Wednesday, July 29, 2015

Eating in Portland, OR

Coava Coffee Roasters

Nuvrei bakes

This has been one busy summer for us! The end of the school year was super busy for me as a volunteer and then the following weekend, we went over to Vancouver for a few family functions. Shortly after, we went on a road trip to Portland for six days. Shortly after that, we went camping on Mount Rainier. I started this Portland post soon after we got back but I just couldn't finish it before getting ready for our next trip. Better late than never so here it is!

We spent six lovely but hot days in the downtown area of Portland, Oregon. It only takes three hours to drive from Redmond but that's still three hours too many since we don't like to drive. We haven't been back to Portland since our boy was 3.5 years old. Last time it was more of a tour of Oregon so this time we wanted just to spend our time in the city.

We love Portland but we hate hot weather. Unfortunately, we had one of the worst heat waves when we went down there. Luckily, we were able to come back to an air-conditioned hotel every night. Thank goodness for air-conditioning! It was 34-38C pretty much every day we were down there. At one point our car was reading 41C. We normally don't have to turn on the AC in the car but it was unbearable.



We shopped like tourists and dined out like locals. We hit a few of the best restaurants, cafes and bakeries in town. We spent our July 4th weekend down there so we got to watch the fireworks display at the waterfront downtown as well. The July 4th weekend also meant a lot of sales at shops and we took full advantage of that. It was awesome! :)

We got a lot of shopping done but we had to reward my 6.5 year old for his good behavior with lots of breaks at the hotel swimming pool, TV in the hotel room, ice cream and pastry trips. We ate breakfast at the hotel every day since a complimentary American hot buffet breakfast was included in our stay. For lunch we would either grab sandwiches or snack on things like nuts, fruit, and cheese crackers. We dined out for dinner three times and I cooked in our hotel room two nights. Even though we only had a studio suite, we still had a full kitchen with a dining table and chairs. We also got to use the onsite BBQ grill, which meant less clean up for us.

Hotel cooking

Grilled salmon and cod with couscous and assorted veggies

We dined at Prasad, which was more like a small cafeteria style place connected to a yoga studio. The vegan bowls were simple but good and they definitely gave me lots of ideas. Then we tried Pok Pok. The wait for seating was over 2 hrs when we arrived so we decided to order take out. We ordered over $50 worth of food but it was barely enough to feed the three of us. The food was delicious but the portions were so small. Blossoming Lotus was the final place that we tried. It was awesome that we could walk to the restaurant from our hotel. I loved my "cheeseburger" but my husband said his dish was alright. He had high expectations for this vegan restaurant. Our son ordered some fake mac & cheese with BBQ tofu curls and cornbread and we thought that was too sweet and yucky. The idea of using tofu curls was cool though so when we visited the Food Fight! Grocery store, we bought some to take home.


Vegan "cheeseburger" at Blossoming Lotus

Stuffed peppers at Blossoming Lotus

Coconut chai at Blossoming Lotus

Chili bowl at Prasad

Dragon bowl at Prasad

Little dragon bowl at Prasad

The Portland PSU farmer's market is one of my favorite outdoor farmer's markets. I made sure our stay included a Saturday so that we could go to it and grab groceries for our return to Redmond. It was as delightful as I remembered it and we bought plenty of stuff. It's a good thing we had a full size fridge at our hotel!






5 large zucchini for $2!

Small treats from Two Tarts

We visited Heart on our last Portland visit so this time, I wanted us to try Coava Coffee Roasters and Barista. These three coffee shops are among the 50 top places for coffee in the USA. Coava and Barista were both great. Coava Coffee Roasters sold pastries from Little T Baker and my husband said their croissants were one of the best he had ever tasted in American. We got to try a few other things from Little T Baker another day and they were all good too. I had a latte at Coava and an ice coffee at Barista.




We loved the bakeries in Portland! They're so much better than Seattle and Vancouver. And there are so many of them too. On this trip, we tried Nuvrei and Ken's Artisan Bakery. We like to judge bakeries by their plain croissants. Ken's and Nuvrei's croissants were about the same but for the price, we would probably choose Nuvrei's croissants. They're both crispy and flaky on the outside but soft on the inside and not at all greasy. Although Ken's version was a bit larger, Nuvrei's version was only $2.25. That's cheap for America! Little T Baker's croissants were delicious too but were definitely more buttery. We bought several items from each bakery and overall, I think our favorite bakery would have to be Nuvrei. Oh, how I miss that bakery already!











We're not big on donuts but on this visit, we did try Voodoo doughnuts and I thought they were good. It's a total tourist hangout and I'm not sure the line up in the heat was worth it. The vegan doughnuts were a bit dense, dry, and overpriced but the regular donuts were good. I didn't care for the fancy colored ones for the kids though. It's a Portland thing so you got to at least try them, right?




As if dining out, visiting coffee shops and stuffing ourselves with bakes weren't enough, we had to visit a couple of local ice cream shops as well. Did I mention it was freaking hot in Portland when we were there?! We went to Cool Moon Ice Cream. I loved the Kulfi ice cream! It's pistachio, rose water, and cardamon. I'm totally going to copy this at home soon. On our last day in Portland, we shopped on NW 23rd so we stopped by Salt & Straw on one of our breaks. I tried the strawberry honey balsamic ice cream and the honey lavender ice cream. The honey lavender was my favorite. I need to make that one too!

Thank you Portland for all the great food and great food ideas ;)







Thursday, July 23, 2015

Hiking on Mount Rainier and Camping at Ohanapecosh


After living in the Seattle area for almost two years, we finally got to visit the majestic Mount Rainier. We always point the mountain out to our 6.5 year old when we're driving around town. It's seems so close but we never had the chance to go. Campgrounds book up quickly for weekend trips in the summer and walk-in sites are such a gamble. We tried getting a reservation last year but couldn't and so I promised my son we would go this year. I booked us a campground at Ohanapecosh back at the end of April. Even back then, there were only a couple of decent choices left for us.


Ohanapecosh: display by the visitor center.

Ohanapecosh river right by our campsite.



From what I read online, Ohanapecosh on Mt. Rainier is regarded as one of the best campgrounds to visit in Washington State. It is lower in altitude than some of the others like White River so I figured it wouldn't be so cold at night in July. We actually went at the perfect time because the west coast was having a heat wave that weekend. There has been a drought this year as well with higher than normal temperatures so there was no evidence of snow or mud where we hiked. That was something I was worried about when I booked the trip back in April. In fact, it would have been nicer to see more streams in the valley. The rivers and creek still flowed with plenty of water but there were many areas of dried up water beds and streams. So sad. Thanks to the weather, the wild flowers bloomed early this year so that was beautiful to see.



I think every family should go tent camping every once in awhile. When we got back home, we appreciated all the every day luxuries we had in our city life so much more. My husband doesn't like camping. He's more of a hotel and resort kind of guy. He whined a lot even though it was way more uncomfortable for me to be there than him. There was no WIFI or cell service in the area. That alone got to him. There was a gas station and small convenient store 10 miles away but no family type restaurant for 50 miles in every direction. Our campground had flush toilets but no soap or paper towels. The day we had to check out, the water for the entire campground was shut off. Everyone woke up to quite a surprise. Then they locked all the bathrooms because people were going anyway even though they couldn't flush. Hello! Everyone has to do their business in the bathroom first thing in the morning! Come on. We drove 10 miles to the gas station in Packwood and I had my morning pee there. We wanted to get gas anyway so it wasn't a big deal. Since we couldn't get water to boil to make coffee or do dishes, I just grabbed us a hot coffee at the gas station and we drove back to the campground to eat breakfast. We quickly took down the tent and packed up for road. The whole experience made us realize how much we value just having cold water. After speaking to a ranger who came by our campsite later, we learned that one of the pipes had broke and that drained all the water we had in the reservoir. They were working to repair the pipe but the water had to be refilled from Tacoma and it could take days to have water up and running again. Omg. All those poor campers coming in that Sunday we in for a nasty surprise!

Luckily, the water outage at camp was only a minor inconvenience for us. We went to Mount Rainier mainly to hike and camping was just a consequence of that. The camping experience was alright. We were in a good area and close to the Ohanapecosh river and visitor center but our campground was small and it had an irregular shape. It's just the three of us so we didn't need that much space anyway. We ate breakfast at the campsite but we took off hiking all day long and would only return to the campsite for a later than normal dinner. It was fine since it didn't get dark until after 9PM. A truck drove by selling firewood between 5 and 7PM and we bought enough wood to last two nights. We just wanted a small fire so that we could roast marshmallows and enjoy a warm fire in the evening.


