Saturday, October 31, 2009

Home Grown Hallowe'en

Halowe'en isn't really a big deal in our neighbourhood. Which is really a shame. As a kid I can remember going door to door all evening, returning home only to empty my pillowcase full of treats. The houses that gave the best treats we visited at least twice, changing costumes up amongst my friends so as to avoid being discovered.

Hundreds of kids did the same, keeping my parents, and those of all the neighbours handing our candy until at least 9 at night. Today, we're lucky if we see 20 trick-or-treaters in an evening. Times have changed, and our neighbourhood is thin on young families. Still, every year, J and I carve pumpkins and try to keep the dogs quiet when we give candy to the kids.

This year, our jack-o-lanters came from our own garden, and even though they managed to take up a disproportionately large amount of the garden plot, the resulting pumpkins were really beautiful. The one on the right was especially pretty, developing a really deep orange skin ... along with a really thick shell. Very tough to carve, but I think you'll agree we managed alright.

Happy Halloween!
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Friday, October 30, 2009

Campfire Cooking (or: Meat. Fire. Grunt.)

One of the challenges we faced when preparing for our camping adventure was the food. Campfire cooking is all well and fine, but a week of roasted weenies wasn't going to cut it. Creativity while tenting can be tough, so in the interest of inspiring some variety in your campfire dining I’d like to share some of the better “camping” meals from our week in Oregon.

If you don't already have one, a sandwich iron (aka Campfire Cooker) get one. Essentially it’s a grilled cheese maker on a stick. You assemble you sandwich inside the iron, toast over the campfire. Grilled cheese is simple enough, but if you some bacon and crack an egg inside, you’ve got breakfast. Nutella and banana? Dessert! One word of advice: get two.

I don't think there's anything that speaks to my primitive side more than cooking meat over fire.


And I'm not talking about using charcoal either. I mean real flames. It’s like you’ve just returned to camp with your kill of the day, and it’s time to feed the family.  Or maybe that’s just me.

Still, it’s a really challenges a cook’s understanding of the heat source and the product being cooked.

On the menu tonight: steak fajitas. Preparation was simple enough, and produced some really nice photos. The steak turned out a perfect medium rare and went well with one of several bottles of Oregon Pinot Noir we opened during the week.

Wednesday, October 28, 2009

Resources - Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design

I still turn to books as my primary resource for technical information and project ideas. For me, a book requires more research, so the information is a bit more concise than what one might find on ... oh I don't know ... a blog.

My bookshelves are full of design books; some technical, some merely of the coffee-table variety. But they are always nearby when I start a new project. In the "Resources" category on useful spaces, I'll be sharing some of my favorites and hopefully giving you a new source of inspiration.

Kitchen Culture: Re-inventing Kitchen Design

Johnny Grey is completely responsible for my career choice. Years ago when I was designing for a big box home center, I came across Grey's The Art of Kitchen Design and never looked back. Grey's ability to see a kitchen beyond the walls of the room opened my eyes to the possibilities of this field of design.

In Kitchen Culture, Grey continues to inspire us with his design, but adds his insight into the function of the kitchen. He examines different storage options for your cabinetry, different countertop materials and brings it all home presenting a number of case studies from actual projects. Beautifully photographed and illustrated it is an excellent resource for anyone considering a new kitchen project.

Thursday, October 15, 2009

The S'more Challenge

A little teaser for you before I continue our Oregon tales ...

Just because you're camping, doesn't mean you can't live it up a little. Take the humble s'more for example. Sure, it's just graham crackers, chocolate and toasted marshmallow. But around a campfire under a starry sky, there's nothing I'd rather have.

We dressed things up a little for these s'mores. Instead of graham crackers we used ginger snaps (Anna's) - instead of chocolate we used the infinitely superior Nutella - and for our twist on the classic, a slice of banana. Heaven.

So what is your s'more variation? Post it in the comments section. The best suggestion will win themselves a bag of campfire ready marshmallows.

Tuesday, October 6, 2009

Oregon - The Beer Tour 2009

Surprisingly, this is not going to be about the Oregon Brewer's Festival. That wonderful weekend at the end of every July is how I became acquainted with the state of Oregon. These people know beer ... good beer. And so when J & I decided to spend a week camping in The Beaver State I immediately began mapping out the breweries near our campsites.  After all, one cannot live on hot dogs and smores alone ... there must also be burgers and beer ...

Rogue Ales - Newport OR

The site of the old brewery (now the pool room) the Public House in the old part of Newport (opposite side of the highway from the Lighthouse) sells Rogue Ales and paraphernalia, and dishes up some great pub grub as well.

On our table that day were some Kobe Beef Bleu Balls (Kobe beef meatballs stuffed with Rogue Creamery Oregon Bleu cheese), some beer battered onion rings (BEST onion rings ever according to J), and a Shipwreck pizza (Italian sausage, beef and mushrooms). Wash that all down with a Hazelnut Brown (J) and a Smoke Ale (me) and we waddled our way back to our tent at Beachside.

In between our campsite and the town of Newport, is Waldport. Much like any seaside town you'll find on the Oregon coast, Waldport has it's share of crab-shacks and oyster bars. After a quick peak inside a couple of them I was deafened by the "tourist-trap" going off in my head.

