PBJ’s Grilled

PBJ's Grilled Food Cart, Portland, Oregon

My father-in-law, Ernie, is a total sweetheart. When it comes to peanut butter and jelly sandwiches, he’s also a total creature of habit. I’ve been a member of his family now for 6 years and I’ve been watching this man’s PB&J routine like a hawk. I appreciate the attention to detail and the ritual that goes along with it.

Here’s how it goes: First, the bread is usually Dave’s Killer Bread. I do wonder if this was an upgrade from some other kind of bread he used before that was widely available. Surely Ernie has been eating PB&Js for longer than Dave has been making bread.

PBJ's Grilled Food Cart, Portland, Oregon

The jelly needs to be Welch’s Concord Grape jelly. No exceptions — although I do spot some marionberry jam from time to time in the cupboard at my in-laws’, so I don’t know if that’s an occasional substitute in a pinch.

Now on to the peanut butter: Adams. I appreciate this choice because I grew up eating Adams peanut butter, direct from the monster bucket my mom bought at Costco. I think there’s a clause about some kind of shelf-stable peanut butter being used in some contexts, but I can’t speak to this specifically when it comes to Ernie’s PB&J routine.

To enjoy it, the best way is to sit at the table (in ideal circumstances, this would be the table inside Ernie’s fifth child, his awesome Airstream trailer) and enjoy it with a cold glass of milk. This is the time-tested PB&J routine, and it’s just the way he likes it.

PBJ's Grilled Food Cart, Portland, Oregon

The PB&J that I found at PBJ’s Grilled in NW Portland would have thrown Ernie for a serious loop. These concoctions are delicious, but some of them sound a little off the wall. Because I wanted a vegan option, it was recommended that I try the Thai PB&J. I was a little nervous — I can be adventurous, but peanut butter with sriracha? Basil? Orange marmalade? I took a risk and went for it.

Now I can’t even think about it without my mouth watering. It was spicy, sweet and totally unexpected. And it was on Dave’s Killer Bread — so maybe I can get Ernie to try it next time he comes to town. What do you say, E-man?

PBJ's Grilled Food Cart, Portland, Oregon

Get your own crazy PB&J routine on at this food cart at 919 NW 23rd. You will not regret it.

a n d Cafe

and Cafe, Portland, Oregon

My family all lives nearby, and we get together a lot. There are 11 of us now (just from my immediate family of my sisters and parents) and between us, we have a hilarious grouping of food allergies, intolerances and preferences. We’re also always in flux.

For awhile, one of my sisters was paleo while we were vegan and my other sister’s family was gluten-free and dairy-free (except for one kid). By the next gathering, it was plant-based for a few of us, flexitarian for others. My parents then went vegan for awhile but are notoriously flexible. But recently, we’ve had my mom stumped. She has resorted to telling us all to bring our own dinner when we come over. It’s just too much to keep track of.

and Cafe, Portland, Oregon

I’m pretty amazed in Portland at how many options we have. I don’t see a menu very often that doesn’t include something for the vegan/vegetarian/gluten-free/paleo/what have you among us. And I think that’s a part of what makes Portland’s restaurants so cool and enjoyable and unique.

We ended up on a recent Saturday morning at the a n d Cafe on E. Burnside. Tons of options, including a special hash with vegan gravy and herbed tofu mixed with brussels sprouts.

and Cafe, Portland, Oregon

a n d Cafe is located at 5420 E. Burnside. They make breakfast and lunch, the service is snappy and friendly and they have lots of options for those of you with, let’s say, needs.

Three Penny Mercantile

Three Penny Mercantile, Portland, Oregon

Flashback to 1989 with me. I’m 7, and inseparable from my best friend Julie. My little sister Emily plays sidekick. Most days start out good-natured, but eventually, Julie and I end up concocting mischief. This day is no different.

We decide that we’re going to have an impromptu birthday party (of course). It isn’t Emily’s birthday, but we’d like to celebrate it — now. Like, in 20 minutes. So we tell Emily that the party is going to be in her room and it’s a surprise so she can’t come in. I drag my parents’ gift wrap and crepe paper stash from beneath their bed and we go to work inside Emily’s locked room.

Three Penny Mercantile, Portland, Oregon

First, we annihilate the crepe paper stash by tacking it up with Scotch tape all over the walls. How festive!

