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Price vs. Value

Sunday was Julia’s birthday. I was on my way back in town from a nanny conference (and awesome dinner with APW twitter friend Sarah, yay!) in DC and stopped at our favorite grocery store on the way home so I could cook something nice for a celebratory dinner. I made this Salmon with Roasted Fennel and Lemon Vinaigrette, a perennial favorite of ours. Now, I could get into a lengthy discussion of the difference between a good price and a good value, but I think you’ll get my point when I say this:

GET THE WILD ALASKAN KING SALMON!

(Even though it is, yes, more than twice as expensive as the salmon we usually buy. And it totally caused us to screw our food budget for the month before it was even a week over. I spent $37 for 4 servings and I would do it again in a heartbeat.§*)

Image courtesy of Real Simple. Sadly, this is not a photo of the beautiful piece of salmon I purchased.

IT WAS SO WORTH IT.

And while we’re on the topic of salmon, I should really tell you about the dish I had at that dinner with Sarah – because it was also salmon. Yeah, I totally ate it two nights in a row and it was awesome. Because, what is not awesome about a glorious piece of buttery pink salmon, topped with crushed toasted pumpkin seeds, sitting on a perfectly-cooked pile of green beans, nestled in roasted pumpkin and squash, all enveloped in a pumpkin-butter sauce? That’s right, pretty much nothing is better than that. Thank you, Clyde’s of Columbia (Maryland), for an excellent gustatory experience.

§AKA next Tuesday, when I’m doing the weekly shopping, because salmon is ALWAYS on the menu.
*For the record, at $13.99/lb this is actually an excellent price for salmon in the midwest, period. and still better than the big chain stores. It’s just that we usually buy the other kind, which is only $7.99/lb.

A Real (If Short) Vacation

You may not be able to tell, but that’s us on the beach.

[Editor’s Note: Every time I think I’m just going to write a super short post and throw up some pictures, it turns out to be… well… the opposite of short. Sorry. Remember you can always skip the words and just look at the pretty stuff.]
 
We just got back from the first non-visiting-relatives vacation we’ve been on in years. True, we were visiting a friend, but… it is so not the same. We went to Portland, Oregon, which is an excellent place to be, and is the current home of my best friend in the world ever, Lindsay. If you haven’t been, I highly recommend it. Funky city plus lots of amazing nature and only 90 minutes from The Ocean. (Which, we decided while there, should be the goal of ALL vacations.)

Aside from the Incident* with my drivers’ license, it was an awesome trip. We had some adventures in and around the city with a plethora of gorgeous views, some of which you’ll see below, we ate really well. Possibly the best ever on a trip away from home. So let me recap for you. 

Saturday.
We arrived, famished, a little after noon. 2pm our time. Lindsay had leftover roasted root vegetables (delicious) which we ate with some black bean burgers and cheese (also tasty.)

Our plan was to celebrate her birthday as well as mine (they’re about 2 weeks apart) during our visit, so she invited a handful of friends over for a dinner party. We discussed some options and hit the farmstand and the grocery store, where we snagged some tasty local wines in addition to the other ingredients. We ended up with an appetizer of some wonderfully creamy cheese (not Brie, but something like it, sorry I forgot what), caramelized shallots, and fresh figs cooked in wine on some very crusty bread. We followed it with fennel-roasted (FRESH ALASKAN!) salmon over mixed greens. For dessert, we made this Mocha Marjolaine cake, which was fantastic. While devouring it, Lindsay and I discussed the handful of little changes we would make to the recipe to take it from a 10 to an 11+ the next time. (In case you’re thinking of giving it a try – and you should – we agreed that you should ditch the almonds and use only extra-toasty hazelnuts; make the coffee whipped cream stronger and use it between all the layers; coat the whole thing with the dark chocolate ganache; and skip the ‘light’ chocolate ganache altogether.) We also grilled some peaches and served them with vanilla ice cream. Amazing.

And then? Board games and WhiskeyTime™and even more desserts because a few more people showed up with brownies. Somewhere in the midst of all this, it became way late in our time, and moderately late on Portland time, and we totally crashed into bed and slept forever.

Apparently, we took no pictures on Saturday. 

