My Not-So-Scary Back Alley

If only all back alleys could get the Space Needle so perfectly situated at sunset...

(The view from my back alley at sunset, 2010)



"The Non-Scotsman" went out of town, so I called a girls' weekend to order. Only a short drive (and one somewhat intimidating checkpoint) to our North is Vancouver, B.C. I've been twice for a few hours and even once for a night, but have always driven home keenly aware that I somehow missed the city's international charms.

(MY map of Vancouver, 2010)

This trip was different: one of those vacations where you always find the perfect parking spot, the sun comes out at just the right moments and the locals you meet actually seem to like you. We Seattlites found a kindred spirit in Vancouver, so much so that we renamed the district's on our tourist map to reflect their counterparts in Seattle. (See my version above)

(The oddly piled strawberries on Granville Island - like pyramids)

Our first stop was a walk along the waterway to Granville Island, Vancouver's younger version of Pike Place Market. The best hidden gem in the lot was Paper-Ya, a boutique for paper, bookbinding, stationary, and more ways of documenting or inviting than any place I've seen lately. I stood for about a quarter of an hour just turning around and around, like Julie Andrews on the hills in the Sound of Music.

We sat in the sun, tasted the free samples of baked goodness, and jumped the rainbow "Aquabus" back down the inlet to our hotel, trying unsuccessfully not to get sat on and squashed by tired tourists.

(Our Aquabus from Granville Island)

Then ... we got serious, got dressed, and got to dining:

Starting off at the acclaimed Blue Water Cafe in Yaletown/Belltown, we bellied up to the raw
bar and ordered some of the most refined sushi I've seen in a while.

(The Blue Water Cafe bar where I indulged in the tall, cheesy breadsticks)

Their tagline is "Celebrating our Ocean's Harvest." I'll raise a glass to them any day, especially to our 30-something already-graying barman who took such good care of us. I'll call him Brad.

As we were polishing off our ginger Brad said, "Hey, go find Dave at Uva Wine Bar around the corner. Some of the best wines by the glass in town."

(We cozied into white armchairs at Uva, 2010)

We took his advice, and off we tromped in our heels - my already-crumpled map in hand. Dave was the gracious host Brad made him out to be, although we ended up letting him recreate some classic cocktails in our honor, foregoing the wine. Green Chartreuse with cool mint will make any night fresh & dreamy.

Dave said, "You know, you really should go find Salt in Gastown." So, off we scuttled again, map in hand, heels thankfully not yet in hand. We cautiously walked through Gastown's restored industrial warehouses, following our directions with wide eyes into a dark, garbage-ridden alley. If only our husbands could see us now. A light beckoned from the left side of the alley's corridor, and we tripped into Salt - one big Edison light bulb of glory and cheese in the darkness.

Salt Tasting Room is a dream restoration project - simple brick walls, wood tables, and blackboard paint with white chalk everywhere, foretelling the delectable you are about to enjoy. One of the most accessible culinary concepts, Salt required guests pair varieties of cheeses, charcuterie and accompaniments to their eclectic wine selections. They glibly offer suggestions and directions, and we took our waitress up on what was supposedly rated "the best cheese in the whole world," a soft goat. I confessed (not to our over-eager waitress) that preferred the blue.

We discovered the cellar via chalk writing on a slate door, and down in the dungeon was the sweetest meat locker you've ever seen. A long communal table invited a party.

(Salt's communal table and meat locker)

Determining that "3rd stop's the charm," we took our last swigs of sparkling vintages and bites of Best-In-The-World-Cheese. Serendipitous, we meandered back to our perfectly-priced budget hotel to dream of lockers full of aging meats. Vancouver, we're smitten with you.

(...and that was just Day 1!)


Green Umbrellas

I took two little photos with my iPhone camera about 3 hours ago. No filters or crazy lenses. Just a moment fascinated by the beautiful green umbrellas in my mother's backyard, and wanted to share them with you.


Cantinetta & Epulo Bistro

I have discovered two long-lost sisters: Cantinetta in Wallingford and Epulo Bistro in Edmonds. They dress the same, talk the same, look nearly identical.
I happen to know Epulo even considered buying the same lamps hanging above the Cantinetta bar.

I have a confession, however. I have a wild favorite! It is okay to have a favorite between twins, right? A darling? One that tugs your heart and one that leaves your heart a bit ... still?

I went to Cantinetta for the first time last night. I know, I know, I'm a year behind the curve.

