Stone's Vertical Epic

I'll admit it - the vast majority of the beers I taste are from Oregon. That's partly because there are so many to choose from, but it's also so I can get a feel for what's good here before venturing outside of my comfort zone. Last week I did a little venturing.

I had seen this bottle a few times at New Seasons, this label with a tauntingly promising name called Vertical Epic from Stone Brewing Company in Escondido, California. How can anything called Vertical Epic be a bad thing? The name alone promises depth, a journey into somewhere a beer drinker has never gone.

So did a little research - hit up a few blogs, read some reviews - and then hit upon Stone's own website (which is fantastic).

On their website I found the story behind Vertical Epic - and it's amazing apparently sometime in 2001 they came up with this idea to have a series of beers come out on the special dates every year - 2/2/02, 3/3/03, etc - and call it Vertical Epic. Vertical for the ability to drink multiple years side by side (they dare you to save one of each until 12/12/12 and try them together), and Epic because, well, such an undertaking is pretty epic.

To be real honest, it's kind of disheartening to find out about something like this with 9/9/09 on the shelf, but such is life.

Obviously the question is asked what happened to the 1/1/01 beer? I love the answer:

Ugh. If only we had a bottle of 02.02.02 for every time we heard that question. There are two reasons for its non-existence: (1) We didn't want to participate in the whole overhyped media nonsense of "Millennium this" and "Millennium that," and (2) we didn't think of the Stone Vertical Epic Ale idea until the fall of 2001 (which is already too late for a 01.01.01 version.) Sure we could wait until the year 3001 to start this series, but we were afraid that with all that time between now and next millennium, we might forget. Besides, that millennium will probably be overhyped as much as the last one.
Funny, and honest - I love it!

So needless to say I was sold I needed to try this. It promised flavors of vanilla, chocolate, malt, and tangerine, so it just sounded yummy anyway.

The beer had a great pour - smooth and thick, almost creamy. There were hints of vanilla, chocolate, and tropical fruit in the nose, a very pleasant combination.

And the taste? Pretty good. All of the promised flavors were there, as well a slight oakiness from the barrels Stone used in the process. It's not common that you can taste oak, but because of the subtlety of the actual beer flavors - I'm thinking hops - all of these other ones made themselves known. The tangerine was hidden to me, but for some reason I did taste banana. Which was surprising. Not bad, just surprising.

Overall this was very nicely balanced and I would definitely recommend it. If I can find another one I'm going to pick it up to archive away with my Black Butte Porter XXI and my Abyss bottles from last year. If I can't find any...I'll be sad.

And I'm marking my calendar for 10/10/10 to pick up the next release.


Soup Is Good

Like a lot of people I ate a lot of soup when I was growing up and even in college - and like a lot of people that soup began and ended with the Campbell's brand. It's cheap, it's filling (well, the Chunky stuff anyway), and it's also absolutely horrible for you because it's so packed with sodium. Due to the unhealthiness of it all I'd stayed away from soup up until the last couple years because I guess I just didn't know how good it can be. Plus, for some reason, I just didn't even think about soup as an option for a meal - a sandwich or a burger just always sounded so much better, so much more complete.

Of course, that's a bunch of crap too. A good soup has protein, great taste, and a fantastic amount of vegetables, and if there is anything my diet could use more of its vegetables.

When I hit the food cart pod on 4th and College the other day I didn't have anything specific in mind, until I saw the Portland Soup Company cart. That cart itself begs to be noticed, with the nicely painted and stained wood on the outside it really welcomes you in. Plus, they had tomato soup as one of their four soups of the day, and if I'm a sucker for any soup it's tomato. Plus, they do sandwiches, so I figured I'd try a little bit of this and a little bit of that.

The first cup of soup ($4 each) I ordered (and all of this I brought home to share with Wifey) was Roasted Tomato Reggiano. It's basically a classic creamy tomato, but with cheese and chunks of bread mixed in - and it was pure creamy goodness. A cup of soup comes with half a ciabatta roll too, so there was plenty of bread to go around. There was plenty of tomato flavor and the cheese really came through - and you could tell this was made with some good dairy.

The second cup of soup was a Braised Beef...something. I say something because I can't recall what exactly it was called and nothing on the list of soups on their website sounds right. This soup had a moderate hotness to it (which was a little exacerbated when you ate a whole peppercorn) and amazingly moist beef. It wasn't nearly as thick as the tomato, but wasn't watered down either, and had some peppers and tomatoes mixed in with it.

Both soups were fantastic - not only would I highly recommend them, I'd absolutely get them again (this time in a bowl, which is $6).

The sandwich may have been just as good. They had a couple different options ($4 half, $6 whole - I got whole), but I chose the Slow Smoked Pork Butt sandwich, which also had cabbage and apple slaw. The meat was fantastic. Seriously, I'm not sure it gets much better, honestly. I loved the light smokiness to the meat and it had just the right saltiness as well. The apple slaw lent good sweetness. The bread was solid - not the greatest bread ever, but good enough not to detract from the ingredients. Actually, maybe that's the best choice, so it doesn't take away from the star of the show.

Will I be going back to the Portland Soup Company? Absolutely - I can't wait. You should go to. And as you can tell from Yelp and the review on Food Carts Portland, I'm hardly the only one pleased with their meal. Trust me, you won't be disappointed.


Wrecking Holiday Ales

I tried a decent number of holiday brews this past Christmas season and I have come to something of a conclusion: They just aren't what I like. The last of these beers was Full Sail's Wreck the Halls, their annual Christmas offering with a cute name.

