Friday, April 30, 2010

Maine Line: The (other) Portland

There might as well be a wormhole connecting the two Portlands they have so much in common. The name, of course, means that each is a working port city, the Eastern one on the edge of a large bay, its Western namesake on a river.

Dimillo's Floating Restaurant.

Though the older city, founded in 1786, has just one-tenth the population of our much younger one, 62,875 to 582,130, each seems to attract people interested in quality of life over quantity of consumption. Mostly socially liberal with a whiff of a provincial air in their attitudes about outsiders, both are hotbeds for microroasted coffee and microbrewed beer, with a thriving local food culture.

Dave is a proud (former) Mainer, though Portland is considered a little too influenced by southern ways for people from The County, his ancestral homeland. We stayed in a brand new (and very comfortable) Marriott Residence Inn on the edge of the historic Old Port district, home to the aforementioned brewpubs and roasteries, as well as many terrific restaurants and locally owned shops.

Our first night was dedicated to the consumption of martinis and as much lobster as we could get our hands on, and I'd heard great things about the view from the dining room of DiMillo's. Situated in a converted car ferry and floating at the end of a pier below the Old Port (above left), it's a bit of a tourist attraction but one that was perfect for our needs that evening.

One lobster down, one to go.

We arrived to find that not only did they make a mighty fine martini in their main level wood-and-brass bar, they were offering a dinner special of two whole lobsters (steamed, stuffed or baked) for $19, including sides which, surprise surprise, was snapped up by almost everyone at the table. Their wine list tended, as you might expect, toward cabernet and merlot, but they also had bottles of Perrin Reserve, a perfectly decent Cotes du Rhone, that I snapped up for a very reasonable price.

Truth be told, the other offerings on the menu are decent to really good, but well worth going to for the view and the lobster, especially if you've got a pretty accommodating crew (the best kind, imho). The crab cakes were a tad flabby, the aioli less than fiery, but the steamers were perfect as were the lobsters. My best advice would be "stick to the classics, no frou-frou," good counsel in any situation.

Details: DiMillo's Floating Restaurant, 25 Long Wharf, Portland, ME. Phone 207-772-2216.

Read the other installments in the series: Dinner and a Show, Breakfast and Lunch, Loosening Up, Puttering Around the Old Port, Shackin' It and Fore Star.

Tweetie Bird

It was like getting an invitation to a party at someone's home, someone you don't hang with regularly and where you don't know most of the other folks coming. Should I dress up? Heels? Makeup? (As if…) I suppose I could have checked with my pal Peter, but he's always a pretty dapper guy, even if he's in jeans.

Baby turnips wrapped with anchovy.

At least those were the thoughts that bounced around in my head as I prepared to go to my first Tweet-Up. It was at Nostrana and involved dinner based on some classic recipes from James Beard, a man known for his appetite and humor, not so much for his fashion sense.

Added to that, since I don't have an iPhone (yet), was a little embarrassment about taking my laptop, which felt as out-of-date as a boombox. Fortunately a couple of other people were bringing theirs, so the worry about being labeled hopelessly out of date was lessened.

Chef Cathy Whims, a 2010 Beard nominee for Best Chef: Northwest, thought it would be fun to put on a series of dinners with the other Northwest nominees, and this first dinner was to be a collaboration with Naomi Pomeroy of Beast. It apparently took them about ten minutes to decide on the menu, and they chose to extend an invitation to local writers who post on Twitter, with the idea that we would tweet about the dinner and people could follow along remotely.

Asparagus with sauce verte.

In any case,  I arrived and was immediately given a choice of a Rob Roy (Dewars, sweet vermouth, bitters, up) or another Beard favorite, a gin fizz, this one made with Plymouth (the current house gin here at GSNW central), egg whites, lemon thyme bitters and sugar, served up. Moments later the freshly shaken drink was handed over, a promising start to the evening.

Shortly thereafter waiters carrying trays of tiny canapés…yes, canapés, not "small plates," not "snacks," not "bites," not "apps"…circulated, handing out the big guy's idea of pre-dinner teasers that would easily have qualified as a meal for most people, including Irma Rhode's onion sandwiches (little crustless squares of white bread spread with onion butter), Peggy's baby turnips wrapped with anchovy, shavings of roast lamb curled around mint butter, sardine canapés and, my personal favorite, fois gras-stuffed artichoke buds. Yum.

Hash with poached eggs.

Then came the "appetizer," really two vegetable courses, of peeled matchsticks of spring asparagus. One had a "sauce verte," a pesto of parsley, garlic, walnuts and tarragon, and the other was swathed in a blanket of green mayonnaise.

The wine served with them, an '08 Moscato Secco del Venet Vignalta "Sirio," wasn't the light and frizzante teaser I expected, but more like a sauv blanc, a little heavy for my taste. Much better was the '09 "Giovanni" Cameroni from local guy John Paul, with a spritely yet subtle zing that backed up the freshness of the asparagus and cut through the garlic and oil in the sauces.

The main course was an interesting but totally Beard-appropriate choice of a halibut cheek and clam hash on potatoes with two poached eggs. Smashingly delicious says it all.

Apple rhubarb charlotte with creme anglaise.

