Thursday, December 3, 2009

Do You Love Your Farmer? I Do...

Well, not your farmer, mine... Anyway...

Laura and I have a subscription to a CSA called Happy Tortoise Farm, and normally our share is dropped off at the University of Portland, Laura's place of employment. This week, however, my better half is on Bainbridge Island, and it fell to me to pick up the veggies at the alternate drop-off spot on Alberta street. So I'm thinking, my farmer, Andrew, gets there at 4:30, I'll jump on the bike and make my way up there right as he's arriving and get first pick of the bounty. Which I did. Got all bundled up, mounted my fixie with its 48/18 gear ratio, and made my way, in nearly freezing temperatures, riding into the wind, uphill all the way (did I mention I ride a fixie, with a 48/18 gear ratio, and did I mention that such a gear ratio is not particularly suited to climbing [okay, so it's actually kind of a mellow gear ratio, I'm a bit of a candy ass; stop me before I sub-parentheticalize again...]?), to 16th and Alberta. Only to arrive at about 5:00 to find the pick up spot locked, dark and uninhabited. Shit. The pick-up must've been earlier in the day. I'm too late. So I make my way back home (downhill and with the wind to my back, thankfully), thinking I'd miscalculated and forfeited my veggies. Then, at about 6:45, I checked my e-mail and discovered that the pick-up was scheduled from 5:30 to 7:00. I had, ironically, gotten there too early, and didn't have time to make it back by 7:00. So I call Andrew and leave a message, thinking we might be able to meet up somewhere over the weekend for the veggie exchange. Long story short, he calls me back to say that I'm on his way home, and he can drop off the veggies, which you see above. It's an awful lot of trouble to go to for some veggies, to be sure, but how many people can claim such a relationship with the folks who grow their food?

This is why I love my farmer.

Saturday, November 21, 2009

Essen und Trinken bei Prost!

The ugly one on the left is me. The so cute you could eat her with a spoon one on the right is Laura. The blurry, amorphous blob in front of us is someone else's boot shaped mug of beer...

I can't imagine a culinary tradition more appropriate to the onset of winter in the Pacific Northwest than that of Germany. This is not the season of microgreens, peas, basil or fiddleheads. Once the rains come, Northwesterners will, of course, still bike to work or don multiple layers for a drizzly hike in the Cascade range, but sooner or later we all go into hibernation mode, if only for brief, intermittent periods. This calls for a Netflix account, resignation to sky-high gas bills, and on those occasions when we do venture out, a certain kind of sustenance, one which might fairly be described as, well, a bit heavy: root vegetables; soups and pies made of squash and tree fruit; collard greens, cabbage, and anything pickled; meat, preferably of the porcine and/or smoked variety; and yes, dark beers of excessive alcohol content.

After witnessing the third round playoff bloodletting of the Virginia Tech women's soccer team by the University of Portland (it was like watching a pod of killer whales playfully tossing around a dead seal; Laura has season tickets), my better half and I met up with a few friends on Mississippi Avenue, at the recently opened Portland outpost of Seattle's Prost! I'd been meaning to head over to the place for a while, and fortunately, we were able to deflect our friends' suggestions of the Crow Bar or Amnesia Brewery and steered the crowd toward some German fare. Here's what we found...

Das ist ein Schwartzbier:

Ich prüfte das Braunschweiger, mit Brot und grüne Äpfel:

Und Laura aß das Landjäger mit Senf und Landbrot:

Na und, die Brezeln waren nicht so schlecht... All this is delivered amidst a most glückliches atmosphere and, if you get there early enough (we didn't), you can sample a variety of food carts in the adjoining parking lot, including a mexican cart run by Jesse Sandoval, former drummer of the Shins (that's another post in itself).

I give it fünf Sterne...

Wednesday, November 18, 2009

Interesting Stuff Going On in Ann Arbor...

This was brought to my attention by a friend from a past life in Michigan... A food salon! Sometimes, of course, you just want to space out while eating your breakfast, but for those times that you feel like mixing the most important meal of the day with a little thought, exchange of information, perhaps even a spirited debate over the various iterations of the systems that deliver plants and animals from the fields to our intestines, this looks like a good idea. Check it out. I'm sure something like this is happening in Portland...

