Category Archives: Restaurants

Arrive as Friends – Leave as Famly – Casa Mia

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Casa Mia

The Detour coffee shop was a popular landmark at 3035 Division Street, but its owners decided to move on, and now we are graced with a fabulous new replacement, Casa Mia. This is the Italian restaurant the Richmond neighborhood has needed for a long time. It is quaint, cozy, and lacks the corporate vibe that so many of the new neighborhood restaurants have. What it lacks in the hip and cool area, it makes up for in its genuine charm,  pleasant atmosphere and friendly service.

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The interior has been completely revamped since the cramped days of the Detour in a pristine solid wood and black metal decor.  Fresh roses grace each table, sleek silver mirrors reflect the soothing pale gray interior, framed, Italian-themed posters add to the decor, all tempered by the rustic cement floor.   The place looks nice!

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Chef Benito Omana, originally from the Mexico City area, loves Italian food. His humble restauranteur beginnings were that of a dishwasher who keenly observed the chefs in the restaurants where he worked, learning bit-by-bit as he observed, and who gradually worked his way up through the ranks by demonstrating his own talent as a chef. In 1992, he began cooking at popular Portland restaurants, such as Pazzo, Piazza Italia, Southpark, Wildwood, El Gaucho and ElGuero.  In 2014, Benito opened Bellino Pasta & Cafe in Hillsboro, but he lives here in my neighborhood, and when the opportunity arose to open Casa Mia, he jumped on it.

I stopped by for lunch and immediately felt a little wary, because no one else was there. I was further dismayed to note that there were few, if any, vegetarian entrees on the menu.  However, when I expressed this to Benito, he told me he could whip something up off menu, the sign of a truly good restaurant, if you ask me……and he did!  He said that he plans to add more vegetarian options at some point.

I was first greeted by a plate of delicious house made foccacia bread with good olive oil and balsamic vinegar.  I was starving, so this tasted really good.  I was half way through my first piece when my husband, John, decided to stroll over and meet me. He polished off the rest with great enthusiasm.

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Benito served us a moderately priced Italian wine made from  Nebbiolo, Nascetta, Eau-de-Vie, Pelaverga, and Dolcetto grapes, which went perfectly with our entrees.

Benio whipped up a delicious penne dish for me that had outstanding fresh tomatoes, lots of garlic, basil and some of the best parm I have ever eaten.  It was simple, and quite delicious.  I loved the fact that it was served at a very hot temperature, too.  Great mouthfeel.  Teriffic flavor that made me smile.

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John had the fresh minnestroni, right off the stove.  Every ingredient was fresh and delicious, and it went beautifully with the wine and bread.

We had cappuccinos and some of the best tiramisu we had ever eaten for dessert.  We’re talking some serious dessert here, folks. It was out of this world delicious!

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The entire meal cost less than $30, and we made a new friend in Benito, so I’d say we made out pretty well.  Wouldn’t you?

Because of its location along Division street, and the manner in which it is set back from the street, Casa Mia is easy to miss….which is why  I am writing this blog article to urge people in the Clinton-Division-Richmond neighborhood to stop by and check it out.  Benito has big plans for weekend brunch, and serves breakfast, lunch and dinner all week long.  This is a call to action to stop in and introduce yourself to the chef and delight in the wonderful food that John and I experienced at Casa Mia!

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Casa Mia – Affordable fine dining in a quaint, friendly atmosphere.

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Do I Stick it in the Fridge?

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Some foods need to be refrigerated.  Others don’t.  This is a list of  foods that do not need to be chilled.

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1. Bananas – Storing bananas in the refrigerator can actually disrupt their ripening process.  Once refrigerated, a banana may never be able to resume the ripening process even if returned to room temperature.

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2. Yams and Sweet Potatoes – When exposed to cold temperatures, starches found in potatoes will turn to sugar, disrupting their flavor and texture. If you prefer tasteless potatoes that cause weight gain, however, please refrigerate.

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3. Tomatoes – Have you ever tasted a really amazing tomato right out of the fridge?  Nope, Me neither.  Tomatoes LOSE their flavor and become mushy when refrigerated.

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4. Apples -Apples  lose their texture and flavor when refrigerated.  If you want a cold apple, just stick it in the fridge about 20 minutes before you plan to eat it.  Otherwise, store them at room temperature.

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5. Onions – If you love soggy onions while also causing the rest of your food to taste and smell like onions, then you’ll definitely want to refrigerate your onions immediately.  Otherwise, try storing them in a paper bag (within a cool, dark cabinet) for maximum shelf-life.  And by the way, did you know that storing onions with potatoes will cause the potatoes to ripen too quickly and to spoil sooner?  The onions give off a gas that causes this, so be sure to separate them for storage, m’k?

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6.  Avocados – Much like the banana, refrigeration shuts down an avocado’s ripening enzymes.  If you want guacamole next month, this may be OK, but if you’re like me, you probably want guacamole today.

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7. Coffee – Contrary to popular belief, coffee is best stored at room temperature to allow the natural oils within the coffee beans to activate its pungent aromatic scent. Refrigeration can actually cause coffee to absorb odors from other foods in your fridge.

Speaking of coffee…I haven’t had mine yet this morning, so off I go.  Have a happy day everyone!

