Wednesday, November 30, 2011


A couple of days ago I was visiting my friend Kim at her home in Happy Valley, an area that's being carpeted by tract homes and McMansions but which still has bits and pieces of farmland left.

She rents the pasture behind her house to keep a flock of sheep, initially obtained so her Corgis could practice herding for competitions. The group has more than doubled in the last two weeks with the birth of seven lambs, and there are at least two more on the way. They live in the pasture with Angel, a Maremma-Pyranees mix, who keeps predators (like coyotes and neighborhood dogs) away.

The lambs were gamboling, as they are wont to do, and their ewes were attentive, as they should be. Thought you'd like a peek!

Tuesday, November 29, 2011

Great Gifting: Seeing the Art Around You

By now, "buy local" is a mantra for everything from where we shop for groceries to where we buy our books. Not that the internet doesn't provide a handy outlet when the thing you're looking for isn't available locally or the price is prohibitive. But there's nothing like going to your favorite neighborhood bookshop, browsing the shelves or talking to the owner…you know, in person…and discovering, say, a new favorite author.

Same goes for buying gifts from local artists and designers. I mean, not that there isn't some decent mass-produced stuff out there, but isn't it more fun to say something was made by a friend, a neighbor or even someone in the area, particularly if it's totally gorgeous?

With all the holiday bazaars, gift shows and studio tours going on, it's not hard to find something for everyone from beer drinkers to great-aunties. Here are a few local artists to get you started, and feel free to add your own faves in the comments section!
Read the other Great Gifting posts: Eating is Believing, Giving From the Heart and Keeping Spirits Bright.

Quick Hits: Jade Teahouse and Ned Ludd

Ever since my brother moved his wine shop, Vino, from its decade-long home in Sellwood to a new (and awesome) location on 28th Avenue, I've been neglecting my haunts in the old neighborhood. One in particular, Jade Bistro, would spring to mind whenever I was craving a warming soup, a great banh mi or one of Lucy Eklund's stunning pastries. I returned a couple of weeks ago to find April, Lucy's daughter, smiling at me behind the counter despite my absence (which made me feel even guiltier) and Josh Chang working his magic with the mysterious, shining tower of tea tins behind the counter. Friends and I shared a big bowl of Lucy's rich, flavorful soup, billowing clouds of fragrant steam, the toothy handmade noodles giving testimony to what makes this place so special. We also split a spice-infused steamed chicken and a pork and eggplant concoction that reminded me how much I love purple ovoids, especially in Asian preparations. And of course we had to have a piece or two of Lucy's irresistible green Vietnamese wedding cake to take with us. As God is my witness, I swear that even without a case of wine to pick up, I'll be going back again soon.

Details: Jade Bistro, 7912 SE 13th Ave. 503-477-8985.

* * *

For me, there's no better sign when walking into a restaurant than to see the chef butchering a pig just as service is starting. I mean, it really doesn't get fresher or more hands-on than that, does it? And sure enough, that's what Ned Ludd chef and owner Jason French was doing the other evening as I walked in with friends. Fortunately he did put down his very sharp knife long enough for a hug, but picked it right up again as we took our seats. Though I consider Ned Ludd to be one of my favorite places in town for a great meal, it had been awhile (yes, there's a theme here) since I'd been in. I'm happy to report that the service continues to be solid and the food is still stellar, all of it (well, except for the cold plates) coming from the glowing wood-fired oven that's front and center in the dining room. From the puffy warm flatbreads to the everything-made-in-house meat board to the pork, trout and amazing seasonal vegetable offerings, this place rocks my world every time. And with great cocktails and a very reasonably priced (and well-curated) wine list, it's easy to order a beverage that will complement the food perfectly. This place literally glows from the inside, and not just because of the fire in the oven…it's a genuinely friendly, completely Portland kind of place that draws you in with open arms.

Details: Ned Ludd, 3925 NE Martin Luther King Blvd. 503-288-6900.

Monday, November 28, 2011

Livin' in the Blurbs: Shopping, Eating…and Dieting?

One of my favorite events this time of year is a garage sale. No, it's not where I get all those special gifts for the people I care about, like half-burned candles and only-slightly-worn sweaters. At this garage sale you can do some serious power shopping for the foodies on your list. Put on by contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood, it was originally held in his garage. The last couple of years he's moved it to his warehouse, the better to display the stunning range of imported olive oils, salts, grains, beans and other goodies he brings in from around the Northwest and the world. He also sells many of his olive oils in bulk, and he can fill up your (clean) containers from genuine Italian fustino. Like the garage sales of yore, he'll be dishing out free homemade soup and wine to make your shopping experience that much more pleasurable.

Details: Jim Dixon's Olive Oil Garage Sale. Fri.-Sat., 12/3-4; noon to 6 pm; cash or checks only please. At 833 SE Main (corner of SE 9th & Main), space 122 (On the NE corner of the building facing the parking lot. Look for the olive oil sign on the sidewalk out front.) Please park on the street since the other Activspace tenants need the lot during the day.

* * *

And because this is Portland, there are many opportunities to give the gift of food from our bounty of local producers. One place where you'll be able to see (and sample) many of them under one roof is coming up at the 3rd Annual Season's Eatings Local Food and Spirits Market, an event that benefits the Oregon Food Bank. Sponsored by New Deal Distillery, which is introducing its brand new ginger liqueur at this year's market, you'll also find products from pie to charcuterie and cheese to pickles and coffees. Look for the full list of fantastic vendors on their website!

