Category Archives: Food is Awesome

Abacela Guest Chef Dinner

In case you have somehow missed these two facts, Oregon has amazing wineries and LeChon is our favorite restaurant. Combine the two and you basically have the most perfect date night. Since moving to Oregon, I have been interested in attending one of the various Guest Chef or Wine Dinners that bring the state’s best chefs to local wineries. However, when a friend shared an upcoming Guest Chef Dinner at Abacela with me on Facebook, I quickly dismissed it because, you know, wedding stuff. When I took a second look, though, it was a matter of seconds before I was telling Brandon that we were going. As in, he did not have a choice. I sort of justified it by saying it could be a belated birthday dinner. The reason we could not possibly miss the dinner? That was because the chef from our favorite restaurant was coming to little ole’ Roseburg (well, technically to Winston, or somewhere outside of Winston). It was just meant to be.

We were greeted with a glass of Albarino and burrata on toast. Oh, and we took an Uber in Roseburg for the first time (which has sadly been stopped). And we got carded. I think we may have been the youngest folks at the dinner.

It was difficult to be polite and eat just one. Or maybe two.

After a bit of mingling, we were seated for dinner. Over the course of the next couple of hours, we were served a five course feast created by Chef Jaco Smith from LeChon. Each delicious course was paired with one of Abacela’s fantastic wines.

We first enjoyed tapas of shrimp ceviche and avocado and smoked trout toast (one of my favorite dishes from the last time I had been at the restaurant) paired with Tinta Amarela.

Our next course was an out of this world salad with quinoa, goat cheese (yum!!), and pumpkin seeds with coal roasted kabocha squash (which was perfectly sweet and nutty) all covered in a light coating of a miso-honey dressing. It was paired with a 50/50 Tempranillo-Malbec.

Our third course was a sort of pork kebab in a soy sesame BBQ sauce with a sweet potato puree on the side. It was perfectly accompanied by Abacela’s amazing barrel select Tempranillo.

There had been so much delicious food by the time we got to the entree that it may be difficult to imagine that we still wanted to eat food. But that would be false. This course included beef short ribs and smoked chorizo paired with an equally amazing Reserve Malbec, which was probably my favorite wine of the entire evening.

The meal ended with lemon cheesecake with a caramel and gingersnap topping served with a sweet blanco dulce that balanced the tart taste of lemon.

We enjoyed every single bite. It was one of the best meals I have ever had. But my favorite part was not even the food. It was Brandon geeking out at meeting the Chef.

Of course, he creates amazing food that we love. But we were both impressed by his passion for what he does so well. Over the course of the evening, he shared more about his history as a chef and how a life lived all over the world has impacted his cooking. Originally from South Africa, he even provided restaurant recommendations for our upcoming honeymoon to SA, which was the icing the cake of a perfect date night.

I’ll be honest, at $95 per person, this evening was a splurge. But it was one we do not regret as we savored a delectable meal prepared by the chef from our favorite restaurant, sipped wine, belatedly celebrated another year of my favorite person’s life, and took time out of the craziness of wedding planning to simply be. That, my friends, is priceless.

Wedding Dress Weekend

One bride, two days, three friends, four bridal boutiques, and (at least) five glasses of champagne. Add in some fancy restaurants and a chic hotel and you’ve got everything you need for the perfect weekend spent searching for the perfect dress.

It all started when my friend Kacy informed me that there was a BHLDN (pronounced beholden – Dutch for “to keep”) wedding shop in Portland. BHLDN is Anthropologie’s wedding collection and after spending approximately 2 minutes looking at the collection online, I knew I had to try on the dresses. All the dresses. And thus, the plans began to fall into place. When it was all said and done, we had a packed itinerary for a weekend of wedding dress shopping and some much needed friend time.

To be honest, I was not necessarily hopeful that I would find “the” dress, but I was confident I would find something beautiful and flattering and enough to make me happy. Really, the search to find a dress was mostly an excuse to get away to the city for a night and have some fun with friends. Oh, and to drink champagne. Finding a dress would just be a bonus. I had asked my groom if he had any preferences for the dress. His only request was a white dress. The italics might be foreshadowing.

Anyway, my friends – Kacy (also my matron of honor), Chelsea, and Dani – and I set out on a Saturday morning from Roseburg and headed toward Eugene. And although my friends Jessi and Shannon could not be there in person, they spent their entire weekends texting with Kacy about every single dress. Our first appointment was at Blush Bridal. I had been told by multiple people that this was the place to shop for a dress. I could immediately see why. From the moment we walked in, every one was friendly and the consultant I worked with was excited to help me find the perfect dress. It was a little overwhelming first, but this first stop helped me settle into narrowing down what I wanted, beginning to learn what looked best on me, and just generally getting used to having all the attention focused on me.

Don’t worry. None of the dresses pictured in this post are the actual dress I will be wearing on my wedding day.

I actually found two dresses that I loved, but did not feel quite ready to commit at the first boutique, so I made an appointment for the next day, expecting to return and finalize a dress purchase in Eugene before returning to Roseburg.

All that dress trying had worked up an appetite, so we made a quick stop for lunch at Mucho Gusto before beginning the drive to Portland.

Once in Portland we made a quick detour to check out Brides for a Cause.

This is a second hand bridal shop where proceeds go to charity. I think the experience there is likely to be a little hit or miss and for me it was a miss. But I did get a good laugh out of trying on a couple dresses that ended up looking unpredictably terrible on me. I love the concept and I am sure if I lived closer I would have given it another visit or two. No appointment was required, so it was easy to fit around the other activities of the weekend.

Next, it was off to check into the hotel before the final appointment of the day. I particularly love Kimpton Hotels, so when there was a suite sale, I jumped on the chance to book a suite at the Portland Hotel Monaco.

The quirky and stylish hotel did not disappoint. The suite was spacious and just perfect for a girl’s weekend.

We took a few minutes to settle in and kick up our feet before walking to the nearby Ania Bridal.

