Tuesday, March 31, 2009

So I figured I'd better post this before the snow melts everywhere, and the sun finally comes out, and we're all ready to forget wintry images. I feel that way right now. Tomorrow is April, it's still dumping snow up on Mt. Hood, and my sister and I got hailed on two days ago. I'm ready for warmth.

But, prior to my feelings of "enough is enough" about the cold, I did have myself some snowy fun, up in Whistler B.C. with my college buddies. Of course, we're all foodies - which we discovered early on our freshman year, and explored by introducing our mainland friend to sushi, and making salmon dinners in her dorm room. Those were the days when wild salmon could be bought in our Seattle grocery store for under $10/lb.

Anyway, we definitely shared many delicious meals during our few days on the mountain. The most plump, succulent, yet dainty oysters I've ever had - Kushi, from the deep waters of the northern Pacific, with freshly grated wasabi root and a tiny minced tsunomono-like topping (red onion, cucumber, sugar, cubed only millimeters thick). The reddest wild Alaskan salmon, cooked on a cedar plank. Then feasts that we cooked together- prime rib roasted over rosemary, with vegetables cooked in the pan juices, pork tenderloin marinated in molasses, bourbon and spices, then grilled. Amazing salads, Audra's specialty, that added the perfect balance of crisp acidity to cut through all of that sumptuous meat. Ahh, it was so wonderfully decadent. Perfect after skiing all day.

Our rental had the most breathtaking view of the snowy mountains. The one day that I stayed in to read and do yoga by myself, I had to take my lovely leftover salad to the freezing deck to lunch and take in the view (pictured above).

Oh, and one of my favorite things was the seafood salad at Sushi-Ya, a small, very authentic quality sushi restaurant in Whistler Village. I couldn't BELIEVE how affordable the sushi was there for the quality and freshness. A bed of lettuce was topped with FRESH dark green seaweed, poached salmon, and bay shrimp with a ginger dressing. So clean, so good. I could eat that everyday. That dish might be up there in my top 10 favorite of all time.

Monday, March 30, 2009

I've been making my own lunch now, most days, for the past 3 months. Sometimes it's boring, sometimes I stink up the lunchroom with my curry concoctions (I have to consciously make an effort not to bring in leftovers with too much garlic, or salmon). A few times though, I impressed myself with the perfect balance of a little boxed lunch. Though mine are rustic, I imagine that this might be similar to the satisfaction felt by those moms who make their kids precisely prepared bento lunches, such as those on Adventures in Bento Making.

This was one of my better ones:
Roasted butternut squash, tossed in olive oil and sprinkled with curry powder, smoked paprika, and salt.
Roasted parsnips.
Sauteed kale with garlic.
Leftover steak stir-fried with onions.

The perfect mix of savory and sweet, with plenty of veggies. Look ma - no carbs!

Sunday, March 22, 2009

So, Bunk Sandwiches was everything I hoped it would be, and a little bit more. The sandwich itself was ridiculously good—succulent milk braised pork, shredded and scented with fennel seeds, on a soft, buttered hoagie roll, grilled to greasy perfection on the flat top and spread with stone ground mustard, mayo and topped with shredded lettuce and pickled green tomatoes.

Though my months of healthy eating, I’ve fantasized about nothing more frequently than sauce-soaked bread, like a greasy burger bun or a baguette dipped in pan drippings or mussel broth. This satisfied that desire excellently. I devoured every bit of it, and when I had one tiny inch of bun left, I dragged it across the grease soaked paper to savor that last bite. A feeling of genuine sadness swept over me when that moment was over. Honestly.

Tommy Habetz, the chef behind the counter, looks like he has a lot of fun back there, doing whatever the hell he wants to, working with his buddies in his own smoky little kitchen. Quite a change from cooking in some of New York’s most famous kitchens, he now hands over his food to diners personally. In a place that seems like the type to make you take a number to claim your order, at this place they call out your name.

And that is one of the small details that reminded me that I was in Portland, because in every other way, this place feels like New York: unapologetically unhealthy food (grease, on meat, on mayo), a tiny cramped space packed with patrons (and boxes stacked up toward the back), and a line out the door. The crowd in there was visibly in the know – chefs and other food industry people, Habetz fans, and neighborhood hipsters. The menu's written on a chalkboard that changes daily with sandwiches to please tastes simple and gourmet - like a meatball sub or chorizo and bacalao. The homemade pies of the day just sit there on the counter in their enticing golden glory. I don’t even know what they offer in terms of beverages, but I’m pretty sure it’s limited to soda and coffee. That’s what we got anyway. They don’t mess around.

