Castles Made of Sand

I had a free flight courtesy of my friends at Southwest, and my 8 roundtrips within the last 2 years. It expired in April, and I don’t know about you, but I’m not one to let things that are “free” go to waste. Hubs had 1/2 of a free flight (i.e., a “one way”) as a result of his perseverence during “Free Flight Blackout” over Christmas, insisting that they had to let him use at least part of his round trip gratis fare. While San Diego was our first choice, as it turns out, it was many others’ first choice and so we took a risk, and instead took a maiden voyage northwest – to the home of Grunge.

I’d never been to Seattle, hence the “maiden voyage” connotation, and I wasn’t quite sure what to expect. A disadvantage in living in such an awesome city as Chicago is that, at least in my experience with U.S. travel, it’s hard to find a city that’s remotely comparable. Nonetheless, we proceeded with an open mind that was only somewhat inundated with fear of rain.

Needless to say, I fell in love with another West Coast city. What does that mean?

Here are our chosen points of interest:

Woodinville. Take a day, rent a car, and get thee to the wineries. As my friend Todd said, I apparently don’t go anywhere if I can’t find a winery within an hour. I think he’s right. We didn’t load up like we did in Napa, but most importantly we started our trip off right :). Word on the street is that there are quite a few wine regions in the area, but we went for the close one. The tasty rosemary and sea salt flatbread below with the cozy fireplace? Columbia Valley.

Cafe Juanita, Kirkland. Anybody watch “The Next Iron Chef”? Chef Holly Smith, of Cafe Juanita, was an early loser but you wouldn’t know from the Northern Italian fare she puts out here. The octopus you see below isn’t from there, but from Chez Wetzel instead, and serves as my attempt at a recreation of her dish. I had the cutest little pasta dish, rabbit agnolotti, and could have cared less that we didn’t even get to eat until 9.

Pike Place Market. Flying fish? Fiddleheads? Locally made honey? Ten thousand types of pasta? I think I’ve made my point. Although I’m certain Hubs’ interest was quickly fading after the first 10 vegetable stands, I could have wandered for hours.

Theo Chocolate Factory. A factory – full of organic free-trade chocolate? Come to mama. I fell for the chai and coconut curry bars, but if those don’t suit your fancy they had about 20 other flavors, all with free samples. We didn’t even need that damn tour that sold out a week before we got there. Hmmmmph.

Poppy. We thought long and hard about going to Herb Farm but decided that spending 500 bucks on dinner was not in our best interests. That said, the owner of Poppy used to be the executive chef of Herb Farm and left a few years ago to open Poppy. Plus, this guy, he’s gonna be on Top Chef Masters, which was reason enough for me to check it out. The dishes, called ‘thali’, are Indian-style dishes with multiple small courses served all at once. And with naan. You can’t go wrong with naan, and you can’t go wrong when it’s 32 buckaroos for all of it. Although if you ask Hubs, he will swear the oysters he got for his appetizer did him in the next day, as he’s now proclaimed Jerry Traunfeld as Top Chef Masters’ “villain”.

Capitol Hill. Our B&B was up in this neighborhood, and it was the perfect distance from downtown, absolutely gorgeous, and owned by one ‘bear’ of a guy. The last person I’d ever expect to be running a B&B; I’d picture him chopping wood, donned in flannel, but nonetheless, he was awesome and we really hit it off. If you’re ever up in that area and in the mood for pizza, try Palermos, which I ended up ordering for take-out when Hubs was busy eating Walgreens’ version of Saltines.

Pioneer Square. Thanks to men being the weaker species :), I found myself wandering around sans Hubs for an afternoon, and landed in this little gem of a neighborhood, which I liken to Chicago’s Printer’s Row. It’s one of Seattle’s oldest neighborhoods, and filled with historic buildings, tiny parks, and quaint shops. Also, Vietnamese sandwich shops.

Fonte. Another place I visited by my lonesome. Good wine flights and bruschetta, and a perfect downtown spot to read a book. Grab some coffee while you’re there, or get your beans packed up for home.

Seattle Public Library, Central Branch. One of the more modern buildings in the downtown area, with bright yellow escalators, tons of books (is that obvious?), and city views that aren’t half bad either.

Clearly, there is plenty to do in Seattle, and you could easily fill a weekend or even a week. But, before you venture to the good ol’ Northwest, a few words of advice:

If you have bad knees, please do take advantage of the bus system. Those hills are a doozy, and 1 mile really does take 20 minutes. Plus, the public transit rocks (meaning – it’s clean, it’s cheap, and it’s always on time).

Watch out for dreadlocks. There is no telling what’s under there, and you’ll see lots and lots of dreadlocks. Which I generally like, but this guy sorta scared me.