Ania Bridal was another fun experience, complete with the requisite champagne. It was here where I really narrowed down the style of dress I wanted, noting the similarities between what I liked best at Blush and what I like best here.

To be honest, when you’re the one trying on the dresses, you’re not really the one drinking the champagne.

More dresses, more champagne, more decisions to make. I was feeling good about being able to find a dress I loved this weekend, but was still pondering the options as we headed back to the hotel for the complimentary happy hour.

Every evening, there is a social hour featuring local wines and brews. And because Kimpton is pet friendly, there are always a few cute pups hanging out, too. We didn’t want to ruin our appetites, though. We had plans.

Because it was my wedding dress weekend, we went to my favorite restaurant, Lechon. I have extolled the delicious virtues of this place many times and this evening with friends was no exception.

I could leave it at that, but the food is too beautiful not to share, dish by dish. We shared a number of incredible dishes, enjoyed craft cocktails, and ended the meal with a bit of sweetness.

My favorite cocktail was not currently on the menu, so I branched out to the marecuzco – pisco, allspice dram, demerara, lime, and passionfruit
Avocado and smoked trout toast – it was even more yummy than it looks
Chickpea quinoa fritters
One of the two dishes I think should always be ordered at Lechon – the burrata. The accompaniments change seasonally. This evening it was poached apricots, prosciutto, lemon confit, and herbed toast. Simple perfection on a plate.
A salad so that we did not feel too bad about ourselves. And also because it was an ideal combo of goat cheese, cranberries, spiced pine nuts, and champagne vinaigrette.
The empanadas are my second “must order” dish. This evening, there was a spicy fried piquiollo pepper empanada and a milder but no less flavorful pork empanada.
And finally, another favorite, the grilled octopus.

With all of this, we even managed to save a little room for dessert.

I don’t even remember what this was or what was in it. But it was good.

We walked back to the hotel. I felt happy in a way that only the combination of a fancy meal and the energy of walking in a city after dark provide. We opened the bottle of champagne that had been cooling in the fridge (at the expense of the mini bottles now scattered across the floor to make room for the champagne) and pondered the pros and cons of the various dresses I had tried on that day.

We reviewed the texted feedback from Jessi and Shannon. We discussed our plans for the next day. And then things got a little, well, goofy… Because I like these people and want them to still be my friends, I will refrain from sharing the evidence. Other than this. Because the cool hotel robes must be modeled.

I’ll just leave it at that.

The next morning, my final bridal appointment was not until 11 am. That + being in Portland = brunch. Chelsea had recommended Mother’s Bistro and I am so glad she did.

It was classy and cozy. Most important of all, the food was incredible.

Chelsea and I shared a pot of gourmet french press coffee. We chose the one whose flavor description included “chocolate.”
Sharing a cinnamon roll the size of my head is generally a good way to start a meal
Bacon and gorgonzola frittata
Eggs Benedict
Salmon hash
And a scramble

Being friends means sharing each others’ food. At least in my book.

After a great brunch, we were ready for the last bridal appointment, the one that had prompted the whole trip – BHLDN. At this point, my plan was still to try on the pretty dresses just for fun and then exhaustively discuss which of the Blush dresses I wanted to purchase on the drive back to Eugene.

Located in a corner of the second floor of Anthropologie, BHLDN just felt right. I wanted to touch all of the dresses, not just look at them, as I sipped champagne out of bright pink can. And then I met my consultant, her Southern accent sounding so familiar that I couldn’t help but ask where she was from. Something about learning that she was also from Arkansas set me at ease and made the dress shopping experience even more fun.

The place had some seriously gorgeous gowns. I had one dress left to try on and felt like I had a sense of what I liked. Sure, I had not had that moment you see on TV shows and movies, but I was feeling good about what I had mostly decided to buy. Yes, there was one more dress to try, but I had chosen it solely because it was remarkably beautiful and I simply wanted to try it on because I could. It was obviously not going to be an option because it was decidedly not white and, after all, that had been Brandon’s single request. But how many times do you have an excuse to try on as many pretty dresses as you want? I was not considering in a million years that I would buy this dress. I just wanted to wear it for five minutes.

And then I tried it on and had that moment. I walked out and everyone’s face lit up. I stood in front of the mirror and started crying, choking out the words, “I want this dress” as my friends texted Brandon to reassure him that a not white dress would be okay when it was a dress as breathtaking as this one. My mom called the second she got the pictures of the dress to insist that I buy it. And Shannon and Jessi, who had been bombarded with pictures all weekend, texted this:

This dress was, unquestionably, the one. Sometimes I put it on and just stare at it in the mirror and I absolutely can’t wait to wear it next month. It is stunning. I blew my wedding dress budget without a second thought.

A successful weekend of wedding dress shopping called for celebratory sushi burritos. If you find yourself in the Eugene area, you will not regret stopping by this little drive through sushi stand.

Sushi burritos may sound strange, but they are legit tummy goodness.

I ordered the Black Widow – cajun sesame seared albacore tuna sashimi, crispy shrimp, crab, spicy cream cheese, cucumber, carrots, and seaweed salad served with a cajun sweet soy sauce. And I added avocado. I recommend everything about this.

We savored our meal, discussing our favorite parts of the weekend and continuing to marvel over the dress, the not white wedding dress that was meant to be. I am always amazed how a single night away can make a difference – getting out of the usual routine, enjoying delicious meals, and most of all spending time in the company of friends. I think I should do this more often, although perhaps without spending more than $1000 on a dress. That would buy a lot of sushi burritos.

On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: The Food

So I’ve been holding out on you. I’ve talked all about the gorgeous beaches, the stunning sunsets, the adventures, the chill vibe. But what I haven’t mentioned, at least not in much detail, is the marvelous food – spicy and flavorful, the food we had in Jamaica was a true highlight of the week. And did I mention there was lobster? Lobster for days.

Rockhouse has three restaurants. The Rockhouse Restaurant is open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner and offers room service for the resort. This is also where the Juice Bar is located. The Pool Bar & Grill is all about the tropical poolside drinks and small, casual meals. And finally, there is Pushcart, an upscale interpretation of local Jamaican jerk centres. We had the chance to enjoy all of these options during our week in Jamaica.

