Archive for the 'Portland' Category
A Little Summer Nostalgia

MedFlowers
Despite the 90 degrees broiling up outside, I’m aware of fall creeping in like never before. Without kids to send to school the seasons usually pass seamlessly, one to another, year after year, me glued to a computer 12-hours-a-day. Like everyone, I’d wake up periodically to, “Oh crap, Christmas is in four days and I haven’t bought anything.” Or, “If we don’t get a dry day soon I’ll need to add a fourth raincoat to my repertoire.” Or, “Hmm. Mid-July. Perhaps time to swap the shorts’ box from the basement with the sweater drawer in the closet.”

But this summer’s been different. Except for a slight Twitter and blog addiction, the computer’s been a choice, and I have been aware of every blissful long, warm, sunny day. And the occasional stormy one. I didn’t do a single house project that I should’ve, but we had a steady flow of guests, parties in the backyard, countless bottles of rosé. And the dog and I bonded. Almost every day we’d walk through the quaint streets of Sellwood, along the train tracks, through the ‘forbidden field’, under the Springwater Corridor, through Oaks Amusement Park, down the stairs to the beach, along the water, up into the Monkey Trail, out to the dog park, back up along Oaks Pioneer Church, and home. We’ve watched green turn to gold, gray to blue, brown to purple, and every day I’m amazed that this is my neighborhood.

So one day not long ago I grabbed my camera in an attempt to capture a little bit of this urban oasis that my stubborn, socially inappropriate, bully of a dog has forced me out into. Thanks Koko.

P.S. I’m a terrible photographer and I don’t even have the rudimentary ability to crop. If you want great photos, go to my friend Leslie’s site…holy mama! But this is my story (and I’m sticking to it).

P.P.S. There’s not a crumb of food in this post. And I’m breaking a self-imposed rule not to talk about my dog. Next thing you know I’ll be sharing feelings…God help us all.

Since Koko’s not great with other dogs it’s best to burn off some energy before she mingles. Walking along the tracks and into the Forbidden Field (so named because of the giant Dogs On Leash signs…but Koko never, er, hardly ever, chases the birds) is perfect for this. Plus the ever-changing wildflowers and weeds are always amazing.

A quiet moment in the forbidden field…phpo8DYahPM
…awaiting….
SpeedMed …Koko to pass through at the speed of a bullet train. “Lab mix” my ass, dear humane society. She’s half pit, half jack-a-lope.

CloudsMed There was great cloud action, turning the sky from brilliant blue to gray in the blink of an eye, one minute illuminating the newly-frescoed Mausoleum, the next turning it hulking and ominous.

Across the field I got a flash of purple from the wetlands, and walked through the trees to this.WetlandsMed

PurpleCloseupMedWalking into it we were surrounded by a six-foot-tall forest of purple. The stereoscopic buzzing clued me into the teeming bees surrounding us, as I delicately backed out.

Then under the trestle to that magical white-trash wonderland that is Oaks Amusement Park. I particularly love it in its abandoned winter state, but summer brings its own treats too…..FerrisCrop

Like this Little Miss Sunshine moment.LilMissSunshineMed

WavesMed But now to Koko’s playland where she can run off-leash again. Downtown’s on view from one end of the beach and the Sellwood Bridge anchors the other. Did I mention this is all one walk? It amazes me every time.

ChapelMed And looping back up to the chapel, again with the iPhone because at this point Koko was in the doghouse and we were booking miles. I have no idea what this couple was doing. She’s in jeans, with ribbons and a veil. At one point he was on one knee. Gotta love this town.

And so we end. This is my thanks to you Koko, for getting me out every day to enjoy the summer and this amazing neighborhood. We have our battles, you and I. Your sense of loyalty is severely misplaced. I despair of you ever learning what, “Get your kong!” means, or learning to fetch. And some day your bullying ways will will land you, not just me, in hot water. But you do have your moments. HeartCrop

Just Plum Delish

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Thanks ladies at exercise class for the giant bag of perfectly ripe Italian plums. Of course they turned into a crisp that used an entire cube of butter and nearly a cup of sugar, thereby negating a month’s worth of senior aerobics, but what the heck.

img_1404K said it was the best ever. Using, once again, a variation of the crisp topping I found on Eat. Think. Drink., which bb found on blazinghotwok, which Darlene modified from Ina Garten. Phew. When summer fruit season ends it’ll be back to store-bought-cookies and ice cream for our guests. Poor guests.

