Bernie and Hilary on the Same Ticket


Hillary Clinton will not pick Bernie Sanders as her running mate at the Democratic National Convention, but the pair of Bernie O’Malley and Hilary (one “L”) Emmer have teamed together and were named Vashon Island’s unofficial mayors for the 2016-17 term. Done obviously in fun, they capitalized on their ‘name recognition’ to run for the unofficial office and managed to raise $6,000 on the campaign trail on behalf of the Vashon Senior Center.

berniehilary - 1

My wife and I were on the island visiting friends during the Vashon Island Strawberry Festival when the mayoral announcement was made. The festival celebrated its 107th year. The grand marshall of the parade was Mary Matsuda Grunewald, a former Vashon Island resident before she was evacuated in 1941 with 110,000 other Japanese Americans to internment camps. Her family raised strawberries on the island and made the fruit an important crop before the war.

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Eat the Streets (Honolulu, HI)


You could make a case that the biggest development in American dining trends in the last few years has been the explosion of food trucks. Literally, an explosion. Maybe the weak economy has been somewhat responsible. For a business, it kind of makes sense because you don’t have huge capital expenses, can “move” your restaurant to suit customer demand, don’t have to hire much help and offer only a handful of specialties. My home town of Seattle is experiencing the national craze and seemingly greets a new truck almost weekly.

A related and more recent development is the food truck jamboree where several trucks gather in one spot to sell their stuff in a festival atmosphere. On the last Friday of every month, downtown Honolulu holds one, called Eat the Streets, in the late afternoon on a large parking lot, corner of South and Halekauwila Streets, just blocks from King Kamehameha’s statue. I counted about 40 trucks, an amazing number by any standard. There were easily a thousand hungry fans here. In my limited experience, the only other food festival to have an equal impact was the Richmond Night Market in British Columbia, just south of Vancouver, where the sheer variety and unique offerings were just as staggering. I went gawking as I walked from one end of the lot to the other and back again in a big loop. With words inadequate to describe the scene, the gallery below does a better job.

Waipara Valley Wine and Food Festival (Glenmark Domain, NZ)


waipara_festival

The Waipara Valley Wine and Food Festival is an annual event that celebrates the wines produced in the namesake valley. Such festivals are generally fun to attend, so when our son-in-law told us about this one, it didn’t take long to decide on going. In order to reduce traffic and congestion at the venue, several buses provided for-fee service to the venue from as far south as Christchurch. We caught our bus in mid-morning at the Cashmere Club pick-up point and headed north, the shuttle stopping to pick up additional passengers at six more stations before arriving at the festival grounds at Glenmark Domain.

As we stepped off the bus, the warm northwest winds for which the Waipara Valley is known were blowing stiffly, causing me to wonder if it was a good idea to have come to the festival. Because the winery and food pavilions were set in a forest of trees that served as effective windbreaks, I soon lost interest in the weather and began to get down to the business of sampling wine and food.

First a rant. I paid NZ $57.50 for each ticket, which included the bus fare from Christchurch, admission, a “complimentary” wine glass and entertainment. It did not cover even a limited number of wine samples or the wine glass holders, basically lanyards with an ingeniously designed clip for securing the wine glass around your neck, sold for an extra NZ $3 each (2 for $5). Wine fees were generally $2 for a sample (little over an ounce per pour), $5 for a glass, a bit more if you purchased a vineyard’s logo’ed glass. Some wineries offered purchases of full bottles using EFTPOS, but not credit cards. I felt like I was being nickled and dimed to death, more irritating since I began to worry about running out of cash.

Waipara Valley is known for its zesty rieslings, gewurztraminers and pinot noirs, a result of the warm northwesterlies that blow in the fall. All the wineries had rieslings to sample, many had gewurz and sauvignon blanc, as well as pinot noir and pinot gris. The sampling fee policy restricted our wine tasting to only a few wineries, including one which we really enjoyed when we visited the estate in 2010, Pegasus Bay Winery. Their Aria, a beautifully crafted late harvest riesling, is one of two bottles we brought back home that year. At the festival, we enjoyed the few samples we did have.

Sample festival wines

Sample festival wines

What surprised me was the quality of the food. Not typical festival fare, at least by U.S. standards, the food was first-rate. While there were the standard offerings you’d find in the States—chips (fries), hot dogs and waffles—we weren’t so keen on getting those, seeking out Kiwi food instead.

The first place we came across was selling crayfish fritters and garlic scallops, both shellfish locally sourced. There was already a crowd around the booth even if the festival had only been open for an hour. The transaction here typified what happened at all other food stalls. You paid at one station and picked up the order at another, with no claim ticket, relying entirely on the honor system. Nice. The scallops were cooked just right with their corals still attached, a great nosh. More ordinary were the fritters where the eggy batter overwhelmed the mud bugs. Both fritters and scallops were served between two slices of bread to avoid the use of paper plates presumably. We didn’t sample the seafood chowder, which other customers seemed to be gobbling up.

Janene McIllwrick's food pavilion

Janene McIllwrick’s food pavilion

Crayfish fritters

Crayfish fritters

Garlic scallops

Garlic scallops

Three restaurants were involved in a cook-off, though unclear how it was being conducted. Regardless, food was being sold by all three, including Isabel’s, where we purchased an order each of bruschetta and grilled lamb kafta.  The tomato-basil salad bruschetta was topped with a triangle of grilled haloumi cheese, a refreshing and excellent snack. A sloppy but tasty sandwich to eat was a pita garnished with lamb kafta, very thinly sliced ribbons of cucumber, tomato chutney and grilled red onions and garnished with too much of a tangy mint yogurt dressing.

Grilled Lamb Kofta

Grilled Lamb Kofta

bruschetta

Bruschetta

The Whitebait People pavilion was offering whitebait fritters. Since I first learned of whitebait on our first trip to New Zealand, I’d wanted to try some. The first encounter last July was not so impressive, sold by the shop that otherwise makes excellent fish and chips (Coppell Seafoods), probably pre-frozen patties that were thrown into the frying oil. Today’s was a better example of how Kiwis like theirs, in the form of fritters simply prepared. Sprinkled with salt and a squirt of lemon juice, it was fine, though not something I’d have to have again.

Whitebait on the griddle

Whitebait on the griddle

Whitebait fritter

Whitebait fritter

At around 4pm, we piled back onto the bus to take us back to Christchurch, facing the same stiff winds that greeted us on arrival. At the rear of the coach was a group of boisterous, tanked revelers who eventually quieted down as we got halfway to town. All in all, a pleasant day spent in wine country, which would have been even better if I didn’t feel ripped off.

Mussel Bowl at Bayleaf (Coupeville, WA)


Among the many purveyors of mussel dishes for sale at the Penn Cove Musselfest was Bayleaf, a deli that ordinarily sells wine, cheese and other food items. In front of the store, a chef was preparing a large pan of mussels in a broth of chopped tomatoes, basil, garlic, ginger and other ingredients, a bowl of which we purchased and quickly ate up. Two slices of bread were used to soak up the delicious broth.

The chef at Bayleaf preparing its mussels

The chef at Bayleaf preparing mussels

Bayleaf
101 NW Coveland Street
Coupeville, WA 98239
360.678.6603
 

Penn Cove Boat Tour (Coupeville, WA)


I tend to take for granted the natural bounty we have here in the Pacific Northwest. I’m not alone either. This could be because the Seattle area is a highly developed, urban area where we have become physically and spiritually disconnected from our natural surroundings, here where mountain and sea are close at hand. Unless you spend time in the outdoors—and a significant number of Northwesterners do—you may not know more about what’s around you than anyone poring over the internet.

I digress. This is not a philosophical post but a lead-in to how sometimes it takes just a little effort to learn about a food available in your own backyard. Take the mussel for example, long regarded as garbage food in the West until the Belgians and French popularized them. With friends, we headed up north to Coupeville to be immersed in this bivalve at the annual Penn Cove Musselfest.

Other than stuffing our faces, what did we learn about mussels? The larvae after fertilization float around in the water until they reach 3 weeks of age, at which time they attach themselves to a surface. To assist, they exude a cement and their well-known threads. Once anchored, they never move, continuing to grow in situ. Gastronomically speaking, suffice it to say that favorable conditions in Penn Cove are responsible for the mussels’ sweet and plump meat and rapid growth.

Hungry starfish gather in hordes where mussels are plentiful

Hungry starfish gather in hordes where mussels are plentiful

The mollusk’s success here is primarily due to the efforts of Penn Cove Shellfish, LLC, a commercial enterprise that farms mussels in the nutrient-rich waters of Penn Cove. We took an hour-long boat tour of the commercial farming operations. We thought that favorable weather would stay with us on our early afternoon tour, but dark clouds moved in, the wind picked up and light precipitation ensued. The tour guide had lots of interesting information to pass along about the mussel and the company’s attempt to supply a growing market. Much of that information is available here.

The pier in Coupeville

The pier in Coupeville

Mussels at around 6 months are still rather small

Mussels at around 6 months are still rather small

Mussels are grown in socks suspended on ropes from rafts

Mussels are grown in socks suspended on ropes from rafts

For some reason, the festival’s organizers hold this event in early March when temperatures are still rather chilly. Never mind the rain, pretty much a given in the Northwest, although today actually started out surprisingly dry. The last time we attended, four years ago, it was freezing and blustery. When the wind picks up, as it did toward the end of our visit, the chill factor really takes effect. Even so, it was an enjoyable outing.

Children here have a lot of fun

Children here have a blast

Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta


It was fortuitous that the grandest balloon festival in the world would be staged while we were touring the Southwest, the Albuquerque International Balloon Fiesta. I made sure that we would be in Albuquerque when it happened, which required my juggling our itinerary somewhat to accommodate the event. We always wanted to experience it, so it was without question going to be a destination.

Though the weak economy reduced the number of entries by about 300, so we were told, the festival still showcased hundreds of balloons from all over the world. It’s appropriate I suppose that, in this land with its long history of Catholicism, the morning event is named Mass Ascension. In the evening, during the night glow event, balloons are tethered but still enthrall when the burners are ignited to light up the interiors of the balloons.

As with any event of this size and popularity, the Balloon Fiesta has become ever more commercialized. Event merchandise and food booths lined one side of the field in what seemed like an infinite stretch. Rather than charging admission for an entire day, there are two separate admissions—one for the morning and one for the afternoon/evening. There is a lot of encouragement to take shuttles ($20/person per event) to and from various park-and-rides throughout the city to ease traffic congestion at the site itself. This, it undoubtedly did because there were thousands of event-goers. There were scores of buses shuttling event-goers back and forth throughout the day and evening. With the crowds, getting to and from the buses was a major hassle, which along with the cost, led to our decision only to attend the morning event.

For sheer spectacle and whimsy, everyone should attend this event at least once. There are balloon festivals throughout the country (and the world), but the Albuquerque event is in a class by itself.

Penn Cove Mussel Festival (Coupeville, WA)


In early March, Coupeville, home of the world’s largest mussel farm, plays host to the annual Penn Cove Mussel Festival to showcase its famous bivalves. Even though the weather this morning was ominous (freezing rain), a group of us decided to take part in the festivities. The rain shadow effect didn’t disappoint; the closer we got to Whidbey Island, the clearer the skies became. Still, with the wind, it was pretty frigid walking around town.

Our entire day was spent tasting a plethora of mussel dishes. Ten local restaurants hosted the “best-tasting” mussel chowder contest. Participants walk or take a free shuttle to each restaurant to sample a small serving of chowder. At the end of the two sets of tastings (5 restaurants each), you select which was your favorite among the five. As we didn’t finish our runs, we didn’t submit our votes. One of our favorites was our first restaurant Christopher’s, which served a chowder with smoked salmon that was wonderfully rich and smoky.

Beer Hall’s steamed mussels

The Beer Hall sold steamed mussels, beer and wine under a covered tent. The four of us wound up eating three large bowls of steamers with bread slices to mop up the broth.

Mussel eating contest preparation

The content begins

Mussel carcasses after the content

At the Coupeville Recreation Hall, mussel cooking demos and the mussel-eating contest were held. When we arrived, samples were given out of mussels prepared by chefs from the Ivars family of restaurants, steamed with Marsala, roasted fennel and andouille sausages from Uli’s (there is a store at Pike Place market). The broth was wonderful, though salty. The ingredients included garlic, shallots, thyme, parsley, butter and olive oil. The mussel-eating contest was later in the afternoon. Contestants from as far away as Florida and locals dove in to finish three 22-oz. bowls of steamed mussels. Whoever finished first was declared the winner. Based on recent hot dog eating contest results in Coney Island, I placed my bet on a couple of Asian guys from Vancouver, B.C. I was close; one of them came in second. Some very young boys from Oak Harbor also took part, and they really seemed to be enjoying the mussels.

Christopher’s Mussels in Smoked Paprika Broth with Roasted Peppers, Green Onions and Corn

Christopher’s Mussels in Black Butte Beer and Butter Broth

As if this weren’t enough, we actually had lunch, too. Because of its wonderful chowder, we decided to return to Christopher’s. We’re glad we did because we shared two superb steamed mussel dishes that were prepared only for the mussel festival. One was steamed with Black Butte porter and garnished with baby spinach. None of the beer’s hoppiness or coffee flavor intruded. Instead its smoky character combined wonderfully with the butter and green onions to make a terrific, bread-dipping, though salty broth. Amazingly, top honors has to go our other entree, mussels steamed with smoked paprika. Infused with hints of smoked bacon, these mollusks were bathed in an extraordinary broth with roasted red bell peppers, green onions and corn.