Categories
Journeys Notes from the Road

Adventures in Wonderland

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Is there a particular age where wonder leaves us? I always mused when I was younger about the idea of abandonment of art. What happens in a person’s life to give it up? Is it gradual or quitting cold turkey? You’ve seen it too? Guitar perched in a corner, collecting dust. Sketchbook long ago traded in for company-owned computer. Thatch of music pages where notes titter across the cage in silence. I started this blog in what now feels like could have been someone else’s life. How funny that a decade can bring that kind of distance from the person we were, the dreams we fed in secret. Yet, I am still in many ways the same. Still wrestling time with poetry from the maw of paid work, except now, the paid work is writing. But for the first eight months of the year, my proverbial well harbored only caked mud. And then, I opened a door. Discovered a “drink me” vial that transported me all the way to a life-changing place. I left revived and reassured.

—I read those words now—written in 2019. The world we inhabit is a changed place.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Here I am, stuck in pandemic quarantine at home, much like you.

Everything looks different and yet I tipped my hat this past August in memory of boarding a plane last year to attend “poetry super camp” as my best friend called it, but really known as Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference. A conference for writers with bread in its name—is that what first caught my eye? I jest when I say that’s why I applied. But, it did endear me to the conference off the bat (even after learning about the mountain range that gave the conference its moniker). The intensity of the time—that focus of intent and vision for 10 days changed me. Because I knew life would change afterwards and this was my one chance to go all in.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Vermont holds a particular place for me—it speaks to me of poetry, yes, and creameries and winding roads flanked by green trees and green fields that break into golden and copper song in autumn. I sometimes willfully don’t like to learn about a place before going because I don’t want to let others opinions or experiences color my own. I want to be awash in my own senses of the place and so it was at Bread Loaf.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Every day held craft talks in genres that might not be the one I relate to most but in having all of us in one space allowed this cool cross-pollination where poets learned tactics from fiction writers on POV and fiction / narrative non-fiction writers considered how concision of poets might tighten their work in interesting ways.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

Plus! I met so many fascinating people who became friends on the dance floor, over late night conversations with gingery Vermont hard cider, from meals spent in the cafeteria, or even from spying a writer pull out their bag of matcha and whisk at the hot drink station. I found community and shared work aloud, battled on the page in edits after workshop critiques, holed up in the library continuing a story read aloud by one of the fellows.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

I camped out on the cavernous front porch in a rocking chair. Set out in the meadow of many wonders across the street, stepping first through the tiny gate in the rock wall, as if playing a character from Star Dust. I cackled aloud on the hayride. Got dolled up for the book signing on the lawn. Spent moments locked in contemplation. Clinked wine glasses in a tiny impromptu reading with new friends in their living room. Hunkered in darkness of the laundry room reading and listening. We were never done sharing work. Encouraging others with snaps or claps.

Bread Loaf Writers' Conference

I am landlocked as we all are right now. I so wish I could return once more to Bread Loaf. And so, let us go. Our imaginations can take us wherever we want to venture even if our bodies are bound and mouths masked. I’m grateful for the experience and the mighty small team that pull all the details together so it can bloom fresh ideas while creating a community of creative expression and kinship.

Categories
Journeys Travel for Artists

Travel for Artists: Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

On a chilly December day in 2016, a car whizzed crosstown in Philadelphia.  We stayed huddled in the backseat, unused to the blast of frigid air. Over the past few days we had gotten our fill of winter, tramping across downtown on foot, to visit the museum, running up the steps like Rocky, doubling over at the top, heaving from the exertion of it or the cold air. But on this particular day, my pulse quickened for another reason. We would be visiting the Edgar Allan Poe house Philadelphia.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia
I am as familiar as the next person on Poe’s contributions to pop culture through poems that involve a heart beating under the floorboards, a raven that speaks. I was on a different kind of mission though, one of trying to better understand what does the life and livelihood look like for the working poet?

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

The car slowed in front of an old edifice and we walked around the blocks until the staff had returned from lunch, also ensuring we were the first ones to take a post-prandial tour. I’ve been under a working supposition that the life in which the writer find her or himself ensconced is directly responsible for the kind of writing they produce in their lifetime. It did not surprise me to learn that this particular house inhabited by Poe, his wife and mother-in-law, had a basement of substantial proportions to the rest of the house. Of course it did! So much of his work happens in the nether regions, especially when the life lived upstairs was fraught with such difficulty. The docent, eagerly pointed out a recession in the chimney where a stuffed black cat glared out. She described how that architectural feature had provided the impetus for Poe’s, “the black cat.” We wound our way back upstairs and along the way learned how gravely ill Mrs. Poe was, learned how her mother doting on EA Poe provided a kind of mooring in the restlessness of that stormy sea.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

The ladies lived on the highest level of the house and you had to scale a very narrow stairway to access the space.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

But what stood out to me most, even beyond the basement was the close proximity between his study and bedroom on the next level down.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

At the time we visited, the light shimmered along the dilapidated walls of the study and I could envision sitting down at a desk to write, the window on my left, an option to look outside of self. I imagined him getting up in the middle of the night from his bed, an idea lightening his steps after flinging off the covers. How do we as creative people disconnect from the world of creative production really? Can dreams propel us into a new world on the page? Something about the short distance between those two rooms inspired me to wonder.

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Not far from the Poe house, the Free Library holds secrets of its own. Notably, if you scale to the top of the building, you will happen upon the rare books room, free to access after signing in. The treasures housed within are nothing short of revelatory. Rejection letters to Beatrix Potter. A Maxfield Parrish painting. And the reason it was on our agenda, a very special taxidermied bird. A raven. The staff member flips a switch and the inside of a case lights up to reveal a glossy-feathered raven with an impossibly long beak. One eye that you might swear is twinkling and will continue watching you after you leave. This pet of Charles Dickens, a raven named Grip, inspired Edgar Allan Poe’s infamous raven. If you listen closely enough you might hear it squawk, “nevermore.”

Edgar Allan Poe House Philadelphia

Categories
Journeys When in

When in LA- Where to Eat in LA

The city that scintillates, the one that’s got me all aflutter with a desire to return in a hot minute only to continue to eat my way through it is L.A. While the city of lights typically brings paparazzi for celebrities, all I’m interested in is the exciting food cropping up all across town. Let me explain. Recent events took me to the city of Angels on successive trips. I began learning the puzzle that is LA traffic and figuring out the thoroughfares. What stood out to me on the trips this time: a pervasive multicultural diversity where Mexican might be the main descriptor of cuisine served but then roots down regionally in specifics. Each night, I passed signs for Little Bangladesh. Little Armenia. Good luck finding parking in Koreatown. So, on each trip, each meal felt like an important decision. Though the hours posted on the door of Baroo reflected they should have been open, a metal gate barring the way turned my smile upside down. Gjelina’s always on the list (though GTA is just fine with me. Sandwich to go, anyone?) And, my rule this time was to try to branch out and go where no fork of mine had gone before. Mostly. Baco is one of my favorite DTLA haunts. Grand Central Market didn’t happen this go-round and my eggslut breakfast sandwich dreams haven’t come true just yet. Someone once told me that Northern Californians are supposed to hate Southern California. So, I guess it’s a good thing that I’m a Texas transplant since Texas means “allies” or “friends.” Just don’t talk baseball. I bleed black and orange. So, here are my favorite spots–what are some of yours?  

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Trois Familia
– Silver Lake –

Instead of fusion food, recently, Evan Kleiman suggested that mash-up might be a better phrase and I couldn’t agree more. This restaurant from Jon Shook, Vinny Dotolo, and Ludo LeFebvre introduces a different take on Mexican, bringing French technique to the table. I’d heard about their lengthy wait time for breakfast and plotted a plan for a drive-by. Take a seat at one of the white wooden slat picnic tables and benches as Johnny Cash croons from a record player in the corner of the room. I like the chill vibe, so relaxed that you might forget this trio of chefs have been making a name for themselves as a collective unit at other spots like Trois Mec. I like the lack of pretension of this place and all the bright orange bottles of housemade hot sauce accenting the tables. Their Hash Brown Chilaquiles places an irresistibly crispy hashed brown in the middle of a moat of pureed salsa. Opt for the sliced avocado that sneaks underneath a fried egg–it tasted great and yet I guess I discovered that I’m a Chilaquile purist, as the word itself has a Pavlovian effect making me think of Tia’s method for making this memorable Mexican standard. Pair it with Horchata Cold Brew and you’re set. Next time, I’m jonesing to try the Beet Tartare Tostada with Cornichon, Lime and Avocado Crema. Next time.    

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Huckleberry
– Santa Monica –

Zoe Nathan wrote a winsome cookbook for this bakery which was my first foray into becoming a Huckleberry fan even before I visited. I mean, who doesn’t love a baker whose acknowledgements page is entitled, “Apologies” with a list of brief apologies that border on humorous and others that express deep gratitude to her team. I knew I wanted to try her food firsthand. So, a plan was hatched, the rental car dispatched to arrive at 7:58 on a Saturday morning. We dove into Brisket Hash with Arugula and Two Sunny Side Up Eggs (juicy with a pleasant peppery flourish), as well as Poached Eggs with Farmers’ Market Vegetables Tossed in Pesto. I will dream of that Cinnamon Bun Scone, though the Kouign Aman Tart with Roasted Banana impressed too.  And, truthfully, the Maple Bacon Scone enjoyed the next morning reminded me of one sweet morning and a good decision to drive down to Santa Monica early to beat the crowds. Also, their coffee tasted pretty exceptional and wasn’t in need of any of their housemade syrups, though the Iced Vanilla Latte with housemade syrup looked enticing.

