Tuesday, August 31, 2010

Cloud Cap Quest - Part Three-Ish: The L-shaped Room

Once again, I'm telling the end of the story first. Just like with the Coast Saga, the end is easier to tell simply because there are no pictures to wait for.

By the time we left Cloud Cap and the fruit stand in Parkdale, it was close to 6pm &mdash normal people dinnertime. We had an hour and a half of driving until we got home to Portland. We'd sampled a lot of fruit, but it was not dinner. I thought of the long, lonely drive ahead, of I-84 getting dark as my passenger snoozed, leaving me alone with the headlights of passing cars, the darkness of the Columbia River Gorge, and whatever was on the iPod. I thought about how late it would be when we got home. I imagined us trudging up the aisles of New Seasons like zombies with low blood sugar. I imagined us schlepping New Seasons bags into his kitchen. I imagined us belligerently arguing over how to prepare the produce we'd just gotten, as though it was the last farm fresh produce we'd ever see in our lives. I imagined it being 11PM before we finally ate.

"Hey, Handsome Man," I said, "how about we stop at a diner or something so we don't have to cook when we get back to Portland?"

He agreed, so as soon as the farms and open space surrounding OR-35 turned into signs of civilization &mdash Hood River!!!!! &mdash I began to look for a restaurant. The air was crisp and cold; I wanted tea and soup. Not just any soup. Red lentil soup. I followed signs for "City Center." They eventually took me from the emptiness of farm country to a network of busy streets full of tourists and devoid of parking spaces. There was horrible sun glare. The sheer population density of Hood River was too much for me, so I turned around and headed for the freeway. My passenger kept remarking that he didn't care where we ate. I was sure we'd find a diner or "family restaurant" at every exit, just like in New Jersey.

I don't know what I was thinking.

Eventually we stopped at a town that, from the signs preceding the exit, did not seem like it would be desolate. It seemed to be consist mainly of a main street lined with small businesses and expensive gas stations that formed an arc of perhaps a mile before connecting back with I-84. The first eatery we saw was an ice cream shop that advertised HAMBURGERS, but appeared to have no seating. And no hot tea and no soup. Further down the road was a Chinese-American restaurant. This is a phenomenon I've encountered only since moving to the West Coast. I've seen these in Oregon and Hawaii. Does anyone know what they are? I have a perhaps irrational aversion to them; I imagine they can have nothing but terrible American food and worse Chinese food.

Across the street from the ice cream-hamburger place was an inn with a bar and restaurant that seemed to be associated with it. It looked like a diner to me. I was convinced it was the non-Jersey equivalent, the "family restaurant." Nowhere did it say, "family restaurant" on the building, but I kept calling it "that family restaurant over there." In any case, we didn't have any other choice. We parked the car and entered the restaurant, with visions of burgers, fries, a long list of sandwiches, and several types of soup &mdash not spectacular, but edible and cheap &mdash dancing in my head.

We found ourselves in an L-shaped room. The cash register was situated in the corner of the L, opposite the door from which we entered the room. To our left, on the short side of the L, were several booths where I would have liked to have sit, with their large windows and view of distant mountains, but the booths were already occupied by large piles of used dishes. To our right, on the long arm of the L, were two rows of tables and booths, some occupied with customers and some free. I only saw one employee in the room, a woman with a stack of bobby-pinned wispy white hair atop her head. The rest of her was obstructed by a couple paying their bill.

My boyfriend immediately walked across the short L-arm to a dark hallway, in search of restrooms. (How did he know they were there? Maybe he has some kind of uncanny supernatural power. In which case, he is surely a keeper.) I waited where I stood.

After a moment, the white-haired waitress peeked at me from behind the paying couple. She looked annoyed. "Would you like something?" she ask me. She sounded annoyed.

Taken aback, my answer was a stammer. "Um...to eat...um....Well, we'd like to eat here...We'd like a table! There are two of us, but my boyfriend's just in the bathroom."

She looked at me like I'd requested the Martian translation of the menu. "Huh!?" she demanded.

Unsure what needed clarification, I replied, "We'd like to eat. Here. There are two of us waiting for a table, but one is in the bathroom and will be right out."

Met with silence, I repeated, "We'd like a table for two."

The silence continued, until the waitress spat out, "Well, it will take me a long time to clear off a table for you!"

I blinked, involuntarily tilting my head toward the empty tables in the long L-arm of the room.

"Are you over 21?"

It was my turn to be baffled. "Yes...?"

