As Lisa alluded to in a previous post, life has changed dramatically for us here in Seattle. We’re now a household of three after taking in a Shiba Inu puppy, a decision we considered over the course of a year before bringing Toro home on Jan. 1, 2012.
Raising a puppy is no easy task, particularly when the breed is known for being mischievous (socks left on the floor are considered treasure and must be hoarded) and aloof. Then again, I like to feel that fits my personality, part of the reason I was drawn to Shibas. Well, that and its striking fox-like features.
The process has had its frustrations, but ultimately we’ve changed for the better with Toro-san (a nod to his Japanese heritage) in the fold. This hit me as we took him for a walk along a Puget Sound beach recently, on the most cliche of Seattle winter days. All the reasons we wanted to move from Manhattan to the Pacific Northwest (outdoors, living close to water, mountains, etc.) are now more enjoyable with a dog.
Both Lisa and I grew up with dogs (Schnauzers/Black Labs for me, Golden Retrievers for L), and we’ve talked for five years now about getting one. What ultimately led to the decision was a bigger apartment, proximity to work and the fact we couldn’t rush it. Our breeder had an eight-month waiting list, allowing us time to prepare and tussle over whether we felt truly committed to the process.
Toro has a personality all of his own. So far he’s atypical from most Shibas in his playful interactions with strangers, yet there are times when he cocoons in a shell and ignores everyone in the house. And I still don’t understand his infatuation with socks…
If you’re interested in the Shiba Inu breed, or have any questions about raising one (get professional dog training … seriously), drop us a line in the comments section. We’re happy to answer any questions.
Forgive us if we’ve been a little lax in blogging. We’ve been a bit distracted by a recent addition to our home.
We’ve been on a bit of a Japanese kick recently. Maybe it was all those izakaya dinners in Vancouver, or buying a bento box cookbook, or Jeremy finally listening to me and visiting Uwajimaya and then proceeding to go back four times in the next week. Regardless, we’ve been eating a lot of Japanese food and still craving more.
Nook is a tiny breakfast and lunch spot on the “Ave” in Seattle’s University District. I’ve been curious about their homemade biscuits for a while now, but never made it over (and I still REALLY want to try those.) According to Seattle Met, one of Nook’s owners used to work with some chefs in Japan who own a chain of soba noodle shops. Those chefs are in town this week only, churning out homemade soba noodles daily as part of a three-course, buckwheat-based meal.
Soba, as we learned, is both the Japanese word for “buckwheat” (not actually wheat, but closer to rhubarb) and the noodles themselves. They’re eaten either cold with dipping sauce, or hot in broth.
We started with the appetizers. We had: kimpira goba, a sort of marinated/pickled veggies; soba zushi, sushi made with soba noodles instead of rice; soba chips, fried little twists of the grain; and a fresh salad full of unfamiliar vegetables, seaweed and puffed gluten.
They gave us a full chunk of wasabi to grate into the dipping sauce.
The main dish was hot soba, a choice of duck or oyster. My oyster bowl had five plump, lightly sauteed oysters floating in the rich broth. While the soba noodles were addictively slurpable, I really got after the broth that was left over – like some of my favorite ramen broths from places like Tsukushinbo, but not as salty. The main dish came with a trio of tempura: shrimp, scallop and eggplant. We were told to dip the tempura in sauce and in a sprinkling of wasabi salt, which I want to go stock up on in large quantities immediately.
For dessert, they served a buckwheat cake with mascarpone cream served with soybeans in a maple glaze, and then a mochi stuffed with more mascarpone cream and a strawberry. Yeah. Did I mention the entire meal was $10 per person?
We’ve written before about pop-up restaurants, and while I’m sometimes inclined to think it’s a trend on its way out. But then a soba night like this comes along, and it reminds me how this concept can work out quite well in the right scenario.
The Washington football team has one bye week in the 2011 season. Naturally, we decided to spend it at a college football game. We may have a problem.
