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Wednesday, March 29, 2017

My Coffee Tour of Portland - Part 1

I live in Portland and we love our coffee. Now, we aren't Seattle, but we have taken coffee culture and run with it. Not only are there a million Starbucks in our city, but even more independent shops adding their own flavor to your favorite brew. While here, you may find yourself stuck behind that annoying person who orders the quad grande skim caramel macchiato upside down, extra hot and makes you want to gouge out your own eyes, but you can also find the hard core traditional coffee enthusiasts too. 

portland coffee tour

I'm not one to order something super fancy. I mean, I like a chai tea latte or something with vanilla, but if even I can't remember your coffee order, then it's too much. Even though I'm in the heart of a coffee mecca, I find myself hitting up the same shops over and over. There's nothing wrong with Dutch Bros. In fact, I enjoy the drive thru when I'm on the go and the friendly employees, but there's a lot more to Portland than just quick coffee kiosks, so my plan is to hit as many of the best as possible and bring them to you,so you can go on your own coffee tour while you're in town. I hope to bring you 3+ reviews each month. I have 4 for you for the month of March.





Public Domain Coffee

This was going to be my second stop of the day, but my first choice (Spella) was so small and had no inside seating or food choices and it was straight up miserable outside that I decided to skip over it in favor of a place where I could sit down and enjoy my coffee. Public Domain is warm and inviting and the coffee is the main attraction, though they have pastries and other foods to keep you happy. I ordered a small vanilla latte and a banana chocolate muffin ($7.25 total). My coffee was topped with a lovely heart and was so rich that it was satisfying as just one small cup, making me feel like I didn't need another cup that day (in a good way). It needed no sugar, like I've found many coffees do and was just bitter enough for my tastes. The muffin was clearly handmade there and rivaled some of my own homemade banana bread.





Solace & Fine Espresso

Well, it was another rainy day in Portland, but this cute little shop was just a couple miles from home, so I didn't have to park and walk in the rain. Technically, this shop isn't in Portland, but in Beaverton, but I'd read some great reviews. I couldn't pass it up. Solace advertises coffee with yoga on Saturdays, but I'm not into that, so I visited on a late Friday morning when there were only a few others there. I ordered a cafe au lait and a bagel breakfast sandwich with egg, cheese and bacon ($8 total) and both were made  with care. A packet of sugar in my cup and I was good to go. Both the coffee and the sandwich were fantastic, plus the shop has some wonderful homey touches and offers a new artist's work for sale each month, so you get a mini gallery viewing as well. I'm a little sad it took me so long to visit this local place, because it's definitely a neighborhood gem.





Water Avenue Coffee

I've been hearing great things about Water Avenue for a while and since it's just down the street from OMSI and Eric's work, I offered to drop him at work in exchange for a coffee date, seeing as how we were going for dinner after work and taking two cars makes no sense. The "must have" drink here is the s'mores mocha, so we knew one of us needed to order that. The mocha is served with a chocolate graham cracker and a hand-torched marshmallow. It took two people to make it and the marshmallowy flavor was really smooth and delicious. I ordered the honey latte, because this is the first place I've seen one. Water Avenue uses local Bee Local honey and it's perfectly sweet and bitter. I loved it to start the day. 




The food here is a whole story on its own. I ordered a breakfast sandwich, which was an English muffin with locally-sourced eggs, cheese and arugula. It didn't even need salt added to it, which surprised me. Yum! Eric chose their toast with butter and honey. Again, the butter and honey is area-made. He was happy with his choices. Now, I'm not going to tell you that Water Avenue is cheap, because it is a bit above board when it comes to pricing. My latte was $6 and my sandwich was another $6. We had a coupon from a friend that gave us a free drink, so our four items came to $17, but it was worth the extra money, simply because the taste was superior and the ingredients are local, and I'm looking forward to returning, maybe for lunch.




