Every spring Washington’s fertile Skagit Valley, located about 60 miles north of Seattle, turns into a kaleidoscope of blooms, color, and incredible beauty when the tulip fields burst forth in April!
This year, despite a very cool and rainy spring, the tulips are as enchanting as ever.
On Easter Sunday, my husband and I took a little staycation daytrip up to the Skagit Valley Tulip Festival, which was started back in 1984 by the Mount Vernon Chamber of Commerce and was a mere two day event back then. The festival now encompasses the full month of April and offers a wide array of events, art shows, cycling tours, displays, contests and of course fields abloom in color!
Our daytrip involved leaving Seattle early in the morning, with our $15 Roozengaarde Tulip Festival tickets in hand. Each fall I order my bulbs from Roozengaarde, which is the largest bulb grower in the United States, so I love to see their display gardens and fields at this time of year.
Indeed, they were stunning when we were there. We arrived early and the crowds and traffic grew exponentially by the time we left. (Hint: get up and arrive EARLY, especially if it’s a sunny day!) The photo opportunities were massive as the colors were amazing. The brilliant blue sky with puffy white clouds was the perfect backdrop!
Thanks to the cool and rather wet weather we are having here in the Pacific Northwest, the reports are that the tulip fields will remain in full bloom through the end of the month and perhaps even into early May. So, if you are so inclined and need a dose of spring cheer, head to the picturesque Skagit Valley for a healthy dose of spring!
Seattle’s Nordic heritage? It runs deep. And, it’s undergoing a renaissance thanks in large part to the new Nordic Museum, located in Seattle’s Ballard neighborhood.
Sleek, contemporary, and inspiring, this museum manages to walk the tightrope of time. In one glance, it brings the artists and current trends of the Nordic countries right before the visitor’s eyes and in another moment, it artfully looks back and shows the visitor where today’s trends are rooted and from which they came.
Formerly called the Nordic Heritage Museum and until this year, located in a turn of the century school building, the new 57,000 square foot museum is a giant leap forward and one that required a multimillion-dollar capital campaign in order to bring to fruition.
Although it opened last May, I hadn’t had a chance to visit until this morning. It’s Julefest weekend at the museum and I knew this would be a great chance to celebrate the season and to see the new digs…for an admission fee of only $7. I purchased my tickets online last night and arrived early at the museum only to find that a line had already formed a half an hour before the 10 AM open!
A Nordic Christmas Celebration, Julefest brings together artisans, purveyors, musicians, and bakers all of whom share a common Nordic legacy in one way or another. When I attended Julefest at the old school house location last year, the event was lovely but crowded and cramped. This year? It was a complete shift.
With the museum’s spacious interior, massive windows, and abundant light, Julefest was lively, upbeat and impressive. My first stop was to peruse the “Goodies2Go” section, which is basically the Scandinavian bake sale featuring Christmas classics such as spritz cookies, rosettes, and krumkake. I bypassed those for caloric reasons (!) and moved on to the purveyors where I found tables heavily laden with vintage Royal Copenhagen Christmas plates, Norwegian sweaters, long burning locally made beeswax candles, handcrafted wooden tools and more.
Next on my list was to do a quick perusal of the permanent collection, located up a sleek staircase. A sharp contrast to the permanent collection at the old museum, which was educational but dated, these galleries were bright, fresh, educational and informative while at the same time displaying many items that ran the gamut from contemporary to historic. There were many nods to the community’s fishing legacy here in the Pacific Northwest, and I really enjoyed seeing some of the vintage items, such as old canned salmon labels and tools of the seafood trade.
Next up? The gift shop which was very sleek and even fashionable might I say. A case of contemporary jewelry and items is right there at the entrance, while books, Norwegian sweaters, and Royal Copenhagen caught my eye.
Nearly last on the list? I had to check out the museum cafe, Freya, which has a lovely sleek fireplace at the entrance and features updated Nordic specialties such a smorrebrod, Danish dogs, and even personal smorgasbords!
Before leaving, the last thing on the list was a gift to me. No, it wasn’t Royal Copenhagen or a new sweater. It was a new cookbook and an individual membership to the museum. I intend to visit often.
