What’s the Scoop?

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

When I was little, my dad had a BetaMax camera that he used for gathering family memories. He had a signature style — narrating from behind the camera, asking his kids lots of questions in order to illicit the most adorable responses and actions, and having long, drawn-out goodbyes at the end of each segment.

A few years ago, for Christmas, we had all the old BetaMax tapes updated and put on DVDs as a surprise for my mom. She loved them, and we sat around for hours that Christmas reliving all the hilarious (and sometimes monotonous) daily goings-on of the Gray household in the 1980s.

In one particularly cute interchange between my dad and I, I sit in just a diaper in an oversized high chair, hair in a very fashion-forward mullet style. My dad cues me with a call-and-response song:

Do you like ice cream? I said:

Yes, I do!

Do you love ice cream? I said:

Yes, I do!

Would you like some? I said:

Yes, I would!

Cause it’s good, good, good.

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

Clearly my childhood was filled with lots of this frozen treat. It’s a good thing since I live in a city that values their ice cream so much. I recently found a new and absolutely delicious spot on N. Williams Ave. — What’s the Scoop? Their signature flavor is the brown butter almond brittle (every bit as delicious as it sounds). Pair it with a housemade, fresh-off-the-press “fortune cookie” cone and you’ve got a winning pair.

What's the Scoop?, North Portland, Oregon

Run, don’t walk, to What’s the Scoop?, located at 3540 N. Williams Ave. Follow them on Twitter for more of the sweet stuff.

Cupcake Jones

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

The way the story goes, my sister Emily was to be delivered via scheduled caesarean section. The doctor looked at his schedule and suggested September 13, 1985. The problem with that date, though, was that it was my second birthday. So even though the doctor had to move his Saturday tee time, she insisted that we have our own birthdays and my baby sister emerged on September 14.

The convenient solution to having your kids just one day apart is that you can combine their birthday parties! This was a revelation for my parents. Just one big mess, one huge herd of small children in the house, one day of chaos. They were sold.

This worked really well the first couple years. Until the year when we were 3 and 5. That year, we had each invited probably 8-10 friends and they all sat around us on the floor of the living room in their party dresses. The five-year-olds gathered around me, and the three-year-olds gathered around Emily. It was time to sing. The problem, of course, is that three-year-olds are such followers. They get confused easily; they’re little. So instead of doing the proper thing and singing to Emily, they followed the lead of the older kids and everyone in the room sang to me only. Emily burst into tears. Birthday ruined.

That was the last time we had a joint birthday party for awhile.

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

Everyone gets their own cake at Cupcake Jones — no sharing required. You can get a jumbo or a mini cupcake in flavors like peanut butter cup or chocolate mint. They even offer some vegan and gluten-free cupcakes so no one has to go without. My favorite is the vegan, gluten-free chocolate. Happy birthday to us, sister!

Cupcake Jones, NW Portland, Oregon

Cupcake Jones is in the Pearl District at 307 NW 10th Avenue. They tweet too!

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

The first time I discovered that my Spanish friends didn’t eat peanut butter, my mind was blown. How could anyone not eat peanut butter?! It was a time in my life when my eyes were opened to a new thing called a cultural difference. I was just sure that if they tried it, they wouldn’t be able to resist. So I tried feeding it to them.

First, I tried a peanut butter and jelly sandwich. It was too sweet, then just too weird. I was disappointed, but I didn’t give up hope that easily. So we invited another pair of matched Spanish-American students over to Conchi’s house, and our goal was to bake peanut butter cookies.

They were certainly not the best peanut butter cookies, by the time we had calculated the correct recipe with foreign measures and found some reasonable peanut butter to work with. But they did taste a lot like home, and in the end, our Spanish friends humored us and tried a cookie, but it was us who ate them, late at night in a kitchen in Barcelona, because sometimes a cookie has the power to take you home.

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

They must know that everyone appreciates the taste of a delicious cookie at Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar. This spot, on tree-lined Thurman St. in the Northwest District in Portland, is practically a time capsule. It’s a charming little place — a cookie bar — where you can walk in, order a really well-made cookie in flavors like dark chocolate with salted caramel or chocolate chunk, and enjoy a simple, well-made treat.

The bustle of the baking behind the counter is something to observe — all that bustle is preparing these lovely cookies to go out in shipments to local stores like New SeasonsZupan’s and Market of Choice. But the freshest ones are right there in the cookie bar, waiting to be eaten fresh out of the oven. Sit in the window seats and watch the bakers work for awhile — it will most definitely remind you of home, no matter how far away that is.

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, Portland, Oregon

Bluebird Bakers Cookie Bar, 2390 NW Thurman St. in Northwest Portland. Buy a dozen and share them with your friends.

Tell me you’ve tried them — and if you have, which is your favorite? For me, it’s definitely a toss-up between the chocolate chunk with sea salt and the vegan peanut butter banana.

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries

Petunia's Pies and Pastries, Portland, Oregon

We’re a real estate family, and as such, every year we visit the Street of Dreams. These houses are absolutely crazy visions for fancy lifestyles, and usually located on big plots of land far away from the city. You can walk through bedroom after bedroom, admiring high-tech home gadgets and over-the-top interior design.

