Les deux Palouse

I dedicate this blog post to Pat, one of my very best friends, who just lost her courageous battle with cancer. She has been–and always will be–my inspiration in my writings, travels and parenting, and so much more. In her words, “If you can take the trip, don’t wait. See the world. Go…” I will–I promise. J 

There’s something about rolling hills and endless fields of grain under a beautiful blue sky that just gives off good vibes. French-Canadian fur traders of yesteryear referred to the area where the borders of Washington and Idaho meet up as “pelouse”—land with short and thick grass.

While the fur traders’ primary reason for visiting this land of rounded grassy mini mountains was, well, furry, The Palouse of today is all about growing food. And fun. And for two college towns, thriving economies.

On a recent road trip to this happening place, my daughter and I experienced for ourselves how this landlocked corner of the Pacific Northwest is anything but square…

Lodge-ical

Every fun road trip deserves a hip motor inn on its route. For us, that meant the newly renovated Monarch Motel. Friendly helpful staff, comfy clean rooms, and funky décor (like fuzzy orange throw pillows!) made this boutique hotel the perfect home base for our Palouse adventure.

And its location can’t be beat—walking distance to everything in downtown Moscow. Gotta love that! Just a few steps to stores, restaurants and one very swank farmers market…

Eventful

True to its name, the Moscow Farmers Market sells local seasonal produce—super fresh and very colorful. But this Saturday-only, May-October event isn’t just about fruits and veggies; nope. It’s all about pizazz…

We entered the market at one end of the closed-off road where a local band played upbeat tunes for all passers by. Walking with our friends, we encountered another band playing at a city park, surrounded by market vendors and patrons. No shortage of music here!

Selling everything from painted rocks to fresh cut flowers to yummy kabobs, this street party has it all. I even tried Egyptian food for the first time ever! A dish known as Koshari—and it was goooooood…

Not to be outdone by Moscow, Pullman was hosting its own event that same weekend: the National Lentil Festival. Yes, that’s right—this little legume has its very own annual party. Farmers in The Palouse grow and harvest about one quarter of the lentils (and other pulse crops) for the United States. Because of that stat, this town throws one heck of a summer celebration.

From the downtown parade to the ginormous vat of lentil chili, we found ourselves in good company. Ever present vendors selling their wares, alongside food booths, activities, cooking demos, and of course, lentils. My daughter opted for a bowl of the featured chili dish, while I (still full from my Egyptian brunch) acquired small bags of the dried take-home ready-to-cook variety.

Flavorful

In the mood for fried garbanzos, pasta and funky drinks our first night out, we stepped into Nectar. Just across the street from our hotel meant an easy walk back to our room, once we were ready to sleep off our long drive + food coma.

And we had this wonderful restaurant to thank for our recently remodeled roadside inn; Nectar owns the Monarch, offering its dining patrons who are overnight guests a 10% discount on all meals.

There’s a long list of fantastic food and beverage places we enjoyed here in this small town. Here’s the short version:

Bloom for brunch, serving me one of the best grilled cheese sandwiches I’ve had to date. It’s not-so-secret ingredient? Cougar Gold cheddar.

Maialina for pizza—and not just any pizza! Unique is one word I would use to describe their menu; superb is another I’ll use to describe the flavors. Seriously good…

Hunga Dunga. Aside from the unusual name, this brew house has a delicious, ever-changing menu. I enjoyed a brisket sandwich on a pretzel bun. Stick-to-your-ribs gooooood…

The Breakfast Club. Fun decor, serving large portions, they’re not afraid to feed you the good stuff here.

Café Artista. Gotta have my java! Also One World Café. Gotta have more java… Both offer great coffee drinks very close to our temporary Moscow residence.

And in Pullman, our friends’ java joint of choice? Café Moro. Excellent coffee, and conveniently located on the same corner as our Lentil Festival parade perch…

Last, but not least: Colter’s Creek wine tasting room. What an upbeat place! Also within walking distance to our hotel, I really enjoyed my Chardonnay—made locally from their Lewis-Clark Valley vines.

