Archive for the ‘Portland’ Category

A road and its opposite

October 1, 2009

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Saw this caterpillar in the middle of a closed road up near the Blue Ridge Parkway in North Carolina

Aaaand, a couple more photos from a hike my mother and I took through some bearinfested territory near Craggy Gardens:

Fin.

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Chimney swift slumber party

September 22, 2009

It’s a chimney swift slumber party every night in September at Chapman Elementary School in Portland. Since the late 1980s, Vaux’s Swifts have used the school’s smokestack as a roosting spot during their fall migration to southern Central America. As many as 35,000 of the small black birds circle the chimney each evening around sunset and then pack in to spend the night.

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Chapman Elementary, at the intersection of NE Pettygrove Street and NE 26th Avenue in Portland

Some friends and I wanted to see it all go down. We arrived by bike around 6:45 p.m. and positioned ourselves among many others on the grassy hillside overlooking the school. Members of the Audubon Society of Portland stood by to loan out binoculars and answer all swift-related questions, and a neighborhood boy sold his mom’s chocolate chip cookies at a stand across the street.

Munching, we waited for the spectacle to start.

The birds arrived one or two at a time at first, but after a while, they came in droves and filled the sky. They swooped and rose, dipped and dove and eventually took up a counterclockwise direction, circling again and again above the smokestack. Then, as if on command, a segment of the flock began spiraling into the chimney like coffee grounds in a draining sink.

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The birds continued funneling into the chimney on and off for about half an hour, majorly interrupted only once when a hawk swept in and picked one off. (Is fishing in a barrel really fair?)

Eventually, only a few dozen birds remained outside. The group tried diving into the chimney once, twice, three times, but without success. It was full. After a few more attempts, the birds gave up and flew west toward Forest Park to fend for themselves.

The audience applauded, and the show was over. Until the next day.

By the way: Byways Café

September 9, 2009

Byways Cafe

If you’ve never been humbled by a plate of French toast, it’s time you make a trip to Byways Café, a 1950s diner at 1212 N.W. Glisan Street, right in the heart of Portland’s ritzy Pearl District. The down-home café serves a killer plate of Amaretto French Toast — four thick, fluffy pieces of brioche served with honey pecan butter and maple syrup — piled so high you’ll have to take a moment to admire before you dig in.

Mmmm

Good thing we split a plate between the three of us. Trying to tackle servings solo would have done us in.

The walls and glass cases above the booths in the café are filled with the type of travel kitsch your grandmother would bring you home from summer vacation — snow globes, porcelain bells, commemorative plates. The decor gives the place a comfortable, retro feel.

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Cabinet fillings by our booth

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The counter, during a rare moment when it’d cleared out

The wait staff was friendly enough that I forgave them for not bringing me a cup of coffee until the third time I asked (once it arrived, it was good).

Also on the breakfast menu: blue corn pancakes, biscuits and gravy, all sorts of scrambles and hash. Lunch is apparently available sometimes too, and on that menu, you’ll find burgers, corned beef sandwiches, fried egg sandwiches and BLTs. Portions are hearty.

To know what’s going on at Byways RIGHT NOW, find them on Twitter at www.twitter.com/bywayscafe.

More coffee talk

March 10, 2009

It was a showdown, but rather than pistols, hot rods or decks of cards, espresso makers were the weapon of choice. Sixty of the country’s top baristas displayed their skills at the Specialty Coffee Association of America’s 2009 Barista Championship in Portland this weekend.

I stopped by the convention center on Sunday in time to catch the top six baristas facing off in the finals (oddly enough, no Portlanders made it to the final round, not even Alex Pond of the Fresh Pot, Northwest Regional Champion this year). The aroma of the competition floor alone was enough to give me the jitters and make me immediately use the bathroom three times in a row.

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Devin Pedde of Los Angeles’ Intelligentsia Coffee prepares a coffee drink during the final round.

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The competition took place at the three coffee-making stations at the center of the room.

