There seems to be a bit of an obsession with Portland amongst Vancouverites these days. Have you heard that Portland has a Distillery Passport? Yeah, that's pretty cool. Or that they have a series of concerts at the zoo? I know I want elephants to hang out with while listening to my favourite artists. The hype surrounding these very-cool, very-Portland things is well justified and would make any flannel-wearing northerner want to roadtrip south.
Here's the thing, though: like anywhere, the really cool stuff going on in the city isn't getting a whole lot of press and requires insider information (like friends that happen to live there) for the full effect. On my most recent trip across the border I was lucky enough to have not one, but THREE Portlanders clear their schedules for a long weekend of fun. How could it get any better? Well, all of them are extremely in-the-know fellow gastronomes that I met in Italy; so to say that we ate well would be the understatement of the century.
For anyone that gets my email updates, you'll know that I didn't have the smoothest of trips down and that after 12 hours on a train I was more than a little deserving of a beer or two. I knew I was in good hands when two of my favourite people in the world barely stopped to let me get in the car at the train station before whisking me off to a local bar. They're good people. They get me.
Sufficiently chilled out and ready for dinner, we met up with the missing member of the group at the infamous Ned Ludd. When a friend takes you to a restaurant where people practically bow down to her in reverence, you don't bother looking at the menu, but rather put complete faith in the fact that she knows what's up and will take care of the situation. My blind faith paid off in countless plates of fresh, seasonal, superbly flavourful delights.
Full, exhausted, and incredulous that a month's worth of laughter could fit into only a few hours, the evening petered out. But that was just the beginning.
I've written about picnics before and how anyone can and should pull them together. But when you want to do a picnic right, make sure you start with the right people. Invite your friend Sarah, the cheesemaker, to make sure you're stocked with the freshest cheeses. Wrangle in your buddy Jess, the sommelier, to provide the wine. And make sure Douglas, the baker, brings dessert. Don't have those people? A little stinky cheese and charcuterie will do the trick (but don't go making concessions on the wine). Bonus if you've just hiked through a gorge and find yourself outside a brewery that can fill up your growler lake-side. *Subtract points if, like me, you break your tooth off at said brewery.
Damp and looking suspiciously unkempt, we headed back to town where Josh Ritter serenaded us and the animals of the Portland Zoo for the remainder of the evening. At some point in there we also refueled at Lardo, which makes the best Korean Pork Shoulder sandwich you ever did have.
Did we eat enough that day? Yes. Did we have sufficient fun? Most definitely. But that doesn't mean it couldn't all be out-done the following day.
For those foodies that have traveled to Portland, you have most likely experienced the epic farmers' market that takes place on Saturday mornings on the university campus.
Sights like this surround you as you unconsciously drift towards the smell of bagels. Sensory overload abounds and leads to many unnecessary impulse buys.
The upside being that baskets full of produce, fresh tortillas, and meat justify a day of cooking and relaxation. Sheep milk and peach ice cream; BBQ chicken (actually, BBQ everything) fajitas; homemade mozzarella; fresh lemonade. The list went on and on... as did the eating. And, as is the case with convivial meals, strangers became friends and only the neighbour's pleas to "please keep it to a dull roar" forced us to acknowledge that afternoon had morphed into late night. Another one bites the dust.
The last day. The last hours spent with friends until an undefined future date. There can be a lot of pressure on these moments to make the most of it and not pilfer time away. Pilfering, however, can be surprisingly rewarding. Just as eating doughnuts for breakfast on a Sunday while trying to guess how many words are in the dictionary seems like the right use of time.
Some would have been content to leave it at that. But The Flaming Lips were performing on the riverbank and a 15 year age gap between friends meant that at least some people a) knew who they were and b) were desperate to see the show. Disinterested in jostling a crowd of thousands in the blazing sun at a free concert, we Macgyvered ourselves some backstage passes by roping together anything that would float and paddling across treacherous waters to watch the show from the cool Willamette River. Worth it? Yup.
Every last thing in the suitcase was at least a little bit damp. I looked like I had been sleeping on the street for a week. I could hardly keep my eyes open. And for the first time in my life I went to the wrong gate at the airport (looking at the seat number instead of the gate). But in my frazzled, semi-conscious state, I did make it on the plane that would fly me back to the motherland; and merely an hour later it was like it never happened.