Wednesday, April 30, 2014

Seattle: Burger Master: A Hot Fudge MIlkshake and Burger

I was sent to Burger Master in Bellevue by my dear friend who knows that "a burger and a milkshake" would be the perfect stop to make with my husband before heading into the Washington Park Arboretum.
Burger Master is a dine-in-your-car hamburger spot that is reminiscent of the 1950's.  They brought our order to our car on a tray which clipped to our window and we were told to turned our headlights on if we needed something - genius!  
I had a wonderful classic cheeseburger (ketchup, pickle, mustard), fries and a drank-every-drop "Hot Fudge" milkshake. The hot fudge shake was recommended by our super-friendly waitress. Of the multitude of shake possibilities on the menu, it was appropriate that she suggested the hot fudge milkshake, as my dad is famous for ordering a milkshake and asking them to "add a scoop" of hot fudge after the shake is made, as if this were the most normal upgrade in the world.  The cute thing is that the ice cream server always thinks it is a great idea.

Burger Master boasts the little bit of Americana that we need in our lives. Park, eat, reminisce, repeat as often as possible.

Seattle: Lake Sammamish State Park

Have I mentioned that I love it in Washington State?  It looks like Switzerland and feels so optimistic. I love that the air is cool (44-62 F) most days that I've been here (I can finally wear all those scarves I have knit!) and it hasn't rained nearly as much as I expected.  
When the clouds part the sky is beautiful, there are mountain ranges in the distance and the air is so clear.  These first 2 photos are from the shore of Lake Sammamish in Lake Sammamish State Park.
I took this one above (blurry!) out of a moving car, but I wanted you to see the green in the morning light.  This is another entrance are to the same park.
This drive along Lake Sammamish makes it look like I am headed off to vacation instead of running errands.  The must be very strict signage rules here, because all commerce is tucked back off the road and there are no billboards or lit signs near the road.  It looks like the bustling real world was tucked in unobtrusively between the trees. Well done.
I tried to capture the fact that homes are built on the water as well as up into the hillside, just like in Switzerland.

Tuesday, April 29, 2014

Seattle: Montalcino Ristorante in Issaquah: Heavenly Halibut

My dinner at Montalcino Ristorante in Issaquah, Washington was the best meal I have had in a long long time. Heavenly Halibut, if there is such a thing.

The Montalcino, a darling Italian restaurant tucked on a side street in Issaquah, is a gem not to be missed.  A new friend tipped me off to this lovely restaurant and suggested that I book a table for a romantic dinner for two.  I am so glad I did!

From the reservation link on their website, I was happy to see that they use Open Table, an online restaurant reservation system that I love to use when I travel.  What I like is that my name, cell phone etc. is already in my Open Table profile, so when I log in and make a reservation, all the confirmation work is done for me.  Bravo. 

Okay, back to the dinner.  We were seated at a table for two in the window, and the two dinner specials sounded so good, we ordered them both.  Dan had a lamb dish (roasted with tomatoes and love) that he devoured and I had halibut with lemon risotto and spring vegetables.  I.Loved.It.  The fish was light and delicious. The risotto was flavorful and creamy, and the vegetables (carrots, roasted squash and broccolini) were perfectly cooked. It felt like it should have been our anniversary dinner. 

The meal was definitely expensive, but we really enjoyed the ambiance, service and of course, the meal.  We looked at each other over the candlelight and agreed that we will go back as soon as possible.  

Monday, April 28, 2014

Seattle: Pike Place Market Flowers: Faint or Levitate

If I had been wearing a blood pressure cuff, I know that the bells and whistles would have been going off.  I could hardly stay on my feet I was so happy with the selection of flowers at Seattle's Pike Place Market.  I didn't know whether to faint or levitate.

I bought 3 stems of the pink/white peony tulips (above). I believe it is the variety called "Angelique."
I mean really, look at all the tulips! I always say "Spring is like the Circus - it only comes to town once a year."  You may find the blog flower-heavy right now, but it is Spring and I am celebrating.
I also bought a dozen of these pink and pale yellow tulips - I think they are "Blushing Beauty."  It is hard to tell from the photo, but when I got them in water in the room, they opened up as large as wine goblets.  Magnificent.  

Salt Spring Island Cheese

I had read about the luscious goat and sheep cheeses made at Salt Spring Island Cheese, which is located north of Victoria in British Columbia and I had it on my "must visit" list for our Easter weekend trip.  Until I locked onto the word island in their name and was told that I had to take a ferry to get there. Nope. I couldn't do it after feeling so seasick on a ferry the day before.  

I was so disappointed.  We did have a lovely weekend, but I couldn't help feeling that I missed out on some great artisanal cheese.  On Monday we were back in the Seattle area and I wanted to see if I could buy some slices of ham, scalloped potatoes, a lemon dessert - whatever I could find to make a delayed Easter dinner in the kitchenette of our little hotel room.  I decided to try Whole Foods, where I thought I would have the best chance finding dinner items in their prepared food case.  Success!
Not only did I find the components for an Easter dinner, I found the display above of Salt Spring Island Cheese in their cheese case!  

