Monday, October 31, 2011

Oozing Talent

Today, Halloween, is a red-letter day for readers of GoodStuffNW. Not because I'm going to be handing out extra-large bars of extremely expensive Recchiuti chocolate to the first 1,000 trick-or-treaters who ring our bell. No, much as I'd love to, I'm not doing that. Bad for the teeth, you know.

It's because today is the debut of a brand new web comic drawn by my neighbor and friend, Karl Kesel (left, with his wife, Myrna). Karl is one of those people you meet at the dog park who seems like the nicest guy ever…always pleasant and smiling, petting your dogs and asking after your family. Then after a few chance encounters you find out he's a famous comic book artist known for his work on seminal characters like Hawk and Dove, Superman and Batman. But he doesn't tell you that…he just says he works on comics, and you have to Google him to find out exactly what he's talking about.

So, to get to the point, today he's debuted his much-anticipated (by me, anyway) website, Mad Genius Comics, with the first installment of a heartwarming little zombie Christmas story called Johnny Zombie. Instigated, oddly enough, by the decision on the part of Karl and his wife, Myrna, to adopt a baby.

"That was the tipping point," he explained. "It suddenly became about my legacy, and what I could leave behind for our son or daughter. I plan to do any number of characters and concepts at Mad Genius. Some of these comics will be drawn by others, some I’ll draw myself, and I wouldn’t rule out me drawing someone else’s story, but I’ll always own or co-own anything that appears on Mad Genius Comics. Remember— I’m doing this for the kid!"


Happy Halloween!

This spooky quartet* wants you to have the scariest Halloween ever!

* Thanks to our neighbors for being so creative!

Friday, October 28, 2011

I Worked the Line

When someone talks about ten tons of something, what does that mean, exactly? Well, yesterday I found out.

Clare loving on her grapes.

This is the second year I've helped sort the grapes that Clare and Brian turn into their Big Table Farm wines. The task involves standing next to a conveyor belt for several hours as clusters of grapes, picked from their vines that morning, are brought to a winery and dumped from the big plastic field crates onto the belt. Sorters pick out and toss clusters that show signs of rot or mold and any leaves or sticks that they find. If there are just a few grapes on a cluster that are bad, it's permissible to pull those few off.

The clusters can range from plump and solid with hardly any rot to slimy and squishy and mildewed from top to bottom. The tricky ones are mildewed on the inside, so it's important to turn each cluster over and look really closely for any signs of fuzz or browning, then check inside to see if just a few are bad or if the whole cluster is a loss. And that's while keeping an eye on the other clusters that are whizzing by on the belt.

Unsorted pinot gris clusters.

One thing I learned is that when winemakers taste their grapes, there's none of this washing them off and delicately picking off one grape at time. A cluster is grabbed right off the line, chomped into, chewed and swallowed to get the taste of the whole cluster. After all, one grape by itself may be extra sweet or not ripe, and won't give a sense of the whole, so it's important to do this several times for each batch. And hopefully without also consuming the spiders, earwigs or other critters that call these clusters home.

The crew at table.

Each full field crate weighs about half a ton, and yesterday we were doing about one-and-a-half to (maybe) two tons per hour. That includes loading the crates onto the sorting machine, sorting the grapes, taking the crate off the machine and rinsing it off while another crate is loaded on. Sometimes there's a pause to switch out crates on the other end when they get full. Or to switch from destemming the clusters to letting whole clusters go through for a different kind of fermentation.

But otherwise it's several hours of standing, working, talking, laughing and occasionally doing some badly needed stretching. When you're done you're sticky, sweaty and tired all over. There's usually an amazing meal served someplace in there, too, which is always highly anticipated and immensely satisfying. And do I feel lucky to be able to help? Oh, yeah.

For a quick view of the harvest in action (and some great photos), check out the Big Table Farm blog.

Wednesday, October 26, 2011


Mario's dad does it to me again.

Armandino Batali, a retired Boeing process-control engineer, started making charcuterie out of his shop, Salumi, in Seattle in 1999. He turned it over to his daughter, Gina, and her husband, Brian D'Amato, in 2007, and they've continued making the traditional and New World cured meats that draw lines around the block to the postage stamp-sized store.

A couple of weeks ago I spied some lamb prosciutto in the case at Foster & Dobbs and bought a few slices to try. After one bite I couldn't believe I'd missed this Salumi standard. Rich and dry, it's intensely lambie without being funky, and with a salty edge that cries out for a pint of beer to have with it. As part of an antipasto platter the other night it got raves, especially with a bit of stone ground mustard on the side.

