Thursday, June 27, 2013

"You've Been 'Shroomed."

Jack Czarnecki loves to take newbs out and demonstrate the wonderful world of mushrooms, edible or not. And who better to introduce the subject than this bacteriologist-cum-restaurateur who moved to Oregon specifically because he could hunt his favorite fungi 365 days a year?

Mushroom pros on the prowl.

He goes out looking for the ones he can take back to his son Chris, who is the owner and chef at the legendary Joel Palmer House in Dayton, a shrine to mycelium that Jack and his wife Heidi opened in 1996. But he also picks up oddball specimens, like the creamy butter-yellow individual we ran across on a recent foray for porcinis and butter boletes. He said he'd never seen this particular mushroom before, indicating it would be duly noted and identified when he got back home to Dundee.

Dick scores the first porcini.

He describes finding his earthy prey like a series of shots of pure dopamine to his brain. "There's the five-minute mushroom," he said of the effect, when he gets discouraged, of finding the object of his quest.

"Then there's the 10-minute mushroom," either a nice specimen or a small patch. But a mother lode of hidden gems or, even better, an as-yet-undiscovered location that the "commercials," the foragers who sell to buyers who supply stores and restaurants, haven't found? That's anything from a two-hour high to a fix that'll last all day.

I actually found some, too!

"We're going to take you through the back door," he said when he invited me along on a recent trip to search out early summer porcinis (Boletus Rex-veris) and butter boletes (Boletus regius) (top photo). Visions of Alice in Wonderland filled my head, but having been out with Jack before on a hunt for the Oregon white truffles that lace his Oregon white truffle oil, I knew it would be a day of tromping in the woods and an education in the where, what, when, why and how of species I'd never encountered before.

At seven in the morning I parked Chili in the parking lot of a large box store in Salem and Jack drove up in his Subaru wagon, dubbed the Truffle-mobile, and introduced me to his mushrooming pal Dick, a retired teacher and fellow fungus addict who'd be coming with us this trip. We drove up the Santiam Pass to a series of locations in the Cascades that will, of course, remain undisclosed except to say that they were at elevations of 4,500 to 5,000 feet. Any threats of excommunication (or even execution) weren't necessary, since Jack pilots the dizzying web of gravel and cinder forest roads, some more like paths, of the backwoods like the familiar he is.

Porcinis hide in plain sight, in singles and pairs.

In the decade-plus that he and Dick have been hunting together, their favorite spots have been given descriptive names like The Rocks, The Ditch and The Mound, and we were going to hit most of them and more that day. These guys are relentless, barely stopping to eat lunch or have a cup of coffee during a 14-hour-day on the hunt for their elusive prey.

Each stop had the same pattern: stop the car, pile out with bags and knives and walk to some previously productive patches, sometimes scrambling down banks or hiking up hillsides to check the area. At first there don't seem to be any mushrooms in sight, just twigs and branches and leaves scattered across the ground, but as my eyes adjust to the landscape I start seeing beyond the litter and notice the bumps and eruptions that indicate the (potential) presence of a fungus.

Porcinis: more mature, left; less mature, right.

In the case of the porcinis, we'd look for patches of disturbed needles or tilted "lids" of litter. Tip the lid off or brush aside the detritus and it might be a fern pushing its way into the light or…wait…the brown-ish amber cap of a mushroom. Haha! Then it's brushing aside more duff and, using my pocket knife, slicing it off at the bottom of the stem.

The smaller,  less mature porcinis have more firm, dome-shaped caps with white, spongy-looking undersides, rather than the gilled mushrooms like button and portobello I'm familiar with from supermarkets. The caps of more mature porcinis grow broader and flatten out, the undersides getting a yellow tinge. Eventually the edges of the caps start curling up, the whole mushroom gets soft and spongy and the underside can become greenish-yellow and quite buggy.

Butter boletes.

Up to that past-its-prime point, however, in the second stage where the cape and stem are firm and the underside is yellow, the underside can be separated from the main body, which is used in sautés or duxelles. Jack mentioned that some people will dry the yellow undersides and crush it into powder, using it to bump up the mushroom flavor of recipes.

