Next Year’s Words Await Another Voice

“For last year’s words belong to last year’s language 
And next year’s words await another voice.”      ― T.S. EliotFour Quartets*

The spousal unit had a birthday this week. A big one, if you know what I mean. One with a zero. While most people like to go out and celebrate on their birthday, especially a big one, the S.U. decisively chooses dinner at home every year. He very rarely even makes specific requests, which exhibits either a tremendous amount of trust in me or a troubling lack of concern about his dinner. I choose to believe the former. If you know differently, please don’t tell me. I need my fantasies.

Birthday apps: gems from Matunuck and a martini made with The Botanist, a gin from Scotland.

Birthday apps: gems from Matunuck and a martini made with The Botanist, a gin from Scotland.

Last year, having fallen prey to the siren call of a shiny black tautog at the farmer’s market, I pursued a pescatorian path. Underestimating my own ability to clean a fish, I had to ask for help. Probably not my brightest moment: getting elbow deep in fish guts kind of takes the bloom off the old birthday rose. This year I heeded the voice of lamb calling me, specifically the corned lamb I ate at Le Pigeon in Portland. As I thought back on this dish, I remembered how each component was an interesting play on a traditional corned beef dinner: lamb instead of beef; mustard delicately saucing the potatoes instead of on the side; a cabbage cream instead of boiled cabbage; freshly grated horseradish instead of prepared. I knew I had my work cut out for me to attempt creating and uglier but still delicious version of this dish.

Spicy lamb bath.

Spicy lamb bath.

Long story short: I procured a beautiful lamb shoulder from Persimmon Provisions. I separated it at the shoulder joint and boned out half for a lamb pastrami experiment (spoiler alert: delicious). I brined the other half for three days, following the recipe for corned beef in Michael Ruhlman & Brian Polcyn’s Charcuterie, and then poached the meat for three hours until it reached the perfect state of wobbliness. I portioned it out, seared the hell out of the fat cap, and served it over boiled new potatoes tossed with butter, grainy mustard, and mascarpone, surrounded by an onion soubise (the birthday boy is not a huge cabbage fan). The original dish featured Oregon huckleberries; I substituted pickled cherries that I made in the height of cherry season and fashioned a gastrique using the cherry pickling liquid.

Lamb pastrami, ready for the smoker.

Lamb pastrami, ready for the smoker.

Horrible photo, delicious food: corned lamb, pickled cherries, onion soubise, potatoes with grainy mustard, cherry gastrique.

Horrible photo, delicious food: corned lamb, pickled cherries, onion soubise, potatoes with grainy mustard, cherry gastrique, and grated horseradish.

I will not lie: this supremely unattractive dish was astoundingly delicious, but it only achieved full glory when matched with a weird 2009 Kenneth Volk Mouvèdre from the Central Coast of California. When I bought this wine four years ago, I stowed it away with the following tasting note: “Brambleberry, salt, smoke!!! Rustic and wild. Needs lamb or game.” I almost dislocated my own shoulder patting myself on the back for this pairing. I can’t imagine a better duo. This wine, 100% Mouvèdre, really drove home for me what this grape brings to many of my favorite French red wines (CdP, GSM, Bordeaux). Ergo: delicious + educational. Win!

mouvedreWe cleansed our palates with a salad of melon and cucumber, quick pickled in rice wine vinegar, served with crispy bacon, a good glug of peppery Greek olive oil, and thin slices of serrano. It was the only way I could think of to bring some oomph to the shockingly flavor-less melon that came in last week’s CSA box. I enjoyed the salad, but it was a little like wearing a padded bra: there’s only so much you can do when the raw materials underwhelm.

Crunchy cukes, wimpy melon, crispy bacon, zingy chile.

Crunchy cukes, wimpy melon, crispy bacon, zingy chile.

I made some decadent shortbread cookies studded with toffee for dessert which we kind of ignored in favor of drinking more of that Mouvèdre.

*Owing to the failure of the American educational system (or, more likely, my own inattention in Odessa Coulter’s 11th grade English class), I know diddly squat about T.S Eliot, other than that his name is the best-known anagram of toilets. I only know this from watching the brilliant John Sessions render nonsense in the style of Eliot on the pilot of Whose Line is it Anyway?

But this morning, as I was getting ready for work, Jay started reading me some of Eliot’s poetry, ostensibly to prove what a crap poet he was. I disagree. I think Eliot was just composing in the wrong era. Take his verse and stick a thumping bass behind it and you’ve got some pretty impressive rap songs. Or, conversely, plop his words over a topsy-turvy score, and you’ve got a comic opera worthy of Gilbert & Sullivan. See? A victim of his time, I tell you! Eliot also wrote a lot of poems about cats and, having read some of them, Jay insists that he certainly never owned a cat. He assuredly never owned one who vomited all over his mid-century Heywood Wakefield sofa, as one of mine did this morning.

In conclusion, we had a great birthday dinner and we learned something about poetry. Go to the 1:35 mark (or so) to enhance your own knowledge of T.S. Eliot, as well as Daniel Defoe, Aleksandr Solzhenitsyn, and Jackie Collins.

