June 24, 2008

Chad, Thad, Jeremy and a Slammin Screen Door

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Chad and Thad were my next door neighbors in North Carolina. I was mostly in love with Thad and a little in love with Chad. They were twins. We went to school together. And in my head, I knew I was going to marry Thad. I was 7.

Maybe it's because I am just romantic in nature, but more likely it's because I started watching movies like Gone With The Wind and An Affair To Remember when I was still in a crib, that I wrote a love note to Chad and Thad when we moved. It went something along the lines of: "This paper is wet from the tears I am crying because I will never see you again." I'm not kidding - can you believe a 7 year old would spew such sap?

Chad and Thad were my first loves. Oh wait. I forgot about Jeremy. Jeremy went to church with me. I used to go over to his house to play and I remember one Sunday, we were sitting under the trampoline and we decided to see what it was like to kiss. So we did. I think I remember it being fun. I was sad to leave him, too, when we moved.

But it wasn't all about the boys. I had another love when I lived in North Carolina. Yes, the first food I really fell in love with was Southern food. The Pig Pickins we went to with the roasting pig, the potato salad, the black eyed peas, the fried chicken, the lemonade. Mmm. It was all so good. And I learned to cook from the Southern Living Magazine cookbooks that my mom had. All of my good recipes come from something that I learned in those books.

And even though I'm not technically a Southerner, I sometimes still find myself slipping into a little accent when I'm around people that are from there.

Planning an evening with my friend Ansley, who is from South Carolina, I thought it would be a great night to hit up Screen Door, Portland's headquarters for Southern cooking, while we were waiting for a show at the Doug Fir. I needed to give this place another try after having not such a great experience a couple of years ago.

We had to wait a while - maybe 45 minutes, which is really not that bad. And the staff was really friendly. The atmosphere just pulled conversation out of us and before we knew it, we were being seated. Our waiter bonded with Ansley over South Carolina and chatted with us for a minute while we were deciding on our food. I had Roasted Beet Salad, Collard Greens, Crispy Fried Pork Chop and a piece of corn bread. Ansley ordered Low-Country Grits and Crispy Fried Catfish.

It was all perfect - the Southern Hospitality, the perfectly cooked and flavored greens and the pork chop was seriously crispy and had tons of flavor. Ansley was pleased with her food, too - it didn't disappoint the true Southerner among us, so I knew we had done good.

It makes me think of this prayer we used to say in school in NC: God is great, God is good. Let us thank Him for this [amazing, glorious, homey] food. Amen.

And thus ends my love note to Screen Door.

Screen Door on Urbanspoon

June 21, 2008

Story Telling in Portland That I Didn't Get to See

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I'm sad that I just discovered this the day after it happened. I hope they have more events because I'm totally there. Back Fence PDX

My friends and I wanted to check out the Mortified event a couple of weeks ago, but it was sold out by the time we found out about it. I'm on their mailing list now and I am for sure going to the next one in Portland!

I also missed a Write Around Portland reading the other night in St. Johns. Even though I go to the readings all the time, I am always a little bummed when I miss one of the smaller ones. They are so cool.

I was thinking of hosting a Portland blogger meet-up story-telling night. I think that might be fun and kind of interesting. Are you interested?

June 18, 2008

My Life with Bread

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I've never been to Italy. Pretty much the extent of my expertise in Italian food is that it has been my favorite kind of food since I was very little. In kindergarten, when my class wrote a cookbook, I wrote a recipe for spaghetti, which included directions to pour the water and pasta "in a big green bowl with holes in it."

I still love making spaghetti, even though I use a silver colander now, instead of a green one. I think bread is a necessity when eating pasta of any kind - that's a given. But what kind of bread is the key. When I was still making spaghetti with a green colander, I loved the squishy French bread, loaded with an inch of butter and garlic and parsley, pre-loaded at the grocery store, of course. I loved it when I took a big bite and the butter would run over my lips and down my chin. And I could get my tongue to stretch all the way to the bottom of my chin to get it all.

Then sometime in college, I discovered the wonders of sitting on the living room floor with a loaf of crusty bread and some butter, a step up from the squishy pre-loaded kind, always followed with a good vacuuming of the thick, shaggy, cheap apartment carpet.

One day after I had moved to Portland, I discovered a yeasty, beast of a bread soulmate on an afternoon payday excursion to bring dinner home to my parents.

This little Italian grocery store in Lake Oswego, in a strip mall on State Street. Unassuming. Port City Pasta. The first time I walked in, I was overwhelmed with my favorite scents - bread, tomatoes, warmth, and my favorite sights - bread, fresh pasta, Italian deli meats, cheese. I was in absolute heaven. I'm not sure what happened, but before I knew it, I had spent $40 for dinner. And part of that $40 was a large round of salt-blistered focaccia bread, with shards of garlic and rosemary baked into the slightly glistening surface. It was chewy and crispy and so so SO perfect.