And dessert, another over-the-top success, was described as an "apple rhubarb charlotte with creme anglaise." Nothing like the heavy versions I've had before, but a light and airy cake with plenty of crunch, a foil for the tang of the rhubarb and richness of the creme anglaise.

Needless to say, after all that, I was ready to slurp down a decaf espresso and head home, more than satisfied and feeling a little like Cinderella heading back to her ashes. Oh, and the attire? Decided on nice casual, as usual, with a tiny bit of bling. Mr. Beard, I'm sure, would have approved.

Thursday, April 29, 2010

Buns in the Oven

Ever wonder what a Corgi (you know, the dogs with a normal sized body and little short legs) looks like when they're pregnant? Really, really pregnant? With eight puppies? Well, here's the answer.

By the way, if this girl looks familiar, her name is Geisha and you last saw her when she was just a wee thing. She's got another six days to go before she's due, so I'll keep you posted on developments as I get them!

Puppy update: Geisha delivered 11…count 'em…eleven healthy puppies on Thursday,  May 6, starting at about 12:30 pm and ending at 6:30. Whew! All are doing well, and check back for further updates as pictures come in!

Wednesday, April 21, 2010

The Ultimate Market Town?

It's easy to feel a little smug and self-satisfied when you read that Portland has been voted second in the country for having the best farmer's market, or when you see a list of the nearly 40 markets that pop up every spring all around our fair city. But it's a bit of a wake-up when you venture outside of our little corner of the Northwest, whether it's Mazatlan, Korea or, especially, France, where going to the market is part of the fabric of the day for most people. The fishmonger, the cheese shop, the baker, the butcher…they're all part of the community circle, not a once-a-week trip for six months of the year. This video, shot this morning by my brother who's in Paris even as I write, shows us what it could be like right here in river city.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

In Season NW: Market News

The national press has been all over our market scene, with the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU voted the second best market in the country (after Seattle and ahead of New Orleans) in a recent survey of readers of Travel & Leisure magazine. With the recent expansion of the market to include the block immediately to the south and with two dozen new vendors, market manager Ann Forsthoefel said that attendance is already nearly double over what it was last year. That means happy shoppers with more elbow room and, it follows, happy vendors, too.

Details: Portland Farmers' Market at PSU. Sat., 8:30 am-2 pm. At Portland State University in the South Park Blocks between SW Hall & SW Montgomery.

* * *

Portland columnist Sandy McCollum made a trip to the Lloyd Farmers' Market and found herself dazed by the warm, homemade breads, wild mushrooms and fresh asparagus she found there. Needless to say, she stumbled out an hour later loaded down with goodies to take home, a common situation for almost every market shopper I know. Maybe we should start a Portland chapter of MSA…Market Shoppers Anonymous? View a slideshow of this hidden gem of a market.

Details: Lloyd Farmers' Market. Tues., 10 am-2 pm. In Oregon Square Courtyard on NE Holladay Street between NE 7th Ave. and NE 9th Ave.

Photo of Lloyd Market from

* * *

For some reason the fact that we have a terrific roster of winter markets here in Portland simply doesn't register with some people, though they may be dedicated, even rabid, market shoppers during the rest of the year. That list includes the Hillsdale Farmers' Market, People's Farmers' Market and the Lloyd Farmers' Market, soon to be joined by a year-round market in Oregon City. So it was great to see one of my favorite markets celebrated in a story at Zester Daily on the Hillsdale market and one of its founders, Ted J. Coonfield. Way to go, Hillsdale!

Details: Hillsdale Farmers' Market. Sun., 10 am-2 pm. At the intersection of SW Capitol Hwy and Sunset Blvd. in the parking lot of Wilson High School behind the Hillsdale Shopping Center.

Photo of Ted Coonfield by Nolan Hester for Zester Daily.

Friday, April 16, 2010

Half Hour Breakfast

It was a deer-in-the-headlights moment, though my life didn't flash before my eyes. That came later.

Paul Gerald, author of, among other tomes, the vastly popular Breakfast in Bridgetown, a book about…well…great places to have breakfast in PDX, asked if he could interview me about sussing out the best places to have breakfast at the farmers' markets. I walked in to his recording studio and, on seeing the mikes and the engineer looking expectantly in my direction, had the aforementioned get-me-the-heck-out-of-here, no-fight-just-flight, maybe-I'll-get-lucky-and-die-right-now thoughts exploding in my head.

I'm assuming Paul has had this experience with other first-timers, since before I could turn and run he was gently easing me into my chair and playing the intro music. So if you have a few minutes to listen, it's not a bad half hour Breakfast.

Play Breakfast in Bridgetown: An Interview with Kathleen Bauer of GoodStuffNW.

In Season NW: Rhubarb Over Raab

I love a good rant when it's well-informed and passionate. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood goes off about labeling any flowering vegetable as raab, which kinda bugs me, too. Once he gets that out of his system, he goes on to discuss roasted rhubarb, a great addition to the spring repertoire.

Raab Rant

The tendency to use the term “raab” for the immature flower stalks of vegetables typically eaten during some other phase of their life cycle needs to be stopped. Raab is a corruption version of rapa, Italian for turnip. Broccoli is the plural of the Italian broccolo, which means the flowering head of a cabbage. Broccoli raab: flowering head of a turnip (aka rapini, another delicious member of the cabbage family Brassicaceae).

It’s probably too much to ask for a simpler approach. But I’d rather see the common names of the vegetables, mostly cabbage brethren, used instead. Maybe something along the lines of “collard tops.”

For a different take on raab, check out this post from the Portland Farmers' Market blog.

* * *

Roasted Rhubarb

I love the taste of rhubarb, and growing up I ate a lot of plain stewed rhubarb sprinkled with sugar. A few years ago I decided to roast some with olive oil. I liked how it kept its shape even though it got very tender. It still needed a sweetener, though, so next I drizzled it with honey, too, before roasting.

Cut 5 or 6 stalks of rhubarb into half inch pieces. Toss them with a healthy drizzle of extra virgin olive oil (a couple of tablespoons worth) and abut the same amount of honey. Spread on a baking sheet, sprinkle with flor de sal, and roast at 350F for about 20 minutes.

I eat this with yogurt, spooned over a slice of olive oil cake, or all by itself.

Olive-Oil Cake with Honey-Roasted Rhubarb
By Jim Dixon, from the Jim Dixon collection at

I adapted this cake recipe from Tenuta di Capezzana, the Tuscan olive-oil producer. It’s easy and incredibly delicious. The rhubarb, however, was my own invention. I started just roasting it with olive oil, then sprinkling it with sugar to eat, but the honey works much better. I also like how the rhubarb holds its shape, instead of breaking down like it does when you stew it. We ate a lot of rhubarb growing up, and it’s one of my favorite things, but I’m adamant about never mixing it with strawberries.

For the cake:
3 eggs
2½ c. sugar
1 1/2 c. extra-virgin olive oil
1 1/2 c. milk
Grated zest of 2-3 oranges or lemons
2 c. unbleached all-purpose flour
1 tsp. baking powder
Large pinch of salt

For the rhubarb topping:
6 stalks rhubarb
2 Tbsp. extra-virgin olive oil1/3-1/2 c. honey

Preheat the oven to 350 degrees. Butter and flour a 12-inch cake pan (I usually make this in a 12-inch cast-iron skillet).

In a large bowl, whisk together the eggs and granulated sugar. Add the olive oil, milk, and citrus zest.

In another bowl, stir together the flour, baking powder, and salt. Make a well in the dry ingredients and slowly add the egg mixture, stirring just until blended. Do not overmix. Pour the batter into the prepared pan.

Bake until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out clean, 50 to 55 minutes. I let the cake cool in the skillet and serve it directly from the pan, but you could let it cool completely, loosen the sides with a knife, and invert onto a serving plate (hold the plate against the cake pan and flip; hopefully it will come out in one piece).

While the cake is baking, slice a half-dozen or so rhubarb stalks into half-inch pieces. Toss them with a few tablespoons of olive oil, then arrange on a sheet pan and drizzle with about ½ cup honey. Roast at 350 degrees for about 20 minutes. Let cool and spoon over slices of olive-oil cake.

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

A Real Rinpoche (From Down the Street)

My friend Denise sent along a bulletin about an upcoming event that Good Stuff NW readers might find of interest.

As some of you know, my dad has been working these past two years to bring a book into being: Surviving the Dragon, by and about Arjia Rinpoche, a Tibetan Buddhist Lama, once the abbott of Kumbum Monastery.

We first met Rinpoche when we lived in Mill Valley, shortly after he'd escaped China. I didn't know his amazing story then, and referred to him as "Dad's buddy, the Rinpoche down the street." They traded Buddhist teachings for English lessons, and later, when Dad moved to Portland, they continued their relationship by Skype.

The Rinpoche as a child with his parents.

Well, this week Rinpoche is in town to promote his newly published memoirs, capping off a six-week tour of the east and west coasts. From here he rushes back to the Tibetan Mongolian Buddhist Cultural Center that he runs in Indiana, to host the Dalai Lama for a week.

His English still isn't all that great and he's left the slides at home, but Dad says his talks are mesmerizing nonetheless. So if you're interested in the Tibet/China situation (Rinpoche was fairly close to the Panchen Lama before he was poiso...err...died at a young age), or in Buddhism, or in travelers of exotic paths and places, you may want to come see him this Friday or Saturday (details below). And tell your friends…I'd love for him to get a healthy-sized Portland audience.

Details: Lecture and reading by Arjia Rinpoche. Fri., April 16, 7-8:30 pm; free. Portland Unitarian Universalist Church, 1011 SW 12th Ave. Sat., April 17, 7:30 pm; free. Powell's Books on Hawthorne, 3723 SE Hawthorne Blvd.

A Night in Sicily

"If I won the lottery…" has always been a precursor to what-if conversations involving fantasies we've had about buying that special little pied-a-terre in Paris or taking a trip around the world.

Tasca D'Almerita Regaleali bianco.

The well-documented downside of a sudden change of circumstances notwithstanding, one recurring theme of these flights of fancy is to fly a group of friends to an exotic locale for a sumptuous dinner involving tuxedo-clad waiters, sparkling glassware and a world-class menu. Maybe tropical breezes. Yeah, that, too.

Let's see…where was I? Oh, yeah, dinners with friends in exotic locales.

Sfincione Palermitano.

