Tuesday, October 31, 2006

My Pie

Half of making a good pie is having a good pie plate, and I'm here to tell you that you can't beat the old-fashioned Pyrex 10-inch glass plate with its cheery fluted border that just begs you to fill it with something homemade.

The 10-inch size is great for deep dish-type pies and, though you don't have to fill it to the brim (or more), at our house more pie is better pie. Plus the glass allows you to see if the bottom crust is browning nicely, or if (heaven forfend!) it splits and leaks juice. It's also great for making a round of cornbread (perfect for slicing triangles of corny goodness) or chilling a batch of polenta for grilling later.

Look for them at garage and estate sales where you can get one for as little as $1. The 10-inchers are hard to find these days, but you won't be happy with anything smaller. As I said above, more pie is better pie.

Very Vindalho

That's Vindalho, pronounced vin-duh-loo', for those who may, like me, have been wondering about the odd spelling. But that's one of the vagaries of Americanized spelling of foreign words in foreign alphabets (Devanagari, in this case). This relatively new entry on David Machado's resumé, starting with Pazzo and Southpark, then the wonderful Lauro Kitchen, is a welcome addition to Portland's Indian restaurant scene, which has been dominated by the same tired curries and rice dishes, not to mention the horrifying lunch buffets of over-cooked foods steeping in gooey sauces or congealing under heat lamps for hours on end.

But any bad memories were immediately blown away when we entered this large open dining room and were shown to our table, where we ordered martinis and dug into our appetizers of shrimp pakoras, which were bursting with fresh shrimp flavor, and mussels in a terrific coconut curry with fresh chiles. The coriander chutney, a gorgeous green sauce accompanying the pakoras, was oddly flat considering the punch that fresh coriander usually has.

On the recommendation of the kind and helpful hostess, Lisa Belt, we ordered a 2003 Lagrein Alto Adige to have with our entrées. First was the evening's special of seared ahi tuna marinated in lemon and black pepper and served with a coconut curry and chayote squash. The tuna was perfectly cooked and slightly pink in the middle, and the lemon and black pepper counterpointed the lushness of the curry. The chayote squash was a fun addition, with it's braised apple-y color and texture.

The second dish was the house pork Vindalho, pork shoulder braised with chilies, garlic and vinegar. This deeply flavored, richly sauced pig was served with mildly flavored saffron rice and topped with deep-fried slivers of julienned potatoes. It's a dish to be envious of, and one I'm going to try to duplicate at home sometime. I love pork shoulder, that cheap, fatty, chunky cut that's exquisite for braising and has tons of flavor, enough to stand up to heavy spicing, which is why it's used in everything from chili to pulled pork.

We skipped the sides and condiments, of which there are many, so coming with a crowd would be a great chance to sample more dishes on their menu, plus you'd get to impress lots of people all at once with your restaurant selection prowess. The staff works hard to impress, and Mr. Machado himself was bringing food to the tables the night we were there.

The only drawback we found was with the cocktails. We just weren't impressed with the skills of the bartender on duty that night, and our martinis sat on the bar for a good five minutes before they were brought to our table, a definite no-no in cocktail-land.

But, all in all, you'll like everything about this place. It's very adult and very enjoyable, and the fact that it's located on a little-used stretch of lower SE Clinton St. makes it a perfect hidden treasure.

Details: Vindalho, 2038 SE Clinton St.; Phone 503-467-4550.

Saturday, October 28, 2006

Wassup in Walla Walla

Just spent a couple of days in Walla Walla at a family event and got to check out some of the local flavor. First up was a personal tour of Walla Walla Vintners with Meagan, the daughter of founder Myles Anderson, and an up-and-coming winemaker in her own right. We tasted through their very fine wines, then went into the back and tasted three single-vineyard cabs right out of the barrel. It's a striking example of terroir...how the same grape from three different vineyards in the same region and aged in the same kind of oak barrel can have a subtle but discernable individuality.

Since I'd been complaining about being hungry since Meagan picked me up, after our tour she suggested stopping for tacos at Walla Walla's secret foodie hangout, Taqueria Yungapeti, which sits just outside downtown on a busy thoroughfare. We walked into what looked like a former fast food outlet that had been transformed with a little paint into a cheerful taco stand with the ubiquitous horchata and tamarindo drink coolers whirling away on the counter. We ordered a sampling of several different tacos, and I can say without hesitation that it would give our favorite taqueria here in Portland (La Sirenita on Alberta) a run for it's money. Fresh corn tortillas, great salsas, well seasoned meats and a fine fish taco make this a place to seek out.

