Saturday, June 30, 2007

New Look, Same Sass

When I was in grade school there was a brand of sneakers called Red Ball Jets that promised you'd put them on and be able to run faster and jump higher. And I swear that once I got a pair, I could streak across the lawn way faster than before, and darn if I couldn't jump much higher, too! And then in high school my hair would go from long to short to shorter to long again, and each time I felt like a new person with a fresh outlook on the world.

So you'll notice that GoodStuff NW has a new look and feel, too. We're trying out Google Ads in the right-hand sidebar, and the calendar has moved over to the left. The links are below the ads, so you can still visit some of our favorite people online. Take a few minutes to look us over, then hit the comment button below and let us know what works for you and what doesn't. It's a work in progress (like what isn't?), so we want to know what you think.

And thanks for reading!

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

To Pit or Not To Pit

There are some things that simply shouldn't be messed with. Take, for instance, a recent article where some hot Euro chef was "deconstructing" tiramisu and making it with almond foam and fava beans or something equally ridiculous. Another flagrant example is the current craze that takes the classic recipe for a martini (gin, a hint of dry vermouth and ice) and uses some tarted-up infusion like mandarin blossom vodka that is then shaken with ice to create a "Mandarin Blossom Martini."

Forget that simply shaking alcohol and ice does not a cocktail make. Forget that using vodka and calling it a martini is simply wrong and, according to NYTimes spirits editor Eric Asimov, should properly be called a "vodkatini if you must, but not a martini. Gin and vodka have as much in common hierarchically as a president and a vice president. Vodka can fill in for gin from time to time and might even be given certain ceremonial duties of its own, but at important moments you need the real thing."

And one other thing. There seems to be a penchant developing for using whole olives, pits and all, at certain local establishments instead of the usual pitted olives. Now, I'm not a huge fan of pimento-stuffed olives in my martinis, since they are usually inferior quality olives and taste mostly of vinegar. And we do have a huge selection of very good quality olives to choose from in this town, with olive bars springing up not only in gourmet shops like City Market and upper-level supermarkets like Zupans, but in otherwise pedestrian places like Fred Meyer and Safeway.

But, please, whole olives are meant for eating by themselves. Sticking a skewer in them and plunking them in a cocktail is not only awkward to consume but defeats the purpose of the olive, which is to gently flavor the martini and, in return, to be flavored by the alcohol as it swims in the drink. A pitted olive, because it's hollow inside, can absorb the flavor of the martini and can easily be popped in the mouth with no half-chewed pit sitting unattractively on the table.

So, you bartenders out there, please resist the siren song of the au courant. Some things are best left unadulterated. And, for good measure, here's a recipe for a perfect martini for those who want to know.

* * * * * * * * * *

Dave's Perfect Martini
Makes 2 martinis

2 1/2 oz. gin (preferably Boodles, but any good gin will do)
Splash of dry vermouth (around a teaspoon)
Olives (your choice, but we're currently fond of anchovy-stuffed Spanish olives)

Fill shaker 3/4 full of ice. Add vermouth, then gin. Shake five to six seconds and pour into chilled martini glasses. Add olives on a pick. Serve.

Hey, Take It Outside!

When it comes to exercise, I'm absolutely hopeless on my own. I've taken enough Pilates to do the routines here at home. I could do crunches first thing in the morning. But no matter how many promises I make to myself, I always manage to find something else to do...make coffee, check e-mail, walk the dog, write a post for the blog and, oh, by the way, maybe even do some work.

So I've come to the conclusion that classes are the way to go for me. And outdoor classes are so much more enjoyable than sweating in a stinky, humid gym, especially in the summer. Outdoors, moving through the trees, enjoying the sunshine and the company of like-minded souls. And fortunately this summer there's a series of small group classes with a trainer who really knows her stuff.

Unlike those "boot camp" type classes, Kristin Jackson's Take It Outside Fitness offers outdoor exercise classes that are geared to your needs, so if you're fit or not you'll get a good workout and have fun at the same time. Her drop-in rate is $10 per class, so you can start now and see if it works for you, then sign up for the next series when it starts in August.

All classes meet at Mt. Tabor Park, and the schedule through the end of July is:

9:15-10:15 am: Take It Outside general fitness class (cardio and strength-training)
6:00-6:45 pm: Take It Outside general fitness class (cardio and strength-training)

9:15-10:15 am: Walking with Weights (cardio and upper body using 3-5 lb. hand weights)

5:40-6:40 pm: Walk, Jog, Pilates

9:15-10:15 am: Pilates in the Park

9:00-10:00 am: Take It Outside general fitness class (cardio and strength-training)

Details: Take It Outside Fitness classes. $10 drop-in; call for exact meeting place of each class. Mt. Tabor Park, 6350 SE Yamhill. Phone 503-701-2179.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Hardy Plants, Hardy Gardeners

If you're like me, you walk or drive through neighborhoods picking out houses you'd like to live in, admiring (or castigating) their taste in paint, plants or garden art. (Tires? Spare me!) I tend to have my favorites picked out, homes whose owners seem to have the sophistication, time or money that I lack. And often, though I walk sloooooooowly by or stand on tiptoe straining for a glimpse, their yards are set too high above the street or behind a high fence or dense shrubbery. Unlike some people (Bruce?), I'm too shy to walk up their driveway for a good look.

