Sunday, October 31, 2010

Happy Halloween

We're not sure what it is, but this year people are really into Halloween. Maybe it's just one of those years where we all just want to be scared or maybe be someone or something else for just one night.

Up until just a couple days ago the weather was sunny, crisp and above all else dry.

But then the first storms rolled in just in time for Halloween and the full moon, which couldn't be seen from all the rain and clouds. Now everything is dark, eerie and scary!

If we really wanted to scare people for this year for Halloween, we'd be Gluten. Everyone seems to be terrified of it!

Happy Halloween Everyone!

Friday, October 29, 2010

Extreme Haunted House

It was a dark and stormy night. We didn't know what to expect as we raced down I-5 towards the Oregon School for the Deaf. As we approach the large brick institutional building we knew we weren't in for your typical haunted house. Why? Because you can scream all you want and no one will hear you. BOO!

Each Halloween the Oregon School for the Deaf puts on a haunted house as a fund raiser in the basement of one of their buildings. And each year people rave about it. This year it's been raised up a notch with the help of a television show Extreme Makeover and the new king of horror Rob Zombie.

We heard a limited number of VIP tickets were offered online so we bought some and couldn't believe the 1-hour-plus line out front and how we just walked right up, no line, no waiting! Was it spooktacular? Yes it was, although we should have gone on a less busy night. We were ushered in and out so fast we could see what was ahead and anticipated the surprises. But yes, it was pretty darn creepy!

Tuesday, October 26, 2010


It's that time of year again - ROCkTOBER! In early fall into Halloween Portlanders are treated with an array of concerts and shows. As summer slows down the music scene ramps up!

Once upon a time the organizers of SxSW, the annual music festival in Austin, Texas collaborated with our local weekly newspaper Willamette Week to bring us NxNW. After years of misorganization, miscommunication and overall disaster for some of the artists Willamette Week pulled out and went on their own with MusicFest NW, a 4-day music festival strung out all over the city of Portland.

About a month before the festival was set to begin the line-up was unveiled and we began a preliminary list of the shows we would like to go to. We added up the costs of the individual shows and determined getting a wrist band would be cost-beneficial. However, time and more summer guests determined we were only free one night of the 4-day event.Panda Bear,Major Lazer,NoMeansNo and Shonen Knife would have to wait for another time. We did stand in line and saw Man Man perform at the Hawthorne Theater. The worse venue for an all ages show EVER.

The flat showroom, divided all-ages/21+ floor was a disaster for anyone under 6 feet tall. But it was Man Man! Xylophones, noisemakers, horns and the drummer placed in the front of the stage. The opening band Morning Teleportation - a local avant/folk band mezmorized us just in time for Man Man to take the stage. Another must-see band checked off our list!

A few weeks later we headed up to the Mt. Tabor Theater to see living reggae legend Richie Spice. We arrived as the first opening act came on so we headed down the hallway to the bar where the drinks were half the price!

The Mt. Tabor Theater was once a movie theater so it didn't seem off when the bar had a separate DJ spinning rockabilly in the adjacent bar. It also fit with the Tarantino Grindhouse style movie Hell Ride. The music matched perfectly with this gritty and violent movie, which we were kind of happy we didn't have to actually listen too.

We headed back to the main room to watch Richie's younger brother perform a short set then Richie hit the stage!

Richie Spice had a great backup band and terrific backup singers. Richie seemed a bit dazed. These Jamaican performers come to Portland and just can't handle the Pacific NW green, he was a bit sloppy and at times seemed like he was somewhere else, but he sounded great and the show was fantastic!

One of the most anticipated shows this season for us was the M.I.A. show at the Roseland Theater. A year ago M.I.A made her way through Portland supporting her album Kala and after hearing how she ruled the techno tent at the Coachella Music Festival, we were bummed when we missed her. This year we made sure to pony up for the $25 ticket + a $6 handling charge.

We arrived a little over an hour after the 9pm ticket call time to a PACKED venue and blaring stage and light show. It died down and we were happy thinking we made it just in time. We grabbed a couple of drinks and headed over to get a better view. What we saw was a bit shocking.

