Friday, March 26, 2010

Sun, snow, mountains and bratwurst in 24 hours

This week was A Big Deal in the life of Yitka. I went on my first business trip.

My room!

While the term "business trip" might be conjuring images of airports...laptops in briefcases, business suits and meeting rooms, the click of heels walking on the marble floors of hotel lobbies...this was a different kind of business trip. (I do, however, insist on calling it such.)

Instead, I packed a notebook, swimsuit, hiking boots and my long-untouched Nikon D60, and hit the road after work on Wednesday.

"The road", as it were, was the lovely Highway 2, a route which quickly earned its place among the ranks of (1) the Florida Keys, (2) Highway 1 down the southern California coast, and (3) the entire state of Montana, for Yitka's Favorite Drives in America. I was on route to stay a night at a lovely mountain resort/retreat center buried deep in the wilderness outside of the small town of Leavenworth, Washington, and do an in-depth interview the following morning for a story assignment with OutdoorsNW.

Despite several warnings from friends and acquaintances that Leavenworth, WA is a magical place that's been known to steal the hearts of Seattleites, I suppose I was still half-expecting a sad sort of town with a bunch of prisons.

Instead, I got this:

Adorable Bavarian town nestled in the mountains!

I honestly had no idea what to expect from Leavenworth. But upon the "Wilkommen in Leavenworth" sign along the main drag, I got the idea: little Bavarian miracle town! Surrounded by snow-capped and Evergreen-coated peaks like, I enjoyed a bratwurst for lunch. I bought a couple greeting cards from their local bookshop (I can't ever pass up a rack of well-made greeting cards, and I have discovered a new favorite company.) I took a stroll down by the river. All lovely.

The Sleeping Lady, the resort itself that I stayed at, has been around for 15 years. It originally catered primarily to corporate retreats as a place for team-building, but it's evolved into a family leisure travel destination and personal center for rest and spiritual rejuvenation as well. I couldn't have asked for better timing; I was just lamenting in my journal a couple days ago how much I missed the hammock on my porch in Oberlin, the pond and waterfall in my old backyard in Kansas...basically, just personal outdoor space to relax in at any time of day. Happily, the camp was largely empty and so I had an entire evening to explore and play there in genuine quiet.

After one of the most delectable dinners of my life (freshly caught and grilled salmon with butter sauce, sauteed bok choy, freshly baked bread with fancy brie and chevre cheeses, fresh rhubarb with creme fraishe for dessert...most of the ingredients from local local as the organic garden fifty yards outside of the resort dining hall), I did something I've never done before: walked into an empty bar - the "Grotto", the resort's cozy onsite tavern - where I sat down, ordered a drink, and spent an hour or two chatting it up with the bartender. We actually had a really awesome conversation, and I appreciated how much easier it is to seek and find human connection in the quiet of a small mountain town than it is in the hustle and bustle of a city. I may love Seattle, but I'll never fully shake the Midwesterner in me...

I followed that up with a solo nighttime soak in the resort's outdoor hot pool - a natural rock hot tub of sorts, with steaming, crystal clear water, and all nestled below a grove of evergreens (and in the case of two nights ago, a gorgeous moon), at the foot of snow-capped mountains. Talk about relaxation. I slept like a baby on one of what are reputed to be the most comfortable mattresses in the world. And awoke to...

Delicious breakfast! Yummy scrambled eggs, spelt bread with rhubarb jam, 19-bean salad, chicken apple sausage, fresh-squeezed grapefruit juice...and my interview! Won't write much here, despite wanting to...but I'll save my excitement from that for the article itself, which will run this summer.

The drive back home later that day involved a snowy traverse over Stevens Pass.

