Monday, April 26, 2010

Biking and Biting Our Way Across Portland with Ivy Manning and IACP

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Portland seems to be on the tip of everyone's tongue these days. Artsy, progressive, hip, creative, green, and bike-friendly are common descriptors of this magnetic city. I went to Portland last week, as an attendee at the annual IACP (International Association of Culinary Professionals) conference, curious to see how much of the hype was, well, just that.

I came away, infected with 3rd degree P.O.S. : Portland Obsession Syndrome. Man, they're doing some really cool stuff there. And everywhere you look there's something beautiful and hand-crafted, be it in garden, in glass, or on plate. It's so easy to get around, and the people are friendly, and there's this immeasurable quality of hominess, even downtown. The sprawl has been contained, leaving emerald green vistas around it's borders, and it kinda kills me--now that we bought a house in Missoula-- knowing that surfing is only an hour away.

Portland, I get it. I totally and completely get it. You have taken the sparkle from my new home town, and given me a major case of the P.O.S. Blues.

Below is a photo essay detailing the responsible parties and purveyors. Suspect number 1 is Ivy Manning, author of The Farm to Table Cookbook and The Adaptable Feast. She led a couple dozen of us through the streets of Northeast P-Town on an unforgettable Urban Bike and Bite Tour.

That's her in the yellow jacket, as our little biker gang is parking in front of our first stop: Toro Bravo . We walk into this warm and romantic little restaurant and they have the tables set for us with roasted nuts, olives, bread, sherry-spiked chicken liver mousse, pickled beets, and of course, wonderfully juicy Sangria.

That was just the beginning. Plate after platter of food was delivered to table: grilled local asparagus with serrano ham, split prunes stuffed with foie gras, impossibly fluffy salt cod fritters with aioli, and this scrumptious pan of Fideos.

Fideos is a paella made with buccatini-like noodles. Toro Bravo's was bejeweled with fennel sausage, spring peas, and sliced lemon. The perfect amount of saffron-scented nectar tied the dish together, and crispy breadcrumbs added a sparkle of crunch to each bite.


The memory of that Fideos will plague me with longing until my next trip to Portland. It was with great reluctance that we pushed ourselves away from the table, but Ivy had many more stops planned for our tour, and the road beckoned.

Next we toured the main commisary kitchen of Grand Central Bakery, with Piper Davis, co-author of The Grand Central Baking Book .

Piper's mother,Gwenyth Bassetti, was the founder of Grand Central, which distributes it's artisanal breads and baked goods across the Northwest. I enjoyed eating Grand Central bread when I lived in Seattle, so it was interesting to see the heart of this little baking empire. Most impressive was the fact that this family business has stayed committed to the local/sustainable model, even as it's grown to be a rather large bakery. In spite of the fact that they're baking thousands of pies, pastries, cookies, and breads every day, they're able to create a product that tastes like it came out of Grandma's kitchen. It's about the winning combination of good ingredients and good management. It was inspiring to see such a succesful example of these ideals on a very real-world scale.

Next stop was The Meadow ,


a little shop filled with beautiful things. Proprietors Jennifer and Mark Bitterman

have impeccable taste and it shows. Everywhere you look, something precious, pretty, aromatic, or flavorful entices your senses. What the shop is most known for is it's collection of finishing salts from around the world:
They have the most extensive collection of salts in the world. In fact, Mark Bitterman is a Selmelier; in other words, a bona fide expert on salt. His upcoming book, Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral, with Recipes (Ten Speed Press), is due out on October 12, 2010.

The Meadow carries more than just salt.
There is also Chocolate,

Wine,

And Flowers!

These Himalayan Salt blocks are one of the big sellers at the store.

Not only are they a lovely rose color, but you can heat them up and use as a cooking stone. How cool is that?!

Just across the street-- Missisipi Street, that is-- is Portland's favorite taqueria,


Translation: Why not? That's a good question. Why you wouldn't eat here, I don't know. We got to sample much of the menu, including carnitas tacos, pollo verde tacos, and surprisingly good veggie (verduras) tacos. I was especially impressed with the Pescado (fish) taco.

It struck the perfect balance of sweet, creamy, salty, and crisp, and it's the first thing I'll order next time I go.

Moving along...

This place got me really fired up. It may have had something to do with the fact that the primary cooking source in the restaurant is a wood-fired oven. Ned Ludd, you see, was the father of the "Luddites", a term now used to refer to those who reject technological advances. There's something very primal happening at Ned Ludd, with it's stacks of chopped wood, and artful rusticity.
We dined on meat pie, house made pickles, and greens wrapped in porchetta. It was all very earthy and low-tech and outrageously inspiring. If you ever have the chance, GO THERE.

Our final pit stop was restaurant, Lincoln:


A super sexy eatery serving what I would call sleek Italian fare. Our last and final course for the day was a rhubarb-topped panna cotta, superbly airy and light. If only I had more room, or maybe a hollow leg, I would have loved to sample Lincoln's savory options (like Whole wheat fettucine with fiddlehead ferns, morel mushrooms and creme fraiche). Word on the street is that they are highly sought after as wedding caterers.

