Friday, December 23, 2011

A Christmas Moment at Food Front: Portland OR

I hate to admit it, but due to some brutal work deadlines that fall right around Christmas every year, combined with the usual stresses of the season, I head into December with a deep sense of foreboding. Instead of mistletoe hanging over my head – there’s a dark cloud of anxiety and dread.

But every year, it never fails that when I need it most, I have what I fondly refer to as my “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” moment. That’s when something genuinely non-commercial and authentic slices through my bah-humbuggery, like a sharp knife through a Honey Baked Ham, and I feel the yuletide glow.

This year, a co-worker (who was slaving away on the same deadline as me) suggested I take a break and check out the employee-made gingerbread houses on display at the Food Front grocery store near our office. As a card-carrying member of the Food Front co-op, I felt it was my duty to go see them, and indeed, it was worth the visit. Each department had built their own little house, and each was cute as a button and had it’s own personality.

And seeing them lined up in a neat little row on that dry, sunny, December afternoon brought a much-needed smile to my face. Once again, my “Merry Christmas, Charlie Brown!” moment had arrived.

Food Front

2375 NW Thurman St. 

Portland, Oregon 97210

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Limo-ing to Wine Country: Newberg OR

God bless my friend Peggy. She’s a planner, and I’m pretty sure I wouldn’t have much of a social life if not for her. Recently she hustled a small group of us to take a limo to wine country. I know what you’re thinking ... limos ... bachelorette parties ... prom night ...

Our limo driver standing by
Yes, you’re right. Limos are cheesy. But they’re kind of fun in a cheesy sort of way, and they sure beat mini vans. In fact, being inside one felt more like being on a plane. You know, you’re not in control of your mode of transportation, and your supposed to be comfortable, but you’re really not. (Which, by the way, is no reflection on our driver). And anyway, we were attempting to be “responsible adults” by not drinking and driving.

So, off we limo-ed. To add to the cheese factor, one of the gang brought along their Hall and Oates Greatest Hits CD to play on the way. Now I really was going to the prom.

Just so you know, I’m not even going to attempt to review the wines. (Would you really trust someone’s taste in wine that was singing along with a Hall and Oates CD?)

Our first stop was Carlton Cellars, which has lovely grounds and some tasty, affordable wines. Lots of Pinot Noir as you would expect. I’m not a huge Pinot fan (I know – I’m living in the wrong state) but it was fun to try them.

Penner-Ash tasting room

Then we hit Penner-Ash, Adelshiem and Bergstrom, in that order. Penner-Ash has a casual-yet-chic contemporary tasting room with lots of light, which made for a pleasing experience.

As for Adelshiem, I found it a tad overpriced, starting with the $15 tasting and the $78 Pinots. But then again, we were the riff-raff in the limo belting out 70s pop tunes, so maybe it just wasn’t a good fit.

Bergstrom - the view
Bergstrom was a group favorite. It was a pretty setting, and the wine seemed within reach. The staff was friendly, too, and even helped us play with a wine aroma chart. We all tried really hard to identify underlying scents like “wet leaves” and “diesel”, with varying degrees of success.

After four wineries, our wino – uh – I mean limo time was running low, so we headed back to Portland. We all agreed that despite the cheese factor, it did feel good to slump down in a limousine like bratty rock stars and leave the driving to someone else.

Carlton Cellars
30 West Monroe Street
Carlton, Oregon 97111

15771 NE Ribbon Ridge Road
Newberg, OR 97132

16800 NE Calkins Ln
Newberg, OR 97132

Bergstrom Wines
18215 NE Calkins Lane
Newberg, OR 97132

Interstate Limo

Saturday, November 26, 2011

Kindle Kart: Portland OR

When you work in the same neighborhood for over ten years, you tend to get very excited when a new place to eat appears on the scene. This happened about a week ago. During my all-too-familiar lunch walk to fetch some predictable grub, I spied a food cart near Montgomery Park, and felt compelled to check it out.

As it turns out, this wasn’t any old food cart. It was the Kindle Kart, which serves “wood-fired street fare” including a variety of designer pizzas, plus burgers, brisket and pomme frites.

Wow! Talk about a great way to beat the workday lunch blues. I immediately ordered a pizza topped with blue cheese, caramelized onion and enough roasted garlic to keep the vampires at bay. It was a toasty and savory midweek treat to be sure. And on that fine fall day, I even got to enjoy it outside.

