Monday, December 31, 2007

A Gift to Savor

I've come to adore hostess gifts, those tokens of appreciation that you take when someone has kindly invited you into their home. A beautiful bottle of balsamic vinegar, a pair of handmade candles, a jar of jam from Ayers Creek; simple and inexpensive but something the hosts may not always buy for themselves.

Something of the sort came our way the other evening when the Famous Publisher arrived for dinner, bearing a gift of coffee grown and roasted by a friend of his. And not just an ordinary bag of beans, but one with a back story that sounds like something out of a Gabriel Garcia Marquez novel.

It seems that at the end of the 19th century, Jaime Oliver Mayol, as part of the settlement of a debt, came to own a coffee plantation in the high country around Ponce, Puerto Rico's second-largest city. The U.S. government, in control of the island as a result of the Spanish-American War, had forbade Puerto Rican coffee growers from trading with Spain, up to that time the island's premier market. So Jaime got the crazy idea to take his coffee to the St. Louis World's Fair in 1904, where it won the grand prize.

Despite this personal coup, his career as a coffee baron was sadly hampered by the aftermath of the war and a devastating hurricane that hit the island, and it wasn't until his grandson, Miguel Angel Sastre, took the reins of the plantation that the business started to turn around. Miguel formed a coffee cooperative in 1938 that eventually claimed 17,000 members, requiring a baseball stadium to hold its meetings. Though decades later the family had sold off all but the highest mountain property, the original name of the plantation, Gripiñas, was given to the town that grew up around it.

Jaime's great grandson, Luis Valldejuly Sastre, now minds the property and has opened his own cafe and roastery in Ponce called Café Mayor, reputed by FP to have "the best coffee on the island, por mucho." A replication of the original design of the coffee sacks from the Gripiñas plantation graces the bags. We can only hope that someday his product will reach our shores, its rich and unsweetened-chocolate notes a nice departure from the heavy Italian brews we've become so used to.

Details: Read more about Luis and his café on the Rotund World website, with articles here, here and here. Browse a short and fascinating island history on the Wiki.

Sunday, December 30, 2007

Beans, Beans...

I have such a great life. My husband has not only become a fabulous bartender, but he also loves to bake bread. And lately he's become enamored of the various no-knead and 24-hour recipes that are making the rounds. A couple of days ago he started some dough, then yesterday he popped it into the oven.

Since I'm a great believer that a good homemade loaf goes best with a big pot of homemade soup, I took the opportunity to use some of the Borlotto Lamon beans I'd bought from my friends Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm. The history of the Barlotto Lamon bean begins on the Lamon and Sovramonte plains of the Veneto region of Italy where they are planted on the third of May, Santa Cruz day, which is dedicated to masons and builders.

These brown-spotted pink legumes have been grown on the Lamon plain for about 500 years and, according to Practically Edible, "a man named Pietro Valeriano (aka Giovan Pietro Dalle Fosse) was an official for Pope Clemente VII. Reputedly, the Pope gave him a bag of beans from Spain and he brought the beans to the area in 1532. The beans were popular, and replaced the growing of peas and broad beans."

It goes on to say that "the production of Lamon Beans has been controlled by the 'Consorzio per la tutela del fagiolo di Lamon della Vallata Bellunese' since 1993. In 1996, they obtained European PGI protection" and that "when sold fresh, Lamon Beans are called 'badana' in the local dialect."

All I can say is that when combined with chicken stock, kale and a little salt and pepper, these babies make a satisfying soup to sop up with some of Dave's bread.

Borlotto Bean Soup*

4 slices thick-sliced bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, chopped
2-3 lg. cloves garlic, chopped
8 c. chicken stock
2 c. borlotto beans
3-4 c. kale, roughly chopped
Salt and pepper, to taste

In large soup pot, sauté bacon till fat is rendered but not crisp. Add olive oil, onions and garlic and sauté till onion becomes transparent. Add stock and beans, bring to a boil, then simmer for 1 1/2 hrs. or until beans are tender. Add chopped kale and bring to boil, simmering another 20 min. Add salt and pepper to taste.

* This recipe will work with any number of dried beans such as cannelini, flageolet, navy, etc.

Famous Publisher Has His Cake

The household was abuzz with the news. A Famous Publisher, in town for the holidays from his home in tropical San Juan, Puerto Rico, was going to come by the house for dinner. Delicacies were laid in, food was bubbling away on the stove and...gasp...even the rug got a good vacuuming. (That's when you know a guest is important around here.)

The FP arrived exactly on time in a well-burnished leather coat and woolly cap, since his blood has thinned out in the tropics. He regaled us with the gossip about the art world in sunny PR and we gabbed about the amazing transformation of Portland from little Puddletown to a burgeoning food capital.

The meal was preceded by cheeses and Viande's incredible venison pate with dried cherries and hazelnuts. The main course was a paella and a salad of wild greens, with dessert an incredibly dense and delicious chocolate carrot cake I'd read about and had been wanting to try.

FP was kind enough to ask for seconds on the paella and raved about the cake, and we were thrilled he'd taken time from his busy hobbing and nobbing to visit our humble abode. Perhaps we'll make it down to his part of the world sometime. Till then, at least we have cake!

