Good evening, friends and neighbors.
It’s been a while since I was in the “park blocks” of SE Portland. The stretch of greenery in the Culture District is home to a number of museums and venues before it terminates at Portland State University (and, on Saturdays, the PSU Farmers Market.)
Wednesday evening, I was beating feet up the sidewalk, past fresh-air takers and statues in the park. Like a Saturday morning, I was making my way toward the food… a display of Oregon’s artisans, and the produce of this foodie wonderland.
Unlike those Saturday mornings though, I’m not dashing toward the market. I’m making my way toward a museum… and I’m eating to feed others.
“Not A Drop to Drink”
It’s the irony present in most American metropoli today- homeless folks, panhandlers, the down on their luck and hungry huddled in the corners of our vision. Keeping themselves on the periphery of our awareness- for their safety, or their embarrassment of their conditions.
The irony is as stark as the grasping hands are invisible- desperate lack in the midst of plenty.
In Portland, the irony is even more cruel. Not only is Portland a bustling city, it is a foodie Mecca. A food wonderland.
And yet, in Oregon, 1 in 5 children- disproportionately people of color, minorities, and those of LGBTQ+ families- have no idea when they will get something to eat.
Even as I wound my way up to the Portland Art Museum, it was hard to avoid the glaring truth. With the soft grass and benches, the park blocks are a popular camping spot for the homeless.
I wrote previously about the “scarcity” mindset and how having basic needs in flux makes planning- or even imagining– for a future almost laughable. You aren’t exactly thinking about saving money when every dollar you get is earmarked for maybe getting food today… or maybe keeping a roof over your head.
Those are adult concerns… how can a child enduring them concentrate in school, on an empty stomach no less?
Since 1989, through partnerships and lobbying for legislation, Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon has been connecting people in need with businesses and organizations to offer them food security.
In 2017 alone:
- They partnered with 81 School Districts to boost School Breakfast and Lunch participation, ensuring students can start their school days fed.
- Established Summer Meals Suppport Fund grants for 18 communities to provide activities and nutrition for school children during the summer recess.
- Educated and connected 54,000+ hungry Oregonians with “SNAP” Benefits, and trained 400+ more in assisting others.
Little by little, and growing every day, Hunger-Free Oregon is working to make sure the bounty of the Pacific Northwest is available to everyone… so when they reached out to me and said “Come support us, there will be cake?”
Oh, twist my arm.
A Little Bit of Everything
As I checked in at the table and descended the stairs into the ballroom, the variety of the Oregonian food scene made itself plain.
Not just in the dozen speciality cakes being raffled off at the end of the night- donated by local bakeries, and overseen by Miss Oregon herself, but the fact that a host of supporters had brought treats both sweet and savory to the table.
The famous Elephant’s Deli offered crudités and miniature galletes. Chef Liz of Loyal Legion brought the fire with a vegan “ceviche” of hot pepper and chickpeas in endive.
Toward the far end of the room, Chef Keith of Cooper’s Hall complimented the piles of sugar throughout the event with his smoked duck breast, topped with a green strawberry salsa, snap peas, and goat cheese.
I may have had a few more of those than is strictly good for me.
Amidst all the food, wine and liquor samples flowed freely, providing the weird and wonderful that Portland is known for in all things- not just its potent potables.
As I padded my way up and the down the double aisles of tables, it wasn’t merely the variety of food and liquor that struck me. It was also the people offering their wares– female professionals and entrepreneurs.
Each table I stopped at, I couldn’t help but collect their stories- bites of their lives AND their creations.
Faith Dionne was laughing with her former boss as I wandered up to her table. “You know, pastry and distilling are very similar. They seem magical and complex- but it’s simple when you learn how it’s done!”
Faith started out as a baker and a pastry chef at a couple locations throughout Portland, but with the birth of her children, Faith decided to try going into business for herself. Incorporating the chemistry-gifted mind of a baker with her love of the forests of Oregon, JAZ Spirits puts the flavors of the Oregon wild in a bottle.
As she walked me through her Cold Tree Gin, Spruce Gin, and Salal Berry Liqueur, Faith and I compared our love and frustrations with fermentation- my attempts at home meadmaking paling in comparison. “Just because you know how it’s done doesn’t stop it from being magic.”
For Faith, the distilling is only part of the magic. A better part is her children joining her in the forest and helping foraging the ingredients for the next batch.
“Have you ever tried a sourdough chocolate chip cookie?” Adrian is all smiles as she offers the plate- comparatively simple next to the more elaborate displays of her peers. Simplicity is kind of her shtick, though.
Adrian J.S. Hale was a typical worried mother when her daughter complained of regular tummy aches, and the doctor recommended she go gluten-free. Unwilling to bend to a food trend, and equally unwilling to give up her European culture’s focus on fine bread, Adrian started making her own at home and researching local grain providers, rather than buying grocery store brands. Her daughter’s belly aches stopped, and 1000 Bites of Bread was born.
1000 Bites of Bread is Adrians blog and business where she tries to educate others in rediscovering “real bread”- wholesome, no-preservative, Old World loaves made with locally- sourced grains. The blog offers a store, a resource directory, and Adrians collection of recipes- or, if you are the hands-on type, classes offered through Air BnB Experiences.
The cookies were delicious, and Adrian a delight. Seek her out if you’re in the Portland area and sick of WonderBread.
“This is Career #2 for you, too, huh?”
Chef Linda Naylor had made a few shots at the culinary world before making it her career. It wasn’t until after she’d spent 25 years selling real estate in Cincinnati that she decided it was going to be pastry or bust. Two years later, with a degree in Baking and Pastry Management from OCI, Chef Naylor put down the listings and picked up the spoon for good.
While working as the pastry chef for an Italian trattoria in Lake Oswego, Essential Confections is Chef Naylor’s sideline, offering simple and serene sweets through her online store. At her table are small triangles of thick, crumbly cardamom shortbread- topped with a roasted strawberry balsamic jam and lemon mascarpone. Between bites (mine,) we chat about the twists of life, and the simple alchemy of baking.
“You always need to make time for yourself, and put your wellbeing first. Do the things that make you happy.”
A Lot to Chew On
The night dwindled, and toward the end of the evening, I realized I had more than enough to write about.
What to start with though? The event itself- a collection of some of the best food in the area? It makes for great foodporn, but you can get that everywhere.
The cause then? We are all of us guilty at some point of turning a blind-eye to the needy. As I made my way down the street, people camped on benches in the warm spring evening- a sign of the irony and hypocrisy of our plenty.
I can’t begin to scratch the surface, and even then I doubt I could at anything not said better by others. I am simply pleased that Partners for a Hunger-Free Oregon exist, and that there are more and more people donating and volunteering for them each day.
The people, then- especially the exceptionally passionate and creative businesswomen I got to meet. Theirs are stories that don’t get told nearly enough and deserve a wider audience. Businesses born out of love, curiosity, and a discovery of self in a time when women especially are silenced and stymied from perusing their callings. A good start is just telling their stories… better would be to step aside and let them speak for themselves.
In the end, I decided that this entry- like the event- should be a taste of everything:
Good people, with good stories, offering up good food, for a good cause.
Can’t do better than that, in my opinion.