Mike Marquard of the Saint Louis’ Kaldi’s Coffee Roasting Co. stepped into the spotlight soon after I arrived. The red handkerchief in his pocket perfectly matched the tablecloth and the cups he would use to serve his drinks. (Showing a little flair, the apron around his waist pictured a triceratops and the word “booyah.”)

Under the scrutiny of four judges, Marquard produced a cappuccino, a single shot of espresso and his signature drink, a citrus-laced caramel espresso wreathed by honey-cut tobacco smoke, which he created by enclosing his coffee creation and burning tobacco leaves together under an overturned glass. He finished right as the clock hit the 15-minute time limit — and placed sixth overall.

To assign points, the judges consider the quality of the espresso first and foremost. But everything else matters too. They also note the temperature of the drink, the timing of the shots, the cleanliness of the work space, the service… and probably even the music blasting from the speakers

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Pedde, who placed fifth overall, answers emcee (and 2008 champion) Kyle Glanville’s questions after his turn.

Michael Phillips of Chicago’s Intelligentsia Coffee won the championship and will represent the United States in the World Barista Championship in Atlanta, Ga. April 16-19.

Check out the Oregonian’s slideshow of the event here.

The witching hour is underway

March 4, 2009

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A Chinese Witch Hazel shrub in Portland’s 5,100-acre Forest Park.

And you thought it was simple

February 27, 2009

I like my coffee like I like my men. That’s right, you’re thinking it: COMPLEX. Turns out, I’m in luck. According to the experts at Portland’s Stumptown Coffee Roasters, coffee beans have about 800 flavor characteristics, more than twice the number found in wine.

The staff at the Southeast Belmont Stumptown offer twice-daily “cuppings” (at 11 a.m. and 3 p.m.) to inform people about the finer points of the beverage. My sister Laura and I attended one with our aunt and uncle, who were visiting from Spokane last weekend.

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Coffee buyers carry out the ritualistic cupping process before each purchase to determine the quality and qualities of the beans in question. And really, they approach the whole thing with a mug-half-empty mentality: they’re in it to find the defects.

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We were encouraged not to share our observations during the cupping so as not to influence each other’s impressions.

At our cupping, a Stumptown coffee master lined up seven trays of coffee beans — from Guatamala, Panama, Ethiopia and Kenya — along the shop’s low, wooden counter. We sniffed, snorted and sipped our way down the line five times, evaluating the beans each time in a different way.

The process took about an hour and went something like this:

  • We smelled the dry grounds of each bean, making sure to inhale the fragrance through our noses AND our mouths.
  • We sniffed the grounds again, this time soaked in just-boiled water.
  • We used spoons to break the crust that developed on the surface of the solution and and inhaled the aroma again.
  • We dipped our spoons in the coffee mixture and slurped it up as loudly as possible, trying to get the coffee droplets to reach both our tongues and the back recesses of our nasal passages. (The Stumptown staff member demonstrating had this part of the process down, but when I tried to execute with as much gusto, I ended up just inhaling the coffee. Cough.)
  • We slurped down the line again to taste the coffee at a slightly cooler temperature, when its true qualities are said to reveal themselves.

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Some are fruity, some are nutty, and now I can tell you which is which

I’ve been aware that different blends of coffee have different characteristics, but I’ve never paid attention to what those differences are. I just drink whatever’s in my cup and have a general sense of whether I like it or not. The process of tasting coffees back to back enabled me, for the first time, to note the nuances that make each bean distinctive — and realize I have a lot to learn when it comes to café.

Skating to the tune of Ethan Rose

January 31, 2009

The Oaks Park Roller Rink in Portland had the feel of an oversized aquarium during musician Ethan Rose‘s rinkside performance on Tuesday. Rose’s ethereal electroacoustic music gave the place an underwater ambiance (listen here, and you’ll see what I mean), and as I skated around and around in the dim light, I found myself feeling like an anchovy, caught up in a big, circling school — or maybe a jellyfish, drifting in directions I didn’t mean to go and posing an extreme threat to those around me.

