Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Cherry Blossoms and Taiko Drums

This past weekend we attended the Cherry Blossom Festival at Seattle Center.  It is put on every year by the Japanese community in our city and features two of my favorite things:  food and drums.  There are also other things like calligraphy and flower arranging (Ikebana) and Aikido demonstrations and sumi painting, but I go for the food and the Taiko drums.  Someday I am going to plan a trip to Japan just for a Taiko festival as I could watch the different groups with their amazing choreography all day.   And being a festival, I bet they would have stalls with food on a stick!  What more could I ask for???

Saturday, April 27, 2013

Shopping on Vacation

I find that when I travel, I want to buy stuff.  Not anything particularly useful; usually small decorative things.  Things I would never buy at home because I already have too much of that stuff.  But when I am someplace different, these things call out to me and I find myself at the end of the trip trying to find room for it in the luggage.  I try to rationalize my purchases with thoughts like “they only make this HERE - I can’t get this at home!” and totally ignoring the fact that you can get almost everything online these days.  Even when I am reasonably close to home, I still get sucked into that mode of thinking.   
The other weekend we drove about 90 miles north to Bellingham, Washington – just this side of the border with Canada.  We have friends that live there, and as we had never really explored the town we decided to make a weekend of it.  We found it to have a lively shopping/eating district along with a fairly sizeable business district, all very walkable and friendly.  And then we got to the Saturday Farmer’s Market.  There were many stalls of beautiful produce as one would expect, but also stalls where local artisans displayed their wares.  I was in trouble.  Not only were there all kinds of things to buy, there was also the realization that we had a car and I didn’t have to cram anything into my luggage for the trip home.  My Aussie husband sighed heavily. 
 And so we have something new…  isn’t it pretty?

Saturday, April 20, 2013

Food on a Stick

I believe that any food served on a stick is better than that same food not on a stick.  It is even more awesome if it comes from some questionable food stand, preferably in a different country.   I will eat things off a stick that I would normally think twice about ordering on a plate.  Case in point:  squid on a stick from a vendor in Himeji, Japan.  Now I will eat calamari as a steak or as the little fried rings you get as appetizers, but I had not been confronted by an entire squid body before.  My Aussie husband was all excited for it, especially since it was lunchtime and he had just spent the last 2 hours following me around inside Himeji Castle.  There was some sort of market with food stalls and beer tents, some featuring posters of Ichiro hoisting a cold one.  We wandered through, checking things out and wondering what might be good.  And then, we saw this stall.  Not knowing the Japanese word for cooked squid we just pointed and were rewarded with a fresh off the grill sizzling beauty.   

Squid - on a stick!

This experience made me a little bolder when looking for snacks while traveling…  I have lately been drawn to eat food that is unknown and unidentifiable to my Western New-World palate, as I did on Qijin Island in Kaohsiung, Taiwan.  This area has about two blocks of snack stands on the main street off the ferry, as well as seafood restaurants near the end.  What I had was probably some tofu product, but who can be sure when you don’t know the language?  Whatever it was, it was tasty, and the lady who cooked it was very friendly.  There were many stands that I had to pass by that trip, but I plan to go back some day and eat my way from one side of the island to the other.
Is it tofu?  Who cares!

Opportunities for next time...

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Rice Rice Baby

Sushi making is a lot harder than it looks, at least when you are as uncoordinated as I am.  I love sushi in all its forms – nigiri, maki, temaki, sashimi.   I blame it on the fact that I was born in Japan and lived there for the first 4 years of my eating life.  I also love taking cooking classes, so when those two things lined up in the universe I was very happy.  The chef/owner of a local sustainably run sushi restaurant was giving a class on making rolls so my Aussie husband and I signed up and were ready to learn the ins and outs of rolling rice. 

I’m sure Chef Hajime lined up what he thought would be simple maki rolls for us to practice on, but it took me a whole lot of tries to get a finished product that would even hold together.  Once he stopped eating all the rice off his fingers, my Aussie husband took up a mat and presto – made a beautiful, evenly compact roll.  He at least had the good manners to not laugh too loudly at my attempts. 
I finally got something to hold together long enough to take a picture –
At least it tasted good...

And then the chef had us try the hand rolls.  I did not take any pictures.  It was not pretty.  It was, however, very tasty so I did not consider the evening a total loss.

Monday, April 8, 2013

Geeking on Beer, Close to Home

So we had 2 brewpubs open in our neighborhood in the last month, with a 3rd to follow in the next couple of weeks.  I don’t think we’ll be going thirsty anytime soon with these fine establishments following on the heels of the Fremont Brewing Company and Outlander Brewing, which are my two favorite brewpubs.  For very different reasons.  Fremont http://www.fremontbrewing.com/ makes really good beer – very drinkable, very polished and they encourage whole families to come hang out in their tasting room and have fun.  You used to drink the beer in the same big room they brewed in, but they have successfully marketed themselves into a much bigger production so they had to move into the space next door to give the beer consumers enough room to raise a glass.  Or two.   Outlander http://outlanderbrewing.com/ also makes really good beer, but it is definitely not geared toward the masses.  They are a very tiny operation (a true nano-brewery) and Nigel the brewer makes some very different and very interesting beers.  Like Durian Ale.  Dragonfruit Saison.  And my personal favorite – Peanut  Butter Stout.  They brew small batches of a barrel or 2 at a time, so their offerings are ever-changing.  The setting fits the aesthetic as it is in an old house and you can settle in to a comfy chair and feel like you are at home in your own living room, but with better beer.    As you can see, the new kids in town have a lot to live up to, but I think they show promise.   Populuxe http://www.populuxebrewing.com/ is another small-batch brewery with 3 offerings currently, as that is all they have room for.  They also have different food trucks scheduled during the weekends so you can keep the beer company.  On the day we were there, they offered a Brown Ale, an ESB, and a Saison which we just had a taste of.  All were tasty, and we look forward to seeing what else they will be brewing.  

Brown, Saison, ESB

Peddler was the other place we checked out that day;  http://www.peddlerbrewing.com/ a much bigger operation with 8 brews but still tiny by most standards.   It took me a while to figure it out, but they are aiming to cater to the hoards of bike riders in Seattle.  My first clue might have been the wall of bike racks, or perhaps the close proximity to the Burke-Gilman bike trail.  Their beer, however, should appeal to everyone, biker or not.  Peddler has a wide variety , from a Tangerine Wheat to a Belgian Spice.  Quite refreshing!
Peddler's Offerings
At this rate, we won’t need to drive all the way to Portland for a wide range of tasty local brews anymore…