Morning Coffee Thoughts

Mornings around here are quiet. It’s getting light later in the morning, so my drive to work is silent and drowsy.

When I unlock the market doors and let in the prep cooks waiting outside, I feel the tiniest sense of satisfaction. I always wanted to be a girl that worked in a marketplace, and here I am, propping open the doors with responsibility. The cooks greet me and offer a trade — breakfast for coffee. I always accept.

 
I have a purposeful routine to open. I turn on lights and select music, I heat equipment and run the grinder. The smell of the coffee grounds destined for drip is what kickstarts my brain activity. Like a true addict, my mind knows it’s about to get its fix of washed Ethiopian espresso, which motivates me to keep going.

 
This job is strange. Despite being in the heart and center of America’s coffee Mecca, people still are puzzled by specialty coffee.

“I’m sure it’s fine,” an exasperated prep cook says as I stare into space and inhale excessively into my espresso cup.

In nine million years would he smell this demitasse and think spicy melon? Peppercorn? Cantaloupe? Juicy? 

Probably not. Nor do I expect him to.

There are other factors involved in this job. My coworkers, for instance, who look at me slightly puzzled all the time. Sometimes they ask me questions about Jesus, and we spend our entire shift debating theology. Sometimes we talk about relationships, and I am met with statements like, “You wouldn’t live together before you get married? Sounds dangerous.”

If Portland had a thermometer for the post-Christian climate, it would sit in the center of my workplace and register the pulse of the city, the way it warms and cools to ideas that were once radical and now are the norm.

I love every single person I work with. I have struggled with and finally embraced the atmosphere in which I spend the majority of my time.

Before now, I never had to explain my faith, or explain what I got out of going to church. Portland has stared my lifestyle straight in the eye and asked boldly: why? More importantly: are you sure? 

The only thing in the city that has kept me grounded and guarded is Christ. And to proclaim that with boldness when someone asks me at 7:00 am before I’ve had my first espresso, “do I deserve to go to hell?” is a feat I didn’t know I could respond to.

Don’t mistake me. Portland is not a city of persecution for followers of Jesus. But it does lull them into conformity by soft discrimination and the pressure to just let go and live life based purely off of feelings and instant gratification. This is the city of everything. Amazon Now will deliver your orders to the door. Rare food markets carry obscure ingredients you can’t find anywhere else. Pockets of culture peer from every corner, subcultures unknown to the rest of the states thrive here.

It’s a beautiful city. I’m living in a charming house and working the finest buildout coffee has ever known. God has been good to me, he has shifted my perspective from one of overwhelmed panic (how do I survive here?) to confidence rooted solely in Him. Now I can thrive here, because he is fighting my battles and teaching me to love those that need Him. Even if they laugh at my old fashioned ideas or make my mornings a challenge.

As I sip (somewhat obnoxiously) my first pull of espresso for taste and quality, I get a caffeinated rush of gratitude. Garden City has not always felt like home, it has never carried the sense of being ‘my city.’ But, by the grace of God, it’s His. And He’s going to use me here.

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.

 

Doodle Cookies

There are few things more comforting than combining sugar, flour and butter, knowing that together they will create something pretty and filling. Even while the outside world may be exhausting, tumultuous, frustrating, and tiring, cookies puffing up in the oven are tangible. Predictable.

Butter. Sugar. Flour. Eggs. Certainty.

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I’ve been in dire need of some recovery cookies. I handle stress through a few creative methods, mostly baking and the occasional doodle or two.

Today I needed a double-dose of cookie power, so I caved and bought myself some edible markers. Two birds, one stone, I figured.

And thank heavens! It was about time. How have I lived life without these little guys?

I used a basic shortbread cookie recipe (since I am slightly more fond of shortbread cookies than sugar cookies) and gave a new royal icing recipe a try.

I cannot emphasize enough how important it is that you make whatever cookies you feel like while recovery baking. Peace of mind through butter is the entire point.

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The royal icing is courtesy of Bon Appetite, who specify 3 1/2 cups of powdered sugar and 2 egg whites. Mix until thoroughly smooth and silky, thinning with a few tablespoons of water until it reaches your desired texture.

I covered my cookies by squeezing a tiny dollop of icing the center, spreading evenly with a knife and letting dry at least half an hour. Rock-hard icing is crucial, otherwise it makes doodling a messy affair.

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Then, of course, the fun is to let loose and be creative.

I listened to all of my favorite, mushiest Fifties Love Songs playlist, then let the Portland rainfall take over the soundtrack. My cookies may have been heavily influenced by a late Valentine’s persuasion.

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And, to clear you of all doubts and hesitations, recovery cookies do not contain any calories. Take my word for it.

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Happy Wednesday!

 

 

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:

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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!

