Coming from a land of amazing vineyards just outside of Portland, I found it funny, then, to spot random fields of vineyards along the way.
Coming from a land of amazing vineyards just outside of Portland, I found it funny, then, to spot random fields of vineyards along the way.
My first stop was in the quaint little town of Ashland, Ore. My only regret is that I arrived a bit later than I have planned. I descended upon the southern-Oregon town slightly after 6: 00 p.m. and was greeted by a bit of chaos; an enormous brush fire that consumed nearly both sides of the freeway and took with it 11 homes. What's more, it was happening right down the road from my hotel.
Though so exhausted upon my arrival into Ashland, I couldn't miss out on exploring the sweet town so I headed away from the fire, across the freeway and back in time to the adorable spot that's home to the famed Shakespeare Festival. I didn't have much time, but quickly found a modern Thai joint that was situated directly across the street from Lithia Park. How perfect? The name was Sesame Asian Kitchen, and from the menu selection I read on the door plus a recent article they had hanging up written in the New York Times just in July, I decided this was a good bet. My choice? The Korean Ssäm. Quite a presentation -- the noodles were a bit much to eat around but I managed -- and quite delicious.
On a recent Friday evening, I had the pleasure of attending a media opening for Produce Row Café. The well-established watering hole in Portland's industrial district off of SE Water Avenue had just experienced a bit of a makeover, and this night was its coming out party. I'll admit, I had never been to the original. I've finally come to terms that I'll never hit every individual food and libation spot in this city, so onward and upward.
When I entered the venue I was pleasantly surprised by its refreshed, yet cozy interior that still looks like it's been there for years. A large, solid-wood community table to the left, flanked with mismatched chairs and sweet, tiny vases of fresh flowers sits directly across the L-shaped bar that stares at patrons with its mirrored backdrop and row of brass beer spouts. The space is impressive in size, and intelligent in layout. From the bar, guests can flow to the community table or individual, two-person spots, then meander over to the comfortable sitting area with its vintage seating pieces that over look the majority of the space. And as the evening continues, and imbibers and eaters look for a more secluded area, they have the option of continuing on to high-backed, black leather U-shaped booths that lead the way to the cafe's amazing back patio -- which will, undoubtedly, be the place to hang if summer in Portland ever manages to make an appearance.
From a Cucumber Margarita to Nachos with Avocado Salad, Mozzarella Sticks and Pork Sliders (can we say, "pork confit?"), the introduction into the venue's menu was another pleasant surprise. Think bar food with some added thought from the kitchen to each dish. It's a location that's long-time, regular 'Norms' should welcome back with open arms, and newbies should check into real soon.
A perfect day for Provence.
What better way to catch up with an old friend than over one of the week's favorite meals: brunch? When my friend Joscelyn and I finally nailed down a day to reconnect she suggested brunch at Petite Provence off of Alberta. I was familiar with La Provence in Lake Oswego, but
had yet to try any of the other locations. Yesterday had to be one of the most dreary yet in Portland, but my mind quickly lightened up when I stepped inside. It was a madhouse, but the action brought liveliness to the scene and to my soul. I was totally enamored by it all: the French-cafe feel, the coffee counter that lay straight ahead, and, of course, the amazing pastry case filled with enough goods to keep a sweet-lover swooning for hours. The wait? About twice as long as we were told. The food? A plate that was more than enough, but left our tummies so happy. I had the savory French toast; and what an interested twist from the usual sweet treat it was.
Some other things I just loved this week...
- An afternoon of education and tasting of olive oil out at Red Ridge Farms in Dayton. It was held at the Oregon Olive Mill and Portland Culinary Alliance members were given a special discounted invite. Who knew there was so much to learn about how good olive oil should taste? Admittedly, I learned I was a bit used to some varieties that, in truth, were known to be rancid. I guess the journey of educating and refining our palates never ends.
- Lunch with a good friend at Kinara Thai Bistro in Goose Hollow. I actually tried something aside from chicken pad Thai, and enjoyed the cashew chicken with brown rice -- the most gorgeous brown rice I've ever scene.
