Friday, February 28, 2014

Sweet Potato "Nachos" - A Texas recovery food

Zack and I recently returned from a wickedly delicious trip to Texas for our 9th anniversary.  When you tell people you are going to Texas for your anniversary, you get some wierd looks and a lot of "hmmm, what made you choose THAT location?"  Well, let me tell you.  We visited Austin, San Antonio and the Texas Hill Country and had an epic foodapalooza!  Not to mention the wonderful and unique sense of place that is only Texas and then again, each city and region is so individual too.  

In Austin, we wondered along South Congress and had a very rare experience for us.  Enjoyable shopping!  Very interesting stores - local and well curated and no chains.  We both got some new duds that we're really happy with.  Our dining over 3 days ran the gamut from the un-freaking-believable Trailer Park taco and Green Chile Queso at Torchy's Tacos, to the refined and delicious Japanese flavors at Uchiko, to spending 3 hours in line for the alledged best BBQ in Texas at Franklin  Certainly incredible, the best I've had!  Highly recommend all these experiences.  We also had one of the best burgers of my life at a strange Zombie dive bar on the 6th street promenade.  Casino el Camino's Amarillo burger will be burned in my taste memory for a very long time.

In San Antonio, we stayed on the absurdly touristy but still mildly pleasant Riverwalk. 
San Antonio is home to massive amounts of Tex Mex and Mexican food and lots of it is mediocre from what I've been told.  Fortunately we had great recommendations from a friend and hit up Soluna for phenomenal enchiladas and Acenar for nachos.  One of our favorite spots in San Antonio is the Pearl complex, home of the Culinary Institute of America San Antonio.  Great shops and restaurants and a Saturday Farmers Market.  Kinda felt like being in the Bay area actually.  I also ate a ridiculous muffin top at Broadway Daily Bread.  Late nights were all about the downstairs lounge at the Hotel Havana.  So dark and sexy that I could barely see the Banana Bread French Toast with Cajeta ice cream and caramel crusted pecans that I ordered for dessert.  That's okay.  I could taste it.  and it was transporting.  

Hill Country Texas is home to something you may find surprising.  Wine Country - and lots of it.  We meandered the adorable main street of Comfort, Texas and tried Bending Branch Winery's tasting room.  The Tannat grapes in the eponymously named wine they make are grown only in Texas and is deeply reminiscent of raisins and finished for days.  Each sip of this wine was slightly different and not always pleasant, but quite an experience. Enough to check a bag so we could bring home a bottle. Fredricksburg is just 30 minutes from Comfort and lined with dozens and dozens of Texas style shopping and restaurants.  Too touristy and busy for our taste but fun nonetheless.  The Museum of the Pacific War there was incredibly well done.  We didn't even go in and we were impressed.

Overall, Texas, we do heart you, and look forward to returning one day.  

Now, I'm sure you're not confused about why I'm eating sweet potato nachos today.  Texas was not kind to our waistlines.  All worth it, but I came home truly craving vegetables and nothing but.  Still craving those Tex Mex flavors though, I took some inspiration from a great recipe from my friend Ashley and we've eaten it twice in a week.  They are really delicious.  I would honestly rather eat them than regular nachos.  At least this week.  Give um a try!

Sweet Potato "Nachos"
Serves 2 for a main course and 4 as a side

3 large sweet potatoes
1 tablespoon olive oil (or more if you want)
kosher salt (I like a lot of salt)
1 can black beans (or skip these if you wish)
1 garlic clove
1 teaspoon ground cumin
Pickled red onions
Pickled Jalepeno
Greek yogurt or sour cream
Chopped Cilantro
Pepitas
Cojita cheese, if you wish

Preheat your oven to 425 degrees.  Line a large baking sheet with parchment paper.

Cut the sweet potatoes in half lengthwise and then crosswise and then into skinny wedges.  Toss with 1 tablespoon olive oil and 1 1/2 - 2 teaspoons kosher salt.  Spread on baking sheet and baked for about 45-50 minutes, turning once.  They should be soft inside and crispy and brown in parts outside.  Feel free to broil them for a couple minutes at the end if you want more crusty bits.

While they are roasting, make your black beans.  In a food processor, dump a can of drained, rinsed beans, 1 garlic glove, 1 teaspoon cumin, 5-6 pickled jalepenos, a generous pinch of salt and whatever else you'd like.  Puree to a desired smoothness.  