The selection all looked so beautiful - look at the one with the raspberry pansy blossom on it.  Just gorgeous.  And another had marinated black, green and red peppercorns on it. I chose the Garlic Goat Cheese (with olive oil and a sprig of rosemary) and we ate it with Triscuits as an appetizer. Yum, yum, yum.  

Friday, April 25, 2014

Victoria, B.C.: Visiting Butchart Gardens: An Experience Not To Be Missed

Have you ever planned to go somewhere for fun and ended up loving it so much you couldn't believe it wasn't the sole purpose of your trip?  That's how I feel about my visit to Butchart Gardens in Victoria, British Columbia.

For years I have heard about High Tea at the Fairmont Empress in Victoria.  It was featured in Victoria magazine once and I have been thinking about it ever since.  When I got this opportunity to visit Seattle with my husband, we both looked at the map and realized that Victoria, British Columbia was finally within reach.
Then when I started planning our Easter weekend getaway, several friends mentioned Butchart Gardens as a great addition to our trip.  Great, I thought to myself. Fresh air, a chance to walk around, maybe a few things will be in bloom.
I was not prepared for:

  • the size of this garden, which felt as large as a grand estate in England and contains many gardens (bog, Japanese, Sunken)  
  • the quality of the plantings, which included unusual varieties of bulbs (not the primary color swath that often happens in gardens for the public), gorgeous specimens of plants and blooms I'd never seen
  • the quantity of the plantings, the planners have considered every inch. The open spaces, the smaller sweet gardens, the larger focal piece gardens. Everything felt beautiful and well-planned, not layered or phony like Disney World.

I actually need more time to think about my visit and expound a little more. I will write more in a day or so. For now, I will show you some of my favorite photos.
(near the rose garden)

(I loved these "floral dictionary" display where visitors could identify their favorite plants that were in bloom that day.)
(We sat on a bench and enjoyed this fountain display - the water pattern changed every once it a while and it was fun to hear the visitors react - "Oooh, look!")

Thursday, April 24, 2014

Ferry: Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia

My first big car ferry trip and it was a gorgeous morning.  The sun was out; the water looked calm and I felt certain that the 90 minute crossing to Victoria, British Columbia would be easy and photogenic.  

I have a long history of motion sickness in cars, planes, boats, rafts.  These photographs on the dock were all that I took to commemorate the trip from Port Angeles to Victoria, British Columbia.  A ride that I will never go on again.
We learned later that the route we chose was the only one considered to be in "open water" and that the ferry was "smaller than the others" and therefore more likely to pitch and sway.  Terrific. I felt unwell and I wanted to get off the boat.  No such luck, I clung to the metal railing in the wind and the cold for an hour.
Yes, this blog promises a moment of delight (I did love my time in Victoria once I got there - more tomorrow) but it is also about everyday moments (like this City Series) and I want you to learn from my experience.
When the water finally calmed down near the harbor (above), I joked that they should come out and welcome their new citizen because I wasn't going to be able to get back to America.  We had made a new friend at the hotel breakfast that morning (he is a native of Vancouver Island and has lived there for 60 plus years) and he said I could get home another way if I took a larger ferry "through the islands" up to Vancouver.  Done.

My caveat is that everyone else on the boat was fine.  Reading books, eating, talking.  I was the only one incapacitated.  If you are sea-worthy, the Port Angeles to Victoria ferry should be fine.  But if you "don't like moving," consider another route.  You're welcome.

Wednesday, April 23, 2014

Seattle: Daily Dozen Doughnuts at Pike Place Market

It was the right thing to do.  I arrived at Seattle's Famed Pike Place Market and I wove through the crowd with determination.  "Where are the doughnuts?" I asked one of the vendors.  I followed her gesture to the line forming in front of Daily Dozen Doughnut Company.
Their doughnuts are a perfect mini size and as I watched the fresh and wonderful batter dropping into the hot grease, I considered my order as if it was of national importance.  

(How many could I eat?  Was it silly to order plain? No, I really like plain doughnuts - especially when they are still warm.  I have to get the maple bacon one, everybody in the food world is talking about that combo right now.  Cinnamon.  Cinnamon sounds wonderful...) 

My mind was racing and I told myself that it was the doughnut-scented air that was making me unhinged.   
My choices were: Plain, Cinnamon, Powdered, Sprinkles, Maple Frosting and Maple Frosting topped with Real Bacon.  I ordered a half dozen combination of Plain, Cinnamon and Maple Frosting with Bacon (see below) but the vendor was very generous and gave me far more than 6.
At first, I enjoyed the three doughnuts (below) as I leaned on the counter and watched the crowd grow at the Pikes Place entrance and then I snacked on a few more over the next 2 hours as I walked around buying flowers and soaking up the sights.  Thank you, Daily Dozen Doughnut Company. This is the way to start your Saturday in Seattle.

Seattle: A Drive Across Deception Pass...Sounds Like A Nancy Drew Title

Come take a drive across Deception Pass.  Sounds like a Nancy Drew title, doesn't it?  Believe me, the beautiful scenery will give you courage to take the bridge across Deception Pass.  

