Tokyo, the first 24 hours: Ramen, shrines & Portland beer

Straw-wrapped sake barrels in the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo.

Straw-wrapped sake barrels in the Meiji Jingu Shrine, Shibuya, Tokyo.

I got back from Japan just over a week ago and my body clock is finally back on track. Having to wake up at 8am for work has been pretty miserable but with every sad morning, I think —  I can’t believe I was in Tokyo!

Since I have been terrible about posting lately, I figured some Japanese adventure stories would be a great way to re-live the fun I had and get me back in the blogging saddle.

So, for the back story, my husband and I were part of a Portland group (he was one of three chefs, but we also had a brewer, a wine maker and a coffee guy with us) that traveled to Japan as part of a “PDX meets Tokyo” festival. The event was primarily sponsored by Columbia Sportswear, Airbnb and Travel Portland, which means I got a sweet new rain jacket and we had a free place to stay. Can’t beat that!

The whole trip was a lot of fun, but it was a good amount of work too: we sold Portland products at the UNU Farmer’s Market, the chefs each did two cooking demos, we toured three urban farms and catered a Seed-to-Table dinner for 100 people on Halloween night. While I’ll be posting about those adventures later, I’m going to backtrack to the very beginning — our 24 hours in the city.

Flying in to the Narita Airport

Flying in to the Narita Airport

My husband and I arrived in Tokyo on Monday, Oct. 25, around 7pm. We had been traveling for more than 14 hours, ten of which was the final flight. I love flying so it didn’t actually didn’t seem that long to me. My husband, on the other hand, is antsy by nature and was dying to get off the plane.

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Reykjavik: The first 24 hours

Flying into Iceland - the steam coming up is from one of the many geothermal pools.

Flying into Iceland – the steam coming up is from one of the many geothermal pools.

My husband and I arrived in Iceland on Saturday morning at 6am. For being half asleep and totally jet lagged, we managed to make the most of our first day of vacation.

We left the Keflavik airport and headed directly to the Blue Lagoon, the most famous of Iceland’s geothermal pools. This is a popular spot with tourists since it’s a perfect place to soak out the aches of air travel.

Inside the Blue Lagoon

Inside the Blue Lagoon

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Going Coastal for Sanity’s Sake: A Weekend in Astoria, OR

Waterfront Sunset, Astoria, OR

A beautiful evening at the Oregon coast.

I live for the ocean.

Having grown up on a small Alaskan island, the scent of seawater was one ubiquitous thing about my childhood. And after I moved away from Kodiak, I made sure to always live near water, since I was no longer surrounded by it.

I went to college in Arcata, CA where there were several beaches (both rocky and sandy) just minutes away. Then I moved north to Portland where the Willamette River is just a five-minute walk from my office in the industrial southeast. If I’m having a stressful day (which is every day lately), I take what I like to call a “rage walk” to the riverfront to have some alone time by the water.

But sometimes the Willamette is just not enough and I feel the pull to the Oregon coast to breath in some salty ocean air. Happily, my husband feels the same and it’s easy to convince him that a trip to the beach is a necessity.

Often when the mood strikes, we head to Depoe Bay and then on to Newport, but another favorite spot for us is Astoria. For a sleepy town, Astoria certainly has its allures – state parks, historical markers from the Lewis & Clark expedition, rivers plus the ocean, and several breweries (yay!).

And out of all the coastal towns in this state, it reminds me the most of home — a small, windy, rainy, foggy place where the docks are full of fishing boats and the people tend to be a bit bedraggled.

On my most recent trip there a few weeks ago with my dad, stepmother and their ridiculously spoiled dog Pépe, the sun was actually shining. And while the wind was whipping with some ferocity, it was still a wonderfully dry weekend, perfect for exploring.

Since sometimes I don’t “explore” any further than the local breweries, this time I made an effort to see some new things. Here’s some of the sights, bites and suds we enjoyed during our stay:

The Goonies House - yes, the original

The original “Goon Docks” from the movie The Goonies. I was obsessed with the film as a kid so it’s always fun to make this pilgrimage. And every time I go, plenty of others – both  young and old – are on the same mission. Fun fact: this year is the movie’s 30th anniversary!

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What have I been doing and how is it almost December?

Um...what the hell happened to autumn?

Um…what the hell happened to autumn?

Basically this is my apology in case you’ve noticed I’ve been a bit behind in the world of WordPress. Life has been so hectic it’s kept me from reading and writing as much as I would have liked these past four weeks.

