Thursday, January 22, 2015

Pinots in Portland

While in the Portland area, my plan is to try as many Pinot Noirs and Pinot Gris as my wallet will allow. While in town last week, I dropped by Thirst to try their Pinot wine flight. $17 for 4- 2 oz. pours.

  • Biggio Hamina '11 - meh. Light. Not so much flavor
  • David Hill Estate '10 - yummy. Heavy. Spice. Leather. Bold. Will try it again
  • Purple Hands '13- oh so good, completely opposite of the David Hill. Light, fruity, bright. A definite taste again
  • Hayden Road '09 - meh. Not bad. Not memorable though


My first visit to Portland in 2012 turned me onto Pinot Noirs. Burnside Brewery is where I fell in love with Amity Pinot. Oh man, is it good.  A little pricey by the bottle for me but well worth it.

A coworker gave me a bottle of King Estate Pinot Noir 2012.  It is one of the best I've tried.  Very smooth. Full fruit flavor.

Planet Oregon Pinot Noir 2012 is one that is sold by the glass at my work.  A mild wine that would be good for everyday drinking. Plus it has a cool label.

Viridian 2010 tastes low quality. Sharp alcohol start with a mellow finish.

Hopefully, there will be several more Pinot posts to come.

Monday, January 19, 2015

Donut Obsession

I am a donut addict. Yeah, I said it.  I'm obsessed with donuts.  I don't need to eat them all the time but if I'm out walking around, it's hard to walk past a donut shop without getting one to-go at least.  My craze for the last few years has been bacon donuts.  Have you tried them?  They are amazing at most places.

Portland, Oregon

Yesterday I stopped by Blue Star and got the beauties below: Maple Bacon raised donut and a Lemon Poppyseed buttermilk. They were both delicious.  The sweet and salty of the Maple Bacon complimented each other perfectly. Blue Star is definitely worth another visit.

<----- After 6 donut-free months spent in Alaska, I got this heavenly Maple Bacon longjohn at Tonalli's Donuts & Cream in NE quarter. I will be hitting this place up again.

No first time visit to Portland is complete without a visit to iconic Voodoo Donuts. Again, a Bacon Maple Bar as well as an Old Dirty Bastard made their way into my belly. I loved the full strips of bacon but the frosting was too sweet. Recommendation: skip it except for the tourist factor---->
Joe's Donuts in little Sandy, Oregon has a version of Maple Bacon, too.  
Not enough bacon! The slices were too thin. Their other donuts are delicious though.

Chicago, Illinois

2 Sparrows was my first ever try of a bacon donut. This one was quickly followed by many more: Do-Rite Donuts, Dinkel's Donuts, my favorite Glazed and Infused and several others.  Glazed and Infused has THE best candied bacon on their donut.

Thursday, January 15, 2015

Hostels of Talkeetna

 Talkeetna Trip #1
House of Seven Trees Hostel
North Main Street
Talkeetna, AK
(907) 733-7733

Trip #1 to Talkeetna involved the first time I didn't make reservations at a hotel or hostel.  Going outside my comfort zone. Scary. I always worry I'll show up and not be able to find a place to stay.  Then what do you do? I lucked out and did find a place to stay.  The Hostel is located on the main drag of Talkeetna next to Mountain High Pizza. The main house (blue house) has the private rooms, bathrooms, common areas, and fully stocked kitchen.  The dorm room is in the back called Ye Olde Bunque Haus.  In between the two buildings is a bbq and outdoor sitting area.  The main building is really clean and well maintained. The two bathrooms have fluffy white towels for guests use.  I stayed in the Bunque Haus.  Cost $25 per night, cash only.

Walking around the main building to find the Bunque Haus was eye opening.  I had never stayed in a co-ed dorm-style room before.  It was nothing like what I expected.  I guess I should have expected it though.  It was the middle of mountaineering Alaska.  No locks on the door. Rustic looking. No bathroom. No heat. At least the beds were comfortable.  When the door was shut, the room was warm enough.  After my second stay in Talkeetna, I realized locks are not a necessity in this small town.

Best Features: location, clean main house, available amenities
Improvements: locking door or secured storage area
Would I stay here again: Yes as long as it is warm enough

Talkeetna Trip #2
Talkeetna Hostel International 
 22159 S I St
Talkeetna, AK
(907) 733-4678

This hostel is by far the most interesting hostel I have stayed in.  Don't be fooled by the photo on their website.  The photo above is from September 2014.  This is what the property really looks like.  Even though the walk to the hostel and the outside of the property is scary and odd looking, the inside is cozy and relatively clean considering the majority of the long term guests are men.  The inside is like any other typical ranch house.  There are several bedrooms.  I only saw the one I stayed in.  I'm not sure if it was co-ed or not because I was the only guest in that room.  The common area had a tv with cable and a woodburning fireplace.  I didn't use the kitchen but it was large and appeared to have useful supplies.  Outside the house are several different types of camping available.  Vans, campers, outbuildings, and tent sites to rent.