Moroccan Carrot Salad

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One of my favorite types of meatless “meats” is that manufactured by Gardien.    Last night, I tried this Moroccan Carrot Salad and it was absolutely divine.  Served it with Gardien chicken.    The recipe is from Tal Ronen from Crossroads Restaurant in LA.

Crossroads offers diners Mediterranean-themed small dishes, salads, farm-to-glass cocktails, and desserts in a fine-dining dinner style that encourages exploration. With its stylish atmosphere and refreshing sensibility, Crossroads isn’t just a leap forward in refined plant-based cuisine — it’s one of the most innovative culinary destinations in Los Angeles. It’s a decadent and indulgent dining experience approached in a conscious and cohesive manner.

Moroccan Carrot Salad

  • 1 1/2 lbssmall rainbow carrots (about 24), tops trimmed
  • 1/4 cupmicro greens
  • 1/4 cuprosemary-fried almonds (recipe follows) or toasted Marcona almonds, smashed
  • flaked sea salt

marinade

  • 8dried red chilies, such as guajillo, stems removed
  • 1/2 cupred wine vinegar
  • 3garlic cloves, coarsely chopped
  • 1 tspground cumin
  • 1/2 tspkosher salt
  • 1/2 tspblack pepper, freshly ground
  • 1/2 tspred pepper flakes
  • 1/2 cupextra-virgin olive oil

rosemary-fried almonds

  • 1 cupexpeller-pressed canola oil
  • 1 large sprigfresh rosemary, leaves stripped from stem and coarsely chopped
  • 2 cupswhole Marcona almonds
  • 1 tspkosher salt

preparation

1. To prepare the carrots: Bring a large pot of lightly salted water to a boil over high heat. Prepare an ice bath by filling a large bowl halfway with water and adding a tray of ice cubes.

2. Blanch the carrots in the boiling water until tender when pierced with a knife, about 3 minutes. Drain the carrots and plunge into the ice bath to shock them—i.e., stop the cooking and cool them quickly; this procedure also locks in the carrots’ bright color.

3. Drain the carrots again. You want them to be relatively uniform in size, so if any of them are large, cut them lengthwise in half.

4. To prepare the marinade: Put a small dry skillet over low heat, add the chilies, and toast for 1 or 2 minutes; shake the pan so they don’t scorch. Break up the chilies and put them in a food processor. Pulse the chilies to a coarse powder; you should have about ½ cup.

5. Put the chili powder in a mixing bowl, add the vinegar, garlic, cumin, kosher salt, black pepper, and red pepper flakes, and whisk until blended. While whisking, slowly pour in the oil in a stream until emulsified.

6. Put the carrots in a mixing bowl and pour in the chili mixture, tossing to coat. Marinate for 1 to 2 hours, tossing periodically. 7. To serve: Crisscross the carrots on a platter. Scatter the micro greens and almonds on top and season with flaked sea salt.

To Make the Almonds:
1. Put a cast-iron or other heavy skillet over medium-high heat. Pour in the oil, add the rosemary, and stir to infuse the flavor into the oil. Heat the oil to around 300°F. (You don’t need a thermometer for this: Drop an almond into the oil. When it sinks a bit, then floats right back to the top and starts sizzling, the oil is hot enough.) Once the oil is ready to go, add half of the almonds and cook, stirring constantly, until they are fragrant and toasted, 10 to 20 seconds. Using a slotted spoon, remove the almonds from the oil and drain on paper towels. Sprinkle them with the salt while they are hot. Repeat with the remaining almonds. Use to top the marinated olives or serve as a snack.

Naan and Kabob, ETC, Reno

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Naan and Kabob, ETC, Reno

Located at 2740 South Virginia St in Reno, Naan & Kabob, etc. came highly recommended by my best friend.  I don’t think we would have tried it, if not for the recommendation, but both of us were happy that we did.  The chef, Maurice Afraimi, was a colorful character who strolled from table to table telling tales of being the former neighbor of Steve Jobs in Palo Alto, and about how he prepares his delicious cuisine.   When he stopped at our table, he told us about his former restaurant, Bourbon Street, that was for many years, located in Palo Alto, California.  After we tried his delicious food, we begged him to open another in Portland.  He said he would consider it.

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Chef Maurice Afraimi

The prices were low and the food was outstanding.  Chef Maurice accommodated our vegetarian preferences perfectly!  We started off with pita bread and a freshly made red sauce, which is presented to each table with the chef’s compliments.  Additionally, we ordered the Tzatziki, which is a delicious blend of yoghurt, lemon juice, dill and garlic.  I serve this dish at home a lot, and is one of my favorite summertime snacks.  It was cool and refreshing served with cucumber slices and Kalamata olives.

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For my entree, I had Maurice’s Vegetable Pasta Barcelona, which was a dish consisting of penne pasta tossed gently in a creamy saffron/garlic sauce with delicious fire roasted vegetables.  It was garnished with mild, crunchy, raw onions and chopped parsley, which  gave it that certain je ne sais quoi.  This dish was delightful.

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I felt it fitting to include a glass of Greek wine with my meal, and enjoyed a glass of light, dry Boutari Moschofilero for the first time.  It was the perfect compliment to the pasta.

