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Seattle Times food writer Nancy Leson serves up the best info and tips on Northwest food, cooking, dining and restaurants.

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June 27, 2008 10:30 AM

The Vacation, Part Three: in which Seattle chefs loom large

Posted by Nancy Leson


It's been just shy of a week since I returned from the last leg of my two-week vacation -- my family's annual trip to Orcas Island, where we stayed in this cabin on the waterfront:



We brought fishing poles and a tackle box, plenty of books, umpteen different kind of salt and my Le Creuset Dutch oven for making many loaves of "Almost No-knead Bread". . .



And this year, for the first time, we went shrimping. Let's see: fishing/shellfish license, shrimp pot, bouy, gas for the boat and other catch-it-fresh accoutrements: $220. Sharing a catch of 13 shrimp among 15 vacationing friends -- while showing the kids the joys of eating "locally and seasonally"? Priceless:



Speaking of eating locally and seasonally, while stocking up on provisions within an hour of arriving on the island, I had the great good fortune of running into Christina Orchid at the supermarket. Which immediately put me on "work mode," since I'd heard she'd just sold her landmark restaurant, Christina's. Chris insisted that she and her husband, Bruce, were far from "retired" after 28 years of running our favorite Orcas Island restaurant. Just to prove it, she invited me out to her home -- adjacent her family farm -- to attend one of her "Cooking in the Barn" classes held later that week. I took her up on the offer:



And I brought along a gift: This big loaf of bread. I'd been tinkering with the recipe while vacationing. This is a double-batch of dough, baked as a double-loaf, in a single 5 1/2-quart Dutch oven:



Later that week, we dined at Christina's, now owned by a chef from Seattle, Maureen Mullen, who's worked for Tom Douglas and several Seattle catering outfits. Unfortunately, it was too chilly to dine outdoors on Christina's deck that night:



But the view from the inside dining room wasn't bad, either:




That said: when I'm cooking and eating with friends and family, while staying at that rustic paradise, Beach Haven Resort, staring out at the sunset with a glass of wine in hand, there's no place like "home":



If we're really lucky, we can score fresh eggs, sold by a guy who has my "dream house" -- right up the road from our cabin:



Those eggs make a mean breakfast when fried and served over homemade bread and a slice of Spanish ham from Roses -- the wonderful specialty foods and cookware store in Eastsound (whose adjacent cafe is well worth a visit, too):




And because a vacationer's work is never done, after we packed our bags and hit the road, we made a stop at the First Annual Bullfrog Competition Barbeque, an American Cancer Society fundraiser set to begin at 10 a.m.. We'd seen posters touting the event around town, promising "professional chefs as judges!"

Those judges included Holly Smith of Cafe Juanita, fresh from her trip to NYC where she was crowned "Best Chef" in the Northwest. And Vuong Loc, owner/chef of the much-acclaimed Portage restaurant, atop Queen Anne Hill. As well as a certain restaurant-critic-turned-blogger, who (months earlier) answered a "Would you like to come to beautiful Orcas Island to judge a BBQ-contest?" With, "Sure! What a coinkydink, since I'm planning on being on-island that weekend on my family vacation!"

Need I mention that, when I mentioned the contest to my husband and son, they rolled their eyes in unison, thinking: "Enough already with that job of yours!" But they played along, because they're good sports, and here's what we saw at the park at 10:15:



Turns out that the turn-out wasn't going to be as big as they anticipated. Unfortunately, six of the eight contestants had bowed out, leaving this fellow, Everett Brooks (who cooks at Roses -- which has an adjoining cafe), to share grills and tent-space with only one other contender, a pal of his from the Orcas Hotel:



Everett takes his love for the Weber Grill seriously, as his calf attests:



Hearing that the other two judges had already stopped by before heading into downtown Eastsound (where the rest of the townsfolk apparently were hitting the Saturday farmers market before gathering for the annual Solstice Parade), I posed a question to the woman coodinating the fundraiser: "With only two contestants, how would you feel about having only two judges?" She said, "No problem" -- to the great delight of my husband and son -- who wanted nothing more than to go to the farmer's market before catching the ferry. That way, we'd be home in time to pet the dogs, unpack our belongings and (in the case of mom and dad) prepare for the work-week ahead. So, into town we went. Where we spent an hour at the colorful market:



There, we ran into Bruce Orchid, who was manning a market table, visiting with his favorite lamb purveyor (check out the shank gracing the cover of Christina's cookbook):


For the past couple of years I've made it a point to stop for fresh island oysters from this market vendor:


His fried and grilled oysters ($10/half-dozen) are my idea of a great breakfast:



My son, Nate, begs to differ, and dragged me over to another table to inspect these cunning cupcakes:



Nate wasn't the only one impressed with those sweets (he had a mini-lemon version). Holly Smith was clearly taken with them, too. When I ran into her, she was toting a half-dozen big ones to share later, with her son, Oliver:



Here she is with Vuong, before they they headed back to judge the barbecue contest:



I can't tell you who won (my guess? it was a tie!), but I did find some photos on the Life on Orcas blog, post-event. Including this one, showing the chefs at "work":



Eventually, we caught the ferry as planned, with time to spare. At the Orcas ferry terminal, we (who knew?) parked line behind the guy who owns the Gilman Village restaurants Bamiyan and Tantalus, in Issaquah. Small world, isn't it?

And then we ended our vacation as we always do: with a stop at Skagit Valley's fabulous farmstand, Snowgoose Produce on Fir Island near Conway, where I bought some gorgeous greens and the boys had giant ice cream-cones:



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