Then there's the local chocolate maker, Bright's Candies, who've been making their own chocolate confections since 1934. It's in a charming, old-fashioned and very original storefront right on the main street downtown. And if you think we got out of there without sampling their wares, I'd have to say, "Get real!"

And then my personal favorite stop, New York, Walla Walla's authentic small-town western outfitter's, where you can buy your Wrangler rodeo jeans, spangly blouse and, my choice, a beautiful pair of boots that will go oh-so-fabulously with skirts, jeans, etc. The truth is, I've been wanting a pair for years and haven't wanted to go into a city store where they'll charge $350 for a pair that would stand up to a real horse for about, oh, 30 seconds. I told the guy these had to stand up to scrutiny by my cattle-ranching relatives, and I didn't want any laughing or pointing at my expense. He guaranteed these were the genuine article, so this was the perfect opportunity, and well worth the trip!

Next time we're in the area, my uncle has promised a tour of all 100-plus wineries, which should be an interesting experience, and I'm anxious to try out two restaurants I've heard about but didn't get to on this trip, 26 Brix and Whitehouse-Crawford, the latter being located in an old wood planing mill and having nothing to do with our current president and his Texas ranch. I asked.

Details: Walla Walla Vintners, 225 Vineyard Lane; Phone 509-525-4724. Taqueria Yungapeti, 320 S. 9th Ave.; Phone 509-526-9494. Bright's Candies, 11 E. Main; Phone 509-525-5533. New York Store Western Outfitters,2254 E. Isaacs Ave.; Phone 509-529-3600.

Tamale Ladies

We've become regular customers of the Micro Mercantes booth at the Hollywood Farmers Market where they serve the most wonderful homemade tamales for only $2.50 for a chicken, pork or vegetable version. Choose one and watch the vendor dig into the pot and unwrap the soft masa tamale from the steaming corn husk. Then she'll ask if you'd like crema and salsa, to which you reply, "Yes, please!" And you can eat it right there and fortify yourself for the heavy lifting required as you stroll through the market.

The best part, though, is that this little stall is a project of the Hacienda CDC, who have overseen the development of affordable housing for predominantly Latino residents in northeast Portland, the start up of a community-based credit union, the development of a healthcare clinic and three other community centers where culturally-appropriate instruction and social services are provided. The Micro Mercantes is a pilot project of the Hacienda CDC and is providing six vendors an opportunity to access local farmers markets to sell their goods and services, including prepared food, arts and crafts. The vendors are also helped with training and mentoring in business skills so that their efforts can become self-sustaining.

So check them out when you can, and help this worthwhile cause while enjoying a terrific breakfast!

A Community of Elders

It seems that most of the people we know are dealing with issues involving aging parents and are discussing solutions that would make sense for their families. There are all kinds of scenarios, from the parents staying in their home and having help come to them, or selling the family home and moving near one of the children, or needing to move into some kind of assisted living situation.

It's all very stressful and involves making difficult and sometimes wrenching decisions, but it can be helpful to find out what's working for other people and spending time discussing options. My mother has found a solution that works for her at Northwest Place, a senior residence on NW 24th and Marshall. It has 46 one- and two-bedroom completely independent apartments and has a surprisingly good dining room. There is a substantial entrance cost (or "buy-in") and monthly rent, but 80% of the entrance cost is refundable should they choose to leave. The residents are all active and engaging, and they readily participate as they can in outside activities. It's worth checking out as an option, and you can't beat the neighborhood for shopping, restaurants and proximity to cultural and volunteer activities.

Details: NW Place, 2420 NW Marshall; Phone 503-220-8100.

Heronswood Update

A couple of months ago I wrote that a group had formed to try to preserve Heronswood, the world-class botanical garden on Bainbridge Island that was bought by Burpee and Co. six years ago and closed without warning on May 30. Well, the Pacific Northwest Horticultural Conservancy (PNHC) now has a website, and their goal is to establish a community-based, self-sustaining horticultural research and education center at Heronswood, collaborating with educational institutions such as the University of Washington and Olympic College.

To get involved, you can contact the PNHC by e-mail or write them the old-fashioned way at:

Pacific Northwest Horticultural Conservancy
PO Box 1575
Kingston, WA 98346

Friday, October 20, 2006

Falling Leaves, Hard Cider

Foster and Dobbs, our favorite cheese shop on NE 15th, is having a Hard Cider and Cheese class at the store, appropriately enough, the day before Halloween. They're featuring the fellows from Wandering Aengus Ciderworks, and will be tasting the fruit their cider is made from as well as the delicious product it becomes.