First, her "back-up dancers" looked like they were the younger siblings of some friends that she thought "sure, why don't you come along and be my backup dancers". Seriously terrible or maybe white kids from Britian can't dance no matter how much time they spend in the clubs.

Second, we were surprised by how sparse her stage was. But thrilled to see she decided to place all her money for the show into a huge sound system and light screen that turned her song Born Free into a bloody mess - it was awesome. If you want to see the video for the song, it may give you an idea of how she managed to capture the theme of the song and video in her performance.

M.I.A, Born Free from ROMAIN-GAVRAS on Vimeo.

Here's a shot of the loud speakers and subs on one side of the stage. The heavy bass sounds were perfect for being up in the balcony, since all you can usually hear upstairs is the bass.

Within a few songs M.I.A. had the whole place bouncin' like a Jamaican Dancehall with people bumping and grinding on the stage, including Miss Maya herself. Eventually she found her way to top of those banging speakers.

We had greatly anticipated this show and after 35 minutes it was over. O-V-E-R - Over! NO F%&KING WAY! Yes! Then an announcement was made that M.I.A would be DJing at the Crown Room for an additional $3 cover charge. We couldn't believe M.I.A. had pulled a Lady Sovereign! A few years back we had seen Lady Sovereign at the Wonder Ballroom play a short 40 minute set and then dared to say she was DJing at the bar downstairs for an additional $10 cover. We left pissed and highly disappointed at how short the show was. What songs she did play she reinvented which was cool, but she didn't even play one song off her first album! fickle.

Saturday, October 23, 2010

Happy Belated Birthday

October 2010 marked the 1,000 year anniversary of Hanoi as Vietnam's capital. A 1,000 years as the capital!! 1,000 years!!??? Are you are as in awe as we are? That's a long time!

For some perspective Christopher Columbus sailed the Atlantic Ocean looking for the New World a mere 518 years ago, that means Hanoi is twice as old as any major establishments in the US and Hanoi was not the original capital.

We were unaware of this millennium milestone, with little news, tourism PR or international focus on this birthday until we came across an article in The Economist blasting the government on its mishandling of such a monumental event. Vietnam is a communist country with strict governmental control over media and really messed up this one. The Economist article goes on to detail how poorly the government was in organizing and announcing events to mark the celebrations including a fireworks finale that left 4 technicians dead when a crate of fireworks exploded.

Looking deeper into the lack of governmental organization for the celebration showed how poorly the tourism boards are doing to attract foreigners to Vietnam. Very little special tourism packages could be found geared towards the celebrations and worse Vietnam Airlines did offer a promotion just weeks before the celebration, but only included flights out of Vietnam, but not into. Maybe the government is focusing more on the extensive flooding going on in Central Vietnam or maybe 1000 years isn't that old in these parts of the world.

The government estimates Vietnam receive 3.3 million tourist a year, but only manages 5% return rate compared to Thailand's 50%. To us that is heartbreaking considering Thailand was our least favorite country to visit. Direct flights from Asian hubs Tokyo and Kuala Lumpur have been canceled and now only a few carriers do semi-direct (1-layover) flights from the US West Coast. How sad is that? But to be fair Vietnam's tourism is very young compared to other SE Asian countries with it's borders only open to tourism in 1986 and only providing US citizens visas in 1994.

We love Vietnam and really enjoyed our time in the capital of Hanoi. So we would like to raise a glass and say "Happy Birthday Hanoi, may your future be bright with better infrastructure, more transparency and the positive attention you deserve."

Friday, October 22, 2010

Beautiful Fall Days

The fall in Portland has started off so beautifully, except for one weekend which we spent in bed sick with a headcold, the weather has been sunny, clear and crisp. We're starting to see some fall color.

On an early Saturday morning we had originally planned to spend cleaning up the garden beds, we decided to keep the rake and shovel in the shed and instead take our bikes out for a long ride and enjoy the beautiful sunny fall day. Once on our bikes we just let the sunny weather, gorgeous fall colors and marked bicycle lanes take us where ever.

