Oh the Weather Outside is Frightful...

I believe those words are the beginning of the lyrics. I never noticed the "frightful" in that song before. Though I don't know if we actually hit "frightful" today in Portland, we were pretty darn close. Most of us around the Rose City and it's metro areas have been snowed in for over a day now. The weathermen were finally spot-on and the arctic blast made its way to us this week, and particularly this weekend.

A snow-drenched bush outside my front door

Ice-covered branches outside the condo

I will admit, however, that I was a bit disappointed today when I discovered that the gorgeous white powder hindered the delivery of my Sunday New York Times. I adore a slow Sunday morning with a cup of coffee from my new French press, a breakfast that takes more than three minutes to put together, a nice fire and the hefty paper waiting for me to flip through it's special sections. The paper was not with me today, but that didn't mean the coffee, breakfast and fireplace had to abandon the final day of my weekend.

As I'm back to working in what I refer to as the "real world" I usually don't make a real breakfast in the morning during the weekday. So when the weekend comes, especially Sundays, I do like to take some time to put something together that I can enjoy with more than a little time to spare. And for a day like today, with eight inches of snow on the ground and the sky delivering even more showers from the sky, I got the hunkering for a bowl of slow-cooked steel cut oats, or Irish oatmeal, to go alongside my French press cup of Jo.

French press and steel-cut oats ready to go!

Though they take a little while to cook, I think making the slow-cooked oatmeal is well worth it, and it's so simple. Bring 3 cups of water to a boil, add about 1/4 teaspoon of kosher salt and 1 cup of dried oats.

Oats cooking away!

Once the oats are added to the boiling water, just turn the burner down to low and let the mixture simmer for about 20-25 minutes. As the oats absorb the boiling water, one thing I like to do is add about 1 tablespoon of good vanilla extract to the mixture to give it some flavor. This, in turn, gives the kitchen and the entire condo a cozy aroma as well.

Once my oats are ready to eat, I'll usually add some ground cinnamon, dried cranberries or dried, chopped dates sprinkled on top. For some reason I was out of dates and cranberries today, but found a few yummy substitues that I think brought the bowl of goods to a delicious surprise.

My final product: oats sprinkled with pecans, a little cinnamon and a dollop of rasberry preserves

My warm oats and fresh French press beverage kept me warm all day through the 21 degree weather in Portland today.

When the weather outside is frightful, what do you prefer to enjoy in your bowl to cozy up with? Whatever it may be, I hope it carries you through a marvelous holiday!



Pathways to a Culinary Career

Ok, so you've heard me say it a million times: I went to culinary school to get into food writing, not to necessarily become a chef. So enough about me-except one last thing: I'm not the only one. Thanks to the growing interest in all things culinary, people are learning that there is more to do in the culinary world aside from being a chef. And God love our chefs; we couldn't eat so well without them! 

But what about those taking the amazing photos of food, and those writing about it? There is much more in store than one might think, and I'm so excited to say that the Portland Culinary Alliance is hosting an event next weekend that will connect those who are interested in exploring other careers in the food world with an amazing line-up of local culinary celebs. 

See the invitation below. The event will take place on Saturday, October 4, but you still have time to register! The alliance is accepting registrations through September 30!


Pathways to a Culinary Career

Seminar and 3-Course Lunch

Presented by Chef Cathy Whims and Portland Culinary Alliance

Nostrana Restaurant, 1401 SE Morrison St., Portland

Saturday, October 4, 9 a.m. to 2 p.m.


Join Portland’s top culinary talents to learn about a cornucopia of career choices. 

Here it’s not just the chefs, but culinarians following their own paths who add their special spice to the tasty mix that makes up our food-centric town.

At “Pathways to a Culinary Career,” you’ll meet food bloggers whose online presence has led to magazine assignments and book contracts; entrepreneurs who made a splash from a food cart or from a Farmers Market booth; and chefs who gained wide renown with cooking as a second or unexpected career. You’ll get great tips from food writers and editors, from prolific cookbook authors, top food publicists and a talented food photographer and food stylist.  

The panels of experts will share their knowledge, experience and inspiring stories, with a break for a delicious 3-course lunch served by Nostrana’s Chef Cathy Whims with wine compliments of In Good Taste Cooking School. After the event, presenters who are also authors will sign their cookbooks, which will be available for purchase. (Cash or checks only, please.)

Presenters are Oregonian FOODday editor Martha Holmberg, food writer/cookbook author Ivy Manning and Culinate.com editorial director Kim Carlson; award-winning cookbook authors Diane Morgan and Janie Hibler; bloggers extraordinaire Kathleen Bauer (Good Stuff NW) and Tami Parr (PNW Cheese Project); renowned chefs Cathy Whims and Vitaly Paley; ace food photographer John Valls and food stylist Ellen Jackson; savvy food publicists Lisa Donoughe of LAD Communications and Lisa Hill of Broussard Hill Communication; food cart barista Andrea Spella (Spella Café) and waffle maestro David Stokamer (Flavour Spot); successful Farmers Market entrepreneurs Lisa Herlinger (Ruby Jewel Treats) and Elizabeth Beekley and Anna Phelps (Two Tarts Bakery).

Be sure to arrive before 9 am to enjoy morning coffee and Nostrana’s delicious grape focaccia.

Fee for Seminar/Lunch: $75 ($60 for PCA members; $50 for culinary students)

To register, visit http://pdxca.org/upcoming-events/ and download the form. Direct questions to ashleymgartland@gmail.com


Portland Culinary Alliance is an educational and networking organization for food and beverage professionals. www.pdxca.org


Andrew Dornenburg & Karen Page in Portland

I can remember my first day of school like it was yesterday, picking up all of my chef's clothes and books. Oh the stack of books were unbelievable. I think I had 11 in all.

Two books that stood out, and that I've referred to since leaving school, are by Andrew Dornenburg and Karen Page and are titled The New American Chef and Culinary Artistry. Well I just learned that the culinary duo will be signing copies of their latest book, The Flavor Profile, at In Good Taste this Thursday at 5:30 p.m.!

For anyone who enjoys expert culinary advice that's easy to read and follow or wants an opportunity to ask Dornenburg and Page questions about their journeys, this is an event not to miss. 

The Flavor Bible
Book signing with Karen Page & Andrew Dornenburg

"The respect and admiration that food professionals have for them gives them access to a wonderful depth of knowledge and experience that they bring to life in their work". -- Chef Daniel Boulud
Meet the dazzling duo that brought us "Culinary Artistry", "The New American Chef", "Becoming a Chef", "Dining Out" and the 2007 IACP Cookbook of the Year and Georges Duboeuf Wine Book of the Year "What to Drink With What You Eat". In this intimate venue, you will meet these New York-based James Beard award-winning authors as they share their thoughts on flavors and pairings, the subject of their latest groundbreaking book, “The Flavor Bible”, an essential guide to culinary creativity. After their discussion, you will have the opportunity to ask them questions about the book and their work. At the end of the discussion and Q&A section, the authors will sign your book.

The price of the book ($35) covers your cost of entry to this special evening. You will pick up your book at the event. To register for the event click here.




The Harvest Moon

Did you see the Harvest Moon tonight? The image below isn't actually of our moon, but it is identical to the one we're experiencing tonight (my camera couldn't get a close enough shot of ours way up in the sky). 

I called out to my fellow Twitter friends to see if they had all witnessed it, and my good friend Kelli Matthews (@kmatthews) - who never fails me with her resourcefulness - sent me this link to Wikipedia, which explained a bit of the origins of the Harvest Moon. 

It says that the Harvest Moon is the first full moon after the first frost (have we already had frost??). And, a legend of Norse mythology, it is said to be the most powerful of the Moons granting Loki's blessing for the strong harvest of plenty. 