Next, we need to focus on presents. We wrack our brains, not sure where we can find any presents on such short notice. Until we realize we are surrounded by toys. Madly, we begin to wrap up things we find on her shelves. Ten minutes later, we let her into the room. We sing to her, we show off our mad party-planning skills and then we settle down to open presents.

Emily was the absolute best sport of all time, always. She opened every single present, acting genuinely surprised and grateful for each. And they were just her own stuff, wrapped in wrapping paper.

Three Penny Mercantile, Portland, Oregon

It’s fun to have new stuff, even if it’s really used stuff. That’s why secondhand/thrift shops are a good time, and a great place to find some unique stuff. Three Penny Mercantile is a great spot, on NW 23rd Ave., to score some new (old) stuff. They have a great selection of vintage finds in a really cute shop, and you can sell your vintage goods there too.

Three Penny Mercantile, Portland, Oregon

Three Penny Mercantile is at 816 NW 23rd Ave. Stop in to buy or sell rad vintage clothes.

New Deal Cafe

New Deal Cafe, Portland, OR

Two years ago, Eric and I went on a two-week trip to India. We were there for a wedding (which meant I was working) and the wedding was one of the more stressful things I’ve ever been involved with. All in all, it wasn’t a super-relaxing trip. I’m so glad we went, but next time it’s going to be under different circumstances.

We only spent a couple days in Delhi, and the rest of the time we were in a smaller city in eastern India. I love Indian food, but eating it for breakfast, lunch and dinner for 13 days started to get a little monotonous. Then, to top off the rest of the experience, I got some kind of water-borne illness on our last two days there. I drugged myself to the max just to get myself on the plane. I can’t ever remember wanting to be home so badly.

The next morning, we woke up in Amsterdam. As we got off the train at Amsterdam’s Centraal Station, the sun was just beginning to make an appearance and the bakeries began to open their doors. At last, I thought. The western world!

We ditched our suitcases and walked down the street, browsing for a place to have our first meal. It only took us a few steps and we were standing in front of an adorable cafe with an 8€ all-you-can-eat breakfast buffet with bacon, scrambled eggs, granola, yogurt, coffee and hash browns. I had barely eaten in two days.

I’m sure we didn’t represent our country very proudly that morning, inhaling plates of bacon and hardly saying a word to each other, except, “Breakfast is so good.” 

New Deal Cafe, Portland, OR

And you know what? Breakfast is so good. That’s why I’m so glad they serve it until 4 p.m. every single day at The New Deal Cafe in NE Portland. It’s welcoming and casual, you can camp out for awhile to work or read and the food is completely delicious. With specials like banana chocolate chip pancakes, how could you possibly go wrong?

New Deal Cafe, Portland, OR

The New Deal Cafe is located at 5250 NE Halsey St. Go for breakfast, anytime.

New Deal Cafe

Quin

Quin candy shop, Portland, Oregon

At the tender age of 2 years old, I broke my arm. I don’t remember exactly how it happened because, as we’ve already covered, I was 2 years old. It was something about a swingset accident — normal kid stuff. The point is, it’s really pitiful to see a 2-year-old with a tiny little cast. I would imagine it’s akin to seeing a kitten in a cast (which I did actually see once, and I can vouch that it’s pretty heartbreaking).

Quin candy shop, Portland, Oregon

Being a laid-up 2-year-old with her arm in a cast raised great sympathy from my community. My uncle Dave (who was not really my uncle, but a good family friend) showed up at my bedside later in the day bearing gifts. He brought with him two bags of M&Ms.

“Hopefully these will make your arm feel better,” he said. I ate them, relishing the attention and the chocolate, and proclaimed that they did, indeed, make my arm feel better. And from then on, whenever a kid in my family was hurt, the magic cure was M&Ms. Stitches from a nasty fall? I’ve got just the cure. Had to have a tetanus shot? You’re getting M&Ms too.

Quin candy shop, Portland, Oregon

Candy has a way of making everything feel better (and boy, I’m sure my dietician friend could tell you how this particular parenting strategy did a number on my relationship with food). The cheery, tiny little candy shop Quin, in the city’s West End district, is pure joy. It’d pull anyone out of a funk. This candy is handmade here in Portland, packaged in pretty little containers and ready to bring happiness to the world. My picks are the coffee orange caramels and the tangerine gumdrops. The artisan marshmallows have a reputation for miles around.