Educational

Taking our legs for a walk is an easy thing to do in a college town. Just head for the campus. University of Idaho (established 1889) features an arboretum and botanical garden, and very convenient walking paths. It’s the one place where Vandals are accepted—in the form of their team mascot…

Over in Pullman, the Washington State University Cougars (established 1890) are busy making cheese. Really-really-really excellently yummy cheese! This commercial product made on campus at the WSU Creamery date stamps each can of deliciousness with the student employee’s first name too. Quite a nice personal touch.

Artful

From street décor to metal works to galleries to culinary masterpieces, there is no shortage of amazing art in The Palouse. In search of souvenirs, we managed to find a good concentration of all things artful at Essential Works Art Gallery. It was their sandwich board that drew me in: “Chocolate—Open” …yup…

The representation of local and regional artists was amazing. Before leaving the store, I purchased glass earrings, wine bottle ornaments, specialty coffee beans (after sampling the brewed version), and of course chocolate. Hope I didn’t forget anything…

Sustainable

Investing in its future, this beautiful corner of the world is all about sustainability. Along with recycle bins, I enjoyed discovering repurposed buildings and reminders painted on the street, asking to care about what drains to the streams. Before heading home, our friends took us to one last stop: The Palouse-Clearwater Environmental Institute.

In addition to providing us with beautiful walking trails, this local non-profit organization educates young students and adults alike in ways to care for our crops as well as the land, streams and animals. Important knowledge to share regarding The Palouse of tomorrow.

Heading back home, we enjoyed seeing the beautiful rolling hills one more time as our car followed the highway’s many curves. What a gorgeously fun place! But knowing that the locals are looking out for the land’s future gives me a good vibe for The Palouse of today. J 🌾

 

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Portland’s rosy glow

“A rose by any other name would smell as sweet.” Shakespeare’s Juliet makes an interesting point when talking about her Romeo. After all, we don’t choose where we’re born—or to whom. And names are something someone chooses for us—or for something—like cities. Take Portland…

Now known as the “City of Roses,” this Oregon town was named by its founding fathers Asa Lovejoy and Francis Pettygrove on a coin toss. Each wanted to honor their East Coast home towns. Pettygrove won the toss. This means the West Coast almost had a Boston.

Nicknames, on the other hand, are something we have a say in, or something we earn as the result of an event. Portland’s rosy nickname comes from Episcopal Church convention visitors—waaaaay back in 1888—enjoying the gardening skills of the newly formed Portland Rose Society. And now? Time to bring you up to speed on my recent adventures to Almost-Boston…

Rails

Wanting to opt out of a Friday night traffic jam via the freeway, my husband suggested we take the train. Great idea! He booked our tickets on the Amtrak Cascades Seattle-to-Portland route. We boarded at Seattle’s King Street Station, then sat back and watched the scenery while noshing on items from the dining car.

From Portland’s Union Street Station, we took an Uber to the Courtyard Portland City Center, our hotel for the weekend. After checking in, we headed to our room and closed our eyes for the night.

Saturday morning’s light of day revealed a wonderful convenience to our weekend residence: the MAX Yellow Line’s pick-up stop just across the street. Portland’s light rail system made our travels around town super easy, and at very reasonable rates. But one other discovery I made across the street lead to some additional—very rosy—activities for the day…

Roses

What caught my eye, exactly? Colorful roses in beautiful bunches, decorating an antique cart and wooden bench outside the Geranium Lake Florist—just waiting for customers like me to happen by. The gorgeous display did its job, drawing me closer for a better look. So pretty and fragrant! I couldn’t leave without making a purchase.

Inside the shop, Chris very kindly wrapped my selection—what instantly became a gift for my daughter—and asked if we were in town for the festival. Naively, I asked, “What festival…?”

After I let him know we were participating in a 5K event later that day, he let me know that Portland’s Festival of Roses was taking place all weekend. In fact, the Rose Parade was happening one block away. Wait-what? Right now?!

Collecting my family members, we headed up the street to the parade route, and found our vantage point. In addition to cleverly decorated, rose covered floats, we enjoyed the performances of local high school and alumni marching bands, and parade-waved back at dressed up dignitaries, costumed business people, and of course, the royal court.