Chocolate-Orange Carrot Cake
From Bon Appetit, 1998

For cake:
Nonstick vegetable oil spray
1 1/2 c. vegetable oil
4 lg. eggs
2 1/2 c. all purpose flour
2 1/4 c. sugar
2/3 c. unsweetened cocoa powder
2 tsp. baking soda
1 tsp. salt
2 c. finely shredded peeled carrots (about 10 oz.)
1 c. (packed) sweetened flaked coconut
1 1/2 tsp. grated orange peel
1 11-oz. can mandarin oranges, drained, cut into 1/2" pieces

For frosting:
2 1/2 c. semisweet chocolate chips (about 15 oz.)
1 c. (2 sticks) unsalted margarine, room temperature
1/3 c. powdered sugar
1/4 c. frozen orange juice concentrate

Additional canned mandarin orange segments, drained, patted very dry

Make cake:
Preheat oven to 350°F. Spray two 9-inch-diameter cake pans with 2-inch-high sides with nonstick spray. [I used a bundt pan and dusted it with cocoa powder. - KAB] Using electric mixer, beat 1 1/2 c. oil and eggs in large bowl until well blended and thick, about 2 minutes. Add flour, sugar, cocoa powder, baking soda and salt; beat at low speed to blend. Increase speed; beat 1 minute longer (batter will be very thick). Stir in carrots, coconut and orange peel, then orange pieces. Divide batter between prepared pans. Bake cakes until tester inserted into center comes out clean, about 40 minutes. [Bundt cake will take 90 minutes or more. Test with skewer till it comes out clean. - KAB] Cool cakes in pans 10 minutes. Turn out onto racks; cool completely.

Make frosting:
Stir chocolate chips in heavy medium saucepan over very low heat until melted and smooth. Remove from heat and cool to lukewarm. Spoon 1/3 c. chocolate into small bowl and reserve for decoration. Beat margarine and sugar in medium bowl until fluffy. Beat in remaining melted chocolate and orange juice concentrate. Place 1 cake layer on platter. Spread with 2/3 cup frosting. Top with second cake layer. Spread remaining frosting over top and sides of cake. Arrange additional orange segments around top edge of cake. Rewarm 1/3 cup reserved chocolate to pourable consistency if necessary. Drizzle orange segments with chocolate. (Can be prepared 1 day ahead. Cover and refrigerate.)

Keeping Portland Weird

Where else but Portland would a chocolate shop hold an evening event called "Dim Sum...Yum! Yum!" where bite-sized desserts are served from a rolling cart while patrons enjoy Belgian beers and dessert wines? Or host a Tag Team Foghorn Eating Contest in which four teams of two people each eat 22 scoops of ice cream (with all the bells and whistles) out of half a watermelon, the first team to finish winning a "fabulous prize"?

All this and more happens with astonishing regularity at any of Pix Patisserie's three locations. Founded by fabulously talented patissier Cheryl Wakerhauser, these little shops feature ornately designed desserts that also taste great, as well as some of the best handmade chocolates in town. And now they've come out with a calendar you can enjoy all year long, each month showcasing a dessert and a Pix employee. Tasty!

Details: Pix Patisserie 2008 Employee Calendar, $10. Available online or from the N Williams Ave. store at 503-282-6539.

Saturday, December 29, 2007

Getting Under the Skin

What is it about portrait photography that is so compelling? Is it the vicarious voyeurism, the way you can stare at someone as long as you like, letting your imagination fill in the details about who they are? Or the exposure of the intimacies of lives that you never get a chance to see in everyday life?

Whether it's the incredible documentary work of Mary Ellen Mark, the humor of Elliot Erwitt or the storytelling of Duane Michals, these photographs always draw me in. I remember looking at Mark's book on the prostitutes of Bombay, the richness and color so stunning yet the squalor and pain so evident. About halfway through the book my head began to swim and I had to close the book before I fainted, a visceral reminder about the power of images.

Local photographer Ann Ploeger's images are more whimsical and contrived, yet also have the power to engage and reveal. Her new book, Portraits, is just out and getting great reviews, and the teasingly revealing photos with their splashy colors are fun to look at. She's also going to be teaching a class in January at the Newspace Center for Photography titled "From the Ground Up!" that will take students through the process of how to plan and stage their own visions.

Details: Portraits by Ann Ploeger. 96 pages; published by William, James & Company, Wilsonville, OR. ISBN 978-1-59028-194-9. $25.00.

Friday, December 28, 2007

The Last Meal

The last meal of 2007, that is.

This past year there have been some great ones, like February's trek to Masu, and a visit to perennial fave 3 Doors Down in June to benefit Basic Rights Oregon. Then there was the opening of media darling (and darn good spot) Cava in October.

But to finish off the year in appropriate style, it looks like there are several choices available. Castagna is featuring a five-course blowout dinner that's sure to be a highlight of the year with a choice of three entrees and three desserts for $80, $125 with wine pairings.

Then David Machado is doing the do at both Vindalho and Lauro with special menus for your NYE celebration. At Vindalho, chef David Anderson has variations on crab, venison and sablefish with mussels on his mind, and Lauro will have oysters, crab risotto, strip steak and ahi to take you into '08 with a very happy tummy.