The ciders will be paired with some newly arrived American Farmstead cheeses along with some traditional cider and cheese pairings from Asturias, Spain. If it's like the previous cheese tasting I went to, we'll be seated around the large farm table and there will be lots of laughter and conversation in addition to the official discussion. What a great way to spend a cool fall evening!

Details: Hard Cider and Cheese Class, Oct. 30, 7:15 pm at Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave.; Phone 503-284-1157 for reservations. Class size is limited and the classes fill quickly. Participants receive a 10% discount on purchases that evening.

Tuesday, October 17, 2006

Apizza Pizza

Pizza is a passionate subject among most folks we know, and whether they like a particular pizzeria's pies depends on the type of pizza they prefer. New York style? Deep dish? Crisp crust? Wood oven?

When Apizza Scholls came on the scene a few years ago, it was hailed as bringing a new level of pizza excellence to Portland's east side. Their pies are old-fashioned crisp crusts with lots of bubbly cheese and various meaty toppings, served simply in a small storefront cafe with staff running back and forth from the ovens, balancing pizzas as they squeeze between the crowded tables.

Everything on the menu is made fresh and to order, and their two house salads are very good. The pizzas come in one size and one size only and prices run from the plain tomato pie for $17 to the Clam Casino for $25. Get there early for a table or be prepared to wait awhile on the sidewalk outside. As mentioned, this place is small and very popular, but if you're craving a hearty old-fashioned pizza, this is the place.

Details: Apizza Scholls, 4741 SE Hawthorne Blvd.; Phone 503-233-1286.

Monday, October 16, 2006

Great Kinko's

And no, I'm not being sarcastic!

I had occasion to go to a Kinko's this last week to make copies of a 40-plus page document. Now, normally I dread having to go to any copy shop because they're usually confusing, not very clean and staffed by shuffling drones who look at you like you're a drooling idiot if you have questions about their machines.

So I was very pleased and impressed when I stopped by the Kinko's on NW 23rd and Lovejoy and a nice young fellow came up and helped me through the process, even to the point of going to get their larger stapler to saddle-stitch the (successfully copied) 11" by 17" pages.

The manager, Jonathan Ficklin, is a long-time employee who started out in a Kinko's computer graphics department and has obviously whipped this store into a customer-friendly retail outlet where the employees smile and at least pretend to be having a good time. Go in if you have the opportunity and say hi from GoodStuff!

Details: Kinko's, 950 NW 23rd Ave.; Phone 503-222-4133.

Apples at Portland Nursery

One of our favorite events, and the one that kicks off fall for us, is Portland Nursery's Gourmet Apple Tasting. It happens over two weekends in mid-October and this year they have over 40 varieties of apples to taste, from Ambrosia to Winter Banana. There are old standbys like Red Delicious, Granny Smith and Jonagold, and more unusual ones like Ginger Golden, Honeycrisp and Rubinette. Their 19th annual festival also features over a dozen varieties of pears and Asian pears to taste, as well as live music from several local bands and products from local beekeepers and berry producers.

The best part is that, in addition to being able to taste all of these apples, you can also go under the big tent in the yard and buy nearly all of them out of big orchard bins for only 79 cents a pound. Though it was difficult to choose, we narrowed it down to Rubinette, Mutsu and Honey Crisp. Our good taste was confirmed when the Honeycrisp was described in the New York Times on Sunday as "the iPod of apples." Whatever that means.

I've already made an apple pie with the Mutsus, an apple crisp with the Honeycrisp. (Get it, Honeycrisp Crisp? Ha!) I'm not sure about the Rubinettes, but maybe a tarte tatin. I may even have to go back this week and get some more for applesauce! You can download your own copy of our family's crisp recipe here.

Not that it's all about the raw fruit, mind you. They also have delicious apple strudel (a la mode or plain) and baked apples. Here's my mom ensconced on a comfy haybale enjoying her a la mode version. So go early, avoid the lines and get some strudel for breakfast with coffee from their stand!

Details: 19th Annual Gourmet Apple Tasting at Portland Nursery; Fri-Sun.,
10 am-4 pm, Oct. 13-15 & Oct. 20-22, 2006; 5050 SE Stark St.; Phone 503-231-5050.

