Portland roundup (long)

view from the train

We got out of town last week and took the train down to Portland for a little vacation, just in time for a massive heat wave. Despite broken-down buses (one overheated and died on the Burnside Bridge – fun!), blisters, short tempers and heat exhaustion, we managed to have a great time and eat quite a lot of food. Also, it was an excellent weekend for sitting in the shade drinking beer, so we made sure to do plenty of that. We started at the Hedge House.

Hedge House

Hedge House

And we had to go to Pok Pok, of course. We have occasionally considered eating here every single night we spend in Portland. One of these trips…

Pok Pok

Pok Pok

Pok Pok

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Santa Cruz wet wine walk

rainy day

The last time we visited my brother-in-law, we had to drive to get to the local wineries. Up into the hills, usually, on windy roads designed to get the casual tourist completely lost. And many of the Central Coast wineries weren’t open to the public, anyway. This has all changed with the advent of the Swift Street Courtyard complex, now home to at least six different wine tasting rooms and a brewery. Part of the same complex that houses Kelly’s French Bakery (and a number of other shops), this is a wildly accessible arrangement for a person wanting to taste as much Santa Cruz wine as possible. Which we did.

And thanks to everything being so close together, it can all be done on foot even in a pouring rain. Which it was.

Bonny Doon

Bonny Doon

Our first stop was Bonny Doon. Their new space is very spiffy, with a long curving bar and tables set into gigantic barrels, with melted wine bottles for lamps. They had two tasting flights on offer, a regular and a reserve, so we bought one each and figured we’d share. The woman pouring for us took it upon herself to switch around the order of the wines so our two flights would overlap in the most enjoyable manner. We ended up with an exciting spread of bottles in front of us.

Bonny Doon

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beer in the wine country

sagebrush rainbow

I know it’s taken me all week to get this post up, but our Labor Day weekend wasn’t the kind you recover from quickly. As usual, my band (comprised of me, my husband and my parents) went on its annual pilgrimage to the Tumbleweed Music Festival by way of a lot of wineries. Not to mention two brewpubs and a truly fantastic diner.

winery dogs

We visited the dogs at Two Mountain, Chinook and Hightower – all just as cute as ever. I highly recommend all three wineries for their juice as well. We also visited Portteus, Bookwalter, Tefft, and Blackwood Canyon.

Amid all the winery visits, though, we needed food. And really, when you’re overloaded with high quality red wine, what you really need is a burger, or pizza. And a beer.

Whitstran Brewpub

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Empire Ale House

Empire Ale House

As you may or may not know, April is a time of great confusion and rejoicing in the Skagit Valley, being the time of the Skagit Tulip Festival. What this means is that there are a few weeks of blissful quiet while the daffodil fields bloom (why does everyone ignore the daffodils?), then a weekend or two of complete mayhem when the tulips finally deign to show their colors and the tourists flock in, getting lost in downtown Mount Vernon in need of bathrooms and maps.

daffodil field (just passing by)

This particular weekend features the Tulip Festival Street Fair. They were setting up for it as I walked home today, and for the next three days we will continue to be very very glad that we live walking distance from downtown – because god help anyone who’s trying to park down there. We can also be grateful that the weather forecast is looking promising – a few years ago there was a howling windstorm that swept away the craft tents, and last year it hailed. A lot. We’re all hoping this year will be better.

Empire Ale House

If any of you are planning to come up and join in the festivities, you might wonder where there is to eat. We do have a few good places here in town, and it’s an interesting fact that most of them are pubs. Within just a few short blocks we have The Porterhouse, Trumpeter Public House, Empire Ale House, Draft Pics Sports Bar and Skagit River Brewery. Apparently you can never have too many places to drink beer. Continue reading

feeling Irish

lunch

St. Patrick’s Day is coming right up! For us, this week generally means playing several musical gigs in a row, driving across a variety of high mountain passes in snowstorms, and drinking a lot of wine, but I realize that this isn’t most people’s idea of the holiday. However, to get in the mood in advance this year (and to provide photos for an article I was writing), I made up a batch of Irish soda bread and some beef stew to go with it. And damn if that wasn’t the best beef stew I have ever made! The bread wasn’t bad, either.

