Roman Holiday

It’s funny…

I never had a desire to go to Rome. Like not ever.

Venice? Bucket list! Florence? Absolutely. Rome? Mehhh…

My impression was just another huge, HOT, crowded city with tons of Italians hustling you. Sure it’s ancient and full of history, but I don’t know… I guess I always thought of it like a mix between NYC and an Italian Disneyland.

But when I started to think of where in Europe I could see myself getting lost in, one city came to mind.

“Rome. By all means, Rome.”

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I had visions of myself as Audrey Hepburn wandering its streets – walking the Spanish Steps, buying some sandals, chopping my hair off and riding around on a Vespa.

None of these things happened. Not one.

The Spanish Steps? They were closed. Thought about getting a new do, but what if I hated it? All my pics would be ruined! And a Vespa? Death wish? I kind of wanted to live to experience the rest of my trip. So yeah, no.

 

Still, Rome. There’s nothing quite like it in all the world. It’s got a flavor all its own. Aged, smoky, but with veins of vivacity, authenticity, and so much hip artistic expression. The key is to wander. Get lost! Down all the alleyways and side streets. You’ll find hidden gems in the form of restaurants, shops, boutiques, and gelaterias that serve real gelato.

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Don’t get me wrong, the Pantheon was astoundingly beautiful. The Vatican, overwhelming. The Colosseum and Roman Forum, just really freaking old and hot! But I think what I enjoyed most wasn’t so much Rome’s history but its present. Its future. Knowing that I was walking on some of the same uneven cobblestones (like literally tripped 20 times in one day) that the apostles walked and other famous figures in history was kind of trippy. But it was the life, real Roman life that drew me in and stole a piece of my heart.

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So how did I discover this real Roman life? A few ways…

Firstly I did a bit of research. Afar Magazine (one of the best travel magazines in my opinion) has an app. One of the things it recommended was taking an Eating Rome walking tour. I looked it up and it was exactly what I was looking for.

In a small group of max 12 people a guide takes you through either Testaccio or Trastevere (the hip trendy foodie neighborhoods in Rome) and you get to sample different foods from about 10 different establishments, meeting the owners and artisans who are so passionate about what they do. Essentially you get to know Rome through your tastebuds, and you get to explore neighborhoods that are off the beaten path.

Aaand… if you do this at the beginning of your trip you get a nifty pamphlet full of the best restaurants in Rome. No worrying where to eat. No wasting meals on sh•tty food.

So that’s one way. The other way is to just get up early, strap on some good shoes and expect to clock some serious kilometers. The best way to see any place is to just walk. Plan a route if you want or just wander. But by all means, GO! 

When you get too hot, slip into a cafe for a cafe freddo (iced coffee, sometimes called a cafe shakerato) or a Spritz. Or when that’s not an option, bust out that scarf you brought and duck into a church. They literally are everywhere, and happen to be some of the coolest (both in interest and temperature) places in the city.

Okay… this post is getting really long. I’ll end it here, but I promise to write a follow-up with Sika’s Guide to Roma – my favorite cafes, restaurants, churches, places to stay and things to do.

Needless to say Audrey was right. There’s nothing quite like a Roman Holiday!

Cheers!

justJessika

*** P.S. Eating Rome is just one walking tour of many under the umbrella of an incredible company Eating Europe. They have walking foodie tours not just in Italy (Florence and soon-to-be Venice) but also in Amsterdam, Prague and London. I liked the Rome tour so much I went on one later when I was in Prague (they hook you up with a sweet discount if you’re a multiple offender). And they also offer cooking classes too if that’s more your jam.

At any rate I can’t recommend this company more highly! If you’re traveling to any of these European destinations, you like food, you like some history and you want to get the local feel just do it. I promise it’s money well spent!

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Tuscan Sun & some

So I think I’ve figured out how to kick jet-lag’s as*…

You just don’t stop. Ever. Keep going even if you feel like you’re part of the zombie apocalypse. And that’s not too hard to do when you have a city like Florence to explore. Especially for the first time.

Ryan’s been to Firenze a few times but last year was my first experience and I remember the overwhelming awe that kicks you in the stomach as you round the corner and run into the Duomo. I think we stood there for a few minutes jaws dropped like cartoon character. I’m not kidding.

And I was utterly captivated by the beauty of the Piazza della Signoria. All those glorious marble statues standing silently amongst those seeking shade and solace. And for centuries! If I weren’t running away from jet-lag I could’ve sat there for hours, just gazing up at those masterpieces.

So it was such a delight to meander through the cavernous Basilica di Santa Croce, stand on the Ponte Vecchio, marvel at the view from the Piazza St. Michelangelo with Mike and Carolyn (my mother and father-in-law) and see these Florentine gems (along with the Duomo & Piazza della Signoria) through their eyes. All in two days! Goodbye Jet-Lag!!!

Ryan’s best friend Brad and his wife Silvia live in the heart of Florence with their three cats, Micho, Tazza & Willie (because he has one eye… Goonies anyone?). And we were blessed to stay with them and have a real florentine experience.