But the other day I was driving down the street and noticed that two homes on my favorites list were part of a Hardy Plant Society of Oregon garden tour. Having joined the HPSO just the week before, I swerved to the curb and parked. Hoping they wouldn't be checking ID, since I hadn't yet received my card, I walked up the front stairs and into a gardener's wonderland, with plants and art and outdoor living spaces that I can only dream about.

These tours are scheduled year round almost every week, and those who pay the $35 yearly membership fee receive an Open Garden Book that lists them all. There are also lectures, a newsletter, book sales, seed sales and study groups in addition to two annual plant sales in the fall and spring. Not to mention members who are more than eager to share their knowledge and, I would imagine, the occasional cutting.

As a new member, I'll definitely let you know how it goes. In the meantime, if you'd like to join you can do so online or download the membership form here and mail it in. And I'll see you at the next tour!

Thanks to You!

The votes have been counted, the prizes awarded, the winners have gone home with their arms fulls of roses and their tickets to COPIA in their pockets. It was neck-and-neck (or pixel-to-pixel) there for awhile as the bloggers and their readers battled for position in the Culinate GrillMe sweepstakes, with GoodStuffNW readers (that's you!) voting like mad.

We were in the top ten for a good long while and actually held spot #5 for a day or so, then the more trafficked blogs kicked in and we ended up at #25, still an amazing showing for this homemade effort. Why, Portland's great restaurant blog ExtraMSG only made it to #43, though I will have to live with smug smiles from my brother, since his Eat. Drink. Think. finished at #12. Still, we wouldn't have even made a showing without your support, for which I am eternally grateful. Thanks to everyone who voted!

The final standings? The top ten vote-getters were:
1. Smitten Kitchen
2. Coconut & Lime
3. Matt Bites
4. Not Eating Out In New York
5. Parsley, Sage, Rosemary and Thyme
6. Chow and Again
7. Homesick Texan
8. Chocolate in Context
9. Portland Food and Drink
10. Life Begins at 30

Eye-Opener From Austria

When it comes to wine, we like reds. Then there are the rosés in spring and summer with the occasional sprinkling of white. But we always come back (often in the same meal) to the hearty, earthy flavors that we find in bottles from the outlying regions of France, Spain and Italy.

But when we were perusing the wine list at Three Doors Down the other night, and chose a moderately priced Italian Barbera, our waiter encouraged us to to try a similarly priced wine from...gasp...Austria. While I've heard that there is all kinds of activity going on in the German and Austrian wine industries and that they're now making more "international style" wines (read: ones that will do well in the American wine press...can you say "Robert Parker"?), we were skeptical but decided to take a risk based on his strong recommendation.

What he brought to the table was a 2004 Heinrich San Laurent, a startlinglingly full-bodied wine we'd expect from a good pinot or burgundy, with lots of richness on the nose and nice, mild tannins on the palate. Gernot Heinrich, the winemaker and son of an old wine-producing family in Austria, studied abroad and came back determined to make wines from native varietals in a more contemporary style, with more body and fruit and less tannins than were traditionally produced in the region. If the San Laurent is any indication, Gernot has a great future before him and Austria may be getting a lot more business from this side of the world!

Details: 2004 Heinrich San Laurent, $25. Available from Vino in Sellwood, phone 503-235-8545 or from your favorite neighborhood retailer.

Saturday, June 23, 2007

I Can Canoe. Canoe?

Some people are easy to buy gifts for...they collect frog figurines or love old movie posters or can never get enough of Pee Wee Herman. With others it's a crap shoot, since you can't keep up with their whims du jour, or maybe they've just acquired a new partner and his/her style defies known categories. Then there are those friends whose tastes run to the simple and refined; their conversations are sprinkled with references to Isamu Noguchi, Eero Saarinen, Charles and Ray Eames and Alvar Aalto.

You know you're not going to charm them with something Michael Graves designed for Target, and that Japanese Daruma doll you bought last Christmas in a fit of panic went over like a lead balloon. But now you need worry no longer...there's a store downtown that is like heaven for design geeks and their taste-challenged friends. It's called Canoe, and there's even an online version of the store for those not in the vicinity or who wouldn't venture downtown on a bet.

It's tastefully appointed with a unique selection of design books, hand-blown glass, office accessories and modern design accoutrements for kitchen, bath and coffee table. And they're all offered at surprisingly modest prices, making you look luxe on a less-than-designer budget.

Details: Canoe, 1136 SW Alder. Phone 503-889-8545.

Friday, June 22, 2007

Tart Tart, Tang Tang.

As stated previously, I am a sucker for a good recipe and, if it features one of my favorite ingredients in an easy and delicious-sounding new form, there's a good likelihood that it'll end up in the "Gotta Try This" folder. When the Dining section of the New York Times ran an article a few months ago on lemons, they had me hooked. And since I'd recently purchased a non-stick tart pan, the description of the Lemon Confit Shortbread Tart made it a cut-it-out-right-now item even if everyone hadn't yet read the paper (sorry, honey...).