Saturday, November 14, 2009

On Sliding into Ditches, the Estacada Microbrew Scene, Cincinnati Rock Bands and Replated Sandwiches...

Maybe some day I'll get an iPhone, but until then, you'll just have to put up with these blurry shots, this one being of Cinicnnati's Over the Rhine, from my Samsung. Anyway, I hope you had a good Friday the 13th yesterday. Mine was a bit of a mixed bag...

So I took Burke up into the foothills of the Cascades for a hike yesterday at Bagby Hot Springs. We had a very nice hike in, followed by a relaxing 45 minute soak in the tubs with a couple of backpackers and a chilly but uneventful hike out. And I'm driving back toward Portland along highway 46 when I come upon the intersection with Highway 57, and think "I wonder what's up there?" Well, it turns out what was up there was snow... And ditches... I'm sure you can imagine the scenario that unfolded. Fortunately, I didn't hit any trees, and within five minutes I was able to flag down a couple of freelance loggers with a good sized rig and a chain. We got my crippled Volvo back onto flat ground, came to the conclusion that at the very least there was a hole in the radiator, and moved it to a clearing on the other side of the road. I caught a ride with them into Estacada, where I enjoyed a Tomahawk Brown and a couple of Clackamas Cream Ales at the Fearless Brewing Company while waiting for the wrecker. They were off to somewhere else, and wouldn't let me buy them a round, but Brian and Chuck, if by any chance you're reading this, many thanks to you both for helping me out of a jam!

Several hours and a big wad of cash later, the car was at my regular Volvo garage and I was back home, just in time for Laura to come pick me up for the Over the Rhine show at the Doug Fir. Over the Rhine were excellent, by the way, they put on a really good show. If you haven't been following the Cincinnati music scene in recent years, there's a lot of good stuff coming out of that town. Over the Rhine, the Heartless Bastards, the Greenhornes, and of course we all remember the Afghan Whigs...

Unfortunately, our post-show meal upstairs in the Fir's restaurant wasn't as rewarding. This didn't come as much of a surprise to me, as I've never found the Fir's kitchen to be anything more than mediocre at best, but to wit... Laura ordered a grilled cheese sandwich with tomato soup and I ordered Mac and Cheese (which, by the way, smelled of ammonia). Laura, ever the keen observer, noticed that her sandwich made its way to a nearby table, where it was quickly whisked away once it was determined to be the wrong order, and reappeared at our table suspiciously soon after. When Laura confronted the kitchen runner about the likelihood that she had, in fact, replated the same sandwich which had just been wrongfully delivered to another table (which is, in all probability, a health department violation), she took it away and brought Laura a new sandwich. But she was perfectly comfortable delivering that sandwich to my girlfriend in the first place. Food service workers take note: This sort of thing is NOT acceptable. Now, as if this weren't bad enough, we later heard a comment emanating from the kitchen about the "grilled cheese sandwich bitch." Again, food service workers take note: Comments like this are made all the time - I know, I've been there - but they should NOT be made within earshot of the subject!

While the Doug Fir remains one of my favorite music venues in town, it's not likely that I'll ever eat there again.

Monday, November 9, 2009

Pan Seared Scallops with Pumpkin Risotto and Sage Infused Brown Butter

Man, that's a crap photo... At any rate, I've been getting a lot of second hand produce lately from my girlfriend, who's having some trouble absorbing the bounty of her CSA. Recently sugar pumpkins have been factoring heavily into the mix, and having made my way through several of them last weekend by making a pumpkin pie, I decided to use up the rest and have Laura over for some pumpkin risotto (anybody out there like borscht, by the way? I've got like 37 beets...). No risotto ever suffered from the addition of brown butter, and brown butter, of course, attracts scallops, so I had my work cut out for me. Perhaps you'd care to follow along...