These are just a few of the local foods I scavenged and savored on a recent RV trip to Alaska. While traveling from Anchorage to Seward and then down to Homer, I poked around shops, farmers markets, bakeries, restaurants and harbors to hunt down these off the grid goodies made by small local and dedicated artisans.
My husband and I have been camping for decades now and one of my side shows while doing so has been to hunt down local specialty items while we are out on the highways and byways. For many years I had a mobile kitchen in our family travel trailer which took our family of five far and wide through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska. This week we had a fully equipped kitchen in a Minnie Winnie which we rented from Great Alaskan Holidays in Anchorage.
While cruising through the Land of the Midnight Sun this week, I stocked my pantry with a spontaneous array of local goods. It was a delightful way to bring the flavors of Alaska to the Dixie plates on the campground dinner table.
The kelp pickles, made in Sitka from local seaweed and seasoned with the iconic bread and butter pickling spices, were ridiculously good. Pickle rings were added to smoked cheese bratwurst carted up from Seattle. They were also tucked on smoked salmon canapés, resulting in a very Scandinavian inspired hors d’oeuvre.
The sliced sourdough was from The Bakery in Girdwood and sadly didn’t last long in my mobile kitchen. Light and flavorful, the bread made great sandwiches and was enhanced even further with sunflower sprouts from the Saturday Homer Farmers Market. It was the bread of choice for breakfast and lunch.
The Alder smoked Kachemak Bay Sea Salt also from the Homer farmers market added a lively touch sprinkled over the evening salad.
Haskap Jam from Alaska Berries was scored at the visitor center in scenic town of Kenai. No one at the center could tell me much about the blue jam but back at the Heritage RV Park it was great on my morning granola with yogurt and berries. Eaten seaside while being warmed by the sun was simplicity at its best.
Peonies. Prince William Sound Salmon. Cruise Ships. Tourists. Sunshine. Sea Breezes.
The Pike Place Market I visited today is much different than the one I visited last January. Of course, TECHNICALLY and structurally it’s the same as it was back in January but this morning. the market wasn’t tenuously navigating Seattle’s unpredictable January weather.
Today, the market was strutting her seasonal stuff and loving it! Once again, I had to be downtown very early so after I “checked the box” on an errand well before 7:30 AM, I decided to stroll down the hill and head to the market. It was bright and sunny, and I figured it would be a great time to beat the crowds and see what’s coming in locally.
Alas, when I arrived I again found quiet streets and walkways. My first destination? The flower vendors who were clipping and arranging thousands of local peonies. One of my favorite flowers, the incredible array made me swoon. As much as I love to garden and have success with many things, my attempts to grow peonies have failed repeatedly. These bodacious pink orbs, frankly, made me green with envy! I didn’t buy any simply because I didn’t want to cart them all over. That being said, they were a bargain and the prices ranged from $10 a bunch to $20. Local. Seasonal. Gorgeous beyond compare.
Next stop? The fish stalls. All the guys were sporting their waterproof orange pants, spraying the walkways, scooping crushed ice onto displays and answering questions from early birds like me. At Pike Place Fish Market they didn’t have any Copper River King or Sockeye because it’s been a rough season up there this far. They did have a massive 25 pound Prince William Sound king in a huge bin filled with ice. The adjacent tabletop display of Prince William Sound sockeye nearby also impressed.
After that, I was ready for a breather so I traipsed over to the nearby park to do a little people watching and eyeball the massive cruise ship docked nearby. As I examined that Norwegian behemoth from afar, I knew the crowds from within would be emerging and heading towards the market so I beelined to breakfast at nearby Seatown, one of Tom Douglas’s restaurants. The Fried Egg sandwich with avocado, Bavarian Meats bacon and a side of crispy hash browns was just what I needed before trekking back UP the hill to catch my bus.
While schlepping up to Third, I realized that the Market is indeed a living entity that shifts with each Seattle season.
Gardens in New York City? Can they really offer a respite from the urban jungle and the endless horn honking?
These were the questions I posed to myself when I was in New York City for four days last month. I was attending the Annual Conference of the American Society of Journalists and Authors and was also visiting my daughter who just moved to Manhattan.
With a little advance planning and a razor-focused gameplan, we managed to visit three gorgeous gardens–The Gardens at the Met Cloisters, the Heather Garden in nearby Fort Tryon Park, and the Conservatory Garden in Central Park. All of the gardens were magnificent, inspiring and restorative. Here’s the recap:
The Gardens at the Met Cloisters
Located in Washington Heights in Fort Tryon Park, The Met Cloisters is the ultimate respite. Sitting high on a hill overlooking the Hudson, the historic Romanesque and Gothic cloisters are naturally inspiring in and of themselves, but for me, it was the medieval courtyard gardens that hit home. My daughter and I went early on a Sunday morning and the four gardens–the Judy Black Garden, the Herb Garden, the Trie Cloister Garden and the Orchard, were in full swing. There are garden tours at 11 am each day but unfortunately when we got there the couple in front of us snagged the last two spots for the day so we had to explore on our own.
Of the four gardens, the Bonnefont Cloister Herb Garden was my favorite…for obvious reasons. As an avid cook, food writer and gardener, I love growing edibles and the Herb Garden was deliciously inspiring. Boasting scenic views of the river below, the garden was segmented into quadrants of culinary herbs, medicinal herbs, and vegetables. Fruit trees were situated throughout the plantings. Large terracotta pots were planted with olive trees, rosemary and other tender plants. Church bells rang from above and sparrows flittered about amongst the plantings. The plants were all carefully labeled and insights as to how they were used in the Middle Ages were noted.
The Heather Garden at Fort Tryon Park
After the Cloisters, we decided to hunt down another Secret Garden. I had read something that alluded to a beautiful garden near The Cloisters but I couldn’t remember where it was so I started asking the staff at the Cloisters. No one seemed to know so I eventually had to go to the museum’s information booth and ask about “that nice garden nearby.” One informed gentleman in a back office heard my query, came forth, and then went off to another office to pull out a little brochure called The Heather Garden. He handed it to me and said, just go left down that way into the park. Ummm. Okay.
So, we trekked along, asked for a few more directions, trotted past the New Leaf Restaurant and eventually stumbled upon our secret destination!
Well, what a treasure! Fort Tryon Park was gifted to the City in 1935 by John D. Rockefeller Jr who then engaged the Olmsted Brothers, whose father designed Central Park, to design the park and the heather gardens. Over the decades the garden has had its ups and downs but in 2009 the Fort Tryon Park Trust reinvigorated the garden to what it is today…a multiacre all season garden boasting nearly 500 varieties of plants that attract flora and fauna such as birds, bees, and beneficial wildlife. When we were there, the garden was alive with blooms of bluebells, azaleas, iris, rhododendrons, peonies, salvia and more. Aside from enticing Crayola color scheme at hand, the city air was also perfumed with heady aromas from the flowers at hand.
The Central Park Conservatory Garden
The last garden on our list was the Central Park Conservatory Garden located in Manhattan on Fifth Avenue and 105th. An officially designated Quiet Zone, this six-acre formal garden was delightfully QUIET when we visited early on a sunny Monday morning. The main entrance is on Fifth Avenue and features the Vanderbilt Gate, a massive wrought iron structure made in Paris and originally from the Vanderbilt Mansion on 5th. The garden itself features three smaller gardens each with an Italianate, French and English influence. When we were there we had just missed some of the best blooms, such as the wisteria and the gorgeous tulips. That being said, the fountains and European sculptures made us feel as if we had landed in a beautiful garden somewhere in Europe.
I have my big sister, Alison, to thank for this one.
When I was visiting the Big Apple back in February, I had to be down by Union Square early one morning. Without missing a beat Alison told me to go to Daily Provisions and get their bacon, egg and cheese sandwich. “The Best,” she said.
Well, I adore a good bacon and egg sandwich and decided to heed the tip. It was early that morning…maybe 7:30 or so. When I darted out of the rain and into the charming little restaurant directly behind the new Union Square Cafe, the chatty customer standing next to me in line heard it was my first visit. Unsolicited, she said, “Get the egg sandwich. It’s the best.” Sensing a deja vu, I didn’t think twice. Bacon and egg sandwich it was. I have made, ordered, and eaten hundreds of bacon and egg sandwiches over the years, but this was indeed superb. A soft roll, a perfectly cooked egg, a thick piece of Niman Ranch bacon, and deliciously gooey cheese served in a wax paper pocket. The price? $7. For New York, that’s a breakfast bargain.
