Backyard to Table: A Cooking Reminder

Finding good food in Portland does not seem like a difficult task. Everywhere you turn offers a craft cocktail, a beer brewed up the street, fish fresh from the coast and mushrooms handpicked in the misty wildwood of the Oregon back country.

But after a while, the delicious food scene either numbs your palate to deliciously prepared, well-sourced delicacies or you start to get overwhelmed by the sheer amount of restaurants to try.

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Don’t get me wrong– I adore the food scene in PDX. I’ll even give you a list of my handpicked favorites to try should you ever visit.



And believe me when I say the food scene out here is the best in the US. If you think you’ve had good wings, you absolutely haven’t until you’ve tried Whiskey Soda Lounge‘s fish sauce wings. Those would probably be my last meal should I ever leave this place.

Despite all of this goodness, you know what resonates the most with me these days?

The tiny garden in the backyard.

Portland can tell me all day long (and it does) that they ‘source locally’ and ‘pick from the garden’ and establish ‘farm to table’ connections. But despite their best efforts and their tremendous successes, there is nothing that can compare from a fresh red tomato plucked off the vine, still warm from the sun.

Their farm to table and my farm to table are tremendously different. Those were seeds we dug into the wet ground a few months back. (By ‘we,’ I will admit, my green-thumbed roommates did the heavy lifting since they don’t kill plants like I do.) Now they’re vegetables, big and ripe and bursting with wonder.

So, for the past week, I have made all meals at home. Despite one late-night run to the greasy spoon diner in Southeast after a ceiling-splitting worship jam from the talented Matthew Zigenis at Bridgetown Church, there has been no money spent at all on food this week.

I am lucky enough to know — and take advantage of– the wonderful folks at a local bakery who give me their day-old breads in exchange for coffee. I never have a shortage of thick, fresh, crusty loaves within reach. This is the springboard for every wonderful sandwich and toast imaginable.

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Pie, made with the fresh apples from the tree in the backyard. Also, arts and crafts day with the roommate. We are working on floral wreaths.

I am remembering with startling familiarity how wonderful it is to cook, elbow-deep in something crafty, tasty and new.

Plus, it’s cheaper. My wonderful fella and I are trying to hit up some overseas countries for some crazy Jesus-loving missions work in the next few months and are saving every penny possible to get there. Eating deliciously seems an easy way to do so– its hardly a sacrifice at all.

We’ve even gone so far as to build campfires and construct gourmet ramen noodles with one kettle and some random ingredients.

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Gourmet fire ramen. 

Here’s to the friendly reminder that food doesn’t come from grocery stores. Food doesn’t come from restaurants. Food doesn’t come from well-meaning companies that send gift boxes.

Food comes from the earth, and it’s delicious that way.

 

Campfire Setup

If you’re in Portland right now, you know. It’s hot outside. It’s 100 degrees, which means coffee shops across town are running low on cold brew and the fan aisle of Walmart looks like the apocalypse struck.

It’s time to leave town and go camping.

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Recently, I made the best purchase of the season. I bought a camping cookstove that hooks up directly to a propane tank. It’s small, durable, travel-friendly and, most importantly, heats evenly.

Hand in hand with its soulmate, a cast iron skillet, camping just took on a whole new level of outdoor cooking confidence.

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By no means should you bail on building a fire or cooking on it, but if speed and efficiency are your game, you should consider a similar hookup. (Any outdoor sports store has ya covered.)

So what did I cook with my new, fancy gear? I’ll be honest, I didn’t exactly reach for any stars. I made egg-in-a-hole, and it tasted delicious. Something about that mountain air.

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Step one. Lay out your gear. Never travel without your skillet, some cooking oil and some salt. (Pepper optional.)

The only additions to this truly minimalist setup were a loaf of bread and a carton of eggs.

Step two. Put that pan on the burner and warm it up. Grease thoroughly with oil.

Step three. Use any possible device (I used the lid of my Pam spray) to punch a hole in the bread, cookie-cutter style. Place bread in pan and let toast. If it doesn’t sizzle when it hits the pan, your skillet isn’t hot enough.

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Step four. Crack that egg right in that hole. Please note the (clean) hiking sock used as a pan handle and take my word of advice: buy a pot handle sleeve or bring a towel, those babies get too hot to touch. Or be ghetto, like me, and use a sock or something.

Season with salt and pepper, then flip your toast as gracefully as possible to cook the opposite side. If your yolk breaks or you make a mess, tell your camping party that you are serving a ‘rustic-style’ breakfast and that they have no other choice but to eat it and marvel at your authenticity.

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Remove from pan and serve.

Eat, enjoy, and pack up your things for a hike. You’re in the great outdoors! Go enjoy them.

