Thursday, May 21, 2009

Am I on a tropical kick or what? The sun comes back, and there my tastebuds go, back to my Hawaii roots. When I was in New York, I definitely enjoyed the diversity of food choices, in everything from restaurants to corner delis. One thing that I noticed was an abundance of tropical fruit, mostly sold by Latin-American street vendors. I know - it's not local, or sustainable - but these flavors definitely called out to me. While there, I picked up a cup of cubed papaya from a deli one morning for breakfast, topped frozen yogurt with mango one afternoon, bought a cup of watermelon at a street fair, and finally - saw this amazing display at a flea market in Brooklyn. It was so beautiful, and perfect for a hot day. What I was most fascinated by were the mangoes that you can barely see in the back - peeled, sliced in a feather pattern, and sold on sticks. How beautiful, no?
Deciding between dishes last night at Tanuki, the server stepped in with a suggestion and description for something I was debating: "Delicious - it's like a kim chee snow cone - with clams!" She was serious, and so was this dish, a neat pile of super-fresh clams, boiled and chilled, topped with a shaving of this intensely flavored shaved ice. And thus began an unbelievable meal in a tiny Portland saké bar that, if replated and presented in a fine-dining room, I have no doubt would recieve rave reviews and critical acclaim.

But the chef here loves her drinks, loves her bar, and, I think, loves calling the shots. She is adamant about her "no kids allowed" policy, and sends out daily irreverent messages to her Twitter followers like this recent one about her Monday night pork belly special, "if a pig was willing to give his life for me to boil his belly in booze the least ya'll can do is come & eat him." Her style is pretty brash, but the flavors in her food are exceptionally elegant, like another dish we shared of warm, tender, barely poached scallops in a chili-lime broth, adorned with fresh mint and cilantro leaves. Her stuff is so innovative an experimental at the same time - soft scrambled eggs topped with toasted coconut and whole dried anchovies, fried in something tasty plus palm sugar. None of her seafood is fishy, it's just hands down delicious. And so well balanced. We also had the night's $3 special rib bowl - short ribs cooked till tender in a tamarind sauce, over rice with an asian pear and radish salad on top. The kim chee itself was full of ginger and citrus rind...I could go on, but I'd rather just go back - as soon as possible!

Yet another delicacy brought to me by Tin, my gelatin-genius coworker. She mixes the water from a young coconut with gelatin, then pours it back into the coconut and places it in the refrigerator to solidify. The result is one of the most refreshing (hardly sweet)snacks for a hot day - her kids love this. When you eat it with a spoon, you get part ice-cold gelatin, part tender spoon-meat. I really can't believe I never saw something like this in Hawaii, it seems like the perfect compliment to a shave-ice or smoothie stand. Just one more thing that makes me want to travel to Southeast Asia...

Wednesday, May 20, 2009

So I’m on my lunch break, walking through the Galleria in downtown Portland, when I can’t help peering over the shoulders of this well-dressed couple, sitting on the stairs and huddled over some type of food wrapped in a large sheet of crumpled butcher paper. They were too engaged in their chewing and moaning to notice that I eyed their lunch for a few moments before I asked “where’d you get that?”

It looked a lot like “chicken rice” the ever-popular Singaporean street food that I loved when I was in Asia – steamed chicken breast over rice, both flavored equally with this gingery chicken infusion. They told me that this was Thai, and amazing, procured from a food cart recently opened by a former cook from Pok Pok. The plan to eat leftover quinoa salad for lunch was quickly dismissed as I raced up Alder street to get my own.

Nong’s chicken is moist and flavorful, and lays over a bed of rice – tasting somewhere between Jasmine and sticky (my favorite). There is a dipping sauce that she serves it with – made from soybeans (fermented?), ginger, garlic and chilis. I was overjoyed, even before I tried the food, to see that the meal comes wrapped simply in a piece of butcher paper, instead of a large single-use plastic takeaway container. And, they give you a little cup of piquant and savory chicken broth to cleanse the palate afterward. I’m sure that this is what she does with the chicken bones, and I love every bit of this minimal waste-super efficient, delicious entrepreneurial venture.

Nong only serves this one dish, called Khao Man Gai, along with various add-ons (chicken liver, extra rice, etc.), and a few Thai beverages, like a creamy coffee drink.

Nong’s Khao Man Gai – 10th and Alder, across the street from Jake’s Grill - Portland, Ore.

Monday, May 18, 2009

I was always a fan of rainbow JELL-O. When we were kids, two of my best friends' moms would make it for birthday parties, held down by the beach. Cold, sweet, and layered in jewel tones, it was one of my favorite things - only to be had once, or twice a year. Making this treat is a bit of a laborious process - waiting for each layer to harden,then alternating that with the creamy layer.

A coworker of mine took this to a whole new level this weekend, and could not have given a piece to a more appreciative person. I could not believe how beautiful this little creation was. Her family is from Vietnam, where these are a party tradition. Her sister brought these plastic molds back from Asia. I think this is incredible. The gelatin is made with agar agar, so it's firm, and flavored with coconut juice. The colors were brilliant. And, she made 50 of them, in multiple designs and color combinations for a birthday party attended by her whole family!

Thursday, May 14, 2009

When in New York a couple of weeks ago, I had the pleasure of enjoying food and drink at:
The Rusty Knot
Minetta Tavern
Pure Food & Wine
Chelsea Market
Brooklyn Flea
And, of course, as many of you know, my new love, Pinkberry (with mango on top).

