Archive for the ‘Food’ Category

Gaga for fava beans

July 27, 2010


Maybe you’ve heard of them.

Perchance you have made a joke about eating them with a nice Chianti and your victim’s liver.

But it is likely you’ve never come across them in your neighborhood grocery store in Salem — until last week, when you stopped by E.Z. Orchards for a  mixed berry shortcake the size of a 6-year-old’s head and happened upon them, hanging out conspicuously with the green beans and the potatoes.

They are fava beans and they are going to break you.

Favas are all about process. They are not the stuff of 30-minute meals — they are laborious, delicious, buttery little beasts that come wrapped in pods that look like Frankenstein’s fingers, all gnarly knuckles and spindly fingernails.

Buy enough of them and you could spend the better part of an afternoon shelling, blanching, shelling, cooking and eating.

Here is a great tutorial on how to handle your favas.

When you open the seed pod you will find as many as half a dozen, or as few as one, glorious alien seed sacks.

You will remove the seeds and blanch them in boiling water for a minute. Then you remove the meaty part of the seed from the alien-looking casing. Think of this as freeing all those little Neos from the Matrix.

My husband has likened the fava to the lima bean, but that does the fava a disservice. They are buttery kernels, slightly nutty, smooth like a good pinot. I sauteed these favas with half an onion and some fennel, added some fresh dill and half a cup of chicken stock. We ate them with couscous.

Is it worth all that time and effort?

I would just as easily ask you if it is worth it to wait for a wine to ripen. Or a novel to be written. Or a John Cage song to be performed.

I like seeing the hours pile up on the plate.

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The most delicious thing I ever ate

July 12, 2010


Once upon a time there was a wonderful woman named Jan, whose Oregon family did loads of Oregon-y things, such as digging for clams on the Oregon Coast, trolling  for Dungeness crabs in Siletz Bay, and, occasionally, fishing for salmon in the waters that surround Portland.

Oregon was her bounty, and she shared it in turn with a bunch of schlubbs like us who went and had a baby and can’t find our way to the bottom of the diaper pail, let alone to a boat.

This Jan showed up on our doorstep one day and gifted us with a roughly three pound piece of salmon that she had just pulled from the waters five hours before.

I had never seen a piece of fish quite so beautiful. It glistened with the waters of the river, its skin firm and ruby red,its edges sliced pristinely into a chunk of hunka hunka burnin’ fish.

We like salmon very much in this house. We sometimes drip some soy sauce and a little peanut oil on the top, or slice some green leeks over it and poach it in some parchment.

But this salmon was different.

All this salmon asked for was a sprinkle of coarse sea salt and a quick wrist flourish of ground pepper. I baked it until it was just cooked in the middle and cut two smaller pieces from it to serve for dinner.

It is not a stretch for me to say that this salmon was — by leaps and bounds — the most delicious thing I have ever tasted in my life. At one moment, as I flaked yet another forkful off of the fish, I felt as if I could feel its life blood coursing through its sinews.

Adam  explains it this way:

“You could distinguish between the myomeres and even sarcomeres. It tasted like it was still alive. It was the difference between eating a salad and eating a stew. That fish tasted like it was still pulsing.”

The salmon didn’t make it through the night. I had my serving, then Adam had his, then he had another, then he had another, then another until there was nothing left on the plate but a wrinkled, drying but still sparkling skin.

And they all lived happily ever after.

Except for the salmon, of course.

Suck it, salmon, I don’t feel bad.

Make new FRIENDS at the Salem Saturday Market

July 3, 2010

There comes a time in many a young woman’s life when she decides that she had better start putting her money where her heart is. For me, that means, for one, finally donating some money to This American Life, which we did last month.

It also means becoming a friend of the Salem Saturday Market.

I’ve got two words for how this fateful event has come about:

Baby goats.

It turns out that one of the best ways to get to know the valley– and maybe get to see some baby goats in the process —  is by joining the Friends of Salem Saturday Market and accompanying them on one of their many field trips.

Picture it — no bus, no jerk in the seat behind you sticking gum in your hair, no tuna salad sandwich that goes bad on the journey — just your own family in a car meeting up with others to tour the facilities of a food producer in the Willamette Valley.

Say, one that makes goat cheese, such as Fairview Farm Dairy.

I need two hands at this point to count the number of people who have talked to me about the storied baby goats of Fairview. The achy green monster inside of me is long past slumbering on this one.

So last week, I sent my check in. Okay, it was only for 10 bucks, but I’m a member now and I’m not going to let another Sunday trip to a goat farm slip me by. A win for this cause is also a win for cuteness.

