Monday, August 31, 2009

Travels with Chili: A Dash to Astoria

Needing to put some miles on Chili, the better to someday strut her road-hugging stuff around the backroads of the Northwest, we decided to take a day trip to Astoria. A couple of hours' drive along the Columbia through wetlands and forests, we followed the river west as it defined the contours of the upper-left hand corner of the state.

Arriving around noon, we stopped for lunch along the main riverfront avenue at one of our favorite spots, the Columbian Café. It's quite small, seating maybe 30 in its four booths and counter, and is owned by the talented and eccentric Uriah Hulsey, whose personality is reflected in the eclectic decor of the restaurant that runs toward Day of the Dead sculptures, bits of ephemera and odds and ends of the stuff your Aunt Edna may have stashed in her attic.

Uriah loves him his peppers, and the hotter the better. For a real taste of what this man can do with them, you can order the Chef's Mercy and he'll whip something up on the spur of the moment from whatever he's foraged from local sources. Otherwise it's standard, albeit well-made and seasonal, café fare that tips its hat in the direction of New Orleans.

And for those who want to spend a little more time in his culinary presence, he's got jars of his famous St. Diablo pepper and garlic jellies for sale. We've become addicted to the jalapeño, its pale green color belying the intense pepper flavor that goes so well with cream cheese and Indian cuisine. And the labels, designed to look like old engraved Mexican labels from the early 1900s, are works of art in themselves and worthy of framing.

From there we decided to walk through the quaint downtown area that has blossomed around the tourist trade but hasn't gone overboard to cater to people seeking beach knickknacks (who are those people, anyway?). Dave wanted to check out a couple of the breweries that have opened in the last few years, so we made our meandering way to the Fort George Brewery to sample a pint or two.

With a selection that includes everything from a wit to a very nice stout and, at least from the look of the food coming out of the kitchen, a decent menu, this is a great family-friendly spot for hanging.

Another brewery is just a few blocks away is the Astoria Brewing Company, deceptively housed in the Wet Dog Cafe. With a terrific river view from inside at the bar or out on the deck overlooking the water, you can wave at the Astoria Riverfront Trolley as it trundles along the docks.

Sun, beer and road trip needs satiated, we drove back home with the sun setting in Chili's rearview mirror. And that mileage indicator was looking a lot nearer to the 1200-mile mark we needed to start testing her sporty engine.

Details: Columbian Café, 1114 Marine Dr., Astoria; phone 503-325-2233. Fort George Brewery, 1483 Duane St., Astoria; phone 503-325-7468. Wet Dog Cafe, 144 11th St., Astoria; phone 503-325-6975.

As Grows the Garden, So Grows the Child

Gardens can teach us a lot, and the White House garden has been an inspiration for millions around the country since I first posted about it last March. I thought you'd like an update on just how that garden is doing and, besides salads for state dinners, what it has provided.

Friday, August 28, 2009

In Season NW: Expanding Access

Like health care, access to good food should be a right and not a privilege reserved for those with the means to pay for it. Over and over again, studies have shown that people who eat a diet of fresh rather than processed foods enjoy better overall health and aren't as subject to chronic maladies like high cholesterol, diabetes and heart disease.

Through a partnership between the Portland Farmers' Market and the Northeast Coalition of Neighborhoods, the King Farmers' Market opened this season with the intention of expanding access to local produce and products in the moderate and lower-income neighborhoods of North and Northeast Portland. And from opening day it exceeded vendors' wildest expectations.

And now comes word of the next step in the evolution of Portland markets into places that are welcoming and accessible to everyone in the city they serve with the formation of the Foodshare Fund Northeast. Similar to programs in place at other markets, it's an incentive program that supplements food stamps with a dollar-for-dollar match, providing up to $5 per person per week in matching funds.

Since the program launched in July, the average number of food stamp customers at the market has more than doubled, from 25 to 52 per week, and the average amount of food stamp tokens purchased has nearly doubled, from $420 to $780 per week. And while vendors can distinguish the tokens from the non-fund tokens, to shoppers there is no difference, taking the embarrassment factor out of transactions.

From a press release, David Sweet, co-chair of the King Farmers Market Community Advisory Council, said, "Community members have told us that they came to the market for the first time because they heard about the matching program." And that's something we can all feel good about.

Wednesday, August 26, 2009

Livin' in the Blurbs: Celebrations Galore

It's all Italian, all the time when Ritrovo Italian Regional Foods hits town with a boffo series of product tastings in Portland and Dundee. Find out what the food pros get to do for "work":

• Aug. 27: Abruzzo Tasting featuring Montepulciano Grape Walnut Conserve, Pomegranate Blood Orange Syrup each with a wonderful Italian cheese.5-7 pm; free. Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave.
• Aug. 28: The Best of Italy featuring Farro Umbricelli Pasta, Maletti 6 yr. Balsamic Vinegar, Alba White Truffle Oil, Pear/Moscato Wine Jelly, Acetorium Fig & Cherry Vinegar all paired with cheese from Steve and wines from Square Deal. 5 pm; free. Steve's Cheese, 2321 NW Thurman St.
• Aug. 29: Farm to Fork featuring Tenuta Cocevola Pugliese EVOO, Radici Orange Mousse, Kiwi/Lemon Conserve, Nebbiolo Wine Grape Chutney, Colli Etruschi EVOO and pinot, too! Noon-4 pm; free. Inn at Red Hills, 1410 N Hwy 99W, Dundee.

