Family Ties

Islands near Anacortes
Islands near Anacortes, Washington

My dad used to have an old adage: “there are two seasons in Seattle: August and the rest of the year.” His local wisdom explained why I summered here as a child, and why I never visited during any of the other months. Seattle, the site for a recent family reunion, is the cosmopolitan gem of the Pacific Northwest. Boasting a beautiful backdrop of lush evergreens, the city acted as an anchor for my exploration of Puget Sound and the San Juan Islands.

Down by the seaside
Down by the seaside

Flying in on a Friday afternoon, downtown Seattle welcomed me with a crisp, fresh breeze and stark, blue sky. Fighting hunger pangs from my flight, I dipped into my favorite pub, The Brooklyn. Just needing a quick bite to hold me over until dinner, I debated between the baker’s dozen and the beer & oyster flight, which pairs 4 draft brews and a complementary oyster for each. With eyes bigger than my stomach, I ultimately opted for more oysters. These hand picked delicacies, sourced from Washington, British Columbia, and California, did not disappoint. Served up with accompanying sauces, my baker’s dozen hit the spot and was polished off with the perfect partner, a clean and citrusy Haystack Hefeweizen from local brewery, Snoqualmie Falls.

Street Art, Downtown Seattle
Street Art, Downtown Seattle

Wandering through downtown, I passed some vibrant murals that reminded me of a recent art walk I did in Los Angeles. I ended up at Pike Place Market, which is an obligatory stop for anyone visiting Seattle, and my eyes, ears, and nose were met with an array of sensory delights such as hot buttered perogies, fresh seafood, and colorful vegetables. Stopping by Beecher’s Handmade Cheese in hopes of finding a hostess gift, I was pleasantly surprised by the selection of house made cheeses that were being churned right behind me! After sampling a few of the staff favorites, I opted for a few tubs of cheese curds after the salesman ensured me that they’d last a few hours at room temperature, and would make a great appetizer for Friday night’s dinner.

Delectable delights from Beecher's
Delectable delights from Beecher’s

Weaving my way over to historic Pioneer Square, I made a stop at one of my favorite shops in Seattle, Laguna Pottery. Greeted by rainbowed rows of Bauer, Franciscan, and Fiestaware dishes, I felt like a kid in a candy store. Laguna Pottery is a must-see for any pottery enthusiast hoping to find a unique piece to fill in their collection. Constrained by both my budget and space in my carry-on luggage, I chose a small turquoise Fiestaware serving platter from the colorful sea of cups, plates, and dinnerware.

Puget Sound Ferry Boat map
Puget Sound Ferry Boat map

With my teal treasure in tow, I made my way to the ferry for the next stop on my itinerary. The ferry system is a great way to see the expansive landscape of this picturesque region. Whether traveling by car, bike, or on foot, the passengers are ferried along seaside towns throughout the Sound.

Tree of Heaven mural in Port Townsend, Washington
Tree of Heaven mural in Port Townsend, Washington

Meeting up with other members of my family, we congregated at the ferry dock and meandered through the seaside town of Port Townsend. Although I had been to Port Townsend many times before, I discovered a new boutique, the Green Eyeshade. The Green Eyeshade, situated right in the middle of Water Street, is the perfect store to find a unique hostess gift, quirky cocktail napkins, or that elusive kitchen gadget. I always scoop up a few hard to find unscented tapers for dinner parties, knowing there’s not many guests who enjoy eating salmon smothered in the scent of sandalwood, and this store had them in every color and size. After taking a break at Pippa’s Real Tea for a refreshment, my family and I gathered nearby and planned out the rest of the weekend.

View of the bay from Water Street, Port Townsend
View of the bay from Water Street, Port Townsend

Unlike the typical family reunion, which features a dodgeball game and water balloon toss, my family’s uniting activity is antiquing. In almost sportlike fashion, we huddle at the front of the store and advise each other about what’s on our “hit list”: radios, butter pats, car shop signs, ivory jewelry, and other odd requests. First stop on our antiquing adventure is Snohomish. Voted by Budget Travel as one of America’s “Coolest Small Towns”, Snohomish is the unofficial antique capital of the Northwest. The quaint downtown, which is nestled along the Snohomish River, hosts boutiques, cafes, and plenty of antique stores. To fuel our day, we started at Snohomish Bakery, where I opted for a well-balanced breakfast of vegetable quiche and a sticky bun. Midway through the day, my family reconvened to share with each other the trinkets and treasures that we uncovered during the morning expedition. My proud find from Antique Station was an antique lipstick holder that I held up like a brand new puppy for everyone to see.

Dad
Dad by the shore

After a long day, my dad arranged a bonfire where family members, young and old, shared stories and reminisced over those classic summer staples of hamburgers, hot dogs, and s’mores. But the highlight of this balmy summer evening was the dedication of the Marion E. Taylor library. Built by my father with careful attention to the angle of the sun, timing of sunsets, and shade of the tall trees, this craftsman’s masterpiece features stained glass from England, family photos, a small fireplace, and a literary collection to keep one busy through the winter.

