Thursday, April 3, 2014

Kale: There's More To Life Than Waffles

Waffles again, yea, I know, but these were SO good! Topped with cashew cream and strawberries with a side of tempeh "bacon" (slices not pictured, as they really can't sell themselves looking like they do), I was so ecstatic to go out for brunch and be told that the gluten free waffles come standard. Counter Culture was born in a food trailer in 2009 and moved into its home on East Cesar Chavez, where it's been serving raw, vegan and unprocessed foods from scratch ever since. Highly sensitive to diners with allergies, each item on the menu is conveniently labeled. And those Watermelon Lime mimosas they were slinging last weekend... SUBLIME.

I'm about to do you a favor, but first,
you might need to go to the store and pick up some things.
Here's what you'll need:

Kale & Sweet Potato Scramble
2 gigantron sweet potatoes, roasted at 400` for an hour, cooled and clumsily cleaved into bite sized pieces
1 massive bag (1 lb.) of washed, DRY, chopped kale, or 3 big bunches loosely chopped/torn
4 cloves of garlic, (about 3 T crushed)
2 tsp coconut oil


After chopping/crushing your garlic, let it sit for 10 minutes or so, (I recommended at least 4 cloves, but follow your heart) as this time allows all the pungent and powerful compounds to develop before cooking so no garlic magic is lost. 

Heat half a tablespoon of oil on medium high in a stock pot. Toss in half the bag of kale and move it around with a wooden spoon, allowing the oil to coat the leaves as they wilt. As soon as the kale loses half its volume, toss in the rest of the bag and the remaining tsp coconut oil. This part is open to interpretation and may vary based on the size of your pot. Just get the whole bag in there and move it around until it's glossy and slightly wilted. Add the garlic and combine, stirring until the kale is uniformly limp, but not soft, not allowing any garlic to stick to the bottom. Turn off the heat and gently fold in the sweet potatoes.

Eat it straight, add salt to taste, (though it really is wonderful without) and keep it in the fridge for the week. For a bangin breakfast, fold into scrambled eggs and be the envy of all your friends.
I originally came across this recipe while cooking for an event at Premier Raw Cafe in Austin, where we served this breakfast scramble with marinated mushrooms and a side of fermented sunflower seed. Genius. Jade doesn't like mushrooms, so I make this dish special for her, just to prove that we are friends.

Not into breakfast greens?
Try some overnight quinoa a' la Superfood Siobhan.
Full of flashy buzzwords like "fiber" "protein" and "manganese", you've probably jumped on the quinoa train by now. If you're into steel-cut oats, you'll be all over this bowl, especially if you're into swapping sugar for sweet mashed banana. It's the way I used to feel about a box of donuts, but with slightly fewer calories and less crazy eye (one of gluten's many side effects).

Oh, and before you go, please put this extra kale recipe in your pocket.

Kale & Lentil Salad

Pairs splendidly with these things
1/2 lb. washed, bite-sized, chopped kale
2 (ish) cups cooked lentils (1/2 bag)
2 green bell peppers, chopped
3 roma tomatoes, chopped
1 medium yellow onion, diced
3/4 (ish) cup cilantro leaves, chopped
1/3 c balsamic vinegar
2 Tbl dijon mustard
1/4 cup olive oil
1 Tbl honey or 1 tsp agave (optional)
salt & pepper to taste

Toss thoroughly, cover and chill. Or serve fresh, go crazy!
This recipe was born in our kitchen a couple years ago: my husband's adaptation of something vaguely similar that we didn't have the right ingredients for. Sometimes we add garlic when we can't remember what goes in it, and surprise! It's always stellar. As usual, the above measurements are merely probable. Fridge friendly for a good week, the kale stays sturdy and crisp to the last bite.

Thanks for stopping by, diners, now go, fill your bowls and your hearts with something nutritious and new-agey. You know you want to.

The DD

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Gluten Free & Easy, now in Texas!

