Forest Park Benefit Picnic

All the time in Portland there are these great events to raise money for this or that involving a few top chefs and great beer and wine. We've wanted to attend one, but they are usually pretty expensive - $50/person and up - and it's hard to justify the costs without really having any idea what you get. (Yes, sure, we could go for the charity aspect, but I fully admit I rarely give that kind of money. For anything.)

However, Portland Monthly Magazine put on an event this past Sunday called A Picnic for Forest Park to raise money for the park. Food was from the chefs at Ned Ludd, Simpatica and Boke Bowl; drinks from Widmer, Ninkasi, Henry Weinhard's, Wine by Joe, Torii Mor, and Archery Summit; and treats from Petunia's Bakery, Oregon Ice Works and Sol Pops.

We like the park - we take Misaki hiking there sometimes - and the lineup of food sounded great, but the best part was the price: $17 advance tickets. That couldn't be bad, right?

It most surely was not.


We arrived just before opening (via Max - more on that later) near the entrance of Portland's World Forestry Center across the parking lot from the Oregon Zoo. The charcoal grills were already going, so we took some pictures. (As always, click on the pic to get a larger version.)

The cooks - from bottom to top, Ned Ludd, Simpatica, Boke Bowl.

Close up of Ned Ludd's grill.

Simpatica's grill, with Boke Bowl's in the background.

Our first dish came from Boke Bowl. Wifey and I hit up this pop-up restaurant - planning a brick and mortar location soon - when they took over Yakuza in Northeast Portland a couple months ago and had some outstanding ramen and other food. No ramen today, but plenty of other good stuff.

In the picture below from the 12:00 position going clockwise is: miso butterscotch "twinkie", green onion grilled rice cake, grilled char siu pork belly with pickled mustard sauce, grilled smoked tofu with ginger soy, pickled cucumbers/carrots/red peppers, kim chee, and warm asparagus/mango/cauliflower/arugula/tofu croutons with a Thai vinaigrette in a sno-cone.

Sampling from Boke Bowl

All of it was excellent - we went back for seconds on the twinkie, pork belly, rice cake and tofu. Miso butterscotch may sound a little odd, but it's fantastic.

Next up a sample from Ned Ludd and Simpatica, while we waited for Simpatica to cook up more chicken.

Wrap from Ned Ludd, the rest from Simpatica.

Simpatica's (one of our favorite restaurants) offering included grilled chicken thighs (flavored with paprika, marjoram and lemon), baked beans with pork and green chiles, and roasted corn on the cob tossed in chili basil butter. The beans were outstanding and the corn had great flavor, though since it's not quite corn season in the Northwest it could be better. In the glass in the picture below is Widmer's Citra Blonde Summer Brew, which was just okay - very citrusy. (We also tried wines from all three wineries and didn't really like any of them, but that doesn't mean anything. We aren't experts by any means.)

Sampling from Simpatica

Ned Ludd's chef offered up chili-rubbed grilled skirt steak, summer salad, slow cooked black beans with pulled pork, and toasted tortillas. All of this is very good, which only confirms in my own mind that we really need to visit Ned Ludd for dinner at some point.

Ned Ludd samples.

We also tried all sorts of treats. The picture below shows samples of Strawberry and Lemon from Oregon Ice Works. They are Italian ices, which are different from sorbets in some subtle way I'm not real clear on. They were solid, but I don't think I'd go out of my way for them. We also tried the Vanilla Coconut, which we both enjoyed but agreed it was an ice cream tease.

Oregon Ice Works.

From Sol Pops we tried the Stumptown Coffee and the Mango Lime, both of which were good but shouldn't be tasted together. Just saying. Somewhere along the way I ended up with a glass of Ninkasi's Radiant Ale, a very hoppy brew that didn't go very well with any of the food.

And lastly, we tried almost everything Petunia's Bakery had to offer (and nommed it all before remembering I had the camera in my pocket). Cowgirl cookies, peanut butter crispy bars, peach vanilla hazelnut babycakes (mini cupcakes - frozen bit of peach inside!), and chocolate banana peanut butter babycakes. All of these were absolutely fantastic which surprised me, honestly. Why?

They were all vegan (and gluten-free). We have avoided vegan baked goods like the plague on principal, but each and every one of these was absolutely excellent. I won't say we are converts, but definitely more open to the possibilities.


For some reason I'm really not clear on, there was a petting zoo. Maybe just to keep the kids busy? All of them were so patient with the kids yanking on them and petting (smacking) them. This alpaca here wins an award. Some kid piled cedar chips on his head and the alpaca just sat there quietly. Someone tried to brush them off, but they were still stuck in his fur.

And goats!

And a donkey!

Okay, so the donkey didn't look all that thrilled.


Overall it seemed like a well-run event and everyone seemed quite pleased with the food. Some were also overly pleased with the beer and wine.

