Monday, June 30, 2014

Seattle: Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island is a Delightful Daytrip

Doesn't it look like a horse drawn carriage is about to pull up and the arrival of Lady Catherine De Bourgh (for my fellow Pride and Prejudice fans) will be announced?  The Bloedel Reserve, which was a private estate until 1980, is a breathtaking destination on Bainbridge Island. Admission tickets are $15 per person.

When my friend, Melissa was writing up suggestions for my stay in Seattle, she said that the Bloedel Reserve on Bainbridge Island was a MUST SEE (and yes, she used capital letters.) Earlier this week, I wrote about our visit to the Japanese house and garden on the grounds of Bloedel Reserve.

The area is essentially an enormous natural park and estate house with extensive walking trails, individual gardens (moss, Japanese, bog), water features and a spectacular view of Puget Sound's Port Madison Bay.
This is one of my favorite photos. The open front door gives guest a sneak peek at the view they are about to enjoy. Image arriving for a party and realizing that you get to sit, relax and enjoy the company of friends in this spectacular setting.  
This is the expansive lawn leading from the back of the house down to the bay. I'm not sure what is anchored out front - a dredger? When you glance back over your shoulder, this is the view of the house from the lawn.  A giant dollhouse with a northeast view of Puget Sound. 
Below is a photo of the living room. The first floor of the grand house now functions as the Visitors Center and a docent is on hand to answer questions. There is water for guests in the kitchen, as well as restrooms down the hall.
I loved this flattering 1920 portrait of Virginia Merrill as a teenager painted by artist Tade Styka. Just seven years later, she would marry Prentice Bloedel, mastermind behind the incredible 150 acre garden estate known as the Bloedel Reserve. She and Prentice lived at the estate on Bainbridge Island from 1951 to 1986. You can read more about the portraits on display at Bloedel Reserve here.
We sat on the steps overlooking Puget Sound for a long time. There were a few other visitors coming and going, but all of them seemed to feel the same sense of calm that we did. Couples talked in hushed voices to each other and everyone took a moment to sit on the cement benches and soak up the grand view.
The rest of the week, when I was recounting our Sunday trip to Bainbridge Island, very few people knew about the Bloedel Reserve. If you'd like to read a self-guided tour of the property, click here

I encourage you to take the ferry over from Seattle and spend some time walking the grounds as Mr. Bloedel intended.  Then give in to your need for ice cream and head to Mora in the main shopping area of Bainbridge Island. They let you choose 2 flavors for one "scoop" - I enjoyed Pistachio and Dark Chocolate.

Friday, June 27, 2014

Seattle: Bainbridge Island: Bloedel Reserve Japanese Garden

Today I want to spotlight a hidden gem on Bainbridge Island, a resort island that is an easy 35 minute ferry ride from downtown Seattle. We took the 1:10 ferry, spent a few hours exploring Bloedel Reserve and the main street shopping area for an ice cream, and then rode the ferry and were back in Seattle by 6.  This is a glorious way to spend a Sunday afternoon. 

Riding the ferry takes a little planning, visit the ferry schedule website, arrive 30 minutes (at least) before departure, buy your ticket and get your car in line.  If you car doesn't make the ferry, they just cue you up for the next ferry. They depart every hour.

Okay, I will write about the g-o-r-g-e-o-u-s Bloedel Reserve estate tomorrow, but for now I will woo you with their Japanese Garden.
You can see the serene rock garden (above) - the stones have been raked in patterns and you could quite easily sit and let your mind wander.
There was live music being played on a traditional Japanese instrument. It was lovely to hear the ping-ping wafting through the woods as we approached on the foot path.
The view from the deck on the Japanese house was unbelievable.  I'm not sure if you can see the depth, but it is a large sunken garden with trees, plantings and footpaths. Can you see the gourd bird house hanging (above) from a branch? It fit the scene so well, I hope someone lives there. Can you imagine a bird inside listening to the music?

Thursday, June 26, 2014

Seattle: Cute Meets Beautiful in Volunteer Park: Baby Ducklings Are the Star

Can you stand it?  I stopped by Volunteer Park to see what I could see, but I didn't expect this. Eight baby ducklings, no bigger than the water lilies they were swimming among! They were little puffs of delight.
There is a wood plank arranged between the lip of the pond and the water, to help the little guys get back to their mother, who was resting on the bank. Every once in a while she looked up and said "Don't splash your brother." 

Seattle: Remedy Tea House in Capitol Hill

I had the chance to visit Remedy Tea, a really great spot to have a restorative cup of tea as my favorite English author would say.  Remember how much I love Rosamunde Pilcher's The Shell Seekers? It's about time to reread it...

I love having tea. I love offering someone a cup of tea.  I even have a tea station (this is it at Christmas) in my dining room. So after many recommendations, I couldn't wait to visit Remedy Tea in Capitol Hill.
They offer over 150 organic teas to buy and brew at home or enjoy in their bright and happy tea room.  The entire selection is displayed in test tubes along the entry wall and patrons are welcome to open and smell each tea as part of their selection process. So smart - I think people forget how closely scent and taste relate.

The shop was very active at 1 o'clock on an overcast Wednesday.  Business people with laptops, two mothers taking time to catch up with their babies in tow, a mother-daughter duo.  Everyone deciding that things would be better with a pot of tea in front of them. Nice!

Tuesday, June 24, 2014

Cool Spaces: Seattle Public Library

Cool Spaces is a show on public television that spotlights "what's new and exciting in the world of architecture and design."  My mom was watching an episode when they began a segment on the Seattle Public Library.  Seattle!

After she called it my attention, I was able to record the episode and see just what went into the design, layout and use of materials for this magnificent structure.  I found it particularly interesting when they discussed the modern day challenges, with the surge of digital books, media and the internet, of deciding how a modern library should function. If this at all interests you, I highly recommend tracking down Episode 2 of Cool Spaces on public television.

In the episode, the library's key players explain how they decided how space should be used in a modern library. They divided the space into areas with specific functions and into areas where patrons can relax with their own gadgets or even snacks. Below, the host discusses the idea of modern libraries. 
I enjoyed riding the escalator and wandering throughout this large public space.  The light coming in through the diamond shaped windows was beautiful and interesting.
There is a large area called the "Mixing Bowl" where they expect patrons to gather and mix in a multipurpose space. I sat in one of the open use areas and read a few Seattle-based magazines and tried to experience the space. In total, I stayed about an hour and I will never forget it.
I'm including a link to a video (below) that plays on YouTube and is "available to the public." It seems a citizen video-taped his walk around inside the Seattle Public Library so that others could see what it was like. If you would like to see it, click below. If you want to move it along, slide the bar at the bottom occasionally to advance the video. It is about 5 minutes long.

The building is beautiful and functional. What have I been reading?  A great book, set in Seattle, called Where'd You Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple. Check it out (wink).

Monday, June 23, 2014

Seattle: Southwestern Flavors and Not-to-be-Missed Flan at Cactus in Kirkland

More often than not, I'm in the mood for fajitas. This is the wonderful meal I had a Cactus in the Seattle suburb of Kirkland - great chicken fajitas and a cool Pepino Smash (chilled cucumber, mint, lime, and agave).  This non-alcoholic drink tastes bright and tangy - I really liked it.  The lime and mint offset the fajita spices really well.

We were there on a busy Sunday...sometime in the haze between brunch and lunch.  The restaurant was very busy, but we didn't have to wait long at all for a table.  Our waitress was very kind and in chatting with her, we mentioned that we were from Michigan and that were out exploring the different areas of Seattle in our free time. 
Not long after our table was cleared, the manager came over with a complimentary 3 Milk Cuban Flan and 2 spoons. He said that he'd heard that this was our first time to Cactus and that this was his way of saying welcome. How kind!  I kid you not, this is the best flan I've ever had.  It was beyond creamy and the sweet dark caramel sauce was perfect.  I could eat one of these every week!

If you go to Cactus in Kirkland, you must order the flan. It's on my don't miss list.   

Sunday, June 22, 2014

Seattle: Ferries Deliver A Terrific Skyline View

Every visitor to Seattle has "capture the skyline" on the must do list.  Most people think "up," but I want you to think "out."  Look at the magnificent photo I was able to take from a ferry!