* * *

Believe it or not, it's been a whole year since Food Front Cooperative Grocery opened its new store in Hillsdale, bringing their commitment to building a vibrant community and a healthier world to a wider audience. On Sunday, Sept. 13, they're throwing a wingding to celebrate, with free hot dogs, organic lemonade, music and prizes, so if you're in the mood (or at the Hillsdale farmers' market), stop by any time from 11 am till 5 pm.

Details: Food Front Cooperative Grocery in Hillsdale First Birthday Bash. Sun., Sept. 13, 11 am-5 pm; free. 344 SW Capitol Hwy. Phone 503-546-6559.

* * *

And last but certainly not least, the year's cheesiest celebration will kick off when The Wedge: Portland Celebrates Cheese holds its second annual festival on Oct. 3. Last year's event featured national speakers, classes and a fair with cheesemakers from around the country gathering to share their wares with all of us, and this year promises to be, as the ad folks always tell us, bigger and better than ever. Mark it on your calendars!

Details: The Wedge: Portland Celebrates Cheese. Sat., Oct. 3, 10 am-4 pm; free. 928 SE 9th Ave.

Tastings: Rooting for Root Beer

My son loves root beer. That's only remarkable because I've never been able to stand it. My mother loved it, my brothers loved it. The family would pile in the wagon when we were kids and go to the A&W Drive-In in Redmond and everyone except me would order a big, frosty mug.

So when I went to Pop Culture in Vancouver the other day to see just what sodas a store devoted to the carbonated beverage would carry, I came home with eight different root beers for my in-house devotée to sample and evaluate. Because of his love for the beverage, he rejected the side-by-side comparison which would have required opening them all and wasting a good deal of decent root beer. Instead he decided to have one each day and give each due consideration, with me keeping notes.

Going in, his acknowledged favorite was IBC, which had always taken first place in his pantheon of great root beers, though it had recently become hard to find locally. The others were a variety of traditional and newer brews, with different kinds of sugars and blends. A surprise dark horse that entered the competition was Crater Lake Soda's root beer, a new local root beer that we found on tap on a recent dinner outing to Ned Ludd.

The results of our very unscientific survey were as follows:
  • Faygo, Detroit, Michigan: Not super-sweet. A normal root beer with a little herbiness. Like many of these root beers, it was better once the carbonation had subsided, allowing its herbiness to come through.
  • Sprecher, Milwaukee, Wisconsin: Very mild and creamy, not overly sweet.
  • Boylan, Moonachie, New Jersey: Almost cola-ish without that cola harshness. Fruity.
  • Dad’s Root Beer, Chicago, Illinois: Tastes like it was made from syrup. "Not necessarily sweeter than the others, but not much else there.” Almost no head on it.
  • Americana, Mukilteo, Washington: Mellow, not very fruity. “It’s only hitting one bandwidth of flavor.” In other words, "a one-note root beer."
  • Thomas Kemper, Portland, Oregon: Very sweet. Honey and vanilla dominate.
  • Stewart’s Diet, Rye, New York: (I bought diet by mistake) Fairly decent with a nice herbiness. Fairly sweet, also, but not too much.
  • Crater Lake, Portland, Oregon: (on tap) Very herby, almost borders on harsh but not quite. Quite dense. "If I drank a bottle every day, I don’t know if I’d choose that one," but "probably the most interesting of the bunch."
  • IBC, Plano, Texas: “A good root beer” and milder than Crater Lake with a nice fruit and herbiness. At first “it was not rocking my socks off" but, again, as carbonation decreased it improved. "My favorite for an everyday root beer."
Are you a root beer fan or do you have a favorite root beer-related story? Click on the comments link below and let me know.

Tuesday, August 25, 2009

Giving from the Garden

If your garden is like mine, there's an avalanche of tomatoes, peppers and squash tumbling from all those little plants you lovingly planted in spring and babied through the summer, and you're enjoying every single bite that goes into your mouth.

But if you're approaching tomato overload or you've had it up to here with zucchini, instead of leaving them on your neighbors' doorsteps at midnight you can share the love with those less fortunate in our community through Plant a Row for the Hungry, a campaign sponsored by the Garden Writers Association in cooperation with the Oregon Food Bank. All you have to do is drop off your produce at a hunger relief agency in your area (list here) or contact Eric Sopkin by phone at 503-282-0555 ext. 260, or e-mail.

The produce most in demand include tomatoes (picked while slightly under-ripe), green beans, winter squash (acorn or butternut), garlic, hot peppers, cucumbers, zucchini (woo hoo!), collard greens and onions.

Another program, Produce for People, works through the Community Gardens of the city's parks and recreation department to donate extra produce that members have grown on their community garden plots. To donate, check with your community garden coordinator or contact the Community Gardens Office at the city by phone, 503-823-1612, or e-mail.

The Gem That Keeps Sparkling

Who knew when my brother opened his wine shop in Sellwood all those years ago, that the sleepy little neighborhood of antique shops on Portland's southern border would blossom into a foodie destination with a lively restaurant scene and a burgeoning food cart corner?

So now when I go to pick up some "buffer wine" to keep me out of the small amount of good stuff we have in our cellar (and by that I mean basement), I can also stop at Garden State for whatever Kevin has on special that day, or for a simple and simply excellent dollar taco from Kiko's.

Slurping the goodness.

