Standing Still In The Storm

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

When I was 13, my family would spend the evenings watching the original Iron Chef on TV. I was mesmerized watching the cooks and chefs fling food, whip and wheel around each other- a ballet of orchestrated chaos that I’d learn to call “the dance” 15 years later. In the center, like a stationary whirlwind, would sometimes stand my favorite Iron Chef- Masaharu Morimoto. Barely looking up, but barking instructions in Japanese to his cooks- and simply KNOWING they would be done. He called the dance, and controlled the storm from its eye.

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“I’m not a fighter, but in my mind I’m fighting every day. ‘What’s new? What am I doing?’ I’m fighting myself. My soul is samurai. My roots aren’t samurai, but my soul is.”

Shortly after I entered culinary school, I picked up a copy of Kitchen Confidential. Tony Bourdain painted a picture for me of cook as pirate, and chef as rock star. In his coarse and perfect style, he raised to veil behind that storm and the manic adrenaline rush it could elicit in those who craved it. Heat and madness, rage and lust, sensory bombardment, and the cool, quiet void of your own thoughts.
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“Maybe that’s enlightenment enough: to know that there is no final resting place of the mind; no moment of smug clarity. Perhaps wisdom…is realizing how small I am, and unwise, and how far I have yet to go.”

All the way through his books and through school, I learned the mantras of the kitchen, desperate to experience the eye of that storm-

“If you’ve got time to lean, you’ve got time to clean.”

” A. B. M.- Always Be Moving.”

“Don’t sacrifice quality for speed- and don’t sacrifice speed for quality.”

“Get it done now.”

“Faster, tighter, neater.”

“Mise en place- if you lose that, you lose.”

They carried me through school, then work, then daily life. Cooking is the art of control. You control your heat, your ingredients, your environment, your movements, your tools, your timeline, your tasks, yourself. If you are ever NOT in control- there is nothing left to bring everything together.

It’s made me a bit of a pain to live with, I bet.

It’s been a while since then. I’ve breathed madness. I’ve floated in the void of my own thoughts and basked in the eye of the storm, even as my body pushed itself thoughtless and perfect from task to task.

More than once, though, I have been made to learn everything has it’s opposite. A time for madness, and a time for calm. There are storms, and there are light rains. Neither will be denied their moment- and I have ruined more work by trying to hurry them (or myself) than I have through miscalculation, burning, or accident.

Not-yet- cold butter in pie dough leads to a greasy mess, dumping the whole thing in the trash and starting again.

Jacking up the heat on your oven doesn’t make faster cookies- it makes lumps of charcoal with raw dough in the center. I nearly got fired over that one.

Cookies need THEIR time in the oven.

Pie needs time to rest (and rugelach dough needs ALL 24 hours rest in the fridge, or it unrolls in the oven.)

Breads need proof time, butter needs time to freeze.

Baking needs its own time, and the ingredients won’t argue otherwise- they’ll just mess up your work. You must control everything- but with their permission.

I’ve worked out my mise en place to get many things done at once (a crucial skill for the kitchen- cooks don’t have twelve arms, just good timing.) I keep myself busy enough that I can’t watch the clock.

“I have twenty minutes till the cookies are done- I can chop veg for quiche.”

“Get the quiche in the oven early- they take two hours, and I can eight things done in the meantime.

Thus far, I’m learning- but there’s one thing I still have no patience for, the one thing I always should.

I still can’t be patient with myself.

I can’t stand it when I can’t master things in the time I think they should take.
When things aren’t moving fast enough for me, people in Australia hear my teeth grind.
And I have NO patience for people that say, “Be patient.”

Thinking back to Morimoto, I have almost learned how to stand in the eye and control the storm- but not yet how to be stationary.

A work in progress, I guess.

I just need to be patient.

Stay Classy,

Why Do I Do This To Myself?

Good evening, friends and neighbors. It’s been a while.

5:15 AM

My alarm goes off by my side of the bed. It’s still dark in the room.- not even a hint of the dawn coming in about 2 hours. I know Emily has probably only been in bed a few hours (night owl that she is,) so I jerk myself conscious enough to silence the alarm quickly before it can bother her.

My phone alarm acts as a dim nightlight, so I can just barely make her out next to me. Streetlights and headlights glow indirectly through the tiny ceiling window- enough for me to grab my phone, check the weather forecast for the morning, buzz through Facebook, curse myself for doing so, and get up.

