View of Neahkahnie Mountain from Manzanita beach
What's the best way to shake off the stress of a public radio fund drive?
Relax at the beach.
Well, okay, the way I relax is admittedly not the most conventional, but we'll get to that later.
I spent last weekend on the stretch of the north coast where I first put down roots 20 years ago this year. Driving west from Portland, I took the familiar Sunset Highway, which had just suffered a major rockslide a couple of days earlier. Once past the Beaverton and Hillsboro exits, it was quite an easy ride, past little roadside farms, hamlets such as Hamlet (no, really!) and Elsie, past majestic Saddle Mountain, then south on US 101 past Cannon Beach and Arch Cape up my beloved Neahkahnie Mountain.
This stretch of US 101 offers some of the most dramatic views of the ocean. No matter how many times I drive there, my heart skips a beat when I pull off the highway to take in the view: tiny Manzanita nestled at the foot of the mountain, the vast Pacific, the Nehalem River valley and the foothills of the Coast Range in the distance. This, friends, is what makes me feel, in the most primal way, that I am home.
I'd quite forgotten that this is the time of year whales migrate up the coast. Without binoculars, I missed the show, but other people parked up there with the appropriate equipment were oohing and aahing about the whales, and that was good enough for me.
Heading down the mountain in a light drizzle, I turned off the highway and on to Manzanita's main drag, Laneda Avenue, and was truly shocked at how many new buildings and businesses had sprouted up in the five years or so since my last visit. There were tourists everywhere, despite the drizzle and chilly breeze; the number of people out and about rivaled Fourth of July numbers back in the late '80s!
Yet some things were familiar, such as the library, bank, post office, grocery and deli.
Just a couple of blocks before the beach, I parked and headed for the building that once housed the Blue Sky Cafe where I worked.
That was where I held my first jobs in the food business: as waitress, prep cook, and finally, chef. The owner was Julie Barker and her then husband, Bob.
To cut a long story very short, a few years ago Julie left the business and opened a bakery named Bread and Ocean. Not long after her departure, the Blue Sky folded, and Julie was encouraged to relocate the bakery to the space once occupied by the Blue Sky.
So there I was for a couple of days, hobnobbing with Julie in the same space where we turned out so many breakfasts, lunches, and dinners together years ago. She kindly allowed me to wallow in my idea of culinary heaven, amidst industrial-sized Hobart mixers, the proofing cabinet and convection oven. (I think I have a stainless steel industrial equipment fetish!) As she churned out trays and trays of sweet and savory rolls, loaf after loaf of brioche, sourdough and multigrain breads, rustic baguettes and goodness knows what else, Julie fed me with the choice "baker's privilege" morsels. She generously allowed me to shape some loaves, frost the rolls and whip up a batch of harissa, as we reminisced, laughed, exchanged food news, and listened to public radio in the kitchen.
And that, dahlings, was a great vacation for me.
(Attention Northwest Public Radio staff: with my culinary refresher, please be prepared to be my baked goods guinea pigs for the next few weeks.)
Stay tuned, more kitchen stories coming soon.