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Rustic Canyon
– Santa Monica –

Truth. Ever since Chef Jeremy Fox joined Rustic Canyon and my feed started showing his truly beautiful food, I made a mental note to go. Here’s the thing, I missed Fox’s stint at Ubuntu, but admired from afar the way he elevated vegetables through thirdhand commentary. I love vegetables and have deep appreciation for chefs who think vegetables are superstar ingredients in their own right. So, this restaurant had high expectations as the second restaurant in LA on my must-go bucket list (I’m still saving myself for Lucques and the right occasion). I wasn’t disappointed. That meal will go down as one of my most memorable, one that can’t be beet. And, really, where to start– Beet Royale (Brooklyn Gin – Geranium Infused Beet Juice – Lemon – Prosecco).  Then, more beets cooked down into molasses drizzled on a plate with burrata and housemade focaccia.  Variations on a theme? More beets sauced in raspberries with quinoa, avocado, and pistachio (tangy, bright).  I think our forks might have scraped the plate not wanting any of the gribiche to go to waste after the asparagus, ramps, breadcrumbs, and egg bottarga had been finished. The flurry of vegetarian plates continued circulating as white yams, green garlic butter, celery, hazelnut duke, and aioli came out–my second favorite dish of the evening. Cacio e Pepe presented an interesting flavor interpretation to Ricotta Dumplings with Butterbeans and Sorrel. Black Magic Cake with Macadamias and Homemade Salt provided a sweet finish to a sweet evening. 

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The Gadarene Swine
– Studio City –

Vegan tasting menu? Yes, please. At the Gadarene Swine, you can always go a la carte, but put yourself in the hands of the kitchen and opt for one of the three nightly dinner menus. Start off with one of the Bangkok Dangerous cocktails, well named because this cocktail could be my kryptonite– the nigori sake gives this drink a creamy quality paired with pineapple juice, ginger, and turmeric. This restaurant would make an intimate spot for a date night–rustic interiors with twinkly candles and low lit ambience give it a cozy feel. Of the courses that came our way, the Blackened Cauliflower dish was a study of textures and bright flavors, and my favorite of the evening, only to be closely followed by Vegetables in a Box, a crispy rosti-style “box” made of potato filled with julienned carrots and zucchini that I don’t think I might have tried otherwise. This felt like the kind of place one might speak about in hushed tones. On the wall, a mirror reflected out into the dining room the simple phrase, “I do not exist.” that made me think it might bring a smile to my favorite philosopher’s face. 

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Wanderlust Cafe-Hollywood-anneliesz

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Wanderlust Cafe
– Hollywood –

After visiting Tertulia in New York and reading the Hero Food cookbook by Chef Seamus Mullen, it’s evident that Spanish cuisine is a big part of his cooking vernacular. Then again, his food philosophy pivots around food as medicine where each chapter of the cookbook centers on one of his hero food ingredients for dealing with RA. So, when he shared that he’d developed the menu at Wanderlust Cafe based on that ideology, I knew I wanted to try it out. Two things: take a seat in the patio. The cafe is located in a yoga studio and while you could sit inside, the patio is the place to be. They serve Moon Juice and won bonus points for handmade Cold Brew Chai and also offering Matcha and Pu Erh on the tea menu. The Shakshuka comes with herbed labneh and the Open Face Soft Scramble Eggs are almost too pretty to eat with market vegetables folded into the eggs, served on sourdough toast. If we had visited at lunch instead of breakfast I would have had difficulty deciding between the Kitchari or Kimchi Forbidden Fried Rice, even though I was eyeing the MALT (Royal Trumpet mushrooms – avocado – lettuce – tomato – sriracha aioli). In some ways, I think a sign of a good restaurant experience is not wanting to leave and I could have lingered on at Wanderlust much longer.

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Sqirl
– Silver Lake –

Several years ago, a friend who lives in Silver Lake introduced me to toast with jam, and a sorrel pesto rice bowl that made an imprint. So, when I learned they open early, I beelined to Sqirl for breakfast. Pastries and drinks get served before 8 a.m. but plan on stopping by after that time to try their ubiquitous toast and breakfast fare. This time, it came slathered with almond butter and pear preserves that dripped like honey, and avocado toast to make all others blush with envy (pickled carrots for the win). Delicata Squash Hash with Poached Eggs made a savory stand-out that might get overlooked for that rice bowl, which is still worthy in its own right. Two grades of Matcha make it on their menu so emerald green that its vegetal flavor doesn’t need any additions though a spot of almond milk mixed still lets the stout tea shine. If you’re planning to check a bag, procure one of their jars of namesake jam to smear on toast at home as you hatch a plan to return to Sqirl. 

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My Vegan Gold
– Silver Lake –

I’ve lately become entranced by strip malls in L.A. and the idea that though they may be overlooked, they often hold restaurant gems like My Vegan Gold. Prepare yourself for a formidable menu and servers who help navigate all the options. This is my kind of place–kombucha on the menu, kale salad as a side or main–and that Kale Salad–the dressing pops with flavor but doesn’t overwhelm the sturdy greens. I often eat kale salad at home and desperately want to make that dressing. Making a decision for a main almost stymied me–did I mention the menu possibly has 30 options front and back? I ordered a bowl of Golden Curry Noodles, in a broth so silky and comforting that I almost went back the next night just to order the dish again and rekindle that feeling and to experience that flavor. Next time, I’m planning to take a few more friends so we can eat our way through the menu more proficiently, and am still wanting to try their Shiitake Larb that’s off the menu and scrawled on another menu at the counter register.

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Baco Mercat
– DTLA –

Almost everything on the menu at this hot spot from Josef Centeno sounds crave worthy, but the baco is what brings me back. Imagine the best possible flatbread folded around a perfect assemblage of ingredients–El Pesco (crispy shrimp –  sriracha – chive dressing) combined texture and flavor playfully. The Carne Picada Coca brought together spiced beef, yam, pine nuts, and pomegranate molasses to great effect. And quite possibly what held our attention almost as much as the baco itself was the za’atar starter with eggplant, fava beans, labneh, feta and grilled flatbread–I’m pretty sure we didn’t leave a scrap or speck on that plate of dip and tried to be as ladylike as possible as we took turns dipping. They make their own sodas in-house in interesting flavors like ginger or hibiscus, but I’m partial to ordering one of their shrubs–this time I opted for Celery though Papaya Clove also looked enticing. If your sweet tooth has saved room, the paleta from nearby Gelateria Uli in amarena cherry yogurt then dipped in thick decadent dark chocolate is enough to tell Cherry Garcia to hit the road.

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Guelaguetza
– Koreatown –

It’s not often I start lunch with a shot of mezcal, but when in Oaxaca, which is to say in L.A., at Guelaguetza, you’re in good hands. Inside this restaurant with an Asian-style exterior is mole negro so good it might make you weep–there’s a reason their website is simply: ILoveMole.com. We noshed on tlayuda, a pizza made of masa, crunchy and thin, topped with cabbage, queso fresco, oaxaca cheese, thinly sliced beef called tasajo, dried meat known as cesina, and chorizo. The meal felt like an education into a region of Mexico I haven’t had as much experience with, as chapulines imported from Oaxaca came out as an early entrance to the meal, merely sautéed in olive oil with a toss in salt and pepper. The chips come served with a creamy salsa on top and queso. I would go back again just for the tamale de rajas and of course, to try one of the other moles on the menu. 

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Guisados
– Echo Park –

If someone offers you tacos served with carne guisado, just say yes. This style of cooking, better known as braising, cooks the meat low and slow so the results are fall apart tender. Imagine then, stumbling upon a taqueria that offers around seven kinds of taco fillings made in that method? Are you with me?! On the afternoon we visited, the line snaked out the door. You can order single tacos in the standard 4-inch tortilla size, but I would suggest going for the sampler plate of tiny tacos that offer two bite tacos in several flavors of the stewed veggies or braised meats. Yes to the Cochinita Pibil. Double yes to the Mole Poblano or the Tinga. Bonus points for the entire menu being glorious and also gluten-free. Pair them with an Armando Palmero (a brilliant combination of Jamaica — hibiscus agua fresca–and limonada) or a Negro Modelo and you’ll be set. Horchata cold brew is on the menu too, so if you need a shot of caffeine try that. 

Categories
Journeys Notes from the Road

Back roads, blind tasting and staring into the black hole

When I was a kid, my mom occasionally toted me to blind taste tests where we would be paid for our opinions. I remember trying different unmarked hot dogs as a child and giving my opinion on which one tasted best. Even as a child, I was never short on opinions, though I was short. One evening the power in the building extinguished and I could hear a woman let out a blood-curdling cry of, my baby! When the lights went back on, the person behind the scream emerged as a sheepish mother and her seven-year old son red of embarrassment. Years later, my mom and I tell that story of sampling hot dogs punctuated with a blackout and bone-chilling scream and break out into laughter. While working at the tea company, I attended a professional tasting training where they had brought in an expert to teach us the roles of the different parts of our palates and how to better describe what we taste.

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All of my previous tasting experiences served me well on a Tuesday morning in a wooden folding seat, a tray of capped plastic ramekins on my lap. In the brightly lit room, Jack Bishop began giving us instructions on how we would conduct the audience portion of the blind taste test before Chris Kimball emerged onto the set. The setting was inside the white house in Rupert, Vermont where Cook’s Country by America’s Test Kitchen is filmed. After two weeks of filming, this Tuesday was the final day of what I imagine must have been something like a professional boot camp. A work trip took me to the beautiful backdrop of back roads where the leaves were just beginning to crisp up with color, and into that studio audience folding chair. I had been to America’s Test Kitchen before and happily revisited it during my brief stint in Brookline before heading north.