It wasn't bad, per se - it just wasn't special. The beer is a nice golden color, has a very crisp feel to it, and is extremely hoppy. I suppose that shouldn't be too much of a shock, since it really tests out as an IPA, which aren't my specialty at all. So why do I keep trying them? You know what, that's a very good question....I should take that under advisement.

To me Wreck the Halls was just beer. Nothing more, nothing less - just beer. I had the same opinion of Ninkasi's Sleighr (no, that's not an IPA, but it didn't seem especially special either). A lot of beer afficianados really, really loved both beers, but I just can't say I think there is anyting special about them. They look like an amber, they smell hoppy, and they taste like, well, an IPA. Perhaps the specific ingredients are different - or the ratio - from the brewery's normal IPA offering, but in the end they didn't create something new, just something moderately different.

And that's fine, absolutely - if it makes them a little more cash and people like it, go for it. I just need to come to terms with them myself before I buy something, because I now have a better understanding of what I like and what I don't like.

It's kind of amusing to me, I guess. Even a brewery where I like pretty much everything they offer - like Deschutes - didn't overly wow me with their seasonal, Jubelale. Jubelale wasn't as hoppy as the other seasonals I tried and did have a slightly darker look and flavor - which I do like - but it still didn't really grab me.

It's funny - I used to think I could just go to the store and browse the beer aisle, then pick whatever looked good. Can't do that anymore. It's not necessarily only because my tastes have changed over the years - they have - but it's also because of the sheer quantity of specialty brews available and the explosion of unique flavors and combinations the market has brought in recent years. I no longer have 20-25 different ones to choose from with clear demarkations of styles and flavors; now it's so nuanced I really feel like I have to spend some time doing research before I put a bottle in my cart.

It's not bad - I like having the variety available. I just now have to spend more time and plan out a buying decision rather making impulse buys I have recently ended up disappointed with. If there are so many out there, I might as well pick and choose the ones that I'll actually like, right?

Off to do more research...


Simpatica Redux

If you have been reading the blog for awhile you know we love the breakfast food. You also know we once went to Simpatica Dining Hall for dinner and had an absolutely fantastic meal. Simpatica also does a Sunday brunch, and while you can show up whenever you want between 9am and 2pm to get food - unlike the dinners where there is one seating a night at 7:30pm sharp (well, on Friday - 7pm on Saturday) - after reading many online reviews we were worried about having to wait in line. As it turns out this place is quite popular with the foodie crowd that likes breakfast.

Since waiting in line is not something either of us find much fun, we decided to get there right as they open. We ended up being a little early, but there were only three parties in front of us. When Simpatica opened up we were seated almost immediately. And actually, the place wasn't full even when we left at 10:15 or so, so keep that in mind if you go.

The menu was quite varied, having breakfast and lunch type items (being brunch and all), but we came for the breakfast. Wifey ordered the biscuits and gravy, which came with a side of roasted potatoes.

Biscuits and Gravy

This was really good. The gravy had bits of ham and bacon in it as well as a little bit of sausage, and the potatoes were roasted to crunchy yet melt in your mouth status. Excellent. The biscuit was good, but it wasn't the best I've had. Still, with that gravy it may not matter what you have it on, it's excellent. This was actually a lot of food - all that gravy really sticks to your ribs.

I had meant to order something different enough to give us a variety of flavors, but instead I brain cramped and ordered an egg sandwich that also had the gravy on the same biscuit with a piece of fried chicken and a side of potatoes. They called it a Ba Gawk - at first we thought this was some unique Asian dish, but apparently it's just a cute name for a chicken, gravy and egg sandwich.  I also ordered a side of bacon, but apparently our waitress heard me wrong and they just put a couple slices on my sandwich. That was fine - it was yummy - but unnecessary really with the bacon and ham in the gravy and the chicken. Oh well - at least they only charged me $1 for it instead of the $4 for a side dish of bacon. I'm guessing since I received two slices on my sandwich that means I'd get eight slices as a side? Wow...

Ba Gawk

Again, this was really good. The chicken wasn't white meat, but that doesn't bother me too much. I think ideally there would have been just a tad more gravy, but the flavors were all excellent together. I also ordered coffee - and that was good, though I don't recall what kind it was. The amount of food was good for me - filled me up just right.

Bottom line? This is an excellent spot for breakfast, and we need to go back and some point to try some of the other stuff on the menu. The crepes (which the person next to us ordered) looked phenomenal, and many of the lunch-type things looked good as well.

Simpatica is right up there for one our favorite restaurants in Portland, and we'll be heading back soon - for dinner and brunch.


Not Feeling Gravy

Wifey and I love breakfast. We love the piles of carbs, the bacon, eggs, the cheese, the breads, the pastries, the coffee drinks, hot chocolate - just about anything that goes with breakfast is good for us. So to that end we've been hitting up various breakfast places around town that are supposed to be good - and that's how we ended up choosing Gravy, a place over on North Mississippi.

We had been by it many times, with various shopping trips out to The Meadow or to the Mississippi Marketplace carts to visit The Sugar Cube and Nuevo Mexico. It always had a line out the door and initially it was getting very good reviews. Upon further looking it seemed like while many people did like it, there were also a lot of people that did not - and if you look at the trend graph on their Yelp page (they don't have their own website) you can see the recent reviews are grading lower than the older ones.

Still, we didn't let that deter us. So we went to check it out.

We arrived one Saturday not too long after they opened and thankfully didn't have to wait at all. Considering the lines we usually saw (albeit later in the morning) we counted ourselves lucky. After perusing the menu I decided on something called a Monte Cristo-something, with think french toast topped with turkey, ham, swiss cheese, and fried egg. Wifey ordered a scramble with ham, bacon, vegetables and sausage gravy. Both dishes came with hashbrowns. (I'd give you the exact names of the dishes, but my memory is horrible and they don't have a website, let alone an online menu. That's a strike right there in my book.)