- Cocktails and catch-up time with the girls out in McMinnville. It had been quite a while since I was able to hang out with my long-time friends Carrie and Sheila. Sheila was incredibly eager to show off her cocktail making skills to Carrie and myself, who quickly learned we were truly guinea pigs for her mad libation creations. They were awesome, and I think she could quickly be on her way to cocktail-book stardom any day now.
When their writing instructor, Laurie Watson, contacted me, I was a bit nervous at first. Me, get in front of a classroom full of students and talk about my life in food writing? My life that's still working on itself? I did think it would be good for me as I'd never really given a presentation before, so I didn't take too much time responding.
To my surprise, I actually enjoyed putting the preso together. More often than not, I tend to get pretty hard on myself for how slowly this food writing life is coming together. I'm learning to practice patience more and more each day, but I'm definitely the type who prefers things move along much more quickly than they usually do. Anyway, as I was putting my thoughts together I did feel pretty accomplished from what I've done so far, and was glad that I had some good clips to show to the class from outlets like Citysearch and Tasting Table. I also enjoyed going into a section I had reserved just for them, which focused more on possible reactions like 'so, I just want to be a chef, I don't really need to write well'. For those reactions I was able to throw in the need to market and promote their restaurants, and that they might find themselves writing up their own menus or even drafting press releases about their venue's upcoming events. Ever want to write a cookbook? You bet they've thought about it. Did they have issues in food that they were passionate about and wanted to voice their opinions on -- salmon fishing, sustainability, organics, etc.? There are so many different angles and reasons to hone in on good writing skills. I've always believed that, even before my journey into food writing. If you can write, those skills can take you anywhere.
The opportunity to speak to those kids felt really nice, and I wasn't even nervous during the presentation. I guess it helps as it was one part about my experience and one part about a passion I have. From what I've heard that seems to be the secret to a good presentation. At the end of class, Laurie put out a newsletter of the school's Food Writers' Club for which I'd contributed articles to while I was a student there. The best part? As the students were leaving, one of them approached me and asked me for my autograph. He said, "You just seem like you're really going somewhere." Does it get any better than that?
Some other things I just loved this week...
- A food writers' dinner at The Original. I'll never deny that the perks of being involved in the food scene are second to none. And, I'll never get tired of being invited to attend food events happening around the city. The dinner at The Original was to celebrate the venue's year-plus time in Portland as well as a redesigned menu. It was fun to see some familiar faces (very typical in Portland; a small town with a LOT of foodies running around in similar circles). Our menu included a three-course dinner that kicked off with welcome cocktails. The stand-outs bites for me?: Chicken & Ham Fritters with romesco sauce, Cattail Creek Lamb Meatballs with sofrito, olives, & a grilled baguette, and Fried Apple Pie with cinnamon ice cream, caramel and thyme. Delish.
- Coffee at the new Public Domain. The coffee shop, located at SW Alder at Broadway, just opened at the end of April. I was invited there to meet up with Amy Brown of Seed Public Relations to finally introduce ourselves in person and just chit chat about the funny world we live in. Amy also does the PR for the spot. Cute place. Incredibly fresh, airy interior that doesn't set the stage for a coffeehouse full of laptops--kind of a nice change. Public Domain is the flagship brand for Coffee Bean International. The new spot prides itself on being a resource for educating patrons about brewing, cupping and just plain enjoying great coffee. Public Domain hosts some unique special events like public cuppings daily at 1 p.m., home brewing classes (first Saturday of every month beginning on June 5) and even happy hour espresso tastings every Thursday from 4 - 6 p.m. What's more? The staff there are an absolute delight and weren't shy in telling me how much they absolutely adore working there. Now that's something you don't hear everyday.
- Getting the "ok" to move forward on my first write-up for the national foodie online site, Culinate.com. Clips continue to add up, and I like it.
The New Culinary Order
This enchanted story of once upon a time, actually didn't happen that long ago. Last week from April 21 to April 24, The New Culinary Order descended upon Portland and created what many heavily involved in the world of food and drink may look back on as a fairytale. What began its first night with an unforgettable host city reception at Portland's The Nines hotel transcended itself into four days of seminars focusing on all aspects of the culinary world; which began in the wee hours of the morning, and led to late-night rendezvous that included intimate sessions with food industry stars and hush, hush dinner parties throughout the entire city.
