Thursday, November 1, 2012

Shop til you Drop

When you move to a new place and don't have anything in your cupboards, not even salt or pepper, a big shopping trip is in order and was one of the first things we did after becoming Portlanders.  We headed to our local Safeway, a grocery store chain, and prepared for a shopping trip that rivaled an Ikea trip timewise.  Four hours later we had managed to spend about $100 per hour and dragged two huge grocery carts to the car and headed home to unload our 'starter' stuff.

Having worked in a grocery store in high school, I was never really put off by the sheer size of our supermarkets in the US nor the incredible amount of options we have available to us on a daily basis.  I was sort of a creature of habit and bought the same things each time I went to the store and rarely just wandered up and down the aisles seeing if I needed anything.  A grocery list goes a long way in making sure you don't just overload your cart with things you don't really need.  However, after living abroad and having much smaller grocery stores with drastically less options, going to an American supermarket was quite shocking when we decided to stock the kitchen.

We started off in the produce, which is set up to look like a local market - wood floors, cute displays with fruit and veggies and plastic bags and ties everywhere you look.  In Spain, you take your produce and put it in a bag and then place it on a scale and key in the number that is listed on the item tag where you picked it up and it prints out a sticker showing you the weight and total price of your produce bag.  In doing this, the check-out lady doesn't need to memorize a gazillion produce codes and she can just scan the fruit and let you put it in your bag, which seems to be the efficient thing for me but here it doesn't happen.  With a produce section larger than our apartment times like 5, it was quite overwhelming just to get the basics - fruits, fresh veggies and salad.  There was literally an entire wall of salad bags and containers.  We decided to determine if we wanted Classic Romane lettuce, Tender Greens, Harvest Salad, Southwest Style Salad, Spinach in regular or baby leaves, Mixed Salad, Deluxe Mixed Salad and more.  In the end, we just got what we had been eating at my cousin's house - a big plastic container of mixed salads that we knew would be good.  Joseba was quite impressed with the cross-merchandising that happened in the produce section.  Next to the carrots, the Ranch dressing was conveniently placed and so on.  Again, something that I wouldn't even have picked up on as I am so used to it.

Once we had conquered the produce section and had a good stock of fruits and veggies, we headed down every aisle just to see what we might need - dangerous!  Again, the choices were too much.  Just a plain tomato pasta sauce was like looking for a needle in a haystack.  Among the 'tradtional' Prego sauce that we got, we also could have chosen Marinara, Tomato and Basil, Roasted Garlic Parmesean or Roasted Garlic and Herb or a few more which you can check out here.  Please note that that link was only for the Italian Style sauces from Prego.  Should you want a 'Healthy and Delicious' or 'Chunky' sauce you are confronted with a similar amount of options.  We got the Italian Traditional, and it's tasty.  I don't imagine we will be changing again because the amount of stress of having to choose between something like 65 tomato sauce options is probably more than we can bear.

The same type of scenario happened in almost every aisle we strolled down.  We are used to one kind of taco soft shell in the Basque Country.  Here there were atleast 10.  Same with the soy sauce section.  Kikkoman is the only one I buy but here were a plethora of options that could have distracted me!

While having so many options, we were surprised to be underwhelmed by two sections of the store - the tuna section and the salad vinegar section.  Here it seems that everyone buys tuna canned with water, but that isn't even an option in San Sebastian where it is always with oil.  We had gotten used to buying tuna canned with extra virgin olive oil, but try to buy that here and there is maybe only one brand that offers it and at a ridiculous price.  We have since become water tuna consumers.  And, the salad vinegar - yes, there were a massive amount of salad dressing options - Ranch, Italian, blah blah blah, but the simple oil and vinegar that we are used to was much more challenging.  We love a nice thick balsamic vinegar but to our surprise couldn't find one!  Of all the 10,000 items in Safeway, a heavy and rich balsamic vinegar was not among them.  We settled for a more liquidy one that tastes delicious though.

We eventually made it to the famed cereal aisle.  When people come to America, they always remark on the vast array of choices that fill the breakfast aisle and it's true.  There are something like 275 different cereals to chose from, and sort of back to the tomato sauce dilemma but magnified, it becomes a stressful feat to find a cereal.  Not only are there an amazing amount of healthy options which I appreciate greatly (it had been hard to find a nice granola over there!) but the cereals that have cartoon characters adorning their boxes are somehow able to sell sweets as breakfast food.  Take for example, Cookie Crisp - a cereal that is just small chocolate chip cookies.  That's it.  A box of bit-sized chocolate chip cookies that if you pour some milk over becomes part of a balanced breakfast they state.  If cookies aren't your thing but you just have a sweet tooth, why not try the Cinnamon Toast Cruch or the Waffle Crisp, both loaded with sugar and I am sure not healthy in the slightest!  How are these cereals?

