Alaskan RED

A lifelong Alaskan learning about the world one backroad at a time


Leave a comment

Housesitting Perk – Blue Apron Meal Kit Day Three

Our final meal is the one I picked out just for me.  I absolutely love gnocchi so the Brown Butter Gnocchi with Mushrooms and Chard were my first choice for our box.

20171105_16140220171105_161412

This was probably the fastest dish to make and once again, I was in charge.  I’m using that as my excuse for not taking more pictures…please forgive me.  I put water on to boil for the gnocchi, then chopped chard and garlic, sliced the shallot and quartered mushrooms.  As luck would have it, the farmers market had fresh shitakes that week so I added some of those to the mushrooms included in the kit.

The mushrooms are sauted, first alone and. then with the thyme springs.  Then you add the butter and brown it, remove the thyme and saute the rest of the veggies, adding the chard leaves at the end.

The gnocchi cooks quickly and I put hubby in charge of skimming them out when they floated to the top, and putting them in a colander.  Then you stir them into the pan with the veggies and add some pasta water, stirring and adding more of the pasta water until it coated the gnocchi in sauce.  I ultimately added more pasta water than they called for as I wanted to be sure the dish wasn’t too dry.

Plating was simple – put on a dish and garnish with Parmesan cheese.  I had some Parmesan in the fridge so I put that out so it could be added if desired.  Did I mention how much we love cheese?

20171025_171423

The serving size they sent for two people was a quarter pound of fresh gnocchi.  I honestly could not get through this meal.  Gnocchi are very solid bits of pasta and I find I can’t eat much of them.  But it was a good preparation, super fast and reminded me to put more chard in our pasta dishes next year when I’m staring at the bumper crop from our garden.

20171025_163850

This was the end of our meal kit box so we discussed what we liked and didn’t like.  We don’t mind grocery shopping and meal planning, in fact we enjoy it, so having that done for us was not really a big deal.  However, I could certainly see how busy people or those who don’t really like to cook might enjoy it.  There was the opportunity to try some new things like the farro or the fennel spice so that was good.  Cost wise, this was about $20 per meal or $10 per person each night.  That’s not too bad and in fact is reasonable enough that we might be sending a trial to some busy folks for the holidays.  If you don’t have a full collection of spices like we do, it makes it even more affordable since you don’t have to buy a full jar of something just to use a teaspoon of it.  The meals seemed pretty healthy, the fat to calorie ratio was good, but I didn’t use salt every time they said to because we don’t eat much salt.

The real question is whether we would do it again?  If it was available in Alaska, I think we might try it but maybe only every other week or something.  But I have to say that it’s still worth considering when we are down in the lower 48 housesitting since we could vary our meals without having to invest in a bunch of spices – well that and since it will be winter and there will be no farmer’s markets to tempt us.

Advertisements


Leave a comment

Housesitter Perk – Meal Kit Delivery by Blue Apron

Full disclaimer – we are experienced home cooks and definitely qualify for foodie status.  So why would we consider a meal kit delivery service?  Well, we’d seen commercials and watched some friends try them via Facebook and the only thing I could think is when we are housesitting, it might vary our meals a little more without having to buy a bunch of ingredients we would never use again.  But this would only work when we were at a sit long enough and frankly, part of sitting is seeking out local foods and shopping the local markets so we would only want to get a few meals.  As luck would have it, we were able to try a meal kit service on two recent sits, courtesy of our awesome homeowners.

On the first sit, the homeowner said they started Blue Apron as they were tired of cooking and the decision making that goes with it.  They thought because there were no leftovers and they only got what they needed for that meal, it saved them money in the long run.  A recent article about a study done by Dr. Oz and his team supports this.  They had an extra meal they wouldn’t use before they left and asked us to eat it so it didn’t go bad.  How thoughtful!  As it turned out, it was an Alaska rockfish recipe with a kale side – being from Alaska, it was amusing to see the rockfish and kale isn’t Cabana Boy’s favorite but we made it, it was tasty and we really appreciated the trial run.

20171020_122424

Then came the real trial at a house sit several weeks later.  As we were in the area, we stopped by to visit with the homeowners.  In showing us around, we saw boxes and freezer gel packs from Blue Apron in the garage, waiting to be sent back for recycling.  I commented how we had been interested in the meal kit service and we’d been fortunate enough to try a meal at our last sit.  In confirming details by email later, the homeowners said they wanted to buy us a week of Blue Apron to try while they were gone.  So incredibly generous that at first I insisted it was too much but they really wanted to so we agreed and picked our meals from the list they sent us.  They confirmed delivery would be the Friday afternoon after they left and we’d need to be home then or soon after to ensure it didn’t get too warm.

We moved into their house on a Wednesday and only purchased enough dinner stuff for a couple days.  Friday came and FedEx showed up at the door in the afternoon as promised.  The box they left was fairly compact.  It readily identified what was inside which I’m not sure I liked.  On one hand, you know to scoop it up and get it into the fridge. On the other hand, it advertises there’s a full box of food sitting on the porch just waiting for someone to snatch it.  But if someone needs food that bad, I think they are welcome to it.

20171020_122434

We immediately opened the box to see what we’d received – honestly, we’d forgotten what we ordered!   There was an insulating liner inside the box and two big freezer gel packs.  I think the food would have stayed plenty cold even if we hadn’t made it home til late that night – and we were having nice 70ish temperatures in Washington at the time.

20171020_12250120171020_122551

There are three meals in each box and a recipe card with pictures and very detailed instructions for each meal is included.  The nice thing is if you liked something, you can save the card and replicate it in the future since the ingredients are listed.

20171020_122523

Each ingredient is labeled to make it easy to find what you need.  In addition, each meal has a small brown bag labeled “Knick-Knacks” that holds all the small bits of things you’ll need for the meal so they don’t get lost in the shuffle. We sorted through everything and put it in a dish to keep it all together in the fridge.  We got this idea from a bin used by the last homeowner for their meal kits.  On one hand, everything is together and you can just pull the bin/dish out and grab what you need for that night’s meal but if I was doing it at home, I think I’d put my produce in the crisper drawer and my meat in the deli drawer.  But I do think I’d try to keep it all a bit separate from the other things.

20171020_123322

After popping it all in the fridge, we discussed when we might prepare the meals.  This was tough for us as our plans had evolved – as they are wont to do.  We had plans for that night’s meal and had family coming the next day so likely wouldn’t start then either.  And we knew we’d be hitting the farmer’s market, something we love to do when housesitting, and there would be veggies and fruit from that to consider as well.  We decided Sunday would be the day we’d begin and we’d cook through all three in a row rather than interspersing them with other meals.  If you had this box coming weekly, I think you’d likely become more adept at integrating it with meals you purchased locally.  But with the dish of meal kits staring us in the face every time we opened the fridge, we knew that would be the star of our week’s meals.

Stay tuned for more posts as we cook through the box!


Leave a comment

Four Nights In Tofino

When I first read a magazine piece on Tofino, I knew I had to go there. Big beaches to walk, good food, a casual atmosphere, fishing, and surfing if you have more balance and coordination than I do.  Occasionally, Tofino would rise to the top of my list after seeing another article or a mention from a friend.

Then two years ago, we had a housesit on Vancouver Island and a stretch of good weather. I looked up the distance from the house in Parksville and decided that if we got an early start, we could go out and back in one day; a sort of recon mission for a future trip. So we loaded up our petsit charge, a lovely springer spaniel, put on our beach walking shoes, grabbed drinks and snacks and headed Vancouver Island Housesit January2015 (316).jpgout.

What followed was a five hour round trip on some narrow, twisty roads through beautiful forest, a five mile walk on a beach that seemed to go on forever, and a great lunch overlooking the town and water.

As I drove us back, hubby and pup both sound asleep, I vowed to come back when we could spend more time.

Fast forward to this January and the opportunity to return to Vancouver Island to care for the springer wonderdog came around. This time, we planned for an extra bit of time at the end of the sit to make a run to Tofino. I had read much about the Wickaninnish Inn over the years and had thought to spoil ourselves with a couple nights there but found it closes in January for annual cleaning and maintenance. There are many other options for lodging in Tofino, from budget to luxury, but I couldn’t pass up a Rewards member deal at the Best Western Tin Wis Resort so I booked two nights.