Initially we had wanted to try their biscuits and gravy also, but when I tried to order a single biscuit with gravy as a side our waitress kindly talked me out of it. She reasoned we were already getting a ton of food, and we could try the gravy from Wifey's scramble. As it turns out that was a good call by her - we did get a ton of food - and I actually appreciate that.

We ordered drinks too. The drink menu on the table boasted homemade egg nog with your choice of alcohols, but since it was 9:30 in the morning I opted for the virgin version. I really don't know if that meant I didn't get homemade or what - it sure tasted a lot like what you buy at the grocery store and nothing like the good stuff I make at home. It was not worth the $3. Wifey ordered their hot chocolate (which had some kind of claim of being the best of something) and it was barely average. Seriously, for that price elsewhere I can get something fantastic, and this was barely even worth noting.

Pictures of this meal would no doubt be impressive due to the sheer amount of found on the plates, but alas the camera was forgotten this day. I'll try harder.

The French toast part of my Monte Cristo thingie was pretty good. Thick, almost sweet, the French toast was something I'd order again - without the toppings. There was enough Swiss cheese to choke a large mammal and everything together just reeked of overdoing it just to over do it. It's not that it was bad, it just wasn't necessarily good either. The shredded potatoes on the side must have been an entire potato, which is kind of silly, really.

Wifey got an entire potato as well, in addition to her scramble. The veggies were cooked okay, perhaps a tad overdone, but the sausage gravy was just greasy. I expect a tad of grease when working with sausage, but this was literally dripping - and it must have been at least four eggs involved (the meny didn't say). Again, it wasn't necessarily bad, but it wasn't good either.

I think altogether we ate maybe a third of our dishes, and that might be generous. Like good little eaters we made sure not to stuff ourselves (too badly anyway) and brought the rest home.

It's probably eating the leftovers at home that really got me. This entire meal literally sat like a brick in my stomach, and then I felt obligated to eat the leftovers - you know, since I paid for them and did bring them home and it's not like they were horrible. They just weren't that great. And they made me more angry as the days passed, because I could literally only eat a little bit at a time.

The bottom line on Gravy is the food just isn't that great. It's not expensive, the service was pretty decent, the atmosphere was okay (well, except for the fact the acoustics aren't that conducive to actually being able to hear the conversation of the person across from you without leaning into your food - or maybe that's just me and I have other issues...maybe, who knows), the location is nice, but the food just isn't anything special.

Portland has so many other places to go that are that good, where you can wait in line if you don't mind, where the prices are comparable, where the atomosphere is good, where the service is good...that you shouldn't bother yourself with Gravy. We probably won't be going back, not when we could go somewhere like Screen Door or try somewhere new instead.

MacTarnahan's Goose Bump

By this time, if you have been a faithful reader here - all two of you - it's probably been made pretty clear I'm a big coffee fan and I'm also a beer fan, albeit probably bigger for the bean than the brew. As different as those two tastes are, though, they can sometimes be complementary - and I've found a few beers over the course of tasting that bring these two together very well. Usually they seem to use chocolate as a flavor that does a good job bridging the two, but not always.

So in my daily wanderings amongst the internets when I came across this little review on Beervana about a brew from MacTarnahan's called Goose Bump, which was all about coffee, you knew I had to try it out.

Here is how MacTarnahan's describes the beer:

Goose Bump is a deliciously dark Imperial Stout brewed with roasted and chocolate malt, coffee beans, and bold hop flavor which percolate into a complex blend of fearsome intensity.

Wow...if you like coffee, if you like chocolate, if you like beer...that gets your mouth watering a bit, doesn't it? Mac's apparently used a large quantity of Stumptown coffee beans (of what blend or origin I have no idea) mixed into this beer to give it a java-like quality.

Still, it's easy to be a little skeptical, isn't it? I mean, how many times do you buy a beer (or a wine or a coffee or whatever) that bills itself as having _____ flavor and then not have it deliver? Yeah, quite a few times - me too.

I looked for this one for a couple weeks after reading the Beervana blog post, but it seemed like none of my regular haunts (that is, Whole Foods and New Seasons) had it in stock. Yes, I do need to find a nice bottle shop, but unfortunately there are none (that I know of) near my house - I have to head into NW in the downtown area or across the river to find one of those.

Still, with that blue pair of fists offering up daps on the bottle, it was easy to look for. Wifey actually spotted it at New Seasons about the third or fourth time we were there after my read, and I was so excited it jumped to the first spot in line in my cupboard.

As soon as you pop off the top of the bottle the coffee is quite evident. A deep sniff from the fresh bottle smells like a cup of fresh coffee, albeit cold with a beery background. Predictably it pours thick and dark, with a golden colored creamy head on the glass. It's thick on your tongue, like an Abyss, but it's not nearly as good.

See, while they decided to amp up the caffeine by chocking it full of coffee beans, MacTarnahan's went a little overboard. The beer has a bit of a bitter taste - not a bitter beer taste, but the bitter taste of coffee that has sat in the carafe too long, or coffee that had a way too high ratio of beans to water when it was brewed. It's also not like I could pick out any other flavor - the bitter coffee taste dominated the whole beer.

By the time I poured my second glass from the 22-ounce bottle, though, the bitterness seemed to go away. At the time I thought perhaps I was developing a taste for Goose Bump, but in retrospect I really think that was all the coffee (and the 9% alcohol) making my tongue and tastebuds go numb.