The hostel is located on the far side of town.  A little bit of a walk but not too far from the main section of Talkeetna with the restaurants and bars. Follow the signs. Keep going. You will eventually reach it. Walking down I Street, I thought for sure I missed it and was walking into something I would regret.  I didn't.  My imagination was running away with me.  The place wasn't that bad.  Be cautious if you need to shower and leave by a certain time.  There is only one bathroom for all guests use.  Luckily the hot water supply lasted for everyone in line and towels were free. This hostel didn't have locks on anything either.  Common trend perhaps in rural Alaska?  $25 per night, cash only.

Best Features: warm fireplace, wifi
Improvements: another bathroom, clean up the outside area, lockable private storage
Would I stay here again: Yes if other options are not available

Thursday, January 1, 2015

2014 Year in Review

In 2013, my Sketchbook Project revolved around my travels and ended with asking "2014 Where will you take me? What dreams will come true?"  2013 was amazing travel-wise coming in with 10 trips, including San Francisco, Portland, and Minneapolis.  I wasn't sure if 2014 could top it.  It did!  Why?  Because I got to live in the places I traveled to which meant I got to experience more of what the area offered.  Plus one of the places was my #1 Bucket List place (Alaska) and I got my first stamp in my passport (Mexico).

Travels for 2014:
Finished a 2 year stint in Chicago
2 weeks at home with kids
6 months in Denali area Alaska with side trips to Anchorage, Talkeetna, Fairbanks and Barrow
2 weeks in Sayulita and Puerto Vallarta, Mexico
2 months of a 5 month stay on Mt. Hood, Oregon in a little town called Zigzag

Dreams that Came True:
Visited/lived in Alaska
Visited the northern most part of US (Barrow)
Saw a polar bear in the wild
Traveled outside of US
Lived by myself for the first time in my life
Worked in a resort (two, in fact)
Started to seriously learn another language (Spanish)
Wrote a book

Now what will 2015 bring?

Monday, December 29, 2014

Trip Goals

When you travel, do you have trip goals?  Sometimes I consciously have a goal and other times it happens once I get to my destination.

Recent Travel Goals
Portland - try as many food carts and Pinot Noirs as possible

Napa - drink good wine and buy a really nice bottle out of my normal price range to drink at home

San Francisco - no goal oddly enough, not even once I got there

Minneapolis - happy hour, happy hour, happy hour.  Actually, I wanted to go in the winter and see a bunch of snow but that didn't happen

Chicago - eat out as much as possible

Alaska - see snow covered mountains and polar bears

Mexico - lay on a beautiful beach and soak up the sun and warmth

Milwaukee - walk around downtown

Monday, December 22, 2014

11 Restaurants I Love in Chicago

Chicago is the foodiest (is that a word? I'm using it regardless) city I've ever visited.  A person could write endlessly about Chicago restaurants.  Since I tried to eat at a different one every time I went out, you will see periodic posts about the restaurants with a main page to tie them all together.  My list does not include every place I visited as I lost track eventually.  All of the restaurants below warranted multiple visits.

Below are my top 11 favorites (in no particular order):

1. Kuma's Corner

A very popular rocker burger bar with exceptional food - on my initial visit I tried the Mastodon burger and Build Your Own Mac n Cheese.  This restaurant has two locations in the Chicago area.  Both places have an interesting atmosphere with blaring rock music and tattooed and pierced servers and cooks.  Expect to wait unless you hit the restaurant at a rare moment.  It's that good.  A must visit type of place.

2. Lady Gregory's Irish Bar & Restaurant
Located in the delightful neighborhood of Andersonville, Lady Gregory's features a mile long list of whiskeys. Try their Ultimate Grilled Cheese with candied bacon and their Mac and Cheese with bacon.  Noticing a trend yet?  The first time I ate here, the summer menu featured a Guinness cheesecake that was so delectably rich, I couldn't eat it all in one sitting.  A rarity.

3. Smokin' Woody's

I probably ate at this restaurant the most during my time in the city.  It was a top favorite for ordering-in. The pulled pork sandwich and cornbread are to die for. The rest of their sides offerings are so-so.  After eating at multiple bbq restaurants, it is my top choice for pulled pork.  Eating at the restaurant is ok but extremely small, only 4/5 tables, cash only.  I recommend their delivery service.

