Photo Of The Day: A Rainy Day In Vancouver, British Columbia

We often think of warm, sunny days as the only optimal time to travel, but sometimes, bad weather gives us a completely different perspective of a new place. Such is the case with this photo from Doug Murray taken during a rainy day in Vancouver, BC.

As any traveler to the Pacific Northwest will tell you, rain is often inevitable, but wet weather is what makes this region beautiful. Plus a good wet day gives you the perfect excuse to check out the local coffee culture.

Traveled in inclement weather? Add your photos to the Gadling Flickr pool to be chosen for the Photo of the Day feature.

[Photo Credit: Doug Murray]

Nighttime ‘Oyster Picnics’ Offer A DIY Taste Of Puget Sound

oystersOyster aficionados and hunter-gatherer types will want to hoof it to Seattle this winter for a moonlight adventure of the briny kind. Fifth-generation, family-owned Taylor Shellfish Farms is hosting its annual “Walrus & Carpenter Picnics” on January 8, and February 7, to support the Puget Sound Restoration Fund.

Taylor is famed for its sustainably-farmed Manila and geoduck clams (click here to read about my ‘duck dig at Taylor’s farm on the Olympic Peninsula), Mediterranean mussels, and four species of oysters. The company has other farms around Puget Sound, as well as a much-lauded restaurant, Xinh’s Clam & Oyster House, at their Shelton location.

The oyster picnics are held at low tide, and inspired by the 1872 Lewis Carroll poem, “The Walrus & The Carpenter (“O Oysters come and walk with us … A pleasant walk, a lovely talk, along the briny beach!”).” Participants depart Seattle on a chartered bus at 6:30 p.m., returning at midnight.

The evening includes DIY gathering and shucking (experienced shuckers are available for those who prefer to keep their extremities intact) of Taylor’s celebrated Olympias, Kumamotos, Pacifics, and Virginicas, which are paired with chilled wines. Chilled participants get to enjoy steaming bowls of Taylor chef Xinh Dwelley’s famous oyster stew prior to departure.

Tickets are $125; reservations required. For more information click here.

[Photo credit: Flickr user zone41]

More Cow’s Head: Eating Local In Afghanistan

“Chaay?” Tea?

“Balay lotfaan.” Yes, please.

Yet another glass of tea was being served. Tea is the social lubricant of Afghanistan, the thing that brings people together, fuels meetings and provides for an afternoon excuse for a break.

There are no pints of beer or glasses of wine or whiskey gingers, but in a dry country, there’s always tea. That’s the thing about food and drink, we can be anywhere in the world and they bring us together. Eating is one of the things that we all share, no matter who we are or where we are from.

Twenty-four hours into Afghanistan and I was quickly instructed on the several varieties of kebab, the chicken an orange color from a saffron marinade and the lamb version named “Sheppard’s Kebab.” Our fixer made sure I noted this all in my notebook. “We will do a Dari test tomorrow to see if you remember.” You don’t want to upset the fixer who is in charge of ordering your food at lunchtime, so I made sure to master the appropriate food vocabulary.

Food is not only a connector; it’s also a great lens for comparison. What people buy, how they make it, how they serve it.

At home, in my native Pacific Northwest, we’re very concerned with where our food comes from. I am reminded of the “Is it Local?” “Portlandia” episode where the couple goes out to eat and inquires about the chicken on the menu and ends up visiting the farm that it’s from. It doesn’t matter how conscious we are about the origin of our food, in the United States we live in a processed and packaged society, and even the artisan butcher has nice labels and butcher paper to wrap his cuts in. We rarely really see where our food comes from and how it got to a servable state. In Afghanistan, however, it’s hard to miss.

Walk past any butcher shop and bloody carcasses hang in the doorway, the animal heads lined up on the ground below. A cow’s head here and goat’s head there. Sometimes you’ll even see bloody skins, freshly removed from the carcass. I got some weird pleasure every time I saw the aforementioned scene, my eyes on high alert for a butcher shop during every taxi ride. There was beauty in the rawness of it all; the fact that it was impossible to not know how your grilled kebab made it from living animal to your lunch plate. No discounted containers saran wrapped Styrofoam packages in this country.

Reminders of just what you are eating are everywhere. It’s impossible to avoid. The adorable sheep being hugged by the little boy on the street is destined for sacrifice a few hours later. That chicken that walks up to you in a restaurant garden is most likely tomorrow’s lunch.

