Friday, May 30, 2008

Table For Twelve: The "It Is Not Nice to Eat Someone's Pet Lamb, but it IS Nice to Go to Simpatica Dining Hall" Edition

Dear Friends Who Love Food,

Michelle and I were sitting around TableTalkPortland headquarters earlier this week, eating Cheetos, I mean Foie Gras and Jelly Sandwiches, and warbling disconsolately to our favorite inclement weather Carpenter's tune, "Rainy Days and Mondays Always Get Me Down," when we remembered it was time to think about where to go for our next Table For Twelve.

"Somewhere nice," Michelle sighed, twisting her bright orange, I mean, foie gras-flecked lips into a pained moue, "Like, the Spanish Riviera."

We can't very well go abroad, I reminded her, since her little problem with immigration following her recent trip to Mexico, but we can go somewhere nice right here in Portland. In fact, we'll go to THE "nice"-est restaurant in Portland, which would be Simpatica Dining Hall. In case you didn't know, "Simpatica" means "nice" in Spanish. Michelle learned this in Mexico, where her nickname among the locals was in fact, "No Simpatica."

I am hoping that if we go to Simpatica, Michelle will be shaken from her faux-Spring doldrums and become more Nice, because recently she has exhibited some very Not Nice behavior. Let me explain.

Last night, at Castagna's excellent Morels dinner, Michelle sat there straight-faced and silent while I talked to Castagna owner Monique for almost four straight minutes with whipped cream from the Rhubarb crème brulee tartlet all over my face, then when Monique left, Michelle snickered and said loudly, "Nice cream on your face, sis." NOT NICE.

When I arrived at Café Castagna for our pre-arranged before dinner drink, Michelle had ordered a martini for herself and then had the bartender pour the final tablespoon of her martini into a thimble-sized bar glass, which she slammed down in front of me. "That is your drink," she said airily. "You have to be well-behaved tonight." NOT NICE.

When we were working in the Farmer's Market Taste the Place booth, a cute little girl walked by the booth with her tiny fluffy white pet lamb in tow, and while everyone else was 'oohing' and 'aahing," like Nice people do when they see a lamb, Michelle shouted, "Yummmm-eeeee!" and the little girl started crying and ran away with her poor lamb. NOT NICE.

As you can see, it's none too soon that we head to Simpatica Dining Hall for one of their lovingly written and prepared prix fixe dinner menus, which they only serve up on Fridays and Saturdays. Just to give you an idea of what you're in store for, today's dinner menu includes Viridian Farms Asparagus and Soft-Boiled Duck Egg On Crostini with Oil-Poached Artichoke Vinaigrette; Halibut Cheeks on Your Kitchen Garden Fennel and Eggplant Caponata with Golden Raisins and Madeira; Cattail Creek Lamb Shanks (Michelle would have loved that) with English Pea and Mint Risotto and Green Garlic Gremolata; Strawberry Crostada with 12-Year Balsamic Gelato. Talk about Yummm-eeeee. Next Friday's menu won't be released until Tuesday, so we'll send it out then to whomever is dining with us.

We hope you join us next Friday for Table For Twelve: The "It Is Not Nice to Eat Someone's Pet Lamb, but it IS Nice to Go to Simpatica Dining Hall" Edition!

Details, Details
When: Friday, (yes Friday! Simpatica doesn't do dinner Wednesdays!) June 6, 7:30 pm

Where: Simpatica Dining Hall, 828 SE Ash St.,

Why: To get a dose of Nice in these dreary times we live in.

What Will Happen To You If You Commit and Then Flake: Simpatica made us put our credit card number down to hold the reservation and they charge it for no shows, so if you flake, I would not be surprised if Michelle flies into a wild Greek rage and eats your pet lamb. With a side of Cheetos.

RSVP: Via email, at
See you at the table,

Jen and Michelle

Wednesday, May 28, 2008

Happy Hippy Happy Hour Happy Birthday Over-the-Bridge Bike Brigade

We're always looking for a reason to celebrate at TableTalkPortland, and Special Correspondent April was kind enough to have a birthday this week, so we hooped it up in style with a Happy Hippy Happy Hour Happy Birthday Over-the-Bridge Bike Brigade.

April had one simple birthday wish: to hit a few favorite watering holes and then eat Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings at Pok Pok. So we devised a plan:

1. We West Siders would ride our bikes across the Hawthorne Bridge and all over the admittedly more exciting food scene-endowed East Side, taking advantage of as many happy hours as we could.
2. We would get Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (spicy version) at Pok Pok.
3. We would Go Back West.

