Monday, July 8, 2013

FoodTrek: GIRLS Weekend and Adventuretime on the San Juan Islands

A friend of mine said the best thing a little while back: "We need to have an adventure." It's something easily said and pondered over for a lifetime, and so rarely acted upon, but I'm glad to say we took this promise of adventure by the horns and set out for an extended weekend of food, photos and  premium cable series marathoning. With cameras at the ready, we set forth to explore the San Juan Islands. Onwards!

Welcome to the Hotel De Haro, such a lovely place, such a lovely face - Photo by Wasabi Prime

I should clarify this was Adventuretime With Photography Nerds. My friend and partner in adventure-crime, Ms. Shutterbug, is an outstanding photographer, and she'll probably hate that I'm sharing this, but she's got amazing photos that you should check out on her site. Two photo-taking geeks exploring the San Juans means getting as far as Orcas Island and San Juan Island, at a meandering, shutter-clicking pace that matches the land speed of a tree sloth. But perhaps that's a testament to the beauty of the San Juan archipelago as a whole -- they're a smattering of islands that  retain some of region's original wildness, as well as snapshots of the history that built the Washington we see today. The islands were the lands of the Coast Salish First Nation/Native Americans, but its given name was chosen by Spanish explorer Francisco de Eliza in the late 1700s. British explorer George Vancouver made his own explorations, leading to a Spanglish mix of names for many of the islands' landmarks. Ironically, Orcas Island wasn't named for the common sighting of orca whale pods, it's a shortened version of the island's original name, Horcasitas. It wasn't until the 1846 Oregon Treaty that established the clear boundary between Canada and the United States, but there were still trade disputes between the U.S. and the Commonwealth, leading to a diplomatic fubar known as the Pig War. It originated from the shooting of a pig over a property dispute, but at the time it revealed long-held territorial tensions. Luckily, calmer heads prevailed, no gunfire between people was exchanged and gratefully, the only casualty was the pig, even though it took 12 years of diplomatic footwork for everyone to make nice. And thank heavens they did -- these islands are an absolute vision!

Exploring the islands, one square inch at a time - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Simplistic San Juan Islands history aside, we had a grand ol' time, even if upon our arrival to Orcas Island was met with typical Northwest "Liquid Sun." But we are stalwart locals and a little rain wasn't going to ruin our adventure parade. On our drive to Anacortes to catch the ferry, we saw a dude in a black convertible, top down, wearing a black Stetson in the crazy pouring rain, going at highway speed Like. A. Boss. We dubbed him the Rainstorm Cowboy and he became our spirit animal for the radical times ahead.

Breakfasts of champions, Crows Nest coffee and avast ye Scallibut Cakes! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
With rare exception, we noshed with abandon on the trip. The rule was No Rules, which meant we tried everything that came across our paths, which included scallop + halibut = Scallibut Cakes at Cafe Olga on Orcas Island. Weird? Maybe. They were like spicy crabcakes, minus the crab, but with big hunks of fish, so you didn't feel like it was just filler. We woke up at the crack of dawn every morning, mostly because mornings on Orcas Island are too beautiful to miss -- we were staying at the Sea Star Lofts on the Waterfront in Eastsound Village. I only wish we had more time to spend, as the view was gorgeous, the loft was so comfortable, and you're within walking distance of everything in town. One of the nice things about being an early-riser was getting a table at the New Leaf Cafe, at the Outlook Inn in Eastsound. While many of the shops open at 10 or later, a hotel restaurant is usually open early, and we had a great breakfast with no wait for a table. Ms. S ordered the mini bagel sandwiches layered with horseradish cream cheese, avocado and topped with smoked salmon, with a ton of fresh vegetables and fruit. Rainbow of flavor! Mine was less Rainbow Brite, but no less delicious -- I took advantage of their earlybird special breakfast, which has a short menu of dishes priced at $7 if you're there right as they open at 8am. A simple two-egg breakfast with Hempler's ham, potatoes and a buttery slab of brioche was just what I needed, and I saved a few pennies to put towards the loaded Bloody Mary cocktail I had along with my breakfast. For the days on the go, we got a great Americano from Crows Nest Coffee Shoppe when we arrived at Friday Harbor for a day of exploration on San Juan Island. The power of coffee is strong with this one -- only espresso drinks, no drip coffee, which is fine when you need fuel to kickstart a big day. There wasn't a lot open around 8am at Friday Harbor, so we were glad to find a damn fine coffee shop right by the ferry terminal, just up Spring Street.

Put the lime in the coconut... or a kiln, if you're at Roche Harbor - Photo by Wasabi Prime
So what do a bunch of wild and crazy girls do on San Juan Island? Head to Roche Harbor and see the old lime kiln town! Yeeeeee-haw! Quite a bit less congested than Friday Harbor, Roche Harbor has maintained more of the island's industrial history. What was originally a harbor town that was a major construction material producer (the lime was used to make bricks), it's now a quaint seaside town featuring the historic Hotel De Haro, built back in the 1880s, as well as the Roche Harbor Gardens, which frame the resort and marina quite nicely. This was kind of where our photo nerdiness busted loose. We were literally crawling around to get the best angle or doing what we like to call, "the photographer squat workout" where you're crab-walking for a good part of the day and wondering why your thighs and glutes are so damn sore the next day. But it's worth it -- took a ton of beautiful floral photos and it was fun tracking down the edible plants and herbs in the gardens.

