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Saturday, April 30, 2011

Foodbuzz 24x24: Exploring Vietnamese Regional Cuisine, North, Central, and South, in Little Saigon

Vietnamese Regional Cuisine, North, Central, and South, in Little Saigon 34

When the last helicopter pulled out of Saigon 36 years ago, the Vietnamese population in American numbered in the thousands. Today, there an estimated 1.6 million Vietnamese Americans, with more than 135,000 of them in Orange County, the largest community outside of Vietnam. I've written extensively before about the history of Little Saigon and by extension, Vietnamese American history. So let's move the discussion further to how food and culture assert themselves into the American landscape.

In my musings on American cuisine, I argue that our food is made up of ethnic absorption and mass popularization. American cuisine is a reflection of America itself. Our strength lies in our ability to absorb other cuisines and their culture. No more so is that evident than last month's addition of banh mi, the Vietnamese sandwich, into the Oxford English Dictionary. These days, with trendy bars hawking banh mi sliders and Korean Americans selling their version of Pho Bo (Vietnamese Beef Noodle Soup), having a few Vietnamese dishes enter the American lexicon still doesn't really tell you much about the cuisine.

Needless to say, Vietnamese cuisine is far, far more than sandwiches and beef noodle soup.

Friday, April 29, 2011

Princess Party Cookbook by Annabel Karmel and Giveaway

Princess Party Cookbook by Annabel Karmel & Giveaway 1

Did you stay up late or wake up early to watch Prince William marry Kate Middleton?

Did you pretend to be a princess when you were a little girl?

That would be yes and yes for me. :)

Several months ago, I received a review copy of the "Princess Party Cookbook" by Annabel Karmel and knew right away that it was perfect for a giveaway.

Sunday, April 24, 2011

Bridges, Literal and Figurative, and Reuben Obsessions

Ronda, Spain Souvenir Plate From Gourmet Pigs

Gourmet Pigs brought back a souvenir plate of Ronda, Spain for me from her visit there in December. She's nice like that, always bringing back gifts for me when she travels. Thanks lady!

Lest you think I post these things to brag, I should say it's rather the blogger equivalent of the thank you note. I learned this aspect of blogging from craft blogs. I discovered craft blogs before I stumbled upon food blogs. Craft bloggers, by their very nature, create, and they often share their creations with other bloggers, who then post about it and thank the sender. I've noticed people don't do this much anymore. Not that people don't give gifts, just that the community aspect of blogging seems to have shifted to the wayside in the last few years as more people vie for attention. Many posts now are geared toward specific subjects, what they think will turn up in searches, not so much the day-to-day humdrum of life. And yet, those are the blogs that have held my attention year after year. The subject might lure me in, but I read blogs for the people. Always a dinosaur, I hate to think manners have fallen out of vogue in the quest for SEO.

I've been thinking lately about bridges, or connections if you want to be heavy-handed with the symbolism. The literal bridges of the Columbia River Gorge on my visit home to Oregon last month, and the figurative bridges I've formed with family, friends, bloggers, and readers.

I don't fuss too much these days dealing with people. Well, some you can't do much about, like family or co-workers, people whom you have to be around. But the people I choose to spend time with are the ones who like to be around me. When I was younger, in school and in work, there was more of a need to find connections with others. I'd try and find connections with the few other Asians in school, or the few other Vietnamese in college, or the few other young people at work. But remove the shared environment, and many times there wasn't much left to connect us. These days, I'm just thankful for the long-time friends who've stuck around. Those friendships take the least amount of work and are the most rewarding.

Saturday, April 23, 2011

Taste and Explore Little Saigon; Help Japan

Little Saigon, Orange County - California 14

Part of my aim for the blog, whether consciously or subconsciously, is to show others what's available around them so they can discover it for themselves. But I also get that venturing into new territory can be intimidating. I've long believed that the best way to learn about another cuisine, and by extension another culture, is through someone you trust introducing it to you firsthand. Learning about food through a friend makes unfamiliar dishes familiar, and teaches you about another culture without the prolonged history lectures.

The other aspect of blogging that keeps me engaged is the sense of community that gets formed -- learning from each other, making friends, and uniting over common goals. I don't often talk of current events, but it seems impossible to ignore the devastation in Japan following last month's earthquake and tsunami. Not that natural disasters and their toll should be ignored, just that my ability to do much about them seems miniscule. People do what they can with what they have, and I've always left it at that. A lot of bloggers have been reaching out to do what they can to help -- distributing socks, making quilts for survivors, or selling photography manuals for charity.