The one that put it all to shame was the Tiffany nursery. It was at least five years ago, and in one of the houses, there was a bedroom. It was designed for a little girl, and the walls were Tiffany blue (matched exactly, I’m sure, to that signature shade). In the middle of the room hung an elaborate chandelier.

“I want this,” my sister Emily said, as she entered the room. She shuffled us all into the room and imagined it as her one-day nursery for a far-off twinkle in her eye. We looked, and then we moved on to the other houses. But not Emily. She kept that room locked into the vault of her mind for years and when I remodeled my house last year, a look came over her face as she walked through one day.

“What are you going to do with that chandelier?” she asked. I shrugged. “Can I have it?” And I saw the look — she was taking the first step to building a Tiffany nursery with a chandelier for a twinkle in her eye that might be a reality someday soon. I know she’ll create a room that’s sweet and perfect.

Petunia's Pies and Pastries, Portland, Oregon

That kind of sweet, girly charm is what I found at Petunia’s Pies and Pastries. What started as a farmer’s market stand a few years back has now snagged a prime location sandwiched between two of the cutest shops in the West End district and has made a soothing and seriously adorable little spot. Pink walls, vases of fresh flowers and gorgeous vegan and gluten-free pastries abound.

It’s a great place to take a decadent little afternoon break. Sit by the window, enjoy a salted caramel cookie bar (one of the shop’s best sellers) and an iced tea and dream about what the future might bring.

Petunia's Pies and Pastries, Portland, Oregon

Petunia’s Pies and Pastries, 610 SW 12th Ave., in downtown’s hip West End district.

Salt & Straw

Salt & Straw, Portland, Oregon

It was late (for the elementary-schools kids we were) and my dad had picked us up from our evening swim lessons at the Aloha Swim Center. This was great news, because my dad is a very soft touch. This guy didn’t need to be told twice that tonight, we were getting ice cream on our way home. His favorite was a DQ Peanut Buster Parfait, and so off to the Dairy Queen we headed. As our creaky brown Ford Aerostar lurched into the drive-thru, he turned to us with his most serious expression and said, “Girls. The no-tell rule is on.” We nodded our agreement solemnly. This was the pact.

Like most conscientious mothers of the 1980s, my mom did not want us out and about, willy-nilly, eating ice cream at all hours of the day and night. But we were kids, for crying out loud, and we had needs. So the no-tell rule was invented. We got the ice cream, had a rollicking good time and then we hid the evidence (including checking my sister Emily’s chin and upper lip for signs of chocolate and dumping any cups/spoons in the outside garbage can where mom was sure not to notice them.)

This particular night was a gorgeous one — summertime, the windows were rolled down and the sky was a soft grayish pink in the last few minutes of daylight. We didn’t talk, as we were all three engrossed in our Peanut Buster Parfaits. And then, just as my dad saw the police car out of his right peripheral vision, he noticed that he was speeding — and that the light 100 yards in front of him was turning from yellow to red.

“Girls, I’m about to get a ticket,” he said, as the car sailed through the light and the police car threw on its lights. Moments later, all the magic was gone. We were bathed in the flashing lights, and my appetite was ruined. I was a very sensitive kid, and the act of watching my infallible dad get pulled over and issued a ticket freaked me out to the core. I wondered for a moment if I’d throw up right there. My ice cream melted in the cupholder.

After that, we trudged home slowly, and went through the motions of hiding the trash (and my half-eaten sundae) before we went inside. My mom met us at the door and my dad gave her a look. “What happened?” she asked us. It was Emily that spoke first.

“Dad got a ticket for running a red light!” she practically screamed. I’m sure my dad really appreciated that. “And the lady at the drive-thru…” She trailed off, but it was too late. In her excitement to spill the beans about the ticket, she’d broken the code of the no-tell rule. We were busted.

“Lady at the drive-thru, huh?” mom asked. Emily turned red and sulked away. My dad offered his most sheepish grin and — with a communal laugh at the absurdity of the entire situation — all was forgiven.

Salt & Straw, Portland, Oregon

I heard once that in Portland, we eat more ice cream per capita than any other U.S. city. I have no idea if that stat is true, but judging by the lines around the block at Salt & Straw’s three locations rain or shine, I’d say there’s some truth to it. Salt & Straw isn’t Portland’s original artisan ice cream — it’s actually a relative newcomer in the local ice cream scene — but its slick branding and inventive flavors have made it a favorite with pretty much everyone. I haven’t met anyone yet who doesn’t like it.

When it comes to the flavors, bold choices like strawberry balsamic and goat cheese marionberry habañero are stars on the menu, but I usually prefer the really well-done classics. It’s usually a toss-up for me between the sea salt with caramel or freckled woodblock chocolate.  Don’t worry — the no-tell rule is on.

Salt & Straw, Portland, Oregon

Salt & Straw has such a popularity problem that they now have three locations. The original is at 2035 NE Alberta in the Alberta Arts District of NE Portland. Their other locations are on SE Division and NW 23rd. They have an ice cream pushcart on 1st Street in Lake Oswego, and if the past is any indication, I’m sure they’ll have a shop there soon.