Kindle Kart
NW 26th & Vaughn,
next to Montgomery Park

Monday, November 7, 2011

Hot Salsa: Portland OR

Gee whiz – I think I’m on a bit of a Latin kick. I just find so many aspects of the culture appealing. (Probably because I’m such a Gringa.) Food, drink … and now dance. That’s how last Friday I found myself stepping into Paradise Studio for a beginner’s Salsa lesson.

At this entry level lesson, we were instructed on the basics of Rueda de Casino, a style of Salsa that originated in Cuba. To start, our teacher Tom, had us form a circle of alternating men and women, and face our partner.

He then coached us on how to execute the foundation step of the dance, called Guapea (Left-Right-Left-Pause-Right-Left-Right-Pause). It is fairly easy – and important – to get Guapea down, since it is the step onto which all other moves are added.

Once you master this basic step, the music kicks in and new moves are introduced, which “the caller” (in this case our teacher) announced at quick intervals. These moves can be rhythmic like “un fly” which calls for a single clap, or playfully flirty like hip-bumps, or even the occasional air-kiss. For sake of comparison, I found this style of Salsa to be almost a Latin version of square dancing – where the dancers keep moving and partners keep switching.

I’ve been meaning to do this for a while, and wasn’t quite sure what to expect. But I am happy to report that if you're single, and are a bit squeamish about anything that smacks of being a “singles” activity – this does not. The emphasis is on learning the dance, meeting new people, and having fun. Of course, there are social opportunities (wink-wink, nudge-nudge) but not in an uncomfortable or overbearing way. Another great thing is that you can show up alone. This time I went with a friend, but have no qualms about going solo next time.

And yes, there will be a next time.

Paradise Dance Studio
826 SE Belmont St
Portland, OR 97214

Monday, October 24, 2011

Tea Time at Pike Place: Seattle WA

I love my hairdresser.

And not just for his masterful cut and color – but for his spot-on travel trips. His name is Marciano, and he’s a very sophisticated fellow, originally from Paraguay. (Prior to doing hair, he worked for the United Nations.)

During a recent visit to his home, I admired a painting his partner had done. He explained it depicted a package of Yerba Mate tea from Paraguay. Coincidently, my Seattle-based friend had just introduced me to Yerba Mate. I must say … I found it to be somewhat “experiential”, if you know what I mean. Sort of like the mescal of the tea family.

I shared my findings with Marciano, and he agreed. (And he’s been drinking it all his life!) He also told me if I was interested in authentic Yerba Mate, that I needed to check out El Mercado Latino located in Pike Place Market. It is here you can find Pajarito, the brand with the bird, direct from Paraguay.

So a couple of weeks ago when I was up in Seattle, my Yerba Mate-drinking buddy and I ambled around Pike Place Market and finally found El Mercado Latino. We were both impressed at the selection of Yerba Mate from all over South America. Plus, the store was stocked with loads of other good things including a variety of hot sauces, vibrant dried chiles and exotic candies.

Feeling generous, I treated my friend to a small package of Pajarito. (Apparently it's less expensive than what she’s been was buying, so she was happy to find a new source.) After sampling the brew when we returned home, she agreed that it had quite the kick.

Once again, my hairdresser had steered me right. This time to the little bird that packs a punch.

El Mercado Latino
1514 Pike Place (at Post Alley)
Seattle, WA 98101

Friday, October 7, 2011

Salt and Chocolate, A Dynamic Duo:
Portland OR

Is salt this year’s chocolate? Or, vice-versa?

I’m not sure, but I don’t think it’s an either/or situation. And anyway, salt and chocolate are both always in style. And they seem to like to hang out together – not just at The Meadow, but also at Ruby Jewel, the very Portlandy, artisanal ice cream shop (which, by the way, is conveniently located next door to The Meadow on Mississippi Avenue).

All of Ruby Jewel’s flavors are fabulous, and sometimes down-right sophisticated (like the Lemon Cookie and Honey Lavender ice cream sandwich).

Oh but then...there's the Caramel with Salted Dark Chocolate. Wow! This flavor really takes sweet n’ salty to new heights. Hefty chunks of salted caramel are embedded throughout dreamy dark (but not bitter) chocolate ice cream. I highly recommend you enjoy this flavor in a freshly pressed waffle cone (also made on the premises). It’s the perfect crunchy delivery vehicle for this particular flavor. Don’t deny yourself this part of the experience, please!

