Here's some recent work I did for Townshend's Tea Company. Hope you enjoy!
Last month I had the privilege to spend the morning documenting the ladies of The Big Egg doing what they do best - making breakfast! If you're a breakfast guru like me you've most likely frequented (or at least heard of) their food cart in North Portland. Their mouth-watering breakfast sandwiches quickly became a cult classic in Portland's brunch scene, and with sandwiches like the Portobello – an over-medium egg topped with grilled organic portobello mushrooms, balsamic caramelized onions, wild arugula and house-made herbed aioli on a grilled ciabatta roll – who can blame them? They recently opened an adorable Brick and Mortar café on N. Alberta which will allow customers to linger longer, enjoy the beautiful light and fresh cheery vibe of the shop, and savor each delectable bite. What more can you ask for?
My foray into the food world was a resistant one. Neither of my parents came from families that had a passion for cooking and that apathy was passed down to me. We ate when we were hungry and since cooking wasn’t highly valued, we ate for convenience. Mind you, we didn’t eat out - that was special for Sundays after church. We ate at home. The fridge was filled with luncheon meats, cheese, and other prepared foods you could quickly throw in the oven. I remember eating together when I was little, but when I was older we mostly fended for ourselves which meant we rarely ate together. When we did sit down and have a meal together (usually at one of the grandparents during the holidays) it felt stuffy and formal. I couldn’t wait for it to be over. And since none of us really enjoyed cooking, making a meal for the holidays felt like a chore, an obligation. My sister and my dad inparticular couldn’t understand why we didn’t just order a pizza and have done with it. But my grandparents hung to the tradition of eating together and so we went along with it.
Growing up with my mom was fun. She loved learning and was always devising fun ways for us to learn. When we studied geology she’d take us out into the desert of California at the break of dawn to hunt for rocks, when we were learning about the planets she turned our hallway into a solar system. We painted styrofoam balls to look like the planets and hung them from the ceiling. It didn’t seem to matter what we were learning about she made it interesting and fun. My junior year of High School, she became obsessed with mangosteen juice and decided to sell it at our local farmer’s market. That year, every Saturday morning she’d pack the bottles of juice in her car and spend the day selling her wares at the market. It was hard to resist buying juice from my mom. She was so enthusiastic about the health benefits and taste of her juice you couldn’t resist. And my mom couldn’t resist the farmer’s market. My mom loved talking to customers about her juice, but it grated against her curious nature to not be able to explore the market. Eventually she convinced a friend to work the stall every other Saturday.
So on the Saturday’s my mom wasn’t working, we’d head to the farmer’s market early before the rush and wander up and down the aisles, relishing every sensory experience. And trust me, farmer’s markets are saturated with them - vegetables and fruits in all shapes and sizes, strings of hot peppers and garlic hanging from the rafters vendor tents, samples of camembert and brie paired with homemade jam, piping hot breakfast burritos with homemade tortillas, agua fresca, and fresh cactus coolers...it was heaven. But the best part was talking to the people. The farmers and vendors loved what they did and their enthusiasm was contagious and we’d drink it up. We learned all about when it was best to harvest onions, the right time to plant rhubarb, why it soil fertility is crucial, and how to use the natural yeasts in the air to bake bread.
We’d come home practically bursting with ideas! Our house turned into a mecca for cooking, baking, and agricultural experiments. Containers housing bacterial cultures at various stages of fermentation covered nearly every horizontal service in our tiny kitchen. It quickly became necessary to construct floor-to-ceiling shelves in our hallway to store the mountains of books on gardening, urban farming, nutrition, and cooking my mom collected. Our favorite thing to do was to buy the strangest looking vegetable at the market, learn how best to prepare it, and come home and try it. Sometimes we’d cringe at the thought of consuming something with a weird texture, other times after the first hesitating bite, we’d exclaim with delight how amazing an ugly little root tasted before gobbling the rest down.
Those afternoons spent with my mom at the market made the world of food real to me. Its easy to be disinterested when you eat commercial food from a can or when you have only a vague idea of where your food comes from. Listening to the farmers and those involved in working hard to grow our food introduced me to a beautiful world we’re all intricately a part of but one I’d been a passive participant in at best. It was a while before sitting down for a meal or cooking really became part of my life, sometimes it’s still a struggle - old habits die hard after all. But those conversations sparked a realization in me that food and our choices regarding food were important. (Food is an essential part of life after all.) And that wasn’t something I was going to miss out on.
