FeastPDX Day 3: Now We're Cooking!

WAIT!!! Did you read about Day 1 and Day 2? Oh good. Glad we're all caught up.


Rarely do I put up the Do Not Disturb sign on my door. I like coming back to a bed that's made, a sink that's been wiped down, and fresh towels. It's like a visit from the Clean Fairy.  But when I wake up late and have to make a mad dash out of my room, leaving my tech gear and clothes all over the bed, I put the sign out. I looked back at the mess on my way out and thought, "Good thing I'm not bringing anyone back to my room!" 

This guarantees that you most definitely WILL bring people back to your room. 

But more on that later. 

On to the awesome events of FeastPDX Day 3 :

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I rushed over to the main stage at Director's Park for the event I'd been looking forward to: Whole Foods Best Butcher and Fish Monger Face Off.  I saw some people signing in at table and walked over to see if this was where I needed to be. When I gave my name, this absolute sweetheart named James complimented me on my blog, to which I answered, "Oh no... I think you have the wrong Sugar." Then he said, "Sugar Jones... Sugar in the Raw, right?"

And I died. 

Bloggers: You know... I mean, you KNOW what it's like to write and write and write and then wonder what people think. I mean, you have analytics that tell you people are reading, or at least showing up, but unless there is a random giveaway or a spammer from Bangladesh, comments are very rare any more. So when we get to meet people that validate you with kind words... bloggers... you know what I'm talking about. 


Okay, back to the Butchers and Fish Mongers. 

After James and "The Little Picklers" signed me in, I walked into a VIP viewing area off to the side of the tent where the contests would be taking place.

I met up with the other bloggers that I had made friends with (thanks to my on-line-now-IRL-friend, Brandie Kajino of Spoon and Saucer) and had the most interesting Bloody Marys ever. The Bloody Mary toppings bar was filled with foods that I thought were munchies. When I asked where the plates were, the bartenders said, "Oh those aren't to eat off a plate. You skewer them for your drink." Having never put meatballs, ribs, artichokes, or mussels in a drink before, the whole exercise made me go outside of my comfort zone with food.

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After three Bloody Marys and watching the first part of the fish mongering contest, I ran over to Le Cordon Bleu (which, if you're ever there for a cooking class, it's in the same building as Target downtown) to take my classes on condiments and salt block cooking.

Andrea Slonecker (author of Pretzel Making at Home) was the instructor for our class, Homemade Condiments, Sweet and Savory. Altogether, we made three condiments (tomato paste, mustard cream, and parsley butter with horseradish), a salty caramel sauce, and our very own pretzels. I enjoyed the class so much, I had to buy her book.

We used a special vanilla-infused salt in our caramel from a specialty salt store, The Meadow. Turns out, the proprietor of that store is the country's leading salt expert AND the instructor of my salt block cooking class. 

Mark Bitterman is as enthusiastic about salt as anyone I've ever met. He will tell you, unequivocally, NOT to use Koshier salt. I don't know why... just DON'T DO IT! In this class, we used beautiful Himalayan sea salt blocks. A natural chemical reaction occurs when you place food on salt blocks, causing the foods to absorb the flavors of these salt blocks. 

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We sliced cucumbers 1/8" thick and placed them all over a block to sit for 20 minutes, then flip for another 20. I thought I might cut the time by 5 minutes on each side because those cucumber slices were a wee bit too salty for my liking, but as we talked about it, I thought about how good they would taste diced and tossed into a ceviche. 

While the cucumbers were absorbing the salt of one block, we worked on chopping a beautiful piece of Kobe beef into teeny tiny bits for Steak Tartare to eventually top on the cucumber slices, we grilled scallops on a block heated to 500 degrees, and then watched as Mark melted chocolate into a fondue in a salt bowl. We washed all that down with a mint julep served in a -- you guessed it -- salt cup. It was all amazing and I fully plan to add a salt block (and Mark's book on Salt Block Cooking) to my kitchen.

I made it to one last Speaker Series that left me wishing I still lived on my 1/2 acre with my chickens and fruit trees. The panelists of Beat the Devil: Create an Awesome Food Business Without Selling Your Soul were all business owners who found success simply doing things thoughtfully and ethically. 

Each panelist was asked about their early experiences in their respective businesses. Here were snippets of each of their responses:

Piper Davis (Grand Central Baker): "There was no plan other than to get up and do a job that we wanted to do ever day." She also added a bit of advice to "adjust your expectations about money when in a sustainable business."

Chuck Eggert (Pacific Foods): Their early goal was simply "to become the most respected brand in natural products. "We've never done anything to apologize for." 

