Monday, August 6, 2012

Got Goat?

As a long-time city dweller there hasn't been a lot of need for a lawn mower in my life. That's because there aren't a lot of lawns in a city. Of course there are lawns in a park, but the city takes care of that. Still, if you find yourself with an insanely overgrown lawn forget the lawn mower - go goat. 

Yep, apparently you can rent goats in Portland to take care of an entire field. The goats graze the land and slowly - over a couple of weeks - the overgrown field becomes manageable. Let me be clear this isn't out in the cuts, it's just blocks from downtown.  It seems odd to me to rent a goat, but goats have been grazing fields for years. Maybe the goats are the bomb. I'm just glad I don't have an overgrown lawn or really much of a lawn at all. 

Wednesday, July 4, 2012

CSA Challenge: Kohlrabi Who Knew You Were So Tasty

Not the typical veggie salad
I managed to finish using all the veggies from the CSA box. There were a few salads made, so nothing interesting to report. By Sunday I had left the challenging kohlrabi, fennel, and beets. I roasted the beets. Super easy, just long cooking time and used a trick I had learned somewhere to get the skins off easily. Trick: Once the beets come out of the oven throw them in a bowl and cover it. Let the steam do the rest. After a few minutes take them out of the bowl and use a paper towel to remove the skin - it slides right off. I had thought about sauteing the fennel and serving it over pork chops. Unfortunately, the pork chops turned out to be not so fresh - suffering from some horrible freezer burn. What to do?

Well, I had the beets roasted, fennel shredded, and a still unused kohlrabi. Our friends who gave us their share of the box said the kohlrabi tastes good raw, just use a mandolin to slice it. Mandolin's scare the buh-gee-bus out of me. So many horror stories of people accidentally slicing the top of a finger off while using one. That's not for me. A broken foot last year was plenty. Turns out my food processor has a mandolin setting. I give it a try and out comes super thin ribbon-like slices of kohlrabi. Fantastic!

At that point, with the pork chop lost I had to go to plan B: Puttanesca pasta (I fondly refer to it as slutty pasta) and cool refreshing veggie salad. I layered the plates with kohlrabi and fennel, topped it off with beets and a sprinkle of the fronds from the fennel, drizzled it with olive oil and sprinkled a little salt and pepper. Presto change-o the ingredients from the CSA box were gone. Oh, and the salad turned out to be quite delicious - a mix of radish and black licorice complimenting the beets.

The moral of the story: Challenge yourself - you never know what you might learn and create. I never heard of kohlrabi before the CSA box and now I know I like it. Better yet, we'll be sharing a CSA box in fall with some friends. Can't wait to see what I learn then.

Oh, and of course, special thanks to our friends that gave us their share of a CSA box while they were away.

Thursday, June 28, 2012

CSA Box: Day 2

Yesterday was day 2 of my self-imposed CSA Challenge and I managed to make some progress. I did a little research and found a few recipes that would help polish off a few of the items. That made me elated and cooking something new is always interesting. It's the same kind of feeling I get when I'm lost. Finding my way out is the best part and when it comes to new recipes I particularly get excited at the thought that I might end up with something new to put into rotation.
Napa Cabbage Salad

First up was that napa cabbage. That thing is big. Seriously it's bigger than my head. I found a recipe for Napa Cabbage Salad at Food & Wine that would take care of the entire cabbage. Seemed easy enough. Only problem was I didn't have all the ingredients, so I got how do we say "a little creative." It called for Rice Wine Vinegar, which I didn't have. A little Internet research later and it turns out Red Wine Vinegar works in a pinch. Not bad, but I do think the Rice Wine Vinegar would have made it a bit lighter. It also called for slivered almonds. Another item I didn't have, but I did have radishes from the CSA box. I cut those bad boys into slivers and got a salad with crunch, but not so crunchy it might break my teeth. Bonus! I was a bit surprised by the amount of bugs in the cabbage and cleaning it was a bit more work than I expected. Overall salad tasty and fairly quick to make. Is it a keeper? Maybe in a pinch.

The salad made a dent in the scallions and radishes and completely polished off the Napa Cabbage. 

Next Up: Dinner

Fava Beans: Bigger Than Expected
Dinner rolls around and after salad for lunch I needed something a bit meatier. Next ingredient to conquer: Fava Beans. I've seen fava beans at markets before, but never really knew what they were. They look a bit like green beans on steroids. 

At first I had thought about making a hummus-like dip from the beans - seemed logical, but boring. Again, Food & Wine came to the rescue with a recipe for Mike Lata's Fava Bean Pasta e Fagioli. Since I've never made anything with fava beans and really had no idea how they taste I totally followed the recipe, which meant getting a few ingredients: 2 slices of bacon, an onion, and a sprig of rosemary. Not so bad. The bacon did wonders for the taste of the broth - making it a bit more meat-y than bacon-y. Plus when you're eating the soup getting a bit of bacon in the bite is kind of like the lovely surprise you get when you get a tiny shaped marshmallow in a bowl of Lucky Charms - Pure Joy!
Soup's On!

As for the fava beans, it took me a bit to get the hang of removing the beans from the pods but after a couple pounds of pods I got it all worked out. Once they were blanched - shelling the beans were a bit of a slippery affair and if I was being graded on presentation - I might not get an 'A.' The soup turned out delicious and it will definitely be a "keeper" that I plan to revisit often.

The soup took care of all the beans, some gnarly carrots, and a bit of mint. I'm glad it used some of the mint, but I have big plans for the rest of it. Stay tuned....

I'm still wrestling with the Kohlrabi. Seriously, what is that thing and what's the best way to use it? If you have any ideas for it, please help a sister out!

Tuesday, June 26, 2012

CSA Box: Challenge Accepted

Produce and vegetables are big in Portland. We're super close to lots of local farms so it's pretty easy to get fresh greens. I particularly appreciate this aspect of Portland after living in New York. Who are we kidding? New York is an island and getting locally grown food there is a bit of a task. Often by the time you get to the vegetables they've travelled a bit so the shelf life tends to be not so long.

In Portland you can get a CSA box (Portland Area Community Supported Agriculture). Basically it's vegetables from the farm. You get the box once a week and you don't always know what you'll get. (Kind of like a vegetable wheel of fortune) The boxes are pretty big so it's not unheard of for people to split a box. Our friends who split a box are out of town and offered it to us this week.

Deeply intrigued by the idea of a CSA box I jumped at the chance to experience it. I picked up their share of the vegetables last night. Quite a bounty: 

Sweet Bounty!
Large bunch of scallions
Napa cabbage
Gnarly (literally) carrots
Fava beans
Kohlrabi (At least, I think that's what it's called)

While most people probably see a grocery list of healthy food, I see a challenge. I'm going to do my best to use everything in the CSA box by the end of the week. I'm not a great cook or a natural cook. I would rather bake any day of the week. 

Sauteed Kale with Garlic & Olive Oil

When I lived in New York I couldn't really cook at all (beyond making the occasional late night quesadilla). I took cooking classes at Peter Kump's Institute of Culinary Education. After quite a few classes I can pretty much follow just about any recipe and have a mild idea about flavor profiles. That's it. Don't start thinking I can create recipes. I still call my mom to find out how to boil an egg. 

This challenge is going to take me out of my comfort zone. I've already found a few recipes online for some of the ingredients, but if anyone has ideas about what to do with Kohlrabi or Fennel, please help a sista' out and send them my way.

Tonight I started off simple: Salad and sauteed kale. Oh and just because it all sounded so healthy I made some salted fudge brownies for dessert. 

Seriously, any ideas for some of these ingredients are great welcomed! Just leave a comment below.

Tuesday, June 19, 2012

A Slice of Americana

Dragon Boat
One of the things I like about Portland is its small town feel. The people are friendly and since so many spots in neighborhoods are essentially mom and pop shops it's easy to get to know the people in your 'hood. During the summer there are inevitably more events that are reminiscent of a town where you know your neighbors and people (tattoo'd, pierced, and dyed hair) will do their best to look out for each other. Think: Block parties and lemonade stands. Portland is also a creative town. 

When you combine those two elements you get things like a Milk Carton Race. Yes, you read that correctly. People use milk cartons to create a boat that they then paddle across the casting pond at a local park. I'm not making this up. It was an annual event for almost 30 years. I even met a few folks who remember going to it as kids. It stopped because the pond was drained. The pond has been refilled and the event is occurring once again.

There's something kind of magical about it. Families and friends working together to create boats made out of any type of milk carton that can actually float. People surround the pond to cheer on the racers and cool down with some free ice cream or root beer floats (it is a dairy event, after all). 
This isn't quite made out of milk cartons,
 but it definitely portrays the spirit of the event

It's a bit of a modern day Rockwell painting - only the people are likely wearing Revos instead of saddle shoes and people are checking their cell phones in lieu of reading the Saturday Post. Oh, and I'm betting Rockwell never saw boats like these. Given all that it's the same sentiment. Quirky, but similar.

Tuesday, June 12, 2012

Amazing Race Tryouts

I'm not going to lie, I love the Amazing Race. Besides getting to go around the world you get to do crazy crap around the world that you'd likely never get to do if you were just visiting. Watching the show on Sunday nights I think about what activities I can do and which ones Matt would have to do. I could handle heights, but he might have to bungee jump.

Wouldn't you vote for us?
Over the past few years, I've made no secret of my strong desire to go on the Amazing Race. Asking friends if they would want to go and then quickly listing reasons why we'd be a good team and more importantly how we would make excellent TV (this past season's Bopper & Mark from the South - now, they were great TV). It's not about coming up with a cute team name - please, the producers can do that. It's about being engaging, having some conflict, and most importantly, thoroughly enjoying the activity. Check, check, and check.

So you get the picture: I want to go on Amazing Race.

Matt saw something about tryouts. Turns out they were holding tryouts in Portland (well not, Portland proper - Beaverton/Tigard - it's the burbs) and the local news station was going to record the tryouts. All you had to do was go down to Big Al's (a massive entertainment center with video games, sports bar, and two bowling alleys), get a number, and try out. My friend Leena agreed to go with me and tryout. We're both short and have a good dynamic that's perfect TV - she's competitive and I'm fun. Oh and we're learning to speak French - you know, in case we end up in Burgundy.

Thankfully the day for tryouts was also the same day as the Rock-n-Rolla 5K event so right there a bunch of people don't show up! Woo hoo! A couple of hours go by, we try to come up with a good shpiel, and still no number called. Every number around our number gets called. I'm convinced they lost our number, Leena assures me that's not the case. Still I check the board of numbers even when nothing close to our number is called.

Finally it happens, our number is called. The adrenaline is pumping. People waiting for their turn on camera are super friendly. We get to the front of the line. Turns out tryouts are not such a big production after all. There are five small offices set up with a camera, lights, and a camera man. You have a minute to say your dealio. We're good for about 30 seconds - wow, that was a long time - we kick it into adlib. See, Amazing Race producers, we're fast on our feet. A minute is up and we are on our way down the hall where upon exiting someone asks us if we want to take a picture with the Travelocity Gnome.

Our response, "Hell, yeah!"

FYI - We'd say the same thing if the producers of Amazing Race called and said they had a spot for us. I'm just sayin'.

Saturday, June 9, 2012

Street Art

When I first visited Portland a few years ago it seemed like a great place for hippies. Between the colorful houses, the artistic sculptures all over town, and the vegan spots it could be their mecca. Of course, walking through neighborhoods I could usually count on hearing a Grateful Dead song coming from the speakers inside a house. Yep, it has a peaceful vibe and thankfully not a lot of patchouli wafting through the air. More than that, though, Portland is an artistic spot.

That's why it's not surprising to walk through a neighborhood and see a bit of a block party happening. Picture it: Intersection closed off, lemonade stand on a corner, kids riding bikes, Grateful Dead singing Sugar Magnolia on a nearby stereo, and oh yeah people literally painting the street.

Drive down certain neighborhoods in Portland and you'll notice a gigantic mural or painting in the middle of the street. Some say the idea behind it is to have people drive slower down the street (FYI - people have no problem obeying the speed limit in Portland). I tend to think it's because people in Portland like making their art. Here street art is a family affair. Adults and kids alike getting together on a  warm afternoon to paint the street. Not exactly the way people in New York might spend their Sunday afternoon, but this is part of Portland's charm.

Thursday, June 7, 2012

Now that's a brisket

When I first moved to Portland I shuddered at the thought of having to locate a place where I could actually buy a six- to eight-pound brisket. No matter who I asked the answer was always the same one word: Gartner's. Then people sometimes added, "It's out by the airport."

"What is a Gartner's?" I wondered.

I wasn't sure what to make of a butcher out by the airport. In other towns, meat spots near the airport aren't usually home to "choice" meat products. Though many things are not as one might expect in Portland and I needed a brisket. I called and was able to order a brisket, no problem. Smallest brisket was about five pounds. Gartner's: not messing around.

Got Game? Seriously.
Finally, the day to pick up the brisket arrives and I head to the airport. In the car, I consider making a few chickens, instead. Maybe lamb might be nice. Alternate menus drift in and out of my thoughts. Until I arrive at Gartner's. It's out there, alright. Not much by it. It's a rather non-descript red building - something that looks like it might have been built in any time period. There are a few signs that catch my eye. Initially, I think it's the old time style of writing, but on closer inspection it's what's on the sign that has got me simultaneously intrigued and scared. Wild Game Processing. Interesting. That's not something you'd find in New York - then again, not a lot of wild game hunting in the city.

