Monday, June 29, 2015

The Month That Was

On Tuesday, May 19, I received an email from our current landlord saying that our time was up at Irvington House. We have lived here for almost two years, since August 2013, and part of our contract was that I perform the duties of caretaker for this licensed bed & breakfast which is operated as two self-catering vacation rental units. It is often a thankless job, consisting of cleaning both rental units an average of twice a week, plus household maintenance, performing concierge-type duties for our guests, administrative responsibilities, etc. The owner has never had anyone stay longer than about a year and a half, and he was clearly starting to worry that we would bail at a most inconvenient time for him. In truth, Greg and I had discussed our options earlier this spring, and ultimately decided that 1. We would like to invest in Portland real estate (i.e. buy a house or condo); and 2. Whether or not we were successful in that endeavor, we would still plan to give notice and move sometime during the following winter.
The front entrance to lovely Irvington House
So our hand was forced at what happened to be a most inconvenient time for us. Just four short days later, on May 23, I was scheduled to board a flight to Anchorage, AK. I would ultimately rendez-vous with my extended family in Seward, aboard Holland America Line’s ms Zaandam. From there we cruised Alaska’s Inside Passage on a wonderful seven night journey that ended in Vancouver, BC on Sunday, May 31. I immediately flew home to Portland.
My beautiful family aboard the ms Zaandam
On Monday, June 1, I started a new job with Brewery Consultant Group. My friend, and Culmination Brewing owner, Tomas Sluiter heads up this company whose purpose is to advise clients interested in starting new breweries across the United States. My role is to write proposals,  business plans, pro formas, and more, with a heavy emphasis on project management. It is the perfect job for me and I am thrilled to have the opportunity to work more closely with the industry that I love.
My office at the brewery
On Thursday, June 4, Greg and I boarded planes bound for Indianapolis, IN to attend his youngest brother’s wedding, where we spent a fun-filled four days with his family and our new in-laws. Of course, I couldn’t resist leading the troops, including the just-married bride and groom, to as many breweries as we could fit in around the wedding festivities. I had intentionally booked a later flight home on the following Monday, so I caught a ride into downtown Indy and spent the entire afternoon exploring the city on foot, including stops at two more breweries (total count: eight). I didn’t arrive home in Portland until after midnight.
On a pub crawl in Broad Ripple with my in-laws
On Tuesday, June 9, after I completed my tasks at Irvington House, I went to work at Culmination Brewing where I helped with the setup for Media Preview night. Then I spent the rest of the evening bartending, waiting tables, and cleaning up after the event. This was not the only time I have chipped in to help at the new brewery; I occasionally bartend and also was a server during their Grand Opening on June 19.
Opening night at Culmination Brewing
So it wasn’t until Thursday, June 11, that Greg and I first started seriously looking for a new place to live. The hunt to purchase real estate was pretty much quashed as quickly as it began. The housing market is just too hot right now, with buyers bidding up already-inflated prices on even the dinkiest places. Our focus turned to Craigslist, where I have successfully found apartments and bought & sold many items over the past 10 years. Still, the pickings in our price range were slim, and many did not meet enough of our top criteria. While I scoured Craigslist and reached out to all of my friends for help in our search, Greg scanned sites like Zillow,, and property management listings.
We're selling our area rugs, if anyone is interested
Of course, we also had to keep up with our responsibilities at Irvington House, including double-cleanings (i.e. turning over both rentals on the same day) on most weekends. I’m sure you can imagine the stress of my old job, my new job(s), and searching for housing with a looming move date around August 1. Don’t forget that we don’t own a car, so it’s not as simple as driving around neighborhoods looking for “For Rent” signs, which are few and far between anyway. Nor can we just hop in the car to go see a new listing as soon as it’s posted. After seeing a couple of average-at-best apartments the evening of June 18, we were feeling pretty defeated and starting to seriously consider whether we should even stay in Portland or, God forbid, move to the suburbs.
Liquid courage
To add to the complexity of the situation, during this same time frame, Greg had applied online for a new position at Trimet, Portland’s public transportation agency. He has not been happy in his current job for quite some time, and had been looking for other opportunities. He finally got called for an in-person interview just as we were ramping up our apartment search.
Trimet, a big part of the reason we moved to Portland
On Saturday, June 20, we spent the entire day out looking at apartments. We had made appointments to see a variety of places in northeast and southeast Portland, the majority of which were converted basement units with the landlord(s) living on the main/top floors of the home. By the end of the day, we actually felt like we had options, as we especially liked two of the places we had seen. As we struggled with how to proceed (you can’t delay a decision in this market), I sent out a few quick emails to our top choices, thanking them for their time and expressing our interest. Luck was on our side, as all responded in the affirmative that they wanted us, too.
Animals love us; do people, too?
We tried to regroup as quickly as possible, listing the pros and cons of each place. Ultimately, we decided to pursue a spacious two-bedroom apartment on the north slope of Mt. Tabor. As we worked out the details with our potential new landlord, Greg got the call he had been waiting on. Trimet was offering him the job!
On a clear day, we'll have an unobstructed view of Mount St Helens from our deck
Now, less than six weeks after incurring the initial shock of being told we needed to vacate our apartment, we have not only lined up a great new place to live, but we have also both gotten new jobs, all while balancing our current jobs, two out-of-state trips, and other unexpected drama. I credit our overall hard work, organization skills, prioritization of tasks, diligence with our savings and budget, strong employment history, and excellent references (thanks to those of you who participated!) for making everything possible.
Greg & I at his brother's wedding in Indianapolis
The transition will happen fairly quickly. Greg’s last day at his current job is Friday, July 10. I will celebrate my forty-first birthday on Sunday, July 12 while packing and cleaning Irvington House’s basement rental unit one last time. We move into our new home on Monday, July 13. Greg starts his new job on Monday, July 20. We’ll then have six weeks to settle into our new lives before we go on a well-deserved vacation to Iceland.
We're going to spend almost two weeks driving around the entire country!
So if you haven’t heard from either of us lately, or wonder why our social media posts are sometimes cryptic, now you know why. And that, my friends, was the month that was.

