Tuesday, May 29, 2007

The City of Roses

For Memorial Day weekend, John and I took a quick trip to Portland, Oregon to get away from the Texas heat (and as it turns out, a soggy weekend here in Houston). We were greeted with an amazing view of Mt. Hood as our four hour flight came to an end. Then we picked up our rental car, fitting that it was a green Prius in one of the nation's most "green" cities, and headed to our bed and breakfast on the northeast end of town, the Georgian House.

After dropping off our bags, we mustered up the energy to go out for a late dinner (10pm Houston time) at the Blue Moose Cafe. It was a hopping place, very cozy and casual, with a nice local feel. John ordered the tofu egg sandwich while I opted for a big burrito filled with rice, beans, veggies, and tofu chipotle sauce. His plate was more photogenic, and of course I tried a couple bites as well. We enjoyed the atmosphere as well as the food at this little cafe. On the way out I picked up a piece of vegan chocolate cake that I quickly gobbled up once we got back to the room before we both passed out on the bed.

Saturday morning came quickly, and we were up early because of the time change. This gave us a chance to take a walk around the neighborhood, admiring all the blooming rhododendron, roses, and many other flowers. We took a peek at some of the prices on a few homes for sale .... yikes! Makes me appreciate the reasonable cost of living down in Houston. After a light breakfast of fruit and toast (no vegan breakfast at this b&b), we drove into town to explore. Our first stop was VooDoo Donut where I got a chocolate covered vegan donut, mmmmm. Luckily we don't have vegan donuts here or I might eat them every day.

We made our way through Chinatown to the Classical Chinese Garden, one of the nicer Chinese gardens we have seen. As geologists, we marveled at the Tai Hu rocks (vuggy limestone) and the intricate stonework of the walkways. Fresh, blooming, brilliant-colored peonies filled one of the rooms with a lovely fragrance. I took this photo when I noticed the striking difference between the classical Chinese architecture and the modern skyscrapers of the city.

After the gardens, we strolled along the Willamette River down to the Saturday Market and browsed the selection of arts and crafts. Though it was still early, we made lunch our next stop at Veganopolis, a cute little cafeteria-style eatery in the heart of downtown Portland. John got the Seitan Pesto Sandwich and I had the Democracy Burger, both came with a side of slaw. My burger was quite tasty, I really liked the almond feta (must learn to make that). John's sandwich was also very good, after all, you can't go wrong with pesto, spinach, and a ciabatta roll. Our only complaint was that there was not enough seitan. Overall, a great place for lunch, and and it was also nice to feel a bit overwhelmed by the number of choices I had, which doesn't happen at too many restaurants I frequent.

For the afternoon we explored the Pearl District, downtown, and then headed west to Washington Park. Though not in full bloom, we visited the International Test Rose Garden and snapped some amazing close-ups. Finally, we visited the Japanese Gardens for a few moments of contemplation and meditation among the ponds, waterfall, gardens, and stones. The last stop before heading back to the room was Food Fight grocery store, a must-visit in Portland for every vegan! I was surprised at how small it was, given their wide selection of vegan goodies. I picked up some vegan energy bars, "beef" bouillon, vermints, a "Factory Farms are Mean and Nasty" sticker, Road's End Whole Wheat Mac and Chreese, a bright red Food Fight grocery bag, and a pecan sticky bun from Dovetail Bakery. Check out their online store if you haven't already and support an all-vegan grocery store!

After cleaning up a bit, we went out to dinner at Vege Thai in the hip Hawthorne neighborhood. We were happy to find out that we could bring in our own bottle of wine with no corkage fee (a very smooth Brooks pinot noir)! To start with, we tried the appetizer sampler with spring rolls, crispy wontons, bbq and fried tofu, and "chicken" nuggets. The plate was served with sweet and sour sauce and a yummy peanut sauce. For our entrees, I got the Pad Ki Mow noodles and John had the mixed vegetable stir fry. It was a ton of food, we enjoyed every bite we could stuff into ourselves. I must admit I was a little freaked out by the "beef" and couldn't eat it, but John loved it. We took the leftovers back to the b&b, finished a glass of wine on the veranda under some blankets, then headed to bed.

