This is a return trip to La Conner in the beautiful Skagit Valley. We were anxious to renew our friendship with owner Shelly Davis. We had such a nice time at her Queen of the Valley Inn when we had stayed there some years before (Now under new management since 2013). The experience then remains one of our favorite travel and adventure memories. Shelly is warm and welcoming, two qualities needed in an innkeeper. Her bed and breakfast on the outskirts of La Conner feels like home. It's inviting without being pretentious. Our trip brought us relaxation, laughter, great people to talk to, as well as good food.
Before traveling to La Conner I asked Shelly about the local Bed and Breakfast Association. Peg and I had attended one of their meetings our last time we had visited La Conner. I grew up working at my parents' motel and Peg and I know marketing, so we had a nice time at the meeting discussing business over sandwiches.
Shelly revealed that, although she is doing fine, one of the other B&Bs had to close their doors. I was sorry to hear the bad news about one of her friends, but I was glad that Shelly is doing well. 2010 could be her best year ever. She has a lot of returning guests and some new ones.
The Skagit Valley is what the Kent Valley and the Puyallup Valley used to be prior to business and housing developments being built on top of the rich, fertile soil. In mid-August our trip took advantage of the end of berry season, but a few weeks early for the corn, which seemed to be growing everywhere.
As we drove onto the driveway at the Queen of the Valley we could see some changes had been made. We walked past the fence bedecked with still-green logan berries and went around into the backyard. On our last trip we gathered around a fire pit and enjoyed the beginnings of a patio, which was still being cleared and planned. This time the area had fulfilled its original promise. It looked really nice and had a definitive boundary, but still there was no need for complete privacy with growing fields surrounding the property.
During one of the night we stayed there I heard something heavy moving around below my window in the dark. I'm guessing it was probably deer munching on low-hanging apples, or possibly even causing an avalanche of apples as deer jerked the latest limbs down for an apple rain.
In the early spring the Skagit Valley and La Conner are home to the Tulip Festival. People come from all over the world to see the fields of tulips. With Peg's allergies, this is not something we want to experience in person. We don't come then, although it would be beautiful to see. Peg loves tulips.
Something else we've always missed is the huge flocks of snow geese and swans that swarm the fields on their returning migration. Again, visitors come to see the fields turn white. Feathers in the air just don't excite me as I worry about Peg being able to breathe. Besides, Peg likes seeing the flat fields with their rolled up bales of hay and the other crops. As we drove around looking the next day a bald eagle swooped across the road in front of us. Nice. At home we occasionally see eagles fly over or near our home. Deer come to graze as well, too. In addition we have a raccoon that calls one of our fir trees home. Ah, the Pacific Northwest.
I enjoyed looking out at the fields in the early morning. As the sun rose, I did have to close the curtains to let Peg sleep a little longer.
After a warm greeting and a hug from Shelly, we took our bags to our second floor bedroom (The Hong Kong room) and settled in. The last time here we stayed across the hallway in the India Room. Each room at the inn is named after a British Colony. This theme goes along with Shelly's assertion that she is "the" queen of the valley.
As always it takes us longer to leave home than we would like, but there is always some business to wrap up before leaving. We arrived over an hour later than we had hoped (just after four). We decided to drive the few blocks to town and look around and then have dinner. We stopped off at Key Bank to get some cash. Oops, minutes too late. They closed at 4:30. We continued on and drove down the main street, which parallels the channel. Many of the shops are built on pilings and stick out into the water. This is nice for dining, drinking coffee, or for just standing and leaning on railings and looking at the water. While at home I am a hard worker at my desk, but in vacation mode I am more anxious to relax than work . . . or sometimes even move.
We drove past the sign for the Waterfront Cafe almost three times, which is hard to do in a town with a downtown area roughly three blocks long. Their sign, while visually appealing is hard to read and recognize.
I had already searched onlinefor the local restaurants and looked over the menus. We wanted to avoid the places where we had dined before to give us some new place to try. We arrived at the Waterfront Cafe nearly too late. They close at five. Perhaps, we shouldn't have paused near the door to read the posted article about Linda Blair (from the movie The Exorcist) turning vegan. As we walked in we were advised that the cafe was closing. We could still order fish and chips if we wanted. As luck would have it, that's what I wanted to order. Of course what I had sold Peg on was their meatloaf.
