Friday, November 30, 2007

Persimmon Diaries

Sometimes a friend will point out something they think is obvious and it comes as a complete revelation, bordering on an epiphany, to me. I was over at my friend Kim's the other day, sitting on the floor playing with her puppies and she said, "Want some persimmon?"

Now, I really love the way persimmons look. That bright orange globular body with the cool-looking leaves curling out the top are an art director's dream. But try as I might, I hadn't really found a recipe that made me sit up and say, "Wow, this is an amazing fruit!" And I'd tried a few, including a persimmon bread, persimmon chutney, persimmon sauce. It all lacked a certain oomph that I look for.

So when Kim handed me a slice of a Fuyu persimmon she'd bought at Trader Joe's, I wasn't sure what to expect. I bit into it, and it had a softly sweet taste and firm, smooth texture. I had another one, skin and all, and it was a delight. "So this is what persimmons are all about," I thought.

I was still pondering that when I got home and found that Culinate.com had called, wanting me to write a quick column about, you guessed it, persimmons! You can read it here, and get Luan Schooler's terrific recipe for Bresaola with Persimmons.

Thursday, November 29, 2007

Pholia Farm Open House

Sometimes at this time of year I start feeling so cooped up that all it takes is an excuse, and we'll pile in the car and head out. So if you're susceptible to suggestion, the folks at Pholia Farm, artisan goat cheesemakers extraordinaire, are having a Holiday Open House the weekend of December 15 and 16.

They'll be featuring their goat cheeses paired with local wines, along with hay rides, the cutest baby goats you've ever seen, a tour of their solar and micro-hydro power plant and, of course, cheeses to bring home for your holiday entertaining. It's an opportunity to try cheeses that aren't readily available in most stores, and the town of Rogue River is just off I-5 between Grants Pass and Medford, close to Ashland and Jacksonville, both worth visiting.

Details: Pholia Farm Holiday Open House. Dec. 15-16, 11 am-3 pm; free. Pholia Farm, 9115 W. Evan Creek Rd., Rogue River. Phone 541-324-8993.

Photos courtesy Pholia Farm and Pacific NW Cheese Project.

Eye-yi-yi!

It started when I flushed my contact lenses down the sink, but didn't realize it till the next morning when I went to put them in. Call it a brain fart, hormones or whatever, but this was a major problem. Not only was it going to be a couple of hundred bucks to replace them, but I didn't have a backup pair of glasses that would enable me to see until the new pair came in.

So I dug around in the bathroom drawer and found an old pair of contacts and popped them in so I could drive to the doctor. By the next day I got replacement lenses and had my eyes rechecked so I could get (duh!) backup glasses. But in doing so, the doctor discovered that my eye pressure had jumped up into the zone where glaucoma could be a concern.

Now, Dave has had glaucoma for some time and it's been kept under control with a simple regimen of eye drops, so I didn't immediately go to my worst-case-scenario default and sign up for a Braille class and buy a cane in order to prepare for the inevitable. But because my dad also had it in his later years, it was a concern that needed to be checked out.

Dave's doctor, one of the top glaucoma specialists in the state, tested me said there was nothing to worry about for the time being, but that he's putting me on his "watch list" and I'd need to be checked every year. This is all to say that if you haven't had your eye pressure checked for awhile, please do so, especially if there's any history of the disease in your family. Your optometrist or opthamologist can check your pressure pretty accurately, but if you have a concern, you should call a specialist. Selfishly speaking, I'd just hate to lose any of my readers!

Wednesday, November 28, 2007

Dinner from the Goddess

Goodness knows I have my favorite recipes. But then I'll be browsing through a magazine at the dentist's office and see a new way of preparing Peruvian goat cabbage that catches my attention, and I'll surreptitiously tear out the page, trying not to attract the attention of my fellow denizens of the purgatory that is the waiting room.

Browning the onions

That was the case when I was clicking around on Culinate.com and ran across a recipe for an onion pie from Nigella Lawson's book "How to Be a Domestic Goddess." I have to backtrack and say that I've been looking for a reasonable facsimile of an Alsatian onion tart that we had many years ago in France. This search has dragged on for some time and I have yet to find one that faithfully reproduces that region's melding of French and German traditions, with just the right amount of richness in the onions and butteriness in the crust.

Popping it in the oven

This one looked simple enough and had definite possibilites, so I came home, counted my onions and forged ahead. Browning the onions took the longest, though it was fascinating to watch them go from stiff and white to translucent and burnished a dark gold. Then it was just a matter of mixing up the simple dough, patting it out and sticking it in the oven. And it even turned out of the pie plate perfectly.

After baking, crust on top

The crust, now on the bottom, was foccacia-like rather than French, but it was light and supported the onions nicely. If anything, I'd add another onion, but all in all this made a nice main course with a salad, or would be a very nice featured appetizer for a more formal dinner.

Supper Onion Pie
Adapted by Matthew Amster-Burton from Nigella Lawson's "How to Be a Domestic Goddess"

Filling
1 1/2 lb. yellow onions [about 3, but I'd use four - KB], halved and sliced 1/2-inch thick
1 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter
2 tsp. minced fresh thyme or 1/2 tsp. dried thyme
Salt and pepper, to taste
5 oz. sharp cheddar [I used one cup - KB], shredded

Dough
9 oz. (1 2/3 cups) flour
1 tsp. baking powder
1 tsp. salt
Scant 1/2 cup milk
3 Tbsp. butter, melted
1 tsp. dry mustard
1 large egg, beaten

Preheat oven to 400 degrees. Butter a 9-inch pie pan. Heat the oil and butter in a skillet over medium heat and add the onions. Cook, stirring occasionally, until golden brown and softened, about 35 minutes. Stir in the thyme and salt and pepper to taste. Transfer to the pie pan and scatter the cheese on top. Set aside while you make the dough.

