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When I asked txaggie and cjsadler to be our next bloggers, I knew it wouldn't take too much convincing. You see: I've known them for almost five years now; we met while assistants at L'Academie. Since that time, we've cooked many meals together, shared recipes, sought each other out for advice and instruction and supported each other in our trials and tribulations in the kitchen. And... they take wonderful photographs.

When they mentioned they were headed to the northwest region of Oregon, the idea for a road trip blog -- documenting their eating and dining experiences while traveling -- was born. They'll begin their blog here, in DC, and end in the Willamette Valley wine country. So fasten your seatbelts; it's sure to be an enlightening ride.

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five years now; we met while assistants at L'Academie. Since that time, we've cooked many meals together, shared recipes, sought each other out for advice and instruction and supported each other in our trials and tribulations in the kitchen. And... they take wonderful photographs.

When they mentioned they were headed to the northwest region of Oregon, the idea for a road trip blog -- documenting their eating and dining experiences while traveling -- was born. They'll begin their blog here, in DC, and end in the Willamette Valley wine country. So fasten your seatbelts; it's sure to be an enlightening ride.

Brilliant! And will they do a home cooking blog at some point, too? I hope so.

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"I was making fast work of a crisp roast duck and a bottle of red Bandol when my friend Michele called to inform me that profound interest in good food may be caused by a lesion in the anterior portion of the right cerebral hemisphere of one's brain. My brain!"

-- Jeffrey Steingarten

I'm not sure what made me so food obsessed. I've always liked to eat, but at some point I started thinking about food an awful lot of the time. Maybe I do have some brain condition. I'm sure friends of mine think there is clear evidence of it (in addition to other problems).

About five years ago, my company was bought out, I was laid off, and found myself with a bunch of free time. I decided to take one of L'Academie de Cuisine's "boot camps"-- two full days of cooking basics. Loved it, and started hanging out at the school as an assistant to learn as much as I could. Since then, cooking has definitely been my prime hobby, and txaggie (Binni) and I have had a lot of fun (and a lot of fights) throwing dinner parties for friends. This past weekend, we had a few friends over. We kept dinner to a theme of simple, spring Italian, stealing a few ideas from a recent dinner at Obelisk.

We went up to the roof deck of my building for some antipasti, mostly from Cheestique: olives, Tuscan salami, burrata with fava beans and olive oil. And cocktails of Prosecco with a shot of homemade limoncello.

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We also made some salt cod crostini. First time using salt cod, and the soaking process took alot longer than anticipated. After 24 hours of changing the water, the cod was still fairly salty, so I ended up cutting it up into chunks to speed up the desalting process. A pound of salt cod ending up being an awful lot of brandade (not Italian, I know). Simple to make, though. Here's the modified recipe:

Salt Cod Brandade

1 lb salt cod (soaked for up to 2 days, change the water frequently until no longer salty)

2 med boiling potatoes

1/2 cup olive oil

1/2 cup cream

5 cloves garlic

Boil the potatoes, mash and set aside.

Once you're ready with the salt cod, put it in a pot with cold water and bring to a simmer over medium heat. Cover and let sit off the heat for 15 minutes. Check to see that it's done (it will no longer be translucent). Drain and let cool. Break up with your hands into medium pieces.

Warm the oil and cream in separate pots.

Mince or paste the garlic. Add it to a food processor along with the salt cod and potatoes. Pulse the food processor on and off while adding the oil in a stream. Do the same thing with the cream until you've got a light fluffy mix. Season. That's it.

First course was pasta primavera (w/ 2006 Vinosia Falanghina). Sorry, blurry kitchen photo:

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Here's the recipe:

1 lb fresh pasta (we made some, but dried fettucini or egg noodles work well here too)

1 lb asparagus

1 cup peas (frozen is fine)

2 zucchini

8 oz mushrooms

2 cloves garlic

1 large bunch basil

1 onion, diced

1 cup cream

1/2 cup parmesan, shredded

2 diced tomatoes (or 1 14oz can is fine)

Reserve a few basil leaves to cut for garnish. Put the rest in a pot with the cream and bring to a simmer. Turn off the heat and let steep for 20 minutes. Either remove the basil, or puree the basil with the cream (gives it a nice green color)

Chop the asparagus and zucchini into bite size pieces and keep separate.