I’ve been back to New York a few times since that trip in February and Daily Provisions is a must visit. I’ve had the broccoli melt sandwich ($11), the spinach and arugula salad ($10), the chocolate caramel chunk cookie ($4), and the Milanese sandwich ($13) All top quality and reasonably priced.
On my visit last week, my daughter and I arrived for lunch early…a few minutes before 11:30 when the kitchen reopens. The gal at the cashless register chatted with me and explained that the shop/cafe was opened when Danny Meyer took over the location on East 19th Street to reopen Union Square Cafe in the main portion of the building. This little space in the back was part of the package so they decided to create Daily Provisions, a neighborhood cafe with “everything you need throughout the day to dine in or take away.”
With a soothing dark blue interior, welcoming staff, communal tables, charming handmade pottery from Haand in North Carolina, and great food at reasonable prices, it is a friendly and homey place to provision yourself daily!
Spring fever in January is never a good thing, especially out here in Seattle where it is still a bleak, cold, dark, sometimes frosty, and always rainy.
For me, the best medicine has been a hefty dose of garden therapy. Of course, it’s too early to start digging and planting in my urban backyard or P-Patch, but one thing I look forward to every year is the Northwest Flower & Garden Festival. Held at the Washington State Convention Center from February 7-11, this annual garden show has always defrosted my green thumb.
This year the show, which is the second largest in the nation, celebrates a legacy of 30 years. The theme will be “Garden Party.” Trends in organic and urban gardening, sustainability, and variety of culinary experiences will be embraced and the twenty magnificent and elaborate Show Gardens will reflect the theme. The show will also have a spectacular lineup of seminars led by experts in the field as well as daily DIY competitions with experts. As usual, the massive shopping Marketplace will be chock full of vendors and will offer a great opportunity for gardeners, both experienced and beginner, to get answers, explore new varieties, ask growers specific questions, and stock up on favorites for the season ahead.
So, if you are itching for spring, check your calendar and plan accordingly. If you need a little inspiration, check out these photos taken last year:
Sometimes, life tosses you a gift on a whim. Yesterday, I got one of those gifts at Seattle’s most iconic destination—the Pike Place Market.
You see, I had to be down at the market yesterday morning for a client meeting. Unfortunately, the weathermen predicted rain, which, of course, isn’t unusual for the Emerald City.
So, I grumbled, dressed accordingly, and gave myself lots of extra time to get downtown.
While weaving my way towards the waterfront, I noticed that the sky was breaking up and rain was absent. By the time I parked the car the weather was looking downright acceptable. Puffy clouds. Light wind. Patches of blue. When I stepped off the parking garage elevator and onto the spectacular new MarketFront, I looked out at Elliott Bay and gasped. The view rivaled that of any spectacular August day. Expansive blue skies, calm seas, bright sunshine, panoramic mountain views, and incredible visibility. Plus, it was only about 9 AM so there was absolutely no one at the market.
No cars. No traffic. No tourists. No school kids. It hit me. I had the market to myself. I only had to share it with the dedicated shopkeepers and vendors who were setting up. Score!
I had about an hour to kill so this hour became a gift to me. Of course, I’ve been to the market hundreds of times since I moved here in 1995 but yesterday I had a chance to see it all over again as a resident, a tourist, a cook and a writer.
I strolled the market, snapped photos and realized that as much as the city of Seattle has grown and changed over these last 23 years, pretty much everything about the historic market has remained the same. The cobblestone streets stand firm. The tiles on the pathways in the market pave the way for curious tourists. Le Panier continues to attract customers not with a fancy window display but with an amazing aroma. My favorite restaurant, Café Campagne, which has been tucked in the same corner for decades, still has their fabulous country pate on the menu. The talented flower vendors fill the stalls (year-round) with bright local bouquets sold for a song. And, the world-famous fishmongers continue to keep everyone hooked with their displays of amazing Northwest seafood.
My hour went quickly but it was an exercise in slowing down and taking a breather. It was a reminder that gifts can come in the smallest ways…and when you least expect them!
Here’s a snapshot of what our amazing market looked like yesterday!