Come visit Dayton (you’ll love it)

Late August/early September might be my favorite time of the year. The weather is as good as it gets all year, the tomatoes finally ripen, and people get out and really savor the waning days of summer. For me, the end of August signifies it is time to head back to my hometown of Dayton, Washington, to help out with wheat harvest. My family has a farm there, and returning to work for a few weeks is my way of staying connected with the family and the town where I grew up. In the last thirty-six years, I’ve missed just one harvest (and I didn’t like it). These days, I don’t usually work the whole thing, but I try to pitch in when I can. The hours are long, but it gives me an opportunity to work outside and enjoy the foothills of the Blue Mountains (see below).

A friend of mine starting a new photography business took the picture (click to enlarge). I’m driving the combine on the left. To see more of Nick’s work, visit

It is always fun to return to my roots, to see friends I’ve known forever, and visit with people from the community who played such an important role in making me who I am today. With a population around 2,500, Dayton is what many writers would call the idyllic small town (I just call it home). Tucked into the Touchet River Valley, the town is a jumping off point for a wide variety of outdoor recreation. Local motels fill up for hunting season (deer, elk, and pheasant hunting are most popular). Fishing for trout, steelhead, and salmon in the nearby Touchet, Toucannon, and Snake rivers also brings people to the area. During the winter, skiers carve up the crisp, dry powder at Ski Bluewood, a short drive up into the mountains. Dayton has a bustling downtown, with several shops, restaurants, a brew pubs, a brewery, two museums, and a few art galleries.

Farming is still the main industry in the county, and when wheat prices are good (and interest rates are low), the town economy seems to do well. Recently, wind power has become an important part of the economy. A few hundred wind turbines add to the county tax rolls and provide several good-paying jobs. In June, PGE announced it would build a large wind generation project—116 new turbines—just north of Dayton. Construction on the new project will start this month.

Tourism plays a significant role in the county economy too, and foodies can get their fix here. Dayton has a French restaurant, Patit Creek Restaurant, well-known throughout the Pacific Northwest. The Weinhard Café serves varied dishes created from local ingredients. An upscale chocolatier, Alexander’s Chocolate Classics, moved over from Washington’s West Side a couple years back. The Monteillet Fromagerie, a traditional French fromagerie, produces a variety of artisanal cheeses from the milk of its Alpine goats and East Freisan-Lacaune sheep. Some Portlanders may already be familiar with Pierre-Louis Monteillet, the owner, who can be found several Saturdays a year at the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU, selling his cheeses from a booth toward the north end of the market. 

Besides wind power and French cheeses, Dayton has a couple other connections to Portland. Toward the end of the 19th century, Henry Weinhard’s nephew, Jacob, moved to Dayton from Portland to establish his own brewery. The brewery is no longer around, but the Weinhard name still resonates with Dayton’s residents. Two businesses, the Weinhard Hotel and the aforementioned café, bear the famous name.

One of the newer additions to Dayton is Mace Mead Works (mead is a type of wine made from honey). Reggie Mace*, the owner, would fit in well in Portland. Sporting a robust set of lamb chops and thick-rimmed glasses, he looks like a hipster from the Hawthorne District. In addition to his signature “dry mead”, Mace makes a couple different wines. He sells a lot of his mead in Portland (if I can catch up with him before I head back to Portland, I’ll do a more in-depth profile). He brings a little bit of Portland to Dayton, offering cured meats from Olympic Provisions.

To celebrate the town’s history and its food culture, Dayton is hosting the Heirloom Weekend, a celebration of food, wine, and local cuisine, from September 20th-22nd. The event includes wine and cheese tastings, garden tours, live music, and a special dining event at TamiJoy Farms.

If you’re looking for a new place to explore, Dayton’s diversity of food and drink makes it a great place to visit. I could go on and on about the town, but it’s better to see for yourself. An easy four-and-a-half-hour drive from Portland, come visit Dayton for an early fall getaway. You’ll be glad you did.


* Prior to opening his own business, Mace worked several years at Walla Walla Roastery, probably Walla Walla’s best coffee roaster. Coincidentally, Walla Walla Roastery’s owner, Thomas Reese, lived in Portland for a while during the 1980s, where he did a lot of skateboarding with Din Johnson, who owns Ristretto Roasters. Years later, both were surprised to find that the other had ended up going into the coffee business. 