If we took all these sugar-loaded cereals off the aisles, I am sure the childhood obesity would drop pretty quickly, but obviously there would still be work to be done, namely in the cookie and chip aisles which have a selection not unlike cereal.  The one place that we really were shocked with the selection, I mean besides our eyes bugging out when we saw the cereal and chips, was the beer section.  Being in the Pacific Northwest, we are in a beer haven, and there are just as many choices for cold beer as there are for potato chips and in this arena we were happy!  We are trying to do our best to test local beers and here was our chance!

Another part of the massive store that we were tickled pink by was the coffee section.  We have an Italian coffee maker, that are ubiquitous in Spain but hard to come by here and we wanted some ground coffee for it, but couldn't decide on any of the hundred packaged choices.  Luckily, our store has their own coffee beans and you can ground them yourself and take home that bag of ground coffee!  We were delighted and made bags of caramel, french vanilla and double chocolate coffee to take home and try!

Another amenity of shopping for four long hours is the fact that almost every Safeway has a Starbucks conveniently located inside.  As we meandered up and down each aisle we snacked on a fresh donut from the bakery section (such stress choosing bread!) and a caramel macchiato!  It made the shopping that much better.

After spending a good 30 minutes in the spice aisle, 15 minutes decided which yogurts to try and trying to make a smart decision in the ridiculous amount of frozen pizzas, we pulled our two full carts to the check out to see the damage.  We had brought our own grocery bags - which included two Ashland Co-op cloth bags, various other cloth bags and an Ikea bag.  With the amount of things we bought though, we still needed some extra Safeway bags.

Here in Portland, all things are bagged in paper bags because plastic bags were banned last year.  Bringing your own bag is highly encouraged but if you don't, paper bags are available.  With all the groceries stuffed back into the cart bagged, we paid just under $400 thanks to the savings on our Club Card.  So, that averaged about $100 per hour in the store.

We now have a fully stocked kitchen and as time goes are finding that we need different ingredients and such but now our full kitchen really makes our place feel like home.   

Wednesday, October 31, 2012

All Things Halloween

With a foreigner in town, or alien as you might remember him better, it was a perfect excuse to get in the true Halloween mood this year.  Having been gone from the October 31st celebrations for four years, I too was excited to get my All Hallow's Eve spirit up!

We started the All Things Halloween with the traditional pumpkin carving.  We had been seeing pumpkins at the local supermarkets for a couple of weeks but wanted to save it for about a week before Halloween so as to not have rotting pumpkins on our porch - not such curb appeal in that.  We headed to our local Safeway to pick up our own medium size pumpkins - I really wanted a tall one and Joseba elected a short plump one for his first time carving event.  We didn't happen to buy any carving kit so the carving itself was a bit 1) dangerous and 2) not so accurate but did turn out very fun.

It had been years since I had carved a pumpkin, but the feeling of the pumpkin guts in your hands is quite unforgettable.  It definitely grossed Joseba out and he kept complaining that the insides smelled like raw fish.  Over 20 years carving experience here and that thought never crossed my mind, but that's a foreigner's point of view for you!  Once we extracted all the goo, we made sure to save the seeds, we got into the scraping the inside.  Seeing as my pumpkin was quite tall, I was accidentally shooting pumpkin guts all over the living room because of the angle I had my spoon in there.

We scaped out the insides and then got to the carving business with our little Ikea knives.  Joseba opted for a happy gaping tooth smiling pumpkin character while I tried to perfect the very toothy grin which didn't come out exactly as I had hoped, but alas, we had two carved pumpkins ready to light and put on our front porch!  We placed some votive candles inside and carried them down to the dark  night to light up our entrance and high-fived ourselves for our first Halloween event done right.

The funny thing is that upon carving a pumpkin with someone who has never carved one before,  you want to tell all about it, but I came to realize I didn't know why in the world we were actually carving faces into a winter vegetable for this particular holiday.  I did a little research and it turns out that the reason we carve pumpkins to celebrate All Hallow's Eve is that a dodgy fellow named Jack was always tricking the devil which really made the man below angry.  There were supposedly a list of offenses that Jack did to seal his fate, which consisted of being banished from both Heaven and Hell upon his death.  The devil, trying to get some revenge, decided to cast Jack out to the dark evening with only a piece of coal burning.  Legend has it that it was then that Jack carved a turnip and used it to light his way, which the Irish referred to as Jack of the Lantern - which you can see turns into Jack o'lantern.  Fear of this Jack spread in Scotland and Ireland so people began to carve turnips and later pumpkins and placed them in their windows and doors to scare Jack off should he decide to pay them a visit. 

With the seeds, I tried out three recipes because I had never tried to make nor eat roasted pumpkin seeds ever, strange.  Here are the recipes for the ideas I tried out, obviously scaled down to match the seed count for two pumpkins, but maybe you can try them out next time.

