For the love of meat: Let’s talk about the Braai

November 14, 2012 by

I am lucky to have a cousin as good-natured, thoughtful and personable as my talented recipe-testing cousin, Will. I am considerably older than him, but we have been able to bond over our shared curiosity of how food is grown and made, as well as our love for biking. He recently finished a cross country trip on a bike. – Diane

As a proud carnivore, I look forward to eating Korean barbecue (gogigui). Fewer words produce the same mouth-watering sensation to me as kalbi, bulgogi, and dakgui. When I’m hanging out with similarly meat-obsessed friends, I judge their relationship with food (what’s your palate like homie?) by their exposure to Korean barbecue. “You’re kidding!” I exclaimed recently to a friend in LA whose understanding of Korean cuisine had only consisted of a few tentative bites of kimchi. Shaking my head, I proclaimed, “You simply haven’t lived. Let’s go tomorrow.”  The reason for my (at times overbearing) excitement goes beyond the fact that Korean barbecue is downright delicious. To me, Korean barbecue is more than just a meal. It can be a culinary experience that highlights food’s ability to pass beyond the bounds of simple sustenance. You should not eat Korean barbecue to just “refuel” your body. You should take the time to celebrate and respect the significance of the meal. Korean culture and tradition define gogigui. The meal comes with a history and flavor (!) all to its own. Koreans take pride in that amazing taste in your mouth. You’re not just having ANY barbecue. You’re enjoying gogigui. There’s a reason that those seemingly unlimited side dishes (banchan) work so well with grilled meat. Koreans knew how to make BBQ their own. Pass the lettuce please.

Fortunately for us all, Korea is not the only country in the world that takes such pride in its char-grilled goodies. While my American heritage means that I’ll defend the virtue of hot dogs and hamburgers until the day I die, my world travels have introduced me to another particularly noble barbecue culture: South Africa.

South Africans are a meat loving people. Biltong (similar to jerky) is a popular snack food whose solid place in South African culture is obvious to any outsider. While I never considered buying Jack Links or Oberto products growing up, I embraced biltong (particularly kudu and ostrich) like a madman. Maybe it was just fun to think to myself, “I’m eating an ostrich right now.” Who knows.

The braai (Afrikaans for “barbecue” and “grill”) is where the meat eaters of the rainbow nation get down to business. While the word is derived from Dutch, it is widely used today by English-speaking South Africans to describe both the cooking of the meat itself and the social dining that inevitably follows the grilling.

Here are some of the ingredients needed to make a proper braai:

  • Wood is the most widely-used braai fuel. It is acceptable, but not optimal, to use charcoal or even *gasp* gas. Some make a bigger deal of this than others (see videos later in post).
  • The typical braai meat include boerewors (sausages of minced beef or pork and spices), sosaties (skewered lamb or chicken), snoek (fish common in South African waters), or marinated chicken, pork chops, or steak.
  • Pap (porridge) is a traditional accompaniment to the cooked meat. Pap is made from ground corn and is similar to polenta or grits. Other popular sides include potato salad and toasties, or grilled sandwiches.
  • Alcohol, particularly beer, is standard. Your only excuse for not having a beer in your hand comes from holding the tongs for the grill.
  • Friends. A braai is not complete without others to share it with.

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(Meat inside Checkers supermarket, Sea Point, Cape Town)

Like gogigui, the braai nicely portrays South Africa’s unique food sensibilities. The braai also tells the unfamiliar guest something about South African culture. South Africans are very hospitable and social people. They are also very proud of their identity and their heritage. For example, the word boerewors literally translates from Afrikaans as “farmer sausage.”

South Africans love to braai so much that some pushed for the country’s Heritage Day, September 24, to be rebranded as National Braai Day, now called Braai4Heritage. Even Archbishop Desmond Tutu, the famous anti-apartheid figure, endorsed the carnivorous holiday. One South African, Jan Scannel, went so far as to get his country in the Guinness World Record Books by grilling non-stop for 30 hours. That’s some serious dedication.

