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Checking in, post-Portland

I’m halfway through my big travel stretch with one more trip to go (Newport, then Portland, and soon Florida). Gotta say, it’s not a bad way to break up the winter! I hate, hate, HATE this stretch from November to February when it’s so cold and dark that you can barely drag yourself out of bed every morning. I show up everywhere late this time of year, and each winter I seem to want to travel farther and longer. I sometimes wonder if I’m eventually going to end up just…moving. No place is perfect, but sometimes you really start to wonder what’s so great about Boston when you fly into this dirty, old airport and people are rude and it’s snowing and cold and it takes you 90 minutes to drive four miles home…but somehow I’m always homesick for this place when I’m gone! So I guess I won’t be moving away anytime soon.

So I’ve been cooking despite all the travel, and obviously eating pretty well on the road, too, considering the quality of places I’ve visited. In Portland, although I was there for work, I can recommend a few great restaurants and shops we managed to visit. I stayed Downtown/the Pioneer District and ventured out into a couple of the neighborhoods, including Northeast (Buckman/Kerns), Southeast Portland, NW 23rd (Nob Hill), and the South Auditorium District, where we toured a post-urban-renewal district and accompanying sequence of public parks and fountains created by noted landscape architect Lawrence Halprin, who worked primarily in the American Northwest. No big surprise — it was raining 100% of the time I was in Portland — so we didn’t get to experience how awesome these spaces must be in the warm weather.



Amazing meals were had at The Picnic House Downtown, and Jake’s in the Governor’s Hotel (maybe not so much amazing as just “solid,” and noted for their Dungeness Crab, a west coast specialty that was indeed worth trying). We tried unsuccessfully to get a table at Tasty n Alder, but it books up too far in advance for business travelers! If you make it across the river to Northeast Portland, check out the pocket of restaurants in The Zipper, a new micro-restaurant space that opened last fall. Though the food counters are tiny, there’s a gigantic shared dining room and patio with room for probably 100 people, and I was pretty darn satisfied with the falafel and beer selection. Pictured: Blood Orange Hard Cider, courtesy of Paydirt.

I also did some decent shopping at the famous Powell’s Books, and in the Nob Hill/Alphabet City area north of Burnside along NW 23rd Avenue, where I actually bought a new pair of glasses at Fetch and picked up some Poplandia popcorn, chocolate-covered Hazelnuts (apparently a distinctive crop in Oregon) and Moonstruck Chocolates for my Valentines back home. Of course, no visit to Portland would be complete without partaking in the coffee snobbery or the donut trend, so I did both! My favorites were VooDoo (the most famous) and Blue Star Donuts, which locals told me they prefer. And, seriously, I didn’t have a bad cup of coffee (or tea) the entire time I was there. Boston honestly needs to get on board this boxed iced coffee train IMMEDIATELY.



Eating aside, it felt like I barely scratched the surface of Portland. Didn’t make it to the Japanese or Chinese gardens, or take a bike tour, or visit any breweries, though I certainly got a chance to try a few beers while eating out. I only sampled one food truck plaza, didn’t get to the International Rose Test Garden that gives the city its nickname, and I would have loved to better explore the waterfront as well as to check out some of the famed jazz clubs. Sadly with the time difference and work starting up early every morning, that had to get postponed to my next visit! There’s so much to do here and I’d love to bring Georgia and Mark to see everything. This is one of the most family-friendly places I’ve ever been. Baby wearing seems to be the norm, public parks abound, restaurants welcome tots of all ages, and most stores seemed cool with them, too, even offering indoor stroller parking (and I didn’t see a single $1,000 carriage in site — which has sadly become the barometer by which I judge new places). I felt like me, my clogs, my jogging stroller and my hyperactive toddler & artist husband could have just moved right in among bike-riding, vegetarian friends. As fun as Portland was, I was so happy to get back home to be with my babies this week! We celebrated by hitting Disney on Ice together!

Have a wonderful week everyone!

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Food Travels through Newport

You guys. You GUYS. For time first time in 2.5 years — yes, that’s right, years — I spent an overnight away from my baby and ate in restaurants without interruption, talked to my husband without someone yelling “mama! dada! I wanna show you something!” two seconds after we start chatting, and woke up whenever I felt like it. Which, you know, turned out to still be 7:30 a.m., because I haven’t done it any other way for 30 months. But the point is I got away, pretended to be an adult with a life, and had a blast! And boy, did we eat well. Allow me to share with  you our itinerary in beautiful Newport, R.I., which is only a 90-minute drive south of Boston. I can’t believe we were walking around in almost 60-degree weather just last weekend and today it’s a sloppy snow mess out there!

