Saturday, July 28, 2007

Curiosity just got the better of me, I guess...

I've made a point of shrugging off the Ikea mania that's been swirling around Portland for the past few years. I mean, really... People here get up in arms over Wal-Mart (as well they should), and have fended that company off on any number of fronts, thankfully. But when Ikea wants to open a store in Portland, it's the red carpet treatment all the way. We even gave them an exemption on our sign ordinance, to the consternation of muralists all over Stumptown. Now, I know, Ikea treats its employees a bit better than Wal-Mart, and goes to at least reasonable lengths to operate in a somewhat environmentally responsible way. But if you're going to get your knickers all in a bunch over one big box retailer, then they really should be in a bunch over them all, I say.

That said, I felt compelled to give Ikea a look. They just opened a few days ago and well, I've never been in one. So off I went. It's a pretty impressive place. If you've never been, the way it works is this: You snake your way throgh a byzantine display of swedish living rooms, swedish kitchens, swedish rec rooms and swedish bedrooms, passing through the occasional swedish bathroom as well (not functional, unfortunately), noting the price of various items along the way. Then you're dumped into a Costco style warehouse of merchandise, where you actually pick the stuff up and drop it into your cart. Your job at this point is to resist as much of the ridiculously cheap nordic housewares as you can. I managed to stave off temptation... until I got to the kitchenwares section. I immediately went back for a cart. And I should say, it was the most maneuverable shopping cart I've ever pushed. It was the General Lee of shopping carts. Seriously, I could do one-handed 360s with this thing. Maybe it was just because it was new, I don't know. But that cart alone made the experience worthwhile.

I did manage to behave myself, more or less. I made it out of the place for around forty bucks, quite an accomplishment considering the mountains of modular furniture surrounding me in the checkout lanes. I picked up some wine glasses, a few glass jars, a mesh strainer, some compact fluorescent light bulbs and of course, a bag of frozen swedish meatballs. I also picked up a wall rack to ease my potrack's burden a bit:

The ski goggles are for chopping onions, by the way. Now go, have a look at this place. Marvel at its grandeur. Enjoy the Dukes of Hazzard shopping cart.... Just promise me that you'll resist as much of the scandioporn as you can!

Friday, July 27, 2007

Good Friends, Good Food, Good Times!

They look like they belong in Portland, don't they?

My friends Tina and Sam are in town for the weekend for a wedding, and they graciously carved out an extra day in their itinerary to hang out with your humble author (all right, maybe "author" is too strong a word, but anyway...).

I've known Tina since the summer of 1984. We met at Crystal Lake in Northern Michigan, when we were both in our early teens, that time in life when one discovers things such as cheap beer and Echo and the Bunnymen. We made a pretty instant connection, and stayed in touch through the ensuing years. Living in different states, we were pretty much pen-pals for most of that time, and regularly sent each other epic fifty pagers. In fact, it wasn't until 2004 that we again saw each other in person. And on those all too rare occasions when we do meet up, it's as though no time has been lost at all!

I've known Sam for almost twelve hours. And I've got to say... I approve of the guy. He's a fellow food nerd, and stikes me as a pretty right on cat. If anyone's right for Tina, I'd say it's this guy. And hey, anyone who can rock the Zappa 'stache like that is okay in my book!

The three of us spent the afternoon exploring my neighborhood. We started with coffee to go at the Chance of Rain Cafe, and had a nice stroll up and down Hawthorne blvd, people watching, window gawking, sun dodging... I think I gave them a pretty good look at one of the better parts of our beloved city, although the full package would have included at least one awkward run-in with a schizophrenic homeless person. Oh well, maybe next time...

We then headed back to my place, and I plied the two of them with the good stuff: local wine, spanish cheese, olives, and some really nice marcona almonds... And of course, paella, cooked on the grill. Jenni showed up, and we all enjoyed some good conversation over tasty vittles in my back yard.

After dinner, we took a field trip to Zenger Farm to put the chickens to bed. Unfortuately, by this point Tina, Sam and Jenni were all too wiped out to make it for a pint at the Moon and Sixpence. But John the Irishman, John the Welshman and I managed to cover it.

It was really great to catch up with these two. They're wonderful folks. Thanks, Tina and Sam, for stopping by! Enjoy the wedding. And give my regards to that unspecified area of the country in which you live...

Monday, July 23, 2007

Paella on the Grill!

I've done paella a zillion (five or six) times on the stove top in my big ol' six quart saute pan (yeah, you heard that right, six quarts, baby!), but I was inspired to do it the grill way by Kathleen over at Good Stuff NW. I inauguarated both a new paella pan and a new grill with this preparation. And if that ain't enough, this was a test run for a dinner I'll be preparing for some friends coming in from Toledo (Ohio, not Spain) next week. An aligining of the stars... or something like that. At any rate, damn, that paella was tasty, as well it should be. You really can't go wrong with paella, but still I have to take some pride in this undertaking.

