The Breadline Café offers tasty lunch and dinner and is open Tuesday – Friday, 11am – 8pm.
  • Located on the main route through town, Magoo’s Family Restaurant features classic, diner breakfasts all day and hearty lunch options. (Open daily at 7am, 11am on Wednesdays.)
  • Stop in at family-run Red Rooster Grill for classic diner dishes with an international flair. Located in the heart of downtown Omak and open daily from 8am – 9:30pm.
  • Head to the hip, downtown spot, The Loggerhead for artisan pizza, good beer and a fun atmosphere. This family friendly location in downtown Omak is typically open Wednesday – Saturday, 3-9:30pm. (Check online as they are open seasonally – and for the occasional special event in the off-season.)
  • These guys were closed on my last visit, but I WILL be back and I’m planning on a tasty visit. Los Gallos, a restaurant and bar located in downtown Omak features not only Mexican fare, but Chinese as well! That’s a dream fusion, in my foodie opinion. Open daily, 11am – 8pm (11pm, Thursday – Sunday)
  • Located just out of North Omak and flanked by orchards and farmland, the Rockwall Cellars Winery is a nice spot to relax with a glass of wine. In the summer, their tasting room is open Monday – Saturday, 11am – 6pm. During January – April, it’s open Thursday – Saturday, 11am – 5pm. They also host live music and feature “Wine Down Wednesdays” from7-9pm. Bring your own food – there’s a BBQ available for grilling.

I will admit to enjoying a visit here and there to a good casino. Video poker? Yes, please. Is that a Zillion Gators slot machine I see there?? Move out of my way! (Damn. Now I have the ridiculous Zillion Gators theme song stuck in my head. I have no one to blame but myself.) If you’re visiting the Okanogan/Omak area, smack dab in the middle is the 12 Tribes Resort Casino, operated by the Confederated Tribes of the Colville Reservation. Featuring a large array of slots and table games, the casino also hosts several onsite restaurants, hotel and RV lodging and spa facilities. The casino is a hot spot for nightlife and entertainment in the area and a fun evening out. That said, they didn’t actually have Zillion Gators. I looked… Maybe next time?

While there is much to do in the Omak area year-round, one of the most popular attractions takes place over the second weekend in August. The Omak Stampede has been entertaining visitors since 1933 and features western and native art shows, the Indian Encampment & Pow Wow and the famous Suicide Race. Whether or not you’re a fan of horses and their riders careening down an insanely steep trail in the Suicide Race, there are many sights, sounds and tasty treats to enjoy at the Omak Stampede. (August 11-14, 2022 – Always second weekend in August)

If don’t happen to be around during the Stampede festivities, consider these entertaining options for your visit:

  • Featuring first-run films in a classic movie house setting, the Omak & Mirage Theaters in downtown Omak are the places to be. They also host drive-in movies at the Stampede Arena during the summer months.
  • While currently closed during Covid times, the Omak Performing Arts Center hopes to be back soon. Featuring all varieties of performance, both local and touring, they are the premier destination for the performing arts in the area.
  • If you’re looking for a unique getaway, head to Pine Stump Farms­ for one of their package deals. They feature a Country Weekend that comes with food, lodging and excursions of your choice. (Horseback riding, swimming, canoeing or hiking) as well as horseback adventures of varying length. And be sure to try their tasty cheeses on your visit!
  • If enjoying the natural beauty of the area is on your agenda, check out Omak lake, Washington’s largest salt lake. Located in the foothills of the Okanogan Highlands, the area features beaches, camping, fishing, swimming, boating and more. This beautiful area in Colville Federated Tribes land is well worth a visit. (Camping and boat launch permits required.) Also found in the Omak Lake area is the gravity-defying, 40-ton behemoth known as the Omak Balance Rock. You can hold it up with one finger!

If the laid-back scene in Okanogan and Omak still isn’t mellow enough, consider heading towards Conconully on Conconully Road just out of Okanogan. Set in a beautiful mountain valley, Conconully is surrounded by forest, stunningly dark skies, two lakes and an endless variety of outdoor opportunity. Home to snowmobiling, camping, hunting, fishing and more, it’s the perfect place to commune with the sportsperson in you.

Most importantly, it’s home to the annual Outhouse Races. (The 2022 races took place on January 15th) If you’re not inspired to build your own outhouse racer, line up along the course as outhouses careen down the street. True story! Check out the short film, “Fast Crapper” for an in-depth look into this very excellent Conconully tradition.

Whether you’re in the area to enjoy the outdoors or the outhouses, Conconully has some food and lodging options to help you appreciate your stay:

  • Hit up the Conconully General Store for all your gas, groceries, gifts, and treat needs. (And more!) They’ll also be hosting a local vendor market beginning the weekend of April 23rd, 2022.
  • If you’re up for hearty burgers or pizza, stop in at the Red Rock Saloon and trade some fishing tales with your buddies. Open Tuesday – Saturday, 4pm – 2am. Family friendly. (Closed Sunday/Monday)
  • Enjoy a bit of classic breakfast and pub fare at the Sit ‘n Bull Saloon. Open Monday – Thursday, 9am – 11pm, Friday/Saturday, 8am – 11pm and Sunday, 9am – 10pm. Family friendly.
  • If you happen to be in town on the fourth Saturday in September, don’t miss the Stew & Brew event. A mere $15 buys you tastings of several stews and local brews.
  • Learn more about this tiny community at the Conconully Area Historical Museum. (Open weekends and holidays, 10am – 4pm, Memorial Day to Labor Day and by appointment.)
  • There are plenty of great lodging and camping areas in and around Conconully. The Liar’s Cove Resort, Shady Pines Resort and Gibson’s North Fork Lodge all feature cabins and access to local lakes, fishing, boating and more.
  • Also featuring five cabins as well as RV and campsite accommodations, Conconully State Park features ample boating, camping, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowshoeing and snowmobiling opportunities. (Discover Pass required. Fishing and boating permits required. Park facilities closed during the winter.)
  • Heading deeper into the forest surrounding Concunully, you’ll find the Salmon Meadows Campground. This area provides access to the Angel Pass Trail as well access to many snowmobiling and horse trails.
US 97
Okanogan Highlands and fruit on US 97

