Thursday, February 28, 2008

Artisanal Candy Bars From the Land of the Endless Summer

I've been sitting on this post for a while now, but I think the time has come to let you all in on the secret...

Santa Monica based CIA-Greystone pastry grad and fellow food blogger Nina Wanat, of Sweet Napa fame, recently launched her artisanal candy bar company, called Bon Bon Bar. I ordered up some samples back in December. What arrived was a trio of hand-made candy bars and two packages of artisanal marshmallows (vanilla and passion fruit flavored) which I stored in the fridge and savored, just a bit at a time, for weeks. To paraphrase my friend Zach's comparison of The Wire to Law and Order, Nina's confections are to a normal sugar fix what Dostoevsky is to Danielle Steele. Yeah, that's right, they're that good!

First, the bars. I ordered up one each of the Dark Chocolate Caramel Nut Bar, the Milk Chocolate Malt Bar, and the Dark Chocolate Malt Bar. The Caramel Nut Bar incorporates California-sourced organic almonds, walnuts and pecans, paired with a buttered caramel made with organic cream. I can't quite summon the words to describe this, but you can think of it as a Snickers bar that's broken free of its shackles and rebelled against its industrial masters. To continue the "Big Candy" analogy, the malt bars could be considered Twixes Gone Wild: malt ganache (just mull that over in your head for a second: Malt... Ganache...) and hand-made shortbread enrobed in milk/dark chocolate. These were even better than the Caramel Nut Bar. I'll never be able to look at a Twix the same way again.

As for the marshmallows, I can't gush too much about them because, well, Nina comped them with my order (blogger ethics and all that). But let it suffice to say that the vanilla marshmallows were just that: very good marshmallows that taste of vanilla. And the passion fruit marshmallows packed a surprisingly tangy and refreshing pucker that you wouldn't normally associate with this s'more staple.

Nina makes her products with a devotion to sustainablity and an uncompromising rejection of dodgy ingredients like high fructose corn syrup. Monsanto is not well represented in this girl's kitchen, thankfully. If you live in Southern California, you can find her treats at Chefmakers in Manhattan Beach and Pacific Palisades, and Clementine in Los Angeles. Her vanilla marshmallows can also be found at Food on Pico Blvd. in Los Angeles. If you don't live in the area, her products are available through the Bon Bon Bar website. You may not be accustomed to paying five dollars for a small candy bar (or $30 for an internet order of small candy bars), but believe me, it's worth it. Nina's recently added several new bars to her lineup, and is in the process of moving her operation into a larger, climate controlled kitchen, and with these tweaks her empire will undoubtedly spread. With any luck, her products will eventually find their way to Portland...

Wednesday, February 27, 2008

The Bunny Movie: A Cinematic Exploration of Postmodern Rabbit Culture

A colleague of mine is making his debut on Portland's independent film scene tomorrow. The folks at the Mercury are very excited. So if you're free on Thursday evening, make sure to stop by the Hollywood Theater at 7:00 pm for an evening of lagomorphic madness. Details at $2 suggested donation. All proceeds to benefit Outside In.

Tuesday, February 26, 2008

Prairie View A&M ROCKS

I think this is just amazing. It happened last week, so it may just be that I'm the last person to hear about it, but in case you missed it as well, check out the video above... A group of 1000 students (along with another 1000 friends and supporters) at Prairie View A&M University, a historically black college in Waller County, TX, marched 7.3 miles, down the freeway, from PVAMU to the county seat in Hempstead to protest the county's decision to offer only one voting location for the Texas primary election (early voting started last week), at the county courthouse. I guess we haven't come as far as we'd like to think since the days of poll taxes...

Sunday, February 24, 2008

You There! Take an Egg Survey!

Fellow Portland food blogger Michele Knaus over at Eat Like a Chef is thigh-deep in thesis research right now, and could use your help. So take a moment and fill out her egg survey, a moment which you can consider to be your contribution to the future of sustainable egg production. Not that you needed a reason, of course...

Friday, February 22, 2008

Goodbye, Crappy Green Subaru...

...You were a fine car. Even though you leaked fluids. And three of your power windows were broken. And your clock didn't work. And your 4WD functioned intermittently, at best. I will miss you. But not that much. To be honest, I sort of hope you're totalled. Because I want one of these:

Sunday, February 17, 2008

¡Tortilla Española con Salsa Romesco!

As anyone who's well acquainted with me can tell you, I loves me some spanish food! But I rarely make anything spanish at home. Oh sure, when I've got visitors coming in from the midwest, I might break out paella on the grill or some such, but when all is said and done, spanish cuisine is a rarity here at casa del Belmont. So tonight I busted out of the mold and took on that most classic of Iberian staples, Tortilla. But first, an interjection: for those not familiar with spanish food, this is an entirely different animal from the famous flatbread of mexican cuisine. This tortilla is an egg and potato based concoction, and has much in common with quiche and fritatta. Now, where was I... I've had this dish at two of Portland's better spanish restaurants, Pata Negra and Toro Bravo. And I've gotta tell ya, I think my version holds its own against both Seguro's and Gorham's. Not that I'm taking any credit for it, mind you. The tortilla is based on a recipe by María de los Angeles Rodri‭guez Artacho, co-owner of Bar Jordi (which, near as I can google, is a restaurant in Mallorca), while the romesco is an adaptation of a recipe from Gourmet's 2005 files (both via If I remember correctly, it was a spaniard -Pablo Picasso, I believe- who said that bad artists copy while good artists steal. Well, I steal from the best. But don't take my word for it, try this yourself. First up, the romesco:

1 large tomato, cored
1 dried ancho chile
1/3 cup extra-virgin olive oil
2 tablespoons hazelnuts, toasted, skins rubbed off and chopped
2 tablespoons blanched almonds, chopped
1 (1/2-inch-thick) slice firm white bread, cut into 1/2-inch cubes
2 large garlic cloves, minced
1/2 teaspoon smoked paprika
1/4 cup pimientos, rinsed
2 tablespoons water
1 tablespoon red-wine vinegar
1/4 teaspoon kosher salt

In a 400F oven, roast tomato in a foil lined baking dish until tender and skin peels off easily, about 30 minutes.

While tomato is roasting, slit chile open lengthwise, discard stem and seeds, and chop it into small pieces. Heat oil in a 10-inch heavy skillet over moderate heat until hot but not smoking, then add chile and cook, stirring, until fragrant and chile turns a brighter red, 1 to 2 minutes. Transfer chile with a slotted spoon to a large heatproof bowl. Add hazelnuts to skillet along with almonds, bread, garlic, and smoked paprika and cook, stirring, until bread and garlic are golden, 4 to 5 minutes. Add mixture (including oil) to chile in bowl and cool slightly.

Once the tomato is done roasting, peel, roughly chop and transfer it to a food processor. Add bread and chile mixture, pimientos, water, vinegar, and salt and purée until smooth. Alternately, you can add the tomato, pimientos, water, vinegar, and salt to the bowl containing the chile/bread mixture, and hit it with a stick blender, adding olive oil to thin as necessary:

Once the romesco is done, set it aside, wipe out the skillet, and begin work on the torilla itself:

1 1/2 cups oil (I used half extra virgin olive and half saffflower)
2 lbs boiling potatoes, peeled and cut into 1/4-inch dice
2 large yellow onions, chopped
1 tablespoon kosher salt
2 cloves of garlic, minced
1 Tbsp chopped parsley
9 large eggs

Place potatoes, with cold water to cover, in a large sauce pan, bring to a boil and cook for ten minutes. Strain potatoes and set aside. Heat oil in a 12-inch sautee pan over moderate heat until hot but not smoking and add potatoes, onion, and half of salt. Cook over moderately low heat, covered, stirring occasionally, until onions and potatoes are tender but not colored, about 30 minutes, adding garlic about halfway through. Strain over a bowl and cool 5 minutes. Lightly beat eggs in a large bowl, and add chopped parsley. Gently stir in potatoes, onions and garlic with 1 tablespoon oil, the rest of the salt, and pepper to taste. Heat one tablespoon of olive oil in skillet and add mixture, pressing potatoes flush with eggs. Cook over low heat, covered, 20 to 25 minutes, or until just set. It should look like this:

Turn off heat and let stand, covered, 20 minutes. Cut into slices and plate, sauce with reheated romesco (it microwaves quite nicely), and enjoy.

