Bliss at The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard in Dundee, Oregon

KP and I make it a point to celebrate — or at the very least, acknowledge — milestones. We don’t let a birthday go by without some fanfare and the same is true for our wedding anniversary. Some years are more elaborate than others. Our first anniversary was marked with an amazing trip to the Napa Valley. But when year three snuck up on us, we were learning how to be parents with a three-month old plus a kitchen reno in progress. We still went out to dinner at our favorite neighborhood spot to celebrate.

Five years of marriage felt like a milestone worth celebrating in a memorable way! We talked about Italy, but it just didn’t seem realistic with a two-year-old. So we put that idea on the back burner and thought about places closer to home. Our honeymoon in St. Thomas was ah-mazing and repeatable, but when you live in Texas, the last place you want to go in mid-August is someplace hot — and someplace that is prone to hurricanes (the memory of cutting our honeymoon one day short thanks to Hurricane Earl was still too fresh). So we decided the Pacific Northwest would be the place to celebrate — Portland and the Willamette Valley in Oregon, to be exact.

I did a lot of research before booking our accommodations in the Willamette Valley. Maybe too much, as I tend to do. I’d only been there once before and I wasn’t sure which town we wanted to stay in or if we wanted to do a B & B or a hotel. The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard in Dundee seemed perfect. Not a hotel but not a typical B & B, luxurious, unique and peaceful. It’s all of these things and then some.

The Black Walnut Inn | Dundee, Oregon

The Black Walnut is nestled away from it all. We drove along a hilly road sandwiched between grape vineyards on either side, then up, up, up the tree-lined driveway which conjured images of “over the river and through the woods…” until we got to the top.

The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard | Dundee, Oregon
The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard | Dundee, Oregon

I knew this place was a good pick before we even parked the car.

The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard | Dundee, Oregon

Even though Italy didn’t make the cut, I felt like we had arrived at a European villa. It was just so picturesque. Well-manicured. Green. Quiet.

Our home for three days
Our home for three days

We booked the Vista room which is on the ground floor of the inn and on the end, so we only had one neighbor and three outside living spaces all to ourselves. The room was massive. It really felt like a home away from home.

The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard | Vista
Photo credit: Kristian Gibson, Kindred Spirit Photography (used with permission from The Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard)

Wine is what drew us to the Willamette Valley, but the inn kept pulling us back. I slept better than I have in a long time. Maybe the wine had a little something to do with that, but I think the inn gets some credit, too. It was pleasantly quiet and the beds had these amazing Jennifer Adams sheets (which I am anxious awaiting to come back in stock so I can order a set for home!). They were life-changing. Sleep-changing? Plus, with a view like this, it was impossible to feel anything but relaxed.

Our room faced Mt. Hood, but we only saw the faintest outline of it on the first day.
Our room faced Mt. Hood, but we only saw the faintest outline of it on the first day.

Our room was heavenly. The views were beyond picturesque. The oatmeal chocolate chip cookies (often warm) in the cookie jar in the living room tempted us daily (two or three times a day, in fact). Breakfast with a little dog at my feet made me feel like I was at home. The innkeepers were lovely — not overbearing but there with recommendations when we needed them. Bliss.

Oh, and the views…

Views from the Black Walnut Inn & Vineyard | Dundee, Oregon

This one is going to be hard to top!

The Week That Was: August 28, 2015

Sunrise over Dundee, Oregon

This was the perfect view that I woke up to a week ago in Oregon. It looks like a postcard, doesn’t it? I’m struggling to put into words what a lovely place the Willamette Valley is, but I’m working on it and hope to share more on that topic — and our trip — soon.

In the mean time, it’s been back to reality. Kind of a crappy week, as post-vacation weeks tend to be. On the bright side, the week has flown. Nora started part-time preschool on Tuesday. There were a few tears (hers, mine) and more of the same on Thursday (only hers). She seems to like it; it’s just the drop-off that gets her down. But she’ll come around. I’m sure it was the combination of that and being back home with Mom and Dad after our trip that had her off-kilter and cranky and bailing on nap time.

I’m starting to feel caught up on life at home. I even organized three closets this week! And I have other projects in mind for the weekend. KP is thrilled. His reward in advance will be Chinese take-out tonight.

Whatever you’re up to this weekend, enjoy.

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We experienced life-changing sheets at the inn we stayed at in Oregon. Seriously. I slept like a baby (and I’m not a good sleeper). I’m told they’re LUX by Jennifer Adams. Do yourself a favor and order a set, immediately.

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KP whipped up some homemade enchiladas (for the first time, and they were the bomb.com). My contribution was the skinny margaritas.

