Tuesday, September 10, 2013

Preserving Summer

Up now on Culinate, 'Preserving Summer'. I hope you'll read it (and explore the Culinate site). Enjoy!

Tuesday, August 13, 2013

Camp Life

If bike rides and ice cream cones make me feel like a kid again, camping takes me right back to my first years as a young adult.

Not because I spent those years backpacking, or even car camping.

I didn't have to. The first apartment I lived in was carved out of one third of a garage. It always felt closer to outdoor living than to indoor living. That might have been due to the centipedes that showed up inside the doorway, and the occasional snails (who left their silvery tracks on my ugly indoor/outdoor carpet). Once, just once, I got lucky, and a cricket woke me up. He stayed, chirping in the bathroom. After a few days I wasn't so sure it was lucky.

My kitchen was really just the entry way. There were two burners (much like our camping set-up today) and a refrigerator (actually a step up from the camping cooler). I had no oven; a campfire would have given more options. Camping also affords much more counter space than that kitchen, thanks to a large picnic table. In my old apartment the counter barely held one plate.

I always enjoy washing dishes when we're camping. We keep a bottle of Dr. Bronner's soap in the corner of our camp cookware box. The bottle is about 20 years old, its label greasy and illegible. We squirt a little into a pot or a mixing bowl, whatever we have. Boiling water gets poured over, and we splash the dishes around. They're clean when we're done. Or so we tell ourselves.

Dish washing was less fun in that apartment. There was no sink in the 'kitchen'. Instead, the tiny bathroom sink, which I could have  reached by turning around from the stove top if it weren't for the bathroom door, did double duty. It never seemed very hygienic. But apparently I survived.

But the main reason camping reminds me of starting out in that first apartment is that many of the dishes and pans in our camp cookware box were my first dishes and pans.

And especially this knife. I bought it one of the first days I was on my own. Boy did I feel grown up walking into the Co-op Hardware Store to buy a knife for my kitchen. I used that knife for almost everything--and everything, back then, amounted mainly to slicing bread and chopping onions (for risotto or pasta--that's all I remember cooking in that kitchen).

Wednesday, August 7, 2013

Bike Rides and Ice Cream Cones

I think you all know I enjoy ice cream. A lot. So much, in fact, that in the beginning of this summer I spent a sunny Saturday walking 18 miles and tasting ice cream from 10 different shops.

I promise to tell you about that before the leaves start to turn color.

For now, I just want to talk about yesterday. It was hot here--90 degrees. I'd gone for a 20 minute walk (each way) with a friend to our local tiki Bar, Hale Pele. (Because I think excellent daiquiris are right up there with ice cream). I arrived back home just in time for supper on the front porch, pulled together by Grace and Pavel: grilled sausages, corn on the cob, and coleslaw.

Sometimes we eat out back in the summer, but I have to admit I prefer the front porch. Nothing like a lazy evening eating, sipping, having short conversations with neighbors and passersby. I could have sat there all evening but Grace had other plans. "How about we bike over to 50/50 for ice cream?"

Since 50/50 is our favorite Portland ice cream destination, neither Pavel nor I could come with any good reason not to. So we cleaned up our dishes and got on our bikes.

At 50/50 I made the difficult choice. Should I pick sour cherry? Chocolate pistachio toffee? This time I chose blackberry. Blackberries are my favorite berry. It's probably a little childish to have a favorite berry, but there you have it. I have fond memories of eating bowls of sun-warmed blackberries at my grandmother's house. We'd sprinkle them with sugar and pour a little cream poured on top. The sugar always had that nice crystal crunch that contrasted so nicely with the crunch of the seeds. And I still think the mauve color the berry juice makes when it mingles with cream is one of the prettiest.

Sometimes I choose my ice cream flavor by color. Possibly because two flavors look so pretty together (apricot and raspberry are a favorite color combo). More often because I think the color will look nice on the shirt I'm wearing, when the inevitable drips fall.

I almost always take my ice cream in a cone. I like to think it's greener of me, as it leaves no plastic spoon or cup needing disposal. If you have evidence to the contrary, say about the amount of resources used to produce the sugar, or the energy to cook the waffle, please keep it to yourself.

