Posts filed in: October 2008

Great Pumpkin Pasta

comments: 77

Did you watch that show on PBS last night about the people who grow giant pumpkins? Oh man! It was emotional! I had no idea. I almost cried, myself (and let me just say, there was much discussion of crying). That lady who named her pumpkin Shasta? Oh, my heart. So good. I love shows like this. The best kind of TV. And it really did make me want to try to grow a giant pumpkin. But apparently you need a yard the size of a football field and absolutely no life, since you have to spend about four or five hours a day out in the garden taking care of your pumpkin and miss your daugher's soccer games. Since the 'kin can grow up to forty pounds a day. I have the no-life part (at least lately, since I never leave the property), so I could do that, but I don't have the yard for it. And let me tell you, if you, like me, thought growing a giant pumpkin seemed like "fun," you've got another think coming. Because when you watch this show, you will see that it looks like about the most stressful undertaking ever. Mice, woodchucks, beetles, hurricanes, and PATCH SABOTAGERS are all enemies of the great pumpkin. The lady describing her husband running around screaming and chasing the woodchuck was just hilarious. Sort of.

After I watched the show, I went to bed, and early this morning I had the weirdest dream that I was growing a secret giant pumpkin in the bathtub behind a white frosted shower curtain. This was in my old bathroom in my old apartment in the "brown box" in Rock Island, Illinois, where everything in the bathroom was bright white. I would never look at it, and then one day I did look at it and it was pale orange and bulging out of the tub (not attractive — giant pumpkins are actually pretty gruesome-looking, the poor beasts). I got very nervous and started to worry how I was going to tell Andy about it, and was wondering if the bathtub and 'kin was going to crash through the floor, and then what would the landlord say (I am terrified of landlords and whenever I had one would live in constant fear of getting yelled at by the landlord), and how would we get it out since it seemed to be sort of encasing the tub in its own warty folds. And then I woke up. THANK GOODNESS!!! Phew. Close one.

I woke Andy up and told him about the pumpkin show and the dream. It was hard to explain how obsessed I had become with the pumpkin in the past twelve hours just like the people on the show said would happen. Disturbingness!!!

I asked Andy to dictate one of the recipes he frequently makes in the fall. He has a few seasonal recipes in his repertoire that he makes, and I never make them. Because they're better when someone else makes them for you. This is one of those. Serve this with a big spinach salad and crusty French bread. Super great.


Great Pumpkin Pasta, as told to [me] by Andy Paulson, but originally from a recipe from Country Living magazine a couple of years ago

1 c. whipping cream or heavy cream
1/2 c. pumpkin puree
1/4 c. grated Parmesan cheese
20 leaves of fresh sage
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon pepper
3 links of mild Italian sausage
1 lb. rigatoni

The first thing you should do is find a little 9" x 9" . . . glass [metal] . . . thingy. So you can broil your sausage in it. Put the sausage in your pan, and put it in the oven and turn the broiler on.

Grab a [medium] pot. Pour your cup of cream in it, put your pumpkin puree and Parmesan cheese in, mix it together, and chop and add the sage, the salt, and the pepper. What I do is get the cream and stuff going and then I go out to the garden and cut myself some sage. Put that all on medium heat, bring to a simmer, then turn it down and leave it on a low simmer.

In the meantime, get the water boiling. When the water's boiling [please salt it, says Alicia], put the rigatoni in and stir. Look at the sausages and see if they're browned on top. If they are, use tongs to flip them. When the pasta's done, drain it, and return it to the pan. Add the cream sauce and stir it [gently]. Remove sausage from broiler and slice it into bite-size pieces and add it to the pasta. Sprinkle a little more Parmesan cheese on top and serve!!!

The Last of the Summer Reading Booklist

comments: 36


I'm sorry it has taken me so long to get around to talking about the rest of my books on the booklist. If you've been hanging around here for a while, you might remember that this list came together in a few stages from your recommendations. I talked about my choices here and here and then here. And now it's five months later. Egads.