stew Continue reading

beer and a burger

beer

There was a fantastic tasting down at our local wine shop the other night. Instead of wine, we tasted several varieties of beer from Belgium, Poland and Germany. It was great for us, because our beer drinking tends to center heavily on the Pacific Northwest and we just haven’t experimented much with Belgian ales. Too bad there weren’t more tasters in attendance, but hey – more for us.

burger

We ended up going home with a bottle of St Bernardus Abt 12, which was my favorite from the tasting (we also really, really liked Piraat Triple IPA – yum). We took care of it immediately with the help of some remarkably successful cheeseburgers and yam fries, which turned out to be an almost perfect pairing with the beer. Continue reading

fish at the Fish Tale

Fish Tale Brewing

I recently returned from a short sojourn in Olympia, Washington. I was there for a conference, which involved some pretty forgettable hotel food, a lot of coffee and sugar and a surprising amount of time spent in the hotel bar. Luckily, my coworkers and I had time for one dinner on our own.

None of us knew Olympia very well, so we scanned the visitor’s guide that had come with our conference packet. The first place to catch my eye was “Dirty Dave’s Gay 90’s Pizza Parlor” – I mean, how could anyone resist that name? – but what we settled on was the Fish Tale Brewpub. I generally find that brewpubs have something for everyone, and this one was no exception. Continue reading

fresh produce, hot dogs and beer

veg

Downtown Mount Vernon had its Fall Festival this weekend, so we wandered down to check it out. This is the second year for the event, so it’s still a bit casual, but I like it: the farmer’s market moves down from the riverfront and sets up in the middle of the street downtown, plus there’s a beer garden, a car show, craft booths, several bands playing, and a grill set up for hot dogs and bratwurst. It’s all very festive.

sunflowers
veg
veg

Although the weather’s starting to get colder and fall is definitely coming, the market is still at its peak. We got some beets, potatoes, summer squash, mozzarella cheese, and cauliflower, plus a rhubarb pie. I would’ve bought some delicata squash and sugar pumpkins, but we were on foot – we’ll have to bring the car next time, or a wagon, so we can carry it all home. Continue reading

Sycamore, Flat Branch & home-grown tomatoes

bricks

On our first day in Columbia, we had dinner at Sycamore in downtown. This is my in-laws’ favorite restaurant, and I had to promise I wouldn’t say anything mean about it – but honestly, it was wonderful. The menu is seasonal, with an emphasis on local products, the service is truly excellent, and they make a very decent martini. We started with a nicely done fried calamari plate, then we all split the green salad with goat cheese and roasted beets.

gnocchi

My mother-in-law got the gnocchi, which she really likes (she was very smitten by their autumn version with butternut squash). These were served with asparagus and shiitakes, and lots of garlic. I got to finish her leftovers for breakfast and they were extremely good, deceptively light and fluffy. Continue reading

on the Big Island: from Hilo to Kona

on the trail to 'Akaka Falls

One last soak in our beloved tub and we headed out of Volcano down to Hilo. The sun was shining brilliantly as we came into town, and we decided to try to find the Mehana Brewery, since my driving guide said they had a gift shop (we try to buy a pint glass for any brewery we visit) and after a certain amount of wandering through the Hilo industrial area we found it. No brewpub, just a big warehouse full of brewing equipment, and a tiny gift shop hidden away in the corner. It was only 10 am, but the extremely nice older Asian lady running the place insisted we taste a few of their beers. Twist our arms…

flowers at the Hilo Farmer's Market
papayas at the Hilo Farmer's Market

Afterwards we headed into downtown Hilo, parked and walked around a bit. It’s not very glamorous, but there were some nice galleries and cool-looking snack shops, plus we found the famed Hilo Farmer’s Market – it was an off day, but there were still a dozen vendors selling papaya, flowers, jewelry, bananas, all kinds of things. I wish we could have seen it on a regular market day.

Before we left town I decided I needed an ice cream. Our guidebook directed us to an unlikely-looking counter inside a decrepit empty building, where we got a scoop of fantastically good Tropical Dreams white chocolate-ginger ice cream. While we were doing that, it started to rain. Really hard. Then it stopped. Then it rained again…welcome to Hilo, I guess!

scenic drive near Hilo

We drove out of town in another blinding downpour, and turned onto a short “scenic drive” stretch of the Old Mamalahoa Highway. Continue reading