But my new favorite go-to destination is Jade Teahouse, where April and her über-talented mom, Lucy, are cooking up their take on the luscious, lovely food of Southeast Asia. I've posted on Jade before and have gone back many times for Lucy's amazing banh mi and homemade noodle soups, but when I heard via their Twitter feed that she was cooking up some Laotian-style beef pho, I had to get in there.

With my friend Denise, another Jade enthusiast, along to feed the frenzy, we decided to split the soup and also order her new addiction, Jade's Vietnamese meatball sandwich. When Lucy brought the soup to the table, she explained that the sprouts, lime and peppers on the accompanying plate were to go in the soup, and the long beans and lettuce were for dipping in the little splash of sauce on the side.

Made from fermented bean curds, shallots, garlic and Lucy's special love, all it took was one taste of that sauce to make my eyes roll back in my head with delight. And the soup itself was a masterpiece of pho-craft, magically rich with an aroma that sang of comfort. Jade's regular soups are a delight, but if you hear that she's got this on the menu again, head in for a bowl.

Another addiction in sandwich form…argh!

And the meatball sandwich? I hate to say it, but it gives me yet another reason to haul myself across town for more than wine. And though light is not a word typically used to describe meatballs, these orbs of delight are just that, especially when sandwiched with Jade's homemade pickled carrots and cucumber in their housemade baguettes which, by the way, are the best I've had in town and much better than the light, crusty versions found in other banh mi joints.

The love and care that goes into this food is truly worth celebrating, and the people behind it are equally special. Jade is indeed a gem.

Details: Jade Teahouse & Patisserie, 7912 S.E. 13th Ave. 503-477-8985.

Saturday, August 22, 2009

Farm Bulletin: Bitter Discovery

The stacks of Chester blackberries at the Ayers Creek stand at the Hillsdale market were looming over Carol Boutard last Sunday, though customers were decimating the towers at an astonishing clip (take that, David Karp). While waiting to buy mine, I noticed a bin of strange-looking knobby green gourds. Wondering if Ayers Creek was branching out into the sex toy business, I asked about them and Anthony Boutard assured me that, no, they were not trying to expand their customer base and the odd-looking cucurbits were actually bitter melons.

Karela is the Indian variety of bitter melon. It is a beautiful fruit that is eaten before it ripens. The fruit is intensely bitter, but also considered a good liver restorative and helps reduce blood pressure. Regular customer Rahul Vora has provided a recipe from his family:

Bitter Melon and Potato Curry

Here's my mom's Gujarati style karela (my favorite).

1 lb. bitter gourd (karela) - Indian or Chinese
2 medium potatoes like yukon gold
Vegetable oil
1 Tbsp. brown sugar
1/4 tsp. turmeric powder
1/2 tsp. red chili powder or cayenne or hot paprika
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/4 tsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. lime juice

If using Indian karela, scrape the skin to smooth it out a bit with a peeler. Slit the karela lengthwise and scoop out all the seeds and pulp. Discard. Cut the seeded karela into 1" x 1/2 " strips. Sprinkle salt on the strips and let drain for at leat 1 hr. Squeeze to drain as much as possible.

Peel and cut potatoes into similar-sized chunks.

Heat oil in a wok or large sauté pan. Add the karela and the potatoes. Stir-fry at high heat for 3-4 minutes, browning the vegetables. Lower heat to medium and continue to stir fry for another 3-4 minutes or so. Add all the powder spices and sugar. Add salt carefully, making sure not to over-salt (depends on how much salt was retained after the de-bittering step). Stir on low heat for another 3-4 minutes or so until the spices are fully incorporates and the vegetables are fully cooked and a little crispy. Sprinkle the lime juice. Serve with wheat tortilla or chapati or pita bread. It can also be served with rice and dal.

Friday, August 21, 2009

In Season NW: A Plethora of Peppers

Like Christmas, it takes awhile to get here, but when it finally arrives it does so with a vengeance. And from the evidence seen on a recent visit to several markets around town and from the stakes I've had to use on my plants here at home, peppers are in, baby, and they're in big this year.

In mesmerizing colors from iridescent orange to a yellow that requires shielding your eyes, not to mention shades of green from light to almost-black and a purple that would put Barney to shame (dinosaur, not Frank), I find myself needing to get at least one of each. Or more.

Which means, of course, that I get home and start referring to myself in the third person while unpacking the bag. As in, "Who does she think is going to eat all this?" Fortunately for her…I mean, me…there is a handy solution in a Basque dish called piperade (pron. peep-eh-RAHD).

Basically just a pile of sautéed peppers with a little onion, garlic and tomato thrown in and then served on top of a thick slice of toasted bread, it can be topped with poached eggs or, even better, the eggs can be poached in the piperade itself, using only one pan for the whole dish (my favorite kind of cooking).

One-Dish Piperade

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
4-6 sweet peppers (more if you use smaller ones like Jimmy Nardello's), chopped
4 large tomatoes, coarsely chopped or 2 c. canned roma tomatoes
2 tsp. Spanish pimenton (paprika), regular or smoked
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or 2 tsp. fresh thyme
2 bay leaves
Salt to taste
8 eggs
4 thick slices bread (like Como or Campagne)

Heat olive oil over medium heat in large, open sauté pan. Add onions and garlic and sauté till translucent. Add peppers and sauté till tender. Add tomatoes and stir till they start to break down, then add paprika, thyme, bay leaves and salt. Reduce heat to simmer for one hour or until liquid is reduced by half. Make eight indentations in the piperade and break an egg into each one. Cover and cook till whites are cooked through and yolks are still runny. While eggs cook, toast bread slices in toaster and brush with olive oil (or brush each one with olive oil and toast under broiler). Place a slice on a plate or in a bowl and top with two eggs and lots of piperade. Repeat with other slices. Serves four.

