A Tasty Trek through Flavor Town (Portland Style)

It often amazes me how much time I spend dreaming about and researching the places I want to visit when we travel.  I have a clear vision of the two of us of walking down tiny off-the-beaten-path streets in towns and villages all over the world.  They all seem so interesting, unusual, and well… just more darned fun than my own home town.  I know it’s human nature to think the “grass is greener” in someone else’s field, but lately I’ve been ignoring the town I have professed to love.  Heck, I chose to move here not once, but twice.  That must mean something.  Since we are doing more local travel these days to save for our adventure in Spain, I thought it would be a good time to explore Portland once again and share some of my finds.  Truth be told,  I’m also hoping to entice a home exchange or two.  And what better way than to share our own local adventures.

We’re training for our big walk on the Camino de Santiago and have covered so many miles and made so many interesting discoveries that  I’ve joked about starting my own on foot tour company.  Not exactly the shuffle, eat, shuffle, eat tour I’m going to tell you about in this post, but a more robust 5 or 6 mile tour with a stop for lunch or a glass of wine and a nibble.  Kind of a walking workout, sight-seeing and food experience combined.  It is amazing what you see when you travel at about 3 mph.  You have time to take photos and you burn enough calories to alleviate any guilt about the eating and drinking.   I think I’m on to something.  Hubs thinks I’m crazy.  Maybe.

Since Portland has become the go-to destination for foodie culture, and since we love to eat, an Epicurean Excursion offered by Portland Walking Tours seemed like a match made in heaven.   And it was.  Three hours flew by as we enjoyed downtown Portland’s culinary scene, enjoying the smells, sampling the tastes and sipping some tasty wine along the way.  Our starting point was the Heathman Hotel where we all gathered on the mezzanine to meet our tour guide.   There were about 10 of us in the group, locals and out-of-towners, all ready for fun and food.

We stopped at ten locations – specialty stores, restaurants, a wine bar, and a cupcake shop, where we learned about finishing salts, tasted olive oils and vinegars, enjoyed a back of the house kitchen tour and met with several of local chefs.  Our little band of food explorers meandered through Southwest Portland and into the Pearl District.  An easy mile and a half walk during which time our guide kept up a running and very informative conversation offering tidbits of Portland history, architecture, farm and food facts and a joke or three.  He was a wealth of local knowledge.  A tour guide by day and an improv comedian by night.  At each stop we learned about the farm to table food culture that is alive and well in Portland and enjoyed a sample or two.  Some larger and some rather tiny, but all delicious.  Add in two glasses of wine and several mini cupcakes and we ended our afternoon feeling well-fed, well-informed and very well-entertained.

Taking a tour in your own town is a great way to re-kindle the romance with your city.  You’ll learn things only tourists the take time to find out and enjoy a fun afternoon with your sweetie, your kids or your visiting dignitaries.   There are two companies in Portland currently doing food tours.  Portland Walking Tours and Forktown Food Tours.  We signed up with Portland Walking Tours.  The cost was $59 each, so it’s not cheap, but it was a lot of fun and we will do it again.  Next up, since Portland has become the food cart capital of the world, I think we might sign up with Forktown for their Food Cart Tour.

Portland has so much to offer.   It’s a vibrant city filled with art, culture, history, natural beauty, wonderful quirky people, and food, fabulous food.  Oh, and artisan coffee shops, wineries, brewpubs and the hubbie’s new fav – micro-distilleries.  Now there’s a tour he’d really enjoy!

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To Violet ~ with Gratitude

Ensconced in her window seat in the front of the plane, tray table down, sorting through all of the treasures she had stashed into two cotton carry bags, a most delightful slip of a woman looked up as I moved in to take the aisle seat.  She smiled at me and her blue eyes twinkled.  Wispy white hair peaked out from the sides of her knit cap and a fringed pom-pom danced on top.  The word elf came to mind.  I sensed this was going to be more of an adventure than my usual Portland to Phoenix flights and boy was I right.

Her name was Violet and when I sat down next to her on that flight a few years ago, she was 86 years old.  She wasn’t an elf at all.   She was a treasure and a very special gift.