What better way to top off the year than with a great meal and, of course, great friends?

Details: Castagna, 1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Reservations only for New Year's dinner. Phone 503-231-7373.

Vindalho, 2038 SE Clinton St. Call for reservations. Phone 503-467-4550.

Lauro Mediterranean Kitchen, 3377 SE Division #103. No reservations. Phone 503-239-7000.

Wednesday, December 26, 2007

Getting the Gist of Oregon Gris

Yet again the Western world's cognoscenti are finding out that there's a lot to like about the NW when it comes to the finer things in life. It's not only Portland cutting-edge chefs getting featured in the NYT, followed quickly by the Guardian of London touting the groovy shopping to be done here, but now the Gray Lady's wine steward, Mr. Eric Asimov, is getting on board.

Most East Coasters, when they think of Oregon wine, only conjure tired clichés about our pinot noir by old-line producers like Eyrie and Ponzi (not that there's anything wrong with their wine), completely missing excellent winemakers like John Paul at Cameron, rock superstar Jay Somers at J. Christopher, Peter Rosback at Sineann and David O'Reilly, the genius behind O'Reilly's and Owen Roe.

Asimov's Wines of the Times in today's Dining Out section devotes significant column inches to a taste-off of a classic of Oregon's wine scene, our pinot gris. He covers gris made by bigger producers like Adelsheim, Willamette Valley, Yamhill Valley, King Estate and Erath, and includes a few lesser-known wines by the likes of Montinore, Capitello, Stringtown, Lemelson and A to Z. Adelsheim's 2006 Willamette Valley pinot gris was chosen as best value, though it was priced at $18, pretty much the high end of their top 10 picks.

The description calls it "rich and almost oily in texture, with balanced, complex aromas and flavors of lemon, flowers, minerals and almonds." And, while it's no doubt a fine wine and was fairly judged against it's competitors, I would have included the lovely versions made by Evesham Wood, Westry and Chehalem. Then what about those from Sineann and St. Innocent?

Maybe they can't get these other outstanding examples in far-off New York, but I'd say we have an embarrassment of riches here. Or, as Tony Shalhoub's engineer says in Galaxy Quest, "Just FYI..."

Ducky Turducken

For those of you holding your collective breath over the results of the previously-blogged turducken adventure, or those simply curious about how this Franken-poultry thing turned out, the post-mortem is all good. It was the hit of the Christmas dinner and was a fantastically creative twist on your run-of-the-mill holiday bird.

It arrived frozen, all 15 lbs. or so, and early Sunday it was popped into the fridge to thaw, coming out on Christmas day looking like a somewhat flat, rounded version of its usual birdy self. My brother, who was in charge of cooking it for dinner, popped it into a 325 degree oven figuring it would take about 2 1/2 hours to reach an internal temp of 155 to 160 degrees.

What we didn't count on was that it hadn't quite thawed out completely in the center, and since it was all meat, it took a bit longer than anticipated. But with good company, good appies and (plenty of) good wine, we hardly noticed. The fun part was watching him slice the finished bird stem to stern, then removing the wings and legs and turning it cut-side down onto the board to be sliced.

Each slice contained a bit of each of the game hen, duck and turkey, not to mention some of the andouille sausage that had infused it all with its lovely fatty flavor. The pork also kept it from drying out, and it was a moist, delightful platter full of meat that was brought to the table. With sides of scalloped potatoes (both regular and Dave-safe) and w's braised carrots, not to mention a wickedly good bottle of 2000 Grgich Hills Cabernet Sauvignon from the brother's cellar, we felt fortunate to be part of a family that knows how to eat hearty and well.

Needless to say, by the time we'd polished all that off, not to mention the outstanding pear-ginger crisp with ice cream for dessert, we were wishing for someone to trundle us out to a waiting bus stocked with comforters for the ride home. Hope your Christmas was as merry!

Thursday, December 20, 2007

Extremely Good Taste

There are Chinatowns and then there are Chinatowns. My favorite in this country is San Francisco's, with its narrow streets teeming with people and smells, the shops jammed to the rafters with kitchenware, plastic shoes, brush paintings, anything you could imagine. And unmarked doorways leading up dark stairways to restaurants that only locals know about.

And then there's Portland's miniature version, tucked into a few blocks of Old Town. We even have our own hangout for the locals. Called Good Taste, it's squeezed into a tiny storefront behind a bright pink facade. People in the know have said it makes some of the best Chinese food in town, and judging by the wonton noodle soup I had for lunch the other day, I'd say they're right.

Distinctly different from pho, the broth is much more pungent but still has the soul-warming richness of the Vietnamese-style soup. It comes with a choice of wontons, noodles, duck or pork, or you can choose to have both noodles and wontons with your protein. Wonderfully moist and tender, the wontons are little packets of delight, and with a few drops of chili oil and some of the broth you'll swoon. I can't wait to go back and try more!

Details: Good Taste Restaurant, 18 NW 4th Ave. Phone 503-223-3838.