Also watch out for narcissistic doggies at the market. They lay in their cuddliness, collecting affection from passersby with ease. They can’t be trusted.

There are uncensored graphics at Starbucks. Starbucks??!! You can’t go anywhere these days without seeing boobies.

Speaking of coffee, drink loads of it because it’s damn tasty. Wear a coat with a tie so you can “double fist” but keep a hand free.

Don’t go up the Space Needle. It’s sorta lame, especially if you’ve taken the (free) trip up Chicago’s Hancock Tower, which has a much more awesome view. Plus, it’s super windy up there and the view from the bottom is way better.

Go alone. Your Hubs (or Wifey) will probably get sick from who knows what and have to stay in bed all day at some point during your trip. Just kidding, of course, but wandering the city alone was sorta fun, although copilots are always better. So if you are traveling solo, it’s totally doable.

Do not look for Jimi Hendrix’s statue. It isn’t there , and an empty spot with a wire sticking out is sorta lame. Although, I did some more research, and word on the street is that it is there and I missed it. Damn google maps for betraying me!

Do go on a hunt for a frequent Pearl Jam rehearsal spot behind the alley of the Crocodile Cafe. With Seattle being practically solely responsible for the birth of Grunge Rock, you’d do the city a disservice if you didn’t find something representative of that era. Plus, it is a cool door, eh? Even if you do have to wander in an alley to find it.

Try fiddleheads. They’re delightfully crunchy.

And go to Cafe Juanita and get the grilled octopus dish, or if all else fails, try this one at home.

Braised, Grilled Octopus with Fennel, Green Sauce, and Chickpea Puree
Inspired by Cafe Juanita; serves 2 as an appetizer

printable version

1 small octopus (~1/2 lb); head removed
kosher salt
fresh ground pepper
1 c red wine (I used an Italian blend)
1 c red wine vinegar
a few sprigs of thyme
1 clove garlic
1 handful of fresh parsley
1 T capers, drained
1 green onion
1/4 t red pepper flakes
fresh lemon juice
extra virgin olive oil
1/2 can of chickpeas (garbanzo beans), drained and rinsed
2-3 T milk or cream
fennel bulb (as much as you want), thinly shaved

preheat oven to 325 F. place trimmed octopus in medium pot and sprinkle with salt and a little pepper. pour red wine and red wine vinegar over and add thyme and garlic. cover and place in oven for about 30 minutes, until octopus is soft and tender, but not chewy. remove from liquid.

green sauce
meanwhile, in a mini processor, add parsley, capers, green onion, pepper flakes, and pulse. slowly pour in olive oil until a coarsely pureed. add 1/2 lemon’s worth of juice and season with salt and pepper. pour into small bowl.

chickpea puree
in the same processor (rinsed), add chickpeas and milk. puree until smooth, adding more milk if needed. season with salt and pepper.

putting it together
light a grill pan over med-hi and brush with oil. grill about 2 minutes on each side.

place half of green sauce on bottom of plate. top with half of chickpea puree, and top with half of octopus. gently toss fennel shavings in a little oil and the other half of the lemon’s juice and place atop octopus.

A Marriage of the Minds = Music + Meatballs

Pearl Jam set

We are getting ready to head out to Napa for a 4 day weekend. Tomorrow will center around finishing up some things at work amidst a day full of seeing patients and talking about genetic testing, grabbing some last minute goods at the shops such as new sunglasses (we haven’t seen too much sun here in Chicago so they haven’t been a necessity yet as they probably/hopefully will be for Napa) and picking tunes for the drives up and down highways 29 and 128. Then packing. Packing sucks. I dread it immensely and without fail will forget something. Luckily I haven’t forgotten PJ’s in a long time, but that’s about due.

One of Chris’ responsibilities, which he would consider it more of a leisurely activity than a chore, is picking out our music. A chore is something like taking out the trash, holding the mail, cleaning the litter box – all things he is very skilled and adept at completing. We’ll be driving around a decent amount (unless I can talk him into a hot air balloon ride which is practically out of the question giving his relentless fear of heights, or perhaps a bike trip. That might happen. Keep your fingers crossed for me), and since we’ll be in the car, we absolutely can NOT enjoy the silence and quietly breathe in the fresh open air of the valleys and wineries beyond, perhaps the ocean. We can NOT enjoy each others voices, at least we can NOT enjoy our voices unless we are screaming above some new music such as the Decemberists or some old music such as Pearl Jam’s Ten Collectors’ Edition. Not that I’m complaining. I love music. Just not quite as much as he does. But on the same token, he doesn’t love cooking, reading about food, and eating food quite as much as I do. So we meet in the middle. And it works. It works quite well.

