Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Mystery Meat, Veggie Style.

Maybe we didn't plan our Memorial Day around getting spicy black bean gardenburgers, fries and berry smoothies at Burgerville, but when my sister and I pulled up to the drive-thru and the crackly intercom voice told us that the burgers had been "pulled" from the menu, it's safe to say we were flummoxed. Later the 10'clock news mentioned that both Fred Meyer and Burgerville had recalled Gardenburgers from their stores. Then there was this post on the Oregonian blog,, which quoted a concerned (but also, apparently, clueless) Seattle-based FDA rep. who said he'd like to know what was wrong with the 'burgers. The post ended saying one could read more about it in the next day's Oregonian. That would've been May 24th. For all my advanced google-skills and sleuthing, I can't uncover any updates since the story broke (this seems to happen a lot in Portland news - the girl who was found floating in Laurelhurst Park, the sea lion massacre-turned-natural-disaster... stories that monopolize news time, and then fall off the face of the media earth). Does anyone know what the "abnormalities in the look and texture of the patties" that the Burgerville employees found turned out to be? I'm a bit queasy being in the dark about this...

The Case of the Allegedly Funky Gardenburger is interesting because of the greater corporate politics at work. Burgerville is a lovely local chain that does it right: buys local, encourages sustainability and composts in their kitchens (...doesn't just say "good enough" if a shipment of veggie burgers look amiss). Gardenburger used to be a lovely local hippie brand based in Hood River, OR. Now it's owned by Kellogg's, along with all these other veggie brands: Morningstar, Worthington, Loma Linda and Natural Touch (Boca Burger, in case you thought they escaped the corporate blob, is owned by Kraft). When you go to the Gardenburger website, which is cute as a button, and search "RECALL" you get nothing (ditto for the Kellogg's corporate site). Since Gardenburger's have flown the local business coup, maybe the pinch-hitter veggie burgers that are currently being served at Burgerville (from the local company Chez Gourmet, whose purpose, according to their website is "life and community") will become Burgerville's permanent source. Wouldn't that be a happy ending to this sordid little tale?

[Thanks to The ZehnKatzen Times for identifying Chez Gourmet as the new temp BV supplier]

Monday, May 26, 2008

Honor the Warrior, Not the War.

This Memorial Day, Canela (a.k.a "BITES") think Virginia Woolf (Woof!) said it best: "We can best help you to prevent war not by repeating your words and following your methods but by finding new words and using new methods." Yup, Canela's a pacifist.

Tuesday, May 20, 2008

Fish Ball?

I'm not really sure what to make of this article I read in today's Seattle Times. Here's an overview of the most disturbing points, and the best quotes:

"Solar surveys" spotted a big hunk in the Columbia River below the Bonneville dam about 50 miles outside of Portland. Engineers freaked out thinking it was a chunk of dam; that the dam was falling apart. Several PhD's from the Corps of Engineers went down and confirmed that it was not a dam ball, it was a fish ball (over 60,000 sturgeon, some up to 14 ft. long). Schwartz, the guy who oversees the dam, had these thoughts: "We call it the big sturgeon ball." "Normally they're pretty spread out. You don't see this balling behavior." Any final thoughts, Schwartz? "They were just lollygagging - definitely not expending energy."

My god, who is this guy?

The article quickly dismissed the Angry Sea Lions connection posed, undoubtedly, by the Angry (and recently wrongly accused) Fisherman's Defense lobby, who wondered if the ball was a giant, prehistoric defense system against all those predatory sea lions ("Defense Ball," I imagine Schwartz saying with a nod of his head). If you're at all involved in sea lion politics (and who isn't?) you know that there was the recent, nationally publicized Sea Lion massacre at the dam, which turned out to not be the Revenge of Angry Fisherman with high-powered rifles as initially reported in the national news, but something even worse - natural panic or heat stroke from being stuck in the trap for so long, a tidbit that barely made the local news.

And then, because the reporter couldn't get all his quotes from Schwartz, he got one from Parsley, a fisheries biologist: "They're the woolly mammoth, the saber-tooth tiger or the lion of the Columbia River," Parsley said. "There's just still a lot to be learned about them."

