Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Co-op Culture

"If the mention of a food co-op makes you think of dimly lit corner shops catering to a few patchouli-scented, Birkenstock-shod customers, then I have news for you: Co-ops are on the rise in Portland and across the country, and while they may not qualify as 'big business,' they're growing in revenue and membership. As today's consumers hunger for more local, organic products and a stronger sense of community, cooperative grocery stores — with their '60s-era values — seem more relevant than ever."

Want to find out more about Portland's burgeoning co-op scene? Read my article in today's FoodDay!

Photo by Beth Nakamura of The Oregonian.

Market Watch: Gresham Farmers' Market

In this week's installment of Market Watch, your intrepid reporter braves the vagaries of I-84 and heads out to east Multnomah County to check out the Gresham Farmers' Market. It's located in the city's historic downtown district and, not to be snotty, but who knew Gresham had a cute little downtown area full of boutique-y shops? Seriously, it's sweet!

Celebrating its 22nd year in business, you'll find new family farmers like Debbie Abrahamson of NW Organic Farms in Sandy whose five kids are actively involved with the business, as well as old-timers like Debra and Richard Lowry of Farmers Outlet in Corbett. Plus lots of crafts and food booths to keep you going.

Details: Gresham Farmers' Market. Saturdays, 8:30 am-2 pm. Miller Street at Third in historic downtown Gresham.

Monday, September 29, 2008

Noshing Nirvana: Provvista '08

It was about, oh, maybe three months ago that I started pestering my ever-patient brother about the upcoming Provvista Open House.

"Have you heard anything? Have they sent an invitation? Huh? Huh? Huh?"

Pizza man Mark Doxtader

I'm worse than a four-year-old begging for a puppy when it comes to this biennial event held at one of the Northwest's leading importers and distributors of specialty food products. Normally open only to account holders, I slide in on my sib's generosity to the equivalent of a day in what surely must be foodie heaven.

Mateo "Get That Camera Out of My Face" Kehler of Jasper Hill

With tasty temptations like the pizzas produced by Tastebud wood oven maestro Mark Doxtader and biscuits and gravy from Pine State Biscuits, and detours featuring paella and fideua, espresso and gelato, it was hard not to lose my bearings and stuff myself silly. But with steely determination I kept my wits about me, remembering that the real show was in the seemingly endless aisles of the warehouse where food purveyors were proffering a dizzying variety of edible delights.

Cheese mother Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery

And Provvista doesn't pull any punches, luring the big cheeses of the curd world like Mateo Kehler from Jasper Hill Farm in Vermont and Peggy Smith of Cowgirl Creamery in California. Mateo was happy to talk about his new cheese cave where he's working with 11 regional cheesemakers, including Dancing Cow Farmstead Chees's Menuet from Bridport and Manchester from Peter Dixon of Consider Bardwell in West Pawlet. I'd tasted the Manchester about a year ago when I interviewed Dixon, and found the cave aging had deepened and accentuated its creamy earthiness.

Up-and-comers Amy Turnbull and Stephen Hueffed of Willapa Hills

A wink and a nudge from Tom Koolman, Provvista cheese dude, sent me searching for Amy Turnbull and husband Stephen Hueffed of Willapa Hills Farmstead Cheese. Open for only three months, they're producing some of the most promising blues I've tasted recently, including the hauntingly delicious Fresh with Ewe Hint of Blue from their herd of 80 sheep and 5 jersey cows.

Fra'Mani's ever-delightful Paul Bertolli

But the highlight for me was a hug and a kiss (on the cheek...he is a gentleman, after all) from Paul Bertolli himself, one of the progenitors of the movement toward artisanal cured meats that every chef worth his pork butt is making today. Not resting on his laurels, he brought with him some new (and mouthwateringly luscious) uncured hams (regular and rosemary) that he was slicing and handing out to the pork-loving groupies crowding his table. There were also some new patés, a Pork Liver Mousse and Paté Campagnolo, with their shimmering topping of gelée, that bode well for future appetizer platters.

Most of these products can be found at your local cheese shop or Pastaworks, but if you don't see them, definitely ask!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Cheese Classiness

First a confession.

I am not now, nor probably ever will be, a cheesemaker. I love to eat it, read about it, hear about it and smell it, but I'm just not the kind of person who will get serious about the rather specialized and painstaking process involved in making it. Though working as an affineur's apprentice for a short time in a French cheese cave might be fun. But I digress.

Chrissie Zaerpoor, she of the pasture-raised, organically and sustainably grown chickens at Kookoolan Farms in Gaston, Oregon, invited me to attend one of the cheesemaking classes she holds in her farm store kitchen. Now, this farm store is getting a reputation among home cheesemaking afficianados, and there is an increasing number of them, as ground zero for the best selection of cheesemaking supplies and equipment in the area.

Cheesemaker Scott Catino, who is planning to open Quail Run Creamery in about six months featuring cheeses from his herd of goats, showed the process from start to (nearly) finish, as well as the finer points of making a monterey or manchego cheese. Starting with raw milk and moving through the heating, addition of vegetable rennet, cutting of the curds and molding, the whole process took about three hours.

These classes would be perfect for a home cheesemaker or anyone interested in finding out more about how cheeses are made. And if you get really excited, Chrissie offers to bring any cheesemaking supplies you order from the website to her booth at the Sunday Hillsdale Farmers' Market, where you can also buy Noris brand milk (Chrissie says "by far the best commercial milk available locally for the purpose of home cheesemaking") from Lisa Jacobs at the Jacobs Creamery booth at the same market. Upcoming classes:
  • Oct. 4: Winemaker Rudi Marchesi of Montinore Estate Vineyard teaches a class on Asiago with a cheese tasting of Italian cheeses and wines from his winery.
  • Oct. 18: Mary Rosenblum, science fiction author, cheesemaker and county fair cheese judge, will teach a class on cheddar and the cheddaring process with a tasting of, you guessed it, cheddar cheese!
  • Nov. 1: Soft cheeses with Scott Catino of Quail Run Creamery will cover basic techniques as well as how to flavor soft cheeses with herbs, vegetables and fruits. Tasting includes Scott's cheeses as well as others.
Details: Cheese Classes at Kookoolan Farms. Schedule of classes on the Kookoolan website. E-mail to register or for more information.

Friday, September 26, 2008

Oddities: The Trumpet Guy

When I was a kid, my family would make the (to me) long drive from Central Oregon to the big city of Portland. My brothers and I would walk around with our necks craned up to look at what were, to us, skyscrapers, and we'd practically hang out the windows of our room at the Imperial Hotel watching the people the size of little ants on the sidewalks below.

As a teenager living in the 'burbs, I'd take off in the family car (a Plymouth Fury III 4-door hardtop with a 386 V8 engine) and head downtown to the "hippie shops" that lined SW 3rd in the early 70s. My favorite was a waterbed shop where there were always interesting people hanging out and talking. Go figure.

I don't get downtown much any more, but when I do I make it a point to cross the Hawthorne Bridge to see what The Trumpet Guy is doing with his flowers, his puppets or his toys. He's there around rush hour nearly every day, and I'd love to know more about him. Can anybody add enlightenment?

In Season: Pears!

As regular readers know, I write the Market Watch column for the Oregonian's FoodDay section and get to travel to farmers' markets all over the metro area. And right now pears are the big deal. You'll find everything from Green Bartletts to Starkrimson to Comice, Seckel and Forelle, not to mention my personal favorite, the Bosc, at markets and stores all over town.

Which is why the Pear Bureau Northwest hosted a competition called Pear Panache, asking chefs all over the country to submit their favorite pear recipe. Seven winners were chosen and the first to be featured for his Pear Ginger Chutney was Vindalho's own David Anderson, whom I wrote about last February in an article profiling David and his twin brother, Ray.

To celebrate, the pear folks and Vindalho hosted an all-pear Indian lunch. Now, this might seem like overkill, but each course (there were three) had a distinctly different flavor profile, yet with a thread of flavor and texture that ran through the whole meal. First was a Bhel Puri salad (photo, above left) of pears, potatoes, watercress, puffed rice and chutneys that got things off to a fabulous start with the crispness of the pears playing off the savory chutneys and the textural intrigue of the other ingredients, pulled together with a creamy dressing that made it, in my opinion, the best dish on the menu.

It was a close competition, though, when the main course of tandoor roasted lamb Boti Kabab was served with that winning Pear Ginger Chutney, along with Vindalho's classic saffron basmati pullao and their always-incredible naan. And the dessert of a tamarind-pear samosa with spiced creme Anglaise was to die for.

Like I've said before, how lucky am I?

Pear Ginger ChutneyFrom David Anderson, Chef de Cuisine, Vindalho
Makes 4 cups

4-5 Comice or Bartlett pears, peeled, cored and diced (about 6 cups)
2 Tbsp. canola or olive oil
8 whole cloves
4 cardamom pods
2 cinnamon sticks
2 dried arbol chiles
2 Tbsp. fennel seeds
1 Tbsp. nigella seeds
1 medium onion, finely chopped
2 Tbsp. julienne sliced ginger
2 Tbsp. garlic, thinly sliced
3/4 c. packed brown sugar
3/4 c. granulated sugar
1/2 c. cider vinegar
1 Tbsp. finely chopped ginger
1 Tbsp. Kosher salt
1/2 tsp. cayenne
1/2 tsp. turmeric

In a medium saucepan, heat oil over medium-high heat. Add whole cloves, cardamom pods, cinnamon sticks, chiles, fennel and nigella seeds. Cook 1 minute or until fragrant. Add onions; sauté until browned. Add julienne ginger and garlic; sauté 3 minutes, stirring frequently. Add remaining ingredients except pears and simmer until slightly syrupy, 10-15 minutes.