(Cantinetta, 2009)

It was everything I wanted and expected. A warm ambiance, approachable wine selections, Italian influence oozing from its cheese selections, and a choice of espresso or limoncello to finish the meal.

Last week I went (for the ump-teenth time) to Epulo Bistro, where I experienced very similar cuisine, a bit more liberal pours of Italian wine, and a nearly identical atmosphere.

At BOTH Cantinetta & Epulo I:
- Ordered Roasted Cauliflower. Both topped with Grana Padano.
- I drank dirty Italian wines.
- I sat under nearly identical decor, from the rustic flooring to dark wood. The candles burn the same flame. They're both a bit too loud.

- I visited their websites, which look similar.
- I even sat by some of the same diners at both restaurants.

However, there's a genuine hospitality at Epulo Bistro that can't be mimicked or improved upon, even with all-organic ingredients. It's a sense of friendship when you walk in the door, as the owner comes up to you and asks if he can make you comfortable. It's an inborn sense of true warmth and welcome that comes from a pure heart that actually, truly enjoys another's companionship. Cantinetta looked a bit put out when we asked them to fix our table, which was rocking like a boat during a monsoon.

Epulo Bistro moved tables out of the way when we wanted to make part of the dining room our dance floor.


Nature's Chandelier

(Photo compliments of this site)

Remember the first time you walked into a ballroom and saw the huge, glittering chandeliers? Weren't they splendid? Weren't you splendid sharing a room with them?

Well, for an event at Overlake Christian Church I wanted to turn a quite-sterile space into a room ready for music, for dancing, for gaiety. Unfortunately, a church budget would barely let us buy a used lamp from Ikea, so improvisation was required - but what fun!

To make my chandeliers I was inspired by the strong form of the still-bare branches all over Seattle. Why could they not form the base for the lighting? I called around and eventually found a tree trimming company out in Woodinville that had excess branches, so The Non-
Scotsman and I tramped down there one morning to fill his pickup. Little did we know that the trees would be piled WHOLE and that they would be piled on two-three feet of gooey mud! The Non-Scotsman, while carrying a whole birch truck, tripped and fell face-first into the thick brown slop - I haven't laughed that hard in weeks!

FSA (Floral Supply Syndicate) would be a good alternative to purchase branches, should your budget allow - manzanita are best.
The Northwest Wholesale Florist was kind enough to order me more than 500 glass crystals to my liking, and I had the makings for my chandeliers.

During this process, I found so many gorgeous things you can do with branches:

A clothes rack:

A minimalistic chandelier:

A bedframe:

However, we hung them in the attic of the church and proceeded to fill them with crystals.
(Our hard-won, free branches)

Then, I stole an idea from Anthropologie where you take sheets and tie them into long organic and vibrant columns.

Anthropologie doesn't tell you how many unpaid interns it takes to make one. Hours, upon hours, upon hours, of tearing and tying sheets in my condo. Also, it is harder to find good sheet colors at thriftstores than one would imagine.

(Sheets in piles)

(Sheets hanging from my window)

(Sheets in more piles)

(And still hanging)

But once you get enough of them they really are quite magical!

(Hanging on a glorious day outside!)

I'm ashamed I have no pictures of the final outcome at Overlake- but hopefully I'll get some soon.

I think what I keep learning is that "tight budgets lead to creative bursts, long hours, and satisfied sighs."

Mint & Margaritas

I decided, about 4 minutes ago, that out of all 5 of my senses, I am appreciating the sense of smell the most these days.

The cup of peppermint tea I'm enjoying right now. Can it be beat?...

...Possibly by the smell of my Margarita Cakes baking this past Wednesday for my Cinco de Mayo gathering. I had minors coming over, and felt they needed a way to imbibe. 8 people in 425 square feet = hotter-than-tobasco festivities.

I found the recipe here, if you're interested in finding another way to incorporate alcohol into your daily life.


Mr. Channing

To live content with small means;

(A server on break I came across in Spain; I saw him as content - relaxed)

to seek elegance rather than luxury,

(My living room lives, 2010)

and refinement rather than fashion;
to be worthy, not respectable; and
wealthy, not rich; to study hard,

(The Non-Scotman at his studies)

think quietly, talk gently, act frankly...
to listen to stars
(Nephew Johnmarc at the zoo, 2010)

and buds, to babes and sages, with open heart;

(The Non-Scotsman contemplating Puget Sound, 2010)

await occasions,

(One of the most illustrious-looking occasions I ever stumbled upon, Spain)

hurry never...this is my symphony.

-William Henry Channing