Our Days and Nights
Daytime workshops held throughout the Oregon Convention Center, The Portland Art Museum, The Art Institute and many more delicious Portland venues took hungry attendees through sessions and workshops on topics such as: Hands-On Digital Food Photography with famed food photographer and blogger Matt Armendariz; Oregon Truffles with author and founder of Oregon White Truffle Oil Jack Czarnecki; Guerilla Marketing for Culinary Professionals with Virginia Willis; and Recipe Development with blogger and recipe developer Amy Sherman. Those wanting to learn lessons and sit in with experts partook in Night Owl sessions held nightly including: Reinventing Your Food Writing Career with Dianne Jacobs; Self-Publishing: A Story from the Front Lines with Jean Duane; A Culinary Conversation with Anne Willan and Virginia Willis; and Culinary Hustling with culinary entrepreneur and mogul Andrew Schloss.
Warning: Star Sightings Ahead
Like any lover of the food world, or one who is looking to find their spot within this incredible industry, I was, of course, star-struck throughout the entire week. There is something magical about meeting those whose books you've read and adored or have given you inspiration, or those whose recipes have delivered to you unforgettable eats, or thoughts have caused you to view food in a different way. The stars at this show proved no different. A list of A-listers who set foot in Portland last week (Off the top of my head. It's entirely possible that I'm missing a few): Ruth Reichl, Judith Jones, Madhur Jaffrey, Michael Ruhlman, Andrew Dornenburg, Karen Page, Virginia Willis, Anne Willan, Andrew Schloss, Kim Severson, Dianne Jacob, Jaden Hair, Brad Farmerie, and many more. I remember attempting to take about a million pictures of Ruth, or which none came out. The iPhone cannot be depended upon for everything.
Job Well Done
And I'm definitely not speaking about a filet. Congratulations to Portland's host committee, led by Mike Thelin. The conference was one that's conversations was off the charts on Twitter chatter (check out conversations at hashtag #iacp), and one that had many who could not attend in complete envy. It was one that raised the bar for future IACP conferences. I was happy to be here, happy to be involved with coordinating some of the events and as a volunteer, and so proud that it was in my home city. Honestly, there was no better place to be.
For my 'Some other things I just loved this week' section, I've picked out top highlights for me from IACP:
- Some one-on-one time with the woman whose book, Will Write for Food, was the first guide I picked up on food writing, Dianne Jacob. I chauffeured Dianne to an event she needed to attend after one of her Night Owl Sessions. When I first picked up her book a few years ago, I can honestly say I didn't think I would ever be giving her a lift in the Jetta. Life is so fascinating that way.
- Finally seeing Ruth. Murmurs began at the host city reception that 'someone just saw Ruth', but my eyes didn't make that a reality until Friday at the conference. I attended an intimate session where Ruth discussed her PBS series "Gourmet's Adventures with Ruth." It was so fantastic to listen to her discuss details of an episode we watched in the room with her, the trials and tribulations of filming, and her thoughts on bringing the series back post-Gourmet. One thing that stuck with me - aside from what a fantastic writer and editor Ruth is - is a) she has great hair, and b) she has a unmistakeable, deep voice. I loved listening to her talk. The series is still available and can be streamed online at www.gourment.com/adventureswithruth.
- After four days of hearing about sightings of Michael Ruhlman sipping on cups of Starbucks, learning that the amazingly intelligent IACP host committee sent Ruhlman home with a bag of Stumptown. THANK the Lord for that one.
- Being face-to-face with Judith Jones as she signed a bookplate for my copy of Mastering the Art of French Cooking. Judith Jones. Being so close to that kind of history caused my eyes to well up a bit. Wow, what a figure of culinary food writing history.
Toast Bellinis for...toasting
Housemade Brioche roll w/housemade caramel sauce
Benny and the Mets; Toast's version of Eggs Benedict w/homemade English muffins
Housemade Brioche rolls w/ground sausage and scrambled eggs
Dismal Times - though I think not
- Happy Hour with the girls at Departure atop The Nines hotel. Departure is decidedly so not what people expect in Portland, but I look at it as a breath of fresh air. And I can't wait until the sun decides to make an appearance again along with it's most complementary friend - warmer weather. This place delivers an amazing view of the city and a prime location to sip cocktails and dine on artistically presented Asian cuisine while seated on top of the world. Ok, on top of the Rose City.