To serve, warm the beans and split them between two plates. (or serve them family style on a platter). Top each with half the roasted sweet potatoes and sprinkle (in whatever quantity you desire) with pickled red onions, jalepenos, sour cream, cilantro, pepitas and cojita, or honestly, WHATEVER you want!  Enjoy!






Wednesday, February 5, 2014

Inspired by India

What next?  In so many quiet moments throughout the day, it is quickly where my mind goes.  On January 27th,  I returned from eleven days in India.  The first eight of them were spent visiting the ministry sites of an organization called Share in Asia.  It began 18 years ago as the American arm of a 70 year old ministry based in Southern India.  They plant churches, build and run orphanages and schools in the poorest areas as well as widows homes and lepers homes .  They participate in mercy outreach of every kind.  Each day of those eight I saw desperate need and overwhelming joy, often in the same moments. Children laughing with joy as they ate what may be their only good meal that day, provided by the school.  Girls orphaned by the Indian ocean tsunami of 2004, beaming with smiles as they danced and sang, secure in the provision of their orphanage.  It is the children that hit us the hardest.  They are the most vulnerable.  We can't judge them, which would create distance from their plight.  They are the clearest victims, yet with the purest thankfulness.  And it was at the orphanages and schools of Share in Asia that I saw the most hope.

My husband Zack has traveled to Haiti on a mission in the past and offered me some knowing advice before I left; ”Remember, God hasn't blessed you to feel guilty."  Those words floated in my mind as I faced so much need.  So why has God blessed me?  Why do I have everything I need and more?  I am blessed to be a blessing.  We all are.  I've known this for a very long time - it is how my parents lived.  I have haltingly and very imperfectly operated from this perspective for most of my adult life.  But India brought a whole new application of that truth.  In India, my eyes saw poverty and need on a whole new level, coupled with the power of help and hope to change lives, and the impact of relatively small contributions of time and money. I'll never be able to unsee these things.  I'll never get the little girl out of my mind.  We pull off the bumpy, crowded road to buy a snack of fresh coconut and we meet her. She is 2, maybe 3.  She lives in a tent made of a tarp with her brothers and sisters. I don't know where her parents are.  She has no clothes.  We buy them all giant wedges of watermelon for pennies.  She stares over the top of hers, its wider than her precious head.  Eyes fixed on mine while she eats.  Here she is with the other children.
Every child is precious.  Made in the image of God with dignity, value and worth.  If I have blessing, is it not for her?  Is it not for whomever God puts before me?  For my husband, for my friends, for family, for the hurting and needy in my own community and now, for Indian children in orphanages and schools half way around the world.  I cannot begin to help them all, that much is obvious.  But I can take a step, make a change, choose to bless.

So, a few days ago, I had an idea.  A little way to help, for now.  Valentine's Day is coming up.  Ostensibly, this day is about love.  Share the Love began running through my mind.  A pop-up shop selling Valentine's treats maybe? A Valentine's gift shop?  NO!  Valentine's Day gift boxes!  Each box would contain lovely things to give someone you love on Valentine's Day, AND the love would be shared!  Every donation would go to blessing the orphans I met and fell in love with in India.  Their orphanage is in a flood prone area and was recently damaged. Their bathrooms are incredibly spare and simple.  There are so many needs.  I can't adopt those children and bring them home with me, but can I adopt their orphanage? Can I inspire others to join me in this?  I don't know where this is all leading or if its just one holiday and one effort, but I'll start right here.  I can take this step.

So, this Valentine's Day, love your Valentine well AND share the love with an orphanage in need. Every penny of your donation for this Valentine's Day gift will go to the Share in Asia Tsunami Orphanage in Southern India. 

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UPDATE!  This fundraiser earned more than $1800.00 for the Share In Asia Tsunami Orphanage!  Thank you to everyone who cared and gave!

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SHARE THE LOVE FUNDRAISER

Your fully tax-deductible suggested donation of $60 includes this gift.  (additional $20 suggested for delivery)

A Valentine's Day gift box filled with lovely things...

  • Fresh cut tulips wrapped in festive tissue
  • Homemade treats from me and my friends: Chocolate truffle cookies, Peanut butter chocolate bon-bons, Indian chai-spiced shortbread hearts
  • Choice of:  Sozo wine, French Sparkling Apple Cider or Gourmet Coffee Beans
  • A picture of the children and note of thanks for Sharing the Love
  • Set in a box with lovely packaging
  • A custom note from you
NOTE:  The deadline for box ordering is passed, but if you'd still like to donate any amount, that would be so amazing.  Go to www.shareinasia.org 

I'll be sure to keep you all posted on how this goes!  

