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The brand new restaurant, Book Bindery, may be hard to find in its nondescript warehouse space, but once found and entered, we realized why they had chosen the space. Huge windows allow gazing of the moonlit waterfront between Lower Queen Anne and Fremont. After a fabulous dinner, our server offered my husband and me a late night tour of the connected winery. We didn’t refuse.

We were lead through the climate controlled aging room, stacked with gorgeous new oak barrels filled with seventeen different types of wine. The combination of oak and grapes smelled of heaven. We were introduced to “Mike”, a guy in fleece and warm hat on a stool behind the counter. Turns out Mike is Mike Almquist, owner and wine maker of Almquist Family Vintners and also of Book Bindery. He offered us samples of his wines. I asked to try the Petit Syrah. “Liquid blackberry pie,” he said.

“No wonder I like Petit Syrah,” I said.

And he was right. Smooth and jammy and so easy to drink.

We tried several wines, all of them excellent, but his description of the Mourvedre as “crazy, hazelnut biscotti with a dash of white pepper” was the most unusual of them. His description was spot on, I especially enjoyed the pepper.

He opened the bins full of fermenting crushed grapes. “Take a sniff,” he said.

“And now smell this one.”

Two different yeasts created two very different aromas, and eventually, different wines.

He showed us the barrels where the wine ages.

They’re also distilling spirits. The copper stills were as pleasing as the spirits themselves.

Earl Grey Vodka, Shiso Vodka, Grappa, Ouzo, and Chocolate Hazelnut Vodka were a few of the one hundred laboratory-like bottles lining the shelves.  They were phenomenal. And how cool is Earl Grey or Shiso Vodka?

Mike showed us the stainless steel bottling machine.

And the labeling machine.

And then we got to put our noses to work for some more science experimenting. Labeled plastic cups with samples of various wines-in-the-making covered a couple of stainless steel barrels. Each was the result of a different try for the perfect wine.

The cups in the foreground are the “no’s”, the few in the background the “yes’s”, proof it’s work to find the right combination. We’re not experts but it was easy to detect the “Mmm” from the “Ick”.

If you’re in the neighborhood, stop in for a tour and sampling. I’d never heard of a winery in the city, but it makes perfect sense. Mike brings in the best grapes from Washington farmers to create the best wines. Have you had a desire to make your own wine? Almquist Family Vintners would love to guide you through the process. Make your own special blend and bottle it for your friends!

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Cooking school in Japan: main courses

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The morning after the indulgent dinner, we soaked one more time in the hot springs baths and met up again with Bill and Masami for breakfast.

After days of sampling countless exotic Japanese offerings, Brian and I didn’t pass up the offer of an American style breakfast.

They started us off with an onion topped salad.

And moved on to assorted breads, scrambled eggs, bacon and sausage and a lovely fruit plate.

  

Comforting, but downright boring compared to the Japanese breakfast.

The Japanese breakfast started with umeboshi, or pickled plums.

Which was followed up by all these dishes:

  

   

And this:

Salted and fermented squid guts.

Known as Shiokara, it’s considered an acquired taste, even to the Japanese. This morning I didn’t have the stomach to sample it.

But as you can see, we had no trouble polishing off everything else.

Stuffed again.

This post is part of wanderfood wednesday. Check out the other food and travel posts!

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Cooking school in Japan: main courses

Auto shopping, island style

When Brian and I were in Tokyo, we snuck away with our business partner, Bill, and his partner Masami, to an onsen.

An onsen is a Japanese inn and hot spring. The volcanic archipelago of islands that make up Japan are covered in naturally occurring hot springs and onsens are popular among the Japanese. They vary from simple to luxurious in accommodation.

We visited Sekiyou, an hour outside of Tokyo by way of bullet train and short taxi ride that winds up a lush mountain while monkeys watch from the roadside. A grandmotherly hostess showed us to our sparse and spacious eight tatami mat room complete with it’s own wooden soaking tub, then handed us kimonos and waited while we changed.

 

Bill and Masami gave us the low down on how the baths worked. There were two separate baths, one for men and one for women.

 

Guests always scrub up before immersing in the steamy water. Washing stations line the wall with short wooden stools and detachable sprayers.

I was thankful no one was using the bath when I, the uninitiated, entered and clumsily sprayed myself down at the washing station, not sure just how much scrubbing was expected. The hot springs bath was outdoors, surrounded by dense shrubbery but with a view of misty mountains in the background.