As with most hunting expeditions, there were many hours of searching interrupted by moments of excitement. The hours between were filled with stories of a particularly nice find from a previous trip, the time that Dick came back from a search to find a footprint he'd left in the dirt an hour earlier had sprouted a fully formed mushroom, or the trip where the very road we were on had sprouted a fine patch of mushrooms.

Half the haul, about 12 pounds.

After harvesting a big basket of porcinis, it was time to move on to the butter boletes, also known as royal bolete or red-capped butter bolete, a mushroom I'd never heard of. In its earlier stages it lurks underground in a perfectly edible state, and you'd never know it was there except for a handy, if fatal (for it), flaw. It tends to grow in patches, so a suspicious hump or crack in the dirt or litter on the ground might reveal a slightly more mature cousin, which results in a thorough search of the ground within a foot or so. At one point I found myself standing frozen on a particular spot, feeling like I could be missing a mother lode, thinking, "They're right under my feet!"

The sun was setting and, 30 pounds of mushrooms richer than we started out that morning, the two mushroom maestros were thinking it might be time to head home. And here, at last, is one location I can mention that won't get me in trouble: on the way home from (mumble mumble), I was informed it is long-standing tradition to stop in Mill City for pizza at Giovanni's Mountain Pizza. Really good, hand-thrown pizza with mega-toppings and lots of microbrews by the bottle, this place is a small town, way-under-the-radar cafe that, according to Jack and Dick, also has nice calzone, spaghetti and lasagne. It's a perfect way to toast a successful day getting 'shroomed.

Tuesday, June 25, 2013

Farm Bulletin: A Ramble Through the Fields

As spring waves adieu and summer slides in with its promise of longer, warmer days, Anthony and Carol Boutard at Ayers Creek Farm host a ramble through their certified organic fields to highlight what you'll be seeing in the bins at their stand at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market this summer.

This Sunday, the 30th of June, Ayers Creek Farm will host another relaxed ramble in its fields and woods. We will start a little after 3 pm. It is a chance to see the crops growing and ask all those gnawing questions that are best answered in the field. Ask many questions and tell us many stories. We learn a lot when we host these rambles. The farm is a constantly evolving enterprise and you all have contributed so many ideas that we regard these walks as a consultancy of sorts.

A young tourist takes in the sights.

Please remember we are a working farm so the ground is uneven, and we will cover about a mile as we look at the various plantings. Wear study shoes or boots. The ramble will take place rain or shine, though the forecast looks good.

We work hard to create a Hymenopterous Heaven, so if you are allergic to bees and their ilk please bring along your sting kit.

Linda Colwell is helping us put together a light snack. For those with a sweet tooth, we will also be joined by our friends from Pies for Peace who will sell slices and whole pies made from the first harvest of our raspberries, loganberries and sour cherries.

Hope to see you all Sunday,

Carol and Anthony Boutard
Ayers Creek Farm, Gaston

Monday, June 24, 2013

Dining Month Portland: Six Days and Counting…

We're nearing the end of Dining Month, those thirty or so days in early summer where Portlanders have an excuse to check out a new spot or haunt an old favorite with abandon, and where restaurants can fill up otherwise empty seats during a slow season. It's also where not feeling like cooking is an acceptable reason to go out rather than trying to sell the old "breakfast for dinner" approach.

Why? Because more than 80 of the city's best…and I'm not exaggerating…restos are offering three courses of dining deliciousness for just $29. Now of course this doesn't include your beverages or a gratuity, but considering some of these places charge $29 for the entrée alone makes it quite the deal.

So when I was offered a chance to check out one of the listed restaurants, Clyde Common, one night last week, I said, "Heck, yeah!" After all, I'd been there a couple of times since they'd opened and loved it. And I was curious to see what was proffered for the three courses…after all, they weren't going to be handing out filet mignon for that price.

What they did have on offer was: a starter of a spring green soup with crème fraîche and olive oil (see recipe, below), a big helping of braised pork shoulder with farro, mushrooms and pearl onions as the entrée (right) and, to cap it all off, an insanely luscious layered little glass (just the right amount, imho) of chocolate pot de creme, panna cotta and fresh strawberry preserves with a cashew cookie (below left).

As you can tell from the menu (above left), though, it specifically says "no substitutions," a common restriction for these menus. This meant that Dave, with his lactose intolerance, could have none of them and had to order off the regular, and thus much more expensive, menu. So if you're planning on taking advantage of this monthlong dining bonanza, and it is indeed a rare chance to sample the best of PDX for a song, I would strongly encourage you to check out your menu choices and any restrictions before arriving at the door.

Our evening? It was lovely, of course, from the drinks in the bar—my Americano served in a little soda bottle and Dave's stunning barrel-aged Negroni—to his choice of the pasta with lamb ragu. A fun chance to head downtown and hobknob with the denizens while not spending an arm and a leg to do it.

Spring green soup with herb crème fraîche

From Clyde Common

2 yellow onions, sliced

5 cloves garlic, thinly sliced

2 green bell peppers, seeds removed and thinly sliced

2 green zucchini, washed with ends removed and thinly sliced
1 green tomato (when in season), cored and chopped

1 serrano pepper

1 bunch of scallions, chopped

1 head fennel, thinly sliced

3 Tbsp. salt

1 Tbsp. sugar

1/2 c. Champagne vinegar

1/2 c. olive oil

1/2 c. blanched peas

1/2 c. blanched asparagus tips

1/2 c. blanched broccoli florets
1 bunch of parsley, picked and coarsely chopped

1 c. crème fraîche

1 Tbsp. minced chives

1 Tbsp. minced chervil

Salt, pepper and lemon juice to taste

A day ahead, combine the onion, garlic, pepper, squash, scallions and fennel in a non-reactive container. Add the salt, sugar, olive oil and vinegar. Mix well, cover and allow to sit overnight.

The next day, add in the cooked peas, asparagus, broccoli and chopped parsley. Mix well, and purée the vegetables in small batches in a blender until smooth. (The vegetables should have released quite a bit of liquid overnight. Add that liquid to the blender if the vegetables have trouble pureeing. If more liquid is needed, use vegetable stock or water.) After all the vegetables are pureed, re-season the mixture with salt, pepper, lemon juice and a 1/2 cup of the crème fraîche. Place in the refrigerator to chill.

 In a mixing bowl, take the remaining crème fraîche and combine with the minced chive and chervil. Set aside.

Divide the soup into four chilled bowls and serve with a heaping spoonful of the herb crème fraîche.

Photo at top courtesy Clyde Common.

Read my posts about previous visits to Clyde Common: Common Vocabulary, Our Night on the Town and Quick Hits: Clyde Common, Theory, Relish.

Friday, June 21, 2013

The Buzz: Dead and Dying Bees Still Being Found

In a press release, Rich Hatfield, a biologist with the Xerces Society, estimated that over 50,000 bumble bees were killed in the Wilsonville tragedy, a number that represents more than 300 wild colonies.

“Each of those colonies could have produced multiple new queens that would have gone on to establish new colonies next year," he said. "This makes the event particularly catastrophic.”

Volunteers making nets to wrap trees.

An earlier report stated that the Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) confirmed that the bee deaths were caused by the bees coming into contact with dinotefuran, the active ingredient in the pesticide Safari, made by the Valent Corporation. A neonicotinoid, it contains a powerful neurotoxin that, according to the instructions, should never be applied to a blooming tree full of pollinators as it was in the case of the linden trees in Wilsonville.

The city of Wilsonville, along with staff from the Xerces Society and the ODA, have been working feverishly to cover the trees with nets to keep the bees from coming into contact with the poison. Workers estimate that all 50 trees should be covered by the end of the day on Friday.

Update: 7 am, 6/24/13 Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Program Dir. for the Xerces Society, posted on the Xerces Facebook page: ""By 5 pm on Friday (June 21), the City of Wilsonville, with help from boom trucks and crews from at least four nearby cities, the Oregon Dept. of Agriculture and Xerces Society had covered all 55 poisoned trees in netting. Amazing!! We cannot thank the City of Wilsonville enough for their rapid response!"

Read the first report in this series: "City Steps in to Save Bees"

Video and photos courtesy Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Program Dir., Xerces Society.

The Buzz: City Steps in to Save Bees

The City of Wilsonville and the Xerces Society are wrapping 50 linden trees in netting to help save bees from the misapplication of the pesticide Safari, a powerful neonicotinoid made by the Valent Corporation, that has killed more than 25,000 bees so far in this one event.