A slice of this on a salad with a mustard vinaigrette would be awesome, so if you like lamb and want to try something completely different, go get some.

Details: Lamb prosciutto from Salumi in Seattle. Available at Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave. 503-284-1157.

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Travels with Chili: Okanagan's Lake Country

It helps if you think about BC's Okanagan region as a squished Willamette Valley, only instead of a river running its length, there is a series of long lakes glistening from its head in Kelowna to its toes in Osoyoos. And rather than being cloudy and/or raining 222 days a year, it has about that many sunny, dry days. Which means the irrigated floor of this narrow valley is lush farmland known for its fruit orchards, and the hills that enclose the valley, unlike the lush green found here, are dry and scrubby.

In addition to orchards, the area was historically known for growing table grapes and producing some pretty mediocre (to put it kindly) wines. Then about forty years ago some visionary started planting vinifera grapes on the drier "bench" lands between the valley floor and the hills. The soil of these benches is primarily sand and gravel left from the Pleistocene-era glacier that carved out the valley, perfect for growing wine grapes.

Gene Covert with McIntyre Bluff behind him.

So it was appropriate that our first stop was to visit Gene Covert, owner of Covert Farm Organics and co-owner of Dunham and Froese Estate Winery. The land was purchased by Gene's grandfather in the late 50s and was conventionally farmed until the late 90s. That's when Gene and his wife Shelly decided to convert the farm to organic agriculture. Located at the narrower northern end of 14-mile-long Osoyoos Lake, the winds that blow up the valley are blocked by a large rocky promontory called McIntyre Bluff. The air circulation from these winds helps Gene grow grapes and vegetables that don't grow as well in other parts of the valley.

During the conversion to organic, a friend and local restaurateur, Mary Theodosakis, introduced them to a new revenue stream in the weeds they'd formerly fought with pesticides. On a visit to the farm with her young family, Mary saw, growing among the farm's tomatoes, the "horta," or greens, her mother used to prepare in Greece. And now Coverts' purslane and amaranth are featured in the farm's store and on some of the valley's hottest restaurant menus.

Our next appointment was at Hester Creek Estate Winery, with dinner at Terrafina, the property's brand new Tuscan-themed restaurant. The winery also boasts five "villa" rooms that look like they'd be a nice splurge for a night or two, considering their gorgeous views of the lake. Our tour guide, the bubbly Sarah Lefebvre, tasted us through the wines—we particularly loved the reserve cab franc—then escorted us to our terrace table for dinner. Restaurant co-owners April Goldade and Chef Jeremy Luypen came out and introduced themselves, insisting we sit down and eat while our seared scallops (above right) were still warm. For a restaurant that's only been open a few months, Luypen is presenting an ambitious menu that shows potential to become a real showcase for the region's cuisine.

A tasting at Road 13 winery the next day included an introduction to their new winemaker, J.M. Bouchard (left), a handsome young French-Canadian with big ambitions. He said his job thus far had been as babysitter to the wines made by the vineyard's previous winemaker, known for big, juicy, internatonal-style pinots. He was obviously excited to start his first harvest at the winery, which, like Oregon's, was delayed due to the cool temperatures early in the summer.

Wine tasting first thing in the morning had us longing for lunch, so we zipped back to Osoyoos and into Dolci Deli, where owner Annina Hoffmeister has become known for her house-made bacon and a German-style dried, smoked meat called bündnerfleisch. She said that in the southern part of Germany where her family hailed from, the meat was traditionally hung in the large fireplace opening where the exterior would become blackened by the smoke from the fire. I can only imagine how delicious that might have been, if her version is any example. She also makes and sells her own jams, which made nice gifts to bring home, though I saved her rhubarb rosemary for myself.

All this wine tasting and eating made us feel like we needed to insist on having a light dinner that evening at Tinhorn Creek winery and their new restaurant, Miradoro. I should have known better.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road TripMagical Moment, Perched In Penticton, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Livin' in the Blurbs: Busy Busy Busy!

