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The Cambria Scarecrow Festival

 

 

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For the past eight years, the town of Cambria, California has been filling their streets with scarecrows for the month of October. They claim to have hundreds, a number to which I cannot personally attest as I didn’t get to check out every nook and cranny of Cambria and the neighboring San Simeon, which also participates. After gassing up, I stretched my legs walking Cambria’s downtown checking out their scarecrow offerings. I also checked out the French Corner Bakery to buy more coffee. Considering the pastry revelation that was Bob’s earlier that morning, I wasn’t ready to try any other pastries, but on a whim, I ordered a torta, figuring that good bread was fully half the battle when it comes to getting a good sandwich. And daaaaaaaaamn, was that sandwich ever good! Fresh bread stuffed with juicy pork, thick slices of avocado, and pickled onions and jalapenos. YASSS. At least, that’s how I felt about the two bites I got while Jason wolfed the rest down. I’ve never seen a sandwich disappear that fast. We were still talking about how good the sandwich was as we passed by a place named “Hidden Valley Ranch”–was this, in fact, the birthplace of ranch dressing, AKA “America Sauce”? I don’t know, I was too busy talking about that sandwich to investigate.  Even now, fully a month later, we fondly reference that sandwich in conversation. Even now, when I should be talking about scarecrows, I’m talking about the sandwich.

Mmmm, sandwich.

Hello, Yellow: The La Conner Daffodil Festival

I took a few more pictures with my old-timey lens and I still don’t know if I like it. Maybe I need to get better at photography in general before I start farting around with toys.

Put a fat bird on it, spruce it up, make it pretty!

My most recent bee-bothering

I’ve been to the tulip festival in Mount Vernon a few times, and while I was aware that earlier in the season there were also fields of irises and daffodils, I hadn’t actually made the trek to go see them until this year. I think that’s the case with a lot of people, as La Conner has recently dubbed the period before the tulips as the official daffodil festival in the effort to extend the flower tourism season. If you plant them, they will come…unless they don’t know about it.

As it turns out, Roozengaarde (the place where you can actually go and buy tulips during the tulip festival) plants more acres of daffodils than tulips–100 acres more! And as a bonus, before the tulips have bloomed, you can easily park in their lot and walk through their gardens for free. Admission is normally $5 so it’s not like you’re saving a ton of money, but it is a handy place to walk through if you want to take some selfies in front of a field of daffodils with Mount Baker in the distance. The effect of so many yellow flowers is undeniably cheery (try to deny it! I dare you!). It’s like spring up and slapped you in the eyeballs in the nicest way possible.

If you want to experience the daffodil festival, they’re holding some events through the month of March, including The Dandy Daffodil Tweed Bike Ride & Picnic which sounds delightful. Plus it’s late enough in the month that you’ll be bicycling around tulips as well!

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“Don’t make me run, I’m full of chocolate!”: The Northwest Chocolate Festival

nw chocolate festival

More and more, the Pacific Northwest is coming to be known as a place for local artisanal food, microbrews, and wines, so it only makes sense that chocolates were soon to follow. The Northwest Chocolate Festival is a celebration of chocolate in all its forms, from nibs to confection to pastry, packing in over 80 companies and 50 workshops onto the waterfront over two days for enthusiasts to partake (gorge) and make merry.

It is unbelievable the amount of chocolate one can eat at the festival if they try. There were two entirely full show floors, with each vendor generally offering multiple samples, encouraging you to try more, with most with wares for sale at the show so you could take home your favorites. I came into this mostly blind, having purchased my ticket on one of those daily discount sites, neither reading the ticketing site’s description nor the festival website, so I had no idea it was as large and involved as it was or I might have eaten some breakfast beforehand or planned to attend both days. Between the workshops spread over seven stages and the vendors, there is no way to see and try everything in one day, or even over both. There were culinary classes, tasting workshops, artisanal chocolate lectures, demonstrations on Mesoamerican chocolate drink preparation,  discussions on farming, a pro series, and even some spicier talks in the aphrodisiac zone! I had two goals: eat as much chocolate as humanly possible, and attend the noon keynote presentation: “Taste the fruit of the cacao tree” because even if the tour guide at Theo had been able to answer my question about its flavor, it’s something I wanted to try for myself, and it’s a rare opportunity in the United States.valrhona

