Oh, well, –hell, it's all for the best.
She certainly made a lot of clutter,
Dropping petals under the trees,
Taking your mind off your bread and butter.
Anyhow, it's nothing to me.
I can remember, and so can you.
- Edna St. Vincent Millay, Spring Song
(number 68. may.)
I’ve been spending a lot of my time since the completion and publication of The Myrltewood Cookbook reading food writing and cookbooks. I want to actively continue an education in the subject which, joyously, can go on indefinitely. I also want to keep up a practice of intaking great works as I attempt to compose more to contribute in this field.
A favorite subset within the culinary bookshelf is English or American cooks who’ve lived in continental European countries writing about those cuisines. Mostly from the deeper past. Titles such as Richard Olney’s Simple French Food and Lulu’s Provençal Table. Patience Gray’s Honey From A Weed and her first book Plats Du Jour. Any of Elizabeth David (I finally tackled French Provincial Cooking after Myrtlewood came out). Early Chez Panisse-affiliated books, like The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook, The Chez Panisse Cafe Cookbook, Chez Panisse Cooking, and Chez Panisse Desserts. Some recently written and published favorites are Five Quarters (known in the US as My Kitchen In Rome) and Two Kitchens by Rachel Alice Roddy. Duck Soup: The Wisdom Of Simple Cooking by Claire Lattin and Tom Hill. Also, the stunning follow up to Polpo (which we did an entire dinner honoring) called Venice: Four Seasons by Russell Norman.
This meal actually came together inspired by a book I hadn’t even read. First, Catch (Study of a Spring Meal) by Thom Eagle. I learned about it through Rachel Roddy and Claire Lattin’s social media. I was lead to his blog, In Search Of Lost Thyme, which is filled with gorgeous and compelling writing. I believe I missed blogging’s heyday, though I think I started this one during that time. Was it still at a high point in 2010? Anyway, finding Thom’s blog was like opening up a classic novel you’ve always wanted to read and finding it to be a page-turner. I ordered First, Catch and kept reading the blog while waiting for the post. The idea of an entire book, with very few recipes, written about the creation of a spring meal pulled at my heartstrings, as I started thinking about this one.
The process of planning is much different (and much better!) for these once-a-season meals. I pondered what I wanted out of the meal, what ingredients should be highlighted, fun things we’d done in the past to bring back, and how to share all this in a reasonably portioned 7 course extravaganza. The meal took place at the lovely Southeast Portland home of Andy and Lisa Prince, parents of some delightful former students of Kate's and mine.
I hand wrote the menus, and some things changed last minute. The order of soup and salad, for instance, or the fact that I wrote “macerated strawberries” but the strawberries were so ripe that we didn’t need to, so they weren’t.
Radish, butter, pea, herb sandwiches
I made a spongy sourdough sandwich bread, using yogurt in addition to leaven to get the bread fermenting. We had very soft, delectable pieces under a crispy top-of-the-loaf pan boat sized piece of crust (Lucas pointed out that it would have made a great boat of garlic bread), which I turned into croutons for the salad.
Slices of Sierra Nevada Cheese Company European style grass-fed pasture butter.
English shelling peas, blanched and smashed with salt and a little of the butter.
French breakfast radishes, sliced as thin as possible but with the ability to still crunch.
Chervil from the garden.
Mousse aux fruits de mer
Less French name: Scallop mousse
with new potato bread and little gem lettuce salad
An absurd undertaking, and certainly the most expensive appetizer we’ve ever made. We used a recipe from “The Chez Panisse Menu Cookbook” as a jumping-off point, but theirs was even more expensive, with lobster.
We used absolutely incredible fresh scallops (similar to the ones we featured this winter) and fresh petrale sole, both from the Northwest.
Lucas put in the legwork grinding fish and folding in other fish and pounding in butter and cream with two wooden spoons in a tedious manner. He was cursing Alice Waters’ name by the end of the process, but by the time he was eating it he was back on #teamalice
I got these old French ramekins years and years ago at an estate sale in Eugene for 25¢ each. I’ve been waiting way too long to find a way to debut them. This was a very fitting dish.
