Here are the Final 2014 Food Writing Contest Entries

[updated: I missed the first one]

Here are the final entries in the 2014 food memory contest. There are so many entries, I haven’t quite figured out a good way for the public vote yet, but I’ll get it together in the next couple of days. Thanks to everyone who entered!

By Pamela –

In the early hours of the morning, before my sleepy ones were up, I snuck out of bed, made a strong cup of Pete’s coffee, and headed for the backyard. I loved this time alone, before the hustle and bustle of the day began, when I could just sit back and let my thoughts drift in and out. This particular morning was damp and cool, not unusual for Portland in July and I knew that later the sun would climb back up, the clouds would blow away, and it would be a scorcher. But for right now, I was wrapped in a toss I’d stolen from the couch, my legs pulled up to my chest, my coffee cup cradled close.

I let my eyes wander across the wide backyard, across our blueberry bushes which were just beginning to ripen, past the espaliered pear tree that had ceased to give fruit since last year, when the bees had mysteriously disappeared, and over to our two grape vines, their miniature clusters of still-green grapes just beginning to show. Those vines amazed me. Every year, come winter, I hacked away at them, pruning branches down to their core. I didn’t really know what I was doing. I was a terrible gardener. I rarely watered, trusting the constant rain to do its job, sinking deep into the musty earth to the invisible roots. I’m pretty sure I’d never fertilized – what did I know about fertilizing, measuring the acidity of the soil, aerating, or the like? Nothing really. I’d grown up in a yardless apartment building, with nothing but the cement sidewalks and dry grass strips to play in. And yet, and yet, those grapevines grew back, year after year, their shoots relentless in their pursuit of sun, even reaching out and into our neighbor’s backyard and growing through their trees. Each year, we were treated to buckets of plump grapes, which the boys overjoyed in plucking. The vines also bordered our chicken coop, where Henrietta, Woody and Charlotte jumped and hopped, vying for the juicy tidbits. The vines just kept on growing.

I wondered if children were like this. Could they grow up with little nurturing, in a nuclear vacuum of harsh words, frequent beatings, and emotional darkness, and still thrive and blossom brilliantly out into the world, in spite of this? I wanted so badly to believe one could. I wanted to think that I’d overcome my dark upbringing, unscathed and whole, but I feared this wasn’t true. Worse, I feared that when I least expected it, it would creep stealthily into my day-to-day life, tainting everything and everyone I touched. I knew I was damaged goods, struggling unsuccessfully to be my idea of what a normal wife, a normal mother, a normal friend should be. I was like an actor trying out for bit roles – putting on a character for size, picking the correct clothes out of a borrowed wardrobe, practicing my lines in different voices and with different emotions until I got them just right.

But that’s the thing. I never felt like did. I finished the last, gritty drops of my now cold coffee and headed back into the kitchen. There was breakfast to be made – today, one of my kid’s favorites: a dutch baby pancake. This was a simple, yet fantastic, concoction of eggs, milk, flour, vanilla and a pinch of salt – oh yeah, and four tablespoons of butter. You whirred it all violently in a mixer, then transferred the batter to a skillet, with the butter that had been heating to a sizzle, and then into the oven. A magical work of alchemy happened as the baby cooked, transforming it from a rather liquid-y, pale substance, to this divine puffy pancake with sides raised high like a golden crown. Sliding it out of its scorching hot pan onto a plate, I yelled up at the kids that it was time for breakfast. Then I sprinkled a generous amount of powdered sugar and a good squeeze of lemon all over my dutch baby. Soon enough I heard the patter of little and not so little fee t pounding down the staircase, with a “Mom, whatdidya make for breakfast? It smells yummy!!!”

I had to take comfort in the little victories.

 

By Bernie - 

My mom is a horrible cook. There, I said it. I wish I had glorious remembrances of warm kitchens with intoxicating aromas of baking spices, goodness, blah blah blah. While grateful my parents provided for us, and loved us, they did not spend much time in the kitchen.

We lived in the culinary frozen tundra of small-town Maine. My Dad worked twelve hour shifts at the paper mill, and my Mom worked full time as a Guidance Counselor at my school (totally insuring I did not get invites to any “good” parties).

Instead, my younger brother and I grew up on a steady diet of pre-packaged frozen food. We had all the Swanson TV dinners: you name it, we ate it: Salisbury Steak, Fried Chicken, mixed vegetables. I even ate the meatloaf in neon orange sauce with tater tots and shriveled green beans. Why was that sauce orange?

My favorite part of the “Hungry Man” size dinner, was the semi-burned brownie in the middle of the aluminum tray. Ironically enough, I truly loved eating the dinners in front of the TV (on a TV tray no less), watching football on Sunday evenings (is that really my food memory, help me!).

In the early 80’s, the selection evolved to tasty treats such as: Steak-umms, Stouffer’s chicken pot pie (and sometimes beef for variety), fish sticks, and do not forget the classic of classics: Creamed Chipped Beef on toast – mmm, delicious. The popularity of the microwave added more frightening options to my repertoire like El Paso burritos, Tyson chicken patties, and Barber foods Chicken Cordon Bleu.

Then the miracle of culinary miracles: Stouffer’s introduced what became the all-time favorite of my younger brother and I: the frozen lasagna. I became the “chef” and the self-proclaimed frozen lasagna king, learning how to time it so the cheesy edges burned just enough for crisp perfection. Years later, my wife (then girlfriend) was horrified upon visiting my family for the first time at Christmas when she realized this frozen lasagna was the main course for our holiday dinner. Even worse, my family was truly excited and LOVED it!