I started on the upper floor and ate an ungodly amount of chocolate. I tried chocolate that had caramel blended into it instead of being caramel-filled. I tried stone-ground chocolate. I tried single-origin chocolate. I tried burnt caramel sauce. I tried a chocolate shot. I tried toffee. I tried bars with every imaginable kind of inclusion. I tried truffles. I tried truffle filling. I worried momentarily when all of the samples were shut down temporarily by the health department due to lack of handwashing facilities and then I ate more anyway because whatever doesn’t kill me will only fill me with more chocolate.

choc xo chocolate shot

fresh cocoa pod

And THEN it was time for the lecture. Bill “The Chocolate Man” Fredericks spent most of the hour going in depth into how the fruit of the cacao tree grows and how delicate the fruit and ecosystem are that sustains it. I had learned some about this from the Theo tour and Chocolate: The Exhibit  at MOHAI, but the majority was new to me. For instance, I’ve already talked about how chocolate grows off of the trunk of the cacao tree and that it needs to be harvested by humans. I learned that this is because the cacao pods grow out of “blisters” on the trees and if those blisters are damaged in any way, that part of the tree will never bear fruit again. Also, if you clear the litter from below the trees, they will not set fruit, as the litter is the home for their pollinators. He also said the fruit itself is easily blighted, that disease and mold spread rapidly, and because some large companies will buy the fruit (and pay the same price) whether the fruit is moldy or pristine, some farmers aren’t as motivated to care for the trees correctly, and they’re also planting varietals that have higher yields but shittier flavor. This is one of those issues that’s remedied by chocolatiers who have a close relationship with their cacao growers: they pay higher prices to ensure the best quality.

He also passed two fresh cacao pods around the room and encouraged people to hold, smell, and shake them: the way to know if a cacao pod is ripe is if the beans shake inside the pod. Rest assured, I shook the shit out of the one I was passed and it was indeed ripe. Just before the hour was up, they were passed back to the front and Bill demonstrated how to best open the pods so as to not damage any of the seeds inside. When he cut them open, the insides looked (as my friend Shannon put it) “like horrible alien worm babies”. She was not wrong. But then the hour ended, people started leaving, and we still had not tasted the fruit which was the whole reason I attended. The remaining attendees were invited on stage to inspect the opened pods more closely, and I don’t know if that invitation included eating it, and I don’t know who started reaching out and grabbing a bit of horrible alien worm baby for their very own first, but all of a sudden hands started flying in and tearing it apart, and I escaped with a piece of it for myself and the knowledge that I had participated in something that could probably be categorized as a mob. The important thing is that I was able to try the fruit, which I will describe thusly: like a thinner, slimier, membranous lychee with a much larger seed. And, since it was in my mouth, I ate the seed as well, which tasted like slightly bitter nothing. It was at that point that my mind was well and truly blown, because centuries ago, people found a fruit that just generally kind of sucked and then just kept trying to make it palatable instead of tossing it over their shoulder and moving on, and the result of that experimentation is one of the most popular flavors in the world. Perseverance, friends.

aphrodisiac lounge

After trying my illicit bean, the group made their way to the Aphrodisiac Lounge, entrance to which cost an additional $5 and proof of age. I wish I had known what was going to be in there beforehand, because I might not have laid down the additional cash. I mean, everyone knows that aphrodisiac is code for booze and adult situations, I just expected something a little more stimulating or maybe a little less sad or…I don’t know. It was a room that was much too brightly lit for sexy thoughts (the most brightly-lit room in the entire festival, in fact) with about six vendors offering boozy samples: two beers (both IPAs, ugh, everywhere you turn in Seattle there’s another damned too-hoppy IPA), a couple of brown liquors, a vodka thing, and some chocolate wine. I wasn’t really into any of it, but damned if they didn’t already get my $5, so I decided to try to put down at least one of each. Neither my mouth nor my stomach were happy with that decision, but that part of my brain that revels in stubborn determination was quite satisfied.