Brad and I share an affinity for eateries with both good food and creatively crafted ambiance. On our first trip I was pleasantly surprised to find that Florence is full of lots of cute little vintage/bohemian spots with culinary chops to boot. And on this trip he showed us a few more.

We celebrated with plastic cups full of bubbly beer or procesco in this brand new alley-bar. I have no idea what it’s called because there was only one wooden sign on the street that said something like “bar this way…”

We took a right and there was a little shack handing out beverages and cheese & meat plates, surrounded by ivy-clad walls and picnic tables & benches. It was like a secret (beer) garden. Definitely a locals hangout.

After drinks and some meandering we made it to Konnubio, a very elegant ristaurante that serves Italian and Mediterranean food with a modern slant. Definitely on the high end of the price scale, it was worth every penny as we were not only celebrating the commencement of our trip, but Mike and Carolyn’s 38th wedding anniversary.

The next day we awoke to coffee & croissants before heading out to pick up our rental car for the day. Brad wanted to take us out into the Tuscan country. Unfortunately Silvia was unable to join us as she had to travel back to the States for a work conference.

I’ll admit that squeezing 5 of us into a car for a two-hour drive after having just sat on plane and train for about 14 hours the day(s) before was not the greatest idea for my hips. In fact they hated me for it. But my eyes… My eyes were in heaven! 


The Tuscan towns we explored were Montalcino and Montepulciano. We hiked their steep cobblestone streets, ate their tantalizing tomatoes, pasta & pecorino and drank their renowned wine. We even stopped at a winery to sample (and inevitably purchase) some local Chiantis. You would too at like 6 euros a bottle!

But mostly we marveled at the incredible beauty that surrounded us. Our fingers clicked away hoping to capture some of it.  And yet some views are only meant to live in your heart, not on a hard drive.

The next day Brad took us to another sweet spot: Le Vespe Cafe. The only place in Florence were you can get a legit American breakfast. You know this because it’s full of American college kids looking for something to soothe their hangover from the previous night’s debauchery.

Thankfully we arrived early (and by “early” I mean 11am) and beat the rush. And the look on my father-in-law’s face when they brought him a plate full of eggs, bacon & pancakes was priceless. Now this was breakfast! He even got a decent cup of strong drip coffee.

We worked off our brunch bellies by walking. Lots of walking. And after we sent Brad off to meet his wife in NYC, we all took a nice siesta with the kitties at his apartment. Sometimes it’s good to just chill. But before saying “arrivederci” Brad left us with one last gem – potentially our best dinner in Florence: Fuoco Mato. The best pizza I’ve ever eaten.

Our minds were blown with the sweetness of the tomatoes, the creaminess of the mozzarella and a crust that bordered on perfection. The service was impeccable (not as common as you’d hope for in a major international city) and it was a great finale to the first part of our trip.

Thanks Florence (and Brad & Silvia!!!) for a lovely Italian introduction.

Florentine Favorites

Best photo op

Piazza St. Michelangelo is a bit of a hike but will give you that postcard pic.



Favorite church

While we didn’t make it this trip the Basilica di Santa Maria Novella (right next to the train station) is by far my favorite. While the Duomo is certainly the most impressive church I’ve ever seen from the outside, and Santa Croce has more famous dead people buried there, I enjoyed the art and scale of Santa Maria Novella better. Just take my word for it and check it out.

Best people watching

Piazza della Signioria. Escape the rays and find a seat amongst these marble beauties. Stare at these stunning statues or find your focal point in the people around you. There are plenty of them that’s for sure – even at night!

Best Breakfast/Brunch

Le Vespe Cafe. Like I said, this place is legit. My mother and father-in-law went back a second time! But if you’re salivating for an Eggs Benedict be sure to go on the weekends… It’s only available then.

Local lunch spot

Amble is this tiny little spot inside a kind of hidden courtyard. There are all these great vintage tables & chairs set up and they if you go inside its like the best vintage/antique shop decided to start selling sandwiches, salads & Spritzs. The best part? That’s kind of exactly what it is, just in reverse! Everything’s for sale! You can eat & home decorate too. Talk about multi-tasking. The only problem is figuring out how to get it all home…

Best Pizza

Fuoco Mato. So worth it!

A great fine dining experience

Konnubio. Elegant, refined, delicious.

Best gelato

Vivoli Gelateria. Near Santa Croce it’s seriously the best. Don’t settle for less.

It’s pronounced "Vees"

So it’s been a long time since I wrote about this particular subject – it involves passports and suitcases and swimsuits (usually)…
And this.
This post.
Wow. So long overdue I feel silly even posting it.
And yet as I contemplate our upcoming adventure to France and Italy I just have to post it. I’d be doing a serious disservice to the world by keeping this hidden paradise to myself.
The remote, the rustic, the rapturously beautiful island of Vis.
But it’s pronounced “Vees.” Get it right.

