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: I Ate the Neighborhood

Greetings from my office/living/entertainment/multi-purpose room! I hope this installment finds you well and safe in whatever room of the house you’re currently exploring. I was just in the spare bedroom a little while ago – what an adventure! Don’t worry. I brought snacks… And wine.

One of the main reasons I began I Ate the State was to highlight areas of the state I hadn’t visited. I grew up in Washington and thought I knew my state, but when breaking it down by county, I realized just how many areas I’d not yet explored; how many Washington State adventures were still lying in wait. There is so much unique beauty and culinary genius to enjoy in this state, but I know even after visiting every county, there will still be new adventures to experience. I’m willing to do the work…

In the meantime, however, I’ve been enjoying the state from a slightly smaller perspective. I’ve really missed getting out and exploring on a grander scale, but switching focus to the microcosm of my Bothell neighborhood has definitely been rewarding. Granted, my walking excursions and take-out from local restaurants don’t always match the grandeur of a good day or weekend trip, but they’re not a bad compromise. And just like I thought I knew my state, I also thought I knew my neighborhood… Seems regardless of the scale, there’s always something to explore; always something surprising to enjoy.

Beauty can be found in the most unexpected places. It can pop out of cracks in the sidewalks, wander across the sky in the movement of lazy clouds or burst into view with the blossoms of spring. It’s in the joy of little bunnies popping out of nowhere, making tracks down the road and in the sound of the ice cream truck rolling through the neighborhood. (ICE CREAM TRUCK!!! RUUUUUNNN!!!) There’s something to be said for beauty being in the eye of the beholder. One can behold it anywhere and in any capacity – You just need to keep your eyes open to its many charms. I’m working daily on keeping mine open during this very… unique and challenging time.

When I’m not busy chasing down the ice cream truck, I’ve been hitting up some of my favorite neighborhood spots for take-out and more. (Seriously – Can anyone deny the siren call of the ice cream truck? Is anyone not immediately reduced to a crazed 5-year old??) Here’s a short list of the awesome spots in old town Bothell I’ve been enjoying over the years as well as during the past couple months:

  • A long-time favorite of Bothell residents is the Ranch Drive-in on Bothell Way NE, in the heart of old town Bothell. (Since 1959!) I’ve been a devotee since moving to the area several years ago and hope to be a patron for many years to come. The menu is filled with classic treats, but my favorites are the Ranch Burger with cheese and the CRINKLE FRIES with their homemade tartar sauce. (#CRINKLEFRIES4LIFE) I’m also quite fond of their grilled hotdogs and fish sandwiches. Mmmm… Their walk-up window is currently open daily. Check website for hours. I LOVE YOU, RANCH DRIVE-IN.
  • The Hillcrest Bakery has been serving Bothell since 1934, with current family operation since 1965. It’s no wonder they’ve become such a mainstay in the community as their baked goods are I’ve ordered many cakes over the years and absolutely swear by their sausage rolls. (Phone in order and pick up around the back – Open until 6pm)
  • The classic Countryside Donut House off Main Street in old town Bothell has been enticing locals with their donuty goodness for many a year. I’m a big fan of their delectable maple bars and custard filled donuts. YUM!! Cash and check only. (Current hours: 5am – 3pm daily)
  • Alexa’s Café on Main Street in old town Bothell is actually the last dining room I visited before the statewide lock-down. Sigh… While I await the reopening of the restaurant in full, I’ll be ordering their delicious Eggs Benny for take-away. Great for breakfast, lunch and dinner, Alexa’s features dishes made with local ingredients in their cozy dining room. (Current take-out for Breakfast/Lunch only – 8:30am – 2pm, Wed-Sun)
Alexa's Cafe
The Eggs Benny at Alexa’s is delicious!!
  • Revolve Food & Wine is somewhat new to the Main Street scene in old town Bothell, but they’ve been making a delicious case to become part of the area staples. They are currently open for take-out and delivery from 4-7pm and specialize in gluten, grain, preservative and refined sugar-free dishes featuring high-quality local ingredients. They also have an excellent wine selection, along with cocktails and beer available for take-away.
  • I have two very important words for you: Truffle Popcorn. Everything I’ve tried at The Bine has been consistently delicious, but that truffle popcorn… DREAMY. I would eat it every day… And as surprising as it is to me, I’d also say the same about their Brussels sprouts. The rest of the menu is excellent, but I’d also like to personally recommend the Pho’rench Dip and either the bacon or veggie grilled cheese sandwiches. (Get both!) Their awesome beer and wine selection is also available for take-away. (Open daily, Noon – 8pm)
  • Teriyaki Best has been my local go-to teriyaki spot for many years. It’s a tiny place off Main Street in old town Bothell, but very big on flavor. The dishes are always tasty, the portions satisfying and the service great. I love the salmon teriyaki and the Katsu chicken. (Open for take-out at 11am – 8:30pm during week, Noon – 8pm Saturday. Closed Sunday.)
  • I’m a frequenter of their conveyor-belt operation, but have recently been enjoying the take-out options at Sushi Zone on Main Street in old town Bothell. I’m addicted to the Bothell and UW rolls as well as many other tasty items. Sesame balls!! (Order online and pick-up. No delivery. Check online for hours.)
Sushi Zone
DELICIOUS!
  • Located in old town Bothell on NE 183rd Street, The Cottage offers breakfast, brunch, lunch and dinner in a cozy atmosphere. (Outdoor seating, curbside pickup and free delivery currently available.) In addition to single portions, they’re also presently offering family-style brunch and dinners along with date-night specials, a great coffee menu and adult beverages. They regularly host live music and during the lock-down are featuring online performances via Facebook. (Currently open 8am – 8pm, Mon-Fri, 9am – 8pm, Saturday and 9am – 3pm on Sunday)
  • I very much miss their original location (RIP Country Village), but I’m so happy Cranberry Cottage has found a new home in the old town Bothell area. It was dangerous enough when they were a 5-minute drive away, but now they’re a one-block walk DANGER! Chances are, if you’re a friend or family member, you’ve received a super-cool gift found over the years at Cranberry Cottage. And you probably will again!! (Currently open for limited curbside pick-up – order online.)
Cranberry Cottage
Curbside pick-up is available at the charming Cranberry Cottage

While I’m incredibly grateful for the excellent dining options within a few blocks of my home, I’m also working on keeping things interesting in my own kitchen. For the past two years, during spring, I’ve made treks down to beautiful Puerto Vallarta. I’ve been missing the sun and day-dreaming about the beach these past couple months, so I decided to try and recreate one of the dishes from my recent visit. The Shrimp and Avocado Tostadas Louie from Joe Jack’s Fish Shack are delicious and though I’m still fine-tuning the details, I’m pretty happy with my copycat results. YUM! I made some scratch hibiscus margaritas to go along with the tostadas and those, coupled with a sunny afternoon on the patio, were a much needed distraction from the office/living/entertainment/multi-purpose room setup.

I’ve also been exploring recipes online and found a great one for Chicken Pot Pie Biscuits on the lovely In Diane’s Kitchen website. They were delicious and reheated nicely in the oven throughout the week. In addition, I’ve been pretty happy with my various curry experiments and will be trying out a pulled ham Instant Pot dish later this week. Just trying to keep things tasty and interesting in the ol’ Quarantine Kitchen… And when all else fails, I’ve always got tater tots to fall back on… #TATERTOTS4LIFE

I have indeed been enjoying my neighborhood deep-dive, but am very much looking forward to the days of again branching out to the rest of the state. I love my neighborhood and it has a lot to offer, but it’s always fun to explore what other neighborhoods – and their neighbors – have to share. I’m also very much looking forward to exploring the state with friends and family. In the same vehicle. Less than 6-feet apart… But in the meantime, I’m happy to keep things safe and sound in my little corner of the world. I hope you are equally safe and sound – and staying sane – in your corner of the world as well.

