Friday, September 28, 2012

Portland Day 5: Pine State Biscuits, Alphabet District, Salt & Straw, Portland Aerial Tram

This is post #5 out of 5 about a recent trip to Portland. Other posts in this series include: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 4. God that took me forever.


Pine State Biscuits

Our last day's breakfast: the infamous fried chicken biscuits from Pine State Biscuits. Ryan decided to go all out and go for the "Reggie," the fattiest option available: fried chicken topped with bacon, cheese, and gravy, AND a fried egg, all stuffed between two hefty biscuits.

Since I am more rational, I went for the "McIsley," which was fried chicken smothered in tangy mustard and sweet honey, with some pickles sprinkled on top. Sadly this post is so delayed I don't remember much...only that I liked the fried chicken + honey combo.

We also got Cajun fries. I don't know why. They were nice and crisp...but my favorite will always be the limp slightly soggy ones (think Burger King ones circa the 1990s).

A shot of the interior.

A shot of me clutching my Stumptown drip.

Oh, and next door, we spotted what looked like a film crew on the premises. On that patio area above, I saw an actor whose name I didn't know (he's not pictured) – "the guy who does impressions of Obama on SNL," I insisted. Ryan didn't believe me. But then I accosted one of the film crew members and asked what was going on, and she told me they'd been filming Portlandia.

A Google search of Portlandia revealed that indeed, the guy on the show is the Obama impressions-maker guy. His name, which I had to look up again because it is very hard to remember, is Fred Armisen.


After our gut-busting dinner, we decided to walk around and explore the neighborhood. There were a lot of new-looking restaurants and cafes, and a sprinkling of quirky stores (we came across one devoted to scrapbooking, another to knitting). NE Alberta was described to me as the "artsy" district, and I could see that. A little funky, a little hipster...cleaner.

Some scenes from the walk:


Salt & Straw

We finally made it to one of the most highly-anticipated moments of the trip – the moment where I would feast happily upon Salt & Straw's famous freshly made ice cream. Unfortunately, our walk wasn't long enough for the biscuit volume in our stomachs to subside, and neither of us really had an appetite.

I didn't care. We sampled a bunch of flavors and went with one of their most popular ones – Sea Salt Ice Cream with Caramel Ribbon. I ordered the small cone, but it was huge – the size of my (small) fist.

Ryan refused to help me eat I did it myself.

And I loved it. Even if it's blasphemous to say – I think theirs is better than Bi Rite's salted caramel. Their ice cream was creamier and the thick swirls of salted gooey caramel "ribbon" were amazing.

The unhelpful ice cream eater posing against one of the walls.


We also stopped by a candy shop called Candy Babel that was packed to the brim with candy. The lady running the shop told us about how the candies were made naturally, with quality ingredients and without any preservatives etc. I tried some licorice allsorts and ended up buying some gummies.

She noticed that Ryan and I were wincing and trudging along due to the absolute gluttony of the morning and was able to GUESS that we had just been to Salt and Straw.

"A lot of people come into my store feeling sick from their ice cream. You know their ice cream has super high butterfat content, right? It's higher than any other kind of ice cream."

I felt much better after hearing that. Indeed, after doing some research, I found that Salt & Straw has 17% butterfat in their ice cream, "about as high as you can go without having little lumps of butter suspended in the cream" (source). Yeah...

To change the subject, I saw a really cool house – the trim was the exact same shade as the flowers planted on the front lawn.


Portland Aerial Tram

As our last activity, we decided to take the Portland Aerial Tram, which is a short roundtrip excursion between two Oregon State Health & Science University buildings. You get a lovely view of Portland as well as a view of Mt. Hood.

The tram technically travels up 500 feet in a ride that lasts 3 minutes, but to me it seemed like it traveled up 2049203402 feet in a ride that lasted 15 minutes. I was sweating the entire time and probably grabbing Ryan so hard he lost circulation in his hands, or arms, or whatever I clutched. I don't do well with heights. It wasn't a very good idea.

But the views were magnificent:

(You can't tell but in that photo I'm considering vomiting)

In any case, that wraps up my Portland trip in August of 2012.

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Yellow Rain vs. Bee Droppings

I've been a long time fan of Radiolab, but one segment on the latest episode truly saddened me.

The theme of the episode was the pursuit of truth – obsessively asking questions until you can arrive at pure, unquestionable facts. (You can listen to the full episode; the specific segment on Yellow Rain can be found here.)  I absolutely love Radiolab. Listening to the show on long walks in the city can be the highlight of my day; I've been to live performances that were stunning – I'm a huge fan.

Anyway – this segment discussed something called Yellow Rain. Here are the "unquestionable" facts: In the 1970s, the U.S. withdrew from the Vietnam War, and the Lao communist government (the Pathet Lao) began persecuting the Hmong people, since they had supported the U.S. during the war.

Entire villages were slaughtered.  Houses were burned, crops were destroyed, men, women and children killed. During this time, the Hmong began reporting incidents of sticky "yellow rain" falling onto their villages from low-flying planes and helicopters. It coated everything – leaves, rooftops, rocks – with sticky bright yellow substance. After the "rainfall," cows, chickens, and pigs died. People reported horrible stomach pains; worse symptoms included vomiting, seizures, blindness, and death.

Evidence of wood affected by 'yellow rain.'  Source

Here's where the truth branches:

One side (the Hmong's):

The Hmong took leaves in for lab testing. Affected by yellow rain, the leaves were deep and dark with bright yellow spots. The U.S. scientists found traces of T2-mycotoxin (capable of permeating through human skin), as well as pollen, which is crazy, because it meant that if the pollen containing the poisons did not land on a person, winds would disperse the pollen and ensure that it ultimately would.

T2-Mycotoxin. Source

 The U.S. blamed Russia for these attacks, and used yellow rain as an excuse to start their own chemical warfare by building bombs in Arkansas.

The other side (the professors', and what seemed to be Radiolab's):

A Harvard biologist, Matthew Meselson, claims that what the villagers were experiencing was nothing more than bee feces. Yup, bee feces. Very interestingly, bees hibernate during the winter, and they don't poop until mid-winter, when it's warmer. At that time, the swarm of bees flies outside, about a hundred feet in the air, and then just lets everything go in a mass defecation – which can feel like "light rain." (I hope I never get caught in this.)

The professor proved that this indeed does happen in Southeast Asia, even though the bees there don't hibernate; and upon reanalysis of the lab samples, they couldn't find traces of the initial toxins. Which leads to this conclusion: the Hmong people mistook the yellow rain as chemical warfare, and the U.S. potentially seized this story as an excuse to start building their own weapons.

Bee droppings that resemble yellow rain. Source: Wikipedia

I'm not a scientist. I don't have access to the lab results or resources for analyzing all the pieces of evidence. Radiolab does – but in this episode, they don't use them. Instead of delving into all the facts and findings that could prove whether or not yellow rain was indeed toxin-laced-polin, they take the few facts that they do know from what seemed a cursory conversation with Professor Meselson, and persistently question the interviewee (Eng Yang, a hmong refugee) about his beliefs, asking him over and over if he was so sure that his people weren't just experiencing bee defecation.

You could tell Eng and his niece, the translator, were shocked by these questions. They felt so tangential in comparison to the real issues in the episode – the Hmong genocide. Apparently, Eng and his niece had been given the impression that Radiolab had wanted to hear the untold story about that genocide (which was important to them because until now,  people had "been uninterested in the story of the Hmong"), when in reality, it seemed like Radiolab just wanted Eng to admit that his beliefs were based on myths.  I felt tricked for them. It was painful to listen to.

And Robert Krulwich, who I love, made the comment that the translator had been monopolozing the entire story to bias it in favor of the Hmong. (And at the end of the interview, when the niece asked for a copy of the interview, he said "you'll need a court order for that – wtf?)

I came across this comment from a Hmong person who had also listened to this episode, which I think words what happened very eloquently:
In every episode, you introduce your guests by offering a brief description of their credentials, you never once mentioned the fact that Kalia (the niece and translator) is an accomplished writer who was the first Hmong American to pen a memoir of her experience nor do you ever offer her uncle's (the interviewee) biography. It was clear to me as someone who could understand him that he is an intelligent man whose opinions mattered as much as the Ivy league educated scientists you regularly feature on your show....
Secondly, Hmong people are farmers by nature, our entire lives were once rooted in the cycle of nature, we are attune to the changing tides of the jungle and weather, we know which plants can poison us and which can heal us. We are not ignorant - we know the difference between bee pollen and weapons of war so to portray us as if we are a community in need of education and correction is arrogant at best. 
I haven't done enough research to formulate an opinion on whether or not it was chemical warfare or just a political tool. (It's a super complicated issue – it would probably take me weeks to go through all the data.) I just feel like this entire episode was missing the point, and instead focusing on a fact that is only a single thread of the story, they only shave the surface of research for the purpose of cross-examining a survivor and refugee, and overlook a serious part of history.

Related links:

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Portland Day 4: Mother's, Williamette Wine Country (Winderlea, White Rose, Vista Hills), Le Pigeon, Rimsky Korsacoffee

That was probably the longest blog post title ever. This is post #4 out of 5 about a recent trip to Portland. Other posts in this series include: Day 1, Day 2, Day 3, Day 5.


This particularly gluttonous day started off with breakfast at Mother's Bistro & Bar, a restaurant described to me by a local as a very "charming place." There were hordes of people in line outside (even at 9 am) – I'm not sure if their reservation system was new and people didn't know it existed, but we were able to thankfully beat what looked like an hour-plus wait. (I did call a couple weeks ahead though.)

It truly was charming. It's a little hard to describe what the interior was like: a little French, a little Vegas, a little Disney, but not quite crossing over the line to gaudiness.  Walls were plastered with art, louvre-style, and many extravagant chandeliers were dangling from the ceiling...

(Can you see signs of my camera dying in that photo?)

I ordered what has been one of my favorite breakfasts to date – the wild salmon hash. It was creamy and savory and the chunks of salmon were generous and still warm. They described it on the menu as having a "touch of butter," but that is a joke. "Half a stick of butter"? More likely.

I got a biscuit in lieu of toast, but I don't think that was the best decision – with the hash it was butter overload, and without the gravy it was somewhat dry.

Ryan got a chorizo scramble.  I'm not a chorizo person but he says it was very good. We have different tastes.

 Speaking of which...I need to do that soon.


After our very heavy brunch, we stopped by a Stumptown Coffee a couple blocks away. Sheesh, that was a long line, but I guess we were asking for it, as it was brunch time on a Sunday.

After Stumptown (I got an Americano and it was good but I wasn't crying from happiness per se), we made the drive to Dundee, Oregon, a town located in the Williamette Valley. It's a gorgeous wine region – every winery we went to was surrounded by lush, tall mountain ranges that made the grey, overcast day absolutely perfect.

We stopped first at Winderlea (pronounced Winderlee). The tasting room was very contemporary and elegant, made of metal and wood, with walls that were entirely glass. (Oh, by the way, this wine region is known specifically for Pinot Noirs, so that was our main beverage of the day.)

Winderlea was built on the hillside and has a concrete deck on which you can drink at a very leisurely pace and enjoy the stunning views of the valley...

Can I live here? I thought over and over again.

After pulling ourselves away from Winderlea, we drove the short drive to White Rose Estate – another gorgeous winery and vineyard. Their landscape was heavily dotted with bushes of lavender..

...and since they were also on top of a hill, there was more scenery to be enjoyed.

Their tasting room was interesting because the building itself looked very much like only the top part of a house – and actually, it did look like an attic inside. 

Monday, September 17, 2012

SF Field Trip Design

My friend Lillian is launching a business called SF Field Trip, an events service that brings people together for fun trips in and around SF – think photography classes, hikes up to Mt. Tamalpais, and (what I'll likely be the first to sign up for) gourmet pizza making classes.  Lil's one of the most upbeat and enthusiastic people I know – and I'm sure that energy will translate to the events.

She asked me to help out with branding and identity work for the company, and I ended up designing a logo, business cards, and a website landing page. I was really excited about the company name, because it meant I got to play off the field trip/childhood concept with some cool retro imagery, like school buses... well as iconic SF landmarks, like the Golden Gate Bridge. We didn't end up picking these, but I still have a soft spot for this color palette.

Oh, they apparently look a bit like the Golden State Warriors logo, so I guess sports-related material does have a chance of sticking somewhere in my brain.

And this is the landing page that I ended up designing. It's pretty simple.

Bold colors, minimal text, and custom icons.

And the final color palette:


Congrats to Lillian for launching her business!

I'm famous!

Not really, but one of my photo edits made it onto Pioneer Woman's blog. This is truly the smallest of deals, but I love her, so it is slightly bigger than a microscopic deal. Care to see a trivial screenshot?

Monday, September 10, 2012

Fresh Young Coconut

Coconut products were rare to see a few years back, but are everywhere on store shelves now: coconut water, coconut butter, coconut oil, and my favorite – young coconut.

(And ok, I know they're not technically a fruit [they're a giant seed], but for all intents and purposes I'm going to incorrectly label this post.)

Here's the best way to eat them:

Get a fresh young coconut. You can find them at Whole Foods or Asian grocery stores.

Your mother, who is stronger than you, will hack off the top of the coconut with her giant butcher's cleaver.

 You stick in a straw to drink all the coconut water. It will be sweet and nutty. You'll like it if you like coconut water.

When you're done drinking all the coconut water, you (i.e. your mom) can continue hacking away at the top to reveal the coconut flesh inside.

To be fair, I had a traumatizing accident with a butternut squash a few years back, so I don't feel that bad that I couldn't do it myself.

When young, coconut meat is jelly-like and slightly transparent; when mature, it becomes hard and chewy – it's the stuff shredded coconut is made from.

The young flesh is extremely spoonable. You can eat it straight (which I love to do), or use it as a base for smoothies, fruit salads, or even ice cream (mMM).

That was my tutorial for the day.

Saturday, September 8, 2012

Marin Headlands, Hawk Hill

A couple months ago a friend and I, after work on a Thursday, drove up to Marin Headlands. It's entirely part of the Golden Gate National Recreation Area, just a little north of the Golden Gate Bridge.

We went on a day with relatively clear skies, but I'm sure it's beautiful even on cloudy ones. The view of the fog starting to roll into the headlands at sunset was stunning.