Nuvrei Hazelnut

Portland feels like the kind of party you might have in up in snow country, where you make a couple invitations and put out the bruschetta as people start to trickle in and kick off their boots, and all of a sudden the house is packed with flannel and beards and the fireplace is crackling and no one leaves til the next morning cause it’s just too darn cold out. It’s as if a bunch of tiny towns got lonely and decided to pick up their foundations and shuffle in cozy. The vibe is sleepy and peaceful and neighborhood chummy; the main streets run a couple blocks long and every house has a front yard [yes, there are houses instead of apartment buildings]. There’s no double-decker bus to trundle around and snap photos of grand monuments, or sprinting across town cause you’re late for a show. But that’s exactly why MJW and I went. “It’s a cool city,” people had told us — that sounded good enough.

Portland Orange

The takeaways: microbreweries upon microbreweries, coffee shops upon coffee shops, exceptional temperature regulation on the part of the locals [light fleeces] and not on mine [fur and wool and nearly hypothermic], fantastic thin crust pizza, excessively enthusiastic Yelp reviews, and a precisely 15 minute bike ride to anywhere. Mostly we ate, and I was more than satisfied.

Nong's Chicken+Rice

Downtown food cart Nong’s Khao Man Gai advertises only one item on their hand-Sharpied sign: khao-man-gai, aka chicken and rice. The shutters swung open from the front of the cart are plastered with magazine articles and newspaper clippings citing their chicken in various “best of” and insider foodie tip lists; the crowd gathered seemed to support the accolades. In reality, poached chicken can only be so good. Still, the meat was moist, the accompanying chili sauce was killer, and the delicate poaching liquid soup a welcome shot of warmth while huddled against the wind.

Lardo Cauliflower+PorkBelly

Lardo, where the pork belly/egg/cheese sandwich was overshadowed by the fried cauliflower with tangy chimichurri.

Willamette Bridge

I couldn’t get over the idea of traversing a body of water to get from one side of the city to the other. And doing so by bike — sucking in the damp breeze, rattling with the vibrations of the bridge, feeling my stomach lurch in the vast height above the water — was even more incredible. The Willamette River is criss-crossed by eleven bridges in the Portland area, and looking up- or downstream gave the impression of layers upon layers of steel and concrete all tangled and merged.

Mississippi Trucks

Back to food carts! In contrast to SF’s mobile truck scene, which has you feverishly scanning Twitter feeds to locate your regular haunt, or showing up to Off the Grid only to be disappointed by the selection [let’s throw it out there that I am neither of these types of fanatics – I love the serendipity of food on wheels, of being happily surprised every time I happen onto something new or am revisited by an old favorite], Portland is all about “pods” — clusters of carts permanently cemented in place and relied on for semi-regular hours.

Miss Kate's Chicken

Allow me to reiterate what is clearly drool-worthy about this photo: fried chicken, bacon, and a fried egg drowning in gravy, balanced inside a massive biscuit, surrounded by a moat of collard greens.

Koi Fusion Kalbi

And to offset all that fatty goodness, a peppy kalbi taco topped with kimchi and crisp fresh slaw. Sneakily fantastic.

Widmer Brewery

Lest you panic that I’d neglected Portland’s raging craft beer scene, I’ll admit . . . I don’t really love beer [gasp!] so it wasn’t too high on my priority list. Still, when in Portland . . .

Widmer Columbia Common

Widmer isn’t exactly an indie operation, but they do offer tours and MJW is a sucker for large vats of grain. The most exciting part, naturally, was the tasting, and our guide was generous enough to smuggle in a keg of their new seasonal spring ale to sample before it went out for distribution. This would have been my “posing with a celebrity” shot if I had gotten it out, oh, two months ago, but I can pretend it means something about being in the know even now.

Nuvrei Passion Fruit

The morning after our woodland party, with guests wrapped in knit blankets and strewn about couches: you put a pot of coffee on the stovetop and organize dessert for breakfast — a perfect slow ease into the day.

Posted in Around the world, Eat This | 2 Comments

Happy Holidays!

Without the usual family activities to satisfy my Christmas urges — decorating the tree, singing carols, sneaking around with rolls of tape and ribbons — the focus naturally turned to food. But not being a large-hunk-o’-meat person, I wasn’t exactly jumping at the chance to perfect my oven-roasting skills. So in honor of the Jewish Chinese take-out tradition, Christmas dinner was Korean bibimbap — a crispy rice bowl with lots of fresh veggies and spicy pork, topped with a fried egg and homemade hot sauce. My desert island meal, no question.

Christmas Bibimbap

And as an alternative to the standard sugar cookie Santas, I whipped up a batch of Argentinian dulce de leche stuffed alfajores. There’s no such thing as too many colored sprinkles.

Christmas Alfajores

Hope everyone had a fantastic Hanukkah, Kwanzaa, Christmas, and Boxing Day!

Posted in Eat This | 1 Comment

Taller de Arquitectura: The Studio

[All images care of Ricardo Bofill, via Arch Daily and Twisted Sifter]

These photos have been open in my browser for over a week now, lurking alongside my active tabs, on standby for a short notice pick-me-up. I’ll take a peek here and there — drooling over the vast vaulted ceilings and clean color palette, the lush jungle of overgrown ivy and floods of natural light — and imagine creating a living space a tenth as bold and luxurious as this.

The amazing story: the complex was originally a cement factory built in the early 1900’s, subsequently abandoned and left to ruin, and then discovered by Spanish architect Ricardo Bofill in 1973. Located on the outskirts of Barcelona in Sant Just Desvern, the factory included over thirty silos and massive machinery rooms both above and below ground. Amid the crumbling walls and mangled iron struts and silent industrial mixers, Bofill saw the skeleton of a stunning architecture office and went to work.

In two years of demolition and reconstruction, the structure was pared down to eight silos containing offices, a library, a modeling room, a gallery space called “The Cathedral” — used for concerts, exhibitions, lectures, and other events — and Bofill’s own house and guest rooms: the Taller de Arquitectura was born.

I’m a total sucker for industrial materials and strict geometric lines, not to mention unexpectedly repurposed spaces, and this smooshes all of those into one stunning whole. I love the staircases marching towards the sky, the sweeping floor-to-ceiling curtains, the rough walls and nicked corners . . . It’s absolutely incredible to me that any one person can conceptualize structures like this studio in their entirety — from the scale of a stadium down to the arc of light from a window, the vision required is monumental. And in this case, it must have been more difficult in some ways to excavate the beauty within an existing structure than to pluck a castle fresh out of thin air. Forget Gaudí’s whimsies and Catalan Modernista, this gem is sitting pretty at the top of my next Barcelona trip list.

“I am a nomad, I am still a nomad, a traveller without port, required to establish reference points according to my journey. I was born in Barcelona, my father was catalan and my mother from Venice, I am at the crossroads of two cultures that clashed and melted throughout history.

In my early years I crossed the straights of Gibraltar, going south, and discovered in the valley of Draa villages built with cubes, piled up and constructed according to the families’ rhythm of growth, and despite that, strangely well-ordered, organic, profoundly architectural. All around, the desert; the fantastic shapes of dunes, constantly transformed by strong winds that appeared before me as essential elements, beyond anything that we can draw. The rose sands of the Teneré desert, outlined against the indigo sky, the endless spaces of rocks and stones, were my initiation to absolute beauty.

In the desert I met the nomads, the blue men of the Sahara, people that belong to an ancient civilization. I discovered that they understood the abstract concept of space better than anybody and we became best friends.

To be an architect means to understand space, to understand space organized by man, to decipher the spontaneous movements and behaviour of people, and to detect the needs of change that they might unconsciously express.

The factory is a magic place which strange atmosphere is difficult to be perceived by a profane eye. I like the life to be perfectly programmed here, ritualised, in total contrast with my turbulent nomad life.”

-Ricardo Bofill [Excerpt from Twisted Sifter]

Posted in Design | Leave a comment

And while we’re in this corner of the Pacific . . .

Part two of the Hawaii adventure, since Kaua`i is just a quick jaunt from Oahu and it would have been a shame not to pop in to see family there, too . . .

First shave ice of the trip! I’m not a huge fan — it’s too cloyingly sweet for me — but when in Hawaii, and especially with guests . . .

Ahh, now that’s more my style! Wild guava on the Kalalau Trail, along the beautiful Napali coast. SD and I developed a highly technical guava-gathering system that involved her vigorously shaking the guava tree and me poised below, darting this way and that in a reverse whack-a-mole attempt to catch the fruit as they fell. Totally successful.

My uncle and his family just call this rainforest “Jurassic Park” after the movie filmed there [rusty remnants of the entrance gate flank the road in], but it’s officially the base of Mt. Wai`ale`ale, which for a long time held the record for the wettest place on Earth. The hike is a staple of any Kaua`i trip. First a pleasant walk down a pothole-ridden dirt road to a drop-in spot into an irrigation channel. The water winds down through the mountains to the fields below — sugarcane, I believe, way back when — frigidly cold and fresh. Armed with all the flotation devices we could scrounge up — including some toddler-sized bodyboards and a floating “chair” minus the mesh part you’re supposed to sit in — we plunged in and entered a pitch-black concrete tunnel just tall enough not to whack your skull but not quite deep enough to avoid scraping your knees and feet on the rocky bottom. The current rushes you along as your eyes strain to catch a glimpse of . . . anything. Finally a teeny bright speck appears in the distance — you’re not sure if it’s the exit or just your light-deprived eyes playing tricks on you — and eventually you emerge into a pool of water below a small waterfall. The fall is a convergence of two streams — you can climb up the step-like rocks and find strawberry guava trees bearing along the branch to the left — and below the water again splits between its natural course and a continuation of the irrigation route. When it’s sunny out, it’s a perfect place for a picnic and an afternoon spent lazing on rocks and jumping into the pool from the rope swing on the slope above, but this day was pouring rain and we only stayed long enough to snack on guava and snap a couple photos before hiking back.

On our way out . . .