I made a spelt bread with Groundworks Organics tiny golden new potatoes suspended in the crumb. You spread the mousse on the bread, and eat it with a salad of little gem lettuces dressed with the simplest dressing. Minced shallots macerated in Katz Late Harvest Sauvignon Blanc vinegar, and Madre Terre olive oil.
Purple asparagus soup
Lucas made this very complicated soup over the course of the two days around the event. The broth involved numerous vegetables and chicken feet, kissed with a purple yam extract. Barely-cooked Strips of purple asparagus waited in the bowls before the hot broth was poured on. Tiny strips of sorrel from The Whiskey Farm were dropped in at the last minute for a little lemony lift.
Spring dreams salad
Many greens from the garden at The Whiskey Farm– purple orach, mustard greens, maché, lettuces, wild arugula. Lots of flowers and flowering heads from recently-bolted greens too. One really good head of purple romaine from People’s Food Co Op.
Explosively flavorful croutons made from the top of the sandwich bread, using wild Tuscan fennel pollen and piment d’espelette.
Purple kohlrabi and fennel meticulously sliced super thin by Will.
Creamy dressing made with egg yolks from The Whiskey Farm, lemon juice, olive oil, shallots, Katz vinegar.
Nettle pasta with sheep’s cheese
Nettles wildcrafted by Lucas and I, our classic nettle pasta recipe. Prepared in a manner inspired by the scene in Chef where John Favreau makes ScarJo a plate of pasta in bed. Topped with fresh sheep’s cheese from Briar Rose.
My coworker Nate texted me from the dining room this quote from his girlfriend, Sarah: “I could’ve eaten that stuff until I threw up.” We’ll take that as a sign it was pretty good!
Parchment baked fish, tender spring vegetables, worth-the-effort sauces
Tiny parcels of Columbia River steelhead with fresh tarragon and lemon slices.
Fresh aioli with lovage from The Whiskey Farm.
Arugula and lavender pesto (a classic brought back from THE VERY FIRST Secret Restaurant), entirely from The Whiskey Farm.
Spring pearl onions, softened slowly in butter. Par-cooked new potatoes, spring turnips, and fava beans stewed in the buttery onions until warmed through. A few flowers.
Poached rhubarb, perfect strawberries, lemon verbena/rhubarb semifreddo, almond/hibiscus cookie, crumbled and whole
Rhubarb poached and cooled in its own syrup, perfect strawberries from Groundworks, a semifreddo made with rhubarb compote and Whiskey Farm lemon verbena, almond/hibiscus cookies made with einkorn and spelt flours (thanks Tartine n.3). Elderflowers from Groundworks sprinkled on top.
The last image in this gallery shoes the scallop crudo Lucas made for the crew at the end of the night halfway through dishes.
Super Modeste (funky pet nat, French– crisp, cidery, lingeringly delicious)
Pomagrana (super light chilled red, Spanish– burstingly fruity, as the label implies)
Le Piane Maggiorino (medium-light, chilled red, Italian– sharp and acidic, like red currants)
Poive et Sel (medium-light, chilled red, French– black peppery, vegetal)
Raina Spoleto (orange, Italian– exceptionally balanced, a crowd favorite)
Charudet (beaujolais, French– always lovely with strawberries)
Again, these wines came from Ardor Natural Wines, where YOU ought to start shopping for your wines. Go see Victor. He's the guy with the fantastic hair and crisp white jacket you see sporadically throughout these photographs. The shop is located inside/behind Shop Boswell, at 729 SE Morrison St.
Coffee: an Ethiopian from Roseline Coffee, actually biked over to the house by Paul, the owner. Drink their coffee!
An extra shout out to Will Boal, who really has gone above and beyond to assist us with this project since his return to Portland. Did you see those pictures up there of him swinging those lettuces in that dish towel?
A final word of thank you to Andy and Lisa Prince for letting us host this dinner in your lovely home! Andy and Lisa's children are former students of Andrew and Kate's. Their generous support of our endeavors over the years has been remarkable, and it has been a joy to watch their children grow as we've also become better and better friends. Cheers to Andy and Lisa!
The menus were written on long-saved scraps trimmed from the original printing of dear friend Izzy Ferguson's debut collection of poetry, The First Order Of Business, which is published by Two Plum Press.