John was not feeling as adventurous as I, so he ordered the very safe and typical vegetable combination of falafel, dolmads, tahini and hummus.  It seems like he always orders the same thing, when we go to Greek restaurants.  sigh….but he did comment that this particular food was delicious.

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We split a baklava, which was atypical to most baklava, as you can see in the picture.  This pastry was huge and absolutely wonderful!  It was filled with pistachios and honey in a light, flaky crust….but it looked more like an egg role than a piece of baklava!  Who’s complaining, though?  We loved it!

The chef gave us cards that we can redeem the next time we’re in Reno, for yet another dessert.  Both of us really enjoyed this little restaurant with its quaint atmosphere and friendly service.  We shall definitely return!  Thanks to my sweetheart friend for the recommendation!

Bow Ties for Dogs??!! (Straight out of Portlandia)

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Bow Ties for Dogs??!!  (Straight out of Portlandia)

I have written about the food cart “pod” that is a couple of blocks from our house.  It is an amazing gathering of carts that serve gourmet quality international food selections on the cheap.  We love it, both for the food and the low prices, as well as for the diversity of the crowd that gathers there.  In addition to the food carts, there are also a couple of cool shops, one in a double decker bus.

My daughter, Sarah, her daughter, Ingrid, and I took a stroll there over the weekend just to see what was going on.  They usually have music on the weekends and sometimes jugglers or acrobats or other types of free entertainment that Ingrid loves.  This week, we met a nice guy named Josh who had his sewing machine set up at a little table and was making bow ties for dogs.  Said he makes enough to support himself, which you have to admit, is very cool.

See?  This is what I love about Portland.  When people are broke, they don’t just sit around and complain about the economy.  They invent ways to make money.  This is my own way of thinking.    Here is a little video that I shot of Josh.  You’ll probably get a kick out of it.  Looks like a scenario straight out of Portlandia:

 

I’ll Have the 3-D Printed Luncheon Special, S’il Vous Plait

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I’ll Have the 3-D Printed Luncheon Special, S’il Vous Plait

“Don’t expect to see this in your grocery store anytime soon.   One Dutch food designer thinks 3D printing with living organisms could be the future of sustainable food, creating crackers that sprout greens and mushrooms days after they’re 3D-printed into existence.

“A 3D-printer builds cracker-like structures made with seeds, spores, and yeast,” Yahoo Food explains. “In three to four days, when the seeds and spores have fully sprouted, it’s snack time.” The project is intended to demonstrate “how 3D printing could transform the food industry.” Designer Chloé Rutzerveld argues that by 3D printing food “you can make the [food] production chain very short,” with less transportation and land requirements.

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While Rutzerfeld estimates it will be least eight to ten years before foods like this could hit the market, other companies are already utilizing 3D printing for other culinary endeavors. Chocolate giant Hershey’s will soon install a 3D printer at its Pennsylvania headquarters to enable customers to create custom-shaped chocolates, while tech companies have invented printers capable of extruding everything from Nutella to pastry dough.  ”   (end)

As with everything, there are positive and productive ways to use 3-D printers, just as there are negative ways.  People are already making guns out of them and doing other potentially dangerous things, but the good they can do is amazing.  Entire countries can be changed with this technology, which, in addition to being utilized in the food industry,  is being applied in the medical industry, in education and in other areas.  It has tremendous potential to make the world a better place.

Hats off to the inventors of 3-D printing technology!

Pho Real

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Thanks to some real inspiration, this is what I’m making for John’s dinner tomorrow night.  Thought I’d share the recipe with you.

Vegetarian Pho (Vietnamese Noodle Soup)

Serves 6

Broth
  • 6 cups low-sodium vegetable broth
  • 3 large shallots, sliced (1 cup)
  • ½ cup dried shiitake mushrooms
  • 10 cloves garlic, peeled and crushed
  • 3 Tbs. low-sodium soy sauce
  • 12 ¼-inch-thick coins fresh ginger
  • 1 Tbs. brown sugar
  • 1 Tbs. rice wine vinegar
  • 1 tsp. ground black pepper
  • 2 cinnamon sticks
  • 2 star anise
  • 5–6 fresh basil stems, leaves reserved for soup
  • 5–6 cilantro stems, leaves reserved for soup

Pho

  • 1 8-oz. pkg. rice noodles
  • 1 8-oz. pkg. Asian-flavor baked tofu, thinly sliced
  • 2 cups soybean sprouts
  • 2 cups watercress
  • 4 green onions, sliced (½ cup)
  • ¼ cup chopped cilantro
  • 1 cup fresh basil leaves
  • 1 lime, cut into wedges

1. To make Broth: Place all ingredients in large pot with 8 cups water. Cover, and bring to a boil. Reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer, covered, 1 hour. Strain broth, and return to pot. Discard solids.

2. To make Pho: Cook rice noodles according to package directions. Drain, and rinse under cold water. Divide among 6 large soup bowls. Ladle Broth over noodles, and top with tofu, sprouts, watercress, and green onions. Serve cilantro, basil, and lime wedges on the side to be stirred into soup.

OK….yum.

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Like Thai or Indonesian-style satays?  Here is a super easy vegetarian and vegan version of low-fat tofu baked in a yummy Thai-inspired peanut sauce. You’ll love this one.  Give it a try!  You can serve it with extra peanut sauce on the side for dipping, if you like.

