Monday, April 30, 2007

Filling Up at Fuller's

A friend and I decided to celebrate her birthday with a trip to the farmers' market and then breakfast at the restaurant of her choice. We could have done the Heathman, Besaw's or one of the excellent choices on Alberta like the Tin Shed or Helser's. But then Fuller's came up, which it turns out neither of us had ever (embarrassingly) been to.

So we schlepped the few blocks north to what has to be one of the last workingman's eating establishments left in the former industrial district now known as the oh-so-chichi Pearl. Its two u-shaped counters are surrounded by windows and photos of the restaurant from its heyday in the middle of th last century.

You sit on chrome stools and order from a menu that will take you back to the kind of breakfasts that you loved as a kid...big thick pancakes, hash browns that aren't a geometrically perfect shape, coffee that is just a decent cup o' joe (with a doily if it's decaf). Their special of Pigs in a Blanket is something an 8-year-old would die for: a giant pancake stuffed with link sausages, sprinkled with powdered sugar and served with a pitcher of syrup.

Their prices are very reasonable, and their sides are well done and also decently priced. So if you want to travel back in time, or have an uncle who wishes he could have just one honest breakfast before he dies, this is the place to come.

Details: Fuller's Coffee Shop, 136 NW 9th Ave. Phone 503-222-5608

Digging the Neighbors

We've all had them. The neighbor who starts remodeling his house and never gets past the Tyvek stage. Or the one who thinks landscaping involves planters made of toilets or old tires. Recently, when the elderly couple who lived behind us sold their home, we were anxiously peering out our windows to see what omens we might divine. The initial signs were good; they seemed nice enough, with a dog and cat and no oversized SUVs in sight.

Within a week the husband was out with a rototiller plowing up the 100' parking strip. Was it for new grass? Some shade trees? Or were they...gasp...gardeners? It turns out that S'n'K are gardeners of a very serious stripe, planting their city strip with potatoes, peas and berries that were soon followed by broccoli, basil, tomatoes and peppers, all in neat rows or staked with bamboo or surrounded by a "Wall of Water." They've even got hoops and white plastic for our still chilly nights.

Of course I was over there like a shot once their purpose was clear, and I think we may be in for part of the bounty if I play my cards right. S and I have even discussed having a canning party for all the tomatoes that we'll have since, when he got an eyeful of the project, Dave had to immediately put in a raised bed for our own tomatoes that I'd been bugging him to build for a couple of years. Nothing like some new energy in the 'hood to get things moving!

Friday, April 27, 2007

Food Porn, Italian Style

My brother and his ladylove are traveling through Italy even as we speak, having spent five days in the Piedmont and now hiking the villages of the Cinque Terre, making me so crazy hungry with his descriptions of the food that I'm having to type with a plastic cover over the keyboard to protect it from the drooling!

First was dinner in the tiny town of Diano D'Alba called Trattoria Nelle Vigne where the 23-euro menu started with five antipasti and went through three more courses from there, each one sounding more incredible than the last. At that point I was ready to call our friends and cancel the dinner plans for tomorrow that we've had on the calendar for two months and get on the next plane to Italy.

Then he starts going on about their next meal in Alba at a place called La Libera and...well, you'll just have to read it for yourself. I've got packing to do!

Tuesday, April 24, 2007

The Best Burger in Portland, Part 1

I met a friend at Café Castagna recently, and after exchanging pleasantries over drinks at the bar we decided to dip our metaphorical toes in the water, starting with chef Kevin (aka The Handsome One) Gibson's incredible soup, a smooth, delicious purée of celery root with chives and garlic croutons. It's a perfect interpretation of spring, with the frisée of young chives sparking the deeply flavorful celery root and the croutons adding a nice textural crunch.

The next items on the docket were six of the smallest, most delicate Fanny Bay oysters I've ever seen. I skipped the fresh horseradish and mignonette to gulp these tiny jewels and their juice all by themselves. Most of the time when people order fresh oysters they feel they need to have a champagne or other sparkling wine, but these were perfect with a glass of dry, flinty German riesling recommended by our most excellent bartender, David.

