We Begin In Bellingham

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When Craig moved from Washington to New York to start film school at NYU, he never realized how much he’d miss his home state. He spent his college years at the University of Washington and spent his post-college years working for the Pacific Science Center where he drove the science van and did presentations for school kids around the state. (Once, during a presentation involving boa constrictors he suffered a spontaneous pneumothorax; another time he made liquid nitrogen ice cream which the children ate. These children are now tongueless adults.) More important than his time in Seattle, though, was the time Craig spent as a child in Bellingham: a pristine, bucolic township one hour north of Seattle. From the moment I met him Craig pined for Bellingham the way Dorothy pined for Kansas: “It’s so beautiful there,” he’d tell me. “I didn’t realize how much I’d miss it when I moved to New York.”

And so Bellingham stood high on the pedestal in my brain when I boarded the plane at 8:30 am last week headed for Washington State. Craig had already been there for a week–I let him spend Christmas with his family before I came for New Year’s–and I arrived wholly excited and curious and ready to experience the city and people Craig had told me so much about.

“I’m so excited that you’re here!” said Craig after I boarded his parent’s car at the Seattle/Tacoma airport.

“I am too,” I said. We spent a moment being cheerful as he merged on to a highway and then I revealed that there was a problem.

“What is it?” he asked with genuine concern.

“I’m starving,” I said with great gravity.

His concern morphed into a smile and he said, “Don’t worry. I know exactly where to take you.”

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“Welcome to Dick’s!” said Craig as he turned into a parking lot.

“What’s Dick’s?”

“Dick’s is the best fast food place in the world,” he said. “You’re going to love it.”

He led me to the window and I observed that there was nowhere to sit.

“We can eat in the car,” explained Craig.

Eat in the car? What kind of welcome was this?

Here’s where you order your food at Dick’s:

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The prices are outrageously cheap. A hamburger is $1.15. Fries are $1.30. We splurged and each had a Deluxe, a cheeseburger and fries. We got our food, found a table we could stand at, and unwrapped our burgers. Here’s one close up:

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“Mmmmm,” I sung out, genuinely enjoying the first bite I took, a bite that was a long time coming considering the awful snack food I imbibed on the plane. (Dear Delta, Paremsan Peppercorn Spread is a frightening concept. Please stop. Sincerely, TAG.)

“Isn’t it good?” asked Craig eagerly.

It was. Sure, it’s not ultra gourmet with high end beef and tomato foam, but it’s the perfect thing to eat after stepping off a plane. And the fries were pretty soul satisfying too.

As we finished, Craig’s sister, Kristin, stopped in for a visit. She was on her way to work but she grabbed a soda and toasted with Craig before leaving:

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“I left a surprise for you in Bellingham,” said Kristin before she left.

“Did you not flush the toilet?” I joked.

“Haha,” she laughed. “You’ll see.”

“Ok,” said Craig as Kristen drove off. “Are you ready to see my hometown?”

“Yes sir,” I answered.

We returned to Craig’s car, loaded up with hamburgers, and began the drive. Craig told me how much time his father, a gourmet in his own right, had spent planning that night’s dinner. “He’s so nervous to cook for you,” said Craig.

“That’s crazy!” I said. “He shouldn’t be nervous.”

As we got closer and closer to Bellingham the scenery became more and more beautiful.

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“Look how pretty!” Craig boomed as we drove along Chuckanut Drive. “Isn’t this beautiful?” We stopped to take a picture.

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“It is beautiful,” I agreed. “Really beautiful.”

