Friday, June 26, 2009

Pounding Pesto

As much as I love to read, every once in a while I fall into a slump. I finish a book can't decide what to read next. The second I start waffling between one novel and another, it's just a matter of time before I descend into ambivalence. What's the point? There are so many books to read. Might as well not bother, I'll never get to them all.

I get into cooking slumps too, but they're different. This time it's for a few reasons: I've been away from it for too long (I didn't cook at all for 3 weeks). When I got home, I had too much work to do. Kids were coming home from trips. Kids were leaving for trips. Visitors, planned and unplanned (but very welcome!) were coming and going. You get the picture.

And it's finally summer! Most people love to cook in the summer--all that fruit to make into pies and ice cream. I mainly love to eat in the summer. I buy the cherries at the market thinking I could make a pie, or a half-flat of strawberries for ice cream. I have the best intentions.

But then I get home and look at the bowl of cherries and baskets of strawberries, and all I really want to do is eat them as is. As much as I love pie and ice cream, a bowl of strawberries with a little sugar is pretty hard to beat.

A couple of nights ago I climbed out of my slump. And discovered the perfect cure for a cooking slump: pesto. I followed the basic recipe from Chez Panisse Vegetables: a few garlic cloves, 1/4 cup pine nuts, 2 cups basil leaves, 1/2 cup olive oil, and 1/2 cup grated parmesan.

If you're trying to break out of a slump, or if you have a lot on your mind, don't use a blender or food processor. Make it in the mortar and pestle.

With a mortar and pestle you get a beautiful, shaggy pesto (mine was very shaggy). And the pounding! First you watch as the garlic and nuts turn to paste, then the basil leaves get pulverized. By the time you finish the slow additions of oil and basil, and stir in the cheese, you just might find you're arm is a little tired, but you've also let go of a lot of worries.

You do have to be careful when you add the oil. I was so in the flow that I poured in a little oil, then happily pounded down my pestle--here's oil in your eye!

For dinner I put on a pot of water and roasted some new potatoes. Once the water boiled, I quickly cooked some green beans, then the pasta. Tossed the whole mess (potatoes, beans, pasts) with the pesto, and called it good.

I think everyone else agreed.

Oh--and I'm getting out of the reading slump too. Jane Austen's good for that--Persuasion.

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Friday, June 19, 2009

Rhubarb Gin and Tonics

One more new thing in Portland since I went away: strawberries! But there's also still rhubarb. Sadly, I'm not a fan of strawberry/rhubarb desserts, mainly because I dislike cooked (read: slimy) strawberries. Perhaps I'll have to see how they do with the raw rhubarb compote?

In the meantime, I'm eating all the strawberries I can get my hands on, but still hanging on to rhubarb. A good friend dropped off a 4-pack of Fever Tree tonic water and a bottle of Fee Brothers Rhubarb Bitters last week. Coincidentally I'd recently read about a very tempting rhubarb cocktail, over on Culinaria Eugenius.

I even remembered to pick up a single rhubarb stalk at the store. For once the checker didn't ask me if I was making a rhubarb pie. I have to admit, I was a little disappointed. I thought she'd ask something. I was ready to tell her I was baking a slice of pie. A small slice. How often does someone buy a single stalk of rhubarb?

The drinks are quite refreshing. Fever Tree tonic is much less sweet than the type you generally pick up at the liquor store. Together with the gin and muddled rhubarb it makes a crisp drink, with a pleasant herbal taste. And it's pretty, as long as you use a red piece of rhubarb--the less colored the rhubarb, the clearer the drink.

adapted from Culinaria Eugenius

Put 1 jigger of gin into a highball or old-fashioned glass
Add 1 piece rhubarb, about 1-1/2 to 2 inches. Muddle.
Add ice, a couple shakes of rhubarb bitters, and fill to the brim with tonic water. Garnish with a lemon wedge.

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Sunday, June 14, 2009

Cartola Cafe

Slowly I'm getting back to my normal life. I was only away for three weeks, but so much happened while I was away (or when I was busy packing the week before) that I feel I have a lot of catch-up.

One of those things is the appearance of a new cafe, just a 4-minute walk from my house. Cartola (it means 'top hat' in Portuguese), named for Angenor de Oliveira, a Brazilian singer instrumental in the development of samba, makes me extremely happy. Ever since Torrefazione closed--four years ago this summer--I've missed having a cafe within walking distance. Yes, there are other cafes in my neighborhood--they just haven't felt like 'my' place.

I think Cartola might finally be the place. They're serving Stumptown coffee and an assortment of Pearl Bakery pastries. First requirement (good coffee and good pastries) fulfilled.

The first time I visited, the owners said they'd had Pearl's gibassiers available when they first opened, but no one ordered them. I expressed my surprise (gibassiers are one of my very favorite local pastries), maybe a little strenuously. Today when I went in, they said they'd be getting them again. I'm taking it as my personal duty to make it worth their while. Anyone who wants to help me in this endeavor is welcome to order them (as long as it's not the last one!).

Cartola is tiny. Outside, the wide sidewalk affords comfortable outdoor seating under a tree. The inside is cozy and classy. Music plays, but it's not loud, and it's music I like. There are two arm chairs by the front window (I know it's barely summer, but I'm already thinking of the winter hours I'll spend in those chairs!), and 4 or 5 marble-topped tables along a long padded bench. Art work and family photos hang above on the wall covered with handsome floral wallpaper. Second requirement (pleasant spot for reading), check. It's the kind of place I will visit often, with friends or a good book.

2723 NE 7th Ave. (just north of NE Knott)
Portland, OR 97212

Thursday, June 4, 2009

Herring in the Netherlands

I've been busy. See? Nearly every day, occasionally twice, this is what I've been up to. Herring. Raw, meaty, absolutely wonderful.

And here's another one, blanketed with chopped onions.

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