Touring Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail

Vaccinated and mindful of the evolving advice on traveling to places beyond our kitchen, we load up the car and drive from Seattle to Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail, including Corvallis, Albany, Philomath, and other towns.

A leisurely, self-guided meander to farm-to-table restaurants, locally-focused wineries, breweries, and distilleries, and to farmers markets, museums, and other charming spots seems just the ticket for our first easing-out-of-the-pandemic road trip.

So, we say yes to an invite, restock the dop kits, air out a duffel bag, pack way too much for a 3-day trip (our packing skills are so rusty!), and hit the road.

A few of takeaways before we share photos and some details about places that welcomed us so warmly:

  • It did not happen in an instant, but we are delighted at how easy it is to morph from scared, stay-at-home-people to the curious, tell-us-more, lets-do-it travelers from ‘before.’
  • The CDC’s new, relaxed guidelines on masking and social distancing came out just as we got in the car. We heard lots of grumbling and “we’re not sure yet what we’ll do” comments from restaurants and attractions. But each place was trying to be mindful of the safety of their staff and guests.
  • The people out there hosting, making, cooking, serving, offering entertainment, and doing all that it takes to reopen the world to travel are working so very hard and so many businesses are not out of the woods yet. I’m rooting for them all.

(Our trip was hosted, but all comments and opinions, are our own)

Eating, drinking, tasting, touring

We did focus on tasting and touring food-focused places. But we did squeeze in visits to a few museums, including the new Corvallis Museum and, on our way down, the Abbey Museum at the Mount Angel Abbey in Saint Benedict, OR, which is home to one of our favorite items; the World’s Largest Hairball.

We could stretch it a bit and say this is food-related: the hairball was discovered inside a pig at a Portland meatpacking plant many years ago. The meat inspector on duty that day declared the hairball the largest he’d ever seen. It may have lost some heft over the year, but today it weighs in at over 2 pounds.

Our beer, wine, and spirits tasting tour took us to Block 15 Brewery and Tap Room (Corvallis), Sky High Brewing (Corvallis) – be sure to try the Blueberry Rosehips Berliner Weisse – Cardwell Hill Cellars (Philomath), Compton Family Wines (Philomath), and 4 Spirits Distillery (Corvallis).

Cardwell Hill Cellars

Each place has a great story and wonderful products and the staff at each site shared heartwarming stories of how supportive their communities have been during the pandemic and how these venues are welcoming tourists now.

Sky High Brewery – Beer Tasting

Deluxe Dining

Executive Chef Danielle Lewis at Castor

We were wowed by the cocktails, the wine, the dishes, and the dedication of the staff at Castor (Corvallis), which offers locally sourced and locally inspired dishes. Our chef’s choice meal included pea & farro salad, shrimp & grits, and a rhubarb bar – among other dishes.

We were charmed, well-fed, and educated by the staff at Eats and Treats Cafe (Philomath), a gluten-free eatery (but don’t tell anyone) known for its BBQ, hearty breakfasts, and desserts.

And we were honored that Sybaris Bistro in Albany created a special menu for our small crew. This unique and very welcoming Northwest Bistro also leans heavily into local sourcing and we dined on with nettle soup, cracker-crusted halibut cheeks, asparagus ice cream with the freshest new strawberries, and warm rhubarb brown betty.

Owner Lynda McHenry at Eats and Treats CAfe

Jaenel and Matt Bennett of Sybaris Bistro
That nettle soup

Farm visits

Our Mid-Willamette Food Trail tour included stops at two farms.

Lilliputopia is a tiny-but-mighty 4 acre farm in Monroe, OR that uses dry farming to grow fruits and vegetables without irrigation, pesticides, or chemical fertilizers. There’s also a petite-but-packed farm store on site.

Leaping Lamb Farm & Farm Stay, in Alsea, OR, is on land originally homesteaded in 1862 and is now a family farm that welcomes visitors for tours and stays. Owner Scottie Jones answered all our questions (even the stupid, city-people ones) and let us hold these 5-day old lambs!

Scottie Jones at Leaping Lamb Farm

This is just a sampling of the agricultural treasures to visit and the tasty places to stop at on Oregon’s Mid-Willamette Valley Food Trail. If you go, you can download a brochure here or get in touch with the helpful folks at Visit Corvallis and the Albany Visitors Association for help in planning your trip.

Travel Tidbits: chocolate, aviation history, bonus miles for rides

Alaska Airlines + Seattle Chocolate: good match

We nibbled our way through the research for a story you’ll find on the Runway Way Girl Network about how Seattle Chocolate and Alaska Airlines worked together to develop an exclusive chocolate bar flavor for upper tier flyers as an in-flight perk. And how that bar is now available to the rest of us. Take a look.

An aviation site reboot

If you like aviation history and anything related to airlines, airplanes or airports then, like me, you’ll enjoy visiting the rebooted website called The Airchive, which I profiled for The Points Guy site. Take a look at that story here.

Bonus miles for vaccine access rides

Getting an appointment for a COVID-19 vaccination is hard enough. But many people also have a hard time getting to and from the vaccination centers. So it is nice to see Delta Air Lines offering some bonus miles as a reward for those who donate cash to make rides available. Details that offer here.

