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An Eastern Oregon Travel Adventure: The Painted Hills, John Day, and Joseph

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

It feels as if Eastern Oregon is having a moment lately.

The Gold Room is set to open next month in Joseph, courtesy of two former Ava Gene’s chefs, there’s plenty of artisan pottery and vinyl LPs at M. Crow in the tiny town of Lostine, and the muted reds of the Painted Hills continue to pop up in Instagram feeds. And let’s face it–planning an Eastern Oregon road trip is always a good idea!

Located about a five-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland, Joseph is a small, artsy and outdoorsy community at the base of the scenic Wallowa Mountains. When we visited recently, we took a side trip to the Painted Hills first. Although it’s not really on the way at all, it seemed frugal to hit as many Eastern Oregon attractions as possible while on that side of the state.

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

The painted hills are four+ hours from Portland and literally in the middle of nowhere. Visitors tend to stay in Bend (2 hours away) or John Day (1 hour, 40 minutes) and make a day trip of it. This colorful geologic wonder is part of the John Day Fossil Beds National Monument. There are a few trails, a visitor’s center, a restroom, and a picnic area. If you do head to John Day for the night, 1188 Brewing is a popular choice for your dinner needs, and you’ll probably want to get yourself a gigantic s’mores cupcake for dessert. You’re welcome.

Before leaving John Day, plan on a visit to the Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site. It includes a compact museum/visitor’s center, and a couple of blocks away, the original store that catered to the areas Chinese miners and laborers between 1870-1910. It’s a fascinating piece of Oregon’s history. The store is only accessible to visitors through free daily tours that leave from the center. The Kam Wah Chung Company building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in the early 1970s, and the museum opened in 1975. Today, the Kam Wah Chung site is designated as a National Historic Landmark.

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Our time in Joseph included a two-night stay at the Jennings Hotel, originally a Kickstarter project that opened its doors a couple of years ago. There are both suites with private bathrooms and rooms with access to shared bathrooms. We stayed in room #8, a cabin-themed retreat with an exposed brick wall, quilted artwork, and whitewashed floors. The Jennings has plentiful shared spaces throughout the building, including a kitchen and library, a balcony, an artist-in-residence area, and a sauna which promises “maybe nudity.”

At The Dog Spot across the street, we spent a little time talking to the owner while enjoying the last of our post-meal Thai iced tea cheesecake. We had already devoured an order of roasted mushrooms with champagne and garlic, the soy-honey beef tacos, and the pork banh mi. She explained how they developed the weekly menu based on what’s in season and what is abundant locally. The Dog Spot is not only an eatery, as the name might imply, it’s also a store featuring dog-themed gifts and upscale pet supplies. Have a glass of wine and a great meal, and then pick up a treat for Fido.

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

While in town, Copper Creek Mercantile was a unique spot for stickers, postcards, books, trinkets, and more. The owner there shared some of her favorite places with us–Imnaha, Zumwalt Prairie, and Buckhorn Lookout–and gave us a map with those locations circled for our next trip back east. Other top picks in town include Arrowhead Chocolates, Stein Distillery, and the Sheep Shed where I scored some handknit wool socks.

After a bit of u-turning and iPhone consulting, we managed to find the Wallowa Lake Tramway for an utterly gorgeous trip up the mountain. Constructed in 1970, the tramway offers a 3700-foot vertical ascent to the summit of Mt. Howard. The gondola boasts spectacular views of Wallowa Lake and the surrounding geography, and if you have a fear of heights, it’s only slightly terrifying. At $35/person, the round-trip ride isn’t exactly cheap, but if it’s within your budget, the gondola is definitely worth it. Up top, there’s even some mountaintop snow to enjoy on a hot summer day.

Eastern Oregon Road Trip

Hungry for breakfast? Huevos Rancheros or Swedish Pancakes at the Old Town Cafe is exactly what’s required before a hike in Wallowa Lake State Park, whiskey tasting at Stein Distillery, or even the long (but scenic) drive back to Portland.

When you do start home from Eastern Oregon, plan on a pitstop in Lostine to browse the iconic M. Crow Company General Store. You can get fermented sourdough crust pizza, local beer, pottery, and more. They even have an in-house radio station booth. This local mercantile with a 100-year Oregon history is also home to a whole brand and a bigger (fancier!) store in New York City. But this is where it all started, and we have the pizza.

