Archive for May, 2008

Amtrak’s Washington bias

Now, I don’t want to become the “alternative transportation and cooking writer” here at PDX Metblogs, but hey, it’s what I pay attention to. The boyfriend and I are heading up to Vancouver, BC this weekend, and we’re going by train. I took the train a lot when I was a kid to visit my dad, but I am sad to say that I haven’t ridden Amtrak since I was at least 14. My last train ride, in fact, was in France in 2004. I absolutely love train travel, and since the last town I lived in had no passenger rail service, I was extremely excited to find out that a train goes all the way from here to Canada!

Oh, how I was mistaken. Oh, yes, there is a train that goes from here to BC, but it stops overnight in Seattle. The one and only train to Vancouver leaves from Seattle early in the morning and the only train from Vancouver leaves too late in the afternoon to take it all the way through to Portland. So we’re stuck taking the Amtrak bus on the Seattle-Vancover trip and back again, which I wasn’t too pleased to find out. Since Amtrak is really pushing the Cascades line, they included a free “companion pass” in the fantastic Chinook Book, which is actually why I purchased the darned thing anyway (though all in all, it has been awesome). My beef: Since the train does not go all the way to Vancouver from Eugene (where the Cascades line starts), the coupon in the book does not cover the entire route. The furthest one can go and use the coupon (in Oregon) is from Eugene to Seattle, and I really haven’t a need to go to Seattle. After finding out that the fare with the coupon is the exact same as the fare without the coupon (because of the way they bill the bus and train rides separately with the coupon in use), I’m keeping the savings for the next time we decide to take the train to Eugene (erm…). Thus, I call shenanigans on Amtrak. Why have a coupon marketed mostly to the Portland market (in the Portland Chinook Book) when it’s only useful to travel in a 3-hour radius, whereas the coupon offered in the Seattle-based Chinook Book would cover the full Cascades train lines?

All Buttered Up

regular butterThis has perplexed me for 10 years, but obviously never enough to really look into the matter… until now. So for what seems to be a relatively unknown reason – in Oregon, Washington, California and Arizona – sticks of butter are shaped oddly. I’ve been here long enough that I forget about it now, until we’re watching some cooking show where she says – use half a stick of butter – and we see her cut from the long skinny stick.

Western Stubby butterI noticed almost immediately when I moved here that the butter was shaped strangely. These short sticks (called a Western Stubby) are half the length of a normal stick, but what I didn’t realize, is that they’re also fatter. So my assumption was that they were half the size of a normal stick. And when I would read recipes, especially those from my mom or friends back in the Midwest, I would think I needed to double the butter – if it said use a half-stick, I’d need to use a whole stick since mine were now half the size – no wonder some of that stuff didn’t come out quite right! Today I actually looked it up – and they are the same weight, just a different shape.

And since 46 of the 50 states use the long-skinny kind, that’s what other ‘butter related’ items are made for. Like why boxes of butter don’t fit very well in the refrigerator butter door, or why there’s so much wasted space in the butter dish (or in some cases, that the lid actually hits the butter.) ‘Cause the sticks are oddly shaped!

I guess it’s one more thing keeping Portland (and the rest of the west coast) weird! I’m just glad I now know that it’s not my cooking that made my mom’s fabulous apple crisp taste weird – it was too much butter!

Michale Graves – Friday at Hawthorne Theater Balcony

Michale Graves is castor oil to hipsters. Strike one – he had the audacity to replace Glen Danzig in a reformed Misfits during the 90’s. Strike two – his fame has come largely through the “horror punk” movement – not exactly the first choice in music for the hip ones. Strike three – he openly supported George W. Bush during the 2004 election.

Well, I’m here to tell you that the hipsters are wrong – Michale Graves is cool and you should go see him this Friday. Yes, he fronted a Danzig-less, reformed Misfits during the mid to late 90s. He also wrote a lion’s share of the material, much of which is pretty good. And if Jerry Only came to you, a 19 year old kid, and asked you to front the Misfits, would you say no?

Yes, he came to fame by playing “horror punk”. For those not familiar with the formula, it largely involves wearing black, face paint, and singing about things like bats, zombies, and vampires. Done badly, it’s embarrassing. Done right, it’s a blast – the musical version of watching a 1950’s B-movie. Graves did it right.

Yes, he supported George Bush in 2004. Last time I checked, it was okay to disagree on some things. Some people may be willing to discredit someone’s artistic output because they’re not okay with who they put a checkbox next to in the ballot box. I’m not one of those people.

Finally, the guy has managed to release some varied and very interesting material since leaving the Misfits in 2000. The first album (“Web of Dharma”) was, perhaps, the perfect coda to the 1990’s “alternative” era. It’s one of the best albums that nobody’s ever heard. If you manage to find a copy, I highly recommend picking it up. Graves followed up with “Gotham Road” (an interesting mix of melody and crushing heavy metal), “Punk Rock is Dead” (a swaggering return to the “new Misfits” sound and a pointed “f you” to detractors), and “Return to Earth” (an honest but hit and miss attempt to broaden his sound). The latest, (“Illusions”) is a largely acoustic collaboration with Damien Echols of the West Memphis Three.