Combine the flour, baking powder, salt and remaining cheese in a mixing bowl. Combine the milk, butter, mustard and egg in a measuring cup. Pour the wet ingredients into the dry ingredients and stir until they come together into a dry, shaggy dough. Let the dough rest for a couple of minutes to hydrate, then turn it out onto a work surface. Knead a few turns and press the dough into a circle roughly the size of the pie pan.

Place the circle of dough over the cheese and onions and press the edges against the pan to seal. Bake 15 minutes, then turn the oven down to 350 degrees and continue baking about 10 minutes or until bubbly and golden brown. Let stand for five minutes, then cut around the edge and invert onto a serving plate.

Monday, November 26, 2007

The Cheesiest Christmas Ever!

No, I'm not talking about John Waters' Christmas album, though the warning on the package about the explicit lyrics contained within is rather intriguing. What I have in mind is something much more local. And, as my pal Kristin says about her idea of the perfect gift, the best part is you don't have to dust or store any of them.

The first is the 2008 Pacific NW Artisan Cheese calendar, a collection of photos and information from the Pacific NW Cheese Project blog. As it says in the post, "highlights include shots of a Juniper Grove Farm Pyramid, Rivers Edge Chevre Illahee, Pholia Farm Elk Mountain, Mt. Townsend Creamery Seastack" and more. So if you're tired of finding yet another calendar for the relatives full of beauty shots of the Oregon coast or, heaven forbid, kittens rolling in balls of yarn, this might just fit the bill. And for $17.95, that bill isn't much.

The second is the Cheese O' The Month Club from Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods. Each month you can give (or, better yet, get) three cheeses, including one American farmstead cheese, one European variety and a third selected to go with the other two. Plus they'll include information on the cheeses and suggestions for their use. There are three and six-month subscriptions available at $90 and $180, respectively, and shipping can be arranged for an additional charge.

And, of course, nothing goes better with cheese (or anything, really) than wine. And Vino, my brother's wine shop in Sellwood, has gift certificates to put under the tree or, if you'd like to send a bottle of Oregon pinot to Dad, he can ship your selection and save Dad the trouble of choosing for himself.

So if the idea of the self-liquidating gift is ringing your Christmas chimes like it does mine, you could do worse than to give the gift of tastiness!

Details: 2008 Pacific NW Cheese Calendar available online.

Cheese O' The Month Club from Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave. Phone 503-284-1157.

Vino Gift Certificates from Vino, 1226 SE Lexington in Sellwood. Phone 503-235-8545.

Saturday, November 24, 2007

Hillsdale Market Alert: Deborah Madison on Dec. 2

Mr. A. Boutard, the Bard of Ayers Creek and my informant on the goings-on at the year-round market in Hillsdale, just sent the following bulletin, so mark your calendars!

Shoehorn Molloy has arranged for a Hillsdale Farmers' Market book signing with Deborah Madison on the 2nd of December, in cooperation with Annie Bloom's Books. Deborah will likely be there during the first hour or so of the market. They will have a good supply of the new edition of Vegetarian Cooking for Everyone, as well as her summer soup cookbook, which I like a lot. People can also bring their dog-eared editions. There will no doubt be an update on the Hillsdale blog. Deborah is a lovely person, and has been known to polish off a jar or two of [Ayers Creek] blackcap preserves.


And if you'd like to have dinner with Deborah, all you have to do is sign up as a new registered Culinate user before noon on Fri., Nov. 3o, and you could win a pair of tickets to "Local Flavors: A benefit for gardens and nutrition education in the Portland Public Schools." The dinner will take place on Saturday evening, Dec. 1, at 6:30 pm at the University of Portland Terrace Room. Eat for a good cause? Sounds great to me!

A Bad Case

There are some things I have to avoid completely. Otherwise, I get sucked into the vortex and end up having to claw my way out every time. Certain food groups fit in this category (see oysters, below). Certain people, too. And there was that time I had my first vodka martini. But that was long ago and the lesson was learned.

But the one thing that gets me every time (and I haven't figured out how to avoid it) is puppies. And you have to say it like the Wicked Witch of the West. "Puuuuuuuuuuuuppies." Dangerously cute. Frighteningly cuddly. So infectious that I have only to see them at a distance to catch the disease known as puppy-itis.

This time it's little guy named Walker, a Cardigan Corgi about four months old. He has huge front paws, big wobbly ears and meltingly big brown eyes. "And he's house-trained, and Rosey likes him," I say to Dave, who just shakes his head, knowing I'm deeply in thrall with another canine infection.

The good news is that I've progressed enough at this point in my life to know that it's just going to take a few days (and nights) of togetherness for the magic to wear off and reality to set in. So before I jump into the vortex this time, he's going to be coming for a few days over Christmas to see how he does with Rosey and Chester, not to mention our shoes, since he's going to be at that chewing stage. I'm hoping that'll be the cure and the fever will pass.

But then again, if the honeymoon isn't over when it's time for him to go back? Well, I'll just have to keep you posted.

Thursday, November 22, 2007

Being Thankful

I'm taking a moment between making pies, setting the table and enjoying the gorgeous sunlight streaming in the kitchen windows to remember how thankful I am. For my health and the well-being of my family, for loving friends, for living in such a wonderful part of this country. I'm thankful for the bounty that we are afforded that, to some extent due to our own excesses, so many do not share in.

Today is a day of gathering, of storytelling and of celebrating the harvest. It's a time to reflect, to enjoy and to share. I hope that you know how thankful I am for the opportunity to write this blog and for those of you who read it. I hope your day is full!

