Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Lan Su

We've been having so many adventures lately that I'm behind in my blogging. About two months behind. If only there were some zen-like garden in this city to escape the stress of blogging!

Oh, that's good. That's very, very good.

One of the best parts of our local library system is the 'Adventure Pass to Culture' program they have. Patrons can reserve a daily pass to any zoo, museum, park, or other cultural experience in PDX free of charge. Recently we decided to head over to Chinatown to see the Lan Su Chinese Garden.

Lan Su means "awakening orchid". Lan is for Portland, Su is for Suzhou - Portland's Chinese sister city. Apparently Suzhou is also well-known for its gardens. The Lan Su garden was made by shipping 500 tons of materials from China and hiring 65 Chinese artisans who worked on the gardens for 10 months. The result, they claim, is the most authentic Chinese garden outside of the mainland.

The garden has a great supply of penjing (bonsai trees) on hand. I hear there's a penjing festival next month. I've been thinking of starting another bonsai tree...hopefully it will be a little easier here than during a Wisconsin winter.

We learned that Chinese gardens use doors and windows to frame an image. It became a game to find what was being framed for our view.

This blossom was on one of the many penjing trees.

There was some incredible craftsmanship in that garden. I can't imagine how long it took to carve this wall.

All in all, a beautiful garden. We spent 90 minutes there and I felt completely relaxed when we left. I'll definitely go back...probably with a game of weiqi in hand.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Food Cart Festival

In our eight years of dating, one of the best dates Cyn and I have had was going to the Food Cart Festival a few weeks ago. Not bad for a date that took place under a bridge with hundreds of people.

So here's the setup: Willamette Weekly invited 30 of the best food carts in town to participate at the festival. The entrance fee was $7 (about the the price of a typical food cart meal) and you could grab a sample at every cart there. We were lucky to even get tickets because it was sold out days in advance.

There were three awards (the Carty awards) up for grabs: Best Taste and Best Style which were decided by a panel of distinguished food critics and the People's Choice award - every attendee could vote for just one cart.

Here are some highlights...

Moxie Rx - Winner of Best Style. Moxie is a breakfast cart. They had their special blend of granola with greek yogurt and cranberry compote. Fantastic.

Fat Kitty Falafel - I was most excited about this cart because it's regarded as the best falafel in town, but it was too far away from my workplace to try. Sadly, I was disappointed. I had a better falafel just a few days before the festival.

PBJs - Runner-up Best Taste. Well, it was a fried PB&J with bacon in it. Not sure what else can be said. They had other flavors to try (like a maple PB&J), but I didn't get to try them.

Addy's Sanwich Bar - One of the highest regarded carts in town. I had a chicken salad pesto sample that was out of this world.

Soupcycle - Soups delivered by bicycle...get it? Anyway, the soup doesn't look that great, but it was a peanut soup that was really delicious.

Another soup that was arguably even better was from Savor Soup House. It was lentils with braised lamb stew.

FlavourSpot - Runner-up People's Choice - I voted for this place. They specialize in waffle sandwiches. The "sweet" sandwich of strawberry jam and mascarpone (I think?) was quite good, but the "savory" sandwich on the left had sausage and a super sticky maple butter sauce that you'd sign your life away for. 

Hot Lips Soda - Okay, this wasn't really a cart. They were for sale and I couldn't pass it up because it's the best soda in the world. Mmm...Boysenberry.

Pyro Pizza - Traditional wood-fired oven pizza from a cart. Amazing. I couldn't wait to try this one.

Pyro had several flavors - we chose Margherita and a Gorgonzola/Hazelnut pizza. Delish.

SIP - Organic smoothies. I asked the owner what was in the sample and he rattled off at least 10 different fruits and veggies. It tasted a whole lot better than I imagined, but I'll stick with Portland Smoothie Company.

Garden State - Winner of Best Taste. Sicilian inspired sandwiches. So good, I went back to the cart on my birthday. Amazing food for a cart or anywhere else.

Whiffies Fried Pies - Winner of People's Choice. They have savory or sweet pies. Clockwise from the leftmost pic are Peanut Butter Cream, Beef Brisket, and Mounds of Deliciousness. I've also gone back to this cart and had Marionberry and Double Chocolate Cream.