But really, isn’t it a shame that it took some baby goats to get me to join? I’m already addicted to $6 a carton XL eggs from Terra Vita (and the farm’s swarthy proprietor, Art).

I’ll say it again: Baby goats. Shout it out!

Strawberry Season in Salem

June 29, 2010

These June weeks have been drab and grey, overcast and a tad glum until the sun hit hard and strong at the end of last week, leaving our love for summer in Oregon more than a little rekindled. All that unusual coolness has translated to a late season at area strawberry farms.

Am I wrong to believe that Oregon’s weather has conspired to save for me the most wonderful treats of the season — strawberries so beautiful, so ephemeral, so special that if you don’t do something with them right away, they’ll just waste away in front of you? Yes, they have come late this year, but for me, they are just in time.

We headed to Olson’s earlier last week knowing we wouldn’t have time to process more than a few pounds and spent the morning atop a hill overlooking the Willamette Valley, the din of I-5 masked by the crunch of straw and a crisp breeze. Yes, I know you can get U-pick strawberries for a little less per pound at farms in West Salem, but I’ll pay a few bucks more for the premium view.

Strawberries! Shout it out!

This is our first season of berry-picking with our own strawbaby — probably the first event of many in which we force him to do something together with us that he just doesn’t care for…– but he handled being strapped to my husband’s back pretty well.

But just like babyhood, everything beautiful doesn’t last, and neither do strawberries, especially local ones. The pickings were sparse that day, but I am hearing that those berries up there on the hill are warming under green cover into a delightful hue of red. Get them before they’re gone!

But what to do with all of these strawberries when they are the May flies of fruit, living for a day and then dying a glorious death? (I know this because no fewer than 10 of my perfect strawberries were already moldering by the end of the day I picked them).

Last year I made strawberry jam in an effort to share the taste of Oregon with my family members back East and in the Midwest. This year I’m being a little lazier and a lot more selfish and am working through my favorite new book, Rustic Fruit Desserts by Julie Richardson and Cory Schreiber. It focuses on fruits that grow rampant in the Pacific Northwest  including, yes, strawberries.

I’ll let you know how it goes.

On the docket we have Rhubarb Cream Cheese Pie with Fresh Strawberries and Fresh Strawberry and Ricotta Tart. You may have to process these strawberries quickly, but my experience is that the pies are gone even faster.

Trader Joe’s debacle — Salem’s the punchline

June 20, 2010

I remember the first time I walked into my first Trader Joe’s in Tyson’s Corner, VA. It was 2003, the signs were hand-written, the shirts were Hawaiian, the wine was cheap, and the brands were unrecognizable. Seven years later and Trader Joe’s is almost as ubiquitous as Bed Bath & Beyond and Joe might as well be my uncle.

Well, almost.

Kelly Williams Brown has a funny fake musical script over at the Statesman Journal this morning lampooning the silly sign snafu that happened last week, when a signmaker “accidentally” put up a sign for some businesses that aren’t to be found in the Keizer Station concrete shopping district, including Trader Joe’s.  The error was a slap in the face to many Salemites who have been dreaming of access to cheap specialty foods and trips to TJ’s that don’t take minutes to get there.

I’ve been one of those people campaigning for a Trader Joe’s here in Salem. I too go over the moon for mini toasts, gaga for whoe grain , somewhat batty for baby beets. But as I was driving past the one off of I-5 last night on my way home from Seattle, I couldn’t help but be struck by how easy it is to get some of the many Trader Joe-like products here in Salem already.

And so, some consolation:

  • Life Source and Fred Meyer both carry the brand of stone ground oats I buy — stuff so good you can eat it for dinner.
  • If you want boiled beets you can do them yourself. And I do.
  • Olive oil is available in every sexy virgin non-virgin category under the sun these days.
  • E.Z. Orchards carry’s a 20-year balsamic that is younger and wiser than I.
  • If you really like wine, you probably can’t stand Two Buck Chuck.
  • Israeli coucous is seasonal at TJ. You can get it every day in the bulk bins at Fred Meyer.
  • Speaking of bulk. Why buy dried blueberries in a package when you can customize the amount at the bulk bins?
  • TJ hummus, as most packaged hummuses, tastes as if it were churned by feet.
  • Jarred marinara is jarred marinara is jarred marinara.

I would like to end by saying that I love paying for brie that costs $2.65 for a wedge, but I know that it comes at another price. But cheese is the one area where I will maintain that Trader Joe’s has everyone beat in terms of price and variety.

