Monday, May 31, 2010

The Inveterate Griller

You gotta love the all-weather grillers who live in the rainy Northwest. Dave's been out in rain, sleet and snow working his beloved Weber, and no showery Memorial Day is going to keep him inside, and he proved it by smoking a 9-lb. brisket (known as "The Big-Ass Brisket") yesterday. Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood is a brother-in-barbecue, and sends the following as proof.

Given our wetter than usual weather, you may have forgone the traditional holiday weekend kickoff of the outdoor cooking season. I’ve stoked the Weber a few times in the last month, and I first cooked the pork patties below over charcoal. But they do just fine in a skillet on the stove or even as porky meatballs in the oven.

Pork and Cabbage Patties

I can’t bring myself to call these pork “burgers,” even after Bittman’s story in the NYT about other-than-beef hamburgers. If I cook them flat, they’re patties; round, I call them balls.

For a pound of ground pork, finely chop enough green cabbage to make about a cup. Chop half a medium onion equally fine. Combine the diced vegetables with the pork, add about a tablespoon of fish sauce, and, if you like a little heat, a spritz of sriracha. Add an egg and about a half cup of bread crumbs; mix with your hands. The mixture should hold together, but if it seems wet add more bread crumbs.

Form into patties and grill or pan fry. Or make into meatballs slightly large than golf balls, arrange on a baking sheet, and cook at 350° for about 20 minutes.

And yes, the photo above is on a (gasp) gas grill. Looking for a better one.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Mapping the Markets

View Portland Farmers' Markets in a larger map

OK, say it's Thursday and I want freshly dug organic turnips (or asparagus or arugula). What are my options?

That kind of information is critical, and it's just too silly in this internet-fueled, get-it-now culture that there is no consumer-friendly list of local farmers' markets with maps, hours, links and dates. So I decided to make my own. And now you, too, can get a complete schedule for Portland's markets, and a map of where to find them, right here at GSNW! Woo hoo!

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Chicken Butchering 101

There's a story my mother told about my grandmother, who had an unfortunate experience involving butchering a chicken. A young ranch wife, she thought she'd impress her new husband by killing and cooking a chicken for dinner. Apparently it did not go well, since my grandmother closed her eyes at the last moment and the hatchet didn't quite do a complete job of severing the head. The chicken was said to have run around the yard spurting blood for some time while my grandmother retreated to the house vowing never, ever to do that again.

Many new chicken-keepers in the city are similarly well-intentioned, thinking they'll set up a coop, feed their chickens, maybe let them run around on the grass a little and reap the rewards of eggs aplenty. But after the chickens have decimated the lawn and landscaping, not to mention flying (or simply wandering) outside the yard and getting chased or, worse yet, mauled by the neighbor's dog, the romance can begin to wear thin, with many chickens ending up dumped or in shelters.

And with egg production decreasing precipitously after the first year, the problem of what to do with these not-quite-pets arises. My friend Chrissie at Kookoolan Farms gets calls all the time from desperate city-dwellers asking if they can bring their chickens to her to be slaughtered, but because she is not licensed to kill chickens that have not been raised on her farm, she has to refer them elsewhere.

So, because she's an educator at heart, she's decided that it's important to teach people how to kill their own chickens humanely and cleanly, avoiding the trauma and mess that my grandmother, and no doubt the chickens themselves, experienced. To that end she's offering a class on "How to Butcher Your Own Chicken" on July 11, where you can, if you choose to, kill and dress a chicken, either your own or one from her farm.

She asks that people dress appropriately, and I don't think she's talking about either black morning clothes or tennis whites, if you know what I mean.

Details: How to Butcher Your Own Chicken, Sun., July 11, 1-4 pm; $50, registration required. From her e-mail: "Your course fee includes bringing one of your own chickens for supervised butchering (or we have ours available) which you will be able to take home in a plastic bag ready to cook. Please call us for special pricing if you have more than one (no one will be allowed to bring more than three). Please note that this class is not a coded invitation for custom-processing of chickens. We will also have our own fully-dressed-out poultry available at the farm for sale as usual. Class is limited to 12 participants. Please dress appropriately." Kookoolan Farms, 15713 Hwy. 47, Yamhill. 503-730-7535.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Garden 2010: The Best of Times…

Along with the best of times, like an unseasonably warm early spring and some mind-blowingly sunny days a couple of weeks ago, came maybe not the worst of times but certainly some disappointing (albeit seasonally appropriate) dips in the mercury. Plus a couple of crazy hail storms that did amazingly little damage to the baby greens trying to grow in the raised beds.

But the tomatoes and peppers have survived, thanks in large part to the walls of water surrounding them, and we'll see how they fare when the sun really starts to shine. Which it will. Eventually. Right?