Slightly jet lagged, desiring a tropical beverage and our first Jamaican meal, we made our way to Pushcart after settling into our room and briefly exploring the property. As we looked out over the ocean, the salty breeze mingling with the scent of rum and grilling meats, it was impossible not to feel happy.

My handsome date

But enough about that. What did we actually eat?

Well, we of course had to start with a cocktail or two. We were in Jamaica, after all.

If you can get a drink made inside of a coconut, you probably should. Many coconuts were harmed in the making of this vacation.
And something fruity for me
These seafood fritters had an excellent seafood to batter ratio – substantial bites of seafood in a savory batter were a delicious beginning
And jerk chicken skewers that were sweet and spicy deliciousness

We really struggled to narrow down what to order and eventually settled on a platter that included curried goat, braised oxtail, curried chicken, and bushman stew – a hearty and flavorful stew of lentils, red peas, black beans, and vegetables, this vegetarian dish was a take on Rasta fare. These were served with variations of rice, including callaloo rice, which is made with a leafy green such as amaranth.

We tried each dish and tried them again, doing our best to decide on a favorite. I think we eventually decided that the bushman stew was the best, but just barely. By the end of the meal, our mouths were on fire and our bellies were full.

We would return to Pushcart a couple more times that week for dinner and we did our best to try every dish on the menu.

The view from the restaurant was as fabulous as the food
Regardless of what we ate, we paired it with this scotch bonnet pepper sauce that was oh-so-spicy while still managing to add flavor.
Fried calamari served with a sweet tomato relish
Peppa shrimp that was equal parts messy and tasty
Fried chicken and the classic Jamaican side dish, rice and peas

We would find ourselves at Pushcart one last time the night before going home. It was a bittersweet night, as we listened to live Reggae music and reminisced over the loveliness of the previous week, while the sadness of leaving began to sink in. Thankfully we could take comfort in more amazing Jamaican food.

Unable to decide and feeling the pressure of this being our last island dinner, we again chose a combination platter. This one included jerk pork and jerk chicken and jerk sausage (all delicious) with traditional sides including roasted yam, plantain, and festival (sort of a fried dumpling). Every bite was amazing.

As I mentioned above, the main restaurant at the resort, Rockhouse Restaurant, was open for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. Dinner at Rockhouse was more of a fine dining affair than at Pushcart. This was also the restaurant that provided room service, which we ordered for breakfast once or twice. Like Pushcart, there was an emphasis on local foods with much of the produce sourced directly from the Rockhouse’s organic garden. And like Pushcart, all the food was delicious. Seriously, I don’t think I had a bad dish the entire week.

When you have a headache, breakfast on your balcony overlooking the ocean with a giant pot of coffee is exactly what the doctor ordered.
Jamaican rancheros made with plantains rather than tortillas, stew peas rather than refried or black beans, with the spice of scotch bonnet peppers. It was a cast iron skillet of deliciousness.
Can’t hate this breakfast view. Like literally. Hating this view would be impossible.

Other mornings, we chose to have breakfast in the restaurant. It was wonderful to wake up and drink coffee overlooking the stunning blue ocean, enjoying the still cool air as the day began to warm. We would make our plans for the day while we marveled at the beauty and perfection of it all.

One of the most unique breakfasts I tried was the Jamaican Special. Included with the breakfast was the iconic Blue Mountain Coffee, which some consider to be the best coffee in the world. Served alongside the coffee was the national dish of Ackee and Saltfish. Ackee is a much-loved fruit that, to me, seemed somewhat similar in taste and texture to an avocado. Salt cod and ackee are sautéed with spices to create this iconic dish. The Rockhouse breakfast also included other Jamaican foods, such as callaloo, fried dumplings, plantains, and, because that was not enough, even banana bread.

I enjoyed trying the different traditional foods, although I think ackee and saltfish may be a bit of an acquired taste.

Lunch at the Rockhouse Restaurant was also good. We were typically out and about during lunch, but on the day I went to the spa, we decided to check it out. Maybe because we had the coconut chicken at a pool party the day before and couldn’t stop thinking about it.

Coconut shrimp, which might be one of my all time favorite foods
Crab quesadilla
And some of that coconut chicken, just for starters
Brandon ordered Jamaican jerk chicken fajitas
And I ordered a grilled fish sandwich
I now realize just how ridiculous this amount of food was. My only defense is that it was a gorgeous afternoon and a long lunch with my love was just perfect.

We also had dinner at Rockhouse once during our stay.

Plantain chips with ackee dip
We also shared an incredible seafood stew, simple perfection in a coconut shell bowl

The food may have been amazing, but the real highlight of the evening was this:

There are no words.

I think it is pretty obvious that the food at Rockhouse was stellar. But our favorite restaurant was just down the road, within a short walk of the resort. We first ended up at 3 Dives Jerk Centre after a somewhat disappointing experience at Rick’s. I am so glad we did.

This place was a quintessential dive, in the best way possible. At first I was a little leery. We arrived as very last of the sun set, walking up to the dimly lit building. After a moment, we realized that we would place our order at the counter. We perused the daily chalkboard menu, getting a glimpse of the large stew pots bubbling in the small kitchen. We initially ordered jerk chicken. When we expressed some uncertainty about the lobster, we were pointed toward a table located by the water. It was laden with the freshly caught crustaceans. After that, how could we not order lobster?

We found a table and drank Red Stripe as we waited for our food. The smells, man, they were incredible. The scents wafting from the kitchen made us more and more hungry. This is not a place where food was hurried. The jerk chicken and lobster were prepared after we ordered it, which meant plenty of time to take in the scene. Someone by the water was playing reggae music, which drifted underneath the conversations of locals and tourists alike.

Every bite was worth the wait.

The sides that night were rice and peas and callaloo. We also ordered some plantains because obviously this was not enough food. The immensity of the portions did nothing to diminish our determination to eat every single bite. It was one of the best meals of my life. No exaggeration.