Monday, November 19, 2007

Vinter Vonderland

No doubt you're laying in your supply of beverages for the holiday and getting your sister her Chardonnay and Dad his zinfandel and maybe Uncle Donny his Jack Daniels. (Or does he carry that in a hip flask and it took you several years to figure out why, when he excused himself to go to the "little boys' room," he always came back looking much more relaxed?) But don't forget those folks that might prefer a locally brewed malt beverage to a fine wine.

And if you'd rather shoot yourself than have a can o' Coors on your Thanksgiving table, look no further than Laurelwood's new bottling of their Vinter Varmer for the solution. A medium-dark Oregon microbrew, this has lots of body and flavor with a well-balanced profile that doesn't overwhelm you with too many hops or malt. Plus it'd be perfect with the turkey, gravy and yams you're serving for dinner.

Pour it into a nice pint glass and it'll even fit right in with your table setting. Just ask Uncle Donny to keep the flask off the table.

Details: Laurelwood Public House and Brewery Vinter Varmer Seasonal Ale. Available in 22 fl. oz. bottles at selected outlets around Portland, including New Seasons, Wild Oats, Market of Choice, QFC and, of course, at the Laurelwood Public House on 51st and Sandy.

Sunday, November 18, 2007

The Best He's Ever Had

You can't ask for a better compliment when friends come over for dinner. Not once, not twice but three times during the evening our friend, who was here with his lovely wife, said that my pot roast was the best he's ever had.

Now, you could say that he was just being polite. Or that we had plied them with enough of Dave's most excellent cocktails and some mighty fine wine (a '99 Mas de Chimeres from the Languedoc region of France) that it was the alcohol doing the talking. But, since he wasn't weaving around the room and his diction was (as usual) flawless, I chose to believe that his compliment was sincere and that his request for the recipe was genuine.

So, without further ado, except to note that the polenta made from Roy's Calais Flint corn grits was freaking awesome, here's the recipe:

GoodStuffNW Pot Roast Bourguignon

This is extremely easy to make, but you'll need to get it in the oven four hours before dinner or make it the day before. Cutting back on the time in the oven makes for a less than stellar texture. 'Nuff said.
4 slices bacon, cut in 1/4" pieces
1 3-5 lb. piece of fine-grain roast like sirloin tip or similar cut, not chuck
Salt and pepper
1 large onion, chopped fine
4 cloves garlic, chopped fine
2 ribs celery, chopped fine
4 carrots, sliced in rounds
1 lb. mushrooms, sliced
1 Tbsp. basil
1 tsp. thyme
2 sprigs rosemary
1 6-oz. can tomato paste
2 c. beef stock
2 c. red wine

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.

Put bacon in a large braising pot that can go in the oven and fry till fat is rendered. Remove bacon, then add meat to pot and brown on all sides, sprinkling generously with salt and pepper. Remove to platter. Add onions and garlic and saute 2-3 min., then add carrots and celery and saute 2-3 min. Add sliced mushrooms and saute till soft. Stir in tomato paste and herbs, then add stock and wine. Bring to a boil, then take off heat and place meat and bacon in pot. Cover and place pot in oven, baking for 2 hrs. Remove meat from pot and slice in 1/4" slices, then return the sliced meat to the pot, covering with sauce and vegetables. Cover and bake for another 1 1/2 hrs.

Saturday, November 17, 2007

Farm Bulletin: More on Corn

Since corn seems to be a hot topic these days at GoodStuffNW, I'm passing along our friend Anthony's most recent musings on the subject, along with a couple of the Boutard's favorite recipes. As always, you can find these fine folks at the Ayers Creek Farm stand at the Hillsdale Farmers Market every first and third Sunday of the month from 10 am till 2 pm.

Here is what we should have Sunday:

Dry Corn: Roy's Calais Flint & Nothstine Dent - Fine meal, grits & polenta meal. Polenta meal is sifted only once to pull off the coarsest fraction, the samp, and is roughly 50% meal and 50% grits. Shelled and stone ground on the Wednesday before market, assuring the freshest meal.

The dent corns are easily distinguished from the flints by the prominent dent at the top of the kernel. In these kernels, the skin (aleurone layer) is thinner at the top, appearing lighter in color, and the stuff inside (endosperm) is starchier. As the endosperm dries and shrinks, the dent is formed. Nothstine dent produces a beautiful yellow meal which is distinctly stickier than the flint, and "cornly" sweet. This type is from the area around Nothstine, Michigan, and is a traditional variety from the area. The history is sketchy, but it is probably a landrace [old seed strains that have been domesticated and modified by native farmers - KAB] for that part of Michigan. Ripening around 90 degree days, it is one of the shorter season dents, which typically need 100 to 140 days for ripening.

The dent corns are the genetic pool from which the high yielding modern varieties were developed. Nothstine, however, shows its ancient heritage with smaller ears, eight inches long with a mere 12 to 14 rows, lousy yield on par with the flints and a propensity to form fingered ears. On fingered ears, the main cob has three or four smaller branches at its base. According to Zenón, in Oaxaca these are called "Queen Ears," and considered a sign of a field with good fortune. Both Roy's Calais and Nothstine will produce kernels on their tassels as well, and sometimes the ears will develop a tassel above the husk and silk, untamed and unruly varieties that they are.

The meal and polenta may be used in any recipe calling for ground corn.

The Renewing America's Food Traditions (RAFT) project was conceived by Gary Nabhan, University of Arizona, and is now a Slow Food USA project. Both Nothstine Dent and Roy's Calais Flint are traditional varieties identified for preservation by the project. Pennsylvania Dutch Butter (Amish Butter Popcorn) is also on the list.