Details: 3rd Annual Season's Eatings Local Food and Spirits Market, Sat., Dec. 10, 11 am-6 pm. At New Deal Distillery, 1311 SE 9th Ave. 503-234-2513.

* * *

He rocked the Portland food scene with one of the first carts in the city, and Kevin Sandri's Garden State quickly became known for its amazing take on East coast Italian-American classics like a to-die-for Meatball Hero and crunchy arancini, always served up with some Jersey attitude on the side. It eventually moved to N Mississipppi Avenue from its original Sellwood location and spawned a burger cart called Burgatroyd. Recently, much to the chagrin of his throngs of admirers, Sandri decided to close GS down and take a 9 to 5 job with a new business called Farm to Fit. A "chef prepared meal service," it's the brainchild of Dre Slaman and G. Scott Brown and features an all-organic menu that caters to the weight-loss crowd. Sandri's challenge is to breathe some life into usually drab diet meals…perhaps a low-cal version of the Hero? We'll see!

Details: Farm to Fit, 503-688-9248.

Saturday, November 26, 2011

A View Worth Framing

No, it's not a Constable painting of a the English countryside, it's a snapshot I took while on one of Sauvie Island's terrific hiking trails. Gotta love the Northwest in the fall!

Friday, November 25, 2011

Budget Cuts: The Long and the Short

I have lots of pet theories (no pun intended). One is that my cat can read my mind, because whenever it's time to go to the vet she makes herself scarce. Even before I get out the carrier, she wriggles her little self into a crack or crevice, remaining completely undetectable until it's well past our appointment time.

Another theory has to do with cheap cuts of meat. Usually they're the most flavorful, but sometimes not the most attractive. Think chuck roast or shanks versus steaks or loin roasts. Flank steaks and hanger steaks used to fit in that category, but then they got "discovered" as new items for the home grill and prices haven't come down since.

The cuts that require hours of braising to achieve fall-apart tenderness, as opposed to those that can be quickly grilled and served, seem to be the ones that stay in the budget category. Again, chuck roast, shoulder roast and shanks come to mind. As do beef short ribs, those squarish chunks of layered fat and meat, which are at their best when cooked low and slow. So when I saw them on sale recently in the meat case at my local market, I had to grab a few pounds.

The recipe below would be terrific simmered all day in a slow cooker, but works perfectly well started early in the evening and braised for a couple of hours. Even better, buying, as I did, a little more than you need makes a fabulous fit-for-company dinner with enough left over to shred and mix with pasta later in the week.

I love these served alongside polenta, and the gremolata is definitely optional. A shower of fresh horseradish grated over the top just before serving is really all you need.

Brasato Al Barolo (Braised Short Ribs)
Adapted from Mario Batali's The Babbo Cookbook

For the brasato:
1/4 c. extra virgin olive oil
4 lbs. beef short ribs (or 6 medium-sized bone-in ribs)
Kosher salt and freshly ground black pepper
2 carrots, peeled and roughly chopped
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 celery stalks, roughly chopped
5 garlic cloves, thinly sliced
2 c. full-bodied red wine
1 16-oz. can of peeled tomatoes, crushed by hand with their juices (2 c.)
1 c. beef stock (or chicken stock)
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh thyme leaves or 2 tsp. dried
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh rosemary leaves, chopped fine, or 2 tsp. dried
2 Tbsp. fresh oregano leaves, chopped, or 2 tsp. dried

For the gremolata:
Leaves from 1 bunch of flat leaf parsley
Zest of two lemons, cut into julienne strip
1/4 lb. fresh horseradish, grated

Preheat oven to 375°.

In a large, heavy-bottomed skillet or Dutch oven, heat the olive oil over high heat until smoking. Season the ribs with salt and pepper and cook them over high heat until deep brown all on sides, about 15 minutes total.
 Remove the short ribs to a plate and set aside. Add the carrots, onion, celery and garlic to the pan and cook over high heat until browned and softened, about 4 minutes. Season with salt and pepper and stir in the red wine, tomatoes and juices, stock and herbs, scraping the bottom of the pan with a wooden spoon to dislodge the brown bits. Bring the mixture to a boil and return the short ribs to the pan. Cover and place in the oven. Cook for 2 hours, or until the meat is very tender and literally falling off the bones.

To make the gremolata: 
In a small bowl, combine the parsley, lemon zest and horseradish and toss loosely by hand. Place one short rib in each bowl, top with a little of the pan juices and a handful of the gremolata and serve immediately.

Monday, November 21, 2011

Not Just Another Cheese Ball

Contributor Jim Dixon just got back from a month-long sojourn in Italy visiting friends and the suppliers of the fantastic products he carries at Real Good Food. With all the memories from that fabulous trip, what's the first thing he writes about on his return? Pimento cheese.

I’m not sure exactly where or when I’d first heard about pimento cheese (aka PC), but I’ve been thinking about making some for a long time. I started the recipe research early this year, and after a few batches, came up with a version I like.

While universally described as an iconic southern food, pimento cheese actually sprang from the psuedo-scientific Yankee home economics movement in the early 1900s. One of its tenets was that strong flavors like garlic encouraged overly emotional, “undesirable” behavior thought to be typical of spicy food-loving immigrants. The original pimento cheese was a blend of a new product, cream cheese, and very mild canned pimentos. For more on this fascinating history, read food historian Robert Moss.

History notwithstanding, folks from the south claim PC as their own, and you’ll find commercial versions in Winn-Dixie supermarkets across the region. But its most ardent fans make it at home, and like most iconic foods, opinions as to the “best” vary; check out the winners of the Southern Foodways Pimento Cheese Invitational to see some interesting versions.

