Sunday, September 30, 2007

Pre-Opening Party at Cava

You've probably noticed it already. I've got a soft spot for new restaurants, especially small-scale efforts by people passionate about their dreams. So when friends Randy and Amy announced a couple of years ago that they were going to open a place called Cava, where neighbors could gather for a good meal at reasonable prices, I knew they had a potential hit on their hands. Especially with Randy's crazy good taste in food and drink and Amy's warm and creative spirit.

Then when I got the e-mail announcing a pre-opening party last week, it was all I could do not to run over to be the first in the door. And now that I've been there, all I can say is that they've done their vision proud. It's on a corner of lower Foster Road at 53rd that's been begging to be discovered, where they've taken a rundown former community center and created a warm and inviting Euro-pub that feels like home-away-from-home.

Not too big and not too small, the walls are a deep, gorgeous earth-red color, with a wood bar in the back topped by a large antique mirror (left). Simple wooden booths line up along a side wall and tables and benches are scattered around the room. The tap beer list is short but awesome, with selections like Ninkasi Red and Terminal Gravity IPA, and the wine list shows a deep but well-edited appreciation for European and NW values.

The menu is an equally well-edited document, especially considering the tendency these days to try to do too much and then not be able to do anything particularly well. They've got a nice array of starters, entrees and desserts that tend in the direction of Mediterranean and American bistro cooking, and if the blur of dishes that were flying out of the kitchen at the party are any indication, Chef J. B. Tranholm (right) is a talent to watch out for.

He was plating up tastes as diverse as braised Moroccan chicken with couscous, tiny burgers that rival the best in town with fries and aioli on the side, along with a slice of heavenly pork loin on a bed of fresh cranberry beans with sauteed green beans and a drizzle of pesto dressing. Then pastry chef Anja Spence was sending out samples of creme brulee with little Mexican wedding cookies and delicate nut brittle, a chocolate cake that made me think the late Shaker's Cafe Big Ol' Chocolate Cake had been reborn, and some tarts that appeared but were lost to the crowd before I could grab some.

They're still waiting for a couple of murals to arrive and there's just a bit of painting left to do, but they're planning to open next weekend (Oct. 5). If you call you may be able to snag a seat for their soft opening (Wed., Oct. 3). I have a feeling this spot is going to become a Portland staple, and they've got the crew to make it happen from the get-go. And if you do go, say hi from GoodStuffNW!

Details: Cava Tavern, 5339 SE Foster at 53rd. Phone 503-206-8615.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

See You at Cava!

And speaking of new talents opening restaurants in Portland, just about a month ago I posted a blurb about the impending opening of Cava Tavern. Having their own place has been a dream that our friends, former Provvista provisioner Randy Montgomery and his wife, artist Amy Ruppel, have had for a long time, and it looks like it's going to come to fruition next Wednesday, Oct. 3.

I've heard nothing but raves about their menu, their wine list and the talent of their staff, so make plans to head out to 53rd and Foster and support these two terrific people. Check their blog for the official word. I hope to see you there!

Details: Cava Tavern, 5339 SE Foster at 53rd. Phone 503-206-8615.

Wednesday, September 26, 2007

NYT Discovers Portland

Looks like someone back East has finally heard the news that there's something going on here in Portland. And it's got nothing to do with flannel shirts and Birkenstocks and a whole lot of something to do with organic, seasonal and, dare we say, sensational food. But we knew that awhile ago with places like Higgins and Castagna and the (still-lamented) Zefiro and with people like Monique Siu, Kevin Gibson, Greg Higgins and Cathy Whims singing the praises of Northwest ingredients.

And credit is due to Eric Asimov, wine critic for the New York Times and author of "Portland: Chefs flock to a city where food is the star, produce is stellar and real estate is cheap." He actually got over to the east side of the river (four out of his eight "emblematic restaurants" are in SE Portland), possibly a first for the Times. Though, oddly, in his wine picks he only names Brickhouse, Eyrie, Ponzi, Domaine Drouhin and some winery called Soter (that only just opened last year) as his favorite producers, most of them fairly standard, old-line picks with very expensive prices. What about Cameron, Sineann, Owen Roe, St. Innocent or J. Christopher, you might ask? Winemakers who are taking Oregon wine to the next (and often more affordable) level.

As for his restaurant picks mentioned above, they are Carafe, Clyde Common, Higgins, Ken's Artisan Pizza, Le Pigeon, Paley's Place, Pok Pok and Vindalho. While Asimov was ostensibly focusing on chefs who came to town from other places, and all could qualify as among the best in Portland, I would add Pho Van, Ciao Vito, Castagna (and Castagna Cafe), the Country Cat, Andina (talk about coming from someplace else!), Lolo and Toro Bravo, Nuestra Cocina, Three Doors Down and Alba Osteria.

Granted, the guy didn't have the whole dining section at his disposal and I know, as a writer, you have to stop at some point. And he obviously does "get it" and we should be thankful for the huge splash the article made. Plus he included the recipe for Le Pigeon's signature apricot bacon cornbread with maple ice cream. So fine. But hopefully he'll come back someday and write about the real revolution taking place here, the one that is centered around making eating locally and seasonally something that everyone knows about and can afford to do, not just foodies who eat in expensive restaurants. Now that would be worth reading about!

Sunday, September 23, 2007

Cruising to Corvallis

It's one of those silly things. You have good friends, people you've known for years through kids, work, church, whatever. They only live an hour-and-a-half drive away, but somehow that seems like a really long way to go. (I can hear you folks outside the metro area saying, "What? We drive an hour-and-a-half to the dentist!") And you just never make the time to get in the car and get your complacent butts out of the city.

On the left, Marys River* as it flows into the Willamette just south of downtown Corvallis and (right) a new condo/retail development along the Riverfront Park walkway.

But sometimes you actually get yourselves in the car and go see those friends. So, of course, that's just what we did on a recent weekend at the end of summer, and we had a great time visiting and getting a personal guided tour of their hometown of Corvallis. First up was a short walk along the new award-winning Corvallis Riverfront Park to the local farmers market. Along the way are great art installations, including this vintage movie marquee from the Midway Theatre, a former local landmark. And instead of first-run features, it now showcases poetry, this one by Freda Fredricksen:

buds appear
sky still grey

war's sorrow never clears quickly
the world wants peace, blue skies, and spring.

The market is overrun with the last surge of the summer's harvest, tables laden with red, yellow, green and purple peppers, and baskets bulging with squash, mushrooms, cabbage and greens. There's an air of conviviality, with neighbors greeting each other and admiring the day's purchases, and waving at vendors who also taught their kids social studies in high school.

For you history trivialists, the city was originally called Marysville after the Marys* River that flows south of town, and was briefly the capital of the Oregon Territory in 1855. It was renamed Corvallis after the American-French "Coeur de Vallis" or "Heart of the Valley."

The building on the left housed the original capitol of the Oregon Territory, and the curious interior courtyard on the right is the home of the Old World Deli and Oregon Trail Brewing.

But of more concern to us after all the sightseeing and walking was where we'd have lunch, so our friends walked us through downtown and into The Old World Deli, also home to the Oregon Trail Brewing Company. This funky-but-fun place usually has anywhere from three to five beers on tap at any one time and a full complement of large and filling deli sandwiches, which hit the spot perfectly, and we were regaled with tales of Mr. A's pranks as a young man working in a cannery. You really don't want to know, but I can tell you it involved something other than what was supposed to have been pears in heavy syrup.

After strolling back to our friends' place, we took their 8-month-old, 75-lb. chocolate lab puppy to large and beautiful Avery Park on the Marys River for a late afternoon swim (the dog, not us). A quick change back at their house and we were ready to head out for dinner at Magenta, advertised as "an organic asian fusion restaurant."

Now, I'm normally not a big fan of most fusion cooking. I like my cuisines pretty clearly delineated, though most ethnic food served in this neck of the woods makes concessions to what is available locally, much like early Italian immigrants made do with what they found here. But this place features fresh, local ingredients like beef, lamb and elk with subtle nods toward Asia. We started with cocktails from a house menu of tropically-themed but not froo-froo drinks that were well-mixed and refreshing, along with an appetizer of Vietnamese coconut pancake balls with King crab and kaffir lime crême, an unusual but stunning take on the fried foods found at street stalls in that country.

The banana leaf-wrapped wild salmon in fresh dill coconut curry that I ordered was a good-sized piece of fillet, moist and tender. The choice of a disk of polenta on the side was odd and the sautéed vegetables that accompanied it were fairly innocuous. But as a whole the experience was a good one, with attentive, friendly service and busy-but-not-too-loud sound level.

So to sum up? As I said before, get your backsides in the car and get out of town. You might just enjoy the experience!

* For you copyeditors (or wannabe nitpickers out there) there is no apostrophe. Check it out on the wiki.