The drive out to Tofino runs through Port Alberni and along Sproat Lake, then becomes narrower as it cuts through the rainforest before dumping you out at the coast. It is a 2.5 hour drive on a good day and our day just that, sunny and temperate. As we went, I marked a few places I wanted to pull over for photos on our way back. Once at the coast, a left turn will take you into Ucluelet and a right turn will take you to Tofino, taking you through the Pacific Rim park and passing many beaches along the way.

We found the Tin Wis, a native phrase for “calm waters”, without too much trouble. It sits right on Mackenzie Beach and is more of a motel style in that the “hallways” are open to the elements facing the parking.  This also means every room faces the beach. We snagged a room on the second floor, which had us carrying our suitcases up two flights of stairs as there is no elevator, but also gave us an elevated view of the beach from our balcony.

After settling in, we drove into Tofino for lunch. It’s a short 2-3 mile drive. A recommendation from a bartender in Vancouver sent us to the Wolf and the Fog. They have a smallish bar area downstairs for lunch and a larger restaurant upstairs for dinner. Hubby ordered the burger and a brew on tap.  I had a shrimp po-boy with big prawns lightly battered and stuffed in a roll with amazing Asian-inspired slaw.

I washed it down with one of their specialty cocktails, a Cedar Sour made with cedar-infused rye.  It was quite unique with a definite woody flavor that left a bit of a tannic dryness in my mouth.

20170131_150216.jpg    

After lunch, we strolled through town, poking into the shops carrying trinkets, clothes suited to the area, and of course, surfing equipment.

Needing more steps to walk off the lunch, we headed back to the hotel, changed into our beach shoes, and walked out on Mackenzie Beach. It’s a nice curved. sandy beach, small by Tofino standards but big anywhere else.

We walked from end to end, exploring the tide pools in the rocks at either end.

    P1080732.JPG

Back in the hotel, we decided that dinner wasn’t in the cards after our big lunch so we spent the evening enjoying the sunset and a glass of wine on our balcony.

Mackenzie Beach Sunset (4)

The next morning, we decided breakfast would be a good idea before we set out for the day. The restaurant at the hotel is nicely appointed and it has a sunroom/patio area that looked to be quite nice for summertime use. The food was basic but done well and the service was decent. Then it was off to the beach – but which one? We chose Long Beach where we had walked two years before. And it is long – stretching off into the distance in either direction from the parking area. We walked and walked and finally decided we should turn back while we still had the energy for the return trip.

Back at the hotel, we cleaned up and decided to head to The Schooner for dinner. We 20150128_121614.jpghad been here for lunch on our first trip and it also came recommended by the Vancouver bartender. It’s upstairs and has a lovely view of the Tofino and Clayoquot Sound. We started with a sampler of oysters – classic Rockafeller, Robatta with miso, ginger and lime, and my favorite, Nami Nori, which are fried and finished with honey wasabi mayo and tobiko. Then we shared Halibut Bawden Bay stuffed with shrimp, crab and brie. Good thing we split the meal!

The next morning, we headed into Ucluelet, about 35 miles from Tofino. Much of it is built on black rock so there aren’t beaches to walk but I was more interested in the Amphritite lighthouse and its section of the Wild Pacific Trail. It did not disappoint. The lighthouse is a short downhill walk from the parking area and the trail perches on the rocks above beautiful blue green ocean.

The walk is pretty flat with just a little up and down, mostly dirt, and has several places to stop for a break or a picture.  We could have walked much more on the Wild Pacific Trail but we had some other things to explore.

      

Back in Uke, as Ucluelet is known, we stopped by Pina, a print shop that specializes in Pacific Northwest inspired designs. We had stopped in their boutique in Tofino and admired the designs but when the gal there said we could have them custom made at the Uke store for the same price, we knew we must stop there. Soon we were leaving with our first souvenirs – two hooded sweatshirts (we wear a lot of hoodies in Alaska) with designs on the front and sleeves that we’d chosen from books of many. Not only did we have a memento of our trip but these became our new “dress hoodies”, a concept from Alaska where you have a hoodie or two that are worthy of a casual evening out.