Regarding popcorn, we had a very good crop of "Amish Butter" this year. However, it needs to cure thoroughly, and will not be available until the New Year. We will have some "Pink Beauty Popcorn" from Glenn and Linda Drowns curing as well. We tested some last weekend and instead of popping, the kernels spin around in the pan like a "whistling jack." Funny, but not much of a snack.

Cornmeal Cookies

There is a Slow Food Presidium (Mondoví) devoted to polenta (corn meal) cookies. Cornmeal cookies deserve a whole lot more respect...instead it's chips, chips, chips. Here is another reprise of "Holly's Cornmeal Cookies" posted many years ago on AllRecipes and repeated with earnest regularity in this newsletter. Perfect cookies for maizophyllic sorts. The lime is a nice addition, though Italians use lemon. The glaze is a dainty gesture but not really necessary. Caroline used to bake these cookies and serve them, unglazed, with frozen raspberry cream. Dabbing a bit of raspberry preserve on the cookies works in a pinch.

1/2 cup butter
2/3 cup white sugar
1 egg
1 teaspoon lime juice
1/2 cup cornmeal
1 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon salt
1 cup all-purpose flour
1/4 cup white sugar
2 teaspoons grated lime zest
1/3 cup confectioner's sugar for decoration
2 Tablespoons lime juice

Preheat oven to 375 degrees. Lightly grease baking sheets.

Beat the butter and 2/3 c. sugar together until creamy. Mix in the egg and lime juice (to taste) and 1 tsp. lime zest. Blend.

In a separate bowl, combine the cornmeal, baking powder, salt and flour. Add the flour mixture to the butter mixture and mix well. Drop teaspoonfuls of the dough onto the prepared baking sheets. Press gently to flatten slightly. Bake for 10 to 12 min. or until the cookie bottoms and edges are lightly browned.

To make icing: Combine the lime zest, confectioner's sugar and enough lime juice to make a spreadable glaze. Spread over the top of cooled cookies.

* * *

Joy of Cooking Corn Meal Pancakes

Our friend, Katherine Deumling, recommends the Joy of Cooking cornmeal pancake recipe. A simple and tasty recipe. Ellis will love his Sundays with corn meal pancakes.

Put 1 cup corn meal in a bowl. Add 1 tsp. salt and 1-2 Tbsp. sugar. Stir in slowly 1 cup boiling water. Cover these ingredients and permit them to stand for 10 minutes. Beat 1 egg with 1/2 c. milk and 2 Tbsp. melted butter. Add these ingredients to the corn meal. Sift together 1/2 c. all-purpose flour and 2 tsp. baking powder. Add to corn meal mixture with a few swift strokes. Fry until golden in a cast iron pan.

A Date with the Best Oysters in Portland

"A raw oyster was not designed for our pleasure. Appreciating it is more like catching a glimpse of a fox in the woods: The experience lasts only a moment but leaves us in a fleeting state of grace. Oysters are not easy or obvious, but few foods so exquisitely balance sweet, salty, savory, and mineral. Few foods so reward our efforts."
From 'A Geography of Oysters' by Rowan Jacobsen

We don't do date nights very often. We tend to go out with friends, or stop at the pub on the weekend for a beer. And I know, you parents of little kids are saying, "Oh, my God, you are so lucky!" And so we are. Our "kid" is 23 and all grown up, and waves us out the door when we leave. He can even feed the pets if need be.

So when we heard a story about slurping raw oysters on NPR last week, we were compelled to make a date to eat some of those briny delicacies. Having slurped our way through various oyster spots around town, our favorite (and the best deal we've found) is in the little pocket bar at Dan and Louis Oyster Bar down by the river. For just under $19 you can get a dozen of the freshest, liveliest little bivalves imaginable. Then, when we got there, we found that we'd just missed their happy hour, where from Monday through Friday from 4 to 6 pm you can get a dozen of three kinds of selected oysters for only $9.95. $9.95 for some of the best oysters in the country? Now that's what a happy hour should be about!

But, since we'd missed that crazy deal by an hour or so, our first dozen was the sampler, a selection of the day's offerings. Clockwise from top left are three each of Gigamoto, Kumamoto, Quilcene and Netarts. The Gigamotos are the smallest, with shells only about 1 1/2" long, with the tiniest oyster I'd ever seen inside. It takes nearly five years for them to reach even this diminutive size, and they have a delicate and slightly sweet taste with a salty tinge. The Kumamotos are long-time favorites, with their tiny size, meaty texture and salty goodness. The Quilcenes were good, but weren't as flavorful as the Netarts which, despite their larger size (only about an inch-and-a-half long) were light and had a fresh, wonderful ocean-y taste.

And, as any Northwest oyster lover knows, the delicate, fresh-from-the-sea flavor of our oysters don't need to be covered up with no stinkin' cocktail sauce, and even lemon overwhelms their loveliness. So, at least in our case, condiments are to be eschewed at all times.

Our choice for a beverage to accompany raw oysters is, ideally, a dry gin martini with olives. If you must have beer, while we are all about drinking super-hoppy IPAs with a burger and fries, a nice Mirror Pond Pale Ale is a much better choice in this instance. Which, come to think of it, is one reason we didn't go to Dan and Louis for so many years. Believe it or not, they actually didn't serve alcohol until just a few years ago, hard to believe when oysters and a beer are practically a requirement elsewhere.

Oh, in case you're wondering, the second dozen was six each of the Kumamotos and Netarts. We would have gone for a third dozen (these things go downlike popcorn) but somehow we pulled out of the briny vortex and vowed to come back during happy hour. Soon.

One caveat at this place: It is best to avoid anything else on the menu. If you must, you can try the oyster stew or the clam chowder, but to delve any deeper into their offerings is to court disappointment in the form of a truly mediocre meal.

Details: Dan and Louis Oyster Bar, 208 SW Ankeny. Phone 503-227-5906.

Thursday, November 15, 2007

Good Gravy

This morning I had a date with my brother to discuss the onslaught...I mean the joyous celebration...of Thanksgiving. Don't get me wrong. I love holidays that revolve around food. (Come to think of it, which ones don't?) I actually look forward to making a pie, roasting a bird, wrapping presen...wait, that's a different day...drinking way more than usual and then playing board games till we lose the dice and everyone goes home. Good times!

We decided to meet at Genie's Cafe and divvie up the to-do list over breakfast. This place has that greasy-spoon-truckstop ambiance thing going on, but the menu has broader ambitions. They use only cage-free eggs, local farm-raised meats and local produce whenever they can for their breakfast and lunch items, which range from Benedicts and scrambles to meatloaf and salads.

I went with the classic biscuits with sausage gravy, choosing (of course) poached eggs, and found the biscuit light and crispy, not sodden as is so often the case. The gravy had nice chunks of sausage and was flavorful, not floury, and the eggs, bless them, were perfectly cooked. The roasted potatoes were a little dry and uninteresting, but were far from bad.

My brother chose the tasso ham Benedict, the ham sourced from one of the city's best charcuteries, Viande, where they hand-cure the Cajun-style pork. Lightly sauced with a slightly lemony Hollandaise, it was a very decent version.

With a couple of cups of good strong coffee and some horse-trading over who's doing what for the holiday, we considered the outing a success. And while this spot is not going to get on any national watch-list for fashionable cuisine, it seems like a genial spot when you get that road food craving.

Details: Genie's Cafe, 1101 SE Division. Phone 503-445-9777.

Tuesday, November 13, 2007

Soup's On!

All of us who cook have recipes in our heads, the ones we could make in our sleep. They're the well we return to again and again, the flavors that go into making our favorite comfort foods. One of mine is a fruit crisp, based on a recipe from my grandmother's family that I've adapted to my own tastes. Another is a marinara that takes all of 20 minutes to put together but is best after simmering for several hours (and is even better the next day). It's a fantastic base for a meat sauce or layering with cheese and pasta for lasagne, and makes a pot roast that is to die for.

The soffritto...

I learned to make soups in college when I ran a coffeehouse at the U of O where I fell in love with minestrone. So when I'm feeling like a pot of something deeply warm and delicious, I start pulling things out of the cupboards and emptying the vegetable bin. You can use beef stock or chicken, potatoes or pasta, chard or green beans. Or none of those. The basics revolve around onion, carrots, celery and tomatoes; the rest is pretty much up to you. It's nice to have a starch, so turnips, potatoes, pasta or white beans are good. And something green for color is nice, and I'll often throw in kale or peas or even favas when they're in season.

The insaporire.

After all, it's all about the comfort!

My Minestrone

1 onion, chopped fine
2-3 cloves garlic, minced
1 carrot, diced
2 ribs celery, diced
1-2 c. potatoes, diced
1-2 c. diced zucchini or other vegetables
1 28-oz. can whole tomatoes, crushed
6-8 c. stock
2 c. cooked cannelini beans
1-2 c. chopped kale or other greens
1-2 c. chicken, sausage or meat, shredded (optional)
Salt to taste
1/2 c. parmesan, plus more for serving

Saute onions and garlic for 2-3 min. until golden. Add carrots and celery, saute 2-3 min. This is the base that Marcella Hazan refers to as soffritto (the raw, diced vegetables are the battuto). Then the final stage is the insaporire, or sauteing the rest of vegetables in that base. Who knew? In any case, add potatoes and saute for another 2-3 min., then add the chopped zucchini and saute for 2-3 min. Then add the rest of the ingredients except for the cheese (I like to crush the tomatoes by hand) and bring to a boil. Cover, reduce heat and simmer for 2-3 hrs. Just before serving, stir in parmesan.

Monday, November 12, 2007

Overlooked Opportunity

You'd think I'd be used to it by now, but once again I'm left feeling sheepish and entirely remiss in the performance of my duties. The Queen of Cheese and I were casting about for a nice spot to meet for lunch in the neighborhood, and she suggested trying a little place on Broadway she'd read about in the paper called Costello's Travel Caffé.

Now, I've driven past this place several times a week for several years and almost don't see it anymore. I'd assumed it was one of those internet cafés where you grab a cup of mediocre coffee at the bar and then wait to use one of the computers lined up along the wall. And I'm here to tell you I couldn't have been more wrong.

What I found walking in the door was a cozy place not unlike a British pub, with dark wood tables and chairs ranged around a good-size room, local denizens busy over their laptops, chatting and noshing over cups of coffee or lunch. Costello's serves a nice array of pastries, with quiches and other breakfast entrees in the morning, then soups and panini sandwiches starting around noon. Wine and beer, as well as desserts, are available, and later in the evening they add appetizers to the sandwich menu.

Everything is very reasonably priced and the quality is quite good. I just can't believe it took me this long to find the place!

Details: Costello's Travel Caffe, 2222 NE Broadway. Phone 503-287-0270.

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Kernels of Truth

I have friends who only read books about current politics, the war in Iraq, environmental crises and generally how messed up everything is. Now, these people are smart folks and quite politically active, and I admire their seriousness. And my own reading list has included titles like Guns, Germs and Steel, King Leopold's Ghost, Lies (and the Liars Who Tell Them) and Nickel and Dimed, among others. But for me, a steady diet of that kind of information is just too depressing.

So when I heard about the movie, King Corn, I thought, "Great, another documentary about how screwed up our food system and our diets are. I saw Supersize Me...why bother?" But then an e-mail came from my pals at Culinate.com touting a showing of the movie to be followed by free beer. Bonus!