There’s even a framed photo of Woody Allen propped against the cash register. What can I say - I love this place.

3-17-09 Green Things

I was home sick yesterday with one of the worst colds I can remember. But after almost an entire day in bed, I needed to get out of the apartment – that and I had a well justified craving for a smoothie from Sip. Sip is a silver trailer parked in front of my neighborhood health food store that serves a short list of things that I would if I had a juice bar – interesting smoothies and juices combining fruits AND vegetables, as well as tea lattes, made with things like exotic spices and almond milk. What I always get there is one of their green smoothies with kale, apples, ginger, pineapple, orange juice and coconut oil. Mmm...

I went into the store happily sipping my health elixir and was please to find edible evidence of spring inside – organic asparagus (not from Mexico) for an affordable (finally $3.99/lb.).

I went home and blanched some of it for breakfast today, topped with a fried egg. If I were feeling more indulgent, or if this were a Sunday, I might drizzle the whole thing with truffle oil, or hollandaise sauce. Of course serving it on top of a thick slice of toast made from fresh artisanal bread would be heaven, but that addition will have to be left for my dreams.

I also impressed myself with the delicious simplicity of the soup pictured here. It is a variation on a "minestrone" recipe found in Heidi Swanson's cookbook, Super Natural Cooking. Her blog is one of my favorites - 101 Cookbooks. The soup consisted of homemade chicken broth (this is key), fresh spring peas, still holding a crunch, spinach and nori seaweed. So clean and soothing.


“Gourmandism is an impassioned, considered, and habitual preference for whatever pleases the taste. It is an enemy of overindulgence; any man who eats too much or grows too drunk risks being expelled from its army of disciples.”
-Jean Anthelme Brillat-Savarin, from The Physiology of Taste

It’s been some time since I’ve last posted to this blog. The reason for this is that the thoughts and experiences that I’ve had on food recently follow a very different theme then what’s preceded. I think that in order to transition, I should offer up an explanation.

With gluttony as a current culinary trend, and my own hunger to taste and try every artisanal pastry and locally produced pork product that I can get my hands on (not to mention grower champagnes and hand crafted cocktails) - my body, more than my appetite really, decided that now would be a good time for a break. So I offer these new taste experiences and intellectual discoveries up in this blog as a “palate cleanser,” if you will. My own cleansing has taken various forms, eventually (I hope) evolving into a way of eating that is more creative, exciting and healthy than it was before.

First of all, let me say that years ago, after travels throughout the U.S., Europe and South America, I began to think about how homogenous the western diet is. This culture primarily subsists on meat, cheese and bread (“Meat Cheese Bread” happens to be the name of the latest gourmet deli here in Portland), often loaded (polluted, in my opinion) with some form of sugar. You only have to walk into a roadside mini-mart, neighborhood deli, or attempt to find a restaurant with entrees missing these components to see this.

You may have noticed that food intolerances (gluten, milk, etc.) and allergies (wheat, peanuts, soy, bananas, etc., etc.) are becoming increasingly common, and it seems, prevalent. I have many friends myself who struggle with these things. I find this all incredibly intriguing (piqued by what I’ve read in recent years about industrial farming and agriculture). And apparently, so do many physicians, as a study in 2003 of over 13,000 Americans found 1 in 133 gluten-intolerant. I myself have experienced digestive “issues” shall we say, which prompted me to try out life without gluten (this means no wheat, rye, spelt or oats, unless they’re certified gluten free). Not easy. I could go into my own personal findings but let’s just say I feel and look much better.

Whether you have food allergies or not, think for everyone, it is important to your health and vitality to diversify your diet. Mix it up, cook something you never have before; buy one of those really exotic looking vegetables that you can’t identify at the farmer’s market. That’s been a mission of mine for a while—fascinated by those beautiful, odd vegetables like kohlrabi, sunchokes, kabocha squash and romanesco.