Friday, June 19, 2015

Carte Blanche = complete freedom to cook what you want and eat what you love

My friend Amy Burglehaus is a local food writer. Her blog, Eating My Way Thru Portland, chronicles her experiences as she dines around town at restaurants new and old, foreign and familiar. She wrote a blog post almost two years ago about a couple of meals she ate at a food cart named Carte Blanche, which is located in a small pod alongside a busy stretch of Hawthorne Boulevard in southeast Portland. Amy heaped high praise on everything that crossed her lips and, knowing from experience that I could trust her judgement, I vowed to get there asap.
my friend, Amy Burglehaus (photo courtesy of her blog)
Of course, the timing of Amy's post also coincided with my husband Greg & I moving to northeast Portland. Where before we literally lived just a few blocks from Carte Blanche, now we were a few miles and two bus rides away. With a new job and other responsibilities demanding more of my time, I still hadn't tried Carte Blanche when, in December 2014, Amy partnered with the owner of the food cart, Jessie Aron, to sponsor a giveaway of a $25 gift card. I immediately entered the contest and, as luck would have it, my name was randomly chosen as the winner! Now I had absolutely no excuse not to try the food that was garnering rave reviews from Yelpers, Portland Monthly, The Oregonian, and more.
the super-cute vintage Airstream trailer that houses Carte Blanche
Fast forward to last night, when Greg & I FINALLY made our way down to Carte Blanche for dinner. We arrived just after 6 pm when the cart was slammed with the dinner rush. Jessie and her friends graciously took our order and told us to wait (their estimate of about 25 minutes was pretty accurate) in the shade of the dining tent and they would deliver our food when it was ready.

Greg carefully studied the menu and decided to order the rice bowl "Sufjam Fever" with pork. I asked one of Jessie's coworkers to make a suggestion. When I told him I like everything, he asked if I was in the mood for a sandwich. He said he had eaten "The Trouble with Ghosts" with fried chicken for lunch and that it was awesome. I gave him the green light to make the same thing for me and opted for the Japanese green bean salad as my side dish.

While the most-shaded communal picnic tables were occupied as we waited for our food, those diners finished their meals and left just as our plates were being delivered. So Greg and I settled in the shade at the east end of the tent and prepared to dig into our scrumptious-looking dishes.
Sufjam Fever
Greg's rice bowl was served with many of the items in little piles around the edge of the large bowl, allowing him to mix & mingle flavors to his liking. While he didn't let me take too many bites, I did manage to get a taste of heavenly slow-roasted pork and was intrigued by some nicely-steamed fingerling potatoes I spotted at the bottom of the bowl. Those few bites encompassed a melody of flavors with the gentle heat of Thai curry and the sweetness of coconut.
The Trouble with Ghosts
My sandwich looked and tasted amazing! It is honestly one of the best all-around dishes I've had in a long time, with the originality, quality, and overall melding of unexpected flavors deserving of the most lauded restaurants in town, like Le Pigeon. Just read through the ingredients list on the menu board: Za'atar & honey-seasoned fried chicken, praline bacon, chevre, caramelized onions, roasted sweet peppers, apple, arugula, avocado, pesto, aleppo aioli, and pickled peppers. It's hard to imagine all of these things going well together, but the result was a complete symphony in my mouth. Each bite promised different flavors and textures, all complementary and inspirational. I would eat this again and again, gladly! Note that I could have split this $10 sandwich with Greg and still been plenty satiated, but am happy I had it all to myself, and I savored every single bite.

Jessie and her team deserve every word of praise that has been bestowed by others before me and by what I'm sure will be many more in the weeks, months, and years to come. No word on whether she's considering a brick & mortar location. Either way, be sure to put Carte Blanche at the top of your "must try" list because I guarantee you'll be coming back for more!

Carte Blanche is located at 3207 SE Hawthorne Blvd, Portland, OR 97214.
Current hours are Thursday through Sunday 12 pm - 8 pm (or until they sell out).
They do accept orders by phone: (971) 258-2895.
The menu is seasonal and rotates every three to four weeks.
The website is always up-to-date: