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.