Monday, November 24, 2014

We Picked a Winner:
Portland Meadows, Portland OR

My pals and I decided to try something different for my birthday this year. Intrigued by a really great case study I found online about a local agency's rebranding of Portland Meadows (not to mention the charming billboards around town – yes advertising does work!) we were lured to the track to check out the ponies.

Vintage jockey portrait at Portland Meadows

Our group thought we’d be mildly amused by this unfamiliar pastime. But not long after arriving, we were completely taken in by the procession of jockeys on horseback dressed in their silks, the thrill of placing a bet, and the thundering hooves of the muscular and sometimes jittery horses. Before long, we were huddled over our racing form, discussing the finer points of exactas, trifectas and daily doubles, aided by a roving Portland Meadows “betting coach”, who patiently talked us through the wagering process.

Portland Meadows race snippet 

And then there’s the lingo! So many of life’s most familiar phrases have their origins in horse racing. (Think about it ... who hasn't said it's a long shot, they're on the homestretch, or that the stakes are high?)

And here are a few more fun ones:

Also-ran: a horse who finishes out of the money (does not win, place or show).

Bolt: when a horse suddenly veers from a straight course.

And my personal favorite…

All-out: a horse that is trying to the best of its ability.

At one point, a friend was concerned that due to a trip to the bar, I missed post time. Bloody Mary in hand, I looked at her and said – without a trace of irony – “It's OK. I don’t have a horse in that race.”

I knew my transition from clueless observer to race-fan-in-the-making was complete.

Portland Meadows
1001 N. Schmeer Road

Portland, Oregon 97217

Thursday, October 2, 2014

Out of Their Element in Portland OR

Decided to take a stroll around the neighborhood this afternoon to enjoy the lovely early fall afternoon, and lo and behold I stumbled upon a raised bed full of thriving cacti.

Hmmmm…not exactly indigenous to the Pacific Northwest, but striking none the less. Not sure how they’ll look in December.

But, just proves if you get out of your comfort zone you can still flourish.

Monday, September 29, 2014

Sitting on the Dock of the…Willamette
Portland OR

A good friend with loads of creativity and vision held a birthday party down on a nameless dock by the Willamette River, somewhere near NE 18th and Front. No one knew who “owned” this dock, so our party basically assumed squatters rights for the afternoon.

It was a striking backdrop for a fete: the arching Fremont Bridge against an early autumn blue sky, complete with rustic (and rusty) freighters rolling by, escorted by rough-and-ready tugboats – just as cute and sturdy as we remembered them from the childrens’ books of our youth.

Monday, June 30, 2014

K&M Tasting Room: Good Wine, Good People
Carlton OR

If you’re seeking a wine tasting experience that's the polar opposite of, say, Napa Valley on the weekend – i.e. impersonal corporate wineries with about as much charm as the inside of a Home Depot, overpriced tastings and gobs of people jockeying for position at the wine bar – then the K&M Tasting Room is the spot for you.

K&M Winery Rose, ready and waiting

K&M stands for Ken and Mauro, the two men behind the food-friendly wines showcased at their modest-but-stylish tasting room. It’s a calm and welcoming space, defined by spare furnishings and large windows that look out onto Carlton’s charming historical Main Street.

If this all sounds dreamy, well, that’s because it is. And I’m always impressed when people seem to be living their dream, because it means they had the wherewithal to make it happen. Inspired by close friends who owned a small vineyard, Ken and Mauro worked, planned and saved for many years to purchase their own. In one of life’s more serendipitous moments, Ken jumped on craigslist and the perfect piece of property popped up. They jumped on it, and the rest is history.

Ken with a few of his bottles
I figure if I’m that charmed by the K&M tasting room and story, then I will be equally charmed by the K&M vineyard. I have yet to visit it, but will be able to several times a year once I join K&M's wine club – which the retelling of this tale has just motivated me to do.

And now, I can hardly wait for my first vineyard event.