It's a shame really. And while I'm certain there are some very good seafood establishments in Waldport, we were too hungry to experiment.  In the old part of Waldport (north part of town near the entrance to Alcea Bay) you'll find the Salty Dawg. It's not much to look at outside ... and not much to look at from the inside either if I'm honest. In fact, any place that carpets to bulkhead over the bar should really be given a good talking too ... and I would have. Really. But the cast of locals gathered around the bar and restaurant were all in such good spirits that I figured if the carpeting didn't bother them, they were all pretty drunk and as such, damn fine company.

We'd been told that the Salty Dawg was good for 2 things (not including a great selection of local beers): Seafood Chowder in a Bread Bowl, and Mexican food. Now as appetizing as cream soup served with more gluten sounds, J has a severe allergy to certain bi-valves, so we tend to avoid such things. On the other hand, she has no such affliction with tamales, enchiladas and house made re-fried beans.

I don't know if I'd hang the tag "authentic" on this platter, nor would I call it Tex-Mex. The flavours were fresh and spicy. Just a tad too much cheese to be really Mexican. But paired with a couple Mirror-Pond Ales it was the perfect accompaniment to the discussion at the bar: Oregon college football (go Beavers!).

Ever hear of a town called Estacada? Neither had I until I visited the Brewfest in Portland. Estacada is a few miles South-East of Portland, and is home to a great little brewery called Fearless. Both J and I really like Fearless. If pushed on the subject, I believe my wife will admit to selecting our campground for the night based solely on its proximity to Estacada. Not only are their beers terrific examples of craft brewing, but they seem to have embraced the Viking ideology. Being of Norse descent, I like that.

The restaurant/bar has a very college-town feel to it. Lots of young people eating in the restaurant and working behind the bar. Nice vibe.

The beer? Well, I'll tell you right now that out of all the beers I had during out vacation, the Fearless Scottish Ale was hands down my favorite. Creamy and smooth I could have spent the evening drinking these and eating chili-fries and burgers. If you can't hang around and enjoy your beer, be sure to pick up a "growler" - a 1/2 gallon bottle you can take with you ... to your campsite for example.  That may not be anything new for some of you, but for us Canadians, the take-away growler is a revelation!

The end of our trip took us up the Columbia River Gorge to the cities of The Dalles and Hood River. Hood River is a mecca for the sport of wind surfing, so I suppose with all those thirsty windsurfers around I shouldn't be surprised that there is a big love for craft beers in the town. We've had Full Sail at the Brewfest, but we heard that the view from the Big Horse Brewery was pretty amazing.

The view was indeed amazing, and while we enjoyed their MacStallion Ale we wondered how so many surfers could crowd that narrow point of the river without continually crashing into each other. It is truly an amazing sight. Lunch was their "attempt" at pulled pork. Not nearly as bad as some I've had, but I'm continually amazed at how something so simple seems to elude most kitchens.

I will warn anyone wanting to visit The Dalles right now, there's not much there to do. Use it as a base for further travels. But don't come looking for a nightlife, or some cute bistro restaurants. They're not there.

However, if you're looking for a perfectly cooked burger ... get yourself to The Baldwin Saloon. The Baldwin occupies one of the older buildings in town. It was at one point a brother, a naval office and a coffin storage site. Thankfully, today it's a pretty decent family type restaurant. All the old-school dishes are there: Coquille St. Jacques, Veal Scallopini, Chicken Cordon Bleu .. it reads like a Gourmet Magazine history issue. My advice is to try them on another visit, because if they do them as well as they do the burger, they'll be solid.

When the server asks you, "How would you like your burger cooked?" you know know you're in for a treat. The Baldwin grinds their own Chuck beef, so cooking to medium-rare is perfectly safe. The buns are also baked on site. Bottom line: best burger ever.

Monday, October 5, 2009

Work In Progress: East Vancouver

Business is booming. Strange, since the summer months are usually the slow time of the year. You won't hear me complaining though!

One of my bigger projects recently has been a remodel of the kitchen in a 1920's East Vancouver home. It's of particular interest to me for a couple reasons ... first because I love working with homes of this vinatge, and second because these people are friends of mine, and I am quite familiar with the original kitchen.

The homeowner has graciously allowed me to link to his personal web site, where he's been documenting the process. He's got it to where we're waiting for countertops (which happen to go in today). I'll re-post when he updates.

It's an excellent overview of what you can expect during a typical reno. CLICK HERE to read on.

UPDATE: The completed kitchen can be viewed HERE [CLICK]

Some comments on Glenn's commentary:
  • The Temporary Kitchen: I can't stress enough the importance of planning for the time you will be without your kitchen. Some projects can take as long as 12 weeks! That's a lot of pizza and Chinese take-out! If you have friends and family you can visit, great. Otherwise, cook and freeze as many meals as you can.
  • Inspectors: I have no problem with inspectors whatsoever. In most situations we're exceeding the building code requitements anyway. But it's important for the customer to remember that using inspectors will add time to the project. If we have to wait for the inspector, certain things just can be completed.
  • Cabinet Storage: When dealing with a small kitchen like this one, it's important to remember to consider where the cabinets will be stored before they're installed. You just can't keep them in the kitchen and inspect to keep the installer sane.
  • Being Your Own Tradesperson: Most contractors will grimmace if you ask if you can do some of your own work. Especially when dealing with inspectors it can often mean delays that are out of the hands of the contractor. In this kitchen, all went brilliantly (the clients did their own electrical and painting), but I have been involved with those that haven't.

    So, if you want to do your own work be sure to a) know what you are doing, and b) be willing to accept responsibility for delays you may create.
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