Hey cowpokes, we're coming to you live, from (so close to) Austin, Texas. We said a somber farewell to our Seattle network back in September in hopes of putting down roots beside our family trees in Texas. After eating out for two weeks during The Great American Road Trip, Bill and I found great solace in slow food. We've been home a few months now, and living 30 minutes outside of central Austin has rightfully forced us to get back to cooking. My latest sensation is waffles. Yes, those waffles. Soft on the inside, crisp on the outside, iron-pressed, long lost love letters from breakfast time. I've been making them with Namaste Gluten Free Flour ($10 for an 8lb. bag at Costco), chai masala (for flare) and whipped egg whites to give them the puffy fluff so often absent from GF fare, swamping them in syrup and strawberries and closing my eyes.

We're living in Round Rock, home of the big, round rock that once guided stagecoaches and wagons around deep waters while crossing the local creek. Fascinating, right? Well, Round Rock has an expectedly limited milk/gluten free menu, so I'm doing my best to stay interested in local dining.

I've tried the overpriced Cajun fish tacos at Louisiana Longhorn Cafe without much amusement, had disappointing pho and vermicelli bowls at Pho Viet and faced the reality of eating gluten and dairy free at my old standby, Taco Cabana. Every time I drive by I shed a tear for their flour tortillas. My local favorite is Vazquez Restaurant, for their fabulous tacos and ideal location just five minutes from my front door. And yes, I've found that even in a place rife with  breakfast tacos, I still find myself disgruntled. Now, for months bereft of my dearest neighborhood assortment of fresh Pacific fish, GF crepes and Vietnamese food I'm scouting the surrounding counties for palatable options.

Nancy's Sky Cafe's Fresh Hummus Rolls 
Nancy's Sky Cafe's Garden Noodles
My latest search has turned up Nancy's Sky Garden, the freshest and absolute best vegetarian food I've ever had. Modestly priced at around $10 a plate, Nancy's serves delicious, colorful dishes on a fourth floor patio overlooking downtown Georgetown. The fresh rolls ($6) are served with a dipping sauce, (almond-ginger, please) and the Garden Noodles are made of sweet potato, full of flavor and dropped in the middle of a wildly festive veggie orgy. (Are you conversely considering an orgy of vegetables, too? I know, SO different.) What will I do without this place when we move into Austin? Koriente. Nancy's original restaurant at 7th and Sabine. THANK you. Thank you thank you.

Dos Salsa's Bryan Salad, sans quesos
I also reasonably enjoyed Bryan's Salad from Dos Salsas, sprinkled with tortilla chips (GF?), fried bananas, black beans, avocado, corn, cilantro, and about a half pound of sugared pecans. The greens were unimpressive, but the toppings were plenty distracting. At $9.99, I felt like I was mainly paying for the pecans, and sure, I left out the cheese so maybe the glaring flavor imbalance was my doing, but the fried bananas helped me to forgive. Extremely busy at all hours, Dos Salsas is known as the best in Georgetown, but I probably won't be back in favor of a smaller, sweeter little taqueria yet to be found.

Bouldin Creek Cafe's V-Lux Salad

Down south in Austin proper, I stopped into Bouldin Creek Cafe for a little nosh and an Italian soda. I had high hopes for the vegan horchata, but it turned out to be grainy and way over-infused. Their V-Lux salad, however was a bright, fresh display of all my favorite things on the same plate. Oh, yes, another salad on a plate. Who, oh who will champion the big salad bowl? Didn't Elaine make this clear? Stuffing a mass of greens past my grill is work enough, do I really have to spend half the meal rescuing fallen leaves from the table? An unnecessary demonstration of my grace and patience.

Mr. Natural's Veggie Burger
on a GF Sesame Bun

Then there's good ol' Mr. Natural. Back in my vegetarian days before I knew what gluten was, I was all over this place. The Mr. Natural burger on a GF sesame seed bun is really quite a find. A wheat-free patty and a side of fries was just right. If you're from Austin, you know Mr. Natural and Veggie Heaven (can I get a what what for those vegan Spicy Yams???)  have the lock on veggie fare, but if you're visiting and those are all you hear about, take a listen here and haul ass to the nearest East Side King.

