Friday, December 15, 2006

12-13-16 : Burgers

I had previously thought the proposition preposterous, but maybe the removal of trans-fats from New York IS necessary. People are eating too many burgers! I opened the New York Times Dining Out/In section today, and on the second page, the “Off the Menu” column is headed “Burgers, Burgers, Burgers.” It mentioned two new restaurants, one is basely called BRGR, and the other, Burgers & Cupcakes (sickly, I’ll bet this second one will be hugely successful).

Even world-class chefs at the height of the culinary avant-garde are putting burgers on their menus. Wasn’t it Daniel Boulud who recently made infamous the $60 burger? Only in Manhattan (or, maybe Tokyo).
The other night, I walked back into the kitchen at work in one of the finer French restaurants in Portland (our chef is a James Beard award winner), and the place smelled-no-reeked like a burger joint! Our bar menu has a hamburger on it, and I would say that it’s by far the most popular item. And not only are the customers consuming them—everyone, from the skinny cocktail waitresses to the unctuous managers—eats them on their break.

I guess that all of this surprises me because of the FACT (based on nutritional analysis, doctors warnings, etc. etc.) that fatty ground beef is detrimental to your health when consumed on a regular basis. And that vegetarianism, and veganism, and the increase in eating fresh food has grown. Maybe it’s a gustatory rebuttal to the cultural movement towards healthy eating, and widely released films like “Super-Size Me” and “Fast Food Nation.”

Yes, there might be something heartily (and heavily) satisfying about biting into a warm cheeseburger (though I can hardly speak to this, as I cannot remember the last time that I had one, but I think it may have been some time this summer). The burger is so basic—beef and bread, and maybe that’s comforting. In the chilly east, and here up north, there isn’t the widespread consumption (or availability) of sandwiches like there is on the west coast for grab-and-go eating. So, for that, they have the burger.

I find this all slightly disappointing, especially from restaurants which turn out so many other delicious, innovative dishes. It’s a bit of a sellout to make a burger, in my opinion, in order to feed Americans with an appetite for little else. And that’s just it maybe—it’s SO American.

When I moved to Portland, I made a friend with whom I’d try out different restaurants around the city. He was my foodie buddy. At one point, he was heading out on an East Coast trip to photograph cities he’d never been to (I think it was “6 cities in 7 days” or something). Anyway, he asked me “what do you think is the signature food of New Yorker?” I thought, “easy--the pizza slice.” And when he asked me about Oregon, suggesting salmon, I argued that no, it’s the burger.

I hadn’t seen so many burgers on so many menus, or heard so much burger talk in my life as when I arrived here. Two days ago, the Oregonian ran a story about the Midwestern fast-food drive-in chain Sonic, and it’s arrival and subsequent popularity here. The concept and the food (burgers and tater-tots) are a 1950s throwback, but somehow the chain is gaining momentum nationally. I find this disturbing, in the face of rising childhood obesity, and in spite of all of the knowledge that we possess of the nutritional values and health effects of food.

Burgers are even creeping into the arena of masterful ethnic cuisine. The aforementioned “Off the Menu” column mentioned a new burger place called “Stand,” opened by the same man who co-owns Republic (Asian soups & noodles), and Bond Street (sushi). And the restaurateur who ran Nirvana, a now closed high-end Indian restaurant, high above Central Park, is opening something called Nirvana54, serving Indian food AND burgers.

I guess, with their mass appeal, and relentless popularity, burgers will always remain in style, despite innovation and the availability of fresh, healthy food. Let’s face it—when models and actresses are asked what their favorite food is, the coolest ones answer “a burger and fries.” Whether that answer is truthful or not, we usually like them better for it.

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

Well, weeks have past since my houseguests have gone, and still, I have not written about all of the delicious bites that were had! A couple stand at the forefront, so these I will describe in brief:

Dinner at Nuestra Cocina: On Halloween night, my family and I sat down at this little nuevo-mexican restaurant up division street from my apartment, owned by the husband of the daughter of a friend of my stepdad. whew! So we sat at this little place, with few expectations, except for it to be reasonably good (the chef/owner, Ben Gonzales has received much acclaim for his cooking, and recently collaborated with famous Mexican chef Patricia Quintana and Philipe Boulot on a special fall dinner at the Heathman Restaurant).

As we looked over the short paper menus, we were presented with our drinks—fresh margaritas, in small cups filled with chunky lime pieces and ice. I’m not sure what kind of tequila they used (I think it was sauza though), but that was the BEST margarita I’ve ever had—on a cold fall night, in Portland, of all places. D-licious. Freshly fried chips, tangy salsa...mmm. Then, it is very much a blur, but there were shared bites and sips of everything: pumpkin soup--spicy and warm, crab tacos, steak tacos. We were not talking, but we were smiling—that food was SO incredibly good. It was savory, and flavorful, and rich, but not too rich. Perfectly seasoned, nothing too salty. My entree was their special, cochinito pibil—a thick piece of pork, braised until it just falls apart, in a pool of black beans—oh my god, it was SO GOOD. So filling, but so good. Everything was exceptional. The best mexican food I’ve ever had, probably.

Pizza: My mom and I had two incredible pizza eating experiences while she was here, and appropriately so—she loves pizza, and I’ve been waiting for someone to come along who’d enjoy these places with me. The first was Ken’s (of Ken’s Artisan Bakery) recently opened artisan pizza restaurant on East 28th street (a.k.a. restaurant row). We got there after 7, and there was a full bar, AND a line, with a wait of an hour. We put our name in, walked around the block and returned to enjoy a glass of wine on a couple of high stools, providing the perfect view to oversee everything that came out of the wood-fired oven. In addition, there were piles of greens as salads, and atop pizza crusts (they’ve got a pizza that is basically covered in a baby arugula salad after it comes from the oven). The food was gorgeous, and the place was warm in atmosphere and attitude, which I love. I also love short but great wine lists, one of which they had. So we ordered a yummmy antipasti plate, with roasted curried acorn squash, red pepper bruschetta and other roasted vegetables, and shared a chewy, delicious cheese pizza.

A finer pizza devouring experience can be had at the beautiful Nostrana. Walking through the glass doors in to it’s rustic/industrial expanse is transcendent—it doesn’t feel like Portland. It feels somehow glamorous, with a hint of Italy and maybe San Fransisco. Despite the restaurant’s size, you can see their wood-fired oven from the front door, and this mammoth is the center piece for the whole place (the bar is great looking too—with sky high shelves of wine as a backdrop). It’s rustic and modern at the same time, and the food is fabulous. As their business card states, Nostrana means “local” in italian, and their menu evokes this in every way. The pizza that we had was decorated with wild mushrooms—chanterelles and others, almost with a little bit of a truffle taste, and perfectly chewy crust. I had to order a side of their polenta, which they have ground especially for their restaurant. Served with gorgonzola and a bit of oh, what was it, marscapone? Anyway, it was amazing. They have a bistecca a la fiorentina, florentine steak served with arugula, one of my favorite dishes, which I will order next time. Our salad was slightly dissapointing, albeit accurately described on the menu (“simple, undressed”), it was just lettuce and carrots in a bowl with oil & vinegar on the side—a humble statement, but boring. If it had onions in it, it’d basically be the salad that you get in every standard restaurant in Argentina.

The wine that I had there, also good, a Barbera, was served a bit too warm. I’ve never felt that complaint before, but it noticeably affected the drinking experience. I’ve had a red too cold before—as it is sometimes at Bar Acuda in Hanalei. Apparently, wine temperature is a subtle art, and while ideal temperature is not necessarily expected, it is certainly appreciated. I mean, no one wants to sit at dinner watching thier glass of pinot noir sweat on a rainy winter night.

Pancakes: During the third week of November, I think I ate pancakes four times. Gluttonously and happily. We had a banana-pancake cook-off, I won in the taste category, and my friend won for presentation (his smiled). We had huckleberry (tiny, blueberry like things, sweet & tart) pancakes at Genies down the road, and those were awesome. Soft and thick, but with crispy outsides. Mmmm. And I made turkey bacon, in the oven, so easy, and actually, super tasty! But not as tasty as the strips of pork belly that the cooks sneak up to me at work...

Wednesday, November 22, 2006

So much to blog, so little time!! What's up with the month-long breaks between blogs, you ask? My lack of an internet connection, and most recently, a constant stream of wonderful houseguests to keep me more than busy.

Here in the Kingdom of Lila, the last of our visiting dignitaries departed this morning, leaving memories of many a good meal behind (in my mind and in the size of my thighs!). I must say, it was difficult to choose between all of Portland's excellent restaurants when it came to what I wanted to show people and what I had an appetite for. Because restauranteurs here take "local" and "seasonal" incredibly seriously, what's growing is what's on the menu, and that means rich stuff--hearty root vegetables, and meats like pork, rabbit and duck. You're hard pressed to find a salad that's much more than mixed greens right now, and when a friend came to the Northwest with a craving for salmon, it was impossible to satisfy. Here the good restaurants won't serve salmon if it's been frozen, so when I called 4 different places, they all told me some variation of "sorry, it's not in season." Which is definitely admirable, albeit slightly frustrating. This is also a bit hard to get used to for most people, because in many places in this country and around the world, you can get any food at any time (it just has to be flown in from somewhere). But once you get used to eating food at the peak of it's season, you lose your appetite for the mediocre.

This past week, between delicous meals out, my friend and I collaborated to make what we deemed the best dinner of the week. We spent saturday morning at the farmers market, where we snacked on woodfired pizza (made right there in that oven-trailer) with lamb, leeks and chanterelle mushrooms, a yucatan chicken tamale, and caramel-pecan pie, sampling tastes of sauces and ciders along the way. We admired all of the intersting squashes and enormous root vegetables that are out right now--carrots, parsnips and such. Brussel sprouts were piled high, stuck to the stalks that they grow on like big war clubs, and all kinds of colorful variations of cauliflower (orange 'cheddar', purple, green). The mushrooms were out in mass supply--mounds of golden chanterelles, dusted with the dirt that they're found in. We sampled some wild ones that the farmers call "fried chicken"--savory, smooth round disks. We bought some of those, and my favorite, maitakes (the ones that look like grey coral heads, and taste so meaty). I already had a bunch of roots that I had bought a couple of weeks before, so with those and some shallots, we were set.