For the next two hours and twenty minutes Violet regaled me with stories of her life and the wisdom of her years.  She talked and talked.  I listened and learned.  For Violet, life had always been, and still was, one hell of a grand thrill ride.  At 19, as a young war bride, Violet and her baby moved to Portland where she found work in the shipyards.  Yes, she was the real-deal Rosie the Riveter.   Husbands, jobs, kids, moves, grand kids, births and deaths – the daily act of creating a live well lived that often seems so mundane to many of us – came vividly to life as my new friend spun out tale after tale.   Just an ordinary life some might think, but oh not so.  What Violet knew and what so many of us miss – what makes every life special and unique and amazing – is when we pay attention to the details, embrace the challenges, open to the opportunities. It’s in how we choose to experience each of our moments.  Violet chose to see adventure.  She chose joy and she chose to stop and savor the tiniest details.  She has never stopped exploring or learning.  She loved meeting new friends.  And, at 86, this beautiful lady was just beginning her latest adventure as she flew across the country to Oklahoma City to take up residence in a new apartment.  She couldn’t wait to settle in, get herself a computer and start using the internet.

Opinions?  She had (more than) a few – on the health benefits of dark chocolate and avocados.  That most doctors didn’t know what they were talking about and nobody would benefit in the long run from popping prescription drugs.  She told me she loved people but was pretty much over sex.

Two hours flew by (pun intended), we landed in Phoenix and reluctantly I had to leave.  I gathered the paperwork that I not even bothered to look at and stuffed everything into my travel bag.  As I stood in the aisle waiting to de-plane, Violet called out “Goodbye Nancy!  Goodbye.  And say hello, say hello to all the people I haven’t met yet.”

Over the next few days, Violet kept coming into my mind.  Not her words so much, just a  feeling.   You could say this was just a chance meeting with a lovely old lady on a plane.  I choose to believe that Violet was a gift to me on that day.  A beautiful reminder of things that I often forget in the busyness of being – I forget to remember to PAY ATTENTION.  If you ask me what I did last Tuesday, I’m not sure I can recall.  It’s all so much, so fast, so busy and it often feels like I’m just sliding through.  Getting it done, but not savoring it, not really seeing it, sometimes not feeling it.   The magic is in the moment and Violet knew that instinctively.  Me?  I’m still learning.

It’s that time of year when we pause for a few moments to remember all that we are grateful for.   Today I am grateful for the special “elfs” that pass through my life sprinkling the wisdom I need, just when I need it most.

Thank you Violet, wherever you are.  I hope we meet again someday.

Happy Thanksgiving to All.

Lost Our Virginity ~

Yup, as of this past weekend, the hubs and I are no longer home exchange virgins!  Finally… we found a match… and it was so good.  And so easy.  We are completely hooked.  Mr. Just-a-Backpack is already asking me to do it again.  In fact, he wants to do it any time, any place.  Oh, Baby!

I always get a buzz of excitement when an Inquiry from Home Exchange pops up in my email.   My first thought – Wow, somebody chose us!  What can I say, I have a strong need for people to like me.   That’s quickly followed by the thrill of opening the email to discover what new adventure awaits. And finally, there’s the reality of can we make this one work.  Or in some cases, do we even want to.  Sorry, but the week in Minneapolis didn’t seem worth the cost of two plane tickets.

Anyhow, back to this particular exchange.  A few weeks ago we received an inquiry from Dawn and Ram, a lovely couple who live in Toledo, Oregon (a few miles inland from the Port of Newport).  They were interested in snuggling Mr. Ricky in exchange for our feeding “the girls” – their 12 chickens, and gathering eggs.  Could we work out an exchange weekend?  We could and YES we would!  So, a match was hatched.  We emailed back and forth, exchanged information, made a plan and Voila! at 9:30 on Saturday morning we were off on an adventure.  We left flowers on the table, snacks in the refrigerator, wine on the counter and Mr. Ricky waiting to meet some new friends.  We found a beautiful custom-built, art-filled home on seven acres owned by an artist and a wildlife ranger.