The Harvest Moon rises 30 minutes later from one night to the next allowing for less time periods of darkness from sunset to moonrise around the time that surrounds these special moons. In the past, it's been said that this feature helped farmers who worked tirelessly to bring in their crops to keep going, event after sunset. 

And that fact there makes me even more excited to see what delectable items will be showcased at our farmers' markets this week. 

Oh, another incredibly important item to note is that one of the Harvest Moon's other names is: the Wine Moon. Now that makes me adore it even more!

For more information, read the full article in the Wikipedia link above. It's interesting to finally know a little history behind the big orange moon up above. 

Cheers, (literally, the moon suggests it!)


In Good Taste is Coming to the Burbs!

At a recent PCA (Portland Culinary Alliance) board meeting, I was ecstatic when one of my co-members, Barbara Dawson, announced that her famed culinary retail and cooking studio, In Good Taste, is opening up a spot in Lake Oswego. And it'll be so close to my house (I'm so excited!).

If you're not familiar with In Good Taste, it's original venue is located in the Pearl on NW 11th. The space is filled with gourmet culinary delights from unique spices, oils and vinegars to the latest kitchen gadget you're looking for, and all the cookbooks you could ever want to dive into. They hold hands-on and educational cooking classes regularly, and they also host private events. It is locally owned by Barbara and her husband, Matt.

The Lake Oswego space will host a grand opening on September 27th from noon - 4:00 p.m.

Additional info:
The address is 6302 SW Meadows Road Lake Oswego, OR 97035

Directions are:

From I-5 heading South; take Exit 292 (Kruse Way/Lake Oswego). Turn left off the exit ramp, heading East on Kruse Way. Turn Right on Bangy Road (the first light). Turn Left on Meadows Road (the first left). Turn right into the Kruse Meadows Shopping Center. We are located directly behind OnPoint Credit Union.

From I-5 heading North; take exit 292b (Kruse Way/Lake Oswego). Come off the exit and go straight through the light onto Bangy Road. Turn left at the next intersection, Meadows Road, and then turn right into the Kruse Meadows Shopping Center. We are located directly behind OnPoint Credit Union.

From HWY 217: Drive south on 217 until it ends on Kruse Way. Turn Right onto Bangy Road and left at the first light, Meadows Road. Turn right into the Kruse Meadows Shopping Center. We are located directly behind OnPoint Credit Union.

Come stop in if you're around. I'll definitely be there to check out this exciting addition to my neighborhood!



Culinary Education Beyond the Kitchen

When I had the idea last year to attend culinary school to get in on the food writing side of things--not to be behind the scenes in the kitchen--most people paused and seemed to be caught off guard a bit. And today, when people learn that I've earned a culinary arts diploma, but have no interest in becoming an executive chef at a Michelin-starred restaurant, they often times look puzzled.

Well my instincts have now been validated! This week The Institute of Culinary Education announced a new line-up of career courses in culinary arts that don't have students necessarily focusing on the kitchen. The school's new Food Media program will offer classes that pertain to various realms of the culinary world such as food writing, food styling and photography, cookbook writing, restaurant reviewing and even creating your own TV food show.

With the burgeoning space of online food blogs and continuing popularity of the Food Network, food magazines and just an overall love for exploring the wonders of the food we eat, it's nice to see an institution offer up a formal educational program that will encourage those looking for a culinary education to think beyond the kitchen and leave with a more well-rounded, savvy mind set of all the aspects and opportunities that await.

To read the official announcement click here.



Always a Love for MC

For the last few nights I've been prepping for a garage sale at my condo. It's a community garage sale and the only sale I've participated in in my life. I'm not a garage-saler, but I hear there is quite a cult of those who live for these things and, well, I've got some stuff that's gotta go!

So after a long week of planning with a neighbor and getting all of my items ready, I finally called it quits on the prep tonight. After closing up the garage and heading back in, I decided it was time for a treat. I try and make a habit of not indulging in sweets often, but I've always got a little something around for those times when I need a little extra decadence in my life.

My recent favorite is the Villars Swiss Milk Chocolate bar with Whole Hazelnuts! I discovered it on one of my most recent trips to Trader Joe's and it's just a perfect bit of heaven when the time calls.

Now I know dark chocolate has garnered most of the spotlight these days it seems, but I truly believe there are more than a few of us who make up a group of dedicated followers in the universe of milk chocolate. Sure, dark chocolate may have its health benefits, but when it comes to a true treat of smooth, rich and yummy moments, milk chocolate will always be #1 for me. And I will admit that my palate has matured to the point of knowing the difference between the chocolate I grew up on (sorry "H") and the experiential taste of European chocolate; there's nothing like it.

Next time you're craving something sweet and rich or need a special treat to finish off your day, try a Villars and let me know what you think!



Eye candy

Hello? Are you still there?

I know I've said it before, but I truly mean it. I miss you when I'm not here! After nearly a month's hiatus from the blog, I'm back to chat with you about what's crossing my path day in and day out in the food world. When I first began this blog more than one year ago, I wanted to document my journey through culinary school and into the world of food writing. Now that school is finished, I'm finding more and more items that I want to share my thoughts with you on. Whether it's the most recent kitchen tool I've purchased, most interesting industry news that I've read, or just the simple pleasures of what's getting my attention in the culinary world these days, I'm happy to be back in front of my laptop with you again.

There always seems to be something that brings me back to life. One of the big things that draws me to the culinary world is the fancy schmancy stuff. Yes, I'm a sucker for the over-the-top, for the hoity toity, stylized plates, extensive lists of fine wines and evenings that require getting dressed up for. I will admit, I get tired of the casual, and find that even in my home city with its burgeoning culinary scene, there is still much more casual nightlife than I'd like. Give me glitz and glamour any day. I don't think we see it enough.

It seems fitting, then, that the latest thing to catch my eye and pull me back to my PC to share the news was something I came across catching up on food blogs via my iPhone last night in bed. You see, I couldn't sleep so I thought it afforded me the perfect opportunity to peak in on some of my favorite food bloggers and see what everyone's talking about.

My first stop was at Orangette. Oh Miss Molly. Her blog is one of the first I absolutely fell in love with when I started exploring the world of food bloggers. Her writing voice is just heavenly and her life has turned into a dream. After shifting gears in her life from graduate studies to working her way into the food writing world, Molly began food blogging in 2004. Just this year she was discovered by Bon Appétit magazine and now has a regularly featured column in the publication. In catching up on her latest post, she mentions she is now off to France for her first travel writing assignment for the pub. Now I am not a jealous person mainly because I think I'm living a fabulous life myself, but I must admit a bit of jealousy with this one. She has worked so hard and I couldn't be happier for her success. And yes, I know, someday I too will be leaving on a jet plane to write about the wonders of France...or Italy...or Greece...or, well, you get the point. Bon Voyage, Molly, and have fun with your new adventures. I can't wait to read all about them when you return.

My next stop was another favorite, Mr. Michael Ruhlman. I think I have a secret crush on Michael Ruhlman, which is slightly off topic, but I just thought I'd throw it in there and get it out in the open. Michael, if you're ever in Portland let's do lunch...or dinner...or simply make a private meal in my condo. Just us. I'm kidding, Donna! Much do respect to you and I absolutely love your photos! Speaking of photos, that is exactly what caught my eye with Michael's post. Ruhlman announced yesterday the upcoming Alinea, the cookbook.

Alinea is a highly anticipated, highly stylized cookbook from the famed Alinea restaurant in Chicago. The photos in the images Ruhlman provided look delicious. And please check out the link to the restaurant. The imagery and photography of its menu items is absolutely sick; in the most delectable way. Oh it's these kinds of plates and these types of photos that get me so excited about food. Fancify, I'll never get tired of dressed up crudites or glamourized hearts of palm. The fact that so much energy goes in to presentation is what makes it so exciting. Go on, check out the site and enjoy the eye candy.

