That Special Place

Everyone has places that evoke certain emotions or memories - places they want to go back to, places they will never go again.

I was turned off to Philly when my tour bus in high school drove through the ghetto on the way to downtown. All I have to say is whoa. About 10 seconds after the guide pointed out Temple University I had crossed them off my prospective college list.

Sorrento, a small town on the Mediterranean coast in Italy, south of Napoli, is a place I only spent a few hours but will always have fond memories of - the beach, the food, wow...

Las Vegas...don't get me started on Las Vegas. If I never set foot in that town again I'll be happy. And no, it has nothing to do with gambling, alcohol, or strippers - it's just a pit of hell.

I love Vancouver, British Columbia for the marina, the food, the natural surroundings - all of this despite getting a window broken in my car the first time I was there. That's saying a lot for the city.

We all have these places, whether we spent days in the place or merely were passing through. The places we talk about to our friends when our eyes suddenly start focusing just a little bit distant, reliving the smells, sights, and textures of our memories. They are never the same for everybody - Vegas can be my hell but it might be someone else's Nirvana.

So today's post is about a place I hold dear: Cannon Beach, Oregon.

Cannon Beach is a small town on the northern Oregon coast, pretty much straight West of Portland. It's about 70 miles on a mostly two-lane highway through the coast range and if I'm lucky with traffic I can get there in less than an hour and a half. It's one of those typical beach towns which has little industry to speak of other than tourism, which comes mainly from Portlanders getting out of town for the weekend.

That is to say, going during the week is best, because you have the town almost all to yourselves.
There is one main street through the town, filled with little artsy place, restaurants and cafes, tiny inns and bed and breakfasts, and a couple larger hotels. Everything is walking distance to the wide, soft, sandy beach. For those of you who have never been to the Oregon coast, it really does have some of the best sand I have ever experienced. It's very finely ground from millenia of being ground by the Pacific waters - which, I must say, are ice-freaking-cold - and is great between your toes. You know, unlike those pebbles they call sand in Hawaii...but they have warm water, so I'll forgive them.

The main attraction is something we call Haystack Rock. It's right off the beach, a short walk from the "downtown" area. And while it looks very cool, the reality is it's just a big rock that happens to look like a haystack (although, you might never say that unless someone told you it did). It's also a haven for birds - like puffins, which I had no idea we even had until last week - and the base of the rock is full of tidepools, replete with a menagerie of starfish, mussels, sea anenomes, and tiny, tiny fish.

The beach itself is miles long and wider than the length of a football field, so it's not one of those skinny ones like in Hawaii or Florida. (Again, cold water...) There is plenty of room for people to spread out, even on the busiest of weekends - not that they do...if you take the time to walk a quarter mile either way from the main beach access points you will have the beach to yourself.

Like with all parts of the Oregon coast, the weather can be spotty. It's hopeless to plan something dependent on the weather more than a day or two in advance because chances are it will end up foggy and a possibly a tad wet (more on that later). However, unlike a lot of the coastal towns Cannon Beach rarely is super windy, which can make some areas on our beautiful coast miserable.

If you drive out from Portland, get up early. That ensures you get a parking spot, which is really the main reason. We usually leave by 8am if we are driving out - if you leave at 10 you won't get there until noon and parking will be just about impossible.

There are quite a few places for food, but honestly very few of them are any good. Mo's is there, at the south end of town, and we used to eat there every time we went. They are known for their chowder and various other seafoods, but to be real honest I can't stand their food anymore. It might be a product of my tastes changing and becoming more refined - I can blame that chowder place in Pike Place Market in Seattle - or they could just be going downhill.

We've eaten at just about every place in town and while none of the eateries are horrible, or even bad, they sure aren't worth a special trip - or the cost that goes along with a meal at the beach.

Cannon Beach is the home of Sleepy Monk Coffee, a small roaster that also has it's own store. This place I like, but interestingly enough I think other places that use their coffee actually make better mochas and the like with it (kind of like Stumptown in Portland).

The main place is Waves of Grain Bakery. We always park at the Tolovana Wayside parking lot, which has beach access (and where Mo's sits on the beach). Usually our first stop - you know, after using the facilities post-drive - is to walk the two blocks here, get a mocha, and see what they have in the case for fresh goodies. The coffee is good and usually there isn't much of a wait (though we were 10 deep last week), plus the bakery has a nice variety of cookies, tarts, breads, and all the fun stuff you find in a bakery.

Besides, isn't that half the fun of going to the beach - eating junk food? It always has been part of my beach experiences since I was little, mainly ice cream, caramel corn, and saltwater taffy. However, little boy tastes grow up - now I need complicated pastries and high quality caffeine, preferably with chocolate mixed in to both.

Waves of Grain is not the best bakery in the world, but it's absolutely the best one in Cannon Beach and it's better than the vast majority of what's out there.

So, you might be thinking, what do I like about it so much? The weather is iffy, the sights aren't super great, the food is only so-so....how is this a special place?

Well, to be honest, it's difficult to quantify. Part of it is the location. The quickest places to get to on the coast are here and Seaside, and since we don't want to be around a bunch of kids, Seaside is bad. Convenience is a good thing - and the drive is nice, going through the Cascade mountains and forests.

But it can't be all about the places and convenience and things like that - more of it is about the experiences you have, the people you are with and what you do and remember about the place.

Cannon Beach was the first beach trip my wife and I took. It's the place where we have taken Ruby for long walks on the beach (though not at sunset, that's cold). It's the place we have walked hand-in-hand talking about all things - big things like our futures, our dreams, and small things like what movie we want to watch next. It's that place where the rest of the world doesn't matter, at least for a few hours. For someone who carries a phone with email so people can get in touch with me all the time, it's nice to just ignore it for awhile to enjoy some quiet time with my beautiful wife in a beautiful setting.

We've walked the beach countless times, looking back inland at some of the amazing houses that line the coast, filled with windows for magnificent sunset views, and picked out our favorites. We've criticized others, noting what changes we would make to make it more suitable to our tastes. You know, if we had that kind of scratch.

And we stop at the rock and look around the tide pools every time when the tide is out, even though they are usually the same. Why? Because you never know when you will see something different or figure out something new (Oregon has puffins?!).

Cannon Beach is also where I proposed to my wife over five years ago. I couldn't think of anywhere else more appropriate, given our love for beaches and all the good times we had had there.

I had planned the little trip for a couple weeks, which, if you remember from above, is not a smart thing to do for the Oregon coast. And no, I wasn't going to shift my plans because of the weather. I was hoping it would be a surprise (which, of course, it wasn't - she figured it out :) ), but we walked out towards the north end of the beach, in the foggy, damp afternoon, and I proposed, she said yes, all that good stuff.

It's just one of the many great memories we have of this small town, and it's one of the millions of reasons we keep going back, and will continue to go back, probably forever.

See, that special place doesn't have to be perfect. The food doesn't have to be perfect, the surroundings don't have to be perfect, the weather doesn't have to be perfect - though all of that could help to be sure - it just has to give you a good feeling, raise your spirits, bring a smile to your mouth. It has to give you that faraway look in your eyes when you talk about it, the one that lets your listener know you are reliving past good memories as you speak.

For me - for us - Cannon Beach is that place.


This and That - While Loving Air Conditioning

Funny - I just got an email from a friend who lives in the Phoenix area, telling me he feels sorry for me. Why? Because the Northwest is getting hit by heat the likes that has never been recorded. Oh, and he'd like me to note it's supposed to be 114 in his fair town today.

And he feels sorry for Portland?!

Well, there is no other way to put - it sucks in Portland right now.

Monday was 103 - broke the record for that date.

Monday's overnight low was 74 - broke the all-time record for any date.

Tuesday was 106 - broke the record for that date (was "only" 101).

Tuesday night's overnight low was projected to be 75 - yep, another record. (Apparently it only got to 71...oh well.)

Today (Wed) was originally projected to be 108, but has dropped to 107. 107 would break the record for the date, but 108 would be the hottest Portland temperature ever recorded. (The actual temp only reached 106 - how sad! I have to deal with this hell and we don't even get an all-time record for it?! Hell, 107 was the day's record, so we hit 106 and got nothing but misery...)

If current models hold true Portland will be over 90 degrees through Monday or Tuesday, which would be a string of nine or 10 straight days. Only once in recorded history has Portland had a string of eight such days.

And in other news, it was 126 in my attic yesterday. I think that's a record - though I might have to update that this evening based on today's heat.

I think it's safe to say I'm happy the air conditioning was fixed last week. Even though it is functioning perfectly now, it's just too damn hot. I was getting worried when my downstairs was 78 last evening (instead of the set temp of 74), but the cold air was blowing. It's just too damn hot outside for the air conditioner to keep up. Thankfully once the sun went down the temperature inside the house started to decrease as well. At 9pm last night it was 87 upstairs in the office. Fun times.

