Tag Archives: Colville St. Patisserie

Welcome to Emerald City

Three days driving for half the day or more seems to be my personal limit on time I can spend driving and still call it a positive experience. This I now know because we did just that in our little Honda CR-V (that’s Can’t Resist Vehicle for the non-Honda laypeople), going from Detroit to Minneapolis in one day, to Miles City, Montana, the next, and finally to Walla Walla. Except not finally, really, since our end destination was Seattle. But we needed to make a stop at Wallyworld to get some of our things out of storage, put them into a moving van, and haul the detritus, I mean, erm, our belongings, to the city with the Space Needle.

Just as an aside, the Space Needle only looks good from a distance, and especially good as a line drawing, as in the opening credits of Frazier. I suppose it helps that we’ve got Grammer’s singing to distract us from even this abstraction of the building. But up close, it just looks meh, like a toy I played with in 1978 that had a lot of white plastic and faded to some ever-dingy urine-y yellow. Okay, it’s not as bad as that, but it’s not much further up, either. And I am a little incredulous that we still had a World’s Fair in 1964 or whenever this thing was built.

We rolled into Walla Walla on Friday night with the wheat almost as grown as it gets before the farmers chop it down and burn the fields. Everything in town had a bit of a golden hue from the light of the crop, or maybe it was just the lighting from the maximum security prison, I’m not sure which. We had plans to get the moving truck in the morning at 11:30—this was our pick up time. And as friends of mine know, I am fastidiously punctual. So we checked the address to Budget truck rentals online, went to bed, and ventured out in the morning.

This is where we had a quintessential Walla Walla experience. Let me explain. While the Web site gave a street address on East Isaacs Avenue for the truck rental agency, all we found was an empty lot with one rather damaged rental truck—the rear view mirror was broken, and the left side had a long, arching dent. We could see the key drop-off  box, so we had some reassurance that this was the right place, but in every other regard we intimated that this was the very most definitely wrong place to do our paperwork. For other than a few McDonald’s wrappers slowly blowing in the desert wind, there was no paper.

I found two phone numbers attached to the drop-off box, so I called the first and waited. Two rings, five, seven, and then I clicked in to some other part of the Budget Rental Universe. Headquarters was less than helpful, only giving me the address to which I’d already wandered. Maybe there was a parallel dimension to the office that I was just missing, or a secret word, or perhaps I needed to pull on my ears or tape up an X on a window. They suggested I try the airport. But it was an offhand gesture, not a solid directive. Small town living at its finest.

With some degree of trepidation—for maybe someone pulls up in a truck the second after we’re gone—we left for the airport, which, because it’s Walla Walla, and as regular readers of this blog know, is only a 5-minute drive away. That’s because everything in Walla Walla is only 5 minutes from any other thing. I hopped on the highway and by 11:37 we were at the counter, a just-beyond-teenager there who knew all about our rental. The kicker: this was in fact where we were supposed to do our paperwork for the truck, but then we had to drive back to where we’d just been to get the actual truck. Fortunately our truck wasn’t the beat-up one in the parking lot. Unfortunately, when we met up with the manager back on East Isaacs, we found our truck had no gas cap. We tried taking the gas cap off the damaged truck, but lo and behold, it was stuck onto the tank. What the hell did those people drive through? I agreed to drive the truck across the street to the auto parts store and voila, the manager presented me with a new cap.

Then it was just the matter of nearly falling over from heat exhaustion as we cleared out what we needed from our storage unit, which in the summer heat, wavered somewhere around 108-112 degrees. It was like slow-cooking our brains, and eventually, we got a little discombobulated, pointing at boxes we wanted but not knowing anymore how to get them from where they sat to where we wanted them—for example, in the truck. I was reminded of Weeble Wobbles, another toy from my youth in the 70s, because we did start teetering around as we carried things, and after an hour or so, we were done. We did what any intelligent person would do at that point; we headed to the Colville Street Patisserie, and if any place could serve as muse, this place does. I don’t know what Tiffany and Dave put in the confections, but it makes my fingers get to typing.

The next morning we got ourselves some mochas and yogurt and headed out in our mini-caravan, over the Snoqualmie Pass through the Cascade Mountains, which is the range responsible for keeping the westernmost third of Washington and Oregon wet and the eastern two-thirds nearly bone dry. I kept the truck at a steady 65, and this was an improvement over the U-Haul I’d rented in 1997, which threatened to come apart at the seams at one tick higher than 52mph. I found some amazing country station on the way to Yakima and bojangled myself all the way to Seattle.

