Spring in Seattle!

cherry Blossom

It was a typical Seattle Spring when we were there last week for couple of days. Sun peeking out between clouds teasing us to come out only to start drizzling moments later.It was cool and refreshing to go outside especially since we were visiting from a hot and dry Hyderabad.

Cherry blossom

We went to checkout the annual Cherry blossom festival in the University of Washington. The recent rains had faded the blooms and it was past its peak. But I managed to relive the past experience when we visited with Varun with a couple of close up photos of the lovely pink blooms. They are a reason to visit the Pacific North West (PNW)  in April first week.

If that’s not inspiring enough, then there are acres and acres of Tulips and Daffodils fields blooming in Skagit valley for the entire month of April -though mid April is better as it is at its peak. Why plan a trip to Holland when you can experience these beauties in PNW?

Tulips

Daffodils

And if the trip to even Skagit valley seems like a long drive from Seattle ( and it can be on a sunny weekend when it seems like everyone wants to visit the blooming tulip farms), then Pike Place Market vendors offer luscious bouquets in every hue possible that you can’t resist to take home. From soft pastels to deep purples, single or double petaled, the prices and the fragrance is heady.

Liriope

Magnolias

Buds

Azaleas

Even along the streets,pops of color brighten up the otherwise rainy day. Liriope, Magnolia, Azaleas, Rhododendrons, Purple rain flower,Cherry blossoms and a lot more. The light green buds unfurling with their copper pink tips, the white flowers of Pieris Japonica set against the deep red new growth reminded me of our own garden and trips to garden centers with my friend Donna who introduced me to the world of gardening!

Lone Orange Tulip

And if you are in the Pike Place Market, don’t miss the fresh fruits – rhubarb and strawberries that are in season! We had lunch at Matt’s in the Market – an old favorite where we literally enjoyed Spring on our plate – Fresh Halibut with wilted pea-shoots and radishes on a pea puree.  Delish with some PNW inspired devilled eggs. Vipul had his standard sandwich on a brioche. Trust me, comfort gourmet doesn’t get better than this!

Spring on a plate - Halibut with radishes and pea shoots

Burger on a Brioche

Gourmet Devilled Eggs

We enjoyed our two day visit to Seattle. Friends, flowers, fun and also shopping. But we missed Varun and couldn’t wait to come back home. After all home is where the heart is and we missed our heart more than he missed us!

Things To Do/Try Around Seattle

As I posted a list of places to visit around Hyderabad, how could I resist posting a similar list for Seattle!

I had compiled this for a friend travelling to Seattle during summer. A few locations are not accessible/ as much fun in winter – but nevertheless this is a list dear to my heart. It says Seattle to me.

Hope you enjoy it as well.

Places to Visit

  1. Kerry Park – On a clear evening, go here for panoramic view of the city, Rainier and Space needle
  2. Mt. Rainier – Narada falls, Reflection Lake
  3. Alki beach – Go there one evening and have Tully’s coffee.
  4. Pike Place Market – Oldest farmers market in the city
  5. Kirkland waterfront – Evenings or weekend afternoons are best.
  6. Boeing Factory Tour in Everett
  7. Museum of Flight
  8. Seattle Art Museum and Asian Art Museum
  9. Woodland Park Zoo
  10. Greenlake
  11. Snoqualmie Falls

