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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Eating Out of the Box, with Added Beauty

Who looks at the food when there are these three gorgeous things at the table?

Who looks at the food when there are these three gorgeous things at the table?

When this week’s CSA box arrived, I faced the challenge of emptying it without spousal help (Jay was out of town), so I enlisted three of the most delightful dinner companions I know to lend me a hand (or a belly, as the case may be).

box contents week 2

The booty this week included kale, chard, spring onions, garlic scapes, dill, beets, sugar snap peas, and popcorn on the cob. Since I’ve been planning to do a Sauvignon Blanc tasting for a while, I decided to see if I could match the vegetable goodness in the box to the savage qualities of the SB grape. Luckily, I had three well-developed palates to call upon for assistance.

We blind-tasted SB from New Zealand, France (Loire), Sonoma, and South Africa.

We blind-tasted SB from New Zealand, France (Loire), Sonoma, and South Africa.

And here’s what I made:

Roasted beet and barley salad with picked spring onions and goat cheese.

Roasted beet and barley salad with pickled spring onions and goat cheese.

Cucumber salad with sour cream and dill.

Cucumber salad with sour cream and dill.

White bean & garlic scape dip with sugar snap peas.

White bean & garlic scape dip with sugar snap peas.

And, not shown: a frittata with bacon and sauteed beet greens.

Overall, the wines worked really well, with each region displaying the varietal character of the grape as well as a good amount of terroir. We each had a different favorite: Katie chose the Sonoma, Anastasia chose New Zealand, Colleen like South Africa, and I went for France. Something for everyone!

I used the rest of the dill to make a graxlax with a gorgeous piece of wild coho:

Let this guy cure in salt, sugar, vodka, and dill for a couple of days...

Let this guy cure in salt, sugar, vodka, and dill for a couple of days…

...and you get this! I do truly love a Triscuit.

…and you get this! I do truly love a Triscuit.

I admit: I let this over-cure, so it’s a bit too salty. I think it will be fine, though, added to eggs or cream cheese.

And I used the kale and chard to make a mess o’brasied greens, which I ate after a truly punishing workout, topped with fried eggs, avocado, and pickled jalapenos.

Greens and eggs.

Greens and eggs.

The only thing I haven’t dealt with yet is the popcorn, but let’s be honest: I’m just gonna pop it and eat it with scads of butter and salt. Perhaps while watching a Nora Ephron movie.

The final item in the CSA box? 100% local and organic feline.

Chet can't resist a box.

Chet can’t resist a box.

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Eating Out of the Box, UBD Edition

This season’s first CSA Box came last week, ushering in a new series of Chopped-like challenges. (Imagine my best Ted Allen impersonation here) “You must create an appetizer using BEET GREENS, PURSLANE, and a HALF-MOLDY pint of BLUEBERRIES!”

I always feel a bit of apprehension when I open the box (I still have burning memories of the chili pepper situation of 2013…suffice it to say that I severely underestimated the Scoville scores of those chilis), but this week’s box was pure joy: the vegetable powers that be lobbed me a box full of softballs, slow and steady, right down the middle. Something even a depth-perception-challenged clumsy oaf (like this one) could get a piece of. Thank you, VPTB!

box contentsThe haul included salad greens, swiss chard, parsley, garlic scapes, radishes, kohlrabi, fennel, and a beautiful box of strawberries.

And here’s what I made:

chard rolls

Swiss chard rolls, stuffed with chicken thigh confit, and garnished with crispy chicken skin. Some parsley and garlic scape chimichurri on the side.

gorditas

Gorditas (slightly over-fried), stuffed with tasso and flank steak, grilled onions, avocado, crema, pickled chard stems, and more chimichurri.

jam in progress

Rhubarb-strawberry jam, using the last of the rhubarb from our backyard.

radishes

Butter-braised radishes with garlic scapes and thyme.

slaw

Fennel, kohlrabi and green apple slaw.

Most of this stuff falls into the wide swath of my cooking that I call Ugly but Delicious. It doesn’t help my UBD offerings that I have yet to learn how to photograph properly or even approach Instagram. The knife skills are a bit rustic and the plating isn’t winning me any points from Geoffrey, Alex, or Aarón (please roll your Rs when you say this), but we ate with gusto anyway.

