Monday, September 21, 2009


I have come to call my friend’s island getaway on Orcas Paradise. That’s how it feels when the days slowly evolve and curling up in an Adirondack chair with a good book evokes no guilt whatsoever. Bloody Marys and fresh crab from the waters just down the sloping lawn for breakfast.
Looking back down at the boat after arriving at the house. On Monday morning before we left, we spotted an Orca Whale at the distant shore. That was jaw-dropping amazing.

We left Seattle early Saturday morning under a downpour that was unrivaled so far this year. Something about the dampness that accompanies that kind of deluge made it easy to leave town.

As we drew closer to Anacortes where the boat is moored we saw patches of blue sky with puffy clouds. It seemed too much to hope that we’d actually have nice weather. We were prepared to graciously accept anything short of a rain bath. How pleasantly surprised we were to encounter blue skies and sunshine that accompanied us to the island and revisited daily until our departure on Monday.

The boat is launched with this ancient looking contraption from overhead. Kathleen and I agreed that the sight of your boat being hoisted through the air is just... well, creepy.

After arriving we situated ourselves in the sunshine at varying spots and the guys set crab pots and motored to the store near the ferry landing.

What followed was a lazy day of banter, music, wine and reading (and in my case a nap or two). Even Bernie (L) and Bruce (R) lazed in the warm afternoon sun.

Trips up and down the sloping property to unload luggage and supplies are made easier with the "gator" appropriately adorned with a hood ornament of ... a gator.

The guys grilled steaks and local corn that we'd picked up at a farm stand in Anacortes.

Dinner was nothing short of amazing. Fresh crab, perfect steaks, grilled sweet corn (oh the season is almost over!) and some rich, rich gratin potatoes.For me personally, that crab was the show stopper. We all ate too much that night but we were wise not to complain of our own folly.

Sunday morning I got up to see the early morning sun rise over the water. I sat in the quiet enjoying a cup of coffee and when I'd fully embraced the decadence that was paradise, I crawled back in bed and fell fast asleep. I woke to the sound of the gator below my bedroom window. The guys had brought in more fresh crab and I had to take a moment to wipe the sleep from my eyes, stretch and then pinch myself before heading downstairs to join the others.
We call it the breakfast of champions. A spicy bloody Mary and fresh crab.

Actually, Steve made great bacon and egg breakfast sandwiches for everyone. Lest anyone think that we went tearing into the vodka bottle early in the morning. And if you did think we tore into the vodka bottle early in the morning guess what? You're not the boss of me. It was at least 9:30 or 10:00.

There were more naps to be had, more reading to be done and more eagles to watch in the skies overhead.
Chris perched on a nearby boulder and strummed his guitar, Kathleen worked in her little garden and Steve pulled weeds and looked far busier than me. I read and napped until we took Chris and Nancy to the ferry dock and said farewell.

We roasted a chicken and made mushroom risotto for dinner followed by a crossword puzzle that I made quick work out of learning how to use the Internet to cheat on. That's right. I cheat (except when I play Scrabble) (Cheating at Scrabble would make me too discomfortable)

I hope I get invited back. It really is paradise.

Sunday, September 13, 2009

Paella: It's crack

How much am I giving away if I confess (as I did early on in my blog about brisket) that I've never made paella? There you have it. I just can't formulate a clever enough lie to cover up the fact! I've eaten a lot of it (and a lot of BAD paella I might add), read a ton about it and talked and thought and dreamed and planned...but no.. I'd never made it until tonight.

I used to visit Seattle's Spanish Table all-things-Spain store near the Pike Place Market and drool over the paella pans. I have sought out Spanish chorizo for years and again, read and reread paella recipes and grew a little more intimidated (I like to do things authentically and having tasted bland and pedestrian paella on so many occasions I figured the real thing MUST be difficult to make) I've read about its origins, and various family and regional twists. I consider myself a bonafide arm-chair paella expert. Until tonight when I put the Barca-lounger to rest and stepped up to the hot paella pan.

Sunday dinner saved my paella bacon! I have Vivian to thank. It was enough that Vivian and Kevin arrived in their full-on kitsch vintage Le Mans convertible complete with Kevin's kilt. That was enough!! But Viv brought her massive paella pan and her paella spoon. I was balls out in.

Nancy had shopped earlier for the best of the best shrimp, Penn Cove mussels, Spanish chorizo and fresh chicken at Whole foods (actually the chorizo had come from another source). We had busied ourselves chopping, marinating and readying ourselves for the arrival of the paella master.