To A Tea

A cup the size of a thimble was nudged in front of me. Its contents yielded, much to my surprise, a pale yellow liquid that tasted uncannily like heavily steeped dried seaweed.

It was a Japanese green tea from Jasmine Pearl, a Portland-based tea company priding themselves on a plethora of incredible, intricate teas.

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“How did you learn about all of this?” I asked our showman/tea bartender. He was busy serving us whatever tea our hearts desired, steeping them in a tiny quartet of pots, pouring them into small ceramic tasting cups. His explanations were loaded with more facts than my brain could process all at once, sounding more like an intriguing lecturer than anything else.

“For the first two or three months, we get extensively trained,” he explained. “I used to be in coffee here in Portland, but… I don’t know, tea is pretty exciting.”

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I surveyed the quiet room, described by several polite little signs as a tea sanctuary, where use of electronic devices was heavily discouraged. Tea lined the walls, gadgets filled the shelves. Small tins, held magnetically to an angled frame, held sniffable samples of various teas.

One side held herbal teas, floral and pretty. The tins revealed tiny flowers among a dried forest of green leaves and stems. It looked like potpourri and smelled like perfume.

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The other side held black and green teas, their leaves curling in dark, exotic spirals.

Jasmine Pearl offers the unique experience of tea tasting, and you are free to sample to your heart’s content, guided through the experience by a bartender of sorts. Ours was a welcoming, plaid-clad gentleman named Bruce, who was more than enthusiastic when offering us various teas and facts.

“Here, smell this one.” He opened a black tin and held it under our noses. “Straight campfire. Right?”

He was right. It smelled like tobacco and hickory smoke.

“Can I sample the sticky rice one?” I asked. The culinarian in me was intrigued by the idea of a food-nuanced tea.

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He grinned and pulled out a little box of tiny pucks.

“There’s an aroma of sticky rice to this,” he said. “Totally different plant than actual rice, though. It smells and tastes like sushi rice, but is completely unrelated. We have a tea made with brown rice, and you’ll get the same flavor note from both teas– this one, though, is it’s own plant.”

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He was right. It smelled like sticky sushi rice. It was faintly sweet and starchy. The taste was nearly identical to the smell, and for the first time in my life I fell in love with a tea. It wasn’t overly floral or sweet, it was savory and deep and undeniably starchy. It would warm the soul and fill the belly.

I couldn’t bring myself to leave without a bag full. It was sold in pucks rather than loose leaves. Apparently these leaves can be re-steeped several times, meaning they’re practical and wonderful, lasting a long time provided you don’t let them mold. Plus they’re wrapped in exotic, oriental squares of parchment sealed with a square sticker.

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I left, nearly an hour later, full of various teas and newfound knowledge. To visit Jasmine Pearl is truly to experience Portland at its craft-culture best.

Restaurant Review: Luc Lac

I cannot tell you how glorious it is to type, “Late Night Eats” into my Google search bar and achieve a list of results.

Not one or two dingy places serving greasy-spoon breakfast fare or soggy burgers. Oh, no. This is Portland.

When I first caught wind of a late-night Vietnamese joint, I knew there would be a visit in my near future. I can’t get enough of the strange plethora of Asian cuisine here in the Pacific Northwest.

Enter Luc Lac Vietnamese Kitchen.

Their website self-describes them as, ‘one big, pho sling’n, fish sauce cookin’, cocktail pourin’, Portland lovin’ family.’

I couldn’t have said it better myself.

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.With a sleek interior décor that is both modern and tiny bit pretentious, they obviously do a lot of business, cramming plenty of hungry diners into their limited space.

They’re particular about seating. The evidence is, literally, written on the wall: no seating of incomplete parties, please order at the counter and, above all else, wait to be seated.

Luc Lac is open late, which is great once the dinner rush ebbs around nine. Deluging hungry audiences with bahn mi, vermicelli and more pho than you can imagine, Luc Lac takes evident pride in their fast-paced, high-quality food. Most days they remain open until midnight, on Fridays and Saturdays they are open until 4 AM.

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To dine here late is a relief. You won’t get any greasy spoons, heavy midnight indulgences or snacks dripping in fryer oil. The atmosphere is sleek, a little indulgent and a warm, dimly-lit jewel among the grey rainy buildings.

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.Personally, I enjoyed the heck out of a vermicelli bowl. Laden with various samples of chicken, shrimp and pork, I somehow managed to consume the entire bowl.

They pride themselves on unique drinks, both virgin and alcoholic, of which I selected a coconut ginger ale concoction that was both pleasant and confusing to the palate.

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I can guarantee without a doubt this will become a regular late-night occurrence. Luc Lac has been praised by the likes of Bon Appetit and is obviously no stranger to floods of crowds.

If you’re in the mood for late-night eats (or any time, really!) this kitchen stands out among Portland’s sea of Vietnamese restaurants. Check them out here!

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