This one was particularly appealing to my lemon-loving self because the filling is no creamy compromise to less lemon-centric souls, but simply thinly sliced rind-and-all lemons with a touch of sugar, boiled down and sandwiched between two lightly lemon-scented crusts. It's enough to make even the most ardent lemon supporter's back teeth sing and it's incredibly good, especially served with fresh Hood strawberries and a dollop of Mio Gelato's Italian cream. Like the farro salad, it's going to be appearing with regularity on our summer table.

My friend Mary Fishback of Bread & Ink Cafe and the founding dessert maven behind Rimsky-Korsakoffee House made it with clementines and said it totally rocks, so come up with your own variation and let us know how it turns out. You (and your guests this summer) will be knocked out!

Lemon Confit Shortbread Tart
Originally from the New York Times Dining section

For the crust:
3 c. flour
1 tsp. salt
1/2 lb. (2 sticks) unsalted butter, cut into 1" pieces
1 1/4 c. sugar, divided
1 large egg
1/8 to 1/4 tsp. almond extract, or to taste
2 Tbsp. lemon juice

For the confit:
8 Meyer lemons, preferably thin-skinned and seedless, but regular organic lemons will work
3/4 c. sugar
2 Tbsp. water

For the crust, combine flour, salt, butter and 1 cup sugar in a bowl.  Mix with your fingers until it forms flaky crumbs and lumps. Mix in egg, almond extract and lemon juice. Continue to mix until it clumps; it may seem very dry at first. Shape into a ball, wrap in plastic and refrigerate for at least 30 minutes, or up to 1 day ahead of baking.

For the confit, slice off and discard ends of lemons. Slice 5 crosswise, peel and all, as thinly as possible. Remove any seeds and place in a bowl. Peel skin, including white pith, from remaining 3 lemons, then slice thinly crosswise and add to bowl. Add 3/4 cup sugar and 2 tablespoons water. Toss and let sit at room temperature for at least 30 minutes or up to 2 hours.

Place lemon slices and their juice in a saucepan, and bring to a boil.  Cook down until lemons are candied and small amount of liquid in pan is sticky and syrupy, about 15 minutes. Transfer to a bowl and let cool.

To bake, preheat oven to 350°. Divide dough in half and form each half into a ball. Roll out one ball on a floured surface until large enough to fit into a 9-inch round tart pan. Dough will be crumbly (more shortbread than pie crust); if it falls apart, press it back together. Spoon Confit over crust, spreading evenly. Roll out second ball of dough and place on top, sealing edges but making sure no crust overlaps the rim or tart will be difficult to remove later.

Bake until edges of tart are lightly golden, about 35 minutes, then sprinkle top with remaining ¼ cup sugar.  Return to oven for about 10 more minutes; edges should be lightly golden and crust cooked through but not browned.  Serve warm or cooled.

Eating Well and Doing Good

As I've said innumerable times before, any excuse to not have to make dinner is good by me. So when I got an e-mail from my social-activist friend Sue that Basic Rights Oregon was having a Bites for Rights event where participating restaurants would donate 15% of their proceeds to the organization, I knew I'd hit the jackpot for that evening. I fired off an e-mail to my family and suggested it was our duty to head out there and rack up some serious charges.

And since we hadn't been to Three Doors Down in ages and I'd been looking for a reason to go, I was more than happy to find them on the list. We called ahead and put our names on their waiting list (hint, hint) and, once there, sat down at the bar to start our tab off with a bang. Two perfectly-made cocktails later (a negroni and a dry martini), we were seated at our table and the serious check-bulking began.

We started with two of their fine selection of extremely reasonably-priced appetizers. First came boquerones, or small, fresh anchovies, that were served on top of a crostini with pickled onions. These were beautiful little bites of fresh fishiness and the mild onions gave it just the right tang. The plate was drizzled with an incredible reduced balsamic syrup, but since there was no way to get this on the crostini, we had to use our fingers to taste it. The second plate was beef carpaccio (right, below) topped with shaved parmesan cheese and savoy cabbage with a lemon dressing and capers. The beef was meltingly sweet and so thinly sliced it practically melted on the tongue, though we pushed the salad aside to eat separately.

And now I need to admit that, while so far everything had gone well and we were more than happy, at this point we had finished our appetizers and now had to sit for a full hour until our entrées arrived. Tables that were seated after us were served and were practically finished, we'd nursed a glass of wine from our excellent bottle so as not to waste it before our food came and, to make it complete, our server was avoiding eye contact with us. And when our food actually got to the table all we heard was a cursory, "Gee, sorry it took so long." Fine.

That said (whew!), our entrees were quite wonderful though, sadly, it was too dark to take pictures. My citrus-marinated chicken on a bed of chard and polenta was mouth-wateringly good. Dave's pork chop with grilled asparagus was medium rare as it should be and they'd been happy to substitute roasted potatoes for the mashed, since he's off dairy these days. Mr. B was practically orgasmic over his penne alla vodka with sausages, the soft, creamy tomato sauce in a happy menage a trois with the mild sausages and pasta.

