Monday, March 15, 2021

What's in my bag - The Spa Edition


When I graduated form high school a friend of my mother's got me a gift certificate to a spa. 

At 17, I didn't understand the appeal. I thought it was boring. I didn't need to relax. I didn't need to heal. 

Now, at 33, I finally "get it." 

I am obsessed with the spa, and fortunate enough to live within a 3 hour drive of one of the best ones. 

Going to Olympus Spa in Seattle used to be reserved for weekend trips to the city with me bestie, but now with a kid a home, such trips are rare. 

That's why we have taken to making a day trip to the spa. One weekday every couple of months, I'll wake up at 6:00am, drive 2.5 hours from my house in Portland to Tacoma, Washington, and spend all day soaking in the pools, getting a scrub and massage, and eating a large delicious Korean lunch.  

Through my experience, I have perfected the art fo packing for the spa. 

Here is what I take with me on these day trips.

To hold my stuff:

  • Spa Bag: freebie from Victoria's Secret
  • Makeup bag: freebie from Korres
For the bath:
  • Korres Body wash
  • Korres Hair mask
  • Body sponge
  • Razor
  • Korean facial mud mask
  • Deodorant (for when it's time to go home)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste (for after lunch)
I wash my hair at the spa, and this is the source of many problems. For one, my wet hair soaks the mandatory hairnets we must wear, which makes me uncomfortably wet in the dry parts of the sauna. Second, it takes forever to dry so I often have to leave the spa with wet hair. To that end, I have a lot of solutions for these problems:
  • Hair Wrap: to wrap my hair under my hairnet so it doesn't soak the hairnet
  • Hair drying spray: to help my hair to dry faster
  • Waterproof Drying bag: for my wet mask and hair wrap
  • Blow Dryer: they have free ones at the spa, but only two of them , and I don't want to wait in case both are occupied
  • Fast-drying hair brush
Covid-19 Protocol - we have to wear a mask at all times in the spa, so I come prepared:
  • Waterproof mask for inside the pools
  • Mask shield to help with breathing
  • Dry mask to put on in the lounge (so I don't have to wear the wet one)

Monday, February 15, 2021

New Normal: I'm so Bored...Cheese Board that is

Like many people locked up inside during this difficult period, I am doing the best I can to make life at home interesting. One way this has manifested is in my newfound obsession with creating my own cheese and charcuterie board. 

I have always loved boards, but never had the vision for how to make one. The lack of skill for me was one of taste and design. What pairs well together? How do you plate it in an interesting manner? These thought were in my head for years but the pandemic seemed to promise both the time and motivation to embark on home-making projects. 

What ended up transpiring is that I had the motivation, but not the time (I have since only made one real board). 

First order of business was to follow every Instagram board producer out there. Next was to purchase “This Cheese Board Will Change Your Life” which proved to be just as amazing as promised. Just seeing examples of her simple steps helped breakdown the art of the cheeseboard in a much more approachable way. 

Next I ordered some supplies – spreading knives, ramekins, honey dipper sticks, and cheese tools, then set out to have an indoor picnic. 

Despite this being call a cheese “board” craze, I never intended to use an actual board – I want my board to be portable, for real picnics, so I made a cheese and charcuterie bento. 

The Japanese bento boxes are the perfect size and depth for portable cheese boards, and I confirmed that one layer of bento had just the right amount of space for a one-person board. 

Featured in this cheese Board/Bento:

Humbolt Fog Goat Cheese


Marcona almonds

2 kinds of Crackers

Fig Jam 
Blackberry lavender jam


Pickles and Olives
Break and Butter pickles
Pickled red onion (homemade)
3 kinds of olives

It was my first board and I know it is not as beautiful as the ones in her pictures, but it was my first attempt and it made a fantastic dinner – so I’m pleased!

And with the leftovers...

Saturday, January 30, 2021

Reading The Plague…during a plague


“There have been as many plagues as worst in history; yet always plagues and wars to take people equally by surprise”(Camus, 34). 

