Thursday, July 31, 2008

Eating Up Free Books

NPR's All Things Considered featured a story yesterday about the boom libraries are experiencing this year - presumably due to the glummy economy. People are buying less new books, ending newspaper and magazine subscriptions, renting less movies, and instead are using the free services at the library. Kids programs are more successful than ever, computer use is at an all-time high, and, in this weather, you can't blame the people who stumble in to appreciate the free air-conditioning.

I'm all for the Public Library. My older sister and I were "Volunteens" at our local branch - my little sister is still putting in the hours - spending our summers making posters, cutting out bookmarks, and assembling pro-literacy buttons with a fancy button maker. Our librarians were our mentors, our honorary aunts, and we still get big hugs and surprised exclamations about how much we've grown. The murals in the downstairs children's section of my childhood library celebrating the citrus heritage of my hometown will always stick with me, even though they disappeared when the old building was completely renovated a few years ago.

Library appreciation is in my blood, but I have to admit I've always had a thing for bookstores - most of my high school years were spent sprawled in "my chair" at the local Barnes & Nobel, reading everything from art books to AP US History guides - and Portland has her share of the best spots for bibliophiles. Bookstores, I once argued, were far superior to the Libraries with their antiquated Dewey Decimal system. In a bookstore, I know where the cookbook section is because it's labeled COOKBOOKS, not because it's in the aisle between numbers 581.302 and 864.001. And I am inexplicably drawn to that new book smell. The truth is, however, a trip to Powell's can be quite a shock to my wallet, as I find myself tempted to pull everything off the shelves, all those shiny, colorful colors, the employee picks on the shelves, all the new releases of my favorite authors... It's not unheard of for me to throw down fifty bucks on "sale" books on a whim. As a college student on a budget, this adds up, let me tell you.

NPR hit it right on the nose - libraries are wonderful, and even better, they are free. Multnomah County has a great library system, which is, interestingly, the oldest library system west of the Mississippi! For the past few months, I've been making weekly stops at my local branch, and while I still spend a good amount of time at Fresh Pot, the coffee shop connected to the Powell's on Hawthorne, leafing through food magazines and journals, I think I've reclaiming my love for the library.

Today I went crazy in the food section - pulling out anything and everything that looked interesting - and walked out with a stack of great books. I'll be gobbling up:

The Real Food Revival: Aisle By Aisle, Morsel by Morsel by Sherry Brookes Vinton and Ann Clark Esuelas
In the Devil's Garden: A Sinful History of Forbidden Food
by Stewart Lee Allen
Extreme Cuisine: The Weird & Wonderful Foods that People Eat by Jerry Hopkins, Anthony Bourdain (my celebrity crush), and Michael Freeman
Plenty: One Man, One Woman, and a Raucous Year of Eating Locally
by Alisa Smith and J.B. Mackinnon
Fork It Over: The Intrepid Adventures of a Professional Eater by Alan Richman

I'll let you in on any great facts or stories I find. As I walked out of the library today, aside from being freed of the guilt that hits me after a "bookstore binge", I was struck with how sustainable the Public Library system is. I know this is a bit obvious, but it makes so much sense that I should borrow shared books instead of buying new ones. I can still get that great smell from the New Books section, and I know that I'm not adding more waste to the system. Now, if only they'd get rid of that silly decimal system...

I'm off to cuddle up with a good book and some lunch. Got a Library Card? Go use it, and let me know if you find any great books to eat read!

Eat, and Read, Well.

This is also a submission to Joelen's Culinary Adventures Tools and Cookbooks challenge. She rocks!

Wednesday, July 30, 2008

The Real Rainbow Connection

Sometimes a person simply needs to whip up a recipe for the sole purpose of combining all of their favorite foods on one plate. For me, this is easiest when summer is in full swing, the eggplants are big but still have their youthful purple blush, the heirloom tomatoes are Rubenesque beauties, coyly flaunting their curves in languid piles, and every herb imaginable is stacked high, fresh picked from the farm down the road. You can't walk into a market without being stopped in your tracks by some ridiculously beautiful vegetable, sitting there looking like it's been polished by hand, ready for its close-up. Food like this begs to be eaten as simply as possible, tying up a few flavors and textures into a dish that lets the ingredients sing for themselves.

I thought I'd take advantage of the culinary bounty my parents sent to me yesterday by making a fresh summer vegetable stack, with a cabernet sauvignon honey-mustard vinaigrette, goat cheese, pine nuts, and cilantro. I sliced the eggplant thinly, brushed both sides with olive oil, sprinkled with sea salt and broiled them for five minutes.

I sliced the tomato into juicy rounds, and made a small salad of Mâche* leaves and cilantro tossed with a quick dressing of olive oil, cabernet vinegar, local raw honey, and whole grain mustard. When the eggplant was done (check often - it can burn quickly!) I made stacks, alternating between layers of tomato, eggplant, and dressed greens. For a final touch, toasted pine nuts and goat cheese crumbles. A terrific, simple lunch, that looked as good as it tasted.