Thursday, September 20, 2007

The Healing Power of Animals

Anyone who has had pets knows that they can sometimes know more about how we are feeling than we do ourselves. We've all had animals that comfort us when we're upset or feeling blue, or seem to sense when we need a friend to talk to. And most of us have read about those extraordinary animals who heroically lead people out of burning buildings or, more recently, animals who seem to sense when a person is about to die.

Recently, I was invited to a presentation about the Delta Society, an organization formed 30 years ago by Portland veterinarian William McCullough to promote what they rather euphemistically call "the human-animal bond." What that really means is that they are dedicated to improving human health through service and therapy animals, as well as expanding awareness about the effect that animals can have on human health and development.

While the main focus seems to be on dogs in their Pet Partners program, they also have cats, llamas and, believe it or not, a miniature horse involved as partners. They have had an astonishing 9,000 animals partnering with their owners in over 3,000 facilities nationwide, as well as providing training for and regular evaluation of these partner teams.

They've got some great stories about the Pet Partners on their website, and they're always interested in training new teams for animal-assisted visits and therapy. They even have animals who work in reading programs in schools, helping children who may have difficulty reading to an adult but who find it easy to read to a non-judgmental dog.

If you'd like to know more, there are a couple of presentations coming up where you can meet some of the people and their pets who are working in Portland area hospitals, nursing homes, rehab centers, schools and libraries. It's well worth spending an hour to find out about this organization, and you might just find yourself wanting to get involved!

Details: The Healing Power of Pets. Oct. 11 at Providence St. Vincent’s, 9205 SW Barnes Rd. Nov. 8 at Providence Medical Center, 4805 NE Glisan St. Both sessions are from 7-8 pm. Make reservations via e-mail.

Wednesday, September 19, 2007

Fall Has Fell: Vegetarian In Disguise

As part of my Market Watch duties for the Oregonian's FoodDay section, I went to the OHSU farmers market up on Pill Hill which is held every Tuesday afternoon. It was a cool, cloudy day and I hadn't had lunch yet, so I stopped at Hoda's stand and got a ridiculously great falafel sandwich. I was wiping off some tahini sauce that had dribbled down my chin when the clouds parted and a beam of heavenly light fell on an amazing display of technicolor cauliflower, the likes of which I'd never seen before.

Inspired, I picked up one of the Cheddar cauliflowers (the purple ones are called Confetti) and brought it home for dinner. Having heard that roasting brings out the natural sugars present in the cauliflower and gives it much more flavor than steaming, I decided to simply divide it into florets and toss it with olive oil and salt and roast it in the oven. And with that gorgeous orange color, I had to serve it with something that would set it off like a jewel, so I went with Mario Batali's Risotto al Barolo.

The pair worked like a charm, and not even the dude, who considers animal flesh at every meal a must-have, missed the meat.

Roasted Cauliflower

1 head cauliflower, divided into florets
1/4 c. olive oil or enough to coat florets lightly
Salt to taste

Heat oven to 425 degrees.

In large bowl, toss florets with olive oil and salt. Put in roasting pan and roast in oven for 25 to 35 minutes.

Fall Has Fell: Braised Lamb

My writer friend Michel and I used to walk together before she got a real job. One day I went over to pick her up for our regular constitutional and, on opening her front door, was bowled over by the amazingly sensuous aroma coming from her kitchen. Now, this woman was a professional cook in a previous life and has major chops with a Viking. (Amazingly, her husband doesn't seem to mind!)

I begged her to give me the recipe, and the other night I made it using a lamb shoulder from our lamb share. Again, the aroma was a knockout and it killed with its huge flavor and richness, especially because it was made with homegrown tomatoes and peppers. All that's required to make it a dinner party staple is a simple green salad and a side of polenta. I guarantee your friends and family will be fighting over who gets the last bits.

Michel's Braised Lamb Shoulder

1 lamb shoulder roast
1 med. onion, coarsely chopped
1 med. red bell pepper, coarsely chopped
1 pasilla, ancho or poblano pepper, coarsely chopped
4 cloves garlic, sliced
2 tsp. whole cardamom seeds
2 tsp. cumin seeds
1/2 c. prunes
1 c. chicken stock
15 oz. can diced tomatoes
Zest of 1 lemon

Preheat oven to 325 degrees.

In medium hot braising pot, brown shoulder in olive ol; salt and pepper each side. After first side of lamb is browned, add cumin and cardamom seeds to the oil around the lamb and stir to toast. Add garlic and onion, stir until golden. Add peppers and stir until softened. Add canned tomatoes, stock and prunes and stir. Cover braising pot and place in middle of preheated oven. Simmer in oven at least 3 hours.

Remove lamb from pot. Cover and hold on heated platter. Skim fat from liquid in pan and bring to boil to reduce. Season to taste and pour over lamb.

Fall Has Fell: Roast Chicken

About this time of year, when the temperatures start cooling down and I hear the leaves from our ash trees crunching underfoot, I start thinking about turning on the oven and making some of those favorite dishes that have been left off our tables all summer. What with all the barbecuing of large hunks of meat, the tomatoes (and tomatoes and tomatoes) piling up in the kitchen and the unbelievably fabulous fruit at the farmers markets, what else could we do but surf the avalanche?

So now that things have calmed down a bit, I bought a large roasting chicken at the store. I always ask for the biggest one, the better to have leftovers for other delicious dishes like enchiladas or chicken pot pie. I think the largest I've roasted was over nine pounds, more like a small turkey, really. But still not larger than Chester (right), our gorgeous hunk of 13-lb. marmalade cat. (Still unroasted.)

Anyway, about that chicken. I use James Beard's method, which calls for roasting the bird on a bed of vegetables, turning it every once in awhile to get a good infusion of aromatics of whatever kind. As usual, I mess around with the recipe, covering it with bacon during roasting (afterwards you can crumble the bacon over the mashed potatoes and gravy or use it in a salad), or stuffing the cavity with a half lemon and a bunch of fresh herbs like tarragon or thyme. And doggone if it doesn't turn out beautifully every time! (That's how it gets to be a favorite, you know.)

Jimmy's Roast Chicken Kinda
loosely adapted from James Beard's American Cooking

3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 onion, roughly chopped
2 carrots, halved and chopped
2 ribs celery, halved and chopped
1/2 c. white wine or dry vermouth
1 roasting chicken
1/2 lemon
Handful of fresh herbs (sage, rosemary, thyme or tarragon)
4-5 slices bacon, optional
Salt to taste

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Pour 2 Tbsp. oil into a frying pan and saute onions, carrots and celery (or whatever vegetables you might have) till slightly tender but not fully cooked. Put in 9" by 12" pyrex casserole dish (or your favorite Le Creuset roaster). Pour wine over vegetables.

Rub chicken with remaining 1 Tbsp. oil, throw 1 tsp. or so salt and the lemon and herbs into the cavity and place the chicken on its side on top of the vegetables. If using bacon, drape strips crosswise over the chicken. Place in oven and roast for 25 minutes. Remove from oven, turn chicken on its other side (relaying bacon, if using it, on top) and roast for another 25 minutes. Remove from oven, turn chicken so it is breast-side up (again draping bacon), baste with pan juices and sprinkle with salt. Roast another 15 minutes, remove and baste, then roast a final 20 minutes or, for our tastes, until an instant-read thermometer reads 160 degrees on the inside of the lower thigh. Remove from oven, allow to rest for 10 minutes. We cut it into pieces, but the breasts we remove whole and slice crosswise.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Farm Bulletin: A Tempting Offer

The latest missive from Anthony and Carol contained some disturbing news of their imminent departure:

This will be our final market. A couple weeks ago we received an urgent communication from Mr. Nbokoa Kanabumba asking our help in extracting $100,000,000 from a special account in Lagos, Nigeria. Many of these inquiries are false, but this one was different, he only needed a modest sum from us to assist in the transfer. Cash, no shady intermediaries, and we would receive millions tax free. After several communications, we are sure he is a genuine person, the real McCoy, or at least the real Kanabumba. A quick trip to Lagos, and we can live out our dreams.

After a couple celebratory drinks, we started exploring what we would do with the money. Maybe a small farm in the Willamette Valley, close to people we love, with good soils, and an oak savannah at its heart with lots of birds, spiders, frogs, wasps and termites. The farm would have some orchards, canefields and a good plot of vegetables, verdant during even the darkest days of December. Throw in some long-eared and barn owls as well as acorn woodpeckers, who could ask for anything more. We realized this stunning opportunity lying in Lagos would be wasted upon us. We are glad to pass on the particulars to someone dreaming about that terra cotta Tuscan villa.

We have had a good summer, and appreciate the good cheer with which our fruits and vegetables been received. Now we are preparing for our return on the 4th of November, as well as planting some of next summer's crops. Over the next few weeks, the garlic, shallots, favas, barley and durum wheat for frikeh will be planted. At the same time, we will be harvesting the chestnuts, corn, popcorn, squash and dry beans. Preserves have to be made, and the canefields and orchards must be "put to bed." Lots of work.