Because the real reason I get ice cream in a cone is that it's just more fun. Licking an ice cream cone is one of those instant time travel activities. Just like that I'm back to being a kid. If the ice cream happens to melt and drip on my shirt, oh well (I did, after all, pick my color carefully). If the ice cream falls off the cone, I may just burst into tears.

Last night neither of those things happened. But I did slowly lick my ice cream cone, the sky pinking up in the background.

And then we rode home. The breeze continued to do the job the ice cream had started: cooling us down. We leaned into turns, calling out to one another as we passed a particularly pretty house or oddly shaped shrub. If I'd had a bell I would have rung it a few times. I kind of wished I had streamers on my handlebars.

The fact is, eating an ice cream cone and riding a bike is about as joyous a summer evening amusement as you can come by.

Turns out getting older isn't so bad. You can still have the childlike fun, but you also get to have those daiquiris.

I was so concentrated on licking my cone last night I forgot to take a picture. So instead, here's the Bourbon Cherry Chocolate ice cream cone I had last week at Mix in Ashland. Another great stop for ice cream (and delicious ham sandwiches on buttered baguette).

Tuesday, July 16, 2013

Rooming Houses

A friend of mine told me that a developer is putting up mini-condos (micro-condos?) in her Portland neighborhood. Her concern wasn't the small size, but the fact that the condos wouldn't have kitchens. The idea being, apparently, that people are content to take all their meals at restaurants, or eat grocery store to-go meals out of clam shell containers.

So here's my idea. It seems as if it's time for the return of rooming houses. I have a soft spot for rooming houses; my grandparents met in the Milwaukee rooming house her family ran in the 1920's. Babbo, who was born in Italy, and lived in Black Diamond, Washington as a child, had come to Wisconsin to attend the Milwaukee School of Engineering. He shows up in the 1930 census as a lodger from Switzerland--whether that looked better to the family, to him, or to the census taker we'll never know. The fact that they ended up divorcing 40 years later doesn't bruise that particular soft spot--I'm quite grateful that they met and married. Not to mention that they had my mother.

And then there are all those great books that take place in rooming houses. A recent favorite: The Slaves of Solitude, by Patrick Hamilton. Admittedly, this book might make you think twice about moving into a rooming house. I'd at least avoid British rooming houses during World War II. But they are fun to read about. All those personalities!

If I were a young single person with a busy career, I think I'd welcome the idea of being taken care of. The traditional rooming house model might require some tweaking. Most adults wouldn't welcome the idea of washing up in the bathroom down the hall. But wouldn't it be nice, if before heading off to work, or after a long hard day, you could sit down in a dining room and eat dinner?

I've long thought that a problem with (as well as a feature of) eating in restaurants is that everyone in a party is eating different food. It seems to underline the idea of the individual. I can't help thinking that eating together is more, well, together, when you're eating the same food. Crotchety? You bet. Don't start me on round vs. rectangular tables.

In the rooming house I imagine, breakfasts are served in a pleasant sitting room. Nothing too fancy, coffee and tea, yogurt and fruit, toast and soft boiled eggs. Maybe some oatmeal. On the weekends French Toast with plenty of maple syrup. The boarders would come together again in the evening for dinner. The food served would be more home cooking than restaurant cooking. In the winter there would be plenty of hearty stews and roasted vegetables. Summers would bring lighter meals, highlighting the produce from the garden out back. There would definitely be pie on Sundays. A cookie jar would be kept stocked through the week, for afternoon or bedtime teatime. And layer cakes would stand on the sideboard all weekend long.

Help yourself.

Wednesday, June 26, 2013

Chez Panisse Comes Back

Chez Panisse reopened this week, 3-1/2 months after the March 8th fire. Two of the articles celebrating the reopening, on Bon Appetit and Huffington Post, remind me why Chez Panisse matters. Besides, if it weren't enough, for all it's done for food, eaters, and growers in the past 42 years.

To me it's about a shared vision. It's about optimism, and a sense of family. It's about working hard, but also having plenty of fun. Tasting all the while. I haven't really been around the restaurant, other than the occasional lunch every year or so, in more than 25 years. When I go, I'm always aware of how few familiar faces I see. I'm also aware of the faces that are still there, and faces that are long gone--some gone from the restaurant, some gone from this life. 