Soaking was lovely.

We met up with Bill and Masami in their room later for dinner, which was delivered one course at a time by a hostess in traditional formal wear. 

The menu.

First course is served to Masami and Bill.

Kanpai!

Sashimi.

Eel

Broth with clams and sugar snap peas

   

Beef with farro and fiddlehead ferns and mountain vegetable

Jellyfish and mushrooms

More.

Ending with citron gelatin and a mochi covered in roasted soybean dust.

The food was amazing. I was blown away by the detail and time and care required to prepare every single dish. Unfortunately, we didn’t take the best of notes. I’ll blame it on the unusual setting, or maybe it was the sake or shochu (a spirit distilled from rice), or beer.

Later when we returned to our room, futons were unrolled on the floor and beds made up.

Just as we started to settle in, our hostess let herself in, offering to help us get ready for bed.  We bowed in thanks and shooed her toward the door.

We considered sliding the futons together to make one bigger bed, to sleep together like we usually did. But we thought better of it. Not at the onsen.

Check back next week for details about breakfast.

Head over to Wanderfood Wednesday for more travel and food stories!

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Urban Tokyo goes rural

We started the morning in the desert. At noon, it was 108 degrees. We drove through a field of pumpjacks drilling for oil, past agricultural fields where open topped trucks were loaded with loose cherries, through vineyards with workers handpicking grapes, all the way to the chilly coast before the sun set. 

It was the road sign on California’s Pacific Coast Highway alerting us of elephant seals at Piedras Blancas that made me hang an immediate left turn. It may have been the best impulse stop of the entire trip.

The seals were so close!  We watched one use the force of the incoming waves to wash its heavy, awkward body back to shore.

   

Until finally it made it.

Signs gave further information about elephant seals.

And then the sun went down. 

So thankful we have places to keep the wild, wild.

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We spotted the Ford Ranger from the ferry. 

Its turquoise color matched the sea.

The truck’s owner hurried toward us. “Good morning, you must be Brian and Nicole, and you are the children, and you, the brother!” Herb said. His wife, Ilene, hugged us. 

“Wow, the truck is outfitted just like ours,” Brian said. 

“Is that right?” asked Herb. “Shall we go back to our place to discuss the sale?”

“I’ve made some sandwiches and juice,” said Ilene. 

Shouldn’t we just discuss the purchase here? Take it for a test drive? I wondered. Brian shrugged.

We loaded into the back, riding on the bench seats under the canopy, just like we had done in our rusted out truck.

At their home, we snacked and admired photos of Herb and Ilene’s grandchildren. Two hours later I suggested we look at the truck. 

Brian inspected for rust and finally the modest price was revealed.  We accepted without negotiation.

Spirits were high. “Have you seen all of Bequia?” Herb asked.

Well, no we hadn’t.

The sun sank low before we were dropped back at the ferry dock. Herb would deliver the truck to Kingstown next week. They watched us board and searched us out on deck and waved as we sailed away.

The next day, there was a phone message. “Brian, I’ve been thinking. Considering the cracked windscreen, the price seems too high. I’m going to lower it by $300.”

I listened to the message three times to make sure I’d heard right.

This post has been entered in the Grantourismo HomeAway Holiday-Rentals travel blogging competition.

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And worked up their nerve…

For this!

Can a day get much better?

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Flowers, anyone?

The neighborhood where we live in Seattle is reputed to be one of the most culturally diverse in the United States. 30% of the residents of Rainier Valley were born outside the United States and 59 native languages are spoken.

That bodes well for those who like to explore cuisines from around the world.

Last week, my daughter and I visited Dahlak, an Eritrean restaurant.

What the restaurant lacks in exterior aesthetics, it makes up for in the kitchen which prides itself on cooking everything fresh daily.

Instead of using utensils, food is picked up with torn off pieces of injera, a spongy, tangy, giant crepe-like bread, made from a North African grain called teff, and/or wheat and barley.

My daughter and I ordered the Vegetable Combo. We were delivered a platter lined with injera which held a curried mixture of potatoes, cabbage and carrots, a lettuce and tomato salad, and sauteed mustard greens. 

Remy dipped a piece of injera into her favorite, pureed chickpeas and spices.

The delicious stews bubbled in the clay pot while oil burned below to keep them warm. The chickpeas were fantastic, but we eagerly gobbled up the red lentils, okra with greens, and spicy beans as well.