This place was so good we had to go back again before we left. It was just was good the second time. This time we ordered curry goat. And more lobster.

The sides this time were rice and peas and some type of slaw. The curry was so good. So, so good.
And then there was the lobster
If you’re wondering how jerk anything is made, this is how – in grills made out of repurposed barrels, the sweet and savory spices blended into an ideal combination of charred flavors as they’re slowly cooked over smoky wood.

I actually feel sad as I write this because I’m not there right now eating this food. Just looking at the pictures makes me want to hop on a plane to Jamaica just for dinner. But since I can’t do that, I will content myself with staring at this rather attractive picture of my man.

If you’ve somehow missed this point, Jamaican food is kind of awesome. I think you should go to Negril and eat jerk chicken and grilled lobster and curry and plantains. I promise your life will be better for it.

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Booby Cay

As they say, all good things must come to an end. Apparently this includes Jamaican vacations. It was Saturday morning, the day that would be the last of a series of sunshine and fun-filled days that had been spent relaxing in paradise. The week had been everything and more than everything and I, for one, was not ready for it to end. As our final day began, we decided to return to the beach one last time. We had no real plan in mind, but asked Nelson to again take us to Seven Mile Beach. We found a spot for a quick breakfast while we pondered our options. Afterward, we stopped by a nearby watersports shop and asked about trips to Booby Cay.

Located within view of the beach, Booby Cay is a small island off the coast of Negril. We were able to arrange a day trip to the island and then waited on ocean front loungers for our glass bottom boat to arrive. I imagine that in busier times, the boat is closer to full and it could be more difficult to just walk up and book a tour, but on this particular day, we had the boat all to ourselves.

Even after days in Jamaica, the clear blue water was still a stunning sight.

Although Booby Cay was our ultimate destination, Brandon could not resist another opportunity to snorkel on the reef. We had as much time as we wanted to snorkel and explore, with freedom to branch out while still having a guide to show us around.

But snorkeling was only the beginning. After one last chance to take in the colorful sight of the reef, we hopped back on the boat (I mean that literally), and headed toward the island.

We dropped an anchor near the island and jumped into the warm, shallow water to walk to shore. Salty and barefoot, we walked through the sand toward the scent of smoke and garlic.

You see, this small, uninhabited island is also known as the place to get lobster. We made our selections out of a faded orange drink dispenser and waited with anticipation while our lobster was grilled.

As we waited, we wandered down the beach, buying a couple of overpriced Red Stripes from a lady selling them out of a cooler.

And then, the lobster was ready. Grilled over charcoal, topped with a garlic butter sauce, and served alongside grilled toast, this was the best lobster I have ever had.

I am not exaggerating when I say that we had lobster pretty much every day while in Jamaica (tough life, I know). And it is also no exaggeration to say this was the absolute best. It was perfectly grilled, the sweetness of the lobster wonderfully balanced by the richness of the garlic and butter. I used the grilled toast to soak up every last drop of the sauce. Food doesn’t get better than this. I was glad we had each had our own lobster, rather than sharing one as we initially discussed. I wanted every last bite. And more.

After a lovely day, we reluctantly made our way back to the boat and back to Negril.

The day may have been simple, but it was the perfect way to end our week. But just because Booby Cay was the last place we went while in Jamaica, doesn’t mean I’m done writing about Jamaica. After all, I have yet to really talk about all of the delicious food we ate. Which was, almost, the best part of the vacation.

 

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On a Rock, In a Bay, On an Island, In Jamaica: Zimbali Retreat

If you’ve been paying attention at all, you will know that our trip to Jamaica was amazing. It was a week full of adventure and love in a spectacularly beautiful place. Amid all of this though, one day manages to stand out. Of course, it could have been because it was the first day I was in Jamaica with my fiancé (I promise to share more), but I think our visit to Zimbali Retreats would have been incredible under any circumstances.

A labor of love where life is lived in harmony with nature, Zimbali is a one of a kind place. We were not quite sure what to expect, but had heard that we should go there if we could. So we did. We booked the lunch culinary tour, so our driver picked us up from the Rockhouse around 9 am. After picking up one other couple, we made our way toward the retreat. I may have gotten a little carried away with letting everyone know that Brandon was my fiancé and that he had proposed only the evening before. Maybe. At a certain point, the road became rather bumpy. Honestly, being from Oregon and having a fiancé who likes “exploring” it was nothing worse than we have experienced on a logging road here and there, but it certainly felt like we were heading into the Jamaican wilderness. At times, sugarcane towered over the car, our driver noting that it would grow much taller before it would be harvested later in the year.

And then we arrived at Zimbali.

We were greeted at the gates and led through a lush paradise to a deck overlooking some of the gardens. As we waited, we were given fresh juice (starfruit and guava, maybe, I don’t really remember but whatever it was, it was delicious) to enjoy as we marveled at the tranquility surrounding us. Zimbali is a retreat from the world among the mountains. With lodging, gardens, and all organic meals, it is a place to escape and relax. If we ever make it back to Jamaica, we want to spend more time here. This time, though, we contented ourselves with the farm tour and freshly prepared lunch.

Brandon couldn’t resist the cute puppy

These avocados were HUGE. We would get a chance to try them with our lunch.

 

After a few more minutes of relaxation, we began our tour of the organic farm. There was so much to see. We hardly noticed the heat of the day as we were led throughout the farm, marveling at the variety of the produce being grown.

Our tour guide, Clifford, also works at the farm

Tropical paradise
Brandon ate this hot pepper. Because he’s weird.

A baby pineapple
The farm had many different varieties of bananas. We got to try several kinds, although I stopped after one because I don’t really like bananas, which happens to be one of the few food things I’m picky about. Brandon shared that each variety had a noticeably distinct taste from the others.

The scent of the lemongrass was amazing
The is called a peanut fruit. It tastes exactly like peanut butter. Brandon may or may not be growing one in the living room now, although the details of that should probably remain fuzzy.
Bamboo forest
Serenity and beauty were found in each moment and around every bend in the path

This is a lemon…

After the farm tour was the highlight of the day, lunch. We made our way back to the kitchen where we would enjoy lunch created with fresh ingredients straight from the farm. Everything served was either sourced directly from Zimbali or from a nearby farm. Or the ocean. Yay seafood. We had made our selections for the main course prior to beginning the farm tour.