Support your local businesses, support your neighbors – Eat the neighborhood! (But don’t eat your neighbors. That’s not right.)

Cheers!

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To help you enjoy your own explorations, I’ve curated a special list of happy, neighborhood strollin’ tunes. Check out the playlist on SPOTIFY. I guarantee these songs will make you smile!

  • Keep on Truckin’ – Eddie Kendricks (from Eddie Kendricks)
  • Won’t You Be My Neighbor – Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) (from You Are Special)
  • Traveling Without Moving – Jamiroquai (from Traveling Without Moving)
  • Come and get Your Love – Redbone (from Wovoka)
  • Time to Move On – Tom Petty (from Wildflowers)
  • Mah Na Mah Na – Sesame Street (from A Sesame Street Celebration)
  • Lovely Day – Bill Withers (from Menagerie)
  • Getaway – Earth, Wind & Fire (from Spirit)
  • Gone At Last – Paul Simon w/Phoebe Snow & The Jessy Dixon Singers (from Still Crazy After All These Years)
  • As – Stevie Wonder (from Songs in the Key of Life)
  • Beautiful World – Colin Hay (from Going Somewhere)
  • The Rainbow Connection – The Muppets (from The Muppets Original Soundtrack)
  • Mo’ Better Blues (feat. Terence Blanchard) – Branford Marsalis Quartet (from Mo’ Better Blues)
  • Billy Boy (1959 Take) – Ahmad Jamal (from Ahmad Jamal and Miles Davis Play Ahmad Jamal)
  • (Your Love Keeps Lifting Me) Higher – Jackie Wilson (from Higher and Higher)
  • The Rubberband Man – The Spinners (from Happiness Is Being with The Spinners)
  • Freedom – Pharrell Williams (from Freedom)
  • Keep Your Head Up – Preservation Hall Jazz Band (from A Tuba to Cuba)
  • Just Around the Corner – Herbie Hancock (from Hands)
  • Yes We Can Can – The Pointer Sisters (from The Pointer Sisters)
  • I’m Walkin’ – Fats Domino (from Fats Domino Swings)
  • Be Brave, Be Strong – Mister Rogers (Fred Rogers) (from It’s Such A Good Feeling)
Lilacs
Lilacs are pretty. I promise to not steal them from your yard.

 

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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!

~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~~

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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I Ate the State – Island County

Happy New Year from I Ate the State! I’m quite certain it’s going to be a good one – and chock full of Washington State adventure.

To start the year off in coastal style, I’d like to share my recent adventures to the beautiful shores of Island County. Comprised primarily of Whidbey and Camano Islands and located in the upper northwest part of the state, Island County is a wonderful escape from the mainland commotion any time of year. Full of history, sweeping prairies and shorelines, there’s something for everyone to enjoy on these lovely little islands. Holding court as the second smallest county in Washington (by area), one might think there wouldn’t be much to see and do, but they’d be entirely wrong.

True to its name, Island County is indeed a seafaring destination. That said, there are also routes which quite nicely accommodate the four-wheeled traveler. On my recent journey, I hit up the excellent Washington State Ferry system as well as the bridges connecting both Camano and Whidbey Islands to the mainland. One of these days I’d love to arrive via sailboat… #BucketList

Cama View
Looking out towards the Olympics from Cama Beach

To arrive in Camano Island, I drove north on I-5 and took Exit 212 leading to Stanwood. After following SR-532 through Stanwood, I crossed over moody Davis Slough and the Stillaguamish River via the Camano Gateway Bridge and officially entered Island County. For an excellent day trip from the Seattle area, consider a combo visit to both Camano Island and the Stanwood area. While adjacent to each other, they actually span both Snohomish County and Island County. Travel bonus! There are great restaurants, outdoor opportunities and lodging in both areas, making for a great day trip or weekend getaway. For this adventure, however, I was sticking to the gorgeous shores of Island County.

As one of the two largest islands making up Island County, it can be easy at times to forget you’re actually on an island. Filled with beautiful stretches of farmland and forest, Camano Island is an idyllic slice of Northwest living. Driving around the island is a wonderful way to spend the day and the glimpses you’ll catch of surrounding Possession Sound and Port Susan make for a perfectly picturesque road trip.

One of the first places I wanted to visit was the beautiful Kristoferson Farm. Perched on a hill overlooking scenic farmland, this sixth-generation farm (c. 1912 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places) features organic lavender, hay and fruit crops as well as the zip-line outfit, Canopy Tours NW. While I will admit to still mentally recovering from my jungle zip-line incident near Puerto Vallarta, I plan on returning to conquer my zip-line fears on Camano Island in the near future.

To highlight their bounty, they feature related products in their onsite farm store and gift shop. I picked up some delicious culinary lavender on my visit and have been adding it to various bakery and beverage experimentations ever since. Yum! They also host regular farm-to-table Dinner in the Barn events featuring northwest wineries and chefs as well as lavender craft classes. I do plan on making a triumphant return to zip-lining, but I’d be a liar if I said the barn dinners weren’t absolute tops on my list…

If you’re looking for a unique challenge, but zip-lining isn’t your thing, check out some AXE THROWING action just up the road at Arrowhead Ranch. They feature shared and private axe-throwing lanes as well as various workshops. In particular, their Live-Edge Charcuterie Board class is high on my list of things to check out. Wood-working shenanigans which include hors d’oeuvres and local wine? I’m IN! (I wonder if you drink wine while using power tools…)

While Arrowhead Ranch doesn’t offer onsite food or beverage, they do encourage the bring-your-own plan. Located nearby is the excellent Camano Commons, the local hub for restaurants, coffee, gifts and more. Some of the great options to check out:

There are many excellent spots from which to enjoy the shoreline views as well as Camano’s beautiful forested areas. Peoples of the Coast Salish Native American tribes have been visiting the island for thousands of years to harvest the bounty of seafood, berries and to benefit from the natural wonders. The area has been pivotal to the culture of native peoples as well as Euro-American settlers who began moving to the area in the mid-1800s. Driving, hiking, biking and boating around the island – whatever your mode of transportation – it’s easy to understand the appeal and importance of this beautiful locale.

During my own meandering around the island, I spent a bit of time exploring the lovely Cama Beach Historical State Park. Located on the western side of the island, overlooking the Saratoga Passage and onward towards the Olympic Mountains, the park is a true Camano Island gem. Long a destination for vacationing Northwesterners and included on the National Register of Historic Places, the park has been welcoming visitors to its beach-side cedar cabins since 1934. It felt a bit like stepping into a PNW version of the old-school resort in Dirty Dancing… (And remember: NOBODY puts baby in the corner!)

