Friday, October 29, 2010

Mushroom Barley Soup

Photo courtesy of Real Simple

Looking for a way to warm yourself as the weather becomes increasingly chilly? Here’s a hearty soup that is simple and inexpensive to prepare (no meat!) It freezes pretty well too.

One nice thing about making your own soup is that you can control how much salt you add. Regular canned soups can be astronomically high in sodium. Even if you don’t have high blood pressure, sodium causes bloating and nobody wants that. This particular soup also incorporates whole grains (barley, often available in bulk in grocery stores). I love to make a batch of homemade soup at the beginning of the week and eat it for lunch each day; or eat it for a couple days and freeze the rest for later, thus preventing “leftover burn out”.

Mushroom Barley Soup

1 cup barley
1 1/2 tablespoons olive oil
2 medium yellow onions, diced
kosher salt and black pepper
1 large carrot, diced
2 celery stalks, diced
20 ounces button mushrooms, sliced
5 cups low-sodium vegetable or chicken broth
2 bay leaves
2 teaspoons fresh thyme leaves (about 8 sprigs)
sliced sourdough or other country bread, toasted (optional)


In a medium-size pan, bring the barley and 4 cups of water to a boil. Cover, reduce heat to medium-low, and simmer until tender, 30 to 35 minutes.

Meanwhile, heat the oil in a large pot over medium-low heat. Add the onions, ½ teaspoon salt, and ¼ teaspoon pepper. Cover and cook until the onions have softened, 5 to 7 minutes.

Add the carrot and celery and cook, covered, for 6 minutes more.

Add the mushrooms, increase heat to medium-high, and cook, covered, until they release their juices, about 4 minutes.

Add the broth, bay leaves, and thyme and simmer, uncovered, for 10 minutes.

Stir in the cooked barley; remove and discard the bay leaves. If desired, season with additional salt and pepper and serve with the sourdough toast.

Tuesday, October 26, 2010

Portland Markets

Today is the final installment of my 3-blog series on Portland, Oregon. We spent most of Saturday experiencing some of the best of the local markets. First up: Saturday Farmer's Market at Portland State University campus. The grounds themselves were green, gorgeous and park-like.
Behold, the food carts and booths! Here's a fellow who roasts and sells chili peppers. I saw avid fans nearby ripping open plastic bags filled with steaming, charred peppers and tearing into them on the spot.
Did you know that artichokes could flower? Apparently they can, quite beautifully!
Brussels sprouts still on the stalk - you can't get much fresher or more regal looking than that.
Burdock root, a rare market find. Unusual even for Portland, as you can tell by the description posted about how to cook and use it.
There were all sorts of interesting musicians, from slightly tone deaf guitarist/singers to a genuine circus act touring from the east coast to this lone didgeridoo player.
This kid was cool, just chilling at his parent's booth and giving out samples of tomato juice. This stuff was really tasty, fresh and sweet.
Here are some unique bouquets made of chilies! Edible bouquets, I like that idea!
Other fantastic finds that I didn't photograph: handmade salami and other charcuterie; lavender infused jams (the blueberry was undeniably good); and tons of fantastic artisan cheeses, many made with sheep and goats milk. We couldn't pack any cheese, sadly; but the jam and the salami were packed in our luggage and toted home.
The famous and always popular Pine State Biscuit had their typical long line going. We watched the assembly process for a bit, but after examining our already substantial selves, we decided that a dish involving biscuits, fried chicken, cheese, and bacon might not be the most prudent lunch after the heavy eating we had already done that weekend. My husband went with an Italian sausage sandwich with tender pepper and onion topping (I know, not much better, but he can get away with it somehow)...
And later, I opted for Salvador Molly's Chicken Tamale topped with fresh salsa.
From the Farmer's Market, we also visited the Craft Market by the Waterfront. My husband's favorite store was one that featured a lot of gag head ware such as the one he demonstrates below:
I bought a few Portland-like t-shirts with trees and such on them. We wandered along the Waterfront and enjoyed the beautiful fall weather....

Watched some locals play...

And had one last treat before we left town, from Portland's Original Elephant Ear cart. Native Northwesterners know that an elephant ear is a piece of dough that is fried and rolled in cinnamon sugar, or filled with things like chocolate or fruit filling. We went traditional with cinnamon sugar and enjoyed our treat as we said goodbye to the city of Portland!
Thanks for joining us on our journey through Portland! If you get a chance, I hope you go and love it as much as we did!

Monday, October 25, 2010

Portland Sights

Today's focus is on the best sights of Portland... including two of our favorite restaurants. But first, can I just say how much I love the architecture of the craftsman homes that constitute a large part of the city? Take the one below, for example, which is on the market in fact!
Or how about this beauty, smack dab in the middle of the Portland Saturday Farmer's Market?

Doesn't it blow your mind how well-made things were back in the day? Built to last, in style! If you like historic mansions or would like to check out the best view of the city, you must visit Pittock Mansion (below).

Set a top a mountain itself, the view from the beautifully manicured grounds of the mansion is exquisite, especially at this time of year.

Of course, the view indoors ain't too shabby neither! This was the family home of the original owner of the Oregonian newspaper, built around the early 1900's. It was intended to be practical rather than overly showy, but still - check out the music room.