Situated in the middle of the Adriatic Sea off Croatia’s Dalmatian Coast, up until the 1980’s it was a military base for the Yugoslavian army. Because of this it’s one of the most unspoiled (yet inhabited) islands in Dalmatia – more for those desiring a quiet adventure than a lively night scene. An island full of vineyards, family farms (i.e. amazing food and wine) with hidden beaches you hike down to, Vis had our names written all over it.
From Split we took a morning ferry to the island. They have a huge car ferry as well as a high speed passenger one but it wouldn’t have got us to Vis until much later in the day and we wanted to make the most of our “island time.” Unfortunately just as we set sail so the rain set in. For almost the entirety of our Vis visit. But not to worry. We made the most of it… as you’ll soon see.

 

 

As Seattleites we’re used to ferry rides. In Croatia they’re not so different – just a little bigger, a few more people and everything’s in Croatian. But we made the most of our 2 hour sea voyage. I wrote. He read. A beer and a book. His mini heaven.
We arrived in the harbor of Vis and pushed our way through the hoards of people the ferry seemed to vomit out in order to secure a rental car for our stay.  I felt like a soldier ready to brave a fierce battle in a foreign land as the ark-like door to the car deck descended. I’m sure there was a way to reserve a vehicle in advance but, well, we went with the “fly by the seat of our pants” strategy. Thankfully it worked out for us.
The guys at Ionios were super friendly and got us all set up with our quirky Crayola-yellow convertible, along with a map and directions to the nearest grocery store so we could stock up on breakfast items before we headed off in search of our VRBO villa.
The narrow roads (which seriously look like alleyways or really generous bike lanes) wind up the steep hillsides providing ridiculous postcard views of terra-cotta clad harbors and wild hills rolling verdant and lush.
My go-to guide for dining while traipsing through Croatia was the oh-so-reliable (and amazingly international) TripAdvisor. Before we departed from Split I did a little dining recon. A TripAdvisor must was Lola Konoba & Bar. And just an FYI “konoba” means tavern… you’ll run into that word a lot if you’re traveling in Croatia.
The restaurant was, well, totally my kind of place. Perched above a building, the entire restaurant (as far as I could tell) was alfresco with seating areas situated in different terraced portions of this secret garden. The ambiance and decor made me wonder if I’d stepped straight into the pages of an Anthropologie catalog. And when we arrived it looked like they’d just had a wedding there (I spied a seating chart still leaning against a wall). I can only imagine how perfectly wonderful that reception was…
The service was impeccable, especially considering we were literally the only people eating there that night. A note on dining on the island: since most rentals run weekly with Saturday as the turn over day it tends to be the quietest one of the week. We also came just before the peak season hit so yeah… we had the whole place all to ourselves. Not gonna lie… it was a little awkward.
But the food was anything but awkward! It was exquisite! This was most certainly the finest dining we experienced while on our Honeymoon, and the meal was more akin to something we’d see in the states. Croatian with a twist. I’d highly recommend Lola Konoba & Bar – especially if you’re wanting a romantic evening out on the island… or a destination wedding?

 

 

 

After our delicious dinner we decided to explore a little more of Vis Town- one of two cities, ok villages, on the island. The place is littered with beautiful old stone buildings, their painted shutters either white or green – faded from sun and storm. The patterns and texture they created in the evening light captured my inner photographer. So I did what any artist would do… I stole Ryan’s camera.
Okay maybe I stole it one too many times… It is his camera and he is the photographer after all..
I bought him some gelato thinking that would smooth things over.
It didn’t really work.
After a scolding I handed the camera back to him and all was well.

 

 

 

Now that’s the work of a real photographer!
The sunset was glorious and we ended that first day excited for the “Part II” of our Croatian Adventure – Vis!!!

 

 

 

 

Split: Part I

Tuesday was the day.
And I was running late.
My much needed massage had run a little (okay, a LOT) long and I frantically hopped in the shower as I heard Ryan answer the phone. My dad was downstairs with the car. I hurled my stuff into my carry-on as Ryan (my pack-mule for life – his designation, not mine), carted our bags down from our 3rd story walk-up apartment to the street.
I threw my wet hair up in a top-knot. I could do my makeup in the car.
And we were off!
Passport. Check. Swim suit. Check. Chill attitude. Working on it.
My second trans-Atlantic flight. My first time in business class – the fruit of thousands of airline miles accrued and hoarded by Ryan from the many work trips that took him away to far off places. For once I was thankful for all those times we were separated for weeks on end.
After a couple long flights, and stamps in my passport from Heathrow and Zagreb, we finally arrived in Split, Croatia – a picturesque city on the beautiful Dalmatian Coast. A little confused at what time it was I looked down at my iPhone – 10pm Wednesday. Apparently it had adjusted much more easily than I had.
A driver from our tiny little hotel – Divota Apartments – located in the Old Town part of Split stood outside with a sign “Ryan McEliece.” Their reception office usually closed at 20:00 (8pm – I’m still not used to this military time thing…), but they kept it open especially for us. We were whisked off to our cute little apartment, handed keys, a map, and given a very basic overview of information we’d need to know. And then we slept. Till Thursday afternoon.
When we finally surfaced from our slumber it was bright and sunny. Split was saying “Hello” – “Gob” in Croatian. Our eyes, minds and limbs were still not so responsive but our stomach’s rallied to the call with a great big “Hey there! What’s for lunch?”
The night before I made a quick study of the funny little map the receptionist handed us – Use-It, a map curated with recommendations and tips from locals.
 