Thank you Michael and Molly and all the other food bloggers out there with the endless supply of delectable adventures with food along with mouthwatering photography. I don't think I'll ever get enough of it.



A Tasty Read: The Last Chinese Chef by Nicole Mones

For Maggie McElroy, life as she knew it was tasting the everyday cuisine of the American people and writing about it in her weekly food column for Table magazine. Maggie is a food writer who's been living a simple life on a houseboat since the untimely death of her husband, Matt. She's faced one day with a phone call that requires she travel to China for an unthinkable mission that will put closure to her late-husband's death.

Like any good editor looking for a different story, Maggie's gives her a food writing assignment for her journey. She is to interview one of China's great chefs, Sam Liang, as he plans to launch a new venue in Beijing. Maggie hesitantly accepts and is off to deal with news that could shatter her heart-while at the same time, hunt down a delicious story for the publication.
When she arrives, she learns Sam's restaurant will not be opening and he wants nothing to do with being the subject of any story. Personally, she finds herself mapping her way through a web of people and places to get to the bottom of a surprise Matt may have left behind.

As the story grows and Maggie's plot thickens, she edges her way into Chef Sam's world and convinces him to share his journey of preparing for China's Olympic culinary competition and to forget and let go of the failed restaurant opening. And for anyone in love with international cuisine, this is where the story captivates. As Maggie sits back and watches Sam work in the kitchen, she finds herself becoming increasingly interested in the Chinese-American culinary wonder, as well as discovering a world of food that she never imagined.

Though at times a bit predictable beginning as mystery, turned exploration, leading to love and culinary adventure, The Last Chinese Chef is a quick, enjoyable read for anyone who chooses to sit down at Mones' table.

Mones is also the author of the books Lost in Translation and A Cup of Tea, and is a frequent contributor to Gourmet magazine.



A Year to the Day

It was a year to the day today when I posted an evening entry on my blog as I was preparing to begin my program at WCI on July 2, 2007. I had all six pieces of my chef's uniform accounted for and looking as crispy white as they could, pressed perfectly and hanging neatly on one of my barstools. Sometimes we spend our days wondering when they'll ever end. Some seem to drag on forever and there are some we would just rather forget. And then there are other times when it seems that with the blink of an eye, an entire year passes us by. But seriously? It's seriously been exactly one year since I dared to take eight months away from the working world to put on chef's whites, black and white checkered pants and black, steel-toed shoes to feel the heat in the kitchens of culinary school? Yeah, look at that. I guess it has been.

So what's the latest? Am I a world famous food writer with book publishers knocking down my door wanting me to write the next great food story so they can turn it into a movie? Well, not exactly, but I'm not complaining. So many of you have been so supportive in following me along the way that I've felt a bit guilty lately realizing that I've left out a few of good things that have happened for me on the writing side.

Back in December I received an email from someone who contacted me via this blog. Her name was Emily and she was an editor for New York publisher, Barnes & Noble. She sent me the sweetest little note that's title read, "Interested in Writing"? Hm. Is this spam, I was thinking to myself? But I opened it and decided to give a few moments of attention to the remaining contents...

Hi Jennifer, I just came across your website and thought you might be perfect for a project I am working on. I'm an editor for a division of Barnes & Noble publishing and we're doing a series of lifestyle guides for adults. These guides aren't books, but what we are calling charts... We are going to be doing a series of ethnic food charts and I am looking for a writer who would be interested in writing the first guide in this series, either French or Italian cooking. The guide would cover the following subject areas:

* History (basic)* Ingredients* Tools * Methods/Preparations?* Recipes

Is this something you might be interested in? If you are interested I can give you more details. I look forward to hearing from you soon.

Thanks so much! Emily

My jaw literally dropped and at the same time my heart jumped. Was this a joke? Come on. An editor at Barnes & Noble found me through the myriad of food blogs out there and was now approaching me to begin their new series in international cuisine? Was I interested in writing? YEAH!

I did respond to Emily the next day and after a few email exchanges and a phone call we had made a deal. I turned in a proposal for the basics of French Cooking in early January and got to work on the piece. I thought it would be simple for me to put the chart together as I had just finished a French culinary program, but I was mistaken. The hardest part for me was just sifting through the abundance of information that is out there on French cuisine and narrowing it down to cover all of the basics within an 8 1/2 x 11 in. six-page, fold-out laminated guide. It's been a great learning experience being involved in writing an outlined project as opposed to an article in terms of the process and the back and forth between writer and editor. We're still finalizing some details, actually, but I was recently given the green light to move forward with the next cuisine in line, Italian. I'm so eager to get the French chart printed, though. The part I'm looking most forward to is that a line on the bottom of the back page will read "Writer: Jennifer Fields".

While I was in school I was approached by a local food writer who, at the time, I was taking a Pilates Reformer classes with. Her name was Susan Hauser and she's a very well known food and travel writer who writes for national publications, but resides in Portland. She's one of those who has the dream career many of us are looking for. Each and every time I speak with her she's jetting off to Hawaii to do a story on hoola lessons, or Florida to write about the cuisine in Miami. How does she do that? Ok, I'll get there, I'll get there. Anyway, Susan, who is the President of the Portland Culinary Alliance, was excited to learn that I was attending culinary school and asked me to join the board of the organization as the group's student liaison to help bring awareness of the program to culinary schools and to get students more involved. A month or two of being part of the board, I also took on a new role as the new Newsletter Editor. Yay, now I can call myself an editor!

A little over a month ago a friend told me I just had to get myself on Twitter. Have you heard of Twitter? Twitter is a social networking site that allows people to "follow" other people and stay in touch via mini updates on what they're doing. When I first joined and logged on it looked to me like it was a slew of instant message conversations happening all on one page. And I thought it was the dumbest thing on the earth. But I've hung in there and now I've learned Twitter today is what blogs were just a few years ago; the new it thing in online networking. If you play Twitter right it can work for you. I'm now connected with foodies, food bloggers, and chefs from all around the world. An editor from Marthat Stewart Everyday Food magazine even started following me! Most recently, well-known Australian celebrity chef Benjamin Christie and I got connected on Twitter. After a couple of converstations back and forth regarding his need for some food bloggers to contribute to his site, he asked me to come on board as a guest blogger! I'm very excited at the opportunity. And a really cool thing is I get to have a picture and a bio on his site, and on the same page as Michael Ruhlman! OMG!

So needless to say I feel like I'm getting there. I'm in the right circles and I'm getting my name out there. It's funny, though, I seem to be having the toughest time in my hometown getting editors in Portland to jump at food article ideas I've been pitching. I now know what people mean when they say don't quit your day job, or marry rich if you want to be a food writer. It really does take time to break into the scene and get published, and of the above activities I have going on, only one is paid, and still not enough to cover my mortgage!

All around everything is going well and I know the big break (or the one that will pay the mortgage) is just around the corner; I can feel it.

Thanks for your continued support. Now back to fun and exciting musings on exploring the culinary world!




Pok Pok continues to bring the most authentic Thai flavors to Portland

Pok Pok owner Andy Ricker just won't slow down when it comes to delivering the most authentic flavors of Thailand to his faithful eaters in Portland. The latest inclusion to his menu are Kuaytio Reua noodles, also known as Boat Noodles. See below for the message from the chef himself on a bit of history about the noodles. And get over there and enjoy.

From chef Andy:
I am happy to announce that as of Tuesday, June 10th we will have Kuaytio Reua (otherwise known as Boat Noodles) on the lunch menu. Here is a brief description: Rice noodles in a dark rich broth with spices, herbs, stewed beef, poached flank, house made meat balls, water spinach, dry chilies and bean sprouts.