Once we were finished getting sauced, we went to find my friend’s partner who had stayed with their baby in the children’s play area, which turned out to be (and I am not making this up) literal piles of trash.

childrens play areaYou’ll play in it and you’ll like it and that’s final.

We eventually made our way around the first floor of the festival, trying more samples, pointing out particularly tasty bites to the rest of the group, but I began to lose both steam and my taste for sweets, so I definitely did not try as much on the first floor as I had on the second, which is why it might have been wiser to spread my visit over two days. Still, overall, it was well worth the purchase price and I’d absolutely consider attending next year.

 

Standout favorites of the day:

Valhrona

Dandelion Chocolates

Hot Cakes

Intrigue

Holm Made Toffee

Cocotutti

 

The smartest people there:

The Chocolate Man

Whoever decided to set up a gourmet food court with food other than chocolate including crazy-awesome pizza

That lady I saw walking around with a camelbak of water, because eating chocolate for hours is thirsty work

 

The biggest losers:

That sad-ass aphrodisiac zone

That sad-ass children’s play zone

My sad-ass gut after eating much too much chocolate

The Mill Creek Festival

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The Mill Creek Festival is held just a few miles from my house, so Jason and I decided to walk there and see what there was to see. And there was plenty to see and do– live music, entertainment, crafts vendors, food vendors, play areas, and even a haunted house!

In general, I’m mostly uninterested in buying stuff from festival vendors. I’m also the sort of person who feels the weight of the craftsperson’s eyes when I’m looking at their wares and subsequently feels guilty for not buying anything, so I really cannot speak to the variety or quality of any of that. I can tell you that I saw lamps made out of liquor bottles out of the corner of my eye that made me grimace.

The food court could have stood for some more variety–there were three gyro stands right next to one another, and kind of shockingly overpriced at that. We ordered at one of them where prices weren’t posted, and if I had known that they were $10 apiece, I would have gone to Kafe Neo instead and had one made to order instead of the sort-of mediocre one I ended up eating. The malasadas from Hawaii’s Donut were awesome, though–what’s not to love about warm fried dough rolled in sugar?

The very best part about the Mill Creek Festival is that it’s dog-friendly. Dogs aren’t just welcome, they have an entire area devoted to products for dogs…even a stage area where various dog groups put on demonstrations of their skills. I am such a dog person that seeing one dog makes me happy, and there were so many wiggly wagglers and tummies in need of rubs that I thought I might explode. My favorite dog was an eensy weensy puppy named Taro who was dedicated to taste-testing a pebble on the ground in front of him. My second favorite was a corgi who wanted ALL the tummy rubs. When we got home, Napoleon had a fit: not only did we clearly eat food that we didn’t share, but we also cheated on him with fifty other dogs. It’s true. And I’d do it again.

The Lavender Festival in Sequim, WA

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Sequim (pronounced more like “squid” than “sequin”) is serious about its lavender. When I first decided to attend the Sequim Lavender Festival, I had no idea how central lavender is to the town’s identity. I didn’t know much about it at all, actually.

Sequim is located on the Olympic peninsula of Washington, and lies within the rain shadow of the Olympic mountains, which makes it much drier than the surrounding areas. They bill themselves as “sunny Sequim,” but I’ll have to take their word for it as it was overcast and threatening rain the day I visited. What was immediately evident was the town’s pride in their lavender. Lavender shrubs were everywhere, even growing in the landscaping of Sequim gas stations!

The Sequim Lavender Festival takes place in July, and activities are spread throughout the town, marked at their entrances by purple flags. There are two non-farm locations, one in downtown and one in Carrie Blake Park; I parked in a church lot near the park location for a nominal fee. They offered a shuttle and a hayride to Carrie Blake Park, but it’s an easy walk. From Carrie Blake Park, they have a free shuttle running back and forth between the downtown location, and one of the farms also offered a free shuttle from that location. Each place had their own spin on the festival; most offered live music, shopping, and food items with culinary lavender. Some offer u-pick lavender, some offer classes on distillation, crafting, cooking, beekeeping, and more. One offers high tea with George Washington!

This festival is incredible, both in scope and in quality. The farms and craftspeople are proud of their work and happy to show off to visitors, everything smells amazing, and I was in lavender food heaven. I wasn’t able to try everything I wanted to try, owing to limited stomach capacity, but everything I did try was so, so delicious. Peach lavender ice cream. Candied lavender walnuts. Piping hot mini donuts with lavender sugar. Dungeness crab cakes and greens with lavender balsamic vinaigrette. Lavender sweet tea. A warm from the oven apple mini pie.  A soft lavender sugar cookie. I may have proclaimed it the fattest day of my life.

 

The Mount Vernon Tulip Festival

It took two trips to get back to the tulip festival (I first attended in 2011); the first was on a Sunday and we sat in stop and go traffic for more than six hours, still never got within striking distance of the fields, and I was ready to blow a gasket. May everyone who cut in front of us during the four hours we sat in the exit lane’s toenails fall off, and may they also get an eyelash in their eye that they can’t get out, and that might help them feel a fraction of the annoyance I felt with them for deciding they were too good to wait in line like everyone else. The second attempt, on a Tuesday, was smooth sailing the entire way. If you want to go, check the bloom maps and avoid the weekend if at all possible to save yourself a lot of agony. The visit is worth the effort it takes to get there–the swaths of color splashed across the ground is invigorating to the eye and the creative spirit. It makes me want to rip down all of the brush behind my house and have my own mini tulip fields so I can experience a bit of this glory every day of the season! OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

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Festival of the Freshwater Squid

Tonight, I made myself a hat, using a pattern that goosezilla made, and embellishing it a little.

I got a little carried away, and now it’s nearly four am and I’m out of steam and very nearly out of words. Amy burst out laughing when she saw me wearing it, and because she is overtired as well, we’ve committed to having some sort of wheelchair jousting match while wearing special hats. More on this development as it proceeds.

G’nite!

Mardi Gras World in New Orleans

 

mardi gras world entrance

“Sounded like some sort of…party going on in the background. Are any parties today, Skinner?”

“Nah. It’s not really a party town. Though if I remember correctly, they occasionally hold a function called Mardis…something.”

So last week on the blog, I talked a little about the various Mardi Gras functions–the krewes, the parades, and the balls. Today, I’m going to go a little more in-depth about the parades and what it takes to get one from concept to reality. To learn about that myself, I took a trip to Mardi Gras World, a working warehouse on the New Orleans waterfront.

touring mardi gras world

First, our group was led into a back room, fed a slice of king cake (any tour that starts off with cake is a good tour), and shown a video about the history of Mardi Gras parades in New Orleans. Afterward, we were given free rein with a rack of costumes and the props scattered around the room. People didn’t seem as stoked about it as I was, but got into the spirit after I immediately popped out of my seat and slapped on a costume. As their once and future king, it was only right and natural that I set an example for the rest of the room to follow. Heavy is the head that wears the polyester crown.

dressed for mardi gras

dress up

serious king

Once we’d had our fun, we were led into the workshop, where Mardi Gras is made. Building Mardi Gras parade floats and props is a year round job. The floats themselves are owned and used exclusively by each krewe–they used to be drawn by teams of horses or mules, but are now essentially giant rolling tractor tanks. The naked floats cost around $80,000 apiece, and you need 14 floats minimum to have a Mardi Gras parade. Decorations on each can easily run upwards of another $10,000, so you’re looking at over 1.13 million dollars for a krewe’s first parade, and that’s excluding costumes and parade throws. This is not a cheap enterprise.  Now consider that there are around 70 krewes, and they each run their one parade one time over the course of the festival. One and done. There is a huge amount of money invested for a few miles of parading.

