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Month: July 2016

Travel Thursday – Eating in Hotel Rooms

Travel Thursday – Eating in Hotel Rooms

I’ve mentioned before that I do a lot of travel for my job.  For the time being, most of that travel is around the state, so I’m able to drive to where I need to go.  The advantage of having a car is that I can track down a local grocery and picnic in my hotel room, thus better controlling what I eat and at least making some efforts to being healthy.  It also gives me a chance to try out various small servings of wine.

I thought I’d share a few tips I’ve picked up as I’ve been doing this over the last few months.

First off, if you can find a Trader Joe’s, so much the better.  They have great salads and a good selection of affordable wine, particularly in smaller sizes.  The Underwood wine is a good wine for being in a can: I liked the Rose but was especially fond of the Pinot Gris, as it had a nice fruity, grapefruit tone.  Here are pics of both:

black sheep and pinot gris black sheep and rose

I also like the Bota Minis – this is pretty standard wine and will do in a pinch:

black sheep and bota box

I wasn’t trying to be particularly classy here with my plastic wine glass – I just didn’t particularly trust the glassware in the hotel I was in.

I usually aim for comfort food for my entree for my hotel meals.  I think it is because I don’t actually like traveling all that much – I miss my nightly routine that involves snuggling with a dog, being walked over by several cats, talking with my husband, and watching TV shows on Netflix and Hulu.  I gravitate toward Amy’s entrees – as you can see in these photos, I especially like the mac and cheese.  The pesto tortellini in the photo below is Trader Joe’s brand and I didn’t like it – the pesto just wasn’t flavorful.  I also like Evol’s Truffle Parmesan Mac and Cheese.

pendleton klamath falls

bend dinner 1 bend dinner 2

I always, always aim for having a salad with dinner.  Most grocery stores will have some sort of basic salad, and I’ve found that health food stores or Trader Joe’s tend to have a better selection.  Top left photo was a mozzarella and tomato salad from Fred Meyer.  Top right was a spinach salad, also from Fred Meyer, that came with bacon, cheese, and dried cranberries. I’d already had a turkey wrap for lunch that day, and decided to keep the spinach and cheese, skip the bacon, cranberries and salad dressing, and add raspberries.  Bottom left was a green salad with beets and apples and the bottom right was a kale salad with edamame, tomatoes, and green onion.

I confess that I also always seek out dessert when I’m having a hotel meal. It’s a comfort thing – since we don’t usually eat dessert at home, it’s a little change that makes traveling a bit better.

As far as hotels go, I usually check first to make sure that the hotel I’ll be in has a mini-fridge and a microwave.  I’ve had good luck with Holiday Inn Express and Suites as well as with Comfort Inn.

So to sum up – good wine, comfort food, a salad and dessert are great ways to make a business hotel stay fun.

Happy travels!



Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins

These buttermilk blueberry muffins are just the way to start a summer’s morning (especially if they are served with good strong coffee!).  You may have noticed that I really get excited about produce – in the summertime, I’m sure as each fruit comes into season it is my absolute favorite…until the next one is in season.  Right now, I’m enjoying blueberries, particularly as it seems that different varieties are grown in the southern part of Washington that produce throughout the summer (as opposed to the varieties in Southern Oregon that seemed to produce only through early July).  I recently bought a pound of blueberries at the farmer’s market with the intention of freezing some to make muffins at some later date.  They tasted so good though, I was left with about a cup and decided rather than delaying gratification, I might as well just make blueberry muffins now.

Inspiration for these muffins comes from this brown sugar buttermilk muffin recipe.

buttermilk blueberry muffins

Buttermilk Blueberry Muffins
Makes 12 muffins

½ cup butter, softened
¾ cup brown sugar
1 egg
1 cup buttermilk
1 teaspoon baking soda
¼ teaspoon salt
2 cups flour
1 cup fresh or frozen blueberries

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

In a large bowl, cream the butter, brown sugar, and egg.  Add the buttermilk and mix well.  Add the baking soda and salt.  Add the flour and mix until all the flour is incorporated.  Gently fold in the blueberries.

