When Can I Return to Maine?

Been thinking about the best Chinese food I’ve ever eaten in the USA at Empire in Portland, Maine. Is it too far to drive from Boston just for dinner? That block is almost perfect as it also has the Speckled Ax coffee cafe. Beware, this is what a visit to Maine can do. I just want to go back.

The lighthouse is cliche and also beautiful and important to coastal boat safety.

We stayed in a terrific AirBnB outside of Portland. Then we drove to Rockport and Camden for a relaxing day of looking a beautiful coastline, shopping and good food.

We spent time in Portland too. It was difficult to leave but the traffic on a weekend is a challenge. Next time I’ll go midweek and give myself enough time to see Arcadia National Park.

Eating My Way Through Portland Again

Beef rib feast at Clyde Common could easily serve 5-6 people.
Beef rib feast at Clyde Common could easily serve 5-6 people.

Portland is a great city for cycling, for book shopping, but it is probably most famous in the moment for its food culture. Even though the Mark Spencer Hotel offers a free breakfast, we ate out almost every meal. Staying in the Pearl District is great for walking to great restaurants.

About 18 months ago, I decided to give my adult children experiences instead of things. This weekend Sarah Harriet, Marcos and I were in Portland for the World Domination Summit. We kicked off our visit with dinner at Clyde Common with friends Lisa and Meg. We ended the evening at the fabulous Ruby Jewel ice cream shoppe.

Blue Star buttermilk donuts!
Blue Star buttermilk donuts!

The next morning we sought out the highly recommended Barista for coffee and second breakfast. The coffee was good but the baristas were aloof and the everyone there was so hip.

Frittata at Tasty n Alder
Frittata at Tasty n Alder

We intended to go to Lardo for Friday lunch but when we looked at the menu we changed our minds. We ended up at Cha!Cha!Cha! for Mexican food. Sarah and I shared some greasy nachos and we both got upset tummies. We drove to dinner at Bamboo and enjoyed a terrific meal with really good service.

On Saturday we were determined to get to the opening session of #WDS2015 early and be at Blue Star Donuts at the 8 a.m. opening time. First we went to Stumptown and got some coffee. Marcos liked the Nitro Cold Brew best. We hung out for a few minutes in the Ace Hotel lobby and Sarah and Marcos used the photo booth.

We were so excited and hungry we almost forgot to take a picture.
We were so excited and hungry we almost forgot to take a picture.

There was a line when we got to Blue Star, but not too long by Portland standards and it moved quickly once the shop opened. Lisa said Blue Star would fundamentally change our relationship to donuts–especially the buttermilk donut. They are truly amazing and I loved watching the Blue Star team working together. Skip the line at Voodoo and go to Blue Star! When we got to the Summit many of the Portland based ambassadors gave us thumbs up for the Blue Star box.

Quin is a small store front and features hand made candies and original recipes.
Quin is a small store front and features hand made candies and original recipes.

Sarah and Marcos grabbed Jimmie Johns sandwiches for a hike in the Columbia Gorge. (They highly recommend the hike to Punchbowl falls although watch the parking markers to avoid tickets and towing.) I went to Tasty n Alder for a wonderful frittata. We met up again for dinner at Cheryl’s because it was close and we were looking for a burger. The place was empty at 6:30 p.m. and while the food was solid, the service was rubbish.

On Sunday we went to Heart for coffee and a muffin. Sarah also ordered the sandwich but then could not eat it because of the relish and the ham was more like uncooked bacon. Sarah and Marcos liked their coffee the best and found the baristas super friendly. Lunch was a challenge because Zeke’s deli had a tremendous line and we were really hungry. We went down the street to Zeus Cafe. The food was good and we felt that good feeling that refueling gives.

Heart foam art on latte from Heart.
Heart foam art on latte from Heart.

Oh yeah, and somewhere in the midst of all of this activity I went a half block to the candy shoppe Quin and bought some caramels. Yum.

It was a dash to the finish of the conference and to the airport. So much good food in a few blocks. We will be back.