We bought some fresh free range chicken legs/thighs from new seasons (3 big ones for less than 5 bucks, I might add). We rubbed those with olive oil, hawaiian salt, red and black pepper, topped that with sprigs of thyme and rosemary (from the bush in front of my neighbor's house). We layed the chicken in a roasting pan atop a bed of sliced onion and golden delicious apples, and baked it until crispy. It was soooo moist and delicious!! I roasted a pan of the root vegetables--yams, parsnips, turnips, celeriac (celery root) with some quartered shallots, and olive oil and rosemary--that was so good too!! THEN we sauteed the mushrooms with shallots and that was just the perfect match for the other two. Such a yummy, savory winter meal. I ate the leftovers for lunch yesterday and impressed myself again. I think I'm still stuffed. mmmmmmmm....

Wednesday, November 01, 2006


10-29-06

Sometimes, I’m filled with so much love for where I live. This afternoon, I rode my bike up Clinton Street, beneath tall trees with leaves falling in colors of every shade of fire—red, yellow, orange. It was sunny, cold and crisp, and piles of them were accumulating beside curbs, under tree trunks, and anywhere the fall gusts couldn’t completely sweep them away. As I rode I saw a family with two little kids, stomping around in the piles and throwing them over their heads with a laugh (just the way I only saw this kind of thing in the movies when I was a kid).

The beauty of the changing leaves in autumn is one of those things in nature that truly belies description. I’ve stood beneath a few trees in the past few days, gawking in awe of their majesty, and the vibrancy of their color (at the same time trying to take pictures of this with my cell phone, of course with no success). I love color, especially the deep ones, so for me this season is by far my favorite.

I headed up to the grocery store (New Seasons to be specific), 10 blocks up from my apartment. I’m especially lucky living so close to the best supermarket I’ve ever known (I’ll argue with a die-hard Whole-Foods shopper any day—well wait, us lucky Portlanders are the only ones who have New Seasons), and almost the same distance from the People’s Food Co-op, one of Portland’s favorite health food stores (with a weekly farmers market outside, I might add). So, anyway, it’s Sunday evening, always a fun time to go to the market—people are shopping for the week, all the samples are out, recipes are being discussed, and one of the workers even let me taste the black bean hummus I was asking about before I bought it. Their slogan is “The Friendliest Store in Town.” Oh, AND there are piles of pumpkins, squash and apples outside the front entrance of the store right now. I think that truly, the greatest thing about that store is their commitment to local products—so much in there is, and all of the produce is labeled as to its origin. Rarely is there ever any foreign produce, and most of it comes from the Northwest. One thing that I needed to get was rosemary, but I was reluctant to buy it, since I know I’ve seen it growing in my neighborhood.

After I left the store, I walked my bike as I keenly eyed every yard for that aromatic plant. I saw a couple, but they’d either been pruned or were too much a part of lawn decoration for me to steal any. I doubted that I’d find any as I turned the corner to my block and saw two huge plants, basically growing wild, and just went and helped myself. I felt like an urban forager, and very proud for it too. These days I’m so into saving money on things that I can get for free (side note: walking to work this morning, I had to kick myself when I saw that my neighbors had a pile of “free stuff” outside, amongst which was a brand-new, plastic wrapped scrabble game, when just two days ago I bought myself one...).

Back gushing about the wonders of Portland and it’s local food supply...So, I’m making this bean dip with pita chips tonight for a snack, and bought the most authentically Greek looking pitas I could find. When I brought them home, I checked out the package, and their made HERE by a Greek family—even better! And, you know, the Nancy’s organic yogurt that I eat every day (and I did living in Hawaii too), which is possibly my favorite food, is so fresh here that when I buy it in the store, it doesn’t have an expiration date for about a month or something. It’s amazing how much better it is here too, which is saying a lot. Okay, enough about that...my family’s coming to visit tonight and I have to cook and clean. But I can’t wait to show THEM all of the local delicacies of the Northwest!

*If anyone’s a little jealous about all this fab food, here’s a leveler: it’s 4:30 in the afternoon and getting dark already!

Monday, October 16, 2006

Oh faithful readers, I'm sorry, for it has been too long. No, I haven't gone on a spiritually demanding fast, or even on a master cleanse--I've just been eating a little of this, a little of that, being quite busy and not really tasting anything of note.

Well, wait a minute. A foodie friend of mine came into town a few weeks ago, and made sure to provide a blog-worthy taste experience to break the drought. He (and other friends of his), took us out to Jake's Famous Crawfish, easily Portland's most famous restaurant (it's been around since 1892, a year younger than my college). So we had a FEAST of seafood (it was so rich and good and filling that at one point I felt like a goose being force-fed for fois gras).

We started with deep fried calamari (you see, that doesn't sound like anything special at first, but EVERYTHING they do here is the best of the best, so naturally, it was some of the best calamari I've had--so tender and perfect). We also had coconut shrimp, and seared ahi with a cucumber seaweed salad that was quite good. Then crispy salads before the entrees: I had Alaskan salmon (they give you about 5 detailed choices for salmon, with descriptions of origin, method of fishing, etc), with a huge pile of dungeness crab on top and buttery mashed potatoes. My friend got as he claims "the best dish" of the night--halibut cheeks (the precious tender melt-in-your-mouth rounds of white fish), in some amazingly rich sauce. My mouth is actually watering a bit thinking about that one...THEN, we continued with dessert--(it's one of those old fashioned places (wood paneling, old American oil paintings, white table cloths) which came out on a tray to drool over before you ordered. We got a sampling of apple crisp, key lime pie, and chocolate mousse. Each was perfect, of course.

That meal kicked off a week of occasional gluttony, with another friend in town and late nights of wine drinking, prompting late night hunger pangs. Apparently, there are only around 2 24 hour eateries in Portland, one of which is the disgustingly greasy "Hot Cake House", embarrassingly close to my apartment. Over priced and questionably cleaned--stay far, far away. We hit up the Doug Fir one night--an old diner/motel turned bastion of portland uber-hipness. Their interior's been photographed for international design magazines, but their menu is slightly random. I was pretty happy with my croque monsier though: salty cheese melted over a ham sandwich.

THEN there's all the stuff I've been sampling at work, all fattening of course. Housemade gnocchi in browned herb butter, pumpkin pancakes, clam chowder, pork sausage, eggs benedict...scones, spice cake...this has got to stop. When it's cold and rainy all I want is breakfast food. Next time I'll write about the healthy stuff. Well, one thing we do have on the menu is a northwest salad: arugula, apples, pears and hazelnuts--very tasty since apples and pears are at their peak ripeness right now. Oh, I accomplished one of my small goals: Yesterday I learned how to make a cappuccino. Check.

Monday, October 02, 2006

Water

Many would say that water has no taste. However, though it does have a neutral pH, I would have to argue that water, in it’s many forms and containers, does indeed taste VERY different from one source to the next. I noticed immediately when they began to dump chlorine into the well that supplies water to Kilauea town. Up there on the North Shore, we used to have a reputation for the best water. Not anymore. These days, I can hardly take a sip from the sink—far from refreshing, it now tastes like a chemical cocktail. In high school, we used to talk about how the yummiest water oddly came from the locker rooms by the P.E. field. Maybe it was some mineral in those old, cold pipes, but that stuff was great. Maybe they should bottle that stuff—it definitely tastes better than a lot of bottled water out there, like Arrowhead or Calistoga. My favorite, of course, is Fiji, and this summer, I developed a fondness for Evian, probably because it was always around.

But, alas, the days of free flowing bottled water are over for me, and I returned home to the conundrum of how to have a solid supply of distilled water in my apartment at all times. I used to use a Brita filter, but, I think the water is a bit too gnarly from my tap, and you can still taste it’s alkalinity even after it’s gone through the pitcher. Things like coffee and tea, actually all cooked food, tastes better with better water. Ask good bakers—they only use purified water in their bread. I bet the same goes for great kitchens. So anyway, on a budget, without a car, or the desire to haul a 15 gallon bottle up 3 flights of stairs, I had to think creatively about how to get water home. What I found was that, you can refill a single plastic gallon at my grocery store’s distilled water dispenser for about 40 cents. What a deal! So, to get it home, I go for a run, come back to my building, pick up 2 empty gallon jugs, run to the store (12 blocks away), then carry back the full jugs, one in each arm, doing bicep curls along the way. Pretty good huh? That one solved two problems: needing water, and not having any hand weights. So, I have my water, and I’m on my way to sexy arms.

Some days though, there’s nothing that compares to sitting at a sidewalk cafe table with a notebook and a glowing green bottle of Pellegrino mineral water. A treat I have to give myself from time to time, especially on these beautifully golden Indian summer afternoons...

*Just an aside: a friend recently told me that while I was out of town she went on a first date with a guy who talked to his water at the dinner table—not blessing it, just talking to it. Bizarre, but I think he got this from that movie “What The Bleep Do We Know?” It was produced in Portland...go figure. Needless to say, that first date was also the last.

Friday, September 22, 2006

I have to say, it was pretty wonderful to wake up to a breakfast choice of cold papaya with lime, lilikoi (passion fruit) yogurt, juicy mango, or buttery avocado on toast. Those were the things I ate while at home on Kauai this past week. I arrived on a Wednesday, perfect timing for the small Kilauea outdoor market on Thursday afternoon. My friend came home with an enormous box of humongous $7 mangos (they’re worth it, believe it or not—they taste of heaven), and a heady bunch of long stem tuberose, among other things. In my bags, I picked up a glossy chard bunch, basil, avocado, lilikoi, a mango of my own, and these odd white fruit called Ice Apples. They looked like lightbulbs and tasted like lemonade. At least that’s what their farmer said. They actually tasted like java plums, those wild berries that make your mouth a little bit numb—kinda yucky, but exotic nonetheless.

The few times I went out, I ate sushi—my favorites: Spicy Tuna Roll (the way it should be made, without mayonaise), Hamachi Roll at the Princeville hotel (chopped up hamachi with green onion, and shiso leaf), and some choice (jewel colored and dark) ahi sashimi. Oooh! One delicious thing that I ate which came as quite a surprise was the Hamachi Kama at Sushi & Blues. See, I knew Hamachi Kama was the collar of the fish, a very buttery part of a very buttery white fish. But I thought it was sliced in sashimi. This one came seasoned and grilled, skin and all. It was awesome! What it tasted like to me was a fish that one of my cousins caught at the beach and threw on the barbeque while we were camping as kids. So good, and you just pick at it, which makes it more tasty and fun—juicy bites and crispy tidbits. Mmmm. And it was only 9 bucks! Deal of the month!

