Day Eighteen: Houston to New Orleans

The day started off well. We went to the Breakfast Klub, a super-friendly eatery that specializes in made-from-scratch breakfast dishes bigger than your head. They also have awesome, bottomless cups of coffee, and not the thimble-sized ones. These are for serious coffee drinkers. Then we got to the parking lot and someone sideswiped the rental car, leaving a small but distinguishable scratch. We spent the next two and a half hours being shuttled between three police stations to try and make a report for insurance. Nothing says vacation like soul-crushing bureaucracy.

On the way to New Orleans at last, the scenery began to flatten out into marshes, sugar cane, and bridges. The massive bridges stretched for miles and miles. (One was eighteen miles, to be precise.) To take a break, we stopped at one of the visitor centers in Louisiana. What a delight!

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This is what rest areas dream of being when they grow up–clean, spacious, staffed with friendly people, and good smelling. Plus they have alligators!

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The wasted time made a massive dent in my near lifelong desire to see New Orleans. But we still had time for a po’ boy.

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The Parkway Bakery & Tavern is the place to go for these sandwiches. I got the oysters, which they only have on Mondays and Wednesdays. I can also heartily recommend the bread pudding. (Take note that they’re closed on Tuesdays.)

I was game for ice cream, but no one else was. That might have been a good thing since the baby had one of those diapers that’s so bad it takes a pit crew to change it.

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On the way to the hotel, we saw a bit of the French Quarter.

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Tomorrow we finish New Orleans and head for our last day. Sadness.

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Pacific Coast Highway, Day 2: Seattle to Portland

Every time I go to a new city, I like to check out the local scene and by this of course I mean bakeries. Is it so wrong to visit a bakery? Or six? For the sake of my marriage, today I limited my bakery visits to one: Bakery Nouveau.

Did you really bypass the Troll Under the Bridge sculpture and the Space Needle in favor of a bakery? Yes, yes, I did, and I’ll tell you why: because sugar makes me feel pretty because baking is an art as well as a science, and I like to support the arts. Take this display for example:

Now, those of you who aren’t foodies might wonder what the big deal is when you can get the same thing at your local grocery chain. Here’s the thing: the grocery store items aren’t the same as these. Those are made by a machine with chemicals added to preserve. These are handmade by people who spent years learning how. As a comparison, think of the difference between a surgeon and a guy on the side of the highway offering to remove growths with a pocket knife. Take the humble palmier, for instance.

What could be simpler than puff pastry rolled in the shape of a palm, covered with sugar, and baked? Yet the last time I tried to make these at home, I had to flee the house because of the smoke roiling from the oven.

Do these have red dye, Mommy? No, they do not, child. (Cassis macaron with chocolate ganache. Cassis is black currant liqueur. Don’t say this blog hasn’t taught you important life information.)

Where was I? Oh, right, vacation. Let me just put my food soapbox away…there we go. Today was my husband’s turn to choose our activity, and that meant nature. We’re the modern day equivalent of Green Acres. New York is where I want to be. Instead we live in the middle of nowhere making failed attempts at being gentleman farmers. For example, our chickens. One was recently carried off by what could only have been a Yeti, while the other died of consumption. (I’m no vet, but I could swear I heard her coughing a whole lot there at the end.) You get the picture. I love the city and prefer to keep nature as God intended–in a well-defined area surrounded by concrete, bakeries, and coffee shops. My husband thinks nature should be vast and awe-inspiring; crazy, I know, but that explains why we packed up and headed to Mt. Rainier. Insert awe-inspiring photo here…

West coasters may be wondering what’s so special about snow on a mountain. Let me assure you that, to a mid-westerner, a 20-foot snow bank in June is an anomaly.

We hiked for a while. (I hike; close your mouth.) There was an awesome suspension bridge

and this guy.

He looked groggy, as if he had just stumbled out of his den. We didn’t stick around to search for Mama.

After Mt. Rainer, it was time for Portland, but first supper. (A girl’s gotta eat. And eat. And eat.) We went to a local chain called Burgerville.

This is what passes for fast food here–fried asparagus, a black bean burger, and chocolate cherry milkshake. Of course the ingredients are all local and fresh. (Read: expensive.)

And then there’s this handy chart to sort your trash.

There’s also a recycling container in our hotel room. Rumor has it that if you put recyclables in the trash bin, Green Party ninjas will hop out of nowhere and attack you. Of course they’re all pacifists, so their attacks would be verbal. But who needs a tongue-lashing on vacation? Not me. Better to recycle.

Our first stop (after food) was Powell’s books because we’re the two biggest nerds on either side of the Mississippi books are nifty. And Powell’s is the largest book store in the US, even bigger than The Strand in Greenwich Village. (Also a must-see if you’re a bibliophile.)

Next up was Voodoo Doughnut.

There are times when you see a place on TV, go to it, and it fails to live up to your high expectations. This was not one of those times. The shop was as funky as promised (cash only as about a million signs will proclaim) and the doughnuts were delicious–soft, fresh, and flavorful. The maple-bacon was awesome. I wish I had bought more than one.

In the smack-down between Seattle and Portland, Portland is the clear winner for me. It’s cleaner, prettier, better-planned, and with far less traffic. The downtown is a hub of activity, even if everyone appears homeless. In preparation for our trip, I watched an episode of Portlandia, a spoof show about Portland. There was a skit where the main characters had a long conversation with their waitress about the locality of their chicken. How local was the chicken? What was her name? Did she have friends? As far as I can tell, the lampoon is spot on. Portland is a city obsessed with being one-of-a-kind, and their social conscience is off the charts. For me, Portland will forever be a highlight.