Last week, I didn’t get a chance to write anything down, as I was entertaining two of my dearest friends from out of town. What this meant for me was that I had the opportunity to serve up some of the more delicious food that Seattle has to offer to my Eastern friends.

Usually, on Thursdays and Fridays,  I’ll take the opportunity to relax, do some laundry, do some writing, and lounge about the house, but a weekend like this was cause for celebration. So rarely do we get to see one another in meatspace, as opposed to quick emails or text messages exchanged with a quick second of free time. I relish the chance to hang with them, and one of my new favorite things is to play host to out of town guests.

We’ve gone our separate ways in life, and we never keep in touch the way that we say we will. I have no idea about the color scheme for Andy’s wedding, and I really had no idea of Melissa’s whereabouts over the next year. I realize that we have our own agendas, and take our time in getting information out to one another, because we know that the others will always be there, but when we do get together, it’s floodgates of information that are opened, and it’s as though the distance is instantly bridged and little to no time has passed. This is some of the best stuff that I can say about my relationship with my friends.

As Melissa arrived first, on Wednesday afternoon, I was still at work. She came up from the airport and dropped her stuff off at the hotel, and then walked down to the market. Having spent the week in San Francisco before, she was used to the balmy weather, and I didn’t feel the need to apologize for the overcast skies or droplets of rain that would annoy and muss her hair.

We went out for a quick lunch at Michou, where we had sandwiches of the grilled variety, and little salads. Sitting at the tea room overlooking the market and Elliott Bay, there was not a whole lot that was better about that early afternoon respite from the bustle of the fish business. As we parted ways for the afternoon, she went uptown to the Barnes and Noble to hang for a bit while I finished off my shift.

The day before, I had been madly preparing all things delicious for their arrival: I had some porcini mushroom polenta that I had baked and unmolded, sliced for their approval. There were fixings for fresh salmon burgers in the fridge, waiting for an opportunity to grill, and a number of delicious greens and vegetables from the market ready to be sauteed, baked, souped, whatever the evenings called for.

After work, she came down to the market and we took our tour up to the house on Capitol Hill. (The views in the banner at the top of the page are the views from our back window) We sat, reminisced, discussed the goings on in each other’s lives, as we had a lot to catch up on, and plotted our dinner for the evening. I’d picked up some garlic spears at the market, and mussels were also in the bag, fresh harvested that day from 2 hours north on Whidbey Island.

Andy was due in at about 8:30, and his flight got in a little earlier than expected. The lady was at a play rehearsal, and was due back at about the same time. Fortunately, despite many bottles of local Washington Wine at our disposal, we had enough good sense to serve up our mussels in shifts. Just a simple, quick preparation after a long day at the market, but it was still warm and satisfying all the way down to the heart of my bottom.

We sat, ate, talked, and at about 8:15, the lady showed up. Pleasantries, hugs, smiles, and more mussels were exchanged, and within about ten minutes, Andy was at the door. He had recently told Melissa of his newfound respect for Lady Gaga, and upon his arrival, we heralded the door opening and entrance to the dulcet strains of a song that began with the lyrics that changed a nation for the better- “Rah, Rah, Roma-ma, Ga Ga something something.”

More mussels in the pot.

We stayed up for a few hours, well aware of the travel time and energy spent that day. Melissa headed back to her hotel, and Andy and I stayed up for a couple more hours, talking about life and things that pepper our existences.

The next morning was the big day. Waking up, we made omelets with morels, fresh yellow tomatoes, and darjeeling and juniper cured salmon with the remainder of the pickled ramps. As always, there was stellar coffee, a nice bag of Kona passed along by a customer of ours down at the market. We picked up Melissa at her hotel, and brought her up to Vivace, where they were introduced to the enigma that eludes most of the country, the perfect espresso pull.

We all had Cafe Nicos, short shots made with sugared espresso and a rosetta on top, sprinkled with cinnamon and garnished with a twist of orange peel. Then, we were off to the Boeing factory, where we viewed the building of the 737, 747, 777, and the new 787 series of planes. It wasn’t something that I’d normally do, but it was Andy’s Graceland. His Disneyworld. There are pictures of him, arms outstretched, overlooking the runway with the new crop of planes freshly painted, and he’s just about the happiest dude I knew at that moment.

And the tour? It was awesome. Not in the sense that it was the coolest thing you could hope for, but because of the following things:

1) They are building planes there. Honest to God Jumbo Jets. That takes a lot of time, or so you would think. In truth, fabrication of a single plane takes 3 days from start to finish, including riveting over one million rivets into place.