Thursday, August 20, 2009

In Season NW: Jimmy Nardello? Nice to Meet You!

I first met Jimmy by chance about a year ago at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. He was hanging around with a bunch of friends near a large pile of brilliantly colored peppers at the Gathering Together booth. He was young, but there was a gnarliness about him that sent shivers down my spine, offset by a sweetness I could see in his eyes. Before I knew it, he sitting down for a candlelit dinner, just me and him and a bottle of red, red wine.

There are romance novels to be written about the flirting and flings that happen at farmers' markets, the glances, the double-takes, the outright lustfulness that overcomes shoppers at this time of year. Perhaps it's the ripeness, the abundance, the dizzying selection that makes people giddy, or maybe it's the knowledge that soon, so very soon, it will all disappear with the onset of winter.

And though I'm guilty of piling more produce than I'll ever use ("Beans again?") into my market bag, I also use this season as an opportunity to survey vegetables that I might want to include in my garden plan next year. Which is where Jimmy comes in.

Doing some research, I discovered that the seeds for these long, twisty sweet peppers came over from Italy with Giuseppe Nardiello and his wife, Angela, in 1887. Giuseppe's son Jimmy, whose teachers decided he didn't need the "i" in his last name, donated some of his father's pepper seeds to Seed Savers Exchange in Decorah, Iowa, which specializes in protecting heirloom seeds.

Fantastically flavorful, I found myself throwing them into pasta, roasting them (carefully…they're thin-skinned and disintegrate easily) for antipasto, chopping them into salads and even including them in tomato jam. So when the time came to buy seeds for the garden, I made a point of picking up a packet of the Nardellos.

The results of the first harvest from the garden are pictured above. And I'm thinking that this fling may have turned into a long-term affair.

Tuesday, August 18, 2009

Pop Culture

Oldsters and the terminally nerdy will remember a Saturday Night Live sketch from the late 70s called The Scotch Boutique, featuring a store whose sole product was Scotch tape. Fred Willard played Walker, a man with a dream:

"Yeah, you know, when you're working with a brand new, fresh idea, it's always a little harder. You know, um, most people are used to buying their - their tape when they go to the supermarket or drug store, you know. What we've got to do is turn their thinking around so they make a special trip down here to the Scotch Boutique when they want, uh, tape."

Why am I bringing this up? Because the Scotch Boutique instantly popped into my head when my friend Luan mentioned a store in Vancouver called Pop Culture that sells only soda pop. And just as quickly I knew I had to go there. And I'm not even particularly fond of soda pop, but when you hear something like that, how can you stay away?

Located in downtown Vancouver in a quaint brick building under the spreading branches of a maple tree, the sidewalk in front is lined with colorful Adirondack chairs ideally suited for sitting and sipping. Walking in the door reveals an oddly empty room with a counter in back that sells sandwiches and hoagies, a stage on the left with several tables and a bank of coolers against the right-hand wall. But look into those coolers and it's a one-way ticket to childhood.

Glass bottles of Dad's Root Beer, original-recipe Dublin Dr. Pepper and Nesbitt's orange soda are lined up like so many little soldiers, along with multiple flavors of newer sodas from Jones, Izze, Fentiman's, Boylan and Portland-based Hot Lips. You'll also find exotic sodas like Sidral Mundet, an apple soda from Mexico, Sprecher Root Beer from Wisconsin and a psychedelic array of Jarritos sodas that would send Timothy Leary into flashback mode.

Pop Culture is obviously someone's dream, and a focused one at that. As Walker said when a woman came into the Scotch Boutique asking if he had recording tape, "No, just cellophane. The sticky kind. If you need any of the sticky kind, you know where to come!"

Details: Pop Culture, 1929 Main St., Vancouver, WA. Phone 360-750-1784.

Monday, August 17, 2009

Our Night on the Town

My poor husband. I mention that I've made reservations for a night at the Hotel DeLuxe downtown and his head fills with visions of a romantic evening with the sound of clinking glasses and the swelling strings of an orchestra playing in the background.

Happy hour at the Clyde.

What he gets is…surprise surprise…a list of happy hours as long as his arm, carrying batteries for my camera (the better to blog, my dear) and a walking tour of downtown and the Pearl. Though that's a slight exaggeration. We only hit one happy hour, one restaurant and one after-dinner event. But he did carry my batteries, bless him.

The Dissident.

Our happy hour choice was Clyde Common, where I was hoping to snag some of the whole fried anchovies that I'd had on our first visit. Alas, anchovy season had just concluded, but our bartender was happy to suggest the (happy hour) charcuterie board and the sherry vinegar with sea salt chips. Dave ordered his favorite cocktail and his measure of a good bartender, a dry martini served up with olives, and I had one of the $5 happy hour cocktails called The Dissident comprised of Becherovka, an herbal liqueur made in the Czech Republic, house-made tonic and lime.

Fratelli at dusk…romantic, no?