I’ve gotta give props to our lunch counters on Kauai--our beloved fish markets, with their plate lunches and anything-on-rice. I don’t know what we’d do in Kilauea without Corriena’s ahi wraps for dinner, even though I didn’t have one on this trip. I did have some crispy kim chee cucumber and poke there though. One of my greatest days on Kauai was when a friend and I “were ono” for Pono Market, and decided spur-of-the-moment to drive out their and have a picnic on the beach. As usual, she wanted one of everything, so we went for the stomach ache buffet, and got: seafood maki sushi (im. crab meat, celery, mayo, etc.), pork-and-peas plate lunch with rice and mac salad, an egg salad sandwich on super-soft wheat bread, taegu (korean marinated cuttlefish), with li hing mui for dessert. I washed mine down with pass-o-guava juice, and I gotta say, that was a good lunch. We ate it at Kealia, on the new pavilion picnic tables, and afterward, I went for a swim in the crystal clear lagoon part of the beach.

Oh, to make the lilikoi yogurt—just strain one lilikoi’s worth of juice & mix it into a cup of organic, full-fat yogurt. Tart and tropical. Eat it like that, or drizzle it on a papaya and sprinkle some grated coconut. My mouth is already watering.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

We're in Cleveland right now, leaving this afternoon for Detroit. I can't say there's been anything edible worth talking about here, then again, I've hardly left the hotel. What I can tell you, is that Boston has great seafood. I didn't know that it's only an hour-and-a-half from Maine, which means very fresh lobster (well, I guess all lobster is fresh, since it's cooked alive, right? That's really wrong when you think about it), and all kinds of other fabulous things. One night I had some great mussels, that came in a metal bucket, steaming with garlic-wine-butter. But I was really on a mission to have a lobster roll. See, I had my first one four years ago at one of those well-known roadside stands on long-island, between East Hampton and Montauk. One of those places that looks like a beach-shack, but with a line of luxury sportscars in it's gravel parking lot. At a washed out wooden table, my friends and I drank margaritas in the sunshine, and indulged in one of the world's most decadent sandwiches--the Lobster Roll. I wasn't able to get my hands on one while I was in New York this summer, because when I was in East Hampton, it was rainy, and eating one in the city just seems too indulgent, or maybe just gross. So, in going to Boston, and making the Maine connection, I was on a mission. I did some internet research (the internet really is an amazing tool for foodies--if you spend enough time looking things up, reading blogs and reviews, you can avoid eating a dissapointing meal ever again), and checked the "Best Of" Boston list. Aparently, the authentic lobster roll has big chunks of meat (to show that it's been hand chopped), on a Pepperidge Farm hot dog bun (the company originated in Conneticut), with enough mayo to coat the meat, but not so much as to drown the taste.*

I walked down through the business district to the old waterfront, where, between high rise construction and Boston Harbor, tucked next to an old food bridge, is James Hook lobster. Really a whole, live lobster outpost (the building looks like it's falling apart, smells like the sea, and concrete floors are covered with water), with shallow tanks full of them in the entrance, they have a small case of cooked lobster, and inside that is a row of just-made lobster rolls. At $10 each, they're the cheapest in town (in restaurants these sandwiches are more than 20 bucks). They came on what tasted like a hot-dog bun, but looked like a 2 inch thick pieces of white bread joined at the bottom. I took it, and a coke (come on, if you're eating that much saturated fat, you gotta cut it with something!), and walked across the bridge to a bench between the water and the courthouse, and happily ate my lunch while watching the seagulls and water bob in front of me. It was pretty good. Kinda heavy, and it would've been better on a toasted bun, but the lobster was probably the freshest I've ever had. And that was a treat.

*All this lobster roll info came from Boston Magazine online

Wednesday, August 23, 2006

Serendipitously, my return to Portland at the beginning of August (a vacation at home, which, as I read in the NYT, is a rising American trend) happened at just the right time. Enough days had passed between the heat wave of 2006 and my arrival. The weather map was colored entirely red for that week that scorched this country, and all I hoped for was some nice weather. So I got lucky. When my plane touched down at Portland’s modern little airport (what seems like a smaller version of Santiago’s in design and civility, complete with wine bar and gourmet take out counter), it was a perfect 76 degrees and sunny. The sky was clear, Mt. Hood still had a tiny dusting of snow on top, and summer fruit was at its ripest peak.

One evening, I met up with some friends for dinner at Savoy, a bistro up the street from my apartment (and sister restaurant to my fave bar, the Aalto lounge). The relationships represented at that table were both old and new, one of each. The occasion was the stopping-though-town of a childhood friend, who is touring the U.S. by bus with Outstanding in the Field. She travels around helping to organize, orchestrate and decorate dinners cooked and served right where the food is grown, on an organic farm. It is a beautiful thing what they do—aesthetically and philosophically.

So we sit down on the bar side of Savoy, order a bottle of Sauvignon Blanc, and some zucchini fritters. In the center of this dish were a few halves of heirloom* cherry tomatoes—in yellow, red and orange. Generally, I don’t care too much for tomatoes, unless they’re really red. I detest the salmon-colored ones that are sold in the supermarkets and sliced for sandwiches. But I put one of these little jewels into my mouth and it was a whole different thing. These were sweet, so ripe, so full of flavor, almost like little pieces of fruit. They were absolutely delicious. I couldn’t get enough! Whatever else I ate there, I remember it being good, but not what it was—all I can recall are those tomatoes. My friends generously offered me the last ones on the plate, and I ordered extras for my green salad. When the runner brought my salad out though, it didn’t have any tomatoes on it. One of my friends reminded a server, and they returned with a little dish of (gasp!) chopped tomatoes. It was actually an unintentionally provocative comparison, to see these small, mealy, pink pieces of industrial tomato piled lifelessly into a white bowl after indulging in those vivid juicy little heirloom ones. A little while later, they brought me the real things, and I enjoyed them happily.

Inspired by those gorgeous little fruits, I set out to the Saturday farmers market to procure some for my own culinary plans that evening. I happened to be in town in time to attend a small outdoor dinner party at a friend’s home in North Portland. He’s a wonderful cook, and was making everything himself, but I couldn’t resist bringing something market fresh to share with everybody there. The spread was impressive and super-fresh—the most tender grilled steak, sauteed green beans, corn on the cob, and roasted blue baby potatoes. His friends brought a salad made also with things they’d bought that morning at the market—lettuces, carrots, cucumbers, pancetta, and blue cheese. To this were added cocktails, wine, and my own heirloom tomato caprese salad. At the market I went around to many different organic growers and picked out the most interesting and varied tomatoes I could find—round cherry shaped orange and yellow ones, red romas, and huge amorphous alien looking ones in all colors. I bought a really dark almost purple one, an apple-green one, and a bright yellow one. All different sizes, shapes and shiny colors, they looked beautiful in a bowl (like a mixed fruit salad, so amazing that they are all the same fruit, but in so many forms!), layered with fresh mozzarella and basil leaves. I hardly dressed the salad, it almost seemed a shame to mask the natural flavor, so I just drizzled it with a tiny bit of balsamic vinegar, olive oil and salt and pepper. It was fabulous! This perfect night of food and conversation under the stars was finished with a delicate glass of honey-like haitian rum, syrupy and exotic.

*Heirloom: “something valuable that has been in the possession of a family for a long time and has been passed on from one generation to the next” (computer definition). As applied to produce, an heirloom plant is one whose seeds or species has been preserved over time, in spite of the fact that that type has lost market value in the face of another that is widely grown and sold. For example, we see the exact same size and color of tomato being grown and sold around the country—if we saw a bumpy yellow one in the produce aisle, we’d think it was “wierd.” Farmers have saved these plants, and begun to grow and sell them to people who have learned that these unusual looking vegetables and fruit actually taste better. This is being done with both plants and livestock, such as heirloom pork (smaller pigs raised by smaller farms).

Tuesday, August 15, 2006

Man, I’ve eaten so much shrimp lately, I feel like Bubba from Forrest Gump. Shrimp cocktail, shrimp rolls, shrimp scampi, shrimp fettucine, shrimp creole...and I’ve had amazing Key lime pie more than once—that’s the southeast for you. Oh, last night we went to a great Indian restaurant (called the Bombay Club), I ordered a mixed thali platter, and there was even shrimp in there!! The sauce it was in (a green lemongrass seafood curry sauce) was the best thing on the plate though—I mopped it up with my naan. The meal was placed before me on a leaf-shaped silver platter with tiny little silver bowls in a circle around a cylindrical mound of yellow lemon-cashew rice. Each held a different saucy sample—cinnamon-y lam curry, chicken tikka masala, black daal, and raita. The flavors were so exotic and rich, I’m actually thankful that the bowls were so little.

Also in D.C., I was sitting at the bar at Clyde’s in Georgetown (wood & brass, the whole old-school deal), having a late lunch by myself, overhearing some interesting things. Two barstools over, an employee who was off-duty was telling the woman next to her how most of the produce that they use comes from small local farms (and she named a few). She was talking about the blueberries that came alongside their Key lime pie (there it was again!). In making menu recommendations, she suggested “our mozzarella with heirloom tomatoes—they’re SO much better than processed tomatoes.” Which is so true, and I was so impressed, in such a stodgy looking place. So, the aforementioned woman sitting next to me orders a gin and gingerale, first asking if they had gingerale. She told the bartender that she had been to more than one place that didn’t have it. The bartender smirked and said, “wanna know a little piece of information? Gingerale is just sprite with a splash of Coke.” The woman looked kinda pleased and accepted that answer along with her drink, but I wasn’t buying it. Um—ginger ale has ginger in it—or at least artificial ginger flavor, right? Oh, and news to her, there isn’t Sprite called Sierra Mist these days? Or maybe that was the beverage formerly known as 7up. It’s hard to keep track. Anyway, that experience fills in the gaps of why the same drink tastes so different from one bar to the next. For the record, their sauvignon blanc by the glass was pretty smooth, as, I hear, most of their wines are.

Saturday, August 12, 2006


8-12-03

I'm getting to the point in the tour where I'm strategizing any way possible NOT to spend money on food. Yes, I get a "per diem" for it, but I'm trying to save as much as I can. Plus, food abounds on these things--it's just a matter of timing your appetite right. For example, here at the Four Seasons in Palm Beach, I arrived the first night to find a card that said "welcome...please enjoy a complimentary continental breakfast as part of your stay." Okay, free breakfast (even though it's juice, coffee and your choice of any 3 carbs). So, as long as I squeeze in an order before 11:30 (this has been more difficult than anticipated) I can do that. I mean, I do have a clif bar and some fruit in my room, but if someone's offering to SERVE me food, I'm gonna take them up on it.
Speaking of service...the cat's out of the bag, I've spent much of my summer zigzagging the country via private jet. Yes, it's incredibly posh, and yes, we have our own flight attendant. We changed planes a couple of times, so they changed too. Oneserved us fresh crab salad and shrimp cocktail from San Francisco. Another made incredible greek salads (unfortunately she managed to serve them just as we began to land--we guessed she was a drinker). Our current F.A. is very nice and always offering something, and these days, whatever it is, I go for it.
"Fresh fruit?" Sure!
"Shrimp fettucine?" Alright.
"Key Lime pie?" Okay...
"Crudite?" "Cheese and Crackers?" "Sushi?" Why not?!
Thus, I get most of my sustenance later in the day these days, on the way to and from shows...or in catering. Catering, which I might add is getting better, served up some really yummy creole shrimp last night (we're still in Florida, where the shrimp are fresh, so I've eaten them in about five different meals). They even had a chocolate fudge fountain, which I've heard about but never seen until that one. Kinda wierd--recycled chocolate, collecting bugs and who knows what kinds of germs throughout the day...Anyway, I just ate a piece of 7 grain toast and a bran muffin and I'm stuffed. It's almost noon. I shouldn't get hungry until late this afternoon when I'll snack on some leftovers I pilfered from the dressing rooms last night...

