In the week I've been here the climate has gone from lovely and bright "end of summer" skies, with temps in the low 70's, to cold, windy and downright blustery. It would seem that they take the changing of season both literally and seriously here.
I flew into Portland on a Thursday and had an amazing reunion with Kathy, who I had been Skyping with, but hadn't seen in 42 years. She drove me south of of Portland and down into the N. Central farm country and guided us expertly to our first country farm stand. I was craving corn, corn and more corn, but the late season bounty in this part of the world had me filling bag after bag with produce long out of season in the rest of the country. I couldn't believe my good fortune at finding luscious ripe peaches and my favorites, nectarines. We also loaded up on all three of the berry brothers; black, rasp and blue.
My first night here in Oregon I was presented with a local organic chicken and my choice of vegetables from the garden; my kind of challenge. I stuffed the chicken with stems of lemon-oregano from the garden along with a couple of lemon halves, surrounded it with small garden fresh onions, carrots, whole garlic cloves and potatoes and fired that baby in the oven. I basted it with a mix of lemon juice, olive oil and butter and it emerged from the hot oven a lovely and crisp burnished gold. We added some local green beans (from our earlier stop) sauteed with mushrooms and topped with toasted pine nuts, and of course a couple of ears of sweet local corn. I made a quickie sauce out of the pan drippings and it was country eating at its finest.
Sunday we made the drive out to the coast along the Alsea River and it was a gorgeous pre-Fall day. The maples were turning color, the river was flowing and the road from Corvallis to the coast winds through some dense and verdant forest. We had hoped for fresh Dungeness crab, whole and kicking, but settled for a bag of fresh, local crab meat instead.
I smashed up oyster crackers and along with an herbed mayonnaise that I'd concocted at Kathy's house, lightly bound the crabmeat into six fat crab cakes. I pan fried them and we topped them with more of the herbed mayo and served them with roasted potatoes and a salad of baby spinaches, romaine and peppery radishes, also from the garden. The crabcakes came out perfectly; crisp, light and tasting "oh so crabby".
The following morning we hit the Yachats beach and strolled along, peering into the tide pools while watching two maniacs head out into the freezing surf in their bathing suits. It always amazes me to remember that this is the same ocean I see every day in Costa Rica. It seems so different in color, smell and even in its temperament. The ocean in Oregon is percussive, slamming and sailing into the coast with a power and fury we rarely see way down the coast.
We were all about seafood after the walk so went to a funky chic local spot called appropriately enough, The Drift Inn. Kathy went for more crab in a very nice salad with avocado, crisp romaine and artichoke hearts and I had local halibut done up in crisp breading served with herbed handcut french fries in a great regional take on fish and chips.
That night we went out to see my sister Nancy and her husband Mark's lovely house along the Yachats River and luckily ran into a lovely large hunk of local salmon; a big filet weighing in at at least three pounds. Mark had fired up the grill and I made a glaze for the salmon out of seeded dijon mustard, honey and tamari. My sister had snipped green beans from her garden the way our mom used to when we were small and she sauteed them the same way we had eaten them years ago, with chunks of bacon (although I think this bacon may have had a bit more of a pedigree than Mom's). Mark had made focaccia that he topped with thin slices of homegrown onion and yellow crookneck squash and put back in the oven until the veggies were just cooked.
The fish came off the grill, full of that rich salmon smell that I have missed in the tropics. I love salmon and my mouth was drooling from the aromatics coming off the little Weber. We plated salmon chunks cut from the roast, the bacon-y green beans and wedges of focaccia and we nearly ran to the table. Not much was said for the first five minutes or so, which is always a good sign. The meal was perfect and I got a serious salmon fix.
Sadly, the following day was the journey back to reality, but we made a stop in Eugene at the 5th St. Market and a great bistro called Marche, for the type of food I crave down in Central America. I stared off with half a dozen Totten Bay oysters on the half shell, briny and crisp tasting; almost like falling face down in the chilly ocean. We shared a salad of Little Gem lettuces tossed with an "anchoide" dressing (read, Caesar), thin shards of good Parmesan and garlicky thin crostini along with a BLT with applesmoked bacon, braised pork belly and heirloom tomatoes. We finished the meal with a classic vanilla bean creme brulee. It was a perfect "American Bistro" meal.
We came back to steaks from beef raised by Kathy's neighbors one night and a pot of lentils cooked with smoked ham hocks the next. Tonight will be braised organic chicken thighs in a sauce of roasted garden tomatoes and tomorrow I am, more than grudgingly, in the skies back to Austin and then Costa Rica. I do, however, have the ever-growing Austin Farmer's Market to look forward to; lots of fall vegetables and seriously tasty goodies from my friend Jesse Griffith and his Dai Due butcher shop. There will be at least one more epic feast at my sister Barbara's house in Austin. And it is starting to get just a bit chilly here for my wardrobe, it's time to admit. I've got to get back to where flip-flops, shorts and a loose shirt are the norm, if not slightly overdressed.