Missoula, Whitefish, and Glacier National Park

[Part one, two, three, four, five]

The drive from Bozeman to Missoula was rather uneventful. We opted to take the northern route so we’d drive through Helena, but now my only memory from there was the sandwich we had at Staggering Ox that bordered on dreadful. What does one expect from a sandwich where the bread looks like a can?

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The highlights from Missoula were rather limited as the weather swung from grossly hot to a deluge of rain and hail the size of marbles. We had it on good authority from a bartender at Flathead Lake Brewing that our time in Missoula would be best spent eating and drinking our way through the city. Otherwise the main attractions involved outdoor activities both of which were hampered by the above referenced weather. I’m a fair-weather outdoors[wo]man. I don’t deny it.

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Missoula is in the midst of a bit of a growth and revitalization. Parts of the town that once embraced being questionable and sketchy were now being turned into breweries, playhouses and period appropriate apartments. Our Airbnb was one such apartment. The apartments were originally built in the 1890s and our host has been restoring them. He’s been known to do it all over town. When we pulled up, the once dilapidated apartment complex nearly still looked as much, at least from the outside. Questioning looks were shared between Andrew and I as we were wondering just what we got ourselves into. Fears dissipated quickly as we ascended the stairs to the entire floor that was to be ours for the next few days. The apartment looked exactly like it would have back in the 1890s, only restored. One half of the floor contained the kitchen and the bedroom. The other half a living space, a bathroom, and another room that was still under construction. An additional apartment with a similar setup was occupied full-time downstairs.

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Biga Pizza was hands-down the food related highlight of Missoula. We managed to squeak in to grab a pizza at their bar before they closed for the night. Their meatball verde pizza has a cilantro-jalapeno base that dreams are made of. It’s bright and refreshing with a subtle spice. I want jars of the stuff to pour on everything. We fell in love with the pizza and owner that we wanted to come back for more the next day, but they’re closed Sundays. We opted for Monday lunch before heading out on the road. After pizza, we went to Big Dipper Ice Cream. I hadn’t realized just how jaded I was by the Portland ice cream scene [read: lines and $$$]. My jaw dropped when I could get two gigantic scoops of house-made ice cream for less than $4. They cater to purists and crazy people alike. I had to get the two scoops so I could get their green tea and black licorice. Breakfast at Catalyst Cafe was a recommendation by the owner/chef at Biga Pizza. The cafe started out as a coffee cart. It’s now a highly popular breakfast destination. We were recommended the Mexican inspired breakfast plates, which is exactly what we got. HEAPING portions of chilaquiles and huevos rancheros are an understatement, but the quality wasn’t sacrificed. It was a perfect combination.

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We stayed in Missoula for two nights and got on the road again [after coffee and pastries from Bernice’s Bakery and sandwiches from Biga Pizza]. Columbia Falls was the next destination so we could head into Glacier National Park for a few days. Unfortunately the Going-to-the-Sun road was still mostly closed for the year, so we wouldn’t get to experience nearly enough of it to form an opinion. Columbia Falls is a tiny little town, so if you’re not in Glacier, you spend a lot more of your time in Whitefish. Whitefish is the next town over and a resort town on a much smaller scale in comparison to Jackson. The Airbnb we stayed in was a newly constructed addition to the owner’s shop on their property. It was really nice.

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We spent a lot of our first day in Glacier driving around to get a lay of the land. Since the road was blocked only 15 miles in, and there is only that one road, access was pretty limited unless you’re ready to go on some big hikes. The Avalanche Lake hike was pretty easy and the views from the lake up to the surrounding mountains were stunning. We didn’t get anywhere near a glacier, though. It was a fairly crowded hike since it was one of the only “main areas” to go. We had to circle for awhile to even find a parking spot.

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Whitefish has a great brewery [Great Northern Brewing!] that serves a solid beers and a plate of nachos as a post-hike feast. Their specialty beers, Guy on a Buffalo [coffee porter] and Big Mountain Tea Pale Ale [made with Earl Grey], were total standouts. The bartender suggested we hit up the farmers market to get a fish sandwich from The Cuisine Machine, a caterer with a food cart. They were out of their famous Walleye sandwich, but if the cod was any indication, it was incredible. Light flakey white fish is a weakness, and I’m particularly picky if it’s lightly breaded. Easily one of the best fish sandwiches of my life. It was there that the owner/chef told us to hit up Polebridge, a small town [village?] on the edge of Glacier to eat at the saloon. A lady at the bakery stand told us the same thing. Their original bakery was in the mercantile out there. We knew what the next day in Glacier would hold.