We promised ourselves on Sunday that we’d unpack right away, and as of this post, we’ve mostly held true to that goal. I’ve got one still-sealed Space Bag with my clothes in it, and we have a bathroom shelf to assemble, but otherwise, that’s it. Note to people thinking about buying Space Bags: two of ours opened up spontaneously in the back of the car, which wasn’t good, and when you vacuum seal them up, they become heavier than the particle of matter responsible for the Big Bang. But other than that, they’re great.

Susanne’s younger brother met us at our new place to help us move in, and more to the point, to collect the box of pottery he’d asked us to bring with us from Michigan. Nobody is more cleverly frugal than this fellow. But we made short order of the moving in process, and now I have the next 5.5 months to take in everything Seattle has to give. Already I see that our neighborhood is unusually populated with seafood restaurants, unhelpful to us as a couple since one of us can’t eat fish or seafood of any kind. But it is Seattle, and we can partake of the many, many coffeehouses here. Six are scattered in the streets around us—there’s also a German tavern, three pizza-making establishments, one used book store, and a business to help one improve one’s golf swing.

I’ll get right on that.

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Interview with the Colville Street Patisserie Owners

Cain and ChristensenTiffany Cain and David Christensen represent a new generation of restaurant owners in Walla Walla. I’ve been curious about the people behind the newer eateries in downtown, so I decided to ask a few of them to give interviews about their lives as business owners, gourmands, and as part of a revitalized, local food community here. Taking over the Colville Street Patisserie in 2008, Cain and Christensen quietly began updating the items in the shop, giving the windows a new look, and making the place their own. David previously was the pastry chef at Whitehouse Crawford and Tiffany was the owner of The Weinhard Cafe east of town, in Dayton. I sat down with them last week to talk about their adventures in cooking, or more precisely, baking. French style.

EM: Talk about how you found your way into the kitchen.

DC: I started cooking just to feed myself. I’ve had a lot of fast food jobs, since I was 14. Diners, French fry stands, other places. Then I moved to Walla Walla. Cooking was something I turned out to enjoy. My mom cooked a lot when we were kids. It was all pretty good. She definitely made an effort to teach each of us how to do it.

TC: It was really a calculated move for me. I don’t like offices. I first started out baking. My mom was really strict with our diets, so I really was excited about making desserts! So that’s how I learned to cook. I just really love being around food.

EM: Tell us the difference between a patisserie and a bakery.

DC: A patisserie is a pastry shop. The emphasis is more on dessert, whether it be cookies, tarts, baked goods that aren’t breads. They definitely have a French technique, but my spin is that there’s no point in just replication.

EM: What is your typical baking day like?

TC: The sobbing starts.

DC: I try to get here at 4:30. Start the ovens, start with things that aren’t yeasted, like the macaroons, the paris brist, then the things like croissants go in around 7. By the afternoon we’re making ice creams and doing assembly for things like the individual tarts, mousse, and other fillings.

Fruit tartsEM: I kind of want to know how much butter you go through.

DC: You want to know?

EM: Yes.

DC: It’s 24–30 pounds of butter for the croissants, and 30–50 pounds for everything else.

EM: Where do you go for inspiration?

DC: Part of it is just having a fairly good understanding of what the classics are and how I can duplicate the spirit of it with a twist. Like the chocolate filled congolais. That’s not how it is classically made.

TC: It makes sense, though. Mounds bar.

EM: Maybe you could put an almond in the middle, too.

TC: He was able to do things like this when he was a sous chef at Whitehouse Crawford.

EM: Tell us what you’re going to bring to the case this summer that we haven’t seen before.

DC: More big, fruity desserts. Crunchy, more crumbly pastry shells. More melon, some other fruits.We’ve also been thinking about a fancy but low-brow s’mores idea, with homemade marshmallows and the macaroon cookie. And we use the blow torch, like for the crème brulée.

EM: Oh?

TC: We had some lemon marshmallows left over one day and we heated them with the blow torch, melting the outside but leaving the middle solid. And we tried them and said, oh wow, that’s good!

EM: What flavors or ingredients are you most excited about using?

