Island Eats: Losing our local watering hole

Some of the challenges of moving from the city to a PNW island is that restaurants close generally by 8 or 9 p.m., you are out of luck if you yearn for delivery and, at least on the South end of Whidbey Island, it’s nearly impossible to find an open eatery on a Monday.

And if you live in Greenbank and need groceries or a dining option you are limited.

Yes, island life struggles, I know.

When we chose our place in Greenbank it was nice to know there was the Greenbank Store which provided a deli and basic groceries and the Greenbank Grille and Bar upstairs. Just a mile from our house, both establishments offered amenities with no need to go to Freeland or Coupeville for necessities or a cocktail.

This Sunday the Greenbank Store & Grille closed. While the store itself plans to remain open until December 24, that’s contingent upon how much remains in stock.

I feel bad I didn’t write about the Greenbank Grille earlier, but wanted to honor it with a quick post.

The Greenbank Store & Grille has been operated successfully by a local couple, Brian and Nancy Cedars, for 6 years, although the structure has been “Serving Man & Beast since 1904.”

A few months ago the Coupe Family who owned the property started negotiating its sale. We learned a few weeks ago that a couple who owns Duck Duck Goose Farm in Freeland purchased the property. Quite a lot of repairs need to be completed in the building, so they’ve decided to close the establishment for the next 6 months or so to tackle that before gaining momentum of a new business.

Until now, there were only two restaurants available to us in Greenbank, and only one of those served dinner, otherwise its a 10-15 minute or more drive to the nearest establishment. I know, I know, that’s not far to drive but when there is 10 minutes of nothing-ish between Point A and B, it feels longer.

The Grille which was located upstairs from the general store always had great food. The burger, the Reuben, the pasta carbonara, it was hard to go wrong with whatever you ordered.

We could usually get a seat at the bar, our preferred seating so we could mingle with locals coming and going. That’s important when you live in a rural area. And if there weren’t any random seats at the bar, Kurt, the resident bartender, always asked patrons to slide down to make room. I’ve never seen that happen in Dallas, or anywhere else for that matter.

It’s one of the bonuses of small town living.

The Grille closed on Sunday, but tonight, craving their carbonara, is the first time I’m feeling its absence. In the year and a half that we’ve lived here, weeks and even a month or so would go by without bellying up to the bar at the Greenbank Grille, but we relied on its convenience.

While they didn’t deliver, it was only a 1 mile drive to grab to-go food if I wasn’t feeling social. If the restaurant was closed the store always had eggs and milk for breakfast, deli sandwiches available for lunch or frozen pizzas for dinner when we were in a pinch. And we didn’t do those things crazy often, but just knowing the options were there was comforting.

Not having The Greenbank Store & Grille this winter will probably be difficult, but I’m looking for the silver lining, like, saving my liver and saving money from eating out. After all, we are currently getting beautiful veggies from our winter CSA each week, at least until January.

The Greenbank Store & Grille will be missed but I’m looking forward to seeing what the new owners unveil. Just one more reason to look forward to our next PNW summer.

Eating, learning on local seasonal fare with a winter CSA

While we still have some beets, carrots and chard in our own garden, I joined Farmer Georgie’s CSA at Willowood Farm. By supporting this farmer’s fare, I figured not only would we be well supplied in local veggies for the rest of the year but perhaps I could learn more about what grows well here. I want to learn how I can better rotate our own garden, so this winter CSA is just a little education, and a tasty one.

Our first box was for Thanksgiving and it was filled with beautiful Brussels sprouts, greens, carrots and more. Each box also provides a different dried bean: Vermont Cranberry, Black Turtle, and Teggia to name a few and almost more veggies the two of us can consume. But with fall come squash and root veggies which also have a longer shelf life, so waste is less likely.

As this was the first year we had our garden, I chose not to participate in Prairie Bottom Farm’s CSA which was a mistake as we didn’t have veggies come up for a while. We did supplement with what was available at the farmer’s market, but there’s something about driving out to the farm to pick up your locally grown vegetables for the week. Sometimes you chat with other share holders or the farmer’s themselves and that strengthens the feeling of community and for me, reminds me why leaving the city was the right move for us.