Sunday we got up early and drove up the Columbia River Gorge for a hike. I splurged and had my pecan sticky bun for breakfast along with a rice and soy milk blend. We decided on Dog Mountain (on the Washington side), a moderate length hike with a healthy dose of up and down (7 miles, 2800 vertical ft). Views of the gorge were spectacular (but a bit hazy) and we were in time to see the wildflowers in full bloom. Out of the cover of the forest, the wind was fierce and we only stayed on top long enough to enjoy some fresh sliced watermelon a nice family offered us (the dad brought the thing all the way up, he didn't want to carry it down too!) and snap a few more pictures. On the drive back we stopped at the Cathedral Ridge Winery for some wine tasting.

To celebrate John's birthday, we went to the Farm Cafe for dinner. Even though it was early, the charming Victorian house was packed with young hipsters enjoying fresh, seasonal dishes using local produce when possible. A reporter and cameraman from CNN were there doing a story on up-and-coming neighborhoods. After toasting his special day with a glass of wine (he had a merlot, me a sauvignon blanc), we both started off with salads, mine was strawberries and toasted almonds on greens (his was a green salad with crusted baked goat cheese). I was pleasantly surprised that they didn't jip you on the strawberries, I had plenty to go with every bite till the very end! Next up was the herb crusted tofu with mashed potatoes and mushrooms in a marsala sauce. It was very rich and I enjoyed the crispiness of the crusted tofu, the creaminess of the potatoes, and the earthy flavor of the mushrooms mixed together. John was also very impressed by his (non-vegan) meal of halibut and roasted asparagus on a bed of lentils. Overall, it was the perfect meal to end our weekend in Portland.

And not forgetting a birthday dessert, we had cupcakes waiting for us back at the b&b from Saint Cupcake. From left to right they are chocolate with vanilla frosting (vegan), vanilla dot with pistachio frosting (not vegan), and red velvet with vanilla frosting (vegan). I have never seen John enjoy dessert so much! These were amazing cupcakes and has inspired me to bake more of my own, but not until I recover from this weekend full of food!

Sadly, we left for the airport on Monday morning on what looked to be another gorgeous day in Portland (hard to believe it rains so much). We got lucky with an upgrade to first class, finally all those easy pass miles paid off! As we flew south, we said goodbye to the same views we were greeted with, Mt. Hood (this time with fewer clouds) as well as Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier. All good things must come to an end though, and we landed in water-logged Houston, and sat on the tarmac for over half an hour waiting for a gate.


Vicki's Vegan Vice said...

What an awesome visit to Portland (one of my most favorite cities!) Did you happen by Multnomah Falls on your Columbia River Gorge hike? You ate such fabulous food, and I can't wait to visit Food Fight one of these days. I really enjoyed reading this post! :o)

Kayla said...

Oh wow. It looks like you had an amazing trip. I have been wanting to visit Portland for a very long time, and now it is even higher on my priority list after seeing that vegan sticky bun! The landscape looks beautiful. Although I have never been hiking, I would definately have to try it there.

bazu said...

What a beautiful post! Thank you for all the photos and your descriptions. Portland is by all accounts an amazing city, and I hope to be able to visit it one day.

That egg sandwich is calling to me!

Oh, and I wanted to say your letter to the NY times editor, below, is one of the best I read. That editorial still gets me really angry. Grr!

Tamara said...

Wow, it looks like you had an amazing trip! Your photos and description make me want to go back (I have been there once, about 2 years ago). I too was surprised by how tiny FoodFight was, but packed to the gills with good stuff! I am jealous of your vegan donut (although I think Mighty O in Seattle has even better vegan donuts; I tried both in the same week on our trip) :-) And as for cupcakes, do you have the cookbook, Vegan Cupcakes Take Over the World yet? It is SOOO good.