Oregon


I’ve been thinking about picnics a lot lately. Probably because the 4th of July reminds me of the picnics of my youth. When my mom and dad and brother Jimmy would head out to Scio for hamburgers and hotdogs on the grill. Mom’s potato salad. Corn on the cob. Watermelon & pies for dessert.

The 4th is one of my favorite holidays. Probably as much for the sheer celebratory nature of it as the proximity to my birthday. Makes me feel like the whole country is shooting off fireworks to mark my life anniversary.

But, I think the best picnics were just the everyday summer kind that we took on our trips to the beach. Mine was not a family that loaded up a basket with cutlery, wine, and finger sandwiches. Nope. Daddy (in those days, I think I thought it was funny to be like Maynard G. Krebs, you know the beatnik from Dobie Gillis, and call my father Poopsy) would take a cardboard box he picked up from Safeway and load it up with our idea of a picnic. Big slab of Nebergall’s bologna, a loaf of Williams bread, a can of black olives (you know – the kind without the pits that you could line up on your fingers) and Heinz pork and beans. Sometimes, for a treat, some Blue Bell potato chips. And, a couple of cans of frozen Cragmont soda tossed in to keep everything cool. (fruit punch was my favorite — tasted like carbonated Hawaiian punch).

You know – it is not just the thoughts of the picnic food. It was the whole memory package. We would only have picnics like that when we went to the beach. Maybe Mom and Dad planned those trips to Newport. But, as a little one, it seemed to me that I would just wake up on a Saturday morning, and hear “we’re going to the beach!” Nothing thrilled me more. Believe me, the voyage was not that much fun – sitting in the back seat of that Studebaker, and later Chevy impalas, carsick, with mom sitting in the front, smoking unfiltered Philip Morris cigarettes.

It was those two magic words. The Beach. I look at those same picnic tables we headed to now, as an adult, and they seem so small – surrounded by scraggly coastal trees But, when we were little, they were magical. Heading to Devils Punch Bowl, crawling out of the car, getting our picnic out of the trunk, and getting our fingers all greased up with bologna sandwiches and cold pork & beans.

Now, them’s some good memories. Keep your baskets & forks. Just give me a thawed out can of frozen fruit punch Cragmont soda, and I would still be a happy camper.

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Durng my West Coast voyage through some former childhood haunts, I found myself in Albany, Oregon, the town where I grew up. A city: both rural and not. Neither urban nor suburban. Not even exurb.

Apparently, since I left several decades ago, that little city in the Willamette Valley became known for its Victorian neighborhoods. “Let’s go look at the hundreds of homes” squealed my good friend. Whoopee.  JUST what I want to do: drive by a bunch of old houses in Albany. Which, attitude aside, is precisely what we did.

Soft Ice Cream Joint

That is how we ended up at the Hasty Freeze ice cream hut of my youth. Dad used to take us to this tiny little drive-in. “Get whatever you want” he would tell my brother and me. Which really meant “I’ll get you a 10-cent soft ice cream cone.”
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While visiting the parts of the Oregon coast I used to travel as a child, I tried some old, familiar & nostalgic food items.  And, a new place: once trendy, now just plain quality, locavore foods cooked in a sophisticated kitchen.

For the meal: the latter.  A place called Tidal Raves in Depoe Bay, Oregon.  There was a bit of a wait, so my old college friend and I left a name, were told “20 minutes” and headed out to explore the town I knew so well as a youngster.

While walking to “town” – we saw a crowd facing the sea, rapt with attention.

It was a blowhole.  A wild, out of control gush of water through a slit in the rock.  A veritable geiser.  Dramatic!   We felt it before we saw it.  “Is it raining”  “No,” said my friend, “just misting a little bit.”  That was strange because there didn’t seem to be any rain clouds above and no drops behind.  Turns out it was the misty fallout from the geyser gushing from a crevice near the road by the Pacific Coast Highway.   Cool!!

But, this is Janet Eats, not Janet Watches Blowholes at Depoe Bay!
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In the verdant land of Oregon, not just the peace-love-tie-dyed people are on the green side.  Green in that sustainable way, I mean.

On the coast of Oregon, in the most plebeian of food establishments, you will find little signs indicating the provenance of the food you are purchasing.  Or, about to eat.

Surfing at Agate Beach

In Newport, Oregon there are several “restaurants” that feature locally caught fish.  And on the menu or in the glass case, you see things like LC Big Buoy – meaning Line Caught aboard the boat “Big Buoy”.   The fish is, of course, fabulously fresh and delicious.  But, you know you are the in presence of people who understand “sustainable” at a very real level.

I put “restaurants” in quotations, by the way, because some of them are really fish markets with some tables and a great cook in the back who understands how to coax the best flavors from the catch of the day.

I do enjoy “food as metaphor” — for this practice in a old fishing port in the central coast of Oregon, shows they respect the very stores they deplete everyday when they catch what the Pacific has to offer.

On a practical matter, that means I have had scrumptious simple grilled halibut sandwiches.  Clam chowder with huge chunks of local clams swimming in a sea of white cream.  And, I haven’t even moved to Dungeness crab and salmon.

It’s in season is not just a slogan here on the Oregon coast.  It’s Life.

Maybe we just need to think of everyday eating the way we do vacation eating.  Or, maybe it is more about mindfulness.  I don’t know.  It is just that when I’m on vacay I consider all the wonders of what I eat.  Indulgences allowed, of course. 

Here I am in Portland, Oregon – the land of filberts, salmon and Pinot Noir.  Real farm to table stuff (though it makes Portlanders crazy when the Times writes about Portland cuisine).

It’s Sunday morning, a few hours before brunch time and we found ourselves at the Bijou, Cafe.   Yep, the comma is NOT a typo.  I am not sure what conceit is behind the punctuation but here it seems almost quaint.

Consider the menu board: spiced lamb hash with pear muffin on the side. Yum! Apple compote on oatmeal with whipped cream.  Double yum!! I decided on chantarelle (are they local? I ask.  Oh yeah, she says, a guy comes to the kitchen with a bucket of them!”) omelette.  With a side order of grilled cinnamon bread!

A little piece of heaven, I tell you.  I guess you really don’t need un caffe’ and un cornetto to make a meal a delight.