Being part of a CSA also makes cooking more impromptu. I used to be a stickler for planning a menu and shopping each week for the necessary items. Now I wait to see what is in our garden or in our CSA box and plan from there. We find ourselves spending less time in the grocery store and more time outside which is a bonus.

And let’s face it, who the hell enjoys that weekly grocery store run? No one, my friend, no one.

This morning I woke up to my husband’s impromptu meal: a beautiful breakfast salad with lettuce from Willowood Farm, eggs from our own chickens and bacon from Ferndale, not far north of here.

Lessons in eating seasonally and locally are so delicious.

Trail Talk: Kettle Trails

I’ve mentioned how the PNW fall is dark and wet. As we get closer to December we lose daylight fast. Right now the sun sets around 4:20ish but soon we’ll be experiencing darkness at 4 p.m.

For some this is tough: the rain, cold and darkness causes Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD). For me, I overall I don’t mind this weather. I really love the rain. But I do have my ups and downs this time of year, but the key to beating SAD is getting out in all the mess.

Coming out of the plentiful turkey, thankful and glutinous holiday that is Thanksgiving, taking a good rainy forest bath proved more important than ever. I’ve been eating and drinking my way through the past four days and a walk in the woods was exactly what I needed. Rain or shine.

So we packed ourselves some turkey sandwiches and headed toward Coupeville where The Kettles reside. We were hoping to do the Island County side of the trails, but when we saw the signs that we needed to wear orange, we decided to head a bit further down the road to the Washington State Park side. We had on bright clothing but didn’t want to risk getting in front of a stray bullet.

We started at the Watertower Trail this time which leads you to an old water tower structure….sans water. Even though we started several hours before sundown, the trail which is crowded with firs, already seemed dark.

From Watertower we headed a short way down Princess Run and then Shepherds Crook which takes you seemingly to the bottom of the forest floor. Unless you look at the map, you wouldn’t know that other tails loom overhead.

We witnessed lots of debris and downed trees that we had to climb over. All results of the several severe wind storms here on the island.

After our recent mushroom walk and now armed with our new David Arora mushroom field guide, we searched for Chanterelles, but only found one cluster of mushrooms we weren’t able to identify. We figured perhaps most mushrooms had been hidden by the wind storm debris. I was super antsy so, honestly, I wasn’t interested in doing a deep search or identification unless the looked like something truly edible.

We headed down the Campground Trail which lead us closer to the Bluff Trail where the Ft. Ebey Gun Battery resides. That Bluff Trail, while one of my favorites, wasn’t on the list today. Too much exposure and too cloudy to take in a view of the Olympics.

The rain seemed to hold off most of the afternoon until we hit the edge of the Bluff Trail and then it started to pour. We took our time on the trail checking for mushrooms, taking sips of water here and there and just soaking in the fresh air and the canopy of trees above us. But darkness was coming quickly and under all those trees it seemed like we weren’t getting off the trail before sunset.

We got a little turned around and realized we were headed into Island County deer hunting country and had to reroute. We had a picture of the map in our phones which I highly recommend as the Kettles have all kinds of twists and turns and one trails sound similar (Cedar Hollow v. Cedar Grove).

After missing the return trail we found the park road and just took it back to our truck. I’d much rather had finished our hike in the forest, but it was after 4 p.m. and darkness was setting in.

We arrived bed home soaked but satisfied from our 4 mile hike. We’re already discussing hiking plans for next weekend.

Island Eats: Noshing on noodles

My concept of distance has changed since moving from Dallas where it used to take 20-30 minutes to get to our most convenient haunts. 

Living in the middle of Whidbey, also requires at least ten if not 20-30 minutes to get to a grocery store or restaurant. The bonus is that time isn’t spent sitting in bumper to bumper traffic or inching toward that annoying stoplight that doesn’t stay green long enough. 