This weekend is looking to be a blockbuster, with the city filling up with the nation's top bartenders here for the confab that is known as Portland Cocktail Week, the grape harvest starting in the vineyards (call your favorite small winemaker and offer to sort grapes…they'll cry) and apples literally spilling out of orchard crates at the many harvest festivals and apple tastings going on. But if you're not busy tomorrow evening and want to stuff yourself for a good cause, you can't do better than to buy a ticket to the Portland Farmers' Market 20th Anniversary Party. Not just another sit-down fundraising dinner, this shindig is sporting live chef demos, sweet treats from the city's top patissiers, intimate lounges and dining spaces and options for everyone regardless of food leanings (meaning omnivores and vegans alike). It's going to be the dinner of the year, and the price is ridiculous for what you'll get.

Details: Portland Farmers' Market 20th Anniversary Party. Thurs., Mar. 20, 6:30-8:30 pm; $75. Dinner held at the Sharp restaurant at the International Culinary School at the Art Institute of Portland, 34 NW 8th Ave. 503-241-0032.

* * *

It was like Christmas in October when I came back from walking the dog yesterday and found, O Joy!, a little plastic bucket sitting on my front stoop. To me it represents nothing less than a major redemption of a cardinal sin that I've been committing daily for a number of years. That is, to be specific, throwing perfectly good vegetable trimmings and other compostables into the trash. It's not that we don't want to make our own compost, it's that we don't have the time, the space or the backs to manage a major composting effort. So the idea that I can keep this little bucket under my counter for the scraps and bits and then throw paper towels, the odd pizza box and even bones into my green roll cart for the good of the community is nothing short of miraculous. Thanks to the powers that be!

Details: Portland Composts. Get a complete description of the program and a list of what goes in and what stays out at the Portland Composts website. Questions? E-mail

* * *

Every Sunday around 9:40 or so in the morning, the call goes out across the house: "Puzzle Guy!" That means it's time to gather around the radio…um…the iPhone in the dock, actually…and listen to Will Shortz, "the Puzzle Editor of the New York Times and NPR's Puzzlemaster," befuddle a caller with a crafty brainteaser. If you, like Dave, have lines around your mouth from grimacing and patches of hair missing from trying to solve Friday's NY Times crossword, or if, god help you, anagrams or palindromes are your thing, you can't miss the upcoming fundraiser for Write Around Portland. An organization that works to put on writing workshops, publish anthologies and present public readings in the community "with a special focus on people living with HIV/AIDS, survivors of domestic violence, adults and youth in addiction recovery, low income seniors, people in prison, homeless youth and others who may not have access to writing in community because of income, isolation or other barriers." It's a tall order, and their yearly fundraiser is coming up on Nov. 5, with an opportunity to hobnob, nibble and sip with other word geeks while playing word games and walking away with silent auction items. It'll be fun, really!

Details: Write Around Portland X Y & Z Fundraiser. 7:30-10 pm; $50 adv., $60 door (tickets available online). Event at Design Within Reach, 1200 NW Everett St. 503-796-9224.

Tuesday, October 18, 2011

Your Man Reminder

As a former advertising art director, the highest compliment I could pay to someone else's work was, "Damn! I wish I'd thought of that!" This is definitely one of those ads. Happy Breast Cancer Awareness Month!

Sunday, October 16, 2011

Cranberries for All

I was a latecomer to Facebook but now I'm addicted thanks, not to the cute puppy videos (mostly from Japan…what is up with that?) or the "look at me in junior high" pics from old folks, but to photos like this from Vincent Cranberries. They're the fourth generation-and-counting Bandon cranberry producers whose products are seen on the shelves of New Seasons markets and other local retailers.

The caption on this photo reads:

"David and Natalie Vincent in a sea of Cranberries. We loaded out our second bog of the year. It was Ty, David, Nat, Uncle Bob and Tyler today. The sun was shining, wind was blowing and a good time was had by all…"

Enlightenment in a Squash

People are so self-involved. They think that ball games in faraway cities are won or lost by whether they put on their team hat back-to-front or front-to-back. Or if they wear their great-aunt Neddra's cameo necklace to their next internet date they'll be more likely to find their ideal mate. Or, like me (Self-involved? A blogger?), all I had to do was admit, at long last and after much kicking and screaming, that it's fall-going-on-winter. Then the sun could come out and we could have a few precious days of sunshine.

The come-to-Jesus, can't-deny-it-any-longer moment came when I was at my local grocery store and saw a pumpkin display out front. (It may also have been helped along by the jeans, boots and two layers of coats I was wearing.) Most of the squash were the large orange orbs that beg to be carved into humorous lanterns…I particularly like the ones that looks like they're throwing up seeds and pumpkin guts…but there was one flattened, bronze beauty that called my name, a Musquee de Provence weighing around ten pounds or so.