In our defense, this football game happened to be played in Baton Rouge, Louisiana, where the LSU Tigers were hosting the Florida Gators in an SEC clash in the historic Tiger Stadium in Death Valley. Neither of us had ever been to an SEC football game before, and had always been curious to experience football culture in the South. We were able to score press passes to the game through some of Jeremy’s connections. Add in 85-degree weather and a local scene known for not messing around when it comes to food and drink? Sold.
So here’s what we learned from our four-day swing through the Big Easy.
- Getting out of the French Quarter is worth it. Sure, we made a routine trip down the smelly, bachelor party-jammed Bourbon Street (and this was at 1pm on a weekday) and made the obligatory visit to Cafe du Monde for beignets and cafe au lait (and a random Jonathan Papelbon sighting.) But our VRBO rental was in the heart of the Garden District and we spent most of our time there and in Uptown, wandering the mansion-lined streets and drinking Abitas in neighborhood bars.
- People are friendly. No, REALLY friendly. Southern hospitality almost doesn’t do it justice. During dinner at Cochon (don’t miss the rabbit & dumplings, oyster & bacon sandwich and apple pie for dessert) we ended up chatting with not only the tables on either side of us, but even the tables next to them. When we commented on how good our neighbor’s soft-shell crab entree looked, she offered us a bite off her plate without missing a beat. No offense, Seattle, but that would never happen here.
- People are friendly, part II. After oysters and gumbo at Casamento’s, we hit up Le Bon Temps Roule for drinks and music. We started chatting with a man at the bar who turned out to be a legendary booster for LSU (as in, supplies all the team’s post-game po’boys from his deli and hasn’t missed a game, home or away, in decades.) After showing us photos on his iPhone of the alligator he’d shot that week, Mike Serio promptly invited us to his tailgate at the game the next day. By the way, this is the same guy who beat Bobby Flay in a muffaletta throwdown.
- SEC football is everything we’d hoped for and more. We arrived in Baton Rouge four hours before the 2:30pm kickoff…and sat in traffic for an hour, barely crawling even before the stadium was in view. The tailgates stretched for miles around campus, with yellow and purple-clad fans drinking, eating, blasting music and chanting “Tiger Bait!” at anyone foolish enough to wear blue and orange. After parking, we meandered over to The Chimes for pre-game drinks and then picked up some boudin balls to snack on on our way to Serio’s tailgate. He greeted us with beer and alligator sausage, plus the best barbecued pork I’ve ever had in my life.
- Oh wait, that was all just the tailgate. The stadium and game experience was just as much of a sensory overload. Our passes gave us sideline access during the pre-game, where we watched the players warm up as 94,000 fans packed into their seats. Upstairs in the pressbox, we enjoyed a thorough beatdown of Florida by LSU, capped with an acrobatic interception by the Honey Badger.
- Did I mention football is kind of a big deal in the South? We ended our weekend by joining a childhood friend of mine at a bar to watch the Saints game. Sitting on couches in a smoky bar surrounded by screaming – yet immensely hospitable – patrons in Drew Brees’ jerseys was the perfect way to cap off a decadent New Orleans weekend.
Cleaning out my cache of Stockholm photos today and came across a few more I had to share. And as summer wanes here in Seattle, I’m reminded how much fun I’ve had making two trips to Europe (one work, one vacation, both to Sweden), and experiencing the Scandinavian quality of life (extremely high, btw). Now I’m back home and focused on work. Outside of a planned trip to New Orleans in October on our bye week, I’m grounded from travel.
We were en route to the island of Vaxholm, and I was out on the rear deck watching Stockholm fade into the distance. The Medieval skyline of Gamla Stan gave way to the crimson, clapboard houses that dot the Swedish countryside, the summer homes of the upper class.
It was a setting not unlike one you see sailing to Orcas Island here in Washington, yet I was halfway across the world.
Lisa and I began the day in Kungsholmen with coffee and kanelbulle, the ubiquitous – and quite tasty – Swedish pastry found at all cafes in town. The idea had been to take a boat out to the Stockholm archipelago, but with dozens of choices available to us, we became paralyzed by the decision. We settled on Vaxholm/Grinda, a combination that would combine the touristy (Vaxholm) with the bucolic (Grinda). Our ferry was filled with tourists from all over Europe, including a couple from Spain who snapped photos and marveled at the way the sun glistened off the water. Over beers (this was vacation after all), we poured over our guidebooks and sketched out a plan.