Coava Coffee

So, I've been told several times that this is a Portland landmark for coffee lovers. I visited immediately after my Water Avenue experience and found it quite the opposite feel. Where Water Avenue was cozy and friendly, Coava's flagship location (they only have two) is located in a warehouse and feels quite impersonal. They have items for sale from local artists, which is cool, but walking in, I felt eyes on me and didn't feel as if this was the place for me, but rather a more Portland hipster coffee joint. The menu is small, which only a handful of traditional coffee drinks on it. 





If you want no-frills coffee drinks, this is the place to go. I tried to order a vanilla latte and was told they only had honey (the same Bee Local that Water Avenue uses) or simple syrup. I, instead, ordered a cappuccino and one of the ham and gruyere croissants from Little T Baker to go. My total came to $8, which was more in line with other coffee shops. The cappuccino was good, but not "go out of your way" good. The star was definitely the pastry, which was light and fluffy, but crispy on the outside with a slightly pretzel flavor. I'd return for that, though I'm sure the selections may vary, as they get a variety of pastries from two  local bakeries to sell in their little case.

So, I've found a new favorite coffee shop that is convenient for when I'm in SE Portland and another for when I'm close to home, and I'm looking forward to more stops on my tour. If you want to follow my visits (and my travels in general), follow me on Instagram.

If you've been to Portland and found an awesome coffee shop I should add to my list? Or have a favorite drink to order?

Saturday, March 25, 2017

Celebrating Portland Dining Month

By now, you know I love food. I plan full days around where I want to eat. I have lists of restaurants I want to try when I travel. At home here in Portland I adore trying new dining venues, but there's only so much time and money. Once Portland Dining Month rolls around, I choose some restaurants that are usually too expensive for casual dining, so I can eat there for less and still enjoy more options from their menu than usual.

dining in portland

Restaurants participating in Dining Month offer up a three-course menu for diners for just $29. Sometimes this includes an appetizer, sometimes it includes a dessert. It really depends on the restaurant. Usually there are several dishes to choose from, so if there's more than one of you, everyone can try what's on offer. This month, so far, we've hit up three participating restaurants. There's still a week to go, for any of you in town. And if you aren't in town, look online to find out when your local Dining Month is or plan your next trip here to coincide with the month of March to enjoy some fancy restaurants on a bit more of a budget.


Aquariva

Aquariva is one of "our" restaurants. Want to go somewhere more upscale, but don't want to drive that far? Let's go to Aquariva. It's right on the river, the service is always great and the seasonal menu is usually delicious. We have friends that live in the apartments right across the parking lot, so we asked them along with us. Unfortunately, I couldn't eat the citrus starter or dessert (allergy), and there was only one option for both, so I ordered off the regular menu. My friend went for the PDM menu and enjoyed each course:


The first course was a chicory and blue cheese salad with candied hazelnuts and citrus in a Marionberry vinaigrette. It was gorgeous and she said it was even better tasting. 


The second course was either Oregon rockfish (I really did) want to try that or a smoked boneless pork chop with Japonica rice, pea tendrils, glazed carrots and a bacon-balsamic gastrique. She and her boyfriend both found it delicious, as they shared from each other's plate. I ordered the lamb instead, because I'm not one to pass up lamb or duck on a menu, that came with smoky white beans and kale. I was in heaven.


sorry about these wonky camera angles

The dessert course was another citrus explosion, but I was told it was more creamy and smooth than tart: preserved lemon ice cream with caramelized honey biscotti. Eric and I chose to order the flourless chocolate tart. I'm happy to say that I would easily have that over and over again. It came with a perfect scoop of homemade chocolate ice cream.


Gracie's 

How I've never been to Gracie's before is beyond me. It's a posh place located inside the Hotel deLuxe and, if you weren't in Portland, you'd feel underdressed here. Gracie's had a big selection of their normal menu items on offer for PDM and made it work by giving you approximately a half portion of each course. 


