Tagged: Pacific Northwest

Portland and Mt Rainier

(No projects this week. Just a jealousy inducing recap of our Pacific Northwest trip. Check out our picks for Willamette Valley.)

Portland
After doing a bit of research for our trip, we scaled back our Portland time. I knew we could eat in this city for two weeks straight, but I was worried we would get bored and all “what do I do with my hands” if we stayed longer than that. So we popped into this quirky town for just two days.

The plan: Eat as much amazing food as possible and enjoy some luxury accommodations before heading into the wilderness.

The lodging: We scored a room at The Nines using Amex points (yay!) and would highly recommend it. The staff is amazing, and the location put us in easy walking distance of food carts, great restaurants and awesome shopping.

001portland_mt_rainier

The food: We packed as much food into our Portland time as possible. Honestly, we didn’t have a bad meal. Here were some of the stand outs.

Tasty and Sons: We actually stopped on our drive from Seattle to McMinnville just to add another famous Portland brunch spot to our trip. Tasty and Sons is widely acclaimed and rightfully so. Breakfast Tapas may be my new obsession. We ordered WAY too much food. My favorite was the breakfast board, which had little bites of everything you could want at breakfast: tart cheese, berries, bread, bacon, a 6-minute egg, duck pate and jerky (the jerky seemed odd, but it totally worked.)

Drinks at Urban Farmer: This might be the coolest hotel bar (it was in the lobby of The Nines) I’ve ever seen. We took full advantage of the happy hour specials before heading out to dinner.

002portland_mt_rainier

Lardo: The sandwiches here are top notch, but what stood out the most was the awesome kale salad.

Picnic House: Picnic House made our roster when we decided that walking to dinner was much better than pulling the car out. Yelp reviews guided us to this hip, delicious spot. We opted to share a few small plates and fell in love with with butter lettuce salad, which was like their take on a cobb, but with bacon bits the size of croutons. The charcuterie plate was the biggest we’ve ever seen and we could have made a meal out of just that and the salad.

003portland_mt_rainier

Sweedeedee: Sweedeedee is THE brunch spot in Portland and I can see why. The food was amazing. The dishes sound deceptively simple, but they pack in the flavor.

Food carts: It seemed hard to go wrong at the food carts (we hit up the pod at 9th and Alder a few times.) I did some due diligence and decided months before the trip that I had to get the chicken and rice from Nong’s Khao Man Gai. This dish gets raves throughout the interwebs and I’m happy to count myself among the legion of fans. The dish is perfect. Fluffy rice, succulent chicken, flavorful broth. I would eat this again and again.

004portland_mt_rainier

What else: We did a little shopping in Portland. I basically want to live at Powell’s Books. We snagged a hefty photo book of one of Aaron’s favorite photographers as a souvenir. We also stumbled across a cute hat store and Aaron scored three new ones for his collection. Hat stores (especially of the male variety) are basically non-existent in the Midwest so this was a happy discovery. Thanks to Instagram, I realized our friends Derren and Lisa happened to be in Portland at the same time so we spent a few hours catching up with them. It was a nice surprise addition to our trip!

Mt. Rainier
Our original plan for the trip was to hang in Portland and do some hiking in the Columbia River Gorge. But we both got really distracted with the idea of Mt Rainier after several friends extolled its virtues. We carved out 2 1/2 days to explore the park, and it did not disappoint.

The plan: Hike gorgeous trails and take lots of pictures (NOTE: Once we get the film back, I’ll post those pictures as well. They’re probably much better than these.)

005portland_mt_rainier

Carter Falls: Our first trek in Mt Rainier was up to Carter Falls. I chose this from the guidebook because it was short and “easy.” I also learned an important lesson about choosing hikes: look at the elevation gain. After crossing through the Nisqually River (below) it was basically up, up, up to a few ok waterfalls. The best part of the hike was definitely the river bed and the peeks of Rainier. If we went back, we’d spend more time  exploring the river bed and eschew the hike to the falls.

006portland_mt_rainier

007portland_mt_rainier

Paradise Glacier: On our first full day in the park, we decided to undertake the hike to Paradise Glacier. The guidebook was spot on about the beauty of this hike. Starting from the visitors center we walked through a foggy valley and marveled at ALL THE WILDFLOWERS before ascending into moon-like terrain. Everything was gray and foggy and amazing. It was hard to capture in pictures. Hopefully our shots on film will do it justice.

008portland_mt_rainier

009portland_mt_rainier

010portland_mt_rainier

Not the glacier – just a cool shot of melted snow.

011portland_mt_rainier

I would disagree with the book on the difficulty and time on this trail. The elevation gain was pretty severe at points (“gentle switchbacks” is a generous description) and we moved slowly on account of the picture taking. By the time we made it back to the car for lunch we were both exhausted and very happy. This was one of the best hikes we’ve ever done. We decided to call it a day and crossed our fingers for non-foggy weather on our last day.

Nisqually Vista: The guidebook totally paid off when it steered us to an easy, 5-star view of Rainier on the Nisqually Vista trail. It’s one we probably wouldn’t have found on our own, but on a clear day it has to be one of the best views in the park. Case in point:

012portland_mt_rainier

013portland_mt_rainier

014portland_mt_rainier

015portland_mt_rainier

Following the glacier trek, our legs were a bit weary so after the short Nisqually Vista trail, we wanted something easy and relatively flat. We opted for the Lakes Loop. Starting at Reflection lakes we, once again, climbed up, up, up. The fields of wildflowers were pretty, but the entire hike didn’t hold a candle to anything we already viewed. We snapped very few pictures, except for this panorama at a lookout point at Faraway Rock.