Vivian produced paella the way she does just about everything else I've witnessed her do - with the toss of her hair and an ease that comes from an inner peace and genuine joy of life. I was so thrilled to be making paella for the first time with Vivian! I knew it was going to be great when Vivian didn't even glance at the recipe on the counter near the mis en place!

We started with a hot paella pan over a wood fired grill. A generous dose of Olive oil and then the chorizo.

Okay, here's another great thing about Viv: She laughs in the face of high heat! That's right. She was so aware that the action hitting the bottom of that paella pan was not to be disturbed. And together we respectfully watched as chorizo gave up it's fat and sizzled away over the heat of the coals.. little stirring and much less fussing all together. Then we added the chicken and waited for that perfect golden brown crust to develop on it.

Then the red onions, Piquillo peppers, sliced garlic, the rice, stock, tomatoes, saffron and smokey paprika.

Vivian measured NOTHING! She waved her magic paella spoon over the whole conglomeration and closed the lid and picked up her wine glass without skipping a beat finished her story. After about 15 minutes we opened the lid, tasted the rice, added a little salt, some mussels and shrimp and truly, the best paella I've ever had emerged from that effortless dance!

I ate all this (and I have to admit...a little more).

It was great to learn from someone who cooks with a natural ease. The elusive crusty rice that forms on the paella pan is called "socaratt" and has been the missing element in almost every rendition of paella I've had thus far. It was not only present here but Vivian informed me that in Spain it is the prized part of the paella and saved for the elderly members of the family.

Fortunately there was enough to go around our table even though we are all still youngsters.

I need a magic paella spoon of my own (and a pan to go with it). Off to The Spanish Table.

Tuesday, September 8, 2009

The Whisper and Waistlines

So okay, I get a little carried away in the food preparation department. I try to control it but I really either don't know how or refuse to learn. I guess feeding people is just too much of a temptation for me and I constantly go overboard.
Well, in defense of myself I should say this. I made some (a lot) of chicken enchiladas about a week ago for my daughter and her family. So many in fact, that her freezer could hold no more so I took one of the 8x8 pans home with me. On my way home I stopped by the house of some good friends conveniently close to the dinner hour and offered up enchiladas. There were only 3 of us but the enchiladas disappeared too quickly and my friend tipped his plate to me in the is-there-anymore? gesture and I had to say "no". I felt a failure and every time this happens (which isn't often) I gird up and start cooking for an army-even if it's only an army of 3.

For our little excursion to the San Juan Islands I made chili for at least 12 (really), clam chowder, lasagna (two pans!) and assorted other side dishes and salads. Being out in the weather always gives you an appetite and I didn't want to be caught short not knowing exactly where we'd anchor. The end result: We've eaten like pigs day after day. We are all on food overload yet I think we loved every bite.

My favorite (and probably the most fattening) was the Clam Chowder with fresh-baked focaccia bread. Shut up! It was smack-your-mama good.

One day I made nachos with the chili. Again, the guys looked at the pan of nachos as it came out and asked who else was invited to lunch. The crabs ate well that day.

I'm not sure if it was the waistline gods that were with us or what. We ran out of water after our showers so there would be no dirtying of the dishes said the captain.
Today: peanuts and beer.. so much better for the waistline.

Monday, September 7, 2009

House Call

Rodney's new glasses.

On Sunday we left Friday Harbor for Roche Harbor with only one incident. The Jib line got hooked up on the fore hatch and provided us with a little piece of hell. Lesson learned.

Chris has a patient who lives on San Juan Island on the very north end. He had ordered new glasses and Chris thought it would be wonderfully unique and unexpected to deliver the glasses in person. He did phone ahead of course.

We motored in close to the house and Chris took the dinghy to shore while Teddy and I circled slowly in wait for his return. Mission accomplished and everyone has a great story to share about above-and-beyond house calls.

The house-call hand off.

The volunteer photographer did such a great job of catching both guys and the Whisper beyond them.
Rodney escorted Chris back to the beach and waved us all good-bye.

We continued on to Roche Harbor from there and anchored out away from the marina for a restful afternoon and evening. We grilled steaks and finished the last of our wine while watching an instant-watch Netflix movie with Teddy's air card. We learned to appreciate all the buffering for its opportunities to visit, pour more wine or tell a short story. It was a great movie. Peter Sellars in Being There. We noticed a roaming message on the air card today and wondered if it was there last night and perhaps we should call Being There a $200.00 movie. We'll see soon enough. It was worth it.

We motored into Roche Harbor Marina for provisions (wine). Okay, we bought eggs too and set sail for Cattle Point where we are anchored tonight amongst a group of impressive commercial fishing boats.