An opportunity to do just that arrived recently, not in the form of unearned millions, but from friend and fellow blogger, Josh, of PDXploration. And the locale, at 21st and SE Division, while it might seem at first glance a tad prosaic, turns out to house a secret doorway to the delights of Italy in the form of the cooking of Stefania Toscano and her husband, Lawrence McCormick.

Stephania Toscano, introducing a course.

Their place, Taste Unique, is almost invisible from the street and is right next door to Bar Avignon, making it the ideal secret getaway. With only four tables and a narrow stand-up counter, it's dominated by the open kitchen, which is where Stephania puts out the amazing take-out menu of fresh pastas, raviolis, lasagnas, cannelloni, sauces, cream pastries and tiramisu plus salty Roman-style focaccia baked every hour.

Lawrence McCormick, in the kitchen.

They also open the place on select nights for private dinners, and that's where Dave and I headed for a mind-blowing four-course Sicilian dinner paired with wines from the region. We sat down at a long table (no doubt the four café tables pushed together) and were immediately poured a glass of Tasca D'Almerita Regaleali bianco, a wine made from the native Inzolia, Catarrato and Grecanico grown in Sicily. Icy cold and with a smooth but fresh taste, this is a food-friendly wine I could spend a summer with.

Stephania preparing the pasta.

It was followed quickly by an appetizer of Sfincione Palermitano, a special focaccia made with onions, Pecorino, breadcrumbs and tomatoes. The crust is a 50-50 mix of cornmeal and durum flour, and makes for a cakey base for the light but flavorful tomato sauce and browned pangrattato topping. This I'm going to try here at home.

Pasta 'Ncatenata Rigatoni.

I went into the kitchen to watch Stephania finish the pasta course, a spicy Pasta 'Ncatenata Rigatoni with broccoli, crushed peppers and anchovies. After patiently cutting the blanched broccoli florets, she then folded in grated pecorino, salt and added some of the pasta water until it was the perfect blend of soft pasta and cheesy filling. Kevin Sandri of Garden State, who remembers his grandmother making this dish, said it took him back to the occasions when she would make it for special family gatherings.

Sarde Beccafico ready to go in the oven.

The pasta was amazing enough, but then I went back to the kitchen and saw a baking dish ready to pop in the oven. It turned out to be Sarde Beccafico (top photo), is one of Sicily's most famous traditional dishes of baked stuffed sardines. It requires much preparation, and Stephania said they spend most of the afternoon carefully filling and rolling the tiny sardine fillets.

2007 Tasca D'Almerita Regaleali Lamuri.

With the filling giving a grainy, moist sweetness of raisin and cinnamon to the delicate fish, this was a stunner, made more so by the accompanying Bastaddu Affucatu, cauliflower "drowned" in red wine with olives, anchovies and pecorino. At this point we were more than two hours in to the meal, and Lawrence offered another Tasca D'Amerita wine, this time a 2007 Nero D'Avola called Lamuri that was an amazing balance of tannins and fruit. I thought it matched the sardines and cauliflower perfectly, and is one I'll be asking my brother about.

As with the other courses, Stephania introduced this dish with a story. She had found an elderly Sicilian woman who had said she would teach Stephania to make this very traditional dish, but after showing Stephania the steps involved the woman refused to give up the written version of the recipe. Apparently many traditional recipes are considered heirlooms to be passed down only within families in a village, and it wasn't until Stephania moved to the United States (and was at a non-threatening distance) that the woman was felt she could send photocopies of the recipe from her notebook.

Stephania filling the cannolis.

We were expecting dessert to be a Cassata Siciliana, and by way of apology Stephania said she regretted that she couldn't find the fruit that was needed and had to substitute cannolis stuffed with chocolate chip-studded cream and dipped in pistachios. So, in the spirit of politeness (and because we were too stuffed to move by that point) we (not so) begrudgingly plowed our way through the delightfully munchable shells served with the customary slightly sweet cups of espresso served in Sicilian cafés.

Feeling a food coma ready to take us down one by one, we reluctantly waved goodbye and headed home to dreams of Sicilian beaches populated by happy and well-fed travelers. For that, who needs the lottery?

Details: Taste Unique, 2134 SE Division. Phone 503-206-7059.

Monday, April 12, 2010

Tweet Hearts

Again, I am forced to confess a personal failing: I am addicted to Twitter, the 140-character microblogging service. I don't check it constantly because I don't have to. I'm on it all the time.

To make matters worse, they added a feature that notifies you of the number of tweets you haven't read and that you must download immediately. There's also a feature that allows you to, essentially, e-mail your friends privately as long as the message isn't more than those same 140 characters. I tell you, it's insidious.

Ali and Evan, known as @LilRedBikeCafe on Twitter, aren't helping the situation, either. Portland's so-much-in-love-they-had-to-start-a-restaurant couple is now releasing their secret café recipes on Twitter. Or at least the one for their pulled pork. Complete with secret ingredients, no less!