more Pearl Jam set

Let me use tonight’s experience as my example. Following a full work day for the both of us, I was looking forward to a glass of Pinot and a fettucine & meatball recipe I’d pulled out of my recipe stack. He was looking forward to coming home and slowly perusing his new Pearl Jam vinyl, which is a collectors’ version of their first album, Ten. Now, PJ is one of my absolute favorite bands. Hands down. Next to the Chili Peppers. I too have been looking forward to this purchase. I’m sure he has tracked the shipping since it left Amazon. It arrived today. He took his lunch break to begin the process. Once he arrived home, he was saddened by my inability to meet his excitement – which wasn’t because I was truly not excited, but because I was right smack in the middle of browning meatballs in my favorite Dutch oven. Meatballs that were being stubborn and sticking because I didn’t dump enough oil into the pot. He decided to start the first side of the vinyl and enjoy the music, and he’d wait until I had a “break” from cooking to share the other goodies with me. How nice of him – he IS a doll. Most of the time 🙂

So, he sat and listened. And I browned meatballs. Every now and then, he’d point out some differences in the new-and-improved album. I’d agree. And I’d return to browning. By this point I was making the sofrito (onions, peppers, garlic, tomatoes – similar to the French mirepoix). He’d meandered over to the kitchen with some of the goodies. Which meant he was getting antsy and wanting to share his new treasure. I had a break and had just turned the heat to low to let the sauce slowly simmer its way to a thick aromatic consistency. And I can prepare pasta with my eyes closed, so I was practically finished.

sticky balls

So together, we delved (he re-delved) into this work of art. If you are a Pearl Jam fan, you should consider this purchase. What is cooler than a re-release of one of the best albums, if not THE BEST album, of the early 90’s?! A re-make two years in the making, packaged in a cloth-bound vinyl shaped box with CD’s, vinyls, memorabilia, concert posters, and a cassette tape of Vedder’s first audition to be a part of this wonderful band. Can’t get much better.

sauce making

And as if the Pearl Jam box o’ wonders wasn’t good enough, we still hadn’t eaten dinner! oh my! So I did have to get back to the stove and finish the meal. It was definitely a recipe worth being on my waitlist. Full of flavor. Smoky. Spicy. Meaty. Yummy. And similar to the PJ album, it was a reinvention of an old standby, spaghetti and meatballs. This time with fuller flavor but with all the old charm. If you can’t stomach the small fortune the PJ remake costs, this meal will for sure fit the bill. I think the most expensive ingredient was the ham – but if you buy extra you’ll have some yummy samiches for a later day.

smoky meatballs in serrano ham sauce

Smoky Meatballs in Serrano Ham Tomato Sauce
Adapted from Cooking Light magazine; serves 4

  • 1 (1 1/2-ounce) slice white bread
  • 1 pound 92% lean ground beef
  • 1/4 cup finely chopped onion
  • 2 tablespoons chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley
  • 1/2 teaspoon kosher salt
  • 1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced garlic
  • 1/4 teaspoon freshly ground black pepper
  • 1 large egg
  • 2 teaspoons olive oil, divided
  • 2 ounces serrano ham, finely chopped
  • Cooking spray
  • 2 cups chopped onion
  • 1 1/4 cups chopped red bell pepper
  • 1 1/2 teaspoons minced fresh garlic
  • 1/2 cup dry sherry
  • 1 (28-ounce) can no-salt-added whole peeled tomatoes, undrained and chopped
  • 4 cups hot cooked fettuccine (about 8 ounces uncooked pasta)
  • 1/4 cup (1 ounce) finely shredded aged Manchego cheese
  • Chopped fresh flat-leaf parsley (optional)



1. Place bread in a food processor; pulse 12 times or until coarse crumbs measure 1/2 cup. Combine breadcrumbs, beef, and next 7 ingredients (through egg) in a bowl. Using wet hands, shape mixture into 20 (about 2 tablespoons each) meatballs. Set aside.


2. Heat 1 teaspoon oil in a large Dutch oven over medium heat. Add ham to pan, and cook for 3 minutes or until well browned, stirring frequently. Transfer to a large bowl. Add remaining 1 teaspoon oil to pan. Add meatballs; cook for 5 minutes or until browned, turning often. Add meatballs to ham in bowl. Coat pan with cooking spray. Add onion, bell pepper, and garlic to pan; cook 5 minutes or until tender, stirring often. Add sherry; cook for 3 minutes or until liquid almost evaporates, scraping pan to loosen browned bits. Add tomatoes and meatball mixture; bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat, and simmer for 30 minutes or until sauce is slightly thickened. Remove from heat, and keep warm.


3. Place 1 cup pasta in each of 4 shallow bowls; top each serving with 5 meatballs, 3/4 cup sauce, and 1 tablespoon shredded Manchego cheese. Garnish with additional parsley, if desired.

all mixed up