My love for bread soared to a whole new level. The doughy, loafy herbed focaccia bread from Fred Meyer died in my heart. There was no room for any other kind of bread. It was no longer bread and pasta, but bread and salad, bread and chicken, bread and pizza. It didn't matter what the main course was, Port City Pasta focaccia bread always paired marvelously.

For a while, I would stop on a regular basis and get two rounds of focaccia. One for me. One for dinner. I was obsessed. Their focacciasandwiches - hearty, so flavorful, and touched with that crunchy salt and olive oil and finesse. At some point, I got a hold of myself and remembered that there were other cuisines out there. Then I moved a little further away. My visits became less and less and finally, not at all.

Though I haven't been to their store in a long time, every time I go to an Italian restaurant and order focaccia bread, I'm silently comparing it to Port City Pasta, like when you just can't get over an old crush who has moved away. And every time, the restaurants fail to live up to my saintly memory of Port City Pasta.

I'm going to have to bolster my reserve self-control and run over there for a little visit this week. My salivating-inducing memory will haunt me until I do.

Port City Pasta on Urbanspoon

June 17, 2008

I'm So Over Gelato

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Because I just found Cool Moon Ice Cream. Specifically, I just found Citrus Pistachio ice cream at Cool Moon Ice Cream. And it's right across the street from Jamison Park, which is perfect in the summer for people watching, fountain splashing and bench sitting. All while consuming a brilliant homemade load of sugar and cream. Think better than Ben and Jerry's. I'm not kidding. Hallelujah.

Cool Moon Ice Cream Company
1105 NW Johnson St.

Store Hours:
Monday: 12pm to 10pm
Tuesday - Thursday: 10am to 10pm
Friday - Saturday: 10am to 11pm
Sunday: 10am to 10pm

June 10, 2008

A Proper Weekend Adventure

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We had intended to go to Little Red Bike Cafe. But they were closed. So we kept driving down Lombard and ended up in St. Johns. It's a small-townish part of Portland that was really quiet on a Sunday afternoon. We parked and then meandered down the street in search of a place to lunch.

We ended up at Proper Eats, a vegan market and cafe. It smelled so good inside - like fresh bread. And it looked all organic and homemade. It was beautiful outside, so we grabbed one of the empty picnic tables.

Right behind us, a couple and two kids. The woman was trying to make friends with the kids. She, in her perfectly matching black and white skirt and blouse, was trying really hard. Her fish-netted legs were stacked into a pair of peep-toe black and white strappy sandals, which she was tapping on the cement with impatience. In between joking with the kids, tossing her bleached blonde hair and making comments to her rather silent male companion, she would sigh and say loudly, "What is taking them so long with our food? We have been here for an hour!" Then she would start playing with the kids again, in a kind of forced manner. Finally. "You go in there and you tell them that we are leaving if we don't get our food in five minutes." The meek husband hesitantly agreed and disappeared inside for about 30 seconds. "They said that ours is the next order." "Well who did you talk to?" "The waitress that was just out here." "Well that's not going to do us any good. She doesn't know anything."

Two more minutes of awkward socializing with children. "I can tell when you are mad at daddy," one of the little girls says. "Your eyebrow goes like this," making a face. Still no food. More sighs and tapping.

(Oh - at this point, we had been waiting about a half hour for our food. But we were sort of caught up in the drama around us, so we kind of forgot about it.) More toe tapping. "Honey," the hesitant husband said, "why don't you go in there and ask them one more time about the food." The wife jumped up. "Fine. And then we're leaving. You guys figure out where you want to go."

In the meantime, a teenage girl walks out of the restaurant, talking on her cell phone and carrying her shoes in one hand, "Mom! Mom! Will you listen to me please! You don't understand!" She walked around the corner.

The wife came stomping out of the restaurant, followed by an aplogetic waitress. "I'm really sorry. I'm not sure what happened." "You know what? It's not your fault. But there are people inside who were not there when we got here and now they are taking their leftovers home. This is ridiculous." "Okay, well there's a line at the cashier, so don't worry about the beers. They're on the house. Don't even worry about it." The step-family walked off, with the wife muttering all the while.

My sister and I played analyst. "She totally tells him what to do," I said, within earshot of the waitress who was clearing off their table. The waitress started laughing. "Yeah, just because he buys you fake boobs doesn't mean that you can tell him what to do." Now that was funny.

Oh our appetizers arrived. Mushrooms with sea salt and breadcrumbs. Delicious. Until we saw the hair. Then our other food arrived. "So, here's your food. And it's on the house. Everything is on the house. We had a total meltdown. It will never take that long to get your food again." Score. Sort of. If you don't count that we had to wait 45 minutes for a salad with browning lettuce, mushrooms with hair in them and a sandwich.

I want to like this place, but I'm afraid my appetite is ruined. I hope they straighten out their kitchen messes. It was a hoot though. I'd go back just for the entertainment.

Proper Eats on Urbanspoon

June 9, 2008

Bambuza: It's a Yes for Me.