Here's the list so far:

Raised beds: Basil, spinach, mizuna, arugula, mesclun. chard, carrots (scarlet Nantes), radishes (top photo), lacinato kale and one very large rhubarb in its second year.

Parking strip: Tomatoes (purple cherokee, green zebra, sungold, Dr. Wychee's yellow, black cherry), peppers (Jimmy Nardello, pimiento de padron, Melrose), gai lan. Plan to add two or three aci sivri Hungarian peppers.

Monday, May 24, 2010

Spak Expands

Word has come in that Alba Osteria, the Portland outpost for the deliciousness that is Italy's Piedmont, will be adding a lunch spot to the collection of storefronts that anchor the west end of the Hillsdale neighborhood.

Owner Kurt Spak is a master of the pastas of the region, including tajarin and the tiny envelopes filled with veal, pork and rabbit called agnolotti dal plin. Lately he's offered some of those pastas for sale at the restaurant, and it seems he's taking the logical next step by opening a retail outlet and deli. Not to mention adding a much-needed lunch option to relieve the strain on the few places in the neighborhood that are open at mid-day.

I've got a call in to see when it might be opening, so stay tuned!

Update #1: From a just-published piece in the of-the-moment Hillsdale News, Spak's new place is to be called Caffé Autogrill after a chain of restaurants dotting Italy's autostradas. From the article:

"Spak said that in addition to serving Stumptown coffee and espresso, Café Autogrill [sic] will offer sandwiches and soup and beer and wine. It will also feature baked goods from Baker & Spice, Picklopolis goods from Three Square Grill and pasta from Alba Osteria."

Update #2: And from a conversation with Chef Spak himself, who, by the way, sounds very excited about the project, said that while the place is primarily a coffee shop, it will feature panini, "tramezzini" (cold sandwiches), beer and wine. He'll carry the above-mentioned pastas to go, plus pickles from the inimitable Picklopolis and breads from Baker and Spice down the street. He let it slip that Julie Richardson of B and S is chomping at the bit to bake some specialty Italian pastries that will be exclusive to the café, so expect those to be the new "it" desserts to show up at your next potluck or picnic.

He's planning to throw the doors open on June 7, with hours will be from 6:30 am till 6 pm seven days a week. Then the weather warms up he'll take advantage of the sidewalk with evening hours till 8 pm.

Update #3: 6/8/10 - Just got word from a neighborhood insider that the Autogrill is indeed open for business…so go in and say hi to Kurt and crew and tell them GSNW sent you!

Photo of Kurt Spak from The Oregonian. Photo of the Autogrill by Eamon Molloy.

Friday, May 21, 2010

A Taste of Warmer Weather

It may not seem like it on these rainy, dripping spring days, but good weather is just around the corner. These beans from contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood would be just the ticket with any grilled food, but would also warm up a cold spring day simmering in the oven and then again when they hit the belly.

I grilled burgers for some of my favorite moms last week, and to go with them I wanted some beans with a little more barbecue-y flavor than plain red beans I make most of the time. Here’s what I came up with:

Backyard Barbecue Beans

Cook about a pound of the Haricot Farms small red beans (rojo chiquitos) as usual: combine with water to cover, healthy pinch of sea salt, very healthy glug of extra virgin olive, bake covered at 200° until done (2-3 hours), adding more water if necessary to keep them barely covered. Or soak for a few hours, change the water, and simmer with salt and oil until done.

Chop an onion, 1-2 celery stalks, and a carrot into small dice (roughly same size as beans). Cook in olive oil for about 10 minutes, then add about a quarter cup Katz Gravenstein Apple Cider Vinegar, a cup of ground or pureed canned tomatoes, and about a quarter cup real maple syrup. Let this cook for 15-20 minutes, then add the cooked beans and their liquid. Cook for another 15-20 minutes, longer if it needs to cook down.

These are good on their own, but I like them over Kokuho Rose brown rice.

Wednesday, May 19, 2010

Public Domain Coffee

Ah, my first time…

It was in college, where many life-changing occurrences tend to happen. Away from home, with a boy I knew. But it's not what you're thinking. This isn't that kind of blog.

He pulled a bag out of his fridge and had me take a hit of the aroma wafting from it. (And it's still not what you're thinking…)

The rich, dark, roasty aroma bowled me over. Then he carefully measured the coffee, for of course that's what it was, into a paper filter and dribbled water over it to wet the grounds, and the steam rising from them started to fill the room. He poured in more water and we waited patiently for it to drip through.

I'd only ever had coffee brewed from grounds that came in a can, and these had come from a little shop near the university called The Coffee Bean, sold by a jolly bearded fellow named Jeff who'd roasted them himself. I drank his coffee for the rest of my university days, then moved on to enjoy the roasts from other artisans I ferreted out in the various cities I lived in.

