Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Olive Oil Garage Sale

Well, y'see, there's this guy named Jim Dixon (yes, the Jim Dixon who writes for Willamette Week) who imports and wholesales olive oil and gourmet salts to various restaurants and food purveyors in town. And there's product left over at the end of the year that he'd like to get rid of. So he holds a sale out of his garage to do just that. Which is good for folks like you and me who use lots of olive oil but are sometimes shocked at what regular stores charge for the good stuff.

Jim says he'll have Olio Novo, Leonforte and Bettini (all Italian extra virgin olive oils from the 2005 harvest) available for bulk sale at reduced prices. You need to bring your own containers (he says wine bottles work best) and he'll fill them from the Italian fustini (see picture), 50 liter stainless steel barrels. There will also be regular bottles of Madre Terra and Don Alfonso extra virgin olive oils, Portuguese sea salt and gift bags with olive oil and flor de sal.

A good host, Jim will have a big pot of hearty soup to help fend off the cold. He'll be accepting checks and cash only. The catch is that this all happens this Friday and Saturday, so carve out a few of your last holiday minutes to stop by the house and pick up some great olive oils!

Details: Jim Dixon's Olive Oil Garage Sale, 11 am to 5 pm or so, Dec. 22 and 23, at 3432 NE 16th, just off Fremont.

Monday, December 18, 2006

For the Cook

If you have a cook on your list, or one of those people who drool over recipes and collect cookbooks the way some people collect Wade figurines, then run, don't walk, over to Powell's Books for Home and Garden on Hawthorne. There you can get The Silver Spoon, the encyclopedia of Italian cooking, in its first English translation on sale for just over $25, more than a third off of its usual $40 price tag.

Originally published in the 1950s in Italy, this book has been continuously updated and is considered one of the primary sources for all foods Italian. Want to know how to cook a calf's head? How about something called "pluck and lights"? Or more day-to-day options like risotto (26 recipes), peas (25 recipes, not counting recipes for baby peas) or lemon (37 recipes)?

There are only a few sale copies left, so don't put this one on the back burner. I can't wait to get started. Now all I have to do is figure out how to approach it. Alphabetically? By main ingredient? The old close-your-eyes-open-the-book-and-point? Hmmmmmm.

Details: The Silver Spoon by Phaidon Press at Powell's Books for Home and Garden, 3747 SE Hawthorne; Phone 503-235-3802.

Saturday, December 16, 2006

Respite from the Holiday Madness

If you're out shopping on Hawthorne and have worn your shoes down through the soles looking for that perfect gift for Aunt Edna, stop and take a breather at Bread & Ink Cafe, a Hawthorne landmark for more than twenty years. Owned by Bruce and Mary Fishback, two of the nicest people you will ever meet, their soul-refreshing breakfasts and lunches will revive even the most Christmased-out shoppers, and they feature a full bar and wonderful small plates for that mid-afternoon or early evening shopping slump.

Everything at this outpost of home cooking is made on the premises, from the bread that Bruce bakes himself to the ketchup to their irresistible desserts. Be sure to have their cornmeal-crusted oysters with chipotle aioli when you're there. They are hands-down the best you can get in all of Portland, and we never miss an opportunity to have a plate or two of these little treasures!

Details: Bread and Ink Cafe, 3610 SE Hawthorne; Phone 503-239-4756.

Christmas Treasures

I stopped in at my friend Kim's shop, Urbino, on NW 23rd because it always has the most wonderful, Christmas-y feeling this time of year. Not like the tchotchke nightmare shops with Santas swigging beer, or giant plum puddings that blink and play "Silent Night." I mean a real holiday treasure box filled with soft, glowing colors and wonderful gifts you can imagine giving people you care about. Like these wonderful candles with gorgeous incised botanical carvings that, when the inside candle is burned down, leaves the outside intact so you can insert another candle!

And they always have amazing Italian pottery made especially for Urbino by the world-famous potters of Deruta. The small bowls are great for serving olives or for filling with a small amount of olive oil for dipping. One of these bowls and a bottle of estate olive oil would be the perfect gift for the foodie on your list.

I was particularly knocked out by their newest addition, some artisan-made wool scarves in sumptuous colors and the smoothest, softest textures. Heirloom quality, these aren't for everyone on your list, but for that special person it would be a truly fabulous gift.

Details: Urbino, 638 NW 23rd Ave.; Phone 503-220-0053.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

Fun at FuBonn

If you love Uwajimaya, the all-things-Asian superstore, but hate driving out to deep Beaverton for your key limes or wasabi peas, there's a closer choice. FuBonn is a large Asian supermarket out on 82nd Ave. that, while not quite the eye-popping experience you have at the big U, is still a spotless and fully stocked Safeway of Asian delights.

