At The Source

I’d normally apologize for missing posting for three weeks in a row, but in this case my wife and I have been traveling in Ireland for a long-awaited honeymoon, came home, and quarantined with Covid for a week. Therefore, between finally getting out to travel and coughing up a solid quart of mucus, I’m not going to be apologizing for shit.

Instead, I’m going to tell you about where everything good comes from.

We wound our way from Dublin to the Aran Islands, through large cities and smaller villages with various amounts of tourist-minded accoutrements. We ate at small pubs and fine restaurants, and I had enough Traditional Irish Breakfasts that I’ll be pleased not to see a black or white pudding for a while.

Everywhere we stopped though, we always sought out the same thing- what is everyone else eating, and where is the best stuff? Almost every time, it was out of the way, made well, and made simply.

Whether you are dining at a Michelin-starred restaurant or an airport fast food joint, all food has its source in simple questions:
What can we eat?
How do we eat it?
How do we make it good?

Shepard’s Pie and a local porter was we went around the Ring of Kerry

Ireland is, arguably unfairly, not considered a “food destination.” We were warned of that by a well-meaning travel agent friend and had it confirmed to us by others after we returned. I wouldn’t say Ireland doesn’t have good food. Emily and I found plenty of places where the food was excellent- The Laurels Pub and Restaurant and The Celtic Whiskey Bar and Larder, both in Killarney, come immediately to mind. There are certainly more and finer places elsewhere in the country that we didn’t get to visit.

Instead, what I will say is that Ireland knows what its food is about, doesn’t get overly fussy about it, and doesn’t particularly care if it impresses outsiders.

As Emily and I wandered around Dublin, we noticed that almost every pub- from the tiny one just off the road to the biggest and busiest bar in the Temple Bar Area- had the exact same menu. It truly seemed like the decision of “which pub to go to” could truly only be decided by personal or logistic factors- which was closest to you, where your friends usually were, which bartender you knew best, who you thought poured the best pint, and whose prices you thought were best. All other factors- food, beer, whiskey selection- were essentially static.

Beef Cottage Pie at The Boars Head, Dublin

The menu was nearly always a set thing, nailed down out of convenience and tradition- heavy, meaty, starchy, stick-to-your-ribs, stone-in-your-gut food meant to fill you and go with a pint. If you are spending your days wandering from tourist spot to tourist spot, you will get sick of the monotonous “Irish cuisine” really quick and find yourself going find Chinese, Mediterranean, Japanese, or any of the other cuisines that one can find in a worldly metropolis- whether or not you’ve been getting wrecked on Guinness and whiskey every night. I enjoy my booze just fine, but Emily and I were happy to find places like Lee’s Charming Noodles and Rotana City a few nights.

Frankly decent Beef and Guinness Stew in Galway

If you don’t get outside of major cities (or don’t have a budget to visit a Michelin-starred restaurant), you can absolutely come away from a trip to Ireland thinking more fondly of the booze than the food, and all I can say about that is that you weren’t in the state the food was ever meant for.

Toward the end of our trip, Emily and I were in Galway and we spent a stormy day on Innishmore, the largest of the Aran Islands in Galway Bay and home to a long and happily-commercialized history of fishing, sheep farming, and knitting. It had been raining nearly constantly since we got to Galway and we were indeed equipped for rain, but being halfway out into the North Atlantic meant the rain was more like a storm. The one small town on the island was cozy, but anything that we wanted to see or do that didn’t involve drinking or buying sweaters meant renting some bikes, rolling through the cliffs and hills, and getting wet.

Excuse the nervous face- the bikes and roads had both seen better days…

It was after biking along the wet and winding roads for a while that Em and I bellied up into Joe Watty’s- the local Irish Pub- and encountered The Menu again. This time, however, we were in the right state for it. The seafood chowder was the best I’d had in ages, and Emily tackled her fish and chips with a vengeance. We both annihilated our beers, and- sitting in yet another pub with the menu we’d gotten weary of in Dublin- we got it.

The food in that pub was meant for the rainy, cold days on the North Atlantic when no matter what you were out in it doing your thing- shepherding sheep or tourists, hauling in fish or selling knitwear. The food in Dublin pubs was still food for soaking up a beer or two after a hard day.

It was the same, functional, tasty, stretchable cuisine it had always been. It was meant to feed and sate more than tantalize. It was meant to make us ready to go back out into the rain, not waddle off to the next tourist trap. It’s been doing the job well enough for a few centuries, and it doesn’t need your snarky Yelp reviews thank you very much.

No, we all shouldn’t go back to eating gruel and nuts. There’s room to actually enjoy food at the table beyond subsistence and yes- get someone hungry enough and they’ll eat nearly anything. We shouldn’t disparage comfort food just because we don’t need comfort when we’re eating it though. We don’t get to write off a whole country as “not a food destination” just because we’re not the audience the food was created for. Food was, and is, an aspect of culture. The ability to appreciate food holistically- as part of world and where it fits in the culture that created it- is as pivotal to appreciating good food as appreciating technique, history or pedigree.

I look forward to traveling more, tasting more, and challenging more of my preconceptions about “food destinations.” Especially once I can taste things clearly again.

Stay Classy,

Review #19- The Bellwether Bar

WHERE: 6031 SE Stark St.

By all accounts, Caldera Public House should have been my preferred local bar.

It was walking distance from my house in a historic building, had an eccentric vibe, a beautiful back patio, decent food, and hosted live Celtic music? I have even have an amusing memory about the place. Before we got married, I came home from work one day and heard Emily in the bedroom. I said “hello,” and she called out “Oh… you’re home already? Um… I’m trying on the wedding dress.”

“Ah… gotcha.” I promptly walked down to the Caldera and got a seat because, before our marriage even began, I’d been kicked out of the house and sent down to the pub for an hour.

All the same, I rarely went to Caldera Public House, and chose other bars that were closer to work or run by friends. The food at Caldera was good, but never very good. The beer list was underwhelming, and I’m rarely a “fancy cocktails” guy. Above all else, the place was just not comfortable for very long. The live bands were good, but loud. You couldn’t sit at the actual bar because there were tables in the middle of the main room, and a small reading nook in the middle of the building had the most comfortable seats, but it was frustrating to read, eat, and drink there at the same time.

When Caldera closed up even before the pandemic, I was sad but not surprised. Then, when a new sign was hung outside the door about a month ago, I wondered if someone was trying to be the neighborhood bar Caldera struggled to be.

They were, and they are.

The exterior of the Bellwether Bar
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Review #16- Little Beast Brewing Beergarden

WHERE: 3412 SE Division St., Portland, OR 97202

When I first moved out to Portland from New Jersey nearly four years ago, one of the first things I was struck by is BIKES EVERYWHERE. In New Jersey, a bike was how kids got around, or what adults did for exercise while wearing goofy clothes.

In Portland, a bike is possibly the easiest way commute through the city and go about your life- and the city leans into that fact hard. Special low-traffic “greenways,” specially-marked bike lanes, bike accessibility on public transit… for a city rife with steep hills and busy streets, cycling is how you get around. In fact, I’d say that bike commuting is as much a part of Portland’s constantly metastasizing culture as “weird,” beer, small food businesses, and big green spaces.

So when I was tooling around Division Street on my bike yesterday, felt the need to dodge the near-record heat for a bit and came across a cute little house with a big front lawn, a sour beer menu, and some simple eats, you didn’t have to twist my arm.

That’s Little Beast in a nutshell.

Exterior shot of Little Beast Brewery Beergarden

Welcome to Little Beast

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It’s “Pie” Time I Wrote Something About This

Good morning, friends and neighbors!After last weeks “crash course” in chocolate, another discussion popped up that I couldn’t help but stick my beak in as the topic was very close to my heart:Hey everyone, of all things in the kitchen, I know next to NOTHING about fruit pies. Help?”

Bakers and chefs chimed in, and I scrolled through their responses before finally saying,

“Yeah, everything here is about right to my experience. Here’s a couple other things I do that you might find helpful..”

My friend from last time popped up. “Oh thank God, I was wondering this too. Have you written about this?”

I went back and found my previous pie-related entries, only to realize I NEVER COVERED FILLINGS.

“Dude, GET ON IT, and then send me the link! Maybe a video how-to?”

Well, I like to correct my mistakes, and I’m here to please, so strap in all. I’m going to take you through baking pies and my personal Top 5 Fruit Pie recipes! Video how-to will come soon!

So What’s My Deal with Pie?
Pie, to me, is the ultimate homecooking icon. It’s the real symbol of hospitality and comfort food (get out of here with your pineapple symbolism,) and it’s ingrained in our culture going back centuries:
“Little Jack Horner, sat in a corner, eating his Christmas pie…”
“American as apple pie.”
“Easy as pie.”
Beyond that, it’s also the most direct (and beautiful) example of my personal culinary philosophy:    Simplicity, with ElegancePie is, by its nature, not a fussy affair. It’s a crust with a filling. Simple in appearance, seemingly simple in execution. To make a truly excellent pie is a work of art and a demonstration of real craftsmanship. If something goes wrong with the crust, there’s NO HIDING IT. If the filling is off, there’s NO HIDING it. No icing. No sauce. No sprinkles. No piling a little mound of microgreens on top of a burned bit.Pie is honest. It is honest about itself, and about your skill as a baker. That is a beautiful thing. Pumpkin PiePumpkin Pie
Back when I was a kid, I loved pie- it just felt more… fun. I don’t think I ever had a birthday cake after the age of 10- simply because I always just wanted pie instead.
That’s something that persists to today, by the way. You know, in case anyone is in the Portland area in July. *hint hint* Cheddar Apple Pie
Cheddar Apple Pie

Crust And Assembly Recap!

As I mentioned above, I’ve done a couple of posts about pie before- one on making and handling a perfect crust, including my favorite recipe, and another on assembly once you have everything ready. You should really go read those first:
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: The Season Is Upon Us!
In Hoc Crustulo Vinces: Pie of the Tiger
For those of you in a hurry, though, I’ll touch on the most important bits here. Since writing those, I’ve changed up my method a bit so I’ll include that here:
Pie Dough

My Favorite Recipe
(from The Joy of Baking. Good for 2 single-crust pies or one double-crust pie)

2 1/2 cups (350 grams) all-purpose flour
1 teaspoon salt
2 tablespoon (30 grams) granulated white sugar (leave out if you want it savory)
1 cup (226 grams) unsalted butter, chilled, and cut into 1 inch (2.5 cm) pieces
1/4 to 1/2 cup (60 – 120 ml) ice water or other chilled liquid (experiment with different liquids to get interesting flavors!)
Herbs or Spices as you see fit

If you are using an electric mixer, freeze the butter. If not, chilled is fine.
Mix all the dry together, and then the butter until the mix resembles coarse meal (if making by hand, use your fingers or a pastry blender to cut in the butter. You DON’T want any large lumps. By keeping the butter chilled/frozen, you break up the butter before it can melt.
Add the liquid all at once. If it’s too dry, add a bit more. Your dough should be cold, but not wet or very sticky. Pulling apart a lump, you should be able to see layers inside. Split into two equal size discs, wrap in plastic and chill.

Basic pie dough is 3 parts flour, 2 parts fat, 1 part liquid- hence, 3-2-1 Dough
Keep everything as cold as possible, and use as little flour as possible when rolling. Otherwise the dough will absorb it and dry out.
If your dough is shrinking back after you roll it, it means it’s been overworked. Let it sit for a few minutes before rolling again.
Pie Assembly

  • Mise en place, mise en place,
    After lining your pie tin, let it rest in the fridge.
    Cook your fillings ahead of time and store them. Hot filling + cold pie dough = melty, greasy dough.
    When sealing your pie, be sure to moisten BOTH pieces of dough with whatever wash you are using, and then crimp/fold to ensure a good seal.
    Egg yolk wash will make your pie look shiny and golden when baked, milk will make it look crusty and rustic.
    Got all that? Go look at those blog post for a bit more detail, as well as demo pictures!
    An assortment of berries

Basic Stuff

When it comes to fruit pie fillings, you can absolutely follow a (tested and proven) recipe, but between you and me, I rarely have one.
Want it a little sweeter? Add some more sugar! A little thicker? Add some more thickener. Remember- Baking is chemistry. With practice, you’ll understand which rules you can bend or break- and which ones you can use to have fun!

My Fruit Filling Ratio

4 parts fruit to 1 part sugar
8 parts sugar to 1 part cornstarch.Let me say it again here- this is not set in stone. This ratio will just give you a good idea for how to assemble a fruit filling. You should ALWAYS feel free to experiment and figure your own best recipe out!
Be a mad scientist!Is the Cornstarch Necessary?
Well, yes and no.
Cornstarch is a thickener, or a “gelling agent” in fancy industry lingo. It works better than flour, and is less expensive than other thickeners like arrowroot.
It’s a popular addition for people who make their own jellies or jams, and it’s often used as a vegan substitute for gelatin in cooking and baking.
Thicker filling- your slice of pie remains a SLICE. The filling stays in place, under the crust, picture perfect.
Thinner filling- you want a juicy, runny pie. You want the filling to go all over the plate, and you wanna lick it clean when you’re done.
In the end, it’s your pie! Experiment and do your own thing! PictureNo judgments- You do you!

To Pre-cook, or not to Pre-cook?

This is another one of those divisive questions in the pie world- do you pre-cook your filling, cool it, and THEN put it in the pie? Or do you let the filling cook and thicken in the shell?

Again, it’s up to you! For me, I personally like to pre-cook. It means I can spread out the time necessary to make a pie (having dough and filling made a day before means that I can just assemble and bake when I’m ready!)

It also leads to a thicker filling, since you are really just heating the pre-cooked filling and baking the crust.

How Do I Know When It’s Cooked?

Regardless of whether you pre-cook or not, the tell-tale sign that your filling is properly cooked is watching for bubbling in the vents of your top crust.As your pie bakes, the filling will bubble up. It’ll start out with small, fast bubbles- like a boiling pot of water. What you are looking for is the bubbles to come up slow and thick, like bubbling tar. That means that your filling has been thickened to the point that the cornstarch is well-cooked, and you’ll have thick, shiny goop!Alright, got the basics down? Here’s some of my favorite filling ideas! Depending on how big a pie you are making, some of these may make a bit too much. Hold on to it and make another pie, or just scale it down! 

Got all that? Good!

Here’s some of my favorite pie fillings!

The Über Apple Pie!

This is the pie I made for my recent blogs. It’s a fall favorite of mine, and a wonderful demonstration of “if it’s worth doing, it’s worth OVERdoing!” The pie crust is seasoned with apple pie spice and made with apple cider. The filling gets dosed with Applejack Brandy, and the selection of apples just screams fall!
3 lbs Apples (my favorites are Granny Smith, Fuji, Gala, and Honeycrisp)
½ cup of brown sugar
1.5 tablespoons cornstarch
1 tbsp Brandy
1 tsp Vanilla Extract
Cook over medium heat until the apples release a noticeable amount of liquid in the bottom of the pot.
Add the sugar, and whisk the cornstarch, spices, brandy, and extract together into a slurry. Pour in and stir regularly.
Cook until thick, with a shiny layer of goop forming on your spoon!

Blueberry Lemon Mint

Coming from New Jersey, summer meant BLUEBERRIES. Adding citrus to berry pies brightens them up and highlights their tartness, and the addition of mint lends an herbaceous, cooling feeling that makes this pie legitimately refreshing.
(adapted from The Joy Of Baking)4 cups blueberries
½ cup sugar
2 tablespoons cornstarch
2 tablespoons lemon juice
1 tablespoon lemon zest
¼ cup chopped fresh mint

Peach Jalapeño

Gotta love that sweet heat!

4 lbs chopped fresh peaches
1 lb. sugar
About 1 oz. cornstarch
Any spices you like (for a smoky hit, add a little ground chipotle pepper!)
A few jalapeno peppers, diced and seeded.

Cook as for the blueberry pie, whisking the dry ingredients into the cooking fruit, and adding the jalapenos at the end. Just like with the herbs, adding the peppers toward the end preserves their heat! If you cook them with the filling, they wind up just tasting like green pepper.Cherry Almond Cardamom

This is another go-to fall/winter pie! Despite cherries being very much a summer fruit, their combination with cardamom and toasty almonds makes this pie unnaturally filling and warming- like a hug in your belly, perfect for a cooler night in fall!Filling
4 lbs cherries (a mix of sour pie cherries and dark sweet cherries)
1 lbs sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
About ½ c toasted, chopped almonds
½ tsp cardamom
½ tsp cinnamon
1 tsp vanillaFollow the same directions as above, but this time mixing in the almonds.Tips and TricksFrozen fruit is fine to use, as is canned! Seasonal is obviously best, but don’t be afraid of getting the best frozen/canned stuff you can. If it’s canned, though, you don’t want to use the syrup or juice it’s in. Save that stuff for sweetening things later!Cardamom is awesome but a SUPER STRONG spice! Don’t overdo it on this one!

  • This pie demonstrates one of my favorite principles in flavor-matching- combining related produce! Cherries and almonds taste great together because they are actually closely related- as are almond and rose, and rose and peach! When putting flavors together, try keeping it in the family!

Strawberry Rhubarb with Goat Cheese and Black Pepper

Now this one is the master course, and a demo of everything we’ve gone over in this blog.
It’s creamy. It’s fresh. It’s spicy. It’s sweet. It’s YUM.Filling
3 lbs. Strawberries
1 lbs. Chopped rhubarb
1 lbs. Sugar
1 oz. cornstarch
4 oz. soft goat cheese
Black pepper, to tasteCook fruit and rhubarb as above, whisking the sugar, cornstarch, and black pepper together and adding together.
Before baking, spread or otherwise evenly distribute the goat cheese over the bottom of the pie shell. Pour fruit filling on top.There You Go!
Now you know how to make your own fruit pies, just in time for the holidays!
Think you’re family will be pleased? Which pie is your favorite?
Let me know in the comments!Stay Classy,

Review #7- The Bivy / Saint Burrito

Where: The Bivy/ Saint Burrito 113 SE 28th Ave., Portland


I was 25 when I was first exposed to the glory of food trucks.

My older sister invited me to visit her in New Brunswick where she was attending grad school. Besides record exchanges, all-you-can-eat mediocre buffet sushi, and other wonders of the modern world- Steph said I HAD to get a “fat sandwich” from one of the grease trucks while I was there.

Fat sandwiches are what the country would eat for every meal if no one discovered kale and Whole Foods fell off the face of the Earth. Everything you can fit on a New Jersey sub roll- usually starchy/meaty/deep fried things- all wrapped up into a 10-inch long heart-murdering missile of joy. She brought me to a square of trucks staffed by evil/enterprising young student bent on the perfection of these lethal concoctions, and I- to my only partial shame- finished a chicken finger/fries/meatball/cheesesteak/Parmesan/mashed potato sandwich in one sitting.
We sat in a parking lot, knocked them back with bubble tea, and felt no pain.


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