Heading closer to the Canadian border via US-97 will bring you to the tiny town of Tonasket. Fruit is big business in Okanogan County and Tonasket is an important player in the scene. Celebrate their part in one of Washington’s most important industries at these Tonasket spots:

  • Located off of Highway 7, Apple Cart Fruit features farm-fresh fruit throughout the year. Apples, cherries, apricots, peaches, nectarines and more! Open daily, 8am – 5pm, closed Sundays.
  • If you’re in the mood for homemade pie made with local fruit, stop by the quaint Shannon’s Place and dig in. If you need more than pie, check out their hearty breakfasts and weekend dinners. Open daily from 7:00am – 2:30pm. Friday/Saturday, open for dinner 4:30-7pm.
  • Stock up on all things natural and organic at the Tonasket Natural Foods Co-op. They feature an in-store deli with soup and sandwiches, local produce, meats, eggs and more. Open Monday – Friday, 9am – 7pm, Saturday, 9am – 6pm and Sunday, 11am – 4pm.
  • If you’re in the market for antiques or an eclectic gift, stop by The Olde Creamery and find your bliss. Open Monday – Saturday, 9am – 5:30pm, 8:30pm on Saturdays.
  • Buy directly from local artisans and farmers at the seasonal Tonasket Farmers Market. (Thursdays, 2-6pm, Mid May-October)
  • As is the case across Okanogan County, there are many beautiful areas to explore just out of town. Head to Bonaparte Lake and the Bonaparte Lake Campground for an outdoor adventure. The lake is very popular for fishing, including ice fishing in the winter. Along with stellar fishing, the campground features a boat launch, camping, swimming and hiking. (Fishing license required.)
  • For stunning hiking and very cool rock climbing options, hit up the Whistler Canyon Trailhead and take in the beautiful scenery. (Trailhead entrance located just off US-97.)
  • Should you feel like exploring the ghost towns of Okanogan County, head east on SR-20 out of Tonasket towards Wauconda and Old Wauconda. Outside of visiting the ghosts of Washington’s past, there isn’t much to do, but the drive is interesting and fairly quiet. Unfortunately, not to be confused with Wakanda.

If you’ve made it as far as Oroville, it’s only a few more miles to the Canadian border. You’ve also been traversing the beautiful Okanogan Trails Scenic Byway for the past 80 miles from Pateros and as you’ve seen during your trek, this part of the state packs in quite a bit of scenic wonder. If you’re looking to add more road trip street-cred to your adventure, check out the Highland Historic Loop (features northern Okanogan County and includes parts of adjacent Grant County) and the Many Lakes Historic Loop. (out of Oroville, heads to Nighthawk ghost town and on to Loomis and Conconully)

Oroville is the last town before the Canadian border. On my recent visit, the border was still closed due to Covid, but when open, it’s a very low-key affair to cross borders. None of those multiple lanes and gates; One lane and one gate. Voila! You’re in Canada! (As long as you have your passport or Washington State enhanced ID, of course.) Osoyoos is the closest Canadian town to the border and Penticton is just up from there. If you happened to have read my first Puerto Vallarta article, Penticton is home to the awesome couple I met during my adventures, Jorgen and Jen. Last I knew, Jorgen was head of the ski team at Penticton area Apex Mountain Resort, a ski hill I’d very much like to visit one of these days. I never cease to be amazed at just how small a world we all share.

Even during Covid times, it’s been possible to spend the day adventuring into Canada. Granted, it’s via water and you can’t legally touch the shore, but it’s still an international adventure! Spanning the border between the US and Canada, the international waters of Osoyoos Lake provide many relaxing opportunities for both Americans and Canadians. It’s possible to traverse the entire lake without a passport as long as you don’t go to land. Put in at the lovely Osoyoos Lake Veteran’s Memorial Park in Oroville and spend the day cruising the lake. In addition to a boat launch, the park also features fishing, swimming and camping.

When visiting the park, be sure to check out the private pond off to the side of the parking area. The number of trout in that pond – and the amount of commotion they were causing during my visit – was fantastic! (But it’s a private pond, so please don’t drop in a pole.) There was also an amazing variety of birds in the area. For more info about birding in the area, check out the Cascade Loop portion of the Audubon Society Great Washington Birding Trail.

In addition to Oroville’s dining opportunities, there are also some great ways to sample from the area’s wine scene. A few of the spots to help you enjoy your stay:

  • For beautiful views and a little vino, head to Esther Bricques Winery & Vineyard, located off US-97 between Tonasket and Oroville. They’re open daily from 1-6pm as well as Thursday evenings at 6pm for live music and tastings. (Thursday night events are year-round, but call ahead to make sure they’re open for afternoon tastings as they might be out in the vineyard.)
  • It was a beautiful sunny day on my last visit to Oroville and a stop at Taber’s Taste of Summer was the perfect way to celebrate. Set adjacent to a beautiful cherry orchard, this seasonal fruit stand, greenhouse and gift shop is a must-stop. The lovely owners also host “Wine Wednesdays” from 6-9pm with live music and food, which is a great opportunity to enjoy wine from their Copper Mountain Vineyards. (Opens in May, 10am – 5pm, fall hours vary seasonally)
  • While not a wine shop, Akins Fresh Market offers a good selection of local wine and beer as well as tasty treats for your picnic basket. (Open daily, 8am – 8pm) And don’t miss a stop at adjacent Country Store for all sorts of things you didn’t know you needed. Like my new “I heart Chickens” hoodie, for instance. (Open Monday – Saturday, 8am – 7pm, Sunday, 9am – 6pm)
  • Should you be craving a frosty beer rather than a glass of red, stop in at the Pastime Brewery and wet your whistle. (That said, they feature local wines as well!) In addition to a good tap list, they also feature house-smoked meats with homemade sauces and locally sourced ingredients. (Thursday – Monday, noon – 8pm. Closed Tuesday/Wednesday.)