Sweet Curry-Cinnamon                                         Honey Roasted
1 Tbsp nut oil                                                          1/4 cup butter
1 tsp curry powder                                                  2 Tbsp brown sugar
1 tsp cinnamon                                                       1/4 tsp salt
1/8 tsp of fine sea salt                                            1/2 cup honey  

And here is the link to the traditional roasted pumpkin seeds with not only the simple ingredients but also the process of how to make those little slippery seeds tasty!

With spooky orange faces a-glow downstairs we then decided we should do the customary costume party extravangza and began looking for a fun party to attend.  With the help of the lovely internet, we ended up finding a Bollywood themed party, complete with an Indian DJ and all!  The search for the costume was on!

Now, it is estimated that Americans will spend about $8 billion dollars.  For a country in recession, that is a hefty sum for celebrating a spooky holiday like this, but turns out that Halloween is the holiday that has the most cash spent after Christmas.  Who would have thought!  With costumes starting around $45 at most costume retailers, it is not surprising that many Americans spend up to $100 on their attire for the events of the season; the average that Americans spend on their costume is only $28 though which is more our style.  We stopped off at our local Goodwill to see the selection on the day of the party, which wasn't our best planning, but ended up finding a girl 'cop' outfit for me at a low $20!  Sadly, we couldn't find a prisoner or police costume for Joseba there, so hid it between various pairs of jeans and kept looking for a better couple costume at various stories in the area.  When we couldn't find anything we ventured all the way out to Beaverton for a store dedicated solely to Hallowen costumes.  There of course we found a great prisoner outfit, sans ball and chain.  We headed back to the Goodwill and luckily our hiding skills had paid off and we were able to complete our Halloween costume shopping for a total of $55 together - a little below the average.

The party was strange but fun - a massive crowd with their hands in the air trying to dance like they starred in a Bollywood hit film.  At the beginning we were a bit shy but ended up having a blast as we danced with a girl dressed up as an Indian (the kind from India), Waldo from Where's Waldo, a rabbit and other various characters.

As for our actual Halloween evening, I don't think we will get much action.  Our apartment is the upper unit of a Craftsman and sadly, the entrance is on the side of the house.  I am sure most parents don't want their kids wandering down the side path of the house - and if we put up a sign that says 'more candy at the side door' it could get a bit creepy.  So, we have refrained from purchasing candy (because everyone knows if the trick or treaters don't get it, it ends up in your belly!) and will probably put our pumpkins on our downstairs neighbors porch to help them get some good costumed up kids at the door.  And, we still have one pumpkin to spare - the one that my cousin Cathy gave us from her own garden!  I will have to figure out something delicious to make with that!  


Monday, October 29, 2012

Reading is Sexy!

I guess being a writer, it goes without saying that I like reading.  I guess that's not true though - I adore it!  If you give me a good book, I am completely content spending a whole day on the couch paging through it.  I'm totally fine staying up til 3am to finish a book I just can't put down.  Joseba says I eat books, which I guess is true.  So, when we decided to move to Portland one thing I was sure about was that I wanted to join a book club.

Obviously, reading is not the most social hobby, but being part of a book club makes it so.  I was in a book club in NYC and loved reading new books that I probably wouldn't have picked out myself, meeting people who 1) are from the area and 2) like reading just like me!  Being new to the area made it a great way too to meet new friends.

I jumped on the never-failing Craigslist and low and behold there was a group of 30-40 year old ladies looking for awesome girls to join the book club!  It was made for me!  The clever ad about meeting to discuss with wit and wine deserved my best response so I sold myself as the awesome Amanda that I am - a girl who would be coming from living overseas, loved reading and wine equally and listed the last 5 books I had read at the time.  Here were my 5 in case you're looking for a new read:
5. At Home – Bill Bryson (non-fiction anecdotal book)
4. Look Again – Lisa Scottoline (chick-lit – think Jodi Picoult style)
3. The Happiness Project – Gretchen Rubin (non-fiction about happiness)
2. 19Q4 – Haruki Maurakami  (fiction, along the lines of 1984)
1. Night – Elie Weisel (non-fiction Holocaust book) - probably should've read this one in high school but somehow didn't!

Andrea, the book club founder replied that my coolness factor was satisfactory to join the group and told me the upcoming book for the meeting that would be a mere 4 days after we arrived in town!  I was pumped and began reading right away.  

The first meeting was fantastic - lots of nice girls, finger foods, wine and lots of shouting and discussing everything from the book to local watering holes.  I was hooked and volunteered to host the November book club event at our place.  
Since that first meeting we have read:
Where'd You Go Bernadette - Maria Semple
Night Circus - Erin Morgenstern
I'm a Stranger Here Myself - Bill Bryson (this one is my pick!)