The next box arrives in two weeks!

 

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Flesh and Bone

I’ve gone through life white-knuckled in the moments that left me behind.

I would love to take credit for this phrase, but praise goes to Brandon Flowers, lead singer of The Killers, who wrote it as the opening line of the song “Flesh and Bone,” the first track on their 2012 album Battle Born.

Do you know this feeling, this white-knuckled state? It’s a mixture of fear and frustration, and it’s the damnable place where I find myself an embarrassing amount of the time.

On a raw April Saturday, when winter seemed liked it would never end, I wrestled (again/still) with this. Only a handful of things will rouse me out of this kind of winter funk: 1. a good run, 2. a gorgeous pair of shoes, or 3. a kitchen project. Since part of the cause of my malaise was a stress fracture of the second metatarsal on my left foot, 1 & 2 were off the table. Which left lots of room on the table for this:

Hello!

Hello!

Yeah, I know. It’s a little creepy. But this head called to me. You see, I walked into Blackbird Farm’s freezer that Saturday, intent to load up on some ribs and ground beef. And then I asked, “So, what’s the weirdest thing you’ve got in here?”

“We’ve got some pig heads.”

“Sold!”

If I tell you that, with the exception of the eyeballs and teeth, the head consisted entirely of flesh and bone will that make you feel better? I didn’t have to deal with brain or blood (although I am not opposed to cooking with brain or blood and I know people who do so with great skill), and with the exception of some whiskers, this pig head was pretty darn immaculate.

Now that the warm weather has arrived, the Blackbird Farm stand on Rt 7 is open for business daily, but even when the stand has closed for the winter, Ann Marie welcomes everyone to the farm proper on Saturdays. When she opens up that freezer door, it’s like entering a Narnia of meat. (Fair warning: I’m about to get a little preachy) Going to the farm also means that we, as consumers, get to meet our meat, so to speak. To get up close and personal with the food system. The animals are there, mooing and rooting and, often, napping. Ann Marie Bouthillette is our farmer; she and her family do the hard work every day that puts this food on our tables. In a world where we hear every day about the failure of industrial meat supply, I really like knowing that I have the option to patronize fine folks like the Bouthillettes. (Rant over.)

While I decided what project to pursue with my pig noggin, I stored it in our freezer. Jay, God bless him, has become so unfazed by finding things like this in our house. If he opens up the freezer to get ice cubes, for instance, and is greeted by a pig head sporting a devilish grin, he will simply shift the cranium aside, retrieve his ice cubes, return it to its original place without comment, and then continue (most likely) making a large cocktail.

The obvious project for a pig head is headcheese, but I already had made headcheese as one of the challenges in Charcutapalooza (granted, I only used jowls and trotters for that project, but it was delicious!).  We ate the heck outta that stuff in tamales. Let me tell you: headcheese tamales are good eatin’. Still, I needed a different challenge and doubted that I had the skills for a full-on porchetta di testa, so I settled on David Chang’s pig head torchon from the Momofuku cookbook.

Chang outlines the process with surgical precision in the book, so I’ll spare you many of the details. Just a suggestion, though: use a disposable razor instead of a torch to remove the whiskers. Singed pig facial hair smells so much worse than you think it will.

Porcine grooming

Porcine grooming

Simmering a pig head for four-plus hours introduces some obstacles, not the least of which involves owning a cooking vessel large enough to accommodate a swiny pate. My biggest vessel—a 20 quart lobster pot—fell short until I removed the ears. Insert Van Gogh joke here. Removing said head from pot at the end of cooking also presented a challenge. I ended up dropping it back into the pot, splashing my face (and much of the kitchen) in warm pig head broth. The cats enjoyed this turn of events as it delivered puddles of porky goodness onto the floor and they lapped away with gusto, unconcerned that I had just received a pig-head facial.

The journey from head to torchon goes pretty quickly: meat and fat gets seasoned and rolled up in skin and it all goes in the fridge to firm up.

