on the Big Island: around the volcano

lava flowing to the sea

On our first full day in Hawaii, we woke up early to birdsong. Actually, it was a rooster crowing at 3 am, but eventually all the little tropical birds started up as well. We made ourselves breakfast from the little cooler in the cabin – granola, boiled eggs and Kona coffee – and got ourselves out to the volcano!

Steaming Bluff
Kilauea Iki crater
steam vents in Kilauea Iki

Our timing for this trip was great, since Kilauea just had its first explosion in over 80 years a week or two ago, and was putting out a lovely cloud of ash and sulfur. Unfortunately, that meant that Crater Rim Drive was closed around half of the caldera, but we still got a pretty good view. We admired the ash cloud and the steaming bluffs, then hiked down into the crater of Kilauea Iki, which was a fantastic lava fountain in 1959 but is now a gently steaming valley full of cracks and rubble. Continue reading

on the Big Island: getting to Volcano

Kilauea and Halema'uma'u

We finally made it to the Big Island of Hawaii (and back)! This was the first time on Hawaii for both of us, and the trip had one primary purpose: to see the volcano. Food was sort of secondary, for a change, but we still hunted out some good eats. We spent the first two nights in Volcano Village, then the rest of the week in Kailua Kona.

snack du jour
Hawaiian airlines beef enchilada

Of course, on a trip involving airplanes, the first food you’re likely to see isn’t necessarily the most inspiring. Hawaiian Airlines might be one of the last companies to actually feed you, but that doesn’t mean you need to be happy about it. We actually prepared with that in mind, and fixed ourselves bags of nuts, dried fruit and wasabi peas, but then it turned out that someone on our flight was horribly allergic to tree nuts and we couldn’t even open our bag. Thank goodness for wasabi peas. The beef enchiladas weren’t quite as bad as they looked, either (of course, that ain’t saying much).

Diamond Head

The flight from Honolulu to Kona was thankfully short. The flight attendants barely had time to throw little sealed containers of guava-passionfruit juice at the customers before we landed. I hate guava and passionfruit about equally, so I drank water from the drinking fountain in the Honolulu airport. Yum. Continue reading

spring break!

spring in the back yard

We are off to the Big Island of Hawaii today, to experience the delights of hot lava, sulfur gas and plate lunch! The garden and this blog will have to get by without me for the next week. As you can see, the garden’s doing pretty well on its own anyway (ignore the weeds), and I’ll have at least one post lined up so the place won’t be completely deserted. I won’t be around to respond to comments, though, unless I stumble across a computer along the way.

But with any luck, I’ll have some great material when I get back!

to Kennewick and back

view from Red Mountain

As some of you may know, I play in an Irish band with J and my parents. Because of that, Saint Patrick’s Day tends to be a bit fraught for us, trying to cram in several performances during the prime “season.” This year we played two concerts, one in Wenatchee and one in Kennewick. Lots of driving, but the weather was clear and, as we usually do when we head out to the Tri-Cities area, we made the most of the chance to visit some of the many, many wineries along the way.

Food-wise, we started out well. The morning after our gig in Wenatchee we drove over Blewett Pass to Ellensburg, home of one of our favorite casual restaurants of all time, the Valley Cafe. The Valley’s been around for ages – my parents took me there when I was a kid – and J and I had the good fortune to live four blocks away from it for two years. Sigh…

the valley cafe

Anyway, the Valley continues to be a great place. They specialize in sort of elegant but gooey Italian bistro food, particularly pastas, and they usually have some interesting meat or seafood specials going, and their wine list features loads of the local wineries. I find it a deeply comforting place to eat, but that’s partly because I remember what good care the waitstaff took of me when I would wander over there for lunch on my work break.

squash, cashew and artichoke lasagna at the Valley Cafe Continue reading

a weekend in Portland: day three

Mount Hood from Mount Tabor

After our dinner at Sel Gris the night before, we didn’t really feel up to much on our last morning in Portland. I snagged coffee and a bagel from the guesthouse kitchen, then we staggered up the street to Haven for a little extra caffeine and sugar. Sitting in the sun with the Sunday funnies and a cup of hot chocolate was about the right speed.

path up mount tabor with a streetlamp

Afterwards, somewhat fortified, we boldly found what I believe to be one of the fastest (and maybe stupidest) routes up Mount Tabor, an extinct volcano that sits at the east end of the Hawthorne district and is covered with roads and paths of all sorts. We weren’t sure where the road started, so instead we found a trail and went straight up. It was a gorgeous day, and the view was fantastic, with both Mount Hood and Mount Saint Helens out in the sun.

Hedge House beer list Continue reading

weekend in Portland: day two

Portland Japanese Garden

A full day of walking and eating in Portland! We started out with coffee at our most excellent guesthouse, then headed down the street to the highly recommended Detour Cafe. After our last visit to Portland, we figured any good breakfast place would be crammed full of people on a sunny Saturday morning, but there were plenty of free tables.