A couple of weeks ago I stopped in with my parents. People were working hard to get the restaurant ready for its reopening. And not only the carpenters. Waiters and cooks were bustling around, some cleaning, some working on refinishing chairs. Cooks were bringing up a lunch for everyone. I had to hold myself back from the bowl of tapioca pudding with cherries. Comfort food. 

Incidentally, in the last week I also saw that the New York Times 'Room for Debate'  section was discussing the question of tipping. Which led me to a few articles from past years about the question of tipping in restaurants. Chez Panisse adds a service charge to all checks; further tipping, while allowed, is not expected. It makes sense to me. I like the idea of a business that works together. The employers paying their workers a living wage, complete with health care, vacation and sick leave. The idea that the employers have a responsibility to their workers as well as to their customers and suppliers. The idea that the workers are part of the business, and that the way they do their jobs matters. That they have a responsibility to their co-workers, employers, and customers. Seems like it serves everyone--employer, worker, and diner--well.

Reading about how Chez Panisse got through the fire, I couldn't help thinking, once again, that the restaurant really is a family. Like any family, it has its share of struggles, and is always evolving. Like most families, the people there matter--and the family comes through best of all when everyone is in it together. 

Here is a few of those articles:
New York Times, October 9, 2008, 'Why Tip'
U.S. News and World Report, March 16, 2009, 'Alice Waters: Why Her Waiters Don't Expect Traditional Tips'

Tuesday, June 18, 2013

You say Bruschetta...

Or, I hope you say bruschetta. That is, broo-sket-ta. Certainly not broo-shet-ta!

Most mornings when I open the newspaper I only notice how thin it has become. Or that I'm reading a story I read somewhere else 3 days ago. Or I wonder why so much of the newly thin newspaper is give over to covering high school proms.

But today was different. As I read through the food section, I shocked Pavel by saying,  "I'm going to send the Oregonian a thank you note." That made him look up from the business section. "What for?" he asked. I'm pretty sure he expected a sarcastic reply.

But I am genuinely thankful. Because today's Small Bites column tells people how to pronounce bruschetta, gnocchi (hint:  it's not noh-kee), and Sriracha.  I don't want to be too proud of myself. I tend to mumble the word Sriracha, so I did take note of  its correct pronunciation (shree-ra-cha).

You know that awkward moment, when you're in a restaurant--or just a conversation--and someone mispronounces a word like bruschetta, and you don't know how to respond? If you pronounce it properly, they may be embarrassed at their own mistake. Or worse, they might think you're an idiot for not knowing how to say the word! I'm hoping that the Oregonian has done a little bit to ease these moments.

Now if only they could do something about a few other words. My daughter complains about croissant, but I give people leeway on that one. Mainly because I find it impossible to pronounce properly. My stumbling word is crêpe. I know that one's been anglicized, and now rhymes with 'grape' rather than 'hep'. But I feel so silly saying crape!

Full disclosure. While I say crêpe, rhyming with 'hep', for the food and the fabric (crêpe de chine), I do say crape paper when I'm planning a celebration and need streamers. Which means I'm inconsistent. What did you expect.

How about you? Any food words you want people to say properly?

Friday, June 7, 2013

Eating Every Day Undercover

My father keeps a daily blog, 'Eating Every Day' (he's far more disciplined than I am!) about his meals. I wrote a piece, years back, about it for Gourmet's online site. Since I live in a different state, I have long enjoyed being able to keep up with my parents, and even feel a bit as if I'm at their table.

Right now though, Dad is off climbing Mt. Whitney with my husband and son. And I'm sitting at his place at the table with Mom. Ok, actually, I'm sitting across from Mom. Somehow it didn't seem completely right, or even remotely possible, to take his place.

So here goes. Eating Day, undercover (which also isn't quite right--that should be Dad taking over my blog!).

I got here Wednesday, and apparently it was the perfect day to arrive. In terms of leftovers, I mean. There was some delicious grilled steak, and potato salad loaded with dill, along with a few artichokes and some lemon mayonnaise.

(Here's Dad's post about that steak and potato salad's first day)

At my parents', there is always salad after dinner. We also have salad after dinner every night. But Mom and Dad really have salad every night. Mom mixed it with walnut oil and some quince vinegar a friend had made.