We soaked in all the beauty, the type of beauty one rarely sees from a Park Slope window, and then returned to the car for the rest of the trip to Craig’s parent’s home. When we got there the house smelled great–Craig’s dad had been cooking all day–and I greeted him and Craig’s mom, who I’d met before in New York, and Craig’s brother Eric. I also met the family dog, Bagel the Beagle:

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Bagel and I had a lot in common: she’s a genuine food lover, sniffing and groveling for food the way I might if it were socially acceptable. Craig and I settled into our room and then returned to the kitchen where Craig’s mom, Julee, whipped up a delicious crab appetizer:

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“It’s fresh dungeness crab,” she explained, “with chopped pistachios, mayonnaise and some parmesan cheese.” It’s all mixed together and placed on toast points and baked in the oven. It was a tremendous hit, we gobbled them up right fast:

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Pretty soon it was dinner time, and we sat down to an incredibly festive table:

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Craig’s dad really went all out and served us rack of lamb, which he’d marinated hours before in a mixture that I don’t quite remember:

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He served this with potatoes that he cooked with lemon zest and garlic (I got to add the “aromatics” as he called them in the final step):

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Who wouldn’t want to be welcomed with a plate like this?

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Everything was delicious and then Julee presented us with the treat Kristin left behind, chocolate truffles made from scratch:

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I’ve never had chocolate truffles made at home and these were so terrific that I plan to make my own sometime very soon. If you haven’t tried it, please do: Kristin won my heart with just one tiny morsel.

Now call me ungrateful, call me spoiled, but I was still unsatisfied.

“How was everything?” asked Craig’s mom and dad.

“Good,” I said letting out a small sigh. “Only–”

They looked at me eagerly, searchingly.

“I’d heard so much about your apple pie,” I said to Craig’s dad. “Every time I make an apple pie Craig says, ‘It’s good but not as good as my dad’s.'”

Craig’s dad smiled ear to ear. “Just one second,” he said. A moment passed and then he returned with the following:

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That picture alone should make you want to beg for Craig’s parent’s address so you can kidnap Steve (Craig’s dad) and insist he make this pie for you on a regular basis. It’s that good. Here it is all cut up:

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After this wonderful evening, we passed out and the next morning Craig took me to the Harris Avenue Cafe which I’m pretty sure he calls “The Harris Street Cafe.”

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There I had my first Washington State cappuccino which I thoroughly enjoyed:

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The waitress was the first in the history of my life who asked me if I wanted “a double tall” when I placed my order. How cool!

I had French Toast with real maple syrup which was also very good:

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This proved perfectly filling for the hike we took later in the afternoon with Craig’s whole family and his friend Rena who I’d met earlier in the year when she visited New York. For anyone thirsting for nature, soak in the following images:

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(That’s Craig “location scouting” for the feature-length movie he’s shooting this summer. Hey, does anyone have $500,000 he can borrow?)

Here he is with Rena:

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Walking around the lake was a highlight of the trip: a perfect testament to why Craig loves Bellingham so much. We returned to his house hungry and happily tired. This was when we removed the gift I brought from the fridge.

I forgot to tell you about the gift I brought. I knew Craig’s family was a cheese family so I went to Murray’s cheese before I left and asked for a few cheeses that would travel well. The man behind the counter was exceptionally helpful. And look how magnificent these cheeses are all arrayed:

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I don’t recall all the names, but the biggest crowd pleaser was the Roomano—a pungent Parmesany block of goodness that I may buy on a regular basis because it’s so good. (The one packed in rosemary was also excellent, as was the bleu which the man who sold it to me said was his favorite.)

For dinner that night we ate wild Alaskan salmon that Steve caught himself on a trip to Alaska last summer:

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He marinated it (I think soy sauce was involved and garlic and ginger) and then wrapped in foil and cooked on the grill.

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The result was splendid and tasted even better with wine from Dunham cellars, a wine company owned by friends of Craig’s parents:

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After a rousing game of Apples To Apples, we kicked back on the couch and dwelled on our happy time in Bellingham. The next day Craig and I would head to Seattle and begin the second (and longer) part of our journey. But for now I finally had a taste of what Craig had been raving about: Bellingham is a place well worth visiting, a place of natural beauty and tranquility that deserves its high place in Craig’s estimation and certainly, now, mine.

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