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Check out these 7 Airport Tech Hacks on your next layover.

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Nora always loves a good book. Adding all of these to her wish list!

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If only I had this, maybe I would have been more successful with breastfeeding.

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Here’s what happens when J. Jill, Ann Taylor, Lane Bryant and Eileen Fisher get together for tea.

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Happy weekend!

Where I Ate in Portland, Oregon

KP and I are fresh off of three days in Oregon for our fifth anniversary and I’m still dreaming about the weather, the scenery, the wine, the coffee and the FOOD. We spent time in both Portland and the Willamette Valley — a good mix of city and country. And as is par for the course for us, we certainly didn’t go hungry. Here’s where we ate in Portland.

Portland Penny Diner

Portland Penny Diner

KP and I are big fans of Top Chef. It took me ten seasons to finally get annoyed with some of the ridiculously hokey challenges, so I went on hiatus for season 11, but tuned in again for 12. That’s how I heard about Portland Penny Diner (and Imperial next door) — because Chef Doug Adams is the Executive Chef and he was on the show. We knew we wanted to eat at one of his two restaurants and although Imperial probably would’ve been my top pick, we had limited time. So it was breakfast at Portland Penny Diner.

The breakfast menu consists of a handful of sandwiches and baked goods. Both KP and I had the New Yorker sandwich — sausage, bacon, egg and cheese on a parker house roll. The roll was seriously the best part. So soft and perfect. My latte was perfectly made, too, and it was nice to actually be in a climate where I could enjoy a hot coffee instead of one on ice (thanks, Texas).

Latte at Portland Penny Diner

Donut Byte Labs Food Cart

I need to be 100% transparent here. Yes, we visited the Donut Byte Labs Food Cart after breakfast at Portland Penny Diner. But the visit didn’t immediately follow breakfast, so don’t judge us. Also, as you’re about to learn, they’re mini donuts.

After the diner, we walked around a bit. Went down to the river where there were lots of homeless folks and lots of joggers and bikers. We did a little shopping. And then we went back to the hotel to figure out what else to do. The concierge walked us through his map of Portland and then I heard, “Voodoo Doughnuts” and quickly remembered that was a place on my list! He concurred — a must-visit. Such naive tourists we were. We just leisurely walked over to Voodoo Doughnuts like we were going to saunter right in and order a doughnut and savor it. Then we saw the line out the door, wrapped around the side of the building. And it wasn’t moving. At all. They need to get the Soup Nazi in there to speed things up a bit.

So we walked up to the Chinatown gates and turned around. We were bummed. We were totally craving doughnuts. After all, it had probably been a whole two hours since those New Yorkers. And then I saw this adorable little food truck.

Donut Byte Labs

Genius location on their part. Why yes, I think I’ll park my doughnut truck right around the corner from the most popular doughnut shop in town. I’m sure there are doughnut aficionados who prefer one or the other, but Donut Byte Labs seemed pretty ideal to me. Mini doughnuts! They are the future, I’ve learned.

Mini Donuts are the Future

While some people may see the minis as a great way to get just a little bit of that doughnut taste they’re craving, KP and I like to go big or go home (again, Texas). So we ordered a half-dozen minis — to share, of course.

Clockwise starting top left: Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup, Bacon Maple, French Toast, Chocolate Sprinkle, Burnside Cream
Clockwise starting top left: Salted Caramel, Peanut Butter Cup, Bacon Maple, French Toast, Chocolate Sprinkle, Burnside Cream

Every single one of those minis was delicious. My favorite was probably… oh gosh… all of them? My least favorite was the Chocolate Sprinkle. It was good, but a little basic for my refined palette.

Departure Restaurant + Lounge

Departure Restaurant + Lounge

Again with our Top Chef fandom… also on season 12 was Chef Gregory Gourdet. KP wanted him to win pretty much from the first episode, I think. I liked him (but was glad Mei won), and I am really into Asian flavors so I was game to try Departure, which is where he is the Executive Chef.

The sole photo I took at Departure was in the bar, which takes up a huge chunk of the restaurant’s space on the 15th floor of The Nines luxury hotel. The photo doesn’t do it justice, but the room is filled with skylights so it’s very bright and airy, and the walls are covered with map murals with labels like Sea of Lust and Daydream Mountain. It’s a cool place but that’s clearly what it’s meant to be — cool, hip, trendy. Our waitress was truly fabulous but the rest of the service was so awkwardly clunky and it was like amateur hour at the hostess stand. The food was good but nothing memorable. I don’t have much to say about Departure other than that it was meh.