So, I want to mention the rest of the books on the list that I haven't written about yet, because I at least dipped into all of them, and some of them I loved. Some of them I just couldn't get into. Some of them I'll keep and read again. Without further ado:

Thrumpton Hall: A Memoir of Life in My Father's House by Miranda Seymour. Title-craving George FitzRoy Seymour only ever had one true love: an anachronistic house he begged to inherit from a childless aunt and uncle. Passionate about the property since boyhood, Seymour's single-minded determination to put Thrumpton Hall before all else is written about by his daughter with honesty, insightful research, and not a little pain. This book, while not the happiest read in the world, was strangely difficult to put down, but then strangely exhausting and a bit depressing. It depends what you're in the mood for. If nothing else, it is a compelling portrait of an old house against the backdrop of modern England, as well as a daughter's search for explanations.

Step Ball Change and Eat Cake by Jeanne Ray. I put these two together because they have a lot of similarities in my mind, and I loved them both equally. The narrator in each is a sassy, hilarious, thoughtful wife and mother; each story opens on a day where several big things happen at once: her husband loses his job just as her father falls down a flight of stairs and breaks his wrists and has to move in (and her divorced mother already lives there, too); her sister discovers a cheating husband the day her daughter gets engaged to the richest guy in town. There's lots going on, lots of opportunity for humor and tension, and lots of great writing here. I think Jeanne Ray is Ann Patchett's mom, so the good writing gene must run in the family. I'll definitely read her other books. They were just exactly what I was looking for this summer.

Rebecca by Daphne du Maurier. "Last night I dreamt I went to Manderley." Rebecca needs no introduction from me, I'm sure. This classic mystery/romance, first published in 1938, is one that I read back in high school, at the urging of my Auntie Georgianne, who said it was her favorite book, and I loved it then. My aunt sadly passed away this summer, and I pulled out the same copy of Rebecca that I'd kept all these years, and spent several quiet days on the porch re-reading it this summer. If you like big English houses (I see a pattern here), mysterious first wives, mousy young brides married to bossy older men, and mean servents, then you'll probably really love this book, too.

Not a Happy Camper: A Memoir by Mindy Schneider. This memoir of several summers at Jewish sleepaway summer camp started out strong and funny, but quickly devolved into labored descriptions of teenage flirtations, and I got bored. The dialogue just didn't ring true for me, and I didn't finish it, though some parts were quite funny.

Goodnight Nobody by Jennifer Weiner. Kate Klein is a young mother living in an upscale Connecticut suburb where everything about her is at odds with everything about it. When she stumbles upon the murder of picture-perfect Kitty Cavanaugh, and is shocked to discover she may have a very personal connection to it, she embarks on her own investigation. I loved this. I like all of her feisty, edgy characters and consistently solid writing. I've read several of ther other books and I keep them when finished. I also think the movie version of In Her Shoes is brilliant. One of my favorites.

World of Pies by Karen Stolz. I was trying to remember something about this book, and then I realized that I never read it. Ooops. I forgot about this one.

That was easy.

I should space out and then play dumb more often.

Anybody Out There? by Marion Keyes. I like Marion Keyes's books a lot. I've read several of them. This one was a page-turner — I literally couldn't put it down — until the big twist in the middle, which horrified me to such an extent I literally dropped the book in shock and never picked it up again. And I probably won't. Not a happy book. (Though everyone is saying to keep going with it.)

Od Magic by Patricia McKillip and The Penderwick Chronicles: A Summer Tale of Four Sisters, Two Rabbits, and a Very Interesting Boy by Jeanne Birdsall. People love both of these books, and I don't know what my problem is but I couldn't get into them. Yet. I don't know if I just read too late at night or what, because although it seemed like I should love them both, I could not keep the characters straight in my mind, especially the four sisters. I'll surely try these again sometime.

Wow, I think that's it. I have new ones I'll add now, thank goodness! Thanks again for the recommendations — it was a great summer of reading. Yesterday I picked up Heidi and this old one, Black Flower by Jane Abbott, from 1929. I have absolutely no idea what it's about. I'll let you know. Hopefully before April.


"So they made fudge"

Maybe not the prettiest . . .

comments: 34

. . . but it is the best tasting I've made so far! This is my latest green curry:


Please remember, as you look at it, that it is, you know, green. And that it is steaming hot so the steam is making it look blurry. I think.

Let's try again. Here's another one:


Wow. Not even better.

I'm not defending my photos so much as I just think you shouldn't be put off by them. I just think you should, if you like green curry and you've been following my green-curry odyssey, make it immediately.

I used the recipe from the October 2008 issue of the British edition of Country Living magazine as my base, tweaking it with American measurements and to reflect what I had on hand. I know that lots of people suggested that I use coconut cream instead of coconut milk when I was talking about green curry a few weeks ago, but I have never seen coconut cream available in any of the grocery stores I shop at? (Not to be confused with cream of coconut, which is what you put in your pina colada). Only coconut milk. Maybe I need to go to the Asian market. But I think the brand I used last night was A Taste of Thai, and it seemed like it was all cream, and very little watery stuff at the bottom. Sometimes you open the can and there's this thin little layer of cream on top, with a big can of water below it. But I think I'm going to stick with Taste of Thai from now on, because whatever the reason, this was as creamy and thick as I could want. I'll shut up now and give you the recipe.

Thai Green Curry Chicken

Kosher salt, black pepper
6 free-range boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 lime, cut into wedges
1 tablespoon vegetable oil
4 large shallots, chopped
2 large cloves garlic, minced
1 tablespoon green curry paste (I used A Taste of Thai brand for this as well)
14 oz. can of coconut milk
1/2 c. chicken stock
Small squirt of lemongrass paste (can't remember where I got this, but I just keep the tube in the freezer — if you don't have it, don't sweat it)
2 medium-hot red chiles
2 tablespoons fish sauce
1 heaped teaspoon brown sugar
1/2 c. chopped fresh basil
1/2 c. chopped cilantro

1. Heat the oven to 425 degrees F. Season the tops of the chicken thighs with salt and pepper; turn them over and season the other side. Place in a 9" x 13" baking dish along with the lime wedges. Drizzle with oil and and bake for 25 minutes, turning over halfway through.

2. Heat 2 tablespoons of oil in a large saucepan and saute the shallots and garlic until they soften. Stir in the curry paste and cook for a few minutes longer. Add the coconut milk, chicken stock, lemongrass paste, and whole chiles. Bring to a boil and simmer for 15 minutes.

3. When chicken is cooked, remove the pan from the oven and shred the chicken into big chunks. Add the chicken chunks and the roasted lime wedges to the sauce. Add the fish sauce, sugar, and herbs and simmer for 5 more minutes. Serve over hot jasmine rice.

I'm still really worried about that photo. Perhaps you'd just like to see the (vintage — sorry, no info!) bowl instead, and use your imagination. . . .


How You Know Fall Has Arrived

comments: 63






Off to find the sweaters.

Fall at the Farm

comments: 68


We spent Saturday afternoon at the farm.


In October, everything there seems coated with a wilting, golden haze. It's as beautiful then, in its own way, as it is at the height of summer.


I kept wishing it was even later in the afternoon, kept imagining how the sun would look if it were lower in the sky, illuminating those curling, speckled sunflower leaves and russet petals.


Everywhere you look, you see the margins between summer and winter being straddled. The cherry-blossom-pink dahlias, brown and shriveled. 


The party lights that won't be used until next year.


The wine-dark raspberry brambles, tangled and cracked.


Snap and crackle.


A boy and his dog.


Geese overhead. Blackbirds chattering. The smell of hay.


Andy told me to look up.


The stand of feathery tops, waving in the wind. They were way above our heads.


What's that thing? I don't think there was anything else out there that looked like this prickly globe.


The maverick.


Oh, sunflowers.


Oh, sunflowers!


Ever reaching.


My goodness, the chlorophyll.


The pectin. These were the apples they were throwing away.


The little chickens. When they saw Clover, they clucked themselves into the bushes.


When Clover saw the ginormous pig, I would have to say she was flabbergasted. She just sat and stared and then indicated that she would like to leave. Immediately.

I would venture to say that the pig had zero opinion of her. Just a guess, but that's how it seemed. Though who really knows how pigs feel.


Pumpkins on the vine.


The corn maze.


No thanks. Not me.


I like these, though. And only a quarter of a penny a pound!!! Super!


I like all things apple.


This is the caramel-apple girl.


This is the red-curry squash. I think I'll make some red curry with it. (Original.)


They say it was our last nice weekend before the rains start. Nooooooooooo.

Golden Age

comments: 62


I finally took the time to putter in the kitchen a couple of afternoons ago. The lovely Mrs. Brocket had sent me her new book back in July, and though I'd read it cover to cover almost immediately, I hadn't made time to cook from it. But Wednesday's clear, crisp, cold afternoon required me to pull out my lovely rippled pudding pot and get busy.


