Category Archives: Local Attractions

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.

Cape Perpetua and the End of a Year

I do this thing, this thing where I get restless if I go too long without some type of adventure, whether it be a weekend getaway or a day trip to a new place or, if I’m lucky, a vacation to somewhere interesting and beautiful. Since returning from Jamaica in September, with time and finances rather tied up with wedding planning, the opportunities to get away, although not quite nonexistent, had been few and far between. As the end of the year approached I could feel myself getting antsy. The feeling built until the last weekend of the year when I had an extra long weekend thanks to the New Year.

I woke up Saturday morning not having any plans, but really, really, really wanting to have plans. So, like a normal person, I suggested that we go camping. In a tent. The obvious choice for a weekend in December. One spot I had been wanting to explore since moving to Oregon was Cape Perpetua along the coast. Shockingly, we had no difficulty making last minute campgroup reservations at Jessie M. Honeyman State Park. Less than 2 hours after I initially suggested camping and Brandon agreed (after spending a few minutes reconsidering my sanity), we were packed up and ready to go.

His willingness to go along with my crazy plans and impulsive adventures is one of the many reasons I love him.

Heading toward the coast seemed like the perfect excuse to stop by the Lighthouse Cafe. Not that I need an excuse. 

I struggle to choose a favorite, but this particular day I went with the (vegetarian) reuben and a California salad with the amazing dill dressing. Sooooo yummy!
This seemed appropriate for our day. And our life.

After lunch, we enjoyed the scenic route to the coast and then arrived and settled into our campsite. I’m fairly certain that we were the only people in the entire park crazy enough to tent camp in the middle of winter, but we ensured we got a site with electricity in order to make a few, ummm, adjustments to our typical camping arrangement.

This space heater made the difference between a somewhat manageable night and an entirely miserable one. We also had an electric blanket.

This lovely picture does not capture the chill in the air

After setting up our campsite, we spent the rest of the afternoon doing the best kinds of things – walking along the beach holding hands, watching Sydney play tag with the waves, finding whole sand dollars (not easy to do), and enjoying the beauty that is the Oregon coast.

They are best buddies

The real Brandon

I love my Enso ring – perfect for all of our adventures

After a long walk on the beach and taking approximately 1 million pictures, give or take, we had worked up an appetite. We decided to return to Homegrown Public House, a spot we had especially liked during a previous trip to Florence.

It was just as great as we remembered. The literary themed seasonal cocktails were a fun touch. With options such as A Walk in the Woods, My Precious, Lizzie Bennet, and A Song of Ice & Fire it was hard to decide.

My choice – Always Winter and Never Christmas: Crater Lake Vodka, Crater Lake Hazelnut Expresso Vodka, Kahlua, Bailey’s, and cream
Brandon bravely tried Polyjuice Potion: Vodka, homemade berry syrup, and fresh squeezed lemon. I got the sense that it tasted better than its namesake.

The real highlight continued to be the locally sourced, made from scratch food.

Clam chowder
Fried cheese curds
And Brandon approved fish and chips made with locally caught cod

Bellies full, we soaked in the warmth of the restaurant before heading back to camp for what we correctly anticipated would be a chilly night.

Although the space heater and many blankets kept us reasonably warm, there is only so much you can do to make camping in a tent, an activity that is not particularly comfortable under ideal conditions, cozy in the middle of winter. Needless to say, we got an early start the next morning, desperately needing another campfire, lots of hot coffee, and the chance to move and stretch our aching backs.

How pathetic is this “please give me some bacon” face?

Despite a mediocre night of sleep, we were excited to begin our day at Cape Perpetua. This was another spot on my Oregon bucket list, Thor’s Well and the tide pools both being among the spots I wanted to see.

Oregon is gorgeous

With no real plan in mind, we walked the trails, explored the tide pools, and marveled at the incredible ways water and rock and wind and time have shaped the coast.

My love

These two are my favorites

And just when we thought the views couldn’t get any more amazing, we headed to the top. From the highest point on the coast, we could see miles down the coast and out to sea. There is an immensity that overwhelms in places such as this one, an immensity that washes over and through and leaves a feeling that is simultaneously humbling and expansive.

To finish up our quick weekend away, we enjoyed a late lunch at 1285 Restobar, a favorite because of the pistachio drink, the ingredients of which we have repeatedly tried to determine. Well, it must have been our lucky day because with minimal prompting our waitress revealed the unexpected secret ingredients. I won’t reveal them (mostly because if I did you probably would not try it), but I’ll make you one of these cocktails anytime!

