Sunday, August 29, 2010

Dining Al Fresco in Montavilla

In an earlier post I talked about an annual phenomenon in our little neighborhood, the Montavilla Farmers Market Banquet. (You can read it here: ) Yesterday was the 2010 installment of what is becoming a very popular event. So popular, in fact, that more than a dozen requests for tickets came in the last week...after the deadline and all 96 places had been sold. One attendee quipped that he could've scalped his ticket on the Stark Street sidewalk. I guess that's when one knows that one has "arrived".

This is the third year, and it seems it does in fact gets better each year. A new addition was the introduction of a vegan course, and surprisingly (to this carnivore, anyway), 23 of the 96 attendees chose vegan. Even the wine pairings included biodynamic and vegan options.

What is also becoming evident of this event's growth is the participation of so many local businesses and establishments. Almost every restaurant on the Montavilla strip between 82nd and 76th Avenues contributed to the menu or the effort, and seeing so many stellar chefs and servers engrossed in their art was humbling to this average food guy.

Of course it begins inauspiciously enough. The transformation of a gravel lot into an al fresco heaven starts early in the morning with the raising of the "big tent".

One of the truly unique aspects of the banquet, and perhaps of the Montavilla Farmers Market itself, is the community support and the legions of volunteers that help with everything from setting up the kitchen tents to the table settings. Here Joanne and Rebecca carefully fold the napkins to hold the silverware...especially against the wind that came up later.

John (pictured) and Ken were the electrical and lighting geniuses that helped create the ambience for the dinner.

Jeff Vejr (left) of Red, White: Green selected the five wines that were paired with the dinner courses, and served the wines with two of his pourers. Of special note is the contribution of some of the wines by Cooper Mountain Vineyards.

Table arrangements created by Tonia Stark included metal sculpure by Arnon Kartmazov, owner of K&K Forgeworks, who also lives in Montavilla.

Piper Dixon, of Kitchen Dances, a food booth at the Farmers Market, prepared the vegan options.

Who said a vegan dish has to be boring???

Twelve tables times eight people equals ninety-six ways to enjoy an kind of math!

Laura of Pastrygirl hams it up Joel. Pastrygirl provided the dessert course for the Banquet.

Kate is the Chair of the Montavilla Farmers Market board. One of the silent auction items was a growler of ale from Mt Tabor Brewing...brewed just a few hundred feet away

Portland City Council Commissioner Nick Fish, with Kate and Beth.

Beth and Adam Sappington (Country Cat Restaurant) confer about when to start the dinner.

Gretchan is the Manager of the Farmers Market. Here she is welcoming those attending the banquet and introducing other speakers.

Gretchan, with Kristin and Frank. Kristin (left) runs the Durable Dish Program for the market, which is the first of its kind in Portland. The program uses dishes and silverware that are washed at Thatcher's, one of the nearby restaurants. The program helps significantly reduce waste that would otherwise end up in a landfill.

Adam of Country Cat plating one of the courses

The end product - Crispy Quinoa and Farro Cake with summer succotash salad.

The silent auction was a benefit for the Montavilla East Tabor Business Association.

One of the many lovely servers who were indispensible in making the evening a memorable one.

Michael Herrman of Buoy Larue provided the music for the dinner...something to soothe the sounds of traffic on Stark Street.

The meat course consisted of Braised Sweet Briar Farm Pork Shoulder with sweet corn grits and blackberries, by The Country Cat...awesome!!! The Observatory Lounge provided a fish course consisting of Grilled Ocean Trolled Silver Salmon with heirloom tomato salsa and roasted potato...also awesome! It was so good I forgot to take a picture of it.

...and to balance the meat and fish, a vegan dish was also served, Eggplant and Summer Squash Moussaka with roasted tomato sauce and pine nut cream.

The dynamic duo of Tonia and Vicki (Yes...a mother/daughter duo...can you tell who is who??)

Arnon and John, deep in conversation

Dr. Behrends and his wife. Without his generosity in allowing us to use the vacant lot next to his Montavilla Animal Clinic, our market and the banquet would not exist. Thank you!!

Kate, one of the owners of The Observatory Lounge.

Desserts, courtesy of Pastrygirl (I heard one describe it as orgasmic)

I will leave you with this final image, which I think beautifully summarizes the enjoyment of the evening. For more information, here is the website:

Monday, August 16, 2010

A Soapbox Derby...for Adults

Portland, Oregon has a saying of which I am rather fond. It is most commonly found on bumper stickers (and usually among a plethora of other stickers proclaiming the driver's political leanings, their thoughts on the world, or something about alien visitors...either the outer space variety or those closer to home). Sometimes I think the stickers just hold the car together.

The saying is "Keep Portland Weird". I experienced some of that delightful weirdness last weekend, at the annual Adult Soapbox Derby. It's event one associates with a bygone era when one builds a racer out of commonly available materials within some strict sense of order and specification, and then allow gravity to determine who has the fastest vehicle. In those bygone eras the age limit was often closer to elementary school.