But some days, traveling down the long, quiet State Route 525 makes the distance between point A and B feel longer…especially on a fall day when the majestic Cascades and Olympics are hidden behind the cloudy darkness.

In the cold, cloudy and dark I crave noodles. I crave Island Nosh. And so I make the 16 mile, 21 minute drive.

This little Clinton noodle cafe located just up the hill from the ferry terminal offers udon, ramen and curry all four seasons. Not interested in Asian fare? Then check out the Creamy Cavatapi or Crab Mac & Cheese.

In Dallas, I had a love affair with pho (sometimes traveling 45 minutes for a bowl of comfort goodness) so when dining at Nosh I tend to sway between the ramen or the udon. Either way, Island Nosh fills my belly with pure steamy noodle happiness. 

Today I needed a little extra comfort after a long work day that started at 6 a.m. to meet with east coast clients. Eight hours later, I’m worn down, and that protein shake that happened before my first call was long gone. My stomach was screaming for something hearty as well as healthy.

One Udon Bowl please. With a glass of Rousanne

After all, it’s Thursday.

Within a few more minutes a bowl filled with an aromatic broth, flank steak, sweet potatoes, mushrooms, jalapeños and chewy udon noodles arrived. I smelled the savory steam before tearing open the chop sticks.

No matter how hungry you are, you really should take time to take in all the flavors. The udon offers instant comfort as I unapologetically slurp. 

The noodles really are the main feature here. But don’t take for granted the spice from the jalapeños and the slight sweetness from the potatoes…their complimentary flavors and texture work well with the flank steak which is nestled into the dish.

Yes, Island Nosh is well worth the drive.

Biology lessons on the trail

The woods are full of food and I’m just starting to learn a little about foraging in the Pacific Northwest. In the spring there’s nettles, dandelion and sumac and in the damp fall and winter: mushrooms.

Mycelium with fruit.

Yesterday we reaped the benefits of a raffle win from a Slow Food/South Whidbey Tilth benefit and joined Ida Gianopulos for a guided mushroom walk. We thought we’d be searching for edible mushrooms but we got so much more in terms of a biology lesson on local fungi.

Wandering through the towering cedars, firs and alders of Saratoga Woods just outside Langley, Ida taught us about the network of fungi that spread out just beneath our feet along the forest floor. A few feet in we gathered around a rotting tree trunk teaming with mycelium, the vegetative part of a fungus, along with the fruit it produces, the mushroom. According to our guide, it’s rare to see this in such mass quantities out on the open, normally we only see the mushrooms produced by this sort of decomposing work.

Whether in the kitchen or in the woods, I’ve always loved the mushroom. When my friend Jen and I get opportunities for hikes we love taking pictures of our fungi finds. Our guided hike yielded all kinds of great images, but with Ida’s knowledge we now had names for some of our favorites: witches jelly, red belted polypore, elfin saddle, slippery jack, shaggy parasol, zellers bolete, artists conch, and, the favorite and currently elusive, chanterelles.

Our walk provided a tactical experience too. Some fungi were spongy while others were slimy or crisp. And upon a closer look at each sample we viewed, not all mushrooms had spines or gills. Some, like the slippery jack and zellers bolete had pores and some had tiny teeth under their cap. The artists conch’s spores scratched off easily allowing writing or designs to be drawn under the cap.

“Is it poisonous? Will we die if we eat it?”

I asked this question a lot. Ida recommended that if we planned to forage mushrooms on our own we should use a field guide by American mycologist, David Arora.

The zellers bolete were plentiful along the forest floor. Ida recommended that we take some home to taste test as these were not poisonous. A tell-tale sign she shared was if the mushroom turned blue when scarred, could mean it’s not the best culinary choice. Boletes we were told won’t kill you if you find the wrong kind, but could make your tummy rather unhappy.

We also found some shaggy parasols which we plan to try tonight. So much food availability simply sitting on the forest floor. It was amazing how much we saw as our guide opened our eyes to what is available.

We learned how to identify yellow and winter chanterelles and even found two…. one however had been nibbled on by a forest local. We also learned how to find oyster mushroom which normally grow on alders. We found one large one but it was too far from reach.

