This contest has now closed, but you’ll enjoy reading the food writing in the comment section below.
Over the history of the site, we’ve had several food writing contests. They have been so successful, I’ve lined up some great prizes, and we’ll do it again. The winner will receive:
- A $25 gift certificate to Olivers at the Camas hotel in Washington, one of Food & Wine Magazine’s three Best New Suburban Restaurants for 2011.
- A $25 bottle of wine from Portland Oregon Wine.com
- A $25 gift certificate from Las Primas, a Peruvian street food restaurant opening this fall on N. Williams.
This year the theme is Fall Food Memories. It doesn’t necessarily have to be about Portland, but it must be a food-centric experience. Let’s keep the entries to 500 words or less.
Here are a couple of winners from previous years:
2010: “Super Dave”:
In the fall 1997 I had planned on throwing a big party to celebrate the five year remission of my cancer. It was a chance to thank everyone that had been such great friends and provided me support in getting well. The five year point seemed appropriate, but my best laid plans were undone when at my checkup the doctors found the cancer had spread to my lungs.
Instead of a party, I was having surgeries, chemotherapy and readying myself for a bone marrow transplant. Thanksgiving was coming and through an unrelenting stream of begging, I convinced by doctors to let me see my family and fly from the East Coast to Portland. They packed me a cooler full of drugs and I arrived in Portland looking (and feeling) like a ghost. Being somewhat unfamiliar with Portland at the time, I asked my sister to make reservations for us at a “really great restaurant” for Saturday. I really wanted to have my some acknowledgement that I had indeed made it five years.
We arrived at Paley’s Place and once we had filled everyone’s glass with wine (including myself, against strict orders) I stood up and thanked everyone for being there. As I struggled to maintain my composure, I explained that while I had planned on my celebration to be a bit more grandiose circumstances dictated that the party be a bit more modest. Nonetheless, I had made it five years and I was determined to recognize the accomplishment. It was at this point, we all realized that this was likely to be our last time together as a family and the mood became decidedly somber.
And then my 85 year old grandmother stood up. She had started drinking earlier in the day and had a penchant for ill-timed, inappropriate comments. We all looked at each other nervously as she proclaimed, “I propose a toast to David! We hope you live longer than we anticipate!” She then sat down and took a long pull on her glass of wine. The table erupted in laughter. It was what we were all thinking but afraid to say. It was finally a party, a family meal with all our unique craziness. We ate fantastic food, drank really good wine, told stories, and argued over things of little consequence. It remains the best and most memorable meal of my life. The food was wonderful, but sharing it with people who were acknowledging their love for each other made it something special. The meal is now part of family lore. I live in Portland now, and at each five year anniversary from my bone marrow transplant, I have dinner with my family and I toast my grandmother.
2008 “Granny Moon” for this memory:
Breakfast when I was a kid was a weekend event – cold cereal before school didn’t count. And every weekend it was pretty much the same thing. Daddy would get out his cast iron skillet, place it on the gas stove and start frying. Always eggs. Sometimes bacon, occasionally ham – and if it were fishing season there would be fresh caught rainbow trout from his 4 am jaunt on the lake.
But the thing I remember most was his fried potatoes. If I were really lucky he would grate them, then dump them in the hot grease and make them oh so crispy on the outside and soft on the inside. I’ve tried forever to duplicate that. 4 out of 5 times I almost get it. That 5th time is heaven. Makes my arteries harden just to think about it…
Daddy grew older and ended up having a triple bypass. But he never lost his love of fried potatoes. When he reached the age of 88, I moved to Tucson and lived with him and my stepmom. Over the course of 16 months I perfected the fried potato. Not the grated wonder that my dad turned out; but a thin sliced, perfect circle of crispiness. With a soft center that melted in your mouth.
I would get up at 6 am when Daddy came out of his bedroom to get the newspaper, and we would have a cup of coffee together while I peeled a couple of small potatoes. Then I would slice and fry them up – using that same cast iron skillet and a gas stove. When I served them to him in his recliner, he would eat them with his fingers – savoring every bite.
My step mom always said that I was spoiling him. But I like to think that I was feeding his spirit – transferring the love that he gave his baby girl right back to him, by way of a fried potato.
culinary kitten says
ok…there’s gotta be some rule about not making me cry at work!…
Food Dude says
Hmm… I’ll try to eliminate all the ones that aren’t funny ;) Besides, angst usually improves writing – harness it and get to work!
Fall will always mean back to school to me, even though now I’m officially out of the academic world. In college, I lived in a tiny duplex (the kitchen counter was about the size of one plate, depth and width).
With the arrival of my second year of college, so too arrived my first excitement for cooking. I had always loved eating, restaurants, and food, but my Italian Babbo was far too much of a brilliant garlic artist to let me near the kitchen growing up. Yet, college, specifically my boyfriend in college, made me realize I wanted to be good at cooking, for both myself, and him.
So I managed to rustle up a pork chops and applesauce recipe and head to my tiny kitchen. Oil splattered from the pan as I watched the chops transform from pink to caramel on the edges. I jumped back, scared, but was excited when I discovered how easy it was to make a homemade applesauce. Suddenly, the Granny Smiths I’d attempted to chop, along with cider, nutmeg, cinnamon, lemon and raisins was a fragrant, chunky sauce. I was proud, and shocked that I’d spent all those years eating baby food-like Motts.
That night, my boyfriend and I sat on the carpet around the coffee table, and as he knifed into his chop and took a bite, I held my breath. I prayed it was cooked through-I didn’t have a meat thermometer yet-and if it was cooked, that it was edible. He swallowed, and then I took a bite of my own, and I knew I was in love-not with him, but with the applesauce, and cooking as well.
My mother, the recipe enthusiast, has a box in her kitchen full of, well, recipes, clipped from Sunset magazine, the local newspaper, and who knows where-all. Conversely, she only has a few cookbooks hanging around, and most of them date back to the 1970s. Outdated though they may be, these cookbooks do have a few absolute gems up their sleeves. I walked into her kitchen this morning and was hit smack dab in the face with the ultimate smell of childhood autumn: German Apple Pancake.
This recipe occupies a sacred place in our family lore. It’s from The Vegetarian Epicure. Yes, Mom and Dad were once what they call “plainclothes hippies,” vegetarians, gardeners, in touch with the planet and all. Their copy of the cookbook consistently falls open to the German Apple Pancake page. For a decade now the binding has been broken there, and there are little droplets staining the paper, souvenirs from pancakes past. My dad used to make this recipe for weekend breakfast once the good apples started to appear in the stores. No Red Delicious ever got near this recipe! We’s apple snobs in Washington.
We experimented with all kinds of varieties for the pancake topping…Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, Jonagold, and in later years, Honeycrisp and Pink Lady. The original recipe suggests Pippens, a varietal that seems to have gone the way of shag carpeting.
The pancake itself is a light, airy wonder, with no leavening, just equal parts egg, flour, and milk, with a pinch of salt thrown in. It gets baked in the oven in a trusty cast-iron skillet, climbing up the sides of the skillet and emerging a golden pancake bowl that is crisp and airy on the sides and doughy and absorbent on the bottom. This delicacy is subsequently topped with peeled, thinly sliced apples sauteed in butter and brown sugar.
Stop. Close your eyes. Really, you need to do this. Take a minute and just imagine all those smells…melted butter, eggy pancake, apple, caramelizing brown sugar, a bit of nutmeg…THAT is my smell of autumn.
My role as a kid was always to help my dad peel the apples. I was in awe of his skill with an apple peeler. (This is how important this recipe is in my family. We don’t have potato peelers in our kitchen; we got apple peelers here.) He was able to create long, curling strips of peel. By the time I was finished peeling one apple, one round little blurb of peel at a time, he’d already powered through the other three.
He taught me to time it just right, to start sauteing the apples just as I turned down the temperature on the oven so that both apples and pancake would be done at the same time. He taught me to hold back, be a bit patient before starting to eat, so that the juices would have time to soak into the pancake, sweetening it and adding depth to the eggy flavor.
I learned on my own never to tamper with perfection:
German Apple Pancake, as I remember it from The Vegetarian Epicure:
1 TB butter
3 large eggs
3/4 cup flour
3/4 cup milk
pinch of salt
4 apples, peeled, cored, and thinly sliced
1/4 cup butter
1/4 cup packed brown sugar
cinnamon and nutmet
Method: Preheat oven to 450 degrees. Melt the butter in a well-seasoned cast-iron skillet, coating the bottom and sides. Mix the eggs, flour, milk, and salt in a bowl and pour into the skillet. Bake for 15 minutes, then reduce heat to 350 degrees and bake ten minutes more.
Sautee the apples in the remaining 1/4 cup of melted butter. When the apples are just soft, add the sugar and spices. Fill one half of the pancake bowl with apples, then fold the other half over on top.
Wait a few minutes.
Everyone has a favorite pizza. I stand loyal to my favorite pizza joint here in Portland, but my all time favorite hails from Buffalo, New York. Every summer or winter vacation that I visited my dad’s side of the family as a child, I always looked forward to two delicacies: 1) hot wings (never call them “Buffalo wings” in Buffalo, mind you) and 2) “Dino Pacciotti’s Bocce Club” pepperoni pizza – double pepperoni, double sliced. Our family never bothered to order anything other than that from Bocce Pizza because frankly nothing else was really worth it. Their vegetables weren’t of great quality and nothing else could quite measure up to that juicy, thick-sliced pepperoni.
We usually ordered two extra large pies between about five adults and some kids, which usually left us with about half of one to snack on over the course of the next day. Ordering them double sliced provided for the pleasant illusion that we were eating more pizza. I always volunteered to ride shotgun to the pizza parlor to pick up the order with my Uncle Dave or cousin Dan so I could sneak myself in a piece of pepperoni as soon as possible. I could never be trusted to sit with two piping hot Bocce pizzas sitting on my lap. Opening that box let that dangerously tantalizing scent hotbox the entire car and I could not resist prematurely snagging a piece or two of that wonderful pepperoni.
My birthday falls on October 9. One year, my family gathered at my dad’s house to celebrate my birthday. My parents divorced when I was 5 years old, but they remain close friends to this day. We still continued to gather all together for celebrations such as birthdays. That particular year, my mom brought me a delicious dark chocolate-raspberry cake that was too rich to enjoy in one sitting. This worked to my advantage as I could enjoy the rest of the cake over subsequent days. To my great delight, as we hurried to find refuge in my dad’s house on that blustery birthday, I found my nostrils filled with that distinct, mouth-watering aroma I had only experienced before from over 2,500 miles across the country! I had joked around before about Bocce Club pizza’s advertised offer to deliver a half-baked pizza anywhere nationwide via UPS, but I never thought that this dream would come true! As I popped that first hot little slice in my mouth, those copious, thick slices of pepperoni fell all over the plate.
Every time I visit my dad’s house, that Bocce Club pizza box remains victoriously displayed above the mantel, taking me back to the glorious time that I ate my favorite pizza on my birthday.
Meredith Robertson says
Circa 1971, I’m just a little tyke walking home from school in late September. The leaves have changed colors and are starting to fall to the ground and there is a nip in the air. My mother is newly divorced and is struggling to find herself. Find new friends and to find a balance in life and true to her form, she throws her whole self in.
Armed with a new cook book called Glorious Stew my mother sets out to make a basic brown stew. It’s the first recipe in the book and by golly she is going to master this stew if it’s the last thing she ever does. Several times a week as I walk through the front door I can smell the beef simmering lightly on the stove top and by the time Gilligan’s Island is over the mushrooms have been added and it’s getting close to dinner time. She throw’s in a loaf of crunchy French bread and severs us our stew in the brown ceramic pottery bowls with handles on the side that she got from the Shell gas station with every fill up. I dip my bread in to test the temperature and deeming it satisfactory; I gulp down my soup and run off to watch TV again. I’m sure we never provided the right kind of feedback that she was looking for unless cleaning our plate’s counts.
In order to get the right kind of feedback, she needed to test it out on friends. But…this is “just” a basic brown stew, time to pull out the big guns and really test her skills. Boeuf Bourguignon, ahhh that very rich French stew. Glorious Stew says, “The name should really be a la Bourguingnonne- in the style of a Burgundy housewife…” now we are getting somewhere. My mother master’s this stew to perfection and I’m in love! But it’s a very short lived love. I only get to enjoy this brown velvety concoction with its sweet round onions and firm mushrooms a couple of times. It’s too expensive for a single mother to make as an everyday meal, so she saves it for a Saturday afternoon in late October to have with close friends and several bottles of red wine.
By the time November arrives her thoughts’ turn to Thanksgiving and Christmas. She, again true to form throws herself into learning and perfecting something new to wow her friends with. It will be a whole year before I get beef stew again. Jump to 1988, after I graduated from culinary school my mother presented me with my own cookbook of Glorious Stew that she had found in a second hand store. She loving copied her notes from the edges and put them in my book to read. My book is well read and used as is hers. There are stains everywhere and reminders of past meals with close friends. I still find that there is nothing better than a warm bowl of stew in fall with leaves turning red.
Great story and great story telling! Took me back to both the kid place and the mom place. I vote this the best story!
Amy Houchen says
The Scents of September
When I was a child arriving home during the first week or so of school, I was likely to be greeted by one of two scents.
One was ripe Bartlett pears. My mother canned dozens of jars of fruit for our family of seven, and early September was time for pears, which were my favorite. When I got old enough, I was pressed into service peeling, halving, and coring. The easiest way to core a pear half is with a round or oval quarter-teaspoon measure: run the edge of the bowl from the stem end just under the core, scoop out the seed cavity, and then scoop once again—more shallowly—to remove the blossom end.
The other scent was of dill pickles ripening in the crock. I loved that pungent combination of vinegar and dill, even though I never ate any pickles. My mother also made sweet and bread-and-butter pickles, but I didn’t like those, either. I remember the mustard seeds in the bread-and-butter liquid, and I only ate sweet pickles when diced and suitably disguised in tuna and ground meat sandwiches. (This “ground meat” wasn’t hamburger. It was leftover pot roast run through the meat grinder with the medium attachment, and we mixed it with a little diced sweet pickle and mayonnaise or Miracle Whip, just as we did tuna.) It wasn’t until I was an adult that I developed a taste for sweet pickle relish—but only on hot dogs or hamburgers.
The back door I entered each afternoon led into the pantry. It was there that the pickle crock sat. And after the pickles and pears had been put in jars and processed in the big white-flecked dark blue canning kettle, it was there that they (and all the other canned fruit, and the jams and jellies) waited, on slatted shelves, to disappear through the winter.
After I left home, I never canned again (although I have been known to freeze vegetables, fruits, and tomato sauce). But some of my happiest moments each year are in September, when I prepare food while the sun slants in through my kitchen’s west windows, just as it did in the kitchen in which I grew up. Proust had his madeleines, but I have a couple of battered aluminum quarter teaspoons that I used for coring pears all those decades ago.