Archive for the ‘Uncommon gifts’ Category

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!


Salem on Etsy: Dancing Mooney

August 26, 2009

Part of the problem with being a journalist and exposing yourself to people doing interesting and extraordinary things is that you can start being convinced by your own stories. I’m pretty good at maintaining a good distance between me and my subject matter, but some subjects — mainly, people making good food and products — just beg to be experienced and remembered long after the story is written.

Take, for example, my new obsession with Salem’s burgeoning Etsy community, specifically, one Janell Mooney, whom I featured as one of Salem’s Top Tweeters this month.

Salem has quite a few lovely ladies on at this point, but Dancing Mooney is one of those cottage operations that regularly makes it to the site’s desirable front page listings and whose product photos are imminently consumable.

Mooney makes soap that looks and smells good enough to eat. And unlike corporations like LUSH, which sometimes charge $10 or more for a simple bar of glycerin soap with some junk in it (which will likely clog your drain and which you just might find in one of your own dark canyons later that day), her stuff is sexy and earthy without the sticker shock.

Okay, so this soap costs more than a bar of Safegaurd. But as I have shown with the Slab dude in downtown Salem,  a house filled with beautifully, locally-produced, hand-crafted-by-one-person things can make living in Salem and working from home all the more bearable.

It helps that the soap I got my hands on looks like giant pink sugarcubes and smells of grapefruit and sweet revenge.

I waited to put three of these little cubes out on my guest bathroom sink (ha ha, only bathroom sink) until my guests arrived recently. Is it a selfish act to hope that your guests feel exactly as you do when they use your soap? Totally femme-tastic, plucked from a tree, baked in the sun, and blushed first thing in the morning?

The Fairest of them All

July 12, 2009


I remember the first time someone ever called my husband and me a name so loaded, so antiquated, so unspecific that we could only respond based on our own biases.

We were hanging out with our friends Crystal and Cary, who are these unbelievable Midwestern hippies — the only real hippie friends we met while living in Iowa City. I had baked a cherry crumble, which we were eating with vanilla ice cream on a Saturday afternoon as the crowds milled towards Hawkeye Stadium for another football game we were surely not going to follow.

Crystal says: “Hey man, you guys are totally our hippie friends.”

“What? You’re our hippie friends. We’re not hippies.”

“Sure you are. You make your own yogurt and grow plants and are always recycling and eating all that hippie crunchy stuff. You guys are totally hippies.”

“No way, man, you’re the hippie. You’ve got the linguistic habits to prove it, man.”

And so, a misunderstanding, a challenge of sorts. No one really knows what a hippie is anymore. That’s why when I wrote my recent column on finding things to do at Salem until 2:00 a.m. on a Tuesday night and called Venti’s downtown our “go-to place for crunchy hippie food,” I received a little bit of flak from some people downtown who see hippie as a pejorative.

To be fair, I’ve been working on a better way to describe the food at Venti’s to massage the egos of these lovely Venti’s fans. I haven’t come up with anything to explain people who seem to have cut and pasted the best from a number of ethnic cultures to form new and exciting arrangements of hummus and peanut sauce (you get a kick in the pants if the word “fusion” just popped in your head).

But the real issue is the word “hippie.”

Maybe because I grew up on the East Coast, maybe because I have seen so many incarnations of hippies as to warrant the term almost meaningless — and certainly not the catch-all some seem to think it is — I’ve always kind of loved hippies.

We certainly saw our share of their modern incarnations at the Oregon Country Fair yesterday… and since hippies like to make stuff, I’ve selected a few images to show my fairest of the fair — the most interesting things I saw happening there.

Unlike some photographers there, who seemed more drawn to the “nudes” on display, I can’t say I felt compelled to capture the chaotic free-for-all pulsing through the woods at the fair. When things got really jammin’ at around 4:00 p.m., I was almost ready to leave. I can revel with the best of them, but I prefer not to be brushed by a stray breast or an… ahem… half-dressed unicorn.