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Polebridge is a trip. We were told that normally there is about 150 or so people that live in Polebridge full time [often in their cars!] and then it jumps to 300 when the summer season hits and there is more work available. There is literally just the one dirt road, the saloon, and the mercantile. The front of the mercantile is the bakery case where you can get various flavors of home baked cookies, that look just like ones made at home. The fruit danishes were sold at a premium because they took so many hours to make. Dinner at the saloon was another home cooked affair. I hadn’t had, but severely craved, a simple steak the whole time we had been on the road trip, so to get a steak salad and a beer and sit outside on picnic tables on the lawn was heavenly. The server, a well-traveled older gentleman, stood outside and chatted with us about Polebridge, his world travels, and why Montana is such a draw to very well educated, well traveled people. It was a really great time. As usual, people get a bit bummed when they hear you’re spending such a short time in their town [we were leaving tomorrow]. I love that kind of pride.

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The following morning we’d eat at Farmhouse [a tender fried green tomato benedict on a biscuit!] on our way to Coeur D’Alene, Idaho — the final stop on our road trip.

Fennel Crusted Pork Chops

I know. I know. I know. Fennel and roasting things in cast-iron doesn’t exactly scream SUMMER!!11!, but people stand in line for ice cream in the winter. Therefore, I can do what I want. Especially when it comes to eating pork chops. Logic.

One-pan dinners are equal parts a thing of beauty and elusive in this house. I can’t even make a stir-fry with one dish. Breakfast scramble? Probably not. Thankfully, I don’t mind the clean up, but I couldn’t help but be intrigued by the idea of a single meal in a single pan.

Unrelated: I still can’t get a good season on my cast iron skillet. It doesn’t matter if I cook a lot in it. It doesn’t matter if I rub oil on it and let it bake in the oven. I never use soap. It just doesn’t like me. I struggle with this time and time again. After each unsuccessful attempt, the pan gets relegated back to the cupboard where it sits for months until I try again and get frustrated. Do you have any tips?

The marinade time for the pork was supposed to be 30 minutes. I don’t think mine lasted quite that long. I didn’t time it, but I left it alone for as long as it took me to prep the other ingredients. You’ll also see I bought parsley for once. When a recipe so liberally uses it on the finished product I try to acquiesce. It is usually worth it.

This sear and roast method yielded a very tender pork chop thanks to using bone-in pork chops. I’m also now a slave to my meat thermometer. The finished product not only tastes better, but is more consistent. I’m starting to wonder how I ever lived without it.

The only thing I didn’t do with this recipe, and someday that will change, is getting some hot smoked Spanish paprika. I used normal paprika, which is good, but just not the same. I need to get some. I have a real life paella pan now. It’s the least I could do for the pan.

As an aside, if you sprinkle those potatoes in bit of that paprika you won’t be bummed. Roasted potatoes are elevated by the extra spice + rendered pork fat.

Fennel Crusted Pork Chops

Inspiration: Bon Appétit

Ingredients

  • 1 1/2 tablespoons fennel seeds
  • 2 cloves of garlic, minced
  • 1 teaspoon paprika
  • 3 tablespoons vegetable oil
  • 2 1″ thick bone-in pork chops
  • 1lb small Yukon gold potatoes, quartered
  • 2 large [or 4 small] shallots, quartered
  • 1/2 cup fresh parsley, chopped
  • 2 teaspoons red wine vinegar

Preparation

Preheat the oven to 450°. Toast the fennel seeds in a dry skillet. Mix together in a small bowl with the garlic, paprika, and two tablespoons oil.  Smother the two pork chops in the fennel mixture. Season with salt and pepper and set aside.

Quarter your potatoes and shallots if you haven’t yet.

In a 9″ cast-iron pan, heat the remaining tablespoon of oil to medium high. Sear the pork chops on each side until brown. The first side should take bout 4-5 minutes. When you flip the pork chops, nestle the potatoes and shallots in and around the pork chops. Stir to coat in the rendered pork fat. Season the whole pan liberally with salt and pepper. Stir the potatoes at least once before the other side of the pork chop is browned.

Place the cast-iron pan into the preheated oven. The thickest part of the pork chop needs to be about 135°. This should take between 10-15 minutes. If the potatoes aren’t finished when the pork is, remove the pork and set it aside under some foil to rest. Remove the pan when the potatoes are done. Add the pork back if you’ve removed it. sprinkle with the parsley and drizzle in the red wine vinegar.