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During his performance, Rose played the 86-year-old Wurlitzer pipe organ suspended on a platform above the rink, incorporating its notes with the recorded sounds of drums and chimes. The 30-year-old Chicago transplant often uses antiquated instruments — music boxes, player pianos, carillons, skating rink organs — as the basis of his computer-generated music. Tuesday’s event marked the debut of his latest album, Oaks, inspired by the very instrument at his fingertips.

To the resonating sounds of songs like “On Wheels Rotating,” “The Floor Released” and “Scenes from When,” I rolled around the rink on bright orange wheels, trying my best not to knock down small children or get in the way of the girl in the blue miniskirt who was skating backwards, lifting her leg and doing something akin to a triple salchow. (When I tried a move — a rolling crouch, executed at what turned into a snail’s pace — the referee told me to get inside the red line so as not to disrupt the flow.)

While I did not win any rabbit’s feet or get a chance to compete in the limbo, I did enjoy Rose’s music. It seemed a perfect complement to the act of rolling around in circles.

Three cheers for the new prez

January 20, 2009

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The EastBurn threw open its doors extra early this morning for Obama. The bar/grill at 18th and E. Burnside in Portland fired up four flat screens and a projector, all tuned to coverage of the presidential inauguration, and served free warm croissants, $5 breakfast sandwiches and $2 pints for those in the mood.

Amidst neon signs, skeeball runs and buck hunting arcade games, dozens perched on sturdy stools to watch the 44th president’s 18-minute inaugural address, all acutely aware of the historic significance of the moment and glad that a smart, articulate, principled man will be in charge of our country.

Energy was high. Applause was frequent. When Obama  finished, someone in the front of the room let out a “Hip-Hip…”

Everyone else responded with an exuberant “HOOORAY!”

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Elsewhere in Portland, this was happening.

Portland, Oregon: Quite a catch

September 11, 2008

Portland wears graphic tees and skinny jeans and slings a courier bag over its shoulder whenever it goes anywhere. Its favorite color, by far, is green.

The city defies traditional categorization in many ways. But it also has some definite preferences. And here they are, in no order whatsoever:

  • Likes: Riding bikes, listening to indie rock, brunching, biodiesel, light drizzle, green space, sketching things in notebooks, brewpubs, organic stuff, reusable grocery bags, hanging out at coffee shops, tending vegetable gardens, feeding the chickens in the front-yard hutch
  • Dislikes: The Man, 9 to 5 desk jobs, strip malls, carbon footprints, categories, automobiles

I visited Portland, Oregon last week to scope it out as a potential next home base. I stayed with my friend Helen who moved from Birmingham in April. She lives in a newly-renovated, two-bedroom apartment in the hip Southeast part of town and started work last week as a teacher at a preschool where the students sing songs to Mother Earth and are allowed to take off their clothes whenever they want, provided they keep their undies on.

Helen lives with four cats who are constantly plotting against each other. This one LOOKS cute and harmless…

Here are a few things I really liked about Portland:

Everyone rides bikes
I felt very Portland as I rolled up my right pant leg, swung a leg over my bike and started peddling across town for a lunch date. In the west coast port city, the majority of the population, it seems, moves about on two wheels, and the question “Wanna ride bikes?” is as common among adults as second graders. Just my style.

A guy riding his bike in the park downtown along the Willamette River, taken with my old-fashioned camera. OK, not true. iPhoto is fun.

Voodoo Doughnuts
I have never tried a doughnut coated in Tang. Or Fruit Loops. Or Butterfinger crumbles.
All these toppings were options, though, at Portland’s Voodoo Doughnuts, located downtown on SW Third Avenue. I opted for the doughnut smothered in chocolate, peanut butter and Rice Krispies — and mmmm, was it good.

