This odd thing happens when I travel to new places: I convince myself and my loved ones that I’m meant to live there. The grass is always greener, right? But after a few weeks, my new obsession wanes and I settle back into life in the Bay Area. Seattle’s a bit of an exception. That feeling doesn’t wear off after a few days when I come home from Seattle. I really, really love this city. In addition to the amazing food, distinct neighborhoods, fleece-loving clog-wearing population, the water, and (way) cheaper real estate…my sister lives there. And she just moved into a cute new house and put pink flamingos in her yard. Yeah, she has a yard. Jealous.
So my mom and I decided to capitalize on a few days off mid-week and flew up to wander, eat, explore, shop, and gawk. Here’s what we were up to in case you’re ever up in Seattle and at a loss for what to do.
We weren’t in a hurry this morning–woke up leisurely and walked over to the coffee shop where my sister Rachael works. Then we went over to West Seattle to see her new place, and cruised over to Ballard to have lunch at the Lunchbox Laboratory. I could write a whole post on this place, but I’ll aim for brevity. First, their shakes are incredible (with choices ranging from a simple chocolate to Nutella and Almond Joy) and they serve tater tots in little All-Clad pots. They have wacky hours, no-nonsense service, lots of interesting choices (down to even the salt you’d like on your fries), and it really was one of the better burgers I’ve had in a very long time (with caramelized onions and a gorgonzola cream sauce, could you really go wrong?)
After lunch we cruised over to Freemont to poke around the neighborhood. We stumbled upon an unassuming vintage shop that proved to be absolutely delightful. If I lived in Seattle, I would’ve purchased the little mid-modern table, orange bakelite casserole set, and the old pharmacy lamp. Oh, and the turquoise typewriter was cool, too. And if my mom lived in Seattle, she was all over that green cruiser bike. We liked this place.
Then we found another great shop around the block, Bitters Co. Tough to pinpoint in just a few words, the store stocks tasteful pieces for the home with a general store vibe–everything from Heath Ceramics to sweet little scissors, chalkboards, cheese knives, and local honey. Beautiful shop. Worth the trip if you’re in the ‘hood.
And last, Dream, a new favorite clothing shop with pretty not-too-pricey tees, dresses, and scarves. Check out their dressing room–I wanted to move right in (and yes, I bought the dress):
Next on our agenda was the tour of Theo Chocolate Factory. I’d planned this a few weeks in advance because it does book up, and I’d been looking forward to it all day. If you haven’t tried Theo Chocolate, you can get it at gourmet grocery stores like Whole Foods. Their Bread and Chocolate and the Cherry Almond Dark Chocolate Bar are my favorite–really good quality chocolate and I love that it’s made right there in Seattle. In fact, they mentioned that even in their milk chocolate bars, they never go below 40% cocoa which is pretty high for market standards these days. And I tasted a 91% bar that wasn’t at all bitter. (tough to pull off). They’re magicians, I tell you. During the tour, you get a behind-the-scenes look at the U.S.’s only organic, fair-trade bean-to-bar chocolate factory and learn all about the processes they use. And let’s be real: the best part? A lot of chocolate samples and a beautiful showroom where you can pick up a few bars to take back home.
Later that evening, we had a memorable dinner at Boat Street Cafe. Since Rachael moved to Seattle, I’ve been up to visit four times and Boat Street Cafe is my favorite restaurant so far. It just feels really good in there.
The lighting is low; the cocktails are creative and strong (I recommend the Lillet martini); the food is simple, seasonal, and executed beautifully. I ordered the best crab cakes I’ve ever had–virtually all crab with just a dash of cornmeal. We all shared the house pickle plate (pickled radishes, cherries, asparagus) and I had the creme fraiche ice cream with candied citrus for dessert. A really lovely meal. Smiles abounded.
I started the day off by walking down to Pike’s Place Market to meet up with Tea from Tea and Cookies for a little coffee and a quick market stroll. We have a lot in common, and she’s a big cheerleader for a move to Seattle. This is a reason I like her even more.
Next, my mom and I went to The Seattle Aquarium where we gawked at a big maroon octopus (worth the price of admission alone), playful river otters, and beautifully splayed starfish. Afterwards, we met up with my sister to do a little sight-seeing up at Kerry Park in the Queen Anne neighborhood. Views, dogs, impromptu parks. Fleece-wearing folks. I felt right at home.
Our next move: in search of some supposedly infamous cupcakes at Trophy Cupcake in Wallingford. We concurred with the buzz. They really were something. I fell in love with the Hummingbird Cupcake, an old Southern recipe that is largely banana cake with a little pineapple and coconut. What I loved about Trophy was that their chocolate cupcakes weren’t too sweet and actually tasted of cocoa, and can we just hear it for cream cheese frosting done really well? I’ll be back.
We went back to the hotel to rest after a little butter-induced lethargy and went out later that night for a wonderful seafood dinner at Blueacre Seafood. The restaurant opened just last month and they’re certainly still working out some kinks. But it’s by the same folks behind the well-regarded Steelhead Diner in Pike’s Place Market, and I think Blueacre will be really great in a few months time. The salads were a tad bit over-dressed and the desserts were contrived–but they lived up to the buzz in the seafood department: the salmon and lobster were absolutely perfect. A nice downtown spot for a celebration. And although we weren’t really celebrating anything, champagne sounded like a good idea. Why not?