Let the pork rest for five minutes before serving.

Bozeman and Lewis & Clark Caverns

[Part one, two, three and four]

We drove straight through from Livingston to Bozeman, the first of two college towns on our way through Montana. It’s not a long drive by any means, but equally as beautiful all of Montana had been so far. Big Sky country took my breath away. We were entering the Airbnb phase of the trip. The house we stayed in, a little bungalow made cozy with natural materials and within walking distance of downtown, was still being cleaned when we arrived. Paul’s mom was inside cleaning up from the prior people who stayed, but she let us stay and chat with her while finished. That is one of the highlights of the whole Airbnb style of traveling — meeting locals without even trying. We would have never have met this woman otherwise. We immediately got a taste of what Bozeman was about and what it had to offer. Sure it’s only one person’s take, but it’s not a hotel’s take. That can be huge in exposing you to something a little off the beaten path. She told us about her son [a famous musician!], gave us a couple of his CDs, and told us a lot about Bozeman and the surrounding area. She was a great introduction to the next few days.

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The downtown core area is essentially a long strip of shops and restaurants. The college is on the other side of town nestled in what looks like suburbia. If it weren’t for the mountains in the background, I could have been anywhere once you got out of the main area.

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The highlights of Bozeman were two-fold for me — the food and the museums. Again with the food. There is an abundance of locally sourced food in the area, plus the added bonus of the spectrum of income levels. College kids and actors/musicians. We found great eats nearly everywhere. Stand outs included Roost for their fried chicken that was light and full of flavor, Granny’s Gourmet Donuts for the all the donuts coffee cream filled donut, Bagelworks for a deliciously cheap ham and cheese bagel sandwich, and Blackbird for their beautiful space and wood-fired pizza. Bagelworks puts their deli sliced ham on the griddle. That speaks to me in a way that I can’t explain. It crisps up the edges just so. Blackbird had a seasonal burrata special with a pile of fresh rhubarb compote. Rhubarb! These are the reasons why we didn’t backtrack into Livingston. Too much good food to eat everywhere.

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The two museums we went to, the American Computer Museum and Museum of the Rockies, were some of the best ones I’ve been to [next to the Idaho Potato Museum of course]. The American Computer Museum had not only the history of American computers, but of the human brain, the space program, and electronics/robotics in general. It’s in the most nondescript building, but the collection of items is astounding. Many of the modern day geniuses that were responsible or used many of the items in the building had been by in some fashion so there were plenty of photos and signed items for authenticity. They had 2,200 year old computers, original Apple 1s, original NASA hardware, and brains! There was free admission, and it was a self led tour that ended in a video. It was really neat. Consider me geeked out. The Museum of the Rockies has a set of regular exhibits, a rotating one, and a planetarium. The one that stood out the most for me was one of their regular exhibits, the Siebel Dinosaur Complex. They work with the Montana State University and have one of the largest displays of dinosaur bones with the help of Dr. Jack Horner of Jurassic Park fame. I haven’t seen such complete skeletons in person before. It was incredible, and several hours were spent reading every last detail. The rotating exhibit was one about chocolate, which sounded [and smelled!] good in theory, but by the end of it all I craved was chocolate because of the smell and there wasn’t any to be had. There was also a living history farm on site. They moved a regional house to the museum’s grounds and set everything up to period. The ladies running the exhibit were part of the history and they let us wander around despite the museum closing soon.

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We made a day trip to a couple of the natural and historic areas surrounding Bozeman. It’s not all eating and drinking, I swear. First up was Lewis and Clark Caverns. There, you hike up a short hill to the mouth of a cave. A park ranger leads you into the cave and all the way to the bottom. The whole thing is about two miles, but the elevation you cover is pretty stunning. It had been really sunny and warm that day, so to step inside the cool, darkness of the cave was a welcome change. As someone who hasn’t really climbed around in caves except for once when she was a lot younger and doesn’t remember it, I was also completely geeked out about this. A common theme. We reached a point early on where the park ranger tells you that if you’re afraid of dark, cramped spaces that you better speak now because once we went farther, the only way out was to keep going. You see we were about to approach a slide! You seriously sat onto your butt and slid. It wasn’t nearly as long as I was hoping it’d be, but still fun. I’m glad I wore workout leggings to make sliding extra fun. Several other places involved nearly crawling or at least ducking so you didn’t bash your head. Seeing the work of millions of years before your eyes is really stunning. The stalactites and stalagmites reminded me something out of The Labyrinth or The Goonies. Like I said, I was geeking out. The whole thing is nearly idiot proof, meaning lots of light, handrails, and carved out stairs, but it didn’t take away from the fact we were IN A CAVE! My kind of spelunking. At one point, near the end, we reached a point where the guide could safely turn off the lights so we could see just what it was like when people were in here during the torch days and they blew out. Pitch black has a whole new meaning.

