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.

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.

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.

Sound Goals: Prepping to swim Saratoga Passage

Prior to moving here I had some goals for myself: live healthier, hike, eat local, acquire outdoor hobbies to help that quest to live healthy….you get the idea.

After moving here, I signed up for an open water event in Lake Washington. I joined the Master Swim group here, trained and completed the course. It was amazing, but it fostered a new goal: swim one mile in the Sound comfortably by this summer.

Last summer I attempted to swim with an open water group here, but freaked out a little when I noticed the ocean floor visibility went a little cloudy. I maybe made it a quarter of a mile. But there was a part of that swim that was amazing. Seeing how clear the water is and the fish…

Today I’m participating in the Whidbey Adventure Swim for the 1.2 mile course in Saratoga Passage. I can swim a mile, but swimming in the Sound comes with a lot of other things to think of than swimming in the pool. I’m terribly nervous. Nervous about not seeing bigger sea life that may come toward me surprisingly, about the 55 degree temperature, being comfortable in my 7mm wetsuit…did I mention the cold? Then there’s the time requirement. I have to finish 1/2 the course in 30 minutes. In the pool, I have that covered, but in the ocean, depending on conditions. Not sure really.

So, here I go. Headed down to Langley’s Seawall Park. Wish me luck!

Tall ships along the water 

This week I caught a glimpse of the tall ships in their small parade of sails on their way to Tacoma for the Festival of Sails.

The parade of sail in North Puget Sound and the festival are intended to commemorate the 225th anniversary of Captain George Vancouver’s exploration of Puget Sound.

Getting ready for the worms

Yesterday we contemplated our farming dreams for next year, and today we started putting things in motion.

As we pick up our red worms in two weeks, today we installed our in-ground worm bin we bought from Bugabay. While Whidbey Island is known for being an agricultural gem, Greenbank’s soil, where we reside, is not the fertile easy digging variety like the land residing in Ebey’s Landing. Our soil is full of rock, or glacial till, as my husband informed me. 

The words “glacial till” sound way more graceful than what it actually is. Pardon my French, but glacial till is a stubborn bitch to dig and we had to dig 12 inches to get the appropriate depth. Between the two of us we were able to get it accomplished in a couple of hours, but it made me (and Josh) really grateful we only had to dig one hole.

After a run to grab some peat moss and manure from the farm supply store and filling in the sides of the bin, we were ready to place our first layer of food waste. It must’ve rung a dinner bell because one volunteer worm was already hanging outside the bin. He looked as though he may have had a fight with one of our shovels, so I tossed him inside in pity. I’m imagining worms aren’t territorial so hopefully he’ll get along fine with the others when they arrive in a couple of weeks.

It was a good afternoon worth of work, but as I looked around the reality of the work ahead is getting real. There is sod cutting the garden space, constructing the beds, prepping the chicken run and possibly adding to that run to host turkeys.

It all needs to be ready by January/February, but tonight we’ll continue our hobby farm debates as well as continue dreaming about what this place could be. 

It’s nice to start seeing that these dreams are on their way to becoming reality, one rocky shovel of soil at a time.

Farm dreaming on a fall day

Our friends left for the Coupeville ferry and we headed simg_4120outh of the island to the Bayview Farmer’s Market. Throughout the summer, I’ve been eyeing the BugaBay in-ground cedar worm bin and today I would bring one home!

I enjoy going to the farmers market not just to get additional veggies but to also talk to the farmers. Glendale Shepherd Farms was celebrating as their Tallulah won 1st Place  at the Washington Artisan Cheese Festival this week. You may recall I professed my love for Tallulah and sheep’s milk cheese after a tour of Glendale Shepherd Farms back in August. While I would’ve loved to have picked up some more Tallulah, I resisted and stuck with the worm bin and some veggies.

img_4123Teresa at BugaBay talked to us about the worm bin basics, provided us with a video and instructed us to get the worm bin in the ground and call her in two weeks to get our worms! We also chatted about the two sheep she and her husband are raising, my desire to own chickens, and discussed that dilemma around loving animals but also raising them for meat. Teresa gave us the number of her neighbor who raises chickens who she felt would be a good person to talk to about raising chickens.

After our farmer’s market stop, we headed to the co-op to refill our propane tanks and get some organic fertilizer. I was tempted as they had 1-week old baby chicks for sale! They were so cute and while we are nowhere near ready to have chickens, I wanted to bring them all home! It’s only October and I’m already looking forward to March/April when spring chicks will be available and we can begin raising chicks and planting our garden!

img_4122After seeing the turkeys at Prairie Bottom Farm, Josh has been talking about his desire to raise turkeys to sell for Thanksgiving next year. We dreamed a little today about how far we could take a hobby farm from veggies, to chickens and turkeys. Sheep? Could we pull off a couple of sheep too?

For now, we’ll just focus on getting our worm bin buried in the ground. After all, you can’t have any kind of farm if you don’t have good soil.

Hiking above the clouds

So here we are, October, which for Pac Northwesterners it means truly the first day of fall. And yesterday was a beautiful, sunny day for our final day of our PNW summer.

A couple of friends from Dallas were visiting, and with the sun shining I was hoping we’d get good views of the Olympic Mountains from the Bluff Trail at Ft. Ebey State Park. Upon arrival at the trail head, it was obvious no views were to be had as a crazy thick fog seemed to be covering most of the Sound.

img_4097As we climbed along the bluff and up to Ft. Ebey, the sun was beaming brightly and it appeared we were just above the clouds at one point. The last time I had seen something like this was when Josh and I drove into the Andes to the Chilean border.

Yes, it was a perfect final PNW summer day.