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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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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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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A hike up South Mountain.

A hike up South Mountain.

South Mountain Park is the largest municipal park in the United States, and is one of the largest urban parks in North America and in the world. Mike took me for a hike up to one of the tops of the hills to see the lights of the city at night.

The typical desert sunset went through a dozen shades of orange, pink, purple and blue, until settling on a dark blue, the sky illuminated by the lights from Phoenix.
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A trip to Jerome, Arizona.

A trip to Jerome, Arizona.

Jerome is a little town in Arizona, about two hours from Phoenix that is based above what was the largest copper mine in the United States. The mine produced 3 million pounds of copper per month, and in its heyday the town was home to over 10,000. The current population is said to be 444 – leading Jerome to be called the largest ghost town in the USA.

On the way up we visited Montezuma’s Castle, one of the best preserved cliff dwellings in North America. Built by the Sinagua people over 800 years ago, it is a 20 room ‘apartment’ carved out of the limestone cliffs in Northern Arizona.
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