On your next Oroville visit, why not enjoy some of that beautiful lake and mountain scene with a stay at one of the many local lodging establishments:

  • If you’ve been exploring the area around Osoyoos Lake, no doubt you’ve noticed how many homes dot the shoreline. If you’d like to spend more time on and around the lake, check out the Veranda Beach Resort. This upscale resort area is directly on the lake and features cottages, boating slips, a diner, grocery store and Veranda Beach Cellars winery.
  • Located west of Tonasket and Oroville, the Wannacut Lake Resort offers cabins, cottages and campsites on the lake. They have electric boat rentals available and a newly renovated restaurant opening sometime this year. (Opens for 2022 in on April 20th)
  • For a charming B&B experience in a beautiful ranch setting, head to Buena Vista Lodging in the North Oroville area for a relaxing weekend.
  • Work off some of that wining and dining on the Similkameen River Trail, a former railroad line located just west of Oroville off of US-97. Enjoy hiking, biking and gorgeous views on this easy-going paved/graveled trail.
Osoyoos Lake
Private homes and resorts dot the shores of Osoyoos Lake

Okanogan County is a jackpot for ghost towns and opportunities to take a step back in time abound. For a particularly fascinating look into county, state and international history, head to tiny Molson, a ghost town and museum located up Chesaw Road out of Oroville. The drive alone is worth the effort for its rolling hills, winding roads and absolute, complete solitude. Additionally, Molson sits very close to the Canadian border and there’s a country road (9 Mile Road) which parallels the country-dividing train tracks just out of Molson, all the way back down to Chesaw Road and into Oroville. Such an amazing part of the state! (Pro Tip: Cell reception cuts in and out on these roads and there isn’t a lot of traffic. Make sure you have a paper map on hand and know how to change a tire.)

The history you’re able to see along the drive to Molson is noteworthy, but you’ll want to grab your camera and jump out of the car as soon as you enter this tiny town. The first area you’ll come upon is the site of Old Molson and its now ghostly visage. Park in the small area just after turning into the site and get ready to transport back in time.

The buildings of Old Molson are largely intact with interiors which have been lost to the sands of time as well as portions featuring a museum-like format. This struck an engaging balance between stumbling upon a long-lost secret and handily learning all about it with an informative exhibit. I very much enjoyed exploring this slice of NW history and look forward to spending more time learning about the area on future visits.

Since Molson is very close to what is now the American/Canadian border, the area has quite a bit of shared history with our Canadian neighbors. As you drive into Old Molson, both flags are flying and after exploring the town, it’s an appropriate statement. So much trade, commerce and shared resources were a regular part of Molson’s day to day life and the international lines were often very blurred.

After roaming around Old Molson, do not miss a stop at the Molson Museum, located just past the ghost town. Originally the area’s schoolhouse, it has been closed for that purpose since 1969 and is now a fascinating museum dedicated to local history. The displays are well put together, charming and paint a very vivid picture of Molson life and times. An added bonus was the incredibly helpful and informative volunteer museum staff. They were very happy to discuss the area as well as serve up 50-cent coffee and brownies. I want all of my museum trips to be just like that! (Open daily from 10am – 5pm – Memorial Day thru Labor Day)

If you’re making the trek in and around Molson, there are many other points of history and interest to find in the area. Get out your map and find your way to these great spots on your next visit:

  • If you happen to be visiting Molson over the last weekend in August, head to the Molson Grange Hall for the popular Highland Stitchers Show & Sale. Beautiful, handmade quilts are on display and for sale! (Last Saturday in August, 9am – 3pm)
  • Taking place in Chesaw, every July 4th since 1942, the Chesaw Rodeo is a time-honored tradition in the area. Classic rodeo events, a parade, food and more! Another fun summer event in Chesaw is Chesaw Hot August Nights, featuring a classic car show and more. (The event was cancelled in 2021, but typically takes place the last Saturday in August)
  • If you’re visiting during winter and want to get in some skiing, make the trek up to cozy Sitzmark Ski Area. Follow Chesaw Road off of US-97 in Oroville up to Havillah Road and enjoy one of Washington’s old-school ski hills. (Open Thursday – Sunday. Lifts open 10am – 4pm. Ski hut and lodge open at 9am.)
  • For a bit of cross-country skiing on a network of groomed trails complete with warming hut, head to the Highlands Nordic Sno-park, located off of US-97 in Tonasket and up the Tonasket-Havillah Road. (Or take US-97 to Chesaw Road and onto Tonasket-Havillah Road.) A non-motorized Sno-Park Permit is required.
  • If you haven’t fulfilled your ghost town quota, head to Nighthawk, home to the oldest mining claim in the state. (c. 1860) Located on the opposite side of Oroville as Molson, take the Loomis-Oroville Road, west out of Oroville.

Yowsa! Okanogan County is a very large area to cover… But we did it! For the sake of wrapping up this particular Washington State odyssey, I’m going to save the spectacular Grand Coulee Dam for my upcoming Grant County adventure. Located in both Okanogan and Grant Counties, Grand Coulee Dam is an adventure not to be missed, but we’ll spend some quality time there during my Grant County travels. I promise!

And with that, we’ve come to the end of the road for Okanogan County. Well, not really, as we just left off in the middle of nowhere near Molson. Still a few miles to go before we get back home… Just as there are many ways to get in and around Okanogan County, there are equal amounts of beautiful routes to get you home. For this outing, I traveled back south on US-97 towards Pateros and Brewster, over to Blewett Pass and back towards I-90 and Seattle. It was a great drive! Bottom line, any path you take in and out of Okanogan County will inevitably be filled with beauty and adventure. It’s just a Washington State fact!

Until next time – Happy trails!