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From there we took the scenic route to Virginia City, a town founded back in the mid 1800s. The entire town is on the National Historic Register. It ultimately became a ghost town that is now restored as an open-air museum. Nearly every other building is as it was the late 1800s. Others are inhabited by the town’s 200-300 inhabitants or modernized. It was my first experience with a ghost town, and definitely of an open-air museum. We took our time wandering the main street, popping into the restored buildings and looking at the displays, and ultimately stopping at the little saloon for a beer to cool off from the consistent nagging of the heat. The drive back was gorgeous. There were many pullouts for views of the rolling mountains and foothills in the area. At one point we stopped off and just sat outside and enjoyed the view as the sun started dipping into the horizon. We headed back to Bozeman in time to walk to Blackbird for dinner.

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The rest of the time was spent sampling beer and coffee and driving/walking around the city. We were chastised by a grocery store worker for traveling “all that way” just to pick up beer and hang out in our Airbnb. We stayed a total of two nights in Bozeman before heading over to Missoula to experience what their other college town had to offer.

Spinach Artichoke Pizza with Spinach and Burrata

We’re taking a break from the slow onslaught of travel recap to bring you another pizza! It’s been unnecessarily hot lately. Temperatures in the 90s and 100s are not my friend. It’s been the busiest summer in a long time [only one free weekend!] so the cooking going on around here is few and far between.

Every time I head out to the grill there are a million spiders and their sticky webs to knock down. They are relentless this year. Every morning when I take Roma out, I have to arm myself with a broom. If I don’t, there is a 97% chance I’ll walk straight into a web. I can only imagine that sight. I’m in my pajamas and rain boots, wielding a broom in one hand and holding a leash in the other. My neighbors must love me.

I’m kind of a sausage/pesto/ricotta fiend when it comes to pizza, but I wanted something different. A little less oil based. I guess I just swapped marinated artichoke hearts for the oil. It created a spinach artichoke dip type of base. Instead of cream cheese, I used the whole milk ricotta. It’s not nearly as rich that way. The sausage was a spicy italian so it went well with the creaminess of the ricotta. I was just going to leave it at that. It would have been plenty delicious that way. But then I saw a container for truffled burrata. Damn you New Seasons. Two of my favorite things in one container. I decided to just tear pieces of that all over the pizza. So much for not being too rich.

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It was so, so good flavor wise, though, if a bit heavy for the thin crust. Minimal ingredients are generally best for pizzas like this, but I couldn’t say no.

Ingredients

  • 1 ball of pizza dough
  • 5oz fresh spinach
  • 14oz can of artichoke hearts, drained and chopped if you want smaller pieces
  • 2/3 cup whole milk ricotta
  • 1/2lb ground spicy Italian sausage
  • fresh mozzarella, optional
  • fresh cracked pepper

Preparation

Preheat your grill to a medium heat. Roll out the dough. Let it rest. In a bowl, mix together the spinach, artichoke hearts, and ricotta. Brown the Italian sausage. Drain, if necessary, and set aside.

Lay your pizza dough down on the hot grill. Shut the lid. Let it cook for 2-3 minutes until it gets the grill lines on it. It should lift easily off the grill. Remove the crust from the grill, grilled side up onto a sheet pan.

Put a thin layer of the spinach artichoke and ricotta all over the crust. Top with the crumbled sausage. Add the mozzarella, if using. Place the pizza back on the grill for another 2-3 minutes. The cheese will melt and the bottom will cook.

Remove from the grill and allow to rest for a minute before cutting. Cover in fresh cracked pepper. Serve.

North Yellowstone and Livingston, MT

[Part one and two and three]

I was sad to bid Jackson and the grandma-chic hotel farewell. I really liked the town and the surrounding area. When I got back home someone told me that that one of the ski lifts will take you to the top of one of the runs in the off season to get a great view. I had no idea! I didn’t see that advertised anywhere and no one mentioned it when we were chatting people up in town. I’d like to believe they didn’t tell me because it wasn’t worth it.