Add pears and simmer until tender but still hold their shape, 15-30 minutes depending on ripeness of pears. When pears are cooked, use a slotted spoon to transfer chutney to a tray to cool. If desired, remove large pieces of whole spices. Return any remaining liquid to stove and simmer until thick and syrupy. Combine hot syrup and pears in a bowl. Cool completely to allow flavors to mingle. Serve with naan or pappadums.

Wednesday, September 24, 2008

In the News: Neighbors, the French and Gin

In today's New York Times there's a great story about the people of Houston, a city that's still barely functioning after Hurricane Ike blew through in mid-September, sharing what they have with neighbors and friends.

One of them, Eric Moen (above), the director of youth ministries at St. Martin’s Episcopal Church, put up a tent in his driveway and invited his neighbors on Kimberly Street to contribute food from their non-functioning freezers to cook and eat together in what they've dubbed the Kimberly Cafe.

* * *

French chefs are putting together a list of traditional foods they feel are threatened with extinction as a result of development. This list will be submitted to UNESCO which, in 2003, made it possible to designate so-called "intangibles" such as “oral traditions and expressions” and “performing arts, social practices, rituals and festive events; knowledge and practices concerning nature and the universe; traditional craftsmanship.”

One critic, François Simon of Le Figaro, wrote sarcastically that "Opening the door of a restaurant, making a soufflé rise, shelling an oyster, will become part of cultural activity, like falling asleep at the opera, yawning at the theater or slumping over Joyce’s ‘Ulysses.’” To Ms. Simon, I say, "Why not?"

* * *

And last but not least, genever, the progenitor of modern gin, is being imported to the United States by Bols, who first produced it based on an “old-school formula” dating from 1820. Described as "malty and complex," it is said to have more flavor and often a lower proof than English gin.

According to the article, most experts recommend drinking it straight, on the rocks, though David Wondrich, the author of “Imbibe!”, a history of cocktails, said, "All it takes is a bit of sugar and bitters for a gin cocktail made with genever; aged genever is terrific in an Old-Fashioned.” And apparently the drink called a Tom Collins is made with English gin, while one made with genever is a John Collins. My only question is, when do I get to try some?

Photos by Michael Stravato for The New York Times (top); Coucou of Rennes chicken by Jean-Paul Cillard for Écomusée du Pays de Rennes (center); Bols factory illustration from Bols (bottom).

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Market Watch: Cedar Mill Farmers' Market

Whether it's a vacant lot in Lents, a school parking lot in Hillsdale or a city park near PSU, farmers' markets seem to spring up in the unlikeliest locations. This week Market Watch visits the Cedar Mill Farmers' Market in the corner of a busy strip mall full of parents taking their kids to soccer games or families doing their weekend shopping.

Details: Cedar Mill Farmers' Market. Saturdays from 8 am-1 pm. On NW Cornell Road, one block west of Murray across from Sunset High School.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Planning for Winter

The Hillsdale Farmers' Market is one of two year-round markets in the area, the other being People's Farmers' Market in SE Portland. Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm have been stalwarts of the Hillsdale winter market since its inception.

When we first started farming here, autumn marked the time to wind down and put the fields to bed. That changed in July 2003 when Hallie Mittelman, with barely a season under her belt as a market manager, asked a few of us if we would consider growing crops for a winter market. We immediately dusted off the seed catalogues and got to work. Almost all of our crops are sown directly into the ground, and we have nothing under cover. In November, we will start our fifth winter season of harvesting purely field grown winter greens and roots. It is wonderful to see the verdant patches of winter crops offsetting the senescence of the summer crops.

A few years ago, we got a call from someone at OSU [Oregon State University]. They were putting on a conference panel dealing with season extension. The person told us they heard we harvested greens through the winter, and asked us what type of hoop houses and season extensions we employed. We explained that we used variety selection and diversity to grow through the winter, and had nothing under plastic. The person curtly responded that the panel was looking at structure options for season extension. We feel promotion of hoop houses is overdone, and an unnecessary capital expense in the Willamette Valley. We also know the greens are better when bathed gently in the moist Pacific rains, rather than sequestered indoors where they need to be watered.

The strictly field grown approach is not risk free. Each year, the mix is different, reflecting challenges and opportunities that happened months earlier. Unfortunately, shortly after the first planting of chicories, we had that nasty heat wave that literally steamed the emerging chicory seedlings. Second planting looks good, but a tad late. On the other hand, the mustards and turnips fared much better, as we planted them just as the flea beetle infestation ebbed. Sweet potatoes, corn and beans are all in good shape, but winter squash will be short. It is the summer heat, or lack thereof, that influences the winter harvest. For the most part, the plants take the winter in stride.

For the next month, we will be scurrying around planting durum, barley, wheat, garlic and favas, all to be harvested after the 2009 summer solstice.

* * *

Until then, Anthony leaves us with a recipe for those piles of tomatoes you may still have around:

Moroccan Tomato Soup
Here is our version of the classic tomato soup of Morocco. It is closer to a perfumed salad.