DC: This time of year I’m really excited about strawberries. I’m really tired of using apples all winter. Welcome Table Farm has an early berry coming out soon. So does Klicker’s. Actually they have strawberries all summer long.

TC: I think we’re also excited to be making all of the gelato out of local milk from Pure Eire.

DC: They’re the only grass fed raw and fresh pasteurized milk producer around here.

TC: We can’t use the raw milk for the gelato. It’s flash pasteurized. And it’s really good.

EM: I see people bring their goods into the shop. Talk about the environment here for food producers, growers, and restauranteurs.

TC: It’s really changed in the time I’ve been here, about 15 years. The farmer’s market downtown was really small. Now there are lots of young couples in their 30s who own little farms. That’s really changed in the last 5 years here. You don’t have to look hard for them because it’s obvious they’re here. So 15 years ago people moved here or moved back. Back then there was My Grandmother’s Garden, that’s always been here, and they had herbs and other produce. Now there are a lot of places to go, and a nice camaraderie of owners here.

EM: What would you tell others who are interested in doing what you do?

TC: Idiots! No, no. If you want fame but not fortune, do it.

DC: Go find a place you like, bug them until they let you work, for free if you have to. You don’t have to go to culinary school to get started.

TC: Yes, find out if you like it before you make an investment.

DC: It’s good to familiarize yourself with how kitchens and restaurants work.

TC: I’m always a fan of the shortcut.

EM: As long as there’s chocolate inside.

TC: Yes!

The Colville Street Patisserie is located at the corner of Alder and Colville Streets. For hours, check their Web site.

The beltway is no cause for alarm

My life working for the Federal Government as an IT person wasn’t far removed from your average Dilbert comic strip.

Web Developer: Hey Ev, please take a look at this one screenshot and tell us what we should change with this very complex information system.

Me: Uhhhhh, just from one screenshot?

WD: It’s all we could do on the color printer.

Me: Why?

WD: Our office manager is making budget cutbacks.

Me: Ah. (Stares at printout close to face) Well, it looks like you’re calling the system three different things.

WD: Just pretend they’re all the same.

Me: Okaaaaay. Which is the actual name?

WD: EKS.

Me: Can we spell out the name for new users?

WD: Just new users?

Me: No, spell out the name at the top here, so that even new users will know what system they’re working in.

WD: Oh, I don’t think we can do that.

Me: Why not?

WD: Because it’s an image.

Me: You could just put text there.

WD: Oh, but then it might look a little different on people’s screens.

Me: Well, not very different.

WD: The communications director wants it to look the same on everyone’s computers.

Me: That’s not actually possible, you know.

WD: Don’t tell her that.

Me: Okay, okay. How about we just change the color of this black font?

WD: Okay, why?

Me: Because against this dark blue background, it’s a little hard to read, is all.

WD: Well, but it matches a paper brochure.

Me: I’ve never seen a paper brochure for this.

WD: It came out in 1987.

Me: Uh. So we need to match it why?

(Pause)

WD and Me in unison: Communications Director.

Me: I don’t think I have any recommendations, then.

WD: Okay, great! Thanks!

Coming back to visit DC has been unexpectedly revealing; I almost instantly reverted back to my aggressive-is-defensive driving skill set, weaving and bobbling a tiny Hyundai Accent on the BW Parkway on the drive in from the airport. I feel like I’m getting out of a clown car every time I park, and like I’m entering a parallel Universe of Small Things each time I climb inside, folding into myself like an origami swan. Or maybe it’s like a beam of light being crushed into nothingness, since the interior is small enough to be black hole-sized.

I cavorted through the streets of the city, not stopping to take in the things I’ve seen many times, like the Washington Monument, Union Station, the semi-empty used car lot on Bladensburg Road. But I could feel the energy from them, remembering who I’ve been before, and enjoying their proximity once again. I certainly have a fondness for the Colville Street Patisserie in Walla Walla, as I’ve remarked before, but I don’t feel any sense of being when I’m walking down Main Street like I do on the grimy marble curbs of the District, and I’m not sure yet why that is.