Would I recommend Goose Bump? No, probably not. Instead of being a brew you may want to stock up a few bottles of - since it is a limited release - it's more of something you try once just so you can see what happens when someone goes overboard with a flavor, more of a novelty beer. You have to be in the mood for it and you damn well better be a coffee drinker, otherwise this glass will really just make you angry.

And perhaps that is what MacTarnahan's was going for, something completely over the top in response to recent trend of putting all sorts of unique flavors in beers. Maybe their thought was: "You want coffee in your beer? Oh, we'll GIVE you coffee in your beer!" And hey, if that was the whole goal, they definitely succeeded.

I've been a fan of MacTarnahan's for a long time, since it was still just a part of Portland Brewing before they sold to Pyramid Brewing back in 2004. When I was in college MacTarnahan's was my go-to beer when I had the money (or the will to spend the money) on something a little more expensive. Over the years it's still one I go back to every once in a while.

But Goose Bump? Sorry, it's just not something I can get into. That's sad, because I had high hopes...it turns out all MacTarnahan's wanted to do was see how much coffee they could stuff into a beer, instead of concentrating on putting together something with flavors that blend well and complement each other.


Picking Up A New Sport

Wifey and I decided to take up a new sport over the weekend: snowshoeing. It's something we've been thinking about trying for a couple years but just never really got around to doing it. It seemed to make sense we would enjoy it, since we like hiking and the outdoors (as long as we can figure out how to get home).

A few things had held us (or, more accurately, me) back:

1 - Driving in the snow. I hate having to deal with it, and I have no chains. Thankfully this past weekend the roads up to Mt. Hood were perfectly clear. I have a feeling I will be buying chains here at some point though, just in case.

2 - The right clothes. For some reason we just never really had clothes fit for snow and cold temperatures. Part of that is having waterproof stuff. I bought my first pair of waterproof hiking boots in my life this past year. That's kind of key for walking in snow for extended amounts of time. Sure, I live in a place where it rains a lot, but I don't spend time outside in the rain - and definitely not extended time. The rain doesn't necessarily bother me, but who wants to do that? Plus, we don't ski or snowboard, so it was never really a need.

3 - Literally having no idea what we are doing. I mean, it's just hiking in the snow with tennis rackets on your feet, right? How hard can it be? Me, though, I like some kind of training when it comes to a new sport - I'm not one to just throw myself into the deep end.

Well, a couple weeks ago REI came through for us. They had a free seminar at the one closest to our house about getting ready for snowshoeing where they promised to talk through the gear, clothing, where to go - things like that. Since you can't beat free and we shop at and respect REI, we decided to go, even though it was after a hellish 1.5 hour workout courtesy of Jillian Michaels and her training books (that's another post).

The seminar was informative, but honestly I'm glad we didn't pay for it. It was all pretty logical: dress warm but know you will sweat (it's a heck of a workout), dress waterproof, snowshoes are pretty straightforward as to types and how to use them, stay out of the cross country skiing lines, pack food and water - you know, all the things you would do for hiking, except recognizing it's cold and wet.

It also turned out REI was having a rental special last weekend for $5 instead of $20, but despite the price were pretty sure this was something we would not only enjoy once but over and over. So what the hell - we each bought a set from Atlas that came with poles and a bag - plus a one-day Sno-Park pass so we could legally use it. The seminar gave some ideas on places good for beginners, so we chose Trillium Lake.

Sunday was a nice drive up Highway 26 to the Government Camp area. Dry roads, not too much traffic. I think we ended up pulling into the sno-park lot at just before 11, probably setting off down the hill towards the lake just after 11 after getting ourselves situated with layers and into our snowshoes.

The person at REI told us that if you can walk, you can snowshoe. For the most part that's pretty much true, but it did take some time to get used to the wider strides. Our hike started off with a 200-foot downgrade, so that didn't make it the easiest beginning, but we got the hang of it. (By the way - waterproof hiking shoes are an absolute must. Without those snowshoeing would be miserable.)

We took our time, getting mostly passed by people who had obviously done this before and were in better shape, but we made good time. It's about two miles to the lake from the parking lot, with some up and down after the initial descent - all of the rises and falls are smooth though, nothing too steep.

View Down/Up the Trail

There was one weird thing. We were walking towards the lake, about a quarter mile in, and noticed red spots in the snow. It was pretty evident it was blood, but it took us a bit to realize it was in a pattern. What it looked like is a dog - and there were plenty on the trail, so we won't be bringing Ruby - had some kind of cut on it's paw. Closer inspection of the pattern made it clear. Poor pups - he must have cut himself on something or it's also possible something split in his paw because of the cold. Hopefully his owner got that fixed up.

It took us about a little over an hour to get to the lake with frequent breaks. It was pretty busy, with people going both ways on snowshoes, cross country skis, and even just on foot. Well, busy, but it's not like it was cramped or anything like that. Thankfully also the bathroom at the lake was open (literally - the door didn't close, which was fun...or something). We had our lunch there and took some pictures, while also dodging a loud raven. (At least, someone said it was a raven. I have no idea, I just know it didn't sound like a crow.)

The Raven

Unfortunately the top of Mt. Hood was firmly stuck in the clouds when we go there, so all of our pictures show a topless mountain. Who knows, maybe some people are into that.

The Famous Wy'East

View From the Dam

About the time we started our trek back the sun started to come out, which gave us a nice picture of sun rays on the frozen lake. (If you go, please know, it will NOT support your weight. No, I didn't try it.)

Welcome Sunshine!

This was nice - when we got back to the parking lot all the clouds from around the mountain were gone. Oh well.