Wrapping trees with protective netting.

The landscaping company that did the spraying, which has yet to be named, sprayed the 30-foot trees while they were in full bloom, a use specifically prohibited by the instructions that come with the pesticide. No legal action has been initiated as of today, but the city and the Xerces Society are in discussions with the property owners and the property manager, Elliot & Associates.

Neonicotinoids, a class of neuro-active insecticides chemically related to nicotine, are still legal in the United States, but have been banned in Europe due to evidence of a connection to honey-bee colony collapse disorder.

Xerces Society staff helps with netting.

Ironically, this tragic occurrence coincided with the beginning of National Pollinator Week, meant to "raise awareness about the importance of bees, birds and other pollinator species to agriculture, forest and grassland environments and other ecosystems," according to Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack.

Xerces Society Executive Director Scott Black, in an interview, said that to prevent future events like this, "we need to take action to protect native pollinators" from "the use and over use of toxic insecticides."

Update: Noon, 6/21/13 The Oregon Department of Agriculture (ODA) confirmed in a press release that the bumblebees were poisoned by dinotefuran, the active ingredient in Safari, the neonicotinoid sprayed on the trees. According to the press release, "ODA continues its active investigation of the incident to determine if the pesticide application was in violation of state and federal pesticide regulations."

Update: 3 pm, 6/21/13 Rich Hatfield, biologist for the Xerces Society, now estimates that more than 50,000 bees were poisoned in Wilsonville in the largest mass bumblebee death on record. (Read the post.)

Read the second report in this series: "Dead and Dying Bees Still Being Found"

Photos by Mace Vaughan, Pollinator Program Director of the Xerces Society.

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Theme and Variation: Kimchi Pimento Cheese

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food makes a truly impressive pimento cheese spread, one of those gotta-have-it signature recipes that qualifies as legendary. I'm planning on taking this new variation to our upcoming Fourth of July Free-for-All trip to the Gifford Pinchot.

I spent the weekend camping on a beach on the Columbia with a bunch of fathers I’ve known for more than 40 years. Beach bocce, boating adventure, too many mosquitoes and lots of good food made for fun-filled days.

Here’s one of the things I made for the trip.

Kimchi Pimento Cheese

I made my usual batch of pimento cheese, but added about half cup of the kimchi I made at a Portland Culinary Alliance workshop a few weeks ago.

1.25-1.5 lbs cheddar, 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. mayonnaise (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
1/2 c. kimchi (Choi's, a local company, is wonderful if you don't have your own)

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 (here’s where you add the kimchi, but not the 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 pureed.

Eat with bread, crackers, raw vegetables, or, like we did, on chorizo and egg breakfast tacos with a little shredded cabbage and extra Crystal hot sauce.

Get my recipe for incorporating his basic pimento cheese spread into a truly unique mac'n'cheese. Bet this kimchi version would work as well!

Monday, June 17, 2013

No One Expects a Riesling Invasion

"The rieslings are coming! The rieslings are coming!"

Back in the latter part of the 20th Century, those words may have caused folks to run screaming through the streets, the better to get away from the sickly sweet invaders. These days, though, rieslings and the winemakers who love them have stepped away from the cloyingly sweet and into a more nuanced balance of fruit and tannins.

You can taste the results of their labors at the Riesling Invasion, a gathering of five wineries—Illahe Vineyards, Love & Squalor, Mad Violets, Ovum and Teutonic Wine Company—who will be pouring their best for you to enjoy on July 20th. Not only that, but Sauvage and Xico will be providing riesling-appropriate food items, and there will even be a DJ to spin some nuanced vinyl. All in all a good reason to run toward, not away from, these wines!

Details: Riesling Invasion 2013. Sat., July 20th, noon-5 pm; $10 cover. Event at Illahe Vineyards, 3275 Ballard Rd., Dallas. 503-705-6311.

Photo by Tom Maack from Wikimedia Commons.

My New Superpower: Hard-boiling Fresh Eggs!

cognitive dissonance: the discomfort experienced when simultaneously holding two or more conflicting cognitions: ideas, beliefs, values or emotional reactions. In a state of dissonance, people may sometimes feel "disequilibrium": frustration, hunger, dread, guilt, anger, embarrassment, anxiety, etc.

