Do you know what’s funny? I’m writing this post from another Southwest airlines flight… but this picture wasn’t taken between Colorado and San Francisco, it was taken between Austin and beautiful Oregon. And this one has a creaming baby. {{{Helllppp meeee….}}}

I was invited by an organization called Travel Oregon* to experience all that Oregon has to offer. I was reluctant at first. I was a bit travel weary and swimming under piles of boxes from a move. I just wanted to enjoy my new home. But then they sent me a list of what I’d be doing:

Dinner at Aviary with a trio of young New York chefs who decided to band together and go out on their own… foraging on Mt. Hood and a lunch of wild edibles… a visit to a place where they grow pears in bottles… a chocolate making session… lunch cooked by James Beard winning chefs… an afternoon learning about vintage cocktails and tasting them too… and dinner at sunset at a wine vineyard, chalk full of oysters, dungeness crab and other delectables.

This was just a fraction of what was planned over 3 days. My loved ones looked at me like I was crazy for hesitating. So I went. And I’m so glad I did.

The nature adventure on Mt. Hood was particularly wonderful, since as you know, I love being in the woods. It was lead by Dr. John Kallas who teaches all about wild edibles. I was particularly impressed by his foraging outfit. Down to the rubber bands on his ankles. He really knows about wild edibles and has a book out that you should take a look at if you really want to understand wild foods and cooking and how they come together.

After eating thimble berries and walking along the glassy water beneath Mt. Hood, we stopped off at Timberline lodge, a remarkable place with architecture that is awe inspiring. The owner of Phelps Creek Vineyards poured us all kinds of wines, including rosé because he had read that I like it… that was a lovely detail and reminded me of my days sipping it at a café in southern France, during the requisite afternoon reposer, after the lunch shift and before the dinner shift at the restaurant I worked at.

And the lunch… oh the lunch. It was all foraged by the chef himself, Jason Stoller Smith: Hazelnut Smoked Rainbow Trout, Smooth Yellow Violet Indian Paintbrush, Wild Ginger and Columbine, Hemlock Tea Sorbet, Tenderloin of Oregon Roosevelt Elk, Hood River Peaches with Pineapple Weed Ice Cream.

It was all so dazzling.

But this place was magical too. Stephen McCarthy at Clear Creek Distillery told us all about the spirits they make, where they grow the pears and apples in the bottles by fastening them to the tree buds. And they make a fir tree spirit which was so interesting and surprisingly good, and cranberry  and red currant and so much more. There was Eau-de-vie, Brandy, Grappa, single malt whiskey and I tasted them all! It was 2 in the afternoon, why do you ask?

There was an evening on a city rooftop full of sliders and crab and delicious beers and teas and good friends that I loved catching up with in the cool evening breeze.

And the next day there was chocolate. Two chocolatiers, father-daughter team Erica and Bruce Reininger of Arrowhead Chocolates and David Briggs of Xocolatl de David, came and gave us a demo and then we tried our hand at it… I have no future as a chocolate maker since I failed in my attempt to temper chocolate. But I made a “bark” and put chile pepper and salt on it and loved it.

Look! It’s Nicole! We ate together for lunch, and I have to say the food was so healthy and delicious. Normally I fear these events for their unhealthy food, but I can honestly say that this was a weekend of some of the best things I’ve ever tasted. And I felt good too.

But the vintage cocktails poured in their vintage glassware at the Rum Club really thrilled me. I’ve been scouring antique markets and…er…liquor stores… ever since.

And one of the things I really loved is that Oregon’s master bartender is a girl! Girls rule.

(photo courtesy of Andrew Wilder)

And guess what? I practiced my shaking. Can you see how much I’m exerting myself back there? I want to be a master mixologist when I grow up.

Dinner was in the Willamette Valley at Penner-Ash Wine Cellars with a view of the vines and the sunset.

I ate as much crab and oysters as I could fit into my belly.

But you know what I liked the most there?

(photo courtesy of Andrew Wilder)

The grass. Linda and I decided it was where we were meant to be.

If you’re planning a trip to Oregon, I have a list a mile long with all of the artisans that the beautiful state has to offer. I’d be happy to send it to you upon request.

You can also see what my fellow cohorts had to say about their Oregon experience:

Cheryl Sternman from 5 Second Rule

Leela Cyd Ross from Apartment Therapy/The Kitchn

Rika Manabe from Bella Bonito

Paula Jones from Bell’alimento

Danielle Tsi from Beyond the Plate

Gwen Pratesi from Bunky Cooks

Andrew Wilder from Eating Rules

Stefanie Gans from Endless Simmer

Carolyn Jung from Food Gal

Shanna T’Koy from Food Loves Writing

Beatrice Peltre from La Tartine Gourmande

Nicole Hamaker from Pinch my Salt

Sean Timberlake from Punk Domestics/Hedonia

Tami Hardeman from Running with Tweezers

Linda Miller Nicholson from Salty Seattle

Debra Smith from Smith Bites

Susan Filson from Sticky, Gooey, Creamy, Chewy

Janelle Maiocco from Talk of Tomatoes

Helene Dujardin from Tartelette

Richard Auffrey from The Passionate Foodie

Gaby Dalkin from What’s Gaby Cooking?


*Disclosure: I wasn’t paid for the trip, but my meals, accommodation and transport for the weekend were covered by Travel Oregon.