Saturday, January 10, 2009

New Year's Resolutions:

1) Gain 5 Pounds
2) Don't become a vegetarian
3) Update this blog regularly

Well, at least two out of three are in the bag...

This year, I flew right over home in the Midwest and landed in the Northwest for the holidays... bringing with me the biggest snowstorm Portland's seen in 40 years. Luckily, my flight was only delayed a few minutes, but my mom and Keil's mom had 6+ hour delays. Ouch.

Heather's really kicked her inner Martha Stewart up a notch these days, so the first thing we did Christmas Eve was make our own marshmallows.

They were actually pretty easy to make, but very messy when it came to licking the beaters.

After that, we made some of our more traditional favorites:

Apricot Squares

and Russian Tea Cakes (known by others as Mexican Wedding Cakes - I'm guessing they're neither Russian nor Mexican in origin).

And for dinner, it was Zuni roast chicken and bread salad.

Praise be to baby Jesus, I love food.

So does Ursula.

We woke up the next morning to even more snow...


and, more importantly, Bloody Marys.

Later, a few of Heather and Keil's new friends who got stranded due to snow came over for Christmas dinner, and I'm pretty sure I was asleep on the couch by 8:30pm that evening with this little cutie...

It doesn't get much better than snuggling with a warm puppy on a cold day. No wonder my parents seem concerned about my love life...

The next few days found us tromping around a very slushy city...

...ingesting many a cup of good coffee and local brews.

As far as I can tell, the typical day of a Portlander looks something like this:

1) Wake up.
2) Enjoy an amazing cup of coffee.
3) Look at the clock - is it after noon?
4) If so, have a pint of local microbrew. No? Keep consuming coffee until it is noon and then switch to beer.
5) Around 3pm, switch back to coffee.
6) Oh look, it's 5pm, it's time for Happy Hour!
7) Go to a fancy restaurant for their Happy Hour menu. Enjoy a $5 fancy cocktail and some cheap small plates.
8) Go to a bar to consume more regional beer.
9) Hit the sack to rest up and do it again tomorrow.

Not a bad way to live if you ask me.

On Sunday, we finally got motivated to break the cycle and headed out to Mount Hood to check out the slopes.

The weather was actually pretty grodie and I had zero ski equipment with me, so we let Francie and Keil go cross country skiing, whilst Heather, my mom and I enjoyed a cup of hot cocoa in the "lodge."

The next morning, my mom left town, Heather and Keil went to work and I hit up Stumptown to do some travel planning the rest of our week - and by travel planning I mean looking up all the places Anthony Bourdain has been in Portland, Seattle and Vancouver. In the afternoon, Heather met up with me for some sister bonding time. What better way to show your sisterly love than sharing a maple bacon donut from Voodoo? (Yup, another "No Reservations" stop)

Then it was Keil's mom's turn to go, and phase two of project "Christmas Vacation" kicked into gear.

New Year's Eve day, we hit the road and drove up to Seattle. Our hotel was right across the street from the new public library, so we popped in to check out what turned out to be a super cool building.

The building is almost all glass at crazy angles, which makes for some fun views:

They were super into fluorescent yellow there - which I felt made for a good fashion shoot:

Then we hit up the Pike Place Market, cause, you know, that's what you're supposed to do in Seattle.

Thanks to some research on Yelp, I found out that one of the bigger tourist trap restaurants actually has a super awesome Happy Hour oyster special, so we took a walk over to Pier 56 to take advantage (and check out some beautiful water views).

My compliments to the chef on some damn fine clam stew,


and some other tasty treats from the sea.

My memory is a little foggy, but I'm pretty sure at that point we went back to the hotel and ate potato chips for dinner.

I was a little nervous planning New Year's Eve in a city I don't know, but, thanks to some more Yelp research, I actually found three great bars for us to hit up that evening.

The First stop was The Zig Zag Cafe - home to one of the finest bartenders in the U S of A.

That guy in the background still had the security tag on his coat...

The next stop was the White Horse, a little hole-in-the-wall on Post Alley that turned out to be a super cool spot. They had minimal choices of beverages, but that was totally fine by me, because one of them was an amazing porter...and they gave us peanut M&Ms, which turned out to be a magical pairing.