To help bring costs down, the props on the floats are rented rather than bought outright. When a krewe has decided on the theme for their parade and a general outline of what they want, they’ll call the prop warehouse and let them know, because it’s entirely possible that they’ll have something onsite that can be slightly reworked and reused, and that’s significantly cheaper than building a new prop from scratch. It also means that the krewe doesn’t have to store enormous props from year to year that they themselves might not be able to or want to reuse in a future parade. Some krewes, to save money, will also decorate their own floats, make their own costumes, and build their own props. Those who don’t rely on workshops like this one to make their ideas materialize.

floats

What’s involved in making a prop? First, a prop is sculpted in miniature in clay as a maquette. This can then be sliced to show the artists how to replicate it in a much larger scale. Many large props start as humble sheets of foam, which are glued together with expanding foam into a large stack. This resulting stack is light, carveable, and sandable. Once the final shape is achieved, the foam is then covered with paper mache, primed, and painted. Before it’s painted, it’s my understanding that it can also be used as a mold to create fiberglass replicas, so if they need multiples of the same prop, it’s much faster and easier to crack out a second fiberglass version than to create a second identical one from scratch.

carving foam

smoothing foam

reaper

not a closet

too much caffeine

making mardi gras float flowers

terminator

adorable bat

prop shop

float props in progress

styrofoam dust

ambassador of zululand

king

knight

spooky tree

Once the official tour had finished, we were given the opportunity to wander around the warehouse at our leisure, taking photos, observing the artists at work, and trying to take everything in (there’s so much stuff in the warehouse that it’s hard to see everything, much like House on the Rock). I couldn’t help but feel a little overwhelmed with the feeling that this is what I’m supposed to be doing with my life–helping create one of the biggest, artsiest parties in the world every year. That is, of course, if I had any artistic talent other than stringing together lots of curse words, which unfortunately doesn’t cause my inbox to be overflowing with cool job offers. But now that I know how it’s done, maybe I can try to put together some foam props for future Halloweens, ignoring the fact that the last time I used a can of expanding foam, I made such a mess and it enraged me so greatly that I wanted to throw the can into the sun. But you know, other than that, I’m good to go.

(There are lots of photos of amazing finished props under the cut, including King Kong, Cerberus, dragons, and gold leafed-everything. This post was getting photo-heavy as it was.)

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Scootin’ San Juan Island

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scoot coupe

Almost a year to the day from my last visit, I set sail for San Juan Island, this time to explore more of what the island itself had to offer. Rather than take my car across on the ferry, I elected to rent a scoot coupe: a two-seater, three-wheeled moped that tops out around 40 miles per hour. The only thing standing in my way was the fact that my moped experience was limited to riding on the back of my second host father’s scooter in Taiwan–I’ve really always been more of an indoor kind of rebel, saving my leather wear for goth clubs and looking cool rather than for anything that might require that sort of protection.

My rental place did go over the ins and outs of driving a scoot coupe: don’t leave one of the buttons pressed in or your battery will drain. You have to manually disengage the turn signal because otherwise it will just keep blinking forever. Always put the wheel chock in front of a tire when parked. Always engage the brake lock when parked because of the inevitable kids playing on and around the coupe and their tendency to dislodge the chock. There is no reverse, one of you will have to get out and push in a reversing situation. Don’t go on any road that’s not on the provided map. Don’t try to u-turn on any of the roads because your turn radius is so enormous you’ll end up in a ditch. Speaking of which, pull over when cars are behind you so you don’t impede traffic but don’t just pull over blindly or you’ll probably end up in a ditch (don’t end up in a ditch). Got all that? Ok, drive that baby across the parking lot. You now have ten feet of experience and out into traffic you go! Of course, I immediately got flustered and missed the first turn, which meant poor Jason had to figure out the map and shout the new directions out at me because those big ass-helmets they have you wear are not super conducive to hearing. Or my ears clamp shut when I’m in a panic-type situation. Maybe both.

Once I got the hang of things (which actually happened fairly quickly), I had a lot of fun driving the scoot coupe. It felt like I’d somehow escaped a carnival with a souped-up bumper car, and had a great time careening around corners with the wind blowing in my face. It was late in the year, so there wasn’t a ton of traffic on the roads save for other scoot coupes, and we always honked and waved, which made me feel like I was part of a tiny adorable gang.