Good food doesn't have to be expensive, time consuming, or only for special occasions. I know in a few months, when Portland moves to her winter estate under a permanent rain cloud, I'll look back on this July and think of all the gorgeous fruits and vegetables that seem to be jumping into my hands and onto my plate. But that's what eating seasonally is all about, living it up in periods of bountiful harvest, and appreciating the "off season" for both the comfort of winter vegetables and also as a period of rest, a natural connection to the land's cycles of replenishment. We are so used to finding bananas in December and grapes from Costa Rica year round, and I'll be the first to admit I haven't completely broken the habit of reaching for whatever produce is cheapest - regardless of where it came from. But the truth is, when we connect with our environment, the natural bounty of the land of our communities, we thrive on a whole new level, and eating seasonally means the tomato at the Farmer's Market, or, better yet, the one from my back yard, is the cheapest. This year I'm trying to experience the changes of the seasons, the highs and lows of natural cycles, the feasts and famines that allow a balance to be found. Wish me luck, or, even better, join me!

Our bodies were made to eat this way, so live it up, and Eat Well.

*Mâche is a delicate, sweet salad green (also known as lamb's lettuce or corn salad) that is known for its round leaves and rosette-shaped bunches. I like that the leaves are curved and hold dressing really well! It has a great nutty flavor, and is gaining popularity in the States. Try it!

This is a submission to
Summer Produce Recipes! one of Joelen's Culinary Adventures. Check her out!

Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Best Care Package Ever

My parents rock. What do you send a far away daughter who's foodie desires far surpass her foodie budget? That's right. A culinary care package of quality vinegars, condiments, nuts, fruits, and CHOCOLATE.

The breakdown:
Aged Balsamic Vinegar
Cabernet Sauvignon Vinegar
Rice Vinegar
White Wine Vinegar
Apple Cider Vinegar
Chile-Garlic Sauce
Whole Grain Mustard
Sunflower Seeds
2 Bags of Pine Nuts
2 Bags of Mixed Nuts
2 bags of Dried Cranberries
"One Huge Chunk Hunk" of Belgian Dark Chocolate

There's really nothing better than opening up a big box of surprises, especially when they are all edible. I'm really excited to try the Cabernet vinegar, and can't wait to put pine nuts on EVERYTHING (they are one of my favorite foods)! Thanks guys, this made my day!

5th Quadrant - No BBQ Sauce for YOU!

I ventured up to the far and mysterious lands of NoPo today for lunch with my dear friend and fellow foodie Butternut. We stumbled into 5th Quadrant, Lompoc brewery's northernmost establishment on N Williams. I was a little shellshocked walking in, as we had just jogged across the street and narrily escaped being run over by a truck coming around the corner. You can't always trust those pedestrian crossings... I was immediately faced with a large water dispenser and tray of glasses. Call me cheap, but quality, free water on demand makes me very happy. I get that from my dad. Wilco & Billy Bragg sang through the speakers - though not loud enough to cover the oldies on the kitchen radio (Ingrid Bergman vs. the Vogues... who will win?) We chose a seat next to the large street-facing window, and looked through the drink menu. I ordered a home-brewed Lompoc Root Beer. Now, I have some reservations about "real" root beer - ever since a childhood trip to Lancaster County for an Amish festival left me gagging on some terrible concoction touted as home-brewed soda - but this was delicious. Really refreshing and, unfortunately, far too easy to gulp. Luckily, water refills were plentiful and timely. B had a Centennial IPA, which was good, but we both preferred the root beer.

I ordered the Meatloaf sandwich, which was the best choice I could have made. I have no idea where the desire for a meatloaf sandwich came from, must have been divine inspiration, but it was one of the best sandwiches I'd had in a while. Made from local, Oregon Country beef on a perfectly toasted whole wheat from Portland French bakery, the sandwich was a great balance of smoky, crisp (from the fresh greens), and cool (big, red local tomato slices).

The meatloaf itself was great - reminded me of bbq ribs - though it could have been warmer. I really wanted BBQ sauce to dip it in, and I figured (because they serve BBQ pork) they'd have some extra in the kitchen. Nope. My waiter looked at me like I was crazy and asked if I wanted A1 sauce. Is BBQ sauce really that crazy? I didn't think so... No matter, the sandwich was worth the snarky service. Another thing - this sandwich was huge. I ended up taking half home and will be enjoying it for dinner. My sandwich came with a big pile of fries, which were tasty, but a bit soft for my taste. The few that were crispy proved my point - perfectly seasoned with flaky sea salt and a good crunch.

I'm not sure if I'm ready to jump on the NoPo trendbandwagon, but I had a great lunch here and I bet I'll be back.

Eat Well!

Monday, July 28, 2008

Black & White Will Always Be Fashionable

This past May I had the pleasure of traveling to New York City with a group of young women to meet with some fashion executives from a popular label - a focus group of sorts - that is developing it's own line of casual lounge wear and underthings. It was a whirlwind three days, packed with tours of the city, town cars and taxis, and lots and lots of underwear. Suffice it to say, I was completely out of place amongst the fashionistas - I had earned a place on the trip by writing an article about Portland style, which for me usually means men's button-downs and Birkenstocks - but I was pleased to be honored with the experience. I mean, who turns down a free stay on Park Avenue?