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Eating Out of the Box: The Plight of the Flavorless Melon

Cucumber, tomatoes, purple basil, beets, dill and melon.

Cucumber, zucchini, tomatoes, purple basil, eggplant, beets, dill, new potatoes, and melon.

More squash, more beets (I like beets, but MORE BEETS? Seriously?). Also tomatoes, a cucumber, a bunch of dill, a tease of a melon, three zucchini, and a study in purple: eggplant, basil, and potatoes.

The melon I had planned to make into a sorbet. The flesh was gorgeous, but it had no flavor. I think it sold its flavor to the devil and what I received is the picture of its flavor that is supposed to stay in the basement while the perennially luscious flavor is out debauching all over London (an imperfect metaphor, I admit). So, I did what I generally do when I’m stumped: I pickled it. We ate it in a salad at Jay’s birthday dinner (more on that coming soon). The pickling definitely improved it, but still it disappointed.

The eggplant, zucchini, and tomatoes joined a couple of robust crookneck squash donated by the lovely Lucy Oullette Santis in a rustic ratatouille which we ate at Jay’s pre-birthday dinner, topped with a healthy mound of Narragansett Creamery ricotta, a swish of olive oil, and lots of black pepper.

Ratatouille with ricotta.

Ratatouille with ricotta.

The purple basil garnished a Asian-inspired cucumber salad (cucumbers, rice wine vinegar, toasted sesame oil, fish sauce, chopped peanuts) and took a starring role in a crayola-colored cocktail (St. George’s gin, purple basil, pomegranate, simple syrup, lemon juice, lemon bitters*). Now that’s what I call multi-tasking!

Cucumber salad.

Cucumber salad.

Purple hooch.

Purple hooch.

I pickled the beets (of course) and used the potatoes in Jay’s birthday dinner. All good stuff.

*I have a ton of homemade bitters looking for a good home. If you’re interested, hit me up.

Signing off with the Gourds, covering Snoop Dogg.

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Eating Out of the Box: Vacation Scramble

The box arrived while I was on vacation and sat unattended in the fridge at work for four days, giving me much less time to take advantage of the bounty. The original haul included four ears of local corn which I bequeathed via email from California to my boss because (1) fresh corn needs to be eaten immediately; the quality would have declined dramatically if it sat around for several days, (2) I really like my boss, and (3) sucking up with farm fresh, local, organic produce is pretty much the most ethical way to suck up.

Here’s what awaited me upon my return from the west coast:

Zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, celery, onion, and chives.

Zucchini, tomatoes, green beans, carrots, celery, onion, and chives.

The celery and carrot had already gone past their prime, so I made them into a rich vegetable stock with onions, tomatoes, parsley, peppercorns, and bay leaf. I popped this in the freezer for future risottos, beans, or soups.

Vegetable stock.

Vegetable stock.

I thinly shaved the zucchini on the mandoline (PSA: use a kevlar glove!!) and tossed the slices with a concasse of the tomato, spiked with capers and garlic. A dollop of mascarpone on top.

Zucchini "pasta" with crushed tomato, capers, and mascarpone.

Zucchini “pasta” with crushed tomato, capers, and mascarpone.

I pickled the green beans because I am a pickle fiend. These would also be awesome in a Bloody Mary.

pickled green beans

I stuffed the green peppers with sautéed onions, mushrooms, zucchini, and tomatoes. Worried that this might be too healthy, I grabbed a proscuitto end out of the fridge, diced it and added it to the vegetables. A handful of goat cheese topped it off.

This pepper looks a little like Oscar the Grouch.

This pepper looks a little like Oscar the Grouch.

The chives, although undocumented, garnished a plate of soft scrambled eggs.

All in all, not my most creative use of ingredients, but considering the time constraints I am glad to have put everything to good use!

I had a helper during the photography session. Chet is a either fan of local produce or pointy-toes Prada pumps!

I had a helper during the photography session. Chet is a either fan of local produce or pointy-toed Prada pumps!

 

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Playlist: 08-08-14

playlist 0814

It was a good ride this morning for my 5:45 AM Roosters and I was honored to be back in the saddle after two weeks on vacation! Thanks immensely to Nick Coloumbe for sitting in for me. It take a lotta heart to agree to sub these daybreak classes. I owe him, big time.

We alternated high-intensity intervals with pure strength work, propelled along in the work by some very hot remixes and a balance of old and new tunes. I personally will never tire of the entire Fantasies album by Metric. Emily Haines’s voice grabs me by the jugular every time and when she demands “more and more; more and more; more and more and more and more,” the legs have no choice but to deliver.

Now: FREE MUSIC!

The Bastille Remix here

The White Stripes Remix here

Happy riding!

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Sonoma! (Or: The Drinking Portion of My Vacation)

Veraison in action at MacLeod Family Vineyard.

Veraison in action at MacLeod Family Vineyard.