The coronavirus pandemic of 2020 certainly did take the world by surprise. At a conference in February, we discussed the rising numbers in China and what the travel industry might do if the virus was to spread outside the region. Later that month in Ethiopia, we were counting our good fortune that the virus had not hit Africa yet. By the time I arrived stateside, Seattle was a hotbed to virus activity, two weeks later in March, the city of Portland shut down. 

I kept track of the changes as I observed them: the first time I worse a mask in public, the first time I saw public signage about mask wearing, the first time I bought something with plexiglass between me and the cashier. Everything suddenly felt sterile. Every time I went in public I felt like people treated me like a harbor of disease. 

The Plague by Albert Camus sold out on Amazon. 

That’s when I remembered I already owned a copy I had never read. 

By April Camus had back from the past to save me. His book, written 60 years ago, described what our world was going through so precisely. It was almost more accurate than watching the news. It was a warning, a prediction.

Reading The Plague by Camus was also healing and cathartic. It was so relevant and timely it almost felt like a friend speaking into my ear, telling me what has happened, and what is left to come. Even he said what so many others are echoing now: “Every day that passes we are one day closer to the end of this ordeal.”

My favorite quotes that seem to describe March 2020:

“But once the town gates were shut, every one of us realized that all, the narrator included, were, so to speak, in the same boat, and each would have to adapt himself to the new conditions of life. Thus, for example, a feeling normally as individual as the ache of separation from those one loves suddenly became a feeling in which all shared alike and - together with fear – the greatest affliction of the long period of exile that lay ahead…  

“One of the most striking consequences of the closing of the gate was, in fact, this sudden deprivation befalling people who were completely unprepared for it” (Camus, 61).

“The first thing that plague brought to our town was exile… It was undoubtably the feeling of exile – that sensation of a void within which never left us, that irrational longing to hark back to the past or else speed up the march of time, and those keen shafts of memory that stung like fire… We returned to our prison-houses, we had nothing left to us but the past, and even if some were tempted to live in the future, they had speedily to abandon the idea - anyhow, as soon as could be – once they felt the wounds that the imagination inflicts on those who yield themselves to it” (Camus, 65).

From summer and Fall 2020:

“They came to know the incorrigible sorrow of all prisoners and exiles, which is to live in company with a memory that serves no purpose” (Camus, 66). 

“They seemed at the mercy of the sky’s caprices – in other words, suffered and hoped irrationally” (Camus, 69).

“In the early days, when they thought this epidemic was much like other epidemics, religion held its ground. But once these people realized their instant peril, they gave their thoughts to pleasure. And all the hideous fears that stamp their faces in the daytime are transformed in the fiery, Dusty night fall into a sort of hectic exaltation, and unkempt freedom fevering their blood” (Camus, 111).

From January 2021, after Biden’s election and the vaccine being released:

“All agreed that the amenities of the past couldn’t be restored at once; destruction is an easier, speedier process then reconstruction… But in reality behind these mild aspirations lurks wild, extravagant hopes, and often one of us, becoming aware of this, would hastily add that, even on the rosiest view, you could expect the plague to stop from one day to another” (Camus, 241).  

“The fluctuated between high optimism and extreme depression” (Camus, 244).  

“He knew what those jubilant crowds did not know but could have learned from books: that the plague bacillus never dies or disappears for good; that it can lie dormant for years and years in furniture and linen closets; that it bodes it’s time in bedrooms, cellars, trunks, and bookshelves; and that perhaps the day would come when, for the bane and the enlightening of men, it would rouse up its rats again and send them forth to die in a happy city” (Camus, 278).  

Saturday, January 16, 2021

New Normal: Living Room Picnics

We're about halfway through winter in Portland, and dining outside remains miserable. I have passed time dreaming of elaborate picnics and order picnic supplies online. I also still want to support my favorite restaurants, so I decided to stage a fancy picnic in the living room. 

Pictured is the new picnic basket I bought online from The Beach People. Oregon Blossom rose wine, and my Spanish feast from Can Font. 