The little Coffee Bean became Coffee Bean International, or CBI, one of the larger specialty roasters in the country, doing private label and wholesale business out of their headquarters in Portland. Now they've opened a café, Public Domain, a testing lab of sorts, downtown and filled it with not only their latest roasts and blends, but a staff of eager young enthusiasts who get giggly over toys like The Slayer, an infinitely adjustable espresso machine custom-made in Seattle and one of 50 in the world, or the arrival of a new tamper, which each barista proudly displays on a shelf when not in use.

They are also proud of their version of my early drip experiences that they're calling a "pour over" (photos, top and left), an exacting process where coffee is placed in a specially engineered cone (with, what else, a special filter) and water is dribbled over it, each cup made to order. And if you've never been to an official coffee cupping, they hold one every day at 1 pm where you can compare and contrast new and seasonal offerings, coffees from other roasters or, if you're so moved, you can bring in a personal favorite to try.

Geeky, yes, but also pleasant…so very Portland.

Details: Public Domain, 603 SW Broadway at Alder. 503-243-6374.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Maine Line: Fore Star

I'm not big on destination restaurants. After all, my single must-have on our trip to Maine was a lobster roll. But since we had an evening free, I decided to reserve a spot at what is considered to be Portland's best restaurant, Sam Hayward's Fore Street.

Like Greg Higgins here, Hayward is renowned for his dedication to the land and the cuisine of Maine, for his seasonal menus and sourcing ingredients from local farmers and purveyors. ''I think of the menu as almost a narrative of what Maine's foodways are about and where they're going,'' he said in a New York Times interview. ''We have one foot in tradition and one in modernity.''

The tradition part would include the wood-fired oven that is front and center in the open kitchen, an unusual feature in 1996, when Fore Street opened. Rather than being seated in one of the cushy wood-paneled booths against the wall, we were put next to that oven's fiery mouth, with the grill and rotisserie alongside it, the prep area for the salads and breads right in front of us, and with a bird's-eye view into the wood-paneled cold storage locker. I was in heaven.

We ordered a half dozen oysters, comprised of Basket Island, Mill Cove and Damariscotta (right), served on ice in a handled pan with a verjus mignonette. The Basket Islands were the smallest, with a sharp briny flavor, surprisingly meaty for oysters their size. The Mill Coves were equally briny with a touch of sweetness and a much creamier texture. The huge Damariscottas were too much to eat all in one go and I had to cut mine in half, a big no-no in eating fresh oysters, but what could I do? These were the mildest, but must have been doing workouts with the Basket Islands, since they had the same muscle-y texture.

We also shared a grilled sourdough and kale salad, with leaf lettuce, shaved fennel, roasted sweet peppers and olives. I was hoping for a version of a kale salad I'd been working on at home, but this one was made with baby kale and combined with young leaf lettuces, which obscured the other ingredients and, while perfectly good, was uninspiring.

One selection on the menu that shouted my name was the "Chilled Meats and Offal" which gives a choice of three items for $14. We went with the moulard duck pate, rabbit sausage and foie gras and pistachio terrine (left), which arrived with sides of fennel jam, pickled shallots and whole grain mustard. The pate was mild and creamy, the sausage an herby delight and the foie…well…can I just say that, along with Carol Boutard's blackcap jam, this was luscious enough to make a marvelous marital aid.

Our mains were just as amazing. Dave's dry-rubbed pork loin on a bed of braised sauerkraut (right) was astonishing not just for its size but for its succulence. On the menu almost since the place opened, this is an example of the best and highest use of the often-mistreated loin cut.

The hanger steak with great Northern beans and braised oxtail that Mr. B chose was grilled over the wood fire between the oven and the turnspit that had roasted the loin. It was a huge piece of perfectly rare-ish meat, the beans beautifully cooked in the wood oven, and was almost more than even his prodigious appetite could manage.

The wood-oven roasted, whole gilt-edged sea bream (left) that I ordered was stuffed with smoked shrimp and garlic and scattered with grilled spring onions and pakchoi. Served in the pan it was roasted in, it was a gorgeous thing, though nowhere near too pretty to eat, which I did, up to and including tearing apart the head to get to the forehead meat and cheeks.

We all felt it was one of the best meals we've had, and the prices seemed right in line with, or even less than, what we'd expect to pay for a special occasion meal back home.

As a matter of fact, with its wood oven and commitment to local food, it would be a dinner-house version of our own Ned Ludd, with nothing aside from size and an ever-so-slightly more upscale menu in its favor. But on the chance you do get to Maine, make a point of stopping by and getting a taste of the state…without a single lobster in sight.

Details: Fore Street, 288 Fore St., Portland, ME. Phone 207-775-2717.

