Shrimp cocktail

70s-tastic shrimp cocktail.

One of my distinct childhood memories is of the occasional cocktail parties my parents gave. They didn’t happen often, but when they did, my sister Julie and I would help make the house sparkle and set up the appetizer table in the family room, knowing our reward was nigh.

Of course, Julie and I could not have cared less who was coming over, and once we survived the polite introductions, our work was done. Those nights were an occasion because we were promised a rare and exotic frozen TV dinner, eaten in front of the TV. Anything to keep us occupied and out of the way. We were in heaven.

Party nights were also special for the other uncommon foods in the house. Bags of potato chips with sour cream dip (my sister and I tempting each other with the old ad pitch “Bet you can’t eat just one!” ); tiny sweet gherkins; pitted black olives whose main appeal was as freaky finger coverings; cocktail weenies on toothpicks; and of course my dad’s shrimp cocktail.

“Dad’s Shrimp,” as it came to be known, was a fairly grownup flavor for little kids, but I loved it: unexpectedly piquant, spicy and barely sweet.

The recipe came from a long-ago edition of Sunset magazine, and who knows how close Dad’s version is to the original. I’ve never known him to follow any recipe from start to finish. He might use one for inspiration and to understand the intended flavors, but then he adds a dollop of creative license to make it his own.  And the theater involved — well, it’s amusing to watch. When he’s really having fun, he talks to himself while he bobs and jigs around the kitchen:  “A little of this, and, ah, a little of that … yes. That’s it. Oh, do you know what would be good? I know just the thing.” Though I was not present when he first made this shrimp cocktail, I imagine that’s how it went down. And several years ago when I asked him for the recipe, it was clear that the science of measurement was not something he’d applied to this dish — ever.

Its components seem odd. And when I list the ingredients to curious friends, they respond surprised: “Really? Ketchup? Mustard? Celery?” Yes, really. Good, isn’t it?

I still crave it. That snap of horseradish and tarragon vinegar lend a zesty contrast against chilled poached shrimp and creamy avocado.

Here is the recipe as told by my dad. Mine never quite tastes the same as his, so the liberties he takes with measurements are not perfectly represented here, and every measurement could be followed by an “-ish.” But like a good ’70s cocktail party, it’s still groovy in my book.

Dad’s Shrimp

1/4 cup tarragon vinegar

1 1/2 tablespoon prepared horseradish

1 tablespoon yellow mustard

1 tablespoon ketchup

1 1/2 teaspoon paprika

1/2 teaspoon salt

1/4 teaspoon cayenne pepper

1/2 cup canola oil

1/4 white onion

1 stalk celery

Put the ingredients in the Vitamix, and blend to a puree.  (A regular blender works, too, but first mince the celery and onion.)

Pour over 1 1/2 pounds poached shrimp (shelled and deveined) and refrigerate for 2 to 3 hours. Serve over avocado slices on individual plates or small bowls. I like making a bed of arugula or spinach under the avocado.

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Gotta love these recent stories from The Oregonian:

Portland restaurants help fireworks-damaged eatery on Northeast Alberta Street

Alberta Street businesses pull together after fire

Hats off to Umpqua Bank and Stumptown Coffee Roasters for offering a hand. Plus Andy Ricker of Pok Pok fame and the owners of Firehouse step up for one of our neighborhood faves that finds itself a bit down on its luck. It makes us that much happier that Ricker opened his takeout spot, Noi, in the area. He had our business before, but this is reinforcement. We’ll be popping into Firehouse sometime soon as well. Here’s hoping the folks at Aviary are back in business ASAP.

Scrapple and egg

Scrapple and egg with house ketchup and mustard.

A lumberjack must have decorated this place. A free-spirit lumberjack with industrial-chic sensibility, perhaps. Timber prevails at Grain & Gristle on Prescott at NE 15th Ave, represented in the exposed ceiling beams, floors, tables, chairs, benches and the bar at the center of it all.

Cylindrical cages — baskets in which machine parts were dunked and washed, we learned — serve as light fixtures over the tables along either side of the room and contribute to the rustic vogue vibe. Blackboards announce the day’s specials, and a mixed-media mural of a grain harvester lends some amber-waves hominess.

We’ve eaten here twice now, and both meals were engaging enough that we’re threatening to become regulars. Our most recent visit came just as the Last-Thursday craziness on Alberta was winding down. (Perk No. 1 at G&G: They’re open late.) So, what were the winners?

The scrapple topped with a fried egg was a homey meatloaf-style, breakfast-esque dish, tasty any time of day. Also, housemade sausage simmered in a zesty-sweetish red curry sauce on a bed of crispy-salty fries offered delicious contrasts in flavor and texture. Curry fries? Yes, please. Other standouts: a little pot of pork rillets; a beet, arugula and blue cheese salad; a plate of pork rinds so crisp you can hear the crackling from across the room. (Perk No. 2 at G&G: The creative menu changes frequently.) A selection of draft beers complements the menu. (And Perk No. 3: G&G also has a full bar should you crave a martini with your rinds.)

During our first visit, J fulfilled his gastronomic duty and ordered the burger. Though he specified medium-rare, it arrived well-done, breaking a cardinal rule of burgerdom: The patty had shrunk and was smaller than the bun. But flavor and texture were delicious. So on our return he gave the burger another shot, with slightly better results — again a good crust on the patty, juicy, perfectly seasoned, but more medium than medium-rare. There’s some deviousness at work here: Even overcooked, the burger is good enough to keep us coming back, ever hopeful of perfect execution.

Overall, G&G is a welcome addition to our neighborhood. (Even more so now that the patio is open for business.) Get the burger right, and we will be friends for life.