Home Archives 2011 May 4

Daily Archives: May 4, 2011

“Life is a daring adventure or nothing at all” – Helen Keller

Was there ever a braver traveler in the world than Helen Keller, for whom every day was a daring adventure? I think of her words often when I travel, as a reminder to get out of my comfort zone.


But before I make myself sound like some kind of frontier-shattering, hard-core explorer, here’s the truth: when my travels involve adventure – taking risks, sweating, and pushing the envelope – rest assured the adventures are well-balanced with relaxation, pampering, and a comfy place to rest my head at night. The key to a great vacation, for me, is finding a destination that offers both challenge and comfort.

The Mayan Riviera is such a place, stretching along the Yucatan Peninsula along the Gulf of Mexico. The sleepy town of Akumal, Mexico, just an hour or so down the coast from Cancun, is a favorite spot to find the perfect balance of adventure and comfort.

How to be a daring adventurer in Akumal:

  • Snorkel Half Moon Bay, where the needle fish shimmer close to the surface and the parrot fish nibble at the coral.
  • Dive the cenotes, where it seems like you’re entering a whole new dimension on Earth.
  • Vow to use your high school Spanish and speak as little English as possible in the markets and the cafes.
  • Rise early and beat the crowds to Coba and Tulum, to explore the Mayan ruins and imagine life in that beautiful and sometimes cruel society.
  • Go for the culinary adventure and try a new local specialty every day—especially the seafood dishes.

How to balance your adventures with comfort:

  • Find lodging with the space to not only sleep your whole group comfortably, but also to gather in the evenings to play cards, relax, and re-hash the day.
  • Do your research before leaving and arrive armed with current maps and a GPS.
  • Adventure is fun, getting lost is not. Pack a good first-aid kit for the inevitable scrape or sunburn (look for more tips on the first aid kit and building your own traveling pharmacy in my next post!).
  • Stock your vacation rental kitchen with breakfast staples and easy-to-carry snacks because not every meal needs to be an adventure.

And yes, stock up on plenty of bottled water!

Suzanne Johnson lives, writes and plays in the Cascade mountains of Oregon with her family of adventure-prone boys. More of her writing can be found a SuzanneMyhreJohnson.com.

I’ve been a staunch supporter of breakfast for as long as I can remember, and I don’t just mean eating in the morning. There’s little doubt in my mind that I could live off of breakfast foods for the rest of my life and be wholly content – provided the pancakes were fluffy and the bacon was cooked to crispy-chewy perfection.

If you happen to doubt the power of breakfast, allow me to submit the following piece of evidence in its favor:

Pancakes = Happiness
See? Charts don’t lie.

When it comes to dining options, Portland, Oregon delivers like no other. In fact, the city claims one of the highest numbers of restaurants per capita of any city in the United States (though no one seems able to verify this claim). Whether or not it charts the tops for restaurant quantity, the city has a long-standing love affair with food.

So where do you find the best breakfast in Stumptown? After living there for eight years and remaining a frequent visitor, I’ve spent a great deal of time researching this very question. Of the thousand or so plates of breakfast that met their fate at the end of my fork, none have stuck with me quite like the ones served at the Arleta Library Bakery and Café.

Arleta Library BreakfastLocated in the Mt. Scott-Arleta neighborhood of Portland, the Arleta Library won me over on my very first trip with their famous biscuits-n-gravy. Two flaky-soft sweet potato biscuits are topped with roasted pork loin and finished with a jumbo scoop of rosemary sausage gravy – these aren’t your standard goop-covered hockey pucks. Do you remember how great you felt the first time you saw Return of the Jedi? Of course you do. Imagine that feeling, only in your mouth. They’re that good.

The Arleta Library’s breakfast prowess doesn’t start and stop at biscuits-n-gravy either. They also serve up a number of amazing egg dishes. While I initially thought their “scrambled eggs only” policy was an act of breakfast sacrilege, it turns out everything is cooked so well that you hardly even notice. Since they source their ingredients locally and organically whenever possible, you know that whatever you order will be of the freshest, highest quality.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the weekend brunch menu, which is anchored by their signature dish: Sicilian hash. All-natural beef that has been braised overnight is sauteed with onions, peppers, and small red potatoes, then topped with a parmesan scrambled egg. Strong flavors and amazing textures make this one of the best — as well as most unique – takes on breakfast hash you are ever likely to taste.

Cameo Acre PancakeNow if you’re anything like me, you require at least half of all your breakfasts to be bathed in maple syrup, e.g., pancakes, waffles, or French toast. This, I’m afraid, is the Arleta Library’s only breakfast weakness. Not for lack of quality – their buttermilk semolina griddlecakes are truly wonderful – but with no other hotcake or waffle in sight, the sweet side of the menu is sparse. Which is why my runner-up for the best breakfast spot in Portland, and my number one pick when it comes to fulfilling your syrupy desires, is the Cameo Café in Northeast Portland.

The small but efficient team running the Cameo Café somehow manages to offer around 30 different varieties of hotcakes, waffles, and French toast – most of which are big enough to fully eclipse the dinner plate they come on. Orders are placed in sizes of “half acre” or “full acre,” with the full being enough for three days worth of breakfast (speaking from personal experience). Thankfully, the hotcakes and Belgian style waffles are just as big on flavor as they are on size, and while I’m not exactly sure what they do to the “Cameo syrup” to make it so delicious, it provides the perfect finish to the perfect stack, one that will undoubtedly have you coming back time and time again.

Jay Ferris is a Seattle-based writer, husband, and father of three, whose penchant for outdoors-based travel is rivaled only by his dependence on a steady internet connection and spider-free existence. Follow him on Twitter at @jayferris.