Portland is such a foodie destination. There are so many great restaurants, many of which really focus on all of their incredible local bounty. And there are food carts galore! Their “Keep Portland Weird” slogan isn’t the only similarity I see to Austin.

My Weekend in Boston

Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale
It’s not a trip back to Boston without Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale

A few weekends ago I made it back to Boston. I was embarrassingly overdue for a visit. Not only had I not yet met my friend Katie’s daughter, who was just days shy of turning two years old, but I hadn’t met her baby boy, either.

I always get nostalgic when I visit Boston. I’ll be the first to admit that I had a tough time settling in when I moved there nearly ten years ago, but I always like to go back and visit and relive memories — especially with Katie. I’m sure you’ve seen the Hallmark card that’s stocked under the “for friends” category heading that says something to the effect of, “we’ll be friends forever because you know too much about me.” That card is for Katie, and vice versa. We had some ridiculous times together in Boston. Interestingly, many of those memories involve the Bluebeery beer like pictured above…

Now Katie and I are both moms. But that didn’t stop us from reliving our glory days — or attempting to, anyway! We started with lunch at Boston Beer Works and the obligatory Bunker Hill Bluebeery Ale. So good. Only, this time around we had two high chairs and lots of Gerber Puffs scattered on our table.

Fenway Park

We went to see the Red Sox play at Fenway Park. It wasn’t until I moved to Boston that I really became a baseball fan. Something about Fenway and the fans just sucked me in.

Boston Red Sox

No, I didn’t pay much attention to the game. I don’t even remember who they played. I haven’t followed the Red Sox closely since I left Boston. And I don’t even know who Justin Masterson is. Yes, perhaps I am a fair-weather fan. But it felt good to be back in Fenway. And it felt good to leave before the game was over (I do know they were losing and proceeded to lose) and snag one of the best seats at Jerry Remy’s before the rest of the fans flooded in after the game ended. But by that point, we were ready to make a stop at the fro-yo place across the street and go home. It’s funny how we do things differently as we get older.

Green Harbor Lobster Pound

I had one of the best lobster rolls I’ve ever eaten from the Green Harbor Lobster Pound. And it’s not just because I haven’t had a good lobster roll in a long, long time — it really was that delicious. My friend Katie and her husband live minutes from this little gem. It’s a shame that neither of them eat seafood. Seriously. Isn’t that sacrilegious if you live in Massachusetts?

Tiny Red Sox Fan
Tiny Red Sox Fan

My weekend in Boston was great. Good girlfriend time, wonderful food, fun memories relived and lots of laughs. But, as always, I was happy to get home to my little Red Sox fan. (She’d wear that green “monstah” shirt everyday if I let her.)

Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

Millennium Park | Chicago, Illlinois

Millennium Park is one of my favorite places in Chicago. If you walk away from Michigan Avenue and find the fields of wildflowers, it really does feel like you’ve escaped the city — especially on gray days when you can’t see the tops of the skyscrapers.

When we were in Chicago a few months ago, I had a morning to myself while KP worked and I made it a point to walk through the park (conveniently, it was on my way to lunch at The Gage).

Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

I stumbled upon this great art exhibit in the park — Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs. It celebrates the 10th anniversary of the park with over 50 images before, during and after construction (it ends in October). A free art exhibit in the park? Yes, thank you.

Millennium Park: An Anatomy in Photographs

One image in particular drew me in — this one by Kenneth Tanaka of a little boy splashing in Crown Fountain on a hot summer day. I just love it! Without the skyline or anything quintessential Chicago pictured, it’s still just so Chicago to me.

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Stumbling upon this exhibit was just the cherry on top of my visit to Millennium Park this summer.

The Week That Was: August 14, 2015

Flowers

It feels like I haven’t posted in forever, although it’s only been two weeks. And as someone who loathes the “busy” excuse, with my tail between my legs I must admit that I haven’t had time to write because I have truly been busy. I started a new job, we had a houseful of guests last weekend and time went at warp speed, as it does. I have so many things I keep meaning to write about — all the way back to our time in our Chicago in June — but I just haven’t had time.

I like to think I’ll get more accomplished this weekend. We have nothing planned and it’s a nice feeling. Whatever you’re up to, enjoy.

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Ruth Reichl’s Garlic and Sapphires: The Secret Life of a Critic in Disguise inspired me to make mussels at home for the very first time. Why didn’t I do that sooner?

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Did you know Pottery Barn offers free interior design services? I’ll let you know how worthwhile it is in two weeks.

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I usually don’t need much convincing when it comes to buying an investment bag.

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In just over a week I’ll be packing Nora’s lunch two days a week… I think I’m gonna need this list of ideas!

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Teachers, remember not to hit the children.

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Until next time…