I’ve Got Two Tickets To Paradise…

It was our 40 month anniversary yesterday. I know, it’s silly to keep track like this, but it’s nice to know that we are still madly in love with each other! Looking back on our relationship, my fondest memories revolve around all of our trips together. We’ve taken one big trip every year and each year has certainly topped the last. I’m in the planning stages for this year’s trip!

Last year, we had quite an adventure in the Pacific Northwest. Absolutely beautiful. We started off in Portland and made our way to Seattle, stopping at Mt. St. Helens and Mt. Rainier along the way.

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We arrived in Portland at about 10PM at night and we took a taxi to our “hotel”. The Kennedy School is an old elementary school that McMenamins renovated into a hotel. Most of the original classrooms were split into two guestrooms with a bathroom added in each room. Besides this, the look and feel of the school were pretty much kept intact. Chalkboards, perhaps original, wrapped around the guestrooms and there were white water fountains in the hallways. Memorabilia of the school and of those times decorated the walls. Other classrooms were turned into bars/lounges with incredibly cute names: The Honors Bar, The Detention Bar, etc. It was truly a unique experience to stay at The Kennedy School!

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We decided not to rent a car at the airport since it was ridiculously expensive! We saved a lot of money by renting from a non-airport location instead and since it was located within 5 miles of our place, we were able to get free pick up service. Most of our first full day was designated to sightseeing and eating. As you can see, it was a really warm day.

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The main reason we stayed in Portland was because we wanted to go white water rafting. There are many rafting outfitters around Washington and Oregon and we decided on Wet Planet, which is located near Hood River, Oregon, approximately an hour and 15 min drive from Portland (scenic drive). It was our first time river rafting and our guide, Sara, did a great job of making sure we were all having fun while keeping us safe. The trip was about 8 miles total, with rapids classified as class III-IV (solid class IV fall known as “Husum Falls” – 10′ vertical drop). I was a little nervous for Henry because I know he’s not the best swimmer (he almost drowned in Hawaii – that’s another story for another time), but good thing we all survived; no one in our 6 person raft fell overboard into the water, not even when we went down Husum Falls!

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On our way back from rafting, we stopped at Multnomah Falls. This would be our first waterfall of the trip 🙂 If we had more time, I would have liked to hike the trails around the falls.

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——–
Portland Eats & Drinks (+my verdict):
Mother’s Bistro & Bar, 4/5
Coffeehouse Northwest, 4/5
Toro Bravo, 4/5
The Screen Door, 4/5
Voodoo Donut, 3/5
Pambiche, 4/5
——–

The next part of our trip was definitely my favorite! We drove up to Mt. St. Helens and hiked through the lava cave and then we drove to Mt. Rainier and stayed there a few days.

The lava cave (Ape Cave) was really fun and really scary at the same time. It was mostly an easy-moderate hike, with the difficulty being the huge rocks that you have to climb over as well as the 9 foot wall you have to climb up. If you are claustrophobic or scared of the dark, Ape Cave is totally not for you. As we were hiking through the upper passage of Ape Cave, I actually had thoughts of being trapped underground or being attacked by.. ghosts (yes, ghosts), but I quickly calmed myself down and thought of something else. I found comfort in hearing the voices of other groups – perhaps its the “at least I’m not going to die alone down here” rationalization. The upper passage of Ape Cave is 1 1/4 miles and took about 2 and a half hours to explore. We spent about another hour to hike the mile long trail above ground that took us back to the entrance of the cave.

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I originally planned to drive to the Johnston Ridge Observatory for a great view of Mt. St. Helens, but we just didn’t have enough time since we still had to make a 3 hour drive to Mt. Rainier. We picked up some groceries before we headed to Almost Paradise Lodging, our home for the next few days. This place is absolutely fantastic! Everything was clean and I felt right at home. Our fridge was stocked everyday with a complementary continental breakfast basket during our stay. The jacuzzi right outside definitely helped us relax after a long day of hiking. At night, all we could see were the faint lines of the trees that blended in with the black sky and the bright stars sprinkled throughout. Amazing…

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We technically only had one full day to explore Mt. Rainier, which was really sad since it is such a beautiful place. For our full day, we did a 4 mile hike on the Paradise River/Narada Falls trail. We started at Cougar Rock and ended at the Henry M. Jackson Visitor’s Center in Paradise, for a total elevation gain of 2,000ft (good hiking condition is required). It was a little difficult to find the trailhead, but luckily we were able to follow people that were headed the same way.

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We took a lunch break to eat our cole slaw turkey sandwiches at Carter Falls. As we continued along, we passed by Madcap Falls and about 2 miles later, we reached the famous Narada Falls. You can technically take the Paradise shuttle and get dropped off here, but come on, we are no weaklings! It wasn’t enough to just view the falls from the top, we decided to climb down towards the flowing river to get a different view of the falls. BEAUTIFUL. After Narada Falls, Paradise was only a mile away. Even though it was late July, snow still scattered the ground (especially as we neared Paradise). I had some difficulty getting up a hill because it was blanketed with snow and my hiking shoes didn’t provide enough grip/traction. We didn’t have that much time to explore the Paradise area since the shuttle arrived about 15 minutes after we arrived.

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The next day, we were able to hike a half day before heading up to the Seattle area.

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More waterfalls!!