Check out the other installments in the series: The (Other) Portland, Dinner and a Show, Breakfast and Lunch, Loosening Up, Puttering Around the Old Port and Shackin' It.  

The Eye of a Winemaker

Iris Rutz-Rudel is a German winemaker making wine in the Languedoc region of southern France. She's been documenting her journey through photographs and posts on her blog. Both are compelling.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Blazing a Coffee Trail

You gotta love Portland's neighborhoods. And I'm not talking about shopping on the latest "it" boulevard or eating at the hottest new resto in the hood. I'm talking about being able to hang out on your front porch and chat with your neighbors who pass by about the new baby or a house going up for sale or house-training their puppy.

Take our neighborhood, for instance. Mostly a mix of middle-class working folks, some with children in school or, like ours, all grown up. Gay and straight, singles and couples, we've got neighbors from Fiji, Vietnam, upstate New York, California and, in rare instances, right here in Oregon. From cabinet-makers to chefs and graphic designers to experts on native pollinators, people are editors, writers and coffee roasters.

In that last category is our neighbor Charlie Wicker of Trailhead Coffee Roasters. I see him biking by almost every morning, towing a trailer laden with pounds of fresh coffee or large samovars full of brewed coffee to an event or a waiting customer.

The beans he roasts come from the Café Femenino Coffee Project, a social program for women coffee producers in rural communities in Bolivia, Colombia, Dominican Republic, Guatemala, Mexico and Peru. In addition to buying beans from the project, Trailhead also gives a percentage of profits to The Café Femenino Foundation, selecting a specific initiative, like a water project in Peru, so customers know exactly where their money is going and who is benefiting from it.

Charlie's been thrilled with the quality of the beans he's been getting and is convinced that Cafe Feminino is the perfect fit for his company. And his coffee, as well as his bike-powered deliveries and business operations, have caught on with several grocery retailers looking to expand their selection of local roasts. You can also find him at the Interstate and the Lents farmers' markets.

So needless to say, I love my neighborhood. Now if I can just rig up a traffic bump on the street so one or two of those bags of coffee might just fall off the trailer…

Details: Trailhead Coffee Roasters. Coffees available at Whole Foods markets, New Seasons, Food Front Co-operative, Market of Choice and Pastaworks. Complete list with addresses here. For a complete schedule of Portland farmers' markets, click here. You can also find Trailhead coffee at Café Velo and Florio Bakery.

From Buns to Hot Dogs

This is what a litter of eleven Corgi puppies looks like. (Here's the "before" shot.) A pre-birth x-ray showed nine, possibly ten, but Geisha was hiding one for a birthday surprise. There are five black and white pups, five merle (gray and white) pups and one "double merle," meaning mostly white with some light grey spots. And while they're not mine, I'm a proud auntie, meaning I get all the fun of playing with them without the "joys" of raising them myself.

The double merle comes with a high risk for other birth defects like deafness and blindness, so only time will tell with this girl. For a sense of what a deaf double merle can do, you need look no further than Casper, who is a titled champion obedience dog as well as a registered Pet Partner therapy dog with the Delta Society. (More Casper photos here.)

Friday, May 14, 2010

Livin' in the Blurbs: Farmers, Markets & Farmers' Markets

Not only have they given the bridge-and-tunnel crowd a new reason to cross the river, and caused this already pork-obsessed city to double down on its intake of cured meats (particularly Spanish-style chorizo), but Olympic Provisions is now storming the barricades of Portland's farmers' markets. Look for them and their dangerously addictive dry and fermented sausages, as well as other cured and fermented meats (see: bacon) at the Hollywood Farmers' Market and the Beaverton Farmers' Market on Saturdays, and the NW 23rd Market on Thursdays.

Details: Beaverton Farmers' Market, Saturdays, 8 am-1:30 pm; SW Hall Blvd between 3rd and 5th Sts. Hollywood Farmers' Market, Saturdays, 8 am-1 pm; NE Hancock between 44th and 45th Aves. Portland Farmers' Market on NW 23rd, 3-7 pm; SE corner of NW 23rd and Savier. Get a complete farmers' market list and schedule for Portland or click on the link at left.

* * *

Keith Kulberg developed a passion for beans in college when, as a vegetarian, he began looking for an alternative to refried beans containing lard. He began experimenting with finding the best way to prepare them, and found that cooking them in safflower oil caramelized them in a way that brought out the unique flavor of each bean. You can taste the result of his (so far) 30 year passion at the Better Bean Company stall at the Hollywood Farmers' Market, and enjoy his black beans from the Oregon Snake Valley, red beans from Idaho Magic Valley and borlotti (also known as cranberry) beans grown in the Washington Central Valley, all cooked in safflower oil from Central Oregon and ready to use as is or in recipes. Talk about local!

