Recently I had the opportunity to travel to New Orleans twice for oral arguments in appeals in the United States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit.  As someone who spends most of her work days sitting at a computer researching and writing, it was exciting and a great privilege to be able to attend oral argument in appeals that I spent months working on.

The first trip was with my two bosses and our client, in a case involving constitutional issues (or at least that’s what the other side claimed).  The other side was unhappy with certain events in the trial court and appealed.

We stayed at the beautiful Roosevelt Hotel, built in 1893.  This was significantly more elegant than the Hampton Inns we usually stay at when traveling to small towns in Texas (which we nevertheless appreciate).

The Roosevelt Hotel

Jasper and Maisy would have loved The Roosevelt

Did you know that many restaurants in New Orleans allow you to BYOB?  That meant the first order of business was to buy a great bottle of wine to have with dinner:

Papa Blaise will help you select a great wine at Vieux Carre Wine & Spirits

It’s no secret that New Orleans has a rich culinary history, and dining is a key part of any New Orleans experience.  We had dinner that night at Mr. B’s Bistro in the French Quarter, which specializes in Creole and Cajun cuisine.

Mr. B’s Bistro

We were a little late for our reservation, and the host made us sit in time out, even though our table was empty and waiting for us, but once seated we had a pleasant meal, including Soups 1-1-1 (a sampling of Gumbo Ya Ya, Seafood Gumbo, and the soup of the day), and nicely wood-grilled redfish with lemon butter sauce accompanied by popcorn pecan rice:

(Mr. B’s has some recipes on its website, and one of these days, when I can cook with butter with abandon — i.e., never — I’ll try the New Orleans Barbequed Shrimp.)

Bright and early the next morning we headed to the courthouse for the big event:

John Minor Wisdom courthouse

The courthouse, built between 1909 and 1915, is named in honor of John Minor Wisdom, who served on the Fifth Circuit from 1957 until his death in 1999.  The building, designed in the Italian renaissance revival style, is silent and imposing.  No warm fuzzies to be found here (except maybe for the nice ladies that check you in and give you a coveted Fifth Circuit pen as a souvenir).

The courtroom was not as spectacular as I had imagined, and had the usual dark wood (albeit fancier) and uncomfortable wooden benches:

The West Courtroom

Oral argument was interesting.  I found the federal judges to be more intimidating than the state court appellate panels we’ve been in front of.  The panel was lively, and the questions came fast and furious.  (Pro tip:  do not point at the judges or refer to them as “you guys.”)  Issues that we didn’t place much importance on seemed to have caught the judges’ attention.  I personally think that oral argument would be more fun if it was conducted like “Who Wants to Be a Millionaire” — when the judges throw you a curveball, you could choose to “Phone a Friend” or “Ask the Audience.”  We left feeling pretty good about the case, which incidentally, we won.  🙂

Afterwards we had lunch at Cafe Adelaide, located inside the Loews New Orleans Hotel, and named after the Brennan family’s “beloved Aunt Adelaide.”

We were with a bunch of other people who I didn’t know, so I couldn’t really whip out my camera and take pictures of everyone’s food, but I did enjoy my shrimp and grits:My bosses and our client stayed on for a night of “client entertainment” on Bourbon Street, but I had to return to Houston (because I wasn’t invited to join them).  My bosses brought me back a souvenir though, in appreciation of all my hard work on the appeal and as a token of their deep respect for me:

 Not gonna show you what it says on the back

 In fairness, they also brought me an awesome bottle of wine.  🙂

A month later I returned to New Orleans for argument in a case involving international family law issues, this time with co-counsel who hired me to assist with the appeal.  This was an accelerated appeal, which moved so fast it made my head spin.  As with the earlier appeal, it was our opponent who appealed.  The client, who was very grateful to my co-counsel for the fantastic job she did at trial, allowed her to bring me, her paralegal, and the name partner of her firm (a very distinguished and well-respected attorney) along for support.

As we were waiting for our luggage in New Orleans, the partner told us he had arranged for a car, and would meet us outside.  We got kind of giggly when we found a limo waiting for us (this is only the second time I’ve been in a limo, the first being my wedding day).  It was a fun start to the trip.

We settled in at The Roosevelt (getting a little spoiled at this point), and then met downstairs in the hotel’s Sazerac Bar before heading out to dinner.

The partner had sazeracs waiting for each of us to try:

A sazerac, “the official cocktail of New Orleans,” (I would have sworn it was the  Hurricane), is made with a sugar cube, 1-1/2 ounces whiskey or bourbon, 1/4 ounce Herbsaint, a few dashes of Peychaud’s Bitters, and a lemon peel.  It tastes like lighter fluid, and goes down just about as easily (cocktail fail for me).

