Wednesday, December 31, 2008

Kicking It Off Right


Everyone has their version of a New Year's tradition, whether it's watching the big ball drop in the Big Apple or, after the stroke of midnight, shouting "Rabbit! Rabbit" for good luck (no really, a friend told me that this is what they do). But it can't hurt, right? Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares his recipes and, best of all, the stories behind them.

Traditional New Year’s foods often symbolize good luck, and vaguely coin-shaped lentils fall into that category.

Lenticchie al Mauro

Mauro was a grizzled farmer we met in the Umbrian hill town of Castelluccio, home of Italy’s best lentils. He admonished us as we were about to sprinkle Parmigiano over a simple bowl of lenticchie: "Solo aglio, olio, sedano, sale, e aqua. Non formaggio." ("Only garlic, oil, celery, salt, and water. No cheese.")

2 cloves garlic, minced
1/4 c. extra virign olive oil
1 stalk celery, diced
Salt to taste
1 c. small green lentils (also called French or du Puy)

Sauté the garlic and celery in the olive oil over medium-low heat for a couple of minutes, being careful not to let the garlic brown. Add the lentils, water to cover (2-3 cups), and a good pinch of sea salt. Bring to gentle boil, reduce heat, and simmer 15-20 minutes or until lentils are tender. Adjust salt and drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil.

Lenticchie all’Uccelletto con Cotechino

Fagioli all’Uccelletto, or beans with tomato sauce, is a common Tuscan dish. Literally "like little birds," the origin of the phrase all’Uccelletto is subject to some debate. Pelligrino Artusi, in his classic 1891 cookbook "La Scienza in Cucina e l’Arte di Mangiar Bene," says it refers to the use of sage, essential in cooking birds. Others claim it acknowledges beans as the traditional accompaniment to roasted songbirds. Lentils with tomato sauce and sausage are also served in Tuscany and Umbria, but not usually tagged all’Uccelletto. I just like how it sounds.

One batch Lenticchie al Mauro (above)
4-5 cotechino sausages
2 Tbsp. tomato paste or 1 c. chopped canned plum tomatoes
Olive oil for drizzling

While the Lenticchie al Mauro are cooking, cook 4-5 cotechino sausages (available from Salumeria di Carlo) in a little olive oil over medium low heat, turning often until browned on all sides. At the end of the lentil cooking time, add about tomato paste (or chopped tomatoes). If you use tomato paste, you may need to add a little more water. Place the sausages on top of the lentils, cover and cook another 10 minutes over low heat. Drizzle with more extra virgin olive oil at the table.

Monday, December 29, 2008

What's Needed? A Surge of Hope.


"While classmates bent over their textbooks, Fatima Batool brushed her dupati (head scarf) away from her face so she could look me in the eye. 'I've heard some people say Americans may be bad. But we love Americans,' Fatima said. 'They are the most kind people for us. They are the only ones who cared to help us.'

"At another school, in the nearby Braldu Valley, I encountered a more ominous sentiment. 'The time for poetry and arithmetic is past,' read the graffiti scrawled along the walls of the school playground. 'Nowadays, my brothers, take your lessons from the AK-47 and the rocket-propelled grenade.'"

In an opinion piece in Sunday's Oregonian newspaper titled "Message to Obama: Send a Surge of Hope," writer David Oliver Relin lays out a three-point plan for dealing with the troubled region along the Pakistan/Afghanistan border. Author of the bestselling book Three Cups of Tea: One Man's Mission to Promote Peace One School at a Time,Relin has traveled extensively in the region and interviewed the people who are directly affected by the conflict there.

Relin says that after President Obama is sworn in he will have a window of opportunity to set sweeping policies that will alter the dynamics of a situation that is spiraling out of control:
  1. Focus on the big picture: Defuse tensions between Pakistan and India so that Pakistan can instead target the extremists on its western border.
  2. Extinguish the opium trade that is financing the Taliban in Afghanistan.
  3. Send a surge of hope: Rebuild our relationship with the moderate majority in Pakistan and Afghanistan with a massive infusion of humanitarian aid aimed at economic reconstruction, agricultural infrastructure and improving people's lives.
In essence, Relin says, "It's time to send a surge of hope. It's simply not that complicated an idea. When you help people, when you offer them hope, they like you better. Just ask Fatima Batool."

Photo by David Oliver Relin.

Friday, December 26, 2008

Big Snow at Big Table Farm


With all the wacky weather we've been having, I thought you'd like to see what it's like outside the city. Clare Carver, who, along with Brian Marcy, owns Big Table Farm in Gaston, has been posting some very cool pictures on their farm blog.

According to my brother, these guys also make some mighty fine wine. I'm looking forward to opening a bottle soon though (heads-up, Laurie) I've already fallen for the label that Clare designed for their syrah.

Photos from Big Table Farm blog.

Cup of Holiday Cheer


Growing up, Christmas meant helping my mother bake what seemed to be endless batches of fruit cakes, cookies and treats like her famous Nanaimo bars and sour cream sugar twists. My favorites were the date-filled pinwheels that had to be carefully cut out and folded so the filling wouldn't leak out while baking, especially when they were warm from the oven, the dough crisp around the dark, oozing filling.

My folks would usually have a holiday party or two featuring some of the prodigious output from the oven and, to us, exotic treats like chips and dips made with onion soup and canned clams, staples in the appetizer pantheon of the early 60s. And because they and most of their friends were Episcopalians, drinking was considered a socially acceptable activity. As a matter of fact, I still remember the cheer that went up when the Surgeon General at the time declared red wine to be good for you.

My father's contribution to the festivities was to make a holiday beverage called Tom & Jerrys, warm, egg batter-based drinks containing copious amounts of rum and brandy that were way too easy to drink. According to Wikipedia, it was created by a sportswriter named Pierce Egan in the 1820s and was "a reference to Egan's book, 'Life in London, or The Day and Night Scenes of Jerry Hawthorn Esq. and his Elegant Friend Corinthian Tom' (1821), and the subsequent stage play 'Tom and Jerry, or Life in London' (also 1821)."

The recipe was apparently popular enough that special dishware was created for serving the drinks, usually consisting of a bowl or covered tureen, a ladle and cups all labeled "Tom & Jerry" in a Gothic script. The set we have (above) is a deco version from the 1930s or 40s with a bubble-shaped lidded tureen with round cups, each with a stamp on the bottom that reads "KB Japan" (left).

My father would make a non-alcoholic version called Clyde & Harrys for the kids, and we'd sip them, gorging on the assorted snacks as the adults got steadily happier and more boisterous, enjoying those happy little drinks immensely.

So if you're looking for a beverage to warm up your next holiday party (can you say New Year's?), this might be one to throw into the mix. And lift a cup to my dad. He'd love it.