I lunched with some of my old Social Security coworkers in a tavern yesterday that was all Baltimore: framed posters of Ravens glory, hard-looking women with over-styled hair, “limited” drink refills, and a certain filmy substance on all of the wood surfaces that gave you the impression they cared as much about you here as if you were a guest in their homes. I was back. We chatted about things, and although I wanted to hear how they were doing, they kept asking me about Walla Walla, so I coughed up all the funny stories I could recall. It helped that I was in a company of people who presumed, first and foremost, that I have competence; sitting around on my ass at home has almost erased my sense that I am good at some things other than sitting on my ass and memorizing lines from NCIS, just in case I have the opportunity to throw them into conversation. I was hoping for but didn’t get pictures of new spouses or children, but we caught up nonetheless. With them having to get back to work, a concept with which I was suddenly reminded, I hopped back on the freeway and battled the self-important traffic of the Baltimore-Washington corridor, feeling a little sleepy from my chicken salad and kaiser roll. My “limited” drink refill apparently equated to no refill at all, and I needed a nap. I could have taken in the cityscape, the Potomac, the Pentagon, as I sped back to my host’s house in Arlington, spitting distance from where I used to live, but instead I got a song from Ladytron stuck in my head that used to play during my long commutes home. Apparently my brain saw it fit to replay for me.

Overheard at the coffeehouse

I’m inclined to spend time writing in coffeehouses, because my extroverted brain needs something to tune out; I can’t just concentrate in a quiet space. There’s definitely a breaking point — thinking back to when the gaggle of toddlers was running around one coffee joint in town, that was definitely too much chaos for me. But if there is some good music piping in, some “ambiance” in the room, and a hearty level of caffeine, I’m good to go. 

I say “tune out,” but that means that none of the conversations can be that strange, interesting, or far-fetched, or my semi-conscious brain will fast-track it to the front of my mind. Thus it is that some comments cause a lot of distraction and a bit of amusement. Some of the more notable remarks:

1. Techniques that enhance one’s masturabatory moments. Talk about some TMI, people. It should be noted that this conversation took place while all of the conversationalists were texting on their cell phones and PDAs. Ha. PDAs. Public Displays of Abhorrence.

2. “I mean, I can only listen to Bruce Springsteen for so long.” The discussion then drifted to a tips ‘n tricks of how to take notes on one’s daily existential insights, for use in future lyric-writing, so your band, Walla Walla, and then the rest of the world can benefit from your brilliance. As long as we don’t have to listen for more than a few minutes, okay?

3. “I’m just wondering where this rash is gonna spread next.” No, really, someone said that. In public.

4. “I can’t figure out how to turn off my speakerphone.” Aren’t 19-year-olds the tech generation? Have we made technology so intuitive now that people no longer can do their own troubleshooting? This 38-year-old hasn’t been using computers his entire life, remember. No, I did not get up and turn off her speakerphone for her.

5. “Dude, getting your paper online is so retarded.” Dude, what are you thinking? You’re like, stupid and in college!

I may have to start wearing headphones.

Cake and conversation

Susanne and I attended a potluck for members of her department at the College. We were tasked with providing the desserts, which indicated a few things, namely:

1. They must have known subconsciously to give this course to us, the cake-makers. We had not yet provided any confections to them.

2. They thought something like dessert was the easiest course to pass off, because most people just put oil and eggs into a bowl with mass market cake mix. Thus, they were trying to go easy on us.

3. They figured we’d all be too drunk after drinking Walla Walla wine to care if the dessert was passable or not.

Truthfully, Susanne volunteered us for dessert. But in her defense, she waited to see what others picked first, so somehow the desserts portion of the meal hung around during the selection process. Who would have expected that Dessert would be like the fat kid who doesn’t get called for kickball and is left standing there at the end pushing up his glasses looking miserable? But enough about me.

We showed up with an apple caramel cheesecake and a chocolate budino. I did not get a picture of the chocolate budino, unfortunately. I did, however, capture the cheesecake.

 

Caramel apple cheesecake

Caramel apple cheesecake

The potluck was nice, consisting of a cold quinoa salad, mixed greens, the standard but perennial favorite of cheese and crackers. There was also a vegetable enchilada casserole, Greek stew, shrimp pad thai, and a “hot dish,” which is verbiage for a Minnesotan casserole, which officially made it A Potluck from Around the World. They did indeed enjoy our offerings, and I think we achieved our goal of cementing a reputation for well cooked and baked delicacies. I know there’s a lot of “cementing” in front of us, but we’ve only just begun — we’re only 6 weeks into living here. There are a lot of good meals ahead of us.