Friday, October 13, 2006

Nobel Man

I first heard about Muhammad Yunus when NPR interviewed him about his first book, Banker to the Poor. I was so moved by his passion and commitment that I went out and bought the book and read it. Then I bought it for friends and made my book club read it, too. It's the story of one man taking a small step to help someone else, and that small step led to what has become a revolutionary change in the economic relationship between some of the world's largest financial institutions and the poorest people on earth.

The basic idea was to extend small amounts of credit to people (95% of them women) to start businesses and form lending groups that would monitor and mentor other borrowers. The bank he eventually formed, the Grameen Bank, has 3.5 million borrowers and has given out more than $4 billion worth of loans at a 99 percent recovery rate. "With an average loan of $200, people invest in small businesses and change their lives," he said. Poor women not only gain financial self-sufficiency, they are able to send their children to school and college and break the cycle of illiteracy.

When I heard this morning (yes, again on NPR) that he'd been awarded the Nobel Peace Prize, it felt like a member of my family had won. If you want to give someone a meaningful gift, now or for the holidays, you can't go wrong with this!

Fitness for the Masses

If you, like me, are wanting to get in better shape and build your strength and endurance before it's too late, I would highly recommend working with a personal trainer. Now, I know you're all thinking, "What? That's just for Madonna or rich society dames!" But there are alternatives to shelling out big bucks for someone to make you do a sit-up.

I've been working with Kristin Jackson of Take It Outside Fitness off an on for the past three years. I started with two other women working out with Kristin once a week, then later on started taking classes with her at the Northeast Community Center where she's been teaching Pilates and cardio fitness for a year.

She's now moving out of NECC and has lots of options for the rest of us, from personal fitness training to working on a Pilates machine called the Reformer to outside fitness classes in various parks around Portland. And lots of options in terms of cost, especially if you're willing to be part of a larger class. She's a terrific trainer, a great motivator and has a down-to-earth sense of humor. Above all, she's not into making you look good so she looks good. It's about your needs and goals and how she can help you meet them. I can't recommend her highly enough.

Details: Kristin Jackson, Take It Outside Fitness; Phone 503-701-2179.

Favorite Fromage: Comte

For a long time our favorite cheese has been manchego, that salty, straw-colored sheep's milk cheese from Spain, but recently we've headed in another direction with comte, a cow's milk cheese from the Jura mountains of eastern France. The best comte is aged from 14 to 17 months and develops a rich golden color, with a deep flavor and silky texture. It's fabulous as an appetizer served with a sauvignon blanc or an Alsation pinot gris.

Which leads me to another discovery, the weekly (Thursday) cheese column in the San Francisco Chronicle by Janet Fletcher. You can download a pdf of her comte article here. You can bet I'll be putting her column on my regular list. This week she's writing about another French cheese, Livarot. Now to find some of that!

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Howard Dean's Party

There was a fascinating article in last Sunday's New York Times magazine that outlined Howard Dean's efforts as chairman of the Democratic National Committee to create a "50-State Strategy" that would place the party back in the center of the nation's political life by building county and precinct organizations to rival Republican machines in every state in the country. He sent out assessment teams to every state and they "bluntly stated that its local activists were 'aging' and that its central committee was 'dysfunctional.' In most states, there were hardly any county or precinct organizations to speak of. More than half the states lacked any communications staff, meaning that no one was there to counter the Republican talking points that passed from Washington to the state parties to the local media with a kind of automated precision."

It's compelling reading no matter what your political leanings are, and gives an inside look at a political party in transition. You can download a pdf of it here.

Our Dream Kitchen

Many of you have asked if I'm going to write about our recent kitchen remodel and include all the dirty details and tribulations, the fights and the dust. Well, I'm here to tell you that it doesn't have to be that way. Not that we're experts or supremely discerning, but we've been through several projects large and small and have had good luck and bad with contractors and workmen. This time it was amazingly easy, and the result has met all our goals and then some. (Before, above)

It started with interviewing three kitchen designers from the perky, West Hills type who I feared would feel like she was slumming, to the guy who came in, walked around and, without asking any questions, said, "It'll be $45,000 and I can't do it till next year." Then we were talking with our friend Salauddin, an accomplished independent architect, who gave us a couple of names but then said, "Yeah, I did a small kitchen for some friends, you should take a look." We did and we hired him.

