Bend, OR. Wednesday 24th August 2016

The Victorian Café at the top of the Main Street of Bend posits itself as offering a brunch worth waiting for. Thankfully today being a weekday we manage to skip that part of the process even though it’s well after 10am by the time we arrive. Clad in red painted timber, iron chairs and tables spread out in front and to the side under the looming sequoia trees. Upon seating us outside, our server hands us the menu cards. ‘Can I tempt you folks in one of our famous 23 ounce Bloody Marys? Comes with charbroiled prawn, Andouille sausage, pepper jack, olive, and pepperoncini skewer. Double shot of house-infused pepper vodka too.’

‘Ah, no thanks. I’m driving shortly.’ Steve shakes his head.’Just coffee for me.’

‘And for you ma’am? A mimosa or Irish coffee perhaps.’

‘Ummm. I’d love an orange juice – no ice – and some English breakfast tea with milk on the side.’ I’m getting better at ordering in America.

‘So that’s coffee, a juice and a tea.’

Around us groups of mostly young adults chat and pick casually at their meals. No one is in a rush to be anywhere. Drinks delivered and meals ordered.

Biscuits with sausage gravy and easy over medium eggs (soft yolks with cooked whites) for Steve. Hobo potatoes for me. Hobo potatoes as I discover are crispy potato chunks with diced capsicums, red onions, tomatoes, mushrooms topped with American cheese (an industrial style all of its own) and spring onions.

 The server swings past multiple times filling the stout coffee mug which rarely leaves Steve’s hand.

‘So from here I was thinking we would head over to south west Bend to a place called Crux. Over twenty beers on tap on the tasting room. We may have to stay longer in Bend.’

‘That’s assuming we ever get our breakfasts and get out of here,’ I add. ‘Funny how you can never find a waiter when you want one.’

When I do track down a waiter, she apologises repeatedly. Moments later a mimosa is delivered to our table as an apology by the manager. The flaccid tea sits cold and I sip on the mimosa as a head start my day’s alcohol consumption. Feeling a little buzzed by the time our meals arrive, I can’t be bothered mentioning that I order my dish without the scrambled eggs. I do my best to eat around them.

Another thing I’ve added to my list of life in the United States of America is that alcohol at breakfast is completely acceptable. I’m not pointing the finger at anyone here; I happily admit to consuming alcohol prior to noon. Iced tea with bourbon to go with my smoked meats and salad at 11am would prove to be the perfect beverage choice a few days later. A bloody Mary (vodka, tomato juice and more) and breakfast taco in Los Angeles. My mimosa (sparkling wine mixed with orange juice) to accompany this morning’s breakfast.

I can’t say it is something I often see in Australia. In general, I see more spirits consumed in America. Cocktails are offered at all times of day and up-sized for a only a dollar more. I’m wondering about Prohibition’s influence of how alcohol has taken hold in American culture. Distilled spirits, as opposed to beer or wine, would have been easier to conceal and transport from legal authorities at that time. It makes sense.

Prohibition had other effects on American society including loss of tax revenue and increase of organised crime but also not insignificantly, a loss of wine-making knowledge and skills. I blame this for my exasperating efforts to track down affordable, drinkable American wines. Having spent too many years working in one of Australia’s premier wine regions, the yellow, oaky and sweet American wine is almost enough to turn me to beer. Luckily, a chance meeting with a San Francisco restaurant manager leads to a Californian wine masterclass and hope is redeemed.

Breakfast completed, we manoeuvre our way past oversized pick-up trucks and SUVs. Ten minutes later we are driving in circles in an industrial estate, Steve hell-bent on tracking down the first of today’s breweries. At the edge of an ill-signed industrial estate, we find Crux Fermentation Project in the home of a former transmission shop bound by the railway and an aqueduct.

Reclaimed fixtures and furnishings pay homage to the building’s history. Sitting at one of the communal bar tables mashing tanks, fermenting vessels and ageing casks surround.

‘Imagine a set up like this at home.’

‘Do you mean in Australia generally or actually in our home?’ I question, unsure if I want to know the answer.

‘A little bit of column A. A little bit of column B.’

The extensive beer tap list is outlined on a photocopied sheet on the table in front of us. Lagers, ales and all the way through to dark beers. There is even a couple of ciders and kombucha on tap. These guys are more than a fermentation project in name only.

