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.

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.

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.

The quest to make cheese

Yesterday was a fairly typical Saturday here on Whidbey Island: breakfast at Muk Cafe, browse the Bayview farmers market, and a stop at the farm supply store for whatever. Except this:

“Let’s make mozzarella!”

Our friend Marnie was visiting from Austin, and we talked most the morning about enjoying the fresh produce and meat available locally, as well as the availability to purchase raw milk.

A while back, Marnie had successfully made her own cheese with raw milk from the farm where she participates in a work share program. I was excited to learn how we could do this on our own and we needed three key ingredients: 1/2 gallon of raw milk, rennet and citric acid. The citric acid we finally found, but after searching far and wide on the island, no luck on the rennet so we had to lower our expectations from mozzarella to ricotta.

 

It took some time to carefully heat, monitor the temperature and stir the raw milk mixture before we saw cheese curds, but it finally happened. And after straining the whey from the mixture, we ended up with more ricotta than we expected.

Delicious, fresh, creamy ricotta.

After mixing the ricotta into a pasta sauce, we discussed other cheeses that were fairly easy to make such as mozzarella and chevre. Savoring the ricotta cheese over dinner, I realized that it may be hard to purchase ricotta cheese at the grocery store. I’m sure one day practicality will make me do it, but this is definitely something I’m going to try again.

Before going to bed, I searched where to find rennet. Why Amazon, of course!

My rennet will be here in a week and if all goes as planned, not long after, so will our homemade mozzarella.

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Blackberries are here and so is the jam

img_3713This morning I woke up and picked four quarts of wild blackberries growing in our front yard. They’ve just started coming ripe enough to pick and after my jam making class with Slow Food Whidbey Island, I thought I’d give my first batch a try.

It was pretty labor intensive the first time around, more so for the clean up because my damn glasstop stove is such a pain in the ass to clean. I really, really miss my gas stove, but that is another story for another day.

While I’ve hopped off the no sugar/no bread wagon since moving to the islanimg_3378d, I was amazed at how much sugar one batch of jam takes. I know there are recipes with less sugar, but I thought I’d start with the basics and then experiment once I got the process down. For this batch, I decided to strain out the seeds for half of the berry puree. I wanted seeds for texture and for show, but I wanted the sweetness of the blackberries to come through.

My first batch was successful enough. All the jars sealed and the jam set up as expected. I couldn’t wait to taste it for breakfast the next morning.

One day I’m going to have to get back on my no sugar/no bread wagon, but not today.

 

 

The anniversary dinner

Six years ago, followed by friends and family, my husband and I came to the island to get married. Most Texans don’t choose Puget Sound for a destination wedding, but we did.

A few days before our guests arrived, we met Josh’s parents at The Oystercatcher for dinner in Coupeville. This weekend, we returned to celebrate our anniversary and pinch ourselves that we now live here.

I’m not going to compose prose to tell you about our meal. I’m just going to leave this nice little gallery of images for you to peruse. I just hope you aren’t hungry.

Slow food, easy food, good food

We’ve always prided ourselves as being foodies and living in Dallas allowed us to try a new restaurant each week as long as we could afford it (which usually, we couldn’t). We gravitated toward those restaurants touting local cuisine and we tried to buy local vegetables and meat. Food Inc. steered us away from the average grocery store and unless we could find something at our local farmers market, our grocery store was Whole Foods.

Going to the grocery store in Dallas was a Sunday event. Go have a glass of wine, meet neighborhood friends, discuss the menu for the week and the ingredients on the grocery list and then eventually shop for said ingredients. Our weekly trip to the grocery store took 3-4 hours which we really enjoyed.

About three months before our move, there was too much to do and we were trying to tighten our budget, so much to my husbands request to keep our Sunday shopping tradition alive, I caved to the food in a box. Plated, while not fitting the slow food framework, did allow us to have a weeks worth of dinners shipped each Tuesday and at the same price. It freed up our Sunday to pack, visit with friends and neighbors, or get ready for a work travel filled week. After getting adjusted to our surroundings, we paused our Plated shipments and focused back onto our local foodie passions.

Here on the island, being a foodie has a whole new meaning than what we experienced in Dallas. Don’t get me wrong, there are delicious restaurants here like Oystercatcher, Prima, and The Inn at Langley, but being a foodie here means local, buying local, eating local.

We started our slow food quest by joining the CSA at Prairie Bottom Farms and enjoy our weekly partial share of vegetables we pick up each week. We quickly learned that our neighbor was not only a farmer, but a baker. He supplies pork and fresh bread to the Oystercatcher and takes orders on the side to sell pork to the community. We purchased half of a pig and it arrived earlier this week. img_3226

Pork raised next door. How local can you get?