We had to check out Wickaninnish Beach on our way back.   It’s a bit of a drive in from the highway which ends in several parking areas.  A short walk through the trees brings you to a relatively steep beach popular with surfers.

Even in January, they are donning wetsuits in the parking lot.  We were fortunate to catch several of them showing off their skills.  Wickanninish Beach Surfers (29)

We also saw a pair of eagles on the sand and upon further investigation, found they were making a meal of a dead seal that had washed up.

Dead critters aside, this is a big beach with plenty of room to walk.  There is also Kwistis Visitor Centre at the south end of the beach but we spent too long on the beach and missed it.  Next time!

We arrived home just in time for sunset on Mackenzie Beach – best observed with a glass of wine in hand as we had discovered on our first night here.

Mackenzie Beach Sunset (1)

Are you surprised that we headed out to the beach again the next day?  This time we headed to Incinerator Rock at the north end of Long Beach. We walked north and the beach curved around a point and we were able to check out the tidepools around a little “island” on the way.  It was definitely the quieter end of the beach.

Long Beach - Tofino (12)

Back at the parking area, we watched others climb up Incinerator Rock for a picture.  Then we zipped back towards town so we could get lunch at the last of our recommended spots.  Tacofino has their original taco truck (they are also in Vancouver and Victoria) at back of a complex that includes Chocolate Tofino and Wildside Grill.  Hubby got a huge basket of ling cod and chips from Wildside and I got fish tacos  and a bowl of tortilla soup for us to share from Tacofino – both excellent choices that we enjoyed at the outdoor tables next to Tacofino.  Of course before we left, we had to grab some chocolates at Chocolate Tofino and promise ourselves we’d make it back for their gelato.  (Sadly, we never did as they close quite early so weren’t open when the dessert craving hit)

20170202_115553 (1).jpg        

For our final night’s dinner, we headed to Long Beach Lodge.  This resort consists of individual cabins lining the road to the lodge which sits above a small but popular surfing beach.  The lodge is beautiful – very open, northwest decor, with a nice view.  The bartender did a great job at making gin fizzes (a rare find these days) and then we shared our way through the menu.  We started with Venison Carpaccio – smoked venison & foraged salad with cherries & local Tofino coffee oil.  Then we shared a 22-day aged rib eye that was cooked to perfection and finished with a giant French macaron for dessert. It was the perfect ending to a fabulous trip.

20170204_203105-COLLAGE.jpg

As you can tell, we had extended our stay by a couple of days since we were having so much beach and foodie fun but we decided would leave Friday and drive into Victoria for the weekend.  We awoke to muffled surf sounds and looking out the window, saw that a couple inches of snow had fallen.

20170203_082534.jpg

It was coming down hard but we had reservations in town and we are, after all, Alaskans with a 4WD truck so we packed up and checked out.  By this time, there were 5-6 inches and still coming down.  The desk clerk said she’d seen the RCMP Mountie rig in the ditch that morning and urged me to take coffee and snacks for the long drive.  And it was long – 5.5 hours long – with the first 3.5 hours at 25-35 miles an hour as we wended our way along that narrow road with 4-12 inches of wet snow packing into ice.  Needless to say, those spots I marked for pictures were passed by.  It was a relief to turn our keys over to the valet at the Magnolia Hotel with instructions to park the truck for three days.

As we settled in, the memory of the long drive fading in the glow of the fireplace, we looked back at our little runaway to the outer coast.  Tofino and Ucluelet are small places but their backyard is huge and we have enough things left undone that I can imagine a return trip is likely in the cards!

 


Leave a comment

Adventures in Housesitting – South Whidbey Island

 

First things first – an apology for how lax I’ve been at writing.  I need a bit of peace for the thoughts to flow out my fingers and I’ve found that rarely happens until later in the evening when we are traveling and by then the activities of the day are usually making my eyelids a bit heavy.  When we get home, we are moving a mile a minute catching up on chores and diving into projects.  All that to say, I’ll try to do better because I’ve so much to share from our adventures.  So here’s the first….