Plain and simple, Ruby Jewel ice cream is a great dessert.

It’s great for dinner, too, if you catch my drift.

Ruby Jewel Scoop Shop
3713 North Mississippi Avenue,
Portland, OR 97227

Sunday, September 25, 2011

The Meadow, A Foodie’s Field of Dreams:
Portland OR

I belong to a supper club that gets together about once a month to prepare a meal. The host sets a theme and we all bring a dish. This time the theme was Spain, and because I’m the weakest cook in the bunch, I’m always in search of the perfect easy recipe. In this case, I made prawns with olive oil which called for some fancy-pants salt. Well, this just thrilled me because it gave me a reason to go to one of my all-time favorite stores in Portland, The Meadow.

The Meadow sells chocolate, wine, bitters, and is well-known for its expansive gourmet salt collection. You’ve just got to love a store that in a deep recession dares to sell only small fancy food items – and manages to not only survive – but thrive! But if you think about it … it makes perfect sense. I mean, as far as I’m concerned, these are the essential building blocks of “the good life”.

Beside enjoying the merchandise, you can also visit The Meadow solely for its aesthetics. Located on the ever-increasingly hip Mississippi Avenue, the tiny store feels like someplace you might happen upon while exploring the side streets of Paris. Let’s just say “charming” is an understatement.

Thank God places like The Meadow exist. It’s a foray into a world of luscious items you don’t really need ... but once you enter, you wonder how you ever lived without them.

The Meadow
3731 N. Mississippi Avenue

Portland, OR 97227

Monday, August 1, 2011

A Sunday Drive: Canby OR

Part 1: Dahlia Dalliance
One drizzly Sunday in July (summer had taken a hike) I decided rather than stay home and curse the skies, to take a drive. My semi-aimless trajectory led me to Canby, Oregon where I happened upon Swan Island Dahlias. According to their website, Swan Island Dahlias is the “Nations Leading and Largest Dahlia Grower”. Who knew?

I wandered through the rows where the blooms were just starting to kick in. Very nice, but by far the most entertaining thing were the names of the plants, which included “Hot Cakes”, “She Devil”, – and get this – “Blah Blah Blah”.

I paused to ponder the true meaning behind the Blah Blah Blah dahlia, then scraped together a few bucks, paid honor-system style for a bunch of the big, luscious flowers, and set off.

Sunday Drive Part 2: Magic Ferry Ride
After leaving the dahlia zone, I saw a cute little sign for the Canby Ferry, which I heard about but had never experienced. And people, let me say this: it’s things like this that make Oregon great. I mean, it’s not many places that you can just stumble upon a ferry from the early 20th century (1914 to be exact). Really, it’s a little slice of Americana that you actually can drive onto and ride. I know it’s a real functioning ferry – but it felt more like a big giant toy boat that takes you across a scenic corner of the Willamette. I’ll be taking this ferry again, and next time I’ll bring my parasol for the occasion.

A jaunt to Swan Island Dahlias topped off with a real ferry excursion was a great way to shake off the dreary weather. It’s also the perfect quickie site-seeing excursion for out-of-towners who want to experience something quaint.

Swan Island Dahlias
995 NW 22nd Ave
Canby, OR 97013

Historic Canby Ferry
Holly Street (Eastside) and Mountain Road (West)
Canby, Oregon 97013
503.650.3030 (24 hr recording)

Thursday, July 14, 2011

A Little Bit of Luxury: Palos Verdes CA

I’m not really the fancy resort type, which is probably a good thing, because for the most part, I can’t afford them.

Having said that, far be it from me not to partake in a fancy resort when the chance presents itself. And so, during my last trip to the South Bay in LA, I took a tip from my sister (who has a nose for all things luxurious) and headed out to the Terranea Resort on the Palos Verdes Peninsula. Of course, this being LA, it's no surprise that this tastefully designed Mediterranean environment (with a vaguely eco-friendly feel) boasts an entertainment pedigree. It sits squarely on prime ocean front real estate that was once Marineland, where the beloved TV show, Sea Hunt, starring Lloyd Bridges, was filmed.

The Nelson burger

In fact, Lloyd Bridges’ character, Nelson, is the namesake of one of the lovely restaurants at Terranea, which has stunning views of the Pacific Ocean and tasty food. I went for the burger, which was nicely presented and satisfying.

Besides the restaurant, there are mini hiking paths that meander along the cliffs and the expected glamourous pool, spa and golf course. And let's not forget the golf carts that can take you to and from your valet parked car! (The ultimate “I’m at a real resort” touch in my humble opinion.)

