White Means Surrender

This story was originally published under the title “Green Means Surrender” in Share Document, a limited-run book edited by Clifton Burt and Nicole Lavelle for Design Week Portland. The entire book, which includes writing from a variety of local designers and curators, is quite beautiful, and available for purchase from Ampersand Gallery on NE Alberta Street.

Ghost bike and bike box at SW 3rd and Madison in downtown Portland. Photo (cc) via Flickr user Todd Mecklem.

At the corner of SW 3rd and Madison, in downtown Portland, on the western approach to the Hawthorne Bridge, there are two white bicycles. One is a Ghost Bike, spray-painted white, disabled to discourage theft, and chained to a post. Ghost Bikes are installed as memorials to people who died while cycling; in this case, a 28-year-old woman named Kathryn Rickson, who was run over by an 18-wheeler a year ago last May.

The other is more abstract: a white bicycle shape stencilled on the pavement in a field of bold, optimistic green, to create a marking that traffic engineers call an “advanced stop line,” though it’s more commonly known in Portland as a “bike box.” This particular bike box is preceded for half a block by a green-painted fragment of bike lane; together they form a sort of flag shape when viewed from above. Riding home one evening, a few days after the anniversary of Rickson’s death, I pass over it, and I’m struck by the similarities between the bike painted on the pavement, and the one chained up nearby. Besides their shape and color, they both serve as quiet warnings and, to some degree, as apologies.

As transportation infrastructure goes, bike boxes are cheery looking, especially compared to the bureaucratic black-and-white signage that cities usually use to direct drivers. They’ve shown up in countless blog posts and articles over the past few years, often serving as a kind of visual shorthand for bike-friendliness. Highly visible and relatively cheap to install, they’re popular among traffic engineers and bike advocacy groups. Their only real drawback is that they don’t work.

The Missoula Floods, Animated

The Missoula Floods are one of those things I’d never heard of before moving to Portland, but once here their influence starts showing up everywhere. Beyond the fact that I live on an ancient bar of sediment deposited by the floods in the lee side of an even more ancient volcano, there’s the whole Columbia Gorge, carved by the floods, and the whole Willamette Valley, full of rich Eastern Washington topsoil deposited by the floods, which now nurture the phenomenal produce and wine that make living here such a joy.

LMissDamAnim1

Anyway, the source of all these floods–without going into too much detail–was a massive lake repeatedly formed by an ice dam, on the site of modern-day Lake Pend Oreille, in northern Idaho. I visited there over the holidays to gawk in geology nerd fashion, and have some pics to post in a bit. In the meantime, here’s an animation from the Geology department at the University of Wisconsin, Green Bay, of what the dam might’ve looked like as it failed. I can’t stop watching it.

Every Crappy Edit Makes You Sick

Still from the original ad, via the CDC Tobacco Free Facebook page.

I’m not generally a fan of PSAs. The language tends to be heavy-handed and preachy, and often the concepts seem entirely detached from the reality of the intended audience. “Just Say No” is the obvious one here, but the phenomenon is widespread — even the most clever, memorable ads seem better at being clever and memorable than at making the viewer actually want to stop littering, stay off drugs, or whatever.

So I was pleasantly surprised yesterday when I stumbled across what I think is a very effective 30 second TV spot. It started with predictable imagery (X-rays, surgery, etc.) but ended with a tagline that I’ve been pondering ever since: “Every cigarette makes you sick.”

To begin with, it’s specific. There are lots of forms of tobacco out there, and they’re all bad for you to some degree. Likewise, smoking tobacco does a lot more than just make you sick; it forms addiction, and eventually kills you. But this statement wisely lets go of the broad, all-encompassing warning, and chooses vividness over scope. If you smoke, it’s easier to dismiss a warning about “tobacco products” than one about the exact items that sit, tantalizingly, 20 to a box in your shirt pocket.

