Friday, August 27, 2010

A Different Perspective

Welcome to my neighborhood, Alki Beach, located at the north end of West Seattle. It is a wonderful place to live, just minutes from downtown Seattle, yet offering the relaxed atmosphere of a beach community. Nearly every day, weather permitting, I walk along the beach and enjoy the ever changing views of sky, water, islands and mountains. Sunny, stormy, placid, moody, always dramatic - I never get tired of the remarkable scenery here.
This is the view from here: the bike path and walking trail in the foreground; the waters of Puget Sound just past the beach; beyond that you see Bainbridge Island; and above it all, the snow-capped Olympic Mountains. If you look closely, you can see a white Washington state ferry in the distance, making the crossing between Bainbridge and downtown Seattle.
I watch these ferries go by every day and pretty much take them for granted. I realized the other day that it had been years since I'd been on one. I decided it was high time to take a little day trip and get a different view of my neighborhood and city - a view from the water.

On Tuesday, I left my house around noon, headed for Coleman Dock in downtown Seattle, hoping to catch the 1:10 boat to Bainbridge. I was surprised and delighted to find that on a sunny, August day, during the height of tourist season, there were short lines at the terminal. I bought my ticket, took my place in the loading area and within a few minutes I was on board and underway.
This ferry, the Tacoma, is one of the largest in the Washington state ferry fleet. It can carry up to 2500 passengers and 200 vehicles. It dwarfs everything else on the water, except for the jumbo cruise ships that operate in summer, carrying passengers to Alaska. It takes about 30 minutes to make the crossing to Bainbridge, which leaves plenty of time to get out of the car and go upstairs to the observation decks for a look around.
There's no better way to view the waterfront than from, well, the waterfront. Here's part of that sweeping view, looking north. You can see the Space Needle in the distance.
Looking even further north, on a very clear day like this, you can see Mt. Baker. This mountain which is part of the Cascade range, is located near the Canadian border.

Arriving at Bainbridge Island, the ferry docks in the little town of Winslow. I got off and headed into the picturesque downtown area to look around and get some lunch.

[Afterward, I stopped at Eagle Harbor Books and bought a copy of their paperback, "From Bad to Verse: Celebrating Three Years of Bainbridge Island Limericks." This book is a compilation of limericks that have been winners in an annual contest sponsored by the bookstore. Being a lover of limericks myself, I had to have a copy. And after sharing the story of my 50th birthday limerick party with members of the bookstore staff, I was encouraged to enter next year's contest. Woohoo! What fun.]

From there, it was back to the car to go check out the views from the southern tip of the island. I have been to the north end many times, mostly to visit Bloedel Reserve, an extraordinary public garden. But this time, I wanted to see my neighborhood from the point of view of being across the water from my daily walks. I left Winslow, and having forgotten to bring a map, I figured I'd just turn left (south) and somehow find my way. And so I did, winding through miles of woods, acres of green, cool and soothing on a hot day. When I came, literally, to the end of the road, I found what I came for -- the view was stunning!
To the left, I could see the low outline of West Seattle. To the right, Blake Island. And straight ahead, in all her glory, magnificent Mt. Rainier. On a different day, I would expect to see West Seattle and Blake Island, but the mountain is elusive. We can go days, often weeks, without a view of it because of weather conditions. Although I've seen Rainier hundreds of times, it is surprisingly easy to forget how big, and how majestic, it is. So when, as we say around here, "the mountain is out," we locals can be just as awestruck as people seeing it for the first time. I stood for a while, taking it all in, feeling like one of the luckiest people on the planet: grateful for the day, for the view, for being in the Northwest and for having the opportunity to hop on a ferry and have this experience. At last, my eyes were full and it was time to head back to the ferry for the trip home.