Everyone was so friendly and took me in right away.  Soon after I met with a girl from the book club for happy hour and we really hit it off.  That led to a dinner with another girl from the book club and some various friends.  And down the road, the book club celebrated one of the member's birthday with a trip for sushi and a 80s dance party!  

Not only has joining a group of girls with my love for reading been fun for getting some new reading material but it has also given me some great new friends in this city!   I've seen some magnets but am on a quest for a sticker that says the popular phrase 'Reading is Sexy' - let me know if you see one floating around somewhere!

Saturday, October 27, 2012

Saturday with a purpose

There are an infinite number of things you could do on a Saturday - lounge around, go hiking, shop til you drop, meet friends for brunch, do that DIY project you've been planning on, clean the house, do the laundry, read the paper over a nice coffee and more.  For one of our first Saturdays here in Portland, we decided to do one thing that you cannot do on Saturday unless you live here- go to the Portland Saturday Market.

An open-air market for local artisans, the market was set up in the 70s by two women and is still going strong.  Based on the Saturday Market a little farther south in Eugene, the two pioneers wanted a place where artists could have an economic outlet, local people could have access to local arts and crafts and the city could have another dynamic event that pulled the community together.

We headed down at mid-morning with  my sister Alex who had come to visit us for the day and accompany us as we checked out our new city.  The market has since expanded to include food booths and stands, which is the first thing that you notice about the market - the smells that woft for blocks.  It's a stark contrast between the Chinese food and elephant ears but with samples, you can't complain.  The first sample we gobbled up was what I can only describe as an inside-out waffle - the parts of the waffle that are normally squared out were full of yummy fillings!  Rich to the max, it was a tasty appetizer, a little pintxo if you will, but I could never eat a whole one!  We moved on to the incense store where even incense-hating-Alex was enticed when Joseba found her a Vanilla Coffee incense stick.

From Peruvian scarves and Indian tapestries to spices and magnets, there was nothing missing at the market that now boasts more than 400 members!  With over 750,000 visitors each year (while it's only open March - December) the website states that the artisans make an average of $8 million gross all together!  Incredible!

We did our best to support the local craftmen and women by buying an array of things.  First of all we bought some natural hand cream that seems like it would be greasy but turns out that it soaks into your skins amazingly and leaves them silky smooth - you can never say no to that!  We, and when I say we I mean Joseba, also bought a local whiskey (well I guess in this country it's called bourbon but you know what I mean) from a local guy.  While I hate whiskey (and bourbon, scotch - that whole family) Joseba swears it is delicious and when I smell his breath after he drinks a bit on the rocks, I can tell it is mighty strong.  Being a paper bag community, he was given a paper bag for his whiskey and proceeded to walk around with it, brown bagging it, like a drunk homeless man.

Alex was tempted to buy a ring at one of the booths where everything was made from kitchen silverware - spoons that loop into glasses, clocks with moving forks, the works!  And to finish our day at the market we sat down with some tasty food cart food.  Thai food for us girls and Joseba grabbed a manly plate of falafel.  The choices were endless though - Polish, Mexican, Chinese, Indian, Italian and the list went on!  It was probably the toughest decision of the day!

And no day in Portland is complete without a cardboard cup of coffee to carry around, so we jumped on that bandwagon and got a cup of joe too as we listened to the band on the stage rock out as we wandered around some more, soaking up the Portland Saturday Market on a sunny day.




Wednesday, October 24, 2012

My First Pinterest Project

It's been quite some time since I signed up for Pinterest, the online site where you can essentially 'pin' things to your own 'pin boards'.  It's all virtual, but say you have a board for yummy treats, then there you may pin tasty recipes you find, cute cookies cutters, inspiring decorating tips and so on.  It's an addiction, constantly looking for new and exciting things.

The big thing it seems on Pinterest is the lovely DIY (do-it-yourself) craze it has.  Want a coffee table?  Don't BUY it, make it!  Same for a plethora of other things that you didn't need until you saw it.  So, the thing that I convinced myself that I desperately needed was a vertical cork board made with real corks.  I saw this project right when I signed up for the sight and was obsessed.

When we left the Basque Country, I thought a great way to keep that home with us in our new home would be to bring corks from wines, txakolis and champagnes we drank there and put them up here.  With the help of friends and a friend's restaurant owner dad, we had a ton of corks that just needed a bit of glue and a spot in our new home.  Unfortunately (because obviously there had to be some sort of challenge in my first Pinterest project), we were overweight on our luggage limit when we came and although the corks didn't weigh much, they did take up a significant space in our carry-on which was not weighed (it was incredibly overweight by the way.)  So, alas, our cork collection was lost and we started from scratch when we got here.