* * *

Take a walk on the wild side, through fields filled with Kincaid’s Lupine, an endangered wildflower in the state of Washington, when Organic Valley hosts the Lupine Pasture Walk on June 12. It takes place on the Mallonee family's 320-acre organic dairy farm, and will feature a free lunch and presentations by Joe Arnett, a rare plant botanist for the Washington Natural Heritage Program, Dr. Joe Harrison, a Washington State University professor and nutrient management specialist and Maynard Mallonee, the farm's owner. An optional family-oriented, self-guided Botany Bike Ride begins at 10 am and makes a 20-mile loop around the region’s moderately hilly terrain. “The same approach that allows our dairy cattle to thrive has made our pastures an ideal home for the lupine,” says Maynard Mallonee, a third-generation dairy farmer. “We credit our organic and sustainable practices with the lupine’s success on our farm.” Amen.

Details: Fourth Annual Lupine Pasture Walk, 11 am-3:30 pm, June 12; free with reservation on the website. For more information on the Botany Bike Ride contact JD Miller at 253-905-6681 or by e-mail. Walk begins at Baw-Faw Grange Hall, 995 Boistfort Rd., Curtis, WA.

Top photo from Olympic Provisions; middle photo from Portland Community College; lupine photo by Charlene Simpson.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

Home Sweet Home

This Saturday, May 15, will be the fourth anniversary of GoodStuffNW. What started out as a marketing experiment to find out if those newfangled "blog" things had any use whatsoever became a new career as a writer for me. The name itself was just a placeholder, to be tossed out at some point and replace by one more dramatic, more appealing, more…well…cool.

Four years and more than 1,100 posts later (1,151, to be exact), I've taken the plunge once again and registered GoodStuffNW as a domain all its own. Some might say it's about dang time and I'm just lucky it was still available, and I couldn't disagree. And don't worry, you can still get here the same old way; it'll just forward to the new domain automatically. Plus it'll be so much easier to tell people where to find it!

In sum, I'm thankful for the fabulous support and encouragement of GoodStuffNW's readers and contributors over the years, as well as  new advertisers like the Beaverton Farmers' Market and Kookoolan Farms (look for more to join the fold soon!). Here's to the future!

Tuesday, May 11, 2010

What's That On Your Roof?

Contributor Jim Dixon of RealGoodFood been burning through the brain cells lately, and one of his latest cogitations was particularly cogent. Not to mention seasonal. Enjoy!

Creamed Greens

I like to think of this of as "shit on a shingle" for the 21st century. For those missing the historical culinary reference, dried beef was once shaved, mixed with bechamel and spooned over toasted bread. Served in diners and especially as institutional fare, it became known as “shit on a shingle” during the wise-cracking era between the World Wars.

This version, much more delicious, was inspired by something similar I ate at Ned Ludd. I used beet greens, but chard, dandelion or any other tender green would work, as would more hearty greens like collards, but they’d need to cook longer before adding the cream.

Start by cutting some thick bacon into small pieces and cooking it with a little olive oil (natch) until it’s brown. While the bacon is cooking, blanch the greens (if using tender greens) for a minute or two in boiling, salted water. Drain, let cool a bit, then chop coarsely. Add to bacon, cook a few minutes, then add about a cup of heavy cream. Cook over medium heat until the cream thickens, about 15-20 minutes.

(For hearty greens like collards or cavalo nero, cut in chiffonade, add to bacon, add a half cup or so of water, cover and cook 20-30 minutes. Then add the cream and cook, uncovered, until it thickens.)

Toast slices of good bread, top with the greens, and eat.

Photo from Tiny Farm Blog.

Maine Line: Shackin' It

My one requirement for the whole trip to Maine was fairly simple: I wanted to have a lobster roll. It didn't have to be fancy, in fact, it would be better if it wasn't. It didn't even have to be on the coast, though that would add a few bonus points to the experience.

The nautically themed interior.

Then I heard about The Lobster Shack, and I knew it would fit the bill perfectly. First, it was just a few miles south of Portland in the village of Cape Elizabeth. Second, it was situated overlooking the ocean and offered the simplicity of ordering at the counter, then choosing either outdoor or indoor seating, a big plus on a spring day in Maine. And third, it had been rated as one of the best spots in the area to get a roll.

The shack overlooking the Atlantic.

So we jumped into the rental car and drove down in the late afternoon, winding through Cape Elizabeth and out past Two Lights State Park to a spit of land with, you guessed it, two lighthouses. The little house was teetering atop a slate outcropping overlooking Casco Bay and the Atlantic, looking like it could tumble into the waves at any moment, though I consoled myself with the knowledge that it had stood there in sturm und drang since the 1920s.

Clam strips and cocktail sauce.

