Across the state, across the world

IMG_3691.jpg
The vines at Bonair Winery in Zillah, Washington – our favorite wine was their Cabernet Franc

 

Eastern Washington. If you don’t live in the state of Washington, you probably haven’t heard much about it. Washington is known for Seattle, and all that goes with that great city — the coffee, the food, Pike’s Place Market, the Space Needle, the ferries, the music scene, the view of Mt Rainier — but on the other side of the state is a land that is unique and special in it’s own right. The eastern side of Washington is arid and hot with golden brown rolling hills and blue skies that stretch for miles. It’s also wine country. With 200 plus wineries in the area of the Yakima Valley and Walla Walla County, there are countless places to while a weekend away, even with a toddler in tow. Unlike some wine destinations, the Walla Walla region isn’t snooty. Every place we visited was unique and welcoming, all eager to pour a taste of their delicious wines even with our rambunctious toddler in sight.  We found the area to be surprisingly kid friendly. A few of the places we stopped even offered up toys, soccer balls, and/or chalk for drawing to keep the little ones entertained while the adults sipped and savored — Isla wasn’t the only kid spotted on the wine tasting circuit.

IMG_3642
With highways lined with grape vines and fruit orchards, it’s a journey for the eyes as well as the taste buds.

From the Seattle area, it’s roughly a 3 hour drive to Yakima where the wineries and all the fun begins. We chose to stay in Walla Walla, which is roughly another hour east, but beyond the food scene, there isn’t much in the town of Walla Walla itself.  There are plenty of hotels, bed and breakfasts, or Air BNBs in the area to tickle whatever fancy or budget you have.  So pick a spot, any spot, in southeastern Washington, and you’ll be surrounded by delicious wine and food.

We start our tasting journey at the grand estate of Terra Blanca which has an entrance that has yet to be topped in this region. A wisteria-covered walkway leads to a double door fit for a giant. Thankfully the entrance isn’t misleading. The tasting is just as bold as the entrance. We shared a red tasting and were pleasantly surprised by the flavors and boldness of their staples and their blends. Their signature Onyx blend in particular blew Samuel away with its vanilla aftertaste that lingered long after the initial taste. I was drawn to their bold Malbec. We bought a bottle of both 🙂 If you’re a white fan, they do have a mix tasting available.

What makes this place even better is the Vineyard Grill that is open on the weekends from April through October.IMG_3576 The patio seating overlooks the distant red mountains and miles of grape vines. There are worst places to order delicious wood-fired pizzas and salads. You could spend hours here drinking the delicious wine and enjoying multiple courses of delicacies, making this the one and only stop in your wine journey,  but I would recommend jumping back in your car and heading farther east because there is so much more to explore.IMG_3581

From Terra Blanca, we head east on I-182 to US-12. On US-12, you will meet the Columbia River and one of my favorite views of the drive: Wallula Junction where the river curves and is dwarfed by cliffs. Coming back west, the view isn’t as grand so soak it up.

Our next stop is the winery of L’Ecole No. 41 where the venue isn’t quite as grand as Terra Blanca, but the building has history and character. It’s an old school house from 1915 where the floors creak and the windows have waves. It’s a beautiful building and it beckons to be explored. They grow and produce 100% of their own wine, and you can taste it in their product. Their oaky chardonnay stood out for me.

IMG_3588.jpg
See that refundable tasting fee??? That’s another great thing about this area: if you buy a bottle, your tasting fee is refunded.

 

Next, we head south of Walla Walla to another one of my favorites, Amavi Cellars. The wine is incredible, especially their Cabernet Franc, but what is wonderful about this place is the view. From their tasting room, you get a chance to soak in the Walla Walla Valley and the Blue Mountains. The staff is lovely, and they also have a cute gift shop with all kinds of fun t-shirts to represent the area.

IMG_3594
The tasting room at Amavi Cellars

 

IMG_3605.jpg
Taking a break at Amavi Cellars

There are so many vineyards in this area, you could close your eyes, spin around and start walking toward another vineyard, and most likely have a wonderful tasting experience, but if you are ready to indulge in a culinary delight, drop everything and head to Saffron in downtown Walla Walla. The mediterranean cuisine in this small but beautiful restaurant cannot be beat. We had grilled squid, falafel, cauliflower, tahini and eggplant, and grilled lamb sausages with a side of pita, and every bite was better than the last. As they brought each dish, we couldn’t get over the intensity of the flavor, the freshness of the ingredients, or the attention to detail. Nothing is overlooked. Then when it came to dessert, we simply couldn’t choose, so we ordered the velvety mocha ice-cream for Isla, and we had the Lebanese semolina cake with honey labneh and peaches. We are still talking about it. I would drive back to Walla Walla — yes, the 4 hours back– just to eat this meal again. It was phenomenal.