Traditionally sold from boats along the canals (khlongs) of Thailand. These noodles were the majority of the reason I recently spent a month in Thailand; they are one of the most popular noodle dishes in Thailand. They are sometimes made with pork, but the original one is beef. You can find both versions at restaurants parked on canals, and also at street stalls with small wooden boats parked outside, often with the vendor sitiing inside the boat preparing the noodles. They supposedly originated in Ayuthaya and the most famous versions come from there and from Rangsit in Bangkok. I love them, hope you will like them too. Ok, Best, Andy.



To the Market

On a day when the forecast over Portland called for dark clouds and sliding rain, I was determined to attend the day's Farmers Market down at Portland State University. Yes, there are myriad famers markets around the Rose City, but today's PSU market had a little something extra that I was looking for: chef demos. Hosted by local food writer Michael Zusman, the chef demos at the farmers market offer an up close and personal hour with a well-known Portland chef.

I headed out of the condo and into the cloudy, but surprisingly warm outdoors. The clouds were breaking in some areas, but I grabbed my jacket and stuck it in the back seat, nevertheless, and was off. Being a fan of taking Max into the city as opposed to driving in and searching endlessly for parking at a decent price, I drove north the the Sunset Transit station to park the Jetta. By this time the clouds seemed to disappear so the coat was left to lay low in the backseat while I hopped on the Blue Line toward the city.
Arriving into downtown, I was pleasantly greeted by blue skies, warm weather and a city that seemed to welcome all of it's patrons out to play in the day's unexpectedly great weather. I made the trek five blocks south and was in the middle of dowtown heaven. Between the trees that surrounded the park blocks were rays of sunlight shining down on what seemed to be all of Portland out and about, talking with local food vendors, tasting the freshest Oregon strawberries and eating lunch from the row of food carts serving up dishes of delicious eats.

I saw the chef stage crew setting up for the next act. I missed the first two, but was in time for the demo with chef Tommy Habetz, formerly of Meriwether's on NW Vaughn. Realizing that I had a few minutes I decided I was hungry enough to grab a falafal sandwich at Basha's Middle Eastern cart at the south end of the market. The line was enormous, but well worth the wait. Fresh falafal, tahini sauce, fresh tomatoes and lettuce wrapped in pita bread can be such a perfect treat.

And, I was just in time to snag a spot on a little step adjacent to the stage as the show began. Picture a live Food Network cooking show with commentary and banter back and forth between the chef and the emcee and you've got the day's famers market chef demo. Chef Habetz prepared before us onlookers everything cooked on the grill, including: steak, asparagas and lettuce. He then chopped them all up and put them in a dish to serve the audience. I was able to give a quick hello to Michael and which point he actually gave me a pint of his Oregon strawberries. Lucky girl, I am! Then I was off to my second mission of the day: buying starts for the patio garden!

Chef Tommy Habetz removing romaine lettuce from the grill

Conveniently located directly behind the stage was a beautiful array of fresh herbs and tomatoes from West Wind Farms. The task was, at first, overwhelming, but I quickly focused on a few staples. I was excited to walk away fresh French Thyme, Rosemary, Marjoram and Roma Tomatoes; the official start to the patio garden!

The first patio garden babies!

Be sure to get down to the Portland Farmers Market - or any famers market in your area - for a fun day out amongst the fresh, local produce and smiling faces!



In the Land of Cheese

"Don't eat too much cheese," says the text message from my trainer as I was heading out the door. Last night I attended a Wine and Cheese tasting at Steve's Cheese, located in Square Deal Wines in NW Portland off of Thurman Street. Hosted by Steve Jones (Steve of Steve's Cheese) and Dougal Reeves (Square Deal Wines), the two-hour event was an exclusive evening put on for members of the Portland Culinary Alliance and their guests.

It sometimes shocks me when I head out to an event like this and get that feeling that I'd rather stay home. Maybe it's the "forced-fun" aspect of getting together with members of an organization you're involved in. But then I think, isn't that why people get involved in extracurricular activities like joining clubs that are of interest to them or related to the industry they're in? Anyway, I digress, not the point of the story.

As I pulled up exactly on time - 6:30 p.m. - I saw I was not the only one arriving without a minute to spare. From my rear-view mirror I saw Kathie scoot quickly into the wine shop. She's on the PCA board with me and I remember her from the last event. We sat next to each other and she was just a delight to chat with. Poor thing, though. I received an email from her the day after the last event. Her car was towed at our last gathering! A dinner that was just $35 ended up costing poor Kathie over $200. Yikes.

I hopped out, locked my car, and scooted myself into Square Deal Wines. It's not a huge wine shop, but the layout of it allows for it to not look small either. It's sort of warehousey, a very open space with crates of some of the most desired wines from around the world carefully situated in rows on the cement floor. There is a simple check-out counter to the left, and straight ahead at the left is Steve's Cheese counter. At the very back is a private room where I quietly snuck into to great my fellow PCA friends. I grabbed a seat toward the end at the back of the room, and was across the table and two people down from Kathie. "I parked in a legal spot this time," she mentioned and I responded with a look as to say, "Lesson learned, huh?"

Susan Hauser, well-respected Portland food and travel writer and PCA president, arrived a few minutes later and took her seat directly across from me. To my left was Heather Jones. A transplant from San Jose, CA, Heather is a freelance public relations and marketing professional for the restaurant industry. 'Oh goody, another competitor,' I'm thinking to myself. Well sort of. I guess I'm still deciding on exactly what I am (a writer, pr professional, marketing generalist for the food world?). I think I'm beginning to land on a name multiple people have given me in the recent past; Renaissance woman. I'll take it. Susan and I did quick introductions with Heather and we were off on our adventure.

Steve began with an introduction of the evening as we gazed down at the sheet of paper they provided to us. With the company's name on the top, the name of the event, and the date, the remainder of the sheet consisted of a list of wine, then cheese, wine, then cheese, in the order they would be presented to us. The writers in the group got out our pens; so typical.

And then, the wine guy spoke. There is something about a man with one of two accents: British (includes Scottish, Irish, and English) or Australian. Dougal Reeves opened his mouth to talk wine and to be honest, I have no idea what he said. Standing about 5'7" with curly black hair, he showered us with a deep, Australian accent that brought all the women in the room to a screeching silence. Dougal. Doouuuugal Reeeeeves. Of course he's got an accent. He spoke a little bit about the wine - a sparkling variety from the Loire Valley - then mentioned something about the trip back to France he was getting ready for in two days. I quickly looked down. Yep, wedding ring. Never fails the single girl. Moving on...

The remainder of the evening proved to be a perfect example of why someone joins a group in an industry that's of interest to them. What more does anyone need than to sip wine and devour a wide array of cheeses from our land in America and share their excitement about it with others who are just as excited? "Very stinky cheese," "This wine makes the flavor of the cheese really pop," "Does anyone smell chocolate in this cheese, or is it just me?" were only a few of the comments coming from the mouths of those who partook in the evening. We sampled wines from all over the world that were paired with cheeses grown from small farmers with a focus on hormone-free, certified organic cheese; of which Steve's is known for selling. It was a well-run event and Steve and team really know their stuff!

A few tips on cheese purchasing and storage from Steve:

1. Purchase your cheese in paper and avoid plastic wrap, which can impart a negative flavor on cheese.
2. Change the paper every three days.
3. It is ok to wrap the cheese in paper, and then tuck it into a plastic baggy or Tupperware container. This allows the cheese to breathe, but does not cause it to dry out.
4. Eat the cheese within three to five days if it’s a soft variety. Hard cheeses can last three to five weeks.
5. Parchment paper is a good option for storing as is wax paper.
6. Try to avoid the “cut and wrap” program – cheese that is already cut, wrapped tightly in plastic and placed on grocery store shelves for days. He also noted that Steve’s Cheese always cuts away the outer layer of a wedge of cheese each day if it’s been sitting in plastic prior to serving.
7. “Find a good cheese monger and come see us every three days,” Steve Jones.