(Modifications, since K is trying to cut down on sugar, included 100% of the butter, half the sugar throughout, and half the flour though 100% of the lovely oats and almonds. And I made it in an 8×8 square pyrex instead of individual ramekins. What can I say? It was midweek and not for a dinner party, we were being casual.)

Le Tomato-Love, a la Jacques

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The Flavel Street “farm” has one crop…tomatoes. (K grows pumpkins but primarily for their big, showy leaves that he lets run rampant across the lawn. We’ve never actually eaten one…he grows attached. That would be a-kin [heh] to murder.)

But back to tomatoes.

It’s been a weird year. Some people had blight before the fruit could ripen, we had the smallest crop on record. And the earliest. It seemed that ours were the only plants to hit their stride in mid-July; oh how we cackled with glee over the 2009 plan to under-water. It was working! True, the plants were sad, bedraggled little things, but the tomatoes were delicious, early (for Portland’s wet spring), nicely sized, with skins not overly tough (as ours usually are). But then…

The fruit got smaller and smaller until normally small Stupice shrank to the size of cherry tomatoes. The beefsteak? Roughly the size of a golf ball. Lemon boy? Like a junior baseball.

The flowers? Very few flowers. And by mid-August, very few tomatoes.

We started sneaking water.

Then madly dousing to coax along the few green ones left on the vines.

img_1329We have a healthy crop of Romas on the way, the Sun Gold’s continue indestructable as usual, and time will tell if the others rally. With the extreme heat, this may not have been the year to experiment, but really, can one complain about a steady stream of delicious fruit over several months? And as ours peter out? I figure friends will be looking for a home for their excess.

< Here's what a July haul looked like.

For YOUR extras, here's one of my favorite Jacques Pepin recipes from 1992′s Today’s Gourmet. I’ve made it countless times, and the proportions and herbs are endlessly forgiving and flexible. I’ve even cut up regular tomatoes to make up the difference, if the cherries measure short. Bon appetite!

Cherry Tomato Gratin
1 1/4 pounds cherry tomatoes (approx 3.5 cups)
3 oz day-old french bread (about 3.5 cups) cut into 1″ cubes
4-6 cloves garlic, peeled & sliced (about 2 T) (interesting; had forgotten these were sliced. I’ve always chopped)
1/2 cup coursely chopped flat-leaf parsley (mixing basil and parsley is nice)
1/2 tsp freshly ground pepper
2 T virgin olive oil (I use a bit more, usually)
1/2 tsp salt
1/4 cup grated parmesan cheese (even good w/o this)

IMG_1469 Preheat the over to 375. Wash tomatoes and discard stems. Mix tomatoes and all ingredients in a bowl. Transfer the mixture to a 6-cup oven-proof dish. Bake at 375 for 40 minutes, serve immediately.

Four servings: 185 calories; 6 gm protein; 21 gm carbohydrates; 9.4 grams fat; 2.1 grams saturated fat; 5 mg cholesterol; 506 mg sodium.

Part 3 of 3: Fear and Small Plates (Tanuki)

Tanuki…oh Tanuki…your dark mysteries call. A little fear makes the thrill that much stronger, and yours are the ties that bind.

lanterlogotext2I wandered in an innocent, a fool, a virgin, though the “No kids, no sushi” sandwich-board sent a frisson of warning up my spine. Tiny, I knew, but not a single four-top? With only half our party on hand we meekly backed out the door, bowing and scraping, vowing to be Johnny-on-the-spot should adjacent two-tops open up. (Okay, bb is never meek, but even HE was on good behavior.) Out in the sun, away from the cold cynicism of weary eyes, I was once again able to draw a deep, clean breath. But after a whiff of your darkness, it tasted a little saccharine, a little too bright.