- The receipt of my April issue of MIX magazine: Portland's magazine of food + drink. I opened up the April issue to find inside three articles from three of my most favorite Portland food writing Dames: Lizzy Caston, Ashley Gartland, and Andrea Slonecker. All totally original and inventive stories. Nice work, Dames.
What better celebration food is there than pizza? I really am a pizza freak, as it's one of few foods I actually get distinct cravings for on occasion, regular occasion. And making it homemade really is so simple.
Pizza dough is actually quite easy to make, and you can find varieties that allow you to make it and use within a few hours, vs. having to allow it to sit overnight to rise. See this recipe here for a dough that will be ready to roll out in just over an hour. Otherwise, it can't get any easier than purchasing pizza dough from your local grocery store (like I did, shhhh), and even sometimes, your favorite pizzeria might sell you some.
If you're the indecisive type, making your own pizza might be a nightmare. Why? Because what you can top it with is just so limitless. Just let your imagination go. Making homemade pizza might be the best thing to make given the items in your fridge or pantry that you might need to use up. For tonight's, my two inspirations were simple for me to decide upon: A pizza Margherita (with fresh mozzarella, tomato sauce, proscuitto and basil) and a Greek-inspired pizza (olive oil, feta cheese, caramelized onions, roasted garlic and kalamata olives).
I won't lie, rolling out the dough did require a bit of muscle, but it was worth it. And the pies were a hit.
- A chicken ramen noodle bowl at BIWA. I took the menu's advice and ordered it with the egg. The best ramen I've ever had. I can still taste it and can't wait to venture back for more.
- Spiced cashew nuts at the Veritable Quandry on Friday night before seeing comedian Chelsea Handler at the Keller Auditorium. I was sharing them with a friend and am certain I ate the entire bowl myself.
- Two firsts: my first Peruvian brunch ever during my first visit to Limo. What a treat? I went with Breakfast in Bridgetown author, Paul Gerald, and some of his breakfast-eating posse. Great people, excellent food, and with great service. The waiter divided up our tabs (10 of them) individually, without having to be asked. Ok, that's rare in this town. Bravo, Don.
Last week was a bit of a whirlwind as I was busy gearing up for a tradeshow for a new PR client I recently obtained. But, traveling to the tradeshow did spark some culinary interest. Mainly it was that of appreciation.
I was wise enough to refrain from snacking on the packaged, bland carbs given to us on the plane down to Anaheim, but upon arrival to my hotel room at roughly 7:00 p.m., I was left little choice but to order in room service for dinner. In a location surrounded by an insane amount of food chain establishments, I spent less than five minutes searching and brainstorming for alternative dining options that didn't involve calling 4115 on my hotel room phone. I surrendered quickly and just ordered a cobb salad off the menu. Really, how terrible could a cobb salad really be. Well...
Ok, I'm probably being a bit of a food snob here, but the salad was lackluster. The grilled chicken sandwich the night following was a bit better, but not by too much of a long shot. Lesson learned? My appreciation for Portland, it's restaurants and the food they dish up grew even deeper. Yes, from just two nights away. I love traveling, but my tummy is happy that I'm back home.
Some other things I loved this week...
- Getting back to some good gastronomical lit. I've had M.F.K. Fisher's The Art of Eating sitting on my nightstand for a while now, and finally cracked it open. This is the 50th Anniversary Edition and includes her famed essays: Serve it Forth, Consider the Oyster, How to Cook a Wolf, The Gastronomical Me and An Alphabet for Gourmets. In a world of reading lots of online news blasts and choppy food writing, it's refreshing to be reminded of some true gastronomical lit.
- "The Storm Over Salt" section in the Feb. 22 - Mar. 1 issue of New York magazine. I love all the different types of salt that's out there, am still very much a student of all the varieties and remain fascinated by them all.
- Portland's March issue of MIX magazine; "Our French Issue." Really, is there any more to say? I read it from cover to cover on the plane, and cannot wait to make Editor Martha Holmberg's soufflé.