This next picture is one of my favorites from the whole trip...I was driving, rocking out to my music, looked up at the mountains and realized that I was right below the "snow line" - the horizon between the elevation at which it was actively snowing, and the elevation at which it was just raining...the line between which is entirely visible in this photo:

Awesome. What wasn't awesome was traffic coming back into the city. My drive out there was about two and a half hours. My drive home was four hours (four and a half when you include my numerous stops along the way to get out and photograph the scenery from the road.) Damn you, 520 and I-5. Sigh. But otherwise...truly a marvelous little getaway trip. And an exciting story to get down on paper ahead of me...

P.S. Also!!! A seriously awesome plug for a classmate/acquaintance/fellow creative writing major from Oberlin, Miss Lena Dunham, whose feature-length film, Tiny Furniture, just won "Best Narrative Feature" at SXSW in Austin, Texas! Trailer here.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

Cleveland nostalgia

I miss this day last year.

It feels wrong, being in a city that doesn't even have a parade on St. Patrick's Day itself...I much prefer Cleveland's attitude: Holiday on a Wednesday? No problem; life can wait...put everything else on hold and be festive from dawn to dusk anyway.

The official parade here, apparently, was already held last weekend. I missed it completely. And there's been nothing anywhere in town today to indicate that today is, in fact, St. Patrick's Day. Lame. I miss my green eggs and Guinness for breakfast with Aseem last year, going downtown to catch the parade, stopping for Irish car bombs along the way, spending all afternoon lazing around on a sun-splashed balcony with good friends, and finishing up the evening at the good ol' Loco Leprechaun (everybody's favorite Irish Cantina!) in Westlake. Boo.

Today, Midwest, I miss thee.

Monday, March 15, 2010

Cappuccinos, bikes, nostalgia & stresssss

Cappuccino, Caffe Vita

The above-pictured beverage was enjoyed greatly this morning, during one of my last free days (until I had to go into work at 3 p.m. for the rest of the day) that I'll have for an indefinite amount of time (i.e. the rest of this month, so far.) I'd hoped that once I got out of college, I'd finally be cured of the Oberlin syndrome of taking way, way more on than is reasonable for one's sanity. Apparently, I've failed at that.

BUT! I'm determined not to let certain things slide by the wayside, as I have in the past when my obligations stack up to scary, towering proportions. I want to keep on with the running, cooking, reading books, writing when I can, getting out to the mountains here and there, and spending time with friends. I'd like to save up the money I'll need to pay my way through yoga teacher certification by this time next year. I'm going to run another road marathon sometime this spring. And a trip to Cleveland/Elyria/Oberlin is definitely in the books for this May. And hiking the Grand Canyon in July. So good things loom...just a crazy busy stretch to get through on my way...

View from Smith Cove Terminal, site of the 2010 Seattle Bike Expo.

Anyway. I volunteered at the Seattle Bike Expo yesterday, which was a blast. I worked at the OutdoorsNW table some, but also was free to wander a bit...during which I perused awesome bike-themed photography, sampled a bunch of energy bars and drink flavors, tried out a DIY-massage stick, and saw these awesome artistic bike performers from Germany:

My favorite booth was that of the "Dutch Bike Company" - a store in Seattle that I didn't even know existed! They sell gorgeous Dutch-style bikes and other familiar accessories:

Attention Mom, Amsterdam friends, etc: Bakfiets!

Aaand, speaking of Amsterdam friends...last week, three of us from my study-abroad program got together for a yummy Ethiopian dinner and late-night cocktails.

Zephyr is also living in Seattle, so our paths have crossed several times since I moved out here...but Tan just happened to be up in this part of the continent and made a pit stop in Seattle to knock out a few touristy must-sees and take part in a little A'dam reunion! My last A'dam reunion involved Tan happened upon us jointly visiting Becca in Amherst about this time two years ago:

Although we'd all seen each other here and there randomly throughout the past three years, last week was the first time that Zephyr and Tan and I had been together, all in the same place, since Holland/Turkey/Croatia. Catching up was good. It was silly crazy to think of how much had happened in the few years since we'd all been merely students together home cities, new jobs, new significant others, new life experiences under our belts...I know I'm way too nostalgic already to be at my age, but I can't help it. There's something so mystifying about the passage of time, and nothing like seeing a couple of old friends to illuminate that.