Fortunately, as an adult, I moved to Portland, found a kind European woman who forgives me for my past indulgences in the frozen food section, and now I appreciate real food and quality. Most important: it’s been over six years since my last Stouffer’s lasagna…

 

By Elizabeth P.

The Pilgrimage that Never Was

Prosciutto and Lourdes. Never thought I’d string those two words together in a sentence much less link them irrevocably in my mind.

I was living in Florence and my Italian husband’s parents were nigh on celebrating their 50th wedding anniversary. These are two hoary codgers for whom the long years together have hardened into a kind of Proterozoic crust of mutual disdain. But nevertheless, the extended family wanted to give them a suitably special gift, for form’s sake, I think; or rather, as a kind of dumbstruck door prize for two ill-matched contestants who’ve miraculously managed to not murder one another for half a century.

There was a dilemma, however: what to get for two luddites who never eat out, never go anywhere, and who darn socks (repeatedly) rather than throw them out and spend two euro on another pair? A cruise was out of the question. In fact, anything that suggested indulgence or leisure or fun was to be eschewed, my in-laws’ preference for something more resembling the life of Job being duly noted. Someone recalled that—as fervent, old-school Catholics—the couple had accompanied the parish on pilgrimages to Lourdes in their younger days and had seemed to have something vaguely analogous to a good time (under a modest umbrella of piety, of course), and so it was decided to gift them a week-long trip to Lourdes, that Catholic Disney World, where they could bask in blessedness and nostalgia to their hearts’ content.

Their excitement over the prospect of glamorous international travel was suddenly dampened by an alarming thought: what on earth would my 85 year-old father-in-law possibly eat in France? An iron-clad creature of habit, his usual breakfast is a half-dozen large slices of charred Tuscan bread doused with olive oil, accompanied by abundant raw red onions and a rasher of prosciutto freshly hacked from his personal haunch tucked reverently into a corner of the kitchen like some sacred relic; all this washed down with a couple of glasses of homemade red.

The family convened anxious powwows and frantic telephone calls bounced back and forth between Florence and Luco di Mugello (where the relatives live). Strategies for coddling the FIL’s dietary eccentricities were put forth with all the tactical precision of an invasion of Iraq—that is, if it had been undertaken by the Marx brothers. France, everyone agreed, was a slimy backwater in terms of food, and the FIL’s intestines would doubtless suffer innumerable gallic curses if he was forced to breakfast on croissants and café au lait. French bread was particularly suspect, something akin to hog fodder. Quite possibly the poor man might dig in his heels, refuse to eat, and starve to death. So plans were laid for the octogenarian dynamic duo to board the Eurostar toting a good liter or two of olive oil, as much pane toscano as would fit in a mildewed suitcase, a couple of straw-sheathed bottles of homemade hooch, and an entire bone-in prosciutto—we’re talking a pig’s l eg here, people.

Arguments roiled and foamed like an angry sea: “But can they manage a 12 kilo dead weight of pig? They’ll need snacks for the train! Won’t it be cold in France? He’ll need his long underwear. Two bottles of wine won’t be enough; either he needs to drink less or learn to drink the French stuff!” until the FIL slammed his fist down on the dinner table one day and said “NON CI VADO!” (I’M NOT GOING!). Like a punctured tire, all the air went out of the family, and the MIL tried hard not to show her disappointment (I think she was looking forward to this prayer-filled palooza with the genuine excitement of a death row inmate who gets a last-minute call from the governor).

And so it was that the FIL refused to take his beloved prosciutto on the road—even as a groupie on the trail of his favorite saint—preferring as always to enjoy it, peacefully and reverently, in the sanctity of his own home. Golden Anniversary be damned. And so it was that prosciutto became forever fixed in my memory—like banana slices in Jell-O—as the salty, fat-laced rain on the conjugal bliss parade.

 

By RufioJJ - 

Review for Medford, Oregon’s newest bar: Jefferson Spirit

A bar for a king! A harem of attractive single-malt scotches abound.

A wooded-den where the tatted bartenders should be sporting lab coats.

During our quiet Tuesday night we chatted with their cocktail wizard Ryan to get the dirt on Jefferson.

Digs:

The Santa Cruz owners, as mentioned previously, are staking claim to quality engineered cocktails, spirits, and edible delights in the Valley. Yes, there are comparisons to the Portland’s REI-Dolce-lumberjack decor/clientele but that’s a hint they take ingredients seriously; no exception here.

They are currently developing more menu options and actually listening to their patrons’ suggestions (major points). Ryan openly asked for further ideas and we rambled on about our cheese passion for goat and gouda.

Bonus:

Their social-media presence is alive and kickin’. Shockingly I suggested a beloved single-malt scotch and they purchased it the next day (pre-arrival). Outstanding!

Critiques:

High-end means high-priced, but you are getting premium consumables. Gluten-free focused options are scarce, based on my lady’s survey. Menu needs growth, especially clarity regarding the “social/ happy hour”.

(Warning Pun):

Jefferson is setting the bar for bars in Medford, and with a few tweaks it will have Oregon drooling for years to come. If crafted wisely in the next few months, this joint will be written and ranked top in the state.

Ate:

Tri-tip Roast Beef Sandwich: horseradish aioli, salad – simple/tasty/hardy

Charcuterie Plate: goat, aged cheddar, brie, quince, prosciutto – light/ tasty

Butternut Squash Soup – (sucker for butternut) BEST ITEM, simple but powerful flavor

Drank:

Gentlemen at bar now call me “Peaty”…

Lagavulin 16: single malt scotch, peaty smoky goodness

APIO GIMLET: tequila, lime, celery up – A MUST, very balanced

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