I wanted to visit Bainbridge Island while I was in Seattle but I dragged my feet making the plans because I knew I would have to ride a ferry.  I was very seasick on my ferry ride to Victoria, B.C. (Yes, it's true, I was the only one that felt the rocking and swaying - everyone else aboard was eating nachos and reading.), so I wanted to pick a perfectly quiet day.  Sunday was the day! 75 degrees and full sun.

My husband pointed out that it was wonderful to get a "boat ride" in the Puget Sound, in addition to actually getting transported to our destination.  He was right, it was a beautiful trip and I took some of my best photographs from the deck of the ferry.
Mount Rainier was "out" (Did you know that Seattleites refer to whether you can see the mountain the same way we refer to the sun?) and she looked postcard-perfect against the clear sky and deep blue water.  The Washington State ferry in the photo was similar to the car ferry that I was traveling on.

When you are visiting Seattle, be sure to ride a ferry out of downtown Seattle.  You can travel with your car or as a passenger and the relaxing boat ride will be one you will never forget.

Friday, June 20, 2014

Seattle: Cutest Coffee Hut in Redmond

It's like a backyard playhouse for coffee lovers.  I had seen these cute little buildings in parking lots around town, but it wasn't until a friend insisted that I visit this coffee hut at the corner of Redmond Way and East Lake Sammamish Parkway (in the Shell Gas parking lot) that I became a believer.  In Michigan, large chain coffee houses are the norm.  Independent coffee shops are few and far between. Little coffee huts sprinkled throughout the suburbs are the stuff of dreams.

I parked right outside the Sammamish Point Espresso, and there was no wait to be served, I had a delicious latte and the barista was as nice as can be. She even gave me restaurant suggestions for my stay! After years of standing in line, this is an espresso experience I can handle.

Thursday, June 19, 2014

Cost Plus World Market: Super Cute Mixing Bowl Measuring Cups

When it comes to shopping for kitchen items, I am weak.  I absolutely love measuring spoons and dishtowels and cherry pitters and thermometers and...

You get the idea.  Well when I was living in a hotel for a few weeks in Seattle, I had a little kitchen where I was able to cook dinner for us.  I even had a convection toaster oven shipped to the hotel (thank you Amazon Prime) so that I would be able to roast and bake in the room, which was equipped with only a microwave and 2 burners.

Before I left for Seattle, I had fun at home planning my culinary adventure (cooking in a hotel room with limited supplies) and I packed up key spices in little ziploc bags and flew my favorite nonstick pan (a cross between a wok and a small stock pot) out in my suitcase.  But I forgot measuring cups. The room comes stocked with a liquid measuring cup, measuring spoons, a spatula and that's about it.  

Oh darn, I "have to go shopping" for some measuring cups.  And boy did Cost Plus World Market exceed my expectations! I have been finding more and more things that I like there. Items that are cute and fun.

Look at the teeny-tiny "mixing bowl" measuring cups I found! They were about $5 and I absolutely love them.  They look so cute sitting on the countertop that I have yet to put them away.  So far I have made my blueberry gateau twice!

Portland: Sweet Pea Central

I am spoiled! We were invited to tour a garden in Seattle (pictures to come in a blog post soon) and I was sent home with this spectacular bouquet of Sweet Peas, fresh cut from the garden just for me.

I have only grown Sweet Peas in my garden once (why? I ask myself, why?) and the starter plant was so small I only had one vine of blooms, certainly not enough to cut. Do you remember when I wrote about it?

I have always loved Sweet Peas and I even had a Laura Ashley comforter that was covered in vines of these cherry red and lavender blue blossoms.  I distinctly remember making my bed in college and a sorority sister helped me by teaching me that "the blooms grow up the bed" as a secret to knowing which direction the pattern should be going on the bed spread. The lessons you never forget. 

I've had this bouquet blooming in our hotel room all week and it still looks beautiful!

