Foodie Paradise from Rioja to Portland

When most people think of Europe, they imagine the patisseries and the beautiful coffee shops with Parisian-looking people in stylish clothes sitting outdoors at café tables on narrow cobblestone streets, with beautiful churches in the background.

My idea of Europe may have initially started that way, with the romantic Parisian stereotype, but soon enough I was introduced to the hustle and bustle of the Spanish way when I stepped foot in Rioja.


Rioja has a beauty to it, a simplicity to it, a way of capturing your heart and soul with not only the love of wine by its inhabitants, but also with their love of food and, ultimately, of life. This is why I called this place home for two years and why my heart yearns for it every day. It was a way of life, not just a place in which I lived for two years.  It was an escape to an alternate reality that brings for me new meaning to the maxim “Life is a journey, not a destination.”

Cobble stone streets of Rioja


The Spanish know how to live life; they live it fully every single day, from the moment they wake up and head down to their local cafe for a “café con leche y una tostada” to their evening get-together with friends after work for a quick drink and some tapas. Rioja is truly what I would call a foodie paradise. Their foods are simple, not overly complicated. They take the simplest of things and make them spectacular without a lot of tricks. Simple dry-cured ham, or Jamon Serrano, which is a leg of pork that is covered with salt for two weeks, then rinsed and hung to dry upside down for a period of six months or more.  The resulting meat, which is cut in thin slices just before consuming, is spectacular and buttery; it simply melts in your mouth. The very best variety of these hams is called Jamon de Bellota.  It is from pigs fed on acorns, and it is incredible. Right now my mouth is watering as I am picturing my favorite place, Cafe Bar Garcia on Calle San Juan, 28 in Logroño, where I get a “Zapatilla,” a thin slice of bread spread with olive oil and jamon serrano, then grilled.

Here is a picture of my mother holding up this wonderful delight.Mom enjoying her jamon serrano


Another spectacular and yet so simple dish is their “Champi,” which are fresh local mushrooms that are brought in that same day, cooked with garlic and olive oil, stacked, and topped with a tiny shrimp. It may not sound like much, but every single person who has come to visit me raves about how wonderful this tiny stack of mushrooms cooked, or rather, bathed in garlic and olive oil, is their most favorite thing in the world. If you go to Calle Laurel in Logroño, make sure to stop by Bar Soriano.



I could go on and on about the beauty of Rioja and its amazing food. Did I mention that they have world-class wine too? In my opinion, it is some of the best wine in the world. For more information on Rioja, check out my write-up here on this website.


Unfortunately, I had to leave Rioja: with my master’s program ending and the economy in Spain not improving, it was time to pick my next adventure. I needed a place that offered culinary delights as well as the world of wine.  Perhaps that is why I was drawn to the Portland area, and now to Portland itself, my soon-to-be new home, where the food is local, fresh, and delicious.

Lately, I’ve been writing about all the incredible events that I’ve had the privilege to attend—events including wine and spirits, and, most recently, including cider. Oregon has so much to offer, and Portland as a city has the most interesting culture of young, enthusiastic people who are focused on sustainability and everything that is local.


The plan of attack for N. Missississippi Tour with Forktown Food Tours

If you are new to Portland or simply wanting to experience a bit of the foodie scene in the region, you should check out Forktown Food tours. It is a great way to explore the four quadrants of Portland and experience not only the food but also the culture of each area.

I went on the North Mississippi Ave. tour, led by Kelsie, a 6th generation Portland native who loves all things food, art, music, and culture. North Mississippi Avenue is a historic, artsy, and exciting neighborhood on Portland’s north side and is one of Portland’s newest culinary hot spots, full of great food and personality.  It is fun for locals as well as for out-of-town visitors.  This part of Portland is well worth the visit!  I would recommend coming very hungry; perhaps skip the traditional Portland brunch and leave room for these offerings, as you are going to need it.IMG_7801

The tour led us through seven different places, starting at a sit-down meal at Mee Sen Thai Eatery for some great Thai food, then on to a food cart called Gabagool, which featured a phenomenal Italian flat bread mozzarella and capicola sandwich, which my husband devoured in 2.5 seconds. We then went to the super locally-sourced Little Big Burger which offered a perfectly-sized goat cheese burger to pair with a nice organic HUB IPA. Did I mention that they have the world’s best Truffle fries? Wow…enough said.


As if there had been room in our tummies for more food, we then took a little break and headed to Sidecar 11, a great little intimate speakeasy-style whisky lounge where we had a chance to pair prohibition-era cocktails like the Gin-Gin Mule with some great seasonal aperitifs.


At this point, we were only half way through the food tour, and I was wondering how I was going to fit the great Koi-Fusion Korean/Mexican fusion tacos that came next. What is great about the food cart area next to one of my favorite watering holes, PROST, is that you are allowed to bring your food cart food into their patio or restaurant.  Who could ask for more?  Great German beer and great Portland food! (Disclaimer: My husband is German, so this is the perfect way to satisfy his love for German beer and my love for Portland food carts.)


After this we finished off with a visit to the cute little salt-and-chocolate boutique shop called The Meadow, where we did a salt-and-chocolate tasting, and then headed off to Ruby Jewel for their real ice cream sandwiches, which are literally two fresh cookies with fresh ice cream between them.

This tour was phenomenal and well done.  I would love to go on some of their other tours as I am sure they are just as great. Check out Forktown Food Tours for more information on their upcoming tours.

That was just Northeast Portland; wait until I get to Southeast Portland! Thanks for joining me on my foodie adventure from Spain to Portland. Cheers!



