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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.

The Secret’s in the Sauce

Actually, that’s a lie. The secret is high-quality, fresh ingredients. (Like the Papa John’s commercials say, “Better Ingredients. Better Pizza.” And, well, they are better than some. But still not especially great.) I like to keep my pizzas simple and fresh, which means I don’t put too many different things on and I try to get the best ingredients I can. Because I know you want these pizzas at your house, today I’m sharing recipes.

A disclaimer: I was in a terribly, crabby-ass mood yesterday, and pretty mad that I had to make dinner at all, let alone think about taking any pictures of it. So. I didn’t. And it doesn’t look great cold in the refrigerated foil packs I stored it in. So you will have to use your imaginations to picture what the Mediterranean & French (see my favorite toppings, below) pizzas I made last night looked like…

So, let’s start with the DOUGH. Here’s what you’ll need:
(this recipe taken from America’s Test Kitchen book Baking Illustrated, which everyone should own. It’s full of delicious science.)

1/2 cup warm water (about 110 degrees)*
1 packet or 2 1/4 teaspoons active dry yeast
1 1/4 cups water at room temperature
2 tablespoons olive oil
4 cups flour (bread flour is better if you have it, but I never do, and it’s always fine)
1 1/2 teaspoons salt
Extra olive oil for coating the bowl
Extra flour for kneading

*If you don’t have a thermometer or you’re too lazy to use one (but, really, you’re making pizza from scratch so, come on, you are not too lazy…) you can stick your finger in to test it. It should be pretty warm but not scalding. Warmer than a baby’s bath, but not quite as warm as your shower. Hot enough to wash dishes in but not as hot as your tap will go.

1. Sprinkle yeast into the warm water. Do it slowly so each little bit has a chance to get wet. Stir gently if you must to do so. Let sit for 5 minutes while you gather the rest of the ingredients and get your mixer out.

2. Using paddle attachment on the lowest speed setting, combine salt and flour in the bowl of your standing mixer.

3. Once yeast is starting to bubble and smell yeasty, add room temperature water and olive oil to it and stir.

4. Again with mixer on the lowest speed, slowly pour yeast/water/oil mixture into the dry ingredients. When it starts to form a cohesive mass, switch to the dough hook. Let the mixer do all the work, and in about 5 more minutes the dough will be smooth and elastic.

5. Brush the inside of a large bowl with olive oil. Form dough into a ball and put it in the bowl, turning it over once to cover it in oil. Cover the bowl with a damp tea towel and set in a warmish place (65-70 degrees). Let rise until doubled in size, 1 1/2 to 2 hours.

(Now is a good time to go make your sauce and prep all your toppings. You’ll also want to put a baking stone in your oven, if you have one, and preheat to 500 or as hot as it goes. The secret to awesome pizza is a really hot oven, so do this sooner rather than later. I preheat my oven for a full hour.)

6. Get two pieces of parchment paper just larger than pizza size ready. We’ll use those to keep the pizza from sticking to the baking stone and for ease of getting it in and out of the oven. Divide the dough into two pieces. Roll each into a ball. Now, you’re going to shape this into a proper pizza crust. I like to make flatten the ball into a disc first. Then I make fists with both hands and put the dough on top of them. Then kinda punch in the general direction of the ceiling as you rotate the dough in a circle. It will thin and spread out. Keep going until it’s just about pizza-sized. If your ambitious, you can actually toss it in the air. It’s not that hard – really – and it’s super fun. Plus, you know, it helps the dough spread out. Then put it down on the parchment paper and press it the rest of the way into a circle. About 1″ from the edge, go ahead and press extra deep so that the edge rolls up and forms that rounded crust you’re looking for. (I realize now that this step really, really wants pictures. Next time. Promise.)

7. Almost done! Brush the crust with a little bit of olive oil, then use a fork to poke lots of holes all over the middle part. (Don’t put any holes in the outer crust edge.) Spread a thin layer of sauce (or not, if you like more) and then add your toppings. I recommend putting non-cheese toppings on first, and then covering them with the cheese. You can do it how you like, but note that putting any fresh herbs and greens (spinach, etc.) under the cheese will keep them from wilting and drying out as it bakes.

8. Using a pizza peel (ha! right, like you have one. I don’t.) or a rimless baking sheet (that’s more like it), transfer the pizza on its parchment paper to the baking stone. Parchment paper is oven-safe; it will turn brown while it cooks. DO NOT USE WAX PAPER. It will melt. If you don’t have parchment, sprinkle your prep surface and the baking stone with a thin layer of cornmeal to prevent sticking.

9. Bake until cheese is browned, about 10 minutes. Yep, that’s all it takes when your oven is good and hot. Using the baking sheet or pizza peel, transfer pizza and parchment to a cutting board.

10. Slice and serve with a big glass of wine!

Onto the SAUCE!
Admittedly, I cheated last night because I was grumpy, and I used a jar of tomato-basil marinara instead of whipping up my own. And seeing how long this post is already, I think I’ll save homemade sauce for another day.
Moving on…

Some of my favorite pizza TOPPINGS are:

Mediterranean
Lamb – ground, pre-cook until it’s about halfway done; I like to shape it into tiny balls
Feta – fresh from the deli is the way to go
Red Onion
Oregano

French
Ham – I get deli ham and ask for one or two super-thick slices, and then I cube it
Gruyère – shred directly onto pizza
Shallots – yum! I love shallots on lots of things, and pizza is no exception
Thyme

Traditional Margherita
Tomato (sliced) – I prefer Roma, but if you have access to garden fresh tomatoes of any kind, definitely use those!
Basil – fresh, whole leaf, not the stuff you sprinkle from a jar. It makes a HUGE difference!
Mozzarella – best fresh from the deli, still in the liquid, rather than the little ‘gourmet’ packaged kind

Veggie Lovers – you can use any veggies you like; here are some suggestions
Spinach – I like baby spinach for this
Artichoke Hearts
Tomatoes
Arugula – sounds weird, tastes good
Bell peppers
Mushrooms – I hate mushrooms and I pick them off, but other people seem to enjoy them.
Fresh Herbs – whatever you have on hand; oregano, basil, thyme, and parsley are all good

Hawaiian
Ham – I like Canadian bacon style or deli ham
Pineapple – I like the rings as opposed to chunks, you can make a pretty pattern with them on your pie