I don’t have to be into work till 9, but I insist on arriving no later than 8:45. I want time to make breakfast and clean up-

after a workout of course.

This was not always me.

​4 years ago, this was me.

Even a year and a half after I made it from 275 lbs to my goal weight of 165, I still hear the same questions- “How did you do it?!” Or, more tellingly, “You’re a baker- how do you keep the weight off?” There’s one answer for both questions- “motivation.” It also answers the bigger, unspoken question everyone WANTS to ask.
I could talk your ears off about HOW. Other folks will happily charge you to hear HOW to lose weight. The bigger question, though, is rarely asked- because everyone thinks they know the answer, but only YOU know the real one.

I can tell you HOW. More importantly though- I’ll tell you WHY.

Motivation #1: That Guy

That’s him. Nice guy, well-liked. Friendly, cool to be around full of jokes and stories. A lot of folks like that guy- except the grouchy bastard in the picture.

I’ll never say I hated myself, but I remember being constantly disappointed- in myself, and my self-control. For all the laughs and smiles I gave everyone else, I had nothing like that for me. I had exasperated sighs, moans of pain, and grunts of resigned isolation. No matter what I did or accomplished, all I saw in the mirror was a sadsack who could drink beer, suck down chicken wings, make way-too-sweet desserts, and cripple himself trying to make everyone but him smile.

Some time ago, The Oatmeal wrote a comic about a little creature called The Blerch. That comic struck more chords with me than I like to admit.

That Guy is still in me, somewhere. He half-expects me to gobble a whole pizza, or guzzle a 22oz beer in a sitting like I used to do and convince myself I was just a chubby happy guy when that was at least half a lie.

When I exercise, That Guy calms down. He manages to smile a bit- no longer pained, no longer disappointed. He feels good. When I wake up in that dark room, he’s in my ear whispering, “C’mon man- don’t disappoint me.” Then I get up and think, “What should I do today?”

Motivation #2- I Don’t Want to Die

You’d think that doesn’t need much explanation. Not many people go around WANTING to die of obesity.

I remember exactly where this motivation came from clear as day, though.

It came because, 6 years ago, in the middle of the night, my little sister caught me in the kitchen eating a full pound of shitty microwave bacon as a SNACK.

5 years ago, my father invited me home for dinner. In the kitchen, he asked when I last ate, wanted to see my hand real quick- and then pricked my finger and checked my blood sugar. He’d just been diagnosed as pre-diabetic and was worried about me.

Around the same time, my uncle- a very obese man who refused to diet or work out until it was nearly too late- went into the hospital for the second to last time, and BEGGED me not to follow in his footsteps. He asked me to remember that healthy food could taste good, and that I should run while I still have both legs and a strong heart. Diabetes had taken my uncle’s left leg and practically his right foot- so he spent his last year trying to fix things and get himself right from a wheelchair.

I have all the genes in place to go that way. I am scared that, one day, I will screw up and find myself there. I can’t let that happen.

Motivation #3- I Want To Be Free

I am not a perfect man, and don’t pretend to be. I get angry and scared. Sometimes I want to scream at the sky and rip my hair out. Sometimes I want to ball up my fists and just pound the living shit out of something until the madness goes away. Sometimes I just want to collapse in a heap, pull the earth in over me and just die.

That’s called living- and exercise reminds me of what I should be doing.

Running up a mountain through the pre-dawn Portland fog, my fears and terrors get lost and stop while I charge forward.
Plowing through an exercise routine, my mind clears- panic chased away by rhythm and exertion. As my body moves, so does my mind. I can stop panicking and start planning.
Heaving my sandbag around, everything angering me quakes in fear and shrinks away- and I no longer NEED to beat them down because I KNOW I CAN.

Every morning, before work, I put my fears in context and my anger in its place.

Motivation #4- I Like It Like That.

Like everything, motivations change with time. Those last three still pop up, but more often than not- THIS is the reason I wake up early and workout as often as I can.

I like it. I don’t really know any other way to be anymore. Where I used to spend entire days off lying in bed and messing around on the computer, the concept of that fills me with disgust and nerviness. After my appendectomy, I had to take a month off of working out, and I was a jibbering wreck. I wanted to get up and move, but lacked the energy. I needed exercise, CRAVED it.

Yes, I’m a baker- and I crave the feel of dirt roads under my sneakers and sweat soaking through my shirt more than cupcakes. I will happily work for hours to make the best, most beautiful cake I can; but I never need sugar and fat as much as I need to feel my muscles move, flex, and ache.

