How to Look Surly in a Strawberry Field: A Reminiscence of our Trip to Portland

The boys and I fled the hellish landscape of summer in Austin, Texas and flew to Portland, Oregon to visit Gangie and Grandpa. It was 60 degrees and rainy and glorious. The trip was wonderful. We went to the beach, went strawberry-picking, met the biggest celebrity in the kids’ lives right now, hung out with Cousin Jack and Uncle Caleb, built fires in the fireplace, and watched a lot of squirrels eating hazelnuts on the back patio. (During one of these mornings, sitting by the fire looking out into the backyard, Henry said “I hope another squirrel shows up so we can see another lively session of Squirrel.”) It was also hard, like everything is with young children. An example: The two hour time change was really bad for George’s emotional state. It meant that he pretty much broke down around dinner every night from complete and total exhaustion. On the last night we were there, George had a long, loud meltdown around bedtime because his leg was hurting him (suddenly and mysteriously). He screamed and screamed. I gathered up the last ragged shreds of my sympathy and patience and talked to him about it. I gently propped him on the toilet so he could pee. I held him while I put on his pajamas so he wouldn’t have to put any weight on his leg. Finally, he calmed down enough that Henry and I could have a conversation about balancing on one leg, so I showed them the tree pose I had been working on in a 30 day yoga challenge (that Andy’s doing with me!). George got excited about this and tried it too, jumping off the bed and balancing on, you guessed it, the very leg he had been wailing about for the last 20 minutes. I pointed this out and he laughed and said, “Oh! Yeah!” I swear, they do this shit just to fuck with your head. In spite of this incident and dozens (hundreds?) more like it, we had a great trip. We adventured during the day, ate lots of good food, read Matilda from cover-to-cover, spent time with people we love and generally lived it up. After the kids went to bed every night, I did my daily yoga routine, talked to Andy on the phone about how hard the kids were that day and how far he’d gotten on the very long to-do list I had left him (I’m kidding! We talked about other things too.), and then hung out with my parents. We talked about politics and all the movies I haven’t seen and should see, watched John Oliver, and listened to Vincenzo Galilei’s The Well-Tempered Lute. It was a pleasure to get to hang out with my mom and dad without having to be a parent at the same time.

Here’s what we ate (and did) in Portland.


In flight meal. Plastic knives turned out to be the hot hit of our plane ride out to Portland. George got one with his fruit and cheese tray. I also got a fruit and cheese tray because it came with Beecher’s Flagship cheese and Tillamook cheddar and a chocolate truffle. It also came with grapes that were okay and apples that were not. They had soaked them in a bucket of bleach or something to keep them from turning brown. And they succeeded in that, but not in what should have been the primary goal of serving people slices of things that taste like apples and not things that taste like old bleach buckets. Anyway, George was thrilled to discover that his snack box contained a plastic knife and he set to cutting things (grapes, cheese, crackers, what have you) with gusto. Henry’s red curry chicken and rice bowl didn’t come with a knife, so I gave him mine and a pile of grapes to cut, and this project kept them happily occupied for a glorious 30 minutes.


Westmoreland Park. Henry and George begged to visit this park on our first day in Oregon, and they desperately needed to run around after our travel day, so we went. Henry delighted in moving the big smooth tree branches from one side of the playground to the other and George spent a lot of time throwing sand at the ground. The heart wants what it wants.


Gazpacho with Jeff and Wanda. Jeff is my cousin, I think? But so far removed I couldn’t tell you what cousin number he is. He and his wife Wanda sold their house and have been traveling the country in an RV for almost a year and I met them for the first time in November (election day, may it live in infamy, to be exact) when they were traveling through Austin. We caught them again as they passed through Portland. They had just eaten, but like all good Jewish mothers, my mom forced them to try the gazpacho. I’m sure they didn’t regret it- it’s a very lovely soup! Bon voyage, Jeff and Wanda! Hope to see you back in Austin again soon, under less-apocalyptic conditions.


Broccoli Salad and Chipotle-Rubbed Pork Chops. My mom made me all of my favorite foods while we were there. Gazpacho, mole, and this broccoli salad which always tastes better when she makes it. The only thing missing was Dump Cake. Next time, mom!