All of this, even the honey, is grown or made at Zimbali

We had a choice of wine with our meal as we watched the first course being prepared.

The first course was a refreshing and tart salad with those giant avocados and a citrusy dressing.

The second course was an Indian inspired samosa. Only my impeccable, raised in the South manners kept me from licking that sauce off the plate. And asking for seconds.

And then came the main course. I had chosen jerk shrimp, which was served alongside a green plantain fritter. The shrimp was flavorful and perfectly spicy. My only regret was not being there long enough to try some of the other dishes that were offered.

And of course, no meal is complete without dessert. We were served rum cake with a banana and honey sauce. It was so good not even the bananas could bring me down.

Our day at Zimbali was incredible. Despite the rain that began to pour as we left, I wished we could have stayed longer. I already want to go back and spend a few days further exploring the mountain, relaxing in a hammock on a patio amid the lush gardens, eating more delicious food, and taking the Rasta culture and food tour offered at the retreat. If you are planning a trip to Negril, I highly recommend that you make Zimbali a part of it, preferably for more than a meal. I know we will be staying a few nights next time we are in Jamaica.

We ended our first day as an engaged couple back at the Rockhouse, relaxing by the pool (well, Brandon snorkeled) and counting our blessings. As we watched another dazzling sunset, we reflected on what had been a day of happiness – the joy of being engaged combined with a truly lovely day at Zimbali wrapped up in the felt gratitude of being in one of the most beautiful places.

This day was one of the perfect ones.

 

 

 

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Packing Post: Backpacking Food

Let’s talk food. Backpacking food.

As I prepared for our recent 3-day, 2-night backpacking trip, I had a lot of questions, many of which centered around what we would eat. I spent a not inconsiderable amount of time figuring out the answer to those questions and in order to not let all that time and effort go to waste, I wanted to share what I packed and what I learned in the process. Hopefully this will help if you’re planning a similar trip of your own!

First, let me note that Brandon and I have been doing a ketogenic diet. Although I quickly decided that sticking to that through this weekend was likely impossible due to the nature of most dehydrated and packable foods, I still made an effort to choose some low carb options. Hence the pork rinds.

Breakfast: 

For our 2 breakfasts, I made oatmeal packets. You can get pretty creative with the add-ins, but mine had quick oats (because slowly cooking oatmeal over a stovetop wasn’t exactly an option), powdered milk, stevia, chia seeds, walnuts, and dehydrated blueberries. We just dumped the packets in our bowls, added some hot water, and then enjoyed a satisfying and warm breakfast each morning. And then there was the coffee. I might be willing to temporarily give up some luxuries like, you know, running water, but I will not give up my coffee. Give me coffee or give me death! I pre-portioned servings of coffee and included a mini shelf-stable creamer for Brandon. I LOVE my drip coffee maker when camping – it’s quick, easy, light and portable, and makes excellent coffee.

Lunch/Snacks:

This is where I maybe went a little crazy. Perhaps I spent one too many afternoons worried about starving to death in the wilderness. My goal for lunch and snacks was having foods that would easily fit into our daypacks for hiking, knowing that we probably wouldn’t be around camp at lunch. I put everything into smaller containers, dividing it in half so that we each had a bit of everything. The jerky, olives, and cheese combo made for a great lunch and will definitely be something I do again. And, if you’re wondering, according to my extensive research, Babybel cheese can be unrefrigerated for a few days. Judge your own tolerance and willingness to do that, but we thought it was fine.

Dinner:

For dinner, I had purchased two kinds of Mountain House dehydrated meals – Beef Stroganoff and Mexican Style Rice and Chicken. Of course, it’s hard to tell just how good they are (or aren’t) after being outdoors all day because at that point almost anything tastes good. However, we both thought they tasted quite good and would eat both meals again. On the first night, Brandon finished off an entire pack of the stroganoff and I had most of mine. On the second night, we didn’t even finish one package of the chicken (the package contained three servings) and could have left the other package at home. We added some of the white cheddar into the chicken, which was a nice touch. Best of all, we enjoyed some of the fish that Brandon caught. I had come prepared with foil and seasonings, just in case. There is nothing like freshly caught fish cooked over a campfire.

One Last Touch:

We both thought it would be nice to have something warm to drink by the fire in the evenings. After considering different options, we finally settled on apple cider with a little spiced rum. We brought along packets of cider and a small, plastic bottle of rum that was easy to carry. It was a bit of a luxury, but a nice way to end the day.

After getting all of my food supplies together, I packaged everything as compactly as was possible. I then divided everything in half. We both ended up with two dehydrated meals and one gallon size plastic bag full of food which easily fit into our respective backpacks.


What I Learned:
All in all, I think I did pretty well preparing for this first trip. But I did learn a few things along the way that will be helpful next time. Because there will be a next time – this was one of my favorite weekends all summer.

The Jetboil is my friend. I had purchased a Jetboil for this trip (it’s a small propane tank with a tiny metal contraption that screws onto it over which you can cook things). This was literally a game changer. It boils water quickly without getting a kettle all smoky. Even on regular camping trips, this is now how we (and by we, I mean Brandon) make coffee in the morning. Less hassle than trying to heat water over a campfire = quicker access to coffee. I am not exaggerating when I say that it has been an amazing addition to our camping gear.

Related to this, I have now determined the Best Way to Make Coffee. Thanks to being gifted the drip coffee maker, I now have everything I need to make delicious coffee while camping and backpacking. We had experimented with various coffee making methods while camping last summer. Although there were no true failures (well, except the time that Brandon forgot to pack the coffee…), we have conclusively determined that this method is the best. No instant coffee for me, thanks.

As I mentioned above, I brought too many snacks. In the future, I will not give into my fear of starving to death and pack a reasonable amount of food. Which is probably about half of what I brought. My back will thank me.