Saute the mushrooms in olive oil until browned and set aside. Sweat the onion in some olive oil until soft, then add the garlic and cook about 30 seconds. Add the basil cream. Stir in the parmesan and melt. Add the tomatoes, and peas, and keep warm.

Bring a pot of salted water to boil, cook the asparagus about 1-2 minutes and put in an ice bath. Cook the zucchini about 3 minutes and put into ice bath. Drain and add to basil cream mixture.

Cook the pasta in this same water, drain and toss in basil cream sauce. Season. Maybe add some lemon juice. Top with parm and basil.

Main course was crabcakes with caper-red pepper aioli and arugula (w/ 2005 Willm Kirchberg de Barr Riesling).

Another blurry, hastily snapped kitchen photo:

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For dessert, a chocolate-hazelnut-mascarpone mousse layered with amaretto marinated strawberries (Frangelico would have been more appropriate, but didn't have any)

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The recipe for the mousse is here.

A friend brought over a bottle of Dogfish Head's Fort, a strong beer brewed with raspberries, to go with dessert. We all more or less decided that it was a bit too unappealingly sweet and fruity. This is a beer meant for aging, though, so maybe it needed a few more years (this bottle was from '06).

The booze lineup:

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(Thanks to JPW for the tip on the Falanghina, which I got from Joe Riley. Good stuff.)

We'll be in DC for another day, and then heading out to Portland, OR, the Willamette Valley wine country, and down to visit a friend in Eugene. Hopefully you'll find the trip interesting!

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Shortly, after cjsadler started volunteering at L'Academie, I also signed up to be an assistant, and like he said, we were hooked. We began cooking together, hosting dinner parties and documenting our meals with photographs and posts.

We like to surround ourselves with people who enjoy food (many of whom also like to cook) and, like many of you, consider eating an experience rather than something you do to survive.

But don't think we agree on all things food. I don't cook for myself (Chris does). I like cooking with others for others. On weeknights, I need a meal that turns into leftovers for lunch the next day. Chris can always have a multi-course meal for dinner. I bake cookies, cupcakes, brownies, quick breads, etc. Chris bakes desserts that require TLC. He remembers details about food and wine. I'm lucky if I remember if I liked the meal! But we both enjoy well-paced restaurant tasting menus and entertaining with friends. And dinners out often turn into a discussion about how we can recreate the dish at home.

For you animal lovers out there, let me introduce you to my cats, Max and Smokey.

Max

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Smokey

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Max is very much a foodie cat. Here he is trying to get into a box of Girl Scout cookies.

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I hope you all enjoy the blog. On the agenda for tomorrow is Brainfood's Graduation. More about that in the morning.

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I knew she was going to post pictures of the cats (this seems to have been a tradition for awhile with the eGullet food blogs). :lol:

Chinese is a cuisine I haven't had a whole lot of luck with. My results always seem to lack something. I'd heard that Fuchsia Dunlop's books were pretty good, and that her recipe for Kung Pao Chicken was something special. Tried it for dinner tonight and it turned out pretty good. The Sichuan peppercorns were key. Hot as hell with all those chili peppers, though.

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I'd picked up some MSG at Penzey's and wanted to see how much of a difference it made. It really does add that meaty umami to a dish.

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A friend brought over a bottle of Dogfish Head's Fort, a strong beer brewed with raspberries, to go with dessert. We all more or less decided that it was a bit too unappealingly sweet and fruity. This is a beer meant for aging, though, so maybe it needed a few more years (this bottle was from '06).

I had a bottle of this (from '07) and should have heeded the suggestion on the label to age it. I did not like it at all, but I'm not sure I would have liked it even aged. I couldn't bear to throw it out, though, and discovered that it works well in combination with red miso. It seemed like it was going to stay in the refrigerator forever at the slow rate at which I was using it, but I finally finished it. There are a couple of posts in the dinner thread about what I did with it (miso soup and brushed on rockfish as a marinade).

I'm excited about this blog and enjoying it so far.

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On the agenda for tomorrow is Brainfood's Graduation. More about that in the morning.