I find it so interesting how many quick diet books are still being written, products and drugs for weight loss are on the market. I believe that food is medicine and when you’re feeding your body what it needs, you look slimmer and more attractive for it. And, this usually centers around the avoidance of sugar, alchohol and gluten grains. One can reflect on their own diet and feelings after eating these things to realize that. It is baffling to me that we are all still searching for easier fixes, considering that Brillat-Savarin came to this conclusion almost two hundred years ago. He noted this all the way back in 1825, in the Physiology of Taste, after conversations at the table with many overweight acquaintances who only wanted more bread, potatoes and rice than they had on their plates. “And it is from such dialogues that I made clear to myself a theory which I had formed quite apart from its human connections, that the principal cause of any fatty corpulence is always a diet overloaded with starchy and farinaceous elements...”

Most of this probably comes from my own struggle - if it were healthy for me, there’s a good chance I would just live on pastries (a variety of sweet and savory, of course). Unfortunately, this has proved to be the opposite of what feels good for my body, so I began searching for alternatives. This has been difficult, yet at the same time, fulfilling. It has required A LOT of cooking. The challenge of this, for those of you who are “epicurious” like myself, is really exciting. Without these foods in easy reach (or recipes for that matter), I’ve had to create many of my own, and have come with some surprisingly delicious dishes and flavor combinations. Some would call all of this work, but it’s actually been a lot of fun. So, to follow will be some of my new taste discoveries and recipes for healthier living. Don’t worry, I still go out to eat a lot, and enjoy my fair share of pork belly and sausage, so I’ll still write about that too...

When I sat down with a menu at Park Kitchen tonight, I had no idea I’d end up having pork three ways. Three dishes ordered – an appetizer, “salad,” and entree, each featured pork. I didn’t intend for that to happen. I was enthralled by all of the interesting possibilities offered that night - chickpea fries, sizzling baby octopus, parsnip soup, and duck in a licorice sauce. But when I asked the for the waitress’ favorites (as I often do), I ordered what she recommended. When I was a server, I was guilty of consistently recommending pork dishes too. What can I say? Bacon is better.

Once the dishes began to arrive, it became evident that this restaurant takes on a whole pig at a time. First there was the tesa - almost like a brined, pickled pork belly - but crisp on the edges. It was served at room temperature, with a housemade kim chee, in which I tasted maybe a little fennel, and definitely orange rind. One of my dining companions ordered a salad of endive, sweet potato, shredded pork (shoulder?) and dungeness crab, which actually turned out to be surprisingly light, despite the pork.

My entree was a show stopper though - the kind of richly comforting dish anyone would want to tuck into on a rainy winter night like this. Thin slices of juicy pork tenderloin lay atop a nest of browned spaetzle, chopped chesnuts, dark roasted pork, and braised cabbage. Around all of this was a shallow pool of sweet and savory pumpkin puree. The dish was a bit sweeter than I expected, with just enough salt from the bits of crispy roast pork to balance it (a vinegary salad on the side would have been the perfect complement-or a glass of white burgundy).

The flavor of the browned chesnuts had a caramel character to them, which recalled a meal I had this autumn, at a cooking school. The menu was comprised entirely of ingredients grown within 100 miles, and it was my job to prepare a dish of chesnuts and brussels sprouts to pair with venison, our centerpiece. The chestnuts were made with a caramel sauce, poured over the greens. Among all of the premium ingredients comprising my meal tonight, I felt most privileged to dine on chestnuts. Like fava beans, they are a humble ingredient that are actually very labor intensive to prepare (they must be cracked, roasted, then meticulously peeled before cooking). But I digress – back to pigs.

Indeed, butchering a pig, and carefully curing its various cuts in entirely different ways requires much skill, time and knowledge, and I appreciate that. But it seems that lately it’s been sneaking its way into everything. The other night I ordered scallops, in the mood for a lighter dinner. And what were they served with? Lentils and shredded pork. Two weeks ago I had an amazing wild salmon, alongside was a root vegetable “hash”, studded with bacon (okay, I’ll admit that this one was my choice - the side looked so good that I subbed out the quinoa that was supposed to go with it). What’s next? I’ll tell you - one of Portland’s newest restaurants created a stir late last year with an apple pie that, instead of a lattice pastry crust, had a lattice of bacon over the top. You know what – it looked completely disgusting, but I’m sure it tasted like heaven.