After quite a few Sam Smith Taddy Porters and some lively discourse with a few Canadians, we headed to what would be our final stop, Shorty's. The moment I read that it was a bar specializing in hot dogs and video games, I knew we'd be making a stop.

By the time we scarfed down some amazing Chicago-style dogs, we were all pretty tipsy, so we pretty much bailed for the hotel at the strike of midnight... and there was a pretty ridiculous walk home.

I was very excited about the SAM (Seattle Art Museum).

At this point, I really have to yelp about Yelp at this point as an awesome resource for finding cool non-touristy places to hit up when you're on the road.

After a pizza bagel breakfast of champions the next morning,

we headed to the great white north: Vancouver.

What completely stunning surroundings. This was the view from our hotel room:

After checking in to our hotel, we went for an evening walk in Gas Town.

This is one of only a few steam-powered clocks in the world:

The next morning, we walked over the Granville Street Bridge...

to the Granville Island Public Market.

We picked up some fresh bread, cured meats, pate and cheese and called it "brunch."

After a long afternoon of taking in views and exploring, we stopped for a snack at Japa Dog (thanks again, Tony Bourdain).

We chilled in the room for a little bit, enjoying the wonders of Canadian sports coverage: NHL, Pro football, college football and the World Junior Hockey Championships all on at once. God bless TSN (Note: In Canada, it's spelled "Sportscentre").

For dinner, we went to what is to be the best Indian restaurant in Canada, Vij's. There was a really long wait for a table, but they plied us with snacks at the bar, so that was nice. The dinner itself was very tasty - the pork tenderloin was to die for.

The next day, we tried to go to the Museum of Anthropology but found it closed, so we went to Stanley Park in the snow. Stanley Park is the Central Park of Vancouver and is really quite amazing. Not only is it huge, but it's real woods and, like everything else in Vancouver, has spectacular water views.

This collection of totem poles from Northwest tribes looked beautiful in the snow.

And then it was time for another tasty meal - and a chance to warm up inside with a view of the English Bay, so we hit up Rain City Grill.

Keil got some insanely tasty mussels with garlic confit.

I went for a heavier dish... A perfectly cooked burger with a side of poutine - even though it was the wrong part of Canada.

After an afternoon of sitting in a pub (also with a bay view) watching the NFL playoffs, we went out for an outstanding sushi dinner at Tojo's. Tojo's is said to be the best Japanese restaurant in Canada. I'm not sure if that means much but it certainly says something in a town like Vancouver where there's such a large Asian population. AND, of course, Tony Bourdain also visited Chef Tojo on "No Reservations." We did the Omakase - meaning we told our server how much we wanted to pay and Tojo (who was the most adorable man) made us 5 courses of whatever he felt like - and he certainly didn't disappoint. The fish was incredibly fresh and practically melted in your mouth. The crab that we had in the rolls was clearly fresh out of the ocean and in season. A completely amazing meal.

Overall, I have to say that Vancouver was a bit disappointing. For years, I've heard nothing but rave reviews about the town, so my expectations were high, but my biggest complaint is that it just doesn't really have much character. The scenery was gorgeous, obviously, but the buildings are all identical high rises, the stores are all chains or just generic, and there are just about zero bars. Not that I need to go out and get crazy every night, but it stunk that if we felt like going out there really wasn't any place to go. It seems to be a result of high taxes on alcohol and really strict liquor license laws. I would certainly recommend making the trip in warmer weather and using the city as a launching pad to do outdoorsy things in the surrounding areas of British Columbia, though.

We drove home Sunday (probably 5.5/6 hours) and I took the red eye back from Portland that night.

Not too shabby.


Heather said...

yay portland! you need to come back to town, tho, because going to work has really cut into my ability to start drinking before 6pm on weeknights. not cool, man. not. cool.

Lisa said...

oh man, that trip looked awesome

francie said...

heather sent me here. thanks, sam! of course on dialup, even after loading for 10+ minutes, only half your images were visible and those are great - especially the 3 of you in seattle new year's eve
good report, too - we'll do it again, i bet