So, this evening is Brainfood's graduation. For those of you who have not heard about Brainfood, it is a non-profit youth development organization located in Columbia Heights and Chinatown. Using food as a tool, Brainfood builds life skills and promotes healthy living in a fun and safe environment. The program is for DC high school students, and I've been a Wednesday volunteer for over 4 years and a board member for a little over a year. As a volunteer, I help where I'm needed - cooking advice, teaching an occasional class, clean up, set-up, etc. - and I take a lot of pictures.

Honey spiced cake with marzipan bees
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Russian food day - braised radishes and beef stroganoff
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Beef day - Empanadas
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Healthy cooking - hummus
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The graduation is an opportunity for the students to show their friends and family what they have learned during the school year. It's a two-part event - Open Kitchen and an Iron Chef competition. For Open Kitchen, the students have prepared a sampling of the favorite foods they've made during the year. For the Iron Chef competition, a group of students are paired with a volunteer, given a market basket of ingredients and one hour to cook 2 dishes. The groups are judged on creativity, plating, how they worked as a team (did everyone participate?), etc. It's a fun time for all!

By the way, more information about our annual fundraiser, the Brainfood Grill-Off (June 12 at the Decatur House) can be found here.

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Thanks for doing this, Binni and Chris! So far, really great. I have friends relocating to Portland next month so I'm excited about a preview of the city I hope to visit later this year.

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Brainfood's graduation was a roaring success. I'll post pictures and a recap in the morning.

We leave for Portland at 8:30am tomorrow. Once we get there, the plan for tomorrow is lunch at Caprial's Bistro, dinner at Park Kitchen, coffee at Stumptown Coffee Roasters (some time in between meals) and exploring in the Pearl District.

Oooh! Tell Caprial and John I said "hi"!

[binni and Chris and I were kitchen assistants to Caprial when she did a book/product tour here in the area. It was my first encounter with a "celebrity" chef as well as the first time the three of us cooked together.]

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I like watching Caprial and John's show on PBS. I used to watch Caprial's Kitchen, back when that was on, as well. If we ever get out to Portland, I'd really like to check out their restaurant.

Your blog is off to a great start and you haven't even left the area yet :lol: ... I'm looking forward to following it. Safe travels!

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This was my 4th Brainfood graduation, and by far the one with the most students, friends, and families. A great turnout, and always cool to see the support of the families of our students and other friends of Brainfood.

Eight teams of 6 students each competed in an iron chef competition while the rest of the students prepared snacks for the guests. For the cooking competition, a group of 6 students had an hour and 15 minutes to make 3 dishes and completely clean their tables and any cooking materials that were used.

There was a selection of miscellaneous ingredients (a potato, onions, green peppers, lettuce greens, etc.) and spices at each table:

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All tables also had access to the same amounts pots, pans, and other cooking tools that the groups could use to make their 3 masterpieces.

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While students cooked, others prepared some of their favorite dishes from this year for their friends and families to snack on:

Kabobs

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Spanokopita

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Black bean and mango salsa with homemade pita chips:

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Skordalia, a Greek potato dip

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Brownies

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Chicken and strawberry salad (on crackers and cucumber rounds)

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Team 1 was the winner of the cooking competition. They made stuffed mushrooms, a pasta dish with chicken, and crepes.

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Graduation is a sad and exciting time. It's neat to see the changes that happen in our students as the school year progresses, and graduation is a time when they can show their friends, families and teachers how much they've learned at Brainfood. However, it's hard to say goodbye to our students, especially the seniors who are moving on to bigger adventures. I hope to see the kids who are not seniors in the fall, and look forward to many more exciting and fun times as a Brainfood volunteer.

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Welcome to sunny Portland!

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Ah, well... My friend out here claimed the weather was going to be nice, but instead it's been the stereotypical NW weather. A good reason to have some soup and a microbrew at Caprial's:

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I consider myself something of a beer geek, but every place here seems to have a bunch of beers from breweries I've never even heard of. This one was a Walking Man (Stevenson, WA) IPA http://www.walkingmanbrewing.com/

In addition to the beer and soup, we split a great housecured canadian bacon sandwich and a grilled romaine salad (with some great housecured bacon). I'm not sure if Caprial Pence and her husband still have their show on PBS or not.

We had a late lunch, and headed over to Powell's.