We went to the screening last night and were charmed by the earnest and engaging take that filmmakers Curt Ellis, a native Portlander, and Ian Cheney had on this complex yet very human story. It's a film about two guys, Ellis and Cheney, who, returning to the small town in Iowa that their great-grandparents left 80 years earlier, attempt to grow an acre of corn.

The process of growing that acre of corn and meeting the farmers and townspeople whose lives are inextricably tied to industrial corn production is at the heart of this film and provide the through-line that keeps you watching and caring about how it turns out. The narrative is interspersed with talking heads like author Michael Pollan, industry representatives and academics, but it's the stories of the people of Greene, Iowa, that give it heft.

It'll be showing at the Hollywood Theatre through Thursday, so see it if you can. Go to the website for information about additional screenings coming up in Corvallis, Seattle and Bellingham. These guys and their story are worth knowing about!

Details: Screenings of King Corn at the Hollywood Theatre. Nov. 9-15; $6. Check website for showtimes. Hollywood Theatre, 4122 NE Sandy Boulevard. Phone 503-493-1128.

Thursday, November 08, 2007

My Favorite Things

Remember in The Sound of Music when Maria sings that song to the von Trapp kids to comfort them during a thunderstorm? And you're really hating me right now because it's starting to play in your head and it'll take hours to get it out? Well, sorry about that, but it gave me a great intro to talk about one of my favorite things, and that's (say it with me, now...) Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods.

Ever since Luan and Tim opened their outpost in the 'hood I've been a huge fan. It's basically an old-fashioned specialty grocery, but in addition to the pastas from Italy shaped like leaves or communion wafers and the gourmet peanut butter, not to mention just about every vegetable that's ever been pickled, they've got an amazing cheese case filled with cheeses from nearly every country that produces the stuff. And lots from small producers right here in Oregon that you'll be hard-pressed to find anywhere else.

They're celebrating their second birthday on Saturday, Nov. 17, with tasty bits to sample (for free!) and a day-long parade of some of their favorite vendors:
  • 11:30 to 12:30 - Eric Stubenberg & Lords of Salt (smoked salts)
  • 12:00 to 2:00 - Tracy Oseran & Urban Gleaners (Tracy's Small Batch Granola)
  • 1:00 to 2:30 - Pam Kraemer & Dulcet Cuisine (spice rubs, mustards, dipping sauces)
  • 4:00 to 5:30 - Ben Dyer & Viande Meats and Sausages (pates and charcuterie)
  • 4:00 to 6:00 - Nicholas Gunn & Wandering Aengus Ciderworks (hard apple ciders)
Stop on by anytime and meet these lovely people who have added so much to the neighborhood!

Details: Foster & Dobbs 2nd Birthday Celebration. 11 am-7 pm; free. Foster & Dobbs Authentic Foods, 2518 NE 15th Ave. at 15th & Brazee just north of Broadway. Phone 503-284-1157.

Wednesday, November 07, 2007

Cheeses To The North Of Us

If I were ever to wear one of those "I (heart) Something" t-shirts, one I'd seriously consider would feature something about British Columbia, whether Vancouver or Ucluelet or Salt Spring Island. We've spent many, many happy days vacationing there over the years and it's one of the first places we consider going back to when the opportunity arises.

If you've been looking for an excuse to get up to the (not-yet-)Great White North or, better yet, if you've got plans to head up there next weekend, you're in for a treat because it's time for the 3rd Annual Curds & Whey Festival on Granville Island in Vancouver. As Tami Parr of PNWCheese notes, "This is the last of the six West Coast Cheese Festivals of the year. Featured artisan cheesemakers at the event will include Moonstruck Organic Cheeses, Salt Spring Island Cheese Co., Little Qualicum Cheeseworks and Jerseyland Organics. Chef Stephen Wong will also be giving cooking demonstrations throughout the day. While you're there, I also recommend stopping at the Edible British Columbia store which has a great selection of products (including cheese) made exclusively in the province.

"Down here in the US part of the Pacific Northwest we don't have the chance to enjoy a lot of artisan cheese from British Columbia. The Canadian licensing system is a two tiered scheme that allows cheesemakers to either make and sell cheese solely on a provincial level, or acquire a more complicated 'federal' license that allows them to sell across Canada and/or export outside the country. The upshot is that this is a great opportunity for US folks to sample cheeses that we otherwise wouldn't have access to outside of Canada. I especially recommend Moonstruck Organic Cheeses (absolutely amazing blue cheeses made from Jersey cow's milk) and Salt Spring Island Cheese Co. products (check out their fresh chevres as well as their aged Montana) - both are making some of the best cheeses in the entire Northwest."

And, as the Queen of Cheese, she knows her fromage and would never lead anyone astray with less-than-stellar recommendations. And if you make it, come back with a report so we all can drool!

Details: 3rd Annual Curds & Whey Festival on Granville Island. Nov. 17-18, 9 am-7 pm; free. Granville Island, Vancouver, BC. 604-666-5784.

Dry Spots

Most people around the country, and even those who live between the Cascade mountains and the coast, think of Oregon as having lush greenery and drenching rain. Many have never ventured down the Columbia River Gorge, much less the dramatic, dry landscape that stretches along the river for 300 miles to the east. Few people, even those our parents' age, know that river as any more than a glorified lake broken up by huge dams that control the flow of water along the northern border of the state, or what it might have looked like before the dams were built.

And most of us don't think of the lands that river flows through, from eastern British Columbia down through eastern Washington and past the Hanford Nuclear Reservation before it reaches Oregon's border. A new documentary called Arid Lands recounts the history of the river and the effect that people and their activities have had on the area around the nuclear reservation. It also examines what that means for the people living and farming there, as well as those of us living downstream from this environmental cleanup project that is costing us $2 billion a year (with no end in sight).