Pride comes before a...

Whenever you scoff at something, beware. Pride has a funny way of kicking you in the teeth when you aren’t looking.  A healthy sense of self-righteousness can set you up to feel stupid, as I did last week.

I was doing a little shopping at a local Fred Meyer when I came across a couple products I had not seen before.  On first glance, they seemed ridiculous.

Diet tonic water?

Isn’t that sort of like selling “cholesterol-free” peanut butter?

The second thing that caught my eye was the fat-free half and half.

Yes, that’s fat-free half and half.

Half and half gets its name from being half cream and half milk. If something is half cream, it cannot be fat-free. What did they substitute for the cream? Corn syrup and some other chemical agents (er, ingredients).

Obviously, with fat-free half and half, the food companies are catering to the weight-obsessed crowd. They’re trying to pass something off that substitutes corn syrup for cream as healthier for you (“It’s okay, go for it. It’s fat-free”). I scoffed at the idea of drinking fat-free half and half, and grabbed a carton of the real stuff, right next to it.

Or at least that’s what I thought. The part of the story where pride kicks me in the teeth is that when I got home to unload the groceries, I pulled out the carton, only to find that I had grabbed one of the fat-free ones! I had grabbed the name brand without looking too closely at it, assuming it was the real stuff. Ugh.


After mocking the thought of fat-free half and half, I had fallen into its trap (the taste and quality difference was obvious, by the way). I’m not sure whether this was a case of complete absent-mindedness or just a case of “pride cometh before a fall.” Either way, I felt ridiculous. Next time, I’ll be a little less self-righteous and a little more careful about what I pick up off the shelf.

Fueling or fattening?

[Background: Seven-Eleven just opened up a new store in my neighborhood, a neighborhood that  desperately needed another convenience store. When they tore down the long-since-abandoned Arby’s restaurant that used to sit there, I was hopeful that someone was going to put a good café in there. My hopes were dashed when I learned they were putting in a new 7-Eleven. There was already a Plaid Pantry two blocks down the street, so why our neighborhood needed another place where people could get lots of cheap sugar, salt, fat and alcohol was beyond me.]

This morning as I walked toward the bus stop, I glanced up the street and did a double take. In the distance, I saw what appeared to be several people decked out in brightly-colored costumes, dancing around on a street corner.

Keep Portland weird, I thought.

However, as I walked closer to the intersection, my amusement turned to disbelief and then to dismay. The four brightly-costumed people dancing around on the corner waving at cars were kids about ten years old. Each one was dressed up as a different 7-Eleven product. One was dressed up as a Big Gulp, another as a hot dog, another as a bag of potato chips and the fourth was wearing a Slurpee outfit. Perfect. All they were missing was a can of Bud Light, and they would have covered the five main convenience store food groups (but I suppose that would be crossing the line).

Watching the kids wave at the cars, I could feel the ink in my pen start to heat up in anticipation of this article. What kind of company uses little kids to advertise unhealthy food? Aren’t there laws about marketing to kids, or at least using kids to market? Didn’t marketing campaigns like that go out of style when they forced Joe Camel and his phallic face out of cigarette ads?

But not everything is black and white. The reason the kids were out on the street advertising for 7-Eleven was that they were having a party in the parking lot to raise money for the local community center. Still, can’t there be a better way to fund a community center than by partnering with 7-Eleven to push unhealthy food?

It’s no secret that obesity is a problem in America. According to the Center for Disease Control, two-thirds of American adults are either overweight or obese. Two-thirds. Twenty percent of kids ages 6-19 are obese.

This obesity is no joke. It lowers our quality of life, makes us less active (a vicious cycle) and leads to increased rates of diabetes and cardiovascular diseases. In the US, we spend nearly $150 billion each year on obesity-related health care costs. Yet we think it’s just fine to let kids eat junk food on a regular basis, and we apparently allow kids to advertise chips, sodas and hot dogs, implicitly endorsing an unhealthy diet.

The sad thing is that these high-calorie foods that are front and center at convenience stores are some families’ best option to get the calories they need. That should tell you that we have some problems with getting good food to people, either because it is too far away from where they live or because people can’t afford to buy it. I wish that the problem could be magically fixed with tax cuts, but that doesn’t seem to be the case.