John's Tom & Jerrys

For the batter:
6 eggs
Pinch of cream of tartar
1 lb. powdered sugar
1 drop oil of cinnamon*
1 drop oil of clove*
1/2 c. whipping cream

For each drink:
1 jigger (1.5 oz.) brandy
1/2 jigger (.75 oz.) rum
2 Tbsp. batter
Boiling water
Dash of nutmeg

Separate eggs, putting yolks into large mixing bowl and whites into another bowl large enough to whip them in. Add cream of tartar to whites and whip into stiff peaks.

Beat egg yolks to combine and add cinnamon oil, clove oil and whipping cream. Beat, gradually adding powdered sugar till the mixture is thick and smooth. Add whipped egg white and slowly fold them into each other till you have a smooth, light batter.

To make drinks, put brandy, rum and batter into each cup (ours are 6-oz. cups), fill with boiling water and stir. Top with a sprinkle of ground nutmeg. For the Clyde & Harrys, simply leave out the alcohol and just combine the batter and hot water and stir, topping with the nutmeg.

* Oils available at many natural foods stores. Just make sure they're food grade.

Wednesday, December 24, 2008

Winter Warmer


To the tune of Let It Snow, with apologies to Sammy Cahn and Jule Styne:

When the weather outside is frightful,
You can make a meal that's delightful.
Just cook something low and slow
And let it snow, let it snow, let it snow!

With the accumulated snowage rapidly approaching a crazy foot and a half here in Portland and the relentless drumbeat of Christmas throbbing in my ears, I'm deep in comfort mode. And around here that means chunks of meat and vegetables simmered for hours in stock and wine. So when I saw a recipe for a beef stew with prunes on Mark Bittman's blog, Bitten, I knew it would come in handy this week.

Skijoring in Vermont. My question is: they see a bunny, then what?

His recipe called for chuck which, like pork shoulder, oxtail, ham hocks and other "less-desirable" cuts of meat, can feed a crowd (or be eaten over several days) for not much money without sacrificing on the flavor front. Plus, when the social luster of your family is wearing thin after being house-bound for a week together and you run into your neighbors skijoring through the streets with their dogs, you'll have this in your back pocket to lure them to your dinner table.

Beef Stew With Prunes

3 Tbsp. olive oil
2 lbs. lean boneless beef, preferably chuck, in 2-inch cubes
Salt and pepper to taste
1 onion, peeled and chopped
3 plum tomatoes, stemmed and chopped (canned are fine)
1 tsp. sweet paprika, more to taste
1 cinnamon stick
1 bay leaf
1 c. chicken stock
1 c. dry red wine
2 Tbsp. sugar
1 c. pitted prunes
1 Tbsp. sherry vinegar or other vinegar, or to taste
Chopped parsley leaves for garnish

Place a deep skillet or casserole that can be covered over medium-high heat, and add oil. Brown meat well on all sides, seasoning with salt and pepper, for 10 minutes; remove with a slotted spoon.

In same pot over medium-high heat, sauté onion and tomatoes with a large pinch of salt and some pepper. When they soften, about 5 minutes, stir in paprika, cinnamon, and bay leaf. Return meat to pan, and add stock and wine; bring to a boil, then lower heat, cover, and simmer for 30 minutes. If mixture starts to dry, add a little water or stock.

Remove cinnamon and bay leaf, and stir in sugar and prunes. Simmer until prunes and meat are soft, another 30 to 45 minutes. (Dish can be made in advance to this point; let sit for a few hours, or cover and refrigerate for up to a day before reheating and proceeding.) When meat is very tender, uncover pot and add vinegar; if necessary, raise heat so sauce thickens and becomes glossy. Season to taste with salt and pepper, and serve hot, garnished with parsley. Excellent with polenta, couscous or saffron rice.

Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Homely Virtue


homely (hōm-lē) adj.; date: 14th C; 1) suggestive or characteristic of a home; 2) being something familiar with which one is at home; 3) a: unaffectedly natural, simple; b: not elaborate or complex

It's like my keys, or my reading glasses or the cup of coffee I just poured. I look all over the house, tearing things apart and blaming everyone but myself for misplacing them. Then I go back to where I started and there they are, sitting innocently in plain sight.

Oatmeal is like that for me. There's always a bag of it in the pantry in case a fruit crisp is called for, but I rarely think of making a bowl of this hearty, stick-to-your-ribs grain for breakfast. It's quick, it's versatile, you can make it sweet (my preference) or savory. You can stir in diced fruit while it's cooking or chop some as a topping. Add cinnamon or nutmeg or pumpkin pie spice and fancy it up. Or just boil some water, toss it in and in five minutes it's done. How obvious is that?

Oatmeal

Serves one

1 c. water
Pinch of salt
2/3 c. old-fashioned rolled oats

Boil water and salt in small saucepan. Sprinkle in oatmeal and reduce to low simmer. When water is absorbed (about 5-10 min.) it's done. Serve with any variety of flavorings like brown sugar, maple syrup, cinnamon, currants, etc. Be creative!

Sunday, December 21, 2008

Sweet Thing


The gorgeous truffles above were made by Christy Fox, whom I met when I interviewed her for NW Palate magazine's "In Our Kitchen" column a few months ago. At that time Christy was executive chef at not one, but two restaurants in Ketchum, Idaho, the toney Chandler's Restaurant and the more intimate Baci Italian Cafe & Wine Bar.

Shortly after we talked, she decided to leave Ketchum for a saner life here in Oregon, where she'd spent part of her childhood. Now she's heading up the catering department at the landmark Portland institution Sheridan Fruit and enjoying having a life again, which included making truffles for friends this holiday.

The flavors of these luscious little bombs are orange-cardamon, eggnog, curried chocolate with pink Himalayan salt, two different types of mint, white and dark chocolate, amaretto and raspberry. Each one was rich and smooth, and their distinctive flavors were present without being over-the-top.

Have I said lately how lucky I am to be meeting such great people? Yikes! And don't be surprised if you hear about these truffles in the near future. Christy said she may try selling them at some festivals this summer, and you can be sure I'll give you plenty of notice so you can get some for yourself!

Wacky Weather, Day Two


Here's the same view as the post below, now with six inches of snow with a quarter-inch crust of ice on top of it. There have been a few cars out this morning, so the streets are packed down a bit and the dogs can walk in the tracks, but it's pretty funny to see a Corgi trying to figure out how to move around. The skiers, sledders and snowshoers are out, too, and everyone's seems slightly dazed but in good humor at the oddity of it all.


Hope you're all cozy and warm wherever you are. And for those of you in Mexico or warmer climes this holiday, have a big, icy tropical drink for us!

Saturday, December 20, 2008

Wacky Weather!


