Love in the Time of Coriander

Thoughts on food & more.

Monday, August 22, 2005

Portland on the way down-low

Sorry I haven't posted for the last week. E & I took a little excursion to Portland to visit family. E's father just had surgery and is, with difficulty, recovering. The challenge is not that he isn't in good health but rather that he is. Though he's in his 70s, he hasn't been a sick man in his life. I think it's tough for him to suddenly be somewhat incapacitated, at the whim of his slowly-healing body and the goodwill of others around him.

Because the trip was so family-centric, I had little time to taste the cuisine of the Rose City. We did manage, however, to catch the downtown Farmer's Market on Saturday morning. The produce selection was impressive. I kept salivating over the tomatoes and wanting to do something with all those squash blossoms! There were several flower stands, too, with dahlias galore. I don't think I ever knew how much I liked dahlias until I saw such a nice variety in a number of interesting colorations.

It was a sampling marathon, too. Lots of bakeries offered up bites of cookies and other pastries. Cheese makers tempted with their wares. I even got a yummy bite of a peach sorbetto by a local gelateria, Alotto Gelato. But the most exciting things that I tried were the jellies made by the Rose City Pepperheads. They were sweet, like jellies, but had the delicious razor-sharp edge of spicy peppers. I mean, I've had savory-sweet jellies before, but the combinations of pepper flavors that these folks made were divine. After trying several flavors--like Holiday Jalapeno, Smokin' Margarita, and Ginger Garlic--I opted finally for the Holy Habanero. It so perfectly captured the complexity of the habanero pepper.

However . . . I must be quite spoiled. The produce at the farmer's market was not cheap! Red bells were offered up at $4 per pound. That's a whole lotta money for a few red peppers. They've been reduced to 89 cents per pound at Monterrey Market. Nevertheless, all those bells and tomatoes were still calling out to me. We put together a nice salmon with a gazpacho-esque salsa to top it. Simple but very delicious. E's sister gave me rave reviews, and I knew she'd be the toughest critic. And for dessert, a peach and blackberry cobbler. True to its name, I cobbled it together without a recipe--an amalgamation of oats, brown sugar, flour and, of course, butter. The essence of summer love.


A few days later, I cavorted about the downtown, mostly window-shopping. I didn't buy anything special aside from a card and a small gift for a friend. I also cruised Powell's briefly but was too overwhelmed to buy anything there, either. Suddenly, I became famished. I must have eaten a light breakfast because by the time noon rolled around, I wanted to eat anything in sight.

E's sister and I happened upon the square (whose name I did not note!) where all the food vendors set up their stalls, catering to the downtown work crowd. Thai sounded good, so we choose the kiosk with the most customers. We stood in line at Sawasdee Thai Food and were greeted immediately by a very friendly Thai woman, who was remarkable speedy at taking orders. I was in a noodle mood and opted for the Pad Sa Ew. There were other things on the menu, though, that looked fantastic. My stomach was beckoning, and I wavered, almost changing my order to a pumpkin curry.

In the back of the food hut, there was a large, open-air window for ventilation. Under the awning, we watched the cook, a lone woman (apparently the other cook couldn't make it that day), make food at an ungodly speed. The prep had already been pre-done, and the woman who took the orders prepared bowls of vegetables for the cook while giving her a number of all-verbal orders. Very high heats and flames that flitted upwards of a foot did not phase the cook. She was intrepid. She worked like a maniac.

The noodles I got were spectacular. For $5 a pop, they were quite possibly the best version of Pad Sa Ew that I've ever had. Not too greasy, a good number of veggies, piping hot and just the right blend of sweet and spicy. And judging from the happiness in the desirous eyes of the repeat offenders around us, I know the rest of the stuff was just as good. If that little kiosk had a permanent location on the Berkeley campus, I'd be feasting from it daily.


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