Attitude can come in many forms and have many causes: ignorant youth, flat-out-stupid, a surfeit of shallow beauty, undeserved strokes, a lifetime of paying dues, a singular vision. I was well-primed to find the source of Tanuki’s brashness, and prepared to enjoy the ride.

Just as our Basta happy hour snacks were set on the table our fourth arrived and frantically flagged us from across the street. Four chairs together! Ready! Team RacoonDog deploy now! Slamming drinks and money on the table, ignoring the food (well, I may have snagged a calamari) we scampered across, and though nothing was said, I detected a hint of approval that we’d so obviously hustled to play by the rules. We were ready–nay eager–for whatever Tanuki wanted to dish out.

And dish it out, it did.

The spirit of our $30/pp omakase meal’s well documented at Eat. Think. Drink., but it took a team effort to recall everything we ate. Edamame, dried anchovy and seaweed salad paved the way as we discussed and poured sake, settling more deeply into our seats. Skewers of bay scallop, shrimp (overcooked, unfortunately), meat (beef? heart?) and Portuguese sausage helped ease us into the dark universe. Then a plate each of hamachi with white miso and uni slammed us into Tanuki-land. No color commentary needed beyond OMFG. (Pics over at bb’s, with his money shot borrowed below, and a fantastic catalog of shots at The Goodist. Tim’s reviews are what first put Tanuki on my radar.) Followed fast by raw oysters with kimchee ice, all we could do was hold on. Hold on, taste, revel, and bask in the fresh flavors and the adventure of not knowing what was next.

dscf3678And what was next? In no particular order, a large fillet of unagi, with salty-sour umeboshi to cut the sweet bbq sauce, a fresh and flavor-filled clear soup with raw…nearly raw? razor clam, a slightly sweet rice-dish of clams, sausage and cherry tomatoes, and another of vegetables with monkfish liver. bb has a photo of salmon tartare with cuke and green onion…how can I not even remember that? I’d accuse him of hiding it on his lap but the variety of food was so generous, there was no need to covet. Out of this bounty there was only one item, which I’ve dubbed “Band-Aid Flavored Soup” that was not to my taste. K opined that the meal, like Moulin Rouge, had a brilliant first act but then got a little messy. That may have been our fault for increasing the server’s recommended $25 budget to $30, but for a first visit, I don’t regret having had the variety. In the famous words of, well, pretty much every hedonist, “Too much of everything is just enough.”

So what makes one server’s snark and another’s ditzy misstep (Shared Plates post part 1) so off-putting, while Tanuki’s rules and attitude draw us in like a magnet? Why did Park Kitchen’s foie mess leave such a lasting impression, while bandage soup was easily shrugged off? Perhaps it’s ascribing a price to a whole meal rather than valuing individual dishes…or even courses. If we’d gone with the prix fixe PK menu, we may well have been happier…but the dishes would still have been overworked. Tanuki, at its most successful, showcases a hero, and then supports, frames or twists it for added depth. I’ll leave the debate of “authentic”, etc. to others. All I know is that I like a hero, especially when it rides in on white miso. Or sleeps on a bed of home-made kimchee.

Finally, there’s the whole vibe, the ability to embrace one’s vision and lock it down in a death grip. Which MBA program instructs biz owners to taunt its detractors and potential customers via social media? (“Dear Idiot…” “Please don’t breed…” “Bite me…”) If such a program doesn’t yet exist, it should. When you run 10 to 12 tables it’s your world, your rules, your vision, your domain, and “bite me” sounds like a pretty good idea with food this good.

Tanuki, you’re a black-hearted bitch. Delectably skewered and grilled, and I want more.

BTW, our server was lovely. Recommended a great sake, kept water flowing, and unobtrusively shuttled full plates to, and empty ones away from, our table. No exaggerations in this post should reflect on her. I hope we tipped well…but between my food drunk and the flying cash due to the rule against split tabs, I can’t say I remember.