As tweeted, here it is:
  • Secrets to our pulled pork revealed! Start with nice, healthy pork butt. Make rub w/ pepper, paprika, mustard, coffee, ginger, sugar, salt.
  • Rub, cover, let sit in fridge overnight. Remove next day, allow to rest @ room temp. 2 hours, place in crockpot.
  • Top roast w/ garlic and sliced onions.
  • Here's the secret! Pour in one bottle of ginger beer. Cover, set crockpot on low 12 hours and cook.
  • After 12 hours, remove remaining fat, shred, return to pot along w/bottle of BBQ sauce and cook 4 more hours. Place on buns w/slaw & enjoy
See what I mean? I'm cursed, I tell you, to a life told in 140 characters. Egad.

GSNW Garden 2010: Dreamscape

It might sound pathetic at first, but nothing gets me dreaming like a strip of dirt. Especially if that dirt is newly plowed in anticipation of planting. This is the second season for our parking strip with its unobstructed southern exposure and, though it doesn't look like much now, I'm already imagining it bursting with greens and peppers and tomatoes.

So consider this the first installment in the 2010 GSNW Garden series!

Sunday, April 11, 2010

Eat Your Greens

Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food loves him some greens, and filling his needs requires that his garden has substantial acreage (or would it be footage?) devoted to the task. This time he waxes eloquent about collards, one of my new favorite garden greens.

Collards Affogato

I stole the name from Nostrana, where they serve collard greens cooked long and slow with a little pork, onion, and red pepper. They reminded me of cavalo nero (aka “lacinato” kale) the way I like to cook it, braised in olive oil with onion. I liked them more than my usual Southern style collards, which are also slow cooked with some kind of pork and onion, but in more water so you end up with a fair amount of pot likker.

Collard is an abbreviation of colewort. This member of the cabbage family isn’t really eaten in Italy, so the tag affogato—literally, drowned—is a homegrown construct. But I read not long ago about Slow Food founder Carlo Petrini raving about collards during a visit to the south, so they’re Italian now.

Cut a couple of bunches of collard greens by trimming the bottom inch, then rolling about half a bunch into a tight cylinder and cutting across the roll into half inch strips (called chiffonade). I usually cut the resulting little pinwheels again in the other direction.

Cut a couple of slices of bacon into small dice. Cook with a little olive oil until brown, then add a medium onion, also diced. Cook together for about 5 minutes, then add the collards, about a cup of water, and a pinch of sea salt. Add some red pepper flakes if you like things spicy. Cover, reduce heat to a simmer, and cook for at least 30 minutes (45 is better, I think).

Serve with a drizzle of good extra virgin olive oil.

Photo by Karen Morton of Wild Garden Seed.

Saturday, April 10, 2010

When A Cheese Maker Dreams

In a recent newsletter, self-declared Cheese Czarina Lisa Jacobs of Jacobs Creamery found her mind wandering. Let's listen in:

Sometimes the cheese making part and the animals and the milk and milking and the scheduling and the markets and the weather and new products and more rainy weather and almost getting killed by a bull, and my girls getting pink eye and a sprained ankle all somehow overwhelm me. When this happens I usually go online and check flights to Italy and start planning my getaway.

My mind starts to wander to what ifs.

What if when I got off the plane in Milan one of the Stoppani Brothers (who own Peck, one of the most glamorous cheese shops in the world) met me at my plane and welcomed me to Italy and had arranged a tour of all my favorite Italian cheese-makers? What if he whisked me away to dairy after dairy and creamery after creamery teaching me all the practical things that I don't know now? What if when I thought nothing could get better we arrived in Campagnia where I met the cheese maker of a wonderful mascarpone di buffala?

It just so happens in my hypothetical situation that he is a mere 31 years old and is devastatingly handsome and would like someone to make cheese with. Of course he invites me to make cheese with him in his yellow-tiled cheese room and hands me the ph meter so that I can control the cheese making. Afterward he would show me his herd of jersey cows, and the sheep and then water buffalo and then goats and then we would sit down and he would put the kettle on and ask me if I ever thought of milking a moose.

Aaaahhhhh. What a perfect world it could be with my what ifs!

And then the timer dings and I have to stir the vat again. But at least you will know where to find me if I am suddenly gone.

Until this happens, you can find her and her dairy maids ready to serve you some of her addictive puddings, butter and, of course, cheeses at the Portland Farmers' Market at PSU on Saturdays and the Hillsdale Farmers' Market on Sunday.

Friday, April 09, 2010

Going Old School

Old school. Clubby. The kind of place where the bartenders know that a proper martini is made with gin and perhaps a whisper of vermouth, where umbrellas are in stands by the door, not put in the drinks. And the only fruit purée in evidence comes on the desserts.

Every city has them. Tadich Grill and Sam's Grill in San Francisco, and Jack's in Redding are a few that we've wandered into. Portland has Jake's and Huber's, the former now owned by the McCormick and Schmick's chain and a mere shadow of its former self, the latter so old my grandfather used to go there in the early part of the 20th century when he would bring his cattle to market from Eastern Oregon.

Then there are the newer places that have an instant old-school feel, like the bar at Higgins, popular with a certain class of upper-crust businessmen and lawyers feeling the need for a drink after a day at the office and before heading home to their families (with likely another drink to dampen the din).

And no wonder these guys like this place…it feels like a library or private club, the barmen (and women) in white shirts and ties taking your drink order almost before you settle into your seat at the bar. Its draft list is a well-curated selection of Northwest microbrews with a smattering of Europeans, backed by an impressive list of bottles from all over the globe.