I'm blowing the max AC in my car on the way to work. At 7am. That's insane.

My mother-in-law is staying with us through this heat wave because her house doesn't have air conditioning. She went home to water some plants last evening and her thermostat registered 88 - on the lower floor of the house.

Yep, it's a scorcher. In the words of the weatherman: "This will be the kind of heat wave you tell your grandkids about."

Well, I won't be telling MY grandkids...I think you need kids for that to happen, if I remember correctly. I could be the old guy telling someone else's random kids at the park...but that probably has no good outcome. Plus, what kids care about weather anyway?!

There is one good thing about being stuck at home because walking outside - even to the car - has me dripping sweat off the end of my nose, and that's getting caught up on my favorite kind of pursuits. That's right, the sedentary kind!

What I'm Reading: Just finished up Bill Bryson's The Mother Tongue. While to most people a history of the English language and how it got that way doesn't seem that exciting, it was actually really interesting to find out how words came to be, and how they morphed over the years. Plus, Bryson can make just about anything interesting, and he can make the normally interesting hilarious. If you have never read him before, check out A Walk in the Woods or The Life and Times of the Thunderbolt Kid. Or any of his other books - you can't go wrong.

Next up is Anthony Bourdain's A Cook's Tour - based around his first television series on The Food Network. Two chapters in and I'm loving, just like all his other books. Interestingly enough, I never saw this show but it apparently has no life at all on DVD, possibly because of how much he disparages the Food Network. No Reservations - one of the best shows on TV - is all over the place, but not A Cook's Tour. If you like Bourdain's show you must read Kitchen Confidential.

Oh, and after that, who knows? I have some newer books I'm on the waitlist for at the library, plus the 50 or so of my own books I haven't read yet.

What I'm Watching: We watched Revolutionary Road on Blu-Ray last week, with Leonardo DiCaprio and Kate Winslett. It was a pretty well done movie - the acting was good - but I just didn't find the story all that enthralling. Horribly depressing yes, and I can see the pathos in the characters, but that doesn't mean the story is automatically a must-watch. The movie we watched before that was The Reader, a movie that was acted just as well but the story was more compelling. Yes, apparently it was a Kate Winslett phase.

Netflix has since sent us The Watchmen, but we haven't carved out 3+ hours to watch it yet.

On TV we are watching the aformentioned No Reservations and America's Got Talent, plus Mental and Better Off Ted. Superstars - lame but oddly compelling - and the Terrell Owens Show are being grabbed by the DVR as well.

Maybe by the end of the summer we'll get to some of the HBO shows we have on DVD...The Wire? Entourage? The Sopranos? Have Season 1 of all of them (and Season 2 of The Wire), we just haven't gotten to them yet.

Maybe I need to take a vacation to catch up. :)

We also tried a couple of food places last weekend, neither of which merit their own post. We drove west out Baseline Road towards Hillsboro from a place we stop at regularly - more on the Mutt at some later date - and found a coffee place called Insomnia and a pizza place called La Bella Vita.

Insomnia was fine - got a mocha, my staple - but nothing special. They serve Sleepy Monk Coffee, which can be found in Cannon Beach, OR, and they do a decent job of it - it's just not special enough for me to go out of my way for it. Also, we picked up a cookie as well, one of the fresh baked goods they carry (from a local place whose name escapes me now). It was, well, not that great. Wifey can do a better job with her eyes closed.

At La Bella Vita we picked up a personal sized BBQ chicken pizza. It was mid afternoon on a hot day, but it was also completely dead. I mean completely - as in no one else in the place. I think our purchase barely justified paying the two employees working for the time it took our pizza to cook. If you click on the link you can see users on Yelp loved the place, but we weren't that sold. The crust was good - nice taste, good thickness - but it wasn't better than Pizza Schmizza, another local chain. The toppings were solid, but it wasn't as good as Pizzicato. Both of those places are closer to my house, so you can see where I'm going with this. Plus, neither of those places get better than three stars our of five for me, so that must mean La Bella Vita gets a max of two.

And yes, you should get a taste of what comes out of the home oven - we actually made pizza on Monday, and it was roughly a hundred times better with homemade crust, high quality meats and cheeses, and fresh veggies.

So if you happen to be driving by and need pizza or coffee these two places aren't terrible, but there is little reason to make a special trip.


Mirror, Mirror - In My Glass

If you have been paying attention you know by know that the Black Butte Porter XXI from Deschutes Brewing is probably my favorite beer of all time. When I first picked that up at the store (everyone with me now - "For $12!!!") there were actually two reserve beers from Deschutes, the other being called Mirror Mirror (yes, also $12).

So I had bought one of those as well.

For those unfamiliar with Deschutes, Mirror Pond Pale Ale is just that - a crisp, clean ale that goes great with just about anything. Mirror Mirror is an aged barleywine based on the Mirror Pond recipe. But while Mirror Pond is crisp and clear, Mirror Mirror seems to have lost a little bit in translation.

By doubling the malt and adding in flavors of raisin and citrus - which I didn't find at all - Mirror Pond has been completely lost. Instead what Deschutes Brewery created was a heavy amber ale. Now, perhaps this is what they intended, but my point of contention is it has very little resemblance to the recipe it's based on.

That's not good or bad, just perhaps a bit unexpected.

Whereas BBP XXI took all the good things about Black Butte Porter - the chocolate and coffee tastes, for sure - and embraced them, strengthening them proportionately for an amazing taste sensation, one would be extremely hard-pressed to find Mirror Pond in Mirror Mirror.

Well, at least, my taste buds couldn't see it. To me this special $12 beer really just taste like a heavy amber, something like a McTarnahan's or even Hammerhead from McMenamin's. That is to say, it didn't taste special, it tasted like an overly strong version of a couple beers I do like, and it sure wasn't worth $12.

Oh well, now I know - and I have three more bottles of BBP XXI waiting in my cupboard, so it's not all bad.


Amazing When You Think About It

I'm not against anyone making a buck, and I'm not against anyone protecting themselves in order to make that buck, but if there is one thing I simply don't understand it's the business of doctors and medical insurance.

I mean, I understand the concept of insurance. For my car, if I crack my windshield I take it in to get it fixed, pay the $500 deductible, and everything above that insurance covers. I pay $850 a year for this service, which I think I have used once in 15 years of driving. I understand why I keep doing it as well - besides the fact it's a legal requirement; the one time something bad happens, you want the insurance.

See? Auto insurance is black and white. I cover x amount, the insurer covers the rest. Homeowner's insurance is the same way. It's up to me to decide if I want to make that claim or not, because of how it could impact my rates - which is another whole joke in and of itself.

But the business of medicine is not so clear.

Here's an example, taken from what happened to me a couple weeks ago when I stabbed myself with a steak knife. I paid a co-pay amount of $75 for that ER visit. I fully expected I'd have to pay a little more, but I had no idea how much. Well, now I know - another almost $700!!!

Trust me, when I opened the explanation of benefits from my insurer I just about went through the roof. Seriously, what the hell for? What exactly did anyone do that was worth $700? Let me walk through this.

1 - I entered the ER and spoke to the sign-in nurse (or whatever they call them), who put me on the list. I then waited for a bit.

2 - Then I got called to see a triage nurse (might have been a doctor, I don't know, but I doubt it), who checked the wound to make sure it wasn't bleeding all over the place, gave it a new wrap, checked my blood pressure, and asked a couple questions. I then waited some more.

3 - I talked to the billing/insurance person, so they could get that information into the computer system. Then I waited some more.

4 - I was taken back to an actual room by another nurse. Then I waited some more.

5 - Still another nurse came by and asked a few questions, promising a doctor would be in soon. She then gives me a tetanus/whooping cough shot, because I couldn't recall when the last time was I had one. I waited some more.

6 - I finally get to see a doctor, who when I tell her I have no primary care physician (my insurance doesn't require one and I very, very rarely go to the doctor) tries to sell me on her practice, because she doesn't actually work at the hospital. She then, using her finger, applies pressure to my cut finger from various directions, presumably to make sure there is no ligament or nerve damage. She then proclaims that I don't need stitches, another nurse will come to clean it, and I should be good to go. She then explains about the tetanus/whooping cough shot and says I should have it. I mentioned I already got it. And she gives me her card, for her actual practice. I then wait some more.

7 - The nurse from point 5 comes back with a puke bucket (the U-ring things), fills it with a mixture of iodine and alcohol, and asks me to keep the finger in it for five minutes.

8 - 10 minutes later she comes back, wipes my hand all up, and wraps it in a bandage. At this point I am free to go.

As far as I can tell there was maybe 20 minutes total of a nurse's time, 5 minutes at best of a doctor's time, 10 minutes of administrative work, some bandages, a shot, some iodine and alcohol, and that's pretty much it.