Take 3 to 5 pounds of tomatoes and run through a food mill. We use a mix of paste and slicers. Shoot for about six to eight cups of tomato pulp. The original recipe suggested peeling and de-seeding them first, but it is only necessary if you use a food processor. Put a quarter cup or so of olive oil in a pan and heat very gently. Add three or four cloves of minced garlic and cook until transparent. Add 1/2 teaspoon of ground cumin and 2 teaspoons of ground coriander and cook until they foam slightly. If the spices or garlic burn, which happens in a thrice, discard and repeat. You want to warm the spices to make a fragrant oil. Add 2 tablespoons of paprika. Turn off the heat and stir gently for a few more moments. Pour the mix over the tomatoes. Squeeze in a lemon, stir, add salt to taste. Serve in a bowl or glass with some diced celery on top.

This soup is equally delicious fresh, after sitting for a few hours, or the next day. You can also run some peppers or cucumbers through the mill with the tomatoes to vary the soup a bit. But it really is perfection in its original state.

Ayers Creek and barley photos by Josh. Tomatoes by Kim Ferris.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

A Culinary Career?

It seems perfect for one of those late-night TV ads promising riches and fame.

"The exciting world of culinary adventure awaits you in the growing fields of food blogging, food writing, food publicity, food photography and styling, food carts, Farmers Markets and cookbook writing."

While no one's proposing that you quit your day job to pursue any of the above, if you are curious about any of those topics, you've got a chance to talk with experts in the field on Saturday, Oct. 4. The event is sponsored by the Portland Culinary Alliance and features such local food luminaries as Lisa Herlinger of Ruby Jewel Treats, Martha Holmberg of the Oregonian's FoodDay, food cart and coffee maven Andrea Spella, cookbook authors Ivy Manning and Janie Hibler, as well as local chefs Cathy Whims and Vitaly Paley. Plus a three-course lunch prepared by Ms. Whims that should be worth the price of admission.

And they must have had someone cancel on them for the food blogging panel with the Queen of Cheese, Tami Parr, so I'll be warming the seat next to her. Silly them!

Details: Pathways to a Culinary Career. Oct. 4, 9 am-2 pm; $60 PCA members, $75 non-members, $50 students. Nostrana Restaurant, 1401 SE Morrison St. E-mail for reservations or call 503-716-8167.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Mad About Minis

At long last, the time may have come. In our youth we would never have imagined it possible, but the era of the Volvo may have passed, at least for us.

We've gone through most of the models, at least up through the 90s versions. From the very first one, a black '68 144 sedan with dual SU carbs that Dave rebuilt at least twice, through a couple of the 122 series, one a particularly fine '63 two-door with chrome lightning bolts on the side, to our more recent kid and dog-friendly 240 wagons, all used and all real workhorses. But now that the engines have gone computerized and you can't even see the ground when you open the hood for all the components, we've decided to leave the Volvo fold and downsize.

Yes, it's partly because of gas prices, but also because we just don't need a big car any more. It has to be passenger friendly, with enough room for Mr. B (who's 6'5") to fold himself into the back seat or for carpooling with friends. And it has to be big enough to also carry the two dogs in the back, though we downsized those in the last go-around, too.

So we're seriously thinking about the new Mini Clubman. The double doors in back are incredibly cute and also functional, the cargo area is roomy (enough) and the passenger area has enough leg room to seat two in relative comfort. And one of the back seats folds down so Walker can lick the back of the driver's head. Or for carrying long things, I suppose.

Plus their literature is amusing in that oh-so-British, cheeky way. When signing up for an online account, you're asked to agree to the following:
  • I also agree to avoid ruts.
  • And I agree to change my locker combination to include the numbers 1964 (the year we won our first Monte Carlo rally).
  • I agree to chase squirrels around the park every now and then and giggle like a madman while doing it.
  • I agree to be more adventurous and try to avoid homogenized restaurant chains.
  • I agree to name my first-born Cooper.
  • I agree to bare the soles of my feet to the earth and feel grass, sand, stones and streams.
  • I agree to watch the movie "The Italian Job" as soon as I can.
  • I agree to at last think strongly about learning to play a musical instrument.
  • I agree to consider painting the roof of my house in contrasting colors.

Cute, huh? I'll keep you posted on developments.

Thursday, September 18, 2008

Livin' in the Blurbs: Eat, Drink and Be Doggy!

In the better late than never category, this weekend (yikes!) is the Hardy Plant Society of Oregon sale at Portland's Expo Center. Wholesalers from all over the region bring their best, newest plants and set up in a vast space at the lowest prices you'll see all season. Insiders say the fall sale is not to be missed!

Details: Hardy Plant Society of Oregon Fall Plant Sale. Sat.-Sun., Sept. 20-21, 10 am-3 pm; free. Portland Expo Center, Hall C.

* * *

Get a portrait of your Fifi, Whiskers or Birdbrain and benefit the Delta Society. On Sept. 27, participating Walgreens stores will have a professional photographer ready to preserve your pet on film for all time. The $5.99 package includes a 5" by 7" photo of your pet, a photo CD with your pet's image and pet treats and photo coupons. Five bucks of that fee will be split between the Delta Society and Best Friends Animal Society.