It was begging to be baked and made into fall's perfect meal, a squash soup. And that's what I told the woman ahead of me at the checkstand when I heaved it onto the conveyor belt and she asked what I was planning on doing with it. Once home, I scooped out the pulp (after making my son look at "the vomiting pumpkin!" and getting an eyeroll for my trouble), chopped it into wedges and baked it.

I'd made a Thai-inflected coconut squash soup before, so something more savory seemed in order this time. Earlier I'd noticed my neighbor's sage plant looked like it wouldn't miss a few leaves, so those went into the pot along with an onion, some garlic and chicken stock. There were some piquillo peppers sitting in the fridge that would make a nice drizzle on the top, so while the soup cooked I made a little sauce with those.

Ladled into bowls with some of Dave's bread, these made a perfect fall dinner. And you know what? Make of it what you will, but the next day the sun came out.

Luscious Squash Soup with Roasted Piquillo Pepper Purée

For the soup:
8 c. baked winter squash (see recipe, below)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, shopped
A dozen fresh sage leaves
4 c. chicken stock
Salt and pepper to taste

For the pepper purée:
1 c. roasted piquillo peppers (or other roasted red pepper)
1 Tbsp. olive oil (or the oil from the jar of piquillo peppers)
2 cloves garlic
1/4 tsp. red pepper flakes or 1small dried red pepper
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 400°. For a large squash or pumpkin, halve the squash and scoop out the seeds and pulp. Slice into wedges and place on aluminum foil on large baking sheet. Bake for approx. 1 hr. or until a fork can easily penetrate the flesh. Separate the flesh from the skin and place in bowl. Set aside.

Heat oil in large soup pot on stove. Sauté onion and garlic till translucent. Add 8 sage leaves, then the squash and stock. Stir to combine, then, using immersion blender (or working in batches with processor or blender), blend until smooth. Bring just to a boil, reduce heat to maintain a simmer and cook for 30 minutes or more. If desired, briefly fry extra sage leaves in hot oil for garnish.

For the pepper sauce, place all ingredients in blender and blend until smooth. Drizzle over soup and serve more alongside.

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Mary Chronicles: Bloody Good!

You gotta love a husband who walks in the door after a long day at work, breathes in the smell of the tomatoes that have just come off the grill and says, "I bet that would make a great Bloody Mary. Want to try one?"

The only answer I ever have to questions like that is, "Yes, please!"

So we hauled out our Bloody Mary bible, Judy Bennett's "Bloody Marys: Sanguine Solutions for a Slew of Situations," and, using her basic recipe, made what I think even Fernand Petiot, the guy who is credited with first combining tomato juice and vodka, would consider a fine addition to the genre.

Smoky Mary
Adapted from "Bloody Marys: Sanguine Solutions for a Slew of Situations," by Judy Bennett

Makes one drink

2 shots Monopolowa Vodka
2 shots smoked tomato sauce*
2 tsp. lemon juice
2-4 dashes salt
2 dashes black pepper
2 dashes cayenne
3 dashes Worcestershire sauce
1 lime wedge, to serve

If you're like me and don't strain your tomato sauce when it comes off the grill, just put a half cup or so of sauce into a blender and blend till smooth. Put all ingredients except for the lime into a cocktail shaker and fill with ice. Shake and strain into an Old Fashioned glass. Gently squeeze the lime wedge over the drink so you extract some of the juice but don't deform the fruit. Drop the wedge into the glass before serving.

Part of the delight of a Bloody Mary for me is the condiments that come with it, often derisively referred to as "salad." The best pickled vegetables are made by the folks at Mama Lil's, especially their pickled asparagus and pickled beans. Throw in a spear of celery and an olive and it's practically a meal.

* You could also use canned fire-roasted tomatoes instead of tomatoes roasted on the grill.

Friday, October 14, 2011

A Little History With Your Beer?

Just snagged this from Hopworks…a special pre-release bottling of Pig War NW Ale made with estate-grown hops from San Juan Island. Only one case of these bottles will be available at both locations each day this weekend (10/14-16), so get yours while you can!