He did some rough sketches and we fell in love with the one that solved the traffic problem and gave us a clear work space where two people can cook and entertain without crawling over each other. Plus it had a pass-through to the back door, room for an island and plenty of windows to take advantage of the southern light. (After, left)

Then, after interviewing and taking a look at four different contractors, we gave the job to a neighbor, Cliff, a great cabinet maker and contractor who has done some amazing work, from period remodels to modern new construction. Besides building all the cabinets, he could also cast the concrete counters we wanted. The whole job came in on budget and was done in seven weeks from start to finish. He was always concerned about keeping our living space clean and as dust-free as possible and his workers were unfailingly pleasant. There was never any finger-pointing or arguing, and he dealt with problems as they arose and got the job done.

In addition, we have to thank our friend Kim, who held my hand and helped with the colors of the tile, flooring and paint when I was freaking out over the choices. And all of you who were unfailingly excited and supportive throughout. It was so worth it!

Details: Salauddin Khan, architect, 812 NW 17th Ave.; Phone 503-226-9891. Cliff Belt, RC Belt Construction, contractor, 3917 N Mississippi; Phone 503-209-5355. Kim Ferris, interior consultant, Urbino, 638 NW 23rd Ave.; Phone 503-750-1202.

Ciao, Vito!

Once in awhile you just want to have a drink and snacks at some cozy neighborhood bar in the evening, and we've found the perfect place at Ciao Vito on Alberta. Walk through the noisy dining room, take a seat at the darkly curving bar at the far end and you've got the perfect start. Order from their cocktail menu or have the bartender make your favorite drink, and if you're there before six o'clock you can get drinks and bar menu items for happy hour prices. Two of us had the calamari and their antipasti plate and, with the excellent house bread, we were quite satisfied. And sometimes that's just perfect.

Details: Ciao Vito, 2203 NE Alberta; Phone 503-282-5522.

My Foodie Moment

You know how some days you feel like you've wandered onto the set of a TV show and you're the surprise guest? That happened to me the other day when I was taking the lovely Miss Rose for her afternoon stroll and thought I'd stop by and pick up a little cheesy goodness from Luan at Foster and Dobbs. She was talking to a young Spanish couple, so we started chatting and sampling some of the wonderful Oregon cheeses from the case. I suggested the Rogue Creamery Oregonzola, then the Rogue River Reserve which is wrapped in grape leaves and soaked in brandy. Luan then sliced samples of Fra'Mani and Salumi meats and we sat down to chat.

It turns out that they work for Marques de Valdueza, a Spanish estate that produces olive oil, and stopped off on their way to the airport. John, the husband, an American who speaks flawless Spanish, Italian and French, moved to Spain, met his wife, Ana, and started working for the Marquis' estate. So then, you guessed it, they started hauling out their olive oils and inviting us to sample them. The coolest part was when Ana poured a small amount of oil into a little blue cup with the Marques crest on it. Then she covered it with a convex glass and warmed it in her hands for a couple of minutes. She lifted the glass slightly and had us inhale the warm, moist aroma of the oil, a wonderfully green and rich smell. Foster & Dobbs carries their olive oils and John and Ana may be coming back next year to do a class there. Stay tuned!

Details: Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave.; Phone 503-284-1157; E-mail info@fosteranddobbs.com

A Real Italian Cafe

Lots of places have tried to pass themselves off as the definitive Italian cafe, but for our money no one can beat Lorenzo's Tavalo Caldo on Mississippi Ave. for casual Italian food. And this is the perfect time of year to stop in for lunch or dinner, since they throw open the big garage door so the tables and people spill out onto the sidewalk. We've been there for two very nice lunches lately, and for value and quality we can't recommend it highly enough.

Walk straight through the dining room to the back counter and take a look at the board that lists all the day's offerings, pick out a few and peruse the wine that sits on top of the counter. You might also think about taking home some of their meats, cheeses and desserts that sit inside. But for now, give your order to the person behind the counter, grab a bottle of water and your glasses and silverware from the sideboard and pick a table. One of the wait staff will bring your wine (they have a lovely Chianti Classico for just a few pennies) and you can take in the ambiance of the avenue as you sip and chat.

Both times I ordered the special, an amazing portobello mushroom raviolo, a large strip of homemade pasta folded around a whole portobello mushroom laid on top of a rich cream sauce and topped with a fresh tomato sauce, parsley and parmesan. With their wonderful focaccia to sop up any remaining sauce, it made a delicious and not-too-filling midday repast.

Details: Lorenzo's Tavolo Caldo, 3807 N. Mississippi Ave; Phone 503.284.6200.