Beginning of Lonely Trek Back

Speaking of that hike back - it was long. Well, it probably wasn't longer than the hike out, but we were getting tired because apparently a five-mile trek is a bit much for your first time. Also, there was much more uphill - especially the last quarter mile or so - and you know what happens when you are snowswhoeing and you get tired? You don't pick up your feet enough and the crampons on your toes get stuck in the snow when you try and walk. Thankfully neither of us fell, but I came close a couple times.

Mt. Hood - Late Afternoon From the Sno-Park

Overall, it was fun - we just should have gone a shorter distance for the first time out. Both of us ended up with a blister or two on our feet because our shoes were too loose. Not loose in the snowshoe, but our physical foot inside the hiking boot. I think both of us would like to look around for better socks that help fill the shoe, or perhaps maybe even actual snow boots of some kind. We also need new waterproof pants. We both had Columbia waterproof shells we've had for a few years - mine was a tad on the large side. (I mean, yay for me it's too big, but having to stop and pull up my pants every 100 yards was kind of annoying.)

About the only bad thing that happened all day was my sno-park pass apparently glued itself to the inside of my windshield. Now I have to figure out how to clean that off.

Trillium Lake was beautiful. We'll probably go back there sometime on snowshoes, maybe even hike around the lake a bit, but we will definitely go back in the summer. You know, when you can drive that two miles to the around-the-lake trail instead of wearing yourself out getting there. There are also lots of side trails that looked intriguing, but we agreed it's best to check those things out in summer rather than winter. At some point I probably want a GPS too (if you have a suggestion, please leave a comment - much appreciated!).

A View Like This Made It Worth It

Good times - can't wait to go again!

Pac-10 Football: Bowl Aftermath

I've been putting this post off because the bowl season really just bored the hell out of me. Well, that and the Pac-10 made a pathetic showing in the bowl season - definitely not what was expected.

For reference, here is a link back to my bowl picks. I predicted a 6-1 bowl season for the league; instead the Pac-10 was only 2-5. Lucky me, the one loss I picked happened, so after going 52-14 during the season my bowl picks were a pathetic 3-4.

However, in retrospect, what the hell was I thinking?

Las Vegas Bowl

Oregon State looked horrible in this game. They really seemed to act like they didn't care, which is surprising from a Mike Riley team. Perhaps they just couldn't muster enough anger to take out the Civil War loss on BYU - not sure. What I will say is BYU looked pretty dang good.

Poinsettia Bowl

Cal played lackluster as well, but I also think it was the best they could play. I'm not surprised in the least they lost - Utah was also good, so apparently the Mountain West deserves props for having them, BYU, and TCU - but they competed better than Oregon State, that's for sure. Not having Jahvid Best probably didn't make a difference. Good to hear he's going pro after missing half the season with multiple concussions - that should work out well.

Emerald Bowl

Who knew at the time what was going to go down at USC? They also played a little lazy, I think, but Boston College simply wasn't good enough to be on the same field. You have to think Matt Barkley is going to be a lot better next season. Right? Right? Of course, that all depends on if they ever get a coach...

EagleBank Bowl

I thought UCLA would win and they did, but they sure took their time. UCLA had the better talent, but they were inconsistent (as they were all season). Temple put up a fight, but their collapse in the fourth quarter really told the story - they weren't good enough.

Holiday Bowl

I picked Arizona to beat Nebraska and they got blanked 33-0. This is the one I look back on and wonder why did I make that pick?! Nebraska's defense is amazing - led by probable number one pick and Portland product Ndamkuong Suh at defensive end (if he's not #1 someone should be fired) - and Arizona's offense never really was moving consistently this year despite some good weapons. I should have seen Nebraska dominating this game - I apologize to all Cornhusker fans.

Sun Bowl

Stanford should have won this game. They are better than Oklahoma - better than they showed in this game to be sure. Perhaps not having freshman quarterback Andrew Luck made that big of a difference - Oklahoma's D focused on Toby Gerhart and Tavita Pritchard couldn't make them pay. Of course, that's probably how Luck got the job in the first place.

Rose Bowl

This one hurt. Credit must be given where due - Terrelle Pryor made that win for the Buckeyes. He completed passes the Oregon secondary should have knocked down or picked, he broke numerous tackles behind the line of scrimmage, and he had his best overall game as best I can tell. Add to that a poor performance by Jeremiah Masoli - and a Duck team that couldn't catch a pass - and there you go. I still think Oregon wins this game 75% of the time. What's the most maddening is some of those passes Pryor completed - watching from the couch you wonder how the secondary doesn't knock those dead bird lob passes down. Of course, they didn't - not that it should be a surprise to those who watched the Ducks all season - and the Buckeyes converted when it counted. Oh, and apparently Pryor is really, really good.

The Aftermath

That 3-4 record makes me 55-18 on the season, which is nothing to sneeze at to be sure. That's my benchmark - next year I'll do better.

Some thoughts on things happening since the end of the season:

  • Jake Locker stays for his senior year at Washington. This is not good news for the rest of the Pac-10. I expect this team to win at least eight games in 2010.
  • Pete Carroll leaves USC for the Seattle Seahawks. Ouch, Trojan fans. You have to believe sanctions are coming for SC - and they could get hit with a lack of institutional control when you couple the football and men's hoops issues. A lot of people have already turned down the job...it will be interesting to see who they come up with.
  • Mike Riley staying at Oregon State. As soon as Carroll's leaving came up Riley's name became tops on SC's wish list according to reports. Riley was never interested - he wanted to stay in Corvallis until retirement. Be that as it may OSU was on top of things with a three-year contract extension and presumably a decent raise. However, the raise probably wasn't on par with what he would make at SC; he is the lowest-paid coach in the league, while Carroll, I believe, was the highest.
  • Cal's Jahvid Best declares for the 2010 NFL Draft. Good luck with that after all those concussions.
  • SC's Joe McKnight declares for the 2010 NFL Draft. Anyone who drafts him should be fired. Did they learn nothing from how "well" Reggie Bush has done? And believe me, McKnight can't hold a candle to Bush.
  • Oregon running back LaMichael James is going to run track for the Ducks. No idea how this translates to NCAA, but he ran a 10.5 in high school in the 100. Presumably he's faster now, but he might also be heavier. I think more football players should do track.
  • Oregon and Oregon State should be considered the class of the Pac-10 going into the 2010 season. Both teams fought a winner-take-all Civil War for the league championship, and both teams lose very little with regards to seniors. If Ryan Katz can replace Sean Canfield at OSU (and I do believe he will), there is little reason to believe Civil War won't be for the Rose Bowl for the third straight year.
  • Oregon State's schedule sucks. Just for fun the Beavers added a road game at TCU to start off the 2010 season (another team ranked very high this year and losing very few players) to go with a road game at Boise State. Add in a home game with Louisville and that has to be the toughest non-conference schedule in the nation. At least they get Oregon at home. In case you are curious, Boise State is 4, TCU 6, and Oregon 11 in the final AP poll this year. Ouch.

That pretty much wraps up the Pac-10 season...I'm not much for recruiting reports and spring football, so the football posts will be very sporadic between now and August. More room for food posts!


Blue Moon Grand Cru

Usually I pick out my own beers, but I am admittedly a little narrow in my recent choices. If a beer advertises that it has flavors of chocolate, coffee/espresso, malt, I'm usually interested. And there are plenty to choose from, which means I have probably been missing a lot of good stuff.

On Christmas I received a bottle of Blue Moon Brewing's Grand Cru as a host gift from Mom. I had seen Blue Moon at the store but never tried anything from them, and had never heard of this Grand Cru. It's billed as a Belgian style wheat ale brewed with coriander and a couple different flavors of oranges (Valenia and navel). They created this beer specifically in honor of the blue moon on New Year's Eve 2009 and sold the bottle as something to use to help celebrate the evening.

So, what the heck, that's what I did.

Blue Moon also recommended to drink the beer with a slice of orange as a garnish. It just so happened we had ordered a box of oranges from Harvey's Grove in Florida as a bit of a Christmas present to ourselves (and they are excellent!), so I sliced one of those up to use.

First I tried the beer without the orange. First glance shows a very golden beer, towards the lighter side of gold, and a little cloudy - a far cry from the porters and stouts I've had lately to be sure. Blue Moon didn't go light on the orange either; you could smell it when taking a close whiff. First taste didn't actually have much of an orange flavor, though it was in there somewhere. However, the entire sip and swallow had a bright crispiness to it, a very fresh in your face flavor reminiscent of, well, eating an orange.

I like oranges, so that's a good thing. I also enjoyed the crispness of the flavor, rather than waiting for the flavors to develop as one usually does with a darker brew (or maybe it's just me - I have no idea).

After about a quarter of the glass I dropped some skinned tidbits of orange in the glass as well as squeezed out some juice. What happened?

Well, the beer immediately became extremely orangey - which, again, is fine with me but may not be for everyone. I didn't put in nearly enough orange juice to force such a drastic change, so all I can think of is the orange flavor already in the beer only needed the slightest provocation to really stand out.

Stand out it did, very well. The sips with a tidbit of orange in them were even better - almost like an orange-flavored soda without all the high fructose corn syrup, which is a good thing.

Overall this was a good beer - relatively light - for a quiet evening of watching movies and waiting for New Year's. The only thing I didn't do - and probably should have - was go outside to actually see the blue moon (and yes, I know it's not actually blue - or as rare as the saying seems to indicate). Oh well, it was cold outside.

If you like oranges and beer and wondered what they might be like together, definitely check it out. It may not be easy to find anymore though, since it is now 2010. Oh, and be careful - it's 8.5% alcohol.

Would I get it again? Yes, I probably would, if I was in the mood for oranginess in my beer. Admittedly that's not to often, so I think for me it was just a nice fit for that particular point in time.



A few months ago I posted something about a couple pizza places we visited and detailed how I feel about pizza, having spent a couple months in Italy eating the real stuff.

I'm not necessarily someone that has to have authentic Italian pizza to consider it good, but there are key things I do need: fresh ingredients, great crust, and a hot hot hot oven. Now, I loved Apizza Scholls and Ken's Artisan Pizza, but I don't know that I would necessarily call them authentic - close and excellent, but they didn't give me the same Italian experience I remember from Perugia.

Enter Nostrana. This has been near the top of our list for months, and we finally made it there for lunch the other day. The pizza is supposed to be excellent as well as the rest of the food. When you enter Nostrana you don't necessarily get an Italian feel - instead, it seems more like a mountain cabin, with high windows, a cavernous open floor plan, and a huge bar.

Well, until you look to the back and see the wood burning oven:

The Official Nostrana Oven

By the way, did you know some restaurants don't like it when customers take pictures? Wifey asked and Nostrana didn't mind, but apparently some places don't like free advertising on blogs like this. Odd. The only thing I can think of is maybe they don't think everything is their best presentation... I don't necessarily care that much about perfect presentation, but I wouldn't think they'd serve anything that would embarrass them.

And Nostrana did not. Not in any way. First thing we got was some bread and olive oil.