I didn’t start with that need, that motivation- the other three came first.
​Then came these.

I want to be healthy so I can spend the rest of my life with Emily.
I want the energy to keep running and feel the earth under me.
I want the will to run up more mountains and see more sunrises.
I want the strength to make delicious food for people for the rest of my life, and meet more people that do so.

“We are not made for the mountains, for sunrises, or for the other beautiful attractions in life – those are simply intended to be moments of inspiration. We are made for the valley and the ordinary things of life and that is where we have to prove our stamina and strength.” – Oswald Chambers

Join a weight-loss group if you want. Make a New Year’s resolution. Join a gym, and get a personal trainer. Take on diets, give up junk food- whatever will serve you best.
It will never be easy to begin with, and it will never, EVER work AT ALL if you don’t know/care why you are doing it.

“Why am I doing this to myself” needs to become “Why am I doing this FOR myself”- and as one of my favorite quotes says:

​Stay Classy,

Flashbacks and Cookies

Good morning, friends and neighbors!

Fall, 1994. I’m eight years old, and my mother takes me grocery shopping.We live in Margate, a small town in Southern New Jersey, about two miles down the beach from the lights and excitement of Atlantic City.
It’s September, and Margate feels like a ghost town. The tourists who mob the streets all summer to enjoy the beach, or as a staging point to hit America’s Favorite Playground (as Atlantic City’s slogan still proudly proclaimed before it was “Always Turned On,” and then the even kinkiest suggestion of “Do AC.”)
It’s a locals-only town again. The beaches are empty and windy- just the way I would love them twelve years later.
Right now, I’m 8 years old and fussy, and my mom is dragging me through Casel’s.

Casel’s is a small, local supermarket. I went to school with the son of the man who owned it (we got along ok, meaning we didn’t really like each other, but he didn’t beat me up.) It was both a pillar of Margate life, and a coming-of-age rite of passage- if your first summer job wasn’t being a lifeguard at the beach, you were a bagger/ clerk at Casel’s. It was the kind of place where, if you liked the work, you stayed in Margate your whole life, and became precisely who you were meant to be- that is, a person from Margate.
As my mother hustles through the aisles, clucking at some prices and comparing others, I manage to wander away and explore the rest of the stores. Jars of stuff that look gross, bags of dried veggies and soup mixes, the epically-sized kosher section reflecting the odd upper-middle class Jewish population.

I find myself in the bakery section, staring at the sweets and cookies, and HE leans over the counter and smiles.

I don’t know his name even now, but to my 8-year-old mind, he was COOL. He was a guy in his 20s- old enough to be an adult, but still pass for a kid among kids. His long hair was pulled back in a ponytail, and the top was in a hair net. No beard, but hemp choker he was wearing marked him as a beachgoer.

“Hey man! You want a cookie?”

I looked from him to the case of brightly-colored, cheap platter-ready almond cookies. Hell yeah I wanted a freakin’ cookie.

“Yes please…”

He reached into the case with a gloved hand. I can’t remember precisely, but I think he had tattoos on his arm.
He handed me a neon-green leaf-shaped one, sandwiched with chocolate in the middle. He smiles as I eat it greedily. I’d had cookies like it before, but for some reason, this one was extra good. I smiled a goofy, buck-toothed, green-tinted grin back at him.

My mom finds me, thanks the bakeshop for the cookie, and leads me away. We check out and go home.

22 years later, today. I’m 30 years old, filling the bakery case at my job, and arranging everything so it looks right. I never took a job at Casel’s. I live in Portland, Oregon. I am the person I was always meant to be, but not someone from Margate.

I set down a plateful of Halloween-inspired French Macarons (Pumpkin Spice Jack-O-Lanterns, Pink Plum Eyeballs, and Candy Corn- all Victoria’s creations, I can claim no credit there), I look up through the glass and there’s a boy and his big sister. The boys eyes and mouth are wide open in amazement. He has buckteeth. His sister starts reading the tag, telling him what flavor each one is.

I’m just about to intone those amazing and sacred words, taught 22 years ago-

“Hey man! Want a cookie?”

… When the kids mother appears and whisks them away. She’s in a hurry.

I smile, but sadly as I watch them hustle off through the glass.

One minute faster, I could have given the world another baker in 22 years.

Thanks for letting me have the cookie, Mom.

Stay Classy,
BHB

To My Teachers

Good evening, friends and neighbors.