Friday, October 4, 2013

Fall Flavors: Chanterelle, Leek and Speck Pizza


I'm working on a project right now that asked me to share a signature dish.  I had a a big ole moment of pause about this, because I feel like I'm always moving on to new things and not settling on any one signature.  Zack had no such hesitation however.  Pizza!  Pizza!  And you know, he's right.  Not any particular pizza, but just really good pizza, using whatever is currently inspiring.  Pizza is a palette for so many possibilities.  Right now, chanterelles are in season.  Don't miss the opportunity to cook with this rich early mushroom while you can!!  I made this pizza the other day with leftover ingredients from a day of recipe testing and then recreated it for my project.  It really is so absolutely delicious that I had to share!

Chanterelle, Leek and Speck Pizza

1 ball of pizza dough, rested and risen.
1/2 cup ricotta (homemade if you have 10 extra minutes - its so amazing)
2 tablespoons butter
8 ounces chanterelle mushrooms, brushed clean and roughly chopped
1/3 cup thinly sliced leek rounds, the white or pale green part only
4 very thin slices of speck (a smoked cousin of prosciutto)
5 fresh chives, chopped in 1 inch pieces
parmesan
extra virgin olive oil
fresh cracked black pepper

An hour before dinner, place an oven rack on the top rungs of your oven.  If you have a pizza stone, place it there.  Preheat your oven to 475 degrees.

Thirty minutes before dinner, add butter and a drizzle of olive oil to a skillet over medium high heat. Add your chopped mushrooms, a generous pinch of salt and freshly ground pepper and allow to cook for ten minutes, stirring only once or twice.  You want nice browned mushrooms, so let them sit and don't fuss with them too much.

Meanwhile, with nice floured hands, form your pizza dough into a round, stretching or rolling it to desired thinness.  Dust a pizza peel with corn meal and place your dough on the peel.  Spread with ricotta, add leeks and cooked chanterelles.  Grind some fresh pepper over and drizzle olive oil.

Slide your pizza onto the pizza stone with a quick motion.  If you've used plenty of corn meal it will slide right off onto the hot stone.  Alternatively, you could bake this on a baking sheet.

Bake for 5-7 minutes at 475 degrees.  Then turn your broiler on high and broil for 2 minutes, then using tongs or hands with oven mitts, rotate your pizza front to back and broil for another 1 minute.  Remove from oven when its got some nice dark color.

Finish immediately with the thin slices of speck, finely grated parmesan and a drizzle of olive oil. Sprinkle with fresh chives.  Serve hot or at room temperature.

Tuesday, July 30, 2013

Meini, Italian Semolina Honey Buns


I eat a lot of inspiring things...especially lately.  I'm deep in the process of assisting my dear friend Ashley write her first cookbook (of what I am SURE will be many) .  I help her in a number of ways, but the best one is cooking her food.  Every Tuesday or so, we spend the day working on the cookbook.  I cook from her recipes and she styles and photographs the food.  This food is inspiring.  It is delicious.  I LOVE THIS JOB.  But as you might imagine, I can't share these recipes with you.  You're going to have to buy the book.  You are really really going to want to buy the book.

So what I'm telling you is, I haven't been cooking many recipes that aren't for the cookbook, you know, recipes I can actually share.  But, on Sunday night, I wanted to bake something.  I get that itch a lot.  I got out a cookbook my Aunt had given me a while ago (thank you Aunt Ruth - its a gem!).  It's a book on Italian baking by the original head baker at Il Fornaio.  Zack and I started looking through it and it was so inspiring.  I was excited to try the breads and intrigued by a few strange cookies.  This thing called a Meini really jumped out.  It's called a bun in the recipe, but is really more of a cookie in its method, though its less sweet.  The ingredients are most likely in your pantry, with the exception of semolina, but you could use regular corn meal no problem.  Just whirl it around in your food processor for a couple minutes to grind it more finely.