The pass was named deception when Captain George Vancouver realized that what he had identified as a peninsula, was actually an island.  He named it Whidbey Island after his assistant Joseph Whidbey, who was with him when he realized his mistake.
 This is the view to the West - the shimmering open water of Puget Sound.  
This is the view to the East - the little island is called Strawberry Island.  This link will take you to a great map of Deception Pass State Park and will help you appreciate the topography.

Deception Pass State Park has both a fresh and salt water shoreline.  Many visitors parked their cars on either side of the bridge and took a "I'm not afraid of heights" walk across the bridge.
I loved that we took this unexpected stop on our Sunday drive. This park is only an hour and a half north of Seattle, Washington but it felt like we were on a vacation a million miles away.  
How can Washington State be this beautiful so close to a major city?  A major city which is also beautiful from every angle, by the way. I would love to come back to this area and have a chance to sit on the beach and or find more of the scenic overlooks.

Tuesday, April 22, 2014

Seattle: Magnolias in Washington Park Arboretum

I know I am posting a lot about flowers, but it is SPRING and I am delighted every day with the flowering shrubs and trees that are in bloom in Seattle. 

Delicate blossoms like the magnolia are only pristine for a short time (a day?), so when I had the chance, I took a photo of this magnificent specimen at the Washington Park Arboretum

Seattle: A Little Northern Exposure in La Conner

To me, this looks just like the television show, Northern Exposure.  You see it too, right? In reality, it is the popular "weekend getaway" destination La Conner, Washington. As we walked around the town we had the feeling that we had been there before. For my Michigan readers, it is a Suttons Bay of the Pacific Northwest.

A friend in Seattle recommended that since we were heading on a daytrip to the Skagit Tulip Festival, we should see the tulips and then go West on WA20 and drive around the perimeter of Fidalgo Island and then south WA20 through Deception Pass State Park (which has saltwater and freshwater shoreline!), over Deception Pass (the bridge) and across to the Whidbey Island to the Clinton - Mukilteo ferry crossing to head back to Seattle.

Others had mentioned that La Conner was a great little town to have lunch. We combined the two suggestions and found an outside table at La Conner Waterfront Cafe where we could enjoy the sunny day and have some fresh fish and chips.  Truth be told, the cafe was overwhelmed by the "tulip traffic," so it wasn't ideal, but we enjoyed our very very long lunch on this outdoor patio that was right on the Swinomish Channel.
Spring is just beginning to wake up this little town - I can only imagine how picturesque it will be when summer is in full swing.  Be prepared to hold hands and spend an afternoon wandering past the art galleries and resort shops.  

Monday, April 21, 2014

Seattle: Skagit Tulip Festival in Washington

Allow me to add to your bucket list.  When I say I that went to "see the tulips" at the Skagit Tulip Festival, I really mean it!  Look at this spectacular field of red.  Part of the fun of a tulip festival is that it is crawling with people, all out to enjoy the day and marvel at the beautiful and varied blooms.  Each and every person is in a good mood and all are willing to take your pictures for you.  I can't resist showing you this great picture of Dan and me standing in a tulip field.  Maybe this should be our Christmas card picture...
We are staying just outside of Seattle, Washington and the drive is an easy 90 minutes north.  Check out this map of the tulip growing area.  (I am going to publish this blog post now and I'll come back when Dan is around and note our exact route for you - it was short and sweet, but allowed for plenty of tulip viewing.)
Look at the mountains in the distance! I could not believe our luck - we visited on April 12 and the day was about 65 degrees and partly sunny.
There is a lot of traffic (think of a row of cars snaking their way down country roads), so I recommend a bathroom break before you arrive within the map area and bring along snacks and water to keep your passengers happy and comfortable.  There are clear areas where cars have pulled off along the road to exit their vehicles and take pictures.  Join in the fun and try for your perfect family portrait.  
After exploring a few fields, we crept along the road to Roozengaarde Tulip Display Garden.  You can Visitors pay $5 to enter the garden display and enjoy the beauty of 250,000 blooming bulbs. A 15-acre tulip field (above) is right across the street (and next to the parking area).  Paid entrance to the garden display allows you to wander these fields as well.  What a sight! 

In the manicured garden area, some families spread out blankets and enjoyed the sunshine while their children ran around nearby.  It was very crowded, but as I said, I think that is part of the fun.  When something is special and only blooms for a short period of time, it inspires people to come out and enjoy it.
Above is an example of the display gardens (each variety clearly marked in case you want to note your favorites and order bulbs for your garden in the shopping tent).
Yellow and red as far as the eye can see.
What could be better than an arch of tulips and a mountain backdrop?  I saw a couple taking what looked like their engagement photo right here.  
This "Salmon Parrot" was one of my favorite tulips.  It looks like a Dutch painter's dream. I think a large bouquet of these would make my hotel room look like it was in House Beautiful.
Within Roozengaarde's open tulip field, I could see a painter set up to capture the day.  Can you see her with her easel?  I wish I had thought of bringing my travel paint set along - I would have loved to paint this on site.
I really can't emphasize how relaxing and worthwhile it is to head to the Skagit Tulip Festival (which will run April 1-30) - if not this year, then next.  Just mark your calendar and promise yourself.