A notebook on the counter gave us detailed instructions for everything we needed to know about their home, right down to the names and descriptions of the chickens “Ginny – Big and brown with white speckles”.  We settled in to enjoy one of the most relaxing and peaceful mini-getaways in a very long time.   That first evening, as we were sipping wine on the big, comfy couches overlooking the pond, hubs looks over and says “Do you hear that?”  I said, “Yes.  Nothing!  What a lovely sound.”

The next day (after feeding the girls and gathering the eggs) we explored the tiny mill town of Toledo, strolled the streets of Newport, barked back at the noisy sea lions, walked out to the fishing docks, ducked into shops, crossed the big bridge to escape the rain for a few hours in the Oregon Coast Aquarium and stuffed ourselves at one of the best seafood restaurants on the Oregon coast – Local Ocean Seafood.

By early evening we were completely tuckered out and headed back to our Toledo retreat to enjoy all the comforts of “home”.  So much nicer than watching TV sitting on the bed in a hotel room.  We put our feet up, pulled out a blanket, turned on the fireplace and snuggled on the couch with a glass of Pinot and a wee bit of chocolate.  We also discovered Netflix and the guilty pleasure of watching How I Met Your Mother.  All-in-all, it was a perfectly wonderful experience and we cannot wait to do it again.

Parked my rollie in this lovely bedroom.

Thank you Ram and Dawn for making our first home exchange such a wonderful experience.  We hope you enjoyed your stay in our home as much as we loved staying in yours.  Mr. Ricky says “hi” and please come back to visit any time.

If you’ve been considering home exchange for future travels, I suggest you go for it.

Now, I’m off to find home exchange number two…

A Pair of Classics ~

Meet Margaret Dunning, at 102 years very young, I’d say she’s definitely a classic and so is her 1930 Packard 740 Roadster.  Yes, Margaret still drives and in fact she is still showing her classic beauty at concours d’elegance.  In a recent appearance at the Pebble Beach Concours, she told the audience that she changes her own oil and spark plugs and that “Before old age overtook me, I could scoot under the car very nicely.”  Margaret owns several classic vehicles.  The Packard may be her favorite, but these days you’re like to  see Margaret driving around her hometown of Plymouth, Michigan in a 2003 Cadillac DeVille.  It’s her “everyday car”.

Margaret, you are an inspiration to us youngsters in our 50’s, 60’s and 70’s.  A true classic.  Keep on driving!

Both videos are from Utube.

From the Travel Confessions File ~

Lifestyles of the Not So Rich or Famous… but the Really Lucky

Although I’m relatively new to the blogging world, I have noticed that sometimes bloggers entertain their creative spirit and each other with a variety of writing prompts, tagging games and blogging awards.  I haven’t won any awards as yet, but last week I was tagged to participate in a “travel confessions” game.  Someone tags you, you write a post and tag other blogs.  It sounded like fun and my friend Lois who blogs at Playing a New Game tagged me, so I thought I would play along.

Way back in 1987 I became a corporate meeting planner.  It was a job marriage made in heaven.  I love people, entertaining, creative design, good food, and travel.  We planned large (1,000+) international sales meetings, press junkets, customer events, and sales award trips.  Hotel site inspections were part of the job and they wined, dined and rolled out the red carpet for me on more than one occasion.   I’m afraid I became a bit of a hotel snob.  I know it’s how the 1% live all the time, but when another meeting planner and I stepped off the elevator on the 14th floor of a San Francisco hotel to find two very large suites – and one was ours, I have to admit we were rendered speechless.  And, yes I know that’s hard to believe.   And yes, we had our own butler.  It was simply spectacular.  Unfortunately we were working 10+ hour days and too busy to enjoy all of the luxuries provided.  We did the best we could.

