We are back from a delightful vacation to Portland, Oregon. Now, here is a city that not only boasts supporting local, organic, & green…they live it! Portlanders have great pride in their weirdness, eclectic environment, and artistic nature. Whether music, art, books, or food…serious greatness is exhibited in each area. From the largest guitar store in the West...Apple One Music, to the largest independent book store, Powell’s, to having an incredibly thriving amount of fabulous award winning chefs, restaurants, bakeries and tea shops…Portland is THE place. Below is a quick photo journal of our week in Portland…a preview of sorts, as I will be doing more posts about the food and teas we fell in love with up in the lush, green Pacific Northwest. And there may be a photo or two of the cutest puppy inserted here and there too 🙂 (my nephew’s 6 month old boxer, SeeSee)…
Beautiful greenery abounds in Portland…I am envious of my nephew’s Hostas which I can’t grow in our desert climate
Lots of greenery … photo from our downtown Portland hotel window
A book find from Powell’s Bookstore
Check out Powell’s book store, the largest independent book store in the West…multiple stories and a block long…a fabulous section on food and food writing…my husband spotted and liked this book … Eat Ink…
Tea bars I wish were near me…
Portland & Sweets…bakeries, chocolates, donuts … just spectacular...Blue Star donuts has been featured on the Cooking Network, Jones cupcakes are just delicious, Cacao chocolate shop offered a lovely darjeeling tea with the coolest paper steeping bag … it’s tough to be a diabetic in this town 🙁 I had to pace myself…
Fabulous food and chefs – French Bistro, Cocotte where I had chicken confit and poached egg (mmm), next, recent James Beard award winner, chef Naomi Pomeroy at Beast, then, possibly the best meal of all was at Natural Selection where chef Aaron Woo truly wooed us with vegan and vegetarian dishes which “wowed” all and lastly, Nostrana was wonderful where chef Cathy Whim has put together a beautiful restaurant with excellent service and foods.
Puppy love…Puppy love…Puppy love…
And then there is the cutest 6 month old white boxer, named SeeSee (our nephew’s new pup) who we got to go to the dog park with and for tea and pastry …she is a “people magnet”…everyone wanted to pet her, she looks a bit like a petite pony with skinny long legs and big paws.
Portland is a delightful place to visit…we spent most of our time downtown…next time we will get out into the countryside, coast and maybe even try a little of the famous Oregon Pinot Noirs…but for me…their food and tea scene is the best I’ve found in one place…
We drank a lot of tea…and loved it all.
Kindness, thoughtfulness, and inspiration can come at you from the most unexpected places. This happened to me last week when a relatively new friend emailed me that she had a book for me to read. This friend, L.J., is a voracious reader and the instigator of our small book group. I distinctly remember the moment she walked by me in our exercise class, over a year ago, and said, “I’m starting a book group, I doubt you’ll want to join, but here’s when we are meeting to see if this is a go or not.” I had to chuckle at the somewhat backhanded invitation…but it worked. I went. How could I resist? The rest is history. Since then, normally a foursome of us meet up (we purposefully keep it small), we move at a relaxed pace, and have virtually no rules for our group. Each of us had prior experience with more elaborate “book clubs” which often veered off into a gabfest or onto a cliquish tangent, each having little to do with the books…eventually we opted out of those environments. We laughingly consider ourselves book “club” rejects. We call ourselves a group, not a club, and have truly grown from our discussions. The book she gave was written just for me I think…It stole my heart and made me hungry…the title, The School of Essential Ingredients…by Bauermeister.
The School of Essential Ingredients…by Erica Bauermeister
L.J. is taking a break from the group for a bit to focus on significant life challenges suddenly tossed her way…so when I received her email, I was pleasantly surprised that, in the midst of her current situation, she thought about me and intuited something I would enjoy. And she was so right. I thoroughly consumed this book and was carried away with food memories of my own as I read. Thank you L.J. for exercising your uncanny ability to know the types of books that will move me and make my life better. It was a delicious, heart-warming gift. I recommend this to anyone who appreciates how cooking is more than just food preparation. It is gentle, creative, inspiring and kind and makes you really want to make some pasta or the cake mmmm or, well, I could go on and on. Let’s just say you don’t want to be hungry when you read it 🙂
You may ask, “so what are the “essential ingredients?” While different for everyone, three essential lessons about food are ingrained in me…first is to have respect for the ingredients. Bauermeister beautifully writes about this, noting that “every time we prepare food we interrupt a life cycle. We pull up a carrot or kill a crab…or maybe just stop the mold that is growing on a wedge of cheese. We make meals with those ingredients and in doing so we give life to something else. It’s a basic equation…the lesson is to give respect to both sides of the equation.”
I saw this timely Post from Smith Teamaker Portland Oregon …a place I will be visiting soon and will share the experience of this fine teamaker.
Another essential lesson which I relate to every time I steep a pot of tea is the beauty of ritual and the thought provocation which occurs while waiting for the tea liquor to exude. It’s amazing what you’ll think about while waiting for liquid to absorb or onions to turn opaque while slowly cooking. There is comfort in this ritual for me.
Thirdly, food memories abound when I read about foods, chefs, or cook myself. I was struck by the author’s character giving advice when using canned tomatoes for making pasta sauce …her words could have come directly out of my mom’s mouth when the Chef described how to add the tomatoes to the meat of the bolognese…”you can used crushed tomatoes, but crushed tomatoes are made from bits and parts nobody will see anyway…however, if you want to ensure you have the best…then buy them whole and crush them yourself.” It takes a little time, but is worth it. I could hear Mom (Betty) saying that over and over as she made our Thursday and Sunday pasta sauce … our standards growing up in an Italian household. To this day, I only use “whole tomatoes” for my sauce and crush, puree, or dice to suit my needs. I smile and think of Mom every time.