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On this day our task was simple: three kinds of corn chips – three kinds of salted butter – three kinds of Creole seasoning. A professional tasting panel had already tasted the samples waiting before us and our opinions would provide an extra set of data along with Chris Kimball’s blind taste test of the same samples, from which to determine the recommended brand. An assistant passed out our tasting sheets where we would mark our answers and rate taste, color, and texture. I eyed the corn chips like it might have been a noon-day showdown. The colors all differed and so white corn took on yellow corn took on blue. It was no contest really. Even without salsa, only one chip emerged as the victor with a rippled bubbly exterior, solid crunch, and corny flavor. On to the butter, this round definitely perplexed us more. Who eats butter out of hand? And yet some spread it on saltines and I tried to dip my knife into it for a more pure unadulterated tasting. This time two butters competed almost head-to-head, but one came out the winner with its creamy consistency, slight salt, and a sweetness that had almost floral notes in it. I’m pretty sure a few of us were imagining dabbing a pat of that butter on warm sourdough bread. Last up, the Creole seasoning ended up polarizing our group. And, Bishop pointed out that it might make sense depending on where people were coming from. I immediately determined my winner after a quick heat developed in my mouth from the seasoning sprinkled on white rice. If I closed my eyes, I could envision homemade gumbo or etoufee with this necessary ingredient. Results were tallied.

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One of the cameramen came out and moved us in our row so the view from the camera was just right. Out came Chris Kimball onto the set as the director yelled, action! Bishop and Kimball began their repartee as Kimball tackled the corn chip first, tasting all three options and agreeing with the audience, as he did with the butter, and Creole seasoning. Watching the two of them naturally gab in front of the camera (all told, I think there were five in the room), I’m reminded of how much I admire anyone willing to be on television. Kimball let his comments roll without reserve as he crunched one chip, then another, then back to the first batch. You can tell he’s been doing this for a while—he worked the camera (and crowd, let it be known) fluidly and with panache.

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Being on camera isn’t something I aspire to do. Years ago, after a tradeshow elicited an opportunity for the tea company, I flew out to New York to tape a handful of videos on tea for a popular website. I had written the scripts—all verbiage and content I regularly shared at food festivals with visitors to our booth. I felt comfortable and confident with what I had written and practiced a few times in an empty conference room at the office, in front of a colleague, as well as in front of a mirror. I arrived the night before the taping so my body could acclimate to the time change and I could rest. My nails had been freshly lacquered. I sported a new choppy hairdo. My closet had been reduced to one acceptable dress. Manhattan on mute—muffled taxi cabs and street sounds kept me grounded.

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Nothing could prepare me for what awaited. The camera trained on your face is a humbling prospect. It gives nothing to you—there are no eyes sparked with life that lift and smile, no eyebrows to crest up with surprise or furrow with skepticism. Instead you focus on a gaping glass eye that is all-seeing and unforgiving. I can’t tell you how many times I flubbed my words on that first video—words that I had written and essentially had to abandon in favor of keeping a steady rhythm and not pausing awkwardly searching for my next phrases. The director and content producer for the website were stellar—they kept me cool every time I grew flustered. By the end of the day, and after five videos, we had found our pace, and I had rediscovered my sense of humor. After that day of harrowing work, I felt no fear in front of the camera where I could ad-lib. Still, watching how Kimball and Bishop could nail their bits in one take or at most two—it was fascinating to watch how they would edit their remarks from one take to the next. I left the Cook’s Country house that day wiser for the corn chip, salted butter, and Creole seasoning, but wiser too from seeing people in their element getting their work done with grace.

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Categories
Notes from the Road

JOMO

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It’s a funny thing how acronyms come to life. In the world that twitter created with its 140 character count, acronyms bloom into meadows of meaning. LOL. BRB. YOLO. FOMO. I drove through Yolo County recently and snickered wondering if the people who inhabit those towns happen to be more feckless about doing whatever challenging! Exciting! Need to do it! event– you only live once. When my good buddy Irvin taught me about the fear of missing out, it is as if my tongue had been loosed from its desperate searching for a term to embody that feeling that sometimes arises from reading too many social media updates. Recently, I stumbled upon a new-to-me acronym that I want to breathe hot fire into that it may fan into a full-on five alarm movement of possibility. JOMO.

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An article printed in Ad Weekly asserts that busyness equals success—at least in other people’s perceptions. Think about it. The person who stays later than everyone else at the office- the person who never can accept an invitation because their calendar is crammed with commitments—do they seem like their lives are more full? I have been both of these people at different times of my life. That same article suggested that we actually are not as busy as we purport to be on social media. And yet, I’m here to tell you that we prioritize what we value. As a resident’s assistant in college, I gathered in a meet-and-greet with my residents in the lounge. Among different orders of business, I told them that I would try to be there for them when I could—if they came to me and the timing didn’t work, we would find another time. I would prioritize making sure their needs were heard and they felt cared for. I’ve tried to pull that idea with me into adulthood.

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While working on Steeped, I was persona non grata for months. I had no idea how the book would eat my breakfast, lunch, dinner and afternoon tea times too. In the beginning, I attempted to make dates with friends, only to find that I flaked out later. That is not my personality type and I felt wretched about letting friends down. So, I took a break from making any appointments, dates or anything that looked like a plan. Eventually, I worked my way out of my hermitage of culinary solitude. That time period truly was the busiest I’ve ever been for good reason.  One great take-away: while I couldn’t give friends in-person time, what they really wanted to know is that they mattered and that I still cared. So, I would call and talk with them for a few minutes, trying to steer the conversation so they could open up and share their lives with me. I didn’t have much to give, but found a way to make much of what I could offer. As a child, my mom once told me she never wanted to hear me use the word bored, so I instead supplanted it with busy. I never would have thought of myself as someone who glorifies being busy, but if I look at my track record, it’s not pretty. I worked three jobs in graduate school so I could earn two degrees at the same time. While working the next job, I took on another master’s degree. Instead of thinking that I am reveling in the idea of being busy, I consider this tact to be engrafted into me from a workaholic father. We share that gene of getting it done and thriving on the energy.

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This past weekend, I was pulled in three directions: a food blogging conference – a natural food tradeshow – a poetry festival. All three of them had merit. I have attended on numerous occasions two of the events and I guess you could say I opted to take the Robert Frost approach to decision-making and chose the road less traveled. As I spied tweets and instagram posts from the other two events over the course of the weekend, I began embracing JOMO—the joy of missing out. Whether I had elected to attend one event over the other two, I would inevitably miss out…on being present in what circumstance I had chosen. Isn’t that the kicker? There wasn’t a bad answer to the choose your own adventure question. But somehow, even after we have made our decisions about how to spend our time, we can pine after the other options, the what-could-have-been’s instead of being grateful for where we are and firmly rooted in the present. And I would posit that kind of behavior is to our detriment. Scaling the backroads of New Hampshire and Vermont meant spotty wifi signals and sparse social media engagement. This freed me up to be present for whatever might present itself: the roadside farmstand serving apple cider slushies, the ice creamery dive on the side of the road in Brattleboro with 25 flavors that included Vermont maple walnut and Mayan chocolate.

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We can’t be everywhere at once. In fact, sometimes life does not permit us to participate in something fun or desired, but instead forces our hand to play difficult cards we have been dealt. Can there be joy in that circumstance too? I would venture to say yes. The small moments make life magical—not just the over-the-top experiences. In an age where we are encouraged to stay plugged in, posting onto five or more social platforms throughout the day, and soaking up other people’s social activities, there is indeed great joy to be had in missing out. As a facebook friend commented earlier today, I took over 5 months off from Facebook. Guess what… life goes on, pretty well, I might add without it. And her reason for coming back to proceed with her social media presence is telling too, but I’m back for the convenience of organizing climbing trips and connecting with folks. So as we rethink the glorification of busyness, perhaps we might find joy in stillness and intention, of seeing where the road we’ve chosen might lead us.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Hey, Now

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Writing sometimes resembles wrestling a beast to the ground where the writer’s persistence on the page is rewarded. Rest assured, no animals were hurt in the statement above. Departures in writing can come about innocuously and perhaps some might say are causes of distraction, but I tend to abide by the idea of inhabiting Alice chasing the white rabbit on the page. The image of wrestling a beast came to me vividly today as I sat down to right about one thing even as the strains of the song in my headphones shuttled me somewhere else entirely. Before I could proceed with the writing at hand, I needed to grapple with that interloper head-on, knowing if I let it fight underneath my grasp, I might be able to access something real and true. Here’s where it took me:

In May, I had been refreshing my phone app’s weather program as if willing the weather to simmer down. I was traveling around Texas on book tour and so were the showers. I’m not fond of driving in Bay area rain where showers have garnered headlines long before the rain dried up. When I used to commute to San Rafael from San Francisco on a rainy day, the sky would turn the same color as the glistening road, blurring boundaries of street and sky. I had grown up in Texas where rain means business and takes on the adage that everything really is bigger in Texas. Growing up in that kind of place, you develop a healthy respect for weather systems. Tornadoes, flash flood thunderstorms, heat that bakes the back of anything in its wake appears regularly in the lone star state.

On one leg of my journey in the spring, I stayed at my mom’s house. She watched the weather channel with the frequency of conferring with it as one would with an oracle. The weatherman’s drone became the soundtrack of our days. That healthy respect transformed into an edginess as the darkening skies unfurled overhead. I have grown too accustomed to 24/7 sun that keeps the streets dry.

As one does in situations that test our mettle, I decided to try and make light of the typhoon of uncertainty growing within. I posted a photo of my driving route through the Texas and Louisiana legs of my book tour where not one but eight lightning bolts lit up the route I was supposed to take. I joked about being in a modern day rendition of the Odyssey and secretly hoped I didn’t spy any sirens on the roadside. An event in Dallas with overcast skies ended up blowing over. Another event in Dallas brought rain after the event had finished. Austin and Houston were on the horizon. My mother practically pushed us out of the house early on Mother’s Day to try and beat the storm headed to Austin. She had deliberated and treated herself to a one way ticket home that night. We beat out the storm. After several mildly wet days in Austin, I needed to leave for Houston. For days, I had been tracking the storms that lighted up the weather app that showed 80 percent precipitation days bleeding into one another. It was inevitable. I couldn’t avoid driving into the heart of the storm alone.