The process was a little odd, so I've modified it slightly for you.  I baked these buns and took a warm bite, not expecting too much.  WHAM.  A wonderful cake like texture, a rich buttery, cornbread flavor licked with lots of floral honey.  It really surprised and delighted.  I couldn't wait for Zack to try it.  "wow" he says.  Then I needed Zack to bring some over to Ashley (who lives blocks away) so she could try it.  A text comes 10 minutes later.  "What?!!  These are magic." it says.  "Wouldn't they be an amazing base for a raspberry shortcake?" says the next.  "Genius!" I say!  Anyway, you get the point.  This is a very tasty and versatile bun.  It is sweet enough to be a part of a dessert;  not sweet enough to truly be a cookie (IMHO), so enjoy it with your morning coffee and call it breakfast, and savory enough to enjoy with a soup or salad.  Overall a special find.  And, as with any baked good, best about 10 minutes after it comes out of the oven.

MEINI, ITALIAN SEMOLINA HONEY BUNS
adapted from The Il Fornaio Baking Book
Makes 12 2.5" round buns

1 1/2 cups all-purpose flour
2 teaspoons baking powder
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt, or 1 1/4 teaspoon kosher salt
1 cup semolina flour
1 1/2 sticks of butter, at room temperature
1/2 cup sugar
3-4 tablespoons honey - your best one
2 egg yolks
1/4 cup whipping cream
3 tablespoons whole milk (or 4 of you don't use the amaretto)
1 tablespoon amaretto (optional but gooooood)
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

For the tops
1/3 cup granulated sugar
1/3 cup powdered sugar, in a sieve

Preheat oven to 375 degrees.  Line 2 baking sheets with parchment paper.

Whisk together the flour, baking powder, semolina and salt into a bowl and set aside.

In the bowl of your Kitchenaid or a large bowl and electric beaters, cream together the butter, sugar and honey on medium speed until fluffy, light and pale in color, scraping down sides a couple of times.  This takes 5 minutes.  Continue to beat and add the egg yolks, one at a time, beating well after each addition and scraping down the sides of the bowl.

Reduce speed to low, add half of the flour mixture and beat until the dry ingredients are thoroughly incorporated.  Beat in the cream, milk, amaretto and vanilla.  Continue to mix on low speed, add the remaining flour mixture and beat until a soft dough forms, about 2 minutes.

Turn the dough out onto a lightly floured work surface.  The dough will be sticky but try not to incorporate too muck flour as you shape the buns.  Form the dough into a circle and then cut it into 12 equal wedges.  Dust your hands lightly with flour and roll each wedge between your palms into a round golfball-sized sphere.  Place this on the baking sheet and flatten slightly into a disk about 3/4 inch thick.

Lightly brush the top of each disk lightly with water and then sprinkle with sugar.  Once all the disks are brushed and sugared, sieve the powdered sugar over the tops.

Bake the buns in the preheated oven until the tops begin to crack and the rim of each bun is light golden brown, 14-16 minutes.  Remove from the oven and let cool completely on baking sheet.  Store in a covered container at room temperature for up to 5 days.





Sunday, March 3, 2013

Sticky Toffee Pudding Cakes

This past week was pretty priceless.  I got to fly to Hawaii to meet my new nephew.  His name is Liam, and he is so beautiful and whole and precious, what a blessing!  Every baby is.  He was born to my youngest brother Andrew and his wife Melissa.  He is a Navy coreman stationed with the Marines on an enormous base near Kailua, Oahu.  He married such a freaking spectacular woman in Melissa, adding another amazing sister-in-law to our family.  For three days, my Mom and I cooked for them.  We did a few other things, but didn't even go to the beach!  It was cuddle time and cooking time and it was everything I could have hoped.  For the last night of the short trip, I wanted to cook a special celebration dinner and I went all out.  I asked Melissa to choose the dessert - she has a sweet tooth that rivals even mine.  She requested something I made around this time last year, for a classic St. Patricks Day feast Zack and I threw - sticky toffee pudding.  Near as I can tell, a pudding is a catch all term people in the United Kingdom use for a dessert. This is a cake made with dates, and a wonderful deep dark toffee sauce.  It absolutely must be served with vanilla ice cream or lightly sweetened whip cream.  It is stupid good.  and just in time for St. Paddy's day!  Make it friends!
STICKY TOFFEE PUDDING CAKE
adapted from David Liebovitz
4-8 individual or 1 large pudding cake

For the toffee sauce
2 cups heavy cream
1/2 cup dark brown sugar or muscavado if you can find it
1/4 cup molasses (use only 2.5 tablespoons if you use muscavado sugar)
5 tablespoons butter
1 tablespoon whisky or bourbon
generous pinch of salt (and more to taste)

For the date cake

6 ounces pitted dates,  chopped
1 cup water
1 teaspoon baking soda
1 1/4 cups (175g) flour
1 teaspoon baking powder
1 teaspoon fine sea salt
4 tablespoons (55g) unsalted butter
3/4 cup (150g) granulated sugar
2 large eggs, at room temperature
1 teaspoon vanilla extract

Preheat the oven to 350F and butter an 8 1/2-inch (24cm) porcelain soufflĂ© dish (or similar-sized baking dish.).  You can also make these individual as I prefer to do.  4 8oz ramekins (as I did), 6 6oz ramekins or 8 4oz ramekins. 

