I think it’s high time that I remind a certain cast-iron supervillain that I run this blog. It’s time to talk coffee.
Even if you drink an americano after 3 pm today, tonight you will sleep like a baby. Maybe even like a babyccino. Because today we are going to address a question that haunts the American psyche during these turbulent times, namely: If you live in Seattle, should you take your out-of-town guests to the Starbucks Reserve Roastery and Tasting Room, or should you seek out another coffee escapade?
(A) The web site for this place promises a “multisensory coffee experience” that Starbucks “had to create” after “the Siren called.” Sheesh, people. Whatever happened to “underpromise, overdeliver”?
(B) The Roastery tchotchke shop, which previously seemed fine and all, now wants to sell you a handcrafted leather cold-brew-coffee-growler sling. For your Starbucks Reserve bicycle.
If this makes the veins pop out of your neck and temples, I recommend watching at least two seasons of Portlandia before visiting.
And yes I KNOW that upon further inspection of the sign, one discovers that the bike is made my MiiR, which supports nonprofits focused on water, education, and bicycle transportation. Admirable, and YET STILL SOMEHOW MADDENING. OH HEYYY! JUST CRUISIN’ ON MY STARBUCKS RESERVE BICYCLE!
Ahhhh. Thank you for letting me release that. And now, a list of Roastery cons and pros.
Con: Parking can be tricky. Try the pay lot on the Northeast corner of Pike and Melrose. Or, if you retain your Desert Cred, consider walking up Pike from your downtown hotel.
Pro: Air conditioning + ubermodern, sleek décor = a perfectly chilled concrete floor for you to lie on while recovering from walking up said hill. (Particularly effective with summertime guests.)
Con: Air conditioning + ubermodern, sleek décor makes the place feel a little cold (har!) and over-engineered.
Pro: And yet it’s also somewhat Willy Wonka-esque! A Pike Place Market tour is a must-do for my guests, but many of them come back from a visit to the “original” Pike Place Starbucks feeling kind of meh, since it looks exactly like a normal Starbucks. The Roastery ups the ante. Coffee beans ride little elevators into copper roasting silos. Glistening copper pipes zig-zag from roasting silo to barista bar.
Con: Coffee River somewhat more dangerous than Chocolate River. Augustus Gloop and/or Üter Zörker ignores the barista oompa loompas (baristaloompas?) and runs full-speed toward the flow of scalding hot espress—no, wait! Come back, Augustus!
Pro: Dizzying food selection far outstrips other Starbuckses. There’s a Serious Pie location inside, and the coffee bar serves Tom Douglas’s Serious Biscuits. Both of Douglas’s Serious Foods are already on my short list of Seattle food destinations.
Con: Food prices to match. Apricot jam for your biscuit will set you back $2.
Pro: Freshly roasted beans, plus a plethora of preparations, from Clover to Chemex.
Con: And yet … My americano con crema, which was beautifully prepared with coffee-spiced foam and a demerara sugar stripe, tasted almost exactly like the cinnamon dolce latte of yesteryear. Maybe other selections are better?
Pro: Home of the nicest public restroom in Seattle. No contest. Where else can you look out over a small-batch coffee roasting operation while washing your hands?
Con: Corgis cloud judgment.
I was going to conclude that I recommend visiting The Roastery only if you are in the area anyway. But then I walked outside it and there were TWO CORGIS drinking the water they set out for pets and both corgis came over and started licking my toes and then the one named Paddington sat on my feet and refused to move. I now will love The Roastery forever.
Seattleites: For visitors craving caffeine, what would you recommend? A deconstructed latte at Slate Coffee (which, for the record, skews more Portlandia than the Roastery, but is also delicious)? Cocktails made with a local distillery’s coffee liqueur?
My current favorite: Pick up coffee and a croissant at Bakery Nouveau in West Seattle, and then ride the ferry to Vashon. Because it’s fun. Also because it reminds me of these delightfully frivolous Nespresso pods, which are flavored with salt air by “monsoon winds,” and which drive a certain cast-iron supervillain up the wall.
I love just about every entry on the Mental Floss Lists of Wonderful Words with No English Equivalent, from the heart-melting ya’arburnee to the pragmatic zeg. The German in me is especially fond of Kummerspeck (the excess weight gained from emotional overeating; literally “grief bacon”) despite the fact that it is not vegetarian.