 

 

 

 

 

According to both Use-It and Trip Advisor it seemed the place to go for the freshest, cheapest seafood was a little hole-in-the-wall called Villa Spiza located on a street (yeah, they’re not streets, they’re alleyways) in Old Town just outside the walls of Diocletian’s Palace – the main attraction in Split. And yes, it literally was a hole in the wall with seating inside for maybe 10 and two small bar tables squished outside in the “street.” There was also a small red bench and two stools for overflow – something that often occurs in this ever-popular spot.

 

 

 

 

 

And it was spot on! Maybe we hit it just before the rush (we returned in the evening and the “street” was completely impassable with bodies packed together like sardines), but we had our choice of tables -we chose one outside. But before venturing out, we had to order. The woman from behind the counter pulled out a plastic bin full of the freshest fish I’ve ever seen… caught that morning by the local fishermen. We went with her favorite: a small sweet fried fish with the traditional sautéed swiss chard and potato. I’ve never tasted anything quite like it… Now this was my kind of food!

After lunch we got lost in the old cobblestone streets and squares of the Old Town. It’s hard to believe we were walking down corridors that were built thousands of years ago. Most of the stone buildings had beautiful terra cotta tile roofs and green windows and shutters. The ones above were particularly bright.
Many Dalmatian coastal towns have what’s called the Riva – a tiled promenade that separates the city from the sea. Split’s is particularly brilliant. We walked back to the catacombs, which were filled with booths selling a variety of Croatian trinkets – from coral necklaces to tacky magnets, and then up into Diocletian’s Palace – the retirement home of a Roman Emperor. Just outside the Palace walls was a huge outdoor market where people sold all manner of things: from fresh fruits, nuts, and cheeses to underware. No joke.

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

The jet-lag was catching up to Ryan so we returned to back to our little apartment where he took a nice siesta. I, on the other hand, ventured back out to explore!  I wanted to get my bearings in this old city and discover all its nooks and crannies. And more importantly to figure out where we would have dinner.

When I returned, the light was incredible. Thankfully Ryan was feeling a little better so we grabbed the camera, tri-pod and hit the streets. Scooters and motorcycles – the transportation of choice – whizzed past us as we walked back into this charming old city in search of our first (and quite possibly my favorite) full Croatian meal.

 

In my earlier meanderings I’d scouted out a few menus that looked delicious. And while I am the pickier eater of this McEliece duo, I wasn’t so sure Ry would fancy any of my selections. Poor guy’s stomach was not so happy.
Rounding a cobblestone corner within the palace walls, we were lured by the sound of music. Curious, we peered down the little alleyway to find a classical guitarist playing in a secret little courtyard. His two adoring fans, who it seemed had escaped the confines of the dinner table and their parents’ gaze, were dancing unabashedly to his tune.
The ambiance: romantic. The decor: very eclectic Anthropologie chic. The menu: outstanding (in my opinion).
SOLD.
Mazzgoon was the place for us.

 

We chose a table for two close to the guitarist. The older of the two “little fans” kept looking at me as she danced. Maybe she sensed I was a dancer too. Or maybe it’s because I had the camera. She reminded me of myself when I was her age – twirly dress and all. Only I don’t think I was so bold. At any rate it made us both laugh. Our little Croatian ballerina girl.

And if the ambiance weren’t enough, the food… oh the food! But I’ll let the photos speak for themselves. Side note: prepare yourself for lots of food photos in the posts to come – I mean it’s food. It’s what we LOVE. And it was definitely one of the highlights of our Honeymoon, even with all my crazy dietary restrictions. Ryan’s convinced I have some sort of Mediterranean in me. Haha! I wish!

 

Dalmatian prosciutto was everywhere and it was crazy good as were the olives, capers, anchovies, and well, pretty much everything. I had what they called “traditional octopus.” It was baked in a heavy pot with fingerlings, tomatoes, onions and I think rosemary. I’m salivating just thinking about it. Never tasted anything quite like it. I think this might have been my favorite meal of our trip… But then again we had so many incredible meals!
The one bit of cautionary advice I’d give anyone when traveling to Croatia (Europe?) is to expect slow service. Everywhere. It’s not an insult. It just is. It’s how they do things there… part of their relaxed culture and way of life. At least that’s what I told myself. Everyone was very friendly, we just had to wait a while. Sometimes a long while. Good thing we were on vacation.

 

As we sat there enjoying the food, the music and each other’s company dusk snuck up on us. The amber twinkle of the lights slowly awakening to the night brought new life into my husband as we went in search for his perfect night shot – shot as in photograph. Just thought I should clarify… I think the gelato helped as well. The clouds in the sky lit up as people reclined on the steps outside the old ruin listening to someone sing outside the restaurant opposite.