Later in the week, I followed Chang’s recommendation to slice the torchon, coat the slices in flour-egg-panko, and deep fry. Yeah: hard to go wrong with breaded and deep fried pork fat, right? We’ve eaten this a couple of ways: with a lemony caper sauce over wilted arugula and with a mango-jalapeno salsa alongside some fresh tomatoes slathered in sizzling brown butter, and a salad of avocado and fresh mozzarella. The mango salsa iteration won that contest. But I’ve still got a mess of this in the freezer, so who knows what I’ll try next. I think it would be really yummy with a gribiche, as a riff on bacon and eggs.

Dinner!

Dinner!

Did the pig head project cure my white-knuckledness? Yes, temporarily, and perhaps that’s all one can ever hope for. Later on in the song “Flesh and Bone,” Brandon Flowers asks, “What are you made of?” The answer, of course, is flesh and bone, but so much more: spirit, and experience, and grit, and willingness (maybe) to be OK with the fear. And perhaps the process of turning a scary pig head into a great meal is a good place to start.

 

Post script: Mid-way through the project, I took a break to meet my super-cool friend Bryna for dinner. After giving me a big hug (Bryna give awesome hugs), she said, “Your skin looks fantastic! Did you do something special?” So, friends, I am hereby staking my claim to the pig-head facial as the new fountain of youth. You heard it here first.

Here’s the song that got me thinking.

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A Cheesy Farewell to Farmstead

So, Farmstead is closing. And this is how I feel about it.

I remember coming into the shop the first weekend it opened. I bought some Mimolette and a clothbound cheddar to go with grilled radicchio (I wasn’t quite so adventurous then). I went home to tell Jay, “Something great has happened at the old cheese store. The crazy old smoking lady isn’t there anymore. It’s young people! And they’re really cool!” I went back the next week and the next. I came away with tommes and bleu de Basque, Epoisse and Winnamere. At each visit, I joined a growing crowd of cheese lovers, each of us sampling and learning. I asked more stupid questions than should be allowed, but Kate and Matt answered each dumb query with enthusiasm and scads of knowledge. I made tasting notes in a small spiral bound book and I tried with negligible amounts of success to restore the intricate wrapping to my cheeses once I had opened them. (I never got any better at this. My re-wrapped cheese still looks like it was done by a creature without opposable thumbs.)

A few years later, the restaurant opened and immediately became the Holy Grail of eateries: elegant and delicious enough to be a culinary destination, but so comfortable that it felt like your coolest friend’s house.

In short, Farmstead provided the locus of a burgeoning food scene and served as a catalyst for making Providence an eater’s paradise. Kate and Matt’s faith in our weird little hamlet and their willingness to lead us into their world of handcrafted, lovingly-made food broadened all of our palates and our minds.

Over the years, the restaurant has been the place where Jay and I commemorated so many things: not only birthdays and anniversaries, but book contracts and cancer-remission diagnoses. And more times than I can count, when I have come home from work and said, “Holy shit: this has been a torrentially rotten day. Right now I need to be at a place that is firmly aligned to the side of good,” Jay has had the good sense to respond, “I think you need a seat at the bar at Farmstead.”

At Farmstead, I met Max McCalman and Hank Shaw and Ryan Farr. By Kate and Matt’s introduction, I met Emily and Michael at Twig Farm and, through them, my gorgeous sponsored goat Tack. Seated at their bar, we’ve eaten livers and trotters and sea urchin bottarga (“What is that?” Jay asked as the handsome Quebecois grated it over his pasta. “It’s the salt cured egg masses of the sea urchin,” I replied tentatively. With a full mouth, he responded, “Whatever the hell it is, it’s delicious.”)

It’s gonna suck without Farmstead. We’ll miss the wit, the  hospitality, the well-executed snark, and the never-ending evidence of the  evil geniuses in the kitchen and behind the bar. Kate and Matt and their incredible staff have created the model for what I will always consider excellence.

Kate and Matt — we can’t wait to visit the crew in the new Boston digs. Jay and I will be like your hick cousins coming to the big city for a visit, guaranteed to embarrass you with our goofy ways.

We send you off with a heavy heart but awfully big love.

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Cows and Chicks: Grrls Beef Camp

“Hang on: I’m gonna come over and feel your rump.”