Made by Josh Wallaert, a writer and native Oregonian who now lives in Vancouver, BC, and Grant Aaker, who attended college in Portland and is currently a medical student at Cornell, it's already won 10 awards and is having a screening at the NW Film & Video Festival this Sunday. You can watch the trailer, but this looks like something worth a couple of hours of your Sunday afternoon.

Details: Screening of Arid Lands at the NW Film & Video Festival. Sun., Nov. 11, 2 pm; $7 advance, tickets online. Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave.



Also showing at the festival is The Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston and Charis Wilson that I've written about before. If you missed it on the first go-around, try to get in to see it. Locally produced and unforgettable, you won't regret it!

Details: Screening of The Eloquent Nude: The Love and Legacy of Edward Weston and Charis Wilson. Wed., Nov. 14, 7 pm; $7, tickets online. Whitsell Auditorium at the Portland Art Museum, 1219 SW Park Ave.

Tuesday, November 06, 2007

Truffle Oil Kerfuffle

This writing business has some interesting pitfalls, not unlike hiking down a woodsy trail in Forest Park and suddenly finding yourself sprawled on your face in the dirt, the innocent victim of a vicious tree root or malevolent stone. But since it's a little too easy to forget that you were distracted by the light coming through the trees or a flicker exploding from some nearby brush, you kind of have to 'fess up to not paying enough attention.

Which is kind of what happened when I interviewed Jeff Roberts and related his contention that the tartufo bufala in a pizza at Nostrana contained truffle oil, a synthetic flavoring agent. Rather than simply asking the waiter or, better yet, calling the restaurant the next day, even though the assertion felt a little odd considering Nostrana's penchant for keeping it real, I blithely wrote it up and sent it in.

Understandably, this didn't set very well with the folks at the restaurant, and resulted in a call to the editor to let her know that their tartufo bufala has little pieces of real truffle in it and absolutely no truffle oil. So my editor composed a correction and, using the opportunity to make it a "teachable moment," asked me to write an article on truffle oil. (To this my witty husband responded, "How many times do you have to write it?")

So now you can read "A Kerfuffle Over Truffle Oil" and decide for yourself what to do the next time you see truffle sauce advertised on the menu. Or if you really want to use that bottle that's sitting nonchalantly in your cupboard.

Monday, November 05, 2007

Monthly Menus at Opposable Thumbs

Chefs are creative people, and as such they can get bored churning out the same old, same old every day. They can express some of their creativity in daily specials, but those generally follow in the same vein as the rest of the menu and don't give these folks an opportunity to really stretch out in new directions. Thus the proliferation of special events like Castagna's rosé dinner series each summer, or the annual Dia de los Muertos dinner at ¿Por Que No? Taqueria in early November.

One of the latest entries in the event sweepstakes is Laughing Planet chef Jon Grumbles, a noted vegetarian and vegan chef, who will be offering a monthly series of dinners at the Opposable Thumb Gallery and Café on SE Belmont. Opposable Thumb, owned by Laughing Planet's Richard Satnick and right next door to the LP location on Belmont, is starting the series off with a four-course vegetarian dinner featuring light appetizers followed by a first course of roasted autumn vegetables with chickpea puree and saffron yogurt dressing. That's followed by a second course of wild mushroom farroto with truffle-roasted cauliflower purée and a dessert of bruschettas with varied toppings.

It all comes with a glass of wine for only $25, a great value for what sounds like some really excellent food. To go to the dinner or get on the mailing list, just e-mail and let them know you're interested!

Details: Four-course Vegetarian Dinner by Jon Grumbles. Thurs., Nov. 8 at 7 pm. Opposable Thumb Gallery and Café, 3312 S.E. Belmont St. Phone 503-235-o146.

Sunday, November 04, 2007

A la Cart: Sicily in Sellwood

They're all over Portland, scattered from parking lots downtown to abandoned lots all over the eastside, and featuring cuisine from as many countries as you have fingers (and maybe toes). This is the first installment in what will be a regular feature called A la Cart, and you're welcome to add your nominations for those you consider to be the best in the region.

First up is a little wagon that calls itself Garden State ("Italian street food from the Willamette Valley"), a first venture for owner Kevin Sandri, and he's offering some outrageously fabulous fare that is almost all organic and locally sourced. His little quilted aluminum cart sits on a corner in Sellwood that is being developed specifically for food carts, and he's already been joined by a taco cart with a pan-Asian cart rumored to be on the way.

On our first trip there we tried his saffron-flavored arancine stuffed with either sausage or mozzarella that comes with a fresh tomato dipping sauce, then a sausage and sautéed pepper sandwich that had caramelized onions, peppers and a slightly spicy grilled sausage stuffed into a ciabatta roll.

The arancine were crisp on the outside and meltingly moist inside, though the dipping sauce was a bit bland and would have benefited from the addition of something to kick it up a notch. The ciabatta sandwich was fantastic, a nice handful that fills the stomach and warms the soul.

There's always a soup on hand, and the chicken looks amazing. Kevin says he'll update the menu occasionally as seasonal produce changes. And I'll be going back to check this out more thoroughly in the near future.

Details: Garden Sate, corner of 13th and Lexington in Sellwood (5 blocks north of Tacoma). Phone 503-705-5273.

Friday, November 02, 2007

Latest on the HUB

My husband loves beer.

No, strike that. My husband lives beer. And I don't think it would be overstating the fact to say that he has a big ol' man crush on Christian Ettinger (right in photo), brewmeister extraordinaire and original master brewer for Laurelwood Pub and Brewery.