4. Ann Sather
Best ever cinnamon rolls!  Even if you don't eat at the restaurant, go get their cinnamon rolls. (in writing this post, I discovered they publish their recipe online)  So delicious.  If you decide to stay for breakfast, try the French Toast Fantasy.  It is made with their signature cinnamon rolls and is recommended by Rachael Ray. Go hungry because it's huge.

5. Bat 17 (technically Evanston, IL)
I love bbq pulled pork.  I could do a post just on pulled pork restaurants.  Hmmm, that's a good idea.  You'll be seeing that in the future.  I happened upon Bat 17 while walking randomly around Evanston.  I went to go to the movies (best theater in the area) and spent the day exploring.  This plate of food is an appetizer portion of bbq pulled pork sliders.  An appetizer portion!  The photo is missing the fourth slider which was already in my belly.  Fantastic dish. Comes with my favorite, onion straws and extra bbq sauce.  Not the best service in the world but great food.  Try their desserts as well.  Homemade gigantic cookies and pies. If you are into the craft beer scene, they have over 50.

6. Homeslice Pizza
Forget the pizza (actually the pizza is amazing too).  Go to Homeslice for this appetizer.  Roasted garlic served with housemade Gorgonzola basil spread and crustinis.  Oh man, so delicious.  I've had to stop myself from digging the garlic cloves out and eating them whole.  Ok I have.  I did stop myself from licking the container the spread comes in.  That is an achievement.  This appetizer reheats well if you want to save some room for pizza.  I've tried The Knife & Forkner pizza.  It is so loaded with goodness you really should use a knife and fork to eat.  When you are done eating, walk off some of the carbs and go to Sweet Mandy B's just down the road.  Hopefully they will have some of their lemon cupcakes left.

7. Marmalade
Located in the North Center neighborhood, this cafe is very unassuming.  In fact, my friend and I discovered it by accident.  We were biking to another well known cafe and decided we were too hungry for the trip involved. We saw Marmalade and said what the heck we'll try it.  Marmalade quickly became our go-to brunch spot.  My favorite item is the multi grain hotcakes but if that is too basic for you, try any one of their numerous french toast or Eggs Benedict's choices.

8. The Bongo Room
The Bongo Room has several locations.  If you go on the weekend, expect a good long wait at any of their locations.  With the two choices pictured above, is it any wonder they don't have a wait every day. My favorite and must have is the White Chocolate and Caramel Pretzel Pancakes. If you like bananas, try the Chocolate Tower French Toast.

9. Yes Thai
Chicago has an abundance of Thai restaurants.  The closest one to my apartment was Yes Thai on Damen.  I already liked cashew chicken before eating at this restaurant but after eating here, I became addicted.  I could drink their homemade special sauce.  So good.  Hint: if you like a lot of sauce like me, order it "wet".  I have tried to duplicate this dish with no success.

10. Tango Sur
An Argentinian steakhouse located in the Southport corridor, this restaurant serves huge delicious portions. The dish I ordered with steak and sides was easily shareable.  Tango Sur is a big hit with all my restaurant friends as well especially if you want steak.

11. Sweet Baby Ray's Smokehouse
Very disappointed to learn upon writing this post that the Chicago restaurant has closed.  It was located in Wrigleyville and fairly busy during Cubs games.  Maybe it'll open back up for summer.  The platter of pulled pork easily feed two people.  And they offered like 25 different types of bbq sauce.  As a bbq sauce lover, I was in heaven.  The mac n cheese was another of my favorites

In case it isn't obvious already, pulled pork, burgers and mac n cheese are my favorite out-to-eat foods. Yum.

Friday, December 19, 2014

Oregon Survival Kit

This is my Oregon Survival Kit.  I carry it where ever I go because I have needed one or more of the items every day.

Flashlight and umbrella are the number one priorities

  1. Phone charger - cold and altitude sucks the life right out of a cell phone battery
  2. Hat - random snow storms
  3. Dry socks - cause it rains here
  4. Flashlight - I live in the middle of the woods and walk everywhere.  It gets freaking dark.  I've been caught without a flashlight much to my vivid imagination.  Try walking in the woods when it's so dark you can't see your hand in front of your face.  It's scary.
  5. Umbrella - most Oregonians think an umbrella is for sissies.  Well, I'm a sissy.  If I have my winter coat on, I don't want to swap out into my raincoat.  I'll take my umbrella, thank you.
  6. Raincoat - for the same reason as above.  It rains every day.  Sometimes a raincoat works better than an umbrella
  7. Gloves - it's a damp cold here and I like my gloves
  8. Reusable grocery bag - you never know when you are going to stop at store
  9. Backpack - I've come to terms with the fact that I am a grown-ass adult who has to carry a backpack all the time regardless of where I live since I don't drive a car anymore.
  10. Bus pass (not pictured) - obvious reasons