Push Ups in the Hospital. My mom had a pre-op appointment for her lithotripsy procedure so we tagged along and had the most exciting ever waiting-in-a-hospital experience. The receptionist gave us free passes to ride the Portland Aerial Tram, which thrilled the kids and made my stomach feel queasy. And then they ate push ups. And then we washed push up slime off faces and rode the elevators a lot and then we left and went strawberry picking.


Strawberry Picking on Sauvie Island. It was supposed to be blueberry picking, but then we got to the blueberry farm and no one was there, so we called and they said blueberries wouldn’t be ready until June 20. Their website is full of lies. Happily, strawberries were still in season and plentiful and we found a nearby strawberry farm instead. We took several of these photos but George looks exactly this maniacal with his pruning shear in each of them, so here you go. My mom looks cute!


Get you some crazy hair and tortoise shell glasses and you can be in our picture too.


Now you can officially say you have had a strawberry brandished at you like a weapon.


It’s sort of creepy, right?


I’ve heard stories about kids making themselves sick from eating too many berries while berry-picking, but not these two. They were all business. Doesn’t my mom look like a French peasant woman picking strawberries in her big sweater?


We picked hood and shuksan strawberries, and they were both outrageously good. The hoods are sweeter, the shuksans are more complex and strawberry-y. The ones we get in Texas, shipped here from California, are big and dense and white inside. These were so soft and plump that your teeth slipped right through them. Sweet and slippery and wonderful.

It was drizzly while we were there- the dark storm clouds made it feel magical.


Have you ever seen two kids look surlier in a field of beautiful ripe strawberries?


Now here’s how you take a picture in a strawberry field! Nice one, mom!


We also picked peonies! Oregon is ridiculous.


Strawberry Pie. We didn’t have any cornstarch, so the inside of this pie was like a molten strawberry slurry, all loose and runny. Tasted great, though.


Cousin Jack! My brother, Caleb and his son Jack met us on an overnight journey to Astoria, on the Oregon coast. We started our trip with lunch at the Buoy Beer Company. Jack entertained the boys every second he was with us- he is a phenomenal kid. At lunch, Caleb marveled at how much George had grown since he saw him last in December. While Caleb and my parents and I were talking, George sat across the table from me, ate his lunch, and talked to Jack. Six months ago, George spent the whole trip in my arms or on my lap. Isn’t it funny that this change happened so quickly, and I’m totally oblivious to it? Why does it still feel like things are hard when they’re so much easier than they used to be?


We had dinner reservations for three hours after we sat down for lunch, so I just ate some hummus. It was so lovely, though!


Then we swam in the hotel pool for the whole time between lunch and dinner. Uncle Caleb did the lion’s share of entertaining the kids in there- thanks, Brother!


Bridgewater Bistro. Then we went to dinner and ordered everything on the menu. I had an oyster shooter for the first time (I loved it!) and pickled herring for the first time too (and didn’t love it. It was just cold and wet and boring). My favorite thing was a crab and avocado toast.

This was Day 4 away from Andy, and the kids were really starting to wear on me. Henry had stumbled into the habit of making near-constant mouth noises. I complained about it to Helen and then sent her this video in which Henry demonstrates said noises. Posting here for no real reason. If you do not like mouth noises, I cannot recommend this video.

George also wanted to make a mouth noise video, so here’s this one too. Shoutout to Phinnie!


The next morning we started the day off bright and early at the amazing Columbia River Maritime Museum. We got to watch a 3D movie about hurricanes and climb aboard an old coastguard boat that was docked outside. Did you know that the place where the Columbia River meets the Pacific ocean is one of the most dangerous bar crossings on the planet? Something like 2000 ships have sunk there, the waves can be up to 40 feet high, and it’s where the US coastguard trains and tests new recruits. Also, they have this real big anchor. Worth a trip!


Henry loved his lunch at the Buoy Beer Company so much (mac and cheese with shoestring sweet potato fries) that he begged to go back again the next day. As luck would have it, we made it there right at the start of the Astoria Pride parade, which was huge and colorful and so fun, so we watched that before we ate. Good on you, Astoria!