The following youtube clips give a sense of how proud South Africans are of their barbecue. They are both over the top but amusing. To clarify, women can braai just as well as the men can. I bow to Diane.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=GDq5PKzst98 (“The Braai,” uploaded by sneriac)

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ET2ZGLliuuQ&feature=related (“Live and Let Braai,” uploaded by JamesBraai)

During the summer of 2011, I had the pleasure of living in Cape Town, SA. While many aspects of South African culture were foreign to me, I found common ground with many South Africans over their love for the braai. My experience at Mzoli’s, a butchery in one of Cape Town’s townships, Gugulethu, really opened my eyes to the power of food to unite people. Gugulethu is primarily an extremely poor black area which was essentially off-limits to white visitors during apartheid. However, Mzoli’s has changed that. Today, Mzoli’s (http://www.capetownmagazine.com/african/Mzolis–Gugulethus-church-of-meat/92_22_17492) is one of the most popular gathering spaces, for individuals of all colors, in Cape Town because of its simple take on the braai (you eat lamb, chicken, or sausage with your hands and the smell stays with you for days). At Mzoli’s, the concept of “foreigner” or “different” is not as binding as it once was. While I first thought the idea of a national holiday dedicated to grilling was silly, my times at Mzoli’s made me think otherwise. A universal passion for the braai can only benefit South Africa, a country with a fractured past, going forward.

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(The township of Mitchell’s Plain, Cape Town)

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Roasted Chestnuts

November 9, 2012 by

It is my privilege to introduce Kim, an avid recipe tester and cookbook enthusiast. Having lived extensively in Egypt, Iraq and Lebanon, Kim loves to make Middle Eastern cuisine when she is not testing recipes for our cookbook. – Diane

Until recently, chestnuts were a figment of my wintertime imagination- a mysterious nut that was apparently roasted over an open fire, while someone named Jack Frost nipped at your nose. Strangely, it was not until I moved to Egypt that I first tasted chestnuts. When Cairo or the southern Nile villages cool off for their short winter, chestnuts get roasted in along the streets in hand-pushed carts, often accompanied by sweet potatoes or other tasty street snacks. Little old men in little wool caps yell out “Castana! Castana!” enticing passers by to sample their charred chestnuts, which are sold by the kilo straight off the fire.

When I moved to Lebanon many years later, I found chestnuts prepared in the same fashion. On many trips to Turkey I tossed the same piping hot chestnuts between my hands under the snow flurries of Istanbul, cherishing the warm, unique flesh held within an annoying casing of shell and husk. Today, when I was asked to test a raw chestnut salad dressed in peppery vinegar, I was intrigued by the concept of a chestnut being served as anything but a piping hot street treat.

Part of the fun of eating roasted chestnuts is trying to break through the charred shell only to be faced with removing the clingy husk. Sometimes, a chestnut miraculously and easily falls out of both, revealing shiny, brain shaped nutmeat. That fun challenge of peeling the charred chestnut is certainly missing while preparing bammuchim. Peeling a raw chestnut is not fun, but I persisted because the recipe promised me it would be worth it.

When I assembled the final salad: a mix of Korean chives, sliced chestnuts and cucumbers over a bed of thinly sliced Asian pears, I saw a new side of the chestnut. Maybe this salad tastes traditional and homey to a Korean, but to me, it was a new modern spin on the chestnut, revealing potential beyond the open fire and cold winter nights. The salad is bright, and the sharpness of the vinegary dressing pairs well with the slightly sweet crunch of the chestnuts and cucumbers. The green onions provide an herby freshness, and the flavorful Asian pears provide a nice contrast to the dish. I would love to serve this unique dish to friends and family and show them a different side of the chestnut.