From the bottle:

"Our Estate NW Style Ale uses both Willamette and Cascade hops grown exclusively for Hopworks on San Juan Island. These hops impart a fresh, crisp and stunning fruitiness, coupled perfectly with aromatic floral herbaceousness. A rich malt body and warming finish are followed by a subtle, balancing hop bitterness.

"The name Pig War commemorates the confrontation in 1859 between American and British authorities over San Juan Island."

Travels with Chili: The Great Okanganan Road Trip

There's nothing like a road trip to clear your mind and open up your head to new possibilities. Especially when those possibilities involve lots of good food, wine and folks.

Flourishing orchards, dry hills.

It had been a good long while since Dave and I had taken an extended vacation, just the two of us, so we decided to head out on the road and explore some new territory up in British Columbia's Okanagan wine country. Not to be confused with Washington's Okanogan (note different spelling), basically the southern half of the same valley. Go figure.

Driving up the Gorge, turning left at Biggs Junction then heading up through Goldendale, Yakima, Ellensburg and Wenatchee, we crossed the Columbia River three times, surprised that it seemed just as big way up north as it does here (top photo). North of Yakima the rich river basin turns into lush orchard land, reminding me of Washington's reputation as the apple capitol of the Northwest. Most look like conventional operations, so we weren't tempted to stop and pick the ripe red, green and yellow fruit, plus we were pretty sure they wouldn't survive the Canadian border inspection.

The Methow Valley Inn in Twisp.

After seven hours of driving we could have made the two-hour dash to the border but, fortuitously it turns out, we decided to stay in the tiny town of Twisp, Washington, at the Methow Valley Inn. A historic hotel with a barn-like Dutch roof, we were greeted by affable co-owner Peter Morgan, who showed us around the simple but elegant inn, pointing out the indentations in the stairs made by decades of loggers' caulk boots.

Peter Morgan of the Methow Valley Inn.

Clean, quiet and comfortable, our third floor room had its own balcony that overlooked the garden patio shaded by a giant silver maple. Rather than hanging around our room, at this point we were more interested in finding dinner and a well-deserved beverage. We'd heard about the local brewpub, but Peter pointed us toward, believe it or not in a town of just under one thousand souls, an authentic Sicilian restaurant called Tappi.

Tappi, a Sicilian outpost in Washington's Okanogan.

The son of Italian immigrants, John Bonica had always wanted to open a restaurant dedicated to the foods he grew up watching his mother prepare. With the recipes he learned in her kitchen and with a wood-fired oven as the restaurant's centerpieces, he's dishing out food that would hold its own against the best Italian places in Seattle or Portland.

When we walked in, John had just pulled a cast-iron skillet of polenta out of his oven and was putting in small rounds of his sourdough "cuscino" (pillow) loaves that he offers as appetizers with ricotta or roasted tomatoes. Both went on our mental "must order" list, and to go with them we splurged on a bottle of Produttori del Barbaresco "Torre"…I mean, it was our anniversary, for pete's sake. Without going into lugubrious descriptors, my braised beef with romaine was astonishing, and Dave's pork sugo with penne was sublime in the way that meat in its falling-apart stage can be. Dessert? Forget it. But as soon as John heard it was our anniversary, he brought over a bottle of the house dessert wine…yes, he has one…a Colosi Malvasia, rich and delicious. Needless to say we barely remember the two-block walk back to the inn or much of anything else before we fell sound asleep.

Our early departure was delayed by a discussion with a French documentary filmmaker…I should have known this was a foreshadowing of the amazing people we'd run into on this trip…but depart we did, and crossed the border without incident to start our Okanagan adventure.

On to Osoyoos!

Read the other posts in this series, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Perched In Penticton, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

Wednesday, October 12, 2011

Tomatoes Galore

That title sounds like the name of a burlesque star, doesn't it?

"And tonight the delicious Tomatoes Galore will tickle your fancy with her juicy rendition of 'On Top of Old Smoky'…"

It began raining tomatoes on Sunday when Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm dropped off seventy-five pounds of tomatoes, the last of the awesome Astianas that made such crazy sauce last year. With my brother taking twenty pounds, that still left between fifty and sixty pounds to deal with. So I decided to dedicate a day to their roasting, firing up both the oven and the grill in order to get through all of them in a timely fashion.

Unlike last year, I'm not doing anything but cutting the tomatoes in quarters, laying them skin-side down in pans (or on foil on the grill) and letting 'er rip till they've started to burn a bit on the bottom. Then it's scraping them off into a bowl to cool, pulling any charred skins off and ladling them into freezer bags.

