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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Yum Bao: Chinese steamed buns meet Thai sweet pork

A most delicious project: Steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

A most delicious project: steamed bao stuffed with Thai sweet pork (muu waan).

It’s not often you can credit a success in the kitchen to an Olympic figure skater, but I most definitely owe Brian Boitano a huge thank you for these delightfully decadent pork buns.

The last time I made steamed buns, the filling was fantastic but the buns lacked the fluffy tenderness of the bao from my favorite Chinese restaurant. So I turned to the internet in search of a fairly uncomplicated yeasted steamed bun recipe and somehow landed on one attributed to Mr. Boitano, who apparently has his own cooking show.

While I nearly passed the recipe by for something, well, more authentic, its stellar reviews caught my eye. People seemed to love the recipe, praising the buns for their puffy, fluffy texture. In fact, while reading the comments in other bun recipes that I came across, I saw references to Boitano’s tasty buns (ha!) and was finally convinced to try them out.

Well, Boitano certainly deserves a gold medal for that recipe because it’s pretty awesome. The dough was a dream to work with, very pliable, and the texture was spot-on, light and fluffy even though my pleating was far from delicate. While I think the dough could have used a dash of salt, that’s the only criticism I have. Continue reading

Missions Accomplished: DIY projects and plenty of Pok Pok

Sweet braised pork/Pok Pok cookbook

Muu Waan, Thai sweet pork, with coconut rice. Made from the Pok Pok cookbook.

While I have slacked on blogging these past few months, I can say — at the very least — I have been successful at some of my food goals for 2015.

Back in February, I made homemade Fritos (Faux-itos?), using a recipe from the America’s Test Kitchen DIY cookbook. My corn chips weren’t an immediate win, but the more I ate, the more I craved “just one more.” They were very crunchy and full of corn flavor. The downside was that the texture was a little too gritty from the cornmeal rendering them a bit tough on the teeth. Some day I’ll have to give them another go — though I have doubts they will ever reach the greatness of the packaged kind.

Masarepa and corn meal

Masarepa and corn meal

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Back in the {blogging} saddle…

Seared foie gras with cherries

Seared foie gras with cherries, Loulay Kitchen & Bar, Seattle, WA

In case you were concerned, like my mother was, about why this blog has been so quiet lately, I have a lame but entirely honest excuse — life got crazy.

At first, in mid-February, I became so bogged down in planning my birthday party (yes, I know that sounds ridiculous but it’s my favorite holiday and I take it seriously) that I had no time for cooking projects, let alone photographing and writing about them. I was too immersed in making this year’s birthday extravaganza as awesome as possible. (Not to brag, but I totally succeeded.)

My theme, The Drunker Games, was a play on the Hunger Games and involved 14 adults, a city park, oranges in nylons and other strange and unusual field day games. There was one true winner, lots of beer and plenty of laughs.

Then came my actual birthday, which I celebrated by taking a trip to the Oregon coast with my husband. Immediately following that was a long weekend in Seattle with a co-worker, which involved a lot of eating under the guise of work/sales calls (18 restaurants capped by an all-you-can-eat crab dinner).

And then it was March….I don’t even remember March. I had to look through my pictures to try to figure out what I did.

Apparently it was a whirlwind of weekend hikes and wine trips inspired by the incredible sunny weather. I didn’t do much cooking but I did do a lot of living.

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I’m only here for the snacks

Party snacks by candlelight

Party snacks by candlelight – is there anything better?

There’s a song my husband plays sometimes that echos the refrain “There will be snacks.” Sometimes we sing it to each other even when the music isn’t playing.

And while the song seems to be about the end of days, mentioning survival kits and crumbled financial institutions, it still seems to imply that even the apocalypse can be made better by snacks.

Which is an idea I can totally get behind.

There’s just something about snacks that make me happy. Perhaps because making them (and eating them) suggests that friends, laughter, a nice glass of wine and plenty of fun are in my near future. Or maybe it reminds me of sitting exhausted on my couch, after the last guest has gone home, and being left alone to finish off the last odds and ends from the plates.

Whatever the reason, out of all the meals or menus I plan or partake in, it’s always the snacks that I love the most.

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Things that are too delicious to be allowed in my house…

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

Sweet & Salty Caramel Corn, otherwise known as evil incarnate

I have pretty decent willpower when it comes to food — with a few notable exceptions. At the top of that list resides the Jalapeño Cheeto (not to be confused with Flaming Hot Cheetos whose only redeeming quality is this excellent video). I don’t know what magic took place to make Jalapeno Cheetos even more delicious than the original flavor, but it worked. These things are the straight-up definition of addictive and I am absolutely powerless against them.

My initial encounter was a few years ago when my husband left a small bag open on the kitchen counter before he left for work. I came home early and poured out a few nibbles before folding up the bag and putting it away. Those few bites was all it took. I kept creeping back into the kitchen and sneaking handfuls until the bag was (shamefully) empty.

When my husband came home, I told him he was forbidden from bringing them into our house ever again. While he hasn’t completely complied with that request, they are thankfully a rare indulgence.

I mention this story because I have recently discovered  — thanks yet again to my husband, bearer of evil temptations — something just as hauntingly addictive as those spicy, cheesy morsels.

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