The choices for the first course were spinach salad with spiced pecans, bleu cheese and fresh strawberries in a raspberry vinaigrette, or fig and arugula salad with prosciutto, parmesan, balsamic vinaigrette and local honey or beet salad with goat cheese, grapefruit, pickled ginger and candied pistachios. As much as I love a good beat salad, we both had to give into the temptation of the fig and arugula salad and boy was it worth it. A delicious combination with a lovely light dressing. I kinda want to go back just for that.



The second course choices were crab and shrimp cakes with shaved fennel, apple slaw and remoulade sauce or roasted cauliflower with a hazelnut Romesco, Sambuca currants and cilantro or spicy broccolini with Calabrian chilies and white cheddar. We split up at this point. Eric got the crab and shrimp cake, that he said was bursting with meat and very little filler, and I ordered the broccolini, which was cooked to perfection and was pleasantly (if not surprisingly) spicy.



Now, I was conflicted on what to order for my main, because all the choices sounded mouth-watering: Seared scallops in a saffron cream sauce with melted leeks and fingerling potatoes or braised beef short ribs with a celeriac puree and roasted root vegetables or oven roasted salmon with a shrimp and andouille ├ętouffee and roasted asparagus. I ordered Eric's favorite, the scallops, and he ordered the salmon. The portions were not large, but with the courses being served separately, it felt like the appropriate amount of food that filled us up, without being overfull. Both mains were fantastic, so we decided to go rogue and also order dessert.


Desserts were not included in the PDM menu, but the sticky toffee pudding caught my eye, so we had to get it to share. The cake was light and flavorful and I would gladly eat it every day for the rest of my life. It was that good. It inspired me to make my own for my annual Harry Potter party.


The Hairy Lobster

As far as I know, this restaurant is fairly new. It's next to Jamison Square and the menu sounded so good I didn't even have another choice for my third dinner. In fact, I enjoyed my experience so much, I may go back for my birthday.


The starter and dessert only had one choice, but that was okay with me. We started with wild mushroom bisque with basil crema and oh my. It was pleasantly thick and spicy and a dish I'd go back for. In fact, I would have been happy with two bowls all for myself. Speaking of which, all the china we were served was fantastically mismatched, which I loved.


The choices for mains were buttermilk-dipped fried half chicken with spicy whipped sweet potatoes, sweet and sour eggplant and parker house rolls or fresh sage gnocchi with winter squash, fiore sardo cheese and arugula pesto. We don't have anything against gnocchi, but when fried chicken is on the menu, it's almost like there are no other options. The chicken was perfectly crispy, the pickled eggplant was not expected, but I loved it. Eric wants to try to pickle his own now. And the sweet potatoes had just a bit of spice that paired well with everything else on the plate. 


Now, it was time for my second sticky toffee pudding of the week. It was swimming in caramel sauce and also came with house made brandied cherries and vanilla bean crema. It was heavier than the one at Gracie's, and not quite as good in my opinion, but I wouldn't turn it down if offered it again. It was still yummy, but in a different way. The cake was denser and I'm not sure it needed all the accoutrement to give it pizzazz, but still a winner.

If you want to try out some of Portland's best dining, Portland Dining Month is definitely the time to visit. It helps your dollars go further for those looking to splurge a bit. The same can be said for other destinations that participate in their own dining month. The cost may be a different, but look at what value it gives you for where you are eating.

Do you have a favorite restaurant and, if so, what's the best dish there?

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Basics That Help Your Pack Lighter

Packing. It can be a four-letter word for some. What do you take? What do you leave at home? How big a suitcase do you need? While you want to be comfortable, unless you’re trekking around the Outback, you probably don’t want to be seen in zip-off pants and hiking boots. Dressing like a traveler will only put a big target on your back that screams “tourist”. It’s always nice not to be pegged as an easy mark the second you step off the plane. 


basic travel pieces

You can still be stylish while being relaxed. In fact, you can find things right in your closet to coordinate with other versatile items to pack in your carry-on. You can pack light and look great.