First, we had to rescue my two bikes from the garage of my old apartment building in the Pearl. I was embarrassed to tell Brycey, the concierge, that I'd left then in there for, oh, a year-and-a-half, so we had to loiter around the automatic garage doors until someone drove out and then we ran in and grabbed them. Unfortunately, it turns out that after a year-and-a-half of abandonment, a bike's tires become flat. Who knew?! We set out on foot, pushing the filthy dirty bikes towards Bike Gallery on SW 10th St. Seriously, these bikes were so dirty, April had to stop and wash her hands at the first Benson bubbler we came to. Pansy!

All this exertion made us hungry, so we had to stop halfway to the bike shop for a bratwurst at the Altengartz German Brand Bratwurst food truck on SW 10th & SW Alder. Jameson Wittkopf greeted us warmly and in no time, we had a steaming bratwurst in hand, complete with grilled onions and Altengartz's signature kase cheese sauce. Jameson was even kind enough to come out and take our picture!

It was just the thing to fortify us for our next challenge: pumping up the bike tires. The kind (and awfully good looking) folks at Bike Gallery warmly invited us to use their pumps. We thought they were great, even though we're pretty sure they were laughing a little at us because a) we'd clearly not pumped up a bike tire in approximately a zillion years and b)we weren't wearing Serious Biker Wear (no spandex) and c)it was starting to rain outside and we'd obviously not prepared in the least for the elements.

We headed east across the Hawthorne Bridge, then cut under I-5 and over to the Bakery Bar, to sample a few of the Bakery Bar's peerless Lemon Rosemary, Earl Grey, and Pecan Sandies shortbread cookies. When SC April and I used to toil/suffer together in the cube farm down the way, we'd take a slightly longer than allowed lunch on Fridays and sneak down to the Bakery Bar for ham 'n Brie sandwiches and soup and shortbread cookies. Sometimes these babies were the one thing that got us through the week. They hold a very special place in our hearts. And stomachs. True to its name, the Bakery Bar has a happy hour, with $3 beer and $5 wine from 4 pm to 6 pm Wed-Fri, and 12-5 Saturdays.

We stopped in our tracks at Bicycling Hub, surveying the bike outfits with some dismay as we realized we were very underdressed for our Birthday Bike Brigade. Then I saw my dream guy. We made a nice couple, but he turned out to be fake. Really fake. And I don't mean to be shallow, but he totally needed a nose job.


Onward to Doug Fir, which has a fantastic happy hour daily from 3 pm to 6 pm: all bar food items are slashed to $3! En route, we discovered I had a squeaky wheel and a weakness for riding on the sidewalk (far less honking at my wobbly snail's pace that way), so we popped into Citybikes bike coop, where a nice man offered to clean my squeaky wheel with alcohol and reassured us that if it's safer, you can ride on the sidewalk, except downtown. Good to know, thanks Citybikes!

Perched at the Doug Fir bar, we ordered the "Fritz Fingers"--spindly claw-like breaded and fried chicken strips served with house ranch, and the Salmon Chowder--thick and creamy, with potatoes, zucchini, onion, red pepper, and celery. We also ordered two glasses of the House White Wine ($4). 

We plunked down by the Doug Fir fire pit with slightly leaden bellies, then decided we had to carry on or risk falling asleep midway through our Happy Hippy Happy Hour Happy Birthday Over-the-Bridge Bike Brigade. We slowly got back on our bikes and pedaled towards SE Clinton, where we popped into The Press Club, which has a $1-off wine, beer, spirits, crepes and sandwiches happy hour (4-6 pm T-Fri). We chose the absolutely fantastic "Tobias Wolff" crepe--shallots, mushrooms, and mozzarella. The slightly crunchy, aromatic shallots perfectly complemented the tender sauteed mushrooms and melted mozzarella. We toasted April's birthday with two glasses of the House White--a crisp 2004 Deinhard German Pinot Grigio, which came as a surprise to me, as I always though Pinot Grigio's were exclusively Italian. No. They are German too!  

We looked up from a long chat about exactly why things never would have worked out between me and bike boy (emotionally unavailable, wearing too much jewelry, shaves his legs, is plastic...literally, etc), to find out that we had exactly 15 minutes to make it to the Victory Bar on SE Division for their Happy Hour! We've never pedaled so fast. We arrived just in time to order the divine $5 housemade spaetzle (only at Happy Hour! Pedal faster!), which Chef Eric brought to the table with good cheer and a side of apple compote for dipping.

Onward to Pok Pok! We'd finally made it! If the Happy Hippy Happy Hour Happy Birthday Over-the-Bridge Bike Brigade was our Hajj pilgrimage, we had arrived at Mecca. We were so close to Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings, we could almost taste the slightly sweet, exquisitely salty, crispy dark golden brown skin with its flecks of red chile pepper flakes, and we could almost feel our unapologetically sticky fingers accidentally brushing through our already unruly hair.