Now go get some cheese!


(P.S. And no, the trainer has no clue how much cheese (and wine!) I actually enjoyed. I figure he's the lucky one. My penchant for wine, cheese, and anything culinary keeps him in business if you ask me!:)


Time for Home Growing!

As the spring and summer months hit the rose city and foodies all over Portland gear up to savor the fresh fruits and herbs and vegetables the city showers us with, people venture out more to the open markets in search of the best of our local flavors. It's easy to get people chatting about the bounty of great produce too. I often find myself immersed in conversation about the variety of vegetables people are experimenting with, and growing on their own. In fact, I will admit that I've been thrown off recently by how many patrons actually grow their own herb, fruit and vegetable gardens. Being a lover of the food world, a culinary school graduate and someone who adores fresh fruits and vegetables, I was a bit embarrassed at the fact that I, myself, do not grow my own! Not one pot, not one little branch of thyme, not one tiny vine of tomatoes has even begun to grow out on my patio. I have no pots, no soil, no nothing.

Well today is the beginning of change! I have an upper-level condo with a pretty decent sized deck. I've spent a couple of days cleaning up my much-neglected outdoor space, just sold the patio furniture today off of Craigslist (it was just too big of a set and I really never liked it anyway), and am now ready to make way for new pots to plant some beloved herbs and veggies!

The patio today

But where to begin? I'm sure one can stop into any Home Depot or Lowes to find the soil, some nice pots and even some herbs, but I want this to be more authentic. With Portland's abundance of farmer's markets around, where's the best spot to purchase garden starts? Do I need special soil for certain items? What are the best items to buy now? And just like most of my random curiosities, here comes a new one. On to condo-gardening 101! I'll keep you posted as I move along. And please, if you're an outdoor gardener and have some great tips, please do let me know! It's a big world in Portland produce out there and I'd love all the help I can get!





The end of the formal adventure...

The day has come and gone, which means the year has literally come and gone. What seemed at times to be an eternity and something that would never end, or something I didn't want to end, has finally passed. It started with a tiny book on wine, that led to some passionate thoughts, which led me on the adventures of culinary school. Embarking on the adventure led to this blog and the blog has been my canvas to capture my thoughts and experiences through it all. Do I think I'm a full-fledged chef? No. Could I have learned what I learned in culinary school by cooking through recipes found in the mountains of cook books that are neatly arranged on my cherry wood bookshelf? Maybe. Some people ask me if it was worth it to go through culinary school and I believe it was. I think the relationships you build and the camaraderie that develops is something unique. I started in a class of 33 aspiring chefs, and ended with 13. People rotated in and out, and within the six months we went from classmates cooking shoulder to shoulder over hot gas stoves to a bit of a family as we teamed up and finally really appreciated each other and our strengths during our three weeks at Bleu.

So what did I learn? Well, I learned that I could dismantle a squid - and very well I might add. I learned to get adventurous with what foods passed my lips: tripe, headcheese, offal anyone? And I know for a fact that has caused my palate to mature. I know what tastes good now and I'm much more of a discerning food critique because of it. I can tell how things were cooked. I can pick out ingredients like ground ginger, cayenne pepper, nutmeg and hints marjoram in dishes, and to me that is what makes it so fun; to taste it without knowing what went in it, but then being able to dissect it by notes of this or that.
There are two additional things that I learned, though, that stand out the most. Number 1 is Endurance. There were some nights that I didn't think would end and some weeks, too. Night after night, five nights a week, nonstop for months and you just keep going. And it's rough. It's physical. I've never had my back just ache all the time. It is NOT glamorous. It is NOT the high style of the Food Network with perfectly finished finger nails, freshly styled hair and not a drop of sweat on the brow. (No offense to FN; I am a fan as it's usually playing in the background as I work!). It is hard work. It's heat. It's sweat. It's going home from class smelling like the fish you spent hours filleting, and the meat you spent the evening grinding into sausage. It's spilling hot tomato sauce all over yourself and wearing those clothes for the rest of the night. And the dishes. It is stacks and stacks of horrifically soiled pots and pans and dirty water and clogged drains and no one is going anywhere until it is pristine for the morning rotation. It was intense studying with two-to-three tests per week. And you're so tired and it's so quick and there is so much information to absorb, but you just keep going. In all honesty, I think the endurance I learned in culinary school has allowed endurance to fit into other areas of my life. I can spin with the best of them in spin class. I'm running again. You just get in this mind set to keep at it and never stop. And I know it will prove to be an inspiration once again as I embark on the after life of culinary school; becoming a successful freelance food writer. Being self-employed is a dream, but at the same time it is absolutely frightening. Right now I'm currently a freelance pr professional and food writer with no clients and no writing projects in the que. So my days are spent just going and going: networking, pitching those story ideas, reaching out to local boutique pr firms offering to help and racking my brain to come up with that next great idea that all those other food writers (and there are thousands of them) haven't thought of yet. Endurance.

The second, and quite possibly most important thing I learned, was from one of my favorite chefs, Chef Tina. I was sad to learn at graduation that she is no longer with the school, but she did move on to a fabulous position at a culinary school on the Oregon coast. I've recently gotten back in touch with her and I am so glad. She is such an inspiration and SUCH a GREAT chef. And I think I immediately latched on to her as she changed her career and decided to get into the food world at the ripe young age of 32; same age I was when I decided to do this. We were in lecture one day and we had to do a quick review the U.S. Constitution. I think this was a school requirement. Anyway, she was asking us for our opinions about laws and the amendments. I've never been one to speak up. Anyone who's been in a meeting with me knows that. I usually just sit back and let others talk. She asked me a question, my opinion on something. I don't remember exactly what it was, but I started out with, "Um...I don't know...". It was then that she said something along the lines of, ' for all of you 18 or 19-year-olds out there just getting started in the world, you still have a lot to learn. But for those who are older, maybe 25, 30, and above who have had a bit of life experience, it is your job to speak up, to have opinions about things, and to start teaching what you've learned.' And that has stuck with me since. Now I'm not afraid to speak up, and am not afraid if my opinion is not the popular one. I actually quite like when my opinion doesn't coincide with the majority. I've always remembered that class and what she said and I'll never forget it.

So now on to the real stuff of making this new life happen. I had a panic the other week about money and finding work and started applying back to agencies and some corporate jobs even though it made my stomach flip. And then I just realized that I can do this and make this life of being self-employed that I want happen. I just need a little endurance, a lot of confidence, and some good food to keep me going.

Some pics from graduation...

Me and David. David and I were partners throughout just about every class. We first met up at a President's luncheon just before school started. I immediately knew he looked familiar. Turns out we both worked at an old job years ago together! This world is tooooo small.

My chefs from Bleu: Chef Gurr, Chef Jackson, and Chef Luke

And, of course, dear Chef Jackie, my French Chef! "Just add more buerre and a little more cream!"

Onward and upward.



The finale awaits

I'm embarrassed to say that I nearly forgot what the first week of May would bring, and I don't mean Cinco de Mayo. The end of the journey through culinary school seemed to wrap up so quickly after our stint in Bleu. FOODday came and went and voilà, the journey is over and I'm thrown back out into the real world, so to speak.

But the end of this week marks the official wrap-up of it all. Spring graduation for WCI will take place at the Oregon Convention Center on Saturday, May 3 at 12 p.m. A reception will following back at the school with food prepared by the school's master chefs...yum!

I'm looking forward to seeing my cooking school cronies and can't wait to catch up and see what they're all up to. For anyone who's ever been interested in going to culinary school and wants to see what it's like, the school does sell additional tickets to the ceremony now through Friday at Café Bleu, or at the convention center, for $20.