My drink was icy and refreshing, but with enough Czech bitters to give it a nice alcohol bite, its golden hue looking lovely backlit from the fading light outside. And, in a note to Mr. Bond, from the last two martinis Dave has ordered, bartenders are trending toward stirred, not shaken.

Fennel bruschetta.

We hadn't decided on where to go for dinner and hadn't made reservations, so with somewhat tremulous steps we headed a few blocks north to the Pearl. Fratelli was a place I'd heard about and referred people to based on recommendations, but hadn't yet tried myself. Since Dave is game for Italian (and there are usually Dave-safe options), he agreed and we walked in to the oblong, high-ceilinged space.

Gnocchi with favas.

After picking a wine, we ordered appies of a fennel bruschetta and gnocchi with favas, the sweetly caramelized fennel practically melting into the warm bruschetta slathered in aioli. The gnocchi was seared but still nicely soft, and the late-season favas were a nice mix of beany and buttery. To accentuate the emphasis on the market-fresh, seasonal ingredients that dominate the menu, the young green bean salad was mixed with mizuna, a green that is rapidly shooting to the top of my list and one I'll be planting in next year's garden.

A heavenly chop.

Our entrées, which at other establishments have sometimes not lived up to the punch of the appetizers on the menu, were astonishing. I ordered the double pork chop served with chickpeas, braised apricots and dressed with pesto, and have rarely had a chop this good and cooked this perfectly. Slightly pink inside and crusted outside, I was sorely tempted to pick it up by the bone and gnaw away at it till shreds were left but, since there were other people to consider, I used the appropriate utensils and enjoyed it immensely with its condiments, all excellently done.

Dave's albacore (top photo), meaty slices seared on the outside and rare inside, came with an incredible eggplant caponata, a combination that was so outstanding we'll be doing it here at home in the near future. At this point the restaurant was only about half full on a Thursday night, which left us wondering about all those folks who whine about not being able to find decent Italian downtown. Great food, great prices, great wine list, seasonal ingredients…what up?

Movies al fresco (though not au naturel).

We finished our wine and walked back to the hotel just in time to catch Jacques Tati's "Trafic," the rooftop movie in the NW Film Study Center's "Top Down" series. With beer and wine for sale to the appreciative crowd, we bundled up against the slight chill in the air and were thankful for the quick toddle across the street to our little home-away-from-home. It's the kind of stay-cation I could take on a regular basis!

Details: Hotel DeLuxe, 729 SW 15th Ave.; phone 866-895-2094. Clyde Common, 1014 SW Stark St.; phone 503-228-3333. Fratelli, 1230 NW Hoyt St.; phone 503-241-8800.

Upright Citizen

It was like that when I first had Ayers Creek's flint-corn polenta at Cafe Castagna. Or Kevin Gibson's glacier lettuce salad at Evoe. I couldn't get the flavors or textures out of my mind and had to find out what they were, how they were grown and, above all, to get some for myself.

We were at Ned Ludd for a quick dinner a few weeks ago and it happened again. The waiter was describing the beers they had on tap and he mentioned one made with rye from a new local brewery. We asked for a taste and soon found ourselves with a couple of pints that had a rich, dry maltiness with just the right amount of bitterness to balance the brew. Akin to Chimay Grande Reserve in its body and color, and made right in the 'hood by Upright Brewing owner Alex Ganum (top photo, center), it's a food-friendly, Belgian-style ale that will appeal to those of us who are used to the drier, hoppier Northwest-style brews.

Since Dave had been wanting to check out the brewery, we ventured down to the recently redeveloped Left Bank Building, a historic structure that in the 1940s and 50s had housed a famous jazz club called The Dude Ranch that featured top-flight musicians of the day like Nat "King" Cole, Lionel Hampton and Louis Armstrong. The brewery is located on the basement level of the building, with a bare-bones tasting room (left) on one side. The day we were there, Ganum himself was pouring beer from six taps in the wall, offering free 2-oz. tastes and 12-oz. glasses for $2.

Unusual among Portland beers, he names each of his brews after its starting gravity in Belgian brewing degrees, with 4, 5, 6 (the rye) and 7 in the current lineup, including a saison-style called Flora Rustica and a version of 6 that was barrel-aged with chocolate and chiles. In an interview on, he describes his naming scheme as "our personal backlash against the stupid, over-branded beer names" so common in micro-brewing circles.

Sounds like he'll fit right in.

Details: Upright Brewing, 240 N. Broadway, Suite 2. Phone 503-735-5337.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

Farm Bulletin: PIty The Farmer's Wardrobe

Farmers have been looked on by city dwellers as simple folk who work the land. Contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm explains that we may be judging those particular books by their covers and not what lies between their pages. You can review the quality of their texts, as well as buying some of their berries, at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market every Sunday from 10 am till 2 pm.

As blackberry growers, we have to let our sartorial standards ease a bit at berry harvest. Berries have a way jumping onto clothing. One day Carol went to pick up the mail at the post office. An older woman approached her, pressed a quarter in her hand and said, quietly, "I hope this helps." We had just finished the harvest of 15,000 pounds of berries, and Carol was covered with berry juice. Anthony mulled over the situation and quipped that two bits seemed a bit stingy given the dire straights of her wardrobe. Can't even buy a Peppermint Patty with that.