Fifty Licks - An ice cream food cart. Cynthia voted for this one, and it's no surprise why. Her sample (on the right) was Lemon Coconut Sherbet. It was the most flavor-packed ice cream I've ever had. I got Maple Bacon ice cream which was also quite good.

Monday, May 10, 2010

Mother's Day

Eggs Benedict and a French Vanilla Bean yogurt parfait with fresh blueberries and strawberries mixed in. It was all so divine!

1 - Card from Jordan with a heartfelt "I love you so much, Mommy!"
2 - Gourmet breakfast in bed made by Daddy. (Carter gets an assist he even had a white towel over his arm and asked if I wanted anything else.)
3 - Paper hearts from Carter.
4 - Gifts of purple calla lilies and Hershey's pomegranate chocolate bar and Sour Patch Kids from Peter.
5 - Time to read my scriptures and book in bed after breakfast while Peter watched the kids.
6 - A bubble bath in a spa-like setting with vanilla candles all over the room.
7 - Polished shoes for church.
8 - Seeing my boys hold hands as they walked to the front of the church to sing their mother's day song with the other primary kids.

Being a wife and mother and having such a wonderful husband and family - Priceless.

Wednesday, May 5, 2010

Gourmet de la Portland

Dear Portland Suburbanites,

You're doing it wrong. I know you don't like being told what to do, but I feel a moral obligation to save your souls.

I have noticed a disturbing trend. When we converse and I casually mention that I had lunch at a food cart, you give me a weird look as if to say "he's eating cheap and dirty hot dogs sold on the street by some guy who has never showered?" (sigh) You have much to learn, fellow suburbanite.

First off, there are over 250 food carts all over Portland. Very, very few sell hot dogs. Instead, any variety of cuisine can be found (Egyptian, Thai, Vegan, Peruvian, Vietnamese, Pasta, Soups, Fried Pies, German, sandwich, Czech, barbecue, ice cream, brick-oven pizza, N'Orleans, just to name a few) and they are all carefully prepared by food-handler licensed cooks for very cheap prices. The best food in Portland is on the streets.

Take my favorite cart for example: Portland Soup Company.

Beautiful, isn't it?

Unfortunately for my waistline, this cart is right across the corner from my office. It's owned by chef Jeremy Davidson who cut his teeth at Restaurant 503 in West Linn. Upon realizing that he could run his own place and that restaurants are far too expensive, he decided to open a food cart (which also caters) instead. On slower days, I'll ask him to describe what's in one of his various soups, salads, or sandwiches. He inevitably wells up with pride as he discusses culinary terms and ingredients I've never heard of before.

See? Jeremy runs a clean ship!

Think about it - one of the premier chefs in Portland and he's dishing up food in a street cart. Now, Jeremy might have a little different story than most, but all good carters know they can cook one type of food better than 95% of the population...and they stick to that one thing in their cart. You can't go wrong. Plus, food carts don't have to worry about the overhead at a typical restaurant. Most of the lunches I get downtown are better than any restaurant (sorry, VQ...I still love you) and cost around 6 bucks.

Half a Pork Butt sandwich (with apple slaw) and a cup of Leek and Mushroom soup from Portland Soup Company...$7.

Truth be told, fellow Suburbanites...if you want to experience Portland's culture, you MUST get out to the food carts! Repent of your evil ways and let your taste buds rejoice.

Obscurity: The Musical!

It seems that any recommendation I make is given not only for the fine production of the object but also for its complete obscurity. I seem to have a taste for the unknown. With this in mind, I'd like to recommend an obscure movie I watch on Netflix called:

Dr Horrible's Sing-Along Blog

Seriously, that's what it's called. And it's quite good. It's a brief 42-minute film that was released to the internet in three acts. The plot revolves around the video blog posts of a wannabe super-villain (Dr. Horrible)...and it's a musical. I can hear your excitement already.

The film was directed and co-written by Joss Whedon (of Firefly fame) as a project to stave off boredom during the WGA strike a few years ago. It was produced on a shoe-string budget yet has good actors and incredible music to back it up.

Here's the first song from the show, which I have had completely stuck in my head for the past week.

The full movie can be seen instantly for Netflix subscribers, on DVD, on Hulu or Youtube, and probably anywhere else that has well-made obscure films.