The tomatoes cook down a surprising amount, with about four to five pounds of tomatoes making around a quart of sauce. And no doubt some mighty fine eating this winter. Wish me luck!

* * *

UPDATE: Twelve quarts of luscious sauce are now resting comfortably in the freezer waiting to make some kick-ass dinners this winter. Stay tuned!

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Sunshine on a Rainy Day

Dave and I had our first date at a tavern in The Dalles called the Sugar Bowl. These days it would be one of those neighborhood dives, with its smoke and stale beer smell, but back then it was a place to go after work and share a pitcher. This was before the advent of microbrews, when rebels drank Miller instead of Bud and Tuesday was Dollar Taco night.

Since then the old neighborhood tavern with its don't-look-too-close shag carpeting, worn barstools and pre-noon regulars leaning over the bar has become a disappearing species, replaced by bright brewpubs and shiny upscale restaurants with downscale menus that serve beer and wine. And I'm not saying that's necessarily a bad thing.

Take the Sunshine Tavern, the new Division Street venture of Lincoln's Jenn Louis. Decidedly casual, with a shuffleboard table as a retro-tavern centerpiece, it's aiming to attract that je ne sais quoi eastside Portland crowd of young families and hipsters.

We went with a friend the other night to have a bite and a beer and found it populated with the aforementioned demographic plus a sprinkling of gray-hairs like us. Dave's roasted pork belly was rich and very well made, though he could only finish half due to the fat content, and the fries were decent. I had their version of an oyster po' boy (top photo) with a fennel slaw that didn't overwhelm the crunchy freshness of the fried oysters, though the bun was just kind of bready and uninteresting.

The drawback here is the noise level, which even when half-full can get deafening, so my advice would be to go mid-afternoon when it's not as busy if you want to have a conversation with your tablemates. I've also heard the burger is good, and the rest of the extensive menu looks worth exploring. Expect a rotating selection of draft beers from NW breweries, as well as bottled beers and a selection of shandies and cocktails.

While it's not exactly the Sugar Bowl, I could see someone meeting a co-worker here for a post-work pint. After all, you never know what might develop after a few beers.

Details: Sunshine Tavern, 3111 SE Division St. 503-688-1750.

Monday, October 10, 2011

Spots Before My Eyes

Not to brag, but I've made some pretty spectacular paellas on the grill in the last several years. The heat from the wood fire, the smokiness it lends, the bitter edge and dynamite color from the saffron…there's really nothing like it.

But I think the one I made last night for my sister-in-law's birthday might have been one for the record books. The recipe remained pretty much the same, though with homemade fish stock instead of chicken stock, and piquillo peppers, a few baby shrimp left over from the appetizers and chopped green beans from the garden. I'd gone by Newman's Fish Market earlier in the day to pick up the usual pound of mussels, but they were sold out. Same with their clams. I was about to turn and head out the door when the tattooed young fellow behind the counter asked, "Did you see these spot prawns?"

One glance told me that I had my solution. I'd heard about these lovelies up in Vancouver, BC, where they hold an annual Spot Prawn Festival at the beginning of May to celebrate this northern Pacific coastal delicacy. Though certainly not cheap compared to the ubiquitous pink shrimp, these were big and fat and packed with deep red-orange roe, which I'd never seen before. My new friend with the tats said to put them in the paella at the very end of cooking, for only five minutes or so they wouldn't overcook.

I nodded and ran out the door with my package. When I got home I pulled off the legs and scooped out the roe, leaving the shells on to add a little extra flavor to the rice. Then just as I was pulling the paella off the grill, I sprinkled the roe in the center so it would warm up ever so slightly.

So there you go. I've given away my secrets again, but seriously get some of these beauties if you see them in the case. They'll send whatever dish you put them in right over the top!

Thanks to Kathryn for snapping the photo at top before the crowd demolished it!

Saturday, October 08, 2011

Paddling in the Gene Pool

When I was a kid my summer activity of choice was spending hours submerged in the blue quietness at the deep end of the pool, seeing how long I could swim underwater without coming up for air. Sailing was a revelation that had to wait until I was an adult, when friends invited Dave and I to go out on their sailboat. My favorite sailing moment always came when the engine shut off, the sails unfurled and the only sound was the prow cutting through the water and the wind whipping the rigging.