The day before I flew down, Mom had posted a picture of a cherry pie on facebook. I commented that I hoped there were leftovers. And there were. Lucky, lucky me. At this point, I have to say I feel a little guilty enjoying the last of the pie. While I think about the freeze dried dinners Dad is eating on the mountain. But it would be ungrateful to let let that guilt get in the way of enjoying my pie. So I didn't wallow in guilt.

Thursday morning, after eating a half an apricot that was dripping in syrup, Mom asked me to pick out some jam for our breakfast.

It's always a daunting choice here, with everything from the pear marmalade of my childhood and apricot jam (always with a pit or two for flavor) to exotic citrus marmalades. Today the choice was dictated by the jar. Mom's refrigerator is, as nearly always, overflowing with intriguing bits and pieces. So I needed to pick a jar of jam that would fit nicely into the refrigerator.

That was an easy call: Plum butter. I do love plums. And a bonus--it was in a Kerr jar, and I had just read an article about Albertina Kerr--I'd never put together the fact that Kerr was a Portland company.

Mom and I lazed away our day, so we didnt' eat lunch, back at home, until 4 PM. An efficient afternoon of eating--lunch, think about waht to have for dinner, then dinner. And what did we have? Lunch was some slices of salami from Diavolo, bread, carrots, and an apple.

For dinner we had the last of that delicious potato salad, along with a vegetable saute. Green garlic, a few of Dad's purple potatoes, peas, and some summer squash.

Dessert two days in a row! Mom made an apricot cake.

Since I'm writing this Friday morning, I might as well show you my breakfast today too. Yesterday, while we were poking around Healdsburg, I splurged and bought myself a quart of St. Benoit Jersey milk (I also got some of their plum yogurt to try soon). You should have seen the plug of cream on the top. Heated for my coffee, it looked as if there were bits of butter floating on the surface.

As I sliced bread for our toast (Como from Downtown Bakery), Mom said we had to eat the apricots. Sigh.

It's a hard life, and I'm glad I can help out by filling in for Dad.

Tuesday, May 28, 2013

Ferry Crossings

The only ferry trip I took as a kid went from the Berkeley Marina to Angel Island. I must have gone at least 10 times growing up.

Aside from a sad memory of a favorite sweatshirt disappearing into the ferry's wake, what was most memorable about that ferry ride was the destination.

What I remember: the hike to the top of Angel Island, which always seemed like a long way to go before getting lunch (how far could it have been? Five miles at most?). The excitement of going alone with friends in high school, bringing nothing but a ball and a picnic lunch. Packing my lunch for the last class trip of 6th grade. I wished we had some cookies in the house, or something to make that lunch seem more special than the one I usually had. My mom suggested I take a thermos of orange juice, and add sliced strawberries. It was a good suggestion.

For some reason, beyond that slowly disappearing blue sweatshirt and watching out for seagulls overhead, I remember little of the actual ferry ride.

I found myself thinking about ferry trips, unsurprisingly, after my trip to Victoria. At the end of our week we took the ferry from Swartz Bay to Tsawassen, BC. The ferry crosses the Strait of Georgia, winding its way through the Gulf Islands.

A few minutes into our trip Pavel and I sat inside, watching the outline of passing islands (Piers and then Portland Islands to our right, Salt Spring to our left). The colors were all softened by the cold drizzle that had driven us inside. Soft browns, blues, and grays. And then red and gold. And black and silver.

Because suddenly, walking up and down out our window were two Mariachi bands.

It was the juxtaposition, at first, that was so attractive. The bright colors against the muted drizzle. We couldn't hear them talk (sadly, they weren't performing) from our side of the glass. But we could see them. They were smiling, and laughing, and pointing. They broke into smaller groups, 3 or 4 of them leaning over the edge of the ferry. A couple of them walking without conversation, just looking across the water. 

Then one walked by, alone, taking pictures.

Soon most of them came inside. One stayed out, in his raincoat, just watching.

I overheard a woman, later, talking to a group of the guys dressed in black and silver. She was asking where they were from. He explained that his was band, Los Arrieros, came from Laredo; Cocula, the red and gold band, came from Jalisco. They had played in Victoria the day before, and were headed to Vancouver for the Mariachi Festival. "It's beautiful here. So different from back home." And he looked back out the window.