In Seattle this week, summer’s breath started to slow, and I must admit that I did not mind. But perhaps this is because I grew up in the desert, where fall could never come soon enough?
Most of my neighbors seem to be feeling the opposite. For them, and for any of you who feel something slip-sliding away today, may I present the German Torschlusspanik–a gloriously specific word, a balm for the soul. In modern usage, it means “gate-closing panic; the anxiety-inducing awareness that as time goes on, life’s opportunities just keep getting fewer and fewer and there’s no way to know which ones you should be taking before they close forever.”
If your soul needs more balm, melt some chocolate chips and make these saltine crack ice cream sandwiches. THERE IS STILL TIME.
And rejoice! These things are like Fran’s Gray Salt Caramels, but filled with ice cream and kitsch. Like soft serve with a delicate salted-chocolate shell, but a bit more patient. Once frozen and cut into squares, the sandwiches are surprisingly sturdy. Sweets for a week. OK, or for a day. If … you know … Kummerdessert.
Torschlusspanikavoidanceidea: Swap in some peppermint ice cream and/or candy cane crumbles, and revive them come December?
Lord, make me an instrument of your peace.
Where there is darkness, let me sow light.
Where there is sorrow, joy.
Grant that I should never seek
so much to be consoled as to console.
I realize that I probably need to hold up my end of the bargain and all. A lot of the time, I feel like I have no idea how to do this.
But the English word “essay” comes from the French infinitive “essayer,” which means “to try.”
So I will try to tell you about the time I was in Nice and I drank black tea sweetened by a crystalline cube that seemed like it had been wrapped in crinkle-gossamer wax paper by fairy hands. The thing was almost too beautiful to unfold.
Before that, sugar came from a bowl or a packet. And I drank a lot of tea with cream and sugar. But I could have been drinking tea with cream and sucre. Who knew?
Dear Mr. Nadeau:
As long as there is one upright man, as long as there is one compassionate woman, the contagion may spread and the scene is not desolate. Hope is the thing that is left to us, in a bad time. I shall get up Sunday morning and wind the clock, as a contribution to order and steadfastness.
Sailors have an expression about the weather: they say, the weather is a great bluffer. I guess the same is true of our human society — things can look dark, then a break shows in the clouds, and all is changed, sometimes rather suddenly. It is quite obvious that the human race has made a queer mess of life on this planet. But as a people we probably harbor seeds of goodness that have lain for a long time waiting to sprout when the conditions are right. Man’s curiosity, his relentlessness, his inventiveness, his ingenuity have led him into deep trouble. We can only hope that these same traits will enable him to claw his way out.
Hang on to your hat. Hang on to your hope. And wind the clock, for tomorrow is another day.
E. B. White
The paper was rose-colored, I think.
Or maybe it was cyan, but I don’t know for sure, because at the time my body and soul were processing a new definition of the color blue.
O Divine Master,
Grant that I may always remember
the first time I saw the Mediterranean.
E.B. White would have known what to write about the cherry tree. I am certain of that.
On the morning of the tree’s removal, I awoke with a start. All of a sudden, we only had an hour left together.
If I could bridge the gap between me and the tree—between the personal and the universal, the way E.B. did with such grace—I guess I would say:
The tree was out of control. It sprawled. It drew complaints from the neighbors. “We never thought it would get that big,” my landlords said. In March, its blossoms reached for sun in all directions, taking what they could get. (It lived in Seattle, after all.) Eventually, the petals dropped, like doilies whisked from a café table, across the backyard property line.
Its blossoms pressed into my window, the one above my writing desk. “Open, open, open,” they said, like the woman in that Mervyn’s commercial from the early 90s that somehow continues to occupy precious real estate in my brain. I should have pruned the thing back. But then I thought: To tame the very thing asking you to be wilder?
Also, yardwork is not fun and I am lazy.
The above feels somewhat forced. Except for the laziness part.
The truth is I am highly allergic to most trees, although I am not sure about cherry trees. The truth is I wish I had applied the discipline to wake early like Mary Oliver and observe the tree as the seasons slid by. The truth is I wish I was in love enough with the world to not even need said discipline. The truth is keeping a tiny handheld computerized funhouse on my bedside table is a terrible idea.
Whatever the reason, I knew the tree was a she. And I knew I could not be home when she fell. I took some photos of her last great cacophony of leaves. Then I bought myself an iced coffee and went for a walk. The arborist’s work was swift.