Last night we served up pork chops along with braised beets and zucchini and a green salad. All veggies came from our CSA with the exception of the tomatoes seen here as those won’t arrive until mid-September.

It felt good to eat a meal where we knew how the ingredients were grown or raised. Slow food is definitely tasty food.

 

 

Foraging the sea for food

One of the pulls to moving by the sea for Josh was fishing. As we wait for salmon season to open, we’ve been playing around with the crab trap. Honestly, as great as this Dungeness Crab looks, so far we haven’t had much luck.

We learned that without a boat, crabbing becomes challenging. Without a boat, you are left to try your luck at perhaps one of three docks and if you aren’t willing to hang out with the trap all day, there is a high likelihood that someone will nab your crab, if not your whole trap.

But today when Josh retrieved his trap from the Clinton pier, he found success. After throwing back the females and the rock crab that were too small, two tasty Dungeness crab remained. They became lunch. A very tasty lunch.

This wasn’t our first foraging experience. A few weeks back, we tried our hand at clamming off of Zylstra beach off Penn Cove. It was Father’s Day and was packed with people from the mainland.

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Clamming on Penn Cove.

Unlike crabbing, scavenging across the beach was a little overwhelming. There were choices. Did we want to hang out for 30 minutes and forage for Penn Cove mussels or search for clam breathing holes and dig until we found them. We chose the latter, primarily because these wild mussels looked much more difficult to clean than simply removing the beards off of the store bought variety.

Clamming is serious business and the Fish and Wildlife Rangers don’t mess around. We thought we were prepared with license in hand, a clam bag for each of us (so we can keep accurate count), but we were busted when the ranger noticed we didn’t have a measuring tool. I explained how I was measuring the clam by using my pinky finger, buimg_2847t that apparently isn’t acceptable. We only had one clam that was a fraction too small, so she was kind and let us go with a warning.

We focused on foraging for the large butter clams because they would keep us out of trouble until we had a proper ruler. As we began to prepare dinner, we realized seeking the butter clams may not have been the best plan. They are rather large and meaty, but not as tasty as the smaller cockles or little neck clams.

At the end of the day, our meal wasn’t horrible, but we chalked it up to a tasty learning experience.

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CSA day: my favorite day

image4Last week we signed up for a partial share at Prairie Bottom Farm in Coupeville. Now, every Tuesday, I drive the 15-20 minutes to pick up our share, chat with the farmers, say hello to the chickens and begin foraging the “u-pick” item of the week.

While we’ve barely been here for a month, I will say that I look forward to Tuesdays. For a girl who works from home (and whose office is in the basement), getting out is important. The drive down Hwy. 525 isn’t a long one and once I drive up to the farm there are chickens cluimage8cking, roosters crowing and other members gathering their own share of the weekly crop.

Last week our share included green garlic, salad greens, cardoon, garlic scapes, and squash greens. Our u-pick items included items in the herb garden and a pint of raspberries. This week, I feel like we hit the jackpot with our share. I was happy to see the green garlic again, because, well, I have a healthy addiction to the herb, but there were more goodies in my CSA bag this week: kolrabi, green onions, fresh spinach and broccoli. And this week, I was allowed two pints of raspberries (yum!).

image11In the months leading up to our move, I experimented and then grew dependent on meals in a box. Plated became my new personal grocery shopper and recipe planner.  It opened up my Sunday to pack or visit with friends rather than go to the store for the week and plan a menu. Gathering groceries and menu planning is a task that I usually love, but as our move date grew closer, time became more and more limited. It was honestly a lifesaver, but now, on the island, we have access to fresh produce through either our CSA or one of four (or probably more) farmer’s markets. It doesn’t seem feasible to continue our Plated subscription now that life is slowing down a bit. And I want to start experiment cooking with as many of the vegetables as possible.

image6Tonight I went to work, assessing what was already in the fridge, the pantry and what I brought home from Prairie Bottom. Dinner became a saute of green garlic, oregano, and sage with the broccoli, shitakes and fresh spinach. From there, I tossed in some local fresh Alfredo sauce we found in Langley last week and some porcini pasta. Top it with a touch of Parmesan cheese and dinner. is. served.

Planning meals to align with your CSA share can be challenging. It is likely, you are going to get a vegetable or two you know nothing about. To be honest, I had never heard of a Cardoon before, but I enjoy the opportunity these veggies give me to reach outside my culinary wheelhouse.

And if I get a vegetable I don’t like? Well, that’s not likely, but if it happens this week, I still have raspberries.

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