Vegan brunch, Gaiwan tea ceremony, hiking the wildwood trail + hot blueberry tea cocktails.

Vegan brunch, Gaiwan tea ceremony, hiking the wildwood trail + hot blueberry tea cocktails.

Walked down to Hawthorn and wandered the strip for a while – got lost in the huge Powell’s books, and then walked over the road to Harlow, Portlands premier vegan joint. Being a non-vegan, it is hard for vegan places to match what I could get somewhere else, but Harlow over-delivered. Cold-pressed coffee with coconut milk, bittersweet chocolate and agave accompanied my ridiculously amazing meal.
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Hello Portland, with your maple bacon doughnuts + Coconut Key Lime Pie cocktails.

Hello Portland, with your maple bacon doughnuts + Coconut Key Lime Pie cocktails.

It’s been a long, incredible day.

I was sad to leave Phoenix and all my friends and family behind – second big goodbye I have done in as many months. But now my solo journey really starts. I left home at 7AM this morning: first stop on my adventure, Portland.

I have been excited to visit here for years, but have never gotten around to coming. My older brother lives here, and I’ve promised to come stay for years. From what I have heard, Portland is the US city most like Melbourne. And I hadn’t yet found a place I am willing to live when I get my US citizenship. I thought Portland might be it.

And it totally is. I’ve been here 14 hours now and it feels like it could be home. Nowhere else in the world besides Melbourne have I had the sort of day I have had today. Portland is full of all the cool things I love. Nowhere else am I able to play pool, drink local chocolate porter and dance to Major Lazer’s Bubble Butt and then Talking Heads directly after one another.

But I am getting ahead of myself. I landed at 11:30AM – from a balmy 25 degrees in Phoenix, I was dropped into rain and sidewalks covered in snow. I love it. I missed weather that wasn’t just sunny and blue every day. While it is lovely I need diversity! And Portland’s snow covered parks definitely provided that.
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The Arizona Renaissance Festival, turkey legs + raspberry mead.

For a few years now, David has been talking about the Arizona Renaissance Festival (but mainly about the turkey legs you can buy there). From what I understood, it was like a medieval convention out in the desert where people dressed up in period costume, drank, ate, and watched fire twirling.

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I was half right – out in the middle of the desert there is a small city built for the festival – dozens and dozens of full size buildings, stables, jousting arenas, pavilions, carts, stages – and everything is Renaissance themed.

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There are actors, jugglers, entertainers, food sellers with pretzels on sticks. There were knights on horses, you could buy a flag to support your knight, and then the winners signed autographs afterwards.

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There was raspberry mead, British food, owls, hawks, and musicians. Fire twirlers on stilts, hypnotists, peasants, royalty, and stores filled with everything you would expect of a buzzing Renaissance town centre.

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I tried on dresses, ate turkey legs, and watched all the people in amazing costumes.

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This time in two days I will be in snowy Portland – it’s really amazing that the middle of winter in Phoenix is so full of sun and warmth, when only a few hours north there is snow and sub-zero temperatures.

Lakeside camping in the Arizona desert.

Lakeside camping in the Arizona desert.

About 6 months ago from Australia I was talking to my friend Mike about camping, and how I was too afraid to camp in the US because of the mountain lions, pumas, bears, rattlesnakes…. coming from Australia many people find that strange as we are known for being a country full of animals and insects that can kill you. It spawned the meme ‘Meanwhile in Australia…’ accompanied with an image of another terrifying thing from our country.

But my problem is that in Australia, you can outrun anything that could kill you. Here a mountain lion could pounce on you before you knew what was happening. To be honest, my Mum had a huge influence on this fear, constantly telling me terrible stories about the beasts here in the US.

Mike thought I was a little silly I think, and promised to take me camping when I got to the US. He assured me it was fine.
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Coffee crêpes, maple glazed pork jowel and smoked sea salt cereal.

Coffee crêpes, maple glazed pork jowel and smoked sea salt cereal.

No, I’m not at Momofuku Milk Bar. I’m in a strip mall in Tempe.

Today I have a research trip planned by the Arizona Craft Brewers Guild for my Phoenix Craft Beer article coming up in the next Taste & Travel. My first stop is Four Peaks, so I needed to find somewhere close for breakfast as my first brewery appointment was at 10AM.

We had driven past the crêpe bar a few days before, and I had been mildly interested in checking it out. It was fairly unassuming, typical Phoenix red lettering on the outside of a sandstone storefront in a big, bland strip mall. But after checking out the menu (coffee flavoured crêpes? banana brûlée? hibiscus gel?) I thought it might be a little more than its exterior let on.

I head in and had a chat with owner Jeff Kraus who told me of their from scratch philosophies, experimental dishes and the original food truck that started it all, super popular Truckin’ Good Food. Crêpe bar is their brick and mortar location, and a pretty darn hip one at that.
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A craft beer oasis in the Arizona desert.