A Diva Comes to Portland

I love classic jazz and blues from the 40s and 50s. My parents had a subscription to the Columbia Record Club and I remember stacking up the records on the turntable of our stereo (not mono!) phonograph and listening to them for hours. Which accounts for the way that tunes from "Oklahoma" ("O-K-L-A-H-O-M-A!") still pop into my head on occasion. Or that I got interested in taking French from memorizing the lyrics to "The Singing Nun" as a kid.

And now there's a local show on the radio called Divaville on KMHD on Wednesday nights that plays Bing, Betty, Bobby, Frank, Cab, Louis, Ella, Sammy, Nat, Judy, Billie and so many more. It's hosted by Christa, a new transplant from North Carolina, and is a labor of love that she brought with her when she moved out here to work as a public radio host on KBPS, Portland's all-classical station.

You'll find yourself listening to the show and then hitting iTunes hard looking for the songs you've heard, so check it out!

Details: Divaville on KMHD, 89.1 FM. 6-8 pm every Wednesday.

Tuesday, December 18, 2007

Salaam Bombay!

You can drive to the city now called Mumbai for the price of the gas to get over to SE Hawthorne and the Bombay Cricket Club. Though I'm not sure that you would find a mango-rita on a menu in the real Mumbai. But you must order one anyway, because it's their house special and gets any evening off to a rousing start with a pint glass filled about half-and-half with mango puree and tequila on ice.
They also have a way with naan, the Indian flatbread that is traditionally served smeared with ghee or clarified butter. They're about the size of a flat Corgi and come seasoned with garlic or onion, or stuffed with potato or cheese (the bread, not the Corgis). Then there's the zathar naan, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds, roasted oregano, basil, thyme and olive oil and my favorite by far. It's perfect to tear apart while you wait for your entrées to arrive, using those pieces to dip into the restaurant's homemade hummus or baba ganoush.

The menu has a plethora of curries, from vegetable to chicken to seafood and lamb, as well as biryanis, salads and samosas. I opted for lamb shahi, lamb shank braised in tomatoes, saffron, ginger and garlic, then sprinkled with almonds, raisin and cilantro. It's enough for two to share or for a table of four to have a good taste, assuming you're not one of those people who barricade your plate from the forks of your fellow diners. My lovely dining companion, a new-to-Portland public radio host and velvet-voiced originator of Divaville on KMHD (see accompanying post), is not one of those, and opted for her favorite, chicken tikka masala, declaring it quite good.

While not on a par with, say, Vindalho just a few blocks south, it's a fun place and the naan is outstanding. It would be a good spot to go with four to six people and really give their menu a thorough going-over, especially if you each have a mango-rita.

Details: Bombay Cricket Club, 1925 SE Hawthorne. Phone 503-231-0740.

Monday, December 17, 2007

Still Naming Names

There I was, driving through the neighborhood on one errand or another, preoccupied with the minutae of daily life. "What are we going to have for dinner? Should I stop and pick up that thing for my mom? Can I get home before the puppy needs to go out?" Very important stuff.

Then I drove by a colorful string of names chalked on the sidewalk and remembered. It was the Iraq Names Project begun by Nancy Hiss, who last Memorial Day decided to honor the American soldiers killed in Iraq by writing their names in sidewalk chalk. She's made her way from the Federal Building downtown, across the river and all the way out to 33rd and Knott, name by name, day by day and still hasn't come to the end.

Though the rains have washed away much of her earlier work, she keeps at it as the weather permits, helped by people who are drawn in by the power of the project. From a recent blog entry:

"Nancy was drawing early one morning this week when the trash recycler stopped and asked her what she was doing. Nancy explained the project and gave him a handout. 'You just wrote my name,' he said. He told Nancy he had never met anyone with his name. Ross Clevenger was 21 years old when he died February 8, 2007. Rocco, as he was called, believed in the unbelievable. From Givens Hot Springs, Idaho, he was a fan of Big Foot and knew all about dinosaurs."

Details: The Iraq Names Project. Check the blog to keep up with Nancy's progress and get an update on her schedule.

Saturday, December 15, 2007

The Best Cocktail in the World

I know, I know, calling a particular drink "the best cocktail" is hyperbole on the scale of saying one religion is the true path and everyone else is going to H-E-double toothpicks. And there are going to be comments like, "Whaddaya mean..." and "You're fulla..." But, doggone it, it's my favorite and I'm not afraid to say it.

Now, I've had lots of other great cocktails. After all, there is such a thing as due diligence in these matters and I'm all about fair play. Martinis, mojitos, lemon drops, G&Ts, sidecars, toddies...I could go on. But the Negroni is the one I always come back to as my touchstone, especially as made by my favorite bartender.

And it's not for everyone. You have to have a taste for the bitter (Campari) along with the sweet (vermouth). And the perfect accompaniment is a twist of lemon, though many practitioners are trying to substitute orange peel, giving the drink a cloying oiliness rather than the zing that lemon rind contributes.

So if you're ready to try one, here's the recipe from my brother that we've adopted as our own:

Vino's House Negroni

A good friend of mine described the Negroni as "the perfectly balanced cocktail when made correctly." I've got to agree. The richness of the gin, the bitter-sweetness of the Campari, the balancing acidity of the vermouth. Measure it out if you have to, free pour if you're confident enough, just make it. This is a great old-school drink that originated in the 1930's, and is making a comeback today. Big ups for this very refreshing adult beverage.

