Portland: A Food Biography Will Make You Fall in Love with Portland

Portland: A Food BiographyPortland: A Food Biography by Heather Arndt Anderson
My rating: 5 of 5 stars

Tourists and Portlandia fans may have certain ideas about Portland’s food scene. Visions of food carts, hippie vegan restaurants, grilled cheese buses, blue cheese ice cream shops, and mile-long brunch lines dance in their heads. Yes, those are all a part of Portland’s bustling and dynamic culinary culture today–but how did it all begin?

In Portland: A Food Biography, Breakfast A History author and Portland native Heather Arndt Anderson starts from our fair city’s not-so-humble beginnings, when the land was wild and teeming with native plants and animals. The book shows how the first Portlanders (from the Chinook and Kalapuya tribes) fished, hunted, and gathered Camas and wapato for sustenance.

Later, immigrants from around the world settled in Stumptown, bringing with them their own varied culinary traditions. What will be especially interesting to Portland residents today is seeing the remnants of this history in the corners of our current neighborhoods. Those fig trees dropping their fruit on the sidewalks of Southeast Portland? Those were planted by Italian families around the turn of the twentieth century. Commonly referred to as the whitest city in America, Portland–as revealed in this book–has a richer, more diverse culinary history than I would have imagined.

Portland was also home to its share of lovable oddballs, and Arndt Anderson found them all. Farmers, feminists, prohibitionists, teetotalers, vegetarians, barkeeps, restaurant owners, and canning factory managers populate these pages, often spouting off amazing quips about their love for Portland. Take this one, for example:

American publisher and early game law reformer Charles Hallock wrote effusively in 1891 of the variety of waterfowl that the Northwest has to offer, of “the exquisite preparation nature has made for their accommodation and the long season for hunting them, with which we sportsmen are blessed,” and insisted that the tales of Oregon’s duck-hunting affluence bore repeating until they “resolve themselves into blood-curdling, hair raising traditions similar to the Icelandic sagas and the mythical legends of the dark ages.”

Hallock’s rhapsodizing was not unique to him. Dozens of other newcomers found themselves similarly enthusiastic about the possibilities and abundance in this fertile land.

The journey from the past to the food cart and artisanal ice cream shops of twenty-first century Portland is a delicious, captivating one. Portlanders, especially, will find themselves swept up in this mouth-watering history. Outsiders are advised to read this book with caution, as they may feel the desire to pack up and move to Portland immediately. I have a feeling our mile-long brunch lines are about to get even longer.

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How to Grill Artichokes without Boiling Them First

Today’s post will be about artichokes. This has nothing to do with writing at all, except for the fact that I am writing the recipe out. To be honest, if you want to make your artichokes truly delicious, you’re going to have to roast them. (475-degree oven, covered, 35 minutes.) Cranking the oven up to 475 when it’s already 90 degrees inside the house is taking the quest for a perfect vegetable too far, and therefore, grilling makes an acceptable second choice. Most recipes require boiling or steaming the artichokes first and finishing them off on the grill. Forget it. I am too lazy to double cook anything, and I believe I already mentioned the ninety degree indoor temperature.

So here’s what you do. 1. First, you make a little bath for the artichokes in a bowl: a bit of lemon juice and water. Then you cut the tops off the artichokes, slice them in half, and cut out the chokes with a paring knife. Toss those in the bath. I did not take a picture of this step, so you’ll have to try to imagine it.

2. When you’re done doing that, drain them. Toss them with olive oil (a few tablespoons, at least), some onions and garlic and lemon halves if you want, and salt and pepper. Throw in any spices you think might go well. I chose red pepper flakes. Also add water to this mix–at least 1/4 cup.

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3. Put the artichoke halves in a foil packet. (Note: I do feel bad about all this foil.) Make sure there is water in there! That will help them steam a bit, allowing them to cook without burning. If you have a really hot grill, you should probably add more water. Remember, I am not a professional griller, and this is not an exact science.
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4. Then grill the packets on low heat (if you have a gas grill) for 15-20 minutes on each side. I didn’t take a picture of this, either, because it would just be a picture of a foil packet on a barbecue. I cooked them for 15 on each side and the outer leaves were still a bit tough. The heart was perfect, though.
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THE END