We had dinner that night at Arnaud’s Jazz Bistro, which has been a fixture in the French Quarter since 1918:

We loved the jazz trio that played throughout our meal:

Among the dishes we enjoyed were the Arnaud’s Salad with House Dressing, Arnaud’s Crab Cakes with White Remoulade Sauce (best crab cakes I’ve ever had), and Breast of Chicken Pontalba:

My co-counsel headed back to the hotel after dinner to prepare for oral argument the next morning.  But the partner talked me and the paralegal into going with him to Preservation Hall to hear some jazz.  Preservation Hall was established in 1961 to preserve and perpetuate traditional New Orleans jazz.  Despite the fact that it was packed and lacked air-conditioning, we had a great time.  The jazz was really wonderful.

The next morning we headed to the courthouse for argument.  As before, the panel was spirited and engaged, firing questions at the attorneys.  My co-counsel did a bang-up job arguing, especially considering this was her first oral argument in the Fifth Circuit.  As before, we left feeling good about the case, which incidentally, we won.  🙂

With argument behind us, we headed to Galatoire’s for a celebratory lunch:

The restaurant, founded in 1905, is known for its French-Creole cuisine.  (This was definitely a stretchy-pants kind of trip.)  Among the dishes we sampled were Turtle Soup au Sherry, Redfish Meuniere Amandine, and Chicken Creole:

(Galatoire’s has a few recipes on its website, including one for Shrimp Remoulade, which I plan to try one day soon.)

After lunch, the partner headed back to Houston.  This time, I was invited to stay an extra night.  🙂  My co-counsel’s husband, who happens to work with me, flew in to celebrate and treated us to dinner at Commander’s Palace, in the Garden District.  Founded in 1893, Commander’s Palace has earned its place in New Orleans culinary history.

Among the highlights of our meal were an heirloom tomato salad, the gigantic Crispy Soft Shell Crab, a crazy rich dark chocolate tart, and a delectable strawberry shortcake:

After dinner we headed to Bourbon Street and Frenchmen Street to hear some jazz and do whatever it is you’re supposed to do there.  Let’s just say it was not my scene.

Before heading back to Houston the next day, we made the obligatory stop at Cafe Du Monde — a sweet and sticky New Orleans institution since 1862 — for beignets and chicory coffee (hoping our pants wouldn’t split at this point).

With a little time to kill before our flight, we strolled around New Orleans, taking in the sights and sounds of this colorful city:

I bought a souvenir for myself to remind me of the wonderful opportunities I was afforded on these two trips — a wooden roux spoon.  How I lived without one of these, I don’t know.  😉 

So before I go, I’m sharing a recipe for Duck and Sausage Gumbo that I made with my roux spoon (it actually works very well to stir the roux and get around the edges of the pot).  The recipe is based on every gumbo recipe out there.  Patience in making the roux is the key, for which you’ll be rewarded with a dark, earthy, satisfying soup.

Recipe type: Soup
  • ½ cup vegetable oil
  • ½ cup flour
  • 1 cup diced bell pepper
  • 1 cup diced onion
  • ¾ cup diced celery
  • 8 cups chicken broth
  • 2 bay leaves
  • ½ teaspoon garlic powder
  • ½ teaspoon cayenne
  • ½ teaspoon dried thyme
  • ½ pound smoked sausage
  • 2 cups shredded roast duck
  • Salt and pepper, to taste
  • Cooked white rice
  • Chopped green onions, for optional garnish
  • Tabasco or other Louisiana hot sauce, for optional use at table
  1. Heat oil in a large stockpot over medium heat. Whisk in flour. Continue to cook until roux is dark copper colored, stirring frequently (be patient -- this can take 20-40 minutes). Add bell pepper, onion, and celery, and continue to cook, stirring frequently, until vegetables are soft, approximately 5 minutes. Add remaining ingredients to pot and bring to a boil, then reduce heat and simmer for 45 minutes. Discard bay leaves.
  2. To serve, mound ⅓ cup cooked rice in center of shallow soup bowl. Ladle gumbo around rice. Garnish with green onions, if desired. Serve with hot sauce for use as desired.

The flour tastes raw at this stage

Getting there — starting to smell nutty

Voila — dark copper colored roux

Maybe not Gumbo Ya Ya, but definitely Gumbo Yeah Yeah


Who says deviled eggs are just for Easter?  They’re also fun to dress up for Halloween — cute or creepy, your pick!  I am constantly surprised by the creative ideas for these time-honored favorites.  Get inspired by this updated annual roundup of Halloween deviled eggs, from the merry to the macabre.