We put our name in for a table inside the Whiskey Soda Lounge, which adjoins the Pok Pok shack, and discovered that Pok Pok has a very advantageous arrangement with the Matchbox Lounge across the street. Put your name in for a table, tell the host you are going to the Matchbox for a predinner drink, and they will call the bartender when your table is ready! This way you don't have to languish by the Pok Pok Shack, smelling the pork loin skewers marinated in coconut milk and turmeric and the charcoal roasted natural game hen stuffed with lemongrass, garlic, pepper and cilantro and wishing all 400 people ahead of you would JUST GET RAPTURED ALREADY.

I was ecstatic to find that Matchbox Lounge serves up Strongbow, my favorite English cider. Some people, and by some people I mean my English friend Matt, think Strongbow is complete shite, but I love it. And besides, my English friend Sian (Matt's wife) likes Miller Lite, so we're even. April and I could have sat in the booth at Matchbox drinking Strongbow all night, but Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings (have we mentioned we like 'em SPICY) were calling to us, and we listened. Actually it was the Pok Pok hostess calling for us, so we hightailed it back across the street.

Mike, Pok Pok Server Exraordinaire and our pick for Best Server of the Week, gamely brought us an order of Ike's Spicy Vietnamese Fish Sauce Wings and one crisp cold Singha beer, no glass, and we fell upon the plate, gnawing the chicken bones like starving wolves, and swigging beer from the bottle as skillfully as Ducks' tailgaters.

We pleaded with Mike to let us order our other Pok Pok favorite, the Khao Man Som Tam, which is ONLY available at the Pok Pok Shack window, and while at first he refused, citing protocol, he finally relented and said he'd "see what he could do," and a moment later, we had our clandestine order on the table. Oh, heaven itself could not possibly be as fine as this sweet tender shredded Carlton Farms pork, with its side of spicy green papaya "Pok Pok" salad!
After we modestly revealed that we'd been biking around to different happy hours and bike shops for the past six hours, Mike invited us and our omnipresent helmets to the back of the restaurant to "see the bikes." Whoa there, Server Mike! We aren't those kind of girls! But as it turned out, Mike was just going with our weird flow, and wanted to show us the plethora of staff bikes lined up in the yard behind the restaurant. And he didn't even complain when we got on his bike and asked him to take our picture. What a guy! Thanks again for everything, Mike, you're a peach! Or, better yet, a Spicy Fish Sauce Chicken Wing!

Our Happy Hippy Happy Hour Happy Birthday Over-the-Bridge Bike Brigade culminated at the Aalto Lounge on SE Belmont, where my beloved new Blackberry Pearl (how did I EVER live without it? you can pull up critical happy hour info on Urban Drinks in seconds!) froze and flatly refused to take our picture of us enjoying a Full Sail Sessions lager and watching the DJ lovingly wipe and polish his records. A quick trip to the corner store yielded Laffy Taffy sticks and birthday cigarettes (we NEVER EVER EVER EVER smoke, SERIOUSLY, I SWEAR on IKE'S FISH SAUCE WINGS, it's an AWFUL FILTHY HABIT, but it was SC April's BIRTHDAY and we don't know what came OVER US!!).

"This is the best birthday ever," Special Correspondent April sighed. Taking heed of the bike safety message contained in The Doors' classic "Roadhouse Blues," we kept our eyes on the road, and our still-sticky Ike's Vietnamese Fish Sauce Chicken Wing-reeking hands upon the wheel (handlebars...whatever) and we rode into the night, fat and very, very Happy.


Tuesday, May 27, 2008

Impromptu Table for ?: The "Rocket Fuel/ Morel Castagna Dinner!!" Edition

Dear Friends Who Love Food,

The other day Jen and I were discussing how lethargic we have been lately due to the false start of summer. The conversation went a little like this:

Jen- I wish I had more energy. I feel like I need a jump start, like some fuel for this engine of mine... you know like rocket fuel.
Michelle- Oh, sis I know what we need! Morel Mushrooms... they contain the same substance that is in rocket fuel (THIS IS A FACT) and taste so much better!!
Jen- Sis, you are a genius.
Michelle- I know! And it just so happens that Castagna is having a Morel Mushroom dinner this week.
Jen- It is so last minute… do you think we can get in and share this gift with others?
Michelle- I'll take care of it.