Having left our hearts (or, in my case, half a heart) in San Francisco, Steve, Jay, and I drove north on the 101 to Healdsburg, an adorable town in the northern portion of Sonoma County, which would serve as our locus operandi for several days of wine tasting and eating. I will spare you a blow-by-blow of the vineyards, wines, and individual dishes, except to offer the following bullet points:

Rolling vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for the delightful sparklers at Iron Horse. Not a bad way to kick off the tasting portion of our trip.

Rolling vines of Pinot Noir and Chardonnay for the delightful sparklers at Iron Horse. Not a bad way to kick off the tasting portion of our trip.

The scene from the Gary Farrell tasting room on Westside Road. The elegance of the wines matched the view.

The scene from the Gary Farrell tasting room on Westside Road. The elegance of the wines matched the view.

Greta, the winery cat at Gary Farrell.

Greta, the winery cat at Gary Farrell.

This baby owl greeted us at the Arista tasting room!

This baby owl greeted us at the Arista tasting room!

Pride Mountain Vineyards in the Spring Mountain AVA. Half the vineyards are in Napa County, half in Sonoma.

Pride Mountain Vineyards in the Spring Mountain AVA. Half the vineyards are in Napa County, half in Sonoma.

  • We ate some truly delicious food at Dry Creek Kitchen, Bravas, The Girl and the Fig, the Healdsburg Bar & Grill, the Fremont Diner, and some Mexican place whose name I can’t remember but at which I introduced Steve to the habanero pepper. He won’t forget that soon.
  • We met some genuinely fun and interesting people. Having an Englishman (who lives in Scotland) with you opens up all sorts of fun conversational opportunities with strangers. The fact that there is often wine involved doesn’t hurt, either.
  • It’s great having a whisky expert with you because his eagle eyes can spy a bottle of no-longer-made Glengoyne 17 on an eight-foot high shelf among hundreds of other bottles from 20 yards away. Then he’ll treat you to some of it.
It wasn't all about the wine....

It wasn’t all about the wine….

  • Jay and I speak to each other in fake British accents approximately 65% of the time (quoting Monty Python, Fawlty Towers, The Office, Spinal Tap, etc.). Having a real Brit around to point out how ridiculous we sound (NB: Jay sounds much less ridiculous than I) both embarrassed us and goaded us on.
  • I am not to be trusted with numbers, dates, or directions. The only semi-glitches we encountered resulted from my own idiocy and mental oafishness.
Steve and I took a breathtaking and quad-crushing hike through Armstrong Woods State Park. Many thanks to Dave Edwards for this fabulous recommendation!

Steve and I took a breathtaking and quad-crushing hike through Armstrong Woods State Park. Many thanks to Dave Edwards for this fabulous recommendation!

The highlight of the trip, though, was our visit to MacLeod Family Vineyard in the Sonoma Valley. I first visited MacLeod four years ago on a solo tasting trip. Richard MacLeod gave me a private tour of the vineyards; we talked about clones and grafting techniques and how the family wine business had grown out of Richard’s father George’s desire in the 70s to have a retirement place. Then we sat at a picnic table under an oak tree and tasted the wines. I was blown away. MacLeod produces primarily Sauvignon Blanc and Zinfandel on about 50 acres of rocky slope in central Sonoma. Until 2005, the family sold all of their grapes to other winemakers, but recognizing the high quality of their fruit, they decided to make some wine of their own.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes almost ready for harvest at MacLeod Family Vineyard. When harvested, the grapes will have twice the sugar content of table grapes. The sugar will turn into alcohol via fermentation.

Sauvignon Blanc grapes almost ready for harvest at MacLeod Family Vineyard. When harvested, the grapes will have twice the sugar content of table grapes. The sugar will turn into alcohol via fermentation.

Two years later, I returned to MacLeod with my friend Bryna when we were on the west coast for our friend Jessica’s wedding (NB: Jessica is now a mom! I got to spend an afternoon with Jess and her perfect nine-week-old daughter Emery on this trip. Such an incredible experience!). Bryna and I met Marjorie MacLeod, George’s daughter-in-law, and George himself on that visit. We drank more wine and again I was agog at the quality. MacLeod had added Merlot to their catalog, a round, well-balanced wine with aromas of dark plums and a tiny bit of cocoa; an absolute beauty.

This grouping of plants, the insectary, encourages bees and other beneficial insects in the vineyard.

This grouping of plants, the insectary, encourages bees and other beneficial insects in the vineyard.

This year, I had Jay and Steve with me. The MacLeods (Marjorie and her husband John) took us and a small group of their family friends into the vines, which are ripening early this year throughout the valley due to a warm winter and dry, hot growing season. We picked grapes and tasted the berries. John tested the brix (sugar) levels of the Sauvignon Blanc grapes and told us they would likely harvest in the next week or two. We saw Zinfandel grapes going through veraison, when the grapes turn from green to purple. We talked about changes in pruning techniques and their move towards organic growing practices. And again, we sat at a picnic table under a majestic oak tree and drank their delicious wine. Soon, patriarch George joined us and regaled us with stories. At 93, George, a born raconteur, has a more than a few to tell. I can’t imagine a more perfect wine experience.