They have a good-looking fish counter and several live fish tanks, a meat department that features the usual cuts of beef as well as whole poultry, bulk containers of fresh pickled vegetables (Mmmm...kimchi!), really fresh vegetables and fruits and the usual assortment of packaged foods, cooking utensils and household items. I was able to pick up a couple of stocking stuffers for my son...well, he is a little unusual in that he would rather have wasabi peas than chocolate or knick-knacks...and some Indian chutneys that I can't find elsewhere.

They're carrying more organic items than you might expect, and it's definitely worth checking out, especially when you can't bear to think of fighting the traffic in the burbs.

Details: FuBonn, 2850 SE 82nd Ave.; Phone 503-517-8877.

OK, now this was weird...

Last Saturday morning my husband, Dave, and I were driving along on some Christmas errand or other and pulled up behind a car at a stop light. On top of the car someone had obviously forgotten their eggnog chai latte (like the photo above). Like any good person, Dave got out, went up to the car and told the woman she'd left her coffee on the roof. She said, "Thanks for being a good samaritan," and handed him a $5 Starbucks gift card!

Apparently this is a promotion that Starbucks is running for the holidays, so keep your eyes peeled. It could mean a free gingerbread latte and a scone.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Cookie Party!

Our friend Kathryn has hosted a yearly cookie decorating party for the last decade, and we were invited this year even though we have no young children and basically just went to play and chat. It was great being around young kids again, all talking and laughing and smearing icing on angels, rocking horses, gingerbread people, stars, candy canes...you name it. Kathryn apparently outdid herself this year, making more than 600 (yes, six-oh-oh) cookies before her husband Jeff pulled her away from the mixer. And good cookies they were. Little buttery sugar cookies with just the right amount of doneness to be light yet crispy.

And then, when you had decorated your heart out, there was a big pot of Jeff's beefy soup to thin down the sugar coursing through your veins, and a table full of lemon bars, chocolate cookies, Mexican wedding cookies, rum cake and other delights that people had brought to snack on and take home for sampling. What fun!

O Christmas Tree!

We used to be the kind of family that would trek out to the hinterlands to a tree farm and tromp all over the muddy hillsides in the freezing cold, looking for the perfect tree to kill. Then we found, just blocks from home up NE Fremont, the Fremont United Methodist Christmas Tree Sale. What a relief! And every one one of the congregation that we've met there are the nicest folks...smiling, helpful, willing to open up as many trees as it takes. Kinda scary.

And the prices are good, too. We usually spend around $50 for an eight-foot tree that we throw in the truck, haul home, trim off the bottom and set up. Easy, and no frostbite. I love it! BTW, the sale only runs through the 17th, so if you want one, get yourself down there. Tell them GoodStuffNW sent you!

Details: Fremont United Methodist Christmas Tree Sale, 2620 NE Fremont St.; Phone 284-4647.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Cheese, Gromit!

For the Wallace on your Christmas list, or any list for that matter, there's no better gift than a cheese-of-the-month club. And wouldn't you know it, our favorite neighborhood cheese shop, Foster & Dobbs, and its oh-so-friendly proprietors Luan and Tim have started a Cheese of the Month Club and a Cheese and Treats Club. The Cheese of the Month Club features a monthly shipment of three special cheeses (at least one American farmstead cheese and one European cheese), while the Cheese and Treats Club member will receive a box that contains one cheese, crackers, a condiment and a chocolate bar.

We think this is brilliant for that special person on your list (hint, hint), and will remind them of your kindness all year long! Check their website or give them a call for the particulars.

Details: Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave.; Phone 503-284-1157.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Have Lunch in Paris

A surge of development is hitting yet another formerly dreary eastside strip. The few blocks surrounding the intersection of 50th and Division, which used to house tacky baseball card traders and auto body shops and featured several empty storefronts with broken windows, has now gone uptown. There's early pioneer Stumptown Coffee on one end and, at the other end, the second location of Lake Oswego bakery La Provence where we've gone twice in the last week, once for lunch and once for coffee.

This place looks straight out of Paris with its black storefront with gold lettering, an impression that is only enhanced when you walk in the door to see the little wicker seats at stenciled wood tables on one side and a magnificent display of baked goods on the other. They serve what looks like a great breakfast through the lunch hour, and the lunch menu, while not extensive, is full of tempting sandwiches, salads and beverages.