 A.C. Gallo (Whole Foods Market): A.C. grew up in a family that had a market in NY. He read Chemical Feast when he was in college and decided to become a vegetarian. He left school to work at alternative bulk whole natural food market, which lost many of its providers when California passed a stricter "organic" law. His guiding principle then became integrity and always asks himself, "What is the right thing to do?"

Kim Maleck (Salt & Straw):  This panelist left the biggest impression on me. I don't have a direct quote (probably because I was enthralled by what she was saying), but the gist of what Kim was saying was that she just wanted a place where people come to hang out and get to know their neighbors while enjoying a little something in her shop.

Kim's professional career started at Starbucks when there were only 30 stores and eventually enjoyed a string of awesome jobs, including a project she worked with Bono on. She had a secret dream to open an ice cream shop, but ran away from it for years. Thankfully, her boyfriend and her cousin helped her make that dream come true and now she has a popular community ice cream shop that serves  

Steve Smith (Smith Tea Maker):  Didn't know anything about tea or blending when he started. Learned while working. Took time off in Europe. Saw how the artisans were doing it. Goals were not to open hundreds of locations, but to serve an artisan product. His goal was to "have a unique product and to rise above the noise in a crowded market."

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That afternoon, I met up with some more on-line friends for the first time. I might have snuck them into the media lounge for some wine tasting and then might have asked them back to my room at the former gay bath house. Just as I walked up to the door of my room, I saw the Do Not Disturb sign and remembered the mess I left inside.

Damn that Murphy and his laws!!!!

Thankfully, we were all tipsy. I went through the bags of stuff we got from our visit to Feast and gave them as much stuff as I could so that I could fit the remaining items into ONE box of wine (and other tasty treats)  to get them on to my flight under Alaska Airlines' new Wine Flies Free program. So if I ever invite you to my messy room, just know that there will be food and drinks involved, so just ignore the towels on the floor, okay?

The last event I attended was High Comfort. I'd tell you all about it, but Irvin did such a great job of that over at my new obsession, Eat the Love. Go check it out! 

OH! One last thing... 

Do you know what else I learned while at Feast PDX? I learned to rely on Evernote. I used this amazing app on my Samsung Galaxy S4 and Samsung Galaxy Camera from Verizon to collect my thoughts in several notebooks, attaching images taken with my devices right into the notes. And while I was connected, the notes synced with my Evernote account in the cloud and eventually back onto my desktop. It was like a lightbulb moment when I finally made myself use it. With as many gadgets as we have available, it's the ability to be connected anywhere on those devices that make life that much easier.

Whew... I'm hungry. I'm gonna go make something to eat... 

Feast PDX Day 2: The Foodgasm Continues

You KNOW I meant to write out a detailed post sooner. Clearly, it didn't happen. Days 2 & 3 of FeastPDX were a hazy blur of food, fun, and drinks. Drinks with meat, even. It's taken a few days to wake from the Feast Food Coma and to remember what happened when.

And in case you didn't read it, here's my FeastPDX Day 1 experience.

Rookie Confession: I was poorly equipped for the marathon that was FeastPDX.

I was definitely prepared to take notes and was keeping my food intake to a minimum in order to maximize my sampling. What I hadn't counted on was how bad my feet were going to hurt. At one point on Day 2, I was standing in the middle of Target with a boot in my hand, limping around semi-barefooted, looking for socks and band-aids, cursing myself for not bringing more comfortable shoes. I might have been able to make it to more of the late night parties had it not been for my tootsies.

So, it's not because I'm old that I couldn't make all the parties. It was because of my poor shoe choices. (That's my story, and I'm sticking to it.)  

Day 2 began with a Media breakfast at the Imperial. I arrived on time and saved a table in the back for bloggers I have never met in real life. While I waited for them, the food editor from the Portland Monthly came and sat down. She told me a little about herself while I guarded the other two chairs. We had a really nice conversation, but my eyes kept going to the next table that was having WAY more fun than me. Someone from the group asked if they could borrow a chair. I said I was holding them for some friends... who I later found out were at the next table having WAY more fun than me. All hugs broke loose when we figured it out.

FeastPDX Food Bloggers and Bloody Marys at the Imperial.jpg

We were having so much fun chatting over Bloody Marys that I totally missed the first of the Speaker Series. But the drinks were incredible, so... 

After that, I headed over to the Oregon Bounty Grand Tasting Presented by Alaska Airlines (aka "Bounty"). Imagine a huge tented farmer's market filled with food, drinks, savory ice cream, and spray on tattoos. I stopped in for a bit to taste some wine (as one does at noon on a Friday... duh), then headed over through a picture perfect park, up to Portland Art Museum to hear a panel of food stars talk about The American Experience Through Food.

The panelists answers were as thoughtful and complex as the dishes we have adopted and enjoy in the U.S.

