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This has been an unfortunate, yet necessary hiatus from posting for me, for personal reasons. Chaos in life does not always make for smooth blogging. But I just got back from such an amazing trip to Santa Cruz, full of delicious food and drink, that I couldn’t not blog about it.

Many of my favorite food memories center not around eating out, but eating in. Being around a table in a home, with good people and good conversation really can’t be beat for me. California in particular, with its eucalyptus trees and beaches and bouganvilla bushes just reminds me of my childhood in such a warm, comforting way. So when I have a chance to visit, I do. Close friends of mine (one of those just ridiculously well-matched married couples that secretly give you the warm fuzzies) just moved to Malaysia for a few months, and were spending their last few days stateside in Santa Cruz with her brother, a recent culinary school grad now working at a great winery called Bonny Doon.

One night we took advantage of the pork belly he had hanging around (as culinary school grads do) and made a simple arugula salad and roasted potatoes with Romesco sauce to accompany it. Paired with some amazing wines (including an excellent Tempranillo given as pay-in-trade with literally duct tape as a label — how do I sign up for that?) this was a meal that made me so glad that I took this last-minute trip, despite the obstacles. Not to get sappy, but this is why I love food and chose to blog about it. I’m going to try to approximate the romesco sauce recipe here — we added spices as we went so I’ve estimated an amount but then don’t be afraid to add a little more at a time until you’re happy with it. You want this to be spicy, smoky, tangy and bright.

I’m also pleased to announce that the leftover sauce was used on eggs and homemade pizza on subsequent nights — the gift that keeps on giving!

And, because it’s California, a pic of the excellent tacos I ate on my last day. So fresh!

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Just a few snaps from the lovely Portland Farmer’s Market, which I visited in the park blocks on Wednesday.

Bunk Sandwiches is not a place you’d come across just by walking around Portland. It’s in a strange spot, just over the Morrison Street Bridge, in between a music shop and an extremely sketchy bar in a fairly industrial few blocks. Its storefront is probably 15 feet wide. But it was buzzing with activity when we stopped there for lunch yesterday. I’m sure anyone who works in the area knows and loves it, since the other lunch options around are limited essentially to Subway. Why anyone would pay for a crap sandwich from Subway when such delicious sandwiches are throwing distance, I will never know.

Bunk also has some great branding — their simple logo is stamped on everything, from the coffee cups to the paper that sits under the sandwiches to the t-shirts for sale (they say Bunkity Bunk Bunk on the back — I almost wanted to get one). They also serve other local goodies, like cupcakes and “pie holes” and the famous Stumptown Coffee, which has now made its way to Brooklyn thankfully. I enjoyed a very delicious roast chicken salad sandwich with applewood bacon and avocado, and Brian went for the meatball sub. Both excellent choices. I think Bunk has officially made the list of mandatory Portland visit stops.

That’s me sniffing lemon mint in my backyard.

OK so I’ve had a slow start to blogging on my vacation…but I’m having dinner at le pigeon tonight, lunch at Bunk Sandwiches tomorrow, and definitely visiting Domaine Serene vineyard on Friday. I did eat a delicious chicken gyro at the food carts on 10th & Alder today but no photos. Soon, however, I promise some tasty write-ups and hopefully nice snaps too. And I have a recipe for beet & sweet potato latkes with apple celery slaw that’s sitting unpublished (must…edit…photos) so never fear, much to come. But first, birthday dinner! Catch you later!

Tomorrow night, I will be flying to Portland, Oregon for a week of vacation. Fingers crossed I get some sun. Like my trip last August, I’ll have a foodie focus on top of the usual friends & fam stuff — I’m definitely looking to revisit some of the amazing food cart “pods” all over the city, I’m having a birthday dinner at Le Pigeon, and hopefully will make it down to Domaine Serene for a wine tasting, on my friend Nick’s recommendation. Other spots on my list…

http://www.pokpokpdx.com/

http://www.clydecommon.com/default.aspx

http://www.mothersbistro.com/about.html

http://www.clarklewispdx.com/

http://saraveza.com/

http://www.bunksandwiches.com/

Let’s see how many I can hit! I’ll be posting from PDX all week…

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I’m slightly embarrassed that I need outside sources to know where the best food is in Portland — blogs, magazines, the Food Network — since I suppose I’m from there. But in my defense, I haven’t actually lived there in 8 years, and even then I was in high school. Not exactly taking myself across town to find the best ingredients, or throwing down money on fancy dinners.

The food scene in Portland has also exploded in recent years, and I just haven’t spent enough time there to figure it out. So my visit to Otto’s Sausage Co. in the Woodstock area was based on seeing a feature on, don’t laugh, Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives. As annoying as you may find Guy Fieri, I do think the show manages to uncover some hidden (or not so hidden) gems.

Sausages are a weakness of mine — well, hot dogs, to be more specific. They’re one guilty pleasure that I ate as a kid and still crave. So when I heard about Otto’s, I had to go, especially since my parents actually have a grill on which to cook these delicious sausages. It’s an unassuming little place that feels a bit like it was plucked from the past and dropped into 2009, and when we arrived, there was an outdoor grill set up and plenty of folks chowing down at picnic tables, even on a Monday afternoon.