And though it took longer and was a bit more frustrating than we'd planned, we left feeling well-fed and socially redeemed from our evening's repast. And that's pretty good for one dinner out.

Details: Three Doors Down Café, 1429 SE 36th Ave. Phone 503-236-6886.

Far-Out Farro!

I love to read about new food ideas (I can hear you saying, "Oh, really? I'd never have guessed!") and I'm always cutting recipes out of newspapers and magazines. But on a daily basis I tend to rummage through the same old bag of tricks to come up with solutions for meals. It's when guests are coming over that I'll look for something new and exciting, a side dish or dessert that will light up a meal and make the evening shine.

This was exactly the case when I read my friend Luan's blog about a salad that used a grain I'd heard of but had never tried, a variety of wheat called farro in Italy and known as emmer wheat here. It sounded like it might be just the thing to have with the grilled salmon filets we were planning to have that evening, and a nice summery alternative to the usual risotto or potatoes that we'd (yawn) usually have.

Extremely simple to prepare, it only takes about 10 minutes to cook the farro in boiling water till it's slightly al dente. While that's cooking, it's easy to chop the olives, cube the cheese and halve the tomatoes. Then toss those with the cooled farro (I ran it under cold water), a little olive oil, salt and pepper and torn basil leaves, and it's ready for the table. Perfetto!
I can tell this is going to be the new go-to side for our summer entertaining, and the leftovers are wonderful for that I-don't-have-time-to-cook quick lunch or dinner. Download the recipe from the Foster & Dobbs website here.

Lovely Hands Make a Lovely Evening

When someone calls and asks if I'd like to meet them for a drink and apps, I'm usually clapping my hands and jumping up and down before they finish the question. In the case of my cousin Julie it's a no-brainer, since she always has a list of places she hasn't tried yet and they're (so far, anyway!) always great.

This time we met down on Mississippi at Lovely Hula Hands, an early entry in the Mississippi sweepstakes and one that has garnered almost universal critical and public accolades for their drinks and their food. Initially located in a converted pink house at the south end of the avenue, they relocated up the street several months ago to a neglected brick building that originally housed a florist. It's now completely renovated in cool colors and retains its brick walls and 19th century feel, and they've recently added an arbor-covered back patio that's a great hang on a warm summer evening.

We started with coolers of their house Limedrops to set the mood for perusing the menu. Since the fam was heading out for dinner that evening, I didn't want to totally pork out beforehand. I settled on their fish cakes with preserved beets, chervil aioli and garden greens, the cakes having the requisite fish-rather-than-filler flavor and nicely (lightly) breaded and grilled. I love beets in any form, and the little jewels of red and gold were the perfect accompaniment to this dish.

Julie was ordering dinner and went for their penne pasta with sausage ragu, fava beans and parmesan, a hearty and flavorful bowl of goodness with just the right touch of spring from the favas. The sauce was light, so the sausage, beans and parma took center stage and gave it a nice depth of flavor without being too heavy for the warm evening. A glass of their syrah-cab franc blend alongside made it easy to catch up on the family news (smile for that video, you guys!).

With the vibe of a great spot to land after a day at work or a fun place to meet friends, it's got big tables that can accomodate larger parties both inside and out. Prices are moderate, so if you've been wanting an excuse to venture down the avenue, this would be a good place to head to.

Details: Lovely Hula Hands, 4057 N Mississippi. Phone 503-445-9910.

Thursday, June 21, 2007

You Can't Stop the Signal

And here I thought I was going to break this great story about how Joss Whedon, creator of the Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Firefly TV series as well as the movie Serenity, and his Browncoats (fans of Firefly and Serenity) are doing a two-day benefit this weekend for Equality Now and the Women's Film Initiative. Then I open the Oregonian this morning and find out they've scooped me all over the cover of their Living section and I think, "Man, this is so unfair. And I can't even complain about it because they're great causes and people will think I'm a self-centered twit. Sheesh!"

So, even though you've probably read it already, head over to the Hollywood Theatre on Friday at 7 pm or Saturday at 1 pm for a screening of the movie Serenity. Additionally, the classic musical episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, "Once More with Feeling," is being screened at midnight at Cinema 21 on NW 21st with $1 per ticket going to Equality Now. Geek out, get your Whedon on and participate in at least one of these events. It should be a hoot!

Details: Screening of Serenity at the Hollywood Theatre. 7 pm Friday (6/22), 1 pm Saturday (6/23); $13 advance, $18 at the door. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Blvd.

Screening of "Once More with Feeling" at Cinema 21. Midnight Friday and Saturday (6/22-23); $10 with $1 per ticket benefiting Equality Now. Cinema 21, 616 NW 21st Ave.

Friday, June 15, 2007

More Lunchin', Ladies!

