Inspired by the Pickled Fish in Long Beach, WA
Ingredients, two servings
1 cup Willapa Bay razor clam meat
½ cup shrimp (mine were canned in South Bend, WA, on Willapa Bay)
¼ cup Dungeness crab meat (or more, but it’s spendy!)
1 tomato cut into wedges
1 hard-boiled egg cut into quarters
1 head of chopped butter lettuce
2 cups of watercress
Pulp of ½ avocado
1 tablespoon white vinegar
1 cloves of garlic
Juice of ½ lemon
½ cup of fresh dill
1 tablespoon of plain yogurt
1 tablespoon grape seed oil (or olive oil)
Optional: 2 teaspoons soy sauce
Directions for salad
1. Bring pot of water to boil and drop razor clam meat in the pot. Boil for no longer than a minute. Remove from heat, let them cool down and cut into small chunks.
2. Toss in a large bowl the clams,shrimp and crab meat with the dressing, dollaping in and mixing as you go along. It’s a heavy dressing, so be careful you don’t use too much and weigh down the greens.
3. Add the watercress and lettuce and mix. Serve with hard boiled egg wedges.
Directions for dressing
Put everything in a food processor and puree.
Personal note: I would love to shove this salad into a hoagie roll and eat as a sandwich – that would be ideal. But I’m sadly watching the carbs these days. If you aren’t, do so with wild abandon!
Day Tripping on the Long Beach Peninsula
Last weekend with temperature predictions in the upper sixties and gas prices still pretty low, I kicked a particularly nasty February to the curb by hitting the road and heading to the beach with my dog, Elli. Destination: Long Beach Peninsula. Goal: After a challenging February, to achieve dog and human zen.
Aside from a tiny strip of go-cart and cotton candy kitsch that stretches two blocks, nature abounds and is the star attraction of the Long Beach Peninsula. From the mouth of the Columbia to 26 miles up to the very northern end of the pencil-thin peninsula at Leadbetter Point, wildlife, brackish ecosystems teeming with muddy organisms and sweet-smelling forests follow one after the other and are in this area as easily accessible as a rest stop off a freeway. Pull over, park, you’ve arrived. Biking, kayaking, trail running, hiking, foraging for bivalves and fauna opportunities present themselves everywhere.
The entire peninsula is a long and skinny overgrown sandbar with a coastal rainforest growing down its middle. There is ocean beach on the west side and no more than five miles across the peninsula, there is a tidal marshland on the east side. Salt-washed, weather-beaten fishing villages and beach towns — Chinook, Ilwaco, Seaview, Long Beach, Ocean Park, Nahcotta and finally Oysterville at the northern end — stand one after the other as towns with different identities and historical significance. Most of them have populations under 1,000, some less than 300. They remind you you’ve entered a part of the world that above all else values its lifelong independence and identity and its ongoing resilience no matter which way the tide turns.
Couple of eagles survey the bay.
Leadbetter State Park was Elli’s and my first stop. Leadbetter Point nods off at the top of the peninsula like the tip of a hemlock . It is surrounded by Willapa Bay mud and islands on one side and the Pacific Ocean on the other. All the trails can be done in one day or less, unless you’re bird-watching in which case you may want to set aside three months to a year to the rest of your life. Some of the trails that take you onto the beach and tidelands are only accessible during low-tide, so time your hike well because you can’t get back the way you came in if the tide comes in. And when you’re out on the beach, don’t forget to look way up or you’ll miss the eagles, hawks and herons.
The wooded trails are soft and quiet. Your soundtrack is a mix of songbirds and the ocean. The only non-natural sound you may hear out here is an oyster boat. The ground is carpeted in moss, and the trail paths are spongy and springy. I don’t know why this is, but forests near sea level in Willapa Bay are the only places I’ve felt this bounce in my step. And you’re literally at sea level. If you were any more at sea level, you’d be a razor clam. There are no hills, there is no rapid elevation gain of any kind, there are zero switchbacks at Leadbetter.