Grease or line muffin pans with cupcake liners.  Fill each muffin cup in the pan about 2/3 of the way.  (A quarter cup measuring cup works well to do this).

Bake for 15-17 minutes or until a knife inserted in a muffin comes out clean.  Store in an air-tight container.

Easy Tomato Bruschetta

Easy Tomato Bruschetta

I’ve been on an easy snack food kick all weekend long, which isn’t unusual for me in the summertime.  We are starting to see an abundance of tomatoes in the farmer’s market and in the grocery stores finally, and I even think some of our home-grown tomatoes are considering ripening.  This tomato bruschetta takes advantage of that summer abundance – it’s a great way to use up both tomatoes and basil.

My inspiration for this recipe comes from the movie Juile and Julia, which I admit to watching during a hotel stay recently.  I particularly love the scenes in the movie in which the only reader of Julie’s blog is her mother – I’ve had my own moments starting out with my food blog when I’ve wondered if I have any other readers out there beside my mom and a couple of loyal friends.  But I digress – what really stayed with me was a scene in which Julie is making bruschetta by toasting slices of bread in a pan in a lot of butter.  The golden browned bread is then laden with tomatoes and basil – and dinner is served.  The key here is the butter.  Don’t skimp – it’s not worth it to try to be healthy on this recipe.  The tomatoes are plenty healthy, anyway.

Pair with a light, fruity white wine.  I finished off a bottle of Semillon with this.  It would pair well with a Vinho Verde or similar.

easy tomato bruschetta

Tomato Bruschetta
Serves 2

8 slices of a baguette or similar
2-3 tablespoons butter
1 heirloom tomato
1 small bunch basil (about 8 – 10 leaves)
Olive oil
1 garlic clove, peeled and cut in half

Melt the butter in a non-stick or cast-iron pan over medium heat.  When the butter is melted, add the bread and toast on each side until it is golden brown.

Meanwhile, chop the tomato into a small dice.  Chop the basil finely and mix basil and tomato together.  Drizzle with olive oil.

Rub the garlic clove half over each slice of toasted bread.  Spoon the tomato and basil mixture on the bread, and sprinkle with a bit of salt.  Enjoy!

Cucumber Sandwich

Cucumber Sandwich

Sometimes, simple is better, especially as the lazy days of summer continue.  In this case, a simple open-faced cucumber sandwich can make the most glorious afternoon snack.  The reason reason, however, that I decided to do something with cucumbers today is this:

cucumber destruction

This is what’s left of my cucumber plant.  The culprit who pulled it out of the ground and dragged it around (as well as ate a cucumber) is there on the left looking innocent with her ball.  I can only think that the cucumber, which was in a pot at the corner of the house, really impeded her ability to go tearing around the corner at high speed to bark at other dogs.  Whatever her motivation was, I’ve got about a dozen small cucumbers in the fridge and no more cucumber plant in the pot, as well as a note to myself in my gardening journal that the dog now has a taste for cucumbers, so it might be wisest to plant the cucumber in the front yard next year.

Some of the cucumbers are going into spring rolls later this week, so be on the lookout for the recipe.  Some are going into these easy cucumber sandwiches to snack on this weekend.  This is one of those not really a recipe recipes and here’s the how-to:  take some good crusty French bread and slice it in half.  Spread a generous amount of salted butter on the bread.  Place several basil leaves on top of the butter (I used some of my dark purple basil).  Slice one small cucumber and then places the slices on top of the basil.  Sprinkle with salt.  Eat outside, preferably with a drink over ice and a good book.

summertimecucumber sandwich and spanish g and t

The lovely drink accompanying this is a Spanish Gin Tonic from one of my favorite bloggers, Fox and Briar.  You can find the recipe here.