In the end, PC is American as apple pie and just plain delicious. Traditionally eaten on soda crackers or celery sticks, PC also goes well on good crusty bread or in an omelet. Here’s how I make it:

Pimento Cheese

1.25-1.5 lbs. cheddar, a roughly even mix of yellow medium and white sharp
4 roasted, peeled, seeded red bell peppers (about 2 cups worth after the peeling, etc, or the equivalent amount of roasted red peppers from a jar, either red, pimento, or piquillo)
2-3 Tbsp. mayo (homemade or Best Foods, aka Hellman’s east of the Mississippi; Duke’s in the south)
1 Tbsp. sweet pickle relish
1 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 Tbsp. good bourbon
Crystal hot sauce to taste

Grate the cheese with a box grater or with a food processor (I prefer hand grating since you need the processor bowl with the steel blade for the next step and I don’t want to have to clean it). Combine the peppers and other ingredients (not cheese) in the processor and pulse a few times. Add the cheese and pulse until well mixed, but not so much that you can’t detect little bits of red pepper. You want everything chopped and mixed but not puréed.

You can find Jim and his edible friends most Mondays from 5-7 pm at Activspace, 833 SE Main on the corner of SE 9th and Main, space number 122.

Photo from Wikipedia.

Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Travels with Chili: Perched in Penticton

I've been dying to write this post since we got back from our Okanagan road trip, but I've forced myself to stick to the itinerary and not spill the beans. On this vacation there were so many places that really stood out, and people who blew us away with their kindness, as well as their commitment to their communities. I've already mentioned some like the Methow Valley Inn and Tappi in Twisp; and Gene Covert, Road 13, Tinhorn Creek and Miradoro in Oliver. But little did we know what was in store for us as we moved north.

The living room.

Our next destination was centered around the city of Penticton, bordered by 85-mile-long Okanagan Lake to the north and much smaller Skaha Lake to the south. We were scheduled to spend the night at a place called God's Mountain Estate, whose name gave me pause. Were little monk men or, worse, evangelical fanatics going to set upon us with religious tomes and chanting?

The narrow two-lane road to the estate was wedged between the eastern edge of the lake and the hills that rose up precipitously from it. About halfway around the lake we saw a tiny domed white stucco structure with the address we were looking for stuck on it. A gravel road ran up the hillside, and about halfway up that drive there was a white iron gate. We paused, wondering if this was really where we were supposed to be since there was no sign and no one appeared to be around. But as we inched closer the gate mysteriously swung open, so we cautiously continued.

Stairway to a landing.

At the top of the drive we finally saw a building, a rambling white stucco house that wouldn't have looked out of place on a hillside in Greece. Out of the house charged three large dogs of varying ages, barking madly. Since we're dog people this ferocious display didn't dissuade us in the least, accompanied as it was with wagging tails and broad smiles (not bared teeth). Behind them came a woman in a long flowing dress, her hair tied up in a loose bun and a smile on her face as she shooed the dogs away.

The roofless room-with-a-view.

It turns out Sarah Allen knew she had to have this house from the moment she walked in the door, even though it was in a physical condition that, generously speaking, could have been described as crumbling and with the interior walls all painted black. Eventually she and the owner came to an agreement on the price, and she and her partner started (literally) bringing the house back into the light.

The view of Skaha Lake from one room.

The house is oddly laid out with stairs and landings leading to rooms on various levels, some cantilevered to take in the view. One is actually roofless, featuring its own hot tub, an Asian-style gazebo and a 360° view of the property and the lake. We kept taking wrong turns trying to find our room, but it became part of the fun of the place. Everything about the house reminded me of a movie set for a Liz Taylor/Richard Burton film, filled as it was with (several) life-sized deer statues and an idiosynchratic-but-sophisticated jumble of antiques.

The property is a vineyard, as well, producing just a few cases of wine from the riesling grapes grown on its steep hillsides. There are several excellent trails that meander through the property and along the summit of Skaha Bluffs, offering spectacular views over the valley. Even better? One of the hounds will escort you on your hike. But for us the best part of our stay was simply sitting on the shaded wraparound veranda reading a book or taking a dip in the cliffside hot tub as the stars came out over Skaha Lake.

Breakfast was quite the spread, with everything from muesli to eggs, bacon, French toast, pastries, fruit and, most importantly, terrific coffee in the sunny breakfast room. There was also a full kitchen for those who wanted to cook their own meals or just store a bottle of wine. Sadly we only had one night at this place, but it made us long for several more to really kick back and relax. Maybe on our next trip?

Details: God's Mountain Estate, 4898 Lakeside/Eastside Rd., Penticton, BC, Canada. 250-490-4800.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Magical Moment, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

No Foolin'

Neither is it the Space Needle. Nor marmalade. Nor a lawn mower. Nor…well…you catch my drift. But it's definitely a crack-up when you're cruising the dairy aisle at your local Trader Joe's. Just sayin'.

Monday, November 14, 2011

Moving Images

An incredible series of images from the breakup of the Occupy Portland camp by Oregonian photographers Beth Nakamura, Faith Cathcart and Ross William Hamilton show an incredibly moving human side to what could be just another cops-vs.-kids news event. Thanks for your good work!

Photo at top by Beth Nakamura for the Oregonian.

Sunday, November 13, 2011

Thinking of Eating: Pasture to Plate

The very first post in this series started with a question: Can I eat an animal I've played tag with?