It comforts me to know that even E.B White seems to have had a midlife crisis. In 1938, he left his job at The New Yorker and moved from New York City to a salt water farm in North Brooklin, Maine. His wife Katherine agreed to go, despite the fact that it would interrupt her tenure as one of the most influential editors in America. She made an agreement with The New Yorker to do editing through the mail. E.B. had no clear plan for making a living in Maine. But before leaving New York, he agreed to write monthly essays about rural life for Harper’s.
Here’s a picture of the salt water farm. Reader, I saw it!
And Jules and I stayed at the nearby Blue Hill Inn and I sat near the front window of the carriage house and ate yogurt and Maine blueberries and wrote in my journal!
And I drank coffee in the lobby of the Blue Hill Inn, where E.B. White used to go for dinner after Katherine passed away. I sat to the left of the fireplace. I squinted and furrowed my brow and waited for the essence of E.B. to materialize via Star Trek transporter beam.
“He sat on the other side,” the innkeeper said. I moved to the right of the fireplace.
Once in everyone’s life there is apt to be a period when he is fully awake, instead of half asleep. I think of those five years in Maine as the time when this happened to me. Confronted by new challenges, surrounded by new acquaintances—including the characters in the barnyard, who were later to reappear in Charlotte’s Web—I was suddenly seeing, feeling, and listening as a child sees, feels, and listens. It was one of those rare interludes that can never be repeated, a time of enchantment. I am fortunate indeed to have had the chance to get some of it down on paper.
—E. B. White, “Salt Water Farm,” in One Man’s Meat
My grandfather was born at Fort Williams, which is south of Portland, Maine and south of North Brooklin, Maine yet north of Brooklyn, New York. The Fort was near the lighthouse on Cape Elizabeth.
My grandfather helped raise four children and served in two wars. He was in his 101st year when he passed away a few months ago. He had eaten cottage cheese with canned fruit for lunch every day for the vast majority of those years.
My grandfather also loved sweets. Especially thick chocolate shakes. (My dad says if the straw doesn’t stand up on its own in the middle, it’s not thick shake.) I remember when Grandpa sent me on the train to Grand Central with a box of fresh-baked chocolate chip cookies and a glimmer in his eye, as if to say he knew I would eat all of them myself and it could be our little secret.
One Man’s Meat is, as the title suggests, a personal record. It is a collection of essays which I wrote from a salt water farm in Maine while engaged in trivial, peaceable pursuits, knowing all the time that the world hadn’t arranged any true peace or granted anyone the privilege of indulging himself for long in trivialities. Although such a record is likely to seem incongruous, I see no harm in preserving it, the more so since I have begun to receive letters from soldiers overseas assuring me that there is a positive value to them in the memory of peace and of home.
—From the Introduction to One Man’s Meat
Do you remember the Simpsons episode where Marge and Lisa and Bart start a food blog, and Lisa shows Homer a video of a chef making pine needle sorbet, and Homer says,
“Pine needle sorbet? Pine needle sorbet?! My kids do NOT eat sorbet. They eat sherbet, and they pronounce it sherbert, and they wish it was ice cream!”
I remember it. Because it’s hilarious, but also because it reminds me of someone I love. It sounds familiar.
The tree had blossoms, not needles. She was familiar, too.
Henry Wadsworth Longfellow woke before dawn. The wind blew ocean mist clear through to his bones. He set out to walk. I was nearly 9 miles from his house in Portland to the lighthouse at Cape Elizabeth. 9 miles one way, people. And he walked. I submit that this was because there was no better place for him to witness the morning sun cross from sea to land.
I am standing on Cape Elizabeth where Longfellow walked and I am HAVING A MOMENT and I am planning to relocate my writing desk to the Portland Head Light and exist on a diet of poems and salt air.
Aaaaaaand the moment has passed! BAhahahahahaha! Can we go eat now?
Some people claim that Portland, Maine has the highest or second highest number of restaurants per capita in the U.S. behind San Francisco. In keeping with Maine’s independent spirit, some people disagree. And some other people have diligently researched the facts and have provided the data to support their position. (My fellow Americans: Remember when we used to have lively, civil, reality-based debates like this?)
Quantity of food in Portland notwithstanding, you will get no argument from me re: its quality. Exhibit A: Olive oil droplets swaddled in the duvet of pizza pictured above, consumed at (the aptly named) Slab Sicilian Street Food.