1 part Gin
1 part Campari
1/2 part Sweet Vermouth
1/2 part Dry Vermouth

Fill your cocktail shaker halfway with ice, dump in the booze, shake then strain into a chilled martini glass and garnish with a twist of lemon.

A note on the gin: I love Tanqueray, but with this drink I actually prefer the less assertive flavor of a Gordon's Dry Gin or a similar mid-range gin. And also if you look in a vintage bar guide, it will invariably say one part sweet vermouth with no dry vermouth. But I was shown this half-and-half method by the bartender at Bix in San Francisco (a great "must stop" bar for you martini fans!) and this rounds out the flavors perfectly. Cheers!

First New York, Now London?

A couple of months ago it seemed like the New York Times couldn't get enough of Portland. For awhile you couldn't open the paper without seeing an article on our food, our wine or the local sights. It was like they'd sent their feature folks out here on a staff retreat and they all caught the same virus.

Well, now the Guardian of London seems to have picked up the same bug that infected the NYT folk. In a piece in yesterday's issue, Guardian writer Laura Barton lists her ten favorite spots to nosh. What's interesting is that she eschews the usual hot spots for the more approachable fare of close-in eastside haunts like Navarre, The Farm and Montage, and even made it out to FoPo's Cava, about which she writes:

"A relatively new addition to the Portland scene, Cava sits in the rapidly-evolving south east of the city, and its a smallish, simple-ish menu concentrates on perfectly-prepared dishes made with the best local ingredients — consider butternut squash soup with brown butter and fried sage or Moroccan spiced roast chicken with stewed onions, saffron and olives on cous cous, for example. The staff are super-friendly, and the desserts — classic pecan pie with chantilly cream, espresso brûlée with cocoa nib shortbread — are magnificent."

I mean, that's really swell, but then in today's issue there's more. An essay by writer Beth Ditto (right) referring to our fair city as "the US's coolest city." She lists her top spots for finding vintage duds (Red Light), lunch under ten bucks (Thai Noon), best place for live music (Wonder Ballroom) and more.

So what's next? Paris Match dumping New York and declaring PDX the country's new fashion HQ? Pravda touting our distiller's spirits as non pareil? I can't wait to hear!

Friday, December 14, 2007

Veganism in a Nutshell

When it comes to food, I'm pretty much an omnivore and, while I tried to do the vegetarian thing a time or two in the distant past, I found it impossible to turn down a nicely prepared hunk of flesh when it was placed in front of me. But when I heard that there was some buzz around a vegan restaurant that had opened in the 'hood, I thought, "Hey, why not?"

So when a flexitarian friend called and wanted to go out for lunch, it seemed the perfect opportunity to satisfy my curiousity. Since she was game, we headed down to the emerging retail hub that is North Williams Avenue (who would have thought?) to check out Nutshell.

It's a loft-like space with wood, concrete and brushed aluminum as the major design elements, simple and spare, with a row of tables lined up against a wall opposite the very long bar that separates the diners from the open kitchen. The menu, created by chef Sean Coryell, consists of creative combinations of fruits, vegetables and breads that takes the brown rice-and-tofu reputation of most vegetarian restaurants and turns it on its head.

We started with a salad of microgreens from Mizuna Farms dressed with a citrus vinaigrette and topped with a nut butter crostini. Alongside we had a bowl of vichyssoise made from root vegetables and drizzled with olive oil. Though the vinaigrette was somewhat overly tart, it did complement the smooth richness of the soup, which had an earthy quality that was a nice twist on the classic version.

We also decided to share one of their lunch pizzas, which consists of a flatbread-type crust with toppings. Ours came with sage pesto topped with slices of red pear and walnut halves, then drizzled with a reduced balsamic vinegar. Again, it was a combination of flavors I'd never had before, and a nice one at that, the herby richness of the pesto offset by the sweet pear and balsamic and the crunchy nuts.

An odd item on the menu, at least in my limited experience, was the option of an order of bread with a choice of several extra virgin olive oils (all priced separately) and a selection of various salts (also individually priced). Go figure. They also have a nice selection of wines and beer by the glass, as well as the expected coffees, teas and smoothies.

It's well worth checking out, especially for those with vegan or vegetarian friends and family members, and it's a great opportunity to try something you may not run into anywhere else in Portland.

Details: Nutshell, 3808 N Williams Ave. Phone 503-292-2627.

Thursday, December 13, 2007

Flood Level

A couple of weeks ago I was pooh-poohing the dire predictions of the weather-folk that we were due to have hurricane-force winds at the coast and potentially record-setting winds inland, with drenching downpours and possible flooding. Most of the time these predictions seem to overplay what actually happens, but we battened down the hatches just in case this time they were right.

And after the couple of stormy days passed, I did see a fair number of smaller branches down in the neighborhood and heard that, incredibly, the freeway had been shut down between Portland and Seattle due to flooding around Chehalis. But I looked around here and things were fairly dry and none-the-worse for the weather, so I thought, "Well, they got everyone all excited for nothing."

