Wednesday, April 2, 2014

A Bus with a View: San Francisco CA

The view from the Golden Gate Transit stop

Blogging about San Francisco is kind of like writing about the Beatles. 

Much has already been said.

However, during a recent visit, I did enjoy a “new” experience  I took Golden Gate Transit across the world-famous bridge. A friend dropped me off at a scenic stop just south of the toll booths. From there, I took a plush, north-bound bus (the #4 to be exact) loaded with well-heeled commuters to the Manzanita Park and Ride in Marin, where another friend came to retrieve me.

I must say, it was quite an efficient way to cross the bridge at rush hour – and not a bad way to enjoy the spectacular view.

Tuesday, March 11, 2014

A More Perfect Doughnut: Portland OR

Pip's Owner Nate Snell (right) and employee on a busy morning

Much has already been written about Pip's Original Doughnuts, a small shop on NE Fremont in Portland, Oregon. They've garnered quite a bit of press, and for good reason. 

Pip's has carved out a delicious niche making exquisite little doughnuts. There’s been some talk about whether these little rounds of perfectly fried dough should actually be called beignets. It really doesn’t matter to me what they're called. What does matter is that they rock. But for sake of discussion, I’ll describe them as an elevated take on the traditional doughnut.

Believe me – I’ve torn into more than one bear claw in my day and scarfed my fair share of maple bars. But given the opportunity to enjoy these daintier, more refined doughnuts, I’m all over it. I believe that has a lot to do with their subtly combined flavors. 

Clockwise from top: Meyer Lemon Pear, Nutella, Cinnamon/Sugar, and Honey and Sea Salt doughnuts

I ordered a sampling of four: Meyer Lemon Pear, Nutella, Cinnamon/Sugar, and Honey and Sea Salt. They were all delicious, but, for me, the standout flavor was Honey and Sea Salt  possibly the best fried-dough-thing I’ve ever had (and that includes the beignets at CafĂ© Du Monde in New Orleans). I’m no food critic, but the high-quality honey combined with the just-salty-enough sea salt is sublime. 

Pip's definitely qualifies as a Portland foodie destination, and it’s great place to take out-of-towners that like sweets. Plus, the owner was friendly! No hipster attitude here – just awesome doughnuts.

Pip's Original Doughnuts
4759 NE Fremont #C
Portland, OR  97213

Tuesday, March 4, 2014

Oregon Garden: Silverton OR

Call me kooky, but I sought out a botanical garden in winter when nothing was growing. Why? Because the weather was spring-like – and so what if the only thing missing were actual flowers?

But seriously, I do find that public gardens (not unlike popular European cities) are better in winter. No crowds, plus during the offseason, you can enjoy the quiet architectural quality of the place rather than the amped-out postcard version. Which is why when the temperature climbed into the high 50s last week, I hit the Oregon Garden in Silverton.

Due to the lack of blooms, the helpful chap at the front desk steered me toward the conifer garden, which looks impressive year-round. Actually, it is pretty darn magical. There’s a wide variety of evergreens ranging from small and cute to large and looming. Some of my favorite trees were the more imposing ones that looked like they were around when dinosaurs roamed the earth. Against the sun and blue sky, they were quite striking.

I was glad for my starkly beautiful late winter garden experience – since something tells me it will be a very different scene on a sunny Sunday in May.

Oregon Garden 
879 W. Main St. 
Silverton, OR, 97381

Sunday, March 2, 2014

Food for Thought #2

How often I found where I should be going only by setting out for somewhere else.

R. Buckminster Fuller

Wednesday, February 26, 2014

Foster & Dobbs Shout-Out: Portland OR

Last Friday my happy hour plans dropped out at the last minute. Deflated but not deterred, I was determined to have that end-of-week drink I was so looking forward to.

Since I was alone, I felt like going someplace low-key with a little atmosphere, preferably close by. I also needed a bottle of wine to bring to a friend’s house later that evening. So, I decided on Foster & Dobbs, a charming wine and cheese shop located in Irvington, a genteel upscale northeast Portland neighborhood. 

