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January 2010 Archives

January 2, 2010

Outstanding in the Field

Outstanding in the FieldSet between the soil and the sky, Outstanding in the Field's long, linen-draped table beckons adventurous diners to celebrate food at the source. Bringing together local farmers and food artisans, chefs and winemakers, we explore the connection between the earth and the food on your plate. Join us as we feast on the gifts of the land.

Pete & Brook mentioned this event in 2008, and I was intrigued. But back when reservations opened up for the dinners that year, I guess the economy hadn't taken away everyone's money just yet, and the Seattle dinner was sold out pretty quickly. They raved about the event afterwards, though, so when the 2009 reservations opened (on the first day of Spring!) I was right there.

Now, it does sounds like a great event. The pictures are beautiful, they get great chefs, and the food sounds delicious, but... $180 plus tax for 5 courses? That makes the Herb Farm seem like a bargain (a story for another entry). Actually, $180 was on the cheaper side for the dinners on the site... there were three Seattle-area dinners for 2009, and one of them was over $200! We got our reservations anyway (yes, they charge the whole thing right away), and as I started reading reviews of the event on Chowhound I started to feel a bit of buyer's remorse.

It was a short day at work on July 15, 2009, since the event started at 4pm and was all the way out in Carnation. We were greeted with two wines and trays of appetizers, and things immediately looked up. In my opinion, the highlight of local ingredients in the Pacific Northwest is seafood, and our appetizer trio included seared tuna loin, scallop ceviche, and mussel skewers. Yum!

Once everyone arrived, Jim Denevan, the founder of Outstanding in the Field, talked briefly and then handed it over to Andrew Stout, the owner of the farm. He gave us a tour of the farm, including some time to check out all the different herbs in the garden and a view of a lot of different tractors. Finally, we crossed a little bridge over to the dining area, where Outstanding in the Field's signature long table was stretched out next to a row of raspberry plants. We walked to the end of the table and sat down, which ended up being a good decision because we ended up right next to Andrew Stout and Kevin Cedergreen, the winery owner.

The food was delicious, featuring the grain emmer (the chef is opening up a restaurant called Emmer & Rye), heritage Wooly Pigs pork belly, and king salmon. And it was a beautiful view, being out there in the middle of a farm as the sun slowly set. As the dessert course was being prepared, they handed out small containers for us to pick raspberries to take with us, which I thought was really generous... then as we left, they had a little produce stand set up, where we could fill paper bags with as much as we wanted to take.

Ultimately, it's hard to put a price tag on how much that experience is worth because it's pretty uncomparable to anything in the normal restaurant world. We got an awesome meal of local ingredients with a ton of good wine (7 glasses - he added a Riesling that wasn't on the menu) in a beautiful, unique setting. If you've got the money, I definitely recommend checking out whether or not OitF has a dinner near you next year. Though I will say (in a somewhat biased way) -- it might be hard to beat the local ingredients that we have here. :)

Full Circle Farm
Chef: Seth Caswell
Wine: Cedergreen Cellars

seared tuna loin, currants
smoked grapeseed oil, crackers
BC scallop ceviche, citrus, cucumber cups
marinated Taylor Shellfish mussel skewers
2008 Voila Rose
2005 Cabernet Sauvignon
* * *
roasted Full Circle Farm beets, herb salad,
blueberries, basil-mint vinaigrette
2007 Sauvignon Blanc
* * *
wild mushrooms, Oxbow Farm cauliflower,
emmer, baby greens, hazelnut vinaigrette
2008 Chenin Blanc
* * *
Wooly Pigs pork belly, cabbage, zucchini,
spicy mustard
2004 Thuja
* * *
king salmon, Full Circle Farm carrots,
fennel, escarole, spring onions,
Golden Glen herb butter
2006 Cabernet Sauvignon
* * *
Bluebird Grain Farm emmer biscuits,
apricots, raspberries, fresh cream

More pictures, including pictures of the courses

January 4, 2010

Adventures in India, Part One

Nina in a Saree

This is a long overdue entry, since this trip happened in May last year, but better late than never!

My friend Yamini decided on a wedding date in June of 2009, and I thought it would be a great opportunity to attend her wedding and visit India. I was going to have a travel partner, but those plans fell through, and I found myself with a plane ticket for three weeks in India. It ended up being an oddly pieced together trip, but in the end I had a lot of fun and got to experience amazing things.

