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Bus Fare Blues

Exploring the hidden corners of Seattle

I’d like to start this post by saying I’m sorry. I’m sorry for being from California. For ruining the Northwest by moving up here and telling everyone else that the weather isn’t that bad after all. I’m sorry for occupying one of the few affordable, non-rent-controlled apartments downtown. But most of all, I’m sorry for being from California AND Utah.

California is ruining Seattle. I know, I hear you loud and clear. But there’s one thing worse than being from California. It’s being from Utah.

Utahns are religious, and the only way you get away with religion out here is if you run a charity. Or if you’re from Africa, cause that’s cool and multi-cultural. Our state food is Jello — we aren’t generally recognized as cultural. We’re just religious.

We were walking out the door on our way to church a few weeks ago when a neighbor ran into us in the stairwell. He looked at me in my shirt and tie, clutching my scriptures, and said “Hey look, you got a Bible and everything.” How quaint. I felt like a museum exhibit: homo nedflanderus. “Look kids, there’s the endangered American church-goer.”

So far, when I tell someone I’m from California, more often than not they say “No way, I’m from California too!” Then we chat about how much cooler Seattle is, as if it’s the biggest secret in the world. This happens more often than it should. Maybe all the true natives are hiding out across the Sound, gearing up for an intifada.

When I tell people I just moved from Utah, however, there’s always a brief awkward pause in the conversation, as if I just mentioned my bedwetting habbit and skinhead relatives in Spokane. They just don’t know what to say. That, or they’re pissed about Prop 8. After awhile if I keep talking, they’ll realize I’m not Amish or a polygamist, and the conversation usually returns to normal. But I’m tired of feeling like a space oddity.

I’m going to try an experiment: I’ll spend a few weeks telling people I’m from California, then I’ll switch to Utah for awhile. I’ll let you know when I finally get my story straight.

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Pike Market at NightPike Place Chowder is one of those must-see stops for anyone visiting Pike’s Market. It’s a tiny shop with plastic chairs, tucked into a picturesque corner of Post Alley, a few steps from the fruit vendors, fish hawkers, and hordes of camera-wielding tourists. The menu is fairly simple: five types of chowder along with a few salads and sandwiches that I’ll probably never get around to trying. The chowder! Oh, is it good. Alisha bought a cup of red Manhattan and I got the white. The broth is so thick it’s almost cheesy and the clams were incredibly tender; they almost melt in your mouth. At around $6 a cup it’s not the cheapest soup you can find, but it’s well worth the cost. We’ll have to go back and try the salmon chowder.

I asked the lady behind the counter where they get such delicious clams and she leaned in and said “I’ll let you in on a little secret: Washington clams are great flavor-wise, but if you want texture you have to import them from the Atlantic.” Maybe this Northwest classic isn’t as Northwest as I thought, but it sure tastes good.

Tip: go in the morning when the soup is fresh. After a few hours the clams will get tougher from sitting in the broth. They open at 11am, just in time for an early lunch.

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Real Change - Seattle Street PaperWhen you walk around downtown Seattle you might notice homeless people standing on street corners selling newspapers. The paper is Real Change, and it provides a fascinating, on-the-ground view of life in Seattle. Street paper content varies from city to city: I remember the Street Sense paper in Washington, DC was written predominately by the homeless themselves. It contained a mix of opinion pieces, narratives, poems, and local news. Real Change contains high-quality content on a broad range of social issues by staff reporters, religious leaders, and researchers. They recently converted from a monthly into a weekly paper and I assume that has increased their volume.

Street papers are a wonderful idea — they’re an example of microfranchising — a “business in a box” usually adapted for the poorest members of society, that enables them to climb out of poverty through entrepreneurship. Papers are sold to the homeless for $.35, who sell them on street corners for $1.00. So not only do they give a voice to homelessness issues, but they provide jobs in the process — an elegant solution to poverty.

 

 

 

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Tuesday Scarves Seattle Storefront
Alisha and I were roaming around the International District today and discovered a cool little store made possible by an amazing idea. Storefronts Seattle is an urban revitalization program that turns empty retail spaces into art galleries and trendy shops. Earlier in December, this nondescript vacant storefront was converted almost overnight into a cheery, inviting place among the bistros and antique shops of the International District. 

Store owner Rian Robison displays her collection of handmade scarves and wraps in what she calls a “pop-art inspired shopping gallery.” It’s a load of fun and she was great to talk to. We wish her business venture well and hope the Storefronts program continues to grow.

Storefronts Seattle recently posted a walking tour of the various spaces they’ve redeveloped. We’ll have to check out some of the others.