A cliff-hugging path beckons

It’s comforting to know that in these lean times, if you can’t afford a ten-day luxe vacation, you can at least afford a luxe afternoon – all for the price of an upscale burger!

Terranea Resort
100 Terranea Way
Rancho Palos Verdes, CA 90275

Friday, July 8, 2011

Biker Bar: Portland OR

Wowee! June came and went without a post. (Shame on me!) A hectic month indeed, although I did manage to get out with the gals for a lovely bike ride along Portland’s Marine Drive. This well-known path is a favorite training ride for many. No stops for miles, so you can really stretch out and cruise.

Marine Drive bike path

OK, so nice ride. But for me, as with most rides, it’s also about stopping to refuel. After heading out and back to Blue Lake Park, we stopped at the Sextant Bar and Galley, which one could affectionately refer to as a dive. But what a great dive it is! Mainly because it has this terrific deck with quite the view of the Columbia River. And best of all, it’s fine to clomp in there all sweaty in your biking shoes and gear and no one cares.

Girls on deck

If you want to know about the food, it’s pretty much forgettable pub grub, so not much to say here. Except that one friend wisely requested “real" cheese on her nachos, instead of the kind that squirts out of a pump.

Like I said – it’s about the deck.

Sextant Bar and Galley
4035 NE Marine Dr.
Portland, OR 97211

Saturday, May 21, 2011

A Short Stretch – SR 47:
Northern Willamette Valley OR

One fine Sunday morning, my dear friend Kathleen (of Good Stuff NW fame) took me for a spin in her snappy red Mini Cooper, and we set out for the nearby Northern Willamette Valley. When folks head out this way, they often hit 99W – a popular highway packed with large commercial wineries. But we decided to take SR 47, the road less traveled, and that made all the difference.

Kathleen and her Mini
And what a charming road it was. Not much traffic, with a gently rolling landscape composed of farms and vineyards, and the occasional picturesque barn. Quite the pleasant Sunday drive – and only about an hour from Portland proper.

Scenic SR 47

Being Sunday morning and all, we weren’t up for too much drinking, but we did check out the Carlton Winemakers Studio where you can sample several different artisan wines by local winemakers. And the space is lovely – open and airy and loft-like with lots of light. Plus, there’s a nice, spacious deck out back. If you plan ahead, you can bring a picnic and hang out all afternoon.

Tasters at the studio

One suggestion: If you do visit and want to do some serious tasting, make sure to bring your own snacks. When we were there, they didn’t have any bread or cheese on hand (which would of been nice, since this is wine tasting, after all). But we roughed, it and managed just fine without palette-cleansing treats.

After a bit of sipping, we hopped into the Mini and buzzed back to Portland lickity-split, and still had plenty of our Sunday left to savor.

Carlton Winemakers Studio
801 N. Scott Street
Carlton, OR 97111

Tuesday, May 10, 2011

Good Mexican Food, Good Mexican Names: Portland OR

It was a warm Saturday afternoon, and the long-awaited first true Spring day had arrived. EVERYONE was out and about. So, a friend and I took to the joyfully crowded streets in search of food.

We found ourselves in the Hawthorne District, and wandered past Por Que No, a tasty upscale taqueria that prides itself on authentic Mexican food. But on this sunny Saturday, it was way too crowded and the line was out the door. (Better to hit it on a weekday anyway, right before the lunch and dinner rush. The moles are great.)

Popular Por Que No

Although Por Que No was packed to the gills, as fate would have it – in a moment of Isabelle Allende-like magical realism – a humble Mexican food cart appeared across the adjacent parking lot, just in the nick of time.

Newly launched by husband and wife team Nestor and Christine, this food cart is part of a new food cart “pod” located on Southeast Hawthorne at 46th. The food was tasty enough, and easy on the wallet. (We especially enjoyed the eggplant tacos at $1.50 a pop.)

Open for business

Aside from the cheap eats, the most interesting thing about this place was the name, which Nestor tells me was his wife’s idea. Apparently, it’s quite provocative by Mexican history standards.

Depending on who you ask, La Malinche, an indigenous woman that was a mistress of Cortes, is either a heroine in the same league as Sacagawea, or a complete traitor and a harlot. It’s a fascinating piece of Mexican lore, and worth a Wikipedia visit if you care to learn more.