The food I've had there on two separate trips was good if not great. The burger is of the less-is-more variety, with a medium-sized, medium-cooked burger on a nice bun with trimmings on the side. It's considered one of the better burgers in town along with those from Paley's Place and Castagna Café, but I had one that was just as good for four bucks less at Kevin Sandri's Garden State cart.

The house-made charcuterie board (above left) is very good, with a wide selection of owner Greg Higgins' best, more than twice the amount of meat you'd get for about the same price anyplace else in town. The bucatini pasta with nettle pesto and walnuts (above right) sounded good but would have benefited from less cooking on the pasta side and more zip in the sauce.

What it comes down to is that for a place to meet friends for drinks downtown, you can't go wrong here. Especially when you're in the mood for some schoolin' in old school.

Details: Higgins Bar, 1239 SW Broadway. 503-222-9070.

In Season NW: Learning to Love Weeds

Growing up, anything that was growing in the yard that wasn't identifiable as grass was declared a weed and was summarily yanked or sprayed or otherwise executed on the spot. Not to say that in our zeal we didn't occasionally rip out one of my mother's prize peonies or a ranunculus or two. And all of us knew from repeated finger-shaking lectures that all weeds were poisonous and would cause painful convulsions followed by death if eaten. Period.

That impression was only fortified later on when there was a flurry of dandelion winemaking resulting in a foul-tasting brew that wasn't even worth drinking for the buzz from the alcohol. So imagine my confusion when I visited my soon-to-be-relatives in Maine and they served up a pile of little green swirls they called fiddleheads, the tiny furled fronds of ferns that were gathered next to icy streams with exotic names like Meduxnekeag.

Suffice it to say that from then on I put childish things behind me and became fascinated with all edible "weeds" to the point where, if I saw some growing in a parking strip, I'd stop dead in my tracks, checking for any telltale signs of marking by dogs, and pick and eat one then and there, much to my son's chagrin.

One of these, claytonia perfoliata or miner's lettuce (above left), is now being grown by several vendors at the farmers' markets in much more sanitary surroundings, and I try to pick up several bunches when I see them. Recently they formed the bed of a beet salad that I served with a pork and couscous tagine, providing a colorful contrast as well as a satisfying crunchiness to the sweet richness of the beets.

Roasted Beet Salad with Miner's Lettuce and Honey Mustard Dressing

For the salad:
3 medium-sized beets
1 bunch miner's lettuce or other leafy greens

For the dressing:
Juice of 1 large lemon
1 1/2 Tbsp. honey
1 tsp. whole-grain mustard
1/3 c. extra virgin olive oil

Preheat oven to 400°. Wash beets to remove any dirt clinging to them. Wrap each one, drizzled with a bit of olive oil, in a piece of aluminum foil and place in small roasting pan or glass baking dish. Roast for approx. 1 hour, testing occasionally with a fork. When tender but not mushy remove from oven and cool. Cut in 1/2" or smaller cubes and place in medium-sized mixing bowl.

Combine the lemon juice, honey, mustard, and olive oil in a jar with a tight-fitting lid. Shake until well combined. Alternatively, place the lemon juice, honey, and mustard in a bowl. Whisk to combine. Add olive oil in a slow, steady stream until dressing is emulsified.

Pour dressing over beets and mix to combine. This can be done ahead and refrigerated until ready to serve. Make a bed of the washed and dried miner's lettuce or other greens, top with a pile of the cubed beets and serve.

Wednesday, April 07, 2010

Make the Call: Small Organic Farms in Peril

One thing I know for sure: Small, organic, family-owned farms are not the cause of the problems in our food system. But a sweeping overhaul of federal the food safety law called HR 2749 may lump these small farmers in with the practices of the large industrial agricultural businesses that have caused outbreaks of e. coli, melamine contamination and salmonella, just to name a few.

This bill, if it passes in its current form, would cost small farmers an annual registration fee of $500 and impose a blanket application of complicated monitoring and traceability standards—regardless of the farm's size. This would imperil farms that are already struggling on thin margins as it is.

The Cornucopia Institute, which supports ecologically produced local, organic food, has issued an action alert stating that "there's no doubt that industrial agriculture needs better oversight. But, family-scale local and organic farms are probably the safest in the nation—they are part of the solution, not part of the problem—and need to be protected."

Senator Tester (D-MT), a certified organic farmer, is proposing an amendment to S. 510 (the Senate version of the House bill) that would exempt small-scale farmers and food processors from the most burdensome regulations.

Please consider calling Sen. Merkley (Portland 503-326-3386; Wash., DC 202-224-3753) and Sen. Wyden (Portland 503-326-7525; Wash., DC 202-224-5244) and tell them to support Sen. Tester's amendment. Talking points are available on the Cornucopia Institute alert page. If you live outside of Oregon and want to call your senators, you can look them up online or call the Capitol switchboard at 202-224-3121.

Believe it or not, your calls will make a difference, not only in terms of the legislation that is passed but in the lives of the families that are producing our food.