Restaurants to try

  1.  Toulouse Petit – New Orleans, Creole . http://toulousepetit.com/ ( Beignets (sweet doughy pastry) , gumbo and Po Boy’s – call to see if they have veggie options)
  2. Café Flora – Seasonal menu veggie only place – try anything – loved everything we have tried. http://www.cafeflora.com/
  3. Serious Pie – Thin crust pizza with gourmet toppings – Try rosemary and potato – http://tomdouglas.com/index.php?page=serious-pie
  4. Café Veloce – Italian – Any pasta or pizza – love everything they have here.
  5. That’s Amorehttp://thatsamoreseattle.com/ – Again Italian , but with a view of Mt Rainier
  6. Ohana – Japanese – Try veggie sushi and yakisoba noodles ( ask them not to add fish sauce or oyster sauce) . Tiki bar atmosphere is perfect for Fri and Sat nights. http://ohanabelltown.com/
  7. Pike Place Market – Sandwich @ 3 girls bakery, Falafel @ Mr D’s greek, Spicy Mac and Cheese @ Beechers, Mini cheesecakes @The Confectional Cheesecakes, French chocolate croissants @ Le Panier , Piroshky @ Piroshky – Russian Piroshky (ask if they have veggie) and Turkish coffee @ Turkish Delight.                     Everything but 3 girls bakery is one row starting so you can buy eat and walk to the next place.
  8. Silverspoon or Thai Kitchen or Chantanee – Thai food. First is a smaller gem in Redmond which is cheaper than others but with excellent quality
  9. Matador or Cactus (Kirkland) – Mexican – Great atmosphere, food, music
  10. Pho in Microsoft Commons – MS Campus – must try their veggie pho with tofu. Its better than what you get outside.
  11. Fainting Goat Gelato – try all flavors , handmade unique combinations
  12. Mediterranean Kitchen – Middle eastern ( Mezze platter , Falafel and Fool Moudamas – both veggie), end with Turkish coffee and baklava- http://www.mediterraneankitchens.net/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=81&Itemid=105
  13. Malay Satay Hut – Malay food (have their roti kanai as starter), very close to Microsoft, can go for lunch!
  14. Wild ginger – Awesome Satay and noodles
  15. PF Changs or Sichuan (in the same complex as Sears , next to the Regents bakery) – Chinese .
  16. Regents bakery as well for pastries (fresh fruit is the best with bubble tea)
  17. If you miss Indian food, then Spice Route( South Indian and excellent rasmalai) , Roti (north indian) , Bamboo Garden (Indo –chinese) and Mayuri Chaat Place
  18. Coffee – Fonte (in front of Seattle art Museum), Victors ( in Redmond near RTC)
  19. Rovers – Special event dining, French food

Mid Summer at Stehekin Valley Ranch

A mid summer special email from Stehekin Valley Ranch in my inbox today brought back memories of a Fourth of July long weekend trip to Lake Chelan and Stehekin.Now, a lot of folks go to Lake Chelan during summer. They typically visit the wineries, fruit orchards , jet ski , rent a boat or even swim in the lake and drive back. It’s so popular that getting reservations in Lake Chelan during summer is very difficult.

When we visited few years ago (long before Varun was born), we found lodging available for one night at a Bed and Breakfast in Chelan and 2 nights at Stehekin Valley Ranch.As there is limited accommodation (unless camping), we jumped at the opportunity to stay at the Stehekin Valley Ranch.

We had first read about Stehekin Valley in Sunset Magazine as one of the places to unplug from modern world and simply relax. They have packages that include breakfast/lunch and dinner (but not activities) and we just went with that.

Getting there

Most families don’t go to Stehekin due to its remote location and limited medical facilities.A 2 1/2  hour boat ride along the 55 mile long Lake Chelan takes you to the Stehekin landing dock. The island’s population of ~ 100 permanent people lives simply amidst nature, glaciers and glacier fed rivers. The only other way in is to hike the North cascades Pacific Crest Trail or take a seaplane. You rarely see families with babies/young kids but its the place to be if you have adventure loving older kids.

We drove to Fields Point Landing stop and took the faster Lady of the Lake ‘Express ferry to Stehekin. Parking our car at Fields Point Landing saved us 40 mins of boat ride each way – which we knew would be critical to getting back home at time with the later (and slower) ferry that were planning to take (to maximize time at the Ranch).

The boat stops en route at fixed points as well as camp sites along the banks of the lake. The journey is very scenic with clean blue waters of the lake lapping up to barren mountains with sparse vegetation – typical of central Washington.

Lodging

We stayed at the rustic A frame cabins at Stehekin Valley Ranch – a working ranch with communal dining options and activities such as rafting, horseback riding , bird watching, hiking and guided tent to tent glamping into higher mountains.

The Ranch picks up guests at specific times from the landing dock, aligned with the boat arrival time.

The drive to the ranch starts off on a paved road and then goes over unpaved sections. Once we reached the ranch by afternoon, we were happy to leave the dusty road behind and check out the A-framed cabin. It was rustic as described, with comfortable beds (one in the loft and one on main), comforters for cool nights and attached bathroom. The cabin overlooked open grassy natural lawn, horse ranch and tall evergreen trees.

Visiting the Rainbow falls

We were famished after the long-boat ride and then the van ride and immediately went over to the communal dining hall for a hot meal. We shared our table with three older ladies who were at the ranch to go bird watching. After lunch, we borrowed cycle and a bottle of water from the ranch and drove down to see the Rainbow falls. The falls are accessible from the road but we decided to do a hiking loop and so we left the bikes near the road and hiked in. We saw a small black bear on the hike ambling along and minding his own business till I screamed and made it run away. Vipul till date teases me about his lost photo opp since I couldn’t keep my mouth shut 😉 and later we met a group of hikers who were hiking the Pacific Crest Trail for about a week and didn’t get to see any bear ( and here we were on a casual hike and saw one).

