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.

 

Lament of a Le Cordon Bleu Alumni

My newsfeed has been flooded with links to articles on the closing of Le Cordon Bleu campuses across the US, most of them posted by alumni that graduated Le Cordon Bleu Orlando alongside me. I have read every one.

There have been plenty of explanations as to why the schools are closing.

998745_10201313052848919_818875982_nStudents have come out of the woodwork citing dismal experiences, the inability to find gainful employment enough to pay off their tuition costs. The response is intense scrutiny from the public eye — tuition, Career Education’s financial status, high drop-out rates.

Headlines like, “Feeling The Heat!” and “Recipe For Disaster!” have popped up as suggested links on the sidebar of my Facebook page. A heavy flood of dismal and discouraging things have started to spread over the masses, to people who would normally have no opinion on the outcome of a culinary student’s education.

I have no new facts to offer on this topic. I have no control over people’s opinions or Career Ed’s decision. But I can tell you from my own personal experience, I have nothing but praise to sing for Le Cordon Bleu. 1013233_10201325986452251_413799925_n

It is a shame to watch these schools close. Given the opportunity to go back and make the decision over again, I would choose LCB in a heartbeat.

I spent my entire high school career gunning for culinary school. I had scholarships lined up for Johnson and Wales. I had pamphlets galore from the Culinary Institute of America. I had visited my local community college programs multiple times.

Ultimately, I made the decision to attend Le Cordon Bleu College of Culinary Arts in Orlando, Florida. I wanted to go to school somewhere far from home, and I wanted to work for Disney.

Walt Disney World Resorts hired me straight out of the pool of eager budding LCB culinarians like myself. In fact, many of the big restaurants in Orlando frequented the school, filling their entry level positions with students.

12395_10201313126970772_642459974_nI never regretted my decision to attend culinary school, and I never regretted choosing Le Cordon Bleu. I had attentive instructors who were straightforward, often very blunt, incredibly talented and cared about their students.

Granted, I am a bit of an overachiever. I never scored low marks. I am a shameless student. I love school. I was on the newly formed Student Advisory Committee, spearheading school projects and networking with advisors. I pulled a consistent 4.0. I was the graduating speaker for the culminating four classes of 2015 and walked out of graduation with an honor cord around my neck.

I am, perhaps, a bit biased. Yet in the end, Le Cordon Bleu was the best decision for me. I have almost nothing but positive memories, especially of instructors that were forward and respectful of students, teaching us not only technically correct skills but proper applications in the more difficult, less buttoned-up, ‘real world’ of cooking.

Although the schools will run through their remaining students, I am truly bummed about the decision to firmly close their doors. In a day and age where chefs are gaining more respect than ever before, it seems unfortunate that such a big institution so well-known for their fostering of gastronomic education would shut down. There will be, I’m sure, an increase in enrollment for Johnson & Wales and the CIA. Despite the fact tuition rates for 559737_10200457009208363_1369650342_nculinary school are undeniably high, Le Cordon Bleu was the most reasonable option out of big-name schools. (Relative, I know.)

There will be an impact on the communities where these campuses are located, especially on businesses who pull cooks from the school. Many entry level or line cook positions have been filled with LCB enrolled students or grads. Will the world keep turning without Le Cordon Bleu and its eager students? Of course. But it will be a shame.

I know my case is not unique. I know there are other disappointed alumni. It 1982237_10202972348450272_3390432160077902463_nmakes us a rare breed. Alumni of a school that no longer exists.

I suppose this is a lament from a student who loved her education. Le Cordon Bleu was a second home to me, and I will never forget the education of my respected instructors, nor the influence of the students I was lucky enough to work beside. To watch something I find so valuable close its doors is, to me, a bit of a tragedy.

LCB Orlando — I can’t thank you enough for the time and dedication you poured into me. I, for one, have the pleasure of being the face of this now-dwindling organization, but I will still boast my blue medal in every kitchen I enter.

I am LCB Alumni. And I am proud.

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!