As for this week's Cup o' Joe, it'll be a short review. I hit up another local chain, Caffe Vita - a coffeeshop that began on its own as a response to the growth of Seattle espresso culture in the 90s, but has branched out into a few locations and although I've only been to this one, feels a little too Starbucky for me to appreciate it totally as its own entity. The coffee was definitely good, and this location on Capitol Hill is nice for its two levels, tons of window space, old wooden floors, piano and bookcase and hanging artwork decor, free wi-fi and plenty of table space...

Blurry interior, downstairs.

Local artwork.

Overall a good space to spend a morning, but nothing too special going on here as far as I could tell. The usual indie music and Capitol Hill hipsters and trendy, Seattle-themed merchandise, etc etc...

Tuesday, March 9, 2010


Vegetable carnage! (Awesome caption credit to Zoe Dash.)

So, I've been meaning to make a food post for awhile...especially now that I've expended some energy pestering Cam to bring food musings into his primarily-hiking-themed blog. This blog has taken many forms over time - road trip blog, introspective musings, music playlist offerings, coffeeshop reviews, rambling obsessive thoughts about running, a nod to Seattle tourism promotion, Pacific Northwest weather report, sometimes the occasional foodstuffs entry, etc...and it is my hope that it will continue to evolve and adapt over time, and be what it needs to be for writer and audience alike.

But today, I want to celebrate a few more of my successes in the kitchen! Well, not all total successes...but in the vein of my favorite life quote, "Everything is either a good time or a good story", I guess every cooking experiment is either a good dinner or a good blog entry. Hopefully this will be a little of both.

The above vegetable carnage led to another dish I prepared from my favorite vegan cookbook.

Sweet Polenta Pie

6/10 on the yummy scale.

...basically a big casserole dish of cornmeal topped with a bunch of roasted veggies and a homemade tomato/veggie sauce. The sauce, as prepared by the recipe, was a little runny. Nevertheless, the dish was pretty good overall, but in that Wow-this-is-healthy sort of way, rather than the Oh-my-gosh-give-me-seconds sort of way. I think I've lost my vegan palate; I couldn't help but dump some grated cheddar on top of it when it came out of the oven.

Boerenkool Stamppot, i.e. "The Green Stuff"

9/10 on the yummy scale.

So this is a special one, as it was my favorite dish growing up - a traditional Dutch entree involving mashed potatoes infused with kale and sausage. I didn't work from a recipe here, but combined rough advice from my mom in a recent Skype conversation with my limited potato-mashing experience, and utilized my favorite "Smoked Apple and Chardonnay" chicken sausage from Trader Joe's. Very good. Took this one in a thermos with me for lunch on my last hike, and have been working away all week long at the giant vat of it I made.

Dijon Scalloped Potatoes

3/10 on the yummy scale.

Looks decent, right? But, oof; this one was a real bummer. Again, after conversation with Cam, I was inspired to venture out in search of a good scalloped potatoes recipe. This one was from the vegan cookbook, too, but since I was all out of soymilk, I just used regular milk. Maybe that was where I went wrong? I left them in the oven the suggested time, and the potatoes still weren't thoroughly cooked, so I left them in awhile longer, but then the top started getting a bit crusty...but the potatoes were still a bit underdone. And the dijon mustard made for a funky taste in combo with the suggested turmeric. Again, kind of decent with some sour cream and cheese at the end, but otherwise, not a recipe I'll repeat.

Vegan Garden Vegetable Borscht (paired with scalloped potatoes and cornbread)

7/10 on the yummy scale.

Another one of those wow-this-is-healthy dishes. Really great, colorful combo of fresh vegetables, including beets and cabbage and spinach and carrots and tomatoes. Tastes about like you'd imagine it - like V8 in non-blended form. But sooo wonderful to warm up with a big ol' bowl of hot, hearty soup during what's been a pretty intensely cold week here! (It snowed for the all of 20 seconds yesterday...what?!)