A few minutes after ordering the fish for each of us and two extra pieces for me the waitress Sandy returned with bad news. We had ordered the cod, but they were no almost out of it. We could have a combination of cod and halibut, however. This was fine with us.
Peg and I had a beer each and watched boats traveling both ways on the narrow channel. As I gazed across the water I saw the disappearing back of what was probably a sea lion. The channel we were on connects to the San Juan Islands on the north end of Puget Sound and then to the Straights of Juan De Fuca, which separates the U.S. and Canada here in the Pacific Northwest and then heads out into the Pacific Ocean.
I thought about our friends John and Nan who are now traveling back from Alaska in his forty-two footer. I also regretted losing my business card on which another friend had written his cell phone number. He and his girlfriend (and ex-wife) were boating around the San Juans. It would have been nice to connect for a fun evening on the docks in La Conner.
We had originally planned to drive to Anacortes and go whale watching on this trip, but I'll settle for seeing the sea lion, which actually might have been a small whale. It really could have been. Not an orca perhaps, but a small gray or minke whale.
Our fish and chips were wonderful, although once I saw the size of the cod, I knew that I should have been less greedy and just gone with a regular order. The halibut was the better fish, but the coating was better on the cod. Both were good. We had also ordered homemade key lime pie. I didn't ask whose home, but simply enjoyed the tarter than usual flavors, which made it just right for us. There was no hurry about eating and leaving even though we were well past closing time. Sandy chatted. We told her where we were staying. She had once been to a party there. Sandy was bright and cheerful and like most people in the Skagit Valley and La Conner made us feel welcome.
We drove around town after dining and then went home to the Queen of the Valley. Peg had already located several comfortable places to read. On the porch she went through several chapters of her book and then joined me in our room and continued reading. I had already started a book and read from bed as Peg took the chair I vacated for her. My book, brought from home was The Hotel on the Corner of Bitter and Sweet. On the nightstand on her side of the king-size bed was another copy of the same book. There are many books to read, games to play, and DVDs to watch at the well-equipped B&B.
Thursday morning I slept in past my normal five o'clock rising. Okay, I didn't sleep in, I read first in bed and then read in the comfy chair. This book, which deals with first-love and covers the historical period of the Japanese Internment during World War II. Some of my high school friends had fathers who fought in the famous and highly decorated 442 Regimental Combat Team of "Go For Broke" Nisei (second generation Japanese immigrants) Japanese-Americans, so I found the story riveting. It takes place in Seattle and other Pacific Northwest locations.
I waited until eight-fifteen and then woke Peg up and went downstairs for coffee.
At home I can drink coffee black and with a little flavored creamer. When alternatives are offered on the road I partake. Spooning the raw sugar into my coffee and then adding a little cream makes me happy and content. I sat down in the dining room, where no one dines and talked with Shelly and her helper Jackie. Shelly had a suggestion. She thought I should meet Joseph Kinnebrew, an internationally known artist who now lives in La Conner. I thought that sounded like fun. She said, "Joe is a character." That really hooked me.
Peg joined me for a breakfast of fresh peaches, bacon, and pancakes made with cottage cheese. It was all very, very tasty. While we enjoyed the food, Shelly played the piano in the parlor to accompany breakfast service. Also, joining us for breakfast and music was Mak and D'Juan.
Mak was from Everett and D'Juan was from Seattle. They arrived late the night before and only stayed the one night. Too bad, they seemed like nice people. Mak is a pastry chef who creates cupcakes at The Yellow Leaf Cupcake Company in Seattle.
The bakery is just a few blocks from The Warwick Hotel where we like to stay in the downtown area. We will make it a point to stop in for coffee and some cupcakes the next time we stay in Seattle. D'Juan works for Seattle Parks so with Peg's previous employment with the parks department in Tacoma, we had an instant connection with both of them. Plus, they had nice smiles.