 And with that we headed back to Pedal Bike Tours HQ. They did a great job of providing bikes, helmets, and making sure no one went splat. Ivy Manning's IACP tour was a one-shot deal, but if you'd like to eat and bike your way across Portland, Pedal Bike Tours is adding a new food tour to their roster this summer. 

Thanks for riding along with Food-G. Ivy Manning showed us one helluva good time. It was an incredible, decadent, delicious, and FUN day, and the beginning of a rather persistent case of P.O.S. There will surely be more to come on Portland (my new obsession).

Wednesday, April 14, 2010

THE Monte Cristo: A Breakfast for Late Risers

Do you ever have those mornings when you just can't decide between breakfast or lunch? Maybe you slept in, and eggs sound good, but so does a sandwich...WHAT TO DO??

Here's what:

The fabulous Monte Cristo, a little known breakfast / lunch straddler. I met my first (and best) Monte Cristo at Betty's Diner in Boyne Falls, Michigan-- one of the greatest low-brow breakfast joints in the Great Lakes state. I've never met Betty personally, but my family should build a shrine to her for as much as we worship her good old fashioned home-cooking.

There are many inferior versions of the Monte Cristo out there-- some of them even deep fried and drenched in maple syrup (no thank you), but Betty's perfect Monte Cristo is the muse for my re-creation of this sandwich. Chicken, ham, and swiss cheese are sandwiched between two pieces of french toast and served with a side of sour cream and jam. The sour cream and jam isn't always served with Monte Cristo preparations, and I've wondered if it's a Michigan-thing, or maybe even a Yooper-thing. As far as I'm concerned, it makes the experience; a little dab of each adorning every warm and fluffy bite.

It took a couple trys, but I think I finally nailed it.

The "Betty's" Monte Cristo
(serves 2)

1/3 cup milk
2 tablespoons pure maple syrup (from Michigan if possible)
2 eggs
1/2 teaspoon vanilla extract
1/8 teaspoon salt
few grinds fresh pepper
1 pat butter (don't overdo it-- it makes the french toast flat and greasy)
4 slices english muffin bread, or other good toasting bread
4-6 thin slices smoked ham
4-6 thin slices chicken breast
3 slices swiss cheese
raspberry jam
sour cream

Combine milk, eggs, vanilla, maple syrup, salt and pepper in a medium bowl and whisk to combine.

Melt butter in a large skillet over medium heat. Dip each slice of bread into egg mixture until thoroughly coated. Place in buttered skillet. Flip when the underside is golden brown, 3 to 5 minutes.

Once flipped, top 2 of the pieces with swiss cheese (1 1/2 slices each). On the other 2 pieces, layer the chicken and ham. When the other side of the french toast is golden brown, sandwich the two sides together. If the meat and cheese needs a little more time to heat, just continue to grill the sandwich, flipping occasionally until cheese is melted and everything is heated through.

Cut each Monte Cristo crosswise and serve with ramekins of sour cream and raspberry jam.

Monte Cristo Sandwiches on Foodista

Thursday, April 1, 2010

Food for Thought: The Secret of Dominica

Sometimes as travelers, we come across places that are so beautiful, so rare, and so full of nature’s magic, that we want to keep them a secret. Food-G fans and followers, this one's between you and me.

Dominica.

I knew it was special the moment we sailed within view, as it glowed in bright green, framed by a vivid rainbow.


You've probably never heard of it, don't know how to pronounce it (dome-uh-NEE-ka), and are wondering if it's that country attached to Haiti. It's not.

Dominica, located between the Carribbean islands of Guadeloupe and Martinique , is a "natural" kind of island. Abundant fruits, flowers, waterfalls, birds, mountains and rivers add to a lifestyle that celebrates and depends on Earth's abundance. This place is a nature lover's paradise. If you have a spirit of adventure and appreciate rustic, unspoiled beauty and rich local culture, then you're in for a very special treat.

You may have seen parts of the island, like the cypress-lined Indian River, in Pirates of the Carribbean 2.


 It's a curious fact that Dominica has one of the highest rates of centenarians (people over 100 years of age) per capita, in the world. A woman there by the name of Israel, recently passed away at the age of 128.

While anchored off the shores of Portsmouth for 5 days, we took a tour of the Northern tip of the island with a wonderful guide named Martin Carriere.

This fact was one of the first he shared with us.

“People live a long time on Dominica,” he told us. "By the end of our day together, you will understand why."

****************

The first place Martin took us was to a shack in the forest. He picked a leaf from the ground and asked us to smell it and guess what kind of leaf it was.

“Ginger! Cinnamon! Clove! Nutmeg!” we called out, all of us wrong.
“It is bay,” he explained. And the shack in the forest was a distillery which made rum out of bay leaves.

The aroma of these bay leaves was much spicier than the grocery store varieties back in the states He listed the things bay leaves were used for: teas, rum, soups, stews, medicines, etc.

Next, he took us to a small home in the forest. When I looked around this seemingly wild setting, I noticed that fruit was hanging from the trees: coconuts,

tangerines, calabash gourds,

and something that looked and tasted like a small, low-acid grapefruit. Martin took out his pocket knife and shaved the bark from a tree.