East Side Kings' Liberty Rice & GF Veggie Meshi
Asian fusion at it's absolute fancy finest, they can make a good half of their menu vegan, vegetarian and gluten free. Really, you're wasting time every moment you're not eating at East Side King. With more and more locations popping up, the brand is destined to become a national treasure. Don't leave without trying their liberty rice - ginger, garlic oil, basil, cilantro, mint, onion and jalapeno tossed over steamed jasmine rice. My favorite dish is their veggie meshi - literally veggies and cooked rice - it's an orchestra of liberty rice, deep fried shredded cabbage, basil, cilantro, mint, onion, jalapeno and deep-fried brussels sprouts in a sweet-spicy sauce. They originally set up a trailer behind Liberty Bar, and have since spread throughout Austin so chances are, you're not far from one right now. Unless, of course, you're in Round Rock.

Dine on, readers! And do let me know if you have any vegan/gluten free recommendations up north.

The DD

Monday, February 17, 2014

Dis-glutened Dining Aboard the Carnival Magic

(Again, we will ignore the gaping chasm between posts.)

My first cruise! Thanks to The Sandifers, The Carnival Magic was our home for one week. A Christmas present, we enjoyed seven days of unwrapping chocolate on our pillows, picking and choosing from a full line up of activities, and a 24 hour, floating feast. My favorite was the fitness center overlooking the bow, and the sauna, and the hammocks, the hot tubs, water slides, arcade, daily trivia contests, karaoke, dance club and endless lounge chairs. When they weren't wet from the nonstop winter rains, I'd choose an isolated seat, take in the horizon, write, nurse a cocktail or play my ukelele. In search of a deserted deck to strum on, I ran into a dude playing his recorder, which, for all the world, I couldn't help but snicker at.

In addition to all the on-board amenities, they do of course, provide you with all the tools you need to behave like a reckless food addict, even if you're milk-free and glutarded. Though it would've been nice to see a "gluten free" or "dairy free" line on the food labels, I never went hungry. Plates the size of turkey platters, bottomless everything and 'round the clock dining never more than a elevator ride away, a cruise is the ultimate enabler. Just for waiting in line, they reward you with as many calories as you can carry, encouraging you every step of the way to soak those up with an $8 cocktail in a novelty vessel. But the real problem with seven days of  24-hour dining? The eighth day. Depending on your fridge after a week of nonstop grazing feels like a cruel joke. 

Note: The following is a "dramatization" based on the maximum dining possible.  

off the stern
A knock at your stateroom door brings your breakfast: two plates of smoked salmon with capers, tomatoes and onions, coffee and juice. The salmon. It's divine! It's gonna be a good week. Your husband's still dozing, and you're wondering about the offerings upstairs, so... Clad in your robe you shop the buffet. It has yards of  bagels, muffins, pancakes, and plenty of standard breakfast fare for the general public. Then, in a neglected corner next to the bacon, sits a sliced loaf of sad, dry, crumbly, gluten free grits & gramflour bread. Not bad! Grab a couple slices, some fruit, head back to your room and make a fabulous salmon sammy out of your husband's plate. First and second breakfast down in less than half an hour!
Not even elevenses yet and you're starving? Thankfully the breakfast buffet is still open, so you grab a few hashbrowns and an egg white omelette cooked to order. Enjoy these with some melon while you watch the waves.
The family meets up on the Lido Deck to strategize for lunch. Indian? Burgers? Pizza? Burritos? Heap a few pounds of different salads on your plate and prepare for the next meal. Who knows when it will be?
What's that, a little rumbly? Oh, no! The buffet's closed til 6?!? You could hit the deli for some fries and cole slaw but you decide to trouble the pizza guy for a gluten free pie without cheese.
This will become a troubling habit over the next 168 hours.
Get dressed, you slob! It's time to eat out in the open, with dignity. Utensils, napkins, eye contact with your peers. Each night you can choose from the static menu or the daily specials, always featuring a fish, steak, or fancy option, like escargot, oysters, filet mignon, or lobster. A chat with the host and you'll have gluten free bread, entree and dessert options the whole week.
You went hard at dinner and now you don't know if you'll be able to fit in that late night snack you've been planning on... Take a turn around the ship, burn what calories you can then stop into a bar for some trivia, or some karaoke or maybe a refreshing beverage. Before you know it, you'll be back at the pizza bar like a zombie, ready for more.