And, before we get to the burger debate, I have to rave about their butter lettuce salad, a whole head of tender leaves tossed with a fresh tarragon vinaigrette and then reassembled and served. Talk about essence of spring! I melt every time I have it, and it's just the right size for two people to share.

Now for the boxing gloves. I've had many people tell me that this café makes the best burger in town, and I have to say it's a pretty terrific entry in Portland's burger sweepstakes. The menu lists it as a simple hamburger and fries, it weighs in at 11 smackers with extra for bacon or cheese, and it's a tidy package on the smaller end of the burger scale so you don't feel completely stuffed when you finish the equally outstanding matchstick fries. It's served with marinated white onions, a leaf of butter lettuce and Heinz ketchup. Their signature homemade pickles are so excellent that I choose to consume them separately, and would take home a jarful in a second if I could get my hands on one.

So now it's your turn. Which Portland area restaurant makes the best burger in your humble opinion? Keep the gloves on, be polite but let's hear what you think!

Details: Cafe Castagna, 1758 SE Hawthorne. Phone 231-9959.

Monday, April 23, 2007

Oregon Crafts-travaganza!

Hold onto your hats, because there hasn't been a cosmic convergence like this since Gaspare Campari threw a few herbs in with distilled water and alcohol and colored it with dye made from the crushed cochineal bug to make Bitter all'uso d'Hollandia, thankfully later renamed after its creator.

What, pray tell, could measure up to such an introduction? Well, get thee to the Oregon Convention Center the weekend of May 4 through 6 and be prepared to have your wallet thinned, because not only is the Oregon Potters Association having its annual Ceramic Showcase, but the Oregon Glass Guild will be there, too, as will the Creative Metal Arts Guild, the Northwest Fine Woodworkers, the Portland Handweavers Guild and, last but not least, the Portland Bead Society. Whew!

So if you want to get going on your Christmas list, now would be a good time to start looking for that special gift for Aunt Lucy. Otherwise, the weekend presents a fine opportunity to see what's going on in Oregon crafts all at one go. See you there!

Details: Oregon crafts event at the Oregon Convention Center, 777 NE Martin Luther King Jr. Blvd. Fri.-Sun., May 4-6; free. Hours: Fri. and Sat., 10 am-9 pm; Sun. 10 am-5 pm.

Man Oh Manzanita

We spent this last weekend in the wonderful little beach town of Manzanita, just south of Cannon Beach at the base of Neahkanie Mountain. With seven miles of beach to stroll, good friends to hang with and a house that allows dogs, it was about as close to heaven as a weekend can get. The weather even semi-cooperated, with sun beaming down on Friday and Sunday, and enough rain breaks on Saturday to allow a bit of walking and shopping.

The house, one of several properties managed by Ocean Edge Specialty Rentals, was big enough for six people and two dogs and, even though it was set back from the beach a block, still had a nice view of the ocean from the second floor that contained the living room, kitchen and deck. Sharing the cost betwen two families made it affordable, and the fact that our friends are terrific cooks and like good wine just made it all the better.

On Saturday we took a break from reading and napping to go into town for a little shopping and stopped into Syzygy, a little clothing and shoe shop that would be comfortable in any Portland neighborhood. Just down the street is a small game store, Overboard Games, the perfect place to find the perfect game for those rainy beach days. It's owned by Olga, a fellow blogger and extremely nice person, shown here with her pal Malfi. They've got a huge variety of games from classics like Boggle and Uno to recent releases from independent game creators.

Then there's always a stop at Manzanita News and Espresso to browse their periodicals and have a cup of java. This was an outpost of coolness when I first went to Manzanita decades ago and since then it has been joined by many other retailers and restaurants, but Manzanita still has that small beach town feeling that will always put it at the top of the list when we need to get outta Dodge.

Details: Ocean Edge Specialty Rentals, 330 Laneda Ave; phone toll-free 866-368-3343 (if you call, tell them GoodStuff sent you). Syzygy, 447 Laneda Ave., #2; phone 503-368-7573. Overboard Games, 457 Laneda Ave.; phone 503-368-4873. Manzanita News and Espresso, 500 Laneda Ave.; phone 503-368-7450.