Another ferry crossing, more than 30 years ago. I had just arrived in Denmark, where I would spend the next year as an exchange student. We'd flown into Copenhagen, and those of us who wouldn't be living near to Copenhagen, had climbed into two buses. We drove until nearly 1 in the morning (I got off at the last stop), chasing the summer sunset as we drove north. There's a bridge crossing Storebælt now, connecting the islands of Sjælland and Fyn. But that was still nearly 20 years away the evening I crossed.

View Chasing the Sunset in a larger map

Our bus stopped for supper in the port town of Korsør. We all climbed off the bus and sat down at an outdoor cafe. The meal had been ordered ahead for us; many of the kids were not pleased. We started with pickled herring, tasting of sea and onions. Then some veal cutlets, with lemon and capers. Beers too, surprising our group (we ranged in age from 15 to 18). After a short walk along the beach, we got on the ferry.

We were sailing west, towards a sun that didn't seem as if it would ever set. Storebælt is perhaps 20 miles across. I remember standing at the railing, looking ahead to the next island. A girl I hadn't met yet stood next to me. She stood there, silently, for a long time, looking to her right and left. Finally she sighed. "Have you ever seen so much water?"

I later learned she was from Nebraska.

And also that as wonderful as it is to see things for the first time, watching others see things for the first time is just about as wonderful.

 I remembered her the first time I drove across North Dakota, and marveled at the endless fields.

And I'll remember the Mariachi bands on my next ferry crossing, whether it's in British Columbia, or crossing the Willamette on the tiny Canby Ferry.

Wednesday, May 22, 2013

Ice Cream on the Road

Last week in I came across two ice creams worth knowing about if you find yourself in Victoria. Some people apparently think ice cream is only for sunny weather (one of the ice creams wasn't available the first time I tried, due to the cold weather). But I've never understood that. I enjoy ice cream year round.

Fol Epi, an organic bakery (whose chewy loaf I'm still enjoying for toast 5 days later), has a lot to offer: bread, sandwiches (I had the smoked albacore--nice big chunks, a light spread of mayo, lettuce), pizzas, various shortbread cookies (the candied orange peel was a favorite), macarons, strudel (rhubarb when I was there--what a treat), and eclairs.

If that wasn't enough, they also have vanilla soft serve ice cream. That might not sound exciting. But the ice cream was delicious, and they have a nice selection of toppings. Including caramel sauce and nuts. I went with the fruit sauce, which happened to be, you guessed it, rhubarb.

Those chunks of rhubarb were perfectly cooked, not at all mushy. And the juices were just sweet enough.
But what I especially liked was the cone. I had to hold it very carefully, lest it shatter. No showing it who was boss. It was a happy surprise. So often cones have an odd taste to me. I notice the smell when I walk into ice cream stores, and I've never figured out if it's the vanilla that's used, or the smell of a mix. But the cones at Fol Epi are just fragile wafers, exactly as they should be.

My other discovery was Cold Comfort. What a great name. I came across them the way I usually find ice cream in a new town. By googling 'ice cream' first thing upon my arrival. Their website helpfully lists stores that sell their ice cream sandwiches. As I was mainly on foot last week, I figured out that Niagara Grocery in James Bay was the place to get my ice cream.

Niagara Grocery is about halfway between the Empress Hotel and the Strait of Juan de Fuca. Or, about halfway between gazing at the Olympic Mountains and my cup of tea and book back at the hotel. In other words, perfectly located. And it turned out to be a shop I wish was around the corner from my house. A place where you can pick up a quart of milk, some local produce, maybe a nice piece of cheese. And an ice cream sandwich from Cold Comfort.

Or a pint of ice cream. I looked over the choices, which that day included salted caramel and others I've forgotten. (for an idea of what you may find, check the list of flavors on their blog--I'm pretty broken up about missing salmiak) I went, unsurprisingly, with the fennel, star anise, and pear, on a snickerdoodle-like cookie. I was pleased. The flavors all balanced nicely. A perfect example of the whole being greater than the sum of its parts.

Always hating missing out on one last ice cream (and feeling sorry for Pavel who missed out on the first sandwich), we made one last stop on our way to the ferry.

