Escape from Quinoa
Once we descended from our arboreal abodes, our next stop was Portland, Oregon. We arrived mid-Friday afternoon just in time to join a well-reviewed, two-hour, guided walking tour of several Portland neighborhoods. We learned that (a.) Portland has more than 700 highly regulated food trucks; (b.) The city has an obsessive relationship with doughnuts, and (c.) it would be close to impossible to match the city’s commitment to their hipster ethos.
Portland’s food trucks are ubiquitous. More often than not they are parked, pressed together on vacant lots, side by side, forming an impenetrable perimeter like wagons at night on the Oregon Trail. Every so often, the chef-entrepreneurs who work in the most popular trucks migrate to brick and mortar locations with their acolytes close behind. Then, new culinary adventurers vie to take their coveted place on the sidewalk. Every type of food imaginable is being served from a food truck somewhere. How to find a particular cuisine? There’s an app for that. Don’t act surprised.
The citywide preoccupation with doughnuts mirrors Philadelphia’s, albeit more justifiable, focus on cheesesteaks. At the most popular and newest shops, lines of an hour or more form before they open their doors in the morning and persist until the wee hours of the night. Their relative rankings are an ongoing subject of debate for both residents and visitors. Having no shame at all, we stood in the insanely long line for the current reigning champ by consensus, VooDoo Doughnuts. Personally, I would opt for a Dunkin Donut handed to me in crumpled wax paper within five minutes over Voodoo’s fancy pink box and hour-long wait any day of the week. (And since I referenced it above, in Philly you really should save yourself from being embarrassed and disappointed and go to Pat’s.)
The cool, hipster, nonchalant, relaxed, mellow vibe in Portland seems like a caricature of itself. They eschew the term “restaurants”, preferring to call them “culinary options”. They don’t have “suppliers”; they have local “purveyors” who have pledged to adhere to carbon-neutral, sustainable farming practices. They don’t sell anything edible whatsoever, anywhere, without adding quinoa to it. They post “Keep in the Water” signs at public fountains.
On the chalkboard at the culinary option of your choosing, where printed menus are anathema, a grilled cheese sandwich will require a three paragraph handwritten description. It will include: the providence of the certified sustainable grain and the 100 year old sourdough starter used in the baker’s bread creation process; the first name and hobbies of the hen who produced the cage-free eggs; and the ethnomusicology of the melody played on a lute which was hand-carved in the traditional way by an indigenous musician for the benefit of the locally raised cow whose milk was churned by artisans receiving a fair living wage. And then, at the bottom, in another pastel color, there will be a brief bio of their featured quinoa purveyor of the month and a little something about their hopes and aspirations.
Undeterred by this unique variation of insanity, we were joined by Sarah’s boyfriend, Jeffrey, who flew up from Los Angeles to join us for the weekend. (In case you are curious, we adore him and are unsuccessfully keeping our feelings on the matter close to the vest as all the parenting guides suggest.) Mariah, Sarah, Jeffrey and I went on a guided food tour yesterday morning, roamed the aisles at Powell’s City of Book’s immense independent bookstore in the heat of the day, and then visited Portland’s exquisite International Rose Test Gardens in the late afternoon.
The four of us had a fabulous day together and were feeling a bit guilty that Harry had opted instead to awaken at five dark thirty to go fishing in an aluminium boat with Bill, a burly, bearded fishing guide. Fortunately, our concern proved unjustified. Evidently, the satisfaction of landing a large sturgeon exceeds the pleasure to be gained from any activity which involves quinoa.