On the morning of my departure from Austin for Houston, the sky hung ominously like one large cloak of steel grey. A few fat raindrops dripped onto the windshield of the rental car and I made a decision to stop into Central Market for road snacks and an iced matcha latte. Blueberries and cherry tomatoes had made the cut of easy to pop snacks for the drive, and my caffeinated green drink would keep me energized. I headed back to the car, squeezing open the umbrella with my free hand to shield me from the rain that had picked up force, finally shutting myself inside the car. What had started as a light rain picked up force and gathered speed to become a full-blown gale.

In the parking lot, the rain pelted down with fury and the kind of force that would have made me pull the car over and wait it out. I hesitated to turn the key and shift the gear into drive. Instead, and without a sign that the rain would abate, I turned on the radio to listen to London Grammar and shifted the gear into reverse. As Hannah Reid’s ghostly voice pierced the quiet of the car amid the crazed percussion of the assaulting rain, I found comfort even as the peach pit of fear in my stomach blossomed in size. She sang Ooh, this is frightening and then followed it with Ooh, it’s like lightning. The words left my mouth, matching her pitch and with them recognition of a type of song onomatopoeia where her lyrics matched my circumstance. They caught in my throat as I tried not to cry.

With 15 percent visibility, the car edged forward as the other few drivers kept a very polite distance. Though the windshield wipers had been set to top speed, I couldn’t discern where one lane ended and the other began. My eyes shifted to focus on the brake lights of the car in front of me, letting them be a light unto my path. I found that if I sang along with the words, I could channel all of the nervousness out of my body and into the melody, letting it catch like a key turning in a door. I could separate myself from the myriad possibilities of catastrophe that could assail me on this road I had to drive alone. It was as if I had found a modicum of courage to just keep moving forward at an ant’s pace. And, eventually, the rain did abate. And, eventually, my coiled fingers around the steering wheel slackened.

This morning, without warning, I found myself back in the rental car, the rain thwacking the windshield as I was pulling out of the safe haven of the Central Market parking lot in Austin. The music unleashed a visceral response to something in the recent past on a day where I was sitting in front of my computer in Oakland, attempting to write something else. Perhaps that reaction came from not listening to London Grammar since the trip until this morning. Or, I could point to the fact that this morning, I woke up with a desire to listen to their music. Do you ever think about the cavernous rooms inside us that stay locked and inaccessible or how they quietly thrust the key into our hand at the right moment? What happens when we stop listening? What happens when we crane forward ready to receive what they have to tell us about life, about ourselves? On the wall of my office hangs a hand-lettered sign that asks a question. Everyday, I pass by it several times, reading the words and letting them take root inside. What is the story only you can write? My rental car rainstorm might be something different for you, but we all go through events we survive that feel harrowing and insurmountable at the time. It’s not everyday that they resurface. And, perhaps, it’s not everyday that we let ourselves be swept away into a memory we would rather forget. When you sit down to write, keep yourself open to what needs to be expressed. You might find as I did with the aid of that London Grammar song that the revelation given is something you need to see in order to move on and start working on the writing at hand. You, the writer-wrangler. Words, the elusive beast.

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Journeys Notes from the Road

Leaving San Francisco: A Love Letter to the Richmond

Home. It can be such a malleable thing. Within the period of several weeks, it became evident that we needed to move—something we have been emotionally and mentally preparing ourselves for quite some time to fully realize, even as our physical selves coordinate the arranging of movers, the buying of boxes. In the wake of the upcoming move, I am holed away in upstate New York where the sun warms my arms and the bees buzz past my ears. Only in this third space- at once familiar and still revealing new corridors can I really consider what I am losing and what I am moving into in six short days. And so, it seems fitting to share a piece I wrote for the now defunct, but once brilliant site, I Live Here, a collection of stories of San Franciscans and the neighborhoods they cherish. As I move out of dwelling in one City by the Bay and into another city by the Bay, I will continue to unpack this identity shift and the role that living in the Richmond has engrafted for eight excellent years—where I could “bask and purr and be at rest?” as Sarah C. Woolsey describes in her poem, “A Home.” Let us begin.

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Love Letter to the Richmond

If you walk down Clement Street on any given Saturday you will find it bustling with activity. Outside famed Asian grocery store, New May Wah, bins of fresh prickly Durian fruit sit next to Hawaiian papaya with mesh bags of lychee and plastic-wrapped almonds resting in the crevices below. You will surely happen upon family businesses like Golden Gate Liquor, the only place we’ve found within 10 blocks that carries cans of Ranger beer or Stein’s with their hearty goulash and big-screen TV’s as you continue your stroll. Fantastic dim sum is yours for under two dollars whether you go to Good Luck with its dumplings or down to Lung Shan for sweet barbecue pork bao.

While I have flirted with other neighborhoods like living so deep in the Outer Sunset that the air we breathed smelled of the ocean or dwelling in NOPA before it had a hip nickname, no place has transfixed me quite like the Richmond. Perhaps it’s the proximity of Baker Beach with its crisp climes and jaw-breaking beautiful backdrop that people drive long distances to visit. Some call it “the Avenues” with either a tinge of derision or indifference in their voices, but we call it home.

It’s easy to eat your way through 15 countries without leaving Clement Street. People like me think about these things when considering where to set down roots. My interest in other cultures emanates from a father who spoke seven languages and a mother who speaks two. This cultural hodgepodge of overlap makes sense to my insatiable craving for bridging the gaps. There is so much here to learn!

Here, in the Richmond, I attempted my first Beef Rendang with little success as the pot smoked and the beef crisped beyond imagining. Here, too, I found recompense in trying Beef Rendang as it should taste from take-out at Malaysia Singapore. Here, I learned how to decipher the bulbous galangal from ginger and found kaffir lime leaves with the ease of locating ketchup or mayo in a big box grocery store.

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It’s easy to eat your way up and down the street without ever having the same kind of food twice. People like me think about food and relish the variety found on a street like this. After working over a decade in food, I seek out creative culinary expression. My penchant for creating food poetry finds fodder during visits to Asian fusion bistro, B-Star or among the stacks at beloved Green Apple Books. We have watched two rounds of World Series play-off games with locals bedecked in black and orange at Pizza Orgasmica, or huddled around another screen, at Toy Boat while licking Double Rainbow chocolate ice cream threaded with peanut butter ribbons.

The Richmond may not offer the hipster appeal and warmer environs of the Mission, but you can warm yourself over a freshly pulled shot of Blue Bottle at Village Market and watch neighborhood residents practice tai chi in the park. With the Presidio on one side and Golden Gate Park on the other, the Richmond calls to weekend warriors who take on the back roads with their bicycles for Crissy Field or long jaunts walking through the woods just to get a whiff of Eucalyptus. All this natural beauty within the city makes this neighborhood unforgettable.

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Here, I have found a friendly, family-oriented neighborhood where you can be easily known by shopkeepers and neighbors whether from slipping into Angelina’s before the morning commute or reading poetry on a Thursday night at the Bazaar Cafe’s open mic where the owner, Les, and I might commiserate on art, music and sometimes politics. Then, of course, there’s Lee Gray at Thidwick Books, whose book savvy and helpful suggestions keep my bookcase well stocked. People in our neighborhood tend to stick around. I may have continued moving, but never out of the Richmond.

Even still, it’s hard to imagine how a neighborhood can be both familiar and full of wonders yet to discover (welcome, Grindz Hawaiian). I am growing more into the person I will become as a result of living here. If you can, as the song says, leave your heart in San Francisco, you may just find mine residing in the Richmond.

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Apparently, I’m also not alone in my appreciation for the Richmond, as I discovered in this piece from chef Marcus Samuelsson about his favorite place in San Francisco. Don’t miss the video of him traipsing through some of my personal haunts, strolling through the stacks at Green Apple Books or snagging an egg sandwich and coffee (Jacob makes the best lattes) at Village Market. My only beef with his article is the assertion that the Richmond is undiscovered. One of the reasons we are moving is that it is quite the hot property right now. But, we look forward to being frequent visitors.

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Journeys When in

When in Chicago

Like a deejay with a favorite song in regular rotation, Chicago used to get played at least once a year in my life. I would exit the McCormick Center after working the NRA show (and lest you envision me donning a rifle, those initials stand for National Restaurant Association show) set out on the Metra for downtown reveling in the architecture and the creative culinary scene in those few evening hours set aside for a bit of exploration. As things go, I haven’t had the occasion in a while to set foot outside of O’Hare or Midway airports. Recently, during a family trip, we carved out 24 hours to claim as our own. If you find yourself in a similar situation or want to take this tasting menu approach to deep diving into a city quickly, you might find it not only a fun challenge but a memorable adventure. And so, with 24 hours in Chicago at your disposal, here’s your cheat sheet of where to go and what to eat.

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ERNEST HEMINGWAY HOUSE / WALK ALONG WATERFRONT
If you read “The Paris Wife” by Paula McLain, then you know Ernest Hemingway’s early days with first wife Hadley Richardson began in Chicago. What you may not know is that his house happens to be near the waterfront at 1239 North Dearborn. Out for a leisurely stroll through the park toward downtown one morning we happened upon his house. I couldn’t believe it and had to glance at the sign in front of the house several times just to make sure it had read it correctly. Sure enough, in 1921, he and Hadley rented the top flat for four months after they first married. Standing outside the fenced in house, I wondered about this phase of his writing life, all of the utter potential that still lay before him largely untapped and how time spent in this flat as a newlywed all culminated to impact his writing.

GIORDANO’S
If you want a slice of Chicago deep dish pizza, the responses vary. Call me sentimental, but only one place satiates that urge. I first happened upon Giordano’s with a local friend and stumbled upon their spinach deep dish. The steel spatula cuts through the layers to move a slice onto your plate with the melted cheese reticent to tear itself away from the rest of the pie. The thick chunky tomato sauce, paired with the buttery crust, cheese and spinach is reminiscent of SF favorite, Little Star Pizza.