Diver or Sea Scallops, two per person
One sugar pumpkin, about six inches in diameter
Two medium shallots (or one really large one), minced
Three cloves of garlic, minced
One cup of Arborio rice
One stick of butter (8 Tbsp)
Two Tbsp of extra virgin olive oil
One cup of dry white wine (Pinot Gris or Chenin Blanc work well)
Four cups of chicken stock, kept warm on a burner
One cup of grated Parmesan, Grana Padano or Parmigiano-Reggiano
Two Tbsp of chopped scallions (garlic scapes or chives also work)
One handful of good sized sage leaves
One pinch of fresh grated nutmeg
Salt and pepper


First, you're going to brown the butter. Place six tablespoons in a fry pan over medium heat:

Once it's melted, turn the heat down to medium low and add the sage leaves. The milk solids in the butter will sink to the bottom of the pan and begin to brown. When they've achieved a medium brown color, remove the sage (reserve it for garnish), transfer the brown butter to a bowl and place it in the fridge. You'll know it's time when you see this:

Next, cut your pumpkin in half, peel it and cut it into about 1/4 inch dice. Steam half of the pumpkin for about 20 min and puree it in a blender or food processor, or with an immersion blender. Reserve the other half.

Place three tablespoons of the brown butter in a large saute pan over medium heat. Saute the shallot and reserved pumpkin dice for a few minutes, then add the garlic and the rice:

Continue to saute for five minutes and add the wine and one cup of the chicken stock. Turn heat down to a simmer and continue to cook, stirring frequently and adding stock, a little at a time as the rice absorbs the liquid, until the rice is al dente (about 40 minutes). Be careful not to let the rice get too dry until it's cooked, at which point you can reduce down any excess liquid. Until then, you want to keep it looking more or less like this:

When the rice is almost cooked, add the pumpkin puree, nutmeg, scallions and cheese and start to work on the scallops.

Melt and/or warm the remaining brown butter in a sauce pan over low heat (if you want to get fancy with it, you can whisk in a tablespoon or two of the wine and a little bit of minced shallot, which will get you a sort of sage-infused, browned beurre blanc, but you'll need to multi-task or enlist some help, as this mixture needs to be whisked constantly while you're cooking the scallops). Place the remaining two tablespoons of unbrowned butter and the oil in a fry pan over medium high heat. Yes, you CAN saute with extra virgin olive oil, just don't turn the flame up all the way... When the oil and butter are hot, but not smoking, add the scallops, seasoned on both sides with salt and pepper, to the pan. Saute them for two minutes on each side. Plate them with the risotto, and drizzle the brown butter over the scallops or around the edge of the plate. Garnish with the fried sage and enjoy!

Tuesday, March 17, 2009

Hot Dog, We Have a Wiener!

Apparently, I'm on a roll or something, as this is the second food-related award I've won in recent weeks. For those not in the know, what you see above is a can of "Drank," a "relaxed lifestyle beverage" marketed by Houston-based Innovative Beverage Group. Ironically, their beverage is anything but innovative, as it's based on "purple drank," aka as "sizzurp," "lean," or "purple jelly," a concoction which came to be in the dirty south hip-hop community. Purple drank is basically a mixture of prescription strength codeine cough syrup and Sprite. Jolly Ranchers are often thrown in as a garnish. Now I should stress, this is not something to be glorified. Purple drank, being based on opiates, is illegal and dangerous. People have actually overdosed and died drinking this stuff. But, American pop culture being what it is, it's become a phenomenon, and somebody was bound to commercialize it. To their credit, IBG's version doesn't contain any codeine, but rather is built around melatonin, rose hips and valerium. And, naturally, high fructose corn syrup...

So how did I come to win a can of this magical elixir, you ask? A few months back, Marjorie Skinner over at the Portland Mercury blogged about Drank (which is not yet distributed in the Pacific Northwest). Somebody at IBG caught wind of it and sent her a couple cans. So Marjorie decided to keep one for herself, and offer up the other can to whoever could write the best rap verse about tha Drank. Which, incredibly, turned out to be me. You can check out my winning entry, along with a link to the runner-ups, here. Mom will no doubt be glad that I took the Bill Cosby approach and avoided using gratuitious F-bombs, and also for my reference to Timmy O'Neill, Boulder's favorite boulderer. Mom has a bit of a crush on Timmy O'Neill...

So I can't yet report on how it actually tastes (or what its effects are), as I haven't opened it yet. I'm waiting for just the right special occasion for that.

Sunday, March 8, 2009

Efterklang: The Arcade Fire of Denmark?