Details: Walgreens Pet Photo Shoot. Sat., Sept. 27, 11 am-2 pm; $5.99 for photo package. See list of participating stores.

* * *

Travel to Greece without getting on a plane when Castagna Restaurant morphs into a Greek taverna on Sept. 28. Chef Elias Cairo will conduct the tour of the cuisine of his ancestral homeland with the able and entertaining assistance of Greek wine guy Dino Ariston, starting with grilled sardines, octopus and prawns, followed by roasted mussels, spit-roasted Cattail Creek lamb and a plethora of side dishes including skordalia and salt cod, Greek gigantes beans, Psefto Keftedes (assorted vegetable "meatballs"), yemista (assorted stuffed vegetables) and, last but not least, Epirote-style pita. Opa!

Details: Greek Feast at Castagna Restaurant. Sun., Sept. 28, 5 pm; $75 includes wine pairings. Reservations only. Castagna Restaurant, 1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd. 503-231-7373.

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

In Season: Tomatillos, Cilantro and Peppers, Oh My!

This is high season for all the glorious ingredients that go into fresh salsas, from red to green to even (if you throw in chopped papayas and mangoes) yellow. It's all I can do to not snatch up armloads of the little green orbs of tomatillos and bring them home to cook down into a fantastic sauce for chicken enchiladas. Or roast up a pile of dark green poblanos for some classic chiles en nogada. But then there's always the freezer option...hmmm!

Puget Sound Idyll

My friend Michel was raving about a fantastic spot near Seattle she discovered on a weekend with friends, so I asked her to share it with all of us. Thanks, Michel!

Last month, we had tickets for a Saturday night show at Jazz Alley in Seattle, and assumed we’d stay downtown as we usually do. But when our favorite B&B and affordable downtown hotels were booked, I turned to Craigslist Seattle for an alternative. In just a few minutes, I hit the jackpot when I found a “vacation rental” post for Porpoise Cottage. Located right on the water, about 10 miles from the Bainbridge Island ferry landing on the Kitsap Peninsula, it turned what was going to be a city weekend into an island escape.

The 3-bedroom “cottage” is located in the tiny town of Suquamish, home to the Suqamish tribe and burial ground of Chief Selath (often called Chief Seattle). The house sits just above Madison Bay with a fabulous deck that overlooks a gorgeous 180-degree east-facing view of water, water, water. Once we arrived and settled into the Adirondack chairs, we didn’t want to leave. It was a lazy pleasure to enjoy the morning sun with a cuppa Stumptown and a good book, though I frequently abandoned reading to gaze at the sparkling water and watch osprey fishing. Sunday morning, we spotted porpoises cutting through the bay. At night, it was equally compelling to linger on the deck, sipping wine and talking, with the bay glimmering in the moonlight.

Our good luck in finding the house was magnified by the full August moon. Our Friday evening ferry trip west to Bainbridge, and our Saturday evening ferry trip east to Seattle for the Jazz Alley show, were breathtaking. With the sun setting in the west, we watched the Seattle skyline gleam with a rosy glow as the huge, creamy moon rose behind it. To the west, the Olympic Mountains turned deep purple against a fuschia-colored sky. The passengers gathered on the ferry deck stood silently in slack-jawed amazement. If that view was a drug, it would definitely be heroin.

Suquamish is a short drive from Poulsbo, which has a Saturday farmers' market and a good grocery store called Central Market. We loaded up on vegetables, peaches and tiny sweet strawberries at the farmers' market, picked up just-baked bread at a downtown bakery, and snagged some briny salmon and other supplies at Central Market, and returned home with our booty. We cooked and ate with abandon all weekend and spent far less than we would have eating out in Seattle.

Madison Bay is prime kayaking territory, so next time we go, we’ll get up close and personal with the bay. Unless, of course, the veil of sun-induced laziness descends again and we simply can’t move from that inviting deck!

Details: Porpoise Cottage on Puget Sound near Suquamish, Washington. E-mail for information or reservations.

Photos by Bruce Kerr.

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Barbecue Song

From our friend Johnny the K in Amarillo, Texas, comes the saga of BBQ. I dare you not to sing along!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Market Watch: Canby Farmers' Market

Farmers' markets don't just happen. Starting one up, not to mention keeping it going, takes the support of an army of people, from city government and local businesses to the manager to the vendors to the community as a whole. And without that level of support a market can struggle or even fail. Canby's market has survived largely due to its hardworking market manager and a few dedicated vendors, but may not make it without a huge infusion of energy on the part of the community it serves. Read about it in this week's Market Watch.

Details: Canby Farmers' Market. Saturdays, 9 am-1 pm. First Avenue at Holly Street, Canby.

Photo: Vernon Scott and his Brooks prunes.

Open Up

Regular reader Randall Tipton tipped me off to the upcoming Portland Art Open, a weekend of open studios around the Portland area or, as the website declares, "3 days, 70 artists, 30 locations, 100% free." It includes painters, sculptors, woodworkers and photographers of all stripes and looks like a don't miss event, whether you visit three or all 30!