A one-man stand of on-demand, hand-stitched Sewing Machine Designs:

The artist asked for a phrase of five words or less, which he would then interpret right before your eyes. I was seconds away from asking for “gas stove catching fire on bathrobe,” which actually happened to me last January, but then he was being kind of snooty and unresponsive and we decided to move on. I could have used a patch for that bathrobe, though.

Can anyone tell me what these are?

A puppet show about two bunny rabbits who go on a picnic:

Strange, carnival-esque Francophile revelers at the beginning of the fair:

More puppets: You are seeing a pattern. These are made by Portland’s Alchemystical Workshop.

Finally, things we ate at the fair:

1 potato and mushroom kanish
1 potato and garlic kanish
2 baklavas
1 cup of famous gumbo
2 ice cream sandwiches dipped in dark chocolate
1 homemade root beer float
1 avacado dreamboat stuffed with hummus, cheddar-jack and yogurt

Final verdict: Hippies like delicious food, making neat stuff that doesn’t always make sense, banging drums in circles, dancing like West Africans, whole grains, dressing up in fairy garb, forests, belly-dancing, natural childbirth, folk music, and puppets.

I won’t profess to being a hippie, but I still like them quite a bit, even —  as our pork dude at the Salem Saturday Market calls them — the “nudes.”

When I grow up – Korean style

May 26, 2009

In a sun-swathed park on the south side of Salem,  78 people gathered to celebrate a tiny man’s first birthday. When the right moment arrived, when all of the kimchi was eaten and all that was left of the Korean barbecue was a few smears of red in a dish, Billy’s  family and friends gathered around his highchair.

His mother and grandmother had laid out a few things on his tray: a book, some pens, some money, a spool of thread, some food, all signifying Billy’s possible future.

What would he choose? What would this little one-year-old boy become?


He surveyed the spread.

He looked to his mother for advice and help. And he reached for the sticky rice and bean pods closest to him.

The crowd roared and Billy pulled his hand back. His mother, thinking perhaps that the food was placed too close to Billy’s right hand, removed the plate.

He reached for the future.


And he chose the pen — signifying that he might become a scholar. A child after my own heart — perhaps a food writer?

Oh, how easier my life would have been if I had simply been given a chance to reach for the pen in a ceremony at my first birthday.

Here is the future scholar with his grandma, who made much of the food at the celebration. Happy Birthday!WithGrandma

Oregon Spring white truffle season underway

May 11, 2009

When I tell people that I moved to Oregon in part for the almost year-round mushroom season, their eyes generally glaze over.

But get a load of this, you crazy supermarket shoppers — a couple of pounds of spring white truffles unearthed from a private forest in the heart of the Willamette Valley wine country.

The whites don’t smell as earthy and pungent right out of the ground as the blacks, but should ripen for a few weeks until they have a slightly garlicly, herbal smell to them.

I only kept half a dozen of the ones I found — including a raquetball-sized monster I dug up almost immediately — because if you read about my last truffle adventure, you know that I almost truffled myself out by taking on the challenge of cooking with them every night.

But if you’re eating at the Joel Palmer House some time in the next few weeks, chances are good that you’re downing a truffle I’ve touched.

I don’t think I’m an expert at the truffle hunt. But I do feel like I’m developing a sixth sense for where they might be located in the forest. I found my humungo truffle by following my instinct, raking around  in a 10-ft. square spot because I know there just had to be something there.

Truffles are totally magic.

Truffle Week: The Wrap-up

April 26, 2009


Something strange happens when you start cooking with really expensive ingredients that you haven’t paid for. Every meal seems a little more special, a little more hard-won (hey, I spent six hours digging this truffle out of the ground!).

In the case of truffles, every meal seems a little more divine, but also a little more hedonistic. The mind is challenged to artistry. The jeans are challenged to accommodate your zest for life.