In addition to the Cama Beach Resort cabins, the charming park features a great picnic area, many miles of beautiful hiking trails, the seasonal Cama Beach Store and an events center. If boating is your thing, the Center for Wooden Boats offers boat-building classes and the park features a boat launch and rentals. (Row, sail and motor) And should cabin or outdoor cooking not be your thing, head to the Cama Beach Café for tasty dining options. (Open daily from June thru Labor Day and on weekends for breakfast/lunch, September thru May)

For further enjoyment of the Camano Island shoreline, stroll up the one-mile trail leading south to neighboring Camano Island State Park. (Or hit up nearby Lowell Point Road via West Camano Drive for a quick car ride) While this park also has a small handful of cabins, they feature a large camping area which accommodates both tent and RV camping. In addition to relaxing in the cozy campsites, check out the boating scene and perhaps do a bit of crabbing or saltwater fishing. And as is the case with all Washington State parks, a Discover Pass is recommended for park access. (Daily passes for $10 are also available onsite)

Since it was such a beautiful day on my visit, I opted for a little beach picnic to make the most of the sunshine. In addition to beach picnics, there are several other great dining options on the island. A few places to consider on your next Camano getaway:

  • Not too far from Camano Island State Park, Journey’s End Café (formerly Kara’s Kitchen) offers great burgers, pizza and more. Grab it to go and head back to the beach! They also host regular game nights and feature live music on weekends.
  • Located just across the way from the Kristoferson Farm, Rockaway Bar & Grill serves NW style fare featuring local ingredients. Fresh oysters, fish and produce make for some very delicious menu options.
  • If you happen to be visiting the island during the first weekend of the month and are feeling parched, check out Dusty Cellars Winery and Edward Lynne Cellars for a bit of wine-tasting enjoyment. (First weekend of each month – check websites for hours)
  • Should you like to extend your Camano stay and further enjoy the local scene, head north of Cama Beach State Park on West Camano Drive to the beautiful Camano Island Inn. They feature well-appointed rooms, stunning views and a great location from which to explore the island.

Pro tip: There are many great lodging options on the island – Hit up VRBO and Airbnb to peruse the many possibilities.

Camano Island is fairly large, but it’s still possible to cover the entire island on an afternoon drive. In pursuit of this goal, I was driving around the southern tip of the island, enjoying the views of Port Susan to the east, when I came upon the quaint Tyee Grocery and Farms. After picking up a coffee and quick snack, I continued down East Camano Drive, but was inspired to pull over not too far down the road. I spotted a few art installations and a very cool little lending library with a small, adjacent parking area. A beautiful drive, a little Art and some cool books – Nice! Definitely keep your eyes peeled while rambling around the island as there are great finds around so many of its corners.

Upon wrapping up my tour of Camano Island, it was time to head to neighboring Whidbey Island to continue my coastal adventures. Granted, I did end up making an additional trip to Whidbey Island on a later excursion, but it is absolutely possible to do a grand tour of both islands on a long day or weekend overnighter. That said, it’s hard to not to spend a little extra time in the Deception Pass area as it is positively stunning. And that’s exactly what happened on my first trip out…

Island County
Entering Island County! (As seen from Deception Pass Bridge)

If you happen to have a boat, (#LifeGoals) you can indeed head over the Saratoga Passage from Camano Island to get to Whidbey Island, the largest island in Washington State. The Saratoga Passage is a beautiful stretch of water and a popular section of the Puget Sound waterways. There are no ferries that go between Camano and Whidbey, but you can sometimes see private passenger boats like the Victoria Clipper cruising through both Saratoga Passage and Deception Pass when waters are rough in the nearby Strait of Juan de Fuca. There are also great whale-watching tours such as Deception Pass Tours which regularly travel through the area.

The Coast Salish and Lower Skagit tribes (Now recognized within the Swinomish Nation in neighboring Skagit County) have been stewards of these waters and islands for thousands of years. It’s easy to see how this beautiful, bountiful area could hold such importance to coastal living. Camano Island has many treasures to share, but with Whidbey being the larger island, the bounty is even more plentiful. It is entirely possible to enjoy sweeping forests, coastlines and wide-open prairies on a visit to Whidbey; All of these environments providing a wealth of resources to the enduring island community.

Since I wanted to drive over Deception Pass (on the National Register of Historic Places) to arrive on Whidbey Island, I took Exit 230 off I-5 North (near Burlington in Skagit County) to access SR-20. (SR-20 is also known as the North Cascades Highway or the spectacular Cascade Loop) Once heading west on SR-20, I followed the road until it turned off to the left, just before Anacortes. If you prefer a more seafaring route, take the Mukilteo/Clinton Ferry or Port Townsend/Coupeville Ferry and avoid the crowds of the I-5 corridor. (For another travel bonus trip, link your Island County adventures with Port Townsend and beautiful Jefferson County)

Crossing over Deception Pass is quite a spectacular experience. Whether via car, bike, or foot, it is a beautiful sight to behold. If you happen to be leery of heights, walking over it might not be your bag, but it is well worth the consideration. On my Ragnar Northwest Passage adventure, one of our runners had the opportunity to run across the bridge around sunrise and I’m sure it was amazing. I was traveling over the bridge in the team van at the time and even that was an amazing scene. (The sunrise. Not a bunch of stinky runners piled in a van… not as amazing.) I must admit, however, as much as I love heights, I was completely content to merely walk across the bridge on my own adventure. (Details of my actual bridge visit are included in my Skagit County article)

In addition to the bridge itself, Deception Pass State Park is truly beautiful and should be a must-visit on any list of Northwest destinations. Spanning both Skagit and Island Counties via the bridge, the park has a plethora of camping, hiking, boating, fishing and beach opportunities to enjoy. After becoming a state park in 1922, the Civilian Conservation Corps built roads, buildings and trails and many of the park structures are now on the National Register of Historic Places. It’s easy to feel you’ve stepped back into a quieter, less hectic era when visiting the park. (Check out the in-park CCCs Interpretive Center to learn more about the history of the park.) Don’t miss a visit to this spectacular part of the state! (For even more exploration of the area, stop in a few miles down the road at Deception Pass State Park’s sister park, Dugualla State Park.)

After enjoying the striking scenery of the Deception Pass area, I traveled further south along SR-20 towards the largest city on the island, Oak Harbor. Home to the Whidbey Island Naval Air Station, Oak Harbor is a bustling and vibrant island community. The area is a fun place to explore as well as a center for tasty dining and fun shopping opportunities – and keep an eye out for the naval planes regularly flying overhead.

Naval Base
Just an everyday scene on SR-20 into Oak Harbor…

As you’re coming through town on SR-20, there are quite a few great dining options. All of that adventuring at Deception Pass can make one hungry and there are several great establishments to check out along the main thoroughfare. Just a few of the delicious options:

  • Stop in at Flyers Restaurant & Brewery for great local beers, tasty burgers and more. Located directly off SR-20.
  • Stock up on delicious smoked salmon at Seabolt’s Smokehouse off of SR-20 or hang out and enjoy their lunch and dinner menu. Their clam chowder and Penn Cover oysters are very tasty!
  • The hours are short, but a visit to Kau Kau Corner is well worth the timing. Specializing in Hawaiian comfort food, they offer tempting dishes such as Kalua pork and Spam musubi. (Mon-Fri, 11am – 4pm – Located directly off SR-20)
  • Don’t let the name fool you. In addition to great, organic coffee, Rock Island Coffee has a full menu which includes beer and wine. Check out their skillet mac-n-cheese! (Open ‘til 5pm, M-Sat and 3pm on Sundays)
  • If you’re looking for a classic Oak Harbor joint, check out Island Café, located directly off SR-20. Serving breakfast, lunch and dinner with a classic diner flair.
  • During the late spring and summer, stop in at the Oak Harbor Farmers Market and enjoy some great local produce and artisan goods. (Thursdays, 4-7pm, right off SR-20)

On any visit to Oak Harbor, it’s a great idea to visit the historic Main Street part of town. This waterfront area is filled with fun shops, great restaurants and regular events. It’s the heart of Oak Harbor and can easily accommodate a leisurely day on the town. The full-service Oak Harbor Marina is also located in this area if you happen to be arriving via boat. (#INeedABoat)

On your next visit to Oak Harbor, check out these great spots in the historic downtown waterfront area:

  • Not far before turning off SR-20 to head towards the waterfront, hit up Wicked Teuton Brewing Co. & Homebrew Supply for a tasty local brew or craft soda. This family and pet-friendly taproom is open daily at 11am – Check website for closing times.
  • There are several fun shopping stops to make in the downtown area. A couple of my favorites are the ridiculously cute Popsies with their excellent selection of treats and Purple Moon with their eclectic selection of gifts and more. And don’t forget to stop in at Whidbey Beer Works to peruse their large selection of specialty beers, ciders, wine and meads. (They also do occasional tasting events)
  • Grab a great cup of coffee for your stroll around the waterfront at Whidbey Coffee Co. In addition to their downtown location, they have 11 others in Western Washington. Fun fact: Contrary to their name, they are actually headquartered across the water in Mukilteo, whereas the excellent Mukilteo Coffee Roasters is based on Whidbey Island in nearby Langley. Shenanigans!
  • Closed for the holidays on my recent visit, Chris’ Bakery (since 1948) has been – and will hopefully continue – making delicious pastries, pies, cakes and more for many years to come. Their sweet treats are delicious, but don’t miss out trying their meat pies and amazing bread as well!
  • I enjoyed a tasty, diner-style breakfast on my last visit to Oak Harbor at the Riverside Café. Classic décor and a small, adjacent bar make this a cool spot to visit any time of day. (Breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • On the finer dining side, head to Rustica Café & Wine Bar (Open at noon, 10am on Sundays for brunch), the Terrace Wine Bar and Bistro (3-10pm, closed Sun/Mon) and lovely Fraser’s Gourmet Hideaway (Tues – Sat, 4:30 – 9:30pm, closed Sun/Mon) for a tasty day or night on the town.
  • If you’re looking to celebrate all things Oak Harbor, be sure to hit up their annual Holland Happening International Festival every April. Pioneer Way and the waterfront is blocked off for craft and food vendors as well live music and beer gardens. (April 23-26, 2020)
  • If you’d like to work off some of that downtown decadence, head a little further towards the water and check out the Wildwood Farm B&B. This equestrian-friendly, 80-acre farm features horse boarding, instruction, training and indoor/outdoor arenas. Guests can also stay in a remodeled 1914 bunkhouse and enjoy beautiful walking trails during their stay. Dreamy!

Heading further south on SR-20 will bring you through some magnificent scenery. There are beautiful farms, pastures and sweeping vistas around every turn and one would be hard-pressed to get bored of the views. The drive itself is interesting, but there are several great stops along the way. One such destination is the awesome Blue Fox Drive-in Theater. Entertaining Whidbey Island since 1959, they feature movies, go-karts, concessions and arcade games. When was the last time you went to a drive-in movie?? Sigh…

In keeping with my, “Hmmm – maybe there’s something cool off in that direction – I should check” plan, I turned off SR-20 onto Hastie Lake Road. I had no idea where it would lead, but the landscapes were gorgeous and I thought maybe it would head towards the water. (But then, most paths on an island typically do at some point…) I’m very glad I did as the drive was stunning and beyond idyllic. Along the way, I passed lovely farmland and spots where I’m pretty sure time had stood still. Around one bend, I stumbled upon the charming Hennrich Tree Farm, busy in full-operation for the holiday season.

Not too far past the tree farm and much as expected, I reached the shoreline. Conveniently located at the intersection of Hastie Lake Road and West Beach Road was the tiny, but perfectly-positioned Hastie Lake County Park. Situated on the shoreline in between private beaches, it was a beautiful spot to pull over and enjoy the view and it brought back some wonderful, unexpected memories.

When I was very young, my family made a couple of visits to Whidbey Island to visit friends. (All the way from very non-coastal Eastern WA) I have vivid memories of their house overlooking the water and a cool rope ladder leading down the bluff to the private beach below. Standing on the shores of Hastie Lake County Park and looking down the beach at the homes overlooking the water brought me right back to my 5-year-old self. I remember being absolutely charmed by coastal living and can honestly say that nothing has since changed. Just dreamy…

Just as I’d hoped, it was both an easy and beautiful loop drive back to SR-20 beginning on West Beach Road. Once back on the highway, I continued south towards my next planned destination, Fort Ebey State Park and Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. I’d been wanting to visit these areas for quite some time and since there was a fortuitous break in the rain, it seemed like the perfect opportunity.

Pro tip: As helpful as on-board and mobile GPS can be, it’s always good to have a map or printed directions of the area on hand. It’s common to lose satellite or mobile connections in the more remote and forested areas – be prepared! And in the least, have a full tank, water and SNACKS at the ready. Mmm… Snacks…

The first area I visited was Ebey’s Landing National Historical Reserve. On the National Register of Historic Places and the first National Historic Reserve in the US (established by Congress in 1978 and one of only three presently in the country), the entire area is a one of the most remarkable stretches of land in the state. (And beyond!) I’m sad I hadn’t visited sooner, but am completely grateful to have finally experienced this stunning, expansive beauty in person.

Driving up the access road, the view of gorgeous prairies began to stretch out in front of me as I gained elevation up the hillside. While the prairies expanded, so did the amazing view of the shoreline, making room for the glimmering skyline in the distance. The way the sun was lighting the horizon was exquisite and I can definitively say it was one of the most beautiful views I’ve ever seen.

Ebey Landing
Looking out towards the water from Ebey Landing

The Lower Skagit Tribe has been gazing out over these vistas for thousands of years with western settlements beginning to populate the region in the 1850s. One of the first homesteads was plotted by Whidbey pioneers, Isaac Ebey and his wife, Rebecca Davis. After having established himself in the Olympia area, Isaac brought his family over from Missouri to cultivate the sprawling farmland which is now known as Ebey’s Landing. Their home still stands along with defense blockhouses and acres of presently farmed area.

A leisurely hike through the area via the Ebey’s Landing trails is a must for any Whidbey Island visit and nicely showcases a landscape that has scarcely changed over the last few hundred years. Even just a drive up to the Prairie Landing Overlook to enjoy the coastal and farmland views is well worth it. (Located just across the road from Sunnyside Cemetery (c. 1865) and the Davis Blockhouse. Isaac Ebey and Rebecca Davis as well as Coupeville’s namesake, Thomas Coupe are laid to rest in this cemetery.)

Not too far north up the coast and included within the National Historical Reserve lies Fort Ebey State Park. If you’re up for camping, this is a great location from which to explore the area. Not only is there ample camping, the area is popular with paragliders and surfers and the beaches serve as great seaweed gathering spots in the spring. If you’d like to do some smallmouth bass fishing, check out lovely Lake Pondilla, found in the park’s interior. (Note: Until a recent double-check on my research, I was convinced the name was actually Lake PondZILLA. And that’s what I’ll be personally referring to it as moving forward… But hey, score one for double-checking your research! I had a whole backstory worked out in my head and everything! A fisherman must’ve caught a GIANT fish at some point and told his buddies he caught a Godzilla fish in the pond… Come on, it makes sense! I can’t lie – I feel a little let down…)

While visiting the park, be sure to check out the WWII era battery and gun emplacements. Bring a flashlight and snake through the darkened corridors of the island’s military history. Continue your explorations along the stunning Kettles Trail System which connects the park to the reserve as well as the epic Pacific NW National Scenic Trail. The views and vistas found along these coastal trails are gorgeous and not to be missed. (Even minus the Godzilla Fish…)

Just over from Fort Ebey State Park and off SR-20, lies the historic center of Whidbey Island, the ever-charming Coupeville. While not incorporated until 1910, it is actually the second oldest town in the state. (Steilacoom is the oldest incorporated town in the state) Western settlement began in the 1850s and was led by the city’s namesake, Captain Thomas Coupe. Serving as the county seat and featuring a wonderful, historic waterfront and wharf area (c. 1905), Coupeville is a wonderful town to explore and an excellent look into the evolution of Washington State. Be sure to stop in at the Island County Historical Museum located near the waterfront for an in-depth look at the area’s fascinating history.