At first it was merely an interesting notion. I'd buy half a pig from my friend Clare at Big Table Farm, something I'd been wanting to do for some time. But I didn't want to simply wait for the time, some months hence, when she'd call to say my half was butchered and ready to pick up from the packing house. I wanted to meet this pig named Roger, and trace his life from his pasture to my plate.

Roasted bones for stock.

I didn't have an agenda in mind. This wouldn't be an attempt to follow the already well-trodden path of other food writers like Michael Pollan or Barbara Kingsolver. I didn't want to hammer home points about whatever-vores, 100-mile diets or the evils of corporate agriculture. It was simply a documentation of my experience, with no expectations of a major life change ("I'll never be able to look a pork chop in the eye again…") or revelation ("Roger came to me in a dream one night…").

The hardest part, as might be expected, had been the moments just before and after Roger was killed in his pasture. The butchering was an exhausting but fascinating process on its own, with 96 pounds of meat to parse. And when it came to cooking this pig I'd met, it was similarly freighted with both emotion and practicality.

Big Table Farm eggs, Roger bacon and cornmeal scrapple.

I'd decided our first dinner featuring Roger wouldn't be a big party, just a quiet family dinner at home. I'd chosen pork chops as our entrée, a simple cut simply seasoned with a smear of olive oil, salt and pepper, the better to taste the flavor of the meat itself. Dave got the grill going, I had a beet risotto simmering on the stove and a green salad with seared figs ready. A bottle of Big Table Farm pinot was opened.

Dave brought the chops in from the grill, and as they rested on their platter, perfuming the air with their meaty scent, we set the table and poured the wine. Each of us chose our chop, I held up my glass and we toasted Roger, thanking him for his good life and for giving us this meal, as well as for what would surely be many other good meals to come. The first bite was succulent and porky, mild and just a bit smoky, certainly one of the best pork chops I'd ever tasted.

Making sausage is fun.

As we ate, I thought of Roger in his field, playing with Don in the long grass of his pasture and sitting under the spray from the hose, enjoying the respite from the day's heat. I remembered him laying in the grass, his face contented as I scratched him behind the ears. That is the face I carry with me, one I am truly thankful I got to know.

In the weeks since that dinner, we've made bacon and sausage, smoked a fresh ham and made pork stock for ramen. We've referred to it as Roger bacon or Roger sausage, in the same way I remember a friend every time I use the gift she gave me. And while that may sound trite or even macabre, it feels oddly natural. We've shared these experiences, and this food, with our larger community of family and friends. And isn't that what it should be all about?

I'll be sharing the recipes with you in coming posts, and hope that you'll enjoy his continuing story. To him I say, thank you, Roger, you were a good pig.

Read the other posts in this series: Roger and Me, Roger Grows Up, Saying Goodbye, The Day Finally Comes and The Meat of the Matter.

Saturday, November 12, 2011

Farm Bulletin: A Connecticut Yankee in Chef Barattini's Kitchen

This year's fall colors have been particularly magnificent due to high summer rainfall causing leaves to lose their chlorophyll more slowly in the fall, resulting in increased intensity of color in the foliage. These facts don't diminish our enjoyment, as contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm demonstrates most ably in this treatise on flint corn.

Our 2003 order to High Mowing Seeds included five pounds of 'Roy's Calais Flint' corn. The catalogue offered a simple endorsement: "Makes good cornbread." It reminded us that we had not enjoyed flavorful cornbread for a long time, and that the yellow stuff in a box was little more than a gummy matrix for cheese or a substrate for savory toppings, itself bereft of any semblance of true corniness. Ours was a classic impulse purchase, with no clear idea of what making cornmeal entailed, or whether the catalogue entry was just another gross exaggeration aimed at rank sentimentalists.  As it happened, the flint corn yielded a good crop that September, we learned to grind corn with a stone mill and flavorful cornbread returned to our kitchen.

A flint corn kernel.

We are often asked what "flint" means. The bulk of the corn kernel is the starchy endosperm; the carefully stored source of energy and nutrition for the new plant when it germinates. The starchy endosperm ranges from soft to hard, depending upon how much protein is packaged up with the starch. Popcorn and flint corn have the hardest kernels because they have a lot of protein packed among the starch granules. The primary difference between the two is that popcorn kernels are smaller, about half the size of the flints. Popcorn and flint corn are the most flavorful and nutritious types of corn. Dent and flour corn form the other end of the spectrum. They are soft and much easier to mill, and definitely sweeter, yet we find they lack the satisfying flavor we seek.

Flint corn leaf.

"Roy's Calais Flint" belongs to a cluster of flint corn varieties that are collectively called the "Northern Flints," originally found on both sides of the Appalachian range, extending from the mid-Alantic states northwards to the Gaspé Peninsula in Canada. The Northern Flints first show up in the archeological record around 1000 AD, and were a staple in New England before the Pilgrims arrived. Because Northern Flint remained isolated from other corn races, the variation was derived from selection of mutations within the population, rather than a genetic exchange with other corn races from other places. Consequently, there are several characteristics which allow a person familiar with the race to identify it wherever it is growing. The plants are short, three to six feet high, sometimes beautifully pigmented and produce one or more side shoots, called tillers, that often terminate in an ear with a kernels. The cylindrical ears are long with eight rows of kernels typical, though sometimes there are ten or twelve rows. All of the kernels on the plant are the same color, and the yields are crappy.

Color variations in flints.

