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.


Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...