So this happened last week-

She’s a student. Crazy capable, and catches on quick. We’ve had her as an extern for a while, and today- thanks to a crunch schedule- she gets to solo the pastry bench. I’ve already got things set up for her as much as I can. She has a production list, but she gets to decide her timeline. The list is reasonable, but unspecific- she’ll have to get creative.I’m off to the left with my own work, taking care of the production end of things. I have a light list so I can keep an eye on her. She’s worked, she’s prepped- and now it’s time to fly.

As I try to hustle through my own production with one eye looking back over my shoulder at her work (popping in once or twice with observations or reminders,) I can’t help but flashback to my externship at the casino. I actually text my former supervisor/ mentor with the memories- just a quick “thank you” to my mentor for not gutting me like a fish when was snot-nosed little smartass.
It was time to make a galette, and I left the filling up to her. She saw what we had a lot of in the walk-in: ham, kale, carrots, and a fresh crate of onions. “These with pepper jack, I think.” Part of me flashed back to Chef Sheridan back in ACA’s restaurant, Careme’s, and reminding me of how to craft dishes- figuring out what goes together.

“Hold up- WHAT exactly are you going to do with the kale? WHY carrots?”

About 5 minutes and a trip to the walk-in later, the ham was the odd one out. When crafting a dish, using what you have is a good way to start- but it must work together and make sense.

Once back at the bench, she is in her element- plowing through the list and prep, and I can work on my own tasks.

Then she goes to work on the kale. She’s stemmed and chopped it, and thrown it in with the rest of the veg for the oven.

“Whoa, hold up. What are you doing with the kale here?”
“Um… roasting it?”
My mind flashes back to school again- this time to Chef Matt, and him gently ribbing me over caramelizing hazelnuts for a bread.
“No no no. That’s good for kale chips. You need to sauté this if it’s going in a galette.
She nods, pulls a pan down and starts oiling it right on her bench.

“Wait, hold up. You know it’s a hot pan you oil, right?”

She shakes her head. I am thrilled ACA made me go through Soups, Stocks and Sauces on the way to a pastry degree and look at the half-done prep on my table.

“Okay, meet me at the range in about 5 minutes. Bring the kale, half-cup of the chicken stock I just made, two cloves of minced garlic, and the crushed pepper.”

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On your mark… get set…

She moves like a soldier. Her mise is perfect as she brings me everything nice and neat. I heat up the pan, hand her a wooden spoon, and oil the pan. Together, I show her how to braise the kale the way Emily and I do it at home- savory and crunchy, but tender and bright. In my head, Chef Chelius is sternly-but kindly- walking me through everything, explaining why each step needs to happen.
When it’s done, I hold the pan up and tell her to try a piece. She’s never really had kale. In my head, Chef Cragg says “If you haven’t tasted it, why should I?”
She does. It’s delicious. “I never really tried kale before, but that is really good!”
“And that’s going in your galette. Now you know how to make kale for the rest of your life.”

Her shift ends, and I write up remarks on her student evaluation.
“Any kitchen lucky enough to get her will not be disappointed.”

Anthony Bourdain says, “Skills can be taught. Character you either have or you don’t have.”
She’s gonna be a hell of a baker, because she’s got it in spades. Skills and tastes will come in time.

Thank you to her teachers, and to mine.

​You didn’t just teach me how to bake and cook- you taught me how to teach.

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Thank you.


​Stay Classy,

One Year Out

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

The hint of fall is in the air as I sit under the blacked-out stars on the patio of the Space Room on Hawthorne. Usually it’s a lot wilder, with hipsters celebrating the coming of Friday like the weekend was starting Thursday- “Thirsty Thursday” I think some people still call it. I always really liked this kind of weather, where you packed a light hoodie for the morning and evening, but crammed it in your bag during the hot sunlit hours. It certainly seems more pronounced in Oregon than it ever did in New Jersey. I suppose that’s because most of my autumns in New Jersey were home by the sea, not out in the Pinelands or anywhere especially wooded. Even in super-hip and compulsively urban Portland, you can’t forget there are woodlands out there. The trees are starting to change, littering the streets with scarlet and ochre leaves. It’s turning into the time of year that demands light music, whiskey, and warmth.