Thanks to my friend L.J. for providing me the perfect recipe for escaping from life’s stresses and enjoying luminous prose while reading The School of Essential Ingredients. Friends who listen certainly fit on that list of essentials too. Some lemon curd and the tea time of your choosing is coming your way L.J. whenever you are ready for it. 🙂
Enjoy and drink tea.
When our dear friend Pat passed away four years ago, it was a tremendous loss to our family for many reasons; including the fact that she was an AWESOME cake maker. If she heard someone had something, anything, to celebrate…she volunteered to make the cake. I used to think she was crazy for doing this as her efforts often resulted in she and her incredibly supportive husband nerve-wrackingly and carefully hauling multi-tiered wedding cakes hundreds of miles to their joyful destination. She found great joy in providing this service and her loving husband would do anything for Pat.
The void she left forced me to step up to take on baking our grandson’s birthday cakes. They were used to her spectacular offerings, but were young enough to appreciate my initial, somewhat pitiful, efforts. I figured if they were colorful, topped with lots of their favorite characters (knights, pirates etc.), we’d be o.k…however, they are getting a bit more savvy in their requests and discerning in their tastes, so this year, I recruited expert help…Grandpa. While I am good at the cake baking…I am deficient in the design and decorating department…this is where the meticulous skill of Grandpa (who has an award winning history in cake making) stepped in as creative designer and decorator. The result was the best looking cake ever…a Pirate Lego Cake, with a mini M&M’s Chocolate Candies river. Everyone who tasted the cake “just loved it.” My daughter told me it was the best cake I ever made (the cake part)…it was Mom’s Mayo Cake recipe. It is foolproof. Use this. You can’t go wrong. Below is the recipe. Two notes: use Best Foods/Hellman’s regular mayonnaise (really, don’t fool around with anything else) and don’t over bake your cake…really…Pat always told me this…don’t over bake your cake! Nothing is worse in baking than a dry cake 🙂 Words according to Pat.
Pirate Lego Cake…two layer half sheet Mayo Cake with creamed cheese frosting…enough cake for 40 guests –
The best marble cake ever…the mayo cake, made with Best Foods Mayonnaise …a 50’s recipe that is the #1 requested cake in our family – recipe below…we made a triple recipe….two half sheet layers – the first shown here using a bun pan extender (increases the height of our 1/2 sheet bun pan)…it was a BIG cake
It was a really big cake…hardly made a “dent” in the cake serving over 30…two layer, (two full cake recipes), Mayo (marble) half sheet cake…dense and delicious with a creamed cheese frosting.
I didn’t want to be short on cake…knowing many children would be at the boy’s birthday party, so I made a third batch into mini and regular sized cupcakes…these were back up and easy to grab and go for those not staying for cake.
Back up cupcakes…I went a little crazy with frosting on these…you can tell my cake decorator expert didn’t do these 🙂 The mini cupcakes are a perfect “one bite” guiltless size. We had plenty of cake!
We found the Lego shaped candies at Dean & DeLuca in Napa Valley…Pirate decorations were from William Sonoma
The infamous Best Foods Mayonnaise Cake recipe...a classic. My version has reduced the sugar by 1/4 cup as the rich chocolate and vanilla flavors pop when not masked by too much sugar. My mother made this recipe for decades…she never frosted it, just dusted it with powdered sugar. It is delicious with a cup of tea.
Makes 24 cupcakes, or one 9” x 13” cake, or one Bundt pan cake, or one 9” two-layer cake, or one layer half-sheet cake
PREP TIME: 20 minutes TOTAL TIME: 1 hour 15 minutes (includes full cake baking time)
Preheat oven to 350° F.
4 cups flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
1 ½ teaspoons baking soda
1 ¾ cups sugar
1 ½ cups BestFood’s/Hellmann’s brand mayonnaise
2 teaspoons pure vanilla extract
2 cups fresh water
8 tablespoons best quality unsweetened cocoa; reserve until after batter is prepared (I use Ghiradelli or Dean & Deluca Dutch processed)
Mix dry ingredients together, except for the cocoa.
Add wet ingredients to the dry ingredients and mix for about 2 minutes using a hand mixer or with a wooden spoon.
Reserve 2 cups of the batter and add the cocoa to this reserved batter; put aside.
Pour remaining vanilla batter into your baking pan of choice: a 9” by 13” cake pan, large angel food cake pan, Bundt pan, cupcake pan that is lined with paper baking cups, or two 9” cake pans for a two-layer cake. With a spoon, dollop the reserved chocolate batter in various spots onto the vanilla batter.
Using a table knife or skewer, gently swirl this chocolate batter in a circular motion to create a marbling effect with the vanilla batter. Be careful not to touch the sides or bottom of the baking pan while swirling.
Bake 45 to 50 minutes or until tester comes out clean for a full-sized cake. Do not over bake.
Bake 18 to 20 minutes for a regular cupcake size or 8 to 9 minutes for a mini cupcake.
Bake 9 minutes for mini cupcakes
Bake 20 minutes for one layer, half sheet pan sized cake
Here is a photo depicting the swirling in of the chocolate batter into a bundt sized cake…
Swirling in the chocolate batter with a metal skewer to “marbleize” the cake