After breakfast Shelly placed a call to her friend, the artist Joe Kinnebrew. Shelly let me use her computer to check on my email and to "Google" Joe. Talk about instant connections. Joe was born in Tacoma, Washington and graduated from college in Michigan. Peg and I are from Tacoma and my cousin, Lavinia Hart who grew up in Puyallup was once awarded Michiganian of the Year by the Detroit Free Press. All three of us (me fine arts-painting and drawing, Peg German-literature, and Lindy-teaching) attended the University of Puget Sound, where Joe had also once been enrolled.
Our interview with the artist was set for eleven. Peg and I drove a round a bit first. Just down the street from the B&B is a nursery which must have been a Christmas Tree farm at one time. Rows of pine trees as well as fruit trees meet the road and disappear into their own little forests. The trees have long since slipped their stanchions. Mixed into the area of nursery and forest is a construction company, which has an interesting hedge of colorful rose hips. Flowers and trees, wild growing grasses and level fields meeting gravel roads just kind of defines the varied area of the Skagit Valley.
We drove back towards the Queen of the Valley, but instead of turning left into the driveway, we turned right and drove past a cattle feeding area and barn, past pastures, past more growing fields, and past a home with the cutest little John Deere tractor mailbox.
Although, we had been told to go about a quarter of a mile, we traveled considerably further. We were going to The Quarry, which is the home and over-night guest house of Joseph Kinnebrew. Since I knew his place was built on the site of an old quarry it only made since that it could not be found on the valley floor. Throughout the Skagit Valley are stone outcroppings. The downtown area of La Conner is built at the base of one of the croppings. The shops and restaurants front the street, while above them with unobstructed views are houses, old churches, and businesses.
In the distance I saw the outcropping, which I assumed would be the Kinnebrew home and studio. It was. We pulled into the gated driveway and drove up a small winding road past the guest house and parked beside his home. Joe came out and warmly greeted us and then took us on a tour of his private haven. He bought the abandoned quarry about a dozen years ago and began transforming it.
The property now has waterfalls, fountains, ponds of goldfish, and his art everywhere. Inside are his paintings and outside are his sculptures and a three person kayak complete with it's own roof. It is a piece of art. Joe's place is the second largest event space in the Skagit Valley. He has a concrete pad with a tent that will accommodate over two hundred guests for dinner. The 2,000 sq. ft., two bedroom guest house is an ideal place for a young married couple to begin their honeymoon. While not a traditional B & B, the guest house has a full kitchen and two bedrooms and two baths. Joe is a wonderful host and his art is fantastic. He gave us a personal tour, which we found delightful. (Not sure if Joe still is booking envents - 2/27/15.)
We talked with Joe for over two hours and then drove back down to La Conner for lunch. Again, we opted for dinning along the channel. The fruit and produce store seemed like a good place to go. Across the parking lot there was a store with a clearance sale going on. After lunch Peg would check that out, while I read in the car.
The boat traffic on the channel is always fun to watch. We sat and relaxed, which was a favorite activity on this trip. Sail boats, fishing boats, dingys, and almost everything in-between seemed to be in constant motion along the waterfront. People were either working on their boats, moving their boats, or simply watching the boats.
Peg and I decided to share a lunch, since it really hadn't been that long since breakfast, but we didn't want to wait too long and somehow be too late for dinner wherever that happened to be. We had a pulled pork sandwich, and a bowl of prawn chowder. A local complaint we heard was that the sandwiches are less generous than they used to be. Our sandwich wasn't huge, but the filling was excellent. We enjoyed the chowder as well, if we had been home, we would have given it a couple twists of black ground pepper, however. We had a disappointing dessert.
The peanut butter, chocolate chip shortbread cookie looked great in the case. It looked wonderful, but was tooooooooooooo dry to eat by itself. Just thinking about it make me want a sip of water. I went back and bought coffee to accompany the cookie, well, actually for dunking. Once dunked the dessert was good, but should have been much better. So much better.
On our previous trip to La Conner our visiting days and hours didn't match up with the La Conner Quilt & Textile Museum. This time around we checked the days and times on our first drive through. As a proud Rotarian it was interesting to note that the La Conner Rotary Club had helped restore the mansion, which houses the museum.
