My Olympic Peninsula Adventure

Please unfurl your map of the United States. Now place your finger in the center and drag it to the most northwestern corner of the continental U.S. If you are doing this correctly, your finger is in Washington State. And your finger should be very happy because up there on the northwestern most corner it is in one of the most beautiful locations a finger can experience in the natural world: the Olympic Peninsula, the crown jewel of Washington state. This is where I just returned from after two days of roughing it: and through the magic of my digital camera, iPhoto, Flickr and Typepad, I can now take you there with me. Your finger can come too.

The first thing you need to know about the Olympic Peninsula is that it’s not that hard to get there from Seattle. With your car, you board a ferry; the ferry carries you across the water and once on the other side, it takes about an hour to get to Port Angeles. Port Angeles is the gateway to the Olympic Peninsula and it’s here that you will see Rena (Craig’s friend and associate producer) and Craig study the map to plan our course of action:


We were in a diner that, to our hungry bodies, looked like a perfect place to eat. When you’re on the road, like we were, your standards shift: any place with decent fare is a welcome site. Even so, how do you feel about these goldfish crackers on my salad?


The fish and chips, though, weren’t bad. The batter was light and the fish perfectly cooked:


Our waitress was funny and no-nonsense. I said, “How are you?” and she said, “Not very good” and pointed to a long table of old ladies and said, “They come in once a month and they wear me out.” I felt like I was on “Twin Peaks,” the characters were so quirky and the theme music was so hypnotic. When the little backwards-talking dwarf showed up, I knew it was time to go.

Now the reason for our trip–in case you missed my previous posts–was for Craig, my boyfriend, to location scout for his movie, True Adolescents. (Click the link again: the site’s been updated!) That sounds like a fun activity, doesn’t it? Location scouting? Let me tell you something. It’s not. It’s tedious. Rena, God bless her, is highly professional and highly focused: she kept us on track and on schedule, which meant that we had to visit the National Parks office to get maps and directions and then go to speak to a National Parks higher-up who would let Craig and Rena know where they could and couldn’t shoot. That was stressful, so I sat outside and read a funny article in last week’s New Yorker by Calvin Trillin. (Well, not so funny: it was about a Canadian town that burns people out who don’t fit in. Well, maybe. The guy they burnt out may or may not have been a crack dealer.)

Where was I? Oh, right, location scouting. So it’s tedious work. When they were done getting through all their red tape, I was able to put my professional hat on and lead the charge for food shopping for the car ride and that night’s cook out. I read all of your comments on the previous post (well, the first 25: I left after that) and immediately acquired whole corn (which was incredibly cheap), aluminum foil, hot dogs, marshmallows, buns, and two essential ingredients that Rena raised her eyebrow at: salt and pepper. Here they are loading it into the car:


Now, as I was saying earlier, it’s not very hard to get to the Olympic Peninsula from Seattle. Once we left Port Angeles, it took only two hours to get to our main destination: Ruby Beach. This is where Craig hopes to shoot the beach scenes in his movie and after going there oh…my…Lord I hope he does so you can see it. My pictures don’t do it justice. It is GORGEOUS. Look:






So we can all agree that this is beautiful, yes? For an East Coast Boy like me, there’s something so striking and breathtaking about those scenes of sea stacks, driftwood, and green trees surrounding the deep blue Pacific Ocean. Florida beaches are about white sand and palm trees; New York beaches also lack the natural layering that makes these northwest beaches so inspiring.

But wait a second. I’m supposed to be writing about food, aren’t I? Ok, ok. Well then. We found our campground, right near Ruby Beach. Here’s where we set up our tent:


As you can see, it’s a little grotto that looks like something out of The Lord of the Rings. The tree coverings proved to be very important later…

But wait. This was a SCOUTING trip. So after building our tent we went back to look at ANOTHER beach. Good thing I brought provisions:


I really like Pepperidge Farm’s Milano cookies. They are good to eat in a car when you’re hungry, along with Kettle brand Salt & Vinegar chips. Everyone in the car agreed and I suggest you make these your snacks for your next car trip.