Soon after, it was time to patronize local businesses by doing a little shopping. Clothes, shoes, souvenirs, and a city block of books…

Books

Some stores are like giant magnets, pulling you through their doors and lining up your purchases with amazing efficiency. Others fold you into their walls, displays and shelves, giving you lots and lots to peruse while you lose all track of time. And then there’s Powell’s City of Books. Inside its many floors, the world’s largest used and new bookstore manages to accomplish all these shopping options.

Traversing this travel destination’s many nooks and crannies requires stamina. Looking to boost our energy levels, we meandered our way between the bookcases to the World Cup Café. The coffee drinks and baked goods are excellent! And the tables are great for reviewing books while enjoying your chosen treats. This combination makes the café a veeeeeery popular section of the store, any time of day.

Lucky for us, my daughter applied her NYC skills for spotting available seating, and we soon had a place at a shared table. Freshly energized, we continued our bookstore shopping until our time pieces reminded us we needed to get going…

Bites

I’m sure you’re familiar with the word brunch (breakfast-lunch); maybe less so with the word linner (lunch-dinner). Well, you can have them both, along with breakfast, lunch, dinner or nightcaps—at The Original Dinerant.

An upscale diner-restaurant combo attached to our hotel, this eatery quickly became an addition to our list of favorites. Along with great food and excellent service, The Original has a vibe with a pep all its own. Locals and hotel guests alike packed this place.

For our brunch time meal, all of us chose one of the signature house dishes: chicken and waffles. This southern dish features an Oregon spin: the addition of Tillamook cheddar, along with fresh jalapeños, tossed into the waffle batter. Out of this world! The chicken was crispy, flavorful fall-off-the-bone stuff; sooooooo goooooooood!

For our weekend linner option, we went with a friend’s recommendation to try out the iconic Jake’s Famous Crawfish Restaurant. A mainstay in Portland since 1892, this locale has earned a spot on the National Register of Historic Places. If you’re looking to sample seafood fresh from the Pacific, you’ll find it here, along with many other delicious options.

It’s a great place to celebrate special occasions too. Warm, friendly, professional service, along with excellent food in a fine dining atmosphere, we vowed we would return dressed at little more formal than we were. You see, we’d already prepped for our 5K. And it was time to head to the race…

Bubbles

Aquariums. Dishes. Bathtubs. Champagne. All see their fair share of bubbles. Sprinklers experience kids running through them, and cannons usually fire ginormously heavy objects, aimed at destroying a target of some sort. So…how is it these items come together? At the FoamGlow 5K of course!

These sudsy run-or-walk events, benefiting various children’s charities, are a blast to experience. Nothing like wading through mountains of foaming bubbles cascading down on your head to put a smile on your glowing face.

Taking MAX to the 5K’s location (Portland International Raceway), we arrived a little early to pick up our registration packets. The crowd gathered as the pre-party began, just before sundown. All of us enjoyed the cannon fire of colorful bubbles raining suds onto our noggins. Many participants accessorized their white T-shirts, adding a little bling or glow paint to their 5K gear.

Once the race began, black lights illuminated the waves of people as they ran or walked by. The foaming stations assured all that the opportunity for head-to-toe bubble coverage was possible. Too fun! Crossing the finish line, we happily received our medals of participatory honor…

While taking MAX back to our hotel, we realized there was just enough time before The Original closed to have a nightcap. Bellies up to the bar, we enjoyed a fancy Bloody Mary, a whiskey on the rocks—or rather one big rock—and for me, my first boozy shake. Yummy stuff!

I always enjoy weekend trips to the City of Roses. Forever something new to discover and something tried and true to revisit. If you plan to spend a little time in Almost-Boston, be sure to try the chicken and waffles, then pick up a bunch of roses. And a good book or two…J🌹

 

Awaiting grape things

Ah, springtime… Well into the season, everything’s abloom. It’s fun to happen upon flowers, fully awake from their long winter’s nap, sporting vibrant colors as the birds and bees do their thing, performing for Mother Nature.

Fields, on the other hand, seem a little quite. Cleaned up and seeded, they play a bit of a waiting game before taking center stage in autumn. For me, grapevines fall into this category.

Branches trimmed, far from sprouting their signature coils and marbles of fruity goodness, appear rather dormant. But when I take a closer look, I can see the subtle beginnings of their amazing journey…

The wine

East of the Cascades, Interstate 90 and the Columbia River meet up very near a favorite place of mine: Cave B. Next door neighbors to the Gorge Amphitheatre, Cave B’s 100+ acres of AVA vines enjoy one of the best views in the state.