2) The building itself is the largest building in the world. It is larger than Disneyland. At any given time, there are at least twenty planes being built, and  I’m pretty sure that number is more planes than either you or I will ever build in our lives.

3) They had Astronaut Ice Cream in the gift shop. That is all.

The scope of the plant is on a much larger scale than anything that you’ve ever seen. I almost wanted to roll a handful of ballbearings down the length of the fabrication floor, but I didn’t. (As a note to anyone else considering doing this, please be aware that I do not condone, endorse, or advise this behavior in any way, nor do I think it is wise to think such thoughts while in the building itself.)

We got stuff at the gift shop, and travelled down the way back to the Seattle proper, dropping the rental car off back at the airport. It would have been faster to fly in one of the Dreamlifter Cargo planes that they had stationed up there, but there was no flight leaving around the time that we needed to be there.

I should point out at this point, dear reader without a face or name, who hides on the other side of the internet, that one of the main things that my guests requested was to enjoy local food and wine as prepared by me. On our way back from the Boeing tour, we stopped at Volunteer Park, a lovely little meadow on Seattle’s Capitol Hill, to have a picnic. There, we had a polenta with roasted zucchini and porcini mushrooms, a chilled asparagus and garlic spear soup, and fresh made pickled beets and carrots. It was quick, fulfilling, and at least one of us found it delicious. His name was my name.

THEN, we took the exciting wave of the future, SoundTransit’s own LINK Light Rail, all the way back uptown to SafeCo Field for the Mariners’ Game. I had yet to realize that when Ken Griffey Jr. said that he was retiring the day before, he meant that he would no longer play in games. From that day forward, he would fight (for a pennant) no more forever. How poetic. How Seattle.

Still, Carl Pavano vs. the Venezuelan Phenom, Felix Hernandez? Oh, yes. Carl Pavano, whose name I remember but whose face I do not, reminded me as I saw him on a television while getting a hot dog, of a lazy man’s Rollie Fingers. Here. Take a look:

PavanoWasn’t he somewhat more dapper in the past?

With just a little effort, he could have looked like this:

Yep. Still, the lowly Mariners, behind Felix Hernandez’s outstanding pitching and three stolen bases by our own Ichiro, beat the Twins of Minneapolis soundly, 4-1.

And there was much rejoicing.

(yay)

The next day brought a trip by ferry boat to Bainbridge Island. Just a short 30 minutes from the Elliot Bay Ferry Terminal, Bainbridge produces an out of town feel for anyone who happens to take the day off and hop across the water. At the ferry terminal on the Island side, starfish clung above water to the moorings, beaching themselves on Rope upon rope of mussels and barnacles that also made their home on the pylons.

As we came into the harbor, there were picturesque beachhouses along the shore, each with their own twenty to thirty feet of waterline, where they could dig for clams and oysters any time of day or night. As we passed them, I got a bit jealous.

We docked, and walked down to the main street, where they had all the shoppes that you’d expect. The local ice creamery, the fudge shop, the local diner- they were all there. We walked into a shop called Paraffine, and to our surprise, it was filled with CANDLES! Wax candles from all over the world! Who knew!?

Next door, there was a rug shop, specializing in Persians, Afghans, Pakistanis, and beautiful Pashmina scarves and handbeaded boots. With our long trusted and well-informed female companion, we the gentlemen made the purchase of lovely pashminas for our even lovelier ladies. As someone who is neither good at gift giving nor shopping, my heart grew a little bit that day as both Andy and I were able to pick out elegant, feminine purchases that would serve our better halves well, and ones that were unique and complimentary to their individual styles.

We asked the fellow at the shop, “Fellow, where would be a good place to get lunch on your island?” He responded by handing us a treasure map, one with the outlay of the entire downtown area.

“Go ye fivescore steps towards the harbor, and look to your starboard side. There ye will fall upon the Public house, where foods be served with flagons of ale,” he didn’t say.

He told us to go there. He did not speak like a pirate, but that’s how I remember it in my head and am retelling it now. It’s my blog, and that’s how I like it.

So we went there. It was a nice little place, with a waiting couch that had the box springs that make your buttcakes sink a little deeper than you’d think into the upholstery. Each one of us got something fairly indicative of our tastes- Andy with his ultimately satisfying fish and chips, Melissa with a smoked salmon appetizer and a clam chowder with local manilas in the shell, and me with my Poutine with Beecher’s local cheese curds.