* * *

The great French biologist, Lamarck, offered up his own explanation of evolution. He theorized that traits are acquired and developed in response to environment. The classic example is the giraffe, whose long neck, Lamarck speculated, became extended over several generations as the animal stretched to reach treetops. In his lost journals upon which his theories were based, he apparently explored the unique small gland behind the central cortex of every French man and woman. The size and shape of a large cherry, this yellow organ is blushed carmine and accounts for the misty eyed reaction from French expatriates upon spying the mirabelle. Proust can keep his cookies; it is the simple mirabelle with her rustic blush that stirs the Gallic heart.

You can subscribe to Anthony's weekly notices by sending a request via e-mail. Or find him and Carol almost every Sunday at the Hillsdale Farmers Market between 10 am and 2 pm.

Saturday, September 15, 2007

¿Por Que No? Makes Gourmet

My favorite spot in the 'hood for carnitas and hibiscus flower tea, ¿Por Que No?, is featured this month in none other than the hoity-toity food magazine, Gourmet. In the cover story on critics' picks of the top Latino restaurants in 14 cities, three Portland spots made the list. Local writer Janie Hibler raved:

"Por Que No Taqueria. This tiny taqueria is located in a converted garage outfitted with a lone counter lined with jars of aqua [sic] fresca and several small tables. While traditional items like tacos, enchiladas, carnitas, and tamales are solid, the best picks are the ones made with local ingredients, such as the Carlton pork carnitas and the line-caught fish tacos served with crèma, cabbage, mango, and cilantro."

Other than the incorrect spelling of "aqua fresca" when they mean "agua fresca," we can't argue with a word. The other places chosen as the city's best? The ones you'd expect, namely Andina and Nuestra Cocina (incorrectly spelled in the magazine as "Nuestra Cucina" - what is up with their copyeditors?). So, once again, the national press is catching on to what we already told you...namely, get in there!

Details: ¿Por Que No?, 3524 N. Mississippi. Phone 503-467-4149.

Getting Poached

There are some foods I can't resist when they're on a menu. Creme brulée. Wild mushroom anything. And poached eggs. Even when they're included in a dish that I'm not all that crazy about, like hash (don't really enjoy bell peppers unless they're roasted) or eggs Benedict (English muffin and Canadian bacon? Eh...). But they feature those eggs, and something about them causes me to lose all sense of perspective.

Maybe it's the same as the appeal of the brulée, like that great scene in Amélie where there's a tight close-up of a spoon cracking the caramelized sugar crust and the soft custard is revealed underneath, like opening a present and finding something delightful inside. Though the oozing of the orangey-yellow yolk over the firmer texture of the white is part of it, too. Not to mention the flavor of a fresh egg, hopefully organic, from the farmers' market, an added treat.

Growing up we had an egg poacher with four little cups that were set over a pot of boiling water. We never used it much, and it seemed I couldn't get the timing right, meaning the yolks were invariably solid and the whites rubbery. So I resigned myself to only having them at restaurants, though friends would say, "Oh, they're so easy to make at home." Then I'd try again, and the white would disperse into a foamy mess and the yolk would either break or bob in the water like a lost child.

Then I learned the secret. I'm not sure of the source (an article? podcast? TV?), but somewhere I heard that if you add a teaspoon of vinegar to the water in the pan, it helps the whites congeal and the egg stays together. What took me so long to find this out? How could I have missed something so basic for so long? But with that simple suggestion I was finally able to make my favorite breakfast of toast and a poached egg whenever I wanted. What a gift!

Thursday, September 13, 2007

Get Wedge-ucated!

As mentioned in a previous post, cheese luminaries Jeffrey Roberts and Laura Werlin will each be leading seminars during The Wedge, the first annual celebration of cheese at the Portland Farmers Market on Sat., Oct. 6.

In the morning, Jeffrey Roberts, author of The Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, will present a seminar on the renaissance of artisanal cheese in the United States with a specific focus on the Northwest, which will include a tasting of several Northwest cheeses. Jeffrey is a co-founder and principal consultant to the Vermont Institute for Artisan Cheese at the University of Vermont, and is director and treasurer of the national board and a Northeast Regional Governor of Slow Food USA.