As any single mom who travels for her job knows, the issue of who stays with the kids is always in your mind. I was very lucky.  My company often allowed my son to travel with me.  Let me just say that he adapted to la dolce vita very quickly.   When my work scheduled site inspections for an achievement trip in Hawaii over his 14th birthday, I planned the ultimate surprise.  “Wake up! It’s your birthday and hurry up because we’re going to Hawaii.”  That 14 year old boy, who is now a young man about to build and live in his own “tiny” home of 130 sq. ft., had absolutely no problem settling into the Presidential Suite at the Hilton Waikaloa.  It was larger than our entire home and included a baby grand piano, a dining room with seating for twelve, a kitchen for the catering chef and a balcony that overlooked  the Pacific ocean.  The sunsets were breathtaking.   Our three day working trip included horse back riding, a sunset cocktail cruise on a catamaran, swimming with the dolphins, daily massage, a birthday cake made in the hotel kitchen, and other adventures.  Rich and famous?  No.  Lucky?  Oh my, yes we were!

I must “confess” that my glory travel days are long gone…along with the in-room gifts, limo drivers and luxury linens.   My travel experience has at times made it challenging to stay in the Shady Inn Motel – even if they do leave the light on for you.  I am very grateful I had the chance to taste that kind of luxury.  I can truly say,  “Been there.  Done that.”

These days we’re traveling on a rather small budget.  I’m happy to trade five star for unique and interesting and charming.  I love the challenge of digging up the hidden gems.  And they’re out there.  You just have to look a little harder to find them.  Really who needs a butler?  Not me, but I am always tickled with the little extra touches when we find them.That’s my travel confession.

I’m tagging two bloggers who I read regularly and always enjoy.  Please play along only if you wish.  Have fun!  I’d love to hear one of your travel confessions.  Suzanne at Boomeresque who writes a great travel blog sharing her adventures and point of view as she travels with her working husband.  Astra, a Canadian blogger at The Dust Bunny Chronicles and self-described “zamboni fumes inhaling soccer mom” isn’t exactly a travel blogger, but I’m betting she has a few very interesting travel stories as the mom of three boys.

Mama Mia and Luigi the Linguine Maker

Luigi

In times past birthday celebrations always involved expensive restaurants.  We enjoyed the luxury of a good meal while someone else cooked, cleaned and served.  I loved it then and when the time is right I still do.  But, as we pare down to the essentials of what makes us happy, we’re circling back to the old joys of coming together in the new/old ways I mentioned in my previous post.

Last week we celebrated our special birthday girl’s 29th year in grand style.  Not in a 4 star restaurant, but gathered around the kitchen island – laughing, sharing, cooking, sipping, eating, eating, eating and talking about important issues.  Wow!  If we’d had time to throw in a board game, it would have been perfect.

How great is it when you go to the mailbox and mixed in with the bills, political ads and offers for credit cards you find THE KEY.  The key means you have a box waiting.  In this case, the box held a bright shiny new pasta maker.  I can’t begin to say how tickled I was – still am actually, by this lovely little guy.  We call him Luigi the Linguine Maker and this guy is good.   Ok, I have to admit that if you are simplifying and reducing, a pasta maker is not going to fit in the backpack and rollie.  I know that and still, I wanted him.  What could be better than making pasta from scratch to go with the luscious tomato sauce my friend and I spent so many hours canning over the summer and the fresh parsley/walnut pesto I made from the dark green Italian parsley the hubs grew in pots on our back deck.

Hand pressing the raviolis – not as easy as your Italian grandma makes it look.

I wanted to test this baby out right away, so I invited our son and the birthday girl over to make their own birthday dinner.  I’m thinking home-made spaghetti with tomato sauce.  They say “Okay, let’s make ravioli”.  Oh to be 29 and fearless in the kitchen.  So, of course, we made it all.   We started at 3 o’clock, stopped to taste a bowl of our fresh fettucine at around 5 o’clock and finally sat down to our birthday feast at 7:30.

The final menu?  Fresh garden salad, freshly baked foccacia bread, cheese ravioli, delicata squash ravioli, mushroom ravioli with a mushroom cream sauce, tomato sauce, parsley pesto sauce and an olive oil/walnut/fresh parm sauce.  “This is the best pasta I have ever eaten!” said my husband, his cheeks bright red from the warm kitchen and two hours cranking the pasta maker.  I couldn’t agree more.  Four cooks in the kitchen was a crazy dance.   Two dogs snoozed just far enough away to keep an eye out for anything tasty that might hit the floor.  I was pooped beyond belief.  I think we used every pot, pan and dish we owned, but we mastered the art of pasta rolling, sort of mastered ravioli and created a birthday dinner we will always remember.

