Sunday, August 14, 2011

"As our palates improve, we appreciate finesse, perfume, subtlety...characteristics Pinot Noir has." Daniel Johnnes at IPNC, 2011

The IPNC is a multisensory experience that starts washing over you the minute you step onto the Linfield College Campus in late July. The heat, and smell of the dry fields of the Willamette Valley, the soft manicured greens of the quad beneath your feet, the red brick buildings around you, these are the familiar elements that immediately put you in the mindset of what is to come. And what that is are three days of joy, learning, working, eating, drinking, camaraderie and friendship forging. For the hundreds of attendees and volunteers fortunate to be a part of it, this is the weekend looked forward to year after year, to reunite with friends from another town in Oregon, or another part of the globe.

The International Pinot Noir Celebration started twenty-five years ago in McMinnville Oregon, by a group of passionate food and wine lovers in the Willamette Valley. It has grown in size, allure and esteem while still maintaining its strong local base, but now including wine producers from Pinot Noir growing regions around the world. This year, there were wineries represented from France, New Zealand, Austria, California, Canada, Italy, Australia, Washington and of course Oregon. I was most pleasantly surprised by the wines that I tasted from the Okanagan Valley in British Columbia, a region I hadn't tried before.

As a lucky volunteer, my experience was richer than I could have imagined. Helping to set up various seminars and tastings, I was able to observe them, too. In a wine and cheese pairing seminar with Laura Werlin, I learned that white wine pairs far better with cheese, and that Oregon cheesemakers are producing an incredibly wide range of European cheese styles that are exceptional to eat with wine (she procured them from the Oregon Cheese Guild). The “classico” made by Tumalo Farms in Bend was outstanding.

In a farm-to-table panel, I listened to Greg Higgins share his hard earned wisdom as a chef sourcing directly from farmers. "I don't think you have to be a great chef to make great food,” he said, “you have to have great ingredients." He went on to explain how lucky we are in Portland to have access to the produce that we do, and that we (and likeminded communities), need to make a conscious effort to support them to maintain that resource.

In a panel titled “Secrets of Sommeliers” (inspired by the new book by the same name), some of the country’s best, Larry Stone, Daniel Johnnes and Rajat Parr, sat and bantered about serving and selecting wine for customers. I found out that the least expensive wine on a restaurant’s list often has the highest markup, and that I share one of Daniel Johnnes’ current pet peeves -- red wine served too warm. At one point during the panel, I notice that the mediator, author Jordan Mackay, was standing barefoot behind the podium. This moment perfectly exemplified how wonderfully relaxed everyone is at IPNC, joined by a love of wine knowledge, a subject often thought to be so formal.

Every meal on campus at IPNC was served outdoors, either on a great lawn or under the trees in the old Oak Grove, and it all seemed so magical. The white tablecloths against the foliage, the flowing wine, the starry sky, the sommeliers and waitstaff serving with skill, and the food prepared by esteemed chefs from throughout the Pacific Northwest, all set an incredible stage that can only be experienced during this one time each year, in the summer of Oregon.

Friday, August 05, 2011

Late last summer, I had the fortunate opportunity to follow culinary instructor Blake Van Roekel of Keuken on a tour Zenger Farm in southeast Portland, and then a short cooking class in Robert Reynolds' lovely Chefs Studio. She prepared simple but wonderful zucchini cakes. We ate them with wine from Cameron (I think it was the Giovanni), and I was charmed by the whole experience.

This week, after running around all summer from trip to trip, I finally had some time and motivation (as well as inspiration from the farmers market) to flip through cookbooks, and actually cook. I made a simple tomato sauce with spaghetti on Monday night, with tomatoes so ripe I could peel them without boiling, and a salad with peach, arugula, feta, olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Summer produce makes cooking so simple.

My new favorite cookbook is David Tanis' (of Chez Panisse and legendary Parisian dinners) "Heart of the Artichoke." The recipes are fairly simple, inspired by his own experience, and most are in small enough portions for me to prepare for myself. The book itself is beautiful as well. So, with all the zucchini so abundant this time of year (as well as summer squash), I cooked his zucchini cakes, substituting the recommended scallions for shallot, as that was all I had, which actually provided a nice deep flavor. What a great use for these vegetables, with a dish that you could eat as an entree with tomato sauce or pesto, for breakfast, or cold as a frittata-like snack. I took mine and ate them with brown rice, pesto and pinto beans, as I'm on both a budget-tightening and health-conscious kick this week.

You may look at these and think that they're not so pretty. Well, it's not the recipe's fault, it's all mine. A word of advice: when cooking zucchini, don't talk on the phone with an old friend during the part when you're supposed to drain the zucchini. You will end up with watery batter, as I did, and the cakes, while delicious, will not fry up firm.