“What’s the purpose of your stay?”

“I’m on a food tour of the U.K.”

“Is that right?”

“Yes, I have a food blog.”

“I was thinking of starting me one of those too. Me ‘n my partner, we had a name for it, ‘The Wobbly Table’. That’s the worst part of a restaurant experience isn’t it? The wobbly table. The name was taken though. What’s the name of yours?”

“Feed Me Dearly.”

“You got a card on ya?”

I rooted around my 20-year old blue canvas passport wallet, the one that still carries a yellowed love note from my husband, and passed him my information in pseudo-laminate form: website name, email address, social details.

The passport control agent looked at it, smiled at the three mischievous toeheads staring up from his palm, and let me through.

“Welcome to London.”

 

London

The Knightsbridge Hotel

Dinner by Heston Blumenthal

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Fall cocktails, blush hues. This week, a study in contrasts.

It’s that time of year when the skies start to darken earlier than normal. At 9PM, sunset in the height of summer is just starting to edge its way down the valley that sits squarely across from our stone patio. It’s now mid-fall, and that hour is 5PM, the time ticking towards that point in November when the clocks are turned back and we, for the most part, accept with reluctance that winter is near.

I love the darkness. I love the rain. I love anything that forces me to stay inside and seek cover amongst a treasured set of inanimate objects. Books, magazines, iphone gadgets – ordered yet still unpackaged. Reading, writing, cleaning, procrastinating. Wearing nothing but loungewear.

I love the smell of fall. The whiff of damp leaves that hangs in the cold air when the kids run in from their games outside. I once bought a candle from

Homesick Candles,  each candle smelling like the leaves endemic to the state on the label. More Aēsop than Yankee Candle should you ask, I can’t take those cloying smells. I bought the candle that said “Washington”. I’m not from Washington. I’m not from anywhere close to Washington. But the candle reminded me of this time of year. The hunker. The silence. Somehow, it smells like home.

It’s the season for sturdy stockpots and cast iron cookware. Long-neglected since the early days of spring when the days are still more cool than warm. My pots nearly beckon me to use them, cry out for a damp rag to release them from their silken coats of dust. They speak to me, I know they do. Maybe yours will too if you bend your ear and listen.

In summer it’s hard to cook slowly and methodically. Meals require nothing but a quick sear or a bracing vinaigrette. But, autumn demands it of us.

Including cocktails. Especially cocktails.

I made these beauties a few weeks ago; on a weekend that was just warm enough in the sunshine to make outdoor drinking appealing. The morning had been crisp, the kitchen tiles cool to the touch. We were in the mood for cocktails (before noon, naturally), and I’d be damned if I wasn’t going to use my stove to prep them.

And make use of all of the fall flavors. Autumn Glory apples with notes of sweet caramel and cinnamon. Apple pie without the guilt.

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It was Monday September 19, 2016 and I’d flown back from Portland, Oregon the previous day, exhausted, sick of food, happy.

I’d just spent 4 days drinking and eating my way through the Feast Portland food festival, stopping for a breather on Saturday because my body, I’d realized, could no longer handle mass volumes of pork belly and Oregon pinot.

Still a fan of Snapchat at the time, I’d video scanned my itinerary into the app as I walked through my plans for each of my 4 days in Portland. Sandwich Invitational, drink tank, another drink tank, Grand Tasting, Night Market, yet another drink tank, Smoked, Brunch Village. It was paradise for the lush and the lover of food.

After touching down at New York’s JFK airport, I filed a mental note to return to Feast the following year.

By winter I was feeling a stronger Portland itch and started to look into plans for Feast Portland 2017. I sketched out a list of Airbnb properties where I could stay and live more locally, outside of the downtown area known for its shopping, restaurants and high rise hotels. I was struck by a number of consistencies: craftsman houses, white furnishings, modern lighting, Pendleton blankets, houseplants. I could get behind this for a few days.

Fast forward a few more months and I received an email from Feast Portland’s organizers – would I be interested in cooking at Feast this year?

If there’s ever been a “hallelujah, I’ve arrived” moment in my stop-and-go food career, this would be it. Although I’ll never cop to jumping and fist pumping, a fly on the wall might have seen it.

I’d be cooking alongside three other women whom I’d long admired – Eva Kosmas Flores from Adventures in Cooking, Ashley Alexander from Gather and Feast, and Joy the Baker. The plan was to host a dinner for 60 on Sauvie Island, outdoors in the elements with a fleet of volunteers ready to help us plate, serve, and help make our evening spectacular.

Gilding the Feast Portland lily even further, Travel Oregon invited me to join several other media professionals on a pre-Feast 3-day trip down the Oregon Coast for a tour of Oregon’s notable hotels and restaurants and while in transit, stop to catch sight of the state’s rugged coastline and wildlife.

On September 11, 2017, after a hasty airport terminal re-packing of my entire suitcase to make sure that I didn’t exceed Delta’s second overage fee for bags over 70 lbs, I headed west, touching down in Portland just after noon. First stop, the Dossier hotel located in downtown Portland.

My itinerary for the week was mighty – a quick unpack at the Dossier, then off to transport my kitchen gear to the newly renovated cooking studio and event space “Tendue” from the team at Secret Supper

From there I’d hit up Jacobsen Salt Co. for some kosher and finishing salts for our event. Somehow my buddy Ben suckered me into running a 6K Healthyish fun run on Friday morning, the night after our first Feast event. (Post mortem analysis of the fun run would later indicate that 1. Hangover runs are not fun, and 2. I’m possibly the most competitive person north of the equator, turning our group jog into a single-person Olympic time trial, also not fun.) 