This is the perfect definition of my state at this time of year, though my situation is probably not what psychologists were considering when they came up with the term. To wit: I love farm fresh eggs, whether purchased at the farmers' market or my favorite independent farmer, with their pastel green, beige, brown, dark brown or even bronze shades and variously speckled or, as my 3-year-old nephew says, "sparkly" shells. (I let him pick out his own eggs for scrambling—he always chooses the sparkliest.)

The problem comes when I need to hard-boil them for potato salad or, worst, for deviled eggs where the solid whites need to be pristine holders for the fluff of yolk that sits in their convex cups. The magic of the preparation dims substantially if the whites look more like 4-wheel-drive tire treads, and I've struggled with various techniques to make these fresh eggs easier to peel. I've even gone so far as to buy store-bought eggs in a desperate moment, knowing that they're likely at least a month old and the membrane surrounding the white has started to break down, releasing its sticky hold on the shell.

Some research gave me a new, and even deadly, superpower. With it I can now hard boil the freshest of fresh eggs and they'll peel like a dream, practically falling off the egg with the slightest of tugs. I'm sharing it with you so that your summer can be full of the loveliness of those dreamy yolks and pristine whites. But, like all superpowers, you must promise to use it only for good.

Hard-Boiled Fresh Eggs
  1. Make sure your eggs are at room temperature. This will reduce cracking when submerging them in boiling water.
  2. Bring a pot of water to boil over high heat.
  3. Slowly lower the eggs into the boiling water.
  4. When boiling resumes, set timer for 15 min. and reduce heat to keep at a low boil.
  5. When timer goes off, drain eggs and submerge in ice bath until chilled, then peel.
Get my recipes for Spanish-style Deviled Eggs and Curried Mustard Deviled Eggs.

Friday, June 14, 2013

In Season NW: Green Garlic

Like Hood strawberries, fiddleheads and spring onions, green garlic is only available for a short stint in late spring. You'll see these immature heads of garlic, usually with at least some of the stalk attached, in bunches or singly on farmers' market tables, and you should grab a few to take home to use in sautés or to toss with other spring things.

Trimming, step 1.

The other evening I felt like we needed a break from some recent meat-binging, so I clipped some parsley from the raised beds, pulled three or four of the first radishes from their loamy naps in the garden and stripped the feathery green tips from a bunch of carrots.

The immature cloves, right.

It took just a few minutes to trim up a head of the garlic and throw it and the greens (including the radish greens, of course) into the processor to make a quick pesto, then I sliced the radishes into matchsticks and tossed it all with pasta for a quick main course. Paired with a glass of rosé and a salad of garden lettuce dressed with balsamic and olive oil, it was a seasonal feast fit for a king.

Wednesday, June 12, 2013

Garden 2013: Modest Beginnings

The garden this year is off to a slow start, mostly due to some unseasonably hot weather in May followed by temperatures that dipped down into the 40s at night. When the lettuces I planted declined to show themselves after a couple of cold nights, I was feeling a little hapless until some of my greener-thumbed acquaintances mentioned they'd had trouble with germination in their gardens from the chilly nights.

Peas emerging.

After a certain amount of commiserating, I replanted the bare spots with lettuces developed by Frank Morton at Wild Garden Seed in Philomath (near Corvallis), whose excruciatingly beautiful varieties are on regular display at the Gathering Together Farm stands at local farmers' markets. Joining them were radishes like those above, which had no trouble popping out of the soil quickly, making them such a joy to grow. I'll be using their greens in pestos, soups and pastas, and chopping the peppery red roots into salads and sprinkling in tacos.

The tomatoes this year were swathed in their protective jackets of water until a week ago, and they're anxiously waiting for some sunny days to really take off. Aside from that, there are pole beans, sugar snap peas, carrots and basil beginning to poke their heads out of the dirt. It all gives me hope for the days, hopefully some of them sunny, to come.

Monday, June 10, 2013

Farm Bulletin: Barn Owl Update

In a previous post, contributor Anthony Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm wrote of his discovery of a barn owl chick that had fallen out of its nest. It seemed unhurt, so he returned it to its siblings, not without some amount of effort. Here is an update.