I know Jane would probably approve that the mauve-y luster of  my pot matches the delightful cover of her book, Cherry Cake and Ginger Beer: A Golden Treasury of Classic Treats. Cherry Cake is a collection of recipes for the old-fashioned treats featured in classic favorites from the golden age of British children's literature. It's the coolest book, and it is just so totally Jane.

As you probably know, Jane is a voracious reader and a champion baker (among her other many talents). I can totally picture her and daughter Phoebe (whose request to actually bake the macaroons she'd only read about in Enid Blyton inspired Jane to reserach and write this book) with a wooden spoon in one hand, and The Ragamuffin Mystery in the other, busy about the Cook's Special Sugar Biscuits. Organized in sections like "Off to a Good Start" (breakfasts before adventures), "Proper Elevenses" (for that little mid-morning sit-down), "School Food" (illicit supplements to dining-hall fare), and "Kind and Thoughtful Treats" (simple gestures for genuine and caring occasions), each recipe is introduced brilliantly, so that you not only understand its context within the book it comes from, but you now want to go to the library and get every single one of the children's books she references. (Which you can do, because Jane gives a comprehensive bibliography at the end of the book.) I love it.


I'd made some rice pudding for Jane in celebration of her first book, The Gentle Art of Domesticity (the U.S. edition of which is now available), so naturally I had to try her version of this Edwardian supper-staple, Creamy Rice Pud. I fudged my way through the conversions from grams to ounces because my computer was rebooting itself for the fourteenth time and I couldn't get to a conversion chart (but here's one if you need it, and if you're in the U.S. you will, since the book is a British edition, but that's what makes it fun). I grated some nutmeg and added a pile of cinnamon in one spot (as usual — that cinnamon always comes out in a pile). The pudding cooks for three hours, and during that time it will fill your house with the most mellow, golden, comforting smell in the world.


I ate mine for dinner in the glow of my little lamp (since by the time the pud' came out of the ove' it was way dark outside), and couldn't help but feel that, with ever so much wrong with the world, my little corner of it was, if only at that moment, quite all right.

Now to the library for The Railway Children and Heidi, which I've never read. And I promise I will redo my booklist next!

Day Five: And Back Again

comments: 72


Seattle feels the same to me as it did the first time I was there, visiting my friend Pam in the summer of 1993. She and Jim lived in an apartment on Dexter, in a big pale-green duplex with a second-story wooden porch on the back. Each afternoon, Pam and I sat on the back porch overlooking Lake Union, in our cotton dresses, our bare feet up hanging over the railings, smoking candy-colored Sobranies, talking about things. I'd taken the train from Chicago, a three-day journey, and I remember taking a shower at their place the minute I arrived and thinking, "The water feels different. I can tell I'm near the ocean!" I had hiked the Grand Canyon, camped in the Florida Keys, wound my way through the Ozarks, and traveled all over Europe, but visiting Pam in Seattle was my first time so far west. I loved the Pacific Northwest right away.


When we first moved to Portland in 1997, I was a production editor at Graphic Arts Center Publishing. The company had recently purchased a Seattle-based company named Alaska Northwest Books, and ANWB became our new imprint. I loved my job. My boss, Ellen, who had been the senior editor at ANWB, lived on the Kitsap peninsula and occasionally I'd be sent to the Seattle office to work with her. Once I went to her beautiful house with her to spend the night, riding the ferry across the Sound, carrying our work papers and coffee with the rest of the commuters. I felt so independent then, so far from home, so grown-up. It didn't wear off for a long time.


Thank you so much for coming along on our vacation! Thank you for your kind words, your shared memories, your patience with my slideshow and my ramblings — you are a wonderfully generous audience. It's been a bit like traveling twice. Thank you for that.


When we stay in Seattle, if we aren't staying with friends, we frequently stay at the Inn at the Market, just steps away from Pike's Place. We've stayed there enough times now that it feels familiar. From our balcony, we look down on the market, out at the water, along Post Alley.


I like to be right in the middle of things. I like to be able to wake up and go right downstairs and get fantastic coffee and pain aux raisins while practically still in my pajamas.


I love traveling with Andy Paulson. He is so cheerful, so excited, so patient, always up for going anywhere, seeing anything. I like to take pictures of him sitting across from me at tables in different places. I think I must have dozens by now. It reminds me of what it's like to sit across from him, thinking of where we should go next. He loves clam chowder, and orders it at every ocean-side restaurant (this is the Athenian, located within the market) he goes to, no matter what else he's getting.