Come to the Veggie Ball!

If you can't remember the last time you dressed up as your favorite legume, then the Veggie Ball is your chance to shine. The first annual event is a benefit for Growing Gardens, a group that organizes hundreds of volunteers to build organic, raised-bed vegetable gardens in backyards, front yards, side yards and even on balconies and supports low income households for three years with seeds, plants, classes, mentors and more.

The Ball will feature samples of food and wine from more than a dozen premier food destinations and wineries, including Nostrana, Pastaworks, Park Kitchen, Wildwood, Castagna, Grand Central Baking and Cooper Mountain Winery. They'll also have auctions for getaways, unique items and packages, including a Kauai B & B Organic Farm stay, a Tuscan Villa for ten in Cortona, Italy, a cycling tour, garden art, an urban chicken coop and lots more. Plus music and dancing. You can get your tickets online now, and start planning the best way to bring out your inner rutabaga.

Details: First Annual Veggie Ball, a benefit for Growing Gardens. Sat., May 19; 5:30-10 pm at AudioCinema, 226 SE Madison.

Some Tuesday Morning

Or, really, any day you need a picture frame, a kitchen item or dog beds, towels, sheets or really just about anything, is a good day to drop by Tueday Morning, a discount store in the Hollywood area. It's located in the basement under a Rite Aid store, and it's good to remember that to get a great bargain you have to sometimes put yourself out there a little. Whoever owns this store is definitely not into frills, if by frills you mean signage, eye appeal or organization. Though it's better than the bins at Goodwill by a long stretch.

Once you've made it down the ill-lit stairway and followed the hand-lettered signs to the front doors, the vista that is Tuesday Morning opens before you and the clean, never-used merchandise is yours for the browsing. I love this place for the aforementioned picture frames, and need to remember it for kitchen utensils and garden pots. They have an amazing selection of glass vases and pitchers, as well as designer pots and pans, small appliances and lots more. So get on your bargain-hunting face and venture down sometime.

Details: Tuesday Morning, 4148 NE Hancock, Suite A. Phone 503-288-7255.

Wednesday, April 18, 2007

Controversy Over Farmers' Market Regulation

There's a debate going on at Portland Food and Drink over the potential for new regulations governing farmers' markets in Oregon. Apparently the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) is considering plans to draft new food safety regulations for farmer’s markets, starting with the 2008 season. It has done so with a great deal of input from the Northwest Grocery Association, a grocery industry lobbying group that has experienced significant competition from the popularity of farmers' markets in the state.

In these plans, the ODA has proposed increasing its authority over farmers’ markets by licensing farmers’ market associations as a class of "retail food establishments." As Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm explains in his letter on the blog:

"Farmers’ markets are not a regulatory desert. Currently, all 'potentially hazardous' foods are sold by licensed vendors. These include meat, fish, processed foods, bakery goods and dairy products. The weighted system of license fees already exacts a heavier toll on small producers. Farmers who sell fresh fruits and vegetables they grow themselves are exempt from licensing. If a vendor started selling oranges from California and melons from Costa Rica, that vendor would lose the exemption and have to obtain a 'retail food establishment' license. Most, if not all, farmers’ markets prohibit this sort of resale activity categorically. County health inspectors license and regulate restaurant stalls at the markets. Because farmers’ market associations act as agents for the landowner, and do not buy, sell or handle food, they have never been defined as 'retail food establishments.'"

He then suggests three simple avenues for letting your views be known to those who are considering these changes. Because the proposed regulations would seriously affect the function and viability of farmers' markets in Oregon, it's well worth taking your time to read the article.

Tuesday, April 17, 2007

Tom Grant Goes to the Dogs

Blade is a 5-year-old service dog who has helped his owner, Stacy, do lots of things every day. Stacy is in a wheelchair, and when Blade was diagnosed with osteosarcoma and had to have a rear leg amputated, he needed her help to pay for his cancer treatments.

