Lessons from Portland, the city that doesn’t want to serve you

Recently mom and I went on a little mom/daughter trip to Portland and spent forty eight hours doing whatever we damn well pleased, which was mostly watching Project Runway, chatting about everyone we know and eating.

My parents have a joke with some friends that Portland is the city that doesn’t want to serve you because you wait a long time for EVERYTHING, EVERYWHERE in Portland. You wait to be seated, you wait for drinks, you wait for someone to take your order, you wait for your order to come out, you wait for your bill – you get the picture. And while this theory didn’t stand up in every situation – it did apply to the vast majority of our dining experiences.

An exception to the rule was Imperial where we ate the first night because I heart Douggie. While service was slow – but acceptable to us as we were taking our time, we were seated right away partly because unlike many other locations in Portland, you can make an actual reservation. We learned three important lessons.

  1. Grilled meats should be cut at an extreme angle with a serrated knife. Mom & I were seated at the Chef’s table (see number three) and were able to watch incredible grilling/smoking action up close and personal. Although neither of us ended up ordering any grilled beasts – we did watch a number of plates come together. Every steak, chop and chicken breast was cut beautifully at a deep angle with a serrated knife and then placed on top of necessary sauces, sides, etc.

    Imperial Flank Steak photo via OpenTable

    This is how all grilled meat should be cut always and forever, it is most beautiful. Now, every time something comes off the grill at home I cut it a la Imperial and Matt rolls his eyes. But even with a healthy dose of skepticism he agrees meat looks better cut this way.

  2. Pickled Watermelon rind = big thumbs up, smoked then pickled mushrooms = big thumbs down. Enough said.
  3. OpenTable offers valuable insight on guests if the host would only bother to use it. I consistently rant and rave (wait till I get my New York post finished) about being seated at TERRIBLE tables in fine dining establishments due to what I can only assume is ageism and my inexplicably youthful vibe. When I’ve made a reservation you can be assured of two things ONE, I really want to eat here and TWO, I’m going to spend some money. AND YET I am consistently seated at the tiny uneven table next to the bathroom and service entrance. However, at Imperial – we were assigned one table by the host, then after a quick glance down at what I can only assume is my OpenTable profile – he said, “no, wait – seat them at Chef’s Table.” I don’t know what it says in there but I wish more hosts paid attention to it.

The next morning Mom and I waited almost two hours to eat at Broder Nord. We had little else to do that day except make it to Powells and a movie – so didn’t mind so much, particularly because the food was epically delicious and epically scandinavian (is my bias showing?). A few important take aways here though:

  1. Dark bread and smoked fish should really be the staple of every breakfast. Imagine how happy and healthy and productive people would be if this is how they started their day? Just saying.
  2. Just order the Swedish Breakfast Bord. Anyone who’s spent any time in Scandinavia will be immediately and happily transported back by this excellent and authentic spread.
  3. Do not take your family of five to brunch at a restaurant in Portland that is über hip, über Portland and über unwilling to take reservations. We watched a family of five from Boston literally melt down waiting to be seated at this tiny, slow restaurant. At the point Mom and I were starting to get antsy (and were still 20 minutes away from a table) these folks were told it would be another hour and a half. Chaos ensued. Make good food and vacation choices people.
  4. Will someone please invest in a Scandinavian place in Seattle? I’m available for consultation.

Our final major meal was another brunch at The Woodsman Tavern, which is a little off the beaten path and takes reservations (in Portland….whaaatttt???).

  1. Pickled collard greens are delicious. I never, ever thought I would want to eat pickled collard greens but seeing them on the menu served alongside shaved ham, blueberry jam and a cheddar biscuit – curiosity over took me. The entire ensemble was delicious and great compliments to one another. Pickled collard greens for breakfast = thumbs up. Smoked then pickled mushrooms = still big thumbs down (they were really awful).
  2. Everything hip is noisy and I’m tired of it. I loved the food on this menu, I loved the feel and style of this place and I HATED the noise. Top offenders in Seattle include Crow (although the pictures I am seeing now show big plushy curtains – so improvements perhaps) and Oddfellows. I am not sure why modern restaurants feel the need to drown their guests in the presence of exceptionally live space, but there are some ways to mitigate this – not the least of which is FOAM under ALL HARD SURFACES. Does it feel a little weird when noticed? Yes. How many people will notice? Not many. Will everyone hear the people at their tables better and have a generally more pleasant meal? YES. Worth it. Foam. Take it under advisement.