Jamon Iberico y Serrano Pan con Tomate: cured ham with bread covered with tomato

Ensalada de Remolacha: beet salad

Paella Negra: black squid ink paella with clams, mussels, and shrimp

Tuesday, January 5, 2021

New Normal: A 6-Course Tasting Menu at Home

While I am grateful to be healthy, housed, employed, and generally in a very good place in life, there is a lot I miss about pre-pandemic life. One of those things is tasting menus at restaurants. I love going to a new place and letting the chef decide what I will eat. I love the surprise of getting small bites of food, beautifully plated and delivered to my table, knowing it will be the perfect amount of food by the end of the meal. 

My first tasting menu experience was at the Beast, a French restaurant that Portland lost due to the pandemic. Other recent memorable tasting menus I had were at Mision 19 in Tijuana, and Han Oak in Portland, which was one of the best meals of my life. 

I can't get this experience during the pandemic. Half of the fancy restaurants closed during the pandemic because they could just not serve take-out with their concept, and the other half adapted to offering take-out friendly different menu items like street food, baked goods, and noodle soups. 

For fun, I decided to attempt my own tasting menu at home. I order take out from Lechon, a South American restaurant with an amazing vibe and gorgeous aquariums in its restaurant. Unfortunately they are closed for indoor dining, but I want to see them succeed, so I ordered a wopping 6 items from their menu and had them delivered. 

Then I plated each item for two people, selected wine pairing, turned on Chopin, got out the candles and cloth napkins, and made it my Tasting-Menu-at Home night. 

I wish I was better at decorating a dining room table or plating food, because these pictures are not all that spectacular. Although my aesthetic talents were tested in this challenge, and admittedly I suck at plating and decorating,  I think the photos and experience serves as a relic of this time: trying to relive good memories and make the most of a devastating global pandemic. 

Course 1: Brisket Empanada

Course 2: Mexican-Style Street corn

Course 3: Shrimp Ceviche

Course 4: Bone Marrow - the best!

Course 5: Grilled Octopus

Course 6: Steak

Saturday, December 26, 2020

New Normal: Touchless Window Shopping


One of my favorite stationary stores in Portland - 11/11 - closed its physical location due to the pandemic. With such a reduction in foot traffic due to quarantine, loss of customers from the co-working spaces nearby, and the inability to host its many social events, this cute little store could not make it at its former location. 

I was sad when I heard they moved online, but felt a small sense of relief when I heard they returned in pandemic-proof physical form: a touch-less window store. 

Now in downtown Portland, you can see this pretty display of 11/11's best selling items. By scanning a barcode, you can pull up the item list on your phone and order them to be delivered to your house right there. I am so happy to see small businesses innovate during this difficult time, and I can't wait for their physical shop to return. 

Tuesday, December 15, 2020

Lockdown 2.0 Scramble Week

In mid-November the  state of Oregon announced a "two week pause" which halted events and reduced the capacity of in-door dining. Then that "pause" became a "four-week freeze" which banned in-door and out-door dining and closed spas, gyms, and other "non-essential" businesses. In this state of Oregon this also means no bars will open because we can't have cocktails to-go. 

At least this time we knew what was coming, so the week before we scrambled to visit some of our favorite places while we still could. 

First on the list was Eem. Coincidentally, this is also one of the last restaurants we ate at right before the first lockdown in March. It is a small restaurants and I remember we sat so close to other patrons I could smell the food at their table. I leaned over and asked my partner "Should we really be here?" The food was great but we both felt kind of weird for eating out during a looming pandemic. That was March 13th. The first lockdown because March 17th, and Eem, which had never offered to-go options, wouldn't start offering takeout and delivery until August. 

We had eaten Eem's food a few times at home during the lockdown, but once the initial restrictions were lifted we were excited to try the heated private cabanas we had heard so much about. They were every bit as wonderful as we imagined. 

Inside the cabana was a personal fireplace that felt so intimate and cozy. I ordered a cocktail because I knew it would be my last chance, and I indulged on curry, papaya salad, and braised pork belly. 

The second place on our hit-list was Tropicale. I had been there before in August with a friend as a first-pandemic dining experience, and it was magical. I hoped to relive some of that magic, but unfortunately I was too late. Though they had an amazing outdoor cabana, they were already done with dine-in and not serving any cocktails. 

So my partner and I ordered a virgin Pina Colada to go and had their fantastic food on our porch at home. I will be back for a real cocktail once the restrictions are lifted. 