One of the best lines from the movie Tombstone is when Wyatt Earp, played by Kurt Russell, explains to Doc Holliday (Val Kilmer) how gambling is an honest business and doesn’t harm the gamblers. After all, he says, “It’s not like anyone is holding a gun to their heads now, is it?”

To which Holliday smirks and replies, “That’s what I love about Wyatt. He can talk himself into anything.”

The convenience store is like Earp’s gambling enterprise. We have talked ourselves into believing that the people who sell unhealthy foods bear none of the responsibility for the consequences when people eat them. It’s all the fault of the people buying the bad food, or so the theory goes. This is intentionally misleading—any economic transaction involves more than one party, and companies spend millions billions each year to make us buy their stuff, whether it is good for us or not.

If you eat junk food from time to time, it’s certainly not the end of the world either. I am not a junk food prohibitionist. I admit to eating it once in a while. I’ve been to the new 7-Eleven once, to get a Slurpee when the store was giving them out for free. I’m not quite ready to call for government intervention either. But when I see kids out on a street corner dressed up as junk food, I question the wisdom of the people who put them up to it. I can’t help but wonder what is going to happen to this country, because all I can see is a future full of overweight kids and adults with an array of health problems with no one taking responsibility for what people eat. If we claim to give a damn about the next generation, we can, and should, do better.

From nuts to fruits: learning how to taste at Ristretto Roasters

Last weekend, after stopping by Overland Park to listen to Leaves Russell perform at the Organic Brewers Festival, I made my way over to Ristretto Roasters café on North Williams Ave., to have some coffee with Jinsu Lee, a South Korean coffee aficionado who has also explored many different cafés around Portland (he provided the photos for this post). We like to get together once in a while to talk about coffee and what the future of the coffee industry might be, especially in South Korea, where specialty coffee is just beginning to take off.

When I got to the café, Jinsu was already sitting at a back table with a group of people.  He waved me over and introduced me to the group—Ryan, Rachel, Hank and Steve (all Ristretto employees) and told me that they had invited us to join them. Unknowingly, we had stumbled upon Ristretto’s weekly Sunday public coffee event.

Each Sunday afternoon at 2:30, Ristretto hosts some kind of event to help educate customers about coffee. Often these are coffee cuppings, but last Sunday’s was a little different. Instead of tasting different coffees, the plan was to taste several different foods as a way to develop and map out our palates. Steve, who is a trainer for Ristretto, led us through the exercise.

Preparing to taste. Photo courtesy Jinsu Lee

Developing a discerning palate is very important for people who work in the coffee industry (especially for coffee buyers and roasters), who need to be sure that they are producing a consistent, high-quality product. It is a skill that takes time to develop. I once heard a café owner tell a group that he and his business partner cupped coffee every single morning for three years. As you can imagine, he felt pretty confident in his ability to detect all of the subtleties and imperfections that are present in a cup of coffee.

If you have read many of my café posts, you know that I try to describe the flavors in each of the coffees. I have mentioned several times that a coffee has hints of berries in it, or some kind of citrus, chocolate or cherries. Two of the more interesting coffees I tried to describe came from Ristretto’s cafés (you can read them here and here). On coffee packages and in conversations with baristas, flavors like dates, honey, leather, tamarind, bergamot, carrots, plums and peaches have also been used. All of these descriptions are somewhat subjective, since we all taste things differently.

A more experienced coffee taster uses less subjective language and describes coffee in terms like acidity, body, sweetness and balance, breaking the coffee down into the responses they cause in our mouth.

The tasting lineup. Photo courtesy Jinsu Lee

Steve’s goal was to teach us to think about tasting in a more methodical way. As we tasted the foods, our assignment was to concentrate on how they felt and where they affected our mouths, tongues and throats. We tasted 10 different foods: almonds, hazelnuts, Brazil nuts, milk chocolate, dark chocolate, avocados, red delicious apples, Granny Smith apples, lemons and limes.

We started out with the least acidic food, the almonds, and then moved step by step toward the most acidic, the limes. Apparently, if you were to start with the limes, the acidity would overload your palate at the beginning and make it much harder to taste the other foods.

