SPRING BREAK IN SEATTLE
I lost my family in a Seattle chocolate factory, somewhere between the coconut curry, the cherry almond and the grey-salted vanilla caramel flavours. We'd come to tour Theo Chocolate in Fremont, and from the moment we arrived, everyone dispersed like the wind, drawn magnetically to the chunks of chocolate tasters all around the store.
In the course of an hour-long tour, we donned hairnets and followed our noses through the factory, where the sweet, tantalizing aroma of chocolate persists even on Saturday, when the machines sit silently. Our guide described the odd-looking football-size fruit from which the cocoa bean is eventually extracted in the Dominican Republic, Ecuador and Madagascar, and the 15 machines through which it passes at Theo Chocolate Factory before it emerges as a wrapped chocolate bar.
Along the way, samples were eagerly received: chunks of the bread and chocolate bar, spicy chili dark chocolate, fig fennel and hazelnut crunch. It was a chocolate-lovers' paradise, a factory where founder Joseph Whinney and his team have concocted flavours the rest of us have yet to dream about.
We felt good about eating them too, since Theo Chocolate is the first organic and fair trade certified chocolate factory in the US that starts with the cocoa bean and ends with the chocolate bar. The combinations are brilliant: pear balsamic chocolate sits beside Chinese 5-Spice, while rum raisin chocolate competes for attention with juniper caramel and chocolate enrobed marshmallows. Willpower is banished and even the calorie counters leave their guard at the door, nibbling in delight from the tantalizing array of flavours.
The chocolate factory was a definite highlight, a place that sweetened our taste buds and gave us some perspective on the farmers who labour to extract those cocoa beans in South America, many of them working for as little as $1 a day. It's good to know there are people like Whinney in the world, who care enough about the source of their beans to ensure that those who labour on their behalf are treated ethically and compensated fairly.
I'd been quizzing locals on cool family activities in Seattle, a city where the Space Needle consistently steals the spotlight. We'd been to the usual suspects. That morning we'd visited the Seattle Aquarium where a recently added massive octopus now steals the show. Later, we stopped in at the Pacific Science Museum, marveling at the butterfly exhibit, an exploration of pure colour and delicate beauty.
Later, we joined Savor Seattle Food Tours for a journey into the culinary scene in and around Pike Place Market. For two delectable hours we meandered through the market sampling candied salmon, Vietnamese spring rolls, crab chowder and seductively soft doughnuts.
With us was Nick, a young guide who peppered each taster with historical anecdotes about the market and how it has changed over its 103 years in consecutive use. "It was created back in 1907, in response to the high cost of fruit and vegetables," he explained.
The first day Pike Place Market opened was a wet one, not unlike the day we stood beneath an awning listening to the history of the place and trying to avoid raindrops. Local farmers had been intimidated not to show up by produce warehouse owners who didn't like the idea of a public market. So only eight farmers showed up in Seattle's rain. But they were rewarded by the 2,000 locals who came to buy their produce. The rest, as they say, is history.
After a day of culinary adventure it was blissful to retreat to the Willows Lodge in Woodinville, a half-hour's drive from Seattle's downtown core. The west coast-style lodge is a haven of tranquility and warmth, a place where massive fireplaces warm damp shoes and guests mingle with glasses of local wine.
Woodinville has been slowly making a name for itself as an enclave filled with world-class wineries and charm. If the weather cooperates, visitors come here to picnic on the expansive grounds of Chateau Ste. Michelle, just across the road from the Willows Lodge, or to pedal along the Burke Gilman Trail, which follows the contours of the Sammamish River.
We dined on king salmon at the Barking Frog Restaurant, and later, in a brief hiatus from the pelting rain, agreed to a late-night soak in the Willows Lodge Jacuzzi with the kids. The air smelled of sweet cedar, the night was full of mist and cloud and the hot bubbles quickly zapped the chill from our skin. We were three hours from home - but felt gloriously far away.
IF YOU GO:
Savor Seattle Tours offers a two-hour tour of Pike Place Market for $39 per person, five times a day. Visit www.savorseattletours.com and book online or call (888) 98-SAVOR.
Theo Chocolate has daily tours of its factory Monday through Sunday, but reservations are required as the tours fill up fast. Visit www.theochocolate.com or call (206) 632-5100. Tours cost $6 per person.
The Willows Lodge (www.willowslodge.com) has interconnecting rooms appropriate for families, with rates starting at $269 per night. Contact (425) 424 3900 for information.
Photos: Lauren Kramer and Savor Seattle
1. Theo Chocolate: One of the highlights of a tour of Theo Chocolate in Seattle is the opportunity to sample lots of chocolates. Photo credit: Lauren Kramer
2. Scott Throwing Fish: Take a tour of Pike Place Market with Savor Seattle and you get a chance to throw fish yourself! Photo Credit: Savor Seattle
3. Cheese Tasting at Beechers: Savor Seattle's food tours give visitors a chance to sample a variety of foods in and around the market - a miniature meal on foot. Photo Credit: Savor Seattle
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