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.

Jackson, WY, Grand Teton, and Yellowstone

[Part one and two.]

Driving to Jackson, Wyoming is beautiful. That really shouldn’t be surprising. When we crested the top of the Teton Pass and started coming down into Jackson, we had to pull over and stop. The view was too impressive. The sky too blue. The mountains too majestic. Purple mountain majesties actually made sense for once. There was a bit of snow in pockets on the ground or on the mountains, but they weren’t kidding about winter being over early here. It melted several weeks ahead of normal, which was fine with me and my travel schedule [thanks global warming!].

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Everyone refers to Jackson the city [town?] as Jackson Hole, but really Jackson Hole is the valley you enter when you come out of Teton Pass. It was confusing the hell out of me for the longest time. Thanks for clearing that up Google. Jackson is bustling. Even in May. It’s a ski resort town, but it’s also the home base for a lot of people heading out to Grand Teton and Yellowstone. There are a ton of shops and restaurants, much of it very walkable from any number of hotels in the little downtown area. Some aspects of it reflected the ski resort prices [namely food/drink], but since it was May and not the peak of summer or winter, prices for rooms weren’t too bad. We stayed at the Parkway Inn for the whole stay. We were bumped to their suite for no reason what so ever. It was in a little outbuilding that had a room on the bottom and then the suite up at the top of the stairs. If I could describe the room, it was definitely Grandma Chic. The woods were a dark oak. The floor was a burgundy velvet. The drapes and other linens were heavy. The wallpaper was floral. The ceiling boasted those tin ceiling panels. The main living area was bigger than most hotel rooms, but also had a full bed. If you sat on the vintage couch with all of the other doors shut, it looked like either my grandma’s house or the scene in a horror movie. There was a bedroom off to one side with a most uncomfortable king size bed [seriously, we slept on the full]. The highlight of the space was the split-level bathroom. The foyer of the bathroom was carpeted in more velvet and had a long dual sink vanity. You ascended a few awkwardly sized stairs up some hexagonal tile [trendy!] to the bath tub, toilet separated by a half wall, and a stand up shower that had a frilly cloth curtain with a valance. It was awesome and super weird all at the same time. I never got comfortable with the stairs. I was convinced I’d fall at least once, but didn’t.

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The rest of that first day/night in Jackson was spent wandering the downtown area [archways made of elk horns! practicing for the gun battle reenactment for Memorial Day!] and eating one of the best burgers of my life at MacPhails Burgers. Again, we learned that a dead dining room did not compromise quality of food. The food is all locally sourced or made on site. They serve 1/3lb and 1/2lb burgers in both certified Angus and buffalo. The price isn’t of the ordinary burger cost, but you’re getting some of the highest quality meat I’ve ever had the pleasure of tasting. The buns are made especially for the restaurant and made every single day. They were perfection in a bun. Integrity but still maintaining it’s pillowy texture and soaking up the juice from the meat without going soggy. Serious perfection. Fries are cut and fried to order — both regular and sweet potato. You can get a mix of both, too. Be still my heart. While a lover of sweet potatoes, I don’t usually order the fries because they end up tasting too fake. Not here. Sweet potatoes like they should be, and not a freakish color. They blended in with the regular potatoes that it was almost hard to tell them apart. They’re piled high, too. I don’t know how anyone could eat a 1/2lb burger + fries. My 1/3lb was topped with mushrooms and swiss and I struggled. They also serve other things like cheesesteaks, hot dogs, and chicken sandwiches [all of the same high quality], but I gotta get a burger at a place with burger in their name. The family that owns the place runs it and we got to meet nearly everyone. We thought we’d come back to eat there at least one other time because they were so dang good, but it didn’t happen.

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The next day was devoted to Grand Teton, despite the rain. It was the closer of the two parks. You drive through it to get to Yellowstone. We stopped at Pearl Street Bagels for lox and one of their ready-to-go bacon, egg, and cheese bagels. The coffee was forgettable. It felt like everyone else had the same idea as the line formed nearly to the door and stayed a steady stream the whole time we chowed down.