016portland_mt_rainier

Overall Mt. Rainier park is gorgeous. The Sunrise (Northeast) side of the park is already on our “next time” list.

Next up: Olympic National Park and Seattle!

Surprise! We’ve been on vacation

A few weeks ago, I explained our lack of firehouse progress due to the fact that we were recovering from the carport wrap and Aaron was working like mad to finish wedding portfolios. That was mostly true.

The whole truth is that we have been long overdue for a proper vacation (because, firehouse.) Over a year ago we helped Kim and Scott at Yellow Brick Home keep their blog active during their vacation. When a fellow guest blogger detailed the wonders of Portland (a city we’ve always heard good things about) we were sold by the promise of good food and good hiking. We looked up the prime time to visit the Pacific Northwest and opted to book two full weeks in late August. We locked in our airline tickets (thanks American Express rewards points!) and spent the next year researching. Our final itinerary mixed wine tasting, city exploration and lots of hiking/photographing.

In mid-August, we hopped a direct flight (Omg! I’m in love) to Seattle and started a relaxed trek that took us through the Willamette Valley, Portland, Mt. Rainier, Olympic National Park and Seattle. While we get back into the work groove (on all fronts… painting is progressing in the stairwell), I’m dedicating this week to a vacation recap with so so iPhone pictures. We are anxiously awaiting our film to be processed so we can start picking out some art for the living room.

001willamette

Willamette Valley
Wine collecting is a huge hobby of ours. If you’ve seen our basement you know we have an extensive collection that is just awaiting a proper wine cellar. Ergo wine tasting in the Willamette Valley seemed like the perfect way to unwind and kick off our vacation.

The plan: Taste and take home some awesome pinot noir (which the region is known for)

The lodging: For most of the trip, we stayed in vacation rentals, which feel a bit more comfy to us. We like having the option to cook (or at least make snacks) and would rather curl up on a couch than a hotel bed (because if I’m horizontal I’m very likely to fall asleep. I’ve very good at sleeping.) We booked this bungalow, which had it’s pros and cons. It was a great location with easy access to wineries and walking distance to McMinnville’s uber cute downtown. We also liked that it had a washer and dryer. The downside is that the kitchen looked great, but didn’t have a lot of the necessary tools to really cook. Because it was the start of our vacation we had limited plans to cook, so it didn’t cause a huge problem.

004willamette

The highlights:
Rather than give you an extensive rundown (like I did following our trip to Napa on my in hiatus food blog), I wanted to focus on this highlights of this wine area. Here are the wineries we enjoyed the most (and the ones I would send you to if you asked for my opinion.)

Brick House Vineyards – Brick House kept coming up in my research so I finally caved and made a reservation. We enjoyed a lovely, private tasting in the barrel room. This small producer has a gorgeous plot of land and they make excellent wine.

Beaux Freres – A reservation is required. Make one. They have delicious wine and major street cred. When we were asked what wineries we were visiting a mention of Beaux Freres always induced an “Oh, these people know what they’re doing” reaction.

Chehalm – Situated at the north end of wine country, Chehalm was positioned as a great first stop for our wine country tour. Their tasting room is intimate and manned by very friendly folks. There was zero pretension and good wine. We took home a few delicious whites.

007willamette

Eyrie Vineyards – Eyrie had a lot of good wines, including some pinot noir that we plan to cellar for a few years. But the biggest surprise was a light and fruity pinot gris that was a steal at $16.50 a bottle.

Trisaetum – They have a great portfolio and gorgeous tasting room. We were particularly impressed with the French style rose.

Seufert Winery – We came to Seufert as the last stop of the last day of our time in Willamette. Truthfully, we were a little worn out. We spent the morning visiting some large scale producers that left a bad taste in our mouth (in every sense of the phrase.) We were tired of wine that was clearly too young and clearly overpriced. A “meh” lunch in Dundee didn’t help our mood. We agreed to make one more stop, and I picked Seufert because it was out of the way compared to the other places we had been. Unlike the other wineries on my list, I had zero notes about this place. I’m not sure where I found it, but I’m so glad I did.

We walked into a release party for wine club members and were instantly invited to partake. The winemaker was grilling up small bites to accompany the new wine releases. We were basically treated to a delicious, fresh (second) lunch and an extensive tasting of delicious, aged pinot noir. We spent two hours there and basically fell in love. The food was amazing. The staff was super friendly. And the wine was exactly what we had been looking for – better, even, because of the price. It was the perfect way to end this part of the trip.

005willamette

The food: McMinnville has some seriously delicious dining. Thanks to Yelp and some local recommendations we enjoyed bites at Community Plate (the tuna melt was so, so good), La Rambla (fantastic happy hour), and Thai Country Restaurant. Our favorite, even though it was all good, was Crescent Cafe, which serves up made-from-scratch breakfast and is SO, SO worth the wait. Their elevated, but still home-style breakfast food was amazing.

003willamette

Next stop: Portland and hiking around Mt. Rainier. Then on to Olympic National Park and Seattle.