We watched a small sailboat come collect crab pots earlier this evening and counted no less that a dozen crabs make their way into buckets on board. Teddy tried waving the boat's captain over to our boat where we'd devise a plan to schmooze fresh crab from him to no avail. The man, a local it appeared gave us a friendly wave and headed to shore.

We will eat leftovers tonight. They're all good.

Saturday, September 5, 2009

I found my fear factor

After the better part of a day fighting the waves and winds through the Strait of Juan de Fuca I’m rethinking that open-water-sailing dream. Not really, but I did encounter my fear limit today.

We started out from Elliot Bay Marina at about 6:00 PM on Friday night and followed the full moon as to Port Ludlow where we anchored in a cozy little bay. Somewhere around 6 this morning the rumble of the anchor being raised jarred me to life. It had rained hard last night and the wind had tossed us around significantly.

I got up briefly but went right back to bed. I really don’t think I should be up before the sun. It’s a personal thing.

I got up around 8:00 and made some breakfast and when Chris (captain) had eaten I said I felt confident to keep watch for awhile while he rested.

We were nearing Port Townsend on our port side and the Strait of Juan de Fuca lay ahead of that.

With auto-pilot it’s not really sailing. Chris instructed me that I was in the shipping canal and to watch for freighters both coming and going. The sun was peaking through the clouds to the west but to the east the cloud cover was too heavy to reveal the sun. I saw a Dahl Porpoise right away.. a sign I thought. As the guys slept soundly below I entered the strait and felt the immediate tug on the jib which was the only sail that Chris had left up. I watched carefully and as the jib snapped loudly under the pitching of the boat and the gusting of the wind I began to formulate how I would handle disaster. Aside from screaming for Chris to come on deck.

The boat did begin to pitch a little more violently and the wind grabbed the jib and threw it to the port from starboard side in no time at all.

From then on it all happened so fast. Chris was donning his foul weather gear and climbing up on deck and Teddy who had been asleep but awakened by the snapping jib and the pitching boat also came up.

We found ourselves in a situation where the sails needed to be completely cut and the motor was our only hope for some resistance to the weather.

We scrambled to bring in the jib against the raging winds and then… THEN.. we put on our life vests and saw a first aid kit floating in the water. It was not ours but some other unfortunate boat weathering the same small-craft-advisory pleasure cruise.

We gained control and our winds dropped from 30+ knots to 20 or less and then Chris was confident that we could put up some sail again.

Let me be honest here.. there was hurling (barfing) involved in this trip through the strait. But we arrived safely if not exhausted and ready for a nap at Friday Harbor, San Juan Island

It’s been a wonderful evening in one of the last slips available in the marina. We had a nap, a stroll through the touristy town and guitar serenade on the deck of the boat.

All in all.. it’s still magical.. despite the fright factor.

Tomorrow: Roche Harbor and more sailing.

Friday, September 4, 2009

My Maiden Voyage

Though it is true, I have my finger back-it's a shadow of the finger I used to have. The ability to bend your finger at the joint is not overrated. So, though I can type I cannot properly grip my chef's knife. I called for a referral to a specialist and so let the therapy begin.

In the meantime I will be sailing to the San Juan Islands from Seattle beginning this evening. I am beside myself with giddiness. I have great friends but having a great friend with a sailboat is almost good-karma overload. This is an opportunity of a lifetime for me.

I sailed for the first time (with this same friend but in another boat) one Indian-summer October evening about 8 years ago. Wow! I can't believe it's been that long! The boat was moored on Lake Washington at the time and I'd had a gruelling day at the office (I used to be a Systems Manager) and the "systems" were giving me fits. It looked to be like a long night at the office. I called to bail on the commitment to go sailing for the first time in my life.

My friend dished up a hilarious comment about those who foolishly choose work over pleasure and I was all in. I've never regretted that decision. That night as we drifted lazily along the glass-smooth waters of the lake (very little wind) and laid back to gaze up at the moon and stars I knew I was hopelessly destined to love sailing.

My friend recommended a book that he'd read years before called Maiden Voyage by Tania Aebi. I had the book in my hands the very next day. The book is the story of a New York City teen who is the youngest person to circumnavigate the globe. Her voyage was done in a 26 foot sloop with only the company of a cat. I was ready for my own circumnavigation of the globe by the following week.

I haven't made that trip yet (and it's not really on my bucket list) but sailing some distance in open water has been on my list and this trip really feels like a dream come true for that reason.
I'll attempt to post pictures along the way and let you know what we're eating, seeing and singing. (The captain plays his guitar and sing-a-longs have been known to happen).

Bon Voyage!