I cringe to pay $4.99 for a chevre log at Safeway when I can pay the same and get a log three times as long at TJ’s. But I really shouldn’t be driving 35 miles each way for cheese. And I really shouldn’t be eating a whole log of chevre now, should I?

I can only speak for my own consuming habits. What’s the real draw for people other than cheap specialty foods?

Five Guys comes to Salem

June 6, 2010

Good news for people who like bad news. Five Guys just opened a location on Lancaster Drive, in the same strip mall where Borders is located. We saw the sign go up a few weeks ago and new there would be trouble. Why? Let me tell you the states I haven‘t eaten Five Guys in…

To date I’ve been okay with the occasional stop at the Beaverton Five Guys, which like the new Salem location, is located in a nasty strip mall and often has a line out the door preceding the counter, where you can see a team of far more than five guys assembling burgers and artfully placing pickles.

Okay, so they are not that artful. What you get is a big, delicious, messy, meaty, gloriously topped burger — and you eat it in a packed, red-and-white-themed setting that might as well be called a “corral.”

As I told the people who were still deciding whether to line up, people wait for Five Guys because dudes can really make a burger and you are gaurenteed to get at least a dozen perfectly fried in peanut oil French fries in your mammoth tub of taters.

Some advice: even if you have a big eater, a small fry is probably all you need. If you’re a lady or have a smaller appetite, for God’s sake, get the Little Cheeseburger, it’s big enough. And if you’re staying there to eat, obviously you should get a small drink to share, since it’s your job to fill up your soda cup.

Five Guys is great. But if you really want Salem’s best burger, try Rock-N- Rogers.

Statesman Journal’s Best Of’s – Where the Masses Get it Wrong

May 3, 2010

It’s that time of year again, folks. It’s time to furrow your brow and shake your fist and cluck incredulously at how the public in Salem so often gets many of its own Best-of’s wrong. Say what you will, James Surowiecki, about the Wisdom of Crowds, but there are areas in our lives where it really helps to have a real taste maker tell you where to go and what to eat, what to see and what to do. Otherwise you might just end up eating your Cheap Eats in the charming digs of Costco instead of at La Perla downtown.

Some categories of the Statesman Journal’s annual best-of’s are obviously spot-on. Word of Mouth wins Best Breakfast? Yeah, I’ll agree with that one.

But man, are there some hilarious entries and hilarious winners in this year’s poll.

Best Place to Give Birth:

1. Silverton Hospital
2. Salem Hospital
3. At-home with midwife

What’s number 4? In the the back of your Subaru on the way to the hospital? Under the rotunda at the State Capitol building? Spontaneously in line at Fred Meyer?

Best Hot Dog

1. Casey’s
2. Costco
3. Mt. Angel Sausage Co.

I love a hot dog, but does the hot dog really warrant its own category? A better bet would be best grilled cheese. Casey’s would win that, too.

Best Coffee Shop

1. Dutch Bros.
2. The Grind
3. Starbucks

Love me some Dutch Bros. on the way down to Eugene to work sometimes, but people people PLEASE!, Dutch Bros. is not a coffee shop, unless you consider sitting outside on a lawn chair next to the water feature a coffee shop experience. Best coffee shop is the Beanery downtown. Best coffee SHACK is Salem’s Latte.

Best Food Cart

1. Casey’s Cafe
2. Capitol Dog
3. Adam’s Rib Smokhouse

Do these restaurants really have food carts or are they just selling food cart food? Someone please enlighten me. Where are the Salem food carts? I know there are a few on Silverton, and there’s a Latino fruit cart that parks sometimes on Savage Road. Can we count Canby Asparagus Farms at the Chemeketa St. Farmer’s Market as being a food cart? If so, they win.

Best Bookstore

1. Borders
2. Book Bin
3. Tea Party Bookstore

I’m done talking about how much Borders sucks. But here’s a note in case you’ve forgotten. My friend and I meet often at Borders for our Bored Meetings. Can’t find a book there because they never have what I want or need. I heard they carry Twilight, though.

Best Adult-related Business

1. Santiam Wine Co.
2. Enigma Adult Toy Boutique
3. Eve’s Boutique

That’s not a best-of list, that’s a recipe for a kinky Saturday night!

Ah, best-of’s. You say so much about Salem. I’m nominating this mobile from our nursery for Best Sculpture AND Best Zoo.

Mushroom Madness!