After an afternoon nap, we visited the museum before closing time. Correction, Peg visited the museum while I parked and read across street. It's strange the things I remembered about our first trip to La Conner. Next to the Civic and Garden Center (an old church) is a home with a carport. The last time there a Cadillac convertible was parked there. I parked nearby to read, but perused the carport, but saw no Cadillac. At the time I was considering purchasing that model. I chose instead a Buick Reatta. They were both made by General Motors and both were two-seaters, which were unusual for those makes. Although, my Reatta is sporty looking, it isn't a convertible, which is a shame.
Peg enjoyed the displays. When she returned to the car she asked if I had called the museum to tell them I had moved my car. While inside one of the curators had announced, "Peggy, your husband has moved his car by the church." There were two "thank yous." Only one was from Peg.
I did move my car, but didn't call. Small town luck or communication I guess. The main exhibit was Japanese. As I waited for Peg I saw them take down the American and Japanese flags from the porch.
As we drove away from the museum we went past Nell Thorn's, a restaurant where Shelly was meeting a friend, Judy, for drinks. If we had seen them sitting outside we would have joined them. We continued on to a Mexican restaurant we had driven by several times, El Gitano. Peg had read a good review of their food. We thought we would try it out.
In Spain I never pretended to speak the language, but no one really seemed to have a problem understanding me. At El Gitano, I asked for "mole," which resulted in quizzical looks. How many ways can you pronounce "mow-lay?" I received the same look when I asked the waitress if I could take her photograph. Oh, well. She was nice and the food was excellent . . . even if they didn't have goat. My pork taco was perfect and Peg's tamale and enchilada were perfect, too. It was the language that was the problem. Not enough to keep us away next time, however.
I mentioned earlier that nobody dines in the dining room at The Queen of the Valley. The round table there will sit four people, but it is more to sip your coffee before breakfast or perhaps warm yourself on a cold winter's evening by the little wood-burning stove than it is a dining room.
Breakfast at The Queen of the Valley is served in the Gathering Room, which is a sun porch. The multiple panes of glass let in lots of sunlight and provides a cheery atmosphere to let you talk to other people eating their breakfast, read the paper, or simply chat with your partner.
Our last breakfast before we left was a wonderful baked egg in cream dish. Joining the ramekin were two waffles (with Rice Krispies mixed in) and blueberries and a fantastic fresh raspberry compote. This was made even better by Jackie bringing a bowl containing more of the compote in case we didn't have enough. I refrained from licking the bowl . . . barely. As always the orange juice was good, the coffee was perfect and the music, played just for the two of us, was ideal. Peg and I were the only two over-night guests, but Shelly's friend, Judy came for breakfast as well. She is a massage therapist and does in-room massage for guests. Judy and Shelly have been friends for years.
Originally from the prairies of Alberta, she moved to the L.A. area before coming to the Skagit Valley, which give her a small town and prairie feel all combined. Shelly's story is similar, but she left the small town feel of eastern Washington and heading to California before stopping and staying in Skagit Valley.
After several piano selections Shelly joined us in the Gathering Room. Since our last stay Shelly sponsored a concert by the Four Bitchin' Babes. The four singers stayed at the Queen of the Valley. Peg and traveled north for the concert, but didn't stay over. One of the original members of the group was Julie Gold. She is one of our favorite female song writers. She's written some very nice songs. Probably her most recorded is From a Distance, which did really well for Bette Midler. During breakfast the previous morning, Good Night, New York, written by Julie Gold was one of the tunes Shelly played on the piano. When Mak and D'Juan retired to their bedroom before leaving, I sat down and played the song, also. Both mornings in addition to the piano solos, we were serenaded by songs from the latest CD of The Babes (which contains images of crowns and tiaras . . . ummmmmmmmmm).