The part of the trip that will stick with me forever - besides running around Times Square at 2 am with my sister who had come up from Princeton, NJ for an all-nighter with me - was the FOOD. I enjoyed one of the best Italian meals I've ever had at Borgo Antico, a block away from Union Square. It was a kick to see fashion editors, designers, models, and advertising CEOs toss off their (really high) heels and order up a storm, care of the expense account. Ah, fine food does taste best when the bill isn't an issue. We must have rattled off every appetizer, salad, and dessert to the waiter, who wasn't the least bit daunted by our party of 30. I'm rarely in such distinguished company, but what tickled me the most was that everyone was turning to me - little ol' me in a plain black dress (with a few drops of paint I noticed too late!) sipping a Shirley Temple- for food advice. All discussion of famous designers and fashion week (which I admit I have little to no interest in) moved off the table when I mentioned I knew a bit about the provenance of one of the french terms on the menu - I forget it now - and questions and food stories started flying. The food arrived and all class distinctions and purse-price competition disappeared as we all settled into our plate and were united as eaters.

The crowning glory of the night came after we were all stuffed from course after course of amazing, fresh food: Dessert! All the beautiful women shook their heads, politely declining the dessert menu, until one brave woman - bless her soul - said, 'Hey, let's just get everything and pass around a couple of forks - one bite won't kill you!' And, oh, my friends, those fancy ladies' faces shone with sweet relief - you just know they wanted to try everything but were afraid to be the only one who could eat another bite. My favorite was the panna cotta, a pure white, rich cream custard covered in chocolate sauce. So simple, but it was one of the most heavenly dishes I've ever had the pleasure of eating. The conversation went into the night, and as the gelato melted and the brownies were left only nibbled, we kept subtly dipping our spoons back into the creamy custard until it was gone. Piling into a cab at the end of the night, I knew I'd just experienced something magical.

Ever since that week, I have dreamed of the perfect panna cotta, asking everyone I know if they'd had any good variations at a local Portland eatery, but was always told one thing: It's so easy, just make it yourself! There are so many variations in all the posh food magazines, and I suppose I was simply intimidated by the extravagance of that first taste at Borgo, that I haven't tried to make my own until today, for Magazine Monday, a weekly challenge to clear out those recipe piles, started by the amazing Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice. Over the past few months I've amassed quite the collection of panna cotta recipes, and finally tried one out.

The April 2007 issue of Southern Living featured a gorgeous white chocolate panna cotta, with a dark chocolate sauce that, at least aesthetically, echoed the Borgo Antico dessert. I took the opportunity to use up a few more jewels of the Oregon Berry Invasion that Dragonfruit brought home this morning, and had a bit of fun sharing the extra chocolate sauce with her (and our chins). The result was a well-balanced, creamy and sweet version of the classic panna cotta.

It definately didn't top the panna cotta of my dreams - I doubt anything ever will - but the first bite did take me back to that candle-lit table, surrounded by laughter and glittering jewelry, and the moment when everyone's self-conscious thoughts melted away into the perfect dessert.

You can find the recipe for White Chocolate Panna Cotta With Dark Chocolate Sauce here.

Dads, Grills, and Summer Vegetables

When I was younger, summers meant long days reading in bed past noon, listening to my dad mow the lawns outside and looking forward to warm evening al fresco dinners by the grill. My dad was a master of meats, firing up the biggest steaks and racks of lamb over the permanent charcoal grill in our covered patio whenever we found a reason to celebrate. I remember him daringly holding his hand above the hot coals to test the heat and singing his arm hairs as my sisters looked on in nervous awe. Some of the best summer nights ended with empty plates, full stomaches, and fresh picked figs from our backyard tree.

My parents' cooking was all about simplicity. A quality piece of meat seasoned with salt and pepper, buttered vegetables, and an iceberg salad with "daddy dressing" consisting exclusively of apple cider vinegar, canola oil, and garlic salt in the perfect ratio, were the standards that I still hold dear. As I've grown, I've become enamored with herbs and spices, exotic combinations of condiments and marinades, gourmet methods and french sauces, but I hold my father's culinary ease and restraint in high regard. When I visit my parents house, they're more than happy to let me make a yellow curry or a complicated eggplant dish, accompanied by a salad with an experimental sweet-savory dressing, and I love to try out new combinations on their experienced palates. But it's only ever a matter of time before I curl up next to my dad on the couch, stretch my arms around him like a kid, and ask him to grill up a steak "like when I was little."

As far as meats go, I've never been able to get a grill to perform like my father could, but when it comes to vegetables, I can certainly hold my own. Much like the improvisational frittata, the amazing ratatouille is perfect for both clearing out the vegetable crisper and showcasing the best fresh, local picks. I found some beautiful orange cherry tomatoes at Limbo this morning and thought I could scrounge up enough vegetables from the fridge to put together something really tasty as a background to the sweet little jewels.

I tweaked the traditional roasted vegetable dish by making a chilled grilled ratatouille salad. There's really no recipe here, it's just a method that will adapt perfectly to anything and everything you'd feel like throwing in. I grilled up two kinds of eggplants that had been sliced and salted, some carrots, bell peppers, and some sweet potatoes. When these were meltingly cooked and carmelized, I diced them up, tossed them in good olive oil and sea salt, and let them cool in the fridge for about an hour. I topped it all with the gorgeous tomatoes, red onions, capers, local goat cheese, and fresh oregano. By far the best lunch I've had in a while, and the smell of the grill brings me back home, wishing I was sharing it with my dad, on a plate next to a perfectly cooked steak.

Thanks for letting me make the salad dressings, Dad. Eat Well.

Sunday, July 27, 2008

Happy Shark Week!

My housemates and I don't watch television. We do have a tv, but it's used almost exclusively by my roommate Greenbriar for obscure films and the occasional video game. Tonight, however, we all gathered around for the first night of Shark Week on the Discovery Channel! We ordered an anchovy pizza, channeling our inner shark, and started the countdown to the new Mythbusters, which would mark the first time our television was plugged in to the cable since GB brought it into the house.

I've been known to take any opportunity to cook for my loved ones, and kitchy theme dishes are kind of irresistable. Couple this with the Berry Invasion of the past few weeks - gorgeous local strawberries, raspberries, and blueberries being basically given away wherever you look - and the creation of a shark-themed dessert was basically a given.

(I wonder how many more of these gratuitously sensual berry photographs I can distract you with before you start questioning my actual cooking skills.)

I decided to be a little punny and make... Strawberry Sharkcakes. I used a shortcake recipe from a 2006 issue of Gourmet, and was kind of disappointed with it, so I'm not going to post it here. The berries and wonderful cream from Norris Dairy redeemed the dish, and the gummy sharks swimming around the plate were pretty awesome. My favorite part of the dish was the berry coulis, which I made the night before. I had a bunch of blueberries, raspberries, and blackberries in the fridge from the market yesterday, and some of them were looking a bit past their prime. I threw them all in a saucepan with a bit of raw sugar and honey and mashed it all with an old-school potato masher. I let it simmer for an hour, and strained it through a mesh sieve. Yum! I could eat this on everything from pancakes to ice cream. I bet it would also make a great salad dressing. Anyway, back to the tv. It's not often my friends gather around a screen, but it's all in the name of sharks, and I don't want to miss anything!

Happy Shark Week, friends! Eat Well. Like a shark.

Saturday, July 26, 2008

Weekend Cookbook Challenge #30: Farmer's Markets

I had to laugh a little when I saw the theme the wonderful (and fellow Portlander!) Michelle of Je Mange la Ville picked for July's Weekend Cookbook Challenge: Farmer's Markets! I don't think I'm going to shock anyone with the fact that I spent all day at the Portland Farmer's Market at the PSU campus, and had plenty of options for my submission.

I chose a recipe from the fabulous Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes: Recipes from a Modern Kitchen Garden by Jeanne Kelley. Ivonne over at Cream Puffs in Venice has praised this book, calling it "one of the most beautiful cookbooks [she has] ever seen!" so, of course, I had to get a copy. I wanted something that would really highlight a single, beautiful seasonal ingredient, because that's what the farmer's market is all about - getting the best of the best when it's at its peak.

I picked up some stunning carrots at Groundworks Organics' booth this morning, as well as some local shallots and (amazing) goat cheese. The recipe, which I tweaked just a bit to feature my local ingredients, was originally a sweet carrot soup with a dill gremolata. I substitued lemon basil for the dill (for obvious reasons), left out the orange zest (sadly, no orange trees in Portland), and added a swirl of local cream, goat cheese crumbles, and capers.

A deceptively simple recipe, the few ingredients worked so well together, it's easily one of the best soups I've made. I especially loved the salty capers and goat cheese paired with the sweet carrot that is the star of this dish. I can't recommend this enough. It took no more than 35 minutes, almost all of that downtime waiting for the carrots to cook, and cost next to nothing. A bonus, the soup itself is really low-calorie, being made of only carrots, shallots, a bay leaf, and water! Which, of course, I negated with my liberal use of cream and goat cheese. It's so worth it, friends. Trust me.

Happy weekend, and remember... Eat Well.

Sweet Carrot Soup with Basil, Goat Cheese, and Capers
Adapted from Leanne Kelley's Blue Eggs and Yellow Tomatoes
(serves 4 to 6)

For Soup
3 tbs unsalted butter
2 large shallots, sliced
2 pounds fresh, organic carrots, sliced into rounds
4 cups water
2 bay leaves
1/2 tsp sea salt

For Topping
2 tbs minced shallot
1 tbs minced fresh basil
3 tbs whipping cream
2 tbs capers
1/2 cup crumbled goat cheese

Melt butter in a large saucepan over medium heat. Add shallots and saute until tender and golden brown. Add sliced carrots, stir to coat with butter. Add 4 cups water and the bay leaves, and bring to a boil. Reduce to a simmer, and cover for 20 minutes, or until carrots are very tender. Remove the bay leaves, and puree soup with an immersion or standard
blender. Season with salt to taste. Divide into bowls and garnish with herbs, minced shallot, cream, goat cheese, and capers. Enjoy!