Cycling Along the Portland Riverfront

I love Portland. I have visited almost once a year for many years. I returned with Sarah Harriet and Marcos to attend the World Domination Summit and enjoy the city. I drove my Mini and packed my Brompton bike.

The Springwater Park Trail is very busy on weekends.
The Springwater Corridor Trail is very busy on weekends.

I still need to get some miles in before RAGBRAI but I felt under the weather. Finally on Sunday I was able to go across the street to West End Bikes and add some air to my tires and get directions to the Springwater Corridor Trail.

Springwater bike and pedestrian trailIt was a quick downhill glide on Stark Street to the parkway. My plan was to ride across the Steel bridge then east to the Hawthorne bridge and return, then do a time check and see if I had time to do another loop.

I turned right because the Farmers Market on my left blocked my view of the Steel bridge. The weather was in the 80s and there was no breeze so it felt warm. It felt great to be on my bike so I kept meandering down the path looking for a bike-friendly bridge to cross. People and bikes share a wide path so now is not the time to ride fast.

new bridge?I missed the Hawthorne bridge and rode to a new light rail and bike/ped bridge that is not open yet. I followed a couple of other cyclists to the Hawthorne bridge and crossed to the other side.

There was less congestion and I was able to enjoy my ride. I was so relaxed I missed the jog toward the river on to the ramps and trail right on the river.

he view from the Hawthorne bridge across the Columbia River is refreshing.
The view from the Hawthorne bridge across the Columbia River is refreshing.

This led me directly to the Steel bridge. I enjoyed riding across the river and back toward the Farmer’s Market. I did a time check and decided to head back to the Mark Spencer Hotel in the Pearl District. Portland is often listed as one of the top bicycle cities in the USA. They have dedicated bike lanes in bright green and traffic controls with special bicycle signals.

I am glad I got on my bike in Portland.

24 Hours in Portland

Recently spent 24 eventful hours in Portland for my friend Lisa’s birthday party. I flew in on Saturday morning in time to meet friends Dale and Erik for brunch. We texted back and forth while I was riding the MAX red line in from the airport. We settled on Mother’s Bistro and Bar. We enjoyed a delicious brunch and a great catch-up conversation. We walked to Powell’s for a book shopping expedition. (Hooray for Powell’s shipping service!) Then split up to go our separate shopping ways.

I promised other friends, Jen and Leslie, I would meet them at their hotel for a drink before the birthday party. I had a couple of hours to walk a couple of miles with my shoulder bag to my hotel in NW Portland. I was about 2/3 of the way to my destination and feeling a little foot sore when I spied a tea house in the middle of “nowhere.”

Steven Smith Tea tasting rooms
Steven Smith Tea tasting rooms

I entered the tea room and my spirit was immediately refreshed. After consultation with the barrista, I selected Kandy, a black tea described as “fragrant and intense, yet light in liquor, named for one of the sweetest towns in Sri Lanka.” My pot of tea was refreshing and I did a bit of tea shopping in anticipation of UK Sarah’s upcoming visit.

Steven Smith Tea tasting room
Steven Smith Tea tasting room

I continued hoofing it to my hotel (wishing I had brought my Brompton bike afterall).  My hotel, the Silver Cloud Inn,  was worth the effort: great price, spacious room, and good amenities.

I took a Radio Cab to the Sentinel Hotel and met my friends in the majestic lobby and lush bar. The cheese platter was the perfect amount for three to nosh on.

Lisa Goren is a very talented health care speaker, super smart, and wickedly funny friend. Over 50 of her lovely, funny friends gathered to celebrate her birthday. The food, the talent show, and the Ruby Jewel ice cream made an evening to remember.

The next morning some of us gathered at Clyde Common restaurant for a late breakfast. So much good food! The restaurant is next door to the super hip Ace Hotel. After a good long visit I caught a ride to the airport and was on my way to back to Sacramento.