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The cost of $25/car gets you into the park as well as Yellowstone for seven days. A steal! We would spend about four total and need the pass to get all the way through Yellowstone and out the north entrance to Montana. Grand Teton is gorgeous. The mountains are imposing and beautiful. They jut up out of nowhere without the usual foothills leading up to them. There is a lake in front of a fair amount, adding to their dramatic projection into the sky. Reflections off the water and moody clouds played supporting roles every time we drove through the park. On the first day, we made our way on a 7 mile roundtrip hike to Taggart Lake. It was our first so we had our bear spray and layers ready. Within 20 minutes it started raining. We contemplated heading back to the car being the fair-weather outdoorsmen than we are. Once you’re wet, you’re wet, so we carried on. I became increasingly aware to how alone we were. Knowing there are bears everywhere really heightens your awareness and adrenaline. My bear spray wasn’t handy unless it was in my hand. Fitting. We rounded every corner trying to be noisy [yelling “Heeeeeeeey bear” and clapping wildly], but the rain kept falling drowning us out. We befriended the only other couple on the trail, Emilio and Maria, a pair from Madrid who were living in Toronto. Andrew kept them talking while I led the group around the blind corners and through the gigantic puddle that was once our trail. The only reason they visited was because of Yogi Bear cartoons playing in Spain when they were kids. Thanks, Hanna-Barbara.

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Arriving at Taggart Lake was mostly disappointing by that point since I was freezing, numb, and the lake was covered in a misty fog making it hardly a vista. We stopped for one obligatory group photo before continuing on the trip. I am so incredibly thankful we didn’t come across a bear. By the midway point of our trip, my basic hand motor skills had generally disappeared so I really don’t think my bear spray would have been any use short of throwing it at a bear. The rain never let up the the rest of the trip. As we got back to the car, we bid our new friends adieu and sat in the car with the heater on full blast to try and warm up. It was a long, painful process. It didn’t help to have a sandwich from Creekside Deli smelling delicious in its Italian sub glory and not actually be able to eat it. Getting the taped wrap off is one thing. Getting the sandwich to your mouth without biting a finger is another. We hadn’t brought spare clothes in the car, so we spent the rest of the afternoon driving around the park trying to dry off. We drove around Jenny Lake and almost ran over a baby bear. A BABY FREAKING BEAR. I’ll just let that sink in for a minute.  It bolted in front of us, we slammed on the brakes, and it climbed a tree next to my passenger window. I stared at for a few seconds before we got out of there. Where there is baby bear, there is mama bear. The closest we got to camping was a nap in the car at Leeks Marina, which would become a frequent stop on our trips to/from the parks. You park on the lake and stare awe-struck at those Tetons staring back at you.

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That night Andrew witnessed his first rodeo. The Jackson Hole Rodeo kicked off Memorial weekend for its 2015 season so we were able to partake. It was every bit of the barrel racing, bucking broncos, and bedazzled jeans that you expected it to be. Calf roping was not this group’s strong suit. Because most nights kept us out doing things close to 10pm or later, a lot of the restaurant options would close up. We ate/drank beers at Snake River Brewing on more than one occasion.

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The south entrance to Yellowstone is about an hour from Grand Teton. If you haven’t seen a map of it, it’s huge. It has a giant figure eight made of roads winding through it and connecting all of the entrances. Since it was off season, but the snow was melted, you’re subjected to road construction. The main goal of the day was to go see Old Faithful, which is normally 30 miles or so west of the south entrance. Normally wasn’t the case though since they had the bridge out for replacement, so we had a 80 mile detour. The park ranger at the entrance gate told us to expect a good 2 1/2 hours to get there. Ugh. There is something a bit oxymoronic about driving through preserved wilderness. It took that long in slow season. I can’t imagine what it would be like in the crazy summer. By the time we made it to the lodge at Old Faithful, I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t cranky. I was hoping the geyser would be as cool as advertised.Of course we showed up as it just finished blowing, so we had to wait the approximate hour before the next showing. It gave us time to check out the visitor center that had a lot of hands-on exhibits. As someone who lives near the wilderness, I just wasn’t impressed with most of the driving through Yellowstone. Trees? We got ’em. What Grand Teton has in raw beauty, Yellowstone has in geologic wonder. The geothermal parts were awesome. It’s hard to fathom the magma so close to the surface. Old Faithful was as faithful as ever and did its thing within a few minutes of the estimate. It was rather impressive to see water naturally shooting that high out of the ground. There are several other things to see in the area, like Dragon’s Mouth and a ton of mud pots. We also saw a lot of wildlife — another bear [this time a safe distance from the car], a moose, and a lot of bison along the roadside. It blows my mind how many people take their wild nature for granted. So many stories of animal attacks come out of the parks purely on human stupidity. This isn’t Disneyland folks. That night was an incredibly good pizza coupled with more local beers at Pinky G’s.