Nestled alongside beautiful Penn Cove, Coupeville is fairly compact, making it easy to explore. That said, there are many treasures packed into its tiny downtown and it’s advisable to plan on spending at least a day in the area. The Coupeville Wharf (on the National Register of Historic Places as part of the Ebey’s Landing National Historic Reserve, along with Coupeville in general), is a great place to start your explorations. The views of Penn Cove, downtown Coupeville and Front Street are picture-perfect and the subject of many a northwest photo op.

Grab a cup of coffee at Coffee on the Cove, housed inside the wharf building and enjoy investigating the interpretive displays and exhibits courtesy of the Marine Education Center. Also housed in the historic building is the funky Harbor Gifts shop as well as newly reopened restaurant, The Cove. (Formerly the Cove Café. Note: As of this writing, Yelp and Trip Advisor say they’re closed, but the new owners have recently reopened the spot…) When you’ve finished your visit, head back down to the sailboat you’ve moored nearby and enjoy the beauty of Penn Cove. (#BoatDreams)

Coupeville’s downtown Front Street is an absolutely delightful place to spend an afternoon. Packed into a few blocks are charming shops, restaurants and galleries, all nestled along the shores of beautiful Penn Cove. Consider checking out the walking tour offered by the Coupeville Historic Waterfront Association or discover the area at your own leisure. Either approach will be filled with great finds and tasty treats. A few of the intriguing spots you’ll find along the way:

  • Located next to the wharf boardwalk, Collections Boutique features clothing, accessories and beach-themed gifts.
  • If you’re looking for a cool, local bookstore, check out Kingfisher Bookstore. The building, itself, constructed in 1874 is alone worth a visit and once housed the popular, Benson’s Confectionery. (c. 1915)
  • For all things quirky and hilarious, Far From Normal is the perfect stop. I picked up everything from vintage sheet music to soap and old school candies. Definitely my kind of place…
  • For a lovely selection of clothing, shoes, gift items, soaps and more, stop in at the very quaint Aqua Gifts.
  • Celebrate the NW Dutch influence at A Touch of Dutch. They feature Dutch foods and tasty treats, blue Delftware and more in their incredibly cozy shop.
  • Sporting an excellent view of Penn Cove, Front Street Grill offers tasty seafood and NW coastal dining in their lovely waterfront building. Try some of the famous Penn Cove mussels!
  • Take a break from exploring the shops and enjoy a nice glass of wine at the Vail Wine Shop & Tasting Room. A great glass of vino and an amazing view of Penn Cove – sign me up!
  • Oh, wow… the bread! Stop in at super cute and deliciously tasty Little Red Hen Bakery for fresh baked bread and bakery specialties. Community supported and island sustained!
  • Recently rescued and now under restoration, the Haller House provides a great look at Coupeville’s past. Built on the original land claim of Thomas Coupe, it is an important piece of Coupeville’s history and will be a fine re-addition to the Front Street scene.

For more great shopping and dining options, check out the blocks just above Front Street and the Waterfront area. There is also a nice public parking area adjacent to the Coupeville Library, located just past the Bayleaf shop…

  • The Bayleaf shop features the stuff of foodie dreams. Wonderful artisan meats and cheeses, specialty foods and a great wine selection. Grab things to go or order one of their amazing sandwiches to enjoy in-house.
  • Stop in at Currents Bistro for delicious NW-inspired fare and island ambiance. Featuring locally sourced ingredients, their dishes are delectable.
  • I’m going to have to return to Coupeville soon so I can again try to visit The Oystercatcher. I’ve heard many great things and was excited to stop in, but the line was literally pressed up against the door when I peeked in. Next time!! Mmmm… Oysters… (Their bread has such a following it inspired the creation of the aforementioned Little Red Hen Bakery!)
  • While their local lavender farm doesn’t re-open for the season until June, the lovely Lavender Wind Farm shop is open in downtown Coupeville. (Just across from the Oystercatcher) Walking into the store is like walking into the French countryside. Sigh… Along with a wide variety of culinary and home-based lavender goods, they also feature a coffee bar and baked goods. I greatly enjoyed their lavender caramels and can’t wait to get my hands on some more!
  • Check out Ciao for deliciously crafted pizza, salads and fresh seafood as well as a great lounge area and regular live music. Located just up from downtown on North Main Street.
  • Located on South Main Street, a mile of so west of the downtown core, Penn Cove Brewing Company is an excellent place to take a break. They feature tasty brews, a small menu and various weekly specials. (Also in nearby communities, Oak Harbor and Freeland)

The Coupeville area has many wonderful lodging opportunities, including several traditional B&Bs. You can’t miss the stately Anchorage Inn B&B on North Main Street, just before you enter the Waterfront area and the lovely Blue Goose Inn B&B can be spotted just before. The Compass Rose B&B, with its charming, minty green exterior can be found on South Main Street and for something a little less traditional, consider the rustic, shoreline cabins and rooms at the wonderfully unique Captain Whidbey Inn. They also feature a restaurant and tavern as well as accessibility via boat and seaplane! (Additionally, the drive there via coastal Madrona Way is beautiful!) If camping is your thing, Rhododendron Park, located in Coupeville proper, offers tent and RV camping and great access to local hiking trails.

Shellfish tip: If you’d like to try your hand at gathering some of the famous, local shellfish, the area near Captain Whidbey is wonderful. Check out the West Penn Cove and Twin Lagoons areas, located at the base of Penn Cove. West Penn Cove has clams, mussels & oysters (Mid-July thru Mid-Sept only) and Twin Lagoons has clams, mussels and oysters year-round. Be sure to check the DOH website on day of harvest to ensure the beach is open for shellfish harvesting.

There are already countless things to do in the Coupeville area, but they up the ante with several annual festivals in addition to many surrounding farms to visit and enjoy. A few more reasons to spend some time in Coupeville:

  • Celebrate the jewels of the area at the yearly Penn Cove MusselFest (March 7-8, 2020)
  • Celebrate the waters that host the jewels of the area at the annual Penn Cove Water Festival (May 16, 2020)
  • Many artists and craftspeople call the island home and a great place to check out their wares is at the annual Coupeville Arts & Crafts Festival (August 8-9, 2020)
  • Since 1946, Bell’s Farm has been providing delicious strawberries, produce and more to the island. Head over to their Strawberry Daze celebration in late June and stop by their Honesty Stand to stock up on baked goods, produce, eggs, lamb and strawberries.
  • Stop in at the 3 Sisters Family Farm (c. 1910) for all-natural, ethically and sustainably raised beef, pork, lamb and chickens. The beef and lamb are 100% grass-fed, the pork is fed barley raised on the Island and the chickens are cage-free. Visit their market for all products, snacks, local goods and beverages
  • For a great selection of goods from local farmers and artisans, head to the Coupeville Farmers Market for all things delicious. (Saturdays, April – Oct, 10am – 2pm)

Mirroring its sister, Fort Worden, across the way in Jefferson County, the fascinating Fort Casey Historical State Park is a must-add to your Whidbey Island itinerary. Built in the late 1800’s, Fort Casey, in combination with Fort Worden and nearby Fort Flagler (on Marrowstone Island), formed a very important part of the western US coastal defense network. It is easy to spend hours combing through the catacomb of bunkers and darkened corridors. (Don’t forget to bring a flashlight!) It is also easy to check out both Fort Casey and Fort Worden on a long afternoon. Just hop aboard the nearby Port Townsend/Coupeville ferry and you’re on your way! (Reservations are recommended for this ferry crossing.)