What would seem normal, even expected, in many parts of the country this time of year has many Portlanders reeling.

Walker with a frozen tennis ball. Fun!

But they're also enjoying themselves, skiing to the store, sledding down the myriad hills and slopes around town or, like us, making stews or soups or cocoa.

What are you doing to stay cozy in this wintry weather?

Friday, December 19, 2008

Jim's Garage Sale Minestrone: The Secret's Out!


I bundled up against what felt to our Northwestern sensibilities like subzero temperatures, gathered a few empty wine bottles and hauled them to Jim Dixon's Olive Oil Garage Sale last weekend. I stocked up on his "Family Oil," the blend of leftovers from the 50-gallon fustini barrels he uses for bulk sales, as well as some absolutely orgasmic balsamic vinegar. He always has a pot of soup on the stove to warm up his customers, and this year he shared the recipe.

Garage Sale Minestrone

This year I used purgatorio beans from Ayers Creek Farm, but any white bean would work. While you could use canned beans, dry beans are cheap, easy to cook and taste much better. And cooking them generates delicious stock. I usually don’t soak dry beans, but go ahead if you have the time. Otherwise, use enough water to cover about a cup of dry beans, add a generous pinch of sea salt, and cook gently until tender. You need to cook them separately because the acidity in the tomatoes you’ll be adding to the soup would keep then from getting tender.

In a separate stockpot, heat about a quarter cup of extra virgin olive oil over medium heat. Add a chopped onion and a pinch of sea salt and cook for a few minutes (I dice the celery while the onion cooks, so I let it cook as long it takes to chop a couple of stalks). Add the celery, cook a bit, then add a couple of chopped carrots. If you’ve cooked the beans ahead of time and they’re ready, add them and their stock at this point. If not, add a couple of cups of water. If you’re using canned stock or broth to make soup, read Michael Rulhman’s blog entry.

Peel and dice (for me, chop or dice in the context of soup means smallish bite-sized) a couple of yellow potatoes and half a medium-size celery root. Use the other half to make smashed celery root and potatoes.

Add the root vegetables, and keep chopping, this time with half a head of green cabbage and a bunch of cavolo nero (aka Italian or lacinato kale). Toss them in the pot along with a big can of chopped or diced tomatoes. If you’ve got them, add any old, dried out rinds of Parmigiano Reggiano (if you don’t save these, start now; they’ll keep forever buried in the cheese drawer [or freezer - KAB]). Add the beans and their stock if you haven’t already.

Simmer the soup slowly for a couple of hours. Add salt to taste. Serve with a healthy drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.

You can get his oils before Christmas, though not the soup, alas, at his store at Activspace (833 SE Main) on Sat., Dec.20, from 10 am-1 pm; then from 2 pm-5 pm at Great Wine Buys, 1515 NE Broadway. And then back at Activspace, Sun.-Tues., 12/21-23, 4:30 pm-6:30 pm. Bottled olive oil is available, or bring your own bottles for bulk purchases. Subscribe to notices of upcoming sales on his website.

Wednesday, December 17, 2008

Turnip Diaries, Part III: Misery Loves Company


In Part One, Anthony described the close relationship he and Carol developed with their turnips over many dinners last season due to the fact that they only sold two out of the 50 pounds of turnips they harvested from their farm in Gaston. Part Two chronicled the greater success they're having this season in sharing their love of this under-appreciated root.

As we packed up the stall at the end of the last market, we took a moment to chat with Able of Creative Growers. They had a beautiful display of Hakurei type turnips (left), the legendary Japanese salad turnips. By midday, realizing he would be returning home with a good portion of the display, Able told us he started adding a turnip to every bag, hoping customers would try them and return eagerly for the sweet roots at the next market. Several years ago, we used the same strategy when no one would buy our green beans. Such faith in his quality should work.

Last month, Texas pastor Ed Young issued a fatwa of sorts urging his congregation to engage in conjugal relations for seven days, presumably straight, in order to restore family values. Apparently the congregation was having some problems on that score and needed some straightening out, at least in his opinion, the poor dears.

The challenge got us thinking about turnips, rutabagas and upping the ante. Why not a fortnight of turnips and rutabagas on the dinner menu? We need to have a national conversation about these delicious, nutritious and neglected roots, and this challenge should prompt you all to start talking about them nightly. Don't fret if the turnips are all gone by the time you arrive on Sunday [at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market - KAB], we are not so dogmatic as Pastor Young; you can spread the fortnight of feasting over a month or two. Turnips are even a sweet morsel for the Lenten fast.

The Swedes, or rutabagas (right), we grew this year may not be familiar to most. Most Swedes are big, have orangish skin and flesh with a purple neck, especially when they return from the holidays. The Wilhelmsburger and Gilfeather rutabagas have white skin and flesh, with purplish-greenish shoulders. The name Gilfeather when attached to the turnip is copyrighted, so we will stay away from that name. Besides, the plant is a definitely a Swede, not a turnip.

The Wilhelmsburger has slight yellow tinge. Unlike turnips, the rutabagas have distinctly tapered, hairy roots that come to a point. Botanists describe this sort of shape as turbinate, or fusiform, if tapered at both ends. You will note that the turnips typically have a much smoother, rounded root. There is no need to peel them, just shave hairy parts off the bottom and you have a presentable Swede.

The rutabaga is called a "stable hybrid" between the cabbage and turnip. Although rutabagas are used for livestock food, the "stable" refers to fact that the hybrid now breeds true from seed. References to the vegetable appeared in the 17th century, whereas the turnip proper was probably familiar to the artists of Altamira and Lascaux. The German name is kohl-rube, and the French is choux navet, meaning in both languages "cabbage-turnip." Some sources say the plant originated in northern Scandinavia, hence the name Swedish Turnip, or Swede. Other references point to Bohemia. It is entirely probable that the cabbage-turnip cross occurred more than once, and the white-fleshed varieties may be from Bohemia.

Read the other posts in the Turnip Diaries series: Part I: The Wapato Valley, Part II: Chestnuts, Persimmons and Turnips, Part IV: We're In This Pickle Together, Part V: The Spicy Turnip, Part VI: The Turnip Also Rises, Part VII: WWPD (What Would Pliny Do)

Moose and Squirrel


I can't read those words without hearing them in the bad Russian accent of a certain Boris Badenov. Which means I also can't resist heading over to Laurelwood Brewing when I hear that they've released their Russian Imperial Stout called Moose and Squirrel.

A deeply rich, chocolately brew, this has plenty of hops to brighten the intense malts, and the flavor is so balanced you'd never guess it boasts an 8% alcohol level. But get in soon if you want some, since it's a very limited release. And while it's worth having it fresh on tap, they've also bottled it in 1-liter swing-top bottles, available (again, in limited quantities) for $12 each.