Photo of seed harvesting at Gathering Together Farm in Philomath by

Tuesday, April 06, 2010

Livin' in the Blurbs: What's Buzzin'

Who doesn't love an opportunity to stuff your face for a good cause? And don't shake your head at me…you know I'm talking to you! Coming up on April 26th is Share Our Strength's annual Taste of the Nation, where 100% of ticket sales and auction revenues go to benefit local hunger relief agencies working to end childhood hunger. More than 50 of the city’s finest chefs and restaurants will participate in the gastronomic affair, including Accanto, Bluehour, Clarklewis, Nuestra Cocina, Beaker & Flask, Thistle, Genoa, Full Sail, Elk Cove, Argyle and Foris Vineyards. I've been to the event in the past and I can tell you it's quite an extravaganza and well worth the ticket price. Especially for such a good cause!

Bonus: Two tickets to the event will be given away to one reader who sends an e-mail with "Tickets" in the subject line to GoodStuffNW by Monday, April 19. Winner's name will be drawn from a hat and notified by e-mail on April 20.

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And the winner is: GSNW reader Judy Holloway's name was drawn from a hat by Dave, who even closed his eyes to make it official. Congratulations, Judy, and have a great evening at TOTN!

Details: Share Our Strength's Taste of the Nation. Monday, April 26, 6:30-9 pm; $75, tickets available online. Event at Luxe Autohaus, 410 NE 17th Ave. 503-866-0271.

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Portland cook Chris Musser is dedicated to teaching people about saving money by preparing food at home while supporting local food systems. To that end, she created Lost Arts Kitchen and is offering a plethora of great classes for beginning cooks. Some of the titles are Dairy Magic: Yogurt, Neufchatel, Mozzarella and Chevre; Eggs? Eggs! Eggs!?!; and Baking Basics: Sandwich Loaves, Bagels and Crackers. Check the class listings on her website for the full roster with dates and times.

Details: Lost Arts Kitchen Cooking Classes. $40 per class. Upcoming schedule on the website.

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For someone who writes a blog about what's going on in the Northwest, I sometimes feel hopelessly out of touch. For instance, I just found out that the fellow who wrote the Breakfast in Bridgetown book, Paul Gerald, has a weekly podcast called, appropriately enough, Breakfast in Bridgetown. I found this out because he interviewed me recently about what the farmers' markets have to offer in the way of morning goodness, which he handled in an engaging (and occasionally humorous) way. And the podcasts he's done with other folks are very interesting, so check them out! (The one about farmers' markets should be posted around April 16th, but I'll keep you updated.)

Details: Breakfast in Bridgetown with Paul Gerald. Fridays at 1 pm on PDX.FM to listen live or available online any time.

Monday, April 05, 2010

Grow a Salad Bowl

My friend Rebecca Gerendasy of Cooking Up A Story invited me to head out to Hillsboro to visit Rainyway Farm and talk with Joan Baune, a market farmer. Our first collaboration resulted in the video above and the story below. Fun stuff!

When Joan Baune heard customers bemoaning the fact that they didn't have room on their tiny city lots to grow their own vegetables, she knew she could help people eager to grow their own food no matter how little land they had.

Joan and her husband Ron both grew up on farms near the Oregon coast and, though they didn't meet till they were grown, when they married they knew they wanted property of their own. Kids came, and the pastures around their home, now called Rainyway Farm, were filled with the livestock the kids raised for Future Farmers of America projects.

Joan Baune of Rainyway Farm.

When the kids grew up the Baunes decided to expand their small vegetable garden and plowed up the well-fertilized pastures to plant vegetables. Ron built a greenhouse for plant starts that they began selling at a nearby farmers' market, and when that garden reached eight acres, they decided to hit the big time with a space at the much larger Portland Farmers' Market.

While their plant starts were a big hit, they realized that city people didn't have the larger parcels of land that were common in the suburbs. This "aha!" moment led Joan to the realization that potted vegetables would be a great value-added addition to their product mix, and she came up with her Rainyway Farm Salad Bowls.

She first fills the 20" plastic pots with a rich potting mix and then gently adds 15 to 20 lettuce and chard plants that she starts from seed. Joan's eye for composition is evident in the red lettuces and colorful chard that she adds, saying that the different textures and colors make it look prettier on a patio.

After planting, the pots are then moved into the greenhouse to mature and fill in before going to the market. Joan said that many people buy them for gifts as well as for their own use, trimming off the outside leaves as they mature and using them in green salads. When the lettuces are exhausted, customers can use the pots to plant other vegetables like tomatoes for the summer or braising greens for use throughout the winter.

Her recipe for success? Just a keen ear and a willingness think outside the garden.

Sunday, April 04, 2010

Budget Cuts: Moroccan…Ish?

I love dinner parties. Going to them, having them. But not those large affairs you see in the movies where the hostess devises a clever seating plan and places Mr. X near Ms. Y to watch the sparks fly.

My ideal dinner party numbers four to six total, not just because of the size of our dining table (which has accommodated 12 in a pinch) but because the point, for me, is good conversation. And since our friends have no trouble coming up with interesting things to say (even if it's at the top of their lungs), that part is easy. The trickier part is figuring out what to feed them.

It seems everyone these days has dietary restrictions, allergies or sensitivities. Add to that individual likes and dislikes, multiply by the number of guests and you've got a problem of algorithmic proportions.