Shortly after arriving, I ordered a glass of French red described on the wine list as “rustic,” “old world" and “Syrah.” (All good words to have in one sentence, in my opinion.) The attentive person behind the counter served me up pronto – and quite a generous pour, I might add.

And since I was flying solo that afternoon, I didn’t want an entire cheese plate for myself. So they actually made me a special mini cheese plate with just a few slices, and followed up with a sparkling carafe full of water.

Now, none of this may sound extraordinary, but there have been moments in this oh-so-food-and-drink-conscious town that I was left waiting, or having to ask multiple times for simple things  especially if I was alone. Special requests in particular, although dutifully fulfilled, have often been met with a stony glare. Which is why I'm taking take this opportunity to sing the praises of Foster & Dobbs.

Thanks to Foster & Dobb's gracious ways, I tucked myself into their bar area (complete with a view of stately Irvington homes), and settled into my hefty glass of wine and flavorful cheese, and proceeded to have the happiest of happy hours all by myself.

Foster & Dobbs
2518 NE 15th Avenue
Portland, OR  97212

Tuesday, February 11, 2014

Vineyard and Valley Scenic Byway: Helvetia OR

It was a bone-chillingly cold, but wonderfully sunny winter morning. An Artic storm was less than 24 hours away – and I knew I’d be homebound (along with the rest of western Oregon) for the next several days.

A quick scenic drive to appreciate the dazzlingly clear conditions seemed like a good idea. So I hopped onto the Travel Oregon website and, using their handy tool, selected the Vineyard and Valley Scenic Byway, which takes you through rural Tualatin Valley, including the charming community of Helvetia.

Check out a few images from the road in the slide show above.

Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Whole-Grain Goodness at Bakeshop: Portland OR

A couple of years ago a friend introduced me to an unusual and tasty scone. It wasn’t exactly sweet, and it wasn’t exactly savory – but something pleasantly in between. It was firm, but not dry, and had a rugged sort of quality. The shape was different, too. It was a spiral, kind of like a thin cinnamon roll and not the usual clumpy triangle.

Clearly, this was not your average scone. It was better – much better. 

Back at home: Bakeshop's Figgy Buckwheat Scones 
await tea time

I've since learned that what I sampled on that fateful day was a Figgy Buckwheat Scone made by Bakeshop, a wholesale and retail bakery located on NE Sandy Blvd., near 53rd in Portland, Ore. (Fortunately, Bakeshop isn't far from my abode, so the Figgy Buckwheat Scone just might become part of my daily routine.)

Bakeshop owner Kim Boyce prepares croissant dough

Bakeshop is the creation of Kim Boyce, an accomplished L.A. pastry chef who relocated to Portland 2-1/2 years ago for the same reasons as many creative people – an environment supportive of independent businesses that produce high-quality goods, combined with an appealing lifestyle.

Bakeshop has a cheery, stripped-down industrial feel – a simple white retail counter fronts a view into the baking area. On the chilly February morning I was there, Kim was kind enough to break away from her croissant dough laminator and chat with me about what gives her baked goods their distinctive flavor. When I confessed my fascination with the Figgy Buckwheat Scone, she proceeded to explain to me in layman’s terms what I was tasting.

A selection of Bakeshop's pastries

Basically, Kim uses whole-grain flour, which creates texture and a depth of flavors not found in white flour. She also goes easy on the sugar – sweetness is not the dominant thing with her creations, which allows the deeper, richer flavors of the whole-grain flour to come through.

And so my original experience with the Figgy Buckwheat Scone all began to make sense: the rough-hewn but elegant appearance, the not-quite-sweet-meets-not-quite-savory taste. In true Portland style, Bakeshop has clearly struck the perfect balance between rustic and refined.

5351 NE Sandy Blvd.
Portland, OR  97213