Thursday, August 10, 2006

8-10-06

Liquids:

I sit here, dripping wet from a dip in the ocean, reading the new york times website with a bottle of evian in my left hand, and a glass of lukewarm black coffee on my right. The moment became like a mantra--"fuck," sip, chug--"fuck" sip chug, as I digested the headline, and chased that nasty coffee with the cool water. The British police broke up a terrorist plot to use liquids to blow up planes. Now you can't bring any liquid onto an airplane--no lotion, soap, nailpolish, water (?!!!). Ugh, those security lines are aweful enough, now you can't even hydrate yourself. And forget about piling all your weekend necessities into a carry on--if you want to wash your face at any point, you're gonna have to check it. It's all so discouraging--it makes me want to just either never travel, or drive anywhere I want to go. Then there are those gas prices...and shortages, and living sustainably. Don't waste gas, don't waste water...also in the times today was an article abou the global water supply: "A United Nations study forsees 5 billion of the world's 7.9 billion people in 2025 facing a scarcity of clean water." That's less than 20 years away everyone. Let's think about it, and let's DO something about it. And, although it's often frightening, keep reading the New York Times so that we know about it all.

Sunday, July 30, 2006

7-25-06

I'm freaking out. I wish I had only taken a few bites of that (delicious, authentically french Poulain-like) apple turnover from Acme bakery--instead of eating almost the entire thing. Should I toss out the remainder of my Peet's iced americano right now to leave room in my stomach? It's 10:00am, half-way between breakfast and lunch, and the Ferry Building in San Francisco is just beginning to come alive...stalls are being set up, shop keepers are dragging out their wares, restaurant staffers are wiping down tables.

On my way in, there was a farmers market opening up, and I was handed a sample of an organic golden peach--beyond ripe and full of juicy flavor. I have to wait to buy white nectarines from that same vendor, my new favorite fruit.

Inside the market, the Cowgirl Creamery is open, and I debate buying some of the most unusual cheeses I've ever seen (big, stinky bricks) to eat later tonight in my hotel room. (I caved and bought a piece of their "St.Pats" a brie-like goat cheese with wild nettles (!) and house cured mixed olives with herbs and lemon zest.) They also have farm fresh yogurt made only a few towns away--sold in terracotta pots. Then there are the piles of amorphous heirloom tomatoes--such vivid colors, such tight skin. Should I buy one and just bite into it right now? I'm not even hungry! I was planning on picking something up from Delica rf-1 (a story in itself*), a japanese delicatessen, like rice balls and sauteed vegetables. But then I wandered past teh fresh seafood bar, lured in by its cool white marble and simple menu of shrimp cocktail, dungeness crab louis and 3 kinds of chowders. "It opens at 11, will I be hungry by then?" I wonder frantically. Can I make room in my stomach for all this? I begin to empathize with my foodie friend who has a small stomach. What do I do? I'll shop around for a bit more--to Miette patisserie, with perfectly delicate parisian pastries displayed alongside antique cake stands and homemade striped lollipops. With pink walls, of course. I wandered into Village Market, a specialty store with shelves artfully packed with treats from all over the world--pickled green beans from spain, heirloom dried beans from mexico, italian tuna packed in olive oil (the best kind), and Boylan old fashioned seltzer. I bought oolong tea gum (like nicorette for coffee quitters) which had the taste of a black bubble tea and a "mojita" bottled juice from a small new beverage company (pretty good--like limeade and mint tea mixed).

The Ferry Building is such a gourmet haven, with the famed Slanted Door restaurant (upscale creative vietnamese) and Mijita mexican, where they make tortillas right there. Each store carries a few cookbooks, and then there's the bookstore, "Book Passage," with an excellent cookbook and culinary literature section for such a small store. On my way out, I walked by a booth for "devinely d'lish" homemade granola--I saw it from the corner of my eye and just had to walk the other way. I love granola, and wouldn't allow myself the digestive overload a sampling would cause.

At about noon, I made my way back to Ferry Plaza Seafood, sat at the marble bar and had an ultrafresh crab cocktail--a pile of dungeness crabmeat with cocktail sauce over a chiffonade of romaine lettuce. mmm... and a pelegrino to wash it down as the sun shone through the huge windows and on the bay outside.

*"About Delica rf-1: Over thirty years ago, responding to the accelerating pace of modern life, Mr. Kozo Iwata founded the Rock Field Company, bringing traditional European-style delicatessens to Japan for the first time. Over time, the company began selling Sozai: a Japanese concept of meals characterized by many small dishes, reflecting a way of eating that is balanced and healthy.

Rock Field has now opened its first American delicatessen – DELICA rf-1 – in San Francisco’s historic Ferry Building. DELICA rf-1 uses fresh, wholesome ingredients and is prepared with a Japanese sensitivity towards food and life and the environment. Delica rf-1 comes to California eager to both learn from and contribute to the Bay Area’s thriving food community."-- from website

Wednesday, July 12, 2006

So, as I may have mentioned, I set out for the summer with a personal mission to eat healthily, if not vegetarian. However, I naively overlooked the fact that I would not cook or prepare a meal for myself for two months--leaving the real decision of what goes into my food up to whomever makes it. Even if you order wisely in restaurants, it is almost impossible to keep a lot of extra oil, salt, sugar & fat out of your food. After all, that's what they use to make it taste good, and to keep their customers. I've worked in a restaurant, I've seen the preparation of things that I thought would be healty choices (salads, soups, grilled vegetables, sauteed fish, etc.), and unless you ask for an alternative, your protein will often times be thrown into a pan of sizzling butter (along with your vegetables) and your salad will be accompanied by some type of cheese or cream. So, here I am, picking and choosing on hotel menus, and closely examining buffet lines.

Often, these days, my big meal of the day comes from the backstage set-up at the show. Each day, catering or "craft services" (as it is sometimes ironically referred to), sets up a large buffet style meal for the band and crew. Sometimes it's decent (like in Chicago) and sometimes it resembles college cafeteria food (I'm looking at you, Milwaukee). At our first show, as I looked around the tables and saw people sitting in front of plates of undressed white pasta, I knew that I'd have to get creative. There were a couple of unidentifiable fried things (fish and chicken?), some beef floating in gravy, discolored cooked vegetables, a soup, and, finally and thankfully, a decent salad bar.

So, I loaded up my plate with greens, topped it with some carrots, celery and beans (unfortunately I had to choose the lesser of two evils when it came to dressing: I picked the vinegary/ketchup one over the mayonaisey/ranch). Then I took some brown rice (only time I've seen that good stuff) and corn, and drizzled a little tortilla soup over it, for a kind-of chili & rice effect. It wasn't bad. One of the band members walked by, looked around our table and goes "what are YOU eating?" Most likely because it bore little resemblance to anything on the buffet line. Pick and choose and mix. It won't be easy. Even here at the Four Seasons in Dallas (I kind of can't believe I'm bitching about this, but in a 5 star hotel, wouldn't you expect good food?). The salads are wilted and chicken flavorless and rubbery.

Oh, yes, the vegetarian choice comes down to this: stuffing myself with bread to get full (since I can't find whole grain anything, or my beloved hummus), and becoming even more chubby, or eating some meat here and there. I'm choosing the latter, because I cannot afford any additional pounds at this point. Maybe the what to eat question really always just comes down to looks and vanity. Whichever produces the best results or something.

So, please bear with me here, as I know I was once a glutton for taste, regardless of a dish's contents, and now, I've begun to be more selective based on health. But taste always comes first, of course. In the interest of searching for the diet that is healthiest and most delicious for me, I wil try out different philosophies of nutrition, one day going vegan, maybe trying the Atkins thing for a few days, possibly attempting a macrobiotic or ayrvedic diet some day, or maybe even seeing what it takes to be a raw foodist (!). These are all lofty ambitions, and as I've already seen, it's really hard for me to stick to anything rigid for more than a day. I don't like to be limited by anything. Some days I just get disgusted by the idea of processed food and artificial additives, and can't eat any of that. (Reading The Omnivore's Dilemma by Michael Pollan put me off of anything containing corn for a few days, which, apparently is impossible, because almost EVERYTHING we eat contains a corn derivative these days. You should read it, it's crazy informative). Surely I'll lapse into bouts of pizza eating, buttering and rootbeer drinking, (and peanut m&m's popping). So, who knows, what I'll discover. Maybe, in the end it will all amount to me being a life-long moody omnivore. That sounds like the most fun option anyway. Well, we'll taste and see...

Sunday, July 09, 2006

French Breakfasts:

Well, I really threw in the towel on vegetarianism with leisurely breakfast dates with my girlfriends. It's that butter damnit! One sweltering morning, two friends and I headed from Chelsea to the Meatpacking district searching for a breakfast spot with three qualifications: 1. the place must have outside seating (although I never intended on eating without airconditioning, it's all about the ambiance) 2. fruit salad must be on the menu 3. they had to have tartine. And, I suppose there was one more, that they be serving breakfast, since it was after 11.

One of the girls with me was the same friend I'd traveled to Paris with last summer, with great taste but a temperamental digestive system and picky food habits. We woke up late in that mecca of culinary delights, and all she wanted was a tartine, but the French don't like to serve them after 11 or so. A tartine is simply a section of fresh baguette, halved lengthwise and lightly toasted, served with butter and preserves or jam. Thus, it seemed utterly ridiculous (and extremely frustrating to our hungry stomachs) that, since all French restaurants, large or small, always have baguettes on hand, that they would not serve one to us. Maybe they didn't want their lunch tables occupied by toast eaters, who knows (wait--that can't be, because a frenchman will sit leisurely for hours over a single bottle of perrier or a cup of coffee).