John MacLeod checks the sugar content, or brix level, of the SB grapes with a refractometer.

John MacLeod checks the sugar content, or brix level, of the SB grapes with a refractometer.

The fantastically charming George MacLeod.

The fantastically charming George MacLeod.

To add to the fun, we got to try some of the MacLeod’s homemade apple juice (before grapes, apple trees took up much of the real estate) and to hang out with Marjorie’s awesome dog Panda.

PANDA!

PANDA!

Here’s the thing about MacLeod: this family is so charming, so generous, and so genuine, that one could almost forgive them if their wine wasn’t that good.

But the wine is WONDERFUL.

The Sauvignon Blanc is pleasantly acidic, displaying mango and citrus on the palate. It’s seen a tiny bit of neutral oak, which reveals itself only on the roundness in the finish. It goes great with seafood, avocado, or goat cheese. The Zinfandel is big, but it’s not overly baked or alcoholically jammy like so many California Zins. It’s got sweet spices, black fruit, and a little bit of smoke and it makes one want to eat grilled meat, preferably with a little char on the edges. The Merlot still impresses; it’s a super match with roast chicken or pork. MacLeod now makes a crisp, dry Merlot rosé which is pretty much summer in a glass. We (and Bryna) belong to the MacLeod Association, so we get shipments of all these twice a year. (NB: You can, too!)  We have never been disappointed with any bottle of MacLeod and consider it our house wine. I’ve heard rumors of friends threatening to sneak into our basement to abscond with bottles for themselves, and I can’t say I’d blame them.

When it came time to head back to the airport and to reality, my heart sunk a bit. I guess all the best vacations end that way. But, in the end, this trip inspired and enlivened me. I owe most of that to my awesome travelling companions and a good deal to the brilliant vignerons, winemakers, farmers, and chefs who stewarded and presented the terroir of Sonoma for my eating and drinking pleasure. A special debt of gratitude goes to the MacLeod family for their immense hospitality and their damn fine wine.

The sewer at Pride. You didn't think I could pass up a sewer pic, did you?

The sewer at Pride. You didn’t think I could pass up a sewer pic, did you?

Signing off with a tune from one of my favorite bands of the last decade, which from a titular perspective expresses my goal for this trip.

 

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San Francisco! (Or: The Running Portion of My Vacation)

I'm in there somewhere. Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Marathon.

I’m in there somewhere. Photo courtesy of The San Francisco Marathon.

Sometime over the winter, probably on a wretchedly cold and blustery night, our friend Steve (who lives in Edinburgh, by the way), probably influenced by a drink or two, posted on Facebook, “Who wants to run the San Francisco Marathon with me in July?” I, across the pond, also probably under the influence of a drink or two, replied, “I’m in!” I’m assuming that no one here is going to be rude enough to point out that my drinks (and their ensuing influence) were, because of the time difference, approximately five hours earlier in the evening than my friend’s. Right. Moving on.

No sooner had the gauntlet been thrown and entry fee paid, I broke a tiny but important bone in my left foot which prevented me from running, jumping, wearing high heels, or having fun for eight weeks (is it a coincidence that “San Francisco Marathon” and “Stress Fracture, Metatarsal” have the same initials?). With half my training time gone, I scaled back my goal from running the full marathon to the half-marathon.

San Francisco marathon elevation map. Yikes! Look at those hills! Even the half-marathon course is a challenge.

San Francisco marathon elevation map. Yikes! Look at those hills! Even the half-marathon course is a challenge.

Fast forward to July! We crafted a plan to meet in San Francisco on the Friday before the race, chill and hydrate on Saturday, run on Sunday, and then meet Jay on Monday for several days of wine tasting in Sonoma county (more on that portion of the trip later). I rented a cute Victorian apartment in Berkeley that served as home base and I made my first friend.

Unemployed Berkeley kitty. Probably majored in semiotics.

Unemployed Berkeley kitty. Probably majored in semiotics.

Saturday morning, we headed into the city to pick up our packets. The sun shone, the birds chirped, and 26,000 other runners anxiously double-checked their bib numbers and spent money furiously at the race expo. I bought a pair of stupid-looking, technologically-advanced running shoes that the sales guy promised would take a minute off my mile time and make my butt twenty years younger.

Steve went to meet some UK friends, and I got to explore one of my favorite places in San Francisco, The Ferry Market. Overpriced? Hell, yes. But beautiful? Absolutely! Surrounded by astonishingly picturesque produce and other comestibles, I think it must be impossible to be sad there.

Ferry Market Flowers

Ferry Market various

Ferry Market Herbs

I also got to visit the SF outpost of Rancho Gordo beans.

I see cassoulet in our future!

I see cassoulet in our future!

And most importantly, I made the pilgrimage to the high temple of meat, Ryan Farr’s 4505 Meats (you can read me gush about Ryan Farr here, here, here, and here).

4505 Meats, outpost of the meaty deity (and genuinely nice guy), Ryan Farr.

4505 Meats, outpost of the meaty deity (and genuinely nice guy), Ryan Farr.

4505's breakfast sandwich: brioche bun, sausage, bacon, fried egg, arugula, and spicy mayo.

