Saturday, October 31, 2009

The Great Pumpkin Event!

Every year around Halloween, the Portland Farmers' Market throws one hell of a party. Dozens of pumpkins for carving, vendor costume contests, kid's costume parade, really fun kid's music, and two, count them TWO chef demonstrations hosted by yours' truly. I had the pleasure of cooking a green tomato and celery root soup with Scott Dolich of Park Kitchen, and a great arugula and butternut squash panzanella salad with Jenn Louis of Lincoln and Culinary Artistry catering. They were both fantastic, and two more reminders of how much I love the Portland chef community.

When I was walking around with Scott shopping for our demo, he, like most chefs I've had the pleasure to meet at the market, seemed to know just about everyone. Every Portland-area farmer seems to know pretty much every Portland chef, and vice-versa, which makes sense because they have such a mutually beneficial relationship. Also, people who I would normally view as other shoppers like myself were suddenly revealed to be chefs of well-known restaurants, specialty shop owners, food writers, and other notable characters. It's such a treat to glimpse into that close-knit community, like a carrot dangling in front of me luring me into the Portland food scene. I suppose I already have a couple toes in that door, thanks to the market and blogging, but I've got a long way to go.

This year's bash was extra special because the event fell on Halloween proper, which I believe compelled a few more people to dress up and brave the rain for the festivities. Creative (and warm) costumes were everywhere, from an adorable stop light complete with light-up red, yellow, and green circles, to more princesses, butterflies, monkeys, monsters, and zombies than you could keep track of. No one cared too much that the rain speckled our costumes, but it's safe to say that when the sun peaked out around noon, smiles were considerably brighter.

Umm... Could this little thing be any cuter? I think not.

On the home front, I'm moving this week! Which means kitchen stuff might be living in boxes for a few days, and I'll be making a lot of salads. At least I like salads. I'm moving into a friend's house while he and his band go on tour, and then who knows... a world of domestic possibilities. As long as there is a kitchen, it's a home. Why I decided to move (a few times) in the middle of writing my thesis is quite complicated, but it's exciting. It also gives me something to think about other than writing and food. Hmmph. Like I need anything else.

Happy Halloween! Eat well!

Friday, October 16, 2009

Fun with Blog Stats...

During one of my occasional perusals of my blog statistics (which tells me, among other rather voyeuristic things, how many people visit the site, what web pages people are coming from, what countries, and what google hits are leading to Lemonbasil...) I came across a rather unexpected connection...

Apparently, if you search for "adopt buy squirrel portland" in Yahoo search from Taiwan, Lemonbasil is the first hit.

Dear Squirrel Lover,

Sorry if you were disappointed, my friend. I can't help you directly, but I hear Craigslist has occasional ads for chipmunks and ground squirrels. That being said, according the the Department of fish and wildlife it is against the law to trap any type of native squirrel and keep in captivity without specific permits through wildlife rehabilitation agencies. Read: let's keep our furry Portland friends out of cages and exercise wheels and in the wild, climbing Douglas Firs and, um, power lines.

They are pretty darn cute, though.

Your friend in Portland,

P.S. Did you know that there are more than 365 species of squirrels in the world? However, upon the occasion of a casual Google search, there is NO SQUIRREL OF THE DAY blog. Come now, people. That's simply an irresponsible use of the internet. Good readers, get on that. Stat.

Tuesday, October 13, 2009

Photos from the Week

So, here's a visual tour of food-related events of my past few days, because I have little to no time to verbalize blog-worthy musings this week. I'm writing my Senior thesis, painting murals, apartment hunting (and generally getting ready for a big move), and am finishing up work before leaving for my Fall Break. Next week on the East Coast, next year in Jerusalem. Or something.

Be back to words soon! Eat well!

Thursday, October 8, 2009

Butternut Squash Olive Oil Bread

Guess what I've been eating a lot of?

I'm a bit nervous that I'll eat way too much winter squash this month and be sick of it by the time the late summer vegetables are gone and I'm faced with the prospect of eating butternut squash and sweet potatoes for several long, cold months. But I also feel like I've been waiting for winter squash season all year, and I am willing to risk butternut overload for mornings like this.

I woke up this morning and immediately thought BREAD. I haven't made bread in many months of Sundays. What with the summer of living on the road, to starting school and moving into a new, unfamiliar house with an extremely temperamental oven, it's no surprise that bread hasn't been first on the to-do list. But I miss it, and Julia, my sexy stand mixer, keeps making me feel guilty for using her as squash storage. Hey, sorry love, but counter space is precious and you have a really large bowl. 6 quarts to be exact. So I thought I'd make it up to her AND make the squash storage problem a bit less insane in one fell swoop. Butternut squash bread! How cool is that?

• 2 (.25 ounce) packages active dry yeast
• 1/2 cup warm water (110 degrees F to 115 degrees F)
• 1 1/4 cups mashed, cooked butternut squash
• 1 cup warm milk (110 to 115 degrees F)
• 2 eggs, beaten
• 1/2 cup olive oil, canola oil, or mixture of both
• 1/3 cup honey, maple syrup, or agave
• 1 teaspoon salt
• 7 cups all-purpose flour

In a mixing bowl, dissolve yeast in water; let stand for 5 minutes. Add squash, milk, eggs, oils, syrup and salt; mix well. Gradually add 3-1/2 cups flour; beat until smooth. Add enough remaining flour to form a soft dough. Turn onto a floured surface; knead until smooth and elastic, about 6-8 minutes. Place in a greased bowl, turning once to grease top. Cover and let rise in a warm place until doubled, about 1 hour. Punch dough down. Shape into three loaves; place in greased 8-in. x 4-in. x 2-in. loaf pans. Cover and let rise until doubled, about 30 minutes. Bake at 375 degrees F for 25-30 minutes or until tops are golden. Remove from pans to cool on wire racks.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Farewell Gourmet Magazine

I know most of my readers in the food blogosphere will have already heard this sad news, but this year marks a monumental loss for the foodie world. After 70 years of publication, Gourmet magazine is closing its glossy covers for good.

For as long as I can remember, I've been a fan of Gourmet's specific brand of food porn. I've spent a good deal of time during my visits to my grandparents' looking through the giant basket where my grandmother keeps her magazines and setting aside Sunset and every Lands' End catalogue every printed, searching for that familiar scrolled title and the delectable solitary shot on the cover. This was my first exposure to food writing, to food photography, to the whole cult of culinary indulgence that has gained near-religious status in my life. Before I knew how to pronounce the title, I was enamored by shiny page after shiny page of colorful, drool-worthy shots of the kind of food I could only dream of. Now, to be fair, I come from food the way some people come from money. I had no shortage of gourmet (with a little g) delights on my very real dining room table. But the magazine (with a big G) took me past my mom's crispy chicken thighs and perfect baked potatoes and my dad's juicy steaks and... baked potatoes... to something wholly other. My parents showed me how to hold a knife, and the education was continued by the fine people on public television and the Food Network, not to mention the food blogosphere, but it was in the magazines that really took me places first. I learned about the restaurant world, the sustainable food movement, the revival of traditional regional flavors, and the influx of exotic tastes that have hit the American palate like a hurricane. My parents will always be the best cooks I've ever met, but because of Gourmet, I can proudly say that I can out-eggplant even them.

It would not be much of an exaggeration to say that it is due to the writers that populate the food journalism universe that I am a cook, that I am a writer, and that I am the kind of eater I am. They have informed my sustainable food ethics, my chopping style, the encyclopedia of food terms and methods in my head, and, surely, my career path. I know, because of the passion I found in their writing, the wonder I found in following a recipe (or, you know, not following it at all), and the immense delight in serving Gourmet-inspired food to my family and friends, that I want to cook, and write about it, for the rest of my life. My first-edition Gourmet Cookbooks hold the most privileged position in my cookbook collection, representing much more than a collection of recipes from mid-century. The Thanksgiving issues have informed the past few years of my November pursuits, and I had the amazing opportunity to meet Ruth Reichl through the Portland Farmers' Market (and, as many of us did, got to know her even more through her phenomenal memoirs). I'll miss her smiling face greeting me as I flip open the magazine each month, though the insane career envy I feel re: her time with the NYT and Gourmet will not fade in the least.

When asked to compile a series of recipes using winter veggies for the PFM, I immediately turned to the folks at Gourmet for inspiration. They have always represented a certain amount of class, at times bordering on the bourgeois, but always, somehow, accessible, even for a college student on a budget. I suppose what was most accessible were the dreams, the fantasy meals spelled out so beautifully in recipes and menus, in the shots so skillfully arranged by the art directors... I've built and rebuilt my imaginary kitchen countless times over the years in accordance to their appliance recommendations, filling the dream-drawers with the latest gadgets and loading the fantasy pantry with the most exotic spices and sauces. Some people have a "happy place" where they go to escape the pressures and mundane reality of real life. Mine has a Viking gas grill with an infrared rotisserie. And a Salamander.

In the hardest of times, when I find myself eating beans and rice for what seemed like weeks on end, I look forward to flipping the pages of the magazine, visually eating my way through the seasons, sampling the best of American and International restaurants, and conjuring up conversations with top chefs, sharing tips and favorite flavors. And in the best of times, when I find myself with hours to spend in the kitchen and a full fridge, Gourmet has taken me around the world, helping me conjure up flavors from Mexico to Thailand, from Italy to Philadelphia, and has opened my eyes to culinary gems here in Portland.

Today, three magazines were waiting for me in my mailbox. Bon App├ętit, Cooks Illustrated, and Gourmet. My friends and family can attest to the fact that days like today, when the food mags show up, are like every gift giving holiday wrapped up in one, made even better because they come once a month. I opened this month's Gourmet with gratitude, sadness, and anticipation for the future. Though one great edifice of the food world has fallen, there remains the example of the food writers of the past, and, thanks to their clearing of the path, there is amazing potential for the food writers of the future. Thank you, Gourmet, from all of us, for your role in the culinary revolution, and from me, for your special place in my own humble education.

Sunday, October 4, 2009

An Ode to Autumn: Hungarian Mushroom Soup with Butternut Squash and Eggplant

Dearest Autumn,

I love the way you make the air smell like apple pie and fireplaces. I love the colors you wear, the orange of pumpkins, the reds of the leaves being pulled down to the ground in swirls by the wind, and the deep gray of storm clouds. I love the way you change how I dress, allowing me to wrap myself with scarves, knit hats, thick tights and big sweaters that still kind of smell like my dad's aftershave.

I love how milky Irish Breakfast tea in the Fassbinder mug my mom gave me years ago tastes so much better when it's raining. I love the way the light has shifted, and has that golden tinge when it peaks out from behind the heavy clouds before it sets, earlier and earlier. I love the way you give farmers the best apples and squash, the way you have everyone planning their disguise for parties and pranks at the end of October. I love the way you keep the tomatoes and peppers and zucchini and eggplants around, but show them up with the hearty fall flavors of sage and rosemary and caramelized pears. I love how you carry pumpkin spice lattes like presents to every coffee shop in the city.

But most of all, above most everything else, I love how you make me feel when I spend a few hours in the kitchen making a pot of Hungarian mushroom soup, warm in my nubby brown socks, anticipating a great meal and a greater season. This soup is the best of you, autumn. Hearty, comforting, rich, and complex while being completely familiar.

Also, I love how everything I cook this years seems to devolve into brownish mush. Well, maybe I don't love that so much. But trust me, I don't hold it against you. Much.

Thank you for everything you do, and love, always,
Allison Jones, the real Oakley Rhodes.

P.S. This is officially Lemonbasil's 100th Post! I figured it was about time I revealed my identity, if only because, someday, I'd like to be able to google my name and have my food writing show up in results. I can't believe I've been doing this for almost a year and a half. Thanks to everyone who spends a minute or two reading my words and checking out my recipes. You make my world go round. Here's to a future of eating well, online and off.

Autumn Hungarian Mushroom Soup with Butternut Squash and Eggplant


  • 1 pound mushrooms, thickly sliced
  • 1 cup onion, chopped (any kind will do)
  • 1 or 2 large shallots, diced
  • 3 cloves of garlic, diced
  • 1 small eggplant, peeled and diced
  • 1 small butternut squash, peeled, diced, and roasted in a 350 degree oven until cooked through and golden
  • 2 tablespoons butter
  • 3 tablespoons flour
  • 1 cup milk (any kind works, I used skim)
  • 2 teaspoons dried dill weed
  • 1 tablespoon or more Hungarian, or smoked, paprika
  • 1 tablespoon soy sauce
  • 1 teaspoon salt
  • 2 cups chicken or vegetable stock
  • fresh ground black pepper, to taste
  • 1/2 cup sour cream or yogurt
1. Saute onion, shallot, and garlic in 2 tablespoons stock with a pinch of salt until translucent and fragrant.
2. Add mushrooms, eggplant, squash, dill, paprika, 1 cup stock, and soy sauce.
3. Cover and simmer 15 minutes. Set aside.
4. In a separate large saucepan, melt butter.
5. Whisk in flour and stir continually until flour beings to darken slightly.
6. Add milk and cook, continuing to whisk, over low heat until mixture thickens.
7. Stir in mushroom and vegetable mixture and remaining 1 cup of stock.
8. Cover and simmer 10 minutes.
9. Before serving, add sour cream and salt and pepper to taste.
10. Give thanks for fall.