Now, I've eaten sturgeon before. Nobody informed me I was eating some sort of ancient woolly-mammoth-0f-the-sea. That would've given me pause, to say the least. Further research on my end revealed that the esteemed Portland seafood restaurant McCormick and Schmick's calls their woolly mammoth "The Stark Street Sturgeon" and cooks the post-ball beast (they get their sturgeon from the Columbia, so chances are you're eating a fish that was formally big balled) with basil Dijon and Good Point oysters. Yum.

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

PDX: Save Steve.


When I lived in Seattle, I heard whispers about a bus driver who was so nice he baked brownies for his riders every day before his shift, even if his shift started at 5 AM. One morning, on my way to Queen Anne Hill, I blindly shoved my $1.50 in the slot, and the bus driver reciprocated by shoving a Tupperware of warm brownies at me. "Have one," he said brightly.

In Portland, there is Steve. Now, when I'm on a bus, I generally do everything in my power to pretend I'm not. I take my personal space and mentally try to expand it to the size of a football field. But this guy! Steve! He drives the #15 bus I take each night across downtown, across the Willamette river and into Southeast Portland. Stuck in traffic? He would sing songs and tell jokes. In another life, he would've done stand-up. Or maybe he does stand-up in this life, and that's why he drives a city bus. Anyway.

A while ago, Steve stopped driving the bus during that shift. Or, so I thought. Then I heard our bus driver make a slightly surly remark as we sat in silence, in traffic, about how if he hadn't been sanctioned, this is where he would make a joke. I recognized the flashy use of the bus intercom for non bus-related business. That was Steve! Steve lives!

The only reason I hadn't realized that Suddenly Silent Steve was leaving a hole in my life (in retrospect, he was absolutely) was because, quite honestly, he made me uncomfortable when he was noisily at the wheel (me and my attempts at a football field-sized bubble, you see). But today as it took the #15 40 minutes to go an unseemly 13 blocks, and his only observation was how with enough emails he could bug his supervisor into letting him tell jokes again. So, Portland readers, I implore you: Save Steve. Public transportation is dismal, and anyone who tries to make it less so by infusing it with humor should be applauded, should be elected to public office (considered running, Steve?). A world that bows to bus riders who are offended by lame jokes and sunshine, or bus supervisors who worry that driver handing out brownies without a food permit could be a liability - that's not a world I'm ready to live in. It seems that in an effort to protect ourselves, we often deny ourselves our own humanity.

Save Steve! Bus Driver Steve on the #15 from NW 23rd to 60th (or Parkrose)
Email Tri-Met:

La Vie Belle

"Sex in the City" the movie comes out this month, the same month that Elaine Dundy, the author of The Dud Avocado (credited for starting the single-girl-in-the-city genre), died of a heart attack. If you haven't read it, you're missing a vibrant description of Paris in the 1950's, narrated by a passionate, brainy and naive 23 year old girl. You're missing a wandering, wondering Daisy Miller, if James had allowed Daisy an authentic voice. Coincidently, I'm in the middle of reading it through for the second time - both times I've been impressed at how Dundy's character personifies what it's like to be young and pushing yourself (and those around you) in a million directions. I'm looking forward to reading her exclamation-marked memoir, Life Itself (!), when I get the chance. Cheers to the memory of Dundy, someone who saw the humor and abilities that come with being young and female and finding your own way.

(From her obituary) "It seems to me that the American girl has changed tremendously from the Scott Fitzgerald, Hemingway days, and that this change has not yet been recorded, at least to my satisfaction," Ms. Dundy once said. She later complained that critics failed to credit her heroine's orgasm as an important first step toward the frank treatment of female sexuality in fiction. For another interesting article on Dundy's own troubled love-life, click here.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

Well, Can You?

You're probably aware that I'm a bit of a self-improvement whore. More of the obsessive reading of self-improvement books, less of the following through to get results. So it goes. A few days ago, I was sucked into another psychology article in the business section of the New York Times. It suggested that you can't kill old habits, but you can make new ones. I was a little puzzled at first (if I want to break my chardonnay habit, should I switch to pinot)? But once she compared it to stretching - as opposed to sprinting - I thought, I can stretch! She recommends practicing a Japanese technique called kaizen, which calls for tiny, continuous improvements. And how much cooler is it to employ "Japanese techniques" rather than "something my Aunt Sally in Omaha suggested"?