MICHIGAN AVENUE- WALKING BEYOND THE MIRACLE MILE
Walking in Chicago can take you to unexpected places. Most people are familiar with the “Miracle Mile,” that stretch of North Michigan Avenue that puts you on the path of posh boutiques and familiar brands of clothing stores. If you have it within you to stretch your legs for a while, let them take you well past that mile and down to South Michigan. This is one of my favorite jaunts in the city because of the breathtaking architecture, the lazy river that dissects downtown and the incredible public art. So much of downtown Chicago is meant to be experienced on foot and you can miss the small details when whizzing by in a car or cab. Millenium Park with its beloved stainless steel “Bean” sculpture delights people who walk up close and marvel at their reflection or the cityscape and sky reflected that make it look transparent in the right light. Just beyond it are two tall sculpture towers that broadcast filmed facial expressions along the stonework and water streaming down the surface. If you keep going you end up at the Art Institute and then even beyond that is another sculpture garden. Chicago makes art open to all, displaying natural alongside created beauty on this long walk.

ARGO TEA
Before you head over the bridge from North Michigan to the Art Institute, stop at Argo Tea. By this point, you might be parched and in need of refreshment. This local tea company has really ramped up their national distribution of iced tea in sleek reusable glass vessels, now available in specialty stores and convenience stores but there’s nothing like going into their teahouses with their vast selection of tea flavors and varieties of presentations. I’m partial to the Mate Latte, a blend of yerba mate, coconut and cocoa that when paired with a splash of milk and served over ice needs no sweetener and gives a lift of caffeine without making you jittery. They also serve bubble tea, hot tea, snacks and small meals. Rejuvenate in the summer with their iced tea sangria or a steaming cup of Charitea in the fall.  

ART INSTITUTE OF CHICAGO
Dirty little secret: if you head to the Art Institute an hour before they close, they drastically reduce the entry fee. If you decide to visit the museum with that approach, have a game plan in place and figure out what exhibit matters most to you, otherwise you might not get to it. I always make a beeline to visit my favorite painting of theirs: “Meekness” by Eustache Le Sueur, a gilded pastoral depiction of this virtue. I also make my way to see “The Bedroom” a fairly frenetic painting by van Gogh. Something about repeat visits to paintings that have left impressions reveals something new about the painting and the viewer. If time allows, visit the Frank Lloyd Wright pieces. But the piece de resistance, the one that is not to be missed are the Chagall windows in the basement. As one of my favorite artists, these windows are an incredible homage to America with the motifs I’ve come to appreciate from Chagall. As you leave the museum, make a pit stop in their museum store for unique finds and think about fist bumping the copper lion statues guarding the museum out front as you exit.

BALENA
Choosing one restaurant to eat at for dinner in Chicago is like asking a mother of 8 which child is her favorite. It can’t be done, at least without devastating consequences for the other seven, right? Contenders for this spot included favorites like Frontera Grill for Mexican, Avec for rustic comfort food, Mercat a la Planxa for Spanish and others that came to mind. But, given that it had been far too long since the last visit to Chicago, we opted for something new with help and advice from local friends in the know. That Balena’s head chef was nominated for a James Beard award in 2013 stood out as did key selections on their menu. Then again, getting to venture down to Lincoln Park also had its perks. What I really appreciated about Balena (pronounced Balayna) is their rock solid hospitality as they had presented a printed gluten free menu for Beck to peruse upon being seated. In the end, we shared a cheese course to start and split a kale caesar salad. For my main course, the Orecchiete, Kale, Lemon, Bread Crumbs and Chili arrived well seasoned and al dente. I still crave the side dish of Sweet Onion Gratinato with white wine and grand padano, highlighting the naturally sweet quality of onions in a creamy sauce with burnished cheese atop. Balena treated us just right.

THE GREEN MILL
After dinner, head over to The Green Mill, which is conveniently right off of the EL at the Lawrence stop. We had made plans to spend time with a local friend, who suggested we meet up at this popular locale for Chicagoans ready for a bit of late night jazz. Arrive early as you might be hard pressed to snag one of the small tables after 9 p.m. We grooved along with the music and made friends as our table became communal. Before long, the dance floor filled with  regulars who then frequented a few other tables, peppering them with “hello’s.” This is the place to go for old Chicago swing.

HOT CHOCOLATE
Seeing as I am a fan of chocolate and all things dessert, I can’t recall why I never skipped across town to check it out for myself before because, let’s face it, this is the Charlie and the Chocolate Factory of restaurants in Chicago. Mindy Segal’s playful dessert menu sidles up well with her no joke savory side. This particular day, a few of us swooped into a steaming pot of macaroni and cheese, creamy, gooey and a good side dish to share. I tried a bite of my friend’s burger because he audaciously claimed it is the best in town and I trust his tastebuds, and it was really quite amazing. I gobbled up half of the Philly-style chicken thigh cutlet sandwich with broccoli rabe pesto and taleggio on a garlic-toasted house made hoagie but didn’t leave room for dessert. How that’s possible is beyond me. But, I snuck in a sip of the signature dark hot chocolate and promptly joined the fray at the counter, wrestling over whether to purchase Mexican or Espresso Hot Chocolate, as if any choice existed for this Mexicana. 

EATALY
While the founders of Eataly would cringe if they heard this, now having visited both locations in New York and Chicago, I would call this the Ikea of the slow food world. First of all, the egress of Eataly pulls in would-be shoppers and diners into discovering items they didn’t know they needed. Since Eataly happened to be a short distance from my conference hotel, it proved the perfect place to steal away with a book for a quiet meal at the counter. If you dine at the counter in La Pasta, line cook Oscar will give suggestions about menu items. The Cacio e Pepe gave the requisite kick of black pepper and creamy Parmesan as I twirled the noodles around my fork. Another time, I sampled the Pappardelle con Funghi, a housemade egg pasta with shiitake mushrooms in a comforting tomato sauce. Yet another time, a small group of us wound our way to La Verdure, a vegetarian restaurant steps away from the ever-popular La Pasta / La Pizza. The notion of multiple restaurants inhabiting the open space makes for easy alternatives. At La Verdure, I ordered the Cavolo Nero salad composed of black Tuscan kale with grapefruit, pomegranate, Parmigiano Reggiano Frico that made a satisfying lunch. On yet another occasion, I opted for the Cannelloni, a decadent trio of housemade egg pasta stuffed with ricotta and spinach, sauced in béchamel. If you happen to be in the neighborhood and want a little something sweet,  head to the Lavazza Café for a short shot of liquid dessert in the form of their Neve Sulla Lava, three layers of flavor and temperature. Thick Italian drinking chocolate makes up the base with espresso granita on top and freshly whipped cream. Yowza. 

LITTLE GOAT DINER
Situated on the corner of West Randolph, this diner does a good job of playing up its fun modern interpretations on comforting brunch fare that they call “cereal killers,” sandwiches and more. I knew I wanted to visit for breakfast. Little Goat offers a steal of a deal of $10 breakfasts in three combinations with one of them being gluten-free, if you dine between 7-9 a.m. My Simple Goat selection of eggs, hash browns and biscuit offered a lot of food for a small price. Did you miss that time window because of a late night yesterday? No worries. The menu at Little Goat is as creative as you would expect coming from Stephanie Izard. Perched up at the bar looking into the action-paced kitchen window, I watched as the “Fat Elvis” was delivered to the patron next to me, all crispy waffles with a dollop of peanut butter, banana slices, candied bacon and syrup. On my other side, the Spiced Apple Pancakes arrived as big as the plates on which they were served, garnished with oatmeal crumble and buttermilk butter. Next time, I want to try the Spanish Omelette, loaded with cheddar, pickled peppers, masa chips, tomato and sour cream. The portions here are hefty, so come with friends and share or brown bag it. Also, head over to Little Goat Bread to pick up a freshly baked Miche loaf made of wheat, spelt, rye meal and buckwheat to take home, or if you’re in a hurry and can’t wait to be seated at the Little Goat Diner, nab a housemade Onion Rye Bagel smeared with kimchi cream cheese.

CELLAR DOOR PROVISIONS
What is happening at this small neighborhood outpost in Logan Square is so exciting I couldn’t help but gush with co-founder Ethan about bread for at least five minutes. The restaurant name tipped me off as to what I could expect: whole grains and solid baking. Their canneles, still warm from the oven might depose macarons or cupcakes with the creamy, custardy middles and  crisp candied exteriors. I relished a hearty slice of Bordeaux spinach quiche with roasted onion so creamy and the crust so light that it made for a comforting winter breakfast. What intrigued me the most were the Levain loaves being turned out in the kitchen during our time there. The open kitchen allowed us to peek in from the communal table as Ethan turned the fermenting dough in the cambro where it rested on the shelf. CDP just opened in late February and resembles in the best possible ways the kind of rustic handmade qualities loved in San Francisco’s Bar Tartine. Had we gone for lunch instead, I would have hankered to try the tartine of kefir, charred onion, shaved radish and carrot or the beet salad with sprouted rye. They also have a black garlic sable cookie I will try next time.

GASLIGHT COFFEE
One thing most of humanity can agree on is that hipsters know where to find good coffee. I’m not sure if it’s the roasting that draws them in, or theme of a genteel hunting lodge, but Gaslight was definitely the place to be seen and sipping for good reason. The latte commanded creaminess with an assertive espresso foundation. Rishi loose teas, the laid-back vibe and counter seating added to the charm.