Bookshelf
Before you see the movies…

While dedicating the library, which bears my grandmother’s name, my father said a few poignant words and played Hoagy Carmichael’s “Stardust” to close the night. As I looked up at the star-filled sky with teary eyes, I thought about value of family, relationships, and the ties that carry us through.

Storefront of Calico Cupboard
Storefront of Calico Cupboard in downtown La Conner

The next morning launched the last leg of the reunion weekend in La Conner. The day commenced with a visit to Calico Cupboard, whose tagline is “best buns in town”. Enticed by the motto, I started the day with my weekend diet of quiche and a sticky bun. But this time, I opted for the house special, which was a sticky bun smothered with fresh raspberry compote. Walking off our breakfast, my dad and I stopped in his favorite store, The Wood Merchant. Marveling at the handcarved wood that fabricated everything from rocking chairs to jewelry racks, I was impressed with the designs and talent of many of the featured artists. Afterwards, I dipped into the neighboring boutique, Pelindaba Lavender, where I picked up a birthday gift for a friend whose favorite color is purple, as well as some culinary lavender for myself.

Admiring the view on Whidbey Island
Admiring the view on Whidbey Island

Weaving our way through Whidbey Island, I was mesmerized by the endless farmlands with dizzying rows of colorful tulips, daffodils, and irises. Stopping for a quick break at Snow Goose Produce was a welcome surprise. Greeted by the aroma of freshly pressed waffle cones, my two tough decisions were what ice cream flavor to choose and how much produce to squish into my carry-on luggage. Boxes of green peas, red raspberries, and plump marionberries were calling my name. The neighboring countryside, lush with seasonal crops, made this a difficult choice. Eager to grab bushels of this picturesque produce, I restrained myself and purchased a modest pound of green peas. En route to the airport, my family and I used the time to catch up and connect, retelling stories of reunions past, and brainstorming ideas for our next one. With a soundtrack of laughter and chatter, we made more memories, which is truly the essence of all reunions.

Family ties
Family ties

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Frida’s Fiestas

Frida and I share the same zodiac. The world-famous artist, and spirited water sign, has long captured my attention. Although I just learned that Frida Kahlo was also a Cancer, I’ve been enamored with her life, style, and art for many years. In high school, I scoured flea markets in my LA suburb for tchotchkes bearing her unmistakable image. During my university years, I pored over books about this incredible woman, eventually saving some money to buy a cookbook honoring her culinary skills. Now, I am lucky enough to attend museums and cultural events highlighting Frida’s art and unique style.

Frida's studio
Frida’s studio with photograph of Diego Rivera

It wasn’t until I visited her famed Casa Azul in Mexico City that I finally understood this woman. I planned my trip around the Vogue-sponsored exhibit that displayed Frida’s shrouded wardrobe, which had been hidden from the public since her death. As I entered the exhibit, the first piece I saw stopped me dead in my tracks: her body cast. I stood there, tears rolling down my cheeks, as I came face to face with the object that embodied Frida’s tragedy, and ultimate impetus for her art. Confined by the cast, and eventually to her bed, Frida created some of her most somber, yet glorious art because of this physical adversity. Meandering through the lush gardens in her hacienda style home, I got a glimpse into the daily life of this provocative woman. Trotsky’s guest bedroom, the art studio that Frida and Diego shared, and the decorative kitchen, were just a few of the highlights of my visit to Casa Azul. The Frida Kahlo museum is a required destination for any visit to Mexico City. Coyoacan, which hosts the museum, is a short cab ride from the city center, and accessible by the city’s metro system.

After spending the morning in Frida’s former home, I wandered down the colorful Calle Ignacio Allende toward Jardin Hidalgo, stopping at the corner coffee spot, Café El Jarocho. As I sat outside El Jarocho sipping a latte and nibbling on churros purchased streetside, I talked with a local university student who suggested that I walk through the Mercado for jewelry and handicrafts. After promising to visit the Mercado, I bought a few pounds of coffee for souvenirs and walked down to the plaza. In a carnival-like atmosphere of colors, music, and aromas, I observed families out for an afternoon, tourists sampling street food, and vendors selling their wares.

Chiles en Nogada
The seasonal dish, Chiles en Nogada

As I rushed back to the city center, my only regret was that I didn’t stay in Coyoacan longer. But I had a good excuse; I was enticed by my reservation at Azul Historico to indulge in the seasonal dish “chiles en nogada”. I first learned of this dish, which is featured on local menus in September, in my aforementioned cookbook, Frida’s Fiestas. Azul Historico is nestled in the candlelit courtyard of Centro Historico. Colorful and fragrant dishes float around tables full of locals, business travelers, and tourists seeking an outdoor patio dining experience. After perusing the menu, I sputtered my order in broken Spanish and asked my server for this featured dish: “one of each, a sweet and a savory”. He chuckled knowingly, and recommended that I order just one and demonstrated the size of the stuffed chile with his hands. Picture-perfect and tied up with a red, white, and green bow to commemorate Mexican Independence day, my chile was worth the wait. I’m glad that I took his advice and enjoyed each morsel of my savory pork-filled entrée. Relishing each bite, I thought about Frida and the endless misfortune she overcame throughout her life, all while contributing to the world with her controversial art.