Early Spring

Let’s ease back into this with something familiar, that I know everyone likes: more pictures of food. Or in this case, pictures of things that are going to eventually be food.

The truth is, it’s hard for me to think too hard about food in February or March. The grocery stores are still full, the restaurants and carts are serving, and I’m cooking as often as ever, but it’s not quite the same as walking down the street and seeing food sticking out of the ground, which is a not uncommon occurrence in Portland. In the right season, anyway. A friend of mine was heavily influenced to move here during one particular visit from New York as we were walking down a residential sidewalk and he abruptly stopped and exclaimed, “Wait, is that rosemary?!”

“Yeah. And that’s mint, that’s sage, that’s parsley and that’s thyme. And that bed back there is fennel and leeks.”

“And people just grow that stuff out here by the sidewalk?”

There are plenty of things I miss about New York, but the quality of the edible gardens is not one of them.

Market Haul #13 – Season’s end.

A little forlorn at the Hollywood Market today, despite a partial sunbreak and a better than average band in the music tent. It’s the last market day until 2011, so in addition to the diminished abundance in nearly everyone’s stall, there were also a lot of sighs and promises to “see you in March.” That’s how seasons work, I suppose: you don’t get excited about something opening unless you first watch it close.

For all that, not a bad haul, and I didn’t even touch on the root vegetables or squashes this time around. Clockwise from the top: more Brussels sprouts (these were everywhere, stacked like Martian Christmas trees in half the stalls), Russian kale, leeks, yellow onions, levain batard from Fleur de Lis (A little cheat on this, since I actually walked to their bakery five blocks from the market, after finishing my produce shopping. But they used to have a stall, so I figure it still fits in the Market Haul category), artichokes, Italian frying peppers (not sure what you do with those, but I’m up for a challenge), parsley.

In light of the upcoming season of overindulgence, I think dinner this Tuesday’s going to be vegetables exclusively.

Market Haul #11 and #12

The harvest season slowly winds down. From November 6, the last great Haul of the year, I suspect: leeks, squashes, kale, carrots, beets, bread, garlic, cheese, chorizo, an intimidating stalk of Brussels sprouts, and a bag of some of the best salad greens I have ever eaten. Also, a rare indulgence in a $10 bottle of cider, justified by my current “learning about cider” status and wanting to see what all the fuss was about single origin pressings. The bottle shown here is from Salem-based Wandering Aengus, and it’s made from crab apples (no kidding). Complicated and delicious, and worth at least 2/3 of what I spent on it.

Now contrast that with the Haul from just a week later (yesterday): small heads of butter lettuce at 3 for $5, radishes (perpetually available), some smallish Yukon Golds, apples, pears, escarole for braising along with meats and roots, and a bag of bacon ends.

True, I could’ve grabbed some more beets, but I’ve got plenty left over from last week through the magic of pickling. And the cheese and meat lasts longer when the weather gets cloudy and life gets more sedentary. But I specifically asked for those salad greens, and they were already out, along with plenty of other things. Captured By Porches and Fleur de Lis, my reliable sources for beer and bread, are long gone, along with about a third of the vegetable vendors.

It’s easy to say how good it is to see the seasons change when it’s light until 9 and the market’s full of strawberries, but times like these make me wonder what I was thinking. Maybe I’ll just crawl into my kitchen with a bottle of bourbon and a side of pork and call you in May. Happy winter everyone.

Market Haul #10 – Eastern Oregon Edition

A little more dirt on the produce this time around, and with good reason. Jeanne and I missed the Hollywood Market on the 16th, because we had driven 300 miles east for the weekend, to visit some friends of hers in Joseph.

Joseph is a preposterously lovely town at the southern end of the Wallowa Valley, at about 4000 feet of elevation, and perhaps 40 miles from where the Snake River grinds through Hell’s Canyon. When you sit on the front porch with your coffee in the morning and look east, the distant mountains you see are the Seven Devils, in Idaho; the much closer ones to the west and south are the Wallowas, home to Oregon’s largest wilderness area, and, judging by the photos, alpine landscapes that evoke the Sierra Nevada more than the Cascades. I like that I live in a state with enough diversity to reliably surprise you on every new trip.

