You may have noticed I’ve been a bit quiet of late. Well, hopefully you’ve noticed. The reason there was no pithy commentary last week was because I was taking a peek at my new world in the Beaver State. Ok, stop snickering. Oregon’s nickname is the Beaver State. And the beaver is a very noble creature. No, really…it is. Anyway, over Memorial Day weekend I visited Hood River, and was warmly welcomed by my friends, their friends, and a passel of very happy dogs. Oregon is an assault on the senses in the very best way. Visually, tactilely, and orally, it’s a pretty amazing place. The landscape is breathtaking, so much so that I nearly drove off the road several times on the ride from PDX to Hood River due to slack-jawed gawking at the world outside my windshield. Suffice to say the ride from Newark to West 24th Street isn’t quite so picturesque. Next there was the food…HOLY COW…the FOOD! Crazy good locally grown produce and the wonderful dishes they become, a plethora of tasty craft brews, fabulous baked goods (particularly in the Heights), and of course, the wine. I had it all and loved every tasty bite.
Since I did a bunch of research on the area before I decided for sure I wanted to move west, the resources, food and even the scenery were somewhat expected. But there are always a few things you can only learn by planting feet on ground, and I thought I’d share some observations with you. I have no doubt there’ll be more of these as this bold adventure unfolds, so for now consider this Oregon Observations – Chapter 1:
- Rain: Let’s just get this out of the way right off the bat – yes, the Pacific Northwest has a reputation for rain. Know what? It rains. And sometimes a lot, but taken all together probably not as much as you think. While I was out there it rained, but it was also sunny and warm too, so there you go. What I found interesting was not the fact that it rains, but rather how the locals deal with the rain. Most folks have an assortment of rain wear. Light, not so light, with heiny-flaps, short, long, for the bike, for the hike, whatever. And when it rains, or drizzles, or threatens, they just slap on the appropriate rainwear for activity, (or don’t bother with rain gear at all), and just go about their day. Unless it’s a downpour, a little moisture isn’t going to stop an Oregonian (or Washingtonian I suspect) from curtailing any outdoor activity. Hike? Sure. Bike? Why not? In fact, I have a sneaking suspicion the mountain bikers enjoy a ride more if they come home splattered in mud. They’ve earned that mud. If you spy someone sporting an umbrella, chances are they are a visitor. So for those of you who plan on moving to the Pacific Northwest with a startup umbrella business? Yeah, don’t.
- Scree – According to Wikipedia, “scree is a collection of broken rock fragments at the base of crags, mountain cliffs, volcanoes or valley shoulders that has accumulated through periodic rock fall from adjacent cliff faces.” In other words, cliff schmutz. And for a hiker walking along a trail of the stuff, it is a twisted ankle waiting to happen. Luckily, it didn’t to me (this time), mostly due to the fact that I was doing my best impersonation of Tim Conway’s little old man as I picked my way down it. Elegant, hell no, but I did get down the evil ankle-twisting stuff with everything intact. When it comes to scree it’s accuracy, not speed.
- Microbrews – the art of brewing tasty craft beer with goofy names like Molten Lava, White Rider of Conquest, and The Vaporizer (which, by the way, was great) reaches it’s pinnacle in Oregon. In fact, I don’t think I’d be too far off to say that there are probably as many beer options as residents in Hood River (and perhaps a bit more). You have to love a place that takes the ancient and seemingly simple craft of applying industrious yeasty fellows to hops, malt and barley (or wheat) and creates something new, interesting and very tasty.
- Portland is Brooklyn West (or more accurately, Brooklyn is Portland East) – One of the appeals of moving to Hood River is its proximity to the city when I need an urban fix. And while I didn’t venture into the city this trip, what I’ve notice about Portland the last time I visited was that it had an oddly familiar vibe, though I couldn’t put my finger on it until I got back home to New York. Portland is Brooklyn. Or as NPR’s Ari Shapiro once commented, “Portland is Brooklyn before Brooklyn was Brooklyn.” Trendy hipsters, artisan everything, and previously dicey neighborhoods that were cheap but are now “cool” and hence not so cheap anymore. This may be a gross generalization (and you know I never make those…), but I’d bet you could take someone out of Williamsburg and plop them into the Pearl and it would take them a week or two to realize it.
- The Religion of Biking – Now this could just be the group I was with on my trip, but it seems to me the Church of Cycling is thriving in the PNW. Road, trail, fat tires or skinny, one seat or two, bikes are transportation, exercise, sport, and a special form of insanity when hurling down a steep mountain trail, the afflicted looking like they’re having a whale of a good time. I haven’t owned a bike since my trusty roadster with the tiger-growl bell, streamers in the handlebars and baseball cards attached to spokes with clothespins. I have a feeling I’ll be heading back to “church” soon…
As I sat on the plane Tuesday night and headed east the sunset, I realized one thing. While the move will be hard, I’ll have a beautiful and welcoming place to unpack my Pradas in the Pacific Northwest. So thank you to Megan and Clint, Ashley, Heidi, Rob and everyone else I met (and especially Maddy and Romeo) from making me feel so welcome and introducing me to the Beaver State and Hood River. While I may not “blend”, I think I might just fit in.
So since last week was the “unofficial” start of summer, I thought it was time to break open the family vault and give my grandmother’s potato salad recipe to the world. Tante Betty’s (my grandmother) potato salad established its reputation in Portland East (Brooklyn) and was loved by everyone in the neighborhood who bought it by the pound at the deli where she worked. The legend grew over countless backyard BBQ’s and picnics, a hush often falling over the crowd when the dish was brought to the table, crowned in crispy bits of bacon. Ok, so maybe that didn’t happen, but it’s really good. I’m very democratic when it comes to spud salad and love many different types, but this is the potato salad of my memory. It will always bring back the vision of my grandmother’s hands slicing “good” potatoes into the dish.
I’m posting this exactly as it was written on the card tucked into my mom’s recipe box. I’ve added a few comments in parenthesis, since not everyone speaks “Tante Betty”.
Good German Potato Salad (I kid you not, that’s how it’s written on the card)
Makes about 4 cups
Cook 2 lbs good potatoes not too soft.
(I used white potatoes, but you could use yukon golds, new potatoes, or another waxy type, cover with cold water, add a good pinch or two of salt, bring to a boil and simmer about 20-25 minutes, but start checking at 15 minutes or so.)
- 1/3 cup white vinegar
- 2/3 cup water
- 1 TBSP salt
- 2 heaping TBSP sugar
- A dash (½ tsp) pepper
- A messerspitz* dry mustard (* a messerspitz literally translates to “knife tip” or somewhere between a pinch and a dash. Figure a heaping ¼ tsp.)
- 1 TBSP vegetable oil
To the boiled mixture, add 1 grated small onion (about 1/3 cup), a heaping teaspoon of grainy mustard and mix. Put some of the mixture into a dish. Slice the potatoes into the dish, layering more mixture over it. Continue layering, finishing with the dressing mixture on top. If it looks too dry when you finish, you can add a little hot water till it suits you.
To make EXTRA good (and who wouldn’t want extra good), fry up about 3 oz. bacon and crumble over.
This is best served warm. Do not refrigerate.
Calories: about 150 per ½ cup
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