Dehydrated dinners can be delicious. I was a little skeptical, but I had researched various brands and Mountain House was consistently reviewed as the best. In the future, I could consider making my own given the cost of these meals. But for the occasional backpacking trip, these are good enough that the cost is worth the ease of not making them myself.

I was particularly proud (and Brandon was particularly impressed) that I thought to prepare seasonings just in case Brandon caught some fish. Of course, we would have figured out a way to cook the fish without the foil and seasonings, but having them made the whole process better. If you’re going somewhere where fishing is a possibility, this is a small (literally small – it added almost no weight and took up almost no space) way to take your meal to the next level.

We should have brought a bigger water container. Although our 1L water bottles worked fine, we had to make repeated trips to the lake to fill them (we had brought along a filter and a Steripen to treat the water). Not only were we drinking water, most of our meals required water to prepare. It would have been nice to have had a larger container and to make fewer water runs. After this trip, I bought a 5 gallon water container that folds flat for easy packing.

And I learned that a small treat can make a difference. Even if we had just brought along the cider packets without the rum, it was nice to end the day with a warm drink in hand. Again, this was a small luxury that added an almost undefinable sense of comfort and relaxation to the evenings. If apple cider isn’t your thing, there is always hot chocolate.

So, there you have it! I am hardly an expert, but I feel like I learned a lot through planning and preparing for my first backpacking trip. If you are planning your own similar trip, hopefully this information will save you some time and effort. If you have your own tips, tricks, or favorite backpacking foods, I would love to hear it!

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On Ethan in Oregon and Getting Older

Although I generally accept getting older with stoicism and acceptance (after all, what can I do about it?), sometimes another birthday can bring out the less than stoic and accepting thoughts and feelings about adding an additional number to my age. Last year, I managed those thoughts and feelings with a trip to Hawaii. I’ll be honest, spending a few days on the beach with the occasional tropical drink in hand certainly helped ease the pain. Sadly, that was not gonna happen for this year’s birthday. So I arranged for the next best thing – a visit from my brother. It was his second trip to Oregon and we had just as much fun as the first time. And this time, Brandon got to tag along for our sibling adventures. Spending my birthday weekend (because after all a single birthday day is not quite enough) with two of my favorite guys was just about perfect.

We kicked off our weekend with a day trip to Crater Lake. This was a spot we had not made it to last time Ethan was here, but it was at the top of his list of places to go. So we went. Even though it was a bit cloudy that morning, we hoped that the weather would clear by the time we made it to the lake.

Off on our first adventure! The only thing that could make this picture better would be Evan.

All the catching up and scenic driving worked up an appetite, so we stopped at the quaint and delicious Beckie’s outside of the park. 

And we just couldn’t pass up the homemade pies. After all, we would be facing unknown risks in the still snowy mountains, so we needed plenty of fuel. Rather than choosing a pie of my own (because how can one choose among all that sweet deliciousness), I ate a bit of Brandon’s blueberry pie and a bit of Ethan’s pecan pie. Two kinds of pie instead of one kind of pie? Yeah, I think I made the best choice.

Our appetites adequately satisfied, we eagerly anticipated views of the bright blue lake. Brandon and I excitedly shared how amazing Crater Lake is, how Ethan would be almost unable to believe his eyes, that when one gets a first glimpse of Crater Lake, it is absolutely breathtaking. And then we were temporarily distracted from all this talk by the sheer amount of snow. Although the roads were clear, there were still feet of snow piled alongside the roads and on top of the buildings. In May. It was incredible.

After all of that – the drive, the talk of the amazingness of the lake, Ethan’s anticipation of finally seeing the much spoken of wonder that is Crater lake – this was the best view of the lake that we got:

Yep see that little sliver of grayish blue hidden under the clouds? That’s the lake. And it only got more cloudy from there. This was literally the best view of the entire day.

Sadly, this was actually Ethan’s best image of the lake – the short video about Crater Lake that we watched at the visitor’s center.

Despite the disappointment, we strapped on our rented snowshoes and made the best of the afternoon.

As you can tell, we still managed to have plenty of fun. We played in the snow, threw snowballs, attempted snow angels, and were generally silly.

We had taken a picture by this tree when we were at Crater Lake the previous September. The view was just a teensy bit different.

My first time snowshoeing, which has been on my Oregon Bucket List.

Action shot
The look on my face when I am considering forgiving Brandon for pushing me into the snow…

And the best pic of the day, even if I have no clue what is happening

Even though the lack of lake views was a bit disappointing, Ethan not really seeing Crater Lake means he will just have to come back to Oregon for another visit!

So, perhaps I have sort of given the impression that Ethan came to Oregon just for my birthday. Which he would totally do because he’s one of the two best brothers in the world and I’m certainly the best sister. But I may have left out the teeny, tiny little detail that he chose this particular weekend to come to Oregon because he was running in the Eugene Marathon. Which, of course, meant that I would be there to cheer him on. We headed up to Eugene the night before so Ethan could carb load at Olive Garden and because the next morning would be an early start.

Ethan picking up his race packet

It was that evening that I fully began to appreciate just how much my boyfriend and my brother have in common. Specifically, how nerdy they both are. Sitting between the two of them while watching Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (and the various previews prior to the movie) was amusing. They would laugh hysterically at the exact same moments. Freak out and demand my attention in their nerdy excitement about the same previews. It was equal parts heartwarming and humorous.

And then there was race day. I was rather surprised by how emotional I was about the whole thing. This certainly was not Ethan’s first race or even his first marathon, but it was the first one of which I had been a part and it brought out my proud big sisterness in unexpected ways.

Like the moment early in the morning when we sat in my car and talked, Ethan staying a bit longer than necessary to calm his nerves, me feeling strangely protective and worried as he walked away from my car to head to the start of the race.

Or when Brandon and I found a spot by the river to cheer him on around mile 18. I think I surprised both of us when I started crying rather intensely because I was so proud of Ethan and watching him do something so difficult and wonderful made me more than a little emotional.