Nothing scary about these adorable candy corn deviled eggs from Edible Crafts (new for 2017):


Guests will go batty for these batty deviled eggs from Tastefully Simple (new for 2017):

Wonder who the brain was behind these creepy deviled eggs from Brit & Co. (new for 2017):

Who could resist a cute little pumpkin deviled egg, like these from Tadka Pasta?


Too generic?  How about a grinning Jack O’ Lantern, like these from Ochikeron’s You Tube channel:


Or these from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:


Who wouldn’t get a kick out of these owl deviled eggs from Maker, Baker, Glitter Shaker?  Hoo?  Hoo?


Spider deviled eggs are cute without being too creepy, like these black olive ones from The World According To Eggface:

halloween1And these green olive ones from Momtastic:


Of course, you CAN make them creepy, like this albino black widow spider deviled egg found on Hairpin:


If you’re going to have spiders, you might as well have spider webs, like these from

Food Planet kicks spider web eggs up a notch with a bright green filling;


Devil horns are an easy way to dress up deviled eggs for Halloween, like these from Cookin’ Canuck:


You can have lots of fun coming up with devilish little faces on your deviled eggs, like these from So Lovely Sweet Tables:


Or these amusing little devils from Kraft:


Skeleton deviled eggs from Thrifty Fun are a scream:


It wouldn’t be Halloween without some eyeballs, like these from Kath’s Kitchen Sync:

halloween4  Or these zombie eyeballs from Happier Than A Pig In Mud:

Zombie eyes 061

Or next level creepy with piped on capillaries from Mom Foodie:


Or even these dragon (or cat) eyeballs from Chow Bella Paleo (new for 2017):

These black and orange eggs from might be too scary for some people:


These red ones found on Homemade Recipes puts the devil in deviled eggs:


Deviled eggs make cute ghosts in a graveyard, from Chef Morgan:


These green goblin eggs from Betty Crocker are pretty scary:


But nothing could possibly be creepier (or less likely to be eaten) than these Satan’s Spawn deviled eggs from  Nothing.  Ever.


Happy Halloween!

P.S.  Do you know why ghosts don’t like it to rain on Halloween?  It dampens their spirits!


Shanghai River, located at 2407 Westheimer, has been serving Szechuan and Hunan cuisine since 1970.


Located in a strip shopping center, the unassuming building doesn’t hint at the retro glamour inside.

The restaurant’s cool, dark dining room, with its glossy redwood finishes, lacquered artwork,  buddhas, and giant foo dogs brings back childhood memories of many meals at Chinese restaurants n New York.  There’s a hint of mystery in the air.  My son and I visited Shanghai River on a whim, and have been back many times since.  The recipes are what I think of as old school American Chinese food–tamed to suit what are perceived to be American tastes.

We first tried Shanghai River for lunch.  With 40 choices on the special luncheon menu, we had no trouble finding dishes we liked.  Each luncheon special comes with soup (hot and sour or egg drop corn) and choice of appetizer (spring roll, crab puff, or egg foo young).  We chose the hot and sour soup, which was thick and suitably hot and sour, and came with fried wonton crisps and mustard and duck sauce for dipping:

Among the lunch specials we enjoyed were Shrimp in Hot Garlic Sauce, with a generous number of plump shrimp (although I would not call this dish spicy by any stretch of the imagination):


Chicken with Peanuts (made with all white meat on request):


Hunan Shrimp:

Shredded Pork in Hot Garlic Sauce (again, not spicy):


And Chicken with Cashew Nut:


You’ll notice that the unifying characteristic of all of these specials is that they are varying shades of brown.  It would be nice to throw in a veggie or two just to break up the monotony of the plate, but the lack of color didn’t distract from our enjoyment of the food.

There are many more choices on the expansive dinner menu.  Just for fun, on one occasion I ordered the Pu Pu Platter with my son, which I hadn’t had, or even seen on a menu, since I was a kid.  The Pu Pu Platter came with spring roll, bar-b-q rib, shrimp toast, crab puff, skewer beef, and tempura shrimp, one of each for each person.  With its blue flame from the mini hibachi grill and giggle-inducing name (according to Wikipedia, the name has its origins in the Hawaiian language, where pū-pū signifies an appetizer or hors d’oeuvre), the Pu Pu Platter was a fun trip down memory lane.