So spake Master Butcher Kari Underly at last Monday’s Grrls Beef Camp (she meant a rump roast, I might add), a one-day, hands-on educational event for women in the meat business in and around the NYC metro area. I am neither (a) in the meat business nor (b) in the NYC metro area, but I am a woman with a keen interest in meat-cutting and willing to travel, so I was allowed to take part (thank you New York Beef Industry Council, Northeast Loves Beef, and the South Dakota Beef Industry Council for letting me crash this meaty party!).

Now *that's* a knife!

Our group of twelve grrls gathered on Monday morning in the kitchen at Astor Place, a little caffeine deprived, perhaps, but full of beefy gusto. Among my cohorts for the day were chefs, culinary students, meat cutters…in essence, eleven women who had more right than I did to be there, but who were fantastically supportive despite my gooberish-ness and a heck of a lot of fun. We learned a bit about raising beef cattle, the nutritional profile of various cuts, and gathered some cool recipes for America’s favorite protein. We heard funny/not-funny stories of the sexism rampant in the meat world (Seriously, people: it’s 2013. Women can butcher. Get over it, or at least keep your chauvinistic traps shut.) But mostly: we cut meat.

Check out all this cool swag! Including Kari's James Beard-nominated book!

And did I mention we also got hats and aprons? Thank you Susie Strassburger!

Kari led us through cutting the large sub-primals, specifically top sirloin and ribeye, into serving size portions, and introduced us to creative cutting options. Sure, a mess of Flinstone-style ribeye steaks is great (better than great, the husband would contend), but isn’t it also cool to think that that same sub-primal could produce petite ribeye filets, unctuous ribeye cap kebabs, and succulent ribeye sandwich steaks? With deft hands, mad knife skills, and a quick wit, Kari made us all feel like meat rock stars. Under her warm and confident tutelage, the hours flew by, and I watched in awe as we all fabricated fancy-dinner-worthy portions from the huge mounds of beef before us.

This massive hunk of top sirloin...

...yielded these beautiful sirloin fillets (plus lots more).

Kari's ribeye fabrication.

My (ahem) slightly more ghetto ribeye fabrication.

It was the kind of experience that makes me want to think BIG about my life. It was the type of experience that makes me realize I need to get a freaking PLAN and I need to get cracking on it NOW.

Grrls at the grill creating beefy deliciousness.

Big thanks and meaty hugs to Kari Underly for being such a bad-ass woman in the male-dominated world of butchery; to Jean O’Toole, Christie Brown, and Valerie Van Dyke for organizing and presenting us with much food for thought; to Cindy Chan Phillips for her nutritional insights; to Chef Melissa Doney Sheridan for her leadership in the kitchen; and especially to the other GRRLS, who enriched me with their experiences and gave me some fantastic role models in this world of butchery! I can’t wait to do it again!

I made full use of my thirty-six hours in New York. In addition to the butchery extravaganza, I stayed at the super-hip Ace Hotel The room was appointed so thoughtfully and with such great humor—instant ramen in the snack box—it will likely become my home base on future overnight trips. Truly, though, on the bell curve of hotel guest hipness, I was totally in the bottom quintile, if you know what I mean. Nonetheless, while there, I ate a much anticipated dinner at The Breslin, where I consumed a scotch egg that will forever haunt my dreams. Chef April Bloomfield is a devious genius. I also scored some cool bitters and salt at The Meadow, snagged some disturbingly cheap cashmere sweaters at Joe Fresh, and watched Casablanca on the side of a building in the Flatiron district.

No question about the size of my room at The Ace; April Bloomfield's Scotch Egg; Ilsa & Rick.

Through it all, this tune ran through my head. I love New York always, but autumn is particularly special.

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Soup, meet Sartre

NOTE: More drivel from the archives. This one was inspired by a rather plain-Jane batch of tomato soup I made with end-of-the-season tomatoes. Recipe, in all its completely unremarkable glory, at the end.

“As far as soups go, it is not what they are that interests me, but what they can become.” – Jean-Paul Sartre (Not really. Well, kind of.)

Physically tomato soup, metaphysically in crisis.

What am I?

How’s that for an existential dilemma, eh? I mean, who would expect a simple jar to question its place in the universe?

I am a jar of pretty decent tomato soup. Truth to tell, though, I’m kind of plain. Like that LBD you have in your closet.

What can I be?

Aha: this is where the fun lies. Because when you apply your imagination to me, I have the feeling I’m gonna be great.