Timely Travel Tibits from airports near you

Easier ordering + pickup for airport food

The newest trend at airports right now seems to be expanding the options for mobile food ordering, no-contact pickup and food delivery to the gate.

We recently wrote about some of the latest efforts in airport food delivery for APEX, when Los Angeles International Airport (LAX) rolled out its LAX Order Now program.

Now Miami International Airport (MIA) has a new program called MIA2 Go.

The contactless mobile platform lets travelers browse menus, order, and pay for their meals before picking up the order.

The program is put together by MIA, concessionaire Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield Airports (URW) and Grab, and is available on MIA’s mobile-friendly website or mobile app. Food venues are searchable by food type and airport terminal. And orders are scheduled for pick-up at pre-set times, so customers don’t have to wait in line.

At Denver International Airport (DEN), the new Eats Delivered program works with At Your Gate. From 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily, passengers can order meals from seven participating restaurants (so far) and have the meals delivered to them anywhere in the terminal, including baggage claim.

More COVID-19 Testing sites at airports

More and more airports are offering on-site COVID-19 testing options.

One of the latest to do so is Bradley International Airport (BDL), near Hartford, CT.

And this week American Airlines, British Airways, and oneworld announced the launch of an optional coronavirus (COVID-19) testing trial on select flights from U.S. cities to London Heathrow (LHR).

The tests will be free. They’ll be available to customers on American Airlines Flight AA50 from Dallas Fort Worth International Airport (DFW) to LHR; on British Airways Flight BA114 departing New York’s John F. Kennedy International Airport (JFK) to LHR; on BA Flight BA268 from Los Angeles (LAX) to LHR.

This part of the program starts on November 25.

The testing includes:

  • An initial at-home test to be taken 72 hours before departure from the US
  • A second test upon arrival at LHR
  • A third test to be taken three days after arrival in the UK

The testing program will then be expanded to American Airlines Flight AA106 from JFK to LHR, on a date yet to be announced.

TSA Talks Turkey. And pie.

And in case you are flying somewhere this Thanksgiving holiday, keep in mind that the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) has a list of foods you may and may not bring as carry-on.

The “yes you may” list includes baked goods, meats (frozen, cooked, or uncooked), stuffing, casseroles, Mac ‘n Cheese, fresh vegetables and fruit, candy, and spices.

The “pack in carry-on” or “have someone else bring it” list includes dishes such as cranberry sauce, gravy, wine, canned fruit or vegetables (the cans have liquid), jams and jellies, and maple syrup.

Stuck at the Airport: PHL +PIT, & some scary galaxies

At PHL: Grab and At Your Gate now partners

It is officially called an ‘integrated food service.’ And it is part of the growing trend of digital food delivery in airports.

But we say it is a ‘this makes perfect sense’ amenity that is one part convenience and two parts sign of the social distance times.

Grab, the e-commerce platform for pre-ordering meals for pick-up from airport food outlets is partnering with AtYourGate, the in-airport food delivery service.

The service rolls out at other airports soon, but the first airport to offer it is Philadephia International Airport (PHL).

Here’s how it works:

Passengers can order food through the Grab app, a special section of the PHL website, or scan Grab QR codes in the terminals. Merchants are searchable by food type and terminal. And orders can be delivered to wherever you are in the terminal.

Convenient, right?

Participating restaurants at PHL include Auntie Anne’s, Bar Symon, Bud & Marilyn’s, California Pizza Kitchen, Chickie’s & Pete’s, Dunkin’, Gachi, Geno’s Steaks, Jack Duggan’s, Jamba, Piattino Pizza, Smashburger, and Vino Volo. 

More merchants will be added soon.

There is a small charge for delivery. But first-time users can use the promo code ‘RUSH’ to save 20% – up to $5 – off their first order.

Roving robots at PIT cuter than ever

In May 2020, Pittsburgh International Airport (PIT) introduced its team of autonomous cleaning robots with ultraviolet (UV) light technology.

Since then, other U.S. airports have rolled out cleaning robots. But PIT was the first.

Now PIT is making the hard-working robots even more endearing by giving them eyes.

The robots also have names:

Amelia is named for Amelia Earhart, the famed pilot and female aviation trailblazer.

Orville and Wilbur are named after the Wright brothers.

And the fourth PIT robot is named Rosa. She’s named after Rosa Mae Willis Alford, the sole female mechanic to work on the planes of the famed Tuskegee Airmen.

Travel to a scary galaxy

In the spirit of the Halloween season and the scary, bizarro times, we’re printing out frameable copies of these science-inspired Galaxy of Horrors “travel” posters from NASA’s Exoplanet Travel Bureau.  

The posters look like vintage horror movie advertisements, but they are really out of this world.

Gamma -Ray-Ghouls features a “dead” galaxy. Galactic Graveyard is inspired by an explosive gamma-ray burst caused by colliding stellar corpses. And the third, Dark Matter, is a voyage to the unknown via ever-elusive dark matter.

Bonus: the posters are also available in Spanish: Cementerio GalácticoMateria Oscura, and Demonions de Rayos Gamma.

The posters are free to download and are produced by NASA’s Exoplanet Exploration Program Office, which is located at NASA’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Southern California.