To prepare chestnuts as they do in Egypt, Lebanon and Turkey, choose fresh chestnuts that don’t have air between the shell and the meat. Slice an X into the shell, allowing room for the chestnuts to vent once they heat up. Place the chestnuts in a skillet over a medium high flame, and pour in ¼ cup water. Cover the skillet and bring the water to a boil, gently shaking the pan until the water evaporates. The shells of the chestnuts will start to blacken and crackle, but continue to shake the skillet until the shells are mostly charred. As soon as the chestnuts are cool enough to handle, peel off the shell and husk, and enjoy!

Mom’s Yams

October 22, 2012 by

My passion for cooking arises from the curiosity of learning about foods from other cultures and expanding my knowledge in order to improvise how I can complement other foods with those of my Mexican background. Last week, I tested Goguma-matang or candied sweet potatoes that reminded me of a Mexican dish; camotes is a classic that my mom makes often. This is because the diversity of this dish with its mushy potatoes, sweet golden flavor with a touch of cinnamon allows it to be a light dessert after a meal, a sweet snack before bedtime with a cup of milk, or just a simple anytime treat to satisfy that sweet tooth.

I called my mother to ask her for her recipe and I more than ever understood Diane and Grace’s goal in trying to put together a cook book; not an easy task, but definitely worth all the effort. You see, like many housewives, my mother easily spends more than half her day in the kitchen, cooking every day for our large family. Her experience no longer requires her to use measuring cups or keep track of how long something has been cooking for. It’s as simple as “When it’s done, it is done.” Therefore, while asking her for the recipe, I ran into the frustration of what happens every time I need a recipe: I have to stop her after each second to ask how much, how long, or simply how! Luckily, my mother happened to be making her camotes when I called her for the recipe, making it a lot easier to get more accurate guidance. I would like to share her recipe with you:

Los Camotes de Mamá de Maria

Los Camotes de Mamá (Mom’s Yams)
Serves 8

Ingredients:
2 large piloncillos (you can substitute ¾ of a pack of brown sugar)
1 stick of cinnamon
2 cups of water
6 medium-sized yams

  1. Wash yams well.
  2. Cut the yams into thick pieces, about 2 inches wide, and leave the skin on. (My mom likes to cut the yams horizontally in large ovals.)
  3. Combine all ingredients (piloncillos, cinnamon, water and yams) into a medium-sized pot.
  4. Allow mixture to come to a boil.
  5. Lower the temperature to medium-low heat and cover with a lid.
  6. Cook for about 1.5 hours or until the potatoes are tender.
  7. Remove the lid and allow sugar to thicken by raising the temperature to medium high for about 10 minutes, but do not allow the sauce to become too sticky.

Chuseok, Songpyeon and Pretty Daughters

October 1, 2012 by

A recent graduate of UC Berkeley, Maria is working on a career in optometry. She was a tester of recipes for our upcoming cookbook. Grace and I are thrilled that she agreed to share her experiences here with us – Diane

During my summer back in Berkeley, I came across a job posting on Craigslist for a recipe tester position. It was the first time I heard of such a position and immediately became excited at the opportunity of combining my love for cooking and my love for science. While testing recipes for Diane and Grace, it brought me back to my organic chemistry lab days when I had to accurately measure and follow directions in hopes that my experiment turned out well.

A few days ago, I was instructed to test a recipe for making songpyeon (half-moon rice cakes). As usual, I started out by glancing over the recipe before taking a moment to read the history that provides me with some background and allows me to better understand the dish. Reading this portion is something I truly enjoy because it allows me to learn about Korean culture and cuisine. But a sentence caught my attention and made me pause and re-read it. It stated that the person that makes pretty songpyeon will have a pretty daughter. I found this idea captivating and a special touch to the history section of the recipe.

Maria’s first attempt at making songpyeon

However, when I began testing this recipe, this statement started to feel threatening to me. I felt the pressure of making this recipe work because like all women, I want to give rise to pretty daughters. At first, I played around with this idea, jokingly telling Diane that I did not want an ugly daughter, but proceeding with extra caution. Unfortunately, and without a doubt, I failed. Too many things went wrong, and I ran into trouble at almost every step. By the time I needed to shape the rice cakes, I had become frustrated so I decided to form the rice cakes as if I were making Mexican empanadas, something with which I was familiar. This approach did not help either and I lost hope, but carried on. My final product was deformed, oily, mushy, and definitely not pretty.

Yesterday was Chuseok, a day where Koreans celebrate the fall and harvest season with food and drink. Songpyeon is one of the major foods prepared for Chuseok. I want to wish you a Happy Chuseok and the best of luck in making beautiful songpyeon.

Duck, duck, beer

July 5, 2012 by

Sometimes when my sister and I are visiting Seoul, my parents seem to forget that we used to live there. They’ll say, “We’re taking you to this great noodle place,” forgetting that we’ve gone there every year for the last ten years. Which is why I think my dad was so happy to think of a place I’d never been and a food I’d never eaten: 오전명가 (Ohjeon Myeongga) for grilled duck.

We drove about an hour and a half out of the city and ended up on a long curving road up and around Namhansansung, a walled fortress with a long history near Gwangju City in Gyeonggi Province. (If you’ve clicked through to the Namhansansung website, please don’t mention the English translation. I’d make fun of it, but it would be too cheap a shot.) As we drove, my father told a story as meandering as the road about how the king ran away to hide during an invasion. It didn’t sound like it ended too well, but the mountains are now a lush and lovely place popular with weekend hikers.

When we drove up to the restaurant, I automatically walked in the front door and thought, “Where is everyone?” The restaurant was empty because everyone was sitting out back by the creek.

While the adults eat and grill and drink beer and soju to their hearts’ content, their kids wade in the creek and try to catch tadpoles. It made me intensely nostalgic for the days when I was one of those kids.

Luckily, there’s much to enjoy as an adult. Who knows how much I would have enjoyed grilled duck as a child? As an adult, I can attest I enjoy it very much. The meat came marbled and meaty, including some cuts of a tough, hard organ my father said was probably duck heart. I’d never seen raw duck before — its color is obviously richer and redder than chicken, but more burgundy-hued than beef and definitely richer in color than pork. The duck came completely raw and unseasoned, with a giant bowl of chive and onion salad, lettuce, perilla leaves, a couple of tart kimchis, and plenty of salt and fermented bean paste for wrapping everything up.

The food was excellent. As much as I liked the duck, I was enamored with the wild sesame sujebi or torn pasta that was served at the end. I’ve had sujebi before, which are chewy bits of dough cooked in soup, a very cheap Korean lunch. But I’d never had sujebi cooked in wild sesame broth. The seeds had been ground, the broth was thick and almost gritty, with a wonderful, nutty flavor and smell. I was so full of duck by the time it came out, I thought I’d just have a bite or two, but I could not stop eating it. It’s been a while since a Korean dish has really surprised me like this.

Best of all, as new as the duck and the stew and the restaurant were to me, the experience was not. It’d been a long time since I’d been to a restaurant like that, but it was as warm and familiar as my grandmother’s house. I felt like I recognized the creek, the plastic tables, the beer glasses printed with “Cass,” and even the other people enjoying a long and hearty lunch on a balmy Sunday in June. The next time a friend visits me in Korea, this is where I want to take them, to show what my Korea is like.

오전명가

Gyeonggi-do, Gwangju-Si Jungbuhmyun Ohjeonli 309-1

(031) 746-4425

You can find much better photos, including photos of delicious dishes we didn’t try, and a little map on this Korean blog.

Summer soybeans

July 1, 2012 by

I always knew Sandong Kalguksu makes the best knife-cut noodles I’ve ever tasted, but I didn’t know they also made one of the best versions of konguksu. Konguksu is a very popular summer noodle dish in Korea, where plain wheat noodles are served in a large bowl of ice-cold fresh soymilk, usually garnished with a few strips of cucumbers. Normally, it’s served with a little dish of salt for you to flavor to taste. You wouldn’t think it would taste like much. It’s a completely vegetarian, even vegan, meal, but it’s filling and sustaining, and much more enjoyable source of protein than a big piece of fatty meat on a hot summer day.