Local jazzman and dog-lover Tom Grant (right) has stepped in and is doing a benefit concert for Blade at Augustana Lutheran Church on the afternoon of May 6, and Stacy and Blade would be very glad to see some of you there. So go and get a wag of the tail from Blade!

Details: Tom Grant Benefit Concert for Blade. May 6, 3:30 pm. Augustana Lutheran Church, 2710 NE 14th. Phone 503-288-6174.

Super NOVA

Sorry for the late notice, but an e-mail just arrived from the Pacific Northwest Horticultural Conservancy (PNHC), with the news that Dan Hinkley, the founder of Heronswood Nursery, will be featured on tonight's episode of NOVA on PBS. The episode follows two teams of scientists as they travel to remote mountains in China to find clues to the origins of Earth's most stunning flowering plants. There is an interview with Hinkley on the episode website, as well as video outtakes from their journey to the Hengduan Mountains to view the rare "hanging lily."

The PNHC was formed in 2006 by a consortium of individuals and educational institutions after Heronswood was abruptly closed by its corporate owner, the Burpee seed company. The goal of the organization is to purchase the property and world-renowned botanical gardens that made up Heronswood, and negotiations with Burpee are currently underway. The PNHC is accepting donations from individuals and businesses on their website and has applied for tax-deductible status as a 501(c)(3) organization.

Details: "First Flower" on NOVA on PBS. Tues., 4/17. Check your local affiliate for times. On OPB it will be shown at 5 pm and 8 pm. In Washington it will air on KCTS at 8 pm.

Friday, April 13, 2007

Claytonia Perfoliata

I was out on a walk through the neighborhood with my son and Rosey, just strolling along and pointing out the difference between wood hyacinths and grape hyacinths (I'm a grape hyacinth person, myself) while he busied himself with copious eye-rolling. We walked under some large maple trees and I stopped dead in my tracks at the sight of a large patch of miner's lettuce growing right there in the parking strip.

Now, I've heard about this fleshy little green plant with its round leaf sporting a spray of tiny flowers from its center, and I've even seen bunches at the City Market selling for a hefty sum. But I've never seen them growing in the wild, if wild includes a city parking strip in one of NE Portland's tonier neighborhoods.

I picked a couple of them, hoping that their presence indicated a lack of poisonous chemical spraying, and tasted their fleshy, very mild green flavor that doesn't have a trace of the peppery bite of nasturtium or even arugula. The Wikipedia says it was named after the California gold rush miners who ate it to get their vitamin C to prevent scurvy. So now I need to get some seeds and plant my own. If you've been out hiking and seen some, let me know and I'll go looking for the really wild variety!

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Chickens at Pistils

Forget Mars and Venus. At least in terms of mid-life crises, with men it's traditionally been young women, motorcycles or fast cars. With the femmes d'un certain age of my acquaintance it seems to be livestock, though for the life of me I can't figure out why. Maybe it's living out those horse-loving fantasies we had as young girls reading National Velvet or The Black Stallion that's causing several of my friends to take riding lessons. A couple have even bought their own. Or perhaps it's because, unlike the members of our families or our employers, they don't talk back or make demands on us, and the relationship is on our terms.

So, whatever the reason, lately I've found my ears pricking up whenever the subject of chickens comes up. Yes, chickens. The live kind that would eat the bugs and slugs in my garden and provide fresh eggs for the omelettes I'm also obsessed with. And I can just see the eyes rolling back in the heads of you male readers out there (Dave? Brendan? Bruce? Rick?).

But no matter the scorn, I'm signed up to attend a presentation and discussion about keeping chickens in the city at Pistils Nursery on May 5. Lizzy Caston, author of PDX Chickens and chicken maven extraordinaire, will be there to share information and answer questions on the delights of city flock-keeping. So don't laugh or you might not be getting any fresh eggs from me.

Details: Chicken-Keeping with Lizzy Caston at Pistils Nursery. May 5; 1-2:30 pm; $5, register by phone at 503-288-4889. Pistils Nursery, 3811 N Mississippi. Phone 503-288-3889.

Plants Man

I first met horticulturist Dan Heims through my friend Mary, who lives just down the street from him. At that time he was engaged in the very exotic pursuit of selling plants (mostly hosta varieties he'd created) over something called the "internet" and doing quite well at it. Imagine!

His business, Terra Nova Nurseries, has become one of the gold standards among wholesale nurseries, supplying perennial plants from his Portland-area business to retail garden outlets all over the country. He's mostly known for developing and introducing myriad new heucheras, but has also brought new varieties of ligularia, hostas and just about any other perennial you can name to the market.

You can hear the man himself speaking on the topic of new perennials from around the world, get tips on importing plants and get answers to your most perplexing gardening questions on Thursday evening, April 19, for just $10. I'll bet he'll also have copies of his latest book, Heucheras and Heucherellas, available. Seems like a deal!

Details: Dan Heims on Perennials. 4/19; 7 pm; $10, tickets available at the door. Congregation Beth Israel, 1972 NW Flanders St. Phone 503-222-1069.

New Shooz, or Party Part 2

It was a puzzle. Needed vintage or vintage-looking shoes for a 50s cocktail party. They needed to be high-heeled and sexy but simple to match the dress I'd chosen. They'd more than likely be worn only once, and I only wanted to spend the minimum.

Goodwill and a couple of vintage shops I tried had nothing in my size or that looked appropriate. I went to the mall hoping to find something on sale, but Nordie's and Macy's prices started at $60 and went up from there (like I said, I'm cheap). A friend suggested trying Payless Shoesource, and it was there I finally hit paydirt.

Not only is there one in our neighborhood (who knew?), but they had a pair of black suede heels that had a vintage flair and a bow that matched the one on my dress. The best part? They were much more comfortable than the torture devices I tried on at the mall, and at the low low price of $19.99 they were a perfect fit. Woo hoo!

Details: Payless Shoesource. Portland locations at 606 SW Alder St., phone 503-222-4394; Lloyd Center, phone 503-335-0902; 6359 NE MLK Jr. Blvd., phone 503-283-3275; 7901 SE Powell, phone 503-771-0542; Milwaukie Market Place, phone 503-654-9121.

Wednesday, April 11, 2007

Lunch at the Bistro

What to do on a cloudy, showery, sleepy spring day in Portland and you find yourself wandering around the Pearl with a growling stomach and you're not in the mood for the corporate schlock (not to mention prices) at PF Chang's or Manzana? I was there with my friend Kim at noon today and I spotted the Everett Street Bistro just a block away, so we walked right in and got a table.

I'd heard great things about this little boite from reliable sources, but had stayed away thinking it was too popular, too crowded and maybe just too too. So either my restaurant karma was working overtime, or the crowd's calmed down to manageable proportions. Once inside, you're confronted with a lovely little dessert case that feels cheery and delightful (not to mention tempting), and when you sit down at one of the zinc tables with their French rattan cafe chairs (very comfortable) you're immediately struck by the light pouring in the large street-side windows even on a cloudy day.

Kim decided on the Macaroni Gratin, which is Cavatappi pasta in a three-cheese blend with roasted wild mushrooms and pancetta. We're talking the ultimate in comfort here, with the creamy cheese sauce enfolding the curly noodles, set off by the crunch of bread crumbs and the salty smokiness of pancetta chunks and mushrooms.

I decided to go with a more traditional lunch item that might show what their house specials are all about. Plus I can never refuse poached eggs, so the Everett BLT sounded like just the ticket: toasted pain levain, lemon aioli, bacon, tomatoes, poached eggs and shaved parmesan, drizzled with the house viniagrette and served with mixed greens. It was hearty and satisfying, though the bread could have been toasted and the poached eggs were on the hard side. The greens were plentiful and the tomatoes on the sandwich were actually flavorful, and I have to say their bacon was some I'd like on my plate anytime.

The prices are definitely affordable, and it seems like it would be a nice romantic spot for dinner with casual seating at the long bar and a nice intimate banquette along the back wall. This place is one I'd come back to anytime, especially now that the Little Wing Cafe is no longer with us, and it's a much nicer-feeling place than its large corporate brethren down the block.

Details: Everett Street Bistro, 1140 NW Everett St. Phone 503-467-4990.

More Plant Sales and Garden Events

It's definitely that season, and here are three more dates to put on your calendar:

Clark County Home & Garden Idea Fair. Fri.-Sun., April 27-29 at the Clark County Event Center at the Fairgrounds, 17402 NE Delfel Road in Ridgefield, WA, 9 miles north of the I-5 bridge at Exit 9. Hours: Fri. & Sat., 4/27-28, 9 am-8 pm; Sun., 4/29, 10 am-5 pm.

Berry Botanic Garden Spring Plant Sale. Sat., April 28, at Montgomery Park in NW Portland, 2701 NW Vaughn St. Whether your love is rhododendrons, primulas, penstemons, alpines, or native plants, plan to be there early for the best selection. Free parking. Hours: 11am-3pm. Members-only shopping for 1 hour: 10-11AM.

Master Gardener Foundation Annual Plant Sale. Sat.-Sun., May 19-20, at WSU Agricultural Research & Extension Unit, 1919 78th St., Vancouver, WA. Perennials, annuals, vegetables, herbs, berries, shrubs, trees, hanging baskets, houseplants, unique garden art and more will be available. Hours: Sat., 9 am-10 am; Sun., 10 am-3 pm.

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

Paella on the Grill

Paella is one of the definitive examples of Spanish cuisine and one that very few people here know about. It's hard to find on restaurant menus and even harder to find one that brings out the complex flavors of the ingredients while maintaining the textural integrity of what is basically a simple rice dish. We've been experimenting with it for several years and, with apologies to my Spanish friends, we think we've got a pretty good version going here.

It starts with great ingredients like Fra' Mani's Spanish-style chorizo, smoked paprika, green olives from Spain that are stuffed with anchovies (known as "crack olives" around here because you simply can't stop yourself from eating handfuls of them), saffron and fresh seafood. Plus some chicken thighs, a rich stock, arborio or bomba rice, colorful peppers and the essential onions and garlic.

While Dave is busy lighting the grill, I'm in the kitchen chopping vegetables and steeping the saffron in a dry white wine to soften it and bring out its amazing flavor and color. And when the fire's ready and we've got a nice bed of hot coals, it's just a matter of putting the paella pan on the grill, sautéing the vegetables in a bit of olive oil, adding the chicken to brown and then the chorizo to warm it up and frying the rice for a couple of minutes. Then pour in the stock, add the olives and cover it with the lid of the grill to let that wonderful smoke infuse the dish. A few minutes before serving we add mussels or clams hinge-side down and let them cook briefly, and it's done.

A challenge we've been working on lately is to achieve a good carmelized bottom crust, known as the socarrat. The trick seems to be in getting just the right ratio of stock to rice, so the rice softens but maintains a slight crunch while being dry enough to form that crust and yet not burn from the heat of the coals.

We love paella for dinner parties because it feeds a crowd and is fun to bring to the table and serve from its pan. Plus you don't really need anything else with it except maybe a simple green salad and some full-bodied, earthy red wine. If you're interested in trying it yourself, you can get the recipe here.

Details: Chorizo, rice and olives available at Foster & Dobbs; olives also available in large (1.5 lb.) cans at City Market on NW 21st; smoked paprika available at New Seasons.

Friday, April 06, 2007

So I Got Invited to this Party...

A 50th birthday party for a good friend. And it's got a theme, heaven help me, and I'm expected (not required, but expected) to come up with something that will be appropriate. The theme? It's "50s Cocktail Party." You know, Rat Pack, Audrey Hepburn, James Dean. And my closet isn't exactly brimming with little black dresses and high-heeled pumps. And I've maybe had my makeup done once in all my (mumble mumble) years.

So, hoping to spend as little as possible, I hit the Goodwill stores in town looking for something that would suffice in a pinch. Nothing. A couple of spangly numbers from the Flashdance era, a few old-lady frumpy evening frocks, but nothing that said, "I'm with Frank." Then, at suggestion of my brother, I stopped in at Ray's Ragtime on 10th and Morrison downtown, not expecting to find much that would be appropriate, affordable and that would fit my, shall we say, definitely non-petite body.

Ray (right) immediately got down to work, going through the racks and pulling some things out, rejecting others as "too drag queen" or "too disco" and completely respecting my budget concerns. With questions like "How are your shoulders?" for one off-the-shoulder number and nixing long black gloves for being "too S&M" it was very easy and very fun. We actually found a simple black dress that will do nicely, I'll hit Nordstrom for a little makeup beforehand and a couple of friends have volunteered to help with the hair if I bring some champagne along with the bobby pins and Aquanet.

Now where's my martini?

Details: Ray's Ragtime, 1001 SW Morrison St. Phone 503-226-2616.

Wednesday, April 04, 2007

Celebrate Ben Linder

Ben Linder, 27, a young mechanical engineer from Portland, had lived in Nicaragua for four years and was helping to build a small hydroelectric plant in the town of El Cua that would provide the town with electricity for the first time. On April 28, 1987, he and two other Nicaraguan men were just beginning their day's work on the project when they were ambushed and killed, execution-style, by US government-funded "contras" who were part of a secret Reagan administration policy to overthrow the popularly elected government of Nicaragua.

There are three events coming up this month to celebrate his life and work:

Thurs., 4/5: They Can Cut All the Flowers, But They Can Never Stop the Spring. A film about the life, work, death and funeral of Linder presented by PCASC's Bolivarian Media Exchange. 7 pm. Liberty Hall, 311 N Ivy St., near Fremont and N. Vancouver.

Sat., 4/21: Ben Linder Work Brigade. A work party to build a bridge in Forest Park to commemorate Ben Linder. 9 am. Forest Park. Phone 503-757-1803 for details.

Fri., 4/27: An Evening to Remember Ben Linder And Learn How His Work Continues. 7 pm. First United Methodist Church, SW 18th & Jefferson. Phone 503-777-6513 or 503-284-5774.

Tuesday, April 03, 2007

Food Alert: RAMPS!

Just got a note from Mary Fishback at Bread & Ink Cafe that they're going to be featuring a very special ingredient from tonight through the weekend. Ramps, or allium ampeloprasum, are wild leeks and, according to the Wikipedia, are found from South Carolina to Canada in the late winter and early spring. They have a pronounced flavor of onions and garlic and are traditionally prepared "fried with potatoes in bacon grease or scrambled with eggs and served with bacon, pinto beans, and cornbread."

This is the second year that Bruce and Mary have brought in ramps from their secret Southern source, and Mary says that from tonight (Tues., 4/3) through Easter Sunday they'll have "ramp pesto pasta and polenta with ramps for evening specials - unless we decide to do something else." Ramps will be featured in breakfast specials on Saturday and Sunday, as well. See you there!

Details: Bread & Ink Cafe, 3610 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Open daily for breakfast, lunch and dinner. Phone 503-239-4756.

Monday, April 02, 2007

Spice Route

Who knew it was right here in PDX, and on 82nd Avenue, no less? I'm talking about a famous spice purveyor from Madison, Wisconsin, called Penzeys Spice that I only just heard about the other day from my pal Mary, who has a friend who...well, you get the idea. Why Penzeys chose a godforsaken location near Clackamas Town Center is anybody's guess, since I don't think many people out 82nd way use much aleppo pepper or white cardamom, but maybe I'm just out of touch with the culinary mecca that East County has become.

All snarkiness aside, this really is a find. Located in a brick strip mall with the likes of TJ Maxx and Smoothie World, it's a direct descendant of the bulk-spice explosion of the 70s and has dovetailed nicely with the food world's interest in directly imported, single source fresh spices. The inside of the store is very plain and almost generic looking, with crates and wood paneling being the basic design scheme. No big color posters or fancy graphics here. They're all about the spices that are stacked on every surface and filling every shelf, and at remarkably reasonable prices.

Each spice comes in several package sizes, from small 1.5 oz jars to large plastic pouches, depending on your needs. Each one also has a sample jar where you can inhale its aroma and determine whether you prefer Chinese cassia cinnamon, extra-fancy Vietnamese cassia cinnamon, Korintje cassia cinnamon or Ceylon cinnamon (ground or softstick). There are informational stickers on the sample jars explaining the history and use of each spice, and recipe cards are scattered around the room with helpful suggestions about what to do with your 8-oz. bag of Albanian savory leaves.

They also have plenty of seasoning mixes, some interesting (like zahtar, a mix of sumac, thyme, sesame and salt) and some not ("Tsar Dust Memories Russian Style Seasoning"), as well as salad dressings, spice rubs and soup bases. You probably won't find me buying their regular bulk spices, since I can pick those up at my local New Seasons, but when I run across a recipe that calls for charnuska, the black, smoky seeds found on Jewish rye bread, or mahlab, the pit of the sour cherry, you can bet I'll be heading out 82nd Ave.

Details: Penzeys Spice, 11322 SE 82nd Ave. Phone 503-653-7779.

More Dog Parkin'

My neighbor Maggie and I love to take our dogs to Kelly Point Park when they need a good run, but sometimes we just don't have time to schlepp all the way out to the river. So our fallback has become Fernhill Park in NE Portland, a couple of blocks from McMenamin's Kennedy School pub.

Its 27 acres has a large off-leash area that covers almost a quarter of its total area, with a ravine and hills for them to wear themselves out on. Plus lots of squirrels to unleash (heh) their hunting instincts...that's Rosey on the left waiting for a squirrel to fall out of the tree and into her mouth.

There are also the ubiquitous tennis courts and play structures for children outside the off-leash area, so the whole family can get their ya-yas out on a sunny day. And stopping for an afternoon beer at the pub on the way back isn't a bad idea, either.

Details: Fernhill Park, NE 37th Ave. and Ainsworth St.


I know the title of this blog is "Good Stuff NW" and it's supposed to be about good stuff in the Northwest, but, darn it, sometimes there's just something I need to write about that's not in the NW. And it's my blog and I get to make the rules (spoiled seven-year-old that I am). And, if you want to get picky about it, this is something you can enjoy in the NW or wherever you might be.

So enough with the self-justification. What I'm so slowly getting at is that we've been watching a terrific new set of DVDs of Julia Child's "The French Chef" series that shows Julia from her very first live show (Boeuf Bourgignon) to her Roast Chicken Show where she introduces us to the Chicken Sisters ("Miss Broiler, Miss Fryer, Miss Roaster, Miss Caponette..."). From the changing sets to the blossoming from black-and-white to full color, Julia presides over her kitchen with rolling pin in hand ready to attack the recipe at hand with verve and gusto, her battle cry of "Bon courage!" not far from her lips.

Most shows were done in one take, and it's a fascinating look at the development of television as a medium. It's nothing like the smooth and facile chefs of the Food Network where nary a hair is ever out of place, where everything is choreographed and edited within an inch of its life and every dish looks easy to prepare and always (always!) turns out beautifully. Julia has spatulas flying out of mixers, tarte tatin unmolding from the pan in a glop of overcooked apples and omelettes that don't quite look the way they should, and she handles it all with a laugh and suggestions on how to handle these kitchen disasters when company's coming (or even sitting at the table).

Needless to say, I'm a Julia junkie and love her natural, open-hearted presentation. Because of the shows, we've been obsessing about those omelettes lately, and Dave's committed to creating a genuine baguette in our very own kitchen. This is all to say that any or all of these sets would make a great gift for a cook, a TV junkie or anyone who loves food and life.

Details: Julia Child - The French Chef; The French Chef with Julia Child 2; Julia Child! The French Chef 3. Each set contains 3 disks and approximately 18 episodes along with printable recipes; the third set has a very good one-hour American Masters biography on the first disk.