Por Que No
4635 SE Hawthorne Blvd.
Portland, OR 97215

La Malinche
SE Hawthorne at 46th Avenue
Portland, OR 97215

Thursday, April 14, 2011

Twin Peaks Revisited: Mount Si WA

Just because I read the Sunday New York Times Travel section doesn’t mean I have to do what it says.

Especially when it implies (as it did a couple of weeks ago) that you shouldn’t avoid going someplace just because it’s scary and dangerous. So, last weekend, instead of seeking the undiscovered pleasures of Libya, or the northeast coast of Japan, I hopped on Interstate 5 and drove three hours north to visit a friend in Seattle. On Saturday we got our city fix, but on Sunday she suggested we head 30 miles east and hike Mount Si, just a hop, skip, and jump from Seattle proper.

Mossy Mount Si

At Mount Si, we hit the trail with good intentions, but due to melting snow pack, we turned around before we reached the top. (Note to Self: when hiking in early spring, leave the light hikers at home and wear the heavy-duty hiking boots.) Despite the slush and mud, we did manage to get a sense of the trail. In my unscientific opinion, it has a quasi prehistoric Northwest rainforesty feel (i.e. lots of big gnarly moss-covered trees and ferns.)

I’d definitely attempt this hike again on a drier day. Although something tells me it’s not the trail for a warm, sunny, weekend. Since it’s so close to Seattle, I bet it gets pretty crowded.

After we had our fill of tromping through mud, ferns, and melting snow, we explored the surrounding town of North Bend, WA. Apparently, North Bend has the dubious distinction of having been used as a backdrop for Twin Peaks, David Lynch’s surreal TV series from the early 1990s. Although it was a moody, overcast day, North Bend feels more cozy than creepy, and there were no finger-snapping dwarves to be seen.

For me, the town’s stand-out feature was Scott’s Dairy Freeze, which has been around since the 1950s. It’s managed to retain an old-school ice cream stand/burger joint look that is getting harder and harder to find. I just had to order a soft serve in honor of their great sign. And you know what? A small cone was only a dollar (also hard to find). I found this delightfully refreshing after all that artisan gelato I’ve inhaled at $3.50 a scoop.

Scott's Dairy Freeze

It’s a fun little package – this quaint town, with its twin peaks and soft serve ice cream. I look forward to next time, when I’ll hike to the top, check out the view and reward myself with a root beer float.

Scott's Dairy Freeze Ice Cream
234 East North Bend Way
North Bend, WA 98045

Saturday, April 9, 2011

Dare to Bare: Popina Swimwear, Portland OR

Portland is more like a town than a city, and in this neck of the woods, six degrees of separation is more like two. That’s how through a mutual friend I came to know Pam and Will Levenson, owners of Popina Swimwear. Truth be told, I was eyeing Popina’s well-designed, retro-inspired swimwear long before I met this dynamic duo. Cruising through one of their stores or surfing their website will make even the most swim-wear adverse want to buy something.

Popina, Eastside location
Ladies – I HIGHLY recommend checking out Popina. The suits are adorable, and thanks to Pam’s exquisite design skills, they have a certain classic modesty that personally, I find very appealing. Plus, the sporty, amphibious designs lend themselves to both aquatic and non-aquatic activities.

In particular, I absolutely LOVE the Popina swim skirt, and finally purchased one. It’s so stylish and versatile. You can pull it over your suit – or heck – just swim in it! Ladies, in my humble opinion, the swim skirt has the potential to banish the cellulite conversation forever. I can already picture myself proclaiming, “Yes, waiter, I WILL have the Fettuccine Alfredo. Bring it on, because I’ve got a swim skirt!”

A cute little ensemble
Besides the array of suits and swim skirts, other stylish items found at Popina include adorable, high-quality flip-flops, and bathing caps dotted with flowers (the kind mom wore in the pool while doing the breast stroke, remember?) It’s true ... everything you’ll need for that Caribbean cruise (or maybe just a trip to the local beach) is right here.

Popina Swimwear (Eastside)
4831 NE 42nd Avenue
Portland, OR 97218

Popina Swimwear (Pearl District)
318 NW 11th Avenue
Portland, OR 97209

Sunday, March 13, 2011

Near Beer: Portland OR

Boy, talk about not having to venture out too far for a good time. On this particular rainy afternoon, my friend and neighbor Amy and I wandered up to our 'hood – Beaumont Village – and found ourselves in Bottles, a recently-opened bar that specializes in all kinds of craft beer on tap, and of course, in bottles. (Duh!)

