Happy Fourth of July ~

Happy Fourth of July!

Greetings from Hillsboro, Oregon 1988. 

Fourth of July Parade

I’m a Yankee Doodle Dandy

I love a parade.  And one of my all time favorites is in Hillsboro.  It’s the largest 4th of July parade in Oregon.  Everything from kids decked out and ready to strut their stuff to giant John Deere tractors roll right down the middle of Main Street.  Jazzercise mamas, high school bands, church groups, hand-made floats on the back of flatbed trucks and even a local politician or two round out the entertainment.  It’s definitely 2 1/2 hours of small town wacky bliss.

America truly is a great big melting pot of weird and wonderful.  And that’s exactly why we mark this day.

Whether you choose to celebrate at a small town parade, enjoying brauts and brews in your neighbor’s backyard, lighting off bottle rockets under the cover of darkness (oh no, please don’t!) or stretched out on the grass gazing up at a night sky filled with flash and sparkle, enjoy the day and savor the moment – from sea to shining sea.




Meatless Monday

I’ve decided to jump fully onto the Meatless Monday bandwagon.  Starting today.  Oh, I’ve dabbled with the idea.  I’ve tiptoed around it.  But I’ve never truly committed.  Because that probably means dragging the hubs fully into the game.  Yep, the main chef at Casa Sims-Thompson still believes the old nutrition rules they preached back in the stone age – every plate should contain a very healthy portion of dead animal parts.  To my dear hubby, even a salad has to have at least bacon bits and anchovies.

Old habits are hard to break.  But I’m game to try.  It’s only one night for goodness sake.  Buck-up boy-o!  This is gonna be fun.

I gave up eating beef and pork and lamb several years ago as my own personal protest against Big Ag and the horrific practices of the meat industry.  I know where the chicken and fish I do eat comes from and how they were raised.  I live in Portland, not Portlandia, so I don’t know the

chicken’s name, but I do like knowing it lived a good life to the end.  This is my small way of voting with my pocketbook.  Does it make a difference?  Not really.  It’s a just a tiny drop of water in the ocean.  But it’s my drop.

To me Meatless Monday is a very simple way of putting everybody’s tiny drop into one bigger bucket and guess what – that makes a difference!

The concept of Meatless Monday is not new.  It first started during WWI and again during WWII when the folks at home all did their bit for the war effort with victory gardens, meatless Mondays and even wheatless Wednesdays.   It was a good idea then and it’s a great idea today.  Meatless Monday was launched in 2003 in association with the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health.  In 2009 Ghent, Belgium became the first non-U.S. city to go meatless.  Shortly thereafter Sir Paul McCartney helped the U.K. kick off Meat-Free Mondays.  And today there meatless Mondays in 34 countries from Kuwait to Croatia.

Here in Portland we have the bounty of fresh fruit and veggies from 40 different farmer’s markets to chose from and for those lucky enough to have a backyard or a front yard, chances are good they have a garden patch or are sharing space with a few friendly chickens or goats for eggs, milk and cheese.  What’s old is new again.  And we’re all healthier and hopefully a little happier for it.

Meatless Monday is an easy way to eat a bit more mindfully.  It’s good for your heart, fights diabetes, cancer and obesity.  It’s good for the planet. And, its definitely good for the cows, pigs, chickens, and all the fish at sea.  In fact, Harold here gives Meatless Monday a hearty two hooves up!HowardtheCow










So, jumping right in, a quick search on Pinterest led me to this lovely recipe for pasta with garlic scape pesto and spring peas on Scaling Back’s delightful blog.  It’s what’s for dinner tonight.  I guess I’m cooking.  Hubs will love having the night off.  He’s off fishing right now but he always catches and releases.

Who knows where this small change will lead.  Maybe to wheatless Wednesdays.  That would be way better than wineless Wednesdays!

Bon Appetit!


Bird’s Eye View ~

A bird’s eye view ~ More adventures in house sitting on a vineyard. bird's eye view golden finch

They flitted in and out claiming their time at the bird feeder hanging just outside the big kitchen window.  Some politely took their turn, others muscled their way right in, while a few hovered on the railing below waiting for a break in the action.

Early each morning and late into the evening I perched myself on a stool by the window to watch the show.  They came by the dozens.  Swirling flashes of color – bright lemon yellow, fire-ball orange against midnight black, soft dove grey and warm mottled brown – each a beauty in its own way.  These were the birds who enchanted and entertained me for ten days.