Baked Samosas

Baked Samosas

This week is another week of travel.  I’m realizing how challenging it is to travel frequently for work and still be able to carve out time both to cook and eat a good lunch.  I have a very late night drive back from my destination on Wednesday night, so decided I needed to have something on hand in the freezer for lunch at work on Thursday.  I also had a half bag of baby potatoes that needed to be used, so between the two, opted to make baked samosas.

I spent about an hour on these on Sunday.  I realized when I was half way into the process that it was going to take a bit more time that I had originally anticipated, so I queued up some music on Pandora, poured a glass of white wine (it was late afternoon), and rolled and stretched my dough, filling each one with this heavenly spiced potato, onion, and pea mixture.  I had a bit more potato and pea mixture, so we used it in simple tortilla wraps for a snack.  I think I may experiment at some later date with this mixture on a pizza – if I do, I’ll be sure to put it on the blog.

unbaked samosas

baked samosas

samosas and chutney

Baked Samosas
Makes 15

3 cups flour
4 tablespoons olive oil
2 teaspoons baking powder
2 teaspoons apple cider vinegar
1 cup cold water

Combine all ingredients and gently mix.  If you need to add more water, do so a tablespoon at a time.  The dough should be tacky, but you should be able to handle it with just a dusting of flour on your hands.  Knead gently in the bowl until the dough is soft and sticks together.  Refrigerate while you make the filling.

8 – 10 small potatoes
1 onion, diced
1 cup peas (fresh or frozen)
1 tablespoon olive oil
1 tablespoon grated or finely diced ginger
2 teaspoons garam masala
1 teaspoon coriander
1 teaspoon smoked paprika
1 teaspoon salt
1/2 teaspoon turmeric
1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper

Place the potatoes in a saucepan and fill with water just so the potatoes are covered.  Bring to a boil and then reduce to a simmer, cooking until the potatoes are fork tender (about 45 minutes).  Drain the potatoes, return to the saucepan and gently mash.  Meanwhile, in a small frying pan, heat the olive oil and add the diced onions and the ginger.  Cook until the onions are lightly browned.  Add the onions, ginger, peas, and spices to the potatoes and mix thoroughly.

Assembling the Samosas
Preheat the oven to 375 degrees.  Line a baking sheet with parchment paper. Remove the dough from the refrigerator and split into thirds.  Take the first third and roll it out on a floured working surface.  The dough will be stretchy, so you may need to let it rest between rolling.  Roll to about 1/4 inch thickness.  Using a glass or round cookie cutter, cut the dough into circles.  (I used an English Muffin ring that was 3 3/4 inches in diameter).  Place a small scoop (about a tablespoon) of filling in the middle of the circle and fold over.  Use your fingers or a fork to crimp the edges.  Place each samosa on the baking sheet.  You can snug them in together as they will not stick together while baking.  Repeat until all the dough is used.

Bake for 20 minutes or until the samosas are lightly browned.  Serve with chutney or on their own.

Stone Fruit Sangria

Stone Fruit Sangria

I’ve been posting a lot this week about my urban garden.  I have to back up a bit and say that there hasn’t been a time in my life since I was a pre-teen that I didn’t have some sort of garden going.  I learned how to garden from my grandparents and my mom, and spent much time in my childhood outdoors, in the garden.  Whether I was reading, playing with imaginary friends (and sometimes real ones, too), or actually planting seeds and weeding, the garden was a focal point throughout my summers.  As a pre-teen, I started taking over small plots of land in my mom’s garden (I am responsible for the blackberry that refuses to die in her yard, as well as an entire swath of allium that have reproduced wantonly for the past thirty years).  As an adult, I’ve lived in both apartments and houses, as renter and as owner, and in every single one, including my two-year stint in the Marshall Islands, I’ve had either a full out in-the-ground garden, or a set of containers as my garden. 

I also developed an early appreciation for herbs – I think I was caught up in the romanticism of using plants to heal, which led to many years of planting and experimenting with herbs for both health and culinary uses.  I’ve loved living in Oregon, as some more herbs that wouldn’t make it past Colorado and New Mexico’s winters, like rosemary and lemon verbena, do really well here and winter over without too much complaint. 