Part 2 of 3: Big Experience, Small Plates (Beaker & Flask)

beakerflask3Drinks and dinner at Beaker & Flask, other than too bright at a non-shaded table, was a nice surprise: comfy circular booths in a soaring space, minimalist but smart decor, and unique cocktails. (While “unique” is great, I need to remember to integrate some clean classics amongst the plethora of chartreuse, absinthe, cynar and blueberries. No doubt they’d mix up a stellar classic cocktail, and sometimes a break from so many bold, interesting flavors can be a relief.) In any case, as GoodStuffNW stated, it really was “… the food here [that] was the surprise…” I didn’t expect anything beyond the ordinary and instead found a dining experience that was a cut above. (One of the “cuts”, beef, to the left.)

beakerflask2Four of us shared the trout deviled eggs, corn on the cob, fried oysters, spot prawns, which, from left to right were: good; good and fun but the thrice-promised knife would have been helpful; great/crunchy/moist/ woulda done NOLA fried oysters proud; fabulous, especially the half of the dish that was the raw prawn. For shared entrees C&S had the grilled beef shoulder: nice, though my bite of meat was under-salted and the carmelized cauliflower looked like the best thing on the plate. And K & I shared the barely seared tuna with aioli on…hmm…greens, bacon & croutons? Too many Walk Don’t Run’s by then (White Rum, Grapefruit/Wormwood Soda, Angostura Bitters). In any case, it was delicious. (But can I channel my mom here for a moment? Prices felt a tiny bit steep.)

beakerflask With so many great places to eat in town, both old and new, it’s time to compile some lists to keep myself both branched out and on a budget. While their happy hour selection isn’t amazing, making it far too easy to stray onto the dinner menu, Beaker & Flask is a delightfully civilized way to unwind after a busy day of…err…unemployment.

Part 1 of 3: Big Attitudes, Small Plates (50 Plates & Park Kitchen)

Early July was an extravaganza of shared plates (Park Kitchen, Tanuki, 50 Plates, Beaker & Flask), and for a household in which the small-plates ban has recently been lifted? That’s quite a list. Between SF visitors and a birthday there was a lot to celebrate, and some of the meals were even celebration-worthy.

Aside to Portlanders: Remember early July? Temps in the mid-70s, cool breezes that we mindlessly accepted without a whit of gratitude? Sleeping with a sheet…or jammies at the very least? (Our poor, unfortunate neighbors. Open windows, no clothes or blankets, we’ll just leave that mental picture unfinished.) Cooking, running the dishwasher, hopping a bus, sitting out on the sidewalk sipping lattes, going to a restaurant without first calling to see if the a/c is working…ah the good old days.

Happy hour at 50 Plates was pleasant but forgettable. Not much enticing in the way of drink specials and the plates were hit and miss. The mushrooms on toast and shrimp ‘n grits, both dishes I’d loved before, were again fantastic: rich and bursting with mouth-filling flavors. The silver dollar sammies were a mixed bag (and a tiny clutch-sized bag at that, they take the silver dollar part very literally): forgettable pulled pork, but a great little kobe burger. The artichoke roll was bland and lifeless with no discernable artichoke, the crab jalapeno poppers had no crab flavor…nor any pop…and the Not a Cobb was not only not a Cobb, it wasn’t much of anything else, either. Simultaneously watery and gooey, it was a bland disappointment after the Not a Cobb at Quinn’s in Seattle. Our elevated sidewalk seat was great for people-watching, but the 70s rock classics blaring from the speakers and the slightly snarky-but-not-in-a-clever-way service didn’t really go with the white wine thing that was happening at our table. I’ll definitely go back for real food, but it’s not knocking Andina off the top of my Pearl happy hour list any time soon.

PK-logoDinner at Park Kitchen was also a mixed bag. (Adore their logo. No mixed feelings about that at all.) Having gone to Toro Bravo with out-of-towners twice in June, we were determined to branch out. So we shortlisted: Park Kitchen, Laurelhurst Market, Le Pigeon, Toast and Nostrana. All are pretty and / or unique, and they seemed a good variety of off-beat, new and hot, tres Pdx French, neighborhoody and solidly good. From websites and menus our guests both put PK at the top of the list. Having had great meals there in the past and having neglected them for the past year, we all felt good about the decision.