 

 

 

We wandered back to our apartment full of anticipation for what the next two weeks would hold. If this first day was any indication it would be full of sunshine, beautiful views, amazing food and lots adventure with my love and very best friend. I couldn’t think of anything better!

Croatian Honeymoon Adventure! It begins…

So I know you’ve been waiting for this.
No I don’t. That’s stupid.
Why would you be waiting for my Honeymoon? That’s absurd.
I’VE been waiting for this. All year. And it’s finally here. We’re in it. Right. NOW!

When people asked Ryan and I where we went on our Honeymoon, (since yes, it’s been 9.5 months since we said “I do.”) we were met with some very puzzling looks when we replied that we hadn’t gone anywhere. Yet. These puzzling looks turned to wide eyes and slightly furrowed brows when we told them where we would be going: Croatia!
“Why’d you choose Croatia?” was the usual response that would follow. Sometimes it would be a more excited, less-skeptical “Oh! A friend of a friend of a friend of mine went there and said it was fabulous!” We liked those responses.

The truth of the matter is that Ryan has been practically everywhere and I’ve been nowhere. Okay that’s not true. I’ve been to many of the cosmopolitan cities in the USA, Canada, Mexico, the Carribean on a cruise with my family when I was 12, and Paris. I don’t think I could list the places Ryan’s been to on this blog. It would become a completely different post.

At any rate, when deciding where to take our Honeymoon, certain ground-rules/criteria were laid.

Number 1: This was Ryan’s thing. As he told me after about 6 months of dating (yes, we had a relationship check-in and the “M” word was brought up. Ah! Scary!), “Jessika, you know how every little girl dreams about and plans her wedding? Well every boy (Man? Maybe it’s just Ryan… haha!) dreams about and plans his honeymoon.” In my mind it made sense. So I got to have my dream wedding if he got to have his dream Honeymoon. Not only did it seem like a fair exchange, but a win-win situation for both of us.

Number 2: It had to be a place Ryan had never been to. As stated before, Ryan’s been all over the world. This trip needed to be a new experience and adventure for both of us. He needed to be able to cross another country off his long list.

Number 3: It had to be in Europe. This was actually my teeny-weeny stipulation. There are so many places in Europe that I want to visit. And we had to narrow down the playing-field somehow.

Number 4 (and most important!): We had to win. And by “win,” I mean we had to have the most unusual, crazy-amazing Honeymoon ever. A co-worker of mine is going to Iceland, Paris and Prague for his Honeymoon so I don’t know that we actually accomplished this one but we like to think in a small way we did for the budget we have.

So with this crazy criteria (yes, we are a bit intense about this thing), we started looking. One day I was looking at Jetsetter.com and they had a package titled “Sail Croatia.” The photos blew our minds. Croatia?
This is Croatia?!!!!


We started researching and found that not only was it beautiful, but it was everything we wanted: Amazing food (think a mix between Greek, Italian and Turkish food focused on fresh fish, lamb, figs, olives and wine), great beaches, crystal clear water, vineyards and olive groves for days, nature unspoiled. Did I mention amazing food? A paradise for the foodie. And the temps at this time of year typically range between mid-seventies to high eighties.

DONE. Croatia here we come!

So that’s probably more information than you wanted.
But we couldn’t be happier with our choice. And with all the craziness of this year, we are also really grateful that we waited this long to take our Croatian Honeymoon Adventure. It’s been something to look forward to – the proverbial dangling carrot if you will. It’s been something we’ve both needed after a long season of dancing, health struggles and hard work. But it’s something that we’re both prepared for and able to enjoy. The days that followed our wedding were a blissful haze. Another way to put it: slap-happy and exhausted. There’s no way we would have had the the energy, mentally or physically to really enjoy this trip. And to be honest, we were both a bit depleted when we got here, but there’s nothing like salty sea breezes, hot Adriatic sun and delicious Croatian food and wine to replenish the heart, mind, soul and body.

 

There is much more to come…. in this Croatian Honeymoon Adventure as well as our life together. And you’ll be hearing lots more from both realms. For now I’ve posted some of my favorite funny photos from the trip.
Many more posts to come!
I promise!

Cheers!
Jessika

 

Celebration!

On our way to and from Pacific City, OR – where Ry and I went to celebrate our six month wedding anniversary, and fulfill my Christmas gift to him – we passed through Portland.
Our ETD (estimated time of departure) was 3:30pm. We left around 4:30pm. Even though it was a Thursday night we both braced ourselves for the horrendous traffic we’d surely be sitting in, particularly since it was a glorious day – few and far between up here in the PNW during the winter months. The worst part of the drive was on the 99 Viaduct, but how can you complain when you get to see the sun setting on the Puget Sound behind the Cascade Mountains? Pretty spectacular.
Miraculously we made it down to Portland by about 7:30. I’d brought a handful of magazines for reading material and this one just happened to be in the bunch…
How convenient.
 