Details: Portland Art Open. Fri., 9/26, 5-9 pm; Sat.-Sun., 9/27-28, 11 am-6 pm; free. Map available on the website.

Above: Kruger's Farm#2 by Randall Tipton.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Mr. Gibson Will Serve You Now...

I've always thought that a personal chef was only for the rich and famous, the pompous or the puffed-up. Not that some nights it wouldn't be nice to have dinner all figured out, or a liveried butler proffering a cocktail on a silver platter.

But now, for lunch and afternoon snacks at least, you can have former Castagna chef Kevin Gibson preparing and serving his creations just for you at Pastaworks' new restaurant, Evoe. In the space vacated by Bar Pastiche, right next to the Hawthorne store, he'll be test-driving Pastaworks products, including fresh produce, on eager diners seated at the big butcher-block table across from the open prep area.

For lunch there was a large basket of pimientos de padron from Viridian Farms, which Mr. Gibson was happy to fry up as he prepped some of his legendary deviled eggs, which he topped with the thinnest of bacon slices that shattered like glass when I bit into the egg. (And for those of you who, like my dining partner K-, are not fans of deviled eggs, you'll be changing your mind when you try his. Believe me.)

Next up was a salad of glacier lettuce (again from Viridian Farms), peach and prosciutto. Glacier lettuce was something new to me, with its thick, almost succulent-like stems and leaves and fuzzy-looking (but not tasting) texture. The taste is of citrus, almost like sorrel, but when you bite into it there's an initial crisp crunch and then it melts away. (Interestingly, Google comes up with no hits. Does anyone have any guesses as to what it may be?)

We also tried the "pork and beans" and, in a typical Gibson twist, there was just a touch of molasses in the crust on the pork, but the beans were fresh shell beans and nothing like B&M. The rabbit rillette was superb, as well, with a nice brushing of fat, salt and pepper to top it off. Look for the meats and patés to be house-made in the near future, as Kevin's done already with the pickled products he serves.

The hours right now are from 11 till 6 Wednesday through Sunday, but expect those to expand as the menu and (I guarantee) the crowds develop.

Details: Evoe, 3731 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Phone 503-232-1010.

Pok Pok Walks the Talk

With an appeal for donations to relief efforts for Burmese cyclone victims on its home page, Pok Pok shows why it's the go-to spot for the real flavors of the streets of SE Asia. In a previous post, before they opened their front patio and another dining room in the house next door, I said it rocked. And I'm here to tell you, that hasn't changed.

We were invited on the occasion of the Good Fairy's birthday, making a party of six. We ran through a fair sampling of the dinner menu, larger parties being a good idea at a place like this. Among other items, we sampled the Chinese Muslim Lamb Skewers, little cubes of lamby lusciousness; Laap Pet Isaan, a northeastern Thai dish of duck breast, liver and cracklings topped with mint, sawtooth herb (culantro), mint and lime (photo, top), richly flavored with just the right balance between herb and meat; as well as their classic green papaya salad which gave a tart and refreshing break from the many many meaty items.

Despite the fact that we'd ordered more than we probably should have, a special of whole fish came to the table and was set upon with gusto by all present, its mild flavor a nuanced combination of fresh mushrooms and herbs, showing that everything that comes out of this kitchen doesn't have to be spicy hot or strongly flavored.

The cocktails carried their weight, too, the night's special a coconut milk, lime and mango-infused vodka that was almost milkshake-like and icy, though the mango was pretty much lost in the richness of the coconut milk. There was also a drink using an Asian fruit vinegar as the base, which may be a new ingredient we'll be experimenting with here at home.

Details: Pok Pok, 3226 SE Division St. Phone 503-232-138.

Monday, September 08, 2008

Letter from Manhattan: Once in Love with Amy’s

Transplanted Oregonian Mark Dundas Wood, GSNW's Man in Manhattan, has been pleased to find that New Yorkers love their bread as much as we do, whether as loaf, bagel or pastry. And also that, as on Alberta or Mississippi, small businesses can start the rejuvenation of a whole neighborhood.

In August I flew back to Oregon briefly for a couple of family reunions. I was hoping to find some traditional New York City bagels to share with my Oregon family members, but there wasn’t enough time to schlep around the city to find them. (After 11 years in Manhattan, I feel I’ve earned the right to use the word “schlep”—at least when it’s used to describe a bagel quest.)

With my departure time looming, I called off my bagel beagles and turned instead to a reliable standby outlet, Amy’s Bread on 9th Avenue, about a block and a half away from my apartment.

The love affair between Amy’s and New York City has blossomed and deepened in the 16 years since Amy Scherber opened her bakery in a storefront in Hell’s Kitchen. In those early days, HK was still a bit of a combat zone, adjoining a not-yet-tidied-up Times Square. Disney has been credited with a lot of the rejuvenation of the area, but it’s also been intrepid folks like Amy—willing to take a chance on a creating a business in a sketchy neighborhood—that have made a big difference. In recent years Amy’s has grown like kudzu along a highway in the Bible Belt, and there are now two other locations in the city: one in Chelsea Market and another in Greenwich Village.