Back to New York--after perusing menus and venues, and actually sitting down in the back garden at Parador, until we found out that they had neither #2 or #3, we ended up accross the street at Pastis, always a reliable classic. (Pastis was actually the firs sceney NY restaurant I'd ever been too, a foody friend of my parents brought us there for breakfast on a college trip to the city, since it had just opened and only celebrities could get in for lunch or dinner. She's actually a friend of Mario Batali, and an absolutely fabulous woman). A world cup game (france v. italy?) was projected onto a huge screen that was pulled down behind the bar, and we watched the people watching it over our cappuccinos and lattes. We ate plates of ripe berries with fresh whipped cream along with our much awaited tartines (and the bread was perfect, crisp but soft, not the least bit chewy).

A few days later the same two friends and I met at Balthazar, where I'd wanted to go for a long time (I'd been there once for dinner a few years ago), because of their ajacent bakery. And it looks like Paris inside. I really do love it there. Actually, I think Balthazar and Pastis are owned by the same person. Anyway, we shared housemade granola (granola at those places really is the best--golden, perfectly separated oats, nuts, maybe a little coconut, maybe some raisins, organic plain yogurt), tartine of course, and eggs florentine--two poached eggs atop baked spinach and artichoke hearts, with a little hollandaise and crispy sprinkled cheese of some sort, really good.

All of this tartine talk, combined with my company that week (old friends from Kauai), brought me back to memories of a favorite high school snack--Safeway french bread freshly baked but 10 times the size of a french baguette (and it was only a dollar or something). We'd buy one along with some chocolate milk after school or on the way home from a party, and rip it apart or just dig out the soft white center if we weren't hungry enough to devour the whole loaf. At one friend's house I'd cut a piece off, put it in the toaster oven, and eat it with butter, and at another's we'd always make these sandwiches with cheddar cheese, sprouts and this one kind of bottled salad dressing. She was a vegetarian.
7-6-06

Oh my. It's been so long. I may have to send out an 'i'm still here' memo. Well, after that month-long blogging hiatus (of being busy and eating mostly boring food, oh god, no, wait--the month of june was when the berries came into season in Oregon! so ripe! so rich! so delicious! Oh brother, more on that later i guess...) I've taken to the road for the summer, zipping from city to city until Labor Day.

So, I kicked off the tour in New York, temple of American Gastronomy. Wierd thing was, I wasn't focused on food when I arrived there. Friends made excited suggestions of where to have breakfast and dinner. But I had no desire to go to a cute new cafe, or one of Molto Mario's alway's perfect Italian places. It was hot, Portland has indeed fed me well, and thus, the only thing that I really wanted when I got to THE CITY was sushi.

Most eveyone I know has heard me rant about Portland's (shocking) lack of good sushi places. No, I haven't tried that infamous one with the ever present line out the door (but I've heard that the pieces are grotesquely enormous, which has fairly deterred my interest). But I have tried places that are regularly recommended by local guides and acquaintances, and have been consistently dissapointed. The restaurants are no better than what you can get in a supermarket sushi case. It took me a while to even except this, since, based on the fact that the Pacific Northwest is known for it's fresh seafood (locally caught salmon, dungeness crab, oysters, etc.). Yes, Portland is technically inland, but only a couple of hours away from the coast-- a coast that is the very headquarters of the state's commercial fishing industry. I've been to Newport, I've seen the boats, smelled the haul, tasted that fish. So, it makes no sense to me why you can get great sushi all over the desert of Los Angeles, but not in Portland. Of what is offered, and ordered by naive Portlanders, is discolored tuna (it's not supposed to be an opaque pink and mealy looking, people) mostly salmon, which, no doubt (because I ask) isn't even wild salmon, but farmed. And I NEVER knowingly eat farmed salmon, because it's basically toxic, raw or cooked. I've done plenty of reading on the toxicity of farm raised salmon (yes, wild salmon is sooo good for you), and basically they are raised, over crowded, in a tank, eating their own waste, becoming ill and therefore medicated, and the end product is a nice carcinogenic filet. Gross!

Then there's the mercury poisoning dangers of eating TOO much fish, but I tossed those out the window when I arrived in New York, determined to satiate my craving. I don't get enough rice in Portland. The Asian places are mostly Thai and Vietnamese, and I can only take so much spice. Anyway, I had also decided a few days before I left Portland to be a vegetarian for the rest of the summer, but, well, the sushi glistened, and I threw in the towel. I'm going to try though, try my hardest otherwise.

So, on the first night, my friends took me to Bond Street sushi (favorite of the stars, blah blah blah). We sat in the candle lit lounge downstairs, and had a few quality rolls and some sake. The rolls were pretty standard but definitely fresh. I got a spicy tuna roll the way I like it, with red pepper and shiny minced ahi. Over the next couple of days I went back to loose vegetarianism (I did have to have cream cheese on my bagel--it's New York for crissake!), so I had an inari (sweet fried tofu)/avocado/cucumber roll) after laying in the sun with my friends at the Chelsea Piers juicebar. It hit the spot. The next night I had the same for dinner from a cheapy neighborhood place close to the apartment where I was staying. I wanted to go to Momoya, which a good friend cannot stop talking about--it's new, it's delicious, and it's across the street from where she lives. But, on that rainy, balmy Sunday night when all of my friends were in the Hamptons, and I had to stay back in the city alone for work, they were closed.

So we went to Momoya on my last night there. "Momoyeah," or "Momoyum," whatever you call it, that place is good. Really fresh, really sweet servers, and just great food. The glass garage door was open to the street, it was clean and white, and packed with patrons from the neighborhood. We had glasses of a Veramonte 2005 Sauvignon Blanc while we waited, a smooth one with a lot of passionfruit on the palate (and I've been to their winery in Chile, which is cool and ultra modern as well). We had shrimp shumai, which instead of being wrapped like a little purse, was wound with won-ton noodle ribbons, a different presentation, and very tasty, with noteable chunks of tender shrimp. I had a piece of wild copper river salmon sashimi, that deep, brick-terracotta color, with a little bit of a smoky flavor, and a hamachi roll, which was perfect, a balance between the buttery fish and the sweet beads of rice. Dessert was surprisingly wonderful (it's uncommon to get a great dessert at a sushi place)--warm chocolate cake, green tea ice cream (the real stuff, extra creamy with that green/beige/grey color, not the mint-green one) a couple peak-ripe rasberries, served with a shiso syrup. Shiso leaf, used in japanese cuisine, has a distinct flavor, sometimes with a hint of anise or licorice, so I asked for the syrup on the side. After I dipped my fork in it, we poured it all over everything--it had such a delicate minty flavor, not too sugary, just fresh and green. Momoyum!

Thursday, June 01, 2006

6-1-06
Of course, after that last rant about eating healthier, I woke up this morning craving pancakes--banana pancakes. I’ve had a hand of bananas ripening in my kitchen for the past week as I’ve contemplated what to do with them. I’ve attempted banana bread about three times, and I just can’t get it right. It’s always too dense. Probably because I refuse to put as much oil in the recipe as it calls for, or maybe I don’t use enough bananas. Who knows, but pancakes are something that I can do. And they were goooood. Wierd looking (since I don’t use non-stick pans), but delish. I got the recipe from a cookbook that I used a lot at home, Sheila Lukins’ “All Around the World Cookbook.” She’s the co-author/founder of the Silver Palate company and cookbooks also (great salads, grain recipes, pastas etc.). Anyway, it was a great one for me living on Kauai, because she’s got recipes in there from tropical places like Mexico, Brazil, Chile and other places with fruits and veggies similar to what’s abundant in Hawaii (avocados, oranges, tomatoes...). Speaking of which, it’s pretty ironic that I came to Oregon anticipating eating all of the local produce (cherries, apples, peaches), but what I still eat regularly are bananas and avos. And I’ve been discovering great recipes for things to do with them. Like this simple salad (perfect for Kauai): lettuce, orange pieces, green or red onions, radishes, feta crumbles with a dressing of balsamic vinegar, olive oil, a little of the orange juice left over from squeezing. Top with salt & pepper and it’s a refreshing lunch with some bread on the side. I got that one from a new favorite cookbook “Recipes from America’s Small Farms: Fresh Ideas for the Season’s Bounty.” Super fresh stuff.
I know I’ve talked about nutmeg before, but I love it!! I put it in the pancakes this morning, and in a frittata (w/asparagus, baby potatoes and onions) that I made the other night.
5-31-06

Ahh. Thank you, dear readers, for having the faith to keep checking for new entries, when I had little faith in myself. Well, I’m back, and I’m bloggin’. You could say that I’ve been more than a bit frustrated with things in my life lately—my job, my social life, and especially my eating habits!! Let’s face it, the things that taste the best are not always the healthiest. I know this, and yet, I continue to stuff my face salty, greasy carbs from time to time (more like, from morning ‘till night!). If you tune in to the way that food makes you feel, you might, to the disappointment of your inner glutton, find that, clean food, full of vegetables, grains, makes you feel light and energized, while food rich in salt, sugar and fat, makes you feel like shit. Case in point: one day I’ll go out to lunch and have a “nice” salad, topped with fish or something, and feel bright and ready to take a walk, but if I eat some carb covered with cheese (i.e. my staple: the quesadilla), I feel like my thighs each weigh a hundred pounds. These realizations become ever more apparent in the summer, when the air is hot, and every extra pound of fat feels like an extra sweater layer left over from the winter.

So I decided to cut down. Well, casually cut down. At our restaurant, the food that employees get for free is: bread, salad and soup. The bread, of course, the easiest quickest, is always better with butter (little curls of it sit in ramekins everywhere). The salad, although the healthiest option, has to be prepared by the kitchen, and I have yet to see anyone order one when the cooks are busy making stuff for paying customers. So, I’m left with the soup, which, although tasty, is almost always full of butter and cream. On my first day, a fellow hostess told me that one of the cooks told her “if you’re trying to keep your figure, stay away from the soup.” But what are we hungry girls to do when we have free food in front of us, and only bring home $200 a week? Get fat, I suppose.