I learned a thing or two from my new feathered friends.  And of course I took a few photos.

bird's eye view morning dove bird's eye view yellow songbirds bird's eye view of a finch in the rain bird's eye view  bird on the rail bird's eye view Spending my time with the birds was a whole lot more entertaining and enlightening than any program on the television.  That I know for sure.



Chef ~ An Afternoon Movie Delight

Chef, the movie, is a tasty treat for the whole family.

ChefTheMovie Hubs and I have not been to the movies in a long time.  So, in honor of a non-working Monday, we remedied that situation with a late breakfast and an early show.  What drew us to the cineplex?  Chef, a smart and engaging comedy staring the multi-talented Jon Favreau, who also wrote and directed.  It was a thoroughly tasty treat of a movie.  In my book you just can’t go wrong with a well-written, well-acted story that includes food, passion, food, a road trip, great music, food, mid-life reinvention and a go-for-the-gusto happy ending.   I loved this movie!  We laughed.  We cried.  And I wanted to eat a big juicy cubano sandwich by the time it was over.

Jon Favreau plays Chef Carl Casper who has a wake-up call in the form of a scathing restaurant review and through the magic of the movies (and the best ex-wife a man could ever hope to have – Sofia Vergara) ends up buying a food truck and heading out on a road trip across the country with his buddy and sous chef (John Leguizamo ) and his son, a ten year old tech wizard and social media master who tweets their whereabouts to an ever increasing band of foodie fans.  Stir a couple of sweet little cameos from Dustin Hoffman and Robert Downey Jr. into the pot and you have the recipe for two hours of fast paced fun with a heart.

I won’t give away any more of the plot.  Check out the trailer and next time you have a few hours to spare, go see this movie.  It will make your heart sing with a Latin beat.   I guarantee it.  If that isn’t that entertainment in it’s purest form, I don’t know what is.

Hubs and I give it two thumbs up!



Weird Weekend Encounter ~ Oregon Style

Keep Portland Weird!

Drive down any street in Portland and you will see these words proudly displayed on the bumpers of passing cars.  Being weird ain’t easy.  You have to work at it as hubs and I learned this weekend.

We only dress this way on the weekend.

We only dress this way on the weekend.

We weren’t in Portland, but had driven out to one of my favorite small farm country towns, McMinnville.  Nonetheless, weird was proudly on display.  Mac, as the locals call it, has the perfect mix of wine country aficionados, old school suspender wearing farmers, bright-eyed college students and wandering semi-tourists like us.  It’s a hub for tasty food, local wine, art, farmer’s markets and unique street events that bring out huge crowds.  These events have just the right mix of hipster cool and homespun tackiness.

Nothing gets to my brain

Nothing gets to my brain

When we heard that McMinnville’s ode to all things extraterrestrial – The 15th Annual U F O Festival was this weekend, you know we had to go.  This four day long event included research heavy hitters, radio hosts, a themed scavenger hunt, lots of curiously named food and drink and, of course, a parade.  Way back in May of 1950, farm wife Evelyn Trent went out back one evening to feed the rabbits when she noticed a strange object hovering in the sky.  She called her husband.  He took photos.  The rest is history.  And one more reason to throw a street party.  We went for the parade but had way more fun just people watching.

We were seriously under-dressed and believe me, we won’t make that mistake again next year.  Metal colanders are at the ready!  Aluminum foil is our Plan B.

Of course, I took LOTS of photos.  There was so much crazy fun going on that it’s hard to select just a few.  I’ll post them all on the Just a Backpack Facebook Page so click on over and check them out.  I’d love it if you gave us a LIKE while you’re there.

They drained the pasta in these last night

They drained the pasta in these last night


Girls gone bad and their other-worldly spawn

Girls gone bad and their other-worldly spawn

Of course there were bands

Of course there were bands!

See you on the road.



Magic Moments ~ a photo essay

Good news!

We saw the sun in Oregon this week.  Several times.  And it was glorious.  I was inspired to get out and walk, walk, walk.  That is always good news.  Even better, I just started a new online photography class and although I’m still using my tiny point and shoot camera, it’s been so much fun to once again slow down and wait for the every day magic to appear.   One of our lessons this week was exploring what photographers call the “magic hour”.  That’s the hour right around sunrise and sunset, when the light practically glows and photographers capture their best shots.

So off I went, less than ten minutes from the house, to see what my camera and I could find.  We were not disappointed.