Tiny Cowichan Bay.

As I mentioned in an earlier post, when Eric Pateman of  Edible Canada asked if I'd be interested in going on one of their gourmet kayaking trips, it was all I could do not to scream "Woo hoo!" into the phone, no doubt scaring the bejesus out of my would-be host. But I managed to maintain my composure, which meant that a few weeks later I was driving a rented car up to the small town of Ladysmith on the inland coast of Vancouver Island, an area known as the Cowichan Valley.

Hilary's Cheese.

Like our own corner of the Northwest, the valley is known for its bounty of local produce and wines, as well as cheeses, beer and bread…sound familiar? So on my way up to Ladysmith I stopped in the tiny town of Cowichan Bay to sample some of that local goodness at Hilary’s Cheese shop. Hilary is Hilary Abbott, the man who, with his wife Patty, makes the cheese from island goat and cow milk. The day I was there they had a slightly aged goat cheese with a grape must-washed rind, a mild goat cheddar and a goat blue with a greyish, bloomy rind. All were fairly fresh so hadn’t developed many secondary characteristics, but all three were uniformly delicious. The cheese plate came with slices of bread from the shop next door, True Grain, which features BC, and even some island-grown, grains and flours.

Morning from my window at Island Estuary.

After filling up on the cheese, bread and fruit at Hilary's, I headed for the Island Estuary Bed and Breakfast, owned by chef Lynda Diamond and her husband, photographer Ted McCrea. The B&B, which was to be our base camp for the weekend, was situated on a wooded hillside just south of Ladysmith overlooking Holland Creek Estuary and Ladysmith Harbour.

Lynda's amazing albacore with seaweed salad.

The large, comfortable house is beautifully designed and filled with artwork that Ted and Lynda have collected from local artisans, and each room features a stunning view out over the estuary. Lynda strives to serve locally sourced food, including coffee from a local roaster, wines from the island and produce from area farms.

One happy paddler.

With a terrific lunch of fish tacos with a couple of kick-ass salads alongside, the assembled group of ten intrepid paddlers was off to our first lesson a few minutes' walk up the beach at Sealegs Kayaking. As a complete newb, I was a teensy bit nervous that I'd totally embarrass myself and tip over, lose my paddle or not be able to keep up with the rest of the group. By the end of the weekend I was very proud to say that none of that happened, and since the group was made up of a wide range of skills and physical abilities, I fit right in.

The Island Estuary Cosmo (recipe below).

In the three days we had drop-dead gorgeous weather, fantastic food, calm waters (those inland channels, remember?) and saw lots of seals and jellyfish. I'll save the specific details for the article I'm writing for NW Palate magazine (the Mar./Apr. 2012 issue), but suffice it to say that this area just north of Victoria is well worth visiting all on its own or for a few days out of a longer trip.

Here's a recipe for a killer Cosmo that Lynda served the first night:

Island Estuary Cosmo
From Lynda Diamond

1.5 oz. vodka*
1/2 oz. Cointreau or any other orange-flavoured liquor
2 tsp. of Rose's Lime Juice or fresh lime
1.5 oz. cranberry juice

Mix all together in a cocktail shaker with lots of ice, then strain into glasses. Enjoy!

* Lynda said she uses Schramm vodka from Pemberton Distillery and always keeps it in the freezer.

Monday, October 03, 2011

Livin' in the Blurbs: Cold Beer, Warm Food, Travel Envy

When I say the word "brewer," what comes to mind? A bearded guy in big rubber boots? Well, it turns out that many brewers, especially here in Oregon, are women. Oregon women also own pubs, write about beer and teach classes about beer. Their stories are collected and engagingly told in a new movie called "The Love of Beer," a documentary about women in the craft brewing industry. There are screenings coming up around the state, and I'd encourage you to attend at least one of them:
  • Coalition Brewing: Sun., Oct. 9; 8 pm, screening is free but donations are encouraged. 2724 SE Ankeny St.
  • Lucky Labrador Beer Hall: Sun., Oct. 16; 6 pm; $5, tickets available at the door or online. 1945 NW Quimby St.
  • The Guild: Thurs., Oct. 20; 7 pm; $5 at the door. 1101 E Burnside St.
  • GoodLife Brewing: Oct. 21 and 22; 6 pm and 8 pm both days; $5 adv., $6 door and online. 70 SW Century Drive 100-464, Bend.
* * *

Now that the cooler weather has returned, it's time to get back to some cozy cooking. And to me nothing says cozy like the aromas and flavors of Indian food. My friend Sophie Rahman will be offering a plethora of classes at her home cooking school, Masala NW, adding vegetarian, vegan and gluten-free options to the lineup of biryanis, curries, breads and samosas.

