Monday, May 31, 2010

trip planning

At this time next week, Steve and I will be finishing up a weekend in Seattle for Chrissy and Kevin's wedding.  We leave on Thursday afternoon, and in the meantime, I'm getting in the last bits of trip planning.  Starting pretty much from scratch a few months ago, I've worked out tentative itineraries for each of the 4-5 days we'll be in town.
By "from scratch," I mean I had somewhat little knowledge of Seattle before I started.  I suspect I may have been there once before when I was kid on a family vacation, but other than a vague possible memory of standing under the Space Needle (did I make that up?), I have no proof.  There are holes in my collection of family photos, so they're no help.  I do know that we went to Ohme Gardens in Wenatchee, WA, probably around 1993.  I had postcards from there on the bulletin board in my room for years.  Ohme Gardens is only 2-3 hours from Seattle, so it's entirely possible that we stopped in the city on that trip.  Most of the time, however, my family stuck to the National Parks, historic sites, and museums, with an occasional amusement park to keep my sister and me happy.  We often went "out west" and stayed away from major cities, which is probably why I had never been to San Francisco until Steve moved here.  As time went by, there were more and more train and plane museums—my father's weapon of choice.  By the time I was in high school, I started staying with my sister Christine and her kids while my parents went on vacation.
As I am quickly figuring out, my kind of vacation is quite different from that of my parents.  Sure, I like the occasional National Park.  I remember having fun at Arches when I was a kid, and Steve and I visited Volcanoes National Park on the Big Island during our honeymoon.  But as a whole, I think I prefer to explore cities and neighborhoods on my vacations.  Therefore, our plan for the Seattle trip next weekend will be to do just that: explore some of Seattle's neighborhoods, eat some good food, drink some Seattle coffee, and of course, see Chrissy get married.

I honestly don't know how people planned vacations like this before the internet, though.  I suppose guidebooks and travel agents were more essential then.  For this trip, I've made my own guidebook and served as my own travel agent.  I've looked at countless websites, blogs, Yelp, and Flickr searches to figure out where we want to go and what we want to eat.  (The prettier, the better.)  I've also gotten a few recommendations from Chrissy and from Steve's cousin who lives in the area.
It's all part of my newly developed trip-planning strategy: search for things that look good, mark them on a customizable Google map of the area, list them in a Google document by location, divide into separate itineraries for each day, then write down everything in a handy-dandy moleskin notebook that can go in my camera bag.  (Steve and I still have sucky old phones without internet, and Steve doesn't have 3G for his iTouch or iPad.  Otherwise, that would probably be easier and more high-tech.) 

The system works pretty well, really.  Because of Google Maps, I now have a good idea of the geography of downtown Seattle and the surrounding neighborhoods.  The only thing missing from the map is an idea of how hilly the place is.  At this point, everything looks really walkable.  We can easily walk from our hotel near Pike Place Market to Capitol Hill or Queen Anne.  It's just a mile or two away.  Of course, we may find when we get there that there are steep hills everywhere...  Good thing we live in San Francisco.  Even though we're in one of the flatest areas of the city, we're probably more used to climbing hills than the average person.  Lesser hills feel like nothing after you've lived here for a while.  And if I have comfortable shoes on, a mile is an easy walk.  It's like going to Noe Valley or to the awesome donut shop in the Mission or to Dolores Park.  Once I started mapping things on Google, I was surprised at the number of places we frequent that are almost exactly one mile away.
Our plan is to have dinner in Belltown after arriving on Thursday and spend Friday in Capitol Hill.  Saturday is the wedding, so we'll have to pick up the rental car after lunch and drive northeast.  We'll return the car on Sunday morning and take a bus up to Fremont for the Sunday Farmers Market, see the Fremont Troll, and meet Steve's cousin and her family at Gasworks Park after lunch.  Hopefully, there will be time for a walk up to Wallingford for coffee, cupcakes or gelato before we have to hop another bus west to Ballard.  We'll have dinner that night at Delancey, the artisan pizza restaurant that blogger Molly Wizenberg and her husband opened last year.  Monday, our last full day, will probably be devoted to exploring Pike Place Market, the Space Needle, and the neighborhood of Queen Anne.
I have all the necessary landmarks pinpointed on maps of the neighborhoods that I printed out from Google and glued into my moleskin: restaurants, coffee shops, cupcake stores, ice cream places, cute independent boutiques, and the occasional tourist spot, like the Space Needle.  Sadly, there's no way we'll have time to visit them all—especially the ones that involve eating—but at least we'll know our options.
Now we just have to hope it doesn't rain too much while we're there.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

picking up again

It's been a few weeks since my last post, which means more food in the backlog of things to write about.  Weeks 10-13 included a few keeper recipes, but the more exciting part for me was branching out a little in terms of the pictures.
I had already gotten tired of the old white-on-white scheme in the weeks before, but I ended up using it again anyway for the week 10 picture.  Steve made a Spanish empanada from the companion book to Mario Batali's PBS series Spain - On the Road Again.  It was essentially pizza crust on top and bottom with Spanish chorizo, pancetta, onion, and red pepper inside.  The flavors were good, but the cooking time in the recipe was off.  It got overcooked, and it didn't help that Steve couldn't tell how brown it was getting through the window of the oven door.  This would probably be worth trying again, but it's not really high on the list.

The next week was one of the more successful efforts.  It was also one of the more ambitious and fun ones.  That Saturday and Sunday involved a lot of running around town, including two trips to Room & Board (one each day) on a quest for the right duvet cover.  But more relevantly, Saturday included a trip to Ecohaus for some poster-sized paint samples to use as photo backgrounds.  I had come across a blog post that suggested them, and then I found out that an Ecohaus had just opened in SF, near Trader Joe's.  The day before, I had gone downtown and bought a bamboo cutting board at Crate & Barrel, just to use for pictures.  While I was getting something else I needed at Sur la Table, I also convinced myself that I needed a lovely acacia wood platter for a different look.  So I was armed with some new stuff going into week 11.
After our Sunday run to Room & Board, I helped Steve cook up not one but two dishes from Jamie at Home.  They were both ones that I had bookmarked, and since they shared similar flavors, we decided to do them at the same time.  We did Spicy Fava Bean Fritters with Lemon Minted Yogurt and Grilled Lamb Kofta Kebabs with Pistachios (that we left out) and Spicy Salad Wrap.

I helped Steve shell the fava beans, and then I made the lemon minted yogurt, which we used for both dishes.  The recipe for the lamb kebab wrap included plain yogurt, but the other flavors were elsewhere in the dish already.  We also used the same salad for both, since one was plain greens and the other (for the wrap, I think) had mint added.  It worked just fine.
Speaking of things I did, I made all the quenelles for the actual fritters.  I've seen Steve do it before, but this was my first attempt.  It turned out to be pretty easy—just keep turning the mixture from spoon to spoon until it's kind of football shaped.

Since I was being all involved in the process this time—I had the weekend off from work for once—I plated my own dishes for the pictures.  I still need some practice with the food styling, but I was pretty happy with the pictures overall.
The fava fritters turned out well, but the lamb kebab wraps were my favorite of the meal.  Steve mixed sumac and other spices with ground lamb, formed kebabs, and grilled them.  Then, we broked them up and served them on grilled tortillas (store-bought, but from a Mexican grocery) with the salad greens, lemon minted yogurt, and some pickled red onions.

It's a been quite a while since I've had a gyro, and I've been craving them on and off for years.  So this dish, which had similar flavors, hit the spot.  While the lamb wraps and the fava fritters together took a couple hours to prepare, the lamb wrap alone wouldn't be so hard to do again.
Week 12 was another very successful one.  I picked out a recipe from Mario Batali's new book, Molto Gusto, to prepare for Thursday evening's dinner.  (It was a busy weekend for work.)  The book has a lot of lighter Italian food: antipasti, pizzas, pastas, and gelato-based desserts.  Flipping through, I found what sounded like a winner with the Pennette with Summer Squash & Ricotta.  Zucchini was now in season, and the oozy spoonfuls of ricotta in the picture looked so good.

It turned out to be an easy and fast recipe, which meant that Steve had it ready before all the light went away from the window in the living room that has become my little studio for these shots.  The photo is probably my favorite so far, and the dish is also a new favorite.
The main flavors with the pasta are zucchini, mint, ricotta, and parmesan.  It's a combination that reminds me of the fillings Steve has made in the past for ravioli and for fried squash blossoms.  I'm pretty sure there's no crack added, but it is that good.  Tonight will mark the third time we've made it. :)
Last, we have another pasta for week 13—this time a homemade tagliatelle.  It was another Jamie at Home recipe that looked good: Tagliatelle with Sprouting Broccoli and Oozy Cheese Sauce.  It was a good use for the broccolini that Steve picked up at the farmers market, and I'm all for "oozy cheese sauce."  In this case, the cheese sauce was a mixture of fontina, parmesan, and creme fraiche.  It was very creamy and had nice flavor.
I was really happy with the dish the night we ate it, but I wasn't a big fan of the leftovers.  I ate them for lunch the next day, and I was hungry about an hour later.  I may have also been on cheese overload, since we had also had crazy amounts of cheese fondue at The Melting Pot a couple days before.
tagliatelle with broccolini
I did the math, and we are now a quarter of the way through our allotted 52 weeks.  Steve is way behind on his blog, but at least he's keeping up with cooking new things each week.

On a somewhat related subject, stone-fruit season appears to be starting around here.  Watch out peaches, nectarines, and plums... we'll be coming for you.