So pretty you could eat it. And you can! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
We even explored a mausoleum in the middle of the forest. Yes, they have one of those. Sounds so totally Goth it hurts, doesn't it? Near the harbor's little airfield, there's a clearly marked trail head to the McMillin family mausoleum, a memorial built by one of the early settlers of Roche Harbor and the owners of the lime works. It's a hauntingly beautiful sight to see, this towering ring of columns and a stone table surrounded by six stone chairs, one for each of the McMillin members. The family's Masonic Order/Knights Templar beliefs makes the whole structure a collection of symbology, with the number of steps representing stages of life, the intentional broken column representing death, and there are probably other hidden meanings we didn't even see. We explored all over the site, a la Robert Langdon, maybe expecting some DaVinci Code to pop out and we'd find the real burial site of Mary Magdalene. That didn't happen, but we were throwing down the Dan Brown references like mad.

McMillin Mausoleum - weirdly haunting and beautiful in the middle of the forest - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Another inedible, but interesting find for photography nerds -- the relics of the lime works throughout Roche Harbor. The old lime kilns are right by a spot where you can play bocce ball, near the marina, which is a funky juxtaposition. Right where you park your car for the marina, there are rusted-out pieces from the old generator that basically powered the town back in the old days. It's weird to see the pieces just sitting there next to dumpsters and recycle containers, but they had such a great look, we had to capture every square inch with several gazillion photos. There was a particular turbine-looking piece that I swear looked like it was salvaged from a Firefly-Class ship and I half expected Kaylee Frye to pop out from somewhere saying she had to rewire the grav thrust because someone refuses to replace that crappy compression coil... (helloooo, Firefly Nerds? Yeah, I see you nodding your heads out there.)

"And don't ride in anything with a Capissen 38 engine, they fall right out of the sky" - Photos by Wasabi Prime
All this exploring sure builds an appetite -- of course we had dinner at Allium on Orcas Island! A beautiful meal, as always, and it was so nice to see chef and owner Lisa Nakamura again. We had a beautiful bowl of clams in a rich broth, with a gorgeous tangle of fresh garlic scapes, and then the most perfect piece of salmon over tender asparagus spears and creamy potato quenelles. Meals here are such a delicious reminder to respect and trust ingredients that are prepared simply and at the height of their season. Food speaks to those who care to listen. And Allium's sweet onion marmalade with a basket of warm bread is pretty blissful, too -- that was whispering sweet nothings to my happy belly. We saved room for an after-dinner treat, mini creme caramels in demitasse cups and om-nom-nom-worthy chocolate chunk cookies. That was perfect; while I love sharing desserts, I love it even more when restaurants do mini-portioned desserts for just that little bite of sweetness without giving you that heavy sugar-coma feeling afterwards. Which was great, because I long night ahead of me, watching a marathon of season one Girls episodes. Millennial angst times infinity!

An evening of elegant food at Allium, right before Season 1 Girls marathon - photos by Wasabi Prime
I do have one awesome new Eastsound/Orcas Island find -- get thee to The Barnacle. It's a craft cocktail bar that looks like a nautical playhouse. It's in a tiny house-shack-building that used to be an antique shop. The directions we got were, "You know where The Kitchen (restaurant) is? Walk past it, there's what looks like a little shed in the back and that's The Barnacle." And wouldn't you know it, in the wee space of Prune Alley, there was The Barnacle. They open at 4, keep an eye out for a little clapboard sign they leave out by the street, which will be easier to see than the building itself. A literal hidden find, it's worth checking out if you want a well-mixed drink for cocktail hour.  

Yarrr... welcome to the Barnacle on Orcas Island - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Shutterbug ordered up the Vesper Twist, which uses a combination of Spy Hop Gin and Monopolowa Vodka, Lillet and an orange blossom infusion -- lighter, fragrant and more summery than the classic, it's perfect for a hot day. I had the Sarsaparilla Manhattan, made with local Ghost Owl Whiskey, sweet vermouth and a dash of their housemade sarsaparilla bitters -- also lighter than the traditional Manhattan, not sure if the whiskey has more of a delicate flavor, but that made it pleasantly refreshing on what turned into a hot, sunny day. You can also drink your cocktails outside, by the way! The Barnacle's cocktail menu is a great combination of locally made spirits, including island-based makers like San Juan Distillery, who makes the Spy Hop Gin, different berry brandys, and even an apple eau de vie, which I'm very curious (and thirsty) to get my hands on.

A cocktail gem you'll love discovering,and say hi to Shazam for me! - Photos by Wasabi Prime
I love spending time wandering the San Juans -- maybe it's the slower pace or the fact that they just roll like original gangstahs, in their marvelously quirky ways. You're not overwhelmed with chain stores, even in the areas that are heavily visited by tourists, you still get a genuine sense of the community, of the people who live and work there. It's vintage, artsy, hippie, a little bit country, a little bit rock n' roll. All the good things you want in a wandering adventure. We even found The Hobbit.

Hobbit-boat, wishing we were Tom Hanks, making room for pi and leering dogs - Photos by Wasabi Prime
Like all good things, this good thing had to come to an end. Of course not without another night devoted to chips n' salsa, chocolate covered grahams, wine and a marathon of Girls, season 2. I feel so happy I'm finally able to join the pop culture mind-hive on this, despite not having premium cable. It definitely made it a true Girls Weekend, no pun intended. We let our appetites guide us, kept our wine and cocktail glasses full, and most importantly, fed the creative hunger to photograph to our hearts' content. While I've said before it's not good to live through a camera lens, it's still a creative outlet, and when you feel inspired, the photography becomes nourishing again. So, thank you San Juan Islands, for rekindling a love affair with my camera again.

Adieu, San Juans, until we meet again! - Photo by Wasabi Prime
Let's let the movin' groovin' stylings of Hannah and Marnie (before things got weird) take us out on this Girls Weekend Adventure: 

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