Friday, July 1, 2011

A Delicious Month of Dining Deals

I'm just going to admit it: I love good food and new dining experiences. I'd call myself a foodie if I didn't have so many food allergies. To be a real foodie you need to try everything and I just can't. Well, I can but it wouldn't work out so well for me.

That's why I was so excited to hear about Portland's June Dining Month. It's an entire month of great dining for $25. That's right three courses for twenty-five dollar, no holler. How bad can that be? Not even a little bit. In fact, it was quite tasty. There were so many fabulous restaurants on the list like Accanto (the cafe side of one of the best restaurants in town, Genoa), RingSide Steakhouse (a classic), Davis Street Tavern (interesting food with local ingredients), and Nostrana (the  Dining Month menu changed daily - now that's impressive).

New York has something similar called Restaurant Week, which FYI is starting July 11th. Dinner costs $35 and lunch a random $24.07. Now don't get me wrong that's a great deal, too. My friends and I would always get excited for Restaurant Week and would start planning on what places we would check out when the list of participating restaurants were announced. Yeah, there are some good eats in New York. This is not news. We would make our reservations, dress up a bit, and let the dining begin. The only trouble with Restaurant Week in New York is I think maybe only once or possibly twice we actually ate something off the Restaurant Week menu. The food choices were just never as interesting as the rest of the menu. Thus our great deal, wasn't such a great deal after all. Though, we never left disappointed Restaurant Week menu or not.

This is the real difference between New York's Restaurant Week and Portland's June Dining Month: the choices. Every place we went had ample choices and often included items I would have ordered anyway (dining month or not). In some cases you could choose off the entire menu.

Yummy Gravlax
This was the case with a new place we discovered, Otto. The restaurant opened about two months ago in the space previously occupied by Fin, and Sel Gris before that. Occupying that spot the food better be good. I won't leave you hanging, it was pretty delicious with complex flavors in every bite. I even had a fruit dessert (and I am not one for fruit or anything healthy in my dessert) that was both refreshing and satisfyingly sweet. The part of the meal I liked the best was the gravlax appetizer. The plate was filled with a menage of elegant vegetables, pickled beets among them, and some gravlax perched nicely on top of a buckwheat bilini. Gravlax is the one of the few things I can't find done well here. I've been tempted to order some from the east coast to get my fix. Of course, it only dawned on me to take a picture of it when there wasn't much left, but here you have it. Just look at that gorgeous color.

The best thing about this find is that Otto has a happy hour even on the weekends. That delicious gravlax will not be out of reach long. Thank you Portland Dining Month, please come again..... soon!

Saturday, June 25, 2011

Absinthe: The Revial

One of the great things about Portland is its attitude towards art. There's a lot of art here and anyone can be an artist. You just have to find your medium. With that in mind I've started to explore my artistic side.

I started taking video classes for work to learn more about working the video camera that I used for work and lighting. Now that is an art form. Lighting isn't easy. Either you get it or you don't. Four classes later I get it, but it's still not my strong suit. It's easy to meet people in these classes because we all seem to be exploring the art of video. In one of these classes a guy turned me onto an interesting idea: Documentary Film Making.

That just sounded hard for me. My friend Barbara in New York made a documentary called Cropsey about a Staten Island legend. If you haven't seen it, you should. You can get it on Netflix. It took her years to complete the doc and when it was done it debuted at the Tribeca Film Festival. So you can see why it sounded like a bit of a challenge.

The guy told me about a class he took at NW Documentary: DIY Documentary. The idea? Make a 5 minute documentary in 10 weeks that would be shown in a theater. That seemed doable and I believe the best way to learn is to do - mistakes and all. It's all useful information. So I signed up for the class and made a documentary about Absinthe. You can see the documentary by clicking this link.

The whole process was amazing. Everything from finding a story, to learning more about Absinthe, to shooting and editing the documentary. It was a lot of work, but I highly recommend it.

Wednesday, June 22, 2011

Seasons in a blink of an eye

Before I moved to Portland people warned me about the weather because it rains a lot. To be fair I was concerned that I would miss the seasons. I grew up in Los Angeles, which had two seasons: Sunny and Not Sunny. I loved living in New York experiencing the change of seasons. I'd get so excited when Fall came along. It meant a change in fashion, people began dressing in layers not quite ready to put on a jacket. It was time to store the summer clothes and take a trip out to wherever there was some free storage space (New Jersey, Upstate, Connecticut, etc.) most New York closets just can't accommodate a full four season wardrobe.