“Always get the steamer clams” seems like a generally good rule for life

This seafood ravioli is all of the delicious things

We savored our lunch and began the drive home, reviewing the year, both the wonderful and difficult parts. It had been a year full of amazing things, but also a year that presented some challenges. As we reflected on this year, our thoughts turned to the next year with anticipation. The next year, the one where we would get married and start our life together. As we looked backward and looked forward, I felt grateful for the man beside me with whom I made so many of the wonderful memories of the past year and with whom I would soon be starting the next chapter. Whether we spend the weekend having adventures, recovering from a crazy week, or simply moving through the mundane tasks of life, I am thankful that he is the one by my side. Later that night, exhausted, we sat around the fire pit in the backyard and toasted the new year with friends, welcoming and wondering what 2018 will bring.

 

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.

SaveSave

SaveSave

Baby, Let’s Get Lost

If you’ve somehow missed this fact, I will share it again: I love living in Oregon. I absolutely love everything about it. I especially love the random Saturdays when Brandon and I set out to explore. With no real destination in mind, the chance of getting lost, or stuck, and/or ending up nowhere in particular is great, but what is even more certain is that we will have a good time.

Thus, on a rare sunny winter day, we set out with the vague notion that we would find Golden and Silver Falls. Which we never actually found. What we did find in our meandering exploration was a completely deserted Loon Lake.

With the campground and all facilities closed for the season, we had the place to ourselves after finding a spot to park and walk in on foot.

I’m still not sure whether or not we were technically trespassing, but we did not see anything strictly saying we couldn’t be there. I mean we were not camping. Plus, Brandon likes to bend/break the rules every now and then.

Even though the sandy beach that is there in the summer was pulled in, presumably to prevent loss of sand due to increased lake volume, there was plenty to see. We hiked, we saw a waterfall, we scoped out the best camping sites for the next camping season.

It was an absolutely lovely day that we didn’t have to share with anyone else. The normally crowded campground was still and quiet. The lake, so busy in summertime, gave us an unobstructed view of its beauty. Sydney was free to roam and run to her heart’s content.

And, as we continued to drive around, aimlessly finding somewhere else to go (and finding ourselves driving down a rather potholed gravel road that probably isn’t intended for Honda Civics), we stumbled upon this:

I will happily get lost with Brandon anytime.

When Guests Come to Town

I love exploring Oregon. And I love having company. Getting to explore Oregon with company? Maybe one of my favorite things. When my parents visited over the summer, I took advantage of the opportunity to enjoy a couple of nearby attractions.

The first is literally just down the road in the small town of Winston. Wildlife Safari began in 1972 as a conservation facility and has grown into that and more. The major attraction is the drive-through wild animal park, featuring dozens of species that can be seen from the car.

img_0809

img_0810

We saw zebras, giraffes, hippos, bears, and elephants, many of which get to roam completely free throughout their area of the park.

img_0811

img_0824

img_0818

img_0816

img_0834

There is a spot to feed some of the animals (buying feed is an additional charge and the vehicular line is even slower than the drive through the rest of the park).

img_0830

Wildlife Safari is especially known for their cheetah conservation and breeding program.

img_0838

img_0841

img_0840

An adult ticket is $17.99 and kids up to 12 years old are $11.99 per ticket. However, I’ve noticed that there are usually specials available, so you may check out Groupon before you go. In addition to the drive through portion, there is the Safari Village, which houses additional animal displays. There are special events throughout the year, as well. It was a fun way to spend a sunny, summery morning.

The other, super fun, thing that I did with my parents was Hellgate Jetboat Excursions. This was seriously one of the most fun things I have done in a while. We chose to do the dinner tour. With our $66 tickets booked in advance (I would recommend this – our tour was completely full), we arrived at Hellgate’s check-in desk (which not so subtly requires one to walk through a rather large gift shop) and then to the line to get onto the boats.

We started the tour with a lovely, relatively tame, mostly dry trip down the river.

img_0847

img_0864

img_0857

img_0851

img_0848

The scenery along the Rogue River was spectacular. We went all the way to Hellgate Canyon, with a few exciting spins and minor splashes thrown in.

img_0865

img_0882

img_0881

img_0879

img_0875

img_0873

We then turned around and stopped by Hellgate’s own restaurant, The Ok Corral, on the river for dinner. Despite the fact that there were almost 300 people present, dinner in the open-air restaurant was delicious and well paced.

img_0886

img_0889

img_0888

The family style dinner included barbecue, salad, and delicious sides. I had preordered the vegetarian option, which was a surprisingly edible vegetarian lasagna.

img_0891

img_0896

img_0895

img_0894

img_0892

And let’s not forget the classic Oregon summer dessert – berry crumble.

img_0898

After dinner, there was time to wander around as the evening began to cool. Relaxed with the content feeling that only comes after dinner with good friends, little did we know what was in store.

img_0901

img_0915

img_0905

The real fun began with the ride back. What had been lively spins on the first part of the tour became wildly fun spins and splashes, sometimes in conjunction with another one of the boats that had everyone soaked and laughing by the time we arrived back in Grants Pass.

img_0920

img_0927

img_0926

There was literally no way to stay dry, even if you tried to use your child as a human shield, not to name names. My mom did her best to hide behind my dad. That too was unsuccessful. We had an absolute blast. As we pulled up to the dock to disembark from the tour, I felt a mix of disappointment that it was over and a strong desire to put on dry clothes. Too bad I hadn’t thought of that beforehand…

img_0930

If you are looking for a delightful summer activity in southern Oregon I highly recommend Hellgate. They have a number of tours, including one that goes further into the canyon and a brunch tour that probably needs to be a part of my plans next summer.

And with that, another successful weekend with out of town guests was completed.

 

 

 

Twin Lakes: The Third Time is the Charm

Those who know me well know that, at times, I have a tendency to forge ahead with a plan despite obvious contraindications. One could generously call this determination, but in reality it is simply stubbornness. Not one of my best traits. A perfect example? My “determination” to hike at Twin Lakes.

First attempt, April: I knew that it was probably a little early for the road to the trail to be open for the year, but I thought I would check it out anyway. I got about halfway up the 9 mile gravel road to the trailhead before running into snow, convincing me to turn my car around. I hadn’t exactly had good luck with driving in snow in the recent months.

Second attempt, late May: I had given the snow 6 weeks to melt and it was a nice warm day. Surely this time I could make it to the lakes. Weeellll, maybe not. I managed to make it a little further than last time before hitting the snow. One moment, I was slowly making my way up the gravel road, the next, I was driving in this:

img_0284

I again attempted to turn around, but this time was not so lucky. In the process of turning around, I managed to slide backwards and get stuck in the ditch. That’s right, for the second time in 6 months, I had managed to get stuck in the snow in the middle of nowhere. Except this time I was alone.

img_0286

img_0292

img_0278

img_0277

After several panicked moments involving imagined ways to harness Sydney to pull out the car and perhaps a few curse words, I pulled myself together and began figuring out a plan. I was beyond thrilled to note that I happened to be in a miracle-pocket of cell service (I’m not exaggerating when I say that is a miracle). Given that I did not have to hike myself out of there, my first plan was to call my boyfriend, who was working in Alaska, which was obviously helpful. He didn’t believe me, which is apparently becoming a trend when I tell him things like “My flight was cancelled and so I’m landing in Eugene instead of Medford” and “Hello love, I know you’re working, but I’m stuck in the snow and don’t know what to do so I’m calling you and trying not to cry.” I texted him a few pictures to assuage his doubts. Despite my love and confidence in him, you’ll be shocked to know that he couldn’t actually help me from far away in Alaska although to be fair, he called everyone he knew to see if anyone could come try to pull me out. I then began investigating other options, like calling a tow truck. While that would be an option, it would be an expensive one at almost $500. I then contacted my insurance and learned that I had roadside assistance. Apparently getting your car towed out of a random ditch on a snowy mountainside is considered “roadside assistance.” Relieved that a tow truck was on its way, Sydney and I settled in to wait the couple of hours it would take to get there.

img_0280

Once the truck arrived, it was a relatively simple matter to get my car unstuck. And the tow truck driver was considerate enough to hold in his laughter at my predicament and to follow me to ensure I made it safely back to the main road.

img_0293

img_0295

My car was a little worse for the wear, but I was otherwise unscathed.

However, I was no less determined to visit Twin Lakes.

Third attempt, July: This time, I ensured we would be able to access the trail and I took along my two favorite hiking companions – Sydney and Brandon. This time, I actually made it to the trailhead.

img_0966From here, it is about a mile to the first lake, a lovely mile with lush green fields and panoramic views.

img_0969

img_0981

img_0980

img_0979

img_0978

img_0976

img_0971

We spent the rest of the afternoon hiking around the two lakes, jumping into the cool water with its soft, ashy bottom for a swim, and simply relaxing in a beautiful place. img_0995

img_1026

img_1020

img_1018

img_1017

img_1016

img_1014

img_1005

img_1002

img_0997

We may have enjoyed swimming, but Sydney wasn’t such a fan.

img_1028

img_1031

img_1034

img_1029

img_1038

This was another perfect Oregon summer day. A warm, sunny day, spent hiking and swimming and exploring a gorgeous place with my love. It just took a few tries to get there.

A Tale of Two Campsites

It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of adventure, it was the age of relaxation, it was the epoch of new experiences, it was the epoch of familiarity, it was the season of sunshine, it was the season of snow, we had everything before us, we had nothing before us, we were going direct to beautiful nature, we were going direct to misery. In short, we were going camping.

dsc04534

Summer 2016 was going to be an amazing summer. Brandon was home, we had already kicked off the summer with a trip to Hawaii, and we lived in Oregon, the land of gloriously sunny and not horribly hot summers. This would mean months of hiking and floating the river and barbecues. And let’s not forget the ultimate summer activity, camping.

Here’s the thing about camping: my confident assertion that it is something I enjoy is somewhat undermined by not having actually camped in approximately a decade and the fact that when I had previously been “camping” I hadn’t actually been the one doing the work of camping. Sure, I had slept in a tent and cooked s’mores over a campfire, but I had never been the one to put up said tent or build the campfire over which marshmallows were carefully roasted. Despite this, I reassured Brandon that I both loved camping and that I absolutely would do my share of the work.

dsc04546

Thus, with Memorial Day weekend in front of us, we loaded up the car and the pup and headed out to Hemlock Lake. Located in Umpqua National Forest, the campground is basic – up a gravel road in an area without cell service, the handful of $10 a night campsites consist of flat areas with fire pits and tables along with access to drop toilets.

dsc04429

dsc04387

Determined to prove that I could do it, I happily set up the tent as Brandon unloaded the car. This was the kind of place where you had to bring everything you needed because the closest place to purchase anything was at least an hour away.

She was working hard
She was working hard

After settling into the campsite, we do what you do with a weekend in the woods. We fished, we hiked, and we sat by the fire playing cards (except neither of us could remember any card games and the lack of Internet service meant we sort of had to make it up – the key is to “remember” another “rule” at the right moment).

dsc04406

dsc04426

dsc04420

dsc04417

dsc04410

dsc04454

dsc04468

dsc04465
Love him!

In my quest to demonstrate that I was not high maintenance and could contribute in a meaningful way to the camping experience, I believe I was generally successful.

Only two things came close to defeating me. First, the morning. I had a couple things going against me that first morning – the cold and the lack of coffee. Although it was almost June, there was still snow on the ground in spots and the mornings were quite cool.

See. Snow.
See. Snow.

I blame what happened next on being inadequately caffeinated and the slight disorientation of sleeping in a tent for the first time in years. Brandon was already up and about, building a fire and, most importantly, making coffee. I was warm and cozy in my sleeping bag, listening to the sounds of the day beginning in the forest and thinking of how lucky I was to love someone who makes such good coffee. That’s when the realization hit me. I was not going to be able to stay warm and cozy in my sleeping bag. Suddenly overwhelmed by the thought of leaving the comfort of my sleeping bag to then take off my pjs in the cold and put on equally cold clothing, I did the almost unthinkable. I asked Brandon – who had not only managed to get dressed like a real adult but then had started to do helpful things like make a fire – to warm my clothes over the fire. Let me repeat that. I, who had insisted that I liked camping and would not be high maintenance, asked my boyfriend to warm up my clothes before I would put them on. Bless the guy, he actually did it. And he did it with minimal scoffing. Not only that, after handing me my now warm clothes (and yes, they felt lovely, thank you very much), he suggested that I come sit by the fire and drink coffee while he cooked veggie breakfast burritos. Like I said, bless him. In case you’re thinking I’m a total slacker, I did do the dishes.

dsc04520

The other thing that almost defeated my attempt to be a camper was the mosquitos, mosquitos so abundant and so hungry that no amount of bug spray could stop them. The worst was when we salvaged wood for the fire from the slash piles (because who needs to bring wood when you can spend hours finding it and chopping it to the right size with a somewhat dull axe?) and when we hiked.

dsc04394

At one point in our hike around part of Yellow Jacket Glade Loop and up to the overlook on Flat Rock Mountain Trail, there was probably a solid half mile of a steady uphill climb when our choice was to keep going at the expense of being able to breath or to get bitten by hundreds of mosquitos, which would swarm relentlessly the second you stopped moving. We chose to keep going. I think Brandon was reconsidering the relationship by the time we got to the top, even when we got to pause and enjoy the incredible view. I may never know the full extent of his loathing because we couldn’t gather enough air to say words. That view, though.

dsc04492
The lake is Hemlock, where we were camping

dsc04507

dsc04505

dsc04501
If you look closely, you can see the pain in our faces

Finally, after realizing we had over a hundred mosquito bites between us, we declared defeat and left a day earlier than planned to enjoy the last day of the long weekend with luxuries like showers, flushing toilets, and clothes that don’t need to be warmed over a fire.

Despite the challenges, I did enjoy my first foray into Oregon camping, although perhaps I was not quite as helpful as I had led Brandon to believe I would be. Regardless, he was willing to give it another shot, which we did a few weeks later along the coast. This time, we stayed at an Oregon State Park campground, Sunset Bay.

dsc04603

Oregon Parks does an incredible job developing and maintaining campgrounds throughout the state. Online reservations are almost a necessity in the summer, but a little pre-planning is worth it. This was camping I could do – electricity, running water, showers, access to stores.

img_0772

We even got dressed in real clothes and went out for sushi one night. Because we could.

dsc04696

dsc04709

dsc04708

Thankfully, there were no mosquitos and the weather was perfect for hiking and spending time on the beach. We even bought firewood this time, so compared to Hemlock, it was practically like staying in a luxury hotel.

dsc04660
There is nothing quite like hiking this section of the Oregon Coast Trail

dsc04690

dsc04685

dsc04679

dsc04678

dsc04670

dsc04668
He did keep feeding me random berries along the hike that he swore were edible. Some were quite unpleasant. I still haven’t decided whether or not he was actually trying to kill me…

And you can’t forget the peace that comes from having nothing better to do than sit and watch the sunset with the man you love.

dsc04713

dsc04755

dsc04752

dsc04751

dsc04725

But Brandon didn’t want me to have it too easy. So we gathered sand shrimp to use as bait in fishing for surf perch. This is an activity that involves wading into the swampy sand of low tide and using a plunger-like device to pull up wet sand and then spew it out, hopefully with a shrimp or two in the mix that then must be picked up WITH A BARE HAND and thrown into a bucket.

dsc04567

dsc04570

dsc04569

Then the things, things that have poky feet and claws, must be picked up out of the bucket to be used as bait. One of us had a good time. One of us was mildly disgusted and made occasional whimpering sounds. I’ll let you guess which one I was.

dsc04574

dsc04578

Sydney, however, was in her happy place.

dsc04573

dsc04579

dsc04615

dsc04641

The last day we were there, Brandon suggested we go for a hike. Being somewhat tired from sleeping in a tent, I shared that a nice walk would be fine, but nothing too crazy. We had already been fishing and taken a hike along the coast the day before, after all. Sure, he said with a subtle gleam in his eye that I apparently missed, I have the perfect spot in mind. Nice, relaxing walk? I’ll let you be the judge.

dsc04793

dsc04796

dsc04767

He did try to make up for it by writing messages in the sand and showing me pretty views, though.

dsc04769

dsc04789
About 2 seconds after this picture was taken, Brandon put Sydney down. About 2 seconds after that she had managed to run across the beach, up the trail, and back to me. It may have been the fastest I’ve ever seen her run. She was not a fan of the “Lion King pose.”

dsc04787

dsc04780

dsc04775

The final verdict after actually camping? Despite the inherent challenges and discomforts, it is something I enjoy. And something I continued to do throughout the summer. While I might have a preference for a campsite with amenities like running water, it is good to know that I am truly capable of roughing it a bit now and then. Well, I am as long as I have my coffee. Everyone’s got their limits.

Let’s Go Back to February

So in all of the hubbub about Iceland, which, to be sure, certainly deserves all of the love, I never got a chance to discuss Valentine’s Day and the new progress on my Oregon Bucket List.

Let me start by saying that I’m not necessarily a Valentine’s Day kind of gal. I don’t expect flowers and romance and gifts just because it is a certain day. I do sort of expect those things at other times, but because they come from the heart, not from some sort of weird pressure to win the unspoken competition that occurs on Valentine’s Day to have the “best” boyfriend, husband, partner, etc.

That being said, when your boyfriend has been out of town for three weeks because of work and he just happens to be back the weekend that it just happens to be Valentine’s Day, it is the perfect excuse for a weekend getaway.

In typical Brandon and Cora fashion, the weekend mostly centered around food. Really, really good food.

We kicked off the weekend by trying one of the restaurants on my bucket list: Ned Ludd.

DSC02741

The restaurant managed to exude coziness, quirkiness, and Portland all at the same time.

DSC02743

DSC02746

With a focus on locally sourced ingredients and homestyle craft cooking using the restaurant’s brick wood-fired oven, the experience was overwhelmingly delicious. The menu changes regularly to reflect the season.

Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That's all I've got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what's in it.
Something with gin, honey, and lemon and something with cranberry and some type of liqour? That’s all I’ve got. Sometimes I get too distracted by, you know, actually drinking a delicious cocktail to remember to note what’s in it.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy - the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did subtly under the table in the restaurant) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream was just a little too, well, peppery.
This was the only thing I did not enjoy – the gougeres (you can google it yourself, just like I did, with my phone hid subtly under the table) were excellent, but the pink peppercorn cream (in keeping with the red and pink themed Valentine’s menu) was just a little too, well, peppery.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Homemade noodles, sautéed kale and other greens with a poached egg and parmesan. It never tastes this good when I make it at home.
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms. Maybe my vegetarian diet is rubbing off on him?
Brandon ordered polenta with roasted brussels sprouts and mushrooms.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert - a warm chocolate cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name.
And no fancy meal is complete without dessert – a warm chocolate chocolate chip cookie with cold milk. The cold milk comes from a specific cow. A specific cow that has a name. Did I mention that we were in Portland?

Ned Ludd is not my favorite restaurant in Portland (more on that in a bit), but it was an excellent meal in a restaurant committed to every aspect of the food that they serve.

You can’t spend a weekend in Portland without doing brunch. It’s just what you do in Portland. After deciding we didn’t want to wait for two hours to get a table at Tasty n Alder, we found ourselves at Cheryl’s on 12th, which had a much more reasonable wait.

Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
Not only was there a shorter wait, there were also complimentary beignet like things, warm out of the oven and coated in sugar. I think we made a good choice.
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of handsome brunch date
I do not apologize for the gratuitous picture of my handsome brunch date
It's not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
It’s not brunch without coffee. And mimosas. And more coffee.
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes
Eggs Sardou made with creamed spinach and artichokes

And the delicious food did not stop there. Saturday evening, we ate at our favorite Portland restaurant, where we had first eaten back in October. Lechon is just plain amazing. Serving food inspired by South American cuisine, Lechon simply gets it right.

This is the Mediterraneo - a drink inspired by the classic Peruvian cocktail - the pisco sour
This is the Mediterraneo – a drink similar to the classic Peruvian cocktail, the pisco sour

On this particular evening, we decided to order the special Valentine’s tasting menu. Every single bite was amazing. And by that I mean I want to eat it all again. Right now.

Salad with goat cheese, toasted nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
A salad with creamed goat cheese, toasted pine nuts, cranberries, and a champagne vinaigrette
This is what food should always taste like - burrata on toast with roasted salsa
This is what food should always taste like – burrata on toast with charred salsa
Lobster beignets
Lobster beignets
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
This truffle risotto was so incredible that my amazing boyfriend has learned to replicate it at home. Because everyone needs truffle risotto in their life on a regular basis.
After all of that, we finally got to the main course - swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
After all of that, we finally got to the main course – swordfish with chimichurri, crab cakes, and beef stuffed with all kinds of yummy things like olives and peppers
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cakes for dessert.
And, because we had not eaten enough already, we each got our own (as in no sharing) molten lava cake for dessert.

Okay, so we obviously ate a lot of really good food. But we actually did other stuff, too. A walking tour is the perfect after dinner activity to burn off at least some of the calories consumed. I had taken a tour with Portland Walking Tours a couple years ago and really enjoyed it. This seemed like a perfect opportunity to try one of their other tours. After looking into my options, I settled on the Beyond Bizarre Ghost Tour, which offered a combination of history for me and the potential for scariness for Brandon. With a 10 pm start time, there was plenty of time for a late dinner before meeting for the tour at the former Merchant Hotel, which is rumored to be haunted (said in my most mysterious and scary movie voiceover voice).

DSC02759

DSC02758

Haunted or not, it was creepy. Especially the creepy, creepy basement that was part of the infamous Portland tunnels underneath the city.

IMG_9283

IMG_9284
Our guide was fantastic – funny and informative!