Homemade Granola with Cocoa, Cranberries & Sunflower Seeds

9/10 on the yummy scale.

I finally made my own granola! Again, not from a recipe...just combining ideas from probably a half dozen different granola recipes I consulted online and in my cookbooks. I've always thought making granola was really hard, for some reason - but it was a breeze...and lots of room for creativity to play around with different nut and dried fruit varieties, as well as various spices and other fun add-ins like cocoa powder or almond butter or shredded coconut. I did slightly burn my first batch, but not badly enough to deter from taste. Awesome with maple yogurt and a little agave nectar!

And now for the baked goods...

Vegan Applesauce Muffins with Raisins

7/10 on the yummy scale.

Teff Peanut Butter Cookies

8/10 on the yummy scale.

Sweet Potato Cornbread

10/10 on the yummy scale. !!

Mmm, yes, despite the photo not looking as appetizing, perhaps, as some of my other inclusions in this entry, this cornbread has been by far the highlight of all my kitchen adventures. From my vegan cookbook, though with a lot of modifications: gross estimations on all the measurements because all my cups and spoons were dirty at this point in my evening cooking fest, weird sweet potatoes from Madison Market (I had no idea not all sweet potatoes are orange...), 2% milk instead of soymilk, apple cider vinegar in place of regular vinegar, real eggs instead of egg replacer...but holy cow! This is the doughiest, softest, sweetest corn bread ever, without an ounce of butter or margarine or anything, and primarily flavored with the natural sweetness of the potatoes. Wholly awesome.

Now time to clean up my frenzied mess...

Sunday, March 7, 2010

A day early: Cup o' Joe Monday, Installment XVIII

Chai latte, Cafe Pettirosso

So, I think part of my problem with consistently doing Monday coffeeshop reviews has been...Yelp! It seemed like a great discovery when I stumbled on it, because I could get a sense for places before visiting them myself, and even find good suggestions for coffeeshops from it. BUT at some point, I realized that a lot of the fun had been taken out of "discovering" new coffeeshops. Today, somewhat by accident, I did exactly what I intended initially to do with my Cup o' Joe Monday Project...wandered the streets of Seattle until I found a cute, local coffeeshop that piqued my interest, went inside, kind of fell in love...and here I am to blog about the experience.

This place is located on a little, vaguely industrial side street, with not much else going on. I almost walked right past it on my way to another visible coffeeshop, but was stopped in my tracks by a sidewalk sign advertising "breakfast bagel sandwiches" and an arrow pointing me in a new direction. Glad I did! The plan was to spend my morning somewhere getting some writing done, and this place was the perfect environment to buckle down and get some real work done.

Some people cleared out of the table by the front windows just as I got there, so though I felt a little selfish sitting at a four-person table all by my lonesome, I did appreciate the view...industrial street in the foreground, but downtown Seattle skyline in the background, and an endless supply of Capitol Hill hipsters coming and going at all times.

I actually decided to wear my Vibram Fivefingers out today, and as I was waiting in line for my chai, a guy came up behind me wearing Fivefingers, too. So smiling all friendly-like, I was like, "Hey, nice shoes!", but he just gave me a stony-cold stare and said nothing. I turned back around awkwardly and that was the end of it. This was actually the second time this exact scenario happened to me...trying to make a cute joke to a stranger about how we're both wearing the same crazy things on our feet, but they don't actually look down at my feet and get the joke, and instead just think I'm being a sarcastic asshole. That, or people who wear Fivefingers are just unfriendly, cold-hearted jerks with no interest in talking to me. Hmm...

Anyway, the baristas were a little on the quiet, reserved side - reserving, perhaps, their friendly energy for the regulars...but nevertheless, not unfriendly. No wi-fi, which would have been a big warning flag for me a few months ago, but on this particular morning, was perfect: no internet=more writing. The atmosphere was nice - some good breeze from outside, cozy lighting inside, great smells from the fantastic, freshly prepared food they offer, and swanky music that sounded like what would be on the record player in the lobby of a ritzy hotel in France at the turn of the century.