Could it become an obsession?

I have an issue lately with flour. No, I don't have a hard time eating it and I have nothing against it being an ingredient in many delicious foods, but I find myself so perplexed by the varieties. Why so many? How did all of these different types of flours come to be? Whole-wheat, all-purpose, gluten-free, pastry, cake, white whole-wheat, semolina, durum, and the list just keeps going.

Right now I have five different types of flour in my pantry and I'm not even an avid baker. And as much as it hurts, I'll admit that even after my three weeks of pastry and baking with Chef Krieg and friends, I still have not absorbed what type of flour I should use for what or what types can be equally substituted in baking.

So on my journey (which I'm still unsure if I totally want to sign up for) of exploring the endless world of flour, I ran across an article posted on Culinate today that was a good start to breaking it all down: http://www.culinate.com/articles/culinate8/flour_power.

For any of you interested in this chameleon of an ingredient, it may be an interesting read for you. Thanks to the author for the overview. It's a starting point for delving into the subject.



Back to Writing: A tribute to FOODday

Yes, as I constantly say, I just don't get here as much as I'd like to anymore. I'm finding myself spending the majority of my time back in the PR world doing some freelance work for a local agency. It is good, and what I need to be doing right now, but I've begun to feel a bit blue as I realize I'm just not carving out time to write.

So thank goodness for the editor of WCI's Food Writers' Club newsletter. I promised her a recap of my externship at FOODday. I almost bailed on the assignment, but with a little nudging she got me to turn something in. I thank her as I did enjoy looking back on my 13 weeks at the paper's test kitchen and was able to express what I hope are some entertaining words on the adventure.

I've pasted it below. It's sort of my 'day in the life' at FOODday. This is the version I just handed in, unedited, so we'll see what the in-print version will look like.

Happy reading!


A Day in the Life of an Extern
By Jennifer Fields

As many of my fellow students were gearing up to head off to well-respected dining spots around town to embark on their culinary school externships, I was set to work in a kitchen unlike most kitchens we’re used to. Tucked away on the fourth floor of the northeast corner of The Oregonian building in downtown Portland is a tiny kitchen similar to one you’d find in your own home or apartment. There is no wall full of endless gas stoves, and no 8-foot long, steel tables holding industrial-sized cooking equipment. Instead, this kitchen is designed to most closely resemble the kitchens of the 700,000-plus readers of the paper’s weekly food section, FOODday. The test kitchen at FOODday serves as the place were recipes are tested and retested, and ingredients and instructions are scrutinized and perfected day in and day out for both FOODday and MIX magazine.

So what’s it like in the test kitchen simply following instruction on recipes that come in each day? Anything but ordinary. As I arrive for my shift at 12:30 p.m., my job is to get the kitchen ready for the day’s testing. I turn on the computer, which usually takes 10 minutes to warm up, and then unload the dishwasher putting all the pots and pans and cooking utensils neatly back in their designated spots. I log into the computer and check my email. As usual, nothing of any significance. I’m the extern, why would I have any email? By 1:00pm, Linda, the test kitchen director and my supervisor, arrives with the groceries for the day’s recipes.

“Hello!” she says in her usual, cheery and energetic way. “Ok, go ahead and unload what’s in the bags and I’ll go check in with Katherine [Miller, FOODday Assistant Editor] to see if anything has come up today that we should know about,” she says and scurries off. I unload the bags and try to decipher what items will be washed, sliced, diced, sautéed, etc. in today’s leisurely day of working through cooking instructions.

“Well, it looks like there is a change of plans,” Linda says as she walks back into our tiny space. “Martha [Holmberg, FOODday Editor] is in today and wants to do a photo shoot of some of the recipes we did yesterday for edition.” For edition means for the issue that will come out the very next Tuesday. It is Thursday, which means the photos need to be shot today, placed into the graphics layout, finalized and approved for press on Friday. “I need you to do a quick ingredient list of the items we need and run up to the store to get them. I’ll get working on the other recipes that need to get done today,” she says. Throwing off my apron and putting my coat, scarf, and gloves back on, I grab the list and head one block north and three blocks west to the nearest grocery venue to grab the goods.

Arriving back around 2:30 p.m., I find Linda well into the other recipes. I unload my new purchases and begin prep immediately as Martha wants to shoot no later than 4:00 p.m. “Oh, and Sara (a local freelance writer) will be in today to do a taste testing for canned tomatoes,” Linda mentions as I try to survey the kitchen to figure out where exactly all of this cooking and picture taking and taste testing will take place. As I’m chopping my vegetables for my side dish—something comprised of asparagus, eggplant, and roasted red peppers—Linda peaks over and says, “Now are those one-inch pieces? The recipe calls for one-inch pieces and if they’re off Martha will be the first to point that out.” I look at her expecting a light laugh or something that will resemble that what she just said was meant jokingly, but no, she’s serious. I head over to the drawer located under the computer to reach for the ruler. At this time my mind is hijacked back to Culinary Skills I where my fingers are trembling as I hold my chef’s knife in hopes of finally getting a perfect julienne-sized cut out of my 10th carrot that will make Chef Jackie and Chef Stephanie weep. So we really do use those little rulers tucked in our chef’s coats, even out in the real world; amazing. Back to reality, I grab the ruler and head back to my cutting board. It looks as if my previous eye-balling got me pieces that were slightly over one inch. By the look on Linda’s face I figure I’m good and won’t lose the externship over the fresh-cut stalks. I continue with the eggplant and red peppers, and sauté just as instructed.

By 3:30pm my dish was close to done when Linda asked me to take her two dishes out for “food parade”—the walk from the test kitchen, through the photo department, past graphics, and over to the FOODday section for tasting and judging by the discerning writers and collaborators who develop each week’s issue—while she helped Sara get everything in order for the tomato taste test. “Mmmm, I like it,” Katherine says, “But I wonder if it could use a little more salt.” “Oh wow, it’s delicious, but yes, a bit more salt and maybe a squeeze of lemon juice,” adds Danielle Centoni, food editor. “What’s in it again?” asks Leslie Cole, FOODday staff writer. “Um, I’m not for certain. Linda actually made this dish,” I say with a look as if to communicate, ‘I just can’t recall what’s in every dish!’ “Hm. It’s a bit one-note for me,” says, Martha, possibly the most discerning of them all. “I don’t know, it’s a bit bland, it still needs something.” Mind you, this recipe was provided by one of Portland’s hottest chefs, but that never halts her from making certain the end result that home cooks will receive is flawless, which in the end is the overall bases behind having the test kitchen in the first place.

So back to the kitchen I go with notes of everyone’s feedback in my head. “Katherine liked it, but wants more salt, ditto with Danielle and add a bit of lemon juice. Leslie asked what was in it, but come to think of it I’m not sure whether or not she liked it. And Martha says it’s bland and that it needs something,” I ramble to Linda who is now surrounded by paper bowls full of whole, canned tomatoes. “So do we need to do it over again?” She asks. “Um. I’m not sure,” I say looking thoroughly confused. “Well that’s ok,” she replied. “We’ll just ask when Martha comes back here.”

By 4:00 p.m. we move on to tomato tasting while, simultaneously, Mike Davis, photo editor, is preparing for the shoot of the day. Who knew there could be so many different tastes of canned tomatoes? Some were absolutely horrid and caused a couple of those critiquing to simply spit them out. By my 10th taste, I was certain that I can no longer tell the difference between a high-end canned tomato from Italy and a generic, domestic store brand.

