Noodles for breakfast.

Delicious noodles for breakfast.

I had a pretty typical childhood. I loved swimming in the summer; my friends and I pretended we were “Charlie’s Angels,” packing heat and fighting crime in our Salt Lake City neighborhood; I adored kittens — more than once my sister and I dressed up the family cat in old baby clothes. And I ate Top Ramen regularly for breakfast. OK, maybe not completely typical.

Of course, on the weekends, I enjoyed traditional breakfasts: pancakes, French toast, oatmeal with a little brown sugar. But around the age of 12 and on through high school, my breakfast of choice during the week was ramen.

I must have learned this breakfast behavior from my dad, Levi Mike, who never ate “normal” breakfast food. Instead he would make soups and stews, vats of collard greens, Mexican menudo, the leftovers of which would be his morning sustenance. So my penchant for ramen was not terribly unusual. Every morning, I’d start a saucepan with a finger of water and cut the top of the flavor packet, leaving a graveyard of silver trimmings in the drawer where the scissors lived. In less than three minutes, I had a savory, salty, warming pan of noodle soup. Rather than dirty a bowl, I would eat the soup right out of the cookpot, and to get to the “meat” of the meal faster, I would slurp the liquid with a giant mixing spoon. (J and I still have that spoon and use it often, though it’s been retired as silverware.) Once the broth was out of the way, all that remained were the delicious, slippery, curly noodles. I would savor them lovingly, making them last as long as possible. After one unfortunate morning when my mother asked for “a bite” and ate HALF THE NOODLES on one forkful, I became fiercely protective, guarding my noodles with the ferocity of a junkyard dog.

Though I don’t often eat ramen for breakfast anymore, every once in a while I wake up with a craving. I’ve graduated to bowls, and I now use a regular soup spoon. But don’t ask for a bite, even on your birthday. Call me selfish, but for 20 cents or so you can have your very own bowl of noodles for breakfast, in under three minutes. I’ll start the water for you.

Small plates at Olympic Provisions.

Smoked rockfish (front) and tesa with egg.

The goddess Athena walks into a restaurant and says to the bearded waiter, “Is that a house-cured salami in your deli case, or are you just happy to see me?”

OK, I confess: Comedy is not my calling. Eating, however, is one of my talents, and so on Saturday night the gang (James, Zandra, J and I) ventured into Southeast Portland’s industrial district for a feast at Olympic Provisions.

Turns out the restaurant’s name was not derived from the 12 Greek Olympians as I had fantasized. “Food of the gods,” and so forth. Rather, the restaurant is named for its warehouse home, the landmark Olympic Mills Commerce Center located next to the tracks, in the shadow of the I-5 freeway.

Inside, the industrial feel endures with cement floors, subway tiles, dark wood-topped tables and exposed light bulbs dangling from rustic cords. Iron-and-wood shelving showcases a variety of wines and pickled items. A deli case displays salami for sale along with mounds of chicken and potato salad, with old-school meat-counter price cards — you know, the kind with the exchangeable red numbers.

For drinks, we started off with a slightly effervescent rosado from the Basque region of Spain on the recommendation of our server. Her enthusiasm in describing wines and their origins proved her passion for the topic. We were in very good hands as she paired wines with our courses as we explored the menu.

The menu itself is a smallish affair, belying the big flavors it foretells. The list of small plates is divided into small bites (olives, pickles, etc.), vegetables, meat, and charcuterie. We started with the chef’s choice charcuterie (salami, pork rillettes, a terrine) alongside house-pickled veggies. An early standout was the silky, not-too-dense chicken liver pate spread on crostini and topped with shaved ribbons of sweet asparagus, to which Zandra declared, “I could have ordered 10 of those and called it good.” Amen, sister. But variety is the name of the game here, so like the feasting Olympians we strive to be, we ventured deeper into the menu: fork-tender squid in a brothy, sop-worthy harissa; chicken thigh, smoked sausage and delicately tender beef tongue in an herbaceous salsa verde broth redolent of mint; crisp roasted tesa (pork belly) atop pea shoots, all crowned by a fried egg, dissolved deliciously on the tongue; deeply smoky rockfish came served alongside fried potato squares and topped with a creamy horseradish sauce — the dishes kept coming.

Finally the dessert menu appeared, from which we ordered a trio of cheeses and a sticky, delicious caramel walnut tart. Nearly too stuffed to leave, we sipped our port and dessert wine and looked back on the meal we just devoured. Food fit for gods, indeed, but certainly no laughing matter.

Gadget Geekery: Vitamix

June 12, 2011

Broccoli cheddar soup.

About a month ago, J and I were browsing through a local kitchen store and happened upon the Vitamix blenders. We’d first heard of the Vitamix reading Thomas Keller’s “Ad Hoc at Home” cookbook where it’s used in several recipes. I found it odd at first, then telling, that Keller continually referred to it by its brand name. No instructions were given that required the use of a “blender.” After researching its capabilities, I was impressed. So we wanted to see one in person.

The salespeople at the kitchen store had practically granted the Vitamix deity-like status. The floor model glowed with an imagined golden nimbus as the clerk recounted its otherworldly capabilities: powers through ice like a chain saw, spins with tornado-like force, chews fibrous fruit like a ravenous goat. In fact the Vitamix works with such high-speed intensity that it heats the ingredients in its container, as in makes hot soup out of a frozen smoothie, if you’re not careful. Hot soup in a blender in about five minutes: Sold.

The price was steep as a cliff, but we rationalized the purchase by counting it as our next seven birthday gifts, each. We brought it home, and promptly made, of course, frozen margaritas. Not regular frozen margaritas, though. This version had whole fruit. Peel an orange, peel a lime, drop them in — membranes and all — and blend them up with some silver tequila, Cointreau, ice and a touch of water. The Vitamix made short work of ice cubes and blended the whole fruit to a smooth consistency. Whole-fruit fiber hidden in a frozen cocktail? Brilliant! Make mine a double.

Though I usually prefer to keep the kitchen counters clutter-free, the Vitamix earned a permanent home next to the coffee maker. We use the beastly blender daily, whipping up everything from smoothies, salad dressings, mayonnaise, dips, cold soups and even a new version of chile verde. My favorite recipe so far is the hot broccoli and cheddar soup, loosely adapted from the Vitamix cookbook:

1 1/2 c. skim milk
1/2 c. shredded cheddar
2 c. steamed broccoli florets (reserving a few for garnish)
1/3 c. minced onion
1/2 tsp boullion
1/3 c. cooked barley for body

Place all ingredients in the blender in the order listed. With the blender on variable 1, turn it on. Increase speed to variable 10, and set to high. Blend for 5 to 6 minutes, until steam escapes from the lid. Serve with reserved broccoli florets. Presto, hot, creamy soup.

To clean up, fill the container halfway with hot water and a squeeze of dish soap, and run the blender again. Holy molé, the thing cleans itself!

Queue the angels: This is one heavenly appliance.