Wednesday, June 18, 2014

Seattle: A Fairy Garden for Grown Ups

I've made a new friend here in Seattle (yea! She has made my stay here so much more fun) and she invited me to her home to see her garden. I knew that she loved collecting blown glass and that she often attended art shows, but I really learned about "her eye" when I saw how artfully she has designed her outdoor living area. I loved it!
It was a little too cool and misty to sit outside that evening, but I fully intend to walk around on the patio and spend some quality time talking out there when I get the chance.  I was particularly drawn to the woods behind her garden. Enormous pine trees with long smooth trunks surrounded by fern - I could see into the woods for a long distance and there were a million shades of green.  I kept commenting on the woods and I realize now that I probably sounded funny to them.  

It reminded me of when we had a friend who had been living in Kazakhstan visit us. When we were leaving for dinner, I was telling him about the "signature pasta salads" at a restaurant we were going to.  He said he really just wondered if they'd have a salad of green lettuce. Um...yes?  He said that it was hard to get fresh produce that time of year in Kazakhstan and he couldn't wait to have "green lettuce."  I felt the same way in this beautiful Washington forrest.  I was supposed to be noticing the garden art (which I did love) but I couldn't stop talking about the trees.
Look at these glass flowers! Perfectly at home in this natural setting and a brilliant way to bring year round color to an outdoor space.  I had never seen art pieces like this on display in a private setting.  I had only seen them at art shows and when 50 pieces are together, they are beautiful but the color and movement is too overwhelming for me.  Here, when they are artfully arranged, I can see them exactly as they were intended and I love it! 

(2/19/16 Update: I just met the artist that made the flowers (in the first photo) at the Northwest Flower and Garden Show in Seattle. Her name is Katy LaReau and you can buy her work here.

It is a fairy garden for grown ups. Bravo!

Tuesday, June 17, 2014

Seattle: Coho Cafe Redmond: Fish Frenzy and Salmon Stats

My new friends were sure that I would like anything I ordered at the Coho Cafe in Redmond. They were right! I couldn't resist the special: fresh halibut with a blood orange glaze over sticky rice and pea pods. I ate every bite.

I missed taking a picture of our shared appetizer, but the Roasted Green Chile and Cornbread Waffle with agave butter was fantastic. Sweet and creamy and crunchy and hot. Yum. Who needs dinner?  

But we did, of course and everyone seemed very happy with their selection.  I had a bite of Paula's "limited edition" salmon, known as the Copper River Salmon, and it was deep red and so rich I described my bite as salmon pudding

In a region where fish is king, there is extensive seafood knowledge that I know nothing about.  The girls told me that when the first plane arrives from Alaska this time of year full of the beloved Copper River Salmon, the pilots walk off the plane holding up a fish (could I make this up?). I read an article in the Seattle Times that says the pilots then present the salmon to three chefs that cook it right then at the airport to kick off the season. You must see the article here.  I love this place.

On a whim, I ordered an Elderflower spritzer. It was light, non-alcoholic and tasted like a honey-flavored herb fizz.  What a great drink to enjoy with fish! Elderflower is all the rage right now and this is a fun way to try it.    

My husband worked late and missed dinner that night, but I promised him that he would have his day at the Coho Cafe before we flew home.

Monday, June 16, 2014

World Cup Soccer 2014 Cupcakes: Support Your Team or Eat the Competition?

Team USA! We just won (USA 2 Ghana 1) our first match in the 2014 World Cup.  I was in London during the 2010 World Cup and I absolutely loved the soccer fever ( fever) I saw all over England.

My favorite example was at the bakery Lola's Cupcakes.  They had the flag of every team playing that day represented on a cupcake - when choosing your cupcake, you could support your team or eat the competition!  It was darling and I loved their spirit. 

Today I am happy to report that the US devoured Ghana. Go team go!

Friday, June 13, 2014

Seattle: Lavender Farm in Woodinville

Provence? No, Seattle!  This beautiful lavender farm is in Woodinville, Washington - just 10 minutes north of where I stay in Redmond, an eastern suburb of Seattle. (*Note: this farm closed to the public in late 2016. It has changed its business plan to concentrating on hosting private events)