That's $700+? Really?! On what planet?And they call Microsoft a monopoly? I had no other options, not after 8pm (when all the Urgent Care facilities are closed) and on a Sunday (when they aren't open at all anyway). My only choice was the ER, or deal with it myself. Sure they have to pay for malpractice insurance and all that, but I'm literally blown away.

I understand why insurance didn't cover it - I'm a sickeningly healthy person and I never get to my annual deductible, so according to my plan that's it. But just because I understand it doesn't mean I have to accept it as being okay. I mean, I have no choice but to accept and pay it, but I won't like it.

I can't fault the insurance company. I have choices at work with my medical plan - that's the one I chose. Presumably after I hit the deductible having this particular plan will be a good thing. That doesn't make it any more logical or easier for me to digest.

So the question must come - if I had known how much it would have cost, would that have changed what I did at all? I mean, I did have a bloody finger and all, right?

I think it would have, for sure. I would have waited longer before deciding to go to the hospital, though hopefully not too long. By the time I sat in the car the wooziness was all gone, and by the time the triage nurse checked me out the bleeding had stopped. Presumably I could have cleaned it out with iodine and alcohol at home, wrapped it up with Wifey's help, and been good to go. That may have cost me $20 for supplies at Rite-Aid, if that.

Next time I'll just go sit in the car and wait for it to stop bleeding. That way if I pass out or something, Wifey can just drive to the hospital without having to hoist my heavy ass into the car (down some stairs - I'm heavy). Or have to call an ambulance - I'm sure that would be cheap.

And this kind of thing isn't my only gripe with the business of medicine. Did you know when you go see a doctor, the last person you should talk to about cost is the doctor? They have literally no concept of how much their own procedures bill at. In fact, depending on where you go no one in the office might know.

I went to see a nutritionist a couple months back at the Portland Clinic. This was entirely elective on my part, and I knew my insurance wasn't going to cover it. When I made the appointment I asked for a ballpark figure on how much this would cost. "About $100 or so?" I asked. I got a general affirmative.

I thought at that price the visit would be worth it, just to see from an expert's point of view if I was on the right track with making changes I need to make, or if maybe there was something glaring I was missing. Truthfully, it was nice to hear I was on the right track, but the whole visit was somewhat disappointing because I had learned everything I was doing correctly from the internet. (There's a tip right there dear reader - research, research, research!)

Still, I had decided $100 was worth the confirmation, whether I was overly pleased with the results or not. So imgaine my, ahem, dismay when I got the bill and it was $240. Perhaps dismay isn't the right term - I tend to prefer more colorful terms, but Mom might read this, and she thinks I'm her little angel. Or so I think she does - maybe she's wised up.

So I called up the Portland Clinic just to see what the deal was. The woman I talked to in billing asked me where I got the about $100 information, so I explained it to her. The response? "They're not supposed to give out billing information, because they don't know." Oh really? Well, perhaps then, that person should know what they are and are not supposed to do, and directed my inquiry to the appropriate party, which it turns out had some group name I have never heard of, nor can I recall it now.

So there I am on the phone, utterly flummoxed (that word needs a comeback!). I told her if I had known it would cost that much I probably never would have booked the appointment - that's why I asked for a dollar amount in the first place. I didn't bring up the fact I got little or nothing out of it - figured that's not their problem, that's mine.

So what are my options? She said I could file a complaint (they call it something else - again, that's not important to me) and she could mail me out a form. So I said sure.

I got the form a couple days later, filled it out with all the same information I have here, and mailed it back. That was two weeks ago and I haven't heard a word. But, in the meantime, I did get a second bill, so that's fun. This most recent bill still had me in the 30 days window, so I'll ignore it. I don't have to really worry until it gets to 90 days anyway.

The money isn't really the issue here, though I think it sucks I have to spend this much. My really issue is with being misled and being given bad information, which in turn led to my making an apparently misinformed decision. And for that mistake - which is not my own - I now have a $240 bill I'll probably end up paying anyway, because I have little faith the Portland Clinic will make any changes whatsoever.

Fun times. This is another reason I never go to the doctor.

Doctors are fine - having doctors is a blessing, because the human body is so infinitely fragile it's a wonder we make it through the day if you think about it, with the weakness of our skins and how easily a bone can break or a tendon can snap. Nurses too. They very rarely are as upbeat as they are on TV, but they absolutely know their stuff and they want to make sure you get fixed.

But this business of medicine? It's legitimately fucked up. (Sorry Mom.) I don't know if nationalized healthcare is the ultimate answer, but it has to be a step in the right direction. And if in doing so we can get rid of some of these ridiculous layers of cost, I'll be happy.


Feeling Simpatica...

I tried to come up with a snazzy title for this post based on the subject, but I'm just not feeling that creative today - so this is a play on the Italian word simpatico, which means friendly, sympathetic, in synch with one another, et cetera. It's basically a catch-all for good vibes.

Which, once I think about it, makes a ton of sense for the latest restaurant we visited. The subject is Simpatica, a caterer and dining Hall in southeast Portland. This place had come to our attention through various food blogs and websites, but to be honest it scared us a little. It's a place where you make a reservation and pay your fee for a set menu - if you don't like something, too bad, don't come.

It's ironic that's a bit imposing to me as a diner, because if I ran a restaurant that would be 100% ideal.

Simpatica is a caterer in the daytime and this one-menu style of restaurant on Friday and Saturday nights (reservations required), then open from 9-2 for brunch on Sundays (no reservations unless you are 8 or more in your group).

It's kind of a crazy setup, but it's apparently not that uncommon - other Portland restaurants (like Beast to name one) follow roughly this same format.

It's an odd way to get into a restaurant too - very cloak and dagger. First you can call for a reservation or send an email. If no one answers, you leave a message. Then someone calls you (in both cases) and you give them your credit card number for your party, essentially holding your spots. If you don't show up they charge you, but will give you a gift certificate for the cost.

The cost is also variable, depending on the menu.

Some of the menus in the past have been very exotic and we aren't necessarily exotic eaters, though we are expanding our horizons. No tripe or other untraditional meat items for us just yet...

Last Friday the menu looked simple, yet tasty. Three courses, $30: a salad, their signature cheeseburger, and then brownies and ice cream for dessert. This seemed like a good time to jump in with both feet to this style of dining, and the price wasn't too bad. So we made reservations.

We were told to show up between 7 and 7:30pm, so we of course got there are 6:45. After wasting some time listening to tunes in the car we walked in and happened to be the first ones there.

The dining hall is not a large place by any means - if full it may hold 40 people. This was not a full night and there ended up being only 19 of us. The tables are a mix of picnic table style and regular dinner tables, but grouped together to give a community feel. Part of the kitchen is open to the dining area so you can see in if you have the right angle from your seat (we did not). There is a mix of concrete and black and white brush paintings on the wall, with reserved lighting to give it a slightly modern but still homey feel.

Starving, I ordered a Black Butte Porter to take the edge off. While we didn't order any, Simpatica seemed to have a pretty decent wine list as well as a few beers and a couple non-alcoholic drinks.

Before the food was served the chef came out and explained the menu a bit, telling us where certain items came from and some of the thoughts behind the planning of the courses. I suppose it was interesting a bit, but to be real honest my stomach was caving in - bring the food!

The first course was a Romaine salad with green goddess dressing topped with local Dungeness crab. I have to admit, this was one of the best salads I have ever had. The crab added some nice saltiness to the leaves. I had also never had that dressing before, but I'm looking for a recipe.

The main course came out next. Served on a nice roll, the burger was a good size and came medium rare. For me that's nice, but Wifey likes her's cooked a little more. They were accomodating - we asked when we came in if we could get it medium well and hers came our perfect for her. We struggled with whether or not to ask - the last thing you want to do is annoy the chef by asking for something special, especially a change to his creation and how he wants it presented, and especially in a place like this where the menu is set. Still they did it and did it well.

The burger came with housemade bacon (thick and excellent), aioli on the side (creamy and yummy), zucchini pickles (honestly, couldn't tell the difference or even really taste them), and aged white cheddar. The cheddar as very good so we asked where it came from. Turns out it's a Wisconsin cheddar that is cave-aged locally, but not available to the general public - some brand I have forgotten. I tend to do that with things I can't have.

It also came with fresh french fries on the side - not too crispy, not soggy at all. Just right.

By the way, we thought about taking pictures, but in that group environment I felt a little weird doing that. Maybe if we had our own table. Or maybe I just need to get over myself. Maybe next time.

By this time I'm getting full - and Wifey only ate about half her burger and she's full too - but dessert was coming. And it was fabulous.

Two triangles of a chocolate brownie - which we think was flourless, but weren't told that - served with wild strawberry ice cream they made on site. I'm not exactly sure what made the strawberries wild, but they were pretty damn good with big chunks of berry mixed with a very creamy vanilla ice cream.

I'll be honest here - it was very good, but I think either there was too much brownie or not enough ice cream. I must be getting old to be complaining about dessert, but I could honestly have gone for slightly more salad and half the amount of brownie.