What I like about this type of tour is that you get a side of history that you don’t normally hear. Even if ghosts aren’t your thing (and it’s not really mine), we got to learn about the darker side of Portland history – essentially legalized forced prostitution and the horrors associated with it, a period of time when anyone could be kidnapped and forced to be a sailor, floods and murder and mayhem.

We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.
We got to use EMF detectors during the tour. I will say, it was a little unnerving when it lit up. Especially in the creepy, creepy basement.

IMG_9291

Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.
Another gratuitous boyfriend picture. Because that smile.

Toward the end of the tour, our guide surprised us with a stop by Voodoo Doughnut (also on my bucket list, although I had previously been there).

IMG_9297

IMG_9298

Best of all, we got to surpass the hour-long line.

IMG_9302
So much for burning those calories…

The other fun thing we did was OMSI After Dark. This adults only event is a (usually) once a month event when the museum stays open late. There are themed events, vendors, and exhibits with a different focus each month.

IMG_9362

Appropriately, the theme this night was related to love and relationships. I thought the concept was great – extra museum hours and the opportunity to spend those extra hours perusing exhibits, glass of wine in hand. However, the execution was somewhat lacking. It was just so darn crowded. Every single thing had a line to the point I felt like we spent the whole evening waiting in line. I would have gladly paid more for the tickets (I think they were $20 apiece) if it meant that entry to OMSI After Dark was capped after a certain number of people.

If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
If I had to wait in line, at least I got to do it with this guy.
Sexy
I think it’s a good look

Valentine’s or not, I would eat delicious food and explore scary places (like creepy, creepy basements and crowded museums) with Brandon anytime.

It’s All Fun and Games Until You Get Stuck in the Snow

It sounded incredibly romantic – the boyfriend, a gorgeous and snowy Oregon day, hunting for the perfect Christmas tree. This year, I was not only going to have my first non-artificial Christmas tree ever, I was going to drive up into the mountains and cut one down. I mean, it sounds pretty much like a scene from a movie.

IMG_8020

And for much of the day it was.

I marveled at the initially frosty and then snowy trees (I’m still a Southern girl at heart and this never ceases to amaze me).

IMG_7992

IMG_8018

IMG_8020

IMG_8026

IMG_8023

I became ridiculously excited when we bought our $5 Christmas tree tag.

IMG_7990

We kissed in the middle of a frost covered bridge over a river surround by a white, wintry landscape.

IMG_8009

IMG_8016

We stopped to admire the scenery. And to kiss some more.

IMG_8034

IMG_8037

IMG_8035

We climbed higher and higher, Brandon expertly driving the increasingly snow-covered mountain roads, in search of my perfect tree.

IMG_8031

I spent the day with a gigantic smile on my face.

And then we got stuck in the snow.

Perhaps the boyfriend was trying to impress me. Perhaps we were distracted by the undeniable beauty of the day. Or perhaps we felt like the perfect tree was just around the next curve in the road.

Regardless, we suddenly realized that the car was no longer, you know, moving forward. The wheels were spinning to no avail. After allowing ourselves a moment to take in the reality of our situation, which included being stuck in the snow on a lonely mountain road with no traffic and no cell service, Brandon jumped into action.

IMG_8039

He began to dig us out of the snow while trusting me to drive the car forward or in reverse according to his careful instructions. Despite our best efforts (and by “our” I actually mean “his” – the guy was digging us out with his ungloved hands while I was sitting on the heated driver’s seat inside of a heated car), the situation became increasingly bleak. As in we were either going to freeze to death in the car or we were going to walk miles down the mountain. And still possibly freeze to death in the process. I’ll take option C, please. That would be the one where I don’t die from the cold.

IMG_8040

And yet I didn’t despair. We kept working together (quite well, I might add) and persisted with our attempts to become unstuck.  At this point we were almost literally between a rock and a hard place. Through a combination of desperate prayers, Brandon cutting down a tree to use for leverage, him bracing his entire body against the car to push away from the rocks, and my amazing driving skills (hahaha…) we managed to somehow, finally get free. It was a moment of sheer relief.

IMG_8041
Out of the snow but rather worse for the wear

Although our relationship managed to survive the Great Christmas Tree Hunting Debacle of 2015 entirely intact, his car was somewhat less fortunate. Somehow the guy still likes me even though my desire for a real Christmas tree, found in and cut down from an Oregon forest, kind of messed up his car.

And yes, we did find the perfect tree.

IMG_8042

IMG_8043

IMG_8067

IMG_8061

IMG_8074

Beautiful despite its imperfections. Beautiful because of its imperfections. Like a Christmas tree, and a relationship, should be.