San Francisco, CA – Wednesday 17th August 2016 – part 2

Next stop is Rogue Ale House down near Washington Square halfway to the waterfront. We’ve lucked in or out depending on which way you look at it as it’s Trivia Night at this gastropub. A quick scout for a table proves fruitless so we join the line at the elevated bar for drinks. Rogue are known for growing their own grains, hops and other ingredients on their Oregon farm in the Willamette valley. This ‘we grow beer’ attitude gives them control regarding purity and quality throughout the process. After collecting a couple of large tall glasses of the amber stuff, we retreat outside away from the hub-bub. The ill-lit rear courtyard is more smoker’s concession than vibrant beer garden. A few wooden picnic tables with fairy lights wrapped around umbrellas do little to offset the massive spotlight glare.

From the brand-heavy laminated menu we choose fried tater tots with ranch dip, chicken wings with hot sauce and fried cheese curds with jalapeño jelly. Piping hot fried finger food makes up the bulk of the menu though the odd vegetable does make a token appearance under the guise of salad. Service is perfunctory without being rude. I’m sure the beer nerds who attend to us all home brew on the side, dreaming of taking their hobby next level.

‘If you’re still hungry, you can have desserts. They’ve got beer floats. Chocolate stout over vanilla ice cream with whipped cream and a cherry?’ I offer.

‘Yeah, nah,’ he responds. ‘Think I’ll skip it this time.’

Placing his now empty glass on the table, ‘But I could go another.’

We up sticks and go inside determined to find a corner to perch now the evening has cooled off and the wind picked up. Thankfully, the trivia quiz has reached its conclusion and the bar is emptying out somewhat. I find a slightly sticky table and push the dishes to one side. Although there are guest beers on tap, Steve and I have a philosophy of ‘when in Rome’ so it’s a Rogue double chocolate stout for him and a Rogue barleywine for me. Slightly higher in alcohol, we sit a little longer on these smaller tipples and watch the bar in action around us. Television screens showing sports we don’t understand blare from the corner. Crowded tables of college kids raucous in their laughter. Large groups playing board games on other tables. It appears we are not their core demographic.

‘Fancy a bit of a stroll and some fresh air?’ I posit as our glasses are nearing empty.

‘Don’t mind if I do,’ he says taking my arm in his and we gratefully step from the bustling bar onto a darker, quieter street. Heading along Columbus Avenue, a broad road that cuts a diagonal swathe through the street grid from the financial district to the waterfront, we pass pizza joints, sushi restaurants, closed cafes and Indian eateries. I think we are aimlessly wandering but of course Steve has a plan and it turns out to an excellent one.

I’m not one for gimmicky tourist attractions and if I’m given a choice I would avoid them. Our visit to the hundred year old Buena Vista was not a choice, though an Irish coffee was an inspired idea to cap off our evening. A cocktail of hot coffee, whiskey – Irish of course – topped with a thick head of whipped cream is what The Buena Vista is rightly famous for. Located in the ground floor of a three storey building at the terminus of the Powell-Hyde Cable Car, it is ideally sited to capture the tourist dollar. Waiters in stiff white jackets with bright eyes and broad smiles choreograph their customers with ease. Momentarily, I feel like a teenager asked on her first date when he offers to bring us two Irish coffees. Of course, the answer is yes. How could I possibly refuse you?

I know we had a second Irish coffee but there’s not much more I remember about that evening. In the Uber ride home, I don’t hear Steve and our driver, Parker, make small talk. All I can think of is how warm I feel inside. It is only the next morning laying in bed that I think about The Buena Vista’s human resources department. Staff can be the make or break of any hospitality business. After all the business planning, success really depends the people you have at the coal face. You can have the best Irish coffee in the world but it’s the people that really make your customers feel warm inside.

10:50 PM

2765 Hyde St, San Francisco, CA 94109, United States

MILES 3.52

TRIP TIME 00:16:19

FARE BREAKDOWN Base Fare 2.00

Distance 4.05

Time 3.59

Subtotal $9.64

Booking Fee $1.55

Total $11.19

Driver – Parker 

RECIPE PERFECTED AFTER MANY ITERATIONS

20 ml dark brown sugar

45 ml whiskey – your choice

60 ml espresso coffee

60 ml hot water 

Make sure these are well combined then float 45ml of whipped cream over the top. It helps if you pour it over the back of a spoon.

Enjoy in a minimum of two per sitting.

Seattle, WA – Monday 29th August  2016

Seattle, WA – Monday 29th August

Minimal cloud and a glorious mid 20s Celsius has got to be the perfect weather for visiting a city. The buildings look that little bit shinier in the sun, and it’s easier to walk a city without working up a sweat. This morning we join a market experience walking tour. Just before the tour starts at 9.30am we sneak into a joint called Piroshky Piroshky Bakery. Unsurprisingly we order a couple of piroshky. These are hot pastries filled with all manner of meat or vegetables and even sweet fillings. I choose the sauerkraut, cabbage and onion while Steve chooses the beef and cheese. Still warm from the oven, these take the edge of our hunger while we wait for Jake and his waving flag.

With a ‘pay as you feel’ policy, these walking tours could be a real hit or miss from an operating point of view but Jake has the personality to make it work. Knowledgeable and incredibly personable, he is a great touch point for visitors to Seattle. Green and white flag turning to and fro, Seattle Free Walking Tours, Jake draws a range of people hovering awkwardly at the meeting spot. Also in the park by Pike Place Market’s north entrance is a group protesting the Dakota Access Pipeline. Under the guard of two tall totem poles, a group of Native Americans with bullhorns in hand, are addressing a small crowd that has gathered. Between the accent and the distortion, I’m having trouble understanding what is being said. Large banners give some context. NO PIPELINE, NODAPL, WATER PROTECTORS, RED WARRIOR, KEEP IT IN THE GROUND, WATER IS LIFE, I STAND WITH STANDING ROCK. 

Reaching into a small grey backpack, a clipboard is produced. Smiling and chatting, he repeats our names as he checks us off his list. 

‘Hi there. You here for the walking tour?’ His eyes light up as they connect with mine.

Implicitly I volunteer, ‘I’m Amanda. This is Steve.’

‘Amanda and Steve? Steve and Amanda. I’m Jake. Where you guys from?’

‘Australia.’

‘Oh yeah, where in Australia?’ he asks sounding genuinely curious.

‘Melbourne,’ Steve answers rather ironically as he was born in England and lived in Western Australia for 13 years.

‘Mel-born?’

‘No, Mel-bun,’ I correct him.

‘Mell-bunnn’ he repeats confidently. ‘My wife and I were there a few years back. BC, before children. Great city. Fabulous food from memory.’

From this accurate concise comment he turns to face the couple who’ve appeared at our left with the same appealing smile. Steve and I stand abandoned not knowing what to do next. A few moments later we step aside, look around the park and at our feet.  

‘So what’s the plan after this?’ I ask knowing his almighty spreadsheet holds many possibilities.  

‘I don’t know. What do you feel like?

How can I know what I will feel like in a couple of hours? I’m not really sure what I feel like now. There’s a a freedom in not being responsible for planning a holiday. Steve has added every attraction he’s even slightly curious in visiting as a gold star on his google maps. Those attractions that are more insistent have made it as an entry on the daily spreadsheet. To have a question thrown at me as to what I want to do is at once an opportunity and a pressure.

‘Well, I’m still hungry so if we don’t pick up anything on the tour, how about we go for second breakfast,’ I venture. 

From his pocket in an instant appears his phone. I don’t have an American SIM card for my phone so I’m reliant upon free wifi and it appears we are just outside the market’s range.

‘Just around the corner is Biscuit Bitch,’ he says enthusiastically. ‘It’s supposed to be one of the best biscuit places in America. Real southern style biscuits even though we are in the Pacific Northwest.’

I’m simultaneously impressed and not surprised that he has this information so readily available.

‘Sure.’

I’m happy to be lead to new places and even happier not to have spent the hours researching it.

Slowly more people are gathering around are tour leader. Rainproof jackets on, cameras slung around necks, day packs on back and phones in hand. Seattle feels as though it could rain or burst into sunshine at any moment. From this elevated position, we look past the working port, over the Puget Sound to a snow-covered Mt. Rainier in the distance. Seattle rises sharply from the waterline of Puget Sound. Even though city planners tried to tame its hills early on, the incline of some streets challenges visitors and no doubt keeps local brake companies in business. As in San Francisco, some streets require cars park with wheels turned into the curb.

‘Welcome everyone from around the States and around the world,’ Jake says in a raised projected voice . ‘Let’s move a little closer to the market entrance so you can all hear me better.’ Dutifully we follow our leader. The protestor’s speech fades as we cross the chaotic intersection and try to avoid the shoppers emerging from the market. A short explanation later, Jake leads us down into the multilevel labyrinth that is Pike Place Market. Like markets all over the world, a loose organisation of stalls exist based on type and historic precedence. No matter how we try, it’s hard not to be in the way of the genuine market shoppers. 

One of our fist stops on the tour is a fish stall that is renowned for fish tossing Wild Atlantic salmon. Originally as a gimmick, these hefty beauties are tossed gracefully over the counter to the shrieks of delight from tourists. Clad in rubber orange overalls and gumboots repeatedly shouting orders to each other, the fishmongers occasionally lob a fake fish into the gathering audience. Underneath a sign that reads Caution – Low flying fish on thick beds of ice lay mounds of Halibut, King Salmon, Wild Alaskan Coho Salmon, jumbo Gulf prawns, Black Cod, oysters, mussels, squid, Dungeness crab and King Crab legs bigger than my arm. Amongst the rows of own brand condiments stands their recipe book – In the Kitchen with the Pike Place Fish Guys – 100 recipes and tips from the world famous crew of Pike Place Fish. Happy to stand near the back avoiding audience participation, as the group moves on I linger running my eyes over new species of fish creating a seafood banquet in my head.

By the time I’ve crossed the street and caught up with the rest of the group at a stall in the greengrocers section, I’m just in time for a slice of new season apple that tastes of lemonade. Dark purple grapes, yellow/green round grapes that taste like cotton candy, stone fruit bigger than my fist, berries, figs, tropical fruit, bags of rainbow of new potatoes and garlands of chillies and garlic drying overhead.

We avoid the growing line outside the original Starbucks location, as people who should know better queue for a coffee that surely tastes just as average as the ones from the cafes that surround it. I can’t even bring myself to take a photo of it. Not incidentally, I experienced a perverse joy in the initial failure of Starbucks to gain a foothold in Australia. Coffee culture had anchored itself in Australia with the European post-war immigration wave. Espresso machines soon began to make their way into Australian cafes and restaurants. We buy coffee from our local independent café, not an international corporation. If you don’t like the flavour profile of the bean at your local café, you can walk the next block over. Like McDonalds, Starbucks success was based upon a predictable formula regardless of geographical location.

America is an incredibly patriotic nation, occasionally prone to global blindness.
The globalisation of American culture from hip-hop music to clothing, food and drink worlds are no different. Tex-mex tacos are easily found on every food truck corner of Australia’s major cities. Shopping centres host chain stores familiar to US citizens as the muzak playing over the public sound system. It may understandable that when Americans travel they get confused where America ends and other countries begin. 

Before leaving the market we sneak in a couple of mini maple and bacon donuts, hot from the fryer at Daily Dozen Doughnut Company but it’s not enough to assuage our hunger so it’s up the hill we climb towards Biscuit Bitch. Rounding the corner, I think I’ve spied the place while Steve has paused to check the location.

‘It should be just up here on the right,’ he says without looking up.

‘Where that massive queue is then,’ I say pointing ahead.

Head up, ‘Ah,yep. That’d be it.’

He walks closer for a better look and I move to the edge of the footpath. It is mid-morning so really it’s no surprise that the joint is pumping. It’s a small store and the queue hosts twice as many people as there are customers inside.

‘I did see a biscuit place inside the market when I went to the bathroom if you want to try that place,’ I offer.

‘What’s it called?’ he asks phone in hand still.

‘I don’t know. Let’s just go.’ I turn go back the way we came, Steve trailing behind trying to look up our new destination online.

Turns out Honest Biscuits, in a quiet corner of the bustling market, produce a very decent Dungeness crab and cheddar biscuit sandwich. Teamed with an IPA from Pike Brewing IPA, our hunger and mission for good biscuits were satisfied in one hit. A crunchy outside and fluffy middle, the biscuit sandwich has chucks of local crab meat under melted slabs of cheddar from Beecher’s cheese stall also in the market. Sprinkle of spring onion on top and happy days are here. We perch on bar stools overlooking the atrium to enjoy a few moments resting the feet and enjoying the relative quiet.

Peace is a thing that can be hard to find when travelling. By its very nature, travelling usually involves close contact with other people. I’m an urban traveller not a wilderness traveller. I enjoy the bustle of cities and the excitement of their hectic environment. Balance must be present though in some quiet moments. I find journal keeping is one of those things helps me find that equilibrium. Art galleries, museums also help. Ideally, I prefer to head out in the mornings and walk the streets finding new places along the way. In the afternoons, I like to retire to my abode for a few quiet hours, reflecting and writing before heading out again for the evening. Of course, travelling with a partner doesn’t always mean things are ideal.

Feeling at risk of overdoing art museums, I suggest to Steve that we skip the Seattle Art Museum and visit the Aquarium instead. I’m glad we do. The Seattle Aquarium is located right on the waterfront, a short walk down a few flights of stairs from the market. The waterfront is a mix of wide board walk, kitschy seafood cafes, buskers, public art installations, ferry terminal and the Seattle Aquarium. Stepping past prams and wayward small children, we pay the admission fee and collect a map. Just inside the entrance is a large foyer with a six metre high cantilevered glass wall onto an enormous tank at one end.

‘This would make an impressive function space,’ I say to no one in particular. Behind the thick glass water surges steadily in and out, mimicking the waves of Puget Sound. Kelp sways, fish dart around the coral and eels poke their heads out from rock crevices.

‘I think we are the only ones here without kids,’ Steve notes. I nod, thankful. Hoards of children are running around and I’m exhausted trying to avoid them underfoot. We head past the interactive exhibits complete with kids tormenting sea cucumbers, the tubular jellyfish tanks, and out back to the where the aquarium and sea waters overlap. There’s a 360 degree underwater concrete and glass dome that juts into the bay. Here we sit for a few minutes, the only visitors listening to the gentle sounds of waves on glass, the odd harbour seal frolicking amongst large kelp forests. Sunlight streams through the clear waters, lending the room an eerie blue-green light. Rockfish, sturgeon and more dart their sleek silvery bodies past the windows.

We make our way along past the outside tanks and find my favourite exhibit – the sea otters. Yes, they swim a repeated loop like so many animals enclosed in zoo exhibits but I find them irresistibly cute. #ottersarethenewcats I banish all concerns about the ethics of zoos and keeping animals in captivity which is one of the reasons I often struggle with aquariums and zoos. Almost seemingly as a reward, we are fortunate enough to witness the otters during a special grown-ups only cuddle time. Quickly we see parents directing the kids’ attention onwards to the next exhibit.

Kate

Steaming milk, pouring shots, the hiss as the teapot fills. Thwack! Coffee grounds tumble from the head and into the rubbish. Dockets start to pile up as she attempts to keep up with the incoming orders.

“Coffee up. Table 12”
She pushes the tray to the front off the stainless steel bench and spills the flat white onto the saucer. Her hand reaches out and grabs the tray clamping it to the spot as she attempts to redeem the cup and saucer.

“Ok, now”
She says to her runner releasing the caffeine to be delivered to the waiting , impatient crowds. Rocking back on her heels she tries to take a large deep breath, to gather her thoughts and get back into the zone. This particular Sunday is no busier than another so why can’t she ride the wave. Why does she feel like she is trying to swim against the current?

Slugging down a large cold water, her chest tightens and she tries to breathe her way back to normal. Those small slips of printed paper start to overlap as they feed out of the printer. She can’t see beyond them and through the window into the world. She knows there’s an olive tree that needs pruning right outside the cafe window but it isn’t there for her this afternoon.

“Kate! Are you okay?”
Her boss shouts at her from the register in between customers.
Turning towards the voice, she takes a moment to focus and take in her surroundings. The coffee head slips from her hand, clanging as it hits the concrete floor, freshly ground coffee splattering across her shoes. She slumps against the milk fridge behind her, her hands steadying her body.

She can’t speak. Words are too much effort just now though she manages to shake her head. No, she’s not alright. Kate is not alright. Kate needs all of her strength right now to remember to breathe and stand at the same time. Multi-tasking is not her agenda right now.

“..Kate, KATE!”
The voice is out the with all the other sounds in the cafe, the low levels ambient music of some nameless Ministry of Sound cd, young families enjoying their babycinos, and her boss now one step in front of her saying something at her. Saying her name at her. It takes a few moments but she’s pretty sure it’s her name that’s being said.

Two arms reach out and lift her upright, pulling her, guiding her behind the display fridge and out through the kitchen into the storage area. Kate is directed to sit. She can feel the rigid plastic grid of an upside down milk crate through the seat of her jeans.

“Oh great, it will be filthy”
She somehow manages to think between the clouds of pain that have filled her brain.

The pain is like dozens of large hollow needles being pushed into her chest all at once. Grabbing her hands between her breasts doesn’t help but she can’t think of what else to do. The kitchen hand has been stationed to keep an eye on her and his nasal teenage voice keeps saying “Breathe” as he sneaks in a durry on this impromptu break.

“Fuck off. You breathe” she thinks but can’t find the voice to say.
What seems like an hour later the restaurant manager walks into the alley with an annoyed tone says, “So what’s up with you?”
Kate doesn’t answer but looks up towards him. Her grimaced face says it all.

He only gets a puff or two out of his cigarette before he throws it to the ground twisting it underneath his shiny leather shoe to extinguish.

“Someone call an ambulance”