Then I read on the Pacific NW Cheese blog that several creameries in Oregon and Washington had been hit pretty hard by the storms, and that one in particular, the Black Sheep Creamery in Adna, Washington, just east of Chehalis, had lost all but 23 of their sheep and their home and barn had been inundated with several feet of water. Going to the Black Sheep blog, I read their very moving first-hand account of the flooding and the devastation it brought, as well as the efforts of friends and neighbors to help them clean up.

Feeling like maybe I'd been just a little bit smug in my assumptions, sitting here in my snug corner of Portland, I thought I'd pass on their story and keep you updated on fundraising efforts being initiated to help Northwest cheesemakers and dairy farmers impacted by the recent storms.

Tami at the Pacific NW Cheese blog has just posted a list of organizations taking contributions to help those affected by the floods. Most funds are designated for farms generally and would include cheesemakers under that umbrella. Plans for a cheesemaker-specific benefit bank account are in the works, and Tami is helping to organize a fundraising event to benefit affected cheesemakers. The event, "Cheese for a Good Cause," will be held on Friday, Feb. 1, 2008. Details to come!

From the Pacific NW Cheese blog:

Beecher's Handmade Cheese in Seattle has set up a bank account to benefit Brad and Meg Gregory of Black Sheep Creamery, who were hard hit by flooding earlier this month. Details are as follows:

Bank of America Account #11164308 - Gregory Family Assistance Fund
Donations can be made at any Bank of America branch nationwide. Be sure to provide the account number, as not all branches across the country may be able to access the account by name.

You can also mail checks made out to "Gregory Family Assistance Fund" directly to Beecher's at the following address:

Beecher's Handmade Cheese
104 Pike St.
Suite 200
Seattle, WA 98101
attn: Ellen Gerber

Beecher's will also be accepting donations at its retail location in Seattle.

For information and photos of the flooding and recovery efforts at Black Sheep Creamery, see their website. For additional information about other relief efforts and volunteer opportunities in the state of Washington, see the Tilth Producers of Washington website.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Local Motion

House concerts, informal music events that are held in private homes, are all the rage among music cognoscenti these days. One venue called Hollywood House Concerts is featuring Portland's Tim Ellis on Mar. 2, singer-songwriter and NYC transplant Michael Sheridan joined by Dirty Martini guitarist and vocalist Lara Michell on Apr. 6, and the piano-vocal duo of Benny Green and Belinda Underwood on May 25. For reservations or to get on the e-mail list, contact Matt Miner. If you'd like to find out how to put on a house concert of your own, check out

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It's time for holiday dinner events at GoodStuffNW's favorite restaurant, Castagna. On Dec. 23 is the Réveillon de Noel, a French-inspired three-course meal featuring gougeres, a Dungeness crab and mache salad and Christmas goose prepared two ways, as well as Buche de Noel and two glasses of wine, for only $55 per person. Then on New Year's Eve will be a five-course meal that sounds out of this world with a choice of three entrees and three desserts for $80 per person or $125 with wine pairings. For information and reservations, call 503-231-7373.

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In a previous post about storing your cheese to keep it at its peak, I mentioned local cheese guy Mark Goldman's packet of cheese papers. At that point it was only available from limited retailers, but now Formaticum has its new website up and running so you can order it anywhere from Poughkeepsie to Death Valley (and beyond).

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The restaurant space on NE 24th and Fremont that's been a revolving door for the past several years is now slated to be the new home of Lucca, "a neighborhood-friendly, Italian-influenced restaurant and bar. Lucca will have a wood-fired pizza bar and rotisserie-cooked items highlighting the rustic trattortia menu," according to a post on It "will focus on a value-driven wine list as well as a retro-cocktail menu. The owners, Nancy Salta and Sue Davidson, are passionate about quality food and wine, and desire to recreate the sense of community they experienced while visiting the city of Lucca." We wish them good luck!

Tuesday, December 11, 2007

Gobble Quack Cluck

You gotta love the Wiki when a definition has the word "portmanteau" in it, as in:

"A Turducken is a partially de-boned turkey stuffed with a de-boned duck, which itself is stuffed with a small de-boned chicken. The name is a portmanteau of those ingredients: turkey, duck and chicken."

Turkeys, bones still in (left).

Turkey, partially deboned (right).

And why am I telling you this? Well, neighbor SEH is an instructor at the Western Culinary Institute, and her colleague is the advisor to the school's Charcuterie Club. Every year the club makes turduckens and smoked, cured hams during the holidays to raise money for club projects. Of course, as soon as I heard about this I was immediately on board and, having heard about turduckens but never having seen one made, I asked if I could watch as long as I promised to stay away from sharp implements.

Duck carcass. Good job!

The deboning process is fascinating and looks pretty easy, especially at the start. It's not unlike carving a roasted bird, only you start with the back instead of the breast, then follow the curve of the rib cage to remove the main skeleton.

Turkey, duck and chicken, deboned.

The drumstick bone of the turkey is left intact, but the duck and chicken leg bones are removed completely so the roasted turducken can be sliced easily. The tricky part seems to be in removing the leg bones cleanly without tearing the skin, and it takes practice to do this well.