We already know Whidbey Island so scoring a housesit there was a little like coming home, especially for Cabana Boy who spent much of his youth there. His parents had property in Coupeville where his dad and his wife still live.  When I saw the housesit ad on Trusted Housesitters for somewhere in Greenbank, I knew we had to apply.  Looking through the ad, it appeared the home was on the water so I scrambled to get our application in – if you know me, you know I’m all about being near saltwater – having my morning coffee with that salty smell surrounding me is pure bliss!  When I got the acceptance from the homeowners, we did a little celebration dance (thank goodness no one was watching that!) and called Dad to let him know we were coming. Despite the fact that we’ve already done this, he asked the same question…”so you don’t know these people?”  Everyone is always surprised by this; that we housesit for people we don’t know.  And it is a big leap of faith for them and for us but we always hope to meet new people, experience new places and maybe make new friends.

The trip down to Whidbey is a story for another time.  Suffice to say, we packed up our truck, grabbed the Alaska Marine Highway ferry to Haines, and drove down the Alaska Canada and Cassiar Highways.  We arrived on Whidbey the day before our homeowners left and made our way to their home in the Lagoon Point neighborhood on the south end of the island.  While they headed to Europe, we were in charge of their lovely home on the lagoon – actually a manmade ocean estuary – two blocks back from the ocean, their sailboat docked out front, and their lovely kitty, Rachel.  We toured the house, went over their housesitter list and started making friends with Rachel who was a bit standoffish to start.  The next morning, we retrieved their car from the shuttle stop and settled in.  It could not have been a more beautiful day to try out the patio and watch the boats, birds, and people.

Whidbey Housesit (12)

Rachel was a breeze.  She let herself in and out through a window, exhibiting full disdain for the cat door.  When she was ready to be petted, she would jump up on a little bench and wait for her human servants to brush her.  If you didn’t respond quickly enough, she would come for you and lead you to the bench.  She wasn’t the kind to sit on your lap but she would walk around us – on the floor, on the sofa back, on the patio.  But two nights in, I awoke to find her on the bed, staring at me.  I began to pet her, she began to purr, and it wasn’t long before we were both asleep.  When I awoke, she was gone.  It was a pattern to be repeated many times during the stay.

Our first trip together was to Whidbey and we’ve returned so many times but we’d always been near the upper end of the island.  We decided we had to take advantage of our time to not only revisit our old favorites but also to explore new ones.  Since South Whidbey State Park was just a couple minutes up the road, we started there.  It has a campground, walking trails and beach access.  We stopped at the kiosk to buy an annual Discovery Pass, good in any Washington State Park for twelve months from the date of issue (day passes are also available).   After looking at the trail map, we took the trail to the beach, winding through the tall trees, the beautiful fall leaves, ferns and mosses.  It’s a bit of a walk and downhill so the uphill portion awaits your return to the car but it’s well worth it.  The walk itself is so lovely but when it dumps you out on the beach, it’s the icing on the cake.  The beach is sandy, long and on our first visit, fairly narrow because of the high tide.  There were people fishing both from the shore and from nearby boats.  We walked at least a mile down the beach, alternating between watching the water and the sand in front of our feet, looking for beach treasures.  Even the hike back uphill didn’t seem too bad after the peace and quiet of the beach.

P1080024

 

Another day found us revisiting Ebey’s Landing mid-island for another beach walk.  The beach is part of the larger National Historic Reserve.  Many people walk the bluff trail many feet above the ocean for the beautiful views but I can never wait that long to get to the beach.  And it’s a big beach, taking you far into the distance – far enough that we started our standard beach walk conversation.  CB – “I’m about done.”  Me – “just a little bit more.”  CB – “we have to walk all the way back too.”  Me – “how about just to that rock/log/point?”   Eventually, he wins and we walk back to the truck…me lagging well behind!  You can also make a loop of both the bluff and the beach.  Ebey’s beach is littered with driftwood and well used by locals for both walking and fishing.  And yet, its big enough that even when the tiny parking lot is busy, it’s not too far into the walk before you are mostly alone.  The day we went was windy and the surf pounded the shore making for a lovely walk.