And as the week stretches on, and the truffles begin to ripen, as they begin to give off their intoxicating sent and you are forced to play a waiting game to catch them at their perfect state, you start to get a little stressed out. You start to wonder if you aren’t living to eat the truffle, but living to use the truffle to the best of its abilities.

The truffle takes over your life (especially if you call it truffle week and decide to blog about it…)

It is as if you are afraid that you might waste the truffle, that you’ve somehow let that truffle down. Your greatest fear becomes nothing from the world outside — news of torture and war and suffering and poverty. The greatest worry of all is that this truffle will go bad and you will have stolen a treasure and let it molder away right under your nose.

I started this little truffle experiment as a way to interpret an Oregon ingredient in my own household — a kind of meet-and-great of Oregon’s best kitchens with my own. I think I accomplished that.

But in the end, I am happiest about the truffles that I gave away. So, lesson learned: next time, I’ll set more of them free.

So to sum up, here’s what happened to my truffles:

4 gifts to friends and neighbors

1 truffle butter

1 sprinkled on pizza (uninspiring, did not even warrant a blog post)

1 mixed into a vinaigrette

.5 very big truffle sprinkled on mushroom sauce for pasta

.5 very big truffle used for truffle ice cream

1 sprinkled on asparagus

1 mixed into mushroom risotto

1 truffle lost to decay 😦

1 sad, remaining truffle. What to do?

A Tale of Two Cannolis

April 23, 2009

On a recent trip to Portland, we ducked into a little Italian specialty store for a cappucino and a cannolo. That poor little tube of ricotta — it crumbled beneath the weight of our lips and quickly transformed into a mouth of mush that tasted like it had been spooned directly from a plastic carton of ricotta cheese. Also, it had little gummy pieces of fruit in it.

This was the fruit cake of cannolis, and it pretty much ruined my day.

Compare that to this amazing tunnel of love from Salem’s own Little Cannoli Bakery, perhaps the best-known, hardest-to-find shop in town. We succumbed to the cannoli hard sell after lunch in town the other day.

“Can I help you?”

“No, we’re just looking.”

“Our cannolis are great, here, try a piece.”

“Yumm! But we just had dessert.”

“You can get them to take home for later. We’ll wrap them up and you can fill them yourselves.”


I don’t need to tell you that this cannolo tastes good. I mean, look at it. The cannoli pastry is dipped in carmelized almonds and chocolate and doesn’t crumble all to pieces when you eat it. The cream is light and fluffy, sweet enough to play off the dark chocolate, subtle enough to let you convince yourself that it’s your portion of South Beach for the day.

But the real treat is in filling them. You fill them at home because you’ve been recycling and you’ve been watching your waste and this little bit of plastic won’t add too much to the world mix. You fill them at home because they’ve save the best part of cannoli creation — packing this little tube — for you! You fill them because you won’t scrimp on cream for yourself.

And of course you fill them at home because “cannoli kit” is the most beautiful elevator pitch I’ve heard this week.


Desperately Seeking Soap

April 22, 2009


Picture it, it’s 1993, I’m 14, and in the doctor’s office with my mother for a regular check-up. Knees hit, ears explored, eyes peered into, looks like I’m doing just fine.

“Do you want to talk to him about your problem?” my mom asks.

I go red.

“Um… no thanks.”

“Emily’s been smelling soap,” she blurts out.

“Whatever do you mean?” the doctor asks.

The problem, if you want to call it that, is that I had started a soap collection and had been hoarding soap lobsters, seashells, Crabtree and Evelyn guest soaps, and even a soap hippopatamus in a basket in our upstairs bathroom.

I was a soap fiend. I spent about an hour a day bathing in the tub, molding my hands to create the perfect-sized bubbles, which are about 1.67 inches in diameter.

“Oh, I think she’ll grow out of that,” the doctor said.

We went along our way, but my obsession got worse. I started carrying around a half-used bar of soap and smelling it at odd moment of the day (hey, how did YOU survive middle school?).

