Today I saw Portland before sunrise, while the city was in limbo. It was 4:30am, just after the night fully recedes but it’s nothing like morning. And at first it still felt like the night, as I walked a short distance towards the max, disheveled slightly with my bearings for work and my padded headphones on, enclosed with the lull of this song in my ears. A song best described like regurgitated feeling, almost like the vibrations of an afterthought. And for the first twenty minutes, I saw no one. With this song on repeat, it felt slightly eerie. Not as if the city was lifeless, just so still. Like coming home late at night with the need to tip toe around your bedroom clumsily just to decompress, trying not to wake those who slumber around you. While in the midst of this stillness, this small stretch of Portland felt like it was mine. Meaning that in this lull, I realized there wasn’t an inch of pavement that felt foreign or weary to me. I smiled to myself as I sat peacefully on a street that was once so new and almost frightening, so full of change. In just over a year, I now felt comforted by the soft breathing of this city, a newly found imprint of home.
Sidecar doughnuts, wedged into the street crannies of Newport Beach and surprisingly not from the Land of P. Obviously, I loved it that much more because it reeked of Portland, feeling as if I were seated in one of the many standard coffee shops here rather than in a tightly squeezed donut joint amongst tanned, beach folk. They even brewed Stumptown and supplied it on their shelves. The scene was painfully cute, from the obscure fixtures above our heads to the tiling beneath our feet. We had obviously just missed a crowd most bumpin’, their display had been entirely wiped clean and the bakers were bustin’ it out in the back, reloading with an assembly of racked doughnuts and with glazes at the ready, gleaming colors of magenta and caramel.
Sara went for all things meat and I took da fruitier route. She ordered their most popular, the maple bacon doughnut and a monte cristo, still warm and oozin’ cheese. I think their maple bacon approach was one of the best. You usually see it on a maple bar with one slice of bacon riding the top of it, but it often looks and tastes dried out, too crispy. The bacon on this lil’ guy was moist and crisp around the edges, impacting flavor without sucking all of the moisture from your mouth. It was the first to help me better understand the whole bacon doughnut craze, a dope concoction. I went for toasted coconut and huckleberry. Hands down, dat huckleberry was done right. I mean, cake doughnuts all the way, to start. But that glaze with actual flecks of berry…OOF. We eventually wrapped up the remainder of our doughnuts and drove a short distance towards the beach, right beside my grandmother’s old house. It was pretty early in the morning and on a week day, the beach was still, other than the curling of the waves and a few joggers dispersed throughout the sand. We walked closer towards the water and dug our feet in, just before the water recedes and it’s flat and moist. Hah, we were probably the only two people who go to the beach fully clothed in the morning with our sneakers and food in hand, looking more pale than the overcast sky above us. But it was nice to have two different types of home with me at once, having the ocean before me and a meal that felt like Portland.
Oof, how I endlessly lag. The vibrant haze of summer looks like it was only moments ago while reading my feed when in reality, it couldn’t be any more distant. I’ve looked at these pictures countless times since, in order to dish out the needed details of my first experiences at these joints but the words feel sort of muffled and bland now that I’ve let so much time pass. I guess I can picture the better of the two more vividly, which was in the lasting days of August, the stickiest and hardest to bare when it came to summer. My sister had visited and as we were trekking the lengths of Mississippi, we came to Mee Sen by chance. There weren’t many places open and I can’t remember why. We immediately fell in love with the get-up, as we drank from tin cups that we admittedly wanted to steal and dug the foreign film posters sprawled on the walls, all brightly colored and purposefully aged. We watched the cream start to marble and gradate in color at the bottom of Sara’s thai tea glass and I ordered a heaping bowl of soup, even while the heat was lurking just outside.I opted for a vegetable soup with fried tofu, vinegar and chili and it was all I had been yearning for flavor wise. The egg noodles created some needed girth and the broth was so salty and tart, I felt as though I could eat an endless amount and wished that my bowl would replenish itself. My experience at Sen Yai was just before this and had sadly fallen flat. And I feel weird saying that now, like its wrong for me to at all criticize since I’ve just finished my kitchen courses in school. I myself am still learning to adapt and understand flavor. But with Mee Sen, there was no needed tweaking, the bowl just embodied what tasted right to me.
It’s difficult to scrounge up some written word for summer months in Portland when I’m now knee-deep into fall and edging towards winter. It felt more like a heated daze, a time in which there was less clarity. It wasn’t necessarily a bad thing either, just a different feeling. My class schedule started to lessen and activities like driving without air conditioning became a form of exertion. It was sticky and sort of mindless, a time in which I better enjoyed the lengths of Portland while slingin’ sandwiches and having classes for only an hour or two each day. I fell in love with new places and less in love with others. Moments that I still cling to were those spent pickin’ seasonal berries at Kruger’s farm. I went a few times throughout the summer, first with Jasmine to pick strawberries. The fields had sort of been swept of their berry glory the first time we went but that didn’t make it any less exciting. The strawberries were much smaller and oddly rounded/shaped. We ate a few as we rummaged through the small bundles of leaves and prickles, strawberries tasting tart and of the earth as they were fresh and flecked with dirt. I went back with Izzy later into the summer and we were able to pick both blackberries and blueberries. We’d trek out with our cardboard crates and pick a few baskets in total that resulted in only a couple of bucks at the market beside the farm. And I know it wasn’t a true harvest, I wasn’t the one to plant or baby them as they began to bloom, but that doesn’t mean there isn’t something self-satisfying in being able to pick the fruit yourself and produce something with it. I loved weaving in and out of the different crops and feeling so outstretched by this endless expanse of land. Portland is known for its brunchin’ skills but I rarely encounter it, as I’m usually working or in school. Lauren and I ventured a couple times lookin’ for something to satisfy and ended up on NE 28th amongst a small strip of gems I hadn’t seen before. Now that I work at a joint that has a twist on southern comfort and breakfast, I’ve become a bit snobbish in comparison with these types of staples. City State Diner and Bakery plays with similar concepts and their biscuits falter when put to the test, but I guess that is the main premise of Pine State. City States’ menu is much more expansive and they dish out some pretty glorious slabs of bacon. I am one of the few that doesn’t think it’s necessary to put bacon on or in EVERYTHING. In culinary school, I feel like it’s a suggestion chimed in daily. And as I do love the smell of bacon, whenever used, it creates a smell of nostalgia and of something homey…I still don’t really eat it. But after working with it enough, I’ve grown to recognize different grades in quality/thickness and one thing I dig about Portland breakfast is that if it’s done right, they don’t skimp on their bacon. That thickness creates balance between crispy and soft, so that the meat almost caramelizes. It’s the mastery of having both butteriness and char and not too much of either. Forever an admirer even if I don’t always indulge.
Portland Perks. Yesterday in class, there was a presentation on the concept of “farm to table”. During the presentation, they spoke mostly of it all being more of a needed lifestyle rather than a fad. And although it is something that really took spark in California during the 70s, it’s just a form of normalcy here in Portland today. My classmates speech took for a darker, more realistic turn; going on about the failing of supermarkets and how our dependency on commercial farming will eventually turn to ruin. All points made definitely reflected the ethics behind our everyday routine. But amongst the thoughts more grim, she said something that actually took resonance. Simply that Portland is in this sort of privileged “bubble”, its food scene has already started to transcend into what it needs to be and it will only continue to progress. I have the luxury of three different farmers markets being less than ten minutes away walking distance from my home. One of those markets being a permanent spot I can go to everyday rather than a weekly occurrence. Granted, it is a food culture that works with the season. Throughout the year, certain produce will flourish and will otherwise disappear when it isn’t in season. The selfish part of me wants the instant gratification to eat a mad crate of blueberries whenever I please. But it’s like being bestowed a small prize at one point in time when you’ve held out for a vegetable, fruit or even animal when at its prime. Back at home in California, to find something like lemon cucumbers (pictured above) I feel like I’d have to trek for it at some specialty store, a lengthy distance from home whereas here, I come across it in minutes and buy it just because it’s something unique. This post has no intention of pushing the terrors of food politics, it’s just a rambling of praise. That lecture made me realize how fortunate I am to have Portland as my backdrop for my beginning in the culinary industry. Recognizing the produce for what it is and its quality makes a dish that much better, despite the simplicity of its ingredients, like making a bowl of pasta burst in contrast by merely adding a few fresh components. Food man, something so easily diverse and simple at the same time.
Trying to take on the lengths of Division Street and all of its food splendor. It took me ages to figure out that this street was the place to be, as it is the most competitively bumpin’ with food innovation. I feel like if you’re ready to thrive or to be recognized within the culinary industry, Division is the street you want to make your mark on, it’s where the foodies really start to rave on. Restaurants that have opened within the last year on Division have been named some of the best for 2013, Ava Gene’s ranking numba 2 in the U.S. (a poor girl like me, I’ll experience it in due time, sadly too pricey for my solo whims). I scoff at myself for being so out of the loop, I had only ever been to Pok Pok and Little Big Burger until April. Oof, the bounty I had been missing! But alas, I now had a companion to conquer with, my bud Jasmine. We’re oddly fond and picky of the same things and had a list of places we intended to try. We’re both fools for noodles, ramen especially. Wafu was the first to cross off our never-ending list. I’m glad to have tried it when we did, for it more recently changed its name and the entirety of its food spread. It’s now called Block and Tackle which specializes in seafood charcuterie, something not often heard of, an enticing idea. Its menu beforehand was solely focused on asian flavors; authentic, simplistic. It now appears to be the modern American menu, pulling its ingredients and stylings from various cultures.
Why they decided to totally re-invent their concept, I’m not sure. Granted I hadn’t been back since our first attempt, but there was mad allure in its atmosphere, I’m hoping they’ve kept some of that thrivin’. Looking back, that was my favorite part. Mostly because they had a projector that would play movies against the main backdrop where guests were seated. It’s not audible, it just creates setting and color for an otherwise subtle palette of color in the joint. Why I enjoyed it so much was because the projections were of a Miyazaki movie, specifically my favorite, Howl’s Moving Castle. Total nerd moment to some, I’m a sucker for most of that man’s work, despite its mad cheese in the plotting. The artistry he’s been able to create through his movies is something I brim thinking about. Seeing that being displayed against the wall for me personally, created a sense of warmth. It was comforting to see, a cool concept I’d love to steal. Not that you’ll necessarily get that reaction from your diners, but it’s a way of sprucing up your joint continuously and in a different way, there are endless possibilities as to what you could display.
Food breakdown: We were curious to try one of their house-drinks, I remember it having a rhubarb syrup and infused cherries, but it translated into a very overpriced shirly temple, not at all ideal. The girth of the drink was also lacking, as there wasn’t much for $5. We went for different ramen assortments, Jasmine’s being a dry version with kimchi and pulled pork. I went for their house ramen, with a broth both hazy and satisfying. The seafood vibe was intense, as the seaweed began to seep further and I fooled around with the pink fish cakes (an asian marvel I’m still trying to figure out flavor/texture wise). I remember really enjoying the consistency of their noodles and was surprised by their poached egg. It was like getting your egg medium-rare instead of rare, it had become a little more dense in the middle, reminding me of when I’d make soldiers for breakfast (soft-boiled egg and toast) and leaving the egg in just over its mark (less than a minute). I wondered if that was done purposefully, but I totally dug it and thought of it as a unique dishing. Instead of the yolk reaching the opposing sides of my bowl, kinda thinly splurgin’ as they usually do, it kept its place. But in a good way? When the yolk takes on that density, its flavor becomes more rich, it’s very pronounced amongst the other ramen components, rather than losing itself in a slurry. I mostly munched on the edamame, which were slightly fried with shallot, chili and soy, whatever other mad flavorings that made them my favorite of the night. Both Jasmine and I agreed. I feel like our first food venture was quick and easy. We came just before the normal dinner masses and spent our meal finding a mutual place of comfort, ragging on stupid school topics or people, confessing our slight horror of T1 while being in our first or second week. Oof, it’s too far back. All the food we’ve since conquered that I’ve yet to tackle web wise, you’ll soon see some of dat love.
Last night, Portland felt lukewarm. Even while beneath skies that were murky and grey. Rain started to trickle in small spurts, and the sleeves of my shirt started to stick and bind to my skin like glue. As Jasmine and I walked to and from the market for the makings of our impromptu meal, I couldn’t decide if I disliked it or not. An odd, almost weighing sensation. But when the rain fell, it was like being hit by a sprinkler, that small sense of relief while in the inner-workings of summer. That night we made fresh mozzarella with rosemary, later stretching and sculpting the cheese with our hands. We were mad keen on the flavor, it was salty and rich. Texturally it was dense, unlike mozzarella balls usually. They can sometimes have a sticky consistency. I’ll admit, we’ve yet to perfect their appearance. We may have dealt with the cheese too much before shaping, as it’s delicate and can be over-worked. It reminded me of play-doh, when you’ve finished at the table and you collect all of the crumbs by rolling a big piece across the table.
The cheese was our only set plan and the rest of our meal came into play based on craving. We took our newly conjured mozz and created a caprese salad, with these heirloom tomatoes that were boastin’ with stripes and different colors even inside of them. This yellow tomato had a muted reddish pink in its core, looking instead like a slice peach or beet. We let the tomato merry with some basil, lemon zest and juice, olive oil and seasonings. Jasmine busted out the polenta, mostly because we were craving it. We jazzed it up with masses of goat cheese and parmesan and surprisingly, it all paired together perfectly. The juices of our salad cut the richness of the polenta, that needed acidity. We were beyond stoked by our random dishing and spoke of it with all smiles as we ate. I felt my face brimming with ease and with comfort. I think this was the first time since moving here that I was able to cook with a friend, to bounce ideas off of one another and create something just because. It’s an example of that atmosphere I love, the exchange that food can create between the person giving and receiving. It re-confirms what I want to do; to sway in that continuous cycle of creating, providing and learning. With food, there ain’t nothin’ better.
At first I was struggling to write this post, there was that needed flow lackin’ to get in depth about a hot dog. But then I chatted it up with Eela, as we reminisced over her last trip here and she brought up them pups. We both agreed, half laughing at the same time that zack’s shack is surprisingly dope. Laughing only because we had walked passed it SO many times, as it’s in route to a lot of other food crawls and never once considered its splendor. It was Eela’s last night during her stay and she had a mad craving for a vegetarian hot dog. Back at home we have the glories of Wurstkuche, a place that oozes hip and specializes in crazy sausages (I’ve written of it before) and it holds a high standard in my hot dawg heart. We spent like an hour researching known dawg spots in the land o’ P, most of them more like pop-up joints and with hours already at a close. Zack’s shack kept coming up on our feed. There always seemed to be enough people just outside it but I got the vibe that it was sports grunge. Or the wrong kind of dive in my opinion. As soon as we were sure they had da veg head option, we went for it, myself a little more hesitantly.
The place was bumpin’ enough, their outside seating was entirely taken up, with long, wooden bench tables and art splurged across the opposing walls. We took to the inside, where they were playin’ a medley of classic jams like Michael Jackson and Al Green, which we totally enjoyed as we squeezed into a corner beside the entry-way. You basically pick your dawg and then the style-age of toppings. I went for a linguisa sausage to pack some heat as Eela went for the vegetarian, encased with appple n’ spices. I think we both went for the same toppings, goin’ for mad heat as it had a spicy grain mustard, jalapeños and banana peppers. Oof, my lips were chapped and we were both in bliss. I really dug the bun, as it was soft in contrast to all it held but still kept my dawg tightly bound. It was one of our more slap-happy meals, as we were both exhausted from our last day of Portland venturing, but this weird exhaustion always brings out the best in us. Or so we think in the moment, as we sang “PYT” in unison and spoke of silly things. And even if we were in a slight daze, that doesn’t diminish our dog experience, I now know where to go when in need of a fix, and you should too when you’re venturing the lengths of Hawthorne!
The best part of of her last visit was easy to decide, since there’s little to compare it to, as we first walked through only one of the interwoven paths of Forest Park. Eela had heard of it and I’d never been, as we drove towards Sauvies Island and saw only green while swervin’ up the hills of Germantown Road. In a city so brightly lit with nature, it’s a thing of normalcy. But to see it in such a scale, when you’re completely enveloped by forest, we couldn’t help but stand limply, almost stunned by the scenery. Don’t get the wrong ideas either, I’m a pansy when it comes to nature (I don’t camp or rough it in the woods like most proud Oregonians do) but I’m a sucker for a view and honestly, we could have kept on walking. I think we paced a few miles forward before turning around. My head was constantly raised upwards, looking at the entanglement of tree limbs, it was almost hard to see the sky above. We listened to Andrew Bird, wishing we had a stereo to blair the strings that would sway in translation with the forest, the level of sound from my iPhone was a little pathetic. Just a cherished moment, is all. Making me a little more thankful for choosing this place as the stomping grounds for my first adventure, my home away from home.
Blogwise, it would appear as though Eela had only just visited me. Realistically, that first encounter was in mid-march and she’s been back since then with a few new adventures up our sleeves and this routine of ours that comes back into motion, like it had only been a few days rather than a couple of months of last seeing one another. We have this manic banter that keeps us going throughout her stay, and the talent of turning any comment made into song. A talent that at times makes us want to strangle one another…(well I drive her crazy more often than not) I have that tendency to kill a song, I sing it to no end and totally enjoy being obnoxious. One of my favorite parts about her last visit in May was our trip to the Portland Farmer’s Market at PSU. It might sound silly, but that market was one of the main contributing reasons as to why I wanted to move to Portland for culinary school. I think I was 19 or 20 when I visited Eela and we stayed on her campus, going to the same market and I remember feeling overwhelmed by trees overlapping, the atmosphere and the amazing produce. Culinary school was just an idea at the time, but for someone to get so excited over a cart of lobster mushrooms, you’d think I was a kid at Disneyland for the first time. The input of love in Portland food is of a different quality than most places and I recognized it then. And even if it was only a few years ago, I feel like I was so much more naive then, and still am now. It’s exciting that there will always be the prospect of learning more when working with food, it’s a constant evolvement. It was my first time back since I visited years before, and it was a scene undeniably bumpin’ and more expansive than I remembered, with a mad spring selection of produce and the vibes of people relaxed, happy. I think we circled it twice, my mind antsy with decisions on what to buy. We ended up with a small hand full of fresh herbs and the fixings for an heirloom tomato soup I planned to make us for dinner, along with fresh bread from Grand Central Bakery. They had spreads from joints we’ve more recently talked about in school like Olympic Provisions, a joint most known for its charcuterie or the Portland Creamery for its cheese-age. It was cool to see it all in one place, as it expanded throughout the lengths of PSU, with live music and food ready to eat by various venders. I know there are weekly farmer markets closer to where I live but I’ll never deny a chance to venture through PSU’s, there are just options I don’t otherwise see, like these dirt bricks of mushroom to start growing your own at home or scrolls of beeswax at every table. And while walking through that campus, it felt as though the trees were enclosing, creating an almost bubbled atmosphere different from the streets just beside it. It’s that bit of nostalgia sometimes needed, for me to feel that passion for food and the quality of it.