To make the toffee sauce:  Make the toffee sauce by bringing the cream, dark brown sugar,  molasses and salt to a boil in a medium saucepan, stirring often to melt the sugar.  Lower heat and simmer, stirring constantly for about 5-7 minutes, until the mixture is thick and well coats the spoon. Turn off the heat and whisk in the butter and bourbon.   NOTE:  If the sauce separates, you can fix it by whisking in another couple tablespoons of cream.  Pour half the sauce into the prepared soufflĂ© dish or divide between ramekins and place in the freezer, and reserve the other half of the toffee for serving.

To make the cake:  In a medium saucepan, heat the dates and water.  Once the water begins to boil, remove from heat and stir in the baking soda.  Set aside for a few minutes.

In a small bowl, mix together the flour, baking powder, and salt.

In the bowl of a standing electric mixer, or by hand, beat the butter and granulated sugar until light and fluffy, at least 4 minutes.  Gradually beat in the eggs, then the vanilla. (Don’t be alarmed if the mixture looks a bit curdled.)

Stir in half of the flour mixture, then the date mixture, then add the remaining flour mixture until just mixed. Don’t overbeat the batter.

Remove your chosen baking dish/s from the freezer and divide the batter in between.
Baking times:  You are baking until a toothpick inserted into the center comes out with moist crumbs attached.
ONE  8 1/2 inch dish: 45-50 minutes
FOUR 8oz ramekins: 35-40 minutes
SIX 6oz ramekins: 30-35 minutes
EIGHT 4oz ramekin: 25-30 minutes

Remove the cakes from the oven, and let cool slightly before serving but they are best served warm!

ENTERTAINING NOTE:  I prepped all the components of this cake before dinner and actually made it after.  I love doing this.  It gives time for guests to relax and digest before dessert and builds anticipation.  Draws that whole wonderful experience out!  To make the pudding in advance, bake the cake without the toffee in the bottom. Let cool, then cover until close to serving time. Poke the cake about fifteen times with a chopstick. Distribute half of the sauce over the top, as shown in the photo, cover with foil, then re-warm in a 300F  oven, for 30 minutes.

Serving: Top with ice cream, lightly sweetened whip cream and additional warm toffee sauce.

Thursday, February 28, 2013

Chocolate Bourbon Toffee Cookies


One of the most universal pleasures of life is savoring food.  It is never most fully appreciated alone, but within relationship it is a powerful force.  In the past couple weeks, I've had many menu decisions to make, but one that is very dear to me involves Zack.  I don't take these choices lightly, because I believe they really matter.  Every six weeks he leaves his home office in Ballard to spend the week working with his company of coworkers near Carlsbad, California.  These are great people and this is a blessed job.  It matters a lot to me to send him with treats that are special.  Treats that show these people he rarely sees how much we appreciate them.  Baking and cooking is not an routine endeavor.  It is my love language,  and as a result, one of OUR love languages as a couple.  For Zack's one year anniversary with the company they sent us treats.  One of the items was chocolate covered, almond crusted toffee squares (Zack loves toffee).  I decided to re-commission them into cookie stuffings and this is the recipe I came up with.  It's a Zulie original.  The response from his coworkers this week has been strong, so I knew I needed to write up a recipe to share.
CHOCOLATE BOURBON TOFFEE COOKIES
Makes 16-24 cookies, depending on size

Note:  I used milk chocolate and almond covered toffee from Shari's Berries, but I realize I wont often have that lying around.  Skor bars would be the most readily available substitution, though many companies make a chocolate covered toffee, so just use what you like and/or the best you can find.  Almond Roca would work awesome too!