Conveniently, Cave B has two tasting rooms where you can sample the fruits of their labor: one in Woodinville—quite the hub for wine tasting—and one in Quincy—nestled in full view of their vines. Wanting to hit the road for a girls weekend, their vineyard locale in Quincy was an easy choice…

Pulling into the property, I noticed how well the buildings—rounded and earth toned—blend in with the rocky, sage covered hillsides. Beautiful! Entering the large, circular tasting room, we found a lively group of patrons enjoying their wine flights. Before approaching the bar, we perused the merchandise.

Wine selections complete, we carried our glasses outside. What an amazing view! Sipping our vino as the sun was setting behind Cave B’s own Stage B Amphitheater, we couldn’t think of a better way to relax. Ah—but time to check in…

The inn

Just down the hill from the tasting room sits the Cave B Inn & Spa Resort. Elegant and unassuming, the lobby, restaurant—and each room—face the Columbia River and accompanying desert terrain. For the adventurous, hiking trails will take you all the way to the water. But for a little relaxation and pampering, there’s always the spa.

Talk about picturesque! The rooms blend in beautifully with the rocky hillsides. After checking in, we drove down a narrow road to our Cavern Room and dropped off our things. Floor-to-ceiling windows allowed us to continue enjoying the view. But we were getting hungry, so up the hill and through the grapevines we walked until we came to the restaurant…

Just off the lobby, we found Tendrils. Matching the inn’s motif, the restaurant and bar feature delicious food and beverage choices, which made narrowing down our selections a bit of a challenge—a good problem to have. We enjoyed chatting with the staff, trying their recommendations of wine pairings when we just couldn’t decide…

Tendrils also features a sit down breakfast Monday-Saturday, and brunch on Sunday. The bar also serves coffee drinks. I loved sipping my hand crafted latte on their patio!

The terrain

Between meals (and wine tasting), we walked the property and hiking trails for a bit of exercise. There’s something very relaxing and peaceful about the desert spring air and rocky hillsides that surround the vineyard and inn.

The vines, looking more brown than green at this stage, still proved fascinating. Signage helped us identify wine grapes “in progress” nearest to the inn, which gave our imaginations something to look forward.

In a world of instant gratification, the wine grapes remind us that they will take the seasons they need to prepare for their own showtime. It’s as if they were saying to us, “Please be patient. Good things come to those who wait.” Sound advice from our vineyard friends… J 🍷

My Big Apple favorites

Dining out? Facing a googolplex of options? Italian, French, Korean, Slavic, American, and so on…? Enjoying a ginormous park in the middle of a vast metropolis? Perhaps discovering a quaint, beautifully maintained zoo (or two) inside the park? You just might be in New York City.

Home to hundreds of restaurants and scores of parks, NYC’s theatre district showcases dozens of on-and-off Broadway productions. Finding yourself in The Big Apple also means plenty of bars, pubs and fancy cafes where one can enjoy a favorite coffee or nightcap, or a fancy new boozy beverage.

So many options! Only your available moments limit your choices. Let me share with you a few of my favorite discoveries…

A ghost

Open year around, the Central Park Zoo is home to some very special critters. Like playful sea lions. Fancy peacocks. And the elusive snow leopard. Referred to as a “ghost cat” in the 2013 movie “The Secret Life of Walter Mitty”, this beautiful hunter seemed in sync with its wintery surroundings.

Visiting the zoo in early March meant cold weather for us, but also smaller crowds. Bundling up, we were able to visit each group of animals with ease, having great vantage points at every stop.

When we were ready to warm up a bit, we ducked into the Tropic Zone. Adjusting to the immediate climate change by removing our coat-glove-scarf combos, we discovered the occupants to be just as welcoming as the temperature. They seemed just as curious about us as we were about them.

A legend

Still inside Central Park—just outside the Tisch Children’s Zoo—stands a very special statue: Balto. Famous for leading his sled team in the final 53 mile stretch of snow-blinding wild Alaska wilderness (destination Nome) January 1925, this Siberian Husky and his pack won the hearts of people all over the world. Their cargo? Medicine, desperately needed to battle a diphtheria outbreak.