I'll spare you the indignities of the in-between times, but you get the idea. 

Day 1 Fun Day at Sea (food)

Day 2 Funner Day at Sea (food+water slides +3 hours of sun)

Day 3 We stopped in Mahogany Bay, Honduras and rode around in a van touring the slums of Roatan Island, hoping to sample some fried iguana but our guide couldn't quite make it happen. Fresh coconut water and tostones almost made amends.

Day 4 Belize! After a two hour bus ride to visit the Mayan ruins, we took in the sights then rode over to the River Wallace where we dined on rice and beans steamed in coconut milk, fried plantains and sampled local wines. Tamarind, pineapple, sorrel, blackberry... all sulfite free. We came back on board with a bottle of cashew wine, locally known as the poor man's whiskey (rumored to guarantee a second day of intoxication 24 hours after imbibing, though after thorough experimentation this proved incorrect). SO delicious, and a little reminiscent of sherry. 

Day 5 Cozumel! Some pocket Spanish delivered us by taxi to a local beach where we spent a gray day enjoying the sand, picking up coral and boozing. They really do pour tequila like water in Mexico. As it's 100% more distilled than the local tap it's probably just as well. Next time you hit San Francisco Beach in Cozumel, ask for Miguel and be sure to order the Shaky Shaky, a local favorite.

Day 6 Back out to sea en route home, the reality of Day 7 was becoming clear. We would eventually have to get off the ship, so I spent Day 6 much like Day 1 and 2 - chewing. 
Day 7 I started the morning with some simple corn flakes and soy milk in attempt to ease back in to the mundane. Vacationing certainly increased my appetite for variety, so going back to small town Texas (oh, but didn't you know I moved home?) is officially a gastronomical let-down.

Yes, I left Seattle for Austin, looking for browner pastures, higher temperatures and breakfast tacos, but that's a blog post all it's own. Post-cruise blues are in full effect, so if you need me I'm probably in the bathroom, trying to fold my towels into zoo animals.
The Disgruntled Diner

Saturday, May 11, 2013

Anniversary Week

Our 8th anniversary and the fresh is on! We're in the second round of the playoffs and require a lot of time at home so the kitchen's really had a work out.
For this year's celebration, Bill kicked it off by bringing home a watermelon in one arm and tulips in another. The rest, as they say, is anniversary week history.

Here are the highlights:

For a quick, protein-packed, hand-held gnosh, try my
Migas Omelet Wrap.
You'll need
2 eggs, beaten
2 Tbl salsa verde
1/2 avocado, sliced
handful of crushed tortilla chips, (I like Juanita's)
Tabasco, (Chipotle, of course)
Brown Rice tortilla, (I like Trader Joe's)

First, warm your tortilla to make it more manageable. Brown Rice tortillas especially are apt to tear at the slightest provocation. Pour beaten eggs in a med-high skillet and swirl to coat the pan. While the eggs cook, sprinkle in a handful of crushed chips down the center, top with salsa, avocado and Tabasco. When the egg lifts easily from the edges it's ready to fold. Gently lay the outer edges over the filling, folding like an envelope. Slide the omelet onto the center of your tortilla, return it to the pan and make sure the tortilla is warm enough to fold. Brown both sides slightly, wrap in some parchment and off you go.

 This next one really benefits from some fridge time. So throw it together a day or so ahead.
Smoked Sardine Salad on Polenta Coins 
You'll need
One batch Smoked Sardine Salad
One tube prepared polenta, sliced 1/2" thick
Avocado, sliced
3 Tbl of mint leaf chiffonade
2 Tbl tomato, diced fine
Parsley pinches, for garnish

Top baked polenta with smears of sliced avocado and ribbons of mint. Drop a dollop of smoked sardine salad on each and finish with pinches of parsley and tomato.

One night, we ordered pho, vermicelli bowls and spring rolls. There's always leftover sauce. Peanut sauce, spicy citrus vinaigrette, hoisin, chili. So the next night, we had
Tuna Shiitake Stir Fry 
You'll need:
leftover peanut sauce, about 1/4 cup
Dry Shiitake mushrooms (About 2 cups chopped)
3 medium carrots, coined
4 Tbl mirin
1 can tuna packed in olive oil, drained
2 cups broccoli slaw
Something crunchy julienned for garnish (Cucumber, jicama, green apple)

Guess what guess what guess what?

I found a new favorite blog. Because of Detoxinista, I found inspiration to plug in my juicer and stuff everything in my fridge down the chute. And wouldn't you know she has a solution to all the shame involved in throwing out your juice pulp?

Juice Pulp Patties
You'll need these things and a sense of adventure. But man these are SO good. Especially fried.

Yesterday, I feasted on apple celery lemon juice, beet apple carrot parsley juice, strawberry mint juice and today I'm all aglow. When I finish this post I'm going to run out into the sun and maybe not look both ways before I do it. IT'S SATURDAY MORNING SUCKERS, and the freakin weekin is about to get loud.
Really. Who sent me this apron??? Reveal yourself. It is time.

Today we're going to Portland for a Grand Prix. This morning we went to pancake town.
Pancakes are one of the great loves of my life. When gluten told me I was finished with pancakes, I told gluten to "get real" with a gleam in my eye. Then I ran to the bathroom and cried.
Here's what I'm working with these days:

Real talk.
It's almost like the real thing. I add strawberries to stifle the "stale flour" taste of gluten free baking materials and things are almost back to normal. The great thing about this mix? The pancakes flip like Olympic champs. You can pour huge amounts of batter in the skillet and they cook up quick, neat and easy every time, ne'er a drop spilt. I added some ground sunflower seeds to remind me that pancake time isn't playtime anymore, and satisfied my seed cycle requirements in the same swoop. Ladies, get on this seed cycle train with me! It takes about three months to regulate, and I'm only in month 2, but I'd love to hear about someone else's progress.

Wednesday, May 1, 2013

Dairy and Gluten, An Unrequited Love Story

Hey pals! And hell yes this is still happening! I've been gone a spell but I promise, I've been diligently dining and whining daily. I gave up writing about it a few months ago (last year) because I got sick of photographing my food at restaurants and citing the 'food blogger' card in my defense. For someone who just wants to sit in a booth and privately savor one bite after another and generally coast through life unnoticed, it really wasn't playing my song. But check it out - I turned 30 in February so now I'm free of all that self aware bullshit (or I'm telling myself it is in fact so), and since this ain't for a grade I'm going to continue without ceremony. There. Now I'm just like you!
These revelations must be made. And of course, they're made to be shared so thanks for playing and let's get going!

By my hippie doctor's orders, I've abandoned gluten and dairy (so long, beloveds), for better living without allergies.
"Allergies, d'you say?"
Allergies. You guys, I've been fighting headaches, unholy itching, bloating, constipation and sleep all these years, just assuming I was atoning for something I did wrong in a past life.
Not so.
After a blood test, I've been thusly classified:
I''m allergic to casein, the protein found in cow's milk, Gluten, the protein found in wheat, rye and barley, Dust mites and Cock roaches. All likely producing headaches, digestive troubles, fatigue, listlessness, and brain fog, (and I thought I was just fried from college). All these years, I assumed everyone struggled with these things, and I was just being a baby. When I couldn't cope, I'd pop some ibuprofen and hit another pint of ice cream. Or some pizza. Or both.You know the drill.