For the Cookie dough
1/2 cup butter, softened
1 cup dark brown sugar
1 large egg
1/2 teaspoon vanilla
1 tablespoon bourbon
3/4 teaspoon baking soda
3/4 teaspoon fine sea salt
1 3/4 cup all-purpose flour
about 5 oz chocolate covered toffee candy (such as Skor bars or almond roca), chopped
1/2 cup chopped toasted pecans or almonds (or not, if your toffee candy already has a nutty crust)
Maldon Smoked Salt flakes or other smoked salt

For the ganache swirl
1/4 cup heavy cream
3 oz good semi-sweet or dark chocolate
1/2 teaspoon espresso powder
1/4 teaspoon salt

To make the ganache swirl:  In a pourable glass measuring cup, heat the cream for 20 seconds in the microwave till very hot, and add the chocolate.  Let it sit on the counter for a minute allowing the chocolate to melt.  Now whisk it together and add the espresso powder and salt.  Let stand at room temperature.

Whisk together the flour, salt and baking soda and set aside.

Using a stand mixer with the paddle attachment, cream together the butter and sugar for 5 minutes at least.  It should be light and fluffy.   Add egg and mix thoroughly, then add vanilla and bourbon and mix another 15 seconds or so.   Slowly add the flour mixture till just mixed in.  Now, turn off the mixer and dump in your toffee and nuts.  Pick up your ganache cup and get ready to pour.  Turn the mixer on its lowest setting and stream in the chocolate ganache.  This toffee mixin/ganache step should only be about a 5-10 second process.  You want the ganache to ribbon through the dough, but not mix fully in and turn the cookie entirely chocolate.  

At this point, you have two options, you can scoop the dough now and bake, just like you would a chocolate chip cookie, OR allow the dough to cure in the fridge for 24-48 hours, which will make it even more delicious and I strongly recommend it.  Should you choose the latter, dump the dough out onto a large piece of parchment paper and form it into a log, rolling it into the paper and twisting the ends to secure.  You could use wax paper or foil here too.

Whenever you are ready to bake, preheat the oven to 350 degrees.   Scoop your cookies, or slice from your log, sprinkle with a few flakes of smoked salt and bake for 9-12 minutes in the center of the oven.  Check them at 9 minutes.  When they are fully set and just barely coloring they are done, but you can also go a few more minutes, if you like a more golden cookie or more crisp edges.

Tuesday, February 26, 2013

Anniversary in Portlandia


Zack and I recently celebrated our eighth anniversary with an overnight jaunt to Portland.  I always have a long list of places I want to check out there, recommended by friends, articles I've read and the like.  We are never disappointed by the wealth of culinary treasures there and this time was no different.  In fact, it was one of the best.  Here's the rundown.

Paley's Place is a Portland institution in fine dining and the Imperial is a recently opened more casual experience by Vitaly Paley, an incredibly well respected chef.  The vibe is loungy.  Pretty dark and moody even at lunch time and definitely hipster, in that upscale sort of way.  I thought it would be a nice lunch, but was completely surprised by how incredibly good each bite was and how much care was put into everything, and an outstanding value to boot.  For instance, the house made Parker house roll, arrives hot and glistening, deep golden brown and salted top with soft butter to slather.  We thought we'd share one but immediately ordered another.  This was our first meal of the trip so we wanted to go easy, opting to share a pilaf stuffed roasted poblano pepper with roasted butternut squash, chestnuts and a walnut cream. ($12)  WHAT?  Ridiculously flavorful.  The vegetables all treated with utmost care to bring out their fullest flavor.  Then, a side of wood fire roasted carrots in a mustard maple vinaigrette. ($6)  These carrots were so good I promptly stated I'd rather be eating them than duck fat french fries.  The cocktails were also excellent, mine a blend of aperol, grapefruit, gin and rose prosecco.  His,  a hearty bourbon cocktail with hickory vermouth.  At $8 each, at least 25% less than the same cocktails cost in Seattle.  The experience was absolutely wonderful and got the trip started off on the VERY right foot.

After an afternoon of nothing much, a little shopping, a little relaxing, it was time to go to Snacky Hour.  Toro Bravo is one of Portlands best loved restaurants, a Spanish tapas spot that is perennially packed.  They don't take reservations and we are not fans of waiting, so when that is the case, we always show up when the place is about to open.  Good thing too!  We were first in line and the place was full in 20 minutes.  Here we shared a few pinxtos - or snacks of just a bite or two each, and a few tapas, snacks of 6-10 bites.  Melted leeks topped with romescu sauce were delicious, as was a sweetly spiced ground lamb with yogurt and flatbread.  Everything was inexpensive - $3 - $9 and delicious.  Cava was the perfect accompaniment.  The menu is so extensive and I look forward to going back again to try more.  