Ice Cream on Market Day!

Another beautiful morning at the Portland Farmer's Market. One of the biggest joys of my life is helping teach the kid's cooking class at the Saturday location downtown at the Park blocks. A gaggle of kids and local produce - usually involving lots of sugar at 10 am - is a surefire way to kick off a weekend. Today we made hand-rolled ice cream!

It was truly ingenious. We used empty paint cans, one small and one large, and gorgeous, simple ingredients. Sugar, local cream, and some more of the amazing Oregon berries that have invaded my culinary repertoire this week.

It's amazing to see all my favorite food bloggers churning out recipe after recipe of gorgeous berry desserts, and I've especially been drooling over all of the ice cream and sherbet recipes so popular this time of year. Alas, I have no ice cream maker! Today's class definitely solved that problem. We marched through the market, collecting cream from Norris Dairy, berries from a few wonderful vendors, and hazelnuts from Freddy Guy's, then we got to work. The kids stirred sugar, vanilla, and cream together, and poured the concoction into the smaller can.

They dropped in berries, cookie crumbles, and nuts to their hearts' content, and the cans were hammered shut. The larger cans were then filled with ice, ice cream salt, and frozen rocks (which would stay as cold as ice but wouldn't melt - hooray for science!) and closed up tightly.

Then came the fun part - the rolling! We made it a competition to keep them interested for the fifteen minutes it would take for the ice cream to solidify - the group with the best form won cute chef hats - and they had so much fun.

The result was some of the best ice cream I've ever had. Thick and rich, with the fresh berrries swirled through, and it only took a half hour from start to finish - including picking out the ingredients. I love being able to talk about local, fresh foods with the kids and getting them excited about cooking. To see them run up to their parents after class and beg to buy fruits and vegetables to try new recipes at home - that's why I do what I do. Plus, they are about as cute as can be.

All in all, a fantastic market day. I spent the rest of the morning taking photos for the PFM website - I'm the market photographer as well - and enjoying the sights, sounds and smells of the local harvest. Looking aroung, the berry is very much the celebrity of July, but plenty of other crops are entering their peak season. The early peaches are especially delicious this year, carrots and beets are coming out in all their jewel-toned glory, and the whole market smells like fresh herbs. I picked up some beautiful heirloom tomatoes that I'm enjoying right now with just a touch of fleur de sil, a gift from a market volunteer. I'm not one to spend twenty dollars on artisan salt, but I'm certainly enjoying the luxury.

I'll leave you with the recipe for the delicious ice cream we made. I hope you have as much fun as the kids and I did. Recruit some youngin's around the neighboorhood and make it a party!

Eat well!
Hand-Rolled Ice Cream
1/2 pint organic heavy cream
1/2 pint organic half and half
1 1/2 tsp vanilla
1/3 cup sugar
1/2 cup rock salt
Mix ins: berries, cherries, peaches, chocolate chips, caramel, cookie crumbles, pretzles, anything and everything!

Tools: Small pebbles, small paint can with lid, large paint can with lid

Stir together cream, half and half, vanilla, and sugar. Pour into small can and add additional mix-ins. Seal TIGHTLY. Put a few inches of ice in the large can and place the small can inside. Cover with pebbles, rock salt, and more ice - up to the top - and seal the large can. Roll back and forth for 15 minutes - approx. 500 rolls if you want to count. Open up your cans and enjoy summer!

Friday, July 25, 2008

Sugar High Fridays #45: Berries!

For my first official Sugar High Friday, the fantastic Susan from Food Blogga has picked berries! I'm very excited to present my recipe for this month's challenge, Raspberry and Blackberry Cinnamon Truffles.

I picked up some gorgeous local blackberries and raspberries at Limbo this morning, and felt like trying something new. They were big and beautiful, perfect for standing alone as individual berries inside a truffle.

I made a thick ganache with organic whipping cream and semisweet chocolate chips that I spun in the dry food processor until they resembled breadcrumbs. This melted effortlessly into the warm cream, and kept a workable consistency for a long time.

I dipped individual berries into the chocolate mixture, and settled on fishing them out with my fingers - a girl's best tool, and the two-fork method had proved cumbersome - and placed them on plastic wrapped cookie sheet. After cooling in the fridge for an hour, I dusted them with unsweetened cocoa and confectioner's sugar.

This is a really fun, simple treat - great for parties and gifts. My friends couldn't get enough of them tonight, and the ganache would be great for dipping anything and everything - pretzels, strawberries, even drizzled over popcorn.

Here's to sweet treats, summer berries, and Sugar High Fridays.
Eat Well.

Raspberry and Blackberry Cinnamon Truffles

1/2 cup heavy cream
14 oz fine-quality semi-sweet chocolate, finely chopped in a food processor
1 1/2 tablespoons cinnamon
1 c. fresh raspberries
1 c. fresh blackberries
2 tbs unsweetened cocoa powder
1 tbs confectioner's sugar


Line a baking sheet with plastic wrap.

Bring cream just to a simmer, Remove from heat, then add chocolate and stir gently until ganache is smooth. Stir in cinnamon.

One at a time, place berries in ganache until fully coated. Remove each chocolate-covered raspberry with your fingers (get dirty!) then transfer to tray. Coat remaining berries in same manner.

Chill truffles on tray until firm, at least 1 hour, then loosen from wax paper.

Sift cocoa, using a mesh strainer, over chilled truffles and toss to coat, then dust with powdered sugar. Keep chilled until ready to serve.

A Fubonn and Malaysian Adventure

I'm a sucker for new culinary experiences. There is little that I won't try - from dried squid candy to rattlesnake - and I love discovering new foods. I'd been searching Portland Food & Drink and Portland blogs for some new food adventure, when I read a few Asian cuisine blogs praising Malaysian food, something I have no experience with. I did a bit of detective work and found that the only Malaysian restaurant in PDX is located in the Fubonn Shopping Center.

Ah, the Fubonn. "The largest Asian Shopping Center in Oregon!" Located on 82nd between Powell and Division, Fubonn is quite an adventure. My roommate, Dragonfruit, is always up for a food adventure, and was happy to join me on my hunt for Malay cuisine. Not least because she's had a kimchi jones for months.

We decided to hit up the supermarket first. Talk about variety! I was literally overwhelmed by how much I was unfamiliar with. Aisle after aisle of colorful wrappings and beautiful jars filled with things I'd never heard of. I hate to sound totally awestruck and, well, American, but it was such a pleasure to be surrounded by the (mostly) unknown. I'd been to plenty of asian supermarkets (growing up in L.A. gives you a leg up on knowledge of international cuisines) but Fubonn was exactly what I needed - a break from the ordinary - an adventure.

I was thinking about the issue of sustainability in a place that felt almost like a temple of packaging and foreign shipments. While, yes, it is possible to recreate cultural fare with the ingredients of a new country - a fact proven by many fine international restaurants in Portland that use local, organic ingredients - there was a different kind of sustainability here. Sustaining a culture, preserving a community, is vital part of any progressive movement. It was quite apparent that Fubonn serves as a hub for connecting to familiar tastes and brands, that, while foreign to most Americans, allow the tastes of someone's cultural past, family history, or personal sensory memories to remain in their present life.

I couldn't help but snatch up a trio of interesting drinks in beautiful bottles, some dark soy sauce and hoisin, and paused to peruse the produce section for some unfamiliar herbs and fruits. I scored a bag of lychees for mere pennies, as well as an opo melon (which I'm sure I'll be posting about once I experiment with it), and spent a good deal of time sniffing bundle after bundle of various basils and mints in a rainbow of hues.

D got her kimchi and a rather vile mochi bun (one of her "favorite textures on earth - sorry if I'm skeptical), and we headed out with our bags to the restaurant just outside the market.

Malay Satay Hut, originally a Seattle haunt with rave reviews in Northwestern periodicals, is an unassuming little spot that smelled of curry and fish sauce as we stepped through the doors. We were seated and I spent a few frantic minutes trying to absorb everything on the menu. Malaysian food echoes Indian, Thai, Chinese, and other southeast asian cuisines, and I wanted to try something traditional. I asked our waiter to recommend a few dishes, and sat back to enjoy the cheesy asian musack cover of "Somewhere Over the Rainbow."

Our food arrived, and proved to be, while not astoundingly new and adventurous, quite tasty and plentiful. We shared the Roti Canai, Indian fried bread with a potato curry dipping sauce, and I had the Malay Prawn Mee, yellow noodles in spicy shrimp broth with fish balls, shrimp, green vegetables, and bean sprouts. The broth was excellent, savory and spicy, though the noodles themselves were a bit bland. The shrimp was cooked perfectly, perhaps some of the best I've ever had.

I think we'll go back sometime and order something a bit more adventurous, perhaps one of the whole crabs or a garlic duck. All in all, a fantastic adventure, a traveler's journey within her hometown.

Got any Malaysian recipes or stories to share?

Until next time,

Eat Well.

A Bit of Sunny Improvisation

A beautiful morning in Portland found me scrounging in the crisper for zippy bags of leftover chopped veggies. It's been such a great week for local vegetable finds that I had to break my near-ritual of flax-amaranth-corn cereal for breakfast, and what better way to use all those odds and ends than a classic fritatta.

I'm happily chopping along, gathering ingredients, appreciating the beauty of a huge fresh shallot from Sun Gold farms, and set to make a tasty, cheesy, morning veggie pie. Only, HOLD THE PHONE. There is no cheese in the fridge. None. Nada. Note to self - cheese shopping, pronto.

Now, I used to be a vegan. I can play the improvisational substitution game like a pro. But the reason that's "used to be" is simple: I love cheese. So what's a girl to do? What can approximate a creamy goat cheese or ricotta, a tangy blue or melty havarti... Gazing mournfully at the fridge, I stretch my imagination about as far as it will go, and pick up a tub of basil hummus. It's creamy... kind of tangy... and that shallot looks good enough to be the star of this dish, so why not. I settle in, layering squash and mushrooms in a pie pan, sautéing the shallot in butter and adding some gorgeous eggs from my neighbor's chickens before adding it all to the layer veggies. Final touch before she's off to the broiler, a few swirls and dollops of herby hummus. Crossing my fingers, I place the pan in the oven and wait.

The result was a surprisingly creamy, flavorful dish. I was spot on when I called the shallots the star of the dish, sweet and rich, I'll have to pick up some more of those at the farmer's market on Saturday. I don't think I'll be replacing all of my cheese with hummus, but it certainly did the job and made the most out of a beautiful bunch of vegetables. Crisis averted!

Enjoy your Friday, friends.
Eat well.


America is trapped in a food paradox. We walk down the aisles of the supermarket and are literally bombarded by thousands of choices of what to eat for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. However, despite these seemingly endless options, our choices are frighteningly limited to food that has traveled thousands of miles after being highly processed.

The typical American meal contains ingredients from at least five countries outside the United States, according to Tim Lang, Professor of Food Policy at London’s Thames Valley University. This food travels up to 1500 miles, creating a global system of inefficiency. With rising fuel costs affecting food prices, it seems this economy of confusion is getting worse – but there is a way out:

SeasonalOrganicLocalEthical Food!

Markets respond to levels of demand, and the food industry is not immune to consumer control. When you vote with your food dollars, the market will respond to the desires of the consumer – to your choices. If we are able to exercise our choice by picking fresh, local organic foods and products, we can turn the tables on this American Paradox, and keep our options open to what we really value:
- The best taste, freshness, and nutrition – buying local means gaining access to food picked fresh, and farmers are able to focus on breeding varieties for taste and quality.
- The power to support and strengthen our local economy – buying local keeps your food dollars in the community while supporting farmers you trust. When you cut out the middlemen, more of your dollar goes directly to the farmer.
- Protect our environment and the resources of our planet for future generations by reducing carbon emissions of food transportation and packaging, as well as limiting harmful byproducts of pesticides.

The great news is that making a major impact on your local and global environments doesn't require extra time, money, or drastic changes to your way of life. When you buy locally and sustainably, you have the ability to reflect your values in the purchases you make, and help to create the world you want to live in.

By making simple shifts in the Food We Buy we can tackle world issues, take steps towards healing environmental damage, save money in a fragile economy, while strengthening our communities and our bodies… All at the same time.

By focusing on your immediate needs (and everyone needs to eat!) you can set off a positive chain reaction that has global impacts. From your body and your budget, to your city, the nation and the world, eating locally is a remedy for a planet in which everything is connected.

Thursday, July 24, 2008

Snack Time!

Eating locally is great, especially in the summer. I get to know the faces of my favorite farmers, stroll through farmers markets around Portland, and take FAR too many gratuitously gorgeous pictures of vegetables. It's really difficult to get tired of heirloom tomatoes, fresh goat cheese, perfect summer cherries... But sometimes, a girl needs a potato chip.

I picked up some beautiful Japanese Eggplant today. The more slender, sensual family member of the good ol' Globe, the Japanese eggplant has a thinner skin, fewer seeds, and a sweeter, lighter flavor, with nary a trace of the bitterness of her humble cousin.

I had entertained the thought of a traditional eggplant and mushroom stew from Ghana, but then I came across a beautiful sweet potato in my pantry. My little lemon basil thoughts start flowing, imagining fresh, kettle cooked chips with a little salt, and I decide to give in to my cravings...

They may be fried, but they're local, and their veggies.

Using my trusty mandolin, paper thin slices of the vegetables flew into hot oil (yeah, it was as messy as it sounds) to the delight of my roommates.

These were inhaled almost instantaneously. Experiment with other vegetables, and enjoy summer's bounty.

Eat well.
Crispy Cumin Eggplant Chips and Rosemary Sweet Potato Disks

For Eggplant
3 tablespoons confectioners sugar
1 cup fresh breadcrumbs
1/2 teaspoon sea salt
1/2 lb thin Asian eggplant (2 inches in diameter; about 2 medium), trimmed
About 3 cups vegetable oil
1 tsp cumin

For Sweet Potatoes
1 large sweet potato
1 tbs chopped, dried rosemary
1/2 tsp sea salt

Stir together confectioners sugar, breadcrumbs, and salt in a wide shallow bowl. Cut eggplant and sweet potato crosswise into paper-thin rounds with mandolin or sharp knife.

Fill a deep 10- to 12-inch heavy skillet halfway with oil and heat over moderate heat. Dredge eggplant slices in breadcrumb mixture, tossing until thoroughly coated and lightly pressing to help coating adhere.

In batches, fry coated slices in oil (you'll know the oil's ready when it sizzles with the addition of a slice), turning and separating with a slotted spoon, until golden brown, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer eggplant chips with a wire-mesh or slotted spoon to paper towels to drain, then season lightly with salt and cumin.

In the same oil, fry the sweet potato slices in batches until golden brown and curled, about 2 minutes. Transfer to paper towels and sprinkle with salt and rosemary.

Chips will crisp as they cool. Enjoy!