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Wind through the backroads of Okanogan County with my SPOTIFY PLAYLIST

  • Medicine – Grace Potter & The Nocturnals (from Grace Potter & The Nocturnals)
  • The Long Way Home – Norah Jones (from Feels Like Home)
  • These Days – Jackson Browne (from For Everyman)
  • You Can Close Your Eyes – James Taylor (from Mud Slide Slim and the Blue Horizon)
  • Right Down the Line – Gerry Rafferty (from City to City)
  • Wish the Wind Would Blow Me – Bob Schneider (from Burden of Proof)
  • I Gotta Get Drunk – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Ellen McIlwaine (from Up From the Skies: The Polydor Years)
  • Fruits of My Labor – Lucina Williams (from World Without Tears)
  • A Little Too Soon to Say – Jackson Browne (from A Little Too Soon to Say)
  • Bigger Boat (feat. Randy Newman) – Brandy Clark (from Your Life Is A Record)
  • Mountain Greenery – Kat Edmonson, Vince Giordano & The Nighthawks (from Café Society)
  • Baker Street – Shawn Colvin, David Crosby (from Uncovered)
  • I Wish I Was the Moon – Neko Case (from Blacklisted)
  • Just Like Heaven – Katie Melua (from Piece by Piece)
  • I Make the Dough, You Get the Glory – Kathleen Edwards (from Asking for Flowers)
  • Wildflowers – The Wailin’ Jennys (from Fifteen)
  • September Fields – Frazey Ford (from Indian Ocean)
  • I Must Be in A Good Place Now – Fruit Bats, Vetiver (from In Real Life – Live at Spacebomb Studios)
  • Keep Me in Your Heart – Warren Zevon (from The Wind)
  • White Horses – Darlingside (from Birds Say)
  • Take the Long Way Home – Supertramp (from Breakfast in America)
Pine Cones
Happy trails to you!

Check out more I Ate the State adventures!

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Summertime in Italy (featuring guest writer Erica Kees)

Greetings!

As I’m sure many of you are doing, I’ve been embarking upon a bit of armchair traveling these past few months. In addition to the many hours of travel and foodie shows I’ve been binge-watching, I’ve been doing a bit of traveling in my mind. Memories from past travels, amazing meals with family and friends, foodie adventures and misadventures – you name it, I’ve been dreaming of it. With these wonderful memories have come thoughts of places I’ve yet to visit and even ideas for future projects. It was that very inspiration which brings me to this special edition of I Ate the State.

I’ve been very lucky in my life to meet a handful of extraordinary people with whom I’ve been sharing adventures for many, many years. They are not only my dearest friends, but have become my family. They are people I love, respect and admire; people who have helped mold me into the person I am today. To imagine my life without this group of friends paints a sad and lackluster picture.

An important member of this cherished cast of characters is my dear friend, Erica Kees. One of the most interesting, talented and fearless people I’ve ever met, Erica is the true definition of a global citizen. Though we met growing up in the Tri-Cities, she has led a fascinating global life both before and after our desert adventures. Born in California, she spent her first few years in the Berkeley area. When her dad, Martin, graduated from Berkeley, the family moved to Nigeria where he taught Optometry and assisted in clinics in Benin City.  After two years, they returned to the states and found their way to Washington State for a spell. Since then, Erica has added many more locations to her travel and homestead passports over the years. The United States, the Cayman Islands, Guatemala, France and Italy are some of the places she’s called home and her travel roster is larger still. To say she has countless, enthralling adventures to share is indeed an understatement.

Erica and Martin
Erica and her brilliant dad, Martin. Talking to Martin about music and his amazing fractal art was always a joy.

Erica and I met while studying classical voice with Annabelle Wall in the Tri-Cities. We went to various vocal competitions, studied with the Maestro of the Mid-Columbia Symphony and spent hours talking about music and art. We also spent countless hours discussing the places we were excited to visit and the adventures we were dreaming of experiencing. (As there weren’t many artistic opportunities in the Tri-Cities at the time, this was an absolute necessity.) Additionally, her brilliant parents, Martin and Rena, were hugely influential to me in the areas of music, travel, creative thinking and much more. I owe my love of opera, Frank Zappa, Philip Glass and many other artists directly to Erica and her parents. I have the fondest memories of the Kees family, including randomly stopping by their home where I ended up talking with Erica’s dad, Martin, on the front porch about music for at least an hour. (Erica left her dad’s original Yamaha DX7 with me when she moved to the Cayman Islands and I still have it set up!)

During our college years, Erica and I studied together at both Columbia Basin College and Cornish College of the Arts and even lived in the same apartment building on Capitol Hill in Seattle. Unfortunately, our time together in Seattle was relatively short-lived as Erica made the decision to join her parents who had recently moved to the Cayman Islands. After enjoying life in the Caymans and fitting in various adventures and studies around the globe, she returned stateside to study Computer Science at the University of Chicago and Loyola University. While attending, she met her future husband, Enrico, who was a visiting Research Associate, based out of Milan, Italy. After finishing her degree, she continued to live and work in Chicago before leaving the States to embark upon an adventurous new chapter with Enrico in Monza, Italy.

And that is where we find Erica today; leading a beautiful life with Enrico and their two children, just outside of Milan in the lovely town of Monza. (I’m looking forward to visiting the beautiful Villa Reale and the Cathedral of Monza – circa 600 CE – on my future visit, not to mention MANY tasty restaurants.) Enrico is an Associate Professor at Politecnico di Milano and Erica is an adjunct teacher at the public high school for language learning and tourism, Mosè Bianchì. They still regularly visit the US, but spend the majority of their time in and around Italy. Food, family, travel, the Arts – All the things Erica and I dreamed of growing up are now an integral part of her daily life. I know she’ll never stop exploring or learning about the world around us and it’s one of my greatest wishes to at last get to join her on a few of her Italian adventures. After reading her article below, I’m pretty sure you’ll feel the same.

And without further ado, I present to you the lovely, Erica Kees to bring us a little slice of her Italian bliss. Take it away, Erica!

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Summer on a Plate – by Erica Kees

Firstly, I’d like to shout out to Dayna, my dear pal from our Tri-Cities days.  Grazie Mille (thanks a thousand! Yes, we do say thousand instead of a million!) for inviting me to add some Italian flavor to your highly entertaining, “I Ate the State” blog.  I can’t wait to follow Dayna’s further adventures in the Pacific Northwest and beyond (hopefully here, gosh darn it!) once we all somehow escape our own version of this Covid-19 nightmare.  In the meantime, I hope I can give you a glimpse, as an American living in northern Italy for the past 14 years, of our majestic and celebrated “summertime” menu.

Italians tend to eat lighter and brighter in the summer.  They actually refuse, completely turn up noses, to dishes they had devoured just a season ago.  At first, as an American, I could not understand the clear protocol about “stagionalità” or seasonality.  For example, polenta, stews, hot soups, fried food and other generally heavy dishes are considered strictly winter/autumn dishes.  However, chestnuts and pumpkin are only eaten in the fall.  Most Italians never enjoy a gelato in the winter!  They say that gelato is made for the summer.  In fact, my mother-in-law never had gelato in either the autumn or winter! In fact, all restaurants completely change their menus each season, well, unless they are created specifically to cater for tourists.  Why?  Well, usually tourists ask for the dishes they personally feel are typical even if it is in the wrong season.  So the restaurants do make exceptions and look on with a sense of pity, no doubt.