So goodbye for now, Seattle. I know I’ll see you soon. At the very least, for another quick jaunt. Perhaps for a longer stay someday.
Healthy Comfort Food
People describe raising young kids as a particular season in life. I hadn't heard this until we had a baby, but it brought me a lot of comfort when I'd start to let my mind wander, late at night between feedings, to fears that we'd never travel internationally again or have a sit-down meal in our dining room. Would I ever eat a cardamom bun in Sweden? Soak in Iceland? I loved the heck out of our tiny Oliver, but man what had we done?! Friends would swoop in and reassure us that this was just a season, a blip in the big picture of it all. They promised we'd likely not even remember walking around the house in circles singing made-up songs while eating freezer burritos at odd hours of the day (or night). And it's true.
Oliver is turning two next month, and those all-encompassing baby days feel like a different time, a different Us. In many ways, dare I say it, Toddlerhood actually feels a bit harder. Lately Oliver has become extremely opinionated about what he will and will not wear -- and he enforces these opinions with fervor. Don't get near the kid with a button-down shirt. This week at least. He's obsessed with his rain boots and if it were up to him, he'd keep them on at all times, especially during meals. He insists on ketchup with everything (I created a damn monster), has learned the word "trash" and insists on throwing found items away on his own that really, truly are not trash. I came to pick him up from daycare the other day and he was randomly wearing a bike helmet -- his teacher mentioned he'd had it on most of the day and really, really didn't want to take it off. The kid has FEELINGS. I love that about him, and wouldn't want it any other way. But, man it's also exhausting.
I just finished washing out Oliver's lunchbox and laying it out to dry for the weekend. My favorite time of day is (finally) here: the quiet of the evening when I can actually talk to Sam about our day or sit and reflect on my own thoughts after the inevitable dance party or band practice that precedes the bedtime routine lately. Before becoming pregnant for the second time, I'd have had a glass of wine with the back door propped open right about now -- these days though, I have sparkling water or occasionally take a sip from one of Sam's hard ciders. Except now the back door's closed and we even turned on the heat for the first time yesterday. The racing to water the lawn and clean the grill have been replaced by cozier dinners at home and longer baths in the evening. You blink and it's the first day of fall.
I'd heard from many friends that buying a house wasn't for the faint of heart. But I always shrugged it off, figuring I probably kept better files or was more organized and, really, how hard could it be? Well, I've started (and stopped) writing this post a good fifteen times which may indicate something. BUT! First thing's first: we bought a house! I think! I'm pretty sure! We're still waiting for some tax transcripts to come through and barring any hiccough with that, we'll be moving out of our beloved craftsman in a few weeks and down the block to a great, brick Tudor house that we wanted the second we laid eyes on it. The only problem: it seemed everyone else in Seattle had also laid eyes on it, and wanted it equally as much. I'm not really sure why the homeowner chose us in the end. Our offer actually wasn't the highest, but apparently there were some issues with a few of them. We wrote a letter introducing ourselves and describing why we'd be the best candidates and why we were so drawn to the house; we have a really wonderful broker who pulled out all the stops, and after sifting through 10 offers and spending a number of hours deliberating, they ended up going with ours. We were at a friend's book event at the time when Sam showed me the text from our broker and I kind of just collapsed into his arms. We were both in ecstatic denial (wait, is this real?! Did we just buy a house?) and celebrated by getting chicken salad and potato salad from the neighborhood grocery store and eating it, dazed, on our living room floor. Potato salad never tasted so good.
If your house is anything like ours, last week wasn't our most inspired in terms of cooking. We're all suffering from the post-election blues -- the sole upside being Oliver's decision to sleep-in until 7 am for the first time in many, many months; I think he's trying to tell us that pulling the covers over our heads and hibernating for awhile is ok. It's half-convincing. For much of the week, instead of cooking, there'd been takeout pizza and canned soup before, at week's end, I decided it was time to pour a glass of wine and get back into the kitchen. I was craving something hearty and comforting that we could eat for a few days. Something that wouldn't remind me too much of Thanksgiving because, frankly, I can't quite gather the steam to start planning for that yet. It was time for a big bowl of chili.
Porridge is not the sexiest of breakfasts, it's true. It doesn't have a stylish name like strata or shakshuka, and it doesn't have perfectly domed tops like your favorite fruity muffin. It doesn't crumble into delightful bits like a good scone nor does it fall into buttery shards like a well-made croissant. But when you wake up and it's 17 degrees outside (as it has been, give or take a few, for the last week), there's nothing that satisfies like a bowl of porridge or oatmeal. It's warm and hearty and can be made sweet or savory with any number of toppings. The problem? Over the years, it's gotten a bad rap as gluey or gummy or just downright boring or dutiful -- and it's because not everyone knows the secrets to making a great pot of warm morning cereal. So let's talk porridge (also: my cookbook comes out this month! So let's take a peek inside, shall we?)