The doughnut shop, located in a small brick hole-in-the-wall near the river, offers such specialties as:

  • The Memphis Mafia — A large doughnut covered with glaze, chocolate chips, banana and peanut butter
  • The Arnold Palmer — A cake doughnut covered with lemon and tea powder
  • Triple Chocolate Penetration — A chocolate doughnut smothered in chocolate glaze and cocoa-puffs
  • And, get this: The Cock-n-Balls — A doughnut shaped like… well, you know… and filled with triple crème (ewwwww!)

BTW, the folks at Voodoo are also licensed to wed, so if you’re feelin’ the love, here are your nuptial options:

  • Intentional commitment: $25
  • Legal commitment: $175 (includes the wedding, with doughnuts and coffee for 10)
  • The Whole Shebang: $5,000 (includes airline tickets, a hotel room, sightseeing in Portland and the wedding package)

Powell’s Books

The flagship Powell’s Books is three stories tall and a city block wide. As such, it’s a good idea to have trail mix, water and a few Band Aids with you as you enter, and it’s also smart to leave your itinerary and expected departure time with a trusted friend.

The Portland institution — which operates seven stores in the Portland area and a nationally successful Web site www.powells.com — is the largest independent bookstore in the world. Despite its size, Powell’s maintains personal touches, like handwritten reviews below especially noteworthy books.

Food carts
I tasted the best cupcake in the world — and I do not kid about things like this — from a food cart on Alder Street called The Sugar Cube. The so-scrumptious piece of heaven, called the ‘Amy Winehouse,’ was described on the chalkboard as “boozy yellow cake with a hint of orange zest dipped in sexy chocolate ganache. DAMN!”

Damn is right. (I returned the next day for ‘Highway to Heaven’ — a “chocolate buttermilk cupcake filled with salted caramel, topped with chocolate ganache.” And, damn again.)

Owner Kirsten Jensen in her cart

The Sugar Cube is one of many food carts lining the sidewalk at 9th and Alder. The mobile restaurants, which have popped up all over Portland in recent years, serve short-order cuisine from all over the world — everything from falafel to Polish sausages to vegetable pakoras to beef burritos. The options can overwhelm, but the food is tasty, quick and generally a good bargain. Plus, the sidewalk tables offer a premium vantage point for people watching.

Cheap bowling
Got a quarter? Then get yer bowlin’ shoes on! We could hear the rumble of balls rolling and pins falling as we walked through the parking garage at AMF Pro 300 Lanes, which is located directly under the alley.
The start to my game was rough. I knocked down maybe two pins during the first three frames (faulty ball, right?). My luck turned around during the second game, however, when I scored three strikes in a row and dominated the rest of the game.

I felt oddly tempted by the awesome socks in the vending machine.

Public Art
Been looking for a place to ditch the My Little Pony you no longer play with? Free-range dioramas are pretty common to run across on sidewalks and street corners. Anyone can contribute.

Take this telephone pole, for instance

Stumptown Coffee Roasters
This Portland coffee roaster, which operates several cafes throughout the city, serves super high-quality espresso coffees, many of which have delicate designs swirled in the foam on top. Stumptown owner Duane Sorenson flies all over the world — to Africa, Central and South America and Indonesia — to develop personal relationships with coffee bean farmers. He pays them more than fair trade price to help them sustain themselves and their communities.
The coffeehouses are hipster centrals and usually packed with folks socializing or tapping away on their MacBooks.

Noble Rot
The Noble Rot wine bar serves ever-rotating “flights” of wine — or three two-ounce pours with a common thread. We opted for the Willamette Valley Pinot Noir flight to get an idea of what’s produced in the area. Apparently, Oregon produces some of the finest Pinot in the world. We sampled:

  • J. Daan, 2006
  • St. Innocent, 2006, White Rose Vineyard
  • Belle Pente, 2005 Estate Reserve, Yamhill-Carlton District

And our favorite? Numero tres.

Backyard fun

The Portlanders I met were smart, creative, laid back and fun. Makes for stimulating cookout conversation.

Obama all the way
In Portland, even sea creatures have the sense to support Obama!!!