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I've been here before and it always blows me away. I think it's the biggest bookstore in the US. I could spend hours in here. This is just one of about five (!) aisles of cooking, food, and wine related books:

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By the time our dinner reservation at Park Kitchen rolled around, we still weren't terribly hungry, so ended up sharing a bunch of their small plates.

Salt Cod Fritters with Malt Vinegar

Rapini with Fondue and Duck Ham

Ravioli of Peas and Olive Oil with Radish Sauce

and probably the best dish, Sauteed Morels with Polenta and a Poached Duck Egg:

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Park Kitchen has caught some criticism for making you pay for bread. The bread plate is $4.50, but I can't remember the last time I had bread this good. I couldn't get over the quality of it. Also came with some nice crackers and very good olive oil...

For a nightcap, we stopped by the Clyde Commons, which is in the hotel we're staying at (The Ace). This is a great, great bar (supposedly the food is quite good too). I happened to catch in some magazine the other week that it was on a list of the best 50 bars in the US. Binni had some cocktail of lavender infused vodka with strawberries, brown sugar and something else I'm forgetting. I had one of gin, maraschino liquor and absinthe.

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Once, years ago, I spent part of a summer following a band around the country and justified it by doing something cultural in each city. Alas by the time we got to Portland, it was driving past Powell's at 2 am. I still need to get back there to see the store when it is open!

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We had a late lunch, and headed over to Powell's. ...

I've been here before and it always blows me away. I think it's the biggest bookstore in the US.

Quite probably. Powell's main location is now 68,000 sq ft according to Wikipedia. The other contender, Strand Books ("18 Miles of Books") in NYC, is at 55,000 sq ft, but it's not clear which one has more books. Strand's shelves are absolutely packed...I've never seen the kind of loose space there that's shown in your photo of Powell's. And their main floor has pretty high ceilings. In any case, Powell's is one of America's greatest bookstores.

Great journal, Chris and Binni! Eagerly awaiting the next installment...

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Sorry, got too busy to find time to post. Back to the story...

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After grabbing some excellent coffee at Stumptown (we really need more good coffee shops in DC), we headed out for the Willamette Valley.

The weather was improving a little bit by the time we got to Lange:

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This was one of my 'must-stops' after a friend had me read "The Grail", which chronicles a year at the Lange winery.

One thing about the Willamette Valley is that the tasting fees are not cheap ($10-15/person seems standard here), and often not refundable with purchase. They get even steeper over the Memorial Day weekend, which is one of the two traditional open house weekends for wineries here (the other being Thanksgiving weekend). I certainly don't mind wineries charging a fee, but if you're not careful, a day of tasting can get expensive (I was told Domaine Drouhin was charging $40 for tastings on Memorial Day). Depends on the winery, though... some have never charged a fee, and still don't.

The price of pinot noir post-Sideways has gone up as well. Base bottlings start at $25 and quickly get very expensive from there for the reserve and single-vineyard stuff.

Lange's wines were excellent, and they shun the move many have made in the area towards overly fruity, high-alcohol pinots (which doesn't suit the grape, if you ask me). I was reminded how good Oregon Pinot Gris can be (and at a relative bargain). 2007 Lange Pinot Gris: if you see it, buy it (especially the reserve).

Next stop was Willakenzie, one of the few wineries that uses only grapes from their property here in the Willamette Valley. We were really impressed by the whites, especially the Pinot Blanc.

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The final wine stop of the day was Anne Amie, which were the wines we liked the least this day. The whites were too sweet and the reds unexceptional. Nice people there, though.

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Dinner at Nick's Italian Cafe was unfortunately a disappointment. It's been in McMinnville for quite a while and had a spread in Saveur a few years ago and I was looking forward to it. They serve only a five-course dinner for $49.

First - Green Garlic Flan; Poached Egg with Asparagus, Crispy Pancetta, and Brown Butter

Soup - Fish stew; Minestrone (tasted like Progresso)

Pasta - Tagliatelle with Ragu; Caramelized Onion and Sausage Lasagna

Salad - Endive with Dried Cherries; Mixed Greens

Main - Black Cod with Rapini and Pancetta Vinagrette; Scallops with Green Onion Puree and Grapefruit Beurre Blanc

Dessert - Gorgonzola on Biscotti (this was an interesting idea - sort of a combined dessert and cheese course)

The Caramelized Onion and Sausage Lasagna was the one outstanding dish of the evening. The others were just ok...

