SURPRISE! IT’S ANOTHER HOLIDAY AVALANCHE!

holiday avalancheLet me whisk you off to metaphor land. It’s snowing outside and has been for days. It’s time to take a look at the snow accumulation on the roof, so I head outside and step under the eaves. I extend a broom handle above me and jam it into the thick foamy protrusion hanging over the lip of the roof. Within a second I am engulfed in a frozen avalanche; left gasping for air from surprise and cold shock. Now let’s take that little fictional episode and say that the snowfall represents Thanksgiving, and the Siberian-style landslide is the approach to Christmas. Despite the same routines and expectations every year, the family winter holidays always result in a surprise crushing blow that leaves me frazzled and shaking stuff out of my ears for weeks afterward.

Preparations for visitors and their inherent tumult of food, bedding and activities; Christmas card photos, composition, addressing and sending; musical engagements like the kids’ school concerts and my band’s Christmas shows; presents and food shopping; family outings to ice skating, drummers, “Straight No Chaser” show, and botanical garden lights; various company and social parties…even writing this list makes my blood pressure rise, and I haven’t even started my craft beading projects yet or going to church! I can hear the roar of the avalanche in the distance, but my feet are stuck in the snow.holiday avalanche 2

Avert your eyes or skip ahead a couple paragraphs if you think I’m a generous and kind-hearted neighbor. I’d like you to preserve that positive impression you might have of me, and what I’m about to reveal will pulverize that illusion. Starting in early November I batten down the hatches on my social receptiveness and accordance. Over the years I’ve honed survival strategies intended to maximize my enjoyment of holiday sparkle and fun, but minimize my effort output. My first line of defense is to stop giving to as many places as possible. (Can you feel the Grinch squeezing his way in?) The holidays make me feel drained of energy, finances and creativity, so number one that gets flicked off my list is my Puget Sound Blood Center appointments. I literally feel drained, (of course) when I leave my pint of blood in the clinic’s plastic bags, so sorry car accident victims, you’re out of luck with regard to my B positive contribution from November through January. I don’t have much “being positive” to spare for 60 straight days, and I have to allocate it to other causes.

The next thing to go is excursions from the house with only a single intended stop. If I can’t pack in at least four errands in one trip, then I’m not using my iPhone apps wisely. And with all the new stores now open in the Highlands my shopping list of mascara, clogs, cranberries, candles and a screwdriver can get banged out in the blink of an eye. Sorry Santa, a visit to your lap gets lumped in with printer ink and an oil change.

You can now tune back in to hear how Big Giver Tami approaches the holidays meaningfully. Resources of time, talent and treasure are tapped more frequently in the last two months of the calendar year. I have to get creative with my treasure with all the gift shopping we do. Spreading out the financial squeeze, yet fully embracing the materialistic side of the season, I started my purchases in late September this year. As for talent, I just follow my skillful bandmates from one “Celtic Christmas” gig to the next, spreading cheer and sharing our joy of music with audiences across Seattle. (Shameless self-promotion here: be sure to pop by Blakely Hall Sunday, December 8 at 5:00pm to witness firsthand my bandmates’ genius on Irish instruments.) Finally, with regards to sharing time during the holidays, while there’s not much of it to spare, I try and keep everything meaningful and family focused. Being the Big Giver that I am, if I had to choose between doing the dinner dishes or lying under the Christmas tree looking up at the lights alongside one of my boys, I’m good with tackling caked-on food residue a few hours later. Let the avalanche spill all over me and shock me with chaos – it’s worth it!

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Traipsing around Kirkland’s cuisine

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Epicureans and the epi-curious gathered Wednesday evening as part of Dishcrawl Kirkland to sample delicacies from four centrally located restaurants. Think of it as a pub crawl with the pursuit of great local food as the goal. En masse, the Dishcrawl participants made a procession from bistro to tavern to café, sampling some of Kirkland’s finest cuisine along the way. SONY DSC

One of the best ways a restaurant can distinguish itself is by wowing the patrons with their signature dishes. In the case of a Thai restaurant, diners will usually expect a selection of curries and of course, Pad Thai. Lai Thai did just that. Their noodles delicately balanced savory flavors with a medley of textures to keep it all interesting. All I could do was nod in approval when I sampled their Red Curry. I like a little spice but I don’t want a blowtorch. They balanced the coconut milk with the heat of the peppers as deftly as a Cirque du Soleil acrobat.