Not that I needed more food or anything - I rolled out of there. Hard to do upstairs - getting out of the building was tough.

I will say, that was the best burger I have had in a long-time and we had a great time. Will we go back? Absolutely. In fact, our next brunch may be right back there. It's a nice place for a group of people because of the atmosphere too.

Though, it will be a couple weeks at least. The two pounds I gained overnight need to come off first - and take some of their new friends with them.

Yes, 90 is Hot - It's Portland

People from all over laugh at us Northwesterners when we start to complain when the Fahrenheit hits 90 degrees. They think we are pansies, that we can't take it.

I was at the The North Face (that just reads weird) store in Portland on Friday afternoon when it was about 93 outside. There was a lady in there visiting town from Iowa and she was making snarky comments to the sales associate about how where she comes from this is no big deal.

That's great - I have no issues with that. The thing is, if I like that kind of weather I'd move to Iowa (okay, you're right, I wouldn't), but I like the weather here, where I'll put up with the rain for a few months for the right to have a milder winter and a milder summer. I'd prefer it to be right about 80; Wifey likes it the mid eighties. We both love the sun and trade winds in Hawaii. (Actually, if you don't like Hawaii I'm pretty sure that makes you the spawn of Satan - not that there is anything wrong with that.)

So yes, when it gets 90 in Portland people will complain, because this is not a climate or a people used to having to deal with consistent 90 degree days. It's like Californians complaining about the rain - people everywhere else will give them a hard time when they comment on rain, but they simply don't get that much, and when they do it's annoying.

Heck, there are a lot of Hawaiians in the Northwest - many of them come to our universities and end up staying because there are more job opportunities here - but they don't complain about the cold. They are just the ones you see bundled up in parkas when it hits 70. Heck, I saw some construction workers wearing sweaters and jeans on that 93-degree day - where they came from that's not hot.

So please, don't complain about Portlanders being a bit put off by extreme heat - we aren't used to it. And yes, for us, 90 is extreme heat. 90 for a week is horrible.

It's the same thing when it snows here. We get a little bit of snow on the ground and the city goes into panic mode. We get 4 inches and the city shuts down. People from the Midwest laugh at us because they deal with snow drifts six months out of the year, but again, we don't get snow. It snows about every 2-3 years here, and most of the time it's not much and melts by noon. But when it stays, it does cause problems because it's not something Portlanders make a habit of preparing for - why bother when the chances are it will be a waste of time and money?

That's like a Floridian buying and putting wood over his windows just because it's hurricane season, even though no hurricane is coming.

Now, I will say, it does seem like in the past few years we have experienced more extremes in my part of the world. It does seem like the summers have been hotter - more 90+ days - and the winters have been a little tougher - more snow, more freezing - but that really could just be my own perception. Or maybe it is Global Warming - I'm not a scientist, I can't tell you for sure. All I really know is how it feels - and doing what I do in my other writing persona I know from experience people are always convinced the here and now is always the worst/best/smartest/dumbest/hottest/coldest/insert-your-superlative-here. The truth is it's probably not - it's just what is most recent in memory, or maybe that is true from your experience, but that doesn't make any one thing the most anything.

Sure feels that way though.

This is all a long-winded way for me to say Garoken Energy has always done Wife and I right, and if anyone cares I'd recommend them for your heating and cooling needs.

When we first bought our first (and only) house we had some issue with the furnace and they came out and walked us through how to make sure it was working right, how to change the furnace filter (who knew furnaces had filters?!), and how to work the gas fireplace (looks like wood stove - not one of those fancy ones with a light switch). The tech guy was very pleasant and patient, and despite the fact I paid $120 for this information I thought it was completely worth it.

See, I like it when my heating and cool works. I would never buy a house without air conditioning, because as I noted above 90 is too hot. In fact, in my house, 75 is too hot. I can't sleep when it's that warm...at least not well. Considering the fact I only get 5-6 hours a night during the week anyway, I need that to be quality. And yes, I am picky about that. If you hadn't noticed.

Then about a year ago, just as it was starting to get warm in June, the house suddenly stopped cooling. We were thinking our air conditioner was broken or something, so we called Garoken again. They had a guy out that day and he went straight to the furnace. Apparently our furnace is old (house was built in '85, and it was installed then), they only last about 15-20 years, and ours had been fixed a couple times in the past. Basically the fan and some other pieces were shot to hell. He was honest with us - he said he could try and fix it but no promises, or we could get a new one. He recommended the new one.

Now, at this point I'm wavering a bit. I mean, sure, a new one sounds good, and what else will they tell me, right? At the same time the facts were clear - it was old. He told me it was MAYBE operating at 50% efficiency and the minimum they sell now is 75%. We opted for the new one, an 80% efficiency model (sorry, that's as green as I could afford). Garoken had a crew out the next day to install it and test it out, and it worked great. It was quieter, faster at heating and distributing the cool from the AC, and it should save me money in the long-term. If I cared enough I'd attempt to track that kind of thing, but it's not like I can really do anything with that information - what, I'm going to exchange it for something else? It's not like a shirt I don't like the fit of.

Then there was this past weekend. We were gone most of Saturday but noticed it seemed a little warm in the house when we got home. The thermostat was registering 76, then 77, despite the fact it's set at 74. Sleeping was a little warm, but we brushed it off. Then Sunday came - holy crap!

By late afternoon it was 80 in the house - I think it peaked at 82. It was almost 90 upstairs. The vents were barely forcing out any air. Obviously something was not okay.

After a restless sleep I called Garoken Monday morning, hoping they could get someone out by Tuesday (since it was supposed to be 93 on Monday). I was pleased that they had someone at my house by 1pm, on a day that would presumably be busy, with it being a Monday, hot, and people have their own issues and needing someone to fix things.

So it turns out the filter was way dirty and we need to change it more often (see how this comes full circle?!), and that led to some freezing of the AC unit because it was running constantly, trying to do what the thermostat was demanding of it and bring down the continually rising temperature in the house.

Ever wondered how a AC unit gets thawed? They flip the furnace to Heat. On a 93 degree day, that blows. Still, they got it all fixed up, gave the AC unit a once over, dispensed advice (you know, you really should change your filter), and now everything works great. It cost me $120, but it's something I feel absolutely grateful for paying, because now it's a decent temperature in my house, I slept soundly last night, and I don't have to worry about the possibility of buying a new AC unit.

Perhaps this time I'll learn that thing about changing the air filter...might save me some money...

Old Boardhead

Two things grab me when it comes to beers: shiny, flashy packaging, and limited edition. Yep, I'm just like cat - wave something shiny around and I'm all over it.

Beer doesn't tend to do flashy packaging, so it's the limited editions that grab me. Kona Brewing did a Pipeline Porter with Kona coffee beans? All over it. Winter comes and there are now 15 different kinds of winter brews? I'll try some.

The hardest part for me is when I like something - knowing it's limited edition or seasonal I feel like I should stock up, which is why this squirrel now has three $12 bottles of Black Butte Porter XXI in the cupboard. I mean, if it truly is limited edition and I like it, shouldn't I grab some so I can enjoy it at a future date? Because if I don't, and it's gone, that taste could be gone forever...

Such decisions.

The point of all of this is I grabbed another limited edition beer and I apparently caught the tail end of the season, so whether or not I liked it I'm out of luck. This is Full Sail's Special Edition Old Boardhead Barleywine Ale.

I cracked this beer last week during an Ugly Betty marathon - yes, I know, the season has been over for two months, but we're just now cleaning out the DVR and besides, the beer came out in May too, so it works. I wasn't expecting a ton since this was my first beer since the Black Butte Porter XXI (can you tell I liked it?), but I was pleasantly surprised. I don't think I've had a Full Sail beer that I didn't like, but none of them have ever really grabbed me and become a favorite, not even the legendary Amber that made them so famous in the first place.

This beer also didn't necessarily have any specific flavor note that stood out, but was even, smooth, and just plain good. Can a beer just be good because it fulfills all of what you expect in it, without overpowering you with hops or barley or chocolat or coffee or raspberries or some other craziness mixed into the brew? I say yes - Old Boardhead did that very well. I enjoyed it and would drink it again.

But I can't, because it apparently doesn't exist anymore. So while that beer was a solid entry, in this case that taste very well could be lost forever. Or, at least until the Reserve 09 version comes out in October. Now I know early...I can prepare.


Walking and Eating - Two Good Things

You may have noticed the title of this blog and wondered why I called it "Northwest" instead of something like "Portland Area." Well, for one, it doesn't roll off the tongue nearly as well, but the real reason is because I don't find myself bound to just Portland. If there is something cool to see or somewhere tasty to fill my gullet from, I want to check it out.