I organized and packed for the camping trip two days before and only had a few hours to do it all. It was stressful and I went with a very simple meal plan for us.

DAY 1

Breakfast: at home

Lunch:
Instant udon noodles
Oatmeal banana cookies (homemade)
Guava juice

Dinner:
Sweet potato chips
Hummus sandwich
Green bean/egg/lettuce salad
Guava juice
Fruit

Roasted marshmallows & hot chocolate
Earl grey tea


DAY 2

Breakfast:
Bread with honey sunflower butter
Oatmeal banana cookies
Coffee & milk & guava juice

Lunch:
Carrot sticks, bell peppers & mixed nuts trail mix
Oatmeal banana cookies

Dinner:
Maui chips
Chicken ravioli pasta w tomato sauce
Steamed broccoli/cauliflower/green beans
Fruit

Roasted marshmallows & hot chocolate
Earl grey tea


DAY 3

Breakfast:
Bread with honey sunflower butter
Boiled eggs
Fig newton bars (store bought)
Coffee & milk

Lunch:
Bell peppers & mixed nuts trail mix
Oatmeal banana cookies
Fig newton bars

Dinner: at home
Tortilla soup w avocado (left to defrost in fridge when we left home)
Fruit

This was definitely camping. None of the glamping or glamorous camping nonsense we experienced last time when our son was 4.5 years old. The campers across from us were barbecuing and we were drooling while we waited for water to boil for our instant noodles. Lol. It could have been worst so I'm thankful everything went as well as it did and we got home in one piece. We were certainly dirty from hiking so much and not showering but I didn't feel filthy. That first shower when we got back home was like heaven though!

Real camping: we used twigs nearby to roast our marshmallows.

Hiking on Mount Rainier was awesome. We're so glad our 6.5 year old is active like us and could do it. One day we hiked over 11 km and he only complained a bit but in the end he really enjoyed it. The following day we hiked just under 8 km and he was sad to leave too. Here were all the places we hiked and I would highly recommend many of them for families. It was really helpful talking to the rangers at the visitor center as well.

Ohanapecosh:
Hot Springs and Nature Trail (super short!)
Silver Falls
Grove of the Patriarchs

Notes: We hiked to Silver Falls from our campsite and then continued to the Grove of the Patriarchs. On the way back to the campsite, we hiked on the other side of the river of the Silver Falls loop trail for a different scenery. Easy hikes and beautiful!




Paradise:
Box Canyon (short!)
Reflection Lakes (Also short! Drive there and walk along the side for great pictures.)
Nisqually Vista Trail (< 1 hr to hike this but it's beautiful)

Notes: Paradise is higher up and therefore cooler, which was nice. If you want to see Mount Rainier and still be close to your Ohanapecosh campsite, you'll have to drive to Paradise. There were many great views of the mountain there.

Box Canyon

Reflection Lake



Sunrise:
Sourdough Ridge (our favorite!)
Emmons Vista
Silver Forest Trail (short but beautiful also)

Notes: Sunrise is even higher up than Paradise so it's even cooler. We visited Sunrise on our way out of camp. If you are from the Seattle area or anywhere north of that, it makes sense to visit Sunrise on your way out too. Weather wise it was perfect for us because the temperature was climbing each day we were at camp and each day we would visit an area that was higher in altitude. For comparison, it was 23C at Sunrise when we hiked it. When we left and started to drive back home, it was 34C in Redmond. Wowzers! Sunrise is located at 6400 feet and because we started out coming on our hike, I actually felt the effects of the altitude more and got a little dizzy. It was just me though.









Overall, the camping and hiking trip was a success. It only cost us $30 to stay two nights, $20 for the entrance and parking pass to visit the other parts of the mountain, and a full tank of gas. You can't beat that price for a family vacation! I would totally do it again in maybe two years and now we know how we can improve on it :) As an extra bonus, we brought our little telescope and drove out to an open area through Stevens Canyon to stargaze one night. Our son was delighted. We're still not quite sure how to operate our telescope but we were able to see one star and the planet Saturn using it. The sky was so clear and so many stars were visible. Amazing. It was like we were in Hawaii again. We really lucked out weather wise on our camping trip. The mountain was visible every day for us and there were only a few clouds. The nights were cool but comfortable for sleeping. Hopefully, we will be just as lucky next time.
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