On this particular beach scout, I encountered my first banana slug:


These are indigenous to the Northwest, though I’m not sure where it gets its name: it tastes NOTHING like a banana!

Meanwhile, this is a hollowed our crab that Craig found on the beach:


Here’s the crab up close:


But a hollowed-out crab is not food for dinner. And since it was getting late, and since we were all getting hungry (despite our Milanos and chips) it was time to go back to the camp site and start the fire. Only–and here’s the great tragedy of this experience: it started to pour!!

Oh, how excited I was to cook on the open fire for you all. Here’s Rena trying to get it started:


I don’t know how she did it, but after much effort that fire was indeed burning. So I set to work in my kitchen: the back of the car.

I took a sheet of aluminum foil, husked the corn, and laid the corn on the foil and then rubbed the whole thing with salted butter. Then I sprinkled generously with the salt and pepper I’d purchased and wrapped it into a tight packet:


Meanwhile, Rena bought baby carrots because on a camping trip prior she’d wrapped the carrots in aluminum foil and cooked them over the fire and she said it was the best thing she ever tasted. I decided to up the ante and plop some butter in there too and to douse the carrots with salt and pepper:


And now it was time to cook. Here you will see the foil pouches in the fire:


And here you will see Chef Craig performing his great campfire ritual: hot dog on a stick.


Actually, the hot dog on a stick cooked over the open flame had spectacular results. Look at the char I got on my dog:


That char gave that hot dog an edge that no steamed or boiled dog can come close to (even though I’m a steamed and boiled dog fan when it comes to New York City hot dogs). Campfire cooking teaches you a very basic rule about food preparation: fire is your friend.

It is also your enemy. If you don’t understand fire, it can be very cruel. We removed the carrot pack after 30 minutes and they were completely uncooked. We tossed them closer to the heat.

Here’s a far away shot of our rainy night cookout:


And here is my great triumph: the corn. Who ever suggested this, thank you. It came out like foil-wrapped perfection:


Look at the color on the bottom of that corn. That’s open flame heaven. And the corn itself was juicy and buttery and the salt and pepper took it to the moon. Sometimes it takes just the most basic tools to make something taste great.

For every ying, though, there’s a yang. These carrots bombed:


Too peppery and not enough caramelization. Maybe I should’ve packed the foil tighter? Or cooked the carrots another way?

At this point, the rain came down with a vengeance but I wanted my toasted marshmallow. We had the graham crackers and chocolate too, but that was too complex for this weather. So I just stuck some marshmallows on a stick and put the stick in the flame:


My marshmallows immediately caught fire. I blew them out and this is what I had:


Despite my ineptitude, they tasted of all the good things campfires bring. Marhsmallows and sticks make all of us chefs. Craig directed me to keep the marshmallow further from the flame so it gets golden brown, not black. But he wouldn’t eat one: “Too sweet,” he concluded.

And now it was time for camping. While Craig spent time putting the fire out, I was alone in the tent and having a marvelous time. Here’s my Blair Witch moment:


Hey, is that a double chin?

But, no, with the rain beating down and the rush of the waves in the distance, it was a lovely place to sleep. And the next morning, something even more lovely happened: we found a cabin where we could eat breakfast. Welcome to the Kalaloch Lodge:


Apparently Laura Bush stayed here recently (they had a framed article about it in the lobby). The place had tons of northwest charm. Here’s Craig and Rena studying their menus with a highly scenic backdrop:


I tried to order the most “unique to this place” dish I could and on this menu that amounted to Alder Smoked Salmon Hash:


I asked the waitress if it was good and she said, “Well if the chef does it correctly it’s good. Otherwise, it’s not very good.”

“Well can you ask him to do it correctly?”

“I’ll try,” she said, sincerely.