Which brings me directly on to the subject of the relationship between poverty and obesity. Well, it’s a huge issue, and I’ll just use my choice for lunch today as an example of the fact, that being healthy is expensive. (There was actually an article on the front page of yesterday’s Oregonian food section entitled “Do You Have to Be Rich to Eat Organic?”). So, I was downtown having coffee with a friend at the largest Stumptown (Stuptown being Portland’s favorite coffee roaster, served almost everywhere, with a couple of coffeeshops by the same name). I splurged on an iced soy latte (trying soy is part of my whole new ‘cutting out the fat’ thing—because, well, milk=fat) for 3 bucks, which is actually less than one would cost elsewhere. Since it was lunchtime, and I was downtown, I was excited about hitting up either the ethnic food carts or another place I hadn’t tried. On my way to the cart row, I passed a place that I had read about: Veganopolis. Yes, a ridiculous name, but an excellent concept—a vegan cafeteria. And it’s a clean and shiny and new inside. Vegan food, that’s healthy. So, I checked out the menu, and found what I wanted, the “raw platter” with daily changing ingredients. Unfortunately, that healthy and no doubt delectable meal would cost me $9.50. And their sandwiches were about $7. I have plans to go to dinner tonight with another friend of mine, and nothing at the food carts costs over $5, so I headed on. When I checked out the vietnamese cart, I noticed that the Ban Mih (no idea if I spelled that right) were only $3! Those sandwiches are usually great—full of shredded carrots, cilantro and cucumbers, on top of the pate and meat. Relatively healthy sounding...Well, mine had tons of roasted/dried out meat, hardly any veggies, and of the few it did have, most were jalapenos. My mouth was red and burning, AND the freakin’ thing had butter on it! It was pretty bad, and I felt kinda gross. Shafted for being thrifty. Prepared foods are expensive. Especially fresh, organic, and vegetarian ones. This needs to be changed, because what goes into our bodies is directly related to our overall well-being. Food, water, smog, everything. The clean stuff is expensive. I’m afraid that the water from my tap is poisonous, but all I’ll spend the money on is a Brita filter, which probably does nothing.

Monday, May 15, 2006

5-15-06

Last night I tasted basil ice cream! It was hand-made by Pix Patisserie, some other choices were Habanero and Blueberry. It was tasty. I’ve come to love fresh herbs in sweet treats, for example, lavender-peach coffee cake, or mint lemonade. It’s such an unexpected twist. One summery night recently, my friend and I made greyhounds shaken with rosemary and fresh squeezed grapefruit juice. Mmmmm. Oh! And on my first visit to the Rogue brewery in the Pearl the other day, one of us ordered a beer sampler, among which was their “Chamomella,” brewed with chamomile flowers, and another made from soba (the plant used to make soba noodles in Japan, an apparent cousin to rhubarb, whatever that means).
5-13-06

So many of my relationships are formed around food. I have all of these experiences to write about, because I have so many friends to have them with, in different places and at different times, but strung together, all of these gastronomic moments weave a chain of daily taste delights, which I worry, paints me into a glutton. Are blogs a quest for empathy in our individual obsessions?

I’ll get back on track: as a last supper with my friend before she returned to New York, we walked up to Northwest 21st, to eat at Caffe Mingo. I’ve written about it before, and what I had there before was so good (the salsiccia and the gnocchi), that I planned on having the same thing again. At about 9:15 pm, we waited for a seat at the communal marble table that bordered the open kitchen, along with a regular customer, whom the staff each took turns personally appologizing to for not having a seat for. A server began to tell him the specials, but was cut off, because he came in for his favorite dish, and didn’t need to hear them. I asked what that was, and it was the Sugo di Carne, strings of beef braised in espresso and chianti (but tasted like neither), over penne pasta. I ordered it of course, and enjoyed every savory, mouthwatering bite. It was italian comfort food. We shared an amazingly fresh, red, caprese salad also, and mopped up that fabulous olive oil (which they take from a huge jar that the olives are sitting in, doubling the olive infusion) with fresh bread. I LOVE THAT PLACE!

With some time to myself on a sunny afternoon after work the next day, I rode my bike to Noble Rot to sit at the tables on the sidewalk, and have a glass of wine. One turned to two, since my friend was working there, and I ordered a plate of their gnocci—dotted with chives, pan fried and served with asparagus drizzled with truffle oil and a carrot reduction. It was really good, which I was a bit surprised about since I’m a purist when in comes to gnocchi. It was a lovely little dinner in the sun.
5-12-06

This past wednesday, cruising up I-5 to Seattle in my friend’s dad’s Oldsmobile Aurora, we laughed about how we were making a 24 hour trip to Seattle, and all we had on our agenda was a list of places to eat (far more than the mere 4 meals that our stomachs would have room for). This trip was completely typical for us, with our shared interest in enjoying food, but still, a little strange and we chuckled over our gluttonous tendencies. Our giggling was cut short by the car’s engine, which started to learch, as, we later found out, the transmission began to self-destruct. So, more than an hour outside of Seattle, we crept our way up the shoulder of the freeway to Ampco transmission specialists, on the outskirts of Olympia.

Upon our arrival, we entered the office and filled out a questionaire, with verbal questions by a technician, transcribed by the woman behind the counter—and they both nodded and concurred with recognition, like a doctor and nurse meeting with a patient. While waiting for the poor car’s diagnosis, we figured, we might as well try to find a snack, since our gourmet pilgrimage would have to be postponed. The mechanics suggested the bowling alley across the street, whose sign looked like it had last been painted in 1972. We decided to walk toward the shell station up ahead, which, we hoped, would be an oasis of truck stop food, and not a mirage. Walking up the highway amid the autobody shops in the mid-day heat, I began to crave a root-beer float, and that’s what we found.

We walked into the Rib Eye, a little diner packed with regulars and pull-tab machines. We sad amongst senior citizens (who got a special discount on the food there) and tradesmen on their lunch break. On the menu were things I hadn’t seen in a long time—pork cutlets, salisbury steak, and endless cups of coffee (at lunch). We split a BLT and each had a big root beer float. The waitress was sweet enough to bring our sandwich split on two plates with fries, without us even asking. And it was a great one too, with whole grain bread!

We returned to Ampco to find out that the entire transmission would need to be replaced, and that we were basically stranded. Fortunately, the friend that we were headed up to stay with was nice enough to drive the hour down to pick us up. And we were on our way again, to Seattle—land of many gastronomic memories...

That afternooon, we walked straight to Pike Place Market (of course), picked up a bag of hot, fresh mini-donuts (you just cannot go there without eating a few of those), watched the ferries take off for the islands, wandered past the screaming fish throwers, and around the stalls and shops. It was the end of the day, but the flower sellers were still out, with buckets full of tulips, lilacs and peonies. We sampled some Washington wines at the Tasting Room before a sushi dinner at Chinoise. Chinoise on Queen Anne was always our favorite sushi spot, a neighborhood place with fresh fish and delicious wok dishes. They make a seattle roll with smoked salmon, cucumber and cream cheese (somehow a little cube of cream cheese is so good in sushi). And you can’t get good sushi in Portland. The fish isn’t fresh—the Ahi is light pink, when it should be red. At Chinoise, it was red. I got my fix.

The next day, before our 1:45 train, we had 3 distinct things on our agenda: 1. revisit our college campus 2. have coffee at Vivace Espresso off of Broadway (where their cappuccinos are amazing and so are the roasted beans. the foam on their drinks are always graced with a little design, like a fern leaf) 3. eat lunch at Salumi. Since we had our friend’s enormous SUV, we could accomplish these things within a couple of hours [and have time to drive to Alki beach to take in the view of Seattle’s rabidly (yes rabidly, and rapidly) growing skyline]. We swung by Coastal Kitchen (the best breakfast in Seattle, I’ll expound on that later) for two pieces of their daily changing coffee cake. That day it was peach-pecan, held together with enough butter to clog a sink. But delicious, of course, and we ate it at Vivace with our coffee.

With some time to spare between breakfast and lunch, we zipped in to Uwajimaya asian supermarketplace, a bustling, fluorescent flagship of far-eastern delights. We had to hold ourselves back from eating there since we were determined to reach Salumi, so we settled on a couple of bubble teas instead (black tea with milk & tapioca is my favorite).

Salumi, located on 2nd avenue, just (conveniently) one block north of the train station, is a tiny salumeria and lunch counter owned by Mario Batali’s (“Molto Mario” foodnetwork personality/ famous chef of Babbo in New York) father. There were cured pork legs hanging behind glass and a line out the door. They have hot and cold sandwiches, but we were there for the salami. Our choices were the classic “salumi” (infused with garlic), finnochiona (with fennel, peppercorns, and white wine), or oregano. I got the latter, piled thick on a fresh baked roll, and slathered with two spreads, the first a parsley-caper-garlic pesto, and the second, some sort of garlic-olive oil white spread. Garlic city. We enjoyed our intensely potent sandwiches in the dining car of the train, accompanied by Chateau St. Michelle chardonnay, and watched the trees and the puget sound pass into our past. Mission Accomplished.

Monday, May 08, 2006

Have you ever had one of those dining experiences where you taste something that is so delicious that you cannot help smiling ecstatically as you struggle to chew each bite? Well, I've had two of those experiences in two days! Despite all of my eating escapades, these moments are rare. Two old friends came into town this weekend from NY and LA. The three of us met in college in seattle, and bonded over saturday night dinners on the floor of our dorm rooms. As I recall, fresh salmon and asparagus were regular menu items (how very northwest, no?).

This past friday, we strolled the sunny streets of portland, up to NW 23rd's tree-lined sidewalks and had a seat at the cafe tables outside of Papa Haydn's famous dessert shop. We pretended to be there for coffee, but couldn't resist their confections. Sharing one thing turned into two, and we had a deuce of key-lime cheesecake (perfectly tart with clusters of key-lime curd) and a german-chocolate cake layered with coconut and pecan praline. Soooooooo heavenly.

On saturday morning we made a pilgrimage to the Portland farmers market. Carlo Petrini, founder of the slow food movement, supposedly said "there are farmers markets, and then there's the Portland farmers market." It was a colorful festival of prepared foods and raw ones--farmers, bakers, cheesemakers and lunch vendors. Musicians played and kids danced and people ate under leafy trees. We shared a homemade sweet northern sausage (white wine and spices), grilled and served on a fresh-baked bun with sauteed onions and peppers, AND a pita sandwich. The latter was made of a pita stuffed with organic lettuce tossed in a balsamic vinagrette, goat cheese, and asparagus grilled in a stone oven that they had right there at the market on a trailer! so fresh and amazing! oh, and to wash it down, we had raspberry-lemon-sodas, with real raspberries floating in it, lemon juice and mineral water. needless to say, i'll be returning to the market for lunch every saturday when i finish working the breakfast shift.

Saturday night was crowned by a dinner at Andina, a peruvian restaurant in the pearl. They have an eclectic list of house cocktails, made with infused vodkas (banana, coconut, honey) that sit on shelves above the bar. I had one of the best drinks of all time--the Atardecer Porteno ("sunset on the port"). Guava nectar, lime juice, honey vodka and ice were shaken and poured in to a martini glass with a fine sugar/anise coated rim, and topped with a floater of port and dusted with lime zest. I don't think I've sipped anything tastier (well, wine excluded).