There are some restaurants you go to and you know exactly where you are. Bread & Ink Cafe on Hawthorne feels exactly like a Portland cafe should. Open room, great local history (it was the original location of Fred Meyer's first store in the 30s), comfortable chairs, good solid food with clean flavors. L'Auberge back in the day, or Castagna now. On the opposite end are the corporate restaurants all the way from fast food drive-throughs to places like Chevy's where the one here will have identical siblings in Anchorage and Miami and Kansas City.

Then there are those places like Fenouil that are perfectly lovely but make you feel like you could be in San Francisco or Palm Springs. It's not that they're corporate so much as they somehow lack a sense that they're made from the fabric of the place they are in. Is it just me, or am I missing something?

Regardless, the food here is quite good judging by the lunch I had, a duck confit with flageolet beans, one Armagnac prune (not the advertised plural) and a strange little bit of undressed frisee. The duck was outstanding, the skin crackly and rich with fat, perfectly salted and meltingly tender. The beans had a nice al dente quality and a slightly smoky tinge that made them irresistible.

My dining partner KC ordered the Niçoise salad, a nice version with a big piece of seared tuna on top of greens and surrounded by haricots verts, potatoes, olives and a hard-boiled egg. She was even kind enough to let me pull out my camera and take pictures of the food, a kind of occupational hazard when you agree to dine with a blogger.

Last but not least we had coffee rather than dessert. The only reason that this is worth mentioning is that their coffee service is quite charming, a little set piece of coffee (in a cup, not a mug) with lumps of sugar (brown and white) and a little thimble-full of cream on a white platter.

This is an ideal place to bring your mother, your auntie or your just-graduated eighth-grade niece for lunch. And the large new Parisian-style outdoor dining area facing Jamison Square park looks like the it's going to be a popular place to sit outside on a warm night and survey the denizens (and denizen wannabes) of the Pearl. I just wish I knew where I was.

Details: Fenouil in the Pearl, 900 NW 11th Ave. Phone 503-525-2225.

Censored by the Fashion Police

I'm no style maven; my fashion sense runs toward jeans and Keens and no makeup (well, maybe once in a great while). But I do know what makes good advertising, and that's an ad that makes you makes you laugh out loud, cry, get outraged or simply think. In other words, good advertising should engage your emotions in a direct way.

When I got the assignment from my brother, who owns a wine shop in Sellwood called Vino, to create an ad that was edgy and "out there" for the a local designer rag shop's 300-page paean to fashion called the Mario's Forum catalog, I said, "No problem!" This is the kind of challenge that a creative ad-type like me salivates over. So I decided to talk about what the fashion business and the wine business have in common: Labels.

I quickly put together a concept and sent it off for approval. It came back almost instantly with exclamation points and words like, "Holy crap!" and "Wow!" and "I love it!" The next day Mario's called and said they wouldn't run it because they found it inappropriate and felt their clients would, as well. What a shame!

Thursday, June 14, 2007

New Lunchin' in a Favorite Spot

Growing up in Redmond, my mother would bless me with a day off from school and take me to the big city of Bend and the Pine Tavern for shopping and a "ladies lunch." Overlooking a sloping lawn with a stunning view of Mirror Pond on the Deschutes River, and with a 200-year-old pine tree growing up through floor and through the roof, it's always set the standard for a perfect mid-day repast.

Now, I love the lunches at Nostrana and Lorenzo's but it's nice to have more choices. So I was thrilled when I heard awhile ago that one of my favorite places in all of Portland, Café Castagna, was opening for lunch starting this week. I immediately made plans with fellow Castagna groupie Kim to go for their opening day.

We hit the jackpot with fabulous weather, the garden in full and glorious bloom (I'm totally enamored with the cardoon plants, those tall leafy things against the architectural!) and a table for two on the patio. The menu is a somewhat simplified version of their dinner menu, with three pizzas, their fabulous burger and fries, a pasta dish, appetizers and desserts. Plus a great idea for lunch, half orders of two of their terrific salads.

We opted to share a bowl of their Ten Treasures soup (above, right), a light broth with bit of artichoke, spring onions, fava beans, chives and peas, a perfect portrait of spring's first harvest. We followed that with a wedge of iceberg lettuce with a creamy green goddess dressing, the crunch of the lettuce offset by the richness of the chive-studded dressing.

Their featured pasta that day was chitarra with grilled scallops, tossed with preserved lemons,a "really good" Ligurian olive oil and a mild Italian green, agretti, that I'd never had before. Tubular in shape and about two inches long, owner Monique Siu said they'd had it in London recently and found a grower here who could supply them with some plants for the garden. Apparently native to marshy areas, it reminded me of sea beans with the same crunchy texture and mildly green flavor. With a couple of glasses of icy cold jewel-like rose, it made a wonderful and reasonably priced lunch.

Details: Cafe Castagna, 1758 SE Hawthorne on the corner of Poplar and Hawthorne. Phone 503-231-9959.

Monday, June 11, 2007

A Win-Win Situation!

I'd heard about COPIA, the American Center for Wine, Food and the Arts, in Napa, California, when they opened several years ago and have wanted to stop in ever since. And now my pals at want to fly one of you and a friend there so you can attend a two-day "Mastering the Grill" course! Your round-trip flight is covered, as are two nights' lodging. Sounds like a perfect getaway to me!

And speaking of me, they're also asking for you to nominate your favorite food blogger (me?). The blogger with the most votes gets the same trip to the same course. Cool, huh? So click on the GrillMe icon on the right and get us both there! Maybe I could do a class of my own and teach those COPIA foodies a thing or two about how we make paella on the grill up here in the great Northwest. Yeah!

Details: GrillMe contest from Contest runs June 10-21; winners will be announced June 22. There is more information about the contest on the GrillMe contest page.

Toro! Toro! Toro!

Headed out to dinner with my brother and the lovely w- at the new tapas bar, Toro Bravo, on NE Russell. Much food and much wine later, we decided to halve the effort (oh, the effort!) and, rather than writing individual posts, we'd write it up together and see what happened. The result follows, so let us know what you think, if it's worth repeating or whatever .02 you'd like to throw in!

BB: So what were your impressions on walking in?

KAB: I liked it immediately. It was very warm and welcoming and had a nice buzz of conversation.

BB: It did have a nice vibe. And they were friendly about the wait. But apparently we were we only ones who didn't know about the call ahead policy. [If you call ahead they'll put your name on the waiting list and you show up a half hour later. Nice for parties of more than two.]

KAB: It was nice that they thought of providing places for people to wait, too.

BB: I liked the sneaky little side room (right). It'd be a good place to hide.

KAB: Yes, the corridor, the trysting place! It's nice to have the option to wait in the corridor, at the little bench we sat at, at the standing tables. And you can actually get started on drinks and food before you get your table.

BB: I know, it's all part of their master plan...get a couple drinks and apps on the bill while people are waiting. A good idea on their part, I have to say! And it's nice not to be in the way or have people tripping over you while you wait. It's well thought out in a way that other places sometimes aren't. And the drinks were good...a decent 'tini. And your Casa-rita was pretty tasty.

KAB: Quite good. And the prices of the drinks were pretty reasonable, too.

BB: About what you'd find elsewhere. They seemed a bit slow in coming, but that may have had something to do with how busy they were.

KAB: It'd be worth a trip back in a month or so to see if they've figured it out.

BB: I agree, and maybe then there will be more bread on the tapas plate. What's up with serving two half slices of baguette for four people to share? Their version of bread rationing, perhaps?

KAB: That was just silly. A couple of slices of young manchego (not the older, more expensive reserva) and three slices of chorizo for $6? For that price they could easily have done four slices of each, I mean, really. And that sherry jelly was too strong for would have been much better with membrillo (quince paste). But then the fried anchovies (left, below) came...

BB: Yummm! Those were perfect...crisp, fresh...and the fried lemon was a nice set-off.

KAB: I've never had deep fried lemons before. They were a revelation. And the romesco sauce on the bottom was a nice surprise. Set off the fried things quite nicely.

BB: I know...not too spicy, just as it should be. And for $4 a good deal! All the tapas plates (besides the chorizo), were well priced. The kitchen seemed to be working well too. We never had to wait for things. And I've never had salt cod fritters (right, below) like! That's a dish to put on the "crave" list!

KAB: They were the highlight of the meal, for my money. Our neighbor (who went there last week) said one bite and she was transported back to her childhood in Brazil.

BB: I like that...both the chilhood in Brazil and the memory. I can't say the same about our childhood in Redmond...hmmmm.

KAB: I sometimes longed for a non-middle-class American childhood. Exotic locations, other languages, cool food. Tuna casserole and Spanish rice just didn't quite have the same appeal.

BB: I know. It seems funny that, based on what we grew up with, we both somehow came away with this appreciation for really good food.

KAB: Not that we noticed. We always scarfed down whatever Mom made.

BB: It was good. Straight outta Ladies Home Journal!

KAB: And Betty Crocker's cookbook. "Open a can! Get out the box! Just add water..."

BB: So did you think we got good value? Whenever I've gone to "small plates" places, the bill always adds up so quickly.

KAB: I think some things were a great value. Like the anchovies and the fritters.

BB: The oxtail croquettes were good, but maybe not $14 good.

KAB: How about the crab dish (left)? I thought that was really good.

BB: For $7 I thought it was really good, too. It was described as "crab and pork croquettes with salsa verda and roja." Crab and unholy food marriage if I've ever heard of one!

KAB: Yes, that was very tasty...had that full-on crabby taste that's so often missing from crab cakes or other crab dishes.

BB: Spanish surf and turf! What a great combo...very original. The wine list, by the way, had some nice deals. Very fairly priced with lots of under-$30 choices.

KAB: I loved that Petalos. Very food-friendly.

BB: It is a GREAT food wine. It's from the Bierzo region made from the Mencia grape.

KAB: Men-thia.

BB: How very Castillian of you! So overall a pretty good hang; comfortable, friendly, some good things if you choose carefully.

KAB: Go for a "lite" supper, a nice bottle of wine. And sit at the bar.

BB: That's it! Those small plates seem made for nibbling at a bar. Oh wait, that's right..."tapas BAR!"