Friend Amy hanging at Bottles

After bellying up to the bar, we were warmly greeted by one of the owners, Brant Kunze. While pouring Amy a tasty IPA and me a crisp Pilsner, he shared a bit of the Bottles story. Here’s the short version:

Brant and two of his buddies wanted to open a “nice” bar that served quality beer. The place would cater to not only bohemian hipsters, and not only the sports bar crowd, but to regular neighborhood folks (just like us!) So, they pooled their savings, ditched their apartments, moved into Brandt’s basement, and proceeded to do a year of “research”, which consisted of hitting almost every brew pub and bar in town. They studied the clientele and scoped out potential locations, taking copious notes and sampling copious amounts of beer along the way.

Bottles owner Brant Kunze

Out of their determined efforts, Bottles was born.

We were so taken by this success story that we just HAD to sample the food. We decided to go for it and order the “rib pile” (oink!) served with a side and some chips. And before I forget, did I mention the grill and the smoker out front? It's fired up Tuesday through Sunday, and produces pulled pork, grilled wings, as well as the smoked ribs. (Get um’ while they last. The grub runs out around 8:00 PM.)

The smokin' smoker and grill

Two plates of ribs and two pints each later, we realized we had killed most of the afternoon at Bottles. Is there a better way to spend a rain-soaked Sunday? I think not.

We’ll be back.

5015 NE Fremont
Portland, OR 97213

Saturday, February 19, 2011

Cross Country Ski Patrol: Mt. Hood OR

When it comes to cross-country skiing, I am a perpetual advanced beginner, so I like to go to places that are groomed regularly, aren’t too steep and are pet-free (sorry dog-owner buddies). That’s why my cross-country skiing venues of choice are the Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center and Teacup.

The wintry meadow

The Mt. Hood Meadows Nordic Center is usually my first trip of the season. It’s kind of the miniature golf of cross-country skiing. No need to worry about getting lost in the backcountry here! Just plenty of well-groomed terrain that loops around in a non-intimidating way. If you’re up for a modest climb, there’s a small waterfall worth checking out. There’s also “the meadow”, a wide-open area where you can really get your “kick-and-glide” grove on (and a great place to knock back a nip of Schnapps). Weather permitting, you can even have a little picnic.

A Teacup trail

Teacup is a bit more challenging, but still manageable. Again, lots of groomed trails and nice winter vistas. Even better is I've never experienced a crowd – only the occasional swoosh of fellow cross-country and skate-skiers.

Pack a lunch, because at Teacup, there’s also a warming hut where you can hunker down around a fire. Teacup is maintained by volunteer organizations so make sure to bring about $8.00 cash for the honor-system donation.

The warming hut awaits

A Few Ski Tips:

If you leave in the morning before 10:00 AM, for both Mt. Hood Meadows and Teacup, take Hwy. 35 on the way up. That way you avoid the Portland ski bus traffic on Hwy. 26.

Remember to purchase a Sno-Park pass (daily and seasonal passes are available)

To keep the muscles warm, bring a flask of something warm, yummy and spiked. I recommend hot chocolate with peppermint schnapps, or spiced apple cider with Tuaca. (Really, the liquor store dude told me this was good – and he was right!)

And if you need a reasonably priced flask, you can find one at Edelwiess, an authentic German deli in Portland.

Saturday, February 5, 2011

A Bitchin’ Beach Motel: Hermosa Beach CA

Whenever I visit LA, I often find myself at Hermosa Beach, a place which holds many fun memories from my youth.

Once my sister and I hit our teens, being Valley Girls, our ultimate goal was to rub shoulders with the much cooler types who always seemed to be at the beach. Finally, our parents succumbed to peer pressure and we hit the sandy beaches of Hermosa for the family vacation. Our lodgings were The Sea Sprite Motel, an iconic beach motel with a location that was – and still is – totally bitchin’. Like, right on the strand and next to the Hermosa Pier. (A primo place to watch surfers, I might add). Needless to say, my sis and I were stoked. As far as we were concerned, we were in St. Tropez.

Iconic Sea Sprite Motel
It was great to check back in with the Sea Sprite and think back to those hot August afternoons of long ago – of surf and sun, and the wafting scent of Bain de Soleil (for the St. Tropez tan, remember?) And lets not forget the surfer dudes!

