Monday, April 12, 2010

Back to Basics

If I could have somehow harnessed and bottled the angst I had for my parents moving me to the country at age 12, I could have powered a modest city through at least a moderate winter.  I hated everything about my forced new hometown, and took every opportunity to express my passionate feelings.  Diary scrawl.  Vocal put-downs.  Melancholy sketches in freshman art class.  This sleepy, lifeless town was a prison, and I was itching from the inside out to leave.  I wanted the city full of friends I hadn't yet made, cocktails I wasn't old enough to drink, and an apartment I would never be able to afford. 

By the time I finally did move down to Oregon for college, I couldn't imagine ever wanting to come back for an extended stay again.  My family, separate from the soil on which they stood, was missed dearly.  I've always been incredibly close with them, and so my heart broke the moment they pulled away in the Elizabeth Hall dorm parking lot.  Any kind of longing for "home" the physical, geographical spot has taken the better part of a decade to develop. 

In the last few years, as college and early twenties came and went in a dizzying haze, I've become fond and familiar with my former "penitentiary" in a way I never imagined.  I catch myself gasping as I crest the hill on a clear day and Mt. Rainier is so spectacular and close it's as if I could just drive right up to its sailing peak.  I plan my routes and timing to hit the corner beef farm, the exceptional Puyallup Farmers Market, and crowning Metropolitan Market.  I scheme about the things I could possibly pick up at Marshall's, since they keep the Bonney Lake version ten times neater and nicely stocked than the ghetto locations in Portland metro.

So, when I finally get past the Friday afternoon clusterfuck that is trying to cross the Interstate Bridge into Vancouver at 5 pm, the 3ish-hour drive from Portland to Buckley, Washington seems a little less like a road trip and a little more like a long, extended commute back to real home.  I know the gentle curves of Kalama, I know where traffic likes to bunch before Chehalis, and by the time I'm passing South Hill the route is so natural and ingrained in my psyche it's more familiar than driving up and down past Wilsonville twice a day. 

Normally there is a purpose to the time, gas and money inevitably sacrificed to spend the weekend "away", whether it be a structured event or too far a stretch of time wtihout my mom and dad's physical presence and company.  This weekend it was my good friend Brynne starring in a Tacoma production of Noises Off.  With the show on Saturday night, this left us all day Saturday to enjoy the highlights of the region. 

I didn't have too much I absolutely had to do on this trip.  But there was one nagging obsession that needed to be fed. 

I wanted Taco Time.

Oregonians, you may be saying, wtf.  We have Taco Time right here.   But this is where you are WRONG!  We have THIS Taco Time:

This Taco Time, found throughout Oregon and the Southwestern United States and Canada, is a conglomerate whore owned by the same corporation that runs Coldstone Creamery, Blimpie, and some other shitty counterparts. 

Only in the relatively short stretch from Longview to Bellingham will you find THIS Taco Time:

Split off from its evil twin in the 70's, Taco Time NW dba Taco Time is a completely different restaurant.  Different menu.  Different marketing collateral.  Another example of elevated fast food, where the dollar menu is traded for fresh options that cost more, but leave you not hating yourself after you've gone through the drive-thru.  It's a northern (yet paradoxically southern) counterpart to our Burgerville. 

You can't really go wrong ordering from the Washington Taco Time menu, which features an array of taco salads, low-fat but full-flavor white chicken chili and vegetarian options.  My favorite, classic standby that I crave, however, is the simple Beef Soft Taco combo with Mexi-Fries and a Diet Coke.

There's so little to it.  Lean, liberally-seasoned and finely ground beef.  Lettuce, tomato slices, and grated cheddar cheese.  Drizzled with their unique sour cream, which is thinner than normal sour cream with the faintest kiss of ranch.  I don't know exactly what it is, or who invented it, but it melds the meat and the cheese and the crisp vegetables into a creamy, tortilla-hugged heaven.  Letting the flavorful little drips that fall as you dig in soak into your waiting Mexi-Fries (uh, they're just tater tots)..... yes Virginia, there is a Santa Claus. 

At first, it looked as though my craving might go unfulfilled.  We passed the Bonney Lake Taco Time at around 10:00 in the morning to do some shopping and head into University Village for more consumer recreation.  By the time we were starting to get hungry, we were approaching downtown Seattle and there were no signs of a friendly cactus to guide out way.

"There's a Taco Time on Marginal Way," i.e. the ghetto, my dad read via cell from the internet (we don't got no iPhones, so yes, so 2006), "or in Wallingford." 

"I don't know Wallingford very well," said mom, preparing me for the worst: "you might have to wait until next time you're here to have Taco Time."

Then, as I was just beginning to lose hope, a miracle happened:


Yes, the 4th Avenue Exit on I-5 through downtown was closed for four men to stand around  staring at a hole.  I mean construction.  Faced with a gnarly backup stretching as far as we could see, she quickly exited to get on the back way over the lake.

After winding through industrial South Seattle, past the cruise ship and waterfront and under the tunnel, we emerged in an uber trendier-than-thou street - 42nd.  We passed Seattle culinary behemoth Chanlis, oft-writ Tilth, and arch-artery-enemy Dick's Drive In as University of Washington sorority houses and campus bookstores began to dot the scenery in garish purple and gold. 

No sooner had we passed a green 'Wallingford' sign announcing the district's name than my grandma and I both spotted - "TACO TIME!!!"

I don't think we broke too many traffic laws in our hasty left-turn.  The goodness within was definitely worth it.

All 3 generations of Morse-Jensen-Blankenbillers had the delicious Beef Soft Taco with Mexi Fries and Diet Coke, which I enjoyed just as much as I would have any of the Food Network shout-out darlings along the same road. 

Aside from my soft-taco pilgrimage, the rest of my Seattle shopping was decidedly non food-centric.  I found some new jeans at H&M that were neither too short or too big, the problems plaguing my other pairs.  I went through Pasta & Co. and left empty-handed, as I did with Mrs. Cook's.  A survivalist wave of frugality was weighing heavily on my shoulders, knowing that Chase was probably going to want their mortgage money next week, no matter how beautiful that aqua glazed pedastal bowl would look on my counter.  Fascist bastards. 

With almost-empty hands and stomachs that could always go for a bit more, we opted instead for cupcakes from Trophy.  One of the much-better cupcake bakeries you'll find, with moist cake and earnest flavors that triumphantly topple their more famous Seattle rival Cupcake Royale.  Eww.  Dry sawdust with the least fanciful frosting I've ever seen.  Not that I take sides. 

Grandma chose the ladylike Lemon, with flower petal icing that was literally too pretty to eat.  Mom didn't mess around with the direct Triple Chocolate, and I opted for a taste of my new valley with Chocolate Hazelnut.  The mildly-sweet chocolate icing and cake with the fine crunch of the hazelnuts was made all the better enjoyed in generous warmth and sunshine outside the first LEED-Certified Starbucks.  Cupcakes and pretention.  That's a pretty perfect Seattle day, if you ask me. 

Tomorrow - theater, wine and fish on the bay as I wrap up things North of Eden. 


  1. I shouldn't read your blog while on a diet. A a few seconds ago, I was like, "yum! Salad!" Now I'm all, "Taco! HUNGRY!"

  2. Taco Time is the best! It was great to have you home too!