Recently, I pitched to my advertiser, Foodbuzz, the idea of exploring northern, central, and southern Vietnamese regional cuisine in Little Saigon for its monthly 24, 24, 24 series. It was accepted. Yay! And while I've done this a few times before, applying the stipend toward the cost of supplies or treating my friends to a nice meal, I'd rather use the stipend this time for something more.

So this coming Saturday, April 30, just in time for the anniversary of the Fall of Saigon, come explore Little Saigon with me.

For a $50 donation, or more if you wish, which will also include several meals, you'll have me as a culinary and historical tour guide to Little Saigon.

Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Monday, April 18, 2011

Random Order Coffeehouse and Bakery - Portland - Oregon

19 Random Order Coffeehouse and Bakery - Portland - Oregon 1

Let's backtrack a little to the beginning of my trip. While looking for some places to take Gourmet Pigs, a quick Google search for Portland and pie turned up this Travel+Leisure article on "America's Best Pies" mentioning a vanilla salted caramel apple pie. 

Pie! In Portland! I was all over that. Since it was on the northeast side of town, I figured we'd stop off for a late afternoon snack after a morning chasing waterfalls in the Columbia River Gorge.

Of course we had to order the aforementioned vanilla salted caramel apple pie.

Sunday, April 17, 2011

The Tao of Tea - Portland - Oregon

After dinner at Toro Bravo - Portland - Oregon, I suggested one last stop before we finally ended the night. In the late 1990s, a college friend introduced me to The Tao of Tea when we were looking for a place to just sit while catching up.

18 The Tao of Tea - Portland - Oregon 1

I really enjoyed the quaint tea house with fresh brewed teas, including a foamy matcha green tea shake before it became so popular and ubiquitous. I've gone back a few times over the years, and even visited their tea house at the Portland Classical Chinese Garden. So, a nice calming cuppa seemed just the thing to end what was a long day of too much out and about.

Saturday, April 16, 2011

Spanish Radicchio Salad with Manchego Olive Vinaigrette

Spanish Radicchio Salad with Manchego Olive Vinaigrette 1

I loved the Radicchio Salad with Green Olive Toast and a Manchego Vinaigrette at Toro Bravo - Portland - Oregon so much that I had to try re-creating it at home. But, at $14 for the ingredients, this was definitely one of the most expensive salads I've ever made so it's not something I'd make often. Although, the Manchego cheese and the jar of olives were used for several other recipes, and still have some left, so there is that in its favor.

I found a small wedge of Manchego cheese at Fresh and Easy for about $4. If you can't find any where you are, I'd suggest substituting with fresh Parmesan cheese. The Manchego tasted very mild, and I don't feel it was as crucial to the recipe as were the radicchio or olives. Instead of cocktail olives, I splurged on a $5 jar of Italian Castelvetrano whole green olives, which looked less salty and fresher, the type that seemed to be in Toro Bravo's version. You can find radicchio for $2 a head sometimes at Fresh and Easy, otherwise, it was a whopping $8 a pound at the regular grocery store. Radicchio leaves aren't as heavy or compact as cabbage so hopefully it won't cost you that much.

Once you've splurged on all those ingredients, and made a basic vinaigrette, the contrasts of the slightly bitter radicchio leaves with the saltiness of the olives makes this a simple, but flavorful salad.

Friday, April 15, 2011

Toro Bravo - Portland - Oregon

While having our third round of cocktails at The Secret Society - Portland, Dylan's phone rang, signaling that our table at Toro Bravo was ready.

17 Toro Bravo - Portland - Oregon 1

Tapas in Portland! OK, I know I've been away too long, or just left good old PDX way too young because the thought of a yummy tapas bar in Portland was just too exciting.

Thursday, April 14, 2011

The Secret Society - Portland - Oregon

After round two of drinks at Teardrop Cocktail Lounge - Portland - Oregon, we headed across the river for dinner at Toro Bravo. There was a bit of wait, so Dylan left his phone number and we went upstairs to The Secret Society for more cocktails.

16 The Secret Society - Portland - Oregon 1

Although, it's not much of a secret any more if there's a big old sign pointing the way. :P The Secret Society is a 1907 Victorian-era hall that once housed two men's clubs. These days, it's a lounge, ball room, and recording studio.

Wednesday, April 13, 2011

Teardrop Cocktail Lounge - Portland - Oregon

15 Teardrop Cocktail Lounge - Portland - Oregon 1

After the first set of drinks at Clyde Common - Portland - Oregon, Gourmet Pigs and I took Wandering Chopsticks reader Dylan's suggestion and hit up Teardrop Cocktail Lounge for its old-fashioned cocktails and homemade bitters and tinctures.

