Mount Rainier: A Cascade Paradise Year-Round

Fall is here. I struggle letting go of summer—I loathe the arrival of the Pumpkin Spice Latte simply for symbolic reasons. Autumn colors, while gorgeous, are a bittersweet reminder to me that summer is over. I know it’s silly—there’s plenty to do and see and enjoy throughout the fall and winter. And it’s a great time to avoid crowds and get some good deals.2015 125Last spring I visited Mount Rainier, lured by a great shoulder season two-nights-for-one offer. The National Park Inn, in the historic Longmire District at the southwest corner of the park, is open year-round. Completely renovated in recent decades, the lodge doesn’t have a rustic, rough-hewn log interior like the seasonal Paradise Inn higher up the mountain, but its long, inviting porch demands lingering as views of Rainier filter through the shifting clouds, and its massive stone fireplace makes the lounge a cozy spot to enjoy complimentary afternoon tea and scones.

2015 113Several hikes start right there. On the Trail of the Shadows, an easy 0.7 mile loop across from the Lodge, I admired the astonishing handiwork of the resident beavers—they do this with their TEETH??—along with a replica of an early homesteaders’ cabin and stately stands of tall, straight trees banked in ferns and shrouded with mist. 20150331_122327The Rampart Ridge trail ascends through steep forest, switch-backing over glittering creeks which tumble over gleaming rocks and amber logs.

20150329_162916My lodging package included a free snowshoe rental, so I drove a scenic 11 miles up to the end of the road, where the Paradise Inn stands on the snowy slopes of Mount Rainier just shy of the tree line. After a vigorous trudge up beyond the evergreens, I turned to a vast and glorious view of the nearby Tatoosh Range, south of Rainier, beyond which peeked Mount Adams and Mount Saint Helens on this extraordinarily clear day.

20150330_114834Back at the Lodge, where no cell service, Wi-Fi, or TV distracts (there is a payphone! It takes quarters, how retro!) I returned to the irresistible draw of the porch. With wine and cheese brought down from my room, I read, wrote and played with my camera in delectable solitude as the afternoon sun illuminated plumes of snow blowing off Rainier’s domed 14,000-foot peak.

2015 187I can’t wait to visit Rainier again—for the summer blaze of wild flowers, the fall colors, the winter snowscapes, cross-country skiing and snowshoeing. And especially to linger on that porch…

2015 164

Portland Dining Delights

IMG_0526A three-day visit to my home town of Portland, Oregon, and all I did was eat. Really. Thai food, bar food, fancy tasting menu, homey crepes. It was divine.

One highlight was a five-course lunch at Bleu, the restaurant of the Western Culinary Institute. Now, I don’t need five courses at lunch, but at $14.95, I managed to put them away, having skipped breakfast in anticipation. My very accommodating lunch date agreed to go halvsies on everything, and most courses included two choices, so we covered most of the bases.

Soup: potato leek or butternut squash puree.

Salad: shaved fennel and red onion, (too) lightly dressed with orange, garnished with orange and blood orange, or butter lettuce with peeled cherry tomatoes (had they been canned? in any case, very nice! they absorbed some of the excellent dressing) and bacon.

Appetizer: salmon mousse with asparagus tips, awash in beurre blanc, or a charcuterie plate showcasing two kinds of salumi, with 3 mustards, sliced apple and cornichons.

Main: clams (5 of ’em) with wide noodles, seasoned with curry, or pork loin with curry sauce and lentils.

Dessert: chocolate souffle with creme anglaise, or creme brulee.

All this, plus a coffee, tea or soda–a screaming deal. While the food was neither transcendent nor sublime, it ranged from fair (the fennel salad, grievously under-seasoned) to delish (the salmon mousse) and nicely portioned. We cleaned our plates throughout, until we were met with the substantial creme brulee, which defeated us both and returned to the kitchen unfinished.

Perhaps we ate too much bread: slices of an excellent baguette, served with three kinds of butter: plain, herbed, and honey-saffron. This last was delectable, although I’d prefer to see it on the breakfast table, not with my savories. On the whole, I will gladly be dining at more cooking schools.