Other good things:

Better prices on beverages than a lot of Seattle coffeehouses.

Cozy atmosphere.

Pretty yummy bagel sandwiches. Albeit unlike the drinks, pricey ones that won't fit into my budget regularly :(

Overall, a good discovery...for what it's worth, I got a ton of writing done in the couple hours I spent there, and I'll probably go back again if for nothing but that sense of productivity. And kind of nice to feel like you're tucked away in a nook, just off the beaten path (i.e. Pike Street corridor of Capitol Hill.)

P.S. And, just because it made me laugh a little...some newspaper-graffiti in our break room at work. This was the headline story in the Seattle Times yesterday, about two guys who got lost out skiing and wound up hiking over 26 miles overnight in the wrong direction...fortunately, a story with a happy ending, as people were scared once they'd been reported missing, but they turned up just fine. Nevertheless, a subject of some amusement among my coworkers:

Thursday, March 4, 2010

Cherry blossoms and waterfalls

Spring is here!

In the final week of February, the city of Seattle has exploded with color. True to its slogan, Washington truly has stayed "ever" green all winter long, as evidenced by many of the photos I've been posting from runs, hikes, etc. this whole season. But now that the weather's been pretty consistently warm for awhile (I think I read somewhere that the temperature hasn't dropped below freezing here since December?), other colors are returning to the spectrum of fauna - urban and otherwise. Most notably, the cherry blossom trees have exploded into full bloom, which are *amazing*!

Though the fact is obvious, I have to remind myself that this is my first time ever experiencing this time of year in the Northwest - and I'm really enjoying the novelty and beauty of it all. I hope that five, ten, twenty years from now - assuming I'm still living in this part of the country - I still appreciate it as much as I am now.

On a hike with a couple friends yesterday, we got on to the topic of the changing seasons, and weather in the Northwest in general. Cam, who grew up in Washington state, was thrilled by the 100+ degree week last summer (my first week in Seattle) simply because once you live somewhere long enough and get accustomed to the weather patterns, anything extreme and out of the ordinary is cause for celebration. Likewise, the snowstorm here last year had its fair share of exciting moments for Northwest natives as well. But for me, it's the very mildness of the seasons here that's enthralling. I've had my fair share of blistering heat and humidity in Kansas, and vicious ice storms and blizzards in Kansas and Ohio alike, and the fact that the temperature's generally wavered between 40 and 65 degrees for the vast majority of my first seven months in the Northwest is just fine by me.

As for the afore-mentioned hike...rockin! We traversed a relatively flat route along a burbling creek, occasionally punctuated with little waterfalls, bridges, washed out trail crossings, and other fun bits of scenery:

Unlike many of the other hiking routes I've tried out in the past few months, this one we had almost entirely to ourselves. Without much elevation or many territorial views, we took joy instead in the simple, sensory landscape around us - making note of several promising swimming holes come summer time here, as well as some possible mountain-biking routes. We hiked out to Otter Falls, a towering, slick rock face with a cascading waterfall sliding down the entire width of its facade...really beautiful sight.

Being silly, I pose with the falls.

Cam, Jenica and I don our game faces.

On the trek back, Cam noticed a little side trail that had been flagged. We decided to explore it - a narrow, unmaintained, and rather vertical little jaunt into the depths of the forest...and more or less stumbled on a giant fairy tale land (much like in Avatar, Home Tree and all) of huge, old-growth cedars. Pictures, as usual, can't do them justice, but they'll try nonetheless.

Overall, a grand adventure of a day. Barely made it back to Seattle in time for my evening work shift, but I made it happen. Now enjoying a lazy, sunny/cloudy catch-up day around the apartment before heading out for an afternoon of adventure in the woods north of Seattle with barefoot running, MovNat and homemade pizza! Finally...not enough Northwest in your life? Cam blogs too. Read his account of our adventure here!