Chicken stuffed with sausage is placed inside the duck, which will be stuffed into the turkey.

Each bird is then stuffed with sausage (in this case they used andouille sausage made by the students) and the chicken is placed inside the duck, which is then placed inside the turkey. It takes about 5 lbs. of sausage to do this, and will add moisture and fat to make the final product moist and tender.

Sewing up the stuffed turducken.

The last step is to sew the whole thing up, then the bird is flipped over and frozen until it's time to pick it up just before Christmas. And apparently after it's roasted, a tug will remove the string so the meat can be sliced and served. Stay tuned for the report on the results, post-Christmas dinner!

Monday, December 10, 2007

Corgi Death Match

I have to apologize for the lack of posts in the last few days. No, I haven't been standing in line to get a (non-existant) Wii for the big guy for Christmas, nor have I been indulging in too much pre-Christmas cheer of the liquid variety. Suffice it to say that between having a puppy trying out to be a new member of the family and moving my mother into her new garden apartment, it's been just a little wacky around here.

For those of you who have yet to venture into the land of double-dog-dom, be aware that it's not just twice the work, especially if one of them is a puppy. Albeit a very sweet and happy one who's (almost) house-trained (and no, you're not going to get the blow-by-blow on that one). It just means that you can't leave the house for more than three hours at a time and you've got to know where the little guy is at all times unless you feel like risking the aforementioned house-training incident, or a shoe-disembowelment, mentioned below.

The good parts, though, are so far outweighing the frustrating ones, though Dave's lawn-mowing shoes are looking a little the worse for gumming. Any others have been moved up out of prowling range. And Chester still rules the roost, having done a little intimidation of the glare-and-cuff variety.

So, how are they two canines getting along? Judge for yourself:

Friday, December 07, 2007

The Latest from Hopworks Urban Brewery (HUB)

Dave and the neighbor have been driving all over Portland looking for some of the new brews from Hopworks Urban Brewery that have been popping up on taps all over town. But upon hearing that all he had to do was take his keg over to the brewery to get some of his very own, we were in the car with an empty corny heading over to SE Powell.

And who should meet us at the brewery door but Mr. Christian Ettinger himself, offering to take us on a tour of the vast new pub and brewery in the former Sunset Fuel building. This vast space, with its curving dome of a ceiling using recycled wood for the bar, copper-topped tables from a former Stanford's restaurant and even the old vault transformed into a private dining space, is the culmination of Christian's dream of a green, neighborhood and family-friendly place to quaff his amazing brews.

He's even taking old bike frames and fashioning them into some wacky sculpture that'll be installed over the bar, and they're just getting ready to pour the concrete for the large cantilevered deck on the south side of the building, with a killer view of the west hills. Count on this spot to be the premier place to hang this summer at sunset. He's targeted January 15 for opening day, and you can sign up on the website to be notified about breaking news and special offers.

And the beer? After picking up the keg we headed over to the Muddy Rudder for a bite and a beer, and coincidentally found Christian's HUB IPA on tap. Even better than the ground-breaking Boss IPA he created when he was at Laurelwood, this has that same hyper-hoppy bite but with a fuller, more well-rounded flavor and the luscious full body that his beers are known for. As far as IPAs, this has hit the top of our charts.

The keg is now full of his Abominable Winter Ale, and while we've been loving this year's Deschutes Jubel Ale on tap at various pubs, HUB's winter brew doesn't have the same spiciness that you'd find in the Bend product or in Wassail from Full Sail. Instead it has a clear, amber color, nutty flavor and a balanced bitterness in the hops, with that same full body mentioned above. So call us zombie slaves, but this guy has yet to go wrong in our book. And we can't wait for the HUB to open!

Wednesday, December 05, 2007

Hitting the Right Notes

A while ago I wrote that there must be some karmic shoe that was going to drop at any moment because things were going just a little too well with this writing thing and how could I possibly be allowed to do something so fun and get paid for it. But so far, at least, the footwear seems to be staying in the closet.

What brought this to mind is the new issue of Edible Portland that hit newsstands yesterday, and I'm happy to say that my first Edible Notes column is in there and looking mighty fine. It's a short collection of interesting food notes from around the area, not unlike what you find here at GoodStuffNW, and it'll be featured in every issue.

Which is where you come in. If you have a tidbit you've run across that seems intriguing, whether it's about an upcoming event (think seasonally...the next issue is for spring '08), a place or a product that has a sustainable, seasonal focus, let me know. It might just end up as a Note!

As a bonus, here's a short video about this month's cover couple, Michael and Jill Paine of Gaining Ground Farm in Yamhill:

Friday, November 30, 2007

Persimmon Diaries

Sometimes a friend will point out something they think is obvious and it comes as a complete revelation, bordering on an epiphany, to me. I was over at my friend Kim's the other day, sitting on the floor playing with her puppies and she said, "Want some persimmon?"

Now, I really love the way persimmons look. That bright orange globular body with the cool-looking leaves curling out the top are an art director's dream. But try as I might, I hadn't really found a recipe that made me sit up and say, "Wow, this is an amazing fruit!" And I'd tried a few, including a persimmon bread, persimmon chutney, persimmon sauce. It all lacked a certain oomph that I look for.