Detour Cafe

an awesome breakfast sandwich

The Detour’s a great place – sunny, colorful, and casual. Good coffee, of course (it is Portland, after all). Then menu isn’t huge, but it looked like they had some good stuff – we both got breakfast sandwiches, and were very happy with them. Mine had a fried egg, mixed salad greens, bacon and fresh tomato on foccaccia – my dream breakfast sandwich, really. It reminded me of one I had in Tofino, on Vancouver Island, and have remembered fondly ever since.

octopus tapa at Andina Continue reading

weekend in Portland: day one

Pok Pok

We amused ourselves this weekend by taking the train down to Portland. It’s a great way to go: the train goes right along the coast, so the scenery is wonderful. You don’t have to deal with I-5 traffic, and Portland has a very good public transportation system and is very walkable. And the food scene there is just amazing. We spent three days and barely scratched the surface.

lunch on the train

The train has a bistro car, but we usually prefer to bring a lunch along. For this trip, J made sandwiches out of a baguette and some ham, with brie and fresh basil. We had leftovers of a truly splendid bottle of wine, a Sones petite syrah from the central coast of California, so we brought that along as well. The train was so full that it was a little awkward to eat – we felt like we should have brought enough for everyone. Ah, well.

Hedge House

Our first stop in Portland, after dropping off our bags at our guesthouse, was the Hedge House, one of the Old Lompoc Brewery pubs. We just got beer and salads, but it was just what we needed to wind down. More on the Hedge House later… Continue reading

Old School BBQ

Old School BBQ

After our long and rather nasty pass crossing last week, we were starving as we came down the valley. We usually stop at the Sultan Bakery for egg salad sandwiches and soup, but this time we were determined to try a new place that had been recommended to us by Pitmaster Gil of the Depot Smokehouse in Everett. It’s a barbecue joint run out of an old school bus, just off of Hwy 2 by the Reptile Museum. Not very likely looking, but definitely intriguing.

As we were looking over the very short and to-the-point menu, the person in the order window explained that they didn’t have any heat to their second bus, which normally served as their dining area. She offered to bring our order out to us in our warm car, which was nice. We ended up with two sandwiches, one brisket and one pork, plus a side of beans and a side of coleslaw. I’m sure hunger had something to do with this, but the sandwiches were some of the best I’ve had – squishy, tender, smoky and nicely sauced, without being so gooey we had to be hosed down afterwards. The coleslaw was crisp, but not strongly flavored – I might have liked a sharper dressing. The beans were flavorful and tender – they sat in a cup of meaty broth instead of having barbecue sauce dumped over them.

We inhaled everything in very short order and went happily on our way. We’ll certainly be stopping by here again.

lunch at the Kemper

Kemper Art Museum
Options for the day after Thanksgiving tend to be limited, assuming you’re not interested in hurling yourself into the shopping fray. When we spend the holiday in Kansas City we almost always do the same thing on Friday – go to an art museum. The Nelson-Atkins is awesome, of course, but it’s a lot of museum to get hit with at once. I prefer the Kemper Modern Art Museum, which is small, manageable – and free!

We spent the morning looking through the museum, the main exhibit being some rather odd works from East Germany, and I got to visit my favorite painting in the collection. We had lunch in the museum’s restaurant, which is called Cafe Sebastienne. It’s really pretty good, and a nice setting, too – most of the tables are in an open, glass-ceilinged courtyard so it’s very bright and airy.

char with cauliflower at cafe sebastienne

J ordered the Arctic char with cauliflower puree, chard and a maple-bourbon sauce. He doesn’t usually go for fish in restaurants, but we were able to buy char at our local fish counter a few months ago and were very taken by it. This seemed nice, the fish was a little overcooked by my standards but the flavors were interesting. Continue reading

Kansas City barbecue

Jack Stack barbeque

The west coast has barbecue. Really, it does exist! I can’t claim to be a qualified BBQ connoisseur, but there are at least two good places to get real barbecued ribs and brisket within fifty miles of our house: one is the Skagit River Brewery, which does its own barbecue out back of the restaurant – I walk through the wonderful woodsmoke scent of it every morning. They do a very untraditional peach-jalapeño sauce that somehow works fantastically, and I’ve probably ordered their brisket sandwich at least two dozen times. Then there’s the Depot Smokehouse in Everett, which has got to be the best kept secret in Western Washington – it’s always mostly empty when we go and the food is just fantastic. Try the chili. And the pulled pork. Heck, try everything, you’ll like it.

Otherwise, I admit, the pickings are pretty slim. We were going to try a place in Burlington called Double Barrel BBQ, but it burned down the week we were going to go there. Most of the Seattle joints don’t get real good reviews – I liked that the OK Corral had collards on the menu but I didn’t care for the big jug of Kool-Aid that was the only beverage available. So you can see why we like visiting Kansas City! Continue reading