My tummy started to rumble. It was 7:30pm. We had to eat, and we just happen to be in Portland… Why not just eat food, but eat well? I did a little on the spot iPhone research… thank you Eater Portland app… and off we went to the Firehouse Restaurant in NE Portland. It was delicious.
And this little sideshow foodie detour reminded me of the last time we spent a weekend in Portland. Surprisingly, our previous visit was my first time experiencing this burgeoning city and tasting of its culinary delights.
We’d gone down to celebrate my birthday. I’d been stuck in our apartment all week icing my knee with a potentially torn meniscus. It was a week fraught with many emotions and doctors visits. Not only did I go to our sports medicine doctor, but I had to dish out another $20 co-pay to my naturopath so we could get to the bottom of the mystery illness I’d been battling since September. He drew some blood for a food allergy test and said he’d probably have the results back early the next week. So this Portlandia food adventure was my last chance to throw down the “ignorance is bliss” card. And boy was it blissful!
But just before we left I received some great news… No meniscus tear!!! Wooooooo!!!! Happy belated Birthday to me! 🙂
Our first stop was Clyde Common for a celebratory drink and a delightful meal. The drinks: superb. The food: delightful. The ambiance: dark and romantic. The photos: didn’t really turn out.
Bummer. Guess you’ll just have to take my word for it.
Saturday we slept in and woke up to a lovely brisk fall day. The plan: Powell’s. I’d only heard of this Everest of bookstores (okay maybe it’s a Mount Rainer), but had yet to lose myself (and my day) within its rooms and rows of treasures. We had to be sufficiently fueled for such an undertaking. Byways Cafe was just the spot.
Since we’d slept in, it was definitely a little later. Okay a lot later. But we both wanted breakfast. You just can’t start your day without it! We were in luck! Byways Cafe serves it all day long and it was just a short walk from Powell’s. Reminiscent of an old-school diner, it was full of collectable plates, character and smiles. The food was lovely and the service was sweet. Their pancakes looked “to-die-for,” so if you can eat gluten I’d go for those!
Our bellies full and hearts happy we headed off to Powell’s.

 

 

 

And Powell’s did not disappoint. In fact I got 75% of my Christmas shopping done that very day. Books for all! We walked back to our hotel that evening, lugging our loot, but then it was on to the next adventure… Dinner!
After extensive research (what else was I going to do all week on the couch while icing my knee?) I’d weeded through many menus and decided on Old Salt Marketplace in the Northeast neighborhood.
Seeking out the restaurant was an adventure in and of itself. It’s not that it was difficult to find, it’s just that Portland’s comprised of mostly quaint, adorable old homes dotted periodically with pockets of retail shops and restaurants. No wonder Portland’s known for its foodies… How could you live here and not be, when your local haunt serves microbrews and menu items like “roasted sunchokes, parmesan fritters, hot coppa, bagna crudo”?
It was a busy night at Old Salt, so we drove down a few blocks to grab drinks and then returned. We were not disappointed. The beet and carrot salad was out of this world and my duck was one of the best I’ve ever had. Definitely worth the drive!

 

 

 

So I guess there are a couple cities where the Sunday Brunch reigns supreme. Let me give you a hint… Portland is one of them. And choosing your spot proves quite a difficult task. I’m not going to lie… I chose this place because of the decor. Just so happens the food was phenomenal too. The Woodsman Tavern. I found it while perusing the Eater Portland blog and knew we had to eat a meal there.
Side note: Eater is a excellent resource for finding great food when traveling… I’ve used in it NYC, Portland and San Diego and it hasn’t let me down once.
Have you ever had a moment where you see something and you’re like “Did someone sneak into my brain and steal that idea because thought of it first!!!”? Let’s just say their wall of paintings is exactly the concept I had for our apartment… But that’s for a later post.
They had a buckwheat pancake that I was really hoping would be gluten-free. Yeah. No such luck. But… their bourbon baked apples were… ugh. I don’t even think I can describe how mouthwateringly delicious they were. And the bacon! I won’t even try… Haha!
 Ryan had The Lumberjack breakfast. Appropriate with his beard and flannel. He looked like he belonged there. Or on the cover of a Brawny ad.

 

 

 

A little disappointed I’d yet to find any baked goods that were gluten-free in this food-conscientious town Ry and I drove up Martin Luther King Jr Blvd on our way out of town in search of our final treats before our celebration weekend came to a close. I mean we did need some coffee for the drive…
We grabbed our coffee, to-go box of goodies and some gluten-free dinner roles for our upcoming Thanksgiving feast and hit the road. And boy were our treats tasty! Ryan devoured his chocolita bar.
Gluten-free? You coulda fooled him…

 

It was a great weekend. One I’ll remember fondly… or at least my stomach will. It was a celebration. And we celebrated well.
If you have a chance I hope you can check out some of these fine establishments. They’re really wonderful! And I hope to have more restaurant-recommendation blog posts in the future as well. We sure do love good food!
Cheers and happy Friday!