Back to the Classics

True confessions: The ratio of cookbooks I have to cookbooks I use is... shall we say... embarrassing. I buy them compulsively, drawn to beautiful covers, exotic cuisines, lofty dreams of a new, sustainable hobby (someday I'll bake my own bread weekly... Until then Beth Hensperger's Bread Bible will be damn good bedtime reading).

It's not that I don't love my cookbooks, it's just that, as a college student on a budget, meals have been a bit, ahem, improvisational. Gotta have my grains and beans, then it's whatever I picked up at the farmer's market. Given how gorgeous and fresh the produce is in Portland, I rarely feel like doctoring it up with heavy sauces or complicated dressings. A bit of sea salt, if anything, does the job quite fine.

Today, however, I sidled up to my cookbookcase, in search of something very specific.

This morning I was greeted by my roommate, Dragonfruit, with what amounts to earth shattering news around these parts. Limbo, the produce market across the street from our house, just put out ONE DOLLAR CHERRY BOXES. Limbo dollar bags are truly hit or miss. D has been making a lot of banana bread lately from the huge bags of ripe 'nanas, and I look forward to late summer when bruised tomatoes will make great pasta sauce. But... Cherries. Big, dark, ripe local cherries. It's enough to make my little lemonbasil heart pound with joy.

Usually, I'd gobble up the little jewels on the spot, but we bought so many that I thought I'd make something special.

Here's where the cookbookcase comes in. I started pulling out the regular suspects, only to find that fresh cherries are not the stone fruit of choice for my favorite modern writers. Most of them used dried cherries, which are a completely different animal. After exhausting the indexes of my favorite books, I doubtfully looked to the classic section. Stacked together on the very top shelf, a series of well-worn, fading hardbacks. I keep them around for the history, dreaming of someday researching early-to-mid-century culinary anthropology, but I rarely think of actually using them.

After today, that might change. The winner was Ruth Berolzheimer's The United States Regional Cookbook from 1947. I adapted the recipe for Rolled Cherry Upside-Down Cake, supposedly native to the Mississippi Valley. A great little book, the Regional Cookbook did not let me down. It did, however, make me fantasize about a plausibly embellished past, in which regional, seasonal eating made the most of a bounty like my Oregon cherries, and cookbooks allowed young women like myself to savor the gifts of our immediate surroundings.

Here's to local finds, summer desserts, and returning to the classics.

Eat well.

Fresh Cherry Upside-Down Cake
Adapted from Ruth Berolzheimer's The United States Regional Cookbook
The original recipe called for a jelly-roll presentation, but I didn't want to hide the cherries, so I used a 9-inch round cake pan.

Fruit Mixture:
1/4 cup butter
3 cups fresh pitted cherries
1 cup sugar
1 tbs flour

Cake Batter:

4 eggs, separated
3/4 cup sugar
3/4 cup unbleached, organic flour
1/2 tsp vanilla
1/8 tsp salt

Preheat oven to 350. Melt butter in saucepan over low heat with half the sugar. Pour mixture into cake pan and cover with cherries mixed with remaining sugar and flour. Set in oven to heat while preparing batter. Mix together flour and sugar. Beat egg whites stiff and carefully fold in flour mixture. Add vanilla and slightly beaten egg yolks. Spread batter over hot cherries and bake for 30-40 minutes, or until cake springs back when gently pressed. Let cool and transfer, upside down to a plate.

Wednesday, July 23, 2008


There are times when I find myself struck stupid in awe of culinary ingenuity. I'm not talking postmodern plating techniques or posh "deconstruction" of familiar foods (Caesar salad broken down to an olive, a curl of Parmesan, and an anchovy on a single leaf of romaine? That's not creative, that's just mean.) I'm talking about one of those "Why didn't I think of that!" moments, when new culinary opportunities throw themselves at you like a level 2 tropical storm.

Today, my friends, was such a time. I was reading Gastronomica at a local bookstore coffee shop, and had ordered what I thought was a simple iced tea.

Simple, it was not. Delicious and enlightening, you bet your buttons.

Queen of Sheba Thyme Iced Tea. Yes, that's right, savory herbs in a slightly sweet, surprisingly refreshing summer drink. Amber in color, without a trace of bitterness. I could taste hints of jasmine and mint, but the thyme was the star, uninhibitedly screaming to my taste buds, "You think I'm just for roasting chicken and bouquet garni? Think again."

I was blown away from the first sip to the last, each mouthful cropping up more ideas for the culinary herbs in my garden. From the obvious (who doesn't love a big mug of peppermint tea?) to the skeptical (oregano? Do I dare?), I sat grinning like a child on her birthday, clutching the cool glass and tossing around herbal combinations.

How could I resist the inevitable incarnation...

Lemon Basil Iced Tea
1 handful fresh Lemon Basil (or your favorite)
1 Tbs Dried Basil
2 c. Boiling Water
1 tsp local honey or agave nectar
2 tsp fresh lemon juice

Place dried basil in tea infuser or non-bleached tea bag. Pour boiling water into large bowl with fresh basil and infuser.
Steep 5 minutes and strain. Stir in honey while tea is hot (it won't dissolve well in cold tea), and let chill in fridge for an hour.
Serve over ice with fresh basil and fresh squeezed lemon juice.