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We had a date with Livingston, Montana later in the day, but had plenty of time to get through the northern part of Yellowstone. Mammoth Hot Springs is up there and since Yellowstone does the geothermal thing better than anyone, I was probably as pumped to see this as I was Old Faithful. Most of that drive was much prettier than the southern part. Tower Fall was particularly beautiful. It’s no Multnomah Falls, but it was a lot less touristy. At one point we were navigating some steep switchback-esque roads and had to come to a complete stop to let a bison pass. He was just moseying along as if cars weren’t even there. He passed by me at the steering wheel, his head at my height, but body towering over the car. It was intimidating and I totally locked the door. I wanted to do nothing more than stare, but with all of the morons getting gored by bison bison in the news lately, I didn’t want to join that club.

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Mammoth Hot Springs is known for their limestone terraces. Talk about stunning. They don’t even look real or make any sense to my feeble brain. Perfectly chiseled blocks of limestone made into natural terraces can be found all over. Bacteria and algae contribute the colors. They change often, and were particularly dry and less colorful when we were there. A lot of grey and white, but stunning none-the-less. There is a walking tour you can take to see all of them. Fort Yellowstone, built in 1886, is nearby to get in a little history coupled with your nature. If you hadn’t guessed by now with all of this geothermal activity, there is a heavy sulfur odor when you’re walking along the wooden walkways. It’s not for the weary. I actually like the smell a lot, but there are plenty of people who don’t.

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We left the area through the Roosevelt Arch and crossed over into Montana with little fanfare. It wasn’t until we got out of the border town that I started to see what the whole “big sky” thing was all about. Montana has a lot of it. The sky. It’s everywhere. Big wide open spaces surround you. I haven’t felt that insignificant and surrounded by such untouched beauty in a long, long time. Speed limits are kind of a joke — 80mph. Who needs to drive that fast when there is so much beauty to see? It’s really not that surprising that Montana has one of the the highest number of car fatalities per mile. People drive fast. We were passed. A lot. Couple that with curvy roads and wildlife crossings and there were a lot of little white crosses littering the sides of the roads. Sometimes it was distracting. Other times you’d just get so lost in the landscape that they would disappear.

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Livingston had been the inspiration for the trip, thanks to Anthony Bourdain. It’s a town of about 7,000 and 80% of the buildings are on the national register of historic places. If you haven’t gathered, it’s small and has a lot of history. We stayed at The Murray Hotel [where Bourdain did, of course], which is a charming as hell old Western hotel that’s preserved in all the right ways. The elevator has to be operated by the front desk staff, and the lobby is full of western kitsch. The rooms were updated with modern amenities while maintaining the charm that comes from a historical building like that. Celebrities roll through a lot. We didn’t see any, of course, but that doesn’t mean it doesn’t happen.

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The town houses a large artist/writer/actor community so there are a lot of galleries, shows, and movies filmed in the area. Since a lot of celebrities come through, the food scene isn’t a slouch. We ate and drank really well during the 24 hours or so we were there. The beer at Katabatic Brewing was some of the best I’ve ever had. Sorry Oregon beer! The brewery had only been open nine months and can barely keep up with the demand of the town. If they didn’t constantly keep brewing, they would run out of beer in two weeks. As such, they aren’t in any position to start exporting out of Livingston, which is so unfortunate. We also became acquainted with Montana’s brewery laws. They’re interesting — the gist being you can only have three pints per brewery and they have to close at 8pm. The restaurant/bar industries are feeling threatened by the brewery concept. I imagine it’ll eventually change just like most other places. But really, I don’t really need to be drinking more than three pints anyway. Places we ate included Fiesta En Jalisco for huge plates of solid Mexican food and Gil’s Goods in the morning for great coffee and farm to table breakfasts [cheese grits!]. We didn’t get a chance to check out the infamous 2nd Street Bistro for some fine dining because they were closed the one night we were there, but we considered driving back.

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Another highlight in Livingston was the Livingston Depot Center for all things railroad history. The old train depot has been turned into a museum. There is a ton of information on the walls and in display cases for even the most uneducated of train n00bs. What really made the whole experience though was the guy manning the front desk when we were there. He is a true train aficionado and he had so much great insight and personal experience with trains that he really brought the museum to life. It was nearly a guided tour. We spent a lot of time in there reading over every last detail. The upstairs area did have a small exhibit dedicated to movies shot in the area, but that wasn’t nearly as cool as all of the train information. Trains were such a huge part of the area, so to brush up on my history was welcome.

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We rounded out the little time left in Livingston with a trip to Sacajawea Park to walk along the river before heading back onto the highway towards Bozeman.