The Magnolia Bakery in the Village may be more famous nationwide than Amy’s, thanks to that Saturday Night Live short “Lazy Sunday.” But Amy’s more than holds its own. On any given lazy Sunday (or frantic Friday, for that matter), you can expect to find a line of customers stretching outside Amy’s front door, eager for scones, cupcakes and an array of fantastic breads and rolls. Just the sight of the store’s turquoise facade can set mouths a-watering. Sandwiches and other lunch items are also available, although there’s not much of a seating area on premises. As weather permits, you can take your purchased goodies a couple of blocks uptown to Worldwide Plaza and feast there, alfresco.

For my Oregon relatives, I selected two large loaves of olive bread—one with black olives and the other with green. I had hoped to purchase some of Amy’s deadly chocolate bread—but there was none available on that particular visit.

My own particular Amy’s favorites are the be-raisined wedges of Irish soda bread (which come in regular as well as whole wheat). You can also purchase by the ring rather than the wedge. Microwave to approximate fresh-baked temperature and then top with butter and raspberry jam. Begorra! The thought of such breakfast dainties waiting in your fridge will help you decide that you really don’t need that extra sleep cycle.

And don’t get me started on Amy’s Red Velvet Cake—because it’s likely I’ve already finished it. Actually, when you’re counting calories, having Amy’s RVC on hand is a good measure of your portion-control will power. If I’m exercising sufficient discipline, I can make a single slice work for three—sometimes four—servings. Then there are the days when you’ll find me scarfing it all down in one setting, scraping the container with my finger to get every crumb and dollop of frosting, then putting on my shoes for the short trek back to Amy’s for more of the same.

Schlep, schlep. Oy vey ist mir!

Details: Amy's Bread, 672 Ninth Ave. between 46th & 47th Sts., New York, NY. Phone 212-977-2670.

Photo by Anthony La Russo.

Sunday, September 07, 2008

Livin' in the Blurbs: 'S Wonderful!

If you love the songs from the classic crooners of the 30s through the 50s and you don't know about Divaville, a radio show on KMHD on Wednesday nights, then you need to become informed immediately. With artists ranging from Bobby Darin and Mavis Rivers to Billie Holiday and Cliff "Ukelele Ike" Edwards, host Christa Wessel promises a "swellegant" evening of music every week from 6 to 9 pm. And I just heard she's hosting a Listeners' Party on Sept. 23 at Tony Starlight's. I'll see you there!

Details: Divaville Listeners' Party. 7-10 pm; free with reservation. Tony Starlight’s Supperclub and Lounge, 3728 NE Sandy Blvd. Portland. Phone 503-517-8584.

* * *

For those of us still in denial about the onset of fall weather, Belly owners Cameron and Linda Addy invite neighbors and friends to an ice cream social to thank them for a warm welcome to the neighborhood on September 20th. This friendly café on the corner formerly occupied by the way-too-upscale-for-the-neighborhood and extremely short-lived Terroir has been doing a decent business with approachable food at approachable prices and seems to be on the road to becoming a neighborhood staple.

Details: Ice Cream Social at Belly. Sat., Sept. 20, 2-4 pm; free. Belly, 3500 NE MLK Jr Blvd. Phone 503-249-9764.

* * *

Matt Miner and Sasha Kaplan have expanded their Hollywood House Concerts to include a new location, at Blackbird Wineshop on NE 44th and Fremont. On November 23 they'll try out the new space with music from mandolin picker extraordinaire Lincoln Crockett and Misty River singer-fiddler-guitarist Chris Kokesh. As always, the performance will be preceded by a light dinner from Sasha, with wine available from the shop. Other upcoming concerts back at the house:
  • Jan. 11: Nancy King and Glen Moore
  • Feb. 8: Ashleigh Flynn
  • Mar. 22: Craig Carothers
Details: Lincoln Crockett and Chris Kokesh at Blackbird Wineshop. Nov. 23, 5 pm; $35. Reservations are first paid, first seated, by check to Matt Miner, 2335 NE 41st Ave., Portland, OR 97212. Please include your e-mail address, since reservations are confirmed by e-mail.

A Great Cause

I never thought for a moment about driving my sick child to the clinic to get a shot. What could happen?

But when Nidal Abed, whose family lives in Fallujah, Iraq, took her one-year-old son to a clinic and was returning home, she found herself in the middle of an American air raid. She started to run down the street with her son, Mustafa, in her arms, and was thrown to the ground when a missile hit a nearby building.

When she regained consciousness, she saw Mustafa lying on the ground a few feet away, screaming and covered in blood. Shrapnel had torn his leg and most of his hip from his body. At the hospital, a large section of Mustafa's colon had to be removed.