Now, I can't wait to get inside. It's like a typical butcher shop only much, much bigger. People behind the counter are running around in white butcher coats. They've got the pick a number system, and there's a pretty gigantic walk-in freezer where I'm guessing they're doing a ton of well, butchering. Cases are filled with meats of all kinds and some prepared options, as well. Then there is the vast supply of meat sticks - pepperoni, chorizo - you name it, they've go it.

When my number was called my order was ready - encased in a plastic shrinkwrap, wrapped in Gartner's butcher paper. As long as I was there it seemed wrong not to leave without some sliced turkey breast and meat sticks. A sampling will do nicely.

Feeling elated that I have indeed secured a brisket and got a few extras I make my way home. I can't wait to see it up close. I get my pot ready and unwrap the meat. It's just gorgeous. Looking at it I know it's pretty hard not to make it into something delicious. Once it's in the pot, doused in all the other ingredients that's going to make this brisket taste like something out of my childhood, I set the timer and crack open the sliced turkey breast. How on earth do they make it so moist. I tear off a small piece for a taste - it's not wet, it just melts in my mouth. Scrumptious!

After hours of cooking, the brisket comes out perfect and when I serve it the next day (brisket is always better the next day) it's the hit of the night. The moral of the story, you don't need to go to New York to  taste the brisket Grandma use to make, you just need a solid recipe and meat from Gartner's.

Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Day at the Races

When I lived in New York I would wait to do touristy things until someone came for a visit. One of the things I've always wanted to do was visit Ellis Island. I've been to the Statue of Liberty - even climbed to the top of it when that was still allowed. People would come and often had their own list of things to do that sadly didn't include a visit to Ellis Island. In short, I still have not been to Ellis Island.

But why the Ellis Island rant? It's not going anywhere. Well, it explains my latest idea. I've started to create a list of all the things I want to do in Portland - touristy or not. As of now, the list isn't incredibly long (and that's a hint to please make suggestions). One of the things on my list was to go to the horse track. I've never been to one at all. Turns out Portland has a racetrack: Portland Meadows. Of course, the season is short and horses only race on certain days of the week - Monday and Wednesday. There was a three-day weekend approaching and I said, "Let's go to the track."

Matt's been to the track so he became our sort of go-to guy for betting and questions. I wanted to brush up on terminology and get a feel for the pending excitement so I watched back-to-back episodes of HBO's Luck. It seems thrilling and maybe a bit depressing. There was even a jab about Portland Meadows in one of the episodes. Matt assures me that the track we're going to is quite different than the one where Luck is (err, was) filmed. Still I can't wait to go.

Monday morning we pick up some friends and head out to the track. Blood is pulsing through my veins in anticipation of all the betting action and the idea of watching the horses come out of the gate. Matt was right. Portland Meadows is no Santa Anita. Still I'm ready embrace it. We walk in and there's a banquet-sized room "for adults only" filled with poker machines featuring a red, black, and yellow carpet featuring a pattern that probably wasn't even popular in the 1970's. This was not the betting I had in mind. No worries. We continue on through the room and make our way to the action . We buy a racing form, which isn't slick like a Playbill for a Broadway show, but rather a couple of pieces of paper shooting out of a machine. Matt takes charge of the form as he seems to have a good grasp on what all the numbers and terminology means. Me, at this point, I'm only interested in the names and the jockeys.

A race is about to start, we run outside to see the horses. It's a short race, the horses don't even go around the track. They rush by us heading to the finish line less than a minute after the race starts. Blink and you miss it. The track itself isn't all that impressive and that's probably due to the fact that in the middle of the track is a golf course. I don't golf, but I'm guessing it's not one of the most challenging or sought-after courses.

I'll admit it's all exciting. Then we make some bets. I'm not so strategic about this, but at least it doesn't cost a lot to make a bet. Finally, the horse I liked the most is about to race. So I bet what I have left (maybe $2 - yeah, I'm a big spender) on a horse named Mechugana. He comes out, walks the track, looks good. Turns out Mechugana didn't win, didn't even place. That's all good because I think I had more fun ripping up my ticket, throwing it over head, and exclaiming, "Why did I bet on a crazy horse?"

Ah yes, good times you can bet on.

Tuesday, February 28, 2012

Soup-Off: Oh Yeah, It's On!

Living in Portland there's one thing that becomes evidently clear: Food is no joke. In fact, it's tied to the culture. Not to say that there are foodies running around all over town - though there are quite a few. In this particular instance I'm not referring to restaurants, I'm talking about a bit of a tradition that has been created with a few friends. I think the idea first reared its delicious little head at an Orphan Christmas Dinner (another tasty event), but I can't be certain. All I know is that one cold January night about ten of us found our way with a crock-pot of home-made soup in hand to our friend's house.

The Challenge: Who can make the best soup?

Potato Leek Soup with a little something extra
Oh yeah, it was on. People brought some amazing soups and had some great stories to tell about their creations. One person brought the soup that he always made to impress a girl on a first date...and it had worked. Another person didn't have a fabulous story, but had an interesting method. He used whatever he found in the pantry. Three years later, this is still his practice and there is always a surprising element whether it be texture, flavor, or random ingredient. Of course, there is bound to be some lively debate about what constitutes soup. Is a stew considered a soup? How about chili? Then there's plenty of googl-ing to determine the Internet's stance of the subject. I'm not entirely sure of the ruling, but chili is pretty much out.

I had yet to win a soup-off. I hadn't even made a soup that placed in the top three. Now, soup is not my specialty, but I like a challenge. This year I was bold. I ventured to make a version of potato leek soup. The previous year there were two potato leek soups in the competition and they didn't even place. So who was I to be so daring? Sometimes you gotta go with what you know.

Over the past year, I have been perfecting my version by adding elements other than potato and leek for more depth of flavor and varying the heat and time at which I cooked the soup. I had to bring it. What was the result? The best compliment ever, people could taste "layers of flavor." Yeah, that's right - a saying I like hearing on Top Chef. Although, I didn't win the Soup-Off outright (which is actually kind of good since it was decided that this year's winner had to create an official Soup-Off trophy), I did actually place and came in second. And too that I say a hearty "Woo-Hoo!"

And the winner is...

It's not just a soup it's an entire campaign
But now the question is who came in 1st? Well, in Portland there's no short of creativity and the soup with the biggest display did end up winning. Situated behind the crock pot was a collage complete with lights and even music. It was quite a show and if that's not enough, there were envelopes placed next to the crock pot. My curiosity got the best of me and it wasn't just a thank you note. Nope, it also had a $1 in it like one of those mailers that includes a nickel in hopes that you will sponsor a child... somewhere. Not to worry, this group isn't swayed by the blatant attempt to buy votes. The winner brought his favorite soup - a mexican soup that even had avocados. It was oddly similar to a soup from a local Mexican place and it had nailed that Mexican American flavor with aplomb.

So with all that creativity it only makes sense that the winner should be the one to make the trophy that will be passed on annually. I'm just hoping it's something people will want to show in their homes with pride. Since as happy as I am with second, I wouldn't be upset to come in first.

Tuesday, January 24, 2012

Rain Rookie

I'm not one for New Year's resolutions, but I am one for making changes. Since I work at home, I've been thinking of ways to get out of the house more. While I enjoy the long walks that I try to take daily with Zsa Zsa (in case you don't know, that's our dog) the rainy season has put a bit of a halt on that. See, Zsash is not one for walking in the rain. She gets as close as an open front door, does a quick sniff outside, and promptly turns around and heads back inside. Consequently, that means my daily walks are beginning to dwindle.

Instead of waiting for Zsash to accompany me on a nice stroll out in the rain, I took a page from my New York handbook and decided to walk to my errands. Granted, when I lived in New York my errands were typically within five blocks of my home and maybe within one Avenue. Not so bad. Here my errands are within about 15 to 20 blocks depending on where I need to go. Still, not really an issue. I should mention it does rain here a lot and it's often a bit of a perpetual mist. I'm not sure that it's the amount Seattle gets, but then again I haven't lived in Seattle.

There's been some rain today - mist, rain, mist, slashing rain, more mist - but I can handle the elements. I set out to run my errands on foot with a plastic re-usable bag, warm puffy rain-resistant jacket, and even an umbrella (just in case - though admittedly I do my best to avoid umbrellas). At first it was a bit of a mist, which turned into sideways sheets of rain. At this point, I was already seven blocks into my journey - not quite close enough to turn back. The rain got worse, but I was staying fairly dry. Too bad my head was freezing. The rain slowed down a bit and I'm just a couple of blocks from my destination and I accidentally break Zsash's cardinal rule: Avoid puddles at all costs. Foiled!

On the walk home through a mild mist wearing drenched socks and wet sneakers, with bag of groceries heavy on my shoulder and umbrella swaying side to side flicking drops of water on my pants I realized a few vital tips that could have made this experience a bit better:

  • A hat is always good 
  • There's a reason people wear rain boots
  • Gloves are necessary if using an umbrella
  • An extra bag is never a bad thing 

I'm glad to be armed with this knowledge since I really don't mind the rain. I just can't believe it took me this long to figure out.