So this is me taking care of it! I could only get a few spots and the dinner is tomorrow and I thought I would at least give TableTalkPortland readers the chance to go to this fabulous dinner. The Spring Morel Dinner is $45 and includes the following:
~Vol au vent with morels
~Coq au vin Jaune with morels
~Rhubarb crème brulée tart
~Wine Pairings

Details, Details
When: Wednesday, May 28, 6:30 pm
Where: Castagna Restaurant, 1752 SE Hawthorne Blvd (at 18th)
Why: You need ROCKET FUEL!!
RSVP: Via our email address (

See you at the table,

Jen & Michelle

Thursday, May 22, 2008

TFT Park Kitchen Album

If we had a dollar for every time someone told us they "absolutely love Park Kitchen," we could keep ourselves in flank steak, blue cheese, parsley and sherry roasted onions salad for life. Okay, maybe that's a slight exaggeration, but who doesn't love Park Kitchen? Weirdos, that's who.

Thusly we all had an absolutely transcendent dining experience at Table for Twelve: The "Have the Flank Steak Salad AND Your Life-Changing Epiphany at Park Kitchen!!" Edition this past week. The food, the wine, the company, Michelle dressing up like Annie Oakley, it was all fantastic.

Click here to see the pics...our collection is incomplete, but more are coming.

Stay tuned for future TFT month we plan to head en masse to Simpatica Dining Hall!


Sunday, May 18, 2008

Taste the Place: Touting Turnips and Radishes with TableTalkPortland!

As underappreciated vegetables go, I'm not sure it gets any worse than turnips. It's possible that parsnips are less popular in the polls, but turnips don't exactly bring the masses to the Waterfront in throngs 75,000 strong, so to speak.

So we had our work cut out for us Saturday morning at Taste the Place, the Portland Farmer's Market booth dedicated to giving geeky vegetables makeovers and adorning them with oil and herbs and aromatics and sea salt and dressing them up in little white sample cups and pushing them into the Market limelight. Our mission today: laud the little-known Japanese turnip, and reveal the allure of ordinary red radishes.

Michelle was supposed to pick me up so we'd sort of be on time for our 8 am Taste the Place shift but of course she was late, so I had to walk halfway down W. Burnside to meet her, grumbling all the way. In a screech of tires and angry honking, she stopped traffic so I could jump into her little blue Miata convertible and we were off with more screeching and honking, the wind blowing our unwashed "it was a late Friday night" hair into unsightly tangles.

"You're always late," I said grumpily. "Stick a Japanese turnip in it, Sis," she replied gaily. "Drive faster," I ordered. "We have spring root veggies to promote."

Once finally ensconced in the Taste the Place booth, we joined volunteers Mary Ellen and Cara and PFM Site Manager Amber Holland in transforming piles of unassuming young spring turnips and radishes into gorgeous and highly palatable Taste the Place superstars.

I regarded our pile of Winter Green Farm Japanese turnips, or kabu, as one little Japanese-immersion school educated little patron informed us they are called. Kabu are actually the Giselle Bundchens of the turnip family—with their small, creamy white bulbs, they look like radishes carved from marble and have a deliciously mild, mellow flavor that allows them to be consumed raw. We decided to steam them lightly and toss them with extra virgin olive oil, fresh parsley, lemon zest, and sea salt. Incredibly quick and simple, and a big hit with even the most dubious turnip tester. (Recipe below)

As the turnip greens piled up, Amber began sautéeing them with a little butter and green garlic, turning them into an easy side dish that more than one passerby described as "amazing."

To my right, on the Radishes Brigade, Michelle and Mary Ellen were busy slicing firm fresh little red radishes into paper thin slices and tossing them with lemon juice, olive oil, a chiffonade of the radish greens, and hard-boiled egg to create a bright, savory radish salad (Recipe below). The recipe was courtesy of Castagna Executive Chef Elias Cairo, who was kind enough to answer our plea for a recipe that would make the humble "aw shucks, just serve me with butter and a sprinkle of salt" radish as glamorous as Scarlett Johanssen in a Dolce and Gabbana gown for a day.

We left the Taste the Place booth Saturday feeling as though we'd done our part to make radishes and turnips a little more alluring. Bunches of Japanese turnips and radishes peeking out of canvas shopping bags in tow, Michelle zoomed home. After all, it was nearly Saturday evening, and we had to wash our hair.


Radishes come in many shapes and sizes, in shades of red, white and purple. The most common radish found in America is the oval, red-skinned variety, and is roughly the size of a cherry tomato. Daikon, a long, white, cylindrical variety, is used primarily in Asian and Indian cooking. Radishes are available year round, but are at their peak in the summer months. They are a great source of Vitamin C and rich in iron.

Shopping and Serving Tips
Buy firm, unblemished radishes with bright green leaves still attached. To store, break the leaves off (they are edible), put the roots in a plastic bag, and keep refrigerated no more than a week. Soak radishes in ice water for 1-2 hours before serving for extra crispness.

by Elias Cairo, Executive Chef, Castagna

1 bunch radishes, about 7-10 total, plus greens
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice
2 tablespoons olive oil
Pinch of salt, dash of pepper
1 hard-boiled egg, coarsely chopped

Thinly slice radishes and finely chop radish greens. Toss with lemon juice and olive oil, salt and pepper to taste. Gently mix in egg.