Let’s talk about the centerpiece of the Italian summer cuisine, the tomato. It’s certainly true that the tomato is a native fruit, born to the New World, but when you ponder the dishes of the Americas, the tomato does not leap to mind as the star ingredient.  There is no country, no group of people more united in their love and affection for the tomato, our “pomodoro”, than Italy.  Italians enjoy them in every way, not just as a way to dress up pasta or pizza – but also savory sun-dried and packed under oil, alongside beans, in soups, dotted on focaccia, or as the protagonist of the most famous of summer salads: La Insalata Caprese.  The name means “Salad of Capri,” the famous island just a 2-hour ferry ride from Naples.  (All Anglophones pronounce “Capri” incorrectly, leading to confusion.  I learnt very quickly that the accent is on the first syllable.) The Caprese represents the colors of the Italian flag; it feels like summer on a plate.  Why do you need a recipe to make it?  Well, you don’t really – surely we can remember the 3 essential ingredients:  tomatoes, basil, and the best mozzarella you can find.  Good luck there.  For sure, the summer sun and a green thumb can help. Every Italian nonna (grandma) will tell you it’s all about the quality of the ingredients that you use.  First of all, if the pomodori (tomatoes) are picked immediately from your garden, you will guarantee to have a showstopper on your plate.  If you find them at a local farm or market, your Caprese won’t win the four stars you’d get by growing them yourself but that’s clearly better than the supermarket, hands down.  Same goes for basil.  Why don’t you grow your own basilico on your balcony? (If you already do, scusami!) The leaves will be long and fragrant, just picked before dressing your Caprese.

Does anything close to real Mozzarella actually exist in America?  I’ve never found it. Well, I’m guessing there must be some incredibly savvy farmer out there raising grass-fed animals, creating some fantastic cheese in maybe California? You’ve got to find it! By all means, write me about it if you do.  Americans, for the most part, are agnostics when considering real Mozzarella! If you don’t know it actually exists, well, it isn’t a big problem until you actually try the real deal. Problem is, you will be converted once you’ve tried it. In Italy, the most prized form of Mozzarella is called “Mozzarella di latte di bufala” because only the Italian Water Buffalo’s milk, extremely rich and creamy, is used in all regions where the cheese is made.  This heavenly cheese came from the region of Campana, in the south.  Scientists are still unsure of where and when the Water Buffalo actually arrived in Italy.  We do know that the word “mozzarella” is from “mozzare”, meaning “cutting by hand,” as each piece is separated from the curd and formed into balls or “pearls of the table.”

Rodeo di Sapori Market
It says: “HER MAJESTY: The ‘FIGLIATA” This fantastic “Water Buffalo Mozzarella” filled with little bites and cream – you can only find it from us.” From “Rodeo di Sapori” market

What about additions to increase the savory flavors on your plate?  Freshly ground sea salt (but on the tomato not the cheese, please), pepper (optional), and a drizzling of an excellent Extra-Virgin Olive Oil (essential EVOO!) are key to dress or condire your Caprese.  You might feel inspired to add other flavors that complement the dish perfectly: fragrant oregano, finely chopped red onion, or even a handful of assorted olives and capers.  I’ve even broken the rules by adding a small 1/2  teaspoon of chopped chiles (just not done in Italy) but, that my friends, is an addition simply due to my Mexican roots. Others like to add balsamic vinegar, but I personally believe it pairs better with melon (for example, cantaloupe) and prosciutto crudo (raw cured ham), yet another summer delight.

Here in Monza, a northern suburb of Milan in the region of Lombardy, we have a number of open air markets that we frequent a few times a week.  They wouldn’t be considered “farmers’ markets” like in the States – they sell everything, from fruits & vegetables to fresh fish, cleaning supplies, and even underwear. I never miss the fresh ravioli maker’s stall (when I’m not searching for stylish new drawers) which has at least 30 different types on offer. Some popular fillings in the summer time are: shrimp and zucchini, fig and prosciutto ham, and ricotta cheese and lemon.  If you don’t have time to make your own ravioli (well only during a pandemic!) it’s the place to stop. Just add to salted boiling water and serve with a sage-butter sauce and top with grated Parmigiano-Reggiano, the real deal.

Ravioli
Ravioli: Fig with prosciutto, Ricotta Lemon, Zucchini flowers, “speck” (an alpine ham) and brie, 5 cheeses

The open air markets are hardly ever closed.  The only time we’ve ever seen them closed was during our cruel spring Coronavirus lock-down from March to May.  Even when it is raining or freezing, the hundreds of vendors are selling, like I mentioned, everything from linens to sotto olio (which is anything packed in olive oil in glass jars meant to accompany your dishes, like artichokes, sun-dried tomatoes, olives, fish, and the like).  Most Italians do not like to cook during the unbearably hot summers, so picking up an already baked focaccia, some pizzette (little pizzas only sold at the bakeries or panifici), or ciabatte (loaves of bread in the shape of slippers, hence the name) is part of the “fast-food” tradition of summer that allows us to avoid turning on our ovens most of the time.

I wouldn’t actually call them recipes, per se, but here are two lovely summer salad ideas that are simple to assemble.  I’d love to see your versions of summer on a plate!  Drop me a jpeg! Contact me on Twitter @ericaamy

Buon appetito! E buone vacanze!

Insalata Caprese
Insalata Caprese

Insalata Caprese

  • 3 fist sized tomatoes, sliced. As ripe and fresh as possible, please (obviously, add more if you are hungry).
  • 1 ball of mozzarella di bufala (or facsimile)
  • A sprinkling of basil leaves (8-10)
  • Freshly ground sea salt and pepper
  • A drizzling of your best Italian EVOO

Non-traditional additions:

  • Minced red onion
  • Capers and olives
  • Diced chiles
  • Balsamic vinegar from Modena

Serve with crusty bread and more EVOO

Melon and “Burrata” (yet another type of Mozzarella) or with prosciutto

Melon and Burrata
Melon and Burrata – Delicious!