"Whenever we initiate change, even a positive one, we activate fear in our emotional brain," Ms. Ryan notes in her book. "If the fear is big enough, the flight-or-flight response will go off and we'll run from what we're trying to do. The small steps in kaizen don't set off fight or flight, but rather keep us in the thinking brain, where we have access to our creativity and playfulness."

"You cannot have innovation," she adds, "unless you are willing and able to move through the unknown and go from curiousity to wonder."

So, I can stretch. And sometimes, my stretching turns into an amazing sprint followed by a mind-blowing adrenaline rush. I'm going to head over to the IPRC and polish up my letterpress projects. I'm going to figure out how to set up a compost bin in our backyard, even if it does involve worms. I'm going to try that Pilates class at the gym, even though the instructor will probably be astounded to learn that I am the Girl with No Core. NO CORE! Everyone needs a baseline to measure her improvement with though, right?

Wednesday, May 7, 2008

Lots of sugar, and a Schwinn.

My hope is to one day own a dreamy cupcake shop (and be the next Alice Munro, of course). As the 15 Tri-met bus crawled up Belmont tonight on the way home from my lovely (but still very practical) day job downtown, I cracked open a fresh Willamette Week and read about a lady who is my new hero (sorry, Alice - Munro and Waters - you'll always be in my heart). This wonder woman, according to WW "was burnt out on fund raising for local nonprofits and had a 'Third-of-life crisis,' which helped her settle on her true love: baking cookies." But get this - she does business from her bike. She's trying to head up her own cookie CSA ( CSA = Community Supported Agriculture; cookies might not qualify, but I'm going to sign up and eat the cookies, not quival).

Brave New Brownie, indeed. Read more about Lulu's Confections here.

Sunday, May 4, 2008

Rutabaga resolve.

I'd like to take a minute and talk about Scandinavian influences on Pacific Northwest cuisine, and my ability to justify just about anything. The order is not important. What is important is that I exonerate myself for superfluous purchases in a dire economy, and maybe you learn a few nifty facts about the Worst Vegetable Ever, rutabaga.

I try to be thrifty and not wasteful. I say "no" quite a bit, knowing that consumption can quickly trap a person in a dark, spiritually deficient place. I've read "Your Money or Your Life" thrice; so I am well-schooled in the philosophy that material goods separate me from, not bring me closer to, a meaningful existence.

So what if you caught me chucking rutabagas (fact: rutabagas, known as "swedes" in the Midwest; also, I hate rutagabas) under the giant evergreen at dusk yesterday, into the tangle of blackberry bramble and ivy? (fact: the messy underside of our gorgeous backyard pine tree is a lazy girl's compost pile, also, my weekly vegetable and food delivery service, Organics to You, has sent me rutabagas every week since December, and I hate them, and I don't eat them, and so I'm wasteful.)

And then three hours later you saw me at Border's downtown, buying a cookbook on new Scandinavian cuisine with a hardly-worth-it coupon, the purchase justified with a promise to myself that that its contents would be churned into a worthy blog-post. Maybe you're a real bastard, and asked the follow-up question when you saw me: "How many cookbooks does a single girl need?" (fact: my new cookbook has many rutabaga-friendly recipes, and that is a cruel, fitting punishment for my unnecessary purchase (of cookbook, and rutabaga) and love of all things Scandinavian.)

When Greg Atkinson reviewed this cookbook for the Seattle Times last month, he observed that the ingredients (fresh fish, berries, 'begas) and inheritance (Swedish, Norwegian, Denmark, Finland) of Pacific Northwest cuisine owes a lot to our fair Scandinavian brothers and sisters. When I look at the pictures in this lovely cookbook, I feel like I'm peering into a beautiful, familial landscape. And that's gotta be worth twenty bucks at least, right? (fact: I will accumulate cookbooks until they overtake my home. Ditto for the 'bagas.)