Saturday, December 5, 2020

Here We Go Again: Lockdown 2.0

 Almost as soon as I thought things were starting to get better, when restrictions seemed to be loosening and I felt more and more comfortable going out, the city of Portland went right back into lockdown. 

Just the week before, I had done the two things I was most looking forward to post-pandemic: Olympus Spa and Proud Mary. 

Olympus Spa is a Korean Spa with locations in Tacoma and Lynwood, just south and north of Seattle. Ever since my first trip there in 2016, I have fallen in love with that place and try to go every time I am in Seattle. Unfortunately I didn't make it there before the lockdown in March, and I was dreaming of going ever since. 

After eight months of closure, finally in October they announced they would reopen with a myriad of restrictions: 50% capacity reduction, appointment only, had to wear a mask at all times (even in the pools), temperature check at the door, signed consent form, everything sanitized, etc. But I didn't care - I wanted to go. So on a Thursday I called them up and booked the earliest appointment for Monday. I took off work and drove 3 hours north just for a day at the spa. 

It was amazing. Even though my mask got wet. Even though breathing through a wet mask made me feel like I was being waterboarded. I still got to go in all the heated pools, savor the dry sauna, enjoy a decadent lunch at their Korean restaurant, hang out in the heated rooms, and get a full body scrub. And even better, I got to do it all with my best friend. 

On the way back from Seattle I also got to check out a new cafe in the area: Olympia Roasters. We went to their flagship store in Olympia which is usually packed. 

Emboldened by my success at the spa, I booked long-awaited reservations at the newly opening dining hall of Proud Mary. In December of last year I had taken a dear friend from Japan to Proud Mary and had been savoring their  flat white and toast with scrambled eggs ever since. During the lockdown Proud Mary was offering takeout and delivery, but not their flat white and  toast with scrambled eggs. So I waited and waited and finally made reservations and had my first in-door dining experience since March. 

Again, it was wonderful. The food and flat white were exactly as I remembered. We even sat at the exact same table I sat at with my friend a year ago. I also appreciated the reduced capacity and 6-ft distance from other diners because the place was packed and I felt like I had a lot more space and privacy than before. 

I was lucky to have these two incredible experiences before lockdown 2.0. Now Olympus Spa is closed again, and Proud Mary is back to takeout only. I am sad that this joy did not last, but grateful that I got to experience it while I could. 

Wednesday, November 25, 2020

New Normal: Sushi in the Car

 So by now we've been living 9 months in a quasi-quarantine with no definitive end in sight. As the hope of returning to dine at my favorite restaurants diminishes by the day, I have had to get creative to indulge my cravings. 

Case and point: Toshi Beaverton - the best sushi restaurant in the Portland metro area. This restaurant is a tine hole-in-the-wall in a derelict shopping mall whose most prominent features are a Goodwill and a Tattoo parlor. But it is seriously the best sushi on the west goal, the most amazing fatty tuna (toro) and sea urchin (uni). 

Since the first lockdown in March they have been close for dine-in and doing take-out only.

Challenge 1: they don't do delivery

Challenge 2: I live 30 minutes away, so getting takeout means the sushi sits in the car for a half hour before I eat it it. Not idea when I'm spending $120 on my most favorite freshest sushi. 

So we got creative. 

While we were still enjoying nice weather in the summer, we enjoyed our first post-pandemic meal at Toshi's at a park nearby. I was skeptical that their sushi would be good in to-go form, but it was unbelievably just as spectacular as the dine-in experience. 

Look at that gorgeous fatty tuna....

Round 2 we weren't so lucky, but better prepared. The good weather had run out in Portland and it was pouring rain when we arrived for our second take at Toshi's takeout. So we pulled into an empty spot in the parking lot, far from other cars who were swarming the tattoo parlor and Goodwill, and enjoyed our sushi with a tray table, dishes, and chopsticks from home.

They were also out of fatty tuna, but had sea urchin from Japan! 

Wednesday, November 11, 2020

Rooftop bar in the pandemic

 I haven’t dressed up to take blog photos since I went to Han Oak restaurant on Saturday, October 19, 2019. One year ago. From pretty much October to February, I had back to back business trips that kept me hustling with no time to dress up and go anywhere and take pictures. 