The birthday girl finally sits down to enjoy her favorite – Mushroom ravioli in a mushroom cream sauce and she made it all herself. Yum-o!

So, who’s up next for Pasta Night at Casa Sims?

New Old Ways ~

The hubs and I have been talking quite a bit lately about eating healthy on a budget.   We live in a country with an abundance of cheap, manufactured food of questionable quality and nutritional value.  If you like your veggies fresh, not pesticide laden or genetically modified – sorry, but that will hit your pocket big time.  Maybe you are lucky enough to have a plot of soil and the willingness to put in the time and effort to exercise your green thumbs.  Unfortunately we’re condo dwellers.  And that’s why we love living in the Pacific Northwest where we take advantage of the farm fresh bounty.  Yes, we pay more.  We call it health insurance.  But what do you do when you retire and live on a (much) smaller  budget and still want to eat well?  We’ve been exploring the new/old ways.  You know, how people prepared food in the old days before they worked 10 hours a day and drove through McDonald’s on the way home because they had to be somewhere at 7pm.  These days it has a hip, trendy name – Slow Food.  It’s a movement and apparently we’ve become part of it.  

We’re suddenly cool because we are doing the things our mothers and grandmothers did every day until General Electric decided that they were wasting time and started creating gadgets to take over their work.  Women who spent all of their time working at home were suddenly free!  What did they do with all that free time?  They went outside of the home to work.  This work brought in more money so they could buy more time saving gadgets and because now they didn’t have time to cook an actual meal, they stopped for a pizza.  Many of us know how to “heat” or “nuke” but have forgotten how to cook.  I had.  Of course I married a guy who cooks, but even that was slowly being replaced by eating out or take-out eaten in front of the TV.  Slap me silly, but it’s the truth.

Watch out what you wish for, because you might just get it.  As a child of the 50’s and 60’s and a young woman of the 1970’s I am all for equal rights and equal opportunity and I believe women (and men) should be able to work any darn place they like.  But, in our typical American way, if a little is good – a LOT must be better.   We’ve worked ourselves into a groove so deep, it’s hard to get out.   And not always for the satisfaction of a job well done, but because we needed a bigger house or another TV or (it was always something).   And so on and son on, until…something happens and you lose your job or you are forced to retire or you graduate with your fancy degrees and you can’t find a job that pays enough to cover your student loans.   You’re in deep doo doo Donald!  Like the Broadway play Stop the World I Want to Get Off, it’s all been kinda spinning beyond our control.  What seemed like such a good idea at the time has somehow morphed into Dante’s Inferno.  Ok, I’m exaggerating, but as we’ve been looking at the reality of living the rest of our lives with a lot less, I’m just starting to realize that I sacrificed so much in the name of stuff.   Stuff that is now being given to the Goodwill or sold on ebay or piled into the weekly trash bin.

As far as I know, nobody get’s a do-over on their life.   I’m just glad that we have been given this opportunity to explore the other side – not just the slow food movement but the slower life movement.  We’re working less and making less, but we’re savoring it more.  We have time to cook and share food – home grown, home canned, and home-made with friends and family.   Some of you figured this out a long time ago.  We’re late bloomers.   My husband’s fondest memories are from the 1970’s when he lived in a small beach town in Massachusetts.  Life was simple – focused on family, friends and community.  Entertainment was free – a pickup baseball game or board games and they traded their homegrown harvest for fresh caught lobster.  Did we really give that up for a 45″ HD TV and think we traded up?

As I sat here writing this post, my favorite chef was downstairs making up meal sized batches of lasagna with ingredients left over from our cooking marathon, pasta making, cheese making, birthday celebration yesterday evening.  Does it get any better?  Not much!  We’re grateful for our bounty.

To be continued…