He had his experience this week. After delivering fruit to the soda master at Hot Lips Pizza, he dropped into a store to pick up a couple of books. Innocent stuff, a book on grains and a lovely used edition of Nathaniel Hawthorne's Twice Told Tales, as selected by Wallace Stegner. The clerk eyed him suspiciously and asked for picture ID. Unusual for such a small purchase. Later, he discovered the front of his trousers were stained with blackberry juice from lifting the crates out of the van. Probably also explained why the panhandlers clustered by the entrance had left him alone both entering and leaving. When he picked up milk at New Seasons, the clerk smiled and asked if he was a berry grower.

Speaking of Hot Lips, they now have on tap our loganberries. It is a stunning soda. Loganberries were once the most popular berry in the country, and they deserve a revival. The sodas are brewed by Greene Lawson, and he does a masterful job with our fruit. (The lad brews a good home beer, too.) The loganberries we delivered were the first to ripen, and Greene deftly preserved their spritely nature. It was a small run, so be sure to try it before the barrels run dry, especially if you love the loganberry as much as we do.

The early fruits on caneberries have higher pectin and acid levels. Our preserves are always from the first run of fruit, and that is why we don't need to add pectin. Interestingly, some people regard preserve making as a good use of "B-grade" or inferior fruit. We fail to understand why anyone would invest the time and money to make preserves and then use inferior fruit. Older fruit has lower pectin levels, so you have to add it. That added pectin dulls the already attenuated acidity of the fruit. What makes fruit interesting are the complex acids that stimulate the palate. You can add sugar, a dull lot in our estimation, but you can never reclaim those lost organic acids.

Later fruit has its own charm, but it is different. This is especially true in September when the shorter ripening days slow down the field. The Chester has such a long season that even in a good year only half of the fruit will ripen.

Down by the Oceanside

Which is it, the beach or the coast? I seem to switch off between the two terms even though, as a native Oregonian, I've heard that here in the West the word coast is preferred, beach being the noun of preference for those of a more easterly persuasion.

The haystacks off the coast at Oceanside.

So when friends invited us to spend a few days at the beach with them, I wasn't confused in the least. Plus, it sounded like a great place, a simple handbuilt house tucked up on the hill overlooking Oceanside, a little beach town near Tillamook. We'd be there for four days, making food, drinking wine and walking on the beach, interspersed with reading and a couple of field trips. What's not to like?

A sweet young berry vendor at the market.

One day, on a drive through Tillamook, we ran across the Tillamook Farmers' Market, a happy gathering of local farmers and craftspeople that, from the look of things, is well-supported by the community and frequented by summer tourists. So with a half flat of fat coastal blackberries in the back, we headed north to the docks in Garibaldi to get crab to crack for a late lunch (top) and fresh-off-the-boat tuna to grill for dinner.

Mexican train, the best game ever.

The one sour note of the trip was no one's fault, and occurred on the one night we had designated to go out for dinner. Now, this blog isn't about being negative since it is, after all, called Good Stuff NW. If a place isn't good or disappoints, I generally prefer not to write about it. But in the case of Roseanna's, practically the only restaurant in Oceanside and an institution of long standing, I have to make an exception.

It was bad, as in unbelievably mediocre. And expensive. From the overpriced, blah wine list to the overcooked halibut smeared with a green "aioli" that might as well have come out of a bottle and with two exhausted-looking golf ball-sized red potatoes alongside, you might as well throw your money in the door and leave without entering. Seriously.

Wanda's Cafe in Nehalem.

But that misstep was made up for when, on the drive back to Portland, we stopped in the hamlet of Nehalem, just outside Manzanita, to have lunch at Wanda's Cafe. A breakfast and lunch spot for locals and tourists passing through on their way to the various beach towns of the northern coast, it's a genuine throwback to small town cafes of yore.

A very good BLT and…those…chips!

And in this case yore indicates freshly made sandwiches on good bread, tasty homemade soup and, the best indicator of all, the chips that come with the sandwiches are none other than (the bane of my waistline) Kettle "krinkle-cut" salt and pepper chips. Fat and happy, we trundled our salty and sand-encrusted selves back to Chili and headed home.

Friday, August 14, 2009

In Season NW: Want Some Zucchini?

Dana Zia, writer, blogger and Oregon coast resident, was recently moved to deliver an encomium on the many blessings or, to put it another way, the avalanche of challenges presented by her vegetable garden this year.

Did you know that August 8th was national "leave zucchini on your neighbor's porch" day? I found out why this year. I wrote an article on zillions and zillions of zucchini around this time last year. I thought I knew a lot about this prolific plant, oh, but I didn’t. No no no. This is the saga of Dana and her zucchini crop.

I have decided that everything about zucchini is enthusiastic. It all started with a little package of seeds from Territorial Seed Company and it said something like, "packaged for use in 2009." Okey dokey, I can do that, I thought. So, here is me, all excited about finally being able to grow zucchini on our property up river, away from all the salty beach air, which zucchini do not like. So I planted all those lustrous "black beauty" zucchini seeds, in a fit of enthusiasm. And they all came up in fit of enthusiasm. And they have all flourished in a fit of enthusiasm. And they are all growing tons of zucchinis in a fit of enthusiasm.

Luckily, I had a sense of foreboding about all this when the zucchini plants were still small and dug up half of them and gave them away to the community garden and friends. Yet! That still leaves me with about 10 plants. Yes, I know, 10 plants! So needless to say, I have been pimping zucchini to all my friends and cooking with it in everything, enthusiastically!

