Thursday, September 26, 2013

Chocolate in Seattle

Seattle is brimming over with chocolate. A dog-eared copy of the February 2013 chocolate issue of Seattle Magazine made my friend Leslie's eyes glisten and prompted her sister, Marilyn, to drive us on our own tour.

We started at Theo Chocolate in the Fremont neighborhood, where you get to see how chocolate is made from pod to bar. Theo's is only 1 of 20 chocolate makers in the United States, so this is an exciting opportunity.

The tour starts with a chocolate tasting, where I learned that orange essential oil greatly softens the bitter taste of 70% chocolate. But I still prefer milk chocolate.

Our enthusiastic tour guide reminded us that recent studies have shown the health benefits of dark chocolate but that all chocolate still plays an important role in our diet: "Dark chocolate is healthy for your body," she said. "Milk chocolate is healthy for your soul."

After a sit-down lecture in the tasting room, and still wearing dorky hairnets (guys with beards have to wear even dorkier beard nets), we traveled through the factory to follow the process of crushing cocoa pods and producing streams of liquid chocolate.

I was enchanted by the idea of a chocolate pipeline (see first photo above).

The tour naturally leads you into the shop, which is filled with everything a chocolate lover could want. You can sample chocolate bars, buy truffles, or simply stand and breathe in deeply.

Hot Cakes

A former employee of Theo's branched out on her own to create a delightful cafe in Ballard that specializes in molten chocolate cakes, called Hot Cakes.

I stood mesmerized by the seemingly endless choices available on the menus boards.

Outside a sign announced "smoked drinking chocolate," but after trying a sample of the smoked chocolate chips, I wasn't impressed. To me, smoke flavor belongs on food coming off a BBQ grill.

I finally gave in to butterbeer. It's not chocolate, but being a huge Harry Potter fan, I've been wanting to taste this beverage. I was not disappointed!

Hot Cakes butterbeer is made with butterscotch, apple juice, and ginger. For fizz, kids get ginger ale added, but I opted for the adult version with sparkling wine.

I was blown away at how authentic I thought this was. I can easily imagine Fred and George sneaking it back to the dorms. I wish I could apparate so I could enjoy this whenever I wanted.

This time of year, you can buy a bottle of the mix (add your own sparkle) in limited quantities. If you live close enough so you wouldn't have to apparate to get here, I highly recommend rushing to Ballard and stocking up.

George Paul

Tucked into a side street near Greenlake is George Paul Chocolates. It's kind of hard to find parking, even in the middle of the week, but I suggest persevering because you'll want to visit this shop.

George Paul was there today, describing his chocolates and how he makes them and explaining that he really likes doing what he does.

On the counter is a cocoa pod, which is the size of a football. As we learned at Theo's, it takes 2 to 4 of these to make 1 bar of chocolate.

You'll also want to look at George Paul's fabulous tablet selection. They are embedded with all sorts of interesting items, including Hawaiian sea salt and pineapple.

I was tempted by the wide selection of imaginative hot chocolate flavors, but I opted for a salted caramel ice cream cone to enjoy on the way home.

It's hard to choose, but you can't go wrong here!

So that was my day with chocolate. I urge you to make up your own tour. Even if your stop at only one place, you won't regret your indulgence.

Wednesday, September 25, 2013

Lavender and a French bakery

The lavender farm

I'm crazy about lavender, but I don't get to see much of it in eastern Montana. So one of my first stops when I arrived for my visit in the Seattle area was the Woodinville Lavender farm.

I've been following them on Facebook and reading about the lavender ice cream bars, the calls for volunteers to help cut lavender, and various activities that make me smell lavender all the way over in Montana. It's a sweet smell, but one better savored near an actual lavender plant.

Unfortunately for me, September is past the lavender season, but I enjoyed walking in the rain among the trimmed plants. They are pretty even after they lose their blossoms.

And of course, this being Western Washington, there were a few plants that did still bloom.

Inside the shop is where you find the full fragrance of lavender. You can also buy dried buds, essential oil, cookbooks and how-to books on growing lavender, and of course the longed-for lavender ice cream bars.

If you're in the area, be sure to stop in!

The French bakery

Down the road is The Vineyard, a fully stocked French bakery, although you might have to slow down to see it. It's nestled among tractors, which I didn't find odd at all since I see big machinery everywhere in Montana.

Marilyn, my hostess, says her husband cannot see the bakery. He has a kind of male blindness that only allows him to focus on the tractors. So just a warning: do not send a man to pick up the brioche for your fancy French dinner. He might come home with farm equipment instead.

And anyway, why wouldn't you go yourself? The brioche is fantastic, making outstanding toast and French toast. I found tasty Opera Cake, which you just don't see all that often. (Note that I have included a link to a recipe. But having made this myself, I can only warn that it is far easier to buy the cake and with much better-looking results.) Coconut cream tarts, cookies, eclairs . . . all the usual goodies in delightful display and good taste.