Details: Moose and Squirrel at Laurelwood Brewing, 5115 NE Sandy Blvd. Phone 503-282-0622.

Monday, December 15, 2008

Chicken in Bondage


At least that's what Mr. B called it when he saw the strips of bacon draped over the supine form of the chicken I was about to put in the oven.

And in truth it's just a variation on my version of the James Beard recipe I've written about before. The bacon adds that touch of smokiness and helps bathe the skin and meat with its fatty goodness. Plus when the whole thing's done, the now-crispy bacon can be crumbled into the gravy made from the drippings or on top of a salad served alongside. And who'd object to that?

This time I also had a yam left over from Thanksgiving that needed to be used, so I chopped it up and mixed it with the sautéed vegetables in the bottom of the pan. By the time the chicken was done, the yam pieces were sweet and tender and, yes, bathed in that same lovely fat. Delicious!

Letter from Manhattan: What a Crock!


In this installment, GSNW contributor and our man in the Big Apple, Mark Dundas Wood, has introduced me to a completely new concept in cooking. Believe it or not, it had never occurred to me that you can cook by color—brilliant! If you have a story of similarly colorful cooking, do let me know.

In most Manhattan apartments, kitchen space is scant, which is possibly the chief reason New Yorkers regularly forgo home cooking in favor of takeout and delivery. (One of the side effects of the food delivery trade is that local restaurants litter the entryways of apartment buildings with flyers. "No menus" signs are regularly tacked up to dissuade this kind of messy low-grade marketing, but without much luck.)

I try—especially in such treacherous economic times—to "cook in" as much as possible, so I rely on a few basic pots, pans, and utensils. One large frying pan, for instance, sits permanently on my stove and gets almost daily use.

Then there’s my antique Rival Crock-Pot. When my Grandpa Dundas passed away in 1977, I inherited his stout, sturdy, avocado-green crock. If you look closely in one of the scenes in the recent film W, you’ll see a cousin to this appliance in a depiction of a vintage Texas cook-out.
My crock has followed me through several relocations, including the move to New York. When I was living in Eugene in the late 1980s, I broke the glass lid, but with some research was able to reorder a new one. Whether I’d be able to do so now—as the crock enters its fourth decade of life—I’m not sure. So I handle the apparatus with special care.

During summer months, unlike the cinematic Dubya and Laura, I seldom use the crock, but when winter rolls around I pull it out of the cobwebs. I’m always a little nervous, once I’ve got it loaded up with ingredients, that the heating element will finally give up the ghost when I turn the knob. But, without fail, I place my palm on the side of its green belly and, within a minute or so, that welcome heating-pad warmth kicks in.

In the earliest days when the crock was in my custody, I was still an omnivore. I seem to recall cooking some sort of roast in it at one point. But now I use it chiefly for fish stews and vegetarian winter soups. One of my favorites is something I invented called (not very imaginatively) "Red Soup," which I plan to make later this week.

I'm not much for recipes, so the soup is never exactly the same twice. Basically, I throw into a tomato broth every tasty red food I can think of and season it all with curry powder. I plan to haul out the crock this week, and I’ve already purchased most of the ingredients: Red potatoes, beet root, sweet red pepper, red onion, kidney beans. I'll put in chunks of a single Red Delicious apple, too, which blends nicely with the curry flavoring. And, for a seasonal variation, I plan to toss in a handful or so of cranberries this time. I'll let you know how it turns out.

But two things I know for sure. It will be bright borscht-y red and I'll be eating it for days.

Sunday, December 14, 2008

Guilty as Charged


Now, I'm not admitting to anything like the recent shenanigans of Illinois governor Rod Blagojevich. (Can you call a federal indictment on bribery and conspiracy charges "shenanigans"?) But I do have favorites.

And I'd never pimp a restaurant that serves food I wouldn't recommend. Even if they give it to me for free. Or with $1,000 bills under the dessert plate. Or if I found diamonds in the crème caramel. Really.

I know I talked about it when it opened. And again, even. But when Dave called and said he was heading over to Powell's Books on Hawthorne and that it was very close to "you know what," he didn't have to elaborate. I grabbed the keys and headed out the door.

I won't lie to you. Don't go to Evoe if you're in a hurry. This place is not for the "I've got half an hour for lunch" crowd. And, because word is getting out about the quality of the small plates chef Kevin Gibson serves up, don't go at noon. Just pretend you're on vacation and you have all the time in the world, head in around 1:30 or 2 and spend a couple of hours sitting at the broad butcher block table sampling the amazing array of fantastically simple dishes that Gibson conjures from nothing more than his mandoline and a hot plate. I'm not kidding.

For our lunch we ordered his requisite deviled eggs stuffed, breaded and fried top-down that come out tasting like something you'd walk miles in the rain for. (I know because Mr. B did just that.) Followed by the "duck with persimmons" (left, above), a less-than-sufficiently-adjectived dish comprised of an unctuous seared duck breast sprinkled with sea salt served alongside lightly-dressed, hand-picked mizuna greens and little wedges of perfectly ripe Fuyu persimmon wedges.

Then there was the crispy lamb with corona beans (right, above), the meat seared on the hot plate till a thin crust formed on the fatty side. Placed on top of a plate of simply cooked beans with sage and juniper, this was a winter dish to write home about.

Choose from their stellar selection of by-the-glass wines or a beer from the rotating list, and there's no better place to while away a couple of hours on a winter afternoon.

Details: Evoe, 3731 S.E. Hawthorne Blvd. Phone 503-232-1010.

Quick Curry Dinner


Some mornings I get up with the whole day in front of me thinking, "This is the day I'm going to get through my list of things to do and still have time to make a lovely dinner for my family."

About that time the cat sprays the refrigerator, the dog throws up on the carpet (I'm not naming names here) and the washer starts leaking during the rinse cycle. By the time I've cleaned up the messes and only checked a couple of items off the list, I hear the dogs barking to let me know that Dave's home from work and that lovely dinner I wanted to prepare vanishes in a puff of smoke.

With any luck, though, there's a bag of frozen chicken thighs from Trader Joe's in the freezer and a can of light coconut milk in the pantry. Some curry powder, onion and a couple of cups of raw rice and my ass isn't looking so much like grass.

Curried Coconut Chicken

1 Tbsp. vegetable oil
4 boneless, skinless chicken thighs
1 onion, chopped
2 cloves garlic
1 Tbsp. (+ or -) curry powder
1 can coconut milk
1/2 tsp. salt
2 c. rice

Cut chicken thighs into bite-size pieces. Heat oil in deep skillet, add chicken and brown on all sides. Add onion and garlic and sauté till tender. Add curry powder and sauté 1 min., then add coconut milk, bring to bare simmer. Cook for 30 min.

