August 2012

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Sandpoint, Idaho–just like Amsterdam minus the Red Light District. Photo courtesy of Big Leap Creative Photos.

A letter from Katie Botkin in Idaho:

I have to say, I haven’t always had the best of luck finding a roommate in North Idaho. Most nice professional single women here tend to want their own place, because they move from someplace like New York and the rent is so much cheaper.

There was one guy a couple of years ago who moved in and then the job he moved for fell through. He moved out promptly. There was one girl who liked to stay up cooking very late, and then accidentally left a pizza burning in the oven all night. She moved out less promptly. Then there was the girl with the super-hippie boyfriend.

This last time, I wrote up a detailed description on Craigslist, describing myself as a light sleeper who disliked drugs and wanted the house kept clean. I got a response more quickly than I’d anticipated. Another guy, but he described himself as employed, quiet and not into drugs either. We exchanged a couple of e-mails. He was fairly articulate and seemed nice enough. So we met up.

At the meeting, I asked him for his references. He wrote down a few names for me. Before I called them, I tried looking him up on the internet. He had a common name, but now I knew what he looked like.

Within one minute, I had found an article from a semi-local newspaper with his photo. As it turned out, he had been arrested for getting in a race-related brawl, and someone had tried to prosecute him for passing out white supremacist literature, which of course they couldn’t legally do.

For a few seconds, I wondered if my usually-inclusive nature should include even white supremacists. And then I decided that because of the color schemes of my friends, that might be a risky decision.

I e-mailed the guy and made up some excuse, not knowing what else to do.

The next guy who contacted me about the room had a long and complex last name. He was originally from Uzbekistan, he said. His father was an atheist Tatar and his mother Russian Orthodox. He was a 31-year-old divorced computer programmer moving up from Eastern Washington. I thought: well, at least he’s sure to not be a white supremacist. I asked him if he’d ever been arrested. “No,” he said. “But I was down in the dumps after I got divorced.”

This one has turned out to be (after more background checks) actually quite an excellent roommate. He works until 11 and then comes home and goes to bed. He washes his one dish every morning. I mean, it’s been all of two weeks, but in that time he has also told me some of the funniest childhood stories I’ve ever heard, in the half-hour between his coming home and going to bed. Last night, he was relating how when he was a kid, they used to shut down the school by breaking a thermometer and tainting the grounds with mercury. Then there would be radiation alerts, and they’d all get sent home. Or else they’d put rotten eggs behind the furnace.

He likes Sandpoint. He says it’s like Amsterdam, minus the Red Light District.

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The best little town in Idaho

Lake at Sandpoint, Idaho

Summer on the lake in Sandpoint, the best little town in Idaho. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Idaho:

On Thursday nights, there’s this phenomenon called dollar beers at Eichardt’s, the local pub and one of my favorite pubs ever. They tap a keg, and everybody gets whatever microbrew it happens to be. Several pints, usually. I often try to limit myself to one, but that doesn’t always happen. Once you’ve been going there for awhile, you can walk in by yourself and find at least one other person you don’t mind talking to for a couple of hours. It’s like church. Actually, some people even call it church. People tend to be very generous when a pitcher costs $4 and they know half the bar. “Put it on my tab,” they’ll say grandly.

A couple of Thursday nights ago, I ran into a team of bicyclers who had stopped in Sandpoint for a rest day. They were biking from the East Coast to the West Coast in support of Multiple Sclerosis. Or its demise, I suppose. The next thing I knew, it was 3 am, and I’d moved on to Jameson and listening to them describe how the trip had restored their faith in humanity.

I kept in touch, tracking their progress to Seattle. I never expected to see them again, but lo and behold, after one day in the city, some of them returned to Sandpoint, driving through the night. This may have had something to do with the fact that they knew a guy who owned a brewing company in Sandpoint, but I like to think that it was because they were telling the truth when they said Sandpoint was the best town they had discovered in their two months of touring, and they wanted another adventure before they had to return to their real lives in Philadelphia.

“It’s amazing,” they said as we ate Mexican food from Joel’s, a delicious and inexpensive lunch stand a block from my house. “Everyone is smiling here.”

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The Festival at Sandpoint

Josh Ritter

Josh Ritter at the Festival at Sandpoint. Photo by Katie Botkin.

A Letter from Katie Botkin in Idaho:

To imagine that North Idaho is all crazy right-wingers would do it a great injustice. There are also a lot of hippies and yoga enthusiasts and ski bums. And then there’s the North Idaho yuppie, the kind that spends a lot of money for a house on a lake and supports the local art scene. We even have our own music festival: the Festival at Sandpoint, in early August. It’s always a mix of different artists and genres; this year, I went to the Barenaked Ladies, Counting Crows, and Pink Martini. And I skipped Kenny Loggins.

Inevitably, if they’ve managed to spend the day there, the artists remark upon how wonderful the place is. “You know what’s wrong with Sandpoint?” asked the Barenaked Ladies. “Nothing.” This, of course, is because they’re seeing Sandpoint in the summertime, when it is just hot enough to make jumping in the large mountain-circled lake glorious.

Last year, I had managed to get tickets in the Festival’s VIP seating, and I kind of got used to it. So this year, I was disgruntled when I arrived up to an hour before the show and all the good non-VIP spots were taken. Everyone brings a blanket and a cooler full of wine, cheese and assorted fruits, and some even bring tiny tables and chairs. And then they sit there, bent over their food until the show starts.

I took my own blanket and picnic dinner to the sidelines, where I could see the profiles of the performers. For Pink Martini, however, I abandoned these and went to a work potluck behind the scenes. This is standard fare. Last year at our work potluck, before his performance, Josh Ritter joined us. I had gotten my friend Emma to come to this potluck with me, suspecting that this might happen but not letting on, and when she saw him approaching, her jaw dropped. “I think I’m going to pee my pants,” she said.

I managed to introduce them a few minutes later by telling Josh that Emma had first heard about him in Ireland, even though they are both from Northern Idaho. He thought this was charming.

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Tim Hortons

Tim Hortons are everywhere in Canada. Photo by David Lansing.

It’s time for me to get out of Canada. I know this for sure because this morning, without really thinking about it, I went into a Tim Hortons for coffee and a donut with sprinkles.

What was I thinking?

Canadians say they love Tim Hortons coffee. That’s crazy. It’s like Dunkin’ Donuts coffee, which is fine if you think Juan Valdez grows only the richest, most flavorful coffee beans on the planet. If you still swear by your Mr. Coffee machine (and miss Joe DiMaggio), then maybe you’d like the coffee at Tim Hortons. If the only tea you’ll drink is Lipton’s, then maybe you’ll like Tim Hortons. Frankly, I think the Canadians go there just for the donut balls. Which aren’t very good, either, but at least they give you an excuse to order the coffee (you’ve got to wash those gut balls down with something).

You know who always loved Tim Hortons coffee? Hitler. I’m not kidding you. Look at this video of Der Führer throwing a hissy fit when he realizes it’s going to take forever to get his coffee and a donut with sprinkles.

Meanwhile, I’m heading for the airport. Where maybe I’ll make one final stop at Timmy’s.

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All-you-should-eat at Claypot Hot Pot

Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ

Pork belly and boneless short ribs at Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ. Photo by David Lansing.

I don’t understand people who go to an Italian joint and complain about the tenderloin they ordered. Or go to a steakhouse and complain about the scampi. You have to know what the restaurant you’re dining at does well. And usually it’s not too difficult if you look at the menu.

For instance, at Claypot Hot Pot and BBQ, a Cantonese-style all-you-can-eat hot pot joint, there are like 20 meat items versus 8 seafood items (assuming a fish head is seafood). So why do so many people complain about the oysters being too small or the prawns not tasting fresh enough?

Question: Who the hell orders oysters at an AYCE hot pot restaurant? Would you order oysters at KFC? You want great oysters, go to a seafood restaurant on the docks. You want cheap food, go to Claypot and order the sliced boneless short ribs. And the sliced lamb shoulder. And the pork belly.

And then order the spicy Szechuan soup stock, which has a nice kick to it, and then dip your short ribs in the stock for a minute or two, give it a good dunking in one of the side sauces, and enjoy.

Better yet: Order the spicy Szechuan soup stock and the hearty free-range chicken broth, and they’ll put them 50-50 in one pot. That’s what we did. And it was killer. Just don’t order the oysters.
Claypot Hotpot and B.B.Q. ???? on Urbanspoon

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