Not pizza.
Alas, the list of foods I must avoid grows. After my juice cleanse last fall I've stayed off of caffeine, meat and most processed foods. Now when we're out to eat I'm left staring slack-jawed at menus, and I'm always on the look out for quick meals I can throw together at home. So when Bill throws a Totinos in the oven, I press through my sorrow and open my heart to a little more effort and start chopping. If I'm really pressed for time, I'll grab for *gasp* canned beets, but mostly, timely cooking is a brand new challenge. Here's what I'm working with these days:
Produce, Produce, Produce, nuts, eggs, Coconut milk, Almond milk, Rice, Quinoa, Brown rice pasta, Udi's Gluten Free tortillas, mung bean noodles and other wheat free creations, which, while not found too often in restaurants, are carried by most grocery stores in their "health food" aisle. I call it the "Fivef***indollarsforwhat?!?!?!" section.

Luckily, swearing off pizza and fast food has been excellent for my brain and body. Though I haven't quite put my mind to it, I imagine losing weight would now be a snap, especially since I CAN'T DRINK BEER.

My doctor also informed me that my cholesterol is too low, so I've been given carte blanche to gorge on avocado, fish, nuts and chia seeds, and have implemented the seed cycle. It's been a couple months now and while I could have been better at meeting the 2-tablespoon-a-day quota, I like to think I'm feeling better.

Chia Seed Pudding
So, if you're feeling like you might be missing out on high performance living, or just want to see if you could maybe feel a little better than you do, holler at me and I'll send you some recipes. Look, here's one now!
Chia Seed Pudding
 I make this at night and have it the next morning. And the next morning and the next. After that I have to make a new batch.
You'll need:
a quart container with a tight fitting lid
1/2 c chia seeds
1 1/4 c vanilla almond milk
1 1/4 c vanilla coconut milk
topping suggestions:
sliced banana
chopped roasted almonds
toasted coconut flakes

Combine the milks in the container, add as much cinnamon (and/or masala spice) as you like, maybe about a tablespoon total, then add in the seeds. Stirring here helps to avoid clumps from forming but if you're really fast you can just pop the lid on and tell your shake weight you found a new boyfriend.
Refrigerate for at least four hours, shaking whenever you open the fridge, or once, or never. Clumps are not the worst, since most of the milk will get absorbed no matter what, and a clump or two will provide some surprising crunch. Assemble in a small bowl with your preferred toppings and experience omega-3 fatty acids like never before!

Friday, December 21, 2012

Fall Stars

Today is the first of December, and as my hardwired seasonal dogmas tell me, the true start of winter and Christmas. I'm told the world might end (again) on the solstice, so I'm decking the halls double time. Getting into the spirit is the easiest at the start of the season, when you don't feel rushed to plan tomorrow's parties or get your shopping done, and have the sense and wherewithal to enjoy the leisurely hanging of a bit of tinsel. The hard part is letting go of November's savory pleasures. Those sprawling feasts laden with plates of harvest treasures. That lingering golden shimmer of fall, giving way to the dark, crystalline chill. The cold blossoming into hoarfrost, blah, blah... Yes children, winter is coming.

Get your moon waffles at Sub Sand in the I.D.
 This fall we visited the Chinese Night Market in the International District and found Egg Puffs, light and puffy spheres born of an eggy Chinese batter poured onto a special waffle iron that produces the best fortune cookie you've ever had. We waited on line about an hour for our first taste of egg puff, not knowing what to expect and wondering if they'd be anything like the festival moon cakes we'd seen advertised. While we waited we looked up into the skies and pondered the threat of moon wobble, lending an air of fantasy to our highly-anticipated snack, and by the time we got our bag we'd renamed the whole experience. Moon waffles, available at Sub Sand (a cute little spot with banh mi and great service) are great for any occasion, especially the end of the world.