And then there was the finish line. I was inspired watching so many people complete the challenge of a marathon, but there has been no experience in my life like watching Ethan finish the race. I know it might sound dramatic to be emotional about watching my brother running a marathon, but it was such an amazing experience and I could not be more proud of him.


A completed marathon called for a celebratory meal. We settled on Hop Valley Brewery for burgers and beer. Ethan may have been a bit delirious from exhaustion at this point, hence, the following series of pictures.

The food and drink were excellent and exactly what Ethan needed before passing out in the backseat on the way home. Which I documented in pictures, of course. I may have been a proud and emotional big sister, but I was a big sister nonetheless.

The following day was my birthday and Ethan’s last day in Oregon. Despite his aching body, Ethan was willing to make the drive out to the coast to celebrate. He may have requested Brandon to slow down, though, as his abs hurt each time the car took a curve. If you’ve ever made the drive to the coast, you know that curves happen frequently, poor guy.

We had no specific destination other than “the ocean” in mind when we left. Our first stop was a little seafood spot in Coos Bay. We ordered our freshly caught seafood from the restaurant sitting on the water and had a nice little picnic in a waterside pavilion.

From there we headed to a little spot we call “Secret Beach.” It may technically have another name, but sharing it here would make it rather less than a secret. And I like that there are few, if any, people there. Of course, that might have something to do with the crazily rutted, unmaintained, gravel road that you have to take to get there.

We spent the afternoon as one does on an Oregon beach – exploring, walking, relaxing, carrying logs, throwing a hatchet Brandon found abandoned on the beach. You know, the normal stuff.

And for my birthday dinner? We returned to the spot in Florence where we had found a crazy delicious pistachio drink when we had been there the previous year. Yes, I chose my birthday dinner spot entirely for this drink. It’s that good.

Thankfully, the food at 1285 Restobar was almost as good as that drink.

Steamer clams in a white wine sauce
My choice was a crab stuffed ravioli in a creamy lobster sauce that was absolutely delicious.
And because it was my birthday, I also got to sample Ethan’s fried oysters…
…and Brandon’s seafood pasta.
No birthday dinner would be complete without dessert. Despite being quite full by this point, we did manage to mostly finish off the tiramisu between the three of us.

It was altogether a lovely birthday. Getting to spend time with Ethan for an entire weekend certainly distracted me from turning another year older.

As we made the drive back home that evening, I couldn’t help but feel thankful to have had another year of life, a great life full of love and laughter and adventure, a beautiful life that I get to share with Brandon and Ethan and so many others. Getting older might not be so bad, after all.

 

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Portland Weekend

I love living in Roseburg. I really do. I love my little house in a way I’ve never loved a collection of building materials combined to create a habitation. My 10 minute commute to work is amazing. The summer weather is everything sunny and perfect. I am surrounded by beautiful places. I love living in Roseburg.

However.

Roseburg does somewhat lack in the amenities department. True, there are some fantastic restaurants, but the options are limited. There is rather a dearth of cultural activities and date night options vary between the movie theatre and the bowling alley. I happily manage what Roseburg is missing with making any excuse to go to Portland for the weekend. In March, having some friends in town for a conference provided more than enough reason to leave my small town in southern Oregon for the big city of Portland.

Things I enjoyed in Portland that I cannot find in my little hometown included the food (of course), a chic hotel, and some iconic Portland sites, including a spot on my “Oregon bucket list.”

Because of a great deal on the HotelTonight app, we booked a room at the Hotel Eastlund in downtown Portland. This hotel had everything – style, comfort, amenities, and a great location with convenient location to the light rail.

There was even a great rooftop bar where we enjoyed sunset cocktails against the backdrop of the mountains in the distance.

Afterwards, we took a pleasant walk across the river into the Pearl District for dinner.

As I mentioned, I had friends coming into town for a conference. As the token Oregonian, I had chosen Irving Street Kitchen as the spot to meet for dinner. Pros: Excellent cocktails, an ideal location in the Pearl District, and great style. Plus, it was one of a handful of restaurants that easily took reservations for large groups.

We pretty much closed the place down – believe me, it was packed when we arrived. Even with a reservation there was a bit of a wait.

Cons: The food was solidly good, but not as wonderful as comparably priced restaurants in Portland and the service was slow.

Calamari and clams over squid ink risotto – perhaps I’ve been spoiled by Brandon’s risotto, but the squid ink seemed to add more novelty than flavor
Brandon shared that his steak was excellent and perfectly prepared

Even if Friday’s dinner slightly disappointed, we knew that Saturday morning we would get an unbeatable meal at our favorite restaurant – Le Chon. For the first time, we went there for brunch. It was not disappointing.

I’ve had many good meals in this place and hope there will be many, many more. If you go to Portland and have not eaten here, just do it. And maybe take me with you. And by that I mean definitely take me with you.
Oh my word. These were some type of apple fritter covered in honey with a side of marionberry butter. Oh. my. word.
Of course we had to get the empanadas. These are always a must, no matter the time of day.
Sometimes, just sometimes, he gets tired of waiting to eat until after I’ve taken pictures.
We chose a couple of entrees to share, one of which was the mushroom breakfast tacos.
My favorite was the chicken and biscuits – perfectly fried chicken (says the Southern girl) alongside a cheddar jalapeño biscuit topped with an egg and sausage gravy. This was legit.

Needing to walk off a few calories, we strolled along the river among the blossoming cherry trees before perusing the Portland Saturday Market.

And then!

And then we went to Powell’s.

Somehow, this book loving heart of mine had not managed to make it to this iconic Portland bookstore in the 2 1/2 years I had lived in Oregon. This was literally the biggest bookstore I had ever seen. I spent a blissfully undetermined amount of time (thank you, love) wandering among the maze of books, feeling both overjoyed and overwhelmed, inhaling deep breaths of the book smell, utterly content. It was perfection.

Although at heart, I will never be a city girl, I do love to spend some time there now and then doing all the city things that I miss. And Brandon, wonderful man that he is, tagged along for a weekend of some of my favorites.