I wouldn’t have been surprised if the noodles in this konguksu were superb — they were — but what really surprised me was the broth. Most konguksu broths are thin. When I make soymilk for this dish, I push soybeans that have been briefly cooked and then pureed through a strainer. I don’t know how Sandong makes theirs, but they end up with an insanely thick puree of beans that enrobes each bite of noodle. It’s still a soup, but more the consistency of a thick pureed soup than a thin stock.

산동손칼국수

1365 Seocho-2-dong, Seocho-gu

Tel: 02-3473-7972

Bada-bing

June 22, 2012 by

I go to Seoul, Korea, at least once a year, and each time I go, I try to figure out what’s going on. Not with real issues like South Korean attitudes toward North Korea, or who is likely to win the next presidential election. I’m on vacation —  I’m only interested in things like, what is the latest trend in patbingsoo, or Korean shaved ice?

In Korea, patbingsoo, or shaved ice with sweet red beans, is so popular that it’s on the menu at KFC. When I was growing up, patbingsoo was colorful and bounteous — shaved ice with milk, then a big pile of sweet red beans, a scoop of some terrible low-grade ice cream, mass-produced little mochi cakes, and lots of little fruit jellies and/or fruit cocktail. I always pushed my ice cream to the side. It was delicious but tacky.

But patbingsoo now seems to be trending minimalist and classy. My sister Mona and I were in Seoul for over a week before we finally sat down to our first shared patbingsoo (and patbingsoo is always shared, another example of how communal Korean food is), but when we did, we were wowed.

The first was at a cafe chain I’d never seen before called Mango Six, which sells fruit shakes, tapioca drinks, and baked goods, as well as a tremendous shaved ice. My sister’s been obsessed with a new Korean drama called 신사의 품격, (something like “A Gentleman’s Dignity”), and Mango Six clearly has a product placement deal with the show. One of the main characters, who has a haircut that is so bad it’s awesome, runs a Mango Six franchise.

Their version is very simple and beautiful. First, the ice flakes are very fine, barely flakes at all. There’s a good sprinkling of my favorite traditional ingredient, toasted soybean flour. The sticky rice cakes are very high quality, and the round ones that look like hard-boiled eggs cut in half actually have a mango-flavored center. Best of all, what is normally crappy ice cream has been replaced with a scoop of tangy frozen yogurt.

The second patbingsoo we shared was very different but equally inspired. Our cousin Ron told us that the best patbingsoo in Seoul was at Deux Cremes on trendy Garosu-gil. It did not disappoint. I have no idea if their tarts are any good, but if I’m going to judge them by their patbingsoo, this is a cafe that thinks carefully about the small but important things.

It looks almost like a modernist sculpture, no? We ordered the green tea bingsoo, and when we saw other tables getting their patbingsoo, my sister and I panicked, thinking maybe it didn’t come with any red beans. Silly us.

It’s buried in the middle! How brilliant is that? It means you don’t end up eating too much pat with your first bites; the ratio of red beans to ice stays more constant as you dig deeper and deeper into the bowl. The flakes were not nearly as fine as at Mango Six — they were actually a little coarse and the only thing I didn’t like — but the green tea flavor was real and the scoop of ice cream high-quality. Plus, they add salty honey-roasted peanuts. So brilliant, I didn’t even miss not having little rice cakes.

Both versions are a little pricey, about 12,000 or 14,000 won, but as I mentioned before, they’re supposed to be shared. Two is a good number, but really, three or four friends could be pretty happy sharing one as well.

And it’s not just the fancy cafes that are doing these stripped-down bings. Paris Baguette, the ubiquitous bakery chain, was advertising an “old-fashioned” bingsoo with just ice, beans, and injeolmi, the soft squares of rice cakes dusted with soybean flour.

Soju made even more convenient

June 7, 2012 by

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Soju in a box! In an individual portion-size juice box!

