This is a blog featuring my personal stories of food, gardening, yachting, photography, travel and life.

Monday, December 28, 2009

A Cotswolds Adventure

Today we headed into The Cotswolds, a region of England roughly bordered by Bristol in the southwest, Oxford on the southeast and Stratford-Upon-Avon in the north. Getting around is really best by car which worked very well for us since we are visiting in the off season. In the summer the traffic can make the experience quite obnoxious.

The attraction of visiting quaint English, country villages with names like Stow-in-the-Wold, Moreton-in-Marsh, Upper and Lower Slaughter and Bourton-on-the-Water, draws visitors by the droves in summer.

Our one day journey took us through many of the above mentioned villages. We made stops in Bourton-on-the-Water for tea and scones served with delicious clotted cream and raspberry jam. We walked through the village which calls itself the Venice of England. I am not so sure about that but it is quaint and cute. Lots of upscale shops without any of the big name stores you often find in resorty types of places. Still I had the feeling that this village was a bit of a victim of its own success with too many touristy shops and it was obvious that most shops catered to the tourist trade.

We drove through many other villages without stopping. We made our final stop in Stow-in-the-Wold, which is an absolutely stunning village with enough of a local population to need the specialized butcher shops, chocolatiers and bakeries that dotted the main street. Stow is also home to the Royalist Hotel, the oldest inn in all of England, going back to 947 AD. Also worth a stop for a pub lunch are The Queen's Head or The White Stag. We lunched at The Queen's Head. I had locally famous spotted sausages with mash and carrots and brussel's sprouts all covered in a rich gravy and accompanied with a locally made pint of cider. Surrounded by locals enjoying a pint and arguing over the news of the day, the Queen's Head was a warm and colorful stop on our journey.
The Royalist Hotel

Driving through the Cotswalds is an adventure in itself and not for the timid. Driving down narrow lanes lined with hedgerows and on the opposite side of the road than we Americans are used to takes a lot of concentration and can be a bit nerve-racking at times. But the craziness of attempting it is rewarded by a lovely drive through rolling hills criss-crossed by hedge rows dividing the land and ever present emerald green grass dotted with roving sheep. And, of course, the occasional village right out of a storybook.
We drove through the countryside back to Bristol and stopped to do a little shopping before heading home. Picked up a few things we wanted to take home as gifts--cheeses, sauces, cider, jams, etc.
Tomorrow we leave early for our 4 day trip to Barcelona, Spain. I won't be blogging while there but I will be sure to blog about my first ever experience in Spain as soon as I get back. Stay tuned.

Sunday, December 27, 2009

The Avon River Valley

I start a new travel series with this blog entry. I am visiting with family in the west country of England and will also spend 4 days in Barcelona, Spain. Follow my adventure in upcoming blogs.

We arrived safely in Bristol yesterday after two long flights starting in Seattle. We arrived in time to exchange Christmas gifts on Boxing Day, visit and enjoy a tradional English "roast" cooked up by our own Nick and Kate. Had roasted lamb, roasted potatoes and roasted carrots and turnips. A tradional English pudding for dessert as well as lots of fun conversation. Nick's sister Kate along with her partner Andy and their beautiful daughter Grace were over. Nick and Kate along with his parents gave us the gift of a trip to Barcelona, Spain. We will go for 4 days while we are here. Never been to Spain so this will be a new country for us. Don't know how we ever missed Spain with all our trips to Europe over the years but there you are.

We ate in this dining room at The Lock Inn

Today, we ventured by train into the Avon River Valley. Our main stop was at The Lock Inn Cafe along the Kennet and Avon Canal and just a stone's throw from a hand operated lock on that canal. We stopped in to the Dick and Jane for a Boatman's breakfast which was an enormous platter of food including sausage, rashers of bacon, bubble and squeek, chips, mushrooms, tomato, beans, fried bread and a fried egg on top. A pot of great tea washed it all down, all in a storyboook setting along a canal teaming with long narrow canal boats tied up or slowly cruising up and down the canal.

This canal crosses and recrosses the Avon River and roads along its meandering path. It is able to to do this with the help of an old aquaduct system, some of them dating back to the Roman occupation. Canal boats cruise across these aquaducts a hundred feet in the air above the hilly English countryside.

We hiked 2 miles along the canal towpath until we arrived at Avoncliff, a quaint village which has become a bit famous lately as the home of Kevin Spacey. The Cross Guns Pub was a picture perfect place to stop for a draught of hot Cheddar Valley Cider, a scrumpy style cider with a neon orange color and a kick to match!

We hopped the train and returned to Bristol at Temple Mead station and drove back to Kate and Nick's flat. A perfect day!