Our neighbors to the north - by that I mean Washington, but more specifically Seattle - do a lot of good things right. In fact, Pike Street Market is one of my favorites places anywhere to go simply because of the variety of places to nibble from in a relatively small area.

So last summer when we took our first staycation - isn't that a great word? - Wifey and I were browsing the internet looking for something to do and we came across a walking tour in Seattle where you get taste all sorts of foods from various local eateries called Savor Seattle. It was kind of funny, because we had run across them from some place before - probably linked off some kind of What To Do in Seattle page - and thought it sounded kind of fun, but then forgot about it.

We looked at it a bit deeper and it sounded interesting, and Trip Advisor told us it was well worth it, but we still hemmed and hawed about whether or not to spend the money for a day trip up to Seattle (can't bring Ruby there, that's for sure). We finally said what the hell - it'll be an experience.

We aren't necessarily the most outgoing of people, so stuck in a group of 12-14 for three+ hours was a little sketchy. But the food sounded good and the reviews were great, so we signed up.

It turned out to be a beautiful day in Seattle and we were exposed to places we didn't know existed but foods we had never tried. Who knew I would like truffles on my pizza? Or that mussels really aren't that bad? I mean, really? And Savor Seattle, I must blame you for my new addiction to real dark chocolate - in a good way of course.

The long and short of it is we had a fantastic time and would absolutely recommend the Gourmet Seattle to anyone, whether you live in Seattle or not, whether you visit Seattle once or a 100 times. It's fun, you learn stuff, and you get some fantastic food.

We made a couple trips back earlier this year to take a couple other tours - first the Pike Place Off the Beaten Path tour (where we found the magic world of fresh spices!) and then the Coffee and Chocolate tour (seriously, how could anyone not pounce on that one?!). Every single one has been fun, worth the cost, and given us a bevy of places to go back and explore on our next trip.

So, walking food tours are a good thing, right? Well, it's not all cupcakes and puppy dog tails.

Since we had so much fun on our first tour in Seattle, we came home and looked for one in Portland. Sure enough, there are walking food tours in Portland as well with Portland Walking Tours. They happened to have room in a tour two days later, so we booked that too, the afternoon version of the Epicurean Excursion.

This one was decidedly different than Savor Seattle's. We got plenty of little tidbits of food, but part of what made the Seattle tour so good was we got to interact with the owner or someone responsible at each place, to hear why they do what they do, why it's so good, and why we should come back. Each person's passion for their respective craft was readily apparent, as was Savor Seattle's clear goal of building truly beneficial relationships for both them and the restaurant/food stall/etc.

The Portland one? Not so much.

Sure, we tried some things distinctively local - who knew Rogue Brewery made spruce gin? - but at the same time only a couple of the places were set up like the Seattle version, where representatives of the company were available to explain and answer questions. For us, that was a key component and that was a stark contrast between the two. And not in a good way for Portland.

In the end, we felt a little like we didn't get our money's worth on the Portland tour. That was a little disappointing after how much fun we had in Seattle, but now we know, right? Since then we've been able to plan out our own little walking tours of the Portland area, just the two of us, and made some great little finds (with help from the Internet).

So if you want to do something like that in Portland, find a local to help you out. If you want to do that in Seattle, choose Savor Seattle.

And if you love yourself some food and want to get a feel for what any new locale has to offer, this would be a good way to do it, though I don't know how prevalent these are across the U.S. or internationally. Definitely something to look into. For us, we'll definitely check one out the next city we visit.


America's Got Delusions

Holy $#^@... Nothing is more annoying than typing up an entire blog post and then when you hit the handy publish button, getting an error. It then tells you to go back, but of course since this is a text box I'm typing in you go back to an empty box. Fun times. Why, pray tell, is there something that periodically shows under my text box that says "Saving..."? What exactly is it doing? Apparently not saving, that's for sure...


So I admit I watch America's Got Talent. And I like it. It makes me laugh, mostly because there are so many people in this world who think they have talent, think they can make it big, but obviously have a weak grip on a little thing called reality.

If you aren't familiar with the premise of the show, basically people of all kinds of entertainment acts try out in front of the public and three judges for a shot to win $1 million and their own show in Vegas. Just like American Idol, but not limited to singers.

As you can imagine, this attracts all sorts of people, and not necessarily in a good way. Mixed in with people who are great singers, musicians, people who play with fire, magicians, et cetera, are the simple-minded fools who think making barnyard sounds is something they can use to win this prize.

Do they really think someone would pay money in Vegas to watch that? Really?

Did your friends tell you it was a good idea? Here's a newsflash: Your friends either are playing a practical joke on you, or they hate you. Either way, you're gullible. None of those conclusions says anything good about you. And just because Mom says you are good at it doesn't mean anything - she's paid to say that.

It also completely boggles my mind how people can go on stage and perform, get booed by the crowd and told to go home by the judges, and then come off the stage and proceed to tell host Nick Cannon the judges don't know what they are talking about.

I'm not a qualified judge of talent either, but I know suck when I see it.

Last night, for example, this group called the Badd Girls came on stage. They talked a lot of game about how they had loads of talent and were going to be a worldwide phenomenon, like the Spice Girls. They weren't exactly, um, skinny, so they proceeded to waddle around like three beached whales, wailing like a cat getting it's tail pulled, until the audience booed like crazy and the judges begged them to stop. Indignantly, they walked off stage, past Nick, and proceeded to tell the camera the judges just didn't know talent.

Yeah, me neither, but my suck detector was giving me a headache it was ringing so loud.

Nick plays it off nicely, then as they walk away he looks at the camera and rolls his eyes.

He also does voiceovers when the show comes back from commercial, and last night he said something like: "This has proven to be the chance of a lifetime for some acts, but for others it's time to go back to reality."

Um, Nick? That presumes these people were coming from reality in the first place, which they assuredly were not. Anyone who proclaims on national television barnyard sounds are absolutely worth a $1 million prize is decidedly a bit detached from what I am familiar with as reality.

I guess it's fine they are doing something they truly enjoy. Props to them for that...but at the same time you have to on some level know you really shouldn't subject America to it. If you can't tell that difference on your own level, there are some issues there.

Don't get me wrong, there are plenty of talented people on the show - they just aren't always as entertaining as the ones that suck.

America may have plenty of Talent, but they also have an exponential number of people with Delusions. I am pretty sure it's a factor of 67.3, but I need to do some more calculations.


Ever Been to a Sakery?

I suppose before you answer the question in the title the question should be do you know what a sakery is? If you know Japanese food you can probably figure out that a sakery is a place where they make sake - like a winery.

Last week we found out there is a sakery not that far from us in Forest Grove called SakeOne. I'll insist again we aren't heavy drinkers, but the readers of this blog may soon come to doubt that. That's okay...just know you will drink well at our house - well stocked!

Sakeries are not common at all in the United States. From what I read somewhere - or Wifey probably told me, more likely - is that there are five in the U.S. total, and only one outside of California. Furthermore, all four of those in Cali are owned by Japanese people, and SakeOne is the only one owned by Americans. So yeah, basically it's pretty rare.

For those that don't know, sake is made from rice in a way similar to the way wine is made from grapes. That's why there are four sakeries in Cali, where they grow a ton of rice. SakeOne actually gets their rice from Cali as well. They also learned the craft from the Momokawa Brewing Company in Japan, so they learned it right from the source before bringing the knowledge back to the States. I believe you can get their sakes at Japanese specialty stores all over the States, so anything intriguing you see here you can pick up by you. Maybe. If not, I'm sure they ship, if you care.

So we went to SakeOne hoping to get a sakery tour, but as our luck would have it two people had called in sick that day, so there was only one person to run the tasting room. No tour, so we'll have to go back.

However, we did get plenty of tastings ($3 each on this day, but there are different plans - check the website).

If you are wondering, tasting at a sakery is just like tasting at a winery (or so I hear actually, we haven't actually done that yet - which is mildly funny considering where we live and the fact we did this first). You get a glass, you get a small amount - ounce or two - and you swirl, smell, and taste. Then you can dump out the rest if you like.

We started off with the Momokawa Silver. I really liked this one despite the fact it came out advertised as dry. It had a nice fruity flavor and to me didn't necessarily taste dry at all. I would buy this one, but didn't on this day.

After that we tried the Momokawa Ruby. This was way too fruity for our tastes, but it wasn't horrible.

After that we tried another version of Ruby, not on their website, and I believe the difference was one was this one was "nama" - which basically translates as raw, but in this case means unpasteurized. Given the fact it had similar flavor notes as the regular Ruby I wasn't thrilled, but I did think the nama version was better.

We then tried the Momokawa Pearl. I'm not a fan of anise at all and Wifey is not a fan of banana - I think for us that's all we could taste. The fact that this one is roughly filtered really didn't seem a detriment, just doesn't match our tastes.