 

Hop the Fence, Have Adventures

We got outside the other day. Phones down, boots laced, we headed towards the coast where the misty sunshine called. Part of an attempt to step away from social media and live like hermits, adventures have begun to feature more prominently in our daily lives.

It’s true, what they say. Stopping the car to jump out and take a picture of a mountain for Instagram isn’t the same as climbing the mountain. The adventures you hear on the internet aren’t nearly as intriguing as the ones people keep to themselves.

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I invested in a pair of Danner hiking boots (and proceeded to dye, treat and lace my own shoelaces thanks to my very invested leatherworking boyfriend) and have since found it’s impossible to stick to the trail. One of our favorite things to do is hop the fence entirely and go where we aren’t allowed.

I don’t recommend this on the most professional level, but let’s be honest. How many adventures happen when you stick to the beaten path?

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The inaugural boot break-in trip went swimmingly, we hiked Mount Hood and found a gigantic swamp near a breathtaking clearwater lake. Of course, this being spring, we found ourselves in the middle of frog mating season. I’ve never heard croaking so loud! The whole forest was ringing with the creaks and groans of frogs, and the still-snowy ground was littered in clear, gelatinous eggs. Each egg had a tiny tadpole forming in the center. It was disgustingly fascinating.

But I must admit, Cannon Beach is my favorite spot to escape to. The big volcanic rocks are beautiful and rugged. The mist wraps around them like a dame’s fur coat and are gorgeously foreboding. Every picture I’ve taken is flawless; it’s as though the coastline doesn’t have a bad angle.

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Anyway, since summer is around the corner, why not try lacing up your hiking boots, too, and seeing where you end up?

I recommend the following:

  • Bring snacks
  • Bring a camera (if you want)
  • Dare yourself not to post any proof of your miraculous adventures online (be old school and write it down in a notebook if you think you’ll forget details)
  • Keep your adventure boots in the car so you’re always ready
  • Ignore most fences, don’t be afraid to take risky routes
  • Pack water and first aid
  • Climb things
  • Use common sense
  • Collect cool objects
  • Just get out there. And make it a habit!
  • Share your best adventures around a campfire
  • (Learn how to start a campfire)

 

Coffee Tours: Slate Coffee Roasters, Seattle, WA

Slate Coffee Roasters is every barista’s dream.

“Open 7 – Close.” reads the sign propped in front of its tiny, 6th Ave location. The space inside is small, minimalist, appropriately slate grey.

The heart, soul and center of the shop is gleaming Slayer espresso machine, sparkling like a new Christmas toy.

“Hello!” the friendly barista for the afternoon with her perfectly rimmed glasses, crisp white button-up tucked into black high-waisted shorts, smiles with confident professionalism. She knows where she is and what she is serving. She is the master of her profession. “Drinking here?”

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Following immediately are glasses of water and menus, as table-service coffee materializes. The menu, although plain and simple, black and white, needs explaining. Familiar terms like ‘latte’ and ‘cappuccino’ are nowhere to be found.

“Everyone has a different idea of what a latte is,” she explains without prompting. “Here, we keep it simple and refer to it as what it is. Espresso plus milk. We offer four ounces, six ounces or eight ounces of milk with each double shot.”

Skimming the menu further, she continues, “We do not have any drip coffee at this particular location, but will happily do a pourover for you should you prefer.”

After placing an order, returning the menu and waiting momentarily, the coffee appears. It is as it should be: an artistic centerpiece.

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Were I to have any detrimental coffee comment to add to this experience, it would be the mound of foam atop the final macchiato. I was disappointed that there was no creamy microfoam to do the milk justice (but will attribute it to the fact our barista probably milk-shared to make two orders and I assume I received the tail-end of the pour.)

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The most popular item at Slate Coffee is a deconstructed milk drink. Served in small flutes, a single shot of espresso and a scant few ounces of steamed milk sit separately, side-by-side. The last flute holds the two together in what would technically be referred to as a macchiato.

The hope is to show the drinker the importance of each component before enjoying them together in a tiny symphony of thick, vanilla-cream milk and rich espresso.

The milk, of course, is local and non-homogenized. Buttery, rich and fatty, it results in creamy texture that has the natural viscosity of a melted vanilla shake. This milk is pure and sweet and heavenly. Matt Perger would beam with pride.

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I will warn you that if you’re looking for an in-and-out coffee experience, Slate is not for you. Slate is for savoring and appreciating coffee as culture, not for slugging 16-oz lattes as fuel. Any other shop in the world will offer that experience; Slate politely declines.

(They will, however, happily explain their menu in detail. Please ask them questions, they live for it.)

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My personal experience featured the Chelbasa Ethiopian espresso, a natural processed coffee from the Gideo region of Ethiopia. It tasted like bakers chocolate and cherry cordial with a lingering aftertaste reminiscent of licking the bowl after making chocolate covered strawberries. In short, it was one of the best espressos I have ever encountered. It had me re-evaluating my life choices to better center them around better coffee stewardship.