Tuesday, December 22, 2009

Phnom Penh

Phnom Penh Restaurant

Last night we discovered a wonderful restaurant in the Chinatown section of Vancouver, B.C. We had heard of Phnom Pehn over the years but hadn't got around to trying it. How sorry we are that we hadn't and how exquisitely happy are we that we finally have. Located at 244 E. Georgia Street this little gem has long been recognized as the top Asian/Vietnamese/Cambodian restaurant in all of Vancouver. Just take a look at the wall of honors from local newspapers and magazines as you sit waiting for your table.

Butter Beef

We checked several websites critiquing Phnom Pehn to see what others recommended. Several dishes were repeatedly suggested and that is where we began our Phnom Pehn adventure.

We arrived without a reservation but waited only about 20 minutes until we were escorted to our table. We were immediately served a pot of delicious tea and began perusing our menus, zeroing in on the dishes on our list of recommendations. Most items were in the $7.50 to $20 range with some, more exotic sounding dishes even pricier. We decided on "Grandmother's" garlic fried squid, Phnom Penh noodles with the soup on the side, butter beef, and their famous chicken wings.

Their famous garlic Chicken Wings come with a lime juice and pepper dipping sauce. They also had a sweet taste to them which led me to believe the wings may have been rolled in some kind of sugary season salt.

The Squid came with a fantastic lime-pepper sauce that was terrific on everything.

The butter beef is served carpaccio-style with a lime, soy and fish sauce, sprinkled with fresh cilantro and crispy fried shallots that melted in your mouth.

Garlic Fried Squid

With the menu items we haven't even begun to explore ahead of us, we will be returning to Phenom Pehn often and we can't recommend it highly enough for anyone else looking for an outstanding Asian dining experience.
Open 7 days a week for lunch and dinner, Phnom Pehn takes reservations and accepts VISA.

Sunday, December 6, 2009

Nona Rosa's Ristorante

Last night we went to dinner at the newest restaurant at 113 Magnolia. This location has been the home for repeated attempts by a number of would be restauranteurs over the years, all failing for one reason or another.

The newest attempt is Nona Rosa's Ristorante, a Sicilian-style Italian trattoria.

Initially I was a little concerned when I noticed the refrigerated display cases filled with what looked like pretty worked over slices of salamis, cheeses, olives and other deli items. The display needed attention to make it look more appealing. On top of the counter next to the register was a pile of dirty plates and leftover food that should have been in a bussing tub on its way to the dishroom.

However, we were quickly greeted by a friendly host who seated us promptly even though we had no reservation.

If the rest of the evening is any indication, Nona Rosa's should do very well. A family run operation, there is an informal, family-friendly feel to the place. The decor is of a traditional trattoria which had a feel as if you were under a grape arbor in a small Sicilian hillside village. Catrina Bremer, the owner, and members of the family all work here. Even Nona Rosa herself is often on hand. She is the inspiration for the Sicilian-style dishes served.

We were very confused at first. The music was distinctly Greek sounding and the menu had offerings that seemed to be influenced by cultures other than Italian. We were set straight when we met Catrina who educated us. Because of the location of Sicily in the Mediterranean, the island was conquered many times by other cultures thus influencing the Sicilian cuisine. We might find cinnamon in some dishes, tzatziki was on the menu and the red sauces were sweeter than many traditional Italian sauces. The sauces are spicier, too, the dishes uncomplicated.

We started with a bowl of the soup of the day, a rich chicken broth with fresh vegetables and chicken bits that was just delicious--and actually came to the table hot.

The traditional Sicilian-style bread served was made with flour, sugar and olive oil, then brushed with an egg wash and sesame seeds. This, too came to our table hot out of the oven and served with olive oil and balsamic vinegar.

I had made eternal favorite Spaghetti and Meatballs, here called Spaghetti Polpettoni. The generous meatballs melted in my mouth. The spaghetti, house-made was cooked perfectly. The dish was finished with a generous topping of parmigiano cheese broiled over the meatballs.

My wife had the Lasagna, again, with the house made pasta, the rich red sauce and lotd of meat and cheese layered under it. Both our mains came to us piping hot. Both were absolutely delicious.

The mistake we see over and over in many Bellingham restaurants is that they start out with delicious food and over time they start making changes, cutting corners and become a big disappointment. Our hope is that Nona Rosa's, being family owned and operated, will continue to serve their wonderful family's recipes just as they are for a very long time.

Bene apetit!

Thursday, December 3, 2009

Key of Sea

A short walk down the dock,
the twilit sky is fading toward night,
Stars peak out from the warmth of their heavenly quilt
The air still, all the world is silent.

The moon makes her entrance,
jumping into the sky above the snow-capped mountain,
and begins again her eternal traverse
the stars bowing to her as she floats by.