Quick cooking tips: Never be tempted to skimp on the sweet ingredients – the maple syrup is needed in order to caramelize and get the tofu nice and crispy. It is quite delicious, so make a double batch!

Here are your Ingredients
  • 1 12-14 ounce block extra firm tofu  (I like Nori or Silken brands)
  • 1/4 cup peanut butter (natural creamy style  is best)
  • 1/2 tsp ground ginger powder or fresh grated ginger
  • 2 tbsp lime juice (You can substitute OJ if you prefer….but I think lime is better.)
  • 1 tbsp vegetarian or vegan soy sauce
  • 2 tbsp sesame oil
  • 3 tbsp maple syrup.  (You can substitute either honey or agave, if you prefer.)
  • 1 tbsp sweet chili sauce ….and some cayenne pepper if you want to add some heat.

First, press the tofu.  Once it is well-pressed, cut it into bite-sized cubes.

NExt, pre-heat the oven to 400 degrees. I recommend lining a sheet pan with aluminum foil  since baked tofu can get a bit sticky.  The foil makes cleanup a lot easier.

Next, for the sauce, whisk together the peanut butter with the ginger, lime juice or orange juice, soy sauce, sesame oil, maple syrup and sweet chili sauce.   You can soften the peanut butter for a few seconds in the microwave to make this process easier.   Give the sauce a quick taste. It should be delicious!  Adjust the seasonings to taste.

Coat the tofu with the peanut sauce on all sides. You can transfer the sauce to a wide shallow bowl or dish and dip it in, or use a pastry brush to coat each piece by hand if you’re working with larger pieces of tofu. I like to dip it, then brush on extra sauce

Bake the tofu in the oven for around 15 – 17 minutes, keeping an eye on it so the pieces  don’t burn. Turn pieces over, and bake another 10-15 minutes.

Add even more sauce after the tofu pieces come out of the oven, because that’s the best part!

Eat and enjoy!

When Someone You Love Succeeds

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When Someone You Love Succeeds

I have to admit it.  Personal success feels great.  Each time I accomplish something that sets me one step closer to my goals, I feel elated.  However, that feeling pales in comparison to the emotions I experience when someone I love achieves success, be it a friend or a family member.  That’s right.  I take more joy in seeing someone I love succeed than I take in my own accomplishments.  For instance, yesterday, I received this email from my husband, John:

 

My Dearest Wife,

Early this morning,  I received the news that my “The Merchant of Pittsburgh: A Comedy” was selected to kick-off San Francisco Dramatists Guild’s  spring Footlights, staged-playreading series on March 2nd.

Attached is the invitation that will be sent out from New York in a few days.

Love to you,

J

SAN FRANCISCO FOOTLIGHTS – March 2, 2015 presentation.

Please join the Dramatists Guild for a staged-reading of John Freed’s

 

“The Merchant of Pittsburgh: A Comedy”

 

on Monday, March 2 at 7PM
Tides Theatre
533 Sutter Street
San Francisco, CA

 

Play Synopsis:


“The Merchant of Pittsburgh: A Comedy” is set in an Equity-based, regional theatre in the late eighties and concerns a fed-up Jewish board member who takes over as acting artistic director in order to stage a Shylock-friendly production of “The Merchant of Venice” while being forced to confront his own set of racial and ethnic prejudices.

 

                        “A brilliant mashup of Shakespeare and August Wilson.”   Arno Selco, Ithaca College

 

 

John Freed’s Brief Bio:
East Coast native by birth, the high point of his acting career occurred at age seventeen playing the lead in “Kiss me, Kate.” He received a standing ovation for his fireman’s carry off-stage of  his co-star after her slap nearly knocked him out at the close of Act One.
Fast forward to teaching dramatic literature, especially Shakespeare,  at Penn State as well as being the theater critic for the “Erie Daily Times” and film critic for New York’s “OneWorld Magazine.” He adapted Richard Wright’s novella “The Man Who Lived Underground” as a radio play produced by the local National Public Radio station and co-wrote “When Shakespeare Was a Woman” while functioning as pro bono drama consultant for the artistic director of the Pittsburgh Public Theatre.
His own writing evolved further from developing a series of creative writing and new media courses at the University of St. Thomas in Texas and at Brandman / Chapman University here in the Bay area.   During this time he wrote  “Love me, Fuseli: A Play about Mary Wollstonecraft and her Circle of Friends” and “Figaro’s Follies” – a new adaption of  Beaumarchais’ “Le Mariage de Figaro” which had staged-readings by the EastBay Players in the fall of 2014.

 

He is currently working on the book and lyrics for a musical entitled “All Hallows at Hearst Castle” with composer, Jeff Dunn.

John bi-locates to Portland, Oregon where his wife, Stacy Alexander, is a graduate student, a professional writer and a mixed media artist.  His playwright website is http://freed98.wix.com/johnfreedplaywright .