And, you guessed it, in a fit of enthusiasm I think I found the crowning jewel of zucchini breads. I have made probably 10 loaves of this in the last week and only two of them have made it into the freezer. We have enthusiastically eaten them and not-so-enthusiastically given them away. It is moist, chocolatey and has the perfect crumb. I think I’m off to, yes, enthusiastically make more later today, since they freeze so well and taste oh so good!

Double Dark Chocolate Zucchini Bread
Adapted from Cooking Light

For the bread:
1/2 c. sugar
3/4 cup brown sugar
1/2 c. fat free cream cheese
1/3 c. of a vegetable oil
2 large eggs
1 tsp. of vanilla
2 1/2 c. white whole wheat flour or whole wheat pastry flour
1/2 c. unsweetened dark cocoa (can substitute Dutch processed cocoa)
2 tsp. baking powder
1/2 tsp. of baking soda
1/2 tsp. of salt
1 tsp. of cinnamon
3/4 c. fat free buttermilk
2 c. grated zucchini
1 c. dark chocolate chips (or semi-sweet)
1/2 c. chopped nuts (walnuts are good)

For the glaze:
1/2 c. chocolate chips, melted in a double boiler.

Preheat oven to 350°. Lightly oil two bread loaf pans. (I like to use glass ones cause they don’t change the flavor.) Enthusiastically cream together sugars and cream cheese with a mixer. Add in the oil and mix till more creamy, then add the eggs, one at a time, and the vanilla till well blended.

In a medium bowl, add all the dry ingredients, flour through the cinnamon, and whisk enthusiastically together till it looks perfect. With the blender on, add the flour mixture and buttermilk alternately, beginning and ending with the flour blend, till all is just mixed in. With the mixer on low, add the zucchini, chocolate chips and nuts and stir till just mixed in. The mix will be quite watery, due to all that wonderfully enthusiastic zucchini. Don’t worry, it bakes up great!

Pour equally into the bread pans and bake for about an hour till the house is filled with that magical chocolate smell and a toothpick comes out clean. Let cool for about 20-25 minutes in the pan, then turn out on a cooling rack to finish cooling. Glaze with a 1/2 cup of melted chocolate chips and enthusiastically enjoy!

Note: This recipe doubles well, too. It can be easily made into zucchini cake by just switching the style of pan you bake it in, and then frosted with chocolate ganache.

Pining for Posole

I don't know about you, but I get hankerings. And since Mexico is one of my favorite places on the planet, its tastes and smells are a frequent source of my cravings. Somehow the flavors of lime, chiles and cilantro slap me upside the head and suddenly I'm sitting on the rooftop at El Nido in Puerto Vallarta looking out over the Bahia de Banderas or zipping through the streets of Mazatlan with street vendors hawking fish and freshly made tortillas.

On the Plazuela Machado in Mazatlan.

So when I saw a package of dried corn at my local New Seasons Market, it was like running across a doorway into Mexico right there in the aisle. I saw the table under the palms in the Plazuela Machado, the waiters carrying big trays over their heads to their waiting customers, the evening breeze carrying the smell of meat simmered all day in a sauce of dark red chiles.

Needless to say, the little package came home along with a couple of pounds of pork shoulder. A few hours of simmering, to build anticipation as much as anything, and we sat down to our dinner. In Mexico.

Posole Rojo

12 oz. dried posole or hominy
6-8 dried ancho chiles
1 onion, roughly chopped
4 cloves garlic
1/2 tsp. oregano
Salt to taste
2-3 lbs. pork shoulder cut in 1 1/2" cubes
Juice of 1 lime

Put dried posole into non-reactive bowl or Dutch oven and cover with water. Soak overnight. Drain posole and put back in Dutch oven in enough salted water to cover. Bring to boil and simmer for at least 2 hours until softened. Drain and reserve.

Remove seeds, ribs and stems from chiles and tear into large pieces. Place in heat-proof bowl and cover with boiling water. After half an hour, when chiles are soft and somewhat cooled, drain them, reserving the liquid. Put chiles, onion, oregano and garlic in bowl of food processor and process, adding reserved chile-soaking liquid to make it a thick sauce. Season to taste with salt.

Add meat and chile sauce to cooked hominy in Dutch oven and stir to combine, adding more chile-soaking liquid or water if needed. Bring to a boil on the stove, lower heat and simmer for two hours or until meat can be mashed with a wooden spoon. Stir in lime juice and serve with rice and tortillas.

Tuesday, August 11, 2009

This is Your Brain on Music

How do we know what we know, even if we had no idea we knew it? This great demonstration by musician Bobby McFerrin is part of a panel on "Notes and Neurons: In Search of a Common Chorus" at the World Science Festival that "illustrates music’s note-worthy interaction with the brain." If you want to see more marvelous demonstrations and performances, check out the videos of the entire panel discussion.

Where the Livin' is Easy

Just back from a trip to New Orleans, contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares some of his favorite recipes from the Big Easy.

Besides an amazing meal at Cochon, another at the adjacent Cochon Butcher, and some incredible bar food at our friends Ian and Laurie’s Iris, we mostly ate po-boy’s and shrimp boil. I hit a local farmers market (above) and was once again reminded of how spoiled we are here, but I picked up some fresh drum (aka redfish) and beautiful little white eggplants.

Olive Oil Poached Drum with Garlic, Capers, and Pimenton

You can substitute any firm, white-fleshed fish for the drum, but cut about a pound into pieces about an inch and half square. Soak about a quarter cup of salt-packed capers, then rinse and drain. Chop a few cloves of garlic.