The parents have raised a total of three young, including, presumably, the one crammed back in the barrel. The owlets now sport their immature plumage, with just wisps of down lingering.  They are now flying in and out of their nest box, but not yet graceful in flight. Physically, though, they are at their prettiest at this point. What a difference a fortnight makes.

Friday, June 07, 2013

In Season NW: Agretti! (Gesundheit!)

When I wander the aisles at a farmers' market, it's like I'm on a treasure hunt. I'm always scanning for things I've never seen, for the oddball fruits and vegetables that farmers are growing to try to capture shoppers' (and chefs') imaginations.

The other day I was drawn to a basket of frond-like greens labeled "agretti" at the Groundworks Organics stand at the King farmers market. It was something I'd seen on menus around town, but I'd never come across it in the store or at a market or cooked with it at home. Would this be my discovery of the day?

Knowing the internet is always in my hip pocket and would provide guidance, I picked up a bunch and, sure enough, a little searching led to information as well as uses for this pretty gem. Turns out it's a succulent, Salsola soda, known also as Friar's Beard ("Barba di Frate" in Italian) and is grown in saltwater-irrigated land in the Mediterranean. It's often chopped and used fresh both for its crunchy texture and slightly salty character, but it can also be cooked and added to soups, stews and pasta dishes.

Since dinner that night was still an open question, I decided to combine it with cherry tomatoes, anchovies and garlic for a twist on a favorite pasta dish. It not only added wonderful color and crunch, but made a great conversation starter around the table. I call that big win for what started as a chance discovery.

Pasta with Cherry Tomatoes, Garlic, Anchovies and Agretti

1 lb. pasta
2 Tbsp. olive oil
10 cloves garlic, peeled
1 jar or tin of anchovy fillets (2 oz.), drained
1 pint cherry tomatoes
1 bunch agretti, chopped in 1" pieces
1 c. parmesan, grated

Bring pot of water to boil. Add pasta and cook till al dente.

Head oil in skillet over medium-high heat until it shimmers. Add garlic cloves and sauté till slightly browned. Remove skillet from heat and gradually add anchovy fillets, crushing them with the back of a spoon until they dissolve. Return skillet to heat and add tomatoes. Cook until tomatoes collapse and sauce thickens. Remove from heat and add agretti, stirring to combine and slightly wilt the agretti.

Drain pasta and put into large serving bowl. Pour agretti sauce over top and toss gently to combine. Garnish with grated parmesan and serve with more grated parmesan at the table.

Thursday, June 06, 2013

GMO Wheat in Oregon: Monsanto says, "Huh?"

It's a mystery worthy of Sherlock Holmes himself. Ten years after a strain of Monsanto's so-called "Round-Up Ready" wheat was tested in Oregon (Wait, you didn't know that?) the same strain of the wheat, which was abandoned by the company and was said to have been completely destroyed, has been found in an Eastern Oregon farmer's field.

Subsequently, Japan, which bans "organisms modified by modern biotechnology (living modified organisms)," has summarily canceled existing and future orders for NW wheat. Other countries are threatening to do the same in what could amount to a blow to Oregon's wheat crop valued at between $300 million and $500 million dollars.

What does Monsanto have to say in its defense? Well, it's floated accusations of "industrial sabotage" by unnamed parties, but basically, as Stephen Colbert quotes in the clip above, it says "it is completely mystified by the appearance of the wheat."

In the meantime, I'm going looking for my deerstalker and Calabash.

Wednesday, June 05, 2013

In Season NW: Spring Things…Baby Artichokes

Tender young things are everywhere at the farmers' markets these days, from curly green scapes of garlic to sweet spring onions to the diminutive first buds of the artichoke flower. These baby artichokes are different from their more developed selves, and not just in their size. Because they are picked at such an early stage of development, they don't have the leathery leaves or the fuzzy choke, which means they can be eaten whole after some trimming.

Snap off outer leaves.

I'd bought a couple of pounds of these little gems at the King farmers market, thinking they might come in handy for an appetizer that I needed to take to a dinner that evening. The sizes ranged from itsy bitsy (cones a couple of inches long) to small (a little over three inches), and I was planning to combine them with some of Dave's pancetta and chopped spring garlic for a finger or fork-friendly snack.

Sauté in pancetta fat…mmmmm.