Fresh Bread, Fresh Olive Oil

Good Italian bread is very airy, with a crunchy crust and soft insides - this was perfect. I will also confess to not being much of an olive oil snob, but after this stuff I might change my mind. It was so fresh I could literally taste the freshness of the olives, something I've never gotten in olive oil before. Apparently I shouldn't buy just any olive oil - duly noted for the next shopping trip.

Our first dish was a meatball fettucine with tomato butter sauce, topped with fresh parmigano (apparently Mondays are Meatball Mondays - which probably means grinding up the unused cuts from the weekend, but again, I really don't mind at all).

Meatball Fettucine

This was excellent. The meatballs (which were beef and pork, if I remember correctly) literally melted in your mouth and the noodles were light, not like the thick fettucine you get at American Italian restaurants. And the sauce...wow. I have never had tomato butter sauce before, but it was very, very good.

Secondly, we had to get pizza. We decided on the classic margherita, a simple tomato, basil and mozzarella. Both Wifey and I used to be all about packing pizza with toppings, but recently we've decided we prefer the simplicity of a pizza like this - all the better to enjoy the flavors.

Pizza Margherita

You can see the crust looks properly blackened - it had an excellent crunch in all the right places, but was still soft and pleasing to the tongue. In fact, they served it uncut with scissors, which actually makes it pretty easy to cut. The mozzarella was very fresh - and doesn't it make for nice coloring? - and the fresh basil added just the right touch of "green" flavor.

To be real honest, I could take a bite of this, close my eyes, and imagine myself at a cafe in Perugia, enjoying the warm day and watching shoppers walk by in the main square. If that's not a compliment, I don't know what is.

Nostrana, quite simply, is the best Italian restaurant I've been to in Portland - and the most authentic. (I have not yet been to Genoa, but if you have suggestions on places I should go, by all means leave a comment!)

I'm not going to say the pizza is better than Apizza Scholls or Ken's Artisan though - it's different. It's the most true Italian (you want better? go to Italy), but it all depends on your mood. If you want true Italian, go here. If you just want good pizza, any of the three will do.


The Christmas Dinner Experience

This year for Christmas Wifey and I hosted a small gathering of seven total family members, including ourselves. I think this may have been the first Christmas we had hosted, and it was definitely the first Christmas where we did significant cooking. In fact, we decided what the hell - we'll do it all! No one has to cook! Or maybe it was me deciding that would be no problem - that's a little fuzzy.

Predictably, everyone thought that was a fantastic idea. Even us, at first.

So we (actually, mainly Wifey) scoured the Net for recipes and put together a menu, of which we will share the 2009 My Northwest Experience Christmas Dinner Extravaganza with you here - replete with recipes!

First we had to decide on the main course. We like to be different so the traditional turkey and ham ideas were out. So what to do instead... Wait, I know! How about turducken!

For those of you that don't know, turducken is a de-boned chicken inside a de-boned duck inside a de-boned turkey, and then wrapped all up and tied shut, so it's literally a giant poultry roast. Usually turduckens have layers of stuffing in between the different meats, but ours did not. Some also have the wings and legs of the turkey left on (in addition to the skin), but ours didn't - it was a nice round roast, almost like a pork loin. If you are curious, it was 13 pounds and $55 - we bought it locally at Ponderosa Meats (a place I have mentioned before we visit often for meat) where the butcher puts it together himself (I think).

Cooking the turducken was easy. We simply put it in a V-roasting pan, scattered some veggies and olive oil in the bottom, covered with foil, then cooked it for 3.5 hours. Then we uncovered it and roasted it for another 1.5 hours, until it was 165 degrees inside. The roasting actually was done on Christmas Eve; on Christmas Day we put gravy made from the turducken drippings in the bottom of a pan and roasted the sliced roast for another 1.5 hours. Here is the result:

Fresh From the Oven

After Getting the Slice

A Closer Look - the chicken layer is clear in the middle

Don't get me started on the gravy. We made something like 10 things in two days, spending about 20 hours in the kitchen, and gravy was the hardest thing to make. Believe it or not, we weren't expecting that (though after sharing this comment with others, they smile and nod knowingly).

The most common question I get was how did it taste? Well, um, it tasted like...turkey. The chicken gets overpowered by the other two birds, and while the duck part is a little moister and a bit fattier, generally the whole thing tastes like turkey. I think if there had been the layers of stuffing the different meats would have been more pronounced. When we do this again - and we will - I think we'll order one online from a place in the heart of crazy turducken territory: New Orleans. Then we can see if it's different.

All in all we were very pleased with it.

Now, whenever you cook bird for a meal you have to have stuffing, right? We decided to do something a little different and found this recipe for Bacon, Onion and Rye Bread stuffing. Neither of us eat rye bread on its own, but when it's in something (and has bacon!) or with a strong meat and cheese on a sandwich, it's a good complimentary flavor.

Our rye was just a fresh loaf from the New Seasons bakery and putting this together was a cinch (no pictures of this one, because it was done just before dinner and it was really crazy at the time). The flavors were excellent - everything worked together. In fact, I might make this just for fun it was so good.

Always at a holiday meal you need potatoes, right kids? Again, we wanted to step outside the box a tad, so we opted for this Herbed Potato Gratin with Roasted Garlic and Manchego. We roasted the garlic heads first, which filled the kitchen with that wonderful roasting garlic smell (hey, give me a break, it's the Italian blood - I love that smell!) and the rest of putting this together was fairly easy. We were not able to find the San Simon cheese (not exactly sure what it is) but did get a nice aged Manchego (from Spain, of course) and a smoked Gouda from Whole Foods.