He's now five years old, has never walked, and has to use a colostomy bag. Two Portlanders, Maxine Fookson and Ned Roach, read about Mustafa and contacted an organization called No More Victims, who began the process of finding doctors to donate their time to help him.

And because of their efforts and those of countless others, this Tuesday Mustafa and his father will be arriving in Portland to start treatment at Shriners Hospital for Children. Read Mustafa's story online, or contact Maxine and Ned to find out what you can do to help.

In Season: Corn!

Is there anything better than fresh, local corn? Well, anything better at this time of year, anyway?

I mean, Hood strawberries are amazing. But they're around forever compared to the Northwest corn season. A couple of weeks and it's over. I crave corn's crunch, the milky sweet juice that explodes out of the kernels when they pop in my mouth, the satisfying pick-it-up messiness of buttered corn on the cob. Man, that's eating!

As for grilling, we've done it in the husk, with the husks turned down (what a mess!) and then last night we just husked them and threw them on the grill with a brushing of olive oil and a sprinkle of salt. Simple and easily the best. A little char on the outside, slathered with butter (or, in Dave's case, margarine) and gnaw away.

Now I just need to go buy a bunch, cut the kernels off and pack them in the freezer to pull out for corn chowder, cornbread and corn salsa this winter.

Easy Cornbread
Adapted from The New York Times Magazine

1 c. flour
1 c. cornmeal
1 Tbsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. salt
1 1/2 tsp. cumin
2/3 c. sour cream*
2/3 c. milk*
2 Tbsp. butter, melted*
1 egg
1/3 c. green onions, chopped
1/3 c. corn kernels, fresh or canned
1 3/4 c. cheddar cheese, grated*

Preheat oven to 375°. Combine flour, cornmeal, baking power, salt and cumin and blend well. In a separate bowl, add sour cream and milk and blend well. Beat in melted butter and egg. Add liquid ingredients to cornmeal mixture and blend well. Add corn, green onions and cheese. Blend thoroughly. Grease and flour baking pan (I use a Pyrex pie plate) or muffin tin. Pour mixture into pan or tin and place in oven. Bake 25 min. or until knife inserted in center comes out clean.

Options: Red pepper flakes and chopped jalapeno peppers can be added for a little heat and makes this fantastic with chili.

* For the lactose intolerant, substitute Lactaid milk, Tofutti tofu sour cream, margarine and whatever cheese your milk-averse person can tolerate. Dave does fine with extra sharp cheddar.

Friday, September 05, 2008

Frisco Road Trip, Pt. 10: The Last Meal

After the intensity of the Frida show, the whole group was completely wrung out and needed not only some food, but liquid refreshment. Fast.

Tom and Judy had done their research and found a Brazilian churrascaria named Espetus just down the street. And these two know Brazil intimately, since Tom had taught at a university there some years ago and both speak some Portuguese, Tom being fluent. Can you see where this is going?

Now, churrascaria (pron. shuh-ras-car-EE-a) is roughly translated as "steakhouse" but, my friends, it is much, much more than that. We walked in and were seated at a table where we ordered a beer with a caipirinha, which is something like a margarita without the salt and made with a Brazilian spirit called cachaça.

Next we were ushered to the salad bar, again an understatement, since it was not only a smorgasbord (not to mix metaphors) of brilliant salads but also featured the foundation of Brazilian cuisine, pinto beans, black beans and rice with a topping of a granular farinha that had been cooked with pork fat. The salads ranged from a potato salad made with carrots and mayonnaise to a tabbouli-like grain and parsley salad to a corn salad to one resembling cole slaw.

Plates full, we returned to the table where we were met with a man dressed in a gaucho costume wielding not only a very long, very sharp knife, but a two-foot-long skewer full of meat. As he cut thin slices off the meat, we were instructed to pick up the tongs next our plates and grasp the wafers as they peeled off and then put them on our plates.

This was repeated with men bearing skewers of pork loin, steaks, pork chops, sausages, chicken hearts and more meat than you can shake a...well, shake a skewer at until Tom picked up the coaster on the table and turned it from the green side to the red side. Suddenly all the gauchos disappeared. Genius! Turn it to green, they're back, then red...well, it would have worked except they kept coming by to speak Portuguese with Tom.

And the desserts were awesome, one a papaya mousse with an orgasmic cassis sorbet, the other a passion fruit sorbet in a caramel crust that was sublime. What a meal, and a truly unique experience we couldn't have had anywhere else. Thanks, Tom and Judy!

Details: Espetus Churrascaria, 1686 Market St. Phone 415-552-8792.

Note: Tom writes: "The name of the place, 'Espetus,' is the original Latin word for the Portuguese name for the skewer: espeto (pronounced, roughly, ehs-PET-oo). Saying that word, you will recognize a phonetic resemblance to the English cognate: spit, as in the spit (or skewer) on which the meat is skewered (not spitted)."

Read the other posts in this series: Getting There, Paying Our Respects, Resting in Redding, Schmoozing in Sacto, Home Away from Home, Off on the Right Foot, Choosing Chinese, The Ferry and the Hog and The Point of It All.