What To Do in Joseph and neighboring Enterprise on a crisp fall weekend:

  1. Visit the Terminal Gravity Brewery, twice in 48 hours, because there are seven offerings on tap that they don’t bottle, each strong enough to limit your consumption to three glasses per visit, if you’re sensible.
  2. Hike up Hurricane Creek, because it gets high and wild very quickly, and the trailhead’s just outside of town.
  3. Go to the cider pressing, because it’s a much bigger deal than it sounds — 200 or more people by my estimates, a band, a hay bale maze for the kids, a massive potluck anchored by slabs of pork emerging from an ominous black smoker at regular intervals, and all the cider you care to take home (we put ours in a donated Carlo Rossi bottle) . I shot some movies of this, which I may take the initiative to post someday soon, but no promises.

Market Haul #9

The lamest Portland summer ever yields a belated run of summer produce. If a shopping bag full of tomatoes, eggplants, peaches and peppers looks weird to you in September, you’re not the only one.

Most of what’s here should be familiar so I won’t go into details, except to point out that yes, I’m now completely addicted to those bizarre-looking fluted giganto-zucchini, and the peppers were presented as Ancho but look identical to the Poblanos at the next stall over. Serves me right for not growing up in New Mexico.

Market Hauls #5 and…um…#8?

Unpardonable lapses on these. My only excuses are a number of personal events that interfered with Saturday marketing, and a lost charger for a dead camera battery. One of these photos was actually shot with an iPhone (guess which).

The unintended benefit, though, is getting to see a fast-forward progression of the season’s offerings over the course of the summer. First we have the haul from June 26:

Lots of classic indicators of early summer here: snap peas, garlic whips, porcini mushrooms, asparagus and strawberries of the particularly fragile and incredibly delicious ‘Hood’ variety. The latter are identifiable by their diminutive stature and the wet spot on the pint container where one of them’s gone squishy from the bike ride home.

Now contrast that with last weekend, August 21:

Peaches and tomatoes! And huge piles of each at several stalls. It’s almost as if Oregon is apologizing to us for running out of strawberries. That white orb-thing hiding behind the basil is a tiny orange-fleshed honeydew melon, which was nice but a little disappointing. Best leave those to hotter dryer places, and we’ll stick with the berries and stone fruits.

It doesn’t show up that well, but the fluted thing resting on top of the purple artichoke is a variety of zucchini that my friend Tobias at one of the market stalls (he’s also an industrial designer — cool, right?) recommended so emphatically I had little choice. It was fantastic. Whatever this variety’s called, it’s uglier than a normal zucchini, gets way bigger without getting woody, and tastes twice as good. On the other hand, he also recommended that strange dark green jutting out above it, which is apparently an ancient predecessor to broccolini or something. It tasted like twigs.

It honestly does my heart good to see the progress of time in my shopping basket, especially when one joy gets displaced by another in this way.

On the other hand, ask me again in February after I’ve filled my tote bag with parsnips and rain for the ninth consecutive weekend and maybe I’ll have something different to say.

Market Haul #4

Bit of a redundant haul photo this time, I’m afraid: bread, fish, beer and strawberries as per usual, with the addition of an astonishingly good 12 dollar pinot noir from a small winery that sells exclusively through farmers market stalls. I owe that discovery to a co-shopper who prefers wine to beer, lucky me. The conversation with the winemaker was extra interesting–wine, along with just about everything else, owes more of its price to the distribution and marketing than the actual making, so a 12 dollar bottle like this would probably run closer to 30 if he were to actually jump through all the hoops needed to get it on a supermarket shelf. Also available through the internet for a few dollars more, if you’re interested.