As most of the local beer community is already aware, Christian left Laurelwood several months ago to open his own place, the Hopworks Urban Brewery or HUB. It's been a long and laborious process and he's rumored to be doing much of the work himself, so it's taking a very long time and, if you read the comments on their blog, folks are getting mighty thirsty. Maybe even a little bit testy.

The bad news is that, as I discovered today on a drive by the new place, the HUB is still far from ready to open. A phone call to the brewery elicited the news from Ben Love, assistant brewmaster, that it won't be opening to the public earlier than January 2008. The good news is that you can have some of Christian's new brews at several outlets in town. Plus, if you phone ahead to the brewery, you can drop off a keg at the new place and they'll fill it so you can weather the long weeks until they open.

Farm Bulletin: What Makes Polenta

Anthony and Carol Boutard are back at the market after a hectic corn harvest. Lucky for us they were able to dry and grind their own polenta again this year. It's been said that their fresh-ground polenta is as close as you can get to that found in Italy. You can find them at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sunday from 10 am till 2 pm. Anthony writes:

Our 2004 seed order to High Mowing [seed company] ended with a hastily added item: #2390 - Roy's Calais Flint. We were without any miller's knowledge or the foggiest idea of what we were doing, but the description hooked us. There was a dry description how a jar of corn seeds was found in recently deceased Roy Fair's basement. Roy Fair had maintained this old New England landrace [def: particular kinds of old varieties that are farmer-selected in areas where local subsistence agriculture has long prevailed] for decades in his Calais, Vermont garden. The description ended with the hook for us: "Makes good cornbread." That understated declaration had the voice of authority, no hyperbole employed. We added the good cornbread corn to the order and recalculated the total. By October, we were amateur millers savoring the fragrance of freshly ground corn. Like all millers, we are now dreaming of owning a really big millstone.

This flint is a very short season corn that ripens in 70 days or so. The plants are short as well, four to five feet tall, with red or green stalks. The foot-long ears have eight rows of kernels, and the color ranges from dark mahogany through pumpkin orange to a buttery yellow. Unlike the ornamental"painted" corns, all of the kernels on a plant are the same color. The color of the plant stalk is unrelated to the color of the grain. This is the corn the colonists of New England encountered as they moved inland, away from the white flints of the coastal areas.

The revered "mais otto file" of northern Italy is identical to Roy's Calais. Perhaps the Italian stonemasons who cut marble in the quarries of western Massachusetts and southern Vermont sent some ears back home. In growing the corn, we have come to appreciate the influence of the pigment on the grain. As a group, the red pigmented ears are the first to ripen in the field, a week or so earlier than the lighter colors. The yellow kernels tend to split in wetter weather, sometime germinating within the unshucked the ear. The orange ears are damaged by earworms, but are resistant to the aphids which attack both the red and yellow ears. In the Piedmont [of Italy], the highest altitude farms have selected out the red ears. At lower altitudes the orange and yellow types prevail. They are all referred to as otto file irrespective of color.

On our terrace of the Wapato Valley, we are going to keep the full range of colors, though we have shifted the proportion of red ears from 10% found in the original to 30%. Our target is 1/3 red, 1/3 orange and 1/3 yellow. The lightest yellows will likely drop out of the mix over time as they set their tassels and ripen quite a bit later, and often have poorly filled ears as a result.

[At the market] We will have grits and meal, as well as a polenta meal which includes both the grits and meal. We use the polenta meal for most everything that calls for either grits or meal. Best of both worlds. When cooking with fresh cornmeal, bear in mind that it absorbs much more liquid than stale meal, just the same as beans. We start at one part meal to three parts water, and work from there. The meal is unbolted (whole grain) and is best stored in the freezer. If you have a bit of raw squash kicking around, Cory Shreiber [former chef and owner of Wildwood] suggests adding some with the meal.

Details: Ayers Creek Farm at the Hillsdale Farmers Market. 10 am-2 pm on the first and third Sundays of the month. Intersecton of SW Sunset Blvd. and Capitol Hwy., just behind the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Synchronicity? Or Am I Dreaming?

I've had this feeling that early one morning I'm going to feel someone shaking my shoulders and saying, "Hurry up! You're late for school!" Then I'll open an eye and leaning over me will be my mom holding a sack lunch and I'll be back in sixth grade hell again.

The reason for my trepidation? Things are going just a little too well lately.

A few months ago I got in a simple e-mail conversation with Kim Carlson, the editor at Culinate.com, that turned into an article on paella. Then Martha Holmberg, the editor of FoodDay, puts out a call for people to write in about their local farmers' market, and no one responds. No one except me. So I get the gig. Which becomes a weekly column and some feature work for them. All good, right?

Then Deborah Kane over at Edible Portland sees the Market Watch column and thinks I might be a good fit for their Edible Notes department. So I write up a sample column, they love it and I'm signed up to do the column for them next year. And if all that isn't weird enough for someone who's never, ever thought of herself as a writer, get this: Angie Jabine over at NW Palate e-mailed last week and asked if I'd like to come by their office next Tuesday to watch a chef make gnocchi, maybe get my hands dirty, have lunch and then write about it. For money.

WHAT?

If this all sounds a little too good to be true, join the club. I'm waiting for Mrs. Wood to call my mom asking if I'll be coming to school today.

Thursday, November 01, 2007

Little Devil

I apologize in advance once again for taking advantage of my readers, but, you see, I have this weakness for dogs with (virtually) no legs. And don't get me started on those sad people who buy sundresses for their pugs or the retailers who prey on them by selling such abominations. But by golly, can I resist a Corgi in devil horns all ready to go out trick-or-treating for biscuits on Halloween?

No, I cannot. Sorry.

Thanks, Loo, for the photo...and Tai for being so understanding.