Our "real" dinner reservation was at 7pm so we headed next.  Folks, what a dear dear meal this was to us.  The ambiance of the space is dimly lit, wood paneled and definitely fits the expectation its name creates,   From the first moment they were so welcoming, with absolutely no hint of hipster nonchalance.  They wished us happy anniversary and gave us half pours of champagne for a toast, starting things off beautifully.  The menu is a nod to American classics.  We started with a couple snacks - a single chicken wing, an order of deviled eggs and a beef sausage with mustard.  Each thing was so deeply flavorful we were in a constant state of exclamation.  There was such great and overwhelming care taken with every element.  All sausages and meats (with the exception of a few curated American hams) are butchered and cured and smoked and in all ways made from scratch in house.  With yes, a Portlandia level of care.  We shared shepherds pie for the main course.  How could it be so good?  So many layers of flavor, such deep smokiness to the filling and perfectly cooked vegetables at the same time.  I was deeply challenged as a cook by their care in the details.  I've already seen it influence me, which I think is awesome.

THE NEXT DAY, ON MY MORNING RUN
Our actual anniversary dawned beautifully sunny, just like it was 8 years ago.  I love a morning run on vacation so I was off by 7am leaving Zack to a rare chance to sleep-in.  I started out from our hotel in the Pearl District and headed for coffee.  Sterling Coffee Roasters had been recently recommended.  It's on 21st just a block or so from Ken's Artisan Bakery, so I stopped in their for one of their famous cannelle and jogged it over to Sterling for a cappuccino.  The recommendation was right on.  A beautifully roasted cup of coffee.  Not at all bitter or burnt, but flavorful and nuanced.  I had 2 bites of the cannelle, which was good for sure, but not mind-blowing for me.  The rest fed the birds.  Back on my feet and through the Pearl and over the Hawthorne Bridge, down Ladd and up Division to Little T American Baker.  
This bakery has been winning raves and the baguette is particularly well spoken of.  As it happens, when it comes to bakeries, I'll take a baguette with butter and jam over just about anything else anyway, so I ordered their skinny short version and my second cup of the day and sat down to enjoy.  It was excellent.  Lovely crust and moist crumb.  I was pleased.  I ate some of that and started to wonder where was next.  I looked for bakeries nearby and found one called Le Cookie Monkey a couple miles away.  The reviews were raving and I liked the look of the direction so I headed that way.  Down 26th and Right on Powell and then some random twists and turns and a very odd rickety foot bridge over some railroad tracks and after a time I was at Le Cookie Monkey.  Darn it!  Its only open for special orders, so I wend my way home through some funky streets and along the river, over the bridge and back at the hotel at mile 8.9.  Time to get ready for brunch!

I love Southern diner style food done really really well and that is just what the Country Cat is all about.  It serves brunch every day of the week, which I think is genius.  It's a drive out of the typical tourist area, in the Montavilla area of PDX.  We sat down and ordered a tasty (though much booze!) Bloody Mary and deliberated for a long while on the menu, or rather, I did.   Zack knew immediately that he wanted the Monte Cristo sandwich.  We both have a soft spot for those.  But the 2nd dish was harder.  The BBQ brisket sandwich?  The chicken fried steak?  I settled on the fried chicken with maple bacon spoon bread and greens dressed with maple vinaigrette.  It was good but not great.  The fried chicken didn't have the double crust i prefer and the spoon bread honestly had a strange soggy texture on top.  I'd still go back time and again for that Monte Cristo sandwich - house-smoked ham and turkey, amazing custardy bread and a dousing of maple syrup.  The home fries were shatteringly crisp and served with house made ketchup.  Too legit to quit people.  

We've been to Portland a dozen times in our married life, but this was definitely our favorite trip.  A totally memorable culinary adventure, to say nothing of the very sweet time we had together reflecting on the past year and feeling incredible blessed with where we are at as a couple.  Year 9 includes many things, foremost among them our adoption process, which we actually began in earnest that evening, at our chosen agencies mandatory information meeting.  We're on our way and feel peace and excitement about that.  We are praying that by the next anniversary, there will be a baby Zulie Hubert to love.

A couple other absolute Portland favorites:  Screen Door, DOCHeart coffee, Baker and Spice Bakery.