Of the three, Broder is the only place I must eat at again  – if accompanied by very patient companions. We just scratched the surface of the city that doesn’t want to serve you. Looking forward to the next round and future lessons. Who’s with me?

Kippis.

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Chartreuse Smash

A few years ago Matt and I found ourselves killing time in Ballard at a cocktail bar (as one is wont to do). The bartender served me a drink and I grimaced – not because it was too stiff, but because it was too sweet. The bartender seeing my face immediately offered to make me another a drink. He asked me what I liked to which I quickly rattled off “herbs, citrus and gin,” (so, yea, ok, I sort of like my cocktails to taste like tea). He whipped up  The Last Word, and I made a new bff in Green Chartreuse.

Green Chartreuse is a french liquor made by monks with a secret recipe. It is also, as the name suggests, bright green. The flavor of Green Chartreuse is far more complicated than its teeny bop color implies. I can only describe it as herby, and a hair sweet, rendering it a perfect companion to gin.

Because Matt bought me a bottle of this (ahem spendy) liquor for my Birthday I’ve been enjoying Green Chartreuse all year long. In the fall I made Last Words, and Lumieres. The Green Chartreuse got a bit forgotten over the Winter as we dug into darker liquors, but it made a comeback last weekend with the warm weather. This summer I’m drinking a Green Chartreuse smash which is two shots Green Chartreuse with the juice of one lemon, muddled mint leaves and a teaspoon of caster sugar, all shaken together, strained and served over crushed ice. Sunshine in a glass without crossing the line to cloying. If you wanted something stiffer you could sub in a shot of gin, or sweeter, add a dash of lemonade or limeade. If you are like me and you want your cocktails to be light yet complex wonders – give my friend Green Chartreuse a go.

Kippis!

Talking Pie with Mom

In graduate school I convinced a professor to work with me on a 5 credit independent study where we got up at the crack of down to drive to small Minnesota towns and make pie with old school ladies in diners. It produced some of my fondest Minnesota memories.

Part of the project ended up being me interviewing my mom in the University radio station on Pie. Here is everything you’ve ever wanted, the uncut track of Kelsey & Kathleen talking pie. For Mother’s day I am, of course, making my Mom a pie.

Hyvää Äitienpäivä! Rakastan sinua. Kippis!

On DoubleTree Cookies and Being an Adult

My high school music teacher was a verbally abusive and disgruntled human being (he once turned to my section and said “What’s going on over there? It sounds like a Mongolian cluster f***,” causing the international student FROM MONGOLIA to promptly stop coming to choir) but the man did like accolades so my sophmore year he recorded and submitted tapes of all “his” singers to be considered for Washington state choir. I was the only one selected, for which said music teacher took credit (nevermind years and years and dollars and dollars of private voice lessons that had positively nothing to do with him).

Anyhow, Washington State Choir took place mid-state in Yakima. As I did not drive yet my Mother woke me up early one morning, packed me a few snacks and dropped me off at the Greyhound station to take the bus to Yakima. I was given cash and directions to take a cab to the fair grounds once I arrived, if possible, I should find someone else going to state to split the cab with (more economical, and we are a practical people).

I felt so grown up heading out on this adventure. I’d never traveled anywhere independently before and it all seemed very mature making sure you were back on the bus at appropriate times, listening to my book on tape via Walkman, and gazing with purpose out the window at the increasingly boring Washington landscape. I don’t remember having a cell phone, maybe I did, but I don’t think I called my parents when I got to Yakima. Thinking back on it now I have to imagine that putting me on the bus that morning was a touch scary for my parents. But I admire their willingness to facilitate independence. I remember so much about this trip and experience precisely because I felt so gloriously grown up, trusted and alone.

After arriving, I quickly determined that State Choir was just a bigger version of school choir, complete with a verbally abusive and disgruntled director. Checking in to our hotel that night, positively overrun with musical teenagers and not at all like a scene from Pitch Perfect, I delighted in receiving a cookie. I really felt like I’d earned the cookie and I’d never stayed at a DoubleTree before so I did not KNOW about the cookie and it appeared to be a very FANCY cookie.