It's been said, by critics who've earned my respect, no less... I'm not sure I'd go that far, but they put on a good show, for sure, at the Doug Fir tonight. They're definitely worth a look...

Wednesday, February 18, 2009

The Proposed Oregon Beer Tax Will Kill Us All!!!

If you live in Oregon, like to drink good beer, and don't want to pay $6 a pint for said beer, you're going to want to listen up...

Chances are you've got your ear close enough to the ground to have already heard about OR HB 2461, which was recently introduced into the Oregon legislature. The bill, as written, would increase the excise tax on beer from $2.60 per barrel to $49.61 per barrel. That's an increase of 1900% and, according to Laurelwood's Mike De Kalb by way of KGW, would likely raise the average price of a pint of microbrew to $6.00. Now, if we had a nationalized single-payer health care system, well-funded schools, healthy labor unions, a reasonably well-regulated financial industry and an economy that wasn't burrowing its way toward the center of the Earth, that might be a fair price for a pint. But as it stands, not one of those scenarios is the case. In addition to placing an undue burden on consumers, this tax increase will have a very adverse effect on craft brewers, especially ironic in a state which has garnered a reputation for its small-scale, artisanal producers and independent local businesses. We are simply going to have to take action to stop this bill, which essentially amounts to a sales tax on beer (and as we all know, sales taxes are inherently regressive and impact most those who are least able to bear them). A couple of things that we all need to do:

The first is to sign this petition. Then, we need to contact our respective state senators and representatives and tell them, in tactful but not uncertain terms, how we feel about this. You can find yours here.

That is all. Happy Wednesday, and Cheers!

Saturday, February 14, 2009

The Best Cat Box Set-up Ever!

My friend Jon the Architect had us all over for his innaugural paraskavedekatriaphobia party this evening, and among stimulating conversation, sampling of Greg's magnificent homebrews and other highlights, we got a glimpse of Jon's ingenious ventilated catbox system, which you see above. Many thanks to's Eleanor Blue, who just happened to be there to snap the photo, for sending it along to me via her iPhone!

Sunday, February 8, 2009

At Long, Long Last, Sweet Victory is Mine!

Such a good evening I had... I finally won Greg & Bonnie's chili cook-off! How, you ask? Rabbit Burgoo with red rice, fried okra and shots of bacon-infused bourbon (take that, Patrick Alan Coleman), that's how... Here's a shot of my mise-en-place. Or rather, the aftermath of it. Unfortunately, this is one of the last photos I got before the shutter on my camera started to stick. More shots to come, along with an elaboration on the night's events, once Hashi e-mails me the photos I took with his camera...

Monday, January 26, 2009

Romancing the Swine III: Pancetta

As kitchen projects go, curing pork products, while time-consuming, is easy and fun. This time around, I tried my hand at pancetta, a dry-cured preparation of pork belly which is basically an un-smoked Italian version of bacon. Sauteed pancetta makes for a great addition to salads and soups, and can be used as a substitiute for guanciale in Sugo All'amatriciana. Here's how it's done:

First, get your hands on a pork belly. I used a half belly, which worked out to a little over five pounds:

Next, prepare your dry-cure ingredients:

The dry cure is basically salt, pepper, sugar, herbs and spices. In this case, because the pancetta is dried at room temperature, pink salt is required as well, to ward off botulism. I'm not talking about the pink sea salt that comes from Hawaii here, by the way. This pink salt is sodium nitrite, and it's not naturally pink, but rather it's dyed to keep folks from mixing it up with regular salt. The reason for that is that sodium nitrite is not something you want to consume a lot of. It's been found to be carcinogenic in large amounts, and has been linked to lung disease as well. But for the occasional curing project, I'm willing to employ it, as botulism is really not to be messed around with. If you don't want to use the pink salt, you can always rig up a system for drying the belly in the fridge (see my guanciale post). If you do go with the pink salt, but can't find it in your immediate area, you can order it online from Butcher & Packer. I used the dry-cure recipe, pink salt and all, from Michael Ruhlman and Brian Polcyn's book Charcuterie, which is an excellent reference. However, if the economy is doing you in and you can't afford bookstore purchases at the moment, the recipe can be found here.