Apple bar in the warm glow of sunset


Sunset through the old walnut orchard


Magic hour at the farm


Tranquility just three miles from my townhouse


These were taken in the morning light.  The ducks put on a show.


Duck Yoga


Mamma Duck

What a beautiful reminder to stop and experience the beauty of every sunset and sunrise.  And, since it’s almost Spring, take time to smell the roses that will be blooming before you know it.

Life is full of magical moments.  I’m so happy I could share a few of my favorites with you.




Homemade Chinese Dumplings ~ they’re what’s for dinner

Last December I was formally introduced to the fine art of dumpling making and I’ve fallen in love with these  plump little pillows of melty, tangy mouthwatering deliciousness.  I showed hubs how to make them and now we are the dynamic duo of dumpling-making.

A couple of weeks ago we decided to share our new-found skills and invited our friends over to a make your own dumpling dinner.   Dumpling night was a hit as you can see from the photos below.

Make your own dinner!

Make your own dinner!

Try a dumpling night at your house.  It’s a simple way to entertain family and friends.  It takes a little bit of prep work in advance but when guests come over, you open a bottle of wine, pass out aprons and rolling pins, show them how it’s done and turn them loose.  Expect rave reviews!

Flour-y fun

Flour-y fun

My friend (and home cook extraordinaire) Kate  found the original recipe in the Seattle Times.  She invited me to dumpling night during a recent Port Townsend visit and I was so excited by how simple and delicious they were that I had to make them again as soon as I got home.  Dumplings are now a staple at our house.  Hubs and I make them just for fun. We eat our fill and then freeze what’s left for future use.  We’ve made both pork and chicken and although I haven’t tried veggie or tofu, I’m sure it would be pretty easy to adapt this oh so easy recipe from Judy Fu owner of the Snappy Dragon Restaurant in Seattle.

Judy Fu’s Pork Jiao-zi  – Makes 36 dumplings

3/4 pound ground pork (not too lean)

1/2 cup minced napa cabbage

2 finely sliced scallions (green part only)

3/4 teaspoon minced fresh ginger

1/4 teaspoon white pepper

3 tablespoons soy sauce

1/4 teaspoon sesame oil

3 cups cake floor (plus more for rolling)

3/4 cup cold water (we found you might need to add up to 1/4 cup additional water to get the right “sticky” consistency.)

1.  To make the filling:  In a bowl, use your hands to thoroughly combine the pork, cabbage and scallions.  In a separate bowl, mix the ginger, white pepper, soy sauce and sesame oil; add to the pork mixture.  Mix thoroughly, in one direction only, until you have a well-blended paste.  Refrigerate.

2.  To make the dough:  Pour the flour into a mixing bowl and make a well in the middle.  Add water and stir to produce a fairly stiff dough that maintains a bit of stickiness.  Add more cold water, a teaspoon at  time if necessary, to achieve the correct consistency.  Knead by hand for 2 minutes until smooth, then cover with a slightly damp towel or place in a zip-lock bag.  Use immediately (or refrigerate the dough for no more than 24 hours).  I think it’s easier to work with if it chills an hour or two.

3.  To form wrappers:  On a lightly floured surface, use your hands to roll dough into a log 1 inch wide.  Cut the log in thirds.  Pinch off (or cut) each log into 12 equal pieces.  Working in batches on a generously floured surface, gently flatten each piece with your palm.  Grasp the dowel (or rolling pin) in your dominant hand and roll from the middle to the outside edge, rotating the dough with the opposite hand until you have a 3-inch circle, slightly thicker in the center.  *we also roll on the board, turning in the same manner to get the circular shape.  Relax, you can’t mess these up.  We had a few perfect little disks lots of blobs and oblongs.  They all tasted great and as long as they stick together, it’s all good.

4.  To assemble and cook:  Hold the wrapper in your non-dominant hand and with your other hand use a dinner knife to spread about a tablespoon of filling into the middle.  Fold the wrapper so the edges meet.  Press edges to seal tightly and place on a lightly floured baking sheet.  Use a little water to help seal if needed.  Bring a large pot of water to a boil and add dumplings.  Don’t cook too many at a time.  Boil for 5 minutes then strain.  The dumplings will float to the top when they are done.  We drained then placed them on another baking sheet with parchment paper to dry.  We tried paper towels and they stuck.

