An Obsession with All Things Handmade and Home-Cooked


Oregon’s Got Talent

Nestled into the mountainous terrain of southern Oregon resides a town often praised for its close proximity to other cities. Ashland, home of quite possibly the longest running and most prolific Shakespeare festival in the US, is a mere ten-minute drive away, and Medford, large enough to support its very own Airport, is another bustling metropolis within easy reach. Talent, Oregon may not have one particular claim to fame nor pop up on most travel guides of the Pacific North West, but after spending a few days in the 1.33 square miles that over 6,000 residents call home, it seems a shame to overlook this hidden gem.

If for nothing else, it’s worth stopping in for some rest and relaxation on Shady Grove Farm. Established by Husband and Wife Lynn and Lin, it’s a sanctuary for animals and humans alike. Make no mistake, it’s not just a place to stay, but a full vacation in and of itself. Stay in one of the many rooms available, from a studio with a complete kitchen, to a cozy tent by the fire for “glamping,” and you’ll immediately realize that you’re truly a guest in the Bernhardts’ home.

Tempting as it may be to sleep in every morning, the promise of Lin’s breakfast is a good reason to greet the day. As a vegan and talented cook, I’ve never eaten so well or so richly for the first meal of the day; tofu scramble enchiladas, smothered in a mild green hatch chile sauce. Cooking intuitively, when plied for a recipe, she offered that the real secret to success for this dish was a light veneer of Vegenaise lavished across the tortillas, providing moisture and flavor in one fell swipe.

Even when I professed my love for plain old oatmeal, Lin managed to create a bowlful fit for a king. Lavished with fresh strawberries and complimented by brown sugar, peach chutney, and sweet oat milk, each of the homemade condiments elevated the steel-cut grains to a new level. After that experience, it would be impossible to go back to instant.

If you’re really lucky, before you go off gallivanting around the farm to explore the organic garden or help feed the chickens, Lin just might gift you with a handful of her homemade chocolate chip cookies. No matter how stuffed you are after breakfast, when faced with these soft and chewy treats, it always seems perfectly reasonable to follow it up with a sweet morning snack.

Though it feels like an oasis in the countryside, you’re far from stranded when staying at the farm. Main Street is a short walk away, and while it may boast only a dozen businesses or so, there’s a surprising wealth of fine dining to be found. Even on Sunday evening when all other eateries were closed, The Grotto turned out to be a lucky find. Happy to accommodate hungry vegans, it was no problem to forgo the cheese on any of their myriad pizza offerings, and the promise of an unlimited salad bar is always music to my ears. Don’t overlook the beers and tap, either- A crisp glass of pear cider made this meal into something truly special.

If there’s only one opportunity to eat out, however, I would insist that you pay a visit to Harvest Restaurant. Don’t bother consulting the menu, but call ahead and alert the kitchen that you would like a vegan entree. State your budget, and be prepared for an unforgettable meal. Working with whatever fresh, local, and organic produce is on hand, the chef works magic to craft incredible meatless mains right on the spot. I was amazed at the tower of caramelized onion farro, grilled squash, beets, and chanterelle mushrooms, and crisp fried potatoes that greeted me at the table. Rather than finding dietary restrictions an imposition, the chef gamely takes on any requests, claiming that it’s like a real-life version of Iron Chef that he genuinely relishes. For dessert, sorbet was already on the menu, and the bright, honey-like cantaloupe flavor made for an idea finish to this impeccable dinner.

I had always seen myself more as a city gal, drawn to the daily hustle and bustle like a moth to the light, but this trip had me reconsidering that notion… This beautiful slice of country life seems like the perfect antidote to the common urban commotion.


Peerless Portland

Two years seems like nothing on paper, in the bigger scheme of things, but can make all the difference in the world when applied to real life. So much had transpired since the inaugural Vida Vegan, changes that affected both the event and myself for the better. One could never have accused this mass vegan convergence of delivering anything less than the most anticipated long weekend of the year, and this latest chapter to the story proved only greater than the last. Despite all the fun, friends, and food, I found myself horribly preoccupied for that first round, stressed to the max by my speaking engagements and upcoming book release. Coming home with only a single photo of a dewy spiderweb on my memory card to show for it all, it wasn’t exactly a travel log to share about. The general situation may have been the same, frantically writing magazine articles on the plane, receiving a second pass of the edited manuscript in transit, and fretting to no end about my workshop, but somehow, those burdens didn’t weigh me down. Making a concerted effort to breathe occasionally and actually get a taste of Portland, the overall experience was so much more enjoyable than the first.