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We spent the next day fully in Jackson. Since we’d been at the parks most of the previous days, we hadn’t seen very much of the town. We started the day off with coffee and homemade coffeecake at Jackson Hole Roasters, followed it up with spicy meat breakfast burritos at D.O.G – Down on Glen, and then got to walking. There are a lot of shops — MADEFjällräven, Valley Bookstore, Mountain Dandy, and more art galleries and tourist kitsch than you can shake a stick at. There was a shot of espresso had at Cowboy Coffee Company and a beer at the Million Dollar Cowboy Bar. Yes, there are saddles at the bar for seats. Yes, we sat at them. Had to. We had dinner at Local Restaurant & Bar, which was an absolute hit. It was recommended to us by the owner of Mountain Dandy, and it was one of the best meals of the trip. We befriended the bartender and proceeded to eat/drink our way through the menu while watching the NBA playoffs. Highlights included a buffalo tartare, a gigantic fall-off-the-bone pork shank, locally made charcuterie, and chocolate donut holes. The menu rotates often, so you’re probably not going to find much of that on the menu anymore, but I don’t doubt it’s all amazing. I’d gladly trade a few restaurants or ten to bring them to Portland.

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That would be our last night in Jackson. The next day we’d head up to the north part of Yellowstone and then on into Montana.

Craters of the Moon & Idaho Falls, Idaho

[Part one.]

I was absolutely not aware of just how beautiful the landscape would be on this trip.

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When we broke out of the city lights and into a whole lot of nothingness, the hills rose up out of the ground and it was just beautiful, lush, and green. The sky was a pristine blue and the clouds just popped out like pieces of cotton. I couldn’t get enough. At one point, one of the few cars in front of us slowed to nearly a stop, and it took a good thirty seconds to realize why we had stopped.

Sheep. We stopped for a sea of sheep. I had hopped we didn’t miss them crossing the street, but we had. They had already crossed over and were moving on. I had never seen such a thing before. I don’t know how I hadn’t noticed them at first, but I didn’t. It wasn’t until I was practically staring them in the face. So crazy. Eventually the rolling hills would break into flat land as far as you could see. It was dark, dreary, and grey. It was like the Elephant Graveyard in the Lion King minus all the elephant carcasses. The area is the Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve. I haven’t seen anything like it. It’s just miles of dried lava fields as far as the eye could see. It was such a juxtaposition from the pretty blue sky. Since this area was last active thousands of years ago, it’s only now starting to grow small flowers and things. It’s amazing to see. I was most awestruck by the huge cinder-cones that would just pop up out of no where in the miles of dried lava. There are wood sidewalks around to make trails so you don’t destroy what’s trying to regrow or to fall through since there could be caves underneath. It would make for a great story, falling through the ground, assuming you could live to tell the tale. There are caves you can tour, but it requires a separate permit that we didn’t get.

One of the wonders of Roadtrippers.com shared with Andrew was the EBR-1, the Experimental Breeder Reactor. It’s out in the middle of nowhere, built in 1950s to fully power the town of Arco, Idaho. It would be the first city to ever be fully powered by nuclear power. We pulled into the completely empty parking lot. It was still closed until Memorial Day, which was an absolute bummer. Who gets the opportunity to tour a nuclear reactor? That would have been awesome. We sat in the parking lot admiring some atomic jet engine testing facilities before a firetruck came to hose off the remnants of a car fire. I cannot stress that this is in the middle of nowhere. The area around the reactor has the occasional sign indicating secured areas of the Idaho National Laboratories, a world-renowned research facility. I can only imagine what crazy stuff they do in there.

Idaho Falls was almost exactly what I expected. Small town with waterfalls in it. We got a great hotel right next to some of the falls. You could hear the water from the hotel room if you opened the window. The downtown area was walkable, so we took advantage to walk along the falls to find some dinner. The trip absolutely cemented the fact that there is a “food scene” everywhere now. If there is a chance you’re going to get a tourist or you appreciate local/sustainable/farm-to-table, there is going to be some food to be had. It was awesome, yet surprising. We walked into a nearly empty dining room at Republic American Grill & Tapas Bar. I was kind of nervous at first, but that’s the other thing I learned on this trip. Just because there is good food, doesn’t mean people appreciate it in mass like they do in the bigger cities. Empty restaurants meant nothing on this trip, and Republic started off that trend. Their local beer selection was on point, and the server had a lot of really good suggestions both at the restaurant and in town. Food consumed = chorizo stuffed jalapeño poppers on a bed of cherry cream cheese, pepper jack trout dip, and the Republic burger [50% beef/50% bacon]. It took all my willpower to not order the whole rainbow trout. After all the whole fish I ate in Lisbon, I’m such a sucker for a whole fish.