After dinner, I wandered through the courtyard and upstairs through some of the shops. Luckily, I happened upon Que Bo!, a local chocolatier that produces a small, but impressive menu of truffles, drinking chocolates, and other sweets to satiate any chocoholic. Sitting on the small balcony, I sipped my dessert and watched the diners at Padrinos, making a note to return and dine under their lush vertical garden. While walking back to my hotel, I heard music coming from an upstairs venue. Weaving my way across the street in a light rain, I headed upstairs to a small bar, La Diabla y La Santa. The band, Los Hijos de Chunga, was jamming in preparation for an upcoming music fest. Their sound, a hybrid of the Doors and Jethro Tull, was the perfect soundtrack to end a Friday night.

Museo Soumaya was next on my list. Its glistening exterior is probably one of the most photographed museum entrances in Latin America, if not the world. A generous gift from business tycoon Carlos Slim, Museo Soumaya makes art accessible to local Mexican citizens, as well as the international community. Upon entering the museum’s foyer, I was greeted by Rodin’s, “The Thinker”. Having seen this statue many times as an undergrad on my college campus, I made my way up to the circular ramp to the permanent exhibits. A vast array of styles and periods can be seen at Soumaya, including works by Baroque artist Artemisia Gentileschi, commercial works by national artist Jesus Helguera, and Salvador Dali’s sculptures. With so much to see, I spent most of the day absorbing the diverse collection and made notes to revisit my art history books upon my return home.

Making my way back towards the hotel, I stopped at Limosneros Restaurante at the recommendation of hotel staff. Limosneros did not disappoint with its inventive take on Mexican gastronomy and Instagram-worthy presentation. I sampled a little bit of everything including a local mescal and some of the best ribs I’ve ever tasted, but the highlight of my meal was the “flautas de flor de jamaica”. Having used flor de jamaica, or hibiscus flowers, in tea and juice, I was surprised to see them featured in a savory dish. Pleased with my choices, I asked the server for a dessert recommendation and was more than satisfied with the molten chocolate cake infused with ground chiles and pepitas. Admiring the light fixtures, which looked like miniature goblets made of blown glass, I made my plan for the remainder of my trip. In a city that boasts loads of museums, second only to Paris worldwide, I narrowed it down to a few for the last leg of my trip.

Sunday morning found me at the obligatory mass. But in reality, I needed to stop in and say thank you for an amazing trip thus far. Upon entering the Metropolitan Cathedral at Zocalo, I realized that a young girl’s quinceañera mass had begun. I quietly wandered through this architectural masterpiece, the largest and oldest cathedral in Latin America. Counting my blessings and giving thanks for a safe journey, I ducked out of the cathedral and wandered over to the neighboring Templo Mayor. At the entrance, visitors are guided through the ruins that were left behind after conquistadors used the stone and foundation to build the adjacent Cathedral and other nearby monuments.

Sacrificial altar at Templo Mayor
Sacrificial altar at Templo Mayor

Templo Mayor has an expansive outdoor portion of the museum where visitors can wander through these anthropological discoveries and read about this important part of Mexican history.   Learning about the contributions of the Aztecs to Mexico’s foundation, both literally and figuratively, is a necessary stop for anyone visiting Mexico City.

After wandering along Calle Tacuba and some of the streets near the Zocalo, I worked up an appetite and stopped in to enjoy a bountiful brunch at El Cardenal. Waiters practically waltzed through the dining room, carrying large trays of pan dulce, clay jugs full of hot chocolate, and colorful jars of agua frescas. Tempted to order one of everything on the robust menu that featured seasonal dishes such as cuitlacoche, I opted for the Mexican classic, chilaquiles. But it was my starter that was the star of the show. The bean soup, a brothy mixture of poached eggs, spicy pintos, and fresh cheese, was accompanied by housemade tortillas. Simple and flavorful, it hit the spot for a mid-day meal. With a full belly, I walked down the streets near the Zocalo and picked up a few last minute souvenirs. My prized find was a silk scarf by Mexican designer, Pineda Covalin. Narrowing down my choices was difficult with so many vibrant designs to choose from, but my ultimate choice reflected some of the Aztec images that reminded me of my earlier trip to the Templo Mayor.

Patio café at Gran Hotel
Patio café at Gran Hotel

Back “home” at my hotel, I ended the day at the rooftop café overlooking the Zocalo. Sipping on a fresh, green juice, I reflected on all of the awe-inspiring experiences that I had while here. Eager to return, I felt grateful for the opportunity to learn a little more about my heritage and the contributions of the Mexican people and began to plan my next trip.