Saturday, February 16, 2008

Michael Pollan on Democracy Now!

There was an interesting interview between Amy Goodman and Michael Pollan on last Wednesday's Democracy Now! If you've read Pollan's two latest books, The Omnivore's Dilemma and In Defense of Food, you won't be hearing anything you haven't already read (and if you're into this sort of thing, you might also want to check out Marion Nestle's Food Politics), but still, it's an interview well worth having a look at. And if you haven't read either of these books, well, I can highly recommend them both, and you should definitely check out the interview as a primer. You can get to it here.

Tuesday, February 12, 2008

I'm Black But Comely, Our Night Shot With Stars

Tonight was what might best be described as an evening salvaged...

I was on my way to OHSU, where as many of you know, I work with sleep disorder patients, at about 6:45 when I passed, under a green light, through the intersection of SE Madison and Grand. Unfortunately another fella, whom we'll call Charlie, was also on his way to OHSU, to visit his pneumonia-stricken daughter. He passed, under a red light, through the very same intersection. At exactly the same time. I T-boned him on his passenger side. Now it could have been much, much worse. If I'd been a hair further ahead and he'd been a hair further back, he'd have T-boned ME on my DRIVER side, which probably would have sent me to the OHSU emergency room. When all was said and done, nobody was hurt (except for a couple of cars). My crappy green Subaru, even more crappy at this point, was pushed to the side of the road, Charlie gave me a ride home in his barely functioning car, we exchanged information, and I called the sleep lab to inform them of the situation.

The lab manager, Candi, was able to cancel my patients and put in a shift's worth of sick time for me (Candi rocks), and I set about dealing with the matter at hand. I called the police and was informed of the standard procedure for this sort of thing (download an accident form and present it to the DMV within 72 hours). I then called A&B Towing to arrange to have my car towed back to my house, and set off on foot to meet the wrecker (whose wife, it turned out, weirdly, works at OHSU). Once my poor dead crappy green Subaru (I'm pretty sure it's totalled) and I were home, I downloaded the DMV form. It was 9:30. There was nothing left to do.

I decided something good had to come out of this evening (make lemonade as they say...), so I headed off, on foot of course, to the Doug Fir to check out the Baby Dee show.

I got there about halfway through the set of the evening's opener, fellow Portland homeboy Holcombe Waller:

Holcombe's remarkably warm and soothing voice, which resides in the mid-to-high register, is very similar to that of Jason Mraz. His singing is simlar to Jason's as well, although the songs themselves are a bit more restrained and cryptic than Jason's. Holcombe's solo set was split between guitar and piano based numbers, a notable one being a fantastic cover of Tracy Chapman's "Fast Car," which incorporated an interesting guitar-based percussion loop with his piano stylings.

Next up was Baby Dee:

Originally from Cleveland, "Bilateral Hermaphrodite" Baby Dee has in recent years become something of a phenom in the Lower Manhattan performance art scene. Dee's clocked time as a church organist, circus sideshow performer, and adult tricycle riding avant harpist (she is, in fact, classically trained in this instrument). Her set this evening exhibited just the sort of challenging contradictions you would expect of such an artist as I've just described, an artist who bravely, if blithely, walks an uncomfortable and un-nerving line between the sacred and the profane. Her voice, wavering between masculine and feminine, and at times combining the two, evoked a drunken brawl between Ethel Merman and Tom Waits (with Baby Gramps shouting encouragement at both sides for good surrealistic measure). A prodigious instrumentalist, she jumped easily between etherial harp-driven freak-folk and the waltz-inflected piano madness of an id freed of all restraint. She barked and growled. She chirped and whooped. And like an old soul, she just didn't give a fuck. She scooped us up with her man hands, held us for a moment to her bosom, and threw us back to the floor to be astounded, broken Subarus be damned. It was exactly what I needed on this night.

I'm always amazed at how a moment of artistic transcendence takes the mind off more mundane and earthly matters...

Sunday, February 10, 2008

Greg and Bonnie's Annual Chili Cook-off

Every Groundhog's Day weekend, my friends Greg and Bonnie host Portland's social event of the season, the Annual Groundhog's Day Chili Cook-off. It's an offshoot of another chili cook-off, held every year in Saualito. Portland's version has been going strong for six years now. Some years, such as this one, the event doesn't quite jibe with Groundhog's Day (this year, Greg and Bonnie were in Tanzania on the day of the whistlepig). But no matter, it gave us all an extra week to tweak our chili recipes...