Of course, in a shop with a shiny gold EK43 and a Slayer at the helm, anything less would be underwhelming. It is certainly good to know, however, that some barista in Washington State is living my dream.

The myths are true: coffee here is nothing short of perfection.


Check them out HERE or give them a visit!

5413 6th Ave NW, Seattle, WA

1309 NE 45th St, Seattle, WA

602 2nd Ave, Seattle, WA


Side note: Seattle is awesome. See adventures below.

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Coffee Tours: Either/Or Coffee, Sellwood

The winter drizzle is ceaseless.

It would seem to be perfect coffee drinking, book reading, curl up with a cup of tea kind of weather, and it is. Yet there are only so many perfect cappuccinos that can be downed before the caffeine has kicked in, awakening the urge to do something.

The product of too many cappuccinos? Adventures.

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It was during a coffee crawl that I finally stumbled into Sellwood. I’d been itching to check out Either/Or for a while.

I’m a sucker for tiny, intimate, less-than-ten-seat kind of places. This particular location, however, felt a little too far to travel and had been pushed down on my list for ‘a rainy day.’

That rainy day had arrived! 

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Either/Or didn’t disappoint. It feels a little as though an untouched corner of your grandma’s attic somehow acquired a La Marzoco Strada MP and opened to the public.

I was charmed.

With a little vintage refrigerator to house the milk and a tiny sink skirted with a dusty curtain to cover the no doubt rusting pipes underneath, Either/Or was comfortable and small, welcoming and warm.

Pleasantly, they also rotate their espresso selections and offer an espresso flight, in case you’re ready try them all.

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Its retro charm suits the Sellwood area well. This tiny little neighborhood in Southeast Portland is brimming with antique stores and strange holes in the wall. A particularly scenic view graces the river over a steep drop-off.

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The streets are sleepy and quiet. There’s a vague, small-town air of mystery here aided by the gloomy skies and endless antique shops.

Shops with bright, twinkling lights catch the eye. The rest fade into the grey.

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My only takeaway for this post is this: regardless of the weather or location, strange and wonderful things are waiting to be discovered.

Make your Thursday an adventurous one!


 

Portlanders! Check out Either/Or here or pay them a visit at 8235 SE 13th Ave. 

In Search of Wild Places

Oregon is known for its mysterious, misty woods and the beautiful Cascade Range that cuts across the landscape. Portland and the surrounding area are neatly located between the mountains and the Pacific Ocean, giving the pine trees a lush jungle feel and dotting the landscape with rivers and waterfalls.

When I moved to Oregon, I was thrilled. I couldn’t wait to get my boots damp. I was prepared to hike through the drizzle, explore the deep and wild places the way Lewis and Clark did long before me.

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From my childhood, I recalled a pleasant visit to Multnomah Falls, one of Oregon’s most famous landmarks. It had been a decade since my last visit, but I was eager to see it again and explore its mossy old bridge. I wanted to stand in front of the falls and feel the spray of this massive, tall, beautiful natural wonder.

I prepped, packing warm clothes and wearing my adventure boots. I made hiking granola bars, jam-packed with energy-sustaining deliciousness. I was ready to face the wild.

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Instead, to my deep disappointment, I was met with crowds upon crowds of people in rainjackets, braving the 35 degree foggy weather with lattes clutched to their chests. It was a sea of neon windbreakers, families clustered near the scenic photo spots posing with selfie cameras, ignoring the imposing, thundering falls behind them in favor of their photographs.

I was disappointed and let down. I stared up at the falls, feeling myself get jostled among the tourists who were looking at Multnomah Falls as a checkmark on their list, an Instagram post trending #waterfall.

Is anyone looking? I thought, staring up at the 600 foot wall of churning water. Flashbulbs were going off around me. Somehow, the crowds made the falls feel small. I was frustrated.

“Come on,” I said. “Let’s go somewhere else.”

Wholeheartedly, Isaac agreed. We had a backpack full of hiking food – homemade granola bars, fresh coconut water. We had no appetite to eat it here. There was no hike, no exploring, just crowds clutching balloons.

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We drove away, leaving families and strollers in our wake.

Driving aimlessly, looking only for a lone backroad or forgotten trail, we lost ourselves deep in a state park. It was the opposite of the falls – completely deserted and cold. The wind had picked up, the temperature had dropped to near freezing.

Still, determined not to be deterred, we left the car and hiked out onto a jetty that stuck out into a huge body of water. White-capped waves splashed up against icy black stones. This was the polar opposite of our last encounter.

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“Shall we?” I asked. It was freezing out. Our faces were chapped and fingers going numb. Almost out of spite, as if to prove this was really what nature was like, we spread out a blanket on a fallen log. We pulled out our provisions, the homemade granola bar of gargantuan size and a young, white coconut.