We stayed in downtown McMinnville, at the very unusual Hotel Oregon. It was full of very quirky, sometimes creepy artwork:

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Sorry, still playing catch-up here...

After heading through the Willamette Valley, we stayed with a friend of mine and his family down in Eugene. Nothing too noteworthy food or wine-wise to report. We grilled out on my friend's deck and enjoyed the nice weather.

I was impressed by the local Oregon beer selection at the Bier Stein, though, where my friend took us to for lunch when we arrived. Local Eugene brewery Ninkasi is doing great things. They've recently started bottling, so I hope we'll eventually get their beers out here. Be on the lookout for them.

Recent rains made everything very green out here. This is the view from the butte right next to my friend's house:

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The next day brought us back to the heart of Willamette wine country. Since we were down that far, first stop was Benton-Lane in the very southern part of the valley.

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Some wonderful Pinot Gris here: crisp and delicious-- I'll definitely be looking for it locally. A nice pinot noir rose too (unfortunately, I think only available at the winery).

Brooks was recommended to me, and was one of the wineries that's only open twice a year: this weekend and Thanksgiving. However, this was the grand opening of a new tasting room that will eventually be open by appointment.

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Good pinot noirs and some decent rieslings too. Almost considered splurging on some of the Rastaban Pinot Noir, but quickly thought better of it. Flying with wine these days seems like such a gamble (I always think it's going to gone from my suitcase when I collect it), so I went with some of the still nice Willamette Valley bottling.

Oddly enough, the wine country here is the final resting place of the Spruce Goose, built by Howard Hughes (see 'The Aviator'). The longest wingspan (larger than a football field) and tallest height of any plane ever built... and made out of wood (though not spruce)!

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The Evergreen Aviation Museum is also home to Evergreen Vineyards, but the wines still seem like a work in progress. Maybe in a few years...

One final, quick stop at Monk's Gate, a small, new-ish winery that I felt like detouring too. The name comes from the fact that it's next door to a Trappist Monastery. They only do pinot noir. The three vintages thus far were very promising. Wonderful people too, who we spent awhile chatting with.

Dinner that evening was at the Dundee Bistro, which apparently is something of a hangout for winemakers. I'll let Binni post some pictures from that.

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Pictures from Sunday's dinner at the Dundee Bistro. Impeccable service, the food was cooked well and seasoned perfectly. And to top it all off, we were able to sample some of Oregon's finest strawberries (now in season) in a lovely strawberry shortcake.

The meal:

Hammacher Pinot Noir Rose (a good complement to the pork but not the short ribs)

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Pork with mushrooms and leeks and a pea risotto

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Braised beef short ribs with polenta, bacon and truffles

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Cheese plate with blueberry jam and local roasted hazelnuts (front: Midnight Moon, middle: can't remember the name but it had a little drizzle of truffle oil, back: name? but there was rosemary in the rind)

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Strawberry Shortcake (both the shortcake and the whipped cream had a hint of lemon)

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The goal for our final day in Portland was to visit as many restaurants and neighborhoods that we could.

On Sunday night we stayed a Bed & Breakfast in Newberg called the Avellan Inn. Breakfast (no pictures) was homemade granola and muffins (both had hazelnuts from a local farm), yogurt, fruit, cheeze blintzes with candied apples, and for dessert, strawberry rhubarb fool with whipped cream. If you have not ever stayed at a B&B, you should. It's a nice change from the usual large chain hotels. Charming, quaint, old school decor in many of them. The owners of B&Bs are often really creative with their multi-course breakfasts, and you are bound to meet some interesting characters too. The first time we stayed at B&B was in Northern California and the other guests came to breakfast dressed in period pieces from the gold rush era of the town. This time, the other guests were a young couple who work at a non-profit in South Nashville called Harvest Hands.

Before lunch at Deschutes Brewery in the Pearl District, we stopped at Portland's Rose Garden. Unfortunately, only a few types of roses in bloom.

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I can only imagine what a spectacular site the rose garden is when the flowers have blossomed. What was in bloom in Portland and the surrounding areas were rhodedendrons. Gorgeous!