We started at the bar with two white wines, a refreshing and unique Violette (Meyer’s rum, crème de violette, Cointreau, orange bitters, lime twist), and an excellent Trace Bourbon Manhattan, and soon moved to our table. Is there any better location on a balmy evening than a Park Kitchen sidewalk table? Our four-top was just outside the rollup door where we could experience the buzz of the room and the ever darkening shadows of the trees in the park, as we perused the menu. Due to one slightly particular eater, we ordered a la carte, though the $40/pp chef’s choice looked like a great deal when all’s said and done.

Let’s do this laundry list style:

    Crisply brown salt-cod fritters seemed overly large and…the greater sin…overly potatoey after Toro Bravo’s, and the vinegar was fine but pooled on plates that we had to keep for several more courses.

    The fried green beans were delicious, though somehow we’d all envisioned an Asian dried-fried thing rather than tempura bean fries in a glass. Once we adjusted our mental picture they were consumed with relish (well actually with aioli, but you know what I mean).

    Grilled prawns: Forgettable and a waste of a course.

    Razor clam salad with sea beans and favas: Unique, flavorful and seaworthy, exactly the kind of eye-opening dish one expects here.

    Smoked sturgeon, currants and nasturtiums: Flat-out yummy. Smoky, salty, sweet, but all with a light, balanced touch.

    Roast pork entree: Nicely done. It didn’t blow my socks off but any time I can get a pink and juicy loin, hats off!

    Foie gras with pickled strawberries, pistachios and baby beets: Completely misleading (it was better described on the bill than menu), baffling and disappointing. With paper-thin shavings of foie (apparently…they were hard to locate), on cooked strawberries in a thick tasteless sauce that turned out to be the pistachios, it was softness on mush, topped by shavings of melty. With nice beets. A misstep can happen anywhere, but this one got compounded by the server’s dingbat response to our honest but polite assessment. In an attempt to stem her misplaced gushing I pronounced the dish “a mess”. SO not Portland-nice of me…oops. She stalked away and handed us off to another (more seasoned) server, but there was a lot of meal to go and we all felt the effects of my tactlessness. May I suggest that if you’re going to ask how something is, one should listen to the (unanimous, btw) answer? And not take offense? I’m not at your home and bound by the “everything’s delicious” rule. (Oh wait, I don’t even do that at people’s homes unless I mean it.)

    Nothing on the dessert menu called to me, though I thought the olive oil cake with summer berries was very nice. The boys also had chocolates from Xocolatl de David, which they dubbed “interesting”.

K. pronounced the pork and green beans a hit. A. really liked the lavash-style crackers in the bread plate. “Nothing else? Not even the sturgeon?” “Well, the bread was good, too.” Ohhhh snap! Ouch. J and I appreciated the creativity and effort but agreed it was an uneven experience for the pricetag. At meal’s end we noticed by chance that they’d comped the pistachio-sauce course. While wonderful and appreciated, a verbal acknowledgment would have gone a long way to putting things into perspective. As it was left, this debacle of a dish and the server’s handling of us left the biggest impression.

Next, a little additional color commentary on Tanuki, reviewed on Eat. Drink. Think., and a small shot of Beaker & Flask also recently reviewed by GoodStuffNW.

Guest Post: Adventures of a Ninja Chef

First, who’s Ezra?

A friend and new Portland transplant who writes things like:

“Cooking
Like jazz
(Like all art, really)
Is an expression of love, joy, pain and sorrow.
The delicious sustenance that results is almost an afterthought.”

He’s also an Excel whiz. And he doesn’t like to be bound by the constraints of pre-figured directions or maps (which, considering that quote, shouldn’t come as a surprise), as I found on a recent field trip to Uwajimaya. The next time I get turned around in the US-26 / downtown spaghetti tangle I’ll try to remember I’m not lost at all, merely “riffing”.

What else to know? My dog loves him. She has no use for Google maps either.