I'd recommend buying more artichokes than you think you'll need, since the trimming process whittles down the size of the artichokes by more than half. But once that's done, I think you'll find this sauté is fabulous as an appetizer or as part of an antipasto platter, but would also be terrific tossed with pasta. A fittingly delicious tribute to spring!

Baby Artichokes with Pancetta, Garlic and Lemon

2 lbs. baby artichokes (or more)
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1/4 lb. pancetta or bacon
2 Tbsp. garlic, minced fine
Zest of 1 lemon
Juice of 1 1/2 lemons
1/2 tsp. pimenton (smoked Spanish paprika), optional

To prepare the artichokes, fill a medium-sized mixing bowl with water and the juice of 1/2 lemon. Snap off the outer leaves of each artichoke until you reach the tender, pale inner leaves. Cut off the upper half of the cone and discard. With a paring knife, trim the stem to 1/2" and peel off the outer skin. Halve each artichoke and immediately place in bowl with lemon water to keep them from browning.

In a large skillet, heat the olive oil and fry the pancetta until browned and its fat is rendered. Remove pancetta from skillet with a slotted spoon and put aside, leaving fat in the skillet. Remove artichokes from acidulated water and dry slightly, then add to fat remaining in skillet. Sauté till tender, about 9 minutes. Add garlic and pimenton (if using) and sauté briefly. Remove from heat and stir in lemon zest and remaining lemon juice. Cool to room temperature and serve.

Tuesday, June 04, 2013

The Americano, a Perfect Summer Cocktail

There's a reason that summer cocktails are icy, fruity or citrusy concoctions topped off with tonic or soda and served in a frosty tumbler. I mean, on a hot afternoon on the patio or after a long day outdoors, who really needs a big alcohol bomb that'll knock you on your keister?

Summer's only just getting started here in the Northwest, with temperatures edging up into the 70s and even occasionally into the 80s, so here at the house we're finding ourselves thinking of lighter, fresher cocktails when happy hour rolls around. One that's been making a regular appearance on the backyard roster is the classic Americano, which some historians of cocktail-iana say is the predecessor to the Negroni, another house favorite.

Legend has it that in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni invented the eponymous cocktail by asking the bartender, Fosco Scarselli of Caffè Casoni in Florence, Italy, to strengthen his favorite drink, the Americano, by adding gin rather than the normal soda water. The bartender also added an orange garnish rather than the typical lemon garnish of the Americano to signify that it was a different drink.

Whether true or not, the Americano, with its gorgeous red color and sprightly, refreshing splash, is the perfect capper to a warm summer day.

Americano Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
Club soda
Lemon twist

Fill cocktail glass half full of ice. Add Campari and sweet vermouth. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Add lemon twist.

Monday, June 03, 2013

Quick Hits: Sen Yai, Alberta St. Pub, Reister Farms

"Sen Yai specializes in Kuaytiaw, the noodle dishes of Thailand. Kuaytiaw is eaten at all times of the day; as a late night snack, economical dinner, a quick lunch on the run, even for breakfast."

True to the Pok Pok ethos and like his other local eateries, Andy Ricker's brand new Sen Yai Noodles is packed with native vibe and lots of hard-to-pronounce items on the menu. To be clear, in my book that is a reason to run in, rather than away from, a restaurant.

Roasted peanuts.

I also broke one of my cardinal rules when I visited, which is to give a new place a couple of months to work out kinks, settle in and get a groove going. But when the lovely and massively talented Ivy Manning called with an invite to check it out for lunch, how could I say no? Lots of other folks had the identical urge that day, and while there were plenty of seats available when we got there, within a few minutes every tiny table in the place was taken, with a line snaking out the door.

Boat noodles.

Ivy's been to Thailand and knows its cuisine quite intimately, so I let her do the ordering. We started with the house-roasted red peanuts, which came as a small stapled packet containing the aforementioned peanuts along with lime leaf, chiles and salt…a crunchy, delicious teaser. Traditional Kuaytiaw Reua or "boat noodles" were a big hit, rice noodles in a complex, richly aromatic dark broth, three preparations of beef and "water spinach" (ipomoea aquatica) as well as dry-roasted chiles, herbs and bean sprouts.