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7 Reasons I’m Crushing on Portland

Portland is a city of many faces and adventures. Whether you are a local or a visitor to this lush, green, eclectic city, there is something new for everyone. Join Lauren in her adventures through Portland in her “7 Reasons I’m crushing on Portland” post! I know I am still crushing on Portland after being in Oregon now for almost two years!

Looks like I need to add a few places to my PDX Must Visit List! In particular, I need to visit Blue Star Donuts and check out Burnside Brewing! I can’t wait to try the Blueberry Bourbon Basil donut at Blue Star Donuts and enjoy a Burnside IPA! Cheers!

Eat.Drink.Write.Be Merry.


A few weeks ago, I was on Spring Break (one of the many perks about working in academia).

I traveled up to the great state of Oregon, and developed a serious crush.

Portland and I…it’s getting pretty serious you could say.

And, as much as I love Los Angeles through and through, here are 7 reasons Portlandia will make you swoon!

1. Portland Is Like A City In A Terrarium

2013-11-17 14.31.59 I’ve never been to a city where there were so much foliage and trees! My lungs practically exploded from oxygen overdose.

I’ve never visited a city that felt so “green” before! Everywhere you turn in Portland, you are constantly reminded that you are in a city, tucked in a forest. From bridges covered with moss to the gorgeous Willamette river that divides Portland, you can literally look up any direction and see the towering trees hugging the skirts of the city.

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A Cider for Everyone

In a previous article, I wrote about the history of cider, my experiences in Spain, and now those in Oregon. I had the opportunity to visit the Northwest Cider Association Rite of Spring event in Portland, where I tasted ciders that would work for pretty much any palate, from those who aren’t so sure about trying cider, to the wine lovers among us, to the beginner cider drinkers.

Whether you are drinking cider simply because it is a gluten-free alternative to beer or perhaps you simply love the taste of apples, there is a cider out there for everyone. Here is my list:


For the “Not so sure about cider” people: You know who you are; you are generally a craft beer drinker, and you may sip wine from time to time, but…cider? Yes, cider…it is quite tasty, has hops, and is well worth a try.

For Saison Lovers:  Rev. Nat’s Hard Cider Hallelujah Hopricot starts with classic American apples such as a Belgian wit(white)-style cider which is then steeped with coriander, bitter orange peel, and paradise grains, and subsequently fermented with a French saison ale yeast. Lastly, it is topped off with pure apricot juice and finished with Oregon-grown Cascade and Amarillo hops. The coriander lingers with a back sweetness of ginger and a slight hoppiness at the end. It is a very interesting hopped cider that I would highly recommend finding. They also have a phenomenal Tepache which is made from pineapple and can be blended with a Lager. If you’ve been in Germany, just think Bananaweizen but with Pineapple and Lager. In fact, it is so new that they are doing their release party this Cinco de Mayo (5th of May) at their Portland Taproom.

For Beer Lovers:  McMenamin’sEdgefield Dry Hopped Hard Cider is a fermented dry cider with the addition of three different types of hops at different times. Initially they use Cascade hops after the primary fermentation, then prior to bottling finish it with Chinook and Nugget hops. This cider has a nice crisp citrus finish to it; it isn’t overly hoppy and has more aromatics than bitterness.

Sea Cider

 For Wine Lovers: Cider is a relatively new thing to you, or perhaps you’ve had a number of sweeter hard ciders and had initially written them off. I am happy to say, there are a number of great French- and Spanish-style ciders out there for your refined palates.

If you like a little barnyard, just a subtle amount: Try 2009 Ez Orchards Cidre. This cider (or cidre in French) is among my very favorite of ciders.  It is complex and has multiple layers to it due to its extensively long, cold, and wild fermentation process. It is unfiltered, and final fermentation takes place in the bottle, giving it a natural fizziness similar to champagne. It is not for the faint of heart but for those true European wine lovers.

If you like champagne: Try Alpenfire Ember, which also uses wild yeast.  However, champagne yeast is added at the end to create a French-style cider with about 2 to 3% residual sugar to balance out the acid.

Another one worth trying: Make sure to try Finnegan Dry Cider, which is fermented completely dry and has a nice balance of acid and fruit. Finnegan’s is also doing a Spanish-style Sidra type of dinner at event on May 4th at Pix Pâtisserie in Portland.


For the Newbie Cider Drinkers: Beer isn’t quite your thing; you might not like the bloating.  You kind-of like wine, but wine is a bit dry for you? You tend to prefer the sweeter things in life. If this is you, then perhaps you’d enjoy the following great ciders.

Love Apple Pie?   I have the perfect cider for you, full of spice and all things nice.  Try Carlton Cyderworks Auld Lang Spice, which has about 14 grams of sugar and literally could be a liquid dessert. It tastes just like apple pie. If anything, I love their tongue-in-cheek labels like Carry Nation.  If you like the apple pie, you’ll also like their Duke Apple Blueberry, which not quite as sweet, and with a hint of blueberries at end.

Land of Flowers and Honey:  At Finnriver Farm and Cidery, you can literally taste the land in the ciders they make. This certified organic cidery makes two very tasty ciders, the Honey Meadow cider, which is infused with botanicals like lemon balm, chamomile and honey; and their Sparkling Black Currant cider, which reminded me of when I used to pick currants off our family bushes and eat their tart sweetness.

There you have it, a cider for all palates!  If you are in California, Michigan, New York, Oregon, Virginia, or Washington on June 20-29, make sure to join all of these great Northwest cideries to celebrate Oregon Cider Week in your area. To kick off Cider Week in Oregon, join the Northwest Cider Association for the Portland Cider Summit NW at the Fields Neighborhood Park in the Pearl District on Saturday, June 21-22, 2014.


Enjoy all these faces of cider!