Very, very, very satisfied. So satisfied in fact that even though we left, stuffed, just before two in the afternoon we didn't eat again until breakfast Monday morning. That's not good nutrition, but whatever.

We'd absolutely do it again next year. For the amount and quality of the food, $17 is a great deal. Plus, yay Forest Park!


I have to rant just a tiny, tiny bit here. Since the event was up by the zoo and started at noon, parking there wasn't even an option. On any weekend, even with bad weather, you have to get to the Oregon Zoo before it opens to count on a parking spot up there, and Sunday was a fantastic weather day, clear with temperatures in the mid-eighties.

So, being good Portlanders, we decided to take MAX from out in Beaverton. Normally we drive everywhere because I'm not a fan of public transportation (see, normally bad Portlanders...), but this seemed like a good time to use the service. The train was fine, the people were fine, but I have one little complaint: the cost.

For the two of us to travel about six-seven miles down the line to the Oregon Zoo stop and back (for all-day tickets since we were there over two hours), it cost $9.50. Now, perhaps that's the true cost of the service, which is fine, but why should I use this service when it's almost the price of three gallons of gas? That gets me 75 miles of driving or so, in any direction I choose.

So why exactly would I use public transportation? Yes, sure, with the all-day ticket I could ride from Gresham to Hillsboro to the airport to Clackamas Town Center if I chose, but why would I? To me public transportation only has value if the cost at least comparable to driving my own car. If it's not, why would I choose it when the options it offers are limited? (No matter what anyone tells you, Tri-Met in Portland does NOT go everywhere. Many places, but not everywhere.)

I'll keep my car, thanks.


A Writer "Moment"

I'm not the kind of person who tends to toot their own horn, especially around people I don't know very well or at all. When people ask me what I do I inevitably tell them about the day job, the one paying the bills, and leave it at that.

Rarely do I mention my second job - online news writing and editing - because I figure most people really don't care anyway. Which is true, they probably don't, but even if they did my point is I wouldn't bring it up without prodding.

I sure as hell don't broadcast that I am writing a book (I save that for between me and you here on the blog, because who could see it, right?). That brings up honest questions from people I never know how to answer, if I even know the answer. I don't know where this is going or how it will get there or any of that, and to be honest I haven't thought too far ahead because I'm more worried about the steps I can control.

You know, write the damn thing first, then worry about the agent/publisher/book tour/how to spend millions. Or something like that.

So I find it hard to identify myself as a writer because of that. To me a writer is someone who gets paid to write, which isn't quite where I am at the moment. To me it's a place I'd like to be, but I don't have the resume to back up the claim.

But today, I had a moment.

Yesterday I finished the second draft of my novel. I added something like 40 pages and 12,000 words to the second draft, incorporating seven more chapters, another minor storyline, and another character's point of view (this was already multi-POV). For a class I am taking about structure my instructions were to then print out the full story and approach it like a reader would (as best as possible knowing what will happen next and knowing the background of the characters that doesn't get put on the pages).

To that end I dumped the 300 page Word document onto a flash drive and stopped by FedEx Office (apparently Kinko's isn't in the name anymore and will live only in my memory) to print there, so I didn't burn through a full ink cartridge on my tiny home laser printer. After it was printed ($32?! Are you kidding me?! You know how many e-books I can buy for that?!) the woman helping me brought it to the counter for my approval. Another customer standing next to me, being helped by another employee, turned to me and said:

"Oh, wow, did you write a book?!"

My first instinct here was to brush it off, to just smile and let the moment pass, and for a split-second I almost did.

But you know what? Then I thought, "Fuck it. I DID write a book. I am PROUD of the fact I WROTE A BOOK. So yes, I did."

Out loud I said this: "I did." And smiled politely.

"That's so amazing!"

"Well, it's just a draft..."

"That's way more than I have ever done. That's great!"

Then the employee helping me weighed in: "The most I've ever written is a couple poems. That IS amazing."

Now I'm just embarrassed and want to spend my $32 and leave, but at the same time part of me is pretty damn proud. I am a writer.

It's funny, I just read this post yesterday evening by young adult writer Kiersten White (author of Paranormalcy - good read - and next-week release Supernaturally) on inkpop.com and she talked about what made her think of herself as a writer. She lists four things she felt made her an actual writer, but the one that resonates most with me - right now at least - is the fourth one about giving yourself permission.

This, for me, was the most important stage leading up to hitting the next level in my writing. Before, I'd always treated it as a hobby. Something that I did for fun in my spare time. I'd only talk about it if people pressed me, if they specifically asked, and even then I kind of brushed it off dismissively ... Because if I didn't claim to be serious about it, if I didn't admit how much I loved it and how big a goal getting published was, if I didn't CLAIM to be a writer, then it wouldn't matter if I failed.