(View from the window of the Athenian.)


It was just a great little trip.

Day Four: You, Me, and B.C.

comments: 84


On our last morning in Victoria, I convinced Andy to have breakfast in the restaurant of the Empress. I wanted to have either afternoon tea or breakfast, just as a special treat, and he (gently) made it pretty clear that he was not that interested in having cucumber sandwiches and dainty cups of Earl Grey. So it was $24 buttermilk pancakes after all! But they were absolutely delicious, and came with coffee, juice, and a link of locally made sausage that was amazing. Plus, how incredible is this dining room?


The two very sophisticated older couples seated near us played their characters perfectly. Silk-scarved and Chanel-suited, they leisured and lingered. Relaxing into our wing-backed chairs, we, too, stayed for cup after cup of coffee. The maple syrup and the cream came in identical silver creamers, and I almost poured cream on my pancakes.


Instead I poured syrup into my coffee. It wasn't bad, actually.


Andy wrote a few postcards so we could drop them down the six-floor-long mail chute near the elevators on our floor.


This is the tea room just beyond the restaurant room. It overlooks the harbor.


They are having a big New Year's Eve party here to celebrate the hotel's 100th birthday. Wouldn't it be fantastic to be here for that?


After breakfast, we headed across the street to the Royal BC Museum. Our city tour guide had mentioned that it was considered the second-best museum in North America, only after the Smithsonian.


It was absolutely incredible. We stayed all day and could've stayed longer. In the last half-hour that we had, we realized there was a whole wing that we hadn't even seen — we had lingered for hours and hours, especially in the special exhibit called Free Sprit: Stories of You, Me, and B.C. This incredible exhibit tells the story of British Columbia through stories, photographs, and artifacts from the individuals and communities that have called B.C. home for the past 150 years.

It's sort of a blogger's dream exhibit.


These two photos above show the same Chinese family; the second was taken several years after they'd settled in British Columbia. The whole exhibit is filled with these gigantic, really high quality (I'm so curious to know how they got the resolution so high on these things) photos, some bigger than lifesize, on circular walls that spiral chronologically through time, telling snippets of stories.

I took photos of several of the panels. I wish I could've taken photos of all of them, but I'll just share some of my favorites.







I was so intrigued by this image of Phyllis and Don Munday and their daughter Edith, who, in 1921, reached her first mountain peak at the tender age of twelve weeks. Carried by her moutaineering parents (who themselves would scale 125 mountains in B.C. between 1910 and into the 1940s) on that first trip, Edith was raised in a small cabin built by her father on Grouse Mountain and would later climb many more mountains on her own.


Beyond the special exhibit are the permanent exhibits. The Natural History Gallery takes you through time to explore dramatically changing environments and their inhabitants. There's the woolly mammoth . . .

Museum24 creatures of the shore . . .

Museum25 and the forest. . . .


The First Peoples' Gallery is moving and heartbreaking, telling the story of First Nations cultures before and after the arrival of European settlers. We spent hours here. This is a miniature of a native settlement based on photographic evidence.


One of the earlier Christian churches First Peoples were forced to attend.


There is a dramatic and utterly poignant installation documenting the smallpox epidemic of 1862 and its effect on the First Peoples' population.


The Modern History Gallery, tracing the past two hundred years of European settlement, got short shrift by us. So very unfortunately. By the time we made it there (we had stopped off to see The Alps, an IMAX movie, in the museum's theater so I could sit down for a while) we were running late to catch our boat back to Seattle, so I didn't get good photos of these exhibits as we raced through them. But honestly, they were quite amazing. Entire city streets, built in miniature scale, to walk down. An entire hotel floor from the 1800s, also in smaller scale, but with no detail left undone. A replica of the front half of Captain Vancouver's ship. A waterwheel. A canning facility (where this photo was taken). A mine. A logging operation. All built to walk through. It is truly awesome.


Naturally, by the time we finished our six hours in the museum (and seriously, those hours went by in a flash, there was so much to do there), the museum cafe was closed. This seemed to happen to us everywhere we went. Luckily, Rogers' delighted us again, this time with a vanilla milkshake at their new soda shoppe (across the street from the Empress). We got it to go, and headed off to the stand in line at customs before boarding the 6 p.m. ferry. But this turned out to be my very favorite picture of the day.