4505′s breakfast sandwich: brioche bun, sausage, bacon, fried egg, arugula, and spicy mayo.

Sunday morning, we queued up in our corral for a dreadfully early gun time of 5:42 AM. The weather was perfect: upper 50s, slightly overcast, not too much breeze. I got a bit teary as we ran over the Golden Gate bridge (and back again) by the grandeur of the moment. I got a bit curse-y going up the leg-killing hill in the Presidio (I got more curse-y coming down…ouch). A nice man gave me a free hug at mile 11 and I crossed the finish line without embarrassing myself.

Steve, well-conditioned youngster that he is, finished the full 26.2 with energy to spare (please, go back and look at that elevation map again and then pick your chin up off the floor). We celebrated with pizza and wine and prepared ourselves for the next challenge of the holiday: conquering Sonoma county!

The day before the race, I took a yoga class with a teacher that annoyed the crap out of me. Seriously: I spent the first 45 minutes of the class talking to myself about what an idiot she was. I stopped my own internal bitching just in time to hear her say, “When we let ourselves get involved with the monologue in our head, we cut ourselves off from experiencing what is happening and what is real.” BOOM. The itty bitty shitty committee in my head went silent. Immediately. That simple statement from a woman I was well on the way to hating gave me a new perspective on the failure I felt sure was pre-ordained during my run.

As a result, I chose this shirt to wear when I ran as a reminder to myself to respect the process and to not be too annoyed that I couldn’t go for the full marathon. I think it kind of temporarily worked!

"Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Victorious. The victory is not in the victory." I am especially adept at the "fail" part.

“Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Try. Fail. Learn. Victorious. The victory is not in the victory.” I am especially adept at the “fail” part.

As usual, I had a song stuck in my head throughout the morning. For some reason, Moby (even though he’s a pretentious wanker) came to mind and, thankfully, to my feet and my heart.

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Eating Out of the Box, More UBD Food

The latest CSA box arrived just days before I left for San Francisco (more on that to come), so I hustled to use or preserve the booty before I jetted (back) to the west coast. The results were even uglier than my usual Ugly But Delicious cuisine, but I am happy to report that the delicious factor remained.

The box contained collard greens, garlic, pattypan squash, sweet onions, green beans, and blueberries.

The box contained collard greens, garlic, pattypan squash, sweet onions, green beans, and blueberries.

Although not documented, I used the beautiful Chioggia beets for a salad with goat cheese. Hardly creative, but sometimes you gotta go with the basics.

A faux Nicoise salad: home smoked black bass, steamed green beans and new potatoes, eggs, olives, and a garlicky-lemony-mustardy dressing.

A faux Nicoise salad: home smoked black bass, steamed green beans and new potatoes, eggs, olives, and a garlicky-lemony-mustardy dressing.

The green beans took a starring role in a messy Niçoise-wannabe salad. I used a hunk of black bass I had earlier smoked over alderwood in place of the traditional tuna and put the box’s young garlic to work in a potent dressing. Pardon my own shadow in the embarassingly horrible photo of this plate.

Collard greens, cooked with bacon, onions, and spicy kimchi, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Collard greens, cooked with bacon, onions, and spicy kimchi, sprinkled with toasted sesame seeds.

Although certainly hideous to behold, the collards were perhaps my favorite. I riffed on a recipe in John Currence’s book, Pickles, Pigs, and Whiskey (thank you , Katie MacManus!) in which he makes  kimchi out of collard greens (I still want to try that someday). I simply blanched my greens and then sautéed them in rendered bacon fat with one of the box’s sweet onions (the other onion I made into a sweet/sour onion jam that we ate on damn tasty sandwiches featuring Blackbird Farm sirloin). I added about a half a jar of spicy kimchi, the crispy bacon, and toasted sesame seeds. I loved this; Jay, not so much.

Pattypan squash, picked with spices and arbol chili in a super-cute Weck jar.

Pattypan squash, picked with spices and arbol chili in a super-cute Weck jar.

I bought myself some time with the squash by pickling the slices in a cider vinegar brine, spiked by arbol chilis. I also really love any opportunity to use these adorable Weck canning jars.

tiny blueberry tart, free-form for added ugliness

tiny blueberry tart, free-form for added ugliness

Finally, I tossed the blueberries with some sugar, flour, the seeds from half a vanilla pod, and a pinch of salt, and wrapped them in a rustic disc of pâte brisée with some healthy dots of sweet butter for a perfect-for-one-person tartlet.

What I find when dealing with the box every other week is that I get really uptight about NOT WASTING ANYTHING. The fact that I am separated from the people who planted, tended, and grew these vegetables by only a bit of cardboard makes me feel a deeper responsibility to use these products to their fullest extent. It is a pressure that I sadly do not feel as keenly with the produce I bring home from the supermarket and something at which I should certainly look more closely.

Next week’s box should bring the season’s first corn. Woot!