We continued on to the falls . A brief scramble over rocks brought us to these beautiful falls and are so named after the beautiful rainbows that are formed in its cool spray. We enjoyed the solitude at the falls and soaked in the cool mists on a hot July afternoon before continuing the hike.

The next part of the hike brought us to a hill-top overlooking the Valley floor. A bit like Yosemite, we saw the valley with its fruits orchards and the Stehekin river snaking through. Again, we were the only ones on the hike and simply loved soaking the sun under the cloudless July skies. A beautiful memory that lingers on years after the trip.

We made our way back to the trailhead and completed the loop to the place where we had stashed our cycles on the way in. The ride back to the ranch was hard after the long hike. We stopped many a times along the way to soak in the snow capped mountains and admire quaint bridges over the river.We somehow made it back to the ranch, and had hot coffee, followed by dinner.

After dinner, many folks stayed out to star gaze – a rarity in Seattle, while others like us turned in early to the background music of northwest insects.

Horse Riding

The next morning, we woke up early to a hot breakfast and then went for a short horse back riding tour with the Cascade Corrals. The ranch has Norwegian Fjord  horses , a breed known to be very gentle, and after selecting a tame horse for us we went through forest undergrowth, along rocky cliffs, over old roots and down to the lake. The horses were perfect for us with our beginning horse riding skills (or lack of them) and except for the patch along the rocky cliffs with a steep drop off on other side, it was a beautiful summer morning ride into the back country. The ranch offers longer rides, but 2 hours was what our ‘butts’ could handle and we were a bit glad to get off the horses back at the camp.

After the morning ride, it was time for us to pack our bags and head back to the landing to catch the slower Lady of the Lake ferry to Chelan.

Pies and More

The ranch staff was kind enough to pack us a couple of sandwiches for the journey home. But we were thrilled when we did a 20 min stop at the Stehekin bakery – a place famous for its hot coffee and homemade pies. We savoured the pies and other baked goods in their well-tended (and bursting with blooms) garden.

With a hot coffee to go, we were back on the bus and reached the landing with time to spare. We walked around the dock and up to the Stehekin landing resort which looked like a convenient place to stay as well. The boat ride back was slow and we dozed off in the hot sun with a promise to come back in fall to experience Stehekin in its fiery glory.

If you are in Seattle and have never been to Stehekin, I urge you to go there. When we first moved to Seattle, Vipul promised to take me to San Juan island and we kept on postponing it to ‘next summer’. Next thing we know, we are here in India and San Juan island is a distant faded memory. Don’t let this happen to you – do visit Stehekin. In my opinion its the closest thing to Yosemite in WA state!

P.S. There is a mid summer special running at Stehekin Valley Ranch. Mention the promo ‘Mid summer special’ and you will receive a free raft trip as part of the trip. And no, I don’t get paid for it. I just love this place a lot 🙂

Weekend in Wenatchee

Last weekend was a 3-day weekend in US, thanks to Labor Day holiday. It also marks end of summer here in Seattle. Any additional sunny weekends are really ‘bonus’ days.

To make most of the last summer days, a bunch of us decided to do something. Ever since the ‘planner’ moved to Bay Area, the ‘late latifs’ find themselves doing nothing or nothing much to write about. This weekend would have headed that way had it not been for the Bati’s to take on the onus to generate enthusiasm and find accommodation. The group wanted to go to Long Beach or at least somewhere by the ocean. Now finding last min lodging for 9 adults by the ocean on a sunny long weekend in next to impossible. The only housing available were 2 bedrooms ones – which would have worked in pre-baby days. But with 3 babies in tow, it was next to impossible.

Luckily we found a 4 bedroom house in Wenatchee and other in Port Townsend.One was well furnished and with hot tub and other was bit dated.When we saw the pictures, we all went ‘Hello, Hot Tub!’.

Long story short, after 2 hours of drive from Redmond and  30 mins of driving up and down the street in dark to find the driveway, we were in a really beautiful house. Even though the description calls it a cabin – it is far from a cabin.A beautiful covered porch, a  mudroom large enough to hold hiking or skiing gear with built-in shelves, comfortably appointed bedrooms, large deck, covered hot tub,outdoor grill to a well stocked kitchen – the house had it all. All we had to bring along were clothes, food and beverages.