The meal produced by the Northern Flints is either pearly white or yellow-orange, with the white meal types often associated with the coastal regions where fish dominated the diet. The yellow meal is rich in beta-carotenes which accents its corny flavor. Kernels with a red skin (pericarp)  have better cold soil germination and ripen earlier, so they are favored in cooler areas and higher elevations where the season is short. Red kernels produce yellow meal with the red flecks you see in our cornmeal.

In 1924, the Connecticut Agricultural Station published a report on corn in the state. The report evaluated 42 named varieties of flint corn collected from 70 farms and seed stores across the state. Although unintended, Bulletin 124 provided the obituary for flint corn in New England. In fact, its primary author, geneticist D.F. Jones, was one of the architects of the F-1 Hybrid Corn Belt Dents that dominate modern corn production. In a decade or so, the Northern Flint corn would be functionally extinct in its original range, with a few examples preserved by the odd dogged traditionalist. For the most part, modern New Englanders have no idea about this legacy and have never tasted a good flint corn, with the possible exception of Rhode Islanders who have preserved their "White Cap" flint in statute as the legally correct corn for making Jonny Cake.

Various forms of Queen Ears.

Roy Fair of Calais, Vermont was one of those traditionalists, and following his death local farmers provided Tom Stearns of High Mowing Seeds with some his flint seed. In our experience from working with this corn for nine seasons, what makes Roy's remarkable is that fact it carries a genetic library of the Northern Flint genetic code, rather than a tightly drawn selection of traits, such as those found in other flints like King Phillip, Longfellow or "Rhode Island White Cap." In our seed production, we have tried to preserve as much of this genetic exuberance as possible while seeking out desirable commercial characteristics. To ward off the displeasure of the gods, ancient pottery makers created a deliberate flaw in their work so as to avoid the harsh penalties of perfection, likewise we include in Roy's genetic mix, or grex, the occasional "queen ear," one that bears several branches and odd kernels. Many years ago, our staff explained to us that queen ears provide good fortune to the milpa (the corn field), and we don't want Ceres angry either.

Italian mais otto file.

Although few people in its natal land are familiar with Northern Flint, various selections of this landrace are considered culinary treasures in northern Italy, Rhine Valley of Austria, Switzerland (especially in the cantons of Ticino, St. Gallen and Graubünden), on the Japanese island of Hokkaido where it is too far north for rice cultivation and in many other places. The white flint selection grown in the Rhine Valley of Switzerland is called Rheintaler Ribelmais and is protected with an AOC (Appellation d'Origine Contrôlée) designation. In the northern Italian valleys and southern Switzerland, Northern Flint corn is mais otto file, or eight row corn. At regional fairs, selected Northern Flint ears are proudly displayed along with the ground corn.

Bean, kale and cornmeal soup.

On this month's menu at Chef Aurelio Barattini's restaurant Antica Locanda di Sesto in Lucca, you will likely find Infarinata, a soup of cornmeal, beans and kale. As he notes in his blog, he uses an eight row flint corn grown in the valley around Garfagnana. Some historians credit Giovanni di Verranzzano for bringing the Northern Flint to Europe. He was a warrior seeking fortune and fame, not agricultural improvement. I suspect the Northern Flint was sent back to family in Europe repeatedly by farmers and gardeners who enjoyed the grain in their new home.

In western New England, northern Italian immigrants, experts with stone, settled to work the marble and granite quarries. I grew up and went to school with their grandchildren and great grandchildren, and I prefer to think of those quarry workers sending back a package of beautiful and flavorful corn to their family. In fact, Oregon is just about as distant from the Northern Flints' origins as Gafagnana, and it took a while to show up here. Regardless of the how it got to Europe, it is great to see this Yankee grain treasured by farmers and chefs far distant from its land of origin. When in Lucca, be sure to stop and have a meal at Chef Baratinni's restaurant.

Addendum: Someone could write a book about how to grow and enjoy real corn, America's original grain. Unfortunately, the experts in publishing do not believe there is a market for such a book at the moment, so you all will have to settle for the corn itself. Costs less per pound than a book and you can eat it, nourishing both the body and mind, a better deal by far.

Bean, Kale, and Polenta Soup
There are various versions of this classic northern Italian soup, Infarinata, that bring dry beans, cornmeal and kale together with a bit of pork. In a conversation over lunch, Linda Colwell reminded us that La Jota of Trieste is also a variation on this rustic soup, using sauerkraut instead of kale, and fragrant with cumin. Our friend and former neighbor, China Tresemer, helped us put together this recipe.

The recipe calls for unsmoked but cured pork: guanciale or pancetta, but in a pinch, a piece of salt pork will do. You can make this dish without the meat as well. Likewise, savoy cabbage, rocket or escarole can be used for the greens. For beans, we use Borlotto Lamon which has a deep nutty flavor and pleasant sweetness. The water the bean cooks in yields a delicious broth. There are several reasons why this variety is not more available commercially: Pole beans cost more to grow. The Lamon must be handpicked and has just three or four beans per pod compared to the usual five to seven. It also ripens late, splits in the rain and is prone to viruses. Mere details—other than that it is perfect, the most glorious of the cranberry beans.

Serves 4

3 c. (525g) Borlotto Lamon dry beans
4 oz. (100g) unsmoked but cured pork, minced
2 Tbsp. extra virgin olive oil
1 carrot, minced
1 onion, minced
1 stalk celery, minced
2 cloves garlic, minced
3 sage leaves, fresh or dried, minced
1 c. canned crushed tomatoes, preferably your own
Salt and pepper
8 stalks of kale, collards or lacinato kale, rib removed, minced
1 1/2 cups (210 g) medium-coarse flint cornmeal
Good olive oil

Soak the dry beans in plenty of water overnight. Drain the beans, add fresh water to cover the beans by about 2 inches (5 cm), bring to a boil, then turn down the heat, and simmer until tender, 40 to 90 minutes.