Looking for peace and time to meditate? Try the Grotto, a Catholic sanctuary that offers all a quiet place to worship. The gardens were beautiful and contemplative...

And an elevator takes you to an upper level with a look out room featuring a replica of Michelangelo's Pieta sculpture...
And again, sweeping views of the city!

All this traveling to beautiful destinations had us pretty hungry when meal times came around. My best recommendation for lunch in Portland is an intimate little cafe called Petisco, where you will find delicious pan-European cuisine in a comfortable atmosphere.
Hello. I would like to introduce you to the best paninis I have ever met. One is prosciutto with fresh mozzarella, basil, balsamic and olive oil. The other is smoked pork with homemade mayonnaise, diced red onion and Manchego cheese. Both served with mixed greens and split because my husband and I wanted to enjoy both varieties. A wholly satisfying way to spend an afternoon.
And for dinner, please don't leave Portland without a trip to Screen Door, widely known as the best Southern food in the city. Excellent for brunch (where Praline Bacon Waffles and Bananas Foster French toast prompt most diners to toss their diets out the door) or dinner, you had better arrive early if you want to be seated promptly. By early, I mean before opening time. We arrived 15 minutes prior to dinner opening at 5:15pm and still were met with the following line of hungry locals:
But the wait was worth it. My husband ate the best burger he's ever had (his words, and the man has eaten a lot of burgers in his time!) and I enjoyed a traditional gumbo soup and Carolina pulled pork sandwich.
Mmm Mmm! That is some tasty eatin' there folks! Speaking of delicious food, tomorrow I will chronicle our exploration of Portland's amazing markets and their diverse, unique offerings!

Sunday, October 24, 2010

Portland Shops

I thought long and hard about how to squeeze all of the amazingly wonderful things I love about Portland, Oregon into a few blog posts. I finally decided that I would do a series of three segments: Portland Shops; Portland Sights; and Portland Markets. I'm not going to talk about Powell's because most people already know the awesomeness that constitutes the 5 level labyrinth of new and used books. We did spend a whole morning there in the largest independent bookstore in the world and I did leave with several additions to my library.

Moving on... Let's start with breakfast, shall we?

One of the best bakeries in Portland is Baker & Spice, brought to you by the authors of one of my favorite dessert cookbooks, Rustic Fruit Desserts. They specialize in seasonal, delicious baked goods and cakes. Everything we ate there was out of this world, and while empty chairs were hard to come by on a Friday morning, we managed to snag two seats and enjoy our breakfast. Hot chocolate and pain au chocolat for the husband; lavender chamomile tea and Garden Bread for me (a spiced combination of carrot, zucchini, raisins and walnuts). Later, for dessert: a delicately spiced applesauce cake with nuts and a maple glaze.
Portland being the green, eco-conscious city that it is, the thrift stores are excellent places to find re-used treasures. From chains like Goodwill and Buffalo Exchange to smaller independent store like Rerun, we felt like kids in a candy store and made off with great quality, name brand stuff for cheap.
Here's a unique stop: I read about The Meadow in a magazine article a few months ago and made a mental note to check it out when we were in town. The store boasts over 150 varieties of salt, from maple bacon infused to French fleur de sel to volcanic Hawaiian types. You are welcome to sample and purchase in whatever size fits your budget. Behold, the Wall O'Salt!

The store also boasts a gorgeous selection of flowers (above) and fine chocolates (below). We tried their house salted chocolate and it was a delightful combination of delicate saltiness with dark sweetness.
The owner of the store, Mark Bitterman, just came out with a book called Salted: A Manifesto on the World's Most Essential Mineral. You can check out at a store near you... or on
Right next door, we smelled a fragrance wafting by that was definitely deserving of our attention. It turned out to be homemade waffle cones at an ice cream store called Ruby Jewel Scoops. Their ice cream flavors and topping are inventive, original and I must say, fantastically good. Think rosemary-cayenne toasted pecans, Mexican Chocolate ice cream, and a tribute to their next-door neighbors, Caramel with Salted Dark Chocolate ice cream. My husband went over the moon for the latter, with good reason.

As we were eating our ice cream, the owner came out and offered us free samples of the hot chocolate they are working on perfectly, topped with homemade marshmallows. Looks like even when winter comes there will be a good reason to stop in!
Pistils is just down the street, an adorable nursery that looks like a doorway to Eden from the street.

Inside, you can peruse the plants, seeds, and fertilizers, or watch the chickens that roam freely in the store...
and graze in the abandoned lot next to the store. I thought this was a great example of urban farming. Man, I wanna raise chickens. That would be rad.
Let's talk about our first dinner in the city. The Farm Cafe was a bit of a disappointment. While I loved the fact that everything came from local farms, I kept wishing that we could feel good about our meal and have it taste good, at the same time. The seasonings were funky (our catsup tasted like curry- weird) and my "mixed salad greens" consisted of bitter greens and cabbage. If I wanted cabbage, I would have asked for coleslaw, people!
When I return, I will surely eat at one of the many food stand or food trucks that Portland is famous for, like the sweet one below. You can find nearly every ethnicity or food imaginable within the city's fleet of portable food establishments. I could probably do a whole food tour built around this theme. Next time...
Tomorrow, come back as I share my favorite Portland sights, plus my two favorite eateries that we discovered on our trip! One required lots of waiting in lines...