At dinner, a complimentary dish of pickled vegetables is offered:

Dinner is served family style, accompanied by rice.  Some of the dishes we liked were Chicken with Cashew Nuts (the veggie flower garnish was a nice touch):

Beef with Snow Peas:

And Mu Shu Pork

Neither the dining room nor the bar were ever crowded on any of the occasions we visited, although there was almost always something going on in the private room.  If you’re looking for a quiet place to enjoy a meal, Shanghai River fits the bill.  I believe its longevity is likely attributable to its reasonably-priced menus, generous portions, satisfying–if not exciting–food, and brisk service.







I bought this sterling spider brooch at an estate sale, thinking it might be fun to wear for Halloween:

This brooch is huge, about 3-1/2″ long:

The spider brings to mind the childhood song “The Eensy Weensy Spider.”  As the song goes:

The eensy weensy spider went up the water spout

Down came the rain and washed the spider out

Out came the sun and dried up all the rain

And the eensy weensy spider went up the spout again

Only the version that is playing over and over in my head goes “down came the rain and washed the city out.”  Two words — Hurricane Harvey.

Living in Houston for more than three decades, I know the scenario too well.  It starts slowly, rumblings on the nightly news about possible storm activity in the Atlantic.  Easy to shrug off at this point.  Then highway signs light up warning of storm activity in the Gulf:

As the storm intensifies and goes from possibility to certainty, the talk turns to categories, wind speed, landfall, storm surge.  Pictures of the storm dominate the news and social media:

Panic starts to set in, mild at first, intensifying along with the storm.  Bottled water and bread fly off supermarket shelves.  A nervous giddiness pervades as people queue up at grocery stores, liquor stores, and pharmacies, stocking up on supplies.

The line waiting for the liquor store to open the day before Hurricane Harvey hit Houston

Fill up the gas tank, get cash, make sure you’ve got batteries, flashlights, and candles on hand.  Let your friends and family know your plans — hunkering down or evacuating.  And then the waiting starts.  Waiting for the storm to make landfall.  The knot in my stomach tightens.

Jasper waiting and watching the rain

I’ve lived through a lot of storms in Houston — Hurricane Alicia (August 18, 1983), Tropical Storm Allison (June 9, 2001), Hurricane Ike (September 13, 2008).  Disastrous flooding caused by unnamed weather events —  Memorial Day Flood (May 25-26, 2015), Tax Day Flood (April 17-18, 2016).  Each one deadly, devastating, costly.  But Hurricane Harvey was unlike anything anyone had ever experienced here before.

Take a look at the rainfall totals over the four days that Hurricane Harvey hovered over Houston:

Look closer.  51 inches at one point.  The number none of us will ever forget.

The hurricane was so intense, so deadly, that the National Weather Service created a new warning to accompany it — FLASH FLOOD EMERGENCY FOR CATASTROPHIC LIFE THREATENING FLOODING.

Our house did not flood.  Thankfully, miraculously.  But as the images began to appear on the news, our hearts sank.  This widely-circulated photo is one of the first that really drove home for us the gravity of the situation for Houston:

Much has been written about the acts of heroism, selflessness, generosity, and compassion undertaken on behalf of those affected by the floods, by people from all over the country, the world.  Disaster relief doesn’t begin to cover it.  Treacherous water rescues; preparation and distribution of hundreds of thousands of meals to victims, first responders, and volunteers; massive fundraising efforts; thousands of strangers going to flooded neighborhoods to tear out sheetrock and wood flooring, salvage what can be saved, and muck rake; truckloads of cleaning supplies, bedding, clothes, hygiene items, etc. distributed to those in need.  The road to recovery will be long, but no one will have to travel it alone.

There were attempts at humor by some.  When we asked our friend who flooded if he could use help, he replied with:

Then there was this “Yard of the Month” sign:

I couldn’t help but smile at some of the creatures crawling out of the bayous:

Imagine returning to your flood-ravaged home to begin cleaning up, and finding this in your dining room:

Back at the nervous giddiness stage, I thought it would be fun to make Harvey Wallbangers while riding out the storm.  Wrong.  I lost my sense of humor when the rain started.  But I did buy everything to make them — vodka, Galliano, and orange juice (yep, I was in that line at the liquor store):

The 70s called and wants it drink back

Inspired by the spider who saw the city get washed out, and rather than sit and stare at a bottle of Galliano for the next decade, I made a few Harvey Wallbanger cakes to hand out to friends.  I admit to really liking this cake, despite its use of cake mix and instant pudding.  It’s easy, moist, and tasty.

