So my trip west wasn’t off the best start. I was headed to Seattle, then to Montana the next day with the family. I did end up getting a pretty decent caprese sandwich at a French bistro-ish place in O’Hare, but then I was stuck in the middle seat next to a crazy lady (she had a tattoo on her face, y’all!) on the flight to Seattle, so it wasn’t all that enjoyable.
So let’s skip all that and get to the fun stuff.
I arrived in Seattle safe and sound, and my sister Sarah picked me up. After heading over to Mom’s place and getting her all packed up and squared away, Sarah and I were both ready for some food, some wine, and some catching up. Sarah lives in Ballard, which is the Scandinavian neighborhood in Seattle, and which is also home to some really good food (not just lutefisk). Sarah said, “I thought we’d get burgers at Scooter’s.” I had never been there, but any place called Scooter’s is okay with me.
Turns out Scooter’s is this little tiny—like five seats at the counter tiny—drive up place that’s been around for years, and apparently used to be a Dairy Queen. They’re known for their onion rings, but both Sarah and I agree that onion rings are more trouble than they’re worth, most of the time. So we popped in, each ordering a bacon cheeseburger with fries, and decided to also try a chocolate malt, which neither of us had ever had. However, being devoted fans of Jonathan Richman, we went for it.
Chocolate malts are awesome.
The malt powder adds a slightly salty creaminess to what would otherwise be a chocolate shake. Unfortunately, we left most of ours in Sarah’s freezer. Oh well.
Let’s talk about Scooter’s burgers. They are exactly what I wanted from a tiny, years-old neighborhood dive. Big, flat, just greasy enough, with crispy bacon, cheese, lettuce, tomatoes. Scooter’s does a secret sauce that seems to be just mayonnaise and ketchup, but it’s perfect with the rest of the burger. Go there next time you’re in Ballard.
All right, so the next morning we picked up Mom and headed for the airport for our trip to Montana. Nothing much to report, except that Horizon Airways serves local microbrews on their flights from Seattle to Montana (and back), and they don’t charge you for it. Thank you, Horizon!
After one hell of a bumpy flight (during which Sarah had to comfort a very terrified 17-year-old girl sitting next to her and assure her that we were indeed going to live), we stopped at Applebee’s for a nondescript but necessary lunch. Then we were off on the last leg of our journey to Gardiner (pop. 500 and change), where we would spend the next seven days with 13 more members of our family, eating, drinking, hiking, whitewater rafting, eating, looking for ghost towns, encountering wildlife, touring Yellowstone, and eating. Again. Some more.
My late grandmother’s cream-and-cinnamon coffee cake and cinnamon rolls, brilliantly recreated by my 14-year-old niece.
Bacon just about every damn morning, and my aunt’s homemade strawberry rhubarb jam.
Beef skewers with peppers and onions, cooked on the grill by Uncle Mike.
Thai beef salad, chicken and basil with green beans, shrimp sate skewers, and yellow curry chicken soup with sweet potatoes, pineapple, and other stuff, made by my sister and my Thai cousin-in-law. (Is that even a thing? He’s my cousin’s husband, so that's what I'm calling him.)
Giant sub sandwiches from The Pickle Barrel in Livingston, Montana, which is a lovely little town with some fantastic signs from the 40s and 50s.
My Aunt Marge’s famous turkey casserole, for which she actually shipped the ingredients (and some cookies) to my sister. She also made her INCREDIBLE chocolate cake with caramel frosting for my cousin’s birthday. I’m still running on the sugar high from that one, I swear.
My sister Maria's chicken with grilled zucchini, squash, and potatoes with her mango avocado salsa. I don't dig the mango so much, but it worked beautifully with the creaminess of the avocado and the heat of the peppers.
Spaghetti and some killa meatballs, made with beef and pork by my cousin Patrick and his lovely bride Jennifer. This amuses me because Patrick was a notoriously picky eater as a kid. His mom made a lot of hamburgers back then…
(Speaking of burgers) Insanely huge buffalo and elk burgers from Helen’s Corral Drive-in in Gardiner, home of Helen’s Hateful Burger. Elk is quite gamey, but really good. It’s the kind of meat that you take a bite of and your brain just goes, “Okay, I just ate caveman food.” My buffalo bacon cheeseburger is on the right:
I ate the whole damn thing.
Oh, and deviled eggs. I challenged my sister Maria, who has worked as a professional cook in the past, to a Deviled Egg Throwdown (with apologies to Mr. Flay), and she good-naturedly accepted. With my niece acting as scorekeeper and the rest of the family (except those allergic to eggs), Maria and I each made 10 deviled eggs.
I kicked her ass.
After a slow start, I pulled ahead and won, 7 and a half to 3 and a half votes. (Somebody wussed out on the voting.) To Maria’s immense credit, she was an incredibly gracious loser, and even admitted that my egg was better.
It’s all about the mustard, people. That’s all I’ll say.
Suffice it to say, by the time we got back to Seattle, I was really hankering for salad. Fortunately, Sarah knows a great pizza place that serves up a really fantastic salad of bitter greens, chick peas, tomatoes, cheese, and wonderful tarragon dressing. My system was very happy about that.
Back in my little apartment in DC, finally, I was that curious mix of relieved and sad to be home—relieved to sleep in my own bed, but sad because I didn’t have a great dinner to look forward to, and I didn’t have my family.
But I have my DC family here, and they like to eat.