When I first arrived in Portland it had been snowing. I could check winter off my list of seasons. Sure once the snow melted and the streets dried up I experienced a more traditional Portland winter - gray days. There is rain, of course, but it didn't typically rain non-stop. I would begin to get excited when the sun would appear - if only for a day or two. Even then, although I'd want the sun to stick around a little bit longer, the gray skies didn't bother me.

There is a lot of talk about the lack of sun for stretches at a time. Some people feel it more than others and I know a few folks who found themselves taking Vitamin D or getting a Vitamin D shot just so they could have more energy. So far the gray and rain hasn't affected me that way.

Instead I have a different weather issue. I call it schizophrenic weather. This is what it's like: sunny, drizzly, hail, sunny, windstorm, rain all in the span of about two minutes. It's the not knowing if I should walk my dog or not weather. In case you don't know, my dog - the Zsash - is just not down with walking in the rain. She straight out will go right back in the house if she even senses rain. While this weather pattern just gets to me, something good does emerge: a Rainbow. I've seen more rainbows here than I think I have in my entire life. There's something to be said for that.

Friday, June 10, 2011

All About Beans

I'm talking about coffee beans. We had some news this week about one of Portland's most popular coffee brands: Stumptown. The company has found an investor and there seemed to quite a bit of buzz about what this means. It's probably the vagueness of the statement from Duane Sorenson, the man who started the company back in 1999. I find this interesting because it sounds like business will go on as usual, which is a good thing. What stood out to me is that the news on the site is called "A Note from Duane." This speaks volumes to what Portland is all about. It's not about titles and climbing to the top of a corporate ladder. It's about creating a solid product the way you want to do it and people either liking it and wanting more or not. Just a side note: Good service is also imperative.

The issue is probably more about the fact that people don't want Stumptown to become commercial or another Starbucks-type place with a store on every corner. There are actually very few traditional chain coffee places around town. A definite plus. In the short time I've been here one thing has been clear: it's all about the local business and to me that's amazing. Something you don't see in a lot of places. 

Back to the coffee. Stumptown coffee is delicious. It was actually the first cup of coffee I had when I moved here. Coming from New York I took a flight that got me into Portland some time after 11. It was a cold night in January and there was some snow on the ground. The next morning I woke up craving a good cup of coffee. At the time, for me that meant going down to the bodega on the corner and asking for coffee light and sweet. I put on my Uggs, warm coat, snow hat, and asked Matt where I should go. He pointed in me the direction of Stumptown. It was just a few blocks away and the closest. 

I found my way to Stumptown (turns out it was the original location). It was in a non-descript brick building, there wasn't much in the way of decoration in the main room except a gigantic piece of machinery that must have something to do with the beans and some local flyers pinned to the wall. I noticed something else, too. The staff seemed to know a lot of the people by name. There's that local business feel. Once in line, I decided to get a cafe au lait - some steamed milk sounded like a good idea. 

Here's the cool thing about that au lait: They brought over a cup of coffee and began pouring the piping hot milk into it. Normal enough, right? Then they finished it off with a design of a leaf. By the time I got back to the house the coffee was the right temperature for me to drink. I took a sip and knew instantly I had no idea what constituted good coffee. This stuff was delicious. If all you New Yorkers reading this haven't seen a Stumptown sign where you get coffee, I'm betting you will soon. When you do see that sign try that coffee. It is the goods.

People can think what they may about the Stumptown news. I for one am glad in this economy they have the capital to keep doing what they do best and that's make and serve great coffee.

Tuesday, June 7, 2011

Another One Rides the Bus

Previously, I mentioned that I broke my foot and as a result I couldn't drive. That meant cabs, buses, or the kindness of friends. While cabs and friends were great, there were times that I had to ride the bus. The public transportation here is actually pretty good. When you transfer the next bus is typically a few minutes away so the waits aren't long and they can take you all over Portland with relative ease. The one thing that gets me about the bus is the fare. It's $2.05. Someone, please tell me what's with the five cents? I'm not complaining. I just don't get it. 

Now, I've been on the bus in Portland before - usually around 5pm - when it's basically a lot of commuters. Sure, the bus could get crowded, but I took the bus in New York where the double buses often had people standing three deep in the aisle. So the crowd didn't really bother me.