Then the pandemic hit and I stayed home all day every day and got really, really comfortable in pants without buttons or zippers. 

So when my partner and I had a free afternoon while the kid was at my mother-in-law’s, we went to the Hoxton Hotel to check out their lobby café – Lovely Rita – as well as Tope – their rooftop bar. 

I wore a dress I bought it Portland, but first wore in Portugal in June of 2018 (and haven’t worn since, a vintage denim jacket I bought in Seattle in 2015 and probably haven’t worn since, and carried a bag from Ippolito, which I ordered from Greece in 2018 and have never photographed. 

Jacket: Vintage, from Crossroads
Dress: from a boutique in Portland
Bag: Ippolito
Shoes: Target

Sunday, November 1, 2020

New Normal: A week of cafes during a pandemic

Before this week, I hadn’t been to a new café in over a year. 

Before having a baby, I would regularly scout out which new cafes had opened in the city and would check them out for my extensive café catalogue. 

However, by 2019 things got busy with work, the baby became a toddler, I was no longer working in cafes, and I was just too busy to drive to the other side of town to check out a café. 

I put the hobby on hold. 

But then the pandemic happened, and suddenly I wasn’t so in love with my home office anymore. 

I missed cafes. I missed lattes poured by professional baristas, I missed the vibes, I missed seeing other people. 

But the problem was that everything was closed…or so I thought. 

Apparently, while I was busy building a business and raising a kid, a lot of new cafes opened in Portland. So many that I had to make a list! And to my great surprise, they were open! 

So I cleared my calendar for the last week of September and made a point to visit one new café a day. 

Keeper Coffee

Keeper was the first café I visited because I heard that had seating and were actually allowing people to sit. This café was located mere blocks from where I used to work. Inside it doubles as a shop and has about 4 bar counter seats (spaced 6 ft apart) and 3 small tables outside. 

I ordered a latte and drank from a ceramic cup – for the first time in 6 months! I also ordered the lavender loaf and ate it there. 

Ardent Coffee 

I was looking forward to Ardent as it was getting a lot of hype online. This café is a nonprofit, where all proceeds go toward ending human slavery, and the baristas are volunteers. The café is located near Reed College and will surely be packed once on-campus courses resume. My latte was really excellent and the vibes were great. A few things about this café make it really unique compared to other cafes in Portland:

It has indoor and outdoor seating

It has parking…in a parking lot!

It has a garden area that feels like a private terrace. 

Lovely Rita

Lovely Rita is located in the lobby of the Hoxton Hotel. I love hotel lobbies and I love cafes, so it stands to reason that I would love lobbies with cafes and cafes in lobbies. I ordered a Flat White - still hard to find in this city. I love the vide of the cafe and the spacious lobby. I hope to be back again soon. 

Café Rowan

Also located in the Reed College area, Café Rowan took over the location of an old Starbucks that closed (thank goodness). The café doesn’t just serve coffee but also avocado toast and chia bowl. The plating and favor of the avocado toast was excellent. In a city where nearly every cafe has avocado toast, their offering was very original. This is definitely a welcome replacement for that old and dated Starbucks that used to occupy the space.

The Coffee Shop

Beaverton has really gotten a lot hipper since the days when I would frequent one of it’s only cool cafes – Insomnia (some 5 years ago). The Coffee Shop is a new edition that aims to bring a bit of the third wave coffee scene to the suburbs. While seated was limited and I had to get my coffee to go, I appreciate this little and it was clearly very popular with the neighborhood. 

The Bakery at Bar King

By night, this location is Bar King, an Asian-fusion restaurant. By day, it is The Bakery. I ordered a latte and 4 very original baked goods: a Gruyere Togarashi Brioche, a Miso Chocolate Chip Cookie, a Kimchi Egg Muffin, and a Matcha Almond Cake. I loved the ample outdoor seating in a quiet ally off of very busy Morrison street. 

What's in my bag - The Spa Edition

  When I graduated form high school a friend of my mother's got me a gift certificate to a spa.  At 17, I didn't understand the appe...