5.  Serve with your favorite dipping sauce.  You can use bottle sauce, but I loved this easy to make Ponzu sauce (recipe below).  Give it a try.  dimsum4

dimsum8 dimsum5 dimsum2


dumplings1 dumplings2

Cooking and eating in this way can be your evening’s entertainment.  We fortified ourselves by sampling a few of the first batch of dumplings than managed to cook the rest and sit down at the table where I served them with a noodle salad and an asian slaw (used up the rest of that napa cabbage).

Ponzu Sauce –  So easy.  So good.  Makes 1 cup

1/2 cup fresh lime juice or 1/2 cup fresh lemon juice or a combination

2 tablespoons rice vinegar

1/3 cup soy sauce

2 tablespoons mirin (sweet rice wine)

2 tablespoons light brown sugar

1 pinch red pepper flakes

Whisk together juice, vinegar, soy sauce, mirin and brown sugar.  Let it sit at least 1 hour to marry flavors.  Store covered and refrigerated for up to 3 days.

It truly is the simple pleasures that make our lives abundant.  Good food, simply prepared and shared with good friends.  It doesn’t get any better.

Life is good!







And The Oscar Goes To ~

After months of hype, buzz, and blatant self-promotion… the 86th annual festival of who’s wearing who, who’s with whom, who said what, and who the hell really cares? also known as The Oscars, also known as three hours of your life that you will never get back, aired last night.

Congratulations to all the winners, the losers and the “I’m just happy to have been nominated in such august company” peeps.  Thanks for letting us share your moment in the spotlight.  Who got my vote?  Ellen and the pizza delivery guy.  It was definitely a night that young many will never forget.

I live in Portland OR where, quite honestly, right up until a week or so ago many folks didn’t even know for sure when the show was airing. But last week I was in L.A. and now I see what a sheltered life I live. The Sunday entertainment section of the LA Times (much heftier than the entire Oregonian these days) was packed with page after page of gigantic ads touting films, actors, directors, documentaries, shorts.  Every one was the biggest, the best and worthy of the statue.  It all felt so glamorous and important and kind of awesome in a wonderfully strange way.  I was visiting a dear friend who has seen every nominated film, animated short, and documentary nominee.  I think I’ve seen two…but I’m not sure.  We live in different worlds and glancing through that paper really brought it home.  Not better or worse, just very different.  And it was great fun to spend a little time in hers.

Whether you got your Oscar fix last night dressed to the nines at a fancy party or sitting solo on the couch in your jammies with a bowl of popcorn and a champagne toast, I hope your favorites won.  And, while the buzz from the Oscars is still humming in your ears, I thought you might enjoy this fun article highlighting some of Oscars Biggest Losers.

Not wanting to look like stalking paparazzi, I left my camera at home on our many walking adventures, but I did manage to snap a few iphone photos of the non-glittery side of Los Angeles, where the real beautiful people hang out.  The ones who watch the movies but are never in them.  You know who you are.

View from the tippy-top of Franklin Canyon.  The hike down was a thigh-buster.

View from the tippy-top of Franklin Canyon. The hike down was a thigh-buster.

Took a self-guided walking tour of the art & architecture of downtown LA

Took a self-guided walking tour of the art & architecture of downtown LA


Wandered into a wedding on the steps of the magnificent Disney Hall


Two tired old broads take a selfie on the lightrail ride back to the westside after many fun adventures in tinsel town.

Thanks for the memories my friend.  You will always be a star in my book.







A Hearty High-Five for Volkssport Walking

Sometimes we walk alone…

Selfie at the Volkswalk

Selfie at the Volkswalk

And that’s what I did this weekend. While hubs was winging his way to sunny Florida, I was invited to participate in an AVA sponsored 10k walk. The sun was bright and it was a balmy 45 degrees so I joined a group of 100+ hearty souls for the Pre-Super Bowl Walk sponsored by the Columbia River Volkssport walking club. This walk was very easy and rated 1A. There is a rating system that goes all the way to 5. This event was well organized, the volunteers were friendly and helpful.  I wasn’t looking for credit stamps so I walked for free.  I haven’t investigated how the whole IVV/AVA system works yet, but there are clubs and walks all over the the world.  Members have books and get stamped for each walk they compete.  I think it’s $3.00 if you are going for stamps and I’m here to tell you that there was lots of stamping going on. Most people came with a walking buddy or two, but there were lots of single walkers too. It was an easy-going, friendly group. The average age was somewhere mid-50’s.  Lots of gray hair, but these folks were fit and energetic and many well into their 70’s were passing me on the street.