With just 24 hours you can still literally get a taste of Portland and have Portlandia type experiences. Case in point, one of my cab drivers engaged me in conversation and shared his 2 pager on what’s wrong with the world’s economy.  I would go back to Portland in a heartbeat.

Whole wheat pancakes with strawberries throughout makes for yummy goodness.
Whole wheat pancakes with strawberries throughout makes for yummy goodness.

IFragrant and intense, yet light in liquor, this blend is named for one of the sweetest cities in Sri Lanka.

Swatch: Folly Dress for World of Wearable Art

Among the reasons I am visiting New Zealand is to attend The World of Wearable Art. It was great to see a big mural welcoming me to New Zealand and to WOW.  UK Sarah and I will fly to Wellington next week to have fun in NZ’s capital and to see WOW on Thursday night. What does one wear?  If you are avant garde enough, you can go for something outrageous or high fashion. I decided to find a dress that I feel great in and buy a new pair of heels that rock the outfit. I found my dress in Portland at a shop called Folly.

In a Portland magazine I read about Sarah Bibb, a Portland designer who makes her clothes in a local factory and sells her designs and other “made in USA” designs in a shop a short bike ride from our hotel.  As soon as it stopped raining, I hopped on my Brompton and raced to Folly to check out her clothes. The designer was in the shop and gave me her personal attention. At first I was looking for my daughter as many of the designs were more appealing to a twenty-something.

Designer Sarah Bibb models skirt at Folly
Designer Sarah Bibb models skirt at Folly

Then I told her that I was looking for a dress for WOW and she pulled a great looking knit dress that travels well off the rack.  I tried it on and loved it enough to buy it.

I learned a lot from Sarah about the challenges of designing and manufacturing clothing in the United States. You cannot compete with Target by making disposable clothing, that is for sure. Sarah explained that the recession has taken a toll on manufacturing in the USA. Most of the remaining garment industry is in Los Angeles. In Folly, 20% of the clothing are her designs, and 80% are made in the USA.

Back to my episode of What to Wear to Wow… Finding the right shoes to go with the dress was a little more trial and error. After a pair that I found on DSW website did not fit, I went to my fail safe–Macy’s and Franco Sarto.

I had a dress rehearsal while in New York City.  The dress does travel well and it feels great to wear.  I could use more practice walking in the shoes!

Having seen the WOW dresses at the Nelson museum and at a special exhibit in Rotorua, I look forward to an exhilarating sensory experience.

Folly dress with Ricardo and Ray at The Park in Chelsea
Folly dress with Ricardo and Ray at The Park in Chelsea

Portland the Go To Destination for Girls Weekend

On the flight to Auckland I watched a few episodes of Anthony Bourdain’s Parts Unknown. My bf Harriet, like Anthony, is willing to try any food and appreciates provocative taste combinations. A few weeks ago we met up for a  girl’s weekend in Portland, Oregon. Harriet drove up from Humboldt County in time for Friday night dinner. Portland is a haven for foodies and we did our best to eat our way through town.

Pickle platter at Kenny and Zuke's Deli
Pickle platter at Kenny and Zuke’s Deli

I arrived by plane earlier in the day and enjoyed the convenience of catching the light rail from the airport to downtown. Immediately I picked up on the Portland vibe where all the men have beards and even the women wear plaid.  We were seeking: the Portlandia experience with the hipster dialed down just a bit.

Hetta and I like to stay at the Mark Spencer Hotel in the Pearl District because of its close proximity to the places we love most.  It also allows pets and we keep promising ourselves to one day travel with Bill the cat or Radar the dog.  I checked in and appreciated the updates to the rooms; for the same value they are seriously spruced up! And the front desk honored my return visit discount card (though the website did not when I made my reservations).

It was mid-afternoon and I was feeling peckish so I went across the street to Kenny and Zuke’s Deli and ordered the plate of all things pickled.  It was tasty and a great way to wade into Portland cuisine—just up to my ankles.