IMG_8088

Roommate Reunion 2015, cont’d

Y’all gave me more gray hairs today… – Cora

Sometimes the best of friends are responsible for difficult conversations.  As the Oregon roommate reunion continued, a 2-hour drive to the coast was apparently the perfect time to have such a conversation. Which resulted in both more gray hairs and a headache on my part. Thankfully, Jessi and Shannon came to the rescue.

Excuse me, you wouldn’t happen to have any Tylenol, would you? – Jessi and Shannon

We spent Sunday afternoon exploring the small, coastal town of Florence.

IMG_0067

At literally every.single.store., Jessi and Shannon felt compelled to ask every.single.person we met for Tylenol. It was, after all, their fault that I had the headache in the first place. Unfortunately, the embarrassment I felt about the entire process sort of cancelled out any appreciation I felt. Really, what else are friends for than to stress you out and then embarrass you? Thankfully, we got to enjoy some Oregon coastal scenery, which seemed to make everything better.

IMG_0102

IMG_0086

IMG_0133

IMG_0127

IMG_0161

Guys! We need a selfie stick! – Jessi

Speaking of the coast, apparently we looked either completely desperate or completely pathetic in our attempts to take a group picture. A complete stranger walked over to us from another part of the beach to ask if we wanted to borrow her selfie stick. It temporarily felt like a new low. But then it was awesome.

IMG_0104

This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.
This picture brought to you by the magic of the pity offer selfie stick.

Cora, when are you going to Antartica? – Jessi

I don’t think I actually understand what it is that you do. – Shannon

Proof that even the best of friends don’t always understand each other. I’m going to Iceland, not Antartica. And don’t worry, Shan, I’m pretty sure that almost no one understands what I do, including most of my coworkers! Despite differences and brief misunderstandings and disagreements, best friends talk it out, help each other feel better, and have a great day at the coast in spite of it.

Can we take a picture for you? Oh, would you happen to mind taking a picture of us? Maybe just one more?(after looking at the pics and deciding they were not up to her rather high picture standards) – Jessi

After a beautiful day at the coast, I shared more of Oregon’s breathtaking and unbelievable beauty with Jessi and Shannon by taking them hiking at Crater Lake.

IMG_0185

IMG_0194

IMG_0196

IMG_0195

We hiked Garfield Peak, which is not a particularly long hike, but it is rather uphill.

IMG_0186

Our strategy was generally to stop and take a picture whenever we saw something beautiful. Which was always. It was the perfect strategy for never admitting how out of breath we were.

IMG_0200

IMG_0199

Take a pretty picture. Hike a few feet uphill and notice you’re winded. Suggest stopping for another picture (or ten), but certainly not because you’re out of breath.

IMG_0193

IMG_0223

Hike. Run across someone else on the trail. Solicit about twenty pictures from them.

IMG_0308

IMG_0310

IMG_0309

Hike 10 feet. See a chipmunk which demands to be captured in a photograph.

IMG_0212

Stop and individually pose for the same picture x 3.

IMG_0189

IMG_0188

IMG_0187

Hike. An ultimately effective, but perhaps not efficient method of hiking. The view from the top, however, was more than worth it!

IMG_0230

IMG_0251

The harder the better – Name redacted to protect the innocent

For the last day of the reunion, we decided we earned some relaxation. In addition to drinking lots of coffee, another roommate reunion tradition is getting pedicures. This time, we went all out and booked pedicures at the River Rock Spa at the nearby Seven Feathers Casino. Not only did we get to enjoy relaxing and much-needed pedis, we also spent time enjoying the lovely spa amenities. It was the perfect way to spend our last day together. Oh, and the quote? It was said to the man adjusting the jets on the hot tub. Obviously.

IMG_6648

IMG_0336

IMG_6650

IMG_0339

IMG_6658

IMG_0344

IMG_0355

IMG_0356

IMG_0359

I am so thankful for my friendship with Jessi and Shannon. We laugh, we cry, we reminisce, and sometimes we get on each others’ nerves. Jessi uses me as a human clothes rack. We love each other and the all too brief times we get to spend together.

I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!
I wish I could capture in words how well this picture illustrates the dynamics of our friendship!

Shannon and Jessi are the best kind of people and the best kind of friends. I look forward to each opportunity we have to be together. As long as we have been friends, it is not nearly long enough. Here’s to more memories, more gray hairs, and many, many more roommate reunions!