At 4:30 p.m. on the nose, Martha was finished with her portion of the tomato tasting and was ready to move on to the photo shoot. Linda had platted up the dish, which I envied as I had begun to really get into the food styling aspect of the job, but such is life, it was tomato taste test clean-up for me that day. As the photo shoot wrapped around 5:30 p.m. and we began cleaning the kitchen for the day, Martha came back with some prints of the pictures that were taken moments ago and thanked Linda and I for getting all that needed to be done, done. The pictures turned out great and it was fun for me to see food that I cooked stylized and ready for print to be included in the next issue. As we were closing down, Martha looked closely at the items on the plate in the photograph. “Were those one-inch pieces of asparagus or one-and-a-half?” I got out the ruler.


In Print

Are you still there? It seems like it's been so long since I've signed in and hit "New Post" on the blog screen.

Things have been well. Culinary school is officially done, but I'm still interning a few days a week at the FOODday test kitchen. So of course I had to post today to say that my name is finally in print in the award-winning weekly foodie section of the paper! No, it's not officially an article written by me, but I had an idea for a quick meal that made the cut with the discerning critics in the FOODday deparment and was given the green light to be posted in the paper's Shortcut Cooking section. If you try it, let me know if you liked it!

Such a quick post, but I do have to run. I'll be back soon to share more of what's happening in the adventures of exploring the culinary world in the coming days.



Into the Fire

Ever since the start of my interest to get into the food world, I've always had a fascination with the lifestyle of chefs and those working the line behind the scenes of the world's greatest dining destinations. And when I say lifestyle I mean the hours they keep, the long days and nights on their feet hovering over flames and opened doors of hot ovens, and ending each shift wiping the sweat from their brows and heading home - or to a neighborhood watering hole - smelling like the evening specials. What is it about this industry and these kitchens that attract so many to want to jump into the fire, get dirty, greasy, and beaten up by the onslaught of never-ending tickets demanding more plates of graceful-looking seared duck and artistically marked filet mignon?

I had heard about it for the past couple of weeks and couldn't wait for it to air. Last night, the Travel Channel showed the episode 'Into the Fire' with Anthony Bourdain. After 28 years in the industry, Bourdain decided to write a book that in his words "I thought no one would read" about what really goes on behind the scenes. The book led to a series on the Travel Channel that he thought "No one would ever watch". His new life of traveling the world and publicizing his kitchen memoir led him out of the kitchen he ran eight years ago in New York City; Les Halles (pronounced la hall). Last night he returned, partially to prove to a few nagging bloggers - and admittedly to himself - that he could go back and handle working it on the line again.

I thought the show was brilliantly done and really took viewers through what happens once a table sits down, orders are taken, and the ticket is placed. They did a beautiful job of basically showing a visual aid of the layout of the kitchen and I was quickly taken back to my quick run at restaurant Bleu a few months back to finalize my training at school. They showed how the line is set up: the grillardin station (grill), saucier (sauces), and garde manger (cold plates and appetizers). Tony has always paid homage to the line cooks, which he often calls out to be mostly Hispanic, whipping out those classical French dishes. He is so respectful and of course followed the kitchen brigade (hierarchy) system with much respect and even responding to the executive chef with a "yes, Chef!". The man who now has Tony's former job of executive chef organizes and runs a kitchen that serves what he said today could run 700 covers a night! One cover is one patrons full meal from appetizer, to salad, entrée, and dessert. Even Tony was shocked at the amount of traffic Les Halles now works through. Back when he was running the restaurant, Les Halles had 80 tables. It now has well over 100.

You could see in his face that he was actually getting quite nervous for the double shift he was about to embark on. There were times when he missed plates on tickets because, as he learned, his eyesight isn't what it used to be. He literally couldn't read the tickets! He was constantly hammered on by the executive chef to move quicker, or to brown the cheese on the French Onion Soup longer. There was even a time when a few of his dishes were sent back to the kitchen from customers!

It was truly an adventure and highly entertaining. I obviously don't know Tony Bourdain personally, but from reading his work and thoughts on him, I know he didn't just do this for himself. In fact I think the bigger reason, if anything, was to show respect to those in the back of the kitchen who are putting in the long hours for virtually no pay day in and day out, without the big celebrity chef name, without the big network TV show, but with the true talent that keeps them rockin' the line and whipping out fantastic cuisine everyday.

As most Travel Channel shows do, this one will air again. If you're a fan, I'd highly recommend checking it out.




The Perfect Pic

One of the fun things about exploring a new world is learning from the pros. A couple of weeks ago we were in the test kitchen gathering items for what would be the day's photoshoot. I was delicately frosting the luscious chocolate ganache cupcakes and Linda was preparing the crowd-pleasing seared scallops that would go along side an elegant pile of mixed greens dressed in a meyer lemon vinaigrette when Mike Davis, photo editor, and John Givot, photo intern, walked into the kitchen. Mike wasn't technically participating in the shoot for the day, but he wanted to get John in on the action. The day's photographer would be none other than Martha Holmberg, editor of FOODday and Mix magazine. At times she escapes from her desk saturated with topic ideas, articles to review and edit, new products to test that will either pass or fail, and a general list of to-do's for both publications to spend time on another one of her many skills; food photography.

As the scallops were perfectly seared and I was slathering my fourth cupcake with ganache, Martha walked in ready to get moving with the shoot. Linda plated up the scallops with their golden brown edges and carefully piled a small bunch of mixed green leaves next to them. The two walk over to the far side of the photo studio and I quickly followed. Martha appeared to be getting frustrated with the outcome of her shots as she would 'click,' 'click,' 'click,' and then check her camera on what she had captured. There was just something she wanted - an angle, a lighting aspect, a focal point - that wasn't coming through as she expected. Just like clockwork, Mike and John walked back in. With an apple in one hand and lanyard-laced glasses, Mike gently stepped in, carefully positioned a white styrofoam square next to the plate and calmly began talking Martha through the shot. Over the past year, one thing that has caught my eye about the food world is the photography itself. Photography is something I've never understood, nor do I think I really have the patience for it, and because of that I respect it so much. How do photographers get that perfect shot? How do they know what the right lighting is, what the correct angle should be, and what focal point they want? We were all sort of mesmerized to hear his thought process outloud of what he's thinking in his mind when he's shooting. As the veteran photo editor was coaching the veteran magazine editor, John the intern decided to snap some shots of the scene.

photo by John Givot

As we moved on from the scallops, the delectable cupcakes were next. We first began by testing out some shots of me holding the cupcake; sort of an offering if you will. Again, the shots just weren't coming across as Martha had hoped (she assured me my cupcake holding skills were perfectly intact and that I wouldn't be fired). We then moved on to sitting the cupcake on the table. Mike had to depart by this time, but John hung around. He wasn't shy about trying his hand at teaching Martha a few tricks of the camera. It was one of those moments where the student had an opportunity to show his skills in the profession he hoped to grow in, and it was fun to watch. Martha was all ears and open to hearing his thoughts on tweaking the lighting this way or angling the cupcake that way.

A friend once told me that if you're really passionate about something, you're never truly an expert at it because you continue to have the drive to learn more about it. I think that day in the studio was a perfect example. After years of food magazine editing and being involved in food photography, Martha was still open to suggestions about getting that perfect picture. On the flip side, I saw Martha's willingness to listen to the intern as a way for him to grow and teach what he knew thus far in his education to someone who many would consider to be an expert in this field. And in the end it made an exciting learning experience for all of us.

If you are somewhat of an expert in what you do, make sure you nuture those around you who are trying to learn a little bit more. Yes, sometimes you're too busy and just want to get the task at hand done, but if the opportunity presents itself, teach. The outcome is you will have given a little extra spark to someone that may take them a bit further in their life's accomplishments, and at the same time, you'll reinforce the knowledge, expertise, and most importantly, passion you have within you.




If it wasn't for my mother...