Next up on the list G Joy. The fruitiness in the G was very smooth and well-rounded. This is definitely a sake I would buy, but again, didn't on this day. An interesting note on the G: it was formulated specially for the American palate to match with stronger flavors of foods, like the ones in American cuisines.

We then tried a couple from the Murai family, the brand name of the partnership in Japan. Ironically, we were at Uwajimaya a couple weeks ago and picked out a sake for a marinade we were making and just happened to pick the Murai Sugidama. We really liked it, both to drink and in the marinade for thin sliced beef kabobs. The sake made the meat so amazingly tender, it was like butter. You know, in a good way. Definitely recommend using sake in beef marinades - it's a must.

We tried this one again at SakeOne, and it is one we ended up buying. We bought a huge bottle because it was coming to the end of it's lifespan (sake has a lifespan). We got a ridiculously giant bottle for $5 instead of $59, but it should be used by fall 2009.

The second Murai sake we tried was the Tokubetsu Honjozo. This was also good, though not as good as the Sugidama. We did buy a bottle that was on sale for $3 down from $29 because it was due to expire at the end of July. However, that date on the bottle is the recommended drinking date - it can be used for cooking longer than that. Also, they recommend that once you open a bottle you finish it off in 7-10 days. We also bought a smaller bottle that was also on sale for $5 instead of $12 (I think) that we have another couple months to drink.

After this we tried a couple special offerings. The first was the Tsubaki Grand Shrine Junmai Ginjo. I wasn't feeling this one at all, thought it wasn't my least favorite (that goes to Pearl and Ruby). I missed the flavor of caramel they say it has. However, our host did pair this with some quince and manchego cheese and I will admit they did go well together.

The second special offering isn't listed on their website and I can't recall the name, but it wasn't anything to write home about in my mind.

Our final tasting was the Moonstone Raspberry, a sake infused with raspberry. This one we both liked. The raspberry taste was faint and came through mostly in the aftertaste, but it would go well with a dessert. We ended up buying a large bottle ($11) of this and smaller bottles ($6 each) of the Asian Pear and Plum infused sakes.

Add all of that up and because of the sales we left with six bottles plus the cost of two tastings for about $45 - not bad at all. I don't know that you normally get 10 tastings for $3 - I doubt it - but it was a good time. We'll definitely be going back to take in the sakery tour and take some pictures.

And, maybe now the idea of a tasting at a winery won't seem quite so overwhelming to our nascent (at least with regards to various wines and spirits) taste buds. After all, with roughly 500 wineries (I could be exaggerating) in the area, we should check them out.

Please - Leash Your Dog

Let me preface this by saying I like dogs. I have a dog. At the same time, there are rules around the ownership of dogs that are there for very good reasons. One of them is the leash law, and in Oregon, in the Portland area, that law applies to any dog that is not contained within a fence. It doesn't matter if the dog is in your yard, because your front yard with no fence doesn't exactly contain a canine.

There are a couple of reasons I am adamant about this. Part of it is I really don't want every dog in the world running up to me, regardless as to if I like dogs or not. I'm not scared of any dog - even the mean ones - but that doesn't mean I should have to fend them off every time I go for a walk in my neighborhood or at one of the local trails.

People continually go on and on about how friendly their dog is, and that may be true, but rules are there for a reason and the simple fact is you really don't know. I have a dog that is generally considered a tough dog - Ruby is an Akita. If you aren't familiar with them, I'd compare them closest to a German shepherd. They are protective of their pack (their people), they aren't the most social of canines, and they are extremely strong and effective if they need to be. There is a reason they are police dogs in Japan, from whence they originally came. These traits are general across the breed - certainly there are plenty of Akitas would love to run around dog parks and play with other dogs.

My Akita is not one of those.

Ruby is - well - special. For one, she really doesn't like dogs. She will generally ignore them, unles they get close to her. But when they do the growling starts. She has never been tested beyond the growling because whenever we take her out in public I'm extremely vigilant about other animals and people, especially children. She's not that thrilled about other people either, especially in public (meet her calmly in our backyard and she seems okay). Except kids - I think she places them in the same category as dogs. Lucky for a few dogs in the past I'm stronger than Ruby, despite her being roughly 85+ pounds of solid dog muscle.

I'm well aware how fast things could go bad for another animal that came running up to Ruby and scared or surprised her, and I'm also well aware me being aware of this probably says something about Ruby and her general well-being, but at the same time we still love her and she's great at home, where she generally is most of the time. I suppose me being aware of this doesn't exactly make it okay, but it should mitigate any problems that could occur.

That is, assuming other people treat their dogs the same way I treat mine. Call this Things That Annoy Me, Volume I.

See, the thing is, dogs need to be trained to be polite company. I don't fault dogs that are not trained - I mean, how could I, right? - but I will fault the owners who don't train them and expect them still to be polite company. I mean, what am I supposed to do? Not let Ruby ever leave the yard, even to get some exercise? I walk her around the neighborhood on a four-foot leash so I can keep control. I do everything legal, everything on the up and up.

Ruby is trained. She has been to obedience classes (and has a diploma!). She will listen to us, she knows basic commands, and she responds to us. She's a good dog. But that doesn't mean I trust her implicitly - that would simply be silly.

But still, Ruby's freedom is tenuous and dependent on other dogs being properly taken care of by their people. If someone's dog - or child - came running up to Ruby on the street and Ruby nipped them to get rid of them (which is really all I think she would ever do - she doesn't have the guts or passion to do anything more than get the annoying thing to stop being annoying - and you can ask the cats, she gives plenty of warning), Ruby would be the one at fault no questions asked.

We would be the ones to get sued and Ruby would most likely end up put down at the Humane Society, because someone didn't have their dog on leash or didn't teach their kids how to properly behave around all dogs. Basically, we would lose our beloved dog and our dog would lose her life because of the stupidity and ignorance of someone else.

That's why it bugs the hell out of me that every time we leave the house something happens that makes me question why we left with the dog, and it's never Ruby's or our fault. That's why I'm writing this, in the (probably desperate) hope people will understand where I'm coming from and why these things are so important.

Yesterday we took Ruby for a walk and walked pass a house where a young dog came running out of the garage to meet Ruby. Suffice it to say Ruby wasn't interested, so I'm pulling Ruby further away while Wifey lingers back to push the dog back towards its own house. There were five people - late teens, early twenties, who can tell? - out front drinking beers, and all they did was attempt to try and call this obviously untrained dog. After letting out a couple of expletives in their general direction as I pulled Ruby away, they finally got off their fat asses to get their dog.

(As an aside, they looked a little rough and I had scenarios flash through my head of what I would do if they took offense, even up to thinking about what to do if a gun was pulled. Yep, this could be a short story or a scene in a novel later.)

I don't blame the dog - in fact, I feel sorry for the dog. He got cussed out and probably kicked, all for doing what a dog will do in that situation. It's not his fault - it's the fault of the fat, lazy drunks who can't take the time to properly train or care for a dog, but feel they must have a dog.

And this isn't an every so often experience. I have literally pushed kids who come up to pet Ruby. They don't ask, or they ask as they reach for her face. Seriously, do you want to lose your hand? I've cussed at parents who won't keep track of their kids, at people of all ages who can't contain their animals.

Would it be easier just to keep Ruby at home? Sure it would, and more than is generally healthy for her that's what happens. But at the same time, she isn't doing anything wrong. All she wants is for people to give her space, no different than I would prefer when I'm out without the dog. In that way I really can't fault her at all - I mean, how much sense would that make when I feel the same way? Many people - yes, Dad :) - will think I'm over-anthropromorhisizing here, but I don't really take that as a negative.

Perhaps this is just my little way of standing up for Ruby because I feel for her.

So that's why I am writing this. I'm begging parents to teach their children that if they want to pet a dog - any dog, because all dogs can bite (and so-called "dangerous" dogs do not lead the annual bite lists) - they should stay a certain distance away and ask the person with the dog politely if they can pet the dog. If the person says no, you walk away. If they say yes, then you should follow their instructions on how to approach the dog. I would encourage adults to also practice what you preach to your children and do the same thing. I desperately hope people will follow the rules with regards to owning their own dog, and to keep an eye on it at all times, especially around other animals, strangers, and small children. No matter what you think, a dog is still at heart a wild animal and should be treated as such, because those jaws are vicious on any breed.

There is never a good reason for a dog bite, because they are 100% preventable. And for any dog that loses its life because all it did was react to a situation that was created by poor supervision by their owner or stupidity on the part of a situation, that's just sad.

Please, leash your dog, talk to your children, and treat dogs with a healthy respect.

Ruby would appreciate it.

I Need to Learn Spanish

I'm not one of those people who laments the fact everyone doesn't speak English anymore. I mean, considering I was a foreign language major in college in one language and traveled abroad for a second, that wouldn't exactly make much sense, would it?