The next morning we stayed downtown and walked to Villa Coffeehouse for breakfast. Their breakfast sandwiches are bagel and croissant forward and they are proud of their syrupy drink concoctions. I had the first whole milk latte I’ve had in a long, long time. Almond milk isn’t always easy to find and I’d rather have dairy over soy. I avoided the syrup. Their egg, ham, and cheese croissant was really good too. The space is large and even has a private meeting space you use. We walked the rest of downtown after breakfast only to pick up a couple of cans of bear spray. We were planning on getting some before the parks, but after the lady in the sporting goods store said there was a 70+ percent chance that we were going to see a bear, it was a done deal.

I had to go to the Idaho Potato Museum. It’s probably sacrilege on some level to not go. Plus there is a giant baked potato out front that you can pose with. I mean, c’mon. It’s in an even smaller town than Idaho Falls, but it’s not far. It’s easily the best $3 you’ll ever spend. It’s a collection of potato history in an easy digestible format. There are panels to read, photos to look at, videos to watch, and dioramas to see. It feels a touch like school project but on a much larger scale. They have the world’s largest potato chip on display! It was much smaller than I expected, but that’s beside the point. There was an entire case full of potato mashers. Potato mashers! The gift shop has all kinds of kitschy and fun stuff like t-shirts, candy, and potato bread kits. It was really fun to see this. Go. You have to.

Back in Idaho Falls, a trip to Reed’s Dairy was in order because ice cream. Obviously. It’s a fully functioning dairy, and you can still get home delivered milk! How cool is that? There is a petting zoo, too. So ice cream in one hand and the other hand to pet farm animals. Sign me up. The store even has a drive-thru! A drive-thru dairy farm. What is this world I live in? The highlight of the petting zoo was due to a lovely little donkey. We never got his name [petting zoo animals have names right?], but this donkey was all about some attention and petting. He followed us around his pen. He was the only one who was genuinely excited to see us. His shetland pony pen-mate wasn’t interested because we didn’t have food, so we sat and pet the donkey for a good 15-20 minutes. How often do you get to pet a donkey and see a potato museum in one day? Idaho is a trip.

From there we set the GPS to Jackson, Wyoming for the long Memorial weekend so we could use spend time in Grand Teton and Yellowstone National Parks.

Boise, Idaho

When we were trying to put together this road trip [I say “we” loosely because we all know it’s Andrew who did the planning, I just say yes], there was an unspoken skepticism running through both of us. It was unlike most trips we take. There was a lot of car time, a lot of nature, and a lot of really unknown. You kind of a ton of travel info on Europe or the more popular states, but Idaho, Wyoming, and Montana? Not so much.

The bulk of the planning came through our usual methods — a show of Anthony Bourdain’s [in this case No Reservations], Foursquare, Yelp, Trip Advisor, random Google searches. New this time was an app/website called Roadtrippers. The premise is simple. Tell the app where you want to go and how far you’re willing to get off your route and it’ll pull up a ton of really great places for you to stop and see along the way. Additionally, they were sending Andrew a newsletter with travel highlights. There were at least one or two things we did from those newsletters. The trip became a “yes” trip. If it was something to do, let’s do it. Don’t scoff. Don’t crinkle your nose. Don’t try to talk yourself out of it. Just go. You’ll never know what you might find.

Being the efficient employees that we are, we left work a few hours early on a Tuesday. That was enough time to pack up the car and get on the road before the bulk of rush hour traffic. The plan was drive straight to Boise and get the “long part” of the drive over with. Sure we wouldn’t get to Boise until midnight [or 1am with the time change], but we could start fresh on Wednesday. Sidenote: I really had no idea that we’d change timezones on this trip. My map naivety knows no bounds.