The four of us talked about books, music, and movies. Originally, for our trip we were going to stop in Seattle and visit the Frye Art Museum and stay with a friend in West Seattle, but things change. Peg and I announced the town of Edison was on our agenda before heading back to Tacoma. Shelly said it was a bend in the road; from the kitchen Jackie said, "Two bends really." There were supposed to be two dairies to sample from and two bakeries and a nice restaurant to try. It sounded perfect to us. The area between the two bends turned out to be just a couple hundred yards long, but what a happy space it was.
I should have checked out the license plates on the cars. Since Edison is just south of Bellingham, it could be that many of the tourists we saw were Canadians.
On the way to Edison we saw a roadside attraction. On the roof was the word "PIE." The country store turned out to be Rosabella's. We had heard strange stories about the owner, Rosa. We like to form our own opinions, however.
In one story, we heard that she sent the local sheriff after a regular customer because she thought he had not paid for his weekly flowers for his wife. He left the money on the counter while she was busy with another customer.
There was also a story also of her bringing in people from the Food Network to sample local produce, and products and then serving them food purchased at Costco. Tom Colicchio supposedly was too nice to say anything. These are from local sources, of course.
Outside I took some photos and then walked up to the entrance, which warned parents about supervising their children. Inside there was a sign warning visitors not to photograph inside the establishment and in addition there was a sign that provided a long list of rules. Not wanting to memorize a list of anything I looked at the pies. I would have been happy with several. Peg was going to order coffee, but I knew that just down the road we would be eating more. In the end she ordered a brownie and asked the location of the restroom. Rosa, I can only guess it was her, replied that there was a five dollar minimum purchase to use the restrooms. This stopped Peg in her tracks. Rosabella explained, it costs her money every month for her restrooms. I laughed to myself as Peg explained, "We'll just go somewhere else, then."
A few minutes later we parked just inside the first bend of Edison. We walked in the Farm to Market Bakery and ordered one Ginger Snap Molasses Cookie and one Polenta Cake soaked with lime juice. Peg asked for and was directed to the restroom, while I took the cookie and the cake back to the car.
I had one bite of the cake and then wolfed down the rest of it. Moments later as Peg approached the car I said, "Why don't you go back and get another Polenta Cake and you might want to get a second cookie if they're as good as the cake." To my chagrin, Peg responded, "Thanks for saving me a bite." She returned with a Snickerdoodle and another Polenta Cake, which she immediately sampled with three bites. Damn her. I probably should have bought it myself and perhaps upped the number to three . . . or four Polenta Cakes.
Within the next two hundred yards we visited three stores ( The Lucky Dumpster, Bread Farm, and Slough Foods) and bought a present for my sister-in-law, two loaves of bread, two cookies, a fruit bar, and two kinds of goat cheese (Gouda and Chevre from Gothberg Farms). We then turned around just past the second bend and headed back to the first bend in the road to the Old Edison Inn, which was just across the street from the Farm to Market Bakery.
At the Edison Inn we looked over the menu and finally ordered the twelve Oyster Scatter appetizer and the Clam Strip Dinner. While we waited for lunch the wait staff was extremely attentive. We had time to look through the local entertainment weekly. We were so disappointed that we would not be able to see the touring Cowsills at one of the local casinos. (The previous sentence contains just a pinch and a half of sarcasm.)
When lunch arrived, Peg made the mistake of eating a clam strip first and then turned up her nose at the oysters (very uncharacteristicly) after one-half bite. I had to finish off the oysters by myself and only received a small share of the clams. Damn her. The razor clams were absolutely perfect. And I mean absolutely perfect. What a great way to finish our trip. Perfect.
The trip wasn't actually finished as we left Edison. There was still a two hour plus drive back south to Tacoma. It took nearly twenty-five minutes to get through Seattle on the freeway, but after that it was smooth sailing.
After a short nap at home we joined friends for dinner and shared some of our stories. The next morning Peg and I started working on the snacks and bread. The fruit bar contained figs inside a whole wheat exterior. A baguette with butter/olive oil lasted much of the day. We saved the larger multigrain sandwich loaf for Sunday and Monday. All were yummy. What a nice trip. As I finished off my last few bites of the Polenta Cake soaked in lime, I dreamed of both Italy, the home of Polenta, and La Conner. Both locations are wonderful places to visit. Time and time again.