The bar was pretty small, with some stools at the counter and along the wall. So we sat at the bar, overlooking the array of Teardrop Cocktail Lounge's homemade bitters and tinctures.

Tuesday, April 12, 2011

Clyde Common - Portland - Oregon

After leaving Hawks View Cellars - Sherwood, Gourmet Pigs and I made our way to downtown Portland to cross off #3 on her list of things to do in town -- cocktails. Actually, we ended up hitting up three cocktail bars this evening. And yes, if you were keeping track, that's after two wine tastings.

I should preface this post, and the subsequent drinking ones, by telling you that since I was driving, I merely took a sip to taste and handed off the rest of my drinks to others.

14 Clyde Common - Portland - Oregon 1

Gourmet Pigs wanted to check out Clyde Common because the bartender/bar manager, Jeffrey Morgenthaler, has gained quite a bit of renown for his old-fashioned cocktails. Unfortunately, he wasn't in the day we visited.

Nonetheless, even without the famed bartender, one of the best parts of going to Portland bars during happy hours and late nights is the cheap eats. Seriously. I'm talking $2 to $5 for appetizers and desserts. So I was really more excited to try the food than the drinks anyway.

Sunday, April 10, 2011

Hawks View Cellars - Sherwood - Oregon

13 Hawks View Cellars - Sherwood - Oregon 1

After our sparkling wine tasting at Argyle Winery - Dundee - Oregon, Gourmet Pigs and I took the wine guy's suggestion and visited Hawks View Cellars in Sherwood, Oregon. As we approached the winery, row after row of grape vines spread out in front of us. If only spring didn't come so late to Oregon, I'd love to see the vineyard in full bloom.

Isn't it just so gorgeous? And we hadn't even gotten to the tasting room yet. Trust me, it got even better.

Saturday, April 09, 2011

Argyle Winery - Dundee - Oregon

After lunch at Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill - Tigard - Oregon, we continued making our way along 99W. Our first stop was Argyle Winery, which Gourmet Pigs chose for its sparkling wine tastings.

12 Argyle Winery - Dundee - Oregon 1

Since I had never gone wine tasting in Oregon before, I asked cousin T if she had any recommendations. She hadn't been either, so she asked a coworker, who emailed her a list of recommendations. I forwarded the list to GP, who looked them up and narrowed down our choices. I was armed with an old wine guide from the Oregonian and some pamphlets put out by the tourist information office from when I stopped in to ask for the cross street of the smallest park in the world, but it was still nice to have a list of wineries to work from.

We passed a lot of wineries along 99W, so I was pleased to see that the tasting room for Argyle Winery was in a quaint converted house. Sparkling wine is great, but the aesthetics make it better.

Friday, April 08, 2011

Reuben Sandwich

Reuben Sandwich 1

The week after I got back from Oregon, I couldn't stop thinking about the Reuben sandwich I had at Thirsty Lion Pub & Grill - Tigard - Oregon. I wasn't up for paying $13 or for driving out to Langer's Delicatessen-Restaurant - Los Angeles.

So I bought Jewish rye bread, thick-cut pastrami, Swiss cheese, and sauerkraut from the grocery store. Then made a quick version by popping it into the toaster oven. It just wasn't the same. I needed the thousand island dressing! And my cheat of mixing ketchup with mayonnaise just wasn't going to cut it.

The next day, I went back again. Because when I get a craaaving, I get craaavings! This time, I got corned beef, and asked for it to be cut as thin as possible. That was the first big difference. The second was buying both thousand island and Russian dressings, neither of which do I actually eat on salads, but were both essential for a really good Reuben sandwich.

All the proper components in place, I then toasted the sandwich before pan-grilling it with a pat of butter.

So good! Cravings finally satisfied.

Thursday, April 07, 2011

Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill - Tigard - Oregon

When we last left off, Gourmet Pigs and I had hiked the waterfalls along the Columbia River Gorge and then enjoyed a Vietnamese venison and rice paper wrap dinner at home with my parents.

On her list of things she wanted to do in Oregon, eating at Bunk Sandwiches - Portland was #1. Second was going wine tasting. Since were going to be on that side of the river for the wineries, we also met up with my cousin T and baby M3 at Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill in Tigard, a restaurant my cousin had been wanting to try.

11 Thirsty Lion Pub and Grill - Tigard - Oregon 1

GP was a little weirded out that my cousin wanted to meet us at a pub with her baby, but I reassured her that Portland pubs are very family-friendly, leaning more toward restaurants than bars actually.