Thank you so much, Miss Victoria. You are a wonderful old girl, I must say. 

Day Three: Jennie's Quarry

comments: 96


Victoria boasts one of the world's great green spaces. Conceived of and created in the early part of the twentieth century by Jennie Butchart, wife of Robert Butchart, who made his fortune mining limestone and manufacturing Portland cement, the Butchart Gardens began in the exhausted quarry on their property. Determined to beautify the ravaged  pit, Jennie arranged for tons of topsoil from neighboring farms to be delivered (by horse and cart), and painstakingly began planting the floor and the walls of the once-empty quarry. Today, a hundred years later, it is known as the "Sunken Garden," and remains an enchanted place of color and bloom.


It's hard for a photo to capture the magical, Alice-in-Wonderland quality of this scene. You must imagine the ivy-covered walls of the pit coming down on either side of this image; these photos are shot from up towards the top, where a little log cabin perches high above. You have a strange sense of vertigo looking down into and beyond the quarry floor.


But it's only the beginning, because the gardens, in their varied and sophisticated nooks and crannies, go on and on. For 55 acres, miles of daisy-lined paths, secret coves and willow canopies, apple orchards and rose bowers meander and beckon.


In autumn, there is a quiet, fading beauty to it all.


Jennie always wanted it to feel like a private garden, so there are no plaques, or nameplants, or educational displays to break up the vistas, small or grand. You look, you wander, you rest, you smell. You do not have to read, which is wonderful, somehow.


There is a great fireworks display right here, in the summer, I think. You look over this field from a wide lawn.


My favorite spot, though, had to be the apple orchard.


The great tangle of gnarled wood, curling leaves, ripe green fruits just gets me every time. I have always preferred orchards to just about every other type of human-planted spaces. There is something about all that wildness restrained into shady, dappled rows that pleases something deep within me. If I could have, I would've climbed into these perfect craggy branches and stayed the afternoon, eating apples.


Oh to be an apple-tree percher!


Oh for all days filled with sun-spots and sweet spots.


Oh for a tripod. Seriously. It was just too lovely. This was about as close as I could get to this blushing pom-pon without blur.


Tucked back in there is the house. It's hard to imagine what it must be like to wake up to this kind of yard, shrouded in morning fog, no people around, deer on the lawn.


In the early days, Jennie would serve tea to everyone who came to her garden; eventually when the number of cups reached into the tens of thousands, they convinced her to charge for it. But it's not hard to understand why the Butcharts wanted to share this place. If you'd worked so hard on something so beautiful, you'd want to show it to anyone who cared. Our tour guide said that they were known to invite visitors right into the house if it was dinnertime. By all accounts, the family was supremely generous and beloved by all.


There are a million ways to frame each quiet view.


The Japanese garden renders you quiet without your notice.




Far off, water.


See it: a wedding on the lawn, party dresses and champagne, paper lanterns and candlelit tables.


When we finally reached the beginning again, they were hanging Christmas lights on the big house. We were hungry — in the off-season, the cafes and restaurant are closed for anything but tea — and headed back to town.


We had taken a bus tour of the city that morning (I always like to do this in new cities, because I tend to get anxious unless I'm oriented in a general way to where I am) and had passed a restaurant downtown that I had read about in one of the travel magazines. At Luciano's, we had one of the best meals I have ever had, anywhere. I had the mushroom penne and a side of creamed spinach that was, no kidding, the most delicious creamed spinach I have ever tasted in my life. It. Was. AWESOME. Also, it was 5 p.m. and this was the first thing we'd eaten since early that morning. But still. Luciano made us very, very happy.


After dinner, we walked around, went back to the embroidery and yarn store, then bought a couple of books at Munro's, and Andy got some chocolates to take back to our hotel room for later.


Roger's Chocolates has been here, in this location, since 1891. It's like box of truffles inside, dark and luscious and decadent.


On the way back to the hotel, we stopped to look out across the harbor at the buildings of Parliament.


And up at the statue of this guy.


And then turned to cross the street to our hotel.


And went in, and up the elevator, and onto the sixth floor, just to take one last look down before turning in for the night.

Man, was I ever tired.

