Actually, my birthday is not until next week, but there's no law stating that you can't start celebrating early.
Ballard is a busy, fun neighborhood in north Seattle. A former haven for working-class Scandanavian immigrants, it has, like most areas, become gentrified and beautified. Whenever this happens (and it happens a lot in Seattle), I do miss the old neighborhood flavors and characters. In the case of Ballard, however, I do not miss walking into a store that reeks of pickled herring and having some 100-year-old Scandanavian lady behind the counter glaring at me because I don't hail from the land of lutefisk.
So with two of my girlfriends, we started off at the awesome Laura Bee Designs (6418 20th Ave. NW) a cute corner storefront just a few blocks north of downtown Ballard. They sell the coolest looking handbags, wallets and other accessories and can create a custom bag for you. You just pick from a wide variety of bag styles, fabrics, colors, trims, etc. It was a bit overwhelming but I ended up ordering a paprika-colored microsuede "Veronica" shoulder bag. It looks a lot like the one in the photo here except that mine will be a little darker red with a perky oval pattern and the strap will be an adjustable dark mesh one so I can sling my bag across my shoulder. (Also, I don't have the kicky yellow boots.) It'll be ready in three weeks and I can't wait! This will be a change from my usual utilitarian black or dark brown bags. I sure am getting wild in my old age.
After all our exertions, we were ready for lunch and headed over to one of my new favorites, La Isla (2320 NW Market St.), for some Puerto Rican comfort food. Garlic and plantains -- Need I say more? We shared the Carne Guisada bowl (beef stew over rice), the Pez Gato Bowl (breaded catfish strips served over arroz con gandules, or rice with pigeon peas) and Pollo Guisado Bowl (tender pulled chicken over rice). The chicken from the latter dish was indeed tender but lacked flavor, something the accompanying garlic sauce was able to remedy. The beef stew was very tender and comforting. The breaded catfish is my favorite: The light coating of seasoned breading enhances the thick chunks of moist fish, and the nutty texture of the accompanying rice went beautifully with it. If I lived near La Isla, I'd probably eat catfish every day. The Jarritos Mexican soda, in a variety of fruit flavors, are pretty tasty, too. They were out of the tamarind flavor that day (sadness) but the pineapple flavor I ordered was light and bubbly and went well with the food.
We finished our outing by going down the street to the very friendly Verite Coffee (2052 NW Market St.) for some seriously good caffeine and a few fresh gourmet cupcakes made by its in-house bakery, Cupcake Royale. I recommend the Lemon Drop and chocolate Peppermint Party flavors. The Lavender cupcakes were gone by the time we ordered but I spotted some freshly frosted ones in the display case upon leaving. Alas, we were all sugared out at that point and decided to save that for another day.
And then we ran out of time so we didn't get to visit some other neat places in Ballard such as the independently owned Secret Garden bookstore, a whole lotta funky little boutiques and my favorite gags/novelty shop, Archie McPhee.
The only thing better than hanging out in Ballard for your birthday is hanging out with good friends, as I did. Their company alone would have been more than enough, but they also bought me lunch, caffeine and cupcakes. They gave me little gifts. They made me laugh. And they gave me tulips!