143 E. Main Street
Carlton, OR  97111 

Friday, May 30, 2014

Somewhere Far, But Not.
Horsethief State Park, Dallesport WA

Not too long ago, a friend emailed asking if I wanted to go “somewhere far, but not.” I was charmed by her poetically phrased request. Plus, I was still recovering from a head cold and she had a sore foot. So an afternoon of low-impact sightseeing seemed like just the cure for what ailed us.

Horsethief Lake

I suggested Hwy. 14 – on which I seem to have a perpetual summer crush.  It’s a scenic, gently rolling two-lane road with good views of the Columbia River.  

In fact, according to certain guidebooks, Hwy. 14 is also visually more representative of how Lewis and Clark might have seen things, as opposed to Hwy. 84, its busy big sister on the Oregon side of the river. (A nice thought – except that Lewis and Clark were in dug-out canoes, not humming along in a Honda CRV at 60 MPH. But I digress…) 

Regardless, Hwy. 14 seemed to fit the bill of “somewhere far, but not.”

Looming basalt buttes at Horsethief Lake State Park

So we hit the road and headed east for about 90 miles. It never ceases to amaze me how driving east from Portland for just over an hour puts you into a totally different environment: warm, dry breezes; clear, cloudless skies; and high desert vistas. The cool, damp, densely forested feel of Portland seemed worlds away.

We clambered out of the car at Horsethief Lake State Park in Dallesport, WA – a happy accident, since we were attracted by the park’s Wild West name and knew nothing about the place itself. 

Pictographs (look closely) at Horsethief Lake State Park

Turns out we were thrilled to discover this gem of a park, with its striking views of black basalt buttes, a lake perfect for a quick dunk on a hot summer afternoon, plus several impressive Native American pictographs, which can be viewed from a very accessible path.

All this for an easy, scenic drive less than 100 miles from Portland.

Indeed, we had found our “somewhere far, but not” spot.  

Horsethief Lake State Park
Dallesport, WA

Monday, April 28, 2014

Triple Header: Burrasca, Vino & Crema Coffee
Portland OR

I love when I can get my all my culinary cravings met on one city block.

That’s what happened the other day when I had a hankering for good Italian food, but wasn’t up for the whole sit-down restaurant experience. So I Googled PDX food carts and up popped Burrasca, whose specialty is Florentine fare. It had several rave reviews online, so off I went.

Special of the Day

Located at SE 28th and Ankeny, Burrasca is nestled in a little corner of the world that I know well. Vino, one of my favorite wine haunts is right next door, and Crema Coffee and Bakery café is just up the street – but I’m getting ahead of myself.

Back to Burrasca…

When I arrived, several self-declared Burrasca fans were already hovering around the food cart, eagerly awaiting their dishes. The group insisted I get the tagliatelle with beef ragu, so I heeded their advice. While placing my order, I slightly mispronounced the pasta, and chef/owner Paolo Calamai cheerfully corrected me: “Italians pronounce every syllable: “ta-GLI-a-TEL-lee”. So, I got a mini Italian lesson, too.

Tagliatelle with Beef Ragu

I couldn’t resist having my pasta with a glass of wine, so I took my plate of tagliatelle and headed for Vino, which welcomes Burrasca patrons. Being a Burrasca fan himself, Bruce at Vino suggested a red that perfectly complemented my meal. The pasta was delicious, and the wine made it that much better.

It only seemed right and proper to top off my lunch at Crema – just a stone's throw from Burrasca and Vino – where I scored a sidewalk café table, and enjoyed a cappuccino while basking in the midday sun.

And although I lucked into a sunny day, weather does not have to be a factor with this convenient trio of places. Burrasca has an outdoor covered area, while both Vino and Crema offer indoor and outdoor seating, which means all three locales can be enjoyed rain or shine.

113 SE 28th Ave.
Portland, OR 97214

137 SE 28th Ave.
Portland, OR 97214

Crema Coffee and Bakery
2728 SE Ankeny St.
Portland, OR 97214

Thursday, April 17, 2014

Food for Thought #3

It is better to travel well than to arrive.


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: Pips
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 Café 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 Arctic 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 dazzling 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

Here's a few snaps from that bright and clear winter day.