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Lunch at Deschutes (the brewpub has only been open for a month and was packed)...A beer sampler and burgers

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cjsadler's favorite beer was the Mirror Pond Pale Ale ("A classic American pale ale that uses generous quantities of Cascade hops, offering a lush floral aroma with a balanced malt body") and mine was a seasonal beer called the Cinder Cone Red ("Original and distinct, Cinder Cone Red has a rich malt flavor and a reddish color derived from caramel, malt and roasted barley. Amarillo and Tettnang hops balance the toffee flavor.")

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After lunch, we explored the Nob Hill neighborhood (NW Portland) and had coffee at Vivace, a cool neighborhood crepe and coffee shop (serving our favorite, Stumptown coffee).

Then, we crossed the bridge to get to the Hawthorne neighborhood on the other side of the city. It's sorta like a combination of Haight-Ashbury and the Mission in San Francisco on a much smaller scale. A very eclectic mix of people.

Dinner that night was at Wildwood (also in Nob Hill - NW Portland), and dessert at the Country Cat (in SE Portland).

At Wildwood, we sat at the bar overlooking the kitchen. Amazingly, this place has been around for 14 years. Doesn't seem like it, though, as the rest of the restaurant world has only recently caught up to the local, seasonal approach they've always used.

To start, we had Smoked Salmon Chowder and Ricotta Gnocchi with Braised Rabbit and Bacon. For entrees, Pork with a Green Onion Pancake and Sauteed Greens and the Roasted Chicken with Bacon Spaetzle and Romaine Puree. Both meats were cooked in their tandoor oven. Bacon Spaetzle = great idea.

Before heading to the airport, we stopped at the Country Cat for some coffee and dessert, a butterscotch pudding with baked-to-order cookies. The Country Cat is way off the beaten path (thank you GPS), but has gotten a lot of press. That's partly because of what they are trying to do. The idea is to serve the type of simple food with local ingredients that you'd see at a lot of modern places downtown, but serve the neighborhood as well. So here tattooed, pierced chefs in the open kitchen mix with kids coloring their Country Cat coloring books and retired couples sharing a bottle of wine. Prices are very reasonable (especially the wine list).

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Thanks to both of you for the great trip report--both words and pictures. Mrs. dcdavidm is from Portland so we get back there often. You have reminded us of a few old places to revisit, and some new ones to try on our next trip. Sounds like you had a good time; thanks for sharing.

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Pictures from Sunday's dinner at the Dundee Bistro. Impeccable service, the food was cooked well and seasoned perfectly. And to top it all off, we were able to sample some of Oregon's finest strawberries (now in season) in a lovely strawberry shortcake.

As I was reading this post, I couldn't help thinking how much better your food looks. So come on, are you guys really going to tease us without some more photos of YOUR glorious dishes? We have the time, we have the disk space, we can wait patiently, I've enjoyed reading this too much for it to end so soon...

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As I was reading this post, I couldn't help thinking how much better your food looks. So come on, are you guys really going to tease us without some more photos of YOUR glorious dishes? We have the time, we have the disk space, we can wait patiently, I've enjoyed reading this too much for it to end so soon...
Despite your ridiculous flattery, we're gonna have to wrap things up here-- heading into a busy season starting this week (grad school starts up again in the evenings for me, in addition to some other obligations). Maybe sometime we will return with a home cooking blog? In the meantime, we'll try and contribute to the dinner thread.
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Gracious final bow.

Thank you, especially since this blog added work to your vacation. As wonderful as your food photography always proves, I have to say I love some of the inedible subjects best. That mural, for example, with the family portrait painted in front of the darkly wooded hillside is perhaps my favorite. I gotta wonder if those creepy, smart British blondes conceived while their village blacked out (cult film) sent their offspring to Oregon. Also love that view from your friend's place. Sigh.

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As I was reading this post, I couldn't help thinking how much better your food looks. So come on, are you guys really going to tease us without some more photos of YOUR glorious dishes? We have the time, we have the disk space, we can wait patiently, I've enjoyed reading this too much for it to end so soon...

I can't speak for Chris, who I know cooks for himself regularly on weeknights, but to post pictures of dishes I've made would mean that I'd actually have to cook, and I can't remember the last meal I cooked at home (well, other than pumpkin bread). :lol: I definitely will do more cooking in June!

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