It's comforting to know that a total immersion So Cal experience can still be had simply by booking a room at the Sea Sprite. If you visit, go for the ocean view if you can. For an added splash of fun, rent a beach cruiser at Hermosa Beach Cyclery, and hit the strand. A relatively flat ride will take you to the beaches of Redondo, Manhattan, and beyond.

The Sea Sprite Motel
1016 The Strand
Hermosa Beach, CA 90254

Monday, January 24, 2011

Historic and Haunted: Port Townsend WA

How a weekend getaway turned into a real life ghost story.


It was not a dark and stormy night.

In fact, it was the longest day of the year, and I had taken a Summer Solstice jaunt to the historic seaside town of Port Townsend, staying in what appeared to be a charming Victorian hotel on the main drag.

The Palace Hotel
(photo credit: The Palace Hotel)
After a 4 1/2 hour drive, I walked into the main lobby of The Palace Hotel – sun blazing a trail in the late summer afternoon sky, and immediately asked the front desk clerk (Bob), “Are you going to tell me this hotel is haunted?”

And why did I blurt out this odd question? Because the main lobby had a strange kind of filmy feeling – as if a layer of gauze or a veil was laid over it.

Before I continue, I must digress. I have stayed in numerous “historic” B&B’s by myself, both here and abroad. I have also been in countless older homes for my job at Rejuvenation – and I have never encountered a place quite like this.

OK, now back to the story.

In regards to my question, Bob gives a nervous chuckle and tells me the hotel “does have an interesting past” (seaport brothel). In a half-hearted attempt at transparency, he offers me the hotel’s “binder” which contains guest reviews.

For reasons I can’t fully explain (the reoccurring theme of the weekend) I tell Bob I’m not up for the binder, and that I’d prefer to remain objective. Bob then asks if I’d mind paying up front. And again, for reasons I can’t fully explain, I tentatively hand over my credit card and commit to my stay at The Palace Hotel.


I follow Bob as he scurries up the main staircase which is presided over by a large portrait – “The Lady in Blue” – and plants my small suitcase in Room 4, Miss Claire’s room.

The Lady in Blue
a.k.a Miss Claire
(photo credit: KOMO News)
Despite its tawdry past, Miss Claire’s room is airy and bright. I enter, but immediately freeze in my tracks. The vibe overwhelms me. It feels like something is in the room – but I can’t see it. More specifically, it feels like a patch of sad energy gently hovering overhead – kind of like an invisible, clinically-depressed blimp.

My first instinct is to bolt, but after a few minutes of self-talk (there is NOTHING WRONG with this room, Laurie) I decide to stay. To get the weekend off to the right start, I send “the presence” a telepathic greeting (no joke). Something to the effect of “Hey Miss Claire, you seem kind of down, and I’m sorry about that, and I know this is your room, and I’ll be a really good roommate." I hit the telepathic “send” button and start to unpack.

Usually, for work purposes, I would take pictures in a historic hotel, but I decide not to use my camera (or for that matter, turn on the TV), fearing the camera flash or electronic devices might trigger a paranormal event. (Again, no joke.)

And now, I am truly beginning to grasp the Victorian concept of “going mad."

“Shake it off,” I tell myself. I pull myself back from the brink, buck up and head out to dinner. After a lovely meal and a healthy dose of wine at The Silverwater Café, I head back to Room 4. With the table lamp on, I go to sleep. Thankfully, the night is uneventful.


Saturday morning arrives, and summer light floods the room early. “How ironic,” I think, “my own little version of The Shining.” I get up and do a gut-check on the room. I feel Miss Claire is not present. Perhaps she’s out running errands. (Do ghosts run errands?)

Room 4, Miss Claire's boudoir
(photo credit: The Palace Hotel)

I head out for a day of sightseeing, and make sure to leave the room extra tidy, thinking that if Miss Claire moves anything while I’m out, I’ll be able to tell. I return later that afternoon after an invigorating bike ride to Fort Worden. The room feels normal. I breathe a sigh of relief and relax, and start to get ready to go out for an early dinner. Although at this point, I'm trying my best to apply makeup while NOT looking in the mirror, since I know from childhood slumber parties that mirrors and apparitions go hand-in-hand. (Mary Worth, are you listening?)

And wouldn’t you know! While primping, the closed door to my room pops open – in that scary movie kind of way – creaky sound effect and all. “Hmmmm,” I think to myself, “pretty sure that was closed.” I shrug it off and attribute it to an old building with old locks. I continue to blindly apply mascara, when suddenly, I feel something behind me.