And apparently the level of sophistication has been eye-opening for the owners, though anyone who's been to Pix or Lauro would simply say, "Pfft!" One article said that at their Lake Oswego store the bestsellers are scones and coffee, while at the new eastside store the specialty French baked goods like palmiers, croissants and various sweet pains are more popular, and people are flocking in from around the area to get them. Vive le Division!

Details: La Provence, 4834 SE Division St.; Phone 503-736-9600.


Last weekend we went to our first house concert at the home of our friends Bob and Chris. It featured new transplant to Portland (from Massachusetts) Gideon Freudmann, master of the cello and a genuinely engaging fellow. He plays an electronic cello, a beautiful sculptural piece that is reminiscent of the shape of a traditional cello, but is wired so that he can record tracks and essentially play along with himself and compose on the fly. (He also plays a magnificent regular cello, which is pictured here.)

His music can be funny, haunting and moving, sometimes all at once, and the the joy he exhibits in his performance shows the passion he has for this instrument. He's also got a way with comic songs and sings a mean blues. We're so glad he decided to settle here, and we'll definitely be seeking him out in the future. Stay tuned!

For those who've never been to a house concert, it's a show that's presented in a private space like a home, barn or whatever, with all proceeds going to the artist who can round out a touring schedule and build new markets with the one-on-one opportunities these venues present. (Here's a primer on house concerts.)

Nike Nirvana

Need the latest high-tech sports bra in the grooviest new colors? How about a signature Tiger Woods Collection wool jacket? Then make thyself a friend who works at Nike, and beg for a pass to the Nike employee store. Set in a nondescript box of a building in an anonymous industrial park off Jenkins Road in (where else?) Beaverton, this is the throbbing center of the temple of style that Nike built. We were the lucky guests of our friend Jeff, and were able to get our Christmas shopping off to a roaring start. Though prices aren't rock bottom, you get a solid half off clothes for men, women and children (slap a swoosh on that onesy!), more shoes than you can shake a stick at and a nice selection of sunglasses and watches. The one thing that surprised me was the stunning lack of cool t-shirts...most were just logo-wear, rehashing the usual and completely lacking in imagination. That said, it's an amazing inside look at the vast diversity of gear that this Oregon company makes and markets.

Tuesday, November 21, 2006

It's Better to Give

My mother has started a tradition that is catching on with many families I know who want to give a meaningful gift at the holidays but don't want to burden someone with more stuff they don't need. She's asked that, instead of another pair of earrings or a scarf or, heaven forfend, some grandma-esque perfume, we select a charity she supports and give a donation in her name of whatever amount we'd spend on a gift.

So if you're ready to join the "Don't need more things, thanks" crowd, here is a list of charities we've given to and have been very happy with. Feel free to leave your own charities as a comment (below) and we can make a great list together!
And from our readers (check comments below, too):
  • The Delta Society, an international charity started right here in Portland that uses the power of animals to heal humans. Thanks, Gregg!
  • Neighborhood House, a 100-year-old social services nonprofit started by immigrant women in Portland that serves the local community with programs from early childhood education to senior citizens, as well as a homeless shelter. Thanks, Salauddin!

Holiday Goodness

If you're stuck with bringing appetizers to a holiday event and want to look like you're thick with the foodies, or if you just want to step it up a notch at your next party, head over to Viande in City Market and pick up some paté from their case right inside the door. We originally found them at the downtown farmers' market (which is still running till Dec. 17) and got weak in the knees over their venison paté, then found that they also have a non-dairy version of this oh-so-buttery treat in their pork rillette. This stuff is dreamy spread on a thin slice of baguette with a little Dijon and sliced cornichon (a tiny French pickle). So simple and yet so perfect!

They also have their own cured meats, duck confit, tasso ham and sausages, plus some prepared foods that are ready to take home and heat up. And you can get all the extras to go with them right there! These guys are well worth seeking out and you'll get addicted, I promise.

Details: Viande Meats and Sausage Co., 735 NW 21st Ave.; Phone 503-221-3012.

Wednesday, November 15, 2006

Half Century!

Holy crap! I just looked at my archive and this is the 53rd post for Good Stuff NW. Hard to believe that we're over our first half-century already, and only five months in. I've talked about everything from salami to corgis to shoes to restaurants, and have received wonderful praise and good suggestions as well as greatly appreciated comments from as far away as the Netherlands and Spain. You rock!

What started out as an experiment in form and a way of protesting the blatant (and I think unethical) practices of a certain very popular local e-mail list/website, has morphed into a really fun and creative outlet. I hope it works for you, too, and that you find this a helpful and entertaining (if not always riveting) part of your life. Thanks for reading, and keep me posted.