Dress me up with a little cream and some slivered basil, and I’m Sophia Loren.

Hit me with some chopped spinach, a little crumbled feta, and a black olive or two and I’m Jennifer Aniston (hey: she’s Greek!).

Let me canoodle with some red chile paste and little coconut milk, maybe some cilantro, and I’m Padma Lakshi.

Or, make me cozy with some pureed guajillo or chipotle and I’m Selma Hayek.

A little creativity and I’ll become the best tomato soup you ever made!

Tomato Soup

  • Olive oil & a knob of butter
  • A large onion, chopped
  • Several cloves of garlic, minced
  • A big pinch of kosher or sea salt
  • 4-5 cups tomatoes, peeled, de-seeded, and chopped coarsely
  • 1/2 cup of white wine or vermouth, entirely optional but delicious
  • 2-3 cups or so of chicken stock
  • Black pepper, red pepper, herbs, or anything else you fancy.
  • Perhaps a teaspoon or so of sugar

Saute the onion and garlic in the olive oil and butter in a soup pot until well-cooked (translucent is fine, but I like it a little brown). Add the salt early on to help soften everything.  Plop in the tomatoes; sauté for a few minutes and add the wine or vermouth. Give that a couple of minutes or so to reduce a bit then add the stock. Start with 2 cups for now. Let this all bubble away quietly for about 10 minutes then whiz it all with a hand blender until it is pureed (alternately, use the real blender or the food processor…just make sure to leave a way for steam to escape while you are pureeing). Too thick? Add more stock. Taste. Too tart? Add the sugar. Then, add whatever seasonings will make it delicious.

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Walking, and How I Eat Cake

NOTE: I recently discovered a file of old essays, many of which I forgot I wrote. Inspired by Kate Lowther’s recent post on (appropriately) inspiration, I’ve decided to revisit a few of them here, in the hopes that they will inspire me to write some more. This one, from about five years ago, grew out of my inability to dance the Argentine tango.

Gorgeous tango shoes, alas, never worn for dancing.

I have walked for well over forty years. I don’t mean to equate myself with Moses or any of the faithful who wandered through the desert seeking honey and milk, but in my forty-some-odd years I pride myself in having developed a certain finesse in self-ambulation. I have spent peripatetic days in major world capitals. I have clomped down (and clambered back up) hundreds of flights of stairs to view subterranean sewer pipes. I even regularly stride on the moving walkways at airports, reasoning that such a modern convenience is better suited to getting me more quickly from point A to point B than to offering me a thirty-second en route respite.

Twelve-step programs, yoga teachers, and therapists counsel us to “walk through” our grief or pain in order to have a happier or more fulfilling life; running coaches advise marthoners to walk through the water stops to ensure that the water ends up in the runner’s gullet and not up his nose. Even St. Jerome counseled Solvitur ambulando, which sounds a little like a spell Hermione Granger may have incanted, but is actually Latin for “To solve a problem, take a walk.”

Apparently all these folks figured out long before I did that walking is more than just forward motion, one-foot-in-front-of-the-other, point-A-to-point-B business.

My cruel introduction to my inadequacies as a walker came in Argentine tango class. Dancing is just walking to music, others in my class would tell me as I took tentative and clumsy steps across the floor.  

Devour the floor, they said. Do not ask the floor to accept you.

But, this is not possible for me; I am always, in one way or another, asking someone or something for acceptance. My movement lacks confidence: I am a knee locker, a heel rocker, and a random talker (and if I were Pat Benetar, I would sing, “Don’t mess around with me”)

I have looked with longing at other dancers doing twirly things with their bodies and legs. I have seethed with envy at their sinuous travels around the dance floor

Those things don’t matter, my teacher says. They are just embellishments. Merely icing. Only walking matters. Walking is the cake.

He doesn’t understand that I love icing. In fact, I regularly eschew cake in favor of its embellishments. When presented with a birthday or wedding slice, I excavate between the layers of cake to surgically exact the ribbon of buttercream or ganache therein. I sweep the artfully piped borders with my fork and I call dibs on the corner roses. I consider presenting this information to him but check the impulse. I’m pretty sure he won’t be impressed.

Screw the cake. This is what I want.

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