The Painted Hills and John Day, OR

John Day Fossil Beds National Monument, Painted Hills Unit
Mitchell, OR

1188 Brewing
141 E Main St
John Day, OR 97845

Kam Wah Chung State Heritage Site
125 NW Canton St
John Day, OR 97845

Joseph, OR

The Jennings Hotel
100 N Main St
Joseph, OR 97846

The Dog Spot
19 S Main St
Joseph, OR 97846

Arrowhead Chocolates
4 S Main St
Joseph, OR 97846

Wallowa Lake Tramway
59919 Wallowa Lake Hwy
Joseph, OR 97846

Copper Creek Mercantile
15 S Main St
Joseph, OR 97846

Old Town Cafe
8 S Main St
Joseph, OR 97846

Lostine, OR
M. Crow Company
133 Highway 82
Lostine, OR 97857

Baking with Olive Oil: Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Yes, you can make an excellent chocolate chip cookie with olive oil instead of butter or shortening!

I’ve tried to substitute olive oil in a cookie recipe before, but I’ve never been that pleased with the results. This Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookie changes that–it’s chewy inside with crisp edges and the expected cookie-texture interior. It’s not just a tiny, flat cake…it’s an actual cookie!

I’ve found that upping the salt just a little is necessary, as is adding a bit of extra flour to make sure the dough is the right consistency. I went with buckwheat flour for that, which gives the cookie a pleasant nutty and toasted flavor.

Without butter or shortening, there’s no creaming involved here, so you can start blending all the wet ingredients at the start. I tend to mix the oil and the sugars first, followed with the eggs and vanilla.

I baked my cookies for about 13-14 minutes, but the exact time will depend on your oven and the size of your scoop. You’ll want to take a peek after 11 minutes, and see where you’re at for doneness.

Nuts are optional, but if you so inclined and have some chopped pecans or walnuts on hand, you won’t be disappointed. I’ve noticed that these have a slightly spicy flavor from the olive oil that I enjoy. That said, if you dislike the taste of olive oil, this might not be your favorite cookie.

I used Trader Joe’s Spanish Extra Virgin Olive Oil, which is a fruity and slightly spicy blend that’s made from three olive varieties, including Arbequina.

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies
1/2 cup extra vigin olive oil (pick one with a flavor that you like)
1 cup granulated sugar
1/2 cup packed brown sugar
2 eggs
2 tsp vanilla
2 cups all-purpose flour
2 tbsp buckwheat flour
2 tsp salt
1 tsp baking soda
12 oz dark or bittersweet chocolate chips
1/3 cup chopped and toasted walnuts or pecans (optional)

Preheat oven to 375 degrees F.

Stir the flours, salt, and baking soda together. Set aside.

In a stand mixer (or a bowl using a hand mixer), combine the olive oil and sugars, then add the eggs and vanilla. Mix briefly to a smooth consistency. It’ll look a lot looser than regular cookie dough at this point, and that’s okay.

Mix in the flour mixture, then add the chips and nuts. Now, it should look like a fairly standard cookie dough.

Use a medium ice cream scoop and drop cookie dough onto a parchment-covered baking sheet.

Once in the oven, check after 11 minutes, but expect them to take a couple more minutes (13-14 total). The cookies should get lightly golden, with patches of lighter color around the center. Let each batch cool on the baking sheet for about 3 minutes before sliding the parchment off.

Olive Oil Chocolate Chip Cookies

Easy Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Is is easy to make gnocchi? Well, it absolutely can be easy, as well as rewarding and delicious. There’s nothing especially tricky to it, but there are a few steps, and if it goes wrong, it can go really wrong, leaving you with a pot of boiling water and mostly dissolved gnocchi pieces just floating around and mocking you.

I think the key is adding just enough flour–you want it to hold together but not have a gluey texture. I’ve always found that if I roll the ropes out on a very generously floured board, I can get away with a little less flour in the actual dough. And if you dry your cooked parsnip pieces in the hot pan after draining, the 1-1/4 cups of flour should be enough to do the job here.

Mark Bittman also suggests the following tip: If you want to test your gnocchi’s resolve, bring your water to a boil early, and just before you divide your dough into the four sections, pinch off a small piece and add it to the water. If it holds together, cooks, and then floats to the top in about 60-90 seconds, you’re good to go. If it doesn’t hold together, try adding just a bit more flour to your dough.

Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto

Easy Parsnip Gnocchi with Tarragon-Parsley Pesto
Serves 3-4, gnocchi adapted from a recipe by Mark Bittman
1lb parsnips, ends trimmed, peeled, and cut into two-inch mostly uniform pieces
1 egg
1/2 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 tsp pepper
pinch ground nutmeg
1/8 tsp red pepper flakes
1.25 cups all purpose flour (plus additional flour for your board)
Optional: Olive oil for sauteing the cooked gnocchi

1 bunch parsley, leafy tops only
1 tbsp tarragon leaves
1/4 cup grated Parmesan cheese
1/4 cup toasted walnuts
juice of 1/2 lemon
1/4 cup olive oil
salt and pepper to taste

Make the pesto first. Add all of the pesto ingredients to a food processor, pulse until you get a nice consistency, and then taste. Adjust the olive oil, lemon juice, salt, and pepper as needed. Set the pesto aside. Then rinse and wipe out your food processor, so it’s all set for the cooked parsnips.

For the gnocchi, add the parsnip pieces to a pot of salted, boiling water. Reduce to a hearty simmer and cook until fork tender (about 15 minutes). Drain well in a colander and return the parsnip chunks to the hot pan and stir around over medium heat for about a minute to dry the parsnip pieces out a little bit. Add the parsnips to the food processor and let cool for about 5 minutes. Then add the egg, cheese, garlic, salt, pepper, nutmeg, and red pepper flakes. Process briefly until combined.

Put the parsnip mixture into a large bowl and add 1-1/4 cups of the flour. Briefly mix until it comes together (I like to just use my hands), adding a bit more flour only if needed to make a soft, pliable dough. Turn out onto a floured board and divide your dough into four equal pieces.

Working with one piece of dough at a time, roll out into a rope (use your hands against the floured board) until the rope is about 12-14 inches long. Use a bench knife or a regular knife to cut the rope into 1-inch pieces. You can use the tines on a fork to make grooves on the gnocchi if you want, but it’s just as delicious without the traditional markings.

Repeat this process for the remaining three pieces of your gnocchi dough. You can use a baking sheet to store all of your gnocchi while you bring a large pot of salted water to a boil. In batches, boil the gnocchi for a minute or two, until they float to the top of the surface.

When all of the gnocchi are done, you can serve right away with the pesto, or you can saute the gnocchi in a skillet with a little olive oil over medium heat until they get some color. This is also an excellent time to give your golden and toasted gnocchi a small sprinkle of kosher salt.

To serve
Add some pesto to the bottom of your individual bowls and spread out to a circle. Add about 15-20 gnocchi on top of each pesto circle.

* You can create the gnocchi, and then freeze them uncooked on a parchment paper-lined baking sheet. After frozen, remove from the sheet and store in a freezer bag. Cook in boiling water right from the freezer (do not defrost). It might take an extra minute until they float to the top of the water.

Easy Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins for Fall

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Let’s celebrate the season with the satisfying autumnal combination of pumpkin, spices, and chocolate–specifically dark chocolate. These delightful muffins have all three, in addition to toasted pecans and plenty of dark brown sugar. I use an equal mix of all purpose and spelt flours, but you can also substitute the spelt flour with whole wheat pastry flour or just as easily use all regular, all purpose flour. That’s how these muffins roll. They’re easy like that.

Now, let’s talk about chocolate chips. Here are my favorites for baking and/or eating directly out of the bag: Ghirardelli 60% Cacao Bittersweet Chocolate Chips and Guittard Extra Dark Chocolate Chips. The chocolate makes all the difference in these muffins. You want the good stuff here.

The muffins will keep fine for a couple of days, but after that, store in the fridge for up to a week (or freeze). You can’t go wrong with reheating a muffin up in the microwave for about 30 seconds before eating.

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins

Pumpkin Chocolate Chip Muffins
Makes about 6 jumbo muffins or 12 regular-size muffins *
1 cup AP flour
1 cup spelt flour
1 teaspoon baking soda
1/2 tsp kosher salt
1 tsp ground cinnamon
1/2 tsp ground ginger
1/8 tsp ground cloves
1/8 tsp ground nutmeg
1 cup packed dark brown sugar
1/4 cup canola oil
2 large eggs
1 cup canned pumpkin
1 teaspoon vanilla extract
3/4 cup lowfat buttermilk (you can also use soured milk)
1 cup bittersweet or dark chocolate chips
1/2 cup toasted pecans (optional)
Coarse sparkling sugar for sprinkling (optional)

Preheat oven to 400 degrees F. Coat a jumbo six-cup muffin pan with non-stick cooking spray. Also, be prepared to use a ramekin or two (or a mini-loaf pan) for any leftover batter.