Bring your new favorite jeans


Look for denim with stretch that will be comfy to wear on the plane and walking around all day (and after you’ve eaten way too much five days in a row). This is not the time to skimp on a pair of jeans. Get a high-quality pair that will look amazing on you and last for a long time. James Jeans and Hudson make great stretch skinnies that hug your curves in the right way and pack easily without taking up as much room as your regular denim. You can wear them with anything and they can be dressed up with the right shoes and accessories. You’ll love them so much you’ll want to wear them all the time. And you will!


Basic black always works

Black pants are a fab travel staple. They don’t show dirt and you can find them in any fabric you like. Rayon is perfect, because it is lightweight and resists wrinkles. Linen is great option for tropical climates. You can even find your favorite khaki pants in black. These also can be dressed up or down, depending on what you wear with them. Pretty much everything matches a pair of black pants, which means you only need to bring one pair.


Blaze a trail

Sure, you could bring a fleece with you, but in some destinations the locals wouldn’t be caught dead in such a thing. Blazers work for jeans, trousers, skirts and dresses. You always look sharp and put-together when you throw a blazer on, even over a basic tank or t-shirt. Not only will you be trendy, but it also doubles as a jacket if it starts to get chilly.


Look to the trees

Everyone loves a t-shirt and they are always acceptable. Leave your cotton tees at home in favor of those made of bamboo or soy. They are softer, keep their shape, dry quickly and they don’t hold odor, so even when you don’t have time to do laundry, your clothes won’t smell like it.


It’s a classic

Just like you have your favorite LBD at home, you will want one on the road. Travel dresses come in all shapes and sizes and you’re going to want to find one you love, because it will go everywhere with you. While you may be tempted to pull a dress from your closet in this case, think about how wrinkle-resistant, moisture-wicking and breathable it will be. You can find a huge range of styles, prices and brands on sites like Backcountry.com and REI.com.


Layer it on

If you’re like me, a good number of pieces in your closet are cardigans and cover-ups of some kind. The ¾ sleeve cardi can be your best friend on travels. It guards against chills and can be thrown over t-shirts and tanks. Bring one or two in neutrals that will match the other items you’ve packed and you can make more outfits out of fewer pieces.


Step it up 

Walking shoes are a must when you travel, but that doesn’t mean you have to wear trainers that make you stand out like a sore thumb. There are more walking shoes out there than ever now and many probably come from some of your favorite brands. A nice pair of sandals or ballet flats can go with everything from shorts to dresses and won’t get you kicked out a fancy restaurant like a clunky pair of sneakers will. Plus, this way you don’t have to choose between fashion and function.

When you have a handful of versatile pieces in your carry-on, it doesn’t take too many others to complete your packing list. Coordinating items enables you to pack less and still maximize your outfit options. You’ll be stylish and, as long as you’re not walking around with your nose stuck in a guide book or map, no one will ever think you’re a tourist. When you get asked for directions by other visitors, you’ll know you’ve really blended in with the locals.

I have a great pair of Clarks sandals that I take everywhere. What's your go-to basic that you always pack?

Saturday, March 18, 2017

Getting In On the Travel Sharing Trend

It's no secret that travel share is a booming industry. With less mainstream ways to travel on a budget, it's easier than ever to travel the world without going broke. I'm all for going independent when I can to save some bucks, especially if I have plenty of traveler reviews to back up the safety and legitimacy of it all. 

travel share for budget travel

Instead of staying in a hotel or eating at a traditional restaurant or going to the big box car rental places for some wheels, why not go local and more affordable?
 