 I’m not big on New Year’s resolutions, but one goal Mark and I have for 2016 and beyond is to date each other again. I know, it sounds corny — but it’s so critical. When life gets busy with work, volunteer commitments, church, blogging, exercise, and (the best part!) little children, it’s easy to push quality time and relaxation to the back burner. But this leads to bad moods and burnout! So, we have resolved to fit in more date nights and mini vacations amid all our regularly-scheduled business trips and family visits. I already feel rejuvenated, and less stressed about my upcoming work trip to the West Coast. Because I’m not going into it frazzled and burning the candle at both ends, I’m hoping to come out of it the same way.

WHERE WE ATE

With a shout-out to my intern Hannah, who grew up in Newport and basically wrote our culinary itinerary for the weekend, here are the top-notch places we went for lunch, dinner and brunch. I’m not exaggerating when I say we ate better than almost anywhere else I’ve been in recent memory — every single meal was a home run.

MISSION

All the burgers and dogs are ground and cased in house, and the only other thing on the menu is falafel. They also serve local beer, wine, prosecco and soda (and, oddly, boxed water) and seating is group style, though we managed to grab a corner of a bench to ourselves in the back. Seemed very kid-friendly from the clientele we saw at lunchtime, with the rest of the crowd evenly split between hipsters and Naval types from the nearby officer training command. Service was fast and our food was insane. We could have just kept eating until we exploded, but tourism awaited! Not up for burgers or dogs? Boru Noodle Bar, right next door, has an awesome ramen-inspired menu.

      left to right, a Chicago dog, fries, and a bacon cheeseburger.

SALVATION CAFE

For dinner, we had an amazing meal in the Broadway area at a place called Salvation Cafe. I think reservations are usually recommended, but on a cold January night we were able to show up at 6:30 and get a pretty cozy corner table in the back with cushions and our own miniature fireplace! At the risk of repeating myself, everything we had here set a new bar in terms of quality and flavor. Mark had the bolognese (beef, veal + pork ragout, fresh wagon wheel pasta, scallions + tomatoes, Narragansett Creamery ricotta), I had the teriyaki salmon with lemon-coconut rice, pickled ginger and crispy spinach c(almost like kale chips — amazing!), and then we tried a few of their special cocktails and desserts, which change seasonally. It was hands-down the best salmon I’ve ever had! Mark said the same about his pasta (and I stupidly offered to try to recreate it at home!)

There are several other fun spots within walking distance, too, including Hope (great local music), Pour Judgment and The Fastnet Pub (an Irish bar). In the mood to caffeinate or relax with a warm drink? Check out Empire Tea and Coffee, which features free wi-fi, a delicious dirty chai, and a lite-brite table (!) for big and little kids to enjoy. Perfect place to curl up and read the newspaper in the afternoon.

CORNER CAFE

OK. When I say this is the best brunch I’ve ever had, I’m being deadly serious. Mark and I have made an art form out of eating brunch wherever we’ve lived and we have been to a LOT of fabulous places over the years. This just took the top spot for us! Well worth the 40-minute wait, Corner Cafe is BYOB and has some creative menu options, like my blackberry/blue cheese/diced turkey omelette topped with powdered sugar:

Plus, we got the best seat in the house, and everyone was giving us serious side eye because of it.

Other highly-recommended restaurants which we didn’t get to try: Revolving Door, which has rotating guest chefs and famously-fab mixed drinks; Fifth Element for live jazz; and Perro Salado, for Mexican (in a Colonial-era tavern!)

We stayed at the beautiful Hotel Viking, located in the center of everything, and loved it.

The Mansions

Obviously, the reason most people come to Newport is to see The Breakers and other famous Gilded Age estates. Only three are open in the winter, but that’s just the right amount for a weekend away! We saw The Breakers, Marble House and The Elms (our favorite), and then made it to Ocean Drive just in time for sunset over Brenton Point. We’ve already agreed to go back this summer and see more of the mansions, do the Servant Life Tour that we missed, and take Georgia along the famous Cliff Walk.

   


Marble House.
  The Breakers.

The inside of these homes is almost impossible to adequately capture on camera. I loved seeing the mosaics, the kitchens full of copper pots and dozens of specialty chef’s items, and the grounds laid out with walking paths, statues, carriage houses and stables.



Marble House.

There’s lots more to do in Newport, too. The area is home to several wineries that offer tours, there is abundant shopping in different parts of town, and we didn’t even get to visit any of the waterfront. We also had hoped to find time to visit their art museum, historic Touro SynagogueRedwood Library & Athenaeum, nearby Sachuest Point wildlife refuge and Norman Point Bird SanctuaryAnd, of course, if you are looking for a much fancier meal than we had, the place to try is Tallulah

Stay safe in this weather and let me know if I missed any of your favorite Newport hot spots! Enjoy Superbowl Sunday ~ I’ll be blogging about a freezer meal workshop I’m doing this weekend, and heading to Portland, Ore. on Wednesday. Happy Friday!