In a medium bowl, whisk together the flours, baking soda, salt, cinnamon, ginger, cloves, and nutmeg.

In a large bowl (or a stand mixer), whisk the sugar, oil and eggs until combined. Stir in the pumpkin and vanilla.

Alternate adding the flour and milk into the pumpkin mixture in two batches. Add the chocolate chips and pecans (if using). Mix until just combined.

Equally divide the batter into the prepared muffin pan, using ramekins for any extra batter. Tap the pan on the counter a few times – this will remove any pesky air bubbles. Sprinkle the tops with the coarse sugar if using (about a 1/2 teaspoon per muffin).

Bake for 30 minutes or until a wooden pick inserted in center of 1 of the muffins comes out clean. Let cool on a wire rack for 15 minutes. Run a knife around the muffins to loosen them and carefully unmold. Cool completely on the rack and then nom-nom-nom.

* If you are making 12 normal-size muffins, check for doneness after 20 minutes.

Exploring Washington’s Lopez Island and Ursa Minor

Lopez Island, Washington

Last month, we traveled to Lopez Island, Washington which involves a ferry ride from Anacortes and a sense of adventure. Or at least a willingness to wait in a line of cars, drive onto a Washington State Ferry, and then enjoy the breezes off the Salish Sea as the ferry makes fairly good speed on its way to the sleepiest island in the San Juans.

Lopez Island may have earned its nickname (Slowpez Island) by being a little too laid-back and relaxed, but if you are on vacation, isn’t that what you want? And Lopez does not disappoint.

Lopez Island, Washington

The central hub, Lopez Village, is right off Fisherman’s Bay and has a few shops, some excellent restaurants, and a whole lot of wild bunnies hopping around its quaint and charming expanse. It’s about four miles from the ferry terminal, and while a car is the handiest way to get around the island, you could probably make due with a bike if you wanted a more low tech way to get into the village.

Lopez Island, Washington

Definitely worth visiting are Spencer Spit State Park on the island’s northeast side and Watmough Bay to the southeast. Actually, the whole island is only 29.81 square miles so you should make sure you plan a full day to drive around and explore. Get a little lost. When you work up an appetite and make your way back, there are a few noteworthy dining options.

Setsunai – It’s not just a noodle bar, but also a showcase for sauerkraut, kimchi, and other fermented goodies. Oh, but the noodles are all made by hand so you’re really going to want to get an udon or a ramen bowl. On the night we were there, they had live music out in the courtyard and seating both inside and out.

Haven Kitchen & Bar – Right on the water’s edge, this cozy and modern looking restaurant has a great drink list. The first day we had a snack here, I got a glass of wine, but on the second day, I just had to try the Arugula Martini (fresh organic arugula, hendrick’s gin, st. germain, fresh lime juice, cracked black pepper, agave nectar) and it was life-changing. And although on both visits we only split a plate and had a drink, I’d go back here again for a real lunch or dinner anytime.

Holly B’s Bakery – This busy bakery on twon’s main street is a delightful stop for a ham and cheese croissant or some kind of sweet or savory pastry. Go early because everyone else wants a savory croissant, an almond butterhorn, and a gooey cinnamon roll too!

Ursa Minor – This restaurant has its own manifesto from Chef Nick Coffey that expresses the aim to celebrate the edible bounty of Lopez Island and offer “a cuisine that defines this unique landscape.” It’s definitely more of a destination-type restaurant, and you could easily spend a couple of hours delighting in the plates and bowls that are presented to the table. If it’s in your budget, make a reservation for Ursa Minor, and taste everything that Lopez has to offer. They also do a chef’s tasting menu with advance notice.

Our meal from mid-May is shown below and honestly–I’m already plotting the next visit.

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island, Washington

Lopez Island, Washington

Ursa Minor
210 Lopez Road
Lopez Island, WA 98261

Holly B’s Bakery
211 Lopez Road
Lopez Island, WA 98261

Haven Kitchen & Bar
9 Old Post Road
Lopez Island, WA 98261

45 Eads Lane
Lopez Island, WA 98261