I don’t know if Ezra would have needed extra inducement to Koko-sit during our Seattle trip, but I figured that opening the pantry and pointing out all the weird foodstuffs he could play with wouldn’t hurt. And indeed, that clinched the deal.

Now let’s be clear: Ezra has a large, gorgeous kitchen at his disposal, filled with healthful, vegetarian products, while mine is tiny, battered (mmmm…batter) and sullied by all manner of questionable ingredients. But he kept his eye on the adventures that he could concoct within this small, tiled space, transcending physical limitations, ethnic boundaries and, once or twice I’m sure, common sense.

In this guest post, Ezra describes his time. “A lot of ideas really crystallized for me during that week.” says he, and for that I’m so glad!


The Space
I pause for a moment at the entrance to the kitchen. It’s the same whenever I enter an unfamiliar house. I’m thinking about how this room reveals the soul of the house and of the people who have made it their home. I cross the threshold and suddenly I’m an anthropologist. What do I know about the inhabitants? What is their relationship to food? What traces of life do I sense in this place?

A quick tour of the garden, pantry and cellar reveals that these folks have a healthy and positive relationship with their food. I’ve cooked in many kitchens, but this one is set up perfectly for an improvisational cook. The utensils are in their proper place. Spices and herbs wait patiently in their containers and packets. This is a kitchen where good food is honored.

The Preparation
Before cooking I envision the food to be created. I breathe in the smells of the kitchen, orienting myself among the shelves, racks and cupboards. I feel the temperature and humidity in the air.

For me cooking is about creating and maintaining optimal conditions for food. I enjoy the prospect of creating food out of whatever’s available. This kitchen is bursting with possibility. Wherever I turn there is culinary inspiration.

Eating
Eating is one of my favorite aspects of food. It’s easy to take this step for granted. But it is just as important as all the other parts. And it is equally rewarding.

Cleanup
There’s an old saying, “when you are finished eating, clean your bowl.” This is most true when practicing food preparation. A fundamental aspect of cooking is care for utensils. They are for the cook what brushes are for the painter.

When I’m finished eating I lovingly clean every knife, bowl, spoon and pan. Ingredients are replaced in their original location. A ninja chef, I leave the kitchen with barely a trace behind me. Perhaps the space has been altered subtly by this process. But everything is just as I found it, ready for another food adventure.

P.S. Two other things came to mind as I was writing this. Big surprise, they are both about food and are both Japanese. Hmmm… I definitely see a pattern emerging here.

Kitchen (Banana Yoshimoto) is one of my favorite books. A major theme throughout is food in general, but especially the energy created by the kitchen space and different types of people and kitchens.

Tampopo (Juzo Itami) is one of my favorite movies. It’s all about food, cooking, eating, food culture, the art of food, etc. Basically it’s two straight hours of Ramen. Every time I watch it I want to make miso soup with noodles.

Editor’s Note:
“But what did you MAKE, Ezra?” I wail.

“The trouble is I don’t know what I made. I know what I used, what I did, and it was all really good. But I was aiming for *formless* food (ed: and by this he means without boundaries or limitations, not literally formless), going by what I know about the way the food works, and whatever inspired me. So I could list the ingredients, the specific processes. But in a sense these are accidental and it’s the finished product which matters. These are meals which will never, can never, be made again.

Perhaps this is an unsatisfactory answer. Or maybe I’m just trying to maintain an air of mystery. But I really am trying to develop an approach to cooking which is scientific, creative and focused on the larger issues of what food is all about.”

img_1288(What I do know is this: our aged, DOC balsamic hand-carried back from Italy in 2002 had been shifted. My, what good taste he has! And the jar of South African salted, green papaya was open in the fridge. As long as he didn’t use them together, I’m pleased.)

“Not unsatisfactory at all, Ez. Just hard for a process-oriented, don’t-like-to-get-lost person such as myself to accept. But okay. There. I’ve just accepted it.”

To read more of Ezra’s posts, check out his eclectic thoughts on cooking, movies and inspiration here.