I arrived at the terminal around 4:30 and again had just a short wait to board. As we are approaching autumn, the days are shorter and the light in late afternoon makes for good photography, so once we were underway, I went up top for more views and photo opportunities.
In a few minutes, we were alongside my Alki Beach neighborhood, the very top of Mt. Rainier visible above the bluff. Nearly every day, from somewhere along that stretch of beach, I look out and see a ferry. On this day, I'm riding a ferry, looking back the other way.
Moments later, we were back in downtown Seattle. Passengers disembarked and we all went our separate ways. As I drove along the beach on my way home, I looked back across the water at the island I'd just left. My splendid, unhurried little getaway had only taken a few hours. But it gave me a fresh perspective on the geography surrounding my neighborhood. As a bonus, I am sure I will never forget the view from the southern tip of Bainbridge Island.

Related post:

An R-Rated Botanical Limerick

Sunday, August 22, 2010

Quinoa Tabbouleh

I was never a fan of tabbouleh until about a dozen years ago when I discovered a grain-like plant food called quinoa (pronounced KEEN-wah). Up until that time, I had only had this dish made with bulgur wheat which, to me, is unpleasantly coarse textured and hard to digest. As my friend Star says, remembering meals she ate back in her Outward Bound days, "Bulgur is vulgar." I agree.

Quinoa is very nutritious. It is high in protein (12 - 18%) and, unlike most plant foods, the protein is complete, meaning that it contains a full set of essential amino acids. This makes quinoa a good meat substitute. Proteins found in meat, fish and dairy products are complete, but to get complete protein in vegetarian diets, it is usually necessary to combine two or more plant foods to get the full range of amino acids. The classic combination of beans and rice serves this purpose.

Quinoa is also a good source of fiber, folate, magnesium and phosphorus. It is gluten-free and easy to digest.

Best of all, quinoa tastes good. It has a light, nutty flavor. I know that some people complain that it is bitter, but that doesn't have to be the case. Before cooking, simply measure out the amount of quinoa you are going to use, put it into a sieve and rinse thoroughly with cold, running water. This will remove the bitter coating that clings to the grains. Even though most of the quinoa you buy has been rinsed, I've found that it will still taste bitter unless I rinse it again. So don't skip this important step.

Quinoa used to be difficult to find in stores, but is becoming more available. I buy it in bulk at my local PCC store in Seattle. Most natural food stores carry it, as does Amazon.

Quinoa tabbouleh is one of my favorite dishes in summer. This time of year the herbs in my garden are at their best and I have lots of fresh cherry tomatoes. The combination of flavors is refreshing and even though it is a light dish, it contains enough protein to be very satisfying.

Quinoa Tabbouleh

2 cups quinoa, rinsed and drained
4 cups vegetable broth or bouillon
4 green onions, thinly sliced
1/2 cup finely chopped parsley
2-3 Tbs. chopped mint
2-3 Tbs. chopped cilantro
Juice of two to three ripe lemons
4 Tbs extra virgin olive oil
1/4 cup toasted pine nuts or chopped walnuts
15-20 cherry tomatoes, sliced in half
Salt, if needed

Pre-heat a large stainless steel or non-stick saute or frying pan on medium heat. Add rinsed quinoa and let the heat from the pan dry it out, stirring often to keep from sticking.

When the quinoa is dry and starting to get toasty, add the vegetable broth. Bring to a boil, then turn down the heat so the mixture simmers, uncovered. It will take about 20-25 minutes for the quinoa to cook and absorb the liquid. When it is done, you will see that the grains have expanded, forming tiny corkscrew shapes.

While the quinoa is cooking, slice the onions and tomatoes, and chop the herbs. Toast the nuts, using whatever method you prefer. I put them into a shallow pan and "bake" them in my oven set at about 325°. I stir occasionally, and let them toast slowly - I've burned far too many batches trying to use the broiler. Some people like to toast nuts in a skillet on the stovetop over medium heat, shaking often to keep them from sticking and/or burning.

When the quinoa is done, transfer to a large bowl and add the remaining ingredients, except for the tomatoes and nuts. (They get soggy during storage.) Refrigerate. When you are ready to eat, top each serving with nuts and tomatoes. Leftovers keep well in the refrigerator for a day or two at least - if they last that long. They never do at my house.