I have always resisted the need to learn Spanish though, even though living where I do it's the one language that would actually make every day life easier on various occasions. In high school I avoided it because it was common and everyone else did it - so I chose the one language my school offered that was not only uncommon but also came with it's own writing system (Japanese). Lucky me.

Then when college came and I added another one (Italian) to my repertoire, I chose to go with a language of one of my Heinz 57 lineages rather than a common one. Plus, college had about 100 to choose from - again, why choose Spanish?! If at the time I was to rank my available choices Spanish probably wouldn't have cracked my top 25.

All that is slowly changing for me though. It's becoming more and more apparent that knowing Spanish would be quite helpful. We went to Mexico two years ago for our anniversary - a wonderful place south of Acapulco called Huatulco (wah-tool-ko), in the state of Oaxaca (wah-hah-kah) - not knowing much Spanish at all. We were assured we'd be fine. And we were, relatively, but knowing the language of everyone who lives there probably would have been handy.

So what's the point of all this? Well, in Portland we have these fantastic things called foodcarts where street food gets sold all over. Apparently it's a pretty unique thing to have all of these - Seattle is just getting into it - and the ones closest to me happen to be taco carts. We wanted something different the other day so we decided to check them out for dinner.

We tried two on the corner of 185th and TV Highway. One is called Ely's and the other is called Mexico Lindo. They are in the same parking lot, so we decided we'd get three tacos at each one - of the exact same kinds - and do a taste test.

We went to Ely's first and got a chicken taco, a steak taco, and a marinated pork taco. The English here was pretty limited, but we managed to get our point across and after a short wait - and $3 - got our three tacos.

Then we walked across the lot to Mexico Lindo and I was pretty sure I ordered the same thing, but it ended up only being $2.50. And we only got two tacos. I honestly have no idea what happened, but it became 100% obvious to me that knowing enough Spanish to order my food would probably be beneficial.

I mean, Spanish isn't a difficult language to learn. Having studied Italian and French in the past the conjugations and verb patterns are similar, so for me it's really a matter of vocabulary and understanding the pronounciations. I should also note it would be better for me to learn Mexican Spanish rather than Spain's Spanish. And yes, they are different. Not so different they can't understand each other, but different enough - like American English and British English.

Funny story: I studied Italian at L'Universita di Perugia per Stranieri (the University of Perugia for Foreigners) for a summer in the town of Perugia, a little NE of Rome, and as part of the schooling met people from all over the world. I was asked, in Italian, by someone from German(before they knew I was American) what language was my native tongue. I told them English and they asked me were I was from. When I told them the United States, they answered, "Oh, you speak American, not English." I was a little surprised at that because at the time it wasn't really clear to me what the difference were, but since then I have learned they are vast and I completely understand the comment. Still, it's funny to think about.

So anyway, I should learn Spanish. At least that would ensure I get the right food I order at a Mexican food place where they don't speak much English. Hey, I have My Spanish Coach for the Nintendo DS...gotta start somewhere, right?

As for the tacos - since I know you are dying to find out - all five of them were excellent. Yep, we split each one. If I had to pick I would recommend the marinated pork taco from Ely's and the steak taco from Mexico Lindo, but for the price and the yumminess level, you can't go wrong with any of them at either place.

The corn tortillas were excellent also - and I'm not a big fan of them normally, regardless of the fact they are healthier for me or not. These fresh ones I could eat all day long. And a note - the tacos aren't that big. If you wanted to get full I'd recommend three or four for a dinner, maybe more depending on your appetite.

This was our first exposure in a long time to the foodcarts, even though there are so many in Portland. I'm thinking there are going to be a few days of foodcart crawls in our future...


Knives Are Bad

This one is going to be decidedly un-food related. In fact, it might be plain disgusting. You've been warned.

Of course, now that you've been warned there is no way you are going to stop reading, is there?

Last Sunday my wife and I were busy all day long, so when dinner time came we decided to just throw a couple gardenburgers in the toaster oven and call it good. Nope, it's not all glitz and glamor in my diet - sometimes it's just about not being hungry, know what I mean?

Okay, so I suppose the premise for this piece is somewhat food-related.

So I grabbed the gardenburger box out of the freezer and opened it up, finding the two patties were frozen solid. Credit Boca for packaging their patties individually - might have avoided this whole thing if they didn't taste like crap.

I couldn't pry them apart with my fingers, so I looked around for something to use. Right next to me was a steak knife that had been used earlier in the day to cut something, no idea now what. So I pick up the knife and get ready to jam it between the patties.

It's very odd - I swear I was looking at this scene almost third person and thinking this is in no way a good idea, but at the same time I couldn't really stop myself. That ever happen to you?

So I jam the knife between the patties. Did it work? Oh yeah it did. Our knives are pretty much brand new - just like this, but black. Curse Sur La Table for having great sales and free shipping...I think I dropped about $200 to them because of that this spring, this steak knife set being one of them.

The knives are still really damn sharp, owing to the fact we don't actually eat a lot of steak.

So the burgers flew apart and the next thing I knew the knife was sticking into the pinkie of my left hand, on the ring finger side of the top digit. I don't necessarily remember pain, but the blossoming of blood made it quite evident what had happened. Apparently the burgers and knife ended up in the sink, although I don't remember dropping either one. I was working over the sink like a good boy not wanting to make a mess, so lucky me all the blood went down the drain too.

I knew it was bad, but I didn't really know how bad. Wifey is freaking out because she heard me swearing and came over. I'm starting to freak out because the blood isn't slowing down under the cold water. She started freaking out a bit more when I told here this seemed to me like a hospital thing, and of course since it's Sunday evening that means ER because none of the Urgent Care facilities are open.

At this point I'm still hoping it stops bleeding under the cold water, but that's not happening. In my infinite wisdom I decided to see if I could see how bad the wound was so I looked at it from different angles. In one of them I could see something white inside my finger...I'm guessing that was muscle, but I have no idea.

Right about this point I start getting all flushed and dizzy, although it must have been shock instead of blood loss because seriously, it was really only a half inch cut. Still, blood all over the place is not a pretty picture.

We got it wrapped up amateurly with some gauze and tape, got the dog put away, and then I told Wifey she had to drive. However, by the time I sat in the car I was clear headed enough, which was nice.

So we get to the ER, find a parking spot - who knew it would be full on a Sunday night after the 4th?! - and checked in. Since I wasn't obviously dying it took about two hours to actually see the doctor - yep, we made copious jokes about this. By that time the bleeding had stopped and they determined no stitches were necessary.

Obviously I was feeling better. I was really just hungry because, well, I never got my dinner.

The end result was a five minute iodine soak, some gauze and tape, and a tetanus/whooping cough booster shot because who knows when the last one was.

All of this has cost me at least my $75 co-pay and who knows however much else. Since they didn't do anything I'm hoping not much, but you never know.

A couple days of days later I was reflecting, and I realized that the only thing that must have stopped the razor sharp knife was the bone in my finger. If it hadn't of hit the bone, the mess might have been a whole heck of a lot worse. Yikes.

So why did I have to tell this story? Well, I was thinking it might make for good fodder for a future short story, or a scene in a novel, and I didn't want to lose the feelings or observations about it I was having.

I warned you. :)

Turning XXI

I was at the grocery store last week - New Seasons - and happened to go down the beer aisle. Really, pure coincidence. I walk down it every now and then just to see if something looks interesting, and that day something did. Deschutes Brewing - which makes such luminaries as Black Butte Porter, Obsidian Stout, and Mirror Pond Pale Ale - had some kind of special bottle called a Black Butte XXI.

Now, the thing for me is I'm still growing with this beer thing. Not that I'm a stranger to beer - all my college friends and somebody's retirement package from Henry Weinhard's can attest to that - it's just that I'm not necessarily a connoisseur of good beer. I could never get into Guinness, but I've developed my tastes in the past couple years, drinking much, much less but looking more for the flavor.

I learned since college that if you are only going to drink one it might as well taste good. And that you can really only drink one. Seriously.

So to make a long story short, I have become a fan of Black Butte Porter with it's chocolate and coffee overtones. The longer you read this blog, you will start to see a theme along the chocolate and coffee lines - even in the beer. So when I found this special edition barleywine version of BBP, I thought I needed to check this out.

Then I just about choked on my tongue when I noticed it was $12/bottle for 24 ounces. $12?! For a bottle of beer?! Who does that?! Then right next to that was a special edition of Mirror Pond called Mirror Mirror. Also $12. Seriously - WTF?! Who would buy those?!

So yes, you guessed it, both of them went straight into my cart, despite the misgivings about spending $24 of my grocery budget on two bottles of beer, when I don't drink much more than once a week and usually a small glass of wine at that.

Later I happened to look up these two beers on Deschutes' website - links already provided - and found out that BBP XXI uses Theo's Chocolates - and I love myself some Theo's.