 

Dramatists Guild’s San Francisco

(end)

My response to John:

To My Most Admirable Husband,
So, once again, a public acknowledgement and congratulations in the midst of many, my darling.   What an honor for your play to kick off the season!  There are insufficient words to convey how proud of you I am.  Each play you write is better than the one that came before it.   I enthusiastically encourage you to continue with your play writing, just as you have always encouraged me with my own creative endeavors.  It is with great happiness that I  look forward to seeing what you come up with next.  Oh….and “break a leg”  (figuratively…not literally)  🙂
Your loving wife,
Anastasia

A Walk to The Waffle Window – A Portland Tradition

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A Walk to The Waffle Window – A Portland Tradition

After having stayed awake long into the night to wait for a phone call, I woke this morning feeling fairly groggy.  I had been promising Ingrid that I would take her to the Portlandia-famous waffle window on Hawthorne, so we got dressed and set out for a walk through the hood, up to Hawthorne street. I didn’t stay groggy for long.  This is truly a beautiful city.  The sun was out, the temperature was mild, and we were both in a great mood.

A true sign that spring has almost sprung was the abundance of flowers that we saw along the way.

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Of course, we had to stop for a little tree climbing along the way…

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And a wee bit of balance beam walking…

We also had a nice discussion about media…Vinyl vs. MP3s, to be exact….

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But we finally arrived at our destination.  The legendary waffle window.  Some of you may have seen it in an episode or two of Portlandia or maybe you read about it in the March 2012 issue of Bon Appetite magazine.  Others may have seen it in one of the many documentaries that have been made about what an awesome city Portland is.  The waffle window is just another of those fantastic things that makes Portland unique….and it is a mere 7 blocks from our home!  The line was long, but the wait was brief.

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I ordered the Farm Fusion waffle, which was a combination of Mushrooms, spinach, roasted pepper, tomato and marinated chèvre.   Yum.   Had that with a 16 ounce latte and enjoyed every bite.

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Ingrid had the day’s special, which was some clementine orange and blueberry concoction with an orange/caramel sauce and whipped cream.  Mind you, we do not allow this child to eat these kinds of sweets often, but she thoroughly enjoyed this.  These authentic Portland style Liege pearl sugar waffles are truly a unique treat!  They’re made using a yeast dough instead of a batter and are baked with pearl sugar to give the waffle a delicious crunch. I guarantee that this place’s specialty Portland style Liege waffles are unlike anything you have had before.  Absolutely delicious!  No complaints!

blueberry waffle

The place has 2 or 3 specials each day, and a menu with a wide array of both sweet and savory waffles from which to choose.  They also have a fabulous drink menu that includes some of the best coffee drinks in the city and unique teas and lemonades.  For instance, the basil/blackberry lemonade is one of my favorites.

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The concept is very simple.  People just walk up to the window, order, then go to the tented area in the back of the building where they enjoy their food.  There is also a full-service breakfast place in the front of the building where wafflers can take their fare and eat indoors….but the tent thing was an adventure for Ingrid, so we did that.  Her mother (my daughter, Sarah) joined us, and we had a nice visit as we enjoyed our food.

This was a good start to a good day.  I love spending time with Sarah and Ingrid, especially in a city such as Portland, that has so much to offer in terms of great food, unique ambiance and just good vibes.  Happy to be alive.  Yup.

 

 

 

Day #13 – Temptation

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Since my love lives in another state, I made these cookies and photographed them for him.  This is for Day #3 of the Photo-a-Day Challenge by Fat Mum Slim.

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When you can’t be with the one  you love, you can always make something sweet and send him photos. 🙂

Original photography by Stacy Alexander, ©2015 – ALL RIGHTS RESERVED

What to do with Fennel!

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I love fennel, and do not understand why it is not more popular…but alas, a lot of people simply don’t know what to do with it.  I got a nice, big bulb of it in my organic produce delivery this week, so thought I’d share a couple of recipes.   Here is a recipe for my favorite fennel salad.  I love this, could live on this alone, and would be perfectly happy if this was the only thing I ever had to eat! 😉

fennel salad with oranges

Fennel Salad with Spinach or Arugula:

2 cups of baby spinach or baby arugula

1 large fennel bulb, sliced thin

.5 cup of ricotta salata cheese, grilled

.5 cup sliced almonds, toasted

1 blood orange, peeled and sliced

 I like  to use the orange vinegar from Trader Joes and make a nice, salty vineagarette.

Add dressing and toss everything together.

Enjoy!

(You will…because this is an AWESOME salad!!)

I received a very good salad recipe in my inbox this morning, and it contained fennel, so I decided to share it with you here.  This one is from Whole Foods.

fennel salad

Pink Lady Apple Salad with Bibb Lettuce, Blue Cheese, Shaved Fennel, & Spiced Walnut Vinaigrette

Ingredients:

2 cups Pink Lady apples, sliced
2 heads bibb lettuce
1 head fennel, thinly sliced
1/2 cup Maytag blue cheese, crumbled
1 shallot, minced
Spiced walnuts (see below)
Walnut vinaigrette (see below)

For the Spiced Walnuts:
1 cup walnuts
2 tablespoons egg whites
1/2 cup brown sugar
2 teaspoons cayenne pepper

For the Walnut Vinaigrette:
3/4 cup walnut oil
3/4 cup champagne vinegar
salt and pepper to taste

Procedures:

1. Pre-heat oven to 300F.

2. In a bowl, beat together the sugar, egg whites & cayenne pepper. Add walnuts and toss to combine.

3. Lay nuts on a baking sheet with parchment paper. Bake for 30 minutes or until golden brown & crispy. Allow the walnuts to cool, then break them up and transfer to an airtight container.