Rub the belly with the dry cure on both sides and place it into a two gallon Ziploc bag (if you can find them, otherwise Glad oven bags work as well):

Put this into the refrigerator for one to two weeks, turning it over every other day to evenly distribute the cure. Once the belly is relatively firm to the touch, wash off the cure under cold water and dry it completely. Then coat the meat side with cracked pepper, roll it along its length fat side out and tie it up with butcher's twine:

Now you're ready to hang it at room temperature and let it dry. As I live in a funky old house with microbes and assorted vermin running about (even when we're doing our best to keep the place clean), I built a box out of 1X1s and masonite, covered it with hardware cloth and cheesecloth, hung the pancetta inside of that, and placed the whole thing in the pantry. I propped it up on bricks added a bowl of boiling water underneath it every couple of days to keep the humidity up. After three weeks, I ended up with what you see up at the top of the post. A small amount of white mold had begun to grow at the ends, which I trimmed away (white mold is all right, black mold is definitely bad). And that was pretty much that. Like I said, time-consuming but easy. Give it a shot if you're so inclined!

Monday, January 12, 2009

Goat on a Cow!

A couple friends of mine from way back in my Crystal Lake days just jogged my memory about a story I heard on Radio Lab the summer before last, which was absolutely mesmerizing. Check it out!

Sunday, January 11, 2009

Quasi at the Doug Fir

I headed off this evening (last night, as you read this) to see Quasi at the Doug Fir. Of course, there were a couple of opening acts to be dealt with. First up were The Golden Bears:

I knew next to nothing about this band, and they turned out to be a very pleasant surprise. The Golden Bears are the husband and wife team of Julianna Bright (drums and vocals) and Seth Lorinczi (guitar). Tonight they brought along a bass player and a second guitarist, who rounded out their sound quite nicely. Julianna's vocals remind me a bit of Margo Timmins, but her stage presence is somewhat more dynamic; think Tori Amos meets Baby Dee. Next up was Eat Skull:

I came to this show wanting to give these guys a second chance. Really. I first saw them about a month ago, when they opened for the Dirtbombs at Berbati's. I caught the last few songs of their set, and I wasn't very impressed. But I figured, a few songs are a few songs, and if I ever see them again, I should keep an open mind. Which I did tonight, and it did not pay off. Eat Skull combine the most ridiculous and sophomoric elements of '60s garage rock, '70s punk rock and '80s hairspray rock into one big ill-conceived mess. You can't help but get the idea that they're trying to lampoon something, but they haven't quite figured out what that is. Which would be bad enough on its own, but ultimately somebody's going to have to listen to it. Which we did tonight at the Fir, and it was still pretty awful. I don't care if their record did get an 8.3 from Pitchfork (we've all seen the "Hambone" footage, we know how easy it is to get an 8.3 from Pitchfork...); for my money, the true measure of a band is what they can pull off in front of a crowd, and in this regard, Eat Skull really weren't doing it for me tonight. Fortunately, they were followed by a bunch who know what they're doing... Quasi:

Quasi has become something of a Portland institution over the years, and are a band of multiple pedigrees: They got their start in 1993 as a collaboration between singer/guitarist/keyboardist Sam Coomes, who'd put in time on the bass with Portland grunge band Heatmiser, and drummer/vocalist Janet Weiss, who would go on to hit the skins for Sleater-Kinney. Interestingly enough, they formed the band not long after their divorce. They continued as a duo for years until recruiting bassist Joanna Bolme in 2006, who was then - and still is - playing bass for Stephen Malkmus and the Jicks (Weiss, as it happens, is the Jicks' current drummer), thereby solidifying their current line-up as a trio. An incestuous relationship to be sure, but one that works. Quasi just rocked us stupid tonight at the Fir. They started their set with "Alice the Goon" and continued with a few more piano-oriented numbers, but eventually Sam stepped away from the keys and threw on his SG. And this is where Quasi truly shine in a live setting: as a guitar-driven power trio. They kept on in this vein for the bulk of the set, before getting back into the piano material with a blistering version of "Death Culture Blues" and finishing out their set as they'd begun. Quasi put on a fantastic show, and were a stark contrast to the band they followed; as always, they more than measured up to their reputation.

Oh, and I gotta give a shout out to Michael: You, my man, are the best bartender in all of Multnomah county!