Of the three nuts, the almonds were the driest. They were a little bit sweet, affecting the front end of my tongue as I ground them up between my teeth (Speaking of grinding up the almonds, it was kind of amusing to sit there and watch everyone working the foods around their mouths, their faces reflecting a deep concentration as they tried discern all of the tastes and textures. I’m sure I had a funny look on my face too).

The hazelnuts were distinctly sweeter and had more oils in them than the almonds. The Brazil nuts had a little bit of a sandy (mineral) flavor, and were the oiliest of all, leaving a light coating on the inside of my mouth. Steve told us that the difference between the Brazil nuts and the almonds was analogous to the difference between coffees with a lot of body and those without it.

We discussed body some more as we moved into the chocolates. We started with the milk chocolate, which was very sweet and creamy. It had lots of body. The dark chocolate, in contrast, was only a little bit sweet, and it dried out my mouth as I chewed it. Our guide told us that the drying effect came from the tannins in the cocoa. He said it was like a dry wine, where the wine is fermented with the skins still on the grapes. This leaves more of the tannins in the wine, giving the wine that mouth-drying feel.

After the dark chocolate came the avocado. The avocado was another demonstration of something with a lot of body. The oils in the avocado coated our mouths as we swished the slimy fruit around inside them.

The two apples followed the avocado. This was the beginning of the acidity phase of the tasting. The light acidity of the red delicious apple is similar to (though sweeter than) some of the berry or stone fruit acidity that some coffees have. It stays more towards the front of your tongue. The Granny Smith apples are a bit more tart, so as soon as you chew them up, the acidity moves up the sides of your tongue.

When we got to the lemons, everyone prepared to pucker up. We bit enthusiastically into the chunks of raw lemon and WHAM! Faces around the table tightened up as the lemon juice hit our taste buds. The lime had a similar affect. Its acidity grabbed the middle of my tongue, then as I swallowed, it latched onto the back of my throat and lingered. The lime was so acidic that it kind of burned and almost tasted salty. Jinsu quipped that we could have used some tequila to go with it, a statement that was greeted with a nod of agreement from everyone.

After we finished tasting, we sat around for a while and talked about coffee, because that’s what coffee people do when they get together, especially after going through a tasting exercise like this one. We concluded that Portland is a great city to learn about coffee, because cafés like Ristretto are always trying to educate their customers on the finer points of the beverage.

If you are looking for something to do on a Sunday afternoon, I recommend that you stop by Ristretto and check out what they are sharing that day. You might get to try or taste something you’ve never had before, or you might just get to hang around with a bunch of coffee enthusiasts. Either way, you should have a good afternoon at one of Portland’s best cafés.

Brews to Bikes (book review)

When the news about the Stumptown sale to TSG  broke in Portland, the reaction was telling. In a place like San Francisco or Boston, the news would have been greeted with cheers that a local company made it big. In Portland, however, the news was met with many groans and promises to find another source for coffee. Not everyone was upset, of course, but it was a big shock to the city that Stumptown—Stumptown!—would become part of a larger conglomerate, ceding any control to some distant private equity firm.

To understand the reason people were upset, it helps to understand the culture of Portland. Portland is famous for its high quality of life and its weirdness, but not for having a business-friendly culture. The city has even been mocked in the show Portlandia for being a place “where young people go to retire.” Many would say that Portland has an anti-corporate mentality.

While there is some truth behind this image of the city, it is far from complete. Charles Heying, a professor of urban studies at Portland State University, demonstrates this when he takes a closer look at how the creative class is adding to the Portland economy in his new book, Brews to Bikes: Portland’s Artisan Economy. Heying compares Portland’s artisanal economy, where business owners produce unique, high-quality products in small batches or single pieces, with the typical “Fordist” (industrial) economy, where mass production is king and variations in the products are frowned upon. Heying and his team of student researchers describe how Portland’s artisans are making large contributions to the city’s economy, making it unique among cities.

The book takes an in-depth look at more artisan industries than you might have ever known existed in Portland. It describes Portland’s more famous artisan industries—beer, food (farmer’s markets to food carts), fashion (more than just flannel) and bike building, but also looks at other growing industries, like coffee, leather, music, and colored glass.  It also discusses how the artisans fit into the larger economic picture.

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