Note: If radishes are too spicy, add a dash of sugar to temper.


Quite different from their heartier fall/winter cousins, Japanese turnips are prized for their crisp white flesh and mild sweet flavor. They are high in fiber, Vitamin C, Vitamin B6, folate, calcium, potassium and copper.

Shopping and Serving Tips
The turnips’ skin should be smooth and firm. If possibly, buy turnips with leafy greens attached, greens should be bright and healthy. Store in crisper drawer of refrigerator for up to 10 days. Young turnips can be eaten raw, grated into salads or as crudites. They are also delicious steamed or braised.

I bunch Japanese turnips, about 1 lb
1-2 tablespoons olive oil
2 tablespoons flat leaf parsley
1 teaspoon lemon zest

Cut turnips into wedges and steam until tender, about 10-15 minutes. Toss with olive oil, parsley and lemon zest. Salt to taste.

Note: Turnip greens can be sautéed and served alongside turnips.


Friday, May 16, 2008

Table For Twelve at Park Kitchen

I remember the last time I dined at Park Kitchen like it was yesterday. Probably because it was yesterday. We ate lunch outside at one of the bistro tables overlooking the gently shaded North Park blocks, basking in the hot noon sun and watching alabaster Portlanders loll about in the grass and play hoops. Between the sudden lift in the weather's spirits, and the exquisite flank steak, blue cheese and sherry roasted onion salad and phenomenal buckwheat papardelle with braised lamb and rapini, I completely forgot that the day before, the weather had been total bollocks and I'd been making arrangements to move somewhere warmer, like Brazil. Taking my first bite of violet meringue with chocolate mousse and cocoa nibs, I forgot all about Brazil. Portland would do just fine.

I remember the first time I ate at Park Kitchen like it was yesterday too. It was actually 2004, and Executive Chef Scott Dolich had just been named a Food and Wine Magazine Best New Chef. I was dashing around town on a whirlwind weekend visit, eating as much as I could and trying to decide if my restless bones wanted to move to Portland next, or Brazil. I don't like to be cold. Food and Wine article in hand, I tread reverently into Park Kitchen for brunch, my last meal of the trip. As I savored the last bite of Park Kitchen's brioche French toast and chunky strawberry compote, I knew Portland was The One.

I guess you could say Park Kitchen is both the reason I moved to Portland, and the reason I didn't leave Portland for Brazil on Wednesday. Apparently, it is the place to have life-changing epiphanies—while eating the best flank steak salad in the universe, no less.

So I'm definitely expecting some sort of interesting revelation to occur this Wednesday, when we converge upon Park Kitchen once more for Table For Twelve: The Have The Flank Steak Salad AND Your Life-Changing Ephipany at Park Kitchen! Edition.

Maybe Rachel Ray will bounce in and ask us to guest star on her show. (I sort of hope not, she scares me.) Maybe Chef Tom Colicchio will be at the bar and when I sit down casually beside him and order a gimlet, he will ask me to marry him. Maybe Michelle will tell me she will go home after dinner and tipsily download our pictures into the TableTalkPortland Picasa album and add amusing captions, which is usually my arduous and tedious task. Who knows what could happen? We're eating at Park Kitchen! At the very least, maybe we'll get a personal tour of the kitchen by incredibly talented Executive Chef Scott Dolich. A girl can dream.

Details, Details

When: Wednesday, May 21, 7:30 pm

Where: Park Kitchen, 422 NW 8th Ave,

Why: Because their flank steak salad is edible therapy. And might be the cure for the common cold. And might be what makes the world go 'round. And just might really be the best thing since sliced bread.

RSVP: Via our email address (

Poem Penned in 45 Seconds by Jen in Honor Of This Event:

Park Kitchen is Yum.
You should come.
For the drinks, service and food,
Matched only by the memories and mood...
The flank steak's superb,
We once fended off a perv,
With a salt cod fritter and a beer,
At the company Christmas Party last year.

See you at the table,

Jen & Michelle

Wednesday, May 14, 2008

Heaven Is Pearl Bakery's Chocolate Panini

Last night, my darling little white cell phone died. We were sitting together in the living room with Benny, re-reading Miranda July’s incredibly good “No one belongs here more than you,” when my phone's little blue face suddenly lit up, burped “Memory Full” at me, abruptly turned off, and resisted all my desperate attempts to resuscitate it. Rest In Peace, my dear little phone. Your inspiringly thin and sleek presence shall be sorely missed at the table and in the TableTalkPortland test kitchen.