KAB: OK, so next time get a bottle of the Petalos, the radicchio salad, a plate of anchovies, the salt cod and the crab. How much would that be?

BB: It would be $52...that would be a nice meal!

KAB: So, having been to Spain recently, you felt it was pretty authentic?

BB: I thought it was. Some of the dishes like the crawfish boil and maybe the oxtail I wouldn't expect, but the others seemed to fit in with my expectations.

KAB: And the atmosphere wasn't your typical Portland foodie hangout, either. The open kitchen, the noise of the room, small tables close together. It felt more European to me. Plus the blood red walls. Very Spanish.

BB: I liked how the cooks are at the head of the room, looking out over the restaurant. Kind of a focal point. These are the perfect places to go with several people, to share lots of tastes...otherwise it could be frustrating.

KAB: I don't know about that. I think a crowd is fine for sampling, but I could see going there for a relatively reasonably priced dinner at the bar on one of those I-don't-feel-like-cooking nights.

BB: I can see that. My comment probably stems more from my need for MORE! I hate to think I'm missing anything, but then one can always return.

Details: Toro Bravo, 120 NE Russell St. Phone 503-281-4464.

Saturday, June 09, 2007

Cheesy Events

If summer is just too relaxing for you, what with all the barbecues and pool parties and summer concerts or, on the other hand, too stressful from arranging your kids' schedules of camps, lessons and play dates, then take a break and go to a class. Luan and Tim at Foster & Dobbs have got a great schedule of classes this summer where you can sit among a handful of adults, sample nibbles of this and that, sip a little wine and absorb some information. Best of all, there's no test afterward.
  • June 21: Pam Kraemer of Dulcet Cuisine on spice rubs, marinades and dipping sauces for summer entertaining.
  • July 11: Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek discuss their jams and preserves, including a berry tasting.
  • July 16: Andina's Ken Collura on Old World and New World wines.
  • Aug. 8: Luan Schooler presents her Cheese 101 class, discussing how cheese is made, basic styles and flavor profiles.
  • Aug. 24: Armandino Batali, master salami maker and owner of Salumi in Seattle (and father of Mario Batali), discusses everything you want to know about meat.
Reservations are required and seating is limited, so be sure to call or e-mail and let them know which classes you want to attend. The charge is $15 and the classes start at 7:15. See you there!

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

Friday, June 08, 2007

Jesus Is Just All Right!

After we whiled away another lovely afternoon at Laurelwood Pub, sitting outside at the picnic tables and quaffing a pint or so of this year's release of their Green Elephant IPA, we wandered by Lemon Tree, a little store squeezed in between the pub and the Quizno's on the corner. It reminds me of the goofy souvenir shops I saw in Tokyo, chock full of lunch boxes, odd posters and retro knickknacks featuring the likes of sumo wrestlers and Betty Boop (not together).

Outside they had a rack of the coolest tote bags like the one at left ($16) that I am dying to take marketing. (Note the words "Be Worthy" and "Be Noticed" above the women's heads!) There was another one that was themed "Candy from Strangers" as well as odd Asian-chic lettered bags with rabbits and babies. This could be just the place to find that unique gift for your quirky friend, and could relieve you of the guilt of buying bath products (again) because you couldn't find them something more personal.

Details: Lemon Tree Cards Gifts Toys, 1724 NE 40th. Phone 503-287-3070.

Olympic Cheeses

What can I say? It was his very first time. You could tell he was a little nervous because he kept telling us he'd never done this before, was he doing OK, was there anything else we needed? But once Will O'Donnell of Mt. Townsend Creamery started talking about how he fell in love with cheese at the age of eight, that it was his favorite food and that he wanted to get involved with making it more than anything else in the world, his whole being lit up and the nerves went out the window.

And then there were his cheeses. Made from cows fed on the lush grasses of the Dungeness Valley near Sequim, Washington, they can be truly said to have that taste of place, or "terroir." Made at his Mt. Townsend creamery on the northeastern tip of Washington's Olympic peninsula, they have the fresh smells of grass and sea that come through as they dissolve in your mouth.

His class at Foster & Dobbs last week included a chunk of six-week-old Cirrus (left in photo), a Camembert style cheese that was buttery and aromatic, with a semi-firm center that turned gooey toward the rind. The second cheese was their Trailhead Tomme (center), normally eaten at three to four months of age. At this tasting we were given three samples, one at two months, one at eight months and one never-to-be-seen-in-this-world-again year-old version. This simply made cheese has a firm texture and a semi-dry sharpness that make it easy to serve and use on a daily basis.

And last but certainly not least were two samples of Seastack (right, above), one two weeks old and the other a month old, probably their most well-known cheese. Made in the Chaource style of the Champagne region of France, it has a cheesecake-like center with a creamy, almost runny outer layer and is reminiscent of a goat's milk cheese in taste and texture, though it's also made from cow's milk. Rolled in a layer of French grape ash, this was definitely the crowd favorite and it went extremely well with the Elyse rosé that was poured. All in all a lovely evening, and a great place to check out when we head north to Port Townsend and environs.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Cookin' with Culinate!