Most of the usual suspects were there. Paul and Lance travelled in from points far flung with elk based chilis. Frank's 3-way Cincinnati chili made an appearance, and the veggie chilis were well represented with 6 entries.

In keeping with my tradition of unconventional chilis, my entry this year wasn't chili per se, but rather a somewhat postmodern interpretation of this most American of stews, which I called "Chili Deconstructed" (the most pretentious name I could come up with). The idea was to break chili down into its constituent parts, give each of those parts its own treatment, and recombine them in some unique way. I started with Spiced Pork Belly Confit, which I served with a champagne vinegar-dijon soffrito:

Beside that was a poblano pepper stuffed with a sort of spanish-rice mixture of Chinese black and Himalayan red rice, poblano, toasted almonds, onion, tomato, smoked paprika, pimientos, oregano, parsley and cumin, cooked down with turkey stock. Then an artfully spiralled dollop of black bean mousse (until my piping bag blew out, and the rest of the plates were finished off with a not-so-artful blob of black bean mousse). This was all served up with an ice cold shot of habañero infused vodka:

With a formula like that, first place was mine no problem, right? WRONG! I was up against elk chili, and elk chili is unbeatable. In fact, first place was a tie between two elk chilis. I was in a tie for second place with, appropriately enough, something called "Tom's chili." Here's one of this year's winners, Paul Ransdell:

And here's his chili:

I didn't walk away empty-handed, though. For all of my years of entering and not winning, but occasionally snagging second place, I was presented with the Lifetime Achievement award, or as Bonnie calls it, the "Susan Lucci award":

Ah, well. I've already come up with my idea for the next chili cook-off, and I've got a year to develop it. It will surely knock the mighty elk off its pedestal. In the meantime, here are some more photos from this year's event.

Here's Mazama legend Dean Lee showing the young-uns how it was done back in the day:

A remarkably unblurry Greg Fuller:

Last year's veggie winners Burke and Julia:

Fellow photographer Cathy Lusa (many thanks to Cathy, by the way, for her contributions to this post. I'll leave it to you to guess which shots are hers and which are mine):

And last but not least, John the Irishman and Jenni the Olympian:

Sunday, February 3, 2008

No Canadian Stoner Rock For You!

I headed out with my buddy John the Irishman this evening to see Vancouver, BC arena rock revivalists Black Mountain at the Doug Fir. I was excited about this show. Black Mountain are, according to Carrie Brownstein, via her music blog on NPR, quite the lads to be paying attention to, one of many fine bands coming out of Western Canada these days. Very much in the same vein as Wolfmother, say, or Queens of the Stone Age. And to boot, the openers were Oakland's Howlin' Rain, who possess, shall I say it, far too much talent for their own good...

But alas, it was not to be. The show was sold out. I knew I should've bought tickets in advance, but I ignored my insticts, and paid for it as usual... So we headed a few blocks south to the old Pine Street Theater/La Luna space, which now houses Biwa, for a quick bite to eat. I ordered the house sake and a bowl of house-made ramen with egg and chinese BBQ pork:

The Irishman ordered exactly the same thing, but with Canadian bacon in lieu of the Chinese BBQ pork (in mockery of my evening's disappointment, to be sure). From there we headed to the Slammer, the significance of which can only be appreciated by those who live in, or frequent, southeast Portland:

That sign's been there for as long as I can remember. Apparently, the speakers used to get touched a lot. I keep coming back to the Slammer. But much as I love the place, it can't make up for Canadian stoner rock. Or maybe it's the other way around... I don't know... I'm going to bed...

Saturday, February 2, 2008

Do You Trust Diebold With Your Democracy?

I felt inspired by yesterday's discussion of electronic voting machines on Talk of the Nation to post up this hilarious, if depressing, video from the University of Southern California's Marty Kaplan, explaining how easy it is to hack a Diebold TS voting machine. So peel yourself away for a second, if you can, from the Clinton-Obama drama, and click on the link to view the video. If only the rest of the country had Oregon's system...

And make sure to keep your phillips head screwdriver and flash disk handy this November!