Foraging problems.

My husband began getting excited about what mushrooms we could possibly forage from the dense woods on our own property. I kept asking how to keep us from dying.

New forager fears.

As we dive into foraging territory we are so thankful we had a a couple of hours of Ida’s guidance. Looks like we will be purchasing some of Arora’s publications, especially his pocket field guide.

Love shrooms too? Check out photos from our walk on Instagram @LifeintheSound.

Relief from rain and darkness 

After a dry September we welcomed the weeks of rain that October brought us. Wild fires raged to the north and south of us and the crispy grass around our property made us uneasy. After just a few days of rain though, the brown landscape began to turn lush again.

And then we began to lose daylight.

Last year the lack of light didn’t bother me, perhaps because I was still in my PNW honeymoon period. This year I’m finding it difficult to get up in the mornings. I haven’t even been to my Master Swim class since September. Some of that is related to east coast work meetings, but honestly, I can’t blame east coast clients for missing all of October.

It’s hard to get motivated on dark mornings. Add rain to the mix and I just want to snuggle deeper under the covers.

The past week however, we’ve had a reprieve. The mornings are still dark and days are still shrinking, but we’ve had sun and relatively warm weather. Saturday gave us clear skies and 60 degrees which made for a beautiful Ebey Bluff to Beach hike. I even took of my shoes and soaked my feet in the Sound.

Yesterday afternoon we enjoyed a hike in South Whidbey State Park. The setting sun filtering through the branches of the towering Cedars released the stress from the long day of work. This is why we moved here: to be more active than an hour at a gym in a city allows, to be outside, to breathe clean air….to explore. I’m reminded that I need these forest baths possibly more often in the fall and winter.

Hikes have been less muddy and the recent sunny skies have helped me adjust to adding layers when I head outside. Perhaps Mother Nature is showing some kindness in my second PNW year….easing me into the wet winter and reminding me she has treasures even when skies are dark and stormy.

In the Kitchen: Beets and Carrots

I’ve shared that we have a lot of carrots and beets coming up. We are eating them nearly every day.

The beets I love to roast, but I also love to braise them with the greens. Braising beets brings out their sweetness and compliment the slight bitterness in the greens. With that said I’ve also roasted the beets and reserved the greens to sauté.

My point? Don’t scrap those luscious beer tops. While I do share them occasionally with the chickens, I love adding them to my own meal.

Carrots find their way in my salad but my hands down favorite way to eat them is roasted in olive oil, salt, pepper and chopped garlic and finished with a drizzle of Lemon-Tahini dressing. I’ve been known to eat only this for lunch or dinner.

If you haven’t had the pleasure of dining on these roasted and braised delights, well, make a plan.

You can find the Lemon-Tahini Dressing here at Oh She Glows and I’ve placed the Braised Beets recipe below, compliments of Prairie Bottom Farm.

While the recipe calls for baby beets, which do work best, I’ve been successful with adult beets too.

Braised Baby Beets and Greens

1/4 cup butter

1 bunch whole baby beets with their greens, (washed well and patted dry)

1 cup chicken broth or  chicken stock

1 tbsp chopped fresh mint

1 tbsp cider vinegar

Melt butter in a skillet over a moderate flame. When it froths, neatly place beet thinnings into the skillet so that all the root tips rest in one direct and the greens in the other. Sear in butter until the greens are wilted. Pour 1 cup chicken broth or chicken stock into the skillet, cover, and simmer until roots become tender – about ten minutes.

Turn off the heat and transfer the beets to a serving dish using tongs. For best presentation, lay the beets together so that all the beetroots rest at one end of the serving dish with the greens resting at the other. Sprinkle with fresh chopped mint and dress with cider vinegar.

Chickens in the garden

Fall has arrived with its rainy vengeance and I’m beginning to pull a regular harvest of what remains in the garden.

This week I focused on the beets and carrots. Well, with the amount we planted, I’ll be focusing on them every week, but I’m not complaining.