Ebey (2)

And no trip to Whidbey is complete without a visit to Fort Casey which looks out over the Strait of Juan de Fuca.  On our first visit to Fort Casey, the entire Fort was open and you could explore all the rooms through the bunkers and buildings.  It was a test of my trust when he took me through “The Switchboard”, a narrow passageway that runs around the outside of a room in one of the buildings.  In the dark!  Where there could have been spiders!  Yep, that’s love there!  Even though its all closed up, its still a great place to visit and you are almost guaranteed to see deer and rabbits frolicking as you walk up to Admiralty Head Lighthouse and peer over the bluff to the water below.

Fort Casey (8)
Lest you think that this was all about beaches, I assure you we managed to fit in a few other activities.  We spent part of a day wandering around Langley, a small artist type community on the south island overlooking the water.  The main street is lined with shops, restaurants and a wine tasting room. We visited Prima Bistro, a French inspired restaurant where I had a tough time deciding which of the lovely items to try off their menu.  Fresh clams?  Penn Cove Mussels?  Cheese and Charcuterie?  All that went by the wayside when I saw my favorite – Croque Madame with house made bread, Parisian ham, gruyere cheese, a fried egg, and béchamel.  With a cool drink, it made a lovely brunch!  CB had to have the Fish Frites (fish and chips for those who do not parle francais) served with a caper remoulade and fennel slaw.  He declared it was the best fish and chips he’d had in some time which is saying something – he’s a bit of a Fish Frites hound.

Prima Bistro

We walked off our meal visiting some of the shops and made our way up to Callahan’s Firehouse – a glass blowing studio in, what else, an old firehouse.  If you go, ask to see what’s in the back – where they keep lots more inventory of hand blown glass.  I did not leave empty handed.  We also stopped at Ott and Murphy Wines for a lovely spot of red wine and on our way home, at Blooms Winery tasting room. I’ve always enjoyed their space in the historic Bayview Corner Cash Store where they have art, gift items, some lovely bites, and usually live music on Sunday afternoons.

One Saturday, we met with a friend, formerly from Juneau, at the farmers market near Langley just off the main highway that traverses the island – not far from Blooms.  It was one of the last for the season but we managed to fill our shopping bag with fresh veggies and bread and held firm resolve against the lovely pies and pastries.  Looking for a place to sit and catch up, we drove south on the island, following our friend as she turned off the main highway and drove some ways through the forest until we arrived at Mulkiteo Coffee Company where they not only roast the coffee but they have a lovely little café with both inside and outer seating (maybe you want to sit on a horse saddle stool?), a nice menu including breakfast served all day.  It was a lovely place to sip coffee and catch up!

And no trip would be complete without a visit to Coupeville – well, actually it was three visits.  We had to go to the farmers market where we were able to pick up baked goods, fresh veggies, and a lovely pair of earrings for mom-in-law, all while debating an order from one of the food trucks parked among the stands.  20151003_095013Our second visit was a day that started and ended at the Knead and Feed.  We had to have a pastry from the upstairs bakery to fortify us for wandering through the shops that line this little town on Penn Cove and ducked back into the downstairs café for a light lunch later.  And since we are, after all, us, we had to drop in for a little tasting at the Vail Wine Shop where they have both reds and whites open so you can sample before you buy, which of course we did!  Our last trip is a tradition for as long as I can remember – lunch at Toby’s Tavern with Dad and his wife.  As with so many buildings, Toby’s has some history.  The back bar was originally brought around the horn and took up residence in Fort Worden in the officers’ club sometime around 1900.  It moved to Fort Casey and then to the Central Hotel in Coupeville.  After a fire at the hotel, the back bar moved to Toby’s.

We also took some time to meet with friends of our homeowners, who we actually made contact with through the Trusted Housesitters site.  As petsitters, they handle daily visits when people are traveling but were interested in meeting us to recommend for those folks who want someone to stay in their home.  We had a lovely visit and exchanged information.  As of this writing, we have one new contact and are about to embark on a new housesit because of these connections.  And Rachel?  Well, we decided we will actually leave Juneau in the summer (I know – no Alaskan leaves in the summer but there you have it!) so we can visit with her again.