Tuesday, May 06, 2008

A few weeks back, my best friend came to Portland to attend her Grandfather’s eightieth birthday. Her grandparents live out on the Oregon Coast, and I was lucky to be invited to the party as well. I jump at any chance to see the ocean, or to spend time with good people, so I was really looking forward to this event. Little did I know what a treat the food would be...

We arrived early to set-up at the Newport Visual Arts center, which was a small room with two huge walls of glass, perched high above the coastline. From high above, you could see seagulls diving in the air against layers of grey clouds moving over miles of beach. It’s an incredible spot. The room itself was decorated with colorful glass, flowers, and desserts. Two women made at least ten different desserts, set around the room on cake stands and platters. Each homemade confection was labeled with personal attributions like “Mrs. Regan’s Persimmon Pudding,” and some not-so-personal, such as "Grammercy Tavern Gingerbread." I thought this was incredibly sweet—the love and care in preparing each of these treats, and the thoughtful presentation.

The desserts were set out during the dinner service (passed hors d’oeuvres catered by Local Ocean Seafood in Newport—fresh oysters, salmon, shrimp, etc.) so that all of the guests could admire (and salivate) over them throughout the evening. I was lusting after the least beautiful of them all (but most gluttonous)—the pumpkin trifle. And, I guess so was someone else, because an hour into the party, there was a huge spoon stuck right through the middle (and one portion missing). I guess an enormous bowl of whipped cream is impossible for some to resist.

Apparently, the trifle was an accident, as Victoria, who made many of the desserts, told me that she started with a pumpkin cake that didn’t turn out as she wanted it to and ended up turning the thing into a trifle (speckled with walnuts, spice and cream, maybe some vanilla pudding--this thing was heaven and hell at the same time—I went back for seconds).

Another treat was that a close friend of the family is a goat farmer and artisan cheesemaker. I met her at a Thanksgiving on the farm when I was in college, when she just began making her cheese and only sold it locally. That year we had suckling pig instead of turkey (luckily my friend’s Grandpa is a welder, because it required a custom-made baking pan). She now goes by River’s Edge Chevre, and sells her cheese at Whole Foods and New Seasons in Portland. She had at least five different cheeses out on a marble block, but my favorite was her smoked chevre. She smokes a maple leaf, spritzes it with bourbon, then wraps the chevre in it and smokes that. It was amazing—reminiscent of the flavor of smoked gouda but softer, silkier and earthier. By the end of the evening, I had stuffed myself sick with all those tasty finger-foods, but isn't that what being with family is all about?

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