Sunday.
Until we woke up at what felt like noon but was actually 9am or so. We cooked up some eggs on toast before driving out to the coast. Once there, we had lunch at a pub/brewery, which had totally decent beer. We all ordered some kind of fish because, you know, we were on the oceanfront, so why would we eat anything else? I had some excellent crab cakes; Julia had a seared tuna wrap which was good, but would have been improved by more tuna and less wrap and a menu description that actually implied it was in a wrap (as opposed to on a bed of spinach as we imagined.)

Wave Jumpers.

Then we EXPLORED. We ran in the ocean and jumped over the waves. And maybe, just maybe, while I was trying to film one coming into shore, it might have come faster than anticipated. And I might have a video of us squealing and running away, taken on my phone-in-hand, à la Blair Witch. It is hilarious. At least to us.

We climbed up a sand dune…
Beach, with view of the sand dune we hiked up
Victory. And pretty rocks. And my finger.
…and sat on the edge of an amazing cliff…
Awesome rocks and a big cave

We ate dinner at another seafood joint near the water. Clams, Bouillabaisse, Fish & Chips, Shrimp, Clam Chowder. And then three of us fell asleep in the car on the way back to the city…

Sunset at the Ocean

Monday.
On our last full day, we decided to run amok in the city proper. We visited Powell’s bookstore, which was as huge and awesome as I remembered it. We went to a little tea shop with over a hundred varieties of tea (in bulk!) and re-stocked our supply. We wandered up and down the street around it, window shopping, trying things on that we’d never buy, trying things on with no intention of buying them and then buying them anyway…

When we tired of that, we sat on Lindsay’s front porch with glasses of wine. And then we finished the day with a bountiful, yet unbelievably reasonably priced, sushi dinner. And by reasonably priced, I mean we spent less for the four of us than we ordinarily do for the two of us in Chicago and we got more food. 

Tuesday.
We had just enough time for a quick stop at the infamous Voodoo Doughnut followed by a tour through the Columbia River gorge. Which is lovely and breathtaking and very rainforest-y.

Washington state to the left of the river; Oregon to the right
Waterfalls are pretty.

And then we went to the airport and came home to Chicago.

*The Incident: So when we got to the airport in Chicago to get on the plane to Portland, we found out the hard way (yes, that means during the TSA screening process) that my driver’s license had expired on my birthday. Which was the week before. The lady was nice enough to let us through, and I breathed a sigh of relief. But after about 24 hours in Portland, I realized I could have the same problem on the way home and they might not be so nice and ohmygod panic. Which was followed by another, smaller incident in which I was not allowed to purchase a really wonderful-sounding glass of wine because I couldn’t prove my age. So. I called Illinois, who told me they couldn’t do anything and I needed to come in person to renew it. Which, of course, I cannot do from Portland. So. I went to the airport hoping they’d be nice and let me through, and somehow, magically, they didn’t notice my license was expired and they let me through. And then Julia tried to go through but her license lists 2009 as its expiration date. But. Illinois does this stupid thing where you can renew online if you haven’t been in any accidents lately and then they mail you a sticker to put on the back which says it’s good for 4 more years. Which she’d done, and it was, so they let her through too. And then we went home. On Wednesday I renewed my expired license in about 7 minutes and hopefully that is that.

Dinner Party: Cornish Hens & Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake

We decided to throw a dinner party this weekend and it went splendidly. The food was fantastic, and the company even better. I may have gone a little bit overboard in making it fancy, but we had a great time. Honestly, the only thing stopping us from doing this on, say, a weekly basis is the cost of the food. Apologies in advance for the blurriness of some of these photos… the amount of wine I consumed may have contributed to a slightly shaky camera, and the inability to notice at the time. Without further ado, here’s what we served:


Amuse Bouche
Warm Brie with Sun Gold Tomato preserves, served on water crackers.
wine Paul Masson Medeira (California)


First Course
Greek Salad with Orzo and Black-Eyed Peas
wine Winking Owl Chardonnay (California)


Second Course
Cornish Game Hens with Blackberry sauce; Sweet Potato Souffle
wine Tilia Malbec (Argentina) and Fat Bastard Shiraz (France)


Third Course
Triple Chocolate Mousse Cake
[that’s chocolate cake, dark chocolate mousse, and mocha whipped cream]
wine Winking Owl Cabernet Sauvignon (California)