We ordered a lobster roll each, and Dave got an additional basket of clam strips. After waiting a few minutes for a table, our number was called and my roll landed in front of me in all its simple beauty. A fair amount of lobster meat (maybe a half lobster?) was tucked neatly into a split roll of white bread, a small dollop of mayonnaise at one end and a slice of bread and butter pickle at the other, the whole thing sprinkled with paprika, one assumes to give it some color.

One of the Two Lights.

Remove the pickle for consumption later, spread the mayo around and…voilá…lobster roll in all its moist, meaty simplicity. I was one happy camper, let me tell you. Less mayonnaise-laden than the one I'd had in Vermont (though it was good, too), I preferred this simpler version.

The clam strips were equally simple and delicious, breaded and quickly deep fried to tender perfection. A dunk in the very good tartar sauce (or cocktail sauce, depending on your preference) and satisfaction reigned.

Details: The Lobster Shack at Two Lights, 225 Two Lights Rd., Cape Elizabeth, ME. Phone 207-799-1677.

Check out the other installments in the series: The (Other) Portland, Dinner and a Show, Breakfast and Lunch, Loosening Up, Puttering Around the Old Port and Fore Star. 

Sunday, May 09, 2010

Big Doings at Big Table

I can't think of a better way to celebrate Mother's Day and the onset of spring than to welcome Haley's new calf Ronnie. Born on my friend Clare's farm in Gaston, both mother and calf are doing well and frolicking in the field, and you'll find updates on their progress (and the birth of at least one other calf) on Clare's blog.

If you want an up-close and personal view of what it's like to live day to day on a working farm with its attendant joys, frustrations and sorrows, then I encourage you to check it out. She's not one to mince words or gloss over the messier bits, and reading it is a peek into a life lived according to strongly-held principles and a whole lot of joy.

Clare and Brian, farmers of pigs, cows, goats, chickens and vegetables, also have separate careers. Hers include graphic designer, illustrator and painter. His is as a winemaker (and he's an amazing cook as well). And they have jointly released their newest vintage of Big Table Farm 2007 Syrah from the White Hawk Vineyard and their 2009 Laughing Pig Rosé. Both will be available in limited quantities from local wine retailers and at select area restaurants, and there's a form on their website to order your own.

Friday, May 07, 2010

Maine Line: Puttering Around the Old Port

Call me a stick-in-the-mud or an old poop or just plain boring, but my idea of a great trip is to hang out in one place and get to know it really well. So if you're a 25 cities in 15 days kind of person, we'd best not plan any vacations together. Fortunately Dave has a similar temperament, and as long as there a few pubs to visit, he's happy.

So on our recent trip to Portland, Maine, we spent most of our time checking out the Old Port district, formerly full of brick warehouses, seamen's bars and the rougher aspects of a working port. Starting in the 70s, like our own Pearl district, the area was revitalized and became a tourist destination and cultural hub, and now it's home to microroasters, microbreweries and local bakeries along with shops carrying crafts and knickknacks.

Sebago Brewing.

As you might expect, we indulged in several local brews, including those from Shipyard, Sebago and Gritty McDuff's, founded in 1988 and calling itself Maine's original brewpub. The beers we tried were all well-made and similar in style to the brews found here, though not as hop-centric, and a Northwesterner would be hard-pressed not to feel right at home with any of them.

Coffee by Design.

Coffee in this often cold and definitely maritime climate is a necessity of life and, like here, that need for a buzz as well as an interest in supporting local talent has spawned a surge in local roasteries. One fortuitously near our hotel, called Coffee by Design, was a regular morning stop before whatever jaunt we had planned for the day. With their ethics right out front in phrases like "passionate, local, humane, responsible and sustainable," they also tout their "Maine values." And that was just fine with us.


Next door was another regular stop, Two Fat Cats Bakery. Not only well-regarded by the locals, this tiny bakery has earned kudos from Bon Appetit and Food & Wine. Me, I just liked their raspberry almond bread with my coffee, though we had to leave before I could try a Whoopie Pie.

One of my favorite finds, though, was Micucci Grocery (right) located in a charming brick building with a great sign but with a tiny door and almost no windows, not exactly a friendly face on the street. It was closed for the weekend, but was open on Monday when we walked by, so I insisted on going in even though it looked like a wholesale, not-to-the-public kind of place. Filled with imported, predominantly Italian foods like pastas, olives and wine, it reminded me of Corti Brothers in Sacramento.

After a quick walk-through I was almost ready to leave when I noticed several customers ignoring the shelves and walking up some stairs into a back room. Following them, we came into an odd windowless room with a pass-through window filled with trays of Italian pastries freshly made in the bakery on the other side of the opening. Gorgeous and flaky, these were old-world Italian pastries at their best, and included Girelle, Sfogliatelle, Luna and rosemary focaccia.

And not only that, people apparently knew, despite the lack of signage, that there were plate-sized squares of homemade pizza to be had, because several teenage boys came in and picked up the huge squares for lunch. At $4.50 each, the puffy slices looked (and smelled) like the real deal.

The bar at RíRá.

And not to cram too much into one post, but the other discovery was an Irish pub (a chain, actually) called RíRá smack-dab on the waterfront that had the usual Irish beer selections (Guinness, Murphy's, etc.) and a decent selection of local microbrews.

Now this is fish (with…um…chips?).

Plus the food was terrific, with a moist and meltingly tender Reuben and one of the biggest servings of fish I've ever seen on a plate of fish'n'chips. Seriously, it was easily enough for two people and would have competed with the best we have here. The fish was haddock, a ubiquitous item on almost every menu we saw in town, and one I hadn't had before. It's soft and mild but with big flakes like halibut.

So if you're headed to the area, I'd heartily recommend staying, or at least devoting some time, to the area. Then walk up Munjoy Hill to Congress Street and take in the view (and some more incredible ethnic hole-in-the-wall groceries). If only we'd had more time!

Details: Shipyard Brewing, 86 Newbury St., Portland, ME; 207-761-0807.
Sebago Brewing, 164 Middle St.; 207-775-2337.
Gritty McDuff's, 396 Fore St., 207-772-2739.
Coffee By Design, 67 India St.,207-780-6767.
Two Fat Cats Bakery, 47 India St., 207-347-5144.
Micucci Grocery, 45 India St., 207-775-1854.
RíRá Irish Pub, 72 Commercial St., 207-761-4446.

Check out the other installments in the series: The (Other) Portland, Dinner and a Show, Breakfast and Lunch, Loosening Up, Shackin' It and Fore Star.

Thursday, May 06, 2010

Maine Line: Loosening Up

First off, they're not called "freeways" in Maine because…well…they're not free. But if you're driving on the interstate in Maine and feel the need to "stretch your legs," the Maine Department of Transportation has suggestions on how to do that and more. Signs like those above are posted at intervals around the parking lot in every rest area for travelers who may need to loosen up a little.

Check out the other installments in the series: The (Other) Portland, Dinner and a Show, Breakfast and Lunch, Puttering Around the Old Port, Shackin' It and Fore Star.

Monday, May 03, 2010

The Third Wave of Oregon Wine

Oregon is rightfully proud of its wine industry, one that started in the Willamette Valley with pioneers like David Lett and Dick Ponzi in the mid-to-late 60s. And it has grown to include virtually the whole state, from Abacela in Southern Oregon to Cathedral Ridge in the Gorge.

The state's second wave of world-class wines came from talented winemakers like Jay Somers of J. Christopher, Andrew Rich of Andrew Rich Wines, Amy Wesselman and David Autrey of Westrey, Patty Green of Patricia Green Cellars and David O'Reilly of Owen Roe, who blew the socks off of wine-lovers from all over the globe with the contents of their bottles.

And now there's an opportunity coming up this weekend to taste the fruits of what might be called the third wave of über-talented winemakers during the Portland Indie Wine Festival. In its sixth year, the festival is drawing 40 of the state's best new craft producers in what's termed a "farmers' market" setting, where guests can sample wines as well as food from a selection of the city's best restaurants.

Be sure to stop by and give a sloppy kiss to GoodStuffNW friends Clare and Brian at Big Table Farm, and be sure to ask how the boys did in the plowing competition last weekend!

Details: Portland Indie Wine Festival. Sat., May 8, 2-6 pm; $75 includes tasting glass, festival passport and wine and food samples from vendors. Tickets available on the website.

In Season NW: Grilling Your Greens

Contributor Jim Dixon isn't afraid to challenge conventional wisdom when it comes to cooking (or, really, anything else) and here he sets the record straight about grilling that loveliest of spring greens, asparagus.

Grilled Asparagus

My friends at Viridian Farms had asparagus at the farmers market Saturday, proof that spring really has arrived. My favorite way to eat it is grilled over a hot fire, charred and smoky. Don’t follow the instructions in every single recipe for grilled asparagus that calls for tossing it in olive oil before grilling. The oil just drips onto the coals, flaring and giving the asparagus the nasty flavor of burnt oil

Just snap the ends of the stalks off, put the dry asparagus right on the grill, and watch it closely while turning with tongs. When it’s brown, slightly charred and a bit limp, take it off the heat, then drizzle on the extra virgin olive oil, sprinkle on the flor de sal, and eat with your fingers.

Livin' in the Blurbs: Doing Good and Living Well

Nobody wants pesticides in their food and, as any parent can tell you, worrying about the cumulative effects of pesticide consumption can make for many sleepless nights. But some foods are less apt to absorb those pesticides than others, making them a less noxious choice if an organic version isn't available. My friend Michel sent along this link for a downloadable card from the Environmental Working Group that lists the Dirty Dozen, twelve produce items that can be the most contaminated by pesticides and are best bought as organics, and the Clean 15 that are the least contaminated when grown conventionally. Michel says: "The guide (really just a list) prints out small enough to keep in your wallet. I also keep one taped inside my kitchen cupboard to help me remember what conventional foods are safe to buy."

* * *

One of the great things about having markets all over the city is that it gives everyone in the community better access to good, healthy food. I've written before about the markets that accept food stamp debit cards (called SNAP cards) for similar tokens given to all shoppers, taking the embarrassment factor out of transactions. The Portland Farmers' Market just announced that a new effort called The Fresh Exchange, funded by neighborhood businesses and residents, will start up this year at the Buckman (formerly Eastbank) market. It will join the efforts at other markets that contribute up to $5 per week to SNAP recipients to stretch their buying power further. Talk about nourishing your neighborhood!

Details: Buckman (formerly Eastbank) Farmers' Market. At SE 20th & Salmon between SE Belmont & SE Hawthorne in the parking lot of Hinson Baptist Church.

* * *

Afton Field Farm, based out of Corvallis, is doing amazing work building a truly sustainable farm based on the principles of Joel Salatin of Polyface Farms in Virginia. They raise pastured poultry (for eggs and meat), grass-fed beef, oak savanna pork, turkey and lamb, as well as bees for honey, using managed intensive rotational grazing methods. They've just announced that their fantastic farm eggs will be available at the Whole Foods Market in Hollywood starting this week, so you can support their pioneering efforts and have some of the best eggs you've ever tasted. Nothing like doing good and eating well, is there?

Details: Afton Field Farm eggs at Whole Foods Market in Hollywood. 4301 NE Sandy Blvd. Phone 503-284-2644.

Photo of SNAP tokens by Sara Gilbert.

Sunday, May 02, 2010

Maine Line: Breakfast and Lunch

While Dave and I share many things in common, we also have some significant differences. I'm a planner. Dave is not. I like to know where I'm going to sleep and where (and what) I'm going to eat. Dave, as you can imagine, isn't so concerned. So once in awhile I try to take a deep breath and, as difficult as it is, "go with the flow."

The Farmers' Table on Commercial.

Which worked out one morning as we wandered around the Old Port district looking for breakfast. Not only are there plenty of places to have coffee and pastries, but there are several cafés serving breakfast in the vicinity. Perusing some menus hung in windows, there were some promising candidates, but when we got to The Farmer's Table we knew we'd struck paydirt.

Sweet potato and corned beef hash.

Not only did the offerings look tempting, but it faced out over the bay and had two decks in full sunlight which, on a 60-degree, relatively windless morning made it darn near perfect. And the menu suggested a leaning toward local products made in-house, always a plus. Though there weren't many greens available, it was April in Maine, after all, there was a great selection of house-cured and braised meats and some lovely baby arugula for my garden benedict.

Lunch that day was also a surprise, since Dave and I were wandering through the Munjoy Hill neighborhood just up the hill from the Old Port, looking for some of his old haunts. Full of Victorians in various states of repair (in some cases falling on the "dis-" side of the line), it reminded me of our own Northwest Portland about twenty or so years ago, only with the very old, sprawling Eastern Cemetery on one side with graves dating from the early 1800s.

As we were coming down the hill, Dave remarked that he hadn't seen any Italian sandwich joints. Which is when I pointed to the shop we were walking by and said, "Like this one?"

Amato's Original Italian Sandwich.

Now, you have to understand that Italian sandwiches have been a thing Dave has talked about since our dating days, a simple sandwich that he had growing up comprised of sliced meats, like salami, peppers, olives and oil-and-vinegar dressing on a hot dog bun. I thought it was like a sub, but he insisted there were definite, though inexplicable to me, differences between them.

 So we marched into Amato's and up to the counter where two friendly gentlemen were happy to take our order. What we got, and subsequently took back to our hotel room, were hefty white bread buns drizzled with vinaigrette and stacked with provolone, ham, onion, pickle, tomato, green pepper and olive.

Now, I'm not saying that it was a gourmet feast but, darn it, I finally got a taste of what I'd been hearing about all these years, a decent reward after a vigorous day reviewing history, both public and personal.

Details: The Farmer's Table, 205 Commercial St., Portland, ME. Phone 207-347-7479. Amato's, 71 India St., Portland, ME. Phone 207-773-1682.

Check out the other installments in the series: The (Other) Portland, Dinner and a Show, Loosening Up, Puttering Around the Old Port, Shackin' It and Fore Star.