Recipe type: Cake
  • 15.25-ounce box yellow cake mix
  • 1 cup vegetable oil
  • 3 eggs
  • ¼ cup Galliano liqueur
  • ¼ cup vodka
  • 3-ounce package vanilla instant pudding mix
  • ¾ cup orange juice
  • For glaze:
  • 1 cup powdered sugar
  • 1 tablespoon orange juice
  • 1 tablespoon Galliano liqueur
  • 1 teaspoon vodka
  1. Preheat oven to 350 degrees. Grease and flour a Bundt pan. or spray with cooking spray.
  2. Place cake mix, oil, eggs, Galliano, vodka, pudding mix, and orange juice in a large mixing bowl. Using an electric mixer, beat for 2 minutes. Pour batter into prepared pan. Bake for 45 to 50 minutes, until a toothpick inserted in the center comes out clean. Set aside to cool. Invert and unmold the cake from onto a cake platter.
  3. Prepare the glaze by mixing the powdered sugar, orange juice, Galliano, and vodka together in a small bowl until the mixture is smooth. If glaze is too thick, add more orange juice a few drops at a time. If glaze is too thin, add more powdered sugar a teaspoon at a time. Drizzle glaze over cake and let set at room temperature.


Came out perfect!

Glazed and ready to serve

Moist and delicious


I bought these nesting bowls on ebay.

They were made in France by Vallauris, probably in the 1950s.

Several years ago I found a Vallauris dish at an estate sale, and have been buying pieces wherever I can find them.  I love the rustic, aged look of the pottery.

You’ll notice that these nesting dishes are empty.  Like my nest.  Last week we took my son — my youngest child, my backup kid — to college.  I’d been dreading the thought of being an empty-nester for the better part of the last year, and as the day arrived, I realized it wasn’t so much like ripping off a band-aid, but more like ripping out staples after open-heart surgery.  With a screwdriver.

Jasper had a hard time saying good-bye too:

My son’s dorm set-up is something I could only have dreamed about when I was in college.  He shares an on-campus apartment with a roommate.  They each have their own bedroom, and share a living room, bathroom, and kitchenette.  I had a teeny tiny room that I shared with a roommate (our beds were about 6 feet apart), and a community bathroom down the hall, where I would lug my bucket o’ toiletries and hope there was an empty shower stall.  He’s got a full-size refrigerator — not like the crappy little dorm fridges we rented that didn’t hold much more than a six-pack and some leftover pizza.  There’s free washers and dryers, a dining hall that’s open until 10:00 p.m. daily, free soda refills for eternity with purchase of a keeper cup, and free cable.

My son is blessed to have a wonderful roommate, a really nice kid that he went to high school with.  Unlike my first roommate.  I’ll call her Robyn (because that was her name).  Upon arrival, she announced that she had a “heavy-duty boyfriend,” — you know, like aluminum foil — and proceeded to place a half dozen or so framed photos of her and her heavy-duty boyfriend on her desk.  A few nights later I woke up to some unusual noises, which turned out to be Robyn having sex with someone who was not her heavy-duty boyfriend.  It turned out Robyn was a heavy-duty pig.  After this happened a second time in as many days, I asked her to please let me know when she was planning to have sex in the room and I would leave, which she did.  We quit speaking, and she eventually moved out.  At least that’s one thing my son won’t have to deal with.

Inspired by the empty nesting dishes and my own empty nest, I made something to fill one of the dishes.  Sun dried tomato pesto is an old favorite — my son calls it “deliciousness.”  We love it spread on crostini or crackers as an appetizer, but it’s also good spread over cream cheese, or stirred into pasta.  It’s definitely on the list of things to make when the kids come to visit, which I hope is sooner rather than later.

Recipe type: Appetizer
  • 8-ounce jar oil-packed sun dried tomatoes
  • ½ cup grated Parmesan cheese
  • ¼ cup chopped fresh basil
  • 2 tablespoons pine nuts
  • 3 garlic cloves, chopped
  • Olive oil
  1. Drain tomatoes, reserving oil. Place tomatoes, cheese, basil, pine nuts, and garlic in a food processor. Add enough olive oil to reserved sun dried tomato oil to make ½ cup. With the food processor running, slowly add the oil and process until a smooth paste forms. Transfer to serving container and refrigerate until ready to serve. Serve with crackers or crostini.

This jar from Costco is enough to make two double batches — great for entertaining

It only takes a few minutes to make in the food processor

Deliciousness to fill my empty nest


After spending the first few days of our vacation in Portland, we headed for the Oregon Coast.  Our route took us through the Willamette Valley, home to more than 500 wineries, and renowned as a premier pinot noir producing area.