That was before I took the bus in the middle of the day. It's a whole different ball game. The bus may not be crowded, but it sure is colorful. At first, it was harmful enough. A few people got on in front of the meth clinic and spent the ride exchanging tips on where they could use their food stamps to buy cigarettes. Then it escalated a bit. A man on the bus with very few teeth saw I had "Das Boot" on and decided he should tell me all about orthopedic footwear that he gets at Goodwill for my entire journey. Then there was the lady who talked to herself incessantly and loudly. I looked to see if she was wearing a headset of some kind, but to no avail. 

Perhaps the one that took the cake was the lady who while we stood at the bus stop kept swinging her open umbrella in my face (oh, and it wasn't even raining). Then we got on the bus and she started coughing. Not quiet demur coughs with her hand covering mouth. No. The sounds coming from her made me think she was giving birth to an alien. Finally, someone asked, "Are you alright?" She responded with a bit of saliva coming from her mouth that she was sick. At that moment, a shiver simultaneously came over the rest of the passengers. 

Yes, riding the bus is interesting. I did manage to pick up a clue. The most colorful people on the bus seem to belong to a club. I call it "The necklace club." This is because they all wear their bus passes around their neck on a chain that resembles the chains that attach a pen to a table at a bank. When I see them I know I'm in for an adventure.

I still take the bus. After all, you never know what's in store. And when it gets too interesting I start thinking about songs like Weird Al Yankovic's "Another One Rides the Bus." That seems to make the ride go faster.

Saturday, June 4, 2011

My Achy, Breaky Foot

It happened like this: I was skiing down a run at Mount Hood and a snowboarder cut me off. I lost my balance, took a tumble, and landed on my foot. Ok, it didn't really happen like that. I haven't been skiing this year and I have yet to make it to Mount Hood, even though I hear it's like a hour away. That story just sounds better than what really happened to my poor foot. It was late at night and I was walking from the kitchen to the couch, my foot twisted inward, I lost my balance, and I landed right on top of it. Yeah, that's how I really broke my foot.

It's my first broken bone and I was oh so excited to get a cast. Have people sign it adding the kind of funny pictures and notes that make High School Yearbooks epic. But that didn't seem to be in the cards for me. In fact, the whole experience from break to heal wasn't at all what I thought it would be.

Das Boot!
When I first landed on my foot and heard something crack, Matt offered to take me to the emergency room. I'm not one for hospitals and who am I kidding? It was late. So I did what I thought anyone with a hurt foot would do: I elevated it and put ice on it. Next day, I couldn't really walk on it.

I called my doctor and instead of saying "Come on in, we'll take a look at it." Without even speaking to him on the phone I was told to go get an x-ray at where else? The hospital. A couple of hours later the verdict was in: the foot was broken. My doctor's receptionist told me to go to the Orthopedic Specialist. Now either this was insanely efficient or totally odd. I still can't decide.

After calling the Orthopedic Specialist I finally got an appointment the next day. Once there, what do you think happened? I had to get another x-ray. Yep, the foot was still broken. They gave me a boot, which I've come to call fondly, "Das Boot." I'd have to wear it for 6 weeks, which turned into 2 months. The doctor said I didn't have to come back for a month, but I shouldn't walk on it a lot. In fact, I had a trip to New York planned and was told I should get a wheelchair to the gate. While I wasn't a big fan of doing this, I can honestly say I would have missed more than one plane if I didn't follow the doctor's orders.

After the second visit to the doctor I had to go back every two weeks. Now, the Orthopedic Specialist office is not close and I'd have to take a few buses to get there. I couldn't drive because it was my right foot that was broken. What would a girl from New York do? Take a cab of course.

Here's what I learned about cabs. Yeah, you can't really walk out of your building and hail one. However, you can call and the cab will arrive in about five minutes. The cab dispatchers came to know me by my name and even learned my frequented stops. They're probably able to do that because my phone number is attached to my stops. Still, I liked the personal touch. The cab drivers were friendly always with a story to tell about the old days of Portland or their life adventures. It made the trips to the Orthopedic Specialist all that more interesting.

While my foot is on the mend (I might even be able to start running next week. Not that I run, but, you know, it's nice to have the option), I don't think I'll stop taking cabs any time soon. If anything, it's nice to realize that it's a lot easier to catch a cab than I previously thought. That's a definite plus!

Wednesday, June 1, 2011

Sweet, Sweet Honey

Whenever I move to a new place there's one thing I've come to pretty much count on: When Spring comes so does an allergy attack. I remember the first time I moved to New York I spent the entire first summer in a haze of sneezes and tissues. Turns out I had allergies. This I learned is apparently not uncommon when you move to a new geographical location.