April 11, 2010

We finally made it to the Joel Palmer House for Chef Chris Czarnecki’s  Mushroom Madness Menu, a seven-course prix fixe dinner of mushroom-inspired entrees. I kind of felt like Jeffrey Steingarten tasting courses on The Iron Chef…

“The mushroom flavor really comes through on this dish, on the other, it was sadly lacking hermm mmm hmmmm…”

The rotating menu consisted of:

1. Mushroom risotto — made with mushroom stock

2. Mushroom soup

3. Morel mushroom with a puffed pastry

4. Mushroom torte a la Heidi Czarnecki, mushroom maven Jack Czarnecki’s wife

5. Scallops in a pinot gris sauce with mushrooms

6. Petit filet mignon with a truffle sauce

7. A trio of desserts featuring white truffle ice cream, banana black truffle bread pudding, and a pear soup featuring a single candy cap mushroom, which tastes like  maple

You really have to like mushrooms to subject yourself to this parade of fungi. Even I, who takes great pleasure in hunting these babies down and experimenting with them at home found the series a bit much. It might have used a palate cleanser along the way.

But if you can’t get enough mushrooms — porcini, truffles, candycap, morels — I don’t know how you can continue to live your life without having experienced the creative incarnations in mushroom madness.

It’s a delicious insanity.

At 75 bucks a person, Mushroom Madness is not for the faint of wallet. But you could always take a page from our household budget book and skip the lesser food fare around town to save up for one really extravagant wallop.  We missed three birthdays and a Valentine’s Day dinner to pay this insane tab.

The Seeds More Traveled

March 4, 2010

It may be called Edible Portland, but the publication of Ecotrust’s Farm and Food Program is increasingly telling the food stories of the entire Willamette Valley, and sometimes, even of the whole state of Oregon.

I just wrote my first cover story for EP about the exciting work of a group of young people who call themselves the American Center for Sustainability.

It is the story of seeds more traveled. It’s about a man who was looking for a way to support the shift towards a more sustainable food culture and the solution he found — a volunteer project to bring seedlings to community gardens across Oregon. And it’s a road trip story with an old bus and a couple of dogs.

Along with a few volunteers, Ken Burrow delivers seedlings in old Trimet bus he christened Annapurna. The work of his group has allowed countless upstart community gardens across Oregon to make huge leaps in production in their first years. Good people doing good things for a better world.

You can read the current issue here. Photographer Leah Harb took the amazing photographs, including the kickin’ cover image. My story’s on page 18.

Traveling the Globe in Salem

October 17, 2009

ItalyI love a good self-mythologizer. Heck, if you read this blog, you might argue that I am one.

But when the impulse to craft one’s own story starts sounding like a none-too-stealthy marketing campaign — and a slightly ridiculous one at that —  I can’t help but call shenanigans.

Today I’m calling out Christo’s, Salem’s generally awesome, family-owned pizza restaurant, which opened at a new location on Broadway earlier this year.

Now, Christo’s pizza is arguably Salem’s best. The hand-thrown crust is crisp, the sauce rocks, and I’m pretty sure I saw a couple at a table next to us last night eating a pizza that could have been baked in a joint on the trash-strewn streets of Naples.

Also, the place employs a completely brilliant performer and voice coach who moonlights as a server there and who is inclined to break out into Verdi’s  “La Donna è mobile,” filling the place with song and shaking everyone out of their rainy-night duldrums. (Watch that video and then try not to think of Stella d’Oro bread sticks…).

But flip over the menu and you might find something curious. A map of sorts. A message indeed. A little graphic that shows an Italian boot placed smack over Salem’s newest revitalized neighborhood and calling that ‘hood “Salem’s Little Italy.”

Now, we’ve all wondered about the name of this new neighborhood before. And I’ve tipped my hat towards something more original than the “Broadway District,” or anything else that borrows mythologies from other cities.

But “Little Italy” poses an exceptional problem, not least because Christo’s isn’t really a neighborhood filled will Italian immigrants. Does one restaurant a diminutive country make?

If that’s acceptable, than may I also propose the following.

Salem’s Chinatown: The block occupied by Kwan’s.

Salem’s Russian Village: That store tucked into the Northeast Lancaster Drive strip mall that claims to be a European gift store but whose pickles and tea suggest an audience of Russian immigrants.

Salem’s Japantown: That cafeteria at Willamette where Japanese students from the Tokyo University hang out.

Salem’s Czech Village: the Kafkaesque corridors of the City Police station.

The French Quarter: The span of road between La Capitale and Napoleon’s. Alternately: The parking lot housing the French Press and Bakery L’Amour.

What others are there?

I have this idea that for a city to achieve greatness in character it has to create its own stories, not borrow them.