Laura Werlin, author of The New American Cheese and the soon-to-be-released Cheese Essentials, will host a 90-minute guided tasting in the afternoon on the eight styles of cheese produced here in the Northwest, which will be paired with local wines. Her website describes her as "an ambassador for American cheese [who] hopes that by spreading the word about the cheeses made in this country, cheese lovers will develop a deeper appreciation for these cheeses as well as for the cheesemakers who work so hard to make them."

If you love artisan cheese and want to talk to two of the major movers in the country, make time for these two seminars. You'll come away with a new appreciation not just for artisan cheese, but for how the movement toward local and sustainable consumption is changing the way people live around the world.

Details: Jeffrey Roberts seminar; 10-11:30 am; $10, reservations only. Laura Werlin seminar; 1-2:30 pm; $20, reservations only. Tickets available online.

More Tomatoes? Roast 'em!

When I was growing up, my baby brother was cute but just that...a baby. He was fun to dress up in costumes occasionally (there is photographic evidence, all you Eat. Drink. Think. fans) but generally didn't make it on my radar most of the time growing up. I remember thinking when I went off to college and he was still in junior high, that it would be interesting to see how this virtual stranger would turn out once he grew up.

Who knew that he would eventually be the proprietor of two universally adored Portland landmark establishments (now universally missed), Shaker's Cafe in the nascent Pearl district and County Cork Public House on Hawthorne? Or become a wine savant with his own shop, Vino, in Sellwood? Or, even more astonishing, go from eating only burgers and spaghetti to becoming an adventurous consumer and cook of everything from fish to fine soups to desserts.

Oh, and a generous and ebullient lover of life and all-around great guy, no less. So where is all this pride and joy leading? To his recipe for tomato sauce, of course. This summer he's been running almost as many tomato recipes in his blog as I have, and this one's a killer. So simple, so easy! And now that the temperature in the house is cooling down, it's the perfect way to use up the last of the garden's bounty.

Summer Fresh Tomato Sauce

1 dozen (or more, or less) fresh tomatoes
Kosher salt
Extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 250 degrees. Destem tomatoes. Slice tomatoes in half and arrange cut side up on rimmed baking sheet. Sprinkle with salt. Drizzle with olive oil. Slide baking sheet in middle of oven and roast for 3 1/2 hours. Remove baking sheet from oven and carefully slide a spatula underneath each tomato and drop into work bowl of food processor. It may take a couple of batches. Pulse tomatoes until chopped to your desired consistency. Eat fresh, or remember that winter will soon be here and freeze a few containers.

*Cook's note: I read a lot of recipes that called for adding herbs sprinkled on top while they roast. I think this takes away from the essential freshness of this sauce. Save the herbs to add when you heat up the sauce later.

**Second note: If you want a smoother sauce, remove the skins and seeds by putting four to six of the roasted halves in a sieve and pressing them through the mesh with the back of a wooden spoon. Discard skins and seeds before putting more tomatoes through sieve.

Tuesday, September 11, 2007

A Rose is a Rose

Say you've just gone to one of Portland's palaces of Middle Eastern cuisine like Ya Hala or Hoda's, and you say to yourself, "I wish I could make this at home, but I don't have sumac or barberries or that special rice." And while Ya Hala has a pretty darn good grocery next door, if you want the real deal you'll need to drive out to deep Beaverton and go to Rose International Gourmet Foods.

Make no mistake, and believe me when I tell you, this place is incredible. Tucked into a little strip mall on Murray Blvd., owner Mohammad Shakeri has taken this tiny store and jammed it wall to wall and floor to ceiling with anything and everything you could possibly need to feel like you're back in Riyadh. If he had three times the space, it would still be crowded.

Zahtar? All over it. Olives? Which ones, the purple or black? Barberries to give that red jewel-like sparkle to your saffron rice? Over in the cooler. They carry fresh placemat-size flat breads and lavash, as well as a challah-like egg bread that looks like it would make dreamy French toast. There are nuts both spiced and plain, candies and halvah, canned goods and syrups, and I'm not even going to mention the CDs and DVDs that are piled behind the cash register.

This is one of those truly great local gems and is worth a trip out there if you have foodie friends in town and want to show them some local color. You'll come away with something, even if it's only their fresh feta (Greek, Iranian or Bulgarian?) or yogurt, and I guarantee you'll be inspired to find some recipes and get cooking.

Details: Rose International Gourmet Foods, 6153 SW Murray Blvd., Beaverton. Phone 503-646-7673.