In a soup pot, sauté the pork in the olive oil until it begins to turn golden. Add the minced carrot, onion, and celery, and sauté gently until the vegetables are soft. Add the garlic and the minced sage leaves. Add the tomatoes. Cook until the mixture thickens a bit, about 12 minutes. Add salt to taste. Chop the kale leaves and add to the pot. Add the beans and their liquor, topping the soup off with more water to create a good broth. Season with salt to taste.

Bring the soup to a gentle simmer. While the soup is simmering, trickle in the cornmeal and stir occasionally until the polenta is tender, about 40 minutes. Season to taste with salt.
Serve the thick soup in shallow bowls with a good ribbon of the olive oil on top.

Friday, November 11, 2011

A Fall Day to Remember

How gorgeous can a fall day get in Oregon? Yesterday was certainly shooting for the record.

Tuesday, November 08, 2011

Show Off Those Gams!

I grew up in a meat-and-potatoes mid-century American family, with the flow of beef only occasionally interrupted by a pork chop or a casserole. Though to her credit my mother was one of the first to make tacos and even fry the tortillas…no pre-folded, packaged versions for her!

The first time I remember having a roasted chicken was at my brother's, and I was dumbfounded. Not only was it one of the most mouthwateringly delicious meals I'd ever had, it was astonishingly simple to cook…you couldn't even call it a recipe, it was so basic. Needless to say, we have it regularly now, both roasted in the oven and over a wood fire on the grill.

I try to spare Dave the discomfort of standing outside in the cold wind and rain at this time of year…even though he stubbornly insists on grilling the turkey every November…and the other night I was craving roast chicken with root veggies. It occurred to me that chicken legs might work the same as whole chicken and ought to be slightly faster. I'd done something like it a couple of years before, but what I had in mind for tonight was much simpler.

A trip to the store, a little chopping, and an hour later dinner was ready. This is definitely a meal that could help get us through the winter in fine form.

Roasted Whole Chicken Legs with Root Vegetables

1 lg. yellow onion, chopped
6 cloves garlic, roughly chopped
4-6 c. root vegetables like potatoes, carrots, squash, beets, turnips, etc., roughly chopped
1/2 tsp. dried thyme or tarragon
1 tsp. salt
2 Tbsp. olive oil
6 whole chicken legs, skin on

Preheat oven to 375°. Put chopped onion, garlic and vegetables in large bowl. Pour in 1 tablespoon of olive oil and add thyme, salt and pepper. Stir to combine and put in 9" by 12" pyrex baking dish. Rub chicken legs with remaining olive oil and place on top of root vegetables. Bake for 30 min., remove from oven and sprinkle with salt and pepper. Place back in oven and roast another 30 minutes or until instant-read thermometer reads 160° when inserted into thickest part of thigh.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Party On!

If you think the Occupy folks have a corner on the public imagination, you ain't heard nothin' yet. For soon the cry of "Hail the Wale" will be echoing through the streets of our fair city. It has come to my attention through the efforts of bartender extraordinaire and corduroy aficionado Jacob Grier that Friday is Corduroy Appreciation Day. Why that particular date, you might ask? Well, the numbers tell the tale…it's 11/11/11, and fans of the fuzzy vertical cloth will tell you that date most closely resembles the wale of corduroy. Whatever. The good news is that they're throwing a party this Friday to celebrate, and you're all invited. Wear one or more items of corduroy and get a discount on the special Two Item Rule cocktail Mr. Grier created specially for the occasion. Now, where did I put that corduroy denim jacket and skirt outfit?

Details: Hail the Wale Corduroy Appreciation Party. Fri., Nov. 11, 5-8 pm; free. Wear one item of corduroy, get $1 off special cocktail, wear two and get $2 off. The Hop and Vine, 1914 N Killingsworth St. 503-954-3322.

* * *

When Luan Schooler and her husband, Tim Wilson, opened Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods a few years ago, I was over the moon. Not just because they were moving into what had been a down-on-its-luck convenience market in the neighborhood, but because they were dedicated to carrying a fantastic selection of cheeses, charcuterie, dry goods and wines from around the world. And when they started offering classes on cheeses, meats and wines with some of the areas best producers, I was completely smitten. On Saturday, Nov. 19, they'll be celebrating their sixth anniversary (Really? Has it been six?) with their biggest blowout yet. Come sip, sample and schmooze with artisan producers like Ben Jacobsen from  Jacobsen Salt, Pat Morford from River's Edge Chevre, Eyrie Vineyards, Memaloose Winery, Tao of Tea, Logsdon Organic Farmhouse Ales, Portland Pepper Sauce and Fermin Iberico (right). Should be an awesome party!

Details: Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods Sixth Anniversary Open House. Sat., Nov. 19, 2-5 pm. Foster & Dobbs, 2518 NE 15th Ave. at Brazee. 503-284-1157.