In addition to the military aspect of the park, be sure to pay a visit to the Admiralty Head Lighthouse and learn about the area’s importance to seafaring traffic through the years. There is also great camping, boating and saltwater fishing accessible from within the park and several excellent picnic areas to enjoy. If you’re more interested in checking out historic lodging and grounds, the Fort Casey Inn, located just down the road from the park, is absolutely beautiful.

Heading south on SR-20 towards Fort Casey State Park, the road becomes SR-525 when you hit the turn-off for Fort Casey. (SR-20 continues to and ends at Fort Casey State Park) Continuing south on SR-525 will shortly bring you to the completely charming Greenbank area. The drive is beautiful, showcasing beautiful forested and coastal scenery; a fine area to hit up for a weekend drive. In addition to the wonderful drive, there are several excellent spots to hit up in the Greenbank area. A few of my favorites:

  • It would be entirely enjoyable and advisable to spend an afternoon at historic Greenbank Farm. Beautiful gardens, trails, sweeping farmland, two galleries and glorious picnic ops await you on your next visit. Throw in a stop at the onsite Greenbank Farm Wine Shop and delicious Whidbey Pies Café and you might be there longer than the afternoon. The farm was actually a major stop on the Ragnar race trail and I can’t tell you just how much I enjoyed that giant piece of loganberry pie… WOW! (Mon-Fri, 11am – 6pm, Sat/Sun at 10:30am)
  • The beautiful Meerkerk Rhododendron Gardens, located just south of Greenbank Farm on SR-525 is a lovely and colorful way to while away an afternoon. The Rhododendrons, Washington’s state flower, are glorious and plentiful when in bloom. (I keep looking at the name and seeing Meerkat Gardens, which would also be awesome. Just sayin’.)
  • Great wine, beautiful scenery and a relaxing atmosphere can be found at Holmes Harbor Cellars in the Honeymoon Bay area. (Check website for hours) They are also part of the Whidbey Island Wine & Spirits Trail and annual Red Wine & Chocolate Tour.
  • Don’t miss a stop into this tiny gem of a store. The Greenbank Pantry and Deli is chock full of delicious meats and cheeses as well as local specialty items, a deli counter, baked goods and more. Their Prosciutto Mozz sandwich was SO delicious! They also carry delicious bread from the Little Red Hen Bakery in Coupeville. (Closed Sunday)

A beautiful side-route in the Greenbank area can be found via South Smuggler’s Cove Road along the west side of the island. There’s a wonderful view over to Marrowstone Island in Jefferson County and glorious peeks into hidden coves and shoreline. We drove through this area as part of the Ragnar route and while I was glad to not have to run uphill through the area, I was more than happy to enjoy the scenery from my tired spot in the van. South Whidbey State Park is a nice place to stop along the way if you’d like to hike amongst some very large, old trees. There is sadly no camping due to tree disease, but that shouldn’t stop you from enjoying their beauty. One of the cedars is 500-years old!

Continuing south on SR-525 will bring you to the tiny town of Freeland. For as tiny a town as Freeland is, it is impressive how many cool antique and thrift stores they feature. The same could be said for cool spots to stop and grab a delicious beverage! Throw in a tasty meal and perhaps a stay at the local vegan B&B and you could have a most excellent adventure. A few places to check out on your next Freeland adventure:

  • If you’re up for a truly epic thrift store outing, don’t miss a stop at Senior Thrift, located just off SR-525. It’s remarkable what they’ve packed inside that building! Mutiny Bay Antiques and Red Rooster Antique Mall are both chock full of excellent finds and the Habitat for Humanity Store has amazing bargains to cover your home project needs and more. (Also in Oak Harbor)
  • For a tasty breakfast, lunch or dinner, head to the local staple, Freeland Café & Lounge. Big breakfasts (All day!), tasty burgers, delicious seafood and more have been gracing their tables since 1977.
  • Rocket Taco serves delicious traditional and “deluxe” tacos with all the accoutrements along with tasty margaritas in their cozy Freeland spot. They also have Mexican Chocolate Pots de Crème and Key Lime pie IN A JAR. YUM! (Closed Monday. Also located in Seattle on Capitol Hill!)
  • Take time to wet your whistle at one of Freeland’s fine beverage establishments. Blooms Winery & 5115 Bistro (Closed Tues/Wed, 11am – 8pm otherwise, Fri – 9pm) and Mutiny Bay Distillery (Mon, Thurs-Sat, 11am – 5pm, Sun – Noon – 5pm, Closed Tues/Wed) both offer wonderful wine and spirits – and the 5115 Bistro at Blooms is delicious. Nearby Dancing Fish Vineyards also has lodging should you want to have that extra glass of wine while enjoying a bit of live music. (Thurs, Sat, Sun, Mon – 11am – 6pm, Fri – 11am – 8pm, Tasting room closes at 5pm – Music in bar, 5:30-7:30)
  • Set on 70-acres of beautiful farmland, the Someday Farm Vegan B&B features lodging, walking trails and plenty of farm animals to commune amongst. (They ask you don’t bring animal products with you on your visit to the farm.)
  • Not too far from Freeland is the spectacular, 72-acre Earth Sanctuary. Designed by Chuck Pettis, the sanctuary features stone circles and sculptures, wetlands, a labyrinth, medicine wheels and more. They are presently working on an innovative 500-year Plan to restore the area to its original ecological and environmental best. (Open during daylight hours)
  • Just a little further south in the Mutiny Bay area off SR-525, the Double Bluff Beach & Off-leash Area features a lovely 4-mile round-trip walk along an extensive sandy beach for you and your pooch. There are few things more joyful than watching a dog experience the beach for the first time.
Country Roads
Country roads stretching out for miles…

Nearing the end of my trek across the island, I landed in the lovely town of Langley, known affectionately as The Village by the Sea. Long an important location for trade, resources and artistic endeavors on the island, it remains a mainstay of activity today. If you are heading to the island from the Seattle/Mukilteo area, it is also the first larger town you’ll come to after disembarking in nearby Clinton.

Forged largely of the will and determination of young immigrant, Jacob Anthes, Langley began development in the 1890s and became an incorporated town in 1913. The town continued to grow (including the rabbit population due to a 4-H fair display going amok) and has thoroughly established itself as a vital link from the mainland to Whidbey Island. To learn more about the history of Langley and its founding father, stop by the South Whidbey Historical Museum, housed in a logger’s bunkhouse constructed by Jacob Anthes in 1902. (Interesting note: Jacob Anthes was founder of the unique Whidbey Telecom, still in business and one of the only US telecom companies to have always been privately owned and operated. They were also the first telecom company west of the Rockies to offer Internet services via phone in 1994. All hail the Internets!)