Well, I’m having a martini. Cucumber dill-infused vodka, a refreshing little twist. It’s my Friday. After coming home, stripping off the remains of my work of the last week and zonking out for about an hour, I decided that was break enough, and time to get out among people and back to work.
As of September 11th, it has been one year since Emily and I dropped everything and headed west. In the course of that year, we’ve:
– Moved once
– Learned to live and love a new city
– Made friends
– Said goodbye to friends we just made
– I was unemployed for at least 6 months.
– Restarted The Black Hat Bakery as The Black Hat Baker and took it legit.
– Got engaged- our date is officially January 7th, by the way.
– Faced changes and losses that we weren’t near enough to deal with quickly.
– Counted on the goodwill and love of more people than we believed we could deserve.
– Relied on luck and hope perhaps a bit more than we should have.

New Year’s Eve of two years ago, I promised myself I wouldn’t be in the same job. I promised myself I’d be out seeing the world, working for myself, or working for a business I loved and agreed with. I finished that promise with the words of my grandfather:

“They will love you, or they will hate you- but never let them ignore you.”

Two years later, I am an honest-to-God entrepreneur. I work a day job I love, doing work I enjoy and get creative control in. On the side, I work to fulfill two goals I made long ago at the same time- I wanted to make people happy, and I wanted to save the world. If I can entertain people with my writing and stories, and teach them to bake and look after others- that’s a job worth doing.

A year and a half ago, I didn’t expect to be doing any of that 2000 miles from everything I knew and loved.

A year is a long time, and it’s not so long at all.

I’ve been trying not to write too many self-serving blogs recently. I want everything I write here to be helpful or of interest to you guys, my readers, where/whatever you are. If I want to share all of this with you, I’m going to teach you something while I do it- and this is something I’m still learning myself, even as I sit under the stars 2000 miles from home, two drinks in, and listening to cars crawl along Hawthorne.

“BE PATIENT. YOU WILL NEVER SEE THE GOOD THINGS YOU WANT COMING.”

This has been a king-hell-bastard of a year. I learned a lot, often unpleasantly, and always just doing what I’d been trying to do all along:
1. Look after myself and those I love.
2. Do what I love to do.
3. Try to make the world better.

In the course of one year, it got me to some pretty dark places- I thought I was twisted or sick. I thought I should give up. I thought I was no good to begin with and who was I fooling.

It also got me to some places of indescribable beauty- where I KNEW all was well, and that I couldn’t forgive myself if I ever gave up, and that I still had skills worth sharing, and that I was where I was meant to be.

In other words, it carried me through life. Life sucks. It’s also beautiful. It’s painful. It’s also ecstasy.

In a few months, or maybe a little sooner, I’ll see my old home for the first time in a year. I’ll marry the woman I love, and who I managed to build a life with among all this madness. I’ll see old friends, and maybe some will ask how Portland is, or what life is like out here.

I think about that as I look past the patio lights at the cloudy sky, and then down the road at restaurants, bars, stores, people, libraries, museums, a city I’ve only had a year to know.

I think I’ll say “It’s life. Just a little wilder and weirder.”

Thanks for sticking around, folks. This should be interesting.

Stay Classy,

“Voos Mahkt A Yid?”

     Good evening, friends and neighbors!

     Hope your Labor Day was fun and restful, and that all the kids are excited to be back in school.

     What? Weirder things have happened.

     Case in point was MY Labor Day, spent in the kitchen of Crema Cafe + Bakery, my current employers.

     As you might expect, business was VERY swift that day, and I was double-timing it around the kitchen. As the only pastry guy on duty that day, I had to make sure the front was stocked. Pastries, pies, cakes, pudding- whatever I could whip up with what was available that the customers would like.

     One of the great things about working in a small place like Crema is the creative freedom. As in all kitchens, one taste is worth a thousand explanations. If you can bring the boss something new and good, very often the response is “Make it, put it out there- if it sells, make it again.” In a way, it’s the ultimate trial by fire for a new recipe. While most creations are bound to become one-offs, or made infrequently when time/materials present themselves, good products that can speak to the public in all seasons are likely to be asked for again and again, and become regular additions.

With that in mind, when I started on the pastry bench at Crema a month or so back, my first thought was, “These guys need a little East Coast in here”- and to me, that means Jewish classics. 

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Pic from traditionaljewishgifts.com

     I have not always had a great relationship with my Jewish roots and faith. I all but denied them for about four years after an unfortunate argument with a rabbi. Since college, however, I’ve found myself embracing my Jewish heritage and culture more and more- but that’s another story. Something that helped me along as reconnecting and learning the recipes of my youth.

     Since the head of pastry, Victoria, already had a pretty solid rugelach recipe she made now and again, I figured it couldn’t hurt to show them hamantaschen and my Bubba’s Jewish Apple Cake. 

     While my Bubba’s Jewish Apple Cake is eternal, unchanging and perfect (I will f*^&ing fight you if you argue different), the great thing about hamantaschen IS the fact that the fillings in the triangular sugar cookie can change as you see fit. With Portland’s absolutely INSANE growing seasons and produce, fillings were limited only by my imagination.

     Which is why this story involves an amusing conversation that started over a Peach Blueberry and Thyme-filled hamantaschen.

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Yes, you want one. Recipe farther down.

One of my hobbies recently has been reading up on the Yiddish language– the language of the Jewish Diaspora since at least the Middle Ages. It combines Biblical Hebrew, German, Slavic, and a number of other languages in its melange of dialects. As such, when I write up the display tags for my pastries, sometimes I add in Yiddish phrases and jokes, like:
Oy, geshmakht!” (Wow, great taste!)
“Ba-Tampte!” (Tasty!)
“Nu? What do you want for $3?” (Shut up, it’s funny.)

As the crowds are winding down and I’m starting preparations for the next day, Zach- one of the baristas- comes back and says, “Someone wants to talk to you about your hamantaschen, but he’s pronouncing it ‘geshmahkt’ or something? I don’t get it.”
I can’t help but chuckle- “Nu? One of the customers speaks Yiddish!” I am greeted by a friendly older gentleman that we’ll call Leroy. Leroy was new to Portland and was in our neck of the woods for the Portland Theater Festival. He pointed to the tag on my hamantaschen and asked if I was fluent in Yiddish.
I confessed that I wasn’t, but I was picking up a few phrases here and there through my reading. He smiled and told me that he had wanted to learn Yiddish for a long time as it was his parent’s primary language. He then asked if I was going to be here later, and I told him I’d likely be there until closing time. He grinned and said he’d be back.

About two hours later, I’m starting to wrap things up in back. I had prep done for tomorrow, all the wholesale pastries and stuff for morning bake ready to go- all that was left was wrapping and cleaning.
That’s when Zach pops in the back again. “Hey Matt, that old guy’s back, and he’s got a book for you.”

A book?

The book was his textbook in beginner’s Yiddish, written and assembled for a college course he had attended some time ago. As he lived in the neighborhood (and now knew where I worked) he offered to let me borrow it so I could get some REAL lessons in, rather than just memorizing phrases.

You’ll never know what can happen over tasty pastries.

Nu? What did you want from a blog I’m writing at 11 at night?

Oh, that’s right- recipe!

​Rebecca’s Hamantaschen

Yield: maybe 30 cookies?

Ingredients:
Cookie Dough
1 1/2
C. Butter
1 C Sugar
2 Eggs (room temperatur)
6 Tbs orange juice
1 tbs vanilla
2 tsp baking powder
4 1/2 C flour

Filling (You can make this, or get jars of pie filling from the store- whatever you like!)
Peaches, peeled, pitted, and chopped small.
Pints Blueberries
1/2 C. Sugar
Tbsp Corn Starch
Tbsp Lemon Juice
1 Tbsp Dried Thyme
Fresh Thyme for Garnish

Method for Filling

  1. Put fruit in a large saucepan over medium-high heat, stirring occasionally. Don’t freak out if the fruit starts steaming and sizzling, that’s a good sign. Meanwhile, mix together the sugar and cornstarch.
  2. When a good amount of liquid has gathered at the bottom of the pan, remove from the heat and add in the cornstarch/sugar mix, lemon juice, and dried thyme. Mix well
  3. Return to heat, but on medium-low, and stir frequently. Let the fruit simmer until goopy and thickened. Let cool.

Method for Cookie Dough

  1. Cream the butter and sugar together until light and fluffy. Add the eggs one at a time, and scrape the bowl well.
  2. Add in the orange juice and vanilla. Mix on low speed, and gradually add the flour and baking powder. Wrap the resulting dough in plastic and chill at least 30 minutes.


Assembly and Baking​

  1. Preheat your oven to 375 F.
  2. On a floured surface, roll out the dough to about 1/4″ thick, and use a cookie cutter to cut out circles. This will determine the size of your cookies- for mine, I tend to cut them about 5″ diameter.
  3. On a papered sheetpan, lay out your circles and brush the edges with egg wash.
  4. Take your cooled filling, and scoop 1tbsp into the center of each circle.
  5. Fold the edges of the circle up and overlap them to make a triangle with a small opening in the center. Make sure the corners are getting pressed- you don’t want them opening in the oven!
  6. Brush the hamantaschen with egg wash if desired for a glossy golden look.
  7. Bake your hamantaschen for 8 to 10 minutes, until the filling is bubbling and the cookies are golden with bit of browning along the bottom. Remove to a wire rack to cool, and sprinkle with fresh thyme!