Graves’ albums have been either self-releasing or released through small labels for the better part of a decade now, but he’s still somehow able to launch national tours on an almost yearly basis. And no former Misfit (with the exception of Glen Danzig) has released such a prolific and varied output. Graves really marches to the beat of his own drummer. And what’s more indie than that?

Going Postal for Hunger

So are you bummin’ over the thought of your sushi getting more expensive because of the rice shortage? Or maybe you’ve canceled a summer vacation – like we did – because the cost of flying/driving is just ridiculous? Sucks.

This recession we are in hits everyone differently – and I may whine about the price of airline tickets or fresh salmon, but I’m not worried about feeding myself or my family – and as we all know for a lot of Oregonians that’s a more than real problem. Tomorrow when they deliver your mail – your postal carrier will also be collecting canned goods and other non-perishables as part of the USPS’ Stamp Out Hunger program. We had a plastic bag delivered with our mail yesterday to place food in for our carrier to pick up, but even if you didn’t simply put out canned goods next to your mailbox prior to your mail delivery tomorrow and they will take them.

It’s so easy. If everyone put out even one can of beans or box of macaroni think how many people that would feed.

Deschutes in the Pearl

Now, unless you’ve been living under a rock (or not in Portland, I guess), you know that Deschutes opened their highly anticipated brewery and pub in the Pearl last week. Not wanting to go right on opening weekend, the boyfriend and I headed over on Tuesday evening after some shopping downtown and were greeted with a thriving crowd. We enjoyed some (now even more) locally brewed libations while waiting for our Olive Garden-esque pager to go off, signaling a vacated table, just for us. The place is HUGE, and by HUGE I mean really, really, really big. The indoor d├ęcor feels very Scottish with tartan carpets and lots of wood, and though the area is very open and tall, it doesn’t overwhelm due to the placement of separators (wainscoting, really) cordoning off sections of the floor. We were signaled after 25 of our expected 45-minute wait and were ushered to a table near the middle of the restaurant. We made sure the beer kept coming (enjoying new Portland-only brews as well as some old favorites) and ordered some food.

This is where the story gets interesting, kids – I had been reading all these reviews that there is some really good food at Deschutes – if so, I didn’t get much of it. I wanted to try the Elk Burger (being a game and a burger fan – not much there to go wrong), but instead went with the Cuban sandwich with a salad. The boyfriend ordered the fish and chips. The food was out incredibly quickly (though brought out by a different server, a pet peeve of mine, and without our requested sides), but when I bit into my Cuban, I was left wanting. It was okay, but it wasn’t really that good – the different meat tastes got lost in the saltiness of the corned beef, and the pepper tasted, well, from a tin. The bottom bread was soaked through with the moisture from the pepper, whereas the top slice was nicely browned and crispy. The salad was okay – just standard spring mix with a side of bleu cheese dressing (large hunks of actual bleu cheese were appreciated).

As we often do, the boyfriend and I stopped at our halfway points and swapped plates. Biting into the fish was a lovely crispy experience, but it seemed like the coating wasn’t “traditional” fish and chip coating and something more like Japanese panko. While it does provide a good crust, it just isn’t “fish and chips” to me without a proper wet coat before frying. It also seemed like maybe both the fries and the fish were fried at a slightly lower than standard tempurature, as the fries had taken on a lot of oil, and the fish was slightly flatish on one side and greasy on the bottom. The tartar sauce served was tasty, but there was no vinegar brought out (and we forgot to ask). The fries were the one saving grace – even though they were on the greasy side, they must fry them in something other than the standard cheapo soybean oil, because the flavor was fantastic. We eat our fries with mayonnaise, and these went perfectly together. They tasted like real potatoes (not re-formed starch), and we ate every single one of them.

All in all, go to Deschutes for the beer, and continue testing the food. It could have been an off night, but I checked with 3 others who visited the new pub within the last week who had the same experience. I’ll go back, of course, and try the elk burger (especially if the fries are that good consistently), and beer beer beer, the fantastic beer. Lovely glorious beer.


Atmosphere: 7/10
Service: 7/10
Food: 5/10 (the fries upped the average a good 1.5 points)
Did I mention the beer?: 10/10

Deschutes Portland Pub and Brewery

210 NW 11th Avenue
(503) 296-4906

Where have all the flowers gone?

Yesterday I saw some maintenance workers in front of a business digging up all of the beautiful yellow and white flowers planted in front of their building. They were just tossing all of the plants into a garbage can, that I assume will just be recycled, it didn’t look like they were being careful enough with the plants for them to be transplanted anywhere.

