Ever since I have known my husband he has practically waxed poetic about his time living in Oregon on a quiet road alongside the McKenzie river. My brother-in-law and his wife also lived there, and dream fondly of the homestead they hope to create in Oregon one day again soon.
Until recently, I had never really been to Oregon. I visited Ashland for the Shakespearean Festival once several years ago, watching plays and strolling shops downtown. It was an enjoyable time spent across the state line, ending in an unpleasant dose of reality as I was pulled over by the California Highway Patrol officer waiting just this side of a speed limit change. Whoops.
Even so, I was informed my overnight trip just over the border didn’t count. So, partly in order to educate me about the “Oregon Experience” and partly because the longing had finally reached an undeniable peak in my traveling companions, we decided to visit the Beaver State. So it was that the four of us, with a teen and a toddler, made plans for Spring Break amid the rivers and trees of the Pacific Northwest.
We arrived early in the morning on a Friday, still bleary eyed and swearing to ourselves we would just pay more for a later flight next time. (We say that every time we fly but when you multiply flights by three, the costs add up.) I knew something was different as soon as we arrived at the Portland airport. Everywhere I looked there was some version of a guy with a flannel shirt and shaggy hair poking out around a beanie. It was like they were trying to ease you into the Oregon stereotype before you even left the airport. Or maybe they were departing, spreading the Pacific Midwestery far and wide. I’m not sure what was really up, but in my sleep deprived state I found it charming and amusing.
We had a few hours to kill before my brother and sister-in-law would arrive with their two year old son, so the three of us picked up the mini-van rental and went for breakfast at a diner nearby. It was the same as any number of diners in small towns throughout the country, but we were happy to be there. Our waitress noted the weather, as waitresses are often wont to do. She seemed to think the weather was endeavoring to put up a good impression for our benefit. We were inclined to agree.
The weather was fine. Not fine in the way of California day where the sunshine is a given. This was nice in an easy way. A little bit of cloud cover made it easy on my California acclimated eyes, but the warmth filtering through was a nice contrast with a slightly chill morning breeze. S and I were both grinning rather stupidly. “Oregon is my happy place,” he said. I wasn’t prepared to argue one bit.
The first half of our vacation we spent based in Portland, in an Airbnb rental home with two bedrooms and a highly curated mid-century modern eclectic style. The decor really wasn’t my style, but the sheer intention that seemingly went in to it was rather inspiring.
I’d assumed Portland was very artsy from what little I knew of it, and what I saw in our wanderings just confirmed it for me. There is a lot in Portland to be inspired by. My sis-in-law is a very talented designer in her own right, and she was feeling it too. Portland was like a crazy quilt of small towns sewn together at the fringes, complete with downtown walks with artsy shops and cute cafés.
We had fun with the food. An active toddler in the group made leisurely restaurant meals tricksy so we worked around it by utilizing the kitchen in our vacation rental for prepping some meals and snacks for the road. Even drive-thru yielded some acceptable options when the same old packed crackers and cheese became too much. Burgerville had a decent wild Alaskan salmon salad (albeit canned) and the scent of rosemary from their French fries with aioli was too much for my hungry heart to resist. I am such a sucker for rosemary, really.
I was pretty amazed by the gluten-free options in Portland proper. Of course we had to eat something out of a truck while we were in Portland. We wanted the whole experience. I found a Paleo food truck with bone broth and coconut flour breaded chicken fingers. The bacon-wrapped, almond-stuffed dates were so tasty I recreated the appetizer at home later. At another point during the wandering, I bought a gluten-free chocolate cupcake made with black beans and topped in frosting with a hint of peanut butter. It was fabulous. I shared it a bit with everyone but my bro-in-law didn’t seem interested in trying a cupcake made of black beans. I wasn’t offended. More for me.
A friend of mine commented via Facebook, “Eat aaaalllllll the horrible junk foods” and I didn’t know what that meant at first since it seemed so much easier to do right by my digestive system in Portland than usual while traveling. But I am ashamed to admit, I did give in to the gluten eventually. I quickly learned firsthand how sinful it could be. I really should not have, I paid the consequences later in symptoms returning.
Outside the Sea Lion Caves near Florence
Like the line in front of a swanky nightclub, the line in front of Voodoo doughnuts was long and roped off with pink divider straps. My sister-in-law and I surfed the Voodoo doughnuts website from our smartphones as we stood in line for hints about what the hype was about. The inside of the bakery smelled like sweet vanilla icing overlaid with strong hints of bacon from the bacon-topped maple-glazed breakfast doughnut being prepped. Aside from the breakfast doughnut, there was a surprising array of colorful options along with some naughty variations on the old standbys. Let me just say, this doughnut shop is not for the easily offended.
I thought the most fun were the doughnuts with sugar breakfast cereals on top. Remember that misfit teen girl’s lunch in The Breakfast Club? She put cold cereal on white bread and called it a sandwich. Gross, but I can understand the combination. The combination of crunchy and chewy textures has always been a favorite of mine. In the past I’d been satisfied to get that same effect by putting chips on my sandwiches. In the past it was tortilla chips on tuna fish with sprouts. But the type of sandwich isn’t really what matters. Its the textural interplay. The cereal doughnuts from Voodoo really hit it spot-on. If I can figure out how to get that same mouth feel without gluten, well, I’ll be satisfied for life.
It wasn’t all doughnuts, luckily. When we finally left Portland and headed out to the coast we started onto somewhat of a half-hearted search for crab that took us into a diner-style seafood restaurant that was more fish and chips than cracked crab. The next couple of attempts for crab were closed, or only had live crab for taking home. S threw out a wild suggestion about purchasing a pot for boiling in our hotel room. I’m afraid I had to rain quite soundly on that parade.
Instead we found ourselves as the next to last patrons in a Korean BBQ somewhere in Eugene. The offerings turned out to be quite satisfactory. We have plenty of Korean food in the SF Bay Area, but I still think about that lovely spicy Kimchee Pork dish that was rejected by the rest of the group. It was vibrant with a thick sauce of red chilies and practically smoked on the plate. Ah well. More for me!
In my opinion the food experience in Oregon culminated with a particular plate of pancakes. They were fluffy and golden and covered in melted butter. And they were gluten free. I did not believe it at first. Or even after I asked the waitress “Are you sure these are gluten-free????” There was still a lingering doubt in my mind even after they wrote the brand name on a card and sent me off to find my own pancake mix. A random diner in Eugene could not possibly have pancakes that looked and tasted that much like the wheat versions, could they? I left amazed and planning to find this brand of mix and test it for myself. My gluten-free diner pancakes looked even more commercial worthy that S’ regular wheat pancakes did that day.
Oregon Vacation – Part Two