My brother and sister-in-law were in town last weekend from California. It was a much need respite from all of the chaos in the world these past few weeks. They usually come up to Washington twice a year, once in the summer and again during the holidays. While my husband and I are knee deep in a remodel, he graciously let me sneak away for the day trip up to Whidbey Island with my family. Historically, my brother comes up and the majority of the day is spent in the house; either around the table for a meal, playing Yahtzee or Scattergories or watching some home renovation show on HGTV. My parents, finally cognizant that we were getting bored engaging in the same activities over and over again (though, I have to admit, I enjoy a good episode of Fixer Upper or Property Brothers), have made a clear effort to plan meaningful activities for my family during these visits. With that being said, last Saturday we all piled in my parent’s Subaru and headed to the ferry that would transport us to Whidbey Island for a brief getaway.
This day was immediately reminiscent of our childhood road trips. Many weekends were spent driving across the state, or border to neighboring Canada or Oregon, with a cardboard Bingo game in hand or engaged in a fierce round of the license plate game. Saturday morning I would wake up and make my way down stairs for breakfast. My parents would inform my brother and I we were taking a drive. Some of our destinations included: Eastern Washington, Vancouver, the coast, and the Olympic Peninsula. While these rides often started as a promising overnighter, we’d inevitably find ourselves driving straight through–back home–late into the night because we couldn’t settle on a place to stay that was “just right”.
On this particular Saturday, while there were initial plans to stay the night at the Captain Whidbey Inn near Penn Cove, these plans quickly fizzled (due to a questionable bathroom situation at the Inn) and we were forewarned that we would only be on Whidbey for the day. The five of us (my parents, brother, sister-in-law, and myself) arrived at the ferry dock around eleven, my husband remained at home working on our house.
After our ferry ride across the Puget Sound, we stopped by Langley to retrieve coffee at Useless Bay Coffee Co. Unfortunately the town was bursting at the seams due to a relay race taking place so we abandoned the coffee inquisition, squeezed through a small, crowded mercantile on the main street and quickly loaded back in the Subaru, continuing on our way. A few miles down the road, we came across several signs for fresh duck eggs and fruit before stumbling on the Saturday Farmers Market. Upon request, my father pulled into the lot and the whole gang of us wandered through the market which included a number of crafts, food stands, July vegetables, and mouthwatering homemade pies and beef jerky. My mother purchased some quite addicting granola (Primal Island Blueberry Grain-Free Granola) which we happily munched on back in the car. Everyone but myself was ravishing as my parents had promised the others we’d be eating lunch right away. Knowing better, I was the only one pleasantly full after my usual peanut butter banana smoothie just a short while beforehand.
Our next stop included the local grocery store, Payless in Freeland, due to a suggestion from a friend for fresh clams and mussels from Penn Cove. I called ahead the day before and discovered that Penn Cove Shellfish has a number of local drop sites for their shellfish. Orders can also be made ahead of time and the fresh shellfish delivered directly to you. We picked up four containers each of mussels and clams freshly harvested the day before, planning to cook a pot for dinner that evening. Afterward, we headed the short distance across the island to Fort Casey, a large marine camping park on the east side of Whidbey, which was constructed in the late 1800s to guard the entrance to the Puget Sound. My mother and I had planned a simple picnic consisting of fresh fruit, various deli meats and cheese, bread, crackers, hummus, cornichons, and nuts. We set up in a large open field among several other families and some unusually competitive kite flyers. After a cloudy morning, the skies finally cleared and the day started to warm up. We finished our feast and walked down the bluff to a rocky beach covered with driftwood.The rest of our day included a short hike at Ebey’s Landing, a coastline trail along a bluffwith views of the peninsula and outline of the rugged Olympics as a backdrop. My parents turned back after a mile or so while the rest of us trekked on. The return trip runs along the beach for a mile or so which we hiked, every so often dancing away from the tide while catching up about work and life in general. Since evening was quickly arriving and our appetites had caught up with us again, we quickly walked through Coos Bay, a sleepy little town nestled in Penn Cove, and headed back. We returned through Deception Pass, at the north end of the island, peering out at the rock cliffs, water, and jaw-clinching drop from the two-lane bridge connecting Whidbey and the mainland. Roughly an hour later, we had arrived back in the city. My family ready to feast on our shellfish after our long day on the island and my husband, after his intense day working on our house. Given that our kitchen is still, well, missing due to our renovation project, we made do with what we have. My father and brother scrubbed and de-bearded the mussels and clams outside, discarding any that were open, while my mother and I prepared a quick wine broth and then steamed the shellfish. We set a large heavy pot over medium high with a couple tablespoons of olive oil and minced garlic. After a few minutes, we added about 2 cups of white wine, a pinch of salt, and about a half cup of chicken broth. Once the broth started to boil, we turned it down to medium, added the clean shellfish (roughly 3 pounds) and put the lid on. After about 5 minutes, or after the shellfish had opened up, we tossed in a handful of fresh basil and parsley from the garden.My mother and I also also sliced up some bread and prepared a quick salad with cucumber, tomatoes, romaine, and a French vinaigrette (olive oil, mustard, vinegar, salt and pepper). My husband turned on our string lights, creating a beautiful glow over the table, and lit the gas heater as the temperature quickly cooled off for the evening, not all that uncommon in the Pacific Northwest. Once the meal was ready, we served ladles of delicious shellfish and broth in red plastic disposable bowls and white wine in clear plastic cups which could easily be tossed afterward (given the state of our kitchen). After a day of great conversation, food, and family we ended the evening with a slice of homemade strawberry rhubarb pie before the rest of my family headed south back to their home. We hugged and waved goodbye, getting an unsettling glimpse of a large rat perched on the fence near my neighbors house (a first time visitor, thankfully), reminding me that we were indeed back in the city after all.