This morning I drove by the same business and looked – there were new, different flowers planted there.

Now I don’t know much about gardening, so I’m not sure what they are, but the plants that were being dug up and tossed away – looked very much like what we’ve got growing along the boulevard in front of our house. They’re small, ground cover flowers – almost like on a low bush, they’ve been in bloom for quite some time now – and if I remember correctly from last year, will stay in bloom for awhile. We do nothing with them – they just come back every year – and have spread out a bit which is great for where they’re at in our yard.

So is it normal practice for businesses to just dig up perfectly good plants and throw them away so that they can change them out? And then they’ll maybe do the same next year and put back in what was there before because of seasonality? Do the companies that do landscaping and yard work at business every keep those plants and offer them to the public? Maybe they wouldn’t be any good, but it just seems like such a waste to me.

Growth is here to stay, get over it

Yesterday the Los Angeles City Council passes an ordinance limiting the size of houses and remodels on residential small lots. These behemoths are also known as mcmansions and pretty much every major city has to deal with them. In the past year or so many cities have placed restrictions on house size in certain neighborhoods in an effort to preserve the character and keep the peace among residents.

Curious to know what Portland is doing or has done about the threat of steroid-sized homes, I started doing some research. While it seems the most threatening building type in Portland proper is the skinny house, which is actually a decent solution to infill, I learned that what is more pervasive and threatening to the common good is the local attitude toward growth of any kind. I read a boatload of venomous comments by residents who seem to think that they have a slice of paradise here and no one else can partake. What’s worse, they blame Californians for all that they consider has gone wrong here. Having been raised here, left for California, then returned, I find this attitude so ridulous and their arguments null, considering California is full of people from everywhere else, including Oregon. Growth in all metropolitan areas is on the rise and will continue to do so in the next century. We are a civilization of city dwellers so rather than spend the energy bemoaning those who want to live in a decent city, among decent folk, I say put the effort into making sure that growth happens in the best way possible. Complaining about newcomers to Oregon is old hat, and really stale.

HotLips Bottling Bull Run for a Good Cause

Bull Run water in a bottle? If it is for a good cause, why not? An interesting blog item from the Portland Water Bureau caught my eye today. It talked about how HotLips Pizza is bottling our Bull Run water in glass which is recyclable and “made right here in Portland from a very high percent of recycled glass to begin with.”

Proceeds from sales of the HotLips Pizza Bull Run Water are being donated to “drinking water advocacy.” The move is part of National Drinking Water Week, currently going on, and is targeted towards getting us away from water bottled in plastic in far away lands.

How does Bull Run Water taste, you might ask? You can swing by HotLips to find out, or just open your tap at home in most cases. It is also interesting to note there are other places around town where you can enjoy the local water in glass bottles.

Meetup: Wednesday, May 21

Come one – come all – it’s time again for the monthly Metblogs Meetup!

We’re hoping the weather will hold so that we can sit out on their spacious patio, but if not we’ll be inside at Rontoms – located on the corner of E 6th & Burnside.

Writers, commenter’s and silent readers are all invited to come and chat about Portland, Metblogs, or what you’re going to do on your summer vacation.

Don’t be shy – come on over and say hello – we’ll even spring for the fondue!

Wed. May 21
5:00pm – ??
600 E Burnside St.
Portland, OR 97214

Potter’s budget eliminates IFCC funding

dn_web_logo1-thumb.jpgTom Potter’s proposed budget would cut all city funding for the Interstate Firehouse Cultural Center (IFCC), a vibrant and unique center for the arts in North Portland.

This $80,000 funding cut represents a minuscule savings to the city, but would be devastating to IFCC. It represents 24% of the budget for the non-profit that operates a gallery and theatre and offers classes, shows and cultural outreach to the community.

This proposed cut was announced just as IFCC opened an exhibit showcasing the work of more than 70 North and Northeast Portland artists. The show, “Do North,” represents the unique way IFCC works to connect an extraordinarily diverse group of artists to the community.

“The conversation about diversity is deeply important to the successful growth of our City,” writes IFCC’s Creative Director Adrienne Flagg in a message to supporters. “I know you have experienced the conversation here — in the gallery, theatre, civic meetings, and classes. Please extend your support and let the Mayor and the City Commissioners know that you value IFCC’s mission to awaken cultural awareness by creating an environment for artists and audiences to explore, honor and celebrate diversity. Let them know that you recognize this vital connection to our City’s well-being.”

IFCC has been enjoying a period of stability under Flagg’s leadership, and this cut would mean significant cuts to IFCC’s ability to fulfill its mission.

Please contact your city leaders and urge them to continue their 25-year relationship with this remarkable program.

The final hearing on the budget is tomorrow, May 8, 6:30-8:30 pm, at King Elementary School, 4906 NE 6th. Sign up for three-minute testimony on site.

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