We stopped for tastings at three very different wineries.  The first stop was at Evening Land’s tasting room, a modest, but very nice room in a commercial building:

Based on a recommendation from Kelly, our likeable tasting guide at Evening Land, our next stop was for a private tasting at small producer Ayoub Wines, in the home of Mo Ayoub.  I think this is what the term “garage wine” refers to.  Mo’s home is in the Dundee HIlls, and the view from his back porch was spectacular.  I definitely had a bad case of yard envy.

Our last tasting was a private tasting at Soter Vineyard’s Mineral Springs Ranch, “a 240-acre savanna-like oak woodland and grazing land.”  The biodiverse property provides natural predators and healthy microorganisms, allowing the production team to focus on sustainable farming.  The property is dry-farmed, no insecticides or herbicides are used, and sheep and goats help with mowing and weed control.  When the vineyard had a problem with birds eating the grapes, they enlisted a falconer to help with the problem.  Get the picture?  There is a biodynamic farm on the property, and a huge open kitchen where chefs prepare dishes for special “provisions tastings” using meats and produce from the farm.  I was enamored with the garden, kitchen, views, tasting room — pretty much everything.

Before leaving the valley we stopped at Red Hills Market in Dundee to pick up some provisions, and sat for a spell in these chairs made from pinot noir barrels:

We eventually made it to the little town of Yachats on the coast, where we spent the next 4 nights.  After the 100-degree weather in Portland, we appreciated the MUCH cooler weather (highs around 60, lows around 50).

We rented a cozy cottage with a view of the ocean at Overleaf Village (Overleaf Lodge, which manages the rental cottages, is next door, and also has comfortable rooms with ocean views).

Oh, how we loved this cottage and its proximity to the ocean.  We marveled at the tides, the fog, the sunsets, and the sounds and smells of the ocean.

The Oregon Coast Aquarium in Newport was fun for everyone.

We saw lots of interesting fish:


See if you can spot the fish and crab hiding in this picture

Touched a few tidepool inhabitants:

And learned about pelicans:

But our favorite attraction was the comical sea otters — we could have spent hours watching them:

After the aquarium, we spent the rest of the afternoon exploring Newport and the surrounding Yaquina Bay area.

One of the things that really intrigued us was watching teeny bay shrimp being processed at Pacific Seafood (haven’t you always wondered how they did it?):

We got up early one morning and went in search of tidepools during low tide.  We didn’t find any tidepools at Devil’s Churn, but still enjoyed the views:

We did, however, strike tidepool paydirt at Neptune State Scenic Viewpoint (actually, my husband found the tidepools, because there was no way I was going climbing on those rocks):

It was an incredible feeling being the first people to step on the pristine sand that morning:

Here’s something we’d never seen before — cool patterns created by different colored sands running off of the rocks, like sand art:

The Sea Lion Caves in Florence were a lot more fun than we expected (we thought it would be kind of hokey).

The Sea Lion Caves, America’s largest sea cave, is a privately-owned wildlife preserve, and home to the Steller sea lion.  The sea lions are free to move in and out as they please, and this time of year they mostly move out of the cave and onto the rock ledges in front of the cave, known as the rookery.  The cave, discovered in 1880, is roughly 12-stories tall, and access is via elevator.  On this day, there were about 100 sea lions on the rookery, and about a dozen in the cave.

Another surprise attraction in Florence was Darlingtonia State Natural Site, dedicated to the protection of Darlingtonia californica, commonly known as the cobra lily, a member of the carnivorous pitcher plant family (Sarraceniaceae).

A boardwalk trail leads to a marshy area where the plants flourish.  The cobra lily has yellowish-green hooded leaves that form erect, 10 to 20-inch-high hollow tubes.  On top, the leaves are mottled a purplish color with transparent areas.  “A hidden opening into the stalk is bordered by a large, green, mustache-shaped appendage beneath the curved hood of the leaf.  Nectar inside the plant’s hidden opening attracts the insects. Once inside, an insect becomes confused by the transparent areas that appear like exits.   The insect eventually drops into the lower part of the tube, where it’s trapped by downward-pointed hairs, and falls into a pool of water at the bottom of the stalk. Bacteria in the water decompose it into nitrogen, which is then absorbed by the plant.” We saw a few remaining flowers of the plant, which blooms in the spring.  This was quite a sight, and we stood there in stunned silence — I’ve never seen anything remotely similar, and it was simply fascinating.


We had a bit of excitement one day when my husband, an avid cyclist, rented a bike and took off for a ride in the Cape Perpetua Scenic Area.