The drive was uneventful. We went to the wrong hotel. We were slated to stay at two different Marriott’s on the trip. We had a 50/50 shot of being wrong, and wrong we were. Boise isn’t exactly a huge city, so it really wasn’t a problem. The next morning we headed downtown to find some coffee. Boise’s downtown has metered parking, but only of the coin variety. Cue feeling spoiled by the ones that take cards. There was thankfully there was about 95 cents scattered in my car and they graciously gave you 20 minutes for free. We got a spot in front of the coffee shop so I figured I’d utilize the 20 minutes and then come back out if we didn’t think we were going to be done by then and throw some change in the machine. The District Coffee House was really lovely, and was quite possibly my favorite coffee of the trip. The coffee is micro-batch roasted in town twice a week. They had some really good stuff rotating through. The shop itself is a non-profit that supports an orphanage, which is pretty awesome especially if the execution is spot on, which this one seemed to be. You’d have no clue that it wasn’t for-profit. The space was super open and airy with mid-century modern furniture, a stage for performing of some kind, and a lot of tables to cater to the downtown crowd. There were plenty of students, laptops, and business meetings going on while there on a Wednesday morning. As we were finishing up our coffee [pourover for me, mexican mocha for him], I looked up to see the parking meter person slipping an envelope under my windshield wiper. I really could not believe it had been 20 minutes already. It felt more like 10. I started mildly freaking out because I now had a ticket in order to justify not spending an unnecessary quarter. These are the things that rule my life, people. I am just that neurotic. I grumpily finished my coffee and went outside to assess the damage before we moved on. I slipped the ticket out of the envelope and scanned it. Nothing. I saw no dollars. The fine said $0.00. Upon further inspection [which took awhile since I have gotten maybe two or three in my life], it was purely a warning ticket for staying longer than the 20 minutes. I assume pity was taken on my car’s Oregon plates. Is that normal? I’ve never heard of a warning before. In Portland, I see them all too gleefully slipping tickets on people’s cars. The vacation gods decided to spare me from remaining grumpy.

Did you know Boise has a large Basque population? I didn’t either. They have a whole block dedicated to the Basques called the Basque Block. Clever, right? As soon as I heard it existed, I knew we’d be checking it out since we were just in Spain a year prior. While we didn’t get to Basque parts of Spain then, just being in an area with ties to Spain was enough for me. There is a cultural center and a museum, both of which we really didn’t get to spend some time in. The highlight, other than successfully dodging a group of kids on a field trip, was watching the street-side paella being made at The Basque Market. That shop was heavenly. It’s part dry goods, part meat/cheese counter, part restaurant. They had tapas on hand, really generous wine samples, and prix fix dinners in the evening. We shopped [new paella pan!], drank wine, and had tapas and the paella for one very filling lunch. I was incredibly envious of all the business casual people who were very clearly coming in to get paella for lunch. I want paella for lunch! It was such a good one.

We toured the Old Idaho Penitentiary. It was a fantastic piece of history. It was a prison from the 1870s through the 1970s so you can see the transition through the years from a territorial prison to the more modern cell blocks of today. Several of the buildings are burned out shells, overgrown with nature, and there is even an old school laundry facility. The solitary confinement cells, the gallows, and death row were incredibly eerie and sad. It’s said to be haunted there, but I didn’t notice anything. You couldn’t pay me to stay the night there though. There were a lot of information posted up on walls so you could see just what absurd things people used to get jail time for.

Other than the prison and a brief trip to the closed Boise Union Pacific Depot, Boise turned into just a stop to eat…a lot. There was a stop later that afternoon for four deliciously flakey empanadas at Tango’s Empanadas and Subs. It totally looks like a hole in the wall spot, but it’s busy and smells amazing as soon as you walk through the door. There several [35?] sweet and savory options, all with an Argentinian flair. Holy crap I hadn’t ever had a empanada so good. With a gaucho [original from argentina, ground beef, eggs, olives, onions, bell peppers and spices], an el puerco [shredded pork in our homemade green salsa and potatoes], a picosa [mozzarella and jalapeños], and a caramelo [dulce de leche], I dare you to pick a favorite. Just when you thought one was your favorite, you’d have a bite of another and change your mind. I could have bought a dozen to take with us.

We went to Payette Brewing after the empanadas to try some local beer. It was super crowded, but we found a little standing area to try a taster of each of their beers. They were solid, but nothing mind blowing enough for me to remember. I always get a little giddy when a line up of beers is generally under 60 IBUs. The lower the better for me. Sorry hop fans.