Now, there are about 45 corks on display, which isn't to say that we became lushes when we arrived and drank 45 bottles of wine.  Luckily, our trips to Seattle and Ashland helped fun our cork collection.  Grammy also had saved a bottle of the Basque wine, txakoli, that Joseba's mom gave him on her visit - made with grapes from her own family's vines.  So that added another.  A couple of bottles wine in our house and a trip to the local craft store to buy some there (two handfuls for 50cents!) and the wine cork collection was set to make its debut on our wall.

Apart from collecting corks I seemed to have an even harder time reminding myself to buy a yard stick, which is what I stuck all the corks too.  Anyways, I got it, and started my gluing with some form of eewy and gooey rubber cement like substance.  Forty-five corks later I was done and ready to hang it on the wall!

I love that each cork (well not the ones from the craft store, but I guess that is a story in an of itself) have a memory from our first weeks here.  Some from a wine my dad and Ginny picked out, some from a wine we tried while wine tasting with Cathy & Paul, a cork from the first wine we drank in our house, a wine all the way from the Basque Country, corks from book clubs, friends' dinners and more.  It's a cute way to display some pictures (to come) and have a little memory all in the same shot.  Thanks Pinterest!

I will still continue my wine drinking although I no longer have an end goal like this one.  They say wine is good for you ;)

On a side note, I wrote this blog a couple days ago and forgot to put it up and since then have actually done another pinterest project - roasted pumpkin seeds!  Just finished making some lightly salted with oil, cinammon curry ones and some garlic ones!  Ohhh the taste test will go great with  my wine!

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

Politics with Style

Last night Joseba and I watched the final Presidential Debate in fashion - at the theater!  We watched the VP one at a bar during Happy Hour, so this was a big step up.  As it turns out, the local Laurelhurst Theater in NE Portland offered a spot for the public to watch the Debate and so that we did.

Built in 1923, the Theater transformed itself into a Theater-Pub, so along with watching Barack and Mitt duel it out, we also chomped on tasty varieties of pizza and a local beer - just heaven!  The event was free but normally movies are $4 (still a steal nowadays) which seemed to encourage a lot of people to come and check it out, as the theater was full!  We arrived about 45 minutes early and were able to grab a seat with a table in front of it, for our eating convenience. 

Seeing as it is almost a century old, it was nice to notice the art deco touches.  Being one of the first art deco theaters built it maintains that old-school feeling although we were watching a debate about very 21st century themes.

The crowd, pretty much all Democrats, participated throughout the Debate, cheering and clapping at Barack's zingers and throwing their hands up and sighing and asking questions to Romney as he answered his prompts.  Having always watched the Debates at home, it was a fun change (I'm always for not being the only one yelling at the TV).  It was great to see so many people interested and engaged. 

I just recently registered to vote and am excited for the upcoming election.  If you haven't registered, get out there and do it.  Living in the Basque Country I was always a bit frustrated that I lived somewhere where my voice wasn't heard (Residents cannot vote, only citizens).  But here, I have my voice back and intend to make it heard with my ballot on Election Day (coincidentally my birthday too).  

VOTE!


Sunday, October 21, 2012

First Hike in Portland - Multnomah Falls

As we were avid hikers in the Basque Country, one of the good things we liked about Portland and the surrounding Pacific Northwest area was the fact that we could continue that here!  So, for our first hike as Portlanders, we decided to go with the classic Multnomah Falls 5 mile loop.

Multnomah Falls is a gorgeous waterfall that can actually be seen from the freeway as you speed by or you can take a closer gander by stopping at this strange parking lot in the middle of the freeway, taking a small walkway under the freeway and a train bridge and arriving at the base of the Falls complete with a restaurant, coffee shack and visitor's center.

From the highway you can see the top of the Falls - a good 620ft high!  However, the special part about getting close up is that you can see the base of the waterfall and not only feel the moisture hit your face but also see the 'bath' that goes along with the Native American legend of the Multnomah Falls.  According to the story, the Falls were created for a princess who wanted a secret place to bathe.  The waterfall is broken into two seperate falls which combine to make that total height - the first being the upper part that is 542ft high and the second that makes up the rest.  While gazing at the Falls from the base is an astounding experience that you must do with your head tilted towards the sky to get the full-scale of the natural wonder, you can also walk a few minutes to the Benson Bridge and check out the Falls from a dfiferent vantage point - right at the top of the second Fall, about 70-something feet up!

While obviously never claimed during Native American times, somehow the Falls fell into the ownership of Simon Benson for whom the bridge is named.  In the 1900s before his death he gave the land to the city of Portland and now it is part of the US Forest Department.  After getting to the bridge we continued on the steep climb to the top of the Falls for our first hike in the area.

Although rain was in the prediction, the heavy skies held off and allowed us a few good hours of goregeous views of the inner forest.  With Fall in full swing, the paths were covered with massive leaves in varying shades of pumpkin oranges and harvest corn yellows, fitting for the season.  While I love shockingly red leaves that dot the tree scene from time to time, the yellows and oranges are the more usual colors in our area and they are just gorgeous.

The loops lead us along the water through paths that wound between trees that you can barely see the tops of.  While the Basque Country has big trees, Joseba was astounded by the sheer size of some of the stumps of these ones.  Felled trees lay scattered around, still sprouting branches toward the sky and some of their broken bases were bigger than us!  It would take days to count how old they are by thier rings.

As we continued along we saw gorgeous cascades besides the main attraction as it seemed they were everywhere we looked!  Massive mushrooms growing high on tree trunks, leaves bigger than both of my hands together with spiky thorns on them and red-bodied beetles were among the beautiful things that nature revealed to us in the first few hours.

According to the map we got from the visitor's center when we arrived, the loop was a mere 5 miles and should have dropped us off right back where we started.  However, when we came to a 4-corner stop without the map hung up in its designated spot, we elected for a trail that looked like the one of the map indicated.  We soon found out that we were wrong.  We walked and walked, guided  by what we thought was the sound of the rivers but later lost any sound.  Soon we heard a train and again thought we were near the main highway to head back to the car but again the trail wound around and took us in a different direction.  After about an hour and a half of walking without knowledge of where we were, we finally emptied out onto a main road but still couldn't figure out where we were!

What started off as a short scenic hike had become quite a worrisome adventure and with the clock ticking we began to worry that we might not make it back to our car before the sun set over the Columbia Gorge.  We eventually started flagging cars down to ask for help but the first one sped by without a care in the world.  Luckily, the second car stopped and we asked him if we were near Multnomah Falls and he responded that we were kind of near but offered us a ride as it had started to rain.

Although we never got his name, the hero was a Netherlands native on a business trip to Hillsboro who just happened to like the Gorge area and liked to come to Multnomah Falls or Larch Mountain on his trips to the state.  Lucky for us he had all the time in the world and happily drove us all the way back to our car - some 15 miles from where he picked us up.

To this day, we really have NO idea how we got so far off trail.  With a map in hand and GPS on our cells phones we thought we were lost-proof but learned that it is not so.  Besides maybe the time we got quite off track in the Pyrenees a few Autumns ago, I don't think we had ever been so happy to see the car after a hike!  The worst was that we still had grocery shopping to do and were actually incredibly thankful that Safeway, a grocery chain, serves hot food at the Deli Counter!

A memorable hike for the books, maybe that whole getting lost bit was all worth the gorgeous scenery and amazing shots we got!


Saturday, October 20, 2012

First Days in Portland

Because of a little complication with the photos, we weren't able to get the pics of our first few weeks here til now, so I will jump back a bit and take you along while I share how our journey started when we got here!

After we arrived from the airport we conked out and slept like babies and had a tasty breakfast with Grammy's homemade raspberry jam and coffee the next morning.  After that, we were on our way to Portland!  It'd been quite a few years since I had been and Joseba had never even seen this city he had committed to living in, so it was a must!  Although I grew up a stone's throw from Portland, OR, I honestly don't know much more than Joseba about it.  Granted I know the freeways a bit, the layout and where Saturday Market is, but other than that, I only really know Portland for where I used to shop for school clothes, so this was an adventure for both of us!

We first stopped off in the area where we had been looking for apartments - the Mississippi neighborhood in NE Portland.  Portland is divided into 4 quadrants basically.  The Willamette River seperates East from West and Burnside Street seperates North from South.  We live in the NE area in an up-and-coming area near cute shops, restaurants and parks.  But, back to our first day - we parked in the NE area and strolled the streets til we found our first official lunch spot in Portland, OR - a place called Wolf and Bear's.  Seeing as it was sunny it was completely acceptable to eat outside of this food cart, which are all the rage in Portland.  It's basically a little snack shack where they cook you up a tasty meal in a small trailer and you eat it right there or at some picnic tables or small eating area near the spot and enjoy a little taste of heaven!  Neither one of us had eaten at one before and were looking forward to the occasion, so when we spotted this one on Mississippi Ave we stopped off.  We took a snap to commemerate Joseba's first meal as a Portlander as he sat on a picnic table in the parking lot with a little gnome in the garden staring him down!  We dined on variations of the Falafel Wrap - hummus, caramelized onions, roasted red peppers, grilled eggplant, parsley, falafel and salad greens covered with tahini sauce on a warm pita.  Tasty!

With the sun still shining we drove down to a free parking lot and hopped on MAX - the light rail system in Portland - to Downtown.  Although Portlander's main form of transport is the car, the city has been planned and developed with urban transportation in mind - be it bikes, buses or trams - which is one of the reasons we picked it as our new hometown. 

