Sunday, February 17, 2013

Tet Treats

Banh Kep La Dua (above)
Hue Ky Mi Gia, $1.50

Che Ba Mau (below)
Hue Ky Mi Gia, $3.00

Originally opened in Saigon in 1959, the Hue Ky Mi Gia noodle restaurant now has a massive menu and two Seattle-area locations--but only at a temporary stall at Seattle Center's Tet Festival does Hue Ky Mi Gia dish up these New Year's delicacies.   Banh kep la dua is special waffle that gets its color and aroma from the leaves of the screwpine or pandan plant.  Che ba mau is a drinkable dessert:  iced coconut milk with brown sugar syrup, red beans, and chewy green noodles made from rice flour and--again--that addictive pandan extract. 

Saturday, February 16, 2013


Tibetan Association of Washington, $15 with Losar dinner

Seattle's tiny Tibetan community puts on a Losar celebration that's everything I like a New Year's bash to be:  colorful, well catered, teeming with raucous children, and equal parts mystery and welcome.

I wandered into the Shoreline Senior Center shyly, not knowing a soul, but in under a minute I was offered at seat at a friendly table.  As we made introductions, a man came by with a large box and tongs, topping a paper plate already full of extra-spicy Cheetos with a delicacy I'd only ever read about, a treat both mysterious and hospitable:  Tibetan "cookies", or khapse

Made from dampened wheat flour and small amounts of salt, sugar, or both, khapse's appeal has more to do with appearance and texture than with flavor.  The dough is rolled into sheets, cut into strips, and wrought into a variety of traditional or whimsical shapes.  Finally, a dip in boiling oil gives the flimsy sculptures structural integrity and crunch.  

In Tibet, Losar season calls for vast quantities of khapse, from elaborate coils and curls that are stacked into offering towers, to simpler twists stored in a tin and brought out to eat with tea whenever a visitor stops by.  In the lead-up to Losar, professional khapse makers will make house calls, using portable deep fryers to create temporary outdoor kitchens for the freshest cookies.  

My first bite wasn't promising; my butterfly-shaped khapse was so hard and dry that my jaw ached after two chews.  Then a new acquaintance arrived back at the table with a round of hot, milky tea and some advice.  A quick tea-bath transformed my khapse into something much more enjoyable, and I polished it off wing by wing as the adults around me discussed the difficulties of the past year and their brightly-dressed children dashed around the room, laughing.  

Thursday, February 14, 2013

Raw Milk and Live Cookies

Raw Milk 
Dungeness Valley Creamery, $1.50/pint

Live Chocolate-Walnut Cookie
The Cookie Jar, $3

Whatever the dairy equivalent of "bread basket" might be, the Sequim-Dungeness Valley would have earned the title for much of the 20th century.  The arrival of the first cows in 1860 inaugurated a thriving industry; eventually the area boasted hundreds of dairy farms and thousands of cows, most of them Guernseys and Jerseys producing buttery high-fat milk.  

Over the last fifty years, though, Sequim-area dairying has declined.  The new norm emphasizes larger farms, industrialized techniques, lower-fat milk, and higher-yielding cows (typically Holsteins). 

One of two dairies remaining in the Valley today, the Dungeness Valley Creamery is extremely choosy about which trends it follows and which it bucks.  Located on the bluff above the Dungeness Spit, the creamery facility was built in 1992 by a family who have been in the dairy business since the 1970s.  The farm's 38 acres are home to 60 vintage Jersey cows, each with her own name and personality.  Their milk is sold unpasteurized and unhomogenized, so that the cream rises to the top, and since 2006 Dungeness Valley Creamery milk has also been certified raw.  

The milk is cold and frothy with the sweet-clean aftertaste of mown grass.  It begs to be put to work washing something down, and the Creamery has the perfect partner on hand:  Live Cookies.  Available in a number of flavors, these substantial treats feature flours ground at the last minute and stored cold in order to maintain their nutrients.  

The Creamery's stock of Live Cookies is limited to what was left over after Live Bread Shoppe owner/baker Sherry Fry closed her Sequim-based business in 2012.  Fry's new nutritional counseling business in Puyallup will eventually offer Live Cookies, along with a cookbook, Nutrition From the Cookie Jar

(If you're navigating using Sequim's free tourist map, note that the Creamery's location is marked incorrectly.)

Dungeness Valley Creamery
1915 Towne Rd
Sequim WA

Wednesday, February 13, 2013

Lavender Ice Cream

Lavender Ice Cream
Purple Haze, $4

Around 1850 settlers who reached the Sequim and Dungeness Bays at the northern end of Washington's Olympic Peninsula began to take advantage of the flat plains and fertile soil left behind by retreating glaciers and the protective "rain shadow" cast by the Olympic Mountains.  They cleared, irrigated, planted, and harvested handsomely, eventually shifting their focus from vegetables to small-scale dairies. 

A little over a century later, a new wave of settlers began to arrive, drawn to the same favorable conditions but for different reasons.  After a syndicated newspaper column for retirees published a letter praising the area's mild weather and low cost of living, the small town of Sequim experienced a population boom.   One struggling dairy farm after another was replaced by housing developments and chain stores. 

But just when it looked like nothing could check the spread of the cul-de-sacs, a Sequim civic committee convened in 1995 with the goal of revitalizing the area's agricultural traditions.  Like the settlers and the retirees, they looked at the landscape and the weather and saw yet another new solution:  lavender. 

Today Sequim has positioned itself as "America's Provence," with more than 30 local farms collaborating on events like the annual Lavender Festival, which attracts thousands of tourists in mid-July.  But visitors who arrive outside the high season don't miss out:  farmstands and shops feature a wild variety of value-added products, from sniffable sachets and soaps, to edible lavender-laced cheeses, cookies, and chocolates.  The Purple Haze farm's mainstreet shop even sells lavender and white chocolate ice cream, produced by Elevated Ice Cream in nearby Port Townsend.  

Purple Haze Lavender Shop
127 W Washington St
Sequim WA

Crumb Grabbers Birthday Cupcake

Birthday Cupcake
Crumb Grabbers Bakery, free (!)

Crumb Grabbers Bakery is a popular spot for light meals and treats located in a friendly-looking house on a side street just off Sequim's main drag.   I had to elbow through the lunch crowd to reach the bakery counter, but that effort quickly paid off.

"It's our one-year anniversary," said the woman behind the counter, "Would you like a free birthday cupcake?"

Giddy with good fortune, I rushed out to the less-crowded parking lot to enjoy my freebie.  The chocolate-on-chocolate cupcake was moist and not too sweet, with a good balance of frosting to cake--even factoring in the frosting that mysteriously ended up on my face and shirt.
Crumb Grabbers Bakery 
492 W Cedar St
Sequim WA