Also popular at Dahlak is Kitfo, Eritrea’s version of Steak Tartare. Raw ground steak comes drizzled with hot butter and berbere, a spice mixture including coriander, cardamom, ginger, fenugreek and chile, and served with a pot of cheese. Reportedly, this is to die for.

I’ll have to bring my husband back to try it.

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Often, when I talk about my and Brian’s experience operating the resort, I say it was an emotional rollercoaster. And I say it with a twinge of affection.

So when the fair came to town last month and I found myself sort of dreading it, I started to wonder, did I really have a fondness for emotional rollercoasters but not amusement park rollercoasters? Maybe I only thought I didn’t like real rollercoasters.

   

My kids, on the other hand, waited with great impatience for the fair to arrive.  So I took them, with my own agenda to find answers. I rode some rollercoasters. Every time the ride started to move, I’d start to laugh, while my mind was consumed with, “How long until it’s over?”

“Hahahaha, How long until it’s over?”

“Hahahaha, How long until it’s over?”

And then it was over. And I was glad. And I had no desire to ride another.

I’ll admit I didn’t care for the lowest points in the emotional rollercoaster of life at Petit Byahaut. I especially didn’t like the day that I was waiting with my toddler son for a boat ride back to Petit Byahaut in our neighboring village and a staff member with a criminal record of MURDER unleashed a tirade against me while the villagers observed in silence. That was a bad day.

The downward spiral went pretty low for Brian too, so much so that I saw a side to him I’d never before seen, with much anger, all directed at me. That was a bad day too, for both of us. Afterward, we blamed it on the abundance of steroids he was prescribed to rid himself of a craze-inducing painful rash he acquired in the bush. 

My husband does not hold the same affection as I for emotional rollercoasters.

But without those low points, the high points might not have been so high either. An afternoon swim with our family might have been just that, an afternoon swim.

Instead, an afternoon swim was paddling out to the big wooden pirogue moored in the bay with Simon riding on my back, he climbing into the boat and delighting in discovering he could move water through the hand operated bilge pump,  jumping off the boat into the warm sea over and over, Brian and Remy turning somersaults at the water’s surface while a whole world lived beneath us. It was diving down to the bottom, and seeing the look in our five year old daughter’s goggled eyes as we marveled at an octopus.

Those moments made up for it.

So why did I like emotional rollercoasters but not amusement park rollercoasters?

At Petit Byahaut, there was no picking and choosing the rides. We didn’t debate over whether to have lunch or ride The Inverter. There was no discussion over whether to try to win a giant stuffed animal or hop on the Super Loop. It just happened, in whatever way it was going to happen.

And I noticed the local people around me were living that way too. Their highs were possibly different than mine, but their lows and struggles made them live to the fullest in that very moment. They noticed their surroundings, their company, their emotions.

I decided it was living in its rawest form. Extreme Living. Primeval. Instinctual. Survival. There was no autopilot.

And I guess I liked it.

What about you? Do you love rollercoasters or hate them, emotional or physical?

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Fishermen throw their nets out on the lake,

And they soon have their catch.

Women wash laundry on concrete tables set up in the water, 

But the beach is not theirs alone.

Cooling off (and often bathing) is done in the lake,

And friendships are easily made with the locals.

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We tried to order a mojito but there was no mint, we were told. We asked if they could make a naranjita, but there was no rum.  A margarita? Nope, no tequila.

“What could you make?” Brian asked.

“We can make a caipirinha,” our waiter said confidently.

It had been a big day. We’d ridden a ferry across one of the largest lakes in all of Central America, Lago Colcibolca, to Ometepe, the island throned with not one, but two volcanos.

We’d wandered the beach

Walked nearby trails

Even found monkeys

And we’d watched the sun set

Dinner was Creole fish and sirloin steaks and pastas, all were fine but unremarkable.

But the caipirinhas? We were fortunate the lodge was out of everything else. The caipirinha became Brian’s cocktail of choice the remainder of the trip. Hailing from Brazil, caipirinhas are made from cachaca, a spirit made from fermented and distilled sugar cane juice, and lime and sugar. If you don’t mind your cocktails strong, you’ll find it especially refreshing in the tropics.

Caipirinha

2 oz. cachaca

4 small key limes

2 tsp. sugar

Cut limes into wedges and place in an old fashioned glass. Sprinkle sugar over wedges and muddle the flavors together. Fill glass with ice and pour in cachaca. Mix well.

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