Sautéed Dates + Seattle

What’s the point of vacation? It’s expensive. It’s often difficult to come by the time, especially here in the United States. Going on vacation can be complicated, with multiple moving parts and elaborate logistics. It’s unfortunately easy to put off, deciding that instead of going through all the fuss you can treat yourself nicer in your own place. There are many, many reasons to put off going on vacation. But once you’ve talked yourself into doing it after a long vacation-dry spell, and you arrive, and you walk on new streets and breathe air that feels different than the air at home. You eat new food and meet new people and see new sites and you exhale. Because the point of vacation isn’t so much the going as the being.

Seattle, with its looming mountains and vast expanse of water, was beautiful. It felt possible but not quite probable that there are people who actually live there- people who have thirty plus foot pines in their backyards, who commute to work on ferries, who hike up and down the hills to run their daily errands. It’s a very different background to daily life from my lovely but admittedly flat Midwest. If Minneapolis is Miss Congeniality, Seattle is the pageant queen.

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Aaron and I primarily explored Seattle the way we’ve come to prefer- on foot. At 26, neither of us have ever rented a car. That may be a good thing or a bad thing, depending on who you ask. Instead we got from the airport to our AirB&B via the light rail and some on-foot trecking. It takes up time, and energy, but there’s a way that you understand a place by walking that you simply can’t get by driving. I’ll take inconvenience of walking any day.

But we did explore by car when we couldn’t walk to our destination. At the exact midpoint of our vacation we woke up early (for restaurant people) and packed up the car my cousin Danielle loaned us, then drove south. We went down the interstate, then the state highway, then a country road, until we were at the wooden gates of Mount Raineer National Park. And then we drove a further half hour through switchbacks, over stone lined creeks, in the golden shade of evergreens, and occasionally at the edge of cliffs before reaching our destination- Paradise.

I’ve scarcely seen a place more aptly named than Paradise. Over a mile above sea level, we were well below the tree line and the towering summit of Mount Raineer, but were quite possibly higher than I’ve ever been outside of an airplane. The stop was full of meadows, with flowers in bloom, and waterfalls. We hiked around on the lower elevation trails for an hour, and were humiliated by being passed by seniors using canes. I felt much less prepared than the hikers with alpine poles, and backpacking gear, but somewhat more prepared than the woman wearing wedges and a maxi dress.

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The peace was astonishing. We had no signal or coverage, which was both frustrating (if you don’t Instagram it, did it really happen? and all that) and liberating. There is something to be said for simply being there, in the calm, with the nature in all its majesty and terror. It was a privilege to be in the mountains. As we drove away back through the switchbacks and rocks and trees we decided that over the course of our marriage we wanted to visit every national park. For whatever our flaws, America is beautiful.

When we weren’t hiking mountains we could be found eating and drinking, because that’s what we make (much) of our money in and we love it. From handmade pho noodles in the ID (International District, which seems like a more appropriate name than Chinatown, which we also heard it called) to woodfired pizza in Ballard, from a different coffee shop every morning to afternoon beers in local breweries, we had them all. Here are some of our favorites.

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Canon
We drank here the day after our anniversary in celebration. There were hundreds of whiskeys stored everywhere, fog machines used to create drinks, and a vintage radio mystery program playing in the bathroom. We had made reservations, and a good thing too. When we tried to go again (because the drinks were that good) without reservations we couldn’t get in.

Rumba
Rumba had the best tiki drinks I’ve ever tasted with just the right amount of kitch. The walls were covered not in paint or wallpaper but in vintage tropical post cards, and the seats were turquoise leather. It would have been an easy place to love even without the killer piña coladas and daiquiris.

Starbuck Reserve Roastery
Touristy, but fascinating. You can choose from a variety of ways to make your coffee here, or do a side by side tasting. One of the walls bore a story of searching for beans, which ended with the line “It may be a labor of love. But it’s mostly love.” As cheesy as it is, I’ve adapted it as my new mantra.

Delancey and Essex
For crisp but not cracker-y woodfire pizza, for bourbon peaches, for before dinner drinks of mezcal, blackberry, and honey (me) and side by side Americano tastings (Aaron), Delancey was the neighborhood spot everyone should be so lucky to have.

Dong Thap
We found this place because the our neighbor at the pizza bar in Delancey recommended it, and afterwards I was so upset we couldn’t go to every place he listed. Dong Thap is that killer. Pho with housemade noodles, everyone. The broth was rich and savory and the noodles were perfectly chewy. I had only had pho once before, a sad specimen that turned me off to it for years. Thanks to Dong Thap I’ve seen the error of my ways.

General Porpoise
A chef-y donut shop that sells donuts, caffeine, and champaign. All of the donuts are yeasted and filled, and all of them are excellent. This is the only place our whole trip we visited twice, because I couldn’t get over their housemade chai (it was made with saffron!)

The Whale Wins
We celebrated our anniversary here, in the bright and cheerful space. The food was incredible-pickled raisins! Halibut butter on sourdough! Roast carrots and fennel with harissa and yogurt! We had a long, luxurious evening here, topped off with two desserts and champaign. The blueberry shortbread with crème fraîche ice cream was delicious, but it was the sautéed dates that really killed it. They were satin-y in texture, and tasted of caramel. I would have ordered them twice if I had known how good they were- once as a starter and once as a dessert. Because I didn’t, and because I missed this space I’ve brought back the recipe for you as a gift.

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Sautéed Dates

adapted from The Whale Wins, with guidance from A Boat, A Whale, and A Walrus by Renee Erickson

This is more a template than a recipe, and like all templates relies best on you paying attention and using your judgement. I bought some lovely “fresh” dried dates (the sort that are already wrinkled and brown, but are soft and stored in the produce cooler) to make this recipe, and they were luscious and silky, the sautéed sides shattering like a shell when we bit into them. But as an experiment I also tried this with some withered old dried dates, and they loosened up with the heat. They did not have the same luxurious texture, but the taste was more intense. All this is to say, whatever you have is good with this recipe.

Olive oil
Dates (I used Medjool dates for both tests)
Flaked salt such as Maldon

In a heavy skillet warm a slip of olive oil over medium heat. Once the oil is warm place your dates into the oil. Watch and listen carefully, and don’t walk away. Once you start to smell sugar rotate your dates with tongs and place it gently on the other side. It should take about 30 seconds to a minute for the first side to be done. Rotate again to a third side once the second smells of caramel, and then let the dates sit for another 30 seconds. Remove from heat and place the dates onto a serving tray. Sprinkle with salt. If you want to be dramatic with the presentation you could drizzle the used olive oil over the dates, but that’s not necessary. Eat while warm.

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