Bread was brought to us accompanied by a trio of sauces: peanut garlic, a peppery one and jalapeno-lime paste. All fresh made. We started with ceviche mixto (they have at least 5 ceviches), which was super-fresh mussels, fish, baby scallops (melt in your mouth fresh), and shrimp cooked in lime juice, herbs and a hunk of yam on the side. Then we had a lightly smoked white fish (trout?) sliced 'sashimi-style' with yellow pepper sauce over it and a long strip of an accompanying salad comprised of red onions, white corn and other goodies. We shared an entree of halibut filet crusted with ginger then steamed and served in a broth full of shiitake mushrooms and baby bok choy. The fish was fork-split moist. It came with a little mound of white rice dotted with toasted quinoa and chopped asparagus. Que bueno!

Monday, May 01, 2006

Don't stop reading my blog, i promise i'll write more good stuff soon!
Oh! I never have enought time to elaborate on these things lately. those vegan muffins are from The Daily Grind health food store on hawthorne, and they're addictive. i'm determined to figure out the recipe for their blueberry ones. anyway, I made an AWESOME quiche the other day, and here's how i did it:

Preheat oven to 400. sautee 1 sliced leek in melted butter in skillet. add a thinly sliced (and in half, to 1/2” or smaller pieces) of mushroom, pref. crimini, i used shiitake (fresh). sautee w/ a little cracked pepper until it is browning & almost sticking to the pan, then splash a little water in there, and stir fast to steam them. meanwhile, take 1/2 bag of baby spinach (you can use frozen, well drained, and skip this step), and put into boiling water. boil until soft, then strain and press water out. sprinkle spinach on the bottom of a pie crust (marie calendars in the frozen section, uses vegetable shortening, whereas the pilsbury i used before aka mrs.p’s has hydrogenated lard in it! i just discovered this, sorry former eaters of my pies). sprinkle leek mixture on top of spinach/evenly distribute. since i’m on the cheap these days and didn’t need surplus cheese sitting around in my fridge, i got a string cheese, and stripped it, then chopped it into little strips, and sprinkled that on the veggies. it was just enough mozzarella. grate some parmigiano-reggiano on top too. in a separate bowl, beat 6 eggs and about 1/2 cup or so of milk. (at this point i’d add a little freshly grated nutmeg, but i didn’t have it, and it was great without it. but nutmeg is classically delicious in egg dishes). pour over filling into pie crust, and sprinkle with more parmesan on top. place on a cookie sheet and bake for 30-45 minutes, until the middle is fully set & doesn’t jiggle. it’ll have a little puff to it, but set it out for at least 10 minutes to deflate and be cool enough to cut (traditionally served at room temperature).
Note: in Portland, Ken’s Artisan Bakery makes killer quiches, always with a veggie or meat choice, rich, savory and baked to browned perfection. That’s where I got the leek idea. I think there’s had some chili pepper and bacon or prosciutto in it too. They do everything right there.

Saturday, April 29, 2006

I FINALLY got a job in the restaurant biz! One of the best ones in Portland. At a hotel. Great food, of which I've been able to sample on my training days--homemade cashew/coconut granola, beet/bleu cheese salad, and razor clams. Apparently, our chef buys all the razor clams available in from a particular supplier in the Northwest, and no one else in Portland can get them. They're not like clams at all, but larger, chewier, and flat. no guts. good. they were sauteed in butter though...kinda intense. served with a carrot slaw. oh! running out of batteries. more later.....vegan muffins! banana bread!

Monday, April 24, 2006

Saturday was Earth Day, on which I worked an organics booth at the Portland Earth Day celebration at Sellwood park. It was a glorious, warm, sunny day, and everybody was happy. I built up a decent appetite while talking about fruit and vegetables all morning, but when I went to get something to eat there were three food stands, of varying degrees of health: Wynne's hot dogs, Fat Kitty Falafel, and a Raw Food booth. The falafel smelled the best, but had the longest line, so I went for the Raw Food. They were giving out samples of their "green smoothie" which looked like scary wheatgrass, but was actually really delicious--with mint, parsley, apple juice and other good stuff. I had to order three things to get full (and then got hungry again about 2 hours later). I got a great little chopped salad with nuts in it, a "humus wrap" (a spoonfull of hummus and a cherry tomato wrapped in a raw collard leaf), and a "frosted cinnamon roll" (a date and nut patty with some sort of glaze on it, really good actually). Our booth was giving away organic fruit, including Minneola tangerines, which look a bit like tangelos, but slightly redder. They are DELICIOUS! I don't care much for oranges, or little seedy tangerines, but these are huge and easy to peel and so full of flavor. I came home that day with a haul of produce, including fresh Hood River shiitake mushrooms. I don't really like dried shiitakes like they put in stir fries sometimes, but I took a bite of one, and it had a really distinct, yummy, almost meaty taste.

So I cut up a leak, stir fried it in some olive oil, added the mushrooms, threw in some white wine after it got really hot. After that cooked I tossed in some cooked wild rice that I had, and when it was all hot, some sun dried tomato "bruschetta" that trader joe's has (it's only $2.99, and they ripped off the recipe from this company that sells it for about $8 in specialty markets), and it was a great little fried rice/risotto. Yum!
Geez, I'm beat. It's been a whirlwind busy week, working, moving friends, running errands in a huge red truck. When I reflect on what I ingested over the past week, it's a big binge blur of coffee, soda, pizza, hostess mini donuts, corn nuts and more coffee (which I did attempt to quit at some point during the week prior)...! Nothing of note, most of which I'm too ashamed to elaborate on. Glad that's over. Back to tasty and HEALTHY! And now I'm drinking tea. Or at least decaf.
Geez, I'm beat. It's been a whirlwind busy week, working, moving friends, running errands in a huge red truck. When I reflect on what I ingested over the past week, it's a big binge blur of coffee, soda, pizza, hostess mini donuts, corn nuts and more coffee (which I did attempt to quit at some point during the week prior)...! Nothing of note, most of which I'm too ashamed to elaborate on. Glad that's over. Back to tasty and HEALTHY! And now I'm drinking tea. Or at least decaf.

Friday, April 14, 2006

The odd thing about my “temp” job, is that, though technically it falls under the “legal” category (I got it through a recruiter who deals only with law firms), it has nothing to do with law, and everything to do with food service. I clean up coffee cups all day long. And put out beer and snacks for lawyers’ after-hours meetings. There’s always food around, because there are constant catering deliveries. Tonight, I set up for the reception after a big seminar—good bottles of wine, cheese and fruit. I was hoping that some of the Stag’s Leap Artemis cab or the Neyers Syrah would be left over, but, those lawyers knew their wine, and drank it all up. I was left to take home half a bottle of “Napa Valley Meritage,” which was actually mediocre table wine from Santa Rosa. But, I’m not complaining, what a great temp-job perk huh? And I got some cheese too!
4.13.06

This week, this is becoming more of a “what she drinks” log than what I eat (since I’m mostly eating at home, things like hummus, tuna, toast, etc.). You like how I skimp on food but save cash for drinks? Hey, I gotta be social. So here is some cocktail commentary... Yesterday, a girlfriend and I decided to do a little bar-hopping on a Wednesday night. Our first stop, by my request, was Apotheke, in the Pearl, tucked inside a gourmet complex of sorts—above the upscale Peruvian restaurant Andina (their specialty is ceviche), and with a wine shop in the basement. One night a couple of months ago, I started talking with this cool guy on the streetcar going from Northwest downtown, and he was on his way to meet some friends there. We both knew little about the place, just that they served unusual European liquers. It’s not easy find information on either. Mysterious. The entire room is painted white, yet it’s dark in there, with mod white barstools and low-lit orbs hanging from the ceiling. Sitting in there, you could easily be in Amsterdam. There was a dj right near the entrance playing what I thought was drum and base, although it might have been some other genre of foreign electronica. People were speaking in German.

Apotheke is über-cool, and so are the drinks. Their menu is a multi-page pamphlet, and the first page explains that they don’t serve anything mixed, to thus preserve the true integrity of the each liquor. They have many unusual “digestif” drinks, which taste of various herbs and spices like cinnamon. And there are brandys and scotches and wines. They’ve got such things as Pernod, Chartreuse, Campari. I had a grappa, made by Clear Creek Distillery, a local bottler. The last time I had grappa was backpacking with the girls in Florence, and unfortunately we took the restaurant’s bottle into our own hands that night, and I didn’t wake up for 24 hours. This was a little different. It was a sipper. Made from Muscat grapes (there were 2 other grappas as well), once the alcohol wore away, it tasted like flowers. Like perfume. I loved it. Taking pretty little nips at a delicate little glass. It was lovely.

Next, we headed back to our beloved East-side to Mint’s bar, 820. They have two long lists of fabulous, fresh drinks made with all sorts of wonderful things—rosemary shaken with gin, a mojito made with cilantro, boysenberry puree...After much reading and internal debate, I made a snap decision to order the guava cosmo. And oh was it the right choice. Vodka shaken with guava puree, fresh squeezed lime juice and maybe a little something else? It was the perfect amount of sweet and sour, and totally reminded me of working in the smoothie stand on Kauai as a kid. My cousins and I made the smoothies to sell to tourists for my auntie and uncle, who had the papaya farm. We only had one kind—banana/papaya/pineapple juice with a squeeze of lime. But what we made for ourselves was pineapple and lime, a little ice, thrown in the blender ‘till it frothed. That’s what that drink tasted like and I enjoyed every single sip.

Tuesday, April 11, 2006

My whole budget constraint situation has led to some creative innovations in food storage. As I will not pay for any disposable plastic containers, bags, etc., I have taken to using what I have. Of course, the most obvious of these is the plastic yogurt container, which is basically just tupperware with writing on it. I’ve scored similar (clear!) reusable containers for leftovers at Thai restaurants, which are great for anything, especially a big lemon that you keep taking wedges off of. Many tortillas these days (luckily the homemade whole wheat ones I love) come in re-sealable zip locks. So does dried fruit actually, though I buy mine in bulk so I miss out on that one. After I baked that apple pie, I wrapped the whole thing in a Fred Meyer plastic shopping bag and just tied and untied it. And to keep an avocado half in the fridge, just dampen a paper towel and wrap it over the top (this actually keeps in better than plastic anyway). But I think I may have invented my own food wrapper yesterday, when I wanted to take a banana to work in my bag, but didn’t want the brown sap to get on stuff. Since, you know, old plastic bags are prized also for their usability as trashbags, I didn't want to waste one, so I rolled the thing in an outdated resume and taped it up like a present. Tres resourceful, no?