"Then you can sit at the bar. She'll be able to get to you a lot faster!"

I didn't know who "she" was, and I was still digesting being told, at an uncrowded restaurant, that I would be unable to buy food to eat. When she saw I was still standing there, the waitress told me, in the slow voice reserved for loathed idiots, that I needed to go sit at the bar. There was no bar in the L-shaped room. The exits from that room led, as far as I could tell, to the dark hallway my boyfriend had disappeared into, allegedly where the bathrooms were (but at this point, I wasn't ruling out a portal to a deep, dark parallel universe); to the outdoors; and at the moment the waitress was requesting my exit, I was peering down the long arm of the room to see if perhaps there was a door to the bar at the end of the L. But when I looked back at the waitress, she had inclined her head toward the dark hallway, and I inferred that I was to enter that unlit space.

In the hallway, I saw a small nook with bathroom doors, and waited outside them for my boyfriend. The hallway was narrow and I had to move out of the way of anyone who wanted to walk through. Fortunately, my boyfriend exited the men's room shortly after. He started to walk back into the dining room, without seeing me, so I called out to him. He turned to me with a bewildered expression. "We have to sit at the bar," I told him.

In a hushed voice, I began to fill him in on what had transpired in the L-shaped room. We turned and saw that, much to my relief, the dark hallway led not to a deep dark dimension of doom, but to a dark bar with pool tables, arcade games, and tables. It was nearly deserted of customers, and absolutely deserted of staff. Two people sat at the bar, but no one was behind the bar. "She" who would get to us faster was nowhere to be found.

My boyfriend steered me toward a booth by a big window with an attractive view unfortunately not encompassing the Columbia River (then it would have been a stellar view), but of the buildings between the restaurant and the river and, beyond that, large, green, conifer-covered mountains and the sky. I pondered the fact that I was probably looking not only at Oregon, but also at Washington. (Now that I live in the northern part of the city, sometimes I stand in my backyard and wonder if I can see Washington. For some reason, I never actually go to Washington.)

After I'd gotten my boyfriend completely up to date with how the waitress has sent us to the bar, he announced, "Someone was taking a sink shower in the bathroom. He smelled really bad."

"The bathroom smelled bad!?" I asked obtusely.

"No, the guy smelled really bad."

Quite some time passed before we detected that anyone actually worked at this bar. We surely would have begun eating ketchup packets and Sweet 'n' Low, had any such things been on our table. I started to wonder aloud if we should just leave. My boyfriend* seemed in no rush to leave. We were hungry and the town seemed to afford no other options. And then, a chipper voice floated into the room. Rather unreassuringly, the words of this melodic singsong indicated that the hot water was indeed taking awhile to work, but it would real soon! Is she talking about the hot water for cooking!? I thought.

A friendly, peppy blonde woman bounced over to our table. "I bet you want menus!" she chirped. I thought she was positively the antithesis of the waitress in the L-shaped room.

In a blessed short time, we had both menus and large glasses of Pepsi. It was not the Diner Menu of my Dreams. Sandwich choices and burger choices were part of the same short list, and the only available soups were Of the Day, Clam Chowder, and Chili.

I ordered grilled cheese and chili, the closest thing to tomato soup (or red lentil.) MBF ordered a BLT, which came with fries, a side of ranch dressing, and clam chowder.

"We're out of clam chowder!" the waitress groaned, waving and gesticulating with our menus. "We've been out! Don't even ask what the special is, because we're out of that, too! I'm not even going to tell you because then you'll want it! I didn't even get to try it!"

"That's okay..."

"Usually I get to try some!"

We drank our Pepsi and watched the distant mountains grow dark as evening approached. A ketchup bottle suddenly plunked onto the table.

"I brought you ketchup, even though you didn't ask for it, and I'll be back with your ranch dressing, and your sandwiches and your fries and some refills for you!" She whisked our glasses of ice away and dashed into the kitchen.

Next, two plates arrived with our respective sandwiches and MBF's fries. A snack-size bag of Lay's floated toward me and landed next to my plate.

"I forgot your ranch dressing!" were her parting words as she disappeared in a cloud of dust that spelled the word, "WHOOSH!!!!!"

"You should ask her about your chili when she comes back," remarked MBF.

Soon, the waitress returned to the table empty-handed. She leaned, with one hand on our table and the other on her hip, as she told us in a conversational singsong, "I think I just insulted all the Native Americans." Nearly all of the patrons in the L-shaped room had been Native American. She continued, "I said, 'I keep forgetting stuff today, I just want to get rid of this blonde hair and dye it black!' And then I looked around the room and everyone was like," here, she paused to glare. "It was a compliment! You know!?

As she disappeared, MBF and I looked at each other. "That was weird."

She reappeared, singing, "Oh, I forgot your ranch dressing again!"

"And...your soup..." MBF began, looking at me.

The waitress turned to me with kind eyes. "There is no soup," she crooned.

"Oh, there's no chili?" I asked in a small voice.

"Oh! There's chili!" she trilled, whirling away and into the kitchen.

Moments later, a voice came from the kitchen. "Did you want onions and cheese? It comes with onions and cheese!"

"Um, sure!

She returned to our table with ranch dressing and a cup of chili, crowned with a layer of chopped raw onion under a mountain of shredded cheddar that could have joined the Cascade Range.

What she did not bring me was a spoon.

MBF and I started on our sandwiches. As soon as I took a bite out of my grilled cheese, MBF said, with a trace of disdain, "Is that like, Kraft American cheese?"

"I don't know, but it's good!" I said, taking another bite. "This isn't Portland, and these aren't Portland prices!" I dunked my grilled cheese into the chili as though it were tomato soup, using the corners of bread as a ladle for the meat, onions, and cheese.

"Ask her for a spoon," said MBF. But she was nowhere to be found, nowhere to be asked for a spoon.

Soon, I was out of sandwich, but still had chili. I opened the bag of Lay's and began using the curved potato chips as a spoon. MBF offered me some fries, which I ate with chili.

At some point, our waitress appeared at the table, dropped off the check, and disappeared again. I didn't even want a spoon anymore. I offered some chili-and-chips to MBF. He partook, and then his eyes widened. He had an idea.

"I know what you're thinking!" I said, with a trace of glee.

And that is how we ate chips with ranch dressing and chili for dinner.

* Who needs a nickname or an abbreviation. I'm not using his name, yet, and in fact have been reluctant to mention his existence at all on this blog, partly out of a desire to protect his privacy and partly because I don't want to blog all the time about my handsome awesome boyfriend. This blog is supposed to be about an independent Jersey girl who moved across the country! Not a Jersey girl being cutesy with some dude. Anyway, he'll only be mentioned, I think, in stories where it would be weird to exclude him. Such as a story about going to Mount Hood with only him. Anyway, from this point forward, I will write about him as MBF. Until I come up with a better nickname.

Monday, August 30, 2010

One deadline out of the way!

My admissions packet is in the mail and will be delivered to Portland State University tomorrow. !!!!!

Sunday, August 29, 2010

Other stuff going on

This weekend was pretty full. On Friday, my boyfriend and I took a day trip up to Cloud Cap, which I first learned about as "the highest parking lot you're allowed to drive to on Mount Hood." Anything "biggest," "best," "highest," or other "-est" is bound to become a Life To Do List item for me, even if it is just a parking lot. Since it's Mount Hood, I assumed there would be more to do at Cloud Cap than merely park one's car.

The thing is, I could find very little information online about Cloud Cap...how to get there, what to do there, if one could use a Northwest Forest Pass to park there. Eventually I found an account on someone's website from a hike done in 1999. Google Maps searches yielded directions to "Cloud Cap Painting." Not the same!

Cloud Cap deserves its own post, so I'll just say that, heading toward Hood River and Parkdale with a vague idea of where I was going, we did make it to Cloud Cap, we did hike, and we found plenty to do. We want to go back and maybe even camp at Tilly Jane Campground. I'd also like to do the Hood River Fruit Loop and maybe even visit a Hood River area winery.

Also, I have a strange love for Parkdale, which is a middle-of-nowhere-ish town outside of Hood River and very close to Mount Hood. Maybe it's technically on the mountain; I don't really have a clear idea of what's the mountain and what's not. But anyway, from Parkdale, you can see GIGANTIC MOUNT HOOD LOOKING SNOWIER AND HUGER THAN EVER in one direction (the south, I guess), and if you turn the other way, you can see Mount Adams, which is in Washington, looking pretty large as well. It looks as big as Mount Hood looks from the Portland area. That's just the sky. The ground is full of farms and open space. And little houses and old-looking buildings. There was a brew pub on what seemed to be a main street, so maybe it's not just a boring country town!

Part of me wants to live in Parkdale someday. Or a place like it.

After the mountain, we stopped at the retail stand of a farm and got a bunch of apples, four peaches, some beets, some corn, and some strawberries, as well as a history lesson.

More on this, with pictures, later.

The next day my friends and I had a potluck. I roasted my first whole chicken! I also made a tempeh version of the recipe for non-chicken-eaters. I made mastic ice cream, which has been on my cooking to-do list for years.

Today was a good Sunday. Part of me wanted to loll around, washing dishes, cooking, eating the things I cooked, do laundry in clothes with elastic waistbands, and sit on the couch. Instead, I went shopping for fall clothes with this friend!. We went to a DSW in the suburbs, which I like much better than the DSW in Portland (near the airport.) That one is poorly lit, crowded, not very well-stocked, and has some kind of snooty, unapproachable feel to it. I don't know how to explain that last part; it's just a vibe. Also, they always play horrible music. Sometimes it's throbbing, unpleasant club music that makes me want to go crazy, not buy shoes.

The suburban DSW just makes me happy. Maybe it's because the Portland suburbs, with their expansive strip malls stocked with familiar chain stores, make me think I am in New Jersey. Maybe it's because the first time I went to that DSW, I was able to buy a pair of flats in red (identical to a pair I already had in orange) and a pair of heels in purple (identical to a pair I already had in black) both on sale, WITH AN ADDITIONAL $10 OFF COUPON. And then the store's staff complimented my choices. When I said I already had both pairs in different colors, they complimented my wise decision. "You know what you like!" they said.

That DSW is conveniently located near a mall that I call the Fancy Mall. It is too large to properly call a strip mall, but it is not indoors like a normal mall. All of the stores are situated around lovely brick paths and fountains and gazebos. So your time inside a fluourescent-lit space is limited. It is the happiest mall ever. Especially because it has all of the stores I like &mdash the fancy stores. (I am too impatient to buy inexpensive clothing that falls apart anymore. Without a Lord and Taylor to go to and stock up on pricey clothes on clearance, I now go to fancy stores and buy one thing that will last a long time.) So, this mall has an Anthropologie, a J. Crew, and an Urban Outfitters. Happiness! I got a nice striped top on clearance, a pair of tan corduroys also on sale, and a beautiful orange asymmetrical cardigan with black buttons. (Two practical things, and then a dream cardigan.)

Oh, speaking of new clothes! I got a pair of hand-me-down jeans this weekend, too! They are my boyfriend's. I tried them on as a joke and we both agreed, to our surprise, that they not only fit me but looked great. (He was talking about giving them away anyway. I didn't plan on stealing his clothes.) They fit in the waist and (strangely) in the hips and are just the right length. They're sort of bell bottoms, which I like. And the pockets! Men's pockets are so practical; women's pockets are merely decorative and necessitate purses. Fitting my keys, wallet, and cell phone into my pockets was so strange and satisfying. Except when we went to DSW and I didn't have a purse, I felt weird. I kept thinking I left my purse somewhere or that I looked like a weirdo, wandering around without a purse and therefore, without a purpose. What was I supposed to do with my hands without a purse!?

This week is looking busy. I have this graduate school admissions deadline hanging over my head, plus a deadline at work, and then on Friday I'm leaving town again, going to my boyfriend's hometown with him. And then when I come back, I will attempt to establish a normal schedule and a Google spreadsheet budget tracking system. Things are happening!

Why do I want to go to grad school?

Writing the personal statement for my graduate school admissions packet, due Wednesday, is making me crazy. Or rather, I am making myself crazy and blaming the essay. Either way, I find myself on the night before the deadline I've set myself (giving it an extra day to arrive in the mail, because I'm paranoid), staring at jumbles of notes on the computer screen, taking "breaks" to look at something on Facebook, talking my roommates to avoid the essay, and thinking things like, "If I'm having this much trouble with the personal statement, what's going to happen when I have homework? What am I doing!? Maybe I'm not cut out for this!"

That is a silly way to think. Getting started is always the hardest part; from here, getting back into the pattern of assignments, written essays, and deadlines will only get easier. If I wasn't cut out for this, I wouldn't already have two degrees, one with honors and one with high honors. It's not any different from work, going to a place at a set time, getting assignments, making a schedule for myself and managing my time to meet a deadline.

Sometimes, I have a topic I want to blog about. But when I sit down in front of a Blogger screen, I blank out. Recently I realized that e-mails I write on the same topics flow freely; maybe I should start out a themed blog spot as an e-mail to a friend.

Maybe I should start out my personal statement as a blog post, or an e-mail.

I don't think I've written about it much here, but since the spring, I've been working on getting into a graduate program in public administration; neither of my degrees are in such a field. Since the last year of my botany degree, I've planned to go to graduate school for botany and, although I enjoyed working in environmental education, ultimately have a career as a botanist, preferably a botany professor, too.

When I became unemployed last fall, I looked for jobs as a botanist, entomologist, or other nature/environment-based scientist. Competition for these jobs is fierce, funding is low, and yet I could have gotten one...had I been willing to move. And those jobs too would have been temporary. So, in a few months, I would have found myself once again unemployed. The jobs didn't pay enough to fund breaking leases and moving all over the place. Originally, this was what I wanted when I left New Jersey; a rootless life driven by a love of travel and botany. But I found myself not wanting that anymore. I like Portland; I'm sure I'd like other places, but the process of getting settled in this city, getting adjusted to a new place, and making friends, was so difficult, I couldn't stand the thought of doing that again and again, every nine months or so.

On a side note, "rootless" does describe the way I've been living. At least I've stayed in two geographic areas (North-Central NJ and the Portland Metro Area), but in those places, I haven't lived in a place for as much as six consecutive months since I moved at the end of August 2008. I lived in one place for nine months, but two of those months were spent at my parents' while I was on a jury; the courthouse was much closer to their house than to my apartment. In Portland, I've had four different addresses (including my current one); also, I spent about a month living out of a suitcase at a friend's house. Where I am now, I'm settled for at least six months. This is a nice feeling. But something to write about another time, so back to my graduate school topic!

Anyway, I haven't turned my back on botany, but I want to develop some skills that are universal, that I could use in any field. These ideas started to form when I was working in environmental education in NJ; my background in education and horticulture only got me so far. I wanted to learn more about the things that would help me design and market successful programs, plan special events, and manage volunteers. I wanted to learn how to make the most of our budget and available resources; I wanted to learn to maximize profits, all toward the goal of making the organization the best it could be, to most effectively work toward its mission.

I started to think, maybe I don't want to just do scientific research. Maybe I want to run a scientific organization. Maybe I want to be the director of a botanical garden or a conservation organization.

But really, I don't want to limit myself to botany or even science. My academic background and my interests include writing, literature, the arts, and women's studies. I've always been interested in humans rights; my interest in the environment has its roots in my belief that environmental conservation is linked to social justice (to explain this simply, conservation of nature => conservation of the resources humans need to survive. Think agriculture, for example.)

So, I'm interested in being an effective leader and manager of any organization, but I think learning how to do this would make me a good botanical leader, too. Even if I go back and get my PhD in botany someday, a degree in organizational management wouldn't go to waste; I'd be a really great manager of a lab! Or I could combine both things and be a scientific activist or something...

I think, with some digressions and a definite need for editing, I just wrote my essay!

Thursday, August 26, 2010

An Article That Annoyed Me - Updated at 6:40pm PST

So that I'm not just writing about food, here's an NYT article that I plan to dissect on this blog at some point. This "dissection" may simply be a collection of quotes from the article that stood out to me as annoying.

If you have the time to sift through ten pages of mildly insulting editorial, read What Is It About Twenty-Somethings?". While I might agree with some points of the article, I felt that most of its assumptions were based on a flawed definition of adulthood and maturity, as well as that these assumptions subtly pushed gender roles that I'm not so comfortable with. I'm not sure I can even articulate why I feel this way; there are moments where the article seems to rescind its aspersions of twenty-somethings who resort to "going back to school for lack of better options, traveling, avoiding commitments, competing ferociously for unpaid internships or temporary (and often grueling) Teach for America jobs, forestalling the beginning of adult life."

Teaching underprivileged youth in underfunded school districts isn't an adult thing to do? WHAT!?

You bet I'm insulted by this article because I fall into this category of aimless twenty-somethings. Whereas I thought moving away from my family and support system, so that I'd be forced to take care of myself and make my own decisions in addition to exposing myself to a different culture* and different ideas, was an act of maturity, apparently I was just being a big baby. Apparently, by attempting to be a financially and socially independent woman instead of settling down with a partner, I'm not mature. And this MPA I'm going after!? Masters of Public Administration? More like Masters of Pure Adulthood-Avoidance!

I'm interested what other people thought of this article, whether they made it through all ten pages or not.

* Yes, a different part of America does have a different culture.

UPDATE: This wonderful post by a friend of a friend sums up almost everything I wanted to say about that NYT article. Thank you, friend of friend who wrote this, and thank you, friend who pointed me to this.

On Pan Bagnat, Sardines, and Laurelhurst Park

This post is intended to be a brief explanation of the cryptic photos ending the previous post. Continuing with the Southern French cooking obsession, last week I learned how to make pan bagnat. "Pan bagnat" means "wet bread" in one of the languages of the South of France, and I have no idea how it's pronounced. I've been pronouncing it like it's in the French I know &mdash pain baigné.

"Wet bread" doesn't sound particularly appetizing, and this sandwich actually starts out with dry bread. I wish I had known about this a year or two ago, when I had to pack lunches that wouldn't be reheated in an office microwave (for example, when I was doing field work). This is the solution to the soggy sandwich problem. These would make a perfect packed lunch and I have dreams of my friends and I embarking on fancy picnics, involving a wicker basket (NOT an ugly cooler bag), with us all dressed up -the ladies wearing skirts* and the men wearing button-up shirts with jeans that don't have holes in them.** Maybe a nice hat, too. I think Laurelhurst Park would be a great setting for this dream picnic. In real life, I don't think I've ever had a picnic at Laurelhurst Park***.

More realistically, we'll take these sandwiches to Mount Hood. I suspect they will survive a few hours in the car, and then being jostled around in a backpack, smushed under bug spray bottles and extra clothes. High Rock Meadow (and here, if I'd actually gotten my film developed in a timely fashion, would be a photo of this majestic space with its view of Mounts Hood, Jefferson, and Adams) would be just as appropriate a setting for a picnic, despite the lack of flouncey skirts and parasols.

Ok, so on to the sandwich. Pan bagnat is made with dry bread - thick, crusty bread, or stale bread, whatever you want. A baguette or ciabatta works. It is then laden with "wet" ingredients. You know those restaurant sandwiches you get that are overstuffed, so much that no sane person could fit it in their mouth, and you have to eat it with silverware and, if you're me, you're torn between being cranky and being in love with a delicious sandwich? That's what you're going for. Except! From something seemingly impractical comes a new, practical sandwich.

That is a sandwich under a cast iron skillet and a tea kettle full of water, next to a sandwich under a Le Creuset tarte tatin pan and a full jar of coconut oil.

After cutting your bread in half and tearing out some of the fluffy middle (after which you must then dip it in some aioli or eat with cheese or something else delicious, not throw it out! Good Heavens!), you put oil on one side of the bread and vinegar on the other,and then stack your other wet ingredients on one side of the bread. Then carefully smush the other half of bread over the stack. Then wrap the sandwich in something like tinfoil or parchment paper. Then weight it down, as seen in the photo above.

These wet ingredients can be whatever you'd like. Purists, according to Clotilde Dusoulier, whose book has a recipe for Pan Bagnat along with the background of the sandwich, insist that mayonnaise is a no-no, as well as anything that was expensive in Nice when the sandwich was invented. So no tuna, even though you'll see a lot of descriptions of pan bagnat as a "Niçoise tuna sandwich" and even though tuna is now a fairly cheap ingredient. A more appropriate fish for the sandwich would be sardines.

I thought I hated sardines. I was convinced of this when I tried a sandwich with sardine and harissa mousse. I think I threw out the sandwich and fed the rest of the sardines to the stray cats that lived in a barn in my backyard. Regardless, I got a copy of Moi, je cuisine solo ou duo as soon as someone offered it on Book Mooch. But sardines are constantly talked up as a sustainable seafood, and they're healthy AND they're cheap! and I felt guilty for not liking them, as a health-concerned green-minded cheapskate. And then they were on sale at Fred Meyer. "It was on sale," is a good enough excuse for anything.

It turns out that I do like sardines. At least the Bumblebee kind. They're like tuna, but cheaper and without the creepy, ambiguous threat to "child-bearing women." They're less smelly (and cheaper) than anchovies! Mmmm, mmm, mmm! All weekend, I was obsessed not only with pan bagnat but also with sardines.

There are a lot of possibilities for pan bagnat, so I'll list a few of the ones I've made. 1) Aioli (because I hadn't yet read the part about mayonnaise being a no-no), sardines, sliced hardboiled egg, roasted bell pepper, tomato slices, red onion slices that sat in sherry vinegar to mellow out, cucumber slices, and basil leaves. 2) Oil and vinegar, all of the above, plus some green beans pulled from a salad. 3) I haven't made this yet, but at a restaurant once I had pan bagnat made with proscuitto instead of seafood.

I suspect this concept can be adapted to different ingredients, perhaps "themes" like "Tex-Mex" or "Eastern Mediterranean." I'm pondering ways to make pan bagnat with za'atar or pomegranate molasses.

* Although most of my female friends here in Portland wear skirts almost every day, for no occasion whatsoever.
** I suppose we can't ask for much more than that.
*** A third (!!!) note - Laurelhurst Park, for my non-Portlandy readers, is one of the nicest parks in the city, definitely one of the nicest on the East side (aside from this one, of course!) The Portland parks page does not do it justice. I planned to link to the Google Images query for "Laurelhurst Park," but mixed in with the pictures of this beautiful, Metasequoia glyptostroboides-filled space, were photographs of posh homes near the park and, inexplicably, the Dude drinking a White Russian. (Hmm...perhaps not so inexplicably after all.)

Monday, August 23, 2010

Less Lazy Friday, or What We Ate For Dinner

So, this time I'm only a few days behind. This was written on Friday, but it took me until today to get the pictures from my phone to my computer to Blogger.

When I got back to Portland from the East Coast, I was in a French food rut. This frequently happens; I become fixated on the cuisine of a certain area and for some length of time, turn to ingredients of that region when improvising recipes. For example, I'll get into Central Asian cooking ruts where everything seems to need sumac powder, tahini is my oil of choice, and pomegranate molasses becomes not another condiment taking up space on the fridge door but something I can't imagine getting sick of &mdash I wonder, why don't I always keep a bottle in the fridge? And then I burn out and move on to something else, before coming back, sometimes when the weather or time of year is the same, to za'atar and pomegranate molasses.

The beginning of summer makes me think of France &mdash outdoor aperitif, homemade mayonnaise, tomato and onion tart. The end of summer, with its abundance of homegrown tomatoes, shallots, and basil, makes me come back to France, but turning south to Provence.

This is how I ended up making pissaladière, with a bag of Jersey tomatoes that survived the plane trip to Portland, two nights in a row. I don't know if this could properly be called a "pizza" or a "tart." It was made with an olive oil dough, not a yeast dough, and there was no cheese. The topping was fried onion and tomato, anchovies, black olives, and basil.

The second night, with yellow squash from a friend's community garden in New Jersey, I made a white pissaladière based on this recipe. The "sauce" was chevre and ricotta blended with olive oil, plus black pepper, long pepper, garlic, sea salt, and shallot.

I just couldn't wait for a quick photo before devouring half the pie. I was starving.

Thursday night, I made a French meal for more of my friends, which included (appropriately) red wine. Pissaladière was not on the menu for a change; instead I made pasta with tetragon. Again, anchovies were involved. It seemed I was beginning to develop an ingredient fixation!

What is tetragon, you might ask? It was labeled as Malabar spinach at my farmers' market, but I think the farmer actually meant, "New Zealand spinach." Malabar spinach is Basella alba (Basellaceae) and looks very different from Tetragonia tetragonoides (Aizoaceae), which is what the greens I bought look like. However, recipes and writings about one seem to always reference the other.

(I didn't take this picture. It's from the US Geological Survey and Wikimedia Commons, much prettier than anything my camera phone could take of cooked greens on a plate.)

Anyway, neither of these are actually spinach or even a close relative. When I first read about it on Chocolate and Zucchini, I thought, "Well, there's a recipe I'll never get to make with a vegetable I'll never get to try." Weeks later, I was pleasantly surprised to be proven wrong by my new favorite farmstand. They also sell a variety of reasonably-priced local flours. I'll write more about this farmer another time.

As an accompaniment to the pasta, we had crackers with aioli.

The test for good homemade mayonnaise is that a spoon with stand unsupported in the middle of the bowl. This usually doesn't work when olive oil is used, so aioli gets a pass. However, this is the second time I've made aioli strong enough to support a spoon. I think the Whole Foods brand dijon mustard is responsible for this. It's surprisingly great mayonnaise-making mustard. I'd also like to note that there were no whisks in the house where I made this aioli, so I had to use a fork. My wrists hurt, but it was worth it.

Finally, on Friday night, I made a new, exciting sandwich discovery.

More on this later. I'll leave you with this picture of a crucial step in the sandwich-making process.

Friday, August 20, 2010

Lazy Sunday

The following is a post I wrote on August 1, when it was actually Sunday. I was so lazy that it took me more than two weeks to edit and publish it.

Today was pretty commonplace, but nice enough to write about. Trains and traffic on the highway behind my house woke us up. I like to imagine that not just freight trains, but the Empire Builder is passing by carrying passengers like me home from the East.

After much debate over what to do for breakfast (should we go out? should I spent at least an hour making pistachio lemon chevre pancakes, after which we'd still feel hungry for lack of protein? should i spend another half hour making tofu scramble to go with it?) we went to the farmers market, where we knew we'd find good breakfast burritos without having to wait 40 minutes just for the privilege of seeing a menu. (This would have been the case had we opted to go out to Petite Provence or Tin Shed.) As we waited for scrambled-egg-and-potato-loaded burritos, I saw a woman holding a plastic cup of bright green juice. I didn't know what it was, but I wanted it.

When asked if I wanted coffee (which I had been fixated on when we started our what-to-do-for-breakfast debate) next, I replied, "I kinda want juice now." My boyfriend might have been momentarily frustrated, wondering what the hell I was talking about. There was no juice at the burrito stand and no juice at the coffee stand, and I had become fixated on juice. Nothing else would do.

"Maybe they have iced coffee," he said, in the tone of attempted compromise with an irrational person.

"Maybe, but I saw a lady with juice."

"There are popsicles," he suggested hopefully.

I said nothing, my face forming a slight pout that mean, "Popsicles sound nice, but they are not juice."

We finished our delicious, satisfying, messy burritos, and walked the perimeter of the entire market (which is not that big - more like walking the perimeter of half of a small parking lot), and we saw no juice.

"I don't know what to tell you," he told me.

"Maybe I imagined the juice." But by now, he had seen people with juice, too. I started to think about buying vegetables instead, but then, at the exact same moment, both of us set our eyes on something bright green. A small, unassuming tamale stand had been right in front of us when we began our search, and yet we failed to see the three big, brightly-colored containers it housed. There was glowing pink watermelon juice! There was luminous green lime juice! There was horchata!

I finished my lime juice before I'd even completed selecting tomatoes. With the remaining $10 in my wallet, I got lemon cucumbers, an assortment of heirloom tomatoes, and a pound of purple potatoes.

When we'd left for the market, it had been cloudy and a little chilly, typical of Portland summer mornings. By the time we arrived at the market, the sun had broken through the marine clouds, burning through the long-sleeved tunic and jeans I'd unwisely worn. The sun continued to shine on us as we walked back to the car, dodging broken glass on the sidewalk and admiring neighborhood gardens. Along the sidewalk grew an impressive row of lavender, tall plants crowned with an explosion of purple flowers. It was impossible to be in a bad mood. I walked back with my heavy produce bags, sucking on lime-flavored melted-ice.

We parted ways and, back at my house, without a desk chair I had to work from my bed. You can imagine how productive that was. What I accomplished was learning more about Snookie from Jersey Shore than I'd ever imagined I'd wanted to know, and also that the Fonz from Happy Days was signing autographs at a burger place near where I grew up in rural New Jersey.

And this is where the post ends and becomes notes. Every time I have tried to wrap this up and publish, someone distracts me. As I am writing now, someone is distracting me with coffee and bacon (so I can't really complain.)

The end of this post was supposed to be some comments on dinner. I was lucky enough to find a recipe, the ingredients of which were things I was trying to use up and things I had just purchased at the market - a lemon cucumber salad with avocado and soba noodles, and a tomato and white peach salad from Martha Stewart (which unfortunately isn't on her website anymore.) This was the lemon cucumber salad, and it was great!

Tuesday, August 17, 2010

Back from the East

I took a short trip home, and now I am back at my other home.

I hope that things will settle down, that I'll have more of a routine and can start writing more often now. Of course, in a few weeks I leave again for Colorado! And after that, I might start taking classes!

Now is not the time - for the next two days I am occupied with a special event at work. If you're my Facebook friend, you can find out all about it. If you're in the Portland area, I encourage you to come! And if not this time, come to the event on September 22nd!

After the event, I expect to get some writing, organizing, and sewing done, but only if I have any free time outside of my date with Stieg Larsson. I've reread the first two books (because, when I first started The Girl Who Kicks the Hornet's Nest, I realized that I had read the first two books too quickly and kept thinking, "Who is that?" when names like Ekström and Holmberg came up) and am now ready for the final chapter! If you can't get a hold of me this weekend, I'm busy with my boyfriend. My other boyfriend, Mikael.