4. To make the vinaigrette, whisk together the vinegar, oil, salt and pepper.

5. In a large bowl, toss the lettuce leaves with vinaigrette to coat. Season to taste with salt and pepper. Top with apples, fennel, blue cheese, shallot, and spiced walnuts.

Toast is Now a Thing

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Here on the Left Coast of the USA, toast is trending in fast ‘n cool restaurants as the latest and, perhaps, greatest light meal or snack category.  This is probably happening elsewhere as well, but since I do live on the West Coast, and since this toasty phenomenon is appearing all over Portland, I thought it was worth a mention.

I’ve seen ‘specialty toasts’ priced at around $9, and that go up to as much as $15, depending on what one orders.  I have my own favorites, that I shall share with you now:

Avocado, Feta Cheese and Pomegranate

This one is delicious on a piece of thickly sliced multigrain bread, sprinkled with sea salt and, maybe drizzled with one’s favorite dressing…or not.  The trio of flavors are perfect, each complimenting the other.

toast1

Just in case you don’t know how, here is a video that demonstrates a quick and easy method for extracting the seeds from a pomegranate.

Your Favorite Berries, Basil and Cream Cheese

This is a delicious breakfast toast. I prefer this one with whole wheat bread, but it would probably be great with virtually any kind of bread.  Use fresh berries that are organic and in season to achieve the best results….and *always* use fresh, fresh basil!

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The Sunshine Tavern, right down the street from our place, serves a very nice housemade Pimento Cheese with Celery on a Toasted Baguette.  I don’t have a picture of it, however, so I’ll just upload this generic pimento cheese one:

toast 3

Here is a Pimento Cheese recipe that I like to make:

Pimento Cheese

from “The Gift of Southern Cooking” by Edna Lewis & Scott Peacock

First, make your own mayo (it’s key).

Ingredients:

1 tablespoon cider vinegar

1 tablespoon freshly squeezed lemon juice

1 teaspoon sea salt

1 teaspoon dry mustard

2 egg yolks

1 1/2 cups vegetable oil or light olive oil, or a combination [I’d stick to vegetable or canola]

1 tablespoon hot water

Put the vinegar, lemon juice, salt, and mustard into a bowl, and whisk or stir until the salt and mustard are dissolved. Add the egg yolks, and beat until smooth. Add the oil drop by drop at first, and then in a slow, steady stream, whisking or stirring constantly until all of the oil has been incorporated and you have a very thick emulsion. Stir in the hot water until smooth.

[Refrigerated, homemade mayo will keep for up to 1 week.]

Now for the pimento cheese, it couldn’t be easier…

Mix together 2 1/2 cups (10 ounces) grated extra-sharp cheddar cheese [try a combo of white and orange], 1/8 teaspoon cayenne pepper (or to taste), salt (to taste, if needed), 5 to 6 grinds of black pepper, 3/4 cup of the the homemade Mayonnaise and 3 tablespoons finely chopped roasted red bell pepper or pimento. Stir until it’s well mixed and creamy, then taste carefully for seasoning and adjust. Cover and store, refrigerated, until ready to use.

Another toast that I really like is Almond (or Cashew) Butter, Banana and Chia Seeds.  Again, use the bread of your choice.

toast 4

And finally….one of my all-time favorites…is the Apple (or Pear), Bleu Cheese and Honey Toast:

toast 5

The next time you’d like a small meal, try to think up a good combination of ingredients to serve on a thick slab of delicious toast.  It’s a ‘thing’ these days…even though I’m sure you’ve been eating toast for your entire life, right?  Me, too.  Funny how these restaurant trends can seem so “inventive”….even when serving something as common and familiar as toast….and imagine charging $15!!  Make them at home, serve with a favorite salad and enjoy! (without the high price tag.)

6 Reasons Why My Banana Bread is Better Than Yours

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6 Reasons Why My Banana Bread is Better Than Yours

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First, I use my grandmother Blackwood’s recipe, and it is simply the best banana bread recipe in the world!  It is also a secret, so you’re out of luck there, but I will tell you how you can make your OWN banana bread recipe taste better by changing 5 of the ingredients.

The first thing is nuts.  Whether you add walnuts, almonds or some other kind of nuts, use the smoked kind with salt, and use high quality nuts.  Buy them as fresh as possible, and don’t use the canned kind that has all the preservatives.  Trader Joe’s is the ideal place to purchase good nuts.   The smoky, salty flavor matched against the sweetness of the sugar provides a complete yin-yang flavor profile that simply makes sense.  You’ll take one bit and say, “YES!!!”

almonds

You’re going to laugh about this next ingredient.

bacon grease

My recommendation for this product has nothing to do with whether you are or are not vegan.  The product is fabulous. It is a wonderful, strong flavoring agent that I now cannot live without.   Just add about a teaspoon of this stuff to the oil that you would normally use in your recipe, and WOW!  It adds just a hint of the same smoky flavor that are also contained in the smoked nuts.  It gives the bread substance and a sort of “bass note”….not bass the fish….bass the instrument.   It makes the bread  taste richer, more full-bodied…good….and oh, by the way, this stuff is great for all kinds of recipes, sweet AND savory!  You can purchase it online HERE.