I trundled up to my shared room with my cookie and music and bag where I met my roommates (all Mormon, one adopted from China). I was thoroughly informed on the grand Mormon Choir tradition as I got ready for bed. I felt really proud of myself for working through whatever anxiety I had about meeting and sleeping with strangers. As I got ready to brush my teeth I remembered the cookie. I retrieved the cookie from my tidy pile of belongings and sank down across from the sink in the closet of the hotel room. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my sampled adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. Downright complex for being a hotel giveaway. I felt amazing crouched in that closet with that cookie staring at my fifteen year old self in the mirror above the sinks. I knew I was going to have a weird musical week, but I also knew I was an awesome adult now and I would be fine. And I was.

Fast forward fifteen years. I am again headed to Eastern Washington to stay at a DoubleTree. This time I drive. This time I have to get MYSELF out of bed early to make the trip. This time I pack my own snacks. I am still listening to things on tape but instead of library books on cassette it is NPR programs and instead of a Walkman it is my iPhone. When I checked in for the work conference I was attending, I felt nervous. I’d never participated in a professional event with these colleagues before. What would it be like? Who would I eat with? Did I pack the right outfits? More importantly DID THEY DRINK COCKTAILS?

The first night I’d not connected with anyone I knew and was headed out for dinner on my own. As I was walking to the restaurant two colleagues whom I deeply respect saw me and invited me to join them. With a moderate level of hesitation (I mean I was going to eat somewhere GOOD, where were they headed!?) I said yes.

Thankfully, the restaurant was excellent, I ordered smoked trout on toast (WHAAATTT yum). And they OF COURSE drank cocktails. And we talked about work; they offered career advice, providing camaraderie for the challenges we all face as women in our profession. We spoke candidly and honestly and I felt so very lucky to be held under the wing of these women, and to be advised by them as I trotted ideas and perceptions forward. I felt suddenly professional and very adult and very lucky.

That night, snuggled back in my hotel room I remembered theDoubleTree cookie I’d been handed when I checked in. After confirming that I had enough calories left in my daily quota to eat it (yes you read that correctly,GAH being an adult is not all it’s cracked up to be) I sat in my pajamas and watched bad MTV reality programs while eating the cookie. The satisfaction of being alone and doing well in my current adulthood, rested with me while I dug in to that cookie. It was chewy and substantial, inexplicably crunchy and soft. I knew I was going to have a great week, but I also knew I was indeed an awesome adult and I would of course, be fine.

Kippis! 

Ovearheard at the Gym

“My mom won’t let me take birth control because if you take birth control you can’t ever have babies.” This is straight lies. I want to shake your mom. And your health teacher. Refusing birth control from young women does not keep them from having sex, CRAZY.

“Let’s not do sauna, I’m not trying to sweat.” First of all, what you think is sauna is actually just a wooden room with an expensive electric stove in it because American gyms apparently don’t believe in using expensive equipement at full capacity. (WATER ON THE ROCKS PEOPLE it is THE ENTIRE point). Second of all, trying to sweat is exactly what you are trying to do. That is why you are at the gym. Right? If not WHAT ARE YOU TRYING TO DO? Confused. Full face of makeup + treadmill makes me so confused.

“I just came from tanning.” STOP TANNING. Skin Cancer is on the rise amongst young women. Why? Tanning. Please. Stop.

“Ugh, I am so out of shape.” No you are not. You are in great shape and it is a shame that the people in your life and our culture spend so much time directly and indirectly convincing you otherwise. Maybe if I spend more time with my “real” thirty year old body out in the locker room you will absorb a more realistic message. Or maybe you’ll just get creeped out. But hey, it’s worth a try.

Kippis! 

Aunt Christy & Red Hots

Every Christmas my Mom’s family gets together to bake holiday cookies. There are a few staples combined with rotating appearances, but one of the guaranteed productions is Gingerbread cut outs.

One of my earliest memories of this ritual is sitting around my Grandmother’s kitchen table decorating Gingerbread with my sister, Kirstin. Grandma mixed milk and powdered sugar in bowls with a few drops of food coloring. She pulled out the pink capped sprinkles and toothpicks. Armed with the necessary materials Kirstin and I went to work under minimal supervision decorating a myriad of snowmen, trees, Santas, reindeer, mini angels, and a few rogue pumpkins (I mean, why not?).

Kirstin is a freer spirit than I (you might recall her feelings on over planning) and promptly unscrewed the tops of sprinkles and DOUSED cookies in candied sugar while I carefully placed each one strategically so as to accomplish the most refined vision. Needless to say Kirstin’s decorating went along with a greater rapidity than my own at that time.