Day Two: The Queen, the Empress, the Laird, and London

comments: 74

We left Seattle the next morning, Monday, in the dark. During the fall and winter season, there is only one ferry a day between Victoria and Seattle, and it leaves Seattle at 8 a.m. The boat was so crowded — every seat was taken. It was sort of like being on a Greyhound bus except on the water. We sat at a table with some guys who were already drinking beer, eating danishes, and playing cards. I drank about five cups of coffee and knit and knit (I'm sorry, I can't remember what the yarn is called, and naturally, although I tried to save it for you, I lost the label somewhere along the way). Andy read every newspaper he could find from cover to cover. Two-and-a-half hours later, we arrived in the harbor in Victoria, and just a few blocks away was our hotel, the Fairmont Empress.


It was our first time in Victoria, but I'd been wanting to go for years, since college, when my roommate Martha, who had traveled all over the world, told me the Empress was her favorite hotel. My mom was in Victoria last year, and she, too, was eager for us to see it. It's quite amazing. It's almost impossible to take a photo of the whole thing at once; this is just part of it. I'll have more tomorrow.


Our room was charming, painted pale green with dark pink fabric accents. Here's Andy on the bed reading the room-service menu. Too bad you can't hear him saying, "Holy ____ , a ham sandwich is nineteen dollars!" and "Holy ____ , pancakes are twenty-four dollars!" And the exchange rate was about one dollar U.S. for one dollar Canadian. Good thing we only go on vacation for about four days every two years. It's all we can afford.


But this was worth it, I think. It is so good to get away, out of the normal routine. It helps you dream. You can sit in the window seat and think about the people who have stayed here over the years, and wonder what their lives were like.


Makes me want to write a historical novel.


Mine would have black-slate rooftops, anachronistic baked goods, an orphan, and lots of calico. And obviously a love interest.


After Andy recovered from the menu prices, we went out to explore downtown Victoria, and see if we could find something cheaper to eat. It was the day after Canadian Thanksgiving, so much of Victoria was closed and empty.


Like, alas, the embroidery and yarn store.


But luckily this little Thai place was open, so we had curry and iced tea (although it was pouring rain outside) and looked at brochures to figure out what to do with the afternoon. We decided to take the city bus to Craigdarroch Castle.


While we waited for the bus, we ate a ginormous caramel apple. Unfortunately, the caramel was so hard I thought it was going to rip my fillings out. But all fillings stayed put, and soon enough the bus came and took us up the hill to the "castle."


In a gorgeous, old-growth residential neighborhood stands Craigdarroch Castle, a huge house built in the 1890s by Scottish coal baron Robert Dunsmuir, in his day the richest man in British Columbia.


It's quite incredible, and impeccably preserved. This is the view from the entrance hall, looking up the staircases through all four floors of the house.


It was very dark inside, so I didn't take too many photos. You get the jist, though. The heavy, mahoghany, gilded, crystalized jist.


The stained-glass and marbled jist. Robert Dunsmuir and his wife Joan had ten children. Robert died a year before this house was completed, and never lived here, though his wife and several children did. In one of the upstairs rooms, there is a display that features the long and complicated history of the family; this PDF tells their story.


My favorite part of the house was the tower, from where you could see the terra-cotta-colored rooftop wet with rain. It truly felt like we were in the heart of autumn, and I kept thinking about the time, eighteen years ago now, when I was in London and walked alone all day from Kensington through neighborhoods so much like this one, across Hampstead Heath and to Highgate Cemetery. I'd had no idea how far it really was (almost eight miles, it turns out), and by the time I got to the cemetery, it was just closing. I couldn't get in after all. It was starting to get dark, and it was drizzling. I turned back around and bought a Nanaimo bar, which was about the only thing I ever ate in London (funny coincidence, as this is a treat that apparently originated on Vancouver Island — and I do wish that they were as widely available here in the U.S., because I love them), and wandered off to try to find a tube station to get back to my little hotel. It was the exact same time of year. The sky looked exactly the same. In Highgate, people were getting home from work, the lights in little paned windows starting to come on. The leaves were red and wet, the sidewalks dark and mossy. I was desperate to get off my feet. No gloves. The sound of tires on wet pavement. Thoughts about the olden days. Wondering what I would do with my life. Smelling onions in the air. A steaming bath and cherry soap in the small tub near the window, the casement open out to the dark evening, when I returned. It was a great day. I've never forgotten it.


Though this one was better, because it was shared.

About Alicia Paulson


My name is Alicia Paulson
and I love to make things. I live with my husband and daughter in Portland, Oregon, and design sewing, embroidery, knitting, and crochet patterns. See more about me at