Monday, September 10, 2007

The Edge of the Wedge

Who doesn't love cheese? Whether it's simple stuff like peeling strips from sticks of string cheese or melting sharp cheddar over a tuna sandwich, it's really hard to beat. Around here we love homemade mac'n'cheese or a good grilled cheese sandwich when we're suffering that occasional cheese jones.

Whether you'd categorize yourself as a curd nerd or just a dilettante, there's a festival coming up in early October that should make you run to your calendar with Sharpie in hand. It's called The Wedge and it's going to feature cheese-makers and cheeses from around the Northwest. It starts on Friday with a self-guided "Taste Around" and meet-and-greets with "cheese superstars" at several Portland cheese venues. Then on Saturday the focus moves to the Portland Farmers Market downtown with free talks, demos and workshops with cheese luminaries like Jeffrey Roberts, author of the recently published Atlas of American Artisan Cheese, and Laura Werlin, author of Cheese Essentials.

Other opportunities to mingle and nosh are developing around the festival. Luan Schooler, cheese maven of Foster & Dobbs, is featuring two classes, one with Jeff Roberts on Oct. 4 and another with Laura Werlin on Oct. 7. I'll keep you updated on the latest and greatest, so check the calendar for events and times. More information is available at the Pacific NW Cheese Project and Cheese Chick.

Details: The Wedge: Portland Celebrates Cheese. Various venues around Portland and at the Portland Farmers Market, Sat., 10/6.

Farm Bulletin: Bits and Bites

Our correspondent from out near Gaston, Anthony Boutard, sends an update on the end-of-summer doings at Ayers Creek. Look for his and Carol's terrific produce at the Hillsdale Farmers Market every Sunday from 10 am to 2 pm.

• The termite princes and princesses were out for their nuptial flight last week, a sign that autumn is creeping nearer. Our resident bat was giddily pursuing the rich, nutritious bounty, much like we do when the shad or alewife run. Once the union is consummated, the gravid queens drop to the ground, shed their wings and seek a location to establish their colonies, generally some decaying log. On the ground, they have to avoid a gauntlet of mice and shrews. These flights occur even in the city, and seem to coincide with the last full moon of the summer.

• Fecund grapes are always tastier than the celibate kinds. Squire Phunt of Branchport, our grape expert who provides us good information by way of his lover and soon-to-be wife, offers the following explanation. The maturation of the seed during berry ripening initiates the development of certain aromatics in the berry. In a celibate grape, the seed never matures and thus never gets to initiate the development of those lovely aromatics, and a chunk of complexity is lost. Makes sense to us. Thanks, Phunt.

• We don't use any tunnels or greenhouses, as everything is field grown. Makes us tardy relative to other farms, but we get there eventually. Finally, we get to enjoy our first glass of Moroccan Tomato Soup. We highly recommend this soup, which is closer to a fragrant salad:

Ayers Creek Moroccan Tomato Soup

Take 3 to 5 pounds of tomatoes and run through a food mill. We use a mix of paste and slicers. Shoot for about six to eight cups of milled tomato. The original recipe suggested peeling and seeding them first, but this is only necessary if you use a food processor. Put a quarter cup or so of olive oil in a pan and heat very gently. Add three or four cloves of garlic put through a press and cook until transparent. Add 1/2 tsp. of ground cumin and 2 tsp. of ground coriander and cook until they foam slightly. If the spices or garlic burn, which happens in a thrice, discard and repeat. Add 2 Tbsp. of paprika. Heat very gently for a few more moments and then pour the mix over the tomatoes. Squeeze in a lemon, stir, add salt to taste. Serve in a bowl or glass with some minced celery on top.

Bend Vacation: Fire on the Mountain

When I asked my friend Laurie if she'd like to write about her upcoming family vacation to Bend, we had no idea she'd find herself in the middle of a major news story.

Each Labor Day, my family makes the trek from Los Angeles to Central Oregon for our annual vacation. We always stay at the House on Metolius, a small resort set on 200 acres of private land, a couple of miles from Camp Sherman. A river runs through it (the Metolius) and there are a handful of cabins ranging from Big N’ Fancy to Small N’ Modest. A quick stroll out the front door of the cabins leads to a gently sloping, grassy hillside that overlooks "the meadow."

For us, the meadow is the main draw, and what keeps us coming back every year. In years past, it’s where we idle away the hours reading, strolling and picnicking while soaking up the view of snow-capped Mt. Jefferson. This summer, however, the usually tranquil scene became a place to keep tabs on the "GW" forest fire raging near Black Butte – a mere 8 miles away. (Note the clouds of smoke behind the cabin.) Needless to say, this added an element of danger to the annual family vacation, an already combustible affair its own right.

