Hello, dear readers! I am throwing myself at your mercy to beg for your forgiveness for being incommunicado for so long. Here's my story (and I'm sticking to it). Last Friday evening, something suddenly came up (as Marcia and her nose said to Doug Simpson), and I made last-minute travel arrangements to be in Portland, OR on Sunday. I was at my desk working from 3pm to 2am trying to make arrangements to be gone all week, as I also had already planned to be at the PBGV National in Sacramento from Wednesday through Sunday. After flying the red-eye back from California, arriving in Albany yesterday morning and STILL having to drive 2 1/2 hours back home, I only managed to unpack, start a load of laundry, and bathe the incontinent, elderly cocker spaniel (and no, that's not some kind of euphemism) before I passed out and napped for a few hours. Then I was up late just trying to read and respond to all of my e-mail and was back up-and-at-'em for work this morning. My day rushed by at a feverish pace as I tried only semi-successfully to straighten out all of the little (or big!) problems that cropped up in my extended absence at this inopportune point in the semester. And it's almost 9pm now, and where am I? Still at my desk--procrastinating on grading the MOUNTAIN of papers that have collected while I was gone.
However, this seems the perfect time to dilly-dally just a bit more and make at least one extensive post to my neglected blog. Of course, I have been gone for a week, and have mostly been eating out sans cooking. But there were a few culinary highlights of my journey that I wish to share with all of you. Let me begin with the Oregonian portion of the adventure. I had business in Portland by day, but afterwards, I would drive an hour and a half south to some little, teeny town out in the boonies called Falls City (near Dallas, which is, in turn, outside of Salem) to visit my delicious friends, John and Keith. I mentioned my beloved friend, John, in the banana bread post of April 14. He has recently moved from Sonoma County, CA with his partner, Keith, and they have a magical little spread of land (2.6 acres, I believe) that they are simply transforming into their own Eden (à la Adam and Steve...tee hee!). There are raised vegetable beds, a berry thicket, flower gardens, orchards, a magnificent greenhouse right off the kitchen, and even a chicken coop and run attached to the house! In addition to much landscaping, they are working feverishly to restore the lovely old Victorian home itself, and while they are doing all of this, they are also making many Adirondack chairs at their workshop "downtown" (across from the new community center and kitty-corner from the town's one little grocery/hardware/video store) to get ready to sell at the Salem Saturday Market in a couple of weeks. Whew! And still they had time to host a surprise out-of-town guest and make me the most wonderful, homemade dinner! Did I mention that the poor things don't even have a proper oven or fridge because of the impending kitchen remodel and some dubious wiring? Nevertheless, they prepared for me a scrumptious meal of shrimp tacos on homemade tortillas with fresh cilantro from their greenhouse, a salad of their own sunflower sprouts (also from the greenhouse) with homemade blue cheese dressing, and a vegetable tart with mushrooms, onions, asparagus, their own sun-dried tomatoes (sweet like candy to my soul), and thyme (again from the greenhouse), and of course, with some fresh eggs from their hens as a binding and then fresh goat cheese on top. That's right! That tart above was baked in a toaster oven--can you imagine? And the tacos were made on an appliance entitled, The BIG G-ASS GRILL! I brought dessert--a trashy pie from the Village Inn to remind John and myself of our days in Salt Lake City, Utah. It was the beloved Caramel Pecan Silk Supreme Pie, also available at Baker's Square restaurants, as they are the same company. The bottom layer is pecan pie, the middle is cheesecake, and the top is French Silk. Then there's whipped cream and a drizzle of both chocolate sauce and caramel sauce and a sprinkling of pecans to garnish. It doesn't compare to a homemade pie, but it was pretty yummy nonetheless! And on top of all of this culinary glory, Keith got up early the next morning and made us maple-oatmeal scones! YUM! Keith, though currently a crafter of Adirondack furniture, is a pastry chef at heart. I can make things taste good, but he can also make them truly beautiful! (See photo above.)
One night, while poor Keith was still slaving away at the workshop, John and I toddled off to the coast which was only about an hour away, and we had a marvelous dinner at The Blackfish Cafe in Lincoln City. After a refreshing Lemon Drop (which I am declaring the summer cocktail of choice this year!), we chose a Saigon noodle salad for an appetizer. It was delicious, though in my opinion, needed more noodles and fewer bean sprouts! But the dressing was great (if I were to guess, I'd say rice wine vinegar and a little fish sauce were involved), and the overall effect of the dish was very fresh and flavorful and tangy. Then for dinner, I had a perfectly cooked skillet-roasted chinook salmon basted with fennel-lime butter and an Oregon blue cheese potato gratin. John had grilled breast of duck with wild huckleberry conserve, a Tillamook white cheddar, sage and walnut risotto, and Granny Smith apples with white cabbage and a housemade huckleberry gastrique. As is our way (and this should be everyone's way!), we switched plates about halfway through to share our choices with one another. Incredible!
Sadly, the Californian part of my travels was less interesting food-wise, as I was at the Red Lion Motel in Sacramento and was mostly at the mercy of their dining room and banquet hall...with one notable exception. My breed club, the Petit Basset Griffon Vendéen Club of America, has an affiliated foundation for health and rescue, and they put on a wonderful fundraising dinner called "The Nose Knows." It was a wine-tasting event and a play on words, as the PBGV is a scenthound. Cute, huh? The (French) menu was outstanding! We began with a cheese course, including a lovely Blue D'Auvergne, a hard/aged chèvre, a triple-crème brie (which was way too horsey for me, truth to tell), and a Gruyère de Comté. Dinner consisted of pork roast with a fruit and nut stuffing, and a very tender tri-tip of beef with three sauce choices--bordelaise, peppercorn, and a DIVINE cognac mustard sauce. But the best thing was a most magnificent scalloped potato affair--truly, the best potatoes that I have ever had, and most of the people at my table said the same thing. In fact, as is my way, I took it upon myself to go in the back and track down the caterer to introduce myself, compliment her on the meal, and browbeat the recipe out of her! She explained that the potatoes were sliced very thinly and layered with a mixture of manufacturer's cream (like English double cream--heavier than heavy cream--which explains why they were so heavenly!), Gruyére, minced garlic, and nutmeg. WOW! In the European tradition, after supper, they served a salad of mixed field greens, sweet Gorgonzola, candied pecans, sliced pears, and either dried cranberries or cherries--not sure which, but it was just excellent. For dessert, we had a very good chocolate mousse that some thought wasn't sweet enough (again, in the European way), but I enjoyed. So even though I didn't do any cooking over the past week, I did some very sublime eating, and I wanted to share my experiences with all of you (especially those like my new blogger friend, Sue, who sent me a well-deserved scolding via e-mail after a week of blog silence). But I'm back now, and if I ever get away from my desk and make it home to my own kitchen, I will post again...