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Last Friday Night. June Restaurant Group. Vietnamese Cuisine. South Waterfront. Bambuza.

Wherein we discovered: Deciding which boat to get on can be a metaphor for other really important life decisions. What we think about the pending construction projects in Northwest Portland. Laura got hit on by a guy named Steve with a bottle of Snapple. And I mitigated inappropriate email disasters at work. But before all that, there was the food. And the food was just as good as the conversations.

I think there was a garden on the plate. That's what it looked like, anyway. Bunches of fresh herbs piled on a plate with crepes. I didn't taste that one - no, I was too busy with my own dinner. But it was so beautiful and fresh - I couldn't stop looking at it.

The crispy fried spring rolls, filled with tiger prawns, carrot, pork and taro root were so flavorful and hearty. And the fresh spring rolls were so beautiful, with lettuce at the top, the prawn shining through the rice paper - truly picture perfect. If only I had brought a camera.

I had the lemongrass flank steak noodle bowl - which was so fresh and delicious. The steak was juicy and melded flavors with the herbs with harmony.

The fresh lime juice was sweet and delicious, so lovely with my dinner.

The service was good - always had a full glass of water. And they told me before we even started that they could only take two forms of payment for the 12 of us. That was nice, even though we had planned for that ahead of time, that he warned us. And. They let us sit there and chat for almost an hour after their closing time (we lost track of time!)

I really wanted to try dessert, but I was much too full. I'm definitely headed back there sometime soon - it's right by my house, so easy access to comfort for me. Jealous? (Oh no. That reminds me of the Christmas I was stuck in Logan, Utah going to the movies all day with two friends. As Helen Hunt emerged from the tub naked, my soon-to-be-ex-friend Mike turned to me and said: "Jealous?") Therefore, I withdraw my query and replace it with this one: Join me at Bambuza for lunch?

As they say on So You Think You Can Dance, "It's a yes for me."

Bambuza on Urbanspoon

June 8, 2008

Me and Benedict Eat Breakfast

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Johns Landing is quiet on Saturday mornings. A few joggers here and there, but overall, it's peaceful and kind of empty. Tucked away from Macadam on Virginia Ave, Porcelli's Restaurant, a former grocery store, seems quaint and homey. And on a Saturday morning, is also peaceful and kind of empty. I opened the door with a little too much force and didn't quite step far enough inside. The door whacked my heel, as well as my behind, sounding a loud THWAP. The one couple eating there stared at me. The waiter just inside the door stared at me. "Sorry... I guess is didn't take a big enough step." I laughed nervously as they all continued to stare at me. After what seemed like several seconds, the waiter finally asked if I was okay. I nodded and made apologies again.

I sat down on the other side of the dividing wall, so that I wouldn't be forced to stare at the couple who was staring at me. I heard them leave a few minutes later. There was soft music playing, but my thoughts were much louder than the music, and I was starting to feel the pressure of solo dining.

The menu was long, but sounded good. There were no words like "fresh" or "organic" or "herbs" anywhere in sight. It was kind of a relief to be honest. I just wanted breakfast without the pretense of the high-end foodie culture in Portland. I ordered orange juice and my good old friend, Eggs Benedict.

It's one thing to eat in a restaurant alone. It's quite another to be the only patron in a restaurant when you are eating alone. There was no people watching. There was no loud music. There was just my thoughts and me. The chef was rearranging glasses at the bar. He stopped just to make me breakfast. Nice of him! Took only a few minutes, then he returned to the bar to finish his task.

Benedict arrived and looked pristine. Creamy, hot. The potatoes were shimmering and spicy. Honestly, it was the best Eggs Benedict I have had in a long time. I enjoyed it and didn't want the taste to end. Though the awkwardness of being the only patron only got worse. Especially when I went to cut through the ham with my knife and fork and my hand slipped. My knife scraped loudly against the plate like nails on a chalkboard and a few potatoes jumped to the floor. Oops.

I hurried and finished my breakfast, rushing out of the uncomfortable feeling as quickly as I could, trying to savor the taste of my Benedict all the while. The waiter came to take my plate and eyed the potatoes on the floor. Damn. He found them. I would have made a joke, like: "Just call me clutzy Carrie!" and then laughed cleverly, but after the door incident, I'm pretty sure he already knew the current state of my clutziness and was not pleased with it.

Slightly flushed and ready to not be alone in an empty restaurant, I paid the bill ($11.75 for Eggs Benedict and Orange Juice), and walked out. They were probably relieved that the awkward, clutzy solo diner was leaving. I know I was.

Add about 10 or 15 people to the surroundings and I'm sure this place is a good place to enjoy the food, which tasted really really good, the little part of the menu that I sampled. So when you are sure you are going to be there, call me, k? I'd like to check it out again, buy my soul can only handle so much solitude under the observation of a chef and a waiter.

Porcelli's on Urbanspoon

Open for Breakfast, Lunch and Dinner
Seven days a week