In recent years, I’ve discovered using aromatic herbs widely in cocktails, so many of my summer happy hour recipes have herbs incorporated.  This one is no different.  If you aren’t a big fan of herby drinks, no worries – you can leave them out and still enjoy the wine and fruit. 

We’re starting to transition from early berry season into stone-fruit season.  In my mind, there is little to compare to a tree-ripened peach, even though it’s a fruit that’s not nearly as convenient as a berry (a takes a knife to open up or a willingness to get very sticky to just eat – hard to gorge on after having just picked, unlike a strawberry or blueberry).  I happened to have some very fruity, very effervescent, very light Vinho Verde in the wine rack, which paired very well with the peaches and plums.  I think a Riesling would work, too (I’ll confess, when I ran out of Vinho Verde, I threw in some Riesling, thus mixing wines.  It was pretty good.  I don’t mix wines regularly – it just somehow seems wrong). 

stone fruit sangria 2 sangria up close

Stone Fruit Sangria
Serves 4

2 cups assorted stone fruits (peaches, nectarines, plums), pitted and chopped
½ cup orange curacao
1 bottle white wine
4 or 5 sprigs of citrusy herbs (I used lemon verbena, lemon basil, and pineapple sage)
Mix all ingredients in a pitcher.  Let sit for at least two hours for flavors to combine.  Serve with pieces of the fruit and a few leaves of herbs.


Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad

Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad

If you read my Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Pasta Salad post, you may have noticed my beginnings of an inventory of my urban container garden.  In addition to the tomatoes and basil, I’ve also planted a White Wonder cucumber.  I was attracted to this one because it grows well in a pot.  I’ve been very impressed by how abundant it’s produced cucumbers.  The only casualty so far has been a very early stage cucumber that the dog ran over – the cucumber has climbed down the side of the pot and is sidling its way toward the grass, so this wasn’t much of a surprise, as it’s in the dog’s traffic pattern for playing fetch.

I also planted a zucchini and an eggplant, neither of which seem particularly enthusiastic about producing anything.  I also planted some fennel, though they are taking their time to produce fennel bulbs as well. For now, my harvest has been cucumbers, three cherry tomatoes, basil, and some fennel fronds.   I can live with that.

I also planted a few edible flowers this year – scented geraniums, marigolds, chives, and nasturtiums.  The nasturtiums looked so pathetic for so long, I almost thought I was going to have to give up on them.  Then, one day in late June, they started blooming and I now have a pot of riotous dark red nasturtiums that are overwhelming the lavender plant I shoved in for good measure.  For some reason, our dog, Daisy, likes to nibble on the nasturtiums and the chives.  I guess she knows her edible flowers.

I gathered a handful of cucumbers last night and a few nasturtiums.  They blended together perfectly for this cucumber and nasturtium salad.  I had fennel salt on hand from last weekend: my fennel is producing fronds, at the very least.  The only part of this recipe that takes a little bit of time is the fennel salt – but most of that is very hands off.

cucumber and nasturtium salad

Cucumber and Nasturtium Salad with Fennel Salt
Serves 4

5 or 6 small to medium cucumbers, peeled and sliced.
8-10 nasturtium flowers, gently washed and patted dry.
3 or 4 tablespoons pine nuts
Fennel salt (link to recipe here) to taste
Olive oil to taste

Place the cucumbers in a bowl.  Separate the nasturtium petals and toss over the cucumbers.  Add the pine nuts and gently combine.  Sprinkle with fennel salt and drizzle with olive oil.


Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Pasta Salad

Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Pasta Salad

I’m humming On the Road Again as I type.  This week, I’ve only seen my desk for two days and next week will be the same.  What I’ve seen instead are meeting rooms, the Capital Mall in Salem, and one of the most-overpriced hotel rooms I’ve stayed in in a long time.  I’ve also seen a lot of my car, listened to four episodes of NPR’s Ask Me Another, one episode of This American Life, and one episode of Radio Lab.  In short, I couldn’t wait to get home to see my husband, the dog, the cats, and my comfortable bed.  I also couldn’t wait to get home to cook up some of the abundance that’s been developing in my little urban container garden.