Langley is an excellent and easily accessible get-away from the fast-paced mainland, just 40-minutes away. There are many wonderful things to see and do in the Langley area as well as many delicious restaurants to try. On my recent trip to Langley, I arrived in the evening, so dinner was tops on my to-do list. I happened upon the iconic Bayview Cash Store building (c. 1924) and was very drawn in by the scene. I’m SO glad I stopped as it’s a veritable treasure trove of shops, restaurants and art. A few of the places to check out on your visit:

  • On my recent visit, I was very in the mood for fresh seafood and good beer. The Taproom at Bayview Corner deftly filled both needs and beyond. The delicious crab cakes were accompanied by a very unique and tasty jicama slaw which I’ll fully admit to attempting to recreate at home. Delicious! It should also be noted their tap list is great. They even had my all-time favorite Belgian-style (By way of Quebec’s Unibroue) beer, Maudite on tap. Dreeeeaaaaamy…
  • The charming Farmer & the Vine features a large wine selection as well as small plates and live music.
  • Not only do they serve delicious doughnuts, Whidbey Doughnuts also offers all-day breakfast and tasty sandwiches – including a Monte Cristo. (Note: I’m ever-vigilant and always on the lookout for a good Monte Cristo. Because they are DELICIOUS.) (Sunday thru Wednesday, 6am – 3pm, Thursday thru Saturday, 6am – 8pm)
  • Every July through September, the Island Shakespeare Festival keeps the island entertained with the Bard’s prolific words. The festival headquarters are housed inside the Bayview Cash Store. Pop in and learn about the festival as well as enjoy the revolving art displays inside the main lobby and stairwell areas, hosted by onsite Front Room Gallery.
  • Sharing a parking lot with the Bayview Cash Store is the Bayview Farm & Garden and Flowerhouse Garden Café. The shop, gardens and café, along with the wonderful old farm buildings and community hall make for the quintessential island farm scene. (Café open 8am – 4pm, Garden Store open 9am – 6pm, Mon-Sat, 5pm on Sunday)
  • Situated just past Bayview Farm & Garden lies the excellent Orchard Kitchen. Not only do they serve locally-sourced, seasonal menus featuring their onsite farm, they also host regular cooking classes in their kitchen. Cool! (Open Thurs – Sat in fall/winter and Thurs – Sun in spring/summer)
  • In addition to being a general hub of awesomeness, the Bayview Cash Store also hosts regular street dances during the summer as well as the Bayview Farmers Market on Spring/Summer Saturdays. (April 25 – Oct 16, 10am – 2pm, 2020. Keep an eye out for special Holiday Market hours during the winter months.)

In addition to the great beverage options available at the Bayview Cash Store, there are many other places in the Langley area to enjoy a tasty libation or great cup of coffee. A few of the great spots to check out while you’re visiting the Village by the Sea:

  • If you’re a fan of berries, don’t miss a visit to the lovely Whidbey Island Distillery and its 9-acre estate located just off SR-525. Try their famous liqueurs, particularly the blackberry and be sure to sample their great Rye. (Open daily, 11am – 5pm)
  • In addition to a lovely glass of wine in their tasting room, Comforts of Whidbey Winery also features lodging in their 6-room Bed & Breakfast. Set atop the tasting room with views of the vineyards and Puget Sound, it’s completely justified to include “comforts” in the name. (Thurs/Fri – 1-6pm, Sat – 11am – 6pm, Sun – Noon – 6pm)
  • Stop in for wine and a cabaret show at Ott & Hunter Wines in the heart of downtown Langley with great views of the water. If they don’t already, I deeply hope they feature “Cabernet & Cabaret” evenings. It seems only fair… (Sun-Thurs – 1-8pm, Fri/Sat – 12-10pm, closed Wed)
  • If you’re visiting Langley on the weekend, stop it at Spoiled Dog Winery for a glass of delicious Pinot Noir in their tasting room and enjoy the idyllic surrounds of their estate. (Sat/Sun, Noon-5pm, outside food and non-alcoholic beverage welcome in the outdoor seating area.)
  • Located in the heart of downtown with a great view, Village Wine Shop & Tasting Room offers tastings, a well-stocked selection in their wine shop and regular events. (Wed – Sun, 11am – 6pm)
  • Also found in the lovely downtown area, Double Bluff Brewing features several of their tasty beers in their tap room and cozy outdoor seating area. Kid and dog friendly, outside food welcome. (Mon-Thurs, 3pm – 8pm, Fri/Sat, 2pm – 8pm, Sunday – 2pm – 7pm)
  • For the caffeine lovers in the bunch, Whidbey Island has no shortage of great options. Head to Useless Bay Coffee in the downtown area or Mukilteo Coffee Roasters located near Whidbey Airpark for a delicious cup o’ joe and tasty eats.
Mukilteo Coffee
Excellent coffee from Mukilteo Coffee Roasters!

It is very easy to find a delicious meal in Langley. The downtown area holds the key to many a tasty night (or day) out with a good variety of options from which to choose. Some of the excellent spots to hit up on your visit to the Village by the Sea:

  • Set in a quaint location in the downtown area, The Braeburn features locally sourced ingredients and delicious breakfast, lunch and dinner. Their Bloody Marys and Eggs Benedict (w/crab!) are fabulous and the atmosphere, welcoming and relaxed.
  • Featuring an outdoor kitchen in the back and a beautiful view, Portico Latin Bistro serves cuisine inspired by Mexico, South America and the Caribbean as well as delicious sangria and a great wine list. (Closed Mon/Tues)
  • A good friend and fellow foodie regularly visits Langley and highly recommends the French-inspired Prima Bistro. I haven’t been able to visit as of this writing, but it is high on my list for the next visit. The menu looks amazing and there’s the matter of an Absinthe service they offer… Yes, please!
  • Fresh oysters, clams, mussels, crabs and MORE can be enjoyed at the downtown Saltwater Oyster Bar. Add in delicious clam chowder, oyster po’ boys and hand-cut and battered fish and chips… Yowsa!! Oh, and their ‘Whale Tale Mary’ with its house Mary mix, jumbo shrimp, oyster and salmon jerky? I’M IN!!
  • If you’d like to meet the purveyors of the delicious local goods you’ve enjoyed during your Langley outings, stop by the seasonal Langley Farmers Market located in the downtown area on Frick Lane. (Thursdays, May – August, 2pm – 6pm) If you happen to be in town on a Sunday, pay a visit to the incredibly cool South Whidbey Tilth Market for all things organic. (May – October, 11am – 2pm)
  • I personally believe it is hard to dispute the deliciousness of ice cream and the importance it plays in happy living. Sprinklz, located in the downtown area, serves the key to said happy living as well scores major bonus points with their arcade area. (If you happen to be heading for the ferry, don’t miss their sister location in neighboring Clinton.)

Arcade hot tip: Continue your downtown arcade crawl at the amazing Machine Shop. Featuring vintage pinball and arcade machines as well as the new hotness, the Machine Shop is a step back into your gloriously misspent youth. (Translation: I spent way too many quarters on arcade machines in my glory days… But whatever.) They also feature live music, comedy and other entertaining events on weekends.

Langley has long been known for its eclectic and broad Arts scene. The stunning beauty of the area makes it completely understandable and the artistic inspiration, endless. Even if you’re simply taking photos with your phone, the Langley and greater Whidbey Island area is captivating. Here are just a few of the ways you can explore your artistic side on your next Langley visit:

  • Entertaining the cinema-goers of Whidbey Island since 1937, the Clyde Theatre is still going strong. Regularly showing first-run features as well as hosting special film and community events, the Clyde continues to be beacon of the island Arts scene.
  • Stop in at Museo when in downtown Langley and enjoy their beautiful displays. All manner of fine art from regionally and nationally known local artists can be found on display in this lovely gallery.
  • Enjoy beautifully crafted jewelry, rugs, textiles and more from around the world at the eclectically curated Music for the Eyes in downtown Langley. The owners regularly travel around the world to bring back unique treasures for their shop.
  • If you fancy yourself a prolific solver of crimes, head to the 36th annual Mystery Weekend in February. (Feb 22-23, 2020) On Saturday morning, a crime scene and murder are announced and it’s your job to discover clues in stores, around town and from costumed townsfolk. The “crime” is solved on Sunday afternoon and prizes are announced!
  • If you love Jazz, particularly the catchy jangle of Django Reinhardt, don’t miss the annual Djangofest Northwest every September at the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds. (Organized by the excellent Whidbey Island Center for the Arts) In addition to a celebration of Jazz, there are concerts and workshops of all variety. Fully immerse yourself in the scene and camp at the fairgrounds while enjoying great food and ongoing jam sessions. (Sept 23-27, 2020)
  • Everyone loves a great county fair and Whidbey Island certainly represents. Head to the Whidbey Island Fairgrounds in July for the annual Whidbey Island Fair. Food, farm animals, displays, rides and more greet you in this charming, island fairground. (July 16-19, 2020) Don’t miss the annual Country Christmas event every year around Thanksgiving!

