Muse from the Northwest

I am easily pleased. I eagerly go to my “happy place” aided by something simple like crispy duck fat potatoes with a nice olive-tarragon aioli. Add to that a glass filled with an obscure Italian varietal (a 2007 GrosJean Freres Vigne Rovetta Torrette Superiore from Valle d’Aoste, perhaps?), and the job is definitely, positively done.


My blog is a journal of things that please me and that I get excited about. Sometimes I like to stop and think about the culinary “Muse” that generated the interest and produced the visceral response that made me cook and write. Especially after such a great trip as our last weekend in Portland, Oregon!

Portland is a culinary paradise and a place with real food snobbery in the best sense of the word (most of the time, sadly lacking in DC). I am generally not interested in re-creating restaurant dishes but I quite happily steal small ideas and ingredients when I eat out. Also, I am a planner, and I start getting excited about places when I first read their menus online. Often I just look at the combination of ingredients, and can almost taste the dish. Yes, I am excited by words…a true mark of a blogger 🙂

Here are just a few of the memorable moments from our weekend in Portland:

–          Snacking on pickled things (a salad of pickled chanterelles with fennel, herbs, and citrus at Navarre; house-made pickles at Avignon (including golden beets and green tomatoes); a pickled tongue sandwich and pickled carrots at the Jewish deli Kenny & Zukes;

–          Drinking a 2005 Vina Cubillo Rioja by Lopez de Heredia by the glass (!) at Le Pigeon;

–          Slurping plump and briny Washington state and Oregonian oysters at Avignon;

–          Getting stuffed on grassy olive oil and Ken’s Artisanal bread at Navarre (before 4 more dishes arrived)

–          Savoring barbecue eel toast at Le Pigeon

–          Sneaking a cardamom sesame truffle from Alma Chocolate into Heart (which may not offer the best cup of coffee in a town packed with fantastic coffee shops, but is big on atmosphere).

Heart: a quintessentially Portland institution

On my trips I am wide-open to wine exploration, but my heart truly belongs to Burgundy and weird Italian varietals.  The biggest revelation of the trip came from Puglia, Italy (where we just went last September!). I have no intention of knocking Puglian wines, but they can be monochromatic and what I call “friendly” (a yummy, jammy cuddly bear of a wine). I am interested in elegance, acidity, and out-of-this world aromatics. The delicious and relatively inexpensive Alberto Longo Cacc’e Mmitte di Lucera from Puglia, Italy had it all.



Every now and then, the best, most inspirational experiences come about by nothing more than happenstance. Last Saturday night, loopy from lack of sleep and tango hangover, we set off for a restaurant that does not take reservations and that is recommended by all foodie sources, without a backup plan (!!??). After being told that the wait for Pok Pok was going to be around an hour and a half, we backtracked several blocks to check out the place we saw from the cab on the way to the restaurant. It was called Avignon, which happens to be where we are going in a month – quite providential! After we got the aforementioned Torrette, duck fat potatoes, and the eerie good paprika-spiced hazelnuts from Freddy Guys farm (despite being from Oregon, my husband Jeff usually does not eat hazelnuts at all), our Saturday night dining luck turned a full 180 degrees…

By the way, their food, while certainly not ugly, was not picture-perfect or especially picture-worthy. That was probably true of most of the places we visited. Pinterest junkies would be disappointed, but I guess true inspiration really does come from within…

And sometimes, inspiration comes purely by association. When we got back to DC, I kept thinking about rainy Oregon, wet earth, forests and mushrooms. I also fondly remembered the wonderfully textured grain dishes we had at Noble Rot: the lemony barley bed for my wild sturgeon, and Jeff’s delectable lentil, quinoa, and oat cake stuffed with mozzarella and served with tomato sauce, melted leeks, and mushrooms.

My love of quinoa goes back to the time I discovered Karen McNeil’s “Wine, Food and Friends” series some 10 years ago; it is where my favorite quinoa recipe came from. Yesterday I had no morels on hand, so I reconstituted dried porcinis (yet another staple in my pantry), and cooked quinoa in the fragrant porcini broth (in a 1 to 2 ratio). When it was done, I added fresh shitakes sauteed in butter, with shallots, garlic, and thyme, and spiked the dish with a bit of soy sauce, in order to kick up the umaminess another notch. In accordance with the principle of “what grows together, goes together”, this dish called for an Oregonian Pinot, such as an excellent 2009 vintage bottle from PatriciaGreen Cellars.

There is only one drawback to having such a prolific Muse: you may end up like this piglet, lying on the bathroom floor in the corner unable to move…

A most appropriate mascot at Le Pigeon