BANG BANG PIE & BISCUITS
It’s no secret that I am obsessed with biscuits. And after trying what I deem to be “the best biscuit in the U.S.” I am ever on the hunt for it to find a viable contender. The biscuits at Bang Bang Pie are just such a biscuit. Since they bake them every hour, they take freshness to a whole new level because biscuits straight out of the oven, all flaky, hot, crumbly goodness. They serve them with fresh jam and fruity compound butter- two gold stars for Bang Bang. Maybe you crave salty over sweet, their Biscuit Muffin Strata brings together squash, nutmeg and pepitas for a savory breakfast or lunch. The sweet pies boggled my mind. I logged the selection of buttermilk custard pie in a vegetarian cornmeal shortbread crust as a must-try for my next visit.

KATHERINE ANNE CONFECTIONS
Before Katherine Anne and I had ever met, I knew we needed to be friends after trying one of her caramels. Given that I would opt for chocolate any day over caramel, hers swayed me to the chewy side. Our wedding favors came in small glassine bags of his and hers Katherine Anne caramels. I exulted to see her first storefront confiserie. Along with those ridiculously good chocolate and walnut caramels, the candy case held chocolate truffles in exotic flavors like Goat Cheese Walnut or Fat Elvis. I eyed the Stout S’more. Intriguing flavors of marshmallows included Vanilla Black Pepper. Located in Logan Square, stop here for a cup of hot chocolate with a Champagne and rose petal marshmallow.

THE WINCHESTER
Located on the corner of Winchester and Augusta, this Ukraine Village restaurant is tucked away and serene. Decked out in white tile and pale wooden tables, something about this restaurant feels both comfortable and modern. This holds true while perusing the menu. The shaved Brussels sprouts salad blends with shaved fennel, salty grana padano, dill and chive for an interesting salad that easily emptied. What is described as Winter Squash Curry consisted of spaghetti squash in a riff on Pad Thai, bringing together a bit of surprise in each bite, bright color, and differing textures. For a future breakfast, I’m keen to try the quinoa hash brown or the mixed grain porridge with apple, cheddar and almonds.

UNION SUSHI & BBQ
Think you can’t eat a delectable vegetarian meal at a sushi and barbecue bar? After exploring the extensive menu, my skepticism melted away. Cozy up to a table near the fire and pass the sake at this urban restaurant. Start dinner off with the Mushroom Salad with its savory umami notes pairing with peppery rocket leaves. Plumb the clever depths of their sushi offerings including the black rice rolls and order a Shiitake and tempura enoki roll with green onion, avocado and sesame along with their Devon roll, stuffed with sweet potato, chives, pickled radish and drizzled with curry mayo. Next time, I will be sure to try a slice of Yuzu Pie. (Update: Since returning to San Francisco, I have scoured for vegetarian sushi as good as Chicago & Portland. I’m still looking.)

NELLCOTE
Across the street from the Little Goat Diner, Nellcote is one part swanky decor and two parts eclectic menu. We dove into their assemblage of trumpet, oyster, royale and cremini wood-roasted mushrooms over warm silky polenta along with a kale salad with pecans to start off our meal. Did you know they mill their own flour in-house? Once I learned this detail from scavenging their menu online, a plate of pasta was foreseen and came in the guise of butternut squash agnolotti served in a brown butter sauce with quince, sage and Parmesan. A decadent choice for the evening, I skipped dessert but almost left with a bag of homemade dried pasta using their on-site milled flour. Be still my whole grain heart.

ADAGIO TEA
It grieved me to learn about the Adagio tea store on the day before leaving Chicago. Clearly, I don’t get out enough and founder Michael Cramer brews a fine cuppa. This oversight needs to be rectified next time but I peeked into the windows minutes after they had closed, marveling at the modern interior and all the selections of teapots.

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Next time, I’m keen to venture over to Spritzburger because the idea of burgers, brunch and bubbles sounds like far too much fun plus Gale Gand is one of the folks at the helm. Also, and trust me it’s from the lack of not having another stomach or self to go everywhere I’d like, I’m still jonesing to visit the Purple Pig, Longman & Eagle and revisit the Violet Hour or their new bar, Analogue which I hear has a ridiculously good chicken sandwich. Next time, Chicago. Until then, I remain fixed in my regret that I don’t live closer to Chicago and the creative food being plated in that fine city.

When you’re in Chicago, where do you like to eat and what do you like to do?

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Journeys When in

24 Hours in Costa Mesa

Costa Mesa24 hours in Costa MesaCosta Mesa

Let’s talk about Orange County, the one which spawned such TV hits like “The O.C.” or “Real Wives of the O.C.” Given that we don’t have a television and happily qualify ourselves as Northern Californians, I’ve got a few reasons up my sleeve to want to head back to Costa Mesa again soon that do not involve made-for-television drama. Though maybe we will wait until it’s not flirting with temperatures in the low 90s. Santa Ana has a vibrant local handmade scene and Costa Mesa sports a spirit of independence that I can get behind. If we spent 24 hours in Costa Mesa, here’s an itinerary of what we could do after landing at the nearby John Wayne airport.

Bread Costa MesaBread Costa Mesa
BREAD ARTISAN BAKERY

Be still my wild yeast loving heart. The Campagna boule crafted at Bread Artisan Bakery can stop a person in their tracks by the sheer size of the bread round or the tight crumb and ever so slight sour flavor aspect. With a friendly personality, this family-owned wholesale business sells their bread to cafes and restaurants in Santa Ana. Check out their website to find locations that carry their bread. Kristen and her team are passionate whole grain enthusiasts and I happily snagged half a loaf to take back home to freeze which will mean we will have amazing bread within reach for quite some time.

creative outlet costa mesacreative outlet studio costa mesa

CREATIVE OUTLET STUDIOS
Call it bias, but I abide by the motto, “Do something creative everyday” and can get behind a business that gives an outlet for creativity. I met Susan and Lauren, the two owners of Creative Outlet Studios back when their business was an idea. Upcoming workshops include making a dish towel apron or indigo and shibori dyeing. This mother-daughter duo will unleash your creative side even if you have never considered yourself artistic. Make sure to visit their retail store for art supplies and handmade items for purchase. If you’re local to Costa Mesa, you can rent space in their studio too.

Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles Library Store Los Angeles

LIBRARY STORE
Okay, this is kind of cheating because the actual store is located in Los Angeles proper, but they have a store on wheels- think of it as a library truck but infinitely cooler and without any shushing from resident librarians. What makes the library store truck worth seeking out is their cheeky paraphernalia of the literary kind. Here, you can procure a Romeo and Julienne wooden cutting board or an Edgar Allan Poe pen bag (I’m seeing Poe everywhere these days). I picked up some postcards “from the desk of Jane Austen.” As a prolific post card writer, I leapt at the opportunity to brighten a person’s day (and a postmaster’s) with pithy quotes from the lady Austen. (If you email me your mailing address, I just might send one of them out into the world to you!)

Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck Seabirds Food Truck

SEABIRDS
Seabirds started out as a popular food truck serving creative vegan food and has recently set up shop in a storefront location in the LAB Anti-Mall (which is worth a visit in its own right). What makes them a cut above the rest (move over Native Foods) beyond their friendly customer service and clean, streamlined look is the food. The beer battered avocado tacos with Seabirds sauce and lime-kissed cabbage pulls in long lines. Keen on trying something even more fun and playful? Opt for their Jackfruit tacos with barbecue sauce, cabbage and pickled red onions. Their version of a kale caesar salad is more exciting than the John Stewart late night show with almonds and pepitas in a garlicky caesar dressing. You can’t go wrong with a Holy Heck Bowl made of brown rice, sauteed kale, and nut chorizo served with Seabirds sauce. You can also get it topped with homemade guacamole and coconut bacon (trust me you want to try this) which is smoky and crisp.

SoCo CollectionSoCo Collection

SOUTH COAST COLLECTION
In my family, if my cousin is the shopper, I’m the power shopper: decisive about what I like and what I don’t like (shopping). Here’s where South Coast Collection (SoCo for short) steps in. In an open floorplan, they feature a sampling of small shops including Birdie Juicery (go with the Green Basic- one of the cleanest and best green juice flavor profiles I have tried hands down) or Seventh Tea Bar  for loose tea and sweets. Let’s say you want to shop for unique clothing pieces or single piece of wood dining tables- they can meet those needs too and then some. Don’t forget to visit Surfas Restaurant Supply store and find kitchen contraptions you never knew you needed until now like the aqua cake stand or foodstuffs like olive oil.

habana costa mesa menuhabana costa mesahabana costa mesa

HABANA
Go for the food, stay for the outdoor dining ambience. Outfitted with candles that give an intimate evening glow, go early as Habana starts getting busy and keeps going that way until 2 a.m. It’s also located in the LAB Anti-Mall (are you sensing a trend here of where we might spend our time?) The cocktail menu offers interesting drinks like a Jalapeno Margarita or you can order a whole coconut if you’re feeling more tropical and less spicy. They boast a fried avocado appetizer that is just okay in comparison to the offering at Seabirds. Instead, save your appetite for the Ropa Vieja (translated “old clothes”) of shredded spiced beef, onions and peppers served with amazingly good white rice, black beans and maduros (fried plantains). My fork belongs to the Salmon a la Parilla that gets a nice char on the edges and is served with a creamy spicy sauce and fresh tomatoes alongside the trifecta of Cuban cuisine: beans, rice and plantains. This is comfort food like no other.

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Journeys When in

24 Hours in Baltimore

 When you think about your favorite American town, does Baltimore come to mind? If you haven’t noticed I’m kind of sweet on Baltimore. I would submit Wit and Wisdom as a memorable meal, and stay tuned for a special write-up of my favorite restaurant in the U.S., perfect for when you have a bit more time, but right now let’s plan our 24 hours in Baltimore. I have  selected a hearty blend of food and poetry to make you also smitten with a city usually recorded for its football wins, crab cakes or crime.

Lebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese Taverna BaltimoreLebanese TavernaLebanese Taverna Baltimore

LEBANESE TAVERNA
Lebanese Taverna continues to give me a proper education in the art of Lebanese cuisine. Years ago when I visited the restaurant for the first time at a happy hour meet and greet, I discovered one of my food fixations: labneh. This is a restaurant where you hopefully have brought a few friends so you can order more dishes to sample. Their warm puffy just baked pita bread reminds me of the type of pita bread served on Mykonos in Greece rather than the sad plastic-wrapped version sold in mass market grocery stores. Their pita is perfect to pair with hommus from their extensive hommus section of the menu. As a hummus fan, their hommus is seasoned in all the right ways and if you order the spicy version, it comes with a pool of harissa in the middle. The Arnabeet salad, a roasted cauliflower, chickpea, yogurt and parsley salad really delights. If you’re craving something more traditional go for the refreshing Fatoosh salad of greens, tomatoes, mint leaves and crispy pita.Their Fatteh of eggplant served atop garlicky yogurt, chickpeas and fried pita chips also comes with jeweled pomegranate arils for a sweet, tangy burst, pine nuts and mint leaves. Expect long waits on the weekend  and evenings.

Edgar Allan Poe house  grave1

CHASING EDGAR ALLAN POE
Baltimore might be the one town in the United States to not only appreciate their resident poetic history but keep that history alive. As a test, I asked two strangers to cite for me where the Baltimore Ravens football team discovered its name. Without skipping a breath, they responded Edgar Allan Poe. I resolved to visit his gravesite even though some argue that his body should be moved to Philadelphia. The “Poe Toaster,” an anonymous Poe fan leaves a bottle of Cognac and three roses at his gravesite would definitely disagree. If you decide to make the trek out to Westminster Burial Ground, stay aware of your surroundings as it’s in a rough neighborhood.

Instead, perhaps head over to the Edgar Allan Poe House and Museum and make pit stops at other Poe places. To add onto the Poe places to visit, there have been other offshoots celebrating city ties with the poet. Restaurants like the Annabel Lee Tavern that serves a dessert called Edgar Allan Pate as well as the Annabel Lee cocktail of Stoli, peach nectar, and fresh lime topped with Poema Cava or sip on a pint of The Raven lager… If you appreciate poetry trinkets, pick up a Poe bobblehead.

The Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive BaltimoreThe Black Olive Baltimore

THE BLACK OLIVE
Many years ago, several friends and I stumbled upon The Black Olive, nestled over on South Bond Street adjacent to Shakespeare Street and it left an indelible mark. It might have been the fresh fish on ice that you can select and order with your server when they lead you to review the display like the Bronzini shipped from Greece and then fileted tableside, served with a simple sauce of lemon juice, olive oil and oregano and a side dish of griddled polenta olive oil and feta cakes. I could also point to the refreshingly green take on hummus that incorporates parsley or the enticing Melitzanasalata roasted eggplant dip. But really, what keeps The Black Olive on my Baltimore short list is their Village Pie which inspired my homemade version as well as their Baklava Ice Cream with bits of baklava mixed into the ice cream for textural intrigue.

The Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse - BaltimoreThe Horse That You Came In On- Baltimore

THE HORSE YOU CAME IN ON
As it so happens, after eating dinner at the Black Olive in Fell’s Point, you are only steps away from America’s oldest saloon, The Horse You Came In On Saloon, known by locals as The Horse. Established in 1775, the rugged interior takes you back in time, but what makes patrons come back for more is the fun atmosphere, flowing booze and live music from 2 p.m. to 2 a.m. Over the bar, a sign reads, “Dry your eyes and soldier on.” Good advice. What took me to The Horse was the tiny tidbit that this saloon was the final destination of Edgar Allan Poe before he was found dead. The Horse’s colorful history adds to its charm plus it’s on an interesting cobblestone street with quaint shops lining that stay open late.

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Poetry Travel Poetry

Travel Poetry: Robert Louis Stevenson’s Adventures Abroad

Angela Petersen of Far & Wise and I share at least one thing in common. Both of us tend to be travel-hounds seeking out the exotic and tantalizing tastes anywhere our travels take us. And, she is a woman with a suitcase on the ready. Her blog, Far & Wise is a global grab bag of stories, culture, history and food from around the world. We both started our journeys in the Lone Star state and have set down roots in the Bay Area. Our friendship has spanned multiple states and many shared meals. She’s currently inviting one of her readers to win a free trip for two to San Francisco in celebration of her one year anniversary of moving here! Since I can’t enter the contest myself because I live in the sparkling, nay, foggy city by the bay, I invited her to share a guest post blending travel and poetry. This peek into another side of Robert Louis Stevenson and his adventures abroad stretches my perceptions of him farther and leaves me feeling a bit wiser. Well played, Far & Wise! The pictures below are from her travels to Colombia, India, Egypt, South Africa, and France.

RLS1

“Up into the cherry tree
Who should climb but little me?
I held the trunk with both my hands
And looked abroad on foreign lands”(1)

RLS2

“Where in sunshine reaching out
Eastern cities, miles about,
Are with mosque and minaret
Among sandy gardens set,
And the rich goods from near and far
Hang for sale in the bazaar”(2)

RLS3

RLS4

“Where in jungles, near and far,
Man-devouring tigers are,
Lying close and giving ear
Lest the hunt be drawing near”(3)

RLS5

RLS6

“Where among the desert sands
Some deserted city stands,
All its children, sweep and prince,
Grown to manhood ages since”(4)

RLS7

“There I’ll come when I’m a man
With a camel caravan”(5)

RLS8

“The strangest things are there for me,
Both things to eat and things to see”(6)

RLS9

RLS10

“If I could find a higher tree
Farther and farther I should see,
To where the grown-up river slips
Into the sea among the ships”(7)
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Robert Louis Stevenson is typically remembered for writing both “Treasure Island” and “The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde,” but what’s often forgotten is that he also wrote travel essays and children’s poems, like those excerpted above.

Growing up in Scotland, Stevenson was awkward, sickly child resigned to remain in bed reading with his nurse instead of going outside to play with other children. “When I was sick and lay a-bed, I had two pillows at my head, And all my toys beside me lay, To keep me happy all the day,” he wrote in “The Land of Counterpane,” capturing the consolation of a sick child’s world-filled with the siege and conquest of toy soldiers but set amongst his comforter (aka counterpane) and bed linens.

It’s possible that this early time in his life set the stage for his imaginative storytelling, but it also seemed to serve as a reminder of a life he didn’t want. Stevenson continued to struggle with his health throughout hislife, but it didn’t stop him from seeking adventure and traveling far beyond the confines of his home. He would write about a canoe trip through Belgium and France in “An Inland Voyage,” a trek through the mountains of Southern France in “Travels with a Donkey in the Cévennes,” and a second-class voyage across the Atlantic via steamship, followed by an overland train trip from New York to San Francisco in “The Amateur Emigrant.”

That last trip to San Francisco almost killed him, but it was fueled by love. He came to California to woo and wed a woman named Fanny Osborne. She was scandalously older than Stevenson and married with three children when they met in Paris. In time, she would divorce her husband, and after yet another debilitating sickness, Fanny would nurse Stevenson back to health and marry him.

Initially they spent a number of years seeking out a location in England and Scotland that would be suitable for Stevenson’s health, but they ultimately set sail for the South Pacific looking for a complete change in climate. They spent time sailing in Hawaii, the Gilbert Islands, Tahiti, New Zealand, and the Samoan Islands over the course of three years. They chose to settle in the village of Vailima on an island in Samoa where they stayed until Stevenson’s death at the young age of 44. Before his death, he wrote to a friend ruminating about his eventual end: “If only I could secure a violent death, what a fine success! I wish to die in my boots; no more Land of Counterpane for me. To be drowned, to be shot, to be thrown from a horse – ay, to be hanged, rather than pass again through that slow dissolution,” he wrote.

His concerns would turn out to be unfounded. His death was a sudden end to a prolific and adventuresome life, with no return to the Land of Counterpane. Despite his sickly youth, Robert Louis Stevenson became a celebrated writer, poet, and traveler, one adventure and story at a time.

 

Excerpts above are combined from the following poems:Foreign Lands(1) (7), Travel(2) (3) (4) (5), and The Land of Nod(6), by Robert Louis Stevenson. Sources: Wikipedia, The Letters of Robert Louis Stevenson, especially Vailima Letters.

 

 

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Journeys When in

When in Portland 2013 (biscuit edition)

the food poet | Portland cityscape

I’m not sure what got into me, but on a recent trip (okay, trips) to Portland, I found myself knee deep in biscuits. While I would like to say I offset the indulgent and oh-so flaky crumbed days of biscuit-eating with vegan food to depose my butter and flour consumption ratio, I’m not certain I succeeded.

 

When in Portland eat a chicken biscuit at Tasty n AlderWhen in Portland eat a biscuit at Tasty n Alder

TASTY N ALDER

I’m not sure there is a reward for it, but I have visited all three food emporiums in the Tasty n Sons trinity. Perhaps there is a gold star sticker for frequenters. I tend to think if you’ve got 24 hours or even 48 hours and want to experience Portland through your fork, head to a Tasty N Tasty restaurant. This proved true even more recently when we ambled to Tasty n Sons at 3:30 in the afternoon and found tables of hipsters congregating and filling up the communal table, noshing off the happy hour menu. While the original Tasty n Sons still holds a special place in my gut for their warm, friendly service and put an egg on it swagger, there’s a good chance my first love has actually become Tasty n Alder. I blame the biscuit. More directly, I blame the server who suggested that the biscuit might be good to try. I don’t typically go for the whole fried chicken and egg on a biscuit with cheddar, but I heeded the server’s recommendation and she did not steer me wrong. Oh my goodness, the crumb on this biscuit. Thankfully, it is diminutive enough that any notion of wrongdoing is minimized as it’s not the behemoth-size served at Pine State (and I’d vouch is the better biscuit).