Things are different now...dare I say, weirder? (...and one more thing. Lest you think I only like to show off my stellar photography skills on this blog, there are a few images here that have a decidedly bluish hue. Well...the simple fact is, I screwed up. More on that later. I still included them because the subject was fun despite my lack of attention to detail)

I will call this "Gasoline Alley" (and those of you who are Indianapolis 500 fans know of what I speak), where last minute tuning and assembly takes place before the great race. I should also point out that not an insignificant amount of adult beverages was also included in the "fueling".

"Gentlemen...start your engines!" (yes that was sexist, but I think that is still said at the Indy 500, Danika Patrick notwithstanding)

It should be noted that some focus on speed and seek to actually engage in a speed contest, while others seek a more...dramatic path.

I'm not sure what this is...but it was really fast!

Here a slab of lasagna is helped across the finish line by some kind-hearted warriors

Not all who attend come to race. Some come to see...and be seen...and perchance to fight?

This guy was serious, and seriously fast.

An experiment in photography, where I attempt to capture an essence of speed. I think I did OK...but I forgot to check the white balance settings hence the bluish tint. Hey, what's the fun of a camera with all manner of adjustments unless it allows one to screw up any number of ways?

The event went from 10 in the morning until 4 in the afternoon, though I only stayed for the morning got rather warm in the afternoon. For those of you who are curious, here is a link:


The other day I sat on my front porch and watched the world go by. It was Sunday, and I finally decided that the biblical admonition to keep the Sabbath holy, or apart as the meaning intends, is a good one. OK...I didn't really just sit and "watch" per se. I had my laptop on, of all things, my lap and I was writing.

I don't want to get into the theological argument about the Sabbath being Saturday or Sunday, the day Christians typically refer to as such. To me it doesn't matter. I will leave such discussions for those who like to argue, and these days issues like that aren't worth my energy anymore. What is important, however, is that we take time out to allow our minds and hearts to be listen...and to reflect.

As I sat on the porch and watched people walk by, I realized how fortunate I am...or perhaps blessed, if one wishes to use that vernacular. There was a time when I thought we needed a bigger house...or a newer car...or that my lawn could be a healthier shade of green (it's usually brown this time of year, owing to my desire to use less of the resources we have).

One of the things I reflected on was my trip to Kenya, when I visited an orphanage for kids whose parents were killed in the election-related violence a few years ago, or died due to various addiction-related issues. I also think about the high school in the midst of a Nairobi slum, with smiling faces wearing used and worn hand-me-down uniforms, happy for the opportunity of an education.

Closer to home, I also reflect on the Indian Reservations I visited in the course of my work. One need not go far to realize that many of us in the West are fortunate indeed...and even among us are many who struggle to make ends meet. It is in those reflective moods I am allowed...or perhaps caused, to put things into perspective. It allows me to not succumb to the "tyranny of the urgent" but instead reflect on what is truly important...and eternal.

Saturday, August 14, 2010

Things that go beep in the night

Beep Beep Beep


Beep Beep Beep

That's what greeted me Wednesday night...or should I say Thursday morning, because the clock next to my bed said 2:30...and yes that is EARLY in the morning!

Three beeps, followed by a pause, then three more successive beeps...and so it went, on and on. Even Beth who can sleep through an explosion, couldn't. What is that noise?? Where is it coming from? It became apparent that sleep was out of the question until we figured out what this annoying noise is. Reluctantly I got up, put on my robe and went downstairs. A quick look around confirmed no smoke alarms or other electronic device in the house decided to malfunction, as was my initial thought.

Thankfully it was warm as I opened the front door to look outside, but the irritating beep's source was still not discernible. I venture out onto the porch...then the sidewalk...all while still in bathrobe. Luckily most are asleep, but then it occurred to me that perhaps they too have been awakened and wonder about the beeps? At least the robe is less disturbing than a pair of boxer shorts. Finally I decide the beeping is coming from our neighbor's house across the street, and I venture to her front porch. Vainly I ring the doorbell...what was I thinking? A puny little doorbell is no competition for the shrill intermittent screech. No answer, so I walk back.

Beth is of course awake and up. Does she have our neighbor's telephone number? Visions of some kind of emergency now begin to rise up in our minds...she does, and she calls...but no answer. She leaves a message. I will go across again, but this time I put some clothes on.

I walk across and venture down the street to her backyard, an indeed the sound grows more shrill. Have you ever noticed how loud some noises can be in the stillness of the night? So it was with me. An open kitchen window. Is that where the source is? The gate to the backyard is unlocked. I enter...trepiditiously...and there I see it.

One of my favorite internet abbreviations is WTF. We all know what it means, and I like it because it allows me to express it without using the actual profanity...not that it always stops me, but I really am trying.

And so it was...WTF! Sitting on a bench at the edge of her deck is a smoke alarm, merrily informing the immediate neighborhood that it's power source was somehow deficient, as it is supposed to do. The philosophical questions of why and how were dispelled by the more urgent need to silence it. However no amount of frantic twisting and pulling yielded its internal workings to me, and I considered a large rock. A nearby cushion offered some hope, I placed the offending object on the ground and covered it with the cushion. The beeping was significantly reduced. Perhaps now I can return to some much-needed sleep. Within a few moments I was back under the covers and settling into slumber.