Last night I had dinner with a friend at Piazza Italia. I’ve been wanting to try this place out ever since I discovered it on a day wandering around the Pearl, because the place is a slice of Italy in Portland. The first time I saw it, there were three slick twenty somethings standing outside on the sidewalk, speaking in Italian and wearing mirrored sunglasses and tailored clothes. I glanced inside, to see a short, bald man behind the espresso bar, and soccer on the numerous televisions hanging above the restaurant. This was the most authentic Italian place I believe I’ve ever been in outside of Italy. A bold statement, I realize, but it is not a place of the romantic, Roman, marble and wood, old men sitting outside and chatting over café. This is Italy now. This is what a place looks like in one of the towns outside of the tourist centers, where things are being built, and they actually use what looks like drywall. To the visitor, it might seem a little fake even, or a little tacky looking. But this is exactly the kind of place where modern Italians eat.

Anyway, to add to the authenticity, the serving staff was speaking in Italian, amongst each other and to a few of the customers (particularly a group of older adults sitting at the table next to us). And there was a deli case full of chilled side dishes, just like they do in Italy, and big cellophane wrapped easter eggs and that Italian boxed fruitcake for sale up front. One of the nightly specials was rabbit, roasted with vegetables. Rabbit! In a family style restaurant in Portland. That is the second time I’ve seen rabbit served at a casual restaurant here, proving, I believe, that this really is a foodie town. Back to Piazza Italia—I had lasagna, and it was perfect really. Bubbling in its own little casserole dish, crusty around the edges, with a thick layer of cheese that topped off layers of pasta and delicious saucy meat. And the meat had a delicious flavor, I’m thinking it was a veal mixture, because it was definitely not ground beef. I know what I said earlier about veal. But...this was really good. I want to go back there on a Sunday morning, to have a real Italian cappuccino and read the New York Times in it’s entirety, since Rich’s cigar shop (the best magazine store in town) is right by it.

Last night we also wandered over to South Park wine bar, which was pretty empty (it’s a big space, and it was Monday night). They had a great by-the-glass menu, with really descriptive categories like “European style with minerality and finesse”, “Modern New World style, rounded with rich fruit,” and “European reds tending towards earthy spice.” My friend already knew that he was ordering his favorite wine, from that last category, an Italian Aglianico. I wanted a Pinot Noir, but I do like a certain “toasty” style of wine. When I asked our server about the one Oregon Pinot Noir on the menu, she described it as being “very characteristic of the Willamette Valley style” or something generic like that. The day before I tasted over 25 “willamette valley pinots” and each one was different. I thought that was pretty weak. Instead, I went for a French Carignan, because I thought I’d try a new varietal, but I didn’t really care for it. I should know better, when it comes to French reds, I love Cotes-du-Rhone and Chateau Neuf du Pape, but few else that I’ve tried. I don’t think my palate is sophisticated enough yet. This wine was really smooth, but just a little too cool for me.

Have I told you about Tuk Tuk Thai restaurant yet? It is SAVORY. So many perfect flavors. And it’s so affordable (it’s been chosen as one of Portland’s best cheap eats for a couple of years by the WW). It’s on Freemont and 42nd or something, way out there in the neighborhood. We had wide noodles with vegetables, a red chicken coconut curry, and fried salt and pepper calamari to start. There are many places that serve calamari, but this was the best I’ve had in town so far—the batter was glistening and golden, really fresh. There’s not too much more to say, just that, there’s thai food everywhere, and most places have the same dishes, but at Tuk Tuk, they just do everything better. The food is just more fragrant, and delicately done (the chicken was in perfect thin slices, and the veggies were all really fresh).

Monday, April 10, 2006

I did a lot this weekend, and ate a lot. Well, not volume, but variety. I manned a booth at a health expo on Saturday in Vancouver, WA, promoting an organic home-delivery company (we deliver organic produce to your house!). Everyone was giving away free stuff—hot cocoa, coffee, flax cookies, nuts, granola, and we were handing out organic bartlett pears, pink lady apples, and blood oranges. At the end of the day, I got to take home zucchini, fingerling potatoes, italian parsley, onions, and a ton of pink lady apples. I figured, well, I could bake a pie...so I did. Easy—cut the apples (2 1/2 cups), mix in some cinnamon, sugar(1/2 cup), lemon juice, a couple of tablespoons of flour, a little butter and salt. Put it all in “Mrs. P’s” crust, and bake at 350 for about 45 minutes. It turned out pretty good, but I think it could’ve used a bit more sugar and a smidge less lemon. It was lemony.
I made a new foodie friend whom I worked with at the expo, and she invited me to the ethiopian take-out food/movie night that she and her husband do bi-weekly. She also took me to the grocery store to get the pie stuff, where we were treated to some fab samples of sweet roasted vegetables (carrots, onions, yams, dried fruit & spices all baked together, really yummy). She also taught me a little bit about raw-foodism.
After I made my pie, another friend who just returned from Mexico that afternoon picked me up and we went to a local brew pub for hefeweissen and heavy food. I don’t know why I ordered the hugest kielbasa sausage I’d ever seen (with bread, sauteed onions and potato salad!), maybe it's because I spent the whole day talking about vegetables. After that, we classed it up by going to Collosso, a dark spanish tapas bar on NE Broadway, with a pretty authentic menu and atmosphere (there were big candles which did remind me of that bar in Cadaques). We each had a glass of sangria, the perfect dessert.
Speaking of latin things, for lunch that day, I walked over to the Vancouver farmers market and bought a chicken tamale (the pork was sold out already), which was moist and delicious, with just enough green chile, and masa bound by what had to have been lard. Seriously. It was a treat.
THEN, on SUNDAY, more! I woke up and ate a huge piece of hot apple pie, then two more new friends picked me up for an Oregon winetasting adventure! These girls work at Portland’s best wine bar, so they had a little list of destinations (and all the tastings were gratis!). There are so many wineries just 40 or so minutes outside of Portland. A lot, maybe, like 50 wineries? It’s so cool. So, anyway, we went from spot to spot, tasting and talking. Some really really good pinots. My favorite wines were a 2004 Archery Summit cuvee Pinot Noir (about $40, their lowest priced wine, but I thought the tastiest), and a 2004 Torii Mor Willamette Valley Pinot Noir ($25, a good price for Oregon Pinot, unfortunately they don’t distribute in Hawaii). Yum! We drove down gravel roads, tasted at stately Napa-style wineries and little cottage-like tasting rooms, and had a picnic high up on a hill with the view of the valley below. My friends stopped at Whole Foods on the way, and brought smoked salmon, seeded spelt crackers, brussel sprout/carrot salad, and broccoli rabe with roasted garlic.
I got home that night, pretty tired out, and made a zucchini/chinese pea/couscous salad with sauteed onions and garlic. I have yet to try it. I want to learn to make grain salads, though I realize couscous is pasta, not a grain. Stuff with more vegetables! Anyway, it was a perfect Oregon weekend.

Friday, April 07, 2006

Does anything taste as good as something that was provided with true care? I’m finishing the last of a hot chocolate that was bought for me by the parents of a friend, really nice people who I’d only met once before, but who I spent a charmingly warm birthday dinner with last fall. A dinner of wine, and steak, and a special Finnish cake. On what was to be a lonely spring night in Portland, I was headed to the coffee shop that I’m in now, to have a hot chocolate actually (and job-search online), and ran into the Mrs. on the street, and she invited me in. It was very nice to sit down with genuine people.

Lately it has been serious budget eating for me. Yesterday I got excited because I got off work (oh yeah, i’m temping, currently cleaning up coffee mugs and replenishing bowls of mini-peppermint patties on the 19th floor of an office building), starving, and bought a snack for 35 cents!! How, you ask? Safeway bakery. A kaiser roll with cheese and onions, is basically, I learned, the poor mans bagel. Oh, why blame anyone else, it’s the poor girl’s bagel. I was on my way to First Thursday, when all of the galleries in the Pearl open late, hold art shows and receptions, supposedly with wine. There was no free wine. Just a no-host bar and some random crackers and stuff. So, my palate has been quite boring these days, with any cooking I’ve done in the past week consisting of making a quesadilla, or it's close cousin, the breakfast burrito. Wait a minute, maybe I haven’t been so boring, maybe, in fact I have had a little adventure infusion, because I do recall a little snack I had this afternoon...has anyone ever dipped arare in peanut butter? Anybody? Anybody? Dont laugh, it’s kinda like an Iso peanut. (Remember that kid who said he liked teriyaki and peanut butter sandwiches? same idea). And, here’s adventure, a barbequed-salmon sandwich, with cole slaw on it. Yeah I had it for lunch today, and yeah, it was gross. Although despite that fact, I was still a little pissed when a sauce drenched piece of salmon fell out on to my pant leg as I walked, repulsively bouncing and staining. (Well, maybe I was just angry because MY IPOD BROKE TODAY. Yes, in theory completely unrelated to this blog, but a fact that totally affects my entire well being).

Thursday, April 06, 2006

4.6.06

One of the best things my dad ever did was make make these things for breakfast called dutch babies. The dish was a family legend. Not only delicious, but completely unusual and not-so simple to make (you had to have the RIGHT PAN). They are basically a huge popover, a custardy pancake-like thing. He made them for special occasions, in old, seasoned cast-iron skillets, so they’d come out as big as a small pizza. He cut them into wedges, and they were always topped with powdered sugar and lots of lemon juice (not maple syrup or anything like that). Anyway, they’ve always been my favorite, for their taste, texture, and overall specialness.

I was lucky enough to have that taste experience recreated for my mouth yesterday, by the obviously talented line cooks at Doug Fir. One of Portland’s hippest venues (it’s been in design magazines like Wallpaper, AND is actually frequented by a cross section of portland youth, including even the greasiest grungsters if their band’s playing) actually serves a pretty good breakfast. It’s probably due to the hotel ajacent, and the bands who wake up groggy and hungry from playing/partying the night before.

My best friend’s mom was in town, so her uncle took us out to eat, and it was hearty and great. Family memories past and present. My dutch baby came with thick-cut peppered bacon, and their egg stuff all looked good too. Back to my friend’s mom, I spent MANY a night at their house, watching her cook, and taking notes from childhood on. She taught me how to throw together the best things, pastas, salads, snacks--just good, melange-type food to feed a family (and all the kids’ friends). And that patis, fish sauce, is the secret to flavor. Take that note and be saved from bland food forever! Just never put a bottle unattended in any part of your car, if it spills, like it did in my auntie’s toyota, you’ll never get the smell out.