Saturday, May 31, 2014

Day Trip to Our Happy Place: Kelly's!

Dave's birthday was coming up and he hadn't made a decision about he wanted to do. Going out to dinner would have been an easy pick, but he was leaning instead in the direction of spending the money on a large brisket and spending the day tending the smoker with a beer in hand. Running a close second in the considerations was grilling a Puerto Rican pernil, which would take less time but require less beer. Decisions, decisions.

A happy birthday is…

Then I threw in the wild card of jumping in Chili and heading to the beach, an easy day trip from PDX and a definite happy place for Dave. After all, the weather in Portland was forecast to be gorgeous for at least a couple of days, making the chances of hitting sun at the coast a good likelihood. Happier still? Having a lunch of cooked-to-order crab and steamers pulled live from Nehalem Bay at Kelly's Brighton Marina near Rockaway. We could head for Kelly's, then toddle up to Manzanita for a walk on the beach with the dogs and get home before rush hour—it was a Friday—stopped traffic cold on the Sunset.

Dungeness crab, a pound of steamers and sun. Perfect!

This trip we learned from Kelly that his family moved to Oregon from the prairies of Saskatchewan in central Canada, landing on Nehalem Bay. The LaViolettes opened the Jetty Fishery in 1979—his mom still runs the place—and Kelly (who down-cased the "V" in his last name) and his wife, Janice, bought the nearby Brighton Marina in 2010. Revived and expanded, it fits their ebullient style and what Kelly called "the cultural chowder" of the community they've created there.

A beautiful day, a scenic drive, lunch with a true Oregon character and a walk on the beach? Priceless!

Read previous posts featuring Kelly's, including the legendary Oyster Carol video.

Thursday, May 29, 2014

In Season NW: Sleuthing Out Spring Shoots

Maybe it's because we've been watching the marvelous Agatha Christie mysteries with Geraldine McEwan as the sleuthing spinster Miss Jane Marple—its Wes Anderson-like, dotty style is endearingly cartoonish and fits Christie's drawing room tone perfectly—but when I head to the farmers' market these days I try to engage my inner detective to suss out the hidden gems to be found there.

One that consistently flies under the radar and is often lost in the stampede to the larger, better-known vegetable stands can be found just next to the explosions of fresh flower arrangements. Glance across the mountains of peonies, lilies and delphiniums and you'll often see a rickety old card table mounded with green bundles of bok choy, pea shoots and other lesser-known but delicious spring greens like culantro, sawtooth herb and unusual mint varieties. Plus the prices are often less than you'll find at larger stands and the quality is always superb.

On my last trip to the market I brought back a huge bunch of pea shoots, with their fine, twisty tendrils and blossoms just beginning to color, so a spring pesto was called for, and there was enough to sauté half and toss with some mushrooms I had in the vegetable bin.

Pasta with Pea Shoot Pesto and Mushrooms

1 lb. pasta
1 large bunch pea shoots
Olive oil
1 large clove garlic, minced
2 Tbsp. pine nuts
1/4 c. parmesan, grated
Salt to taste
3 anchovy filets (optional)
1/4 lb. mushrooms
1/4 tsp. dried hot red peppers, like cayenne, seeded and ground

Put large pot of water on to boil. While it heats, make the pesto.

Slice the bunch of pea shoots into 2” lengths, reserving a few tendrils for garnishing the final dish. Take the pieces from the bottom half (the thicker stems) and place them in a blender with the garlic and pine nuts. Drizzle in some olive oil, turn on the blender and continue drizzling just until it makes a smooth purée. Pour into small mixing bowl and stir in cheese and salt to taste.

When the water boils, add the pasta to the pot and cook till al dente. While the pasta cooks, heat 2 Tbsp. olive oil in a large skillet over medium heat. When it shimmers, add the anchovies, if using, and mash them with the back of a spoon until they dissolve (1 min. or so). Add the cayenne and mushrooms and sauté till the mushrooms are tender. Add the remaining chopped pea shoots and sauté till wilted.

Drain the pasta, add the pesto and toss until thoroughly combined. Top with pea shoot mixture and garnish with reserved tendrils. Additional grated parmesan can be served alongside.

Monday, May 26, 2014

The Americano: The Perfect Summer Cocktail?

Almost exactly one year ago I wrote the following post, and it still holds true. This is one perfect summer cocktail!

There's a reason that summer cocktails are icy, fruity or citrusy concoctions topped off with tonic or soda and served in a frosty tumbler. I mean, on a hot afternoon on the patio or after a long day outdoors, who really needs a big alcohol bomb that'll knock you on your keister?

Summer's only just getting started here in the Northwest, with temperatures edging up into the 70s and even occasionally into the 80s, so here at the house we're finding ourselves thinking of lighter, fresher cocktails when happy hour rolls around. One that's been making a regular appearance on the backyard roster is the classic Americano, which some historians of cocktail-iana say is the predecessor to the Negroni, another house favorite.

Legend has it that in 1919, Count Camillo Negroni invented the eponymous cocktail by asking the bartender, Fosco Scarselli of Caffè Casoni in Florence, Italy, to strengthen his favorite drink, the Americano, by adding gin rather than the normal soda water. The bartender also added an orange garnish rather than the typical lemon garnish of the Americano to signify that it was a different drink.

Whether true or not, the Americano, with its gorgeous red color and sprightly, refreshing splash, is the perfect capper to a warm summer day.

Americano Cocktail

1 1/2 oz. Campari
1 1/2 oz. sweet vermouth
Club soda
Lemon twist

Fill cocktail glass half full of ice. Add Campari and sweet vermouth. Top with club soda and stir to combine. Add lemon twist.

Wednesday, May 21, 2014

Remembering Mt. St. Helens

"Mt. St. Helens is the big ice cream cone." That's how my father described the mountain to me as a child, to differentiate it from the other white peaks we saw as we traveled around the state on various family vacations.

The ice cream cone.

The anniversary of the eruption that literally blew apart that childhood impression has stirred up memories, ones I can't shake even 34 years later. Not that I have horrifying stories of personal trauma, but having a mountain blow up in what felt like my back yard was a pretty impressive experience. I remember the call from my husband, Dave, who at the time was a reporter at the newspaper in Oregon City, telling me that Mt. St. Helens had exploded and blown the whole top of the mountain off. He was going to jump in our old Volvo and drive up to try and get some pictures. Did I want him to drop by the house and pick me up?

The eruption.

As a reporter covering the story, he'd gone up to the mountain several times before, from the first appearance of steam venting from the peak to what geologists had said was the increasingly ominous swelling of the north side of the mountain. Along with everyone else in the city, I'd been following the stories that were dominating the local media, and had gone up to the mountain with him a couple of times for press conferences.

One in particular was with David Johnston, a 30-year-old volcanologist with the US Geological Survey, who'd been tasked with explaining to a group of geologically challenged reporters (and one tag-along art director) exactly what was going on inside the mountain. Obviously excited about sharing this incredible experience, he gave an overview of the various theories and scenarios the scientists who'd gathered on the mountain were coming up with.

But the bottom line?

"This is the last place I'd want to be when this thing blows," he said to us.

The north fork of the Toutle River on Mt. St. Helens after the eruption.

A few mornings later, when the mountain erupted in what was said to be the force of several hydrogen bombs, it was Johnston who was on duty at the USGS observation post on the mountain. He was reported to have radioed, "Vancouver! Vancouver! This is it!" His body was never recovered.

The day it erupted we made it as far as Amboy, Washington, a little less than 30 miles from what was left of the mountain, before being stopped by the roadblocks that had been set up to divert people flocking to see the eruption. We drove to the top of a hill where we could get a view of the roiling clouds of ash that were pouring out of the now-leveled top of the mountain. With the wind blowing the ash plume away from us, we were stunned by the massive, dark-grey cliff of ash rising thousands of feet up into the clear blue sky, eventually leveling off far up in the atmosphere.

Mt. St. Helens now.

Weeks went by and Portland was occasionally dusted by falling ash when the wind changed from its usual eastward direction. I remember driving up the Gorge some time later to visit my parents in The Dalles and, standing in their yard, seeing the ash cloud still visible as it rose from the mountain. Eventually it stopped spewing ash, the devastation to the mountain's landscape began to heal and an interpretive center, named the Johnston Ridge Observatory, was constructed in the new Mt. St. Helens National Volcanic Monument.

Thirty-four years later, I'm used to the revised shape of the former ice cream cone. But the things I heard and saw during that time still stick in my head.

Historic illustration and photos of Mt. St. Helens from USGS.

Wednesday, May 14, 2014

Rhubarb: Drink It, Eat It, Wear It…It's All Good!

I realize this is my second post on rhubarb in as many weeks, but, darn it, I love the stuff. Plus I had to share the darling photo above.

Marco Polo went to China to find where it was grown. An importer's list from that time might include it with other precious items brought along the Silk Road: "silks, satins, musk, rubies, diamonds, pearls and rhubarb." My own great-grandmother, Mary Alice Walden (née Beebe), an herbalist and midwife in the town of Bridal Veil in the Columbia Gorge, may well have used it to treat patients suffering from constipation.

My mother's mother "put up" dozens of jars of stewed rhubarb every spring, which was served as dessert at the noon dinner she made for my grandfather, a cattleman in Eastern Oregon (dinner was at noon, supper at six in that ranching family). He would pour a mound of sugar on the already-sweetened serving she put in front of him, though I preferred it straight from the jar.

I loved it so much I was even known to eat stalks raw in the springtime, making hats out of the large leaves, a fashion statement I've passed on to my nephew (top photo). He was the one who reminded me (or was it insisted?) that I needed to make rhubarb syrup when he saw several stalks sitting on the counter. Used in his favorite beverage last summer, what choice did I have but to comply?

The recipe below should get you on the road to more rhubarb indulgence, though I'll leave the decision about headgear up to you.

Rhubarb Syrup

Several rhubarb stalks, chopped into 1/2" pieces (redder rhubarb makes a more intensely colored syrup)

Place chopped rhubarb in saucepan and add just enough water to barely cover the pieces. Bring to a boil, then reduce heat to simmer. Cook over low heat until rhubarb is tender, 20 min. Strain through fine mesh sieve or several layers of cheesecloth, pressing gently to release the liquid. If you want a completely clear syrup it might take more than one filtering. Discard the solids. Measure or weigh the remaining liquid and add an equal amount of sugar. Heat the syrup in a saucepan, stirring until the sugar is dissolved. Chill.

Rhubarb Soda

To make a rhubarb soda, half-fill a tall glass with ice and pour in a small amount of rhubarb syrup (more syrup will make a sweeter drink—we like ours on the subtle side). Add soda and stir. Garnish with mint sprig if desired.

Tuesday, May 13, 2014

Warm Days Call For Cool Gin Cocktails

A gin and tonic, that ever-so-English cocktail, is pretty much the perfect drink on warm days like we're having this week. The botanical bite of the gin, the slightly salty, metallic tang of the tonic with a squeeze of lime over ice is a nice refresher to sip in the back yard and pretend that the rains won't come back until October, that it's July in Portland instead of May.

Another favorite gin cocktail of mine is the gimlet, which, like a proper martini, cannot be taken seriously if it's made with vodka. Legend has it that the gimlet, like the G&T, was created as a way to get English sailors to consume citrus (the lime juice) to ward off scurvy. But really, stories like that, or the debate about how the gimlet got its name—the awl-like tool or Gen. Gimlette?—are just something to occupy the time as you sip and watch the droplets of condensation drip down the side of your glass.

These musings came about because my brother was in San Francisco recently and brought me a gift of gin from a new place in Sebastopol called Spiritworks Distillery. A young couple, American Ashby Marshall and her husband, Englishman Timo Marshall, are buying organic local wheat which they mill, mash, ferment and distill on premises. The result is a floral, botanical gin on the spectrum between Hendrick's and Aviation, which I personally think would make a lovely gimlet.

I may just have one in the back yard this evening and dream of those summer evenings in July.


2 oz. gin
1 oz. fresh-squeezed lime juice
3/4 oz. simple syrup

To make simple syrup, in a small mixing bowl stir 1 c. sugar (or superfine baker's sugar) into 1 c. water until dissolved.

Fill cocktail shaker with ice, add ingredients, shake very well and strain into martini glass. Garnish with lime wedge.

Friday, May 09, 2014

Breakfast for Dinner: Craving Spring Things

Let's face it: Spring is all about sex. Call it reproduction, fertility or, to use Anthony Boutard's favorite word, fecundity, nature is having a field day making more of itself. Hens start laying eggs again, little green things (weeds included) are popping out of the bare earth and farmers are finally able to get out in their fields to plant crops, muddy and clumpy though those fields may be.

Chorizo and spring vegetables…yum!

I've been longing for spring things lately, especially after a winter diet of root vegetables and winter greens, and my freezer is looking mighty empty since we've cleaned out most of the roasted tomatoes, lamb, pork and beef I crammed into it last fall. Luckily the farmers' market season is roaring back to life now, so it's easy to satisfy my craving for these first sweet sproutings.

Homemade sourdough cubes, natch!

With that in mind, a recent article by David Tanis in the Dining section of the New York Times about a Spanish dish of eggs and spring vegetables piqued my interest. Called revueltos or huevos revueltos, it basically means scrambled eggs and usually includes vegetables of one sort or another. Often found at tapas bars or served as a light supper dish—my fondness for these "breakfast for dinner" dishes is longstanding—the one that Tanis shared featured asparagus and bread cubes toasted in olive oil and garlic.

I happened to have picked up a couple of bunches of asparagus at the mid-week Shemanski market from Leslie at Viridian Farms, and had about half a bunch of green garlic left over from an earlier trip. Dinner was still an open question and I'd just replenished the egg supply, so I decided to follow the seeming synchronicity and give the dish a whirl.

Needless to say, and anyone who's made a frittata, quiche or even an omelet can attest, it was simple, quick and delicious. Perfect for a spring supper!

Revueltos (Scrambled Eggs) with Green Garlic and Asparagus
Adapted from David Tanis

Olive oil
2 peeled garlic cloves
2 c. dried bread cubes, cut in 1/2" cubes
3 oz. diced Spanish chorizo*
1 bunch asparagus, about 1 1/2 lbs., sliced in 1" lengths
1/2 bunch green garlic, sliced in 1" lengths
8 large eggs, beaten
1/2 tsp. Spanish pimentón (smoked paprika)
Salt to taste

Heat 3 tablespoons olive oil in a large non-stick skillet (or well-seasoned cast iron pan) over medium-high heat. Add peeled garlic cloves and let them sizzle until lightly browned, then remove. Add bread cubes, lower heat to medium and gently fry until lightly browned and crisp, about 2 minutes. Remove bread and set aside to cool.

Add chorizo and fry lightly. Add asparagus and green garlic and stir-fry until cooked through but firm, 3 to 4 minutes. 

Reduce heat to low. Add pimentón to eggs. Pour eggs into skillet with vegetables and cook, stirring with a wooden spoon, just until soft and creamy, 2 to 3 minutes. Top with bread cubes and serve in the skillet, or transfer eggs to large serving bowl, topping with bread cubes, and serve immediately.

This would also make a great breakfast or brunch dish.

* I used my friend Paul Bertolli's Fra'Mani Chorizo Pork Sausage.

Wednesday, May 07, 2014

A House Guest Appears

As I've asked more than once, what's the point of having a blog if you can't post gratuitous photos of your dogs?

For the next few days we have a house guest of the furred variety, bringing the total canine population of the household to four: Rosey (our senior member at the venerable age of 15 years), then, in descending order of age, Walker, Kitty and Miss Thimble (left), our guest.

As a friend remarked, "I can't imagine being so thoroughly herded."


Photo at top, left to right: Walker, Thimble and Kitty. Rosey declined the photo opp, as she was napping soundly on her pillow.

Spring Salad Features Potatoes, Green Garlic

Green garlic (above) is found in abundance at farmers' markets this time of year. Contributor Jim Dixon of Real Good Food shares a recipe that takes advantage of this fleeting spring pleasure.

I often use the word "Pantesco" to describe the combination of Pantellerian capers and oregano with anchovy and garlic, and many of the island’s residents have potatoes in their gardens, so it's possible you could eat something like this salad on the rocky isle off Sicily.

Spring Potato Salad with Green Garlic

I got freshly dug potatoes from Groundwork Organics at the Portland Farmers Market, but any small spuds or fingerlings would be fine. Green garlic, also called spring garlic, is the scallion phase of the plant’s life cycle; it looks like a small leek or big green onion, but with a distinctively garlic flavor and smell. I use the whole thing, white and green. Or substitute a clove of garlic and a couple of green onions.

Pick small potatoes and cut any that are much bigger so they cook evenly. Boil in salted water until tender, about 15 minutes, then drain and cool. Peel if you want, but when cool slice the smaller potatoes in half as you add them to a large bowl. Toss with a few tablespoons of extra virgin olive oil and a splash of Katz Viognier Honey vinegar (or try an Asian rice vinegar, which is sweet) while they’re warm.

Split the green garlic lengthwise, then slice crosswise thinly; add to the potatoes. Rinse the salt from a couple of tablespoons of Pantellerian capers (or use regular capers), chop coarsely, and add. Toss in a diced anchovy or two; add a few good pinches of Pantellerian oregano (again, regular dried or fresh oregano is a good substitute). Grind in some black pepper and taste for salt. Best if allowed to sit for at least an hour; eat at room temperature.

Saturday, May 03, 2014

Guilt and Redemption in the Spring Garden

Every once in awhile I succumb to guilt when it comes to my garden. A prime example is the hosta above, given to me by good friends three years ago. I'd raved about the gorgeous hosta flourishing next to their front walk every time we visited, its deep green leaves looking like an artist had swiped them down the center with a white brushstroke. When they divided it to keep it in its happy state, they gave me a small cutting to plant in our shady back yard.

The poor thing had a rough first year, putting out a few thin leaves that looked battered and wan, and the guilt started growing as the little hosta seemed to struggle. Our friends never commented when they came to visit, though I imagined they positioned their lawn chairs so they wouldn't have to look at it, regretting their decision to give their offspring to an obviously abusive home.

The second year wasn't much better, though I tried to convince myself that the little hosta had put out a few more leaves. At one point, and admittedly this is a shamefully desperate ploy, I even thought about looking for an identically painted nursery plant to put in its place if it died. But this year—and I always forget that perennials usually take at least three years to get established—it looks like we've both turned a corner, the hosta in its health and me in my guilt. It's much bigger and even has a new set of leaf stalks coming up.

Now? I can't wait to have our friends over for cocktails in the back yard and toast its future…with maybe a little redemption for the guilt-ridden gardener.