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I hadn’t split the granola bar into individual pieces. In the cold weather, it resisted separating in my hands. Isaac hacked at the coconut with a large hunting knife, yielding sweet, fresh coconut water unaffected by the cold.

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And so we sat as the wind howled, eating our granola bar, drinking coconut water, laughing at how ridiculous the scene must look. There were no latte stands around. There were no gift shops selling ponchos or postcards. In fact, I’m fairly certain hardly anyone has ever stood in the spot we found ourselves.

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I felt a little hypocritical as I snapped pictures of our setup. I had just been lamenting everyone who went to beautiful places for the sake of photographs.

But there was something coldly beautiful about the scene. It was deserted, the conditions uninhabitable. Still, we were there, picnicking in midwinter weather along an empty jetty. I had no intention of hashtagging it online to check off of my list. I wanted to live it, full and real and raw. The photographs were a reminder to myself – you sometimes have to seek adventures of your own, abandoning the footsteps of others. The wild places are the ones least photographed. That’s where the adventure begins, when you leave the trail.

 

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We rolled up the blanket with numb hands. Piling back into the car with rosy faces, we cranked the heat up and breathed in the still air of the car.

“Worth it?” I asked.

“Worth it.”


 

Wholesome Adventure Bars:

Ingredients:

¼ c peanut butterIMG_8298 - Copy

1 c oats

½ c honey (preferably local)

¼ c cranberries

½ c chocolate chips

Nuts optional – almonds, peanuts, sunflower seeds, etc.

 

Directions:

  1. In a pot over medium heat, melt peanut butter, stirring well.
  2. Stir in oats, honey, nuts, cranberries and/or ¼ c chocolate chips. Stir until the mix clumps together – there should be no dry oats. If necessary, add more honey. The mix should be damp and able to cling together.
  3. Remove from heat, let cool until just warm enough to handle. Form into a large rectangle.
  4. Let cool. To speed the process, use a refrigerator.
  5. Melt ¼ c chocolate chips. Spread over the bar. (This acts as a “glue” for crumbly parts of the bar as well as making it delicious.) Stud with nuts, extra chocolate or berries.
  6. Let cool completely, allowing chocolate to harden. Refrigerate if necessary.
  7. Cut into smaller squares if desired. Pack on your next hike and enjoy!

Toast & Tiny Spaces

My shoebox apartment, after almost three weeks of building Wal-Mart furniture and investing in things like Swiffers and dish towels, looks lived in.

Thank goodness. The bare walls and echoing silence were driving me bonkers.

Granted, it’s messy and unfinished, but it’s home. Portland, you’re stuck with me.

As promised: tiny kitchen photographs! (This is truly the entirety of the space. Not just the kitchen… the whole apartment.)

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Were you to stand in the middle with your hands on your hips, you’d take up all the room, elbows brushing both walls.

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A handful of my favorites: biographies on Julia Child, all of Ruhlman’s work, Mark Kurlansky’s Salt (personal favorite) and a few other gems that I reach for regularly. The rest….

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… are being repurposed as bedstands. Multitasking!

The walls are still empty, filled only with twinkling lights (I moved in during the holidays, which means lights are everywhere and cheap to find) and a big chalkboard. And that’s all.

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Since I own one cast-iron hotplate, I am making one-dish meals with finesse. Like French Toast Sticks.

Hold onto your hats, ladies and gents.

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The recipe is so easy I’m going to just show you pictures.

Ingredients:

4 slices of bread/toast IMG_2251

1 egg

3/4c milk

1 T butter

1/4c sugar

1 1/2 t cinnamon


Directions:

Step one: cut up your toast. (My knives are all packed away so I used kitchen shears. This is the first time I’ve cut even remotely straight lines.)

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It is important to note that if your bread is already stale and kinda crunchy there is no need to toast it. Since I am broke and can only afford cheap, processed breads, they need toasting to withstand being coated.

Combine one egg and about 3/4c milk. Beat well together.

Gently coat your toast sticks in the egg batter, coating evenly without dunking soggily.

In a pan over medium-high heat, melt a tablespoon of butter. Lay your coated toast sticks in the pan and let them sizzle happily until golden. (Fun fact: I have only used homemade butter since my post on butter here and it makes everything I cook seem cool and artisan.)

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Remove from pan. While still warm, roll in cinnamon sugar mix. (1/4c sugar + 1 1/2t cinnamon.)

 

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I topped this batch with cranberries, sliced almonds and chocolate, but it’s endlessly customizable. French Toast is the best. It’s fast and delicious.

Anyway, one-pan meals are becoming the norm. I’m having fun looking at barebones foods and creating dishes from them. There is a list of recipes in a tiny tin box on my counter that will all eventually end up here, in your hands, where hopefully they’re put to good use.

Bon Appetite!