As we worked away in the dining room, my Mom, Grandmother and the baby of their family,29213_536538166326_4324406_n my Aunt Christy, continued working on other items in the Kitchen. Aunt Christy would peek her head around to the dining room inspect our work and grinning she asked Kirstin to, “be sure to make one with red hots.” It was a bit of an ongoing joke that Aunt Christy would eat the cookies that Kirstin absolutely annihilated with red hots. For those of you unfamiliar red hots are the red spicy cinnamon hard candies that are typically used sparingly for say, a Rudolph nose. Kirstin saw them as more of a performance art opportunity. I can still hear Aunt Christy say, “It’s not that I love red hots, I just don’t mind them,” which for Kirstin was an open invitation to go cray-cray on a gingerbread tree with hard red candy.

As adults one Christmas, Kirstin was home over the holiday baking for the Christy and Cookiesfirst time in many years – and we were all gathered at Aunt Christy’s house to do the annual baking. Aunt Christy’s own children were the ones charged with decorating, but Kirstin was providing the necessary oversight (she may have also just wanted to eat icing, some things you never out grow). Aunt Christy looked up from her work and said to Kirstin, “Make sure you make one with red hots for me,” winking and smiling. Kirstin set right to work. She uncapped the red hots and dumped them on a recently iced cookie.

Aunt Christy passed away this last winter and we weren’t able to get together and make cookies as we’ve done so many years before. I know Christy’s daughter made cookies with her paternal Grandma this year – which I’m glad for. But my Mom, My Grandma and Kirstin and I, we didn’t. And maybe we couldn’t. I know we will bake this coming year because we must, but it will be difficult to do without Aunt Christy there.

I share many things with the women in my family – unusually long fingers, rich tone of voice to the point people can’t tell us one from the other on the phone, and a firm kindness that leads us to contentedly participate in less than pleasant tasks (such as consuming a toddler dressed cookie of copious red hots). But perhaps most importantly we’ve shared many moments that are seemingly mundane, but rich in memory and connection. I’m grateful for the opportunity to throw flour and sprinkles and warmth around with my family each Winter season. Aunt Christy might not physically be there with us this year, but in every red hot and wink and grin – her spirit, her face and her voice are likely to peek out.

Rakastan sinua täti Christy. Kippis! 

Top Teas

I drink a lot of tea. I once gave it up for lent to prove to myself I could. I made it all forty days without tea, but I did not continue limiting my tea consumption. I saw no reason to. Tea is a center for me to return at any point throughout the day, and I see no harm in that.

What follows are a list of favorite teas with no particular parameters. Some are available only in memory.

Murchies Golden Jubilee Blend: this is my mother’s tea. Before Murchies began shipping at reasonable rates internationally she consistently requested boxes of the Golden Jubilee from Canadian travelers and friends. She’s a woman of good taste and I too have to agree this is one of the finest black teas around, particularly with a smidge of cream.

Harney and Sons Black Current: I love black current tea, partly because it was the black tea my Finnish host family kept most frequently. I grew very fond of a late morning pulla and cup of black current tea. I’ve tried many black current teas and Harney and Sons remains my favorite. The black current is delicate and balanced, there is no fruity sweetness or bitterness unless you over brew.

3. Ippodu Gokujo Hojicha: On a recent trip to New York I spent a whole afternoon listening to classical music and wandering from tea shop to chocolate shop to coffee shop to tea shop and so on. Pure bliss, IMHO. Ippodu has only one location state side and came home with both the Hojicha and a new spring green tea. The spring green tea made little impression on me, but as a fan of toasted, roasted and smoked green teas, the buttery green bite of this particular Hojicha made for excellent noon time tea. I’ll be back for more (and perhaps new selections) on my next trip to New York (here’s hoping that is sooner rather than later).

4. Lipton Green Tea Mandarin: This is not a special tea and most tea connoisseurs would scoff at its presence on a list like this particularly given the health concerns tied to pyramid tea bags, but I turn a blind eye to such snobbery and potential hazards when it comes to this tea because I really, really, really, really, really like it. I’ve yet to find an orange scented green tea that is as good. Suggestions welcome.

5. The Decaf Earl Gray at the Top Pot Doughnuts in Issaquah. Yet to be named, but nice citrus notes, not to floral and with the heft of a caffeinated tea.

6. The dissolvable sweetened peppermint tea my mom had when I was a kid. These were like peppermint sugar cubes that you covered in hot water and stirred. We drank them when we were sick. I would like them now to pimp my instant hot chocolate.

Kippis!