Monday, June 16, 2008

A Love Letter to Lopez

No photo or recipe today (tomorrow, I promise), just musings on this past weekend. Our little family went to Lopez Island, one of the San Juan Islands in the northern part of Puget Sound. If you have never had the good fortune to visit these magical islands, you best put it on your to-do list.

Both my brothers and I were lucky enough to go to a heaven-on-earth place called Camp Nor'wester. In those days, it was all the way at the southern tip of Lopez and I think it shaped my life more than any other thing with the possible exception of my parents. Talk to just about anyone who went there and they will most likely say the same thing. Camp was rustic (we slept in teepees), cold (the lodge had an exposed wall), and perfect. My parents would come up to visit us and over time, fell in love with the island as much as we had.

In 1991, they purchased a little house on the island that looked right across the bay at camp. In the evening, across still water we could hear them singing after dinner, and we could always hear the meal bell. A few years later, the camp moved to a different island (another story for another day) but we still had our perfect little house. My parents made some nice improvements to it and bought two one-person kayaks. My dad and I had many slow and lovely paddles around that gentle bay and one day he said to me, "Dana, I think this is what heaven must look like.". My dad is agnostic to the core so still brings tears to my eyes to remember that statement - his love for that beauty is so deep, he might even entertain the idea of heaven.

Almost as soon as we met, Randy and I started going to stay at that little house over weekends. We met in late November, so our first journeys were in the winter. I had never spent any time there in the winter and those cold and dark days are some of my favorite that I have ever spent there. The island empites out in the winter to the 2000 or so year-round inhabitants and becomes a different, yet no less special place. The beaches are deserted, town no longer has more bicyclists than motorists, and everything just feels more peaceful and still.

Two of the most wonderful things about this island (and there are many many wonderful things) have to do with food. At least for me anyway. First of all, there is the kind of bakery that everyone wishes that they had in their neighborhood. Her name is Holly B, she named the bakery after herself, and you wish she was your relative, or at least your neighbor. Her heavenly bakery contains all kinds of perfect things. I say perfect because that is exactly what they are not - no confections that test the laws of gravity, or pastries that look too perfect to eat. Everything (and over the years, I have sampled just about everything) tastes like something baked with all natural ingredients, plenty of sugar when needed, and lots of love. You taste what you would taste if you were a really good home baker. She has one of the most wonderful cookbook available for purchase and it is a treasure. The recipe for Cowgirl Cookies alone is worth the price of the book.

Sadly, Holly B's is not open during the winter months but the other food treasure is. The Bay Cafe has long taken been my answer when people ask me about my favorite restaurant in Seattle. The problem is, it's not in Seattle. But it is the only place I can seem to come up with when a friend (or my husband) asks me where I want to eat. I have eaten there more times than any other place besides my own house, and I always marvel at the food.

Randy and I had some very memorable meals there over the course of our courtship and engagement (including the weekend that he proposed to me on Lopez, of course), so it only made sense that we should have our wedding reception there. We were married in a perfect little church and then took 30 of our family members and closest friends to dinner at the Bay. The sun was setting just as we arrived and really the whole thing could not have been more perfect. Uncharacteristically for me, I do not remember what we ate, but I do remember everyone loved it. We had such special people sharing that day, many of them had dined there before with us.

Our trip this past weekend was our first in two years. Last year our baby was just a few months old and I just couldn't summon the energy for the journey. It was so wonderful to be back and see that, apart from some minor business changes, everything looked the same. We decided to brave The Bay Cafe, even with our two little ones, because - how could we not?

One of the most wondeful things about the Bay is that all entrees include a soup of the day (which is always vegetarian), and a green salad. For me, this is huge because it guarantees that I am going to have multiple flavors in my meal - something so often missing in most of my dinners out. And the other most wonderful thing about the Bay is that there is usually a Vegetarian Tapas on the menu. This is always three separate plates of healthy sized portions of things that the chef decides to put together that day. So, stay with me on the math here, that means five different things to eat in one meal. Hip hip hooray!

To be truthful, Friday's dinner was a bit of a disappointment. The soup was a Cream of Cauliflower in which I tasted no cauliflower only Parmesan cheese. My baby ate my whole cup and half of Randy's. The salad had greens, salted cashews, strawberries, and a Wasabi Lime Vinaigrette. I tasted no wasabi or lime, just water from the not-dried-enough lettuce and my baby ate all of my (and all of Randy's) strawberries. And the tapas was three really disjointed things. A chickpea cake (which seemed to actually be made of black beans), a warm Israeli cous cous salad, and thin slices of golden beets with goat cheese sandwiched in between, topped with a lemony dressing. Each thing was fine, not great, but none of them went together. I only got one bite of the beets and the baby ate the rest of them. Beets!

All in all, it didn't matter. It was wonderful to be there and to know that that was our first dinner there as a family. We know we will be there countless times in the future. They better keep beets on the menu.

1 comment:

The Bay Cafe said...

I am really torn by your blog comment. It makes me happy and sad all at the same time to read your blog about The Bay Cafe. Happy as I have owned and been the chef for 13 years at The Bay Cafe and that your baby loved the food but sad that your food experience did not meet your expectations. We all have our treasures and special places in life with fond memories, and I can only hope that we can continue to be that tradition in yours. I truly value your comments and will look into this. I know exactly where you dined, and who you were, and I hope to make it up to you on your next visit. Thanks Daren