We passed people playing soccer in the parks, people raking up leaves and people enjoying breakfast outside. It was invigorating. We decided to do our own version of ConnectOregon and bike through any park we come across, which led us the Beverly Cleary Sculpture Garden at Grant Park in NE Portland.

Beverly Cleary is a dearly loved writer of children's books set in NE Portland neighborhoods. One of her books was recently made into a movie - Ramona and Beezus, who grew up on Klickitat Street. I grew up loving Beverly Cleary books and to see this small water fountain sculpture garden tribute was long overdue.

The small garden is by the playground area of Grant Park and has tribute tiles listing out all of Beverly Cleary's books and the years they were published. Good books are timeless with her most memorable books published in the 1950s! We were happy to spend such a lovely day with Henry Huggins, his dog Ribsy and Ramona!

Monday, October 18, 2010

Busy Season

WOW, we've been super busy. Fall has started off with a glorious bang! The lazy days of summer are definitely gone with lots of garden clean-up, crisp bike rides and harvesting, harvesting, harvesting and more harvesting. Just not enough hours in a day. No time to just lounge around, that is until it gets dark and cold, but for now the days have been GLORIOUS! Starting with an amazing Autumnal Equinox!

Hope everyone is enjoying Fall as much as we are! Get outside in the amazing sunny weather, bundle up (it's cold out there) and take advantage of the dry weather!

Tuesday, October 12, 2010

Bob's Red Mill

While traveling throughout Asia we would occassionally come across packaged items from brands and companies back home. Yes, there were multinational brands like Lays potato chips and Kraft products galore, but it was the local Pacific NW products that would surprise us the most. The most prominent products we recall seeing were Kettle Chips (mostly tortilla chips) and Bob's Red Mill flour products.

About 15 minutes south of Portland you can visit Bob's Red Mill retail store and cafe, where you will find their extensive line of over 400 products, as well as enjoy a nice breakfast or lunch in their charming red barn like mill.

So on the first rainy Fall day of the year we decided to make a trip out to the Whole Grain Retail store to stock up on some baking essentials at 20% off and enjoy a 50% discount on a breakfast entree thanks to our handy dandy Chinook Book coupons. The cute-as-can-be retail store/cafe was organized in several major areas. Cafe/kitchen/cashiers were at the back of the store where you can place your order for breakfast and lunch items, get a number and take a seat either on the ground floor off to the side of the packaged items, upstairs or on nice days, on their lovely patio area.

We placed our breakfast orders and went upstairs to get a full view of the store below.

While we were very impressed with incredible selection of goods offered in large bags, bulk, and pre-packaged, we weren't very impressed with the layout, they tried to cram way too much into the space. We were also impressed with the extent of their cafe menu. While there were no fancy cafe style breakfast items, instead focusing on traditional eggs and potatoes dishes, there were grits, biscuits, and a large variety of their famous baked items such as waffles and pancakes. The portions were great for the prices and the food was very tasty.

However when we got upstairs to find a table and wait for our grilled cheddar grits served with maple syrup (surprisingly delicious) we found nothing but dirty table after dirty table and when we asked to get a table wiped down, the staff seemed confused and we ended up finding a towel and wiping down the table ourselves. The same can be said for checking out at the retail store with confusion and cramped aisles making paying for our items a bit chaotic. Best to go on the weekdays when the store isn't packed with breakfast and store shoppers.

Bob's Red Mill is known for their traditional use of stone grinders to make their flours and baking products.

You can buy large wholesale size bags of all their products from garbonzo flours, rice flours, pastry flours, whole wheat flours, flours for bread machines and the list goes on and on. They also conveniently provide bins with airtight lids to store these large quantity bags. These ladies were consulting a list, something you definitely should have if you plan to shop here.

There was also an impressive area of bulk foods. We found one of the largest selection of dried beans we've seen in a while, including hard to find green french lentls and dried white beans. You can also find spices in bulk and normally extremely high priced thickeners like xanthum gum and guar gum which can run up to $10 a package in the store, available in bulk here!

There was also a bakery where you could buy fresh baked goods. It was hard not buy all the specialty breads made on premise.