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Je Ne Regrette Rien: Revisiting Portland, Part 2

Having already sipped my way through the Willamette Valley (more about that here), I turned my focus to clean water issues for (most of) my remaining time in Portland. I insert (most of) because I could not, you understand, pass up on the gustatory pleasures offered  by this beautiful city.

Following a tip from the generous and gorgeous Jenna Pelletier, I booked a single seat at the much-lauded Le Pigeon for a Bastille Day feast. I love dining solo; it gives me the freedom to completely geek out over the food and wine. I take goofy notes in my tatty mini spiral notebook, replete with big exclamation points, lopsided hearts, and smiley (or, sometimes, frowny) faces, and I make BIG PLANS about how I will try to recreate this or that at home.

le pigeon menu

I lucked out at Le Pigeon: my single seat at the bar gave me an unencumbered view of the minuscule cooking space in which two or three culinary Jedi were wedged at any given time. I even got up close and personal with the mise en place.

le pigeon mise

Don't you just love it when the salt is crunchy?

Don’t you just love it when the salt is crunchy?

I ordered the five-course tasting menu with wine pairings. I only eschewed the seven-course option because I had to walk myself back to the hotel, and even though it was only a mile and change, I didn’t want to be waddling and weaving through the streets of Portland.

Course One: Albacore, pepper and coriander crust, spicy tuna rillettes, avocado, compressed honeydew, and pickled green tomato: buttery, sashimi grade fish with pops of delightful acidity from the melon and green tomato.

Wine One: Bisson Glera Frizzante, 2013 (Veneto): a bone dry sparkler with stone and saline on the palate.

le pigeon tuna

Course Two: Grilled cuttlefish, first of the season chanterelles, peach jus, purslane, olive, and rosemary brown butter: the squid was tender and perfectly seasoned; the peach played off the sweetness of the squid and added a balancing tartness.

Wine Two: Matello Caprice (Pinot Blanc & Pinot Gris), 2012 (Yamhill Carlton, OR): according to the sommelier (who I swear is Katie Mc Manus’s long lost twin in beauty, knowledge, and overall loveliness) this wine is completely fermented in stainless steel, but aged on the lees which gave a nice depth. It was redolent of peach blossoms (genius match with the peach jus) and a bit of white pepper.

le pigeon cuttlefish

Course Three: Pork chop marinated in a mustard/sweet herb vinaigrette, grilled to medium and served off the bone, endive, apricot, and goat cheese, served with a pan sauce of the marinade (I detected dill, mint, and parsley, but I’m probably missing something). I’m pretty sure I moaned when I tasted this. I tried to recreate this at home last weekend with moderate to good results. Much of my success is due to the excellent pork I nabbed from Blackbird Farms.

Wine Three: Domaine Rolet Arbois (Poulsard, Troussea, Pinot Noir), 2009 (Jura); I experienced a big whiff of cedar to start out with, then cherries and green herbs on the palate. This wine positively sang when it met the dill on the pork.

le pigeon pork

Course Four: Corned lamb shoulder (with a generous amount of the fat cap still attached), potato in a creamy mustard sauce, cabbage cream, huckleberries, nasturtium, onions, and grated horseradish. This dish haunted me for days after I ate it. I became a card-carrying member of the Corned Lamb Fan Club. I can’t wait to try to recreate this at home.

Wine Four: Cantina Castaldi Rosso Pianazze (Nebbiolo, Uva Rara), 2011 (Piedmont); Pronounced tannins played excellently with the lamb fat, and smoky cherries balanced the saltiness of the three-day brine on the meat.

le pigeon corned lamb

Course Five: A double dessert! First up: Coconut bread pudding, jackfruit sorbet, coconut cream, and boysenberry compote. Shortly thereafter: foie gras profiterole.

Wine Five: Tokaji, 3 puttanyos (I didn’t catch the producer and by this point my notes are a little fuzzy), but it was chock full of honey and honeysuckle. Very luscious.

le pigeon dessert 1

le pigeon foie profiterole

What a gorgeous dining experience! Impeccable, unpretentious service and deliciously artful food: a true highlight of my trip. Certainly if I had been enjoying such a decadent meal when the revolutionaries stormed the Bastille, they would have sent me to the guillotine tout de suite.

The next night, my awesome former boss invited me to join his dining group for dinner at Olympic Provisions: coincidentally, my other wanna-go-to spot in Portland. Olympic Provisions is known for:

oregon olympic provisions meat

…and the reputation is well-deserved. Fantastic charcuterie, excellent cheeses, and a slammin’ wine list. It doesn’t hurt that there are hams hanging from the ceiling for some porky ambiance.

French cheeses at Olympic Provisions. My only decent photo of the evening!

French cheeses at Olympic Provisions. My only decent photo of the evening!

My photos from the meal don’t do the food even the tiniest amount of justice, but take my advice: order the spaetzle with the beef sugo. Not only is it delicious, but it’s also just fun to say “spaetzle.”