Yes, yes, and more yes. She nailed it. That, I think, is a little bit why I feel the way I do.

Well guess what? Maybe I don't feel that way anymore. Or maybe I'm at least on the road to being more confident.

Published writers all, when they talk about their journey, discuss "moments" along the way that told them they could do this in a big-time way. Maybe this is one of mine, and 10-15 years from now I can look back on this, point at it, and say there. That's when it all began to change.

Crazier things have happened.


No, My Dog Is Not For Sale

Yesterday Wifey and I took Misaki for a walk around the neighborhood and to the local park, like we try and do daily. Usually we don't run into anyone, but on this day there were three girls, probably about 9-13 (I'm horrible at estimating, so give that a +/- of 5), who saw her from the other side of the street.

We could hear them talking about Misaki from a ways away, with one of them saying "That looks like a fox!" and then another one saying the same thing.

"I already said that."

Oh lord. Predictably the girls crossed the street and then asked if they could pet Misaki. At least they asked first. The following conversation actually happened.

Girl 1: Your dog looks like a fox!
I just smiled.
Girl 2: Can we pet your dog?
Girl 3: Can we pet your fox?
Me: Sure, you can pet her.
Girl 1: Wait, is it really a fox?!
Me, incredulous: No, she's a dog.

Quick aside: How many suburbanites have ever seen a fox? I'm guessing not many at all. Yet still, every time we go out people crack jokes about how Misaki looks like a fox. Really? Could you pick a fox out of a lineup of Shibas? Where do people run across foxes in everyday life? I grew up in a rural area outside of Portland and saw a fox exactly once, early on a very cold morning, and even then it was in a field far away from people. I blame Disney.

They pet her, oohing and ahhing. Misaki loves the attention, gladly allowing herself to be loved up by three erratic young girls at the same time. One of them, the youngest I think, put her face up to Misaki's muzzle and looked her straight in the eye, which was right about the time we decided it was time to go. Apparently no one has ever taught these girls how to be around a dog. Hell, I wouldn't do that with most dogs ever, let alone dogs I don't know. (Misaki I do, but she's the sweetest thing ever.)

Then the following exchange also really happened.

Girl 2: Can I buy your dog? This is my new dog.
Me: Um, no...
Girl 2: How much would you sell your dog for? I'll buy your dog.
Me, getting the hell out of there: She's not for sale

First off, crazy girl, you can't afford her. I'm pretty sure you don't have a million dollars socked away in a drawer. Secondly, who DOES that? Just tries to buy a dog from someone off the street?

I suppose I could blame the parents, but I don't think I can because they probably don't know any better. Hard to teach something to kids you don't understand or do yourself, I'm guessing (I don't have kids, so I'm hardly a reliable resource on the subject). The parents would probably do the same thing in the same situation.

So someone, somewhere, at some point decided this was acceptable practice. That person is insane.

Yes, you can pet my dog. She's a sweetheart. If she weren't, I'd tell you no (we usually told people no with Ruby). Please keep your face away from hers.

And don't ask me is she's for sale or intimate in any way you want to take her. That's rude...and really, really creepy.


What Really Scares Me

I have a confession to make: vampires don't scare me. Neither do ghosts, werewolves, zombies, or pretty much anything in the paranormal realm. It doesn't matter if the character/being is being spun at me all sparkly and with feelings by Stephanie Meyer or with fangs dripping blood bent only on imminent in something concocted by the crazy mind of Stephen King.

It doesn't scare me because it's not real. I don't believe in the existence of any of these things/beings outside our own imaginations, so how could I be scared of them?

That's not to say I completely discount their possible existence. Who knows? The world is a crazy place and unexplained occurrences happen all the time, so maybe at some point I will be shown some kind of proof, but until then I'm just as happily agnostic about the paranormal as I am in the existence of a higher power.

Some say there is crossover between the two; I don't want to get into that.

I just can't find myself getting scared by this genre in a book or a movie. Sure, I may get bothered or shocked out of my skin, but scared? Nope. (This is not an invitation to the world to go out of your way to scare the shit out of me. That would just be rude.)

What does scare me is scenarios with truth in them. A time and place where something happens to a person and I think, hey, I could see that happening to me. And what would I do in that situation?

Getting caught in the middle of a store robbery.

Getting in a car wreck with a drunk driver.

Being stuck on a plane with malfunctioning engines.

Finding myself as one of the unfortunate pieces of collateral damage in a terrorist attack.

Stuck in the crossfire between two gangs in an urban neighborhood.

Wrongfully accused of something and being unable to prove it.

Losing my job and running out of money.

THAT shit scares me. THOSE are the kinds of things that keep me up at night.

The late night ringing of the doorbell.

This one actually happened a few weeks back. Wifey and I were in the office, her studying and me working on the novel, about 9:30 or 10 at night, when the doorbell rang. Odd. Who rings a doorbell that late? That's never good, right? Misaki didn't even bark, just looked down the hallway towards the stairs and then back at us.

After debating for a couple seconds, I decided to answer the door. "Be careful," Wifey called as I walked down the stairs.

Think about that for a minute. We are sitting in our own house, minding our business, and the simple action of a doorbell ringing after dark necessitates a reminder to be careful. What does that say? And yes, I was a little freaked out. Should I grab a knife from the kitchen, just in case? Do I even open the door?

I debated this as I walked down the stairs. Then I did what most people do in these situations: I chose to believe the 99% probability this would be completely harmless. That other 1%, though, is where I get totally freaked out about.

I answered the door after flipping on the porch light and a man, who had made it back to the sidewalk at this point, hurried back to my door. I tensed, unsure what to expect, until I recognized his face as my neighbor. Then I relaxed, mostly (not completely - we don't know them that well), and asked what was up.

"I have to tell you something," he said. Um, really? Now? Okay, what?

Neighbor proceeded to point out a house just up the street on the next corner, a house with a family I don't know, and said that a couple days before - he just found this out - the mom woke up early in the morning, about 5ish, and went to the kitchen to make some breakfast. She saw a man in her backyard. Here Neighbor made a point to say the man didn't belong there, but in my mind I'm thinking well, what man does belong in any backyard at 5am?

The man saw her and ran off. She didn't get a good look at his face and had no description, but a patrol car did come out and take a statement, then pledging to up patrols in the area a bit.

The end result of this story had Neighbor urging us to keep our doors locked and our eyes open. He thought we should know. I said thank you, I appreciated that, and didn't say I was more freaked out by the doorbell ringing late than this story.

But it is disconcerting, to say the least. Backyards are not secure by any means. When you really think about it, neither are houses. Or cars. Or really much of anything. Locked doors are more of a deterrent than they are really about keeping the bad people out, the presumption being why make it easy for them, and if it's not easy, they will look elsewhere.

But this, this is the shit that scares me. The little bits of every day life that could so easily go horribly wrong. Or the events with a broader impact, like a terrorist attack, and getting stuck in the middle of a fight I have no dog in (which, really, is a horrible, horrible phrase - dogfighting? really? that's a metaphor?) and being forced to deal with the situation in the way I best know how, which may not be very good at all.

In the story I have written, part of the main sequence of events is under the control of the main characters, but the biggest flashpoint of the story is not - they are forced to react with something they never saw coming and go from there. To me the story is not necessarily in the event itself, though the events are fun to write and work through, but in how a given set of characters reacts to those events.

For me, a story will always begin with the phrase "What if....?" and go from there. Maybe it's an exercise in learning about myself, about preparing myself for the unexpected, or maybe it's simpler than that. Or more complicated. Or simply just is.

I do know that this is the shit that keeps me up at night. This is the shit that scares the holy hell out of me when I think about it too much, too deeply.

Vampires and werewolves? That's just entertainment.


Oreos Aren't Just For Kids

I'm probably not the only one in the world who grew up loving Oreos. They were one of the few packaged things Mom would buy, and even then not very often. When we went camping we always bought them and I ate more than my fair share.

When I went to college my roommates and I would scarf down an entire package in a sitting (no, this had nothing to do with munchies - just cause they were yummy).

But diets change and Oreos - with their highly processed ingredients and high fructose corn syrup - just aren't worth the calories anymore. I thought I would never get them again.

That is, until we found this awesomeness:

These are made in Portland by a baker who goes by Miss Zumstein. They are roughly 3-4 times the size of a traditional Oreo and about 75 times yummier. Hard to beat that, isn't it?

We found these at Heart Coffee Roasters on East Burnside and while the price - $1.50 each - seemed steep, we tried it anyway. Worth. Every. Cent. And I'd pay more. Obviously, for legal reasons, she cannot call them Oreos - instead they are simply "Chocolate Sandwich Cookies." Personally I would have gone for "Sweet Awesomeness on a Plate" but I can appreciate the restraint shown in the naming.

Heart no longer carries them, but Miss Zumstein's products can be found locally at Pastaworks, Extracto, The Daily Cafe, and others. Or you can, like we did, order them by the dozen over the phone (she also ships) and pick them up at her place on North Williams, by Tasty & Sons and Hopworks Bike Bar.

Look at that...don't you just want a bite?!

So why did we order a full dozen? Well, some of them are going into the blender for the next batch of ice cream: Mocha Madness, a recipe we found via King Arthur Flour.

I have a hunch it will be awesome. And even if it's not, we still have plenty of these grown up Oreos to munch. Oops, I mean Sweet Awesomeness on a Plate.