To make the most of your Langley visit, there are several great lodging options and ways to enjoy the beautiful island setting. It is of course entirely possible to make an excellent day trip of Whidbey Island and I’ve done it many times. However, having the luxury of waking up on this very welcoming island is a truly wonderful thing. In addition to the scores of excellent Airbnb and VRBO listings for island lodging, consider adding these great spots to your list:

  • While I haven’t yet had the opportunity to visit, the Inn at Langley is high on my dream-stay bucket list. Upscale lodging, spa services and locally-sourced tasting menus which include table visits from the chef make this a pretty special place to experience. A reliable foodie friend told me it was “the best place he and his wife had ever stayed…” I completely trust him, but I’m looking forward to investigating the delicious scene myself…
  • Just a short stroll from the downtown core and located directly on the water, the Boatyard Inn is a wonderful escape from city life. Located next to the South Whidbey Harbor/Marina, it’s a great spot to drop in your kayak or moor up your boat. Enjoy a glass of wine and the stunning water views from your private deck. Sigh… For kayak rentals as well as info about guided tours and more, stop in at nearby Whidbey Island Kayaking for details. (Opens seasonally in March)
  • If you feel like pitching a tent or swankin’ out in your RV while in the Langley area, head to the nearby Whidbey Island Fairgrounds campground area. The fairgrounds are within walking distance of the downtown core and provide ample room and campsite amenities to make for a comfortable stay.
Ferry
The Clinton ferry arriving in Mukilteo

I hate to admit it, but I don’t often stop in the small town of Clinton. It’s not fair, but I’ve gotten too accustomed to breezing through Clinton on my way off or onto the ferry. (Granted, sometimes there isn’t much breezing, per se, if I happen to be stuck in a long ferry line.) However, even if it’s only because you’ll be spending a bit of extra time waiting for the ferry, Clinton has some great spots to check out and is well worth exploring. And you can’t beat that shoreline view! I’ve officially promised myself to spend more time getting to know the Clinton area…

Pro tip: Sunday afternoons and early evenings can be fairly busy for the ferry. Plan your travel schedule accordingly.

There are many wonderful places to grab a bite and enjoy the view. On your next stop in Clinton, be sure to consider these great locations:

  • Bringing the tradition of the Scottish Isles and Highlands to Whidbey Island, Cadee Distillery & Tasting Room produces several delicious whiskies out of its Clinton distillery. They recommend calling ahead to visit the tasting room. I very much enjoy their Cascadia Rye Whiskey – very tasty! Located very close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525.
  • Visit the Cultus Bay Distillery on the southern tip of Whidbey Island, just south of the ferry terminal. The tasting room is open daily from 11am – 4pm, but it’s recommended to call ahead to tour/taste. If you happen to miss them, they also set up at the seasonal Bayview Farmers Market on Saturdays. They offer several varieties of spirits, but their Irish Poitin whiskey is particularly interesting.
  • Located just a little north of Cultus Bay Distillery, is Ogres Brewing. (Taproom – Thurs – Sat, 3-7pm – Also featuring gaming and music events) Stop in and enjoy some Ogress Blonde on tap or head over to the very unique, island institution Bailey’s Corner Store and enjoy a pint at the onsite beer garden.
  • Specializing in an international mix of noodle dishes such as Pad See Ew (my favorite!), Mac-n-Cheese and German Späetzle, Island Nosh is a great spot to grab a meal and tasty beverage. Located close to the ferry terminal and just off SR-525. (Winter hours: Mon-Tues, 3:30 – 8pm, Wed-Fri, Noon – 8pm)
  • Set in a building constructed in 1900 and operating as Cozy’s Roadhouse since 1932, this classic Whidbey Island restaurant offers great pub-style food featuring local and NW ingredients. Open daily at 11am and located just off SR-525 near the ferry terminal.
  • If you’re thinking of making Clinton a jumping-off spot for your Whidbey Island adventures, consider a stay at The Quintessa. This large estate overlooking the water features rooms in the main house as well as a lovely cabin. It is also possible to rent the entire estate for larger gatherings.

As I drive onto the welcoming decks of the ferry to Mukilteo, I bring this chapter of my ongoing Island County adventures to a close. There is a special feeling experienced only in the island communities of Washington State that will always bring me back. The amazing combination of history, people, forest, ocean and the Arts is intoxicating and I can’t imagine ever tiring of it. Regardless of wherever I am in the state – or in the world – Island County will always be a place to which I will continue to return and enjoy. And one of these days, I’ll return to its shores… on my boat! (#FutureBoatOwner)

Happy New Year – and GO EAT THE STATE!

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Check out my Island County playlist on SPOTIFY

  • Here and Whole – Joan Shelly (from Cost of the Cold b/w Here and Whole)
  • This Sky – The Derek Trucks Band (from Songlines)
  • The Last Drive – Michel Bisceglia (from Bluebird)
  • The Moon Is A Harsh Mistress – Radka Toneff (from Some Time Ago (A Collection of Her Finest Moments))
  • Around and Around – Mountain Man (from Sings John Denver)
  • Sham-A-Ling-Dong-Ding – Jesse Winchester (from Love Filling Station)
  • The Carnival of the Animals, R.125: The Swan – Camille Saint-Saëns, Lucille Clifton, Bill Murray, Jan Vogler (from New Worlds)
  • On A Marché Sur la Lune – Anthony Strong (from Me and My Radio)
  • The Fear – Los Lobos (from The Fear)
  • I Forgive It All – Mudcrutch (from 2)
  • Short Trip Home – Edgar Meyer, Mike Marshall, Sam Bush, Joshua Bell (from The Essential Joshua Bell)
  • Putty Boy Strut – Anat Cohen, Jason Lindner, Joe Martin, Daniel Freedman (from Luminosa)
  • Unconditional Waltz – Calexico (from The Thread that Keeps Us – Deluxe Edition)
  • The Fox – Laura Veirs (from Hello I Must Be Going)
  • Can’t Find My Way Home – Blind Faith (from Blind Faith)
  • Everyone Knows – Mipso (from Old Time Reverie)
  • It’s Hard to Be Humble – Willie Nelson w/Lukas Nelson & Micah Nelson (from Ride Me Back Home)
  • As – Becca Stevens (from Regina)
  • Roll On – The Little Willies (from The Little Willies)
  • Sailing – Christopher Cross (from Christopher Cross)
  • Beautiful That Way – Noa (from Beautiful That Way)
  • I Don’t Worry About A Thing – Most Allison (from I Don’t Worry About A Thing)
  • All Some Kind of A Dream – Josh Ritter (from All Some Kind of A Dream)
  • Tempelhof – Yann Tiersen (from All)
  • Jeannine, I Dream of Lilac Time – Gene Austin (from The Best of Gene Austin)
  • An Old Guitar and An Old Refrain – Roger Wolfe Kahn (from Collection: 1925 – 1932)
  • Sweet Little Mystery – John Martyn (from Grace & Danger)
  • Buckets of Rain – Bob Dylan (from Blood on the Tracks)
West Beach
A beautiful coastal view from West Beach at Deception Pass State Park

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