I held it to my nose: CINNAMON!

He plucked a yellow pod from a tree and cut it open.

It was cacao. Each purple-fleshed cacao bean was encased in slick white pith.

“Taste,” Martin urged,handing me the pod. “Don’t chew, just suck on the outside. You won't like the taste of the beans inside.”

The cacao bean casings were sweet, sour, a bit creamy, and nothing at all like the chocolate.

As we travelled along in Martin’s white van, driving up, over and around volcanic mountains, he pointed out tree after bush after vine bearing some kind of fruit, nut, or medicine: yams, castor beans (for castor oil), bananas, ginger, sugar cane, vanilla orchids, okra. Even cultivated crops seemed to blend into the lush landscape.

Martin plucked one delicious tropical treat after another, offering us samples of flavors unknown to our American palates. And with each plant, he knew what kind of ailment it could treat, from eczema to nail fungus to respiratory health.

We stopped at a beautiful beach, framed in rocky cliffs, where he chopped a stalk of sugar cane, peeled the bark, and cut juicy bite-sized pieces for us. As I chewed the woody pith, the sweet liquid ran down my throat like hummingbird nectar, and I listened to Martin tell us how chewing the wood helped to clean the teeth.

“Noni” he said, picking a knobbly pale-green orb from a tree, “is a very powerful medicine.
Put it in a bowl until it turns black. It will smell very strong and eventually the skin will crack, and ooze a liquid. That liquid is very good for detoxification, and cancer prevention.”

Side note: We took a Noni fruit back to the boat with us, and within 48 hours the cabin reeked of the smelliest, moldiest Limburger you can imagine. We didn’t keep it around long enough to drink the ooze but the smell was amazing in its putridness.

Along the way, we passed many people walking on the roadside, and every single one of them waved and called out greetings, Martin calling back.

“Eh mon! How you going mon? Yah mon!” they would shout to each other.
“Welcome to dee island!” they would shout to us.

At first I wondered if Martin knew all of them. We were stopped by a waterfall eating sweet fresh bananas from the tree, when an elderly man walked up and began to chat with Martin in a language I didn’t recognize. When he left, Martin explained that it is customary to greet and talk with passers by. This way, there are no strangers. The elderly man, he said, was speaking to him in Creole. There were efforts among the islands people to keep this language in use, now that English is the primary language.

We covered but 40 miles and perhaps one-sixth of the island throughout the day. The homes we saw were modest. Many without electricity or running water. There was a noticeable absence of things like televisions, or the big resorts and mansions that have popped up on the hillsides of other Caribbean locales. But everywhere we went there was an authentic sort of wealth.

Doors were wide open, or altogether absent. People sat on their porches conversing, or sharing fresh fruit or a bowl of stew. Little girls—always in pairs, it seemed—waved and smiled huge smiles at us as we passed. It was Sunday, and mothers were walking home from church, with their children skipping along behind them, dressed in crisp, white, neatly-pressed clothes.

We stopped at a small cinder-block house when Martin saw some of his friends. It sat on one of the most beautiful beaches I have ever seen. Two rocky islands rested off shore, and a couple of perfectly-spaced palm trees arced towards the water—the perfect hammock spot. It was the end of a hot day and we were grateful to be offered cold beers. There had just been an election and Martin’s friends, happy about the results, were driving around with a loud speaker proclaiming their victory. When they drove away they turned on their loud speaker and called out to us, “Thank you for coming to Dominica! We love you!”

On the way back to Portsmouth, Martin told us stories of his childhood. How his mother was happy when the mangoes were ripe, because she didn’t have to cook so much. He and his siblings would walk home from school eating mangoes from the trees, the fruit oozing it’s sweet tropical juices. There was no need for candy. When the children had belly aches from too many mangoes, she knew just what leaf or seed or bean or herb to pick to heal them.

I’ve heard it said about the Mediterranean, that it’s not only the natural local diet, but the sense of community people have with their neighbors that keeps them free of ailments like heart disease and cancer. There was a quality to the lives of Dominica’s inhabitants that made me feel envious, and more so because it seemed that the lifestyle here was not taken for granted. The people, at least in this little corner of the island, were living not only off the land, but off each other. Everyone talked to everyone, and very few people we saw were alone. This place, these people, this land, and this lifestyle had a wholeness to it that could be felt.

I think the official motto of the country best sums up it’s spirit:

"Apr├Ęs Bondie, C'est La Ter" (Antillean Creole)

"After God is the Earth"

When we bade farewell to Martin at the end of the day, he asked us if we understood now why people on Dominica live for so long.

“Yes,” we told him. He had helped us understand. Not by telling, but by showing us this very special place. There is no single word, or laundry list of reasons I can give towards a longevity theory. But I can tell you that I felt it, and it did to me the best thing that travel can do to a person. It made me see another way to live. A different way. A simpler way. A more wholistic and connected way. Maybe, a better way. I hope that someday you can go to Dominica. If you do, look up Martin Carriere. He will help you to see for yourself.

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