Jules and I couldn’t have asked for better food guides than the front desk staff at the Press Hotel, housed in the former offices and printing plant of the Portland Press Herald, poised on the edge of the Old Port’s cobblestones. They recommended two restaurants that were not only veggie-friendly, but also organic, hyper-locally sourced, and impeccably fresh.
(When I tell people I am a vegetarian, and they assume that I am a healthy, virtuous one, it delights me beyond measure. HOW LITTLE YE KNOW OF THE CHEESE BALL VAT I KEEP AT HOME.)
Press Recommendation #1: Flatbread Company, a wood-fired pizza joint with an airy vibe and a view of the harbor. Watch that tender crust blister and sputter, watch the fishing boats glide by. The brownie that anchors your dessert will be wood-fired, too. (It’s under there somewhere, I promise.)
Flatbread is a small chain that has built pizza ovens as far away as Whistler and Maui, but you’d never know it from the Maine-centric ingredients at the Portland location. A simple salad garnished with Maine sea kelp basically cancels out the brownie. A tall glass of the house lemonade, served hot, honors the seaside chill. The thing could easily kickstart a 10-day juice cleanse!
Or you could sip it slowly and let it sooth the vocal cords you roughed up while singing your heart out to the Trey Songz version of “Life on Mars?” on the drive from Acadia National Park. And by you, I mean me.
Flaky roti + hearty peanut curry + (vegan chocolate torte )(fresh orange-segment lollipops) = straight-up delicious virtue at Green Elephant, Hotel Press Recommendation #2.
We visited Portland in late April at the tail end of the off season. It was quiet—at times a bit too quiet—but then again, it was nice to be able to explore sans crowds. In this part of Maine, even Subway serves a lobster roll, and frozen confections clamor for tourist attention. On Fore Street in the Old Port, witness the standoff between Gorgeous Gelato and Gelato Fiasco. On the way to Acadia, a giant, friendly lobster begs the question: “Why stop at an ice cream shop when you can begin your ice cream retreat?
Luckily, there’s still plenty of real estate left for creative cuisine. Back at Slab, Jules and I discovered a new kind of veggie sandwich: Pan et panelle, popular in Palermo, yet possible in Portland. It’s a beer battered, deep fried chickpea-cauliflower fritter, slathered in ricotta and served on a sesame-encrusted roll, with plenty of parsley, red onion, and a big old squeeze of lemon. For dessert, Slab’s “napolean creampile” changes its flavor profile monthly but, I suspect, always lives up to its name.
Mad-scientist mixology abounds at the Bar at Tempo Dulu, located in the Danforth Inn, a Federal-style mansion built in 1823 that somehow manages to pull off a interior filled with electronic music, purple light, and clear acrylic chairs. From their web site: “Expect smoke and fire or foam made by a fish tank pump. Why serve [a cocktail] in a glass when you can serve it on a plate?” Why indeed.
Jules’s drink came with a heaping side of smoke, but it dissipated before I could take a photo. I may have been under the influence of a Mai Tai at the time.
Breakfast in Portland keeps the flavor combinations crazy. At The Holy Donut, choices range from bacon cheddar to toasted coconut to chai, and the dough is made with Maine potatoes. Notes: Texture: Too cake-like for my taste. Frosting: A bit cloying. But many a Mainer would beg to differ, which delights me. And I do love how much the hot-pink pomegranate varietal resembles Homer Simpson’s ideal donut, sans sprinkles.
There’s even a vegetarian tasting menu in town, presented at Evo Kitchen & Bar, where the service is as warm and comforting as the pitas, and the parade of mezze seems to stretch all the way down Fore Street.
Muhammara + cloud-upon-your-tongue hummus + tabbouleh + that pita + so, so much of that pita + falafel + grape leaves in aromatic sauce + a clever little fried artichoke, outer leaves groomed, masquerading as leg of lamb + dessert of tahini and Greek yogurt and puffed pine nuts + um, everything else you ate today in Portland =
Do you really want to know? Then head back to the fitness center at the Press Hotel, where you can weigh yourself—lying down, if you like—on a vintage scale that’s embedded in the floor. Printers once used it to weigh bulk reams of paper. Don’t worry. This will be only slightly unsettling.
If you want to start walking it off, fair winds will assist.