There were also aisles and aisles of pre-packaged items such as scone mixes, pancake/waffle mixes and specialty cake mixes. Bob's Red Mill has an impressive list of gluten free, organic and hard to find products such as flaxseed flour or course millet flour all in one store. It is definitely worth the short 15 minute trek to visit this impressive and charming retail store for breakfast/lunch or to stock up on all your baking needs.

And if getting the ingredients to make bread aren't your thing, Dave's Killer Bread and NatureBake's stores are just across the street.

Bob's Red Mill Whole Grain Store 5000 SE International Way Milwaukie, Oregon (503)607-6455 6am-6pm Monday-Friday, 7am-5pm Saturdays, Closed Sundays

Monday, October 4, 2010

VegFest 2010

This year Northwest Veg sure made it easy to stop by their annual Veg Fest by offering coupons for $1 off entrance fee of $5 on their website, in the local papers, at the entrace to the Convention Center and even at the registration table! And if you're wondering can a omnivore eat $4 worth of tofu, hemp products and raw chocolates? Hell Yes We Can!

I made plans to meet up with my vegan friends for the annual two day event infront of the ballroom entrance. I was a bit late because the weather couldn't decide to downpour, sprinkle or just rain. Normally even in downpours the short ride to the Convention Center isn't a big deal, but I had planned to bike further away to pick up concert tickets for later that weekend. We met up underneath the slightly scary and pointy swaying art installation in the rotunda.

Like any event at the Convention Center you find out which ballroom or conference room your particular event is held in and make your way up or down the convention levels and enter into a large square room with aisle after aisle of booths. Unlike any other event at the Convention Center participants are greeted with a free reuseable grocery bag from Whole Foods and table after table of free food! Plus people don't care if you take photos, no ideas here to steal.

Products made from hemp was big this year. It really is a miracle plant. You can eat it, drink it, wear it and I'm sure someone out there is trying to figure out how to build a house of hemp. We enjoyed spreads, breads and milk all made from hemp.

Another very visible vegetarian product was chocolate. Gourmet chocolate is becoming as ubiquitous as coffee and beer are in the Pacific NW. Inquiring about the organic cocoa ratios of a chocolate bar or drink is commonplace now and many of the chocolatiers were extremely creative pairing fruit and nuts in their chocolates.

I was very lucky to be with veteran VegFest goers, as I simply followed their lead and stuck out my hand as samples were passed back to me. Amazingly enough everything we tried, and we tried everything, was vegan as well as vegetarian.

Vegan Biscuits & Gravy from Blooming Lotus Cafe

There was even a kitchen supply company selling vegetable refresh bags, innovative kichen gadgets and the best wooden clothes hang dry rack I have ever seen, although a clothes drying rack of its size would be great, couldn't muster up the $60. It immediately did go on my housewares for upgrading wish list.

We did stop by the natural material clothing and accessories vendor selling vegetarian clothing, shoes and these fun bags made out of film strips. Although technically gelatin is used in processing film making traditional film photography not "veg friendly". Still, I thought these bags were fun.

There were even vegetarian dog food vendors. Only dog food, I can't imagine a cat anywhere who could survive without animal protein, it's just not natural. I grabbed a bag of the veggie dog treats to test on our family dogs, but honestly you can put peanut butter on an old shoe and our dogs would probably love it.

The two day weekend festival had more than just vendors and exhibitors, there were also speakers ranging from doctors and nutritionist speaking about health, disease and the importance of the food we consume to cooking demonstrations and even a guest speaker with a Ph.D in economics speaking about the impacts of global economics, international trade and climate change on household consumption in the US and around the world.

More than anything VegFest is about education. Educate yourself on health, meat alternatives and alternative ways of eating. I was standing behind one VegFest goer who commented that "there aren't very many overweight people here."

VegFest was totally delicious and yes, I definitely ate $4 worth of food. I got to try totally vegan cheeses that were delicious, a new line of vegan and gluten free pizzas from Tofurkey, coconut milk ice cream bars, several meat alternatives (most delicious and one just nasty) and more bean spreads than you can shake a stick at.

VegFest - Totally Vegetarian/Vegan, Totally Fun.