Their successful impossible mission inspired New Yorkers to commission this statue that very same year; a beautiful monument to all the sled teams—all the people and dogs who saved the lives of Nome’s children. Having enjoyed the 1995 animated movie “Balto” that featured a cameo of this statue, it was exciting for me to see it in person.

A queen

In step with our winter theme, we headed for the St. James theatre and Disney’s production of “Frozen” on Broadway. Having enjoyed Disney’s movie version—and its cruise line musical version—we were curious; how would it transition to this world famous entertainment capital? Answer: beautifully!

Queen Elsa, Princess Anna, and all their friends took to the stage, sharing their story in both familiar and new ways. Similar to Disney’s at-sea production, this bold version adds new songs, and tells the tale in a way that appeals to Frozen fanatics without leaving any Frozen newbies in the cold. We absolutely loved it.

A plate

Over the years, I’ve enjoyed many an afternoon tea, but the Russian Tea Room provided a unique first for me: caviar atop a mini pancake. Delicious! Another first: sour cherries to flavor the tea. Also delicious! RTR has treated NYC restaurant patrons for almost one hundred years. We truly enjoyed wonderful food and fantastic service in this beautifully appointed room.

Sometimes there’s nothing better than a plate of linguini and a glass of vino to sing my soul to sleep. Biricchino Italian Restaurant—definitely a Chelsea neighborhood gem—features flavorfully fresh ingredients woven into pasta perfection. Lots of other amazing dishes too, but my favorite is the linguini with clams…ahhhhh…

And sometimes there’s nothing better than simplicity. A simple menu, a perfect cut of beef and a side of crispy French fries. And in this case, the fries really are French. Entering Le Relais de Venise and glancing at the paintings, you might think for a moment that Italian is the cuisine. Even the name might suggest so, but it’s only a nod to a street in Paris. The menu is set; the server asks only how you’d like your meat prepared.

Enjoying our green salads with a glass of beautiful French wine, and awaiting the main course, we began to relax in this place of clean and simple elegance. The price is no nonsense too; very reasonable. Wonderful food and excellent service, Le Relais de Venise is a fun place for me to revisit every time I’m in The Big Apple.

In search of something hot and nourishing one chilly evening, we headed out for a big bowl of soup. Thankfully we found our savory broth at Miss Korea. Just a block from the Hyatt Herald Square—our very comfy hotel—we didn’t wait long for a table, despite the restaurant’s obvious popularity.

Each of us ordered the beef bone broth. Soooooo gooooood! That, along with delicious house barley tea and fresh sides; we ate like royalty.

When you’re in the mood for something sweet—a ginormous something sweet—I suggest paying a visit to Levain Bakery. Lots of delectable goodies, and coffee drinks too, but you owe it to yourself to try their signature item: the chocolate chip cookie. Quite possibly the biggest chocolate chip cookies in the city, this bakery doesn’t just go for size; it goes for quality too.

The line is always out the door here, no matter the weather, so be sure to pack your patience as you wait for your turn at the counter. It will be worth the wait. Trust me.

In addition to purchasing one cookie each to enjoy right away, we picked up a dozen to share with friends and family back home. And by some miracle, two chairs freed up at their small dining counter just as we made our purchase, allowing us to enjoy the atmosphere (as well as our lattes and cookies) as we awaited our pink box of take-home goodies.

A drink

When it’s time for a spirited beverage (before, during or after dinner), I recommend Crimson and Rye. There are tables available, but our preference is to take a seat at the semicircular bar. We love to watch the mixologists in action as we nosh on bar food while enjoying our libations. This visit, I chose an Irish Coffee. Yummy stuff!

As you might have guessed, narrowing my favorites list for NYC was not easy. Not a bad problem to have… J 🍪

 

NYCity High Line

I love New York! In the city that never sleeps, it’s rather easy to find food, entertainment, attractions and activities that speak to all people and budgets.

It can be overwhelming, given all the choices, but if you’re willing to humor yourself with a mere sample of what NYC has to offer, you’ll be just fine.

Lots of transportation choices too for getting around, but my favorite way is to walk. Simply put, I can see more of the town (while I bank more steps to my FitBit).

On a recent March trip to the Big Apple, my travel companion and I challenged ourselves to reach all our city destinations on foot. A bit of a lofty dare, given winter was in no hurry to leave. But one route in particular made our Chelsea District adventures a pleasure: an elevated path known as The High Line.

The walkway

From our hotel—the perfectly placed Hyatt Regent Square—we headed west along W 30th Street. Picking up an access stairwell at 10th Avenue, we soon found ourselves at one of the most beautiful urban walkways I’ve ever seen.

Repurposing an old elevated railway line, Friends of the High Line and the City of New York created a uniquely clever public park—one that showcases a bit of its history along with some very modern urban art.

The scenery

The view from the walkway features a few key signature NYC skyline items, such as the Empire State Building and the Hudson River. But this long-and-lean park also grants one-of-a-kind views that highlight artistically painted buildings (and some “unofficial” art) we encountered along the way.

Not to be outdone by objects outside the park, The High Line is home to many cleverly displayed works of art created just for the walkway. Beautiful in their own right, all artwork inside this public space complimented the surroundings perfectly, without being distracting.

The factory

Ever heard of the National Biscuit Company? Perhaps if I shortened its name: Nabisco. That’s right—from the 1890s to the 1950s, Oreos, Premium Saltine Crackers and other iconic baked goods were manufactured here at this location.

In the 1990s, this factory site was given a facelift, and Chelsea Market was born. Exiting The High Line at W 17th Street, we entered the old brick building ready to explore.

Similar to The High Line in shape, Chelsea Market stretches the long way between 9th and 10th streets, running parallel between W 15th and 16th. Much of the old brick walls and concrete flooring that once housed flour and giant bakery equipment now hold exciting specialty shops and fun restaurants.

Walking through the market, I loved discovering showcases of local and factory history. But what really caught my eye was how one piece of old plumbing was turned into an indoor urban waterfall. Pretty cool! Also cool: seeing old Nabisco ads—painted onto the brick—as active participants of the market’s décor.

We grabbed matcha green tea lattes (and pastries!) at Chalait, then headed back to The High Line. Finding a bench in the sun, we enjoyed our well earned treats.

Returning to Chelsea Market the following three days via our new favorite walkway, we enjoyed brunching at Friedmans Lunch. And shopping! We visited many stores and stands, making purchases at Artists and Fleas, Pearl River Mart and Chelsea Wine Vault.

Inclement weather can limit access to The High Line—something we discovered one icy morning—but the park’s crew works hard to keep the walkway open, and the stairwells and elevators in good condition, maintaining safety for its patrons.

Now that spring is in the air, walking outside is a little more comfortable. So if you find yourself in NYC this season, and fancy a stroll with a view, head to The High Line. My new favorite urban walk. J 👣

 

Willamette Valley winter

Going out for a drive—in January? Winter road trips through the Pacific Northwest can display a variety of climate changes and weather conditions, all in the span of just a few miles. But in general, staying west of the Cascades, things like mild temperatures and on again-off again precipitation are fairly predictable. So, gambling on a mixed bag of sun and rain, we packed up the car for our off-season adventure.

Heading south along I-5 from Seattle, the passing evergreen trees (seemingly oblivious to seasonal temperaments) stand alongside the many deciduous rows of arbor.

Nearing our destination, the now dormant branches and vines hold the promise of fruit, hazelnuts and wine grapes. Welcome to the Willamette Valley! Oregon’s modern day land of milk and honey. Excitedly, we pull into our first stop: Erath Winery.

Pinots & popcorn

I always enjoy celebrating fun (albeit slightly obscure) holidays, and discovering new food and wine pairings, but didn’t really expect to do both on our first day. Erath, however, enjoys hosting events for its patrons that combine holiday themed nosh with its world famous pinots. As luck would have it, we timed our visit on National Popcorn Day.

Munching a caramel coated cup of the famed American snack alongside each wine flight, we added a meat, cheese and hazelnut plate to our table of treats. Surprisingly, I found myself asking our server for more popcorn goodness (made by How Sweet It Is of Portland), eventually purchasing two containers worth to go along with our take-home wine bottles of choice.