And not to get all "every cloud has a silver lining" on you, but when a recent invitee expressed a reluctance about lamb, my plans for a Moroccan tagine featuring that meat had to be modified on the fly. It led me to investigate substituting pork for the lamb shoulder called for in the recipe, and since one of my new favorite budget cuts, pork leg roast, was on sale that week, I snapped it up.

The pork turned out to be a genius choice, with its inclination to fall apart but not dissolve with slow braising. Its hefty texture and mild flavor would meld with, rather than overwhelm, the fruit and rich spices of the dish. And nothing makes arriving guests start drooling quicker than the aroma of those spices simmering away for a few hours. Throw in a couple of bottles of red wine to grease the wheels, and the job of hosting is a no-brainer.

Pork Tagine with Pistachios, Almonds, Pine Nuts and Golden Raisins
Adapted from Rice Pasta Couscousby Jeff Koehler

3-4 lbs. pork leg or pork shoulder
Salt and freshly ground pepper
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 lg. onion, chopped
1 3" piece cinnamon stick
20 saffron threads
4 whole cloves
1/4 tsp. ground ginger
1/4 tsp. ground turmeric
1 1/2 Tbsp. tomato paste
1 lg. carrot, diced
1 lg. turnip, diced
6 c. water
1/4 c. golden raisins
2 Tbsp. butter or margarine
1/4 c. slivered almonds
1/4 c. pine nuts
1/4 c. shelled pistachios

Preheat oven to 300°.

Season pork with salt and pepper, cut in large chunks. Heat oil in large oven-proof pot over medium-high heat. Add the onion and lamb and cook, stirring frequently, until the pork is browned and the onion is soft, about 10 minutes. Add the cinnamon, cloves, ginger, turmeric and tomato paste and mix in with the lamb. Add the carrots and turnips and cover with water. Bring to a boil, then remove from heat, cover and place in oven. Cook 3-4 hours. Break up pork into smaller chunks before serving.

While pork cooks, soak the raisins in lukewarm water for 15 minutes, drain. In a small saucepan over low heat, melt the butter or margarine. Add the almonds, pine nuts, pistachios and raisins and cook, stirring frequently, until the nuts are browned and the raisins plump, about 5 minutes. Transfer to a bowl to cool.

To serve, mound couscous (recipe below) on a large platter. Using a slotted spoon, remove the pork and vegetables and place on top of the couscous. Scatter nut and raisin mixture over top. Tent platter with foil to keep it warm. Strain the broth remaining (optional) and adjust seasoning, adding harissa a bit at a time (if desired). Serve remaining broth in a pitcher with a dish of harissa on the side.

Baked Couscous
Adapted from Rice Pasta Couscousby Jeff Koehler

1 tsp. salt
2 1/2 c. warm water
1 lb. couscous (about 2 1/2 c.)
2 Tbsp. olive oil
1 Tbsp. butter or margarine

Preheat oven to 350°. Dissolve the salt in the water. Pour the couscous into a 9" by 12" baking dish and dribble the warm salty water over it. Mix with a fork. let sit without disturbing for 10 minutes. Drizzle in the oil. Toss with both hands, lifting the grains and letting them fall through your fingers. Work out any clumps by rubbing your palms together, letting the grains drop into the dish. Transfer the couscous to an ovenproof baking dish and bake, turning the grains over from time to time, until steamy warm, 10 to 15 minutes. Work in the butter. Fluff with a fork before piling the couscous onto a platter.

Look for other recipes in the Budget Cuts series: Stuffed Pork Leg Roast with Kale and Pine Nuts;  Chile-Marinated Pork Shoulder; Grilled London Broil; Pork Leg Roast with Lemon and Prosciutto Stuffing and Roasted Vegetables.

Thursday, April 01, 2010

In Season NW: Spring Sensations

Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood has a booth at the Portland Farmers' Market on Saturdays in the South Park Blocks (look for the large "Olive Oil" sign…that's him), so he's always up on what's in season and looking good. Plus he's a terrific cook and one who's willing to share his latest finds.

Pasta with Nettles and Maitakes

Both maitake mushrooms (above) and stinging nettle should be at the farmers market this time of year. They provide an alternative to the usual spring ingredients like fresh peas or asparagus. Maitakes are also called Hen of the Woods (Grifola frondosa for the mycologists), and the clusters of frond-like fungi can be simply broken up for cooking.

Start the pasta water first. Cook the nettles separately in boiling, salted water for a minute or two [be sure to handle with gloves when they're fresh…they're not called stinging nettles for nothing! - KAB], then squeeze out the water, chop coarsely, and set aside. Strain out debris and save the cooking water (also called nettle tea) and use it for soup.

Chop a couple of garlic cloves and sauté them briefly in olive oil with a pinch of sea salt. Add the mushrooms and cook for about 10 minutes on medium heat. Pour in a splash of white wine and let it cook down. Add the chopped nettles. Taste, add a little salt if necessary, and remove from the heat until the pasta is ready.

In the meantime you’ve cooked a pound of pasta (a short shape like orechiette or rigatoni works best) in salted water. Drain, reserving a bit of cooking water, and add the pasta and couple of spoonfuls of pasta water to the mushroom mix.

Add a cup or so of bread crumbs to a little olive oil in a skillet and cook for a few minutes, until they darken a bit. Stir into the pasta. Serve with good extra virgin olive oil and Parmigiano Reggiano.