Heat 4 c. water and the salt and bring to boil. Sprinkle in rice, return to boil and turn down very low, cooking till water is absorbed. Rice and curried chicken can be served together or separately with steamed frozen peas or a salad. Indian chutneys or Mark Bittman's tomato jam are terrific alongside.

Saturday, December 13, 2008

It's All About Moderation. Right?



Maybe you've seen them. A couple sits on the grass, or two moms talk at a birthday party. One asks the other if that popsicle or fruit juice has high-fructose corn syrup in it, then looks blank when asked, gosh darn it, what's wrong with corn syrup.

Of course, I'm talking about a $25 million campaign (view one ad here) that the Corn Refiners Association has launched to put a positive spin on their product. So when Curt Ellis and Ian Cheney, the guys behind the terrific documentary King Corn (which I raved here), heard about it, they decided to put out their own take on the issue.

By the way, if you're looking for gifts, the boys have got some nice merch (hats, tees and DVDs) on their website!

Friday, December 12, 2008

We Interrupt This Blog...


For a photo op I couldn't resist. So forgive me, but here is Walker looking oh-so-cute.

My Kind of Garage Sale!


Instead of cracked pottery and jigsaw puzzles with pieces missing, when my friend Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood holds a garage sale it's all about estate-pressed olive oil from Italy. Here's the bulletin he recently sent out, with details on this weekend's sale at the bottom. See you there!

I started my little olive oil adventure in my garage, and the first olive oil garage sale was my effort to recreate the atmosphere of an Italian food festival or sagra. Sagre typically take place in the fall to coincide with the harvest of whatever local foodstuff is being celebrated.

In the Tuscan village of Chianni, home of Olio Novo, the Sagra del Cinghiale (Wild Boar Festival) occurs in late November, just after the first extra virgin olive oil is pressed and the vino novello, wine made using carbonic maceration from grapes harvested earlier in the fall, is ready to drink. It’s cold, wet, and molto Felliniamo.

The villagers volunteer to cook, people come from the nearby cities for a good meal and everybody eats at communal tables in the school cafeteria. After dinner, the city folks head back to their cars with a jug of olive oil and a few bottles of wine, reminders of the country life they left behind. If you’re ever in Italy and see a sign for a local sagra, stop. It’s one of the best ways to get a taste of real Italian life.

While I can’t offer a sit-down experience, I’ll have a pot of hot soup, wine and a roaring fire (if the weather forcast is even close to accurate, we’ll need the fire). Along with the usual lineup of Italian and Californian extra virgin olive oils, Portuguese sea salt, traditionally cured olives, and the Katz artisanal vinegars, I’ve got the same balsamic vinegar I imported last year.

Produced by a small family firm called Profumi Estensi, this aceto balsamico di Modena is thick, syrupy and delicious. Like all traditional balsamic vinegar, it’s made by reducing grape must to about 30% of its original volume, then fermenting it slowly in a series of wood barrels called a batteria. The batteria, different size barrels made from an assortment of woods that impart additional flavor to the vinegar, is tucked under the roof in the family’s attic, where it's subject to wide temperature swings that encourage evaporation through the porous wood. After at least 12 years, the resulting vinegar is tart, sweet, and nothing like the industrial grade, sugar-fortified wine vinegar sold as balsamic in the supermarket. You can taste it at the garage sale.

Scott Dolich, owner of Park Kitchen, visited Profumi Estensi this fall after attending Slow Food’s Terra Madre. He likes to use the aceto balsamico to enhance winter greens.

“This time of year we can get a fantastic variety of chicories,” Scott says, “I like to grill them, then dress them with a drizzle of good balsamic and olive oil.”

Nick Wood, coproprietor with Tommy Habetz of Bunk Sandwiches, was on the same trip. He elevates the already incredible eggplant sandwich they serve with a drizzle of balsamico.

Bunk’s Roasted Eggplant, Marinated Red Pepper, Fresh Mozzarella & Basil Sandwich with Balsamic Vinegar

Toss eggplant slices with extra virgin olive oil, oregano, salt, and pepper. Roast at 450° until the eggplant is tender, about 15-20 minutes. Let cool.

Marinate roasted red peppers in a little more extra virgin olive oil, oregano, chopped garlic, salt, and red pepper flakes. On a toasted hoagie roll, layer the eggplant, marinated peppers, slices of fresh mozzarella and fresh basil leaves. Drizzle with balsamic vinegar.

Details: Olive Oil Garage Sale. Fri.-Sat., Dec. 12-13; 1-6 pm; cash or checks only. Bottled olive oil available, or bring clean wine bottles for bulk purchases. 3432 NE 16th (south of Fremont).

Thursday, December 11, 2008

Thoughts On: Home Dairying


In this second in a series of essays reflecting on her life as a small-scale farmer in Yamhill, Oregon, Chrissie Zaerpoor of Kookoolan Farms shares her education in the joys of dairy cow ownership.

Back in the day, one supposes it must have been pretty straightforward: You obtain a cow, you milk the cow, you drink the milk. If the cow is making more milk than you can drink, then you share it with your friends or culture it up as yogurt or cheese to preserve it for later when there will be less milk available.

When we decided to buy a family cow, the first thing I did was read The Family Cow by Dirk Van Loon,an excellent book. He suggested that one of the best ways to get a cow is to go to a dairy and ask for one. So, during the weeks when we were out driving around looking for a farm, at some point we drove past a dairy where we could see not only cows but people, too. We stopped and asked about buying a cow.

The cows were all Holsteins: giant, gentle behemoths that produce huge quantities of milk. All of the cows on this dairy were quite young; the worker explained that cows only live four or five years. He was treating a bad knee on one of the cows with an antibiotic. We commented that it must be unusual to have such an injury; he explained that no, lots of the cows had bad knees. We asked what other kinds of problems cows might have (since we were new to the whole thing and genuinely curious and concerned about what we might be getting ourselves into). He listed a scary litany of ailments, and finished the list by asserting, "You can't raise cows without antibiotics. We use 'em for everything." And with that statement ringing in our ears, we left.

Well, later we found our farm, and some months after that, we found our cow, the lovely Jersey pet Ariba (top and left). She had been a pet show cow as a heifer (that's the word us farmer types use for a cow that hasn't yet had her first calf). But after she had her first calf, her udder was droopy, so she was retired from showing. For me, her most attractive characteristic was that she was currently being milked by hand by an 8-year-old child. I figured if a little kid could do it, I could do it too.

We brought Ariba home and waited two dry months for her calf to be born. And then I started milking by hand. It took a good two hours to get all the milk out of her mammoth udder, a good five gallons a day. Within a week I was looking in the refrigerator at more than 25 gallons of gorgeous, raw, grass-fed Jersey cow milk, loaded with cream that filled one third of each bottle.

