I wish that I could share with you where the Chef and I spent this weekend. I really do. But I can’t.
You see, I’ve been sworn to secrecy on the exact location of our blissful visit. This bucolic place has already been discovered by the glossy food magazines, and the permanent residents (all 816 of them) aren’t too happy about the crowds descending. They just received high-speed internet for the first time, for which nearly everyone who lives there celebrated at a party. The ferry only holds about 15 cars at a time. There are no chain restaurants or gas stations or stop lights at this place.
The phrase in Italian, painted onto the side of one of the few restaurants there, means “the beauty of doing nothing.” That might as well be the motto of our new favorite space.
Let’s just call it The Island.
Our friends, Nina and Booth (dear, large-hearted people), invited us up to the island for Labor Day weekend. Yes, we are going on our honeymoon on Friday (wheeeeee!), and we probably could have stayed in Seattle to run errands and finish up our work. But there is always more work and more errands. The island? An invitation to the island only comes once in a while.
You see, the island is such magic that everyone wants to be there. Nina and Booth, good-hearted people that they are, rarely have a weekend without someone they love in their home. Our turn came. Off to the island we go.
I could wax poetic about this place, and our time there, for pages and pages. But instead, I’m going to show you photos, as my way of sharing. This place? It’s an idyll, tangible evidence that we could live close to the ground and the sea, with neighbors who wave at each other on the road, eating fresh crab and just-picked blackberries and corn in season. A place where everyone knows each other’s stories, and the glories of each other’s idiosyncracies. And a place where people are educated and conversant with culture and still have a sense of humor.
(This bumper sticker on Nina and Booth’s refrigerator? Many people on the island have that one.)
By one definition, there’s not much to do on the island. There’s no movie theatre or fine-dining restaurant. Most everyone is wearing rubber boots, because they might be in the water or mucking out the yard at any time. By common standards, this place is boring.
Oh, but we were never bored.
First of all, there were farms to visit. This man — whose hands captivated me so much that I took a picture of his club-footed broccoli roots — has a thriving farm on the island. His romaine lettuce was the greenest green I’d ever seen. The plot of land where the vegetables were growing was so spacious and inviting that I turned around to see a young girl sitting down among the lettuces, reading her book. He wore overalls and a battered baseball cap.
He also speaks six languages — including Punjabi and Nepalese — and teaches economics at a university part-time. People are rarely what they seem, at first judgmental glance. I could have stayed talking to him all day.
But we had to leave to visit the island’s inn, the only place with white tablecloths where people can go to eat outside their home. We stopped in to see the owner, the chef, and the man cooking the spot prawns. (Nina knows everyone there, clearly.) We couldn’t stay long, since the inn was preparing for a big night. Over 100 people had made reservations, since this was the last legal catch of spot prawns for the year. (These creatures look prehistoric to me. And they were jumping in the cooler when I took this photo.)
But we didn’t feel bad about missing the spot prawns. We had crab.
Nina and Booth took us out in their old Bayliner boat, on the glassy grey water, toward the crab pots they had set earlier in the day. As we spotted seals and great blue herons on the water beside us, the Chef and I grinned into the wind. At one point, I looked back at him and saw his smile climbing up his face. I swear he looked ten years old. Nina and Booth were upset that most of the crab pots pulled up empty (save for giant sun starfish and small female crabs), but we were ecstatic to see one crab scrabbling, his claws opening and closing, in the green metal pot.
Crab is one of the Chef’s favorite foods. We’ve never eaten it just caught before.
Booth held the crab in his hands so I could bless it. And then he threw it in the steam pot.
Nina ran around the kitchen, laughing, while she prepared the rest of dinner. She wouldn’t let us help.
Who needs outside entertainment when there is food to make and friends to talk with?
This corn had been picked the day before. Just as Nina brushed butter infused with chili powder and chives from the garden onto the corn, the sun came out from behind the clouds. That’s what this meal tasted like.
Two days before we arrived, Booth had been playing ping pong with friends on the island. The man who owned the house came out from his smokehouse, carrying ten sides of pink salmon he had just caught that morning. “You want one?” he asked Booth. Who’s going to say no?
When we first arrived, Nina offered us that smoked salmon, with rice crackers, for me. Since we had eaten it all, did we throw away the skin? No way. Booth put it on the barbeque, crisped it up, and then sliced it up. This is how we topped our Caesar salads.
I don’t need no stinkin croutons.
As Nina cooked, the Chef and I sauntered out to the driveway. All of twenty feet from the door drooped dozens of fat blackberries on every thorny branch. Ambling and talking, laughing and letting the experience scratch our hands, the Chef and I filled two yogurt containers with beautifully perfumed blackberries in a matter of moments.
After dinner, we topped the blackberries with a handful of sugar, and some gluten-free crumble topping. As Nina said, the texture is clearly different than traditional crisps, but it’s just as delicious.
Imagine eating fresh blackberry crisp while you are watching this.
And afterwards, under the stars that dot the black night sky like the freckles that splash across the Chef’s back, we were lounging in a hot tub with our two friends, floating and laughing. We weree outside, in the cool air, on the deck, with our friends, and the jets were massaging our muscles for the first time in months.
No wonder we fell asleep soon after that.
And for breakfast the next morning? Scrambled eggs with chives from the garden and tomatoes our landlord gave us from his garden. Grits with butter, salt, and pepper. Fresh-ground coffee.
What a way to start the day.
Down the street from Nina and Booth’s house, and just up the road, is an organic farm that supplies the inn with white tablecloths. No one was there that morning. No locks or fences prevented us from being there. We just walked in to gawk at all the beautiful vegetables.
Like this row of leeks – leaves sticking up like the Chef’s hair in the morning – with the clucking chickens behind them.
I don’t know what these are. Some kind of choy. Bok choy? Pak choy? We weren’t given an expensive tour, with Latin names and lessons to learn. We just walked in silence and enjoyed. They were wonderfully glossy green. I simply admired them.
The Chef loved exploring these gauzy fronds of plants. From afar, we thought they were fennel. One taste of the fronds said that was not true – no tang of anise in there. Dill? No. It would have been far more fragrant and uplifting in the air if those plants had been dill. We were puzzled by the green balls dangling from some of the plants. We didn’t know.
(Turns out it was asparagus. And the ones with the little balls were female asparagi.)
I loved the silence of this room in the greenhouse, with onions drying in the warmth.
And that was the day. Walks to farms, talks with neighbors, a relaxed lunch (I had a tuna salad, the tuna line-caught albacore that had been filleted a few days before; the greens were the dozen different ones I had seen growing late in the morning).
Nina and the Chef and I walked on the beach, our heads down, looking for rocks that called to us. (Okay, the Chef threw pieces of driftwood out into the water, and then threw rocks at it. He’s a boy.)
There wasn’t much to it.
There was so much richness.
And I love the outfit Nina wears on the island. Everyone knows her by the crazy cowboy hat.
As we prepared to leave, Booth was readying his kayak, the one he built by hand. The two of them were heading out for a paddle, to throw out all the crab shells, and be quiet on the water, again.
We were so reluctant to leave.
But all the way home, the Chef and I laughed and sang. Labor Day traffic jams? Snarls of cars gawking at a car fire on the side of the road? They couldn’t faze us. We had the island in our minds, the smell of the ocean on our skin. We had both felt grounded for two days, deep in our bodies, with the help of our friends, and the island.
And what, you may ask, does this have to do with being gluten-free?
There is so much bounty in this world. Everything on the island reminded me: bounty. Fresh crab, just-picked blackberries, neighbors who stop their weeding to talk with you for twenty minutes, eggs from down the road, smoked salmon, mizuna greens, corn plucked off the cob.
My god, there is so much good in life.
To live like this and still miss bread?
That feels like sacrilege.
All that lives is holy. Say yes instead.