Our food, with drinks

June 5, 2012 by

For a long time, coming home to Seoul was all about nostalgia. In the two weeks out of the year I spend in my hometown, I wanted only to make the rounds of all my favorites, eating my fill of cold noodles, dumplings, and all the other basic, beloved foods that are never as good in New York as they are at home. And then when Diane and I started working on the cookbook, I wanted to eat through all the traditional favorites that were never my family’s traditions, like stinky cheonggukjang stew and spicy dakgalbi.

But now, I’m a little more curious what’s new. Seoul has changed so much since I lived here. It makes me a little sad to go shopping in Myeongdong and see edgy design stores selling Toms shoes and Baggu totes — when you live in New York, you want to travel somewhere that reminds you nothing of New York — but I’m hopeful, in food if in nothing else, that Koreans will put their own stamp on whatever they adopt.

수불, or SuhBuhl (my stab at a transliteration), declares, “Our food, with drinks,” on its business cards. Near the top of the winding street at the center of 서래마을, or Seorae Village, in Banpo-dong, SuhBuhl is one of many airy and open restaurants, cafes, izakayas, bakeries, and wine bars that’s transformed this part of town into past ten or so years. Seorae Village is known as the French part of Seoul, the location of the Lycee Francaise and the residential base of the several hundred French expats who live in Seoul, and the proliferation of these hip new places is often attributed to the chic population’s influence, though the famous Paris Croissant bakery, which reportedly sells authentic French bread with imported French flour, feels more uniquely Korean than French (more on that in a later post).

Dining al fresco in Korea used to mean eating at a plastic tarp-covered pojang-macha, sitting on cheap stools if you got a seat at all. SuhBuhl is sleeker. The furniture is all blond wood, clean lines, but not overly designed or luxe. There’s actually a rolled-up curtain of plastic on the open terrace, which is filled with traditional low tables where diners sit on the floor, though with those neat cut-outs I love under the tables for diners’ legs.

It’s a comfortable place with surprisingly comfortable food, despite its reputation for fusion cooking. There’s a whole page devoted to makgeolli, the fizzy Korean rice wine, and an extensive wine menu.  Unlike many Korean wine bars, they actually sell wine by the glass, even if it’s only one white and one red. (The white was very serviceable for a warm night.)

The menu is divided into salads, different kinds of meats, and stews, all remniscent of Korean food, especially Korean drinking food, but with small, surprising changes. I would have loved to try more of the menu, but four of the dishes was more than enough for the four of us, since they were in classic Korean drinking food portions.

We started with the tofu sesame salad, which was very plain but also quite fresh. Korea has an incredible variety of greens and sprouts, and it was a good, crisp contrast to our other, richer dishes.

The fried chicken in black sesame sauce was my favorite. Both this and the sweet and sour pork dish were fried right, completely dry and with a crust strong enough to stand up to the sauce without getting soggy. The fried chicken actually tasted quite a bit like traditional sweet and sour Korean-Chinese food, but with a slightly nutty flavor. My sister thought it was a bit sweet, but I have a soft spot for anything that reminds me of my childhood sweet and sour favorite, tangsooyook, and there wasn’t a hint of gooeyness or gluey-ness in the sauce.

One touch that felt very Korean to me were the plentiful vegetable garnishes, even on the meaty main dishes. There were also nice pickles that were not kimchi. Most Korean bar food isn’t very herbaceous since the craving for fat that comes with being drunk doesn’t normally include a craving for salad. But Korean food for me is at its best when there are strong contrasts between fatty and crisp, rich and acidic. The steak in a spicy gochujang sauce didn’t feel so Korean, mainly because the beef was rare and tender and the sauce not fiery hot, but the enormous bed of soybean sprouts and zucchini did. The fried garlic on top was a nice touch, especially in the quantity. You can see that there’s an attention to plating (which in itself is not foreign to Korean cooking as bright colors and garnishes are important), but it’s not at all fussy.