  • 3 or more slices of ripe cantaloupe melon
  • A ripe fig or two
  • Mozzarella (in this case “burrata”)
  • A sprig of basil
  • Drizzles of EVOO and balsalmic vinegar
  • A handful of walnuts
  • Freshly ground salt and pepper
  • Some crazy Californian folks even add sliced avocado, but this is really not Italian!
  • Schiacciatine al rosmarino (a type of crunchy flatbread topped with sea salt and rosemary)

Buckwheat Pasta
Fresh buckwheat pasta with ceci and summer veg – Sapori d’Abruzzo

 

In the spirit of Dayna’s blog and our deep love and connection to music, I’ve added a YouTube playlist so your mood becomes all the more Italiano-charged! For a non-video version, you can also check it out on SPOTIFY

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And now, back to my armchair…

Molte grazie, Erica, for the beautiful glimpse into your life in Italy. I truly can’t wait to visit and enjoy everything in person. While I’m waiting, I’ll just have to live vicariously through your words, recipes and lovely pictures… And perhaps share a few resources for Seattle-area readers should they be also be inspired to travel virtually.

Erica wrote of the glory of local buffalo mozzarella and featured burrata in one of her recipes. However, until I’m able to visit the Rodeo di Sapori Market in person, I will have to make do with local offerings. Though I’m certain shopping for Italian ingredients in a lovely Italian marketplace is definitely the way to go, there are also some pretty delicious resources in the Seattle area. Should you be looking for ingredients for your next Italian-inspired meal, consider these local options:

*Be sure to check online for updated Covid-19 guidelines and opening/closing times for the businesses featured below.

  • Check out De Laurenti Food & Wine for a dreamy treasure-trove of Italian specialty foods. Located in Pike Place Market since 1946, they feature fresh deli meats, cheeses, wines and more. This place is amazing and has been charming, daring and taunting me into trying delicious foods since my first childhood visit. I’m fairly certain they are wholly responsible for my long obsession with Italian nougat… (Open Mon-Sat, 10am – 5pm and Sun, 11am – 4pm)

PRO TIP: Do not miss a trip to world-renowned Pike Place Market, overlooking the waterfront in downtown Seattle. This is the place of my foodie and Art dreams and it has been fueling my stomach and artistic endeavors throughout my entire life. Check online for hours, but produce stands are generally open 9am – 5pm and the fish market, from 9am – 3pm. This place is a GOLD MINE.

  • While they don’t have mozzarella, Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in Pike Place Market does make some pretty amazing cheese. Their Flagship, New woman and cheese curd varieties are fantastic – and don’t miss out on their house-made Mac & Cheese, grilled cheese sandwiches and the ongoing cheese curd show! (Watch them churn the cheese curds in a huge vat in the corner window) Order online for pick-up, 10am – 5pm daily.
  • Found in several local-area farmer’s markets, King’s Mozzarella features some pretty rockin’ and much sought after fresh mozzarella varieties. Check their Facebook page to see where they’ll be next!
  • For the most delectable, house-made cured meats, head to Salumi, located in Pioneer Square. Pick up everything needed for an epic charcuterie spread or fall in love with one of their amazing house sandwiches. (I would marry their Porchetta sandwich if it were legal.) They do also make delicious mozzarella and other cheeses in house – call ahead to place a takeout or delivery order. (Wed – Sat, 11am – 2pm and 4pm – 6pm)

Tomatoes and Mozz
My take on Erica’s recipe. Pretty tasty! (But missing that real-deal Italian mozz, for sure)

In addition to meats and cheeses, you might find yourself in need of fresh baked goods, vegetables and important items such as extra-virgin olive oil. You’re in great luck as Seattle and the surrounding areas have an excellent selection of farmer’s markets and local stores to hit up. Check out these great options for future recipe needs:

Should you be more in the market for a professional chef preparing your favorite Italian dishes, Seattle has a great offering in the way of restaurants. Would I prefer to be eating my meal and sipping a glass of wine at an outdoor table in, say, Monza, where I hope to soon be visiting my pal, Erica? ABSOLUTELY! However, since that might not be until (hopefully) next summer, I’ll live vicariously through the great local spots while I wait…