On another occasion, I opted for the patatas bravas, which I shared with some strangers also set up in the front window with some friendly Portlanders. That particular day I also ordered the off-the-menu special of mini biscuits in venison gravy which resembled a redeye gravy in all the right ways and also featured a smattering of diced bell peppers for flavor and a bit of texture. If you’re staying downtown, Tasty n Alder is the one to visit. Get there early and avoid a wait or if dining alone, make friends.

PDX Pine State Biscuits

PINE STATE BISCUITS

It should be disconcerting when people warn you in advance about a restaurant and you decide to go anyway. After the ridiculously good biscuit at Tasty n Alder, it set a chain of events into motion. I jumped on that biscuit train with the eagerness of a teenager just behind the wheel for the first time solo. Take note, there will be a line at Pine State Biscuits, even if you arrive early. Gabby had cautioned on the large portions here and it’s true. This meal will cover the requirements nicely. The line moved quickly and before long, the cashier stood in front of me taking down my order of The Reggie, a biscuit slathered in gravy and sandwiching cheese and fried chicken, and a cold-brewed Stumptown iced coffee. Slung together in seamless motion, the cooks worked so fast that watching them was its own form of entertainment. When the biscuit arrived, it was of epic proportions. This meal is almost a challenge and most definitely is aiming for the eater with swagger. Juicy fried chicken held up the melted cheddar cheese and bits of biscuit flaking off onto my fork. Since this was my second (shudder!) fried chicken biscuit sandwich in 48 hours though, I’m more amenable to the size and flavor of Tasty n Alder. If you happen to be keen to get your biscuits buttered, head to Pine State.

 

When in Portland eat at Toro Bravo

When in Portland eat at Toro BravoTORO BRAVO

Fabiola set about giving us her three ideas of where to eat while in Portland, and while selecting between Clyde Common and Toro Bravo was difficult, we made the right choice for the evening. Upon arriving at the overtly Spanish outpost of the Tasty n Sons empire in Portland with twilight settling on the city, Toro Bravo boasted dim lighting and ruddy surfaces. The effect is both intimate and mysterious, as if you are walking into an experience as much as a restaurant.

When in Portland eat pickled vegetables and olives at Toro BravoWhen in Portland eat tortilla espanola at Toro Bravo

The sheep’s cheese with rose petal harissa and mint sounded compelling on the menu but left a bit of a thud as the rose was indiscernible from the heat that blanketed our tongues. The marinated olives and pickled vegetables kept us reaching for more, and the radicchio salad with green olive toast and manchego vinaigrette satisfied our salad course. The tortilla espanola at Toro Bravo is pretty special and by special, I mean custard enfolding potatoes prepared perfectly. It was my stand-out dish. Toro Bravo also easily provided a vegan menu for a friend which didn’t consist of barely dressed salad or steamed vegetables. The meal at Toro Bravo stood out as a clever interpretation of Spanish tapas.

Ya Hala Portland

PDX_YH_2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

YA HALA

You know how a restaurant can work its way into repeat visits every time you’re in town? Dreena had been vocally dreaming about their artichoke hearts dish during a trip in Portland, and we wanted to experience the flavors she lavished upon us, extolling their food. If you don’t have a car, Ya Hala can be a bit of a long ride in a cab, but the food at the other end of that pay stub is well worth the visit. Situated in a darkly lit back room, we were greeted in this Lebanese restaurant with more tantalizing options than just the braised artichokes stuffed with carrots, potatoes, squash and onions in a tomato onion sauce that brought us to the restaurant. I couldn’t resist their puffy housemade pita or the fire-roasted baba ghanouj as a starter and sipped on a date soda. Seeing labneh on the menu almost made me atwitter and I had to winnow down my choices from the Makloube, upside down rice and eggplant casserole or the Sheik Al Mehshi. I ended up going with the Sheik, a dish of baby eggplants sautéed and stuffed with vegetables and served with a tomato sauce and basmati rice. When the dishes arrived, we dove into them eagerly, but even the most enthusiastic appetite can’t finish the large portions they serve. For a bit of Middle Eastern flair in Portland, I was thrilled to discover Ya Hala.

Katie Bun | Baker & Spice | PortlandBaker & Spice Portland

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

BAKER & SPICE

Tucked into a residence not close to downtown, but accessible by taxi, the bakery, Baker & Spice boasts treasures of the flaky and crusty variety. Fabi had mentioned the rigors of perfection by which they make their croissants each day and I jumped at learning of another bakery in Portland at the top of their game.  One thing you quickly notice upon entering Baker & Spice is how the open kitchen is directly behind the counter and extends far back. It distracted me from the rich bounty in the glass case as I tend to be a bit of a kitchen voyeur and appreciate watching others bake and cook. With so much stimuli, I ordered a box of goodies and retreated to enjoy them with friends. The Katie bun, a Danish covered in brown sugar, cinnamon and golden raisins turned out to be our favorite, a not-too-sweet and sticky bun perfect for pulling apart and sharing. The Maple twist Danish pastry with Vermont maple glaze also enticed. I didn’t try a hand pie or a slice of chocolate chip angel food cake that looked light enough to ascend from the pastry case. Of course, tarts, drop cookies, shortbread and bread puddings joined the rank in the glass case. All in all, this bakery exceeded expectations. If you visit, make sure to pick up a bag of Baker & Spice granola, which travels well as a food souvenir.

VEGAN

When in Portland eat at DepartureWhen in Portland eat at DepartureDEPARTURE

Hotel restaurants can certainly leave little in the way of intrigue, so when Kristina mentioned that I should check out the restaurant at the top of my hotel during a recent visit, I kind of balked at first. We rode the elevator to the top floor and stepped out into what felt like a narrow passage way to a space ship. Walking into Departure what struck me immediately was the host asking us if we needed a vegan or gluten-free menu. That touch of hospitality lets me know that people with food allergies or dietary preferences are not second class citizens but are welcome. This left a welcome impression as he whisked us into the dining room and we were quickly seated across from stunning views of the city bridges and river streaming through glass walls.

When in Portland eat vegan sushi at Departure

When in Portland eat brussels sprouts at DepartureWe split several vegan sushi rolls including the Grilled Shiitake Roll with scallion, avocado, butter lettuce and carrot sauce that equated to a flavorful bite. I smeared my sushi with the carrot sauce, not wanting to lose any of it. We also shared a Sweet Potato Tempura Roll with spinach, ginger and spicy miso where the sweet potato served as a bit of crunchy texture. Lastly, we ended up perfectly pairing the sushi rolls with their wok-fried Brussels sprouts tossed with chili, lime and mint.

When in Portland eat carrot salad at Departure

I must admit, the food here is good in a way that had me sheepishly admitting I was wrong… so wrong that the next night I went back to Departure by myself to relish the Grilled Shiitake Roll. I also tried their spicy carrot and avocado salad with pickled cucumber and sourdough croutons that the server mentioned is the staff favorite and on the list of food the staff can’t order because of that fact. He was so right and in some ways it was a quintessential Portland salad with its pickled veggies and fermented dough croutons. And, wouldn’t you know it, on my way out, I saw Kristina sitting at the bar finishing off a Grilled Shiitake roll. Clearly, something good needs to be savored twice sometimes.

Kure PDXKure PDX Portland Farmacy

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

KURE JUICE BAR

Downtown, I had spied a juice bar called Kure Juice Bar. Inside, Kure is essentially a walk-up counter with a list of juices that can be concocted as you wait. In addition to their juice offerings, I appreciated small details of fare for breakfast like steel cut oats  or acai bowls. For lunch, I noticed they also carried millet burgers and kale salad. Their “bells and whistles” list of mix-ins for smoothies included esoteric offerings like veggie probiotics, maca root and bee pollen. Since our visit coincided with the droopy hours of afternoon that require a pick-me-up, I selected the “Portland Farmacy” juice, a combination of cucumber, celery, spinach, kale, parsley, romaine, lime, apple and cayenne. If you haven’t caught onto the burgeoning juice movement taking on the U.S. right now, let me just tell you this is a trend not founded in hype. Sucking down the juice, I was amazed again how revitalized this infusion of veggies and fruit made me. If you typically turn to caffeine to help you wake up, try a green juice. You might just find that its effects happen quickly and are more long-lasting. The Portland Farmacy blend was one of their more savory blends, and I ordered it with a boost of ginger because I like the zing. Other juices stood out like the Tiger’s Blood with carrot, extra ginger and beet, which I can easily imagine is sweet with a bit of that beloved ginger fire. Kure is closed on Sundays, so I didn’t get to try anything else, but imagine the Matcha Matcha Man is a popular choice when it gets chilly outside.

PDX oblation paper and pressPDX-oblation paper and press 2

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

OBLATION PAPERS

Let’s talk about paper, shall we? It’s my experience that writers have a fixation on paper goods. Whether it’s finding a handmade journal or letterpress cards that look all business but speak with snark, if writers are collectors, I’m inclined to think that paper factors highly into their collections. I stumbled across Oblation with a friend (who’s a writer), Susan. She had a short list of must-visit PDX spots and Oblation factored high on her list. Within a minute of entering this quirky store, I understood why. Before long I had picked up a “You Look Like You Could Use Bovine Growth Hormone” card and a birthday card that celebrated on its cover, “Here’s a Mini Stratocaster for Your Birthday” with a tiny electric guitar sketched onto the front. The store boasts boxed sets of letterpress cards of the more vanilla variety, “Thank You!” and others in the cheeky realm like one emblazoned with a pitch from “the Department of Homestead Security.”

PDX-oblation paper and press 4

PDX-oblation paper and press 3

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the back of the shop, behind the resident parakeet, a man was making paper, dipping long molds into wide vats of grey water. I stood there, watching him work, trying to be inconspicuous and marveling at the effort involved in making what my pen cherishes. If you tend to be a card collector, be prepared to walk out of Oblation with a stack of sassy cards.

So, what are some of your can’t miss Portland restaurants or shops?