We couldn’t drive all that way without a trip to the beach! So we drove around and found the water at Fort Stevens State Park. The kids had passed out in the back seat on the drive from the restaurant to the beach, and I thought about just driving back to Portland to take advantage of the peace and quiet, but woke em up instead. I’m glad I did.


We wrapped our hands around a lot of dirty feathers and got bowled over a number of times by an excitable loose dog (who we caught and helped return to his semi-shitty and ungrateful owner) and had an all around good time.


On the way out of Astoria we stopped by Josephson’s Smoked Fish shop because, smoked fish. You’re looking at $20 worth of salmon here- hot smoked wine maple and cracked pepper chinook salmon. It was glorious.


Chicken with Mole. Another favorite mom recipe! Isn’t she a delightful human being?


Plum Tree Jam. Man, we packed so much into our short visit! We went to the downtown farmers market to meet Miranda, of Plum Tree Jam, formerly of Food52. She edited my molecular gastronomy feast articles 5 years ago and we’ve been facebook friends ever since. When I learned she made small batch jams in Portland, with local berry varieties I had never tasted, I knew I had to check it out. We got to try everything, but the big favorite was this loganberry- it’s glorious. Thanks, Miranda!


Caleb’s Famous Grilled Chicken, Salad, Chips, Mom’s Black Bean and Corn Salsa, and Bacon-y Stewed Kale. Then we went to Caleb’s house to watch the NBA finals (sure, okay!) and eat Caleb’s chicken (I care deeply and passionately about this). Since coming back to Austin, I have made something trying to approximate Caleb’s chicken twice and this black bean salad twice. They’re both fantastic. Recipes soon.


WE GOT TO MEET JOSEPH HOFFMAN. The kids have been taking online piano lessons from the Hoffman Academy for months and absolutely adore the man in the videos. Poking around the site one day, I noticed that his real-life academy is in Portland and mentioned that to my mom. She called and set up a meeting with Joseph Hoffman himself. She’s a superhero. It was so so fun to see the kids’ faces when they met him. And he was super nice and took so much time with them. They each got to play a song for him, they got to check out the studio where he records the lessons they watch, and he performed the full version of the song that you hear at the beginning of every lesson. It was raining while we were there, and we got rained on walking between his office and studio and George spontaneously burst out with a song we learned from his piano lessons: “Rain come wet me, sun come dry me, keep away, everyone, don’t come nigh me” and Mr. Hoffman joined in and sang along with him and it was So. Sweet. I love this guy and this program so much. The videos are free. You can also pay a monthly fee and get wonderful supplemental materials. We do this for Henry and will do it for George when he gets a little older.


And one picture with the adults too because we also like Mr. Hoffman.


My Dad! And Lowriders to the Center of the Earth. Great book and great dad! My favorite thing my kids did with my dad this trip was when they all took turns playing his lap steel. My favorite thing that I did with my dad was getting to talk about movies after the kids went to bed. He lent me Winter’s Bone because he thought I would dig the scene where the maternal figure teaches the little kids to kill and eat a squirrel. This guy really knows me.


A Very Paleo Chili. Served with non-paleo toppings. Caleb and Jack joined us for dinner on our last night in town and the kids did a little bit of light LARPing in the living room.


Sour Raspberry Crisp. Then we ate a raspberry crisp made with some early raspberries that we picked up at the farmers market- they needed lots of sugar.


And that was our trip! Thanks, mom and dad for a beautiful time. Thanks, Caleb and Jack for making so much time for us too. Thanks, Oregon, for giving me a chance to wear a sweatshirt in June and for providing us with a whole box full of totally perfect strawberries.

Next week, I’ve got lots of good food to share from lots of good parties (of the going away, summer solstice, and birthday varieties), updates on how Andy and I have been doing a pretty great job of making time for each other, and more adventures with Henry and George. Also journaling. And yawp-ing. And preparing for a big summer vacation trip. Happy summer, everyone!


3 thoughts on “How to Look Surly in a Strawberry Field: A Reminiscence of our Trip to Portland

  1. Barbara June 26, 2017 / 11:35 am

    Welcome back! I’m so glad you had a great trip. Hope to see you soon. XOXO

  2. Gangie June 26, 2017 / 1:59 pm

    It was such a lovely trip! So glad you could come.

  3. Laura Barnett June 30, 2017 / 8:36 pm


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