If you follow me on Twitter, I'm afraid you're already aware (to a painful degree), how hard I fell for Portland while I was in town last week "for work." I have work in quotes because sometimes I need to pinch myself that this is part of what I do for a living.
I was there from Wednesday through Sunday attending the International Association of Culinary Professionals Conference. I feel like it's going to take a few posts to get through the ways my mind was a little blown but it's Saturday morning and this feels like the best place to start.
A week ago today, I fell for a farmer's market. Mushrooms of every shape and variety, chard that actually looked like a rainbow piled high on a folding table, flowers in every fattened form. I have two weeks more to wait until Chicago is in its proper market season. It was just enough time for my eye to wander. My appetite clearly followed and thus two early AM hours in the market became a pretty good representation of the full trip. All the photos in this post were shot at the Portland Farmer's Market and this post was inspired in part by a fellow attendee's post yesterday.
To be surrounded for five days by people who so profoundly love food the way I do... I slept for maybe 4-5 hours a night. I did not want to miss a single minute. It's not even that they simply love food, it's that they love the craft, love the energy that truly good food brings. And man alive...they have taken the time to get educated and are so excited to pass along the good word. I drank it in. I ate it up.My hotel (The Ace Hotel-highly recommend) had bikes for lending and every morning I got up with my own timezone to tool around a two-wheel friendly town. The Ace also housed two establishments that anchored my days- Stumptown Coffee as the sun came up, Clyde Common cocktails as the sun went down. I was a regular. I even shared my Voodoo Doughnut treasures with the bartenders. That's affection.
Everyone was so sweet. Not in a saccharine, "what can you do for me" way, but a genuine, earthy interest. Adventurers, idealists, authors, editors, idols- many times a combination therein. You know me- I talk so much. I talk so fast. Yet for so much of the trip, I just wanted to listen.
The mistresses of ceremonies were two of the most prolific women in the edible world- Ruth Reichl and Kim Severson. They were hilarious. And smart. And I'm gushing. I can't even bother being embarrassed.
We ate some of the best food that Portland has to offer. From end to end, street cart to white tablecloth. The conference itself was a string of long days but from an organization perspective, they did the best job I've seen weaving the stunning location into the daily activities. Bakery tours, brewery tours, biodynamic vineyard tours (I did this one)... memories of the conference are inseparable from the host city in the best way.
It still wasn't enough time. I could go back for a week and still leave wanting. My last night was spent with dive bars, diners and a belly dancer thanks to Doniree, in town by a serendipitous fluke. We're in the same boat, she and I. Both living in great places but easily enamored of this new one. Everything was so lush, so clean. It was an extra large village and the folks living there were proud stewards. Farm to table is actually being implemented as the norm by a city. Two separate cab drivers gave me the sales pitch.
I managed an evening with some old friends, caught in town by a small miracle before they head out for a summer on the road. As though I needed another layer to love the city through, seeing it with the folks actually living there took it just a little bit further. Streets lined with pregnant rhododendrons, bungalows with wide front porches and the outline of Mt Hood in the distance.
When I was a freshman in college I listened to India Arie's "Ready for Love" more times that could possibly have been mentally healthy. Particularly absent any sense of irony. The angst, the impatience all sitting, legs dangling at the cusp. I wanted so badly for my life to start. Its a time that's been front of mind lately because I recently unearthed my journal from that summer. The one where I lost any sense of gravity and fell in love for the first time. I'm starting to realize that its the exact sense of romantic possibility that drives my travel habit.
When I manage to have a strange, new city opened up in front of me, I get that same rush. More than two days in a new place and I can imagine what my life looks like there. Do you do that too? Do you fall for places like you fall for people? I want to know what a place tastes like, what its extremes are. I want to know the corners only its closest friends care to patronize.
I've fallen for this place. I saw a snapshot of what my life looked like there and I savored it. For now it's not an affair that requires a commitment. For a few days at a time I can return to bury my face in its lush greens and lean back on a wind that smells like snow and moss and dark soil.
So yes, this is my infatuation and the beautiful thing is that I can go back. But for the time being, I walk through my front gate into Wicked Park and I can feel that warmth swell up inside me all over again. I'll keep traveling and I'll fall in love from time to time. But after what feels like a month away, I'm happy to be home.
This is a Reggie sandwich from Pine State Biscuits. After all that sentimental produce, this is an appropriate end note because once you take down half this beautiful beast-buttermilk biscuits with fried chicken, bacon and mushroom gravy-you can't do a whole lot else. Pure romance.