Other seasonal favorites:
Halloween with Glerp and eyeball
Butternut squash and quinoa risotto with sage 
Pumpkin is always reason enough for any season in my opinion, and I got away with a lot of it this fall.
Pumpkin mousse

Pumpkin scones, ok.

Pumpkin soup, playa. 

The pumpkin soup was the MVP of my Thanksgiving meal, hosted graciously by Cecilia out in Brooklyn.

Eating. And giving thanks for it. It's the American way.
French Onion Soup at Bleu Evolution in NYC
This trip to NYC was a luxurious 6 days long, giving us time to see, eat and tour places we'd never been. We finally went to the Cloisters museum up in Washington Heights, but not before dining at Bleu Evolution. The place makes their pasta in house, and really gets down on some soup, especially the Ribollita and French onion. Their gnocchi was outstanding, and though we had some trouble with the bill, we'll definitely be back next time. 

Tuesday, August 28, 2012

Summer Wins!

Hello, long lost readers. I'm traveling tomorrow, bound for Canada to meet my dearest friend's new baby girl and eat some Canadian fare, (look out Tim Horton's). Today, I'm gathering my druthers, my wool socks and the most notable dine-outs from the last two months to put together a catsup episode, so we can pretend I didn't fall out of your newsfeed for the last two months. Summer is distracting up here. There's really no time to sit down and write you delicious love letters every week.

We'll begin with my salad days. A period during which I only ate salad to combat an infection, it was a fresh, crunchy and lucid few days. The salad here pictured is a pile up of withering vegetable drawer elegance - nearly dead strawberries, bell pepper, cucumber, broccoli and a sprinkle of sunflower seeds. The process: mince a clove of garlic, some fresh fennel feathers, a half teaspoon of oregano, a shower of balsamic and a crank of pepper. Rough up your strawberries in the mixture and let it sit a while. The flavors will seep into the berries and exercise your patience, which is also good for infections. Add some bite sized roughage and get down.

I'm a fan of the home salad bar, because those moments of whimsical counter top invention can really turn my day around, but keeping those ingredients green can be a challenge. Luckily, just down the street is Cactus, a southwest kitchen with my new favorite, the watermelon salad. Available for a limited time at a snobby southwest kitchen near you, it's spending its lamentable last few days of summer making me its slave. Cactus adds watercress and radish, with small crumbles of cotija, and so far is my favorite. Be sure to try Poquito's version, with mint, jicama, zippy little slices of serrano and huge cubes of queso fresco. If you're bored with salad, their totally gorgeous patio can offer prime snob-watching, huge platters of tostadas and any number of ridiculous cocktails, like El Dude - the Mexican caucasian made with tequila and horchata. Yes, horchata. Did I mention they have fried grasshoppers? Something for everyone.

Cactus on Alki

Poquitos in Capitol Hill

Totally irrational suspicion of square watermelons.
Also impressive, Cafe Mox' spinach/prociutto/chickpea crouton salad. It paired well with a bright vinaigrette, a long game of Ticket to Ride, and just-right vanilla Italian soda.  

The Outsider's Bean Dip

It's the summer of salads, bright, sun-slathered patios at happy hour, and any taste of Texas I can get. One notable patio is deep in the dark recesses of The Outsider. When I wasn't resenting my waitress, I was enjoying the bountiful trellises, fiesta ware, and sharp decor. The bean dip was smooth and affordable,and when we'd finished the chips, the fried platanos took over. My friend had the rum punch, which was divine, but they'd just run out of it so I ordered a Moscow mule, which was a little weak, and when I asked the waitress to look into it she had nothing to offer, and then avoided me until she decided I was ready for the check.
"Is this thing on?"
Cool. I've avoided people before. And I understood when they tipped me accordingly. And the world goes 'round.