The one restaurant on my list that was an absolute “must visit” was Portobello Trattoria, which we hit first thing before the convention even began. Clearly overeager, we actually showed up about an hour early for our reservation, trudging through the rain a bit faster than anticipated. No matter, once the doors were open we were seated immediately and lavished with unforgettable eats in no time. Asparagus Fries failed to excite my interest on the menu, so it’s a good thing that my mom ventured to order the tempura-battered green stalks. They were hands-down the hit of the evening, ringing with umami flavor that seemed disproportionate to the tiny, slender spears. Served with a creamy cashew-based dip, the condiment truly gilded the lily; it was delicious, of course, but completely unnecessary. If I could go back and eat any one thing in Portland, it would be this simple appetizer.

On the other end of the asparagus spectrum, I glommed onto the listing of Asparagus Vichyssoise like there was no tomorrow, immediately attracted to the promise of a cool, refreshing starter. Topped with sauteed mushrooms, asparagus ribbons, and edible yellow flowers, it was every bit as lovely as it was tasty. Though the dominant flavor was potato rather than asparagus, it was still a wonderful appetizer, light enough to whet the appetite without being too filling.

As soon as the entrees were presented at the table with a modest flourish, I started snapping pictures of my mom’s dinner first, working quickly so that she could begin eating. Of course, it was only after she broke the delicate pasta shells in half with a swift slash of the fork that the English Pea Ravioli with Morels revealed their true beauty. Vivid green pea filling, accented with a light touch of mint, provided both visual and flavorful contrast to the creamy, umami-rich sauce. I almost regretted not ordering a plate for myself, at least until I had a bite of my own main course…

Portobello Roast is a tried-and-true classic vegan dish, but they’ve really done it justice at its namesake restaurant. Fanned out artfully atop a round of sun-dried tomato polenta and cashew-creamed greens, the mushroom itself was perfectly tender, retaining a satisfying bite and bold savory flavor. Unchallenging, uncomplicated, it was probably the safest bet on the menu, but even such a modest gamble payed off. After a long day of turbulent travel, it suited my uneasy stomach just right.

Another day, another dining destination. Portland is full to bursting with gourmet vegan picks, so how is one to choose the best meals within the span of just a few days? Well, a generous dinner invitation certainly helps. Accompanied by some high-powered vegan luminaries and bloggers, our group made quick work of just about the entire menu at Blossoming Lotus. Dining with friends means sampling more dishes, so we definitely covered a lot of ground, but on the downside, I don’t remember what everything was. The above drink was not mine, has been removed from the online menu, and I have no idea what it was. Darn. Nice eye candy though, right?

One of my favorite dishes arrived early on in the meal: The Artichoke Fritters, deceptively simple little snacks, were perfectly crisp and crunchy on the outside, with just the right amount of salt. Paired with a creamy lemon-caper dressing, even the leftover crumbs of coating were inhaled after a quick dip.

Despite the riot of dishes that arrived all at once, I was immediately drawn to the Chickpea Curry*. Though a bit hot and heavy for a late spring day, the cold weather made it an instant hit, soothing bites of sweet potato mingling with the beans in a lightly coconut-spiked stew. Gloriously green kale on top lightened it significantly, while the perfectly caramelized cauliflower balanced at the top of the heap effortlessly stole the show. If we hadn’t been sharing plates, I would have licked this one clean.

*Not it’s real name, since I once again neglected to take notes at the time and can’t find it on the menu now. This might just put me in the running for worst food blogger of the year.

My last hurrah, the final meal in Portland, was a decision made at the last minute, largely due to proximity and a rapidly rising hunger level. Located just a few steps away from our hotel, Veggie Grill turned out to be the sleeper hit of the trip. In fact, my mom was so taken with the concept that she began plotting out the best space for the next outpost to open up back at home. Her pick was the Crispy Chickn’ Plate, a comforting platter heaped high with steamed kale, mashed potatoes with gravy, and the aforementioned breaded cutlet. This is the kind of food that anyone can enjoy, hearty yet healthy at the same time.

My meal of Papa’s Portabello (Kale Style) with Side Salad was decidedly less photogenic, but exactly what what my cravings demanded. Piled so high with caramelized onions and pesto that the mushroom itself was obscured from view, the combination was entirely addictive. Though I took so long chatting with friends that helpful servers tried to clear away my dish twice, I guarded it jealously until every last bite was gone. The single clove of roasted garlic crowning the stack was a surprise treat- Paired with the naturally sweet caramelized onion, the combination was out of this world.

Although that barely scratches the surface of all the vegan delights that Portland has to offer, or that I was able to taste in such a short amount of time, it’s just a sampling of a few truly memorable meals. Besides, even this brief glance over the dining options must beat a single photo of a spiderweb, right? For more mouth-watering photos, check out my Portland, Oregon 2013 set on Flickr, with more pictures to be added as I find time to sift through them.


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