The third thing that makes my banana bread so good is black bananas.

black bananas

Bananas contain tryptophan; a type of protein that the body converts into serotonin, known to make you relax, improve your mood and generally make you feel happier.  When you allow them to ripen to the soft stage, the flavors are enhanced and the concentration of tryptophan is even higher.  Plus, they simply taste better when they’re baked.

And finally….and more importantly….the vanilla.

nielsen massy

ONLY use Nielsen-Massey Madagascar Bourbon Pure Vanilla Extract and one fresh vanilla bean!

vanilla bean

Before you faint over the cost of the vanilla, don’t.  It is the most delicious vanilla extract I have ever used, AND it is worth every cent that you pay for it.  It really *does* make that much of a difference.  The fresh vanilla bean just adds to the vanilla goodness.

If you use these five ingredients with any banana bread recipe, I guarantee you will not regret it.  You will have the best banana bread on the block.  Mind you, it won’t be quite as good as mine, because I use Grandmother Blackwood’s recipe….but you will definitely love what you bake, if you don’t burn it.  Really.

It’s that good!

An Evening at Xico

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My 89 year old father (in another state) suffered a serious medical setback yesterday, so my heart was heavy with worry all day.  Fortunately, he came through the procedure with flying colors and was recovering rapidly last night, so I met a friend for dinner to celebrate that and to simply relieve some of the tension that I had been feeling.

It’s always a treat when my friend, Denise, flies in from Tuscon.  Last night was no exception.  We had a lovely evening at one of my neighborhood’s best restaurants, Xico.  Located at 3715 SE Division Street, Xico offers a small array of freshly prepared, gourmet Mexican food and designer cocktails.

The wait staff is highly knowledgeable about both food and beverage.  This is always a winning element for me.  I like it when the staff knows the food well and can talk about it intelligently.  Here is a little video of Denise and the waitress discussing some of the food:

After hugs and greetings, we started our meal with  smoky margaritas made with Sombra,  one of the restaurant’s “suitcase” mezcals from a mysterious collection that Xico owner Liz Davis hunts down in dirt-floored Mexican palenques where men still hack agave cores with machetes.   It also had fresh lime juice, honey and a half-rim of rust-red, “worm salt” or  sal de guasano, a condiment traditional to Oaxaca but little known here.

margarita

3 appetizers accompanied our cocktails.  We had a small dish of the Queso Fundido, which is usually served with chirozo (Mexican sausage) but, of course, being a vegetarian, I asked that this ingredient be omitted.  It was a perfectly perfect blend of broiled queso barra and muenstar topped with serrano-tomatilo salsa, radish, cabbage and Xito’s fresh-pressed tortillas that were bursting with organic corn that they grind themselves, right in the back room. They smell like wildflowers. A lot of this restaurant’s ingredients must be smoked, crushed, pampered, or flamed before being blended into their masterful concoctions.  This dish was complex with multi-layers of salty, smoky flavor and bursts of fresh herbs.  Wow.  There are simply no words to fully describe how delicious it was.

queso

We also had the Blood Orange and Apple Salad, that consisted of tequila-infused apples, pomegranate, cucumber, chile arbal, queso cotija resting in a drizzel of blood orange vinagrette.  Mmmmm!  It was as delicious as it was beautiful!

salad

The third appetizer we tried was the Fried Cauliflower.  These were cruciferous  flourettes in an arbol salsa with queso cotja, creme and cilantro.  It was light, full-flavored and delicious.  It seemed the flavors of all the food at this restaurant are so perfectly balanced.  It is unbelievable how they do it.  For every tart flavor, there is a counterbalance of sweetness, and everything was so masterfully prepared and presented.

cauliflower

We each had a main entree, too.  I am not going to write about Denise’s entree because she had pork and fish…but my own was a delicious, roasted Chili Relleno with Amaranth and Black Beans.

chili

This dish was prepared unlike any chili relleno I’d ever tasted, starting with the fact that it was roasted and not fried.  The chili was filled with black beans, amaranth, sun-dried tomatoes and requeson.  It rested in a tomato-canela broth and was topped with sour cream, guacamole, sauteed hedgehog mushrooms and sliced vegetable escabeche garnish.  It was served with a side of Mexican rice.  By the time it arrived, however, I was so full that I could only eat a bite or two, so I had it wrapped and took it home to enjoy for lunch today or tomorrow.  It was light (despite the sour cream, which I pushed to one side…) and delicious!

Denise and I had the best talk!  I enjoyed her company so much, and especially enjoyed the fact that we talked about a future business that we are planning to do together.  She and I just click, in terms of our belief systems and the things that are important to us.  We both had such a good time.

I walked home, ever thankful for my good friends, for my family, for living as close as I do to restaurants such as Xico, for the crisp, cool evening and for just being alive.  Evenings like last night make all of my hard work worth every minute of it!   Oh….and speaking of hard work, I should get back to it now.

For the Apple of my Eye

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My husband is so kind to get up early every morning to make coffee when he’s here.    Oftentimes, when I am too tired, he also makes breakfast, and does such a great job of it.  There I am with my bad morning hair…cranky and sleepy, and he’s so cheerful and happy in the mornings.  Wish I could be like that..but alas.  I is flawed.