Mossy trails at Leadbetter State Park.
Elli and I filled up on solitude at Leadbetter and then moved onto our next stop, the popular Discovery Trail that stretches along the Pacific Ocean side of the peninsula for eight miles. It is part paved and part boardwalk and has some soft sloping ups and downs but again, as it’s a beach, no hills. The trail is accessible at many points up and down the peninsula, but in Seaview I saw a sign welcoming me to the beach and took a chance, turned right and drove a block west. Sure enough, I hit the Pacific Ocean and an on-ramp onto the Discovery Trail.
Perfect for a round-trip bike ride, distance run, or a day-long exploration, Elli and I cavorted and jogged along the trail for about four miles, taking in views of surfers and families enjoying the beach on this extremely rare 65-degree, sunny March day.
It’s no small feat finding a perfect sauna situation outside of, say, Finland, Sweden or Norway. Plenty of hotels certainly offer them, especially in the Astoria and Long Beach area, but what you face in these situations are conditions that go completely against the ideal sauna experience. Allow me to explain.
The trees are fuzzy in Leadbetter State Park.
Hotel saunas often mean lukewarm temperature settings, inhaling the stinging smell of chlorine since they are always poolside and falling prey to the inevitable sauna social fails. The hairy, pot-bellied guy who asks you, “Hot enough for you?” as he winks. The adorable yet chatty grandparents keeping an eye on the grandkids in the pool who ask you where you’re from and then want to talk about where you’re from at great length. The canoodling couple who want the love shack to themselves so they make eye contact with you as they drape themselves around one another until you skulk out feeling sort of physically accosted.
Worst of all, hotel saunas mean swimsuits. The entire purpose of the sauna is to detox and let your skin breathe. Wrapping yourself in lycra rather than an ample cotton towel and sitting in a sauna is as senseless as wearing an air-tight diaper to a colon cleansing session. It’s nasty. It’s unthinkable! It’s outright torture.
For all these reasons, whereas the corporate hotel I was staying at across the river had a sauna, I knew it wouldn’t do. I luckily stumbled upon the Sou’Wester in Seaview, WA, and, their authentic Finnish sauna, which was available that afternoon.
If I’m introducing you to the Sou’Wester for the first time, you’re in for a treat. There are four options for lodging on this plot of land that definitely could pass for an artist commune on sight alone: bringing your own RV and hooking up in the RV park, renting a cottage, renting a vintage travel trailer (there are 15 adorable options of various sizes) or staying in the main lodge, a four-story beach mansion painted Scandinavian ochre red with white trim. What was once a grand ballroom on the second floor was converted into four suites, each with a private kitchen and bathroom, and three large bedrooms with shared facilities.
Checking in at the Sou’Wester.
The lobby occupies a sun porch adorned with goods made by local artists and those who have been artists in residence at the Sou’Wester, rubber boots for guest use (for razor clam digging) and towels for your dog after romping at the beach just one block west. Signs are posted about advertising upcoming performances by artists, musicians and bands, some of whose names I recognized.
The sauna is newly built, and it is a masterpiece. It is smack dab in the middle of the property, but it along with an adjoining garden space and spa-like shower room are enshrouded in privacy behind a tall fence that requires a key from the lobby to enter. Trees loom high over the hidden garden, further creating a feeling of privacy and solitude, perfect for achieving a meditative zen state in the sauna and when you cool off in the garden. And if you’re hard core, there is also a cold plunge tub available. Also adding to the ambience is the sound of songbirds and shorebirds, an added bonus of building a sauna on the beach near a national wildlife refuge.
The sauna was just the right kind of hot when I entered. My pores took about 5 minutes to open up, and when they did, the effect was cleansing and cathartic. Every inhalation smelled like lavender, clean wood and the beach. I never wanted to leave. But really only lasted 20 minutes because the heat was intense.