As we sipped our pinots, our server, Brandon, answered our many curious questions. By the way, do you know that Riedel makes a wine glass just for New World Pinot Noirs? It’s true! Inspired by this coastal state’s amazing production of said varietal, we enjoyed each item from our tasting menu in one of these “OPN” (Oregon Pinot Noir) Riedel wine glasses…

Ducks & doughnuts

Saying goodbye to Erath, we made our way a little farther south in the valley to Eugene. Time for a little trivia! This college town is home to the University of Oregon—the only school with a famous Disney cartoon character for a mascot. Once partnered with Walt Disney himself, the U of O now adorns its athletes and fans with a logo featuring a version of the one and only Donald Duck.

We pull up to the Valley River Inn, our home for the next two nights. We love this place! Our room faces the beautiful Willamette River, with a wonderfully walkable path to Jacobs Park located on the riverbank across the water from our hotel. And when we’re ready to do a little shopping, Valley River Center sits just across the parking lot.

Time for something sweet! Generally speaking, doughnuts are not a regular item on my shopping list. But when in Eugene, there’s one thing we don’t leave town without: a box of Voodoo Doughnut. Let’s see, how shall I describe VD? Different? Yes. Unusual? Yup, that too. But I think my word of choice has to be this one: DELICIOUS—they make the tastiest doughnuts! Absolutely—every time.

Corks & Kings

Up for a short drive, we made our way through the quiet, green countryside on the outskirts of Eugene to the rolling hills of King Estate Winery.

Founded by Edward J. King Jr. and his son Ed King III, this family owned and farmed vineyard commands a breathtaking view of its Willamette Valley grounds. Inside the establishment, elegance and quality are visible in every direction.

During previous visits here, we’ve enjoyed combining a wine flight in the restaurant with a late lunch, but on this visit we chose to taste—then tour.

First, the tasting. Alyssa served our wine menu selections, commenting on the style and nuances of each pour. We learned a little vocabulary and history too. For example, Oregon wine grapes were first planted in the 1960s. King Estate’s vines—first planted in 1991—provide a sizable amount of the Willamette Valley AVA (American Viticulture Area) pinots. Just how sizable? Tour guide Emily filled us in…

Time for a pop quiz! How many acres make up Oregon’s AVAs?

  • 500,000
  • 1,000,000
  • 3,000,000+

Answer? The current total is about 3,400,000 acres. That’s a LOT of wine grapes…

We began our tour in the room where the grapes begin theirs: the crush pad. The impressive industrial equipment crushes the fruit into juice, then sends it through Willy Wonka-like sky tubes to various (and ginormous) steel tanks along the walls of the pad.

Making our way around the facility, Emily shared with us a few details about King Estate’s big-picture approach to farming, referring to biodynamic farming as their method of choice. Everything from bees to compost do their thing on these 500+ acres.

Once the juice is mixed with yeast in either steel containers or oak barrels, the soon-to-be-wine concoctions are managed very carefully by the King Estate team.

Corks or caps? Like many wineries, King Estate uses both. On our tour, we learned that when it comes to bottling wine, both sealing methods continue to prove successful.

Steel tanks or oak barrels? Again, King Estate uses both, but choosing the proper container for fermentation depends on the desired outcome. In general, white wines are stored in steel tanks that can hold from 300 to 4000 gallons.

Red wines almost always go through fermentation in oak barrels. A regular sized barrel will produce about 300 bottles; large barrels fill about 4000. Because oak can breathe, it provides an oxidative aging process, as well as flavor from the wood. However steel tanks provide a reductive means of aging; nothing passes through the walls to the fermenting wine.

Leaving King Estate—a few bottles added to our inventory—we felt good about their commitment to the quality of their products, as well as to the land.

We truly enjoy visiting this beautiful corner of the world known as the Willamette Valley. Quiet now, the activity level will pick up as winter gives way to spring, then summer, then harvest. The tourist headcount will pick up as well, which isn’t a bad thing. There’s always room here for those who like to celebrate all this valley has to offer. J 🍇

Notes on Nashville

Until my recent autumn visit to Nashville, I’d never heard of hot chicken, seen the Parthenon, or experienced music—great music—coming from every bar and restaurant simultaneously on a downtown street.

And now? Hot chicken is my new favorite, my knowledge of geography and history are in sync, and my impression of the music scene will never be the same.