Labor Day meadow "fire watch" activities kicked off of on Friday with some sort of water transportation effort taking place that involved a helicopter. It was cool to watch it swoop down, hover, then take off to fulfill its firefighting duties. Saturday afternoon we really started to experience the effects of the fire. Above the meadow, smoky skies swirled, creating an eerie, orangey light. The threat of evacuation loomed large. The people at Black Butte were officially "on alert," meaning, have your bags packed. Camp Sherman folks weren't officially on alert, but I sensed it probably wasn’t a good time to misplace the car keys.

So, instead of letting a little thing like a major wildfire cramp our style, my sister, brother-in-law and I embraced our unusual situation. This meant cracking open a bottle of sparkling Shiraz (to chill or not to chill, that is the question), scampering around the weirdly smoky meadow, and taking "art photos." Our vacation version of "Damn the torpedoes, full speed ahead!"

As it turns out, we stayed through Sunday as originally planned. By Monday morning, Camp Sherman and its environs were pretty darn smoked-out, and we were glad to get going. And although our not-so-distant brush with fire had been a bit unsettling, I felt another disaster had been averted: cramming my parents, plus my sister and brother-in-law into my tiny Portland bungalow for two extra nights. Yikes!

Details: House on Metolius, Camp Sherman, OR. Phone 541-595-6620.

Friday, September 07, 2007

Reduce, Reuse, Upcycle!

Pal Kathryn asked if I'd read the article in yesterday's New York Times about Ikea hackers, people who take Ikea products and change them somehow, like the guy who used two red salad bowls to make a speaker array (left), or the woman who took two green crates and made a combination litter box/end table for her cats. There's even a blog, created by a young woman in Malaysia, that documents this apparently global phenomenon.

This kind of creative use of everyday objects is described by Robert Kalin of as "a very urban phenomenon: we have the resources we need and we have become expert at repurposing them, like taking these broken Ikea chairs and making them into a table." This process has been described as "upcycling," a word the article says was coined by William McDonough and Michael Braungart in the book, "Cradle to Cradle: Remaking the Way We Make Things."

All I can say is, the Northwest has been on that train for some time now. From places like ReFind Furniture (upper right), part of Portland's ReBuilding Center, to Resource Revival (left), started in 1994 by a young Oregonian named Graham Bergh who got a flat tire on his bike and looked for a way to put it to use, this region has been at the forefront of making do with less for a long time now.

And Metro, our regional government that protects parks and open spaces, handles land use and transportation, as well as managing garbage disposal and recycling in two states, three counties and 14 cities, has a list of business that produce and feature "upcycled" products. It's very worth your while to check out, and you'll be impressed at the breadth of products your neighbors are producing from your trash!

Tuesday, September 04, 2007

All Greek, All the Time

Ya gotta love Aristophanes. Without him, we'd never have had the chance to laugh at the likes of the Marx brothers, Richard Pryor, Strong Bad or the Honeymooners. Known as "The Father of Comedy," he wrote classic Greek comedies because, well, he was Greek and lived from around 456 BC to 386 BC. And apparently saw a lot of comedy in the people and politics around him, because he wrote lots of plays about them. Funny ones.

A play of his, Peace, written when he was in his late twenties, is being performed by the Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon. The reason you should care is because, first of all, it's happening at the Cerf Outdoor Theatre on the Reed College campus. And who doesn't love good outdoor theater? Second, this adaptation was written and is being directed by Keith Scales, who is, by all accounts, insanely talented. Plus they've got some first-rate local actors lined up for the cast. Third, it's pretty cheap at $20 general admission, less for seniors and students.

And what's it about? The original play dealt with a farmer who got sick and tired of the government and the endless wars they waged (hmmmm....) and decided to fly a dung-beetle to Zeus's place to give him a piece of his mind. In this new version, the farmer is named Trickyass instead of Trygaeus and the part of the dung-beetle is portrayed by a VW bug. The press release says that "the show this year will be a Brechtian, Felliniesque circus, highly physical, very colorful and pretty silly, with lots of music and song."

I've been to a couple of these productions in years past and they're really good...very simple and low-tech but engaging. Did I mention it's outside? Outside is fun.

Details: Classic Greek Theatre of Oregon presents Aristophanes' Peace. Sept. 8-30; tickets $20 general, $15 senior, $10 students, available online. Cerf Outdoor Theatre on the Reed College campus, 3203 SE Woodstock. Phone 503-258-9313.