    Stay Classy,

Genres of Bars in Portland- Where To Plant Your A** and Raise Your Glass

Good evening, friends and neighbors!

I tend to do my best thinking when I’m outside. I’ve heard that it’s something to do with endorphins, or the activity of the body matching the activity of the mind. It might also be the mirepoix of light, fresh air, and action that stirs the imagination to open doors it might have sullenly slogged by- even if the body itself seems to be slogging it’s way through the rainy, suddenly sleet-in-May-filled streets of Portland.

I tend to do my best THINKING when I’m moving around outside.

​My best WRITING, however, tends to happen in pubs and restaurants.

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Good enough for the Inklings, it’s good enough for me. Photo by Tom Murphy

As I write this, I am ensconced in a small subterranean cocktail lounge called Pepe Le Moko, hidden away between two stores on 10th St., just off of Washington.
Past a young woman in the doorway shucking fresh oysters and prepping appetizers, a narrow staircase leads to a pleasantly dark, well-arranged bar- moodily lit as seems appropriate, with smooth jazz playing at a noticeable, but not obnoxious level. I can’t help feeling nostalgic for certain bars in Philadelphia that echo this sort of not-unpleasantly-stereotypical atmosphere.

Really, only the most uninformed tourist would doubt that beneath it’s shiny, liberal-artsy, crunchy exterior, Portland is an honest-to-God drinking town, and there really does seem to be a bar not just for whatever you are craving, but whatever mood you are in.

Since moving to Portland a year ago (oh god it’s been a year), I’ve found myself belly-up to many fine establishments, and there are a few I come to again and again, based on what I’m feeling. Maybe it’s a fantasy of vintage class. Perhaps it’s a place to swap stories and lies with friends. Often it’s a quiet place to nurse a drink, sit down, and write.
Here’s my list.

​Writing Bars

    These bars tend to be either subterranean or well-secluded, allowing you to ignore the world outside and focus on whatever it is you are doing, whether that is writing or just drinking at enjoying a classy form of isolation. Usually not specializing in anything in particular, what makes a good writing bar can really depend on the person. For me, I like a good beer list, or solid cocktails. 
     Joining Pepe le Moko in this category is the McMenamin’s-owned “Al’s Den” in Downtown. I first found this place while trying to find a place to wait out the rain, have a pint and write. A narrow flight of stairs down from the pavement leads to a smallish, warm basement bar with a quiet atmosphere, fine McMenamins beer, and friendly people- the perfect place to wait out the storm.
     On East Burnside is a curious addition to this category called Rontoms. With the unobtrusive exterior of an old warehouse, Rontoms is a hip and spacious bar with regular music, great beer, and great food. Rontoms is a BIG space, but the choice of furniture (almost all low couches and chairs around coffee tables) and the layout of the room give one the sensation of people-watching in an enclosed space. An ebullient staff and solid food menu means an experience that I can only describe as “feeling pleasantly alone in a crowd.” 
     If you are interested in going a little further east and checking out the North Tabor neighborhood, you’ll find the Caldera Public House. Locating in a historic drug store, Caldera offers bar seating, a few comfortable chairs around a bookshelf, and a back patio. While their beer menu is a little lacking for Portland, their cocktail list presents intriguing offerings, like the “Dark Garnet” and “Leche Diablo.” Both Emily and I have found ourselves slipping down the block to get some writing in at their comfortable tables. Their 10pm closing time, however, tends to forbid late-night workshopping sessions.

The Local Watering Hole

Like a traditional Irish or English-style pub, the common thread in these bars is the homieness- between the atmosphere and the staff, you get the feeling that coming here is a pastime, where the servers know you and what you like. You might even have a favorite spot. Not necessarily a place to be alone, these are places to meet friends, enjoy company, and drink a few beers. As you can imagine, this is the category that MOST bars in Portland fit into. No matter what part of the city you are from, you are rarely far from a pub you can call home.