And if you want a hands-on experience, check out the fall schedule from my pals at Portland's Culinary Workshop for everything from knife skills to bread baking to butchering a whole pig. Not to mention mastering the tricks and techniques of the foods of Asia, Greece, El Salvador and Brazil.

For those who want to learn to cook more economically using what you already have in your pantry or to learn how to set up your pantry so you don't have to make those last-minute runs to the store, Katherine Deumling of Cook With What You Have has a class with your name on it.

All of these folks offer outstanding, value-filled, worthwhile learning experiences for a great price, so check them out for yourself or a gift certificate for a friend!

* * *

If you're an armchair tourist or if you want to know what a food-obsessed traveler would do with nearly a month in Italy, you'll want to follow contributor Jim Dixon as he travels from Venice to Tuscany, then on to Umbria and the Adriatic Coast, ending up in Sicily. He's set up a new Facebook page called Italia Redux that is guaranteed to document every bite, bump and meeting with old friends. I can guarantee it'll not only have drooling all over your keyboard but rushing to check out the cost of round trip tickets.

Sunday, October 02, 2011

Thinking of Eating: The Meat of the Matter

I arrived at Portland's Culinary Workshop (PCW), where I would be butchering my half of Roger, about thirty minutes before Clare was to arrive with him and her half of Don. I walked in to find the tables set up for the butchering along with the various knives and saws we'd be using to do the job. In the spirit of the day, there were also two tubs set up to hold the butchered meat, one labeled "Roger" and the other, "Don."

Melinda Casady, Mistress of Meat.

A hands-on cooking school started by my neighbor, Susana Holloway, and her friend, Melinda Casady (left), both former culinary school instructors, PCW seemed the perfect place for this part of the process. Especially because Melinda, nicknamed "The Mistress of Meat," loves to teach people how to cut up whole animals or, to use the term of art, "break down" carcasses.

Roger's tub.

The halves of Roger and Don had been hanging in Clare's shed at the farm to chill overnight, and when she drove up they were cool as cucumbers, wrapped in plastic sheeting in the back of her truck. She'd stopped at a friend's winery on the way in and weighed the halves, with my half of Roger coming in at 96 pounds, making his live weight close to 320 pounds. Quite the pig.

Just getting started.

We carried the carcasses in and laid them on the tables—end to end it was about five feet of pig to cut up—and Melinda discussed with each of us the different ways we could cut up our pig. Did we want lots of chops and steaks? Or would we rather have more roasts? Big or small? Bone in or out? What about the ribs? Did we want whole racks?

Can't wait to throw these on the grill!

Some decisions were easy…we're more roast types than steaks, but a nice chop is good once in awhile, too. Some decisions we left until we saw what the actual cuts were like, made easier because the breaking down involves cutting the animal into large sections called primals, then sectioning each primal into smaller and smaller pieces. It also involves finding and cutting out glands and other non-edible bits, and I was glad for Melinda's expertise with that particular chore.

I gotta get me a hacksaw.

There was very little waste, even from a pig that big, since I was planning on making stock from the bones and making sausage with the inevitable collection of scraps of meat and fat. While I was secretly relieved that I'd decided not to keep the head because it would be too recognizable as Roger, I was also a little sad I wouldn't get to make scrapple again.

Getting a little rummy.

While I won't go into the blow-by-blow on breaking down a carcass, it was fascinating to see how much a pig's anatomy resembled our own, and how the different joints are connected. Emotionally it wasn't hard to do, probably because the carcass didn't look like Roger any more (the head thing again), and I was focusing on the job at hand, trying not to slice myself up in the process. It was all kind of geeky in a messy, sweaty sort of way and as we got down to the last few cuts, after four hours or so of work, I was getting really exhausted.

Wrapped and ready.

When the wrapping and packaging were finally done, we opened beers and a bottle of wine and toasted, first, Roger and Don for the wonderful meals they'd provide, then ourselves and Melinda for a job well done. Roger is now resting comfortably in our freezer, and I can't wait to have our first dinner featuring him.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger and Me, Roger Grows Up, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes and Pasture to Plate.