The breeze was light and fragrant when I pulled into the little driveway at Woodinville Lavender Farm.  I arrived just 30 minutes before closing, perhaps the perfect time to get a picture - I had the outdoor space to myself.  I introduced myself to the shop girl, Rachel, and she encouraged me to wander the perimeter of the gardens and enjoy the space.  The lavender is not quite ready to cut, I was there at the perfect time!  There are other large sections of the farm with different lavender varieties that bloom at different times.
The farm is available for private events and I can't imagine a lovelier spot to wander around with a glass of wine. There is a lot to be said for anticipation and being able to look forward to an evening at a lavender farm would be at the top of my list. There is a romance to it, isn't there?
The porch out that leads to the lavender shop offers a variety of healthy plants for sale - if I could keep them alive in my hotel room and then tucked them in my suitcase, I would have bought an armful. Look how beautiful they are! And I saw many types in bloom (in pots) that I have never seen before.
I saw a little boy eating an ice cream on the back patio and I had the wisdom to ask inside about it.  Yes! They sell lavender-kissed ice cream bars and pints. They are made locally by Whidbey Island Ice Cream company and after much deliberation I chose the "Chocolate Chardonnay Lavender" ice cream bar dipped in chocolate.  Yep, I do it all for you.  Sometimes delight requires research (wink).

I am going to take a minute and list the choices of chocolate dipped ice cream bars, just so you can see their commitment to lavender delicacies.

  • Vanilla Lavender
  • Hazelnut Lavender
  • Cardamom Lavender
  • Coconut Lavender
  • Strawberry Champagne Lavender
  • Blackberry Lavender
  • Chocolate Lavender
  • Chocolate Orange Lavender
  • Chocolate Chardonnay Lavender
My ice cream bar was so good, I joked with my husband that it was "made with cream from cows whose feet never touch the earth" poking fun at the ever-growing list of foodie descriptions. 

I intend to return and the Strawberry Champagne Lavender ice cream bar has my name on it! 
I was impressed with the extensive selection of lavender products available for purchase. This sweet-smelling shop has everything from art and lavender essence, to sachets and books - you can peek at their selection here.
I love it here and I am so thankful that I can share it with you.  So many people travel to the Seattle-area and I like to think that they may find me on Google and find some ways to make their trip even more delightful. A stop at a lavender farm (June-August bloom time) will do that for sure!  Are you in town July 11th? Woodinville Lavender is hosting their own lavender festival! 

Remember when I went to a lavender festival in Michigan? Loved it!

Thursday, June 12, 2014

Seattle: Salty's on Alki Beach: We went just for the Hal-i-but

The stars and moon aligned and we had time to enjoy a relaxing dinner in Seattle. After flying all day, we had landed in the afternoon and instead of the limiting "find a place to eat that's not to far from work" scenario that we are usually faced with, we had time to enjoy dinner on the water.

I had been encouraged to visit "Salty's on Alki Beach" for seafood and since I knew that my husband had never seen the city of Seattle from this angle (looking back from the East) I thought it would be perfect.

It was more than perfect, really. A great view, delicious dinner...and we got right in! I ordered a Diet Coke to pep me up (I am not good at changing time zones!) and we settled in with our menus and had a chance to talk.
I started with a petit salad (greens with champagne-thyme vinaigrette, 
plucked mint, pecorino cheese, grape tomatoes and focaccia croutons) and though it was very good, it was light on the mint. Someone must have missed sprinkling it on my plate because  I only had one sprig in one of my last bites and I immediately noticed and said, "The mint! That's what I was missing." The bright flavor did a lot to enhance the pecorino cheese and vinaigrette.  On the whole, the salad was light and delicious and I would certainly order it again.

Dan started with a sherry-topped clam chowder that was so delicious he didn't speak until it was finished.  I tried a spoonful and loved it. Next time I'm getting my own cup!
We both ordered the special: honey soy-glazed halibut on rice with a spring pea, corn and onion topping drizzled with chili oil.  Look at the darling pea shoot showing off the perfect row of peas - that's art!  We loved the dish and enjoyed it even more since we were able to snag a table with a view of Puget Sound (below).  We were on the other side of the country and it felt like it!
Thank you, Salty's on Alki Beach for the warm welcome back to Seattle.

Wednesday, June 11, 2014

Seattle: Regal Eagle

I saw my first eagle on the Pacific Northwest! I had been told that they liked to nest on the tall trees by the bridge on the edge of Lake Washington, but I looked almost daily in April and never saw one. Then the day we arrived last weekend...tah-dah!

