**I was in the midst of editing the images for this post yesterday when I learned that Steve Jobs passed away. I considered postponing the post out of respect, and also out of a strange heaviness of heart for someone I’ve never met. And then I realized that sticking to my plan would actually be the best way to honor the memory of such a talented and driven individual, one who never settled and always strove to be better. He will always be an inspiration.**
Portland’s airport is just like any other you’d find in America. Travellators take you from one gate to the other, there are the security screeners, Starbucks, Hudson’s News and the floors are carpeted in glaring colors and dizzying patterns. The entry into the city, however, is special. Crossing the Willamette River from the 84, the crest of the bridge breaks to present a city neatly tucked beneath hills of pine trees, a view so charming it takes your breath away. No gleaming skyscrapers or rolling plains here. And that’s when you know that Portland’s not your average American city. Its picturesque entrance is a prelude of the experience to come.
On that Full On Oregon weekend I was invited to, I had just enough time upon arrival to drop off my suitcase and grab my daypack before joining Nick, Liz and Stefanie on our roadtrip to Astoria, where we’d spend the next day crabbing and fishing on the Columbia River. The small town at the border with Washington state was the first European settlement on the West Coast, as well as the setting for movies like The Goonies, Stand By Me and Kindergarten Cop.
An hour and a half later, we were marvelling at the sweeping views of Washington and the Columbia River from the lobby of the Cannery Pier Hotel, an activity that continued when we got to our rooms. Built on the site of the former Union Fish Cannery, 600 feet into the river, the rooms look out on the Columbia River and the Washington-Oregon bridge. Mornings bring fog and the impressive sight of a giant ship passing right in front of your window. Evenings bring golden sunsets and seagulls flying overhead. I didn’t want to leave.
We were ferried in a 1945 Cadillac for our Brewers’ Dinner at the Fort George Brewery that evening, located at the original settlement site of Astoria founded in March 1811 by Captain Jonathon Thorn. The Fort George building was built in 1924 to house an automotive repair facility until it was abandoned in the 1990s. It underwent a massive renovation in 2005 and currently houses the brewery and the Blue Scorcher Bakery.
Chris Nemlowill started the brewery in 2007, with friend and fellow brewer Jack Harris and six brewing vessels that were trucked to Astoria from a defunct brewery on the East Coast. After encountering and surviving a tornado in Nebraska, they named their first IPA the Vortex, as “an effort to capture some of Nature’s intensity in every pint”. As a reflection of their immense popularity and growth, the brewery recently expanded their brewing operations with the purchase of a 30,000 square foot brewhouse adjoining the pub where they’ll be able to can their craft beers.
Our dinner that evening was a four-course affair, expertly crafted by resident chef Dana MacAuley who brought his French culinary training to bear on local ingredients. We began with Ahi Tuna with Wild Rice and Tomato Concasse, an outstanding course; the soft crunch of buttered wild rice providing just the right complement for flaky, just-seared tuna. This was followed by Boneless Chicken Thighs stuffed with Dates and Caramelized Onions, served with wilted spinach and housemade garlic sausage dumplings. The Housemade Jalapeno Sausage with Roasted Bell Pepper Gnocchi was a delight if not a little rich by the time we got to it, and the Coffee pot de creme to round out dinner was the icing on the cake. Thick enough to be creamy, it had enough coffee to hint at without the heavy tones of coffee liqeur. As he came out to tell us about each course, it was clear that Dana was more comfortable behind the scenes than in front of his audience. He had the air of a shy choir boy, piping up only when Chris prompted him to. It was an unassuming demeanour, one coming from a place of quiet satisfaction and pride, but not feeling the need to pipe up about it.
The next morning, after delicious pastries and coffee, we headed for the dock where our guide David Johnson was in the midst of preparing the crab traps that we’d set before heading out to fish. Greeting us were chunks of raw tuna, salmon, sardines and two whole chickens to be placed across six traps. It certainly wasn’t the most appetizing sight first thing in the morning, but there was dinner to catch and there was no room for queasiness. Ok, maybe just a bit.
The boat was rather quiet and somber as we headed out into the dense fog. It was cold and grey, hardly the hot sunny day we had expected considering the stratospheric temperatures forecasted for that weekend. After casting out the crab traps at various spots, we settled at our first fishing stop, and waited.
After 30 minutes David navigated us to another spot just past the Oregon Coast Highway. By that time, the sun had come out, layers came off, we cast our lines and settled in to enjoy the warmth.
All of a sudden, Greg our Travel Oregon chaperone yelled with a spine-chilling intensity: “FISH!!!!!!! FISH FISH FISH FISHHHHHH!!!!!” As Nick’s line flopped up and down, David sprung into action, preparing his net while instructing Nick on what to do. Greg reeled in the rest of the lines so that the fish wouldn’t get tangled in them and the rest of us scrambled around figuring out where to stand and what to do.
To regulate and ensure a sustainable population of salmon in its rivers, the Oregon Department of Fish and Wildlife spawn salmon in hatcheries every year. The adipose fins (the small fleshy fin between the dorsal fin and the fish’s tail) of these fish are clipped before they are released into the wild, in order to enable sport fisherman to distinguish between catchable and protected fish.
Our catch was a 12-pound silver salmon that had its tiny little fin intact, and so had to be returned to the water. But not before some photo opportunities.
After the excitement died down it was time for lunch, and to call it a day. We headed back to pick up our crab pots, hauling them up like real fishermen. Not. These traps are HEAVY! Especially when loaded up with Dungeness crabs!
Once on the boat, there was sorting to be done – any female crab or male crabs measuring less than 5¾ inches at their widest point had to be returned to the water. All told we got about 24 crabs, not bad for a few hours’ work of converting two chickens, tuna and salmon roe into dungeness crabs.
Back in Portland, there was just enough time to chill before joining the rest of the Full On Oregon crew for a burger dinner catered by Gregory Denton (Metrovino) and Chris Carriker (The Gilt Club) on the rooftop of the Wieden+Kennedy building in downtown Portland. Serving up beverages were a host of six breweries from Eastern Oregon like the Mt Emily Ale House and the Mutiny Brewing Company. Not much of a beer-drinker myself, I stayed hydrated with the iced teas from Steven Smith.
Complementing the burgers was a buffet of dishes featuring gnocchi with guanciale and tomatoes, a green salad and a crab salad drenched in a puckery lemon-mayonnaise dressing with herbs, radish and hints of pickles. I don’t need to tell you my favorite dish of the feast we had. I could have imagined things, but I’m pretty sure I detected a quiet pride in our fishing group as we tucked into dinner that evening. Although we returned without a salmon in the cooler, the crabs were no less delicious, and we had our stories to add to the tapestry of experiences that weekend. That was rewarding in itself.
**Disclosure: I wasn’t paid for the trip, but my meals, accommodation and transport for the weekend were covered by Travel Oregon. Also, look out for part two of the weekend coming up….soonish. Once I wade through the other 500 images, that is.**