* * *

Now that winter's here, you might feel like mourning the end of farmers' market season, particularly after the avalanche of gorgeous late-season produce we had this fall. Well, I'm here to tell you to turn that frown upside down and untangle yourself from that passion net, because there are seven, count 'em, SEVEN Portland area farmers' markets revving up to go right through till spring. So grab that basket and your wellies and get thee to:
  • Hollywood Farmers' Market: Open 9 am-1 pm every Saturday until Thanksgiving, then 1st and 3rd Saturdays from Dec.-April. On NE Hancock Street between 44th and 45th Aves., one block south of Sandy Blvd. in the Grocery Outlet parking lot.
  • Hillsdale Farmers' Market: Open 10 am-2 pm Sun. through Thanksgiving, then twice monthly Dec.-April (see website for schedule). At 1405 SW Vermont St. in the Wilson High School-Rieke Elementary School parking lot.
  • Lloyd Farmers' Market: Open 10 am-2 pm every Tues. (except for Dec. 27). In Oregon Square on NE Holladay St. between 7th & 9th Aves.
  • Montavilla Farmers' Market is holding Winter Stock-Up Markets from 11 am-1 pm on Dec. 11, Jan. 8 and Feb. 12. On the 7600 block of SE Stark St.
  • Oregon City Winter Farmers' Market: Open 10 am-2 pm every other Sat. from Nov.-April. At the corner of 8th Ave. and Main St., Oregon City.
  • People's Farmers' Market: Open 2-7 pm every Wed. year round. At People's Co-op, 3029 SE 21st Ave. on block N of Powell Blvd.
  • Winter Market at Shemanski Park: Open 10 am-2 pm Sat., Jan. 7-Feb. 25. In the South Park Blocks between SW Salmon and Main Sts.

Saturday, November 05, 2011

Travels with Chili: Be A Pal

We saw this on a grocery store shelf in Penticton and dissolved into hysterics. No beating around the bush here!

Thursday, November 03, 2011

Travels with Chili: Magical Moment

This road trip through Canada's Okanagan could easily be titled the Magical Mystery Tour if some pesky little English boppers hadn't already coined the term. After all, we were traveling through country we'd never seen before and knew little about, following (most times, anyway) a path laid out for us by someone I'd only met once before. It could have been disastrous, full of blah people, blah food and even blah-er wines. But, like the previous couple of days, it was turning into a voyage of discovery (yes, I know, that's taken, too) with fascinating people, great food and terrific, quaffable wines around every corner.

Tinhorn Creek Winery.

The next stop on the itinerary was at Tinhorn Creek winery, founded by Kenn Oldfield and his wife, winemaker Sandra Oldfield. Planting their first grapes in 1994 and implementing sustainable practices, they've become the first Canadian winery to become completely carbon neutral.

While that's commendable all by itself, their wines, mostly pinot gris, merlot, cab franc and gevurtz, are what's really impressive. And we loved their rosé, which was a private project of Sandra's. Told that a rosé wasn't a good fit with the rest of their list, she made some in secret, even keeping it away from her assistant winemakers, stashing the barrel in the back of the winery. When it was ready, she poured a glass and took it to her husband. He tried it, asking whose it was. "Yours," she answered. And a sellout success was born. Gotta love a gal like that!

The inimitable Mr. McAuliffe.

Our dinner that night was at their restaurant, Miradoro, a joint project of Tinhorn Creek and Vancouver restaurateur Manuel Ferreira, owner of one of my fave restos in that city, Le Gavroche. Jutting out of the steep hillside next to the winery, its wraparound deck soars out over the valley with a commanding view of the entire Golden Mile Bench. Our winery guide, Lindsey White, turned us over to General Manager and Sommelier Justin McAuliffe, who showed us to our corner table on the very edge of the deck (top photo).

Now, Dave and I are both a tad acrophobic, but that view was so spectacular that we completely forgot our fears. Justin's first question was "how deep" we wanted to go in the menu, and I tried to say we'd been eating non-stop for days and that three shared courses would be more than plenty. I could tell from his reaction that this wasn't the right answer, and when the first course arrived I knew we were in deep trouble.

Zucchini fritters, crab salad, cherry tomatoes.

It started off innocently enough, actually, with a rosé from 8th Generation Vineyard in Summerland, a winery up north near Kelowna. The fresh, cool, lightly pink wine perfectly counterpointed the warm late summer evening, but then Justin brought out two little glass orbs filled with a milky golden liquid. A fresh corn purée topped with the tiniest of pickled chanterelles, it was the taste of summer condensed into a couple of spoonfuls. To finish off the course he poured some of Tinhorn's rosé, a heartier version due to being made from 100% cab franc, yet still completely lovely. That's when he mentioned that the BC police are notoriously hard-nosed about drinking and driving. Why would he bring that up? Hm.

A glass of Tinhorn's Two Bench White kicked off a platter of zucchini fritters garnished with tiny sprays of unopened fennel blossoms (minty and surprising), a Dungeness crab salad and halved cherry tomatoes with a peach vinaigrette and pickled onion slivers. Such flavor! Then what I thought must be the entrée (I said three courses, right?), a chanterelle risotto with local grilled summer squash and small Walla Walla onions from Covert Farm with an elegant smear of eggplant purée, came with a glass of Tinhorn's pinot. Sigh…so good!

Chanterelle risotto, summer squash.

We just about to gather up our things and head back to the hotel when who should materialize but Justin, with a pitcher of their '00 Cab Franc and a plate of tenderly braised lamb neck, about which I'd heard but had never tasted, surrounded by little lamb meatballs on a caponata of eggplant, tomato and hazelnuts, sautéed kale with lemon zest, roasted cauliflower and pea shoots.

Okanagan beef.

At this point we'd lost count of the courses in the wonderful onslaught of great wines and beautifully made food. As we enjoyed the last of that crazy good cab franc, our interlocutor, Justin, poured splashes of a delicious '08 Tinhorn Merlot to accompany the Okanagan beef, the cousins of which, he'd pointed out, were grazing just across the valley. The thinly sliced beef was set on olive oil crushed potatoes garnished with pea shoots and pickled onions, all set on a smear of harissa, all of which was amazing.