She must’ve done a good job, because this dish was really enjoyable:


The higlight were the large square pieces of smoked salmon. Completely foreign to the flat fish we put on bagels in New York, the smoked salmon here was dry, smoky, and deeply flavored. The perfect smoky foil to the eggs and potatoes.

Soon we we were on our way for more location scouting. On our way, we passed a fish with legs at Sekiu:


We assumed this was just an absurd touch the townsfolk put out to make tourists laugh, but later at Seiku’s main restaurant, the waitress was wearing an apron with that same bikini-ed fish on the front. “What does it mean?” we asked.

“The salmon are running,” she said with such matter-of-factness we felt like idiots.

Anyway. The northwest tip of the Olympic Peninsula is called Neah Bay and it’s on Native American land belonging to the Makah tribe. On the way to the beach, we stopped at the reservation’s museum and gift shop. Here’s a cookbook I saw:


I almost bought it–mostly for kitsch value–but then decided against it. We soon explored the beaches which are also incredibly beautiful:


Here’s a starfish we saw in the sand (at least I think that’s a starfish):


Some more beauty shots:



And, with this beach we reached the end of our scouting duties. We started the journey back and stopped in Seiku (as mentioned) for dinner here at the Breakwater restaurant:


Again, what this place lacked in gourmet appeal it made up for with charm. And there was one Jane and Michael Stern-like discovery: this odd-sounding but terrific-tasting “Sour Cream and Raisin Pie.”


With its flaky crust and highly unique filling, this was the perfect end to an exciting trip filled with the sweet tart rush of raisin-like adventure and the soft cool zing of sour-cream-like tranquility. Now take that same finger we started this post with and type in and book yourself a trip to Seattle so you can experience all of this for yourself. Serenity is just a plane ride, ferry ride and car ride away.

21 thoughts on “My Olympic Peninsula Adventure”

  1. I was wondering if you were heading out that way. I almost left a comment to recommend the crunchy cinnamon French toast at Kalaloch–very yummy. That area is one of my favorites, and Ruby Beach–gorgeous.

  2. If only you had licked the banana slug – your tongue would’ve gone numb and the carrots might not have been so lackluster. (things you learn from a summer working in the PNW woods). :)

  3. It’s a shame you settled for Kettle brand chips for your road trip. Do not leave the Northwest without sampling the many varieties of Tim’s Cascade Chips. They are truly NW and will make you want to relocate. As we tell all visitors, Don’t.

  4. I’m glad you got to try northwest smoked salmon! I was trying to explain the concept to my (D.C.) co-workers the other day and they were completely mystified; it’s really a shame.

  5. great post! I just got back from a week vacation in Port Townsend myself – quaint little Victorian port town in NW Washington. Having lived many years in the NW I am still amazed at the beauty of the beaches. I’m glad you had a chance to experience some of that beauty and “culture.” Your cooking in the rain over a campfire brings out the “ah yes” response in me. I will have to try cooking corn in foil as you did – sounds excellent.

  6. Oh, what memories this brings back. The Pacific Northwest is one of my favorite places in the entire world. Give me redwoods and sea stacks and you have a happy girl. That sour cream & raisin pie looks divine. Glad you had a good time.

  7. Sweet! Right on Adam, I’m so glad y’all made it out to the coast – and it looks like you even got to experience our signature “drizzle” – heh heh. But no, seriously, the coast is so beautiful even when it’s gray and rainy. Looks like you had quite the successful culinary camping experience as well – kudos. The lady and I just got back from a trip to Kalaloch ourselves, if you’re curious, here’s a link with some pics from our mini-adventure, looks like we hit some of the same spots:

    Enjoy your time in Seattle my friend!



  8. I was going to say the same thing as czken. You got to have Tim’s Cascade, absolutely the best.

    Also, next time you’re out there, you should catch your own crabs, they’re no alaskan crabs, but the adventure makes them taste better. Catch some squid too!