After buying tickets, I was looking at possible itineraries to explore. The state of Himachal Pradesh began to look really appealing, mainly because it was one of the few places in India at the time where the temperatures weren't blazing hot. Intrepid had a tour from Delhi into HP and Amritsar whose dates happened to work perfectly with my dates. The tour started the morning after I arrived in Delhi, and it ended with enough time for me to do a day in Agra before heading to Chennai for the wedding. So much to my mom's relief, I booked the tour, drastically shortening my alone time in India.

I think the rumors that India is really unsafe for single female travelers is mostly false. It was definitely easier to be with a tour guide for my first experience, but I would have been okay on my own, though probably harassed more. Any time I was off on my own, some guy would inevitably approach me and ask to be my friend, then follow me around for as long as I would let him. Very strange experience for me, but I did make the first guy take me to get a SIM card for my phone and to an ATM. :)

Spice Markets in DelhiShimla sunset

The tour (called "Mountains and Mystics") really showed a lot of different sides of India. We started off with some time in crazy Delhi, taking cycle rickshaws through Old Delhi and exploring the markets in 110 degree temperatures. The morning before the tour started, I'd taken a rickshaw to Humayun's Tomb, but there were definitely a lot more Delhi attractions that I didn't make it to. I was thankful we didn't stay that long because I wanted to get out of the heat. The next morning, we took an early train to Kalka, where were transferred onto the historic toy train that wound its way up, through tunnels and over pretty bridges, to the hill station of Shimla. I'd looked into the logistics of doing this trip on my own before booking the tour, and by then, there were only wait list positions open (and they were pretty high numbers) since those hot months are high season for Shimla. I was curious how we got tickets for the train. Turns out, we didn't have confirmed reservations, either, and our tour guide kept bribing the train guy, first to let us get on the train and a few times afterwards so he would let us stay on. Ah, India. :)Monks in McLeod Ganj

Shimla was quite a contrast from Delhi, the temperature drop reflecting a corresponding drop in insanity. This was where the Indians went on vacation to escape the heat. We met quite a few families who were on holiday, including one whose daughter had just gotten married. We admired her saree, and she told us that if she wasn't on her honeymoon, she'd be dressed like we were! The highlights of Shimla were the bazaars, full of little shops, the Viceroyal Lodge (which now houses a center for higher studies), and the Jakhu Temple, which was full of mean, evil monkeys. We saw one steal the glasses off a guy's head and another one eat a vendor's samosas. They rent sticks at the bottom of the hill you have to walk up, and I had to use mine to fend off an attacking monkey! He was holding someone's broken glasses, and I wanted to take a picture. However, he misinterpreted this as a trade gesture, so he dropped the glasses. I didn't think my camera was a fair swap, so I didn't give it to him, and he got mad. All of the Indians who were watching us fight found it very amusing, though.

After Shimla, we took a private vehicle with an insane driver to Dharamsala. See, it's one thing to pass a car on a 2-lane road. Then there's passing a car on a winding 2-lane road where there's not much between the outer lane and the death cliff. Then there's doing all of the above without slowing or looking for oncoming traffic. Or seeing the oncoming traffic and creating a third lane.

We spent three days in Dharamsala/McLeod Ganj, which we all agreed was a bit excessive. The highlights were the Tibetan things, like the Dalai Lama's residence (we got to see monks debating) and the Norblingka Institute, where we got to see Tibetan arts and crafts. But the rest of it was very touristy, geared towards hippie Westerners. The setting was very beautiful, though, and the idea was to relax for a few days before heading on our trek.

Okay, that's enough for one day. Part 2 to follow!

January 7, 2010

Adventures in India, Part Two

pic4 pic5

So continuing with my Indian adventure story... the part about the tour description that made me hesitate the most about booking it was the mention of a two day trek that was strenuous and required participants to be in great physical condition. I'm not in bad shape, but I don't consider myself to be in great physical condition, either. My tour guide didn't make it any better by harassing me and constantly asking if I wanted to change my mind about doing the trek (there was an option to ride a car to the next destination, which two people did choose).