The sea below mimics the panoply,
of this eternal journey reflected in the depths,
where so many terrestrial dreamers sleep
and the depths are still, all the world is silent.

Sunday, November 29, 2009

Thanksgiving Dinner

The dinner is over and done and, in fact, a leftover dinner party has come and gone as well. The fridge is back to normal and now we are looking forward to Christmas in a few weeks time.

Our Thanksgiving celebration was shared with friends Peggy, Fred and Lara Wepprecht here in our home. Our families split up the cooking duties and
everything was brought together Thursday afternoon for one spectacular meal!

The menu:

Bacon wrapped stuffed dates


Soup course--

Squash and apple soup with garam masala

Salad course-- Mango, apple, radish salad with horseradish dressing and smoked salmon on the side


--Roasted turke
y marinated with kosher salt and rubbed sage
--Sourdough dressing with apples and sausage
--Mashed potatoes with calvados gravy
--Corn pudding
--Roasted brussels sprouts with chanterelle mushrooms and bacon
--Cranberry relish

Apple pandowdy

Bread pudding with calvados sauce

We were all pretty impressed with ourselves after thi
s meal was served and right up until we had eaten way too much. Then we sort of sat around wishing the holiday hadn't been invented--at least the food part of it.

Last night we hosted our annual leftover party and had a dozen folks by with leftovers in hand. Added to our our own leftovers, a second bacchanalia took place, the second in only 3 days. It was quite a mishmash of items which is the real fun and everything was delicious. Plus it gave us an excuse to get together with a lot of our best friends.

In the fridge, defrosting, is a nice, sensible piece of halibut which will be the featured guest at our dinner tonight. Just the two of us, a small piece of halibut, a small dinner salad and maybe a few brussels sprouts. A nice 500 calorie dinner! Whew!


Saturday, November 14, 2009

A New Jazz Venue is Born!

With the end of a jazz epoch here in Bellingham, drummer Julian McDonough moving on and leaving long-time partner saxophonist Mike Allen without his sideman, jazz as I have come to know and love it seemed to have come to a sudden and sad end. I honestly didn't know what I was going to do to hear exceptionally well played jazz in our community.

Then I went out to The Temple Bar Saturday night from 6-8 and fell in love all over again. This time with the Blake Angelos Trio. I've heard Blake play with Julian and other musicians in the past and loved his style of piano jazz, but Saturday night something clicked. It was certainly the combination of musicians, but it was also the crowd and the space.

Blake had pulled together two other members of his trio that just made a superb combination. Mark Hunter, a young bassist in the jazz studies program at th
e University of Washington, makes regular trips home on the weekends to play with Blake and others. Mark is a stunning talent, assertive and with impeccable intonation, his playing made him a strong and sophisticated partner in this ensemble.

Cary Stevens has played with Blake regularly and while he doesn't have the range of creativity and talent of Julian McDonough he was easily able to maintain a strong command of the beat in a variety of styles, adding riffs in just the right places to keep the music varied and interesting.

As if the trio's playing wasn't enough, the venue added to the effect. The Temple Bar is a very popular area establishment with a varied wine, beer and cocktail menu as well as a long list of delicious, distinctive small plates from which to

The funky decor attracts a varied crowd of young and old alike. It is warm a
nd intimate reminding me of some of the small jazz clubs found in much bigger cities. A crowd of about 25-30, many familiar faces, crowded into the side room and enthusiastically approved of the varied jazz standards the trio played.

So, I awoke this Sunday morning confident that jazz is still alive and well in little Bellingham and that, at least for a little while, the Blake Angelos Trio will keep my jazz habit very satisfied. Thanks Blake!

Wednesday, November 11, 2009

A Great Day on the Boat!

Well, I've used that title before, and meant it. But today, after a couple of weeks of rain and foul weather on days that I might otherwise have been at the boat, a day off and a beautiful day coincided.

So we packed up the car with cleaning stuff--towels, cleaners, buckets and so on. Arriving at the harbor and walking down the gangway pushing our cart in front of us to the dock, we were greeted by scattered pieces of driftwood stacked along the dock and more drifting about the muddy water along with bits of trash and debris, a far cry from the more placid green water reflecting a sunny summer sky only a few short weeks ago.

We strolled on down the dock and turning down our dock The Key of Sea came into view. She looked beautiful sitting there just as we had left her. How I had missed her.

We passed our things on board and got to work. Leslie headed for the galley and head to started doing some deep cleaning with disinfectants. I opened up the engine room compartments and began scrubbing the engines and the entire compartment from top to bottom.

I started with the port side engine for no particular reason. After covering the air filter with a plastic bag, I began spraying Simple Green in full concentrated form all over the engine, then applied a little elbow grease with the help of a brush to help scrub down the metal surfaces. I scrubbed down the gas tank, hoses, battery cases and finally the deck itself. With low water pressure, lest I get water into places it shouldn't be, I rinsed everything down until places once covered in diesel oil, grease and the dust from last summer's fiberglass work began to sparkle.