Friday, September 20, 2013

Delightful doughnuts at Bozeman rest area

In my opinion, the Bozeman rest area is an oddity, located on the edge of the fourth largest city in Montana (pop. 37,000) rather than on a lonely stretch of nowhere. But it's a welcome oddity if you need a place to rest and don't want to enter the city, tempting fate about getting lost.

I stopped there today, on my way to Seattle, out of sheer curiosity.

It's a pleasant place, accessed at I-90 exit 305 (N. 19th Ave.), where you can also head for Costco, Target, or Petsmart, my usual shopping destinations.

Inside the nice, clean building you can find toilets and a place to sit safe from the elements. (Although today was sunny, there are usually elements in Montana.)

You can also find doughnuts. Lots of doughnuts!

Volunteers from the Bozeman Senior Social Center pick up baked goods donated by the local Albertson's and then greet weary travelers with energy-providing sugar-laden treats and coffee.

"We get compliments all the time from people telling us this is the best food they get at a rest stop," one senior gal told me.

She also said donations fund the center's Meals on Wheels program.

Although the rest area is open year round, the doughnuts are available only on Friday and Saturday, beginning the first of May and ending at the end of September.

I didn't have any money with me, so I asked if I could take a doughnut without making a donation. Since "donations" are so often obligatory, I thought I should ask.

The woman stared at me. I took that as a yes and also took a doughnut. As I munched it on the way back to my car, guilt wracked my conscience. The woman's blue eyes haunted me. How could I take a free doughnut when a few pennies would help feed hungry people?

I dug some change out of the cup holder and returned to drop a couple of quarters into the donation jar. That's when I got the idea to do this blog and tell everyone about the doughnuts . . . a little something more for my money, so to speak.

No, you don't have to make a donation to get a doughnut. But if you can get past that little old lady with the bright blue eyes, more power to you.

Saturday, September 7, 2013

Gallatin Valley farmers market

It's nearing the end of the season, but there are still lots of wonderful things to find at the Gallatin Valley farmers market in Bozeman.

My first stop today was at the Cookie Boys table, where Jayce (10 years old) and Keith (8 years old) were selling their outstanding chocolate chip and peanut butter cookies. I can never decide between the two flavors, so I always buy one of each. Take my advice and do the same.

Nearby in the pavilion were loaves of crusty artisan bread from On the Rise. I tasted my first loaf at their bakery on Main Street. I was told today that they have moved into a production-only bakery and are selling loaves through various outlets around the area. I'll miss stopping in for warm pizza slices, but they'll certainly have more customers now, so I wish them well.

I enjoyed colorful flowers . . .

. . . and noticed that real cowboys like -- and make -- soap.

Outside in the sunshine I was tempted by pie . . .

. . . and waffles . . .

. . . and interested to learn that you can plant seeds in a light soil to produce miniature herbs and other plants that can be trimmed as needed, or plucked, rinsed, and added to salads and stir-fries. Tracey of Mountain Vista Farm near Bozeman has put together kits to make the process easy, or you can buy her seed mixes or ready-to-eat herbs.

There was music in the air as I strolled among the vendors outside selling honey, jewelry, clothing, crafts, and so much more.

My favorite vendor turned out to be Ross of Natural Yellowstone Photography, who takes exquisite photos of bears, wolves, and other wildlife, accompanied by his faithful four-legged companion, Jack, who due to regulations, unfortunately cannot be with Ross at the market.

When I explained to Ross that I was taking photos for my Yummy Montana blog, he exclaimed with a grin: "I know Yummy! I use it to find markets. I'm glad to meet you."

Well, I was glad to meet Ross, too, and I wish him the best. His photographs are really outstanding, so look for him when you visit area markets. (Check the market list at

I was pleased to see a bountiful selection of produce. Not least of which were the garden-raised beets being sold by Marianne.

After wondering out loud if I'd ever find a good pickled beet recipe, Marianne shared her own recipe. I bought some lovely golden beets from her, and as soon as I got home I tried it out. Nice!

Pickled Beets

Cook beets and peel off skin.

I steamed the beets for about 20 minutes, but you could roast them. In either case, simply wash beets, and make sure the tops are trimmed to about an inch, leaving short roots intact. When done (a sharp knife will slide in easily), rinse in cold water and remove skin, which will be easy to do with your fingers.

Cut beets into slices or chunks.

Bring to a boil enough water to cover the beets in a jar. For each cup of water, add 1 teaspoon sugar and 1 teaspoon salt. "It should taste very strong," Marianne told me, because the brine will mellow as it ages. For extra flavor, add bits of chopped shallot or onion.

These will keep for "a long time" in the refrigerator.

You see, all you have to do is ask a farmer how to use the things he or she is selling. They're the experts.

Gallatin County Fairgrounds, Haynes Pavilion, at Tamarack and Black
Saturday, 9 am - noon
June 22 - September 14