Quin candy shop, Portland, Oregon

Find Quin at 1025 SW Stark St.

Random Order Pie Cafe

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

Allow me to take a moment to tell you about a pie. It was a coconut cream pie with a salted graham cracker crust. It was pretty delicious, if I do say so myself. I hand-toasted coconut flakes for the top, whipped the cream topping into foamy peaks and pressed the crust into the pan. Then I packed it across town to the Portland Pie-Off and entered it into — unbeknownst to me — the most popular category.

There were coconut cream pies, banana cream pies, chocolate cream pies and a few less-than-traditional concoctions. The competition was intimidating. The day was also on the warm side, which made me nervous about my freshly whipped cream. But we laid in the grass on our picnic blanket and let the judges do their work. I did happen to notice quite a few of them huddling around my pie in particular. That’s how I had the feeling I might win.

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

I did win — in my division, at least — and even if I hadn’t, it was one of my most fun Portland afternoons. I’d like to make this my official request to bring the Portland Pie-Off back! I would totally enter again.

Incidentally, I made my blue-ribbon pie again about a month later for a party and it didn’t set up right. It was coconut soup and no one ate it. Pie can be tricky!

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

I make a mean pie, but the folks at Random Order coffeehouse and pie shop could run circles around my blue-ribbon coconut cream. That’s why I love them. I love their caramel apple pie and really, every pie they make, and I keep going back for more. Who doesn’t love pie? As a side note, they make a really yummy vegan panini with a white bean spread. Don’t miss it on the lunch hour.

Random Order Pie Cafe, Portland, Oregon

Random Order is at 1800 NE Alberta St. Stop in for pie, cocktails or the aforementioned sandwich. They’re all good. Find Random Order on Twitter too!

Porch Light

Porch Light, NW Portland, Oregon

When I was in late elementary school, my sister Emily and I loved watching the movie Man in the Moon. We’d snuggle up to watch it, imagining that we were Reese Witherspoon, falling in love for the first time in the summer in the south. It’s such a great coming-of-age movie.

It’s weird thinking back now — because I know at the time I wanted to know so badly what it felt like for those characters. What was it like to be in love? Would I ever get to the point where I had those kinds of feeling and emotions and experiences? Even as a kid, I was always a total romantic.

Porch Light, NW Portland, Oregon

Porch Light is a shop in the Pearl District that carries little oddities and beautiful objects — it reminds me of the south and it’s every bit as charming as that darned Reese Witherspoon. Pop in for a dose of inspiration or a new trinket or gift to remind you of a simpler time.

Porch Light, NW Portland, Oregon

Porch Light is in the Pearl District, 225 NW 11th Ave. They tweet too.

What was your favorite coming-of-age movie?

Boke Bowl

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

I’m still totally unsure as to why they’d need to do this, but when I was in elementary school, they marketed school lunch to us with “cool” magnets featuring brightly colored flamingos and slogans like “It’s cool to eat at school!”

They didn’t have to sell me — most of the time, my mom didn’t let us eat hot lunch at school because it wasn’t very healthy. Instead, she’d pack up fresh fruit and veggies alongside sandwiches and skim milk for us. But on the rare occasion that we got to buy lunch at school, it was awesome — especially on chicken fried steak day. I find it weird that I’m an adult who has been vegetarian most of my life now, but I could not get enough chicken fried steak back in elementary school. Pair it with tater tots and over-boiled grayish green beans and you’ve got a classic early 90s school lunch.

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

Absolutely nothing about Boke Bowl resembles school lunch, except for the long table running the length of the restaurant. Something about eating in the company of strangers takes me back to my cafeteria days. The food here is far more complex and wonderful than all that business. My favorites at Boke Bowl are the vegan rice bowl and the caramelized fennel ramen (try a side of rice tots!) Most days, this is exactly what I want for a complex and yummy lunch.

Boke Bowl, SE Portland, Oregon

Boke Bowl is at 1028 SE Water Ave. in SE Portland’s industrial district, just a short walk from the waterfront and Eastbank Esplanade. Stand in line — it’s worth it.

Grassa

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

In my high school days, I was a drama kid. As in, I acted in plays and musicals. And I both looked up to and feared one of my drama teachers, Jeff. I feared him because everyone feared that if you made him mad enough, he’d never cast you in a play again.