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(to be continued…)

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I make: Chicken Marsala

This is one of my favorite recipes – always on my go-to list! So easy and so delicious.

(yields about ~8 servings – I serve 1 piece of chicken each with veggies on the side)
Ingredients:
1/2 cup all purpose flour
1 teaspoon garlic salt
1/2 teaspoon freshly ground pepper
1 teaspoon oregano
4 skinless, boneless chicken breast halves – cut in half (into 8 pieces) and pounded to 1/4 inch thickness
3 tablespoon butter
4 tablespoon olive oil
1/2 cup chopped shallots
2 cups sliced baby portobellas (creminis are excellent as well)
1 cup sweet Marsala wine
1/2 cup cooking sherry
2 tablespoon brown sugar
1 tablespoon Wondra flour (to thicken sauce)

Directions:
1. In a shallow dish, mix all purpose flour, salt, pepper and oregano. Coat chicken in flour mixture.
2. In a large skillet, melt 2 tablespoon butter and 3 tablespoon oil on medium heat. Lightly brown chicken and remove from pan (don’t fully cook the chicken at this point since it will finish cooking in the Marsala sauce).
3. Melt remaining 1 tablespoon butter and 1 tablespoon oil in pan and add shallots. Cook for about 30 seconds and add sliced mushrooms.
4. When mushrooms brown and shallots turn translucent, pour in Marsala wine and sherry to deglaze pan (scrapping up the bits from the bottom). Stir in brown sugar and Wondra flour before adding all of the chicken back into the pan.
5. Reduce heat and let the chicken simmer in the Marsala sauce for 10-15 mins (rearrange the chicken half way so that every piece gets an opportunity to be submerged in the sauce.

Serve over rice, pasta, etc (or eat as is like I did).
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Bon appetit!

You Get What You Pay For

Besides the apartment drama in NYC last December, I’ve had good vacation rental experiences. Maybe it’s because I thoroughly research my options or maybe I’ve just been lucky. Maybe it’s because I rely heavily on the pictures that the owners post up of their unit because if I don’t like how the place looks in pictures, I mostly likely won’t like it in person. I was hoping to continue my streak, but I can think of anything that can salvage the horrible experience we just had in our Mammoth condo this past weekend.

We stayed in a 2 bedroom/2 bathroom condo (Mammoth Point #106) located a little above the Canyon Lodge base area. A friend of mine secured this rental through Mammoth Reservations Bureau (MRB) for 2 nights. Total cost: $460 + $100 security deposit which works out to about $94 for 6 people – what a steal! I remember not being too impressed with the pictures of the condo, but I was hoping that the great price would equate to great deal. When we arrived, my first impression was that the condo was very dated, but I wasn’t going to dock points off just for that. I don’t need granite counter tops, stainless steel appliances and 600 thread-count sheets to be comfortable; all I ask for are clean conditions, a working heating/cooling system (depending on location, ex. Hawaii vs Mammoth), comfortable bed and a useable kitchen. Sadly, Mammoth Point #106 failed on all four of these requirements:

– There were lots of brown spots on the carpet and I know it’s a 70’s thing, but I will never understand why anyone would install carpet in the bathroom.

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– My mattress sunk in towards the middle, making it very uncomfortable for two people to sleep on. Also, I’m not sure if it was goose down, but feathers kept poking out of the sheets.

– The heater in my room did not work, causing the room the stay at a constant chilly 50 degrees.

– The comforter that I was supposed to use was stuffed into the top of the closet, which made me question whether the comforter was even washed or not.

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– Some pans were bent so cooking meats evenly was a challenge. The coating on the non-stick pans was clearly deteriorating.

– The oven had a mind of its own; I’ve been able to adjust to different brands and at different altitudes, but this time, the oven just would not cooperate!

The worst part of this whole experience was that part of our electricity went out WHILE I WAS IN THE SHOWER! Apparently, we overloaded the circuit, causing the circuit breaker to trip. Even though they supposedly “manage” this specific unit, the MBR provided no assistance in resolving this issue. I understand it was late at night, but you would think that they would do more than just tell us to look for the circuit breaker box and fix it ourselves. When we called back in the morning, all they did was send a maintenance guy over to get the Mammoth Point office manager, whose building is right across from us. Really, MRB? We could have done that ourselves. Thanks for nothing.

Now I know why this condo was so cheap!

March Madness

March is definitely going to be a crazy month! This is what I have going on: Mammoth, Vegas, Mammoth .. in that order. Usually, I really look forward to sleeping in on the weekends, but I realized this morning that I won’t be able to sleep in on the weekends for the next three weeks. And by sleeping in, I do not mean getting into bed at 6am and sleeping until 12pm (likely the scenario in Vegas).

I haven’t been to Mammoth yet this season, so I can’t wait! It’s even more enticing since Mammoth has been getting dumped on these past few weeks (or this entire season practically). The weather has been quite cooperative; with all the snowfall we’ve been getting in So Cal, you can even go as far as to consider the conditions at the local mountains (Big Bear and Mt High) as being “great”. The weather man predicts that a snowstorm will hit while we’re in Mammoth this weekend. The last time I was there during a snowstorm, I was able to board all the way down to the gondola from my condo! AWESOME!!

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Now, I just hope that the Vons in Mammoth has King’s Hawaiian Bread in stock because I’m dying to make my delicious hawaiian bread pudding.