So when Kim handed me a slice of a Fuyu persimmon she'd bought at Trader Joe's, I wasn't sure what to expect. I bit into it, and it had a softly sweet taste and firm, smooth texture. I had another one, skin and all, and it was a delight. "So this is what persimmons are all about," I thought.

I was still pondering that when I got home and found that had called, wanting me to write a quick column about, you guessed it, persimmons! You can read it here, and get Luan Schooler's terrific recipe for Bresaola with Persimmons.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pholia Farm Open House

Sometimes at this time of year I start feeling so cooped up that all it takes is an excuse, and we'll pile in the car and head out. So if you're susceptible to suggestion, the folks at Pholia Farm, artisan goat cheesemakers extraordinaire, are having a Holiday Open House the weekend of December 15 and 16.

They'll be featuring their goat cheeses paired with local wines, along with hay rides, the cutest baby goats you've ever seen, a tour of their solar and micro-hydro power plant and, of course, cheeses to bring home for your holiday entertaining. It's an opportunity to try cheeses that aren't readily available in most stores, and the town of Rogue River is just off I-5 between Grants Pass and Medford, close to Ashland and Jacksonville, both worth visiting.

Details: Pholia Farm Holiday Open House. Dec. 15-16, 11 am-3 pm; free. Pholia Farm, 9115 W. Evan Creek Rd., Rogue River. Phone 541-324-8993.

Photos courtesy Pholia Farm and Pacific NW Cheese Project.


It started when I flushed my contact lenses down the sink, but didn't realize it till the next morning when I went to put them in. Call it a brain fart, hormones or whatever, but this was a major problem. Not only was it going to be a couple of hundred bucks to replace them, but I didn't have a backup pair of glasses that would enable me to see until the new pair came in.

So I dug around in the bathroom drawer and found an old pair of contacts and popped them in so I could drive to the doctor. By the next day I got replacement lenses and had my eyes rechecked so I could get (duh!) backup glasses. But in doing so, the doctor discovered that my eye pressure had jumped up into the zone where glaucoma could be a concern.

Now, Dave has had glaucoma for some time and it's been kept under control with a simple regimen of eye drops, so I didn't immediately go to my worst-case-scenario default and sign up for a Braille class and buy a cane in order to prepare for the inevitable. But because my dad also had it in his later years, it was a concern that needed to be checked out.

Dave's doctor, one of the top glaucoma specialists in the state, tested me said there was nothing to worry about for the time being, but that he's putting me on his "watch list" and I'd need to be checked every year. This is all to say that if you haven't had your eye pressure checked for awhile, please do so, especially if there's any history of the disease in your family. Your optometrist or opthamologist can check your pressure pretty accurately, but if you have a concern, you should call a specialist. Selfishly speaking, I'd just hate to lose any of my readers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dinner from the Goddess

Goodness knows I have my favorite recipes. But then I'll be browsing through a magazine at the dentist's office and see a new way of preparing Peruvian goat cabbage that catches my attention, and I'll surreptitiously tear out the page, trying not to attract the attention of my fellow denizens of the purgatory that is the waiting room.

Browning the onions

That was the case when I was clicking around on and ran across a recipe for an onion pie from Nigella Lawson's book "How to Be a Domestic Goddess." I have to backtrack and say that I've been looking for a reasonable facsimile of an Alsatian onion tart that we had many years ago in France. This search has dragged on for some time and I have yet to find one that faithfully reproduces that region's melding of French and German traditions, with just the right amount of richness in the onions and butteriness in the crust.

Popping it in the oven

This one looked simple enough and had definite possibilites, so I came home, counted my onions and forged ahead. Browning the onions took the longest, though it was fascinating to watch them go from stiff and white to translucent and burnished a dark gold. Then it was just a matter of mixing up the simple dough, patting it out and sticking it in the oven. And it even turned out of the pie plate perfectly.

After baking, crust on top

The crust, now on the bottom, was foccacia-like rather than French, but it was light and supported the onions nicely. If anything, I'd add another onion, but all in all this made a nice main course with a salad, or would be a very nice featured appetizer for a more formal dinner.

Supper Onion Pie
Adapted by Matthew Amster-Burton from Nigella Lawson's "How to Be a Domestic Goddess"

1 1/2 lb. yellow onions [about 3, but I'd use four - KB], halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 oz. sharp cheddar [I used one cup - KB], shredded

9 oz. (1 2/3 cups) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Scant 1/2 cup milk
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 35 minutes. Stir in the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the pie pan and scatter the cheese on top. Set aside while you make the dough.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining cheese in a mixing bowl. Combine the milk, butter, mustard and egg in a measuring cup. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until they come together into a dry, shaggy dough. Let the dough rest for a couple of minutes to hydrate, then turn it out onto a work surface. Knead a few turns and press the dough into a circle roughly the size of the pie pan.

Place the circle of dough over the cheese and onions and press the edges against the pan to seal. Bake 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking about 10 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let stand for five minutes, then cut around the edge and invert onto a serving plate.