Gently heat enough extra virgin olive oil to cover the bottom of a skillet large enough to hold the fish in a single layer. Keep the heat low enough so the fish isn’t sizzling; you’re poaching, not frying. Add the garlic and cook for about a minute, then add the fish and capers. Sprinkle everything with enough pimenton to give a bit of color, about a half teaspoon. (Pimenton is Spanish smoked paprika; I prefer the ‘sweet’ variety, which isn’t really spicy).

Move the fish around, turning it over frequently, until it’s just cooked through. Serve with rice and ratatouille (below).

Bywater Ratatouille

We stayed with a friend in the Bywater, a funky little neighborhood east of the French Quarter. Some of the produce for this came from the Edible Schoolyard at Samuel J. Green Charter School.

Heat a healthy glug of extra virgin olive oil in a big skillet. Add a chopped onion, a pinch of salt, and cook for a few minutes. Add a chopped bell pepper (red, green, or both) and cook a little. Cut a large eggplant into roughly half inch slices, then cut those into cubes and add. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, then add a splash of Katz Gravenstein Apple Cider vinegar and 2-3 chopped tomatoes and cook another 15 minutes or so. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil at the table.

Photo courtesy Crescent City Farmers' Market.

Monday, August 10, 2009

Turning Heads at Tabla

Special occasions seem almost preternaturally fraught with tension. Those couples in the restaurant ads smiling at each other and toasting an anniversary/birthday/promotion at work? I don't care how happy they look at that moment, but chances are that by the time the dessert comes (if they even make it that far) one of them will be in tears and the other will be fuming.

Seared fig with prosciutto.

I can't tell you how many times I've counseled friends not to bring up anything that smacks of an "issue" during that special dinner with their mates. Maybe it's because most of us don't get out that often and we feel the need to use what little time we have alone with our significant others to discuss that topic that's been nagging at us for the last several years. But take my word for it, you don't want to go there. Safe topics? The weather, the food, the waiters, funny stories and happy times you've shared. Strictly off-limits (and you know this, right?): kids, work problems and anything to do with the relationship. The rule: If you can't say something nice (at least for tonight), just have more wine.

Octopus pinxto with housemade chorizo.

We recently went out for an anniversary dinner and chose Tabla on NE 28th for the occasion. My brother had been there and given it his four (or is it five?) star seal of approval, especially recommending a seat at the chef's bar, another great distraction from bringing up those forbidden topics mentioned above. Another draw was recently-appointed chef de cuisine Anthony Cafiero, a friend of my brother's and a guy with a big commitment to fresh, local food.

We started with a cocktail, my choice being their version of a negroni called The Bicycle Thief that uses basil-infused gin, campari and a specialty vermouth called Carpano Antica. Dave had his usual martini, and as our drinks were brought out Anthony passed us an amuse bouche of a half fig from his back yard, seared and topped with a sliver of caramelized prosciutto and a splash of balsamic reduction. Talk about seasonal!

Cafiero making some magic.

Since we were there to have the $24 three-course dinner (another happy thing to talk about), we chose one item each from the list of appetizers, pastas and entrées. It went without saying that we had to have the pan-fried padron peppers with lemon mousse and cherry tomatoes, and they were fabulous, quickly seared and showered with sea salt. The octopus and chorizo pinxto, a tapa of a pink-tinged whole tentacle, was set in a pool of skordalia and curled around a skewer of the housemade sausage and a cube of olive oil bread, all drizzled with a deep orange paprika oil. Artful, yes, but also a terrific combination of flavors and textures.

Cafiero's artfulness also came through in the pasta e fagioli (top photo), Anthony's version of the classic Italian-American pasta fazool. Taking a white porcelain bowl, Cafiero painted the inside with a brilliant orange hazelnut romesco, then spooned in the fazool made with pocha beans from Viridian Farms (who also grow the pimentos de padron) and a confit of Oregon albacore and red Fresno chiles. Absolutely gorgeous and an ideal example of "eating with your eyes," I also had a hard time not using my finger to scrape out the last of the sauce that was clinging to the sides of the bowl.

The flankie.

The pasta with pork sugo was a deliciously simple version of this dish, made with local pork and heirloom tomatoes. Which brings up the wine we had with this course, a bottle of Les Tabeneaux Benoit Courault, a tiny biodynamic winery in the Anjou region of France that was recommended by Tabla's sommelier, Michael Garofola. Light in color and body but with a bold fruitiness on the nose, it was wonderful with our food and accented the rich tastes but light hand used in Cafiero's preparations.

Clams with pork belly (check the fritters).

Our entrées of rosemary marinated flank steak, served with a panzanella of cucumber and tomato and a slice of grilled polenta, and the clams with pork belly were both perfectly made, the flank seared medium rare as requested and the clams rich but brothy and not overwhelmed by the tomato sauce. The clams also came with some incredible garlic bread fritters that we can only hope will appear on the bar menu really really soon. Three words: To…die…for.

And somehow, even at the peak of the evening while he was working the line and juggling orders, Cafiero managed to teach one of the waiters to do the "shopping cart" and joke with customers. It was quite a show, one that kept us not only highly entertained but extremely well fed. And just maybe looking like that happy couple in the ad.

Details: Tabla Mediterranean Bistro, 200 NE 28th Ave. Phone 503-238-3777.