Other nibbles of note: when Jay and I lived in Portland, we ordered pizza every Friday night from our local joint. We sat on the living room floor, eating our medium thin crust, drinking IBC Root Beer, and watching the show May to December on PBS until I ultimately fell asleep (a tradition we continue to this day, although lately we watch Ancient Aliens). We loved that Portland pizza. Over the past two decades we have fetishized it. I couldn’t wait to get one, to feed a twenty-two year old longing. Aaaaand, it wasn’t very good. It made for a disappointing dinner but long-overdue end to the craving.

I ate a lot in Portland: much that edified and inspired me and something that helped me let go of false memories. I had a delicious time!

 

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A Good Year for the Roses: Revisiting Portland, Part 1

Apologies in advance for the length of this one. If you want to skip to the present, the history lesson ends about halfway through, right about the time we hit Echo and the Bunnymen.

oregon portland sign

In 1992, new Brown PhD in hand, Jay received an offer to join the Classics Department at Reed College in Portland, Oregon—a world away, physically and philosophically, from Providence. At that time in Rhode Island the savings and loan crisis hit and the Governor went to jail. The polluted Providence River was covered with concrete and corruption ran rampant. We were both, I think, ready to leave the weird little state and move on toward our post-graduate school life.

Reed is known for its mandatory freshman humanities programs, its seminar-type classes, and a brilliant/quirky student body. One of Jay’s best friends, Brendan (who is both a bit quirky and exceedingly brilliant), went to Reed and had regaled us for years with stories of his time there. It’s also about as far west as you can go in the contiguous 48, which held a sort of frontier appeal for us.

We packed up the cat and moved to Oregon.

oregon berries

What a beautiful place. For both of us, it was a bit like going to summer camp: gorgeous surroundings, lots of activities, and the need to make new friends.

We even laughed about how we would look back on our time in Rhode Island as a blip in the continuum of our lives. We felt certain we would insouciantly toss our heads and say, “Can you believe we ever lived in Rhode Island?”

Jay took advantage of Oregon’s brilliant rivers, fly fishing for trout and steelhead. I had a boring day job, but one that only required me to punch a clock thus leaving me the flexibility to really explore my fitness avocation. I met and worked with national-level fitness leaders and benefited from having the Nike headquarters in my backyard.

oregon vegetables

After a year, Jay received a sweet offer from Boston University, so we re-packed the cat and moved back to New England. More specifically, to Providence. Even more specifically, to the same neighborhood we lived in before. Essentially we took the longest possible route from one part of the East Side to another: 6,000 miles, through Portland, Oregon. And now, we laugh, with very little insouciance at all (because we are quite aged at this point) and say, “Isn’t it weird that we ever lived in Portland?”

Last week, I headed back to Portland for work (Portland leads the country in the use of green infrastructure for managing storm water and combined sewage flow). I almost didn’t recognize the city. Old sketchy neighborhoods are now full of Brooklyn-worthy hipsters. The homeless population has multiplied. Water quality in the Willamette River has improved dramatically and the city boasts more breweries than any other in the nation.

I’m not a beer drinker, though, so I arrived a day in advance of my professional obligations to take a directed exploration of Willamette Valley wine (many thanks to Eric Taylor for his recommendations). In my next post I’ll talk about what I ate on this trip (hint: A LOT), but for now, here’s a brief review of what I drank.

Purchased, but not yet tippled: Oregon gin! I bought the No. 1, rumored to be of the aromatic variety.

Purchased, but not yet tippled: Oregon gin! I bought the No. 1, rumored to be of the aromatic variety.

The Willamette Valley is an easy drive from the city: in less than 45 minutes, I found myself smack-dab in the middle of Burgundy-worthy vineyards. Along the way, I took a quick stop at a pick-your-own-blueberries farm to do just that ($1.50 a pound! How could I refuse?), sang along (loudly) with some songs from my youth, and felt a deep appreciation for the Oregonian tendency toward humility.

oregon music

oregon berries and grocery

My first stop: Elk Cove Vineyards, known for their Riesling and Pinot Noir. I started with their 1999 Sparkling Wine (80% PN, 20% Chardonnay), which had notes of rye bread on the nose and citrus on the palate. Elk Cove does the dosage on this with their ice wine, which lends some honey to the palate as well. It made me crave Lay’s Potato Chips. Then I moved on to a series of Pinot Noirs from different vineyards with various soils. I brought home a 2004 PN Windmill #1, which included grapes from Elk Cove’s oldest vineyard (planted in 1974). It smelled of smoke, dried herbs, strawberries, and wet earth. The palate was pleasantly acidic and I imagine serving it with duck or lamb. My other acquisition was a 2012 PN Mount Richmond #4, from volcanic soils. This wine has JAY written all over it: big black fruit, smoke, and assertive tannins scream for something like a lamb shoulder (and I have just the preparation I want to try—more in the next post).

Gorgeous vineyards at Elk Cove.

Gorgeous vineyards at Elk Cove.