After my (delicious) raw vegan dinner next door, I stood outside Bar Jamon for about ten minutes, staring at their hunk of Jamon Iberico, and the tiny glowing space. I skipped the Spotted Pig, because it looked like food and vibe that I could experience in Portland. Had such fun just walking around and reading daily menus posted outside doors. So wished I had tried The Fatty Crab. One friend wouldn't go because it was just, "too fatty." Hrmph.

Tuesday, May 12, 2009

Pool party! Taking a break from Noble Rot's 7 year anniversary party up on the rooftop (garden). That's where their salads come from.

Sunday, May 10, 2009


1/2 small head of red cabbage, shredded
1/2 bunch of cilantro, chopped
2 scallions, whites only, chopped
1 large or 2 small carrots, peeled and grated
3/4 cup quinoa
fresh ground pepper

1 clove garlic, minced
juice of 1 lime
1 T. orange juice (or you can just substitute more lime or lemon, and a bit of sugar, agave, or honey)
2 T apple cider vinegar
1 T good olive oil
dash chili powder
1/2 tsp. cumin
dash smoked paprika

1. Cook the quinoa with salt, pepper, and a dash of turmeric for color.
2. Fluff with a fork, then cool.
3. Mix the dressing ingredients together in a bowl with a whisk.
4. Mix the vegetables and quinoa together in a large bowl with your hands, to separate the cabbages and as not to mush the quinoa.
5. Dress the salad a bit at a time, to coat, but not to let dressing pool in the bowl.
6. Add more salt and pepper, and/or olive oil, to taste.
7. Let salad sit for an hour in the fridge, or even over night, to absorb the flavor of the dressing and to allow the garlic to settle.


I woke up bright-eyed this morning at ten after seven, though my alarm was set for eight. It was one of the first sunny Saturday mornings for the farmers market, and I could barely contain my excitement. It was like Christmas morning (in Hawaii), for Portland cooks. I immediately questioned which would get me there faster, walking or the bus. I took the bus and arrived only minutes after the market opened. All of the choices lay before me, before anything could be sold out. Piles of radish varieties, asparagus, and greens of every type. I could actually choose who I wanted to buy my eggs from, instead of just trying to find a vendor with a dozen left. It is indeed a treat to to have the first pick of everything. I felt further justified for both my excitement and my early automatic wake up call when I noticed Scott Dolich, head chef at Park Kitchen (whose cooking I have posted numerous blogs about)picking through the same basket of pink fingerling potatoes. "Wow, these are beautiful potatoes," he commented. A little later, I spotted Naomi Pomeroy of Beast shopping at the market as well. I can't help but admire chefs who cook all night in their restaurants, and wake up early the next day so that they can peruse the freshest of seasonal produce. For a second I contemplated going to Park Kitchen that night to see what would be done with the potatoes, but quickly realized that I'd bought enough produce for a week's worth of cooking at home.

So, what did I end up bringing home? As usual, I brought more money than I expected to use, and spent all but the last dollar.

My shopping list:
1. Favorite breads from New Cascadia Traditional Bakery ("the gluten free artisans") to bring home to slice and freeze: Seeded loaf, Portland Sourdough baguette, and a slice of surprisingly delicious coffee cake. This baker is amazingly skilled - his pastries are delicate and delicious, not only by gf standards.
2. Free range farm eggs (brown and green and white)
3. A small grass-fed lamb sirloin roast, from SuDan farms to prepare in a version of Paula Wolfert's Lamb Tagine, using some of the preserved lemons I canned this winter.
4. Flat leaf parsley, for the above recipe and quinoa salad. I also like to use parsley as a green in side salads, because it keeps well in the fridge and I love it's strong flavor (as a kid I used to eat the parsley garnish off the rest of my family's plates in restaurants).
5. Basil, so happy to see it, finally! I have been craving pesto, and am so excited to make some, to spread on bread with goat cheese and radishes.
6. Radishes - just learned that you can saute the greens too - delicious!
7. A cucumber.
8. Kale for a new simple salad recipe that a friend gave to me.
9, Green garlic - so delicious to saute with greens. It's fun to see the bulbs at the market grow bigger each week as the season progresses.
10. Dry pinto beans - grown locally! How cool! I've really been into making a pot of beans to snack on and keep in the fridge - SO much tastier than canned.
11. Finally, I had $7 left in my pocket. I debated between a slice of rustic pate from Chop, and a tub of pickles from Picklopolis. With summer coming and bikini time in mind, I opted for the pickles. And, they let me select a mix: spicy carrots, red onions and green beans.

I couldn't leave the market without a treat from one of my favorite vendors - Northwest Heritage Pork - purveyors of pigs-in-a-blanket, and carnitas tacos (for breakfast, love it). I had already had that coffee cake, so I asked to buy just one of their breakfast sausages, and the sweet lady handed it to me with a smile and a "don't worry about it." What a perfect day!

Tuesday, May 05, 2009

I thought Portland was a healthy food city, but was so impressed to walk off the jetway from my flight to New York to see Synergy Kombucha drinks in the concession kiosks in the JFK airport. At least we've got coffee*. How I used to drink that horribly acidic hazelnut flavored stuff from the delis, I have no idea. The first Stumptown is opening up inside the ACE hotel in New York soon, and in retaliation, nine NY roasters took on Stumptown in a taste test. I think it's funny how threatened the city's coffee culture got when one tiny shop serving Portland coffee plans to open in Manhattan. Then again, they've got a roaster out there now to ensure freshness. Watch out - it could be a Northwest takeover, changing the very culture of the city. Next thing you know, coffee shops there might even have places to sit, and, dare I Wi-fi!

*My favorite coffee in Portland is the Brazilian one from Blue Gardenia on Mississippi, that they roast right there in the shop, and the espresso and drip roasts from Portland Roasting Company.