Seeing Astoria from a new height…

Astoria Column, Wooden Planes

Flying planes from the top of the Astoria Column.

A few days ago, I shared some pictures from my latest trip to the Oregon coast. My husband and I enjoyed time (and food and beer) in Seaside and Cannon Beach, but it was Astoria that we explored the most.

Since we hadn’t done much besides eat, drink and walk the pier, we thought it would be fun to try one of the “must do” Astoria adventures — climb the Astoria Column. The column sits at the top of Coxcomb Hill, overlooking the Columbia River.

Astoria Column, Astoria, OR

The view from just the hill is fantastic… Astoria Column, Astoria, OR

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The Ups and Downs of Homemade Peeps

Homemade Easter Peeps

When I was younger, I always wanted to like Peeps — they were so cute and colorful and looked so festive it was hard not to want to bite their little heads off. But even as a kid, I’d get halfway through the pack and lose interest. They just weren’t as delicious as their bright candy colors made them seem. (They were still better than Cadbury Eggs, with their creamy yolks that still give me the creeps, but a far cry from my favorite Easter candy, mini-Whopper Robin Eggs.)

And yet, this year I became obsessed with making my own. After all — homemade marshmallows are infinitely better than store-bought ones, so it would seem that homemade Peeps would follow the same logic.

I did some recipe and technique research before I began, which led me to trying out Alton Brown’s recipe for marshmallows. Normally I am a big proponent of Martha Stewart’s recipe, but it seemed like as good a time as any to try something new. (Personally I still find Martha’s recipe to be fluffier and sweeter, but feel free to use whatever recipe you like best.)

If you are a newbie at marshmallow making, make sure you have a candy thermometer that is calibrated and that actually works (mine broke and I ended up having to test for the soft ball stage using a cup of water. Effective but not very fun). Also prepare yourself for the mess, especially if you try to color part of your mixture like I did. Imagine yourself in a stringy web of sugar — it gets everywhere!

And in hindsight, dying the marshmallows was pretty silly. The sugar covers them anyways, I was just experimenting.

Pink and White Marshmallows

Pink and White Marshmallows. They look unassuming but managed to put up quite a fight.

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Beer and Beaches: Eating and drinking on the Oregon coast

A beach more suited to beer than a piña colada.

Oregon beaches are more suited to microbrews than piña coladas.

I love little beach towns. While I dream about tropical palm-tree-and-white-sand beach towns, I really love small quaint slightly foggy coastal towns. I guess it has to do with the fact that I grew up on Kodiak Island, a tiny town in the Gulf of Alaska. No matter where you went, you weren’t far from the ocean, salty air and harbors full of fishing boats.

My husband also has an affinity for such places so it was easy to convince him to spend last Sunday at the Oregon coast, despite the overcast weather. We have spent quite a bit of time in Newport and Seaside, but we hadn’t done much in Astoria. We drove through the town a few years ago but our my only purpose was to see the Goonies House (so cool!).

This time we wanted to spend more time poking around the town and being by the water. (I didn’t tell my husband my game plan also included beer, lots of beer! For a rather small town — less than 10,000 people I think — Astoria manages to have several breweries and I was determined to visit at least two of them.)

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Homemade pupusas turned me into a greedy food hoarder…

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

Homemade Pupusas with Pickled Vegetables

In the past few years I’ve gotten really into pupusas, a traditional Salvadoran dish. They have taken over my mind and made me do things like brave a rather shady looking pupuserie that shares its parking lot with an even shadier looking porn store. (Totally worth it, by the way.) I’ve also eaten pupusas from a few food carts around town. Each pupusa journey ended in happiness, but the more I ate, the more determined I became to make them myself.

Finally last Saturday, after spending the morning googling recipes, I decided the time was right.

I picked up a huge bag of masa (I’m envisioning tamales, tortillas and endless pupusas in my future) and some queso fresco. I decided to skip making the typical pupusa accompaniment, curtido (a pickled or fermented cabbage salad), since I had some homemade pickled veggies to use up. I also had some braised beef that needed a good home and so the project was a pretty affordable one — always a good thing when you don’t really know what you’re doing!

But regardless of my inexperience, by following the recipe and instructions from The Kitchn carefully, my pupusa adventure was a delicious success.

Masa!

Masa!

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A Salty Sweet Tropical Treat: Lime & Coconut Popcorn

Sweet & Salty Lime & Coconut Popcorn

Sweet & Salty Popcorn with Coconut, Honey and Lime

Salty and sweet is not a new combination in the snack world. There’s a reason things like chocolate covered pretzels and salted caramels are so popular and I know I’m not the only one dipping french fries in my milkshakes. Salt with sugar is an amazing, glorious thing and people are constantly finding new ways to mix the two together.

Personally, over the last few years I have forgone the old-school butter-and-salt popcorn as a snack in favor of a more delicious treat — sea salt & honey butter popcorn, which I discovered a few years ago on The Faux Martha blog. The recipe is easy — equal parts melted honey and butter tossed with popcorn and salt.

Once I started making popcorn this way, I couldn’t stop. I also could not stop eating it. It is addictive in a way I had not anticipated. The honey butter makes the salt cling to the popcorn, so every bite is pure salty, sweet bliss. (You can also cut back on the butter ratio if you prefer — I tend to use less butter than honey and I still think it’s pretty awesome.)

A few weeks ago, while I was preparing a batch for a late-night treat, I grabbed the jar of honey and noticed it was sitting next to my jar of coconut oil. On a whim, I swapped coconut oil for the butter, heating it gently in the microwave with the honey.

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Salted limes make vodka happy…

Salted Lime Vodka Collins

Salted Lime Vodka Collins

I’ve been on a real Pok Pok tear lately — I’ve been cooking out of the book for the past few weeks and my daydreams have begun to feature fish sauce wings (a recipe I haven’t made yet). But even more than Ike’s famous wings, I have been craving a certain cocktail from Pok Pok — the salted plum vodka collins. Besides the odd beer here and there, this is the only thing I drink while dining there.

It is sweet, tart, tangy and intriguingly different from any other cocktail I’ve had. Once I discovered it, it was all I ever needed.

In fact I used to sit at the bar in the early days of Pok Pok (when it was less busy and you could actually just walk in and sit there) and stare down the bartender as he made it. I was determined to figure the recipe out — and after a few drinks one evening, I had it on mental lock down.

But alas, the day I was craving it the strongest, I didn’t have any salted plums on hand to get my fix. However I did have salted limes, which one of Pok Pok’s sister restaurants, The Whiskey Soda Lounge, uses in their salted lime vodka collins. Unsurprisingly, that is my go-to cocktail when I eat there.

Clearly there is a theme in my life — I like vodka drinks, I love salted things and put an Amarena cherry in there and I’m sold!

The ingredients for both cocktails are the same, except for the limes and plums, of course.

The basics...not pictured is the soda water.

The basics…not pictured is the soda water.

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