Vaxholm was our introduction to the archipelago. We wandered through the streets and browsed through the stores. Lunch was an open-faced sandwich and cake on a deck with a majestic view. Everything was homemade, and we salivated over (but avoided) a platter of fresh-baked desserts the restaurant had put out on a table. Following lunch, we hopped back on the ferry and headed over to Grinda, one of the smaller islands in the archipelago. You can traverse Grinda in less than an hour by foot, and there’s just one hotel on the island. The draw is the serenity of everything. My phone doesn’t buzz with urgent work emails. There wasn’t another English-speaking tourist within earshot. We drank up the view from the beach, where a few feet away a Swedish couple was preparing to get married.
Everything was perfect.
The sun was still high in Stockholm when we returned, and our stomachs were rumbling. Because eating out is so expensive in Sweden, we bought meatballs and salads from the Salluhallen in Ostermalm, a fancy grocer in one of the city’s trendiest neighborhoods. Back in Kungsholmen, we devoured our purchases in Rålambshovsparken, a park so full of hipsters we might as well have been in Brooklyn (we gleaned that immediately after seeing a bocce ball setup and a run of American Apparel gear). The park also explained youth and Swedish culture. Taxes have made drinking prohibitively expensive in Sweden, so we noticed a popular summertime activity is to gather in parks like Rålambshovsparken, grill some food, crack some beers and check out the opposite sex, which made for some excellent people-watching.
With temperatures hovering near 80 degrees in Stockholm, what could be better?
On this vacation, not much.
We landed at Arlanda Airport late in the afternoon. In contrast to the grayish, Northwest-style weather we had in Copenhagen, summer was in full swing in Stockholm. The sleek bullet train (Arlanda Express) whisked us downtown, where we picked up a T-Bana pass and caught the metro for Kungsholmen.
While wandering around the mass of people hustling on and off trains, Lisa and I both remarked how Stockholm felt like a full-on metropolis. This was in comparison to Copenhagen, which feels like a more historic version of Portland, Ore.
After checking into our hotel room (thanks Marriott points!), Lisa and I set off to explore the city. We walked across the bridge to Sodermalm to find dinner, only to find out how expensive dining out really is in Sweden. So we settled on a filling plate of fried herring with lingonberry jam and mashed potatoes from a cart, a food truck trend that I wish we could import to the States.
Then we set about to stroll along the cobblestone streets of Gamla Stan, the historic (albeit tourist-filled) district of Stockholm. Both of us were somewhat on-edge from traveling, so our night ended with a gelato and a few beers at the hotel. Little did we know what we were in store for tomorrow.
You want everything to be perfect, but after the flowers are arranged and the chairs are set and the food is ordered and the guests have arrived and the dresses and hair and makeup are all coordinated, there’s really nothing you can do about the weather but pray.
Outdoor weddings in the Pacific Northwest, even in August, are risky endeavors.
But since the summer of 2011 has been sulky as a teenager, we were happy to enough to have a few generous sunbreaks in time for the 5 p.m. ceremony. Yes, ideally, the white wicker arch at the end of the aisle should have framed Mt. Rainier perfectly. Still, we had warm air and a soft breeze off Puget Sound, and really, being able to have the wedding near the water was ultimately the most important thing.
I’ve been to enough weddings to know the drill, but this was my first time as a key member of the bridal party – my stint as a 5-year-old gender-bending ring bearer notwithstanding. Turns out being the maid of honor presents challenges not encountered in everyday life. (Pro tip: when you’re booking a bachelorette party, make sure the entertainment at the venue isn’t the melancholy stylings of a local emo band.) I’d also not recommend waiting until 15 minutes beforehand to prep for a speech on your fiance’s iPhone before delivering it to 160 guests.
But anyway, this isn’t about me. It’s about a weekend of ferry rides and suspension bridges, forest trails and picnic benches, white dahlias in mason jars and two blissfully happy people celebrating having exactly what they want in one another.