"I can still hear the beeping", said Beth. It was true. If I listened very closely, I could hear the faint...almost plaintive beep drifting into my consciousness. It was crying out to me...or was it taunting me? Perhaps I could weave the faint noise into a dream, or count sheep to the rhythm? I get up to turn the fan up...maybe that will drown out the beep. Slowly I begin to drift off...

I wish I could say that was the end of the beeper caper, but no. A car pulls up in front of our house, a door opens and closes and I hear voices. Once again I am rousted out of slumber and get up to look out of the window. It's a police car, and a neighbor. With a sigh I grab my robe, go downstairs and outside.

"I cannot tell where the beep is coming from" says the policewoman as she and the neighbor talk in front on the sidewalk. I come out and tell them I know what it is. The neighbor (wisely, perhaps) leaves, presumably to go back to bed. I explained to the officer all that transpired and we both walk back to the neighbor's back yard.

"Maybe if you open it up you can disconnect the battery?" she said, as I wrestled with the maddening object. I looked at her as she stood with her large flashlight and politely noted I had already tried that, to no avail. I even included the part about the brief search for a rock or other hard object. I also thought that me standing there in a bathrobe was perhaps awkward enough and sarcasm would not be in my best interest. She even offered to take the annoying object with her, and I suggested that she perhaps toss it off of a bridge.

Finally we hit on a solution. I took the cushion I had earlier placed on the alarm, folded it like a taco and placed both in a nearby plastic tub. When I placed the tub's lid on it...viola! Silence at last. The officer and I walked back, her to the patrol car and me finally back to bed. I wonder what her report will say about this little adventure?

The next morning we see our neighbor...and of course she is alright. She never heard a thing. Sometimes I wish I could sleep that soundly!

Sunday, August 1, 2010

Dining under the stars...and with a few stars

Each year the Montavilla Farmers Market has a banquet, partly to celebrate another succesful year, and also to raise funds for operations of the market (to buy stuff like chairs, tents, etc.). Just like the market itself, the banquet has grown each year...not necessarily in size, but certainly in quality. Each year I am surprised and impressed how some very dedicated individuals transform a gravel lot into THE cultural event of Montavilla, complete with wine pairings, appetizers, a silent auction, music...and of course the most amazing courses of food. Montavilla, especially Stark Street, is blessed with some of Portland's best dining establishments, and each year has also seen greater participation in the banquet by those restaurants.

As we prepare for the 2010 banquet (on August 28th), I rummaged through my sometimes overwhelming collection of photographs, which included some taken at past banquets. I have offered you a sampling of the 2008 and 2009 dinners...for your enjoyment, and perhaps to tempt you...just a little

Before the big tent is set up, the empty lot on the corner of SE 78th and Stark Street is a wide expanse of gravel, with some isolated half barrel planters of flowers scattered about. In just a few short hours, a venue for a delightful meal appears, complete with table settings...and enough glasses to sample wines.

The silent auction focuses on local businesses, who have graciously offered such items as bicycle repair, movies, name it, and it's there.

Kristin has coordinated the wine pairings in the past two years, offering wines from Small Vineyards, an importer specializing in Italian wines from small boutique vineyards.

Tonia Stark, a Montavilla resident (and a founding member of the Market well as our neighbor) allowed use of her specialty lights to add to the banquet's ambience. She makes these from old tin cans decorated with whimsical designs using a small cutting torch and a string of Christmas lights

Dagmar, another Montavilla resident and market volunteer, demonstrates the proper curtsy while holding a plate of hors d'oeuvres (and yah I had to look that one up). I tried the curtsy, but her owning a ballet studio gives her a decided advantage.

Adam Sappington, who owns The Country Cat Restaurant (on Stark Street, of course), has been the main chef for the past two banquets. Here he demonstrates his attention to detail in not only the flavor but also the presentation for the main course. was as delicious as it looks

Good wine, good weather, amazing food and great company...who could ask for more?

Who could ask for more? How about music? We were even serenaded during our repast. It's amazing how food digests so much better when one's ambience is enhanced by the strains of a guitar and violin (or is it a fiddle in this case? I think I will stick to writing).

Remember my comment about the empty lot? Well, like so many other pieces of property in the city, someone owns it. In our case it happens to be Dr. Brian Behrends, who owns the Montavilla Animal Clinic next to the empty lot. The Market's presence in Montavilla owes much to the generosity of Dr Behrends, who is pictured standing with his wife.

Gretchen Jackson, the Market's manager, celebrates with a friend.

Last but certainly not least, is Beth Kluvers, who is responsible for organizing the banquet. Much of the banquet's success is due to her passion for the Montavilla Farmers Market, and making local organic food available to more people. Good job, girl! The 2010 banquet promises to be at least as good, if not better.

This year the banquet is on August 28th. Go to the Montavilla Farmers Market website for more information (and yes there will even be a vegan offering...though this carnivore will look for something