Today Susanne and I went to our new favorite Colville Street Patisserie, and there we met two older ladies from town who struck up an interesting conversation about Social Security and disability. There’s something about a smaller town, perhaps, that lends itself to more intimate talk, for it is such that we discovered one of them receives an SSA disability check. Her friend said she’d remember my name because she lives in Everett, Washington. I suppose I have to get over there at some point and take a hokey picture next to the sign. When the woman from town said she got her first check three weeks after filing an application, I knew she must have a terminal condition. She was smiling, she was enjoying an eclair, and she said she was going to be happy for every day she has left. She’s taken in 37 foster children over the last 20 years, and we got into quite the discussion about how our country handles social services. It was an interesting mix of old-style conservatism (read: pull yourself up by your bootstraps) and an affection for children and their interests that smacked of veteran social worker. She clearly still wanted to make a difference, life by life. She certainly left an effect on me.

East side, west side

Let’s just say the two sides are pretty close. It’s bigger than it lets on, but it’s pretty small nonetheless. I’ve taken barely any photos since I’ve been trying to get the house in order, which is coming along, finally. We may have turned a corner. Tomorrow I’ll be heading to Seattle for a few days and I’ll get to spend quality time with an old friend, so I’m really looking forward to that!

Backstage Bistro in Walla2

Backstage Bistro in Walla2

 

 

I’m here at Verve, a “coffee and art house,” which is currently hosting about 5 moms and their kids for a mid-morning get-together. It’s not exactly the hip quiet I was looking for in which to write, but it’s nice that nobody here is frowning on them, either. That’s something to like about this place. I’ve started a list, I suppose, since I just adore lists. So far, on it are the following:

Walla Walla Wheatbrew, a local heffeweisen that is pretty enjoyable with lemon or orange.

The desserts at the Colville St. Patisserie, which nearly makes all of last week’s awfulness bearable.

The slower pace, as referred to earlier, though I’m still on my DC gear so I haven’t noticed it much yet.

Speaking of gears, there is also this:

 

Outside a transmission shop, Walla Walla

Outside a transmission shop, Walla Walla

I’m at a loss for words, I think. But I see a new LJ icon in my future.

It’s a bit rainy today, which is fine because it keeps things cooler around here. It’s not just an abstraction of desert, it was 111F earlier last week. Thank goodness we missed that day. We’re about halfway unpacked, I’d say. Once the pictures all go up we can cover up a bunch of the wall dings, so it’ll look a lot better. It just doesn’t seem like good business practice to me to never inspect one’s investment properties and just wait for shit to break. What’s a $1,000 roof repair today will be a $20,000 roof replacement later, right? But hey, I don’t run the place. I don’t even work here!

So Walla Walla, also called Wallyworld, which I find funny because of Vacation, is kind of cute, kind of hot, kind of small, kind of interesting. I have to hit the pavement for real and get a job. That perhaps deserves its own blog. Kidding.

 

Stone Soup in Walla Walla

Stone Soup in Walla Walla

So Walla Walla is from one of the native American tribes around here, meaning “water water.” It’s right upon the Columbia river and is a big part of the burgeoning wine industry in Washington State. It’s pretty isolated, about 40 miles from the first thing you could call a “big” town, and about two hours south of Spokane. There’s a westerner-easterner of Washington rift here that I’d never thought about but that is reminiscent of the North VA vs rest of the state infighting that folks in the DC area know all too well.

Politics is a little different out here. The WA governer, Chirs Gregoire, came out here last week to give a stump speech on the campaign trail, since she’s up for re-election. About 100 people showed up at this very coffeehouse to hear her speak, and they clapped and had occasional standing ovations. It all ended with chants of “four more years!” Interesting to see their fervor, after I’d gone to Clinton’s concession speech, which looked more like this:

 

Clinton concession speech

Clinton concession speech

I’m not saying one is better or worse than the other, just that there are some different expectations about what government means, how it runs, what politicians can really offer their constituents, and whether political change comes from within or outside the system. I feel very tentative about engaging in any political discussion in a way I didn’t hesitate back in DC, because I knew the grounds for conversation. I have to suss them out here. It’s one more adjustment to make, I suppose.

Okay, on to the researching part of my day. I’ll have lots more photos of Washington soon.

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