While I may be a plodder when it comes to eating, I have a flair for shopping. I dropped in to a couple of my favorites in Portland. First Knit Purl, a yarn shop that has inspiring window displays and a terrific website. I found a Scandinavian knitting design book that will help me when I tackle my Norwegian pattern, and the most recent issue of Debbie Bliss’ magazine.  I was tempted by the Shibui Knits yarn, but resisted. The weekend was just starting and I had plans to buy a bike.  On the same block is Josephine’s Dry Goods fabric store. My stomach dropped when I saw the “We’re Closing” sale sign. The owner is retiring and she has every right to, but this was one of the few places I could count on finding terrific cotton prints, including Liberty of London. It is the anti-Joanne’s and next time in Portland it will not be there.   (heavy sigh)For the weeks prior to my Portland weekend I researched the Brompton foldable bike.  I fell in love with Brompton’s in a deluxe bike shop in Paris. On the website I discovered there were no dealers near where I live and there are two in Portland. Why not buy it in a place with no sales tax? The first shop on my list is across the street from our hotel.  The Westend bike shop has a great selection of bikes and a coffee bar (of course).  They only had a couple of Brompton’s in stock and I was able to take one for a test drive.  It was very comfortable to ride and I was convinced that this was going to be my next bike purchase.  I decided not to pull the trigger until Harriet arrived and we had a chance to go the second shop.

Westend Bikes in Portland
Westend Bikes in Portland

Hetta and I have been friends since second grade and we bonded over children’s books. Her mom would take us to the library each week and we would both check out the limit, read them quickly and then trade before the week was up.  We still share books, so of course part of the Pearl District’s allure is that it hosts the Powell’s Books flagship store. We always spent a considerable amount of time at Powell’s.

The plan for dinner on Friday was to drive to the Alberta neighborhood to meet up with my friend Lisa and her partner Meg and walk to Pok Pok Noi.  Added bonus, this is the neighborhood that inspired Beverly Cleary’s books (Henry Huggins, Ramona and Beezus).  I found Pok Pok on Urban Spoon and then Lisa and Meg confirmed that it was inspired Thai food.  The menu is not typical thai. We started with the amazing chicken wings and ate all kinds of other terrific dishes with sticky rice.  We walked back via Alberta Street and managed to work up enough appetite for Meg’s truly amazing blueberry and mascarpone tart.

Favorite bookstore on the West Coast
Favorite bookstore on the West

On Saturday we started our day with breakfast at Tasty n Alder. Harriet went for the Korean egg dish–it finished cooking at the table and had yummy, spicy, crunchy bits.

Lisa joined us later in the morning and we walked to Portland State University for the Saturday market. On the way we passed at least 3 parking lots full of food trucks. Portland embraced permissive zoning and as a result it is much easier for creative chefs to get a start.  Many of them have crossed over to brick and mortar restaurants.  The Saturday Market is also chock a block with food stalls.  Even though we were not hungry, we tried a delicious lamb dish.The walking helped, but while I was watching Anthony Bourdain, I had a flashback to the feeling in Portland—too much rich and wonderful food in too short a time.  My stomach felt queasy watching Anthony eat so much black truffle, cheesy and saucy dishes in Quebec.

We parted with Lisa after hugs all around, and continued the shopping adventure. We drove to Hawthorne Boulevard to Clever Cycles to complete my quest for a foldable bike. Eureka! This shop has a huge selection and a real Brompton enthusiast in Todd.  I purchased the bike that I now call “Black Beauty” with Harriet’s full approval.  We drove back via Reed College.

We decided to scale back with dinner and walked to Lardo, one of Portland’s food truck success stories.  I scaled back my order, but I still found room to try Ruby Jewel for a scoop of ice cream. The next morning we eased into the day with a walk to Mother’s Bistro and Bar for a full breakfast.  It was decadent and delicious. Oh boy, my tummy was reaching “tilt”.  

Harriet had a long drive ahead and left shortly after breakfast. I planned to write all day until my late evening flight.  It was raining on and off so I kept one eye for a break in the weather to test drive my new bike. Getting a little exercise helped to balance out a high calorie, high friendship weekend.