We got off in Downtown and were surprised at how laid-back and calm the city was, even on a Friday at mid-day.  While it boasts the title as Oregon's largest city, it is only the 29th largest city in the US, so it still maintains some of the small town feel with all the amentities of the big metro area. 

We wandered up and down the streets, pointing out gorgeous brick buildings and fun shops.  Seeing as that Portland was once a timber town, many of the buildings of the early era were built in bricks to avoid burning.  Many still stand to this day and make a gorgeous contrast against the newer skyrises.  We eventually stumbled upon Powell's Books - the self-proclaimed largest independant bookstore in America and the largest bookstore West of the Mississippi (about as American of a phrase out there!).  With a multi-story building that takes up an entire city block, Powell's City of Books  has something like 68,000 square feet of retail space!  That's a lot of books!  As an obviously avid reader, it's sort of like a little heaven where you can just go in and get lost in an avalanche of books.  Listed as one of top 10 bookstores in the nation according to USA Today, it is a huge tourist attraction for visitors but also a hopping spot for locals alike. 

After dining at a food cart, wandering the streets and then buying books at Powell's the next thing to do on our 'get to know Portland' list was to have some beer!  Known throughout the country as a beer haven, Oregon as a state has a reputation as a beer-lover's place and Portland is no different.  With tons of local breweries, Portlanders pride themselves on a good pint of beer and have so many options that you can get silly just trying them all!  While most people hear of wine-tasting, the Northwest also offers beer-tasting where just like the former, you can order a couple of beers to taste and test out.  Not only that, it seems that every bar we have been in, with thier massive list of beers on the menu or on tap, you can just outright ask if you can try a few before committing to your order and the smiley waiter will gladly oblige and bring you a couple to try out before you down a pint!  It's amazing!  I am not the most schooled girl on beer yet and get a bit confused when words like barley, malt and hopps are thrown around, but I am doing my best to learn and do my fair share of testing too! 

For our first day we stopped off at a local brewery that has made it quite big - Deschutes Brewery.  With something like 10 beers just on tap, we ventured into ordering a Obsidian Stout for Joseba and a Chainbreaker IPA for me.  To show you that beer is not merely a tailgating or boring drink, take a look at the descriptions for our brews which make you just want to come visit and order one right now!
 - Obsidian Stout -
Deep, robust and richly rewarding, this is beer to linger over. Obsidian has distinct notes of espresso, chocolate, roasted malt and black barley, with just enough hop bite to cut the sweetness.
Malt: Pale, Crystal, Carapils, Munich, Black Barley, Roasted Barley, Wheat
Hops: Nugget, Millennium, Willamette, Northern Brewer
IBUs 55 | Alcohol by Vol. 6.4%
 
- Chainbreaker IPA - 
Deschutes is taking you into the next beer frontier. Brewed with wheat and pilsner malt; this IPA displays beautiful citrus aromas from Cascade and Citra hops that meld with the esters of Belgian yeast. Think thirst quenching hopped-up wit beer with enough IBUs to warrant the IPA name.
Malt: Pilsner, Wheat, Unmalted Wheat
Hops: Bravo, Citra, Centennial, Cascade
Other: Sweet Orange, Coriander
IBUs 55 | Alcohol by Vol. 5.6%
 
Only the first of many beers as we make ourselves more at home, we soon after continued with our meandering and eventually had to stop off for a burger at Theo's.  This restaurant happily makes thier burgers and sandwiches with high quality ingredients, like many spots in Portland, OR.  The truth is that many dining spots in Portland go above and beyond that and make thier dishes with local organic ingredients.  Slow Food instead of Fast Food is really a thing in Portland.  Granted, there are McDonald's and Burger Kings floating around but many people would rather stop off at a local cafĂ© for thier lunch.  Besides eating local with restaurants that provide fresh ingredients from down the street, just living here a bit we have seen lots of little community gardens and local produce markets.  We have one just down the street from us that we plan on going to this coming Tuesday for some veggies grown literally in our same zip code!  
 
After munching on our burgers, it became dark and we decided that for our first day in the States, we had done well at starting our ongoing exploration of this new city and got really excited to be able to find a place and move down!  
 
More to come soon!
Amanda
 
 

Monday, October 15, 2012

The Quest for the Perfect Car

In true American fashion, Joseba and I decided that we should buy a car while living here.  Although we picked Portland for its great public transportation system, if we want to go out of town or drive up to Kelso to see the fam, a car was going to be neccessary, so the search began.

We started almost as soon as we arrived.  We started off with a low budget of like $1500 and hoping for a decent car but then after searching online and seeing what kind of selection we had for that price range we beefed it up to about $3000.  Hoping for a reliable car that would run for many more miles we started the search with Hondas, which although they are not so popular in Europe are amazingly ubiquitous here.