So now I break out in goose bumps, quickly brush my hair and leave. “She’s back,” I think, “so I’ll just let her have the room to herself for a few hours.”

I fear I am starting to lose it.

Dinner is another lovely meal at the The Silverwater Café washed down with two very large glasses of wine. After taking in some live music and knocking back another stiff drink, I feel fortified and ready to return to Miss Claire’s room. “One more night,” I say to myself.

It’s still twilight when I return, but I decide to turn in early. I switch on the table lamp, get into bed, pull the covers over my head, and hope for the best. I drift off.

Fast forward a few hours. I’m sound asleep – that is, until the locked door once again mysteriously pops open. I sit bolt upright in bed and say loudly, “Hello? Hello?” No answer. I walk to the open door and look out into the still-lit hall. I see nothing.

And then I have a funny thought – an epiphany of sorts. I realize that I don’t really WANT to see anything. I’m tired of this ghost stuff, and I am now more annoyed with than scared of Miss Claire. She reminds me of so many roommates from days past, stumbling in late on a Saturday night, probably a little tipsy, but meaning no harm.

At least she didn’t bring home a guy.


Sunday morning arrives – bright and sunny! My first thought of the day is, “I’m getting the hell out of here.” I skip the shower (no more creepy bathroom for me), quickly pack up, and say good-bye to Miss Claire. This time I speak out loud for I am no longer in denial about her existence.

But before I go, I do review “the binder” which is chock full of experiences similar to mine – and then some. I also learn legend has it Miss Claire was engaged to be married, but was jilted by a sailor who left her at the dock. Her never-used wedding gown was stashed in a trunk found in Room 4.

I hit the road. By the time I’m in Tacoma, I realize I've spent the weekend with a broken-hearted ghost, and have a full-blown case of the heebie-jeebies. For closure, I call Front Desk Bob when I get home and tell him my tale. Bob confirms that my story is “consistent with other events” at the hotel. I guess that’s paranormal-speak for this stuff goes on all the time.

As for me, I still sleep with a light on.

The Palace Hotel
1004 Water Street
Port Townsend, WA 98368

Saturday, January 22, 2011

Gettin' Crabby: Netarts OR

With crabbing, like most things in life, timing matters. And there is some truth to the saying that crabbing is best during the months that end in “er”. My first outing was in September, and was pretty successful (several mature crabs for the taking) while my second outing in June was a little disappointing (fewer mature crabs for the taking). Something to keep in mind.

My gang’s favorite place to crab is Netarts, a charming little seaside town on Oregon's north coast. We’re big fans of Big Spruce RV Park and Boat Rental, where you can rent a nifty aluminum boat and crab cages complete with bait (frozen raw chicken and raw fish). You also get a special crab “ruler” which helps you determine which crabs are large enough to keep.

Catch of the day

Crabbing was pleasingly straightforward in a physical sort of way. First, we fastened slimy frozen bait to the bottom of the cages, putted around the bay, hurled the cages overboard at staggered intervals, and let them sit for about 20 minutes. Then, we pulled the cages back in. And that’s when the real fun began.

Squirming, snapping crustaceans had clambered into the netted cages, and much squealing and swearing ensued as we measured the “keepers” – large males – and tossed back females and babies– all the while trying not to get pinched by agitated crabs hanging onto the cages for dear life. We found ourselves swinging between the thrill of the hunt and feeling bad for the little critters. At one point, I asked a fellow crew member (who happens to be a doctor) if crabs had feelings. She paused, then answered thoughtfully, “Well, I think it’s more like they have sensations”. Somehow, this made us all feel a better - as if we weren’t causing them “real" pain.

After our exhilarating expedition, we headed back to land with our haul, where the friendly and helpful folks at Big Spruce cleaned our crabs, explained the difference between Dungeness and Rock crabs, then sent us happily on our way with our catch.

Crabbing Tips:
• Go during an "er" month
• Call ahead and reserve your boat. Boats go fast during peak months. (Crabbing is contingent on the tides, so you just can’t show up whenever.)
• Wear quick dry clothing. You will get wet.
• Wear shoes with traction. (Keens are ideal). All that water and bait juice (eewwww!) makes for a slippery boat, and you’ll need a good grip when you haul in your catch.
• Bring a change of clothes – especially shoes.
• Bring an ice chest to transport your crabs to their final destination.