For some completely unnecessary reason, I thought we needed more food after the beer. I think it was partially out of habit because we hadn’t officially had dinner, and partially because it was our last night in Boise and I wanted to eat ALL THE THINGS. So off to BBQ4Life. Yes, that was the name, and yes it was in a strip mall. I’m as sucker for all things BBQ sometimes. It was interesting because they also have a highly vegan menu, which you just don’t see all that often. I think it’s cool that they were able to have a successful meat menu as well as an equally extensive vegan one. That is hardly ever executed all that well. While I wanted the sandwich with pulled pork and mac-n-cheese (!!), I opted for the tri-tip sandwich instead. It seemed much more reasonable and isn’t something you see on all BBQ menus. The meat was really tender and light on the smoke. The only complaint was on the bread choice. It was a little overwhelming for the flavor of the BBQ. The bread should be a vehicle for consumption. Nothing more nothing less.

That was pretty much the end of Boise. We stopped at Flying M Coffeehouse the next morning for a really bold Americano, my tastebuds almost wanted half and half. That hardly ever happens. The place was packed, and it felt much more cozy and rustic. The display case was full of house baked goods, so we took a cookie for the road. Breakfast of champions! Just kidding, we went to a little divy drive-thru burger place that supposedly sold “great breakfast burritos.” Great is relative, but was a solid option. It was a basic flour tortilla lightly filled with a scrambled egg or two, a hash brown patty cut into chunks, griddled deli sliced ham [swoon!], and a slice of slightly melted American cheese. It wasn’t winning any awards, and it tasted exactly like each individual ingredient, but I liked it. It hit the spot and would fill us up as we made our drive on towards Idaho Falls.

Who knew you could write 1,600 words about about a day in Boise?

[photos compliments of Andrew’s camera, our phones, and Instagram]

Herb Salad with Pistachios, Fennel, and Horseradish

We’re back!

We made it home earlier this afternoon, in time to eat a lobster roll from Maine Street Lobster Company, a food cart we’d been meaning to try. Ever since my brief love affair with Boston last fall, I’ve been craving one. It was a solid representation.

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Here it is. That was the route. 18 days of glorious vacation. It was a lot of exploration of our own backyard. I’d hardly been to any of these places. When time off calls, I usually cross oceans, so this was a fun change. I’ll definitely be recapping the goodness in the coming days. If you’ve been following on Instagram, you’ve seen a few glimpses, but I’m hoping to steal a few of Andrew’s photos. Highlights included Old Idaho State Penitentiary, Craters of the Moon National Monument, befriending a donkey at a dairy, the Idaho Potato Museum, an unforgettable hike in Grand Teton, witnessing Andrew’s first rodeo, the American Computer Museum, stalking John Mayer, befriending a lot of chefs/servers/bartenders, visiting a town [village?] of 300, drinking a lot of local beer and eating my way across 3,000 miles.

In the interim, let’s talk about a fennel problem.

We all I know I have one.

[I also have a chorizo problem, but that’s another post…]

There are worse problems to have. I realize it’s a love it or hate it flavor since it’s so black licorice like. I love that flavor [thanks grandpa!] nearly in all forms, but fennel may be my favorite because of its fresh, bright crunch. Now that I have the mandolin, being able to slice it thin and quickly is encoring this problem. It’s definitely my new favorite piece of equipment in the kitchen.

This salad came about from the usual grill meat and eat vegetables dinner plan. It turned out so well that I made it two nights in a row, not just because there were herbs leftover [but that too…]. Horseradish is just so good on a fresh, bright salad. I used it all up in the second installation of the salad.

Inspiration: Bon Appétit

Ingredients

  • 4 cups butter lettuce, torn into bite sized pieces
  • 1 small fennel bulb, thinly sliced
  • 1 1/2 cups parsley, tough stems removed
  • 1/2 cup tarragon leaves
  • 2 tablespoons chives, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon lemon zest
  • 2 tablespoons lemon juice
  • 2 tablespoons prepared horseradish
  • 2 tablespoons pistachios, chopped
  • 1 tablespoon fennel seeds
  • 1/4 cup + 1 tablespoon olive oil, divided
  • salt and pepper

Preparation

Heat a small skillet over medium heat. Toss the pistachios and fennels seeds in the tablespoon of olive oil. Cook them in the skillet until hot and fragrant, about 3-4 minutes. Set aside.

In a large bowl, toss the lettuce, fennel, and herbs together. Add the lemon zest, lemon juice, and horseradish. Mix well.

Drizzle the olive oil into the mixture so the leaves are well dressed. Toss half of the pistachio and fennel seed mixture into the lettuce. Taste for salt and pepper. Sprinkle the remaining pistachios and fennel seeds on the salads when you serve them.