After this meal, sleep. You need to savor it and dream about it.

The next morning grab lattes and pastries as well as a couple loaves of bread from the Walla Walla Baking Company, locally owned and operated. The pastries are scrumptious and the coffee is Italian, so there’s not much to complain about. Their wheat sourdough is making delicious toast at our breakfast table as I write this, so I definitely recommend checking out the bakery if you’re in the area.

This is when we head back east, (if you have more time, by all means stay and try as many of the unique wineries as you can safely handle) but there are still several delicious places to stop on the way back including the Chukar Cherry headquarters in Prosser, Washington. If you like chocolate, just don’t think about it. You’re stopping. They have all combinations of dried cherries and nuts covered in milk, dark, and white chocolate, as well as some of the best trail mix selections out there. Dried cherries with pistachios, almonds and dark chocolate chunks? Yes, please.

Next head to Silver Lake winery that has a fun venue for adults and children. For parents, this is where you can really take a deep breath and relax. There is a big grassy play area with soccer balls and corn hole with picnic tables for lounging and sipping, and  let’s not forget the view. It’s a stunning picture of the Yakima Valley with miles of grape vines. Just park it here for as long as you need to.

IMG_3682

A great place to end the journey back to the Seattle area (especially on a hot summer day) is at Treveri Cellars. They specialize in sparkling wines, from dry to sweet, white to red, and their tastings are free! You can’t beat that. Delicious sparkling wine for free —  what’s not to love? They also have a grill area where we ordered a delicious burger and fries for lunch.  I particularly fell in love with the Sparkling Riesling and ended up having a glass which was a refreshing end to our 90F+ day!

IMG_3687
Isla wanted mama to have a flower

 

Sadly that’s a wrap on our weekend escape to the Walla Walla and Yakima Valley wine region. It was only a four hour drive across the state, but it truly felt like we were in a different country. At times, it reminded us of Israel or the desert in Arizona, and of course there were many moments when thoughts of Tuscany rolled through our minds. But while Walla Walla Valley may recall these very diverse places, it is still a unique place with its own charm and flavor. I encourage you to take the time to venture down her dusty paths around her vineyards and orchards, sip her wine and taste her fruits because you never know what you might find.

Never stop exploring ~ Happy Travels

~RL

 

 

 

Why We (Should) Travel.

IMG_3169
Churros on a rainy day in Barcelona

I went to Spain for a churro.

Yes, it’s mostly true. I took an 8 hour plane ride with my 6 month old daughter because I wanted to eat the Spanish version of a doughnut.

Yes, there was the Dali art, the unbelievable Gaudi architecture, the exquisite paella, the delicious sangria, and the stunning sea views, but really I planned a trip to Barcelona because I wanted a churro dipped in chocolate. It seems almost outlandish when I say it, but really why do we travel?

Traveling is not easy. Add a child in the mix, and it’s even more complicated. But despite the early wake ups, the uncomfortable flights, the long layovers, the baggage restrictions, the international customs, and the language barriers, we still do it. Over and over and over again. The time changes, lack of sleep, crammed spaces, and foreign places beckon us from our places of comfort for small things like a churro.

We travel because we are looking for something. An idea, a feeling, an experience. We are looking for something to impact us, to temporarily, if not permanently, change us. We want that something to broaden the scope of who we are as an individual, what we think, and how we live our lives. Sometimes it’s something as important as a human rights situation we can’t understand half a world away, or it’s something as small as a pastry. We travel because we need to go and see and experience these things for ourselves. We realize that life is bigger than our own comfortable box.

Or at least that’s what we should be doing.

I’ve learned a lot about the world from getting out of my comfort zone, and while I haven’t been to nearly as many places as I would like or know a quarter of what there is to know about the world, I can definitely look back and see how travel has reshaped how I think and what I believe as an adult.

I didn’t understand parts of the Israeli-Palestinian politics until I went there myself. I didn’t realize how many children are begging on the streets in Argentina until I visited and walked the streets myself. I didn’t understand how bad the economy was in Italy until I went there myself.  I didn’t understand how native Hawaiians feel about people from the mainland until I went there and asked them myself. I didn’t know how the Czech Republic handles women’s maternity leave and childcare until I went there and talked to parents (spoiler alert: it couldn’t be more different than our own).