A craft beer oasis in the Arizona desert.

Today I set out on a research trip to a number of Arizona’s top breweries for my next article for Taste & Travel on Phoenix’s craft brewing scene.

First up I hit local favourite Four Peaks, makers of the state’s favourite craft beer Kiltlifter, a 6% Scottish-style ale. Owner and head brewmaster Andy Ingram told me about their special strain of yeast that throws a distinct note of apricot into their brews – a guiding influence for the creation of their popular Peach Ale as those fruits complement each other perfectly.
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Lamingtons for Australia Day in the Wild West of the USA.

Lamingtons for Australia Day in the Wild West of the USA.

I was told as soon as I left Australia for my adventure around the world I would have a newfound sense of patriotism. I have always been patriotic about Melbourne (maybe because it is the best place in the world?), but have never really been a flag-toting, sausage eating, Crikey-shouting Aussie.

My friends in Melbourne have always been super organised with our bigger parties – we are huge fans of facebook events. It works for me because now I have gone, they invite me to everything anyway so I can see what is happening back at home. So when I saw the group was heading out for an Australia Day Picnic and rowing a boat to Herring Island, I remembered how my American friends Sam and Nina would always host parties on the American holidays like the 4th July. So, as an Australian, I felt it was my duty to host an Australia Day party here in Phoenix, Arizona.

I got a little excited about the prospect of introducing our friends to a bit of Australian culture. It wouldn’t be Australia day without lamingtons, so I baked a sponge and set to work putting together some Aussie baked deliciousness. For my non-Australian readers, lamingtons are a dense sponge cake filled with raspberry jam, dipped in a chocolate syrupy sauce and rolled in desiccated coconut.

Our friends Erin and Brandon showed up with their super cute son, Liam. He loved to pose for the camera!
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Juniper-crusted bison carpaccio, smoked dark chocolate fudge + coconut green mole.

Juniper-crusted bison carpaccio, smoked dark chocolate fudge + coconut green mole.

Last night we had one of the best meals we have eaten in the USA, right here in Phoenix. A few weeks ago when we visited the Desert Botanical Gardens, mum pointed out the restaurant in the gardens and mentioned it had been recently redone by a well-acclaimed chef. I checked it out when I got home, and Executive Chef Stephen Eldridge is alumni of other well-known Phoenix dining hotspots such as Quiessence (Arizona’s answer to New Yorks farm-to-table dining experience Blue Hill at Stone Barns).

So when my grandparents told me they would take me anywhere I wanted to go for dinner for my Christmas present, I finally settled on Gertrude’s, and boy am I glad I did.

We turned up to the Botanic Gardens after dark, and walked through the open entrance gates towards the restaurant. It was weird walking through the Botanic Gardens after closing time.
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Afternoon Tea at the Ritz.

Afternoon Tea at the Ritz.

My nan and I love afternoon tea. In any situation, if there is tea and scones on offer, we are there at the drop of a hat. There is something about getting dressed up in pretty sundresses and drinking coconut oolong out of fine china, while a dapper young gentleman in coat and tails serves you plate after plate of miniature treats with silver ornate servingware.
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English Tea Rooms, mesquite grilled chicken + smoked brisket in a Frontier Town.

English Tea Rooms, mesquite grilled chicken + smoked brisket in a Frontier Town.

We drove up to the little towns Carefree and Cave Creek in Arizona for the day today. First stop was afternoon tea at the famous English Rose Tea Rooms in Carefree (on Easy Street. Yep. On Easy Street in Carefree).

These tea rooms had popped up in my culinary searches of Arizona – run by a woman from the UK, they are a hotspot for ‘ladies who lunch’ to dress up in fancy hats and dresses and dine on cucumber sandwiches, real British scones with clotted cream and jam, and a huge selection of teas.

I had scones with a pot of black rose tea, and sat underneath a decorative chandelier of teapots and teacups, next to flowers and British flags. I am in training to move to London it seems!

Afterwards, we drove to Bartlett’s Lake, a typical National Lampoons style American family holiday summer lake.
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My new ‘local’, banana bread beer, coconut cocktails + a new hip taco joint.

My new ‘local’, banana bread beer, coconut cocktails + a new hip taco joint.

So my stuff arrived in Arizona from Australia. We picked it up yesterday, running around the airport area getting Customs stamps and paying import fees, and then finally being allowed to load my 400 pounds of cookbooks and a few assorted clothing items into the car.

After unpacking a few boxes and realising how sleep deprived I must have been when I packed the boxes, I gave up and left everything all over my room and went out. It was friday after all! My friends were amused by the stuff I had deemed necessary to bring to America. I was a little confused myself when I found wheat sandwich wraps, seaweed, dried ginger and scrap pieces of paper in one box. My friend Mike sent this picture around, just so everyone knows how crazy I was… thanks.
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