Wednesday, August 29, 2012

FoodTrek: Island Vacation in a Day

Cloudless blue skies above a water view... a chilled, frosty beer covered in condensation sweat from the sun... a tall, ombre tropical drink with a wedge of fresh pineapple... I made a summer trip to the Island, but not the one you're thinking of... 

Being on Island Time for a day - Photo by Wasabi Prime
...No, not Hawaii, but Orcas Island! Yes, we stayed within our own state to get a taste of Da Islands. It had been something I wanted to do, visit Orcas Island for a day and just see if it was doable, since the San Juans aren't exactly a quick hop, skip and a jump away. Generally the challenges behind going to the San Juans for just a day is the travel time. You have to drive up to Anacortes to catch the ferry -- that's at least an hour drive -- and then you wait in a long line of cars, hoping you got there early enough during summer's peak season to make sure your car makes it on that boat. The ferry ride varies depending on the island you're trying to get to, Orcas takes about 45 minutes to an hour, depending on conditions. We left early in the morning, so the boat had to slow down when we hit a big fog bank. We thought we would be clever by doing walk-on for the ferry, which loads you super-fast and you don't have to arrive super-early to get your car in position, but the trick is always the ability to be mobile once you're on the island. There's a shuttle bus that goes around Orcas Island, but the problem with that is, if the ferry schedule is off (and it often is), the bus leaves without you and you're stuck for a while, since the shuttle pickups to take you from the ferry terminal to Eastsound are infrequent at best, with wait times being as much as an hour if you miss your pickup. Boo. Despite the good idea of the Orcas Island transit bus, I would say skip it and bring your own car, in case of ferry late-ness. We were stuck renting a car for the day (round trip cab ride to Eastsound was about as much as a car rental), negating the money we saved by doing a ferry walk-on, and it was a grumpy way to start the day, but whatever! I would not let our day trip be scuttled by a morning hiccup!

Orcas Island Saturday Farmers Market - greens aplenty! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Day trip or not, Orcas Island is amazing year-round. And Eastsound, the most popular city to visit on the island, really blossoms during summer, since that's the busy season. The last time I was here, it was mid-season, so the weather was more unpredictable, rainy one moment, sunny the next -- status quo for island living. In the summers, the Orcas Island Farmer's Market sets up shop on the Village Green in Eastsound, which was a treat to visit for the first time. I was tempted to get a bunch of things, but didn't want to haul fresh produce around for the day. But I did admire the goods -- I saw beautiful little artichokes, plenty of fava beans and sugar snap peas, and over a grill, I saw the most enormous oysters on the planet being cooked up. They were locally harvested and the size of a pro-wrestler's fist. Pretty dang big. But we saved our appetite for an early midday snack at Rose's Bakery and Cafe. I love their baguettes. Not too big, not too small, just the perfect size to get one to go, which I didn't mind hauling around with me in a reusable shopping bag. I got a package of Lesley Stowe's Raincoast Crisps (the cranberry ones), which are pretty much my favorite crackers in the known universe. I know it's a bakery and I could have gotten some of their bread, but to avoid the indulgence of eating a whole loaf of bread in one sitting, I saved our fresh baguette for later and went with a small package of crackers that I shared with the Mister, along with some cured meats freshly sliced from Rose's deli to fuel us for the day.

Allium for a deck-side lunch and cocktails - Photos by Wasabi Prime
One of the nice things about the day trip was being Indy-free. I know that must sound heartbreaking to hear, but as much as I'd love to bring the fuzzy mutt with us everywhere, having a dog with you makes it difficult to browse shops and go where you please. We could tie her up outside of every store, but that makes her whine and be miserable, which in turn makes everyone miserable. Plus it was hot, so tying up a dog in the sun, especially one covered in black fur, would just be cruel. Indy got to spend the day likely sleeping on our bed while we were gone and I took advantage of being Indy-Free and shopped around Eastsound, getting all manner of crafty, beautiful and locally-made jewelry, cards, soaps and the like. Those were all intended as gifts for others, but I picked up a big bag of coffee roasted on neighboring Lopez Island for ourselves, which was a nice treat.

Another nice treat was visiting Allium Restaurant again, and saying "Aloha" to chef and owner, Lisa Nakamura again. Busy as always, especially with ice cream shop Lily downtstairs, we showed up early, before the dinner rush, to have a late lunch from their afternoon snack menu. It's a nice thing to visit a popular place during off-hours -- no waiting, it's late enough in the day to have cocktails without anyone giving you a judgmental stare, and you'll likely have your pick of the best seats. Of course we sat out on the deck. Sunny, beautiful and even more vacation-like when you have a tropical drink. So relaxed, you just wanted to kick back and never leave. All that leisurely wandering got our appetites up, so we had some of the marvelous goat cheese crostini, a hearty salmon salad and the buttery-rich truffled gnocchi that I know would probably make better sense on a chilly day, but their gnocchi is out-of-this-world good. We felt like we were going to roll down to the ferry terminal, we had such happy, full food bellies.

Tell me about the rabbits, Orcas Island - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Speaking of the ferry terminal, in my best Lenny impersonation from Steinbeck's Of Mice and Men, I have to say: "Tell me about the rabbits, George." We made sure to leave Eastsound and return the car in time to wait for the late afternoon ferry to slowly whisk us back to Anacortes and we were met with Late Afternoon of the Lepus. Seriously, the grassy park near the ferry terminal was rabbit-palooza; I had never seen so many bunnies lounging since the Playboy Mansion. They were adorable wild rabbits, all looking fairly healthy and well-fed, just lounging in the shade of a tree. A flock? A warren? I had to consult Mr. Google to find out it's just called a herd, which is boring. I was rather hoping it would be more poetic and exciting like an obstinacy of buffalo, or a flamboyance of flamingos. Nope, a herd. Well, the herd of rabbits were chillin' much like the rest of the people waiting on the late ferry, its lateness just being compounded from the morning's fog slowdown. But you don't visit the San Juans with a precise military-like schedule. You really are on Island Time, and "whenever" should just be added to timepieces everywhere. We didn't bring Indy, but judging from a very sleepy retriever snoozing in front of one of the stores, not even batting an eye when I took its photo, everyone is just super mellow and laid back.

By land or sea, it was a pretty nice way to spend a summer day - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We caught our "whenever" ferry back to Anacortes, enjoying the very pretty sights on the way back as the sun started to set. And we were still in that lazy Island Time frame of mind on the drive back home, and I think that was probably the best souvenir we could have had from this whole trip, just that sense of Letting Go. We arrived with a schedule in mind, it got sort of blown to bits, but we made things up along the way and still had a really nice day trip. I'm looking forward to going back to Orcas Island again before the summer's over, this time for a full weekend, but at least it's nice to know visiting for a day isn't impossible. And dude, what is up with those rabbits? A second trip will have to determine if that's a regular thing with the ferry terminal.

1 comment:

  1. Orcas looks beautiful. I love "island life". GREG


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