It was an eerie, naked feeling making the journey to the downtown AT&T store this morning with no means of communication. What if I remembered that I needed to make lunch reservations? What if I walked past Saint Cupcake and they had a fresh batch of warm cinnamon rolls gently steaming in the case and I had to call and alert Special Correspondent April immediately before they sold out? What if I needed to get ahold of Michelle to tell her I DID post that picture of her at Thatch Tiki Bar with the two-foot straw up her nose on the blog and what’s she gonna do about it, huh? (Just kidding sis, I really didn’t. Please, PLEASE don’t call youknowwho again and leave embarrassing messages in my voice. I'm SERIOUS.)

A couple hours of arduous cell-phone shopping later, I staggered out of the AT&T store with a shiny slate gray Blackberry Pearl. I held it gingerly, kind of like I hold my New Baby Nephew, and like my New Baby Nephew, the Blackberry made weird noises I did not understand, and then it started to rain and I freaked out that my new baby Blackberry Pearl would get a chill, so ignoring its cries, I quickly stuffed it in my handbag, which I do not actually do with my New Baby Nephew, so don’t worry.

I felt light-headed, not only by my new acquisition, but because I’d rushed out of the house without eating a proper breakfast in my haste to get a new phone. If I didn’t eat something soon, I was going to pass out on SW 3rd Avenue, which would be awful. I’d surely be robbed of my precious new Blackberry and maybe even my shoes. They are very cute shoes.

Thankfully my new Blackberry Pearl and I were near the Pearl Bakery. Coincidence? I think not. I slipped inside and bought a chocolate panini, which is complete nirvana. A small pillowy-soft deep brown rectangle of chocolate bread boldly studded with bits of dark chocolate. I tore off a chunk, slathered it with Pearl Bakery’s homemade raspberry jam, and popped it in my mouth. It was, simply put, probably the closest to Heaven that I will ever get.

I snapped a picture of the gorgeous scene with my beautiful new phone, regretfully took the last bite of chocolate panini and raspberry jam, and left, but we will return. Tomorrow morning to be exact. I might have to wait a bit to get to Heaven, but Pearl Bakery opens at 6:30 am.


Pearl Bakery * 102 NW 9th Ave ** 503.827.0910 * M-F 6:30-5:30, Sat 7-5, Sun 8-2 * yes, find a little bit of Heaven in the chocolate panini, and be SURE to put raspberry jam on at least one bite even if you weirdly enough don't like raspberry and chocolate together (yes you, jw ;)

Tuesday, May 13, 2008

Linguini with Tomatoes and Benny


Although until today I had never experienced it myself, I have always believed firmly in love at first sight. It is one of those things that’s nice to believe in, even if the odds of it actually happening to you are something akin to the odds of George Clooney showing up on your doorstep one Saturday evening with a bottle of Veuve Clicquot Grand Dame and a box of Michael Recchiuti caramels and inviting himself inside and telling you that you look absolutely ravishing in your ratty pink Gap sweat pants and how providential it is that you are watching Bridget Jones' Diary, as that is his favorite movie. Far-fetched, maybe. But it could happen, and so can love at first sight. I believe. So when I laid eyes upon Benny today in Trader Joe’s, I knew that the fat lady of improbable fate had finally sung the swan song of my solitary existence. Or something like that.

I spotted him through the thick, purposeful midday Trader Joe’s crowds, perched serenely next to the watermelons as harried stay-at-home moms and cube farm warriors on their exactly-one-hour-long lunch sabbatical and rumpled messy-haired writers/lieabouts such as myself cruised the store grasping for tubs of spicy hummus, bags of cheap organic arugula, and, at least in my case, several bars of Scharffen Berger dark chocolate, my favorite Saturday evening movie snack. Okay, my favorite everyday any-occasion snack.

In one crushing instant, I knew Benny and I were meant to be for two reasons: 1)because I felt a frisson of instant and forceful attraction jolt my very bones, and, 2)because the prepackaged basil wasn’t looking so hot today.

I approached him on a cloud. Oh, his scent! Fresh, strong, herbaceous. I closed my eyes and pretended I could wrap myself in it. Everything about him was perfect. His regal bearing. His smooth, bright green leaves. He was everything I’ve ever wanted in a basil plant.

But I’m frightened of this new love. You see, I have the blackest of black thumbs. I know this may be difficult to believe, but I once managed to kill a mint plant. Nobody believes me, because it’s the general consensus among those who possess even a marginal grasp of Gardening 101 that you cannot possibly kill mint. That when we finally do have World War III and our once beautiful planet is reduced to a lifeless, steaming pile of radioactive rubble, the first resurgence of life will in fact be…a tiny mint sprout. How does the Beatitude go? The mint shall inherit the earth? Something like that anyway, I don’t remember exactly, most of my youth's considerable church time was spent surreptitiously writing skits about lucky children who ran wild and free on Sunday mornings and had never known the agony of hymn books and too-small shiny black patent leather Mary Janes.