When I came out of the shower room, dressed and refreshed, two women were in the garden starting a campfire in the fire pit. They invited me to join their workshop that evening — a full moon guided meditation session and tarot card reading. This place was continuing to feel surreal. I would have joined but it didn’t start until 10 PM, and I knew I’d be asleep by 9:30 that night after the day I’d had (and I was right).
I didn’t take any pictures of the sauna because I would not have done the place justice. But these pictures do. If you live down here or frequent the area often enough, you can purchase a membership to use the sauna by appointment. For drop-ins, it’s a mere $6 a visit. And as a first time guest, mine was actually free. I hope I can repay them by convincing some readers they have to go stay at the Sou’Wester. Writers, artists, musicians, tarot card enthusiasts – check it out. I know I’ll be back.
Next, Elli and I crossed the Columbia to the town of Astoria, Oregon, for yoga at a place whose name alone drew me in, RiversZen Yoga Studio.
The studio is in a large building that hangs out over the Columbia River and whose front door opens onto the Astoria River Trail, the very popular walk way that stretches the expanse of Astoria from east through downtown to under the bridge at its western edge. As with many buildings in the city as well as the Sou’Wester Lodge, it, too, is painted the classic Scandinavian red with clean white trim.
By the way, there is a reason for everything looking like a Finnish summer cabin community in the Bay of Bothnia. From Astoria up through the top of Pacific County on the Washington side, the area was heavily settled by immigrants from Finland, Sweden and Norway who came to work in the timber and fishing industries that made Astoria a boom town at the turn of the century. The Nordic spirit that helped build these places is reflected throughout the region on both sides of the river today, in the architecture, food, festivals and businesses.
The RiversZen studio consists of two open rooms with open, exposed wooden beams overhead and a spectacular view of the Columbia River. Our session consisted of loosening stretches, light abdominal work, a series of sun salutations, standing balances, and it ended with a shoulder stand to bring blood to the brain and with the traditional winding down in corpse pose. Not to grueling, but no walk in the park either. Quite perfect vacation yoga, actually, especially after the long drive.
I think I was told that RiversZen offers a non-expiring punch card for people like me who visit the area once a season if that, but I’m happy to pay the drop in fee each time. It’s only $9 compared to an average of $22-25 in Seattle. Like Sou’Wester, I’ll be back at RiversZen Yoga.
Taste Bud Zen
By now, I’d traversed through woods and tide flats, jogged on the beach and sweated out toxins in the sauna and yoga studio. It was dinner time, and I was damn hungry. Back across the river in Long Beach, Washington, the perfect meal had been plucked out of the Pacific Ocean, Willapa Bay and Starvation Alley cranberry bogs and awaited me: the Pickled Plate with a Cranberry Bubbly specialty cocktail (vodka, Prosecco and cranberry juice) at the Pickled Fish restaurant of Adrift Hotel, a pet-friendly, sustainably run, beautifully maintained hotel on the beach.
The Pickled Plate is an enormous serving that should be shared by two – but pickled foods aren’t really my dog’s thing, and I was hungry enough to make a serious dent on my own. Bay shrimp, salmon, cod, carrots, cauliflower, cranberries, raspberries, celery, beets, a hard-boiled egg – all of it pickled – come heaped on a plate with a golf ball-sized orb of thick goat cheese rolled in paprika and some crostini to ease the bite of the sharpness of all that vinegar. I dove in and barely came up for air until I’d made my way through half of it.
When I finally took a break from eating, I looked out the window of the restaurant as the sun was just beginning to set over the vast Pacific Ocean, its waves rolling and crashing on the beach, and checked in with myself. It had been a full day of fresh air and exercise, being outdoors, detoxing and filling myself with a meal harvested just outside the door. This is life in Willapa Bay and on the Long Beach Peninsula, still a best kept secret in the Northwest that may see its rare day in the sun very soon. Human and dog zen achieved.
Adrift Hotel and Pickled Fish off in the distance.