Tuesday, June 10, 2014

Detroit Metro Airport: Make A Candy Connection

I found Candyland! Dylan's Candy Bar originated in New York City and I was lucky enough to visit the multilevel masterpiece back in 2005. I believe in candy and color and fun - all things that can make a travel layover better, right?

There is a now a good-size Dylan's Candy Bar right in the terminal at Detroit Metro Airport - if you're a traveler, be on the lookout for sugar central. They sell classic candy by the half pound, more gummy products than you can imagine and they have a display wall of chocolate-covered everything.

The store also stocks a variety of their brightly colored branded merchandise like iPhone cases, tote bags and miscellany to show you "were there."

Swedish Fish, anyone?

Monday, June 9, 2014

Sleeping in Seattle

All I seem to be doing is Sleeping (vs being Sleepless) in Seattle. I flew across the country. I drank water. I walked around in the sunlight. I went to bed early. Good attempt, but jet lag has the best of me. I'll tell you all about this view of downtown Seattle and the restaurant that provided it...tomorrow when I can stop yawning. Night night.

Friday, June 6, 2014

The Art of Living: Make Design Decisions To Boost Visual Vitamins

My decorative touches are temporary.  I move items, vases and books around my house continually to make "the art of living" in my home an interesting experience for me.

I want to trumpet the idea of specifically designing an area in your home that you can gravitate to for relaxation or a long phone call.  Every magazine I pick up seems to rely on the bathtub as the lone sanctuary for women.  When I say "designing," I mean giving conscious thought to the items within an area. Sift through the items that you own (candles, books, souvenirs, photos) and create a combination based on color or sentiment. 

Sometimes the vignette is all about the flowers that are in bloom. Sometimes I want to highlight a book I love and I gather and add items that enhance the colors in the book jacket. And sometimes I choose to put something out that I love and never get to "see" when it is tucked away in the china cabinet.  

So many of the objects we own have a story that you never get the chance to tell, unless someone sees it and asks. That kind of storytelling is good for you.

This vignette (above) is a little Japanese lunch. I like to have an acrylic tray on the upholstered bench between two loveseats in my living room.  I change the items on the tray about every other week. I see the area as a place to display what I love.  To give myself a dose of "Visual Vitamins."  If you keep the same few items out all of the time you will stop seeing them and therefore miss the beauty and joy of looking at what you love.

Years ago, I was given a sushi rolling kit that included these dove gray ceramic dishes.  I added a set of sushi soap that tickled my fancy when I was in a Japanese museum store in Florida. You can order yourself a set here. The combination makes it look like I am all ready for a quiet lunch for two.  I popped two "Koko Loko" (crazy for milk chocolate) roses from my garden in a vase and added a small filled-glass votive candle and covered matchbox to make the peaceful vignette complete.

When I sit here, I feel relaxed and amused.  The display is for me, and if friends stop by and happen to see it, all the better. 

Thursday, June 5, 2014

Marsh Marigolds: Golden Mounds of Pure Delight

The sun was as high and bright as these clusters of yellow marsh marigolds.  If I could have taken my photos a few hours later, I would have been able to capture a little more depth in the blossoms (above). But...finding delight in everyday life means enjoying what this world has to offer when you can.  

I was driving from Leelanau county over to Gaylord, Michigan that afternoon, so I only had a short time to galavant with my mom taking pictures before I had to pack up and leave.  She had noticed marsh marigolds blooming in a ditch near Cedar, so we could only assume that our favorite spot was in bloom.
Tah-dah! The marsh marigolds were at their peak! Look at the gorgeous mounds of leaves and blooms hovering over the clear cold stream.  We leaned on the highway guard rail (in a very quiet stretch of highway) and took photos from every angle we could think of.  The sun was so bright, we had a hard time seeing the camera screen against the glare. At any point I was hoping for the best framing and I am so happy with the results.
I chose this photo to show you just how many marsh marigolds there were, and to highlight how they meander far into the woods.  I said, "Cue the moose!" to my mom, as if this were a movie set and I could command mother nature to send in some Extras.  

Do me a favor and picture a moose stepping out of the woods into the sunshine.