Basil, like mint, is quite hardy, but the power of my black thumb is strong, and I know not how to temper it. More water? More sun? Less water? Less sun? No water? Mineral water? Vitamin water? Tonic water? I’ll not be coy, I would give Benny anything to ensure that I feel this way forever. I will water Benny with Dry Soda if that is what he wants. Lavender, Lemongrass or Kumquat, my dear? Only the best for my beloved. I will sprinkle his soil with crushed Scharffen Berger chocolate shards. When we go to lunch at Ken’s Artisan Bakery, I will let him have the seat facing the door, I need it no longer to scope for pain au chocolat and jambon sandwich-loving hotties. If it’s Friday afternoon (Red Velvet day!), and there is but one Red Velvet dot left on the tray at Saint Cupcake, I will relinquish it gladly to Benny. Now that is love.

Most soul mates do not come with readymade instructions and a bio, but Benny did. They are written on a white tag and stuck in his pot. Thus, unlike with previous love interests, I don't have to guess, cajole, pry, or liquor him up to find out what makes him tick--I already know. He loves sun. He prefers to be 12-15 inches from other basil plants at all times. Not a problem, I've assured him we're exclusive and there are no other basil plants in my life. He'll likely not grow taller than 18-24 inches, but he's promised he'll not ask me to forgo wearing heels. He likes moist soil and regular fertilizer, nothing a glass of wine and the occasional sprinkling of Scharffen Berger chocolate crumbs can't take care of. He grows easily in a container or window box, which is wonderful, since I'm a city girl and can't offer him a garden. He's an excellent flavor enhancer to tomato dishes, with soft cheeses, sauces, pesto and fowl dishes. What more could a girl ask for?

To celebrate this happy development in my life, I decided to make my favorite pasta dish--Linguini with Tomatoes and Benny. So now that I have shared my new objet d'affection with you, I would like to share this recipe too. I love it almost as much as Benny my new basil plant.

Serves 1, increase accordingly if George Clooney will be joining you for dinner

3 oz linguini
1 tablespoon olive oil for pan, + 1 tablespoon to drizzle over cooked pasta
2 cloves chopped garlic
3/4 cup tiny cherry tomatoes, halved
2 tablespoons Benny chiffonade (roll up leaves and slice thinly)
2 tablespoons grated Parmeggiano-Reggiano

Boil pasta in salted water until al dente. Drain, and heat 1 tablespoon oil in saucepan over medium high heat, then add chopped garlic and let sizzle for 15-30 seconds.

Return pasta to pot and shake it about it to coat with oil and garlic. Add tomatoes, Benny, and Parmeggiano-Reggiano and other tablespoon of oil, swirl a few times, then turn off the heat.

Toss a bit more until cheese is melted and coats the pasta, then plate it. Sprinkle more cheese over if you like.

And now, if you'll excuse me, Benny and I are going for a long walk in Washington Park, and then I am going to pour a couple glasses of Pinot Grigio and make him into, I mean, make him my favorite Tomatoes, Goat Cheese, and Benny bruschetta.

Monday, May 12, 2008

Farmer's Market Feast

Well, I have been inspired by my weekends volunteering at the Portland Farmer's Market and my reading of The Omnivore's Dilemma, so I am embarking on a week of eating MOSTLY organic, local food. This weekend at the Farmer's Market I stocked up on local and organic chicken, beef, asparagus, stinging nettle, eggs, radishes, mesclun salad, apples, walnuts, pears, butter, and pear juice. I was so excited, I could not bear to be parted from my bounty, so I kept everything company in the trunk on the way home. (Just kidding, actually, Jen shoved me in the trunk. So I stuffed a bunch of stinging nettles under her pillow in retaliation.) 

For my first local feast I decided to make whole roasted chicken, nettle, and asparagus.

The chicken vendor (I feel awful, I forgot his name)  informed me that Fred's cousin (see Fred is Dead), Laurence, was just killed last week and was as fresh as you can get. Laurence was also allowed to roam the pasture (I actually got to see a picture of where he roamed) and eat a vegetarian diet, so with that I handed over my $12 and purchased Fred's cousin Laurence. When I unwrapped Laurence, I was amazed at how healthy he looked for a dead chicken and knew that he had lived a happy life! I decided that I wanted to make sure that I prepared him in a way that celebrated his existence, fresh and natural. I used the following simple ingredients:

One whole natural fresh free range HAPPY chicken

A little olive oil
1/2 cup of white wine
8 stalks of green garlic (4 chopped and 4 cleaned and whole)
2 handfuls of fresh lemon thyme

Preheat oven at 375. Rinse bird and then proceeded to rub him with olive oil. Chop 4 of the stalks of garlic and the lemon thyme finely and proceed to rub the HAPPY chicken with the thyme, garlic, and a little salt and pepper. Pour the 1/2 cup of white wine into the cavity of the bird and put the remaining green garlic inside. Place the bird on a roasting rack in a roasting pan and create a foil tent, pour 1 cup of water in the bottom of the pan. Cook for 45 minutes and then remove the foil tent and cook another 40 minutes (you can baste the bird if you like, but I typically don't and it turns out fine). If the bottom of the pan is dry then add more water.