     My current local is the Horse Brass Pub, on SE Belmont. With an absolutely phenomenal beer list, and excellent English and American pub fare, the Horse Brass sometimes doubles as a Writing Bar for me when I really crave the noise and action of a busy bar. While you won’t be getting too many cocktails from the bar, that’s not the reason you came. This is a place to meet friends and have a beer or whiskey…and then another… and another… and another.

     If, on the other hand, you’re feeling something a bit more divey, the Yamhill Pub has you covered. Yamhill Pub stands proud as your loud, dark, windowless dive tucked in the bottom of an office building along Yamhill St. A raucous jukebox, even money on getting a craft microbrew or a big label domestic, and a generally colorful clientele means a splendid place to disappear into the noise and forget you exist for a while, or at least until you get sucked into another patron’s story time moment.

   Maybe you’re not really feeling a dive, but also don’t want something TOO fancy or clever. For that state of mind, my favorite place in the city so far is Beulahland– dark, but open. Divey, but friendly and welcoming. Great beers on tap, and a menu of solidly-done sandwiches, burgers, and other staples makes it the gold standard for local in my book, and the perfect place for an after-hours drink. You’re as likely to watch English Premier Soccer on the screens as you are to see flamenco dancing- which is to say, “Yes.”

    If you had the day off, however, you might find yourself on SE Hawthorne- a main drag of shopping, dining, drinking, and amusements. All the way at the end of the street, you’ll find Quarterworld and the Space Room. Quarterworld is a retro-gaming dreamland, with a great bar and carnival-inspired food to keep you fueled as you play vintage arcade and pinball games, listen to live bands, or guess at trivia.
For a quieter time, however, wander over to the Space Room. ​Kitschy and goofy by purpose and pride, The Space Room is a small bar decked out with all the 1950s sci-if shlock and goofy lighting you could want, and with a classic drink menu and infused vodkas to match. Laugh at the kitsch, and drink it up. It’s what you came for, and you got it and more.

​Casual Cocktail

     These are the bars that I usually find I’m in the mood for when I have guests, or if I’m taking Emily out on a date. Make no mistake- these places are solid places to get a drink, but they aren’t really the kind of place where you necessarily hang out and drown your sorrows. These places are a little swankier- you walk in here to see and be seen, and to drink the strange and wonderful cocktails they do so well.
     Given that it is the commercial and tourism heart of the city, the Downtown area west of the Willamete seems to be the nexus for these sort of bars. Notable among them is Shiftdrinks. When I first walked in to Shiftdrink, I was struck by the minimalist, warehouse-like decor. I had anticipated something akin to MIlkboy- a bar in Philadelphia notable for the fact that it is directly across from Jefferson Hospital, and has a “happy hour” timed for each shift at the hospital- one should always be able to end a day’s (or night’s) work with a drink.
Shiftdrink, however, is something clearly different. It’s a place to meet friends, and specifically to grab a cocktail. While their beer menu DOES sport some fine choices, come on- you don’t go to a sushi restaurant and order pizza.
    If you’re feeling something a bit less cosmopolitan in FEEL, if not necessarily in location- there’s always Swine. The companion bar to the Swank restaurant at the base of the Paramount Hotel, Swine specializes in two things: moonshine whiskey, and pork. With an exciting and intriguing bar menu for the bacon-obsessed individuals in your life, and great whiskey-based cocktails, it’s a great place to meet friends after dinner, or before a show.
     Beyond all this, however, there is one place that MUST be mentioned. Tucked away on SW Alder Ave is the Multnomah Whisk(e)y Library. No, the “library” bit is NOT just them being clever.  Open to the public, but reservations only available to membership (at a $600 yearly price tag, and currently wait-listed), one may ascend a staircase in an dark, wood-walled hall and enter the smoking-room/study you always wished you had. With a leather-bound whiskey list an inch thick, listing two walls worth of whiskey in alphabetical order, this is a place for special moments. This is where you can melt into the leather upholstery of an arm-chair, enjoy a whiskey poured precisely to your wishes, and wrap yourself in the serene splendor. With very few actual tables, the Library DOES sport a brief but impressive menu- the price point, however, makes it a VERY special occasion sort of place. When you have the chance to taste whiskies that cost up to $2000 an ounce… yes. You ENJOY it.
This list isn’t comprehensive by a long shot, and I always love finding new and different places to try- but for the stranger in the Rose City, who may be worried by early hours of his hotel bar, or put off by the crunchy hipness of the local populace, fear not!
Portland is weird, it loves BEING weird, and it REALLY loves getting weird.

L’Chaim!

​Stay Classy,