Throughout the past two posts about my time in Oregon, there have been many photos of rolling hills. Vineyards. Lush landscapes. An endless supply of beautifully plated, scrumptious food. Bottomless glasses of insanely good, local wine. While I’ve been putting together this final post about my Full On Oregon trip, the photos that kept speaking to me were often about the people we met those days. As much as we love to fawn over the food porn and the picturesque scenery…at the end of the day, it’s about the folks that make a place special. The folks that support the grassroots efforts in towns like Portland. That sustain that independent spirit and the idea that anything is possible. We came across those people at every stop in Oregon.
In the span of one day, we went from awe-struck staring at Mt. Hood to seeing a skyline of a whole different nature. This girl was equally as awe-struck, I gotta say. Our group was welcomed to a beers and burgers dinner on the roof of the inimitable Wieden+Kennedy. You talk about a group of people that think anything is possible? Here they are. A driving force in the ad world that also helped solidify and elevate a once struggling area of Portland, W+K has their hands in a lot in their hometown. The view from their in-town headquarters is remarkable and the hospitality we felt from the folks there – and those who cooked and quenched our thirst – was just as impressive. Some of the best burgers in Portland (there was even an eggplant double stack for us veggies), crab & tomato salad made from the group’s catch earlier, a killer pesto gnocchi salad – all washed down with beers from Prodigal Son Brewery of Pendleton, Oregon. It was a pitch perfect night of relaxation and hanging out without a schedule.
Saturday started with us all splintering off into groups to attend morning sessions that were a bit more cooking focused & hands-on. I headed to the chocolate class feeling sort of ambivalent about things – I’m not really a chocolate fan. Once our time together with Bruce & Erika from Arrowhead Chocolates and David from Xocolatl de David (his salted caramel sauce is like liquid crack) was up, I was jazzed and invigorated. I felt a little powerful, actually. No longer destined to be a numb skull in the kitchen when it comes to tempering chocolate and making hand dipped goodies. The quality of the products they’re using is extraordinary and a couple nibbles (and licks of melted chocolate off one’s hand) was a great way to get the day going.
Lunch, more so than any other time on our trip, really highlighted the connections between the delicious food and drink we were enjoying & the folks responsible for making them. Rollin Soles was like a character out of a western novel…except he was wielding a steel champagne cork extractor instead of a pistol. The Texan microbiology major turned award winning vintner founded Argyle Winery, producer of world famous sparkling wines and Pinot Noir. He kicked off our soiree with some naughty jokes, great info about wine and a few sips of wonderful bubbles that went perfectly with the mussels on the half shell – these things had smoked mussel aioli in the shell along with the meat. My mind was blown then and it still is.
We sat down to several courses of hyper-local ingredients in the dining area of KitchenCru, a Portland incubator and communal kitchen for products to be made and produced easily and affordably. Local trout with homegrown squash. A salad of freekeh and pickled cherries that had everyone talking with their mouths full. Paired with lunch were the wines of Abacela Winery, who specialize in Iberian varietals such as Temperanillo and Albarino rather than the typical Pinot the region is known for. Hilda Jones and her daughter chatted about the wines and I instantly fell in love with her – I’m pretty sure I leaned over to Helene and said “I so want her to be my friend”. They make great juice, too.
Somehow, the folks organizing the Full On Oregon trip were able to telepathically pick out which ones of us might make up the rowdy bunch…and then sent all of us off together to The Rum Club to talk about cocktails. By talk about cocktails, I mean drink cocktails. Led by Brandon Wise of Beaker & Flask, our group learned about locally produced spirits, Alpine-influenced twists on classic drinks, the proper way to make a cocktail….and a bunch of other stuff I don’t remember after the cocktails. I do remember asking a lot of questions, having a ton of fun, and swooning over their collection of vintage stemware.
The star of the show for me was The Norwegian Negroni. It’s the traditional Negroni given a twist with a bit of Alpine flavors. The Campari is replaced with Cynar – an Italian herbal liqueur whose prominent ingredient is artichoke – and the gin gets substituted for Aquavit. Drinks like this aren’t for everyone – if you’re looking for something sticky and sweet, there’s nothing to see here. It’s got oomph, depth and bitterness. I swooned. Bon Appetit has published the original recipe for this drink, which was created at Beaker & Flask, on their website.