So I went to the doctor and he gave me allergy meds. Now, I'm not a big fan of taking medicine of any kind. That said, the allergy attacks were so bad I decided to give it a try. After a few days, I didn't know what was worse, the fuzzy groggy feeling I had on the meds or the sneeze attacks. Ok, I did know what was worse: the fuzzy groggy feeling. So I went back to the doctor to find out if there's another remedy. He suggested I tough out the summer without meds and that would help my body build-up some immunity. So I did. He was right. Eventually, the pollen or whatever caused the allergy attack in the first place disappeared. Although, that did take a few years.

When I moved to Portland I wasn't that surprised to have the same issue. Matt, however, was quite surprised by my daily sneezing attacks and said, "Can you take something for that?"

I explained that it would pass if I just sucked it up and waited it out. A few weeks later I would take a Claritin to deal with it, but I still didn't like it.

So I asked people what they did for allergies and in true Portland fashion they mentioned a home remedy: Eat a spoonful of honey every day for three months. A spoonful of honey? I thought to myself Who are you Mary Poppins? I heard this repeatedly, so I thought, "Why not?" Honey's yummy. But where would I get local honey?

I told Matt of this home remedy and asked, "So how do I get local honey?"

"Look in the pantry," He responded.

I looked in the pantry and didn't see anything that looked a lot like local honey. I did see a jar of yellowish goop without a label. So I pulled it out and asked, "What's this?"

"That's the local honey."

"Huh? How do you have local honey?"

"Oh, I know someone who has bees and makes honey from it."

Of course you do, I thought. This is after all Portland, the home of the front yard farm. It makes sense.

After that, I started my day with a spoonful of honey. Wasn't bad. In fact, it tasted pretty good. A few weeks later I noticed my sneezing calmed down a bit. A year later allergy season has arrived once again and guess who isn't getting any attacks?

Thursday, February 24, 2011

sNOw News

I know all my New York friends will laugh at how excited I am that snow has fallen in Portland.  I don't blame them really, they got hit hard this year. What's really funny to me is what happens to this city when barely a few inches fall and the mania that occurs in anticipation. Our Mayor, Sam Adams - yes, that's really his name - even tweeted the Winter Weather Advisory report. That's ok, he's just passing on the alerts he gets. It's the news coverage that really cracks me up.

To be fair, the news coverage in Portland makes me laugh on a daily basis. A nice change if I do say so myself. I'm not one to watch the news typically. This is because it's always bad news: "If it bleeds, it leads." Not here. There are often reports of firemen getting cats out of trees. Of course, there's bad news like the week long report on a girl from a local high school who had a person in a car drive up to her after school and say a lewd remark. This was cause for a week-long report on stalking and a man hunt for the driver of the car. Stalking is nothing to shirk, but one comment does not a stalker a make. I'm just sayin'.

Anyway, I think the news humor meter for me hit an all time high last night, when I watched a full half hour of coverage of snow in Vancouver (about 20 minutes away). You'd think it was a blizzard with the constant replay of the traffic camera showing flakes falling from the sky. Then the news decided to focus on a bridge that had maybe 3-inches of snow. This story was repeated about every 5 minutes in the newscast. Oh, and I can't forget the reporter that was outside a Starbucks wiping very little snow off a table, correctly calling it a "dusting." At one point in the coverage before a commercial break, the anchor said, "We'll be back with more snow coverage." I swear I thought I heard a tinge of sarcasm in her voice.

I mock, it's true. I can't help myself and if you ever come to Portland, do yourself a favor and watch the local news at least once. That said, it's kind of nice living in a place where the news organizations need to work at finding news and it's really nice that in the end it's not all bad news.

Anyway, I better go check out what's left of the snow because even as I write this the snow melts. I wonder if tonight's headline story is: "Portland gets snow and it melts... stay tuned for news at 11."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Shoes and Hair

When moving to a new city there are certain things that need to happen before you feel like you "really" live there and aren't just passing through. For some it's finding a doctor or dentist. For me, it's two things: It's finding the meal that I would have to have when returning at some future date for a visit and finding a hair dresser. 

The meal came pretty early on since the food is just so darn good. In New York, my must have food actually isn't anything too fancy. It's basic and easy to get: Getting off the plane I like to head to the nearest grocery/deli and get an egg and cheese sandwich on a roll. The other must have is a bagel - H&H, if I can make it happen. New Yorkers all have their favorite bagel and there is no disputing someone's favorite bagel. Just accept it and move on. Oh and if I can make it over to Bloomingdales, I'll try to get a frozen hot chocolate at Serendipity. Here, in Portland, the meal I would head for right away is the pork sandwich at Ping. 