The Lan Su Chinese Garden is a respite from the clamor of city life. As you enter the garden gates a hush seems to descend that quiets all other noise but the sound of bird song, rippling water, and the occassional wind rustling through the trees. I go here sometimes to wander, to think, to absorb the beauty of nature in harmony with conscientious design.
I'm bewitched with eating outdoors. Every year around this time, I get an itch - call it cabin fever - to go outside regardles off the fickle weather. It feels very European to me to have a meal outside. I always picture myself at the seaside in the South of Wales, or roaming the hills of Provence when I eat outdoors.
Alongside my cabin fever, I've had a serious case of wanderlust - a fortunate side effect of the books I've been reading recently on the culinary culture of France. Today, I turned on some French cafe music and made a Croque Monsieur and a Croque Madame.
CROQUE MONSIEUR [Adapted from Jody William's recipe]
2 Tablespoons unsalted European-style butter
1/8 cup white whole wheat flour (*all-purpose flour can also be used)
3/4 cup whole milk
1 Tablespoon mustard
Pinch of freshly ground nutmeg
4 slices of fresh artisan country bread
3 oz. pastured ham
3 oz. Gruyere, grated
Salt & pepper to taste
Melt butter in a medium sauce pan over medium heat until foamy. Add flour and cook, stirring, until mixture is pale and foamy, about 3 minutes. Gradually add milk until mixture is smooth. Cook, stirring, until sauce is thick and somewhat elastic, about 4 minutes. Remove from heat and whisk in mustard and nutmeg; season with salt to taste. Note: Bechamel can be made 1 day ahead.
Preheat oven to 425 degrees. Spread bread slices with bechamel sauce on one side, dividing evenly and extending all the way to the edges. Place bread slices bechamel side up on a parchment-lined baking sheet; top with ham and half of cheese. Add additional bread slices on top of the ham & cheese. Sprinke remaining cheese and salt & pepper on top of sandwich. Bake until cheese is brown and bubbling, 10-15 minutes.
To make a Croque Madame: add 1 tablespoon of butter to a medium skilletover medium heat. Once the butter is melted and starting to bubble crack an egg directly into the pan. Wait until you see the bottom of the egg start to turn opaque then cover the skillet with a lid. Check on the egg frequently until all the white of the egg is opaque but the yolk is still raw then top the sandwich with the egg.
*I use white whole wheat or spelt flour in all my recipes. White whole wheat flour has the same healthy benefits as whole wheat flour without the extra dense baking results.
Whoever said, “All happiness depends on a leisurely breakfast” sure got it right. There are some things worth waiting for and breakfast is one of them. That’s one of the best things about the weekend, you can wake up and enjoy the morning without feeling rushed or the need to be “more productive.”
I love getting up early on the weekend. Why would you sleep in and miss the best part of the day? Sunday my husband and I love cooking breakfast together but Saturday mornings I typically spend alone reveling in the solitude and soaking in the colors and sounds of the morning. Now that it’s Spring and the trees are in full bloom I’m easily lured outdoors. This weekend, I walked to Roman Candle, one of my favorite bakeries in Portland to pick up some freshly baked scones - lemon currant and smoked dill this week!
The walk from my house takes about 20 minutes so by the time I arrive they’re just taking the scones out of the oven and placing them in the case. Heaven. The walk home is a struggle to forgo eating them on the way back. But I resist the urge (usually) knowing that when I get home I’ll open the windows to let the day in, grab a cup of coffee, curl up in my favorite chair with my cat, London, to read my latest book and savor each delectable bite.
Exploring the Principles of a Traditional Diet
We all have a food story - why we love food, what we love about food, and what we believe about food. In fact, if you think about, it everyone subscribes to a food belief system whether it’s a deliberate decision or one that’s unconsciously made. And let’s face it. We all have to eat, so we all have things we believe about food: food is pleasure, food is fuel, food is culture, food is adventure, etc.
Traditional food is mine. I’ll be writing about it a lot, and since nearly all of my recipes are based around a traditional diet I thought it’d be good to explain what a traditional diet is and why I think it makes sense.
So what is Traditional Food? Traditional food refers to foods that have been consumed by primitive, non-industrialized cultures for centuries; they are whole, nutrient-dense, high-quality foods that have not been refined, denatured, pasteurized, homogenized, or infused with artificial colors, or additives. In other words, food as it was before industrialization.
Here’s a quick overview of the basic principles of a traditional diet.
- Animal meat, organs, skin, fat, cartilage, and bones from from pastured animals, including eggs and poultry.
- Wild-caught fish and shellfish
- Raw, whole milk dairy products from pastured animals.
- Bone broth made from pastured animals.
- Grains, legumes, and nuts: whole grain baked goods properly prepared to neutralize anti-nutrients and improve digestibility.
- Fruits & Veggies: Organic, locally grown and eaten either fresh, frozen, cooked in soups and stews, or lacto-fermented.
- Fats & Oils: Unrefined saturated and unsaturated fats such as grass-fed butter, lard from pastured pigs, animal fats, palm & extra-virgin coconut oils, Icelandic cod liver oil for vitamin A & D.
- Natural sweeteners in moderation: organic raw honey, organic maple syrup, organic raw cane sugar, organic stevia powder.
- Unrefined sea salt.
- Filtered water for cooking and drinking
- Organic herbal teas and coffee in moderation
Now, I realize there are a million different ways of eating out there. We’re constantly inundated with new studies and new rules, and trust me, I have read most of them. Here’s why I think this one makes the most sense.
First and foremost, it’s time tested. Our ancestors have eaten this way for centuries. Only in the last century, have we drastically changed the way we grow and process food. And it’s well-known and well-documented that the modern diet is not the best, to say the least. It’s also widely known that rural peoples that have not been influenced by the modern diet and still eat the way their ancestors did before them are some of the healthiest people on the earth.
Secondly, the traditional diet is cross-cultural. Each culture has its own beautiful, unique take on the principles, of course, but the principles themselves are universal. I’ll use lacto-fermentation as an example: in Japan they ferment soybeans to make tofu and miso, the Koreans make kimchi, Scandinavian cultures make lutefisk, in Tanzania gruel called togwa is a popular dish...you get the drift.
Third, it does not villainize a single food group. I think most of us know that the body needs varying degrees of carbs, proteins, fats, vitamins, and minerals to properly function. There is constant research being done on exactly how much the body needs of each of these different categories, and that is dependent on several factors: height, age, weight, body type, sex, to name a few. But it’s agreed our bodies do need all the categories to function properly. Therefore, any diet that makes one of these subjects out to be the enemy (or the hero) raises a red flag in my mind.
The traditional diet avoids extremes and encourages balanced eating. I believe in a whole body, whole being approach to food. So any diet that claims you can have 10 cups of coffee and be fine is another red flag. Now, I would LOVE to have 10 cups of coffee a day and remain unaffected but let’s be honest - a habit of drinking 10 cups of coffee a day over a sustained period of time is just crazy. If that is you, you need to check yourself into a center. Caffeine Anonymous 1-800-777-9999. Yup, too much of a good thing can be a bad thing. All in moderation, peeps.
It takes into account the well-being of animals and the environment. You may be thinking, “How can you say it takes into account the well-being of animals if it recommends eating them?” That’s a really good question and definitely worth some serious thought. Animal welfare is certainly high on my priority list. I’ll be writing about that at length in a separate post, but for now, I think it’s important to say this diet promotes healthy-raising and treatment of animals by giving them the space they need to roam and the food they need to thrive and live happily. It also cares for the land by promoting an organic, biodynamic way of farming that avoids pesticides and, or other chemicals, and promotes sustainable agriculture. You can read more on biodynamic farming here http://bit.ly/1GNjSNF.
The benefits of traditional diets across cultures have been scientifically proven through extensive studies as some of the healthiest diets on earth. The Weston A. Price Foundation is a great resource for extensive studies that have been done regarding the eating habits of pre-modernized cultures.
I’ll be writing more about each of these principles over the course of the year. In the meanwhile, if you want to read more about the reasoning and research behind these principles you can learn more at:
I think it’s good to note that I don’t have a finite handle on the truth. I’m not a doctor, or a farmer, or a scientist (most of us aren’t) but I am a well-educated, intelligent, critical- thinking human being capable of making informed decisions. None of us can be an expert at everything, and there is always something we won’t know. That’s the beauty of life - there’s always something to learn, something new to explore; all we can do is continue to seek the truth in all aspects of our lives. That’s why I created Mayfair - to pursue truth. And I think that’s important to do that alongside others so please, tell me your thoughts! I’m excited to pursue this together.
This week I went to Milk Glass Market - a gorgeous new cafe on N. Killingsworth. They opened last November and serve breakfast and lunch and delicious baked goods. If the name itself doesn't tempt you to come in their fig & anise panini with fresh sheep's milk cheese and field greens, roasted beets, walnuts, smoked trout, roasted leeks & fried eggs will.