Meals for Myself

So as I’ve previously stated, I love to cook but hate cooking for myself.
But there are exceptions to this rule… glimmers of inspiration… moments of magic in the kitchen.
Usually these anomalies occur when I
a) have time to conceptualize and construct a yummy meal for myself
b) find a good recipe, good produce and a good location to cook.

A weekend trip out to my cabin by myself usually draws together the requirements above, culminating in something quite delectable, and reaffirming that yes indeed, I can cook. And more than that it reminds me that I do enjoy cooking and I’m not too bad at it either.

The last couple times I’ve been out there I’ve brought the oh-so amazing cookbook, How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking by Michael Psilakis. I’m officially obsessed with this cookbook. Absolutely everything I’ve made out of it has turned out to be spectacular – and let me tell you for a cookbook that’s pretty dang impressive. I think deep down I want to be Greek or well, at least from the Mediterranean region. Their food is just so fresh, yummy and makes my body feel good. Don’t get me wrong, I love my sauerkraut, bratwurst and lefsa (tributes to my german and norwegian heritage) but there’s just something about how the greeks use lamb, figs, fennel, olives, feta, and seafood… I’m making myself hungry just typing this.

The curious thing is this recipe I’ve now made for myself twice is, well a-typical for me in that its main ingredient is cauliflower – a flavorless vegetable I strongly dislike. But the way this one is prepared is pretty amazing, and quite simple.

The ingredients are cauliflower, spinach, shallots, capers, dried cherries, fresh sage, cinnamon and sea scallops. The recipe is designated as an appetizer for four, but I just divided it in half and had it as my entrée. Below are some photos of this meal I made for myself.

The main ingredients minus the scallops and cinnamon. The key for this recipe is to have all your prep work done because the cooking process goes quite quickly.

The cauliflower all chopped up and ready to be boiled. Once it’s tender you quickly submerge it in ice-water to keep it from further cooking. You can do this ahead of time if you need to. Later you caramelize it in a hot skillet with olive oil dusting it with cinnamon, and adding 1/2 your chopped shallots and your cup of spinach. Cook it till your spinach begins to wilt, but no longer.

But before you caramelize the cauliflower you have to sear those scallops! The trick is to rinse and dry your scallops and make sure your cast iron skillet + olive oil are smoking hot (no, literally it should be slightly smoking). Then don’t touch those puppies for a good 2 minutes to allow a nice crust to form on the bottom before you flip them. Once you flip ’em remove the skillet from the heat… they’ll continue cooking but won’t be overdone. No one likes a chewy scallop.

After caramelizing the cauliflower, shallots and spinach divide it onto your plate and in the same skillet add a bit of butter and a dribble of olive oil (the olive oil keeps the butter from burning) with your remaining shallots, dried cherries, capers and sliced sage leaf. Sauté those for a minute or two, but don’t burn your shallots.
Add your scallops on top of the plated cauliflower and then drizzle your brown butter cherry-shallot mixture over all of that and…

Voila! You get this delicious meal to enjoy! Bon Appetite!

And boy was it tasty… can you say “cleaned my plate”? 

And for dessert? Some fresh mission figs with vanilla ice cream topped with a balsamic glaze. 

Now doesn’t that look good?! God’s so good to provide us with such amazing food/fruit to enjoy!

Well that’s all folks… the kitchen in the cabin is pretty ghetto, but it’s definitely produced some pretty wonderful meals. 

So for all of you singletons out there (or those who’re just plain tired of cooking day in and day out) I hope this inspires you to make a yummy meal too… even if it’s just for yourself. 

And if you want a cookbook that will never fail you, you can buy How to Roast a Lamb: New Greek Classic Cooking here.

Food and Friends

Very near to my heart and my stomach lie two people. One is someone I’ve known of old, the other is someone new. Neither are borrowed and I hope neither are blue. And yet weddings they do do. Alliteration too.