I’ve been thinking about doing one of these walks for a long time and I am so glad I finally found one that fit my schedule.  Tuesday at 10:00 a.m. doesn’t work if you are still chained to the office.   I wonder how long it will take after I finally retire to not think I have to cram all my fun activities into the weekend.

Hubs doesn’t know it yet, but I’ve already signed us up for another Volkswalk.  This one is on February 15.  It’s called The Heartbreaker Walk. And the route is sure to get the old heart muscle pumping.  It’s 11km and rated a 3C – for the hills and stairs.

I also picked up a flyer for the Columbia River Gorge Biennial Classic – 13 walks and 1 bike – June 19-22, 2014.  Walks range from 5km to 25km, rated 1A to 4C (straight up?).  What a great way to enjoy a weekend in the beauty of the gorge.  In addition to all of the walking, this is also a social weekend with picnics, potlucks, a buffet dinner and a cruise on the Sternwheeler.  And, it’s hub’s birthday weekend. Happy Birthday, honey! bg-splash

Sound interesting?  Click here to find out more about the IVV (International Volkssport) and the AVA (American Volkssport) associations, their walks and all of the other non-competitive events they sponsor worldwide.

Then lace up your shoes and get going.  If you want to walk in the Portland area and need a walking buddy, call me.

See you on the road (or the trail),


Nothing Says Lovin’ Like Something From the Oven ~

It was swoon at first sight and love at first bite.

This weekend while a huge swath of the United Stated was hunkered down under ten feet of snow and bone chilling cold, Portland was aglow with bright sunny skies.   It was perfect weather for a winter walk.  All I had to do was convince hubs to pass on a little football, bundle up, and head out into the cold air and blinding sun.  Fortunately, I know the secret.  I enticed him with the promise of brunch and a new restaurant.  Works every time.


waiting for me to decide on our next tasty treat.

We headed over to the east side of Portland, where tucked away on a quiet corner of Hawthorne Boulevard sits a little slice of Heaven called Tabor Bread.   These folks are working more than a little magic with yeast and flour.  And the magic begins with locally grown wheat which they grind themselves.  Believe me when I say you can taste the love.


Real red wheat flour, spelt and kamut from local growers.

The flour mill.  How cool is that?

The flour mill. How cool is that?

The minute Hubs and I stepped into this delightful little shop our noses twitched from the heady aromas of yeast and sugar.   And here’s where my plan (not a resolution) went right out the window.  Cup of soup and half a turkey sandwich?   That was the plan.  Ha!  We were called immediately to the sweet, and oh so delicious, dark side – first up we shared a freshly baked pecan sticky bun.  Swoon.  That was devoured while we perused the menu.  Still trying to decide on what to order, we shared a tiny delight called a donut muffin.   DoMuf, how do I love thee?  Let me count the ways.   By this time neither of us was actually hungry and we were pretty well sugared-up, so we decided to be “good” and settled on two cups of rich, house-made hot chocolate and a plate of toast with fresh balsamic pear butter.  Oh my.  Is there anything better than toast made from thick slices of just out of the oven bread?  It was the perfect finish to our three course breakfast.  Oops!  We ate it so fast, I forgot to take photos.


Nothing says lovin’ like something from the oven at Tabor Bread

The tiny dining room was warmed by the giant brick bread oven along the back wall.   It was comfy and cozy and so we lingered over our toast and chocolate and settled in to watch the show.  The baker never stopped his dance.  A wooden paddle with a 6 foot handle was Ginger to his Fred.  Piping hot loaves of all shapes and sizes slowly filled the racks.  The air even had a hint of smoke.  Did I say heaven?

Finally, with gooey fingers, full bellies, warm hearts and huge smiles on our faces, we agreed it was time to get on with the second leg of our adventure.  We waved goodbye to the kind folks at Tabor Bread and set out to walk off just a few of the 1,000 calories we had each just consumed.  Hubs led the charge and we headed up the hill and then up a little more until we reached the top of Mt. Tabor.   The air was crisp, the sky was blue, the sun was bright in the sky and the birds were a chorus cheering us on as we trudged up the path.  The view from the top was well worth the effort.  taborbreadwalkview  And then we took the easy way down. taborbreadwalkstairs

Happy Camper

Happy Camper

This was one of the tastiest close to home and on foot adventures we’ve had in a while.  We found a little bit of everyday magic at Tabor Bread We will be back…very soon.  Next time we’ll branch out and try some of the savory bread pudding that we didn’t have room for.