Let’s start with the music, a legend and a funny song…

Native son

Back in my youngster days, watching evening television meant watching whatever program my parents chose. Thankfully, there were a few shows we all could agree on. From 1969-71, The Johnny Cash Show entertained families like ours all across the country.

His records were a big part of my mom and dad’s vinyl collection. And while the deeper meanings of his lyrics escaped my youthful ears, one of his songs always made me smile at any age:“ A Boy Named Sue.” So, learning we’d be in Nashville for a spell, I knew I just had to visit the Johnny Cash Museum.

A quick walk from our hotel (the Hampton Inn & Suites), this museum was a convenient and entertaining way to spend a couple of hours. Following a timeline of sorts, the direction of our self guided tour took us through his youth, his discovery and fame, and his golden years.

The exhibit items triggered many memories for me, but also provided me with several new-found facts about the life of the “Man in Black.” For instance, not only is he in the Country Music Hall of Fame, but also the Rock & Roll Hall of Fame and the Songwriters Hall of Fame too.

Walking the streets of Nashville, we quickly learned this town honors not only several equally famous country music stars, but all walks of art, melodic and otherwise. Most obviously though, day or night, from any sidewalk or street corner, we were within earshot of seriously great live music.

National exposition

A centennial mile marker is no small feat. One hundred years of statehood is celebration worthy! But what would be the best, most memorable way to honor Tennessee? Well, in 1897, with a little assistance from the NC&StL Railway and a big desire to establish a true hub of art and culture in Nashville, Centennial Park was born.

And now, it’s time to sync up my knowledge of geography with a little less-than-ancient history. The Parthenon—as in Athens, Greece—was built from 447-438 BC to honor the city’s patron saint, Athena. Hundreds of years later, in 1897 Nashville, a replica of this very famous Greek landmark came into being as part of the centennial celebration.

Serving as a gallery of fine arts during the exposition, the purpose of this new Parthenon was to inspire love, beauty and a true appreciation for the arts. And today? Looking around this city, I’d say the Centennial Park version is a solid monument to that very ideal.

And what a beautiful place it is. We loved walking through the park’s many gardens, stopping every now and then to admire the pond, read the signs, enjoy the statues, and of course, visit the Parthenon. Still featuring fine art—and a ginormously tall Athena statue!—this museum (maintained by the Nashville Parks & Recreation) is fantastic. As in, WOW!

Noshing local

All our appreciation for beautiful music, “modern” replicas and unique museums helped us work up an appetite for yet another art: culinary. Time to showcase a few of Nashville’s foodie hits.

While fried chicken is a well known southern treat, “hot chicken” was a new term for me. But Hattie B’s Hot Chicken brought me up to speed instantly. Talk about delicious! Soooooo moist and flavorful, from the perfectly breaded crust to the very last juicy cayenne peppered bite. Every piece of chicken was this way!

The side dishes too were amazing. Excellent quality and flavor. We visited two different Hattie B’s, both wonderful, and each featuring a unique set of local microbrews—a little something special to help wash down the heat…

Local and sustainable. That’s what our daughter was looking for in a sit down restaurant. Her find? Farm House. Just a five-minute walk from our hotel, this eatery was packed with patrons (on a Monday night…?…thank goodness for reservations). Together we shared an unpretentious atmosphere that featured excellent food and service. What more could we ask for? Well, maybe some candy…

Savannah’s Candy Kitchen was the perfect place to find souvenirs, as well as something sweet to enjoy on the spot. Not much beats the amazing aroma of confections in progress; Savannah’s creative staff was hard at work assembling lots of sweet praline, decorative caramel apples and chocolatey nut clusters.

Back to the music; just so you know we didn’t enjoy tunes only from the sidewalks. We stepped into a bar called Crazy Town for a shot of bourbon and to hear—and see—the live band performing just near the entrance. The musicians put their hearts into each and every song, here and in every other bar we passed by on our way back to the hotel. It really was a nice way to end our stay.

If ever you find yourself looking for a melodic artsy foodie town that knows how to celebrate each moment of the day, I suggest paying Nashville a visit. Chances are you’ll leave with a whole new appreciation for all things art and soul. J 🎶