Summer Bounty Followup: Corn Soup Recipe

img_1277Here’s Michael Chiarello’s recipe for the corn soup served at our recent vegetarian dinner party. If you want to keep it veggie, disregard my thought that some chicken stock might be nice. Also, IMO, sauteeing a bit of onion and corn in butter would do more than the small of amount of cream he adds, but I haven’t tried it this way; it’s just a guess.

Summer Corn Soup
Michael Chiarello (italics=dds modifications)

4 c corn kernels (~5 ears corn; reserve cobs)
6 c water (or 2 c low sodium chix stock/4 c water)
1 onion, chopped, divided into 2 piles
1 celery rib, chopped
1 bay leaf
3 T butter, preferably unsalted
1/2 c heavy cream (optional)
Salt
Topping / garnish of choice

Cut corn off cobs and set aside. Cut cobs in half and add to water with celery, half the onion and bay leaf. Bring to a simmer and cook for 20 minutes; remove the cobs.

Saute the remaining half of onion in butter until soft, add corn and salt, saute another minute, add to stock. Bring to a boil until the corn is tender, about 3 minutes. Remove bay leaf, adjust salt, add cream.

Transfer in batches to a blender and blend thoroughly (start at a low speed & then ramp it up to avoid lid eruptions). Strain through a fine mesh sieve placed over a clean pot, pushing on the solids to extract as much liquid as possible.

Reheat the soup gently to serve; do not allow to boil! Serve warm, cool or cold, and top with garnish. A dollop of pesto, creme fraiche, basil or tarragon leaves….

I also froze a bit of this, stirring as it hardened to produce crystals. Delicious corn ice resulted, but I have yet to think of what to put it on. Not interesting enough to stand on its own. I keep thinking about chorizo…..

Flavel Street Farm Report

A tweet from Ruth Reichel (Gourmet’s editor) pronounced: “10 vegetarians to dinner. Too bad it’s not corn and tomato season.”

By coincidence, I was having vegetarians to dinner the same day, and tomatoes (cherry) and corn (soup) were most in-season on the west coast, and precisely what were on the menu. But that’s neither here nor there, since we bought both and this was supposed to focus on eating what our garden produced. Damn my wandering attention span…

flex-012And the winning plant for first ripe tomato of the year (last week) is….Stupice! Once again. Tiny even for a Stupice but we’ll take it. And the Sungold cherry tomato plant is starting to squirt out some ripe babies. Mmmmm, tomato candy. And in third place, after this weekend’s heat, Stupice plant #2 has red clusters galore. Tomorrow I’ll be able to slice them on toast with olive oil, pepper and salt…the best breakfast in the world.

Because I keep forgetting to use it, we had enough lettuce to feed six for a first course on Saturday. My typical French vinaigrette weighs down the tender leaves, so we had a semi-successful light dressing of lemon, oil, worcestershire and salt. [Oh gads! Just realized that's not vegetarian! A thousand apologies...it was just a dash.... So much for mindfulness.] Had intended to add whole parsley leaves along with the thinly sliced radishes, something my Persian cousin does which is so simple but unique, but it got left behind in the flurry of plating. (Which is more acceptable than the post-bbq marinade that got left off shish-kebabs the week before, but that’s a subject for a different day.)

Whole “needles” of fresh garden tarragon adorned a simple vegetarian corn soup for the second course of that same dinner. Bright and licoricey, and a nice change from basil. I can share that super simple recipe (actual recipe! From a book and everything!) if the experienced vegetable eaters thought it was tasty enough. Cold the next day, on a palate unpolluted by raw garlic & tomato drenched bread, it tasted richer. Next time I’d double the onion and saute it and the corn kernels in a bit of butter and salt. Cuz y’know, what’s not better with a bit of butter and salt?