I planted four tomato plants this year and three basil plants, two Sweet Basil plants (I’m guessing these are Genovese Basil plants – they are the ones that Trader Joe’s sells) and one Spicy Bush Basil plant.  The basil took a while to warm up to the idea of growing, but now that it has, I have a plethora of basil on my hands.  In past years, I’ve used my handy Cuisinart to create pesto cubes that I’ve frozen, but one of my Cuisinart parts didn’t survive the move to the new house, and I just haven’t gotten around to try to figure out if I can easily replace the part.  So – lots of Basil, no food processor, and a serious longing for pesto.  Fortunately, I ran across a recipe for How to Make Pesto Like an Italian Grandmother from 101 Cookbooks (one of my all-time favorite blogs – honestly, probably the first cooking blog I ever read regularly).

I decided last night to make two-days-worth of a simple pasta salad.  After a long drive home from Bend, Oregon, I retreated to the garden, harvested several bunches of both the Spicy Bush Basil and the Genovese Basil and started chopping.  Hand chopped pesto is a lot easier than I thought it would be.  I don’t have a mezzaluna, so used our sharpest kitchen knife and just chopped, chopped, chopped.  I skipped the garlic cloves (I had face-to-face meetings with people in the afternoon – didn’t want to offend anyone with raw garlic breath), used a little bit of parmesan cheese and a handful of pine nuts.  I chopped and chopped some more.  When I was finished, it wasn’t the prettiest pesto ever (basil oxidizes so quickly), but it was the best smelling and tasting basil I’ve ever made.  It’s the closest I’ve ever come to creating a pesto that I ate on our honeymoon in Rome – and I have the fondest memories of that pesto: it came from a corner grocery store and we ate it with handmade ravioli in the kitchen of the weird little villa hotel room we were staying at in a tucked away corner of the city.

This is less recipe than more a few suggestions about how to make a very simple, but very delicious meal.

up close pestopesto tomato mozzarella pasta salad

Pesto, Tomato, and Mozzarella Pasta Salad

Dried or fresh pasta
Several handfuls of basil
A handful of pine nuts
Several large pinches of freshly grated parmesan cheese
Fresh mozzarella (in water, though you could also use regular mozzarella or even more parmesan or another cheese all together)
Olive oil

Boil a pasta of your choice using as much dried pasta as servings you are planning to prepare.  I used bow tie pasta since it’s what I had on hand.  Chop up a tomato or two.  Make the pesto by chopping up basil leaves, adding pine nuts and chopping, adding parmesan and chopping (see Heidi Swanson’s lovely full recipe here).  Add the pesto to your pasta.  Add tomatoes and cheese.  Drizzle with olive oil.

I heated this up for just a minute in the microwave at work, just to take the chill off the pasta and the pesto, but not so long to fully melt the mozzarella.


Nearly Wordless Wednesday

Nearly Wordless Wednesday

I have been traveling around the State of Oregon – a lot.  Still, there has been time for good food, good books, pretty flowers, and even a bit of exercise.  Enjoy!

blta hotel meal bend

ground cover raspberries berries for lunch

black sheep and bota pinot gris truffles

twilight half half marathon view

oregon forest pink lilly

orange flowerstender at the bone cover

Travel Thursday: NOLA and a Stay-Cation

Travel Thursday: NOLA and a Stay-Cation

I’m adding a new feature to the blog – Travel Thursday.  I doubt this will be every week, but occasionally, I’ll recap some of my recent travels, both local and afar, along with any tips I gain along the way about making travel more comfortable.  You’ll likely see many photos here as well.

For this first one, I’m doing a re-cap of the last week.  In the last week, I traveled to New Orleans for a conference, to Salem for meetings, and then did a stay-cation in the Portland/Vancouver area.

I’ll start with New Orleans, sort of.  I’ll really start with the top reason why Portland International Airport is my favorite airport in the entire United States: the Oregon local store sells Oregon wine.  The Oregon local store is past security, which means it’s possible to buy a bottle of wine, take it on the plane (the clerks there are great about carefully bubble wrapping the wine), and have a great bottle of wine at your end destination.  Given that I lived in the Umpqua Valley region for six years, I have a soft-spot for Umpqua Valley wines.  I was thrilled to spy a bottle of Abacela’s Abariῆo.  Here’s the bottle posed with my traveling black sheep in my hotel in NOLA:

abacela and black sheep

This was a light and fruity white wine, which paired great with my two room service meals while I was in NOLA.  The problem for me of traveling for work is that I’m often fully ensconced in a conference all day long while, which was the case this last go around.  I’m a sufficient enough introvert that after I’ve been around people all day long, I kind of just want to hide.  So while it was so very tempting to go seek out good food (and New Orleans really does have good food), it was also tempting to land in front of the t.v. and have food brought to me (and enjoy a great view of the city from my hotel room).

NOLA sunset NOLA French Quarter1

Fortunately, the Marriot where I stayed had decent food that represented the region, so on night one I had a shrimp and oyster Po Boy and some fried green tomatoes:

shrimp and oyster po boy fried green tomato

And on night two, I had a seafood omelet with soft shell crab, shrimp and crawfish tails:

seafood omelette

The Marriot also had really good snacks during the conference:

macaron and praline

On the way to New Orleans, I had all my snack food (see a recap here).  On the way back, I bought a really awful chicken sandwich at a restaurant in the Dallas Fort Worth International Airport and ate just the bread, cheese and tomato off of it.  No pictures – it was ghastly.  Fortunately, there is a Burgerville near PDX (this is a regional chain of happily farmed food with seasonal favorites, like fried asparagus, Walla Walla onion rings, and so on).

The next day, I was off to Salem, Oregon, for more meetings.  Fortunately, I have a favorite government building deli in Salem, so had this Cobb Salad for lunch:

salem favorite cafeteria cobb salad

The rest of the week and weekend was stay-cation time.  The primary highlight that I want to showcase here was a wine tasting adventure in Clark County, Washington. Clark County includes Vancouver, but also includes some smaller towns, including Battle Ground, Camas, Ridgefield, Yacolt, and Washougal.   It’s also an up and coming region for vineyards and wineries.  Two of the three we went to are small endeavors – one has a temporary tasting room in a tent while they build their permanent tasting room.  The third, the Rusty Grape, is a bit more established and has a great snack/tapas style menu to enjoy with the wine.

tasting room three white wines

red and white vineyard 3

vineyard and umbrella three wines

From left to right, the wine bottles are Northwest Gold and a 2009 Pinot Noir (both from Rezabek Vineyards).  The third is Reformation Red from The Rusty Grape.  We also tasted at Heisen House Vineyard.  Their wines were a little sharp for me – though I really enjoyed their ciders.

Last, but not least, for the stay-cation was a trip into Portland.  This was a nostalgia trip for me.  For many, many, many years, I’ve traveled to Portland on business, vacation, and to visit family.  These trips have always been quick turnaround affairs – a few days at the most and are usually coupled with something else: the Portland Marathon, a conference, a holiday.  Now that we live in the Portland Metro area, we can spend a day in Portland without breaking the bank and enjoy some of the things we’ve not had a chance to do before (or have done, but always felt rushed doing so).  In this case, we had a busy day of brunch at the Tin Shed, where there is always a long wait, but it is always worth it for their biscuits and gravy:

tin shed biscuits and gravy

And then wandering the stacks at Powell’s (which is my favorite, favorite bookstore – no photos here – was too busy browsing), and going to the Oregon Zoo (which for some reason, I only snapped pictures of the condor exhibit and some fish).

oregon zoo condor oregon zoo fish

On Wednesday, it was business as usual and back to work.  Fortunately, I had good food prepared for a little lunch so all was right with the world.