I've been a home winemaker and beermaker for years, so, unintimidated, I started calling homebrew supply shops to find some cheesemaking supplies. There were none to be had anywhere. Finally I found the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company, from which it's possible to buy almost anything for home cheesemaking. However, shipping it overnight proved to be cost prohibitive, and shipping it by ground took more than a week. Next thing I knew, I was pouring out almost 30 gallons of hand-milked milk for the laying hens to drink.

Thus we started carrying a few basic cheesemaking supplies as a natural adjunct to milk. And within several months, we were carrying nearly the entire product line from the New England Cheesemaking Supply Company. Now our farm store always has in stock pretty much every single ingredient or supply you'd need to make any kind of cheese you can think of.

Still, the milk comes in waves, with new lactations producing copious quantities of milk, and dry cows dropping out of the milk pool and reducing the volume of milk by a third or a half.

This week we have the newly-lactating "Caramel" producing enormous quantities of rich, creamy milk, and once again we find ourselves well, almost swimming in milk, or at least considering the possibility of bathing in it. Tonight I made a gallon of vanilla ice cream and a gallon of egg nog ice cream. Yesterday I churned two quarts of cream into butter. So now it's time to make cheese. I favor soft fresh raw cheeses, which are considered health foods in Europe, but in America the USDA has turned them into suspicious cousins of heroin. (Check the website for the schedule of upcoming cheesemaking classes.)

As to the adventures of dairy farming, I have been stepped on and kicked. We have participated in the births of two of the calves. We've bottle-fed calves. We've given shots, taken out stitches and retrieved wayward cows from the other side of the highway. We've bought alfalfa hay $8,000 at a time, learned how to milk cows, how to test milk and learned what the hygiene standards are for raw and pasteurized milk in three states which, by itself, could be a whole other essay.

Basic Vanilla Ice Cream Recipe

1 qt. cream
4 egg yolks
1/2 c. maple syrup (Grade B preferred)
1 Tbsp. arrowroot powder
2 tsp. vanilla

Blend all ingredients together in blender, then pour into ice cram maker. (Tip: Get a new ice cream maker in Sept. when they're on sale for 50% off. I bought a new ice cream maker a couple of months ago and the new ones are WAY better than the old wood-barrel design. The new ice cream makers are a smooth, self-contained unit that you store in the freezer: no more ice and salt!)

For egg nog ice cream, add 1/2 tsp. ground cinnamon, a little mace, a little nutmeg, and 1/4 c. of brandy or rum.

Basic Fromage Blanc (soft fresh cheese)

Warm a quart of whole milk up to 86 degrees farenheit. Add Fromage Blanc culture (available from Kookoolan Farms or online) and stir or shake. Leave the milk on the kitchen counter at room temperature for 6 to 12 hours, until a firm curd sets up. Put a colander on top of a mixing bowl and line the colander with a cheesecloth. Pour the curd through the cheesecloth and tie up the cheesecloth to drain. Drain for 1 to 4 hours, leaving the bowl under the cheesecloth to catch the whey. (Save the whey for later. You can use it to soak dry beans and grains. That's a whole other topic: lactofermentation.)

Fromage blanc can be used fresh for about ten days, or frozen. You can stir garlic and herbs into it and form it into a festive log for holiday parties. Or stir dried cranberries, honey and crushed nuts into it and spread on bagels.

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Great Cookbooks I Have Known


I'm not a natural cook. I can't have a dish at a restaurant and easily parse the ingredients to recreate it at home. If I want to make something, especially if I've never made it before, I need to go to my reference library of cookbooks and research several recipes for a dish, then get online and check some more at sites like Epicurious or The New York Times.

Which got me to thinking about my favorite cookbooks and the cookbooks I'd recommend to friends. With props to authors of new cookbooks, I tend to prefer older tomes and prowl the shelves of used bookstores for classics (or even fairly recent releases) at reasonable prices. We're fortunate in Portland to have Powell's Books, which has a terrific selection of used cookbooks. And Robert's Bookshop in Lincoln City has a whole room dedicated to the culinary arts.

With that in mind, here are my picks of some of my faves. Put them on your list or buy them for friends. And be sure to add your favorites to the list, too!
  • Top of the list has to be the little spiral-bound recipe books that came with the Time-Life "Foods of the World" picture books, particularly "Provincial France," "Italy" and "American Cooking: The Great West."
  • Patricia Wells At Home in Provence.
  • Any of Diana Kennedy's books on the cooking of Mexico.
  • The 1943 version of The Joy of Cooking and the 1955 Betty Crocker Picture Cookbook.
  • Sheila Lukins and Julee Rosso's "The Silver Palate Cookbook" and their "New Basics Cookbook."
  • James Beard's "American Cooking."
  • Marcella Hazan's "Essentials of Classic Italian Cooking."
  • Make fun of me, but Barbara Kafka's "Microwave Gourmet" has to be on there, too.
Details: Powell's Books, 1005 W Burnside. Powell's Books for Cooks, 3747 SE Hawthorne Blvd. Robert's Bookshop, 3412 S.E. Hwy 101, Lincoln City.

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Farm Bulletin: Inspiration From a Customer


I have a sneaking suspicion that one of the prime reasons that Anthony and Carol Boutard of Ayers Creek Farm proffer their wares at the Hillsdale Farmers' Market is to cadge delicious recipes from customers like Rahul Vora, mentioned below. You may remember Rahul from a post on fenugreek earlier in the season and his delicious recipes for utilizing that under-appreciated herb.

Earlier in the summer we were talking with Rahul Vora and made some offhanded remark about cornmeal in Indian cooking. Rahul explained that cornmeal is greatly appreciated in the State of Punjab, and he told us about Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti.

Makki ki Roti is a simple cornmeal bread, similar to the hoe cake of the southern US, served with mustard greens. Rahul tried our cornmeal, but it was not sticky enough to form the thin bread. The State of Punjab is roughly the same latitude as the Alabama but, unfortunately, at our latitude, about 10 degrees further north, we can't grow the softer types of corn suitable to making these simple breads. Like Rahul, we wound up having the Sarson ka Saag with polenta. A good solution.

Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti.

Mustard greens, or Sarson, are popular in the Punjab, and the state's promotional photos often feature yellow fields of mustard in bloom. The Indian races of mustards are typically mild and fragrant. Frank Morton's Bau Sin, an Indian type mustard green, is the most delicate. The leaves are light green with a white rib, and greatly enjoyed by all manner of slugs. The field mustard that yields yellow mustard seeds is also very mild mannered. We will be putting together a mix of these mustards and other greens suitable for the saag and will try to include a fresh Aci Sivri pepper in as many bags as possible.