A cup of home-grown basil provided the base for course #3′s pasta sauce: basil blended with two cups of cherry tomatoes (courtesy of New Seasons), toasted almonds, garlic and oil. Cooks Illustrated said to mix a half cup of parmesan into the pasta, but I think it dulled the bright taste of the “pesto”. Thanks to Skip’s shrimp pasta, I thought to mix in a big batch of raw arugula, which leant a peppery, fresh bite.

flex-006 All boy flowers on the pumpkin so far. Except for the first girl back in June…before there were any boy flowers for fertilizing. Isn’t that just the way it is in love and life? Well, I suppose if we get no pumpkins we’ve at least enjoyed the vines carousing across the lawn. Next year I know I’ll be brave enough to harvest the blossoms. It’s one of my favorite things to eat but I have a mysterious block against picking and cooking them. (The photo at left is two weeks old. After consuming a boot and a neighbor’s cat, we reigned in the vines with a climbing corral.)

flex-011Ah, and a footnote, appropriate because it’s directly related to Oregon’s bounty. I made this Berry Crumble for the second time, this time using local blueberries and boysenberries from New Seasons. It was, once again, spectacular and I can’t wait to make it with peaches. The boysen wasn’t as bright as the raspberry, even after adding extra lemon and cutting the sugar by 1/3, but it still killed. After seven years in Portland, I still can’t get over the size, flavor and variety of these monsters.

Hapa Haoli* Chronicles: Condiments Redux

April is hereby designated Asian Experimentation month.

I’m not sure if it’s the in-between-ness of the seasons (time to put braising to bed, too wet for bbq, haven’t yet hit the farmer’s markets to be inspired by spring veggies…), or the fact that we’re on a budget, but I’ve been cranking out my peasant Italian-French-Korean version of Asian food lately.

Mom’s chicken long rice is my perfect comfort food; if I’d grown up white and in a trailer, this would be my mac and cheese. If I’d grown up in Korea, it’d be called Jap Chae. In Hawaii (where b1 grew up), it’s chicken long rice. With a million variations, ours/mine uses dark, on-the-bone, skin intact chicken (to give it some stickiness), shitake mushrooms (so in love with pre-sliced dried shitakes I could marry them), “long rice” (Korean yam noodles), which aside from being a gloomy gray manage to be delightfully slippery, bouncy and toothsome, and the ‘essential 5’ of Korean cooking: garlic, soy, ginger, onion, sesame. Brown up salted chicken, toss in a sliced onion, add loads of chopped ginger and garlic, add softened noodles and shitakes (and some of the soaking liquid) , throw in a slightly scary amount of soy and sesame oil, slap it on a plate, top with kimchee or peperoncini and turn on the Hee Haw reruns.

From old standard to bastardized newcomer, my version of mapo tofu was a complete shot in the dark, but tasty enough to warrant a rerun.

img_1116I don’t even know what real mapo tofu is, other than a sense that it’s spicy, porky, silky and in bad Chinese restaurants, frequently served with peas. Armed with that scholarly wisdom honed to a fine edge by meticulous imaginings, and thinking k deserved something he liked after putting up with chicken long rice (despite Irish / Polish genes he adores tofu and anything pepper-hot), I set out to pair my new favorite cheater food…ground lap cheong…with tofu. Lap cheong (Chinese sausage) is the secret ingredient behind company-appropriate fried rice (as in, “Hon, set aside the possum, we gots company at the door”), how to get hubby to eat slightly bitter gai lan (Chinese broccoli) in oyster sauce, and, in a bizarre collision with some Frenchie thing b2 used to make, sauteed with thinly sliced and fried potatoes and snow peas. And now these slim packets of fat / sweet / salt come chopped up. Hooray, life just keeps getting better for the lazy and undeserving. Using lap cheong in place of ground pork, a tablespoon of crab paste and a hefty dose of pepper paste and red pepper, and dinner pretty much made itself. Toss in frozen peas or chopped up gai lan stems (a little lap goes a long way, so it got made twice) and voila! Gotta say, it was pretty tasty, though I shudder to think about how unhealthy it must be, even pushing the tofu-to-pork ratio. (A run to the fridge shows no MSG in the crab paste, phew, but “crab fat” is called out separately from the crab meat. Crab fat? Crab FAT? Woot.)

*Hapa Haoli a Hawaiian term used these days to commonly mean a half (hapa) white (haoli)/ half Asian person.