Sometimes you just have to pick yourself up, plant yourself in a booth at Skillet and pretend the check won't come if you just keep ordering cocktails, which is actually exactly the way things work. At happy hour, each drink is still about $10, but when they're pouring Tito's for a homesick Texan, money is a distant, laughable threat. Really though, do you know what they're doing over there? Cucumber, cilantro, and Tito's vodka with a splash of maraschino. Yea.

Bacon included.
Good. But then they drop the bacon bloody mary on you. What they call bacon is more of a sweet, smoky, brisket reduction, mashed together in a paste.  Throw in some olives, celery, capers and bacon, drown it in bloody mary, salt the rim with some fairy dust and you're there. You may be saying, YES, more bacon in everything or NO, I like my drinks with drinks in them. Fine. Dare I ask how you take your fries?
Let's talk about poutine, that monumental invention from, you guessed it, Canada. We've talked about it before, but none of that matters now. Because Skillet's gonna sit you down and make you some.

Hey, angel.

I could go on and on about Skillet, but you don't have time. They just opened up a satellite counter in Seattle Center so if you're allergic to Capitol Hill, you have some options. Also of note at Seattle Center is Pop Gourmet's new kiosk. Serving up our POPular gourmet flavors, (Chocolate Salted Caramel or Mumbai Delight, anyone?) it's the best way to get your popcorn fix without driving to Renton. What's that? You go to KuKuRuZa popcorn downtown? Well, if you want to fight Pike Market's overflow and look into the dead eyes of the girl working the counter there, by all means eat their inferior corn.

When it comes to sandwiches, Capitol Hill's Honey Hole has the lock down on the one spot with the most fool-proof $11 sandwich selection. Bill ordered the Waverider, delicious, yes, and I had the Fast Eddie, a stack of tri-tip steak, pepper jack, sauteed steak, grilled onions, sweet peppers and aioli. Just looking at the menu stirs this song up in my heart. So does tying my shoes, though. It's really an all-purpose number good for any occasion. Thank you, Mr. Penner.
Fast Eddie

Grilled Havarti at Norm's
Fremont has  Norm's Eatery & Alehouse. As we sat down I realized it was a dog bar, open to dogs, with occasional barking and dog business. I ordered the grilled havarti and veggie sandwich, which was good, but Bill's pastrami was better.The waiter was a total babe, kind of a rom com hottie with Hey Dude confidence, and while he wasn't tending bar served our table of seven with purpose and an easy smile. We ordered a few 40oz pbrs, the house specialty that formerly came to your table dressed in the traditional paper sack, but these days seems to have outgrown in kitchy presentation. Surely, it wasn't claiming to be practical. It doesn't keep your beer cold, shield your hand from unpleasant frost or hide the fact that you probably have another one waiting in the cooler in your friend's backseat. At Norm's, that backseat is under the bar and all you have to do is make eyes at the bartender and promise to pay another $3 to get one. Vicky, this place is for us.

A wedding (catered masterfully by Food Muse Inspirations) took us to Port Townsend, home to Washington's Best Sandwich, according to Food Network. They claim that Siren's Pub makes a grilled salmon sandwich to rival all other sammies in the state. Don't be fooled, savvy sammichers. This is just an oversized piece of good local salmon, grilled and seasoned with competence and placed on a demi baguette that won't fit in your mouth. The worst part? In trying to manage each bite you're in danger of dropping prized pieces of fish to the floor, which was my number one complaint. Each component of this sandwich was delicious, but needed to be resized and remarried. And for the record, NOT the best Washington has to offer. That sandwich deserves a post all its own, and will be featured here when I'm ready.
"...come and walk with us!
A pleasant walk, a pleasant talk...

Being a port, everywhere in P.T. has fresh seafood. Before we left Siren's Pub we had a round of Oyster shooters, available with or without pepper vodka, and they were the perfect farewell to our weekend getaway.

Looking back, my one regret is not getting the Salmon Chowder at Better Living Through Coffee, P.T.'s premier fundamentalist espresso bar. I enjoyed my kombucha, but the snickerdoodle tasted like pizza. It's the little things, right? See you soon!