Buon Appetito, people!

Saturday, July 21, 2007

Best Fish & Chips in Portland?

The call was made shortly before ten. John the Irishman was feeling a bit sluggish, but I managed to persuade him to head out for a pint or two. I rode over to his apartment, and as we mounted our bikes to set out for the evening, we were a little unsure of where to go. We've both been sort of fed up with the usual haunts of late, the usual haunts being the Bonfire, the Moon and Sixpence, the Horse Brass and the Basement. Holman's was brought up, and I suggested the Chin Yen lounge as well, but neither place seemed to fit the bill. We rode by Lucky's, had a peek in the front door, and ruled that out pretty quickly. Then John made an unexpected suggestion: The Rose and Thistle, a scottish pub up in Irvington. I hadn't been there in probably six, maybe seven years, back when I lived in that neighborhood (incidentally, my grandmother grew up in Irvington, back in the 1910-20s). Yes, the Rose and Thistle... That's the place!

We arrived and locked up our bikes outside, and as we were walking in, I caught a look from an very attractive gal on crutches out on the sidewalk. I shot that look right back at her, and was hoping she would come back in, but unfortunately it didn't happen. At any rate, John and I settled in and ordered our pints (Newkie Brown for me, some scottish ale or other for John. In all the years I've known the guy, I've never once seen him order a Guinness). Being a bit hungry, I began to peruse the food menu, and ultimately decided on that old pub standard, fish & chips.

What arrived was a pleasant surprise. I'm rarely wowed by fish & chips, but these were better than usual. Much better than usual, as a matter of fact. Neither the fish nor the chips were what you would call truly remarkable, but they were both good enough that together they came to more than the sum of their parts. The fish was moist and crumbly, with a perfectly crisp yet minimal batter, and not the least bit greasy. The chips were just thick enough, and cooked to perfection. Now I've sampled fish & chips around town a time or two. The Moon and Sixpence does a fine job. Halibut's has come up with a good formula, and the Corbett Fish House in John's Landing does a nice version as well, with non trans-fat oil and gluten-free rice flour, no less. And there's a little place out in the Gorge (I forget the name) that has a pretty formidable offering. But the fish & chips I had tonight were probably the best I've had in the nearly eight years I've lived here. Has anyone out there had the fish & chips at the Rose and Thistle? Or do any of you know of a place that might top what I ate tonight? Among a certain set, fish & chips can be a contentious issue, like BBQ in Memphis or KC, so feel free to chime in with your opinions! Discuss...

I didn't get a shot of the fish & chips (I don't typically bring my camera to the bar), so I've selected the above mugshot of Rip Torn to stand in for my dinner.

Good beer and good food in the presence of good people always makes for a nice evening. But if only that girl on crutches had come back in...

Monday, July 9, 2007

You! Back in the Kitchen!

The more faithful of my readers have surely noticed by now that I haven't posted anything in a few weeks. In fact, some of you have mentioned this in person... more than once... I do apologize, but I've been devoting a lot of my attention to the new bike lately. I've set it up with new handlebars, clips and straps, a new left crank arm and a lockring (important). I also trued up the rear wheel, as best I can anyway, and I've been busy carving a little bike workshop area out of my basement as well. Basically, I've been geeking out on my new toy for the past three weeks. But the food bug is beginning to successfully compete with the bike bug, and I made my way back into the kitchen last Wednesday for a pie class.

Not my own kitchen, mind you. This class was held at the Bakery Bar down in Produce Row, and was put on by a Bay-Area pastry chef name of Shuna Lydon. The focus of the class was an all-butter pie crust. Here we see Shuna adding the ice water to the butter and flour:

And here, gesticulating wildly to punctuate one of her many nuggets of pie wisdom:

And putting the finishing touches on the crust:

After this demonstration, we each had the chance to grab a chunk of dough and go through the process ourselves. That's mine up top, by the way. Obviously the work of a novice, but it should do the job. It's currently in my freezer, awaiting its ultimate assignment.

The class was a lot of fun, and a valuable experience. Could I have taught myself to make pie crust? Probably, but it would have entailed an awful lot of trial and error, and some pretty ugly mistakes to be sure. Getting a little instruction from a professional is a good way to go with something like pie dough. Thanks, Shuna!

In other food-related developments, the egg operation is in full swing. The hens seem to get pretty excited when I stop by every Thursday evening. They're not shy, that's for sure. And they're really beginning to produce. We now have a surplus of eggs, which we'll be selling at the Lents Farmers' Market beginning tomorrow. Here's a shot of the girls: