No noise complaints: United States Barista Championship

February 27th, 2009
Don't you love me?

Don't you love me?

Last night I went to my first ever barista throwdown — PDX Tamp Your Face off! I didn’t know what to expect but a local vegan baker gave me the word and I was there. It took place at Blend Coffee Lounge just a few blocks from my house so a neighbor and I walked over at around 8pm.

I don’t know if you know but a really big coffee competition is brewing in Portland next week — the United States Barista Competition. It’s at the Convention Center Thursday through Sunday — March 5-8 — and is free and open to the public. I’m definitely going to head over for some of the action. The winner from the USBC, which is held in a different city every year — Minneapolis last year — goes on to compete in the World Barista Championship in Atlanta in April. Those are the big beans.

So what about last night? I thought I’d take some photos but it was too crowded. Blend isn’t a big coffee shop — or excuse me lounge — and it was pretty much 10-deep all around the coffee bar. Every once in a while I could see some girls moving around and smiling behind it. I assume that they were pulling espressos, frothing milk, tamping coffee, but honestly I couldn’t see much. There were a bunch of pizza boxes in one corner — mostly eaten, and a lot of folks drinking tall boys and holding up cell phones to take photos. I saw a few people sipping espresso from little paper cups but we didn’t stick around long enough to get one.

It felt like a basement show without a band. And our shoes didn’t stick to the floor. The baristas were the band — kind of quiet, although they did have some highly functional percussion. I think if we’d elbowed our way to the front it would’ve been much more entertaining but that’s shitty so we didn’t. My friend put it nicely — “We could stand around and listen to other people’s conversations for a while…” We did check out the collection of beans on display from all sorts of local roasters before we left. There were some there that neither of us had heard of, along with several that we had. There were also some roasters that made a trek for the event — one from out in the Gorge.

Since the USBC competition is in Portland this year, local baristas are ramping up, along with local roasters, with these after-hours espresso slinging gatherings where they can practice for the people. I guess the first throwdown was at one of my favorite Portland spots — Little Red Bike Cafe.

I’d go to another but I’d be sure to show up early and wear my Inspector Gadget arm so I could get some of that perfectly pulled coffee.

Oh and there were also some silk screened chocolates from a guy named Dane. That’s right, silk screened.

Hook and Line: Luna Sea Tuna

February 25th, 2009

Because we braved it through the snow to the coast this Christmas...

Because we braved it through the snow to the coast this Christmas...

Every other Christmas we go to the Oregon Coast to visit with my boyfriend’s family. They travel from California and we meet them in Yachats. We always cook up a big seafood feast at some point during the stay — usually in our small motel kitchen. This year we had steamers, broiled prawns, hot clam dip, and cold Dungeness salad at Grace’s. Grace is my boyfriend’s, mom’s, husband’s…..never mind — let’s just say she’s my lovely in-law who’s lucky enough to live year-round on the coast.

Living up to her name, this year she loaded us up with cans of albacore before we ventured back to Portland. I’m not talking typical canned tuna. These portions of juicy, meaty albacore were hook and line caught by Luna Sea Products — one can is alder and hickory smoked, another is zesty garlic and jalapeno, and the other is low-salt white meat straight-up. We’ve tried them all and they’re delicious — definitely not something you want to throw with a can of mushroom soup and noodles and call good.

I made a salad today with butter lettuce, avocado, fresh lemon juice, herbed olive oil (thank you Alice), grated asiago, and topped it with a soft boiled egg and a portion of the smoked tuna. It’s the best salad I’ve had in a long while.

What does this have to do with Portland food and drink? you ask. The blog — as well as my book — will include plenty of flavors from surrounding areas as well because what would Portland food and drink be without Central and Eastern Oregon ranches, Mt. Hood area fruit, coastal vineyards, dairies, and fisheries…

Good to know: F.H. Steinbart, Portland Nursery and heirloom beans

February 23rd, 2009
Magic beans?

Magic beans?

Over the weekend I stopped by F.H. Steinbart Co. to pick up a small sack of corn sugar/dextrose for the hard cider we pressed this fall. It was my fastest in-and-out ever at Steinbart mainly due to weather. Saturday was so sunny and nice it felt wrong to be inside.

After resisting a long look at Steinbart’s wine, beer and soda supplies, where I would not have been alone — I counted almost 20 molasses-speed people scooping malt, handling carboys and discussing the pros and cons of cork versus rubber — I made my way east on Stark toward Portland Nursery. I found most of the seeds I still needed there — several varieties of tomatoes, pickling cukes, arugula, watermelon radish and more — but was sad to find that they’re already out of Ananas Noire tomatoes. Anyone know of a local nursery that still has this seed?

At PN I also picked up some Amber’s Heirloom Beans from Red Truck Farm (if you follow this link be sure to scroll down till you get to “Dry Beans Available”). These heirloom beans — produced by Amber Baker a former intern at Sauvie Island Organics — are going for $3.49 per packet and they’re going fast. I picked up a packet of the Golden Appaloosa and Peregion, both bush beans that I’ve never tried that sound delicious. The packets tell me to sow them in May-June and to harvest them when plump. Easy enough.

A couple more weekend finds:

While I was wandering PN picking my asparagus crowns and gathering seeds, I heard on the intercom that Vern Nelson of the O was about to host a free class on crop rotation in greenhouse two. I went, I learned, it was great. Apparently there are loads of free classes offered at Portland Nursery. Good to know.

Mirador Community Store is having a 25% off book sale through February. I bought a food preservation cookbook and a root cellar how-to book.

People’s Food Co-op is hiring. Check out what for here. They’re accepting applications until this Sunday, March 1st.

A half teaspoon of that corn sugar from F.H. Steinbart went into each of these bottles of hard cider.

A half teaspoon of that corn sugar from F.H. Steinbart went into each of these bottles of hard cider.

It’s happening: spring gardening

February 20th, 2009
One of the first signs...spring fennel

One of the first signs...spring fennel

1Sorrel in the sun

1Sorrel in the sun

This week there have been a group of seagulls hanging out in the neighborhood. What do you call a group of seagulls? Probably just a flock. There are usually seagulls here and there in the Overlook neighborhood since we’re so close to the river but there have been more than usual this week and they were sunning on our neighbor’s roof for an hour or so yesterday morning. The gulls coupled with all the purple and yellow crocuses popping out in our yard and around the neighborhood and the sunny 50s weather mean one amazing thing…

It’s time to till. I signed up yesterday to volunteer at the Oregon Food Bank’s Eastside Learning Garden for a few hours in a couple weeks. They need volunteers year-round to help sow, weed, water, and harvest fruits and vegetables for hunger-relief agencies around Portland. There’s also an OFB Learning Garden in Hillsboro.

This fall I took the first-of-its-kind, 10-week-long Organic Gardening Certification Program — a partnership between OSU Extension Service, Oregon Tilth, Metro, PSU and East Multnomah Soil and Water Conservation District. During the 10 week organic equivalent of the Master Gardening Program we learned all about plant biology, taxonomy, vermiculture, cover cropping, and more. As a part of the course you agree to a 30-hour volunteer practicum. I’m participating in Dig In! to kick that off. I’m also planning to volunteer with Portland Fruit Tree Project and Growing Gardens.

But I want to start my garden volunteering early this season because there’s going to be a lot happening in my own garden this summer. I did a lot of sheet mulching this winter and now have more space than ever for annual vegetables. The mound below isn’t a burial site it’s the front yard parking strip sheet mulch patch where I plan to grow tomatoes this summer. I covered it with burlap sacks from a local coffee roaster. A month or so ago one of the burlap sacks was taken — hopefully it’s a rough pillow now…

1Hard and softneck garlic getting taller

1Hard and softneck garlic getting taller

Dirt lasagna

Dirt lasagna

Bananas Foster…Pizza

February 17th, 2009
After four savory pizzas...

After four savory pizzas...

We got sweet.

We got sweet.

Maybe you thought those three words — Bananas Foster pizza — would never get along but let me tell you that this weekend they did and somehow we didn’t burn down the house.

My boyfriend and I and our friend Duc went to a Portland International Film Festival screening on Sunday of the Higgins sponsored documentary The Chicken, the Fish and the King Crab. If you get a chance to see this movieĀ  all about the 20-plus-year-old international French cooking contest the Bocuse d’Or I think you should. It was so popular that there’s an encore screening — February 22nd at 2pm at the Whitsell. Get your ticket!

The gist: “happy” Norwegian halibut, Bresse chicken, Arctic King Crab, 24 internationally renowned chefs, and a year of too-many-chefs-in-the-kitchen training for a couple days of intense competition.

So we saw the movie as an appetizer and then came home to cook. On the menu: pizza. FIVE to be exact. I won’t bore you with the lamb and olive sausage, spicy Italian pork sausage, roasted red peppers, spicy sopressata, fresh basil, mozzarella goodness. But I do want to let you know that Bananas Foster pizza — which we devised while walking to the movie — is a grand idea.

I rolled out the dough, baked it for a few minutes, and then pulled it out. Once it cooled I finely grated dark chocolate over the top (Chuao’s Firecracker chocolate to be exact that our superfine friend from San Diego gave us) and threw it in the oven for a minute longer while sauteing the bananas in a little butter and sugar over medium. Once they were nice and caramelized — not so long, 2 minutes and a bit — I added the Pyrat rum, cooked it off for 30 seconds and then lit the whole slurry on fire. We poured that onto the hot chocolately pizza and then topped it with scoops of Tillamook vanilla.

Next time I think that we’ll light the bananas once they’re actually on the pizza and then throw the flaming pizza like a frisbee onto the table. If you work for the fire department I apologize.