After a day spent at Afghan national hero Ahmed Shah Massod’s tomb in Panjshir Valley, we found ourselves sitting around an outdoor table at a restaurant on the banks of the Panjshir River. The standard meal of Kabuli rice, rounds of naan bread and kebabs was served; Afghan food was once described to me as “meat, oil and bread,” which is a very true statement. We ate with our hands, ripping off pieces of naan to soak up the grease leftover from the kebab on our plates, the sounds of the river our background music.

It was dusk as we left the restaurant. Upon exiting, we passed a group of men sitting on the ground by the entryway, busy prepping what appeared to be the following day’s meat platter. Slabs of raw meat were strewn about on a plastic groundsheet. My initial reaction included some eyebrow raising and the men immediately began to laugh.

“Aks mekonum?” Can I take a photo?

“Balay balay!” Yes yes.

The Meat Crew. A photo that for many may be hard to stomach, but also a reminder of the fact that in most parts of the world, knowing where your food comes from and how it’s prepared isn’t just fodder for another “Portlandia” episode.

At the end of October, Anna Brones spent two weeks in Afghanistan with nonprofit Mountain2Mountain working to produce several Streets of Afghanistan public photo exhibits. This series chronicles the work on that trip and what it’s like to travel in Afghanistan. Follow along here.

[Photo Credits: Anna Brones]

Sunset Magazine’s ‘Westphoria’ Blog Celebrates The Weirdness Of The Western States

chickenIt’s no secret that the 13 states comprising the Western U.S. are a bit unusual. Enter Westphoria, Sunset magazine’s 4-month-old blog dedicated to celebrating all that’s quirky, kick-ass, and distinct about the Left Coast, Southwest and Rocky Mountain regions. Think retrofitted teardrop campers, chicken “sitters,” bike-powered farmers market smoothies, and, uh, hotel rooms designed to resemble giant bird nests.

For those of you living on the other side of the Continental Divide, Sunset is the nation’s top Western lifestyle magazine, focused on travel, gardening, design, green living, food and the outdoors. Understandably, we’re big fans here at Gadling.

Westphoria is sort of like Sunset’s black sheep little sibling: edgy, on-trend, a smarty-pants with a sweet soul. Categories include themes like “House Crush,” “Made in the West,” “Dream Life,” “Food” and “Wanderlust.” I’m hooked.

[Photo credit: Flickr user Green Garden Girl]

North Cascades National Park Looks To Expand

The North Cascades National Park In WashingtonHidden away in a remote corner of the Pacific Northwest, the North Cascades National Park is amongst the least visited parks in the entire U.S. system. On an annual basis, only about 20,000 people pass through its gates, despite the fact that it contains some of the most breathtaking backcountry in all of North America. There is a movement afoot to expand the park’s borders, however, and if successful, advocates of the plan believe that it could attract many more travelers to the region.

A group of conservationists, led by former U.S. Senator Dan Evans and mountaineer Jim Wickwire, have proposed an expansion to the North Cascades National Park that would add an additional 237,000 acres to its already impressive 500,000+. They also propose spending $23 million over five years to add or upgrade park amenities – something that is a bit of a tough sell with Congress these days.

Proponents of the plan feel that the addition of the extra land would move park boundaries closer to main access roads, giving it a higher profile with travelers passing through the region. It is hoped that the easier access and enhanced amenities would at the very least lure a few more visitors from Seattle, a major metropolitan area, which sits less than three hours away.

There will be major obstacles to the proposal getting the green light. As already mentioned, a looming budget crisis is likely to make the expansion of any national parks very difficult in the near future. In fact, most could be facing significant fiscal shortfalls in 2013 as Congress looks to cut spending across the board. Opposition is also expected to come from outdoor enthusiasts who don’t want to see more lands fall under the National Park Service‘s domain. While the NPS provides excellent protection for those lands they also greatly restrict how they can be used.

No matter the outcome, we’re likely a few years away from having this proposal get any serious attention. Still, if you enjoy hiking, camping or backpacking in remote areas, then you should make an effort to visit the North Cascades. Its snow capped peaks, pristine forests, idyllic waterfalls and more than 300 glaciers make it a fantastic destination for anyone who enjoys the outdoors. Considering how low the visitation numbers are, you’re also likely to have the park mostly to yourself.