  9. not tried Tim’s Cascade but have to say that the best Kettle chip is not Salt and Vinegar but rather the Kettle Salt and Black Pepper chips the best!!

  10. I feel the need to also mention that Tim’s Cascade chips are the best thing since sliced bread. They’re really hard to find, although I do know of a deli in D.C. that carries them and ‘wichcraft also carries them (although only the original flavor). I regularly have my mom mail me boxes of the stuff.

  11. I dont know what that is, but definitely not a starfish…ick.

    By the way, Im a location manager and I think you guys did a bang-up job on the scouting…very dedicated!

  12. Thank you for the quick trip! I haven’t had a NW fix in a lonnnnng time! I’ve been all over our country and the Olympic Peninsula is pretty much my favorite (with apologies to our gorgeous southwest). Good food, good story. Oh, and thanks to Berry for the ID on the seastar/starfish.

  13. Hate to nitpick, but the most northwestern-most corner of the the continental United States is most certainly Alaska. We also lay claim to the most northeastern corner of the US, too, as the western end of the Aleutian Islands venture into the 170 degrees east longitudes.

    All that said, the western Washington coast is an amazing place. The beach blob is what we in Alaska call a sea star. Too bad your Washington visit was too early for the salmonberries. To. Die. For!

  14. Now *THAT* is a Blog entry! Beautiful pictures. I just got back from South Carolina beaches and forgot how dune-y they are compared to Florida, Cali & Hawai’i beaches. But a nice time was had by all.

    Much like your trip! I’ll have to send you some of the brunch items from the Shem Creek Bar & Grill menu. Much like the aforementioned salmonberries, to. Die. For. :)

  15. I grew up out on the Olympic Peninsula! I have lived in Seattle for six years and mostly miss the beaches. For the beaches, I would recommend: Second Beach near La Push, any Kalaloch Beach, and Shi Shi beach near Neah Bay. I worked in high school as a prep cook at the Breakwater Inn in Sekiu. They serve a mean french dip.

    By the way that is a twenty-armed star fish!

  16. I had to laugh. You didn’t go to most of the places I would recommend on the Peninsula, but you did get classic NW service. Next time try Port Townsend instead of Port Angeles. To bad the Wild Coho isn’t run by the Paynes anymore. I also prefer the Lake Quinalt restaurant to Klaloch.

  17. It’s a sunflower seastar, “Pycnopodia helianthoides: commonly known as the sunflower seastar, is a large sea star found in the northeast Pacific. It is the largest sea star in the world, with a maximum armspan of 1 m.”–Wikipedia

    And anyone who thinks it’s icky and/or an octopus should hie themselves to some nature study classes. Sadly, there is recently a sea star wasting disease that does make the sea stars icky–dissolves them. Last I heard, the cause has not been found.

    The banana slug is called that because –before civilization encroached–they tended more frequently to be bright yellow and big. You haven’t lived ’til you’ve run out your backdoor barefoot and squished a few (by accident–which is why they aren’t as frequent anymore).

    The running salmon used to be at the used-to-be single grocery store in Clallam Bay.

    About 10-12 miles north of LaPush is the westernmost point in Western hemisphere all the way down to Antarctica:

    “Bodelteh Islands, Clallam County (longitude 124.77 West) (also the westernmost point in the contiguous 48 states) Westernmost mainland: Cape Alava, Clallam County.” –Wikipedia

    And, alas, for a port city, the offerings for excellent locavore dining in a restaurant-type setting (meaning, other than going out and catching it oneself–or at the few whole foods type stores, Nash’s and Sunny Farms in Sequim and Country Aire in Port Angeles. Sometimes guys show up with trucks at parking lots and have fresh salmon for sale in season, sometimes crab–speaking of which, the “empty crab” is a molt stage which the crab shed to get bigger.

    And why you would go camping on WA coast and not expect to get rained on . . . ?

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