John  also knows how to make a few really good dishes for dinner, on those rare occasions when I don’t cook.

We are all about equality in this family, so we try to divide up the household jobs between us, cooking included….although I do enjoy cooking and do most of that particular job.   I have taught John how to make a number of healthful dishes through the years and can count on him to prepare something delicious that is laden with fresh fruit or veggies.  However, the man has a sweet tooth that I cannot combat.

It wouldn’t be that big of a deal, but John has a serious heart problem…. and his eating sweets really worries me.  However, I would not even begin to dictate what he eats, (nor anything else),  so I have to take it upon myself to make sure that the sweets that are around the house are healthful ones.

Today, I decided to utilize some of the organic apples that came in our produce delivery yesterday, and make an apple pie for him.  Rather than butter in the crust, I used Earth Balance.   Did it turn out the same as a crust made with butter?  No….but the health benefits are worth the sacrifice in texture.  Earth Balance is one of the only solid oils that is not horrible for the body, when eaten in moderation….and it makes a surprisingly great pie crust, actually.

earth balance

When, thanks to my dear departed friend, Denny,  I  met Martha Stewart in person a few years ago,  I asked her what a good substitute for butter might be.  “Why would anyone ever want to substitute anything for butter?!” was her incredulous response.  We both laughed, and I told her it was for health reasons.  She wasn’t sold, and said that she would never substitute anything for real butter.  Well…ok, Martha…but you don’t have a husband with a heart condition, right?  I do!  Therefore, I do what I can to ‘sneak’ in the most healthful ingredients possible when I can.  I used Martha’s pate sucree recipe for the crust, and I made it in the Cuisinart.

I have this thing about food processors.  I guess I’m just old school….or perhaps it is that I worked in the restaurant industry so long…but I prefer to do things by hand.  However, I’m sold on this particular method for crust, so I use the Cuisinart for it.  It is incredibly easy to make and very quick, too, so I’m going to stick with it.  Instead of Martha’s white refined sugar, however, I used turbanado sugar.  I  also used unbleached, organic all-purpose flour and the Earth Balance.  Still turned out well.  (Nah..nah, Martha!)

crust

As I’ve mentioned previously on my blog, the apples are exceptional this year.  They are sweet and crisp and absolutely delicious.  The last few organic produce deliveries have included ample numbers of apples, so I have been busy making apple sauce, apple crisp, apple empanadas and also freezing apples.

apple

I used a very small amount of turbanado sugar and some freshly grated nutmeg. Overall, I only used a fraction of the sugar that most apple pies have in them, because the apples themselves are so naturally sweet.   My friend had an overabundance of really good cinnamon that he shared with me, so I used that as well with a sprinkle of pink Himalayan sea salt and a squeeze of lemon juice and a wee dash of high quality bourbon.

spiced apples

Then, I piled everything high into the crust.

pie filling

I dusted the top with a very faint sprinkle of cinnamon and sugar, and added the upper crust and added a little apple decoration and stuck it into a preheated 375 degree oven.

pie heart

The results were sweet, light, flaky and delicious!  The bourbon added depth, a whole new layer of flavor that was barely there…but that also made a big difference.   I’d say this pie was a success.

pie slice

SCORE!

Hello 2015!

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Hello 2015!

Happy New Year

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We celebrated long into the night to bring in the New Year.  John and I were guests of our friend, Toni,  and her British boyfriend, Peter, and another Brit, who was also named Peter, at a local Jazz club.  The music was an incredible mix of jazz and classic rock tunes from the 60’s and every subsequent decade to contemporary times.  We had a lovely dinner and danced the night away…..with plenty of cowbell.

( Wait….do you recognize this woman?! 😉 )

cowbell

The club is called, “Arrivederci” and was a delightful surprise to us.  We do not frequent businesses in the suburb of Milwaukie because we have everything we need in our own neighborhood.  It probably would never have occurred to us to go there, had we not received the kind invitation to join Toni and the two British P’s.  However, we were so pleased that we went… and already have plans to go back.  It is a cozy, tasteful Italian restaurant that schedules world class musicians on a regular basis, really good food and a nice selection of area wines.  The owner, who is a friend of Toni, often stands in with the band and plays a dynamic jazz sax, which he did on New Years, and he sings.

white rabbit

The band was comprised of a compilation of musicians from other bands to create a one-night “New Years Eve” combo.  (That’s what they called themselves.)  They were great!

  We had so much fun!  The conversation (between songs) was lively and we could not have asked for better company.

stacy sings

John and I spent a quiet day at home yesterday, doing as little as possible.  I made some good food, and we noshed throughout the day. He went out for a bit to get us a salad for dinner from St. Honerie Boulangerie,  but I stayed in and laid low.   Had some good talks.  Read.  Watched a little telly together.  Thus far, 2015 has been a good year.  I have highest hopes that it will continue to get better and better!

Oh…and I have to mention one other thing.  Yesterday, on New Year’s Day, our orchid plant bloomed full force.  This had special significance for us (which I won’t go into) but also symbolizes the delicate balance of life and the incredible number of things that we both have to be thankful for at this time.  This flower is a miracle! Isn’t it gorgeous?!

orchid

Wishing all of you the very best.