This blogging thing is pretty darn cool, and the ripples that flow out from the pebble-drop of a blog entry can lead to fun and unpredictable connections with other people. Take, for instance, the article I did awhile ago on something I'd read on a new online food magazine called Culinate. The publisher apparently saw it, we exchanged a couple of e-mails, and it led me to pitch some ideas to their editor, Kim Carlson.

Since they were going to be featuring an issue on grilling, I started raving about how easy and fun it was to do paella on the grill, what a wonderful dish it is for a party, etc. So, with her go-ahead, I wrote the article, we did a photo shoot and it's publishing on their site today! Check it out and let them know what you think by clicking the Comments link below the article. Make it a GoodStuffNW blitz!

Monday, June 04, 2007

Masterful Gardener

In case you hadn't noticed, I absolutely love anything to do with gardens and gardening. Books, nurseries, lectures, chatting with complete strangers on the street. But, above all, I love to tour gardens. And this past Sunday I can say without hesitation that I've been to the mountaintop and seen the light. It was streaming down on the pool of lawn that is the axis of the magnificent series of plantings that make up the home garden of Dulcy Mahar, longtime garden writer and wit for the Oregonian's Homes & Gardens section.

As she and her husband Ted sat, surrounded by admirers, at a small table piled with garden books on the back porch of their SE Portland home, gaggles of garden groupies ooohed and ahhhed their way through the beds and along the hidden paths winding through the rhododendrons that ring the perimeter of this amazing space.

Like her writing, this garden is full of humor and imagination, a place where plants and shrubs and, yes, garden gnomes are combined to make both stunning vistas and charming nooks (like the famous "Bus Stop" garden shelter, left). She somehow manages, with the help of her right-hand-helper Doug the Wonder Boy (or is Ted the right and Doug the left?), to pack a profusion of plants into a whole that is stunning from a distance and yet, when you get up close, also a masterful use of color and texture in the same way that Van Gogh used not only the color but also the thickness of his strokes to make the canvas come alive.

It's every gardener's goal to have their garden be not just a collection of plants but an aesthetically pleasing place to spend time, perhaps just sitting with a cup of tea or entertaining friends. Great gardens, on the other hand, are the expression of a personal vision written on a landscape in plants and structures. And the very few truly great gardens among those are reflections of the personality of the gardener herself, where walking and looking and experiencing the garden is like sitting and having a conversation with the person that created it. Dulcy's garden, to me, is just such a place, and I could spend hours sitting and talking with her.

More on Iraq Names Project

On the first day she wrote for 14 hours, starting with the first American death in Iraq on March 21, 2003. After 7 days and 36 hours of writing, artist Nancy Hiss had completed 302 names. And now you can follow the progress of the Iraq Names Project online on a blog that is recording the progress of the project as it weaves its way through Portland.

As she works, people have been stopping to ask questions and talk about the project. Others, including a Girl Scout troop and a group of touring middle school students, have stopped what they were doing to help fill in letters. According to the blog, a young skater named Alex stayed and helped for several hours, eventually recording a movie of names flying by for blocks as he rode past them on his skateboard.

When she started the project in front of the Federal Building downtown, a couple of people came out and told her she couldn't write the names, but after she explained that the purpose of the project was to honor the sacrifice of the soldiers, they left and she continued her work. This week (6/4-8) she'll be working from Monday through Thursday from 7:30 am to 8:30 am and on Friday from 8:30 am till 2 pm. Over the weekend (6/9-10) she'll be out from 10 am to 5 pm. She'll be starting on SW 1st and Ash, continuing east to the sea wall and down to the Japanese American Historical Plaza and across the Steel Bridge to Peace Park. So come down, color in a few letters and reflect on the sacrifice these men and women and their families have made.

All photos from the Iraq Names Project blog.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Where's Molly?

Say you're a young boy, around six years old. You live in a nice house with your mother and your father and your adored younger sister who's two-and-a-half. The two of you laugh and play constantly and you teach her to play ball. Then one morning you wake up and she's gone. If you ask where she is, you're punished or, worse, completely ignored. Your mother becomes distant and emotionally unavailable, your father depressed.

This is the story of Jeff Daly and his sister Molly as told in the movie "Where's Molly?" It follows Jeff, a documentary filmmaker, as he tries to find out what happened, not just to his sister, but to himself and his family. It also tells the story of the Fairview Training Center in Salem, Oregon, where Molly lived for 47 years. Called the State Institution for the Feeble-Minded when it was opened in 1910, the center was originally considered a state-of-the-art facility for thousands of disabled or mentally challenged toddlers to adults whose families decided to commit them to a lifetime in an institution. It was closed in 2000 for civil rights violations and failure of Fairview to protect residents from harm.

Part love story, part heartbreaker, it's a moving and sometimes horrifying account of how we treat those who are different, often with a terrible cost to ourselves and our families. It has a happy, even an uplifting, conclusion as Jeff works to pass legislation to make it easier for family members to find their relatives who may have been committed to institutions. It's very worth your time to seek out this movie and, though it's not currently available at the Multnomah County Library, you can buy a copy through the website.