Wednesday, September 9, 2009

Sandwiches, A Cookbook, and Window Treatments

Portland loves to eat and there are any number of places to indulge your love of food in this city.

I was out to lunch twice last week and let me tell you, sandwiches are elevated in this town. One can order a tuna salad or roast beef, or turkey sandwich here, but just because one can order these rather mundane classics, doesn’t mean you should Consider some of these alternatives: a tavern on Woodstock sells a sandwich constructed of freshly roasted turkey, bacon, quacamole, and Jalapena pepperjack cheese. It’s served on toasted slices of sour dough bread with sliced tomatoes and shredded iceberg lettuce. It’s a delicious, hearty lunch. Down the street at Otto’s Sausage Shop you can have a pork sausage or hodog which the grill right outside of the store. You can smother it in mustard, chopped onion, relish or saurkraut and wash it down with a beer on a picnic bench nearby as you enjoy the midday sun. West is a popular yet serene downtown contemporary restaurant with a stylish menu of sandwiches, salads, and omelets. I’ve eaten fish tacos at a local taqueria for $3.95 and they were fresh and tasty.

The city is currently in the throes of passion for small, trailer-type outdoor food businesses that offer an enormous variety of ethnic and popular foods from hamburgers to chili to Thai, Vietnamese, Italian, Mexican, Malaysian, Russian and Chinese. These businesses are sprouting up all over the city and provide delicious, inexpensive and adventurous alternatives to fast food and sandwich shops. And anything that can be stuffed into something resembling bread, is an immediate hit.

For Labor Day I had lunch with a young chef, food columnist, restaurant reviewer and cookbook writer named Ivy Manning and her husband, Gregor. I met Ivy through an agent. She gave me her newest cookbook, THE ADAPTABLE FEAST--a delightful collection or recipes that shows you how to cook for the omnivores, vegetarians and vegans in your family by adding or subtracting ingredients, which will be published in November. There are some superb looking recipes here, and I’m mighty tempted by Chili with Cornbread Biscuit Topping, Fried Green Tomatoes (and Sometimes Bacon) with Smokey Bue Cheese, Piccadillo Empenadas, Stuffed Chicken Breasts with Portobello Mushrooms, Spinach Roulade with Red Peppers and Ricotta, Caramelized Onion, Olive and Ricotta Tart We went to the Sellwood neighborhood for excellent Cobb salads at a billiard hall/bar that’s popular with the locals in the neighborhood. She and her husband (who took the very attractive photos for the book) took a tour of the house and fell in love with Beau. They have brindled grey hound--rather unusual and she's very pretty. One of the things that I love about Ivy's book is that as a writer, she has a real voice. This is not just some collection of recipes with no point of view and pretty food porn to delight the eye and then end up on the bookshelf without so much as a spin in the kitchen. This is food anyone can make and feel great about serving. Keep an eye on Ivy.

Friday I went with friends to dinner at a mock-Tudor house in the NW section of the city. On a third of an acre, the owner, has conceived a magnificent garden with a bounty of flowers, trees and shrubs, with grass and conversation areas. There are plenty of potted plants such as lemon trees, and rose bushes, and tomatoes. He makes his own fountains--these great tall things with shimmering water dripping down them with lights. He's a very talented builder and takes classes at a local community college on construction, electricity, plumbing, cooking, canning and conserving--whatever he's into at the moment. He can cook superbly, make his own dinner liqueurs (a fabulous blackberry vodka accompanied a dessert of blackerrry sorbet, with lemon pound cake and a touch of whipped cream), construct a display case with floating glass shelves to show off his Asian art objects, move walls to make a roomier den, construct new doors on his kitchen cabinets, tile the back splashes in the kitchen and guest bathrooms, and other projects. We drank a surprising number of little glasses of blackberry vodka because it wasn’t sweet at all and had big blackberry flavor.

Saturday night John Baker, Darren and I went to Eleni, a first-rate Greek restaurant, also in the Sellwood area of the South East area of Portland. I loved the food here. We began with big summer tomatoes stuffed and baked with large shrimp, partially shelled, garlic, more tomatoes, Greek oregano onions, and feta. That’s a lot of big flavors going on at one time. John and Darren wanted Moussaka, but a braised rabbit dish grabbed my attention. This is a gorgeous braised dish of tender rabbit, fennel, onions, tomato, and garlic. I found their wine list rather pricey, and our Barbera choice was not available. But the waiter brought us a worthy if more expensive alternative. The good news is that it was Greek and very good.

I recently roasted a chicken when I had only one guest for dinner. Since I was to be out for much of the week I opted to turn the considerable leftovers into a chicken potpie that would serve six. The pie was generously filled with potatoes, carrots, celery, red pepper, onion, peas, edamame, chicken, chicken stock, thyme from my garden, a touch of pepper flakes, and a final ¼ cup of heavy cream that I pulled from the refrigerator at the last minute. I turned to BUBBY’S HOMEMADE PIES by Ron Silver for inspiration for a crust and found exactly what I was looking for--a Jalapena pepper jack cheese crust that gave this flavorful if conventional pie just a touch of zing. After it cooled off, I froze it for later use. It bcame the entrĂ©e on Wednesday night, when were four for dinner. I kept the rest of the meal simple—some salami and cheese to nosh on with wine before dinner and the potpie was served with a simple green salad with homemade coffee-pecan ice cream for dessert and lots of Rose to wash it down with. The natives were starving, but I did manage to salvage a portion for lunch on Saturday.

Like I said, this is one humming, hungry, food-crazy town!

Window shades arrived to day and are now in place. At last, privacy in the rooms in the front of the house and in my bedroom (assuming I ever get lucky again, I can spare the neighbors that sight!). So is a chandelier that I put over the dining room table. I was going to stick to candles in the dining room, but this chandelier is great looking and once the dimmer is installed I'll have plenty of mood lighting for company and go bright when I'm working at my laptop in the dining room. Bookshelves for my cookbooks arrive by Friday and then I'm officially done with the initial move-in and decoration of the house. Time to pursue other projects and get off my butt and get my driving lessons done with before the rains come in late October.

Next weekend--my first house guests!

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