Finding a hair dresser was not such a simple task. In fact, I fought it for a long time and flew back probably twice a year to New York to get my hair cut. I know it's a problem. I could list a thousand reasons why I held out so long, but at the end of the day my hair guy Tonee in New York is just so amazing. I am not alone in this thought. Other friends of mine who lived in New York, but have moved out of the city to other places - even as far as California - make pilgrimages back to New York for a Tonee visit. A Tonee hair cut experience is great. Let me explain, I usually don't have any real input on how my hair is cut so Tonee adopted a style of his own. He got inspiration from the shoes I wore to my appointment. Once I learned this I'd pick out a pair of shoes to wear that fit my mood and as a result I always ended up with a fabulous hair style. 

I know this is not normal behavior, but as they say "It is what is." See, I have thick hair, a lot of it, and oh yeah, it grows like a weed. I really shouldn't be going 6 months between hair cuts, it's simply not fair to the drains in the house. So I finally surrendered and found a hair stylist in Portland. It actually wasn't as hard as I thought it would be to find someone. There's a friend of mine who always has great looking hair and she says she doesn't do anything to it. That's my kind of style. So I tried her person, Twila. Not knowing what I wanted when I went to my first appointment I decided to wear some fun shoes and wouldn't you know at the end of the visit I had another fabulous hair cut that matched my shoes. Better yet, I found a great stylist with the loveliest personality - I've already gone again.

The sad part of the story is that I'm heading to New York next month and while I fully intend to have my bagel and egg sandwich during my visit, I don't think I'll be seeing Tonee. I guess this means I don't have to pack an extra pair of shoes ;). The moral: Portland is beginning to feel a lot more like home.  

Now, if only I could find a dentist.

Thursday, February 3, 2011

Oh, Portlandia!

So maybe you've seen the new show from IFC about Portland or maybe you haven't. The show is definitely amusing and does a great job at focusing on some of the things that make Portland, well, Portland. Too bad that it takes some of the stunts that were initially funny way too far making it almost ludicrous. Maybe that's the point, I don't really know. I'm not a comedy critic.

Here's what I do know from the two episodes that I have seen:

- Yes, there does seem to be birds on everything. It's kind of crazy. At first, I thought it was cool and kind of hip and wondered when a designer like Kate Spade might pick up the idea and add it to stationery. I don't think she's going to be picking it up anytime soon as the bird motif might soon jump the shark. That said, birds are definitely Portland.

- Chicken from the farm. In the first show the hippie commune was a bit ridiculous. What was entirely missed was how truly amazing the food is here in Portland and part of what makes it great are all the local ingredients. The waitress having the patience to explain the chicken's pedigree is not far off. Though no one would bring you a dossier about a chicken, but they would be able to speak to the freshness of the local ingredients used.

- Let's not forget the bikes. Portland is a huge biking town. I, myself, am still trying to learn how to ride a bike. Perhaps when it gets a little warmer I'll practice more and finally get the hang of it. Bikers are everywhere. Sometimes they do drive a bit recklessly where they shouldn't. That said, there are tons of bike-dedicated roads and in those areas drivers and bikers seem to co-exist pretty well. Oh and if you're trying to ride a bike between a dumpster and a wall you probably have bigger challenges to overcome. I'm just sayin'.

- The chatty bookstore owners. Despite the behemoth bookstore and annexes that are Powell's - a truly fabulous bookstore (Think: The Strand, but with coffee, newer books, a lot bigger, and tons of recommendations.) - there are lots of off beat bookstores dedicated to a particular theme: Mysteries, for example. The point here is not the unique bookstores. The point is the chatty folks who work at the bookstore. First of all, they typically aren't that obnoxious. Generally, people who work at stores are pretty friendly and seem genuinely interested in talking with you while ringing up your items or helping you locate something. Last night, I went to the supermarket and they noticed they had a coupon for something I bought and they swiped it anyway, saving me a $1. I know it sounds silly and a little old lady coupon clipping, but it was actually nice. It's small town in the way that a neighborhood in New York feels small town.

I do genuinely look forward to seeing more episodes of Portlandia. It's true Portland is a unique town and they are pointing out some entertaining things about the city. My favorite part about the show is the video below created to promote it. Here's one of my favorite lines in the song: "Where people in their 20s come to retire."

Give a listen and let me know what line speaks to you.