I love Beecher’s. They’re right across the street from where I work, and any time this Wisconsin boy needs a fresh cheese curd, all I have to do is walk across the bricks, tap on the window, and maybe give a little bit of a Pavlovian pant. Like a hungry dog waiting for a treat, Beecher’s Cheese has my number, and my hearty endorsement as my favorite place within eyesight to get fresh, high quality Cheese curds.

I also like it because I’m in with the cheesemaker, and he loves to tell me stories of how protective Wisconsinites are of their cheese, and how utterly offended they get when he tells them that the cheese they make there is fresher than anything they taste back home.

“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” I jokingly tell him with ribbons of fish slime cascading from my fingertips.

I will not say anything about my fries, because in discussion of food with Melissa, I came to a realization. We talked about what we were going to do in the next few years, and as I’ve been remiss in informing her of my ambitions and dreams, she inquired as to some of the things that I’ve said I might like to do in the past.

“What about opening your own restaurant?”

Not too bad. I wouldn’t really consider doing that, especially right now. It eats your soul, you have to be a tyrant, and simply doing it for love of the food is not enough. Life is built on compromise, and business should not have to be. If you are a sole proprietor of your business, you need to be unflinching in your goals and restaurant ideals. If you cut corners, you’re not being true to your standards that were initially set when you fabricated your dream plan. You’re selling yourself short, and if your success, both professional and personal, hinges on that, congratulations. Your compromise has just bastardized your dream. This does not even begin to consider the X factors of customer base, niche markets, employee relations, and all the other intangibles that nobody ever seems to think about or fully grasp. This lifestyle of exhausting your personal resources for the good of your dream is not for me. Personal relationships suffer, you can become bitter, and those are two reasons why I would not work in a restaurant at the current time.

“What about food critic?”

Nah. I can critique my own food all that I want, because I am relentless in the pursuit of perfection, or something like that.

That’s kinda true. I love blending flavors, experimenting, taking the time to savor a meal, and the overall experience of working in a kitchen. It might not be a restaurant kitchen, but I enjoy the atmosphere and comfort that I get from being able to create something that somewhat resembles what I had in mind. Some people write. Some people paint. Everyone makes art. Everyone has the one creative outlet or avenue down which they drive to create a dance. I don’t care if you use soccer to create your artistry, or if you invest your time in video games. To some, it’s a fruitless pursuit. To those who can see, you’re building something. You can create entire personas and villages in a World of Warcraft, and you can paint lush landscapes until the cows that you paint into the picture come home. Sometimes, just sitting back to think of it is remarkable.

As an aside, one recent day off, I noticed that Google had a fully playable pacman doodle on their homepage. As I wasted many hours playing it, I noticed the rudimentary Computer intelligence that was put into play with the breakdown of the game, and I thought of my dad. Ms. Pac Man is the only game that he will play, yet he plays it with a fluid grace that I will never be able to comprehend. He is not his computer, or his iPod, and does not subscribe to any technological ways of life, other than what gets him through the day, yet he is completely at home playing Ms. Pac Man. Whereas I get frustrated with the game and, in a moment of panic, toggle the joystick back and forth to elude the terrifying ghosts, he will simply turn Ms. Pac Man around, and move her around the screen in a stupefying dance that is inexplicably fascinating and even a little bit beautiful to me.

Yeah, it’s a video game, and we’re usually so quick to judge those who play them, but every couple of years or so, a bit of bliss breaks through when Ms. Pac Man finally gets a chance to scarf down a pretzel.

In relation to food, I can’t judge or critique what I have on my plate based on anything but the time, effort, and thought that went into creating it. Sure, if it looks nice, that’s a plus, but I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again: There is nothing more fulfilling to me than a meal that is cooked with passion or thought. I don’t care if it’s a gold plated truffle, or if someone offers you a grilled cheese. I love it. I loved when I was in Costa Rica, and someone’s mom made us fried bread. It was simple and nondescript, but she visited and made them because her son was homesick, and that’s all he wanted.

I loved it when I was in Italy, and a small chalet owner opened up her business in the offseason to make us a simple pasta with fresh pressed olive oil.

I love my mom’s fresh cracked wheat loaves of bread with thick slices of roasted turkey. I love the food that Andy’s mom makes at the holidays. I love Melissa’s mom’s peach pie. I love it because they love making it for us, and making it with us. If you can’t appreciate a $400 dinner, then maybe they’re not trying hard enough to earn your palate. Maybe they’re trying too hard. I don’t need something fancy. I just crave something that is real. Good, honest food.

To be continued…

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