We didn’t hear from him for a while because he was in and out of cellular range.  Unfortunately, he got two flats, only one of which he was able to repair.  Fortunately he had service briefly — long enough to let us know we needed to come pick him up and send us his location (this is a great feature on the iPhone — see instructions below for how to send your location).  Unfortunately, the single lane gravel road was a little too treacherous for my son and I in our rented SUV.  Fortunately, we found the camp managers — a couple named Tom and Cindy — and Tom agreed to drive me up the mountain to find my husband (I offered a “reward”).  Tom turned out to be a really interesting fellow — a retired Texas A&M oceanography professor, and a great storyteller.  We were all very relieved to find my husband and bring him and his bike back down the mountain.


He’s up there somewhere

Thank goodness for Tom and Cindy

Great iPhone feature — we never would have found him without it

We weren’t expecting much in the way of dining, but we had some really enjoyable meals along the coast.  Clearwater, an attractive waterfront restaurant in Newport, had wonderful views and great food, including clam chowder, crispy maple salmon salad, blackened bay shrimp tacos, and grilled ham and cheese on 3-cheese sourdough bread (so good!) with truffle garlic fries:

Homegrown Public House in Florence is a quirky little place that serves tasty pub food made from locally-produced organic ingredients, including clam chowder, Cajun fried oysters, and a cheeseburger with garlic parmesan fries (we really liked those long parmesan shavings on the fries):

At Ona, in Yachats, which offers an upscale menu, we enjoyed an Oregon Dungeness crab cake with caper remoulade, grilled Yaquina Bay oysters, clam chowder, housemade yakisoba with miso black cod, and strawberry pineapple cobbler with ginger ice cream (note that the restaurant states that it closes at 8:45-ish, which translates loosely to “whenever we feel like it”):

Our favorite restaurant, hands down, was Drift Inn Café in Yachats.  We ended up there after being turned away the first time we tried to eat at Ona (don’t say I didn’t warn you), and wound up eating three meals there.  The décor is a little unusual, with a curious mural that greets you, and umbrellas hanging from the ceiling:

The restaurant has a pretty extensive menu, and we enjoyed quite a few dishes, including clam chowder (yeah, we ate a lot of clam chowder on the coast), cheeseburger and fries, and a salad my husband loved called Rubbery Shrubbery with chicken and a housemade cranberry vinaigrette:

But the restaurant really excels at pizza.  This pizza, with olive oil, garlic, paper thin slices of Yukon gold potatoes, slivered onion, manchego cheese, and prosciutto, was a thing of beauty (so good that we had it twice), baked in an outdoor wood-fired oven:

We enjoyed our time on the Oregon coast, and would have loved to have been able to stay on longer.  I’m certain we’ll be back — there’s lots more to do and see.  (I’m a little envious of the 100,000 or so people expected to be there August 21 when it will fall under the path of the Great American Total Solar Eclipse.)


We just returned from the dreaded eagerly-anticipated family vacation.  This year our daughter has an internship that sadly prevented her from joining us (I don’t really think she was too broken up about  it).  Each summer we look to vacation somewhere that has significantly cooler temps than Houston, and this year we headed to Oregon, spending a few days in Portland before heading to the coast.  Unfortunately, Portland was in the grips of a heat wave with record-breaking highs, so that kind of sucked.

vacation fail

But this was vacation, and we weren’t going to let a little hot weather ruin our fun.  We stayed at the Hotel Vintage, where we enjoyed our reasonably-priced spacious suite, nightly wine tastings, and convenient downtown location (also Ryan, the concierge, was very friendly and helpful):

Our first stop was the Portland Japanese Garden, “a haven of serenity and tranquility” for more than 50 years.  It’s considered the most authentic Japanese garden outside of Japan.  It was beautiful:

I was especially enamored with these tiny-leaved maples, which looked like stars against the sky:

We spent quite a bit of time just looking at the Sand and Stone Garden, referred to as a karesansui garden, which translates to “dry landscape.”  The aesthetic principle underlying these dry landscapes is known as yohaku-no-bi, meaning “the beauty of blank space” (a principle I’d like to see some of my more wordy opposing counsel adopt).  This style of garden is intended for contemplation, not meditation, and so we sat and contemplated.  (My son informed us that every principal’s office he’s ever been in has one of these gardens on the desk, complete with itty bitty rake.)

Our favorite part of the garden was the Strolling Pond Garden.  The huge Japanese Iris were unlike any iris I’d ever seen before, and of course, now I must have some for my garden:

Directly across the street is the International Rose Test Garden.  The garden has been there for about a century, and features more than 10,000 roses (Portland’s nickname is the City of Roses).  The garden is stunning, with the biggest, most perfect, gorgeous roses I’ve ever seen, and although we were wilting in the heat, the roses were not.

We spent the better part of the next day at the Portland Saturday Market, an arts and crafts open-air marketplace started in 1973, which is held every Saturday and Sunday from March through Christmas Eve.  All of the items sold at the market are made in and around Portland, and are sold by the people who make them.  We found so many interesting and unusual items there, including jewelry, purses, apparel, woodcrafts, paintings, and handpainted scarves:

Gotta have tie-dye!

Purses made from coffee bean sacks and vintage fabrics

Carnivorous plants

Beautiful soaps — eucalyptus mint was our favorite

Star Wars art

The next day we headed to Mt. Hood, about an hour-and-a-half drive from Portland.  First, a quick stop at Vista House at the Crown Point State Scenic Corridor, to take in the scenic (and very windy) views from 733 feet above the Columbia River.

Continuing on, we stopped to see several waterfalls.  First was the 249-foot Latourell Falls:

Next we stopped to see the 242-foot tiered Wahkeena Falls:

From the Wahkeena Falls we followed the short (unpaved and rocky) trail to hike to the Multnomah Falls, which took about 15 minutes (but seemed like an hour).  The Multnomah Falls are split into an upper falls of 542 feet and a lower falls of 69 feet.  There is a short but steep paved trail up to Benson Bridge, which spans the upper and lower falls.

In addition to being the tallest waterfall in Oregon, Multnomah Falls is also the “most visited natural recreation site in the Pacific Northwest with more than 2 million stopping by each year to take in the views.”  Now, I’m not saying it was crowded . . .

Snow-capped Mt. Hood was a welcome sight on this hot day:

We threw a few obligatory snowballs at each other, and then went to poke around the historic Timberline Lodge, a Works Progress Administration project built in the late 1930s.  “The lodge’s design mirrors the lines of the mountain, and was constructed out of stone and wood from the surrounding forest.”

The lodge is filled with art and crafts, including wrought iron features:

Wood carvings:

And oil paintings and mosaics:

We enjoyed lunch at the lodge’s Ram’s Head Bar, centered around a huge stone column with giant beams, and which had a great view of Mt. Hood.

Highlights of our lunch were a grilled cheese sandwich made with fromage blanc, Tillamook cheddar, and Swiss cheese on sourdough with a cup of cream of smoked tomato soup, and cheese-stuffed kasekrainer sausage on a pretzel bun with beet sauerkraut, pickled mustard seeds, and potato salad:

The next day we left Portland and headed to the coast, which you can read about in Part 2.  But before leaving Portland, I have to say that we were excited to discover that Portland is a foodie town.  We had great meals in Portland, highlights of which were lunch at Grassa that included radiatore with beef and pork Bolognese, pancetta, and pecorino; and chicken cacciatore with rosemary pappardelle, pancetta, tomato, and nduja ricotta (seriously delicious):

Dinner at Nostrana that included antipasti di mare (ahi tuna crudo lettuce cups with avocado crema & crispy spring onions; pink shrimp fritters with green goddess mayo; and grilled octopus and potato salad with capers,  oregano and mama lil’s peppers); grilled copper river sockeye salmon with aioli, spring onion and green garlic risotto cake, sautéed spinach, fava greens, and morel mushrooms); and tagliata flat iron steak with arugula and garlic-rosemary oil:

Great Thai lunch at E-San Thai Cuisine (recommended by one of our Lyft drivers) — we had som tum (papaya salad); gaeng kiew wan (green curry with beef); and Mao special (rice noodles with red curry):

Dinner at Higgins, where we swooned over a beautifully composed salad of summer greens, toasted hazelnuts, and herb vinaigrette; charcuterie board; halibut over quinoa with lemon vinaigrette; summer vegetable fisherman’s stew with sauce vert; and cherry pie:

And an inventive and outstanding dinner at Irving St. Kitchen of meatballs over mashed yukon potatoes with green peppercorn sauce; black garlic butter steamed clams with chicken liver mousse toast; chicken fried oysters; pan-roasted porcini with ricotta blinis, zucchini, shaved porcini, and peas; carrot butter poached halibut with green garlic puree and pickled ramps; buttermilk fried chicken with collard greens, smashed potatoes, and tasso bacon gravy; and dessert of cherry sorbet gel,, almonde tarte, meringue, salted honey chiboust, and red wine syrup:

Before we left Portland, my husband went and stood in line for about an hour at the much-hyped Voodoo Doughnuts:

Although they were fun to try, I think we all agreed that they were too sweet for our tastes, as in make-your-teeth-hurt too sweet.  Reeling from our sugar high, we departed Portland, having thoroughly enjoyed the city and looking forward to returning again one day.