Fall has definitely arrived in Portland--everywhere the maple leaves are turning brilliant red and show-stopping yellow-gold. We had decided on Friday night to get up early on Saturday, ride to breakfast (waffles at NW's Dragonfly Cafe? or omelettes at the Downtown Bijou Cafe?), and then head over to the Farmer's Market at the Portland State University (PSU) Park Blocks. But, as dawn broke and the skies were still cloudy, it was hard to leave our cozy warm featherbed. We dawdled until 9am, choosing a bagel and juice at home over breakfast out, but then attached empty panniers to Matthew's bike and headed out to the Market.
We hopped on to the Waterfront Park path, just outside our home near the Steel Bridge, and headed south toward the Salmon Street Fountain. It's a cool morning, so we decide that fleece jackets are warranted. I have a new one, a gift from Matthew that he picked up on a recent trip to Vancouver, BC. The Inukshuk, a favorite icon of mine, is the "mascot" for the 2010 Olympics, and my jacket sports a multi-colored one. My hands were cold on yesterday's commute, so I'm also wearing knitted mittens. Fall has always been my favorite season, and now that I'm living in the Pacific Northwest, I feel like I'm getting the full monty.
The Waterfront Park path is packed with pedestrians and bicyclists, and as we wend our way along the Williamette River seawall, I easily imagine that we're riding in Europe. At about that time, I get passed by a young father riding a bakfiets from Clever Cycles. The bakfiets is a Dutch bicycle design, specifically made for transporting people and stuff. The cargo hold of the bakfiets is attached on the front of the bike rather than the rear, and is an integral part of the bike. The kids ride in front, which means that the cyclist can see them at all times. Presumably, parents enjoy (and some even prefer) this arrangement.
Since my bike is completely sans load, I'm a little indignant that I've just been passed by a loaded cargo bike, but I'll get over it. I don't like to ride really fast in the Waterfront Park--there's usually a lot of pedestrians to thread through, and there also fun things to see along the river. Today, for instance, there's a DUKW amphibian tourbus heading south past the Steel Bridge, and the Oregon Maritime Museum's sternwheeler Portland is docked at the seawall near SW Pine and is open for tours.
It's a quick trip to the Salmon St. fountain, and from there we cross Naito Parkway and head west toward Park Ave, then south until we end up at PSU. The market is already bustling, but we need to find bike parking before we can get into the mix.
I've spotted what I think is a bike rack, across the greenway, so we head toward it. There's a lot of bikes locked up here--so many, in fact, that there's no more room on the rack! We have U-locks, which limits our parking options. I see bikes that have been locked to street light poles, but that won't work for us. I see the father with the bakfiets roll up and, using 2 long lengths of thick chain, lock up to a street light pole. A small child pops out of the cargo hold, and they head into the market fray. As we debate looking for another rack, a couple approaches the bike rack, laden with recent purchases from the market. They begin to load their produce onto their bikes, and I realize that this is the first time I've ever had to wait for bike parking! Now, where's the coffee?
Our bikes safely locked up and coffee in hand, I can now turn my attention to: The Wedge. Artisan, Northwest cheese-makers have gathered at the Farmers Market today to showcase their wares, present seminars, and celebrate all things cheese. More than 25 regional cheesemakers are on hand with samples, and I'm ready to dive in. We circulate (slowly) past each tent, sampling and talking with the vendors. And purchasing. We picked up a raw milk cheddar from Rogue Creamery (not to be confused with Rogue Brewery, two tents away), and then after sampling their Chocolate Stout Cheddar (confused yet?), got a wedge of that, too. I'd recently heard that honey was a good cheese companion, and when I saw the Beehive Cheese Company booth, thought I'd hit the jackpot. Turns out, their name comes from the fact that they're from Utah (The Beehive State), and didn't know anything about a honey connection. They do know about cow's milk, though. Their herd is Jerseys, a beautiful breed whose milk has a high butterfat content, which results in oh-so-creamy cheese. We tasted all of their samples, including a fabulously rich cheddar rubbed with espresso and infused with lavender. We bought their Full Moon Raw Milk Cheddar, because the creamy, buttery taste was so pure that I wanted just that simple, perfect flavor.
At the Willamette Valley Cheese Company, we sampled their Farmstead Gouda, and couldn't leave without a wedge. Their other cheeses were very good, but the Gouda was irresistible. From there we met the cheese makers at the Silver Falls Creamery, and sampled every one of their spreadable goat cheeses. They're milking about 80 head this year, mostly Togggenburg, Nubian and Alpine breeds. We also sampled both the Basil Pesto and Sun-Dried Tomato spreadable cheeses from River's Edge Dairy, and snatched up the latter. Goat milk has a lower fat content, and the fat particles are smaller than those found in cow milk. It's also naturally homogenized, and for all of those reasons and a few more, many people who are lactose intolerant find that goat's milk works for them. We both noticed that the goat cheeses seem to almost float, they're so light and airy. It's almost not fair to compare cheeses made from the different milk sources--they're that different.
And as long as we're at the Farmer's Market, I picked up a couple of squash and some onions. I sampled about a half-dozen different types of pears at the Market's "taste-it" booth--but forgot to pick any up to take home! I really enjoyed the Starkrimson red pears--now I have to hunt them out at Wednesday's Farmer's Market. I got the pear-cheese-wine wheel at the Market's info booth, which has rudimentary pairing information. I suspect it was intended more as a USAPears marketing tool than a comprehensive "pearing" tool--and it worked. Back at home, I went right to the website for more info about the Starkrimson.
Now that our panniers are nearly full, it's time for a treat stop. Gabriel's Bakery temps Matthew with a Pain au Chocolat, but I am on the hunt for the Market Gourmet brownie, just voted as a "Best Bite" by the Oregonian. Their description of how the brownie is made hooked me: "baker Monica Halici breaks up her Schokinag German chocolate by hand, then whips it with European butter, Italian espresso extract and a little chocolate liqueur. But her real secret may be the pure, organic, fair-trade Singing Dog Vanilla". I saw their booth right as we entered the market--the line wrapped around two sides of their tent. Since it's near our bike-parking, my plan is to hope that they're not sold out and pick up one on the way out. And my luck holds--there's only a short line, and I can choose either a Raspberry or Turtle Pecan brownie. Eenie, meenie, minie mo--I pick the raspberry, gently load it into my backpack, and we're done.
It takes a minute to load the panniers onto Matthew's bike, so I have the chance to enjoy the South Park blocks. Lined with large trees, the Park Blocks offer a shady respite in summer. As the weather turns cool and their leaves start to turn and drop, these beautiful old trees offer us a shower of confetti, in colors that occur only in nature. It's a wonderful day to be outside, appreciating Portland's green spaces and Hood River's bounty. We head down Park Ave. to Salmon St. and then turn back toward the Williamette River and Waterfront Park. There are even more people out on the Park's path--on bicycles, on foot, with strollers--and we thread our way through them all. At the Salmon St. dock, there's a large ship being loaded with luggage (wonder where they're going?). A couple of guys are practicing their skateboard skills on the steps at the pump station, and across Naito Parkway, the Portland Saturday Market is in full swing. The crowd thins out here, so I can fly under the Burnside Bridge, through the Japanese-American Historical Plaza, and around the Friendship Circle at the Steel Bridge. No trains in sight, so we ride over the tracks and through the gates into McCormick Pier. It's just noon, and the rest of the day is still ahead of us.