The woman who helped me at Niagara had said that Cold Comfort has a staff of two. Or maybe three. But you get the idea--small. So small that you can't buy scoops. They only sell sandwiches and pints, out of a small chest freezer in Lone Tree Bakery. The bakery, incidentally, had some nice looking treats, too. But I only had eyes for ice cream.

Pavel did enjoy a Nanaimo bar, and was a little surprised later to learn that Nanaimo bars (which he has liked for some time) are a Canadian treat--from a town not far from Victoria. Clearly he spends less time perusing maps and dessert books than I do.

In the end, I had the lemon ice cream and hazelnut dacquoise sandwhich. I could have done without the caramelized white chocolate drizzle on the outside of the bar, it didn't seem necessary, or to add anything. But using dacquoise for the sandwich was perfect, and the lemon ice cream was bright and tart. Pavel had the balsamic blackberry and juniper (he was probably sorry he'd skipped a martini the night before) sorbet. I barely got a taste. So you can come to your own conclusions about how good he thought it was.

I'm looking forward to the coming ice cream months--the ones when the rest of the world seems ready to join me in eating ice cream, and, therefore, the ice cream eating opportunities multiply!

Friday, May 17, 2013

In Victoria

I'm in Victoria. Pavel had a conference to attend at the Empress, so I tagged along for an escape.

An escape from what, you may ask. Wouldn't it be nicer if you asked escape to what? To that I'd say an escape to some time with Pavel, to a bit of luxury, to some walks along the harbor, and maybe to find Cadbury Shortcake Snacks (last seen by me in Victoria, about 15 years ago).

But you asked escape from what. It's a good question. I don't really have much to escape from, life is that good. But if pressed, I'd say an escape from the day to day.

Because isn't that why going somewhere--whether near or far--is so wonderful? I always feel a new lease on life coming with sudden acute observation. It makes me feel completely present, everything new and important. Heck, even the seagulls are fascinating.

So here I am, in Victoria. Pavel's been busy most of the day, so I have set myself a nice routine. After breakfast with him I take a short walk to a cafe where I have some coffee and write in my journal. Then I take another walk before meeting Pavel for lunch.

Coffee so far:
Habit, Caffe Artigiano, and Caffe Fantastico (here with a rhubarb Danish from Fol Epi Bakery).

Where we've lunched so far:
Chorizo and Co.

Choux Choux Charcuterie (they use local heritage pigs for their sausages and the mortadella they put in my sandwich).

Red Fish Blue Fish (all local wild caught fish) Here we had pretty good fish and chips, but I came back a few days later for one of the rhubarb creamsicles they sell.

The weather here has been perfect. Well, perfect for a Portlander used to some overcast skies. And perfect for someone who would prefer cooler weather for walking. And perfect if you like to see skies full of clouds in various shades of grey, and the light made when the sun breaks through, here and there. And perfect, at the end of the day, when the sun makes the Strait of Juan de Fuca sparkle, and the clouds break just enough to let you see the snow capped tips of the Olympics, just across the strait (you might have to zoom in, and squint).

And there's so much to see. Signs that clarify:


Invitations (at least that's how I read a coffee sign):

Or just to offer some perspective on your day (and night):

There are wrapped things, like potted plants in the hallway of the convention center:

And ships at the Point Hope Shipyard:

The air smells like linden blossoms, the rugosa roses that are hedges along the Selkirk Water of the Gorge, and cold salt.

The neighborhoods and gardens are wonderful. There are so many carefully pruned hedges and trees. To make room for the passersby (or undersby?):

And others that look like some sort of huge, slightly goofy, pet:

The clematis are taking over:

And, some sort of moth-like creatures are as well:

Late in the afternoon, this one fellow is taking a nap (he must have read the sign) with his dog watching over him:

And those Cadbury Shortcake Snacks? Even at the English Sweet Shop, where I found them last time, they'd never heard of them. Oh well. I'm making do. I found some delicious ice cream sandwiches from Cold Comfort. Actually, it's not at all a cold comfort. Just a comfort.

And when all else fails, the lounge at the Empress always has boiling water, tea, and silver pots at hand. And the city does it's best to remind me it's teatime.

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