The Otium

[remodeling soon!]

Day Trip: Japanese & Latin Food Adventures in Onatrio, Oregon

Rarely does a farm town of barely 11,000 residents offer a more compelling immigrant story than the nearby 600,000+ metropolitan area.

But such is the case in Ontario, Oregon, a small community straddling the Idaho-Oregon border, about an hour west of Boise.  During WWII, the Treasure Valley welcomed the Japanese escaping internment on the West Coast, offering them farming jobs vacated by servicemen.  As a result, Ontario saw an influx of Japanese seeking work in the onion fields.  Over time, the Japanese-Americans gained a presence in Ontario’s commerce and have left an indelible mark on the town’s history.  Having grown up Japanese in Hawaii, Ontario’s story hit home.

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Visitors can taste the Japanese influence on Ontario at Ogawa’s Teriyaki Hut (375 E. Idaho Ave., Ontario).  Don’t expect kaiseki.  The menu is unapologetically, gun-totingly Idaho, offering rice bowls topped in teriyaki sauce, simple sushi rolls, chicken katsu, and — of course — hamburgers.  But the food is tasty:  the sushi is reliably fresh and rolled neat and tight, the rice bowls are comforting on a cold day, and the chicken katsu is crisp and succulent.

After lunch, visit the Japanese garden at the Four Rivers Cultural Center (676 SW 5th Ave., Ontario).  The Idaho-Oregon Buddhist Temple (286 SE 4th Ave., Ontario), established by Japanese-Americans in the 1940s, hosts weekly services and an annual summertime obon festival where one can immerse oneself in Japanese dance, taiko drumming, and food. (more…)

Road Tripping Manitoba + Saskatchewan


Last month, the S.O. and I embarked on our first trip of the summer — a road trip from Boise to Winnipeg, MB, and back.  Aside from the drive from Detroit to Boise when we moved a year and a half ago, our last great road trip was a Detroit–Charlotte, NC round trip around Thanksgiving, 2009.  In addition, since leaving Detroit, we’ve missed the ease of going to Canada for genuine Indian food, the Bulk Barn, and Cuban cigars.  So we were really looking forward to this trip.

We took I-84 east from Boise to Idaho Falls, then hopped on to I-15 to Great Falls, MT.  After a massive car snafu — I’ll spare you the details — we puttered along several nothing farm roads State Highways until we reached the border crossing.  We then took Highway 41 north into Alberta for about 60 miles until we connected with the Trans-Canada Highway, which then took us all the way across Saskatchewan and on to Winnipeg.

Bob’s Sheep Farm was about 15 miles north of the border along Alberta 41.  These flat, grassy plains, occasionally dotted with an old barn or farm shed leaning in stubborn surrender to time and weather, followed us all the way from Great Falls to Winnipeg. (more…)

Taking Out-of-Towners to Idaho City


What started out as a curiosity-satisfier turned into the ideal afternoon scenic drive for anyone visiting us in Boise.

Our recent move to Idaho was painful.  For our first month in our new house and new city, every evening and weekend [read: all of my free time] was spent unpacking and buying closet organizers and hanging wall art and buying another closet organizer for that downstairs closet we initially forgot about.  After finally getting the house in order and setting so many cardboard boxes at the roadside that our recycle guys had to bring in a bigger truck, we decided we just wanted to get out of town for a little bit.

So we looked over an Idaho Ghost Towns map we had recently purchased, and found the closest one to Boise:  Idaho City.  We’d make an afternoon of it.

This former gold mining boom town, now reduced to a few hundred residents, is an easy one-hour drive north of Boise along Highway 21.  The gold rush-style wooden architecture is clumped on a couple blocks of Main Street, and have mostly been converted into tourist tchotchke shops.  Trudy’s Cafe on Highway 21 is your best bet for lunch.  They serve hearty American classics, although you should save room for their luscious huckleberry cheesecake.

But the real treat with Idaho City is getting there.  The stretch of Highway 21 between Boise and Idaho City is beautiful in the winter, wrapping around snowy cliffs and bending along with the iced-over Mores Creek.  My parents are visiting us in Boise for the first time and were looking for an easy, scenic day trip — this jaunt up to Idaho City gave them a good taste of the terrain, and of Trudy’s huckleberry cheesecake!

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Interviewing in New Mexico

The interview trail led me to Los Alamos, New Mexico, earlier this month.  Hidden in the Jemez Mountains, this cradle of the Manhattan Project is not easy to reach — I had to fly in to Albuquerque, rent a car, then drive the 2+ hours to Los Alamos.

Having spent the summers of 2004 and 2005 on internship in Albuquerque, returning to the Land of Enchantment was comfortable — the sun felt familiar, and the fiery orange dirt was warming.  I had an entire afternoon to make my way to Los Alamos, so I decided against the more direct route through Santa Fe, and instead opted for the scenic route:  I-25 north to Bernalillo, US-550 west to San Ysidro, NM-4 north to Los Alamos.  This route takes about 3 hours, but was a beautiful drive.

In San Ysidro, NM-4 goes right past this little Spanish mission church with its brilliant blue wooden door.

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Driving Through a Kentucky Ice Storm


Work takes me to Oak Ridge, Tennessee, several times each year.  This latest trip we ran into an ice storm that hit Kentucky and most of Southern Ohio just hours prior.  Logistically, traveling during an ice storm is the worst possible timing — I-75 slowed to a crawl for 100 miles, and power outages along that entire stretch forced the closure of most restaurants and gas stations.  But photographically, the aftermath of the ice storm was perfect — pristine lighting gave me beautiful captures of plants, tough and preserved in a layer of ice.