  • Focusing on Northern Italian cuisine, Café Juantia in Kirkland is absolutely wonderful. James Beard Award winner, Holly Smith, has been welcoming guests to this tucked away location since 2000. It is without a doubt, one of my favorite places to dine in the Northwest. They’re currently doing At Home with Café Juanita take-away orders where you can find full dinners, antipasti, burrata dishes, fresh heirloom tomatoes and much more. Tuesday – Friday, 2:30 – 4pm for pickup. (Order 24 hours in advance)
  • Opened in 1991, the year before I officially moved to Seattle, Serafina features delicious Italian fare in a charming, neighborhood setting. The burrata salad, Agnolotti dal Plin and a selection from their great wine list makes for quite a delicious evening. And don’t forget the panna cotta! I have many fond memories of listening to local Jazz artists at Serafina while enjoying a glass of wine. I even worked on a film shoot there during my short-lived film crew days. Very good times… Take-out and dine-in for dinner, Thursday through Sunday, 5-9pm.
  • For great pizza made in a handmade, wood-fired brick oven imported from Naples, head to Cornuto on Phinney Ridge. (Part of the Via Tribunali family of restaurants) Their Bufalina D.O.C. pizza and Mezza Luna Nutella dessert (Nutella filled calzone with powdered sugar – SO good!) are two of my very favorite things. Open for take-out from 4-9pm.
  • I love the DERU Market, located in Kirkland’s North Rose Hill neighborhood. They serve fantastic sandwiches on house-made focaccia bread, featuring house-roasted turkey and country ham, seasonal veggies, artisan cheeses and more. In addition, their wood-fired pizzas, farm salads, and baked goods are amazing. (I’m addicted to their salted peanut butter cookies and insanely large slices of cake.) They also feature giant meatballs, fig & pistachio meatloaf, veggie sides and a great offering of hot beverages and wine. Open daily, 8am – 9pm for take-out and limited delivery. (Pro tip: If you’re in need of great catering, look no further – DERU Market is awesome!)
  • Wallingford’s Bizzarro Italian Café is quirky, quaint, cozy and most importantly, delicious. Their house-made pasta – the Puttanesca and Sugar Snap Pea Carbonara are both delicious – meatballs and desserts are fabulous. They’re currently offering take-out and have opened an Outdoor Wine Corral for drinks while you wait for your take-away. Open 5pm – 8pm-ish.
  • Located in downtown Seattle and the Ballard neighborhood, Serious Pie is a great place to enjoy a pizza pie. They feature the classics, but I’m particularly fond of the Prosser Farm Potato, Rosemary and Pecorino Romano For dessert, DO NOT miss the Triple Coconut Cream Pie. Get it and don’t look back… Open for take-away, 11am – 7pm. Ballard Bonus: You can also order weekend brunch from Serious Biscuit. Check out the delicious breakfast biscuits like The Zack. YUM! They also feature Bloody Mary and Mimosa kits to-go! (Sat/Sun, 9am – 12pm for brunch) 11:30a – 8pm, for Serious Pie take-away.
  • Found in the Queen Anne neighborhood, How to Cook A Wolf features rustic, Italian-inspired food in a modern, yet cozy atmosphere. Their Prawn Tagliatelle and Heirloom Cucumber Salad (with huckleberries!) are excellent. Open daily for takeout from 4pm – 8pm. I’m also looking forward to another Ethan Stowell, Italian-inspired spot, Staple & Fancy re-opening. Their pasta and seafood dishes are delicious and trying their Chef’s Menu has long been on my to-do list.
  • While not necessarily a go-to for fine dining, Vito’s on Capitol Hill has been wooing patrons with their classic, darkened-booth Italian scene since 1953. Great drinks, classic fare, nightly music and who doesn’t love some private dining action in the Cougar Room? Currently open for take-away and delivery, Wed-Sun, 5-9pm.
  • Should you be perusing Pike Place Market for all the fresh goods, check out the delicious fare at longtime Market staple, The Pink Door. Classic, with a refined flair, their menu is very enjoyable and the ambiance is always lovely. I’m particularly fond of the lasagna and meatballs. Deck seating available and lunch and dinner takeout. Wednesday – Sunday, 11:30am – 4pm (lunch) and 5pm – 9pm (dinner)

As I bring this collaborative edition of I Ate the State to an end, I hope it finds you as inspired as I am to dive into a giant bowl of pasta and pour a large glass of vino. I’m very happy you had the opportunity to meet my dear friend, Erica, and hope you enjoyed your look into the beauty of the Italian summer. She has always been my hero when it comes going out and exploring the world; to venturing out and making her dreams become reality. This newest snapshot of her adventures only solidifies my feelings and I’m so excited to see more. I also have it on great authority that Erica and her family have recently returned from traipsing about the Italian countryside, further enjoying the summer bounty. (Abruzzo and all of its bounty looks amazing!) I can’t wait to see more of her pictures and start planning my future visit.

Until next time, take good care and be safe.

Ciao!

Brodetto Vastese
The lovely Erica enjoying ‘Brodetto Vastese’ in Abruzzo (13 types of fish in a garlic tomato reduction. Upon finishing the fish, you are brought pasta alla chitarra to clean the pan)

 

~ Collective words for a collective world ~

I Ate the State – Special Edition: Strength, Resilience & Happy Memories

Greetings!

As many of us are currently doing, I’m sitting in my living room, contemplating the state of things. I’ve been thinking about what makes me strong and what makes me weak; what’s truly important to me and what drama I might’ve put too much time towards. I’ve been rethinking my usual, “I enjoy hanging out by myself – I could hang out by myself all day, every day” take on things. I’ve been dusting off family recipes and calculating how to make things stretch… Most importantly, I’ve been thinking about all the amazing people in my life – and the people who made me, me. It takes a village and I feel incredibly fortunate to be part of a pretty cool one.

With March being Women’s History Month, I’ve also been thinking about all the amazing women in my life as well as around the world. Without the strong women who have come before us, we wouldn’t be the people – the nation – we are today. Without the strong women in my own life, I know for certain I wouldn’t have weathered the storms of my past. (Or had any idea how to stretch those ingredients…) When I think of our current, global situation, I am incredibly grateful for the fortitude and strength of all the strong women and men out there and am beyond grateful to draw upon the fortitude of the strong women in my own life.

We’ll weather this storm, just as we always have. It will be tough and there will be hard work, compromise and sacrifice along the way. But there will also be love, courage and perseverance. There will be people standing up for one another and helping to carry the load. There will be unexpected moments of joy as we realize just how strong we can be and just how much love we have to give. It takes a village and we’re part of a pretty cool one. We’ve got this. The flowers are still blooming!

While thinking of strength and resilience, I was reminded today would’ve been my Grandma Brown’s birthday. She was a huge influence in my life and I miss her very much. I miss her strength, humor and ability to rise above it all and keep moving forward. In times such as these, it gives me great comfort and strength to remember her stories; to remember her love. I was lucky enough to know most of my grandmothers and great-grandmothers and they, along with my amazing mother, all shared these qualities. In tribute to my Grandma Brown – and all the strong ladies in my life and those that came before – I’d like to share an article I published shortly after my Grandma Brown’s passing in 2013.

Take a moment to think about those in your life who’ve made a difference and of those for whom you can make a difference. Take strength, courage and mettle from the experience of those who’ve come before and apply it to the journey ahead. We’re living in strange and unprecedented times, but we’re standing tall because others persevered before us. Let’s take their torch and run with it.

Stay safe – and wash your hands!

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Originally published July 9, 2013

Food and Family – A Tribute to My Grandma

Food helps shape the culture, traditions and soul of family life. In addition to simple nourishment, it offers entertainment, adventure, reward and comfort; and often within each family are those individuals who gravitate towards the nurturing of one or more of these esteemed conventions.

Within my own foodie family, there are many members upholding these pillars of culture and tradition. We are lucky to have several amazing cooks, not to mention artists, musicians, engineers, scientists, adrenaline junkies – you name it – adding their expertise and enthusiasm to the family table. Thankfully, we also have some very sympathetic shoulders to cry on when one or more of these activities (and recipes) leads to a less than desired outcome. I feel very lucky – and somewhat intimidated at times – to be part of such a dynamic group of people.