A wild pig hunt! The boy holding the innards had just butchered the pig with a small knife under the watchful eyes of a couple older men, careful not to puncture any organs and taint the meat. They then washed out the carcass in the stream and packed it into the truck, ready for a luau!

Wailua Falls — beautiful from above, even more awe-inspiring when you’re right underneath it. We tried to swim in between the streams, but the whipping water was so fierce that it was hard to breathe and impossible to see, and the unrelenting current was exhausting to fight against. Back at the top we got a fresh coconut from a vendor in the parking lot — the top hacked off and a red straw dropped into the water. Simple, delicious.

Posted in Around the world, Eat This | 1 Comment

Oahu, if you insist

Sometimes there’s no way around it — no matter how many “dog ate my homework” excuses you come up with you just have to take a spur-of-the-moment trip to Hawaii. It might be a sudden convergence of inescapable factors, including $350 roundtrip tickets and a foreign friend with exemplary peer pressuring skills [“when ELSE am I EVER going to get to GO??” in a Swiss-German accent – so compelling]. It might be a painful decision to tack on a weekend in Kauai after budgeting more than a week for Oahu. But in times like these you’d best schedule a long trip to make all that trouble worthwhile.

So SD and I found ourselves strolling down Waikiki on a late Friday night in September, bikinis shimmied into in the back of the car, stale plane air washed away with tropical water, bare feet sinking into the sand, listening to cover bands hidden on rooftop tiki bars . . . Not a bad way to celebrate my second week of work, eh? [oh right, just slipped that one in after signing the papers]

If only every “No Trespassing” sign was as enticing as this one . . .

The famous Stairway to Heaven is a set of 3,922 steps [yup, counted every one] barely clinging to the sliver of a mountain ridge over half a mile high. Originally constructed by the Navy in 1942 to string antenna cables from one side of the valley to the other, with two giant antennae mounted at the peak, the stairway has since cycled through periods of repairs and closures due to safety concerns and is currently shut down. Because of this it’s remained a relatively well-kept secret, but that’s not to say there aren’t some of us who have a tendency to poo-poo warning signs.

The first time I climbed the stairs was ages ago, after noticing tiny figures amid the greenery while driving past on the highway you can see above and snooping around the neighborhood to find the base of the trail. I must have been in my early teens. My parents dropped off my friends and me, watched us squeeze through a slit in the barbed wire gate at the dirt road entrance, and we were off! Sections of the steps had fallen away and we hauled ourselves up vertical faces with frayed ropes; avoiding someone coming the other direction meant climbing over the guardrail and cantilevering out over empty air since there wasn’t enough space for two bodies to pass. When we got back to the bottom a crew of policemen was waiting to round us up. We huddled with the other hikers for a few minutes before making a run for it: into another hole in the fence! running pell-mell through the jungle! red dirt smears and leaf scratches!

This time SD and I didn’t see a single soul, and it was lovely and beautiful if a little tamer than usual.

You think illegal adventures like that can be tackled unprepared?? Oh no, it’s all about the breakfast of champions, and we made sure to start the days off right with an epic farmer’s market feast: crusty rustic bread, truffle butter [mind-blowingly decadent and delicious], homemade strawberry guava jam, papaya [looking scary fluorescent but that’s all natural], taro sweet bread, fresh yogurt, and local mango-ginger granola. Served on the lanai with a view down to the ocean . . . if I could wake up like this every morning my soul would be content.

As for the farmer’s market, it’s the Kapiolani Community College Saturday market I’ve mentioned before — used to be a handful of produce stalls and a couple cooked food vendors, but it’s now ballooned into a full-fledged outdoor mall that attracts tour buses by the dozens. I love it despite the crowds. Where else can you try seaweed pesto, strawberry and red bean mochi, and grilled abalone without burning a single calorie in transit?

The abalone verdict: a chewy oyster in a pretty shell — make a necklace so you can say you’ve gotten your money’s worth. On the other hand, the tuna sashimi “tacos” on tempura-battered kale and zucchini were fantastic.

We felt a little guilty about going overboard [ahem, see spread above], but let’s be honest, everything was devoured in a matter of days.

Helooooooo, OBAMA!!!

We might have swum along the waterfront houses by Lanikai, just in case the Obama residence had a plaque or something conveniently pointing it out to passersby. We might have also hiked a ridge above town to better spot a pool shaped like a bald eagle. Alas, there were no obvious clues by air or sea.

And to leave you with the sweet, sweet essence of garlic steeping out your pores and wafting off your tongue for the rest of the day [and tomorrow, and probably the next]: the one and only Giovanni’s shrimp truck. The North Shore town of Kahuku is the shrimp farm mecca of Oahu, and about ten years ago someone made the mental leap from farming to cooking and the shrimp truck craze was born. Giovanni’s is, purportedly, the first of the breed, although I haven’t tried enough to crown one the best. The extra spicy was nothing to fuss about, but the classic garlic butter — take your favorite shrimp scampi recipe and quadruple the garlic, double the grease, and pour over good old-fashioned sticky rice — was back-for-seconds-and-thirds delicious.

Posted in Around the world, Eat This | 3 Comments