What, you mean I have to eat rainbow carrots and beets from my garden each week? Yes please.

Being new to this backyard farming gig we created for ourselves, we didn’t fully embrace the concept of thinning the carrots. The result has been a lot of baby carrots and small beets, but we’ve still ended up with some nice beauties of both.

As the chicken run has been pretty soggy, I’ve been letting the chickens join me when I’m digging around in the garden. Grass is limited in the large run space which is something we are looking to remedy in time, but as we complete the harvest we’ll start letting the ladies graze, till up the garden, and hunt for worms.

While I miss Jackson, I have to say it’s been nice to only have hens. They are excited to see me each day and as I dig in the garden, they waddle over to investigate what I’ve found. Trying to keep them from eating the kale, chard and bok choy is a challenge, but who can blame them. Those greens are delicious.

Chicken math explained

Chicken math is well known among those who raise these birds. For most of us, something happens after you’ve watched your brand new chicks grow to pullets. The amount of chickens you intend to get doesn’t seem to be enough.

Then we meet other Chicken owners.

“Ooooooo your Black Copper Maran is beautiful.”

“I want to have some Silkies too!”

That’s how it starts for most I imagine.

For us, in March we started with 19 chicks. Ten Buff Orpingtons, five Welsummers (all female) ordered from the hatchery and four additional wild cards from the local farm store: Americauna and Mottled Java breeds,

A few Buffs didn’t make it shortly after arrival and the rest of the Buffs, except for one, turned out to be roosters instead of hens.

Our first time raising chickens has been interesting.

I tried keeping a rooster, Jackson. I adored him. I would bring my camping chair into the run and he’d come along and sit in my lap. By the time he reached 6 months, he was a jackass. I was attacked everyday. And while I know he was doing his job, protecting his ladies, I grew tired of our daily dance.

I still have a day job and I currently don’t have the capacity to manage a flock, three dogs, a stressful job and a rooster who couldn’t wait to kick my ass everyday.

He had to go.

So I posted him on Whidbey Island Backyard Farmers Facebook Page and hoped for the best.

Last week, I had a taker. She needed a rooster for her 30 hens, now we just had to catch him without injuring him our ourselves.

It took two days, about three pounds of sunflower seeds, a sheet and my husband’s capturing skills before we could secure him for travel. Within a few hours, Jackson was on his way to a larger haram. Far more than what he deserved, but honestly, I was happy he didn’t end up as Coq au Vin.

A few days later and I find myself scrolling through the Backyard Farmers Facebook page. People were downsizing and trying to find home for adolescent chickens. And as I was down quite a few chickens, I was willing to help out.

Fast forward 24 hours and my husband and I are sneaking two Plymouth Barred Rocks and two Silver-Laced Wyandottes into the chicken coop with the other ladies.

15 chicks-3 chicks+4 chicks-5 roosters-1 rooster (3 months later)+ 4 hens= beautiful flock of 14

That folks is how chicken math happens.

Harvesting the grapes

It seems as though I blinked and summer disappeared. Fall has arrived and that means harvesting all the hard work put in over the last few months.

Before digging up our own crop for this week’s dinner, we volunteered with Whidbey Island Winery to assist in harvesting their Siegerrebe and Angevine grapes out at French Road Farm. It was therapeutic work after sitting in front of a computer all week.

We arrived around 8:30 a.m. received a pair of clippers, a bucket and some basic instructions:

  • Keep the bucket close to the vines so you don’t lose grapes
  • Cut close as you can to the cluster of grapes
  • Don’t cut yourself with clippers

In about four hours we all harvested about 10,000 lbs of grapes that would be crushed after lunch.

The work was rewarding for me. Perhaps because I only had to harvest for half the day, but each bucket of grapes made me smile.

I loved the time in the vineyard and knowing that we had some small bit of sweat equity in what we will probably drink down the road.

The lunch and wine the winery provided didn’t hurt either, but just as rewarding was meeting people in our community who joined us in this endeavor.

Community. Wine. Food. Farm.

(and ocean and mountains)

It’s why we moved here all along.