As everyone was going to arrive late, I went to bed with Varun while Vipul stayed up to provide directions. Once everyone was settled, Vipul woke me up. He had secretly arranged to get a birthday cake to celebrate my birthday!I was a bit annoyed to be woken from my slumber but was happy to find the surprise. Cutting the cake at mid night brought back memories of first few years in US when we celebrated everyone’s birthday with mid night cake cuttings followed by dinner parties and club hopping on weekends!

The next day Varun woke us up as usual at 7:30. We were in vacation mode and wanted to sleep in, but he still has to learn the concept of vacation ;). After breakfast of Shveni’s famous ginger tea, toast and lots of ‘char char’ we lazed around while the kids played in the kitchen and on the deck. It seems like the breakfast was immediately followed by lunch of steaming hot idlis. Luckily all kids slept at  the same time post lunch and we had ~ 1 1/2 hours to play Canasta. The girls won -without cheating – I must add; just as the kids woke up.

After their nursing/feeding and diapering we all ventured out to Lake Wenatchee. The lake is about 20 mins drive from the house. We reached just around sunset. Varun had a ball of a time playing in the water even though the water was a bit cold. This playtime ended when he decided to taste the sand and then smear it all over him. Imagine Varun being covered in dirt and Vipul scolding me for allowing him to play in dirt. It was a chaotic 10 mins before I could get Varun cleaned up (who by the way hated being cleaned up). I am bummed I don’t have any pics of Varun’s with dirt all over him or of the lake – he looked cute in a ‘kanhaiya’ kinda way!

Luckily someone got ice cream and that caught Varun’s attention and then he spent next 10 mins devouring ice cream. We hightailed back home after that to make dinner. Luckily all the kids were tired and went to sleep after dinner and bath.

The next day we were all determined to do something. So after a hearty breakfast of pancakes and ginger tea, we headed out to a  Smallwood’s harvest farm stand while others got ready. There are many farm stands selling local fruits around Leavenworth but there is a particular one that we always go to. It’s the second one as you drive past Leavenworth towards Chelan. I particularly love their plots and honey crisp apples. Unfortunately they had none, but had sweetest plums and peaches, red pears and apples amongst other produce. We sampled a lot of fruit, tasted fruit wine, and purchased boxes of fruit to take home. When others joined us there, between us we had at least 4 – 5 boxes of fruit. We had lunch on their lawns and spent the time watching Varun run around. He loved their chicken coop, tepees  and was fascinated by their moo-train ( a tractor pulled cow shaped wagon train).

As it was very hot, we decided to head to waterfront park in Leavenworth. This is a hidden gem just steps from the hustle-bustle of Leavenworth. The beach has really soft sand and is shaded partly. The water was perfect and it was fun watching the rafts make their way downstream.

Just before sunset, we headed back home to grab dinner and to enjoy some time in the hot tub. Varun’s nap was messed up and he decided today he will not sleep and miss all the fun. He ate a little bit of burger for dinner and then again devoured ice cream that we had. He went to anyone who was giving him a bite of their ice cream and was covered in chocolate and vanilla. He was pretty upset when Vipul took him to our room to make him sleep as it was almost 11.

The following day was Monday, day to head back home. After what seemed like a ‘ 2 days of food vacation’, it was a chore to sort/pack up everything. Dishes were loaded, kitchen was cleaned, trash was taken out, bags were packed and it was time to leave. We decided to make best of Varun’s nap and left just before noon.

We reached home around 4:30 after a real bad traffic jam and lunch break.

We used to go on a road trip every summer as part of this group. Somewhere along the way the tradition fell apart. Here’s hoping that we revive this in coming years!

Hello Spring!

When I was in middle school, we had a lesson on Japan’s Cherry Blossom Festival. From what I remember, it was  all about how Japanese enjoy the sakura- pink cherry blossoms and the festivities that are enjoyed in spring time when the flowers bloom. My mom, middle school teacher then, taught this to several batches of students. She brought the chapter to life- I could almost feel the spring arrive as the breeze wafted through the light pink petals. Even though spring was something that I had not encountered in Mumbai.

When I first moved to US, I was excited about seeing the cherry blossom in DC.It was one thing that my mom always asked me about- but somehow I never got around actually seeing the blooms on the Tidal Basin banks.

So today, when the weather was perfect for a normally rainy Seattle, we headed out to University district. The Quad was in bloom. The all-pink trees against the UW architecture. The place was buzzing with families and kids.Oh those precious smiles amidst the lovely blooms! A perfect way to welcome Spring!

It was probably at its peak this weekend, but you should still be able to enjoy it next weekend if the rain gods oblige.