We picked up a selection of Kielbasa, frankfurters, and smoked pork sausages. These sausages had that signature good hot dog snap, the kind of gross yet very satisfying moment your teeth break through the casing. I didn’t get any pictures of the actual sausages, mostly out of laziness, but I’ll use the excuse that we ate them before I had a chance!

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So I’m back at work. How did that happen?? One minute I was cruising through the Northwest countryside, and now I’m staring at my computer screen again. Sigh. I’ll always have the memories. I still have at least one more vacation-related post after this one, so just hang onto your hats.

I had a lot of wonderful food-related experiences while on vacation, but perhaps the most impressive was dinner at Bizzarro in Seattle. Bizzarro is an Italian cafe in the Green Lake neighborhood, a bit off the beaten path, and I’d heard it was incredible. The place is tiny, and the decor is kitschy and warm, with furniture hanging from the ceiling and wooly fake spiders swinging from the chandeliers. To give you an idea of how popular this place is, we arrived at 6:45 on a Tuesday night and had to wait an hour for a table.

It was worth the wait.

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Last night, after spending some time at the Doug Fir, a strangely calculated and even more strangely attended bar in SE Portland, we headed off to SE 12th and Hawthorne to check out some more food carts on a friend’s recommendation. Good late night grub. It was when we pulled up across the street and saw the bustling scene, complete with white lights on strings and numerous picnic tables, that I realized how big the food cart movement is in Portland.

I guess it makes perfect sense, if you have a large number of small, local food producers, that they might band together and create this kind of environment. Running a food cart (even for nearly 20 hours a day, which is how long these carts are open) must be significantly cheaper than renting permanent space. And by clumping the carts together, you’re each benefitting from the others’ popularity. I’m not sure how well-loved they are by the neighboring businesses (someone’s car got towed from a nearby parking lot while we were there, the poor girl running down the street yelling a friend’s name with a cone of Belgian style fries in her hand) but it is a fairly sparsely populated area, and so they must benefit from the foot traffic at least a little.

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I had a crepe with ham and gruyere, and Brian had a Philly cheesesteak. We shared a delicious vanilla milkshake. I didn’t have my trusty camera with me, so I used my favorite iPhone application, “Shake It”, to get a few Polaroid-esque shots.

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Quick post from Portland here…spinach

Having lived in Beaverton, Oregon throughout middle school and high school, I never really appreciated Portland as much as I could have. Teenage angst and all. But Downtown Portland is really only a 15 minute drive away, and in the intervening years, the food scene has exploded. One of the major attractions is the many high quality food carts.

Brian and I drove down to check it out — a major concentration exists at Alder and 9th / 10th Avenues. And it was something to behold! There were about 20 carts, selling all kinds of cuisines, from Thai to Mexican to artisan sandwiches. It was awesome. I decided on Ziba’s Pitas — which are less pitas than stuffed fried dough…like a cross between a pastry and spanikopita. The dough is somewhat chewy and flaky at the same time, and apparently this cuisine is Bosnian. Bosnian! Have you ever eaten Bosnian food? Probably not.

I got the full plate, which included this bright red sauce (apparently roasted vegetables) which was slightly spicy and bitter. It was a nice contrast to the cool cucumber and sour cream salad. Vaguely Greek or Middle Eastern, but definitely its own thing.

Here are a few more pictures of the very idyllic scene. Soon I’ll post about my trip to the Portland institution Otto’s Sausage Company! Off to Seattle…

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Back in Brooklyn, after a whirlwind trip to Ireland for a lovely wedding, with no time to rest!

I learned a few things this long holiday weekend, not necessarily in this order: 1) Fish and chips really do cure a hangover. 2) Despite being known for Guinness, there’s not a lot of great beer to be had in Ireland. 3) Abekebabra (fast food chain serving, what else, kebabs) is great when you’re starving at midnight, but you will regret eating it 5 seconds later. 4) I really like drinking tea.

While I was abroad I also got word on the details of this cook-off I’m participating in at the Bell House in Brooklyn. Basically I’m freaking out. I have to cook enough bread pudding for 350 people to taste it, and the judges are pretty freaking intimidating. I’m incredibly excited for the opportunity but now I have to figure out how many pounds of flour and sugar I’ll need, how many dozen eggs, how many gallons of milk…..it’s a little nuts! Plus I have to figure out how to get 5+ 13×9 pans of bread pudding (still warm) to this venue. Here are details about the event, if you’re interested: The Brooklyn Beer Experiment.

Anyway, I will leave you with sheep, the interior of Claffey’s Pub, where we went after the wedding and before the reception (obviously), and our incredible room at the wedding venue, which we didn’t get to enjoy nearly as much as I’d have liked. Mostly because we were drinking until 3 and then we were too hungover. But I don’t want to talk about it.

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