Location: 608 S Maynard Ave, Seattle, WA 98104

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Durian Rice CakeWe’ve always been intrigued and a little terrified by durian — if Andrew Zimmern hates it, it’s got to be bad (although Anthony Bourdain seems to love it for some reason). We first smelled durian at one of the fruit markets in Chinatown. Whole durians are usually frozen before transport, so they arrive covered in ice and (I’ve heard) much less smelly than before. You could still smell them a good 15 feet away – a distinct odor of especially ripe old laundry with something dead underneath.

I was checking out at Hau Hau Market in the International District the other day and the cashier lady picks up this weird yellow package and says “You try. Is good.” So I put it in my cart like a good little boy and brought it home. It was durian rice cake.

It stared at us for a week.

We were feeling adventurous today and decided to try it. For starters, it looked more like a brick of C4 than a delicious pastry, but we weren’t deterred. We opened the wrapper (hand-wrapped with cellophane tape in San Gabriel, CA) and there in its pungent glory, a thick yellow slab of durian-flavored goo sat sandwiched between two layers of chalky rice flour — a Newton from hell.

We broke off a small piece and each took a bite. The chalk (I mean rice) layers were dried and crumbly like month-old sandwich bread smushed between two schoolbooks and left to age. And the filling…yikes! The taste was somewhere between Circus Peanuts and fresh fiberglass resin; very chemical, with a faint lingering odor of rancid onion. Alisha made a stink-face and spit it out immediately. I somehow swallowed my bite and dared a few more nibbles of the yellow filling, trying to figure out what durian actually tastes like. After I somewhat learned to ignore the harsh initial flavor, there was a delicate raspberry-like finish at the end, a tingly sweetness like aspartame on the tip of your tongue.

As I type this article I keep burping up an awful turpentine smell. Your welcome.

Glad we were willing to be adventurous and that we found something positive to say about this stuff. Not sure we’d try it again, unless we needed a good opportunity to gross out our few friends.

Location: Hau Hau Market 412 12th Ave S # 101, Seattle, WA 98104

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Danny Woo Community Garden, SeattleI’m a huge fan of community gardens and one of the first things we did when we arrived in Seattle was to visit the Danny Woo Community Garden, a terraced green oasis hidden between a high-rise apartment complex and the freeway. Kobe, Japan (a sister-city to Seattle) contributed to the planning of this asian-themed garden, which is divided into small parcels for local asian residents to grow bok choy, bitter melon, and other produce not commonly found on supermarket shelves.

The entry to the garden is flanked by stone lanterns and Japanese wooden arches. We wandered through walking trails flanked by bamboo and Japanese maple before arriving at the garden — a delightfully ramshackle assortment of small terraced plots. An elderly asian man bent over a row of cilantro and green onions, watching us while we ambled from plot to plot like museum patrons. This is definitely more of a working garden than a tourist attraction – the walkways were narrow and frequently overgrown; you could tell some gardeners were more dedicated than others. We passed one plot completely taken over by some exotic variety of heirloom tomato staked to an elaborate system of bamboo trellis, next to another plot completely taken over by chamomile.

Danny Woo Garden plotsFrom our hilltop vantage point, we watched Chinatown spring to life as the morning progressed. A tiny Korean lady shuffled down the street on her morning walk and the Dim Sum shops opened their doors. The smell of fried duck drifted our way from the barbecue place down the street. I could hear the freeway traffic picking up as rush-hour commuters began to arrive. A cool gust from Puget Sound set the prayer flags fluttering, casting off trailing threads of red, green, and yellow.

We were getting hungry, so we made our way to the end of the garden, a long stepped path that zigzagged between overgrown fig trees before passing under a decaying wooden arch to deposit us on Main Street in front of the Panama Hotel.

Location: 221 6th Avenue South, Seattle, Washington

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Yakima Fruit Market

Cinderella Pumpkins, Bothell Fruit Market

I was visiting a friend in Bothell yesterday and noticed a fruit market on the side of the road. I had to stop and take a look. The produce was incredibly fresh and a little on the pricey side, although I was able to scout a few deals. The Fuji apples were only $.99/lb and were deliciously sweet and slightly tart – quite possibly the best apples I’ve ever tasted, and HUGE! Easily three times the size of some of the apples you buy at the grocery store. We’ve scouted various roadside stands around the state and even braved the tourist trap barns on I-90, and we’ve never had apples like this. The Honeycrisp get rave reviews and fetch a higher price, but in my humble opinion Fuji is best.

Produce, eggs, local dairy products, honey, herbs, and mushrooms — all local too. Why can’t every town have a market like this?

The fruit stand has been in operation since 1938 and is open from April to October.

Location: 17321 Bothell Way NE, Bothell, WA 98011

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