Speecey Spicey

One thing I promised myself when we remodeled our kitchen was a new set of spice containers to replace the marinated artichoke jars with their cruddy, unreadable (or missing) labels that I've been using for 20-plus years. I finally found the (almost) perfect thing in these great little tins from The Container Store that let me see at a glance how much of each spice I have, plus there's a clever shaker in the side of the lid that allows even bigger dried herbs to shake out. The almost perfect part? They have magnets on the bottom, which I don't need, and they didn't come with labels I could fill out and stick on (I just made my own). At a little over $1.50 each, they'll do the job, and I'm thrilled.

Wonderful Wellies by Amy

Our friend, the wonderful artist Amy Ruppel, is venturing into new territory with a line of Whimsical boots for designer Tamara Enriques. Her delicate chickadees and owls adorn these boots in green and pink, and look like the perfect thing to splash through some of these puddles we seem to find everywhere these days. They'll definitely brighten your day and bring some fun to your next dog walk. Check 'em out.

Winter Brews

Hate to say this, guys, but 'tis the season. The good news is that this means all our favorite winter brews are on tap in the pubs to take the edge off the holiday jitters (you know, like your mom nagging you about hosting Christmas dinner, or what to get your Uncle Joe). Our perennial favorite and the top winner thus far is Deschutes Brewing's Jubel Ale, a richly satisfying, deep brown holiday brew that has the spiciness you expect from a winter ale with enough hops to lift the malt and give it a bite. It's not bad in the bottle, but if you can find it on tap you've got it made. (Rumor has it that Higgins restaurant has it on cask, but both times we've been in to try it they'd just blown the keg.) Our second-runner-up is Laurelwood's Vinter Varmer, which is only available at their pubs, but is worth the trip. Another spicey-but-well-hopped beer, this goes perfectly with their fish and chips, which we think are some of the best in town. The classic Sierra Nevada Celebration Ale is also a good pick, though we've not had this on tap yet. The bottle shows a lighter body than the either the Jubel or the Varmer, but it still has some nice presence. Not so thrilling for me is Full Sail's Wassail, and I have to say that it's not been among my top picks for several years. These guys know how to make great beers, but Wassail is a bit watery and bland compared to the others. So if you're out there sweating over The List, stop into a pub and lift a pint or two. You'll feel so much better!

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.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006

Best in Show: Chow Hounds

Fuhgeddabout the Bite. Dump Taste of the Nation and definitely nix Oktoberfest. I have just experienced the ultimate Portland foodie event. It's Provvista Specialty Foods biyearly open house. They're a local food wholesaler and they throw open their doors to local food retailers and restaurants for an over-the-top all-you-can-eat extravaganza featuring many of the meats, cheeses, oils, vegetables and fruits they carry, handed out by their vendors from all over the country and, from the Italian, Spanish and French accents I heard, all around the world.

They also had a live band, the smoked pizza guy from the Portland Farmers' Market (with smoker!) and some very nice Spanish folks with giant pans of paella. The vendors are lined up and down the aisles of Provvista's new warehouse, with table after table of wonderful things to eat and drink. Oh, did I forget to mention the beer, wine, espresso, eau de vie and bottled waters?

There were also several opportunities for foodie celebrity-spotting. My personal high point was meeting (and photographing) the founder of Cypress Grove Chevre, Mary Keehn, talking cheese with Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery. I mean, their cheeses are fantastic, but getting to meet these two progenitors of the artisanal cheese movement in this country was a true moment of grace. Together they moved small-production owner-operated dairy products to the forefront of Americans' consciousness, not to mention to the front of our dairy cases.

And that was only slightly cooler than meeting Paul Bertolli of Fra'Mani Handcrafted Salumi and having him personally slice me some of his amazing Salame Gentile because "it's so much more moist when it's freshly sliced." It was all I could do not to bite it right out of his hand! While we loved Armandino Batali's Salumi in Seattle, with his unusual spicing of traditional meats, Fra'Mani has perfected the art of bringing out the richness and full flavor of the meat itself. When it's sliced so thinly that it's translucent, it practically melts on your tongue and fills your mouth with it's salty, meaty flavor.

OK, enough with the food porn...we came away with great ideas and new products to try. You can get many of the cheeses and Fra'Mani meats at our neighborhood patisserie, Foster & Dobbs, and many of the packaged products at New Seasons and Pastaworks. And you have two whole years to figure out how to get into the food business so you can go. It's like I imagine heaven might be, only there you'll never get full or gain weight. And, even on this earth, that's an experience not to be missed!