Next I’d meet up with my friend Zeph from Proletariat Butchery for barrel-aged negronis mixed by fellow Traeger Grills pro team member Jeffrey Morgenthaler at Clyde Common; drive to dinner for shaved ham, handmade pasta & meatballs and the infamous cavolo nero salad at local Portland favorite Ava Gene’s. We’d finish the night with beer and coconut ice cream on the rooftop bar at Departure Lounge run by Top Chef runner up Gregory Gourdet. 

And this was just Monday. None of this comprised even a single sentence in the knee-deep itinerary sent to me, in app form no less!, by my friends at Travel Oregon.

I figured that in order to fit this trip into a digestible single-serve blog post that it might be prudent to create a photo journal of sorts. Yes there were stories. Of whales and wolves, and of chefs in Harry Potter outfits. There were friendships formed, hazelnut beers consumed, sunrises watched, forests hiked. I might have used my Feast media pass to sneak into a country music concert. I’m quite certain that I ate my weight in gluten. I definitely chugged a full glass of champagne from a chambong at the Bon Appétit after party, which caused me to (classily of course) lose my footing and topple off a 4-foot wall into a crowd of horrified bystanders. (Note, I’m still not sure if I’m invited back next year or if I earned MVP status that night, Feast Portland organizers, please weigh in.) 

But perhaps these details are better conserved as the lore of Feast. That dreamy destination where no set of words can accurately describe the sprightly conversations, the extended bellies and unbuttoned jeans, the whiskey-inflected off-kilter balance and in some cases, the majestic set of purple thigh bruises that result when food and drink and friendship are combined in awe-inspiring doses.

It’s an experience. One that I hope that I’ll be a part of again and again. 

And now friends, some photographs.

The Dossier Hotel, downtown Portland

 

Wolves & People farmhouse brewery, Willamette Valley wine country

 

Lunch at Valley Commissary, McMinnville

 

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It’s been the summer of oven-free cooking.

I’ll admit that it hasn’t been completely oven-free. There was that day in early summer when I decided to make shallot confit. Nearly set my kitchen ablaze when the olive oil heated, expanded, and flowed onto the oven floor. Which isn’t such a problem unless you panic and reach for a wad of paper towels to mop up the mess. An act that my husband described as “not my best moment”. (Hint, hot oil + paper + blistering coils = the kind of gentle flames that require the front yard testing of a 10-year-old fire extinguisher.)

There might have been a roasted chicken or two, I remember a baked blueberry oatmeal, a sheet pan of salty olive oil granola. But otherwise it’s been magically quiet on the oven frontier. I’m a griller these days, a smoker to be exact. And let’s not confuse that last sentence…a smoker of edible things, not the inhalable variety.

Smoking builds on my favorite style of summer cooking – easy, minimal ingredients, and very little prep time. It lets me enjoy everything that our short but sweet summer season has to offer. Paddleboarding on the lake, beach trips with the kids, hiking with my pup Happy in the woods. Which is most fun when she’s not chasing bears and my itty bitty pepper spray keychain poses no threat of actual use.

It’s the kind of food that I love to pair with equally easy sides – vegetables fresh from my CSA, simply prepared, lightly cooked.

In my last post I mentioned that I’d be taking on fewer but more meaningful projects so I’m happy this week to showcase Taylor Farms, a California-based grower of produce whose focus is on sustainability and food safety. They offer a range of easy breezy products from pre-made salad kits to fresh organic bagged greens and vegetables.

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So now for that awkward re-introduction…The kind where you’ve been gone a while and tiptoe back, ready to re-embrace old traditions, a blank Word doc, images shot and edited, a storyline, some fumbling with basic code, thoughts of the next post already on my mind. I missed it.

It’s been a hectic year. 18 months in fact between the moment when I decided, after watching a set of green business owners stumble their way through an episode of Shark Tank that, hey, now’s my time to do this.

To build a business. To fulfill a dream that had been burning inside of me like a well-concealed flame.

From the moment when I realized over 15 years ago that you could buy a domain name and set up shop on the Internet, I’d been consumed with the idea. My GoDaddy account was a graveyard for ideas come and gone. BoxTheParty.com, HubandSpokeBranding.com; BuildingBrandMe; the ever-essential JessicaFiorillo.com.

“What about starting a fruit molasses business?” I’d asked Rodney while we brushed our teeth and jostled for space at our one-person sink. Forrest Gump-like, I forged on. “You know, gluten free, vegan, refined sugar free. Cherry molasses, berry molasses, how about blueberry molasses?”

And so, several weeks into my remission from cancer, with a bowl of salted almonds and a bedtime glass of red at my side, I settled into a nightly routine of Shark Tank and daydreams. My mind raced, thoughts formed, notes were scribbled into a neon yellow notebook whose sales label I’d removed unsuccessfully, leaving a 2-inch square of goo. Copies of entrepreneurship books started showing up at our doorstep: “The Lean Startup”, “Zero to One”, “ReWork”, every book by Steve Blank.

It felt mission-driven, even if it was one woman’s mission to fulfill her life’s true calling rather than the altruistic kind that saves the lives of tiny babies in faraway countries. My eventual plan was to develop an e-commerce marketplace that would give a voice and commerce opportunities to emerging kitchenware designers (think ceramicists, metalworkers, textile makers).

I got an office, hired some freelance staff, and after much deliberation, landed on the name Propped, a nod to the term “food props” that cooks (and especially cooks who photograph their food) use to refer to the artillery that lines their kitchen shelves. I bought yet another domain, Propped.com, and we were off to the races.

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