I had also notice that while most beers have drink before dates on them, this bottle had a best after date - and it was in 2010. Seriously? Spend $12 on a beer then I have to WAIT a year?! Yeah, like that was going to happen. It turns out these beers will age just like a good wine, so they recommend saving them. You can drink them now, and it will just taste different. What I found a lot of people online recommending was to buy two; drink one now and save the other for later. Another $12?! So yes, I picked one up at Whole Foods the next day.

Then Saturday night I decided I needed to try out this bad boy. I was hoping I liked it, because I now had two of these $12 bottles. On the other hand, if I liked it I would probably feel the need to buy more. Did I mention it's $12 a bottle? I might have, not sure.

The first problem was getting the damn bottle open. What is the point of sealing a bottle in wax? Is there one? Perhaps there is and it's just lost on me. I tried my wine bottle foil cutter, but that was a joke. I looked around and the only thing I could come up with was a knife, but after last week (more on that later) I figured that wasn't the best idea either.

On to the internet!

I Googled things like "how to open black butte porter xxi" and the like, but that was apparently too specific. That, and the Google computers are probably thinking: What kind of moron can't open his own freaking beer?!

Finally I tried something like "open wax beer bottle" and came across only one useful hit, a beer forum where someone asked the same thing. The general feeling in the forum was that wax topped beer bottles suck ass, but no one had any really good ideas. It's basically dig away at it until you can get the bottle opener to do the rest of the work for you.

So I flipped around my bottle opener and proceeded to dig away. It actually didn't take that long once I figured out how to do it, but it was still a pain in the ass. Seriously Deschutes, why? I think I'm going to email them and see if there is a legit answer other than "it looks cool."

Now my bottle is open, so I poured it and gave it a taste - no, I didn't wait for it to warm up to the recommended 55 degrees before tasting. Guess what? It was damn good...the chocolate and coffee overtones were much more pronounced than in a regular Black Butte Porter, and overall it was very, very smooth. $12 good? You better believe it was $12 good.

After I waited a while for it to warm up the flavors got even stronger. I remember learning at Pike Place Brewing you should really drink beer in that 60 degree range to really get the flavors; ice cold pretty much kills all the flavor. That's fine if you want to pound 10 beers that taste like crap - or water - to get plastered, but for good beer it's all about the taste.

12 thumbs up to Deschutes for creating a beer worthy of Black Butte Porter's XXI birthday - one for each dollar a bottle costs.

Oh, and yes, I am buying more. Might have to take out a loan first, but it will be worth it. Maybe I can use some basketball cards in trade?

UPDATE: So I actually did email Deschutes to see what was up with the wax seals. Gina, the kindly rep who responded to my email, admitted she struggles with the seal as well but that it does have a point. Apparently when sealing a beer that is meant to be aged like a wine - as the BBP XXI is - it minimizes the oxygen that gets into the bottle, letting it age longer and better. Good to know... I'll let you know in a year if this does good things to what is now my favorite beer. Which, of course, meant I had to buy two more bottles - for now.


Opening the Screen Door

So my whole idea with starting this thing was to track where I've been, what I've done, but at the same time you have to start somewhere, right? How far back do I go before I just cut it off and have to hope the memories still resonate in my head somewhere?

Apparently, that date is last Saturday. Before that, who knows what happened. I mean, it was almost a week ago.

So last Saturday some friends came in from out of town - Shameless Plug: if you are in Seattle, you have to do this! - and we agreed to meet for a brunch/lunch at a place called Screen Door. After reading about the place we decided we should probably get there a little early because there is always a line, so we did. Our friends were delayed, so we had some time to kill, and it turns out there is this little place nearby called the Waffle Window. Well, who doesn't love waffles, right?

Since we were having lunch soon, we split a Razzle Dazzle - and wow. Wow! They aren't that big, but it was plenty for two people to split for a little snack. There was just enough lemony goodness to go with the raspberries and cream, but the waffle was super good just itself. At $4, you can't beat that. We'll absolutely be going back...

So we still had some time to kill, so we drove by Screen Door and there wasn't much of a line. Figuring that was a good sign, we drove out north and stopped at Pix Patisserie for a yummy treat for later. You know, because we weren't eating enough stuff that is detrimental to the goal of being trim. After browsing the treats, we picked out something called a Shazam! - good choice by us. Good job us...very nice move. This was our second foray to Pix...if you like chocolate and pastries, 12 thumbs up.

So after this we got back to Screen Door. We were still a little early, but now there was a line, so we put our name on the list. We waited about 15 minutes for our friends, then about about another 45 with them, before finally getting a table. Outside in the 93-degree sun. Oh well, we got to sit down, right?

Screen Door serves Portland's Stumptown Coffee. I don't know what blend it was, but it was excellent. I've now had Stumptown about 7 different places and the only place it wasn't good was at...wait for it...Stumptown! I have heard this is true, but it seems a tad counterintuitive doesn't it? Well, it's true. I have resisted buying their beans because of a bad experience at their coffeeshop downtown - and by bad experience I mean the mocha wasn't good, not that they beat and berated me for being a coffee novice among the realm of the truly better than me - but I may have to re-think that. Maybe after the Theo's blend runs out.

So Screen Door serves SoCo food (Southern Comfort - like the whiskey, sort of) and is well known for their chicken and waffles, so that's what I got. My better half ordered a fried chicken biscuit and gravy, which came with pan fried potatoes.

Since it was busy it took awhile to get our food, but the coffee and conversation was good so no big deal. As we were chatting the waitress brought something to another table, something huge. Apparently it was what I had ordered - a Belgian waffle with a mountain of chicken. Oh, with a steak knife jammed through it (steak knives scare me, but that's another story) to make sure nothing fell off the plate. Our friend leaned in and said, "Oh my god...I think that's what YOU ordered!"

A few minutes later it became apparent she was right. There were four chicken breasts on top of my waffle. Yep, breast meat - none of that cheap brown meat here, and absolutely no bones. About damn time someone made fried chicken from good meat - and the seasoning mixed into the breading was perfect, a nice blend of savory flavors. I was surprised, but absolutely in a good way. It came with a nice maple syrup that tied it all together with the seasoning.

Yes, the breading came off the chicken when it got cut, but with no skin it doesn't have much to adhere to. Some people may not like that, but the fact it was breast meat and had no skin is much better in my mind. Oh, and the meat was so juicy! None of that overdone crap here.

My better half's meal was excellent too. Her fried chicken had a little less kick than mine, but the sausage gravy was amazing, the biscuit fluffy and yummy, and the potatoes seasoned just right with a good amount of crunch.

It should probably come as no surprise after reading all of this we loved it and will absolutely be going back. 14 thumbs up for brunch...next time we might tackle dinner.

Now, you might think we'd call it a gastronomical day after that, but no, not us. As if we hadn't had enough coffee, we stopped by Coffeehouse Northwest on the way home. They serve Stumptown, though the owners are reportedly starting their own little roaster soon. Either way, this is the best coffee in Portland, with all due respect to Barista, which is also good. The Cluziel mocha at Coffeehouse NW is just chocolatey goodness - best dark chocolate mocha I have had.

And it wasn't just coffee...

See, there is a bakery in the Pearl District called Nuvrei. They have a tiny place to buy pastries, but they also provide baked yumminess to coffee shops all over the downtown and NW Portland area. Yep, including Coffeehouse NW. So, since it was the 4th of July and Nuvrei was unfortunately closed, we could still get our treats. We picked up an almond crossiant, which we had never tried but is supposed to be Nuvrei's specialty. It was yummy - big shock. We also got a berry scone, which is basically the best scone I've had that didn't come out of our own oven. It's hard to put it into words - just get it.

After that we decided to call it a day. In completely unrelated news I had gained three pounds when I woke up Sunday morning. No idea why.

Oh, and in case you are wondering, no, we didn't eat it all. I think it ended up being something like four meals, or parts of four meals. Not bad for $30...

My First Post

I feel like I should introduce myself, or explain my purpose here - which is kind of silly, since I'm really doing this for my own enjoyment and have no idea if anyone will read it, nor do I really care.

Eh, whatever - it's my blog and I'll do what I want.

I'm hoping to keep this a little focused, to talk about my own experiences at places all over the northwest, with an emphasis on things like food and restaurants and drinks and hiking and the outdoors, local travel, things like that. I also plan to stray a bit into books I read, movies I watch, random things that might piss me off, and whatever else pops into my head.

My only rule here will be no basketball - I get way more than enough of that the rest of the day, and besides, if you want to read that stuff you can go where I do that.

So, besides that, basically whatever I want. It will be an attempt to chronicle my own experiences and enjoyments, my discoveries and disappointments, in this great Northwest of ours. This place surprises me every day with all sorts of goodness and spectacularity (see, it's my blog, I can make up words too).

I keep finding so much, and I keep looking for more, but I don't want to forget all the places I have been, so this is my log, my life, but nothing personal. Unless you cut me off in traffic - then it's personal.

So there you go - let's eat!