On Thursday evening I had the honor of joining 14 other aspiring food writers at the home of Diane Morgan. An award-winning cookbook author and freelance food writer, Diane resides in Portland and hosts a yearly six-week course on The Art of Food Writing. I was lucky enough to jump at the opportunity when a former high school classmate and fellow food blogger, Keith, put the bug in my ear that Diane was registering attendees. The first night proved to be interesting, entertaining, and inspiring as the group did the classic round table of who we were, why we were there, and what we wanted for our paths to becoming food writers. We also received an in-depth, live biography of Diane's road through the industry. I am eager to embark on the remaining five classes of learning and developing and watching as all of our skills grow.

Diane wasted no time with a few exercises. One was focused on the art of recipe writing, which was an assignment due for the next class. But the first was a five-minute, free-writing exercise. I've done free-writing exercises in the past and for some reason always seem to forget how helpful they are when my mind is stuck or I'm avoiding my laptop surrounded by books and an abundance of topics that I could write about. Pick a topic, any topic, and with the five minutes that follow, write whatever comes to mind without stopping or critiquing any possible spelling or grammar errors. Diane gave us a topic, 'If it wasn't for my mother...' and then started the clock. Below is what I wrote...

If it wasn't for my mother, I would have never received the wonderful attention I received today at FOODday for bringing in her famous peanut butter chocolate chip cookies. I remember Allen asking me last week what my favorite childhood recipe was. I told hm it was probably my mom's, her "Mrs. Fields", cookies. I promised Allen I would bring them in. Days past and I finally gathered all of the ingredients I needed. Last night I composed the batter, but waited until this morning to bake them. I wanted the cookies to be fresh and in their absolute best light; for this was their day to shine, and in a sense, my mom's day to shine at one of Portland's most well-respected authorities on food. So I popped them in the oven at 9:15am and carefully stood by for the nine minutes of baking. They were each perfectly uniform and looked like heaven. (End of five-minute free-write, but I decided to continue on this morning...)

The smell was just as I remembered when my mom used to make them; warm semi-sweet chocolate chips, brown sugar, vanilla, and creamy peanut butter. What more could you want on a cold winter day? And still today, just as when I was a kid, it's incredibly tough for me to refrain from nibbling on the remaining cooking dough sitting in the bowl, waiting for its time in the oven. I tell everyone that, in my opinion, the dough is the best part. By the time the cookies are done, I've had so much of the decadent cookie dough that I have no need for an actual cookie. And lucky for those in the newsroom, that was the case yesterday. I did two-and-a-half sheet pans, yielding 35 cookies. For some reason, three came out a bit more toasty than the others so those stayed behind, about five went to my good friend and artist of my freshly sculpted eyebrows, Ingrid, so that left about 27 for the paper. I placed all 27 on one of my new, white, square plates with the rounded edges and carefully wrapped them with two layers of plastic wrap. The plate slid perfectly inside my Culinate cloth grocery bag and were ready for the trip to the transit center, a ride on the Max, and the walk from Pioneer Courthouse Square up Broadway to 1320 SW Broadway.

When I arrived in the kitchen Allen was heating up his lunch in one of the microwaves. "Allen, I have something for you today," I said and carefully placed the bag on the counter. I was a bit hesitant to bring them out too quickly, though. Why? The day prior I had chatted with Mike Davis, photo editor for the Oregonian. Mike often times doubles as the actual photographer and shoots many of the shots featured in FOODday and MIX magazine. I had an idea. "How cool would it be for my mom to have a couple of stylized photos of her famous cookies?" I asked him with a look on my face that most likely resembled that of a five-year-old little girl asking her father for the doggy in the window. Mike immediately agreed the idea would be a great one. So before announcing the arrival of the cookies to the newsroom I was glad when Mike walked into the kitchen for another photoshoot planned for the day. While Linda and Danielle discussed the recipes for the "real" photoshoot, I asked Mike if he wanted to "warm up" and shoot some photos of the cookies. He, of course, said yes, and we snuck into a corner of the studio to shoot. It is amazing what the magic of a camera, and cameraman, can do. The cookies are delectable on their own, but with a few clicks and minor adjustments to the cookies, Mike took them to a new level of stardom.

And one for the dunkers; catching the actual drop coming off the cookie...go Mike!

And I'm glad Mike got the shots. Once word spread that they were in the kitchen, they were being gobbled by the second, and after a quick walk through the newsroom, they were gone for good. And Allen nearly lost his chance, too, but snagged one just in the nick of time.

Now as most food bloggers always supply recipes for their sweet and savory creations, I must refrain. This is my mother's recipe and it's always been her wish that it stays in the family...sorry. Maybe someday she'll decide to send it out to the rest of the world, but that will be her decision. For me, it's not my recipe to give out; I guess I'm just lucky to be in the family!
Thanks, mom, and all the mom's out there who create those special, one-of-a-kind goodies that last from childhood and beyond.



Hail the Parsnip!

As you may have guessed by now, Tuesdays are my new favorite day. Well, Saturdays will always be first, but when it comes to weekdays, Tuesdays are now it. I've gotten out of my late-night routine of slaving away over hot, gas stoves in the kitchens at school and not hitting my pillow until the wee hours of 12:00 or 1:00am, to now rising at 5:00am for a 5:30am spinning class. The mornings prove to be cold and dark, but I love the feeling of being able to hear a pin drop as I go out to my car and head off to the gym. The sense of being up before the rest of the world and getting that much-needed workout done before 6:30am is always worth getting up for. And greeting my fellow spinners in class is an added bonus.

My other reason for loving Tuesdays? When I get home from class I know I'll be able to open up the paper to find recipes I've helped cook for shaping stories in the day's FOODday. My favorite recipes in today's edition? Parsnips! They're my new favorite vegetable. A root vegetable, parsnips have a visual appearance of white carrots and carry a sweet flavor to them. Linda and I couldn't get enough of the Roasted Parsnips with Balsamic Vinegar and Rosemary. Wow. They were a delectable surprise hot from the oven as Mike so gracefully shot for the photo on page FD3. And let me tell you, they were even delicious cold out of the refrigerator the next day! It may be due to the cold weather, or maybe it's the fact that it really is easy to make at home, but soups are hot on my list of favorite foods to curl up with right now. The Parsnip, Carrot and Ginger Soup concoction is another hit. The sweetness of the parsnips with a little punch of the carrots and sherry vinegar make it a savory bowl to carry in your palms on these incredibly chilly days we're experiencing in Portland. Lastly, the Heidi's Parsnip Muffins were a sweet treat for skeptics out in the newsroom. When a few voices in the photo department heard I was testing muffins made with grated parsnips, their faces became covered with looks of disgust. "Well, think of a carrot muffin, or carrot cake," I told them, and their faces came back to normalcy. Like Linda and I were with the roasted parsnips this group was with the muffins. They're perfect, and like everything else, are just delicious. And you can still feel good about them as they're made with vegetables! I stopped by the store on my way home from work last night to pick up my bunch of parsnips, and I highly suggest you hop to it and get yourself a bag as well. If you try any of the recipes, let me know what you think!

Savory waffles? No warm maple syrup, no fruit compote, no whipped cream? Yeah, that's sort of what we thought when Grant approached us to come up with some toppings for the increasingly popular food. Once we opened our minds a bit, though, Linda, Grant and I couldn't stop coming up with savory items to add to them. "Ok, so think of just about anything you can top a pizza with," I said to the two as the idea was beginning to make the wheels in my mind spin. Later that afternoon, Linda and I could have honestly sat at her PC for hours thinking of different items to top on the buttermilk and cornmeal-filled goodies. It's fun once you get going. I've promised more than one friend a Sunday brunch at my place for a while now. I must get it on the calendar, for now I have something unique to play with! A "Savory Waffle Sunday Brunch?" Yum!

Yes, it's cold out, but be sure to enjoy the gorgeous clear blue sky and bright sunshine welcoming the city on this Tuesday.

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