Wednesday, July 2, 2008

14.0 Ramble & Stuff in Philadelphia

Starring Erin & Mike and Our Family
Filmed on Location in Philadelphia!
Soundtrack:
The Jack’s Basement Reunion

“Always look on the bright side of life…”

I can hardly keep my eyes open to write this. Erin and I just got back from a weeklong vacation in Philly, the cradle of liberty! (I’d say Philadelphia, but everyone calls it Philly.) Really, we stayed in a suburb of Philly, which happens to be in New Jersey. We Eastcoasters are strange cats. Jimmy B., Tra and their two girls hosted us, housed us and fed us. And boy did we eat!

Erin & I have decided to tag our vacation as an “epicurean excursion,” for the sake of justifying this month’s episode of ITSK. As if we needed a reason, right? Who’s going to scold us? Jimmy Breslin or Phil Stanford?

In addition to Philly and its outlying suburbs, we also spent a weekend on Long Island in New York. Although it was only a brief jaunt, I did get to show Erin, who’d never been to NY before, my old stomping grounds. Mostly architectural ghosts (“That’s where the Friendly’s used to be. That’s where the True Value Deli used to be. That’s where Sal’s Pizza used to be. That’s where Titus Oaks used to be”).

After the tour Erin got to experience a classic Long Island barbecue at Jimmy B’s parents. It was great to see Mr. & Mrs. B again. Everyone was there! Johnny Mo, Murph, Stinky, Emmett (“Does it rain like this in Seattle?”), Homey! Lots of great food, weak beer, and hilarious stories (ask me about the “Duke of Fluke” sometime). And did I mention the most fantastically horrendous thunderstorm I’d ever seen? Well, it was awesome (check the blog for some footage). The next day, we returned to Jersey to really begin our Philly vacation.

“Hey, Mike” you’re asking, “Who cares?” I do. “Well then, are you going to talk about cooking?” Maybe.

Before I talk about cooking, I’ll talk about eating. New York’s got the best pizza – it’s not even worth discussing. We didn’t have any pizza. Philly’s got the best cheese steaks (or “Philly Cheese Cake” as my mother, the Queen of Malapropisms, repeated). But we didn’t have any cheese steaks either.

“Hey, Mike” you’re asking, “So you went to Philly and didn’t eat a cheese steak?” Nah.

What we were introduced to, though, was the soft pretzel. Actually, let’s say “properly introduced”. I grew up eating big soft salty pretzels, and still buy the frozen ones occasionally. But these soft pretzels were a quantum leap from your typical twists of dough. Big, warm, with the perfect distribution of salt crystals and, best of all, the accompanying spreads. We devoured the horse radish cream cheese. So good! Jimmy B, my brother Jim and I rocked out in the front room, working off the pretzels and sweating out the coffee as we sang soft rock classics and the Westerberg songbook. Piano and two guitars – it was a reunion of our early 90’s band, Jack’s Basement! Ok, hungry again. Back in the minivan!

The burgers at Five Guys placed a close second to the pretzels. Hand-formed and served with an abundance of hand-cut fries shoveled into a paper bag, these burgers were hands-down the best I’ve had since I last ate at the Muddy Rudder. Yes, I sure do love a hamburger sandwich!

OK, so finally we made it into Philly. We took a double-decker bus tour and glided through the birthplace of America. Did you know Ben Franklin invented everything? Even the Franklin stove! If Erin and I’d been around in the 1700’s, Ye Olde Sellwoode Kitchen would’ve prepared all its meals on a Franklin stove.

“Hey, Mike” you’re asking, “Do you even know what a Franklin stove is?” Yes – it’s a metal-lined fireplace with baffles in the rear.

“Hey, Mike” you’re asking, “Do you even know what baffles are?” No.

Where were we? Oh, yes, Philly! We saw the Fairmount Water Works, Pennsylvania Railroad Station, Reading Railroad Station... Hmm, that sounds familiar. Then we walked through the Municipal Services Building Plaza. It was full of life-sized Monopoly pieces. Wait, now I know – Monopoly!

We viewed examples of the Mural Arts Program. And I ran up the stairs to the Philadelphia Museum of Art (the Rocky steps, if you will). I worked up quite an appetite!

I’m “gonna fly now” to our last night there – Chickie & Pete’s Crab House & Sports Bar in the Stadium District. Get the cutlet sandwich and crab fries. I won’t even describe it – you’ll drool so much your tie will run.

Our time in Philly was wonderful. Erin met a lot of my friends; we became Aunt Erin and Uncle Mike to Jimmy B’s daughters; we experienced a lot of history; and ate very well! And before we knew, we were back in Portland. But no time for sleep, Dr Jones! Two days later, we had a wedding to attend (for fellow ITSKers Adam & Josh!) So what can you whip up in exhaustion? Erin’s got just the thing! It’s delicious, summery and refreshing! Just like Philadelphia (though, I’m almost certain, the same could not be said of Ben Franklin’s undershirt).


THE THING TO BRING
SUMMER PASTA SALAD

1 package bowtie pasta
1 jar roasted red peppers, diced
1 can of artichoke hearts, diced
1 can sliced olives, drained
1 package Italian dry salami, sliced in quarters
1 can great northern beans, rinsed and drained
1/4 cup vinaigrette
1 package shredded Italian blend cheese
1/3 cup toasted pine nuts

Cook pasta according to directions, drain, and rinse with cold water. Toast pine nuts lightly and set aside to cool. To pasta, add the next 5 ingredients. Toss everything with the vinaigrette. Next, add the package of Italian cheese and toss well. Top salad with toasted pine nuts. Chill or serve immediately.

The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: erinandmike@sellwoodkitchen.com

13.0 Chin Music from Big Pank


Starring Erin, Mike, Adam & Allee
Filmed on Location in Beautiful Downtown Sellwood
Soundtrack:
Music from Big Pink
by The Band

“Won’t you feed him…whenever you can…”


Part 1. The Blatherer’s Tale

We have waited. And the ocean has delivered. At last I can stand in the Sellwood Kitchen and declare, “It smells like fish in here!” Why? Because Erin prepared panko-coated tilapia this comfortable spring evening! Finally! Brain food! And just in time – I was starting to forget such important minutiae as who engineered Life’s Rich Pageant.

Tilapia is a mild tasting fish. Wow! There’s a recommendation for you! Maybe that should be their new slogan: We Are a Mild Tasting Fish. That’d be the sharpest ad campaign since “Sorry, Charlie.” Anyway, the tilapia (of major importance in artisanal fishing) is also known as “St. Peter’s fish”, the darks spots on their sides representing the fingerprints of the saint. From that time, you know, he picked up a fish and, uh, then put it back down. I believe those verses can only be found in select apocryphal books of the Bible.

What tilapia is not is a telepathic fish. It does not read minds, on the suspicion that if they did possess this ability, they would’ve read the mind of the guy holding the net.

Before we prepared tonight’s meal, we walked over to the Moreland Farmer’s Market on Opening Day to sharpen Erin’s knives. And have a spicy sausage sandwich. And watch Padam Padam perform Tom Waits’ Strange Weather. And eat gelato at Staccato Gelato on Bybee (it was their opening day, too).

Strolling down 13th, we looked like one of Chaucer’s lost Canterbury Tales. Neither the Canon’s Yeoman nor Wife of Bath, we were rather the Cook, the Scribe, the Troubadour, the Gardener and the Educator and his Dog. That’s Jack, the pooch with a snout for buckles. A motley crew, true, but unlike Chaucer’s pilgrims, we’d all bathed within the last week. Well, most of us had…

Knives sharpened, nostrils delighted, ears tantalized, we parted ways, and Erin & I returned home to the Sellwood Kitchen.


Part 2. Breaking Bread with that Gadgety Girl

As Erin begins to prepare our meal, and I drop the needle on Nilsson’s …That’s the Way It Is (engineered by Richie Schmitt, fresh from John Travolta’s eponymous debut), Allee arrives. Minutes later, Adam makes it a quartet.

Slim fingers of asparagus are seasoned for baking. Red potatoes are quartered for roasting. The tilapia fillets are coated in panko. Popular in Japanese cooking, panko is a breadcrumb made from crustless bread, thus lending the final fry a desirable crispiness. Who wants a mushy fish? I mean, besides a toothless otter.

Panko makes me think of Rick Danko from The Band, which makes me think of how perfectly he phrased his verse in “The Weight” from The Last Waltz .Wow. But I don’t have a copy of that album (for shame!), so I opt for some dinner music – Jimmy Smith’s The Cat, fitting in the background, but a party when you turn it up!

Unlike last month’s meal, tonight’s came together much quicker. Still, we had time for crusty bread which we dipped in olive oil and balsamic vinegar. Mid-chew, Adam blurted out “Ham and cheese!” showering the coffee table with glistening crumbs. Erin eyed him oddly. “What? Ham?”

“Hammond B-3,” I interpreted. “That’s the organ Jimmy Smith’s playing.” Adam nodded, choking down his atomized b√Ętard bits. Not long after dinner was served, and the obligatory floor model shot taken, he unwittingly returns the favor and mishears Erin.

“Did you say ‘bodacious’?”

“No, what am I, a Ninja Turtle?” she responded. This leads to a discussion of TV shows from our childhood. Well, THEIR childhood, what with me being over a decade older than everyone here. I’m like “Yeah, I wish I had a Chuckle Patch,” and as I start to sing the Storybox song from The Magic Garden I realize I am alone in my nostalgia. (The Magic Garden ran for 52 episodes on WPIX in New York from 1972 to 1984, so you wouldn’t care either, I guess).

Two minutes later, our plates are clean, without even a hint of the mouthwatering aioli Erin had dribbled over the fish. Yeah, I know it’s mostly mayonnaise – that’s my point.

Conversation did not stray far from children’s television, except for one entry in my notes where I quote Allee declaring, “There’s not enough bronze in the world”, but I don’t record why. Although I did muse, “I miss the bronze age.” Don’t you?

PBS is discussed. “What’s with Ghostwriter? They open their Pee Chees and there it was!” I had no idea what they were talking about, so I sought safety in the great equalizer: Sesame Street.

Erin heard that the Cookie Monster was the Carrot Monster now. I called bull roar on the whole thing! (A quick visit to Snopes.com rendered that rumor false – Cookie’s merely cutting back on his namesake.) Still, we wondered how ‘politically correct’ the Street’s become. I said, “New Age Oscar lives in a recycling can now.”

Time for dessert! Instant pudding! Adam breaks in to his Bill Cosby impression. It’s right on the money!

I look past the curtains to the black Sellwood sky. The Market is here. The summer is coming – strolling through the evenings; coffee and bacon maple chocolate chip cookies at lovecup; the antique browsers and dog walkers animating 13th Avenue; and once again the delightful aromas of the Sellwood Kitchen swirling into the cosmos.


PANKO-COATED TILAPIA FILLETS

4 Tilapia fillets
2 eggs beaten
Flour
Panko bread crumbs
Salt and pepper to taste
Cooking oil
Aioli Sauce (1/3 Cup Mayonnaise, 3 teaspoons fresh lemon juice, 2 teaspoons Cajun Creole spice mix)

Mix aioli ingredients well and chill for at least 30 minutes. Heat 1/4 inch of oil in a large pan. Season tilapia lightly with salt and pepper. Dredge each fillet in flour, then egg. Press into Panko crumbs so each one is covered. Cook fillets in hot oil for 4 minutes on one side, then flip and cook until golden brown, a couple minutes. Cook in batches, do not crowd the pan. Serve with aioli.

The “In the Sellwood Kitchen” cast and crew can be contacted at: erinandmike@sellwoodkitchen.com