Everyone was in agreement that modern conveniences of canned and instant foods from the post WWII days really did a number on how we eat. American food meant American cheese, casseroles made from cans of soup, but now the shift is back to whole food ingredients and slower cooking. Self proclaimed Beast, Naomi Pomeroy said she was raised by hippies in gardens and eating what was in season. She was farm-to-table when farm-to-table wasn't cool. Noting the change that is taking place in how we eat in America, Naomi said, "We've gone from a Convenience Culture to asking where the food is coming from."

The discussion lead to regional foods and how territorial people can be about barbecue and other food traditions, and that sticking to what is or is not authentic can be an impediment to creating good food. 

Then Hugh Acheson of Atlanta (by way of Canada) sort of ended the debate about there being one American Food with the example of Italian food. "Italians don't see their food as Italian food, but as the foods from various regions." In that same way "American" food isn't one way of cooking or one kind of food, but a variety of flavors, adapted by all those inhabiting the country in the different regions of the country.

Philosopher and Michelin starred chef, Christopher Kostow of Napa Valley took "regional" a bit further by saying, "You take an individual approach while incorporating the history of a region and by utilizing the artisans of the region."

My ultimate takeaway: When you talk about "American Food," you're really talking about the food that we have adapted from our various ethnic backgrounds, flavored by the bounty of the region and the diversity of the people in that region.  

After that thought provoking panel, I headed back to Pioneer Courthouse Square to Bounty. 

FeastPDX Duff of Charm City Cakes KitchenAid Demo at Bounty.jpg

Food stars were scheduled to do demos there on the KitchenAid Main Stage. I had one highlighted, and I am so glad I didn't miss it! Duff Goldman from Charm City Cakes was hilarious and incredibly entertaining! He made us some butternut squash waffles and almost made us some roasted squab. The pigeons of Pioneer Courthouse Square were dive bombing the demo stage and Duff was at the ready with his trusty knife. Don't worry, PETA Pals, no pigeons were harmed in the making of those waffles. It was just for yucks, which Duff got plenty of. And right on cue, just as the breakfast was completed, a few drops started to fall.

That was about all the rain I saw in Portland, by the way. The weather was perfect the whole time I was there. 

That night was the USA Pears Night Market at the Ecotrust Building. While most of the events were within walking distance of my hotel, this event required a ride on the street car.

Here's where I have to absolutely gush about Trimet. Except for nights when the Timbers play and the buses get all jacked up from people getting out of the stadium, public transportation in Portland is AMAZING! Someone told me that other cities and government agencies go to Portland to study their transportation system. It's like public trans in San Francisco, but less smelly and way cleaner.

Back to the USA Pears Night Market Presented by Snake River Farms... 

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This was basically a night time farmer's market but your ticket got you a taste of all kinds of delicious bites and potent sips. Oh and live music. There were crazy long lines for a few items, including Franklin's Barbecue of Austin, TX. Someone (who shall remain nameless because she's awesome) borrowed my media badge and went to the front of the Franklin's line to get us some brisket. I do believe we hold some sort of crazy record for getting to eat Franklin's that fast.

I sampled some good bites -- I also tried a coconut corn cake with braised pears and something saucy and pink on top, some liver mousse (it's good for you!) wrapped in a thin slice of carpaccio, dangerously delicious fruit flavored sake, and spicy jalapeño Milagro margaritas -- but the one booth that I came back to more than twice and later dragged other people to was Nuestra Cocina. Chef Benjamin Gonzalez made the most delicious carnitas I've ever tasted and he served it with a sauce made from tomatillo and finely diced jalapeño. I seriously could have eaten at that one booth all night. 

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After an hour of noshing, I got back on the TriMet and headed across the WIllamette River to the South East side of town. I would have been there in about 30 minutes, but because of the aforementioned "nights when Timbers play," I waited for 45 minutes at a freeway off ramp for a bus. I would have walked but I already told you about my rookie mistake and not bringing good walking shoes. I finally got to Aalto where I met another on-line friend IRL for the first time. Saying you "met on-line" sounds so lame, so we told people we met in prison before my sex change (it could happen!), and after a few hours of drinking even SPICIER margaritas than I had at the Night Market, I pulled out my handy dandy Tillamook Loaf Love Tour Tillaphone and ordered us some grilled cheese goodness for delivery.

Thirty minutes later, this really nice kid named Sam arrived with bags of grilled cheeses, as well as waters and yogurts for the next morning's breakfast. I mean, I don't really KNOW Sam, but I'm guessing he's nice. He brought us grilled cheese in the middle of the night. How is that not the height of nice? 

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I Cheese Tillamook. 

By cheese, I mean heart.

Too late for a TriMet trip back to the Crystal Hotel, I grabbed a Radio Cab and headed home... worn fucking out... looking forward to another day of feasting with new friends.