I moved on to Adelsheim Vineyard, one of Oregon’s founding wineries. Like most of the Valley, Adelsheim’s vineyards benefit from a large diurnal range, which give the grapes a chance to cool down at night as they work their way to ripeness and then to maturity. I tasted a moderately oaked chardonnay: OK, but not my thing; I prefer chardonnays that are pretty austere. Then I moved on to the Pinots and walked away with another JAY wine, the 2011 Calkins Lane Pinot Noir. The grapes hail from Adelsheim’s warmest vineyard; the wine is redolent of cherry with medium tannins but still a fair bit of acidity. This wine wants some game meat, but would also be happy with a well-seasoned roast chicken.

French soul, Oregon soil at Domaine Drouhin.

French soul, Oregon soil at Domaine Drouhin.

My final stop of the day: Domaine Drouhin. The place is legendary, due in no small part to its kinship with Maison Joseph Drouhin in Burgundy. The estate owns vineyards in Chablis, the Côte de Nuits, Côte de Beaune and Côte Chalonnaise and produces some very fine (and when I say “very fine” I mean VERY FINE) premier cru and villages wines. In the lavishly appointed tasting room, I experienced DD’s expression of “French soul and Oregon soil.”

First up: a 2012 Chardonnay. Nice, but again, a little too much butter and cream for me. I also tasted a 2013 Rosé, which was delightful with strawberry, apricot, and lemon blossom on the nose. The take home was the 2012 Pinot Noir Dundee Hills, an opulent, deeply colored burst of red fruit and earth: not particularly in the French style, but a delicious wine nonetheless.

The real excitement, though, came when I learned that one can purchase certain selections from Maison Joseph Drouhin exclusively at the Oregon property. I am thrilled to say that I snagged a 2008 Gevrey Chambertin Champeaux 1er Cru. If you are very nice to me, I may invite you to share it.

oregon whisky

For the next few days, I worked (and ate), but my final sip before leaving Portland came at the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library: Bruichladdich Cuvee 382 La Berenice, aged in American bourbon and Sauternes casks. Redolent of toffee, honey, and spice, it’s not something I could drink every day, but I profoundly enjoyed that single dram.

You didn't think I was going to let you get out of this post without one sewage-related picture, did you?

You didn’t think I was going to let you get out of this post without one sewage-related picture, did you?

Thus ends part one of my Portland trip. While much has changed, much remains the same: the roses and rhododendrons still bloom riotously, giving this City of Roses one of its many nicknames, so I’ll sign off with a song originally sung by one of my favorites, here covered by my most favorite:

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Playlist: July 2014

I cringe a bit when I think of how long I have gone without a music update. No time like the present to remedy that, right?

Here’s this morning’s playlist; my legs were still a little weary from yesterday’s red-eye flight from Portland (more on that trip forthcoming), but this sixty-minutes of musical motivation got me going in no time, flat. The workout was primarily speed intervals under varying levels of resistance, in an attempt to really boost the effectiveness of the effort. Legs screaming, heart racing, and lungs burning? Yes, please.

The list kicks off with the infectious and ecstatic “I Wanna Get Better” by Bleachers, a group formed by Fun. guitarist (and lyricist) and Lena Dunham squeeze Jack Antonoff. This track, with its sing-along-ready chorus and optimistic lyrics reminds me why we all climb on the bike in the first place. No one I know goes into a ride thinking, “I just want to stay the same.”

I particularly love the herky-jerky piano and the bizarre little samples which play off Antonoff’s vocals, ranging, as they do, from teen screamer to Eno-esque baritone. Also, there’s a sweet guitar solo that would be at home in the ’80s, lines about friends getting wasted, and this sobering revelation: “I miss the days of a life still permanent.”

I included two Foster the People tracks from the latest album, remixed a bit to make them interval-worthy. Once again, Mark Foster proves his knack for coming up with hummable pop hooks, and tracks like the funky “Best Friend” take up residence in your ears as much as they get your feet tapping. Although not in the original version of the song, the inclusion of the lyric, “The choices that you make affect you for the rest of your life,” (while it does kind of make me chafe) is certainly true in some meta-sense and provides an opportunity for a thoughtful pause as well as a good turn of the resistance dial to the right.

“Just Keep Breathing” by We the Kings reminds us, especially in the wake of the lung-exploding intervals before it, to attend to the basics: breath, awareness, patience. The prompt “Without the dark, the light won’t show” caught me by surprise (pleasantly) as did the consolation, “Remember that you’re not alone.”

The list also features a healthy dose of classics: young Steven Tyler’s soaring jugular on “Dream On,” George Michael’s stylish croon on “Freedom 90,” Eric Clapton’s uncredited guitar work on “While My Guitar Gently Weeps,” and Fleetwood Mac’s “The Chain,” which features one of most memorable bass lines in all of popular music, and like many other songs on Rumors, turns private pain into something universal. The monumental dobro on riff is pretty cool, too.

Here’s list: Screen Shot 2014-07-18 at 8.04.04 AM And here’s where to find some free tunes:

Foster the People’s “Best Friend” here and “Don’t Stop” here

The slamming Nero mix here

The MAGIC track here

And the Dirty Pop rendition of Sam Smith’s torch song here

Happy riding!

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