While although my family is quite a multi-talented bunch, there has always been one member to whom we have all looked for guidance. One person who encompassed all the aforementioned attributes and to whom we have aspired to emulate. One cook who made the lemon meringue pie none of us could ever seem to master… The matriarch of our family, my grandmother, Dorothy Brown.

Sadly, my family recently lost this very remarkable and amazing woman. She passed away in the company of family at the age of 90 on June 15th in Richland, Washington. Wife, mother, office administrator extraordinaire, grandmother, great-grandmother and friend – she wore many hats and wore them exceptionally well. (All without messing up one hair of her always perfectly styled hairdo) To say she will be missed is an incredible understatement. She was the matriarch of our hearts and history and the irreplaceable head of our table. It is with much love, gratitude and many happy memories that I dedicate this entry to her…

My grandmother was born in 1923 in Philipsburg, Kansas and spent her childhood years in Lincoln, Nebraska. She moved with her family to Yakima, Washington as a teenager, where she met her soon-to-be husband (and my grandpa), Leland Brown. They married in May of 1942 and were able to spend a precious few months together before my grandfather left to fight in WWII. My mother was born in May of 1943 and it wasn’t until the end of the war at age two when she finally met my grandfather. My grandparents were two of the strongest, most formidable people I’ve ever known, but the hardships they faced were many. Their stories have never ceased to amaze and inspire me. (On that note, I’d say that of all my grandparents and great-grandparents) I only hope that someday I’m able to look back and feel I’ve faced my own challenges with half their grace and fortitude.

I could write endlessly of the love, support and adventures shared with my grandmother over the years, but in keeping with the spirit of my project, I’m going to share stories of something else she gave in endless abundance: Food – And a complete mastery of its preparation, presentation and place in the lives of my family.

As is the case with many families, there are certain recipes that define a celebration – Or the family itself, for that matter. There are recipes which have been handed down through the generations and there are recipes that would produce heartbreak if they were ever lost in the shuffle of time. I can say with complete authority there are several such recipes born as a result of my grandmother’s foodie expertise and experimentation. I’m heartbroken indeed to have lost my grandmother, but it gives me comfort and hope knowing a piece of her lives on through her recipes. I was very excited and relieved to learn of my aunts’ plan to create an actual cookbook containing all of my grandmother’s most popular and irreplaceable recipes. I will do my best to channel my grandmother as I use the cookbook to try and recreate her chicken and noodles or her pumpkin torte. (Note: The chicken and noodles recipe is actually from my great-grandmother, handed down to my grandmother – And now to the rest of our family… The deliciousness lives on!)

People were always asking for my grandmother’s recipes and to my knowledge she was never hesitant to share them. The caveat being, however, it was rare the recipe ever turned out like my grandmother’s version. Many a cook has attempted to replicate the towering peaks of my grandmother’s lemon meringue pie and many have failed mightily. And I’d be a complete liar if I said I’d ever been able to duplicate the fluffiness of her divinity or the perfection of her pie crust. (Even after watching over my mom’s shoulder as she nailed it every time. Apparently I did not inherit the pie crust gene…)

Several years ago, I spent some time working in the Scottish Highlands at a small village inn. While there, I became friends with a few of the chefs working in the well-reviewed inn restaurant. They were truly talented and I am happy to have returned home with many new recipes and delicious memories of their Scottish (and Irish!) cooking. One day, we were chatting about foods they’d enjoyed during their visits to the States, but had never been able to copy. Among the foods on their lists were peanut brittle and zucchini bread. When I mentioned those were two of the recipes for which my grandmother was widely known, they practically marched me out to the village phone booth to call my grandmother straight away. However, as there was a 9 hour time difference and it was probably 3am at my grandmother’s house and there was currently a large gathering of sheep loitering around the one and only phone booth, I promised to call her as soon as reasonably possible. (And after the sheep mob had dispersed.)

A phone call later and a few hand printed recipe cards sent courtesy of my grandmother, my chef friends were madly racing about the kitchen gathering ingredients. After days of experimentation and several takes on the recipes, they came pretty close to recreating the magic. Close, but based on my personal consumption of the real deal, not quite close enough. Granted, their versions were very tasty and I much appreciated the effort, but a couple of things were off. Not enough lightness in the crunch of the peanut brittle – not quite enough moistness in the zucchini bread… These were top chefs and they’d made some very enjoyable tributes to my grandmother’s recipes, but they just weren’t the same.

I never did have the heart to give them my thoughts on their renditions. They were so happy with the results and definitely thought they’d recreated what they’d sampled in their journeys, so why ruin the party? (Plus, their results really were pretty good – and I love peanut brittle…) Most importantly, however, was the idea that I’d been able to share a little of my family’s food traditions with people living on the other side of the planet. Thanks to my grandmother, peanut brittle and zucchini bread now make people happy in the Scottish Highlands; hopefully just as much as they do in my family and in our home of Washington State.

I can honestly say I’ve never eaten anything my grandmother made that I didn’t like. Granted, I’ve never been a fan of cooked fruit and I’m allergic to walnuts and bananas, but that’s not on her. In retrospect, I feel bad if she ever happened to catch some of the faces I made whenever I accidentally sampled her food containing any of those items. (I do have it on absolute authority that she pretty much rocked all of those ingredients in many dishes over the years.) Whether it was a simple fried egg, a cream pie she’d made especially for me so I wouldn’t have to eat the fruit pie or any of the dishes she made for our elaborate family celebrations or camping trips – it was all amazing.

Through my grandmother’s cooking she brought us love, comfort, camaraderie, identity and probably a few buttons popping off after one of her gloriously decadent desserts. She brought a kind of magic to her dishes and I will forever miss hanging out in her kitchen and taking it all in. But just as will our memories of this amazing woman live on, so will her recipes. I can only hope we’re able to do those recipes justice as we attempt to recreate the magic. I know we’ll give it our all, but as was the case with my Scottish chef friends, it likely won’t be quite the same. And who knows – in following my grandmother’s inspiration, maybe one of us will get lucky and create a dish of our own to pass down through the generations. A foodie girl can dream…

The Browns
(From left to right: Joann (my mom), Leland (Grandpa Brown), Dorothy (Grandma Brown))

 

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