Monday, March 1, 2010

Free Cookies and the Epic of the Lost Wallet

Strawberry mango moothie, Revolutions Coffee
(Post-workout smoothie today...but the coffee is great here, too!)

Woohoo, at long last, the return of Cup o' Joe Mondays! This week, I decided to revisit a favorite that I haven't blogged about yet, despite really enjoying it every time I've been here. Revolutions Coffee is located up in Greenlake - happily, in close proximity to the lovely Vera Fitness, an all women's wellness studio and gym where I've begun doing personal(ish) training sessions regularly. Did an intense power hour this morning, then came over here to get back in touch with my old Monday tradition...

Revoutions Coffee has an odd mix of an interior: three of the four interior walls are brightly painted, while one is just plain, gray, unceremonious concrete. The floor is also concrete, mixed up with a few colorful shag rugs. Seating ranges from basic tables and chairs to sleek, poofy loveseats to barstools if you want to chat with the friendly, down-to-Earth baristas. Artwork on the walls ranges from framed photos behind the counter to crazy awesome mixed media artwork... a wall of framed album covers to vintage travel posters to a giant print of Snoop Dogg and some other (presumably) rap artist I can't readily identify. Half the seating is close enough to the doors to be flooded with sunlight, the other half tucked away in the dimmer, romantic lighting in the back, complemented by the very bold colors and paints back there.

But here's why this place takes the cake as Best Coffeeshop in the World: it began on Valentine's Day, when Ruth was visiting me in Seattle. I needed to get some writing for the magazine done but also wanted to show Ruth Greenlake, so we drove up north to plunk down for a few hours in the spacious but cozy Revolutions. First of all, they've offered free cookie samples 2 of the 3 times I've been here. This alone is enough to bump it into Seriously Awesome territory...but then, when the samples had successfully convinced Ruth and I that we needed to get a couple cookies, the girl behind the counter couldn't get two cookies unstuck from each other - so she just shrugged, smiled and gave us a free extra cookie. Seriously seriously Awesome.

Then, the real clincher: after leaving Revolutions, Ruth and I drove to the International District to pick up ingredients for our sushi night. We got to the checkout line, and I reached into my backpack for my wallet - only to find that it was missing. I've been carrying it in a mildly accessible-from-behind-me pocket in my backpack - stupid, but I guess I've just never felt too worried about getting pickpocketed in Seattle. I ran out to my car, checking to see if it had fallen out on the seat there...nope. Called back to Revolutions to ask if I'd left my wallet there; the guy looked around the table I'd been sitting at and said sadly over the phone that there was no wallet.

Discouraged and convinced that it had been stolen, I proactively called to cancel my bank card and credit card and order new ones. Spent probably about 45 minutes collectively on hold with different banks to get the job done...thank goodness for Ruth being calm and supportive in my moments of freaking out! Finally feeling calmed down (though seriously bummed about the cash I'd lost, having just gone to the ATM that very well as my newly minted Washington state driver's license and some Iraqi currency I keep in my wallet that my soldier I used to write letters to through Soldiers' Angels sent me last year), I sat back in my apartment and took a deep breath.

And then my phone rang.

An unfamiliar 206 (Seattle) phone number. I picked up, and it turned out to be a guy at the local Blockbuster. Bummer! I thought. The last thing I need right now is some sales pitch, or a forgotten late fee that I owe... But behold! He said the following: "Hey, a guy from Revolutions Coffee just gave us a call. They found your wallet, but didn't have your phone number, so he went through your cards, found your Blockbuster card, and asked us to give you a call and let you know they've got your wallet for you!"

Turns out some lady had literally been sitting on top of my wallet when I'd called before to have the guy check our table for it, so he hadn't found it until the lady got up and left. But seriously...what a hero! It's amazing when people go out of their way for a perfect stranger...

= Why Revolutions Coffee is the best place in the world.