While the bird was happily being cooked, I moved on to make the nettle using the Nettle recipe that Jen and I prepared for Portland Farmers Market last Saturday. The only difference from that recipe, is this time I decided to blanch the nettle- boil water and throw them in for two minutes before sauteing. I didn't want a repeat of my swollen tongue! They tasted just as good. Just a side note: I bought the nettle from a cute couple at the market that had a neighborhood garden (I can't remember the name) and it was already trimmed and the whole bag was only $4.

I then went on to prepare the beautiful asparagus that I got at the market -- 3 bunches for $10. I told the men running the booth at Canby Asparagus Farms that the other day I paid $10 for 2 bunches at Zupan's Market and the stalks were way too thick. They didn't seemed surprised. I prepared the asparagus utilizing the following recipe:

1 lb. of fresh organic asparagus
1/4 cup of olive oil

Preheat oven to 375. Wash and chop off 1 inch of the ends of the asparagus. Place asparagus into a roasting pan in a scattered manner. Pour olive oil into a small bowl and take a pastry brush and lightly brush the asparagus. If you don't have a pastry brush, then just pour a little into your hands and rub it all over the asparagus. Sprinkle the asparagus with salt and pepper and place in the oven for 10 to 15 minutes or until it reaches your desired tenderness. I prefer this way over steaming, because it keeps the asparagus a little crispy on the outside but  moist and tender on the inside.

The dinner turned out delightful! I feel like the food tasted better and fresher because it was straight from Farmer's Market, and I was grateful to have met all the people who farmed and raised my main ingredients.

Sunday, May 11, 2008

TTP Weekend Food Wanderings


This morning we convened at Reatha's lovely apartment for Sunday Brunch, which included fresh pastries from Ken's Artisan Bakery, Mini Mediterranean Frittatas, Cornbread Toast, Hashbrowns, and Blood Orange Mimosas. Thank you Reatha! Not only was brunch positively delicious, but it was quite aesthetically pleasing as well!

I am ashamed to say I was a little late to brunch, mostly because Michelle and her darling bf made me drink California Chillums on the patio of North 45 on NW 21st Avenue late into Saturday evening, while they sipped on Lucid Absinthe cocktails, and so I had to spend 20 minutes this morning hunting for aspirin, which I finally discovered most inexplicably located in the silverware drawer.

Here's what I think of that:

Fortunately, Brian and Eric were later than me to brunch! Haha! But they came bearing champagne, so Reatha said we should let them in.

After brunch, Brian and I scooted over to the Portland Art Museum just in time to see The Dancer exhibit on its very last day. We spent so much time examining the exhibit's 110+ works of art by Edgar Degas, Jean-Louis Forain, and Henri de Toulouse-Lautrec that Brian got low blood sugar, so we had to run to Safeway and buy some Orange Milano cookies. Yes, we slummed a little, okay? But who doesn't love Pepperidge Farm Milano cookies?

When we were

of Orange Milano cookies, we headed home.

Passing by the SW 10th Avenue Food Carts, we were horrundified to see that the usually pristine Altengartz German Bratwurst Food Cart had been tagged by vandals!

I was just at Altengartz last Tuesday for lunch with my friend Jeff, and we dined on divinely good brats and burgers while watching admiringly as owner and manager George Wittkopf lovingly cleaned and polished his sausage truck. His pride in both his product and his cart was obvious. I also very much admired his suspenders. 

This act of crude vandalism is a complete travesty. Don't people have better things to spray paint on, like furriers? Jeez. Whoever tagged the Altengartz German Brand Bratwurst Food Cart should be ashamed of themselves!

And that concludes this edition of TableTalkPortland's "Weekend Food Wanderings," a new weekend feature brought to you by Jen and Michelle of TableTalkPortland.

PS: A little Monday SneakAPeek--Tomorrow check out TableTalkPortland for Michelle's captivating account of how she rode home from Farmer's Market in the trunk of the car with her farm fresh purchases and cooked a fantastic dinner of just-picked asparagus, stinging nettles, and Laurence the Happy Chicken with Extreme Rigor Mortis of the Legs.