I placed one foot on the case of the engine starter batteries and another on the muffler and stepped up and out of the engine room. I cranked the port-side engine to life and let the warming motor dry the water off. The bilge pump continued emptying the lowest regions around the keel.

Taking a look around the much cleaner deck in the engine room I noticed some holes I hadn't seen before. Small holes, probably from former screws that had been removed. I just groaned at the thought that here were more places where water could easily enter the wooden interior of the fiberglass outer coating. Here I was spraying fresh water around in a place I thought had been sealed up tight after last summer's work in this compartment. Apparently the shop had missed these spots. I walked over to LFS and inquired about the best product to seal up these holes and purchased the goop. Returning to the boat I found two jars of goo were in the box I had purchased. They needed to be blended in equal amounts for 2 1/2 minutes, then dabbed into the offending holes. After about 20 minutes the job was done--mission accomplished!

After shutting down the engine I descended back into the engine room, this time on the starboard side and began the cleaning process on that side. Finally, the compartment was beginning to look like my goal which is to be able to eat off of the floor. Well, maybe a few more layers to remove yet but I'll get there or as close as is possible. Take a look at the before and after photos above to get some idea of what things look like.

After everything was dry on the port side, I crawled back down into the compartment with a can of primer paint and some cardboard. Carefully positioning the cardboard here and there I was able to put a first coat of the blue primer on spots of corrosion and rust, leaving the engine looking nearly new. The effect is remarkable and looking down on the finished job at the end of the day left me feeling like I had really accomplished something. When my mechanic, Travis, comes back next year, he should be able to gaze down into a very different engine room from the one he met last August.

Another big accomplishment, one I can't take responsibility for other than setting it in motion, was finding our new inflatable dinghy connected to the swim step, on a new davit system and ready to go.

As always seems to be the case, there is routinely something new to deal with. I found a small leak in the "pass me a beer" hatch. This small hatch from the flybridge to the salon is pretty useful but right now it is a real pain. Sitting in the salon looking at the owner's manual for the new dinghy a single drop of water hit me in the head. Oh, crap! Now what?

I removed the molding from around the hatch and what do you suppose I found?-- moisture. So someday very soon, on another day at the boat, I will be taking this hatch apart and resealing it with some 5200 caulking. Ah, just another day on board The Key of Sea. And I loved every minute of it!

Thursday, November 5, 2009

My Yankees Win Again!

After a longer than normal drought, the NY Yankees won their 27th World Series last night putting away any concern that tearing down the old "house that Ruth built" may have created a curse that would prevent them from ever winning another. With Mariano Rivera on the mound and the depth of talented players NY is known for, the Yankees were able to complete the series with a 4-2 record. Last night's game ended with a 7-3 win. But the score and series were tougher than it may have looked like as the reigning world champ Phillies put up a heck of a fight.

I have heard from friends who rooted for the Phillies only because they would NEVER root for the Yankees. They despise them for a variety of reasons. One of the big issues is salary.

"Why shouldn't they win?" they'd say. "They get the biggest salaries in the big leagues."

"They always win", says another friend. "I won't root for them just for that reason."

People, people, people. Have you lost sight of what this is all about? It is a silly game played by big boys for a few years in
their youth and then they remove from the stage and let those who are younger take their place. They are paid insane, ridiculous amounts of money to play this game. Salaries no one has the right to be paid no matter how good they are. And what talent is required of this select few? A college education? A doctorate degree? Any degree? Nope. Basically they need to have exceptional eye/hand coordination and that's it. For that they are paid millions of dollars a year?

But don't forget PEOPLE, you support this system everytime you pay $75 or $100 to buy a single t
icket to a game, or $10 for a 50 cent hot dog or $5 for a $1 beer. I say if you are going to express outrage at the salaries of the members of the Yankee roster, you ought to be just as outraged at the only slightly, relatively speaking, lower salaries of the poor, poor Mariners up in Seattle.

I enjoyed watching the games on TV this year and yes I am jazzed because my childhood favorites won for the 27th time in major league history. But I was also excited about how well the Phillies attempted to defend their title. It was just the Yankee's year.

Next year it will, if statistics are any indicator, be some other team's year. And I will enjoy watching whoever plays for the championship then as well and root for the best team to win. But always, out there on the horizon, with over a 100 years of tradition and the ghosts of Dimaggio, Ruth, Berra (the guy is still alive), Gehrig, Mantle, Pepitone, Maris, Williams, and all the others down through the years, will be those boys in pinstripes. It's only a matter of time before they win #28.