Until 1995, when I returned from visiting the grandparents in Florida to discover that my mother had distributed my soap to hands unknown.

I found the hippopatamus, now a mushy glob, in her shower.

So wasn’t I surprised, delighted, and a little manic when I saw a hardcore natural soap shop on Liberty Street NE in the Reed Opera House. It’s called Slab, and it’s pretty much the best store in town.

And not because I like soap. Slab Handcrafted Soap Company is the best store in town because the customer has direct contact with the soapmaker and the store has a raw, designy aesthetic that looks like it belongs in Portland.

Sorry, Salem shopowners, for the most part, you need to step up. I will gladly purchase a bar of soap for $5 a pop if the experience makes me feel like I’m living in a city.

I picked up two bars of Douglas Fir soap (great gifts from Salem, no?), Plumeria, Avacado Butter, and a bar of Pomegranate.

If you go, ask the soapmaker, Tim, about the worst soap burn he’s ever had while laying out slabs in the Reed Opera House.

Satisfyingly Found: Salem Farmer’s Market

April 4, 2009


I have known many markets: Lancaster County’s Central Market, the oldest indoor market in the United States. Munich’s Viktualienmarkt, a foodie’s heaven, Washington, D.C.’s Dupont Circle Market, a hub of food politics in the nation’s capital, Iowa City’s Farmer’s Market, a packed small town square and big f-you to Iowa’s big food producers.

And now Salem’s Saturday Farmer’s Market, which opened today for the season.

It’s still early in the season, and I’ve heard that the space near the capitol building where the market sets up shop fills up as the season progresses, but it is still possible to buy the compenents of an entire meal there this early in the year.

I went there knowing no one. I left with a bag of coffee, a dozen organic eggs, and the names of at least five people.

And I ran out of money.

(My own fault).

Here’s a selection of some of the market’s 50 stands.

Flower and Produce Stand


Farris-Seaman’s Bird house, Dog and Cat Cookies, and Knitted Hats and Bags (obviously a multi-talented family), also known as CUTETASTIC HATS!


Now all I need is a kid to force these cutetastic hats on…

Rainforest Mushrooms


Shitakes and Maitakes in brown bags, Oh my! And one of the hunters was there with a pan full of olive oil, frying some up. Told them my husband once found a 25-pound maitake in the Iowa woods. They weren’t pleased. (Actually, he now tells me it was 40 pounds. They were apparently not impressed by the size since they grow them indoors and don’t hunt them).

Cape Foulweather Coffee Co.


For now, let’s call them the most honestly named Pacific Northwest coffee producers I’ve encountered. I bought a pound of their ground Brazil. More on that later.

I spoke to Elaine, one of Foulweather’s owners, who is a former marine biologist. A FORMER MARINE BIOLOGIST! Seriously, isn’t that what everyone wants to be when they grow up?

No way man, that’s like so 15 years ago.

These days, they dream of roasting coffee.

Desperately Seeking Gifts

April 2, 2009


I am still waiting to find a Salem gift store that will rock my face off. So far I’ve found several stores of the “American in Paris” variety, and while these are fine and good, I’m not really their target demographic. For one, I’m a Germanophile. For two, I already have enough soap and stationary.

So I give you:

I found this tooth fairy while shopping in Iowa City, Iowa this week, where I’ve been reporting on a non-Salem story. I bought it in about 3.4 seconds. While I was at it, I grabbed a mermaid. And a sheep piggy bank (a sheepy bank?).

But I am convinced that Salem must have some cool shops too, so if you know of one, please let me know. The closest I’ve come to the Etsy-like style I’m searching for in the non-virtual world is some of the non-books items at Tea Party Bookstore.

I’m desperately seeking a shop in Salem with a funky aesthetic, a design-y sensibility, a whimsical edge, and an avant garde vibe.

Are you selling what I’m buying?