One time, I got asked to babysit his kids, which was essentially equivalent to being invited into the inner circle, I think. It meant he trusted you enough to trust you with his own children and thought you were responsible. In my 16-year-old brain, this translated directly into being considered responsible enough to play a leading role in some upcoming play.

I arrived at his house (getting to see where a teacher lived was always so weird and exciting), got my babysitting instructions and met the dog, and then he and Koleen headed out for the night. The kids were easy — a great age, pretty autonomous and I already knew them — and the job was going to be a slam dunk. I was convinced that if I could just be the best babysitter they’d ever had, I’d be his favorite student from then on. Lead roles straight through until graduation.

Job number one was to feed the kids. They had left me a blue box of Kraft Macaroni & Cheese — easy. But somehow (and I do not even know how this is possible) I burnt it. Ruined it. And then I panicked. The kids had to eat something! I couldn’t put his children to sleep with empty bellies! What was I going to do?!

With the kids’ help, I started rummaging around in the pantry, looking for something else to feed them. I guess there wasn’t anything dinner-like that I knew how to cook, so somehow I settled on Pop-Tarts. Then I guiltily swore the kids to secrecy, knowing that my own mother would not approve of this as an acceptable dinner food. I feared I’d be watching every show from the wings if they found out I fed their kids Pop-Tarts for dinner. The burnt macaroni and cheese in the garbage can couldn’t possibly have given me up.

I put the kids to bed in the middle of a sugar high and spent roughly the next two months interpreting everything he said to me as a possible reaction to my poor babysitting skills. But they grew up pretty great, and Jeff is now my friend and not my scary teacher, so I’d say we made it through OK.

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

There is no sign of burnt macaroni at Grassa, in Portland’s West End district. The pasta here is creamy, delicious and handcrafted. We split an arugula salad with fresh ground hazelnuts, then enjoyed an order of the strozzapretti (anchovies, olives, capers and chilies) and the bucatini (with hazelnut pesto). It was a simple, lovely dinner and we’ll certainly be back again.

Grassa, Portland, Oregon

Grassa Handcrafted Pasta can be found at 1205 SW Washington Street in Portland’s West End district. All things handcrafted pasta on Twitter.

Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply

Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, Portland, Oregon

I met a friend about a year ago at a new coffee place — the kind of place where they roast each bean with immense care and they really care about every part of the coffee production process. A classic Portland coffee place.

I get migraines sometimes, so I don’t drink traditional coffee. When I drink it at all, it’s got to be decaf or I risk a debilitating headache. So when I walked into this very Portland-y coffee place, I scanned the menu for a decaf option. I asked the barista at the counter, and he was visibly annoyed.

“It’s just not as good if you order the decaf,” he argued. “The regular really brings a bouquet of flavors.”

For a minute I felt a little defensive. Just let me pay you five bucks for some stupid decaf so I can go talk to my friend!, I thought. But in the days after that, I reconsidered that this man was someone who is completely immersed in the quality of his product. That’s pride and expertise, and I’m glad I live in a city like that (most days).

Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, Portland, Oregon

At Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply, they have pride and expertise and a similar attitude about helping people discover gardening, composting and all the rest of it. They are experts.

I bought a house last year with a big yard. The yard, in square footage terms, is like five times the size of the house. So I’ve needed to get familiar with plants and gardening and all the other things that come along with home ownership on a huge lot. Through that process, I’ve learned to love gardening books and the people who love them. Especially in Portland, where there is so much great info on organic gardening and so much emphasis on cool plants and animals.

Naomi’s made me want to rip out everything in my yard and start from scratch — with the beautiful plants strewn throughout the space. Fig trees? Yes, please. Olives and passionflower and manzanita, too. Visiting Naomi’s is inspiring — but that’s even before you’ve had a conversation with Naomi herself, who is a walking encyclopedia of organic gardening. Some days, they have chicks (in the spring), goats and even bunnies for sale in the shop, which adds an incredible cuteness factor. Add in a great selection of gardening books, and that’s what I’d call a one-stop shop.

Naomi's Organic Farm Supply, Portland, Oregon

Naomi’s Organic Farm Supply is located in SE Portland’s Reed neighborhood, at 2615 SE Schiller St. Their blog, plus workshops and event info is on the Website.