A few hours later, I was wandering the grounds of Penner-Ash…staring at rolling hills, fields of flowers and a setting sun. Our final event on our final night in Portland together as a group was upon us. By this point, I was a little overwhelmed by everything I had seen. Full – in all senses of the word. Not sure how much more my heart – and my stomach – could take. We all stood around – like a bank of paparazzi photographers – trying to capture the image we’d bring back to show you all. Images of us taking it all in and making pictures of our trip surrounded us in the dining room. A reminder of the amazing trip we’d had so far and a bittersweet sign that it was all coming to a close.
We sat on the rock wall that surrounded the outdoor terrace. Drank Rosé and re-united with our friends after being split up in the afternoon. Ate freshly shucked oysters (Vitaly Paley got in on the shelling action – he was also our celebrity chef for the evening) and lumps of freshly caught crab meat. Made toasts & clinked glasses. Sipped on amuse-bouche cups of curried soup as the sun went down. There was local salmon done pastrami style. Cake with plums. Colorful conversation at candlelit tables over glasses of Zinfandel. I had put the camera down and decided to fully enjoy my last meal in this place with these people. It was spectacular. Just as we had arrived, we sleepily piled onto the bus and made our way through the night to the hotel. Saying goodbyes is easier when everyone has a full stomach, a bit of a wine buzz and would rather put on their elastic waist pants than get weepy-eyed.
After a leisurely Sunday of sleeping in a bit and drinking coffee – which is a vacation in and of itself to me – I met up with Helene and Nicole and headed to explore the parts of Portland we hadn’t seen yet…just at a more leisurely pace. Initially, we all sort of thought we were still full from everything we’d experienced the day before. Once we got to walking around in the Mississippi area of Portland and ran across the food carts, we conceded to sharing a morning nosh. Split three ways, a savory waffle – topped with eggs, tomato and avocado – from Wicked Waffles hit the spot. We popped into shops along the street. Tried on clothes – not a smart move after 3 days of non-stop eating. Bought souvenirs for friends back home. We stumbled upon The Meadow, a mecca for all things salt. Shelves full of more than 100 different types of salts, bitters and chocolates were accentuated by the stunning floral smells from buckets of flowers in the center of the store. We spent a good hour or so in the shop…and went back a second time when we met up with Andrew, who was also still in town for the afternoon.
The four of us – seemingly yearning to be outdoors and enjoy a little quiet time – headed to the Japanese Gardens. Experiencing just a bit of the Portland weather I’d been warned about – hazy and a bit gray – it was the perfect afternoon to follow the trails of trees and the trickles of ponds and fountains. Not a lot was said between us…and that was just okay by me. Being there with friends – both old and new – and seeing something so special and beautiful…it was kind of perfect. It had been a whirlwind few days and the chance to take some deep, quiet breaths was welcome. I needed to look up through that canopy of leaves, and be thankful for the chance to see a place so lush and moving. Not just the Japanese Gardens…but the entire trip. I felt so grateful that afternoon. I still do.
After saying our goodbyes to our two companions that day, Helene and I ended our trip just as we had started it. We sat down at the bar in The Driftwood Room and ordered a champagne cocktail. We did some more of the chatting and catching up that our schedule hadn’t allowed. We toasted one more time to a really remarkable experience. Toasts like that with that particular drink in hand happened more than a few times on our trip – in my mind, it’s become the official cocktail of the Full On Oregon trip. I’m including the recipe here so you can make it at home. It’s absolutely brilliant…and it would make for a glorious celebratory drink for the upcoming holiday. Here’s a toast to all of my Full On Oregon friends, the amazing crew at Travel Oregon, the posh Hotel deLuxe and all of the people that made our trip – and make the magic of Portland – possible.
Springtime in Paris – makes one champagne cocktail – original recipe obtained by extensive field research at The Driftwood Room
- combine rhubarb bitters and St. Germain in a champagne flute. top with freshly opened champagne. serve immediately and often!
Speaking of amazing people, I was surrounded by a bunch of wonderful bloggers for the days that were scheduled by Travel Oregon. A group of us from all over the country came together to eat, drink and experience this beautiful place. You should visit their blogs to see Oregon through their eyes….and visit them often to see stunning photos, read brilliant writing and discover new recipes to try.