Accommodations

I've been on the travel share bandwagon for a long time. While I love a hotel and still use them when needed, I love to feel more at home when I travel and enjoy having a kitchen and laundry at my disposal. If you do, too, try:
  • Airbnb - Indisputably the most well-known way to rent a vacation space. Choose from a room in a home to an entire apartment and everything in between. Get to meet locals where you can while making use of the spaces they aren't using. (Here's an account of one of my Airbnb experiences.)
  • Homeexchange - Want to really save some money? Swap your house with other travelers where you want to go. Take in their mail, feed their dogs and generally be them for the duration of your trip.
  • Homeaway - Like Airbnb, see a long list of spaces for rent, go through HomeAway, so you know your reservation is safe and secure.


Transportation

You may already be using Uber and Lyft to get around, but why stop there? If you want to drive on your own schedule, rent someone else's car while you're in town. See locals who can spare their wheels while you're visiting on these great sites:
  • Turo
  • GetAround
  • FlightCar
  • ZipCar - Unlike these others, these are shared cars in a city. Rent it by the hour. Pick it up and drop it off at a designated location.


Dining

I'm open to meeting new people and I love to eat. Now you can visit locals for homemade meals or meet someone for food at a restaurant. This is especially good for people who are traveling solo and don't like to eat alone and those that are really outgoing.


Other stuff

Sometimes you get to a place and realize you want something specific, like golf clubs or skis. Since bringing them with you can be crazy expensive, why not rent some from someone while you're in town? 
Travel sharing is perfect for those that want to help out individuals while also getting a hyperlocal experience.

What's your favorite travel share service?

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Surviving Air Travel with Kids

Traveling with kids is not always easy or cheap, but you can make it a bit easier on yourself by planning ahead. No last-minute packing or planning, because it can definitely mean the difference between a great flight and a terrible one. I can help you save money and sanity on all your future family travels. Here are just a few ways to make the most of your trips and keep everyone as happy as possible.

flying with kids



Tell Them What to Expect 

Kids are super-adaptable, but it does help to explain things to them. Traveling is kinda weird when you think about it. You stand in line to go through security, where people judge you and look at all your stuff, then you wait to get herded into a big metal room, where you strap yourself in and the air pressure is all funky and makes your ears hurt on occasion. It's sort of like being in the car, but with 200 other people and you can't get out when you need to stretch your legs, but there's a bathroom. Crazy, right? Explain to your kids what they'll be expecting, and more than once. It's better for them to be excited that they're flying than for them to be freaked out and hate every second of your journey. Not only will you also hate it, so will everyone on the airplane.

Travel in the off-season or during winter break



If you have smaller children, you have the luxury of traveling all year long. With this in mind, avoid traveling in the summer. Summer is easily the busiest and most expensive time to plan a vacation. If a beach or other warm-weather location is your destination of choice, plan a trip in the spring. Springtime is always less crowded and one of the best times to find sales on both airfare and hotel rates. If your children are in school, wait until Christmas break to make your journey. If you fly on Christmas Day, you can get rock-bottom airfare, since most travelers want to be at their destination by that day and it’s one of the lightest travel days of the year.

Fly free

Children under the age of 2 fly for free if you aren't opposed to them sitting in your lap the whole flight. Probably not so doable on a trip across the Atlantic, but not too bad on a flight that's only a few hours long. Babies are easier to deal with this way and if they get cranky due to air pressure changes, feeding them does wonders, because they're constantly swallowing.


Stock up on snacks 

Kids always want to eat when it isn't snack time and can get super hangry if they don't get something in their tummy pretty fast. Vacation is no different than at home. Bring snacks on all your plane rides (and outings) to tide them over until it's time to actually sit down and have real food.

Pack games

I find that games are a fantastic way to pass time on the airplane, even for us big kids. Have smarty-pants toddlers or kids over 5? Try Fluxx card game. It’s the game of ever-changing rules that is fun for hours, even if games last just 10-30 minutes. You might also like Zigity. It’s a fantastic game from the makers of Cranium that asks players to spell, add, complete a picture and match objects. The cards are plastic coated, so they are pretty much child-proof. Spills and spit wipe right off!