Since you can essentially drive around the island in one big loop, my first stop was at American Camp. As I’ve briefly talked about in a previous post, San Juan Island was the site of a territory dispute between the United States and England, with the island’s strategic position between the United States and Vancouver island, and as a result, both Americans and the English attempted to settle it. One day, an American farmer, Lyman Cutlar, found a pig digging up and eating his potatoes (not for the first time, either), so he shot it. The pig turned out to belong to an Irishman, Charles Griffin. Cutlar offered Griffin $10 for the loss of the pig, Griffin demanded $100, the British threatened to take Cutlar into custody, and in response, the other Americans on the island called for American military protection–thus sparking what is now known as the pig war. There was a lot of saber rattling on both sides, warships circled the tiny island, but ultimately no shots were fired. An American camp was established on the south of the island and an English camp was establish in the north, and eventually outside arbitration from Germany determined that San Juan lay within the boundaries of the United States. AT&T, however, still disputes that notion as I received a text message welcoming me to Canada and helpfully informing me that I’d be charged out the wazoo for data.

american camp

american camp site

american camp buildings

american camp view

eagle cove

eagle cove san juan

At American Camp,  in addition to the visitor’s center and some historical buildings, there are a good number of walking trails that take you down to the various coves and the lighthouse at South Beach. I ended up taking one of the trails to Grandma’s Cove after briefly seeing what there was to see in the visitor’s center–it was too gorgeous out to stay inside for very long. I didn’t end up hiking to the lighthouse because I was concerned about spending too much time in one spot on the loop, so after a bit more time checking out the laundress’ and officer’s quarters, it was back into the scoot coupe to putt to the next destination: Pelindaba Lavender Farm.

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The Sand & Sawdust Fest in Ocean Shores, WA

driftwood seahorse

If, as Michelangelo said, every block of stone has a statue inside of it and it is the task of the sculptor to discover it, it can likewise be said that every log of wood has a statue inside of it, and that statue is probably a bear. Either because there are an inordinate number of bears trapped inside logs, or it could just be that people like bears. Either way, I ventured to the Sand and Sawdust fest in Ocean Shores to see what there was to see. There would be woodcarved bears, undoubtedly, but would there also be sand bears? One could only hope.

I first checked out the chainsaw carving area, where the scent of funnel cakes was barely detectable over the more dominant smell of freshly-carved cedar. Almost every vendor had someone chainsaw carving in their tent, sawdust flying everywhere, including (as I am particularly unlucky) directly into my eye, curving around my glasses somehow like the world’s smallest jerk. But oh, the bears.

chainsaw octopus

chainsawed eagle

chainsawed bears

So many bears.

wood carvings

such an angry dog

There was also this angry dog. Why are you so angry, dog? Why are your tiny black eyes so full of hate? Why are your eyebrows furrowed and your lips curled into a sneer?

no papparazzi

Maybe because I ignored his bear friend’s “no paparazzi” warning.

seahawks bench

There was also this timeless treasure, an heirloom piece for future generations (surely officially licensed by the NFL, although it’s not like the woodcarvers can help it if a Seahawk is stuck inside a log, they’re just trying to free him), and if that doesn’t float your boat, you could also buy a gorgeous wooden Beyoncé.

knock knock motherfucker

sand ogre

sand squid

They also had a couple of sand sculptures in the wood carving area, which left me a little confused and temporarily disappointed–two? That’s it? That constitutes a “fest” of sand sculptures? Then I actually walked my lazy ass to the beach and saw that I was, thankfully, so very wrong.

sea grass

ocean shores

beware of sand sharks

dragon and moat

homer simpson squid

Is this a Don Hertzfeldt Sampsans sculpture? Or am I looking at it completely wrong?

ocean shores sand and sawdust fest

racing turtle

sand mermaid

sand minions

 

sand sculpture

the world is your oyster

turtle race

Just like at Cannon Beach, people weren’t very respectful of the sand sculptures, walking on them, crumbling them, ruining them, just so they could get a few more likes on their instagram photos. It’s gross that they’re so easily able to destroy others’ hard work and still others’ enjoyment, seemingly without any thought about it. But what’s the alternative? Setting up barriers around each creation for the duration of the festival? It doesn’t seem like consideration is coming back into vogue any time soon.

Sadly, there were no bears freed from the sand, but I did find this written in the sand:

j and m equals love forever

Indeed, sand inscriber. Indeed.