With whetted appetites we were ready to venture to the next restaurant. The weather was forgiving as we hopped across Lake Street and entered Top Shelf Broiler (formerly Olive You). Newly remodeled after a change of hands, Chef Miguel Estrada was brimming with pride over the menu selections. Whereas Lai Thai was able to showcase itself with tried-and-true traditions, Top Shelf Broiler can be counted on to amaze patrons with the unexpected. Tucked away on their side dish portion of the menu is, in my opinion, a main attraction contender: the black truffle macaroni and cheese. My knees buckled after tasting that Top Shelf take on comfort food. I asked Chef Estrada how he resists adding truffle oil to every dish. His response to my amateurish question was gracious and revealing of his breadth of cuisine knowledge. He also works wonders with prawns and Dungeness crab cakes.SONY DSC

Vista Lago, our third destination, took us on a virtual tour of Italy. My plate proudly displayed the colors of the Italian flag with sprigs of basil, white mozzarella in the Caprese and copious amounts of tomato on the bruschetta and pizza. I commented to the chefs that the pizza that really revved my engine was the Ferrari. They responded, “Wait until you taste our Lamborghini pizza!” I couldn’t resist checking the menu to see if they were pulling my leg. A word of advice; don’t be shy about venturing into the primi and secondi categories of the menu. Vista Lago has a good handle on their mushrooms and sausage pasta in creamy tomato sauce.

Just when we thought we’d have to order a Genie Lift to hoist our stuffed selves out of the restaurant, dessert arrived. Good news, we don’t have to walk to the fourth restaurant. Not so good news, we have to figure out a way to eat more. Good thing Thanksgiving wasn’t so long ago. Sweet Cakes offered cute and tantalizing cupcakes, with flavors for every palette. The salted caramel cupcake did a good job of mimicking a truffle (in a cake-like fashion). The red velvet lived up to its reputation. However, the hands-down favorite at our table was the coconut cupcake. Aloha!

Dishcrawl Kirkland was a chance for likeminded foodies to gather as a group and try traditional dishes and fresh approaches to local cuisine. The event successfully displayed a few of the mouthwatering restaurants within walking distance of each other.

Cuisine Circuit at Bellevue Dishcrawl

Fiesta Frolic decor at La Cocina del Puerco

There is a new foodie trolling local restaurants, sampling their delicacies, and she can be found at Dishcrawl. Tuesday night, our epicurean group progressed en masse, stopping at four Old Bellevue establishments to sample their definitive dishes. The Eastside debut of this continentally-popular event resembled a roving gastronomic parade, whose participants were united by their love of food and fresh experiences. The foodies in attendance last night had refined ambitions, breaking from lofty alimental goals of the past. Passé is the pursuit to sample the most expensive and rare edibles. De rigueur is impressing the palette without pressuring the pocketbook. Dishcrawl Bellevue delivered with good taste.

The first stop on our food parade brought us to a pequeño Mexican restaurant with grande taste. La Cocina del Puerco, located on Old Main Street is entering its 28th year serving savory carnitas and intricate tamales that make you say “adios” to hunger. Don’t let the “Fiesta Frolic” décor fool you. This cocina means business when it comes to its grilled potato flautas coupled with fresh pico de gallo salsa. Upon departure from our south-of-the-border starter I scheduled my return in two weeks for their class on making traditional holiday tamales. Even their red and green salsa samples were getting into the Christmas spirit.

Lengthy gourmet olive oil selection

Our merry group proceeded on our tour across the street to Two Sisters Olive Oil. There we met Dee, one of the namesake sisters who hosted our introduction to some of the finest olive oils and balsamic vinegars ever made. We dipped into a dazzling variety of olive oils that were joined with delicate herbs during processing. The star attraction at the sampling table was the Caramelized Balsamic Onion Relish, showcasing two specialized vinegars and knocking me off my feet with flavor. I just declared the actor for the role of Thanksgiving appetizer next week.

Though reluctant to peel myself away from my olive oil reverie I followed our Dishcrawl group as they crossed Old Main   Street and headed to The Spot Off Main. With a beer in one hand we dug into sliders and an antipasti platter. The surrounding pool tables were cracking with activity and the atmosphere was genial. Just when we thought we’d exceeded our consumption limits dessert arrived courtesy of Cupcake Royale, the icing on the cake of the evening’s food procession.

Ready to dig in to dessert

Across the continent from Philadelphia and Montreal to San Francisco, Dishcrawl links fellow foodies with camaraderie and cuisine, on a sampling sojourn of affordable local fare. Check the Dishcrawl calendar for the next Eastside food treasure hunt.

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