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California Dreamin’: Santa Rosa

So all that spontaneity and stress from the drive to California was not pointless. We were going to California for a wedding, a very fun wedding. Although much of the weekend was spent in wedding related activities, we did manage to fit in a few extra activities. It was fun for me to get to see a place where Brandon had lived. And I think it was fun for him to show me around.

But, before I get into all that, this one picture from the wedding must be shared. Because he just looked so darn handsome.

For the weekend, we stayed at a VRBO on a small farm. It was quaint and comfortable and there were alpacas and big fluffy dogs that Brandon may or may not have considered stealing.

We also ate a lot of really good food. When the friends getting married are both professional chefs, you’re in good company. Everything, from the wedding catering (there was an entire pig), to the post-wedding brunch, to simple dinners out, was fantastic.

One of the great challenges for me about living in Oregon is the scarcity of good Mexican food. I couldn’t go to California without getting my fix. We began Saturday morning with breakfast burritos from what had been Brandon’s favorite spot for breakfast burritos when living in Santa Rosa. My veggie burrito did not disappoint. Too often vegetarian breakfast burritos are bland with an overabundance of eggs or under seasoned potatoes to other flavors. This one was perfect, with an ideal balance of eggs, rice, beans, cheese, salsa, onions, and bell peppers. No lack of flavor here!

Crab stuffed deviled eggs should be a thing everywhere. Imagine the best deviled egg you’ve ever had and then multiply that by 100.
Burrata has been a slight obsession of mine recently.
Smoked bacon omellete
A fancy Monte Cristo – I loved all the pickles on the side

The day after a wedding is as good an excuse as any for brunch. We were treated to a delicious brunch at Monti’s. Despite staying out a bit to late the night before and having to drag ourselves to the 11 am brunch, we quite enjoyed it. Everything was delicious.

Our last night in California, we went out for an excellent dinner with friends at Jackson’s in downtown Santa Rosa.

When you have to wait 45 minutes for a table, a pre dinner cocktail is a good idea. I tried the Shredder – Humboldt rum, orange amer, lemon juice, and pear puree.

And then there was the food, starting with way too many appetizers – chicken wings, more burrata (because obsessed), roasted cauliflower, and truffle fries.

And then somehow we ate more. I managed to eat about one shrimp taco and I think Brandon ate about half of his turkey sandwich. Nothing like the post-wedding happiness haze to contribute to rash food over-ordering.

We also fit in just a bit of sight seeing on Sunday. I think I mentioned that we had stayed out way too late after the wedding on Saturday. On Sunday, for every second of the entire day, we were struggling. Just imagine in all of the smiling pictures you will see below that behind the smiles, there are pounding headaches and profound fatigue.

When in Sonoma County, one must go wine tasting. Although the thought of alcohol may have been unpleasant at that moment in time, we somehow forced ourselves to go to exactly one tasting room. Our choice was Seghesio Family Vineyards. Although I certainly want to return to the area at a time when wine tasting is more, ummm, palatable, this was a great choice. I loved see how the vineyard was so different from the much smaller operations in the Umpqua Valley and I enjoyed the wines that are not grown in Oregon. We may have come home with multiple bottles of Zinfandel.

After rallying through wine tasting, Brandon wanted to show me downtown Santa Rosa. Specifically, he wanted to show me the Peanuts. Charles M. Schultz, the creator of the Peanuts cartoon, moved to the area with his family in 1958. They eventually moved to Santa Rosa, where he lived until his death. There are tributes to Mr. Schultz and the Peanuts throughout the city, including a museum. We were not really museum material that day, but we did enjoy walking around downtown and posing with the various statues. After stopping for coffee at the impressive Aroma Roasters.

All in all, not too shabby for two people who could barely walk.

The wedding was certainly the highlight of the trip. Even so, we had a great time fitting in some more fun things while we were in Santa Rosa. I can’t wait to go back!

California Dreamin’: Road Trip

Things I am good at: planning things, organizing things, following rules when I do things. Things I am not good at: being spontaneous.

So when Brandon suggests that we make the drive to California – where we were going for the weekend for his friends’ wedding – without a specific plan in mind, that we just get in the car and drive, that we make it up as we go along… I go along with it. Because I love him and because I want him to think I’m fun and easy-going.

This is how I do the no plan thing:

1) I insist that we stop for lunch at a place I’ve actually been wanting to stop at for a while. So not really spontaneous.

2) We arrive at the Trees of Mystery, the primary reason we “took the long way,” 20 minutes before it closes and well after the last entry to the trail. It was, however, enough time to take pictures with the giant Paul Bunyan and Babe the Blue Ox.

3) One word: Audiobooks. More words: AKA the savior of being stuck in the car for hours with someone who doesn’t like being stuck in the car for hours. Also not spontaneous given the copious amount of time I spent narrowing down the options of books to one that would be interesting for both of us.

4) When I’m not distracted by the glorious redwoods and glimpses of the coast, I use a combination of Yelp and Google Maps to find a spot for dinner. In this case, we settled upon Salt Fish House in the quirky and charming town of Arcata, CA. This represented some minor progress in “going with the flow.”

It’s amazing what a little sunshine and a few palm trees can do for the soul when the Oregon winter will.not.end.

I loved the style and ambience
Always a fan of melty brie, this fried brie took it to the next level. The hint of balsamic was especially delicious.
The curried muscles were quite good, but recent muscles in Washington still had a slight edge.

5) When I’m not distracted by fried brie, curried muscles, and fish and chips, I use a combination of HotelTonight and Google Maps to find a place to stay for the night. This was my real success with not planning too much.

6) We almost run out of gas in the middle of the night in the middle of nowhere California. Because planning. More specifically the lack thereof. On the other hand, it was a great opportunity to practice our communication and problem solving skills.

Please note: Brandon’s car has a 15 gallon tank. Into which we put 14.961 gallons. Did I mention that we were in the middle of nowhere?

7) We arrive at our hotel in one piece, having had a great day together despite the lack of planning.

8) I decide that I still prefer to not be spontaneous.