This was probably the least interesting dish, even if it was, like the fried sesame chicken, quite tasty. I should have looked more closely at the menu, but I think it may have been fried with sweet rice flour, which would explain its nice chewiness. In fact, as tangsooyook, I would have been thrilled. Not too much sauce, dry fried. It was probably a bit too similar to the fried chicken dish, not that that stopped me from eating plenty of it. It’s the kind of food you could eat a piece of every couple of minutes all night long, especially if you’re in a drunken stupor.

We were not. Our normally hard-drinking cousins were abstaining from anything stronger than beer and wine, and only in small doses. There are so many good places to eat in Seoul, I’m not sure I would rush back, but it’s such a pleasant space and the kind of place you could happily bring a date or a visiting friend or even kids — there were quite a few families eating when we got there. The food wasn’t as expensive as you might think, with each dish hovering in the 20,000 won range and big enough to feed many, though with drinks I’m sure the bill would add up. And I would love to take a crack at that list of makgeolli.

수불: 서초구 반포동 88-6, 영창 빌딩 1층, (02) 3478-0886

Suhbuhl: Seocho-gu, Banpo-dong 88-6, Youngchang Building 1st Floor, tel: (02) 3478-0886.

Easy Portland

June 3, 2012 by

We didn’t eat here, but I loved this sign on Alberta Street.

Portland has more of a sense of humor than you might expect from Portlandia. But it’s still not a biting humor. It’s more mildly self-deprecating and still more earnest than anything you would find in New York. Even the mustachioed baristas serving important coffee have kind, open, and beautiful faces. If every man with a mustache was as beautiful as the one at Stumptown, then I say, mustaches for all!

House bresaola with pickled strawberries and arugula at Tasty N Sons.

It was a very short trip, and I admit I felt too self-conscious to photo-document everything I ate. We ate at Portland favorites like Tasty n Sons and Pok Pok, where the food and vibe were deliciously casual, not necessarily better than food I might get in New York, but without any weariness or attitude.

We went to the Good Food Here food cart pod for lunch on Saturday, where the hits were Lardo’s porchetta (oozing with fat and infinitely better than the dull Porchetta at the Brooklyn Flea) and “dirty” fries which are tossed with bits of pork. But really, everything we ate was satisfying and made with care.

All these eggs went into two frittatas.

And Sunday brunch was made at our rental home with eggs, onions and herbs, smoked salmon, the best Jarlsberg ever (which is a greater endorsement than you might think), and Tails and Trotters‘ incredible bacon and “Mojo” pulled pork from the Portland farmers’ market at Portland State University. My friend was standing in line for tamales (also excellent), when the friendly woman behind her told us we had to get the bacon at T&T. In my Brooklyn artisanal-weariness, I almost dismissed this idea. I don’t even liked pulled pork — it’s usually so boring — but both the pulled pork and the bacon had wonderful, easygoing seasonings that were just interesting enough, but still deferential to the porkiness of the pork.

The market also had the deepest, darkest peonies I’ve ever seen. And a didgeridoo player, with children and random adults awkwardly but happily dancing  to its weird sounds.

Detention Bar.

My friends and I aren’t big drinkers, at least as a group, but I was glad we got a pre-dinner drink the McMenamins Kennedy School, which is an elementary school converted into a hotel, complete with brewery, bars, movie theater, and soaking pool. The soaking pool looked wonderful (and only $5 per hour!), but I can’t understand how they make money. The pubs were so small, including the Detention Bar we sat in. There’s a tremendous amount of care and thought put into the semi-retro, semi-Deco atmosphere, but the drinks didn’t seem so expensive, and the room rates are quite reasonable. It’s a wild and all-encompassing business, from hotel to restaurant to distillery — the White Dog whiskey I had from Edgefield Distillery was lovely.

Even the changeable weather was beautiful in its own way.

There were plenty of tattooed, pierced, Potlandia-type characters to look at, but this is a city that offers, in its own sweet way, to fix bad tattoos.