And I might have originally went to Barcelona for a pastry but I got a history lesson. Barcelona might be in the country of Spain, but the region of Catalan where the city is located views itself as an independent entity. I didn’t realize just how much so until I spoke to the locals there. When the vote for independence happened later in the year, my heart was with the locals as they marched for their voices to be heard in Madrid. I followed the story closely in the papers and wondered how the people we knew were faring. When the terrorist attack happened on the very street we had walked down with our baby girl, my heart broke for those people, some of the kindest people I’ve ever encountered. Their lives and their trials were real to me because I had been there, I had experienced it myself.

It’s one of the reasons we should travel. We need to see what it’s like for others around the world. We need to walk for a day in someone else’s shoes.

We are so connected to the world now via social media, the internet, and all of our handheld devices that there is a disconnect from the reality that we are all so different. We are able to see pictures and videos from all around the world, and somehow we think we know a place without even visiting. Or we know it’s people. But we can’t. We can’t truly know anywhere until we’ve experienced it firsthand, until we’ve allowed ourselves to be engulfed by the locality of it.

IMG_3143IMG_3139

Months later, I can still taste that delightful churro. Crunchy on the outside and moist on the inside, it was surprisingly not too sweet, and it paired perfectly well with the warm bittersweet dark chocolate we were given for dipping. We stood in the rain under an umbrella indulging in what had driven us across the pond. We might have come for a doughnut but we returned with so much more: a respect for the local history and individuality, the incredible food, and the wonderful hospitality.

I am so thankful for the travels I’ve been on thus far in my life. I’m thankful for the life lessons they’ve taught me, for the people they’ve allowed me to meet.  I look forward now to showing my daughter more of the world, to introducing her to foreign things. I want her to have an understanding of the world not because she read about it in a book or a saw a picture in a magazine but because she experienced someone’s life and story for herself. She needs to tastes the churros.

It’s why I travel.

And why you should travel too.

 

 

 

The Perfect Croissant 🥐

My favorite pastry is the almond croissant. I still have dreams of the best almond croissant I ever had in a little cafe on a nondescript corner in Tel Aviv. Every bakery that I have the pleasure of entering must pass the almond croissant test regardless of their specialty. They can have incredible bread, scones, or muffins, but if their almond croissant doesn’t pass my palate test, the bakery doesn’t score a special place in my heart. I need flaky but not dry. It needs the almond paste with chunks of almond in the middle as well as on top. Few bakeries get this combination perfect. Most croissants end up being a little dry around the edges and lack that coveted flakiness that all croissants strive for. Or they end up being soggy (ahem, all chain bakeries/coffee houses like Starbucks – you would think they could have at least improved their pastry selections by now 😩.)

And the paste…the paste must be all about that almond flavor, not overpowered by sugar. An almond croissant needs to be sweet enough to pair with an afternoon coffee for a treat but not too sweet that it can’t be grabbed for a breakfast on the go. It’s a tall order for a humble croissant, but it’s attainable because I’ve experienced it before.

Le Panier in Seattle, Washington is one of the bakeries in the world that can deliver a delicious croissant.

They have a delicious almond croissant that I grab for breakfast whenever I’m in the city. It’s the perfect size with flaky edges and that punch of almond I’m always craving.

But they have something even better for an afternoon treat that changed my pastry world.

An Almond CHOCOLATE croissant. My mouth waters now just typing it. It rocked my palate the first time I tried it. It’s got all the reliable decadence of the traditional almond croissant, but it’s got a ribbon of bittersweet chocolate running through it like an indulgent tease. Its flaky on the edges, moist in the middle with the perfect amount of almond paste to chocolate decadence. It’s the perfect treat to pair with a latte as you stroll the city. Whenever I’m here, it’s my go-to treat.

Le Panier is an all around wonderful bakery. Not only have they mastered the croissant game, but they’ve also got excellent pistachio and pumpkin macaroons, incredible bread, and reliably good espresso drinks. It’s rare a bakery gets everything right, but Le Panier has mastered its game.

Seattle is known for its coffee and seafood, but in my travel diary, it’s also known for this bakery.

So if you ever find yourself in the downtown Seattle area, pop into Le Panier in Pike’s Place Market for a French treat. You won’t be disappointed. In fact, I might grab one more while I’m here just to be sure 😋😜…

If you have a favorite pastry or bakery, I would love to hear about it!

Happy exploring,

~RL