Look Homeward, Angel
(mid october. number 43.)
This was our second year cooking for the Wealth Underground Farm fall harvest party. Chris and Nolan of Wealth Underground grow some incredible produce and have created an extremely beautiful small farm tucked away behind forest park, inside Portland's city limits. They are the kindest of gents, and have been integral to our efforts at large scale gardening in the city, offering up both keen advice and spare seeds.
Last year, we served up a sort of autumn cornucopia on a buffet table in the greenhouse. This year, always looking for new challenges and constraints, we decided to do a pop-up café. For the first time, Secret Restaurant Portland offered a menu with choices. The idea was that each guest could create a 4-course lunch catered to their own tastes and dietary restrictions. Taking a cue from the exquisite Navarre, the menus I designed were in the form of a checklist. Couples could compare notes and order together, individuals could skip courses if they so desired, etc. Once it was underway, Lucas exclaimed "We're crazy– we opened a café, for one time only, that is only open for the lunch rush!" It's true. Guests all turned in their tickets approximately five minutes after they'd been handed out, and we were left with a Tetris of orders to fill. With the help of some key friends as runners, we managed to pull it off.
We had quite a time preparing to serve 30+ people 4 courses of food for lunch on a Sunday. We met early on Saturday and went mushroom hunting. There was no way we could afford the quantity of mushrooms needed for what we planned to do; so, chancing it, we took to the woods. At first rather slow going, we did end up with an impressive haul– 2 porcini, a large quantity of chanterelles, and a motherload of chicken-of-the-woods. We returned from our mushroom hunt and got straight to grocery shopping, then headed out to the farm before nightfall to get started on prepping vegetables and making soup. I was still roasting vegetables and simmering soups at 2 a.m., fell asleep on the daybed in the corner of the living room next to the woodstove, then rose again at 6 a.m. to make the vast quantity of cake.
The event itself came together splendidly. Some wonderful musicians played next to the crackling fire on the outdoor classroom. The sunlight was golden and majestic. Guests sipped cider, toured the grounds, listened to the music, connected with each other and the place around them.
• Arugula/Potato Salad
Arugula dressed with lemon, olive oil, and black pepper. Tossed with slow roasted potatoes, cubed & taking the place/affect of croutons. Some similarly cut beets, also roasted, tossed in there for a touch of sweetness, color, and earthiness to offset the arugula's zing.
• Chicory Caesar
Assorted chicories from the farm, harvested one hour before serving, washed and trimmed to use the most tender bits. Dressed in an alternative caesar, using balsamic vinegar and anchovy paste.
• Soup For Sibylle Baier (German Fall Vegetable Soup)
A soup recipe I made up last year, as a response to a request for a soup recipe from a friend on the other side of the country. I simply bought one of every winter vegetable I could find, and improvised, but then wrote it all down right away afterwards. The whole time, I was listening to Colour Green by Sibylle Baier. Rutabegas, turnips, potatoes, onions, garlic and loads of herbs meld together with the aid of butter and mustard and beer. Finished with chanterelle mushrooms (wild-gathered by us!).
• Pumpkin Carrot Ginger Curry Soup
My simple carrot ginger soup recipe, made slightly thinner than usual and held for many hours unblended. Then, we blended it, added curry spices, slowly brought it to simmer, added pieces of tender pie pumpkin, let them enjoy that simmer, then stirred in coconut cream.
• Chicken Of The Woods Open Faced Croque Monsieur
Originating from something I came up with cooking for my parents the other week, also kind of like the ones Tartine Bakery in San Francisco makes with shitake mushrooms. When we went mushroom hunting, we were hardly even looking for chicken of the woods, but since we ended up hitting the jackpot with it (and it is naturally the meatiest of mushrooms), it became the star of our sandwich. The mushrooms were sliced thin and cooked in butter. Boule from Ken's Artisan Bakery was spread with béchamel sauce, a mushroom slice or two placed on top, béchamel spooned over it, topped with loads of fontina and gruyere cheese, then broiled and served piping hot.
• Ratatouille With Polenta
Polenta slow baked, then cut into triangles and fried up to order.
Served with a ratatouille of eggplant and zucchini. Arugula tossed in at the end for spice and color. Topped with a slice of heirloom tomato and Malden salt flakes.
• Wholemeal Apple Marmalade Cake
An awesome Nigel Slater cake. Amusingly, it's one of the only "Nigel Cakes" (as we've come to call them) which doesn't have any nutmeat in the recipe. So I fixed that and now make it with ground almonds. I also use minced ginger instead of orange zest. Made with an exquisite collection of apples from Old World Apples.
• Spiced Hot Apples
Ground-fall apples from across the street back at my house, and some from Wealth Underground. Cooked with star anise, minced ginger, cinnamon, and a splash of apple cider. One round softened to the point of falling apart, then another mostly just steamed by the others, to provide some bite. All served piping hot! Many folks chose to have some spiced hot apples on top of their cake.
• Water Avenue Coffee
Guatemala Finca Santa Isabel. Another selection made by our friend Aaron Baker at Water Avenue.
From the info card: Finca Santa Isabel lies in the heart of the coban region, and has been owned by the Valdes family since 1875. Coban is home to some of Guatema's most diverse rainforests, and the Valdes family goes to great lengths to protect them with extensive composing and water conservation projects. This washed caturra lot is beautifully complex with notes of cherry tomato, spicy basil, a dried fig sweetness, with a crisp lemon acidity.