One of the reasons for the madness is because a month ago I decided to embark on the “Whole 30.” If you’re unfamiliar with the program it’s essentially a thirty day eating plan/elimination diet that helps participants rethink their food choices, overcome cravings, heal their digestive track and eat 100% clean for thirty days. (I don’t want to bore you too much with specifics so if you want to read more about the Whole 30, click here.)

Basically from Oct. 23 through Saturday, Nov. 22, I abstained from all sugars (natural or otherwise), grains (even whole grains), legumes (except green beans and peas), alcohol and dairy. That sounds like an overwhelming list of “can’t have’s” but I did eat plenty of meat, seafood, eggs and vegetables with a limited amount of fruits, nuts and seeds added in for good measure.

For someone who eats lots of grains and is known to indulge in a few pints of delicious beer, I was very worried I wasn’t going to complete the challenge. In fact, I vowed not to mention my mission on this blog until it was over — just in case I threw in the towel. Not very confident sounding, I know, but hey, I’m realistic. I work in the food industry, my husband cooks everything with cream, butter and cheese, and the holiday stress level at work usually has me and my co-workers doing mid-morning shots by now.

But I made it and it feels really good to say that. I do eat fairly well in general so my cravings weren’t too bad and I didn’t suffer a lot of the detox pains that many people do the first week. What made it difficult for me was the struggle of time. On this program you have to make every meal — there is no convenience eating on days when you’re feeling overwhelmed. No English muffins for breakfast or ramen for dinner. Instead I would make huge batches of soft-boiled eggs, curries and roasted vegetables just so I wouldn’t be caught hungry and off-guard.

I could talk on and on about the results from the program and how I feel about it (and maybe I will in another post) but this was just to let you know what’s been monopolizing my time lately. I love to cook and I relish time in the kitchen, but I am really  happy to be able to heat up a frozen burrito after a late night at work!

But don’t think I ate in misery for thirty days. Check out all the good things I scarfed down:

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

A typical Whole 30 breakfast: eggs, kale and sweet potatoes

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Wild About Game: A weekend of meat, booze and high jinks

It's so serious we have knives engraved!

It’s so serious we have knives engraved!

We have a saying about WAG: What happens on the mountain, stays on the mountain. So I can’t show you any of the truly ridiculous pictures from last Sunday but I can show you lots of fancy food porn and I know that’s really what you’re here for.

First though, we must start at the beginning:

Welcome to the Mountain!

The view from Timberline Lodge is incredible in the summer. I hate snow, ice and the cold so I can’t speak to what it looks like in the winter, but seriously, in the summer, it’s breathtaking — even when you’re up way too early after not enough sleep!

View from Timberline Lodge

View from Timberline Lodge

Meet the Meat:

Next up is the food. At Wild About Game, the focus is on game meats. So there is everything from elk and quail to Oregon-raised water buffalo and rabbit available for sampling. We also include lots of bonus meats: locally made charcuterie, Kobe beef, hazelnut-fed pork and non-meats: cheeses, pickled quail eggs, Oregon sea salt.  And it’s all there for the eating…even the ice cream made with cherries and bone marrow!

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Crossing Bridges for Beers

Walking Man Brewing, Stevenson, WA

A full line-up of hoppy, malty goodness from the Walking Man Brewery.

A few weeks ago it was my husband’s birthday. We didn’t have anything exciting planned so I proposed a beer tour, working our way east from Portland toward the Columbia River Gorge. (So, yes, if you’re keeping score, I chose my favorite activity for my husband’s birthday and then made him drive so I could imbibe the lion’s share of beer. I know, I know, I am a terrible wife. But he still loves me, so it’s all good!)

Anyways…Usually when we drive to the gorge, we drive on the Oregon side of the river out of convenience sake. To try something different, I suggested this time we take Highway 14, on the Washington side, instead. It was a surprisingly good choice.

Even though we were headed in the same direction, being on the other side of the river made for a completely different view. In fact there was a moment when I almost felt disloyal to Oregon, thinking, “Wow, the Washington side is a much prettier drive!” But then my husband reminded me the reason for that is because we were looking at Oregon from across the river. I felt much better (though a little slow!) after he said that.

At any rate, the scenery was so gorgeous that we pulled over near Cape Horn so I could take some pictures.

The left-hand coast is Washington, across the river is Oregon.

Columbia River Gorge. The left-hand coast is Washington, across the river is Oregon.

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