The blessed cheese plate.

Dessert finally arrived, thank the gods, a cheese course of local aged pecorino and a Poplar Grove Blue, served with candied salted hazelnuts, poached plums and a spring of mint, all drizzled with local honey, along with a stack of housemade sesame crackers. Then, just to really mess with our heads, Justin brought out a cup of chocolate budino with orange cream of which I could only manage a small spoonful. (Was that a glint of devilish glee in his eye?)

When we got back to the room, I sent him the following e-mail:

“We made it back to the hotel safely after a couple of high-speed chases with the BC police, but they were no match for our Mini. Thought you'd like to know.

“Tonight, as I hope we made abundantly clear, was truly an amazing night. The view, the wines, the food, the service were all spectacular, right up there with the best we've ever had. Thanks for making it a truly memorable evening.”

Details: Tinhorn Creek Winery and Miradoro, 32830 Tinhorn Creek Rd., Oliver, BC. 250-498-3743.

Read the other posts in this series, The Great Okanagan Road Trip, Okangan's Lake Country, Perched In Penticton, Penticton Personalities and Crazy for Kelowna.

Healthy Food, Healthy Kids

We live near an elementary school where more than 40 percent of the students receive free or reduced-price meals. These meals may be the main, if not the only, meals the students get all day, and it stands to reason that the food they're served should be healthy and nutritious.

In an agriculturally rich state like Oregon, you'd think that the meals served in school cafeterias would have at least some local or regional ingredients. But because of inadequate kitchens (ripped out decades ago to facilitate central distribution), regulatory and economic roadblocks and a lack of distribution channels for local producers, these meals are often comprised of commodity products.

One way to get more fresh, local food onto cafeteria trays is to create a vibrant farm to school network of farmers, teachers, students and administrators. On Tuesday, Nov. 8, Friends of Family Farmers is conducting a panel discussion on how to bridge the gap between local farms and the school system so that our kids can have healthier meals, with the added benefit of helping to stabilize Oregon's agricultural community.

Panelists for the event are:
  • David Knaus is a grower, teacher and consultant for progressive agricultural methods in the Pacific Northwest. He is currently the Farm Manager for CREST Farm, a unique farm to school program in West Linn-Wilsonville that educates K-12 students in Biological Agriculture techniques and delivers produce to school cafeterias within the district.
  • Nell Tessman works as a Health Educator in Multnomah County Health Department's Community Wellness and Prevention Program and is a member of the Healthy Active Schools Team, working with seven school districts in Multnomah County on farm to school initiatives that support healthy eating and physical activity in schools. Nell also grows kale, lemon cucumbers and quackgrass in her community garden plot.
  • Linda Colwell is a chef, works on a farm and is interested seeing children develop an understanding of food, farming, agriculture and the rural/urban relationship. Linda sits on the Portland Public Schools Wellness Advisory Committee, serves on the board of directors of Zenger Farm and is currently writing a farm-to-school curriculum for K-12 schools.
Details: InFARMation: Farm to School, Growing Awareness. Tues., Nov. 8, 6:30-8 pm; free. Holocene, 1001 SE Morrison St. 503-759-3276.

Tuesday, November 01, 2011

Chilly? Not Tonight!

I don't know how it worked with the big guys like Einstein, Mozart or Picasso, but sometimes all it takes to get me inspired is the smallest whiff of an idea. Like yesterday afternoon when I had to run to the store to get coffee beans so we wouldn't be all cotton-headed in the morning.

My neighborhood New Seasons market was handing out samples of ready-to-heat chili made by a small company in Southern Oregon. I picked one up and tasted it, and I'm sure the other shoppers saw the thought bubble that formed above my head. "Oooh…yeah. Chili!" But instead of running to the shelf where the product was kept, I went to the meat counter and got a couple of pounds of chuck roast, then to the canned goods aisle for three big cans of kidney beans.

Yes, I know, I should have gone to the bulk aisle and cooked up my own beans, but time was short and I needed to get home and make dinner, and by now my chili jones was going strong. After picking up the coffee beans (See, I didn't forget!), I got home, chopped onions and garlic and the last little ancho peppers from the garden, threw them in the pot with a few dried herbs, added the beans, roasted tomatoes and meat and let it cook for a couple of hours. Fabulous!

This would be a great recipe for a slow-cooker, and would be even better if you got some beans soaking the night before, but for a relatively quick, hearty winter meal it's divine. All it takes a is a little inspiration!

Quick Beef Chili

2 Tbsp. oil
3 slices bacon (optional)
1 yellow onion, chopped
3 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 ancho peppers or bell peppers, chopped (optional)
2 tsp. dried oregano
1 tsp. ground cumin
1 Tbsp. chili powder
1 bay leaf
3 25-oz. cans kidney beans, or 6 c. cooked beans
4 c. roasted or canned tomatoes
2 lbs. chuck roast, cut in 1" cubes
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat oil in Dutch oven. Sauté bacon, if using, until fat begins to render. Add onions, garlic and peppers and sauté till tender. Add oregano, cumin, chili powder and bay leaf and stir briefly to combine. Add beans, sauce and meat (no browning necessary) and bring to boil. Reduce heat and simmer for at least 90 min., longer if you want fall-apart tender beef. Add salt and pepper to taste. Serve with your favorite chili condiments like cheddar cheese, rice, chopped onions or whatever.