It is interesting to note the journey made by these two ingredients, the corn and the mustard. The corn traveled from the Americas through Europe and was adopted by people of the Punjab to make a simple cornbread. The mustards, spinach and turnips made their way from Central Asia through Europe to the Americas, and in the their new home they are also cooked until tender and fragrant. In both worlds, there evolved a meal of corn cake and mustard greens. But enough soft-headed contemplation. Here is Rahul's report:

"I made a delicious batch of saag last night with 2 bags of mixed greens I got from you, plus some spinach and some turnip greens. It was wonderfully fresh and fragrant. Unfortunately, the cornmeal was too coarse to make Makki Ki Roti, so I just made polenta and it was great with the saag.

"Here's my version of the saag, specially adapted for the Ayers Creek Saag Bag. - Rahul"

Sarson Ka Saag

1 bag mixed greens (about 1/2 lb.)
1/2 bunch spinach
1 small onion, chopped fine
1 Tbsp. minced ginger
1 green chili such as serrano
1 clove garlic, minced
1/2 tsp. coriander powder
1/2 tsp. cumin powder
1 Tbsp. fine cornmeal
1 small tomato, chopped
2 Tbsp. vegetable oil
1/2 cup water
Juice of 1 lime or lemon
Butter

Cook the greens (stems and all) and the green chili with the water for about 5 mins. Add the spinach and continue to cook until all the greens are wilted and the stems are soft. Transfer the greens to a food processor and reserve the cooking liquid. Pulse the greens to chop coarsely.

Heat the oil in a medium-sized pan. Add the onions and saute for 2-3 mins. Add ginger, garlic, tomato, cornmeal and the spices. Cook, stirring gently to incorporate all the ingredients for a few minutes. Add the reserved cooking liquid and cook to incorporate. Add the chopped greens and salt to taste. Cook for about 5 mins, stirring and adding water if necessary to maintain a porridge-like consistency. Stir in the lime or lemon juice. Serve with polenta, warm corn tortillas, pita bread or naan and top with a dollop of butter.

Top photo of mustard greens by Karen Morton for Wild Garden Seed. Photo of Sarson ka Saag and Makki ki Roti from the Urdu Poetry Forum at HullaGulla.com.

Quick, a Holiday Appetizer!


You'd think I'd have learned by now, but once again I had painted myself into a corner. I'd scheduled a walk with a friend and our dogs for first thing in the morning and shortly thereafter needed to leave for a holiday brunch at my friend Madeline's home. And this was one of those ladies' gatherings, where a bowl of dip and crackers from Trader Joe's wasn't going to cut it.

The plan was to make something the day before, or at least get ingredients that could be thrown together quickly the next morning, but the day had gotten out of hand and I didn't make it to the store. Panic was starting to set in when I remembered my mother's recipe for these simple skewered shrimp.

The next morning I ran to the store first thing, bought whole shrimp for $7.99 a pound rather than $12.99 for the peeled and deveined ones, and came home and peeled them. Stirring the marinade together took no time and they were happily marinating in the fridge when Michel showed up for our walk.

All I had to do was skewer the shrimp when I got back, broil them for a couple of minutes in the oven and throw them...um...I mean "arrange them artfully"...on a plate and head off to the brunch with a lovely platter of hors d'oeuvres. Whew!

Tarragon Mustard Shrimp Skewers

1/3 c. Dijon mustard
3 Tbsp. olive oil
1 green onion, chopped
1 1/2 Tbsp. fresh tarragon or 2 tsp. dried
2 lbs. shrimp, peeled with tail on
12-15 9" bamboo skewers

In medium-sized mixing bowl, whisk mustard and olive oil together. Add green onion and tarragon and stir to combine. Add shrimp and toss to cover. Place in refrigerator to marinate for at least 1/2 hour (or longer if you have the time). Submerge skewers in water to soak so they won't burn when broiling.

Skewer shrimp on soaked skewers, grouping them with three shrimp on the upper half and three on the lower half, leaving about 1" gap in the middle of the skewer. Place skewers on broiler pan and broil in the oven 2 minutes per side or until cooked through. Take out of oven and, with garden shears, clip skewers in half. They're also terrific when grilled on a charcoal grill.

Friday, December 05, 2008

Lovely Legumes


There's no denying it. I love legumes. Give me a dried bean, throw in a little pork and some onion and I'm a happy camper.

Whether black, white, pinto or a mix, I have no prejudice. Bastard soup made with black beans? Yum. A simple white bean soup with bacon and kale? Fabulous. And why these are considered poor man's food is beyond me, since they are packed with flavor, not to mention nutrition, and are made from ingredients most of us have in the pantry.

The other night I made a bean stew with a smoked ham hock and a mixture of vegetable and chicken stock and had plenty left over to freeze for another dinner. The hock was a little sweet, so I added some red wine vinegar to sharpen the flavor, then served it with a drizzle of olive oil and a loaf of Como bread. It just doesn't get better than that!

White Bean Stew

2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 large yellow onion, diced
4 cloves garlic, chopped
1 lb. white beans (I used bianchetto beans from Ayers Creek)
8 c. water or vegetable or chicken stock (add more if needed)
1 smoked ham hock
1 Tbsp. red wine vinegar (optional)
Salt and pepper to taste

Heat olive oil in large soup pot or Dutch oven and sauté onion and garlic till soft. Add stock, beans and ham hock and bring to a boil. Turn down heat and simmer 2 hrs. or until beans are tender. Remove ham hock and shred meat, throwing away excess fat and bone. Red wine vinegar can be added if desired. Add salt and pepper and simmer another 20 minutes. Serve with additional olive oil for drizzling.

Thursday, December 04, 2008

Thoughts On: Chicken Farming


Chrissie Zaerpoor, farmer, cheesemaker, up-and-coming mead producer and one of the hardest-working women I know, began Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill with her husband Koorosh in order to build a life and a business together that they could be proud of. She recently sent out an e-mail with her thoughts on recent reports that have appeared in the media.

In the past few weeks, I have seen more bizarre reports in the media and on the web regarding the incubation, raising, handling, harvesting and selling of chickens and poultry than I ever would have believed.

As far as I can tell, these show actual photos and footage of animals in horrendous conditions both before and after they are dead, and the news stories tell of abominable practices related to incubation, handling, hygiene, and trucking. No wonder people don't trust their food sources, and no wonder more people are becoming vegetarians.

Not in the news is one of my current "hot buttons," which is the sale of processed chicken rather than whole broilers and fryers. Although boneless skinless breasts, thighs, ground chicken and chicken nuggets all seem like harmless convenience foods, they hide the story of why they exist. If you have the stomach to watch the chicken-harvesting scene in the video "Eating Mercifully," you will see that the chickens are battered appallingly as they are "harvested." Obviously most of these chickens suffer bruising, dislocations, and broken bones. This is the reason that most poultry in the U.S. is sold as parts rather than whole birds. The damaged limbs are cut away from the carcass and "processed" into ground chicken and chicken nuggets. Broken bones are removed for "value added" convenience products such as boneless skinless breasts. Unfortuantely, buying processed parts is a vote for this kind of treatment for poultry.

Our chickens are always gently hand-caught and gently hand-loaded into coops that are designed for a 15-bird capacity; we never put more than eight in a coop. These coops are $40 each and we own 40 of them. It's a significant investment in capital equipment to have twice the "recommended" number of coops, but it's gentler and safer for the birds. We slowly catch our birds one at a time, and place them one by one into the coops. Judging by the video, our labor cost for catching birds is about 15 times that of "industry standard." We typically have less than 5 percent of our birds with bruises or other injuries—some 95% of our poultry is fancy-quality, undamaged, undiseased, uninjured, perfect broiler/fryer carcasses. Right there in the unblemished bird is direct evidence of our gentler handling procedures.

Commercial poultry is over-medicated and often diseased at the time of harvest and is typically trucked hundreds of miles, in the coldest and hottest weather, with no food or water for up to 36 hours prior to slaughter. Studies have shown that when these trucks drive past, they leave a comet-trail of antibiotic-resistant disease germs in their wake. When you follow such a truck on the highway for a few miles, these germs enter your car. When the truck drives past a farm, it deposits these unwelcome visitors on the farm property. Antibiotic-resistant disease germs are spread among wild birds nesting or resting on the side of the highway.

We've all read that the USDA's standards for "free range" are ridiculously permissive, allowing a single door or a few minutes of access to the outdoors to qualify. Apparently now the "raised without antibiotics" tag is also misleading. The hatching eggs of meat chickens are routinely injected with long-acting antibiotics that stay in the chicken's system right up until the slaughter date. When Tyson was caught doing this, they objected to removing the labeling because "it's the industry standard" and "everybody does it." Kudos to the USDA who for once seems to be pressing the point that such chickens are NOT antibiotic-free.

Yikes.

We have confirmed that our hatchery does not inject anything into the eggs, ever. We have never given antibiotics to any chicken, at any stage of its incubation or growth, ever. We have never deliberately mistreated or roughly handled any chicken, ever. Koorosh and I participate in the catching and harvesting of our chickens, always.

Our chickens are raised and killed on the same farm. When we "truck" our chickens to slaughter, we're talking about a 3-minute tractor ride, 64 chickens at a time. (Eight coops of eight birds each is all our little Kubota tractor can move in one trip!) Our chickens are caught at sunset and killed before dawn the next morning, minimizing their discomfort. Our licensed and inspected poultry processing facility is clean and exceeds the standards of both the Oregon Department of Agriculture Food Safety Division inspector, and the standards of the meat director at New Seasons Markets, both of whom have observed our slaughtering and packing operations.

And every week you get to vote yes for this better kind of farming by buying our chickens at New Seasons Markets or directly from us at the Hillsdale Farmer's Market. The question is not really why are our Kookoolan chickens so expensive. We believe we raise chickens the way they used to be raised, and the way they should be raised. The real question is, what corners are the big guys cutting to make commodity chickens so cheap?

Wednesday, December 03, 2008

Cutting Edge Cocktails? Right Here, Of Course!


Once again, the Grey Lady has caught on to what we Northwesterners already know. In a story in today's Dining section, titled "Let 100 (O.K., 8) Bartending Philosophies Bloom," out of a list of two dozen cutting edge bars, three are in Oregon and two are in Seattle.

Not that I'm feeling smug or anything, but when the leading newspaper in the U.S. says that more than twenty percent of the coolest bars in the country are right here, well, you gotta wonder what's wrong with the rest of the nation, don't you?

To get specific, it lauds Jeffrey Morgenthaler of the Bel Ami Lounge in Eugene for a gin and tonic made with his own recipe for agave-sweetened quinine syrup. In Portland, Daniel Shoemaker at the Teardrop Lounge, who crafts his own vermouth, falernum, blueberry shrub (a kind of cordial) and 15 bitters (quite the ambitious guy, I'd say) is listed with Kevin Ludwig of Clyde Common, who rebuilt the Negroni around Krogstad aquavit from House Spirits.

In Seattle, the two finalists are Murray Stenson at the Zig Zag Cafe (photo, top), who is apparently infusing tea into his gin, and Jamie Boudreau at Tini Bigs for his iterations on the classic martini.

It should be noted that Portland is also hailed for the nine craft distilleries within its city limits, and that Lee Medoff and Christian Krogstad are called out for their efforts at House Spirits (see Clyde Common, above). And in the Food Stuff column in the same section, Florence Fabricant raves Rogue Spirit's Spruce Gin (photo, left).

Which begs the question: When's the rest of the country going to catch up?

Top photo by Stuart Isett for The New York Times. Spruce gin by Tony Cenicola for The New York Times.

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

A Trio of Holiday Gift Suggestions

There's nothing better than a self-liquidating gift. One that doesn't hang around or, heaven forfend, need to be dusted. Which explains the popularity of the calendar as the perfect practical gift. It's useful, doesn't take up much space and you can recycle it when the year's up, yet while it lasts you can enjoy a new piece of art on your wall every month. This year's edition of the Artisan Cheese Calendar from our friend Tami Parr at the Pacific Northwest Cheese Project is made to order for the cheese lover on your list, with its new, larger size (13.5" by 9") and great photos of Northwest artisan cheeses for only $28.99. Order it online, and note that 25% of all profits from sales benefit the Oregon Food Bank.

* * *

Though I was never able to convince my mother of the idea, I happen believe that a gift certificate is the ideal gift. These little slips of paper (or plastic as is often the case these days) allow the giftee to choose the object of their desire rather than what the gifter thinks they want. So if you've got a foodie friend who's been pining over classes in making cheese or artisan meats, Chrissie Zaerpoor at Kookoolan Farms in Yamhill has just announced a virtual laundry list of upcoming classes from Basic Soft Cheeses to Blue Cheese to Charcuterie for Beginners. I've attended a class and they're informative, not to mention tasty, even for those of us who are more interested in consumption than production. Check out the list of classes, or call 503-730-7535 for more information.

* * *

And, last but not least, what better way to let someone know how much you care than giving them the gift of health? Kristin Jackson of Take It Outside Fitness is offering gift certificates for group classes, personal training, or lifestyle and weight management either in her studio or outside in the fresh air. I've taken her classes for awhile now and found them not only affordable but downright fun. She's able to gear the workout to your ability level, so if you're fit or not you'll get a good workout and have fun at the same time. To quote The Monkees, "I'm A Believer." Check the website for gift certificate details.