In the end, it wasn't as bad as I expected, and the scenery along the way was gorgeous. I did get off to a bad start by falling on my butt twice because we were going downhill on a dusty trail covered with pine needles. And the climb up was really steep. I had to make the group stop a few times to catch my breath, but even with those delays, the tour guide said it was the fastest he'd ever made it up there with a group. It was a lot of fun walking through the small villages because all of the kids would get excited and follow us around, yelling, "Hi!" and asking to get their photo taken. We also picked up dogs as we walked that would follow us for the entire day and then disappear. Temporary pets!

The second day of trekking was a lot easier, and then we arrived in Chamba, where a vehicle dropped us off as close as it could get to Orchard Hut, where we spent the next few days. The idea was to get the real village experience, so the closest road was about 30 minutes downhill. I really enjoyed the stay and the Indian hospitality we experienced there from the family. The food stood out as some of the best food I ate in India, homecooked local recipes that were very different from other Indian food I'd eaten before.

Tired... looks like there will be a part three to this entry :)

January 19, 2010

Adventures in India, Part Three

It was sad to leave Orchard Hut, almost like saying goodbye to distant relatives after finally meeting them for the first time. From there, we took a car to Pathankot, where we got on a train heading to Amritsar. Since it was a relatively short train ride, we got the authentic Indian experience by riding sleeper class. Sound nice? No AC, and I believe it's the cheapest reserved seats available on the train. Finally, to give us the full authentic Indian experience, the train came to a halt for long enough to indicate that it wasn't going anywhere for awhile. People jumped on another train passing by, but we had too much luggage to move quickly, so we stood next to the train to get some air (everyone else out there was male!). Finally, we found out what the deal was: "engine broke, they are bringing another one." Awesome.

But we made it to Amritsar in time to get to the Golden Temple to see the nightly ceremony (Palki Sahib) where they bring their Holy Book from its day spot to its night spot. It was great to get the opportunity to see the Golden Temple both in the day and at night because the atmosphere was very different. The gold against the blackness of night was very majestic, but in the daytime, everything looked more peaceful (except the crowd of people trying to get inside the temple). There were people all over, bathing in the water, sleeping next to the water, eating from the free cafeteria, and chanting. For such a famous temple, it was impressive that it really felt like a holy place, not a tourist attraction.

Amritsar also marked the end of reasonable temperatures for me on this trip, going from the pleasant 70s of Chamba to a blazing 100 degrees. We also visited a modern Hindu temple in Amritsar (very different!) and Jallianwala Bagh, the site of a British massacre that is now a memorial. Finally, we made a trip to the India-Pakistan border to watch the very odd daily border closing ceremony. People packed into the stands on both sides of the border, and as they were waiting for things to begin, they played music on the Indian side and a bunch of women went down and started a dance party. Then announcers began the pep rally portion, shouting "Hindustan!" (echoed by the opposite side's "Pakistan!") followed by lines I really did not understand (though I did understand the "Allah!" shouts from the Pakistan side). Then soldiers did some funny marching, lowered the flags, and closed the border. For two countries that are supposed to not get along, they sure had to coordinate well to do this ceremony. As we followed the crowd out, I had two guys following me asking to take my picture, not an uncommon thing for foreigners in India to experience, but the fact that they were following me made me feel like a celebrity. :)

Then it was time to hop on an overnight train back to Delhi (AC this time, thank goodness!). I sadly said goodbye to my tour group after doing some shopping, and hopped on a train to Agra. The next morning I got up early enough to get to the Taj Mahal at opening time, 5am, and was rewarded by getting to experience it before all the crowds flooded in. It was really beautiful, and it's hard to get a real sense of how big it is from just looking at pictures. Agra has a number of amazing tourist sites, but otherwise it's an unpleasant place to be. Hot and polluted (I think we were at 110 degrees, but it felt hotter), full of people trying to sell you stuff or get you on their rickshaw. The heat was really killing me, so I saw the Agra Fort and then had to get back to my hotel ("No, Mr. Rickshaw Driver, I do NOT want to go to a bazaar!"). I'd already checked out, but they let me sleep in a room for a few hours for $5.

Took a train back to Delhi (it was late and then silently showed up at a different platform - I was the only person from my berth to actually make it to the right place right away), then flew out the next morning to Chennai. But that's for part 4!

pic6 pic7

About January 2010

This page contains all entries posted to adventures of a tired coder in January 2010. They are listed from oldest to newest.

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