We searched and searched but it seemed a $3000 budget for Honda was only going to get a car that was atleast 15 years old, which is not exactly what we were hoping for.  We ventured off into the Toyota and Nissan worlds hoping to find a steal but just couldn't find anything that checked all of our boxes - clean title, good miles, car in good shape, etc.

We mostly used Craigslist.com to find our cars - which is basically an online classified ad site that has everything from cooking class and cars to jobs and artwork.  Anyone who has a car can post on it, and some of the ads that we saw were so bad that we just knew they didn't even deserve a call.  Here are a few of our favorite lines from the ads for cars we looked at:

- I selling my Honda Civic 2001 (DX Model) Clean Title with 145xxxml,- Automatic tranny, Its very nice comunity car very nice for gas, Its have good tires, brikes., Strong body, clean inerior -Never been smoked, Its very maintance car.  This one I love because I love a nice community car, don't you?  And forget brakes, who doesn't want a nice set of brikes?!  The part that concerns me is that the car has never been smoked.  Cigarettes I have tried but smoking a Honda...is that commonplace now?

- CD PLAYER PLUS SEX CD EXCHANGER.  Does anyone else see the error in this?  I know that some R&B tunes really get you in the mood, but is it possible to have a SEX CD changer?  Is that why this car was so expensive?  Six...that's more like it.


- Please excuse the pine needles inside of the car in picture.  This one I love because the guy didn't take the 5 minutes to vaccuum out his car before taking the photos for the ad and instead put this disclaimer.  Classy.


- Engine is in a very good shape, doesn't burn oil.  It doesn't burn oil?!  Is that a regular thing to note?  


- just little dimp at the back door.  What's a dimp?!


- we can meet up at Seven Eleven store on SE Foster and SE 97th anytime.  Hahahah, it had to be 7-11!  This sounds more like it is in the personal ads than the car ads.


- only problems are you have to disconnect the battery every time your done driving it and it won't go into 5th gear.  Oh, those are the only problems?!  Those seem a bit serious to me.


Anyways, you get the drift of what we had to look through.  The biggest problem we came up against was the 'rebuilt', 'reconstructed' or 'salvage' titles.  According to CarFax (a website where you can check the history of your car online with the VIN number) they mean the following:

 - Salvage: A Salvage Title is issued on a vehicle damaged to the extent that the cost of repairing the vehicle exceeds ~ 75% of its pre-damage value. This damage threshold may vary by state. Some states treat Junk titles the same as Salvage but the majority use this title to indicate that a vehicle is not road worthy and cannot be titled again in that state. The following eleven states also use Salvage titles to identify stolen vehicles - AZ, FL, GA, IL, MD, MN, NJ, NM, NY, OK and OR.

 - Rebuilt and Reconstructed: A Rebuilt/Reconstructed vehicle is a salvage vehicle that has been repaired and restored to operation. These vehicles are often severely damaged before they are rebuilt and refurbished parts are typically used during reconstruction. In most states, an inspection of the vehicle is required before the vehicle is allowed to return to the road. 

Every time we thought we found an amazing deal on a car, the deal-breaker would be that it was one of those three types of titles.  Because the cars can be repaired enough to get them back on the roads, sometimes massive problems remain and you can buy a car with one of these titles and then a few months into it it just goes bad and you're out of luck.  There are a lot of crooks who buy damaged cars, fix them up enough that you can buy them, sell you them and then soon down the road it breaks down and you have a broken car and a bad title on your hands.  The resale value of the car is said to be atleast 60% less than the regular resale value if it has one of these titles.  Since we are planning on eventually selling it, as soon as we saw those words we just closed it and moved.  

The search widened even more and finally we added import cars to the list.  We had been driving my Grammy's Buick around and since it had been almost a month since she loaned it to us, really wanted to get it back to her so were really searching around for cars!  Finally, we found a nice Volvo that we liked and met the owner at a park just near our house.  

After having met with many people who weren't from here and barely spoke English, we were happy to meet a couple (the boy from here and the girl from Florida) selling the car.  The 2002 Volvo S40 had been a family car until they gave it to the girl, their daughter, for her vehicle.  Now that she moved up to live with the boyfriend, they didn't need her car and were looking to sell it, which is where we come in.


When we met them they had a massive folder of all the maitenence records since the car had been bought new showing everything - oil changes, new tire purchases, belt changes, etc.  The car was gorgeous - leather seats, sun roof, gorgeous interior, cruise control (not as common as you think) and an automatic (my main wish).  We loved it as soon as we saw it but of course had to bargain down a bit.  


When we finally shook hands it felt good to have finally found our car and was a HUGE thing to cross off our to-do list.  In the end, it was almost like looking for a house and I for one will not be sad to not look on Craigslist for a long time for another car.


So here we are - living in Oregon, riding vintage bikes, eating organic food, drinking local wines, driving reliable cars - who are we?!