One key to making this a successful dish I will point is be very careful with how you stack the sliced potatoes. If you are like me and like to be fast, it won't turn out as well because the potatoes end up stacked too tightly, then they don't cook evenly. Place them in the dish one slice at a time, making sure it's even. Yes, it takes longer, but it's worth it. Here is how it turned out:

Fresh From the Oven

We actually put the whole dish together the day before, then all we had to do was bake it on Christmas Day. I grew up not being an au gratin fan, but it turns out cheese and garlic makes everything better.

Of course, you also need vegetables. Depending on your point of view the potatoes may take care of that - maybe, maybe not. We opted for this Creamy Spinach with Smoked Gouda. It's basically boiled spinach mixed with a fantastically rich Smoked Gouda Bechamel sauce, then topped with bread crumbs and broiled. Does that sound easy to make? Good, because it was. And it was fantastic.

Again, no pics, because this was the absolutely last thing we did before serving dinner. I'm not sure weaving in all that bechamel into the spinach leaves it still qualifying as a vegetable dish, but it was damn good.

We also served a baguette from Little T American Baker with some extra roasted garlic and a creamy cheese (the name of which escapes me), plus the standard appetizer faire of carrots, celery, pineapple, and sliced Florida oranges (from Harvey's Groves and fantastic).

Never Can Have Too Much Garlic

Of course all of this food needs a little something to wash it down with, so we served a pinot noir from Ponzi Vineyards, which is very close by. We were going to go with white because we thought white went with poultry, but Food and Wine Magazine (you know, where we got all the recipes) convinced us otherwise. Did it work? Not entirely sure, but it is one of the few pinot noirs I've actually liked, for whatever that's worth.

We also made eggnog - real, homemade eggnog. I'd never had this stuff until this year, just whatever was in the grocery store. I liked that - Wifey doesn't - but we had no idea what we were missing. I read an article about making eggnog in Mix Magazine and then we tried it at Coffeehouse Northwest, where they had a warm one for the holidays. That was amazing and the tastes are absolutely nothing like the grocery store offerings, so I decided I want to make it.

After digging through a bunch of recipes I settled on this one by the Food Network's Alton Brown. I didn't want one that was super heavy on the liquor - some called for as much as 8 ounces just of alcohol! - because I like the nogginess (my blog, my words). This one seemed like a nice balance - and it turned out amazing.

The first time we made it (I think we are up to fivetimes now) we followed the recipe to the letter. I bought a bottle of Maker's Mark bourbon and we did the egg whites at the end. It was still a little strong, and why became obvious when I noticed the Maker's Mark is 90 proof, not 80. Oh well. I also used a little too much of the fresh nutmeg.

The egg whites whipped in at the end made the whole thing a little lumpy and I don't think they added anything to the flavor. The second time we made it without alcohol, no egg whites, and no nutmeg - thinking we could add nutmeg and alcohol to each individual glass. Online it mentioned homemade eggnog is best with dark rum, so we made another liquor store run and came back with a bottle of Myer's Dark Rum.

This one was much more smooth without the egg whites and adding the liquor into each glass worked well - we taste tested with the Meyer's, the Maker's Mark, Bacardi golden rum, Jim Beam bourbon, and Rogue's Hazelnut rum. (And yes, the taste test that brought us to that conclusion was a lot of fun - thanks for asking!) As recommended, our favorite was the dark rum, so good call internet. The drawback was not using the nutmeg in the cooking process - it left the nog missing something.

The third time we cooked with the nutmeg, again leaving the liquor out for individual glasses and completely disregarded the egg whites (I guess those are good for eating anyway, all healthy and the like since I'm drinking tons of whole fat eggnog). This was perfect.

Homemade Eggnog - It's Awesome!

It's also fairly easy - just takes a little time - and fun. I mean, taste testing with an array of liquor is always fun, right?

Now it's time for desert. Noticing we hadn't really had fruit involved in the meal yet, we opted for this Poached Pear and Brown Butter Tart. We had never poached anything, so that was something new.

As it turns out, poaching fruit is amazing. The combination used in this recipe - cloves, vanilla (we used paste), Riesling, sage, cinnamon stick, and sugar - made the entire house just smell heavenly. We also poached an extra pear just to eat by itself, which was a revelation on its own. In fact, if we had had room in the fridge I would have saved this liquid to drink later - it was that good.

Here is the final product:


The grated orange is what really made the dish, in my mind. The crust cooked well and the pears - with all their poached flavors - were really drawn out by the orange. The tart wasn't overly sweet, wasn't overly fruity, and just had a perfect amount of balance. This recipe is a definite keeper.

But you can't have desert without chocolate, right? Of course not, that's why we made Salted Fudge Brownies as well. These were a snap to put together and the Maldon sea salt really added a perfect compliment to the thick chocolate.

We also did these Chocolate Mint Thumbprint Cookies, which were very good. We used Andes for the mint chocolate, and I think a Ghirardelli chocolate bar for the bittersweet chocolate. We also made Zebra brownies (regular brownies - recipe from King Arthur flour - swirled with a sweetened cream cheese mixture - here from Pillsbury).

Plate of Goodies

Close Up of the Goodies

I think everyone liked it - I know we did. I also made the joke that people should be checking their diets at the door for this meal. I have no idea how many calories it was, but I know we went through quite a bit of eggs, heavy whipping cream, whole milk, and cheese. And in my mind, those are all very, very good things.

Would I do it all again? Honestly, I'm not sure - it was a hell of a lot of work, a lot of standing on the feet in the kitchen. We have a hardwood floor - apparently we need to get the rubberized floors to cushion the feet a bit more. I think it was fun having full control over the menu, but next time might be a little more potluck-y. Maybe sometime in the future we'll forget how much work it was and offer to do it all again. Maybe.