Bring Your Tablet

Kids are super tech-savvy now. If yous are too, then make sure you load up your tablet with games, videos and books they'll love. A long flight can fly by when they have everything they need at their fingertips. Don't forget a back-up battery to keep it charged and headphones, because as happy as everyone will be that your kids are entertaining themselves, they'll be less happy if they have to hear Dora the Explorer at full blast, because that's how your little one likes to watch it.

Pack light


I know that with kids it’s hard to do this, but it’s not impossible. Each of your children can bring their own carry-on for the plane and help spread around the weight. Whether it’s a small rolling bag that can fit under the seat or a backpack they can wear, they can share the load. While their clothes can be fairly lightweight, everything they want to take from home may not be. Pack as much of their clothes as you can in your own carry-on (Spacebags or Pack-It cubes may help) and then have them carry any spillover and a few things from home in their own bag. This might be some small toys, a coloring book and some snacks. Anything that will make traveling less of a chore and keep the whining at bay. 


If there is more than one adult in your party, this may be done more easily, and you will have everything with you when you land, saving you checked baggage fees and time waiting for your bags on the carousel. Check out the Trunki ride-on carry-on from Melissa and Doug. It’s fun and functional, plus you can accessorize it, giving your kids another activity to do when waiting around and getting border and border. I want one for ME.  



Let them pack their own bag


When you go anywhere, you probably let your kid(s) pick a few things they can’t live without. As long as it can be reasonably packed and will make it through security, don’t worry if they want to bring 32 miniature cars or their favorite doll or even their pillow. If it makes them comfortable, it will help them be a better traveler. You could pack their clothing in your carry-on and have them bring their “busy-time” stuff in a backpack or teach them responsible travel and buy them their very own carry-on bag that they can use. They’ll feel like a grown-up when they pull their little wheelie case behind them through the airport and you’ll save on baggage fees. Plus, by having them carry their own belongings, they might learn to pack lighter.

video

Rent baby equipment at your destination


This doesn’t sound money-saving at all, but it can be. Dragging around a stroller and other cumbersome products can be hard, cost you checked baggage fees and may even damage your own items in the process. Sites like BabiesTravelLite have lists for worldwide locations that rent baby equipment from strollers to baby baths. These places often rent equipment for an entire week for less than you would pay to rent them for a day at amusement parks and other places. You can pick them up on your way to your hotel or vacation rental and then drop them off on your way to the airport. You don’t have to juggle extra things at the airport and you won’t have to worry about damage to any of your own gear.

Invest in a footrest


Skyrest makes the perfect footrest for children. Okay, it’s really a resting pillow for sleeping or reading, but for little legs that fall asleep from not being able to reach the floor, it makes the perfect airplane ottoman. Nobody likes being kicked in the back for a whole flight and when kids have tingly legs, they are going to flail about. These inflatable rests have removable covers, too, so you can remove it before the flight to keep it from getting dirty from the floor and feet.


Fly really early or really late


If your child is on a regular sleeping schedule, see if you can book a flight that will coincide with it and they may just conk out the entire flight. We used to fly the Red Eye often and sleep on the plane overnight and wake up in our destination. While these seem to be few and far between – or even non-existent – now, you can certainly try to find an available flight that is super early in the morning or even later in the evening. These flights are usually undesirable, which makes them cheaper than the same flight in the middle of the day.


Run it out


Some airports have playgrounds. If you're taking off from one or have a layover, then let make a beeline for the closest one (if you have time) and let the kids run and yell and get all their energy out. They'll be less antsy on your flight this way.
Just because you have children doesn't mean you can never vacation again or have to pack up the tent and go camping. Of course, I'm not opposed to camping. I did it all the time as a kid, but nothing beats a good old fashioned family vacation. One where you don't have to do all the work and take freezing showers for a week. Sure, traveling with more than two can be hard on your wallet, but you can save on things to make it more manageable.
What are your tips for traveling with kids?
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