Birthday Festivities and Frivolity

My 29th birthday was on Tuesday. (No old jokes, please.)

For this festive occasion, my friends and I planned to go out to dinner at one of Portland's best restaurants, Andina. And being that Portland is a foodie city with tons of top notch restaurants (seriously. I could live here and do nothing but eat at amazing local eateries all day... not to mention the food carts...) it means something when everyone I talk to raves about the food at Andina.

But before our fancy-times dinner party, I wanted to go on a birthday hike in the Gorge. It has been ages since I've been hiking, and I've been missing it... the Gorge is one of those places where even on a gross, rainy day, it is something magical. Fortunately for us, it was a gross, rainy day!

But I jest. This winter has actually been something of a God-send, as we have had an unprecedented number of sunny and mild days this year and a good amount of snow on the mountain. Last year I remember being in a severe state of depression around the February-March time period, slinking through my days on low doses of Vitamin D.

This year, I've seen sunshine more often than I like to admit (shhh... don't call attention to it or it might go away again!) but after a week of sunshine, March 5 happened to be a typical rainy spring day again.

We got up early and went to brunch before striking out into the Columbia Gorge. It was raining the whole drive there, but cleared up by the time we started hiking, leaving behind a cool, misty breeze. It was a pleasant and short jaunt through the mossy trees, our walk taking us past the strikingly beautiful Elowah Falls and Upper McCord Creek Falls.

Since the hike was fairly short, we still had time leftover when we got back to our car. The boys wanted to take a nap, so they stayed in the car, but Elizabeth and I walked the short loop around Latourell Falls and returned back by lunchtime.

We went to a local burger spot called Burgerville for lunch, one of our favorite post-hike rituals, and then had exactly an hour and a half to go home and change before dinner. We cleaned up, dressed up, and drove into the fancier part of downtown Portland - the Pearl district - to the Peruvian restaurant Andina. The dishes (though pricey) were delicious, beautifully presented, and incredibly flavorful. Two more of our friends met us for dinner and we enjoyed good conversation while passing around bites of our dishes.

Afterward there was a suggestion for dessert, so went to a small ice cream parlor a few blocks away from Andina called Salt and Straw.

The ice creams are all made in house with real ingredients and the true draw of the establishment is its unique array of eclectic flavors. In fact, we were all so delighted by them that there were constant pleas of "can I try that one?" before we could narrow it down to just one scoop. Seasonal flavors come and go, so no experience is ever quite the same there. On a rainy March Tuesday evening at 9:00 pm, Salt and Straw was packed with customers and the menu consisted of:

Sea salt with caramel
Almond brittle with salted ganache
Freckled woodblock chocolate
Chocolate gooey brownie
Orbequina olive oil
Coffee and bourbon
Cinnamon snickerdoodle
Strawberry honey balsamic and black pepper
Pear with blue cheese
Lumberjack stack (maple syrup with blueberry pancakes)
Spicy banana with walnut
Rose City riot (rosewater, saffron and pistachios)
Chocolate meyer lemon sorbet

Apparently the most famous flavor is the Olive Oil, which sounds ridiculously horrible but actually tastes pretty cool. My taste buds couldn't handle a whole scoop of it, though, so I ultimately decided on the pear with blue cheese. (Which also sounds like it would be horrible, but the combo of sweet pear and tangy cheese is absolutely divine.) It was a tough decision - the close runner up was the spicy banana and walnut (which had cayenne pepper in it) and the lumberjack stack.

After all the great foodie delights we had today, it's no wonder that when you ask a local Oregonian, "what is there to do in Portland?"  inevitably the answer is: "oh, you just have to eat here ... and here... and have you been here yet?...."