Enter Jamie Casady. One of my oldest friends, I have known this lovely lady since pre-school. From Pinky’s Promise Patrol (Vacation Bible School at Overlake Christian Church) to Camp Sambica on Lake Sammamish, there are very few memories of my childhood summers that don’t include Jamie and her brother Zach. 
And the funny thing is, as far back as I can remember Jamie’s always been a fierce-some entrepreneur with keen eye and attention to detail. I mean even our lemonade stand as kids had a well thought out business plan. This wasn’t just some dinky table with a pitcher of lukewarm lemonade… No. Our “stand” was not only covered with a clean white tablecloth, but we also had elaborately decorated poster-boards advertising our refreshing, ice-cold, thirst-quenching beverage. I feel like we even made our brothers walk down to the corner and wave them around. I could be making this up, but it honestly sounds like something we would’ve done. And if that weren’t enough, Jamie decided we needed to differentiate ourselves in order to corner the market from all the other beverage purveyors on the block. So we also sold flower bouquets.
If Jamie’s going to do something she’s not only going to do it right, but she’s going to go all out. There’s no half-way with this girl. I remember one birthday when we were really into the American Girls stuff, she had us perform the play that was part of the Felicity series. But this wasn’t just “stand around and read the parts” kind of thing. Nope. We had colonial costumes her mom and grandma made and even a canvas backdrop that I’m pretty positive Jamie painted herself. We were maybe 10.
But these character traits of Jamie’s are so minor when compared with her deep deep love for her friends and family and the Lord. There really is nothing Jamie wouldn’t do for the ones she loves… even planting ranunculus in her yard for a friend’s wedding she recently catered/planned. I mean who does that? Jamie does.
Which brings me to the present. After several years apart, J and J (Jessika and Jamie) were finally reunited, and of all places in the Big Apple. I was visiting my brother and she was attending the C.I.A. (the Culinary Institute of America, not the government agency). And over lunch we caught up on the past and dreamed about the future. She shared with me her passion for people and food, and how these two unite in one vision and venture.
Enter Jordan Cooper. Fellow C.I.A. grad, chef extraordinaire, and friend/cohort of the other J.C. – that is Jamie Casady – in this joint visionary venture they’re making a reality. 
I love Jordan. I’ve only known him for a a couple years, but he’s one of the most genuine people I know. Fully embodying the strong and silent type, he’s generally a man of few words, but what he says he means, and you know it too. He tells it like it is, and is honest and kind. In other words the kind of person you want to do business with. It’s called integrity. And while both Jamie and Jordan personify the best kind of business people, they are also artists of the highest caliber.
For as much as Jamie and Jordan aren’t just mere friends to me, the food they create isn’t merely the kind with which you fill your stomach. Nope. Much like themselves their culinary compositions are absolutely beautiful, meticulously crafted masterpieces. Every aspect is important to them, from the fresh local ingredients, to the wine pairings, to the ambiance of the table setting. Not only do they have a vision for their company, but also for every event they plan. They see the big, seamlessly cohesive picture. And yet I believe their strength lies in the intricate details and unique touches that they lovingly imprint throughout the meal, the party, the event. And in the end this is what resoundingly radiates: the love they have for their craft; the love they have for their guests; the love they have for their Maker. 


So cheers to you Jamie and Jordan! You inspire me, and I am so thankful to have such rad (as we’d say in the 80’s) friends. You bless my socks off!


And if you’re in need of a caterer/event planner be it for a wedding or a small dinner soirée, I can’t recommend these two amazing chefs more! But don’t take my word for it… see for yourself. Below are some photos of a surprise birthday party these two threw for their friend. You can contact them here. Enjoy!




Perks

But this makes living in Adultland a little better…

“What’s for dinner?” you ask?

Why a small Dairy Queen hot fudge sundae with nuts! Yes, kiddos… I can have dessert for dinner. So there.

Mmmm… SO good!
Don’t worry. I had plenty of vegetables this afternoon.

Adventures in D.C. Part III – Final installment

I have a headache.
It’s now past midnight, I haven’t finished writing my paper, I’m hot and I’m pretty sure there’s something wrong with me… No, seriously, I’m going to the doctor on Friday.
Needless to say I shouldn’t be writing on my blog right now I should be going to bed.
Don’t worry this too will happen soon.
But I had to post something.

So D.C. the final addition…
What didn’t I tell you?

Well the best and biggest surprise (other than actually getting to go to D.C. in the first place) was that my lil brodder Bear-Bear came down from NYC, enduring a nightmare bus journey, to see me perform on Saturday night. What an awesome gift!!!! I love spending time with my bro! We have so much fun together.
After the show we met up with some friends of his for an excellent dinner at which point we parted ways, but fear not! He met me at 10am sharp for brunch the next morning in Georgetown. And boy was he looking sharp… But then he always does.
We ate at the most amazing little Austrian “Kafe,” that was tucked away off the main “M” Street drag: Kafe Leopold. Just thinking about it makes my mouth water.
The menu is extensive, and everything not only sounds amazing, but looks amazing, from their salads to their desserts. The hardest part is deciding what to order.
Well having scoped the place out earlier (I had lunch there) one item on their breakfast menu intrigued me. I had to order it.
Described as “Scrambled soufflé with plum-compote and currants,” Kaisershmarrn mit Zwetschgenroster was, well… I think the photo below can tell you how I, or rather my taste-buds felt about this particular culinary masterpiece.
At any rate I got home and tried to re-create this by scrambling vanilla soufflé batter with currants on a grittle. Yeah. Not so much… I should have just googled the Austrian name for the actual recipe instead of creating my own. Whoops.
So below are some photos of Bear-Bear and Sika (that’s my brother and I for those of you who are unfamiliar with our nicknames) in D.C. Maybe when I’m not so tired I’ll find that recipe, or perfect my own and share it with y’all. But for the time being you’re just gonna have to eat at Kafe Leopold. Sorry you West Coast folk…

Yep. I always order the best thing on the menu…

Thanks Bear for the wonderful surprise and I can’t wait to see you in a week!