For noodle-heads this is a must-try and, though prices aren't cheap, the preparations are terrific.

Details: Sen Yai Noodles, 3384 SE Division. 503-236-3573.

* * *

Once again I broke the "don't go to a just-opened restaurant" rule when I decided to head up the hill to the just-opened Alberta Street Pub with the inimitable, estimable talents of Kevin Sandri (Garden State and Burgatroyd food carts) in the kitchen. I knew he'd been perfecting the stalwarts of any pub menu, a standout burger and fabulous fish'n'chips, and I wanted to stop in to both support him and check out the progress of his efforts.

Boiled peanuts.

Along with my two favorite testers, my husband Dave and our son, both Sandri fanatics, we got the only three seats left in the bar, which was packed due to a crowd waiting to attend an evening concert in the attached performance space. Sandri and his crew were handling the opening week pressure with aplomb, though, since our beverages and food orders popped out of the kitchen without delay.

We started with the boiled peanuts, a treat Sandri came across while driving through North Portland, spotting a guy selling them on a corner. Immediately smitten, he'd been obsessively working on perfecting this Southern specialty for the menu. In their shells and soaking in a dark, salty broth, they were amazing, a soft, messy, delicious counterpart to the roasted peanuts I'd had at Sen Yai (see above).

Strawberry hand pie.

Even with Sandri's mad skills at hand, I was nervous about the fish'n'chips, having been disappointed at so many other places, but one look at the plate when it arrived and my fears were erased. Three good-sized pieces of delicately battered, perfectly cooked cod were resting comfortably on a pile of crispy hot fries, sided by a slightly sweet tarragon and dill-inflected tartar sauce. And it goes without saying that the porchetta sandwich, pork shoulder and belly with salsa verde, mayo and arugula, was sublime given Sandri's sterling meat cred.

We even sprang for the Whiffies fried hand pie filled with local strawberries, a treat I'll be remembering for a long, long time. I can only hope that Mr. Sandri decides to stay in this kitchen for an equally long, long time.

Details: Alberta Street Pub, 1036 NE Alberta St. 503-284-7665.

* * *

More meat is good meat in my book, especially when it comes from animals pasture-raised on a small family farm. Which is what drew me to the awning at the Buckman Farmers Market with a hand-lettered blackboard that read "Reister Farms." Well, that and the fact that I'd just run into Mark Doxtader of Tastebud, who was eagerly devouring a lamb kielbasa dog featured on that same blackboard. So with the attitude that if Mark likes it, I probably will, too, I wandered over.

The dog, grilled before my eyes à la Foreman, was a hefty length of lamb innovatively wrapped in a pretzel roll from Fressen Artisan Bakery and smothered in fresh sauerkraut.  The salty sturdiness of the roll was a great foil for the lamb and sauerkraut, and held together till the very last bite, a good test of any hot dog bun worthy of the name.

I'm looking forward to getting to know more about the Reisters, who hail from Washougal, and their farm. In the meantime I'll be sampling their dogs and whatever other wares they're featuring the next time I'm at the market.

Details: Reister Farms products can be found at the Buckman Farmers Market on Thursdays from 3-7 pm, at SE 20th & Salmon between SE Belmont and SE Hawthorne in the parking lot of Hinson Baptist Church.

Saturday, June 01, 2013

Puppies at Play

I've been bombarded with inquiries about Kitty's puppies, how they're doing, what they look like, etc., etc. Since I spent about four hours puppy-sitting yesterday, it was a prime opportunity to observe their activities, which consisted of play, sleep, eat, repeat.


Occasionally these were interrupted by squatting in the wood chips at one end of their pen, but pretty much the previously mentioned three activities predominated. As you can see, they're looking less like guinea pigs and more like puppies, and are just beginning to chew on anything that catches their fancy. (My next visit is going to require close-toed shoes.)

More napping.

By the way, the sound in the background is a radio station. Kim Shira, the owner of Coedwig Cardigans, believes it's important to acclimate puppies to normal household sounds from the time they're very young. To that end she has a radio playing occasionally, as well as tapes that feature sirens, thunderstorms, traffic and other outside noises so they won't tend to be as reactive later.

You've got to admire someone who loves the breed as much as she does, and who's as conscientious as she is about how they're brought up.